7/10/15 at Citi Field

This was a Watch With Zack game, and my “client” was a nine-year-old boy named Alexandre, who had never been to a game before. How is that possible? Because he’s from France. His mother is a longtime family friend, so when they planned their trip to New York City, she arranged for me to take her son to Citi Field.

I met up with Alexandre in midtown at around 3:30pm, and we headed out to Queens together on the No. 7 train. He and I had met several times before, and he speaks fluent English (with a charming accent), so it wasn’t awkward at all. On the contrary, it was nice to have lots of time together so that we could get to know each other better.

Soon after we exited the subway, I took a photo of him standing beside the original Home Run Apple from Shea Stadium:

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Then we headed over to the gates and got someone to take a photo of us:

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While waiting for the stadium to open, I was approached by a young fan named Alex who’d brought two of my books for me to sign — Watching Baseball Smarter and The Baseball. Here we are:

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Alexandre chatted a bit with some of the regulars, and when the stadium opened at 5:10pm, we all hurried inside. Some people headed toward the foul lines for autographs, while others went to straight-away left or right field in the hope of catching a home run. I figured our best shot was to go for a toss-up from one of the Mets players in right-center — a long run from the Rotunda entrance, but Alexandre did a great job of keeping pace with me.
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Within the first few minutes, Jon Niese walked over to retrieve a ball on the warning track. Given the fact that he recognizes me and, generally speaking, doesn’t seem to want to add to my collection, I knew I had to get a bit creative with my request.

“Jon,” I said, “is there any chance you could spare a baseball, please, for my young friend who’s here all the way from France for his first game?”

It was a mouthful, but I got it all out just before he picked up the ball. And it worked! He looked up at us and threw it to me. I gave him a huge “thank you” and then handed the souvenir to Alexandre:

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For stat-keeping purposes, since I was the one who obtained possession of the ball first, it counted toward my grand total. Alexandre didn’t care — he was just thrilled to have a baseball at his first game — but I really wanted to help him snag one on his own.

We headed to left field for the Diamondbacks’ portion of batting practice:

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I got two toss-ups there. The first came from Oliver Perez, and I gave it to a kid who had just gotten bonked on the head by a home run that took a crazy deflection. (He was fine, and his mother was grateful.) The second came from a player that I couldn’t identify — probably Rubby De La Rosa — and I gave it to Alexandre.

After BP we headed back to right-center field, where a guard tossed half a dozen balls into the crowd from the dead area behind the outfield wall. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows him tossing one:

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Here are three more toss-ups, the last of which sailed right toward us:

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I was hoping that Alexandre would snag it, but it was just above his reach, so I caught it and handed it to him. It turned out to be an old Selig/Training ball, which was kinda cool, but my friend Chris Hernandez got one that was much more special. Check it out:

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In the photo above, that’s Chris on the left with a “final season” ball from Shea Stadium. Those haven’t been used since 2008 (?!?!) and he’d never gotten one, so you can imagine how excited he was. In the middle, you can see Alexandre with his Training ball, and on the right is a fellow ballhawk named Andrew Korpacz who’d gotten a regular/Manfred ball. All three of those had been tossed up by the guard after BP.

To recap, I had snagged four balls and given one to a random kid, which meant that Alexandre had three:

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Aww yeah!

As you can see, he had also gotten a free shirt. It was “Emoji Night” or something ridiculous like that.

During the lull between BP and the game, I caught up with a friend named Jeff Sammut, who was visiting from Toronto. Here we are:

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If Jeff looks familiar, that’s because he hosts a late-night talk radio show on a station called Sportsnet 590 The FAN, and he has appeared on my blog several times. Remember this photo of us from the first time we met after the game on 5/27/11 at Rogers Centre? We ran into each other a year later on 6/28/12 at Yankee Stadium, and two years after that, when I was in Canada with my rubber band ball, Jeff had me back in the studio. He’s a great guy and knows a TON about sports. Follow him on Twitter and check out his show. Even if you live far away. You can listen live on the internet.

After saying goodbye to Jeff, I had a brief conversation with Diamondbacks bullpen catcher Mark Reed, who has recognized me since 2013. And then, without my asking, he tossed me a ball — my 5th of the day. Chris could’ve easily robbed me (because he was standing nearby and had a better angle), but knowing that I have a personal connection with Reed and that he ball was intended for me, he let me have it. And then I gave it to Alexandre.

At around 7pm, I took Alexandre to get some food:

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It’s a good thing he’s a fast eater because our seats were behind the 3rd base dugout, and at the end of the 1st inning, we had a chance to snag a ball. Kevin Plawecki grounded to 3rd baseman Jake Lamb for the final out, at which point we hurried down to the bottom of the staircase. As 1st baseman Paul Goldschmidt approached with the ball in his hand, I shouted his name and then pointed at my young companion. Goldschmidt looked up and gave a subtle nod, and just before he disappeared below the dugout roof, he rolled the ball to Alexandre.

SWEET!!

Here he is with it:

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What a great feeling for both of us. He was excited to have snagged his first ball on his own, and I was glad to have helped. Alexandre, unfortunately, had never heard of Paul Goldschmidt, so I tried to explain how good he is and how special it was to have gotten a game-used ball from him.

Here’s a closer look at the ball:

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After we got that ball, the few other kids in the section realized that they might be able to get one too, so Alexandre suddenly had a little competition. Here he is with two other kids at the bottom of the stairs:

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To be clear, it was a friendly competition. The other kids recognized me from TV, and I talked to them (and to other fans) throughout the game. Here’s one of the kids running up the stairs excitedly with a ball in his hand:

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I’m telling you, there were plenty of baseballs to go around. In addition to all the 3rd-out balls and foul squibbers that ended up getting tossed into the seats, Diamondbacks 1st base coach Dave McKay gave away the infield warm-up ball every inning. The first two innings, he hooked up a pair of kids sitting one section over, and before the bottom of the 3rd got underway, I saw him toss a ball to a grown woman in Mets gear. I figured I’d give it a shot the following inning, and whaddaya know? I got it. No competition. He rolled it right to me on the dugout roof. That was my 6th ball of the day, and it was the only one that I kept.

In the 6th inning, with the Mets leading, 4-1, I explained infield warm-up balls to Alexandre and gave him detailed instructions about how and when to try to get one. I told him that if he felt comfortable, he could move over to the next section on his own and that I’d keep an eye on him. He wanted to go for it, and here’s what happened:

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In the photo above, I’ve circled his glove in red. He was in the perfect spot, but McKay tossed the ball to someone else.

Fast-forward an inning. I lent Alexandre my Diamondbacks cap and encouraged him to give it another try. This was the result:

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Did you notice the pinstripes on the inside of his glove? Twenty-four hours earlier, he didn’t even own a glove, so my mother bought one for him at the last second — at a Yankees Clubhouse Shop.

Alexandre had snagged two baseballs on his own, but he hadn’t faced any competition, nor did he actually have to catch them, as they had both been rolled to him across the dugout roof. Juan Lagares made the final out of the 8th inning with a fly ball to left fielder David Peralta, and as Alexandre scrambled down to the front with a growing cluster of kids, I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t concerned that he’d get hurt — just that he might get boxed out of position and end up feeling a bit frustrated. I hurriedly grabbed my camera as the Diamondbacks approached the dugout. All I knew was that the ball had been thrown around, but I wasn’t sure who had it. Alexandre, still wearing my D’backs cap, instinctively shuffled over to the left side of the staircase when he realized that the player with the ball — A.J. Pollock, I think — was approaching from the left side. (My MAN!!) And then the ball was tossed his way:

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Here’s a closer look:

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Despite all the other kids who were jostling for position and reaching for the ball (and despite the fact that a baseball glove was essentially a foreign object to him), Alexandre caught it! Outstanding!!

I was so proud of him, and I’m sure he felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Can you imagine snagging TWO game-used baseballs at your first major league game ever? And getting a 3rd one during the game as well? And being given four extra balls by the legendary Zack Hample? Okay, sorry, I got a little carried away there for a moment, but seriously, Alexandre must’ve been feeling like a superstar.

The 9th inning had a little excitement when Yasmany Tomas led off with an extra-base hit and got hosed at 3rd — or did he? The Diamondbacks challenged the call, and after a lengthy review, he was ruled safe. This was our view one minute later:

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Tomas scored on a one-out single by Welington Castillo, and that was it. Final score: Mets 4, Diamondbacks 2. (Tip of the cap to Noah Syndergaard who struck out 13 batters in eight innings.)

After the game, Alexandre and I posed for a photo with some of our baseballs:

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Then he picked out a brand-new, stars-n-stripes Mets cap at the team store:

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On our way out, I explained who Jackie Robinson was and took Alexandre’s photo with the huge “42”:

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Then we ran into a well-known fan named “COWBELL MAN” . . .

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. . . and headed back to Manhattan on the subway:

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What an awesome day.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 baseball at this game

• 406 balls in 54 games this season = 7.52 balls per game.

1,193 lifetime balls in 159 games at Citi Field = 7.50 balls per game.

• 1,107 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 771 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

495 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

41 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least one ball; click here for a whole lot of Watch With Zack stats and records

8,212 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

pitch_in_for_baseball(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 22 donors for my fundraiser

• $156.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,313.08 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,268.58 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Lisa Ann and A-Rod’s 3,000th hit

I’ve written a lot about the night I snagged Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th career hit, as well as the press conference when I gave the ball to him, but I haven’t shared much about the two weeks in between. One of the highlights was getting to show the ball to my family and friends — and believe it or not, no one appreciated it more than former adult film star Lisa Ann. She and I had attended a Mets game three days before A-Rod made history, and when I emailed her to ask if she wanted to see the ball, she replied, “UM raising BOTH hands … [HECK] yeah DUDE I can’t even believe you! I will be back in NY Sunday.”

Well then.

We ended up meeting early on Monday morning, just after I finished doing this live interview on a show called Canada AM. The segment was taped in a studio in the Time Warning Center near Columbus Circle, so Lisa met me right outside:

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The timing and location could not have been better. Not only did I have the ball with me because of the TV interview, but Lisa had plans for us right around the corner. Her friend Nando Di Fino, who, like her, hosts a fantasy sports radio show on Sirius XM, was on the air from 9am to 11am and invited us both to join him. Here’s Lisa pointing at a sign he’d made, directing us toward the studio:

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Here are Nando and Lisa in the studio . . .

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. . . and yeah, that’s a box of Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins on the desk, courtesy of Nando. Those and a small pack of peanuts (from a vending machine at the Time Warner Center) were my breakfast.

Prior to going on the air with Nando, I was worried about my lack of knowledge about fantasy baseball. I’ve never played it — I’m too busy chasing baseballs in the stands — so what the hell was I going to talk about?

As it turned out, it wasn’t an issue. Nando asked me lots of questions about myself and the whole A-Rod experience. He and Lisa talked fantasy, and they got into other topics as well, including some fascinating stuff about the adult film industry.

During a break between segments, Nando took a photo of Lisa and me with the ball:

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I figured we’d be on the air with Nando for 20 or 30 minutes, but he kept us there for the entire show! It was basically a 100-minute interview. Amazing.

Toward the end, he got me talking about fantasy by naming the hitters in his lineup and asking where I’d position myself in the stands at the various stadiums where they’d be playing. That was pretty cool. I’d never been asked that before.

After the show, I took a selfie of the three of us:

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Here’s a random connection: Nando and I are both friends with Benjamin Hill — a full-time writer for minorleaguebaseball.com, who has played a huge part in my baseball experience over the past decade. Remember my first attempt at catching a baseball dropped from a helicopter? Not only was Ben there, but he had put me in touch with Jon Boswell, the Director of Media Relations for the Lowell Spinners, who allowed me to attempt the stunt at his team’s stadium.

Anyway, after wrapping things up with Nando, Lisa took me to brunch at a nearby restaurant/bakery called Maison Kayser. Here we are at a table outdoors:

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Here’s a photo of Lisa getting ready to dig into her main course:

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We both ordered the quiche lorraine, and hey, we both got raspberry tarts for dessert:

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The meal was incredible, and the pace was slow and relaxing. One random passerby asked Lisa for a photo (she politely declined), but that was just a small distraction in our wide-ranging conversation.

You know how there are people in your life that you’ve seen 100 times, and you never have anything to say to them? Well, Lisa is the opposite. This was only the second time that we’d ever hung out, but it felt like we were old friends. I can’t explain it. She’s just super-friendly and easy to talk to, and we have a bunch of stuff in common. One thing we discussed at length was how to deal with media attention and notoriety. She is VERY much in the public eye, so it was great to hear her perspective and advice — and believe me, I needed it. Since snagging the A-Rod ball ten days earlier, my life had been a blur and was turning into a spectacle.

After the meal, Lisa took me to a hotel in midtown . . .

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. . . that has a huge balcony/terrace that’s open to the public. We were pretty much the only ones out there, so we took a bunch of photos with the ball. Here she is posing with it:

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Here she is photographing it on a glass shelf on the lower portion of the terrace:

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This was the photo she got:

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Here’s my photo of the ball with Times Square in the background:

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Here’s Lisa holding the ball . . .

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. . . and here’s another shot of it on the shelf:

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We were there for at least half an hour — maybe even a full hour. We both had other plans in the late afternoon, but until then, we enjoyed giving the ball its own little tour of New York City.

Before we left the hotel, I took a photo of the terrace:

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Beautiful! (Right?)

The terrace seemed to wrap halfway around the building, and on one side, there was a huge tent:

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We didn’t go in there, but whatever. It was just nice to see.

Our next and final stop was Times Square. Here’s Lisa right in the middle of it:

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Given how recognizable she is, I was surprised that she wanted to be in such a crowded area. (She got approached half a dozen times throughout the day, including an encounter with a creepy doorman who shook her hand and then kissed it as he said, “I’m a big fan of your work.”) But you know what? Times Square was great. Lisa said she feels comfortable there because of all the cops.

In the previous photo, did you notice the steps in the background? We headed up to the top for one final photo together with the ball:

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Then we headed back down, carefully dodging all the tourists along the way, and headed toward the subway where we hugged goodbye. What a fun day! (Thank you, Lisa, for a great time! And to everyone reading this who’s 18 and over, follow her on Twitter at @thereallisaann. She’s always up to something fun.)

Finally, in case you’re wondering how my girlfriend, Hayley, felt about my outing with Lisa, here’s a screen shot of what she said on Twitter:

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Best. Girlfriend. Ever.

She and I are not exactly the jealous type of couple, so for us, this really isn’t a big deal. If anything, it’s just funny to see how everyone else freaks out about it. Hayley is actually looking forward to meeting Lisa, who recently invited us to her comedy show in New York.

7/3/15 at Yankee Stadium

This was one of the biggest days of my life, and it started with a huge announcement by the Yankees:

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Here’s a follow-up tweet that the Yankees posted moments later:

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Both of those tweets were posted at 11:37am. That was actually 37 minutes after the Yankees had alerted the media, so as you can imagine, my phone was blowing up. Several newspaper reporters called to ask about my decision to give the ball to A-Rod, but because the Yankees had set up a press conference at the stadium at 5:30pm, I didn’t reveal much.

You may recall that on June 19th — the night I snagged A-Rod’s 3,000th hit — the Yankees offered me lots of stuff in exchange for the ball, including getting to have my own press conference. As exciting as that seemed, I declined because I wanted to keep the ball. THAT was the most valuable thing of all, but my stance softened when the Yankees offered to make a huge donation to Pitch In For Baseball — a non-profit charity that provides baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Ultimately, when I decided to work with the Yankees, it took a little while for the deal to get done . . . and now here we were.

In the hours leading up to the press conference, I agreed to do a TV interview with ABC News because they were willing to meet me in my neighborhood, and they promised it wouldn’t air until later that evening. I trusted them because I knew that if they screwed me over and aired it ahead of time, they’d be screwing themselves forever with the Yankees (and let’s face it, you don’t want to mess with the Yankees).

Here I am with the two-person crew:

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That’s Darla Miles on the left. She was very friendly, and when she finished interviewing me, we took a bunch of photos together — with the ball, of course:

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Two weeks after having snagged that ball, I felt good about my decision to give it to A-Rod, but a painful reality was now setting in: these were my last few hours with it.

Soon after I finished with ABC News, a three-man film crew showed up at my apartment to get footage of me for a short documentary, and while they were there, I got a brief visit from a reporter with the Associated Press — and of course there seemed to be a zillion other last-minute details to sort out before heading to the stadium. At one point, while scrambling to get ready, I had a conference call with Yankees President Randy Levine and several others, including Jason Zillo, the Yankees Director of Public Relations, and David Rhode, the Executive Director of Pitch In For Baseball.

Wishing my father, Stu Hample, were alive to experience all of this, I took a photo of the ball beside a photo of him:

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That was my way of making him a part of it. He would have been so thrilled and proud when I snagged the ball. He would’ve screamed for joy and made some hilariously crude gestures and invented a celebratory song and drawn me a cartoon and given me a chest-bump and taken me out for a whole bunch of fancy lunches and given me great advice throughout this whole crazy situation. I miss him so much. Damn.

At 3:30pm, I took a minivan taxi to Yankee Stadium with my mom (Naomi), my girlfriend (Hayley), and all three members of the crew, who interviewed and filmed me for the entire ride. Then they filmed me walking outside the stadium toward the VIP entrance at Gate 2:

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On the way, I stopped to take this photo:

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My friend Ben Weil had just arrived and was paranoid that someone would try to snatch the ball out of my hand, but I wasn’t too concerned. Should I have been? What would a potential thief have done with it? Pretended to be me so *he* could have given it to A-Rod?

Do you remember Eddie Fastook from my long blog entry about the game when I snagged the A-Rod ball? He’s the Executive Director of Team Security, so he’s the one who makes the rules at Yankee Stadium. Because the press conference was scheduled to take place during batting practice (and, you know, since I was being so nice about giving the ball to A-Rod), I had asked him if I could enter the stadium a bit early and head out to the right field seats for the start of Yankees BP.

The answer was yes! And in order to do that, I had to meet him and get a pair of credentials:

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Eddie also handed me five complementary “Legends” tickets for the game. Those tickets were for me, Ben, my mom, my girlfriend, and Doug Drotman, the PR guy for Pitch In For Baseball. (David had received a separate batch of tickets for his family, and another Pitch In For Baseball employee named Meredith had received some tickets too.)

I stepped outside to hand Ben three of the tickets. He was there with Hayley, who can be seen photobombing him below:

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My mom was out there too. Look closely and you should be able to spot her in the crowd.

As I headed back inside, Hayley photographed her ticket:

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My name was spelled wrong, but the bar code worked, so whatever.

Back inside the Gate 2 lobby, I handed a ticket to Doug:

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Eddie was waiting patiently for me . . .

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. . . and roughly 25 minutes before the gates opened, we headed out together to the right field seats. (Sweeeet!!) As it turned out, there was a tour group out there, but they were sitting one section away from me, so there was minimal competition. Several balls that landed near me ricocheted over to them, and on a few occasions, someone scurried over and grabbed a ball before I could get there. But hey, I’m not complaining — just describing what it was like. Here’s a photo:

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I gave away all seven of the balls I got while those people were there — all to the littlest kids — so everyone was happy. And yeah, I’m counting them toward my grand total. I consider it payback for the countless times that ushers and guards (and even a few players!) at various stadiums have gone out of their way to prevent me from getting baseballs, but let’s not dwell on negativity, huh? I was so distracted while the Yankees were hitting (phone calls, texts, emails, stressing, daydreaming, etc.) that I hardly remember how I snagged them all. I do know that they were all home runs by left-handed batters; I caught the second ball on the fly, and the sixth one was hit by Brett Gardner and landed in the back row.

Here’s something else that distracted me:

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It was my final hour with the A-Rod ball — the last time in my life that I would ever get to see it and hold it — so I wanted to enjoy every moment.

The tour group left the seats several minutes before the gates opened. That’s when I photographed the A-Rod ball in the exact spot where I’d first grabbed it two weeks earlier:

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And then? I snagged two more home run balls that landed near the foul pole. The first was hit by a lefty, and the second was muscled into the seats by a righty — possibly Chris Young, but I’m not sure. I decided I’d donate those two baseballs, along with many others, to Pitch In For Baseball.

Thirteen minutes after the gates opened, Ben found me in right field:

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Why did it take so long? Because he, along with Hayley and my mom, stopped in the Legends restaurant for a bite to eat. All the food there was included with the tickets, so I don’t blame them.

Eddie had told me he was gonna come get me at around 5:15pm, which meant we only had a few more minutes. During that time, I snagged a Garrett Jones homer in the tunnel (my 10th ball of the day), and then we all posed with the A-Rod ball:

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Eddie showed up right on time and led me into the concourse:

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Ben and Hayley and my mom came with me. After a few turns and an elevator ride down to the lowest level of the stadium, we found ourselves in a hallway with retired numbers:

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Here’s what it looked like at the end of the hallway:

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The press conference was scheduled to begin in 10 minutes, and I was drenched in sweat — but hey, no problem! I’d brought a spare shirt for this very reason, and while I changed into it in a nearby bathroom, Hayley took the following photo:

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She took most of the photos in this entry, so I owe her a huge thanks (along with several nice dinners).

Here’s another photo she took of the entrance to the Yankees clubhouse:

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Wow.

When I reappeared with my new shirt, Ben told me that several players had walked right past them, including Dellin Betances.

The press conference was five minutes away, which meant there was time for a little rough-housing in the concourse:

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That’s me with David Rhode, the Executive Director of Pitch In For Baseball. We weren’t really getting physical — just getting pumped for the big moment. We’d been told that there would be four stools/chairs at the front of the room on a little stage. Two were for us. The others were for Alex Rodriguez and a man named Brian Smith, who happens to be standing in the doorway in the previous photo. Brian’s official title is “Senior Vice President, Corporate/Community Relations.” I’m not really sure what that means, but I can tell you that he was one of several people present when David and I met with team President Randy Levine on 6/22/15 at Yankee Stadium.

Three minutes before the press conference, I gathered up the key players for a group photo in the concourse:

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From left to right, you’re looking at David Rhode, Brian Smith, me, Jason Zillo (the director of PR), and Eddie Fastook.

Moments after Hayley took that photo, she was escorted into the press conference room with Ben and my mom — and then she took a photo of the room itself:

24_michael_kay_and_media_room

Keep in mind that I hadn’t yet seen the room, so I had no idea what to expect. Two years earlier, I’d gotten to spend a few minutes in the press conference room at Chase Field. Take a look at it for yourself. Obviously New York is a bigger market than Phoenix, but somehow that fact escaped me here at Yankee Stadium, so I was envisioning something similar — a small room with a couple dozen chairs, a few TV cameras at the back, and a bunch of reporters with notepads and voice recorders.

Here’s what the front of the room looked like:

25_four_empty_chairs

But hold on . . .

I need to tell you what happened out in the concourse two minutes before the press conference started. I was bending down for some reason — tying my shoelaces or maybe reaching into my backpack to make sure that my cell phone ringer was off. Who knows? But anyway, I heard David mumble, “You might want to look up,” so I did, and Alex Rodriguez was walking right toward me.

As he approached to say hello and shake my hand, the first thing I noticed was the nearly overpowering smell of Listerine mouthwash. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing — just noteworthy. I also noticed how big he was — not freakishly huge like an NBA player, but just thick and large and muscular. Normal people don’t look like that.

We chatted for a minute, and he was perfectly nice. There was no arrogance or attitude. I was delighted to meet him, and he seemed pleased to meet me as well. Of course, he kinda had to be nice because there were other people around, and I was giving him a VERY valuable gift for free, but the fact is, he seemed like a good dude. The first thing I told him was that I was sorry for the negative stuff I had posted on Twitter. I said something like, “I don’t know if you saw it or not, but regardless, I want to apologize for that. You’ll hear me say it during the press conference, but I wanted to tell you now before all the cameras are on us. I really am sorry.” He told me that I was forgiven, which was great to hear. Many Yankee fans are probably still pissed at me for my negative comments, but it was good to be forgiven by the man himself. We chatted a bit more, and before I knew it, we were being told to head inside. This was Hayley’s view as we entered the room:

26_alex_rodriguez_and_zack_entering

I’d done a lot of thinking and planning and note-taking in the days leading up to this. I had a list of things I wanted to talk about and another list of things to avoid. I’d even written out a few specific lines that I wanted to say, but guess what? When I walked inside, I forgot every single bit of it.

The room was HUGE!!! There must’ve been ten TV cameras mounted on big tripods at the back, and there were dozens of photographers and reporters and other media people from all over, a few of whom I recognized (like Michael Kay), but many of whom I didn’t. It was shocking and overwhelming, but what could I do? Ask for a time-out?

The four of us took our seats, and Jason Zillo made some opening remarks the podium:

27b_jason_zillo_opening_remarks

He began by saying, “I don’t know who could have honestly said that in the hours after Alex hit that home run, I think on June 19th, that we’d be sitting here for this press conference today. I think it was a little dicey at the time. Under the direction of Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ Managing General Partner — you know, he put Randy Levine, our team president, and Lonn Trost, our COO, to work, and they struck up a series of conversations with Zack over the last couple of weeks and brought this day to fruition.”

Here’s a photo that shows my mom taking a photo:

28_naomi_taking_a_photograph_at_the_press_conference

I’d been told that after Jason spoke, the four of us would each make an opening statement, and guess who was scheduled to go first? That’s right . . . me! And I was supposed to talk for two to three minutes! I had no idea what I was going to say, so when Jason concluded by saying, ” . . . with that, Zack, the floor is yours,” I just started rambling. Here’s what came out:

“I just want to start by saying thank you to Mister Levine, Mister Trost, Mister Fastook — the whole Yankees organization, really, for handling this whole thing so well. I’ve had people asking me, ‘Did they bully you? Did they pressure you? Were they mean? Did they try to take the ball away?’ and it wasn’t like that at all. I’ve even heard that other teams have treated fans in less than perfect ways in trying to get milestone home run balls back, but the Yankees were amazing. I almost wanted them to be rude because it would have justified my initial decision to keep the ball, which was really my intention from the start. I didn’t know if I was gonna sell it, give it to the Hall of Fame — maybe do something with charity, but really giving it back to the Yankees would probably have been pretty low down on my list. You know, I *am* a collector. I’ve been to more than 1,200 major league games at 51 different major league stadiums — a lot of parks that have closed down. When Major League Baseball opened the season last year in Australia, I was there — 2012 at the Tokyo Dome — so I’ve been all around and maybe gotten a bit jaded in the process. I really 28b_zack_opening_statementdon’t consider myself to be a fan of any one team. I’m really a fan of the sport and of individual players, and actually Alex has long been a favorite player of mine — from before he even came up to the Major Leagues, I was following his career from Seattle through Texas and here with the Yankees, so to be connected to this amazing, historical moment is really more than I can imagine. I also owe a thank you to Alex for hitting the baseball to me, so thanks. I heard some of the stuff you said after that first game when you hit it where you said, ‘Where’s Jeet’s guy? I could’ve used him?’ and I thought, ‘Oh boy, yeah,’ but I guess given everything that’s happened in the last couple of weeks and how Pitch In For Baseball, my favorite children’s charity, is gonna be involved and benefit tremendously and kids all over the world are gonna be playing baseball, hopefully you’re happy now that I’m the one that got the ball. I’m sorry that the process took two weeks, but not that sorry. I mean, there were a lot of people that said, ‘You should give it back. You’re not respecting the game. He deserves the ball.’ But if I’d given it back, people would’ve said, ‘Well, you’re an idiot and you’re naive, and you should’ve gotten money,’ so I realize it’s one of those — in a way it’s a lose-lose situation because no matter what you do, people are going to say awful, negative things, but of course I would not un-snag the ball. I mean, to be in this situation today and to be able to do this for Pitch In For Baseball is just incredible.”

(It took two minutes and 50 seconds for me to say all of that, so while it might seem long and self-indulgent, I was actually right on target. The Yankees wanted me to talk about myself, and so did the media. That’s why they were there. They wanted to hear the story, and they needed quotes for their stories, so I did my best to deliver.)

Then I turned to David and said, “If you can hold the microphone for a moment, I have something special for Alex.”

Here I am reaching into my backpack for the ball (which, by the way, was re-authenticated by MLB before the press conference):

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Here I am taking the ball out of a Ziploc bag:

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Then I turned toward Alex and said, “I’d like to present to you your 3,000th hit baseball.”

Here I am handing it to him:

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Then we held it up together for the cameras:

32b_zack_and_arod_holding_the_ball

That wasn’t rehearsed. It just happened.

After holding that pose for five seconds, Alex and I shook hands, and then I said the following: “On a final note, I want to address this because I figure I’m gonna be asked about it anyway. I did regrettably say a couple of stupid things — negative things — on Twitter. I think everybody in this room probably, if people are honest, would admit to saying at least one or two or maybe a hundred really stupid things in their life that they wish they could take back, and for me, that was my moment. I won’t repeat what I said, but I was just trying to be funny and snarky back when I had, you know, eleven people looking at my tweets. I was trying to be bigger than the moment before the moment even happened, said some dumb stuff, and that’s really not me. I love the game so much. Catching baseballs is my way of connecting to the sport. Some people keep score. Some people play fantasy baseball. For me, moving around the stands and trying to position myself and think like the players — that’s MY version of fantasy baseball, and I really regret and I apologize for any negative thing that I said, and I know there have been some controversial moments with you, and I would certainly like to forgive anything that happened with that and move past it and hopefully you can forgive me for shooting off my mouth and saying some dumb stuff as well . . . I also want to thank all of you guys in the media for being here today. I know there are huge things happening in the world, and ultimately this is just a baseball, but I also realize the significance of this to Alex and the New York Yankees — New York City, Major League Baseball. It is a big deal. I realize that. But I just want to say thank you to all of you for being here. It’s really an honor to be in this moment and to share my story and to be a part of it all, so thank you.”

Alex responded by saying, “Well, thank you very much, Zack. First of all, you’re forgiven. I have a PhD in saying some dumb things over the years, so no problem — I can relate. Thanks, everyone, for being here today. It’s a very special day for me. I want to thank the Yankee organization — Hal Steinbrenner in particular for doing so much for getting me this ball. My daughters land tonight here in New York, so Natasha and Ella will get this. They can fight over whose room it goes in — should be a pretty good one. But I’m excited. Who woulda thunk that one swing of the bat — one home run — would create so much attention, but more importantly such a generous donation by the Steinbrenner family to benefit your wonderful organization. I can relate with that organization. I came up with the Boys & Girls Club. That’s where I formally learned how to play baseball at the age of nine, and I was one of those kids that needed equipment. My best friend back home — Pepe Gomez — his father bought me my first pair of Pumas, and to this day I can remember what a great day that was for me, so thank you for all that you do. Thank you, Zack, for being such a passionate fan. We want to recruit more fans like you — sometimes a little too passionate . . .

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees

. . . but we need more fans in baseball, and you’re a good example of that, and I like the way you do your scouting reports. I heard some of your interviews — pretty fascinating. We can use you in some of our advanced meetings.”

34_arod_talking_to_zack

Then Alex said, “Thanks again, everybody, and I’m very happy, not only for what happened here with 3,000 but obviously the big news of the day, which we all heard about. It’s been a good day. Thank you very much.”

What was the “big news” that he referred to? Check it out. He and the Yankees had finally settled a long-standing dispute over millions of dollars’ worth of bonus money that was once promised to him for reaching various home run milestones. One day earlier, when I heard that the Yankees were going to announce this news on the same day as my press conference, I wasn’t sure what to think. At first I was concerned that it would steal the thunder, but ultimately it seemed to have the opposite effect. I heard that more media members were there as a result, and I have to say that it was pretty damn cool to sit up on the stage next to Alex while he answered questions about it.

It was also pretty special when Alex handed me a signed jersey:

36_zack_receiving_a_signed_jersey

Here I am showing it to the media:

37_zack_showing_the_jersey

He had signed the “3” with a silver Sharpie: “Zack, All the best, Alex Rodriguez #13.” I’ll show a better photo of it later, but for now, look what else he gave me — not one but two bats:

Yankees Rodriguez Baseball

I had requested two, and I had asked for one to be personalized. Once again, he had used a silver Sharpie to write, “Zack, nice catch! Alex Rodriguez #13,” and on the other bat, he simply wrote, “Alex Rodriguez #13″ and added “3,000” below that.

Perfect!

Of course the media only saw me receive those three items in exchange for the ball, so that’s all they reported (and sure enough, as a result, lots of people think I’m an idiot), but there was lots more to the deal. One thing I asked for was a baseball signed by the entire team. Randy Levine told me he could get that for me, but it would take a little time. I’m also going to receive a dozen free Legends tickets, which I plan to use in pairs — three games per season over the next two years. In addition to that, as long as I keep buying my season ticket, I’ll be able to request a comp ticket in my section whenever I want — as long as the game isn’t sold out. That said, I told the Yankees that it won’t be an everyday thing. Based on the number of games I attend and the fact that I generally prefer going alone, I estimated that I’ll request comp tickets twice-ish per month. Another thing I’m going to receive is a personal tour with Eddie Fastook of the most behind-the-scenes areas of the stadium — the kinds of places that the public never gets to see. The clubhouse and press box, of course, will be part of it, but I requested to see stuff like the weight room, the video room, the laundry room, the players lounge, and so on. I also asked to see the Delta Suites (the club in the second deck behind home plate) because I’ve never been up there, and why not? And I requested that I be allowed to take a zillion photos for my blog. Eddie told me that some places can’t be photographed, but I can still go see them. Another thing I’ll get to do is write for Yankees Magazine — and get paid for it. That was actually Randy’s idea. And don’t forget that I got to meet A-Rod and experience the press conference. That was the coolest thing of all. And I was going to be interviewed live on the YES Network for half an inning, followed by another live, half-inning interview in the Yankees’ radio booth. There’s even more stuff in the works beyond all of this (you should see how great stadium security is suddenly treating me), but I’ll leave it at that for now. So yeah, call me an idiot if it makes you feel good.

A little more than 10 minutes into the press conference, Brian Smith took the microphone and said the following: “We’re extremely excited to partner with Pitch In For Baseball, and we view that partnership as a tool that can enable us to enhance outreach efforts related to ensuring area youth have access to positive recreational outlets, and we thank you for that, and we look forward to working with you today and moving forward, and with that being said, David, come on over . . . on behalf of the New York Yankees organization and in recognition of our commitment, I would like to present you with a check in the amount of $150,000.”

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HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!?!?!

Then it was David’s turn to speak:

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Here’s what he said: “First I wanted to thank Justin Verlander for missing his spot on the first pitch to Alex, and then I wanted to thank Alex for having the foresight to drive it to right-center to Section 103, where Zack has his season tickets, and I wanted to also recognize that only somebody like Zack can come up with a ball amongst a throng of people, so seriously, we are so grateful — I am so grateful to be here representing Pitch In For Baseball and the kids that we serve. The tagline of our organization is ‘let your equipment play extra innings,’ and that really tells the story of who we are and what we do. Pitch In For Baseball collects and redistributes equipment and makes sure that kids both here in the United States and around the world gain access to the game. So we are thankful to Zack for having the vision to try to do something so special with this historic ball. We are incredibly grateful to the New York Yankees and their generosity. To an organization like ours, this is a game-changer, and we want to encourage all Yankee fans and families — families all over the country with kids — to go to our website, which is pifb.org and figure out how to get involved with us anytime — the next time — they are going through their garage or closet and they see a gently used glove or bat or ball or something else, I would love them to consider making that a donation to us so that we can help kids in need play the game. We’ll make sure that those items get to play extra innings. So for us, this is an amazing day. We encourage Alex and any of the other 750 Major League Baseball players to get involved with Pitch In For Baseball. The mission of our organization is to give kids the equipment they need to play, and that’s got to resonate with many of them because of the game that has given them so many opportunities, so we welcome everyone to get involved. It’s a wonderful organization. I’ve had a front-row seat for the last ten years. This has exceeded my personal dreams of what Pitch In For Baseball could be all about, and we can not wait to get started to help more kids play, so thank you very much.”

Beautifully said.

Here’s what it looked like from the very back of the room:

41_view_from_the_back_of_the_media_room

By the time David finished speaking, the press conference had been going for 14 minutes. That meant there was time for some questions for the media. The first one came from a woman at the back of the room: “Zack, how did you hear about Pitch In For Baseball?” The next two questions were directed at Alex — first, how did he feel about getting the ball, and second, why did he chose to have his potential home run bonus money donated to charity? The fourth question was for me: “Zack, obviously after you caught the ball, you made it clear initially that you weren’t gonna give it back, and then as a few days passed, it seemed like your stance began to soften — I was just wondering at what point you sort of came to realize that some humanitarian benefit could come out of the event and what was the impetus for that?” The next two questions were for Alex again — first about his relationship with the Yankee organization, and second, he was asked in Spanish about his 3,000th hit. Did you know he can speak Spanish? I had no idea. Very impressive.

One of the final questions had to do with my strategy behind positioning myself in the stands. I talked about the “short porch” at Yankee Stadium and explained that it’s a good spot because righties often hit balls there. Then I turned to Alex and told him that according to ESPN Home Run Tracker, his 3,000th hit would not have been a homer in any other stadium — that it would’ve only come close in Philly, clipping the top of the right field wall. This was his reaction.

42_zack_telling_arod_that_his_3000th_hit_would_not_have_been_a_home_run_anywhere_else

Heh.

But really, he took it well and was amused by the whole thing. Here’s a funny moment that we shared right after:

Yankees Rodriguez Baseball

Here’s a closeup of the ball in his hands:

Yankees Rodriguez Baseball

Here’s another shot of us smiling:

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When the Yankees tweeted about the press conference, they happened to use a photo that was taken at a more serious moment, so of course the haters jumped on that:

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Nice.

I saw another comment somewhere suggesting I should’ve given A-Rod the ball quietly. The person basically said, “Zack Hample had to make it all about himself and force the Yankees to hold a press conference.”

I could share 1,000 other comments that ranged from harmlessly clueless to downright menacing, but again, let’s not dwell on negativity. I’d rather show you what it looked like when David, Alex, Brian, and I gathered for a group photo with the oversize check:

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None of the photos I’ve posted show how crazy it was at the press conference. When I say it was a “media frenzy,” I’m not kidding. Look at all these photographers jostling for position:

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Somehow I never felt nervous after that very first moment when I walked into the room and saw everyone. I don’t know how to explain it. I just felt very . . . at ease. As I mentioned earlier, I forgot everything I was planning to say, but shrugged it off and figured I’d just wing it. I’d been interviewed many times before about my baseball collection, and I’d been talking about the whole A-Rod thing nonstop for the past two weeks, so the press conference was just an extension of that. It was fun. That’s how I saw it. It was an opportunity to tell my story to a wider audience. How is that a bad thing?

Anyway, how about some video? I don’t think the entire press conference is online, so here’s a four-minute segment on MLB.com:

After the press conference, David was interviewed by CBS News . . .

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. . . and then I was too:

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I wished I had taken a photo from the stage with all the media in place — it was truly a sight to behold — but obviously that wouldn’t have been appropriate. Instead the best I could do was take a photo after it was all done:

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But wait! It wasn’t done. (And by the way, have you noticed the “NY” patterns all over the floor?) Before heading out, I was asked to do a follow-up interview with the three-man film crew:

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I was *starving* at that point, and by the time I dealt with some other things (including giving my bats to Eddie so he could store them in a safe place during the game), it was only 25 minutes until the first pitch.

Eddie escorted us to the Legends entrance . . .

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. . . and walked us down to the restaurant on the lower level:

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By the time we got a table and gathered our food, it was only 14 minutes until game time! Here I am photographing my dinner plate . . .

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. . . and here’s a closer look at what I ate:

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I know it looks silly with a huge bite missing from the cornbread, but I couldn’t help myself. I was so hungry that my stomach actually hurt.

I’d been told that I needed to be in my seat in the middle of the 2nd inning. That’s when someone was going to come get me for my TV and radio interviews, but until then, I could do whatever I wanted, so I took a few more minutes for dessert:

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By the time I took that photo, the Yankees had already taken the field. It was killing me not to be out there, but wanted to cram as many (delicious!) calories in my face as possible to avoid getting hungry for at least another hour. In case you’re wondering, that’s banana pudding on the right and cheesecake at the bottom. Mmmm-mmmm!!

I ate my desserts like a maniac and then raced out to the seats:

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The Rays had a runner on 2nd with no outs, so I’d missed a teeny bit of action. Not a big deal. I think I did pretty well overall.

Here’s a photo (taken by Hayley) of Evan Longoria at bat:

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Beautiful.

Our seats were right behind 1st base in the 5th row. You’ll see more photos from that spot later on, but for now, here’s what happened in the bottom of the 2nd inning:

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That’s me with Michael Margolis, the Assistant Director of PR. We were on our way through a club and toward an elevator that took us up to the press level. Hayley, thankfully, was allowed to join me, but we were asked not to take any photos out in the hallway. As I was rushed into the YES Network booth before the top of the 3rd inning, I knew what was going to happen. Masahiro Tanaka and his stupid split-finger fastball were going to shut down the Rays, and my big moment on the Yankees broadcast was going to be done in a flash. Why couldn’t someone else have been pitching? Why couldn’t the Rays be facing a real chump who would let them bat around . . . twice? Frickin’ Tanaka. Unreal.

As short as the interview was going to be, I was still thrilled, of course, to have this opportunity, and I was glad to finally meet Michael Kay. And David Cone! The two of them were doing the game together, so that was a real treat. Before the 3rd inning got underway, Michael told me that he remembered my back-to-back home run catches on consecutive nights in 2008. That was nice to hear, but rather than talking more about that, I asked an important question about the interview: “At what point should I stop talking — as soon as they put a ball in play?”

“If you’re making a salient point,” he said, “you could go through it because it’s TV, so obviously they’ll see the pitch, but if you see something’s driven, and I’ve gotta call it, you can stop right in the middle of a sentence and then pick it up.”

To clarify, I said, “So if they’re taking a pitch or swinging through it–”

“You can go,” he replied.

“You don’t need to announce individual pitches?”

“No, but when you go on with Sterling,” he said, “you’ve got to stop every time the pitch is delivered.”

“Understood.”

“Alright, because he’ll kick your butt if you don’t.”

After that, the three of us talked about foul balls and home runs for a bit, and when the between-inning countdown clock reached 35 seconds, Michael said, “Stand by.” Then I heard someone else’s voice in my headset counting down from ten . . . and then we were live on the air!

“Alright, we go to the top of the third inning here at the stadium, and the Rays lead the Yankees, two-nothing. Tanaka settled down in the second — retired the Rays one, two, three. Now top of the order starting with Grady Sizemore, who started the game with a double to right. And Tanaka deals.”

It was SO COOL to be sitting next to Michael Kay while he was announcing the game, and it was even cooler when he started talking about me. After the first pitch of the inning, he said, “Well, when Alex Rodriguez hit his 3,000th hit, which happened to be a home run, a young man by the name of Zack Hample caught the baseball, and at the time, he said that he was not going to give it up, but there was a press conference today at 5:30 in the big room at Yankee Stadium, and Zack presented that baseball to Alex, and Alex was overjoyed to get it. He’s gonna give it to his two daughters who land in town today, and Zack joins us here in the booth. Zack, why the change of heart from not giving it to him to having a press conference and doing a nice thing?”

As I began talking, a camera mounted just above my head showed me:

58b_yes_network_3rd_inning

It will always bother me when the word “caught” is used for a baseball I picked up off the ground, but anyway, here’s what I said: “I had a meeting late in the game with Randy Levine and in just telling him about myself, he was asking questions. I mentioned my involvement with a children’s baseball charity called Pitch In For Baseball that provides baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world, and Mister Levine said that the Yankees would consider making a sizable donation to the charity if it would help me decide what to do with the ball.”

As Michael asked his next question about what it was like for me to negotiate with the Yankees, Sizemore struck out swinging on the fourth pitch of the at-bat. STUPID TANAKA!! Why was he doing this to me?!

In my answer, I talked about how kind the Yankees had been from the moment I had first snagged the ball. Then I added, “I would just like to apologize to Yankee fans for taking two weeks to make up my mind, as far as what to do with the ball. I just knew that I needed to leave the stadium with it that night — take it home, slow the precess down. There were a million people getting in touch, making offers, saying good things, saying bad things, and I just had to think about it, and it took two weeks for the process to play out.”

As Joey Butler got ready for an 0-1 delivery from my least favorite pitcher of all time, Michael mentioned that the Yankees had donated $150,000 to Pitch In For Baseball and asked me why the charity is so important to me. My answer lasted two pitches, and when the count was at 2-1, Michael mentioned that I’d written a book and snagged more than 8,000 balls and asked about my strategy for positioning myself in the stands. Just as I began to answer him, Tanaka (aka “The Worst Guy Ever”) got Butler to hit a lazy one-hopper to Chase Headley at 3rd base.

As Evan Longoria stepped into the batter’s box, Michael asked me about my season tickets and how often I go to games. Then, after Tanaka had the decency to throw the first pitch out of the strike zone, I was asked how I traveled home with the ball on the night that I snagged it. Two pitches later, with the count at 2-1, Michael asked me what I got from the Yankees for the ball.

“The Yankees offered me a bunch of tickets,” I said, “and some perks as well at the stadium. I was never looking to get rich from this. I’ve never sold a ball in my life. I give away a lot of balls to kids, and I’ve donated some to the charity.”

Then, remembering how disappointed I was about not getting to address this during the press conference (and hoping that Longoria could somehow keep the inning alive a bit longer), I said, “There’ve been a lot of false accusations out there that I knock kids down and that I’m aggressive. I welcome anybody to come out and watch me during BP. You’ll see that that’s just not my style. Talk to the security guards. They’re out there every day. They wouldn’t tolerate any shenanigans, so yeah, I try to keep the peace out there.”

And wouldn’t you know it? Longoria fouled off a 94mph fastball to give me a little extra time.

“This must be pretty cool for you,” said Michael. “I mean, it’s not even your fifteen minutes of celebrity — it’s almost a half hour.”

“It’s kind of embarrassing,” I replied. “No, I acknowledge that I’ve gotten way more attention for my dweeby little hobby of chasing baseballs than anybody deserves. People accused me of holding onto the baseball for two weeks to generate more fame for myself. I just needed time to think about it and if I can use this so-called fame to bring some awareness to Pitch In For Baseball, that’s really what I’m happiest about here — making something positive happen in the world.”

Meanwhile, MY MAN Evan Longoria fouled off two more pitches, so Michael asked how I dealt with the press conference taking place right in the middle of batting practice. I admitted that the Yankees had let me in the stadium a bit early so I could get a head start on the competition and keep my streak alive. “I’ve gotten at least one ball at every game going back to 1993 — more than 1,100 consecutive games for me — and I didn’t want it to end on this day. Can you imagine? I get the 3,000th hit but then I can’t even get one in BP? That would’ve been terrible.”

On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Longoria hit a shallow, broken-bat fly ball to right field, and as Garrett Jones came running in, all I could think was, “DROP!! DROP!!” but he made the play to end the inning.

“Zack, congratulations — and congratulations for the charity as well. A hundred and fifty thousand dollars — that’s great.”

“Much appreciated,” I said. “It’s great to be on here with you guys.”

“You got it. Be well. We go to the bottom of the third. Two-nothing.”

Here’s the full interview, in case you want to watch it:

Here’s a photo of me after the interview with David Cone and Michael Kay:

59_zack_after_yes_network_interview_with_david_cone_and_michael_kay

I would have liked to tell David that I was at Veterans Stadium when he struck out 19 batters on the final day of the 1991 season, or that we had our picture taken together at Shea Stadium in 2003, but there was no time to schmooze. I had to rush out and head just down the hallway to the WFAN booth, where radio announcers John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman were waiting for me. I barely got to say hello to them before we went live on the air.

“We go to the bottom of the 3rd inning,” said John. “We have a special guest in the booth as Chris Young leads off for the Yankees — and the fastball high from Archer. Our guest is Zack Hample. Now, you know him. He’s the fella who caught the A-Rod home run — his 3,000th hit — and here’s the 1-0. Pitch is low, and I’m very happy that you and the Yankees and Alex have all gotten together and done everything about right. You’re giving the ball back. Money is going to charity, so it’s kind of win-win, huh?”

“Absolutely,” I said before he cut me off to say, “Pitch is a strike to Young.”

“When I first got the baseball,” I continued, “I had no intention of giving it back, and, uh, said a few things that I regret, but after working with the Yankees for a while, we worked it out.”

“Pitch is low to Young — three and one. Well, how’d you work it out?

“Randy Levine met with me the night that I snagged the baseball, and in getting to know me and asking about what I do and what interested me, I mentioned my involvement with a particular charity . . . ”

“There’s a breaking ball strike — three and two.”

” . . . The charity is called Pitch In For Baseball, and they provide equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. And I’ve been fundraising for them on my own since 2009.”

“Payoff is cut on and missed on a breaking ball — well, that’s a great charity.”

At some point during the interview, Doug Drotman took this photo of me from his Legends seat below:

60_zack_in_the_radio_booth_photographed_from_below_by_doug_drotman

(Reminder: Doug is the PR guy for Pitch In For Baseball, and by the way, he happens to have gone to the same small college as me in North Carolina — Guilford College. Look at my awkward graduation photo. Yeesh.)

A little while later, as Didi Gregorius stepped up to the plate, Suzyn said, “You know, I’d really like to ask you — ’cause this all turned out great, and we’re gonna give the website and everything to help and [show] where other people can donate — I really need to know why you were so mean at the beginning.”

I didn’t mind being asked that, and in fact I was glad to get to address it on the air for however many tens of thousands of people were listening.

“Ohhh, man,” I said, “I posted something on Twitter that I DEEPLY, deeply regret.”

“Pitch a strike to Didi,” said John.

“You know, we all have a moment in our lives,” I continued, “where we say something really dumb that we wish we could take back, and that was my moment. It was just me firing off my big mouth, trying to be snarky. I won’t repeat what I said, but yeah.”

As you can see, my answers here were much shorter than they were at the press conference. Not only was time much more limited, but I was also making sure to speak in one- or two-sentence chunks that conveyed quick points that could easily be wrapped up before each pitch.

“The oh-one fastball high,” said John. “You know, one thing you did say that really is true, people — athletes, especially — go on Twitter and say the dumbest things. Why they want people to know their feelings I don’t know.”

“Put me in that category, but uhh . . . ”

“One-one is fouled down the left field line. One-and-two on Didi.”

” . . . I actually had a nice moment with Alex at the press conference where I apologized publicly to him — and I actually said it when the cameras weren’t rolling before the press conference — that I was very sorry for what I said on Twitter, and I knew that there were some controversial moments with him, and I asked for his forgiveness and said I forgive him, and we agreed on it.”

“One-two lined . . . base hit right-center field! Now it’s toward the gap. It is cut off by Kiermaier. The ball gets away! And Didi goes to second with a double. Kiermaier, I don’t think would have had a chance to get Didi who runs very well, but as he tried to cut it off on the run, the ball rolled off his glove.”

John proceeded to list a bunch of stats, but the only one that mattered to me was the hit. I was SO HAPPY that Didi got on base and extended my time in the booth by an extra minute or two.

“You don’t see Kiermaier do that much,” said Suzyn. “That should probably be a single and an error, not a double . . . ”

“Pitch,” said John, “there is a strike to Drew.”

” . . . but they did score it a double,” she said. “You never see Kiermaier boot a ball like that.”

After a brief lull in which neither of them were talking, I said, “I booted a ball once that Kiermaier hit. He hit one right to the last row in that section next to the bullpen, and it took a crazy ricochet so fast back in my direction that it deflected off my chest, and someone else got it — a game home run. I’m still upset.”

“Now here is the oh-one to Drew — he takes high,” said John. “We’re visiting with Zack Hample, who caught A-Rod’s 3,000th hit and has worked out I think a marvelous thing with the Yankees where everyone donates to charity and A-Rod gets the ball back, and as I said before, it’s kinda win-win. It’ll be a one-one to Drew. And there’s a strike.”

“And the charity,” said Suzyn, “is called Pitch In For Baseball. I want to get this right, Zack. That’s why I’m reading it. If you want to help — and everybody should — this [charity] donates used equipment . . . to kids all over the world who don’t have the money to do that, and it’s a great, great organization.”

Then she spelled out the website and John suddenly had more action to describe: “Drew lines one to deep center field. Back goes Kiermaier — a-WAY back — Kiermaier leaps and MADE A CATCH. Oh what a catch!! And Didi — he didn’t tag; he wanted to score — comes back. It was just to the right-field side of Monument Park. My, what a catch by Kiermaier! Two away.”

STUPID KIERMAIER!! Why was everyone teaming up to get me off the air as fast as possible?

Suzyn continued by saying, “Well, I think, actually — and you just mentioned it — Didi’s gotta tag up there. He’s gotta know who’s out in center field. This is as good an outfielder as we’ve seen. Isn’t that right, Zack?”

Ha, nice! I got to give a little baseball analysis on the air. I said, “I would think that Didi could wait up to tag, and if the ball gets over Kiermaier’s head, Didi would probably score anyway.”

“I think you’re right,” said John.

“But I don’t want to hate on Didi too much,” I added. “I snagged his first career home run when he was with the Diamondbacks in 2013.”

“Wow!” said Suzyn.

“I gave that one back to him after the game, no questions asked.”

“Zack, how do you get all these home runs?” asked John. “Or balls being hit in the stands? Here’s Gardner with two outs, and that pitch low.”

“I just try to make sure that I have some room to maneuver,” I said. “I mean, if you get trapped in the middle of a long row of fans, you’re dead, so I always try to sit on the end of a row so I have the stairs next to me, and if the row itself is empty, or even partially empty, that gives me some room to wander left or right. Some stadiums have a standing-room-only section or a cross-aisle, so I look for those spots whenever I travel around.”

“Here’s the one-oh to Gardner — there’s a strike.”

“Now, are you in broadcasting?” Suzyn asked me. “John, have you noticed that he stops talking before the pitches? We didn’t even have to tell him.”

“Listen, guys,” I said, “I am here for YOU. I understand we have a game to talk about. I just did TV for half an inning. Michael Kay told me you can talk right through the pitches if they take ’em or swing and miss, but with the radio, you know, I gotta give you your chance to explain what’s happening, so GO for it.”

I finished saying that JUST as the next pitch was being delivered, setting up John to say, “The one-one, swung on. A little fly ball to shallow left. Cabrera out to make the catch and end the inning. Well, Zack, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m glad you did what you did, and I’m glad it all worked out.”

“Thanks so much, you guys, for having me on. This was really fun.”

“Thanks a lot, Zack,” said Suzyn. “Good luck.”

Then John finished by saying, “No runs, one hit for the Yanks — they do not score — and at the end of three innings of play, it’s two-nothing Tampa on the WFAN New York Yankees radio network, driven by Jeep.”

I don’t think the radio broadcast is available anywhere online, so that’s why I typed up so much of it. There was no other way to share it.

Before heading out, I got a photo with John and Suzyn:

61_zack_after_the_interview_with_john_sterling_and_suzyn_waldman

And then it was back to reality. Here I am in the seats with Ben:

62_zack_and_ben_in_the_seats

Here’s a funky play that happened at 1st base in the top of the 4th inning:

63_funky_play_at_1st_base

Just before the bottom of the 4th got underway, I got Rocco Baldelli, the Rays’ 1st base coach, to toss me the infield warm-up ball behind the 3rd base dugout. I was planning to keep it until I noticed a little kid sitting nearby, at which I walked over and handed it to him. That was my 11th ball of the day, and I’d given away eight of them.

Here’s A-Rod at bat in the 4th inning:

64_alex_rodriguez_at_bat

He drew a walk and then advanced to 2nd base on a wild pitch:

65_alex_rodriguez_on_2nd_base

A little while later, Hayley took a great photo of everyone clapping for a kid who got a baseball. Look closely and you’ll see his tiny hand holding it up:

66_people_applauding_a_little_kid_who_got_a_ball

Nobody clapped for Ben when he snagged a 3rd-out ball after the top of the 5th inning, but he was probably just as excited:

67_ben_excited_about_snagging_a_ball

Moments after Hayley photographed her beer . . .

68_hayleys_beer

. . . I took a photo of the 3rd-out ball that Rays catcher Rene Rivera tossed to me after the 5th inning:

69_ball8195_from_rene_rivera

During every game at Yankee Stadium, the grounds crew drags the infield after the 6th inning and dances to “Y.M.C.A.” I don’t know how long it’s been going on — probably for a decade, at least. It’s one of those things that’s cute if you’ve only seen it a few times, so of course Hayley took a photo:

70_grounds_crew_dancing_to_ymca

In the top of the 7th inning, Ben got an ice cream bar because . . . why not?

71_ben_eating_an_ice_cream_bar

Reminder: all of the food was free. We could even order it right to our seats, as Hayley did in the bottom of the 7th. She got nachos (loaded up with more stuff than I’ve ever seen), sweet potato fries, and a chocolate milk shake:

72_hayley_excited_to_have_more_food

Here’s something else the Yankees gave me in exchange for the ball:

73_free_all_star_tickets_from_the_yankees_as_part_of_the_deal

As you can see, those are tickets to the 2015 Home Run Derby and All-Star Game, which were scheduled to take place a week and a half later in Cincinnati.

Hell.
Yes.

In the bottom of the 8th, with the Rays leading, 3-0, Mark Teixeira slugged a three-run homer to tie the game. As he rounded the bases, I wandered down behind the dugout and snapped a photo of a very excited A-Rod, who had scored on the play:

74_alex_rodriguez_pumped_in_the_dugout

In the top of the 9th, the Rays challenged a call at 2nd base, and during the brief delay, I headed back down to the front row. Several Yankee fielders had assumed that the call was going to be upheld and that the inning would be over, so they were standing nearby:

75_didi_gregorius_stretching_on_the_dugout_railing_durintg_a_replay_review

Did you notice Didi Gregorius in the previous photo? He was stretching his back on the dugout railing.

Throughout the night, dozens of people — mostly in the seats just behind the Legends area — recognized me and called me over to talk:

76_zack_talking_to_fans

Every encounter I had was positive, except for one — and it took me by surprise. An hour earlier, while I was walking through the aisle toward home plate, a tall, well-dressed, middle-aged man said, “Douche!” as he passed by in the opposite direction.

People are weird.

Here’s a cute photo of me and Ben laughing about something:

77_ben_and_zack_laughing

It was the 10th or 11th inning at that point, and in the 12th, my mom fell asleep:

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Poor mama. It had been a long day. But I was still going strong! Here I am on the 3rd base side, hoping for a foul ball from one of the many left-handed batters:

79_zack_going_for_lefty_foul_balls

No luck. Nothing even came close.

Check out the scoreboard in the bottom of the 12th inning:

80_scoreboard_in_the_12th_inning

The Rays had taken a 5-3 lead, but the Yankees had something cookin’. After a leadoff walk by Brett Gardner and a pair of one-out singles by A-Rod and Teixeira, the score was 5-4. Two pitches later, Brian McCann blasted a three-run, walk-off homer (which, thankfully, landed nowhere near my regular spot in right field). Here he is touching home plate:

81_brian_mccann_walkoff_homer

Final score: Yankees 7, Rays 5.

A minute or two later, when the Rays were walking in from the bullpen, I threw on my Rays cap and headed over to the dugout:

82_rays_walking_in_from_the_bullpen

Who do you think got the only ball that ended up being tossed into the crowd — me or the little kid decked out in Yankees gear who was already holding a ball?

Here’s a hint: it wasn’t me. And that was fine.

Back on the 1st base side, Ben told me that Eddie was in the dugout with my bats:

83_ben_telling_zack_that_eddie_was_just below_the_dugout_roof

Sure enough, after waiting several minutes for all the other fans to leave, Eddie walked out and handed them to me:

84_eddie_handing_bats_to_zack

What a great feeling!

He told me “congrats,” and I thanked him for everything, and after chatting for a couple of minutes, we shook hands:

85_zack_and_eddie_shaking_hands

Then, figuring I’d enjoy my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not to be rushed out of the stadium, I photographed the bats:

86_zack_photographing_bats

Here’s a closer look:

87_autographed_bats_closeup

For an even better photo that shows the entire bats, click here.

Here’s another photo of me with the bats:

88_zack_posing_with_bats

The stadium was basically empty at that point:

89_security_guard_in_empty_dugout

To put it lightly, my mom was ready to go:

90_naomi_ready_to_leave

But I wasn’t done yet! (Sorry not sorry.) I needed Hayley to take a couple of photos of me with the A-Rod jersey:

91_zack_posing_with_the_jersey

For a better photo of the jersey with a closer look at the inscription, click here.

Given the fact that Ben is a jersey connoisseur (who once owned as many as 1,900 of them!), I let him do the folding:

92_ben_folding_the_jersey_while_zack_swings_a_bat

If it were up to me, I would’ve stayed in the seats for another hour, watched the grounds crew work on the field, and reflected on a truly magical day, but security was finally ready for us to leave.

They walked us out through the Legends restaurant . . .

93_walking_out_through_the_legends_restaurant

. . . and escorted us to the exit . . .

94_naomi_heading_out

. . . and before I knew it, we were outside, and it was all over:

95_zack_and_ben_outside

Or was it? I have a feeling that Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th hit will be the gift that keeps on giving . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 12 baseball at this game

• 389 balls in 51 games this season = 7.63 balls per game.

• 978 lifetime balls in 143 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.84 balls per game.

• 1,104 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 768 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 271 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 8,195 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

pitch_in_for_baseball(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 21 donors for my fundraiser

• $150.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,301.08 raised this season (including the huge donation from the Yankees)

• $190,256.58 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/23/15 at Yankee Stadium

This was my 2nd game back at Yankee Stadium after snagging Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th career hit, and things were still crazy. Moments after I took this photo during batting practice in right field . . .

1_view_from_right_field_in_bp_06_23_15

. . . a high-school kid started screaming and cursing at me from the bleachers. Despite the fact that I was trying to work out a deal to get the ball back to A-Rod in exchange for the Yankees making a huge donation to a children’s baseball charity, this kid was pissed that I hadn’t given it back right away.

When the Phillies began playing catch, I ran over to the seats along the left field foul line. That’s when I got an unexpected phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. Normally I wouldn’t have answered it, but in case this was something important, I decided to make an exception. It turned out to be Andrew Marchand from ESPN. He asked a bunch of questions, which was nice, I guess, but I’m pretty sure it cost me a ball. Thankfully, when I got off the phone, I got one thrown to me from about 150 feet away by Ben Revere.

I headed back to right field and ended up snagging five balls during BP. The first was a homer by a right-handed batter (Darin Ruf, perhaps?) that I caught on the fly after drifting down the stairs to the front row. I handed that ball to the nearest kid, and I gave away the next one too — a Domonic Brown homer that pretty much came right to me. The next ball (my fourth overall) was a no-look glove flip from Elvis Araujo, and then I got a toss-up from Jeanmar Gomez. My final ball was a homer by a left-handed batter that I jumped for and caught after moving back several rows and shifting into the middle of the section.

At around 6:30pm, it started raining, and the tarp came out:

2_tarp_on_field_pregame_06_23_15

That didn’t bother me. Both teams had taken BP, and I’d snagged a bunch of baseballs, so whatever.

Eventually, after a lengthy delay, the grounds crew prepped the field, and Phillies starter Sean O’Sullivan began warming up:

3_sean_osullivan_warming_up

As you can see in the photo above, I was in the bleachers — and it was crowded. For the most part, I made a point of facing the field so that my back was turned to everyone behind me. I didn’t want to be recognized. I didn’t want to cause a scene. I just wanted to try to get a pre-game toss-up and then be on my way.

So much for that.

Within about 30 seconds, I heard someone behind me shout, “Hey!! It’s Foul Ball Guy!!” which prompted someone else to yell, “Yeah!! It’s the guy who got A-Rod’s 3,000th hit!!” A man on my left then asked to take a photo with me, while a guy on my right started hollering, “Boo!! Boo!! Give it back to A-Rod!!” He wasn’t actually upset. He kind of had a smile on his face and just seemed to be busting my chops a bit, but still . . . jeez. I gave up on getting a ball from O’Sullivan and instead tried to leave the section, but now all eyes (and dozens of cameras) were on me, and I got stopped multiple times. I’m glad to say that everyone was really nice. Lots of folks told me “congrats” and simply wanted to shake my hand. Others asked to take photos and offered advice on what I should do with the ball. It was nuts, but I don’t mean to complain. I appreciated all the positive comments, and while the whole thing was fun on some level, it was also unnerving. I can see how real celebrities could lose their minds. I can’t imagine dealing with that level of attention on a full-time basis.

Anyway, look how beautiful the sky was in the bottom of the 1st inning:

4_view_during_game_06_23_15

Because of the rain delay (which officially lasted an hour and 21 minutes) and the slow pace of the game (three hours and 45 minutes) and the Phillies’ tie-breaking five-run rally in the top of the 9th inning, the stadium was rather empty toward the end of the game. Check it out:

5_empty_seats_on_my_left_06_23_15

In the photo above, do you see the guy standing one section away? I didn’t notice him at the time and didn’t think anything of it, but that all changed one minute later. That’s when I saw him walking right toward me with a small blonde child in his arms, and when he got closer, I recognized him. It was former major league outfielder Eric Byrnes.

“Byrnesie!” I shouted. “What’s up?”

“Hey, how’s it going?” he replied, and then after a brief pause, he said, “Hey, aren’t you guy who got the A-Rod ball?”

That took me by surprise. When I first saw him heading my way, I figured he was coming over to talk to me because of it.

We ended up chatting for the rest of the game, exchanging contact info, and making a tentative plan to film a ballhawking segment for the MLB Network. I suggested having a competition to see who could catch more home run balls, and he loved the idea. (I would totally win, right?)

Here’s a cruddy cell phone selfie that we took in the bottom of the 9th inning:

6_zack_and_eric_byrnes

That photo turned out to be the basis of some trash-talking on Twitter. Here’s what I posted:

6b_byrnes1

This was Eric’s reply:

6c_byrnes2

Ho-HO!! It’s on, Son!!

Seriously, though, how much fun would it be to see me going at it in the stands with a former major leaguer? Follow him on Twitter — @byrnes22 — and let him know if you want to see this ballhawking competition take place. And hey, it’s not like he’s some old fat dude who let himself go after retiring. He’s still in his 30s, and the dude is JACKED. Check out this higher-quality photo of us that was taken after the game:

7_zack_and_eric_byrnes

Those were all the baseballs I had left at that point. Here’s what I did with three of them:

8_zack_and_eric_byrnes_kids

Those are Eric’s kids. The youngest had really wanted a ball, so I handed one over, and then of course the other two felt left out, so . . . yeah. Eric felt bad and promised to hook me up with some baseballs down the road, but I told him not to worry about it. (During his career, he threw me two balls and hit me a pair of BP homers, so I was still coming out ahead.) Here’s the tweet he posted about it:

8b_byrnes3

His wife was there too and we all walked out of the stadium together. I kept trying to say goodbye and telling him that I didn’t want to intrude upon his time with his family, but he wanted to keep talking. Very cool guy. Amazing that we ran into each other like that.

Finally, of the six balls that I snagged, this was the only one that I kept:

9_the_one_ball_i_kept_06_23_15

I love the smudgy ones.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 baseball at this game

• 366 balls in 48 games this season = 7.63 balls per game.

• 966 lifetime balls in 142 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.80 balls per game.

• 1,101 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 765 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 270 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 8,172 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 18 donors for my fundraiser

• $132.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $264.80 raised this season

• $40,220.30 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/22/15 at Yankee Stadium

Being “famous” is weird.

This was my first game back at Yankee Stadium after snagging Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th career hit, and to put it lightly, all eyes were on me. Check this out:

1_creeper_photo_at_gate_6

I have no idea who took that photo, and I forget how I even got that screen shot, but yeah, see what I mean? It wasn’t just weird — it was downright creepy and disconcerting.

In the photo above, the man standing near me was on the verge of becoming a key figure in all this crazy A-Rod stuff. His name is David Rhode, and he’s the executive director of Pitch In For Baseball, the charity that I was hoping to bring into the mix. On the night that I snagged the ball, I had a meeting with Yankees President Randy Levine, who told me that the team might make a sizable donation to the charity. After thinking about it all weekend (and trying to ignore all the hateful messages from people who had NO IDEA what was actually going on), I agreed to have another meeting with him back at the stadium — with David.

The Yankees had given me two comp tickets in right field — one for David and another for my friend Ben Weil — but there was no VIP treatment beyond that. We still had to wait outside the gates like everyone else.

I wasn’t sure how other fans would react to me. Would they be pissed off that I hadn’t given the ball to A-Rod, or would they be excited to meet the guy who had snagged it? Thankfully it was the latter. Everyone outside Gate 6 recognized me, and after posing for a bunch of selfies with them, they let me take their photo:

2_fans_being_cool

With the exception of two dimwitted kids who screamed and cursed at me later in the day, everyone I met was really cool. The negativity, it seemed, was mostly confined to the internet.

This was my view at the start of batting practice:

3_view_from_right_field_during_bp_06_22_15

Thirty seconds later, a left-handed batter on the Yankees (not sure who) launched a deep home run over my head into the bleachers. Since there weren’t yet any fans up there, the security guard who retrieved the ball tossed it down to me. I *do* count balls that are given to me by stadium employees, so that one extended my consecutive games streak to 1,100. Since September 10, 1993, I’ve snagged at least one ball at every game I’ve attended.

A little while later, I battled the sun to catch a home run on the fly. Once again, I wasn’t sure who hit it, but I can tell you that the next ball I got — a homer that landed near me in the seats — was hit by Garrett Jones.

4_first_two_baseballs_06_22_15

Here’s a photo that David took during batting practice:

5_fans_in_right_field_06_22_15

As you can see, it was kinda crowded, but not totally crazy.

In the photo above, the fan in the Pineda shirt respectfully said that he thought it was messed up that I didn’t give the ball back to A-Rod. I told him that I appreciated his willingness to discuss it with me.

I managed to catch one ball during the Phillies’ portion of BP — a towering homer by Ryan Howard that no one else around me even saw. It was strange to be the only one moving for it, but hey, thanks everyone!

After BP, I posed for several photos . . .

6_zack_posing_for_photos_with_fans

. . . and selfies:

7_zack_posing_for_photos_with_fans

Shortly before game time, I got Phillies starter Kevin Correia to toss me his warm-up ball from the left field bullpen:

8_ball_8166_warmup_from_kevin_correia

That was my fifth of the day.

Randy Levine had suggested meeting at game time up in his office on the Suite Level, but guess what? Yankees 3rd baseman Chase Headley had 99 career home runs and was due to bat in the 1st inning, so I asked if we could possibly work around that.

“I know what’s going to happen,” I told him. “I’m going to be in your office and Headley is going to hit his 100th career homer right to my seat.”

I really didn’t mean to be difficult — Randy, of course, is a busy and powerful man — but some things are just too important, and he understood. In fact, I think he might have actually gotten a kick out of my dedication to my hobby. He suggested that I stay in my seat until after Headley batted and then come up and see him with David. What a guy!

Here’s a photo of Ben (who can never make a serious face) and David in the top of the 1st inning:

9_ben_and_david_during_the_game

In the bottom of the 1st, I sat on the edge of my seat for Headley, who ended up ripping a line-drive single to center field. (Boo!) Then, hoping that Randy wouldn’t mind if we took an extra minute, I lingered for A-Rod, who batted next . . . and struck out. (Frowny face.)

David and I headed to the suite entrance on the lower level behind home plate, amusing ourselves along the way by imagining the reaction of the security guard when I would soon waltz in, cargo shorts and all, and state that I was there for a meeting with Randy Levine.

Not surprisingly, the guard telephoned his superiors to make sure this wasn’t a prank:

10_heading_upstairs_to_meet_randy_levine

And then, like magic, we were welcomed farther inside the otherwise impenetrable fort. Moments later, a very very VERY large and physically fit guard escorted us upstairs and through the suite level concourse and eventually into the executive offices (where I had first met Randy three days earlier). While waiting for him, I grabbed a quick photo of David in the hallway:

11_david_in_the_executive_offices_hallway

The meeting lasted for a while, but it was worth missing one or two of Chase Headley’s at-bats, even if he DID hit one right to my seat. In addition to Randy, there were several other high-ranking Yankees executives, including:

1) Lonn Trost, the Chief Operating Officer and Head Counsel
2) Brian Smith, the Senior Vice President of Corporate/Community Relations
3) Eddie Fastook, the Executive Director of Team Security

This was serious. And I was wearing cargo shorts. But hey, whatever, right? I’m just the guy who catches baseballs.

The main purpose of the meeting was for the Yankees and Pitch In For Baseball to come face to face and try to work out an agreement. In other words, if I gave the ball back to A-Rod, what would the Yankees do for the charity? After lots of discussing back and forth, Randy asked us if we could step out in the hallway and give them some time to talk amongst themselves.

David was pleased with what the Yankees offered: a package that not only would include a large donation, but also continued support for years to come. To quote him, it was a “game-changer.” But nothing was official at that point. The Yankees still had to investigate Pitch In For Baseball — or perhaps “research” would be a better word. They weren’t going to write a huge check without learning more about the recipient, and if they ended up feeling dissatisfied with the charity in any way, the potential deal would fall apart. In addition, there was also my so-called wish list to consider. If I asked for too much or was too demanding in asking for it, that could also ruin everything. David and I discussed all of this in the hallway for a few minutes until we were called back in.

That’s when Randy asked me what sort of stuff I was interested in, and when I told him that I hadn’t prepared a formal list or even thought much about it, he encouraged me to name a few things. I tried to come up with a few ideas, but can you imagine the pressure of being put on the spot like that? Randy could tell that I was getting flustered so he told me I didn’t have to come up with everything right now — that I should take a few days and think about it and call him mid-week. Then he said something that made me feel great. He told me that I didn’t have to treat my wish list like a one-shot deal. He said he really liked the way I had handled everything and conducted myself, and that he wanted to work with me and treat me like I was “part of the Yankee family.” Assuming I’d give the ball to A-Rod, Randy said that in the future, if I think of anything else I want that I forgot to include on the list, I could always ask him, and if it’s possible, he’d try to help me out. That sounded so much better than having everything in writing and bringing in lawyers and making a legal mess out of the whole thing. I had snagged a baseball. They were offering to help a charity. No reason for it to be difficult.

Toward the end of the meeting, while I was talking about something, David cut me off and said, “Sorry to interrupt, but I just want to speak up on Zack’s behalf because I think he’s being shy or maybe he just forgot. Can you guys send him to the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game?”

The answer was yes. Randy told Brian to make a note of it, and voila! That’s all it took! So awesome. Huge thanks to David.

Once again, nothing was official, but the basic structure of the potential deal was in place. There was still a LOT more discussing and planning and agreeing to be done, but David and I both felt good about things — and I think the Yankees did too.

(Just another night at the ballpark, huh?)

I don’t remember what inning it was when David and I made it back down to our seats. I do know that the game had been a slugfest, and Maikel Franco was killin’ it:

12_maikel_franco_perfect_night

Late in the game, I had a series of sweet interactions with a little kid sitting nearby. His parents had been trying to get a ball for him, so I made things easier and handed him one of mine instead:

13_zack_and_kid_with_ball_06_22_15

David tweeted about it from the official Pitch In For Baseball Twitter account, and guess what happened? A bunch of haters got worked up into a frenzy, claiming that I hadn’t actually given the kid anything — that I was just posing with a random kid who already had a ball, or that I had handed him the ball just for the photo. At the stadium, people were great, but on the internet, it felt like everyone wanted to hate me — that this story somehow needed a villain and that role was being assigned to me.

The Phillies ended up winning the game, 11-8, and I walked out of the stadium feeling like a champ. There was a chance that A-Rod was going to receive his precious baseball after all and that my favorite charity, which I had been supporting on my own since 2009, was going to be VERY well taken care of.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 baseball at this game

• 360 balls in 47 games this season = 7.66 balls per game.

• 960 lifetime balls in 141 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.81 balls per game.

• 1,100 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 764 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 269 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 8,166 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 18 donors for my fundraiser

• $132.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $264.80 raised this season

• $40,220.30 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/19/15 at Yankee Stadium

I don’t usually begin with spoilers, but this is a special occasion, so I’m just gonna come right out and say it: this was the day I snagged Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th career hit. (Wow!)

Now that you know that, take a look at this whiny email I sent on the morning on the game:

1_email_to_meredith

Forgive me for complaining. The recipient of that email, Meredith Kim, works for my favorite children’s baseball charity, Pitch In For Baseball. Since 2009 I’ve been fundraising for them by getting people to pledge money for the balls I snag at major league stadiums. As a new experiment this season, instead of every ball raising money, I’ve encouraged people to make larger pledges for game home run balls only. Therefore I hope you can understand my frustration. I truly felt like I’d been letting the charity down.

Several hours after sending that email, I had the following exchange on Twitter:

2_twitter_exchange_about_trying_to_catch_the_ball

As you can see by the number of retweets, lots of people ended up thinking that was pretty cool — but of course I had no idea at the time that anything special was going to happen. A-Rod started the day with 2,999 hits; I was simply looking forward to witnessing the milestone.

Fast-forward a couple of hours. When Yankee Stadium opened, I was one of the first fans to run inside, and I snagged two quick baseballs during batting practice:

3_first_baseballs_of_the_day_8150_and_8151

The first was a Mason Williams homer that I caught on the fly. The second was blasted by a left-handed batter (Chase Headley, if I had to guess) toward the back of the section. I darted up the steps, cut 20 feet to my left through an empty row, and nearly made a sweet running catch — but ended up grabbing the ball in the seats.

Several minutes later, I got my third ball of the day from a ballboy in right field, and I tossed it to the nearest kid.

When the Yankees finished hitting, I noticed a bunch of home run balls scattered in their bullpen — probably eight to ten, at least. Several relievers ended up tossing them all into the crowd, sparking a mini-frenzy amongst the handful of nearby fans. Some of the balls went to the bleachers, and the rest were chucked into Section 103 beside the bullpen. I got two of them. The first, thrown to no one in particular by Justin Wilson, landed in the cushioned/folded-up portion of a seat. The second was tossed right to me by Dellin Betances.

The Tigers started hitting soon after, and I headed to left field:

4_view_from_left_field_during_bp_06_19_15

And then I ran back to right field. That happens sometimes — a total waste of time, but hey, free exercise! There were several righties in the first group, so I had thought that left field was the place to be, but once I got there, it was kind of crowded, and I just wasn’t feeling it.

My sixth ball was a homer by Victor Martinez that I picked up in the seats, and guess what? It was a 2014 postseason ball! Check it out:

5_ball8155_postseason_ball_from_2014

Last year I snagged a couple of those balls at Game 1 of the ALDS in Baltimore (including this brand-new one) but it was still great to have another. I’m always thrilled to add to my collection of commemorative balls.

My seventh ball, hit by Victor Martinez, was a ground-rule double that took a high bounce off the warming track. Then I caught two homers by a right-handed batter (J.D. Martinez, perhaps?) and gave them both away. The first one went to the smallest kid with a glove, and the second went to a gray-haired man who was standing right behind me. He was much more likely to have gotten drilled by the ball than he was to have caught it, but given his proximity, it seemed like a nice thing to do.

Meanwhile I found myself struggling to identify this guy:

6_kyle_ryan_after_ball8159

I knew that if I could figure out his name and ask politely for a ball, he’d probably hook me up, but who was it?! According to the Tigers roster, which I had printed and brought with me, there were five left-handed pitchers. I knew it wasn’t Tom Gorzelanny or David Price, which meant it had to be Ian Krol, Blaine Hardy, or Kyle Ryan.

Upon further inspection of the roster, I realized that Krol and Hardy were “only” 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-2 respectively, while Ryan was 6-foot-5. Given my weird obsession with height, I know when someone’s 6-foot-5, even from afar when they’re standing alone, so when this unknown player eventually wandered over to retrieve a ball, I hurried down to the front row.

“Hey, Kyle,” I said as he went to pick it up, “any chance for the ball, please?”

I was afraid that I’d just made a fool of myself and disrespected a major leaguer by not knowing who he was, but then he looked up and flipped me the ball — my 10th of the day.

My 11th and final ball of BP was a deep, sinking liner by a left-handed batter — no idea who. I drifted down the steps beside the camera well, got caught up on a chain, and lunged out and down over the wall in front of the camera, catching the ball in the tip of my glove. That one felt great because I truly earned it. I didn’t have to sweet-talk the players. It hadn’t been bobbled by another fan. It was just me versus the ball, and I came out on top.

Shortly before game time, after both starting pitchers had finished warming up, I spotted a baseball on the warning track in right-center field. See it in the following photo?

7_ball_on_the_warning_track_pregame

I waited there for five minutes until a groundskeeper wandered over and picked it up. I called out and asked politely for it, and he ignored me. Bleh.

Then I took a photo of the bleachers and bullpen . . .

8_right_field_seats_from_the_bleachers

. . . and hurried downstairs to my seat in right field. (Why is it that when I’m inside a major league stadium, everything always feels rushed?)

Yankees starter Adam Warren needed just nine pitches to get through the top of the first. Anthony Gose led off with a line-drive single to left field, Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera followed with a pair of strikeouts, and then Gose was caught stealing.

In the bottom of the inning, Brett Gardner led off with a ground-ball single up the middle and was promptly picked off by Tigers starter Justin Verlander. At that point, Chase Headley was at bat, and I was well aware of the fact that he had 99 career home runs. In fact, I remember thinking that if someone had said to me, “You can have Headley’s 100th homer, but then you’ll have to give up your chance at catching A-Rod’s 3,000th hit,” I would’ve gladly accepted. Yeah, I was taking the whole A-Rod thing seriously, but it seemed *so* unlikely.

As it turned out, Headley hit a routine fly ball to left field, bringing the man himself — Alex Rodriguez — to the plate. This was the view to my right . . .

9_view_to_my_right_for_arod

. . . and here’s what it looked like straight ahead:

10_view_straight_ahead_for_arod

As you can see, everyone was standing and ready to witness history. I thought about holding onto my camera and trying to photograph or film the big moment, but then I was like, “Nah, I should keep my right hand free in case he gets a hold of one.” But then I was like, “He’s not going yard off Verlander, you idiot,” but then I was like, “Umm, yeah, he very well might. Verlander’s not that good anymore, but he still throws hard, and A-Rod might go oppo.”

I had thought about getting a ticket for this game in left field, but my season ticket (which I got in the middle of last season) is in right field, and I knew that A-Rod could easily reach me out there. Despite the fact that he’s more likely to pull his home runs or hit them to dead center, I felt I had a better shot in right field. A-Rod, of course, has tremendous power, so when he pulls a home run, there’s a HUGE area of potential seats where the ball can land. He might crush a 450-foot moonshot to left-center, or he might yank a 350-foot line drive down the line. The point is that in left field, you can’t narrow it down to one likely spot. When A-Rod goes deep to the opposite field, however, the ball never lands 30 rows deep. Sure, he’ll sometimes hit a homer into the bullpen in right-center or flare one onto the Short Porch near the foul pole, but there’s a much more concentrated area where the ball can realistically land, and I believed that my spot was right in the middle of it.

Anyway, as A-Rod dug into the batter’s box, I hurriedly placed my camera in a cup holder — I don’t think I even had time to turn it off — and looked up just in time to see Verlander delivering the first pitch:

11_justin_verlander_first_pitch_to_arod

It was a fastball on the outside corner, and A-Rod connected:

12_arod_connecting

Let me rephrase that. He didn’t merely “connect.” He launched a deep fly ball RIGHT in my direction . . .

13_verlander_and_arod_looking_up_at_the_ball

. . . and I knew immediately that it was going to be a home run. Don’t ask me how I knew. I just knew. I sit out there all the time, and I’m good at judging fly balls. I was certain from the moment he hit it that it was going to land within a few feet of me, but I didn’t get excited, nor did I panic. Several weeks earlier, when A-Rod was tied with Willie Mays on the all-time home run list, he slugged a remarkably similar fly ball that I thought I was going to catch. My reaction for that one was more along the lines of, “OHMYGOD, IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING?!?!?!?!” but the ball ended up tailing a bit and falling short, allowing Delmon Young to make a leaping catch at the wall. It’s hard to explain, but when A-Rod sent his 3,000th hit sailing in my direction, I assumed something would go wrong — something that would prevent me from catching it. It’s like I didn’t want to get too excited because it would make the heartbreak of NOT catching it even worse, so as the ball started coming toward me, my thoughts were more like, “Oh jeez, here we go again,” and then somewhat matter-of-factly, I said to myself, “Okay, let’s do this.”

Of course, in order to DO IT, I needed to get underneath the ball, so let me say this for anyone who’s never played baseball or been close to a home run in the stands: balls hit right at you are the toughest to judge. If they’re hit to the left or right, you’ll know immediately that you need to move to the side, but when you’re lined up with a ball from the start, it’s hard to predict how far back it’ll land. That said, earlier in the day, during the Tigers’ portion of BP, I had noticed that deep fly balls hit by right-handed hitters (in particular J.D. Martinez and Miguel Cabrera) were carrying farther than usual. It’s not that I was surprised to see those guys reaching the seats — it’s that balls that I would’ve normally expected to reach the second or third row were landing halfway up the section. I don’t know if the wind was blowing out, or if the warm summer air had something to do with it, but whatever the reasons might’ve been, I kept that in mind as I jumped out of my seat for the A-Rod ball.

I was sitting beside the staircase in the third row, so I drifted back on the steps to the fourth row. In the following screen shot, you can see me just above the camera, starting to reach up with my glove, wearing light gray shorts and an olive-green shirt:

14_fans_jostling_for_position

I knew I needed to drift back a little farther — being on the staircase in the fifth row would’ve been ideal — but as I tried to get there, I got blocked by a wall of people, and as I jumped for the ball, I got pushed a bit from behind:

15_zack_jumping_for_the_ball

There was nothing malicious about the jostling. Given the significance of this baseball, I don’t blame anyone for acting a bit crazy, but of course it sucked beyond belief when it sailed a couple of feet over my glove and disappeared into the throng behind me. Looking back on that moment, I can clearly remember my emotions. Part of me was like, “See? I knew I wasn’t gonna catch it,” but the other part was like, “Maybe there’s still a chance.”

If the other fans had been a bit crazy before, they were flat-out psychotic now. There were so many bodies pushing and shoving and scrambling for the ball that I couldn’t see the ground behind me, so I did the next best thing. I looked for the ball where I *could* see the ground — right down at my feet, and whaddaya know? The ball was RIGHT THERE, sitting still on the very step that I was standing on, practically touching my right sneaker, and no one else around me knew where it was! Here’s the moment when I first saw it:

16_zack_spotting_the_ball

To say that I was astonished would be a laughable understatement.

In the previous screen shot, the man in the “Mattingly” shirt seems to be the only other person who spotted the ball, but he was four rows below me, and I was already bending down for it, so he had no chance. Meanwhile the guy in the red cap (who was wearing an A-Rod jersey) was so busy celebrating that he didn’t bother looking for the ball — lucky for me because he was *right* there and could’ve easily reached for it.

Here’s the moment that I grabbed the ball:

17_zack_grabbing_the_ball

As you can see, the Mattingly guy was starting to run up the steps, but no one else knew where it was. See all the people behind me huddled around the spot where the ball had first landed?

Amazing.

After grabbing the ball, I did something I shouldn’t have done. I’d been thinking about a moment like this for years, and I’d even written some advice about it in my latest book, The Baseball. On page 257, the last full paragraph says:

When you catch a milestone home run ball, don’t hold it up and celebrate because it might get ripped out of your hand. Keep the ball in your glove, squeeze it shut, pull it tight against your chest, and wrap your bare hand around it. Don’t let anyone else hold it or touch it. Other fans will ask. They’ll want to take pics. They’ll be persistent. Tell them no. Be rude if you have to. Keep your death-grip on the ball until you’re surrounded by stadium security.”

So much for that:

18_zack_initial_celebration

As you can see below (and as you might expect), I completely freaked out:

19_zack_very_very_very_very_very_very_very_very_very_very_very_very_emotional

I did have a death-grip on the ball. There was *no* chance in hell that anyone was going to pry it from my hands — not even the Incredible Hulk, but I did panic and pull the ball close to my body when a fan grabbed me from behind. (You can see him above in the collage of screen shots.) Thankfully he wasn’t trying to mess with me. He was just excited and wanted to give me a hug.

Overall, in the moments following A-Rod’s 3,000th hit, I was more stunned than excited. I truly could not believe what had just happened, and if you look at my face in the final image of that collage (bottom right), you can see that I was like . . . “What?” Instead of a triumphant “I GOT THE BALL,” it was more of a puzzled, “I got the ball?” The whole situation seemed fake, as if my whole life had been secretly scripted as a movie leading up to that moment, and it was all staged, just for me. All I could think was, “This could NOT have actually just happened.” It felt too lucky and easy. I hadn’t even caught the ball on the fly. It landed behind me and disappeared in the crowd. How on earth did the ball then make its way back toward me through a forest of legs? That basically never happens.

It wasn’t long before I was surrounded by security guards, supervisors, and police officers. How long did it take them to find me? I don’t know. The whole thing was a blur, but it probably took less than a minute — possibly less than 30 seconds. They were *on* it and really looking out for me, not just physically but also emotionally. Here’s one of the supervisors trying to help me calm down:

20_security_calming_me_down

Right around that time, a friend named Tony Bracco snapped a bunch of photos of my section from his seat on the first-base side. Here’s one of them (with another to follow in a bit):

21_zack_after_ball8161_photo_by_tony_bracco

For my own safety, the cops and security guards wanted to get me out of there ASAP, but I wasn’t in any rush. I wanted to take a photo of the ball — and it seemed that everyone else did too. Here I am posing for a bunch of selfies:

22_zack_taking_selfies_with_fans

I must’ve done a few dozen of those. Security was NOT happy about it, and I don’t blame them. I knew I was making their job more difficult, but this was the biggest baseball moment of my life, and I wanted to soak it in and enjoy it — and really, can you blame me? The guards and cops kept trying to get me to leave with them, but more people kept rushing over for selfies. A few fans asked if they could hold the ball. “No way,” I told them. “I’m sorry, but I just can’t let it out of my possession.” They understood, and everyone was really chill. No one was pissed off, no one tried to snatch it, and, perhaps, most importantly, no one claimed that I’d stolen it from them. Do you remember the story of Barry Bonds’ 73rd and final home run ball from his record-breaking 2001 season? The fan who got it was sued by another man who claimed he had caught it and had it yanked out of his glove in the scrum. What a mess! (There’s a feature-length documentary about the bizarre aftermath of that Bonds homer called “Up For Grabs,” which I highly recommend.) I’m so glad there was nothing controversial about my snag.

Finally, after several minutes’ worth of selfies with other people, I took my own photo of the ball:

23_first_photo_of_ball8161_arods_3000th_hit

The “R” above the Rawlings logo stands for Rodriguez, and the “1” below the logo indicates that it was the first specially-marked ball that Major League Baseball put into play for his at-bats. To be clear, those markings were there when I snagged it, as was the gash near the MLB logo that I photographed later. I want everyone to know that I never defaced the ball in any way.

I realize I’m posting some of these photos and screen shots out of order. Like I said, the whole thing was a blur, but whatever — here’s another one of me freaking out and showing the ball to the TV camera:

24_zack_screaming_excitedly_at_the_camera

Here’s what the camera saw:

24b_zack_freaking_out_some_more

Eventually I calmed down and leaned in a little closer toward the camera. Here’s another photo from my friend Tony:

25_zack_showing_the_ball_to_the_camera_photo_by_tony_bracco

Tony, by the way, is a freelance photographer and graphic artist (and a diehard Yankee fan, who’s been on TV countless times with his famous signs), so if you need any work done, check him out. Here’s his website.

Here what the TV camera captured:

26_zack_on_tv_with_arods_3000th_hit

Many of the screen shots I’ve posted were taken from the Tigers’ broadcast. I can’t find that footage online, so here’s the full video as it was shown by the Yankees.

When things calmed down further, I got someone to take a photo of me with the ball:

27_zack_with_arods_3000th_hit

The guards and cops were so annoyed at that point . . .

28_cops_and_stadium_security

. . . but deep down, I think they understood what was going through my mind. That said, I didn’t want to keep them waiting any longer, so I headed with them toward the concourse. Here’s what I saw at the top of the stairs:

29_people_photographing_me_in_the_concourse

UNREAL!!!

In addition to all the fans who were trying to take photos, there were five newspaper reporters holding iPhones and digital voice recorders in my face. Can you spell your name for me? How old are you? Where do you live? Are you gonna give the ball back to A-Rod? The questions kept coming, and I tried to answer them, but security was shouting, “Let’s go!! Let’s go!! We gotta keep moving!!” More and more fans flooded the concourse, including several folks I recognized. They all wanted to see the ball and take photos and congratulate me. It was absolutely insane, and I hardly knew what to do with myself. I couldn’t possibly accommodate everyone, so I followed security and tried to keep answering the reporters’ questions. I don’t know where this next photo came from, but it shows me clutching the ball and being interviewed as I walked through a wider portion of the concourse:

30_zack_with_reporters_and_security

Moments later, I found myself being whisked toward a side door that led to some sort of restricted hallway. I don’t know where or what it was. It was either connected to the suites or it was an employees-only area, but whatever the case, none of the fans or even the reporters were allowed to follow me. Where is your seat? Will you be back there later? How can we get a hold of you? Can you give us your phone number? It was a total frenzy, and thankfully, just before heading into the hallway, I had the presence of mind to take another photo:

31_reporters_interviewing_me_as_i_was_getting_whisked_away

And then, for the first time since A-Rod had stepped into the batter’s box, things suddenly became peaceful. All the guards and cops had peeled off except for one — a serious-lookin’ dude who introduced himself as Eddie Fastook, the Executive Director of Team Security. He looked vaguely familiar, but I’d never seen him in person before. As it turned out, The New York Times had done a feature on him four days earlier, specifically about his never-ending quest to retrieve important home run balls.

Eddie was so calm and polite that it almost made me feel bad. At that point, I was determined not to give the ball back, so on one hand, I didn’t want to let him down, and on the other hand, I almost wanted him to be rude or aggressive because it would’ve justified my decision.

I followed him through the hallway and into an elevator that took us down to the lowest level of the stadium. Here’s what it looked like:

32_arods_3000th_hit_in_the_basement_of_yankee_stadium

It was eerily quiet down there, almost to the point of being creepy, and there was no one else in sight. I remember thinking, “My GOD, this is where the Yankees make people disappear!” But in all seriousness, I knew this wasn’t a sinister operation. Eddie could not have been more respectful. He just wanted to talk in private — in his office, which was modestly-sized and happily cluttered. There was a desk at the far end, a couch along one of the side walls, and lots of Yankees stuff scattered about. Eddie picked up a remote control, pointed it at a TV mounted high on the wall, and put on the game.

And then?

We had a long conversation, probably for at least 10 or 15 minutes, during which he offered all kinds of stuff in exchange for the ball. I had kinda been through this type of thing before, but never on such a grand scale. On 4/21/11 at Citi Field, I caught Mike Nickeas’s first career home run and was promptly approached by stadium security. On 7/24/11 at Camden Yards, I caught Mike Trout’s first career homer and dealt with security all over again, and on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium, I snagged the first home run of Didi Gregorius’s career. I gave back all three of those baseballs without asking for anything in return, other than getting to be the person who personally handed them to the players. With the A-Rod ball, however, things weren’t going to be so simple.

Eddie offered me a chance to meet A-Rod, to have my own press conference at Yankee Stadium, and to be interviewed live on the YES Network during the game. He also offered me signed A-Rod memorabilia, including baseballs, bats, and jerseys — and that wasn’t all. He mentioned that I would receive lots of free tickets including a bunch in the ultra-fancy Legends area, where the face value of some seats is well over $1,000 per game. Then he asked me what I was interested in.

I thanked him for his generous offer and explained that I had no intention of giving back the ball.

“No offense,” I told him, “but there’s really nothing you could possibly offer that would be more valuable to me than the ball itself.”

I wasn’t bluffing. I wasn’t trying to get him to increase his offer. That’s truly how I felt. It was MY ball, and I was keeping it. Case close. The end. Goodbye. I didn’t know if I was going to hold onto it forever or send it to auction or donate it to the Hall of Fame, but I knew one thing — and I explained this to him. At the very least, I needed to leave the stadium with the ball still in my possession. If I made a quick decision and handed it over, it would go down as the biggest “what if” moment of my life. I didn’t want to have any regrets. I owed it to myself to slow down the process and think about it, and as much as A-Rod wanted it . . . well, what can I say? I wanted it too. The way I saw it, I had the right to take it home and enjoy looking at it and touching it and photographing it. And showing it to my friends. And to my mom. And who knows what else?

Eddie remained calm and said matter-of-factly, “Well, it’s your ball and your decision.”

Before we left his office, I called my girlfriend, Hayley, and asked if she had heard anything about the game. Not surprisingly, she hadn’t, so I said, “A-Rod got his 3,000th hit.”

“He did?” she asked with mild enthusiasm.

“Yeah, and it was a home run.”

“Oh yeah?!” she said, now suddenly excited and curious.

“And I got it.”

I figured she’d say, “Yeah right, what really happened?” but instead she began shrieking and squealing so loudly that I thought I’d suffered permanent hearing loss. She believed me . . . but didn’t believe me, if that makes sense, and when I called my mother right after, she had a similar reaction. Sharing the news with the two most important people in my life was incredible. I just wished my father were alive because he would’ve loved this whole situation so much.

Eddie told me I could have the ball authenticated by MLB, which was nice of him. Even though I’d made it clear that I wasn’t gonna give it back, he was still looking out for me.

After leaving his office, we met up with Yankees equipment manager Rob Cucuzza and then headed through this service-level concourse:

34_yankee_stadium_service_level_concourse

That’s where I met up with the authenticator — a former NYPD Sergeant named Dean Pecorale. He congratulated me for getting the ball and asked if I wanted to have it authenticated.

Umm, gee-whiz, okay!

He told me that in order to do that, he had to take the ball from me for two or three minutes and look at it in private.

“I’m gonna get it back, right?”

I knew the answer, but I was still so jittery that I had to ask. Waiting for Dean to reemerge with my precious baseball might have been the longest few minutes of my life. I assumed there was some secret infrared marking or serial number that he needed to see, so whatever. I was happy to wait for this part of the process to play out.

Once Dean determined that my ball was in fact THE ball, he walked back out into the concourse and asked if I wanted him to put an official hologram/authentication sticker on it. Of course I said yes, and then we posed together for a photo:

35_zack_and_mlb_authenticator_dean_pecorale

Prior to that, I had only gotten one other ball authenticated — the final home run that the Mets ever hit at Shea Stadium. Here’s a photo of me with that other authenticator, here and here are photos of that ball, and here’s my blog entry about that incredible day.

After helping me get the A-Rod ball authenticated, Eddie advised me to leave the stadium and go home and lock the ball away in a safe place. Part of me knew he was right; sticking around with that ball in my backpack was not the smartest or safest thing to do. The other part of me was like, “No way, I’m not leaving,” and wouldn’t you know it? That’s the part that had the final say. I told Eddie what I told the guards and cops who initially surrounded me after I snagged the ball: I wanted to enjoy the moment and soak it all in. Quite simply, that meant NOT leaving the stadium.

A few minutes later, Eddie told me that Yankees President Randy Levine wanted to talk to me. I told him I appreciated that, and that I would be delighted to talk to him — but not right away.

“Right now I need to relax,” I said, “and the best way for me to do that is to head back out to my seat in right field and watch some baseball.”

I asked Eddie if I could call him later in the game to find out if Randy was still interested in talking and also to coordinate a plan for me to exit the stadium safely. Of course he said yes, so we parted ways in the concourse just outside my section.

It was probably the third inning by that point. I was really antsy about having missed so much of the game, and you know what? I missed another inning because of all the people in the concourse who wanted to talk to me and interview me and take photos. That was fine, though. I had wanted to stay and get the full experience. If that meant interacting with everyone and missing the rest of the game, so be it.

Eventually I made it back down into my section, and everything seemed right with the world. Lots of people still wanted to talk and ask questions and take photos, but at least I could see the game. That made me feel a whole lot better.

My phone had been ringing/vibrating nonstop since the moment I snagged the A-Rod ball, but other than using it to call my mother and girlfriend, I hadn’t looked at it. Now it was ringing again. I didn’t want to do another interview at that point or talk to a long-lost childhood friend who’d gotten my phone number from who-knows-where. Yeah, I wanted the “full experience” that came with snagging this historic baseball, but I also wanted to catch my breath. That said, when I peeked at my phone, I was ecstatic to see the name Ben Weil on my caller ID. Ben is one of my very best friends. We first met at Shea Stadium in 2008, and as we crossed paths at more and more games and ballparks, we became super-close. We’ve gone on countless road trips together, attended All-Star Games, Home Run Derbies, World Series games, you name it. He has been there for me during some of my biggest baseball moments, including Mike Trout’s first home run. Ben was sitting several rows in front of me for that one, but he wasn’t bitter or jealous that I caught it. He was THRILLED for me, and he ended up taking this photo of me giving the ball back to Trout after the game. Ben is truly one of the kindest and most loving people I’ve ever known. Sorry for gushing, but I need to provide context because he ended up playing a big role on this night at Yankee Stadium. He wasn’t at the game, so he offered to show up and be there with me. I was alone and feeling frazzled and vulnerable, so I gladly accepted his offer.

I did feel safe, for the time being. All the guards and supervisors and cops had beefed up their presence around my section, and the fans around me were all being respectful, so I turned on my camera and then pulled out the ball (much to the surprise and delight of everyone around me) and took a photo of it:

42_arods_3000th_hit_with_authentication_sticker

Is that [bleepin’] beautiful or what?

Unfortunately, that nice, crisp photo was going to be stuck on my camera until I got home, so in order to tweet out an image of the ball, I had to take a crappier photo on my crappy phone. That’s around the time that my jaw literally dropped. Prior to snagging the A-Rod ball, I had about 3,000 followers on Twitter, which, you know, is pretty good for a freelance baseball nerd like me. Now, suddenly, that number was over 5,000. I don’t mean to brag about the numbers. I’m just mentioning them as a way of quantifying how big of a deal this was.

Here’s a screen shot of the tweet I posted:

43_first_tweet_of_arods_3000th_hit

I took that screen shot several days later, but still . . . WTF?!?! More than 4,000 retweets? Are you kidding me?! I knew this whole thing was gonna be huge, but not THIS huge.

That’s around the time when I saw a text from Hayley, suggesting that I delete a particular negative tweet that I’d posted a day earlier. Someone on Twitter had asked me what I’d do if I caught A-Rod’s 3,000th hit, and to put it lightly, I wrote a rather negative response. I was trying to be snarky and funny, but it was just dumb and pointless. Hayley had texted me about it right after we talked, and by the time I went to delete it, I was horrified to see that it had been retweeted 120 times. Hoo-boy.

Just about everyone, if they’re being honest, would probably admit to saying something awful at some point in their lives — something that they wish they could take back. For me, this was it. The tweet wasn’t racist or homophobic or threatening in any way, but it was rude as hell, and I am truly sorry for posting it.

In the top of the fifth inning, Ben made his way into my section:

41_ben_weil_excited_after_arriving_at_the_game_in_the_5th_inning

In the bottom of the fifth, I got a few texts and phone calls from reporters who wanted to ask some follow-up questions. They were in the concourse and weren’t allowed to walk down into the seats, so they wanted me to come meet them. Ben came with me, grabbed my camera, and captured the mayhem:

37_zack_with_people_in_the_concourse

In the photo above, it looks like the guy touching the wall was ready to fight me, but that wasn’t the case at all. He was just bracing himself and leaning in so he could hear what I was saying.

After spending a solid inning talking to the media, I took selfies with fans and talked to random people for another 15 or 20 minutes. Here I am with one group of guys . . .

38_zack_posing_with_people_in_the_concourse

. . . and here I am with another:

39_zack_posing_with_people_in_the_concourse

And hey, time-out. I need to talk about my shirt for a moment. I’ve gotten lots of comments and questions about it. I know it’s not the most attractive item of clothing, and in retrospect, I would’ve chosen to wear something else. I bought it at a U2 concert, which I attended after seeing a game on 9/29/09 at Nationals Park. I’m not a huge U2 fan. I don’t go to concerts often. It was a fun night, but whatever, you know? It’s just a random shirt that I happened to throw on that morning.

Ben and I headed back down to the seats in the seventh inning, pausing briefly in the tunnel to jump up and down and hug each other and scream like maniacs. I still couldn’t believe that I’d snagged the ball, and Ben, as usual, was extremely happy for me.

When A-Rod stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, I made sure to take a photo of his home run listed on the Jumbotron:

40_alex_rodriguez_home_run_listed_on_the_jumbotron

A few minutes later, I pulled the ball out of my backpack and got someone to take our picture:

44_zack_and_ben_holding_arods_3000th_hit

What a treat to share that moment with him.

After that, I allowed him to hold the ball on his own:

45_ben_holding_arods_3000th_hit

That’s right, Benny, be afraid! BE VERY AFRAID and respect that ball!

I had barely watched any of the game. The Yankees were winning, 6-2, at that point. Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner both hit home runs, and I still have no idea where they landed. I don’t want to know. I’m afraid they landed near my seat, and if that happened, I would feel terrible, even having snagged Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th career hit, because that’s how my brain works. I have a tough time watching baseball highlights because it drives me crazy to see all the home runs in various stadiums that I coulda/woulda caught if I’d been there. It’s a sickness. I admit it, okay?

In the eighth inning, Ben took one final photo of me with the ball before I called Eddie:

46_zack_posing_with_arods_3000th_hit

Did Randy Levine still want to talk to me? Yes indeed, in his office on the suite level. Eddie and I agreed that it was best for me not to wait for the game to end — that I should head upstairs ASAP. I told Eddie that one of my best friends was now with me. Eddie said that Ben probably wouldn’t be able to meet Randy with me, but that he could still come upstairs.

Ten minutes later, Eddie led us through this fancy concourse . . .

53_yankee_stadium_suite_level_concourse

. . . into this lobby area . . .

47_yankees_executive_office_lobby

. . . and down this hallway in the Yankees executive offices:

48_yankees_executive_office_hallway

That’s when Randy Levine poked his head out and greeted us warmly.

“C’mon in, fellas!” he said to me and Ben, so in we went with Eddie.

At first I couldn’t tell if Randy was *actually* nice or just pretending to be nice so that I’d give him the ball, but the more I talked to him, the more it seemed that he was a really cool guy. I didn’t feel bullied or pressured. It wasn’t like that.

I should mention that Lonn Trost — the Yankees’ Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel — was also in the room. After the Steinbrenners, he and Randy are the top Yankees executives . . . literally. Take a look at this list of front office employees. I realized I was in the presence of baseball royalty, but I didn’t think too much about it. I tried to stay level-headed and focus on having a nice, relaxed conversation with them.

Randy’s goal was simple: he wanted to get to know me. He said he’d heard some stuff being said about me on the air and had done a little research.

“Eight thousand baseballs?!” he asked.

I told him about my collection and about my blog and books and how I’ve worked in baseball on and off throughout the years and how I’ve been raising money since 2009 for a children’s baseball charity. That piqued his interest. He asked me more about it, so I told him that the charity is called Pitch In For Baseball, and that basically, what they do is provide baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world.

Randy glanced at Lonn and then turned back toward me and said something like, “If it would help you to decide what to do with the ball, we would consider making a sizable donation to the charity.”

Hmm.

I still had no idea what I was going to do with the ball in the long run, but I was still certain that I was going to take it home that night. Again, why rush my decision? It just didn’t make sense. Lots of people on Twitter were already harassing me about “respecting the game” and “doing the right thing,” but none of that mattered. I tried to tune it out. I appreciated how meaningful this ball was to so many people, but ultimately I needed to do what was right for ME — not what everyone else out there was pressuring me to do or claiming THEY would do. The ball had been authenticated by Major League Baseball. It was one of three 3,000th hit baseballs that had ever landed in the stands. The first two, hit by Wade Boggs and Derek Jeter, were given back to the players by the fans who snagged them. Therefore, the ball in my possession was the *only* 3,000th hit baseball owned by the public, so to speak. How much could it sell for? Who knows! If it was valuable now, it would still be valuable in a week, a month, or 50 years. Obviously the Yankees wouldn’t want to wait THAT long to get it back, but so what? If it didn’t work out with them, I could always sell it or just keep the damn thing.

That’s what I’d been thinking all night, but now that Randy, on behalf of the Yankees, was offering a potential donation, there was suddenly a new wrinkle to this whole situation. I told him that I greatly appreciated his kindness and generosity, but that I wasn’t going to make a decision right here on the spot. He understood, acknowledged that I had a lot to think about, gave me all his contact info, and encouraged me to stay in touch. Lonn handed me his card, and then the three of us posed for a photo:

49_zack_with_randy_levine_and_lonn_trost

After the meeting, Eddie asked to have his picture taken with the ball:

50_ben_photographing_eddie_fastook_with_arods_3000th_hit

Then he and I posed together for a photo:

51_zack_and_eddie_fastook_06_19_15

On our way out, I noticed this bar/lounge area . . .

54_bar_lounge_area

. . . and headed inside . . .

55_view_outside_of_suite_level_bathroom

. . . to use the bathroom. In the photo above, did you notice the Yankee Stadium model on the right? Here’s a better look at it:

56_yankee_stadium_model

Back in the concourse, Eddie pointed out the fact that the suites were numbered in honor of various players’ uniform numbers:

57_suites_numbered_for_player_uniforms

When we reached No. 13, I took the following photo:

58_arods_3000th_hit_and_arod_display

Then I posed in front of that wall:

59_zack_with_arods_3000th_hit_and_arod_display

My plan with Eddie had been to linger inside the stadium until everyone else had left. Thanks to the timing of the meeting with Randy and Lonn, I’d been kept busy and didn’t need to wait for the crowd to thin out. Forty-five minutes after the game ended, Eddie escorted me and Ben to the main exit at Gate 6. Look how empty it was inside the stadium:

60_empty_stadium_45_minutes_after_the_game_ended

This was the scene directly outside:

61_not_many_people_outside_yankee_stadium

Not too scary, right? Well, you never know, but I felt extremely safe with Eddie watching out for me.

“Don’t worry,” he had said earlier, “I don’t carry a gun — I carry two.”

“Ha! Wait, are you serious?” I asked, and he nodded.

Well, damn. Okay.

Eddie led us across the street and hailed a taxi, but that’s not where we said goodbye. He got *in* the taxi and rode half a mile with us to where Ben had parked his car. Here are a couple of photos (including a blurry one — sorry!) that captured the experience:

62_eddie_walking_us_to_a_taxi

When the taxi pulled up beside Ben’s car, Eddie waited for us to get out, and when he was certain that we were safe, he headed back to the stadium. THAT is top-notch security. Huge thanks to him and to all the Yankees employees who made me feel secure throughout the night.

As Ben drove me home, I got a call from a reporter with the Associated Press, who interviewed me for 20 minutes and posted his story a little after midnight. Ben came upstairs with me and said a quick hello to Hayley, who was very excited to see the ball. Meanwhile my phone was absolutely BLOWING UP. There were more texts and phone calls than I could possibly deal with, so many emails that I could barely read them all (let alone answer them), and my Twitter was completely out of control. I’d gained another 1,000 followers, and I was getting dozens of replies/notifications per minute! I didn’t even bother trying to keep up with it, in part because people were being so negative, but I seriously didn’t have time. I took a few minutes to photograph the ball because no matter what happened, I wanted to have a nice image of it for myself:

64_alex_rodriguez_3000th_hit

Then I saw an email from WFAN Radio in New York City. They wanted me to call them ASAP so they could put me live on the air with Steve Somers, a longtime sports radio guy whom I’d loved since I was a kid. How cool is that? I got on the air with him at 12:40am, and he interviewed me for about 15 minutes. Naturally he asked me about A-Rod and what I was planning to do with the ball, so I told him what I’d told all the reporters at the stadium. When you catch (or in my case “pick up”) a milestone home run ball, it’s somewhat of a lose-lose situation because no matter what you do with it, people are going to think you’re a jerk or an idiot. If you sell the ball, you’re greedy and selfish, and if you give it back to the player, you’re foolish and naive. Christian Lopez, the fan who snagged Derek Jeter’s 3,000th career hit, gave the ball back immediately. Lots of people, especially Yankee fans, thought he was a hero, while others claimed he was stupid. In my opinion, it doesn’t make sense for a normal civilian to give something valuable for free to an unfathomably rich celebrity — not without taking some time to think about it, at least. If someone wants to be generous, fine, but it’s unfair for other people to expect or demand it.

The way I see it, there isn’t one definitive “right thing to do.” There’s no predetermined code of morality in situations like this. Everyone’s opinions are fun to consider, but ultimately, with this whole A-Rod situation, it’s my ball and my decision, so the “right thing to do” is whatever *I* want to do. The Yankees made an intriguing offer to donate money to Pitch In For Baseball, but now that I was starting to comb through my emails, I was seeing lots of other offers. Half a dozen auction houses got in touch, and I heard from a casting producer from “Pawn Stars” on the History Channel. He invited me to appear on the show and sell the ball there. There were dozens of other offers that I didn’t even get to look at that night, and I ended up telling everyone the same thing: I need to think about it.

At 3:30am, with Hayley fast asleep in the other room, I did a live phone interview with WGN Radio in Chicago, and at 5am, I did a taped phone interview with 1010 WINS in New York. I wanted to go to sleep. I tried to go sleep. But I couldn’t. I was too amped up, and there was way too much stuff happening.

At some point, I received an email with an image of the MLB authentication certificate for the A-Rod ball:

65_authentication_certificate

That email wasn’t sent by Major League Baseball. It came from a fan who’d zoomed in on the hologram sticker on the ball, looked up the serial number in an MLB database, and saved an image of the certificate. You can look it up yourself — click here and look for the little box near the upper right corner of the page called “MLB.com Referencing System.” Pretty neat, huh?

The sun was already shining by the time I crawled into bed for good. I got two hours of sleep and woke up at 9:15am when ESPN Radio in New York City called, as planned, for a live phone interview. I hadn’t bothered setting an alarm; ESPN was my wake-up call.

To give you an idea of how crazy things were for me, here’s what my email inbox looked like the night before, and here’s a screen shot of my iPhone’s home screen:

66_iphone_home_screen

Yeah.

The Twitter app never displays a number higher than 20. If it were accurate, it probably would’ve said 2,000. Or 10,000. I have no idea. And did you see the text notifications? There were 85 texts that I hadn’t even looked at. I tried answering as many as I could, but by the time I got through four or five of them, people started texting me back and trying to have conversations, so I gave up.

At 10:45am, I did a phone interview with a guy named Mike Silva, who hosts a show called “Weekend Watchdogs.” Ten minutes later, someone buzzed me unexpectedly from the lobby of my building. That was unnerving, to say the least, and it turned out to be a reporter from the New York Post. He said he was there with a photographer and asked if I could come downstairs for a quick interview. I asked for his name and other info that would prove who he was — and then I Googled him extensively. Though his method of tracking me down was off-putting, I determined that he was legit and agreed to talk to him, but not until I showered and brushed my teeth and groomed myself as best I could. Then, as it turned out, my interview with him had to be cut short at 12pm for a scheduled radio interview with my friend Jeff Sammut, who talked to me live on Sportsnet590 The FAN in Toronto. And then? I jumped in a cab with Hayley and the A-Rod ball for a live, in-studio interview on “SportsCenter.” I won’t bother listing all the other interviews I did that day, but they ranged from ABC’s “World News Tonight” to FOX Sports Radio to TMZ. It was absolutely bonkers. I don’t know how else to describe it. And let me remind you that I’d gotten TWO hours of sleep.

Hayley generously ditched her own plans for the day (and the day after that!) to hang out and run around NYC with me and offer emotional support and take a zillion photos. Perhaps someday, if people are interested, I’ll blog about the media frenzy, but for now, I can’t even think about it. I’m still exhausted. I’m still in a state of disbelief. And I’m still overwhelmed by all the emails, voice-mails, text messages, blog comments, YouTube comments, Reddit comments, and so on. But most of all, I’m happy and enjoying this wild ride while it lasts.

As for the fate of THE BALL, the main thing I can tell you is, “We’ll see.” There are still so many opportunities to consider, and believe it or not, despite everything I’ve said, I’m leaning toward giving it back to the Yankees in exchange for their making a huge donation to Pitch In For Baseball. How huge? I don’t know. I helped bring the two sides together, and they’ve been discussing it all week. If that works out, what will *I* get out of it? That also remains to be seen — probably all the stuff that Eddie initially offered plus some amazing perks from the Yankees, but I’m not terribly concerned about that. I’m not looking to get rich from this. That has never been my goal in life or while chasing baseballs in the stands. My goal is to have fun, and if I can use my hobby and all the attention to do something positive for other people, that’s really the most valuable thing of all. I know that sounds sappy, but it’s true. As much as I want to keep the ball for myself, I realize that it’s bigger than one fan’s collection. My intention has never been to hold the ball hostage or generate more media attention for myself, but you know what? The interviews have actually helped me make a decision because they’ve forced me to talk about it and think about it. I still don’t know exactly how this whole situation will play out, but I know I want to do something huge for Pitch In For Baseball.

On a final note, please don’t believe all the negative crap you might be hearing and reading about me. I don’t knock down little kids. I’ve never knocked anyone down — not even ONCE — in more than 1,200 games. Whether people are making stuff up intentionally or they’re just plain misinformed, there’ve been countless false accusations. Click here and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t listen to the haters who’ve never met me or actually been in my section. You want to know the truth? Talk to the security guards and supervisors who see me every day. They don’t tolerate any B.S., so you can be sure that if I were being aggressive, I would not be allowed to get away with it. Come watch me during batting practice for five minutes or for the next 25 years. I guarantee you won’t see me knock anyone down. It’s not my style. It’s not who I am or what I do. I might run 30 feet to my right and climb over a row of seats, but I’m hyperaware of my surroundings. Before every single pitch is thrown during BP, I look to my right and to my left to make sure my path is clear, and quite often, I glance back over my shoulder to see who’s standing behind me on the staircase. That’s how I operate, and if I catch a ball near a little kid, I’ll almost always hand it over — unless the kid already snagged one — and then I’ll be likely to give it to someone else. Sometimes I’ll give away baseballs after BP when no one’s looking. Sometimes I’ll stand near the exit after a game and look for the littlest kid with an empty glove. Do I give away every single ball? No, but I try to be generous. In the past, have I reached for some baseballs that I probably shouldn’t have reached for? Yes, I’ll admit to having done that, especially when I was just a kid myself, and I’m truly sorry, but I don’t do that anymore, and I’ve never knocked anyone down. I can’t stress that enough.

Oh, and if you’d like to support my own personal fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball, you can find some info here. Thanks for reading this blog entry. I know it was ridiculously long, but the story needed to be told, and I hope you enjoyed it!

BALLHAWKING STATS:

63_the_nine_balls_i_kept_06_19_15• 12 baseball at this game (nine pictured here because I gave three away)

• 355 balls in 46 games this season = 7.72 balls per game.

• 955 lifetime balls in 140 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.82 balls per game.

• 1,099 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 763 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 268 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 32 lifetime game home run balls (click here for the complete list)

• 8,161 total balls

• 9,380 words in this blog entry (!!)

CHARITY STATS:

pitch_in_for_baseball(As I’ve mentioned several times, I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 17 donors for my fundraiser

• $129.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $258.80 raised this season

• $40,214.30 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/16/15 at Citi Field

I know everyone’s waiting for my blog entry about snagging Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th hit (and for me to make a decision about what to do with the ball). I’m working on it, okay? Hopefully that whole situation will play out soon. In the meantime, I want to share another cool story — going to a recent Mets game with former adult film star Lisa Ann. Here’s a photo of her that I took after meeting up in Times Square:

1_lisa_ann_in_times_square

Here’s a selfie that we grabbed before jumping on the No. 7 train and heading out to Citi Field to see the Mets and Blue Jays:

2_lisa_zack_times_square

Why was she joining me for a baseball game? And how on earth did we even connect in the first place?

Four months earlier, she tweeted at me to say that she enjoyed my book Watching Baseball Smarter — a great compliment for sure, but why did she care? I really didn’t know too much about her at that point, so I checked out her Wikipedia page and learned that she hosts a fantasy sports radio show on Sirius/XM called “Lisa Ann Does Fantasy.” Nice name, huh? But in all seriousness, she was clearly interested in sports, and as we struck up a correspondence, it became clear that she *really* knew her stuff.

Fast-forward to our subway ride out to Citi Field. Among the many things we discussed, Lisa told me that several months earlier, she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to host her show through the summer because she didn’t know enough about baseball. That’s why she picked up a copy of my book and got in touch with me. She wanted to learn everything and become an expert and host her show year-round.

When Lisa and I first talked about attending a game together, I didn’t think she’d want to go early for batting practice. I figured she’d prefer show up just in time for the first pitch, but no — she insisted that she wanted the full Zack Hample experience.

After getting off the train, we spent a few minutes taking photos on the subway platform overlooking the stadium. Here’s a shot of Lisa . . .

3_lisa_citi_field_in_the_background

. . . and here’s another selfie of us:

4_zack_lisa_citi_field_in_the_background

Lisa was totally cool with all the photos, and in fact she wanted me to take photos. Before I met her, I was concerned that she’d get annoyed if I pulled out my camera every two seconds, but she felt the same way I did — that certain things need to be well-documented, and this game was one of them.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that it was sunny, the forecast called for heavy rain in the late afternoon. Lisa told me to stay positive, but I peeked at the radar, and it was bleak. There was a HUGE blob of green, yellow, and orange sweeping across Pennsylvania and heading in our direction. I was certain that there wasn’t going to be batting practice, and sure enough, roughly 20 minutes before the gates opened, I got a text from a friend on the inside. The tarp was already covering the infield.

This was our reaction:

5_lisa_and_zack_frowny_faces

I was pretty bummed. I mean, of ALL the days for the weather to be dumb, why did it have to be this one?

Fellow ballhawk Andrew Korpacz, celebrating his 20th birthday at the stadium, was also disappointed:

6_andrew_korpaz_20th_birthday_thumbs_down_for_no_batting_practice

Lisa told me it was no big deal — that we’d still have fun (which I knew was true) and that we’d hit up batting practice together some other time.

As you might expect for someone with more than 850,000 Twitter followers, lots of people recognized her and asked to take photos with her, starting with a longtime buddy of mine named Eric Marinbach. Here they are:

7_lisa_and_eric_marinbach

I met Eric in 1992 at Shea Stadium. And at Yankee Stadium. He was there ALL the time, and I’ve probably run into him at 500 games since. He knows lots of players and has one of the world’s largest collections of signed bobbleheads. If you ever see him, go say hi. He’s very friendly and loves to schmooze.

Here I am with Lisa:

8_lisa_and_zack_outside_citi_field

This was our first glimpse of the field:

9_tarp_on_the_field_not_raining

Bleh. What a waste. But you know what? The lack of BP gave us more time to hang out and chat, so in a way, it might have actually been a good thing.

Here’s Lisa near our seats behind the 3rd base dugout:

10_lisa_at_the_dugout

Moments after I took that photo, a few big raindrops started to fall, so we hurried up the steps into the concourse. That’s when my friend Julian Bryce — a professional photographer — called to say that he was about to enter the stadium. I had hired him to be there during BP and take photos. I was hoping he’d get some nice action shots of me and Lisa snagging baseballs, so now I didn’t know what he was going to photograph. While waiting for him to come find us, Lisa posed for a selfie with a young man who was VERY excited to see her:

11_lisa_posing_with_a_fan

Then we met up with Julian, and since there was no action on the field, we headed up to the club level. Here I am standing around with Lisa and Andrew (who had no idea who she was) and a couple of friendly employees that I’ve known for years:

12_andrew_zack_lisa_and_guards

Andrew headed off to meet some friends, and Julian kept taking photos. Here’s a nice one of Lisa:

13_lisa_looking_off_to_the_side

I don’t go up to the club level too often, so whenever I’m there, it’s like a mini-reunion with all my favorite people. Here I am with a supervisor named Toni, who used to give me a hard time in the Loge Level at Shea Stadium, but turned out to be incredibly cool:

14_zack_and_toni_the_supervisor

The Mets need more people like her.

There was still plenty of time to kill, so Lisa and I got some food. (Pizza, if you must know.) Here we are at the concession stand:

15_zack_and_lisa_getting_pizza

Here’s a photo of Lisa and Julian in the Caesar’s Club:

16_lisa_and_julian_with_his_camera

It was nice and quiet there. Nobody bothered us, and we just sat and ate and chatted for a while. Every so often, I stepped out of the club area with Julian to peek at the field:

17_tarp_on_the_field_panorama

There was still no action, and I was starting to get a bit antsy. That’s because I had snagged at least one baseball at every game I’d attended since 1993 — a streak nearing 1,100 consecutive games — so of course I needed to keep it going here with Lisa.

Half an hour before game time, we headed down to the 100 Level for three reasons:

1) That’s where our seats were.
2) I wanted to try to get a pre-game toss-up.
3) Several days earlier, one of my favorite ushers had asked if he could meet her.

Here I am (having changed into Blue Jays gear) with him and Lisa:

18_zack_larry_lisa

His name is Larry, and quite simply, he’s awesome. I’ve given him a bunch of baseballs over the years, mainly for him to hand to little kids in his section, and now he had something special for me:

19_zack_holding_the_mickey_mantle_ball

That’s a commemorative Mickey Mantle ball (and no, I’m not counting it in my collection). The Yankees used these balls during a game at the old stadium in 1996. In case you’re interested, here’s more info about it.

Lisa took a moment to check it out . . .

20_lisa_checking_out_the_mickey_mantle_ball

. . . and then posed for a photo with Mr. Met:

21_lisa_with_mister_met

After that we headed out to right-center field:

22_pregame_view_from_right_center_field

I was hoping to get a toss-up from someone in the Blue Jays’ bullpen, but Andrew had already claimed the best spot out there. Rather than staying and competing with him on his birthday, I led Lisa back toward our seats on the 3rd-base side.

When we ran into this guy in the concourse, she requested a photo:

23_zack_and_pinman_and_lisa

He’s a famous Mets fan known as “Pin Man.”

Down in the seats, Julian suggested that I pose with my glove as if I were about to catch a ball:

24_zack_prentending_to_catch_a_ball

Did you notice Lisa in the background of the previous photo? It looks like she’s thinking, “Dude, really?” I know it’s a silly photo, but I’m telling you — there was NO action, so we had to entertain ourselves somehow. Several Blue Jays eventually played catch a bit farther down the left field foul line, but I had no chance, so when the game started, I still hadn’t snagged a ball.

Here’s the final photo that Julian took before he left the stadium:

25_lisa_and_zack_before_the_game

Our seats were pretty much right in the middle of Section 122 — approximately halfway up and in the center of a long row. Lisa was willing to move over with me and grab a couple of empty seats next to the stairs, but asked that we not have to move again and again. Basically she didn’t want to draw any extra attention to herself, and can you blame her?

The beginning of the game was uneventful. In the top of the first, Matt Harvey retired the Jays in order, and in the bottom of the frame, Lucas Duda hit a two-out single to center field. Travis d’Arnaud swung at the next pitch and grounded into a force out. Second baseman Ryan Goins caught the throw to end the inning, and when he jogged back toward the dugout, I got him to toss me the ball.

PHEW!!

Here it is:

26_ball8138_from_ryan_goins

That’s rather beat up for a gamer, but whatever. I was glad to have it.

Here’s Lisa with the ball:

27_lisa_and_zack_with_the_ball

Here’s a better photo of our view during the game:

28_view_during_the_game

As you can see, it was fairly crowded, but there were still plenty of empty seats, so if we did have to move, I figured it wouldn’t be a problem to shift one row up or down.

Hanging out with Lisa was a real pleasure. She was extremely friendly, and we talked about all kinds of stuff — sports and her career and life in general. When the two of us were interacting, it didn’t feel like I was in the presence of a celebrity. The only time I thought about it was when some 20-something-year-old doofus barged down the stairs and shouted, “ARE YOU LISA ANN?!?!?!?!” for the entire section to hear. It was sooooo cringe-worthy. Throughout the day, various people recognized her, but I didn’t realize the extent of it until she showed me something creepy on her phone. Some guy sitting nearby had spotted her and taken a stealth-photo of us and tweeted about making eye contact with her, which perhaps he had, but still . . . yikes!! We spent a minute scrutinizing the image and trying to figure out the spot from which it was taken. The whole thing made me nervous, so I can only imagine how she must have felt — and how it must feel to have to deal with that kind of attention all the time.

In the 4th inning, with the Mets leading, 3-0, we were greeted by a member of the Mets’ social media team, who invited us up to the “business box” on the press level. Here’s what it looked like up there:

29_lisa_posing_with_the_mets_social_media_guys

This is totally random, but in the previous photo, do you see the three Mets players, way in the distance, leaning on the dugout railing? See the guy with the shaved head just below them, walking to the right, just below the business box? That’s Steve Wilkos.

Lisa happily posed for photos with all the social media guys, and we stayed there for two or three innings. See the man wearing the orange shirt in the following photo?

30_lisa_in_the_business_box

That’s Branden Wellington, the Mets’ “in-game host,” who roams all over Citi Field and appears on the jumbotron for various features and promotions. I’d seen him dozens of times, but this was our first official meeting. Here we are:

31_branden_wellington_and_zack

Eventually Lisa and I headed back down to Section 122 and grabbed a couple of empty seats on the opposite staircase. Here’s a selfie of us:

32_zack_and_lisa_late_in_the_game

After taking that photo, she texted it to me so that I could be the one to tweet it out — and then she retweeted it. That was awfully kind of her.

Obviously I was still bummed by the lack of BP and to have only snagged one baseball, but I was delighted to have made a new baseball buddy. Earlier in the night, I had offered to point out various things from my book, but she just wanted to hang out and watch the game.

In the top of the 8th, the Jays scored two runs to trim the Mets’ lead to 3-2, and in the bottom of the inning, we had a minor seating issue, which unfortunately turned into a whole big thing. Quite simply, a couple of folks showed up and politely informed us that we were in their seats, and when we got up to move, we decided to take off instead. No big deal, right? People switch seats all the time — and lots of fans leave early. Well, when you’re well-known and you do ANYthing out in public other than breathe, haters are indeed gonna hate, and whaddaya know? This situation was no different. Lisa told me later that people were accusing her of being too cheap to buy tickets behind the dugout, and they claimed that we got kicked out as a result. I felt terrible about that and offered to appear on her radio show and set the record straight. She told me I didn’t need to do that, so let me state here that she did nothing wrong. One of my best friends had gotten me those tickets directly from the Mets, so our presence in that section was legit. I haven’t gotten an update from Lisa, so I assume everything’s okay. Most importantly, I learned a valuable lesson about what it’s like to *really* be in the public eye, so the next time I take her to a game (maybe Yankee Stadium?), I’ll be much more aware of our surroundings and take everything down a notch or two.

On our way out, Lisa asked me to grab a photo of her in front of this Mets car:

33_lisa_posing_with_a_mets_car

Cute.

Then we rode the train together all the way back to Times Square and parted ways.

Later that night, Lisa posted a collage on Instagram with some photos and kind words. Check it out:

34_lisa_ann_instagram_post

What a great experience. No wonder she has so many fans and a blossoming career in sports radio.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 1 baseball at this game

• 332 balls in 43 games this season = 7.72 balls per game.

• 1,176 lifetime balls in 156 games at Citi Field = 7.54 balls per game.

• 1,096 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 760 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 492 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 8,138 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 17 donors for my fundraiser

• $129.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $129.40 raised this season

• $40,084.90 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

A-Rod’s 3,000th hit

So . . . as you may have heard, Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th career hit happened to be a home run, and I happened to snag it. (Un-REAL!!) I’m planning to write a long blog entry with lots of photos, but things are so crazy right now that I wanted to get this up quickly.

First, here I am on TV with the ball:

zack_on_tv_with_number_3000

Here’s a better look at the ball itself:

arods_3000th_hit

The “R” is for “Rodriguez,” and the “1” indicates that it was the first specially-marked ball of the game that was put into play for his at-bats. Those markings were already there when I snagged it. The sticker up above was placed there a little while later by an MLB authenticator.

Now, why are things so crazy? Here’s a screen shot of my email inbox:

emails_06_19_15

I’ve already gotten SO MANY interview requests — and I still have 62 texts that I haven’t even looked at. I plan to answer everyone, and like I said, I’ll be writing a much longer entry about this. In the meantime, I’d love to hear everyone’s suggestions for what I should do with the ball. Be specific and creative. I told the Yankees that I was planning to keep it, but now I’m considering other options.

*************UPDATE*************
It took nearly two weeks, but my full-length blog entry is now done! Be warned: it’s insanely long, so grab a cold beverage, find a comfy seat, and check it out.

5/26/15 at Yankee Stadium

Forgive me for the massive wall of text. Normally I post lots of photos, but at this particular game, I snagged 18 baseballs before I pulled out my camera. Here’s how it all went down . . .

I headed to right field at the start of BP, and within the first 10 seconds, I asked a ballboy in the outfield to toss me a ball. His response was something like, “You already have a million in your collection.” That took me by surprise because I had no idea he recognized me. Thankfully it didn’t stop him from hooking me up. A minute later, I realized that several righties were going to be hitting in that group, so I ran over to left field. When I entered the section, I saw a ball sitting at the bottom of the stairs, and when I ran down and grabbed it, I spotted two more “Easter eggs” in the front row. Moments later, as several other fans made their way into the seats, I spotted yet another ball several rows back. (In case you’ve already lost count, I got a toss-up in right field and found four balls in left field.) Then, only a minute or two after that, a right-handed batter on the Yankees hit a towering fly ball in my direction. I predicted that it was going to land several rows behind me, so I raced up the steps and cut to the side, and when I looked back up, the ball was *right* there. My only miscue was catching it on the palm of my glove, but it was a good enough effort to prompt Brett Gardner, who was standing 50 feet away, to shout, “Sign him up!” Toward the end of the first group, I drifted half a section to my left and caught another home run, and after that group finished, I got my eighth ball tossed from the bullpen by a police officer. That was lucky. Yankee Stadium cops don’t usually give balls away, but for some reason, this guy did. In another stroke of luck, another group of Yankee hitters were getting ready to take their cuts. Normally, after the gates open, there’s only one group (or just a fraction thereof) before the visitors start hitting, but in this case, I saw about a group and a half. I headed back to right field, and within a minute or two of arriving, I snagged a ground-rule double by Garrett Jones. It was a tricky play because the ball didn’t clear the outfield wall; I had to rush down several steps and then lunge over the wall, trapping it between my glove and the padding. After that, I battled the sun to catch a pair of Slade Heathcott homers. I looked at the clock. It was only 5:14pm. I’d been inside the stadium for 14 minutes and already had 11 balls. That’s when it occurred to me that I had a chance of snagging 20 — something I’d never done at a Yankees home game — but everything had to go my way. I figured that any lull during the Royals’ portion of BP would be a killer. While the Yankees cleared the field and the Royals finished getting loose, I heard something hit a seat right behind me. I turned around and saw a woman scampering toward me. There wasn’t anything on the ground, so I looked in the padded/folded-up part of the seat, and whaddaya know, there was a baseball! As I picked it up, the woman told me that a groundskeeper had tossed it to her from the bullpen, so I gave it to her. It was a cheap/lucky way to pad my total, but hey, it counted as my 12th ball of the day. When the Royals started hitting soon after, I was hoping for a BIG first group, led by Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. I camped out in the last row of the 100 Level seats, nearly 400 feet from home plate — a spot that turned out to be useless. Hosmer crushed half a dozen balls into the bleachers, including several to right-center that easily cleared the Yankees’ bullpen, while Moustakas yanked everything down the line and peppered the second deck with homers. I didn’t snag *any* batted balls during that group, though I did touch one that ricocheted near me, and I came close to another. The only ball I got during that group was tossed by rookie outfielder Paulo Orlando. Obviously I was thrilled to have snagged 13 balls, but I was bummed about my chances of reaching 20. For the next group, I ran back to left field and promptly caught a ground-rule double that skimmed several inches above the outfield wall. Then I caught two homers (not sure who hit ’em) and gave both of those baseballs to the nearest kids. That raised my total to 16. For the final group, I headed back to right field and quickly had a chance at another ball that was sitting on the warning track. Greg Holland walked over to retrieve it and looked up into the stands to find a worthy recipient. At that point, security had already done “the sweep” and kicked out everyone who didn’t have a ticket for that section, so there weren’t many fans. The seats were as empty as I’d ever seen them, perhaps because the Mets were also playing at Citi Field, and the New York Rangers had an NHL playoff game at Madison Square Garden. Anyway, Holland basically had to decide between giving the ball to me or to a pair of young women on my right. All things being equal, the women would’ve gotten the ball, but they were decked out in Yankees gear, and I was wearing a Royals cap. When Holland flipped me the ball and walked away, one of the women said to her friend, “What is he — a faggot?!” That was NOT cool, and I called them out on it, telling them that that was a disgusting thing to say and that I didn’t want to hear that kind of hateful garbage. They appeared to be somewhat embarrassed but also kinda whatever-y about the whole thing. That just gave me extra motivation to catch more baseballs — only three more to reach 20! — and make sure they didn’t get any. Therefore it gives me great pleasure to report that when a left-handed batter on the Royals smoked a line-drive homer into the seats near these homophobes, I swooped in and grabbed it before they had a chance to react. They weren’t happy about the fact that I’d just snagged two baseballs, but you know what? I wasn’t happy to have share this planet with them, so let’s call it even. That’s when I thought, “Maybe I should take a few photos in case I end up snagging 20 baseballs and feel obligated to blog about this,” so here you go. Let’s start with a peek inside my backpack:

1_baseballs_in_backpack

I had snagged 18 balls and given away three, so that’s why there are “only” 15 pictured above.

Here’s what it looked like from the back of the section:

2_view_from_right_field_05_26_15

Shortly after I took that photo, a friend of mine named Jeff made his way into my section. He and I were the only guys with gloves behind the front row, so if we were going to be competing with each other, I figured I’d let him know what was going on.

“I’ve snagged 18 balls today,” I told him, “and I’ve NEVER gotten 20 at Yankee Stadium, so consider this a friendly warning. I’m gonna go ALL OUT to snag two more.”

Jeff was fine with that. He knew I wasn’t talking about knocking him down. (Despite what the haters would like you to believe, that’s simply not my style.) I just wanted him to know that I planned to run and jump and catch everything within my reach, even if it was heading right for him.

A little while later, I scrambled for a home run that landed in the seats. That was my 19th ball of the day, and as a gesture of good will, I gave it to him.

Just when I thought BP was ending, I got a groundskeeper in the bullpen to toss me my 20th ball! Here it is in mid-air:

3_ball8070_in_mid_air

WOW!!!

I always felt that snagging 20 at a single game at Yankee Stadium was possible, but I wasn’t sure if I’d ever actually do it. On September 11, 2014, I snagged 19 thanks to the good fortune of having an ultra-fancy ticket that gave me dugout access and constant chances to pad my total throughout the night. But under the normal circumstances of being trapped in the outfield? Let’s just say that it was extremely satisfying to reach that number.

Here’s a closer look at my 20th ball:

4_ball8070_20th_of_the_day

My good luck continued when the Royals kept hitting! Four groups of visiting team BP? That happens on occasion, but usually there are only three.

At one point during the final group, Jeremy Guthrie wandered over to say hello:

5_jeremy_guthrie_saying_hello

I asked him if he’d wave for a photo for my blog.

He shook his head.

“Why not?” I asked.

“I already gave four balls to the blog,” he replied, referring to the home runs he’d surrendered the day before.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t here to catch any of them, so that didn’t do me any good.”

We chatted for a bit, and then he headed back to center field.

Now that Heath Bell has retired, Guthrie is the major leaguer who knows me best — one of the few who actually knows my name. I’ve become friendly with Vic Black and David Carpenter over the past season (and Mike Trout still follows me on Twitter), but my history with Guthrie easily puts him atop the list.

When there was a lull in the action, I took a picture of the homophobes:

6_homophobes_closeup

Ew.

Unfortunately there was only one lefty in the final group, and it was Jarrod Dyson. I didn’t expect many long balls from a slap-hitter who weighs less than I do, but guess what? The man has some pop! And I ended up catching two of his homers! The first was a towering shot that barely cleared the wall. For some reason, no one else saw it coming, so when I caught it, the man who was standing right in front of me thanked me for saving his life. The second Dyson homer was a line drive heading right toward Jeff, but true to my word, I sprinted nearly a full section to my left and reached out and caught it in the row in front of him. To make it up to him, I told him I’d buy him the concession item of his choice. Instead he asked for the ball — but of course I didn’t want to give him my 22nd and potentially final ball of the day, so I gave him a different one, and he was fine with that.

It should be noted that the second Dyson homer established a new single-game record for New York City. My record for the old Yankee Stadium was 14. My record at Shea Stadium was 19. My record at Citi Field (which was set on September 17, 2010) was 21. And now, after all these years and games and stadiums, I had snagged 22. Imagine if I’d gotten a few during that first group of Royals hitters . . . AND had a Legends ticket. I might’ve gotten 30 balls! (I’m never satisfied.)

Take a look at the notes I’d scribbled during BP:

7_notes_for_22_balls

That’s how I was able to remember all the balls and write about them with much greater detail here. Also, FYI, when a ball is crossed out, it means I gave it away. By the end of the night, I gave away seven baseballs, including two to a pair of little kids in my section during the game.

Before the game started, I figured I had one more reliable shot at getting another ball. Here’s where I positioned myself:

8_jason_vargas_warming_up

Sure enough, after Royals starter Jason Vargas finished warming up, pitching coach Dave Eiland tossed me my 23rd ball of the day:

9_ball8073_23rd_of_the_day

Hot damn!!

I was tempted to linger near the bullpen during the game in the hope of getting another toss-up, or try to work my way closer to the dugouts for a 3rd-out ball. I even considered using the StubHub app to find a cheap Legends ticket at the last second, but decided it wasn’t worth the few hundred dollars — but you know what? If I had 26 or 27 balls at that point, I probably would’ve done it in a desperate attempt to reach 30. Instead I headed out to my seat in right field and hoped for a home run to fly in my direction. This was the view:

10_view_during_game_05_26_15

In the top of the 6th inning, with the Yankees leading, 5-0, Paulo Orlando hit his first major league home run to right field. The ball landed just 10 seats to my left, where it was clanked by the fan circled below in red:

11_guy_who_dropped_paulo_orlandos_first_career_home_run

As you can see, I had NO ROOM to move. That’s Yankee Stadium for you.

Two innings later, I tormented myself by photographing Orlando on the jumbotron:

12_paulo_orlando_jumbotron

Final score: Yankees 5, Royals 1.

After the game, I spotted a ball in the Yankees’ bullpen . . .

13_groundskeeper_ignoring_me

. . . and when I asked the groundskeeper for it, he simply shook his head. Then security told me I had to leave. Whatever. The day had some frustrating moments, but overall it was amazing.

Of the 23 baseballs that I snagged, here are the 16 that I kept:

14_the_16_balls_i_kept

Lots of smudged logos, huh? What’s up with that? Anyway. Yeah. Thanks for reading.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 23 baseballs at this game

• 267 balls in 32 games this season = 8.34 balls per game.

• 907 lifetime balls in 132 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.87 balls per game.

• 1,085 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 749 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 260 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 17 lifetime games with 20 or more balls

• 8,073 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 15 donors for my fundraiser

• $118.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $118.40 raised this season

• $40,073.90 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/24/15 at Yankee Stadium

It was Bernie Williams Night at Yankee Stadium. Fans had been encouraged to be in their seats more than an hour before the 8:05pm start, and when the stadium opened at 6pm, the Texas Rangers were already taking BP:

1_view_from_left_field_05_24_15

Normally the Yankees have one group of hitters after the gates open, but in this case, everything had been moved up to accommodate the big pre-game ceremony.

Though nice and empty at the start, left field was dead, so I raced over to right field, and within a few minutes, I snagged a home run ball that landed in the seats:

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I don’t know who hit it — perhaps Mitch Moreland, if I had to guess.

After that group, I moved back to left field, and for the next half-hour, I didn’t get any baseballs. Here’s why:

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As you can see, the seats were packed. There wasn’t an empty row anywhere. It wasn’t until BP was winding down that I got another ball — an Adam Rosales homer that I caught on the fly after running back four rows, drifting a bit to the side, and reaching/flinching awkwardly as a guy in front of me flailed at it.

That was it for BP. Mega-lame. But my night was just getting started. Check it out:

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I had a fancy “Legends” ticket for the exclusive, all-you-can-eat area behind home plate — and best of all, it was free. A friend of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous, bought me the ticket in exchange for half the baseballs I snagged. He’s the same guy who paid my way for the 2013 Home Run Derby and All-Star Game, and you might recall that he bought me a Legends ticket on September 11, 2014, when the Yankees used commemorative Derek Jeter baseballs. See where I’m going with this? Rumor had it that there were going to be special Bernie Williams balls used during this game.

But first, let’s talk about the food, huh? Once inside the Legends area, I skipped the raw bar . . .

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. . . and the sushi . . .

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. . . and went for the meat:

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In the photo above, that’s pork tenderloin on the left and bacon-wrapped steak on the right. (There was bacon at the edges. Trust me.)

For my first of several desserts, I helped myself to some chocolate-covered strawberries, along with an Oreo cupcake, a brownie, and a black-and-white cookie:

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So good!

After a while, I poked my head out into the seats to check on the field:

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Excellent. There was still plenty of time to keep eating.

Here’s something that caught my attention:

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Needing to save room for later, I asked for a “small portion of everything.” Here’s what I received:

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Solid.

After chowing down on the chicken, beans, grits, and biscuit, I gathered another plate of dessert and headed out to the seats:

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In the photo above, did you notice the logo on the jumbotron? Here’s another look at it alongside the man himself — Bernie Williams:

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Just because there IS a commemorative logo doesn’t mean that it’ll appear on the baseballs, and if it does appear on the balls, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be used in games. Remember when Mariano Rivera was honored with a ceremony at Yankee Stadium in 2013? Remember this logo? I had a Legends ticket for that game as well and was dismayed to discover, upon snagging a 3rd-out ball, that the teams were using regular balls. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

Finally the Bernie Williams ceremony got underway:

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It was nice to see a bunch of Rangers watching from their dugout:

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I’ve heard some people grumbling about Williams not being worthy of having his number retired by the Yankees — that the honor should be reserved for people like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter, and so on. But I disagree. During his 16-year career, in which he batted .297, hit 287 home runs, and had a streak of seven consecutive seasons in which he scored 100-plus runs, he won four World Series and was a four-time Gold Glove winner and a five-time All-Star. He also has more career postseason RBIs (80) than anyone in MLB history, and he’s second all time in postseason home runs (22) to a known cheater. In my opinion, that’s worthy of enshrinement in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.

Here’s a closeup of some former Yankees who were in attendance:

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In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Joe Torre, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and (appearing at Yankee Stadium for the first time since retiring last year) Derek Jeter.

I watched most of the ceremony, but then got bored and realized that I was wasting an opportunity by not eating. Here’s a scoop of blackberry sorbet . . .

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. . . which was so bland that I tossed it after one bite. I replaced it with an ice cream bar . . .

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. . . which was much better.

(Does anyone feel like estimating the number of calories that I ate? If so, add a couple of ice cream sandwiches, which I somehow neglected to photograph.)

This was my view in the top of the 1st . . .

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. . . and here’s where I stood during the bottom of the inning:

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When Chris Young stepped to the plate with two outs, I pretty much knew what was going to happen. He was going to strike out, and Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos was going to take the ball back toward the dugout. The only question was what he’d do with it — keep it because of the commemorative logo or toss it to someone younger and cuter than me? Or hell, maybe it wasn’t commemorative and I was getting all worked up for nothing?

Sure enough, Young struck out swinging on a 2-2 pitch from Yovani Gallardo, and Chirinos hooked me up. Behold this little white sphere of joy:

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As thrilled as I was to have snagged that ball, I didn’t feel relaxed or satisfied because I needed to get at least one more for the guy who’d bought me the ticket. Initially, when we first talked about this game, he wanted to claim the first commemorative ball for himself and let me have the second, but I told him that I’d have to decline if that’s how it had to be. I reminded him that of the 69 different commemorative balls I had ever snagged, I still owned at least one of each; I couldn’t take a chance that I’d only get one Bernie Williams ball and then have to give it away. He understood and accepted my reasoning, but made me promise that he’d get the second AND third commemorative balls. Therefore, if I wanted to end up with an extra one for myself, I’d need to snag four.

Prince Fielder struck out to end the top of the 2nd inning, and guess what happened? Yankees catcher Brian McCann gave me the ball. He always tosses 3rd-out ball to little kids, but I was the only one asking for it, so on his way in, he reluctantly rolled it to me across the dugout roof. One inning later, Chris Young tossed me the 3rd-out ball, but unfortunately a very tall, gloveless, middle-aged man in the front row jumped up at the last second and lunged for it and swatted it away. That ball bounced back into the dugout and was never seen again.

After that, I decided to stay on the 3rd base side for a few innings. As far as I know, there’s no rule about moving around in the Legends aisle, but I wanted to avoid drawing too much attention to myself. Earlier this season, a friend of mine had gotten hassled by security for roaming there a bit too much, so it seemed wise to be extra cautious.

When the Rangers were batting in the top of each inning, I stood in the aisle near 3rd base and hoped for one of two things to happen — either a foul pop-up from a lefty or a foul dribbler to the 3rd base coach from a righty. In a typical game, these types of foul balls are fairly common, but on this night, they were pretty much non-existent. In the bottom of each inning, when the Rangers were going to be coming off the field, I moved farther and farther back in an attempt to get some love from Elvis Andrus. Every 3rd-out ball that’s *not* a strikeout gets tossed to him, and I’d noticed that he likes to throw them deep into the crowd. Two nights earlier, I’d seen him throw two of them into the second deck! So guess where I went in the 5th inning? This was my view:

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It seemed crazy to leave the Legends area and head to a section that’s so lousy that the guards don’t even bother checking tickets there . . . but I had a hunch. But wouldn’t you know it — Chase Headley, the bum, struck out to end the 5th inning. So much for THAT ball.

In the top of the 6th, I ran back down to the Legends area and camped out in the aisle on the 3rd base side. In the middle of the 6th, I ran back up to the second deck. (Free exercise! Yay!) Brian McCann ended the inning with a groundout, and I drifted down to the front row, hopeful of a long-range missile from Andrus. Instead he threw the ball (quite a distance) to one of Prince Fielder’s sons, who was sitting in the Legends area! How the hell am I supposed to compete with that?! Here he is with the ball:

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That young man’s name is Haven. I’d met him two days earlier when he recognized me during BP. I was in the right field seats, and he was shagging out on the field, and he basically came over and asked if I was the guy from YouTube with all the baseballs. Pretty cool, huh? And now here he was in the stands. We’d actually been running into each other throughout this game and chatting briefly here and there. He’s a really nice kid who seemed to be genuinely interested in my collection. At one point, when I was hanging out in the aisle near 3rd base, Haven wandered over to talk to me, and when a security guard noticed that he didn’t have a Legends wristband, he asked, “Are you here with your parents?” I tried to explain the situation, but the guard, who of course was just doing his job, walked off toward home plate and made Haven follow him. (Can you imagine Yankee Stadium security ejecting a member of Prince Fielder’s family? “Suuuuuure your father plays for the Rangers. Uh huh . . . okay, son . . . yeah, you look just like him. Just follow me, and I’ll take you right to him. This is the way to the visitors clubhouse . . . ” and then BAM, the kid is shoved out an exit door onto 161st Street. Totally plausible, right?)

In the top of the 7th, I decided to return to the Yankees’ dugout. Elvis Andrus ended the inning with a soft liner to second baseman Jose Pirela. Moments later, as Pirela jogged toward me, I broke out the Spanish and got him to toss me the ball. Very easy.

In the middle of the 7th, I ran back up to the second deck on the 3rd base side. With two outs, Stephen Drew gave me a scare by fouling off a perfectly good 3-1 pitch. I was sure he was going to screw me over by striking out, but as it turned out, he was kind enough to ground out on the next pitch. By the time Andrus started jogging in with the ball, I was already standing in the front row, and when he approached the dugout and looked into the crowd, I screamed and whistled and jumped up and down and waved my arms. That’s when he noticed me and hurled the ball in my direction — not with a gentle arc, but on a line. I reached forward and slightly down over the railing for a back-handed catch. Perfection!

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I headed downstairs and stayed in the Legends area for the rest of the game. Here’s a photo of me, taken with my cruddy little camera by my friend Tony Bracco:

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After the final out of the Rangers’ 5-2 victory, I got a ball from home plate umpire Toby Basner, but get this — it was a REGULAR ball! Have a look:

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My first reaction was one of extreme disappointment, but as I thought about it more, my sorrow turned to confusion. How had this happened? I’m 100 percent certain that Basner pulled the ball out of his pouch before tossing it to me, and furthermore, there’s no way that he acquired a random ball (from the dugout, for example) on his way over. I watched him the whole way, and I can state definitively that nothing entered or exited his possession until he reached me. My theory is that the Yankees ran out of commemorative balls at some point in the 8th or 9th inning and switched over to regular balls. If that happened, that’s weird. And bad. MLB strives for consistency, so if there’s a special type of ball used at the start of the game, I would expect that same type of ball to be used throughout the game right up until the very end. The size and shape of the logo DOES affect the hitters’ ability to see the ball and recognize pitches, but who knows? Maybe Basner was informed by the ballboy (or by Joe Girardi himself?) that the supply of commemorative balls was running low, and Basner made the switch at the end of an inning in order to keep things as fair and consistent as possible?

In the photo above, did you notice Haven’s aqua-colored shirt on the upper left? He and I were standing near each other at that point because we had planned to get a photo together after the game. Here we are, along with his brother, Jaden (with the awesome hair) and a friend of theirs (in the white hat) who happens to be CC Sabathia’s son:

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Haven had offered to get me his dad’s autograph, but I politely declined, simply because I didn’t have anything on me that I wanted signed. There was a brief discussion about getting his batting gloves or a bat, and at one point, it seemed as if I might get invited to tag along to the clubhouse, but I didn’t force the issue. It would’ve been amazing, but I didn’t want to intrude on the Fielders’ family time, and who knows if stadium security would have let me? The Rangers won’t be back in New York this year, so hopefully I’ll run into Haven and Jaden again at some point down the road.

In case you’ve lost count of all the balls I snagged . . . I got two regular balls during BP, four commemorative balls during the game, and one regular ball (?!) from the umpire after the game for a total of seven. Here are the four commemorative balls:

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After taking that photo, I entered the indoor portion of the Legends area, simply planning to walk through the restaurant and head upstairs and then exit . . . but something unexpected happened, which held me up for a few minutes. When I approached the wall of free candy, an employee, who was in the process of packing up all the leftovers, encouraged me to help myself.

Before I tell you what happened next, let me give you some background info. Earlier in the night, I had chatted with this employee for a minute when she saw me putting on my Rangers shirt over my other shirt, and she helped me straighten it out a bit. I didn’t need any help, but she was sweet and looked like she could’ve been someone’s grandmother from the south, so I just went with it. I thanked her and said, “Since my mother couldn’t be here tonight,” prompting her to reply enthusiastically, “I’ll take care of you!” Then she asked why I needed a Rangers shirt, and I gave a simple explanation, which didn’t seem to register. Anyway, the point is, by the time she encouraged me to take the candy after the game, we were already on friendly-ish terms.

So there I was, grabbing handfuls of small packages of M&Ms and Mike & Ike’s, along with mini-Twix bars and Peanut Chews, and stuffing it all into my backpack. I had already obtained some candy earlier in the night, but I hadn’t gone crazy with it. Now that I was being TOLD to take it . . . umm, okay!

At one point, I looked over at her and joked that my mother would be upset if she knew how much sugar I was going to eat — but to this Legends employee, it was no joke. She was one of those uber-earnest types, so as soon as the idea of an upset mother entered her mind, she said, “That’s enough,” and blocked my bag with her hands so that I couldn’t place any more candy inside.

“No no,” I said, “it’s okay. I’m kidding. I don’t live with my mother, so she’ll never find out.”

“Who do you live with?” she asked.

“With my girlfriend — she’ll be thrilled to have all this candy.”

“Why do you live with her?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“You are living with a woman you’re not married to?!”

Hooooo-boy. I knew right away where this was going, but decided to play along — no point in offending an old woman and making an enemy with someone I might see again.

“Sure, why not?” I said.

“You are not a Christian?!” she asked, totally astonished.

“No, I have no religion.”

“No religion?!” she repeated with a look of what can only be described as horror. “What do you think happens to you when you leave this world?”

I shrugged and said, “I don’t know, I’m not concerned with that.”

“Do me a favor!” she pleaded. “FIND HIM!!! At your age, it’s not too late. You must FIND HIM!!! Promise me you will do that!”

“I’ll consider it,” I said, astounded that in the year 2015 in New York City of all places, this conversation was actually happening.

The woman told me that she works in a hospital and said that dying patients from all walks of life, including scientists, have told her that “there is something else out there.”

“Really? Even scientists?”

“Yes!” she insisted. “Ohhhh, please tell me you will look for him! If you think you are happy now, just wait until you find him!”

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll think about it.”

“I will pray for you,” she said.

“Thank you.”

And that was it. I could’ve helped myself to more candy, but I’d heard enough preaching for one night (if not one lifetime) and needed to get out of there.

Back at home, I dumped out all the candy for Hayley:

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Imagine how distraught that poor old woman would’ve been if I told her that my girlfriend looks like a 15-year-old boy.

Here’s a closeup of the seven baseballs that I snagged:

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Life is funny, huh?

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 7 baseballs at this game

• 244 balls in 31 games this season = 7.87 balls per game.

• 884 lifetime balls in 131 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.75 balls per game.

• 1,084 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 748 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 259 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 70 lifetime commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection

• 8,050 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 15 donors for my fundraiser

• $118.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $118.40 raised this season

• $40,073.90 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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