This was my first Mets game of the season, and I was expecting a big crowd. No, it wasn’t the home Opener. Mets ace Matt Harvey, who had missed all of last season while rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery, was going to be pitching at Citi Field for the first time in 19 months.
The stadium looked calm from afar . . .
. . . and because I’d arrived so early, there wasn’t much action yet outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.:
Do you remember all the metal detectors outside Yankee Stadium that I saw last week? Major League Baseball and the Department of Homeland Security had worked together this past offseason and decided that every stadium would have metal detectors in 2015 — so how come there weren’t any at Citi Field?
I figured the guards and supervisors were going to bring them out any minute and set them up. It was only 4pm, so there was still plenty of time — more than an hour until the stadium would open.
Well then. Let’s fast-forward an hour, shall we? First take a look at the loooooong lines of fans waiting to get in:
Now check out the area between the barricades and the stadium gates:
Do you see any metal detectors? I didn’t see any, but as it turned out, there were a bunch. Sort of. Rather than using the big, airport-style rectangular things that fans would have to walk through, the Mets’ security guards all had hand-held metal-detecting wands. Here’s how it worked: the guard at my table inspected my backpack as he had always done. Then, after being told that I could go, I headed toward the gate and was stopped by a guard, who had me spread my legs and arms, at which point he wanded me front and back for about 20 seconds. Despite the fact that I was first on line, several fans at other lines got in ahead of me, presumably because they weren’t wanded as thoroughly. Overall I’d say the level of security was pretty good, though not foolproof or consistent. I heard later from a guard I know that the Mets only got SIX of the walk-though metal detectors and placed them at the club/suite entrances — two each at the Stengel, Seaver, and Hodges gates. Not that I’m complaining or anything (because this whole metal-detecting thing is awful), but how can they get away with that?
Anyway, last season the Mets often finished taking BP before the stadium opened. Here’s what I saw at my first Mets game of 2015 when I made it out to left field:
David Wright was in the cage, and before anyone else made it out to the left field seats, he launched a home run in my direction. Just my luck . . . it sailed 40 feet over my head, landed in the second deck, and bounced back onto the field. That might have prompted me to curse the universe. Wright proceeded to hit two more homers into the empty seats surrounding me. Even though there still wasn’t anyone else nearby, I scrambled after the balls. Here they are:
During the final group of Mets BP, I got a toss-up from rookie pitcher Erik Goeddel, and then I got THE luckiest bounce on a John Mayberry Jr. home run. I was standing in the fourth row, not too thrilled about another guy who had decided to stand directly in front of me in the third row. Mayberry hit a deep line drive right at us, and we both knew it was going to fall short. The other guy drifted down the steps to the front row, but I stayed in my spot — not for any particular reason. It just seemed pointless to move because I could tell that the ball might not even reach the Party Deck down below.
Guess what happened? The ball struck the railing at the very front of the Party Deck . . .
. . . and ricocheted up into the stands, looping directly over the other guy and landing *right* where I was standing. I didn’t have to move. I simply reached up and gloved it. Ha!
When the Phillies took the field, I headed into foul territory. As usual, I would’ve liked to be behind the 3rd base dugout, but wasn’t allowed to go any farther than this:
In the photo above, do you see the guard on the right in the green jacket? There’s always a guard there during BP, whose *only* job is to prevent people from walking through the seats toward the dugout. No other stadium does that during BP. Even at the prison-like Yankee Stadium, which has more rules than the other 29 stadiums combined, all fans are allowed to go behind the dugouts early on — not all the way down to the “Legends” area, where people need wristbands, but whatever. Just being able to hang out in the vicinity of the dugouts is a nice thing. It enables fans to interact with the players and see them up close, but the Mets have not allowed it since Citi Field opened in 2009.
When the Phillies started hitting, I headed to the seats in right-center field:
I chose this section for two reasons. First, a bunch of lefties were taking turns in the cage, and second, I wanted to see the new outfield configuration. In case you haven’t heard, the Mets moved in the fences during the offseason . . . AGAIN. Here’s what it looks like up close:
SO MUCH WASTED SPACE!!!
If the Mets want to maximize revenue (and happiness), they should consider building a little staircase down to that area, replacing the outfield wall with a chain-link fence, and converting that dead zone into a group/party area. Hell, they don’t even need to sell it separately. They could just open it up to anyone . . . ya know, to be nice. Put a beer cart down in there. Sell some pretzels and sausages. Turn the dead zone into a fun zone.
Back in left field, I found myself standing behind four Mets fans wearing jerseys of the all-time greats:
Wait a minute . . . Klemm and Lenefsky? I think not.
I snagged two home runs hit by Jeff Francoeur — my fifth and sixth balls of the day. The first landed in the seats one section to my left, and as I lunged for it, I bashed my right tit on the metal corner of a seat. The second one, thankfully, was uneventful by comparison; it came right to me, and I caught it on the fly.
Look how crowded it was after BP:
All this for Matt Harvey?!
Shortly before the season started, I read an article about various concession items debuting at stadiums around the major leagues. When I learned that Citi Field was going to offer thick-cut bacon covered in s’mores, I *had* to try it.
After BP, I met up with my friend Mark McConville, and we headed to the “Pig Guy NYC” stand together. As you can see below, there was quite a line:
No problem, right? How long does it take to dip a piece of bacon in a vat of gooey chocolatey stuff? The answer is that it takes a LONG-ASS TIME when you run out of bacon. And it takes even longer when you have to wait five minutes for a new container of bacon to arrive. And it takes *even* longer when that new container of bacon is uncooked. If we’d known at the start how long it was going to take, we wouldn’t have waited, but by the time everything got held up, Mark and I had already invested 10 minutes and were in the middle of the line.
So we waited.
And then we waited some more.
No exaggeration — we were on that effin’ line for nearly 40 minutes, and when we finally made it up to the front, the bacon wasn’t even close to being adequately cooked:
I prefer my bacon crispy, but what could I do? Leave after waiting such a long time?! Wait another 10 minutes for one piece of it to be cooked more just for me? Mark and I were in danger of missing the start of the game.
I was tempted to bail, but then I saw this sign up close:
I couldn’t resist. I’d waited too long, and I was starving, so I handed over my money and received this in exchange:
It was meh.
Perhaps I’ve been spoiled. Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of eating thick-cut bacon (followed by a full steak dinner) at Peter Luger. Take a look at this photo. THIS is how it’s supposed to be done — it was like the Mike Trout of bacon. What I got at Citi Field was the Ruben Tejada of bacon. It was soft and lacked oomph. The chocolatey s’mores coating wasn’t flavorful enough and therefore didn’t add much, and there wasn’t nearly enough marshmallow. Remember when I tried some chocolate-covered bacon on 6/12/11 at Coors Field? That certainly looked gross, and at the time I didn’t think much of it, but at least the flavors were powerful.
It should be noted that Mark got the s’mores-covered bacon *and* the caramel-coated bacon. He agreed with me about the s’mores, but said the other one was much better.
I barely made it here for the first pitch:
Matt Harvey struck out Odubel Herrera (not to be confused with Asdrubel Cabrera) to start the game, and everyone in the stadium was PUMPED:
There was palpable energy and enthusiasm everywhere; this game felt like a hybrid of Opening Day and the playoffs.
When Harvey struck out Freddy Galvis with a 98mph fastball, the stadium erupted. Here’s the pitch speed on the jumbotron:
Here’s Harvey delivering a pitch to Chase Utley:
When the count went to 1-2, it felt as if the stadium were about to explode:
But then something funny happened: Chase Utley hit a home run. Everyone was like, “WTF did we just see?” But it was only one run, and Harvey struck out the next batter, Ryan Howard (which probably wasn’t all that difficult), to get everyone re-energized.
The Mets tied the game in the bottom of the 1st inning, and then I headed to left field for a bit. Look how crowded it was out there:
The paid attendance for this game was 39,489. And let me remind you that this was NOT the Mets’ home opener. That had taken place the day before, drawing a crowd of 43,947 — the biggest in Citi Field history.
Here’s where I sat for the next few innings:
I absolutely hate sitting in the middle of a row, but I had no choice because it was so damn crowded. Thankfully I had a bit of room on my right . . .
. . . but I was antsy. I felt like a caged animal, and to make matters worse, I had a lousy view of the scoreboard because of the overhang of the second deck:
I had to get out there. I just couldn’t sit still.
I headed up to the second deck in right field, stopping along the way to take this photo:
Then I went to the outermost staircase in the second deck. I wanted to get a view from above of the new/shorter outfield wall and all that dead space behind it. Check it out:
That is THE weirdest outfield/bullpen setup in the major leagues.
Look who was at the bottom of my staircase:
SIN GUY!! He commits all sorts of horrible acts and . . . oh wait, his ponytail was blockin’ the gee.
SIGNGUY. My bad. I’d never seen him up close.
I could write 10,000 words about all the oddities in this game, but instead I’ll summarize them quickly. Two Mets players were injured — Michael Cuddyer on a hit-by-pitch followed by David Wright, who messed up his hamstring on a stolen base and is now on the disabled list. Chase Utley was beaned (probably intentionally) by Harvey and hit a second homer later on. Both teams were warned by the home plate umpire. There were instant replay reviews that dragged on. Mets manager Terry Collins got ejected for arguing a catcher’s interference call (which turned out to be a bad call). Mets backup catcher Anthony Recker played 3rd base in the 9th inning — the first time in his professional career that he’d done that. And so on. I’m probably forgetting a few things, but you get the idea. This game was weird, and the Mets held on for a 6-5 win.
After the final out . . .
. . . I got my seventh and final ball of the day from home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez. (Can you spot him in the photo above?) Here I am with the balls:
On my way out, I lingered in the concourse for a few minutes until I saw a cute kid walking by slowly with an empty glove. I drifted over to the kids’ father and asked, “Did you guys catch a ball today?” When the kid predictably shook his head, I reached into my pocket, pulled out a clean BP ball, placed it in his glove, and said, “Well, you got one now.”
They were thrilled, of course, and I felt good too. I had survived my first of many Mets games this season.
• 30 balls in 5 games this season = 6 balls per game.
• 1,008 lifetime balls in 134 games at Citi Field = 7.52 balls per game.
• 1,058 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 723 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 470 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball
• 7,836 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 11 donors for my fundraiser
• $108.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $108.40 raised this season
• $40,063.90 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
There was nothing special about this day early on. The weather was dreary, and I headed out to right field at the start of batting practice:
I managed to catch one baseball out there — a home run that was hit by a left-handed batter on the Yankees. I’m not sure who it was, but if I had to guess, I’d say Stephen Drew. It was heading between me and another guy. We both reached for it, and I happened to reach a little farther. It felt good to catch it and get on the board, but things went downhill from there.
When the Red Sox started hitting, I headed over to left field and misplayed TWO home run balls! On the first one, I darted down the steps and reached over the outfield wall, at which point the ball hit the palm of my glove and squirted right out. I felt *so* dumb, and then five minutes later, I had one clang off my wrist. If there’s an excuse for that one, it’s that I was half-reaching for it and half-flinching because a tall guy in front of me was going for it too, and it seemed to be well within his reach. But no. He whiffed. And I tanked it. And then I started doubting myself in all sorts of ways.
Thankfully I regained my edge during the next group of hitters. First I grabbed a Hanley Ramirez homer during a mad scramble in the middle of a row. Then, moments later, I jumped and back-handed another Hanley homer, and a little while after that, I got Joe Kelly to toss me a ball.
All three of the balls I got from the Red Sox had red check marks on the sweet spot. Here’s a photo of one of them:
I’ve snagged lots of marked balls over the years, but this was new to me, so I have to ask: if there are any Red Sox fans reading this, do you know the story? Is this simply the team’s way of keeping track of their baseballs, or is it some kind of social media thing?
After BP, I caught up with a few friends, ate a sandwich I’d brought from home, fiddled around on my phone for a while, and eventually headed to my seat in straight-away right field.
The Red Sox jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the 1st inning and scored twice more in the top of the 6th. Then the Yankees rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 6th to trim the lead to 3-2 — pretty standard stuff, right? Not exactly. If you use the number of fights breaking out in various sections as a barometer, it was anything but “standard.” The Yankees and Red Sox, of course, are huge rivals; this was the first of 19 games that they’d play in 2015, and lots of fans were GOING AT IT. There was a major fight in the left field upper deck, and I saw other skirmishes in the bleachers. There was so much drunken hostility that it kinda felt like the old Yankee Stadium.
During the 7th-inning stretch, while standing at a urinal in the men’s room, I heard something hit the floor on my left. It had made somewhat of a clapping noise, so in the instant before I looked over, I assumed someone had dropped a book or a plastic cup, so I was surprised when I saw that a young man had fallen over backwards, not much more than five feet away from me. Did he slip on something? Was he drunk? I didn’t know what to make of it, and then BAM!!! Out of nowhere, another guy jumped on top of him and started punching him as hard as you can possibly imagine . . . on the head and in the face . . . over and over and OVER and OVER. It was relentless and absolutely terrifying! I had never seen a fight that close to me, nor had I ever witnessed anything so brutal. I truly thought the guy on the bottom was going to be killed or blinded or suffer permanent brain damage. It wasn’t at all like a movie. There were no fake sound effects for the punches. Instead there were eerie thumps each time the guy’s skull was struck by the other man’s fist. Within five or ten seconds, I head someone shout, “NYPD!! GET THE F*CK OFF OF HIM AND DON’T F*CKING MOVE!!!” The guy shouting wasn’t in uniform. I don’t know if he was working undercover or if he was off-duty, but thankfully he broke it up. The guy who’d been getting pummeled managed to stand up with a bit of help, and almost instantly, I saw a whole lot of blood starting to trickle down his face in various spots. That’s about the time that I finished my business at the urinal, and I got THE HELL out of there. I’ll admit it — normally I like to gawk, but this was way too real and horrific. I couldn’t handle it. I was practically shaking as I ran out of the bathroom and made my way back to my seat.
I don’t know what happened to the guy who’d gotten beat up, but I heard that the other guy got arrested and that the bathroom was shut down for several innings because it was a crime scene.
I’m still in shock as I sit here writing this. It was one of those “Did that really happen?” moments. I don’t know what caused the fight, but I can tell you that neither of the guys was wearing Red Sox gear — not that that alone would justify violence, but it could serve as a preliminary explanation.
Wow. Okay. Let’s move on . . .
The Red Sox took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the 9th, and when they brought Edward Mujica into the game, I thought, “Hoo-boy, here we go.” And sure enough, with two outs, Chase Headley crushed a 401-foot bomb into the 2nd deck.
Extra innings. NOT GOOD. I was sooooooo not feeling it. I just wanted to go home and cuddle with my girlfriend and go to bed, but on the other hand, I couldn’t bear the thought of a home run landing near my seat and not being there to catch it.
No one scored in the 10th inning. Or in the 11th inning. And guess what happened in the 12th? Some of the stadium lights flickered and went out. From where I was sitting, it seemed bright enough for the game to continue, but obviously it was too dark for the players, so there was a delay.
OH MY GOD. I wanted to go home. I was cold and hungry and tired, and my cell phone was nearly dead, and I was still upset about the BP balls I’d dropped, and worst of all, I was having constant flashbacks of the fight in the bathroom. If ever there were a time NOT to be at a baseball game, this was it. But I stayed.
As the delay dragged on, several fans behind me in the bleachers turned on their cell phones and held them up to (jokingly) provide extra light for the field:
That put a brief smile on my face.
Within a few minutes, hundreds of fans all over the stadium were holding up their phones:
After a 16-minute delay, the game resumed.
No one scored in the 12th inning.
Or in the 13th.
Remember when I was sponsored two years ago by BIGS Sunflower Seeds? Well, I still have a bunch of seeds left over, and I still bring them to games. On this particular occasion, I decided to break out a few sample packs as the game headed to the 14th inning:
This was the point at which the length of the game suddenly switched over from annoying to cool. The longest game I’d ever been to was 17 innings back in 1993 at Shea Stadium. I remember staying until the very end and then getting a ball tossed to me at the dugout, so maybe something good would come of this long game too? Balls or no balls, I suddenly found myself rooting for the game NOT to end. If the game lasted 14 innings, why not make it 18? Or hell, how about 20?
No one scored in the 14th inning.
Or in the 15th inning.
By now most of the fans had left, so the seats (as you can see in the photo above) were quite empty. If, by some great stoke of luck, a home run happened to fly in my direction, I knew I’d have a good chance of catching it, so I was genuinely excited. That said, I was still rooting for for good pitching and defense — just one more scoreless frame and it would tie my longest game ever.
Before the 16th inning got underway, Yankees right fielder Carlos Beltran tossed his warm-up ball toward a family sitting directly in front of me in the second row. One of the kids ended up getting it, which was great except for the fact that her brother was now empty-handed . . . so I reached into my backpack and gave him my cleanest ball.
Esmil Rogers struck out Dustin Pedroia to start the top of the 16th. The next batter, David Ortiz, fell behind in the count 0-2, but then connected on a hanging slider:
From the moment his bat hit the ball, I knew it was going to be a home run and that I had a good chance of catching it. I jumped out of my seat, drifted about 10 feet to my right, and climbed back over a row of seats. By that point, I knew the ball was going to land right near me. My section was fairly empty, and no one else was wearing a glove, so basically it was all mine as long as I didn’t screw it up. Therefore, I climbed back over another row of seats to be safe. It’s easier, of course, to move forward than backward, so given the fact that I had the room to maneuver, I decided to get behind the spot where I predicted it would land.
If you zoom way in on the following screenshot, you can see me lifting my leg to climb back over that second row of seats:
The ball had been hit VERY high, so I had plenty of time to judge it and get into position, and as it descended, I simply *knew* I was going to catch it. I just had to make one final quick-ish movement to my right to get in line with it, and then I reached up and out for a fairly easy back-handed catch.
Here’s another screenshot for you to zoom in on; take a close look and you’ll see me reaching up for the ball:
My momentum took me farther down the row . . .
. . . and then it was time to celebrate:
Everyone in right field, especially in the bleachers, was yelling at me to “THROW IT BACK!!!” which was fine. They had every right to yell, and I had every right to keep the ball, but they persisted, so I decided to mess with everyone a little bit. I faced the field and cocked my arm back as if I were going to chuck it . . .
. . . but then I stopped mid-motion and held onto the ball:
Then I turned around and faced the fine folks in the bleachers and shook my index finger at them as if to say, “No no no.” Check it out:
Despite the negative things being said about me on the internet, I wasn’t trying to antagonize anyone. I wasn’t doing it for attention. I had no idea that my fake throw-back would be shown on TV. I didn’t intend for it to be cocky. The stadium was so empty at that point, and everyone remaining was so stunned by the circumstances, that it really didn’t cause much of a fuss. A few people questioned what team I was rooting for, and one guy (wearing a Red Sox jersey) offered me $50 for the ball, but that was it. In the immediate aftermath, the best thing that happened was being recognized by a guy sitting 20 feet to my right, who turned out to be a teammate from my summer baseball team in 1994. WOW!! We hadn’t seen each other since then, so it was quite a nice surprise. Here I am with him and a few of his friends; he’s the guy holding the ball:
As amazing as it would’ve been to leave the stadium after 16 innings with a game-winning home run ball in my possession, I didn’t want the night to end — and lucky me! In the bottom of the 16th, Mark Teixeira hit a leadoff homer (on his birthday, no less) to tie the game! Here’s a photo of the small celebration in the seats as he rounded the bases:
In the photo above, the girl wearing pink is the one who had gotten the warm-up ball from Beltran. Here’s a better shot of her with her brother (holding the ball I gave him) and their father:
Very nice people.
Here’s a photo of the scoreboard in the 17th inning:
It might look like it was only the 7th inning, but that’s because the scoreboard operators took everything down after the 10th and started from scratch. On the jumbotron, however, the inning numbers were accurate. I didn’t have a clear view of it from my seat (because of that awful Mohegan Sun Sports Bar), but you can still kinda see it here:
Normally I don’t root for the Yankees, but this insanely long game was messing with my head. When the Red Sox scored in the top of the 18th inning, I was disappointed, and when the Yankees tied it up in the bottom of the 18th, I was ecstatic. And by the way, the mere fact that it even reached the 18th inning meant it was THE longest game I had EVER attended. Hot damn!
The inning numbers were refreshed AGAIN at the start of the 19th:
Innings 19 through 27 . . . can you even imagine a game lasting THAT long?!
Here’s a photo I took in the top of the 19th inning when the clock struck 2:00am:
Look how empty the seats were:
I was fantasizing about catching another home run, but of course I was rooting for more scoreless baseball. I wanted the game to last 20 innings, but UGH, the damn Red Sox scored in the top of the 19th.
During the inning break, I took a photo of my home run ball . . .
. . . which, by the way, raised more than $100 for the charity Pitch In For Baseball. For the last six years, I’ve been encouraging people to pledge money for every ball I snag, but now as a new experiment this season, I’m asking for bigger pledges and only counting game home runs. In previous years, people sometimes pledged as little as one penny per ball, but that was fine because I’d snag about 500 or 600 balls (including BP) and they’d end up donating $5 or $6. This year I’m telling people to multiply their pledges by 100, so in other words, if you used to donate 10 cents per ball and you want to contribute again in 2015, you should consider donating $10 per home run. If the David Ortiz homer is the only one I snag this season, that would be incredibly lame, and if I somehow get really lucky and catch 10, that would be insane. Mostly likely I’ll end up somewhere in the middle, so the multiply-by-100 math should work pretty well.
Here’s what the scoreboard looked like in the middle of the 19th inning:
As you can see, the Red Sox had a 6-5 lead.
Unfortunately that’s the last scoreboard photo I got because the Yankees never posted the final score anywhere. Therefore I can only share an image of the Red Sox spilling out onto the field after the final out:
Did you notice Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia near 2nd base walking away from their teammates? They’d just turned a double play to end THE longest game in Red Sox history (6 hours and 49 minutes) and must’ve needed a moment to clear their heads.
As for me . . . I was bummed that the game didn’t last 20 innings, but overall I was thrilled with how it went down. One of the highlights of the night was the overwhelmingly positive reaction on Twitter from so many people. Here’s a gigantic screenshot to show you what I mean; many thanks to everyone who gave me a shout-out, especially my friend Chris Hernandez for being first on the list . . .
Please accept my apology if you Tweeted at me and I didn’t respond. As you can see, it got kinda crazy there for a while, and of course I was still trying to watch a baseball game, and my phone was on the verge of dying. But I promise I read everything, and as I mentioned up above, it really meant a lot to me.
Naturally I was curious to know exactly what Bob Costas had said about me. He was announcing the game with John Smoltz on the MLB Network, and as several people mentioned on Twitter, he called me a “disgrace.” What’s up with that?!
The next day, with some help from a friend who wishes to remain anonymous, I managed to get my hands on the footage. Here’s how Costas called it: “A high drive, deep right field, Beltran retreats to the track, and Ortiz has given the Red Sox the lead in the sixteenth . . . a Yankee fan retrieved it and then hurled it back in disgust, but it’s Ortiz rounding the bases and touching the dish to make it four to three.” Nearly a minute later, Costas said, “And you know, I may have been wrong. I think the guy may have pantomimed throwing it back and then held onto it. Either he’s a Red Sox fan traveling incognito without any identifying garments or else he’s just a civic disgrace from the standpoint of Yankee fans who remain. Either way he’s got the ball and the Red Sox have the lead.” Moments later, there was a replay showing what I did with the ball, prompting Costas to cut himself off mid-sentence and say, “Here’s the guy — here look, he fakes the throw. There it is. That’s why I thought he’d thrown it back. He fakes it to taunt the fans surrounding him, and then he keeps it.”
Damn right I kept it. I’ve always had mixed emotions about the practice of throwing visiting teams’ home run balls back onto the field. Personally, that’s not my style, but it can be entertaining when other people do it. If you have an opinion one way or the other, you need to see this Reddit comment. Seriously, click that link. It will make you think and put a smile on your face.
• 16 balls in 3 games this season = 5.33 balls per game.
• 807 lifetime balls in 121 games at the new Yankee Stadium = 6.67 balls per game.
• 1,055 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 721 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 249 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball
• 31 lifetime game home run balls (including 23 that I caught on the fly); click here for the complete list.
• 7,822 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 11 donors for my fundraiser
• $107.17 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $107.17 raised this season
• $40,062.67 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
This was my first game of the season, and look what I had to deal with:
Metal detectors! Yay!
In case you haven’t heard, they’re now being used throughout Major League Baseball this season. And beyond.
Here’s what it looked like a bit later from my spot at the front of the line:
There were LOTS of security guards outside Gate 6 . . .
. . . and I was ready for the worst.
As it turned out, the metal detectors are a joke. It’s all for show — the kind of thing that won’t actually make the stadium safer, but will make stupid people think they’re safer. Quite simply, the guards didn’t seem to know what they were doing.
My backpack has a zillion compartments, but the guard who “inspected” it only peeked inside briefly. Then, as I walked through the metal detector, the guard carried my bag alongside me. Guess what happened? The detector beeped, but it wasn’t clear what had set it off. The guard told me that the detector picks up metal objects that pass NEAR it, and then to prove that what he said was true, he waved the bag back and forth beside (but not inside) the metal detector, and sure enough, it beeped again. But how did he know that I didn’t have any metal objects in my pockets? The prudent course of action, obviously, would’ve been for him to make me walk back through the detector, but instead he handed me my bag and sent me on my way. How dumb is that? And wait — there’s more! Nearly an hour earlier — long before there was a line of fans waiting to get in — various employees (mostly vendors) passed through the metal detectors. Each time, the detectors beeped, but none of the guards noticed or cared. It was just a formality to have these employees walk through. None of them were asked to remove the metal objects from their pockets. There were no rules or regulations. There was no concern or oversight. These people had to show their employee ID cards upon entering the stadium, but so what? Any one of them could’ve brought a weapon inside. Do you trust Yankee Stadium vendors? I sure as hell don’t — but the Yankees do. And you know what? I don’t give a damn because living in fear is stupid.
Moments later, Brett Gardner hit a deep fly ball in my direction, and I knew exactly what was going to happen. I knew it was going to fall short, land on the warning track, and bounce right up to me. The only question was whether or not it would have the new commissioner’s signature stamped on it.
Here’s the answer:
I’m sure there are plenty of people who’ve never gotten a Selig ball, who are hoping that they’ll still be used during BP. Personally, after snagging more than 6,000 balls with Selig’s signature, I was ready for a change, and I was *so* glad not to have to wait.
Let’s talk about Rob Manfred’s signature for a moment. I think it’s decent, albeit a bit shaky and little kid-ish. It’s certainly legible — I’ll give him a tiny bit of credit for that — but I still have to make fun of it for looking like it says “Robut Manped.” And for the record, I’m more qualified than just about anyone to critique signatures. My family owns an old book store at which an entire floor is devoted to autographs. I work on that floor, nearly full-time, photographing and cataloging historical items and documents (and often attempting to decipher hard-to-read handwriting). The best signature I’ve ever seen belongs to a famous artist named Maxfield Parrish, who was born in 1870. I would love to see THAT on a baseball. But back to the new commissioner, I noticed that his signature is darker and longer than his predecessor’s. Look at Bud Selig’s signature on this ball. It starts below the R in “MAJOR” and ends below the E in “BASEBALL.” If you count the spaces between words, his signature spans 13 characters. Manfred’s signature, which you can see here, is three characters wider. It is a known fact that the more ink is stamped on a baseball, the easier it is for batters to see it and hit it; perhaps this is Manfred’s way of improving offense. Why ban the defensive shift and alienate an entire generation of baseball purists when you can simply write your name bigger than the last guy?
My second ball of the day was a home run that landed near me in the seats. I don’t know who hit it, but I can tell you that it also bore the signature of the new commissioner. Roughly 10 minutes later, Brett Gardner launched a home run that came right to me for an easy catch. Once again, the ball had Manfred’s signature, as did the next one that I snagged here:
In the photo above, did you notice the red arrow on the right? That’s pointing at Danny Valencia, who threw me the ball (from more than 100 feet away) just before the Blue Jays started hitting.
I headed out to left field . . .
. . . but there was hardly any action, which was probably a good thing for this guy:
How clueless do you have to be to sit in an area where baseballs land . . . and be looking down at your phone the whole time? Seriously: duh.
I spent the last group of BP in right field . . .
. . . but didn’t come close to anything. Justin Smoak hit a few balls into the 2nd deck in right field, but the lower level was dead.
After BP, I spent some time in the left field bleachers. Check out the starting lineups:
Don’t get all excited about A-Rod’s .500 batting average. He went 1-for-2 in the first game of the season and ended up going 0-for-4 in this one to lower his average to .167. I hate him so much and want him to fail and suffer (although if he ever decides to hit a home run to me during a game, that’d be cool).
Here are the four balls I’d snagged:
After Jays starter R.A. Dickey finished warming up . . .
. . . I got a ball tossed to me from the bullpen by pitching coach Pete Walker.
This was my view during the game:
It was so cold that I could see my breath. I was wearing two pairs of long underwear. And a hoodie. And a scarf. And my heaviest winter jacket. And it sorta/barely rained — misted, really — on and off throughout the night. It was so unpleasant that it actually made me hate all my friends who live in warm baseball cities. Why couldn’t I have been in Phoenix, where the game-time weather was 74 degrees and clear? And where the attendance was nearly 10,000 lower? And where I would’ve paid about $70 less for a seat in the same spot? Oh, right, because I love New York City (even when I shouldn’t) and find the thought of living elsewhere to be unbearable.
Anyway, here’s something nifty:
Can you tell what I’ve circled in red? It’s the new between-inning countdown clock. I really like it. I’m glad that Manfred is trying to speed up games, but how is that going to work when he’s also trying to find ways to increase offense? What gives?
As for this game, the Blue Jays blew a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the 8th with one of the sloppiest half-innings I’ve ever seen. There was a bloop double, a hit by pitch, a pitching change, a wild pitch, an intentional walk, another hit by pitch, a deflected seeing-eye single, and another pitching change. It was painful. But you know what? So was my ballhawking performance.
Final score: Yankees 4, Blue Jays 3.
Here’s a photo of the stadium from the elevated subway platform:
• 796 lifetime balls in 119 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.69 balls per game.
• 1,053 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 719 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 247 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball
• 7,811 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 8 donors for my fundraiser
• $87.80 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $0.00 raised this season (but just you wait!)
• $39,955.50 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Finally, here’s one more photo for you — a comparison of the four baseballs in regular light versus black light:
I’m not sure how many games I’ll attend this season — probably somewhere between 80 and 100. I don’t plan to blog about them all, so if you want to keep up with me, follow me on Twitter: @zack_hample
For the last six years, I’ve been raising money for a children’s baseball charity called Pitch In For Baseball, and for the last three seasons, I’ve given away a bunch of prizes to the people who’ve donated. I’ve decided to do it again in 2015 — with one major difference — so let me start with a quick list of the stuff you can win. Then I’ll show you photos of everything and explain how this is going to work:
1) a baseball signed by Willie Mays
2) three baseball cards signed by Kent Hrbek, Rick Cerone, and Dave Stieb
3) a Mickey Mantle ball with an image of his 1952 Topps rookie card
4) a Bernie Williams ball with his image and the Yankees logo
5) a Curtis Granderson bobblehead
6) signed copies of The San Francisco Splash and The Wrigley Riddle
7) a signed copy of Man Versus Ball
8) two Mets prints
9) three Mets t-shirts
10) a Mark McGwire rookie card
Here’s a photo of the ball signed by Willie Mays:
Why am I just giving this away? Because I want to make it irresistible for you to donate money to this worthy cause.
In case you’re wondering, this ball was given to me on a private tour of the Panini America headquarters before I went to a game on 5/3/13 at Rangers Ballpark. I’ve been holding onto it ever since, indecisive about what to do with it, and this seemed like a good idea. Obviously it’s a very special item, so good luck.
Here are the three signed cards, which, FYI, will be given away as one prize:
They came from the autograph department at my family’s business — the Argosy Book Store. My mom thought about selling them, but then she was like, “Eh, why don’t you take them and give ’em away.”
Here’s the Mickey Mantle ball:
I have no idea where it came from. Same deal with the Beanie Williams ball:
That was a giveaway at Citi Field during the 2014 season, and yes, I’ll send it to you in the box with all the packaging.
Here are the covers of The San Francisco Splash and The Wrigley Riddle . . .
. . . and this is how they’re signed:
They were dated “2013” because that’s when the author, David A. Kelly, gave me a bunch of books to be used as charity prizes. These two “Ballpark Mysteries” books will be given away as one prize, and by the way, David and I are friends. We met on 6/20/11 at Fenway Park, and we’ve kept in touch.
Here ‘s the copy of Man Versus Ball:
I’m friends with this author too — Jon Hart. Remember this article he wrote about me last season? Anyway, this book isn’t signed yet, but it will be. Jon will personalize it for the winner, so when the time comes, let me know and I’ll pass along your autograph request.
Here are the two Mets prints:
The one on the left shows the very first Opening Day ever at Shea Stadium in 1964. The one on the right shows the Mets’ dreamy captain, David Wright. These two prints, which each measure 12 x 9 inches, will be given together as one prize. They were giveaways at Citi Field in 2014, as were these shirts:
All three shirts will be given away as one prize.
And finally, here’s Mark McGwire’s rookie card:
Somehow this card found its way into the Argosy. I have no idea how much it’s worth. I used to collect cards like a maniac until 1995, but now I’m officially out of the loop.
People who donate money to Pitch In For Baseball through my fundraiser will be eligible to win these prizes. (I don’t get any money from this because my fundraising page is simply a place for people to make pledges. After the final game of the World Series, I will email everyone with info about how to actually donate the money directly to the charity.)
From 2009 through 2014, people used to pledge money for every ball I snagged over the course of the season — batting practice, toss-ups, foul balls, home runs, you name it. But now, for a change, the only balls that will raise money are the home runs I snag DURING games. Previously, if someone wanted to donate about five bucks over the course the season, they’d pledge one penny per ball. But because I’m going to raise money exclusively with game home runs, the math is much different. Now, in order to donate five bucks, you’ll want to pledge one dollar per ball. This is not an exact formula, of course, and that’s what makes it fun. It’s highly unlikely that I won’t snag any home runs, but there’s a chance I might only get one or two. There’s also a chance that luck will be on my side (for a change) and I’ll end up snagging half a dozen or more.
Previously, for every penny per ball that people donated, their names were entered into the drawing. But now, for every dollar per game home run that you donate, your name will be entered. Are you with me? For example, if I snag five game home runs this season, and you’ve pledged $5 per ball, that will amount to a $25 donation, and your name will be entered into the drawing five times. If someone else pledges $25 per ball, they’ll end up donating $125 at the end of the season, and they’ll have five times the odds of winning something. The person whose name is picked first will get to pick which prize they want; the person whose name is picked second will get the next choice, and so on.
You can make a pledge anytime — here’s more info about my fundraiser — but in order to be eligible to win a prize, you’ll need to send in the money by December 1, 2015.
On a final note for those who don’t know, Pitch In For Baseball is a non-profit charity that provides baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Here’s a blog entry that I wrote a couple of years ago about the charity helping Hurricane Sandy victims. Here’s a TV segment about the charity on the NBC Nightly News. There’ve also been a bunch of articles about Pitch In For Baseball on MLB.com, which you can read here and here and here and here.
As I mentioned in my last entry, I recently converted a bunch of old home videos from the 1990s, including several that were filmed at baseball games. I was thrilled when I stumbled upon this particular tape — 31 minutes of footage from Game 5 of the 1993 World Series — because I’d forgotten that I even had it.
This was my first postseason game. My dad and I drove down to Philadelphia for the day, and I was in awe of the gorgeous tickets:
Yes, that’s a screen shot from the video, and the quality sucks. Deal with it. The video isn’t worth sharing — trust me on that — but the story is still worth telling.
It should be noted that in the days before StubHub, getting tickets to premium events was extremely challenging. It often took a special connection just to have the opportunity to buy them. In this case, my dad had a close friend who ran an advertising agency with ties to CBS. Back then, CBS had the broadcasting rights to the World Series, so the agency got free tickets, and my dad’s friend passed them along to us.
As great as that may sound, I was bummed because of the weather. Look how gloomy it was as we approached Veterans Stadium:
Here’s the one photo that was taken that day:
That’s me at my heaviest — roughly 200 pounds at the age of 16 — wearing a “Bucky Dent’s Baseball School” t-shirt. Because I hadn’t yet started bringing a backpack to games, I was holding my glove and Blue Jays cap in the crook of my left arm. Everything about me was soooooo awkward back then (and some things still are).
Long before the stadium opened, I approached the gates for a sneak peek inside:
“Please, please, PLEASE!!!” I thought, “let there be batting practice!!”
And then I saw this:
NOOOOOOOO!!! It wasn’t even raining! Why was the tarp on the field?!
I tried to think positive thoughts. Maybe it wasn’t going to rain. Maybe it was going to clear up. Maybe the grounds crew had put the tarp out as a precaution for an early-afternoon storm that never happened, and maybe they were about to set up the field for batting practice.
I went and found my dad, who was sitting patiently on the base of a nearby statue:
In the screen shot above, that’s him in the gray sweater, facing to the left.
Then I wandered for a bit and marveled at the ugliness of the stadium:
Here’s the stadium itself from below:
Did you notice the sky in the previous image? Yeah, it was cloudy, but it was bright. That made me extremely hopeful that there might be BP after all.
Then this happened:
In case you can’t tell, it was raining.
Not surprisingly, when the stadium eventually opened, the tarp was still covering the field:
There’s hardly any footage from the following two hours. Very few players came out, and the stadium stayed empty for a while. All I can tell you is that I managed to get a Blue Jays player to throw me a ball shortly before game time along the left field foul line. I never knew who it was. I was just glad to extend my consecutive games streak (of snagging at least one ball per game) to 16.
That’s right: sixteen. The streak had begun just six weeks earlier at Shea Stadium.
The ball I got here in Philly had some unusual writing on it. You’ll see it in a bit, but first check out the 1993 World Series logo on the jumbotron:
Just before the game started, I walked through the cross-aisle in straight-away left field:
I’m sure that was a great place to catch home runs, but I didn’t really start thinking about that for another 15 years. Back in 1993, I was just happy to peek over the railing and watch Juan Guzman warming up:
I’m sad to admit that I didn’t even try to get the ball from him when he finished. I don’t know what I was thinking, but looking back on it now, it’s no wonder I snagged fewer than three balls per game that season.
Here’s a quick selfie I took . . .
. . . on the way to the concourse:
I had no agenda other than wandering and seeing what it looked like.
Then I headed back to the seats:
At the time, I didn’t think much of this . . .
. . . but now I can point something out. Do you see the triangle of dead space in the stands along the foul line? Shea Stadium also had dead space down the lines, and so did a bunch of other ballparks. That used to be a thing — the thing being bad design. Of course, these little gaps were great for snagging baseballs. Whenever a ball ended up in there, I’d fish it out with my glove trick. Unfortunately these gaps have all pretty much disappeared. Lots of stadiums still have dead space in the outfield, but security is usually strict, and when they’re not, other fans always have retrieval devices. The point is: I had it MADE back in the day, but didn’t realize it. (In 22 years, I’ll probably reminisce about 2015 and lament about how good things were THEN. It’s a vicious cycle.)
This was my view during the game — not great, but it could’ve been a lot worse:
In the bottom of the 4th inning, the Phillies had a 2-0 lead:
Curt Schilling was the starting pitcher for the Phillies, and he was dominant.
At one point in the middle innings, I remember seeing a foul ball fly back behind home plate and get stuck on a metal ledge in front of the press level. I asked my dad if I could wander over there for a closer look. He didn’t care. He was like, “Do your thing,” so I hurried over and was astonished to see that (a) the ball was too far out for anyone in the press level to reach, and (b) it was lined up perfectly with the edge of the overhang of the seats up above. My plan was to head up to that level of seats and then use my glove trick from the front row. I was sure that it would work. The only issue was security. Could I possibly get away with it *during* a World Series game?
Just as I was about to head up to the next level, a guard told me I would need my ticket stub to get back into the lower level. Unfortunately I didn’t have it with me — my dad was holding onto all my other stuff — so I had no choice but to head back to my seat.
I don’t remember why I didn’t run back and grab the ticket and then make a beeline for the 2nd deck. Maybe someone from the press level managed to reach the ball after all, or maybe I just lost my nerve. Whatever the case may have been, this remains one of my biggest “what if” ballhawking moments.
Back in my seat, I filmed the ball that I’d snagged before the game — an official American League ball with Bobby Brown’s signature:
Remember the writing on the ball that I mentioned earlier? This was already there when I snagged it:
Weird. I wonder who wrote it.
In the 6th inning, some random drunk guy started shouting at me from the cross-aisle just behind our seats, and when I turned around with my camera, he stuck his tongue out:
Once he had my attention, he chugged his beer:
What a classy individual:
My dad, meanwhile, had struck up a conversation with a very nice man sitting next to him:
I forget who he was or what he did, but he had some kind of baseball-related connection and ended up mailing me a cap with the commemorative 1993 World Series logo, along with some other goodies.
Here’s a screen shot that shows a bit of action — Phillies center fielder Lenny Dykstra catching a deep fly ball hit by Tony Fernandez in the 7th inning:
When the Blue Jays took the field, I got a shot of Rickey Henderson:
I always loved that guy.
With the Jays leading the series, 3 games to 1, the Phillies HAD to win to stay alive — and they did. Curt Schilling went the distance, and the final score was 2-0.
Two interesting facts about the game:
1) It was only the second time that the Blue Jays had been shut out all season.
2) It was the last postseason game ever played at Veterans Stadium.
After the final out, I filmed a bit more from our seats:
Then my dad filmed me walking around:
Here’s one last look at the seats and field:
Once again, I have no idea what I was thinking. I should’ve been behind the Phillies’ dugout, trying to get a ball. Perhaps I wouldn’t have made it past security, but it pains me that I didn’t even try. This was obviously a tough game for ballhawking — 62,706 fans and NO batting practice — but if the 30-something-year-old me could go back in time and do it over, my guess is that I’d snag at least three baseballs and possibly as many as six or seven.
Oh well. It was still a great day, and my dad deserves all the credit for making it happen.
On a final note . . .
The following season, when I saw Curt Schilling signing autographs at Shea Stadium, I mentioned that I had a ticket stub at home from Game 5 of the World Series, and I asked if there was any way to get him to sign it.
“Mail it to me,” he said, and I was like, “Really? I don’t want to lose it,” but he promised that he’d be on the lookout for it and take care of me.
He ended up coming through. Check it out:
I still think he’s a schmuck, but really, how awesome is that autograph? Also, in case you care, here’s the back of my ticket stub:
Oh wait! One more thing — a list of all of my other “Turn Back The Clock” entries. Enjoy . . .
1) October 4, 1992 at Fulton County Stadium
2) June 11, 1993 at Candlestick Park
3) August 24-25, 1995 at Anaheim Stadium
4) June 11, 1996 at Shea Stadium
5) July 1, 1998 at Three Rivers Stadium
6) July 2, 1998 at Cinergy Field
7) July 10, 1998 at Tiger Stadium
8) July 13, 1998 at County Stadium
9) July 14, 1998 at Busch Stadium
10) May 29, 1999 at the Kingdome
11) July 18, 1999 at the Astrodome
12) September 24-25, 1999 at the Metrodome
13) May 9-10, 2000 at Olympic Stadium
14) July 17-18, 2000 at Qualcomm Stadium
Two months ago, I discovered a trove of old home videos, mostly from the early to mid-1990s, on half-hour-long VHS-C tapes. Anyone remember those? If not, I envy you, but anyway, I’ve been quite busy lately converting them digitally, cataloging all the highlights, and cringing at my younger self. This is relevant to ballhawking because six of the videos were filmed at major league baseball games, including this one at Fulton County Stadium — the former home of the Atlanta Braves — on the final day of the 1992 regular season. If I had the skills, I’d edit the footage into a tight little segment and post it online. Perhaps I’ll learn how to do it someday, but for now I’ve taken a bunch of grainy screen shots and pieced the day back together.
It started with a late-morning drive to the stadium:
I was 15 years old. This was the fifth stadium I’d been to, and I’d snagged a lifetime total of 145 baseballs — not bad, I suppose, but looking back on it now, I had no idea what I was doing.
I was *so* looking forward to batting practice, but of course it was drizzling:
I walked up alongside the line, and with my camera still running, I zoomed in through the gates:
Given the fact that I grew up attending games at two stadiums (Shea and old Yankee) with solid gates that prevented fans from peeking inside, I always loved doing it on the road.
I should mention that I was at this game with my dad, Stu, my half-sister, Martha, and her then-girlfriend, Sandra. Here’s a closeup of my dad holding his ticket:
Our seats were on the lower level in left field. They cost nine dollars apiece. Sigh.
Here’s what it looked like as I entered the stadium:
Less than a minute later, I headed through a tunnel for my first look at the field:
No batting practice:
But the place was beautiful! (That’s probably what I was thinking at the time, but looking back on it now, ew.)
Here’s what the stands looked like on my left:
No standing room.
Lots of dead space behind the outfield walls.
What a nightmare of a stadium.
There was very little action early on. For a while, the best I could do was hang out along the right field foul line and try to get a ball thrown to me by the Braves:
In case you couldn’t tell, that’s me up above, looking at the camera. And hey, did you notice that I wasn’t wearing any Braves gear? I was totally unprepared, and that was just the beginning. Soon after failing to get anything in that spot, I noticed a ball sitting in a gap in foul territory. It’s hard to describe, but basically there was a random patch of dead space ten feet below me. Old stadiums were weird like that. I remember there being at least a dozen fans packed against the railing, peering down at the ball, waiting for someone to wander out and retrieve it and toss it up. If I had my glove trick, I would’ve snagged the ball easily, but I didn’t invent that device until the following season.
Thankfully I had a Padres cap, and shortly before game time, I used it to get a ball thrown to me by someone you definitely haven’t heard of: Guillermo Velasquez. He was playing catch in shallow left field, and I was in foul territory, and a light mist was falling, and there wasn’t any competition. Did I ask him in Spanish for the ball? Did I even know how to ask for a ball in Spanish back then? I have no idea. All I can tell you that it was one of those old National League balls with William D. White‘s signature. This is not the actual ball I snagged that day, but the logo looked like this.
Here’s a view from my seat at game time:
Look who was warming up:
That was future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine. At the time, he was wrapping up his second of three consecutive 20-win seasons.
Here’s an awkward shot of me holding my baseball:
I was self-conscious about being fat and zitty and therefore didn’t really want to be filmed, but what could I do? My dad had briefly taken control of the camera, so he captured what he deemed important, including Martha (with the goofy grin) and Sandra (giving the peace sign):
If Martha looks familiar, that’s because I’ve blogged about her many times, most recently when we were in St. Martin last month. Remember? She was also with me for MLB’s Opening Series at the Tokyo Dome in 2012, and we’ve traveled together several other times.
Before returning the camera to me, my dad filmed this:
He always felt a special connection to Warren Spahn; way back in 1939, he was a ballboy for a minor league team that Spahn played for. How’s THAT for a random/ancient connection?
Glavine retired the Padres in order in the top of the 1st inning. Tony Fernandez led off with a routine fly ball to right field. Kurt Stillwell followed with groundout to short, and then Darrin Jackson was called out on strikes:
Before the bottom of the 1st got underway, I filmed my new favorite player — Guillermo Velasquez — warming up in left field:
After having seen fans doing the Tomahawk Chop countless times on TV, it was fun to see actual (well, foam) tomahawks in person:
In the bottom of the 1st, Otis Nixon led off with a single to left field, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jeff Blauser, and scored on Terry Pendleton’s 199th hit of the season — a single to center. David Justice followed with a two-run homer, giving the Braves a quick 3-0 lead:
I decided to take a little walk. I headed through the concourse . . .
. . . and got a glimpse of the field from the 3rd base side:
I wanted to be closer to the action, and to my surprise, it was easy. This wasn’t Shea Stadium, where all the mean old ushers, it seemed, were out to get me, or Yankee Stadium, where the robotic guards fiercely protected the dugout seats. This was Atlanta, baby! I could go wherever the hell I wanted! Check it out:
There was a cross-aisle that made it easy to move around:
In the screen shot above, that’s a vendor walking in front of me — snazzy uniform, huh?
After an inning or two, I headed back to left field and rejoined my family. We were all amused by this guy sitting nearby, who was fast asleep:
My dad did the Tomahawk Chop:
Martha showed me her hot dog:
This was my dad’s reaction:
When Pendleton came to bat in the bottom of the 5th, he was still one hit short of a milestone:
I really wanted to see him get No. 200, but he grounded out:
He batted again in the 8th inning . . . and grounded out again. One inning later, Vinny Castilla (who then had just 20 career at-bats) replaced him and ended up getting an at-bat in the 10th. Can you believe that?! Pendleton could’ve had another shot at 200 hits — a plateau he never ended up reaching in the major leagues — but missed his final chance.
Late in the game, I couldn’t help but notice this guy:
The screen shot above doesn’t capture his true essence. He was wandering into every section and hollering at the players and revving up his fellow fans. Here’s a better look at his sign:
Uncle Willy, huh? Well, guess what? It turns out he was somewhat well known and also spent a lot of time at Yankee Stadium. Check this out.
The Padres ended up winning, 4-3, in 12 innings on an RBI single by Paul Faries. Randy Myers got the win, Pedro Borbon Jr. took the loss, and the game only lasted 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Back in the car, Martha said, “Thank GOD you got a ball so we don’t have to listen to you KVETCH!!” Then she added, “Can I see it?” and snatched it out of my glove:
I love her.
My dad was a bit more dignified. Here he is tipping his cap to say goodbye:
As for me . . .
Rather than posting a screen shot that looks like all the others, I’ll show you what it looked like on my laptop as I cataloged all the highlights last night:
Now, I wonder which video I should watch next . . .
Ever since I started ballhawking, I’ve been storing baseballs in my old childhood bedroom at my parents’ place. My folks were never happy about the amount of space that my collection took up, but I convinced them to let me keep it there. What didn’t fit (or rather, what wasn’t allowed to remain) in the bedroom got sent downstairs to their DISASTER of a basement storage locker. Here’s what it looked like several years ago:
Here’s another old photo of the locker:
The big green bins (pictured above in the back left corner) hold 600 balls apiece. The smaller barrels each hold 400.
Sometimes, when the media comes over to interview me about my collection, I’ll move a few barrels upstairs. That’s why the following photo makes it look like there’s space . . .
. . . but it probably only stayed that way for a day or two. For the last few years, the locker has been FILLED with barrels holding more than 5,000 balls, and yes, I know this is officially a First World Problem, but I’ve been stressed lately about storage space.
This past weekend, I took a little road trip to the Bronx:
No, I didn’t visit Yankee Stadium, but it just so happened that my route took me right past it. My destination was a lumber yard, and I brought a special friend with me:
His name is David. That’s him in the photo above, and as you can see, the wood took up all the space in our station wagon — and then some.
Here’s what it looked like inside the car:
I drove *very* carefully back to the Upper West Side. Then I dropped off David with the wood at my mom’s building, returned the car to the garage, and grabbed us some lunch. When I finally made it back to the building, I was surprised to see that David had moved all the barrels out of the locker:
The locker was empty, except for a few planks of wood that he’d placed in there:
I should mention that David is super-handy. He used to work as an elevator mechanic. Now he repairs trains for the MTA. There’s truly nothing that he can’t build or fix. Several weeks earlier, I had told him that I wanted an L-shaped storage unit built into the locker. More specifically, I wanted it to have a little platform so that if there’s ever a flood in the basement, the barrels will be elevated several inches off the floor. I also wanted it to have a sturdy countertop that could support a second layer of barrels.
While David took some measurements, I dumped my final batch of balls from the 2014 season into a brand new barrel:
Storing baseballs in barrels doesn’t allow me to be nearly as organized as I’d like. The best I can do is keep the commemorative balls on top:
FYI, I keep the best one of each commemorative ball in a separate place, neatly displayed. The commemorative balls in the barrels are all extras.
David, meanwhile, was cutting wood . . .
. . . and drilling it together with screws . . .
. . . and starting to put things in place:
The project was taking much longer than we’d expected, and for a while, I wondered if it was even going to work. But it HAD to work. I needed this more than you can imagine.
Here’s another photo of David going at it:
Eventually my mom showed up to say hello and check in on our progress.
After several hours, the countertop was finally in place:
At some point late in the evening, David told me to start getting the barrels ready to be moved into the locker. I interpreted that to mean: “Take the lids off all the barrels to see which balls are in them and if there’s any extra space to squeeze in a few more.” Some barrels were filled with standard Selig balls, while others brimmed with commemoratives:
I know I’ve snagged 67 different commemorative balls (here are 64 of them in one photo), but I don’t know how many total balls I’ve gotten with commemorative logos.
Anyway, here’s David putting the finishing touches on the storage unit . . .
. . . and here he is sitting on it to prove its strength:
That didn’t actually prove anything. He only weighs about 150 pounds — slightly more than each barrel.
In the photo above, did you notice the barrels tucked underneath the counter? Here are the rest put in place (including a little stack of empty ones):
That’s right — ALL the barrels that used to completely fill up the locker are pictured above. And look how much space is remaining! There are still three barrels upstairs in my old bedroom (plus another 720 balls in the drawers), but now I could fit all of them in the basement, if I had to.
In case you can’t tell, the long part of the L-shaped counter can hold five barrels, and the short part against the back wall can hold two more . . . on each level. That’s 14 total barrels’ worth of space, plus I now have room on the floor. For the first time in years, there’s legitimate space for my collection to grow, and let me tell you, it’s a great feeling. Here I am with David at the end of our 12-hour day:
Finally, for dramatic purposes, here are the “before” and “after” photos side by side. Behold the difference!
In the “before” photo, do you see all those boxes on the left? Those are mostly filled with baseball cards, which are now tucked away at the back of several closets upstairs.
I realize this isn’t the most exciting blog entry, and in fact it might be downright boring for some people. For me, though, maximizing the space in the basement will make a huge difference in my life, and I wanted to document the change.
Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one. (Here’s proof.) Thankfully I had saved all the photos, along with the text from my original entry, so this was fairly easy to recreate. Enjoy!
I had a BIG day ahead of me at Kauffman Stadium . . .
. . . and it was made even better by the fact that Jona was with me. Here she is, caught slightly off-guard in my Diamondbacks cap:
I was going to be filmed during batting practice by FSN — the Royals’ TV network — so I made my way to the TV truck and took a few photos of the outside of the ballpark:
Needs landscaping. But it’s still a glorious facility.
I made it to the truck and met up with a guy named Kevin, who was going to be producing my baseball-snagging TV segment. He and I had emailed and talked a few times over the past few weeks, but we still needed to discuss some last-minute details.
Here’s a look at the inside of the truck . . .
. . . and here I am (red arrow pointing to me) with Kevin, looking at a shot of the field and establishing the plan:
I’d brought copies of both of my books (How to Snag Major League Baseballs and Watching Baseball Smarter) so that Kevin could have a cameraman get a shot of them. I figured the books would be filmed right there in the truck, so I was surprised to see this:
Gravely dirt surrounding the books?
Here I am with Kevin outside the truck:
See that tent on the right? I hung out there for about half an hour, drank a much-needed bottled water (that had been buried under ice in a gigantic cooler) and talked to a bunch of people from the TV crew. One guy brought me back inside the truck and gave me a five-minute explanation of how all the equipment works, for example . . . how the network can provide a slow-motion replay RIGHT after the play happens live. It was fascinating. I’ve probably watched tens of thousands of baseball games on TV, and I never knew the details of how they’re produced.
Jona took off the D’backs cap. I put on my Royals shirt. Here we are near the left field gate:
See that little black thing between my chin and the Royals logo? That’s a microphone. I had a battery pack clipped to my belt in the back, and the wire ran up the inside of my shirt. Kevin had said that he’d have a camera on me at all times during BP, often from afar, and that he’d be able to pick up everything I said. (We joked about that scene in “Naked Gun” where Leslie Nielsen goes to the bathroom and doesn’t realize his mike is on.)
The line to get in was LONG:
That’s because there was a Zack Greinke T-shirt giveaway (ugh) and there ended up being 10,000 more fans at this game than usual.
The newly renovated outfield area was exquisite. Here’s a look at the field from the concourse . . .
. . . and here I am, practically all by myself, after running inside:
(In case it’s not obvious, I’m the one at the back of the section with the black backpack.)
See the fountains on the left? More on that in a bit.
It didn’t take long before I snagged my first ball of the day. Someone on the Royals hit one that rolled to the wall in straight-away left field, and I was able to reel it in with my glove trick. First I had to knock the ball a bit closer, and in the following photo, you can see me just starting to fling the glove out:
Here I am leaning out as far as possible to snag it:
See the guy standing just behind me and to the left, pointing a camera down at me? His name is Fred. He was there with his two kids. They’ve been reading this blog for a while, and they’d gotten in touch to let me know they were going to be there. More on them in a bit.
I snagged a second ball off the warning track with my glove trick and then pulled up a third ball from the gap in front of the batter’s eye. Here’s an artsy photo of my successful attempt at Ball No. 3, taken by Jona. It’s kinda hard to see the ball because of the sunlight, so I drew a red arrow pointing to it:
The stadium had opened at 4:30pm, and for the first hour of BP, everyone was confined to the outfield — more specifically, the area between the bullpens. That was fine, though, because there was SO much room to run. Check out the fantastically wide walkway at the back of the “Pepsi Party Porch” in right field:
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single homer that landed there all day. The balls just weren’t carrying. It was frustrating as hell.
One beautiful thing about the outfield setup at The New K is that the walkway extends all the way around the outfield, right behind the batter’s eye, so it’s easy to move back and forth between right field and left field. As a result, I positioned myself differently for lefties and righties and did a whole lot of running in the process:
Now, about those fountains, here’s the best photo of them (for ballhawking purposes) that you’ll ever see:
Can you imagine how many balls land in the water?!
If only there were some way to fish them out.
Oh wait . . . there is!
Check it out:
Ha-HAAAAAA!!! Yes, that’s right, I was prepared. The day before I flew to Kansas City, I was with my family at a lake about an hour north of NYC, so I came up with an invention and practiced in the water.
Here’s a photo (taken at the lake) of the contraption:
It’s basically a collapsible colander — you know, like, a pasta/vegetable strainer.
Look how it opens up:
And look how well it worked:
Yeah, I practiced with a tennis ball. So?
My only concern was sneaking the device past security at the stadium. Most places frown upon fans bringing anything with metal inside, but as it turned out, no one noticed or cared. Remember, this is Kansas City. There’s no one named Wilpon or Steinbrenner running the show.
Anyway, back to dry land . . .
I went down to the lower level of the Porch in right field (it’s all standing-room-only; anyone can go there at anytime, even during the game), and it was way too crowded as you can see below:
At that point, the Royals were wrapping up BP, so I began the process of changing into my D’backs gear. I say “process” because I had to unclip the microphone before I took off my Royals shirt. Here I am futzing with it:
Then, of course, once I had the D’backs shirt on, I had to put the mike back in place:
Even after the D’backs starting hitting, there was still a depressing lack of longballs, so I focused on using the glove trick. Here I am reeling in my fifth ball of the day:
Remember the guy named Fred that I mentioned earlier? He took the following photo, which shows me jumping and catching a ball tossed by Chris Young:
Another ball landed in the water. I ran over and frantically set up my device and went in for the kill . . .
. . . but the ball sank before I could get it. NOOOO!!!
The balls only seem to float for about 30 to 60 seconds. Keep that in mind in case you ever find yourself making a water attempt of your own.
In the four-part photo above, did you notice that there was a camera pointed at me? A cameraman had finally made his way out and caught up with me. His name was Mickey, and at one point, he had to take me aside (behind the batter’s eye) and make me stop running for a minute so he could hook me up with a second microphone:
Then he followed me around everywhere for the rest of BP:
Jona got a fun photo of me right after I snagged my next ball. It was a homer that flew over the batter’s eye and bounced up onto the bushy embankment behind it. There were a couple of other guys (neither of whom had gloves) who saw the ball bounce up there and thought they had it, but they reacted too slowly, and I came running out of nowhere and raced up the hill and grabbed it. They weren’t mad at all. They seemed to be amused and impressed, and I think you’ll agree when you see their reactions. Check it out:
A couple of minutes later, I scooped another ball out of the water:
Here I am just after reeling it in:
Yeah, I was pretty happy, and by the way, the photo above might look grainy, but that’s just the result of mist from the fountains.
One problem with the left field seating is that there are only four rows, so it gets crowded fast (especially during the first hour when everyone HAS to stay in the outfield) and the walkway behind the seats is narrow, so it gets pretty packed at times. See what I mean?
I think I ran about five miles inside the stadium. I wish I’d counted the number of times I ran back and forth from right field to left. I kept doing it throughout the game, as well as during BP.
I had eight balls at that point, and I was hoping to reach double digits. (That’s always my goal, and actually, at this point in my ballhawking career, I almost feel like something has to go wrong for me NOT to reach double digits. I don’t mean that to be cocky. It’s just that I’m averaging about eight balls a game, includes games without BP, so yeah, as long as a stadium opens at least two hours early and there’s BP, I really should snag at least 10.)
I used the glove trick again in the left field bullpen, and in the following photo, you can see Mickey with white earphones, listening to me and pointing the camera my way:
Then I used the trick AGAIN along the left field foul line. The four-part photo below, starting on the top left and going clockwise, shows me:
1) Starting to fling my glove out to knock the ball closer.
2) With the glove just past the ball as Jon Rauch and Scott Schoeneweis look on.
3) With the glove back up, briefly, so I can set up the rubber band and Sharpie.
4) About to snag my 10th ball of the day. The arrow on the left is pointing to the kid that I ended up giving the ball to, and the arrow on the right is pointing to the cameraman:
After BP ended, I had a fan reach in front of me and snatch a ball that a D’backs coach had tossed up (fair enough), and then I changed back into my Royals gear. The battery in my microphone had died, so Mickey had to unhook it and give me a new one:
Then I gave him a close-up demo of the glove trick:
I was done being filmed after that, so I had time to pose for a few photos and sign a couple of baseballs for Fred’s kids:
(I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: writing on a ball is not easy. There’s no place to rest your hand. If you have an old ball lying around, try signing it. You’ll see what I mean.)
As far as posing for photos, here are five that were taken throughout the day with people who’ve been reading this blog:
1) Kent (holding up a copy of Watching Baseball Smarter which I signed for him)
2) Fred and his kids (Colin, age 9, and Laurel, age 11)
3) Bob Buck
5) Brenda (she actually brought food into the stadium for me and fed me . . . wow! . . . and she had a copy of my book, too, but it’s hard to see because of the sun)
Just before the game started, several D’backs infielders played catch in front of the dugout, and I got Ryan Roberts to toss me the ball when they were done. You can see the ball on its way to me in the following photo:
Once the game started, I happened to notice this in the center field gap:
I never got any closer to them than that.
During the game, I hung out on the walkway in LF for right-handed batters . . .
. . . and I stayed on the upper porch in right field for all the lefties. I’m not in the following photo, which shows the RF walkway, but it’s still cool, so here it is:
Several ushers in left field (where I had scooped two balls out of the water earlier) had told me that they’d NEVER seen a fan do that before. I find this hard to believe. The New K has been open for more than two months; I expected to run into a few regular ballhawks with water-retrieval devices. I expected some serious competition, if even just from one or two other guys, but nope, I was all alone out there to do my thing. It’s really a shame that there weren’t any homers hit during the game because I would’ve had a great chance to snag them.
This was the view from my actual seat:
I didn’t sit in it much. In fact, I think I only sat in it to take that photo.
After the game, I changed back into my D’backs gear (for what felt like the 8 millionth time) and raced over to the bullpen.
Chad Qualls spotted my reddish shirt amidst a sea of blue and threw me a ball without my even asking. Then, about 30 seconds later, I pointed out a ball lying off to the side and got coach Jeff Motuzas to toss it up, but of course he tossed it short and it bounced back down. He was already gone by that point (didn’t even linger two seconds to see if I’d catch it), but I was lucky to get hooked up by a security guard who’d seen the whole thing unfold. (Well, he must not’ve seen the ball I got from Qualls.)
Jona got a photo just as I caught that last one:
Here I am with Jona (photo by Fred) after the game:
Two more things . . .
1) The Royals won the game, 5-0, behind a complete game, four-hit, 132-pitch effort from Gil Meche. It was impressive, but of course it killed me. Where are the slugfests when I need ’em?
2) The footage that was filmed of me during BP is going to air today, June 17th, during the Royals’ pre-game show on FSN. Also today . . . I’m going to be interviewed live on the pre-game show at around 6:30pm (local time), and then I’m going to be interviewed again *live* during the game itself. It was supposed to happen in the broadcast booth, but just my luck — today the announcers are gonna be doing the game from the Party Porch, so I won’t get to wander around the press box and cause trouble. At first I was told that my interview would be taking place for half an inning during the fourth inning, but I just heard from Kevin that it’s gonna happen in the top of the third. Great. I already know how it’s gonna go down: Zack Greinke (who’s pitching tonight) is gonna mow down the D’backs on seven pitches, and I’ll be gone before I can blink. Maybe, just maybe, since I’m going to (hopefully) be talking about my charity work, karma will be on my side and Greinke will have his worst inning ever, and the D’backs will bat around . . . twice . . . and there’ll be lots of pitching changes and pick-off throws and conferences on the mound, and hey, why not throw in a rain delay while we’re at it? Maybe I’ll get to talk on the air for like an hour. (I’m such an optimist. Sometimes.)
Okay, I gotta go . . .
• 233 balls in 29 games this season = 8.03 balls per game.
• 598 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 164 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 105 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 45 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,053 total balls
• 110 donors (click here to make a pledge or just to get more info)
• $24.16 pledged per ball
• $314.08 raised at this game
• $5,629.28 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
One more thing . . .
Earlier today, I got an email from Fred with some photos, including this one of his kids with the balls I signed:
With all the talk these days about Rob Manfred taking over for Bud Selig as the new commissioner of Major League Baseball, I decided to look back at an old blog entry and reminisce about my visit to the commissioner’s office in 2009. Well, guess what? The entry was gone. Dead. Deleted from existence. And I was horrified. It went missing when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress several years ago. A bunch of my other entries suffered a similar fate, but thankfully I’ve been able to revive some of them. Anyway, here you go — the stories and photos from one of my favorite baseball experiences ever. Enjoy!
A few weeks ago, I called the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball and asked to speak to someone who could give me info on commemorative baseballs. (For those who don’t know, I’m working on a new book about baseballs.) I really didn’t expect to get anywhere. I’d called MLB’s headquarters several times in the past and always got transferred to various people’s voice-mails — and then never heard back. This time, however, things were different. My book might’ve had something to do with it, or maybe it was just because there’s a new crop of really cool people at MLB, but regardless . . . three days ago I got to go TO the actual Office of the Commissioner to ask my questions in person. No, I didn’t meet with Bud Selig himself. He was in Milwaukee, and the office is located in New York City. Instead I had a 90-minute meeting with Howard Smith, the Senior Vice President of Licensing for Major League Baseball. One of my first questions for him was, “Who actually decides if there will be a commemorative ball for a particular game or event?”
His response: “I do.”
As you might imagine, I was pretty excited to be talking to THE man, and as it turned out, he enjoyed talking to me; during the 11 years that he’s worked for MLB, he hasn’t exactly met a whole lot of people who are as enthusiastic about commemorative balls as me.
I asked Mr. Smith dozens of questions, many of which had been left as comments on this entry. (Thank you all for the ideas and suggestions.) We also looked at 27 different balls that I’d brought from my own personal collection. We talked about “juiced ball” theories as well as the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica. We discussed the cost of manufacturing commemorative balls in addition to the process of designing the logos in the first place. He was incredibly friendly and generous, not just with his time, but also with some of the stuff he had sitting around his office. You know those “gold balls” that are used in the Home Run Derby? He gave me one of those. And have you ever seen the 2001 World Series ball that features an American flag where the MLB logo normally appears? He gave me one of those too. He said it was made immediately after the 9/11 attacks and that the flag overlapped the logo to show that our country was bigger than the game of baseball. This ball never saw game action. (The standard 2001 World Series ball looked like this.) Instead it was designed to be the ball that President Bush threw for the ceremonial first pitch.
I happened to be wearing my black umpires cap, and Mr. Smith asked me about it. I explained that since I don’t have a favorite team and since I’m absolutely crazy about Major League Baseball in general, I love wearing stuff that *just* has the MLB logo.
“Clothing like that is really hard to find,” I complained. “Everything has a team logo.”
“What’s your hat size?” he asked.
“Seven and a quarter,” I told him.
He picked up the phone and called his secretary. Five minutes later, there was a knock on the door, and I was handed this:
This is the cap that umpires wore on July 4th and September 11th.
Two of Mr. Smith’s assistants — guys from the Business Public Relations department — sat in on the meeting. They too were friendly and fun, and we all had a bunch of laughs. When I asked about Bud Selig’s involvement with commemorative balls, Mr. Smith said, “He doesn’t deal with such minutiae.”
“Minutiae?!” I shouted. “I take offense to that!” and we all cracked up. It was that kind of meeting. No pressure. No attitude. I was thrilled to be getting such amazing info for my book, and I was equally thrilled just to BE there; the Office of the Commissioner is not open to the public. Even if you’re the biggest baseball fan in the world, you can’t just waltz in there unannounced. You’d never be let past security in the lobby in the first place. The office occupies four floors of a fancy (and VERY secure) office building at 245 Park Avenue, which is just a few blocks from Grand Central Station. So yeah, just by breathing MLB’s air, I felt special (that is honestly not sarcasm), but as it turned out I got to do a lot more than simply breathe. After the meeting (which had only been scheduled to last an hour), I was given a lengthy tour *and* I was given permission to take photos and share them on my blog.
You ready to see them?
Here goes . . .
This is the main/reception area on the 31st floor:
Did you notice the World Series trophy in the case on the left? Did you notice the baseball diamond on the floor?
Here’s a closer look at one section of the wooden walls. As you can see . . .
. . . there’s a list of every World Series winner in baseball history. The section of the wall on the far end features a year-by-year list of every Hall of Fame inductee.
Just beyond the glass doors at one end of the reception area, there’s a lounge with a Negro Leagues theme. One wall has a gigantic photo of the championship team from 1935:
The opposite wall showcases several teams’ uniforms from that era:
As I was led through various corridors, I kept feeling more and more giddy at the sight of baseball stuff in random places . . . like the xerox room:
I headed down some stairs and passed a World Baseball Classic display:
This is what it looks like on the 30th floor:
Every team’s current home uniform is on display. Here’s a closer look at the half-dozen from the NL Central:
Speaking of divisions, did you notice the baseballs on the wall just past the receptionists’ desk two photos above? Here’s a closer look:
There’s one column of balls for each of MLB’s six divisions; each division is arranged according to the standings, with the first-place teams on top.
There are lots of different lounges and meeting rooms on the 30th floor. Here’s one of them, and as you can see, there’s a display of game-used bases:
Here’s a closeup of a base from the 2008 World Series:
Here’s the room where press conferences are held:
I was taken up to the 34th floor after that. There was baseball stuff EVERYwhere, even in the area right outside the elevators:
That’s a display/map of the Minor Leagues.
I took the next photo with my back to the map. It shows more of the elevator area, along with the entrance to the 34th-floor offices:
This is what the reception area looks like up there:
Those are real/vintage magazines on display. The small white one on the left is a copy of “Baseball Magazine” with a very young (and slim) Babe Ruth on the cover.
The back wall of the reception area features silhouettes of baseball’s all-time greats:
The one on the right is Stan Musial. How many of the others can you identify? (If you look closely, you might be able to read the name of the player next to Musial.)
There’s a corridor on the 34th floor with one of those cool displays that appears to be different depending on which way you’re looking at it. This is what it looks like from the right . . .
. . . and this is what it looks like from the left:
There were certain things that I wasn’t allowed to photograph. The lunchroom, for example, was full of employees, so I had to put my camera away when I stepped inside. Therefore, you’ll have to settle for a description of the coolest part: baseball card table tops. What I mean is . . . each table where people were sitting and eating had the standard, food-resistant, plastic coating, but underneath it, there was a collage with hundreds of baseball cards, both new and old.
(Deep breath . . . )
Here’s another corridor:
Those are replicas of various outfield walls. Do you see the dark green section at the end? Here’s a closer look:
By the time my tour came to an end, I’d been at The Office for two and a half hours. There’s a lot more that I’d like to say, but I was asked not to mention certain things. There’s a lot more that I’m allowed to mention, but I’m too tired and busy to blog about it. And of course there’s a lot of stuff that I’m going to save for the book.
The book isn’t scheduled to be published until March 2011, but I’m already compiling a list of people who want to be reminded (via email) when it comes out. If you’d like to be on that list, leave a comment or send me an email.
Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one — a 5,400-word account of my first appearance on “The Tonight Show.” Thankfully I had saved all the photos, and the text was still archived on a third-party website, so this was fairly easy to recreate. Enjoy!
My two-day trip to California got off to a dubious start. Not only was the “limo” driver outside the airport in Burbank holding a sign on which my last name was misspelled, but there wasn’t even a limo. I had to ride to the hotel in an SUV.
I probably shouldn’t be complaining. After all, “The Tonight Show” paid for both me and my girlfriend, Jona, to fly out, put us up at the Universal Sheraton, provided the car service, gave me a $60 per diem, and also told me I’d be getting a small honorarium. Not a bad deal.
I had two contacts at the show. One of them — a “talent coordinator” named Bryan — called me while I was en route to the hotel. He asked how the flight was and told me that he and my other contact — a producer named Steve — would be meeting me for breakfast the next morning in the hotel lobby at 8:30. He almost said it with an ominous tone, and I thought I was in trouble or that I was going to be told that my segment had been canceled. I was so paranoid at that point. I’d almost gotten on Letterman a few years earlier, and when that fell through, I figured I’d never get an opportunity like that again. Now here I was 24 hours from being taped for “The Tonight Show,” and I just wanted things to go smoothly. I wasn’t THAT worried about my own performance. I was mainly concerned about all the factors I couldn’t control. What if Obama decided to drop by the studio and say hello to Leno? What if there was an earthquake? When my dad was on Oprah about a decade ago, his segment was interrupted by a breaking-news story about a plane crash.
Speaking of Obama, Jona and I watched the presidential debate in our room, then met up with my half-brother Joe and his fiancé for dinner. We went to CityWalk. It was tacky and fun. We picked a restaurant called the Daily Grill, and I ate a surprisingly good Cobb salad. I really wanted the fried chicken but didn’t want to get bloated right before being on national television. Whenever my weight fluctuates and I gain a couple of pounds, it goes straight to my face. What’s up with that? Why can’t it go to my left calf or some other worthless body part?
Jona and I went to bed at around 11pm (which felt like 2am) and woke up a little over seven hours later. Don’t you hate waking up before the alarm goes off? That’s what happened. I was so worried about sleeping through breakfast that I sprung awake before it was fully light outside. Not good. This was THE day, and I’d been hoping to get as much sleep as possible.
I went downstairs at 8:27am. There were a few people milling about the lobby, but they looked more like tourists than NBC bigwigs. I wandered outside and saw a big guy standing around who looked a bit like Lenny Kravitz. Was THAT one of the guys I was supposed to be meeting? Nah. He looked like he should be on camera, not behind it, but sure enough, he looked over and said, “Zack?”
It was Bryan.
Steve showed up a few minutes later, and we all walked inside the lobby and headed down a curved, carpeted staircase to a fancy restaurant. We each got the $20 buffet — their treat, of course. I didn’t get to eat as much as I wanted (which was a good thing) because Steve and Bryan only had an hour, and they had me talking nonstop. I told them about my involvement with Scrabble and Arkanoid, and I mentioned my other dorky pursuits, but they wanted to stick to baseball. That’s what the segment was going to be about, so that’s what we discussed. Steve asked me a bunch of questions, and I told a bunch of stories, and he gave me an idea of some of the things that “Jay” would probably be asking me. I suggested demonstrating the glove trick on-air, then pulled it out of my backpack and actually showed them how it worked, right there in the restaurant.
“Sorry,” I said, “hope I’m not making a scene.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Steve. “This is L.A. No one cares.”
The trick worked on the first try (which it usually does), and they loved it. Steve started thinking about how to incorporate it into my seven-minute segment, and we talked about how he might have me climb up on Jay’s desk and do the trick from there.
That was pretty much it for breakfast. It was 9:30am. I had five hours to kill before a car would be taking me and Jona to the studio, so we went to a place called The Grove, which is basically an outdoor mall. The highlight for Jona was going to a natural food market called Erewhon and getting raw milk. Jona is a health freak, and I mean that in a good way, but sometimes she makes dietary choices that I just can’t be a part of. This was one of them. Raw milk is supposedly much healthier than regular/pasteurized milk, but there IS a chance that there could be bacteria in it — but if you eat lots of organic food (as Jona does), you’ll be so healthy and have such a strong immune system that you’ll be able to fight off these natural forms of bacteria. (Isn’t this interesting?) Raw milk, you see, is illegal in New York. It’s illegal in most places, in fact, but in California, if you know where to look, you can find it. So here we were. And THIS is how I spent my time getting ready for my appearance on “The Tonight Show.” It would’ve been the perfect distraction if Jona hadn’t been asking me every eight minutes if I was nervous.
I really wasn’t that nervous. I’d been interviewed about my baseball collection hundreds of times, so what was the big deal now? The only pressure I felt was due to the fact that if my segment sucked, it would be archived online forever for the whole world to see, so I was thinking more longterm about it all.
After Jona got her milk, we visited the gigantic Barnes & Noble so I could sign all their copies of Watching Baseball Smarter. How many copies did they have?
And it was all the way upstairs in the sports section on the bottom shelf with the spine facing out. I was not too happy about that. Seriously, how is it possible that a book that was about to be shown on the goddamn Tonight Show — the eighth best selling sports book in America the year before — could be so buried and forgotten by such a major bookseller? It is HARD to be a writer. Think about all the authors who don’t get to be on TV with their books. I’m lucky because I have a hobby that people in the media like to talk about, so I keep getting free plugs, and yet I still struggle to have my book seen. It would’ve been nice to walk into the store and see a few stacks of the book sitting on a table with a big sign that said, “As seen on ‘The Tonight Show’ on October 8, 2008″ or something along those lines. Really, is that asking too much? I know there are a lot of books out there, and that every author thinks that his/her book deserves to be on a table in the front of every store, but c’mon.
Jona and I made it back to the hotel by 1pm. I made a few phone calls, answered some emails, and changed into my outfit. THE outfit. I’d picked out the top half — my black baseball cap and gray MLB shirt — and Jona had picked out the bottom: gray acid-wash jeans and a cute pair of shoes from Sketchers. I never would’ve considered wearing those shoes. In fact, I didn’t even own them until Jona took me shopping and bought them for me two days earlier. I thought they were hideous when I first saw them on the shelf, but she made me try them on, and I actually liked them. They were sporty but not too sporty. Not too colorful. Not too big or too plain. I felt good about the outfit. That had been one of the biggest sources of stress for a few days, during which time I received numerous requests and offers from people who wanted me to wear their companies’ stuff on the show. Yeah right. I didn’t want to turn my segment into a commercial, and I wouldn’t even have been allowed to do so. Steve had told me that I couldn’t wear ANYthing with a logo on it. When I mentioned the MLB logo I was hoping to wear, he said that would be okay since it fell in line with the subject matter.
The “limo” was there right on time, and off we went. Jona had made her own interesting fashion choice: a turquoise button-down shirt with a blue and white polka dot tie. I thought she was joking when she first described it. Was she going for the clown look? (Some people ARE into that, you know.) I really thought she’d lost it, but she insisted it’d be cute. (It was.) This was L.A., she reminded me (well, technically Burbank), and she wanted to look nice for Jay. I was told that we’d get to meet him before the taping of the show, and that surprised me. When I was on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” in 1999, I didn’t get to see Rosie until the cameras were rolling; when I complained about it to my dad after the fact, he told me that that’s nothing unusual — that hosts rarely interact with their guests beforehand because it diminishes the spontaneity on the air.
Ten minutes later we were at the edge of the NBC complex:
We passed through the security tollbooth, then rounded a few corners, and eventually saw this:
See the blue car in the photo above? That was Jay’s car. Here’s a closer look . . .
. . . and let me say now that I got permission to use all these photos on my blog.
A security guard greeted us and led us to Bryan, who led us to another security guard, who gave a backstage pass to Jona, who was SOOOO excited as we were led to the green room. I was excited too — being on TV hasn’t gotten old yet — but I’d been through it before so it was cool to see her reacting to everything. It’s like when you show your favorite movie to a friend who’s never seen it; you kind of get to experience it yourself from scratch because you imagine how they’re experiencing it. You know? Same thing here.
We walked through a generic-looking hallway and reached the green room. MY green room. This was the sign on the door:
They’d spelled my name right! Woo-hoo!!
Here I am (slightly blurry) standing at the door:
In the photo above, you can kinda see the food and drinks that were provided. There were two trays, one with fruit and another with veggies. There was also tea and coffee, as well as a fridge with bottles of juice and water. I could’ve requested a beer, I was later told, but I avoided all this stuff and just ate a chicken salad sandwich I’d brought. I didn’t want to ingest caffeine and/or sugar and get all jittery. My energy was fine. My mental state was fine. I didn’t want to throw it off in any way.
Here’s a look at the green room:
Do you see the little white thing sitting on the end of the shiny counter? That was a gift bag. Here’s a closer look:
There was a box inside, and yes, the logo on it was upside down:
When I took the top off, this is what I saw:
Here’s a closer look:
Even better than the watch was the envelope taped to the side of the bag. It contained the following card:
It was great to have a personalized note from Jay, and I got to return the favor when one of his many assistants poked his head into my room and asked me to sign his guest book. So I did. Right across from James Taylor:
Bryan had left me and Jona alone in the green room for a few minutes. Then Steve showed up to talk about the segment. He had a list of questions that Jay was going to ask–
“Oh, and here’s Jay right now,” he said.
“OH!!” blurted Jona as I looked up, and Jay Leno was indeed standing right in front of me. He was wearing an all-blue denim outfit and LOTS of makeup. He said a quick hello, shook our hands, said he’d see us later, and was gone in five seconds. It would’ve been nice if he’d hung out a bit longer, but I still appreciated the fact that he’d even stopped by.
Steve went over the segment with me. I asked questions about what I should say, not because I wanted him to put words in my mouth, but to get an idea of how long he wanted my answers to be. I expected every second of the segment to be scripted (as was the case on “Rosie” and “The Early Show“), but Steve just told me to have fun with it and say whatever I wanted, and he encouraged me to just be myself. I didn’t need to be told that, but it was still nice to hear.
You know what wasn’t nice to hear, at least at first? That the glove trick had been scrapped from my segment. There simply wasn’t time, or at least the producers felt it wasn’t worth making time for. But then again, maybe this was a good thing. By not showing the glove trick, I was protecting it as a secret. (Of course, I’ve explained how to use the trick here on my blog, and I also gave a tutorial on it in my first book, but you know what I mean.)
Steve led me and Jona out onto the set and gave me brief instructions as we went, such as where to enter and where to walk. He reminded me to shake hands with Dana Carvey (who would remain on the stage during my segment) and had me sit down IN the actual seat next to Jay’s desk. He told me NOT to belt out my words as if I were on Broadway, but rather just to talk like I normally would because I’d be miked up and everyone would be able to hear me just fine.
I noticed that Jona wasn’t even looking at me. Her eyes were wandering all over the room, trying to take it all in.
Steve led us back to the green room and left us alone for a few minutes.
Carvey walked by and disappeared into the next room. Gilbert Godfried walked by wearing full (and cartoonishly ugly) drag. Ho hum, just another day in Hollywood.
Bryan dropped by and asked Jona if she wanted to stay in the green room during the show or sit in the studio audience. She wisely picked the audience, and he led her off.
I was all alone with about 25 minutes until the taping would begin. My segment wasn’t going to start for another 45 minutes after that, so I had quite a bit of time to ponder my life and the state of the universe.
Jay walked in. He was wearing a suit and tie. He LOOKED like Jay Leno. Very cool. Just the two of us. He asked me if I was ready and told me we were gonna have fun and said it was a great story. He had a clipboard with a list of questions that he was planning to ask — the same list that Steve had been carrying 10 minutes earlier — and he looked at it and told me how he was going to start.
“Mind if I take a look at it?” I asked.
He didn’t mind at all, so I stood right next to him and peeked at it and we talked a bit longer about how the segment was going to play out.
I told him I’d heard that he was going to hold up both of my books during the intro, and he assured me that he would. I said that if there was ONE thing that I wanted to get into the segment, it would be my new book — Watching Baseball Smarter.
“We’ll get it in there,” he said. “Don’t worry.”
That made me feel great, and it took all the pressure off. I didn’t care if he mentioned How to Snag Major League Baseballs. I didn’t care about plugging Watch With Zack or the Argosy Book Store. I just wanted him to SAY the words “Watching Baseball Smarter” on the air and hold up the copy that my publicist had FedExed to Steve several days earlier. Like I said before, I didn’t want to turn my segment into a commercial; the only way I intended to sell myself was by being fun.
Jay left my room, and I was left alone once again.
I ate a cool, thin piece of pineapple.
Kevin Eubanks walked by, saw me standing in the doorway with a few baseballs in my hand, and shouted, “Go Phillies!”
“Phillies?!” I said with a hint of amusement. “I grew up as a Mets fan. Get out of my face!”
He walked all the way down the hall and shouted “Go Phillies!” again.
“Yeah, keep walking!” I yelled, and he looked back and smiled.
I always assumed Eubanks was tall. He has a tall personality, doesn’t he? But he’s not tall. He’s a few inches shorter than me, and I’m 5-foot-11.
I got some makeup — just a little powder so I wouldn’t be shiny — and went back to my room for the start of the show. Steve walked in and adjusted the volume on the TV. We watched Jay’s opening routine while talking more about my segment. It was weird to hear the audience’s laughter coming from just down the hall AND to hear it on TV at the same time.
Steve left me alone again, and I started sweating — not a lot, but just enough that I worried I might end up with sweaty armpits if I didn’t do something about it, so I grabbed a towel and started dabbing myself. I wasn’t really nervous, just amped up.
Jay did a hilarious segment that mocked the presidential debate, then did another segment with Godfried (who was pretending to be the wife of the world’s fattest man), and then Carvey was on. He was funny. VERY high-energy. Tough act to follow. My armpits were still sweaty, though thankfully my shirt wasn’t sweat-stained. It was pretty crazy to think that in just a few minutes, I’d be sitting right where Carvey was — that *I* was going to be part of a show that I’d been watching on and off for years.
Steve came back, saw me holding the towel under my shirt, and told me that the first time Dara Torres was on the show, she was “pittin’ out” in the green room as well. He then left me on my own and told me he’d come back for me during the commercial break just before my segment. Carvey stayed on for a second segment, and when I heard the band start playing, I knew it was my time.
Steve came and got me and asked if I was ready.
“No,” I said. “I’ve actually changed my mind about being on the show.”
He led me down the hallway, reminded me to be myself, and told me there was now an extra minute for my segment, so instead of seven minutes, I was gonna be on for eight. Cool.
He left me with the stage manager. She was going to tell me when to walk out. The band was still playing. I knew I had a minute or so before I’d be out there. I could see a sliver of the audience and looked for Jona. I had no idea where she was sitting, and I didn’t see her.
I wasn’t nervous. My heart wasn’t beating any faster than if I’d been watching the show on TV. I know that might sound crazy, but it’s true. It almost creeped me out. I was aware of how UN-nervous I was and wondered if there was something wrong with me — if I was trying to trick myself into thinking I wasn’t nervous — but no, I truly wasn’t nervous. Five minutes earlier, when I’d been watching Carvey on that little monitor in the green room, I’d told myself that there was nothing to be nervous about . . . that this segment wasn’t even being aired live . . . that I wasn’t being seen by millions of people . . . that I was only being seen by the few hundred people in the studio audience . . . and that I wasn’t talking to them . . . that I only had to think about having a conversation with one man . . . and that it was a conversation I’d had countless times in the past . . . so really, what was the big deal?
The band stopped playing, and I heard Jay start introducing me. He mentioned Watching Baseball Smarter, and out I went. I just tried to have fun at that point.
Here’s a screen shot from the segment:
Is the segment archived anywhere online? I have no idea, so let me know if you can find it, and I’ll add a link. For those who did manage to watch it, you might be interested to know that the four balls I brought out were:
I got to show the first two, and I would’ve shown the others but we ran out of time. What can I say? I tend to be rather verbose when people get me talking about catching baseballs.
Two other things of note:
1) I’d been trying to figure out how to sit in the chair. It seems like celebrities are always crossing their legs when they’re interviewed on talk shows, but that’s not my style. BUT . . . I didn’t want to sit there awkwardly as if I didn’t know what to do with my limbs. So I decided to rest one arm on the chair and sit slightly tilted toward Jay. The tilt also worked well to hide the baseballs early in the segment, so yeah, although I might’ve looked all loose and casual, which I suppose I was, it was all carefully planned. Ha!
2) You might’ve noticed that I left a comment on my previous entry in which I said I was going to give everyone on the blog a collective/secret shout-out by taking a sip of water as my segment went to a commercial break. Well, I *did* take a sip, but it never made it onto TV because instead of fading out, the producers slipped in the Beltran footage, which was great, but it bumped the shout-out.
Speaking of the commercial break, I spent it sitting on the stage and talking to the guys. Carvey started by asking me, “So where DO you position yourself to catch all these balls? Over HERE for righties and over THERE for lefties?” I answered him briefly and then Jay told me I was great. I told him he made it easy for me by being so nice. Carvey agreed I was great (“very smooth,” I think he said) and asked me if it was my first time on the show. I said it was and asked him how many times he’d been on. “Forty or fifty,” he said, and we talked more about nervousness. He said it’s tough doing comedy because he feels like he HAS to be funny, and with that feeling comes a lot of pressure. Jay asked me about my family’s book store. I told him it was called “Argosy” and said it was right near Bloomingdales. He said he knew about it, and I believed him, given the fact that lots of A-list celebrities have been there over the years. That’s when Steve walked up onto the stage and told me that during the following musical performance by Marc Broussard, Jay was going to get up and walk over near the band and I was supposed to walk over with him and Carvey.
After the performance, Jay walked right down in front of the band, and Carvey started heading that way as well. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to walk all the way down there, and apparently I was, so Carvey waved me over, which was cool, but I knew it probably looked like I was a total amateur. Then the two of them teamed up to film a few teasers for the show. We were all standing around and shaking hands for half a minute after that. I heard Broussard tell Carvey that he was a huge fan. I told Carvey that I have a friend who looks so much like him that people mention it at least once a week. “I’m sorry,” he said. Jay thanked me for coming on the show, and I thanked him for having me.
Then I was led over to Jay’s desk and had my picture taken with him by a professional photographer. Steve had told me early in the day that that would happen after the show, probably so I wouldn’t feel the need to harass Jay to take a photo with me in the green room. Jona made it down to the stage, and she jumped in with us for another photo.
It was then that I noticed a fellow ballhawk named John Witt in the audience. He was being led out of the building, and I was being ushered back to the green room, so we quickly shouted at each other and planned to meet outside.
Just before I was about to leave, I had Jona take a pic of me with Steve and Bryan. Here we are:
Steve then walked me back into the studio and grabbed a sign for me off one of the low-hanging rafters — a bonus/parting souvenir. Here it is (next to the watch to give you perspective):
Jona’s cousin Joey was in the audience, but he hadn’t gotten to sit with her. We didn’t even know whether or not he’d made it in until after the show. I was also looking for my friend Leigh Barratt (aka “padreleigh”) but didn’t see him and didn’t know whether he’d made it. It was all very rushed and chaotic. I wanted to linger and take it all in, but I was led outside and the “limo” was waiting for me. I told the driver that I wanted to catch up with a few friends before he took me back to the hotel, and he was fine with that. I called John. Jona called Joey. We found out where they were, and John suggested that we all meet across the street at a gas station.
I’d never met John before — not in person, that is. We’d talked on the phone for 40 minutes before I left for Burbank, and we’d emailed on and off for years, but this was it. Finally:
We’ve snagged over 7,000 balls combined. You’d never know it by looking at us, right?
John had grabbed a stack of tickets for the show. He had me sign about half a dozen of them (so he could try selling them on eBay) and gave a few to me. I wonder if Carvey saved stuff like that after his first appearance on the show.
Jona caught up with Joey . . .
. . . and the three of us went out to dinner. They wanted to go to a nice place on Melrose (I forget the name) but I really wanted to get back to the hotel by 8:35pm — that’s when the show would be airing on the east coast — so we went to CityWalk, which was right next to the hotel, and suffered through a lousy meal at an Italian place called Buca di Beppo. Joey suggested that we go there, but since I’d insisted on CityWalk in the first place, I’ll take half the blame.
By the way, in case you’re wondering how I transported my precious baseballs, I wrapped each one separately with paper towels and rubber bands . . .
. . . and put them all in a plastic shopping bag . . . which I carried in my backpack . . . which NEVER left my side except when I had to put it through the X-ray machine at the airport, at which point Jona strategically kept an eye on it.
After dinner, Jona and I went to our room and watched some lame shows on NBC, hoping to see one of the teasers for “The Tonight Show,” but they never came on. Meanwhile I talked to my parents during Carvey’s segment and told them to call me after I was on, which they did, and they both said I was great, which was nice to hear because I hadn’t yet seen myself, and I had NO idea how I came off. I started getting a bunch of emails and phone calls and blog comments and friend-requests on MySpace. Crazy. Really . . . crazy. The nicest email I got from a stranger went as follows (and was typed in big blue letters):
Just wanted to say I saw you on Leno last night and you gave me a laugh and a smile which I really needed. You are so cute and just a pleasure to watch … I wish you had been on longer. Keep making people happy.
Sandy (61) in Lockport, Illinois
It was so weird to think that my appearance on TV was sweeping across the country as the show aired in different time zones — that millions of people would be seeing me before the night was through — and it got me thinking about fame. I realized (if this makes any sense) that I’m the most famous person that most people who know me know, and yet 99.9 percent of the people watching Leno that night probably thought “Who the f*ck is Zack Hample?!” when they saw my name at the start of the show. Oh well.
I was exhausted. I wanted to go to sleep. I truly didn’t care about seeing myself on TV, and I actually did fall asleep for a while. Jona woke me up just in time to see Jay holding up my books. And then I was on. I thought I did okay. I wish I’d spoken a bit slower, and of course I hated my voice (does ANYone other than Morgan Freeman enjoy hearing their own voice?), and I wished I’d talked less about batting practice and more about snagging balls during games, and I thought of a few extra jokes I could’ve made . . . but what can you do? At least it wasn’t a disaster, and eventually I fell back asleep.
The next morning, I took Jona to the buffet — eggs, cheese, bacon, sausage, potatoes, bagels, cream cheese, lox, donuts, croissants, danishes, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, pineapple, granola, oatmeal . . . and that’s only what I had time to eat before we had to head back upstairs and pack and check out and leave for the airport.
Since I’ve been home, I’ve already done a few radio interviews (including one that will be a podcast on NPR) and been written about on a blog on the USA Today web site and spoken to someone at ESPN. It’s been crazy. It’s been a great ride. I don’t know what else to say. I don’t even know if anyone is actually reading this. I can’t believe how much I’ve written, but I wanted to get this all down to document it for myself, if nothing else. Hopefully, if you HAVE read all the way to this point, you’ve enjoyed it.