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.

frankthomas.jpg

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.

frankthomasautographs.jpg

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

63 Comments

wooh, first comment! i even got up early for work to read it.

great job. awesome story with thomas. i would have done the same too.

but a great day. keep it up man.

kirt birkins…

wow…i actually just realized that you predicited that birkins would throw you #100 and indeed he did.

freakin sweet.

Congrats on the 8 balls. I’ve been to the Monday and Tuesday Yankee games. Monday night, I caught 2 balls, 1 from Aaron Guiel right after the gates open. He was about 100 feet away, but I was the only person that knew his name. Later, when the Mariners were throwing, Emillion Fruto rewarded me for recognizing him with his jacket on. Tuesday night, Kris Wilson threw me a ball as the Yankees left the field. After Jose Lopez was done throwing, I called his name (I recognized him with my cheat sheet because he had his jacket on) and he fired a strike from about 50 feet away. (Stupid Yankee Stadium BP screens and security). While Jake Wood was throwing with Jarod Washburn, Washburn made a bad throw that went right to my glove. If my glove wasn’t there, the ball would have smacked this little kid in the head. His dad kept on thanking me. In 2 days I got cards signed by Mike Myers, 2 by Raul Ibanez, and by Jamie Moyar. Tuesday was overall a very eventful day. I woke up at 7:45 to take my road test, and passed it on the 1st try. I can now legally drive anywhere in New York State besides the city between 5am and 9pm. On the way to the game, my train got held up outside of 125th street, where I transfer to the Subway. Somebody had gotten into an arguement with a conductor and had to be arrested as they got off the train, and the police took about 20 minutes to show up. I still ended up being the 1st person inline at gate 2.

Hey, thanks for the praise. I had a blast, as usual. Except the clams from ******* had a battle royale with the Red Bull and gummi worms in my stomach the next morning. Next road trip its all oatmeal and green tea for me.

Hey, how appropriate is it that in your last picture, your favorite lady in the world is glaring at you in disgust from the top of the dugout?

Do you have an individual picture of the “black-eyed ball”?

Does anyone know good throwers on the dodgers?

Chad

2,859 balls is a lot of balls.

Good job Zack and always fun to read. Your a great predictor to lol.

Chad- i think there was a picture of the black eyed ball the 2nd ball pictured

Hey Z,

I am a big fan of the new ball. I use my new baseballs that I get to get signed. I keep my ‘unsignable balls’ in a bucket, and get the nice balls autographed. In the past 2 months, I have used my ‘free’ baseballs to get sigs from Jack Morris, Johan Santana, and Francisco Liriano. HECK YEAH!!!!!!!!!

Speaking of Major League debuts, I saw Pat Neshek make his debut. Pat has a great website, and if you scroll down to his July 8th entry, you can see ME

http://www.patneshek.com

ZEE –

Wonderful entry. I felt as if I was there. In fact, I WAS there, long before Camden Yards was – on Eutaw Place, that is – when I lived in a boarding house on that street with my folks in 1938! But I don’t know who was hot on the Orials then, do you?

P.S. Oriels? Oreos? Doesn’t matter. Mark Twain said, “I don’t give a d–n for a man who can spell a word only one way.”

JONELI-
I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one losing sleep over this blog. My Birkins prediction did come true, but my foul ball prediction was way off. Oh well.

CHUCKSTER-

Thanks, and congrats to YOU on a successful coupla days in the Bronx…and on your road test! I remember mine well and also passed it on the first try, despite the idiot instructor who seemed to be trying to get me to mess up. Nice job of saving the little kid from getting nailed. I’m shocked that more fans don’t get hit.

S HEFF-

I felt some rumbles in my tummy late that night, but it never got THAT bad.*****. Sorry about that. Maybe we should’ve gone with the caramel creams? That lady on the dugout was clearly practicing for her next job at the new Shea. I’ll send you some pics soon…

CHAD-

Trueplaya is right. The second ball is the dirty one. You couldn’t tell? I’m not too familiar with the Dodgers, so hopefully someone else can help you out (but again, the niceness of the guy is much less important than the situation as a whole).

TRUE PLAYA-

Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.

ROSENDA-

Yes, I know that autograph collectors love new baseballs, but I still had to make fun of them. That Pat Neshek site is AWESOME! It’s so real and simple and honest. Wow. Can’t wait to read more when I find some free time. Welcome to The Show, indeed.

BOODLE-

Thanks, old-timer! No one was hot on the O’s back then because they didn’t exist. At the time, they were the St. Louis Browns. The team moved to Baltimore in 1954.

I am going to a game on August 18 in Philadelphia (Zack, DO NOT come!). It is Phillies vs. Nationals. Can someone give me some insight as to who on each team is nice, mean, and in-between (the rhymes!). Thanks

YAnks fan I am so happy the REDC SOX WON AND THE YANKEES WON IT FEELS GREAT TO HAVE 1.5 GAMES ON THE YANKEES THEY **** BY THE WAY THAT IS THE YANKEES!
-KAYLEE

Zack-sorry i had to say that but nice entry.Your prediction was right too
-kaylee

I don’t think my computer could get the picture so it’s not showing

im going to the game on sunday 7/23/06

the bad news:

-sunday

-promo 86 replica yearbook day

-summer

good news:

-promo 86 replica yearbook day=adults who just care about that and not about balls and autos

-i am an astros fan (since 1994 -bagwell’s MVP- so dont call me a frontrunner)

-i know and c an recognize all 25 players and all coaches

so im going more for autos for this game, but assuming there is BP (day game after day game–and if not i’ll sneak down) im gonna put my usual starting plan into effect and then just go mainly for autos when houston comes out

wish me luck

but ill definatly post before then

Hey Zack-
Great work on the baseballs. Did you get Tom Hanks’ autograph?

Also, direct the guy who wanted the “Dodger” players down to this post…

Good Dodgers

Brad Penny

Nomar Garciaparra

Danys Baez

Bad Dodgers

Derek Lowe

Rafael Furcal

So-so Dodgers

Olmedo Sanez

Odalis Perez

Grady Little

Cesar Izturis

It also depends on their mood that day…

how about we post some lists of Phillies and Nationals who are good, bad, and so-so

Not looking good in jay land. Shea hillenbrand wants out look for him to go to anaheim possibly. 5.5 out but we ll take 3 of 4 from the yanks ATLEAST!

PHILLIES (Personal Experiences)

Good- Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins (really nice, he signed for fans in Los Angeles after the game for about a solid thirty minutes. He signed three cards and was about to sign more, but the rest of his disgruntled teammates wanted to leave.), Flash Gordon, Ryan Madson

So-so- Bobby Abreu, Chase Utley, Charlie Manuel

Not so nice- Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Mike Lieberthal

NATIONALS (I’ve been to only a couple, so I don’t really know that well…)

Nice- John Patterson

Not so nice- Alfonso Soriano, Frank Robinson (mgr.), Austin Kearns

So-so- Jose Vidro, Livan Hernandez, Felipe Lopez, Christian Guzman (is he still on the team?)

If Brad Wilkerson was still on the Nats…(He’s really nice)

Also, continuing on Dodgers

Good Dodgers are also the rookies, Andre Either and Russ Martin. They’re pretty cool.

J.D. Drew can sometimes be a jerk to fans, but occasionaly, he will sign a LOT.

I heard Takashi Saito is nice, but I’ve never met him. However, Eric Gagne (DL) is sometimes with the team. Once he starts signing autographs, he won’t stop for a while. Before a game at Dodger Stadium once (last year against Angels), he signed for about one hour to one hour and a half!

I hope this helps.

YANKS FAN-
Don’t worry, I won’t attend that game. August 18th is my one free day between arriving back home from San Diego and heading back out to Connecticut for a friend’s wedding.

KAYLEE-

No problem.

CHAD-

That’s weird. I have no explanation.

JONELI-

You’ll need good luck because the Astros are one of the stingiest road teams when it comes to giving away balls.

DODGERS-

Thanks for all the lists. I’m feeling pretty distracted right now…not really up for combing through rosters.

TRUE PLAYA-

Yeah, what’s the deal with Hillenbrand? I was just listening to ESPN Radio and heard that the Jays didn’t recognize the fact that he just adopted a kid…so now he’s pissed off at them?

Thanks for the comments on my blog but i cant write as you can tell by my blog
-kaylee

Good job on snagging the eight balls. But 3 celebrity sightings, i mean wow! haha im coming home next week so ill be able to be on your blog more often, zack.
peace, and GO RED SOX!

Did you hear at Fenway Park, Doug Flutey caught a foul ball yesterday!

KAYLEE-
You’re welcome.

RAMONES-

Thanks. It turns out that those celebs are making a mini-tour of various ballparks for Tom Hanks’s 50th birthday.

CHAD-

No, I didn’t. That’s awesome. Do you know the details?

Yeah. He and Gibbons aparently weren’t very fond of each other for a while. Shea didnt liek being moved to DH there was previous rumors about a month ago that he’d be traded for Adam Kenedy which he didnt like. But now aparently he wrote “this is a sinking ship” on the jays chalkboard in the clubhouse and Gibbons was in his face for 5 minutes blasting him for doing it. The jays designated him for assignment and now have 10 days to trade him or release him so it may be unlickely he is moved the team hes traded to would haev to get more then Hillenbrand. Shea was also pissed that he rushed back to be at the game Tuesday from Arizona so he could play but was benched because he hadnt played in so long so he was pissed about that.

Sadly Shea has played his last game as a jay.

****! That’s quite a series of events. Thanks for the inside scoop.

Jimmy-Where you been you hiding from us?
-kaylee

nice win by the red sox.
-kaylee

To all the DODGER PLAYER comments:

Depends on thier mood, every single one of them. Compliment the rookies, They know they are all deserving of Rookie of the Year.

Kenny Lofton is SO MUCH FUN when he is in a good mood. Friend once caught his batting Glove

Olmedo Saenz occasionally takes the ball bag and throws a good portion of it into the stands.

ZACK- Great Post, congrats on your autograph….Hope you go to a game sooner than twent something days!

DODGER DUDE-
Thank you! I’m planning to go to Shea early next week. As long as it doesn’t rain for several days staight, I should be good for at least one game.

I hope the yankees lose tonight!Roy Halladay and the jays can beat Mike Mussina and the Yankees right? I cant wait to go to FENWAY in 10 days(that is after today,yes the countdown has begun).I heard Tim WAKEFIELD has a broken rib that is not good for the red sox.

I am going to fenway on the 30th that is actually nine(not counting today) days huh?
-kaylee

I’m painfully watching this yankees game as the Jays are not doing what I asked them to do!Congrats Toronto you finally got someone to second base.it only took you 6 innings.I hate when the yankees win just ask yanksfan he knows i am not a yankees fan.O toronto just got a run home yeah! they are down 3-1 i am not happy with that score niether is Jimmy i am sure.LETS FIND THE BATS JAYS!
-kaylee

opened my mouth to quickly I guess toronto is winning now!
-kaylee

What a game!!! what a gerat tamosphere at the roges centre tonight man i wish i was there! As long as a-rod keeps helping out liek he ahs been hes ALWAYS welcome in toronto!!!

This is exactly what the doctor ordered!

The jays didnt get a home run….

hill doubled

mcdonald grouned out hill to 3rd

johnson grounder to a rod hill gets hoem on a-rods throwing error johnson to 2nd

catalanotto singled johnson scored

wells singlesd cat to 2nd

glaus doubled both in

4-3 Jays!!!

Lets not give this up BJ RYAN!
like he just did!

-kaylee

OMG BJ BLEW HIS 2ND STRAIGHT SAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! BJ BJ BJB BJ!!

OMG DID VERNON WELLS JUST HIT A WALK-Off?Did I see that right?He did.PHEW!THANK GOD FOR VernON WELLS!
-kaylee

Vernon WElls makes up for it with a walk off home run to win it… off MARIANO RIVERA!!!

wow…about the phillies…when i did them jimmy rollins was rather rude and not friendly at all and jon lieber and mike lieberthal were incredably incredably nice

joneli you went to the phillies game tonight? How was it? any balls or autos?

ajj just noticed they didnt even play :)

I asked in an earlier post why VERNON WELLS was in the allstar game i think he just answered that question with that walkoff
-kaylee

I like it when the Yankees lose, but not at Mariano’s expense. (Or at Jeter’s expense, or at A-Rod’s expense, or at Bernie’s expense.)

My lordy! I hope you bring a tote bag to carry them all home!

I’m bringing my Mets giveaway calendar to Shea for bp today–if I can miraculously get anyone to sign it? I will be a swooning idiot. If I can get CLIFF to sign my calendar? I’ll be literally (and I mean it) jumping up and down all nite!

http://www.pickmeup.mlblogs.com/

I bring a backpack to every game (except those at Yankee Stadium, which is the only place in the Majors that doesn’t allow them).

I fear there wasn’t BP today because of the weather, but anyway, I’ll be checking your blog to see how you did…

Jays beat the yankees again Yay sweep em jays!
-kaylee

Gosh red sox are homer machines tonight!
-kaylee

If you can’t bring a backpack into Yankee Stadium then how do you carry home all of your baseballs?

You know those single-pouch Nike backpacks? They’re made out of a very thin material, and the straps are actually just thick strings. I keep one of those rolled up in my pocket and then when I get inside, I take it out and put all my stuff in it.

Last year I used the pocket trick, but this year they have actually let me bring my “Nap Sack” into the stadium, through security. I even shoved a couple of water bottles into the bottom, which they didn’t fine, and I’m finding it easier to get further towards the infield during pregame stretching. Secuirity there seems to be getting slightly laxer. Any chance you’ll be at Shea next Monday or Tuesday.

My red sox are Gunna win asumming they can pitch 2 more innings w/o allowing 4 runs!
-kaylee

CHUCKSTER-
If the weather’s nice, I’ll be there on Monday for sure. I don’t know if I want to go to two games in two days, so Tuesday is still up in th’air.

Hey Zack- I really don’t mean this to advertise, But i wanted you to see a post I made on a blog about my most recent Dodgers adventure…

http://dodgerdude511.blogspot.com/

Comment there if you can. Or here, either one. Or don’t comment. lol.

Hey Zack-
I’m not sure if I’ve asked you this, or if I haven’t. My first Major League baseball was from Kevin Brown at

Dodger Stadium (then of the Dodgers). He tossed it to me in 2000 right after the All-Star Break. Back then, I saw what an “Authentic Major League Baseball” looked like. It had the “Batting logo”, but this one didn’t. So, I later found out that the ball he tossed to me was the “2000 All-Star Game Baseball with the “little logo””. The next day, I had James Baldwin Jr. who was on the team sign it for me. My original plan was to get it signed by all the All-Stars. I was ten years old, and now I realized I made a huge mistake.

Now, is it possible to rub off an autograph from a ball with something like a sponge? or a special chemical?

By the way, did you get Hanks’ autograph? I met him once at Dodger Stadium and he was really cool. He wrote “To Steven, Go Dodgers”

Baldwin’s CAREER stats

79-74 5.01 ERA. All-Star 2000.

Big mistake…

DODGER DUDE-
That was a great entry. I said it there, and I’m saying it here. Congrats on your great trip to the ballpark. I know that place is tough.

DODGERS STEVEN-

Man, that’s a bummer that you got Baldwin on that ball. Look for a substance/product called “ink eradicator.” I’m not sure how well it’ll work on a baseball, though, so be careful. Sorry I can’t tell you more, but hey, it’s a start in the right direction…yes?

Whoops. Forgot to say…no Hanks autograph. I would’ve mentioned it in the entry if I’d gotten him.

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