8/1/15 at Citi Field

Do you remember an event called BallhawkFest that took place for the first time on 7/23/11 at Camden Yards? Two years later, I attended BallhawkFest on 8/3/13 at Citizens Bank Park and had quite an eventful day. That’s when I had a black eye at the start, caught a John Mayberry homer in the 2nd inning, and later got hassled/ejected by stadium security.) Thankfully there was no drama at BallhawkFest in 2015. Take a look at the following photo and you’ll see what I mean:

1_ballhawks_huddling_on_the_field

See? No drama whatsoever.

All of the guys pictured above are members of a ballhawking website called MyGameBalls.com. The man in the white t-shirt is named Alan Schuster. He created that site and organized BallhawkFest. In the photo above, he was going over the procedures for our own Home Run Derby.

I spent most of my time at shortstop and in left field, but here’s a brief look I got from the area behind home plate:

2_leon_feingold_pitching_to_fukumi_kashiwagi

In the photo above, the pitcher (former minor leaguer Leon Feingold) and batter (his girlfriend Fukumi) are not members of MyGameBalls.com, but they’re two of my favorite people in New York City, so I invited them.

Here I am taking some swings:

3_zack_hitting_with_a_painful_ribcage_injury

My excuse for looking stiff at the plate and not hitting for much power is that I had a “strained intercostal muscle” on my right side. (No, really. You have to believe me.) It hurt when I laughed. It hurt when I sneezed. It even hurt when I took a deep breath or rolled over in bed. One week earlier, my ribcage was so painful that I’d gotten X-rays, and ever since then, I’d been icing it several times per day. And now here I was swinging a baseball bat because I’m an idiot. What can I say? I couldn’t resist.

The final round of the Derby featured the massive Mark McConville of Suffern, New York, versus the scrawny-by-comparison Alex Kopp of Baltimore, Maryland — and guess who won? That’s right . . . Alex. And he did it in dramatic, tie-breaking fashion. Mark had tremendous home run power, but given the fact that one point was awarded for each batted ball to reach the “outfield grass” on the fly, Alex managed to poke and slash his way to the top.

Here’s a group photo that we took after the Derby (with everyone’s names and MyGameBalls.com profiles below):

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1) Leon Feingold (holding a big bag of popcorn; that’s how former competitive eaters roll)
2) Tim Anderson (wearing some super-stylish shades)
3) Ryan Feuerstein (wearing flip flops for some reason)
4) Alex Kopp (who deserved to be standing in front after his historic performance)
5) Rick Sporcic  (who generously provided all the baseballs)
6) Greg Barasch (who doesn’t look all that athletic but is dazzlingly smooth)
7) Emilio (the youngest participant without parental supervision)
8) Leon’s friend (whose name I forget, but I do remember that he played in the IBL)
9) Zack Hample (the first person to wear the official BallhawkFest shirt)
10) Alan Schuster (without whom none of this would’ve happened)
11) Mateo Fischer (who now ballhawks at Target Field since going to college in Minnesota)
12) Ben Weil’s friend Sonny (who displayed some good power during an early round of BP)
13) Ben Weil (aka the one and only “Benny Bang Bang”)
14) Mark McConville (whose longballs nearly smashed a few windshields on 11th Avenue)
15) Gabi Josefson (who traveled here with his father, Avi, all the way from Chicago)

Somehow Jacob Resnick (who helped Alan with some organizational stuff) wasn’t in that photo, but you’ll see him in the next group shot, which was taken at a baseball-themed bar/restaurant in Midtown called Foley’s. Here’s what the place looked like on the outside:

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We all felt very welcomed . . .

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. . . thanks to Rick Gold, who knows the owner and met us there for lunch. Here’s our group at a long table in the back:

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Alan was in the process of organizing a drawing for some baseball-related prizes, which had been donated by a Chicago ballhawk named Rick Crowe.

In the photo above, look for the green shirt hanging at the top. See the portion of the wall directly below it? Those are all signed baseballs in that case. There are thousands more displayed elsewhere at Foley’s. It’s pretty damn cool.

We hung out there until about 3pm and then took another group photo:

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That’s Jacob Resnick on the left. Rick Gold is standing behind Ryan, just to the right of Emilio.

After lunch, we walked to the subway at Times Square:

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Here are a bunch of us on the No. 7 train:

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Then we stood around outside Citi Field and waited:

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Some of us had to wait a bit longer than others. That’s because the Mets offer early entry on the weekends to season ticket holders.

Before I headed inside, I got a photo with Gabi who’d brought his copy of my latest book, The Baseball:

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You’d think that being inside a stadium half an hour earlier than most other fans would result in a huge day, but (a) I had to compete with Ben, Greg, Rick Gold, Ryan, and a few other folks and (b) Citi Field is a tough place. My first ball of the day was a homer by a Mets righty that I caught on the fly in left field:

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Then I headed over to right field, which, at Citi Field, to put it lightly, is not a great place to snag baseballs, but hey, every batter in the Mets’ next group was left-handed, so where the hell else was I supposed to go?

Ben was positioned one section to my left . . .

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. . . and his wife, Jen, was standing one section to my right:

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See her there above the Honda logo? If you look very closely at that photo, you’ll notice a ball sitting on the grass below her in the gap behind the outfield wall.

Here’s a photo that she took as I attempted to snag it with my glove trick:

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That was my second ball of the day.

People often ask me if the glove trick is allowed at Citi Field. The answer is murky. It depends on who’s watching. Some guards tell me it’s not allowed while others don’t seem to notice or care — that is, if their bosses haven’t issued an order THAT DAY over their walkie-talkies telling them to stop me. I’m not joking.

My third ball was tossed up from the left field party deck by a guard, and my fourth ball was thrown by Juan Lagares in left field. Then the Nationals came out:

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The following photo doesn’t begin to show how crowded it got:

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I wish I had photos of the packed left field seats at the end of BP, but oops, I forgot. I did manage to snag a couple of home runs out there before it got totally insane — one on a bounce and another off the facade of the second deck. I gave two of my six baseballs to kids.

This was my view during the game:

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Look how crowded it was:

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This game had the second-highest attendance (42,996) in the history of Citi Field!

Good for the Mets.
Good for New York City.
Bad if you’re trying to catch a baseball.

Why was the crowd so huge? Because it was a summer Saturday with perfect weather and there was a fireworks show scheduled after the game. Also, the Mets and Nationals were battling it out for 1st place in the NL East, and Jacob deGrom was pitching.

This was the scoreboard in the 4th inning:

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A pitcher’s duel? UGH!! I was antsy and had too much energy, so I headed to the upper deck. I hadn’t been there for six years, so it was all pretty much new to me. Check out the huge baseball stitches painted onto the open-air concourse behind home plate:

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This was my view from the last row:

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I wandered all over the place for the next hour. I wanted ice cream but didn’t bother because the line was too long. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and then something wonderful happened. I found a ticket for Section 126, so I watched the final inning of the game from a decent spot:

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The Mets had come back to take a one-run lead, and the crowd was *really* into it:

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Mets closer Jeurys Familia retired the side in order in the top of the 9th.

Final score: Mets 3, Nationals 2.

I tried to get a ball from the players walking in from the bullpen . . .

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. . . but it was no use. Losing teams usually aren’t generous.

Ten minutes later, I took a photo of — could it be?!?!

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Oh no, wait . . . it was just fireworks:

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While that was taking place, I rounded up my fellow ballhawks for a group photo:

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Here’s the final “box score” from BallhawkFest, which shows who snagged baseballs and how/when/where they got ’em. Props to Gabi for catching the only game-used ball of the night.

On our way out of the stadium, I tried to pose for a photo that would show the four-digit number on the back of my shirt:

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That number represents my lifetime total of baseballs, or at least what the total was when the t-shirt orders were placed. Do you remember this group photo of everyone’s shirts/numbers from 2011? Or this one from 2013? I wish we’d gotten a similar photo this time, but we just didn’t get around to it.

This next photo should be called “Straight Outta Flushing”:

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That was taken just a half-mile from Citi Field on a cruddy back road near the chop shops. Stupid Alex had left something in Ben’s car (which was parked near that gloomy spot), but rather than meeting him at the subway after he’d retrieved it, the rest of us decided to walk with him. So there we were, hoping not to get lost or die.

On the way, Greg made a snide remark (containing an expletive, of course) about all the stray cats running around, and just then, out of nowhere, a crazy cat lady appeared and defended her furry friends, screaming at us about how they’re homeless and hungry and how we should be helpful and more sensitive. (Greg’s comment, by the way, wasn’t particularly insensitive. He merely asked, “What’s with all these [bleeping] cats?” I thought it was a good, reasonable question, and in fact I had been wondering the same thing.) Her outrage didn’t frighten us or motivate us to join the ASPCA. Instead it made us hysterical — but the funniest moment of the night was yet to come. That took place when all seven of us crammed into Ben’s small-ish car for a ride to the subway. Check it out:

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Here are some of the highlights from the short ride:

TIM: “For the record, this is a hundred percent Alex’s fault.”

GREG: “You and your [bleeping] Bobblehead.”

ZACK: “Mateo, your hair is very soft on my thighs.”

MATEO: “I’m glad.”

ZACK: “This is gonna be funny when we all get out. It’s gonna look like a [clown] car.”

GREG: “How many points [on your license] do you have, Benny? Are you up over a hundred yet?”

TIM: “So basically, he’s gonna go to prison if we get caught.”

ZACK: “Benny, are you the one that told me that you once ate pancakes while you were driving?”

BEN: “I ate soup while I was driving.”

TIM: “Can we not coast next to the cop car?”

ZACK: “We’re about to get rear-ended.”

ALEX: “Mateo’s about to get rear-ended, lemme tell you!”

And so on. I have a four-minute audio recording, and it’s basically the funniest thing ever.

The Citi Field portion of the day was difficult for a number of reasons, but I’m glad we finally did BallhawkFest in New York City. The rest of the day sure was fun.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

33_the_four_balls_i_kept_08_01_15• 6 baseball at this game (four pictured here because I gave two away)

• 485 balls in 68 games this season = 7.13 balls per game.

 1,231 lifetime balls in 166 games at Yankee Stadium = 7.42 balls per game.

• 1,121 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 503 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

8,291 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 22 donors for my fundraiser

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

• $150,626.16 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,479.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/22/15 at Yankee Stadium

People often ask if I’ve ever gotten into a fight for a ball, and until recently, my answer had always been no. Sure, I’d been elbowed and shoved a few times over the years, but it was never serious. Unfortunately that changed during batting practice at this game. After catching a home run in right field during the Yankees’ portion of BP and then going for a toss-up from the Orioles, I was flat-out ASSAULTED — and the worst part of it was that my mom was with me.

Let me start by showing you a photo of my neck, and then I’ll explain what happened:

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Soon after the Orioles started hitting, Miguel Gonzalez retrieved a ball near the warning track and looked up into the crowd for a worthy recipient. The stands were so crowded that I almost didn’t bother going for it, but given the fact that Miguel recognizes me and has been pretty cool to me in recent seasons, I moved down to the front row and called out to him. As soon as he saw me, he smiled and flipped me the ball, but I didn’t catch it because some big guy standing behind me lunged forward aggressively on my right side, reached all the way across my body to the left, and knocked the ball away with his glove, bumping me kinda hard in the process. (This guy was roughly six feet tall and looked like he was about 20 years old.) Miguel picked up the ball and tossed it to me again. It was *clearly* intended for me, but this other guy was on a mission. This time he bumped me even harder 532691067_RRa_BAL_1505and swatted the ball away for a second time. I was really annoyed, but Miguel just seemed to be amused. In a way, I suppose it was kinda funny that this other guy was getting so worked up over a ball, but what happened next was no laughing matter. Miguel retrieved the ball for the third time, and I gave him a target with my glove in a spot where the other guy wouldn’t be able to interfere: far to my left and down below the outfield wall. As soon as I caught it, the guy grabbed me from behind and tried to body-slam me against the seats and the concrete wall down in front. It happened so fast out of nowhere, and I was completely taken by surprise. He was an inch or two taller and probably outweighed me by 30 or 40 pounds, so I did my best to stay on my feet. As we thrashed around, I got scraped on the edge of the wall and got pretty banged up all over, including my face. This deranged man was actually trying to injure me, prompting a zillion thoughts to flash through my mind. Mostly I could not believe that it was happening. The whole thing seemed fake. Rather than trying to separate myself from him, my strategy was to grab/hug him and tuck my head down and try to stay as close to him as possible, therefore preventing him from getting any distance from me so that he couldn’t cock his arm back and punch me with full force. Somehow, after maybe 10 or 20 seconds (which felt like an eternity), it ended. I don’t know how or why. Maybe someone pulled him away from me, or maybe he just stopped when he realized that it’s not cool to attack people for no reason.

It just so happened that the ball was sitting at my feet, so I picked it up and assessed the damage to various parts of my body, all of which were stinging and pulsating. After a moment, someone handed me my hat. Then I looked around for my mom, who thankfully was sitting in the next section behind a wall of people and hadn’t seen any of it. And then I noticed that the guy who’d attacked me was trying to make a quick exit with an older man, presumably his father. They rushed up the stairs, and as a security guard started heading down, they cut across the seats toward the next tunnel. I yelled at the guard to stop them, and sure enough, they were caught.

All the fans around me were like, “What the hell was that guy’s problem?” and “He just attacked you out of nowhere!” People asked if I was okay. Someone pointed out that my neck was bleeding. One guy said I should press charges, and several folks offered to be witnesses on my behalf. I overheard a few people mumbling stuff like, “Oh my god, That’s Zack Hample!” and “That’s the guy who got the A-Rod ball.” The whole thing was a bizarre spectacle, and all I wanted to do was hide in a bathtub full of ice.

More guards arrived along with high-ranking supervisors and a few police officers. The Orioles were in the middle of BP, so I didn’t want to leave the seats, but I had no choice. They led me up to the concourse to get an official statement from me, and once that was done, I was told to wait for the medical staff to examine me. Meanwhile the attacker and his father were standing 15 feet away from me! Why were we all being kept so close together? I didn’t want to look at them, but then I realized that for legal/safety reasons, it would be good for me to have photographs of them. Here they are:

2_the_attacker_and_his_father

As you can see, I’ve blurred/pixelated their faces to hide their identity — for now. I discussed pressing charges with stadium security. They told me that the guy who attacked me is mentally handicapped, and I was like, “So what? Of course he is. No sane person would do something like that,” but in the end I decided not to pursue that course of action. One of the highest-ranking supervisors told me that if I ever see these guys in my section in right field, I should immediately tell security, and they’ll be removed. That’s nice, I guess, although it’s disappointing that they’ll even be allowed back inside the stadium. But then again, if the Yankees banned people for fighting, they’d lose half their fans.

While the attacker stared off into space, his father glared at me as if *I* had done something wrong. I just looked at him and shrugged as if to say, “WTF?”

“He’s just trying to get ball like you or anybody else!” he said in his son’s defense.

Wow.

I vaguely recognized these guys from a handful of games over the past few seasons, and the more I thought about it, it occurred to me that I once had an unpleasant encounter with the father. I’m pretty sure he yelled at me a couple of years ago after I had the nerve to drift near him for a home run during BP. He was like, “You have your spot, and I have mine! Come back over here again, and I’ll put you right on your ass.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

Anyway, several witnesses spoke to security on my behalf. Here’s one of them:

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Here’s the contact info for another:

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One of the guards had scribbled that down in his pad and let me take a photo in case I needed to follow up.

A few minutes later, the medical staff arrived and checked me out. They wanted me to head to the first aid room so they could clean my scrapes and prevent an infection. There were still about 20 minutes left in BP, so I asked if I could come see them again within the hour. They said that was fine but that I shouldn’t wait too much longer than that, so finally I got to head back down into the right field seats. Everyone wanted to talk to me, including the players. Miguel Gonzalez apologized for his unintentional role in the whole thing, and Brian Matusz (who has also recognized me for years) came over to discuss the incident.

In the photo above, do see the name Sean written down? That was one of the witnesses. Here I am with his son Cory, who had snagged a ball and wanted to get a photo with me:

5_witness_son_cory_and_zack

I wasn’t in the mood to smile.

Toward the end of BP, I drifted to my right through an empty row for a high home run. As the ball was about to land, I flinched and turned away because it was within reach of the people in front of me. I didn’t want to get drilled by a deflection, so I stuck out my glove for a potential no-look, waist-high, back-handed catch, and whaddaya know? No one touched the ball, and I somehow caught it. That felt good, and I handed it to my mom:

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After BP we headed to the first aid room. Here I am dealing with some paperwork:

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The medical staff told me those were fingernail scratches.

After spending 15 minutes there, I tweeted about having gotten assaulted. Not surprisingly, the haters had a field day with it. Here’s a very small sample of the negative things people were saying:

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Of course it didn’t end there. A bit later, when I tweeted a photo of my pulled pork sandwich . . .

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. . . someone responded by asking how many little kids I knocked down to get it.

Shortly before game time, I posted a bunch of tweets describing the assault. I mentioned that I’d gotten punched in the face, which I fully believed at the time. My nose hurt so much that I couldn’t touch it, and my jaw was in so much pain that I struggled to eat. As it turned out, I don’t think I was actually punched. I do know that something hit my face. Maybe it was the guy’s elbow. Maybe it was a seat. The point is, I took a lot of heat for “falsely claiming” that I was punched, so let me say that I wasn’t trying to mislead anyone or make the fight seem extra dramatic. At the time, my whole face hurt like hell, and like I said, I definitely felt something hit me, so I assumed I’d gotten punched. That’s why I said it on Twitter. I’m sorry about that, but I assure you that everything here in this blog entry is 100 percent true and correct. I would gladly take a lie-detector test if anyone doubts my innocence (and wants to set it up).

Fast-forward to the top of the 3rd inning. With a runner on first base, Ryan Flaherty connected on a fastball from Ivan Nova . . .

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. . . and sent a deep line drive in my direction. Here’s a generic screen shot of the ball heading toward the right field seats:

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Here’s Flaherty rounding the bases:

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And hey, look! Here I am hugging my mom with the ball tucked inside my glove:

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Here are three blurry screen shots from a slow-motion replay that show me jumping and catching the ball:

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Ever since snagging the A-Rod ball, I wondered what would happen if I caught another home run. Would the announcers recognize me and say anything?

The answer was yes.

During the slow-mo reply, Michael Kay said, “Wow, that is the same guy who caught A-Rod’s 3,000th hit — Zack Hample. That’s unbelievable.”

Former Yankee and current announcer Paul O’Neill then said, “Now is that just right place at the right time or is it placement out there? Does he have a scouting report — a spray chart?”

“I believe his season tickets are right there,” replied Michael. “He always sits there, but during batting practice and in some games, he said he actually studies where a guy might hit a ball. You don’t buy that, Paul?”

“Obviously it works,” said Paul. “He’s got a whole boatload of baseballs at home. He’s obviously got a lot of time on his hands.”

Then, after Caleb Joseph struck out, Michael added, “It was also misunderstood by people when he said that he had [8,000] balls that he caught at ballparks. Not in games! He goes early and collects baseballs during BP, so it’s been 8,000 total. He actually wrote a book about it. There he was snarin’ that one.”

Awesome!!

Here’s one more screen shot of me and my mom:

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I was in the process of (playfully) arguing with a fan who was (seriously) getting on my case about not throwing the ball back onto the field. Here’s the full video of the home run, along with the replay and commentary by the announcers:

Yes, I made a nice little jumping catch on it, but the only reason that was even necessary was that I misjudged the ball in the first place. Flaherty hit a rocket right at me. It was such a low line drive that when he first connected, I thought it might not even reach the seats, so I jumped up and moved down a step. That’s when I realized that not only was it going to be a home run, but it was going to carry several rows deep, so I moved back up and then had to jump. But wait! Here’s my excuse. According to ESPN Home Run Tracker, the ball shot off the bat at a speed of 111.2 miles per hour, which is extremely fast! To put that in perspective, Alex Rodriguez hit a 453-foot homer two innings later that “only” went 109.9 miles per hour. Okay? So forgive me for being fooled by the ball hanging up in the air. Also, the apex of Flaherty’s homer (meaning the greatest height that the ball ever sailed above the field) was only 51 feet. That’s in the bottom one percent of all the home runs hit in the major leagues this season.

Here’s a photo of the ball — my 34th lifetime game home run:

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Here I am with it:

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Given everything that had happened earlier, it felt GREAT to have caught a home run. Also, this was the first homer that my mom ever saw me catch in person. Double-celebration! Here we are with the ball:

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This was our view of the field later in the game:

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Here’s Flaherty and his homer on the jumbotron:

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The Yankees ended up winning the game, 4-3, and it only took two hours and 33 minutes, which means my mom wasn’t totally wiped out at the end, which means she might actually join me for another game someday. Here we are on the subway heading back to Manhattan:

21_zack_and_naomi_subway

A few hours later, someone sent me screen shots (actual photos of their television) of me on ESPN. Evidently word had spread about my home run catch, and it reached the nightly news cycle. Here I am holding up the ball and doing my best “I’m not excited because it was a visiting team home run” face:

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Here’s my mom with a big smile:

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Here I am hugging her:

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Even though the letter “s” was left off the end of my book title, I like the BIO BLAST. Is that a regular thing in ESPN highlights? I’d never seen that before.

Anyway, what a day, huh? The best quote came from my mom, who said, “It sure isn’t boring being with you.” That was sweet, but I could actually use some “boring” in my life right about now.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 baseball at this game

• 453 balls in 61 games this season = 7.43 balls per game.

 1,003 lifetime balls in 148 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.78 balls per game.

• 1,114 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 276 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

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

8,259 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 22 donors for my fundraiser

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

• $150,626.16 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,479.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/20/15 at Citizens Bank Park

Do you remember when I was filmed on 7/3/15 at Yankee Stadium for a short documentary? Well, at this Phillies game, I was filmed by a different crew for the same project. Here they are in the parking lot:

1_triple_threat_tv_film_crew

In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at:

1) Ross Hockrow (director, director of photography, and editor)
2) Jack Harrison (production assistant)
3) Chris Spaide (camera operator)
4) Matt McDonald (producer)

They all work for a company called Triple Threat TV. I had met Matt years earlier for a different project, so it was great to reconnect with him and spend a few hours together.

We all headed inside the stadium’s Staff & Media Entrance at around 3:45pm:

2_staff_and_media_entrance

Here’s what it looked like inside:

3_woman_at_a_table

We met up with a PR guy who walked us out into the 100 Level concourse. Then we took a “media only” elevator . . .

4_waiting_for_the_elevator

. . . upstairs to the press level:

5_hallway_to_media_relations_workroom

We were led into the “media relations workroom,” where the crew took a few minutes to get settled:

6_inside_the_media_relations_workroom

I passed the time by looking around and taking a few more photos. Check this out:

7_pr_storage_07_20_15

Did you notice the home plate-shaped sign on the left side of the doorway? It says, “PR STORAGE.” I never knew that such a room even existed, and for the record, I did not go in there. I was just glad to be behind the scenes at a major league stadium and see whatever I could without snooping.

Here’s something else I noticed:

8_game_information_07_20_15

As someone who tries to catch home run balls, I was thrilled to be at a game in which both starting pitchers had ERAs over 7.00. How often does that happen?

At around 4pm, I headed back downstairs with the crew. Look what was taking place:

9_first_look_at_the_field_phillies_taking_early_bp

The Phillies were taking early/situational BP with fast, game-like pitching. At one point, Domonic Brown crushed a line-drive homer into the empty right field seats. Rather than wandering over there and looking for the ball, I headed to the left-field foul line with the crew:

10_triple_threat_tv_film_crew

I did a sit-down interview for about 15 minutes . . .

11_getting_filmed_closer_to_the_field

. . . and was then filmed standing in the front row, looking out at the field and posing.

Just as the Phillies were getting ready to start regular BP, we all headed out to left field. Here’s Ross filming me from a spot near the foul pole:

12_filmed_from_the_left_field_corner

He had me sit in an end-seat and look out at the field for about 10 seconds, then get up and walk quickly to the next staircase and move back a few rows and pick another seat and stay *there* for a short time. And so on. I probably sat in six different seats. I guess he needed some B-roll footage of me moving around in the stands. It wasn’t always clear why he needed certain shots and angles, but he seemed to have a specific vision of how it was all going to turn out.

At around 4:35pm, the Phillies started hitting:

13_batting_practice_underway_07_20_15

It was amazing to be the only fan in the stadium, but I still had some competition. In Philly, the ushers are allowed to keep balls that land in the seats before the gates open; that’s why you’ll never find an “Easter egg” when you run inside.

Here’s Chris filming me from the side, and if you look closely, you can see an usher standing two sections behind him in the front row:

14_filmed_from_the_side_07_20_15

Ross was right behind me, as was another usher/wannabe ballhawk:

15_filmed_from_behind_07_20_15

There was so little action during the first group of BP that when one of the ushers got a ball tossed to him, he offered to throw it to me so that there’d be footage of me catching a ball. I politely declined, but he insisted, so I let him do it, and Ross filmed it. And then I snagged seven balls within the next 15 minutes. (In case you’re wondering, I didn’t count the ball from the usher, and I promptly handed it back to him.) The first was a ground-rule double by Ryan Howard, the second was a deep fungo to an outfielder that carried all the way to the front row, and the next five were home runs by right-handed batters that landed in the seats. Just before the gates opened, I sprinted one and a half sections to my right and caught a homer on the fly. I gave most of those balls to the ushers and supervisors. Look closely at the previous photo and you’ll see two of them sitting in the last row.

Shortly after the gates opened, I snagged my ninth ball of the day — another homer by a Phillies righty that landed in the seats. I had to climb back over a few rows for that one.

That’s when I met up with a young fan named Ethan, who had brought his copy of my second book, Watching Baseball Smarter:

16_ethan_and_zack_with_watching_baseball_smarter

He and I ran into each other throughout the day, and I’m glad to report that he snagged several baseballs.

Late in BP, when the Rays were hitting, I moved to right field . . .

17_view_from_right_field_07_20_15

. . . and got two more home runs — my 10th and 11th balls of the day. The first one landed in the seats, and I handed it to the nearest/smallest kid. The second one pretty much came right to me, and I caught it on the fly.

My 12th ball was tossed by a Rays coach that I couldn’t identify. (Sorry for the lack of names — terrible, I know.)

After BP, I rushed to the Rays’ dugout on the 3rd base side . . .

18_behind_the_3rd_base_dugout_after_batting_practice_07_20_15

. . . and got my 13th ball from bullpen catcher Scott Cursi.

Then I headed back to left field and said goodbye to the guys from Triple Threat TV. One of them had to work early the next morning in New York City, and they weren’t allowed to film anyway during the game, so they took off.

I had no intention of leaving. I had a media credential that gave me access everywhere — even the clubhouse, although I resisted the urge to go there. Instead I headed up to the press level. Here’s what the field looked like from the press box . . .

19_view_from_the_press_box_07_20_15

. . . and here’s what the actual press box itself looked like:

20_inside_the_press_box_07_20_15

There was a bulletin board nearby with all sorts of official memos:

21_bulletin_board_with_various_memos

Here’s one that focused on pace of game procedures:

22_pace_of_game_procedures

The press dining room was just to the left:

23_outside_the_press_dining_area_07_20_15

Here’s what it looked like just inside those doors:

24_press_dining_area_entrance

Check out the menu:

25_press_dining_area_menu

I did not ask about the healthy options. Screw everything about that! Being in the press dining area of a major league stadium is NOT the time to be healthy — not for me at least, since I’ve only gotten to have a few press-level meals in my entire life. I handed the woman a $10 bill, signed my name on the list, and headed inside. Here’s the little food line/cafeteria area:

26_press_dining_area_food_line

Here’s the dining room:

27_press_dining_area

The game was about to begin, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to eat as much as possible and relax. Here’s what I got:

28_my_dinner_07_20_15

It was quite good — not the highest quality food, but it was solid and did the job. And that’s not all I ate. I also got four scoops of ice cream — two scoops in each of these cups:

29_four_scoops_of_ice_cream

Lots of people wonder how I’m not obese. Seriously. I actually get asked about this on a semi-regular basis, and I’ve finally realized why. It’s because I often post photos of huge/unhealthy meals, so let me just say that I don’t eat like this all the time. When I’m at a buffet, WATCH OUT, but the rest of the time, I try not to use food as a source of entertainment. Last night, for example, I was at Yankee Stadium — not in the Legends area but in my ordinary outfield seat. All I ate for dinner was a protein bar and a few handfuls of raw cashews. Would anyone want to see a photo of that? Uhh, no. And when I got home, I was very hungry, of course, but rather than calling my favorite diner and ordering a bacon cheeseburger with onion rings (as I would’ve done when I was 16, which is why I weighed 45 pounds more back then), I ate an orange and drank two cups of water. That made me feel full and bloated enough until I went to sleep two hours later. So you see? I’m not a disgusting pig all the time. I’m usually healthy and sensible, and therefore when I do find myself in an all-you-can-eat situation, I unapologetically stuff myself like a madman. Also, I only drink water. Like, always. Most people consume hundreds, if not thousands, of calories per day on juice, milk, soda, and alcohol. Those calories simply don’t exist for me. I’m not trying to preach — just explaining myself because like I said, lots of people have been wondering.

Anyway, both starting lineups (and the umpire “lineup”) were written on a marker board just outside the dining area:

30_lineups_written_on_marker_board

The game was already in the 2nd inning. I took a peek at all the writers hard at work in the press box . . .

31_writers_at_work

. . . and was *so* glad not to be one of them. I could’ve pursued that as my career, and perhaps I still could, but I just never wanted to. If you work in professional sports, you basically have no life outside of that because they’re mostly played on nights and weekends. Sometimes it seems like I have no life during the season beyond attending games, but (a) the season is 180 days, and I only attend games half the time, and (b) I really do enjoy it. I love being a fan and running around and catching baseballs. Any job that prevents me from doing that — even one in Major League Baseball — would make me feel bad.

I thought about using my credential to access and explore the club/suite level. I really could’ve gone ANYwhere, but the ballhawk in me just wanted to get back down to the outfield seats. On the way, I photographed the press level hallway . . .

32_media_level_hallway_07_20_15

. . . and took a quick peek inside the Phillies’ radio booth:

33_phillies_radio_booth_during_game

When I was on the press level on 7/3/15 at Yankee Stadium, I was told not to take any photos — not even in the hallway, but here in Philly, no one noticed or cared.

The left field seats were fairly crowded:

34_left_field_seats_kinda_crowded_07_20_15

I didn’t like my chances of catching a home run, but I sat there anyway:

35_view_from_left_field_07_20_15

In the 9th inning, I moved to the seats behind the 3rd base dugout:

36_closer_view_with_jonathan_papelbon_dominating_in_the_9th_inning

Jonathan Papelbon was pitching, and let me tell you — he was dominant. He threw 14 pitches, all for strikes, and retired the side in order to lower his ERA to 1.72. This might sound strange, but at this point in career — being a bit older, having a bad attitude, and playing for a lousy team — I think he’s underrated.

I didn’t snag any balls during the game, but I still had a great time. It’s the best feeling to be able to go or sit anywhere at a major league stadium.

Now, keep scrolling past the stats for two more photos . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 13 baseball at this game

• 439 balls in 59 games this season = 7.44 balls per game.

 364 lifetime balls in 38 games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.58 balls per game.

• 1,112 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 277 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

8,245 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 22 donors for my fundraiser

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

• $150,469.62 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,425.12 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

The day after the Phillies game, the Triple Threat TV crew met me at my mom’s place to film my baseball collection. (That’s where I keep most of the balls.) Check it out:

37_triple_threat_tv_filming_baseballs

Those barrels hold about 3,200 baseballs. Each the drawers, which you can kind of see above and below, holds 144:

38_triple_threat_tv_filming_baseballs

Overall there were about 4,000 balls in the room, which is less than half of my collection — or should I say, less than half of what I’ve *snagged* because I’ve given lots away. The rest were downstairs in a storage locker, but whaddaya know? Ross was still impressed and got all the footage he needed.

The documentary should be airing soon . . .

2015 All-Star Game

Do you remember what I said in my last entry about the weather in Cincinnati? Basically, it’s unpredictable and infuriating, so don’t be fooled by the blue sky in the following photo:

1_red_carpet_and_crowd

That was the scene outside Great American Ball Park nearly seven hours before game time. I hadn’t planned to attend the Red Carpet Parade. It just happened to be taking place when I got there, so I hung out for 10 minutes and watched several players arrive, starting with Max Scherzer:

2_max_scherzer_arriving_at_the_red_carpet

Jonathan Papelbon rolled up soon after, followed by Justin Upton and Matt Holliday. It was a true extravaganza, and while I was tempted to stay longer, I really just wanted to head to the left field gate and claim a spot at the front of the line. Here’s what it looked like as I made my way over there:

3_heading_to_the_left_field_gate

Great American Ball Park is confusing because there are multiple levels on the outside. In the photo above, do you see the ramp on the right (in the shade)? That’s the way to get up to the gates outside the second deck in left field. I wanted to enter on the 100 Level, so I stayed on the left (in the sun) and ended up here:

4_devin_trone_and_zack_07_14_15

That’s me with a friend from California named Devin Trone — a fairly well-known ballhawk with more than 1,400 lifetime baseballs. He attends the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game every year and always hangs out in the outfield. And by the way, this photo of us was taken an hour and a half after I arrived at the gate; none of those people standing behind us were there at first.

Here’s one way that we passed the time:

5_muneesh_jain_interviewing_devin_trone_for_his_podcast

In the photo above, Devin is being interviewed by a friend of mine from New York City named Muneesh Jain. During the season, Muneesh always seems to be traveling to various major league stadiums. He co-hosts a baseball podcast with his famous friend Anthony Rapp. It’s called The Clubhouse Podcast, so check it out. You might even find his interview with me outside Great American Ball Park if you dig through the archives.

Forty-five minutes before the gates opened, it started raining. OF COURSE. Look at this garbage:

6_raining_before_the_all_star_game

Hang on a second. That photo doesn’t really show what was going on. Here’s a better look:

7_raining_like_a_muhfuh

Thanks, Cincinnati. Way to treat an out-of-town guest and make him feel welcome.

Half an hour later, it stopped raining. Thankfully there was no more precipitation in the forecast, but now what? There was so much water everywhere! Look at this huge puddle outside Gate B:

8_huge_puddle_outside_gate_b

Could the outfield dry out in time for batting practice, and if so, would the players and groundskeepers even bother? I figured I was screwed, but Muneesh had a more positive outlook.

“It’s the All-Star Game,” he said. “Of course they’re gonna take BP.”

Just before the gates opened at 4:30pm, I had to make a tough choice. Basically, the front row around the entire stadium was going to fill up with fans, so I had to pick my spot carefully. If there *was* going to be BP, I wanted to be in the outfield, but if the tarp was going to stay on the field all afternoon, then I wanted to be near one of the dugouts so I could try for a toss-up.

I picked the outfield, which was clearly the riskier but potentially more rewarding option. Here’s what the field looked like from my spot:

9_tarp_on_the_field_07_14_15

Ugh.

At 4:45pm, the National League All Stars strolled out to center field for a team photo:

10_national_league_all_stars_walking_out_for_a_team_photo

Here they are posing for the throng of photographers:

11_national_league_all_stars_posing_for_a_team_photo

As the players dispersed a couple of minutes later, I noticed half a dozen Dodgers posing for a smaller group photo:

12_dodgers_all_stars_posing_for_a_group_photo

At 4:53pm (23 minutes after the gates opened) several National Leaguers began playing catch along the right field foul line. And yeah, the tarp was still on the field:

13_national_leaguers_playing_catch

Not good!

But wait. Then I noticed all the BP screens sitting on the warning track:

14_screens_for_bp_in_foul_territory

What did that mean? That there was still a chance of BP taking place?

The forecast was supposedly clear, so what were the groundskeepers waiting for? With each passing minute, BP seemed less likely. I was THIS close to giving up on the outfield when I got a text from a friend who works for MLB (who wishes to remain anonymous). Here’s what it said:

“Hey it’s _______, just saw this come across my email.. BP TIMES: NL BP 5:35-6:15, AL BP 6:20-7.”

That made me sooooo happy. And sure enough, within a few minutes, the grounds crew began the process of removing the tarp:

15_grounds_crew_removing_the_tarp

As the small screens were rolled into place from the right field corner, the most important piece of equipment made an appearance. Behold the batting cage!

16_batting_cage_getting_rolled_out

If I were more emotional (and unconcerned about my contact lenses falling out), I would’ve shed a few tears of joy, but instead I held it together.

In the previous photo, did you notice the American Leaguers starting to walk out from the 3rd base side? Here they are posing for their own team photo:

17_american_league_all_stars_posing_for_a_team_photo

Look how many Royals there were:

18_royals_group_photo

A bunch of those guys were coaches, but still. Wow. That’s what happens when a team reaches the World Series the previous year and the manager gets to bring everyone. Hell, even bullpen catcher Cody Clark got to make the trip.

While all those guys were standing around, I noticed that Alcides Escobar had a ball in his hand, so after Nelson Cruz took a selfie with Hector Santiago, Albert Pujols, and Mike Trout . . .

19_nelson_cruz_taking_a_selfie_with_albert_pujols_and_mike_trout

. . . I called out in Spanish and got him to throw it to me. Unfortunately it was a Home Run Derby ball:

20_ball8225_from_alcides_escobar

Yeah, I was glad to have gotten *a* ball, but I’d gotten two Derby balls the day before, so now I wanted a commemorative All-Star Game ball.

This was my view as the National League’s portion of BP got underway:

21_view_for_national_league_bp

That might look nice to you, but as far as I was concerned, something very important was missing: the players’ kids. Where were they?! Was there a new rule that they couldn’t be out on the field at all before the All-Star Game? Remember my interaction the day before with Prince Fielder’s son Haven? He said he’d look for me during BP and hook me up with an All-Star Game ball — but if none of the National Leaguer’s kids were anywhere to be seen, that didn’t bode well for my chances of seeing Haven.

Eventually I got another ball tossed up from a random employee standing down below:

22_ball8226_closeup_grass_and_smudged_logo

Bah!! Another Derby ball! And that was it for the National League. Here are the players jogging off the field:

23_national_leaguers_jogging_off_the_field

Look how crowded it was on my right:

24_crowd_on_my_right

Here’s a photo, taken during the American League’s portion of BP, that shows the fans behind me trying to get a toss-up:

25_people_behind_me_asking_for_a_toss_up

There was a middle-aged woman behind me (not pictured above) who was extremely rude and aggressive and actually shoved me a bit. She’d gotten angry when I snagged my second ball of the day, as if she were entitled to it and I had somehow wronged her. I hadn’t reached in front of her for it. I simply *was* in front of her, so in addition to being rude and aggressive, she also wasn’t too bright. What kind of strategy is it to stand directly behind someone who’s taller than you?

Much to her dismay, during the middle of American League BP, I got another toss-up from an employee down below. Much to *my* dismay, it was another Home Run Derby ball. I only saw one All-Star Game ball during BP, and it was being carried by an employee walking along the warning track, so basically, those balls were not in use, and that really sucked. When I become the commissioner of Major League Baseball, that’ll be my first order of business; if a commemorative ball is going to be used during a game, it must also be used during batting practice. Then I’ll worry about steroids and competitive balance and pace of game and instant replay and Pete Rose and all those other petty issues. And of course I’ll make sure that these annoying “fan entertainment crews” (or whatever they’re called) are not allowed on the field during BP. Look at these bozos:

26_annoying_entertainment_crew

The guy standing farthest away had a mini-basketball hoop and backboard attached to him. Its height was easily adjustable, so when his cohorts tossed little foam balls into the crowd and the crowd then chucked them back at the hoop, the guy would manipulate it (and bend, lunge, stretch, duck, etc.) so that it was in the right place every time and the ball would go in. As if that’s not annoying enough on its own, let me remind you that this took place DURING batting practice . . . when players were trying to hit home runs and launching ball after ball into the stands. It was so unsafe for the Reds to have this crew out on the warning track distracting fans that I wanted to jump down there and tackle them, but then I would’ve gotten kicked out of the All-Star Game, so I decided it wasn’t worth it.

Anyway, for those of you who aren’t aware, Yankees reliever Dellin Betances wears his height as his uniform number:

27_dellin_betances_taller_than_everyone

The dude is 6-foot-8. How cool is that? (Mark Teixeira practically looks 2-foot-5 when standing beside him.)

Late in BP, a home run was hit *right* to me, and as I reached out for it, a different aggressive fan lunged forward and swatted my glove with his, causing me to drop it. But I ended up getting the ball tossed to me anyway. It was a Derby ball, of course, as was the one I got right after BP. The final ball was also tossed up by an employee, and I handed it to the nearest kid. In case you lost count, I snagged five balls and kept four (and, for the record, helped/allowed several fans around me get balls).

Then I got some food:

28_chili_cheese_dogs_and_ice_cream

The image on the left shows a pair of chili cheese dogs, and on the right? Nothing special. Just some vanilla ice cream with sprinkles. (You don’t wanna know what I ate for brunch. I went to Golden Corral and stuffed myself with so much unhealthy crap that you’d gain weight just from reading about it. And let’s not even talk about the drive-though meal I got after the game. I’m completely ashamed to the point of self-loathing.)

Eventually I wandered up to the second deck and photographed my baseballs:

29_the_four_balls_i_kept_07_14_15

Rather than sitting in my seat for all the pre-game ceremonies (which I’m never really interested in when watching on TV from home), I kept wandering. While the Reds were honoring Pete Rose and other major league legends, I was observing this:

30_food_cart_disaster_haha

I’m a terrible person, okay? I admit it. I enjoyed seeing that food cart topple over (I totally saw it coming), and then I loitered and gawked and tweeted about it, and now I’m continuing to talk about it here on my blog. I love watching Fail Army videos on YouTube (though not the ones where people get hurt, like all those ill-conceived bike jumps and skateboarding accidents). I can’t help it. When an old lady falls into a lake while clumsily getting off a boat or when a little kid lets an entire birthday cake slide off a tray and plop frosting-side-down on the carpet, it thoroughly delights me. And you know what? If I ever forget the basic laws of physics and something stupid and embarrassing happens to me and other people laugh, I’ll be fine with it. In fact, I hope someone gets it on video so I can laugh at myself later on.

Here’s where I sat during the game:

34_second_pitch_of_the_game_zack_greinke_to_mike_trout

That photo was taken during Mike Trout’s at-bat in the top of the 1st inning, three pitches before he blasted a leadoff homer to right field off Zack Greinke, who hadn’t given up a run for about 14 years prior to that. When I’m the commissioner, I’m also going to make sure that the All-Star Game is renamed the “Mike Trout Game.” It has the same number of syllables, so why not? And c’mon, let’s face it, that’s who everyone was there to see. Don’t be fooled by the standing ovation that Reds fans gave The Toddfather. They’re all secretly in love with Mike Trout. And look, here’s the man himself at bat later in the evening:

35_mike_trout_at_bat_later_in_the_game

I can’t remember what he did in that at-bat, but I’m sure it was something amazing. He finished the game 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored and won the MVP Award, so you know, whatever.

Even this guy was probably rooting for Mike Trout:

36_crazy_fan_with_huge_reds_beard

Look who was sitting in my row during the game:

37_haven_fielder_wearing_my_glove

That’s Haven Fielder — Prince Fielder’s son (and yes, he was wearing my glove). He told me that he and all the other players’ kids weren’t allowed to be on the field during BP. That was a huge bummer because he definitely would’ve hooked me up with an All-Star Game ball, and MAN, I really wanted one. The red stamping looked sharp. I had only snagged one red-stamped ball in my entire life: the 2000 All-Star Game ball. And you know what? I didn’t even attend the All-Star Game that year. I just happened to get lucky and snag a ball from it during BP later in the season. Now that I was *at* the 2015 All-Star Game and dying for one of the balls, I didn’t even come close. Funny how that works (and by “funny,” I mean “utterly depressing”). I was in a good spot for 3rd-out balls, but the players pretty much kept them all.

Shortly after I took the photo of Haven, his mother (Prince’s wife), Chanel Fielder, asked if she could get a photo with me. She said she was going to post it on Instagram, so I asked if I could tweet it and share it on my blog. The answer was yes, so here we are:

38_zack_with_chanel_fielder_prince_fielders_wife

Chanel knew all about my baseball collection and said that her kids get more excited seeing me than they do with most players. Why? Because they meet players all the time, so what I do seems extra special. She was extremely friendly. I didn’t want to distract her from the game or intrude on her time with her boys, but she wasn’t concerned. She gladly chatted with everyone around her, including the four members of Brian Dozier’s family, who were sitting directly behind us. I also talked to them at length, and again, I was somewhat hesitant about the whole thing because I didn’t want to be a nuisance, but they kept asking me questions about my collection and all the stadiums I’d visited. I got a photo with them later on, but for now, I’ll just say that when Dozier hit an 8th-inning homer off Mark Melancon, it was pretty cool to high-five his wife.

In the 9th inning, I moved closer to the dugout:

39_aroldis_chapman_overmatching_brock_holt

Aroldis Chapman was pitching, and quite simply, he made the American Leaguers look like Little Leaguers. Look how hard he was throwing:

40_aroldis_chapman_throwing_103mph

They had no chance. Brock Holt, predictably, struck out, as did the next two “hitters” — Mike Moustakas and Mark Teixeira. Even though the National League was losing, 6-2, at the time, it gave the crowd one final reason to get excited.

In the bottom of the 9th, Ryan Braun hit a leadoff triple and came home on a sacrifice fly by Brandon Crawford. That was it for the scoring. Final score: American League 6, National League 3.

I tried to get a ball from home plate umpire Tim Welke, but it was a lost cause. He only gave one away to someone on the field, and then he ignored everyone else and rushed out of sight.

Several minutes later, this was the scene:

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Here’s what it looked like behind the 3rd base dugout:

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My friend Ryan and his son, Will, came and found me:

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They were nice enough to let me stay with them in Kentucky (10 minutes from the stadium) for three days.

Here’s Mike Trout doing his MVP thing on the Jumbotron:

44_mike_trout_on_the_jumbotron

While that was taking place, I got a photo with several members of Brian Dozier’s family:

45_zack_with_brian_doziers_wife_on_the_right

The woman leaning in on the right is his wife, Renee. I’m not sure about the other two people, but they were all sitting together, so they’re probably related (or connected through marriage).

Here I am with Brian Dozier’s father-in-law:

46_zack_with_brian_doziers_father_in_law

They were all SO nice. During the game, I had asked if we could all get a photo together. They said yes, but then I never pushed for it, and in the 9th inning, I ended up moving closer to the field. I figured I’d lost my chance, so I was surprised when they all came and found me and suggested the photo. Brian was interviewed on the warning track at one point, so they probably headed down to see him and then noticed me standing nearby, but regardless of the motivation, it was a lovely gesture on their part.

Here’s Mike Trout heading off the field:

47_mike_trout_walking_off_the_field

Here’s the stadium after most people had cleared out:

48_stadium_nearly_empty_07_14_15

Here’s one last look at it from the Kentucky side of the river:

49_stadium_from_kentucky_07_14_15

The whole All-Star experience was fun but stressful — just what I expected. And hey, on a final note, while I’m glad that Trout won the MVP, I’ll never be happy about the American League winning. Any league that doesn’t let the pitchers hit is lame and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 baseball at this game

• 423 balls in 57 games this season = 7.42 balls per game.

 98 lifetime balls in 8 games at Great American Ball Park = 12.25 balls per game.

• 24 lifetime balls at 4 All-Star Games = 6 balls per game.

• 1,110 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

8,229 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 22 donors for my fundraiser

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

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

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

2015 Home Run Derby

If there’s one thing I don’t like about Cincinnati, it’s the weather — sunny one hour, rainy the next, and then sunny again? I wanted to look up at the sky and scream, “MAKE UP YOUR MIND!!!” but instead I kept an eye on the radar and got completely stressed out. This is what I was dealing with:

1b_if_im_so_lucky_then_why_was_this_happening

It WAS going to rain . . . hard. The only question was when. And how would that work — if it rained in the late afternoon, would there not be batting practice before the Home Run Derby? If it started raining after that, would the Derby itself be canceled? Every local news channel was giving nonstop weather updates, and I heard a rumor that MLB was considering a “doubleheader” the following day — doing the Derby in the afternoon and playing the All-Star Game at night — but it was supposed to rain the next too. Of course.

I decided to eat my sorrows away at one of my favorite restaurants:

2_driving_to_waffle_house

I’m not kidding. I truly love Waffle House, which doesn’t exist anywhere within 70 miles of my home in New York City, so whenever I see one on the road, I take advantage.

In the previous photo, the guy driving is a friend named Ryan whom I’d met on 9/12/11 at Great American Ball Park. Do you remember this four-part image of me from that day with various folks that I met for the first time? Ryan is on the lower left. We kept in touch after that, and he told me that if I ever came back, he could provide me with a place to stay.

Did you notice the young man riding shotgun in the previous photo? That’s Ryan’s 10-year-old son, Will. Here we are with our food:

3_will_ryan_zack_waffle_house

I had a double order of hash browns “smothered” (with sautéed onions) and “covered” (with double cheese). I also had two scrambled eggs, a biscuit and gravy, and a waffle. Yessir!! At a New York City diner, that would’ve set me back about $25, but here in the beautiful midwest, our entire meal cost less than that.

After breakfast we drove across a bridge from Kentucky into Cincinnati . . .

4_all_star_game_sign_on_bridge

. . . and got a nice view of the stadium:

5_stadium_from_bridge

Don’t be fooled by the clear, sunny sky. The rain was coming.

Ryan and Will had tickets to FanFest at a convention center half a mile from the stadium. I was semi-interested in joining them, but not for $35. Look at these crazy prices:

6_fanfest_2015_admission_sign

When I tweeted that photo at the time, a gentleman named Matthew Walthert replied, “$30 for a 2-year-old kid. Hahahahahaha—good one, @MLB! Way to target the next generation of fans.”

I couldn’t agree more. In my opinion, a fun and reasonable pricing system would be to charge people under 35 according to their age. A ticket for a two-year-old would cost two bucks, and my friend Ryan would have to pay $10 to get his 10-year-old son inside.

As it turned out, I only paid $10 because I found a scalper several blocks away with a stack of print-at-home tickets that he’d somehow gotten for free.

Here’s what it looked like outside the FanFest entrance:

7_fanfest_2015_entrance

Here’s a big sign on the inside:

8_fanfest_2015_welcome_sign

Here’s what it looked like just inside the main area:

9_people_entering_main_area

Pedro Martinez was posing for photos with fans nearby . . .

10_pedro_martinez_posing_with_fans

. . . but the line was endless, so I didn’t even bother. And that’s the story of FanFest. In my experience, anything worth doing requires a terribly long wait, and the rest of the stuff? Well, let’s just say that a lot of it didn’t really excite me:

11_baloon_twisters_upstairs

For most people, FanFest is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so naturally they’re psyched about it — and hey, good for them. If they want to wait on line for hours to meet a player or take their kids to get balloon twisters, that’s their choice, and I have no problem with it. Personally, it’s not really my thing. My main reason for going was to catch up with this guy:

12_david_rhode_and_zack_at_fanfest

(Yes, I changed into my “Homer” shirt for that photo.)

That’s David Rhode, the Executive Director of my favorite charity, Pitch In For Baseball — you know, the one that recently received $150,000 from the Yankees. David was at FanFest for two reasons: to collect baseball and softball equipment and to raise awareness for his charity.

He had several local volunteers helping at his table, so when things slowed down a bit, he took me upstairs to a secret storage room and gave me a Pitch In For Baseball t-shirt:

13_david_rhode_giving_me_a_t_shirt

In the previous photo, did you notice the wooden crates in the background? Here’s a closer look:

14_negro_leagues_mannequin_display

That looks like it could be the opening scene of a baseball horror movie.

Can you spot Todd Frazier in the following photo?

15_todd_frazier_with_fans

His head is practically touching the “T” in the word “FanFest” on the huge baseball. People in Cincinnati absolutely LOVE him — and why not?

Here’s another view from above:

16_fanfest_2015_main_area_from_above

I was killing time at that point because the weather had turned to crap. I had an umbrella, but it was small and flimsy — the kind that would be useful for a few minutes in light rain, not for walking half a mile in a torrential downpour. I waited near the exit for quite a while, hoping for the rain to ease up, and when it finally did, I made a run for it. Two minutes later, with my sneakers and pants on the verge of getting soaked, I spotted a taxi at a red light and jumped in:

17_taxi_in_the_rain_to_the_stadium

The ride cost less than $10 including the tip — money well spent — and by the time I got out, the rain had pretty much stopped:

18_wet_outside_great_american_ball_park

But now what? Was the sun going to come out in time for BP? Or was the dreariness going to continue through the afternoon?

I took the long route around the stadium toward the left field gate. There were lots of TV trucks on the right field side . . .

19_news_trucks_outside

. . . and there was a whole lot of nothing as I walked alongside the river:

20_route_around_the_stadium

It started raining again, so I picked up the pace and eventually reached my destination:

21_left_field_gate

In the photo above, do you see the guy in the yellow shirt? That’s a fellow ballhawk from Pittsburgh named Nick Pelescak. I can’t remember the last time I’d seen him. It had probably been a couple of years, so it was great to catch up. Here I am with him and a local ballhawk named Cole Adkins:

22_zack_with_nick_pelescak_and_cole_adkins

Moments later, Cole told he’d brought four copies of my books for me to sign. On several occasions in the past, someone had brought one copy of each of the three, but because Cole had taken it a step further, I decided we needed photographic evidence:

23_zack_and_cole_adkins_with_four_books

An hour later, all the ushers lined up to get inside . . .

24_ushers_waiting_to_get_in

. . . and an hour after that, there were hundreds of fans on line behind us:

25_fans_on_line_behind_me

It had finally gotten sunny, and I received some great news from Ryan, who was watching the MLB Network at a nearby restaurant. He said the tarp was coming off the field and both teams were going to take BP.

Hell.
Yes.

Just before the gates opened, my friend Jeff Siegel caught up with me.

26_jeff_siegal_filming_me

Does he look familiar? Check out the first photo from my blog entry about the game on 9/8/14 at Citizens Bank Park. See him standing there with the same camera? He’s been getting footage of me for a documentary, so when I headed inside Great American Ball Park . . .

27b_field_set_up_for_bp

. . . he stayed right behind me:

28_jeff_siegal_behind_me_in_the_seats

It didn’t take long for me to get on the board. One of Roberto Kelly’s sons threw me a ball after he finished playing catch in the outfield, but unfortunately it was a regular ball:

29_ball8219_thrown_by_roberto_kellys_son

Whatever. I was glad to have *a* ball, and the day was still young. I figured I’ve have plenty of chances to snag a commemorative Home Run Derby ball.

A little while later, I spotted two Hall of Famers in the walkway down below:

30_john_smoltz_and_pedro_martinez_down_below

That’s John Smoltz (shielding his eyes from the sun) and Pedro Martinez. Pedro signed a few autographs for the fans in my section. I probably could’ve gotten him to sign my ball, but instead I focused on snagging another. It took a while, but I did finally get a Home Run Derby ball from another player’s kid — not sure who. Check it out:

31_ball8220_double_logo

I don’t care for the main “Home Run Derby” logo — I think it’s bland and generic — but the stamping on the sweet spot is incredible! I’d never seen anything like that.

Ryan had asked if I could hook him up with a Home Run Derby ball if he and Will didn’t get one. The answer was yes, but I told him that if I only got one, I’d want to keep it for myself.

Look how crowded it was in right field . . .

32_crowd_in_right_field

. . . and look who was now standing below in the walkway:

33_jeff_siegal_filming_me_from_below

It was Jeff! He used his media credential to get down there.

Throughout BP there were various people standing on the warning track and passing back and forth through that walkway. Most of them kept the baseballs, but a few did get tossed up, including my third of the day — another Home Run Derby ball, which the fans on my right asked me for. I had to explain (and I’m sure they didn’t believe me) that I was saving it for a friend and his son who were letting me stay with them.

That was it for the National League’s portion of BP.

Soon after the American League started hitting, I got my fourth ball from Haven Fielder — Prince Fielder’s son. I was surprised and thoroughly delighted when I realized it was a Futures Game ball:

34_ball8222_from_haven_fielder

Most ballhawks count balls from the Futures Game, but I don’t because it’s an event played by minor leaguers. Whenever I say that, people are like, “Yeah, but the event is sanctioned by MLB, and they use official major league balls, and it takes place at a major league stadium,” to which I reply, “So, if MLB brought in busload of Little Leaguers and gave them official balls, you’d count those?” It just doesn’t make sense to me, but whatever, people can count what they want. As far as I’m concerned, balls snagged at the Futures Game don’t count, but if I happen to snag a Futures Game ball during BP before the Home Run Derby, then it *does* count. (That happened to me once before at the 2008 Home Run Derby.) (Similarly, I wouldn’t count balls from the World Baseball Classic, but when Heath Bell saved one for me and gave it to me on 7/23/09 at Citizens Bank Park, you bet your ass I counted it. I’ve also counted minor league balls that I snagged during BP at major league games, but I would not count a major league ball if I happened to snag one at a minor league stadium.)

Anyway, I ended up giving that Futures Game ball to the kid next to me because Haven tossed me another that happened to be mud-rubbed. And then he gave me a thumbs-up:

35_haven_fielder_thumbs_up

Haven is awesome. Earlier this season, while he was shagging baseballs on the field during BP at Yankee Stadium, he spotted me in the stands and came over to say hey because he recognized me from YouTube. Here at the Home Run Derby, he told me he’d look for me the following day and give me an All-Star Game ball *and* a gold ball from the Derby. (Wow!!) I asked what I could do for him, and when he shrugged, I asked if he’d seen my latest book, The Baseball. He said no, so I told him I’d send him a copy. I asked where I should send it. He told me to mail it to the Rangers’ stadium in care of his father. I asked if his father would actually see it or if it’d get buried with all the other fan mail. Haven said he’d get it, and he later caught up with his dad in shallow center field and pointed me out. I tipped my cap, and Prince gave me a little head-nod.

Look how crowded it was in the left field stands:

36_crowd_on_my_right

It was also damn-near impossible to see. Look at the long shadows behind the players standing on the field:

37_american_leaguers_on_the_field

Everyone was basically staring right at the sun.

At one point, when Mike Trout wandered within 100 feet of my spot, I gave him a shout, and sure enough he remembered me as the guy who caught and later gave him his first career home run ball. He waved and then told a few of his teammates about me, or at least I assume that’s what happened because they all turned around at the same time and looked at me.

After BP, there were more than half a dozen balls scattered on the warning track, but none near me in left-center, so I made my way over to the unoccupied camera well in straight-away left. A few minutes later, all the balls got tossed into the crowd by a random employee. I snagged one of them — another Futures Game ball.

As it turned out, Ryan and Will had not snagged a Home Run Derby ball. I told them I had them covered, and they were very appreciative.

Here’s where I hung out for half an hour before the Derby:

38_view_from_the_last_row

This was the view to my left:

39_view_from_the_last_row

There was a concert. And there was fire:

40_fire_during_pre_derby_concert

Yay.

This guy was *really* into the whole thing:

41_diehard_fan_with_bodypaint

Eventually the eight Home Run Derby participants were announced:

42_derby_participants_on_a_stage

From left to right (and yeah, I know it’s a lame photo taken from far away), you’re looking at Anthony Rizzo, Prince Fielder, Manny Machado, Kris Bryant, Albert Pujols, Joc Pederson, Todd Frazier, and Josh Donaldson.

I wanted to hang out in right-center field for the Derby — it seemed like there’d be a decent amount of space there — but that area was heavily guarded and simply off-limits:

43_restricted_area_in_right_center_field

I was, however, able to stand in a tunnel in the second deck in straight-away left field. The view wasn’t great . . .

44_view_in_left_field

. . . but I figured I had a decent shot there with an open staircase on either side. And look who was there with me:

45_jeff_siegal_still_filming_me

Throughout the day, I was recognized by dozens of people outside and inside the stadium. After BP, I heard someone shout my name from above, and when I turned around and looked up, three guys yelled “Booo!!” and all gave me a thumbs-down, but aside from that, everyone was friendly. One man — a chef who owns a fancy restaurant in Columbus, Ohio — gave me his card and offered me a free dinner if I’m ever there. Another guy asked where I was going to be sitting for the Derby and offered to get me into his section in right field. I took him up on it in the later rounds and had a nice view for a few of the lefties:

46_view_from_right_field

Did you notice the guy wearing the American flag suit? He ended up catching a Joc Pederson homer, reaching high up and to his left, so I had no chance. On another occasion, a different fan directly on my left snagged a ball, which landed on *his* left and ricocheted right toward him. Once again I was very close, but missed out because of bad luck. And look! Jeff was still filming me:

47_jeff_filming_me_from_below_in_the_tunnel

Here’s what it looked like on my right:

48_crowd_in_right_field_on_my_right

I came within about 10 or 15 feet of several balls in left field, but it turned out that I was positioned too deep. The new format of the Derby is great (except for the lack of gold balls), but it messed me all up. I was expecting lots of balls to travel 450 to 500 feet. That’s how it used to be when players had 10 “outs” and could take pitches and have time to recover after swinging as hard as possible. But now that the players each have a five minute time-limit, it seemed that most home runs traveled 400 to 450 feet. I think the players were concerned about wearing themselves out, so they eased up a bit.

Hometown hero Todd Frazier ended up winning the Home Run Derby, and the place went nuts:

49_fireworks_for_todd_frazier

I was excited for him and all the fans, but on a personal level, I was bummed that I hadn’t snagged anything during the actual Derby. (Nick from Pittsburgh had a great spot in a wheelchair aisle closer to the left field foul pole and snagged two! Congrats to him.) Overall, though, it was still a fun day.

Here are the four commemorative balls I had in my possession at that point:

50_four_baseballs_from_bp

Here’s a collage of some Twitter action that had taken place throughout the day:

51_zack_and_fans_on_twitter

I met so many great people. Big thanks to (almost) everyone for being so kind. I’ve taken a lot of heat in New York this season, so it was great to get some love on the road.

As the stadium was clearing out, I caught up with Ryan and Will and gave them a Home Run Derby ball:

52_ryan_will_zack_after_the_derby

Then we headed out together and walked across this bridge to the Kentucky side of the river:

53_bridge_to_kentucky

And then? We hit up a Wendy’s drive-thru — something else I never do in New York. For the two full days of this trip, I decided to completely let myself go and not feel the least bit guilty.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 baseball at this game (and yes, for my own stat-keeping purposes, I do consider it a “game”)

• 418 balls in 56 games this season = 7.46 balls per game.

 93 lifetime balls in 7 games at Great American Ball Park = 13.29 balls per game.

• 1,109 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 72 different commemorative balls (click here to see my entire collection)

8,224 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 22 donors for my fundraiser

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

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

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

7/10/15 at Citi Field

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

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

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

1_alexandre_home_run_apple

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

2_alexandre_and_zack_outside_the_gates

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

3_alex_and_zack_with_books

Alexandre chatted a bit with some of the regulars, and when the stadium opened at 5:10pm, we all hurried inside. Some people headed toward the foul lines for autographs, while others went to straight-away left or right field in the hope of catching a home run. I figured our best shot was to go for a toss-up from one of the Mets players in right-center — a long run from the Rotunda entrance, but Alexandre did a great job of keeping pace with me.
3b_jon_niese_2015
Within the first few minutes, Jon Niese walked over to retrieve a ball on the warning track. Given the fact that he recognizes me and, generally speaking, doesn’t seem to want to add to my collection, I knew I had to get a bit creative with my request.

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

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

4_alexandre_with_ball8207

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

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

5_alexandre_watching_batting_practice

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

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

6_guard_tossing_balls_from_the_gap

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

7_guard_tossing_balls_from_the_gap

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

8_chris_alexandre_andrew

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

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

9_zack_and_alexandre_with_three_baseballs

Aww yeah!

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

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

10_zack_and_jeff_sammut

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

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

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

11_alexandre_preparing_his_hot_dog

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

SWEET!!

Here he is with it:

12_alexandre_with_a_ball_he_got_on_his_own_from_paul_goldschmidt

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

Here’s a closer look at the ball:

13_closeup_of_the_ball_from_goldschmidt

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

14_alexandre_and_other_kids_going_for_baseballs

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

15_one_of_the_other_kids_with_a_ball

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

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

16_dave_mckay_tossing_an_infield_warmup_ball

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

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

17_alexandre_with_a_ball_in_the_middle_of_the_7th_inning

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

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

18_alexandre_getting_his_3rd_ball

Here’s a closer look:

19_alexandre_getting_his_3rd_ball

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

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

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

20_view_late_in_the_game copy

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

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

21_zack_and_alexandre_postgame

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

22_alexandre_new_hat

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

23_alexandre_with_the_number_42

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

24_alexandre_and_cowbell_man

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

25_alexandre_and_zack_on_the_train

What an awesome day.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 baseball at this game

• 403 balls in 54 games this season = 7.46 balls per game.

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

• 1,107 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

495 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

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

8,209 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 22 donors for my fundraiser

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

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

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

Lisa Ann and A-Rod’s 3,000th hit

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

Well then.

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

1_lisa_ann_and_zack_columbus_circle copy

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

2_lisa_ann_posing_with_a_sign_for_us

Here are Nando and Lisa in the studio . . .

3_nando_di_fino_and_lisa_ann_in_the_studio

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

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

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

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

4_lisa_ann_and_zack_with_the_arod_ball

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

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

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

5_zack_lisa_nando_with_the_arod_ball

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

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

6_zack_and_lisa_ann_at_brunch copy

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

7_lisa_ann_at_brunch

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

8_dessert_with_lisa_ann

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

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

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

9_lisa_ann_hotel_bar_lounge_area

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

10_lisa_ann_posing_with_the_arod_ball

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

11_lisa_ann_photographing_the_arod_ball

This was the photo she got:

12_lisa_anns_photo_of_the_arod_ball

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

13_the_arod_ball_overlooking_times_square

Here’s Lisa holding the ball . . .

14_lisa_ann_holding_the_arod_ball

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

15_the_arod_ball_on_a_glass_shelf

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

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

16_balcony_and_chairs

Beautiful! (Right?)

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

17_lisa_ann_beside_the_tent_area

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

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

18_lisa_ann_in_times_square

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

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

19_lisa_ann_and_zack_in_times_square

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

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

20_awesome_tweet_by_hayley

Best. Girlfriend. Ever.

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

7/3/15 at Yankee Stadium

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

1_yankees_tweet_07_03_15

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

2_yankees_follow_up_tweet_07_03_15

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

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

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

Here I am with the two-person crew:

3_abc_news_interview_07_03_15

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

4_zack_and_darla_miles

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

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

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

4b_stu_reacting_to_arod_ball

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

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

5_zack_filmed_while_walking

On the way, I stopped to take this photo:

6_arod_3000th_hit_outside_stadium

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

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

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

7_credentials_from_eddie_fastook

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

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

8_hayley_photobombing_ben

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

As I headed back inside, Hayley photographed her ticket:

9_comp_ticket_name_spelled_wrong

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

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

10_doug_drotman_in_the_lobby

Eddie was waiting patiently for me . . .

11_eddie_fastook_ready_to_go

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

12_baseballs_for_tour_group

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

Here’s something else that distracted me:

13_arod_3000th_hit_in_right_field

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

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

14_arod_3000th_hit_where_i_grabbed_it

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

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

15_zack_and_ben_during_bp_07_03_15

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

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

16_zack_ben_naomi_hayley_with_3000th_hit

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

17_eddie_and_zack_in_the_concourse

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

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

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

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

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

21_yankees_clubhouse_closed

Wow.

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

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

22_david_and_zack_rough_housing

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

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

23_david_rhode_brian_smith_zack_jason_zillo_eddie_fastook

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

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

24_michael_kay_and_media_room

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

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

25_four_empty_chairs

But hold on . . .

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

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

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

26_alex_rodriguez_and_zack_entering

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

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

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

27b_jason_zillo_opening_remarks

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

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

28_naomi_taking_a_photograph_at_the_press_conference

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

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

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

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

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

30_zack_retrieving_ball_from_backpack

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

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

Here I am handing it to him:

31b_zack_handing_arod_the_ball

Then we held it up together for the cameras:

32b_zack_and_arod_holding_the_ball

That wasn’t rehearsed. It just happened.

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

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

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees

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

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

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

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

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Here I am showing it to the media:

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

Yankees Rodriguez Baseball

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

Perfect!

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

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

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HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!?!?!

Then it was David’s turn to speak:

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

Beautifully said.

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

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

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

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Heh.

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

Yankees Rodriguez Baseball

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

Yankees Rodriguez Baseball

Here’s another shot of us smiling:

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

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Nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. . . and then I was too:

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

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

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

Eddie escorted us to the Legends entrance . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

“You can go,” he replied.

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

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

“Understood.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pitch a strike to Didi,” said John.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think you’re right,” said John.

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

“Wow!” said Suzyn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

61_zack_after_the_interview_with_john_sterling_and_suzyn_waldman

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

62_zack_and_ben_in_the_seats

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

63_funky_play_at_1st_base

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

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

64_alex_rodriguez_at_bat

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

65_alex_rodriguez_on_2nd_base

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

66_people_applauding_a_little_kid_who_got_a_ball

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

67_ben_excited_about_snagging_a_ball

Moments after Hayley photographed her beer . . .

68_hayleys_beer

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

69_ball8195_from_rene_rivera

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

70_grounds_crew_dancing_to_ymca

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

71_ben_eating_an_ice_cream_bar

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

72_hayley_excited_to_have_more_food

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

73_free_all_star_tickets_from_the_yankees_as_part_of_the_deal

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

Hell.
Yes.

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

74_alex_rodriguez_pumped_in_the_dugout

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

75_didi_gregorius_stretching_on_the_dugout_railing_durintg_a_replay_review

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

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

76_zack_talking_to_fans

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

People are weird.

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

77_ben_and_zack_laughing

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

78_zack_naomi_sleeping_selfie

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

79_zack_going_for_lefty_foul_balls

No luck. Nothing even came close.

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

80_scoreboard_in_the_12th_inning

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

81_brian_mccann_walkoff_homer

Final score: Yankees 7, Rays 5.

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

82_rays_walking_in_from_the_bullpen

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

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

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

83_ben_telling_zack_that_eddie_was_just below_the_dugout_roof

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

84_eddie_handing_bats_to_zack

What a great feeling!

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

85_zack_and_eddie_shaking_hands

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

86_zack_photographing_bats

Here’s a closer look:

87_autographed_bats_closeup

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

Here’s another photo of me with the bats:

88_zack_posing_with_bats

The stadium was basically empty at that point:

89_security_guard_in_empty_dugout

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

90_naomi_ready_to_leave

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

91_zack_posing_with_the_jersey

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

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

92_ben_folding_the_jersey_while_zack_swings_a_bat

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

They walked us out through the Legends restaurant . . .

93_walking_out_through_the_legends_restaurant

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

94_naomi_heading_out

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

95_zack_and_ben_outside

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 12 baseball at this game

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

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

• 1,104 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 271 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 8,195 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 21 donors for my fundraiser

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

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

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

6/23/15 at Yankee Stadium

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

1_view_from_right_field_in_bp_06_23_15

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

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

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

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

2_tarp_on_field_pregame_06_23_15

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

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

3_sean_osullivan_warming_up

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

So much for that.

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

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

4_view_during_game_06_23_15

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

5_empty_seats_on_my_left_06_23_15

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

“Byrnesie!” I shouted. “What’s up?”

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

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

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

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

6_zack_and_eric_byrnes

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

6b_byrnes1

This was Eric’s reply:

6c_byrnes2

Ho-HO!! It’s on, Son!!

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

7_zack_and_eric_byrnes

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

8_zack_and_eric_byrnes_kids

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

8b_byrnes3

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

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

9_the_one_ball_i_kept_06_23_15

I love the smudgy ones.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 baseball at this game

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

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

• 1,101 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 270 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 8,172 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 18 donors for my fundraiser

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

• $264.80 raised this season

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

6/22/15 at Yankee Stadium

Being “famous” is weird.

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

1_creeper_photo_at_gate_6

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

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

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

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

2_fans_being_cool

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

This was my view at the start of batting practice:

3_view_from_right_field_during_bp_06_22_15

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

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

4_first_two_baseballs_06_22_15

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

5_fans_in_right_field_06_22_15

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

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

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

After BP, I posed for several photos . . .

6_zack_posing_for_photos_with_fans

. . . and selfies:

7_zack_posing_for_photos_with_fans

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

8_ball_8166_warmup_from_kevin_correia

That was my fifth of the day.

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

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

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

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

9_ben_and_david_during_the_game

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

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

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

10_heading_upstairs_to_meet_randy_levine

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

11_david_in_the_executive_offices_hallway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Just another night at the ballpark, huh?)

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

12_maikel_franco_perfect_night

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

13_zack_and_kid_with_ball_06_22_15

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

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 baseball at this game

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

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

• 1,100 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 269 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 8,166 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 18 donors for my fundraiser

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

• $264.80 raised this season

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

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