July 2006

Late-nite rambling…

The trade deadline was good to me this year. The Mets sent Xavier Nady to the Pirates for Roberto Hernandez and Oliver Perez. Hernandez throws lots of balls into the crowd. Nady doesn’t. As for Perez, I’m hoping I can get a ball from him so I can add his name him to the mini-collection of Perezes on my list: Carlos, Eddie, Melido, Timo, and Yorkis. Right now, “Jones” and “Johnson” are leading “Perez” and a few other names by a slim margin of 6-5. Forget the AL Central; if Oliver comes through for me in the next few weeks, THIS will be the three-way race that has everyone talking–about what a geek I am…speaking of which…that was the insult thrown my way in a recent article on Boston.com by some goofball who couldn’t even manage to spell my name right. People, It’s Z-A-C-K. See that last letter? It’s a kay, not an aitch. Why is this so difficult? It says “Zack” right at the top of this blog, and on my web site, and in my email address. I’m amazed at the number of people who write “Dear Zach…” to me at ZackSnags@aol.com. Enough about that. I’m happy with the Yankees’ trade, too, because it’ll give me a chance to get a ball from Bobby Abreu today. Yes, today. I’d been thinking about going to Baltimore, but that trip fell through, so I’m going to Yankee Stadium instead. I know there are gonna be 50,000 people, and I know I’ll have to sit through TWO national anthems, and I know I said I was done with that place for the year, and I know I’ll be putting my streak (442 consecutive games with at least one ball) in jeopardy, but I suddenly got the urge to go, for two reasons. First, I decided that I want to catch my 2,900th ball in San Diego. It’s not a major milestone, but it’d still be cool to reach it at a new stadium…and since there aren’t too many games left before my trip (August 12-18), I kind of need to take advantage of tonight’s game and pad my total. Let’s do a little math, shall we? Currently, I’m 33 balls away from 2,900. I’m planning to go to three games at Petco, which seems like a pretty good place to snag, but it IS the summer, and the Padres ARE in first place, and Barry Bonds WILL be there, so the stadium could be packed. Therefore, I can’t assume that I’ll get an obscene amount of balls. Let’s say I walk away with 20 in three games. That still leaves me 13 short. The only other games between now and then that I’d even consider attending (other than tonight’s) are the only two night games next week at Shea. Will I even go to both of those games? I don’t know. Shea is awful when there are more than 30,000 people, and lately, the crowds have all been around 45,000. I’d feel lucky to get even five balls per game there. Hopefully I can get at least three tonight in the Bronx and then average five per game next week at yankeestadiumB&W.jpgShea and then average almost seven per game in San Diego. Sounds reasonable, no? My other reason for wanting to go to Yankee Stadium is that I want to take dozens–if not hundreds–of photos of the place. (Don’t forget, the new Yankee Stadium is only a few years away.) Back in high school, I devoted part of a game to roaming and photographing, and I ended up with a bunch of artsy shots…but I’ve never roamed there with my digital camera, or when I’ve had the backdrop of a full stadium. And anyway, there are some places in Yankee Stadium where I’ve NEVER been, like way up in the corners of the upper deck beyond the foul poles. I want to see what that view looks like. To hell with chasing foul balls. All the good seats will be taken anyway. I just want to wander and not worry about the game and inspect the place from all angles. I’m going to photograph the ramps, concourses, concession stands, water fountains…everything…maybe even a bathroom or two, if no one’s around. The bathrooms there are awful. Totally cramped.

Everlasting Glove

I’ve been using the same glove for about a decade, and it shows.

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There’s duck tape holding the pocket together, there are rubber bands and Twist-Ties holding everything else together, the padding is slipping out of the palm, and the string is always in the way.

So why am I still using it?

Because it’s great for the glove trick (which is why all that string is there). There’s just something about the glove’s shape–I can’t explain it–that holds the rubber band in the perfect spot and makes the whole thing fool proof. And that’s why I’ve stuck with it year after year for all my snagging needs, even though it’s so flimsy and uncomfortable that I drop a few routine balls every season.

Recently, though, I decided it was time for a change, so for the first time ever, I brought my REAL glove–the one I used when I played in college–to a Major League game.

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I’ve actually used this glove at my last three games, and it’s felt great. When I caught that home run during batting practice at Camden Yards, the ball made a ferocious THWACK!!! as it nestled snugly into the pocket.

I think this glove is here to stay, but I’m not quite ready to abandon the old one.

7/25/06 at Shea Stadium

Better.

I got my corner spot in the right field Loge, and good things happened…

For the first two minutes of batting practice, I had the entire section to myself, and I asked Mike Pelfrey several times for a ball. Then some kid showed up and decided to stand right next to me. (Smart.) He shouted at Pelfrey. Pelfrey threw the next ball our way. I reached out and caught it.

Several minutes later, a ball trickled onto the warning track down below. Billy Wagner walked over, and I asked him for it. He looked up and tossed it to me. Easy. (The other kid ended up getting two balls, including one with my help, so don’t feel bad.)

The Loge was already filling up, and some guys in the next section started yelling for a ball. I kept paying attention to the batter so I didn’t notice that someone threw a ball to them until it sailed over their heads and whacked a seat. The ball ricocheted into my section. Everyone raced for it. I won.

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Both the Wagner ball and random ball had “PRACTICE” stamped lightly on the sweet spot. Nothing extraordinary, but still noteworthy. (As you can see, I marked the balls with numbers so I’ll always remember how I got them.)

Five minutes later, Orlando Hernandez finished playing catch and tossed the ball to some fans in the Mezzanine level, 20 feet above me. The ball fell short and bounced off the concrete facade. A few fans in my section scrambled toward the spot where the ball was about to land, but just before they got there, I lunged over two rows of seats and caught it six inches off the ground. It was 4:58pm. I’d been inside Shea Stadium for 18 minutes, and I had four balls. At that pace, I would’ve had 23 by the end of batting practice–but it wasn’t meant to be.

I managed to get just one more ball in the final hour and 20 minutes of BP, but it was a fun one because I got to use the glove trick. The ball landed on that sloped grassy area in the right field corner.

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I figured the ball was too far up for security to steal it and too far down for any of the nearby fans to have a chance, so I gave up my corner spot and ran downstairs. For the first time ever, no one was guarding the entrance to the precious Dream Seats. (Those are the new fancy seats on that intrusive platform.) I waltzed out onto the platform and peered over the edge, prompting an usher to hurry over and warn me not to go down there.

“I don’t need to,” I said as I started setting up my glove.

Thankfully, the usher didn’t recognize me, so he let me do my thing and skeptically cheered me on.

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The ball was a bit too far out for me to simply lower the glove over it, so I gently swung the glove out and knocked the ball closer…and then it was showtime. The glove went over the ball. The ball (yet another one from the 2005 All-Star Game) went in the glove. Everyone in the section applauded. The usher shook my hand.

I ran all over the place for the rest of BP, but like I said: NOTHING. But you know what? I don’t even care because I got four great autographs right before the game.

The previous day, I’d brought several ticket stubs from Jose Reyes’ cycle. As I expected, he signed some autographs along the first base line after his pregame running, but it was such a mob scene that I couldn’t get near him despite being just one staircase to the left.

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Last night, however, I happened to pick the right spot, and I got him. And since the people behind me were literally mashing me against the front row, I couldn’t get out of the way to let them in, so I just stayed there and got Reyes two more times. It was beautiful. He didn’t even look up. He just kept signing everything that people stuck in his face. Sadly, though, my Sharpie got a bit dry, so the third autograph looks like crap. Moments later, David Wright came over, and I got him to sign an even older ticket (with someone else’s black Sharpie). Hot diggity.

I went back up to the Loge for the start of the game. Carlos Zambrano was pitching for the Cubs, so I knew there’d be more foul balls than usual…and there were…but just not to me. For the first three innings, I stood in the runway between sections 4 and 6 for every left-handed batter. Then, at the start of the fourth, I grabbed an empty seat 15 feet away. Two batters later, Juan Pierre hit a foul ball **RIGHT** to the spot where I’d been standing. Dear God, just because Zambrano points toward the sky after every inning doesn’t mean that he should get all the love.

Zambrano worked seven so-so innings for his 11th win, and he HIT his fourth home run of the season–to the opposite field! The ball is juiced. I’m telling you. If you don’t believe me, all I can say is that Endy Chavez connected for a three-run shot that was estimated at 415 feet.

After the game, I got my sixth and final ball from home plate umpire Kerwin Danley as he left the field.

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STATS:

• 47,686 fans in attendance

Competition Factor = 286,116.

• 115 balls in 15 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 28 autographs on 22 ticket stubs this year

• 949 lifetime autographs on 792 ticket stubs

• 442 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 68 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 2,867 total balls…moves me ahead of Harold Baines (2,866) and into 39th place on the all-time hits list. Next up is Babe Ruth (2,873).

7/24/06 at Shea Stadium

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Oh my god, what a frustrating day. Not only was there an ENORMOUS pregame crowd, but one of the people waiting to get in was a fellow ball collector known as “Chuckster.” He told me he was going for the corner spot in the right field Loge, which is basically THE spot for batting practice at Shea. When Gate C opened at 4:40pm, I could’ve outrun him and gotten there first, but I decided to be charitable and let him have it. He ended up getting more balls there in the first 45 minutes than I got all day.
My day, however, was not a complete loss.

After getting completely shut out during the Mets’ portion of BP, I was able to get two balls from the Cubs down the left field line–and I owe it all to my friend Naturi, who joined me for her first game ever. (Actually, she’d been to a game once with her grandfather, but she can’t remember what sport it was.) While I was running all around the left field seats, Naturi held the one decent spot for me down the line; when the entire front row was packed half an hour later, I was able to slip back into that spot and get the two balls.

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The first came from Scott Eyre. While he was playing catch, I asked him politely if he could toss it to me when he was done.

“Probably,” he said.

Several minutes later, he hooked me up…and then signed my ticket stub.

The second ball was tossed by Angel Pagan (pronounced “ON-hell P’gone”) after he made a running catch that took him in my direction. I should’ve had a third ball, but it tipped off my bare hand after some fans next to me unexpectedly bobbled the easiest lob of all time.

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And that was IT.
Nothing after BP.
Nothing during the game.
Nothing after the game.
Truly pathetic.

At least we’d been able to find some good seats. The Cubs won, 8-7. Greg Maddux picked up his 326th career win despite allowing all seven runs on 10 hits in six innings.

STATS:

Competition Factor = 91,262.

• 109 balls in 14 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

• 441 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 67 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 2,861 total balls

AND FINALLY, A FEW WORDS FROM NATURI…

Hi, guys. Just a few thoughts on my day at Shea with Zack. Bear with me since I’m no sports writer or sports reader or, well…fan. The cool things about the day were:

• How close the game was–the Mets bringing it up three points to make it 8-7 in the 7th inning. I brought a book, but didn’t even make it through a whole chapter.
• All the cheesy crowd pleasers between innings–the T-shirt tosses, the players on the JumboTron quoting lines from movies, the Kiss Cam. Good times.
• It was fun seeing Zack in action: catching a ball, dropping a ball, talking to all the fans and vendors he knows. One of the vendors even gave me a free beer. Nice to have a friend with connections.

Now for the bad part. A lot of security guys seem to have it in for Zack, especially this one who told him he’d have to give up the next ball he got after he’d only caught one. Was it because he’d be too scared to ask a player for a ball? Was he jealous of Zack’s record? Maybe it was because this guard had a butt like a girl. I hear that could make security personnel bitter.

All in all, it was a good day. Just seeing a homerun fly through the air, I can see why you all are so into this baseball thing.

Hit Tracker

Just wanted to share a recent discovery…

There’s a site called Hit Tracker that keeps track of–and measures–every home run. You can search by team, hitter, pitcher, ballpark, distance, etc. It’s amazing.

During games, I usually stay behind home plate and go for foul balls instead of homers, but I’m planning to change my routine next month at PETCO Park. The Giants will be in town, and even though I’m not a Barry fan, it would be pretty sweet to catch one of his home runs…and now, thanks to Hit Tracker, I know exactly where to go.

Meanwhile, NYC has been getting pounded by rain. It better clear up soon because I’m planning to go to Shea in a couple days.

7/17/06 at Camden Yards

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The best thing about bringing my friend Sean to a game is that he’s fun. The worst thing is that he goes for baseballs, too, so when I entered the stadium at 5pm and sprinted through the concourse, he was right behind me. Twenty seconds later, the day’s first ball plunked into the empty right field seats…

Sean 1, Zack 0.

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Orioles pitcher Kurt Birkins happened to be shagging in right field. As soon as the batter hit one to him, I asked him for it.

“They’ll hit plenty of ‘em your way,” he said as he fired it back toward the infield. “Don’t worry.”

“Yeah, but within a few minutes, this place is gonna be overrun by munchkins.”

“Ya gotta overpower ‘em!” he shouted. “You’re big! You can do it!”

“C’mon, Kurt,” I said. “Hook me up before this place gets crazy.”

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One minute later, the batter hit a deep drive that one-hopped the wall in front of me. Kurt jogged over, scooped it up, and flipped it to me. And there it was: my 100th ball of the season.

Sure enough, the right field seats were packed 10 minutes later, and I didn’t get anything until the rest of the stadium opened for non-season ticket-holding chumps like me.

Left field was great. Within a few minutes, I caught a home run on a fly. I’m not sure who hit it. Some righty on the Orioles. It felt good because I judged it perfectly, drifting down several rows as soon as it left the bat and then reaching up and making the grab with people all around me. Of course, I misjudged one 20 minutes later…I drifted and the ball landed RIGHT where I’d been standing (AAHH!!)…but I made up for it by grabbing another ball that had landed near me in the half-empty seats.

That would be Zack 3, Sean 1 for those of you who are keeping score at home.

Actually, Sean and I weren’t competing. We made a point of staying out of each other’s way, and he helped me by telling me that a ball had landed in the gap in center field. I hadn’t seen it because I was busy getting rejected at the Orioles’ dugout. (For a photo of this gap, check out the entry from my previous trip to Camden.)

It was going to be a trek to make it back to center field, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it. I’d have to run up the steps, through a runway, across the concourse, along a narrow concrete walkway with several 90-degree turns, through the picnic area, into the Eutaw Street concourse, and back down some more steps.

It would take a minute or two each way, plus another minute to use my glove trick. Was it worth it? All that running in the stifling heat for ONE ball? What if it wasn’t there? What if a groundskeeper went behind the outfield wall and took it? What if the Orioles hit 20 home runs into the left field seats while I was gone?

“You better be right,” I told Sean as I headed off.

He was. He’s always right. It’s scary, and it’s wonderful. I need to stop doubting him.

I still had just four balls when BP ended at around 6:25pm, but I managed to get two more quick ones at the A’s dugout. A coach was transferring all the balls from the basket to the equipment bags. Several fans were shouting generic, nameless requests at him, and he didn’t bother looking up. Once I saw that he was wearing #48, I peeked at my A’s roster. It was bullpen coach Brad Fischer.

“Hey, Brad!” I yelled, “Is there any chance you could spare a ball? Even a dirty one? I’ll take the ugliest one you got!”

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He still didn’t look up, but I could tell that he was briefly inspecting the balls as he grabbed them six at a time. Moments later, he looked up, spotted my A’s cap, and tossed one to me. If the ball were a face, it would have a black eye, several teeth missing, a crooked nose, stubble, a gigantic zit, and bad breath–but in the snagging world, these are signs of beauty. New balls are lame. Think about it. A new ball is an unused ball, and really, who doesn’t want to use their balls?

A’s hitting coach Gerald Perry headed off the field one minute later–I didn’t need my roster this time–and even though I knew he didn’t have a ball, I still asked for one. I had nothing to lose, so I waited until he approached the dugout and then said, “Hey, Gerald, any chance there’s a loose ball sitting around down there?”

He disappeared from sight, and I figured that was the end of it. But five seconds later, he poked his head out from under the roof, made eye contact with me, and tossed me a real Lame-O.

Half an hour later, I was hanging out along the third base line, hoping/praying that Frank Thomas would come over and sign. I’d loved Him since His first month in the majors, way back in August of 1990, but I’d never gotten His autograph. One time, several years later at Yankee Stadium, He started signing during BP, right behind third base. My friend headed over and shouted at me to come along, but I stubbornly held my ground in left field, not wanting to pass up potential home run balls. Three minutes later, my friend came back with Frank’s autograph, and I hadn’t gotten any balls. I’ve regretted that moment ever since.

In case you’re not convinced how much I actually loved The Big Hurt, I used to call the White Sox in the early 90s for regular updates on the number of walks He had. Those were the pre-internet days, and The New York Times didn’t always list His complete stats…and I simply needed to know. I was obsessed with His walks, and I hated Tony Phillips, that pesky little ******* on the Tigers, who battled Frank for the league lead every year. And now, in the twilight of His career, Frank Thomas was warming up for the game, just 40 feet away from me.

Everyone was shrieking. I really didn’t think He’d come over, but I had my ticket stub ready. I’d brought an extra stub from a 2005 Orioles-White Sox game; even though Frank didn’t play much, He WAS on the team.

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And then He started walking right toward me. Of course, He signed for everyone around me–but not me. He let a little kid feel his muscles. He posed for photographs. But He wouldn’t sign my stub.

Desperation was setting in. The national anthem was going to start any minute, and He’d be gone. Forever.

“Frank,” I begged, “If I don’t get your autograph, I might cry.”

“Please don’t,” He said, and He kept signing for the people around me. But then, finally, He took my stub, flipped it around and started signing.

“No no no!!!–wait w–ohhh, okay…never mind.”

I had handed Him the stub so that it was already facing Him. He turned it around without looking. He probably thought He was doing me a favor, but it just meant that He was signing it upside down.

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I moved 10 feet to my right and took a dozen pics of Him. When He started making His way toward me, I took off my glasses and ditched my cap so He wouldn’t recognize me. I got my old White Sox stub ready, and when He reached me for the second time, I got His autograph again…this time right side up. I shook His hand, too, just before He jogged off to the dugout. Hallelujah.

At that point, I remember thinking that the rest of the night didn’t even matter. I mean…anything that could’ve possibly happened wouldn’t approach the greatness of that two-minute span.

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Sean and I had bought fabulous seats (at $55 apiece…ouch) in the perfect foul ball spot, but we came up empty. Three balls zipped right over our heads, and a couple others fell short, but it was still a good game. Not only was there a triple celebrity sighting right in our section (Dennis Miller, Ron Howard, and Tom Hanks), but Jason Windsor made his Major League debut. Who?! Jason Windsor, the 24-year-old right-hander from San Bernardino. He was a third-round draft pick in 2004 and combined for a 12-1 record this season at Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento. He’s going to be a stud. He lasted five innings and settled for a no-decision after limiting the Orioles to three runs–one earned–on five hits. Adam KurtbirkinsLoewen made the start–the sixth of his career–for the O’s and gave up just one hit in five innings. Unfortunately, he walked six, hit Nick Swisher twice, and balked in a run. The Orioles broke a 3-3 tie with two runs in the bottom of the seventh, and that’s how it ended. Guess who got the win in relief. Oh yes, that’s right: Mister Birkins.

I was already in the first row behind the Orioles’ dugout when Bobby Kielty ended the game with a wimpy groundout to second. Closer Chris Ray kept the ball (Whoa-ho! 23rd career save…gotta hold onto THAT one!), but coach Rick Dempsey tossed one into the crowd, about eight feet to my left. Somehow, the fans managed to drop it, and somehow, it bounced out of their hands and rolled right to me along the dugout roof…and that wasn’t it. Less than a minute later, I noticed that Bruce Chen was walking in from the bullpen with a ball in his glove. I wanted to make sure I was the first fan to ask for it, so I started waving and shouting before he crossed the foul line. When he got a little bit closer, he took the ball with his left hand and underhanded it to me with a high arc. It nearly hit the clueless security lady who was pacing back and forth on the dugout roof…but it didn’t, and I got it, and that was it.

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STATS:

Competition Factor = 157,216.

• 107 balls in 13 games this season = 8.23 balls per game.

• 440 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 66 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 9 consecutive seasons with at least 100 balls

• 535 total balls outside of New York

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

• 54 lifetime balls in six games at Camden Yards = 9 balls per game.

• 2,859 total balls

100th ball of the season

It’s been 25 days since my last game. This is my longest mid-season drought since 2001, and it’s finally going to end tomorrow with a trip to Camden Yards. In addition to ending this agonizing streak, I’m excited about this game for several reasons:

1) Camden is a snagger’s paradise.
2) I’m going with my friend Sean and possibly a couple other guys as well.
3) The Orioles are playing the A’s, and I hardly ever get to see teams from the AL West.
4) It’s going to be 101 degrees. (Hopefully, that’ll chase some people away.)
5) My first ball of the day will be my 100th of the season. I predict it’ll be thrown by Kurt Birkins. Why not.

My goal for the day: 10 balls, including TWO fouls during the game. I’ll have the entry up on Tuesday, or possibly Wednesday…

Anaheim, 1995

I finally found the pics from my trip to Anaheim in 1995…

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That summer, I was working for the Boise Hawks (the Angels’ Class A Short-Season affiliate until 2001), so I had behind-the-scenes access when I went to see the Big Club. It’s amazing how different the place was before Disney took over and renovated.

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I still get goose bumps when I look at these pics. For me, there’s something magical about being inside an empty stadium, and that will never change.

Happy All-Star break…

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I’d LOVE to see the National League dominate the All-Star Game, but since that’s doubtful, I will reluctantly predict an 8-3 win for the Junior Circuit. As for the Home Run Derby, I’m rooting for David Wright, but I think Ryan Howard has the best shot. If I were lucky enough to be in Pittsburgh, I’d pack a towel and hang out on the promenade behind the right field bleachers, just in front of the Allegheny River.

The latest obsession

NEWSFLASH: I get obsessed with things…

…but baseball is not always at the top of my list. When I was little, I was obsessed with coins, rocks, cats, and my rubber band ball. In fourth grade, it was ping pong. One summer at sleep-away camp, I spent all my free time building an arsenal of mother jokes. “Your mother’s so fat, she stepped on a dollar bill and made change…Your mother’s so poor, she got married for the rice…You’re mother’s so dumb, she thinks Winnipeg is a sweepstakes for pirates…Your mother’s so old, I told her to act her age and she dropped dead…” In high school, all I cared about was being able to dunk a basketball. In 1995, I was obsessed with sign language. In college, I couldn’t play enough Scrabble, and then for a few months, I moved on to Arkanoid. Nowadays, I go through stretches where my entire life revolves around my music collection. Or my writing group. Or my hormones.

At the moment, I’m obsessed with scanning EVERY one of my old photographs–and there are thousands. Check out this one I just found from April 3, 1996…

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I was 18. I’d just been in Paris for six weeks, and I came back to NYC with my first goatee. I thought it was bad-***, and when Opening Day rolled around, I wasn’t in a rush to shave. I still managed to snag 10 balls that day at Shea, but who knows? If I’d been sporting a younger look, I might’ve gotten 12.

I’ve recently added a few other photos to my albums, and there are more on the way…

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