6/19/15 at Yankee Stadium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile I found myself struggling to identify this guy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8_right_field_seats_from_the_bleachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15_zack_jumping_for_the_ball

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

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

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

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

Here’s the moment that I grabbed the ball:

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

Amazing.

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

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

So much for that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here’s what the camera saw:

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

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

Here what the TV camera captured:

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

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

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

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

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UNREAL!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He did?” she asked with mild enthusiasm.

“Yeah, and it was a home run.”

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

“And I got it.”

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

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

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

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

Umm, gee-whiz, okay!

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

“I’m gonna get it back, right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is that [bleepin’] beautiful or what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. . . and here I am with another:

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

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

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

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

44_zack_and_ben_holding_arods_3000th_hit

What a treat to share that moment with him.

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

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

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

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

46_zack_posing_with_arods_3000th_hit

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

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

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. . . into this lobby area . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eight thousand baseballs?!” he asked.

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

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

Hmm.

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

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

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

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Then he and I posed together for a photo:

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

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. . . and headed inside . . .

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

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

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

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Then I posed in front of that wall:

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

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This was the scene directly outside:

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

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

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

Well, damn. Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

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

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

• 1,099 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 268 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

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

• 8,161 total balls

• 9,380 words in this blog entry (!!)

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 17 donors for my fundraiser

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

• $258.80 raised this season

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

6/16/15 at Citi Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was our reaction:

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

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

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

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

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

Here I am with Lisa:

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This was our first glimpse of the field:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Mets need more people like her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa took a moment to check it out . . .

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

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After that we headed out to right-center field:

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

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

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

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

24_zack_prentending_to_catch_a_ball

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

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

25_lisa_and_zack_before_the_game

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

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

PHEW!!

Here it is:

26_ball8138_from_ryan_goins

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

Here’s Lisa with the ball:

27_lisa_and_zack_with_the_ball

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

28_view_during_the_game

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

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

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

29_lisa_posing_with_the_mets_social_media_guys

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

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

30_lisa_in_the_business_box

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

31_branden_wellington_and_zack

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

32_zack_and_lisa_late_in_the_game

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

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

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

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

33_lisa_posing_with_a_mets_car

Cute.

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

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

34_lisa_ann_instagram_post

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 1 baseball at this game

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

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

• 1,096 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 492 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 8,138 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 17 donors for my fundraiser

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

• $129.40 raised this season

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

A-Rod’s 3,000th hit

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

First, here I am on TV with the ball:

zack_on_tv_with_number_3000

Here’s a better look at the ball itself:

arods_3000th_hit

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

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

emails_06_19_15

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

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

5/26/15 at Yankee Stadium

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

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

1_baseballs_in_backpack

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

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

2_view_from_right_field_05_26_15

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

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

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

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

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

3_ball8070_in_mid_air

WOW!!!

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

Here’s a closer look at my 20th ball:

4_ball8070_20th_of_the_day

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

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

5_jeremy_guthrie_saying_hello

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

He shook his head.

“Why not?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

6_homophobes_closeup

Ew.

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

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

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

7_notes_for_22_balls

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

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

8_jason_vargas_warming_up

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

9_ball8073_23rd_of_the_day

Hot damn!!

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

10_view_during_game_05_26_15

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

11_guy_who_dropped_paulo_orlandos_first_career_home_run

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

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

12_paulo_orlando_jumbotron

Final score: Yankees 5, Royals 1.

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

13_groundskeeper_ignoring_me

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

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

14_the_16_balls_i_kept

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 23 baseballs at this game

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

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

• 1,085 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 260 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 17 lifetime games with 20 or more balls

• 8,073 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 15 donors for my fundraiser

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

• $118.40 raised this season

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

5/24/15 at Yankee Stadium

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

1_view_from_left_field_05_24_15

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

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

2_ball8044_rangers_bp_home_run

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

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

3_left_field_crowded_05_24_15

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

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

4_legends_ticket_and_suite_entrance

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

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

5_raw_bar_05_24_15

. . . and the sushi . . .

6_sushi_station_05_24_15

. . . and went for the meat:

7_pork_tenderloin_and_beef_tenderloin_wrapped_in_bacon copy

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

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

8_dessert_plate_number_one

So good!

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

9_groundskeepers_at_work_05_24_15

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

Here’s something that caught my attention:

10_food_sign_05_24_15

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

11_all_of_those_items_on_my_plate

Solid.

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

12_dessert_plate_number_two

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

13_bernie_williams_on_the_jumbotron

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

Finally the Bernie Williams ceremony got underway:

14_ceremony_getting_underway_05_24_15

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

15_rangers_watching_from_their_dugout

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

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

16_tino_paul_joe_andy_jorge_mariano_derek

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

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

17_bland_blackberry_sorbet

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

18_much_better_ice_cream_bar

. . . which was much better.

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

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

19_top_of_the_1st_inning_05_24_15

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

20_bottom_of_the_1st_inning_05_24_15

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

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

21_ball8046_from_robinson_chirino

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

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

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

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

22_view_from_the_2nd_deck_05_24_15

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

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

23_prince_fielders_son_haven_with_a_bernie_williams_commemorative_ball

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

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

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

23b_ball8049_from_elvis_andrus

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

24_zack_in_the_legends_area_05_24_15

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

24b_ball8050_from_umpire_toby_basner_not_commemorative_for_some_reason

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

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

25_zack_and_prince_fielders_kids

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

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

26_four_bernie_williams_commemorative_balls

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

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

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

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

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

“Who do you live with?” she asked.

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

“Sure, why not?” I said.

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

“No, I have no religion.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Really? Even scientists?”

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

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

“I will pray for you,” she said.

“Thank you.”

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

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

27_hayley_with_candy_05_24_15

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

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

28_the_seven_balls_i_snagged_05_24_15

Life is funny, huh?

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 7 baseballs at this game

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

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

• 1,084 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 259 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

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

• 8,050 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 15 donors for my fundraiser

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

• $118.40 raised this season

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

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:

1_zack_left_field_seats_05_15_15

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:

2_crap_on_the_staircase

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?

3_crap_removed_from_staircase

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:

4_zack_in_foul_territory_05_15_15

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

5_view_from_foul_territory_05_15_15

. . . 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:

6_zack_catching_ball7998

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 . . .

7_zack_chasing_a_home_run_ball_05_15_15

. . . but didn’t get there in time.

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

8_ball7998

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:

9_zack_and_others_looking_up

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

10_juan_centeno_throwing_ball7999

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

I updated my notes . . .

11_zack_taking_notes_05_15_15

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

12_hayley_with_her_camera

It barely helped. She was still freezing.

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

13_zack_not_robbing_jeff_for_ball8000

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:

14_zack_miserable_in_right_center_field

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:

15_brewers_warming_up_pregame_05_15_15

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:

18_foul_ball_slashed_to_the_side

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:

19_zack_with_ball8000

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

20_ball8000

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:

21_view_during_game_05_15_15

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:

22_guy_who_fumbled_ball8000

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:

23_gerardo_parra_jumbotron

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

24_competition_for_third_out_balls

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:

25_brewers_postgame_celebration

(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:

26_ball8000_outside_citi_field

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:

1_new_metal_detectors_at_citizens_bank_park

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:

2_zack_and_montana

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:

3_long_line_outside_gates_05_13_15

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:

4_view_from_left_field_05_13_15

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:

5_ball7981_thrown_by_odubel_hererra

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:

6_pirates_warming_up_05_13_15

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:

9_zack_talking_to_scott_bonnett

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 . . .

13_view_from_3rd_base_dugout_05_13_15

. . . 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 . . .

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. . . and heading back down:

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

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. . . 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) . . .

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

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Look what else the broadcast showed:

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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?

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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 . . .

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

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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:

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Here we are holding up some baseballs:

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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 . . .

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. . . 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:

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

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

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

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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:

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

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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:

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Here I am outside Yankee Stadium . . .

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

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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:

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

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Here I am with the ball:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

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. . . from Orioles bullpen catcher Jett Ruiz.

This was my view during the game:

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

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. . . 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:

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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 . . .

4_ball7911_landing_in_the_seats

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

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

5_zack_photographing_ball7911

. . . and here’s the ball itself:

6_ball7911

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:

12_zack_left_field_foul_line_04_29_15

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

13_zack_catching_ball7914

(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

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