5/15/15 at Citi Field

Have you ever seen this photo of me as an 18-year-old? I know, my hair was ridiculous, but whatever. It was a huge moment because I had just snagged my 1,000th ball. Braves pitcher Pedro Borbon Jr. threw it to me on June 11, 1996 at Shea Stadium — and I’ll never forget it. Nearly seven years later, on May 24, 2003 at Olympic Stadium, Phillies pitcher Joe Roa threw me my 2,000th ball. On May 7, 2007 at Yankee Stadium, my dad was with me when I used my glove trick to snag my 3,000th ball.

See where I’m going with this?

Ball No. 4,000 was a toss-up from Mets pitcher Livan Hernandez on May 18, 2009 at Dodger Stadium. My 5,000th ball required more athleticism than the others; it was an Alex Rios BP homer that I caught on the fly on May 28, 2011 at Rogers Centre, and look, here’s a video of it! Nationals pitcher Brad Lidge tossed me my 6,000th ball on June 8, 2012 at Fenway Park, and I hired a videographer to document the entire day. The following season, on August 27, 2013 at Nationals Park, I filmed myself catching an Anthony Rendon BP homer for my 7,000th ball.

What about No. 8,000, you ask? Well, after snagging 16 balls on 5/13/15 at Citizens Bank Park, I began this day at Citi Field with a lifetime total of 7,996. My girlfriend, Hayley, proud owner of a fancy new camera, offered to join me at batting practice and film the big moment — but I had to do it during BP because she had evening plans and had to leave before the game started.

Here’s a photo she took of me at the start of BP:

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I had the place to myself for a minute, but of course there was no action. That’s to be expected when Ruben Tejada is hitting, but what about the 6-foot-6 John Mayberry Jr. or the muscular Anthony Recker? You’d expect some bombs from those guys, right? They always hit in the last group (which is the only group after the gates open), and guess what? It’s always dead.

It’s just as well there weren’t many homers because if I had to run to my right, I might have died. Look at this nonsense:

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That was some sort of mesh netting. Why the hell was it on the staircase during BP? Why did it take five minutes for someone to finally come and remove it?

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The Mets are weird. That’s all I can say.

On average, when Mets BP ends every day, I have one ball. On this particular day, I had none, so as soon as the Brewers came out, I had to take advantage of every opportunity. Here I am (circled in red, but now wearing dark Brewers gear) heading into foul territory:

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As the Brewers finished playing catch, I moved closer to the field . . .

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. . . and eventually got Khris Davis to throw me a ball from more than 100 feet away. To catch it, I had to lunge over a railing and reach down as far as possible into the “handicapped” section. Not only did the ball have a blue Sharpie streak on the sweet spot (that’s how the Brewers mark them), but it had the stamped signature of former commissioner Bud Selig. Yuck! I wanted my 8,000th ball to feature new commissioner Rob Manfred, and I wanted the sweet spot to be clean so I could try to get it signed.

Back in left field, it didn’t take long for me to get my second ball of the day — a home run by Ryan Braun. Here I am reaching up for the catch:

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In the photo above, do you see the other guy reaching up with his glove? He was in the perfect spot when the ball was hit, but he misjudged it slightly and maneuvered himself out of position by drifting down the steps.

Moments later, I scrambled for another home run ball that landed in the seats . . .

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. . . but didn’t get there in time.

A few minutes later, I photographed the home run ball:

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I didn’t know what would be worse — having No. 8,000 be a Selig ball or having it be hit by someone as disgusting as Ryan Braun.

Here I am looking up at another homer that barely reached the second deck:

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As various home run balls eluded me, the best I could do was get Juan Centeno to toss one up:

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That was my third ball of the day and No. 7,999 lifetime.

I updated my notes . . .

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. . . and took a photo of Hayley, who was bundled up in my gray hoodie:

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It barely helped. She was still freezing.

Here’s a screen shot (from a video) of what was ALMOST my 8,000th ball:

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In the image above, the ball is streaking down inside the red circle. See me holding onto the railing? I had gotten there with a second or two to spare, so I could’ve shifted over and jumped for the ball and robbed the guy in the light blue jersey, but I didn’t for two reasons. First of all, that’s a friend of mine named Jeff, and the ball was hit RIGHT to him, and second, I didn’t want my milestone ball to be tainted by an in-your-face maneuver. (And third, it was hit by Braun. Ew.)

The second group of Brewers BP was dead. Hayley used a lot of battery power and wasted several gigs’ worth of space on her memory card by filming a whole lotta nuthin’.

The same thing happened in the third group. The seats were crowded, and the Brewers just weren’t hitting anything.

To my surprise, there was a fourth group of BP, and because there were a couple of lefties, I moved to the seats in right-center field. The following screen shot sums up how it went:

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Long story short: when BP ended, I was still stuck at 7,999 and Hayley — shivering yet apologetic — left the stadium.

I felt bad. Really REALLY bad. I had wasted her time and lost an opportunity to have my special moment captured on video. But then something clicked inside my brain. It occurred to me that I had a rare opportunity for No. 8,000 to be a game-used ball. I had snagged all my other milestones during BP or other pre-game warm-ups, and now here I was . . . one ball away with the game set to begin.

Under normal circumstances, I would’ve tried to get a pre-game ball from the Brewers after they finished playing catch in front of the dugout, but instead, I resisted that urge and watched passively from farther down the foul line:

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As it turned out, I wouldn’t have gotten that ball anyway. Hector Gomez ended up with it and tossed it to a group of boisterous Latino men who’d been shouting at him in Spanish — no way to compete with that.

When the Mets took their positions, I began making my way toward the dugout. I figured I’d inch a little closer . . . and a little closer . . . and by the time the Brewers jogged off the field after the first inning, I’d be in a good spot to get a 3rd-out ball. Then I’d have more chances throughout the game, and hell, if I still hadn’t snagged my 8,000th ball by the very end of the night, I could try getting it from the home plate umpire. THAT would be an interesting way to notch my milestone.

The first batter of the game was Carlos Gomez, and in true undisciplined/overzealous Carlos Gomez fashion, he swung at Bartolo Colon’s first pitch. Ground ball. One out. Whatever.

The next batter was Gerardo Parra. As he stepped to the plate, I moved a few seats closer. I was pretty much even with the outfield grass and probably 20 rows back, where it was nice and empty. I wasn’t trying to catch a foul ball — just using the space as a path to a particular staircase behind the dugout.

Parra took a called strike, and on the second pitch of the at-bat, THIS happened:

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In case you can’t tell, the white streak to the right of the catcher’s head is the ball. Colon had thrown a 90-mile-per-hour heater, and Parra slashed it foul.

Usually I expect every ball to be hit to me, and when it isn’t, I’m disappointed. In this case, however, I was stunned to see it flying my way — not just toward my section but pretty much toward my row! I jumped out of my seat and ran to my right. If I’d started half a dozen seats closer, I would’ve made a sweet running catch, but I was a bit too far away, so I had to watch helplessly as it zipped past me.

The ball smacked against the empty seats in the row just behind me and ricocheted back in the direction that I’d just come from. I was so excited and panicked all at once! I thought I had a great chance to snag it until it bounced right to one of the only guys sitting nearby. Why did that have to happen?! Why is my luck sooooooo bad?! How awesome would it have been for THAT to be my 8,000th ball? All these thoughts were rattling around my head, and then something incredible happened. The ball bounced off the guy’s chest and plopped to the ground at his feet. He had gray hair. He wasn’t wearing a glove. When the ball was hit, he hadn’t even bothered to stand up, so I didn’t feel the least bit guilty when I ran over and lunged for it. And then I felt it in my hand! Grabbing the world’s biggest diamond wouldn’t have made me nearly as happy.

When the inning ended, I got a different fan to take my picture with it:

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Here’s a closer look at my 8,000th ball:

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I’m still amazed at how the whole thing turned out. Rob Manfred. No Sharpie streak. And perhaps best of all, Ryan Braun had nothing to do with it (although the ball *was* pitched by a different steroid guy).

Here’s where I sat for the rest of the game:

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I would’ve loved to move to the outfield and try to catch a home run, but the seats out there were packed, and eh, I just wanted to relax and have a nice view of the game.

An inning later, I took a photo of the fans behind me. The guy circled in red is the person who fumbled ball No. 8,000:

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Thank you, sir! If you ever see this blog entry and identify yourself in person, I will buy you two concession items of your choice. Live large! Steak sandwich and a 25oz beer? You got it.

Late in the game, I took a photo of Gerardo Parra on the jumbotron:

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I had no chance of getting a 3rd-out ball:

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But that was fine. I wasn’t feeling any pressure at that point.

When the Brewers spilled out onto the field after their 7-0 victory, I tried to get a ball at the dugout:

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(Jesus Aitch! Who’s that big mean lookin’ guy with the gray goatee? I’m glad I didn’t have to compete with HIM for that Gerardo Parra foul ball.)

I didn’t get any more balls, but again . . . whatever. I was perfectly happy to take my time walking out of the stadium, stopping in the concourse behind home plate to give one of my BP balls to a little kid with an empty glove.

Several minutes later, before entering the subway, I took this photo:

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I love the smudged logo. I love how everything turned out.

I would appreciate some advice on getting Parra’s autograph. Just don’t ask me about ball No. 9,000 — I’m not ready to think about that yet.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 baseballs at this game

• 194 balls in 25 games this season = 7.76 balls per game.

• 1,106 lifetime balls in 146 games at Citi Field = 7.58 balls per game.

• 1,078 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 482 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 159 lifetime foul balls during games (not counting ones that got tossed into the crowd)

• 8,000 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

5/13/15 at Citizens Bank Park

The Mets and Yankees were both on the road, so I drove down to Philadelphia with a lofty goal: snag at least 13 or 14 baseballs at this game. Quite simply, I was 20 balls away from No. 8,000, and I wanted to reach the milestone during BP at my following game, when my girlfriend would be free to come and film me.

When I arrived at the left field gate, I was surprised (but not THAT surprised) to see a whole new row of permanent metal detectors:

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Even though I knew at the start of the season that metal detectors would be used throughout Major League Baseball, it was still jarring when I saw them for the first time at Yankee Stadium and later at Citi Field. Citizens Bank Park is supposed to be laid-back in comparison, and I suppose it still is; at Yankee Stadium, the security personnel set up the detectors from scratch every day (because if they were left out overnight in the Bronx, they’d presumably get stolen or destroyed), but here in peaceful Philadelphia, where everyone is sooooooo respectful, the detectors are bolted into the pavement and, when not in use, covered with tarps.

Half an hour before the stadium opened, I was recognized by a young ballhawk named Montanna. Here we are:

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She said she’d gotten lots of baseballs the day before — and I could see why. She was the perfect age, and she looked athletic, and she knew a lot about the sport. If you were a major league player, and Montanna asked you for a ball, you would basically HAVE to throw one to her. Right?

Check out the line of fans waiting to get inside:

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For a weeknight in May at the home of a last-place team, this seemed like a lot of people, but compared to New York, it was nothing.

When I finally ran inside, I was miffed to see half a dozen ushers spread out in the left field seats. Phillies employees are allowed to snag baseballs before the gates open, which is great for them but bad for fans. It means you’ll never find a ball in the seats. But you know what really pissed me off? As I rushed down the steps toward the field, one of the ushers glanced over at me and then turned to his buddy and said, “Well, the party’s over.” Gosh, I’m so sorry that paying customers are ruining your fun.

This was my view at the start of BP:

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I figured there’d be four groups of hitters — one final group of Phillies and then three groups of Pirates. I’d been doing the math in my head and was hoping to snag at least two baseballs per group. Finishing BP with fewer than eight balls, I decided, would leave me in a tough spot. Eight would be acceptable, though not great. Nine would be very good, and ten would be excellent. Then I could hopefully get one or two pre-game balls followed by one or two 3rd-out balls and one or two post-game balls.

The first 10 minutes of BP were dead. The closest I came to snagging one was when I climbed down over a row of seats and reached out for a home run. Unfortunately another guy was reaching for it too, our gloves bumped, and we both missed it. (These are the moments that make me wish I were 6-foot-10.)

As the Phillies portion of BP was winding down, I still didn’t have a ball, and I was getting antsy! I knew that if I had a big fat ZERO when the Pirates took the field, I’d be digging myself out of a hole all day. Thankfully, just before panic-mode kicked in, someone hit a deep fly ball that rolled onto the warning track, slightly to the left of the batter’s eye. I raced through the seats and got over there just as Odubel Herrera retrieved it. I asked him for the ball in Spanish, and when he flipped it up to me, a nearby fan said, “I shouldn’t have studied German in high school.”

Here’s a photo of the ball:

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Two minutes later, a right-handed batter crushed a deep drive to left-center. I was shaded more toward straight-away left, but the seats were still fairly empty, so I took off. Rather than looking up at the ball, which would have slowed me down, I focused on rushing to the spot where it was probably going to land. At the last second, I saw the ball heading toward a totally empty row and assumed it would take a wild ricochet and plop into someone’s lap who wasn’t even paying attention. That’s the kind of luck I’ve been having so far this season, but whaddaya know . . . the ball smacked the seats and stayed where it landed, allowing me to run over and grab it.

The Phillies finished hitting soon after that, and while I certainly wasn’t thrilled with how things had gone, I was relieved.

Take a look at the following photo — it shows the Pirates playing catch in left field:

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Did you notice the three balls on the warning track? See the one near the foul pole? As soon as I noticed that, I ran over there to determine if I’d be able to snag it with my glove trick. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, it was gone, but something good ended up happening. In the photo above, do you see the usher in the red jacket just to the left of the foul pole? That’s where I was standing when a coach on the Pirates (not sure who) tossed me my third ball of the day.

Montanna was standing beside me when I got that ball. She had already snagged a few, including a well-worn 2014 postseason ball. I’d heard that the Pirates had been using some random commemorative balls during BP, but wow! Seeing the one that Montanna got gave me some extra motivation.

Several minutes later, as I began setting up my glove trick in left-center field, a 10-ish-year-old kid on my left asked, “Are you the guy with six thousand balls?!”

“Yeah,” I said, “that’s me, but I’m almost up to eight thousand now.”

His jaw actually dropped. It was pretty cute. Then I lowered my glove onto the warning track and secured my fourth ball of the day. As I was carefully lifting it back up, Arquimedes Caminero walked over and pretended to interfere, but thought better of it.

My fifth ball was a towering home run hit by Corey Hart. I judged it perfectly, and at the last second, I climbed up on a seat to give myself some extra reach. (As a non-6-foot-10 person who was feeling boxed in by several other fans, that’s what I had to do in that situation.)

A little while later, Andrew McCutchen hit a homer 20 feet to my left. If not for a group of middle-aged men who happened to be standing right where the ball landed, I would’ve caught it on the fly. Somehow they managed to bobble it back into my row, and I grabbed it. That was my sixth ball, and there were two groups of BP remaining. I should mention that all these balls had regular logos along with Rob Manfred’s stamped signature.

Things continued going my way when Starling Marte cranked a DEEP home run to left-center field. There was one little kid chasing the ball up a staircase. I was several steps behind him and figured it was all his, especially when it ricocheted back in his direction. Unfortunately for him, he ended up overrunning it, and it bounced right to me — but before he had a chance to feel bad, I handed the ball to him.

After getting the Pirates’ bullpen catcher, Heberto Andrade, to throw me my eighth ball of the day, I ran over to right field for the final group. Here’s what it looked like out there:

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I had all kinds of room to run for homers, but it was dead! There was NO action, and I couldn’t get anyone to throw me a ball, so when BP ended, I still had eight.

At that point, my first thought was, “Damn! I should’ve been behind the Pirates’ dugout to catch all the guys coming off the field.” My next thought was, “Maybe I should still hurry over in case they take a while to transfer the BP balls from the basket to the equipment bags,” and so I sprung into action. Starting in right-center field, I ran through the empty seats toward the foul pole and then through foul territory toward 1st base. When I reached the Diamond Club area, I had to go up the stairs into the concourse and then keep running around home plate toward the 3rd base side. Just as I was about to cut back down into the seats, I heard someone shouting, “Hey! HEY!!!” I got the sense that the person was shouting at me, but why? Had I done something wrong? Did the person recognize me and want to say hello? The Pirates’ equipment guy WAS indeed still dealing with the baseballs on the warning track in front of the dugout, so when I realized that a cameraman was trying to get my attention, I held up my index finger as if to say, “Hang on,” and I kept running down the steps and toward the dugout. This was the scene:

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The guy reaching into the basket is named Scott Bonnett. He’s the Pirates’ clubhouse attendant. How do I know that? Because of someone else in the photo who told me. See the guy on the right, touching the green padded railing? That’s a friend of mine from Pittsburgh named Zac Weiss. He was once a ballhawk — check out his profile on MyGameBalls.com. Now he’s a writer covering the Pirates for the Pittsburgh Sporting News — check out some of his recent articles here, here, here, and here. How cool is that?!

Anyway, lots of stuff happened within the next few minutes. First, Scott Bonnett tossed me my ninth ball of the day. Then the Pirates’ TV guy (pictured above in the suit and tie) got my attention and asked what I’d been doing during BP, and I was like . . . “Uhhhh, what?” He explained that one of the cameramen had seen me running all over the place and had been filming me. He asked a few more questions, so I told him about my collection and mentioned that I’d been interviewed live during a Pirates broadcast at Wrigley Field in 2013, and that’s when something clicked, I guess. This TV guy (whose name, by the way, is Robby Incmikoski) seemed to know who I was, and he asked if he could interview me live during this game.

“Where are you going to be sitting?” he asked.

“My ticket is right here in section 130,” I said, pointing at the seats behind me, “but I might be running all over the place.”

“Can you make sure to be here around the 3rd or 4th inning?”

“Sure,” I said and then asked if we should try to meet at a certain place and time, or if he wanted my phone number.

“Nah, I’ll find you.”

Scott Bonnett had overheard this conversation and ended up chatting with me for a few minutes. Here’s a photo of us, taken by Zac, who had made his way up into the seats:

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I mostly talked to Scott about commemorative baseballs. I told him that one of my friends had snagged a 2014 postseason ball and asked what the deal was. He said he has loads of commemorative balls in a storage room, which have been accumulating, and he decided recently to start using them in BP. I asked how he got them all. He said that whenever the Pirates are on the road, the home team provides two cases of balls per day. (This is standard practice throughout the major leagues, and by the way, one case has six dozen balls.) When those balls are commemorative, the Pirates often end up taking a bunch back to Pittsburgh. He also told me that when the Pirates got a bunch of pink balls for Mother’s Day, there were enough extras that he placed one in each player’s locker. Another interesting thing he said was that MLB instructed him not to use any Selig balls during the regular season — not even during BP — so he tried to use them up during Spring Training. He’s a really nice guy, and I greatly appreciated the opportunity to talk to him.

When I headed back up to the concourse, the cameraman waved me down and asked what my story was. He told me he couldn’t believe that I had “big-leagued” him by blowing him off earlier. I apologized but it was all good. He wasn’t pissed. If anything, he was amused, and we had a good laugh. In the course of telling him about myself and what I do at games, I asked why he happened to be filming me. I can’t remember his exact response, but it was something like, “I just noticed you running all over the place. You were easy to spot in that yellow shirt, and I don’t know — I’d never seen anything like that in my life.”

We chatted for a few minutes, and then we both had to get back to work. He had other more important things to film, and I needed to hurry out to the bullpens in right-center field. Zac was still with me, and when we reached the outfield concourse, we got someone to take our picture:

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Look at that son-of-a-gun with his media credential. Outstanding!

As for me, I’m fully aware that the stripy Pirates hat looks ridiculous, but when it comes to getting the players’ and coaches’ attention, it works wonders.

After a minute or two, Zac took off, leaving me here at the bullpen to do my thing:

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In the photo above, that’s Francisco Liriano warming up and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas not paying attention. I stayed there for 10 minutes and eventually got a toss-up from Rojas — my 10th ball of the day.

In the top of the 1st inning, I headed to the Phillies’ dugout. I figured I’d try to get a 3rd-out ball from Ryan Howard, who always tosses the first one to the same spot — right to the bottom of the staircase in front of him. Guess who was already in position at the bottom of the stairs? That’s right . . . Montanna . . . which meant I had no chance. Therefore I started rooting for the inning to end with a strikeout, and when Starling Marte was at bat with two outs and two strikes, I moved to the home-plate end of the dugout. This was my view:

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Moments later, Montanna, also anticipating a strikeout, scooted through an empty row — MY empty row — and when she saw me sitting in the end seat, she was like, “Aww, you’re stealing all my tricks!”

“YOUR tricks, huh?” I said with a smile.

As it turned out, Marte put the ball in play, Howard ended up with it, and neither of us got it.

I moved to the 3rd base side after that . . .

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. . . and got the inning-ending ball from Pirates 1st baseman Sean Rodriguez. No kids. No competition. It was beautiful. Ryan Howard had grounded out to shortstop Jordy Mercer, and as the play was completed, I drifted down to the front row for the easy snag. That was my 11th ball of the day. I was in pretty good shape, but still wanted two or three more.

When the 2nd inning got underway, I headed back to the Phillies’ dugout and nearly caught a foul ball. It was one of those towering pop-ups that are impossible to judge. Somehow I picked the right spot, first by moving back up a few steps and then by drifting to my left through an empty row, but I got screwed at the last second by the railing that separates the regular seats from the Diamond Club. That railing is not quite waist-high, so with slightly quicker thinking/maneuvering, I could’ve stepped over it, but instead I got blocked and tried to make a fully-extended catch — and you know what? If not for a guy in the Diamond Club who stuck his hands out at the last second and bumped my glove (or, you know, if I were 6-foot-10), I’m pretty sure I would’ve had it. I don’t blame him, of course. Even though there was no way in hell that he was going to catch it, he had every right to make an attempt. It was just extremely frustrating when the ball deflected off my glove, plopped to the ground, and trickled under a seat. I lunged over the railing and tried to grab it, but it was just beyond my reach.

A few minutes later, when Phillies left fielder Darin Ruf caught the final out of the top of the 2nd inning, I drifted down the stairs to the front row. I thought I had a great shot at getting the ball until I noticed a teeny kid on my right. He was so little that he could barely see over the roof of the dugout. Not surprisingly, Ruf tried to hook him up with the ball by rolling it to him. The kid tried to glove it, but swatted at it clumsily, causing it to roll away from him toward the far edge of the roof. I stood there for a moment and watched, expecting the grown-up on the other side of the kid to corral the ball for him, but no one moved, so I reached out and picked up the ball with my glove and then handed it to the kid directly from my glove. This is a cheap way to have padded my total, but the fact is . . . I was the first fan to secure possession of that ball, so it counts.

That was my 12th ball of the day, and two minutes later, I got No. 13 at the Pirates’ dugout. It was pretty simple. I raced back over and got the infield warm-up ball from 3rd base coach Rick Sofield.

In the top of the 3rd inning, Robby (the Pirates’ TV guy) came and found me and led me down toward the field:

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We entered a special handicapped seating area . . .

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. . . which provided a nice peek into the end of the dugout:

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Robby told me that the interview was going to begin during the next inning break. Here’s a photo of him that I took while we waited:

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Ninety seconds before the bottom of the 3rd inning got underway, he told me we were going live in a moment, pointed out the camera on the 1st base side that was going to be filming us, and then started introducing me. Here’s the beginning of what he said on the air: “Well, every day at batting practice, you see a lot of fans running around trying to shag home run balls — maybe get a few thrown to them behind the dugout, but this is Zack Hample right here, and he takes it to a level that I promise no one else in the history of baseball has taken it.”

Thanks to a friend who was able to get me the footage, I can share a bunch of screen shots. While Robby was introducing me, I was shown running all over the place during BP. Here I am running to the right:

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And to the left:

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Here I am going up the stairs . . .

20_zack_heading_up_the_stairs

. . . and heading back down:

21_zack_heading_down_the_stairs

On the air, Robby said I snagged this ball . . .

22_zack_reaching_for_a_bobbled_home_run_ball

. . . but I actually didn’t. Oh well.

I couldn’t believe how long the intro was. He kept talking about me, and the broadcast kept showing me. Here I am heading down to the Pirates’ dugout (after big-leaguing the camera man) . . .

23_zack_heading_down_to_the_dugout_after_bp

. . . and here I am getting the ball from Scott Bonnett:

24_zack_about_to_get_ball7989

Look what else the broadcast showed:

25_zack_changing_outfits

That’s me taking off my Pirates shirt. I changed from a yellow shirt and black hat . . . to a black shirt and yellow hat. Can you spot me in the following screen shot?

26_zack_in_striped_pirates_hat

I was hoping to change my appearance enough to trick Scott into tossing me another ball. On the air, Robby said it worked . . . but it didn’t. Whoops.

Did you notice Zac Weiss in the previous screen shot? He’s on the warning track up above, and in the next two images, you can see him near me in the stands. Here I am putting my Pirates gear away:

27_zack_putting_away_clothes

At this point, having been told by Robby that I was being filmed, I decided to play it up, so here I am showing my Phillies hat and making a shushing gesture:

28_zack_shh_dont_tell

After a 40-second intro, Robby said, “And here’s Zack Hample. We’ve been able to track him down for a second . . . and this was earlier. Hey, Zack, ya fumbled it, man. What happened on that foul ball?”

Meanwhile, here’s what the broadcast was showing:

29_zack_not_catching_this_foul_ball

FYI, they didn’t draw that red circle around my glove. They just played regular footage of the foul ball; I took a screen shot and photoshopped the circle. As you can see, the other guy reaching for it affected my ability to make a clean catch.

Here I am lunging for the ball on the ground . . .

30_zack_toppling_over_a_railing

. . . and here I am with my feet up in the air:

31_zack_feet_up_in_the_air

Other fans tried to help me up. The ushers were concerned that I had gotten hurt. What a pain in the ass. I was totally fine — just pissed off that I hadn’t caught the ball.

Finally, I was shown on camera replying to his question:

32_zack_interviewed_live

I said, “The railing got in my way, and I think that as I reached out for it, a guy was reaching from the opposite direction, and his hand bumped my glove, and AAAHHH, so close!”

After that, Robby asked how many baseballs I had caught in my life. (At that moment, the answer was 7,993.) Then he asked about the various hats and shirts that I wear. His next question was about the balls I’d snagged at this particular game, so I showed him the contents of my backpack:

33_robby_reaching_into_my_bag

Here we are holding up some baseballs:

34_zack_and_robby_holding_baseballs

He was kind enough to ask about my charity fundraiser, so I got to talk about Pitch In For Baseball. (Very briefly, for those who don’t know, I’ve been working with this charity since 2009. They provide baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world; I’ve been getting people to pledge money for the balls that I snag, and with everyone’s help, I’ve raised more than $40,000. Click here for more info.)

Toward the end of the interview, Robby showed my hats . . .

35_robby_showing_hats

. . . and said, “He has the vintage ’79 World Series Pirates hat and a Phillies hat and this one right here, and he’s got another shirt on under this and I don’t — it’s a lot to take in, believe me, and he burns a lot of calories during a game.”

“Yes, I do!” I said. “I can eat whatever I want during the season, and I still lose weight.”

Then the announcers talked about me for a bit. On my way out of the handicapped area, I talked to another fan, completely unaware that the camera was still on me:

36_zack_talking_to_a_fan

The camera followed me as I headed up the stairs . . .

37_zack_cutting_through_the_seats_after_the_interview

. . . and at the end of the inning, it showed me getting into position for a 3rd-out ball:

38_zack_going_for_the_next_third_out_ball

I didn’t snag that one, but hey, whatever. As I mentioned earlier, I already had 13 balls, so even if I didn’t get any more here in Philly, I figured I’d kinda maybe probably be okay. Would I be able to catch seven balls during BP at Citi Field on Friday and reach my milestone of 8,000? Eh . . . actually, I wasn’t sure. The Brewers were gonna be there, and while they *are* a good BP team with lots of right-handed hitters, who knows? Ever since Citi Field started opening two hours early (it opened 2.5 hours early every day in 2009 and 2010), I’ve been averaging about seven balls per game there — but that includes balls from pre-game throwing, 3rd-out balls during the game, foul balls, home runs, umpire balls, and other post-game snags. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that getting seven balls during BP would be a challenge. That’s what I would have to do in order to have it filmed; my girlfriend had other plans in the evening, so she was going to have to leave the stadium right after BP.

In the 4th inning, I noticed that every time a foul ball hit the protective screen behind home plate, the ballboy on the Pirates’ side retrieved it and tossed it into the crowd near the on-deck circle — and let me tell you, with Francisco Liriano and Cole Hamels pitching, there were LOTS of foul balls. Therefore, I moved down to the 2nd row in the 5th inning:

39_view_late_in_the_game_05_13_15

At many stadiums, I would never have gotten away with that. Guards and ushers often protect the first few rows, but here at Philly, it was wide open.

Not surprisingly, there were a bunch of foul balls during the 5th inning, but the stupid ballboy kept them all! Every time he retrieved one, he hurried back into the dugout without looking up. Even though all (and I do mean ALL) the kids in the front row already had one or two baseball apiece, they still nagged him for more.

In the top of the 6th inning the ballboy continued to ignore everyone, and I assumed I’d missed my chance, but after the 3rd out, something amazing happened. He poked his head out of the dugout and started tossing baseballs to everyone behind the front row. (Sorry, ballboy, you’re not so stupid after all.) He must’ve thrown six or eight into the crowd. The first one went to me (my 14th of the day), and a few moments later, he tried to zip one right past my ear. He threw it underhand, but with some real oomph — no arc at all. Out of instinct, I reached out and caught it (my 15th ball of the day), but it’s not like I blatantly robbed anyone. It was seriously only a foot or two to the right of my head. Of course, as soon as I caught that one, I turned around to see whom he might have been throwing it to. There was a woman directly behind me with a little girl, so I handed them the ball and said I was sorry for having snared it in front of them. It turned out that my apology wasn’t necessary. The way the woman saw it, I had saved them from getting hit, and I think that might have been true. The ballboy should have been more careful.

Just before the bottom of the 7th inning got underway, Rick Sofield tossed me another infield warm-up ball, perhaps because I had changed my appearance since the last one. I immediately handed it to a little kid with a glove who had wandered down the steps. That was my 16th ball of the day!

Look who ended up sitting directly across the stairs from me in the 8th inning:

40_montana_with_a_signed_ball

That’s Montanna, and as you can see, she had asked me to sign one of her baseballs.

This was my view late in the game:

41_silly_kids_in_the_front_row

That kid in the red hat kept looking back at me and talking, and if you think he looks like a little wise guy, you’re absolutely right. He told me that he was going to play in the major leagues someday, so I asked him if he’d throw a baseball to me. He said no, and when I asked why not, he said, “Because you’ll be dead!”

I’ve concluded that everyone in Philadelphia is obnoxious — even newborn babies and fetuses.

Let me take a moment to talk about the game itself. First, it’s a good thing I didn’t waste my time in the outfield, because the only extra-base hit was a 5th-inning double by Carlos Ruiz. Second, the 9th inning had some major drama. The Pirates were trailing, 3-2, with one out and a runner on 3rd base, so when Jordy Mercer lifted a shallow-ish fly ball down the right field line, I wondered what they were gonna do. Play it safe and hold the runner? Or send him and test the cannon-like arm of Jeff Francoeur? Click this link to see what happened. (Seriously, click it. You’ll be glad you did. It’s a high-quality video with no advertisement at the start.)

Wow, right? Don’t mess with Frenchy! His incredible throw not only won the game, but gave Jonathan Papelbon his 113th save as a member of the Phillies — the most in franchise history. (Jose Mesa had 112.)

After the final out, the stadium was so loud and crazy that I couldn’t get the umpire’s attention, and not surprisingly, all the Pirates walking in from the bullpen were in a lousy mood:

42_postgame_activity_on_the_field_05_13_15

Therefore my night ended with 16 baseballs. Here are the 12 that I kept:

43_the_twelve_balls_i_kept_05_13_15

As I always do when I come home from a game, I inspect my baseballs in black light. Check out the image below — four of the 12 have invisible ink stamps:

44_black_light_05_13_15

Finally, here’s a screen shot from the MLB app, sent by my friend Garrett Meyer in Kansas City:

45_zack_featured_on_mlb_05_13_15

Thanks, Garrett! But hey, do me a favor and charge your phone, okay? That red battery icon is distressing.

And that’s basically it. I had a GREAT day skipping work in favor of attending a game in a stadium that doesn’t suck. Best of all, I snagged so many baseballs that I set myself up to have No. 8,000 filmed during BP at my next game. Stay tuned. That blog entry will be coming soon.

***UPDATE***
I just found my TV interview on MLB.com. I wish I’d seen it sooner because I could’ve avoided posting all those screen shots, but anyway, here it is:

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 16 baseballs at this game

• 190 balls in 24 games this season = 7.92 balls per game.

• 351 lifetime balls in 37 games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.49 balls per game.

• 1,077 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 376 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 7,996 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

5/8/15 at Yankee Stadium

My friend Brandon Sloter joined me at this game and started taking photos as soon as we entered the subway. Here I am just before boarding a No. 4 train to the Bronx:

1_zack_subway_to_stadium_05_08_15

Here I am outside Yankee Stadium . . .

2_zack_outside_stadium_05_08_15

. . . and here I am catching a home run during batting practice:

3_zack_catching_ball7970

I think it was hit by Chase Headley, but I’m not sure.

That was actually my fourth ball of the day, but it was the first that Brandon saw. Before he made it inside, I had found a ball in the left field seats, gotten a toss-up from David Carpenter (who’s very very nice), and retrieved a home run that landed near me.

When the Orioles started hitting, I didn’t have to wait long to see more action. Here I am tracking a deep line drive:

4_zack_catching_ball7971

It ended up carrying a bit farther than I expected, so I had to jump to make the catch:

5_zack_catching_ball7971

Here I am with the ball:

6_zack_holding_ball7971

I don’t know who hit that one or any of the other homers I’m about to tell you about — just mentioning it now so I don’t have to keep repeating myself.

Here’s a funny photo that makes it look like I’m afraid of the ball:

7_zack_flinching_before_snagging_ball7972

Why was I flinching instead of running over to catch it on the fly?

Two reasons . . .

First, when that ball was hit, I wasn’t standing there. I had to dart down the steps and then move to my right, so that was as close as I got before it landed. Second, deflections are the worst. Remember when this happened to me on 7/31/13 at Turner Field? I was trying to avoid a similar situation here at Yankee Stadium, so once I realized that I wasn’t going to catch the ball, I didn’t want to get too close. I ended up snagging it, though, so whatever.

After that, I headed over to right field for a bit and caught two home runs. The first one was fairly routine, and I gave it to the nearest fan. The second one, however, required a bit of an effort including fighting the sun and jumping. Check out this amazing photo that Brandon took as the ball was entering my glove:

8_zack_catching_ball7974

See the guy behind me in the dark blue shirt? He and I are friendly acquaintances. He’s often in that spot, and whenever we see each other, we say hello. After I caught the ball, I apologized for jumping in front of him, and he was super-cool about it. He was like, “Don’t even worry. I just did the same thing to someone else, and anyway, we got eleven balls today, so it’s all good.” Then he told me that he’s not able to run and jump anymore like he used to, and he encouraged me to do it while I can.

THAT is the true spirit of ballhawking. You go for what you can (while making sure not to crash into anyone). Sometimes you rob people. Sometimes you get robbed. And you just accept that that’s how it goes.

I finished BP with eight balls. Then I headed to the upper deck with Brandon:

9_view_from_upper_deck_05_08_15

In the photo above, that’s him on the staircase. He’s a professional videographer/photographer, and he wanted to get some pics up there. (FYI, he’s the guy who has filmed me at PETCO Park, Wrigley Field, Citizens Bank Park, and Dodger Stadium.) Of course, before we headed back downstairs, he offered to take one of me:

9_zack_upper_deck_05_08_15

Just before the game started, I got my ninth ball of the day . . .

10_ball7975_from_jett_ruiz

. . . from Orioles bullpen catcher Jett Ruiz.

This was my view during the game:

11_view_during_game_05_08_15

As I mentioned on Twitter, Delmon Young was playing right field for the Orioles, and this fan in the bleachers . . .

12_fan_yelling_at_young_markakis

. . . was yelling, “MARKAKIS!!! I HATE YOU!!!”

Just about everyone on Twitter thought the guy was a complete idiot for not realizing that Nick Markakis no longer plays for the Orioles. At the time, I didn’t feel like tweeting back and forth with dozens of people, so let me set the record straight now: the guy was joking. Trust me. He knew what he was doing. And he was LOUD. He was yelling in a comical, raspy/nasal-y way that somehow made his voice carry like you wouldn’t believe. I’m sure there were at least 1,000 people who heard every word he was saying, including Delmon Young (who deserves heckling). Later on, the guy spent a few innings yelling, “MARKAKIS!!! YOU’RE TERRIBLE!!!” and eventually he screamed, “MARKAKIS!!! YOU’RE LUCKY SECURITY IS HERE!!!” which might seem threatening or menacing, but the guy was so over-the-top goofy that it just made everyone laugh.

You know what else was funny? All the mustache photos of the Yankees on the jumbotron. Look at this nonsense:

13_mark_teixeira_jumbotron_mustache

This was my dinner — garlic fries with cheese sauce:

14_garlic_cheese_fries_05_08_15

As for the game, the Yankees jumped out to a 5-0 lead. Then the Orioles scored four runs to make it interesting, but that was it. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller each pitched a scoreless inning (YET AGAIN) to shut things down. Neither one of those guys has given up an earned run all season! That’s great if you’re a Yankee fan, but if you’re like me, and you just wanna watch baseball and see compelling games which might feature a comeback once in a while, it kinda sucks.

Check out the following photo, which I took after the game:

15_ball_in_bullpen_after_the_game_05_08_15

Did you spot the baseball in the bullpen? See the groundskeeper working on the mound? I asked him for it (in the most polite way imaginable), and he just shook his head. Thanks.

Here are the eight balls I took home:

16_the_eight_balls_i_kept_05_08_15

Not bad overall, though Yankee Stadium always stresses me out and makes me considerably poorer.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 9 baseballs at this game

• 169 balls in 22 games this season = 7.68 balls per game.

• 859 lifetime balls in 128 games at the new Yankee Stadium = 6.71 balls per game.

• 1,075 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 256 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 7,975 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

4/29/15 at Yankee Stadium

I usually avoid day games, but I made an exception for this one. Not only was Alex Rodriguez one homer away from tying Willie Mays on the all-time list, but more importantly, my girlfriend, Hayley, wanted to go.

Here’s what we saw upon entering the stadium:

1_batting_cage_set_up_but_no_bp_04_29_15

The good news was that the cage and screens were set up for batting practice. The bad news was that no one was hitting.

After a few minutes, several Rays began throwing in deep left-center field, so I ran out to the bleachers to get as close to them as possible:

2_zack_in_left_field_bleachers_04_29_15

In the photo above, that’s me in the front row.

That turned out to be a waste of time, but thankfully I had another opportunity before long. Several Yankees began throwing along the right-field foul line, so I raced over there and got Justin Wilson to chuck me a ball. Take a close look at the following photo — see the ball in mid-air?

3_justin_wilson_throwing_ball7911

The ball sailed way over my head . . .

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. . . but the seats behind me were empty, so I was able to chase it down.

Here I am taking a photo of the ball . . .

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. . . and here’s the ball itself:

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Nice! I love ’em when they’re worn and beat up.

The Rays started hitting 10 minutes later:

7_rays_taking_batting_practice

This was the extent of the action — me maneuvering into position on a ball that fell short:

8_zack_climbing_over_seats_as_a_home_run_ball_descends

But hey, it’s still a cool photo.

Batting practice was dead. The Yankees didn’t hit at all, and the Rays only had one group — that’s right, just ONE group of BP — consisting of two righties and a lefty, who combined to hit one home run into the left-field seats. It was so lame that I had time to catch up with my friend Eddie and inform him that he had a tiny of blob of sun block on his earlobe:

9_eddie_with_sun_lotion_on_ear

Yup, that’s the spot. You got it.

After BP I headed over to the Rays’ dugout and got a ball thrown to me by Charlie Montoyo, the team’s 3rd base coach. Then, moments later, after he had disappeared inside the dugout, I got another toss-up from the equipment guy. Here’s the ball in mid-air . . .

10_zack_catching_ball7913

. . . and here’s the guy (with the shaved head) who tossed it:

11_rays_equipment_guy_who_threw_ball7913

A little while later, I moved to the left-field foul line:

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Here I am getting my fourth ball of the day from Ernesto Frieri:

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(Nice job, Hayley, with the photos!)

I think it’s funny that no one else made an attempt to snatch it. They’re all just . . . standing there.

Here’s the $16 meal that Hayley and I shared before the game:

14_fries_with_steak_and_cheese_sauce

It was a significant portion of food — probably two to three pounds of french fries, steak, onions, and cheese sauce. Last season I tried to eat that by myself and failed (I could’ve done it in high school, but I was a fat-ass back then), so I was glad to make this a team effort.

Here’s Hayley watching Michael Pineda warm up before the game:

15_hayley_watching_michael_pineda_warm_up

This was our view during the game:

16_view_during_game_04_29_15

There were a whole lot of empty seats around me, so of course the only two home runs were hit to left field.

Here’s something that amused me at first and left me shaking my head:

17_kid_playing_video_games

As you can see, the kid in the front row was focusing on the video game on his phone, but whatever — no big deal, right? Kids have short attention spans and are prone to being distracted . . . right?

Well, this was a special child. He was *so* disinterested in baseball, and the sun was shining *so* brightly on his mobile device that he ended up doing this:

18_kid_completely_covered_with_his_jacket

But who am I to judge? When I was 11 years old, my mom took me to Disney World, and I spent the entire week playing Arkanoid in the hotel game room.

For Hayley, this game at Yankee Stadium probably felt like it lasted a week. Take a look at the scoreboard:

19_scoreboard_in_the_13th_inning

It wasn’t the 3rd inning — oh no no no. It was the 13th inning. Hayley wanted to leave after 9 innings, and she was THIS close to bailing after 10. To get her to stay, I had to bribe her with fries and a chocolate shake from the Johnny Rockets concession stand halfway across the stadium — but *she* had to go get it.

There was no 14th inning, and that was fine by me. Nineteen days earlier, I’d sat through the entirety of a 19-inning game, which was incredible, but I didn’t feel the need for an encore.

Here I am with Hayley after the final out:

20_hayley_and_zack_postgame_04_29_15

Moments after that photo was taken, I found a crinkled-up $20 bill in the seats.

Perfect.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

21_the_four_balls_i_snagged_04_29_15• 4 baseballs at this game

• 108 balls in 15 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

• 842 lifetime balls in 126 games at the new Yankee Stadium = 6.7 balls per game.

• 1,068 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 254 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 7,914 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.)

• 14 donors for my fundraiser

• $115.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $115.40 raised this season

• $40,070.90 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

4/14/15 at Citi Field

This was my first Mets game of the season, and I was expecting a big crowd. No, it wasn’t the home Opener. Mets ace Matt Harvey, who had missed all of last season while rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery, was going to be pitching at Citi Field for the first time in 19 months.

The stadium looked calm from afar . . .

1_citi_field_from_afar_04_14_15

. . . and because I’d arrived so early, there wasn’t much action yet outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.:

2_no_metal_detectors

Do you remember all the metal detectors outside Yankee Stadium that I saw last week? Major League Baseball and the Department of Homeland Security had worked together this past offseason and decided that every stadium would have metal detectors in 2015 — so how come there weren’t any at Citi Field?

I figured the guards and supervisors were going to bring them out any minute and set them up. It was only 4pm, so there was still plenty of time — more than an hour until the stadium would open.

Well then. Let’s fast-forward an hour, shall we? First take a look at the loooooong lines of fans waiting to get in:

3_huge_lines_04_14_15

Now check out the area between the barricades and the stadium gates:

4_lots_of_guards_but_no_metal_detectors

Do you see any metal detectors? I didn’t see any, but as it turned out, there were a bunch. Sort of. Rather than using the big, airport-style rectangular things that fans would have to walk through, the Mets’ security guards all had hand-held metal-detecting wands. Here’s how it worked: the guard at my table inspected my backpack as he had always done. Then, after being told that I could go, I headed toward the gate and was stopped by a guard, who had me spread my legs and arms, at which point he wanded me front and back for about 20 seconds. Despite the fact that I was first on line, several fans at other lines got in ahead of me, presumably because they weren’t wanded as thoroughly. Overall I’d say the level of security was pretty good, though not foolproof or consistent. I heard later from a guard I know that the Mets only got SIX of the walk-though metal detectors and placed them at the club/suite entrances — two each at the Stengel, Seaver, and Hodges gates. Not that I’m complaining or anything (because this whole metal-detecting thing is awful), but how can they get away with that?

Anyway, last season the Mets often finished taking BP before the stadium opened. Here’s what I saw at my first Mets game of 2015 when I made it out to left field:

5_empty_seats_04_14_15

Hooray!!

David Wright was in the cage, and before anyone else made it out to the left field seats, he launched a home run in my direction. Just my luck . . . it sailed 40 feet over my head, landed in the second deck, and bounced back onto the field. That might have prompted me to curse the universe. Wright proceeded to hit two more homers into the empty seats surrounding me. Even though there still wasn’t anyone else nearby, I scrambled after the balls. Here they are:

6_david_wright_bp_home_run_balls

During the final group of Mets BP, I got a toss-up from rookie pitcher Erik Goeddel, and then I got THE luckiest bounce on a John Mayberry Jr. home run. I was standing in the fourth row, not too thrilled about another guy who had decided to stand directly in front of me in the third row. Mayberry hit a deep line drive right at us, and we both knew it was going to fall short. The other guy drifted down the steps to the front row, but I stayed in my spot — not for any particular reason. It just seemed pointless to move because I could tell that the ball might not even reach the Party Deck down below.

Guess what happened? The ball struck the railing at the very front of the Party Deck . . .

7_crazy_lucky_bounce

. . . and ricocheted up into the stands, looping directly over the other guy and landing *right* where I was standing. I didn’t have to move. I simply reached up and gloved it. Ha!

When the Phillies took the field, I headed into foul territory. As usual, I would’ve liked to be behind the 3rd base dugout, but wasn’t allowed to go any farther than this:

8_blocked_by_the_green_guy

In the photo above, do you see the guard on the right in the green jacket? There’s always a guard there during BP, whose *only* job is to prevent people from walking through the seats toward the dugout. No other stadium does that during BP. Even at the prison-like Yankee Stadium, which has more rules than the other 29 stadiums combined, all fans are allowed to go behind the dugouts early on — not all the way down to the “Legends” area, where people need wristbands, but whatever. Just being able to hang out in the vicinity of the dugouts is a nice thing. It enables fans to interact with the players and see them up close, but the Mets have not allowed it since Citi Field opened in 2009.

When the Phillies started hitting, I headed to the seats in right-center field:

9_right_center_field_04_14_15

I chose this section for two reasons. First, a bunch of lefties were taking turns in the cage, and second, I wanted to see the new outfield configuration. In case you haven’t heard, the Mets moved in the fences during the offseason . . . AGAIN. Here’s what it looks like up close:

10_new_expanded_gap_04_14_15

SO MUCH WASTED SPACE!!!

If the Mets want to maximize revenue (and happiness), they should consider building a little staircase down to that area, replacing the outfield wall with a chain-link fence, and converting that dead zone into a group/party area. Hell, they don’t even need to sell it separately. They could just open it up to anyone . . . ya know, to be nice. Put a beer cart down in there. Sell some pretzels and sausages. Turn the dead zone into a fun zone.

Back in left field, I found myself standing behind four Mets fans wearing jerseys of the all-time greats:

11_klemm_santana_lenefsky_harvey

Wait a minute . . . Klemm and Lenefsky? I think not.

I snagged two home runs hit by Jeff Francoeur — my fifth and sixth balls of the day. The first landed in the seats one section to my left, and as I lunged for it, I bashed my right tit on the metal corner of a seat. The second one, thankfully, was uneventful by comparison; it came right to me, and I caught it on the fly.

Look how crowded it was after BP:

12_crowded_concourse_04_14_15

All this for Matt Harvey?!

Shortly before the season started, I read an article about various concession items debuting at stadiums around the major leagues. When I learned that Citi Field was going to offer thick-cut bacon covered in s’mores, I *had* to try it.

After BP, I met up with my friend Mark McConville, and we headed to the “Pig Guy NYC” stand together. As you can see below, there was quite a line:

13_line_at_pig_guy_nyc

No problem, right? How long does it take to dip a piece of bacon in a vat of gooey chocolatey stuff? The answer is that it takes a LONG-ASS TIME when you run out of bacon. And it takes even longer when you have to wait five minutes for a new container of bacon to arrive. And it takes *even* longer when that new container of bacon is uncooked. If we’d known at the start how long it was going to take, we wouldn’t have waited, but by the time everything got held up, Mark and I had already invested 10 minutes and were in the middle of the line.

So we waited.

And waited.

To pass the time (and also because it was kinda cool), I took a photo of the $100 million roof being built over Arthur Ashe Stadium:

14_us_open_construction

And then we waited some more.

No exaggeration — we were on that effin’ line for nearly 40 minutes, and when we finally made it up to the front, the bacon wasn’t even close to being adequately cooked:

15_thick_cut_bacon_being_cooked

I prefer my bacon crispy, but what could I do? Leave after waiting such a long time?! Wait another 10 minutes for one piece of it to be cooked more just for me? Mark and I were in danger of missing the start of the game.

I was tempted to bail, but then I saw this sign up close:

16_bacon_sign

I couldn’t resist. I’d waited too long, and I was starving, so I handed over my money and received this in exchange:

17_bacon_covered_with_smores

It was meh.

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled. Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of eating thick-cut bacon (followed by a full steak dinner) at Peter Luger. Take a look at this photo. THIS is how it’s supposed to be done — it was like the Mike Trout of bacon. What I got at Citi Field was the Ruben Tejada of bacon. It was soft and lacked oomph. The chocolatey s’mores coating wasn’t flavorful enough and therefore didn’t add much, and there wasn’t nearly enough marshmallow. Remember when I tried some chocolate-covered bacon on 6/12/11 at Coors Field? That certainly looked gross, and at the time I didn’t think much of it, but at least the flavors were powerful.

It should be noted that Mark got the s’mores-covered bacon *and* the caramel-coated bacon. He agreed with me about the s’mores, but said the other one was much better.

I barely made it here for the first pitch:

18_matt_harvey_first_pitch

Matt Harvey struck out Odubel Herrera (not to be confused with Asdrubel Cabrera) to start the game, and everyone in the stadium was PUMPED:

19_mets_fans_excited_04_14_15

There was palpable energy and enthusiasm everywhere; this game felt like a hybrid of Opening Day and the playoffs.

When Harvey struck out Freddy Galvis with a 98mph fastball, the stadium erupted. Here’s the pitch speed on the jumbotron:

20_matt_harvey_throwing_cheese

Here’s Harvey delivering a pitch to Chase Utley:

21_matt_harvey_leg_kick

When the count went to 1-2, it felt as if the stadium were about to explode:

22_fans_in_batman_masks

But then something funny happened: Chase Utley hit a home run. Everyone was like, “WTF did we just see?” But it was only one run, and Harvey struck out the next batter, Ryan Howard (which probably wasn’t all that difficult), to get everyone re-energized.

The Mets tied the game in the bottom of the 1st inning, and then I headed to left field for a bit. Look how crowded it was out there:

23_left_field_crowded

The paid attendance for this game was 39,489. And let me remind you that this was NOT the Mets’ home opener. That had taken place the day before, drawing a crowd of 43,947 — the biggest in Citi Field history.

Here’s where I sat for the next few innings:

24_view_from_left_field_04_14_15

I absolutely hate sitting in the middle of a row, but I had no choice because it was so damn crowded. Thankfully I had a bit of room on my right . . .

25_small_amount_of_open_space

. . . but I was antsy. I felt like a caged animal, and to make matters worse, I had a lousy view of the scoreboard because of the overhang of the second deck:

26_shitty_view_of_scoreboard

I had to get out there. I just couldn’t sit still.

I headed up to the second deck in right field, stopping along the way to take this photo:

27_heading_to_the_second_deck_in_right_field

Then I went to the outermost staircase in the second deck. I wanted to get a view from above of the new/shorter outfield wall and all that dead space behind it. Check it out:

28_expanded_gap_from_above

That is THE weirdest outfield/bullpen setup in the major leagues.

Look who was at the bottom of my staircase:

29_signguy

SIN GUY!! He commits all sorts of horrible acts and . . . oh wait, his ponytail was blockin’ the gee.

SIGNGUY. My bad. I’d never seen him up close.

I could write 10,000 words about all the oddities in this game, but instead I’ll summarize them quickly. Two Mets players were injured — Michael Cuddyer on a hit-by-pitch followed by David Wright, who messed up his hamstring on a stolen base and is now on the disabled list. Chase Utley was beaned (probably intentionally) by Harvey and hit a second homer later on. Both teams were warned by the home plate umpire. There were instant replay reviews that dragged on. Mets manager Terry Collins got ejected for arguing a catcher’s interference call (which turned out to be a bad call). Mets backup catcher Anthony Recker played 3rd base in the 9th inning — the first time in his professional career that he’d done that. And so on. I’m probably forgetting a few things, but you get the idea. This game was weird, and the Mets held on for a 6-5 win.

After the final out . . .

30_postgame_activity_on_the_field_04_14_15

. . . I got my seventh and final ball of the day from home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez. (Can you spot him in the photo above?) Here I am with the balls:

31_zack_with_seven_baseballs_04_14_15

On my way out, I lingered in the concourse for a few minutes until I saw a cute kid walking by slowly with an empty glove. I drifted over to the kids’ father and asked, “Did you guys catch a ball today?” When the kid predictably shook his head, I reached into my pocket, pulled out a clean BP ball, placed it in his glove, and said, “Well, you got one now.”

They were thrilled, of course, and I felt good too. I had survived my first of many Mets games this season.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

32_the_six_balls_i_kept_04_14_15• 7 baseballs at this game (six pictured here because I gave one away)

• 30 balls in 5 games this season = 6 balls per game.

• 1,008 lifetime balls in 134 games at Citi Field = 7.52 balls per game.

• 1,058 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 470 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 7,836 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.)

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

• $108.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $108.40 raised this season

• $40,063.90 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

4/10/15 at Yankee Stadium

There was nothing special about this day early on. The weather was dreary, and I headed out to right field at the start of batting practice:

1_view_from_right_field_04_10_15

I managed to catch one baseball out there — a home run that was hit by a left-handed batter on the Yankees. I’m not sure who it was, but if I had to guess, I’d say Stephen Drew. It was heading between me and another guy. We both reached for it, and I happened to reach a little farther. It felt good to catch it and get on the board, but things went downhill from there.

When the Red Sox started hitting, I headed over to left field and misplayed TWO home run balls! On the first one, I darted down the steps and reached over the outfield wall, at which point the ball hit the palm of my glove and squirted right out. I felt *so* dumb, and then five minutes later, I had one clang off my wrist. If there’s an excuse for that one, it’s that I was half-reaching for it and half-flinching because a tall guy in front of me was going for it too, and it seemed to be well within his reach. But no. He whiffed. And I tanked it. And then I started doubting myself in all sorts of ways.

Thankfully I regained my edge during the next group of hitters. First I grabbed a Hanley Ramirez homer during a mad scramble in the middle of a row. Then, moments later, I jumped and back-handed another Hanley homer, and a little while after that, I got Joe Kelly to toss me a ball.

All three of the balls I got from the Red Sox had red check marks on the sweet spot. Here’s a photo of one of them:

2_check_mark_on_the_sweet_spot

I’ve snagged lots of marked balls over the years, but this was new to me, so I have to ask: if there are any Red Sox fans reading this, do you know the story? Is this simply the team’s way of keeping track of their baseballs, or is it some kind of social media thing?

After BP, I caught up with a few friends, ate a sandwich I’d brought from home, fiddled around on my phone for a while, and eventually headed to my seat in straight-away right field.

The Red Sox jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the 1st inning and scored twice more in the top of the 6th. Then the Yankees rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 6th to trim the lead to 3-2 — pretty standard stuff, right? Not exactly. If you use the number of fights breaking out in various sections as a barometer, it was anything but “standard.” The Yankees and Red Sox, of course, are huge rivals; this was the first of 19 games that they’d play in 2015, and lots of fans were GOING AT IT. There was a major fight in the left field upper deck, and I saw other skirmishes in the bleachers. There was so much drunken hostility that it kinda felt like the old Yankee Stadium.

During the 7th-inning stretch, while standing at a urinal in the men’s room, I heard something hit the floor on my left. It had made somewhat of a clapping noise, so in the instant before I looked over, I assumed someone had dropped a book or a plastic cup, so I was surprised when I saw that a young man had fallen over backwards, not much more than five feet away from me. Did he slip on something? Was he drunk? I didn’t know what to make of it, and then BAM!!! Out of nowhere, another guy jumped on top of him and started punching him as hard as you can possibly imagine . . . on the head and in the face . . . over and over and OVER and OVER. It was relentless and absolutely terrifying! I had never seen a fight that close to me, nor had I ever witnessed anything so brutal. I truly thought the guy on the bottom was going to be killed or blinded or suffer permanent brain damage. It wasn’t at all like a movie. There were no fake sound effects for the punches. Instead there were eerie thumps each time the guy’s skull was struck by the other man’s fist. Within five or ten seconds, I head someone shout, “NYPD!! GET THE F*CK OFF OF HIM AND DON’T F*CKING MOVE!!!” The guy shouting wasn’t in uniform. I don’t know if he was working undercover or if he was off-duty, but thankfully he broke it up. The guy who’d been getting pummeled managed to stand up with a bit of help, and almost instantly, I saw a whole lot of blood starting to trickle down his face in various spots. That’s about the time that I finished my business at the urinal, and I got THE HELL out of there. I’ll admit it — normally I like to gawk, but this was way too real and horrific. I couldn’t handle it. I was practically shaking as I ran out of the bathroom and made my way back to my seat.

I don’t know what happened to the guy who’d gotten beat up, but I heard that the other guy got arrested and that the bathroom was shut down for several innings because it was a crime scene.

I’m still in shock as I sit here writing this. It was one of those “Did that really happen?” moments. I don’t know what caused the fight, but I can tell you that neither of the guys was wearing Red Sox gear — not that that alone would justify violence, but it could serve as a preliminary explanation.

Wow. Okay. Let’s move on . . .

The Red Sox took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the 9th, and when they brought Edward Mujica into the game, I thought, “Hoo-boy, here we go.” And sure enough, with two outs, Chase Headley crushed a 401-foot bomb into the 2nd deck.

Extra innings. NOT GOOD. I was sooooooo not feeling it. I just wanted to go home and cuddle with my girlfriend and go to bed, but on the other hand, I couldn’t bear the thought of a home run landing near my seat and not being there to catch it.

No one scored in the 10th inning. Or in the 11th inning. And guess what happened in the 12th? Some of the stadium lights flickered and went out. From where I was sitting, it seemed bright enough for the game to continue, but obviously it was too dark for the players, so there was a delay.

OH MY GOD. I wanted to go home. I was cold and hungry and tired, and my cell phone was nearly dead, and I was still upset about the BP balls I’d dropped, and worst of all, I was having constant flashbacks of the fight in the bathroom. If ever there were a time NOT to be at a baseball game, this was it. But I stayed.

As the delay dragged on, several fans behind me in the bleachers turned on their cell phones and held them up to (jokingly) provide extra light for the field:

3_bleacher_creatures_holding_up_cell_phones

That put a brief smile on my face.

Within a few minutes, hundreds of fans all over the stadium were holding up their phones:

4_fans_everywhere_holding_up_cell_phones

After a 16-minute delay, the game resumed.

No one scored in the 12th inning.

Or in the 13th.

Remember when I was sponsored two years ago by BIGS Sunflower Seeds? Well, I still have a bunch of seeds left over, and I still bring them to games. On this particular occasion, I decided to break out a few sample packs as the game headed to the 14th inning:

5_bigs_seeds_in_the_14th_inning

This was the point at which the length of the game suddenly switched over from annoying to cool. The longest game I’d ever been to was 17 innings back in 1993 at Shea Stadium. I remember staying until the very end and then getting a ball tossed to me at the dugout, so maybe something good would come of this long game too? Balls or no balls, I suddenly found myself rooting for the game NOT to end. If the game lasted 14 innings, why not make it 18? Or hell, how about 20?

No one scored in the 14th inning.

Or in the 15th inning.

By now most of the fans had left, so the seats (as you can see in the photo above) were quite empty. If, by some great stoke of luck, a home run happened to fly in my direction, I knew I’d have a good chance of catching it, so I was genuinely excited. That said, I was still rooting for for good pitching and defense — just one more scoreless frame and it would tie my longest game ever.

Before the 16th inning got underway, Yankees right fielder Carlos Beltran tossed his warm-up ball toward a family sitting directly in front of me in the second row. One of the kids ended up getting it, which was great except for the fact that her brother was now empty-handed . . . so I reached into my backpack and gave him my cleanest ball.

Esmil Rogers struck out Dustin Pedroia to start the top of the 16th. The next batter, David Ortiz, fell behind in the count 0-2, but then connected on a hanging slider:

6_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

From the moment his bat hit the ball, I knew it was going to be a home run and that I had a good chance of catching it. I jumped out of my seat, drifted about 10 feet to my right, and climbed back over a row of seats. By that point, I knew the ball was going to land right near me. My section was fairly empty, and no one else was wearing a glove, so basically it was all mine as long as I didn’t screw it up. Therefore, I climbed back over another row of seats to be safe. It’s easier, of course, to move forward than backward, so given the fact that I had the room to maneuver, I decided to get behind the spot where I predicted it would land.

If you zoom way in on the following screenshot, you can see me lifting my leg to climb back over that second row of seats:

7_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

The ball had been hit VERY high, so I had plenty of time to judge it and get into position, and as it descended, I simply *knew* I was going to catch it. I just had to make one final quick-ish movement to my right to get in line with it, and then I reached up and out for a fairly easy back-handed catch.

Here’s another screenshot for you to zoom in on; take a close look and you’ll see me reaching up for the ball:

8_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

My momentum took me farther down the row . . .

9_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

. . . and then it was time to celebrate:

10_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

Everyone in right field, especially in the bleachers, was yelling at me to “THROW IT BACK!!!” which was fine. They had every right to yell, and I had every right to keep the ball, but they persisted, so I decided to mess with everyone a little bit. I faced the field and cocked my arm back as if I were going to chuck it . . .

11_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

. . . but then I stopped mid-motion and held onto the ball:

12_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

Then I turned around and faced the fine folks in the bleachers and shook my index finger at them as if to say, “No no no.” Check it out:

13_david_ortiz_home_run_screen_shot

Despite the negative things being said about me on the internet, I wasn’t trying to antagonize anyone. I wasn’t doing it for attention. I had no idea that my fake throw-back would be shown on TV. I didn’t intend for it to be cocky. The stadium was so empty at that point, and everyone remaining was so stunned by the circumstances, that it really didn’t cause much of a fuss. A few people questioned what team I was rooting for, and one guy (wearing a Red Sox jersey) offered me $50 for the ball, but that was it. In the immediate aftermath, the best thing that happened was being recognized by a guy sitting 20 feet to my right, who turned out to be a teammate from my summer baseball team in 1994. WOW!! We hadn’t seen each other since then, so it was quite a nice surprise. Here I am with him and a few of his friends; he’s the guy holding the ball:

14_zack_with_fans_and_ball7822

As amazing as it would’ve been to leave the stadium after 16 innings with a game-winning home run ball in my possession, I didn’t want the night to end — and lucky me! In the bottom of the 16th, Mark Teixeira hit a leadoff homer (on his birthday, no less) to tie the game! Here’s a photo of the small celebration in the seats as he rounded the bases:

15_mark_teixeira_homering_in_the_bottom_of_the_16th_inning

In the photo above, the girl wearing pink is the one who had gotten the warm-up ball from Beltran. Here’s a better shot of her with her brother (holding the ball I gave him) and their father:

16_little_kids_with_baseballs

Very nice people.

Here’s a photo of the scoreboard in the 17th inning:

17_tie_game_in_the_17th_inning

It might look like it was only the 7th inning, but that’s because the scoreboard operators took everything down after the 10th and started from scratch. On the jumbotron, however, the inning numbers were accurate. I didn’t have a clear view of it from my seat (because of that awful Mohegan Sun Sports Bar), but you can still kinda see it here:

18_innings_10_through_18

Normally I don’t root for the Yankees, but this insanely long game was messing with my head. When the Red Sox scored in the top of the 18th inning, I was disappointed, and when the Yankees tied it up in the bottom of the 18th, I was ecstatic. And by the way, the mere fact that it even reached the 18th inning meant it was THE longest game I had EVER attended. Hot damn!

The inning numbers were refreshed AGAIN at the start of the 19th:

19_innings_19_through_27

Innings 19 through 27 . . . can you even imagine a game lasting THAT long?!

Here’s a photo I took in the top of the 19th inning when the clock struck 2:00am:

20_two_oclock_in_the_morning

Look how empty the seats were:

21_empty_seats_in_right_field_04_10_15

I was fantasizing about catching another home run, but of course I was rooting for more scoreless baseball. I wanted the game to last 20 innings, but UGH, the damn Red Sox scored in the top of the 19th.

During the inning break, I took a photo of my home run ball . . .

22_ball7822

. . . which, by the way, raised more than $100 for the charity Pitch In For Baseball. For the last six years, I’ve been encouraging people to pledge money for every ball I snag, but now as a new experiment this season, I’m asking for bigger pledges and only counting game home runs. In previous years, people sometimes pledged as little as one penny per ball, but that was fine because I’d snag about 500 or 600 balls (including BP) and they’d end up donating $5 or $6. This year I’m telling people to multiply their pledges by 100, so in other words, if you used to donate 10 cents per ball and you want to contribute again in 2015, you should consider donating $10 per home run. If the David Ortiz homer is the only one I snag this season, that would be incredibly lame, and if I somehow get really lucky and catch 10, that would be insane. Mostly likely I’ll end up somewhere in the middle, so the multiply-by-100 math should work pretty well.

Here’s what the scoreboard looked like in the middle of the 19th inning:

23_scoreboard_in_the_top_of_the_19th_inning

As you can see, the Red Sox had a 6-5 lead.

Unfortunately that’s the last scoreboard photo I got because the Yankees never posted the final score anywhere. Therefore I can only share an image of the Red Sox spilling out onto the field after the final out:

24_red_sox_celebrating_04_10_15

Did you notice Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia near 2nd base walking away from their teammates? They’d just turned a double play to end THE longest game in Red Sox history (6 hours and 49 minutes) and must’ve needed a moment to clear their heads.

As for me . . . I was bummed that the game didn’t last 20 innings, but overall I was thrilled with how it went down. One of the highlights of the night was the overwhelmingly positive reaction on Twitter from so many people. Here’s a gigantic screenshot to show you what I mean; many thanks to everyone who gave me a shout-out, especially my friend Chris Hernandez for being first on the list . . .

27_twitter_action_04_11_15

Phew!

Please accept my apology if you Tweeted at me and I didn’t respond. As you can see, it got kinda crazy there for a while, and of course I was still trying to watch a baseball game, and my phone was on the verge of dying. But I promise I read everything, and as I mentioned up above, it really meant a lot to me.

Naturally I was curious to know exactly what Bob Costas had said about me. He was announcing the game with John Smoltz on the MLB Network, and as several people mentioned on Twitter, he called me a “disgrace.” What’s up with that?!

The next day, with some help from a friend who wishes to remain anonymous, I managed to get my hands on the footage. Here’s how Costas called it: “A high drive, deep right field, Beltran retreats to the track, and Ortiz has given the Red Sox the lead in the sixteenth . . . a Yankee fan retrieved it and then hurled it back in disgust, but it’s Ortiz rounding the bases and touching the dish to make it four to three.” Nearly a minute later, Costas said, “And you know, I may have been wrong. I think the guy may have pantomimed throwing it back and then held onto it. Either he’s a Red Sox fan traveling incognito without any identifying garments or else he’s just a civic disgrace from the standpoint of Yankee fans who remain. Either way he’s got the ball and the Red Sox have the lead.” Moments later, there was a replay showing what I did with the ball, prompting Costas to cut himself off mid-sentence and say, “Here’s the guy — here look, he fakes the throw. There it is. That’s why I thought he’d thrown it back. He fakes it to taunt the fans surrounding him, and then he keeps it.”

Damn right I kept it. I’ve always had mixed emotions about the practice of throwing visiting teams’ home run balls back onto the field. Personally, that’s not my style, but it can be entertaining when other people do it. If you have an opinion one way or the other, you need to see this Reddit comment. Seriously, click that link. It will make you think and put a smile on your face.

The end.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

26_the_four_balls_i_kept_04_10_15• 5 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 16 balls in 3 games this season = 5.33 balls per game.

• 807 lifetime balls in 121 games at the new Yankee Stadium = 6.67 balls per game.

• 1,055 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 249 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 31 lifetime game home run balls (including 23 that I caught on the fly); click here for the complete list.

• 7,822 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.)

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

• $107.17 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $107.17 raised this season

• $40,062.67 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

4/8/15 at Yankee Stadium

This was my first game of the season, and look what I had to deal with:

1_metal_detectors_outside_yankee_stadium_04_08_15

Metal detectors! Yay!

In case you haven’t heard, they’re now being used throughout Major League Baseball this season. And beyond.

Here’s what it looked like a bit later from my spot at the front of the line:

2_line_outside_the_stadium_04_08_15

There were LOTS of security guards outside Gate 6 . . .

3_security_outside_the_stadium_04_08_15

. . . and I was ready for the worst.

As it turned out, the metal detectors are a joke. It’s all for show — the kind of thing that won’t actually make the stadium safer, but will make stupid people think they’re safer. Quite simply, the guards didn’t seem to know what they were doing.

My backpack has a zillion compartments, but the guard who “inspected” it only peeked inside briefly. Then, as I walked through the metal detector, the guard carried my bag alongside me. Guess what happened? The detector beeped, but it wasn’t clear what had set it off. The guard told me that the detector picks up metal objects that pass NEAR it, and then to prove that what he said was true, he waved the bag back and forth beside (but not inside) the metal detector, and sure enough, it beeped again. But how did he know that I didn’t have any metal objects in my pockets? The prudent course of action, obviously, would’ve been for him to make me walk back through the detector, but instead he handed me my bag and sent me on my way. How dumb is that? And wait — there’s more! Nearly an hour earlier — long before there was a line of fans waiting to get in — various employees (mostly vendors) passed through the metal detectors. Each time, the detectors beeped, but none of the guards noticed or cared. It was just a formality to have these employees walk through. None of them were asked to remove the metal objects from their pockets. There were no rules or regulations. There was no concern or oversight. These people had to show their employee ID cards upon entering the stadium, but so what? Any one of them could’ve brought a weapon inside. Do you trust Yankee Stadium vendors? I sure as hell don’t — but the Yankees do. And you know what? I don’t give a damn because living in fear is stupid.

Anyway, once I made it inside, I briefly had the right field seats to myself:
4_empty_seats_04_08_15

Moments later, Brett Gardner hit a deep fly ball in my direction, and I knew exactly what was going to happen. I knew it was going to fall short, land on the warning track, and bounce right up to me. The only question was whether or not it would have the new commissioner’s signature stamped on it.

Here’s the answer:

5_ball7807_first_with_rob_manfred_signature

OH YEAH!!!

I’m sure there are plenty of people who’ve never gotten a Selig ball, who are hoping that they’ll still be used during BP. Personally, after snagging more than 6,000 balls with Selig’s signature, I was ready for a change, and I was *so* glad not to have to wait.

Let’s talk about Rob Manfred’s signature for a moment. I think it’s decent, albeit a bit shaky and little kid-ish. It’s certainly legible — I’ll give him a tiny bit of credit for that — but I still have to make fun of it for looking like it says “Robut Manped.” And for the record, I’m more qualified than just about anyone to critique signatures. My family owns an old book store at which an entire floor is devoted to autographs. I work on that floor, nearly full-time, photographing and cataloging historical items and documents (and often attempting to decipher hard-to-read handwriting). The best signature I’ve ever seen belongs to a famous artist named Maxfield Parrish, who was born in 1870. I would love to see THAT on a baseball. But back to the new commissioner, I noticed that his signature is darker and longer than his predecessor’s. Look at Bud Selig’s signature on this ball. It starts below the R in “MAJOR” and ends below the E in “BASEBALL.” If you count the spaces between words, his signature spans 13 characters. Manfred’s signature, which you can see here, is three characters wider. It is a known fact that the more ink is stamped on a baseball, the easier it is for batters to see it and hit it; perhaps this is Manfred’s way of improving offense. Why ban the defensive shift and alienate an entire generation of baseball purists when you can simply write your name bigger than the last guy?

My second ball of the day was a home run that landed near me in the seats. I don’t know who hit it, but I can tell you that it also bore the signature of the new commissioner. Roughly 10 minutes later, Brett Gardner launched a home run that came right to me for an easy catch. Once again, the ball had Manfred’s signature, as did the next one that I snagged here:

6_view_before_ball7810

In the photo above, did you notice the red arrow on the right? That’s pointing at Danny Valencia, who threw me the ball (from more than 100 feet away) just before the Blue Jays started hitting.

I headed out to left field . . .

7_view_from_left_field_04_08_15

. . . but there was hardly any action, which was probably a good thing for this guy:

8_schmuck_on_his_phone_04_08_15

How clueless do you have to be to sit in an area where baseballs land . . . and be looking down at your phone the whole time? Seriously: duh.

I spent the last group of BP in right field . . .

9_view_from_right_field_04_08_15

. . . but didn’t come close to anything. Justin Smoak hit a few balls into the 2nd deck in right field, but the lower level was dead.

After BP, I spent some time in the left field bleachers. Check out the starting lineups:

10_starting_lineups_04_08_15

Don’t get all excited about A-Rod’s .500 batting average. He went 1-for-2 in the first game of the season and ended up going 0-for-4 in this one to lower his average to .167. I hate him so much and want him to fail and suffer (although if he ever decides to hit a home run to me during a game, that’d be cool).

Here are the four balls I’d snagged:

11_four_baseballs_04_08_15

After Jays starter R.A. Dickey finished warming up . . .

12_view_from_bleachers_04_08_15

. . . I got a ball tossed to me from the bullpen by pitching coach Pete Walker.

This was my view during the game:

13_view_during_game_04_08_15

It was so cold that I could see my breath. I was wearing two pairs of long underwear. And a hoodie. And a scarf. And my heaviest winter jacket. And it sorta/barely rained — misted, really — on and off throughout the night. It was so unpleasant that it actually made me hate all my friends who live in warm baseball cities. Why couldn’t I have been in Phoenix, where the game-time weather was 74 degrees and clear? And where the attendance was nearly 10,000 lower? And where I would’ve paid about $70 less for a seat in the same spot? Oh, right, because I love New York City (even when I shouldn’t) and find the thought of living elsewhere to be unbearable.

Anyway, here’s something nifty:

14_inning_break_countdown_clock

Can you tell what I’ve circled in red? It’s the new between-inning countdown clock. I really like it. I’m glad that Manfred is trying to speed up games, but how is that going to work when he’s also trying to find ways to increase offense? What gives?

As for this game, the Blue Jays blew a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the 8th with one of the sloppiest half-innings I’ve ever seen. There was a bloop double, a hit by pitch, a pitching change, a wild pitch, an intentional walk, another hit by pitch, a deflected seeing-eye single, and another pitching change. It was painful. But you know what? So was my ballhawking performance.

Final score: Yankees 4, Blue Jays 3.

Here’s a photo of the stadium from the elevated subway platform:

15_fans_exiting_stadium_04_08_15

BALLHAWKING STATS:

16_the_four_balls_i_kept_04_08_15• 5 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 796 lifetime balls in 119 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.69 balls per game.

• 1,053 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 247 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 7,811 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.)

• 8 donors for my fundraiser

• $87.80 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $0.00 raised this season (but just you wait!)

• $39,955.50 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Finally, here’s one more photo for you — a comparison of the four baseballs in regular light versus black light:

17_black_light_comparison_04_08_15

I’m not sure how many games I’ll attend this season — probably somewhere between 80 and 100. I don’t plan to blog about them all, so if you want to keep up with me, follow me on Twitter: @zack_hample

Charity prizes — 2015

For the last six years, I’ve been raising money for a children’s baseball charity called Pitch In For Baseball, and for the last three seasons, I’ve given away a bunch of prizes to the people who’ve donated. I’ve decided to do it again in 2015 — with one major difference — so let me start with a quick list of the stuff you can win. Then I’ll show you photos of everything and explain how this is going to work:

1) a baseball signed by Willie Mays
2) three baseball cards signed by Kent Hrbek, Rick Cerone, and Dave Stieb
3) a Mickey Mantle ball with an image of his 1952 Topps rookie card
4) a Bernie Williams ball with his image and the Yankees logo
5) a Curtis Granderson bobblehead
6) signed copies of The San Francisco Splash and The Wrigley Riddle
7) a signed copy of Man Versus Ball
8) two Mets prints
9) three Mets t-shirts
10) a Mark McGwire rookie card

Here’s a photo of the ball signed by Willie Mays:

1_willie_mays_ball

Why am I just giving this away? Because I want to make it irresistible for you to donate money to this worthy cause.

In case you’re wondering, this ball was given to me on a private tour of the Panini America headquarters before I went to a game on 5/3/13 at Rangers Ballpark. I’ve been holding onto it ever since, indecisive about what to do with it, and this seemed like a good idea. Obviously it’s a very special item, so good luck.

Here are the three signed cards, which, FYI, will be given away as one prize:

2_three_signed_cards

They came from the autograph department at my family’s business — the Argosy Book Store. My mom thought about selling them, but then she was like, “Eh, why don’t you take them and give ’em away.”

Here’s the Mickey Mantle ball:

3_mickey_mantle_ball

I have no idea where it came from. Same deal with the Beanie Williams ball:

4_bernie_williams_ball

Here’s the Curtis Granderson bobblehead:
5_curtis_granderson_bobblehead

That was a giveaway at Citi Field during the 2014 season, and yes, I’ll send it to you in the box with all the packaging.

Here are the covers of The San Francisco Splash and The Wrigley Riddle . . .

6a_ballpark_mysteries

. . . and this is how they’re signed:

6b_ballpark_mysteries

They were dated “2013” because that’s when the author, David A. Kelly, gave me a bunch of books to be used as charity prizes. These two “Ballpark Mysteries” books will be given away as one prize, and by the way, David and I are friends. We met on 6/20/11 at Fenway Park, and we’ve kept in touch.

Here ‘s the copy of Man Versus Ball:

7_man_versus_ball

I’m friends with this author too — Jon Hart. Remember this article he wrote about me last season? Anyway, this book isn’t signed yet, but it will be. Jon will personalize it for the winner, so when the time comes, let me know and I’ll pass along your autograph request.

Here are the two Mets prints:

8_mets_prints

The one on the left shows the very first Opening Day ever at Shea Stadium in 1964. The one on the right shows the Mets’ dreamy captain, David Wright. These two prints, which each measure 12 x 9 inches, will be given together as one prize. They were giveaways at Citi Field in 2014, as were these shirts:
9_mets_shirts

All three shirts will be given away as one prize.

And finally, here’s Mark McGwire’s rookie card:

10_mark_mcgwire_rookie_card

Somehow this card found its way into the Argosy. I have no idea how much it’s worth. I used to collect cards like a maniac until 1995, but now I’m officially out of the loop.

People who donate money to Pitch In For Baseball through my fundraiser will be eligible to win these prizes. (I don’t get any money from this because my fundraising page is simply a place for people to make pledges. After the final game of the World Series, I will email everyone with info about how to actually donate the money directly to the charity.)

From 2009 through 2014, people used to pledge money for every ball I snagged over the course of the season — batting practice, toss-ups, foul balls, home runs, you name it. But now, for a change, the only balls that will raise money are the home runs I snag DURING games. Previously, if someone wanted to donate about five bucks over the course the season, they’d pledge one penny per ball. But because I’m going to raise money exclusively with game home runs, the math is much different. Now, in order to donate five bucks, you’ll want to pledge one dollar per ball. This is not an exact formula, of course, and that’s what makes it fun. It’s highly unlikely that I won’t snag any home runs, but there’s a chance I might only get one or two. There’s also a chance that luck will be on my side (for a change) and I’ll end up snagging half a dozen or more.

Previously, for every penny per ball that people donated, their names were entered into the drawing. But now, for every dollar per game home run that you donate, your name will be entered. Are you with me? For example, if I snag five game home runs this season, and you’ve pledged $5 per ball, that will amount to a $25 donation, and your name will be entered into the drawing five times. If someone else pledges $25 per ball, they’ll end up donating $125 at the end of the season, and they’ll have five times the odds of winning something. The person whose name is picked first will get to pick which prize they want; the person whose name is picked second will get the next choice, and so on.

You can make a pledge anytime — here’s more info about my fundraiser — but in order to be eligible to win a prize, you’ll need to send in the money by December 1, 2015.

On a final note for those who don’t know, Pitch In For Baseball is a non-profit charity that provides baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Here’s a blog entry that I wrote a couple of years ago about the charity helping Hurricane Sandy victims. Here’s a TV segment about the charity on the NBC Nightly News. There’ve also been a bunch of articles about Pitch In For Baseball on MLB.com, which you can read here and here and here and here.

1993 World Series — Game 5

As I mentioned in my last entry, I recently converted a bunch of old home videos from the 1990s, including several that were filmed at baseball games. I was thrilled when I stumbled upon this particular tape — 31 minutes of footage from Game 5 of the 1993 World Series — because I’d forgotten that I even had it.

This was my first postseason game. My dad and I drove down to Philadelphia for the day, and I was in awe of the gorgeous tickets:

1_1993_world_series_tickets

Yes, that’s a screen shot from the video, and the quality sucks. Deal with it. The video isn’t worth sharing — trust me on that — but the story is still worth telling.

It should be noted that in the days before StubHub, getting tickets to premium events was extremely challenging. It often took a special connection just to have the opportunity to buy them. In this case, my dad had a close friend who ran an advertising agency with ties to CBS. Back then, CBS had the broadcasting rights to the World Series, so the agency got free tickets, and my dad’s friend passed them along to us.

As great as that may sound, I was bummed because of the weather. Look how gloomy it was as we approached Veterans Stadium:

2_veterans_stadium_from_afar

Here’s the one photo that was taken that day:

2b_zack_outside_veterans_stadium_in_1993

That’s me at my heaviest — roughly 200 pounds at the age of 16 — wearing a “Bucky Dent’s Baseball School” t-shirt. Because I hadn’t yet started bringing a backpack to games, I was holding my glove and Blue Jays cap in the crook of my left arm. Everything about me was soooooo awkward back then (and some things still are).

Long before the stadium opened, I approached the gates for a sneak peek inside:

3_approaching_gate_for_a_sneak_peek

“Please, please, PLEASE!!!” I thought, “let there be batting practice!!”

And then I saw this:

4_tarp_covering_the_field_of_course

NOOOOOOOO!!! It wasn’t even raining! Why was the tarp on the field?!

I tried to think positive thoughts. Maybe it wasn’t going to rain. Maybe it was going to clear up. Maybe the grounds crew had put the tarp out as a precaution for an early-afternoon storm that never happened, and maybe they were about to set up the field for batting practice.

I went and found my dad, who was sitting patiently on the base of a nearby statue:

5_stu_sitting_outside

In the screen shot above, that’s him in the gray sweater, facing to the left.

Then I wandered for a bit and marveled at the ugliness of the stadium:

6_ugly_exterior_of_veterans_stadium

Yeesh.

Here’s the stadium itself from below:

7_veterans_stadium_exterior

Did you notice the sky in the previous image? Yeah, it was cloudy, but it was bright. That made me extremely hopeful that there might be BP after all.

Then this happened:

8_raining_like_hell

In case you can’t tell, it was raining.

HARD.

Not surprisingly, when the stadium eventually opened, the tarp was still covering the field:

9_inside_veterans_stadium

There’s hardly any footage from the following two hours. Very few players came out, and the stadium stayed empty for a while. All I can tell you is that I managed to get a Blue Jays player to throw me a ball shortly before game time along the left field foul line. I never knew who it was. I was just glad to extend my consecutive games streak (of snagging at least one ball per game) to 16.

That’s right: sixteen. The streak had begun just six weeks earlier at Shea Stadium.

The ball I got here in Philly had some unusual writing on it. You’ll see it in a bit, but first check out the 1993 World Series logo on the jumbotron:

10_world_series_logo_on_jumbotron

Just before the game started, I walked through the cross-aisle in straight-away left field:

11_left_field_cross_aisle_at_veterans_stadium

I’m sure that was a great place to catch home runs, but I didn’t really start thinking about that for another 15 years. Back in 1993, I was just happy to peek over the railing and watch Juan Guzman warming up:

12_juan_guzman_warming_up

I’m sad to admit that I didn’t even try to get the ball from him when he finished. I don’t know what I was thinking, but looking back on it now, it’s no wonder I snagged fewer than three balls per game that season.

Here’s a quick selfie I took . . .

13_zack_selfie_age_16

. . . on the way to the concourse:

14_veterans_stadium_concourse

I had no agenda other than wandering and seeing what it looked like.

Then I headed back to the seats:

15_heading_back_to_the_seats

At the time, I didn’t think much of this . . .

16_phillie_phanatic_and_wasted_space

. . . but now I can point something out. Do you see the triangle of dead space in the stands along the foul line? Shea Stadium also had dead space down the lines, and so did a bunch of other ballparks. That used to be a thing — the thing being bad design. Of course, these little gaps were great for snagging baseballs. Whenever a ball ended up in there, I’d fish it out with my glove trick. Unfortunately these gaps have all pretty much disappeared. Lots of stadiums still have dead space in the outfield, but security is usually strict, and when they’re not, other fans always have retrieval devices. The point is: I had it MADE back in the day, but didn’t realize it. (In 22 years, I’ll probably reminisce about 2015 and lament about how good things were THEN. It’s a vicious cycle.)

This was my view during the game — not great, but it could’ve been a lot worse:

17_view_during_game_5_of_the_1993_world_series

In the bottom of the 4th inning, the Phillies had a 2-0 lead:

18_scoreboard_in_the_4th_inning

Curt Schilling was the starting pitcher for the Phillies, and he was dominant.

At one point in the middle innings, I remember seeing a foul ball fly back behind home plate and get stuck on a metal ledge in front of the press level. I asked my dad if I could wander over there for a closer look. He didn’t care. He was like, “Do your thing,” so I hurried over and was astonished to see that (a) the ball was too far out for anyone in the press level to reach, and (b) it was lined up perfectly with the edge of the overhang of the seats up above. My plan was to head up to that level of seats and then use my glove trick from the front row. I was sure that it would work. The only issue was security. Could I possibly get away with it *during* a World Series game?

Just as I was about to head up to the next level, a guard told me I would need my ticket stub to get back into the lower level. Unfortunately I didn’t have it with me — my dad was holding onto all my other stuff — so I had no choice but to head back to my seat.

I don’t remember why I didn’t run back and grab the ticket and then make a beeline for the 2nd deck. Maybe someone from the press level managed to reach the ball after all, or maybe I just lost my nerve. Whatever the case may have been, this remains one of my biggest “what if” ballhawking moments.

Back in my seat, I filmed the ball that I’d snagged before the game — an official American League ball with Bobby Brown’s signature:

19_lifetime_baseball_number_364

Remember the writing on the ball that I mentioned earlier? This was already there when I snagged it:

20_writing_on_ball364

Weird. I wonder who wrote it.

In the 6th inning, some random drunk guy started shouting at me from the cross-aisle just behind our seats, and when I turned around with my camera, he stuck his tongue out:

21_drunk_guy_making_faces

Once he had my attention, he chugged his beer:

22_drunk_guy_chugging_a_beer

What a classy individual:

23_drunk_guy_being_drunk

My dad, meanwhile, had struck up a conversation with a very nice man sitting next to him:

24_stu_talking_to_a_fan

I forget who he was or what he did, but he had some kind of baseball-related connection and ended up mailing me a cap with the commemorative 1993 World Series logo, along with some other goodies.

Here’s a screen shot that shows a bit of action — Phillies center fielder Lenny Dykstra catching a deep fly ball hit by Tony Fernandez in the 7th inning:

25_lenny_dykstra_catching_a_fly_ball_hit_by_tony_fernandez

When the Blue Jays took the field, I got a shot of Rickey Henderson:

26_rickey_henderson_between_innings

I always loved that guy.

With the Jays leading the series, 3 games to 1, the Phillies HAD to win to stay alive — and they did. Curt Schilling went the distance, and the final score was 2-0.

Two interesting facts about the game:

1) It was only the second time that the Blue Jays had been shut out all season.

2) It was the last postseason game ever played at Veterans Stadium.

After the final out, I filmed a bit more from our seats:

27_security_on_the_field_postgame

Then my dad filmed me walking around:

28_zack_postgame_10_21_93

Here’s one last look at the seats and field:

29_activity_at_the_dugout_10_21_93

Once again, I have no idea what I was thinking. I should’ve been behind the Phillies’ dugout, trying to get a ball. Perhaps I wouldn’t have made it past security, but it pains me that I didn’t even try. This was obviously a tough game for ballhawking — 62,706 fans and NO batting practice — but if the 30-something-year-old me could go back in time and do it over, my guess is that I’d snag at least three baseballs and possibly as many as six or seven.

Oh well. It was still a great day, and my dad deserves all the credit for making it happen.

On a final note . . .

The following season, when I saw Curt Schilling signing autographs at Shea Stadium, I mentioned that I had a ticket stub at home from Game 5 of the World Series, and I asked if there was any way to get him to sign it.

“Mail it to me,” he said, and I was like, “Really? I don’t want to lose it,” but he promised that he’d be on the lookout for it and take care of me.

He ended up coming through. Check it out:

30_curt_schilling_autograph_on_a_1993_world_series_ticket_stub

I still think he’s a schmuck, but really, how awesome is that autograph? Also, in case you care, here’s the back of my ticket stub:

31_back_of_1993_world_series_ticket_stub

Oh wait! One more thing — a list of all of my other “Turn Back The Clock” entries. Enjoy . . .

1) October 4, 1992 at Fulton County Stadium
2)
 June 11, 1993 at Candlestick Park
3) August 24-25, 1995 at Anaheim Stadium
4)
 June 11, 1996 at Shea Stadium
5) July 1, 1998 at Three Rivers Stadium
6)
 July 2, 1998 at Cinergy Field
7) July 10, 1998 at Tiger Stadium
8) July 13, 1998 at County Stadium
9) July 14, 1998 at Busch Stadium
10) May 29, 1999 at the Kingdome
11) July 18, 1999 at the Astrodome
12) September 24-25, 1999 at the Metrodome
13) May 9-10, 2000 at Olympic Stadium
14)
 July 17-18, 2000 at Qualcomm Stadium

10/4/92 at Fulton County Stadium

Two months ago, I discovered a trove of old home videos, mostly from the early to mid-1990s, on half-hour-long VHS-C tapes. Anyone remember those? If not, I envy you, but anyway, I’ve been quite busy lately converting them digitally, cataloging all the highlights, and cringing at my younger self. This is relevant to ballhawking because six of the videos were filmed at major league baseball games, including this one at Fulton County Stadium — the former home of the Atlanta Braves — on the final day of the 1992 regular season. If I had the skills, I’d edit the footage into a tight little segment and post it online. Perhaps I’ll learn how to do it someday, but for now I’ve taken a bunch of grainy screen shots and pieced the day back together.

It started with a late-morning drive to the stadium:

1_driving_outside_fulton_county_stadium

I was 15 years old. This was the fifth stadium I’d been to, and I’d snagged a lifetime total of 145 baseballs — not bad, I suppose, but looking back on it now, I had no idea what I was doing.

I was *so* looking forward to batting practice, but of course it was drizzling:

2_line_outside_the_stadium

I walked up alongside the line, and with my camera still running, I zoomed in through the gates:

3_sneak_peek_through_the_gates

Given the fact that I grew up attending games at two stadiums (Shea and old Yankee) with solid gates that prevented fans from peeking inside, I always loved doing it on the road.

I should mention that I was at this game with my dad, Stu, my half-sister, Martha, and her then-girlfriend, Sandra. Here’s a closeup of my dad holding his ticket:

4_braves_ticket_10_04_92

Our seats were on the lower level in left field. They cost nine dollars apiece. Sigh.

Here’s what it looked like as I entered the stadium:

5_entering_fulton_county_stadium

Less than a minute later, I headed through a tunnel for my first look at the field:

6_heading_through_a_tunnel_for_my_first_look_at_the_field

No batting practice:

7_view_from_left_field_10_04_92

But the place was beautiful! (That’s probably what I was thinking at the time, but looking back on it now, ew.)

Here’s what the stands looked like on my left:

8_left_field_seats_at_fulton_county_stadium

No cross-aisle.
No standing room.
Lots of dead space behind the outfield walls.
What a nightmare of a stadium.

There was very little action early on. For a while, the best I could do was hang out along the right field foul line and try to get a ball thrown to me by the Braves:

9_zack_right_field_foul_line_10_04_92

In case you couldn’t tell, that’s me up above, looking at the camera. And hey, did you notice that I wasn’t wearing any Braves gear? I was totally unprepared, and that was just the beginning. Soon after failing to get anything in that spot, I noticed a ball sitting in a gap in foul territory. It’s hard to describe, but basically there was a random patch of dead space ten feet below me. Old stadiums were weird like that. I remember there being at least a dozen fans packed against the railing, peering down at the ball, waiting for someone to wander out and retrieve it and toss it up. If I had my glove trick, I would’ve snagged the ball easily, but I didn’t invent that device until the following season.

Thankfully I had a Padres cap, and shortly before game time, I used it to get a ball thrown to me by someone you definitely haven’t heard of: Guillermo Velasquez. He was playing catch in shallow left field, and I was in foul territory, and a light mist was falling, and there wasn’t any competition. Did I ask him in Spanish for the ball? Did I even know how to ask for a ball in Spanish back then? I have no idea. All I can tell you that it was one of those old National League balls with William D. White‘s signature. This is not the actual ball I snagged that day, but the logo looked like this.

Here’s a view from my seat at game time:

10_view_from_left_field_at_game_time_10_04_92

Look who was warming up:

11_tom_glavine_warming_up2

That was future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine. At the time, he was wrapping up his second of three consecutive 20-win seasons.

Here’s an awkward shot of me holding my baseball:

12_zack_holding_ball146

I was self-conscious about being fat and zitty and therefore didn’t really want to be filmed, but what could I do? My dad had briefly taken control of the camera, so he captured what he deemed important, including Martha (with the goofy grin) and Sandra (giving the peace sign):

13_sandra_and_martha_10_04_92

If Martha looks familiar, that’s because I’ve blogged about her many times, most recently when we were in St. Martin last month. Remember? She was also with me for MLB’s Opening Series at the Tokyo Dome in 2012, and we’ve traveled together several other times.

Before returning the camera to me, my dad filmed this:

14_retired_number_warren_spahn

He always felt a special connection to Warren Spahn; way back in 1939, he was a ballboy for a minor league team that Spahn played for. How’s THAT for a random/ancient connection?

Glavine retired the Padres in order in the top of the 1st inning. Tony Fernandez led off with a routine fly ball to right field. Kurt Stillwell followed with groundout to short, and then Darrin Jackson was called out on strikes:

15_darrin_jackson_striking_out_to_end_the_top_of_the_1st_inning

Before the bottom of the 1st got underway, I filmed my new favorite player — Guillermo Velasquez — warming up in left field:

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After having seen fans doing the Tomahawk Chop countless times on TV, it was fun to see actual (well, foam) tomahawks in person:

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In the bottom of the 1st, Otis Nixon led off with a single to left field, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jeff Blauser, and scored on Terry Pendleton’s 199th hit of the season — a single to center. David Justice followed with a two-run homer, giving the Braves a quick 3-0 lead:

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I decided to take a little walk. I headed through the concourse . . .

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. . . and got a glimpse of the field from the 3rd base side:

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I wanted to be closer to the action, and to my surprise, it was easy. This wasn’t Shea Stadium, where all the mean old ushers, it seemed, were out to get me, or Yankee Stadium, where the robotic guards fiercely protected the dugout seats. This was Atlanta, baby! I could go wherever the hell I wanted! Check it out:

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There was a cross-aisle that made it easy to move around:

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In the screen shot above, that’s a vendor walking in front of me — snazzy uniform, huh?

After an inning or two, I headed back to left field and rejoined my family. We were all amused by this guy sitting nearby, who was fast asleep:

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My dad did the Tomahawk Chop:

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Martha showed me her hot dog:

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This was my dad’s reaction:

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When Pendleton came to bat in the bottom of the 5th, he was still one hit short of a milestone:

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I really wanted to see him get No. 200, but he grounded out:

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He batted again in the 8th inning . . . and grounded out again. One inning later, Vinny Castilla (who then had just 20 career at-bats) replaced him and ended up getting an at-bat in the 10th. Can you believe that?! Pendleton could’ve had another shot at 200 hits — a plateau he never ended up reaching in the major leagues — but missed his final chance.

Late in the game, I couldn’t help but notice this guy:

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The screen shot above doesn’t capture his true essence. He was wandering into every section and hollering at the players and revving up his fellow fans. Here’s a better look at his sign:

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Uncle Willy, huh? Well, guess what? It turns out he was somewhat well known and also spent a lot of time at Yankee Stadium. Check this out.

The Padres ended up winning, 4-3, in 12 innings on an RBI single by Paul Faries. Randy Myers got the win, Pedro Borbon Jr. took the loss, and the game only lasted 3 hours and 15 minutes.

Back in the car, Martha said, “Thank GOD you got a ball so we don’t have to listen to you KVETCH!!” Then she added, “Can I see it?” and snatched it out of my glove:

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I love her.

My dad was a bit more dignified. Here he is tipping his cap to say goodbye:

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As for me . . .

Rather than posting a screen shot that looks like all the others, I’ll show you what it looked like on my laptop as I cataloged all the highlights last night:

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Now, I wonder which video I should watch next . . .

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