8/18/16 at Camden Yards

Let me start by pointing out the lump just below the neck of my shirt:

1_zack_opening_shot_for_video_08_18_16

This day was special because I was being filmed for my YouTube channel, and for the first time ever, it was done with microphone that I wore. There was a wire running up my shirt, and the mic itself was taped inside my shirt. That’s the lump.

As soon as I rushed inside the stadium, I headed down to the front row in left field. Just before I got there, some other guy picked up a ball in the front row, but as it turned out, he was an employee, so he tossed it to me, and yes, that counts. A few minutes later, I drifted to my right, jumped, and caught a J.J. Hardy homer near another fan. You can see how this played out in the video, but basically, it was someone I knew, so he congratulated me before I tossed the ball to the nearest kid.

Here’s what it looked like in left field:

2_zack_in_left_field_08_18_16

When the Astros started hitting, I switched caps . . .

3_zack_heading_to_right_field

. . . and headed to the Flag Court in right field. Soon after I got there, someone (maybe Colby Rasmus) launched a deep fly ball to my left. Here’s a screen shot of me running for it:

4_zack_running_for_ball9192

As you can see, I ran toward the back gate and out onto Eutaw Street. (That’s the open-air concourse beside the warehouse.) Once I reached the spot where I predicted the ball would land, I looked up and lost it briefly in the sun. By the time I spotted it, I realized it was falling a bit short so I lunged forward and tried to make a shoe-string catch. (My camera man didn’t make it out onto Eutaw Street quick enough to get a shot of this, so that’s why I’m describing it in great detail.) The ball tipped off the end of my glove and thankfully didn’t bounce too far away, though it hardly mattered because there wasn’t anyone else nearby going for it. When I picked up the ball, I was happy to discover that it had the Blue Jays’ “40th Season” commemorative logo on it. (The Astros had recently played in Toronto and gotten a bunch of those balls.) I’d already snagged a few over the course of the season, but hey, why not have another?

When right-handed batters took their cuts, I moved down into the seats in right-center field. That paid off as I got my hands on two more home run balls. Here I am catching the first one on the fly . . .

5_zack_catching_ball9193

. . . and here I am retrieving the second — another Blue Jays ball — in the seats:

6_zack_snagging_ball9194

That brought my total number of balls to five.

Back on the Flag Court, I caught two more home runs back to back. Here’s the second one streaking down toward me:

7_ball9196_in_mid_air

Here I am with those two baseballs:

8_zack_with_two_bp_home_run_balls

Here I am simultaneously flinching and catching my eighth ball of the day:

9_zack_flinching_and_catching_ball9197

Did you notice the guys at the table covering their heads? It’s kinda scary out there, even if you ARE paying attention — lots of bodies, hands, ricochets, deflections. That whole area seems like an injury waiting to happen, but it IS fun.

Over the course of the day, I gave away five baseballs. Here are screen shots of three of three of them:

10_zack_giving_ball9197_to_a_kid

That was it for BP.
Eight balls.
Solid.

Here I am showing my two Blue Jays balls:

11_zack_with_two_blue_jays_balls

Commemorative balls are keepers. Sorry not sorry!

In the video, you can see how sweaty I was. (At one point, I sweated off the microphone, and it had to be clipped to my shirt for the rest of the day.) Here’s a photo to provide further evidence:

12_sweaty_zack_with_caitlin

That’s Caitlin. She’s special.

I chugged two 20-ounce bottles of water and didn’t need to use the bathroom — that’s how dehydrated I’d gotten from running around for 75 minutes. My body absorbed all that liquid like it was nothing.

Shortly before game time, two Astros signed autographs along the foul line. First I missed out on Carlos Correa, and then I failed to get George Springer, pictured below:

13_zack_not_getting_george_springers_autograph

Oh well. It was cool just to be near them for a few moments.

Then I headed out to deep left-center field and said a quick hello to the Astros’ friendly bullpen catchers — Javier Bracamonte and Carlos Munoz. Here’s the latter waving at me:

14_carlos_munoz_waving

Then I turned my attention to (hopefully) catching a home run. Here I am on the Flag Court in the 1st inning:

15_zack_on_the_flag_court

For the first half of the game, I never left that spot, not even for right-handed batters. In the past, I would’ve wandered toward the 1st base side and attempted to snag a foul ball, but not this time. Why? Because three of the top ballhawks at Camden Yards — Alex Kopp, Grant Edrington, and Tim Anderson — all happened to be unable to attend this game. They normally hang out on the Flag Court during games, so I was determined to take advantage of their absence. That said, I did take a quick break at one point to grab a hot dog with a whole lot of delicious stuff on it, including chili, cheese sauce, and bacon:

16_bacon_cheese_hot_dog

(I might have to go vegan for the entire off-season.)

In the top of the 6th inning, hot dog still in hand, I headed back to left-center:

17_zack_heading_toward_the_astros_bullpen

Alex Bregman had hit a home run ball that ended up in the Astros’ bullpen. I was hoping to get it tossed up by one of the bullpen catchers. Here I am asking Bracamonte for it when he returned from playing catch with the outfielder between innings:

18_zack_asking_javier_bracamonte_for_the_alex_bregman_home_run_ball

“They want it,” he said, meaning I couldn’t have it.

Then I was recognized by a bunch of young fans who all wanted my autograph:

19_zack_signing_a_t_shirt

Here I am signing a glove . . .

20_zack_signing_a_glove

. . . and check this out — one kid asked me to sigh his cap near Cal Ripken Jr.’s autograph:

21_zack_hample_autograph_beside_cal_ripken_jr

While this was taking place, J.J. Hardy homered, and three batters later, Manny Machado followed with a blast of his own. The whole time, I was getting more and more antsy about not being on the Flag Court, but kids kept asking me to sign stuff and take selfies, and it was hard to break free. Realizing that Chris Davis was due to bat next, I finally insisted that I had to go, and AS I WAS HEADING BACK TO THE FLAG COURT, Davis hit a home run that landed right near the spot where I’d been standing all night. He hit it on the second pitch of the at-bat. Look how close I was (and look at my dismayed reaction — hands on head):

22_zack_horrified_after_missing_a_chris_davis_home_run

If I had walked away from the bullpen 15 seconds sooner, or if Davis had waited until the third pitch of the at-bat, rather than the second, to unleash that blast, I would’ve caught it. Here’s my buddy Doug Hakey explaining where it landed and how it ricocheted up against the warehouse:

23_doug_hakey_describing_where_the_ball_landed_and_bounced

It was a line drive that touched down roughly 20 feet behind the spot where I’d been standing all night, meaning I only would’ve had to back up about 10 feet in order to reach and/or jump and catch it.

I felt like absolute crap. You can see it below on my face. I wasn’t acting. It was like I’d gotten kicked in the gut:

24_zack_shocked_and_upset

In the video, I went off on a rant about how pissed I was. I thought about editing it out and pretending like it was no big deal, but that’s stupid. It might not be a big deal to 99.9999999999 percent of the people on this planet, but it was a big deal to me (in part because of this), and I decided to share the true emotional aspect of the moment.

Adding to my frustration, a crowd formed as an Orioles employee marked the spot on the pavement where the ball had landed:

25_marking_the_pavement_for_chris_davis_home_run_landing_spot

Here’s what it looked like:

26_marked_pavement_for_chris_davis_homer

I felt absolutely deflated, but what was I supposed to do? Go cry in the bathroom? Leave the game three innings early and drive back home to New York? Hell no! I’ve found that the best remedy for ballhawking heartbreak is to get back out there and keep doing it. So that’s what I did. And amazingly, I got another chance. With no outs in the top of the 7th inning, Astros rookie 1st baseman A.J. Reed crushed a home run in my direction, and best of all, my camera man managed to capture the tail end of it. Here’s a screen shot of the ball in mid-air:

27_ball_in_mid_air_aj_reed_home_run

As I drifted back and tracked the ball . . .

28_zack_tracking_aj_reed_homer

. . . I didn’t merely hope or think that I was going to catch it. I *knew* I was going to catch it — and voila! Here’s the ball streaking into my glove:

29_zack_catching_ball9198

This was my reaction:

30_zack_after_catching_ball9198 copy

That’s Doug on the left, graciously congratulating me with a high-five. (No, I didn’t leave him hanging.)

I didn’t celebrate or go crazy, but let me tell you, it felt gooooooood.

Here’s a closer look at the ball — my eighth game home run ball of the season:

31_ball9198_aj_reed_home_run

Whenever I catch a homer, I think it’s fun to get a photo of the jumbotron, listing the homer when that player comes back up to bat . . . like this:

32_aj_reed_home_run_on_jumbotron

The Orioles won 13-5 and slugged six home runs.

33_orioles_players_on_field_after_game

The Astros also went yard twice, so it was great night to be in the outfield. Here I am doing the closing shot for the video before driving back to New York:

34_zack_closing_shot_on_flag_court

Normally I post my blog entries before the videos, but this time I did things backwards, so in case you still haven’t seen the video, click here.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

35_the_four_balls_i_kept_08_18_16 9 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave five away)

 565 balls in 75 games this season = 7.53 balls per game.

 1,241 consecutive games with at least one ball

 46 lifetime game home run balls (not counting toss-ups)

 9,198 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 16 donors for my fundraiser

• $135.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $1,086,16 raised this season

• $191,589.82 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/17/16 at Citizens Bank Park

Lots of people on YouTube have asked me for a “cameraman face reveal,” so here you go — sort of:

1_caitlin_and_jeff_walking_to_stadium

The guy in the photo above is not my main videographer. The main dude, Brandon, lives in San Diego and wasn’t available to join me here in Philadelphia, so I brought my friend Jeff instead. (He’s the one who filmed me last month at the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game in San Diego.)

The other person in that photo is my girlfriend, Caitlin. I was hoping to include her in the video, but she didn’t feel like being on camera, so unfortunately that’s all you’ll get to see of her. We didn’t even sit together during the game. As planned, she ended up meeting a couple of friends (shout-out to Danielle from L.A.) and hanging with them while I did my video stuff.

By the time the stadium opened at 5:05pm, there was a loooooong line of fans waiting to enter:

2_line_wrapping_around_the_stadium

Why such a long line? Because this was the only open gate until 5:35pm, and only two of the many metal detectors were being used. (Dear Phillies: what’s up with that?) It was also crowded because the Dodgers were in town. And because it was summer. And the weather was perfect. Oh, and because Chase Utley was back for a few days. And because baseball is awesome.

Within the first few minutes of BP, I chased down a home run ball that landed in left-center field. Jeff got a shot of me retrieving it in the seats, so you’ll see that in the video. A minute or two after that, I climbed up onto a seat to catch another home run. Here’s a screen shot:

3_zack_catching_ball9185

As it turned out, the climbing was unnecessary, but at the time, I anticipated one or more fans converging on that spot. Therefore, as soon as the ball was hit, I decided to elevate (if possible), so even though I had plenty of space as the ball descended, I just went with it.

Look how crowded it got in left field:

4_left_field_crowded_07_17_16

I only got to see one group of Phillies BP (because they started hitting half an hour before the stadium opened). Then the Dodgers only had two groups (most teams have three), and to make matters worse, while their mostly-left-handed first group hit bombs to right field, everyone was still trapped in left. That’s just how things work at Citizens Bank Park. On weekdays, the left field gate opens two hours early, and the rest of the stadium opens 30 minutes after that. As a result of all of this, I finished BP with just two baseballs — way below average. That was a huge bummer. I always want to put on a good show in my videos, and with this one in particular, I had extra motivation because SeatGeek was sponsoring this video. Basically they had hooked me up with a pair of Diamond Club tickets behind home plate in exchange for my doing a little promo for them.

After BP, I gave a tour of the Diamond Club for the video. Then, shortly before game time, I headed out to the concourse in deep right-center to try to get a ball from the Dodgers’ bullpen. That failed. Here’s a screen shot of starting pitcher Scott Kazmir dropping the ball back in the bag:

5_scott_kazmir_dissing_everyone

Even though 9 out of 10 pitchers toss their pre-game warm-up balls into the crowd (or hand them to coaches who tosses ’em up), I can’t be annoyed at Kazmir. He’s thrown me three baseballs over the years, most recently on 6/13/16 at Chase Field, so I guess he was just super-focused here in Philly.

I’ve shown the Diamond Club in previous blog entries, and you’ll get a good look at the layout in my video, so for now, I’ll just show you the view that I had for left-handed batters:

6_view_behind_home_plate_08_17_16

That’s not an ideal spot/angle for foul balls, but it’s pretty damn good, and wouldn’t you know it — Jeff was filming me when I got my first chance at one in the bottom of the 1st inning. Kazmir was pitching, and Tommy Joseph was at bat. The ball sailed 10 feet over my head, struck a railing, and deflected down toward me. Here I am awkwardly attempting to catch it:

7_ball9188_ricocheting_at_me

The good news is that it didn’t hit me in the face. The bad news is that I completely missed it, and as it bounced past me, I had to deal with several obstacles:

8_zack_chasing_ball9186

When you watch the video (which I will link to at the end of this entry), pay close to attention to how I expertly avoided bumping into the woman in the light blue shirt. (She worked there, so she was simply trying not to get hit by the ball.) This is a prime example of how I *don’t* knock people over, even when it’s crowded and they get right in my way and I really want the ball.

The ball bounced off the back of the seats. The guys sitting there attempted to snag it, but they missed it, and I was right there to scoop it up:

9_zack_about_to_scoop_up_ball9186

That felt great. Even though it was a low-numbers day, I got a gamer in the section where SeatGeek had hooked it up for me.

Take a look at the ball — there were some patchy pine tar stains on the logo:

10_ball9188_tommy_joseph_foul_ball_with_pine_tar_stains

Here’s a panorama photo that I took behind the plate:

11_panorama_behind_home_plate_07_17_16

Did you notice the girl standing on the left wearing the white jersey? Several innings later, she caught a foul ball that deflected down from high above, outreaching a grown man in the process:

12_fans_reaching_for_a_foul_ball_07_17_16

It was a sweet grab, and I congratulated her on it. She told me that she plays softball and that it was no big deal. Her name is Lexi, and she actually recognized me from YouTube.

Ready to see what I ate? The food in the Diamond Club is not free, but it’s good!

13_my_dinner_08_17_16

That’s a bacon cheeseburger with grilled onions, potato chips, potato salad, and pasta salad. For dessert, I had vanilla and chocolate ice cream with chocolate sprinkles and caramel sauce:

14_ice_cream_with_caramel_sauce_and_sprinkles

Fast-forward to the bottom of the 8th inning. The Dodgers were winning, 7-2, but more importantly for my game-within-the-game purposes, I got another chance to snag a foul ball. Jesse Chavez pitched it. Carlos Ruiz hit it. Here’s how it went down . . .

Once again, this ball sailed over my head and ricocheted down from above. Can you spot the ball in the following screen shot?

16_zack_snagging_ball9187

In case you missed it, look just below the top/flat portion of the railing. There’s a guy in a black t-shirt who barely reacted when the ball headed toward him. It bounced gently off his hand, plopped onto his back, and ended up behind him on his seat. Neither of us knew exactly where it was at that moment:

17_zack_snagging_ball9187

He might have felt it and assumed it was on his chair. I couldn’t see it anywhere else, so I figured it had to be there and ran over:

18_zack_snagging_ball9187

We both spotted it simultaneously and reached for it as it was rolling toward the edge:

19_zack_snagging_ball9187

The ball dropped to the ground, and we both bent down for it:

20_zack_snagging_ball9187

I was a teeny bit quicker, and as he reached for it, I was able to grab it:

21_zack_snagging_ball9187

Somehow this guy found me later on Twitter and accused me of “stealing” the ball from him. Maybe he got pissed when I celebrated?

22_zack_excited_to_get_the_ball

Seriously, though, he didn’t seem the least bit bothered at the time, and anyway, there’s no rule that grants ownership just because a ball happens to land on your seat. Fans regularly scramble for baseballs, sometimes to the point of engaging in aggressive Tug Of War matches. I never get involved with crap like that, and as you can see, there’s video evidence to prove that I didn’t “steal” this one. (I should travel with a videographer all the time, huh? It would certainly help disprove false accusations.)

Here are the two foul balls that I snagged — my 18th lifetime game at which I’d gotten two or more:

23_two_foul_balls_during_game_07_17_16

Soon after that, I spotted a pair of little kids with gloves sitting nearby, so I gave them my batting practice balls. Here I am handing one over:

24_zack_giving_balls_away_07_17_16

With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, I moved here:

25_view_from_3rd_base_dugout_07_17_16

When the game ended, I got my fifth ball of the day from home plate umpire Chris Conroy. Here he is flinging it to me:

26_chris_conroy_tossing_ball9188

One minute later, Josh Fields, who had pitched the 9th inning, tossed me the game-ending ball — an Aaron Altherr strikeout. Fields is wearing No. 46 in the following screen shot:

27_zack_catching_ball9189

See the kid catching a baseball below?

28_kid_catching_toss_up_from_zack_hample

That ball was thrown by . . . me! It was the ball I’d just gotten from the umpire.

What started as a lame day with only two baseballs in the first few minutes of BP turned out to be a really fun night. Many thanks once again to SeatGeek. (If you use this link to sign up and use the promo code ZACK, you’ll get $20 back on your first order.) Now check out my video to see the full promo I did for them along with various shots inside the Diamond Club and footage of all six baseballs I snagged. Thanks for reading/watching!

BALLHAWKING STATS:

29_the_three_balls_i_kept_08_17_16 6 baseballs at this game (three pictured here because I gave three away)

 556 balls in 74 games this season = 7.51 balls per game.

 1,240 consecutive games with at least one ball

 171 lifetime foul balls during games (not counting toss-ups)

 18 lifetime games with two or more foul balls during the game (not counting toss-ups)

 9,189 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 15 donors for my fundraiser

• $133.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $936.39 raised this season

• $191,440.05 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/5/16 at Yankee Stadium

Let me start with three panorama photos. First, here’s what it looked like on the 3rd base side before the Indians started taking batting practice:

1_panorama_from_3rd_base_dugout

This was my view from the 2nd deck in right field during BP:

2_panorama_from_2nd_deck

Here’s what BP looked like from the 100 Level seats:

3_panorama_from_right_field

Pretty cool, huh?

Anyway, my first ball of the day was a homer by a left-handed batter on the Yankees. Not sure who. My second ball was a homer by Starlin Castro that I caught on the fly, and my third was thrown by Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer after we briefly played catch. That was it! Tough day. It was crowded, and there just weren’t many opportunities.

I did, however, get to see R2-D2 rolling past on the warning track before the game:

4_star_wars_night_r2d2

There were also a bunch of Stormtroopers lined up on the 3rd base side:

5_star_wars_night_stormtroopers

Yup, it was Star Wars Night at Yankee Stadium. I had received an R2-D2 hat on the way in, and I decided to give it away in a Twitter contest along with one of my BP balls:

6_ball_and_hat_giveaway_for_twitter

Fast-forward to the bottom of the 3rd inning. Josh Tomlin was pitching, Starlin Castro was hitting, the bases were loaded, and BAM!!! Watch this video and then take a look at these screen shots.

7_starlin_castro_connecting

Castro sent a deep fly ball heading toward me out in right field. I knew right away that it was going to be a home run. I just wasn’t sure if it would have enough distance to reach my spot several rows back.

As it turned out, the ball did reach me . . . sort of. If the row in front of me had been empty, I would’ve been able to make an easy chest-high catch, but as you can see in the screen shot below, it was fairly crowded:

8_grand_slam_in_the_air_above_me

The fans in front of me reached up for the ball, and as I reached for it too, someone deflected it while simultaneously bumping my glove. Somehow this caused the ball to be bobbled straight up into the air above me. Here’s a blurry closeup from the previous screen shot — note the ball circled in red:

9_grand_slam_in_the_air_above_me_closeup

That’s me in the red shirt with the white circle on my chest — more on that shirt in a bit, but for now, look what happened next:

10_securing_the_ball

I know it’s hard to tell what was happening, so here’s another blurry closeup:

11_securing_the_ball_closeup

As you can see, the other red-shirted fan tried to snatch the ball away from me, but I don’t blame him. He only went for the ball until he realized that I had secured possession of it, at which point I twisted away from him and he backed off. (This all happened very fast.) Also, I should mention that I did briefly juggle the ball at first, in part because I was holding a mini-bag of Cracker Jacks in my right hand. Duh!

It should be clear to anyone with half a brain that this was a clean play all around, especially on my part. Therefore it *really* pissed me off to see negative garbage like this.

Anyway, here’s Starlin Castro being greeted at home plate by his teammates:

12_starlin_castro_about_to_step_on_home_plate

Remember that red shit I was wearing? I proudly “popped” it for the cameras:

13_zack_shirt_pop

Here’s a better look at it:

14_zack_with_starlin_castro_grand_slam

BARSTOOL SPORTS, BABY!!! They’ve been great to me over the past two seasons, so this was my way of paying them back. I had recently bought that shirt and decided to wear it semi-regularly until I caught a home run.

Here’s a closer look at the ball:

15_ball9166_starlin_castro_grand_slam

Here’s Castro on the jumbotron later in the game:

16_starlin_castro_grand_slam_on_jumbotron

This was his first career grand slam, so I figured he might want the ball back . . . but nope! No one from the Yankees approached me about it, and I’m glad. This was the third lifetime grand slam that I had snagged, and I still had the other two baseballs at home, so my “granny collection,” if you will, would remain complete.

Here are two of my newer friends photographing/admiring the ball:

17_martin_and_chris_admiring_the_ball

In the photo above, that’s Chris holding it. The young man with his mouth agape is named Martin.

After the game (which the Yankees won, 13-7), several other fans took photos of/with the ball, including the guy who had nearly snagged it himself:

18_fan_posing_with_grand_slam_ball

Here are my three gland slam baseballs, by the way:

three_grand_slams_cano_beltran_castro

The ball on the left was hit by Robinson Cano on 9/28/09 at Yankee Stadium. The ball in the middle was hit by Carlos Beltran on 8/8/14 at Yankee Stadium. Someday I will catch a grand slam somewhere else. Mark my words.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 4 baseballs at this game

 533 balls in 69 games this season = 7.72 balls per game.

 1,235 consecutive games with at least one ball

 45 lifetime game home runs; click here for the complete list

 9,166 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 15 donors for my fundraiser

• $133.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $936.39 raised this season

• $191,440.05 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/30/16 at Citi Field

It was a soggy but festive day in Queens:

1_zack_and_fans_outside_07_30_16

In the image above, that’s my friend Ben Weil holding the Mike Piazza cutout. (Shout-out to Andrew in the black shirt and Ryan peeking over the back of my neck.) This was the day that Piazza, recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, was going to have his uniform number retired by the Mets during a big pre-game ceremony. That’s the only reason I was here. I normally avoid Citi Field when it rains, but I wanted to pay my respects to one of the greatest catchers in MLB history, and I also hoped to snag a game-used commemorative baseball.

First, though, my challenge was simply to get *a* baseball and keep my streak alive. I knew it would be tough when I ran inside and saw the tarp on the field:

2_tarp_on_the_field_07_30_16

Rockies pitcher Jon Gray was throwing an early bullpen session, so I headed over to right-center. I would’ve gotten a ball there if not for my “friend” Greg Barasch who flat-out robbed me, but whatever, I’m over it (or at least I want him to think I am).

A little while later, Greg pointed out a ball sitting in a weird place. Can you spot it in the following photo?

3_ball_on_pipe

There was no chance to snag it, but it was fun to think about. I wonder how long it had been there.

Meanwhile it had started to rain again, and these guys didn’t seem to care:

4_fans_sitting_in_the_rain

That’s dedication. (Dedication? Is that the word? Sure, let’s go with that.)

Roughly 90 minutes before game time, I had a chance to snag a ball when several Rockies came out and played catch in shallow left field. I was dressed for success . . .

5_zack_left_field_side_rockies_gear

. . . but that didn’t help. No luck. No action. Nada. Zilch.

As it turned out, there were NO other opportunities to get a baseball before the ceremony. I tried my best to enjoy all the hoopla despite being stressed and paranoid. (FYI, it had been 23 years since I’d gotten shut out at a major league game.)

Here’s Piazza on the jumbotron:

6_mike_piazza_on_the_jumbotron

Here he is standing at (or near) home plate:

7_mike_piazza_on_the_field

Here’s his uniform number (31) being unveiled:

8_piazza_number_31_unveiled

Sorry for the poor quality of that image, but it’s a zoomed-in screen shot from my iPhone. In other words, I did a little filming, and yes, there’s a selfie-style video on my YouTube channel! Keep reading and you’ll find a link near the bottom.

After the ceremony (which really was amazing), I photographed Ben with his wife Jen, holding up their Piazza signs:

9_jen_and_ben_with_piazza_signs

Ben loves Piazza so much (and Jen is so chill and loves Ben so much) that at their wedding two years ago, all the groomsmen wore Piazza jerseys. Ben also has a new “31” tattoo, which you can see on his right shoulder in this photo. THAT is dedication.

Despite the bleak forecast, the rain held off enough for the grounds crew to take the tarp off the field. The game was delayed 38 minutes, but no one cared. Everyone was just thrilled that it was going to played at all. I was also glad to have one final opportunity before the game to get a toss-up in the right field corner. Here’s what it looked like out there:

10_pregame_throwing_in_right_field

It was an odd time for several pairs of Mets pitchers to be playing catch. Somehow I got Logan Verrett to throw me his ball when he finished. He nearly airmailed me, though, so I had to jump as high as possible in order to catch it. Then I handed it to the nearest/littlest kid.

It was 7:18pm.
Translation: Phew!

On the way to my seat, I saw some fans posing for photos with a life-size Mike Piazza cardboard cutout:

11_fans_posing_with_mike_piazza_cardboard_cutout

Speaking of my seat, check out the view:

12_view_from_3rd_base_dugout_07_30_16

I’m pretty sure this was the most expensive regular-season ticket I’ve ever bought. Don’t ask me how much it cost. I’m kind of ashamed, but it was nice to sit so close to the field for a change.

Look who was with me:

13_jen_and_zack_dugout

That’s Jen.

Ben, of course, was DYING to get a Piazza ball, but he didn’t care how he got it. He didn’t need to snag it himself. He just wanted to end up with one, so I told him that if I got two, he could have one. Therefore he decided to sit on his own near the Rockies’ on-deck circle (ballboys often toss balls there) and have Jen sit with me and try to help. It’s amazing how much attention a young, attractive woman will receive from the players. Seriously. It’s actually kind of scary, but in this case (because she’s so chill and loves Benny so much), she was willing to be used. How sweet.

Things didn’t go as planned. In the first three innings, DJ LeMahieu ended up with two of the 3rd-out balls and seemed to taunt me as he threw them to other fans, and Greg, that lucky son-of-a-bee, managed to get a Piazza ball from Mark Reynolds.

In the 4th inning, rookie phenom Trevor Story hurt himself diving for a ball. It looked awkward, and I felt bad to see him leave the game:

14_trevor_story_injured

At the time, I had no idea that it would turn out to be a season-ending injury — a huge loss for the Rockies, their fans, and all of Major League Baseball. Hopefully he’ll come back strong next year.

The 4th inning ended with a strikeout, which got tossed right over my head. I had no luck in the 5th inning either and was really starting to worry that I wouldn’t get one of the special balls. There was, however, one thing that gave me hope. Early in the game, I noticed that Rockies 1st base coach Eric Young was inspecting the infield warm-up ball each inning. He threw most of these balls into the crowd, but before he did, he let people know whether or not there was a special logo. Most of these balls were regular, so I didn’t ask for one. I figured I’d save my request in case he actually indicated that he had what I was hoping for. During the 6th inning, when he walked past me down below in the dugout, I called out and said, “E.Y., I’m dying to get one of those special balls.” I didn’t think he had one at that moment; I just wanted him to be on the lookout for me, so you can imagine how stunned I was when he pulled a ball out of his back pocket and flipped it up onto the dugout roof. Was it commemorative? Take a look for yourself:

15_mike_piazza_commemorative_ball

That.
Felt.
Incredible.

Obviously I don’t love Mike Piazza as much as Ben does (I don’t think Mrs. Piazza even loves him like that), but I’ve been a huge fan since meeting him at Bucky Dent’s Baseball School in the early 1990s. I was also excited to snag this ball because it would complement the one I’d gotten on 9/29/13 at Citi Field when the Mets inducted Piazza into their own Hall of Fame. Check it out:

15b_mike_piazza_commemorative_balls

By the 7th inning, there were lots of empty seats, as you can see in the background of this photo:

16_zack_borrowing_hair_from_jen_buffa

It had been raining the whole night, and the Mets were losing, and of course all the Mike Piazza stuff was done. Many people had actually left right after the pre-game ceremony.

Ben’s enthusiasm never wavered, and at one point, Jen and I spotted him on the jumbotron:

17_ben_on_jumbotron

She reacted by excitedly yelling, “THAT’S MY HUSBAND!!! THAT’S MY HUSBAND!!!” That probably confused everyone sitting around us. Heh.

Here’s a panorama from my seat behind the dugout:

18_panorama_behind_3rd_base_dugout

Toward the end of the game, DJ LeMahieu looked up at me from the dugout and said, “How many baseballs today?”

I was like, “Wait, what? You know who I am?”

“Yeah, how many?” he asked without even a hint of a smile.

Some players who recognize me think my collection is cool, and they’re glad to add to it. Other guys just seem put off by the whole thing. That was the vibe I got from LeMahieu, which would explain why he’d taunted me earlier. Guess I won’t be rooting for him anymore.

After the game, which the Rockies won by the score of 7-2, I filmed a closing scene by the dugout:

19_zack_closing_scene_07_30_16

I had failed to get an extra Piazza ball for Ben, but that didn’t end up mattering because Greg came through!

20_greg_and_balls

Check out Ben’s reaction after receiving one of these baseballs from Greg:

21_ben_weil_loving_his_mike_piazza_ball_that_he_got_from_greg

He wasn’t acting or posing. He was truly overjoyed, and I was glad to share this special night with him.

Here’s the last photo I took before heading home:

22_citi_field_from_afar_at_night

That feels super-lonely, no? Anyway, thanks for reading, and if you still want more, here’s the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 2 baseballs at this game

 517 balls in 66 games this season = 7.83 balls per game.

1,315 balls in 180 lifetime games at PETCO Park = 7.31 balls per game.

1,232 consecutive games with at least one ball

 86 different commemorative balls

 9,150 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 14 donors for my fundraiser

• $133.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $668.85 raised this season

• $191,172.51 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/21/16 at FirstEnergy Park

Let me start by saying this:

0_most_interesting_man_likes_alex_katz10

Who’s Alex Katz? He’s a guy I met several years ago at Citi Field. We were both trying to catch baseballs in the left field seats, and after crossing paths at several other games, we became friendly. It turns out that he’s an amazing baseball player — a left-handed pitcher, to be specific, who was drafted last year out of St. John’s by the Chicago White Sox. Three months and two rookie ball teams later, he wrapped up his first pro season with a 2.20 ERA and solid numbers across the board. He began this season with a Class A team called the Kannapolis Intimidators, which, in case you don’t know or are too lazy to look it up, is based in North Carolina. That’s quite a distance from my home in New York City, so when Alex told me that he’d be playing in Lakewood, New Jersey for a few days, I made a point of going to see him.

The drive took about an hour and a half:

1_driving_to_lakewood_nj

Parking was cheap . . .

2_cheap_parking

. . . and the stadium was teeny:

3_firstenergy_park_ticket_windows

It had been several years since I’d attended a minor league game, and I’d forgotten just how laid-back and fun the atmosphere is. Before the stadium officially opened, I asked one of the ticket people if there was a bathroom I could use. Two minutes later, I was standing inside the team’s front office/reception area:

4_inside_the_blueclaws_front_office

It was, indeed, THAT easy. No attitude. Just friendly people who genuinely wanted me to have a good time.

I should mention that I’d driven down from New York with a videographer — not Brandon (who normally films me) or Jeff (who had joined me in San Diego for the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game), but a new guy named Josh. Here he is setting up his camera:

5_josh_setting_up_the_camera

We moved closer to the stadium for the opening shot. Then I picked up our comp (and rather large) tickets, courtesy of Alex:

6_comp_ticket_and_alex_katz_parents

In the photo above, those are Alex’s parents, Adrian and Gary. I can’t even begin to imagine how proud they must be of their son.

FirstEnergy Park doesn’t open to the general public until one hour before game time, but because I was hanging with a player’s family, I received VIP treatment and got inside an extra half-hour early. This was the result:

7_ball_tossed_by_alex_katz

That ball was thrown to me by The Man himself — Alex Katz. Here he is waving to me:

8_alex_katz_waving_from_left_field

I had lots of room to run on a grassy berm. This was my view to the left . . .

8_berm_on_my_left_07_21_16

. . . and to the right:

10_berm_on_my_right_07_21_16

Unfortunately, though, no one could hit worth a damn, and BP ended five minutes later, so the ball from Alex was the only one I got. (I don’t count minor league games/balls in my stats, so whatever.)

After BP, I wandered over to the 3rd base dugout and caught up with these guys:

11_friendly_fans_07_21_16

The man on the left is named Scott, and he was super-friendly. He had recognized me outside the stadium and actually given me a brand-new South Atlantic League ball, just to be nice and make me feel welcome. He and I ran into each other throughout the day, and I truly appreciated his kindness.

While the BlueClaws took infield/outfield practice, I got some waves and hellos from a bunch of kids on the warning track:

12_kids_on_the_field_07_21_16

Some of them recognized me from YouTube and were excited to see me here with a cameraman, so that felt good.

A little while later, I caught up with Alex outside the clubhouse:

13_zack_ande_alex_katz_outside_the_clubhouse

He had actually poked his head out to have a quick word with his family, so I seized the moment and grabbed a photo with him.

I’m only going to post three screen shots from the video in this blog entry. Here’s the first:

14_chicken_teriyaki

That’s what I had for dinner — chicken teriyaki. It was VERY good, so if you ever find yourself at this stadium, look for it. There’s a little stand on the 1st base side.

Here’s what I had for dessert — Oreo churros:

15_oreo_churros

Ohhhh yes. I stayed nice and full after that for the rest of the game.

Here’s what the right field berm looks like:

16_right_field_berm_07_21_16

Everything was calm and relaxing out there, as you can see:

17_fans_at_picnic_tables

Here’s the batter’s eye:

18_walkway_behind_batters_eye

If there had been more than a few minutes of batting practice (and if anyone had any power), that walkway would’ve been useful because I could’ve used it to run back and forth from left field to right field.

This was my view for the first half of the game:

19_view_from_3rd_base_side_07_21_16

I was sitting right in front of Alex’s parents. (There’s a shot of them in the video.) At that point I was wearing my glove more for protection than because I actually expected to snag any baseballs, but look, it happened!

20_ball_from_the_ballboy_named_paul

Did you notice the ballboy giving me a thumbs-up in the background? He tossed me that ball because he recognized me. I think his name is Paul. (I hope I’m remembering that correctly. I sometimes suck with names.)

Here’s a selfie with Alex’s parents and two of Alex’s friends:

21_randy_steve_zack_adrian_gary

In the photo above, the guy with the sunglasses on his head is named Randy. The guy wearing the light blue cap is named Steve, and if he looks familiar, that’s because he’s been working for the Mets forever.

Here’s the second screen shot:

22_zack_giving_baseballs_to_kids

I think that’s self-explanatory.

In the middle innings, I moved near the Intimidators’ bullpen down the left field line:

23_alex_katz_playing_catch_between_innings

Did you notice Alex (No. 10) warming up the left fielder? He’s a reliever, so I kept waiting and hoping that he’d get in the game.

This was my view with an inning or two remaining:

24_view_from_left_field_foul_line_07_21_16

Alex didn’t get to pitch, and to make matters worse, his team lost. On the positive side, there was an on-field Pokémon GO promotion after the game, so I got to hang out with him on the warning track:

25_alex_katz_and_zack_postgame

We decided to do a little interview for the video. Here’s the final screen shot as proof:

26_zack_interviewing_alex

After saying goodbye to him, I wandered into center field:

27_people_playing_pokemon_go_on_the_field_after_the_game

That’s where I did the closing shot for the video, and on the way out, I took a panorama in the concourse behind home plate:

28_panorama_behind_home_plate

Do you remember Scott from the photo after BP near the 3rd base dugout? Here’s a photo of the trunk of his car:

29_trunk_of_autograph_collectors_car

He’s a photographer and yeah . . . also an autograph collector.

As for the video, CLICK HERE to watch it. Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten a ton of comments from people asking/telling me to attend minor league games in various places. I appreciate that, and while I *did* have fun at this game, I just want you to keep this in mind. Perhaps I’ll go watch Alex play somewhere else next year. In the meantime, I’m happy to report that he was recently promoted to the Winston-Salem Dash and made history in his first appearance, ending Francisco Mejia’s 50-game hitting streak. I’m rooting like crazy for Alex, and I hope you do too. If you see him, tell him that Zack in New York says hi.

2016 All-Star Game

It was a beautiful day in San Diego, and thanks to this sign on the sidewalk, I knew I was heading in the right direction:

1_sign_pointing_to_all_star_game

There were actually lots of signs advertising/pointing to different events:

2_other_all_star_signs

I decided to start by checking out FanFest, but before I got there, I was distracted by this:

3_red_carpeting_for_parade

I knew that in just a few hours, there’d be thousands of fans crammed against the barricades, cheering all the players rolling past in the parade. For now, though, things were calm, so I took advantage by doing something silly — and you can see it in my YouTube video. That’s right! Deal with it — a little teaser to leave you hungry and wanting more. The same videographer who captured all the action the day before at the Home Run Derby was with me again.

FanFest took place at a huge convention center located several blocks from the stadium. Here’s what it looked like outside:

4_convention_center_07_12_16

Here I am inside posing near a huge baseball:

5_zack_and_big_baseball_07_12_16

Did you notice my snazzy new shirt? I mentioned it in my last entry about the Derby — a new purchase that nearly put me in debt.

FanFest had countless things to see and do. Here I am talking about it:

6_zack_inside_fanfest_07_12_16

One of those things was a baseball talk led by John Smoltz:

7_john_smoltz_baseball_talk

The topic was preventing pitching injuries. I would have loved to stay and hear the rest of it, but time was limited.

By the way, a funny thing happened in the video during the talk. After I commented about how a Hall of Famer was sitting just 30 feet away, a kid recognized me (“Are you Zack Hample?”) and asked for an autograph and selfie. The timing was so perfect that you might be tempted to accuse me of staging it, but that’s truly how it happened. I’ve been getting recognized a lot lately; I usually choose not to include footage of it in the videos, but every now and then I’ll make an exception.

Let’s get one thing straight, though — this is who everyone *really* wanted to see:

8_wil_myers_posing_for_photos

That’s Padres 1st baseman Wil Myers. He had participated in the Home Run Derby the day before, and in just a few hours, he’d be the starting cleanup hitter for the National League. Of course the line to meet him had already been cut off at that point, so I wasn’t able to get a photo with him. That’s when I knew it was time to leave.

As I approached the stadium, I walked along a street that was set up with all kinds of fun stuff:

9_big_balloons_outside_with_emojis

It was nearly empty because everyone in downtown San Diego was camped out along the parade route. Here’s what it looked like right across from the stadium:

10_red_carpet_parade_in_full_swing

Several players were about to roll up in their trucks:

11_players_arriving_in_pickup_trucks

Here’s Jose Altuve waving to the crowd:

12_jose_altuve_red_carpet_parade

Here’s Ian Desmond looking dapper as hell:

13_ian_desmond_red_carpet_parade

Here’s Manny Machado before getting out:

14_manny_machado_red_carpet_parade

Many more players were still due to arrive, but after 10 minutes there, I’d had enough. Some people make a whole day of the red carpet parade, arriving early to claim the best spots and then sticking around for the whole thing. I can’t deal with that. I don’t like being trapped with big crowds, and my attention span is limited.

As I walked away from the parade route, I found myself crossing the street behind the truck that had transported Mookie Betts:

15_mookie_betts_truck_driving_off

FYI, you’ll find a link to the video toward the end of this entry, so keep scrolling/reading. Right now I’m just providing a few extra details and photos.

The stadium opened half an hour earlier than it had the day before, and the employees in left field were, to put it lightly, unprepared. One woman demanded to know what I was doing inside the stadium, and less than a minute later, a male guard stopped my cameraman and insisted that the gates hadn’t yet opened.

“Then how could we be here?!” I asked. It was the dumbest situation, and as other fans started trickling in, the employees realized what was up.

Once again, I decided to hang out in left-center field for BP. This was my view:

16_american_league_batting_practice_07_12_16

That spot had worked well for me the day before, but for whatever reason, it was DEAD at the All-Star Game. Look how crowded it got:

17_left_field_seats_crowded_07_12_16

Dozens of fans all around me got baseballs — a combination of home runs and toss-ups — but I just couldn’t make anything happen.

Finally I got a toss-up from this random kid in center field:

18_ball9111_being_thrown

Do you remember the commemorative baseballs I had snagged the day before? I got a bunch of Futures Game balls and All-Star Game balls, but no Home Run Derby balls. Therefore I was *extremely* happy to get this from the kid in center field:

19_ball9111_home_run_derby_ball

That was the only ball I got during the American League’s portion of BP. Then both leagues took turns posing for team photos:

20_american_league_team_photo_07_12_16

My cameraman (not Brandon but a different friend named Jeff) went up to the 2nd deck to get some shots from above. Here he is waving at me:

21_jeff_in_the_second_deck

He succeeded in getting the shots. I, however, failed to snag any more baseballs, so in case you’ve somehow lost count, I finished BP with one.

I grabbed some food (a fried chicken sandwich, if you must know) and then headed off on a mission: to find my buddy Heath Bell. He had texted to say that he was in Suite 33, but evidently there were two levels of suites, and neither of us knew exactly where I needed to go.

While wandering around and trying to figure it out, I stopped to pose for a photo with more oversized baseballs:

22_zack_with_big_baseballs_wall_decoration

I just can’t resist. I have a history of doing that. See? Oh look, here’s more evidence from the past.

After asking twice for help/directions, I finally made it up to the terrace level. Here I am discussing the beautiful stadium design:

23_zack_petco_park_suite_level

Most stadiums, by the way, require fans to have suite-level tickets just to get anywhere near the suites, but here at PETCO, there was enough other stuff on this level that it was open to everyone.

When I found Suite 33, Heath welcomed me inside. Here’s what it looked like:

24_inside_heath_bells_suite

Here I am with the man himself:

25_zack_and_heath_bell_in_suite

During that particular portion of the conversation, he was telling the camera that if I ran out onto the field, he would throw me a ball from the suite. What a guy! (How do I know him? Watch the video. You’ll get an explanation.)

Here I am with his son Reece:

26_zack_and_reece_bell

I only stayed for a few minutes and then headed upstairs for the pre-game ceremony. Click the following photo (a high-res panorama) to enjoy the true splendor:

27_pregame_ceremony_panorama_07_12_16

Did you notice all the people on the balconies of the building behind the light tower? Here’s a closer look:

28_people_on_building_balconies

Just after the national anthem concluded, six U.S. Thunderbirds performed an incredible flyover at 600 miles per hour! I knew it was coming, but still wasn’t prepared and was actually startled. Thankfully Jeff was ready with his camera and got a really cool shot:

29_all_star_game_flyover_07_12_16

Here’s where I hung out during the game:

30_view_from_right_field_07_12_16

PETCO Park has standing room build into the cross-aisle in right field; somehow, despite waiting until game time to head down there, I found a spot.

Here’s Mike Trout on the jumbotron in the bottom (yes, the BOTTOM) of the 1st inning:

31_mike_trout_jumbotron_1st_inning_07_12_16

Why was the American League batting in the bottom of the inning at a National League stadium? I was confused until my friend Brent explained it. Basically the All-Star Game took place in Cincinnati last season. Next year it’ll be played in Miami, and in 2018 it’ll happen in Washington D.C. — all National League ballparks. To compensate for that, the American League was the “home” team here at PETCO. Very strange.

Did you notice the “fun fact” about Trout below his photo on the jumbotron? He’s the first player ever to win consecutive All-Star Game MVP honors. #GOAT

Here’s what the cross-aisle looked like on my right:

32_cross_aisle_on_my_right_07_12_16

I was hoping to catch a home run, and man, let me tell ya, if anyone had hit a ball near me, I would’ve had a great shot.

Here’s who I spent most of the game with:

33_padres_fans_07_12_16

That’s Brent on the left. Remember him from this photo on 9/24/14 at PETCO Park? That’s when we first met. He’s a great guy and super knowledgeable about baseball. The man in the red hat is an even older friend. His name is Ismael, and if you’ve been reading this blog for a very long time, you might remember this photo of him from when he put me on the phone with Heath Bell on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park.

There were three home runs during the game, but unfortunately they all went to left field. Therefore my only chances came on warm-up balls thrown by outfielders. Here I am reaching for one:

34_fans_going_for_warm_up_ball

I didn’t snag it.

Here I am late in the game — just a random candid moment:

35_zack_looking_up_and_back

Here are the fireworks that went off after the home team won, 4-2:

36_fireworks_after_the_game_07_12_16

Eric Hosmer won the MVP. (He went 2-for-3 with a homer and 2 RBIs.) Here’s the award ceremony from afar:

37_mvp_ceremony_07_12_16

Here’s Hoz on the jumbotron:

38_eric_hosmer_mvp

I like Rob Manfred’s face — not specifically in the photo above, but in general. Is that a weird thing to say? I just think he looks friendly.

And now, finally, here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: the video! Click here to watch it, and don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel. I have lots more stuff on the way.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

39_2016_home_run_derby 1 baseball at this game (pictured here)

 478 balls in 59 games this season = 8.10 balls per game.

157 balls in 16 lifetime games at PETCO Park = 9.81 balls per game.

 25 balls in 5 lifetime Home Run Derbies = 5 balls per game.

1,225 consecutive games with at least one ball

 85 different commemorative balls

 9,111 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 14 donors for my fundraiser

• $123.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $618.85 raised this season

• $191,122.51 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

2016 Home Run Derby

This was the sixth time I’d ever been to the Home Run Derby, and it was the first time that I brought a videographer, so yeah, prepare yourself for some YouTube action.

I arrived at PETCO Park way too early and took a seat on the ground, leaning against the gates. This was my view (looking back out at the street):

1_all_star_barricades

Inside the stadium, there was a countdown clock for the All-Star Game:

2_countdown_to_the_all_star_game

Yup, I had lots of time to kill, but that was fine. I made some phone calls, listened to music, ate a sandwich, read the news, ignored social media, and photographed Mark Melancon standing around:

3_mark_melancon_standing_around

Look who else I saw walking down the street:

4_clayton_kershaw_walking_around copy

That was Clayton Kershaw. No one noticed him (or rather, no one approached him) and I’m sure he loved it.

By the time the stadium opened, there was quite a crowd:

5_crowd_outside_gates_07_11_16

Here I am (on the left) with several ballhawk buddies — Boog, Leigh, and Boog’s son, Jacob:

6_zack_boog_leigh_jacob

Jacob had grown quite a mustache since I’d first met him on 6/15/16 at Angel Stadium.

When PETCO finally opened, I caught up briefly with my friend Devin for the third time in a month. Here he is:

7_devin_trone_in_left_field_07_11_16

Devin attends every Home Run Derby and All-Star Game. I think I might need to start doing that too.

Did you notice that batting practice hadn’t yet begun? By the time the American League started hitting, the stadium was already getting crowded. I had decided to focus on getting toss-ups during BP, and things got off to a good start. Here I am (wearing a Blue Jays cap) getting a ball from Edwin Encarnacion:

8_edwin_encarnacion_tossing_ball9101

It was a Futures Game ball:

9_futures_game_ball_07_11_16

Allow me to quote myself from the video: “I actually don’t count balls from the Futures Game itself, but if I get one at the Derby or the All-Star Game, then that does go in my official Major League Baseball collection, so I’m pretty psyched to have gotten this one.”

Leigh caught one soon after, and we compared. His was brand new and mine (already protected in a ziploc bag) was mud-rubbed:

10_comparing_balls_with_leigh

A few minutes later, I jumped and caught a toss-up from Dellin Betances:

11_zack_catching_ball9102

That was also a Futures Game ball, and I handed it to this kid:

12_zack_giving_ball9102_to_a_young_fan_07_11_16

As it got more crowded, it seemed there were half a dozen arms/gloves reaching for every ball:

13_fans_reaching_for_balls_07_11_16

My third ball was thrown by Marco Estrada. It was another Futures Game ball, and I’m sorry to say this, but I was kind of annoyed. Poor me . . . I know. But seriously, I wanted a Home Run Derby ball, and I was hoping to get one during BP so that I wouldn’t feel extra pressure to catch one during the Derby itself.

Here’s Zach Britton throwing me my fourth ball of the day:

14_zach_britton_throwing_ball9104

That ball and the one I got right after from Aaron Sanchez were both All-Star Game balls! Check it out:

15_all_star_game_balls_07_11_16

My sixth ball was tossed by a player’s kid — not sure who. And guess what? It was another All-Star Game ball.

That’s when the National League started taking BP:

16_view_from_left_center_field_07_11_16

Here’s what it looked like on my right:

17_front_row_crowded_07_11_16

My seventh ball — another of the All-Star Game variety — was thrown by a guy with “MACKAY” on his jersey:

18_hipolito_and_mackay

Does anyone know who that is?

Meanwhile, where were the Home Run Derby balls? Those are usually the easiest ones to get at these midsummer events, and All-Star balls are the toughest. Last year in Cincinnati, there were no All-Star balls during BP, and as a result, I never got one. The same thing happened at the 2007 All-Star Game in San Francisco, and I’m still bummed about it.

Even though Todd Frazier plays in the American League, his kid was roaming the outfield during National League BP, and he threw me my next two balls. Those were both All-Star balls, and I gave them both away.

Toward the end of BP, Clayton Kershaw walked over to say hello to someone, so I reached out for a fist-bump:

19_clayton_kershaw_walking_over

He delivered:

20_zack_getting_a_fist_bump_from_clayton_kershaw

As he walked past, he looked up at me . . .

21_clayton_kershaw_recognizing_zack

. . . and then said, “Hey, you’re the guy that gets all the balls.”

(His voice is a bit faint in the video, but you can definitely hear him if you pay close attention.)

“That’s me!” I replied, resisting the urge to thank him for the three balls he’d thrown to me over the years.

That was the end of our exchange — short and sweet.

There were lots and lots and lots of Cubs players in San Diego. Here they are posing with Harold Reynolds:

22_harold_reynolds_posing_with_cubs

In the photo above, from left to right, the Cubs are Kris Bryant, Jake Arrieta, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Jon Lester, and Dexter Fowler.

Here’s Zobrist tossing me my 10th and final ball of BP:

23_ben_zobrist_tossing_ball9110

That was another All-Star ball, and I handed it to the littlest kid behind me:

24_zack_giving_ball9110_to_a_kid

After BP, I wandered through the center field concourse . . .

25_center_field_concourse_07_11_16

. . . and ended up here:

26_zack_and_budweiser_ladies

I grabbed some food and ate while Fall Out Boy performed two songs. This was my view from the “Park at the Park” in deeeeeeep right-center field:

27_concert_from_deep_center_field

Just before the Derby got underway, I stopped by a merchandise tent and bought an All-Star Game t-shirt (which cost so much that I’m truly ashamed of myself). You’ll see the shirt in my next entry/video, so for now, I just want to show a minor goof in the tent’s display case. See if you can spot it:

28_selig_ball_on_display_two_years_after_manfred_took_over

Post your answers and guesses in the comments section. I’ll reveal it there if no one gets it right.

Here’s the spot that I picked for the Derby:

29_view_from_the_second_deck_07_11_16

It would’ve been nice to have more space, but then again, it would’ve been nice if that staircase had stayed empty. Here’s what the section looked like on my left:

30_view_from_the_second_deck_07_11_16

Before long, the staircase was packed:

31_crowded_staircase_during_derby_07_11_16

I truly had no room to maneuver, so I knew fairly early that I didn’t have a great shot at catching a home run. The good news, however, was that five of the eight participants were right-handed, and after the first round, all three of the lefties were eliminated.

The MLB Network had an entire suite/balcony on my right. How many people can you identify in the following photo?

32_mlb_network_bigwigs_on_my_right

Giancarlo Stanton put on an absolute display during the Derby, but everyone was launching baseballs all around me. I kept coming close, but just didn’t have luck on my side. My videographer (not Brandon — a different friend named Jeff) did a great job of capturing the action and the excitement of being right in the thick of it. Here are four screen shots of fans holding up baseballs:

33_fans_snagging_home_run_derby_balls

In the four-part image above, did you notice me on the lower right? I was sooooo close to that ball, and look at it! It was one of those new crimson balls:

34_guy_with_purple_home_run_ball

You know who else nearly caught a home run? Charlie Sheen. Here he is enjoying the attention from the crowd down below:

35_charlie_sheen_in_the_house

Stanton and Mark Trumbo hit some COLOSSAL home runs that sailed completely over the seating area of the 2nd deck and landed in a packed standing-room section up above. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but even in the back half of the 2nd deck, I was positioned too shallow. One of Stanton’s shots was estimated at 497 feet; one of Trumbo’s hit the jumbotron!

The final round featured Stanton versus Todd Frazier. This was my view:

36_view_from_middle_of_the_section

Jeff took a photo of me from below as I joked with a guy about who had the better angle to reach for a ball:

37_zack_joking_with_fans

Here’s a screen shot of me buried in the crowd:

38_zack_buried_in_the_crowd

There really wasn’t any other place worth hanging out — at least not where I was allowed to go.

And that was it.

39_zack_bummed_after_derby

Stanton won the whole thing with grand total of 61 home runs! It was an epic performance. Simply being there was exciting, and of course I was glad to have snagged a bunch of commemorative BP balls, but I couldn’t help feeling bummed about not catching anything during the Derby. I feel like I did everything right. I picked a good spot in the best section. I just didn’t have much range, and like I said, I didn’t have good luck. It happens.

Here are the six balls I kept:

40_the_six_balls_i_kept_07_11_16

Time for me to start thinking about the 2017 Home Run Derby in Miami, but in the meantime, here’s the video from this one. Enjoy!

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 10 baseballs at this game (six pictured here because I gave four away)

 477 balls in 58 games this season = 8.22 balls per game.

156 balls in 15 lifetime games at PETCO Park = 10.4 balls per game.

 39 balls in six lifetime Home Run Derbies = 6.5 balls per game.

1,224 consecutive games with at least one ball

 84 different commemorative balls

 9,110 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 14 donors for my fundraiser

• $123.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $618.85 raised this season

• $191,122.51 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Behind the scenes at Yankee Stadium

People often ask what I got in exchange for snagging and returning Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th hit. You can find the full answer on the FAQ page on my website, but basically, this behind-the-scenes tour was part of the package. It wasn’t the Yankees’ idea. I specifically asked for it, and I waited 13 months to actually do it.

Here’s what it looked like outside the stadium at 2:30pm:

1_panorama_outside_yankee_stadium_08_02_16

The Yankees were “on the road” at Citi Field, so things were fairly peaceful here.

I headed over to the fancy lobby at Gate 2:

2_lobby_at_gate_2_08_02_16

That’s where I met Eddie Fastook, the Executive Director of Team Security. Remember him from this photo last season? He’s the main guy I dealt with on the night I snagged the ball.

As we got started together on this one-on-one tour, he told me we were going to visit several places where I wouldn’t be allowed to take photos. That was a bummer, but hey, he makes the rules, and I was excited just to be here.

We took an elevator down to the “000” level. That’s the area below the stands where fans basically never get to go. Here’s a photo of it that I took last year. We jumped into a golf-cart type of vehicle and headed up a ramp to the spot where the team buses pull in. As you can see, that area was being power-washed:

3_powerwashing_bus_entrance

One of the Yankees’ buses (soon to be departing for Citi Field) was waiting right behind us:

4_bus_ready_to_go

Then we drove here:

5_behind_the_center_field_wall_08_02_16

I got out and took a few photos from the warning track:

6_view_from_warning_track

I thought of my 17-year-old self on the field at Angel Stadium and wished the younger me could’ve somehow been here with the current me.

Our next stop was the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center field:

7_panorama_yankees_bullpen

That was pretty sweet, but it was nothing compared to what I saw next. Eddie drove us back through the concourse, and we stopped outside the Yankees’ clubhouse! I’d never been in there before, and evidently the Yankees no longer allow fans to see it on official/group tours. I wasn’t allowed to take photo of the entrance, but basically, it was a hallway with oil paintings of celebratory moments from recently history, such as players running toward the mound to jump on top of each other after winning the World Series. There were probably a dozen of these paintings, none bigger than about three feet tall, and on the right, there was an open doorway to one-person office.

Before long, we ended up here:

8_famous_clubhouse_sign_with_joe_dimaggio_quote

For those of you who aren’t too familiar with Yankees lore, that’s a very very very VERY very famous quote on the dark blue sign.

Did you notice the stairs in the previous photo? Here’s where they led:

9_eddie_leading_me_to_batting_cage_area

That’s Eddie walking ahead of me. When I caught up with him and looked to my left, I saw the Yankees’ batting cages:

10_yankees_batting_cages

I asked if I could take some cuts. The answer was no, only because of “liability” issues. What a pain. I don’t blame Eddie or the Yankees for that. That’s just the world being dumb. All I could think was, “I PLAYED COLLEGE BASEBALL, AND I’M STILL IN GREAT SHAPE, AND I’M NOT GONNA GET HURT, AND I WON’T SUE THE YANKEES, OKAY? SO JUST LET ME HIT!!!” But anyway . . .

When facing the cages and then looking to my left, here’s what I saw:

11_bats_and_batting_gloves

Here’s a close-up of the bats:

12_bats_closeup

Turning to the left again (so that I was facing away from the cages), here’s what I saw:

13_doorway_to_dugout

Those doors lead right to the dugout, so basically, when a DH needs to get loose before his at-bats (or anyone wants to take a few swings for any reason), he can do it easily. And when it rains and the tarp is on the field and I’m cursing the universe for the lack of BP . . . there *is* BP. It just takes place here where fans can’t see it.

Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take pics of the video room, but I did get to take a peek inside. It’s located close enough to the dugout that when a certain door is left open, the coaches can shout and ask about a close play without having to call. (This would be done for instant replay/challenge purposes.)

The room itself is probably only 10 feet wide and 20 feet long — kind of a sleek but ordinary conference room with no windows, several computers, and a bunch of big TVs. Eddie told me that the players know how to use all that stuff, so without having to ask for help, they’ll often go down in there right after they’ve batted and study replays from every imaginable angle to see what they did right or wrong.

The next stop was the dugout:

14_inside_the_yankees_dugout

Eddie had to go deal with something else for about 10 minutes, so he left me there all alone. That was fun. He told me I could step out onto the warning track, but asked me not to stray too far or walk on the grass. Obviously I honored his request. It was just nice that he trusted me.

Here’s a panorama from the top step of the dugout:

15_panorama_from_yankees_dugout

Here’s a selfie:

16_zack_in_the_yankees_dugout

I filmed for a couple of minutes, thinking I’d post it later on YouTube, but eh. I don’t want to post stuff just for the sake of posting stuff. I’d rather upload videos less frequently and have them all be amazing. Maybe that’ll change someday if the demand for my videos increases a whole lot.

The bat/helmet racks were empty:

17_empty_bat_and_helmet_racks

Did you notice that one thing on the bulletin board? Here’s a closer look:

18_dugout_bench_field_rules

That’s, uhh . . . pretty strict and specific. And it should be.

Here’s the last photo I took before Eddie came and got me:

19_view_from_the_yankees_bench

Our next stop was the locker room. I wasn’t allowed to take photos, so once again, I’ll do my best to describe it. (There aren’t many photos of it online. Here’s a teeny one that’ll give you an idea of what it looks like.) The room, roughly 40 feet wide and 80 feet long, was shaped like a puffed-out rectangle, with lockers lining the curved edges on both sides. Of course the lockers aren’t really “lockers” in the traditional sense. They’re about four feet wide and made of wood, and they have shelves and cabinet doors and a tall empty space for clothes on hangers. There’s only one little portion in each locker that actually locks, but the place is guarded 24 hours a day and also monitored with cameras, so even though most of the players’ stuff is out in the open, no one is going to mess with anything. There are big TVs mounted high up near the ceiling above a huge “NY” logo on the carpeting in the center. Eddie told me that some of the players are so superstitious that they won’t ever step on the white portion of that lettering. (Gimme a break with that hocus-pocus.) The famous facade of the upper deck has been recreated in miniature form in the locker room, lining both walls above the lockers and highlighted with snazzy, rich blue lighting.

Eddie and I were standing near a small fridge with bottled waters. He offered one to me, and he drank one too as we talked about various stuff — mostly how the players and media interact. We had walked in though the front portion of the room, which is the only place that the media can enter. At far end of the room, there’s a sign that says something like, “No media beyond this point.” While all players are required to be available for the media (anywhere from 50 to 125 reporters on a normal day), the veterans prefer to have their lockers near the back so that they can easily duck into the off-limits area if they need some time to themselves. I heard that Mariano Rivera used to have the locker just past the midpoint of the room on the left side, where there happens to be an elevator-sized concrete pillar that shielded him. Oh, and on night games, the media is allowed in there from 3:20 to 4:20pm. After the game, they have to wait 10 minutes, and then they get to be in there again for another hour. Eddie told me that Rogers Centre has one of the biggest lockers rooms; Wrigley and Fenway, not surprisingly, have the smallest. The Fenway locker room, I was told, has exposed pipes all over the place along with dripping water. And it smells bad. Maybe THAT’S the curse of the Bambino.

Speaking of old Yankee greats, in a hallway just outside the locker room, there’s a large portion of navy blue/padded wall with an “NY” logo in the middle. Many players have signed the wall with silver markers — like, probably 150 or so — and only the Hall of Famers get to sign it in the middle near the logo. Derek Jeter has already signed it just to the left of the logo, so if he ever happens to get inducted, he’ll be invited to sign it again in the center. Players like Goose Gossage and Oscar Gamble have signed that wall, along with guys like Scott Kamieniecki and Kevin Maas. It’s a pretty cool slice of Yankees history.

The final stop on the tour was the weight room — maybe 30 feet wide and 50 feet long? I don’t know. I wasn’t taking mental notes. I could be way off, so let’s put it this way: it was bigger and nicer than any fitness room I’ve ever seen in a hotel. There were treadmills and various machines along with free weights in every possible increment. The most interesting thing was a TV mounted high on the wall that listed the names of a bunch of pitchers along with different exercises and dates. Other than that, it was just an ordinary (though nice) weight room. Of course I was still fascinated because it was the Yankees’ weight room.

That’s it! The whole tour lasted a little more than an hour. Many thanks to Eddie for showing me around and continuing to be so nice.

6/27/16 at Yankee Stadium

QUESTION: What happens when there’s a three-and-a-half-hour rain delay in the 9th inning on a weeknight . . . and THEN the game continues?

ANSWER: Read this blog entry.

I know this is supposed to be the place where I talk about my balls, but for once, I don’t want to dwell on that. I’ll tell you quickly that I snagged a dozen during the Yankees’ portion of batting practice — some in right field and others in left — including an Easter egg 15 minutes after the gates opened. It was one of those days. Everything was going right, and I didn’t bother taking any photos until the Rangers were hitting. Even then, I only took two during BP. This was my view from right field . . .

1_view_from_right_field_during_bp_06_27_16

. . . and here’s what the seats/crowd looked like on my right:

2_semi_crowded_seats_on_my_right

During the Rangers’ portion of BP, I snagged six more baseballs, including a pair of Prince Fielder homers in the right field bleachers. That brought my total for the day to 18, which might sound incredible, and okay, yes, it was pretty damn fun, but (a) I still wasn’t close to breaking my one-game record of 36, and (b) I had much more fun later on.

During the game, an older friend of mine came over to say hello and showed me that he, too, had a Wilson A2000 glove:

3_wilson_a2000_old_and_new

A bit later, I noticed a fantastic cup holder fail:

4_cup_holder_fail

These are the things I like to photograph — no disrespect to folks who lug fancy camera equipment and get scintillating action shots, but I’m more interested in the wacky and bizarre.

That said, here’s when it began to unfold:

5_here_comes_the_tarp

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see (in blurry yellow numbers on the facade of the upper deck) that it was 10:41pm. Why wasn’t the game over by then? Couldn’t this massive rain delay have been avoided altogether?

Uhh, yeah, it was totally unnecessary for two reasons:

1) The game was delayed for 21 minutes at the start by the threat of rain. Everyone was sitting around waiting and wondering, “WTF?”

2) After it HAD been raining steadily for quite some time, Aroldis Chapman walked the leadoff batter in the top of the 9th inning. The Yankees were clinging to a 6-5 lead, so manager Joe Girardi came out and talked to the umps, and whaddaya know? THAT’S when the game was finally delayed — such coincidental timing! Yankee fans defended Girardi and the umpires, arguing that it had to be delayed at that point because it was too wet and Chapman couldn’t grip the balls and someone could’ve gotten hurt and blah blah. Rangers fans thought it was total B.S., arguing that Girardi clearly hoped the game would never resume, thereby giving his team a cheap win.

This reminds me of a story from sleep-away camp when I was 12. There was a big tennis tournament, and I ended up in the finals against this snotty, hot-shot kid, who had teased me mercilessly all summer. He also happened to be the son of a famous sportscaster and, admittedly, was a more polished tennis player than me. Somehow I had a narrow lead late in the match, and guess what this kid did? He complained that it was too windy and tried to get the match postponed. I was like, “It’s windy on my side of the court too, bruh,” so we kept playing, and I won, and he cried, and it was the greatest moment of my young life. In fact, now that I’m thinking about it all these years later, it’s still one of the greatest moments. I hope he quit playing tennis as a result and still cries about it.

So yeah. While it WAS raining pretty hard in the top of the 9th inning, it wasn’t raining noticeably harder than it had been in, oh, let’s say . . . the bottom of the 8th.

I have no idea what Girardi said to the umps, or what it was like to be out there on that wet, squishy field, so I can only say that from my limited perspective as an outsider, it seemed strange for the game to be delayed at THAT moment, just as the Rangers had a hint of momentum.

Fast-forward to 11pm. It was still raining, and the radar looked bleak, but no official announcement had been made about the game. Naturally, most fans had left by that point, but I had decided to stick around.

I needed food, but there was only one concession stand open (Nathan’s), and there were only two options remaining: hot dogs and chicken tenders. Here’s what I picked:

6_chicken_tenders_because_there_wasnt_much_else_available

I wish that Sweetgreen, Fresh & Co., and Chopt would all open up concession stands at Yankee Stadium, and while we’re at it, Peacefood Cafe too.

This was my view as I ate:

7_tarp_covering_the_infield

Fast-forward again, this time to midnight. There STILL hadn’t been any announcement about the status of the game, but obviously there was a chance that it would resume. Otherwise the Yankees would’ve cut their losses on any remaining food at Nathan’s and kicked everyone out — and it wouldn’t have taken long. Look how empty the seats were at that point:

8_smattering_of_fans

I’m sure there were a bunch of people chillin’ in various clubs (Legends, Champions, Audi, Delta, etc.), but based on what I actually saw, I was practically drooling at the idea of how much fun I’d have if/when the game resumed. Until then, I decided to wander and take photos.

It was 12:24am when I made it to the left field seats:

9_no_one_in_left_field

It had stopped raining at that point, and the radar looked decent, but there were no groundskeepers in sight. They must’ve known something or maybe Girardi had locked them all in his office.

There was no one in the center field concourse:

10_center_field_concourse_empty

To further prove it, here’s what it looked like on my right:

11_center_field_concourse_empty

By 12:35am, it started drizzling again. Evidently that was more water than the tunnel in right-center field could handle:

12_wet_tunnel_in_right_field

There was one other fan in the right field concourse:

13_one_other_fan_in_the_outfield

I’m not sure what he was looking at — the beer menu? I guess he didn’t know that Nathan’s was the only game in town.

Here’s the Yankees’ bullpen:

14_no_one_in_the_bullpen

The right field seats were empty too, of course:

15_no_one_in_right_field

By 12:43am, the drizzle had turned into a steady rain, and guess what? I didn’t have an umbrella! I’d gotten completely soaked during the game — shoes, pants, shirt, and cap. My backpack was also horribly soggy. I had tried to fight the water for an inning or two but ended up accepting my fate, so the fact that I was now getting rained on once again didn’t matter. In fact I enjoyed being the only person/idiot walking through the seats.

The warning track was going to need to some serious help:

16_view_from_the_right_field_corner_06_27_16

These garlic fries weren’t in much better shape:

17_garlic_fries_and_watery_ketchup

A few minutes later, it began raining hard. These guys didn’t have umbrellas either:

18_police_officers_getting_rained_on

On a scale of FML to WHATEVER, how do you think this cop was feeling?

19_police_officer_getting_rained_on

At 12:50am, I heard someone yelling at me as I headed closer to the infield. It was a security guard in the concourse. He waved me up the steps and told me that I wasn’t allowed to walk through the seats.

Yes, really.

I wasn’t trying to go down into the Legends area. I was just walking through the normal seats. An hour earlier, I had actually been told by a supervisor on the 3rd base side that for the rest of the night, fans could sit anywhere in the 100 Level, but for some reason, the guard on the 1st base side felt the need to be all guard-y. He told me that if I wanted to enter another section, I had to walk though the concourse and then head down the steps.

By the way, here’s what it looked like from the concourse:

20_view_from_1st_base_concourse

This was the scene at 1:16am:

21_panorama_from_the_3rd_base_side

The rain delay had started more than two and a half hours earlier, and the Yankees still hadn’t made any announcements about it. What’s up with that? If they didn’t know anything, it would have been nice for them to say so, but then again, I was gonna stay regardless, so it really didn’t matter.

At 1:37am, after the rain had once again tapered off, the grounds crew (and umpire crew) walked out onto the field:

22_grounds_crew_finally_coming_back_out

I nearly danced a frickin’ jig when I saw them starting to remove the tarp:

23_grounds_crew_removing_the_tarp_06_27_16

Jon Daniels and Brian Cashman (the GMs of the Rangers and Yankees) met in foul territory to discuss the situation:

24_jon_daniels_and_brian_cashman

While the grounds crew worked to get the field ready, I caught up with Prince Fielder’s son Haven:

25_haven_fielder_and_zack

Haven and I have gotten to know each other over the past couple of seasons. Whenever I see him out on the field shagging baseballs during BP, he hooks me up, and when I saw him during this rain delay, he told me that he’s been watching my YouTube videos. What a fine young man! I hope he makes it to the major leagues someday.

I also spent some time with Prince’s wife, Chanel:

26_zack_and_chanel_fielder

She and I go way back to the 2015 All-Star Game. Do you remember this photo of us?

At 2:04am, the Yankees began playing catch in front of their dugout:

27_yankees_players_warming_up_at_204am

Starlin Castro ended up throwing me his warm-up ball, and several minutes later, just before the game finally resumed, right-fielder Aaron Hicks threw me HIS warm-up ball. There was literally no competition; I was the only person who asked him for it. That was my 20th ball of the day, and by the way, I’d already given away 12 of them to kids. (“Hey, d-bag, why do you need to point out how many balls you give away?! You should give them ALL away!”) (Anyway . . . )

Here’s what it looked like in right field during the top of the 9th inning:

28_no_one_in_right_field

OH. EM. GEE.

I wanted the Rangers to score one run and tie the game, and then I wanted it to last forever.

Kirby Yates was now pitching, if you can call it that. He struck out Shin-Soo Choo but then hit the next two batters to load the bases. That’s when I took the following photo:

29_view_from_foul_territory_06_27_16

I had moved into foul territory because Adrian Beltre had stepped to the plate. I had so much room to cover that I hardly knew what to do with myself. I figured I’d stand in foul territory for the righties in case they sliced a foul ball, and I’d run back out to right field and play straight-away for the lefties.

As it turned out, one of the righties did hit a foul ball to the 1st base side, but wouldn’t you know it — it landed all the way at the back of the 100 Level, right near a couple of fans who barely had to move. I ran three full sections for it, just because I could, but I knew I had no chance.

After falling behind in the count 0-2, Beltre ripped a line-drive single to left field, scoring two runs and putting the Rangers on top, 7-6. It was a stunning turn of events, punctuated by distant yet distinct cheering from the few remaining Rangers fans and family members.

Being in an empty stadium is a heckler’s dream. I had no desire to harass the players, but I couldn’t resist the urge to say SOMEthing, so when Prince Fielder was digging into the batters box, I decided to talk to Aaron Hicks. In a normal voice, I said, “Aaron, this is a very special moment for the two of us — alone together out here in right field.”

Heh.

I know he heard me. I just hope he was at least two percent amused. What would YOU have said to him? Or to anyone? It was so weird — totally surreal and peaceful, which are words not typically associated with Yankee Stadium. I was having THE BEST TIME, but now of course I wanted the Rangers to make two quick outs and for the Yankees to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th. Unfortunately Fielder was hit by a pitch to reload the bases, and Elvis Andrus hit a two-out, two-run single to increase the Rangers’ lead to 9-6.

Wow. But hey, that would just make it even more exciting when I caught a walk-off grand slam, right? That’s how I was looking at it.

Here’s what it looked like when Starlin Castro led off the bottom of the 9th:

30_camera_man_and_empty_right_field_seats

He ended up hitting a weak grounder to the shortstop and barely beating it out at 1st base — or did he? The ump called him safe, and the Rangers challenged because that’s what everyone needed at that moment: another reason for the game to be delayed. That’s when I realized I should film something for YouTube, so here you go. CLICK HERE to see a little selfie-style slice of life from Yankee Stadium at 2:38am.

Castro was ruled safe (woo-hoo!) and advanced to 2nd base on a groundout by Didi Gregorius. Chase Headley followed with a walk, bringing the tying run to the plate!

That’s when I took this photo of the right field bleachers:

31_right_field_bleachers_empty_06_27_16

I couldn’t actually see into the bleachers from down below; I had to reach my phone up high in order to get that shot.

My new BFF Aaron Hicks grounded into a fielder’s choice, so now there were runners on the corners for Jacoby Ellsbury. Can you imagine how insane it would’ve been if he’d hit a home run to right field? I was so ready for it, but instead he lined out to left field to end the game.

Womp-womp.

Here are the last two members of the Rangers’ bullpen walking across the field:

32_final_score

Part of me was disappointed that my moment of baseball bliss had ended so quickly. The other part of me was ecstatic that I’d gotten to experience it at all. Prior to this, the smallest crowd I’d ever had the pleasure of being part of was on June 3, 2002 at Coors Field. The Rockies were getting blown out, and there was a two-hour rain delay around the 7th inning. This is what it looked like when that game resumed. That was pretty good but nothing compared to this ridiculous night in the Bronx.

Even the streets were empty . . .

33_empty_street_after_the_game

. . . and for once, on my way to the subway, I wasn’t forced to inhale second-hand cigarette smoke.

Wait a minute, did I say subway? How about no. When I made it to the corner and saw a bunch of taxis waiting there, I treated myself to a quick and comfortable ride home — best $20 I’ve ever spent.

The next day, I was featured on the Gothamist website, and later on, when I made it back to the stadium, I heard something funny from a bunch of security guards. During the long rain delay, a call had gone out over the radio system about a fan who was wandering all by himself in the outfield seats. The guards knew it was me, and they were amused. I wasn’t in trouble. Security was keeping an eye on me, as they would have done with anybody in that situation, just because.

Thank you, Joe Girardi and Mother Nature, for an unforgettable night!

6/17/16 at Dodger Stadium

I had two big goals for this day at Dodger Stadium. Most importantly, I wanted to make a better YouTube video than the one I did here in 2012, and second, I wanted to snag at least 10 baseballs. I always hope to hit double digits, but on this particular occasion, I started the day with 90 lifetime balls at this stadium, so I was hoping to reach 100. I suppose that’s one of my longterm goals — to reach triple digits at every current stadium.

I got inside early with some friends who are season ticket holders and headed down near the left field foul pole:

1_zack_near_the_foul_pole_06_17_16

Did you notice all the players standing around in left field? Batting practice hadn’t started yet. That’s how early it was. Every day at Dodger Stadium, season ticket holders get inside THREE HOURS before game time. That’s just not fair. I mean, good for them (and for the Dodgers for being so fan-friendly), but it just makes me hate New York.

There wasn’t much action at first. I tried unsuccessfully to get a toss-up, and then Joc Pederson ignored my request to sign my 9,000th ball (which he had hit during BP four days earlier at Chase Field). Oh well. I’ll get him someday. Maybe. Possibly. Or not? No? Well, who needs him anyway!

After BP finally got underway, I snagged my first ball by running quite a distance through an empty row. Here I am taking off for it:

2_zack_running_for_ball9021

Look closely at the following screen shot, and you’ll see the ball rattling around in my row:

3_zack_running_for_ball9021

And then?
More dead time.

For the first hour, fans were confined to the left field side, which wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fact that the entire first group of Dodgers BP consisted of left-handed batters. Chase Utley? Adrian Gonzalez? I think they were hitting, along with Pederson and Corey Seager.

My videographer, Brandon Sloter, got a shot of Clayton Kershaw in the bullpen:

4_clayton_kershaw_bullpen_session

I moved back to the left field corner and waited. This was my view:

5_view_from_the_left_field_corner

Brandon rejoined me for the next group and got a decent shot of my second ball — a home run by Justin Turner. Here’s a four-part photo that shows how I got it:

6_zack_snagging_ball9022

Let me provide some commentary:

1) As soon as the ball was hit, I climbed back over a row and started moving into fair territory.

2) I took a quick peek at the ball, but didn’t need to keep looking at it. I knew where it was going to land, so I focused on getting to that spot as quickly as possible.

3) It looks like I was about to glove it, but in fact the ball was just beyond my reach, so I accidentally swatted it deeper into the section.

4) I climbed back over a couple of rows and grabbed it. Phew! Note the clock. It was still more than two and a half hours until game time.

A few minutes later, I had what should’ve been an easy, uncontested chance to snag another ball. Look where it landed:

7_ball_landing_near_me_in_a_totally_empty_spot

As you can see, there was no one else near it. All I was gonna have to do was scoot through that glorious cross-aisle and pick it up. Maybe walk up a couple of steps? Gosh, what a challenge, right? Well, actually . . . yeah. The ball took a RIDICULOUS deflection and landed one full section behind me. Here I am watching it and realizing that I needed to change directions:

8_zack_watching_unlucky_ricochet

Look where it landed:

9_ball_landing_near_another_fan

It plunked down right in the row where that kid happened to be chillin’. Bad luck for me meant good luck for him, so it really wasn’t that bad after all. I just think it’s interesting to have footage of an extremely unlucky bounce; ballhawks complain about stuff like that all time, so even though I didn’t end up getting the ball, it’s fun to actually have video evidence.

Here I am (one sneaker in the air) reaching for a ground ball:

10_zack_reaching_over_wall_06_17_16

I barely missed it. So many close calls.

For the Dodgers’ final group of BP, I moved to the left field pavilion. Here’s what it looked like from where Brandon was standing in the front row:

11_view_from_left_field_pavilion_06_17_16

I wasn’t up there with him. Instead I was camped out on a staircase down below:

12_zack_on_a_staircase_down_below

There are far more opportunities *in* the bleachers than down below (or down the foul lines), but I picked that spot because it’s different. It’s fun to scamper around in a mostly dead area directly behind an outfield wall. How many other stadiums are set up like that? The outfield configuration at the Oakland Coliseum used to resemble that, but now there’s nothing else like it in the majors.

My staircase strategy paid off when a right-handed batter (not sure who) barely cleared the wall with a ground-rule double. Here I am chasing it down:

13_zack_running_for_ball9023

Back on the staircase, I handed the ball to the nearest/smallest kid:

14_zack_giving_ball9023_to_a_kid

That was one of five balls I gave away over the course of the day.

When the entire stadium opened at 5:10pm, I headed over to the right field pavilion:

15_zack_right_field_pavilion_06_17_16

FYI, that’s the “all-you-can-eat pavilion,” and you need a right field ticket to be there, even during batting practice.

Brewers outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis was throwing a ball against the wall, so I walked over and asked him if he wanted to play catch. Even though I was the only fan out there, I didn’t expect him to do it. He used to play for the Mets, so I’d seen him a lot at Citi Field, and he never seemed to engage with fans during BP. I’m not sure if he was stand-offish or just super-focused on preparing for the games, but in any case, he was like a completely different person here in L.A. Without hesitating, he threw me the ball:

16_zack_playing_catch_with_kirk_nieuwenhuis

Then I threw it back:

17_zack_playing_catch_with_kirk_nieuwenhuis

Usually, when I play catch with guys on the field, they’ll let me make one or two throws and then end it. That wasn’t the case here. Nieuwenhuis and I played catch for three solid minutes, and you’ll see a good chunk of it in the video. He threw curveballs. I threw knuckleballs. And of course there were plenty of four-seamers. It was incredible to have an extended one-on-one interaction with a major league player inside a stadium. That doesn’t happen often.

Nieuwenhuis ultimately let me keep the ball — my fourth of the day — and I got another soon after from Jeremy Jeffress.

Once again, I had several close calls during the Brewers’ portion of BP. Here I am almost catching a deep fly ball behind the wall in right field:

18_zack_close_call_on_a_deep_fly_ball_in_right_field

This was my reaction after it hit the top of the wall:

19_zack_reaction_to_bad_luck

If that ball had sailed two feet farther, it would’ve been an easy catch. And look! The same thing happened to me in left field during the final group of BP:

20_zack_close_call_on_a_deep_fly_ball_in_left_field

I wasn’t feeling good about either pavilion, so I headed briefly to the right field corner:

21_zack_near_the_right_field_corner_06_17_16

That spot turned out to be dead, so I hurried to the 1st base dugout just before BP ended. I hoped to get a ball from the Brewers when they cleared the field, but they sure didn’t make it easy for me. Look at this:

22_zack_near_dugout_after_bp_06_17_16

When teams finish hitting, they always dump the baseballs from the BP basket into an equipment bag — and they always do it on the warning track. Not today! The Brewers made the basket-to-bag transfer all the way out on the foul line, which meant I didn’t even have a chance to ask for a ball. Life is hard.

Just as I was getting ready to give up on that spot, Darnell Coles, the team’s hitting coach, walked over with two baseballs in his back pocket. He tossed one to a girl on my left and flipped the second one to me:

23_darnell_coles_tossing_ball9026

By the way, in case you’re wondering, he was heading through the seats to talk to someone he knew, who obviously didn’t have a ticket for the ultra-fancy section down in front.

Take another look at the photo of me in the right field corner. See the dude in the red t-shirt? His name is Jason, and we had a nice long chat near the dugout after BP. He lives in southern California and attends lots of games.

Shortly before game time, I got my seventh ball tossed up from the Brewers’ bullpen:

24_zack_catching_ball9027

It came from pitching coach Derek Johnson.

I wandered a bit at the start of the game and eventually made my way to the outfield. Look how crowded it was:

25_so_crowded_during_the_game

Security at Dodger Stadium has changed quite a bit since my previous visit in 2013. It used to be impossible to move around. To get into the left field pavilion, you specifically needed a ticket for that area, and if you had a ticket there, you couldn’t go anywhere else. I used to buy two tickets for every game just so I’d be able to move around. To get into the lower level of the main part of the stadium, you needed a ticket there; you couldn’t even go downstairs from the 2nd deck. The rules were so restrictive that it was nearly suffocating. (Don’t get me started on the parking situation. That still needs an overhaul.)

What’s different now? The Dodgers have expanded the perimeter of the stadium so that there’s a concourse behind the pavilions:

27_wandering_behind_the_bleachers

Anyone with any ticket can walk all the way around the stadium . . . on the inside! If you want to go into the left field pavilion for BP or during the game, no one’s going to stop you, so I headed over there to say hey to my friend Devin Trone:

26_devin_trone_in_left_field_06_17_16

Remember him from Angel Stadium? I’d seen him there just two days earlier. I hoped to say hello to Bobby Crosby (aka “Dodgerfilms“), but he wasn’t there. I did, however, get a chance to catch up with my buddy Benny Amesquita.

One place where you have to show a ticket is the right field pavilion. As I mentioned earlier, that’s the all-you-can-eat area, so obviously it wouldn’t work if anyone could wander in there. Here’s what the main concession stand looks like:

28_all_you_can_eat_concession_stand

Here’s the soft-drink area right around the corner:

29_all_you_can_eat_soft_drinks

As someone who pretty much *only* drinks water, I was happy to see these . . .

30_empty_water_jugs

. . . but by the middle innings, most of them were empty. <WARNING — RANT COMING.> I tell ya, water drinkers get shafted. Why is it that the cheapest and most common liquid on the planet is often unavailable? I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been at picnics or luncheons, and EVERY other drink is available except for water. In one cooler, there’ll be six different kinds of beer. In another cooler, there’ll be Coke, Pepsi, Gatorade, and juice — maybe even chocolate milk for the kids — but no effin’ water! Why is it perceived as being weird to want to drink water? Open bar? Great! Give me a glass of ice water, please, and for the love of Abzu, don’t put any lemon in it! If I wanted lemonade, I’d order it. Just give me some plain-ass water, okay? I don’t need the sugar or the calories. My taste buds are mature enough not to need additional stimulation between bites. JUST. GIVE. ME. WATER. All you people out there who offer to buy me beers at games, thanks, you’re awesome and generous, but I’d rather drink water. Always. Do you hear that, Dodgers? I want to drink water. H2O. And yes, I’m aware that the soft drink machines provide water, but when I use those, the water comes out of the same spout that gets used for other stuff. I don’t want random soda molecules tainting my water. Does that make sense? This is a very serious and troubling issue. Replacing those water jugs should be your top priority — right up there with making sure that the bathrooms have toilet paper and that the home plate umpire has baseballs to put in play. Thanks for your cooperation. <END RANT.>

Here’s what I ate and drank:

31_food_from_the_all_you_can_eat_pavilion

In addition to the two hot dogs, I got nachos and cheese, peanuts, popcorn, and of course a cup of water . . . with Coca Cola logos on the side.

The all-you-can-eat pavilion should be called the “all-you-can-bear-to-eat-before-you-hate-yourself pavilion.” It’s not exactly high-quality fare, but I suppose it’s a worthwhile one-time experience.

Around the 7th inning, I exited the pavilion in search of ice cream. Heh. If I’m gonna have sugar, I’d rather make it count.

Check out this new/huge/snazzy concession area:

32_new_concession_area_at_dodger_stadium

There was no ice cream there, so I had to walk all the way into foul territory to get some, but you know what? I was happy just to be allowed to walk into foul territory without showing my ticket. Accessibility, baby! That’s what up.

Look at this beautiful dessert:

33_chocolate_ice_cream_06_17_16

Mm-hmm, yessir!

Here’s another nice thing about Dodger Stadium that I don’t recall seeing in the past:

34_seats_overlooking_the_bullpen

Those seats behind the bullpen are open to everyone. You don’t need to show a ticket to be there. Just show up and grab an open spot. Outstanding.

You know what really sucked? Leaving the stadium in the 9th inning with the score tied, 2-2, because I had a flight to catch back home to New York City. Here’s what the stadium looked like as I headed toward the edge of the parking lot with Brandon:

35_stadium_from_afar_game_still_going

We listened to the game on the way to the airport. Justin Turner won it with an RBI single in the bottom of the 10th.

As for my two goals that I mentioned at the top, I fell short of double digits, but I can live with that. It just means I’ll have to come back soon and snag my 100th lifetime Dodger Stadium ball. The video, however, is another story. Brandon is still working on it, so who knows how it’ll turn out? (My prediction: great!) Subscribe to my YouTube channel, and you’ll get an alert when I post it. I’ll also add a link here, so stay tuned.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

36_the_two_baseballs_i_kept_06_17_16 7 baseballs at this game (two pictured here because I gave five away)

 394 balls in 48 games this season = 8.21 balls per game.

• 97 balls in 12 lifetime games at Dodger Stadium = 8.08 balls per game.

1,214 consecutive games with at least one ball

 9,027 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 14 donors for my fundraiser

• $123.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $618.85 raised this season

• $191,122.51 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009