This is going to be a big, monstrous entry. All I’ll say is 15. Now I’ll start, in present tense.
This day’s journey starts off in the hotel, specifically the Renaissance Inner Harbor Hotel. That is where the Rays and I are staying. I sit in the lobby with my mom to watch some of the people go.
First off I see two players. One of them I immediately recognize, it’s Evan Longoria. I ask him if he can sign, and he does start signing two of the balls for my 1st autograph today when he asks me if I am staying in this hotel. I say yes I am.
Then I see Dan Wheeler and a person, who I definitely know is a player, but don’t know his name, walk out through the café door. I go towards Dan Wheeler and ask him if he can sign. He does sign both for my 2nd autograph, and I tell him that I know Zack and that he is in Toronto originally trying to catch Gary Sheffield’s 500th, but then they released him.
He says “Good Luck” to Zack.
Then I see two players walking in. One of them I recognize as J.P Howell from last year’s World Series Game 4 because he gave me two balls, so I go over to him and get him on two for my 3rd autograph today. The other guy I think is Shawn Riggins, but I’m not sure, so I ask him “Could you sign too?” and he does for my 4th autograph. When I look at his signature I see it is definitely Shawn Riggins so I say “thank you Mr. Riggins.” One thing I found funny about them was that they were talking street like “We clean, we clean, it ain’t gonna rain today, ya ya.” And stuff like that.
There was a guy I saw earlier, with a plaid shirt and slicked back shiny hair. I didn’t know who he was, but he was a player, although he seemed like an overconfident business man. He is originally reluctant, but the player signs my 5th autograph today, and it turns out he is Pat Burrell. Pat also signed two different signatures, one that says “Pat Burrell” in script, and the other says something like “PB” in script.
Top Ball (top to bottom): Evan Longoria, Shawn Riggins, Pat Burrell
Bottom Ball (top to bottom): J.P. Howell, Shawn Riggins, Pat Burrell
The only other player I have seen with two different signatures is Manny Ramirez who I don’t think has ever signed the same signature twice. And that all happened between like 5-10 minutes, so then it got a little dead. Oh, and we can’t take photos inside, so there are going to be few hotel pictures.
I see Don Zimmer walk in and go to the Front Desk, so I follow him over there, but this security lady goes over there with me and when I ask Don she says no autographs. It wouldn’t have made a difference because Don ignored me even though I was 2 feet in front of him. I would also like to say that I am more than 6 inches taller than each of them. J
I see a tall guy. I remembered that the tallest pitcher on Tampa was Jeff Niemann, and this guy sure was tall (6’9”). He also has a tall girlfriend, who is at least 6 feet, and by my guess 6’2″. So, after a bit I decide to get him, by which time he is outside. He doesn’t mind and signs 2 for my 6th autograph today. I talk with a kid wearing a 2008 World Series jacket about just the Rays in general, but when I start to walk away, he points out to me a player name Matt Joyce walking out. I walk over to Matt, and we exchange items for a bit. He hands me his fruit bar and coffee and I hand him my two autograph balls, which he signs for my 7th autograph today and 1934th MLB autograph of all-time. A lot of words, I know.
Remember that guy Dan Wheeler was with? Well, they came back again. They split up so Dan heads into the mall, but the player comes back into the hotel. When he comes in a bit I ask him for his autograph. When he signs the balls for my 8th autograph today I see that it is #46. My computer is down in the lobby, so I go back over there and see that #46 is Joe Nelson. Finally a picture that doesn’t spoil later on.
Joe Nelson is the bottom one. Just don’t look at the top left-hand corner. ; )
It was then that the security guy came over. Apparently there were some complaints (Don Zimmer?). We think it was the 3 kids who were roaming in and out of the building every couple of minutes. The only people who would’ve/could’ve complained are Pat Burrell and Don Zimmer. We have to stop, but I’m fine with that, after all I did get 8 autographs. I just sit down, and wave to the player’s as they go. A minute or two after we stop, guess who sits down right across from us? Joe Maddon. It’s tempting, but I hold it back. When Bobby Ramos comes in though, I say a bit out loud “Bobby!” He turns around, sees me, I wave, and he comes over to shake my hand. I don’t think he’ll complain.
That’s Bobby with his foot on the chair, and this is a photo of the later game.
I decide to head into the mall to see if anyone is there, since it’s not hotel property. After a minute of two, Carl Crawford comes in. I ask him to sign, but he says he will when he’s done. A couple minutes later he comes walking down the escalators I ask him to sign, and he does sign one, my 9th autograph of the day and my 2344th Total Autograph of All-Time. Also, a random thing, he signed my autograph while riding down the escalator.
I head back into the lobby and wave to players as they leave, and they nod like J.P. Howell and Jeff Niemann. The Rays are relaxed and most of them are nice.
After the bus leaves, we head to the ballpark. When we get there, we see some people we have seen around the past couple days. They have season tickets to this game, so I one of them if I can borrow it to get in, and they are at the front of the line.
Except for that guy in the corner who tried going in front of us, but me and the other guy were able to make it in first. We walked/ran to the area that seperates right field from foul territory.He says just follow me and I’ll say you’re with me. But when we get to the moment of truth…
We pass. That’s me about 15 rows up, black sweatshirt, red shirt.
There is one guy who keeps getting all the home run balls, but he’s ok about it. One home run ball he gives up to a little kid in the front. He is in the Gray jerset, 7 rows up or so.
A minute two after I get there, a ball is hit to the wall. A player wearing a black shirt covering his jersey retrieves it. So I just say:
“Can you toss that ball up please?”
And he does toss up my 1st ball of the day. Based on the way he looked, I would most likely say that he was Nick Markakis. After he gives me the ball, he walks back over to some other player’s standing around. One of them is Ryan Freel, who gets a ball a bit later that bounces off the wall. I ask him for the ball, and he tosses me up my 2nd ball today.
Anyway, my next ball I didn’t think I’d get. It was a ball that bounced off the wall near the bullpen in left-center. The new pitcher Koji Uehara retrieves it. Normally, Japanese players aren’t that friendly. One time, my brother and I stayed after a game near the visitors’ entrance inside Fenway Park. They must’ve thought we were the family of a player. Anyway, after some people walk out, Ichiro walks out. I must’ve been 8 at the time, and I was the only person. I followed him for about 50 steps and he didn’t sign for me even though I was a little kid, and the only one following him.
So back to Uehara. When he gets the ball I say “Koji, can I have the ball?” He tosses it to me, but the throw is low so it bounces off the wall. He raises his hands up and says “Ohhhhhh!” But he gives me another try and tosses me my 3rd ball today.
Did I mention I didn’t have my backpack? I had to give it to my mom to carry so I could go to the shorter line instead of the longer bag check line. I had 5 different pockets. Two of them were already filled up with my camera, my phone, some money, a notepad, a little ID holder, and a pen. I had two deep pockets. I could stuff 3 balls in one, so I did instead of spreading them out 2 and 1. So while running for a ball, I see a ball lying in the seats. BP has been going on for 15 minutes or so and I have already been checking the seats for Easter Eggs. I feel my pockets, but I count 3 balls. This must be a ball nobody noticed. Cool.
Note: That is a recreation of the event.
I pick up my 4th ball, mark it, and put it in my other empty deep pocket. It’s my first ball that hasn’t been thrown or gotten with the glove trick, nice.
My next ball is a hit ball. The ball is hit over people’s heads onto the aisle. It bounces about 3 times on steps. I don’t go after it because I am waiting for a bounce to me, but it then bounces into an aisle. I run ahead of the other people and pick it up for my 5th ball today.
Then it goes dead for a bit. Nobody throws ball, a lot of balls are being hit towards right field. I ask Jeremy Guthrie for a ball that rolls to the wall, but he says “Don’t worry you’ll get a homer soon.” I realize that the warning track isn’t normal dirt, it’s rubber. So, if it hits off the track, it’s gonna bounce into the seats. I go to first row, expecting to catch a ball.
I see a home run ball off to the left, so I track it. It barely goes into the bullpen. I was expecting it to go into the same spot that the Eaton ball went to yesterday, so I was hoping to get it with my glove trick. But it takes the most amazing bounce ever. It has enough force to bounce off the concrete bottom, off the concrete wall, and then into the first row. I barely missed it, by like a hand. And after another crack of the bat, and I move a bit to the right. This is either going into the first row, or bouncing of the wall. I jump and lean out and it goes straight into my glove. My hand stings, but it is a good feeling knowing that I just got my 6th ball of the day and my first hit ball caught on the fly ever.
Jeremy Guthrie says: “There you go; now you all have homers.” The Orioles batting practice ends about 4 pitches later. That’s when the fans from right field make their way to left field. It gets crowded, and the Rays are bunting now, so I go up an aisle to see if any balls have fallen into the gap. Nope, nothing. When the Rays pitcher’s come out and warm up, I go to them stretching, but I get nothing there. I make my way back to seats in fair territory where a group a pitchers are standing around.
One of them gets a ball at the wall. I easily recognize him as Grant Balfour, so I ask Grant for the ball. He tosses it to me, my 7th ball today. Another ball rolls to the wall, but Joe Nelson gets the ball. He tosses it to a crowd of people to the right off me, but they bobble it and it falls back onto the field. Then I call out Joe’s name, he sees my Tampa hat and he walks over and hands it to me, my 8th ball.
I realize that this ball is my 20th ball on this trip. My goal for the trip was 20 baseballs and 30 MLB autographs, and my 30th autograph was Melky’s at the Intercontinental. I go over to the corner spot next to the bullpens in left-center. Two players, Shawn Riggins and Jamie Shields, are out there. After a while I call out Shawn’s name. I say:
“Next ball, here,” while holding my glove out. He nods, and about two pitches later, he gets a ball, and tosses it to me, my 9th ball. The first try missed, but he tossed it to me again and I got it.
Then I see J.P. Howell putting a ball on the dirt and kicking it. What do I see? A glove trick. Later I learn that he learned it from Zack Hample’s site. He doesn’t get the ball because Scott Kazmir kicks the ball away, so I call out Grant’s name. He comes over here and says “What do you have?” referring to signing autographs. I say not that and show him the glove and the string. I say I can do it, so he gets a ball from Dan Wheeler and puts the ball on the ground. It’s a bit to far out, so I move it closer with the glove by throwing the glove.
Then when it’s close enough I pull it up for my 10th ball today. Grant is surprised and tells J.P. and Nelson to look at it.
A bit later I get J.P. to put a ball down. He gets another ball from Dan Wheeler and says:
“Anywhere, but put it on the dirt,” I reply.
“Okay,” he says while dropping the ball. “But I’ll be watching,” and he runs away. I don’t need to move it closer so I just reel up my 11th ball. When I look at J.P. He is busy talking to Balfour and watching the hitters. After BP ends, I ask a policeman for a ball he has. There are two in the bullpen. He hands one to a guy who asked him earlier and then goes into the wall. I think he forgot about the ball, but he comes out later and tosses me my 12th ball. That ball doubled my total for the past 3 games combined. Wow. 12 balls in 3 games previously, and then 12 balls in one game. But it doesn’t stop there.
I see people pointing to something in the gap so I rush over there. But when I get over there my rubber band breaks! So I have to rush back over to left field to get one rubber band and then run back, but by the time I get there, a policeman is in the gap. He picks up both balls and tosses one to a kid and then takes the other with him. Great. Andy Sonnastine warms up with the bullpen catcher, but they take the balls back to the bullpen.
The players’ start stretching, so I get my autographs baseballs and go over there. Most of the player’s walk by and ignore us, but one guy, Gabe Kapler, comes over. I say “Tampa, Tampa, Tampa!” while pointing to my hat and he walks over and signs two for my 10th autograph today.
Even though I have 12, I’d like another. Jason Bartlett starts warming up in front of the visitors’ dugout. When he finishes he starts walking into the inner corner looking for someone to give the ball to. I am standing at the other end of the dugout, so when he sees me, he does a fake throw to see if I’m ready, and I nod, so he flips the ball across the dugout to me, my 13th ball.
Jason Bartlett was a bit in front of the on-deck circle.
Now I have MORE than doubled my previous games combined. I figure why not get another since our seats are on the inner aisle of the dugout, so I figure that if Carlos Pena or Dioner Navarro gets a ball, I’ll try to get it.
The first time he flips it to a glove-less teenage girl with orange all over her, and in the bottom of the 5th, the final out is a strikeout, so I rush down and Dioner flips me the ball, my 14th ball of the day and my 26th baseball of the season. One kid asks me for the ball, but instead of giving it to him, I let him wear my Tampa hat for 3rd out balls and tell him the names of the players. Eventually, he gets a ball by the 8th inning.
Remember earlier when I said hi to Bobby Ramos, the bullpen coach, in the hotel? Well I decided to pay a visit to the bullpen to see if he would remember me. I also go because I see J.P. Howell warming up. When I get over there, J.P. finishes up and the bullpen catcher gives the ball to another fan further away from me. Then Bobby Ramos tosses a ball to a (probably drunk) fan in the area above the bullpen. The first try the guy drops the ball and nearly hits Grant Balfour in the head. The next throw is on the money. Then I ask Bobby Ramos “Da me la bola por favor?” He hold up his index finger to indicate 1 minute, then goes into the bullpen catcher’s bag, gets a ball, and throws it to me…my 15th ball!
There’s Bobby talking to fan above the bullpen.
I go to the dugout after the game to try stuff, but I get nothing. So after the game, I make my way along collecting ticket stubs again. This time, since we are leaving tomorrow, we decide to go to the home plate gate to get some autographs after the game.
The first person to come out is Matt Garza, but he only signs for a little kid who followed him for a bit. The next guy comes out, but I don’t know who he is. A woman says it was tonight’s pitcher, Andy Sonnastine, so I go over there and get him for my 11th autograph today.
There are people at two different places trying for autographs, so I go over to the other place to see if they have gotten anyone yet. They haven’t, but I see the people by the gate fidgeting and stuff, so I rush back over there to see Dioner Navarro and Willy Aybar leaving. I get Dioner Navarro first, sort of in the parking lot, for my 12th autograph today. I say “Mr. Aybar can you sign?” so he stops, but Dioner is using my pen so he keeps walking. After Dioner finishes I rush back over to Willy, and get him on 1 for my 13th autograph today.
It’s dark but Willy is the one with the white sweatshirt and Dioner is right next to him.
I go back over there to see if anyone came out while I was gone; they haven’t, so I head back over to the Home Plate Gate.
After a bit, Jamie Shields and Akinori Iwamura come out. I get Akinori first on two for my 14th autograph and then Jamie Shields on two for my 15th autograph. They were really nice. They signed for everyone, and although Jamie wasn’t taking pictures, Akinori was glad to.
Japanese players are stingy, but Akinori Iwamura was incredibly nice, and I was surprised. We see the player’s bus leave, so we decide to head back to our hotel.
I jokingly say to the cab driver “follow that bus.” The bus left about two minutes before us, but we get back to the hotel before them. There were some people waiting outside the hotel for autographs and I saw Scott Kazmir and Joe Maddon signing autographs. I said “Good Game” to Scott and he said “thanks.” We head inside the hotel where Carl Crawford is standing there. There are a bunch of high school girls there for a volleyball tournament and they are like:
“Do you play for Tampa?”
“Do you seriously play for Tampa?”
“Are you a player?”
“Can I you take a photo?”
And Carl Crawford couldn’t be less interested. He looks down to check his phone, and when he looks up he’s surrounded by 6 high school girls taking photos of him. It was ridiculous. So after we made our way up to our floor in the ‘non-V.I.P.’ elevator, we see Don Zimmer on our floor. We learn that he is lost and forgot which room he is staying in.
So that was a
good great day at the ballpark and the hotel. All I was hoping for was 8 balls today, and I thought that that was far fetched. But the luck I had with the guy with season tickets, I’m just shocked. This is probably one of the best days in my collecting life, with 15 autographs and 15 baseballs. Good day in the Ballhawk League.
baseballs in 4 games, nice.