9/30/05 at Shea Stadium

My dad and I have gone to three games together in the last three years.
In June of 2003, we visited Fenway Park.
In June of 2005, we made the trip to Philadelphia.
Yesterday, we went to Shea–and started off in right field.

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The stadium was almost empty during batting practice, but that didn’t make a difference because there wasn’t a single ball hit into the seats…so it was another day of begging.

The first person I asked was Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello.

“How many balls do you need?!” he shouted from 100 feet away.

“All of them!” I yelled.

“What for?!” he asked.

“For fun!”

He didn’t throw me the ball. That’s what happens when guys recognize me. He’d never recognized me before. Not good.

Luckily, Victor Zambrano didn’t recognize me, so I was able to talk him out of a ball 10 minutes later.

I got another from Jae Seo by asking him in Korean, and less than a minute after that, I got my third ball of the day from Gerald Williams by calling him by his nickname: “Ice.”

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Juan Padilla came over and signed autographs. So did Seo who was so careless that he signed my ticket stub upside down and smudged it slightly as he handed it back. Thanks.

It was great to have my dad there. Not only did he get to watch me in action–and keep me well fed throughout the night–but he helped make peace with numerous ushers and security guards who’ve…let’s say…been rather difficult over the years. I love having him on my side.

Just before we headed off to the 1st base dugout for the end of the Mets’ BP, a teenaged kid approached and asked, “Are you Zack?”

“Yes,” I said. “You must be George.”

I was right. Who else could it have been? We’d been corresponding through the comments section on this blog all week. He asked if I’d be at Shea. I told him I would, and he found me. Pretty simple.

I like being recognized (as long as it’s not a by player or coach). I like people in general, and for that reason, I think I’d be a nice celebrity. I don’t consider myself famous, but I did get recognized quite a bit after my book came out in 1999. For a few years, I had fans coming up to me at every game I attended, even on the west coast and in Canada. Some of them even asked for autographs, including one lady who had me sign her glove right under Mark McGwire’s signature. It was pretty wild. Occasionally, people would see me running all over the place and ask if I’d seen “that kid on TV who collects balls.”

“I am that kid,” I’d say.

Some people wouldn’t believe me. That’s why I started carrying the bathtub pic in my wallet, not that I really have to prove myself, but it was just fun to get all kinds of reactions.

Anyway…
At around 5:30pm, I headed to the dugout and my dad followed. When the Mets came off the field, I got three balls from Mets coaches within a one-minute span. The first was Jerry Manuel. Then Howard Johnson. Then Manny Acta (who’s now thrown me nine balls since 2003). These guys all came back to the dugout 30 seconds apart. I’d squeezed into the front row, right above the gap in the protective fence where I knew they’d all have to enter. George was impressed. So was my dad, but there really wasn’t anything fancy about it.

The Rockies had started BP, so I went to left field. Fifteen wasted minutes later, I ran up to the Loge and my dad came with me.

I asked J.D. Closser for balls several times, and he kept ignoring me. Finally, I was like, “C’mon, just one ball and I’ll shut up, whaddaya say?”

He looked up and said, “I say no.”

“Is there any way I can get a ball from you guys?”

“Yeah,” he said, “you can catch one.”

“But this stadium [is bad]!” I shouted. “There aren’t any balls hit up here!”

“That’s not my problem,” he said, and that was the end of it. I couldn’t tell if he was being playful or flat-out snotty, but at least he acknowledged my existence.

A home run barely cleared the left field wall and dropped into the gap 25 feet below. After five minutes, I was able to snag it with my glove trick. (If you don’t know what I mean by the “glove trick,” read my entry from April 26th.) Even better than the ball itself was that my dad had seen me get it. He was impressed. So was Jose Acevedo.

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That was the only ball I got during the entire Rockies’ BP. I made it to the 3rd base dugout just before all the players and coaches came off the field, and I got a ball–my eighth of the day–from Omar Quintanilla. Actually, I didn’t know who it was until my friend Adam (A.K.A. “The Grocery Man“) identified him for me. When I looked at the ball, I was shocked to discover that Quintanilla had already signed it. That’s the first time I’ve ever gotten a ball that was already signed. The only other balls I have that’re signed are #’s 1,000 and 2,000 by the players who gave them to me…and a random ball that Charlie Sheen briefly got a hold of. Long story.

Two side notes:
1) Adam caught two balls yesterday.
2) Quintanilla is now the fourth “Q” player to have tossed me a ball. The others are Paul Quantrill, Ruben Quevedo, and Robb Quinlan. (On an even less exciting note, he’s the third Omar on my list, joining Daal and Infante.)

Okay, make that three side notes…
3) George got one ball. Actually, he caught two but handed one over to a little kid that it had specifically been thrown to.

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I didn’t catch any more balls before the game, but I did get two autographs: Clint Barmes and Luis Gonzalez.

“That’s an interesting signature,” I said to Barmes.

“Yeah, I know it’s not pretty, but that’s just how I’ve always done it.”

“Yeah, well you’ve always been an idiot.” (Just kidding. I didn’t really say that.)

My dad and I had great seats in shallow left field. I’d strategically picked them. We were in the first row behind the main aisle and on the end of the row so I could jump up and start running in any direction. It’s essential to have range. You never want to be trapped in the middle of a row because the odds of a ball coming right to you are very slim.

You may recall from yesterday’s entry that I really wanted a ball from Todd Helton. Why? Just to have a tangible connection to a player that I already liked. Well, with the right-handed Kris Benson on the hill, the left-handed Helton was back in the lineup. I knew that my only chance to get a ball from him was to sneak down to the dugout every inning and hope that the Mets would make the 3rd out on the ground–and that Helton (playing 1st base) would end up with the ball and take it back to the dugout and toss it into the crowd.

With two outs in the bottom of the 1st, I left my poor old dad in his seat and headed over to the dugout. Mike Piazza flied out to center fielder Matt Holiday. No ball for me.

With two outs in the bottom of the 2nd, I left my dad again. Jose Reyes grounded out to Gonzalez, who fired to Helton. This was it! No, it wasn’t! Helton tossed the ball 10 feet to my right. I’d guessed wrong and picked the wrong staircase. No ball once again.

No problem. With two outs in the bottom of the 3rd, I went back to the same staircase where I’d been, thinking that Helton would remember where he’d tossed the ball the previous inning–and toss it toward me instead. But David Wright ruined everything by striking out. No ball.

By the bottom of the 4th, Adam and a few other guys I know had joined me and my dad along the 3rd base line. After the Mets made the first two outs, I told them that I needed a groundout to end the Toddheltoninning–and I headed off. When Benson came up with two outs, I feared I’d be getting another inning-ending strikeout, but Byung-Hyun Kim walked him on five pitches. That brought up Reyes, who ended up hitting a come-backer. I was already down the steps before Helton made the catch and therefore was able to get right up to the front. Helton took the ball with him as he jogged off the field and he flung it in my direction from about 40 feet out. The long throw gave everyone plenty of time to try to jostle me out of position, but I held my ground and reached WAY out over the dugout roof and made the catch. I was psyched! Todd Helton. Future Hall of Famer. It felt great to make the triumphant return to the seats. I felt great in general. I had a goal, made a plan, and executed it. My dad deserves some credit. He never made me feel guilty for leaving him every inning. In fact, he’d encouraged me to run off and do my thing.

Three outs later, Marlon Anderson led off the bottom of the 5th by slicing a soft foul ball in my direction. Before it reached the peak of its arc, I was already racing through the crowded aisle to get as close as possible to its landing spot. The ball was falling short and curving to the right. I was about 15 feet away when I saw it land in the runway that connects the seats to the concourse. I figured there HAD to be someone there. Someone had to be heading to the bathroom or returning from the souvenir stand with a Mr. Met bobblehead, but when I rounded the corner, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The runway was empty, and the ball was just sitting at the bottom! I was all over it, even more psyched than before. Last year, I’d gotten 10 game balls (not counting game-used balls that are thrown to me, like the one from Helton). This Marlon Anderson ball was my 10th gamer of this year…it was the first time that I’d reached double digits in game balls in back-to-back seasons.

I hurried back up the runway, made eye contact with my dad 30 feet down the aisle, and held up the ball. I can’t even describe how amazing it felt. He couldn’t believe it, and neither could I. When that ball left Marlon’s bat, there had to have been at least 100 fans sitting closer to the runway than me. Maybe 200. Of course, they weren’t all sitting near aisles and staircases, but still, there were dozens of people who could’ve gotten there first if they’d been a little more with it.

The rest of the game flew by. I was having so much fun that I didn’t even realize that there was only one out to go until Adam questioned why I hadn’t yet gone to the dugout.

“Meet me behind home plate!” I shouted at my dad as I took off.

Instead of battling the mob at the Mets’ dugout, I tried a new strategy. I went to the runway directly behind home plate to try to get a ball from the home plate umpire as he walked off the field. Whoever it was, he tossed THREE balls into the crowd, but I didn’t get any of them. The only noteworthy thing that happened there was that I tore my pants on a jagged piece of metal on a railing. (That’s Shea for you.) But whatever. I had a fun night and ended up with ten balls.

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STATS:

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• 316 balls in 42 games this season = 7.5238095238 balls per game

• 426 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 52 consecutive games with at least three balls

• 89 total game balls

• 2,747 total balls…moves me into 47th place on the all-time hits list ahead of Barry Bonds (2,742) and Al Oliver (2,743). Next up is Luke Appling (2,749).

(If you have no idea why I’ve been comparing baseballs to base hits, click here.)

Later today, I’ll be attending my last game of the season (unless someone out there has a ticket to the playoffs that they’d like to give me or sell for a reasonable price)…

8 Comments

Great Job, you are lucky your dad likes to go around with you like that, my dad wouldn’t havepatience to be at a ballpark 6-8 hours. Oh and i will send you an email with the chone figgins autograph that i got.

Thanks for another great entry. I’m surprised why Omar Quintallina signed the ball, and if he was to sign it, why wouldn’t he sign it on the sweet spot to make the baseball look good? One thing about Korean Jae Seo is that I don’t think he knows how to read. I read from the Korean newspapers that he still needs a translator when he has been in pro baseball for about eight years or so. When I saw him recently at Dodger Stadium, he only was talking to the team trainer and his translator. He didn’t seem to talk to any of his teammates. Poor guy. Again, I hope you can blog throughout the offseason…Thank you.

Zack – I love your blog and enjoyed listening to you on the Under the Lights feature. I wonder, have you ever thought of donating some of your collection to underprivileged Little League teams?

Zack,
I know how special each ball you’ve caught is to you, almost up there with your blood and bones. And I truly, truly understand why you’re committed to keeping every one of these inconic gems, which in essence, connect you to the game, the turf and the players. Nevertheless, I read with interest the comment on your 9.30.05 blog from someone named Rorie, in which she/he asks, “Have you ever thought of donating some of your collection to underprivileged Little League teams?” What a striking, kind notion! To be able to have the joy and excitiement of persuing your hobby so successfully, and at the same time turn it into good works. These kids would benefit from your expertise and hard work, thus providing you with more thrills by knowing you have brightened their lives. Another Beauty Part is that the next time some pesky loudmouth faults you for aggressive snagging, or asks why you need so many balls, you’d be able to squelch the intruder by saying, “I donate them to Little Leagues for underpriveleged kids.” WHAM! They’d feel busted!

This isn’t to suggest you should donate your entire collection, NO WAY, Jose! Just a continuing flow at a resonable number. You’ll still have the satisfaction of having corralled all those spheroids, they’ll remain logged into your snagging archive, you’ll still possess the memories and the heart-pumping jazz of having snagged ‘em. Plus, you’ll have a warm feeling for sharing your bounty, the way wealthy people charitably donate portions of their riches to needy organizations for the greater benefit of the less fortunate. Think of it as The Zack Hample Snagging Trust. Hey, maybe some Little League team will even name a ballpark after you – Zack Snags Field!

Zack, I am actually writing a blog right now about my dreams after moving out. My dreams consist of going to many baseball games a year, working for baseball somehow, and doing something like you do.

My dad has no patience at all.

Anyways, keep it up! Are you attending anymore regular season games this year?

Great game for you man, im going tomorrow’s game (yes a day game) but in a way it might be a good thing as the annoying upper deck seat fans wont be able to get in the field level)

ill tell you about it later.

any way, i really enjoyed reading your posts throughout the year, and in a way it felt like i was at the games with you, keep it up zack and i look foward to what next year will bring.

-jonathan elias

Just 2 balls but 30 autographs as well. It was a very good game. I gave you props then, but here are some public props for the Helton dugout ball and foul ball. Public props for the whole day actually. Good stuff.

RAMONES-
You’re right. I’m very lucky to have such a cool dad. I got your e-mail but haven’t had a chance to look at it yet. This week has been the busiest of the year for me, but now that the regular season is almost done, I should be able to get back to you within the next day or two.

DODGERS-

I have a feeling that most players (including Quintanilla) don’t realize how much the fans worship their every move—and how many collectibles they create along the way. Interesting about Seo. I had no idea. Maybe that’s why he always responds so well when I ask him for balls in Korean. Blogging through the off-season?! Oh my god. I’m gonna need SOME time off.

RORIE-

Thanks. I’m glad you like the blog and got to hear me on MLB Radio. I’ve often thought about what to do with all my baseballs, and yes, the idea of donating them has crossed my mind. For now, though, I’m planning to hold onto them at least until I have kids who are old enough to appreciate them…which is something my father didn’t do with all the balls he’d accumulated during his days as a minor league ballboy. (In other words, it’s all his fault that I’m greedy.) Right now, I still own every ball that I’ve ever caught; the fact that my collection is complete literally fills me with joy that words can not describe. I’m more inclined to (someday) buy a few thousand balls for underpriviledged Little League teams than to part with my entire collection, or to go through the painful process of deciding which of my prized possesions to give away.

BOODLEHEIMER-

I don’t want my name on anything. I’m just a collector who loves keeping what he collects.

WOLFE-

I went to Shea last night, and I plan to write about it within the next 24 hours. Something tells me you’ll be able to turn your dreams into reality. Whatever you do, and whatever you choose, just stick with it.

JONATHAN-

Thanks so much. I really appreciate it. I still have at least one more game to write about, so don’t run away yet. Good luck at Shea. I hope you get all kinds of crazy goodies when the game ends.

GROCERY MAN-

Thank you, sir. Let it be known that in one day, you got half as many autographs as I’ve gotten all season. Props to YOU for that and for YOUR Helton ball last night.

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