Friday April 15th, 2011

NEW YORK -- My day of baseball was already in its 24th inning when Jorge Posada stepped to the plate at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the ninth on Thursday night. While attempting to watch the rare baseball tripleheader, I had seen the first 15 of the 18-inning twinbill between the Rockies and Mets in Queens before making the 9.7-mile cross-borough trip to the Bronx see the Yankees host the Orioles.

At 9:56 p.m., with the Yankees trailing 5-4, Posada stepped in against Baltimore closer Kevin Gregg -- exactly 13 hours to the minute from when I first stepped inside Citi Field that morning and well into my ninth hour of live baseball -- and I shot a quick email to a friend sitting at the other end of the pressbox: "We learn to root for stories in this business and, as much as my body would hate me for it, it's a better story if we go to extras . . ."

One pitch later, Posada homered. Tie game. Off to extra innings.

How did I get to that point? A fortuitous schedule, helpful geography, some rain and an insatiable desire for both baseball and adventure.

It all began while checking the master schedule last week, which revealed a rare opportunity for an intra-city doubleheader on Thursday. Major League Baseball tries to avoid overlapping homestands for its five dual markets -- New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore/Washington D.C. and Oakland/San Francisco -- for the sake of both fans not having to choose one or the other and for the sake of gameday staff (i.e. stadium workers, police, etc.) who often work both.

The Mets were originally scheduled to host the Rockies at 1:10 p.m. at Citi Field, while the Yankees would play the Orioles at 7:05 p.m. at Yankee Stadium. But after Tuesday's Rockies-Mets game was rained out, it was rescheduled as a traditional doubleheader starting Thursday at noon, to be followed immediately by the second game. I knew I had to try for all three.

This was the first logistically possible tripleheader in recent memory, as even doubleheaders are predominantly a relic of the history books. On this year's schedule the A's are hosting the Angels for two games on July 16, the first planned major league doubleheader in nine years. Otherwise, doubleheaders nowadays are infrequent (20-25 per year), unpredictable (scheduled only after rainouts) and usually split into day and night (which preserves the two-game gate income for the home team).

And I was able to attend not two, but three, games with near perfectly staggered start times. Eat your heart out, Ernie Banks.

This was not the first time one city has had three games in one day. As far as I can tell, there have been three true tripleheaders in baseball history with three games between the same two teams. Two occurred in the 1890s, and the third featured the Reds and Pirates in Cincinnati on Oct. 2, 1920, the penultimate day of that season. The Reds won the first two, the Pirates won the third (which lasted only six innings) and the Reds did not use a single relief pitcher in 24 innings, all of which were played in a tidy five hours.

On Thursday I saw eight hours and 41 minutes of game action, including 820 pitches that -- at 60 feet, 6 inches per pitch -- covered a combined 49,610 feet. That's 9.4 miles, just three tenths of a mile short of the distance between the two parks.

In those two stadiums I saw a player hit his second home run of the day (Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki), a player hit his second home run of the season (Baltimore's Nick Markakis) and a player hit the second home run of his career (Colorado's Jonathan Herrera).

I saw the Mets' Scott Hairston miss a two home-run day by two inches, after umpires reviewed his top-of-the-wall flyball and ruled it stayed inside the park.

I saw a near-comeback (the Mets rallied from down three runs in the ninth in the opener only to lose by one when David Wright's two-out flyball was caught on the warning track with the bases loaded) and a successful comeback (the Yankees erased a four-run deficit and won after Posada tied the game in the ninth) -- and both by the same 6-5 score.

In all, I saw something that may never happen again: three games in one city in two ballparks on the same day with minimal overlap (I missed only 3 1/2 of the day's 28 innings). Some other highlights from my 14-hour adventure:

• The bad weather from earlier in the week that created my tripleheader had cleared by Thursday morning, so I awoke to a sunny day on its way to 67 degrees, put the finishing touches on the latest edition of Power Rankings and hopped on the 7 train to Citi Field. I arrived at 8:56 a.m. and already there were fans (okay, two) outside taking pictures.

• Before the Mets' doubleheader I sat at a press lunch table with a few writers I had just met. One paused and then said, "We're all thinking it, so I'll ask, What'd you do to get sent here?"

I received mixed reviews when explaining my vision to some of the day's participants. The Mets' Hairston chuckled and said, "You're going to have a busy day." Rockies manager Jim Tracy jokingly offered to call me with a recap of the late innings I'd miss and said, "You must love this game."

• Upon arriving at Yankee Stadium, I told a few others of my day.'s Danny Knobler, my friend and regular pressbox neighbor who had learned of my plan on Twitter, greeted me with a laugh and said, "You are sick." Newsday's Jim Baumbach said it was "very cool idea."

• In 2008, Baumbach had run from one ballpark to the other between games of a Shea Stadium/Yankee Stadium doubleheader. The only running I did was to go to Shake Shack between the first two Rockies-Mets games opting, like a veteran, to enter the line in front of the concession stand's right portal where there's an extra register serving customers, so that the line moves faster. Afterward, I rotated through a few different seats -- plenty were available -- for a half-inning each and overheard the following:

-- The line of the day belonged to the shell-shocked usher who watched a replay of Troy Tulowitzki's second home run of the day and, recalling another player who tormented the Mets, said, "I think he's becoming our new Chipper Jones."

-- Two fans debated the merits of Rockies veteran utility player Ty Wigginton, who started his career with the Mets. The one endorsing Wigginton made it sound like the player's primary virtue is that he can man several positions and "he doesn't embarrass you" at any of them.

After second baseman Brad Emaus bobbled what would have been an inning-ending double-play ball to escape a bases-loaded jam -- and instead led to four Rockies runs -- one fan pleaded for unlikely help, yelling, "Castillo! We want him back!"

-- Shortly after 4 p.m. I was standing and watching from the concourse when I overheard familiar voices. I turned around to find my friends Keith and Julie. That's what great about Mets games -- they have that small-town, community feel and Citi Field is a great place to take in a game. It's clean and comfortable, relatively affordable and with terrific choices for concessions.

• Its large field dimensions, however, do not make it a great place to hit home runs. The Mets hit only 112 homers in 162 games at home the past two seasons, the fewest of any NL team. The Rockies hit four homers in Thursday's doubleheader alone and a total of seven in the four-game series sweep. Tulowitzki hit one in each of the games, giving him twice as many homers as any Met has at Citi Field this year.

• That wasn't Tulo's only contribution to the Rockies' cause: In the first game, two flyballs were lost in the sun and fell for hits. After Colorado leftfielder Carlos Gonzalez was victimized, Tulowitzki went to the dugout to retrieve a pair of sunglasses and then jogged to leftfield to deliver them to his teammate.

• The announced attendance at Citi Field may have been 25,758, but the actual numbers of fans in the park was probably no more than half that. Remember when Charlie Sheen bought a whole section of tickets to an Angels game several years ago? That wouldn't have been necessary Thursday. He could have walked to a section of the upper-deck and annexed the unexplored frontier of seats via the Homestead Act.

• At 6:14 p.m., after spending more than nine hours at Citi Field, I left to head to Yankee Stadium. To get there, I first had to negotiate with a gypsy cab driver. And by "negotiate" I mean he quoted me a price of $45, I countered with $40 and we agreed on $45.

• As traffic crept along the Grand Central Parkway, I punched my directions into Google Maps and was told I had 7.7 miles remaining. I scoffed at the low-ball estimate of 13 minutes or up to 17 minutes in traffic, but shortly thereafter we cleared an accident that blocked the left lane and sailed the rest of the way. I exited the car exactly 17 minutes after my Internet consultation. Almighty Google strikes again.

• By 6:50 I was at Yankee Stadium. The first difference I noticed was the energy of the park. Yankee fans have long been successful at anticipating action in the game and cheering in advance of a big hit, perhaps even catalyzing the events on the field. That atmosphere has diminished somewhat in the new stadium -- because of some combination of different acoustics and different demographics of fans -- but it is still one of baseball's most powerful forces, especially in contrast to what it is with the woebegone Mets.

• Rarely does one see a great block of the plate by someone other than the catcher, but it happened in the top of the eighth inning. Orioles pinch-runner Felix Pie tried to score from third on a pitch that skipped to the backstop but he slid into the tree-trunk legs of Yankees relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain and didn't touch home plate until after being tagged out.

• Swisher helped ensure that the extra-inning nightcap to my tripleheader would be short lived. After Mark Teixeira walked to start the bottom of the 10th, Alex Rodriguez doubled and Robinson Cano lined out, Swisher came to the plate with men on second and third and one out. It was 10:21 p.m. He lifted the second pitch he saw into rightfield for a sacrifice fly that scored Teixeira with the winning run.

Three minutes later, teammate A.J. Burnett hit Swisher in the face with the whipped cream pie the Yankees have used since 2009 to celebrate walkoff wins.

At 10:58 p.m., I left Yankee Stadium. I had arrived at a different ballpark 14 hours and two minutes earlier. I left wearied, but enthused to be doing what I love -- and still love, even that many hours and pitches later.

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