After conferring with fellow Orange County ballhawk, Devin (aka DevoT,) I was set to make my first appearance as just a fan at Dodger Stadium since September of 2009. Each of the other times I’d taken a trip up to Elysian Park it had been with a media credential… and I wrote columns for myGameBalls.com each time, both in August of 2010 and Sept. of 2011. And you can read those entries on that awesome site or at my blog: here (Aug. 2010) and here (Sept. 2011). Obviously, since I was at work as a member of the media, those games weren’t about me snagging baseballs, they were about others who got to snag… and I didn’t record those games in my stats.
But on this particular day I was just me, the guy who tries to catch as many baseballs as he can at each game, and the Dodgers (who’d be facing the Washington Nationals–both teams were in first place at the time) were using commemorative baseballs for their fiftieth year at Dodger Stadium. And I wanted one.
We went inside the Field Level gate as the Dodgers were hitting (and some pitchers were warming up and it was great–we were severely limited in where we could go–but there was such a small crowd that I had plenty of room to run around (even though they kept us along the left field foul pole).
Might that be a commemorative logo?!?
I had a shot at my first ball of the day when Kenley Jansen (owner of the photographed glove, above, who was long-tossing with an unknown pitcher, maybe Scott Elbert) overthrew his target. I watched the ball as it was sailing through the air and yelled, “HEADS UP!” I ran toward where I thought it would land, a section to my right, lost the ball for a second, watched as it hit some seats… then bounced away from me. But I tracked it down in the fourth row and took a look at the logo… it WAS commemorative!
I was thrilled… but my joy was short-lived. I looked toward the field and Elbert (or whoever) flapped his glove at me. I knew what this meant. They weren’t done long-tossing and needed the ball back. Cool, I flipped it to him, willingly, and figured he’d get it back to me when they were finished. That’s what had happened plenty of other times. Then I looked over my shoulder. Apparently, the errant throw had grazed a lady who was, get this, sitting in the second row and not paying attention. She was lucky it hadn’t broken her face… but she wasn’t complaining… just rubbing her shoulder a bit. I felt badly… I knew she should get a ball. But would it be my ball? The commemorative one I’d just given to the pair of Major Leaguers to use on the field? I could have kept the ball and been done with it–and at that point I’d probably have noticed the lady and debated whether or not I should have given it to her–and scolded her for not paying attention to the on-field activity. But I never got the chance. Jansen finished his throwing, walked toward the lady, and apologized to her. And then signed the baseball I’d given to him and Elbert to use… and then neither of them acknowledged me. Think about it, loyal readers, am I overreacting? Should I not have counted the ball? Because I counted it… and I’m a bit irritated that such careless behavior gets rewarded.
Anyway, Devin beat me out for a liner that went foul as we almost tumbled over a row of seats together. But then, when a couple Dodgers played catch further toward the infield I had another shot at a ball I’d actually get to keep. Mark Ellis warmed up with Adam Kennedy and when they finished I yelled out, Hey, Mark! Over here!” Ellis threw me the ball over all the box seats along the third baseline and I caught it chest high–it was a great throw–then grabbed it out of my glove and checked it out:
BAM! And this one was all mine! I wasn’t giving it up. I quickly ran back to my backpack, stored it safely, and went back to snagging with a feeling of relief. Mission accomplished. If I didn’t snag another ball all evening, I’d be fine. But the Jansen ball was #395 and the Ellis ball was #396. So I started actively thinking about the big 4-0-0.
Some unknown Dodger drove a ball into the left field corner that came to rest on the warning track about 10 to 12 inches away from the wall in fair territory right near the bullpen gate. The drop to the field is probably about a foot or so more than in Anaheim so it takes a bit more athleticism to scoop balls off the warning track in Dodgertown than it does at the Big A. But I figured that I should give it a shot–no one else figured they could get it. After a couple of fans let me squeeze by them, I set my bag down, jumped up and balanced myself on the wall, leaned out and over stretching my left (gloved) hand as far as I could while steadying myself on the wall with my right hand and arm. The ball was just out of reach, so I adjusted my position on the wall, shook my glove so it was on the end of my hand instead of comfortably wedged on there… and just got the tip of it on the ball. I rolled it toward me a few inches and then snagged it and pulled myself back to my feet. I got a nice little round of applause from the nearby fans on that one–and the ball was a standard Selig ball.
About that time Devin decided to head up to the LF bleachers (where his ticketed seat was located) and we parted ways. We kept in touch throughout the evening though. As the crowd grew and BP became a bit less lively, I set my bag down and was looking through it when I heard a THWACK nearby. I looked up as I was kneeling near a staircase just in time to see a baseball bounce right toward my face! I grabbed it, barehanded, and then looked around. Had a kid dropped it? Was it meant for another fan? I asked a few people near me where it had come from–and no one knew. It didn’t sound like it had hit the seat with enough force for me to determine it was a home run. Maybe a ground rule double into the LF corner? Maybe it had been thrown from the bullpen?
Oh… and it was another commemorative ball! Sweet! It had been rubbed with mud… and it had a dirt scuff on it. So, it’s possible that a pitcher had been using it and then tossed it into the seats. But I have no idea–this is the first ball I have ever entered into myGameBalls.com with the listed method of snagging as “Unknown.” Totally weird–but I’ll take it!
That was #398… and I was totally focused on #400… so I didn’t mind that I was unsure of who hit my next ball. It was some lefty Dodger that flared a ball into the box seats just past third base. The ushers nearby (who were all super friendly–much more so than in past seasons) let me dart after it and check this baby out:
The Dodgers were about to leave the field. And I saw the Nationals starting to warm up on the far side of the stadium.Unfortunately, because Dodger Stadium has weird rules, that side of the stadium wouldn’t open until 5:40pm… ten minutes is a long time to wait around. I tried to get a ball from Ted Lilly as he finished some throwing… but that was all there was to do. And then I spent another eight grueling minutes waiting for the ushers to let the maddening crowd head toward first base. I ran that way and was the first one out to the seats in the right field corner–but I found no Easter eggs and the Nationals were being pretty stingy with tossups. And the sun was brutal:And I didn’t snag another batted ball all evening. At least there was a Stephen Strasburg sighting…
It was really important to me that I identify who my next baseball came from. It was a mini-milestone for me. I had snagged baseball number 100 on August 28th, 2009 at Angel Stadium. And I have no idea who hit it to me. Ball #200 was thrown to me by Kanekoa Texeira of the Seattle Mariners on May 28th, 2010… again in Anaheim. And my 300th baseball was hit to me by Peter Bourjos on May 20th, 2011 at the Big A. I thought to myself, “I need to know who gets this next ball to me” And it would also be the first time I’d snagged a milestone baseball (for me) outside of my “home ballpark” down in Orange County.
Wouldn’t you know it? Throughout all of Nationals’ BP I didn’t snag another baseball…
Until the last few players ran off the field… and I was standing near the dugout… and Jordan Zimmermann tossed me this one as I leaned over the concrete partition that separates the haves from the have-nots.
My sixth ball of the night–and #400 in my lifetime. Woo!
With that, it was off to the restroom–and then I took a seat to rest for a while before the game began. And what a great pitching matchup: Clayton Kershaw vs. Ross Detwiler. And If you’ve never sat up close and watched Kershaw pitch–man, it’s epic! A 95 mph fastball and a 73 mph curveball. It’s just not fair. This was my view for the first pitch:
The only blemish on Kershaw’s record was a two-run homer he gave up to Adam LaRoche… which tied the game after Andre Ethier hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the first. The difference in the score would turn out to be an RBI single by Juan Uribe. That was it for scoring… 3-2 Dodgers.
And tried to get LaRoche to toss me a third out ball. No dice–damn that partition!
See the concrete partition that keeps folks away from the dugout? Lame.
And there were plenty of open seats around me. At one point I had a whole row open to my right. I shifted seats twice once the game started but there certainly weren’t over 44,000 people there… even though that was the announced attendance.
Fast-forward to the top of the ninth inning… Jansen came in to close the game out (since Javy Guerra apparently isn’t the closer any longer because, well, he took a line drive off his face). And he made it interesting. He got the first out by inducing a fly ball to center off the bat of Mark DeRosa. Then, Danny Espinosa turned on a fastball at hit it to the seats… about ten feet foul into the right field corner. He nearly tied the game with that almost-homer… but eventually flied out to center, as well.Jansen then drilled pinch hitter Chad Tracy on the wrist with a mid-nineties fastball. Tracy was pulled from the game. Because the Nationals called up Bryce Harper but he hadn’t arrived in L.A., the team played with only twenty-four men on the squad, meaning there was one less bench bat available, and Edwin Jackson was forced to pinch-run for the Tracy so that final bench option, Rick Ankiel, could pinch hit in the pitcher’s spot if the inning got that far. But Jansen ended up striking out the catcher, Jesus Flores, in the next at-bat, and the game ended.
I shouted for a toss-up at the dugout as the Nats left the dugout but nobody even looked my way–and the bullpen guys coming in ignored me, too. A kid on my left said, “I think they’re upset because they just lost.”
So I ended the game with six baseballs snagged–and I’d gotten some commemorative balls and snagged #400. I wasn’t disappointed by any means. I didn’t plan to stay for the Friday Night Fireworks–I needed to get home–but I did want to take advantage of one cool thing that Dodger Stadium does…
I got into a line and ended up on the field. The Dodgers let a certain quantity of fans watch the fireworks from the outfield grass. I took a few photos, like this one from the field looking up at the stadium:
And I touched the grass–a major league field feels so nice! And then, the the confusion of the ushers… I asked to leave.
And they had to open a special gate so I could leave. I snapped a picture of the explosions in the sky as I headed through the parking lot to my car… and was on the road before most people even got out of the stadium. I had a long drive back to Orange County… it’s roughly an hour with no traffic. But I’ll be back to Dodger Stadium this season–probably when the Marlins, Astros, and Mets come to town.
A successful night.