The feeling of watching a baseball game at the ballpark is something like no other. When at home, watching on television there is a certain separation between you and the players, the team and the game itself. But in the ballpark, all of that changes. Just a few feet from you they are playing catch, stretching and warming up. Then they play the game. You might be right there, close enough to smell the pine tar and touch the dirt but there is still a boundary between the fan and the player. There is only one thing that crosses that barrier.
The experience of a player throwing you a ball or hitting one to you is a feeling like no other, as you now have a souvenir forever and even to pass on to your kids as time goes on. The boundary is broken for a split second, but that split second for the player, is an eternity for the fan as forever you have that connection with the player, a story to tell, a cool item to show and display.
EVERY BALL HAS A STORY
I am now what you would call a Ballhawk: a person who chase this feeling every single game, and multiple times a game by catching as many baseballs at major, and minor league games as they can. The stories one can have are endless. The connections branching out real far, even to the point of making friends with players. I feel it is almost a sharing of happiness, they throw you a ball and make you smile, and you tell them something witty or give them some encouragement to make them smile and I love that feeling, and many others do too. I have lots of these little connections now, and every one I cherish and no two are alike.
Every ball I have has a story. At first, I didn’t try recording the story somewhere to remember it but eventually I realized it would be a good idea to keep track of which ball is which and the player that gave me that ball, and I do that at a nifty site called MyGameBalls.com. But there are other ways too.
MY FIRST BALL
I do remember the story of the first baseball I ever got, and it was at none other than Shea Stadium, the former home of the New York Mets, Jets, and even Yankees for a short time. It was a magical place like no other, the vibrantly colored seats were so close to the field, the kids clubhouse in left where you could see the championship trophies and meet former Mets to the giant neon signs outside and it literally shook when the crowd went wild and one could swear the stadium was going to fall apart. I saw lots of historical games there. But my most memorable game was the night Mike Piazza hit the home run that broke the record for a catcher in his career and when all was said and done he ended up with 427, but that night was in the history books, and it could not be taken out of them.
April 5, 2006, was my first crossing of the player-fan boundary, and it gave me the inspiration to keep catching baseballs for years to come. My father brought me to Mets games starting when I was at the young age of two, splitting season tickets with a few other people. We sat right behind the tarp and the ballboy. When I started to get a little older in 2005 and 2006 at age four and five, my dad started telling me, “When a foul ball is hit close to the ballboy, run down the stairs and ask for it!” So I did. But slowly at first. Eventually I got there fast enough.
There was a two row chained-off section at the bottom, and I would run down and lean on the chains and ask the ball-boy nicely. And on April 5, 2006, it worked. The Mets were playing the Washington Nationals that night and it was Brian Bannister on the mound for the Mets and John Patterson for the Nats and in the bottom of the third, right after Carlos Delgado hit a home run David Wright came to the plate, it was only the second game of the year but at the end of it, he ended up being more than an all-star but on fire and with 26 HR’s and 116 RBI’s it earned him the trophy for “My Second Favorite player” But arguably he was the best player on the Mets for the entire year. Anyway, David came to the plate and took two balls outside, and swung at one inside and it went foul down the right field wall up to the tarp, I ran down asked the ballboy for it and he tossed it to me. There it was, I had my first foul baseball and baseball in general. My dad wrote on the ball (and he did write an extra “o” and proceeded to write an “m” over it):
David Wright: Bottoom Third
We bought a baseball protecting case for it, and there it went on the shelf in my dad’s office, he would have put it in my room but he didn’t want me to lose it, eventually when I got older I put it on the shelf next to my next along with all my other baseballs, and memorabilia. I felt like I had this precious jewel in my hands and at that time it was fascinating to me that I had an actual baseball that was used in the game and that an actual player hit. It was that it had meaning, and it gave me a really proud, on top of the world kind of feeling. and the next game I was ready to do it again. I did and I proceeded to get foul baseballs every few games. My dad never got a baseball at the time, so he was proud of me and thought it was as cool as I thought it was. Last season, 2015, during batting practice, he acquired his first baseball, and proceeded to give it away.
When the last year of Shea Stadium came I had a good couple of baseballs. That [last] season I snagged only one baseball and it came on the second to last game ever at Shea. I have no recollection of how I got the ball or who it was hit by, but I do know that it came from the ball boy somehow, as it was pretty much my only way to get baseballs at the time. It had the special last season at Shea logo, and I was stunned that they even do this type of thing. I was so happy I had gotten one, and on my last game there none the less.
Around that time I had discovered something that could never be taken away from me. The types of connections you make with players last forever and the more baseballs you get the more experiences you have. I guess that’s why we keep going for baseballs, to get a part of the game we love and to create bridges with players that could be meaningless for them but incredible for you.
I now have 39 baseballs and counting in total, and 15 foul balls. I still run down the steps quickly to at the bottom of my section, 109, at Citi Field trying to get baseballs that roll along the sidewall, and occasionally, from the ballboy. But my dad, the man who started it all is the one to credit for my love of the game, and snagging.
Shea was torn down after the 2008 season, when the Mets missed the playoffs by one game. I remember watching weeks after, the final walkway of the stadium being demolished, and so was a piece of my heart. The memories might be eternal, but the stadium might not be. The Mets new ballpark, Citi Field, opened the following season and yes they had commemorative baseballs and yes, I got one too. It was my birthday, August 23rd and there was a stadium replica giveaway. In the early innings of the game, Angel Pagan hit an inside the park home run and eventually, the eight-year-old me started conversation with the couple in front of me, and Shane Victorino hit a ball right to them and they immediately offered it to me. (To this day that was the only ball I had ever accepted from another person.) Then, I told them, “If I get another baseball I’ll give it to you.” Later in the game Shane Victorino hit a foul ball right down the sidewall, and I ran down picked it up, ran back up and gave it to the couple. They were so surprised I actually got one for them, in the 9th inning, the Mets had two on and trailing by one run, the pitch was thrown, the runners went early, and Eric Bruntlett caught the line drive and turned an unassisted triple play to end the game.
In the parking lot we park every game, where Shea once stood right next to the current ballpark Citi Field, are five plaques to memorialize it—the sites of first base, second, third, home and the pitcher’s rubber—and after every game I go now to Citi Field I always have to go out on the way to the car and see the area. Sometimes I pretend to throw a pitch off the rubber or just step on home plate; I stand where the legends once stood. Where that barrier once stood between me and the players, it’s now the memorial. Now every fan has rounded the bases and thrown a pitch off the mound Tom Seaver once worked his magic off of; we’ve reenacted the incredible moment at first base of the 1986 Game 6 of the World Series and the Mets were down in the series 3-2 and there was one more out, and Boston would get out of the 10th inning when a slow tapper hit by Mookie Wilson down the first base line to aching Bill Buckner went through his legs and the Mets won it and forced a game seven. Everyone could now be Bill Buckner & Mookie Wilson at that moment.
As I got older and learned the new stadium more and more, the amount of baseballs I was getting increased dramatically, I started to figure out all the best spots for catching baseballs and tricks to help me along the way and even which players would throw a ball to a certain location, and some who would not throw one at all. My Dad taught me in the beginning to run down and get baseballs and now I can share those tricks with others occasionally, and even give them a ball if they got stiffed out of one. But every game I seem to figure out a new spot, or a new trick, or something funny that I never noticed or did before that added to the experience. I love being able to give a ball to a little kid who did not get one, and watch their face light up happy as I was when I got my first ball. The learning never ends, and practice makes for better outcome.
Why they got rid of the stadium that everyone loved and could love forever who knows, but the Wilpons (the owners of the Mets) felt the need for a new park. I credit them with saving history by building Citi next to Shea. Shea will forever live on in memory just outside Citi Field, and most of all, in my baseballs that I still have to this day sitting on my shelf and I look up, see them and think of the stories behind them and the memories that were made there like on that cold April night when I first possessed what was just a baseball hit by David Wright at the time, and little did I know it would spark years of fun, incredible stories and memories with my father.
BIO: Eric Abneri is a fifteen-year-old avid baseball lover and forward thinker. He writes about his radical baseball ideas that try to improve the game on his blog RadicalMLB . Eric is also an avid ballhawk having caught 64 MLB baseballs so far. He loves the Mets; despite their troubles he’s stayed true to the orange and blue. You can follow him on Twitter at @thefrownyface. His ballhawking philosophy is simple: “Kindness is a major part of the ballhawking community, and since I am thankful for being able to go to many games, I have a tradition that if I get more than one baseball in a single game I give one away, and I respectfully ask that if you get more than one, to make a kids day by giving it to them. You never know the kind of amazing effect it could have on someone.” Last but not least, he credits his dad, who got him interested in the Mets, ballhawking, and baseball in general.