Results tagged ‘ wall street journal ’

9/28/08 at Shea Stadium

Last game EVER at Shea Stadium?

When I got off the No. 7 train and saw the tarp covering the infield…

final_day1_no_BP.jpg

…I had no idea if I’d ever be back at this ballpark.

The Mets entered this day–the last day of the regular season–tied for
the Wild Card with the Brewers, who were scheduled to play the
first-place Cubs at 2:05pm at Miller Park. If both the Mets and Brewers
won, or if they both
lost, they’d face each other the next day in a one-game playoff at Shea
to determine
who’d be moving on to the post-season.

I’d never been to a game with more history and uncertainty, and yet because of the gray sky and thick damp
air, there was an eerie calmness surrounding Shea as I made my way
toward Gate C:

final_day2_marquee.jpg

It was only 9:30am–more than three-and-a-half-hours until game
time–when I passed the ticket windows and saw a small line of hopeful
fans:

final_day3_line_for_tickets.jpg

I already had a ticket–not a very good one, but at least I was
guaranteed to get inside the ballpark. The seat was way up in the top
corner of the upper deck. I’d bought it on StubHub
two weeks earlier (for $100 plus shipping and handling) when my plans
to spend the last weekend of the season at Camden Yards fell through.
At that time, the Mets were cruising toward a first-place finish. I
didn’t expect this game to be THE final game, so I wasn’t too concerned
about my seat location.

I was, however, deeply concerned about the snagging situation. I wasn’t
thinking about catching 10 balls. I just wanted one. One lousy ball.
Even a training ball.
Anything. I was desperate. I just wanted to keep my streak alive. I
didn’t think there was going to be batting practice, and I figured
there’d be a ton of fans showing up early, and I assumed that security
would be extra strict. Would I even be able to get into the Field Level
to try to get a player to toss me a ball? I had no idea.

scott_olsen.jpg
oliver_perez_.jpg

Then there was the issue of the final home run at Shea. The two
starting pitchers were left-handed–Scott Olsen for the Marlins and
Oliver Perez for the Mets–which meant there’d be more right-handed
batters, which meant that if anyone DID hit a home run, it would likely
be pulled to left field, which meant it would likely land in the
bleachers. But how the hell was I possibly going to get in there? The
bleachers at Shea, as I’ve mentioned before, are part of the larger
“picnic area.” To get in there you specifically need a “picnic” ticket, and
those are normally only sold to groups of 100 or more.

I had a trick up my sleeve, but it was risky, so I was pretty
nervous
about the whole thing…and yet I *had* to get in there. The LAST home
run at Shea was at stake. I couldn’t bear the thought of being
trapped in the main part of the stadium and not even giving myself a
chance to catch it.

Well, as fate would have it, I was waiting outside Gate C (which was about to
open) when my friend Eric walked over. He’d been standing in line at
the ticket windows and was finally rewarded when the Mets released a few seats. He’d bought
one for $47. I asked him where it was. He said it was in the picnic
area. My jaw dropped and I asked him if he would be willing to trade.

“You want to sit out THERE?!” he asked. (Not everyone collects baseballs.)

“Umm, YEAH!!!” I said.

So we traded. I was in shock. This was my new ticket…

final_day4_ticket.jpg
…and I used it to get into the bleachers at the start of
batting practice. Yes, the Mets were actually hitting. I couldn’t
believe it. It wasn’t just drizzling–it
was raining. Look how wet the railings were
at the front of the bleachers:

final_day5_wet_railing.jpg

Everything was wet. Mike Pelfrey threw me a wet ball within the
first five minutes, and Brandon Knight tossed me another soon after.
The ball from Knight was commemorative. Here it is:

final_day6_ball3812.jpg

These were the only two balls I snagged during the Mets’ portion of
BP. I should’ve had a third but I misjudged a home run that ended up
sailing a few feet over my glove. I’d misjudged one the day before
as well. That one fell short. I blamed the weather. The air was heavy
and damp, and the ball just didn’t carry. Why, then, under identical
circumstances one day later, did this one sail too far? I couldn’t
figure it out. Maybe it was me and not the weather. Maybe I was losing
my touch. It wasn’t a good sign.

The Mets finished BP early, and the Marlins were nowhere in sight, so I
headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I saw as I approached the 3rd base dugout. Very frustrating:

final_day6a_waiting_for_marlins_BP.jpg

Eventually a few Marlins came out and started playing catch, and when
they finished, I called out to coach Bo Porter and got him to throw me
the following ball:

final_day7_ball3813.jpg

I didn’t know it at the time, but the Marlins had just played a
series in Washington, D.C. That’s why they had one (and probably more)
of the Nationals’ baseballs.

The Marlins started hitting, so I raced back out to the bleachers. My
fourth ball of the day was tossed by a pitcher that I couldn’t
identify, and my fifth was a ground-rule double that bounced right to
me off the warning track in left-center.

I would’ve had a sixth ball if Matt Treanor were as athletic as his wife.
I got him to throw one to me from a couple hundred feet away, but his
aim was off and he didn’t put quite enough velocity on it, and it
never reached me. Then the rain got more intense, and the grounds crew quickly covered the field:

final_day8_BP_ends_early.jpg

I gave one of my balls to a security guard who wanted one for his nephew
and then I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I
unexpectedly saw when I entered the street-level concourse:

final_day9_mets_legends_arrive.jpg

I had no idea what was going on, and of course I couldn’t see a
damn thing, so I asked around and learned that a few dozen former Mets
were entering the stadium.

I headed up the ramps and emerged in the Field Level seats. The tarp was on the field, and all the players were gone…

final_day10_tarp_field_level.jpg

…so I headed up to the right field corner of the upper deck and
took a few photos of Citi Field. Here’s a look at the whole stadium:

final_day11_citi_field.jpg

This was the view slightly to the left:

final_day12_citi_field.jpg

The following photo shows some of the construction clutter on the open-air concourse of the upper deck…

final_day13_citi_field.jpg

…and this last shot provides a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Notice how the escalators are covered in plastic:

final_day14_citi_field.jpg

I headed back down to the Field Level and got a final reminder of
why Shea is such a dump. As you can see below, there was a huge puddle
in one of the tunnels that wouldn’t drain:

final_day15_flooded_tunnel.jpg

The rain finally stopped. The grounds crew started getting the
field ready. The first pitch was pushed back to 2pm. I used the extra
time to wander and take photos of some of the many signs that fans had brought. I’m not sure
what all the names on the sign below have in common (other than all
being former Mets) but it was still cool:

final_day16_sign.jpg

These guys were intense:

final_day17_sign.jpg

This dude hit the nail on the head:

final_day18_sign.jpg

This was one of several signs that made a play on the word “Shea”:

final_day19_sign.jpg

This fan needed a thicker marker and some extra glue:

final_day20_sign.jpg

This woman (for those unfamiliar with Mets history) was talking
about Mike Piazza. Notice how the actual retired numbers can be seen in
the background:

final_day21_sign.jpg

Marc Anthony sang the national anthem, and the bleachers looked more crowded than ever:

final_day22_national_anthem.jpg

Several Marlins started playing catch in front of the
dugout, and I was tempted to run over because I *knew* I would’ve
gotten at least one ball. I was one of the only fans in the stadium
with Marlins gear (and believe me, I felt icky and embarrassed whenever
I wore it), but I decided to forget the Fish and head to the bleachers
instead. That section is normally general admission, but during this
final weekend of the regular season, Mets management decided that
assigned seating was the way to go. My actual seat was in the second
row behind the yellow “WISE” advertisement, but there was no way I was
gonna sit there. Second row?! Are you kidding me?! That’s no way to
catch a home run ball, and anyway, I didn’t want to sit all the way out
in left-center. I didn’t know where I was going to sit, but I figured
it was best to head out there ASAP and start looking for a spot. On the
way, I took a photo (from behind) of some fans holding up big
orange-and-blue letters that spelled “GOODBYE SHEA”:

final_day23_sign.jpg

Then I ran into Elvis…

final_day24_elvis.jpg

…and made my way to the bleachers. Amazingly, I found ONE empty space on a two-person bench at the front of the cross-aisle.

final_day24a_my_seat.jpg

If I’d had a choice, I would’ve picked a spot in straight-away left
field. This empty seat was closer to left-center than I wanted to be,
but hey, it was still great compared to where I was supposed to be
sitting. Anyway, once I was there, I realized that I probably wasn’t
going to have to move. As you can see in the photo above, there were
little wheelchair logos embedded into the metal flooring next to the
small benches–but there weren’t any fans in wheelchairs. If there had
been, they obviously would’ve had the right to sit there, but as things
stood, those little benches were up for grabs so I sat there guilt-free.

Everyone kept their eyes on the out-of-town scores throughout the day,
and because of the rain delay, our game basically started at the same
time as the Brewers game. This was my view of the giant
scoreboard…

final_day25_scoreboard_watching.jpg

…and here’s a closer look at the Cubs-Brewers game:

final_day26_scoreboard_watching.jpg

I hadn’t been looking when the Cubs’ score changed from “0″ to “1″
so
when the whole stadium cheered wildly for no apparent reason, I took a
quick peek at the scoreboard and then joined the celebration.

This was my view straight ahead…

final_day27_view_during_game.jpg

…and this was the view to my right:

final_day28_view_to_my_right.jpg

I knew I was in a good spot to jump up and run for any ball that
might fly my way, but at the same time I knew it was going to be a mob
scene, and I wasn’t THAT optimistic.

Meanwhile, there was quite a pitchers’ duel in progress:

final_day29_pitchers_duel.jpg

The Mets went down one-two-three in the bottom of the fifth, and
the Marlins quickly got on the board in the sixth. Cameron Maybin led
off with a ground-rule double and scored on a single by John Baker.
Jorge Cantu followed with a single of his own, and then both runners
tagged up and moved into scoring position on a deep fly out to
left-center by Mike Jacobs. Perez intentionally walked Dan Uggla to
load the bases and was promptly taken out of the game. What did
reliever Joe Smith do? He walked Josh Willingham to force in a run.
Cody Ross then popped up to third and Alfredo Amezaga ended the inning
with a soft come-backer, but the damage had been done. The Marlins were
ahead, 2-0.

carlos_beltran.jpg
In the bottom of the sixth, pinch hitter Robinson Cancel got things
started with a leadoff walk, and Jose Reyes followed with a routine fly
out to right. That brought up Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter who was
batting from the right side. The first pitch missed the zone. The
second pitch was an 88-mph fastball, belt-high over the outside corner,
and Beltran crushed it in my direction.

It was clearly going to travel a long way, but at the instant that it
left the bat, I wasn’t sure if it would be a fly out to the warning
track or a home run that traveled 50 feet over my head. The only thing
I could do was jump up and start moving. The ball was heading about 20
feet to my right, so I darted through the aisle in that direction. No
one else reacted as quickly as I had so the aisle was still fairly
empty for the first 10 feet. Then, as I realized that the ball WAS
going to leave the yard and that it WAS at least going to land
somewhere near the aisle, I had to weave in and out of a few fans. The
ball was coming. I kept moving. I kept my eye on it and sensed all the
moving bodies around me. The aisle got extremely crowded. Everyone was
standing. There were no kids. Everyone was tall. I was in a forest. I
had to elevate above the tallest trees, and I had to pick the right
spot and time it perfectly. The ball kept
coming…coming…coming…and I couldn’t believe I was even going to
be close enough to be able to make an attempt to catch it, but it
descended right toward me, and I jumped up at the last second and
WILLED myself through the sea of hands and bodies that were fighting to
invade my air space. The ball came all the way down, and I went up and
caught it. Bam. Just like that. There was such a frenzy in the
bleachers at that point that my hat got knocked off. I was as stunned
and excited as ever. You know that Barry Bonds home run I caught a few
years ago? That was nothing in comparison. Check out this screen shot
of my initial reaction. It was a moment of utter
disbelief before I really started celebrating:

final_day30_zack_celebrating1.jpg

Then I moved on to the “Oh my God” phase:

final_day31_zack_celebrating2a.jpg

Then there was a bit of “I think I’m the Man but this might not really be happening so I’ll just keep my arms up in case”:

final_day32_zack_celebrating3a.jpg

Then people started mobbing me, not to try to steal the ball (which
I probably shouldn’t have even taken out of my glove in the first place
except I had to see it to believe it) but just to celebrate with me.
It’s like I was part of the play. Everyone had to touch me. I felt
someone bear-hugging me from behind while another hand started rubbing
my shaved head:

final_day33_zack_celebrating4.jpg

The celebration just wouldn’t end:

final_day34_zack_celebrating5.jpg

Then, after I tucked the ball back inside my glove, there were some high-fives…

final_day35_zack_celebrating6.jpg

…followed by more hugging and head-rubbing:

final_day36_zack_celebrating7.jpg

And some more high-fives. Check it out…two at once:

final_day37_zack_celebrating8.jpg

It was THE…CRAZIEST…HAPPIEST…MOMENT…EVER. I’m not sure if anything will ever top it.

(Click here
to watch the actual video footage. If there’s anyone reading this
who taped the game on SNY and can get me the full clip, please get in touch…)

As soon as the minute-long love-fest concluded, the potential magnitude
of the situation sunk in even more: I was holding, at least at that
point, the LAST home run hit at Shea Stadium.

“I need an authenticator!!!” I started shouting at every security guard in sight.

They were all like…huh? So I kept shouting and rambling about how
Major League Baseball has authenticators at every game and that I needed to see one right away.

One of the guards told me to talk to the supervisor–a very friendly
woman named Kim–who knew what I was talking about (thank God) and had
me wait in my seat for a few minutes. So I did…and I kept getting
mobbed (in a good way) by people who wanted to take pictures of/with me
and the ball, which I never let out of my hands. One guy was like,
“C’mon, what’m I gonna do with it?”

“I don’t know,” I told him, “and that’s why it’s not leaving my hand. You can hold the ball WITH me if you want.”

He was willing to accept that…so while I had my death-grip on 90
percent of the ball, he touched as much of the remaining part of the
ball as he could and his friend took a pic.

I made an exception about letting go of the ball for the
authenticator. I figured he wasn’t going to try to steal it. Kim came
and got me and led me down the steps to the area behind the bleachers.
The authenticator, pictured below…

final_day38_authenticator.jpg

…emerged from the gated area behind the batter’s eye. I’m not
even sure what he said. The whole thing was a blur. I think he
congratulated me, or maybe I’m just hoping he did. I wanted to ask a
million questions, but he clearly didn’t have too much time to spare. I
asked what his name was, and two seconds after he told me, I’d already
forgotten. All I know is that he had a pad-like clipboard thing and a
roll of stickers, each with a different serial number. He peeled one
off and stuck it on the ball and then made some notations. I’m not even
sure if he had a corresponding sticker. Like I said, it was all a blur.
This was the first ball I’d ever gotten authenticated, and my mind was
racing like you wouldn’t believe.

He was very calm about the whole thing. I was kinda happy…

final_day39_authenticator_and_zack.jpg

…and when I got back to the seats, the death-grip returned:

final_day40_zack_with_ball.jpg

Here’s a look at the sticker:

final_day41_the_ball_closeup_at_shea.jpg

Here’s another look at it. I took this pic when I got home to show how it changes colors in the light:

final_day42_authentication_sticker.jpg

Here’s the commemorative logo:

final_day43_commemorative_logo.jpg

Here’s the whole thing:

final_day44_one_more_look_at_the_ball.jpg

People kept coming up to me for the rest of the game. They wanted to
see the ball, touch the ball, shake my hand, ask me questions, etc.
Several people recognized me as THAT GUY who’d recently caught the home runs on
back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium, and a few others recognized me
from various articles and interviews. One guy came over to talk to me
and blocked everyone’s view behind him, so security told him he had to
return to his seat. What did he do next? He crouched down next to me on
my right, which meant he was completely blocking my path into the
aisle. When I told him not to block me, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get
out of the way if one comes.”

“Sir,” I wanted to say, “in the time it would take you to turn your big
head 45 degrees to watch the initial flight of the ball, I’d be 10
steps down the aisle. Now please, get the **** out of my way.”

But instead I asked him nicely to move, and he did.

A woman returned to her seat with a mini-helmet filled with cookies-n-cream Dippin’ Dots.

“Can I buy that from you?” I asked.

“I’ll give it to you,” she said, “in exchange for that ball you caught.”

I had nine new voice-mails on my cell phone by that point. I hadn’t heard my
phone ring, and I couldn’t listen to the messages, because there was no
reception. (Thanks, T-Mobile.)

Who was I supposed to root for at that point? It was hard for me to
root against the Mets, but I realized that if they lost and the Brewers
(who were now leading the Cubs, 3-1, in the eighth) held on and won, there
wouldn’t be another game at Shea…ever…and I might end up being the
fan who got the last home run there. I just needed the Mets and Marlins
NOT to hit another longball…and they obliged in the seventh inning.

Wow, 12 more outs to go…

In the top of the eighth, with the score still tied at 2-2, Jerry
Manuel brought in the left-handed Scott Schoeneweis to face the
left-handed hitting Jacobs. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez answered by
pinch hitting with the right-handed Wes Helms. Three pitches into the
at-bat, Helms crushed a line drive into the bleachers.
Noooooooooooooo!!! I almost caught it and surely would have if it’d
just traveled an additional 10 feet.

“Your ball is now worthless,” said an annoying fan behind me.

“Not really,” I said. “It’s still the last METS homer at Shea.”

Uggla, a righty, was due to bat next, so Manuel replaced Blow-eneweis
with the right-handed Luis Ayala. Uggla worked a full count, and then
BOOM!!! Another home run…again into the bleachers but too far over
toward straight-away left field for me to even get near it.

“Your ball is now REALLY worthless,” said Mr. Annoying.

“Okay,” I told him, “then don’t buy it.”

I didn’t have any intention of selling it–I’ve never sold a ball–but it
was still fun to think about how much it would potentially be worth.

Ayala retired the next three batters.

The Mets got the tying runs on base with two outs in the bottom of the
eighth, but couldn’t bring them home. The Brewers game went final. They
beat the Cubs, 3-1. The Mets HAD to score at least two runs in the
bottom of the ninth or their season was done.

The Marlins didn’t score in the top of the ninth. I looked at the
batters that the Mets would be sending up in the bottom of the inning:
David Wright followed by 1) a lefty, 2) a pinch hitter who was probably
going to be a lefty since the right-handed Matt Lindstrom was coming
into the game, and 3) more lefties. I decided to stay in the bleachers
for Wright and then bolt toward the Marlins’ dugout.

Wright worked a full count and forced Lindstrom to throw eight pitches,
but on that final pitch, he popped up to Uggla at second base.

I took off for the main part of the stadium and used one final trick
(which I can not reveal) to get myself back into the Field Level.
Before I made it to the seats behind the dugout, Endy Chavez hit a come-backer. Two
outs. Time for a pinch hitter. Who would it be? Damion Easley?! A
righty?! Crap. Well, it was too late now. All I could do was wander on
down toward the dugout and wait. The count went full…

final_day46_game_almost_over.jpg

…and then he walked. Tying run to the plate. Ryan Church. I put
on my Marlins cap and Marlins shirt and got some mean looks from
everyone around me, which I definitely deserved, but hey, business is
business.

Church took the first pitch for a ball and then launched the next one
380 feet. Unfortunately for the Mets, he happened to hit it to the
deepest part of the ballpark. Maybin caught the ball just shy of the
warning track in right-center, and just like that, Shea Stadium was
history.

The Marlins players and coaches formed a line near the mound and
started shaking hands and patting each other on the butts. Nothing
unusual about that, right? Well, just about every fan in the stadium
started chanting, “OFF THE FIELD!!! OFF THE FIELD!!!”

It was really sad and embarrassing. I was sorry not only that this
would be one of my lasting memories of Shea, but that I was even there
to be a part of it. I wasn’t participating in the chant, but still, I
was part of the crowd, and it hurt. That said, I couldn’t blame the fans who were
chanting. Everyone was so upset about the Mets’ second straight
collapse, and everyone had to find some way to express themselves. As
for me? I capitalized on the loss by turning it into an additional
collecting opportunity. If the Marlins had lost, they might’ve all
disappeared into the clubhouse and gotten right on their bus, but since
they won and spilled out onto the field, I knew there was a chance to
get stuff from them…and sure enough, that’s exactly
what happened.

I got a batting glove from Helms as soon as he popped out of the dugout
(he tossed his other glove to a fan 10 feet away) and got Cantu’s cap
as everyone headed back in.

Not bad.

I quickly got the hell away from the dugout and ran into my friend Clif
(aka “goislanders4″ if you read the comments on this blog) and changed
out of my Marlins gear. The “bonus items” I’d received were nice, but
still…Marlins…yuck:

final_day47_zack_bonus_items.jpg

Here’s a look at the (smelly) cap…

final_day48_jorge_cantu_cap.jpg

…and here’s the batting glove which, as you can see below, has Helms’ uniform number stitched onto the wrist:

final_day49_wes_helms_batting_glove.jpg

THAT was cool. I’ve gotten a bunch of batting gloves over the years, and I’ve never seen a player’s number on any of them.

Clif’s mom Gail caught up with us, and we all headed up to the
Mezzanine (third deck) to watch the closing ceremony. What did we see
on our way up the ramps? Another example of Mets fans having expressed themselves:

final_day50_vomit.jpg

The ceremony was fine, I guess, but I had NO interest in being
there. I’d experienced my best day ever as a collector. What more did I
need? I mean, it was nice, I suppose, to see Dwight Gooden and Darryl
Strawberry and other Mets heroes from my childhood walk back out onto
the field one last time…

final_day51_ceremony.jpg

….but it was as bittersweet as it gets. Everyone in
the stadium was upset. I just didn’t want to be there. Neither did
Gail. Clif kinda wanted to stay–he commemorated his final minutes
inside the stadium by photographing the inside of his favorite
bathroom–but even he knew it was time.

I took a final pic of the Beltran ball as I walked through the parking lot…

final_day52_parking_lot.jpg

…and was sent on my way with a few fireworks:

final_day53_parking_lot.jpg

“Oh look,” said Gail, “they’re already blowing up the stadium.”

When I got home, I was finally able to listen to my voice-mails. Here are the top three:

1) From my friend Justen: “Zack, did you just do it again? Did
you catch Beltran’s ball? I got friends callin’ me talking about you
because they just saw you at the Mets game…dude, you are a f*ckin’
superstar.”

2) From Clif: “You’re ridiculously amazing. I seriously
can’t believe it. I didn’t even see you catch it, but like, I looked up
on the JumboTron and I saw you and your hat fall off and whatever…and
you jumped up and down and you held your three fingers up. That was
ridiculous, and like, Marco called me and he was like, ‘Oh did you see
Zack Hample catch Carlos Beltran’s home run?’ That was ridiculolus.
This is Clif by the way, but um, yeah, okay, bye. Oh, and I saw you
getting escorted or whatever, like, they took you out of the picnic
area. They took someone off. But you probably caught the last home run
at Shea, so congratulations. Bye.”

3) From my friend Mike: “Zack Hample, it is Mike Marshall,
former vendor at Shea and the old Yankee Stadium. Alright, so I had a
really emotional day and I’m pretty upset in the general scheme of
things and extremely exhausted, and I’m sitting on my computer chair,
looking at my plasma TV, and I swear to God I saw you catch Carlos
Beltran’s homer, and if that’s true, holy sh*t, man, you are the
American Dream. You’re my hero. F*ck the bleacher creatures and all the
people who don’t get it. But uh, I think that was you. I haven’t had
time to check your blog, and they didn’t, uh, feature you on ESPN, but
tell me that was you. Gimme a call. On a very miserable, long
homestand, I jumped out of my chair and went, ‘No waaay, that can’t
be!!!’ and my woman doesn’t understand, but you might’ve made my night
if you caught that ball. Take it easy. About a hundred and fifty days
until pitchers and catchers report. Later. Happy New Year! Shanah
Tovah.”

Anyway, yeah. That pretty much sums it up.

It took a few days for me to find the time to write this monster blog
entry, and it took the same amount of time for the media to realize
that I, Zack Hample, am the guy who caught the Beltran homer. Carl
Bialik, who writes a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s web site, posted
this entry
about it, and the story has been taking off ever since. It’s now
12:32am ET on Wednesday, October 1st. Just a few hours ago, I started
getting blog comments and emails from people telling me I was on the
front page of Yahoo…and they weren’t joking. Here’s a screen shot…

yahoo_09_30_08.jpg

…and here’s the story.

This game at Shea might end up being my final game of 2008. I have no idea, but regardless, here are the stats…

? 6 balls at this game

? 539 balls in 72 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 568 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 13 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

? 5 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly
at games in New York at which the attendance was at least 52,000)

? 124 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 8 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)

? 99 lifetime game balls in New York

? 78 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium

? 3,816 total balls

9/23/08 at Shea Stadium

My trip to Shea Stadium started with a live 20-minute interview on the Covino & Rich Show on Sirius Satellite Radio. I actually had to go to the studio for this one, and while I was waiting (on the 36th floor of the McGraw-Hill building on 49th Street & 6th Avenue) for the producer to come and get me, I got permission to take photographs. Here’s the lobby area:

sirius_radio_headquarters1_lobby.jpg

See the blue screen on the upper right? See the black panels with orange text just below it on either side? They were like little scoreboards that kept listing different song titles and artists. I think they indicated what was being played on the various Sirius music channels.

I took a pic of the view of Radio City Music Hall…

sirius_radio_headquarters2_view.jpg

…and was led into the studio soon after.

Covino and Rich were great. I expected them to diss me nonstop–this WAS Maxim-affiliated after all and Maxim had dissed me in the past–but instead they treated me with unprecedented respect. I really couldn’t believe it, and they even gave my new book (“Watching Baseball Smarter”) several plugs. If anything, I thought they’d only mention my first book (“How to Snag Major League Baseballs”) because this entire interview came about as a direct result of the two home runs I caught on back-to-back nights last week at Yankee Stadium.

After the interview ended at 3:55pm, Jessica the call-screener took a photo of me and Covino (Rich was still sitting across from us)…

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…and then I got a shot with both of the guys:

zack_maxim_radio2.jpg

It was 4:04pm when I made it back out to the street. I ran over to 7th Avenue and then ran seven blocks south (right through Times Square) and ran down the steps into the subway and kept running until I was on an express No. 7 train…which then sat in the station for about 10 minutes.

By the time I made it to Shea, Gate C was already open and hundreds of fans were in the process of filing in.

No problem.

My plan was to wait outside until I found someone with an extra bleacher ticket–and the bleachers weren’t even going to open for another 50 minutes.

It took 40 (of the longest) minutes (ever) to get myself the ticket I needed, at which point I raced back to Gate C (you can enter the main part of the stadium with a bleacher ticket) and ran up the ramps to the Field Level concourse and headed around to the first base side and darted down the steps to the front row behind the Mets’ dugout. The Mets were still taking BP. This is what it looked like:

BP_from_mets_dugout.jpg

See the guy standing on the warning track with the tan pants and dark green jacket? That’s Marty Noble, the Mets’ beat reporter for MLB.com (in case you’ve seen his name a thousand times and always wondered what he looked like).

When the Mets finished their portion of BP and came off the field five minutes later, I spotted bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello (who has recognized me for years) and yelled, “Hey, Dave, did you see me on SportsCenter?!”

dave_racaniello.jpg“No,” he said, walking over toward the basket of balls.

“You didn’t see the thing about the guy who caught home runs on back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium?”

“I saw that,” he said.

“Well that was ME,” I said.

“That was YOU?! No way.”

I then tried to convince him that it WAS me while he transferred the balls from the basket to the equipment bags. I’m not sure if I succeeded, and it didn’t matter. The only reason I was at the dugout was to try to get a ball, and before I even had a chance to ask for one, Dave looked up and said, “I suppose you want a ball.”

“Well,” I said, “if you happen to have a really dirty one that you were planning to throw out anyway…”

Dave then started fumbling through all the balls and he quickly pulled out a dirty one and tossed it to me. It was commemorative. Here it is:

ball3784.jpg

“Thanks so much,” I said. “I really appreciate it.”

“I know,” he replied with the hint of a smile and disappeared underneath the dugout roof.

The bleachers opened five minutes later, and as I was running up the steps, I heard the unmistakable sound of a ball clanging off the metal benches. I was at the top of the steps three seconds later and saw a security guard walking…somewhere.

“Where is it?!” I asked frantically.

“Over there,” he said, pointing toward the front row in the middle of the bleachers.

I ran over and saw the ball sitting right where the guard had been pointing, and I took a photo before I grabbed it:

ball3785_waiting_for_me.jpg

The Cubs were already on the field by this point, and I quickly got my third ball of the day from Carlos Zambrano. Then, because the section were still basically empty, I had ZERO competition when a home run ball landed in the center field end of the bleachers. I was like 40 feet away, and there wasn’t anyone else over there or even near me–not even security–so

I was able to take my time (relatively speaking) and jog over there and pick up the ball as it slowly started trickling down the steps.

A few minutes later, a man turned around and said, “Hey, aren’t you the guy who was on the FAN?” (He was referring to my recent radio interview on the “Boomer & Carton” Show on 660 WFAN here in New York City.)

ball3788.jpg“Yup, that’s me,” I said as another home run ball headed our way, landed on a metal bench two rows in front of us, bounced up and hit me on the wrist, and settled at my feet where I picked it up. (This ball, pictured on the right, had a VERY cool smudge on the logo.)

“How many balls is that now?” asked the man.

“Lemme think for a second,” I said, trying to remember how many balls I’d finished the previous day with. “Um…this one makes it three thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight.”

The man didn’t seem jealous or pissed off or anything about the fact that I’d just snagged this one right next to him. He seemed happy for me. I love Mets fans.

My sixth ball of the day was thrown by Reed Johnson–the 10th “Johnson” (along with Ben, Brian, Howard, Jason, Jonathan, Kelly, Mark P., Nick, and Russ) to have thrown me a ball–and my seventh was tossed by a player that I couldn’t identify.

I’d snagged the last six balls in such a short time frame that I didn’t have a chance to label any of them or put them away. Good thing I was wearing cargo pants with lots of pockets…and good thing there weren’t more people out there because I’m sure I would’ve gotten some strange looks. There were balls bulging out everywhere (sorry if that sounds gross), and it was hard to walk. I couldn’t even sit down because I had two of the balls in my back pockets. Thankfully, I soon had a minute to spare when the Cubs started a new round of BP so I quickly wrote the numbers on the balls and put them in my backpack.

My friend Greg (aka “gregb123″ if you read the comments on this blog) was watching all of this from the corner spot in the left field Loge, and when I happened to move closer to him at one point, he got my attention and told me that a ball had dropped into the gap at the far end of the bleachers, all the way out in left-center field. Naturally, I ran over there and took a look, and this is what I saw:

ball3791_gap.jpg

Sweet!! (Thanks, Greg.) I set up my glove trick and reeled in the ball with ease.

Eww.

There were two clumps of G.S.M. (Grody Shea Muck) caked to the sweet spot:

ball3791_dirt.jpg

Still, I was glad to have the ball and made my best attempt to clean it off (by scraping it on the edge of a bench) before dropping it into my bag.

My ninth ball of the day was thrown by Kerry Wood, and my 10th was a home run that I caught on a fly in the wide cross-aisle. That one (I have no idea who hit it) had a big dirt/scuff pattern on it:

ball3793.jpg

I managed to get one more ball, and I wouldn’t have had this one either if not for Greg. It was a ball that he’d pointed out at the start of the Cubs’ BP. It was in the gap behind the wall on the foul-pole end of the bleachers, and I hadn’t seen it because it was half-buried under weeds and trash. You can see the ball clearly in the photo below, but when I’d originally peeked into the gap from a spot to the left, it was completely hidden. Check it out:

ball3794_gap.jpg

It took me quite a while to fish this one out of the gap. At one point, I had it in the glove and started to lift it up when it slipped up. I nearly had a fit when that happened, but I kept trying (starting with swinging my glove from side to side in order to knock the ball a few inches to the side where I thought I’d have fewer leaves getting in my way) and eventually got it.

This ball, like several others I’d snagged throughout the day, was worth photographing:

ball3794.jpg

I ended up giving three balls away to little kids; the security guards had been so nice to me during BP–first by pointing out the ball when I ran into the bleachers and then by letting me use the glove trick–that I decided to “share the wealth” a little more than usual with the fans in their section. I don’t normally take pics of the kids that I give balls to, but I made an exception because one of them was just sooooo damn cute:

kid_i_gave_ball_to.jpg

The game itself was boring from a ball-snagging standpoint but exhilarating from a Mets-supporting standpoint. The Mets fell behind, 2-0, early on but tied the game in the fifth inning and took the lead for good in the sixth on Jose Reyes’ 200th hit of the season, which just so happened to be his 19th triple, which just so happened to come with the bases loaded. I was very excited. Shea was rockin’. It was fun.

Meanwhile, Johan Santana struck out 10 batters in eight solid innings to pick up his 15th win.

Final score: Mets 6, Cubs 2.

STATS:

? 11 balls at this game

? 517 balls in 68 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 564 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 95 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 22 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)

? 3,794 total balls

AND IN OTHER (media) NEWS…

1) Someone at CBS recently uploaded my “Early Show” segment onto YouTube. In case you haven’t seen it, here it is.

2) Do you remember when I mentioned in my last entry that I had to pull over while driving to Philadelphia to do an interview with a reporter at the Wall Street Journal? Well, that story is now up, and you can read it here. Because it’s a blog-type piece, there are comments at the bottom, and as a rule, I never read comments about myself on other people’s blogs. They’re always so negative, and they’re always from people who don’t know a single thing about me (or might have seen me snag 11 balls but didn’t notice when I quietly gave three of them away), so please, if you’re going to read that piece, don’t leave a comment here and tell me how badly I’m getting bashed. I’m not interested.

3) I got quoted today in the New York Times about something only slightly related to snagging baseballs. Here’s the article. You’ll find my name about halfway down…

9/22/08 at Citizens Bank Park

On September 12th, I heard from a guy named Charlie Schroeder who produces a show on NPR called “Weekend America.” He’d heard an earlier in-studio interview I did and thought it might be cool to do one at a game–to have a reporter follow me around with a microphone and capture all the sounds of snagging. We picked September 22nd. This was it…

Before I met the reporter from NPR, I had to do another interview with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. He needed to get in touch ASAP. I’d emailed him my cell phone number before I left New York City and told him I’d have time to talk starting at around 3:45 to 4pm when I’d be waiting to enter the stadium. He ended up calling at 3pm. He couldn’t wait. I was three-quarters of the way to Philadelphia. I didn’t want to have to split my attention between the road and the interview so I found a place to pull over (NOT on a major highway) and spent the next 35 minutes answering questions about Giambi and Damon and lots of other snagging-related topics. I was then forced to drive like a maniac and still didn’t make it to the Ashburn Alley gate until 4:16pm–less than 20 minutes before the stadium was going to open.

The reporter from NPR–Tim Jimenez was his name–was nearly a decade younger than me, and as it turned out, he didn’t actually work for NPR. He worked for a local radio station and was hired for the day to do this as a freelance assignment. Unfortunately, he had to stay at his regular job until 4pm and didn’t reach the stadium until 4:45. I’d already snagged two balls by the that point and had a funny exchange with–who else?–Shane Victorino. It all started when I ran into the left field seats, had the ENTIRE section to myself, and had to watch helplessly as a home run sailed five feet over my head and landed on a staircase and bounced all the way back onto the field. Victorino started laughing at me from left-center and shouting about how I should’ve caught it.

shane_victorino.jpg
“It was too high over my head!” I yelled.

He responded by waving his glove dismissively and turning his back.

“Shane!” I shouted, prompting him to turn around. “Did you see the thing on ESPN about the guy in New York who caught home runs on back to back nights?”

“Yeah!” he shouted.

“Well that was ME, so show some RESPECT!”

“That was YOU?!”

“Yes!” I yelled, pretending to be annoyed that he didn’t recognize me, and then I did my stupid dance.

Victorino cracked up because he realized it really WAS me and then he did the “We’re not worthy” move from “Wayne’s World.” (I can’t find the actual clip from that movie, so here’s a random example from YouTube.)

As for the two balls I snagged early on, the first was a home run that I caught on a fly (which Victorino saw and applauded) and the second was thrown by Scott Eyre near the cameras in center field.

Tim showed up five minutes later. Here he is:

tim_jimenez.jpg

Of course I didn’t snag another ball for the remaining 45 minutes of the Phillies’ portion of batting practice. Still, Tim followed me everywhere and asked questions (that he’d been given), and I tried to make his life easier by talking non-stop. Every time I did ANYthing–even moving up or down a row–I explained my logic. I knew it was better for Charlie to have too much audio than too little.

The Braves took the field at around 5:30pm, and a ball immediately rolled onto the warning track in left-center field:

ball3776_on_warning_track.jpg

I had to lean forward just to take this photograph; I had to stretch all the way across the flower bed (and try to avoid the bird poop) to actually snag it with my glove trick. Tim, meanwhile, had his microphone in my face and was asking me to describe what I was doing.

“It’s kinda hard to talk and do this at the same time,” I huffed while supporting all the weight of my upper body on my elbows, which were now digging into the metal railing. (I really couldn’t talk, and I hoped that by saying that, I was providing an entertaining sound bite.)

will_ohman_2008.jpgI reeled the ball in. All the fans around me cheered. I hoped that Tim’s microphone captured them. But mainly, I was just glad to have snagged my 499th ball of the season.

Several other balls were sitting on the warning track, so I had an instant shot at No. 500, but as soon as I started lowering my glove, Will Ohman raced over and grabbed all the balls and fired them back toward the bucket in shallow center field. I wasn’t mad. Ohman has always been nice, and it just seemed like he was being playful.

Sure enough, less than five minutes later as the Braves pitchers were finishing their throwing, Ohman spotted me along the left field foul line and tossed me a ball–number five hundred:

500th_ball_of_2008.jpg

It was just a regular ball–no interesting markings as you can see–and it came from a player that isn’t exactly heading for the Hall of Fame, but it’s still one of the most special balls I’ve ever snagged.

I jogged to the right field seats and Tim followed–that is, until I took off running for a home run that was heading one-and-a-half sections to my left. I raced through an entire 20-something-seat row and realized that the ball was going to sail a bit over my head, so I darted up a few steps and then cut across, two rows above where I’d been running seconds earlier. Several other hands reached up as the ball came down…right to me…right into the pocket of my glove while I was still on the run. It was a MUCH better play than either of the two home runs I’d caught at Yankee Stadium the week before, and yet no one (outside of this blog) will ever hear about it or care. That’s how it goes.

I used the glove trick to pluck my sixth ball of the day off the warning track, and before I’d reeled it all the way back up, a not-too-happy security guard was standing behind me. He confiscated the ball (it still counts in my collection so whatever) on the grounds that I was “stealing.” He then cut the string off my glove…

string_after_getting_cut.jpg

…and threatened to eject me if he EVER saw me do it again. (Why is it that Giants management doesn’t consider it “stealing” and welcomes fans to bring ball-retrieving devices into AT&T Park and yet this one mean dude in Philly has a problem with it? I guess I shouldn’t complain. The fact that every ballpark is different is one of the many things that makes baseball as great as it is. It’d just be nice if security in all the ballparks were a little more fan-friendly.)

BP ended earlier than I’d expected so I missed my chance to get a ball from the Braves behind their dugout as they left the field.

Every time I go to Citizens Bank Park, my goal is to snag at least ten balls. As I’ve said many times in the past, there’s just something great about breaking double digits–but it didn’t look promising on this day when I finished BP with six. Still, I had a plan. All I needed to do was snag one ball during pre-game throwing, one third-out ball at each team’s dugout during the game, and one more ball after the game. Could it be done?

Pregame throwing?

pregame_throwing_09_22_08.jpg

Check. Omar Infante hooked me up by intentionally bouncing his toss off the warning track.

Third-out balls?

gamers_09_22_08.jpg

Check, check. Like clockwork, Ryan Howard tossed me the first ball after the top of the second inning. Braves catcher Clint Sammons had popped up to him (notice the big smudge where the bat hit it) and he lobbed it to me on his way in. Then, half an inning later, on the other side of the field, Casey Kotchman threw me the second ball after Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ made the third out by hitting a wimpy grounder to Kelly Johnson. How nice. (Actually, the ball from Kotchman WAS nice. I’d always wanted one from him because his father, Tom, was the manager of the Class A Short-Season Boise Hawks when I worked for the team during the summer of 1995. Little 12-year-old Casey was often hanging around the ballpark, and whenever he took BP [on the field, after games, which I had to help set up and clean up as a part-time member of the grounds crew], everyone would rave about his beautiful swing and how he was going to be a great player someday. So yeah, it was cool to finally get to add him to my list.)

By this point, Tim had gotten all the audio he needed, so we parted ways. As for me…I still needed one more ball to reach double digits, and although I knew it would’ve been easy to get it between innings, I abandoned the dugouts. Quite simply, it was time to move on. I hadn’t felt guilty when I snagged balls there early in the game, but after a while there were lots of kids running down to the front row after every third out, and I wanted to give them a chance.

I spent the middle innings in left-center field, hoping for a home run to fly my way. This was my view:

view_from_left_center_09_22_08.jpg

It was boring. I didn’t like my chances. And I really wanted to WATCH the game (imagine that) so after the seventh-inning stretch, I moved to the seats behind the Braves’ dugout. It was “rally towel” night, or whatever the hell those obnoxious snot-rags are called:

rally_towels_09_22_08.jpg

I didn’t even bother running down to the dugout for third-out balls. I didn’t want to get yelled at. I just watched the game and rooted for the Braves and after they lost (6-2 was the final score), I tried to get a ball from the ump (and failed) but did get Buddy Carlyle to throw me my 10th ball of the day as he walked across the field from the bullpen. Woo!

Then I approached the family of the youngest kid (with a glove) I could find and asked if he’d gotten a ball. When they all said no, I handed him the second cleanest ball I’d snagged that day. The cleanest happened to be my 500th; there was no way I was giving THAT one up.

STATS:

? 10 balls at this game

? 506 balls in 67 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 563 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 141 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 94 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 38 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

? 21 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)

? 3,783 total balls

(FYI, the “Weekend America” segment won’t air until the World Series.)

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