Results tagged ‘ jona ’

10/3/10 at Camden Yards

The last day of the regular season always starts slowly, and this was no exception. When I ran inside the stadium, this was my first look at the field:

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No batting practice.

Yawn.

But that was to be expected.

Five minutes later, there was at least a sign of life…

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…and 15 minutes after that, several Tigers began playing catch in left field:

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In the photo above, there’s an arrow pointing to Robbie Weinhardt because he ended up throwing me his ball when he finished.

Then I got his autograph. Here he is signing for another fan…

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…and here he is posing for a photo:

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It was THAT kind of a day — very slow and laid-back.

Lots of Tigers signed autographs. I got six on my ticket:

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Since their handwriting is even worse than their won-lost record, I’ll tell you their names: Alfredo Figaro, Brad Thomas, Ryan Perry, Daniel Schlereth, Max St. Pierre, and of course Mister Weinhardt.

Not only did I collect a bunch of autographs, but I also signed one for a young fan named Xavier. Here he is holding it up for the camera:

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The Orioles eventually came out and played catch:

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I didn’t snag any baseballs from them, but I did get a couple of autographs. Here’s a photo of Matt Albers signing:

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I got him on the back of my ticket, along with Mike Gonzalez’s signature:

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Just before the singing of the national anthem, I got my second ball of the day (and 299th of the season) from Tigers infielder Scott Sizemore.

Here’s the ball:

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As I mentioned in my last entry, the Tigers mark their balls on the sweet spot.

My friends Roger and Bassey and my girlfriend Jona showed up at game time. Here they are, chillin’ on the first base side:

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(That’s Roger on the left and Bassey on the right.)

I really wanted to snag my 300th ball of the season, but rather than go for a 3rd-out ball (which would’ve been fairly easy), I stayed in the outfield and tried to catch a home run instead.

No luck.

Given the fact that this was the final game of the season, and given the fact that the players were likely going to give away some of their equipment after the final out, I made my way to the Tigers’ dugout at the start of the 9th inning.

This was my view:

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As soon as the Tigers put the finishing touches on their 4-2 victory, I moved down into the front row:

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Here’s what happened next:

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It was only the fifth bat I’d ever gotten, and it belonged to Austin Jackson! Are you aware of how awesome Jackson is? This was his first season in the Major Leagues, and he finished with a .293 batting average, 181 hits, 34 doubles, 10 triples, 27 stolen bases, and 103 runs scored. Okay, so he struck out 170 times. Whatever. Austin Jackson is The Man — and the potential rookie of the year. The way I got his bat was simple and unexpected. As the players were filing into the dugout, some guys flung their caps into the crowd, and a few others tossed their batting gloves. During all the chaos, I happened to see a bat get lifted up from below the dugout roof, and I lunged for it. That was it. I grabbed it a split-second before anyone else realized what was going on. As for those batting gloves, I got one of those, too:

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This one belonged to Will Rhymes — not exactly a household name, but give the guy some credit. This was his rookie season, and he batted .304 in 54 games.

After all the Tigers were gone, there was still some action on the Orioles’ side, so I hurried over to their dugout:

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It was painfully crowded. I couldn’t get any closer than the 3rd row.

In the photo above, those are fans standing on the field. They were picked through some sort of random drawing to receive “game-worn” jerseys from the players. Why is “game-worn” in quotes? Let’s just say that the jerseys were definitely NOT worn during the game that had just been played on the field. Right after the final out, the players disappeared into the clubhouse, where they obviously changed into alternate uniforms before returning 10 minutes later. How do I know this? Because…during the game, several Orioles dove for balls and slid into bases. Their uniforms were D-I-R-T-Y when the game ended and perfectly clean when they returned for the give-away. (Maybe, after changing, the players spent a few minutes in the clubhouse playing backgammon, in which case their clean uniforms would have actually been “game-worn.”) I’m just bitter because I’ve never gotten a jersey. That’s probably what I’ll ask for when I finally catch an important home run that a player wants back. But anyway…

Here’s a closer look at the bat:

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Adam Jones started signing autographs along the foul line…

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…so I ran over and got him on an extra ticket I had from the previous day:

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I thought about getting him on the back of my October 3rd ticket — I liked the idea of getting all my autographs for the day on one ticket — but because he’s so good and has the potential to become a superstar, I had him sign a separate item.

Just as I was getting set to leave the stadium, the groundskeepers appeared in the right field corner and started playing catch:

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I was still stuck at 299 balls for the season, and the playoffs were (and still are) a big question mark, so I thought, “This is my chance.”

(In the photo above, that’s me in the white shirt.)

I asked one of the groundskeepers if I could have a ball when he was finished throwing. He said, “Probably not because this is all we have to play with.”

Ahh. So they were going to play a game on the field. Lucky them…

Well, it just so happened that one of the groundskeepers airmailed his throwing partner. The ball landed in the seats. I ran over and grabbed it. And when the guy started flapping his glove at me, I tossed it back to him, figuring he’d give it to me when he was done. I mean, now he had a reason to give it to me. I had just done him a favor. He owed it to me, in fact. But guess what? He never gave it back. And it gets worse. After he jogged off, one of his buddies taunted me by pretending to throw one to me. Nice. Really nice. (I’m considering placing the Hample Jinx on the entire Orioles grounds crew, but I’m not sure how that would work. I can tell you, though, that I *will* find some way to get revenge.)

I had a long internal debate over whether or not to count that final ball. I mean, I *did* snag it. But then I gave it away. But I normally count balls that I give away. But I give those away voluntarily. GAH!!! Ultimately I decided not to count it. It just seemed cheap. And for what it’s worth, my friend Bassey said, “It’s more poetic to end the season with 299 balls than 300.” But then again, who knows? I might just end up making my way to a playoff game or two.

Here I am with Roger, Jona, and Bassey after the game on Eutaw Street:

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If you look at the pavement in the photo above, you can see that it had just started to rain. Ha-haaa!!! It actually rained pretty hard after that. Take THAT, grounds crew!!! And get ready for more misery in 2011…

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 2 balls at this game (pictured on the right)

• 299 balls in 31 games this season = 9.65 balls per game.

• 660 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 203 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 4,657 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 48 donors (click here to learn more)

• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $15.06 raised at this game

• $2,251.47 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Hold on! This entry isn’t done. I want to show you a few more photos of the bat. First, here it is in its entirety:

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Austin Jackson wears uniform No. 14, so check out the end and knob of the bat:

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Here’s the trademark…

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…and here are some marks/smudges on the barrel that were caused by balls:

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If you want to see all my “bonus items,” click here. You’ll see that I have them organized into three categories: lineup cards, batting gloves, and other equipment.

The End.

(For now…)

10/2/10 at Camden Yards

For the final weekend of the regular season, I drove down to Baltimore with Jona and two other friends. Here we are outside the stadium:

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In the photo above, the gentleman on the left is a teacher named Roger. He and I have known each other for more than a decade, and this wasn’t our first baseball road trip together. He was with me in 2003 when I snagged my 2,000th ball at Olympic Stadium. The guy in the yellow shirt is a writer named Bassey. I met him last year at my writing group. He played high school baseball in Milwaukee and now works for the New York Times.

Anyway, let’s get on with the action…

My first ball of the day was a batting practice homer hit by Adam Jones that landed in the empty seats in straight-away left field. Nothing fancy about it. My second ball, however, was a bit more exciting. Someone on the Orioles (not sure who) launched a homer 30 feet to my right. I bolted through my row and made a leaping back-handed catch at the last second. I didn’t know it at the time, but Jona had reached the left field seats by that point, and she took a beautiful action shot of the ball flying toward my open glove. The ball is hard to see because it’s overlapping the white uniform pants of some players in the background, so I drew a red circle around it. Check it out:

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Do you see the fan positioned two rows behind me? His name is Ben. He’s a new-but-very-talented ballhawk who recently snagged A-Rod’s 607th career home run. Do you see the fan running over from the next section? His name is Tim, and he, too, is fairly new and highly skilled as a ballhawk.

Ready for a funny photo of all three of us? Look at our ridiculous facial expressions as another home run ball sailed over our heads:

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I forget who ended up snagging that ball, but I can tell you that it wasn’t me.

Tim and Ben write a blog together called Baltimore’s Finest, and of course they both have profiles on mygameballs.com. Here’s Tim’s profile, and here’s Ben’s. (And hey, here’s mine. Awesome website. Totally free. Go there immediately and create a profile if you haven’t done so already.)

As for Roger and Bassey…

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…they weren’t interested in snagging baseballs. They just stayed in one spot and watched the action unfold all around them.

My third ball of the day was a Nolan Reimold homer that landed in the seats and rolled down to the front row. My fourth ball was a ground-rule double, and I have no idea who hit it. I’ve had a tough time this season with ground-rule doubles in Baltimore. The warning track is made of rubber, and the outfield wall is low, so lots of balls have bounced over me. On this one, however, I played it perfectly. Once I determined that the ball was going to land on the track, I backed up a few rows and ended up in the perfect spot to reach up for the easy catch.

When the Tigers took the field, I got Phil Coke to throw me a ball as he walked toward the bullpen. Here I am (wearing dark Tigers gear) about to catch it:

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My sixth ball was another homer. I ranged a full section to my right for it and made a back-handed catch in traffic:

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That one felt pretty good — and then I caught another homer on the fly in left-center. Here’s a photo of that ball on its way down:

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As soon as I caught the ball, I noticed that there was a young boy standing right in front of me. Even though I hadn’t robbed him, I decided to hook him up with the ball, and yes, Jona got a photo of that, too:

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Halfway through the Tigers’ portion of BP, Eddie Bonine tossed me a ball in straight-away left field, and then I caught another homer on the fly in left-center. This was probably my best play of the day. There were people all around, so I climbed up on a seat while the ball was in mid-air and reached far to my left over everyone. In the following photo, the diagonal arrow in the upper right is pointing to the ball, and the vertical arrow down below is pointing at me:

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Every time I snagged a ball, I tossed it to Jona so she could put it in my backpack. Here I am preparing to toss her another:

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Remember when I saw the Tigers at Target Field earlier this season on May 4th and May 5th? The Tigers were using balls during BP that had been marked like this with a thick black magic marker. Well, the Tigers were still using marked balls this past weekend in Baltimore. Some were marked on both the logo and sweet spot, while others were marked only on the sweet spot…like this:

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(That’s Jona’s hand, by the way. Don’t get the wrong idea.)

Later in the day, I noticed that one of my baseballs had a faint black streak on it:

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It occurred to me that the streak was probably the residue (or imprint) from one of those black marks on another ball. Cool, huh? It probably happened while the balls were being pressed together in the BP bucket or an equipment bag. I love stuff like that.

Every batter in the final group of BP was left-handed, so I headed over to the standing-room-only section (aka “The Flag Court”) in right field:

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The sun out there was brutal. Even though I was wearing a cap, I had to use my right hand to shade my eyes:

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Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a photo that Jona took while standing right behind me:

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Not only was it tough to see, but every time a ball sailed into the Flag Court, there was an all-out stampede for it:

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At one point, I completely whiffed on a line-drive homer that pretty much came right to me because I simply couldn’t see the ball. I found myself backing away from it and stabbing awkwardly at a random spot in the air where I thought it was going to end up. I suppose it was worth missing out on it to avoid getting hit in the face, but I still felt like a failure.

Here’s another action shot of a home-run-induced stampede:

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This ball ended up sailing completely over the Flag Court and clanging off the grill in Boog’s Barbecue.

I did manage to snag one ball in right field, and I owe it all to Jona and Bassey. The ball bounced into the cross-aisle just next to the Flag Court and came to rest at Jona’s feet. I was about 20 feet away at that point, and because there were other fans nearby, I figured Jona or Bassey would grab the ball. But instead Jona yelled, “Don’t touch it!!” and Bassey used his body to form a mini-barricade (or, as he desribed it, a “containment zone”) around it so that no one else could grab it. I was able to race over and scoop up the ball, and because it hadn’t entered the possession of any other fan, I was able to count it. If Jona or Bassey (or Roger, who was also standing nearby) had picked it up and handed it to me, that would have nullified it. So…big thanks to my friends for bailing me out and helping me reach double digits — that was my 10th ball of the day — when luck/skill seemed to turn against me.

Here are the four of us being silly after BP…

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…and here’s a HUGE moth-like creature that was chillin’ nearby on a brick wall:

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If that thing had flown into my face, I’m quite certain that Roger, Bassey, and Jona would now be deaf because I would have shrieked THAT loud. We all have our weaknesses, and bugs are one of mine. Nature is pretty and all, but I don’t like to get too close to it, if you know what I mean. I live a quarter of a mile from Central Park. That’s good enough.

Shortly before game time, I got Will Rhymes to sign my ticket…

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…and then I snagged two more baseballs within a 10-second span. The first was thrown by Brandon Inge. Here’s a photo of him just before he let it fly:

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In the photo above, do you see the guy on the field wearing the navy blue athletic gear? Well, I assumed that he was the Tigers’ strength/conditioning coach, so I pulled out my cheat sheet…

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…and felt pretty certain that his name was Chris. When all the players headed back to the dugout, there was one ball that was still sitting on the grass near the foul line. This guy happened to pick it up, so I shouted, “CHRIS!!!” as loud as I could, and what do you know? He turned and flung it to me as he jogged off the field.

That was my 12th — and unfortunately last — ball of the day. During the game, I had two really close calls on foul balls behind the plate, and I missed Nick Markakis’s fourth-inning homer by two feet. It was so depressing. I was standing at the back of the Flag Court. The ball was hit exactly in my direction, meaning I was perfectly lined up with it from the moment that it left the bat. I quickly determined that it wasn’t going to reach the back of the section, so I darted forward, hoping to make the catch just behind the wall at the front. Well, the ball landed ON TOP of the wall (where there’s a three-foot-wide metal platform) and skipped back over my head and rolled to the EXACT SPOT where I’d been standing in the first place. I still would’ve had the ball if some bozo eating a pulled pork sandwich hadn’t been standing there. It was terrible. Meanwhile, it seemed as if everyone else I knew was snagging game-used baseballs. Tim somehow got his hands on the only other homer of the night, a blast to straight-away left by Brandon Inge, and Bassey managed to grab a foul ball despite sitting in the middle of a row on the first base side.

Here’s Bassey with his ball — the first one he’d ever snagged in his life, including batting practice:

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Great for Bassey. Great for Tim. But it just added to my frustration. I busted my butt and ran all over the stadium for two hours and didn’t have anything to show for it. That’s right. Two hours. That’s how long the game lasted. The Orioles won, 2-1, behind a strong six-inning performance from Brian Matusz. Mike Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, and Koji Uehara each worked a quick scoreless inning in relief. For the Tigers, Armando Galarraga went the distance and notched a rare complete-game loss. He threw just 91 pitches in eight innings. That’s how to play a game in two hours. (Yankees and Red Sox, are you listening?)

After the final out, I met up with a friend from Baltimore named Adam. You might recognize him from previous blog entries. Here we all are:

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The five of us went out to dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant, and then Jona and Roger and Bassey and I went back to our hotel. We were gonna have to be up early-ish the next day for the final game of the regular season.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 297 balls in 30 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.

• 659 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 185 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 202 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 132 lifetimes games with at least ten balls

• 4,655 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 48 donors (click here to learn more)

• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $90.36 raised at this game

• $2,236.41 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Hey, wait, here’s one more photo. I was playing around with Photoshop and…well, here, just have a look:

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9/17/10 at Citi Field

I wasn’t too happy about paying $23 apiece for the cheapest seats in the stadium…

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…but money was the last thing on my mind when I ran inside at 4:40pm. Here I am with left field all to myself during the first minute of batting practice:

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By the way, the reason why I bought two tickets is that Jona was with me — and for the record, she took every photo in this entry with her iPhone 4. She’s very proud of her phone. She’ll be happy when she reads this entry and sees that I mentioned it. But anyway, my first ball of the day was a rather unusual snag. While standing in straight away left field, I saw a left-handed batter slice a soft line drive into the seats in foul territory. There was another fan at the back of the section where the ball landed, but he didn’t see it until a security guard waved him down toward the front. Guess what happened? He couldn’t find it, so after 10 or 20 seconds, I decided to run over there and have a look for myself. I found the ball right away, sitting in the middle of the 3rd row behind the rolled up tarp.

My second ball was thrown by a ballboy named “Jimmy” deeper down the left field foul line. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air sailing toward me:

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All the batters in the first two groups were left-handed, so I ran over to the right field side. As soon as I got there, Mike Pelfrey tossed me a ball that fell short and bounced back onto the field. One of the Mets’ Japanese/translator-guys (who was shagging balls in the outfield) retrieved it and chucked it to me. That was my third ball of the day. Soon after, Jona made her way out to right field and took the following photo that shows me roaming through the seats above The Mo’s Zone:

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As you can see, the stadium was almost completely empty, and I ended up taking full advantage.

When several righties started hitting, I ran across the Shea Bridge…

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…and rushed back to the left field seats. Jona wasn’t far behind, but things tend to happen quickly, and once again, she missed out. As soon as I reached the front row, Mets rookie pitcher Dillon Gee picked up two baseballs that were sitting on the warning track. He tossed the first one to a little kid, so I shouted, “How about a ball for a big kid?” That worked. He tossed the second one to me, and then moments later, I lunged over the railing and grabbed a David Wright ground-rule double that conveniently bounced right to me.

That’s when Jona arrived.

Jesus Feliciano then threw me a ball in straight-away left field, and 30 seconds later, I raced out to the seats in left-center and got Manny Acosta to throw me another. In case you’ve lost track, I now had seven balls, and things kept going from there. David Wright launched two home runs in my direction. I grabbed the first one after it landed in the seats (here I am chasing after it)…

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…and caught the second one on the fly. Then Mike Hessman blasted a home run that landed a full section to my left — landed in my glove, that is, after I ran over and caught it on the fly.

It was 5:09pm. The stadium hadn’t even been open for half an hour, and I already had double digits. Unfortunately, the Mets cleared the field soon after, so it was going to take a solid performance during the Braves’ portion of BP in order for me to break my single-game Citi Field record of 15 balls.

When the Braves started throwing, I changed into my Braves gear and moved over to the left field foul line…

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…but I didn’t get anything there.

Ball No. 11 was thrown by Billy Wagner in left-center. Ball No. 12 was a home run that I caught on the fly in straight-away left. (Don’t know who hit it.) Ball No. 13 was another homer, and I ranged three full sections for it. I was in left field when the batter connected (once again, I have no idea who), and I immediately took off running to my left:

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Here’s a four-part photo that shows what happened next:

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It’s pretty simple. In the first two photos above, I was running like a madman. (Note the ball in photo No. 2 streaking in front of the Home Run Apple.) In the third photo, I was racing up the steps, and in the fourth photo, you can see me holding the ball right after I snagged it.

My 14th ball was another home run. I have no idea who hit it, and I caught it on the fly.

The record-tying ball was thrown by Melky Cabrera in left-center. I was several rows back. His throw sailed a bit too high, so I jumped and made a back-handed grab. Here’s a photo of both me and the ball in mid-air:

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Now, it might seem like I was catching everything in sight, but that wasn’t the case. There WAS some competition, and at one point, I got flat-out robbed on a home run. Check it out:

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The ball was coming right toward me. I could sense that there was another guy standing on my right, so I tried to box him out of my row. Well, unfortunately for me, he snuck past me on the steps and moved into the row directly in front of me and jumped at the last second and caught the ball right in front of my glove. What can I say? I misplayed it, and he did everything right. I should have climbed up on a seat. Then he wouldn’t have been able to reach above me. But hey, it’s hard to think/move that fast, so I can only tip my cap and admit defeat. As it turned out, the other guy reads this blog regularly and leaves comments as “li7039.” I’ve crossed paths with him a couple times in the past, and for some reason, I always forget who he is. (I just suck with faces and names sometimes. Forgive me.)

What happened next? I’ll tell you what happened next. I caught two more homers on the fly. They were both hit by righties, and I still had no idea who was batting. The first one was routine. The second one required a basket catch. The following two-part photo shows how it played out:

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In the photo on the left, I was drifting through the seats while another fan down in front was moving to his right. The photo on the right shows me making the catch while the other fan was leaping and lunging for the ball.

That gave me 17 balls, and I wasn’t done. Craig Kimbrel tossed me No. 18 with a nice, easy, under-handed toss, and then I caught another home run on the fly in left-center. This homer was hit by a lefty. I think it was Rick Ankiel, but I’m not sure. It’s very rare for anyone to go oppo at Citi Field, so I consider myself lucky.

That was it for BP.

I had 19 balls!

That tied my single-game record for New York City; on April 19, 2004, I somehow managed to snag 19 balls at Shea Stadium.

I decided to go for No. 20 behind the Braves’ dugout. Snagging a third-out ball seemed like the most reliable option, and I didn’t have to wait long for my chance. When Tommy Hanson struck out Carlos Beltran to end the first inning, I bolted down to the front row and got Brian McCann to toss me the ball as he jogged off the field.

SCORE!!!

It was the eighth time in my life that I’d reached the 20-ball plateau and, of course, it was the first time I’d ever done it in New York.

Let’s cut to the chase…

After the game (which the Braves won, 6-4), I got a ball from home plate umpire Bill Hohn as he walked off the field. It was my 21st and final ball of the day. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows the ball sailing toward me…

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…and because there’s been some speculation, let me just say that the ball was NOT heading toward the kid on my left. I was the one who called out to the umpire. The umpire tossed the ball directly to me. What’s the problem? See the huge security guy in the purple-ish outfit? He was watching the whole thing. If I had indeed reached out in front of the kid, do you think the guard would’ve let me get away with it? Do you think the ump or any of the other fans would’ve been okay with it? No one said a word to me because it was a clean play. But the more important fact here is that I simply don’t reach in front of kids for baseballs. I used to reach in front of people when I was a kid myself, and I regret it. Now I give baseballs to kids. I also raise money for a children’s charity by snagging baseballs. But the “media” doesn’t like to report that. Nope. The media prefers to write negative crap because it’s more entertaining. And whenever there’s negative crap written, there’s never a quote from me. Have you noticed that? I never get a chance to explain my side of the story. That’s kind of strange, don’t you think?

Anyway, here I am with my 20th and 21st balls of the day…

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…and here I am outside the stadium with my total haul:

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If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll notice that there are only 18 balls. That’s because I gave three of them away over the course of the night. The first one went to the nearest kid after I snagged the ball from McCann. (I kept the gamer and handed him a much cleaner practice ball instead.) After the game, I gave a ball to a kid at the dugout, and when I was walking out of the stadium, I gave away another to a boy who was so excited that his parents had to remind him to thank me. It was pretty sweet.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 21 balls at this game

• 268 balls in 27 games this season = 9.93 balls per game.

• 656 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 495 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 356 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 18 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls

• 130 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 8 lifetime games with at least 20 balls

• 4,626 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $136.29 raised at this game

• $1,739.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/15/10 at Camden Yards

The good thing about going to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet in Baltimore…

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…is that there’s plenty of room to run around at Camden Yards and burn off the calories:

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Within the first few minutes of BP, a right-handed batter on the Orioles smoked a line-drive homer that landed in the empty front row. I ran down and grabbed the ball:

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“Who hit that?!” I shouted at my friend Rick Gold, who was camped out ten rows back.

“Fox,” said a voice that came from the warning track.

As it turned out, Kevin Millwood was standing just short of the wall and answered the question for me. How about that? Jake Fox. Yes, of course.

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One minute later, I caught a home run on the fly, and once again I was unable to identify the batter.

“Who was THAT?” I asked Millwood.

“Tatum,” he said.

Ha! Awesome. Craig Tatum. I never would’ve known. And then I caught another Jake Fox homer on the fly.

At around 5:10pm, I snagged my fourth home run ball of the day. It wasn’t Fox. It wasn’t Tatum. Damn. I had no idea who hit it, and Millwood was gone. But whatever. I got the ball — that’s what matters — and (my girlfriend) Jona took a series of photos of me chasing it down. Here’s the first one. It shows me tracking the ball as I drifted to my left:

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As soon as I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, I took my eyes off it and focused on climbing over a few rows of seats:

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Then I looked back up as the ball was descending; note the red arrow pointing to it:

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The ball landed, prompting a scramble with the fan in the gray jersey:

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Finally, I beat him to it and grabbed the ball just as he was lunging for it:

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Don’t feel bad for the other guy. He’s there every day and always snags at least a few balls.

Before the Orioles finished their portion of BP, I played catch for a minute with Jeremy Guthrie. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows me catching one of his throws…

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…and here’s another screen shot that shows me tossing it back:

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(Whenever I try to embed a YouTube video on my blog, the format gets messed up, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to click here to watch it.)

In case you’re wondering how I got to play catch with Guthrie, it’s pretty simple: I asked. It also helped that I’ve gotten to know him over the years, but I’ve played catch with lots of players that I’d never met before…like Kyle Farnsworth. Now THAT was fun.

When the Orioles finished hitting, Rick and I each had four baseballs. I asked if we could get a photo together, and as we walked over to a sunny spot, he found a fifth ball hiding in the folded-up portion of a seat. Unbelievable. Here we are moments later:

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The Blue Jays started warming up on the 3rd base side, so I changed into my Jays gear and headed to their dugout. Aaron Hill threw me my fifth ball of the day, and less than a minute later, I got another from Vernon Wells. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to Wells, and the vertical arrow is pointing to the ball in mid-air:

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Once the Jays started hitting, I raced back out to the left field seats. Look how empty it was; the arrow is pointing to me:

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Then an amazing thing happened: I got three more balls in a 20-second span. The first two were home runs that I caught on the fly on back-to-back pitches. The third was another homer that landed in the seats…two pitches later, I think. I wasn’t sure who had hit them. Rick (who works for MLB.com) was almost certain that it was Edwin Encarnacion, so I’m gonna assume that that’s who it was.

A few minutes later, Jona called out to me from her spot 15 rows back.

“Can you come here for a minute?” she asked.

I couldn’t imagine what was so important that she’d be pulling me away from my normal spot.

“What is it?” I called back.

She didn’t say anything. She just gave me a look as if to say, “I can’t explain it, so you need to come over here,” and as soon as I started running up the steps, she very subtly pointed at the ground in the middle of a row.

I should know by now not to question her. This is why she called me over:

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Jona knows that I will NOT count a baseball in my collection if another fan gains possession of it first, so instead of picking it up and handing it to me, she called me over so I could grab it myself. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.

That was my 10th ball of the day and No. 4,599 overall. The next ball was going to be a milestone, and in case it ended up being a home run, I wanted to know who was batting.

Well, it WAS a home run. Here I am catching it:

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify the batter, and when I asked the players who was hitting, they all ignored me except for Fred Lewis, who saw my Jays gear and said, “You’re a fan. You should know.”

All I know is that it was a right-handed batter with a very open stance. His left side was practically facing third base before he squared up and stepped straight into the pitch. Any ideas?

Here I am posing with No. 4,600 soon after:

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Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos to toss me a ball near the foul pole, and then I headed to the 3rd base dugout. Brian Butterfield, the team’s 3rd base coach, ended up walking in with a spare ball in his hand:

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He tossed it to me. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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That was my 13th ball of the day, and I got another from Yunel Escobar just before the game (no arrow necessary):

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You may have noticed that in the photo above, I wasn’t wearing my Blue Jays shirt. That was intentional. I figured that everyone on the team recognized me by that point, so I changed my appearance and just went with the hat.

The game itself was incredible — not because I caught anything, but because it only lasted an hour and 55 minutes! I don’t think I’d ever attended a game that finished so fast. The Orioles won, 3-1, behind a 95-pitch, complete-game effort from Brad Bergesen. For the Jays, Kyle Drabek made his major league debut and did pretty well. He allowed three runs in six innings…gave up nine hits, walked three, and struck out five, but the most impressive thing is that he hit 99mph on the radar gun, and I wasn’t even paying attention to the velocity for most of the night, so who knows? He might have even touched triple digits when I wasn’t looking. By the way, Drabek threw 88 pitches, and then two relievers — Shawn Camp and Scott Downs — combined to work the last two innings with thirteen pitches. The Jays and O’s threw a total of 196 pitches. THAT is how to play a game in under two hours. Normally, I love it when games last long, but not when I have a 200-mile drive waiting for me after the final out. Of course, Jona and I didn’t rush toward the garage right away. First I headed to the 3rd base line as the Jays relievers walked in from the bullpen. This was my view as they headed toward me:

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Jesse Carlson tossed me a ball — my 15th of the day — and then Kevin Gregg threw me another 30 seconds later.

After that, I gave away two of my baseballs to kids and headed toward the Eutaw Street exit. Here are the 14 balls I kept:

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The End.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 16 balls at this game

• 247 balls in 26 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 655 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 201 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 129 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,605 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $103.84 raised at this game

• $1,603.03 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/14/10 at Camden Yards

This was my first game in more than a month, and let me tell you, it felt great to be back…

The story of the day was running. It seemed as if that’s all I did. Here’s a photo (that my girlfriend took) of me bolting toward a section in left-center for a home run that landed in the seats:

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I grabbed that ball and caught a line-drive homer on the fly soon after. (I have no idea who hit either one.)

Things were off to a good start — but then it all fell apart.

The whole running thing? Not too successful. Despite the many rows of seats that I sprinted through and climbed over, I kept finding myself out of position. Here are two screen shots from a video that will illustrate my point. First I climbed over a row while the ball was in mid-air…

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…and then I watched helplessly as it fell short:

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And then the Orioles stopped hitting at 5:17pm — more than 15 minutes early. It was such a waste. All I could do was wander into foul territory and watch the Blue Jays get loose:

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By that time, of course, I had changed into my Blue Jays gear, and it paid off. Lyle Overbay spotted me and threw a ball my way. Here I am behind the dugout, reaching out for the catch:

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If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the ball in the pocket of my glove.

Once the Jays started hitting, I ran back out to left field and got some love from from Adam Lind. Here’s a photo that shows the ball sailing toward me:

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Here I am running around some more and climbing over another row of seats:

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Don’t forget, I had switched into Jays gear, so that’s me on the left with my back facing the camera. And in case you were wondering…no, I didn’t get that ball. I didn’t get this one either…

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…but two minutes later, I did manage to catch a homer on the fly in the front row. Again, I have idea who hit it. I wish I did, but the batters were wearing shirts over their jerseys, so I couldn’t see their uniform numbers, and I didn’t recognize their stances from 375 feet away. Anyway, here I am reaching up for that ball…

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…and if you look closely, you can see a little kid ducking out of the way on my left. I gave that ball to a different kid later on.

I had five baseballs at that point — a respectable total that could’ve been much higher if I’d been a little quicker and/or luckier. Here I am losing out in a scramble…

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…and here I am losing out on a bobble:

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In the photo above, you can’t see me, but trust me, I was there. Do you see the random glove in front of the left edge of the warehouse? That’s my glove.

Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays first base coach Omar Malave to throw me a ball in left-center, and I also snagged a ground-rule double in that same area. I think it was hit by DeWayne Wise, but I’m not sure.

Then I met a father-and-son duo named Gregg and Kyle. Gregg is the sports director for a TV station in Harrisburg, PA, and Kyle follows me on Twitter. (Here’s a link to my Twitter page. I haven’t been blogging much lately, but I’ve been tweeting just about every day.) They were both very nice, and I posed for a picture with Kyle before running off to the 3rd base dugout. Here were are together:

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I won’t bore you with a photo of my dash to the dugout. Instead, I’ll skip to the good part:

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In the photo above, do you see the player who’s about to throw a ball? That’s Shawn Marcum. He threw it to me. It was my eighth ball of the day.

Soon after BP ended, I got Marc Rzepczynski to sign my ticket. Here I am in the process of getting the autograph…

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…and here’s the ticket itself:

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Right before the game started, I got my ninth ball from John McDonald. He and Yunel Escobar had played catch in front of the dugout. Easy snag. No competition. Happy birthday to me. (Actually, it WAS my birthday.)

I spent the top of the first inning in left field. This was the view:

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After that, I pretty much stayed in the standing room only section in right field. This was the view late in the game.

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(It was Buck Showalter T-shirt Night.)

I also spent some time chasing (nonexistent) foul balls behind the plate. Here’s the view from that spot:

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As for my girlfriend…

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She picked a comfy spot and stayed put while I ran around and did my thing.

The game itself was whatever. I didn’t come within 100 feet of any of the three homers, and I never got closer than 50 feet to a foul ball. For the record, the Orioles pounded out 16 hits and won, 11-3.

Just after the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman. (GOSH, I love his name.) Then I got another ball from Jason Frasor near the 3rd base dugout when he walked in from the bullpen with his fellow relievers.

It didn’t feel like I had a great day — I wasted lots of opportunities during BP — but somehow still ended up with double digits.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 11 balls at this game (10 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 231 balls in 25 games this season = 9.24 balls per game.

• 654 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 200 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 128 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,589 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $71.39 raised at this game

• $1,499.19 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/2/10 at Yankee Stadium

It was another day of A-Rod hysteria:

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Perhaps “hysteria” is an exaggeration. “Anticipation” and “excitement” and “teenage girls hoping to get on TV” would be a better way to describe the atmosphere.

When the stadium opened at 5pm, I raced out to the right field seats. My girlfriend Jona followed close behind with my camera. Here’s a shot of the section from afar. I’m standing in the last row (see the red arrow) wearing a black T-shirt and khaki green cargo shorts:

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When A-Rod stepped into the cage, I moved up a few rows and quickly got my first chance of the day when he launched a deep fly ball in my direction. I could tell right away that it was going to fall a bit short, so I climbed over a row of seats…

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…and when the ball predictably tailed to my left, I began to drift with it. If you look really closely at the following photo, you can see the ball in mid-air:

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One second later, I reached to my left and made an uncontested, one-handed catch:

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For the first 10 minutes, the seats remained fairly empty. I took advantage by running all over the place…

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…but it didn’t always pay off. Here’s a photo that shows me tracking a home run ball…

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…and here’s another that shows me NOT catching it:

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I always seem to make great facial expressions when I narrowly miss baseballs. In my own defense, I missed this one because it sailed five feet over my head. Anyway, I got a chance to redeem myself moments later. A-Rod was back in the cage, and I was in position:

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He launched another home run ball, this time to my right, and I took off after it:

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Once I got close to the spot where I knew it was going to land, I slowed down a bit and started drifting:

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I reached the spot:

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The ball was heading right for me, but I could tell that it was going to sail a few feet over my head. There was no time to climb up on a seat. Did I have enough vertical leap in me to make the catch?

Here’s your answer:

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Here I am just after landing with the ball…

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…and here I am holding it up for Jona (who deserves received many hugs and kisses for taking these outstanding photos):

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Five minutes later, Curtis Granderson really got a hold of one and sent the ball flying deep to my left. The sun was in my eyes, so as I started moving through my row, I held up my right hand to reduce the glare:

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As soon as I passed the Modell’s sign, I climbed over a row of seats:

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The ball landed, and I climbed over another row:

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And then I climbed over another:

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That’s when I grabbed it. (Did you notice that the guy in the red shirt never even moved? All he did was turn around to see where the ball landed.)

Moments later, I caught another A-Rod homer on the fly. It’s too bad that Jona didn’t get a photo of this one because I got clobbered while making the catch. I was in the middle of a cluster of people, and when I jumped for the ball, another guy crashed into me, elbowed me in the back of the head, caused my hat to go flying, and nearly made me tumble forward over a row of seats. I don’t think he meant to hurt me. I just think that some people are out of control and have no sense of their surroundings.

I’d snagged four baseballs in the first 15 minutes. Things were looking good. I thought I was on my way to double digits for the first time ever at the new Yankee Stadium — but then things slowed way down.

I still kept running all over the place…

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…and climbing over seats…

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…but I couldn’t get close to any other balls. I was still stuck at four when the Yankees’ portion of BP ended.

I threw on my Blue Jays cap and headed over to the left field side:

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Dead.

I don’t know what caused it, but the Blue Jays (who lead the majors in home runs) experienced a severe power outage. There was hardly any action in the stands, and as a result, I only snagged two more baseballs. The first was tossed by Jesse Litsch (who recognized me from Toronto). It was my 200th ball of the season. Here it is:

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The second ball was a John McDonald homer. I grabbed it when it landed in the seats and handed it to the nearest kid.

Simple stuff. Six balls. Not terrible. Not great. But that’s to be expected at Yankee Stadium.

Did you know that there’s a butcher inside the stadium? And did you know that Jona is generally repulsed by meat? This photo pretty much tells the story…

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…although I should point out that the three balls I’m holding were my A-Rod homers.

Could A-Rod break out of his slump and hit one to me during the game?! Jona asked me what I thought my chances were of catching No. 600. This was my reaction:

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All I can say is that Yankee Stadium stresses me out. One thing, however, that did temporarily improve my mood was the free chocolate samples that we got from a Dylan’s candy stand inside Gate Two:

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In the photo above, it looks so empty and peaceful, doesn’t it?

One word: HA!!

This was my view during the bottom of the first inning with A-Rod on deck:

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(Historical tidbit No. 1: This was the 31st anniversary of Thurmon Munson’s death.)

Jona and I had seats in the middle of a row. Early in the game, we were able to grab a couple open seats next to the stairs, but in the middle innings, every single end-seat was taken. I had to make a choice. The options were:

1) Move into the middle of the row and basically have no chance to move if A-Rod happened to go yard.

…OR…

2) Leave the section and try my luck somewhere else.

We left the section. I couldn’t even bear the thought of sitting in the middle of a row. I knew I would’ve felt like a caged animal, so we wandered for a few innings and ended up in the bleachers.

Why does Yankee Stadium stress me out? Why haven’t I bothered to make a serious attempt at catching No. 600 in New York?

This is why:

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The strategy for catching a milestone home run ball at Yankee Stadium is simple: be exactly where the ball is going to be hit. There is NO room to move. Security checks tickets at every section. And even if you can somehow sneak into a section, there aren’t any empty seats. It’s a ballhawking nightmare.

When A-Rod grounded out to end the 7th inning, some people foolishly assumed that he wouldn’t come up again — and they left. Jona and I took advantage and moved back to our original section. Look at all this room I had:

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(At Yankee Stadium, that’s a lot of room.)

The Yankees got two guys on base in the eighth, which meant that A-Rod would be due to bat fourth in the bottom of the ninth…and…thanks to a one-out homer by Nick Swisher in the final frame, A-Rod did indeed get one last turn to hit.

It would have been nice if Mister Rodriguez hit a line drive right to me because I almost definitely would’ve caught it. Obviously, there’s no way to guard against someone in the front row throwing their glove up at the ball and deflecting it, but putting freak plays aside, I really do believe that if A-Rod had hit the ball anywhere within, let’s say…five feet of me, I would have caught it. But instead, he grounded out to shortstop to end the game.

Final score: Blue Jays 8, Yankees 6.

(Historical tidbit No. 2: During this game, the Blue Jays tied an American League record by hitting six doubles in one inning.)

I raced over to the Jays’ bullpen and got one final ball from bullpen coach Rick Langford. I didn’t take my camera or backpack with me — Jona was hanging onto all my stuff — so when she finally made her way over, this was the only photo that she got:

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It shows Langford and Janssen and the bullpen catcher walking across the field toward the dugout.

(Jona would like you to know that she took that last photo with her brand new iPhone 4, which she loves.)

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 7 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 202 balls in 22 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.

• 651 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 493 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 139 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 10 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls

• 7 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls

• 4,560 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $45.43 raised at this game

• $1,310.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

6/30/10 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium

This was my last game in Puerto Rico, and my goal was simple: don’t get shut out. I’d snagged three balls the day before, but they were all kind of flukey, so basically, I just wanted to get on the board early and keep my streak alive.

The gates opened 15 minutes late because some workmen were using a gigantic cherry picker to change the bulbs on a light tower. (During this time, I kept hearing home run balls clanging off the metal bleacher benches.) As a result, I missed the Marlins’ portion of batting practice, and the Mets were already on the field when I ran in:

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Two minutes later, a right-handed batter hit a line drive that rolled all the way to the wall. One of the team’s strength and conditioning coaches picked it up, and I convinced him to toss it to me. It was about as uneventful as it gets, but I felt a huge sense of relief. Check out the look on my face right after I got it:

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In the photo above (which was taken by my girlfriend Jona), do you see the guy wearing sunglasses and a black Mets shirt? His name is Gustavo. He’s my newest friend. We’d met for the first time two days earlier, and you’ll see a better photo of him later in this entry.

When the bleachers started filling up, the security supervisor gave me (and only me) permission to go underneath the stands. Why? Because she loved me. Why? Because I’d given her a baseball the day before — and because she’d seen me give away several other balls to kids. Here I am standing in the gap behind the outfield wall:

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If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a stadium employee walking underneath the bleachers. Like I said, I was the only fan that was allowed to go down there, and look, it paid off:

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This ball landed in the middle of the bleachers and dropped down through one of the spaces between the steps. Here’s a photo that shows those spaces:

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I was sure that I’d end up snagging a dozen balls down there, but there wasn’t any action. It was bizarre and extremely frustrating.

Toward the end of BP, an employee wandered over and asked me something in Spanish. I had no idea what he said, so I shrugged. This prompted him to pull a ball out of his back pocket and flip it to me. (He must have asked if I’d gotten a ball yet. Good thing I didn’t pay attention during my Spanish 101 course in college.) The ball had a beautiful smudge on it:

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Have you ever seen a green smudge? I have no idea how that mark could have gotten there. Grass doesn’t stain like that. Could this ball have skipped off the artificial playing surface, or could it have been foul-tipped by a green bat?

Anyway, that was it for batting practice. Three balls. Not great. But better than zero.

Want to see what the bathrooms look like in the bleacher area?

Here you go:

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In the photo above, you can see how gray the sky was, and sure enough, it ended up raining:

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The rain didn’t last long.

Mike Pelfrey started warming up…

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…and then it rained some more:

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The rain delay lasted an hour and 20 minutes.

Eventually, I changed into a bright pink T-shirt and got Gustavo to take a photo of me and Jona:

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The shirt is completely ridiculous. The only reason I wore it was was to make it easier for people to look for me on TV.

Then Jona took a pic of me and Gustavo:

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The game itself was thoroughly entertaining, but unfortunately, there weren’t any home runs. Can you believe that? What a waste.

The lack of longballs didn’t stop these kids from having a great time:

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But no, really, the game was fun. The Mets scored three times in the top of the first inning, and the Marlins answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame. The score was tied at 4-4 after five innings. Overall, the Marlins committed four errors. It was a sloppy game and a sloppy night. It rained a bit more. It was hot and muggy. The game (not including the delay) lasted nearly four hours, so it turned out to be a loooooong night. You can see the final score in the following photo:

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Jona was exhausted and sweaty and hungry. She really wanted to get back to the hotel, but I still had a few more things that I needed to do. First, I took photos of the nicest people I met at the stadium. In the double-photo below, the pic on the left shows a man named Nelson, who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Puerto Rico. He and I sat together at all three games, along with his 14-year-old daughter, who’s standing just behind him. The photo on the right shows the three guards/ushers who gave me special privileges and basically looked out for me throughout the series:

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As I mentioned in my previous entry, all the ushers were wearing those special “San Juan Series” T-shirts. I really wanted one, but they weren’t for sale, so I had to get creative. Long story short: I learned that the ushers had to report to a certain area inside the stadium after the game and that they had to wear their shirts until they came back out. I also learned from Gustavo how to ask, “Can I buy your shirt?” in Spanish. (It’s “Te puedo comprar la camisa” if you really want to know.)

Jona was ready to collapse. At that point, we’d been at the stadium for nearly nine hours. That’s a long time for anyone, especially someone who doesn’t particularly care for baseball, but I couldn’t just jump in a cab. I had this whole plan worked out for getting a shirt, and I had to see it through. When I explained to Jona that we needed to walk around the outside of the stadium and wait another 15 minutes for the ushers to exit, she wasn’t exactly thrilled. She was a good sport about it, though, and we were able to laugh about it. Before we exited the bleachers, I asked her to act out how she was feeling, both mentally and physically. This is what she did:

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(In the photo above, that’s Gustavo in the background. Earlier in the night, he caught one of the outfielders’ warm-up balls. I forget who tossed it — either Jason Bay or Chris Coghlan. It was the first ball that Gustavo had ever snagged at a major league game, and he offered it to me. I didn’t accept it, but thanked him profusely, and he later gave it to his 11-year-old nephew.)

Jona and I headed over to the employee exit and waited. It actually didn’t take that long before they started trickling out.

Te puedo comprar la camisa?!”

Te puedo comprar la camisa?!”

Te puedo comprar la camisa?!”

I shouted the phrase at everyone. Some people ignored me. Some gave me funny looks. Some mumbled a few words in Spanish and kept walking. Some responded in English and told me they were going to keep their shirts. And then, finally, a young, female usher (who was wearing another shirt underneath) stopped and asked, “For how much?”

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“Twenty bucks?” I asked, afraid that I’d get laughed at for making such a low offer.

“Are you serious?” she asked excitedly.

“Yeah, I want one of those shirts, but they’re not for sale.”

“Okay!” she said and started taking it off.

“Wait, what size is it?” I asked.

“Large,” she said.

Perfect.

She handed me the shirt. I handed her a $20 bill. She was happy. I was ecstatic…

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…and then Jona and I got our cab.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 3 balls at this game (2 pictured on the right because I gave one to Nelson’s daughter)

• 182 balls in 19 games this season = 9.6 balls per game.

• 648 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 198 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 4,540 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 38 donors (click here to learn more)

• $5.56 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.68 raised at this game

• $1,011.92 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

6/28/10 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium

Major League Baseball in Puerto Rico?

Oh yes.

The Mets and Marlins moved a three-game series to Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, and I made the trip from New York City to be there:

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Yeah, I was a bit excited. It was my first time at this stadium, and as you might expect, I took a ton of photos. (For some reason, when the Expos played a bunch of games here in 2003 and 2004, I neglected to take advantage.)

Let’s start with the Hiram Bithorn statue:

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Did you know that there was a guy named Hiram Bithorn? I wasn’t aware of that until I booked this trip and did a little research. Bithorn, born in 1916, was the first Puerto Rican to play in the Major Leagues. Check out all the info about him on the statue’s plaque:

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In 1943, the dude went 18-12 with seven shutouts and a 2.60 ERA. That’s pretty impressive, and THAT is how you get a stadium named after you.

It was only 3pm. The gates weren’t going to open for another two hours, so I had plenty of time to wander.

Here’s the area with all the media/TV trucks:

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Look at the slanted light towers:

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Here’s a close-up of the trucks:

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Here’s my first glimpse of the scoreboard inside the stadium:

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In the four-part photo below (starting on the top left and then going clockwise), you can see 1) the area beyond the right field corner of the stadium, 2) lawnmowers parked in the parking lot and Roberto Clemente Stadium in the distance, 3) the edge of the grandstand on the first base side, and 4) the road that curves around from right field to left field:

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While walking along that road, I saw an open gate:

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It was some sort of employee entrance. This is what I saw through the bars:

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It was the back of the right field bleachers. I had a bleacher ticket. I didn’t know if I’d be allowed to move back and forth from right to left field, but it looked promising. I also didn’t know if there’d be batting practice. It had just been pouring for 20 minutes, and there was still thunder and lightning in the area.

Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) the road behind the right field edge of the stadium, 2) a Puerto Rican stop sign, 3) a view of the stadium from deeeeeeep center field, and 4) another gate of some sort:

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I was so confused.

Nothing was marked, few people spoke English, and let me tell you, I was in heaven. It’s like I was discovering a new way to watch baseball.

Hiram Bithorn Stadium is the largest baseball stadium in Puerto Rico, and it only holds about 20,000 fans. There’s no upper deck. No club level. No standing-room sections. No cup holders. No flat-screen TVs. No waiter service. It’s incredibly simple, and yes, also dumpy and run-down, but that’s what makes it nice. It’s the opposite of the new Yankee Stadium. It’s unrefined, and I don’t mean that as an insult. I like unrefined. I like it when puddles don’t drain. I like it when garbage cans overflow. That’s real life. You know what I mean? Take Target Field, for example. That stadium is an architectural marvel, but it’s almost too perfect. When I was there last month, it kinda felt like I was in a modern art museum.

But let’s get back to Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Look at all this clutter sitting around just inside the random gate:

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Is that a beautiful sight or what? I’m totally serious. It was great to experience Major League Baseball in a facility where every inch of space wasn’t being micromanaged.

Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) the area outside the left field corner of the stadium, 2) police guarding an employee entrance along the left field foul line, 3) the view as I cut across toward the 3rd base line, and 4) the walkway that leads to the main entrance.

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This is what the gates look like…

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…and here’s a sneak-peek at the concourse inside:

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The sun finally came out. I ran across the street to use a bathroom inside a gigantic mall and took this photo of the stadium on the way back:

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The stadium was jumping at that point. There were food tents and vendors and DJ booths and promoters aggressively handing out thunder sticks. The whole place had a carnival-like atmosphere. Look how crowded it was:

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Luckily, there was a special someone holding a spot for me near the front of the line:

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I’m talking about my girlfriend Jona, pictured above in the white shirt and torn jeans. Unfortunately, we were in line at the wrong spot. We couldn’t enter the main part of the stadium with bleacher tickets, so at the last second, we had to get out of line and head halfway around the stadium, and by the time we got inside, we’d missed a few minutes of batting practice. But hey, at least there WAS batting practice. The Mets were on the field, and before I had a chance to blink, a right-handed batter crushed a home run to the back of the bleachers. I raced up the steps and grabbed the ball after lunging over a railing.

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Mission accomplished! It was the 48th “major league” stadium at which I’d snagged at least one ball. I wouldn’t have counted Hiram Bithorn on my list if I’d snagged baseballs at a Puerto Rico Baseball League game or even at the World Baseball Classic, but this was different. I was here for an actual regular-season major league game. If the wins and losses and stats were gonna count for the teams and players, then it was only fair that the balls would count in my collection.

After getting that first ball, I took a few photos of the glorious bleacher configuration. Look at the cross-aisle in front…

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…and check out the gap behind the outfield wall:

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Oh.

My.

God.

I got one of the Mets’ strength/conditioning coaches to toss me a ball near the left field foul pole, and then things slowed way down. The bleachers were general admission, so everyone showed up early to claim a good spot, and as a result, the whole section got crowded fast. There just wasn’t much room to run. Batting practice was a major struggle. The expression on my face tells the whole story:

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(That’s me in the Mets gear.) Here’s a closer look:

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Finally, after 20 minutes of frustration, I got my third ball of the day from Bobby Parnell. The fact that I spoke perfect, accent-free English probably helped convince him to hook me up. There were very few people from the States. I’d say 99 percent of the fans were Latino/Puerto Rican. Although there’s no telling what kind of effect that had on my ability to snag baseballs, it’s an interesting factor to consider.

Left field was dead, so I decided to see if I could move to the right field side. Naturally, I took some photos along the way.

First, here’s the staircase that leads up into the left field bleachers:

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Here’s the view to the left:

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See all those people walking toward the batter’s eye in center field?

(Oh yeah, baby…)

Not only was I free to roam between left and right field, but there was a TON of open space in between. Check it out:

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Here’s one more photo to show you what I’m talking about. I took it behind the wall in center field.

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Wow.

Wow.

Wow.

I couldn’t decide where to go. The opportunities — the ball-snagging potential — was truly mind-boggling.

All of a sudden, I saw a ball fly over the wall in right-center and drop down into the gap in front of the bleachers. Was I allowed to chase after it? I had no idea what the rules were, so I raced over…and this is what I saw:

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The photo above is blurry because I was running full speed when I took it, but anyway, yeah, I was totally allowed to run under the bleachers. The ball was just sitting there, waiting for me. My first three balls of the day were regular MLB balls; this one was a training ball. It was all muddy, so I kept it in my hand as I headed back into the left field bleachers. When I got there, a female security supervisor (who’d seen me get a ball earlier) asked me if I could spare the ball. She told me there was a kid who was crying because someone else had taken a ball from him.

“Where’s the kid?” I asked, expecting to see a five-year-old.

“Over there,” she said, pointing to a teenaged boy curled up with his face in his mother’s lap.

“Are you serious?” I asked. “He’s too big to be crying.” I was going to tell her that there’s no crying in baseball, but I didn’t know if she’d get it. Anyway, it was no laughing matter, so I handed her the ball so that she could be the one to give it to the boy.

Well, the kid was thrilled, his entire family was thrilled, and the supervisor loved me after that and took good care of me for the rest of the series.

That was it for batting practice. The Mets finished hitting at 5:50pm — half an hour earlier than I expected — and I was stuck in the bleachers. There wasn’t anything to do. There wasn’t anything to photograph. So I just sat there with Jona and waited for the game to start.

This was our terrible view…

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…but it was worth it because I had lots of room to run through the aisle on either side.

TIME OUT…

Do you remember my previous blog entry? I said I was going to be wearing my “Where’s Waldo” shirt in order to make it easier for people to spot me on TV. (I brought four shirts to this game.) That’s all. just wanted to remind you of that fact.

TIME IN…

Before the top of the 2nd inning got underway, Marlins left fielder Chris Coghlan threw his warm-up ball into the bleachers. He hadn’t aimed for anyone in particular. It was just a random toss. It happened to come right to me, but it was several feet over my head, so I jumped as high as I could…

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…and came down with it. (Jona’s camera could not contain me!)

With no outs in the top of the 5th inning, Jason Bay smoked a 1-1 pitch from Ricky Nolasco down the left field line. The ball hooked foul and rattled around in the corner, and by the time Coghlan jogged over to retrieve it, I had already bolted through the aisle so that I was standing right behind him. Once again, he randomly flipped the ball up into the crowd, and wouldn’t you know it, I was able to grab this one as well. But this wasn’t any ordinary ball. Have a look:

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Oh yes, my friends, that’s right. MLB and Rawlings International had designed a special commemorative logo for this series. Here’s a closer look:

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I had heard from one of my contacts at MLB that these special balls were only going to be used during games — not during BP. He actually offered to send one to me before I went on this trip, but I didn’t take him up on it.

“Let me see if I can snag one on my own first,” I said.

And…voila! Another mission had been accomplished. At that point, the only thing left for me to achieve was catching a game home run, and if ever there was a time to do it, this was it.

Of the 18 players in the game, 14 were batting from the right side, and yet the first four home runs of the night went to right field. It was tempting to run over there, but I decided to hold my ground in straight-away left.

With two outs in the bottom of the 8th, I pulled out my camera and took the following photo:

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There were two runners on base, and Mike Stanton was batting, but I wasn’t thinking about that. Mainly, I just wanted a photo that captured the simplicity of the scoreboard. There was no pitch count. There were no stats other than his .203 batting average. It didn’t even say what he’d done earlier in the game.

The count was 1-1, and the next pitch was a strike.

No big deal.

I took another photo to capture all the room I had on my left:

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 “What a waste,” I thought, “that there haven’t been any homers hit to left field.”

On the very next pitch, Stanton cranked a deep fly ball in my direction.

“HOLD THIS!!! HOLD THIS!!! HOLD THIS!!!” I yelled at Jona, reaching to my right to hand the camera to her.

From the second the ball left Stanton’s bat, I knew it was coming to me. I mean right to me. I don’t know how I knew. I just knew. And I also knew I was going to catch it. It was as simple as that.

Here are a few screen shots from the TV broadcast to show you how it played out. First, you can see Jason Bay running back toward the wall. Note the “Waldo” stripes directly behind him:

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In the screen shot above, approximately five feet to the left of where I was standing, you can see a fan wearing a white shirt with red sleeves. He ended up drifting over, and he nearly cost me the ball. Look how close he was when I reached up for it:

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Like I said, the ball was coming RIGHT toward me. I wasn’t going to have to jump or lean out over the railing. All I had to do was reach up for it, but this other guy (who was not wearing a glove) was reaching up, too. His hands were right in front of my face, and I knew that it was gonna be a battle to see who could reach the furthest.

Here’s a closer look at the screen shot above. I’ve drawn two little red dots over his hands, and I’ve drawn an arrow to show you the ball going into my glove:

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That should illustrate just how close he came to getting a piece of the ball. I had tried to box him out (simply by holding my ground), but he managed to reach in front of me at the last second. Still, I think my effort to block him made a slight difference, and as a result, the ball cleared his left hand by about four inches.

BAM!!!

I had the ball!!!

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Here’s a closer look at my reaction:

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(Unfortunately, you can’t see Jona in any of these screen shots, but she saw me. In fact, it was the first game home run that she’d ever seen me catch on the fly.)

Half the fans were really happy for me, and I got a few high fives:

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The other half were p*ssed because it was the third ball I’d snagged during the game, and get this: three minutes later, before the top of the 9th started, I got another. Coghlan threw another warm-up ball into the crowd. It sailed about five feet over my head, but because all the fans reached for it at once, they all booted it, and the ball dropped right down to me. There was a huge crowd in the aisle, going for the rebound, but I managed to stick out my glove and catch it before it hit the ground.

I immediately handed the ball to the smallest kid with a glove, and then I reached into my backpack and pulled out another ball and gave that one away, too. Everyone started cheering and shaking my hand. A bunch of parents asked if they could take photos of me with their kids. It was  nuts, Here I am with the two kids that received baseballs:

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After the game (which the Marlins won, 10-3), I got more high-fives and handshakes. Several people asked me to sign autographs:

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Did I mention that it was nuts? Everyone wanted to stop and talk. (One man said, “Everybody is famous for one day. Today is your day.”) It’s like I was their good luck charm — as if touching me or connecting with me was going to bring them fortune. I’ve never experienced fans reacting like that before. iViva Puerto Rico!

Everyone was energized, it seemed. Outside the stadium, the vendors were still selling food, the DJs were still blasting music, and people were dancing just about everywhere:

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This was probably the most unusual major league game I’ve ever attended, and I’m not talking about the action on the field. There had been fans with air horns and vuvuzelas inside the stadium. There’d been people playing drums and singing and chanting. It was so happy and festive and joyous and just…I don’t know…raw…and stadium security didn’t really give a damn about anything.

Before Jona and I headed back to the hotel, I met up with two guys who’d been reading this blog and got in touch to tell me they’d be here. These guys didn’t know each other. One was from San Juan. The other was from Michigan. Here I am with them:

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The guy on the left is named Gustavo. (Unlike this Gustavo, he’s incredibly friendly.) He had actually gotten in touch two years ago and sent me one of the longest/nicest emails I’ve ever received. You can read that email on this page on my web site. Just search for “Gustavo” or scroll down to September 14, 2008, and you’ll see it. The guy on the right is named Mike. He had contacted me a few weeks earlier, and he was really cool, too. He’s been to 46 major league stadiums.

One last thing…

There are lots of highlights of the Mike Stanton homer, but thanks to a friend in New York who taped the game, I got a hold of the best footage of all. It’s a one-minute clip from SNY, the Mets’ cable network. The file (.mov format) is 15MB, so you might need to give it a minute to load. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Mets’ announcers, the two guys talking about me at the end are Gary Cohen and former major leaguer Ron Darling. Enjoy…

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 8 balls at this game (5 pictured on the right because I gave three away)

• 176 balls in 17 games this season = 10.4 balls per game.

• 646 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 196 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 48 different major league stadiums with at least one ball

• 13 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups); click here for the complete list.

• 6 different stadiums with a game home run (Old Yankee, PETCO, Shea, Camden, New Yankee, and Hiram Bithorn)

• 4,534 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 37 donors (click hereto learn more)

• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $43.28 raised at this game

• $952.16 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

————

UPDATE: My home run catch was written up on MyGameBalls.com. Click here to read the story.

5/6/10 at Target Field

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Game time: 7:10pm

Arrival-at-the-stadium time: 1:00pm

Yeah, it was another monster day at Target Field, this time thanks to a certain Twins employee, who gave me (and my girlfriend Jona) a private tour of the stadium. (As I mentioned in my previous entry, this employee wishes to remain anonymous, so let’s just call him Kirby.)

Because the tour began more than four hours before the stadium opened, the concourse was empty…

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…and so were the the seats:

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Kirby took us inside Hrbek’s bar…

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…and pointed out that the ceiling is decorated with every different Twins logo in team history. Then he led us into the uber-fancy Champion’s Club, which is located directly behind home plate. Here it is from the outside:

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(That’s Jona in the green jacket and Kirby in the blue shirt.)

This is the reception/entrance area:

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(That’s me sitting at the desk-like podium thing.)

Note the “TC” logos all over the place, including the huge one on the floor and the smaller ones on the logs.

This is what I saw when we headed through the back door of the reception area:

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Normally, when fans enter the club, an auxiliary wall blocks the service tunnel from view, but in this case, since we were there so early, everything was open.

As we wandered through the tunnel, I saw the Twins Family Lounge…

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…and then found myself standing right outside the Twins’ clubhouse:

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Tony Oliva walked by. I said hello and shook his hand. Ho-hum. Just your typical three-time batting champion.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go inside the clubhouse, but hey, no biggie, at least I got to explore the Champion’s Club. Here’s the first thing I saw when I opened the door:

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See those wooden cabinets on the left? This is what was in them:

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Yep, the two Twins World Series trophies from 1987 and 1991.

Here’s a four-part photo that shows more of the Champion’s club:

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All the food is free there — that is, after you’ve spent your life savings on the tickets — including the candy.

This is how you get from the club to the seats…

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…and once you reach the top of the ramp, this is the view of the field:

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Not bad.

From that spot, you’re closer to home plate than the pitcher is.

Justin Morneau was doing some sort of TV shoot just to my left. Meanwhile, out in right field, another Twins player (I think it was Kevin Slowey) was working out with a weighted ball:

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Kirby took us up to the club level and showed us one of the suites:

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Here’s another look at it:

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Reminds me of IKEA. Still pretty nice, though. But it’s not how *I* would ever want to watch a baseball game.

One seriously cool thing about the suites is that they’re all connected, you know, sort of like hotel rooms that have conjoining doors. Check it out:

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If you rent out one suite, there’s a door that shuts and seals it off from the next one, but if you rent two (or all ten), you can open them up.

(In case you didn’t notice, the suites alternate colors — blue and red, the Twins’ colors.)

Here’s what it looked like when I walked out the back door of the suite:

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The next stop on the tour was the Metropolitan Club down the right field line:

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(The previous day, I had wandered all over the stadium on my own, but because of my limited access, there was only so much I could see. This tour completely made up for it and filled in all the missing pieces.)

Here’s one photo that I took inside the Metropolitan Club…

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…and here’s another:

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The club is named after Metropolitan Stadium, the Twins’ home from 1961-1981.

Check out the view of the field from inside the club…

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…and from the outside:

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Check out this lovely view of the standing room area:

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Back inside the club, I took a good look at a display case with some old Metropolitan Stadium memorabilia…

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…and then followed Kirby to the nearby (and equally exclusive) Delta Club (aka the “Legends Club”). Here’s the entrance…

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…and this is what it looked like on the inside:

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The club has a whole area dedicated to Kirby Puckett (not to be confused with Kirby the tour guide):

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See the balcony? That’s the suite level. (There’s a difference between the suite level and the club level, although both levels have suites. Don’t ask.) More on that in a bit…

Here’s a four-part photo that shows some different stuff in the Delta club:

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TOP LEFT: a fancy-schmancy hallway

TOP RIGHT: a wall with famous Twins play-by-play quotes

BOTTOM LEFT: a bar/lounge with a staircase that leads to the suite level

BOTTOM RIGHT: a deli, located in the concourse

Before we went upstairs, I checked out the seats in front of the press box:

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(That cross-aisle, if you can ever get there, is great for game foul balls.)

Here’s the hallway and balcony on the suite level:

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The area down below, dedicated to Rod Carew, is part of the Delta/Legends club.

Here’s what the truly fancy suite-level suites look like (as opposed to the slightly-less-fancy club-level suites, which you saw earlier):

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Kirby told me that these suites go for “six figures” per season, and that there’s a “five-year commitment” required.

(Ahem, excuse me?!)

Here’s the suite’s outdoor seating area. I’ve drawn arrows pointing to a) a heat lamp and b) a flat-screen TV:

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Here’s another section of the suite-level hallway:

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(Six figures? Seriously?)

Kirby led us up to the upper deck, and then we headed toward the Budweiser Party deck:

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Here’s what it looks like up there. The big rectangular thing in the middle of the photo is a fire pit:

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(Can you imagine if they had one of these at Yankee Stadium? Red Sox games would be so much more entertaining.)

Here’s the partial view of the field from the third row of seating:

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Here I am with Jona:

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That was pretty much the end of the tour, but even on the way out, there was interesting stuff to see:

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(To the anonymous Twins employee who gave me the tour, thank you SO much. It was one of the most special things I’ve ever done inside a major league stadium.)

It was 3pm. Jona was starving (and bein’ all vegan), so we found a Mexican restaurant where she ordered beans and rice (which somehow had a piece of beef buried in it).

At around 4pm — 90 minutes before the stadium was going to open — we headed over to Gate 34. I could see that the batting cage was set up, and half an hour later, the Twins started hitting:

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Ten minutes after that…

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…I managed to snag a ball outside the stadium. A left-handed batter on the Twins crushed a home run down the line. The ball cleared the bleachers and was bouncing right toward me across the standing room area. As I reached through the gate to prepare for the easy snag, a young usher hustled over and scooped up the ball. I made such a big fuss about it (in a friendly way) that he ended up tossing it to me — but his throw was off the mark, and the ball clanked off one of the bars and started rolling to my left. He chased after it, then returned and apologized for the bad throw and handed the ball to me.

Outstanding.

Once the stadium opened, I went to the corner spot down the left field foul line. Jona hung back in the bleachers so she’d be in a good spot to take photos with her own camera. Here she is…

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…and here are some of the photos she took:

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(Sigh.)

I got Jason Berken to toss me my second ball of the day, and then I promptly booted a grounder that was yanked down the line. In my own defense, let me say this: it was a three-hopper, hit hard with a ton of topspin. Not only did I get an in-between hop, but the ball came up on me and deflected off my wrist. (It came up so much that it completely missed my glove.) It was the kind of bad hop that the casual fan wouldn’t notice, but anyone who’s ever played infield knows how tough these balls can be. After I booted it, Will Ohman (who was shagging balls in left field) started making fun of me. I got the last laugh, however, by snagging three ground balls in the next 20 minutes. Here’s a photo that shows me leaning out of the stands for one of them:

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On this particular grounder, I leaned WAY out of the stands as soon as the ball was hit. Then, when it ended up hooking back toward me, I didn’t need to reach out with full extension. The day before, I had actually reached past the foul line for a grounder, but Jona wasn’t there to document it.

I ran over to the Orioles’ dugout at the end of BP and called out to Jeremy Guthrie.

“Hey, what’s up, Zack?” he asked.

Very cool. I knew he’d remember me (from all the Orioles games I’d attended last year), but this was the first time he’d actually said my name.

Here I am talking to him:

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We chatted for a couple minutes, during which time he asked me if I’d gotten a ball yet.

“Yeah,” I’m all set, I told him, “but thanks for asking.”

He’s awesome. Case closed.

After BP, I posed with my Target Field commemorative balls…

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…and met a season ticket holder named Richard (aka “twibnotes”) who’s been reading this blog for quite some time. He and I hung out for half an hour — and then I had to take off and try to snag a pre-game warm-up ball.

Great success!!

Cesar Izturis tossed one to me at the dugout. The following photo shows the ball in mid-air:

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As you can see, the stands were packed, but there wasn’t any competition. Everyone else was pretty much sitting down, patiently waiting for the game to start.

It rained during the game for the third straight day, but that didn’t affect my plan. I just stayed out in the standing room area, hoping that a lefty would get a hold of one and pull it down the line. The following photo shows where I was standing:

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(I was still wearing my bright orange Ripken shirt.)

This was my view from that spot:

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My friend Bob (aka “Big Glove Bob”) came out and found me in the standing room area, and we chatted on and off throughout the game. Another guy who’s been reading this blog also found me. His name is Pete Gasperlin (aka “pgasperlin”), and he’s the founder of the Denard Span fan club on Facebook.

Here’s a photo of Jona with a ball that she’d snagged earlier in the day:

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Yes, that’s the right, the young lady grabbed her fourth lifetime baseball during BP when a home run landed in the camera well down the left field line. The Tigers, it should be noted, were using a combination of regular and commemorative balls. Also, in case you’re wondering, in the five Twins games that I’ve attended this season, I have not seen a single Metrodome ball.

As the game reached the middle innings, Jona got really cold (because it was really cold). Pete came to the rescue. He had season tickets that gave him access to the Metropolitan Club, so he took her up there. He and I hung out for a bit after that. Turns out that we’ll both be at Turner Field on May 17th. Weird.

With three outs remaining in the Orioles’ 2-0 victory, I got tired of the standing room area and headed here:

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The move paid off. Look what I ended up getting:

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Home plate umpire Tony Randazzo tossed me a rubbed-up commemorative ball as he headed off the field, and then Orioles manager Dave Trembley gave me his Twins lineup card. Here’s a better look at it.

Of all the lineup cards I’ve gotten over the years, this is one of my favorites because of Trembley’s notations. Did you notice what he wrote next to Nick Punto’s name? It says, “NOT GOOD RHH .083,” which obviously means that Punto, a switch-hitter, is terrible from the right side. Directly above that, Trembley noted that Alexi Casilla is better against left-handed pitching. And who knew that Jim Thome was 0-for-3 against Will Ohman?

My day of snagging wasn’t done. Orioles reliever Matt Albers threw me my eighth ball of the day when he walked in from the bullpen, and then Alan Dunn, the bullpen coach, tossed me another less than 60 seconds later. (If I hadn’t dropped that stupid grounder during BP, I would’ve hit double digits — something Bob had said would be impossible at this stadium.)

Before heading back to our hotel, Jona and I stopped by Smalley’s 87 Club for one final meal, this time with a gentleman named Albert (and his kids), who had helped two days earlier with the media.

Aside from the lack of game home runs, my time in Minnesota could not have been any better.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 9 balls at this game (seven pictured on the right because I gave two away)

• 82 balls in 8 games this season = 10.25 balls per game.

• .813 Ballhawk Winning Percentage this season (6.5 wins, 1.5 losses)

• 637 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 188 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 4,440 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 29 donors (click here to learn more and get involved)

• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $34.65 raised at this game

• $315.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/4/10 at Target Field

I woke up in Cleveland at 5:15am with three hours of sleep. By the time I checked into my hotel in Minnesota, I was so tired that my eyes hurt. I should’ve taken a nap, especially considering that I was going to be on TV later that evening, but I was too excited about Target Field. To hell with sleep. I had to get over there and see it. This was my first look at it:

(Did you notice the HUGE Target logo on the walkway?)

I could tell from afar that the place was gorgeous, and once I got closer, I noticed that the Twins (unlike the Mets) did an amazing job of honoring their past. One of the first things I saw was a long, wall-like display featuring the team’s former stadiums:

Right nearby, there was a fence with pennant-shaped tributes to important players and executives in Twins history…

…and then I saw Gate 29:

That’s kind of a random number for a gate, right? Well, it was named after Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who wore uniform No. 29 for the Twins for 12 seasons. Target Field has five gates, all of which are named after Twins players who’ve had their numbers retired. Genius.

I walked clockwise around the outside of the stadium. Here’s the team store…

…and here are some of the many team-related banners:

Nice, huh?

FYI, there are service ramps behind those long wooden boards. If you look closely at them, you can see a door on the lower left that swings open.

Check out the view through Gate 14 (named after Kent Hrbek):

It was one o’clock. First pitch was scheduled for 7:10pm. That’s why there weren’t many people around.

This is what I saw when I walked past Gate 14 and turned the corner:

The fence on the left was lined with poster-sized replica Topps baseball cards of Twins players, past and present. Brilliant.

At the far end of the walkway, I passed a Light Rail station…

…and turned another corner:

Here’s another sneak peek inside the stadium through Gate 6 (named after Tony Oliva):

I felt very welcomed, indeed.

I kept walking. Here’s more of what I saw:

I passed some artwork (officially known as the “5th Street Panels at Target Field”) on the far end of the building:

This piece in particular is called “A History of Minnesota Baseball.”

I risked my life to take the following photo:

Okay, not really, but I *was* standing awfully close to the train tracks.

(Gate 3, which you can see in the photo above, is named after Harmon Killebrew. I later learned that on Opening Day, Killebrew stood just inside the gate and greeted fans as they entered. That’s how to run a major league organization.)

Here’s where it gets weird. I’d been walking around the stadium without any problems. Everything was beautiful and clean and simple. But when I passed Gate 3, this is what I saw:

What the–???

Where was I supposed to walk? Into the tunnel? Was it even possible to walk all the way around the outside of the stadium? I crossed the street on the left side and headed onto a narrow walkway. I had no idea where I was going. There were no signs. There was nothing but a pair of unmarked glass doors:

Just when I was was preparing to retrace my steps and head back toward Gate 3, two guys walked by and gave me directions. They said I had to enter the doors and walk through a long hallway and follow the signs and head upstairs…and…what? I was so confused, but they seemed convincing, so I did what they said.

This is what it looked like just inside the doors:

Was this a trick or a scam? Perhaps a hidden-camera TV show? Should I have been concerned for my safety?

I walked quite a ways down the hallway and eventually saw this:

What was the Target Plaza? Was that connected to Target Field? Ohmygod, what was going on? I hadn’t researched the stadium beforehand. I intentionally showed up knowing as little as possible so I could explore and discover things.

There were escalators at the far end of the hallway:

I headed up to the second level and saw this:

Uh…was I supposed to go up to the 3rd level?

It looked like there was a little sign on the door, so I walked over for a closer look. This is what it said:

Hooray! Thank you! Finally, there were clear directions that applied to what *I* hoped to find. Target Field, through the doors. Right?

Umm, not so fast…

This is what I saw when I opened the door:

WHAT THE HELL?!?!?!

I figured the sign had to be right, so I walked across the garage and encountered another set of doors. This is what I saw on the other side:

Phew!!

I walked past the Kirby Puckett statue. This is what was on the right:

Now we’re talking.

Gate 34…the right field gate…just behind the standing room area. I hurried over for a peek inside:

Oh yeah.

The giant “gold” glove was sitting nearby on the right:

Just how big is it? Here’s my backpack:

I still had a little more exploring to do, so I continued heading around the stadium:

Is that a slick design or what?

In the photo above, do you see the fan wearing red sleeves? More on him in a bit, but first, I have to show you even more Twins history that was on display. Check this out:

You know what those things on the fence are?

Twins rosters:

There was a roster from every single season since the franchise moved to Minneapolis.

Even the team store was exquisite:

Back outside, I walked right past Justin Verlander and two of his teammates:

One fan approached Verlander and asked for an autograph.

“Not today,” said the Tigers ace.

(Ballplayers are so friendly nowadays.)

Okay, remember the guy wearing red? His name is Greg Dryden, but he’s known simply as “Waldo.” He’s the No. 1 ballhawk in Minnesota. He used to sit in the front row in left-center at the Metrodome, and he always wore a helmet. That was his thing. I’d been hearing stories about him for years — some good, some bad. Everyone I knew who visited the Dome had something to say about the guy, and here he was. I knew it was him because the back of his jersey said “WALDO 13,” so I walked over and introduced myself, and as it turned out, he had heard lots of stories about me, too. Here we are:

I knew that we were only going to have a few minutes to chat, so I asked him the basic questions about how many baseballs he’d snagged over the years. He told me that he only kept count one season and ended up with 352. (He was a season ticket holder and attended all 81 of the Twins’ home games.) He said that was probably a typical season for him and that he’d been ballhawking regularly since 1999.

“So you’ve probably gotten over 3,000 balls?” I asked.

He shrugged and said, “Yeah, I guess.”

“How many game home runs?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “probably 40 or 50…and I’ve gotten about 20 ground-rule doubles.”

Not too shabby.

At 2pm, two attractive women (who looked to be in their mid-20s) started walking right toward us. Waldo’s jaw literally dropped, and when they got closer, one of them asked me, “Are you Zack?”

“Catherine?” I asked.

She welcomed me to Minnesota and introduced me to her twin sister, Laura-Leigh. Then, as the three of us headed off together, I turned toward Waldo and shouted, “I’ll see you back here in an hour!” The look on his face was priceless.

The ladies led me to a nearby mall called Butler Square. Here’s the main entrance:

See the arrow in the photo above? There’s a restaurant in the mall called Smalley’s 87 Club:

That’s where we went. It’s named after former major league All-Star Roy Smalley, who played nine of his 13 seasons with the Twins. Now get this…

1) Roy Smalley just happens to be their father.

2) Roy Smalley is the president of Pitch In For Baseball.

3) Roy Smalley is a commentator on FSN North.

See where I’m going with this? In case you’re new to this blog, I’ve been raising money for the last two two seasons for Pitch In For Baseball — a charity that provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Roy was planning to interview me live on the Twins’ pre-game show about it, and he was at the restaurant. Here I am with him and his daughters:

(Catherine is on the left, just above my red-and-white Pitch In For Baseball cap, and by the way, I should mention that both plates of food were mine: chicken strips and a caesar salad. The food there is great.)

We all hung out for a couple hours, during which time Roy let me play with his 1987 World Series ring:

Here’s the ring with Roy in the background…

…and here are two close-up shots of it:

(His championship ring is slightly cooler than mine.)

My lack of sleep was killing me, but I was so happy that it didn’t even matter.

By the time I made it back to the Target Field Plaza (that’s the official name of the area outside Gate 34), there were quite a few people milling about:

At 5pm (half an hour before the stadium opened), look who showed up and found me:

It was my girlfriend, Jona.

As I’d mentioned the day before on Twitter, there was a chance that she wasn’t gonna be able to make it to Minnesota, but everything ended up working out, and here she was.

Remember the small crowd waiting outside the gate on 5/1/10 at Progressive Field? If not, click here to see what I’m talking about. Here’s the difference between Cleveland and Minneapolis. Ready? Take a deep breath and brace yourself:

Holy mother of GOD!!! And don’t forget that this was just one of five gates. My biggest gripe about the stadium is that it doesn’t open earlier. I think it’s a real slap in the face to the fans that they can’t even get inside early enough to watch the Twins take batting practice. Every team should open its stadium two and a half hours early. Not just for season ticket holders. Not just on weekends. Always. For everyone. Forever. And especially when it’s the first season of a new stadium and the crowds are extra large. Seriously, Twins: duh.

Shortly before the stadium opened, I learned that FSN’s cameras were going to be filming me from afar during BP. I wasn’t going to be miked up. They didn’t need any audio. They just wanted some B-roll footage that they could later use during my interview with Roy. Catherine (who helped set up the interview) told me to call the producer as soon as I ran into the stadium. She said I needed to let him know where I was so he’d be able to make sure that the cameras were following me — and if I ran to another section, I was supposed to give him another call.

You know what I did instead? I handed my phone to Jona, who offered to make the phone calls for me.

I was so stressed and tired, and at 5:30pm it was time to roll. I raced inside and peeked at the right field seats and quickly decided to head for the left field bleachers. Jona chased after me and called the producer.

“Where do I tell him we are?!” she shouted.

“Ohboy,” I mumbled loud enough for her to hear me, then yelled, “Tell him I’m running behind the batter’s eye!”

It was nuts, and yet Jona somehow managed to take photos while all of this was happening. Here I am in the bleachers:

The bleachers were awful. Too steep. Too crowded. Too many railings. Tucked underneath an overhang. And because of the flower bed down in front, there was absolutely no chance to use the glove trick:

If someone asked me to design a miserable section for catching home run balls, I probably would’ve come up with this. Oh…and the sun was in everyone’s eyes, too.

The bleachers got crowded pretty fast:

Things were NOT looking good.

At one point, I had a chance to catch a home run ball:

(In case you can’t tell, I’m wearing the dark blue jacket with a Tigers shirt.)

Here’s that same moment captured by an FSN camera:

Want to see how it ended?

Here:

Yeah, the short guy in the front row jumped up and caught the ball two feet in front of my glove. Then, five minutes, later, I got robbed once again by a guy who reached out and made a bare-handed grab as I was cutting through the second row:

The reason why I wasn’t looking at the ball is that I didn’t want to take a deflection in the face. That’s what happened to me on 4/22/08 at Champion Stadium, and it wasn’t pretty.

My overall assessment:

My friend Bob (aka “Big Glove Bob” in the comments section) made an appearance in the bleachers:

He had kindly picked me up at the airport that morning, and he’d given me lots of tips on Target Field and Minneapolis in the previous weeks. It was great hanging out with him — this was the first day that we had ever met in person — and I foolishly neglected to get a photo with him. (Random coincidence: he was interviewed on TV that day, too.)

I was getting desperate. I still didn’t have a ball. I was worried about my streak. And I was embarrassed to be putting on such a lousy ballhawking display for the cameras, which were evidently capturing my every move.

After what felt like an eternity, I finally got Tigers reliever Brad Thomas to throw me a ball. He was in left-center field. I was standing near the slanted railing next to the bullpens. His throw fell short. I nearly had a panic attack. I reached way out — full extension — and caught the ball in the tip of my glove. It was a true snow-cone. Here’s an FSN screen shot…

…and here I am pointing at Thomas as if to say, “You’re the man. Thank you.”

I was so relieved at that point. My streak was alive, and I had snagged a ball in my 47th different major league stadium. Here I am with the ball:

I wasn’t sure what type of balls the Tigers were going to be using during BP; in 2008 they used Pacific Coast League balls and in 2009 they used International League balls. As you can see in the photo above, the ball that Thomas threw me was an official major league ball, but check out the logo:

The Tigers had marked it. Many other teams have done the same thing over the years, but never on the logo itself.

My phone rang. Jona handed it to me. I answered it. It was Roy. He asked me to swing by the FSN set down the left field line, and since BP was such a colossal waste of time, I didn’t mind sacrificing a few minutes of it to go check in with him:

He asked me to be back there by 6:25pm. The pre-game show was going to start at 6:30. I was going to be interviewed during the second segment, and I needed to get miked up…so for the time being, I was free to run around a bit more and try to snag a few additional baseballs. Unfortunately, there weren’t any more to be snagged — at least not during BP. The bleachers were dead, and when I ran over to the Tigers’ dugout at the end of BP, I didn’t get anything there. The look on my face tells the whole story:

I had snagged ONE pathetic baseball during batting practice. I was sweaty and exhausted…

…and I wanted to go back to Cleveland.

It was time to head over to the FSN set, so I cut through the seats with Jona. I stopped along the way to photograph a fugitive hot dog:

Here’s what it looked like from my perspective:

Remember the random sausage I photographed on 4/27/09 at Miller Park? Yeah, I don’t know what to say. It’s just one of those things that needs to be documented.

I made it to the FSN area as Roy and his fellow commentators were finishing up the first segment:

He and I caught up for a moment during the commercial break…

…and headed into the left field bleachers:

(Roy is adjusting his ear piece in the photo above, and if you look closely, you can see The Ring on his right hand.)

See those two women sitting behind us? When we walked into the bleachers, the blonde one said to Roy, “You look like you’re famous.”

“Umm, that’s because he IS famous,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, half-excited and half-embarrassed, “should I know your name?”

I turned toward Roy and said, “Would you like me to to be your spokesperson?”

“Smalley,” he said to the women. “I used to play for the Twins.”

The women were like, “Smalley…Smalley…oh! Yeah!” but they had no idea who he was.

The interview itself went pretty well…I think. Here’s a photo that Jona took while it was in progress:

We were being filmed by the camera behind home plate in the upper deck.

The interview flew by — they always do — but I got to talk about Pitch In For Baseball. That was the most important thing, and I ended up getting a few new pledges as a result.

I still have yet to see the interview itself, but I did manage to get a screen shot. Here’s what it looked like to the folks watching on TV, and for the record, I did NOT write the text that appeared below my name:

The interview ended just in time for me to make it down to the front row along the left field foul line for pre-game throwing:

I ended up getting a ball from Scott Sizemore, and then less than 60 seconds later, because there wasn’t anyone else competing with me, I got another from Adam Everett. That made me feel a little better, but of course the FSN cameras weren’t on me anymore, so as far as the general public in Minnesota was concerned, I was just some random putz who happened to catch ONE ball during batting practice and then talked about some charity thing.

I spent most of the game in the standing room area down the right field line. Here’s that section from above. The red “X” marks the spot where I was standing:

Here’s what my view from that spot looked like:

Yeah, it was rainy and nasty and cold — about what I expected.

Here’s a photo from the back of the standing room area, with my back against the inside of Gate 34:

(I can’t explain that random box, so don’t ask.)

Waldo was on the outside looking in:

He’s “protesting” Twins management because he feels he got screwed over on his season tickets. Long story. Go to Target Field and ask him about it. But anyway, as part of his protest, he’s refusing to enter Target Field this year. He also wants to catch the first home run that either flies or (more likely) bounces out of Target Field, so in that sense, his spot just outside Gate 34 is actually ideal. Personally, I would go crazy if I had to spend even one game outside a stadium with such slim odds at snagging a homer, but he seems content (relatively speaking) out there, and he doesn’t seem to be hurting anyone, so I say hey, why not?

Jona and I sat in a few different places throughout the game. Here’s one…

…and here’s another:

I thought it was going to be really tough to move around, but a) there were empty seats to be found and b) the ushers were really laid-back.

After the bottom of the 8th inning, I got Miguel Cabrera to throw me a ball as he jogged off the field:

Although it had a commemorative Target Field logo, I knew it wasn’t the actual third-out ball that’d been used in the game because it was kinda beat up.

In the photo above, do you see the kid on my right, reaching up with both hands? It was a girl who was probably about 10 years old. Even though she didn’t have a glove, I just felt that giving her a ball was the right thing to do, so I pulled out a regular/non-marked/non-commemorative ball from my backpack and handed it over. I ended up sitting next to her and her father for the last half-inning, and they thanked me about a dozen times.

The Twins won the game, 4-3, on a run-scoring wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth. That made a winner of starter Nick Blackburn, who went the distance. It also meant that I notched a rare “tie” in the Ballhawk Winning Percentage category. My record moved to 4.5 wins and 1.5 losses, so my percentage is .750, second only to the Rays, who lead all of baseball with a .759 mark.

Jona was freezing her you-know-what off, but I was not in any rush to leave. (Sorry, baby.) I took more photos of basically everything around me, including the beautiful MLB logo atop the visitors’ dugout:

And then I had to stick around and watch the FSN crew do their on-field analysis of the game-ending wild pitch:

1 = Tim Laudner

2 = Bert Blyleven

3 = Roy Smalley

Very cool to see former players using the field itself as a teaching instrument. That’s how it should be.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game (3 pictured on the right because I gave one away; the middle ball has an insert which shows the sweet spot)

• 66 balls in 6 games this season = 11 balls per game.

• 635 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 186 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 47 different major league stadiums with at least one ball

• 4,424 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 29 donors

• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $15.40 raised at this game

• $254.10 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One last thing…

I just discovered that someone with Minnesota Public Radio wrote a short article about me — and about this actual blog entry. Here’s the link to it, and here’s a screen shot of the piece:

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