Ardolina said it had been more than 20 years and 600 games since he had taken a mitt to a game. But now he had a chance to be part of the action by being more than 450 feet away from it.
This was my only shot at going to the Home Run Derby so I might as well take advantage he said from his seat in the next to last row on the Pepsi Porch an elevated area from which batters look so tiny that spectators tend to watch them on large televisions.
And take advantage he did as Prince Fielder hit a towering shot his second home run of the night right at Ardolina who caught it like a pro. Fielder finished with five homers in the first round and did not advance. Neither did the Mets David Wright (five home runs) nor the Yankees Robinson Cano (four) the two hometown sluggers. Oakland s Yoenis Cespedes stole the show slugging 17 homers in the opening round. Cespedes edged Bryce Harper 9 8 in a final round in which Matthew Criscuolo 32 a physical therapist from Sunnyside Queens caught one of Harper s final home run balls in right field only for his celebration to be dampened by Devin Trone 53 a fire chief from Los Angeles who caught the Derby tying shot by Cespedes to left.
Trone who boasts more than 850 ballpark catches said he caught three home runs in batting practice Monday night.
I ll be out here with my glove tomorrow night he said referring to Tuesday s All Star Game.
It was clear that as the Derby grows ever more popular so too have the fans honed their ability to capitalize on all those fresh baseballs being sprayed into the outfield seats by the dozens.
You re less of a spectator and more of a participant than at a regular game said Rob Sessions 21 a college student who traveled with his friend Brian Brown 21 from North Plano Tex.
Every group of fans sitting beyond the infield seemed to have a glove or several among them. Many fans seemed to have put a bit of thought behind where they could sit or in many cases stand to best catch a ball.
We usually sit behind home plate but I wanted to get him in the best position I could said Chris Clark 43 a real estate agent from Breezy Point Queens who took his mitt carrying son Ryan 10 and sat just beyond the center field fence.
Patrick Layer 23 of Huntington N.Y. decided not to sit in his usual seats behind home plate instead taking a place along the railing of the Shea Bridge overlooking right center field about 450 feet from the plate. He said he took his mitt a first for him because All the big boppers are here tonight not just a couple on one team.
Nearby Rick Rossi 60 of Howell N.J. had also brought his old glove because catching a home run ball was on my bucket list of things he always wanted to accomplish.
The last time I brought a mitt to a game I was 15 he said excitedly.
Adam Winters 29 an accountant from Massapequa N.Y. packed his 20 year old glove and grabbed a front row seat in Pepsi Porch. He snagged a home run ball hit by Robinson Cano in batting practice beating out his friend Ethan Bouskila.
Years from now I ll tell people I let him catch it Bouskila said.
Other than homers balls were also tossed into the stands from obliging players shagging flies during batting practice.
Eric Komorek 21 a college student from Erie Pa. who is a Cleveland Indians fan yelled Jason I love you at his favorite player Jason Kipnis the Indians second baseman patrolling right field. Kipnis reciprocated by tossing Komorek a ball.
It s a one in a million shot to catch a home run Komorek said. If nothing else comes my way tonight I ll still be happy.
Among the casual ball catchers were the ball hawks the more obsessed fans whose entire ballpark experience seems to revolve around snagging a ball. Many arrived at Citi Field before noon to be first in line to stake out one of the coveted spots along various railings. Pre Derby conversations included the trading of detailed information about players stadium logistics and infiltration strategies that involved skirting security guards and befriending ushers.
Sessions and Brown said they spent weeks researching the best spot at Citi Field. They decided upon the Shea Bridge and went with a strategy that had the 6 foot 4 Brown catch the balls while the shorter Sessions boxed out would be intercepting fans. Last year the strategy helped them catch four balls at the Derby in Kansas City Mo. they said.
It s every man for himself with some respect Sessions said. We wait long enough for our spot so if a ball comes we re entitled to fight for it.
The renowned ball hawk Zack Hample 35 varied his position throughout the night depending upon the batters. He spent batting practice in a front row seat just past the center field fence and collected six balls in part because of his coaxing of players who were shagging flies. It helped that he had in his backpack a baseball cap for every team with players on the field. He would put on the appropriate hat when asking a player for a ball.
It was easier doing that than trying to position himself in just the right spot to catch a home run ball.