Results tagged ‘ seattle mariners ’

5/12/10 at Camden Yards

Most.

Frustrating.

Game.

Ever.

It started at 5pm when I ran inside the stadium and saw this:

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It was just starting to drizzle. The groundskeepers were just starting to roll out the tarp. The Orioles, who HAD been taking batting practice, were walking off the field. Why was this a big deal? Because the last two times I was at Camden Yards for batting practice, I snagged 22 balls the first day and 25 the second.

Normally, I would’ve raced out to left field to look for balls in the empty seats, but instead I stopped by the dugout to talk to Jeremy Guthrie (whom I’ve gotten to know quite well over the past two seasons). Why was this a big deal? Because a fellow ballhawk named Matt, who had entered the stadium 10 seconds after me, ended up running out there and finding ELEVEN balls!!!!!!!!!!! (That’s one exclamation point per ball.)

My friend Brandon showed up soon after with his fancy camera. Here’s a photo he took of the batting cage being rolled away:

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Five minutes later, Ichiro started playing in shallow left field. This is how I wore my Mariners shirt to get his attention:

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As he finished throwing, I waved to get his attention…

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…and he threw the ball to me. Here I am reaching out for it:

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I adore Ichiro. Getting a ball from him was the highlight of my day. It would’ve been the highlight of my month if he hadn’t thrown one to me on 5/10/05 at Yankee Stadium.

Brandon takes amazing photos…like this one…of my reaction to the weather:

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(Note the raindrop on the upper right.)

In the photo above, you can see someone on the Mariners playing catch in the background. It was Jack Wilson. He was throwing with the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator. At least that’s who I think it was — and that’s who tossed me the ball when they finished. Here’s the ball in mid-air, heading to me:

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See the guy to my right in the tan cargo shorts? That’s another fellow ballhawk named Avi. He’s the one who visited the Camden Club with me the day before.

A few more Mariners came out to play catch. Here’s a photo (taken by Brandon) of Sean White:

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In the photo above, the orange seat indicates where Eddie Murray’s 500th career home run landed.

My third ball of the day was thrown by Brandon League, and my fourth ball, pictured below in mid-air, was tossed by Mariners bullpen catcher Jason Phillips:

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Even though it was raining, a bunch of Mariners signed autographs. Here I am getting David Aardsma on my ticket…

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…and here’s the ticket itself:

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As you can see, I got four guys to sign it, and they all (sloppily) wrote their uniform numbers. Aardsma (53) is on the upper right, Jesus Colome (37) is in the middle, Ian Snell (35) is on the left, and Sean White (46) is on the lower right.

Brandon gave me his ticket, and I got John Wetteland to sign it:

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Wetteland was talking (to all the fans who were willing to listen) about electro-magnetism and atomic radiation and the big bang theory. And that was just the beginning. It was weird and funny — although he wasn’t trying to be funny. He was being totally serious, which made it funny…to me.

Eventually, when it really started raining hard, I took cover under the overhang of the second deck and pulled out my tickets to have a look. The nearest usher thought I needed help finding my seat, so I explained that I was merely checking out the autographs that I’d gotten. He and a couple other guys gathered around to have a look at them, too:

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Brandon photographed everything, including this:

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It’s a shot of me giving away one of my baseballs to a little kid — something I try to do at least once or twice at every game.

I headed down to the front row for pre-game throwing…

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…and got a ball from Josh Wilson. The following eight-part photo shows the ball from the time it was in his hand until I caught it. You might want to click it for a closer look:

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The game was delayed 24 minutes at the start.

And then…look how small the crowd was:

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You’d think I would’ve caught 17 foul balls and five home runs, right?

Yeah, not exactly.

And guess what? Ken Griffey Jr. wasn’t in the starting lineup. He was THE reason why I took this little roadtrip in the first place. Things just kept getting worse and worse.

This is where I positioned myself for most right-handed batters:

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Over the course of the game, two foul balls landed less than five feet from me. In both cases, I was the closest fan to them — and in both cases, the balls ricocheted wildly off the seats and ended up getting grabbed by other people. If the balls had simply stayed where they landed, these would’ve been easy snags.

NOW do you see why this game was so frustrating?

Well, there’s more…

In the bottom of the fourth inning, Luke Scott connected on the game’s lone home run. I was at the back of the standing-room-only section. The ball was heading right toward me, but falling short, so I raced up toward the wall and reached out at the last second to make the catch. It was THAT close to me. I actually squeezed my glove in anticipation. The ball never touched my glove, however, because the guy standing directly in front of me stuck his bare hands up and deflected it. The ball didn’t hit me in the face — I do have THAT to be thankful for — but instead it bounced directly over my head and rolled back to the exact spot where I’d been standing.

I was doing everything right, but couldn’t catch a break. Not to sound overly dramatic, but in all seriousness, my horrendous luck really made me question things. I can think of several instances where I’ve been angry inside major league stadiums, but this game, by far, left me feeling more frustrated than ever.

After the top of the 6th inning, I got a third-out ball from future Hall of Famer Nick Markakis. He had caught a fly ball hit by Jose Lopez to end the frame, and when he tossed it into the crowd, it got bobbled and then started trickling down the steps. During the mad scramble that ensued, I grabbed the ball out of puddle underneath a seat in the front row. I scraped my knuckles in the process. The whole night sucked.

Griffey pinch hit in the top of the ninth…

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…and hit a sacrifice fly to right field — right in my direction, but about 75 feet too short.

Bah.

After the game, I got my seventh ball of the day from home plate umpire Joe West, but I still felt like crap.

Final score: Orioles 5, Mariners 2. At least I notched another win for my Ballhawk Winning Percentage, which now stands at .850 (8.5 wins and 1.5 losses).

SNAGGING STATS:

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

• 95 balls in 10 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 639 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,453 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 31 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)

• $4.95 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $34.65 raised at this game

• $470.25 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/1/09 at Yankee Stadium

Ready for a quick blog entry about a lame day? Good, here goes…

Yankee Stadium opened at 4pm, and for the first half-hour, there was NO action:

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Then the sky got dark, and it started drizzling, and the grounds crew began to clear the field. In the photo below, you can see one guy actually rolling the L-screen away:

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Just as I was contemplating how to announce my permanent retirement from ballhawking, the sky cleared and the grounds crew rolled the screens back into place.

The Yankees eventually came out and started throwing. Batting practice was still 10 minutes away and the place was packed:

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I got completely shut out during the Yankees’ portion of BP.

Then the Mariners came out, so I changed into my Mariners gear and got Jason Vargas to throw me a ball in right field:

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I was six rows back when he threw it. It sailed over everyone else’s head and came right to me. It was my 4,100th ball. Yay.

I headed back to left field, caught a homer on the fly, got Garrett Olsen to toss one to me, and then caught another home run ball which I later gave away.

It was impossible to use the glove trick because the stadium was crawling with security guards. I saw one other kid attempt to use the trick, and he was stopped within 10 seconds.

I had some close calls on other homers, but luck simply wasn’t on my side, and to make matters worse, I had to deal with a startlingly hostile fan. I deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for preventing an “incident” from arising. Let’s leave it at that.

I ran into a fellow ballhawk named Alex who’d already been to Yankee Stadium more than a dozen times this season. We had some time to kill so we wandered into the bleachers, and since it was my first time in that area of the stadium, I took a bunch of pics. (At the new stadium, anyone with any ticket can go in or out of the bleachers.)

I started at the back of the bleachers next to the batter’s eye in left-center field…

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…and walked down to the front row. This was the view (of the visitors’ bullpen) to the right…

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…and this was the view (of Monument Park) to the left:

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Ever wonder what’s behind those shiny black windows? There’s a restaurant, and when I pressed my camera against the glass, I was able to get a peek inside:

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Here’s the concourse that runs behind the bleachers:

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Left field…right field…it’s all connected.

There’s a “cafe” on top of the batter’s eye. Here’s one side of it…

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…and here’s the front:

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Anyone can go there at anytime, and on the right field side, there’s a nice view of the Yankee bullpen. Here’s Andy Pettitte warming up:

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The new Yankee Stadium is a glorious facility. There’s no doubt about that. It’s the team and the employees and the fans that ruin it.

As for the game…yawn. The Yankees won, 4-2, and five of the six runs scored on homers. I’m sorry but that’s just not interesting baseball. I don’t care that Griffey and A-Roid went deep. I was nowhere near either of those longballs so it didn’t matter. At least it was a quick game and I got the hell out fast.

SNAGGING STATS:5_ball4100.jpg
• 4 balls at this game (ball No. 4,100 pictured here on the right)

• 283 balls in 32 games this season = 8.84 balls per game.

• 601 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 132 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 4,103 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 111 donors (It’s not too late to make a pledge. Click here to learn more.)

• $24.34 pledged per ball

• $97.36 raised at this game

• $6,888.22 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

6/11/09 at Camden Yards

F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-I-O-N.

That pretty much sums it up.

I started out in left field and snagged four balls during the first round of batting practice. (What’s so frustrating about that? Keep reading.) The first one was thrown by George Sherrill…

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…and the next three were home run balls.

The first of those homers tipped off my glove (as I made a leaping attempt to catch it) and bounced right back to me off a seat. Even if it hadn’t taken a perfect bounce, I still would’ve snagged it because the seats were gloriously empty.

The second homer came right to me and I easily caught it on the fly while drifting slowly through an empty row.

The third homer was hit by Adam Jones. (I don’t know who hit the others.) It was a high fly ball that barely cleared the wall in left-center. It bounced off some guy’s bare hands and conveniently landed in the empty second row where I was standing.

It was only 5:12pm. The stadium had been open for about 10 minutes. I was all set to have a MONSTER day, but then the Orioles stopped taking BP. Bam! Just like that. They all jogged off the field.

Fifteen minutes later, while the Mariners were stretching in front of their dugout, the entire grounds crew came out and sat on the rolled up tarp:

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(The guy who’s sitting fourth from the right is playing with his gum, in case you were wondering.)

I heard a voice crackling out of one of their walkie-talkies. It said, “Stand by for BP breakdown.”

Why?!

WHY?!

WHY?!

WHY?!

Because it started raining, JUST as the Mariners started hitting. That’s why.

This was the result:

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John Wetteland, the Mariners’ bullpen coach, started signing autographs IN STYLE along the left field foul line. Check it out:

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It’s official: my new life goal is to have someone hold an umbrella over my head while I sign autographs. Or maybe my goal should simply be to experience ONE rain-free game at Camden Yards.

This was the dreary scene on Eutaw Street:

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Right before the game started, I got Jamie Burke to toss me a ball at the Mariners’ dugout. Then I ran around to the Orioles’ side and got another ball (No. 4,039 lifetime) from Brian Roberts. Check out this “action” shot of my snag from afar:

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Roberts always tosses a ball to that spot before the game, but he always tosses it to a little kid. For some reason, though, at that moment, there weren’t any kids in sight, so he had no choice but to toss it to me. Ha.

The game started on time, and for the first couple innings, I moved back and forth between the standing-room-only section in right field and the seats in left-center.

This was the view in left:

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Nothing special, right?

Well, look how empty the seats were to MY left:

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Did any home runs land there?

No, of course not.

It’s incredible. I’ve positioned myself in so many great spots and given myself so many chances to catch a game home run this season, but it’s just…not…happening.

You know what DID happen?

More rain:

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The game was delayed 27 minutes in the third inning. Fabulous. I spent about 17 of those minutes standing in line for pizza at a concession stand which was run by exceptionally incompetent employees. There was a taco bar next to the pizza area, and there was one employee at each. NONE of the people on line wanted a taco, so what did the taco lady do? She stood there and watched the pizza guy slowwwwwwly cut slices and slowwwwwly put them in boxes, one by one, rather than helping him out and speeding up the process. It’s like she wasn’t allowed to go near the pizza because it wasn’t a taco. And the guy! Oh my God, it’s like he was just learning to use his hands for the first time, and then when he couldn’t find a spatula, he tried using the pizza-slicing wheel thingy to scoop up the slices. But you see, he wasn’t smart enough to keep the boxes near the pizza. No, THAT would’ve made too much sense. Instead he kept scooping up the slices (each of which he touched with his hands so they wouldn’t fall) and carrying them to the boxes, and on several occasions the cheese dripped off the side and landed on the floor. Normally the Orioles do a great job of running the stadium, so I’ll let it slide this time.

Back to the game…

There were two home runs. Luke Scott, who bats left-handed, hit one over the Bud Light ad in left-center (naturally I wasn’t there) and Russell Branyan, who also bats left-handed, hit the sixth longest home run in the history of Camden Yards. That one reached the back off the seats just to the right of dead-center. (Naturally I wasn’t there either.)

About halfway through the game, I gave up on left field; whenever a bunch of righties were coming up, I went for foul balls behind the plate instead. I should’ve caught one in the 6th inning. There was a high pop-up that nicked the facade of the second deck and landed RIGHT in the aisle about five feet away from where I was standing. The aisle had been empty all night. The paid attendance was less than 13,000 *AND* there had been a rain delay. Get my point? Not too many fans. But. of course, at the exact moment that the foul ball was hit, a woman in a wheelchair rolled in front of me and blocked the aisle. She even stopped rolling when she saw the ball go up. Then, after the ball smacked off the pavement (essentially right on the other side of her chair) and bounced far, far away, she looked up at me and said, “Oh, sorry, I just didn’t wanna get hit.” Fine. Fair enough. I won’t make a wheelchair wisecrack or deny her right to cower in fear. I’m just saying: I’m having the worst luck.

Okay, maybe not THE worst luck. I did end up getting a foul ball in the bottom of the 8th. There were two outs. Mark Lowe was pitching. Ty Wigginton was at bat. The count was 1-0. The ball sailed high in the air and landed in a staircase on my left, and I grabbed it off the steps. Here I am, standing at the bottom of the stairs with the ball:

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That made me feel better. The day was not a total loss, but man, the standing-room-only section really let me down. Nick Yohanek (aka The Happy Youngster) was out there too, and we were both disappointed. He *really* had some bad luck earlier on. Man oh man.

Anyway, that was basically it. The Mariners won, 6-3, so I went to their dugout but didn’t get anything there. Nick and I said goodbye (no telling when we’ll cross paths again) just after he took this photo of me and Jona:

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On my way out, I found the cutest kid in the stadium and stole a ball from him:

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(I hope you know I’m joking. I really was GIVING a ball to that kid in the photo above.)

SNAGGING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game

• 220 balls in 28 games this season = 7.86 balls per game.

• 597 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 129 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd; those are way too easy in my opinion and don’t deserve to be counted in a special category)

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• 30 lifetime game balls outside of New York

• 200 lifetime balls at Camden Yards (the Wigginton foul ball, pictured here on the right, was No. 200…the extra-dark mark on the ball came from hitting the black paint on the edge of one of the steps)

• 4,040 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 109 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a pledge)

• $24.06 pledged per ball

• $168.42 raised at this game

• $5,293.20 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Next game for me? Tuesday, June 16th in Kansas City. If there’s one day that I really really really need the rain to hold off, that would be it. And by the way, assuming I get at least one ball every day in KC, the game on June 18th will be the 600th of my streak.

6/10/09 at Camden Yards

QUESTION: Who took all the photos in my previous entry?

ANSWER: Jona.

Here we are outside the stadium, waiting for the gates to open:

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You remember Jona, right? Just last year, there was Pittsburgh and Ireland and the pyramid of baseballs (which she helped build) and so much more.

Are we still together? What’s our official status? Don’t ask. All you need to know (or rather all I’m gonna say) is that we’ve been spending time together. I’m so bad at being vague. This is good practice.

Anyway…baseball…yes, finally, for the first time in three weeks, I was at a game with batting practice. I’d been having THE worst luck with weather, so it felt great to finally have a chance to put up some big numbers.

On my way out to the seats in straight-away left field (during which time three different ushers told me to stop running), I found a ball sitting in the front row:

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Is that a beautiful sight or what?

A minute later, Jona made her way out there and started taking photos:

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You might think my pink shirt is dumb (okay, it is), but you have to admit that it makes it easy to spot me.

Here’s a cool shot that shows me and several Orioles running for a ball:

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I didn’t get that one, but several minutes later, Jona took a photo of me hurdling the seats for a home run ball that I *did* end up snagging:

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I beat out one other guy for the ball. Here we are lunging for it:

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I have no idea who hit that ball, and I don’t know who hit the next one either. I do know that it was my 200th ball of the season, and of course I remember having caught it on the fly. Here’s a photo that shows me tracking it:

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Did you notice the Orioles player watching me in the background?

The left-handed hitting Felix Pie (pronounced “pee-AY”) stepped into the cage, and I figured he was going to start by trying to hit some balls to the opposite field…and I figured there was a chance that he’d slice a few into foul territory, or at least down the line…and I was right.

In the four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, you can see a red arrow pointing to a ball bouncing toward me. The fourth photo (on the lower left) shows me reaching all the way down and grabbing it off the rubberized warning track:

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(Don’t forget…you can click all these photos for a closer look.)

As I was returning to the seats in fair territory, I snagged two more home run balls within a 20-second span. The first ball landed in some empty seats and skipped up high enough in the air that I was able to run over and catch it before it took another crazy bounce. (I found out later, while updating my stats, that this was the 3,700th ball I’ve snagged since my consecutive games streak began in 1993.) The second ball landed in the middle of an empty row, and I ran over and grabbed it about 10 feet away from the nearest fan.

That gave me six balls on the day, and I snagged No. 7 by cutting through a row in left-center and catching a ground-rule double.

After that, Seattle took the field so I changed into my Mariners gear and convinced Bruce Hines, the team’s 3rd base coach, to throw me a ball. In the following photo, I’m wearing the “ICHIRO 51″ shirt, and you can see Hines just behind my right hand, getting ready to toss the ball:

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I ran back into foul territory and grabbed ball No. 9 off the warning track. It had trickled to Miguel Batista, who was playing catch, and instead of picking it up and firing it toward the bucket, he had gently kicked it behind him. (I wonder if he would’ve done that if he knew I was at this game.)

Ichiro and Russell Branyan and Ken Griffey Jr. all started hitting, so I raced over to the standing-room-only section in right field. It was surprisingly crowded, and since I’d actually missed the first round of swings (for a reason I won’t mention), I only ended up catching two homers out there…BUT…I made a nice play on both of them, especially the first. I’m pretty sure Ichiro hit it. The ball was heading right toward me, and as it was about to land, there were a few other guys drifting to camp under it. I stayed about five feet behind the spot where I knew it was going to land, then crept up at the last second and timed my leap perfectly. I was like an outfielder robbing a home run, except I was moving forward instead of backward…and for a moment, while I was in mid-air, it felt like I was flying above the competition…and I reached up and made the catch above several other hands and gloves. It felt sooooo good. Then, less than a minute later, I caught another one that almost hit one of the flag poles on the way down. The nicest thing about that play is that I judged it perfectly. At least a dozen other guys were running around cluelessly, thinking the ball was going to land at the front of the section as it began descending toward us. I, however, hung back and picked the spot where it was going to land, and I reached up for the easy catch at the last second as everyone was just starting to run back toward me. Heh.

In all fairness, I should admit that I misjudged one ball horribly a bit earlier in the day, and then of course I got a bunch of unlucky ricochets on others, so even though it might seem (from what I’m writing) like I’m the luckiest and most athletic human being of all-time, that’s not exactly the case.

Back in left field, I used my glove trick to snag my 12th ball of the day (I gave that one away to a kid after BP) and soon caught another homer on the fly in a highly congested patch of seats.

Jason Vargas tossed me my 14th ball, and it was a good snag for two reasons:

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1) The ball had an interesting streak-like marking on the logo. You can see a photo of it on the right. Any theories on how the ball would’ve ended up looking like this?

2) I had to make a nice play on it. I was standing in the front row. Vargas kind of flipped/side-armed the ball in my direction, and I could tell from the moment it left his hand that it was going to sail over my head. Keep in mind that this was a simple toss that never went more than 20 feet in the air. It wasn’t like a home run, where I have several seconds to take my eye off the ball, move to a different spot in the seats, and then look back up and make the catch. No no. This was all split-second. I looked down VERY quickly, hopped over the front row of seats, looked back up, found the ball in mid-air as it was about five feet away from landing, and lunged far back behind the 2nd row to make a back-handed catch.

At the very end of BP, I raced over to the Mariners’ dugout and got my 15th ball tossed by hitting coach Alan Cockrell. Not bad.

Guess who I ran into after that. (Okay, yes, I’d been running into him all day.)

Nick Yohanek, aka “The Happy Youngster.”

Here we are at the dugout. I don’t blame him for not putting his arm around me. Never mind the pink shirt I was wearing earlier. Look how sweaty I was at this point:

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Just before the game started, Jose Lopez (pictured below) played catch with Adrian Beltre in front of the dugout:

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Beltre ended up throwing me the ball. That gave me SIXTEEN balls for the day, and I was really tempted to keep playing the dugouts and trying to get foul balls. It would’ve been awesome to have a 20-ball performance, but the standing-room-only section in right field was too
great to ignore. Not only was I hoping to catch a Griffey home run (that’s basically why I decided to make this trip) but I also wanted to catch Matt Wieters’ first major league homer. And besides, I’m now finally trying to be more home-run conscious in general; if I have to give up a few less meaningful balls as a result, so be it.

During the game, this was my view from the back of the standing-room-only section:

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Because I couldn’t see the batter from where I was standing, Jona stayed at the front and played the role of “spotter.” She gave me subtle hand signals each time the pitcher was releasing the ball. It was very helpful because I was able to know exactly when a home run might’ve started flying my way, but because I’ve had AWFUL home run luck this season, nothing was hit anywhere near me. Still, it was fun to hang out in that section and know that at least I had a great chance of catching one.

Here’s a look at the section from the side:

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See the little kid in the “GRIFFEY 24″ jersey? That’s Tim–the son of Todd (aka “cookandsonbats” in the comments section) whom I met on 6/3/09 at Nationals Park.

Wieters came up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and I stayed put. I never would’ve forgiven myself if I’d left the section just before he hit a bomb right to where I’d been standing all night. But there was no bomb to be caught. The future of the Orioles’ franchise struck out swinging to end the game.

Final score: Mariners 4, Orioles 1.

SNAGGING STATS:

15_the_15_balls_i_kept.jpg• 16 balls at this game (15 of which are pictured here because I gave one away)

• 213 balls in 27 games this season = 7.89 balls per game.

• 596 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 104 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 44 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls

• 4,033 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 109 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)

• $24.06 pledged per ball

• $384.96 raised at this game!

• $5,124.78 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One final unrelated note: I’ve had some major problems with my email this week. (I think it’s because the atrocious internet situation at my lame and overrated hotel here in Baltimore screwed me up.) I might have lost a few emails in the process, so if you’ve written to me recently and you don’t hear back from me by…let’s say…June 18th, go ahead and email me again. Sometimes I take a week to answer emails anyway, but in this case…yeah, if you’re waiting for a reply, just be patient and then give another shout. And also, if you’ve emailed me to get snagging advice about a certain stadium, all I can tell you is: read my blog. If I’ve blogged about a particular stadium, you’ll find everything there, and if I haven’t blogged about it, that means I haven’t been there since at least 2004 and I probably don’t remember too much about the place anyway. I get too many emails in general, especially ones like this, to answer everyone personally. I’m really sorry. It’s nothing personal. I’ll still try to write back to everyone, but if I write something brief, please understand why.

6/9/09 at Camden Yards

You know it’s going to be a bad day when you’re waiting outside a stadium and there’s a middle-aged man wearing a cut-off T-shirt:

1_t_shirt_tuesday.jpg

See what I mean? Bad day. It went from bright-n-sunny at 4:30pm to dark-n-cloudy by the time the gates were set to open half an hour later:

2_sky_starting_to_suck.jpg

And sure enough, once again, I got screwed out of batting practice. This is what I saw when I ran inside the stadium:

3_life_continuing_to_suck.jpg

At least the Mariners came out and played catch in shallow left field:

4_mariners_playing_catch.jpg

(Did you notice the psychotic sky in the photo above?)

Here I am in the front row:

5_zack_wanting_balls.jpg

I basically had the place to myself, but then of course it started drizzling, and then there was thunder and lightning, so the ushers kicked me (and the few other fans) out of the seating bowl. Somehow, apparently, it was perfectly safe for the players to stay on the field, but it was a life-and-death situation for everyone else.

Anyway, the ushers were nice enough to let me stand in the cross-aisle just underneath the overhang of the second deck. This was the view (from right behind my crinkly, circa-1995 Mariners cap):

6_zack_wanting_balls_from_afar.jpg

A couple players finished throwing and launched a ball over my head to the fans sitting above the aisle. In the photo below, you can see me turning and looking at it:

7_ball_thrown_over_zacks_head.jpg

Who was taking all these photos, you ask?

Hmm…

Another pair of players finished throwing and chucked their ball right to me. Sweeeet! The only problem was that I couldn’t figure out who threw it–mighta been Brandon Morrow–but that’s because I got THREE more balls within the next 60 seconds. It was nuts. There’d been a huge bolt of lightning right near the stadium and then it started pouring half a minute later, so all the players abandoned the field within a very small time frame. Felix Hernandez threw me my second ball of the day, and I have no idea who threw me the third. Here’s an action shot of that snag:

8_zack_catching_thrown_ball.jpg

I ended up giving that ball away to a kid, and I’m glad to report that the fourth ball came from David Aardsma. I’d been hoping to get one from him because of his last name, which is first alphabetically in the history of major league baseball. You know that long list I have of all the players and coaches who’ve thrown me balls? Now it really starts with a bang. (No offense to Jim Abbott.)

My friend Mike (the one who hooked me up with free parking on 6/3/09 at Nationals Park) showed up soon after, and we hung out for a bit and got pizza. Look how awesome the pizza is at Camden Yards:

9_camden_yards_pizza.jpg

(The ball is there for perspective. Without it, you might’ve thought that each slice was only three inches wide.)

This is the best food deal I’ve ever found in any stadium. You get ALL that pizza for $6.25, and yes, that’d be a ripoff in the real world, but as far as MLB concession stands are concerned, it’s great. (You can find this pizza stand behind third base on the field level concourse. Go there, eat some, and think of me.)

The highlight of the game was seeing a two-run homer overturned because of fan interference. Mariners left fielder Endy Chavez tried to make a leaping catch at the wall, and as soon as the ball skipped off his glove and landed in the front row, he protested. The umps huddled and then walked off the field and were gone for like 5 or 10 minutes (during which time, I would argue, the replay should have been shown on the Jumbotron), and when they returned, they called the batter out. Naturally the fans were pissed, but they got what they deserved.

The rest of the night was uneventful. I camped out in the standing-room-only section for lefties, ran around to left field whenever the switch-hitting Matt Wieters was batting right-handed, and played all other righies along the right field foul line. I didn’t get any more balls, but I did get a cool picture of the sky:

10_red_sky.jpg

And…uhh…that’s it.
Boring, boring, boring.
Ken Griffey Jr. was worthless.
Final score: Zack 4, Orioles 3, Mariners 1.
I haven’t been to a game with batting practice in TWENTY days.
That’s a ninth of the season!
Karma?

SNAGGING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game

• 197 balls in 26 games this season = 7.58 balls per game.

• 595 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,017 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 107 donors (click here for more info and to make a pledge)

• $24.00 pledged per ball

• $96.00 raised at this game

• $4,728 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

6/23/08 at Shea Stadium

I did something really stupid…

Yesterday afternoon I charged the battery for my digital camera, and when I left for Shea a few hours later I forgot to take it off the charger. I realized I’d done this as soon as I got off the No. 7 train and tried to take a pic of Citi Field, and for a second I considered heading right back to the subway and going home. You know how some people feel naked without their cell phone or jewelry or makeup? That’s how I feel when I don’t have my camera.

ticket_june_23_2008.jpgAnyway, I decided to stay, and it’s a good thing…and as for the no-camera issue, I was able to scan a couple things when I got home (like my five-dollar ticket) and take some pics of the balls and dig up a few old photos of Shea to illustrate the day’s better stories.

My first 50 minutes inside Shea turned out to be a complete waste of time. First of all, the Mets hadn’t even started taking batting practice when I ran inside at 4:40pm, and when I finally headed up to the second deck (aka “the Loge Level”) in right field there was no action. There were exactly ZERO balls that landed in the seats, I couldn’t get any players to toss me a ball, and it got worse from there. I tried to use my glove trick to snag a ball that (for some strange reason) was resting on a little wooden platform above the gap behind the right field wall, but unfortunately it was stuck in a rut against a metal pole and before I had a chance to dislodge it, an usher on the Field Level noticed what I was doing and ordered me to stop.

My friend Greg (aka “gregorybarasch” if you read the comments on this blog) was at this game, and when he saw my failed glove trick attempt from the seats below, he ran up to the Loge and snagged the ball fairly easily with his own ball-retrieving device: a cup trick. In most situations, my glove trick has its advantages over cup tricks, but this wasn’t one of them. Greg’s cup had a thin edge that slid between the ball and the pole, whereas the thicker fingers of my glove couldn’t fit.

2008_all_star_ballot.jpgNot only had Greg already snagged a ball before he came upstairs, but he then got Billy Wagner to throw him his third ball of the day.

As soon as Greg caught it, he ran over and said, “You gotta see this!”

“Something tells me I don’t want to see it,” I said, but it was too late. Greg was already holding out the ball, and I nearly had a heart attack. The stitches weren’t red…they were gray and navy blue…it was…a 2008 All-Star Game ball…WHAAAT?!?!?!

I couldn’t believe my eyes, but it was true. It was the same ball I’d been trying not to notice every time I filled out an All-Star ballot. Weeks before Greg caught this ball, I was already so worked up and pissed off about NOT being able to snag one (because I can’t afford to go to the All-Star Game) that I’d been planning to go out of town during All-Star week and NOT watch any of the festivities on TV. It was just going to be too painful to see these commemorative balls sailing into the seats at a stadium I’d been to hundreds of times.

Greg went back to the Field Level, and I was on a mission like never before. I figured that if there was one All-Star Ball in use, there had to be another and I paid extra close attention to every ball that rolled anywhere near me. Of course, I was about 30 feet above the field so it was tough to distinguish the standard balls from the prized All-Star balls, but I tried my best.

oliver_perez.jpgSoon after, a home run landed in the bullpen, and while I couldn’t pick out any special logo, I knew what to look for: the ball was brand new and the seams did not appear to be red. I kept my eye on that ball for five minutes, hoping that a player or coach would stroll into the ‘pen and retrieve it, but eventually some random employee went and got it, turned down my request for it, and flung it back onto the field. The ball rolled to a spot about 20 feet behind Oliver Perez (who’s always been friendly to me).

“Oliver!” I shouted, “right behind you!”

pedro_feliciano.jpgPerez turned around and looked briefly at the ball but didn’t move. That’s when Pedro Feliciano (who has NEVER and WILL never throw me a ball) walked over and picked it up and took a long look at it. Ohmygod, it WAS an All-Star Ball, and I begged him for it. What did he do? He turned around and waved condescendingly at me and then tossed it to another fan on the Field Level.

claudio_vargas.jpgI made sure not to ask for any balls unless I was certain that they were of the All-Star variety…but most of the balls that rolled onto the warning track were standard balls. Finally, Claudio Vargas walked over and retrieved a ball that had the All-Star logo. I was the only fan who asked him for it. He looked up at me, told me he’d give me a ball later, chucked the All-Star ball back toward the bucket, and promptly moved to center field.

The Mets’ portion of batting practice was going to be ending soon, and not only didn’t I have an All-Star ball…I didn’t have ANY balls. It wasn’t late enough in the day to start worrying about being shut out altogether but the thought did cross my mind.

dave_racaniello.jpgEnter Dave Racaniello. He’s been the Mets bullpen catcher since 2001, and although he doesn’t know me by name, he does recognize me. He knows all about my
baseball collection, and he still tosses me a few balls per season. It’s awesome. Usually, whenever a player or coach (or bullpen catcher) recognizes me, that’s it. No more balls. But that’s not the case with this guy. I can’t explain it. He’s just cool like that.

With 15 minutes remaining in BP, I saw Racaniello pick up a standard ball in right field and head into the bullpen. I kept my eye on him but didn’t say anything. That’s when HE looked up at ME and took the ball out of his glove as if he were about to toss it up and shouted, “Here ya go, ball number three thousand–“

“Wait! Wait! Wait!” I shouted, holding out my open palms as if to say “stop.”

Racaniello gave me a funny look, and I kept talking: “I noticed you guys are using a few All-Star balls in BP…”

“We are?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, “and I would DIE to get my hands on one. Is there any chance that if you happen to see one, you could hook me up?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said and disappeared from sight.

Ten minutes passed. He was nowhere to be seen. It was 5:30pm. The Mets were going to wrap up their portion of BP in five minutes. I had to get downstairs and try to work my way into the seats behind the dugout. I knew there was a good chance to get a ball there, even a regular ball. I was getting desperate. And just as I was about to exit the Loge, Racaniello appeared in right field and looked up at me. He had a ball in his hand. OH MY GOD. He waved me over to a section in foul territory where there weren’t any fans. I ran through the aisle, and then he waved me back. Ha! He was messing with me, and a few Mets pitchers were looking on. I rolled with it and kept moving back and forth as he made gestures like a traffic cop. The usher in my section realized what was about to happen and pretended to jump in front of me and interfere, but he soon backed off, and Racaniello unleashed a throw. I was right in the aisle, about six rows back from the railing. That way, if his throw fell short, it would at least reach the empty seats and I could pick up the ball, but “Rac” (as the players call him) threw a perfect strike, and I made the catch. I opened my glove, and this is what I saw:

2008_all_star_ball1.jpg

I thanked him profusely, then hugged the ball and blew kisses at him (which he may or may not have appreciated–let’s not make any assumptions either way) and flew down to the Field Level. There was an all-out mob of fans behind the dugout, but none of them were going for balls. They were all there for autographs, and I managed to find a spot in the front row. Three minutes later, when all the players and coaches came off the field, I made a leaping catch for a ball thrown by Duaner Sanchez and then got coach Sandy Alomar Sr. to toss me a ball 30 seconds later. What kind of balls, you ask? Voila!

two_more_all_star_balls.jpg

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…there is now extra incentive to see the New York Mets.

I was beyond happy as the Mariners took the field. I’d never felt so light on my feet as I raced around to the left field side. I’m telling you, I was so pumped up I felt like I could’ve dunked on an 11-foot rim. (Believe it or not, I did once dunk on a standard rim so this isn’t THAT much of a stretch.)

The Field Level was both packed and dead, so I headed up to the left field Loge and got one more ball–a standard ball–tossed to me by a pitcher that I couldn’t identify. He was young and white and tall and fairly thin and right-handed and had a beard that wasn’t particularly thick or dark. Any ideas who it might be? I know it wasn’t R.A. Dickey, who also has a beard.

eddie_rodriguez.jpgI made my way to the Mariners’ dugout as BP ended and got my fifth ball of the day–another standard ball–from 1st base coach Eddie Rodriguez.

After batting practice, I hung out with Greg and a couple friendly ushers (yes, they actually DO exist at Shea), then failed to get a warm-up ball after the national anthem, and spent the whole game running around for foul balls in the Loge. I came close to a few, but luck wasn’t on my side, and that was fine. I was still glowing about the All-Star balls. Even though the Mets had been using 2005 All-Star balls during BP in 2006…and 2006 All-Star balls the following season, I never expected to get one (let alone three!) from the 2008 All-Star Game. That was just too cool.

The game itself had a rather depressing moment for Mets fans, but since I’m really more of a “baseball fan” than a fan of any one team, I was able to appreciate it. With two outs in the top of the second inning, David Wright made an error that loaded the bases and Mariners starter Felix Hernandez blasted Johan Santana’s next pitch over the wall in right-center field–the first grand slam, I later learned, hit by an American League pitcher in 37 years. Those four unearned runs made the difference. Final score: Mariners 5, Mets 2.

After the game, I got another ball tossed to me at the dugout by Rodriguez, and then I met up with Greg to take the train back to Manhattan…but before we left, he wanted to head out to the right field corner. He’d seen Ichiro hit a ball in BP that landed in the gap behind the outfield wall, and he thought there was a chance it might still be there. Well, it was, but neither of us could get it. Take a look at the photo below and I’ll explain:

right_field_gap.jpg

This is a photo of the gap from above. The thick orange beam is the right field foul pole. The red arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball was sitting. There wasn’t quite as much trash in the gap yesterday as you see in this photo, but still, it’s always pretty nasty and cluttered back there. (That’s the beauty of Shea Stadium.) I took this photo from the Loge Level (during batting practice last season), b
ut we couldn’t get up there after the game last night because security was kicking everyone out. The only place where we could get close to this ball was in the Field Level concourse. Unfortunately, we were blocked by several large screens/nets, so we weren’t able to lean over into the gap, and since the ball was several feet out–and since there was also a mess of cables and wires hanging from an adjacent camera platform–it would’ve been nearly impossible. Still, I helped Greg by holding his string while he worked his cup through a small hole in the netting. Then I moved the string over the top of the netting to a point where he could reach it. I know this is tough to visualize, but you get the point. There were all kinds of obstacles, and we stood there and schemed for 15 minutes, waiting for the brief intervals when the two nearest security guards happened to be looking away simultaneously, but eventually we decided it was too tough and too risky (I was afraid my glove would get caught on something) and decided to leave.

At the bottom of the ramp…right where the ramp meets the ground-level concourse that leads to the area behind the Mets bullpen, I happened to see a familiar face. It was a guy named Shawn who’s been working at Shea for years. I first met him when he was a bathroom attendant on the Field Level, and then one day I saw him out on the field. He’d been promoted to the grounds crew, and ever since I’ve been shouting his name and waving to him from the stands and keeping him updated about my baseball collection. Here’s a pic I took of him back in 2005:

friendliest_groundskeeper_ever.jpg

Even though Greg was the one who first thought about checking the RF gap for this ball, he knew he couldn’t have asked Shawn for it because he didn’t know him. Thus, it was all mine…

When I got to the bottom of the ramp, I walked up to Shawn and shook his hand and explained the situation.

“Where exactly is it?” he asked.

“In the narrow gap behind the outfield wall,” I said, “all the way in the corner, just foul of the foul pole.”

“Meet me back in the Field Level seats,” he said, and as I bolted up the ramp, a nearby security guard who hadn’t heard what we’d been discussing said I wasn’t allowed to go back up.

Shawn explained what was going on, and the guard said it was okay…but once Greg and I reached the Field Level concourse, a different (on-field) guard spotted us and walked closer along the warning track in foul territory. I tried to explain that a groundskeeper was about to give me a ball, but I knew I wasn’t making any sense. It even sounded absurd to me…twenty minutes after the final out…in an empty stadium?! I entered the seats and tried to explain that I had to be there to get the ball, and just when the confused guard was about to radio for backup, Shawn walked out onto the field through a door in the right field wall (that leads to the bullpen), and he had the ball in his hand. He told the guard to chill, and that he was giving me a ball, and he walked closer and finally flipped it to me from about ten feet out.

Unbelievable. I loved the fact that my day’s snagging began and ended with a personal connection.

From now on, whenever I’m asked about the weirdest way I ever got a ball, I won’t be sure what to say. It’s a toss-up between this one (that you just read about) and THIS one (from 2003). What do you think?

STATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 217 balls in 28 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 524 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 325 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball

? 3,494 total balls

5/23/08 at Yankee Stadium

When I arrived at Yankee Stadium at 4pm, I learned that the entire upper deck was sold out and that the cheapest ticket available was $95. Since I never buy tickets ahead of time, my normal course of action would’ve been to curse my way back to the subway and go home, but on this fine day, a friend of mine had an extra ticket and I got in for less than 20 bucks.

brian_greg.jpgBut wait…
Before the stadium opened, I ran into a couple of fellow snaggers outside Gate 6. One of them was Greg (aka “gregorybarasch” for those of you read the comments), and the other was Brian (wearing orange; aka “puckcollector”). Brian already had a ticket, but Greg didn’t. He was there with his father, and when they found out how much it was going to cost to get in, they left. As you can see in this photo, Greg and Brian each had a sheet with the rosters and face pics of both teams. I didn’t. It would’ve taken me half an hour to prepare one, and I didn’t think it was worth it for a game at Yankee Stadium which is always so crowded and noisy that it’s nearly impossible to interact with the players. Anyway, Greg generously gave me his sheet before he took off.

When the gates opened at 5pm, Brian and I ran inside at full speed. Initially, he had a head start because of his position behind the barricade, but somehow he got held up for a couple seconds. Did security look in his bag a little longer than mine? Was the guy who scanned his ticket a little slower? Did the ladies giving away the All-Star Game caps take their time with him? I don’t know, but whatever happened, it made a huge difference. I was just a few steps ahead of Brian as we raced through the tunnel that leads to the seats, and AS we rounded the corner and got our first look at the field, a lefty on the Yankees lofted a fly ball down the right field line that bounced off the warning track and plunked gently in the seats near the foul pole. I was all over it and felt incredibly relieved. The day before, it took me more than an hour to snag my first ball, and I was scared that my streak was going to end.

I think Brian’s family was trying to distract me. At one point, Brian told me that his sister had texted a message with my name it in to the text message board, and that I should look for it. What?! I didn’t even know there WAS a text message board.

“Yeah, right over there,” said Brian, pointing to the thin electronic board along the Loge facade across the stadium. Sure enough, there was a loop of text messages, sent in by the fans, that rotated every few seconds. For the first two minutes, my favorite was “i luv u robbinson cano” but that one soon got trumped by the following:

text_message.jpg

This was by far the highlight of batting practice. I managed to snag one more ball with my glove trick, only after Brian failed to pluck it off the warning track with his. I tried to let him get it. I hung back a bit and lowered my glove slowly, but Brian rigged his rubber band too tight and couldn’t get the ball to go inside the glove. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem. He just would’ve raised the glove back up, loosened the band, and then lowered it for the easy snag. But in this situation, there wasn’t time to mess around. Another kid (or should I say “brat”) with a cup trick quickly crashed the scene and started going for the ball. I didn’t mind not getting the ball if Brian got it, but there was no way I was going to let this other kid poach our prize. There are many rivalries in baseball–Mets/Phillies, Mets/Yankees, Yankees/Red Sox, A’s/Giants–but none is bigger than that between the glove-tricks and cup-tricks. Even this fall’s McCain/Obama showdown will pale in comparison. You have to understand…I could NOT allow this ball–a commemorative ball no less–to be stolen by the enemy, so I made a full-fledged attempt to snag it. My string got tangled briefly with Brian’s, but he worked with me to free it, and I was able to get the ball to stick inside my glove. As I raised my contraption with the ball tucked snugly inside, the other kid swung his cup from side to side and hit my glove in an attempt to knock the ball out. I swear…these punks with the cups better watch out. One of these days, I’m gonna pull out a pair of scissors and start snipping some string.

Brian managed to get a ball tossed to him by Ross Ohlendorf, and that was it for batting practice. The right field seats should have officially been declared a disaster area. Look at this photo:

Thumbnail image for horrendously_crowded1.jpg

I took this photo from the aisle behind the right field wall, or at least what was left of it. How the hell is one supposed to run for a ball or make eye contact with any of the players? Yankee Stadium is THE worst place to snag in the major leagues. I don’t care what anyone says. You’re wrong if you disagree. I don’t want to hear about how hard it is to get to the dugouts at Dodger Stadium or how crowded the foul lines become at Wrigley Field. Those stadiums are like Sesame Street compared to the House that Ruthless Built.

Left field was just as bad. I ran over there (took about five minutes to get from RF to LF) after Ichiro took his cuts, and this was my fabulous view for the rest of the BP:

horrendously_crowded2.jpg

At one point, I carefully worked my way into the front row to see if I had a chance to use the glove trick. So much for that.
A rather large Yankee fan in that row was eating a cheeseburger and drinking an equally large cup of soda. Although he had no desire to snag a baseball, he intentionally blocked me from passing in front of him, and he refused to let me through even after I politely said “excuse me.” I just needed to lean over a little bit to get a better look at the ball…

“You drop my soda,” he snapped, “and I’ll drop YOU.”

“Thanks for asking nicely,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” he answered with fake charm.

I was so angry that I nearly went home. Right then. Right in the middle of batting practice. I came THIS close to storming right out through the tunnel and getting on the No. 4 train. I had no desire to be inside that disgusting mecca of rage and pompous entitlement. But I stayed. I don’t know why. I guess I was afraid that this would be the night when A-Rod would hit a home run to my spot in left field…and I also wanted to see if I could sneak down to the seats behind the Yankees’ dugout and get Jeter or A-Rod to toss me their warm-up balls after the national anthem. I decided that if I got kicked out, I’d go home.

national_anthem.jpg
Long story short: it took half an hour, but I made it. Jeter tossed his ball over my head to a guy my age with a button-down shirt and no glove, and A-Rod tossed his to a teenage girl five feet to my right.

I started the game in right field. Ichiro was due to bat first, and I thought it would’ve been pretty cool to catch one of his home runs. But no. He took three called strikes, and I immediately began my trek around the stadium to the left field side. Brian was out there. We both wanted to catch an A-Rod homer, but A-Rod struck out to end the first inning. Moments later, the security supervisor walked over to Brian (who had grabbed an empty seat 10 feet to my right) and asked to see his ticket and told him he had to leave the section. Brian, being a friendly young lad, walked over to say farewell (and to vent his frustrations). This was the worst thing he could’ve done. It didn’t occur to him that he was still being watched by the supervisor, so when he started interacting with me, it revealed the fact that I didn’t belong there either. I once made the same mistake at Shea Stadium and unintentionally got a friend kicked out as well. No harm done. Nobody went to jail. This is how we learn.

In any case, the supervisor didn’t say anything to me at the time, but I knew something was up because he kept looking at me whenever he walked by. I was a marked man, but as long as I wasn’t getting kicked out, I decided to stay. I could’ve gone back to right field for Ichiro’s second at-bat, but I just had a feeling about left field. Two lefties were pitching: Erik Bedard and Andy Pettitte. Most of the batters were right-handed. It was a fairly warm evening. The ball would be carrying. The wide aisle in front of me was emptier than usual. I had a feeling that someone was going to hit a home run in my direction, and even if it wasn’t A-Rod, it was going to be fun to catch it. I kept thinking about the likelihood of catching a home run, and more I considered it, the more obvious it seemed that it was going to happen. It was only 318 feet to the foul pole. I was sitting fairly close to the foul line, so it was probably 330 to the wall directly in front of me. Then there were about 10 rows of seats in front of the aisle. Add another two feet per row? So I figured I was, at most, about 350 to 360 feet from home plate. That’s not far. I reasoned that a righty wouldn’t even have to hit a ball that well to reach me. Three hundred fifty feet was a routine fly ball to the center fielder. All the batter had to do was hit a routine fly ball and swing a little too soon and pull it down the line. Why didn’t this happen all the time?

The Mariners, meanwhile, sandwiched three singles between three strikeouts in the top of the second and took a 1-0 lead.

Hideki Matsui opened the bottom of the inning with a single to center, and Jason Giambi followed with a walk. That’s when Shelley Duncan stepped into the batter’s box with a grand total of zero home runs and a .182 batting average. The fans sitting behind me started debating whether or not he should bunt, at which point I started having a bunch of thoughts that went something like this: Does this guy even know how to bunt? If he could, it would certainly help the team. Runners on second and third with one out? For Robinson Cano? That would be pretty good for the Yankees. Okay, I hope he doesn’t bunt. I hope he swings away and hits into a double play. Well, if he wants to hit a home run to me instead, that’d be cool. I could accept that even though it’d give the Yankees the lead. Alright, Shelley, go ahead, hit the ball to me. Fine.

And that’s exactly what he did. After a called first strike, Bedard threw a cutter down and in, and Duncan dropped his bat on it and lifted a high fly ball in my direction. I was out of my seat in no time, standing in the aisle, watching the ball, half-disbelieving that this was actually about to happen and half-annoyed that it was going to be THAT easy. The ball had the perfect arc. I judged it perfectly. I knew from the second it left the bat that it was coming right to me, and as the ball began its descent, I became hyperaware of everyone around me. The only challenge was going to be making sure that no one else reached in front of me. I sensed that there was an older man, about my height, without a glove, on my left, who was also tracking the flight of the ball, but not quite as well as me. From the moment the ball left the bat, I could have held up my glove like a target, and I wouldn’t have had to move it more than a few inches. That’s how perfectly I judged it. The other fan, whom I realized would be my only competition, seemed to have an idea of where the ball would land, perhaps within an area of several feet. But I was in THE spot. My feet were planted, and I didn’t reach up too soon. I didn’t want to reveal the exact spot where the ball would be coming down, so I waited and waited as the ball floated slowly toward me. It hung up in the air for what felt like two minutes, and finally, at the last second, I reached up above the other man’s hands and caught it effortlessly in the pocket of my glove. It was one of the easiest home run catches of my life. It was so easy that I felt guilty. I was ashamed to take any credit for catching such an easy ball. The stadium roared, and I walked quietly back to my seat. It’s such a clich to celebrate a snag. Everyone does that. But how many zack_catches_duncan_homer2.jpg
times do you see a fan catch a home run ball and react like he has instead picked a piece of lint off his shirt? That’s what I did initially. I thought I’d stand out more by not reacting, and perhaps I did stand out to the people in my section, but then I quickly realized that this wasn’t the best way to get on TV. I was in my hometown ballpark. Lots of friends were probably watching, so I felt I should do something that would make the cameras focus on me. That’s when I held up the ball. Nothing fancy. Just enough to be seen.

It turned out that YES never never showed me, but FSN did. My friend Michael Fierman (aka “tswechtenberg”) happened to tape the game and he emailed me the clip later that night. CLICK HERE to watch it.

shelley_duncan_home_run_ball.jpg
As soon as I returned to my seat, the security supervisor walked over and said, “Okay, you got your ball. Now you gotta go.”

I was so annoyed. I didn’t even WANT a stupid Shelley Duncan home run ball. I was there for one reason only: to catch an A-Rod homer, and now I’d blown my chance by catching this other ball. I tried to get the supervisor to let me stay. I gave him every excuse. I even told him about my first book. But it was no use. I was officially banned from the section…so I went back to the right field seats and stayed there for the rest of the night. I had considered hanging out behind the plate and simply going for a second game ball, but I figured I should attempt to catch a second home run. THAT would’ve been cool, but it wasn’t meant to be. The Duncan homer was the lone longball of the game, and I must say that it did feel pretty great to have caught it, especially when I saw the Jumbotron during his subsequent at-bats:

shelley_duncan_jumbotron.jpg

The Mariners trimmed the lead to 3-2 in the top of the third, but the Yankees answered with two runs in the fourth and eight more in the fifth. Final score: 13-2.

STATS:

? 3 balls at this game

? 106 balls in 13 games this season = 8.2 balls per game.

? 509 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 113 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 4 game balls in 13 games this season = 1 game ball every 3.3 games.

? 115 lifetime game balls

? 4 lifetime game home runs (not counting Mel Hall’s home run in 1992 which bounced back onto the field and got tossed up to me by Von Hayes)

? 3,383 total balls

BONUS STATS — DUNCAN’S HOME RUN (courtesy of Hit Tracker):

? distance: 349 feet

? apex: 114 feet

? speed off bat: 100.1 mph

? angle off bat: 40.7 degrees

shelley_duncan_scatter_plot.jpg

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