5/1/06 at Shea Stadium

People assume I have season tickets.
People are wrong.

I always buy my ticket on the day of the game. Do I worry that games might be sold out? No. I’m good at predicting that, and since I hate big crowds, I just stay home.

THIS game, as I correctly predicted, was not even close to being a sellout, and as a result, I was able to buy a seat in my favorite foul ball spot…

Foulballseatticket

Loge = second deck
Section 5 = slightly on the first base side of the plate, perfect for foul tips from righties
Row A = right behind the (horribly narrow) main aisle, good for getting up and running
Seat 6 = between seats 5 and 7…whatever

The ticket ladies said I was great on TV. The fans at Gate C recognized me from the shows and asked dozens of questions during the half hour that we waited to get in:

How many balls do you have? Is that a world record? Do the players ever recognize you? Do you live nearby? How old are you? Do you have a job? What’s your favorite ballpark? Who’s pitching tonight? How did the TV people hear about you? Do you have season tickets? When did you start doing this? What’s the most balls you ever got in one game? What’s your ultimate goal? Why is there duck tape on your glove?

And so on.
It was a fun way to pass the time.

Having talked about it on TV, I was paranoid that someone–if not everyone–would end up going to my favorite BP spot in the right field Loge, so I sprinted there as soon as the gates opened at 4:40pm.

GuycontiNine minutes later, I had three balls.
The first was tossed up by some really young bullpen-catcher-type-guy that I’d never seen before. The second came from bullpen coach Guy Conti.

“How do you know my name?!” he had demanded.
(Well ya see, there’s this thing called the Internet…)

ballopeningday2006.jpg

I noticed that the ball didn’t have the standard MLB logo on it. There was something else…worn out…hard to read…oh my god…IT WAS AN OPENING DAY BALL!!! Awesome. I’d never gotten one before.

And the third ball was thrown by Chad Bradford.

Then I didn’t get anything for nearly half an hour, which felt like six lifetimes.

Tom Glavine was doing a bullpen session with pitching coach Rick Peterson. Right at the end, when they were standing around and discussing grips, some lefty on the Mets lined a homer into the bullpen. The ball settled in a puddle on a piece of wood, half-buried by a tarp against the back wall. After Glavine tossed it to me, I had to wait 15 minutes for it to dry so the ink wouldn’t run when I labeled it with a “2789”–and by then, I’d sprinted around the entire Loge concourse to the LF corner where Cliff Floyd threw me my fifth ball of the day.

A young man poked his head out of the runway.

“Hey,” he said, “just wanted to say that I read your blog all the time.”

We talked for a few minutes…his name is Matt…he’s from Buffalo and goes to Rogers Center from time to time…I would’ve talked longer, but he wanted to leave me alone so I could do my thing.

That thing wasn’t producing much.
Minutes earlier, I’d missed a homer by two inches. David Wright hit it straight at me. I didn’t have to move left or right at all. Seeing that it was barely falling short, I leaned out as far as I could, over the railing and mounted advertisement and protective netting, only to have the ball tip off the end of my glove. And as if that weren’t bad enough, the (now) snotty Nationals had taken the field and started throwing. Pitcher Jon Rauch was walking over to pick up a loose ball.

“Hey Jon!” I shouted from 30 feet above. “Is there any chance that you could toss a ball up here?”

He looked up. “Nope. No chance at all.”

“Okay, well thanks anyway.”

“You’re welcome.”

Then, pitching coach Randy St. Claire flat-out dissed me yet again. What IS it with that guy? (Has anyone reading this EVER gotten a ball from him? If so, I want to hear about it.)

The Loge was empty, but dead. I knew it was time to head downstairs.

“Excuse me,” said the only other fan in the section, “aren’t you the guy that was just on TV?”

He recognized me by the way I’d been asking for balls. After a brief conversation, I grabbed my backpack and ran up the steps, through the concourse, down the two-part ramp, through the Field Level concourse, through the main aisle, through the concourse behind the plate, back into the aisle on the first base side, and down the steps to the dugout.

AlomardownFive minutes later, when the Mets finished BP and came off the field, I got two balls within 20 seconds from bench coach Sandy Alomar, Sr. and hitting coach Rick Down. By the way, the last four balls I’d gotten were all of the 2005 All-Star variety. Sweet!

allstarballs2.jpg

That gave me seven balls and instantly got me thinking about reaching double digits.

Damian Jackson was taking fungos at third base, so I went over there.
Nothing.

Several pitchers were running and stretching and B.S.ing in left field, so I headed out that way.
Nothing.

A few other people recognized me from TV. Then “Mets Weekly” started playing on the JumboTron, moments before I caught a foul ball on a fly that’d been flukily jerked right to me by some righty on the Nationals. Ten minutes later, my segment came on, and I pulled out my camera to get a few pictures. Here I am holding up my book

Zackjumbotron

Pretty soon, everyone was coming up to me, and for the rest of the night, I was recognized everywhere, even in the bathroom. (“Hey!! It’s the ball guy!!”)

One man said “I’m guessing you aren’t married” in a rude way as if to imply that no woman would ever want me. That’s funny. Haha. First of all, I hope I don’t get married for at least another decade or two, and secondly, there’s a LOT that the baseball world doesn’t know about my non-baseball life. But anyway…

trainingball2.jpg

I was so focused on getting a good picture of myself on the big screen (I failed) that I didn’t realize another ball was heading my way until some people started shouting and pointing. I looked up, just in time to see a ball smack the concrete facade of the Loge well behind me and bounce into the half-empty seats about 10 rows back. I ran up the steps. Amazingly, the ball stayed right where it landed. I grabbed it. Gah! Another one of those tacky Training Balls.

I went to the Nationals dugout at the end of BP.
Nothing.

I went to the RF corner at 6:55pm to try to get a ball from Mets catching instructor Tom Nieto. Another kid recognized me and asked how I do the glove trick. Just as I started to explain it, an usher (who knows me and doesn’t like me) came over, asked to see my ticket, and kicked me out of the Field Level. (Ahh, Shea Stadium.) Four minutes later, I found a way back in.

Right before the national anthem, I went to the LF foul line to try to get a ball from Jose Vidro.
Nothing.

Yet another fan recognized me. This guy was older…about 40, with a goatee and a thick Brooklyn accent.

“Hey! Aren’t you da guy wit all da baseballs?”

“Yup.”

“How many didja get today?”

“Nine.”

“Nine?! Well how ’bout you give me a few for my Little League team. We need ‘em! C’mon!!”

He turned away for a moment to ask for an autograph, and I bolted up the steps and headed to the dugout, where Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano were playing catch.
Nothing.

I headed up to my glorious seat in the Loge. Check out this view…

foulballseatshea.jpg

The young woman sitting to my right was gorgeous. Of course, she hadn’t seen me on TV, so when I pulled out my glove, she said rather condescendingly, “Well I see YOU’RE prepared.”

Actually, yeah, I was, and when Marlon Byrd hit a foul tip five feet to my right with two outs in the top of the fifth inning, I jumped out of my seat, scooted down the aisle, and reached up for an easy one-handed grab. BOO-yah! Double digits.

cottoncandyvendorkaren.jpg

The whole section gave me a standing ovation. The cotton candy vendor, who had ducked in fright, thanked me for saving her from getting hit by the ball. The usher came over and shook my hand. (Take THAT, gorgeous condescending woman.)

Despite all my running back and forth during the final innings, that was my last ball of the night. As for the game (like it matters), the Mets took it, 2-1, the game-winning run coming on a Gary Majewski throwing error in the bottom of the ninth.

Lots of people recognized me on the way out. I got several random “How many balls today?”‘s. One high school kid spotted me from across the street and literally shrieked, “OH MY GOD, IT’S THE BALL GUY!!! WOOOOOOOOOO!!! BALL GUY!!! BALL GUY!!!” He was just joking around (I hope), but it was still pretty fun and absurd and ridiculous. I held up my Marlon Byrd ball and gave him a wave, and he screamed, “YEAH!!! BALL GUY!!! YOU DA MAN!!!” That made other people stare and recognize me. I was looking forward to riding the #7 train with everyone, but for the first time in my life, it wasn’t running. There was a huge fire at the Willets Point station, so I walked half a mile to the 111th Street station, still holding my foul ball. I overheard the following conversation between the two guys walking behind me:

“Hey, that’s the guy from SNY.”
“Yeah, but he only got one ball.”

The trains weren’t running at 111th. I went to the token–err, MetroCard–booth to ask for alternate directions. The guy in front of me asked how he could get to Queensboro Plaza (which is on my way home, but not even close).

“Well, if you walk to Northern Boulevard, you can get the M66 bus…”

Northern freakin’ Boulevard? Screw that.

I flagged down a livery cab, gave the guy $40, and got to listen to the highlights of the Yankees’ loss on the way home.

STATS:

• 43 balls in 5 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.

• 432 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 58 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 57 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 91 lifetime game balls

• 12th time getting a game ball at back-to-back games

• 2,795 total balls

I’m taking today off from Shea. (Got a better offer.) I should be back there tomorrow for my 2,800th ball…

15 Comments

Z,

What’s up All Star? You’re driving me crazy with all these special baseballs you keep finding. Ameriquest either has your boring regular ball, or the ever exciting minor league ball.

Hey, have you ever speculated as to WHY the Mets have so many All Star balls in practice? Good question!

I’m sorta snagging at a Minor League game on Friday, so go me and my 20 minutes of BP.

Couple things.

1) It appears your popularity and recognition has soared to unprecedented highs, no? At least since the book release? Kind of bummed I haven’t been around to witness any of it. That’s a whole other subject though.

2) I got a baseball from Randy St. Claire. Sunday July 25th, 2004 at Olympmic Stadium in Montreal, Quebec. My first game ever there. St.(yeah right)Claire threw me my first ball of the day. Here is an excerpt from my write up (note; this is pre Hample blog folks, no steelo jacking here)

“Surprisingly large amount of people waiting for the gates – turned out to be Andres Gallarraga Russian doll day & autograph session. Ran to the wrong place but eventually was the first person by the field. No batting practice! Randy St. Claire & Luis Ayala were having a catch, got the ball from St. Claire when they were done. As they were walking to the dugout Luis picked up a ball, I yelled for it and as he started to throw it to me Randy went “He already got one”, Luis threw it anyway, a sidearm throw as he was turning around. It was a terrible throw and it bounced around off the seats and back onto the field. A security guard kindly retrieved it for me.” – The Grocery Man 7/27/04

Haha so even amidst his finest charitable hour, he still managed to attempt to block the shine. Luckily Luis didn’t listen to him. I got 2 more balls that day, one from Brad Penny and one from Matt Treanor. Despite what the critics say, I liked Olympic Stadium.

Suppose I should get to sleep. Hollerate.

Oh, just looked and realized something…I got your homeboy Josias’s autograph at that Spos game. Haha.

Impressive nonetheless Zack. One comment.. with all of the people recognizing you.. you’d think they would at least A) know your name and B) know you aren’t going to give them a ball.. especially if they read your blog. Anyways, good luck getting 2800!

Z –

GREAT night! FAB blog! Would liked to have seen pic of beautiful, condescending woman. Pls speak well of the Mets; they’ve made you a star! Besides, Willie Randolph is a good baseball man and a terrific human being who’s good for the game and a fine role model for young folks – desperately needed these days. Of which you’re also one. Congratulations!

DROSENDA-
I don’t know what to say about all these All-Star Balls, but I’m not about to apologize. Come to a Mets game and get some for yourself. It’s easy! No idea why the Mets have so many. Maybe ALL those players they sent to the Midsummer Classic stole a few crates. Twenty minutes of BP: yuck.

GROCERY MAN-

1) When ARE you planning to return to Shea? You are right…this is by far the most recognition I’ve gotten since 1999.

2) I’m shocked. Thanks for letting me know that he’s not 100% Evil Robot. I like the write up.

You stay up even later than me! Good lord. (And good to hear from you.)

THOMAS-

After other TV appearances in the past, fans rarely remembered my name OR the specifics of what I do. They recognize my face…and that’s about it. In any case, thanks.

BOODLE-

Yeah, I was hoping to get a pic of her, but I decided that I couldn’t do it without being creepy. How did I speak badly of the Mets? By reporting that an usher went out of his way to pick on me? The Mets should apologize.

good luck for the 2800 tomorrow zach, oh and pedro will be pitching tomorrow too. im gonna call 8 balls, and a freddy sanchez autograph

Eight balls, huh? That sounds reasonable. I’ll take it.

Can’t say I care about Sanchez (beyond the simple fact that he’s a Major League Baseball player), but I’d be happy to get his autograph.

I hate Randy St. Claire.
Just thought I’d share my opinion.

He has turned me down countless times at RFK… he says balls are for little kids (and groceryman I guess).

Hey Zack. I’ll be heading out to Shea this friday with an Atlanta Braves hat. If you’d be kind enough, how can I get into the Field Level without a Field ticket?

^ Run.

Wow, another great day eh? That’s awesome. I just got word my boss has blue jay tickets to every friday game, and anyone can take em. Since no one here really cares for baseball, they are usually just thrown out. Anyway, I’ve decided to go to some games and try to catch some balls. Not to collect or anything (dude, your record is safe ;) lol but to use them during play. Why pay $23 bucks for a baseball when you can just go early and get them for free! Lol and the only real baseball I would never use in a pickup game is a ball Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter toss at me. Chances are, I’ll leave when gametime starts, because I have no interest watching the Jay’s play, plain and simple. But I know those tickets are for the upper deck, if I come during BP, will I be able to go down to the field level seats and ask players for a ball? Ever been to the rogers center?

NICK-
That makes me feel a lot better.

CHUCKSTER-

If you get there before the end of BP (6:20pm, or so), you can waltz right into the Field Level. If you can’t get there that early, let me know, and I’ll give you a more specific strategy.

GROCERY MAN-

Nice.

UMAIR-

Do baseballs really cost that much at the Centre? Even if that IS Canadian money…wow. I haven’t been there since 2000, but back then, the rule was that you could enter the field level with ANY ticket until 45 minutes before game time. Unless they’ve gotten super strict all of a sudden, you should be fine. Even if you can’t get all the way down, the 2nd deck (200 level?) out in LF and RF is great for balls. You can fish them out of the bullpens and catch homers and get players to throw them to you.

RAMONES-

That was quite a prediction…

what do u mean zach? was my prediction close?

You’ll see. I’m working on the entry right now. Hopefully, I’ll have it done within an hour or two…

omg i just happened to be browsing google and found your page….u r indeed incredible..i wonder if i could ever get as many..n e way ur 1 lucky guy! (even though the mets r not my team)

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