During a lull in batting practice on 9/22/14 at PETCO Park, a local friend asked if I had any pre-game plans the following day. “Yeah,” I said matter-of-factly, “I’m gonna go hang out at Heath Bell’s house.” That seemed to amuse him, so I played along as if it were a joke, but that WAS, in fact, my plan. Fast-forward to the morning of September 23rd. Here I am with Heath and his wife Nicole:
That photo was taken by their four-year-old son, Rhett, who had been placed by Heath on the dining room counter for that purpose. (I had to rotate it slightly and then crop it, but wow! Nice job, young man!)
I was really glad to be there. Not only was it my first visit to their home, but it was the first time that I got to have an actual conversation with Nicole, who’s super-friendly. She and I had crossed paths once or twice before, but only in the context of post-game mayhem at stadiums. Of course it was also great to catch up with Heath. We had hung out several times last year (lunch in St. Louis followed by a tour of the Argosy Book Store in New York City and a post-game trip to the MLB Fan Cave), but I’d barely seen him this season.
You know how some athletes are totally guarded and boring? Heath is the opposite. As always, he shared lots of personal stuff and told me interesting things about the baseball world. He also said I could take some photos of his memorabilia collection and post them on my blog, so here you go:
I’m not sure if that space qualifies as a living room or simply a den, but whatever you want to call it, it’s amazing. All the bats on the right side were autographed and given to him by various players, including an Ichiro Suzuki bat that Heath broke with one of his pitches. How cool is that?! Heath told me that players ask each other for autographs all the time, but there’s a certain way of going about it. With superstars on other teams, you often have to tiptoe around them and put in the request through a clubhouse attendant, but with most guys, you can ask them directly. Not surprisingly, Barry Bonds was the toughest. According to Heath, the Yankees run a profitable side business of selling brand-new Derek Jeter jerseys to visiting players, nearly all of whom send them over to the home clubhouse to get signed.
In the photo above, did you notice the extensive collection of Bobbleheads above the TV, the Heath Bell jerseys hanging on either side, and the four-foot-tall popcorn maker in the corner? All that stuff was cool, but my favorite thing in the room was probably the double-rack of balls along the ceiling. Those are the final outs of all of his career saves, except for one, which he gave to a friend. I forgot to ask him what happens if he saves a milestone win for a starting pitcher. Presumably both guys would want the ball, but how would they decide who gets to keep it?
Here’s a closeup of some baseball bats:
I spotted several that Heath himself had signed, and I made fun of him for having his own autograph. His reason is a good one: all the bats are signed, and if he leaves the collection to his kids someday, he wants them to have their own father’s autograph.
In the photo above, most of the balls in the protective cases are signed, but some are just flat-out awesome and rare, like this one:
Here’s another special ball I found nearby:
In the photo above, did you notice the lineup card? He had several of those displayed on various shelves, all from his milestone wins and saves.
Check out his All-Star Game shoes:
It might be tough for the haters out there to remember that from 2009 through 2011, he was one of the best relievers in Major League Baseball, averaged 44 saves per season, and was selected to three consecutive All-Star teams. Even with his recent struggles, he still has a solid lifetime ERA of 3.49 and has averaged more than a strikeout per inning for his career. That’s legit.
Everything in Heath’s place was special — even the pillows:
Those were made out of his jerseys, and as a pillow lover myself, I truly appreciated them.
After a couple of hours at the house, I joined Heath for a short ride in his truck. He told me about his time with the Rays this season and what it was like playing for Joe Maddon. He also mentioned some things about pitching in the minors for both the Orioles and Yankees. He said he’s been working out and throwing and that he’s hoping to make a comeback next year.
We went to the drive-through window of a restaurant I’m too embarrassed to name, brought the food back to the house, and ate with Nicole and Rhett.
As I mentioned on Twitter, here I am getting my ass kicked:
In my own defense, I used to be *really* good at ping pong — so good that I won my 4th-grade ping pong tournament (at an obnoxious all-boys school that was generally ultra-competitive). But now my skills are rusty as hell. Before losing 21-9 to Heath (who seemed to be taking it easy on me), I hadn’t played in years — maybe in decades. I won’t claim that the nine-year-old me could’ve beaten the 36-year-old Heath, but at the very least, it would’ve been close.
I should mention that my friend Brandon Sloter played a huge role in making this visit happen. When he picked me up at the airport the day before, he half-jokingly suggested that I contact Heath to see if he was free to hang out. In the back of my mind, I knew that Heath lived near San Diego, but it just hadn’t occurred to me to set something up ahead of time. I was here to attend three Padres games and snag some commemorative baseballs. I hadn’t thought about anything else. When Heath texted me back and invited me over, Brandon offered to drop me off at his place and pick me up at the end, so it all worked out perfectly.
I’m not sure when I’ll see Heath again — hopefully next season in various major league cities, especially New York so I can invite him over to see *my* baseball collection (and play Arkanoid, so I have a chance to beat him at something). But if nothing else, I’m just glad to have gotten to spend some time with him in San Diego. Obviously it’s cool to hang out with a major leaguer, but I don’t really think about that anymore with him. He’s just a cool dude who loves talking baseball and is fun to be around. I invited him to join me for the Padres game, but he said he had other stuff to do, and I believe him. The man has four kids and is currently enjoying his first “free” summer in 18 years.
Brandon and I took off and headed to the stadium together. On the way, we stopped here and played catch for about 15 minutes:
Whenever I visit Brandon, his favorite thing to say is, “Yeah, San Diego sucks. You should stay in New York.”
It actually *did* suck when we got stuck in traffic for half an hour, forcing me to contact my friend Leigh Barratt and ask him to hold a spot for me in line.
We reached the stadium 10 minutes before it opened. Here’s Leigh (in the tan shorts) fighting off the crowd:
He was the ONLY person waiting at that gate. Can you believe that?! Maybe San Diego doesn’t suck so much after all.
Other fans, of course, were waiting elsewhere, so when the stadium opened, there was actually somewhat of a crowd. Here I am on “the Beach,” watching helplessly as a ball was tossed to some little kids nearby:
Here I am watching another ball get tossed to a little girl:
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t get baseballs. In most cases, they absolutely should. It’s just frustrating to be stuck in a section 400 feet from home plate, watching a team that can’t hit, depending on toss-ups, and being 28 years too old.
Thankfully, after all the kids had gotten their share of baseballs, it was the grown-ups’ turn. Here I am catching a toss-up from Odrisamer Despaigne:
That ball was commemorative:
Here’s an action shot that shows me out-jumping my friend Devin Trone for my second ball of the day:
That one also happened to be tossed by Despaigne, and by the way, don’t feel bad for Devin. He robbed me several times over the course of this series and ended up with a bunch of balls at this game.
Here are my first two baseballs — the only ones I got during the Padres’ portion of BP:
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to sneak into the main part of the stadium with the season ticket holders, so I was trapped at the Beach for the first hour. And yes, it was awful. First I had to suffer through 20 minutes of dead time when the Padres cleared the field, and when the Rockies finally started hitting, I only got one more ball. It was a homer by a right-handed batter that barely cleared the wall, smacked off a tiny area of pavement, and bounced way up into the bleachers. Here I am running up the steps for it (after having thrown on a dark Rockies shirt):
As soon as I grabbed the ball, I looked at Brandon:
Let me translate that facial expression: “If you didn’t get any photos of that, I’m going to kill you.”
I’m kind of joking. Brandon is one of my closest friends, but I’ve come to expect camera wizardry whenever we go to games. Not only is he a professional photographer/videographer, but that’s why we first met on 4/24/08 at Champion Stadium; he had gotten in touch before that series and offered to take some shots of me for my blog.
Anyway, here at PETCO, when the whole stadium opened at 5:30pm, I headed to left field:
It was dead. I didn’t come close to any homers, and I couldn’t get anyone to throw me a ball. When I told Brandon that I was giving up on left field, he tried to convince me to go here with him . . .
. . . but I had no interest. If BP weren’t taking place, I would’ve joined him, but there were still baseballs to be caught!
This was my view for the next group of hitters:
At the time, I had no idea that Brandon was already back in the left field seats. Here’s a photo he took of Charlie Blackmon in the cage . . .
. . . and here’s a shot of me reaching up for a Corey Dickerson homer:
In case you can’t tell, in the photo above, I’m standing in the cross-aisle, casting a shadow on the wall behind me. And yeah, that’s the legendary T.C. covering his head 20 feet to the right. Ha!
That was one of the easiest home runs I’ve ever caught. There was no competition whatsoever, and the ball came right to me. The only skillful thing about it was having decided to stand there in the first place.
That was it for BP — only four baseballs — but my day was far from done. Back in left field, I noticed a ball sitting on the warning track near the foul pole:
Did you notice me in the photo above? See the groundskeeper rolling the screen along the nonexistent foul line? I’m standing directly above him in the front row. Did you notice the person standing just to the right of the ball? You can barely see her poking out behind the foul pole. I thought she was a ballgirl, but found out later that she was part of the Pad Squad. When the groundskeeper approached the ball, she picked it up and handed it him, but he wanted no part of it and tossed it back to her, prompting several fans to ask for it. She clearly had no idea what to do, so she thought about it briefly and then started walking toward the infield. That’s what’s happening in the following photo:
Here I am asking for the ball:
Moments later, some other guy asked for it too. She responded by saying that she was going to put it over “there” and that he could try to reach it or wait and see what happened. The spot she chose was on the warning track, one foot out from the wall next to a little equipment bag where the wall started to slant up. As soon as she placed it there and walked away, the other guy started heading toward it, but I was closer, so I leaned over to grab it:
Somehow, according to a friend of mine, I ended up getting bashed on Facebook for stealing a ball from the ballgirl’s bag, but obviously that’s not what happened.
That was my 7,777th lifetime baseball. I celebrated by devouring a slice of pizza:
Twenty minutes before game time, I noticed one of the groundskeepers sprinkling a mystery substance on the edge of the infield grass:
It just so happens that I’m friends with a guy who used to work as a minor league groundskeeper. (His name is Joe Kelly. Remember him? We worked together for the Boise Hawks in 1995 and saw each other most recently on 4/26/13 at Safeco Field.) I sent him that photo and asked what the deal was. He said it was “probably a divot repair mixture of sand and seed, likely pre-germinated seed, maybe dyed green.” Okay then.
This was my view in the bottom of the 1st inning:
Rather than playing both dugouts, which had gotten me into trouble with stadium security the night before, I decided to stay on the Rockies’ side until I got a 3rd-out ball.
Look who else was there:
That’s Devin, who was also dressed for the occasion. The night before, he had a front-row seat and snagged two game-used balls, so he was willing to let me take a shot at getting one now. He understood that even though I’d gotten six commemorative balls in two days, I wanted another. All the ones I’d snagged were practice balls; I wanted a gamer that had been rubbed with mud.
It didn’t take long. I ended up getting one after the 1st inning — a Rene Rivera groundout off Jorge De La Rosa, fielded by Rafael Ynoa at 3rd base and fired across the diamond to Justin Morneau . . . who tossed it to me on his way in. The ball was in great-but-not-perfect condition:
As you can see, the commemorative logo was flawless, but the “Official Major League Baseball” portion was partially worn. (Poor me. I know.)
Moments after I took that photo, the same usher who’d hassled me the day before appeared out of nowhere and asked to see my ticket. I showed him, and he was satisfied, but before heading back up the steps, he pointed toward the command center inside the batter’s eye and said, “They’re still watching you with their cameras, right above those hedges. You might as well smile.”
I’ll tell you what I did instead: I got the hell out of there, changed my outfit, and went to left field. I was planning to camp out in a tunnel in the second deck . . .
. . . until I noticed T.C. sitting right in front of me. In the photo above, that’s him in the white mesh cap. (As I mentioned in my previous entry, he’s one of the top ten ballhawks of all time according to a book called The Baseball.)
On my way down to the 100 Level, I paused for a moment to admire the glorious bullpen configuration:
That’s just a bit nicer than the bullpens at Citi Field, don’tcha think?
For the next two hours, this was my view:
I wasn’t really trying to get another ball. I just wanted to watch the game and not be bothered. Leigh came and found me at one point, which was nice. After he moved back to his seat, Brandon caught up with me, which was also nice. I was glad to have company. I just didn’t feel like dealing with snarky ushers or exerting myself.
That changed fast when THIS happened:
Did you see me get robbed by Brandon Barnes? Here’s a screen shot of the most action-packed moment:
That’s me in the white shirt, reaching for the ball. If it had been hit one foot higher, I would’ve caught it, and for the record, no, this wasn’t an egregious case of (potential) fan interference. I’ll admit that my glove was several inches in front of the outfield wall, and for that I apologize, but I wasn’t reaching nearly as far into play as you might think. Check out this photo of me using the glove trick in 2008. See how wide the space between the stands and the outfield wall is? It’s about four feet, so I’m telling you — I really wasn’t doing anything terrible.
Here’s a photo of Barnes taken soon after his amazing catch:
In the 9th inning, I decided to head back to the 3rd base dugout and try to get a ball from the home plate umpire after the game. That seemed like the most reliable way to snag a mud-rubbed ball with a pristine commemorative logo.
This was my view in the top of the 9th:
Here’s a look at the scoreboard:
In the bottom of the 9th, Brandon took a photo from left field that captured me and Devin in the seats behind the Rockies’ dugout:
In the photo above, the arrow on the left is pointing at Devin, who was in the perfect seat near the umps’ tunnel. The arrow on the right is pointing at me, climbing back over a row of seats in order to work my way down. Whenever I move around, I make sure not to block anyone’s view, and I try not to make people stand up.
After the final out of the Rockies’ 3-2 victory, Devin got a ball from umpire Hal Gibson III, and then I got one right after, which was in perfect condition! Then, less than a minute later, I got a ball tossed by someone on the Rockies. I’m not sure who. It might’ve been coach Eric Young, but anyway, here’s a photo of me lunging for it:
That was my eighth and final ball of the day. Here’s a photo of the two I’d just gotten:
In the photo above, did you notice all the people standing around on the infield? Those were fans and players putting the finishing touches on a “Shirts Off Their Backs” promotion.
Brandon had told me several innings earlier that his phone was about to die, so we made a plan to meet behind the Rockies’ dugout after the game. Easy, right? Well, five minutes later, there was no sign of him, so I started wandering around the seats on the 3rd base side. Mainly I was looking for him, but I was also scavenging for ticket stubs and keeping an eye out for kids to give baseballs to. Here’s a photo of the only kid I saw with a baseball glove:
Why were there so few kids? Because this was a weeknight game in September that hadn’t ended until 10:30pm — and now it was considerably later than that.
Brandon was nowhere to be found, and I was getting nervous. I didn’t have a car, and without him, I didn’t have a place to stay. We were crashing at his friend’s place, and I didn’t know the address, so if I couldn’t find him inside the stadium . . . then what?
Security started clearing out the seats, so I had no choice but to head up the steps toward the concourse. Then I began walking slowly toward an exit in the left field corner. Just as I was about to leave, I happened to see this:
Security allowed me to stand there and watch. That’s when it occurred to me that I wasn’t facing such a dire situation after all. Brandon had a charger in his car, so if I had to exit the stadium, I could just wander around the neighborhood and wait for him to power up enough to call me.
Then I felt someone tap my shoulder. It was Brandon. OF COURSE. He has a tendency to drive me absolutely crazy and then somehow undo the damage in the most unexpected of ways. In this case, he made up for it by taking me to In-N-Out Burger (and hooking me up with a free place to stay for all three nights of the trip).
Finally, here are the seven balls I kept:
• 8 baseballs at this game
• 604 balls in 83 games this season = 7.28 balls per game.
• 130 lifetime balls in 12 games at PETCO Park = 10.83 balls per game.
• 1,049 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 373 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 7,780 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.)
• 24 donors for my fundraiser
• $2.05 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $16.40 raised at this game
• $1,238.20 raised this season
• $39,902.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Several weeks before the All-Star break, I heard that the Padres were going to start using commemorative baseballs for the 10th anniversary of PETCO Park. For some reason, these balls weren’t ready in April or May, and according to my source, they were going to be used for the remainder of the season. Weird, huh? The good news was that I suddenly had an extra commemorative ball to try to snag; the bad news was that the Padres were already done playing on the east coast, so in order to get one, I’d have to fly to San Diego. After months of debating whether it was worth the time and money, I booked the trip, and as you can see below, I was VERY excited to be here:
Oh wait. That’s Qualcomm Stadium. Haha, silly me! (Full disclosure: my friend Brandon thought it’d be funny to dress me up in his old-school Padres jersey and photograph me outside their old ballpark.)
Here’s what it looked like outside PETCO just before the gates opened:
As you can imagine, I was psyched about the tiny crowd. At my previous game one day earlier at Yankee Stadium, there were a zillion people waiting to get in, so this was a great change of pace. And yes, rather than attending Derek Jeter’s final home series in the major leagues (for which I already had tickets), I chose to travel across three time zones to see the 3rd-place Padres host the 4th-place Rockies. Perfect.
This was my reaction upon entering PETCO Park:
Brandon (who took most of these photos) had gotten inside one minute before me because a security guard painstakingly inspected every pouch, pocket, compartment, and crevice of my backpack. I realize that’s how it *should* be done, but let’s face it: bag inspection across MLB is haphazard at best, so I was shocked to experience such intense scrutiny here in San Diego of all places.
For the first hour, I was going to be confined to the huge sandbox in right-center field (aka “the Beach”). If you look closely at the following photo, you can see me on the left, standing near the garbage can:
The Beach is not the best place to snag baseballs, but MAN is it gorgeous! There’s no other area in any major league stadium that compares to it.
Here’s what it looked like at the front of the section:
Moments after I got there, a fellow ballhawk named Devin Trone called out to Cameron Maybin and got a ball thrown to him . . . and it was commemorative!
Devin is a great guy, so I was happy for him, but it was still frustrating to have missed that opportunity. If I’d gotten to the Beach sooner or been more alert when I ran down the steps, I might’ve been able to get Maybin’s attention first, but as things were, I didn’t even notice that he was in right-center or that a ball had been hit to him.
According to my friend Leigh Barratt — a PETCO regular with more than 1,300 lifetime snags — all of the Padres’ BP balls were commemorative, but he warned me that the team wouldn’t be out on the field for long. He said we’d only get to see them hit for about 15 minutes.
Then something bad happened. Several kids wandered down to the chain-link fence, and sure enough, they started getting all the toss-ups.
Just as I was convincing myself that I didn’t have a chance, some random player threw a ball in my direction — a no-look flip intended for Leigh, who was positioned in front of me, but the ball sailed over his head, allowing me to jump up and catch it. Here I am with it in my glove:
Leigh was pissed off, though not at me. I hadn’t done anything wrong. That ball was fair game, and I happened to get lucky, but I still felt bad. That’s why I was holding my glove in the air. You know how a basketball player will hear the whistle and put his hands up to show the refs that he wasn’t touching anyone? It was kinda like that.
Before pulling the ball out of my glove, I said, “Please be commemorative!” and walked toward Brandon. And then I looked at it:
I was thrilled, of course, to have snagged a commemorative ball, but this one in particular had a magnificent logo. I’m not talking about the condition (which was pretty good), but rather the actual design. Check it out:
Is that beautiful or what? I love the round border as well as the “SD” logo floating in the sky, the baseball stitches, the detailed image of the stadium, and the big years in cute font at the bottom. This might be my favorite commemorative logo ever.
Here I am with Devin:
Here’s another ball flying into the crowd:
That one was snagged by another PETCO regular named Ismael:
Ismael is super-friendly and never misses a game. If you visit PETCO, you *will* see him, and when you do, tell him that Zack from New York says hi.
Here’s another action shot:
That was a ground-rule double, and if it looks like it was heading right at the camera, that’s because it was. Brandon took that photo, and then he caught the ball bare-handed. Pretty slick. And yeah, it was commemorative.
Here’s yet another action shot — look at the intense diving effort by this fan:
It was Leigh!
And he got the ball!
A few minutes later, I caught a ground-rule double. The ball was commemorative, and the logo was in better condition. I had no idea who hit it until Ismael wandered over and told me with 100 percent certainty that it was Cory Spangenberg.
“Thanks,” I said. “Do you happen to know who tossed the ball that I caught earlier?”
“Torres,” he said.
I looked at my roster, and sure enough . . . number 54 . . . Alex Torres . . . left-handed and 5-foot-10. That seemed to match the mystery man who had tossed the ball, so that’s what I’m going with. Alex Torres and Cory Spangenberg. In the 10-year history of PETCO Park, Ismael has never missed a game, so I believe anything he tells me about the Padres.
The Padres finished BP soon after, and that’s all I got. Two baseballs. Not great, but they were both commemorative, so in a way, it WAS great.
Here I am with Leigh and the famous T.C. (and a woman named Christina whom I’d never met):
If T.C. looks familiar, that’s because (a) I’ve blogged about him in the past and (b) I featured him in The Baseball (see pages 281-282) as one of the top ten ballhawks of all time.
Now, remember when I said I was going to be stuck at the Beach for the first hour? Well, that’s what I assumed was going to happen. The Beach opens two and a half hours before game time. Season ticket holders can get into the seats in foul territory two hours before game, and half an hour after that, the whole stadium opens to everyone. Season ticket holders used to be allowed to bring guests inside, so Leigh or Ismael (or sometimes random folks) would escort me through the gates, but the rule changed this year. No more guests. That said, Brandon and I still managed to get in with a season ticket holder, who happened to know a really cool guard.
Here I am running into the main part of the stadium:
You could say I was excited, and as you may have noticed, I had changed into my Rockies gear.
On our way into the seats, Brandon stopped to take a photo behind home plate. The red arrow below is pointing at me:
I was running toward the left field foul line. That’s where the players were warming up, so it made sense to get as close to them as possible.
Within moments of arriving, a wild throw eluded Ben Paulsen and skipped up into the stands. There was only one other fan in the section, and I was closer to the ball, so I grabbed it easily. (This was ball No. 3 on the day.) Paulsen asked if he could have it back and said he’d return it when he finished, so I tossed it to him. Ten seconds later, some trainer-type guy (who must’ve seen me toss the ball but not heard the exchange) walked by, flipped me a ball, and said, “Here, take this one instead.” (This was ball No. 4.) Moments after that, a different pair of Rockies accidentally threw a ball into the seats (ball No. 5), and five seconds after THAT, it happened again with yet another couple of guys! (Ball No. 6.) Somehow I’d grabbed three overthrows and gotten four balls overall within a 30-second span. That’s not an exaggeration. It *really* happened that fast. And wait! There’s more . . . sort of. The player who’d had ball No. 6 sail over his head asked for it back, so I tossed it to him, and then guess what happened? Paulsen waved at me from 100 feet away and threw me the ball that I’d returned to him. AAAHHH!!! Here’s a photo of that ball (circled in red) sailing toward me:
Did you notice that I wasn’t wearing a glove? (It was still in my bag from when I ran inside the main part of the stadium.) Look closely at the photo above and you’ll see me cupping two baseballs against my stomach with my left land. It was in-SANE.
I decided not to count the final throw from Paulsen as ball No. 7 because I had already snagged it when it skipped up into the stands, and now he was simply returning it. So yeah . . . I’d gotten two baseballs at The Beach and four more along the left field foul line for a total of six.
Here’s a funny photo that Brandon took:
I’m pretty sure they were using body language to ask each other, “Are we done throwing?”
Here’s a photo I took of the spacious corner spot.
This was the view behind me:
That’s winning stadium design. Most places don’t have staircases along the walls in foul territory, and why not? It makes things super-convenient.
When the entire stadium opened at 5:30pm, I headed to the seats in left-center. Here I am in the front row next to a guy who clearly had no chance:
I mean . . . seriously.
Things were pretty slow out there at first, but then there was a bit of action. My first opportunity came on a high, deep fly ball that was heading one section to my right. After running over and getting in line with it, I noticed it was going to fall short and that a player was drifting back onto the warning track to catch it. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I yelled, “LET IT BOUNCE!!!” and to my surprise, he did. The ball bounced high in the air, and I reached up for it:
In the photo above, do you see the guy in the light blue shirt? The ball cleared his hand by an inch or two, and I caught it, and by the way, the player who had allowed the ball to bounce was Eddie Butler. He’s very friendly.
Here’s a six-part photo that shows me snagging and then giving away my next ball — number eight on the day:
In case you can’t tell what was happening in all those photos, here’s a quick rundown:
1) The guy with gray hair reached up helplessly for a line-driver homer.
2) He dropped it.
3) It deflected back toward me, and I lunged for it.
4) The ball fell short, so I reached down and grabbed it in the second row.
5) I asked the guy if he was okay and if he wanted the ball.
6) He’s holding it.
Here I am jumping for another homer several minutes later:
Not only did I miss it, but my flailing attempt messed up Devin, who was two rows behind me, so I felt doubly bad.
Here I am running to my left for a home run . . .
. . . which was caught by the white-shirted fan in the front row.
Here’s something that happened a bunch of times:
At PETCO Park, the second deck in left field is so low that it swallows half the BP homers. Sometimes they bounce down, but on this particular occasion, I had no such luck.
I did manage to grab another home run in the seats. I handed it to the nearest kid and then had a chance to use my glove trick for a ball in the gap near the bullpen:
After knocking it closer, I took a moment to get the ball to go into my glove:
Then I lifted my contraption . . .
. . . and voila! I had reached double digits.
I should mention that none of the Rockies’ baseballs were commemorative, but whatever. I’d gotten two from the Padres, so I was all set.
After BP, I enjoyed a moment of solidarity with Leigh:
Here we are strolling through the open-air concourse in deep center field:
In the photo above, did you notice the concession stand on the left with all the license plates? It’s called Hodad’s. That’s where I got this:
The burger itself was good, but the meat-to-vegetable ratio was weak.
Shortly before game time, I caught up with one of my favorite people at the stadium — an usher (from Brooklyn!) named Franklin, who has invented a brilliant statistic called “quick outs.” Here he is with one of his newer signs:
(Can you imagine the Yankees allowing one of their employees to display a sign like that, or any sign at all?)
As you may have noticed in the background of the previous photo, a quick out (or “Q”) is one that requires three pitches or . . . umm, fewer. I wish MLB would officially adopt this stat; if it somehow became sexy, I guarantee we’d have quicker games.
Here’s a photo of the scoreboard in the top of the 1st inning:
This was my view in the bottom of the 1st:
This was my view in the top of the 2nd:
Here I am heading back down to the seats behind the Rockies’ dugout in the bottom of the 2nd:
Did you spot me in the photo above? See the ballboy sitting on the field, just to the left of the dugout? Look directly above him. That’s me in the white jersey, heading down the stairs. (By the way, Devin is also in the photo, sitting all the way on the right in the front row.)
My ticket was on the 3rd base side, and there was no security on the 1st base side, so I decided to move back and forth each half-inning until I got a 3rd-out ball. Even though I’d gotten two commemorative balls during BP, I wanted another one now. I wanted one that had been rubbed with mud, and this was obviously the best way to make it happen.
So much for that. As soon as I sat down, the usher approached me and asked to see my ticket. He told me he’d gotten a call about me from security, who had seen me moving back and forth.
“Yeah, they got cameras all over this place.” Then he pointed at the row of tinted windows in the batter’s eye and added, “They’re watching’ everything from out there in the command center.”
He told me I needed to stay in my seat, which was in the middle of a long row. I asked if I could sit on the end of the row, where there was plenty of room.
“No, you can’t do that,” he said. “This isn’t open seating.”
“Okay, well, I better run to the bathroom first so I don’t have to disturb all those people later.”
Then I walked quickly up the steps, cut across the concourse, and went directly into the men’s room where I took off my jersey and switched hats . . . and then I headed straight for the seats in left-center. Screw the dugouts! No way I was going back there. Maybe I’d try it again the following day and stay in one spot, but as far as this game was concerned, I needed to lay low. This was my view for the rest of the night:
In the bottom of the 3rd inning, I caught up with Leigh, who has season tickets in left field. One of the first things he told me was that Cameron Maybin throws his warm-up balls into the crowd nearly every inning — and then he predicted where the next one was going to end up. This was the result:
No . . . wait. THIS was the result:
Want to see how much of a difference a good camera (and a whole lot of photography skills) can make? I took the photo above; Brandon took the photo below:
But hang on a second. Let’s backtrack for a bit. In the photo of everyone reaching up for the Maybin ball, you can see my dark brown glove. The guy in the front row missed it by a foot, the guy behind me whacked my glove with his bare hand, two other people were jostling for position, and somehow I ended up with it.
Here’s Maybin throwing another warm-up ball into the crowd an inning later:
I didn’t get that one, nor did this guy . . .
. . . but there were still more opportunities. When the Padres took the field before the top of the 7th inning, Leigh predicted that Maybin was going to throw the next ball into the second deck.
“Any particular spot?” I asked. “Straight-away or more toward left-center?”
Leigh suggested left-center, but said that if I went anywhere up there and got Maybin’s attention, he’d probably throw it to me.
“Don’t YOU want to go up there and give it a shot?”
“Nah,” he said, “I’m lazy. It’s all you.”
This was the result:
It was so easy that it was almost embarrassing.
That was my 12th ball of the day, and without Leigh, I probably wouldn’t have snagged half of them. And by the way . . . how about the logo on the one above? If that had been my only commemorative ball, I would’ve been extremely disappointed, but given the fact that I’d snagged three others, I loved it.
Before heading back down to the 100 Level, I took a few photos. Here’s the phenomenally specious cross-aisle in the second deck:
Here’s something that amused me — a Padres reliever letting himself out through a doorway and onto the field:
At most stadiums, a bullpen attendant would’ve opened the door, but here in San Diego, it’s self-service.
One of my favorite things about PETCO is the architectural quirkiness. Here’s one example — a single row at the front of the second deck:
Back in the 100 Level, I made one final attempt at a warm-up ball. Here I am standing in the middle of the 3rd row (wearing Brandon’s Padres jersey):
My post-game strategy was weak, but it was all I could do. I tried to get a ball from the Padres relievers as they filed out of the bullpen:
They all ignored me . . .
. . . but it was still a great day, and this was just my first of three games at PETCO.
• 12 baseballs at this game
• 596 balls in 82 games this season = 7.27 balls per game.
• 122 lifetime balls in 11 games at PETCO Park = 11.09 balls per game.
• 1,048 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 372 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 260 lifetime games with at least ten balls
• 66 different commemorative balls
• 7,772 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.)
• 23 donors for my fundraiser
• $2.04 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $24.48 raised at this game
• $1,215.84 raised this season
• $39,879.84 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Day games are awful because there’s often no batting practice; day games on weekends are the absolute worst because there are zillions of kids — and yet here I was. Why was I subjecting myself to guaranteed torture? Why had I set my alarm for 8:30 on a Sunday morning, only to rush off to the subway and take three different trains to the Bronx and stand outside Gate 6 at Yankee Stadium with a thousand other people? I’m not exaggerating. This was (part of) the crowd waiting to get in:
I attended this game for two reasons. First, the Yankees were using commemorative baseballs with a Derek Jeter logo, and second, I had received a free ticket for the uber-fancy “Legends” area. The only downside was that I had to give half my baseballs to the person who’d hooked me up with it, and not just any half. If I snagged six regular balls before the game and two Jeter balls during live play, I wouldn’t be able to give him four of the regular balls. I had to give him half the balls from each batch, and if I only ended up catching one Jeter ball, he’d get it. That might sound harsh, but I was okay with that agreement. Ten days earlier, I had somehow snagged eight of these balls, so I didn’t really need any more; I was mainly going for the free food and to see Jeter play one last time.
Here’s what I saw when I ran inside the stadium at 11:00am:
To my surprise, the field was set up for BP!
The Yankees weren’t hitting, unfortunately — just running some defensive drills with a few players on the right side of the infield, but still, it was a great sign. I figured they’d start hitting soon, or maybe the Blue Jays would take some cuts.
Under normal circumstances, I would’ve stood around with all the other schmucks in the regular seats roughly 30 feet behind the Yankees’ dugout and hoped for an unlikely toss-up, but on this fine day, I was able to head all the way down to the front row:
One of the coaches hit fungos for about five minutes:
During that time, I made conversation with the only other fan in the section, who happened to recognize me as “that guy who catches all the baseballs.”
Before long, a small crowd formed in the regular seats behind the Legends area:
Did you read the sign in the previous photo? It says, “FLEW From Phx, AZ Yankee Fan 39 years Be an Honor to take a picture with you mR. Jeter Please & Thank You.”
The sign amused me and also made me sad (for reasons beyond the shoddy handwriting and grammar). One does not simply show up at Yankee Stadium and take a picture with Derek Jeter. What was Jeter supposed to do — walk up into the stands and pose with this guy? Tell the security guards to escort him down to the front row?
Despite the fact that I was the only person asking for a ball, every single one of the Yankees ignored me upon walking off the field.
I headed over to the 3rd base side when the Blue Jays came out . . .
. . . but I didn’t ask anyone for a ball. I decided to save my opportunities for the game itself, so I kept my mouth shut, and when the Jays started hitting, I headed out to my normal spot in right field.
It was crowded, and tempers were flaring. At one point, when I ran through an empty row and lunged unsuccessfully for a home run ball that had ricocheted high off a railing, a 50-something-year-old man behind me (who caught it) threatened me. He was like, “I’ve seen you out here before doing the same thing to other people! I have MY spot, and you have YOURS, and you better STAY there! If you come over here and do that again, I’m gonna kick your ass!!”
Then some other fan, who was about 20 and might have been the man’s son, started screaming at me — and I do mean screaming. We’re talkin’ veins bulging — an absolute meltdown. He was upset about seeing me wearing clothing of different visiting teams.
Several years ago, I would’ve given these guys a piece of my mind, but at this point, I’m more interested in keeping the peace, so I apologized and said I’d try to be more careful about respecting other people’s space.
It might be hard to believe, but I can see why it would be infuriating to pick a spot and have a ball come right there, only to have some other fan run over and reach in front of you. I get it. I really do. I know there’s certain etiquette that fans should follow, but the whole don’t-try-to-catch-a-ball-unless-it’s-hit-right-to-you rule simply does not exist. Rather than explaining this and likely getting into an argument, I let my glove do the talking. A minute or two later, when a deep fly ball started sailing in my direction, I drifted a short distance to my right, climbed back over two rows of seats, jumped as high as I could, and made a back-handed catch high over my head. That one felt goooooooood — and then I offered the ball to the man who’d threatened me. I love doing the unexpected and catching people off-guard like that. It’s like . . . no matter how rude you are, I’m still going to be nice because I’m in control of my emotions and you’re not, ha ha ha. The guy didn’t accept the ball, of course, so I handed it to the nearest kid.
I coulda/shoulda caught one more home run in the 100 Level, but guess what happened? As I reached up for it (while straddling a row of seats), several other fans converged on my precious spot, one of whom bumped into me, jostling my glove and causing me to drop the ball. Rather than cursing at him and issuing a hollow threat, I headed upstairs to the second deck, where I hoped things would be calmer. Here’s what it looked like as I headed into the seats from the concourse:
Once again, I could’ve and perhaps should’ve caught a home run, but barely came up short. I’m not sure who hit it — maybe Colby Rasmus — but anyway, as the ball was descending, I climbed back over a row and then jumped for it at the last second, and it tipped off the very end of my glove. It was a tough play that surely would not have been scored an error, but it still pissed me off.
After a few minutes, I headed back down to the 100 Level. Check out the staircase:
That was the line for Monument Park. Ew.
Meanwhile, the right field seats were as crowded as I’ve ever seen them during BP:
The huge crowd didn’t matter. The Blue Jays only had two groups of hitters, and they all jogged off the field moments later.
Instead of potentially catching three home runs, I had only gotten one ball — and I’d given it away. UGH!! But hey, no problem. I had a Legends ticket, so I was able to eat my sorrows away.
Upon entering the restaurant, I headed straight to the celebrity chef station:
The special treat of the day was chicken buns prepared by a Japanese chef named Ryo Hasegawa from a restaurant called Nobu Fifty Seven. Here’s what they looked like:
So good. And I was just getting started. This was my next plate of food:
When I was about 10 years old, I might have refused to eat that because I *hated* it when different foods touched each other, but now? Bring it on. I kinda like it when foods touch because it creates an interesting combination of flavors. My plate above had the following:
2) grilled onions
3) fried onion rings
4) three kinds of sushi (including salmon and tuna)
5) pasta with shrimp
6) a zeppole
All of this food was free and unlimited. I was very happy. And by the way, I was sitting at the bar. Here’s what it looked like on my right:
Game time was still more than 40 minutes away, so I took a quick peek at the field . . .
. . . and then headed back into the restaurant for dessert. Look at all these options!
I loaded a bunch of stuff on a plate.
On my way back to the seats, I stopped at the Great Wall of Candy . . .
. . . and grabbed a handful of Kit Kat bars:
No, I didn’t eat them. I tossed them in my backpack (and continued to take candy throughout the day).
Then I headed through these doors . . .
. . . and enjoyed my own personal sugar-feast, using the ledge in the cross-aisle as my table:
The mini-cupcakes were bland, but everything else was solid.
Shortly before game time, I headed out to left field and claimed a spot beside the Blue Jays’ bullpen:
I had to press my face against the netting in order to see pitching coach Pete Walker standing behind the pitcher with his back to the wall. He happened to look up at me, so I asked if I could have a baseball.
“After,” he said, motioning toward Drew Hutchison, who was almost done warming up.
Walker kept his promise . . . sort of. He ended up wandering off without tossing me a ball, but evidently he told bullpen coach Bob Stanley to take care of me. Stanley approached me with a ball in his hand and tossed it too short, causing it to hit the netting and plop down near him. The same thing then happened again, and he finally succeeded on the third try. (Blue Jays fans, does it worry you that a man with NO AIM is coaching your pitchers?) Here’s the ball:
I was extra glad to have snagged it because it preserved a streak for me. Ever since the Mets and Yankees opened their new stadiums in 2009, I’ve gotten at least two baseballs at all of my games in New York — 131 games at Citi Field and 118 at Yankee Stadium.
On my way back to the Legends area, I passed a souvenir stand with Jeter balls for sale:
I didn’t ask how much they were, but I’d guess $40.
This was my view for the first pitch of the game:
Masahiro Tanaka was making his first start in more than two months. Here he is delivering a pitch to Jose Bautista in the top of the 1st inning:
Jose Reyes had led off with a line-drive single to left field, and Bautista followed by beating the shift with a routine grounder through the right side. It looked like Tanaka was in trouble. I wondered if his partially torn elbow ligament might still be causing issues, but then he got Edwin Encarnacion to ground into a double play and struck out Dioner Navarro on three pitches. The double play had given the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead, but it was the only run that Tanaka surrendered for the rest of the game.
This was my view for Derek Jeter’s at-bat in the bottom of the 1st:
After that, I made sure to be IN a seat whenever he stepped up to the plate.
For the first two innings, I didn’t come close to any 3rd-out balls. There were several little kids sitting near the dugouts, and I also had to deal with this guy standing on my right:
Did you notice what he was holding? Here’s a closer look:
You see? I’m not the only person who uses that trick. I just happen to be the one who gets all the crap for it.
When Chase Headley struck out to end the 3rd inning, this other fan beat me down the steps behind the home-plate end of the Blue Jays’ dugout and then tried to box me out. He stood on my right, and as Jays catcher Dioner Navarro walked toward us from the right, this guy leaned way out in front of me to basically block me from even being seen. I responded by leaning far to my left and reaching all the way out with my glove to give Navarro a target. It also helped that the other fan was still wearing his Yankees jersey (duh) and that I asked for the ball in Spanish. To my delight, Navarro tossed the ball to me perfectly, just beyond the other fan’s reach so that I was able to catch it uncontested.
Here’s the ball:
Here’s another photo of the ball that I took a little while later:
As you can see, the ball was protected in a Ziploc bag, and my backpack was filled with candy. Right after I zipped up my bag, a police officer walked over and asked what I had in there.
“Uhh, just some candy,” I said nervously. Was I about to be ejected for having taken too much of it?
“Mind if I take a look at it?” he asked.
“Well, okay, but I’m kind of embarrassed because there’s a lot of it. I’m really sorry about that.”
“If it’s only candy,” he said, “then you have nothing to worry about. Now can you please open your bag for me?”
Legally, I don’t know if I had to show him anything, but what was I going to do? Argue with him and ramble about my constitutional rights and demand that he get a warrant? I know plenty of people who would’ve done that, but I’m all about keeping the peace, remember? Therefore I unzipped my bag and let him peek inside.
“Is that candy all the way down?”
“Yeah, I guess I grabbed an awful lot of it. Sorry about that.”
“Move it around so I can see what’s underneath.”
I reached into the bag and churned the candy, and that seemed to satisfy him. Then he asked to see my ticket and told me that I needed to take a seat.
He continued to lurk nearby, so I sat there and pretended to watch the game, but really all I could think about was him. What was HE thinking? What was going to happen next? Was I really going to have to sit there for the rest of the game? Was I going to get in trouble?
Eventually he wandered off . . . and so did I. Over on the 1st base side, it made me feel better to get a close look at Jeter:
Here’s the Captain on deck with a young fan holding a pretty cool sign for him:
Ticket for game — $400. Gotta love Yankee Stadium.
Half an inning later, I was back on the 3rd base side:
In the previous photo, did you notice the woman staring at me? Here’s a closer look:
Well, hello to you too!
I didn’t notice her at the time. I only happened to spot her loving gaze the following day when I was going through my photos. Think I should post a “missed connections” ad on craigslist?
Nosy cops aside, one nice thing about having a Legends ticket is that you can wander all over the place and watch the game from different angles. I really loved getting close looks at Jeter on the final day that I would EVER see him playing Major League Baseball. (The Yankees still had four more home games after this, but I already had plans to be at PETCO Park.) Here he is talking to 3rd base coach Rob Thomson:
Here he is taking a lead:
Here’s the reason it was so tough for me to get 3rd-out balls:
There is NO POSSIBLE WAY for a grown man like me to compete with adorableness like that. It just can’t be done. Blue Jays gear . . . asking for baseballs in foreign languages . . . it’s all garbage when kids that age are anywhere near me, and that’s fine. Kids that age *should* get baseballs. They’re always indescribably happy and probably end up being fans for life, but that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating for me.
This was the last batter Tanaka faced:
Encarnacion singled to chase him from the game:
In the bottom of the 6th inning, I got more dessert . . .
. . . and finished in time for Jeter’s at-bat in the bottom of the 7th. Here he is at the plate:
I had a feeling this would be the final time I’d see him hit, so I switched my camera to video mode and let it roll. Four minutes and seven pitches later, Jeter ripped an RBI double down the left field line to put the Yankees on top, 3-1.
During the pitching change that followed, I noticed Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Gose walk all the way in to 2nd base to have a few words with Jeter:
Then the other two outfielders did the same thing. It was so touching to see these guys saying goodbye to a departing legend that I got a bit misty-eyed, and I’m getting goosebumps now just writing about it.
Here’s Jose Bautista enjoying a moment with Jeter . . .
. . . and here’s rookie Dalton Pompey shaking his hand:
Pompey only had one career hit and was batting .071, but I knew that Jeter was as respectful to him as he would’ve been to a fellow future Hall of Famer.
After the outfielders headed back to their positions, Jose Reyes exchanged a few words and a hug:
Munenori Kawasaki? Not impressed:
That’s how he passed the time during the pitching change, but let’s not judge him for that. For all we know, he might’ve had a nice conversation with Jeter before the game underneath the stands.
After the pitching change, Jeter stole 3rd base to thunderous cheers. Here he is looking down between pitches soon after:
Brian McCann followed with a two-run homer — his second longball of the game. Here’s Jeter touching home plate . . .
. . . and here’s McCann rounding 3rd:
The only other home run was a solo shot by Brett Gardner in the bottom of the 5th, which happened to be the 15,000th homer in Yankees history. It would’ve been amazing to catch that, but it landed two sections away from my regular spot in right field, so whatever.
I do, however, feel kinda bummed about not getting any more commemorative Jeter balls. For the entire game, I moved back and forth from dugout to dugout. I tried as hard as possible, but the balls were simply tossed to other fans. I was hoping for an umpire ball at the end, but look how crowded it was:
Before the final out, I knew I had no chance, and as it turned out, the ump only gave one ball away to the littlest kid.
Final score: Yankees 5, Blue Jays 2.
Here are the Yankees celebrating on the field:
This was the scene out on the street:
Jeter-Mania was in full effect, and I was glad to be done with it.
• 3 baseballs at this game
• 584 balls in 81 games this season = 7.21 balls per game.
• 1,047 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 716 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 246 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball
• 7,760 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.)
• 22 donors for my fundraiser
• $2.01 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $6.03 raised at this game
• $1,173.84 raised this season
• $39,837.84 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
DISCLAIMER: Do not read this blog entry unless you’re willing to experience a range of emotions, starting with shock and then moving on to hatred and jealousy.
I’m not kidding. You’ve been warned. Below is a photo of my ticket for the game, and once you see it, there’s no turning back:
That’s basically the fanciest seat in the most expensive stadium in Major League Baseball — a ticket with an obscene $900 face value for the ultra-exclusive “Legends” area near home plate. This ticket was on StubHub for a price well below face value, and someone split the cost with me in exchange for half of the commemorative Derek Jeter baseballs that I ended up snagging.
Let me repeat: DEREK JETER COMMEMORATIVE BASEBALLS.
Several weeks earlier, I had given up on trying to snag one because I assumed they’d only be used during the September 7th game — the day of the Derek Jeter retirement ceremony. That game was sold out, of course, and tickets were so expensive that I would’ve had to sell a kidney to sit anywhere near the action. But then something weird happened. Over the next few days, several friends in New York got in touch and told me that the Jeter balls were still being used! I didn’t believe them at first, but they assured me that they’d actually seen the balls on TV. That’s why I got a Legends ticket for this game. Suddenly I *needed* to snag one of these balls — thinking about it actually messed up my sleep for a couple of nights — and the best way to increase my chances was to be as close to the dugouts as possible.
First, though, it was business as usual during batting practice . . . sort of. I raced to the outfield seats as I normally do, but something bizarre happened within the first minute. One of the Yankees’ right-handed batters pulled a deep fly ball to my right. I ran the full length of my section and then darted down toward the front. That’s where I predicted the ball was going to land, but it carried a bit farther than expected and plunked down two rows behind me. There were two guys standing near it who scrambled ferociously, and whaddaya know? The ball trickled under a seat and rolled into the second row, where I was able to lunge and grab it. As I walked back to my spot, I examined the ball and noticed that it was autographed — very unusual but not unheard of. Way back on 9/30/05 at Shea Stadium, I caught a ball that had already been signed by Omar Quintanilla, and over the years, I’ve snagged many more with random writing, like this and these. And wait! Here’s another example: on the day that John Santana pitched a no-hitter, Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire signed three balls after BP and threw them into the crowd, and I got one, so anything’s possible. But anyway, less than a minute after I snagged the ball with the mystery autograph here at Yankee Stadium, one of the guys who’d been scrambling for it walked over and asked if I’d picked up the ball with Paul O’Neill’s signature. Realizing that that’s indeed who had signed it, I reluctantly said yeah. He told me it was his and that he’d dropped it while trying to catch the home run, and he asked if he could have it back. Then, perhaps upon seeing the look of disgust on my face, he showed me some sort of police tag that was dangling on a skinny chain around his neck and said, “See this? I wouldn’t lie to you.” Given the fact that law enforcement is so honest, I handed him the ball and decided not to count it in my stats.
A minute or two later, I made up for my stupidity with a nifty catch on another home run. I drifted about 15 feet to my right, climbed down over a row of seats, and flinched as I stuck out my glove. That’s because a fan in the front row was reaching up helplessly for the ball, which ended up skimming off his bare hand into the pocket of my glove. Moments later, in the fourth row, I caught a home run that came right to me, and a little while after that, I ran one section to my left and grabbed another that landed in the seats. I handed that ball to the nearest kid, and in case you’re wondering, I don’t know who hit any of these homers.
As the Yankees began jogging off the field at the very end of their portion of BP, I noticed that Chase Whitley was holding a ball, so I shouted like crazy and got him to throw it to me from more than 100 feet away. He lobbed it high and a bit too far, forcing me to climb back over a row to make the catch.
At that point, I had snagged four balls and kept three of them. Here they are:
Don’t get all excited yet. The Derek Jeter balls were only (supposedly) being used during games — not during batting practice.
During the Rays’ portion of BP, I spent some time in the second deck in right field. This was my view:
I don’t go up there often, but when I do, I usually stand in the fourth row. This time, however, whenever James Loney stepped into the cage, I moved back to the seventh row because he’d been *crushing* balls deep into this section two days earlier. Want to guess what happened? On one of his first few swings, he hit a line-drive homer 20 feet to my left that landed in the fourth row. I was able to cut across and get in line with it, but I couldn’t reach it . . . and then I watched with dismay as the ball ricocheted down to the front and bounced over the wall, disappearing from sight. Sometimes I’m too smart for my own good.
I stayed in the fourth row after that, and before long, Loney hit another ball nearby. I caught that one on the fly and felt a tiny bit better about myself. Then I got a player (no idea who) to throw a ball to me, and five minutes after that, I caught another deflected homer on the fly. In the photo above, do you see the guy sitting on the left? The ball was hit to the bottom of the staircase; he stuck out a bare hand at the last second and tipped it right into my glove. Thanks, everyone, for not bringing your baseball gloves. I truly appreciate it!
I ran back to left field for the final group of Rays hitters. Here’s what it looked like out there:
Within a minute of arriving, I caught a home run in the front row — my eighth ball of the day — and realized that I’d reached in front of a kid in the process. He didn’t seem upset, but I gave him the ball anyway . . . and then he said he recognized me from YouTube.
Jeff Beliveau hooked me up with ball No. 9, but he didn’t simply pick it up and toss it. The ball was sitting on the outfield grass approximately 30 feet away from the stands. He took a peek to see where I was, then turned to face away from me, and swung his glove down at the ball in a front-to-back scooping motion. Does that make any sense? Let me try to explain it a different way. Beliveau is left-handed, so his glove was on his right hand; the ball was just to the right of him when he bent down a bit and swiped at it. Basically, he made a backwards, no-look shovel-pass directly from his glove, and the “throw” was right on target! It was incredible, and I let him know it.
I got one more ball in BP — a deep home run that smacked off the facade of the second deck and bounced down into the seats. I judged it perfectly off the bat and had to run quite a distance for it, so that felt good. I gave that ball to the kid pictured above in the Jeter jersey.
BP ended at about 6:05pm, which is awfully early. Normally I would’ve been complaining about it to anyone who’d listen, but on this particular day, it meant I had more time to stuff myself with free food before the game.
I headed through a side door of the suite entrance . . .
. . . and found my way to the check-in area. That’s where I got my ticket re-scanned and received a wristband:
I was free to wander around both dining levels . . .
. . . and eat.
And keep eating.
And eat some more.
I started with a “Short Rib Slider” . . .
. . . before moving on to small portion of cheese tortellini with a sausage:
I was craving sugar more than ever, so I headed over to the Great Wall of Candy:
This area was unattended (except for when the candy was being replenished), so I . . . umm, you know . . . well, I helped myself to a lot of it. For the rest of the night, every time I walked past, I grabbed a handful and tossed it in my backpack.
Half an hour before game time, unfortunately, I ran into this guy:
His name is Eddie, and you know what? I actually like him a lot, but he’s a ballhawk who knows all the tricks, so my heart sank when I realized we were going to have to compete with each other. Of course, he was equally bummed to see me, so no offense intended or taken. That’s just the nature of how these things go, but thankfully he was super-cool about it. He waited at the bar while I got myself some dessert . . .
. . . and then we had a long conversation about our ballhawking plans for the game. He was there for the same reason as I was: to snag a Derek Jeter ball. He said he only needed one and that because he had to wake up at 5:30am the following day for his job, he was considering leaving as soon as he got it. But then he said he hoped to get two — one for him and another for his son. I told him I really wanted to get two — one for me and another for the guy who’d paid half the cost of my ticket.
“What would you do if I weren’t here?” he asked.
“I’d go back and forth every half-inning for the entire game and play both ends of both dugouts,” I told him.
“Oh, well, I wasn’t planning to go over to the Yankees’ side at all . . . ”
” . . . so I can have that?!”
“It’s all yours,” he said.
“What about you?” I asked. “What were you planning to do?”
“I was just gonna pick one spot behind the Rays’ dugout and stay there.”
This was the best thing he could’ve said, and I knew right away that it was going to work out for both of us.
“Okay, perfect,” I said. “You got it. YOU are GOING to get at least one of these balls, and *I* am GOING to get at least one. That needs to happen, and it *will* happen.”
I suggested that whichever one of us got the first Jeter ball should then not go for another until the other one of us also got one. He assumed I’d get the first one, so he liked this idea, but I wasn’t so sure about how it’d play out. I had a gut feeling that *he* would get the first ball, so my plan was a win-win situation. It’d be generous if I got the first one, and it’d protect me in case I didn’t. Suddenly we both felt really good about the whole situation, and we agreed that after we each got one of the Jeter balls, then whatever. We could each do our thing and not worry about the other person.
Roughly 20 minutes before game time, I checked out the 9/11 ceremony that was taking place on the field:
Then I headed back into the restaurant and got two more short rib sliders:
As the starting lineups were being announced, I got some chocolate cheesecake (with a camouflaged blackberry on top) and a couple of white chocolate-covered strawberries:
I was happy but jittery. The sugar probably had something to do with it, but mainly I was hyped about the baseballs. Eddie and I had discussed our mutual love for Derek Jeter and how we both wanted this commemorative ball more than any other. Why was this such a big deal for me? Because I was 17 years old when Jeter made his major league debut on May 29, 1995, which means he’s been a fixture in my adult life. I’ve gotten his autograph, gotten him to throw me a couple of baseballs, and even caught his 254th career home run. On a personal level, snagging a Derek Jeter commemorative baseball at the end of his final season was (hopefully) going to be a perfect way to close things out.
My seat was behind the Rays’ dugout on the 3rd base side, but at the start of the game, I hung out in the cross-aisle behind the Yankees’ dugout. Here’s what it looked like:
In the photo above, do you see the man with white hair? That’s Brandon Steiner, the founder and CEO of Steiner Sports — an insanely profitable memorabilia company that has an exclusive partnership with the Yankees. When the old Yankee Stadium was demolished, Steiner was in charge of selling all of the seats, baggies of infield dirt, huge sections of the outfield wall, and so on. I think he has season tickets in the Legends area, and why wouldn’t he? The section caters to millionaires and billionaires . . . and now here I was after coughing up a few hundred dollars so that I could run around and try to snag some special baseballs and fill my backpack with candy. This was my third time in the Legends area, and I’ve always felt out of place.
In the bottom of the 1st inning, I noticed that most of the flags on top of the stadium had the Jeter logo:
Even on September 11th, the uber-patriotic Yankees (who honor a military veteran and play a recording of “God Bless America” during the 7th-inning stretch of EVERY game) had replaced most of the American flags with Derek Jeter flags. That’s how big he is.
I didn’t get any balls in the first two innings, but I did come close. At one point, Mark Teixeira ended up with a scuffed ball at 1st base. (It was a chopper down the 3rd base line that barely hooked foul at the last second; 3rd basemen Brendan Ryan fielded it and fired across the diamond before hearing the ump’s call). As he looked toward the dugout to find someone to throw it to, I darted down the steps and got his attention got him to throw it to me. Unfortunately the ball fell a bit short, smacking off the front edge of the roof and dropping down to the players below. Zelous Wheeler picked it up, but refused to even look at me when I politely asked him for it.
Other than that, it felt like I didn’t have much of a chance. There were several kids sitting behind the outfield end of the Rays’ dugout, and Eddie was camped out behind the home-plate end. Can you spot him in the following photo?
He was sitting in the third row on the left side of the staircase — and he was wearing a navy blue Rays cap and Rays T-shirt. I would have *loved* to be sitting there, but I’d basically allowed him to claim that spot, and I had the rest of the stadium to work with. Of course, it didn’t do me much good. Over on the Yankees’ side, not only were there several kids in the front row, but there was also father who walked down to the front every inning with a toddler in his arms. How was I supposed to compete with THAT?!
Perhaps the only good thing that happened in the first two innings was that I got a decent look at several baseballs that were tossed into the crowd, and OMG, there *was* a commemorative logo! I didn’t see any balls close up, but I could tell that instead of the standard, rectangular MLB logo, there was something bigger and rounder in its place.
In the 3rd inning, from my spot in the aisle on the 1st base side, I saw a foul ball roll toward the Rays’ on-deck circle, and not surprisingly, Eddie was all over it. He was standing in the front row before anyone retrieved it, and he got it tossed to him. AAAHHH!!! I was thrilled for him, but also jealous as hell . . . but it was good that he got one because the next Jeter ball was all mine. I went over to congratulate him and take a photo of his prized possession:
Seeing my friend actually holding a game-used Jeter ball made me crazy. I was more excited and nervous than ever, but what could I do? I just had to keep doing my thing — to use all my strategies and hope that a little bit of luck would work its way into my existence.
In the bottom of the 3rd, Brendan Ryan hit several consecutive foul balls, including one that bounced toward the Rays’ dugout. I was still on the Yankees’ side, but I could clearly see Rays pitcher Chris Archer lean over the dugout railing, scoop up the ball, and stick it in his jacket pocket. Fast-forward to the middle of the 4th inning. I *still* hadn’t gotten a Jeter ball, and Archer hadn’t moved. Figuring it couldn’t hurt to ask and knowing that he loves to hook up fans wearing Rays gear, I wandered down to the front row behind him and said, “Hey, Arch! Any chance to get a baseball, please?” He turned around, glanced up at me, noticed what I was wearing, and reached into his pocket. (OH, THE SUSPENSE!!!) And then he tossed me a ball. All I could think as I pulled it out of my glove was, “Please be commemorative!” And it was! Here I am with it:
If you want to know what pure happiness looks like . . .
Oh man. I seriously think I would’ve traded all four of the game home runs I’ve gotten this season for one Jeter ball. That’s how meaningful it was to me. Here’s a closer look at it:
As you can see, the logo was partially rubbed off at the bottom, but so what?! I had the ball! It was a done deal. No one could take it away from me.
In the bottom of the 4th, I stayed behind the Rays’ dugout, and with two outs, Mark Teixeira hit a ground ball to shortstop Yunel Escobar. First baseman James Loney caught the throw to end the inning, and when he jogged back with the ball, he tossed it to coach George Hendrick, who then flipped it back to Escobar.
“Yunel! Por favor!” I shouted as he approached the top step of the dugout, and without hesitating, he tossed it to me! Given the fact that I’d just gotten a ball there half an inning earlier, I waited until I made it back to the 1st base side before photographing it:
The top of the 5th inning ended with a David DeJesus pop-out to Brendan Ryan. I had positioned myself one section past the outfield end of the dugout — not an ideal spot, but there was far less competition. I made sure to get Ryan’s attention early and shouted his name LOUDLY before he crossed the foul line, and it worked! He looked right up at me and under-handed the ball in my direction. Easy. Check it out:
Three outs later, I got another ball. For real. After getting none in the first three innings, I snagged four in the next two innings. The latest one was a Stephen Drew groundout to end the 5th. Ben Zobrist fielded it and made the throw to Loney, who once again tossed it to Hendrick. Some teams toss 3rd-out balls directly into the crowd, while others seem to have a go-to guy who handles them. With the Rays, Hendrick gets all the inning-ending groundouts, and he’s actually pretty tough. He normally only gives them to young women and little kids, but this time, for some reason, he hooked me up — and he seemed pissed off about it. Obviously he wanted to toss the ball to someone younger and prettier, but when he saw me standing several rows back in my Rays gear, he made an annoyed facial expression as if to say, “Ucchh, I don’t want to give YOU a ball, but okay, I guess you kinda deserve it,” and then he flung it at me.
Ready to hear about some expert-level ballhawking strategy? When the Rays were in the field in the bottom of the 6th inning, it would’ve made sense for me to hang out behind their dugout on the 3rd base side. That way, when they recorded the 3rd out, I would’ve been in position to make an attempt at snagging it, but instead I stayed on the 1st base side . . . for two reasons. First, I thought it’d be a good idea to give the Rays’ dugout a rest. Eddie was still sitting behind the home-plate end, and I’d pretty much exhausted my opportunities at the outfield end. Second, Alex Cobb was pitching. I’d looked up his stats before the game and noticed that he induces more grounders than fly balls. That was certainly the case during this game. He was doing a great job of keeping the ball down, and his pitches had natural downward movement. Therefore, when Jacoby Ellsbury stepped to the plate with two outs, I figured there was a decent chance he’d pull a foul grounder. Maybe he wouldn’t hit it hard and 1st base coach Mike Kelleher would be able to scoop it up? And maybe I could get him to toss it to me? It might be hard to believe, but that’s exactly what happened, right after I visualized it. Before Kelleher picked up the ball, I was already standing in the front row. In fact, I was the only person standing and asking for it, so he basically had no choice but to throw it to me. Then I gave a non-commemorative BP ball to a little girl sitting in the front row of regular seats, which made everyone extremely happy.
Here are the FIVE game-used balls I’d snagged:
When I know I might get a commemorative ball, I like to bring a few Ziploc bags. I find that it protects the logos from getting rubbed off in my backpack, and yes, that once happened . . . with this ball. I caught it during BP on 4/11/11 at Citi Field, and by the time I got home five hours later, it was in much worse shape. But anyway, as you can see in the photo above, I didn’t have enough bags. I assumed I’d get one or two Jeter balls and maaaaaybe three. But five?! Are you kidding me?! Also, in case you’re wondering, I took that photo in the Legends cross-aisle down the right field line. There weren’t many fans walking past, so it was a good spot — relatively private but in a place where I could still see the field. Before arranging the balls, I made sure to get permission from the security guards so that they wouldn’t falsely accuse me of trying to sell them and then eject me, and yes, that once happened . . . not at Yankee Stadium, but on 9/19/12 at Nationals Park. Crazy story. I hate the Nationals so much and hope they get swept in the playoffs. But let’s not dwell on negativity!
A little while later, Eddie emailed me to say that he’d gotten a second Jeter ball and gone home. This was great news. He’d achieved his goal, and we hadn’t gotten in each other’s way, and now I had the entire Legends area to myself, at least from the standpoint of no longer having to compete directly with an experienced ballhawk.
During the 7th-inning stretch, I got an ice cream bar . . .
. . . and then headed back to the seats.
This is kind of embarrassing, but I didn’t realize until the top of the 8th inning that Rays pitcher Alex Cobb was throwing a no-hitter! Check out the scoreboard:
For what it’s worth, my excuse is that I was so busy running around and playing my own little game within the game that I lost track of what was taking place in the actual game. Duh. Of course, once I *did* realize that there was a no-no in progress, I got extra excited about the game-used balls I’d snagged. Soon after, Chris Young broke it up with a one-out double in the bottom of the 8th.
During the pitching change that immediately followed, I got an ice cream sandwich . . .
. . . that I only ate half of, but whatever — it was all “free.”
Meanwhile, Jeter-Mania was at its worst. When the Captain batted with two outs, the fans in front of me took selfies with him in the background:
Two pitches later, this happened:
The new pitcher for the Rays — hard-throwing Brad Boxberger — drilled Jeter on the elbow, and although he was okay, the crowd was NOT happy about it.
Brian McCann batted next and reached on an error by Loney. Teixeira followed by striking out on three pitches, and I got the ball from catcher Curt Casali — no competition whatsoever. This was my 16th ball of the day, tying the single-game record at the new Yankee Stadium, set by me on September 25, 2013. It was also my sixth game-used ball of the day, which might, for all I know, be a record at any stadium. I wonder if Alan Schuster at MyGameBalls.com has any info on that. Mainly, though, I was excited because the logo was pristine. Here’s a photo of it that I took near the free junk-food area in the restaurant:
This ball was too perfect to toss directly into my backpack, and yeah, I could’ve swapped it with one of the others in a Ziploc bag, but those were buried under pounds of candy, and I just didn’t want to deal with shifting everything around. The solution? I wrapped it with a napkin and then found a Cling Wrap station in the dining area. Here’s what the ball looked like when it was fully protected:
I didn’t think there was any chance of getting another 3rd-out ball, but hell, there was only going to be one more opportunity after the top of the 9th inning. I headed to the seats behind the Yankees’ dugout, and when Ben Zobrist grounded out to end the frame, I stayed four or five rows back. There were a few fans down in front. Maybe they’d already gotten baseballs. Maybe they hadn’t. I figured I’d give them space, and if the ball somehow ended up getting tossed over their heads to me . . . well, that wasn’t MY fault. Stephen Drew made the play, and as the Yankees jogged off the field, Mark Teixeira threw the ball back to him. Long story short: Drew tossed it right to me. I don’t understand it. I didn’t particularly deserve it. But it happened.
The ball was a real beauty — heavily rubbed with mud and no signs of wear:
When I first saw the Derek Jeter commemorative logo several months ago, I thought it was pretty, but the more I looked at it, the more it occurred to me that it really sucks. Do you remember the Chipper Jones balls that I snagged on 9/29/12 and 9/30/12 at Turner Field? Take a look at this photo. See how nice it is for the logo to feature an image of the player? I realize that Jeter’s uniform number is iconic, but the Yankees could’ve done a better job by showing him. Also, did you notice that the Chipper Jones ball included the years that his career started and ended? I think it’s lame that the Yankees left Jeter’s years off the ball, and finally, what’s with the clunky working at the bottom? “New York Captain Yankees”?! I suppose the logo designers were striving for symmetry, but they failed in so many other ways. That said, I still love the Jeter ball, and I’m *so* happy to have snagged a bunch of them.
The bottom of the 9th inning was intense. With the Rays leading, 4-2, Chase Headley led off and got hit in the face by a 96mph fastball from Jake McGee. This was the scene soon after:
Here’s a closeup:
The ball hit Headley on the chin, but thankfully it was somewhat of a glancing blow that did not break any bones or cause neurological damage. It did, however, cause a large cut which required stitches and forced him to miss several games.
While waiting for the game to resume, I took a photo of my ballhawking notes:
As I’ve mentioned before, you’re not allowed to judge me on the sloppy handwriting. Those notes were scribbled extremely fast, sometimes between pitches and/or while walking briskly to another spot. And by the way, when a ball is crossed out (as is the case above for numbers 3 and 8), it means I gave it away as soon as I got it. After I snagged my 15th ball — the foul grounder that was tossed by coach Mick Kelleher — I gave a different ball to a kid, so that’s why there’s no cross-out.
Anyway, back to the bottom of the 9th . . .
Austin Romine pinch-ran for Headley, and Ichiro Suzuki followed with a double to center field. Suddenly the tying runs were on base with no outs. The next batter was Zelous Wheeler, and he struck out. And I was glad. He deserved it for not having not given me the ball earlier in the game that Teixeira had clearly intended to throw to me. Yes, I hold grudges, and at this point late in the game, I was especially agitated about every missed opportunity from earlier in the day. I had 17 balls and *really* wanted to push my total to 20. If the Rays held on for the win, I thought I might be able to get No. 18 from home plate umpire Marcus Pattillo, No. 19 from the throng of players of coaches walking back to the dugout after congratulating each other, and No. 20 from one of the players or coaches heading in from the bullpen. But then Chris Young ruined everything with a three-run, walk-off homer. What a jerk.
It was so loud as the umps approached me . . .
. . . that I nearly failed to get Pattillo’s attention. Or maybe he was just ignoring me? I kept shouting his name as he walked past and began heading down the stairs, at which point something must have registered in his brain. Just before he was about to disappear from sight, he looked back up at me, pulled a baseball from his pouch, and flung it awkwardly. I had to lunge over a slanted concrete wall to make the catch, pinning it against the wall with my glove and bare hand.
One minute later, I got ready for the bullpen stragglers . . .
. . . and ended up getting a brand-new (non-commemorative) ball from bullpen catcher Scott Cursi. He’s very nice and reliable. This was the ninth ball I’d gotten from him since 2011.
Before leaving the section, I gave one of my BP balls to a kid. Then, in a desperate attempt to get one more and reach the magical total of 20, I headed out to left field and took a peek in the bullpen. I hoped that maybe, through some stroke of dumb luck, there’d be an extra ball sitting around, and I could get a guard or groundskeeper to hook me up. That does happen sometimes, especially when a team suffers a sudden/dreadful loss and the players and coaches are too pissed to gather every ball. But no. Not this time. The bullpen was dead, and the guards told me it was time to leave.
Here’s the last photo I took inside the stadium — my final two balls of the night:
When I got home, I photographed the 15 balls that I’d kept:
I’d gotten eight commemorative balls, including seven that were game-used. Seriously, has that ever been done by anyone at any stadium? And by the way, has anyone ever taken as much candy from a stadium as I did on this night? Keep scrolling past the stats for a photo of it . . .
• 19 baseballs at this game
• 538 balls in 75 games this season = 7.17 balls per game.
• 1,041 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 257 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 65 different commemorative balls (click here to see my entire collection)
• 7,714 total balls
• 21 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.71 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $32.49 raised at this game
• $919.98 raised this season
• $39,583.98 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Now, about that candy . . . here I am with it:
The moral of the story is that Yankee Stadium can be fun if you’re willing/able to spend a zillion dollars.
Let me start by showing a photo of the line outside the Ashburn Alley gate in left field:
Do those two guys in the front look familiar?
The guy on the left is probably more recognizable. He’s a very talented up-and-coming ballhawk named Grant Edrington, and I met him for the first time this summer in Baltimore. Remember this photo of us from 7/31/14 at Camden Yards?
In the photo above, did you notice Jeff’s fancy camera? He was there to film me for an upcoming documentary, and let me tell you, he worked HARD to get great footage from many different angles. Here he is filming me from behind . . .
. . . and from the side:
Jeff was constantly on the move, but made sure not to block me from running left or right. As a former/occasional ballhawk, he knew that lateral mobility was essential for me.
The Phillies only had one group of hitters after the gates opened, but I managed to snag three balls during that time. The first was tossed by Jake Diekman in center field, just to the left of the batter’s eye. The second was a home run that I grabbed in the seats in left-center JUST before Grant charged over from his spot in straight-away left. The third was thrown by Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez in left field as BP ended; I had noticed that he was holding a ball, so when the Phillies started jogging off, I shouted his name and got him to hook me up.
Soon after the Pirates began getting loose . . .
. . . I got my fourth ball thrown to me in the left-field corner by some coach-like catcher guy, and when BP got underway, I got ball No. 5 tossed by John Holdzkom. (Don’t feel bad — I hadn’t heard of half these players either.)
The first group of Pirates hitters was great. They were all right-handed, they all seemed to have power, and I caught four home runs on the fly. The first was a deep drive to left-center by Andrew McCutchen, and although I made a highlight-reel-worthy play, it was ugly and unnecessary — kinda like when an outfielder misjudges a ball and then ends up having to dive for it. It’s like, “Yeah, nice catch, but you’re an idiot.” Basically, I climbed back over two rows in the process of running one full section to my left, and when I reached the far staircase, I looked up for the ball, expecting it to be sailing over my head. I thought I was going to have to jump for it, or maybe even keep running up the steps and scramble for it in the seats. I also thought I had a bit more time before it was going to land, but instead the ball was right on me, and it didn’t travel as far as I predicted, so I ended up sticking my glove out awkwardly, for a palm-up, waist-high catch. Duh. I’m not sure who hit the next homer, but I can tell you that I ran full-speed one and a half sections to my right and made a lunging, thigh-high, back-handed catch. That one felt good except for the fact that I might have robbed Grant on it. He was camped out two rows behind the spot where the ball landed and might have been able to reach it. The next two homers were hit by McCutchen, and they were both routine; I drifted down a few steps for one and then moved 15 feet to my left for the other — no competition. Several fans started getting on me to give a ball away, but I didn’t because (a) the few little kids in my section had already gotten balls and (b) the bigger kids were too big. Sorry, but when a 14-year-old starts begging me for a ball, that’s just silly. Catch one yourself. And when a middle-aged man asks me for a ball for his eight-year-old daughter, and I’m like, “Okay, where is she?” and he’s like, “Oh, she’s at home,” that’s just not a situation I want any part of. Go buy one for her at the team store.
For the second group of Pirates hitters, I moved to right field . . .
. . . and promptly got my 10th ball of the day tossed by Gregory Polanco. Several minutes later, I made a nice catch on an Ike Davis homer, climbing down over two rows and back-handing it just behind a small cluster of flinching fans. I handed that ball to the nearest kid.
When I ran back to left field for the Pirates’ third group, a couple of guys sitting deep in left-center recognized me. I stopped to chat for about five seconds, but then had to keep moving and get into position. A minute later, I looked back in their direction and noticed Jeff standing at a railing just above them. I pulled out my camera to take a picture of him, but it didn’t turn out as planned:
See the guy in the white shirt giving a thumb-up? That’s the main guy who recognized me. See Jeff above him, looking off to the side? Basically, the person I wanted to photograph wasn’t paying attention, and the guy I wasn’t interested in photographing was posing for me. Ha! Oh well.
Meanwhile, look how crowded it had gotten in left field:
In the photo above, that’s me in the yellow shirt in the fourth row. I didn’t get any baseballs there, but guess what? I ran back to right field for the Pirates’ fourth and final group, and I caught one more ball — a home run by an unidentifiable lefty. That was my 12th ball of the day and my 500th of the season. Here I am with the ball . . . with Grant:
He had gotten six balls during BP, and then I saw him snag No. 7 — a toss-up from Phillies bullpen catcher Jesus Tiamo. Grant and Jeff and I hung out near the bullpens for a while, and to my surprise, roughly 10 minutes later, when nothing was happening, Jeff got a ball thrown to him, seemingly out of nowhere. Here he is with it:
He told me that it was thrown from the Pirates’ bullpen, and sure enough, when I looked over there, I saw bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade milling about. I called out to him, and whaddaya know? He pulled a ball out of the bag and chucked it to me — perfect aim *over* the Phillies’ bullpen down below. That was pretty cool.
My total for the day had reached 13, but I did experience some failure and rejection along the way. During BP, I misjudged a ball or two and got a couple of unlucky ricochets. Before the game, I was unable to get a toss-up from the Pirates along the left-field foul line, and after the first inning, I didn’t even come close to a 3rd-out ball at their dugout. For a poorly-attended weeknight game in September, there were an awful lot of kids sitting close to home plate, so I gave up on that and moved to left field with Jeff. This was my view out there:
The Phillies had a player in the starting lineup with zero career home runs — 3rd baseman Maikel Franco — so I was glad to be in the outfield.
During the game, Jeff took some photos of me, including this one:
See me there in my MLB hat and dark gray T-shirt? I don’t know what I was doing. Playing with my phone? Admiring my beautiful fingernails? Whatever. It’s still a cool shot.
One unexpectedly nice thing about the game was that the out-of-town scoreboard was dead:
I guess I still had Wrigley Field on my brain, and I was missing baseball in its simplest form — just the game being played in a cozy stadium without any B.S. to distract me.
This was my dinner:
When several lefties were due to bat, Jeff had gone to get a cheesesteak, and I went with him, but then I realized I wasn’t actually that hungry, so I wandered over to the adjacent concession stand, and when I saw the Old Bay-flavored popcorn, I had to try it.
It was awful!
In general, I love Old Bay (especially in this form), but somehow it didn’t work with popcorn. It just made me thirsty, and the flavor was too strong, and I wanted to be eating something like this instead.
Anyway, late in the game, with the Phillies trailing by a couple of runs, the stadium cleared out. I had so much room to run . . .
. . . but nothing to run for. That’s usually how it goes. There was only one home run all night — a 5th-inning blast to left-center by Starling Marte — and Grant nearly caught it.
After the final out of the Pirates’ 6-4 win, I bolted through the seats and barely made it to their dugout as the relievers were walking in from the bullpen. It was crowded, so I stood on a seat and got one of the players to throw me a ball. As soon as I reached out and made the catch (which, I have no doubt, was intended for me all the way), I noticed a little kid standing directly below me, so I bent down and opened my glove and let him take the ball out of it. D’awww!!
Overall it was a great day. It would’ve been nice to catch Franco’s first career homer, but I put up big numbers in BP and got to reconnect with Jeff, who got some good footage . . . so no complaints.
• 14 baseballs at this game (12 pictured here because I gave 2 away)
• 502 balls in 72 games this season = 6.97 balls per game.
• 4 consecutive seasons with at least 500 balls
• 335 lifetime balls in 36 games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.31 balls per game.
• 1,038 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 371 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 7,678 total balls
• 21 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.71 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $23.94 raised at this game
• $858.42 raised this season
• $39,522.42 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Prior to this game, I’d been to Miller Park five times and snagged a total of 63 baseballs, so I was expecting another big day. My friend Brandon, a professional videographer who’d filmed me two days earlier at Wrigley Field, was planning to get more footage here . . . but right before the stadium opened, I told him not to bother. You see, Miller Park has a Friday’s restaurant that’s open year-round and overlooks left field. On game days, it’s a great place to get a head start on the competition and snag a few baseballs before the stadium officially opens. On each of my previous five visits, I’d gone there and done quite well, but this time, because of a recent fire (that caused $700,000 of damage), the restaurant wasn’t open early. Why do a video that wouldn’t capture the full ballhawking experience?
Miller Park normally opens 90 minutes early (which is pathetic and makes me hate the Brewers), but it just so happened that I was here on a special day. This was one of 10 games in 2014 at which season ticket holders could get in an extra half-hour early, and a local friend of mine named Kenny was kind enough to bring me and Brandon in as his guests.
When the special gate opened at 5:10pm, I ran full speed toward the second deck in left field. I was completely out of breath when I made it there, but it was worth it, or so I thought, because I had the entire section to myself for a couple of minutes. Here’s what it looked like:
Moments later, someone on the Brewers crushed a home run in my direction, but guess what happened? It landed several rows behind me, clanged off a metal bench, and ricocheted back onto the field — the ultimate example of bad luck.
Brandon took his time heading out to my spot, which was fine. He certainly didn’t miss much. Here a photo of me standing in the front row:
Wow, that’s really exciting.
The Brewers only took one group of BP after the gates opened. They didn’t hit any other home runs, and I couldn’t get anyone to throw me a ball.
When the Cardinals’ pitchers began playing catch along the left-field foul line, I put on my Cardinals hat and ran down to the 100 Level. Look closely at the following photo, and you’ll see me standing at the railing:
Because the stadium hadn’t yet opened to the general public and because there was NO ONE else wearing Cardinals gear, I got two of the easiest toss-ups of my life. The first one came from Trevor Rosenthal . . . I think. Here are a few photos of him:
Is that Rosenthal?
The other ball was tossed by Seth Maness.
With Matt Holliday set to take his cuts in the first group, I hurried back upstairs and ended up snagging two of his home run balls. Here’s a cool photo of me chasing the first one:
I actually had a bit of competition for the second homer. It landed 10 rows behind me and took a lucky bounce back toward me as a college-aged kid cut across from the next section.
Here’s an action shot of a ball I didn’t snag:
I think Kenny grabbed that one. Holliday was hitting bombs. It was fun to watch and frustrating that I only got two.
During the next group of hitters, Brandon told me that he saw Carlos Martinez throw a ball into the upper deck on the 3rd base side. Long story short: I ran up there . . .
. . . but didn’t find it. (Was he trolling me?)
The rest of Cardinals BP sucked. I went to right field for a bit, then headed back to left field, and eventually sat down:
No one was hitting homers. The players and coaches ignored all of my requests for baseballs. It was a total waste of time.
After BP, I raced back downstairs and made it to the Cardinals’ dugout in time to see this:
No baseball for me.
Then I caught up with Kenny . . .
. . . and bought him the beer I’d promised him two days earlier as a “thank you” for saving me a spot in the bleacher line outside Wrigley Field. He’s a good dude. I’m sorry I don’t get to see him more often, and I was bummed that two other Milwaukee-based ballhawk friends — Shawn Bosman and Nick Yohanek — weren’t at this game.
After the national anthem, I wandered down toward the left-field foul line. When I made it down to about the fifth row, I stopped and watched the Cardinals do their pre-game throwing. There was NO competition for baseballs. It was unbelievable. Not only was I happy about the prospect of an easy toss-up, but I was glad to be out of New York and NOT be restricted by stadium security. In New York, if you want to do anything in any part of the stadium after batting practice, you need to have a ticket for THAT section or else you’re not getting in. It’s such a pain in the ass (and makes me hate the Mets and Yankees), but anyway, here I was, standing and watching the players right before the game in a section where I didn’t belong, not causing any harm, when I heard someone say, “Excuse me,” from behind. I turned around and saw a mean-lookin’ usher and thought that I *was* about to get hassled after all. Instead he simply told me that I wasn’t allowed to be standing at this time and that I needed to take a seat. And then he turned his back and started heading up the steps.
Talk about stupid rules.
Moments later, two players finished throwing, so I stood up (sorry, I know I’m a terrible person) and called out to them. Here’s a photo that Brandon took from behind:
(See? That usher really DOES look mean. Right? It looks like he’s ready for a shoot-out, with his hands hovering over imaginary gun holsters. What’s up with that? And what’s with the sunglasses? It might’ve been bright an hour earlier, but c’mon, dude, the moment passed.)
The Cardinals dissed me once again and didn’t throw me the ball. What the hell! It’s one thing not to get a ball when there are little kids nearby, but when I’m the ONLY person in the stadium asking for a ball? It kinda makes me hate the Cardinals.
I still only had four balls when the game started, but I was excited about turning my day around and doing something big. In my previous five games at Miller Park, I had snagged a total of five foul balls, so it was completely within reason to assume I’d get another.
Why is this stadium so great for foul balls? This was my view for every left-handed batter . . .
. . . and here’s what it looked like on my right:
That is an INSANE amount of room.
For all right-handed batters, I moved to the far end of the walkway. Here I am (two hours later) circled in red:
Here I am walking back for a lefty . . .
. . . and here I am noticing the camera:
Things did not go as planned. Instead of snagging 17 foul balls over the course of the game, I got none, and to make matters worse, I should’ve had one, but the ball took the unluckiest ricochet in history. I refuse to describe it because it’ll just make me hate life all over again.
Here I am resting between innings late in the game:
It was September baseball at its worst — micromanaging along with expanded rosters. The Cardinals and Brewers combined to score five runs, but used a total of 13 pitchers. The pace of the game was dreadfully slow even for me, the most diehard of fans, so if *I* was bored despite moving back and forth all night and playing my own game within the game, can you imagine how most of the other people felt? Brandon was especially aggravated by the end, and when the Cardinals recorded the final out of their 3-2 victory, we got the hell out of there:
Somehow I’m still averaging more than 11 balls per game at Miller Park, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to being back there anytime soon.
• 4 baseballs at this game
• 481 balls in 70 games this season = 6.87 balls per game.
• 67 lifetime balls in 6 games at Miller Park = 11.17 balls per game.
• 1,036 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 370 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 7,657 total balls
• 21 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.71 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $6.84 raised at this game
• $822.51 raised this season
• $39,486.51 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
My day at Wrigley Field began in the presence of greatness. Here I am on Waveland Avenue with three of the greatest ballhawks of all time:
In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at Moe Mullins, Dave Davison, me, and Rich Buhrke. Moe and Rich were both featured in The Baseball (see pages 271-274), and Dave would’ve been in the book had he been willing to be interviewed. The four of us have combined to snag well over 20,000 baseballs.
After we finished posing, Rich pointed out a ball that was stuck in a VERY hard-to-reach spot:
More specifically, it was skewered on the pigeon prongs of the Toyota ad 20 feet above the bleachers:
Rich said it was a BP homer that landed there during the 2012 season, which means it has survived two brutal Chicago winters. How fun (and impossible) would it be to get that ball and examine its condition?
Anyway, when the Cubs started hitting, everyone dispersed to their various spots and looked skyward. Rich sat on a bucket on the sidewalk:
Moe sat in a folding chair in the shade:
And as for me? I’m a rookie out there, so I just stood in the street:
There was NO action while I was out there — the Cubs pitchers, I learned, had hit five homers onto Waveland before I arrived — but it was still fun to hang out and give it a shot.
Inside the stadium, things went much better. I started by scrambling for a Junior Lake home run in left-center field — coulda/shoulda caught it on the fly, but whatever. I got the ball, and that’s all that really matters . . . and it was commemorative. I’d snagged six commemorative balls the day before, but I was still excited to get another.
A couple of minutes later, an unidentifiable Cubs player flipped up a ball from the warning track. Here I am snagging it, and if you look VERY closely, you can tell that the logo is commemorative:
That photo (along with many others in this entry) was taken by my friend Brandon Sloter. He’s the professional photographer/videographer who had filmed me the day before, and that video is now done! Check it out if you have a few extra minutes to spare — here it is on YouTube.
Here I am showing the ball I’d just snagged (and getting photo-bombed by Dave):
That was it for the Cubs’ portion of BP. One group. Two commemorative baseballs. Not bad.
When the Cubs jogged off the field, I noticed that they left a ball sitting near the right field foul line, and since it was going to take a few minutes for the Brewers to start hitting, I ran over there. Here I am asking for the ball:
Despite the fact that I was now decked out in Brewers gear, coach Lee Tunnel tossed it to the guy standing above the “people who get it” sign. How fitting.
As I hurried back to the bleachers, the Brewers starting taking BP:
Brandon took the previous photo, and he took this one too:
I swung by the right-center field bleachers and ran into my friend Kelly and her four-year-old son P.J. Here they are:
Kelly and I did a Watch With Zack game on 9/24/07 at Shea Stadium, and we’ve been friends ever since — such good friends, in fact, that I stayed at her place on this trip. As you can see in the photo above, Kelly and P.J. were wearing Brewers gear and had a sign asking for a ball. Guess how many they got? Go ahead. Pick a number. I’ll share their total at the end.
I got my third ball of the day tossed up in left-center by Brewers coach Mike Guerrero. Here I am reaching for it:
Where did my hat go? Look closely and you’ll see that I was holding it in my right hand. The previous day, Guerrero had seen me snag a couple of baseballs, so before I asked him for this one, I removed my hat to change my appearance.
The Brewers, by the way, are *great* in batting practice. If you have a choice of games to attend and visiting teams to see, pick the Brewers. Rosters change from year to year, of course, but right now the Brewers are incredible. They have a bunch of right-handed sluggers (Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, Aramis Ramirez, Rickie Weeks, Jonathan Lucroy, and Mark Reynolds) who put on a show! Not surprisingly, here at Wrigley, these guys were blasting balls to the deepest parts of the left-field bleachers and often completely out of the stadium and onto Waveland Avenue. I was tempted to play deep, but there was lots of competition, as you can see in the following photo:
Therefore I played shallow, where I knew there’d be less action, but also far fewer bodies in my way. Here’s a three-part photo that shows my strategy paying off:
In case you can’t tell, that ball (circled in red in all three images) was a home run that was dropped by the fan in plaid shorts. The ball plopped down and landed on a bag and conveniently/alarmingly bounced right up at my face. In the process of flinching, I managed to cradle the ball against my neck with my bare hand.
Moments later, I caught a home run on the fly. Here I am reaching out and squeezing my glove around it:
I don’t know who hit either of those homers.
After BP, I took a photo of the two commemorative balls I’d snagged from the Cubs:
Half an hour later, as I’d done the previous day, I headed deep into the left-field bleachers for the Chris Bosio Show:
Every day at around 6:45pm, Bosio, the Cubs’ pitching coach, throws half a dozen balls into the crowd. The previous day I’d gotten lucky and snagged an errant throw that had been intended for someone else. This time I positioned myself in a better spot in the hope of getting one thrown directly to me. I stood on a bench at the very top/back of the bleachers — and it worked! Here I am reaching out for the catch:
That was my sixth ball of the day. And it was commemorative:
Look who else was trying to get a ball in left field:
That’s P.J. and Kelly in the front row, now wearing Cubs gear.
Throughout the day, I’d been running into an 18-year-old fan named Yacov, who’s been reading this blog for a while. We had chatted for a bit on Waveland Avenue before the stadium opened. I had also seen him briefly along the right-field foul line when I ran over to try to get the ball that the Cubs had left behind. Shortly before game time, when I moved from the bleachers to the main part of the stadium, he caught up with me again and posed with the baseball that I’d signed for him earlier. Here he is with it:
Soon after, when several Cubs were finishing their pre-game throwing, I stood up and tried hard to get their attention:
I would’ve preferred to be in the front row, but the strict ushers wouldn’t let me get any closer. As it turned out, it didn’t matter because Chris Valaika saw me waving and called me down toward the front. The nearest usher had no choice but to let me wander down the steps, and when I got a bit closer to the field, Valaika threw me the ball. Here it is flying into my glove:
Yes, it was commemorative. Outstanding!
Brandon and I spend the first few innings in the second deck:
It was a decent place to catch a foul ball, but I wasn’t hopeful of getting anything up there. Mainly, I just wanted to relax and watch the game.
That got old fast, and I headed back down to the field level. Here’s where Brandon and I sat for the next inning . . .
. . . and eventually we moved closer. We didn’t bother trying to sneak down behind the Brewers’ dugout. Instead we stealthily grabbed a pair of empty seats in the front row behind the cross-aisle.
Brandon kept taking photos. Here’s Kyle Hendricks throwing a change-up:
Here’s Jorge Soler following through after fighting off an inside pitch for a double down the left-field line:
He’s truly amazing. I think he’s going to be a superstar for the next decade.
Here’s the scoreboard . . .
. . . and here’s Jonathan Lucroy handing a 3rd-out ball to a young fan in the front row:
With no outs in the top of the 6th inning, Aramis Ramirez swung at a 2-0 pitch from Hendricks and hit a towering foul pop-up in my direction. At first I thought it was going to land 20 feet behind me, but I resisted the urge to bolt up the steps. I remembered that high foul pop-ups are impossible to judge and usually end up drifting back toward the field, and since I was already standing in the aisle, I figured I might as well stay there. As the ball started to descend, it seemed to be heading straight at me, and I couldn’t believe my luck. Was I seriously about to catch it? I kept watching it and standing there . . . and watching it . . . and waiting. It seemed to hang up in the air forever, and at the very last second, it began veering to my right. I don’t know if it hit a wind current or if the spin affected it, but for an instant, I thought I *wasn’t* going to catch it. All I could do was take a step or two to my right and lunge across my body for a wild attempt at a back-handed catch. Here’s a photo that Brandon took at that moment:
Did you notice the two fans on the right? Here’s a closer look:
It must have sucked for them to think that they were about to die.
I’m happy to report that I caught the ball in the tip of my glove, and no one got hurt. The women actually/sincerely thanked me for saving their lives, which amused me because I was at least five feet away from them when I caught the ball.
Here’s a photo of the ball that I took soon after . . .
. . . and here’s a much better photo of it on my website.
The 6th inning was good to me. It started with that foul ball and ended with a 3rd-out ball, tossed perfectly to me over everyone down in front by Brewers 1st baseman Mark Reynolds. Here’s the ball flying toward me.
If you must know, that ball was a grounder hit by Luis Valbuena on a 2-0 pitch from Will Smith. My man Aramis Ramirez fielded it at 3rd base and fired across the diamond to complete the play.
That was my ninth ball of the day. When BP had ended, I only had five and wasn’t even considering double digits, but now it was within reach.
Here’s a photo that Brandon took of . . . someone mildly important singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”:
Here’s another Brandon photo of the Cubs infielders warming up between innings:
The Cubs won the game, 6-2, sending the Brewers to their eighth straight loss. After the final out, I scurried down to the 1st base dugout . . .
. . . and got a ball from home plate umpire Mark Carlson — the only ball he gave away.
Here I am with the seven commemorative balls I snagged:
Here’s a closer look at those balls:
Back at Kelly’s place, I photographed P.J. with the balls he’d gotten with her:
I had no idea how many balls they were getting at the time. I only saw them get a few, but when Kelly told me how they’d done it, it made perfect sense. You know how players stand in clusters during BP? Well, she and P.J. would hang out behind one cluster and inevitably get a ball from them within a few minutes . . . then move one or two sections over and get a ball from the next group of guys. And so on. At least one fan handed P.J. a ball, and I think there were one or two other cases when players or coaches went out of their way to get P.J.’s attention and hook him up.
Four-year-olds have it rough in a lot of ways, but to be that age at a Major League Baseball game has got to be one of the greatest things in the world.
• 10 baseballs at this game
• 477 balls in 69 games this season = 6.91 balls per game.
• 68 lifetime balls in 9 games at Wrigley Field = 7.56 balls per game.
• 1,035 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 369 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 254 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 7,653 total balls
• 21 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.71 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $17.10 raised at this game
• $815.67 raised this season
• $39,479.67 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
According to the Cubs, the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field was the “PARTY OF THE CENTURY,” but as far as I was concerned, it was an opportunity to snag commemorative baseballs. In fact, that’s the only reason that I flew to Chicago. I needed one of these balls, and it had to be a good one with perfect logo.
Here I am outside the stadium:
That photo was taken by my friend Brandon Sloter. He’s the photographer/videographer who filmed me on 8/18/14 at Citizens Bank Park — and he filmed me again here at Wrigley. He’s still editing all the footage, so stay tuned. I’ll post it as soon as it’s done. In the meantime, here are a bunch of photos, starting with a few (taken by me) on Sheffield Avenue:
That’s the street that runs behind the right-field edge of the stadium.
I enjoyed a sneak-peek inside through this gate . . .
. . . on my way toward center field and around to Waveland Avenue. Here’s what it looked like over there:
In the photo above, did you notice the guy standing in the shade on the sidewalk? That’s Rich Buhrke, one of the top ten ballhawks of all time that I featured in my latest book, The Baseball. (See pages 273-274.) It was great to see him, and while I was there, I also ran into Moe Mullins (pages 271-272) and another very accomplished ballhawk named Dave Davison, plus a newer ballhawk buddy named Kenny Kasta, whom I’d met last year in Milwaukee.
I joined them in waiting for home runs to come flying out of the stadium. This was my view:
Unfortunately I’d gotten there a bit too late and had missed the few balls that reached the street, but it was still great to catch up with these guys.
Did you notice the concrete barricades in the previous two photos? Supposedly, when the bleachers are expanded yet again this offseason, that’s how far out into the street the stands will extend, and to make matters worse, there’s going to be a HUGE video screen with a ton of advertisements erected at the top of the bleachers. What a disaster.
When the stadium opened at 5:05pm, I raced to the bleachers, hopeful of getting a head start on the competition. I’d heard that *all* of the Cubs’ BP balls were commemorative, so I really wanted to get my first one quickly.
So much for that. Not only did I fail to snag a ball within the first 10 minutes, but Brandon got one without even trying. He was filming me from the back of the bleachers when one of the Cubs crushed a deep home run that landed near him. He scurried over and picked it up, and when I asked him if the ball was commemorative, he shrugged. GAH!!
Toward the end of the first group of hitters, Junior Lake smoked a line drive to my right. It took me a moment to realize that the ball was going to clear the wall, at which point I started running full speed. When I reached the far end of my row, three things happened:
1) Two other fans were converging on the spot where the ball was going to land.
2) A woman who was sitting there ducked and leaned to the side.
3) I made a lunging back-handed catch and nearly tumbled onto her.
She was probably completely freaked out, but I didn’t make contact with her and might have actually saved her from getting drilled. I got a high-five from one of my fellow ballhawks, and when I looked at the ball itself, I wanted to give the universe a high-five. Check it out:
I’d been hoping and trying all season to snag one of these balls, and now I’d finally done it. When the Cubs had visited Yankee Stadium in April for a two-game series, the first game got rained out, and I skipped the day/night doubleheader the following day. When the Cubs went to Philadelphia in June, the weather was terrible on my one free day, so I skipped that as well. When the Cubs played a four-game series last month at Citi Field and *didn’t* bring a single commemorative ball with them, I had no choice but to book a trip to Wrigley if I wanted to catch one . . . so you can see why I was so excited.
Soon after I caught that ball, I tweeted a photo of it and declared that my mission had been accomplished, prompting my friend Todd Cook to call me out. “That’s not perfect,” he tweeted back at me. “Mission continues, Mr. Hample.”
He was partially right. Although I had snagged a commemorative ball, the logo *was* slightly messed up — and what I really wanted was a game-used/mud-rubbed ball with a pristine logo.
From a numbers standpoint, the Brewers’ portion of BP was better, but none of the balls were commemorative. Here’s what it looked like in the bleachers . . .
. . . and here’s what all the Brewers’ baseballs looked like:
The ball pictured above — my 2nd of the day — was tossed by a player that I didn’t recognize. My next three baseballs were home runs to left field, starting with a line-drive shot that I caught on the fly in the 2nd row. I had to drift down a couple of steps for that one, and it didn’t get any easier from there. My next ball was a deeper line drive by Mark Reynolds that tipped off the end of my glove as I lunged all the way down for a back-handed catch. Thankfully it stayed at my feet and I was able to grab it. My final home run landed several rows deep in left-center and resulted in an all-out scramble.
That was it for BP. Here I am with my baseballs:
By the way, Brandon filmed all of my catches, so there should be some good, action-packed footage in the video.
Do you remember the guy named Kenny who’d been out on Waveland Avenue? Well, he was inside the stadium for BP and gave me a valuable piece of info. He told me that everyday at around 6:45pm, Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio throws half a dozen baseballs into the left-field bleachers. Kenny added that several of the balls usually get thrown to the regulars, but the rest are up for grabs. I promised that I’d keep my distance from him, and when the time came, I picked a random spot in straight-away left, roughly two-thirds of the way toward the top. Sure enough, Bosio strolled out with three balls in each pocket and soon began chucking them all over the place. After the first few balls went to fans who were nowhere near me, Bosio threw one 30 feet to my right. Naturally I started running in that direction in case there was a bobble, and here’s what happened: the ball sailed *way* over the head of the intended recipient, nearly hit an oblivious fan who was sitting in the last row, and smacked off the back fence. As it started bouncing down the steps, I cut across and swiped at it with my glove, scooping it up like a 1st baseman handling a short hop. It was beautiful . . . and the ball was commemorative! But the logo wasn’t perfect, so my mission continued.
At that point, the Cubs’ position players were already playing catch in shallow left field, so I ran over to the seats in foul territory. (If you have a bleacher ticket, you can go into the main part of the stadium, but if you have a ticket for the main part of the stadium, you can’t enter the bleachers.) Unfortunately, because of the strict ushers, I wasn’t allowed to go down into the first 10 rows, so I stayed in the cross-aisle and tried my best to get the players’ attention. Somehow, less than a minute later, Matt Szczur (pronounced “see-zer”) spotted me and lobbed his warm-up ball right to me, over everyone down in front. When I made the catch, I looked back at Brandon, who was still in the bleachers, and noticed that his camera was pointing at me. I thought he was filming, but it turned out that he was taking photos. Here I am holding up the ball:
Here I am pointing to the logo:
I didn’t expect the camera to pick it up. I just wanted him to know that it was commemorative, but look! The camera DID pick it up. Here’s a much closer look at the photo above:
Pretty cool, huh?
Here’s the baseball itself:
The logo was perfect, so I tweeted a photo of it to Todd Cook and said, “Is my mission accomplished NOW?”
“Yeah, I think that’ll do,” he replied and then added, “Save some for us! PS- You know you weren’t happy with that first one! #DontTryToFoolUs!”
Despite Todd’s blessing, my mission still wasn’t fully accomplished. Yeah, the ball from Szczur was flawless, but it wasn’t mud-rubbed. (Poor me, right?)
Several minutes later, I shifted over to the cross-aisle behind the dugout and got Starlin Castro to throw me a ball, and moments after that, in nearly the same spot, I got the attention of Javier Baez and got him to lob one to me. Both of these balls were commemorative, and my total for the day had reached nine.
Brandon stayed in the bleachers for the start of the game and took a bunch of photos, including this . . .
. . . and this . . .
. . . and this:
Meanwhile, this was my view when Scooter Gennett led off the game:
I didn’t know it at the time, but Brandon wandered from the bleachers into the main part of the stadium. Here’s a photo he took of the Chicago skyline . . .
. . . and here’s another one of his pics from the second deck:
Gorgeous. That’s really all there is to say.
After a couple of innings, I made my way to the 1st base side . . .
. . . and ended up moving a bit closer. The ushers were super-protective of the seats between the dugout and cross-aisle, but they didn’t seem to care about anything past that, so I sat directly behind the aisle.
In the bottom of the 4th inning, Chris Valaika hit a sinking line drive at Brewers shortstop Elian Herrera, who caught it . . . or did he trap it? Even he didn’t know, so he fired the ball to 1st baseman Lyle Overbay, who scooped the short hop. It was a bang-bang play. The runner looked out, but the ump called him safe, and the Cubs challenged. At that point, Overbay looked toward the stands, and I knew right away that he was looking for someone to throw the ball to, so I jumped up and waved my arms and shouted his name, and he threw it right to me! His aim was perfect! It barely cleared the outstretched arms of the folks in front of the aisle. The ball had a huge, infield-dirt scuff, but it was nowhere near the logo, so now my mission had truly been accomplished.
Fast-forward four innings. A rookie named Matt Clark had replaced Overbay, and when the 8th inning ended with a routine groundout, I drifted down several steps from the cross-aisle and got that ball too . . . except not really. As some 1st basemen do, Clark switched balls on his way to the dugout and tossed me a non-commemorative infield warm-up ball instead. BAH!! But hey, it was better than nothing.
In the 9th inning, I met up with Brandon and headed over to the cross-aisle behind the home-plate end of the 3rd-base dugout. On a previous visit to Wrigley, that’s where the umps had exited, so it was the obvious place to try to snag one more ball.
Before I tell you what happened next, here’s a photo that Brandon took of pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa:
Okay, so . . . when Rickie Weeks went down swinging to end the game, I hurried down to the dugout, only to see the umps walking the wrong way! WTF?! They were all heading to the 1st base dugout! Obviously there was no chance to run over there and catch them on the way in, so I held my ground and ended up with something even better. Behold!
That’s right. One of the Cubs’ coaches gave me the lineup card. Initially, on his way in, when I asked him for it, he said no and disappeared from sight, but 10 seconds later, perhaps after asking the manager and/or winning pitcher if they wanted to keep it, he poked his head back out and slid it to me across the dugout roof.
Here’s a closer look at the front of the lineup card:
In my opinion, the stuff on the back was even better:
I’ve gotten dozens of lineup cards over the years, some of which have included various bits of info on the back — stuff like the ground rules and pitcher usage charts and biblical references — but this was a first. And I don’t fully get it. Take the “PITCHOUTS” section, for example. Are those the pitchouts that the Brewers have thrown against the Cubs this season? It’s fascinating to get a glimpse of the inner/strategic workings of a Major League Baseball team.
I gave away two (non-commemorative) baseballs on my way out of the stadium, so here are the nine that I kept:
You know what? It’s just as well that the Cubs didn’t bring their precious balls to Citi Field last month because if they had, I wouldn’t have gone to Chicago, and I would’ve missed out on this incredibly fun day at Wrigley Field.
After nine days, the video is finally done! Check it out:
• 11 baseballs at this game
• 467 balls in 68 games this season = 6.87 balls per game.
• 58 lifetime balls in 8 games at Wrigley Field = 7.25 balls per game.
• 1,034 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 368 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 253 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 64 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection.
• 37 lifetime lineup cards (or pairs of lineup cards); click here to see them all.
• 7,643 total balls
• 20 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.62 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $17.82 raised at this game
• $756.54 raised this season
• $39,420.54 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
This was my 40th lifetime Watch With Zack game, and for a change, my clients asked to remain anonymous. I can tell you that I was with two people — a woman named Janet and her 13-year-old daughter named Zan — but you won’t see photos of their faces. Instead I’ll start with a photo of something extremely frustrating:
That was our first look at the field.
In case you can’t tell, the cage and screens were set up for batting practice, but no one was hitting. For the last couple of months, that’s how it’s been nearly every time I’ve run inside Citi Field; the Mets have been starting BP so early that by the time the stadium opens at 5:10pm, they’re already gone. What’s the point of that? To prevent the public from seeing how pathetic they are?
Anyway, shortly before the Braves started hitting 15 minutes later, I noticed that one of the pitchers in left field was already holding a ball. I hurried down toward the front row with Zan, recognized the player as Anthony Varvaro, and got him to throw it toward us. I made the catch, and when I tried to hand it to her, she said something like, “You keep it — that’s your ball.”
Here’s what the ball looked like:
It was a perfectly nice ball, but she didn’t want it because she hadn’t snagged it herself — a very mature attitude for a young fan who had never gotten one.
A little while later, with BP finally underway, I convinced Chris Johnson to throw one to her, or at least I tried. At the time, Zan and I were standing side-by-side in the front row, and Johnson ended up throwing it to me. As the ball sailed toward us, I leaned back so that Zan could shift over, and just in case she couldn’t reach it, I had my glove waiting in the right spot. Unfortunately she came up short by several inches, and I ended up making the catch.
Here’s where we hung out for most of BP:
In the photo above, Zan is wearing the light green shirt, and Janet is standing on her right. I stood in front of them, not just to offer protection in case someone cranked a ball into our section, but also so we could talk.
At one point during the first group of hitters, Evan Gattis smoked a deep line drive 30 feet to our left. Based on the low trajectory, I knew it wasn’t going to reach the seats by much, so I bolted down to the second row and then began cutting across. The ball slammed into the seats, deflected off my left ankle, and trickled away from me toward the spot where I had just come from. I chased after it, and just before I was about to bend down and pick it up, Zan scurried toward me from the opposite direction and grabbed it. What an awesome way for her to snag the very first ball of her life!
With several minutes remaining in BP, we hurried to the seats behind the Braves’ dugout, and when all the players and coaches cleared the field, I saw an opportunity. There was a ball sitting near the 3rd base coach’s box, and as Gerald Laird approached it, I shouted his name and pointed at Zan . . . and then I moved five feet away from her. To my delight, he tossed her the ball, and she made a clean catch! Outstanding!
Moments later, I got Terry Pendleton to throw me a ball, which gave us five combined — three for me and two for her.
This was our view when several players came out to throw before the game:
I had encouraged Zan to borrow my Braves gear, but she wanted NO part of it. She and her mother are such huge Mets fans that they didn’t even want *me* to wear it, but I convinced them that it had to be done. That said, if Zan had been wearing my hat and/or shirt and standing in the front row, there’s a 99 percent chance that one of the players would’ve have thrown her a ball. Instead, when I asked for one and pointed at her, Andrelton Simmons shook his head with a taunting/sarcastic expression. Then he pointed at me and said something to his teammates, and when he jogged off the field, he shouted, “You have millions of ‘em!” Zan thought it was cool that a player recognized me. I simply thought it was annoying.
This was our view for the first half-hour of the game:
A little while later, we stealthily moved down to the sixth row.
After each inning, Zan and I scurried down to the bottom of the stairs, hoping to get a 3rd-out ball. Our first few attempts were unsuccessful, and as the game wore on, more and more kids got in on the act. By the middle of the game, there was so much competition that I worried Zan might get edged out — that one of the bigger kids would push her out of the way or reach in front of her. Luckily for her, though, she had the biggest kid in the stadium on her side. When Zack Wheeler grounded out to end the 5th inning, we bolted down the stairs before Braves 1st baseman Freddie Freeman had even caught the throw, so we were in the perfect spot. He ended up jogging right toward us with the ball, and I just *knew* that he was going to toss it in our direction. I really wanted her to catch it, but we were surrounded by overzealous fans, so the slightest bobble would become a lost opportunity. As Freeman approached, he lobbed the ball right at me, but it was clearly going to fall short. I had to make a split-second decision. Rather than standing back and letting it bounce off the dugout roof (likely resulting in mayhem), I reached all the way out and made a back-handed catch. And handed the ball to Zan.
Once again, she didn’t want it because I had caught it, but I insisted, and Janet ended up accepting it. Here’s what the ball looked like:
As you can see, it’s kinda beat up, so Freeman might have pulled a switcheroo and tossed the infield warm-up ball from the previous inning. But hey . . . whatever. It was still nice to have snagged a ball during the game and, more importantly, shown Zan how to do it so she can try it on her own next time she visits Citi Field.
The Braves won the game, 3-2, which obviously wasn’t the outcome that Zan and Janet wanted, but hopefully, deep down, on some level, they were able to appreciate the defensive wizardry of Andrelton Simmons. With two outs in the bottom of the 8th and the tying run on 3rd base, Travis d’Arnaud hit a grounder deep into the 5.5 hole. It had “base hit” and “tie game” written all over it — but then THIS happened. Unreal. I kind of hate Simmons for always messing with me, but I respect him so much as a player.
After the game, Zan and I posed with the baseballs that we’d snagged. Here’s as much of that photo as I can show:
Finally, in case you’re interested, here’s a whole page of Watch With Zack stats on my website. As for my own personal ballhawking stats, I’ll post those in my next blog entry from Wrigley Field . . .
Do you remember when my friend Brandon photographed me on 7/31/14 at Camden Yards? Well, he joined me for this game in Philadelphia, and I convinced him to film me instead. Here’s the video that he put together — check it out and then I’ll share a few photos and explain everything in detail:
Wow . . . right? Brandon has some *serious* skills as a videographer/editor, so before I say anything else, I want to thank him for doing such great work.
Anyway, when he and I approached the Ashburn Alley gate, I saw two familiar faces — Grant Edrington (who’s going to college in Pennsylvania) and Rick Gold (who made the trip with me from New York and had held a spot at the front of the line while I bought a ticket). They’re both ballhawks, and you can briefly see them in the video. At the 0:24 mark, Grant is on the right side, wearing a yellow shirt, and bending down to pick up a home run ball. You can also see him from 0:25 to 0:31 as we both chase another longball that ends up ricocheting far away. Rick, meanwhile, wearing a gray shirt, dashes into view from the left side at 0:45 and proceeds to cut across the seats until 0:48.
My first ball of the day was so uneventful that Brandon didn’t bother including it in the video. I was standing near the front row in left-center field when a Phillies player tossed a ball to a kid. The kid dropped it in the flowerbed at the very front of the section, so I picked it up and handed it to him.
At the 0:59 mark, you can hear me say, “Wanna play catch?” to Antonio Bastardo, and to my surprise, he briefly took me up on it. At the end, he told me to “keep it.” That was my second ball, and it was all I got until the entire stadium opened at 5:35pm. Why? Because left field was dead. Except for the first few minutes when Marlon Byrd was cranking balls out, most of the batters were left-handed and/or just plain bad.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the glove trick, that’s what I was attempting to do (and also discussing) from 1:57 to 2:23.
At 2:36, you can see me snagging my third ball. At the time, I didn’t know who tossed it, but later figured out that it was Brandon Maurer. I got another toss-up soon after from Logan Morrison, and then, after complaining about how bad my luck had been, I started to get really lucky.
At 3:05, I said, “Oh, here we go,” upon seeing the batter hit a deep fly ball in my direction. Then I paused for a moment to gauge the distance and eventually wiggled down the stairs for the catch. That was my fifth ball, and I have no idea who hit it.
I don’t know who hit the next one either, but it was my favorite catch of the day. (See 3:48 to 3:55.) That’s because I had to run to the left and climb back over two rows of seats to get into position. Every so often, I’ll climb over one row to make a catch, but maneuvering over two is pretty tough. Unfortunately it got me in trouble with a security supervisor who marched down the steps, told me I wasn’t allowed to run for baseballs, and basically threatened to eject me if I did it again. (“This is your only warning,” he said.) More on that in a bit, but first, here’s what my view looked like from that section:
My seventh ball — a deep line-drive homer by Robinson Cano — was extremely lucky. I made the catch at 4:14, but to get the whole story, you need to watch everything from 3:59 to 4:35. This was the one where I ran into the next section to chase a ball, and while I was there, Cano hit me another in the 2nd-to-last row.
At 4:38, there’s a quick clip of me snagging my eighth ball. Once again, at the time, I didn’t know who tossed it, but later figured out that it was 3rd base coach Rich Donnelly.
From 4:44 to 4:51, you can see me drifting to the right to catch my ninth ball, and from 5:12 to 5:20, you can see me climbing down over two rows to catch number ten. I don’t know who hit either of those home runs, but I can tell you this: the supervisor was pissed about the last one. He hurried back down the stairs and said, “What did I tell you before?!”
I truly thought I was about to be ejected, so I apologized hardcore and told him that I’d been trying to obey his rule about not running for balls and that I hadn’t run for the last one, but had instead carefully stepped down over some seats. It soon became clear that he wasn’t going to eject me, but that he *was* going to lecture me about being a menace to society. Batting practice was basically done, so I didn’t mind when he led me up to the concourse. The main thing he told me was that I have to be careful around other fans. He was concerned that I might plow into someone and cause an injury.
“I totally understand where you’re coming from,” I said, “and of course you have no way of knowing who I am or what I’m all about, but for what it’s worth, I’ve attended more than 1,200 games in 51 major league stadiums, and I’ve never knocked anyone down while running for a ball. NEVER. Not even once.”
“Yeah, but with my luck,” he replied, “the first time you do it will be here today in Philadelphia.”
While I was getting scolded, several fans came over and defended me.
“Leave him alone!” one woman shouted. “He didn’t do anything wrong! He was giving away baseballs to people!”
“I understand that, ma’am,” said the supervisor, “but that’s not the issue.”
Moments later, a man interrupted the supervisor to shake my hand and say, “Thank you so much for giving a ball to my son. This is his first game.”
It must’ve been tough for the supervisor to stay mad, and all things considered, he turned out to be quite friendly and reasonable. I appreciated that he was willing to have a discussion, and I actually made him laugh later when he saw me changing back into my Phillies gear.
After the supervisor took off, several ushers approached me and apologized. One of them said, “Don’t judge us all based on the actions of one individual.” A different usher told me that they had no problem with my running around. “Everyone was running for balls,” he said. “They’re just not as good at it, but we thought you were very respectful.”
At that point, there were several balls in the Phillies’ bullpen — home runs that had landed there during BP — and the ushers were nice enough to let me hang around and try to get one. That’s what I was doing in the video starting at 5:29. It would’ve been easy to snag two or three with my glove trick, but given my recent run-in with the supervisor, I decided to play it safe and wait for a toss-up. Eventually it happened at the 5:38 mark, courtesy of Phillies bullpen catcher Jesus Tiamo. That was my 11th ball of the day.
Brandon didn’t sit with me during the game, so there’s no video evidence of what happened next. First let me show you my view during the top of the 1st inning:
In the bottom of the 1st, I moved half a dozen rows closer and it quickly paid off. With two outs, Ryan Howard hit a foul squibber that trickled into the Mariners’ dugout. Chris Woodward, the team’s infield coach, retrieved the ball, climbed to the top step, scanned the crowd for a worthy recipient, and ended up tossing it to me.
Here’s what my ballhawking notes looked like after that:
For the record, I can write *much* neater than that, but whatever, these were just meant to be my private scribbles.
Some time around the 5th inning, I received the following photo in a text from Brandon:
I wondered if he was still in the upper deck, so I looked up there, and sure enough, I spotted him:
I managed to make one more snag before the night was through: a 2nd/3rd-out ball tossed by Robinson Cano after the 7th inning, which is to say that it was the product of a double play. Andres Blanco had grounded into it off Tom Wilhelmsen.
After the final out of the Phillies’ 4-1 victory, Brandon caught up with me for a quick video recap. He then took off with some friends, leaving me and Rick to drive back to New York and talk about our favorite hobby for two solid hours.
• 421 balls in 60 games this season = 7.02 balls per game.
• 321 lifetime balls in 35 games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.17 balls per game.
• 1,026 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 367 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 252 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 7,597 total balls
• 20 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.62 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $21.06 raised at this game
• $682.02 raised this season
• $39,346.02 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009