Earlier today, I received the following email from my friend Brandon:
First of all, what’s the deal with sending an email with no subject? That’s super-annoying. But okay, fine . . . you want to know what I’ve been up to lately? Last week the Mets and Yankees were both on the road, so there weren’t any games in New York City. This week they’ve been playing each other, and I want no part of it. I was planning to go to Philadelphia on Tuesday to see my new BFF Mike Trout — until I heard that 8,000 folks from his hometown in Millville, New Jersey, were also planning to make the trip. I was also been planning to go to Yankee Stadium tomorrow, but the weather’s gonna be miserable, so to hell with it.
As for the bigger picture, I’ve been to 17 games this season, which puts me on pace to attend about 70, so no, I’m not “over baseball.” That said, I’ve only blogged about five of the games I’ve been to — all my games outside of New York plus one brief entry about a cool moment with Heath Bell at Yankee Stadium.
You see, I’ve decided to stop blogging about games in New York because (a) blogging is a pain in the ass, and (b) Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are terrible for ballhawking. They’re my two least favorite venues in the major leagues. I don’t have much fun there, so when I get home from games, the last thing I want to do is relive the experience by writing about it. Kinda sad, huh?
Meanwhile, it just so happens that I haven’t been traveling much because I’ve already been to every current stadium multiple times; it’s hard to justify taking an entire day off from work to go and snag a bunch of BP balls. Camden Yards used to be a place where I’d average 10 balls per game, but now it’s crowded and competitive. Citizens Bank Park was also a venue where I routinely put up double digits, but now the gates are opening half an hour later. Nationals Park is great, but it takes four hours to drive there. Fenway Park is cramped and expensive. At this point, I’ll probably only travel to another city if there’s a damn good reason, such as (a) trying to snag a particular commemorative ball, (b) trying to catch a milestone home run, (c) catching up with a player that I know, (d) being filmed by the media, or (e) being with my girlfriend if she’s ever free and wants to join me.
So there you have it. I still love baseball as much as ever, and I actually have something big in the works to help me enjoy it even more . . .
This will be brief. I want to share a quick story from yesterday’s Yankee game (as well as a photo that’s guaranteed to make you cringe) . . .
When the Rays first took the field for BP, I got Heath Bell’s attention near the 3rd base dugout.
“Out in left field near the bullpen,” I told him.
“Meet me here,” he said, pointing to the seats in foul territory.
“I can’t. Security won’t let me down here after 5:45pm. Why, what’s up?”
“I have a ball for you,” he replied.
Fast-forward 20 minutes. I saw Heath jogging out toward me in straight-away left field, so I hurried down to meet him in the front row. Before he reached the warning track, he pulled a ball out of his back pocket and tossed it to me. Some teenaged kid on my right tried to reach in front of me and snatch it, so I lunged *far* forward and outreached him. (Phew!) Several minutes later, when there was a quick break in the action, I photographed the ball:
How cool is that? And would you believe this wasn’t the first Opening Day ball that Heath has given me? Check out my blog entry from 8/31/08 at PETCO Park to read about the other time it happened.
Anyway, the ball he gave me at Yankee Stadium was one of 11 that I snagged on the day, bringing my season total to 109. This is the 17th consecutive season in which I’ve snagged 100 or more balls — but enough about that. I just want to share one more photo from this game, and I suppose I should warn you that it’s not pretty. Here goes:
The fan (not pictured above) who threw up was VERY drunk. Was he ejected from the stadium? No, of course not, but hey, whatever. No big deal. Yankee Stadium security has its priorities.
The game itself was one of the best I’ve ever attended, puke notwithstanding. It lasted 14 innings, the Rays won, 10-5, and Heath got the win in relief — can’t ask for much more than that.
A funny thing happened after the final out of the Yankee game on April 27, 2014. (This was the ESPN Sunday night game, but I’m certain this wasn’t shown on TV.) As you can see below, a fan ran out onto the field and was quickly apprehended by stadium security:
As security led this idiot off the field, the fans in the bleachers cheered him like crazy, prompting him to bob his head up and down like a wannabe rockstar.
The cop responded by yanking the guy’s hood down over his face:
Moments later, the guy decided to stop walking and intentionally collapsed on the grass:
Here’s what happened next:
As you can see, he was carried off the field, right in front of the Angels’ relievers who were just starting to walk across the field from the bullpen. HA!!
Somehow, right after that, the fan ended up on his head:
Police brutality? Nah, just a typical day at Yankee Stadium.
By the way, I snagged seven balls (six before the game and an 8th-inning toss-up from the bullpen), bringing my season total to 90, but I don’t plan to blog about that. You may have noticed that I haven’t written anything about the games I’ve attended this season in New York, and I don’t think that’ll change anytime soon. Quite simply, from my perspective, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium are the two worst stadiums in the Major Leagues; I have nothing nice to say about either venue, so I’d rather say nothing at all. I’m not quitting the blog, though. I still plan to write about my games on the road, and in addition to that, I’m sure I’ll find some other things to discuss . . .
Just got a BIG surprise in my email inbox:
That’s right . . . Mike Trout is now following me on Twitter! And look! Moments later, I got another email notification:
I had to make sure that my eyes were not deceiving me, so I clicked on his profile, and sure enough, it’s legit:
When I caught Trout’s first career home run on 7/24/11 at Camden Yards, I knew it was a big deal, but I had no idea how big. He was 19 years old at the time, hovering around the Mendoza line, and okay, yeah, he was the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball — rated even higher than Bryce Harper — but so what? There’ve been countless “can’t miss” prospects who have failed in spectacular fashion.
Anyway, after that game, I gave the ball back to Trout, no questions asked. All I wanted to do was hand it to him myself and get a photo and maybe get to chat for a minute or two. All of that stuff happened. And it was pretty damn cool.
Do I have any regrets about not keeping that ball? Umm, yeah. Duh! I’m human. I’ll always wonder “what if” and torment myself about how much it would now be worth, but hey, whatever. At the time, I was just excited to have caught the ball, and giving it back felt right. It feels even better now that Trout still recognizes me and appreciates my gesture. If I were to sell the ball for $1 million, it still wouldn’t be worth as much as having a unique, personal connection to a good dude who happens to be the best baseball player on the planet.
Do you remember when I was reading this book on Day 3 of my recent trip to Saint Lucia? It was an advanced copy. The publisher needed quotes for the back cover. And look! Three months later, my name is now on it:
The book is called I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever, and I have to say that that’s an accurate title. Here’s the link on Amazon in case you want to check it out. I recommend it. It’s highly entertaining.
Camden Yards is 194 miles from my home in New York City, but in this case, the distance meant nothing. I had three big reasons for skipping work and driving down for the day. First, I’d heard that the Orioles were using special baseballs to commemorate their 60th anniversary, and I *really* wanted to snag one. Second, the Tampa Bay Rays were going to be there, and I wanted to catch up with Heath Bell. And third, my girlfriend, Hayley, had a rare day off and was willing to tag along because she’d never been to Maryland. We made it to Baltimore more than four hours before the stadium was going to open, but I’ll spare you the details of how we spent it. Instead I’ll cut to the chase — here we are outside the gates:
That photo was taken by my friend and fellow ballhawk Tim Anderson. In the following photo, Tim is wearing the white t-shirt, and you can see Hayley waving in the background:
You can also see my first baseball of the day, which, disappointingly, was not commemorative. It was a batting practice homer by J.J. Hardy, which landed in the seats, took a series of wild ricochets, narrowly eluded Tim, and eventually trickled to me.
Meanwhile this was Hayley’s view:
I had told her to sit all the way back there so that she wouldn’t get drilled by any baseballs. I had also asked her to try to get a few action shots of me.
This is not what I had in mind:
I don’t know why I was making that horrified face (on the left) or prancing around like a complete tool (on the right), but hey, anyone can look stupid for an instant, right?
Thankfully there were moments when I looked a bit better, and Hayley captured those too. Although the following photo is blurry, it’s my favorite because it shows me jumping high for my second ball of the day — a J.J. Hardy homer that I caught on the fly. Check it out:
The left field seats were crowded. Look how much competition there was just on my staircase:
When the Rays started warming up, I was glad to see Heath Bell:
After a few minutes, I changed into my Rays gear and headed to the seats along the left field foul line:
That’s where I got my third ball — a softly-thrown one-hop knuckler from Jake McGee that I trapped against the wall after lunging out of the stands.
Eventually Heath came over to say hello, and we chatted for a few minutes:
He noticed Hayley taking photos nearby and asked, “Is that your girl?”
I waved her down and introduced them. (It felt weird to say, “Hayley, this is Heath. Heath, this is Hayley.”) He asked how we met (heh), and we all chatted briefly.
Toward the end of BP, I got a toss-up from Grant Balfour in straight-away left field. Then, at the end of BP, I hurried to this spot behind the 3rd base dugout . . .
. . . and got my fifth ball of the day from Rays coach Tom Foley. He’s always been generous.
In the 1st inning, I led Hayley out to the Flag Court:
My plan was to hang out there for all left-handed batters and to go for foul balls from righties behind the plate.
So much for that.
The stadium was too crowded for me to run back and forth through the cross-aisle, and on top of that, I wanted a commemorative ball more than I wanted a home run. All five of my pre-game balls had the regular MLB logo, so I pretty much *had* to snag one during the game. Therefore I went for foul balls all night. Whenever a righty was at bat, I stood in a tunnel on the 1st base side of home plate, and whenever a lefty was hitting, I hung out here:
The only exception was when the Rays were in the field with two outs. That’s when I tried to work my way down behind their dugout in the hopes of getting a 3rd-out ball.
Long story short: TOTAL FAILURE. There was a shocking lack of foul balls, and I kept having bad luck at the dugout.
As the Orioles were about to wrap up their 7-1 win, I knew that my only remaining chance was to get a ball from the home plate umpire after the final out. I looked up the box score to find out who it was, and when I saw the name, I was like, “Huh?”
I’d never heard of him before, so obviously he was a rookie. Was he cool? Was he a jerk? I had no idea what to expect, but my strategy remained the same.
As he walked quickly off the field and out through the tunnel, he only gave away one ball. Somehow I was the lucky recipient and . . . just LOOK at this thing of beauty:
THAT is a gorgeous logo.
Moments later, I noticed three guys walking across the field from the Rays’ bullpen:
It just so happened that Heath Bell was in the middle. I waved him over as he approached the dugout, and we chatted for a minute. Before we said goodbye, I showed him the commemorative ball, figuring he might be mildly interested, but as it turned out, he liked it so much that he said he was gonna try to get one for himself. I’m calling it now: after he retires, we’re going to attend a game and ballhawk together.
On the way out, I gave away two BP balls to random kids, and I got someone to take my photo with Hayley:
Even though the paid attendance was only 15,799 at this game, the stadium felt MUCH more crowded than it used to be. Not too many years ago, I would expect to snag 10 to 15 balls per game here. On September 14, 2009, I snagged 22 balls, and the next day I got 25. Those days are loooooong gone, but it’s still an amazing ballpark, and I’m always glad to make the trip.
Here are the four balls that I kept . . .
. . . and here are some numbers for ya:
• 6 baseballs at this game
• 58 baseballs in 7 games this season = 8.29 balls per game.
• 973 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 63 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection
• 7,234 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.)
• 16 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.37 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $8.22 raised at this game
• $79.46 raised this season
• $38,743.46 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
SPECIAL BONUS SECTION — some words from Hayley herself:
Baltimore’s a cute town. I’ve been to four different stadiums now, so, in my highly expert opinion, I thought Camden Yards was pretty nice. It was cool being able to walk around the whole place easily via the cross-aisle without having my view obstructed, or feeling like an usher was going to demand my ticket at any second. I ended up just sitting in my seat and letting Zack do his thing for the final third of the game, but it was a good time nonetheless. Also, the crowds were bigger than I expected — who are all these people staying out at a baseball game until 10pm on a Monday night?
Normally I wouldn’t post a separate entry about my trip back home, but this one took FORTY-THREE hours! Here’s a quick rundown, and then I’ll share some photos:
1) Getting to the Alice Springs airport and sitting around (1.5 hours)
2) Flight from Alice Springs to Sydney (3 hours)
3) Layover in the Sydney airport (5 hours)
4) Flight from Sydney to Dubai (14 hours)
5) Layover in the Dubai airport (3 hours)
6) Flight from Dubai to New York (13.5 hours)
7) Baggage, customs, long taxi line, insane traffic from JFK Airport (3 hours)
Now that you know that, here I am on a bus to the airport in Alice Springs:
Boo-hoo. It was time to go back home.
On the way to the airport, the bus stopped at a golf resort/casino to pick up two dozen passengers. This is what I saw out the window:
In the photo above, did you notice the birds perched under the corner of the awning?
Here’s a closer look at them:
I’m not a bird connoisseur, but c’mon, those little guys are beautiful.
Wanna see something that wasn’t beautiful? Here you go:
Why was I making that stupid face? Here’s a closeup with the answer:
As you can see, there was a fly on my face. (Do you remember all the flies that prompted me to wear a net over my face on Day 10?) No matter how many times I shooed it away, it came back and crawled on me, often with several of its friends. Yuck.
This was my skimpy meal on the Qantas flight to Sydney:
After the flight landed, I made sure to buy some Tim Tams:
Here’s where I sat for the entire five-hour layover:
I spent most of that time working on a blog entry about the first game of the Opening Series at the Sydney Cricket Ground. I also spent a little time eating this:
That was my second of what felt like eight thousand meals on the way home. Here are the two main courses I ate on the 14-hour Emirates flight to Dubai:
The flight was awful because there was an infant sitting two rows behind me, who wasn’t just crying. It was WAILING. And. It. Kept. Doing. It. For. Fourteen. Hours. The baby made it hard for me to sleep, and when I decided to stay awake, it made it hard for me to enjoy my music or focus on my writing or do anything worth a damn.
I took a photo of the flight tracker as the plane approached Dubai:
Here’s what I ate at the Dubai airport:
That was a hummus and falafel wrap, and it sucked. The airport was super clean and fancy, but the food options were crap.
You can imagine how tired I was by the time I got on my next flight — a nice little 13-and-a-half-hour jaunt. And guess what? There were crying babies EVERYWHERE. I’m not kidding. There was one in the row in front of me, another close behind, and another on my left. I was surrounded! Here’s how I was feeling:
I suppose I shouldn’t go on the record publicly as wanting to punch a baby, so let’s pretend I didn’t say that. Let’s just say that I was very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very VERY annoyed. And that I now officially hate babies.
Here are two more meals that I ate on the flight:
Now, obviously I couldn’t take a selfie while I was sleeping, so here’s my attempt at staging the scene:
Did I sleep?
Did I sleep well?
Yes . . . briefly.
I had an aisle seat, so before I planned to attempt to fall asleep, I made a point of getting up and walking around for about 20 minutes. (This was a huge plane with more than 500 people, so there was lots of space.) I figured that the folks on the inside of my row would take advantage of my not being there by getting up and using the bathroom and stretching their own legs for a bit. I had it all planned out perfectly. I was going to sleep for the final six hours of the flight, and when the plane landed in the early afternoon in New York, I would magically be back on track with my sleep schedule. Jet-lag is for babies, I thought. And speaking of babies, I was so damn tired that the whole plane could’ve been filled with them, and I still would’ve fallen asleep.
I managed to fall asleep fairly easily, and let me tell you, I was OUT. I normally can’t sleep on planes (or anywhere that isn’t a very comfortable bed), yet somehow I fell into a *deep* sleep with full-on dreams and no tossing or turning. And then I felt someone tap my shoulder. I was so out of it that it took me a while to wake up and realize what was happening. The woman on my right, evidently, hadn’t used the bathroom earlier, and NOW she had to go. Unreal. I looked at the flight tracker. I’d only been sleeping for two hours. There were still four more hours to go, and I was never able to fall back asleep.
But you know what? It was worth it. Being inconvenienced on a luxurious plane is not so bad in the grand scheme of things. And this really *was* the trip of a lifetime.
This was the final full day of my trip, and I went on a guided tour of the MacDonnell Ranges — a famous mountainous region of the outback in the Northern Territory of Central Australia. Look how gorgeous the scenery was on the way to the first stop:
The view out the back window was also spectacular:
The first stop was a place called Standley Chasm. Here are some of the other people on the tour, following the guide along a path to get there:
Take another look at the photo above. Do you see the guy wearing a bug net over his head? Don’t laugh at him for looking silly. It was a genius move. See the guy whose back is facing the camera? Do you see anything *on* his back?
Here’s a closeup:
All those little specks are bugs! They were EVERYWHERE. Thankfully they didn’t bite, but they were incredibly annoying. Every few seconds, one of them would land on some portion of my body, often my face and crawl/buzz around my nose and eyes and ears. I seriously thought I was going to lose my mind, but what could I do? We were in the middle of nowhere, so I just dealt with it and tried to enjoy the day.
Here’s a photo of me at the chasm:
On the way back to the bus, I wandered inside a gift shop for no other purpose than to escape the bugs for a couple of minutes. I didn’t plan to buy anything until I saw this:
It was $9, but for all I cared, it could’ve cost $99. I handed over the money, tore open the package, threw that damn fly-net over my head, and stepped back outside:
Suck it, flies!
I was brand new man.
Meanwhile, my tour guide, Clive, didn’t seem to be the least bit bothered by the flies. Here he is setting up some tea for us near the bus:
Eventually we got back in the bus and headed to our next stop. When we got out, I took a photo of the license plate, just because I thought it was cool:
Our next stop was at a place called the ochre pits. Here I am posing there:
The fly-net, I realized, was great for keeping the flies away, but lousy for being photographed.
Clive set up a nice little lunch for us at our next stop . . .
. . . and then we wandered off yet again to another scenic spot — easily one of THE most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Have a look for yourself:
Yes, the flies were just as bad in this spot (which was called Ormiston Gorge), but whatever. I couldn’t bear the thought of being photographed anymore wearing the net.
We had to walk a bit at our next stop . . .
. . . but it was worth it:
The place pictured above is called Glen Helen Gorge.
All of the stops featured signs like this:
I didn’t bother reading the signs while I was there; I simply photographed them all so I could educate myself later.
Here I am at Ellery Creek . . .
. . . and here’s a cute tree I noticed atop the rocks:
On the way to our next and final stop, we passed a cattle crossing:
We were heading to a place called Simpsons Gap, and from the moment we stepped out of the bus in the parking lot, I knew it was going to be magnificent:
Here I am jumping off a small rock:
Here I am crouching beneath some huge rocks:
Here’s one more photo of me at Simpsons Gap:
In case you’re wondering, I had a tripod with me and took all these photos of myself with a 10-second timer.
All the rocks were pretty much the same color, but the sunlight and shadows created a heavy contrast:
And finally, here’s something I’m sure you want to see:
Those are wallaby turds. Yummy.
Now . . . as I said at the top, this was my final full day in Australia, but I still have one more entry coming about my 43-hour trip back home. Then I’ll get back to more baseball-y things.
It’s amazing how much the scenery can change in two hours. This was my view as I flew out of Cairns . . .
. . . and here’s what I saw before the plane landed in Alice Springs:
That might not look like much, but I was excited because my opportunity to experience the outback had finally arrived.
While waiting for my luggage in the Alice Springs airport, I took a peek at this:
Why? Because I’d just been informed that the bike tour I’d booked weeks in advance had been cancelled, and I needed to find something else to do. (The tour was supposed to be with a company called Experience Oz, so here’s some friendly advice: don’t book anything with them. They suck.)
As it turned out, there *was* nothing else to do that would fit into my limited time frame, but in a way that was good. It meant I could relax and check out the actual town of Alice Springs.
On the way to my hotel, I took a bunch of photos of the landscape, including this dried-up riverbed:
In case you can’t tell, it was HOT. And I was glad. This winter in New York City had been brutal.
At the hotel, I got a map of Alice Springs and headed out on foot for the afternoon:
I had to walk about a mile to get into town. Here’s a residential side street I passed along the way:
Here’s what the town itself looked like . . .
. . . and OH, look — there was a mall:
I headed inside (because what else was there to do?) and bought a few snacks, including this:
That’s a dessert called a lamington. My friend Ray Burton had recommended that I try one, and I have to say it was disappointing, although I don’t blame him. Some lamingtons are filled with cream, but as you can see, the one I got had nothing but generic sponge cake in the middle.
Several people (and websites) had warned me about Alice Springs after sundown. They said it gets pretty sketchy and that the whole town basically shuts down, and I could see what they meant, even in the mid-afternoon. Some of the “main” streets were desolate . . .
. . . but whatever. It was only 4pm, and c’mon, if I can deal with 1,000 sketchy New Yorkers per day back at home, I could certainly handle whatever Alice Springs had to offer.
I kept wandering and eventually found myself standing here:
I didn’t realize it until I walked closer, but that hill had a path toward the top. I headed up and took the following photo (of myself!) on the way:
Nothing sketchy about THAT.
At the top of the hill (which is called Anzac Hill), there was a memorial . . .
. . . but I was more interested in the natural beauty.
In the late afternoon, I headed back into the middle of Alice Springs:
The shadows were getting long, and suddenly everywhere I went, the locals were glaring at me:
Yup, it was definitely time to get moving.
I found a Thai restaurant, got some food to go, and took a taxi back to my hotel.
. . . but once we got out on the water, it turned out to be really nice:
After 45 minutes, we reached the reef and docked here:
Here’s a closer look at it:
The people running the cruise had informed everyone that there might be jellyfish in the water, and then, of course, they said we could rent wetsuits which would prevent us from getting stung.
“Will a wetsuit prevent me from getting bitten by a shark?” I asked.
The answer was no, but I got one anyway. It was only $7, and I didn’t want to take a chance.
BRING IT ON, JELLYFISH!!!
Here I am in the water . . .
. . . and look! Here’s a photo of some fish that I took underwater:
The people running the cruise, OF COURSE, had disposable/waterproof cameras for sale, and like a sucker, I bought one.
Actually, I’m glad I did. My pictures weren’t terribly exciting, but it’s nice to have a visual record of what I saw. Here’s what some of the coral looked like . . .
. . . and here’s some more:
This might be weird, but I enjoyed looking at the coral more than the fish. And no, there weren’t any jellyfish. Of course.
Here’s where I ate lunch:
(There was a buffet on the lower deck, and I brought my food up top.)
In the previous photo, did you notice the two women wrapped in pink towels? That’s who I ate lunch with. I had met them earlier in the day, and we ended up talking quite a bit, mostly about baseball after they commented on my umpire cap and asked if I’d attended the Opening Series in Sydney. They were from Los Angeles and had been at the series too. One of them, a *huge* Dodgers fan, is trying to visit as many stadiums as possible, but get this — she only counts a stadium if she sees the Dodgers win there. (Good thing the Dodgers didn’t get swept in Sydney, huh?)
On the way back to Cairns in the late afternoon, I asked my new friends to take a photo of me on the top deck of the boat. Here’s how it turned out:
Did you notice the folks staring at me in the background? Well, apparently I inspired them to strike a similar pose of their own:
The ride back was beautiful. Here’s a look at Green Island way off in the distance . . .
. . . and here are some mountains:
After the boat docked in Cairns, I walked along this street to my hotel . . .
. . . and enjoyed a little computer time on my room’s balcony:
The highlight of my evening was going to a nearby casino:
I’m not a gambler. I’ve only been to a few casinos ever. In fact, I hate casinos, but there was nothing else to do, so here I was:
I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the casino, so here’s a quick recap of what happened: I stood around and watched people lose money at various games for two hours. Then I decided to play black jack, won my first hand, lost the next two, found myself $30 in the hole, and got the hell out.