September 2006

Gustavo Watch, Part 9

Jinxed_10If you rearrange the letters in “Gustavo Chacin,” you get “angst via couch,” and because the Blue Jays have been eliminated from the playoffs, that’s exactly what The Ball Thief will be getting when he’s forced to watch them from home. Yes, that’s right, even though our little friend managed to string together a few decent outings earlier this month, the Hample Jinx struck him—and his team—down in the end. Last night, in his final game of the season, Chacin was tagged for five runs on seven hits and a walk (and hit a batter) in just 4 2/3 innings. Not only did he suffer the loss, but his ERA ballooned to a career-worst 5.05.
Have a nice winter/life, Gus.

9/22/06 at Camden Yards

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Camden Yards is one of those stadiums that opens in stages. If you have a season ticket, you can go to left field as soon as the gates open. If you don’t, you’re stuck in right field with all the other suckers for the first 30 minutes of batting practice. Normally that’s my situation, but this time I was among the chosen ones.

My first ball was a simple slicer that landed in the seats along the left field foul line, but it was a special snag for two reasons. Not only was it my 200th ball of the season, but I had started running for it before it was hit. I’m not sure if I’d ever done that before. An Orioles lefty had just stepped into the cage for his first round of swings, and I knew he’d start by going to the opposite field–so I took off from my spot in straight-away left field and sprinted for at least three full seconds before the pitch was even thrown.

Jack Renaud from CBS was there with a camera–he’d also attended my previous game in Philadelphia–and when I returned to left field, he told me that he’d gotten footage of the whole thing. He did a great job all day of chasing me around and filming my every move.

My second ball was a home run by Miguel Tejada. It was pretty much hit right to me. I just had to scoot down a few steps, and as I made the one-handed catch, some guy twice my age came flying out of nowhere and slammed into me.

I got my third and fourth balls within 10 seconds of each other. They were both homers that landed in the seats. I don’t know who hit them. It was still early. There wasn’t much competition.

At around 5:30pm, when the Orioles’ portion of BP was winding down, I headed to the first base dugout to try to get a ball. Instead, I ended up getting a Ramon Hernandez bat.

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Hernandez wasn’t the one who gave it to me. I’m not sure who did. It might’ve been Jeff Fiorentino. Whoever it was happened to walk toward the dugout with two bats in his hand. I didn’t notice that one was broken, and I wasn’t even going to say anything, but then he looked up.

“Any chance you can spare a bat?” I joked.

He took me seriously and slid one across the dugout roof. Just like that. Totally random. You can’t plan these things. The only bad thing about getting a bat is having to schlep it around all day. I didn’t want to hold it because of its jagged edge, and it was too big to fit in my backpack, so when the Twins took the field, I carried it back to left field and wedged it between two seats and hoped that no one would steal it.

I used my glove trick for ball No. 5 and got yelled at by an usher who charged down the steps and demanded that I hand it over. (Meanwhile, Jack was filming.)

“Really?” I asked innocently. “I can’t keep it? Did I do something wrong?”

“GIMME THE BALL RIGHT NOW AND IF YOU DO THAT AGAIN YOU’LL BE OUT OF HERE!!!”

There are times to argue, but when you’re dealing with someone whose veins are bulging out of his neck and head, it’s usually not a good idea. Thus, I reluctantly held out the ball. The usher promptly snatched it and flung it back onto the field in one motion. (Did I mention that Jack was filming?)

Another fan felt sorry for me and tossed me one of his baseballs.

“Thanks,” I said, “but you really don’t have to do that.”

“Take it,” he insisted.

Willie_eyreMoments later, I heard an abrupt whistling noise come from the field, so I turned around and realized that Twins pitcher Willie Eyre was trying to get my attention. Evidently, he’d been watching as the whole situation played out and had walked over to get the ball, and as soon as I looked at him, he smiled and tossed it back to me. I then tossed the other ball back to the fan. Craziness.

My sixth ball was a homer that took a lucky bounce off some seats, and my seventh was thrown by Juan Rincon. The section was filling up, and the Twins weren’t hitting much my way, so I headed to the dugout 10 minutes early. Soon after, when I spotted Twins manager Ron Gardenhire walking toward me with a ball, I shouted, “Gardy!!!” and he tossed it to me. I was about to give a ball to the little kid on my right when I heard him tell his mommy that he didn’t want one; he’d spotted my broken bat and wanted twins.jpgthat instead. (Sorry, kid.) An usher also spotted the bat and told me that it was dangerous and had to be checked at the Fan Assistance Center. Fortunately, he let me stay at the dugout until the end of BP, and I got two more balls in the next five minutes. One was thrown by Luis Castillo. The other came from hitting coach Joe Vavra, whom I never would’ve recognized if not for my cheat-sheet of faces. And just like that, I had 10 balls.

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After I dropped off the bat, Jack treated me to a bottled water and pork sandwich at Boog’s Barbecue–and THERE was Boog, sitting on a stool and signing autographs at one end of the stand. Jack grabbed the camera before I got the autograph. There were two sexy women in line ahead of me, and Boog asked Jack if he was filming them.

“No,” admitted Jack while tilting his head toward me, “I’m actually here to film THIS guy.”

(Sorry, Boog.)

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In Philly, there was a three-man crew, but it was just me and Jack at this game. We both got sandwiches and ate fast before rushing toward Foul Ball Central just in time for the first pitch. Jack filmed me bargaining with one of the ushers, then kept the camera rolling as I ran back and forth, inning after inning, from one side of home plate to the other, as righties and lefties kept swapping in and out of the batters boxes. Jack wanted to get some shots of me scrambling for balls during the game, and I’d promised that there was going to be plenty of action. The flame-throwing Daniel Cabrera was on the hill for the O’s, so I knew that the batters would be swinging late. And they were. And there WAS lots of action. And I kept missing balls by inches–literally. It may have been my most frustrating game of the season. One ball came right at me and fell one row short. Another skipped off a seat and bounced high mohawk.jpgin the air in my direction, but I was blocked by some people in the aisle. Another landed in the level of seats above me, and rather than bouncing back out to where I’d positioned myself to play the carom, it plopped straight down into the hands of an usher where I’d been standing three seconds earlier. Crap like that. All night. The highlight of the game was getting to see an old guy with a mohawk…and finally getting to kevin_zack.jpgmeet a kid named Kevin (aka “kvrpmmh” in the comments section) who’s been reading this blog. He brought his copy of my first book, and I signed it for him. Oh…another highlight, if you want to call it that…I gave a ball to an usher–one that I’d brought for the purpose of giving away–and told him to give it to the kid of his choice.

Jack had to catch a train back to NYC, so he left after the fourth inning. Although I kept running back and forth all night, I was relieved that nothing else came my way. How sad would it’ve been if I’d caught a foul ball in the top of the fifth? Something like that actually happened in 1999 when CNN filmed me at Veterans Stadium. The camera crew only stuck around for a few innings, and as soon as they left, I caught TWO foul balls during the game. Sigh.

As for this game, the Orioles won, 7-3. The first five hitters in their lineup combined for 12 hits! Nick Markakis hit two doubles! Cabrera struck out eight batters in 6 2/3 innings! The Twins stole four bases! It was a very exciting night–so exciting that I nearly forgot to pick up my bat on the way out.

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STATS:

Competition Factor = 210,510.

• 209 balls in 28 games this season = 7.46 balls per game.

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• 455 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 63 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

• 582 lifetime balls outside of New York

• 68 lifetime balls at Camden Yards = the most at any ballpark outside of New York.

• 7 lifetime seasons with at least 200 balls

• 3 consecutive seasons with 200 balls ties previous record from 1993 to 1995.

• 3 lifetime bats

• 2,961 total balls…ties me with Sam Crawford (2,961) for 28th place on the all-time hits list.

CBS follow-up

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CBS filmed me again this morning, this time at my parents’ place, where I keep all the balls. It’s amazing how much footage they’ve gotten, considering that the segment will probably be less than three minutes. I’m still not sure when it’ll air.

Yesterday’s radio interview was fun. (Sorry I wasn’t able to give more notice, but I didn’t find out about it until the last minute.) Jay Thomas kept me on the air twice as long as originally planned because, I suppose, I was able to roll with the punches from his co-host. For example:

HOST: “How long have you been collecting balls?”

ZACK: “Well, I caught my first ball in 1990, but didn’t really get into it until 1992.”

HOST: “Okay, so you’ve accumulated the majority of these balls in the last 15 years. In that time, how many times have you [adult material censored]?”

ZACK: “I’m so glad you asked me that question. I’d share the number with your listeners, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone.”

I’m paraphrasing (because I haven’t gotten the tape yet), but you get the point. It was THAT kind of interview. A few years ago, I probably would’ve gotten antsy and defensive, but at this point, whatever.

I’ve been working on my Camden entry and hope to have it done soon…

Radio interview today

Sirius_radio_logo_1Just found out I’m gonna be interviewed this afternoon at 3:30pm ET on The Jay Thomas Show on Sirius Satellite Radio. I don’t have Sirius. I don’t even know how it works. You have to have a subscription to hear it, right? So if you don’t, I guess you’re out of luck. But if you do, you can check it out on Stars Channel 102.

9/20/06 at Citizens Bank Park

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I drove alone from NYC, reached a top speed of 92mph, and had the iPod blasting: Dave McCullen, New Order, Three Dog Night, Ram Jam, Cheers, Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden, Los Bravos, Santana, Michael Jackson, Alannah Myles, Beatles, Eydie Gorme, Brooklyn Bridge, Violent Femmes, Bob Dylan, Eiffel 65, Linda Ronstadt, Marcels, Carl Perkins, Fats Domino, Hootie & The Blowfish, Marcie Blane, Queen, Jimi Hendrix, Manu Chao, Stevie Wonder, Monotones, Ottomix, Outhere Brothers, Shaggy, DJ Sneak, and Madonna…so “Borderline” was mike_alex.jpgin my head all day. (All the songs began with “B” in case you want to guess.)

I arrived so early that the parking lot wasn’t open–until I mentioned that I was there to meet a TV crew with the CBS Evening News. Funny how that works. The truth is that I first had to meet my friend Mike and his wife Alex for cheese steaks at McFadden’s and THEN meet the crew by the ticket windows at 3:15pm, by which time Alex had already taken off for NYC.

steve_hartman_inspects_glove.jpgThe three-man crew included a camera man named Bob Caccamise, a producer named Jack Renaud, and a reporter named Steve Hartman. Jack helped set up my microphone–a tiny device that clipped to the neck of my t-shirt with a cable that ran glove_cam.jpgdown the inside of the shirt and connected to a transmitter on the back of my belt–and looked on as Steve inspected my glove trick. Their plan was to attach a small camera in order to capture a unique view of the trick in action, and when it was ready, I tested it on the ball from Monday’s game that I’d brought to give away.

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Mike was nice enough to head over to the Ashburn Alley Gate and save me a spot at the front of the line. Bob filmed me as I bought my ticket, while Steve stood next to me and asked questions. A pack of teenaged kids started yelling at us and asking what the camera was for. It nearly ruined the shot.

The crew and I headed to the gate at 4:10pm, and Mike was still the only one there. Bob kept filming, zack_interviewed_at_gate.jpgand Steve asked more questions. Other fans started showing up and staring at me. (Who IS that guy?) I have to admit that it was fun.

By the time the ballpark opened at 4:35, there were dozens of fans waiting behind me. Bob was already inside and got a shot of me running in. (Twenty-five minutes earlier, as we walked from the ticket window to the gate, I’d asked the guys if I needed to run slowly or let them know ahead of time where I’d be going. “You’re thinking too much about our job,” said Jack. “Just do your thing, and we’ll follow you.”)

I’d been filmed at games several times before, and I never seemed to snag that many balls for the cameras. Even my seven-ball performance for SportsNet NY was a disappointment. How lame would it be to come up short for Ms. Couric. I needed to have a monster day; anything less than double digits would simply be unacceptable.

Thirty seconds after I ran inside, I found my first ball in the strip of bushes that separates the outfield wall from the left field seats. Moments later, Cole Hamels tossed me another in the LF corner. He got a bit annoyed because I said “please” twice within five seconds. I used the glove trick for ball #3, thanks to Geoff Geary who kindly left the ball alone once he saw the camera. This one was tough to get because the glove cam had a cable that ran along my string, so I had to lower my contraption inch by inch so as not to mess up the expensive equipment. My next ball was a home run. I had a whole row to myself, scooted 20 feet to my left, and made the easy one-handed catch. Beautiful. I had no idea who hit it, and I didn’t care. It was only 4:50pm, and I was on my way.

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Every few minutes, Steve had been asking me questions, and some of them were pretty tough, like, for example, he kept trying to get me to admit that I steal balls from little kids–which I don’t–by rephrasing his question in tricky ways and inventing hypothetical scenarios to go along with it. Whatever. I don’t blame him for digging into me a bit. The whole day was nothing but fun, and if he’d only lobbed softball questions at me, he wouldn’t’ve been doing his job.

I had to take off mid-question to go for ball #5, which started as a deep fly ball toward Randy Wolf. As the ball was descending, I yelled “Let it bounce!” but it was too late. Wolf made the catch, but then, because of what I’d said, he turned around and spiked the ball off the warning track, bouncing it right to me.

Ten minutes later, I hurried back to the LF corner to use my glove trick (glove-cam had been removed) for a ball that was sitting five feet out from the wall. Just after I’d swung my glove out and knocked it closer, Cubs pitcher Will Ohman raced over and snatched it and ran away.

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“Don’t make me put the Hample Jinx on you!” I shouted.

Ryan Dempster was throwing nearby and looked up. “Please don’t put a jinx on us,” he said. “We’re jinxed enough as it is.”

“Well PLEASE tell your teammate not to steal balls from fans,” I said, and just at that moment, the batter whacked one in my direction that fell a bit short, hit the top edge of the outfield wall, and skipped up to my right. I made a lunging stab and caught the ball in the tip of my glove. It all happened so fast zack_gets_battery.jpgthat Bob wasn’t sure if he’d swung his camera around in time to get my snag on film. (Soon after, Steve walked over to slip a new battery into my transmitter.)

“What’s up, Zack?” said a voice from behind.

I turned around and saw a big guy named Josh that I’d met on 9/26/05 at Citizens Bank Park. “Oh my god, what’s up!”

Josh asked how many balls I’d snagged, and as soon as I said “six,” a woman next to me started begging me to give one to her son who had cancer AND had recently undergone open-heart surgery.

“I’d be delighted to give him one,” I said as I reached into my backpack, pulled out my extra ball, handed it over, and offered a few words of encouragement.

It was time to go to the right field side, but rather than heading straight up the stairs to the concourse, I decided to cut through the seats toward center field in case something happened to come my way, and wouldn’t you know it, some Cubs player randomly tossed a ball 10 rows deep in straight-away center JUST as I happened to be walking by. Amazing.

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Five minutes after I got to right field, Carlos Marmol tossed me my eighth ball of the day, and soon after that, I got number nine with the glove trick. (You can see the outline of the microphone’s transmitter through the back of my shirt.) Roberto Novoa and Ryan O’Malley were standing nearby, and just as Geary had done in left field, they stepped aside and let me get it when they realized that I was being filmed. David Aardsma walked over as I was reeling in the ball and asked how I’d done it.

“Put another ball down there and I’ll show you,” I said.

O’Malley got another ball, put it on the warning track, turned to Aardsma as I began to lower my glove again and said, “You gotta see this.” The strong wind was blowing my glove from side to side, so it took a minute to complete what should’ve been a 10-second operation. O’Malley then suggested that I give the ball to the little kid on my right–which I did.

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Mike had been following me from section to section and taking pics throughout the day. (Mike, I love you. I can’t deny it any longer.) He’d also been keeping an eye on my backpack while I ran all over the place.

As batting practice was winding down, I ran to the third base dugout and asked Cubs manager Dusty Baker for a ball. He looked up at me and shrugged, so I informed him that there was a ball just on the other side of the protective fence between the two ball bags at the top of the steps. He turned around and spotted it, then walked up the steps and reached over the padded railing, and when he failed to reach it, he bent down and grabbed it through the fence and lifted it a few inches. the_dusty_baker_fence.jpgThen he reached through with his other hand and moved it up a bit more. Then he reached through with his right hand again. Then his left. Little by little, with just a few fingers poking through, he worked the ball a third of the way up the fence until he could reach it. Finally, he turned back toward me and flipped it up. NICE!!! I had reached double digits, and when batting practice ended two minutes later, third base coach Chris Speier tossed me another.

When the game started, Steve and I grabbed seats in the fourth row. He asked another round of questions while Bob crouched behind his tripod and filmed us from the first row. Jack was sitting just across the stairs. Mike had picked a seat in the middle of the row and ended up staying there all night.

Steve finished interviewing me after the first inning, so we all headed up to the concourse to figure out the next move. I told the guys that my best shot at getting another ball would be to work the dugouts at the end of every half-inning and try to get one tossed to me as the players came off the field. It was too late to make it to the Phillies’ side, so Bob set up the camera to get a shot of me at the Cubs’ dugout. Pat Burrell led off the bottom of the second with a walk, Mike Lieberthal grounded out to third, and I slipped past the usher at the top of the stairs and found an empty seat halfway down the section. It was a big crowd–35,269 to be exact–so there weren’t many openings. I would’ve preferred to be just a few rows behind the dugout, but at least this way, Bob would get a good action shot of me bolting down the stairs after the third out. Abraham Nunez drew a four-pitch walk, and Brett Myers bunted foul with two strikes for the second out. I moved to the edge of my seat, and when Jimmy Rollins swung ball_2949_henry_blanco.jpgthrough Les Walrond’s 2-2 pitch, I raced toward the front row. Cubs catcher Henry Blanco held onto the ball and started walking right toward me. When he was 40 feet away, I shouted his name and waved my arms, and when he got a bit closer, he underhanded it to me and disappeared from sight. Sweeeet!!! I bolted up the steps to check in with the crew. The first thing Bob said was that he missed the shot. WHAT?! He had to change tapes at the last second. Was he joking?! Please be joking. He wasn’t joking. It was just a case of bad timing and bad luck. I was pretty bummed, but if anything, it just made me more determined to get another ball.

Bob moved the camera to the concourse on the first base side, and I responded by coming up empty at the Phillies’ dugout. Basically, I’d picked the wrong staircase. I was at the outfield end of the dugout, hoping for a grounder or fly out, but Lieberthal ended up with the ball (thanks to Juan Pierre’s inability to make contact) and tossed it into the seats near home plate. Bob decided to stay put and simply zoom in–from across the field–on my attempts at the Cubs’ dugout. I just had to let him know exactly where I was so he’d be able to pick me out in the crowd–so as I started walking through the concourse back to the third base side, I gave a play-by-play into my microphone: “Okay, so I’m now approaching section 129…I’m now standing right at the top of the stairs, and as soon as this at-bat is over, I’m gonna make my way down…okay ground ball, here I go…see the fat guy in the yellow jacket? I’m steve_bob_zack_jack.jpgabout 20 feet behind him. I’m gonna wave now. Wave back if you see me…” Then I looked over toward Bob and saw him wave from 200 feet away. It was like I was a spy on some stealth operation, and it continued for another hour and a half. It was LOTS of fun, but I wasn’t getting anything.

When John Mabry struck out to end the top of the seventh, Lieberthal again ended up with the ball and tossed it over the other side of the dugout. Just as I was about to head back up the steps, I sensed that the people around me were squirming for position, so I looked up and saw a ball sailing to my left. Without a second to think, I dove forward and made the catch and then raced up to the concourse.

“I have bad news,” said Bob. “I missed it.”

“WHAT?!?! HOW DID YOU MI-“

“I’m just kidding,” he said, and the whole crew burst into laughter.

“I’ll kill you!” I shouted, lunging for his neck and laughing with them.

I hadn’t even seen the ball coming, so I asked if they knew who threw it.

“Ryan Howard,” said Bob.

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Cool. It must’ve been his warmup ball for the next inning, and for whatever reason, he decided to give it away.

Steve had to leave. Bob and Jack stayed for another inning to get a few more shots. I found Mike behind the Cubs’ dugout, and we watched the last three outs together. (Another relaxing day at the ballpark with Zack.) The Phillies won, 6-2, behind a 12-strikeout, complete-game performance by Myers. I’d been running around so much that I hardly saw any of it, and that was fine; to put it lightly, I’m not too fond of him.

After the game, Scott Eyre tossed me my 14th ball of the day, and Dusty gave me the lineup cards. Here’s a look at the front of them…

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…and here’s the back:

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STATS:

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Competition Factor = 493,766.

• 199 balls in 27 games this season = 7.37 balls per game.

• 454 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 62 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

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• 572 lifetime balls outside of New York

• 14 balls = new one-day record at Citizens Bank Park.

• 49 total balls in 5 games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.8 balls per game.

• 9.8 balls per game = highest average at any stadium at which I’ve attended at least two games.

• 2,951 total balls…moves me into 29th place on the all-time hits list ahead of Frank Robinson (2,943). Next up is all-time triples leader Sam Crawford (2,961).

Yeah, another bat.

I was filmed again yesterday at Camden Yards. Many balls. Two autographs. One bat. Whose bat? You’ll find out soon. Right now, I’m about to run off to Staten Island for the day. Later tonight, I’ll get back to work on my Philadelphia entry. (I’ve already written 1,700 words–and wait’ll you see the “bonus item” that I got there…) Hopefully, it’ll be up tomorrow. And then, after I look over my manuscript, I’ll start blogging about Baltimore.

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AAHH!!

Right now my life is just about as crazy as it’s ever been. Yesterday I didn’t have time to finish blogging about Philadelphia. I’m gonna be filmed again today in Baltimore. Then I have my writing group on Saturday (on Staten freakin’ Island) and a follow-up interview early next week. I also have to comb through the entire copy-edited manuscript of my new book by Tuesday and get back to my editor. I have unpaid bills and about 80 unanswered emails dating back to last week. This is really ridiculous.

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But it sure is fun…

Yesterday, today, tomorrow

As I mentioned in a comment on my last entry, I was in Philadelphia last night and snagged LOTS of balls at Citizens Bank Park. As I didn’t mention, I was being filmed for a segment for the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. Not yet sure when it’ll air. The original plan was to go Baltimore today to get more footage at Camden Yards. But then we heard that there wouldn’t be batting practice, so we canceled. And because I snagged so many balls last night, the producer isn’t sure that he even needs more footage. He’s going to call me this afternoon (it’s 1:25pm right now) and let me know. In the meantime, I’ll start blogging. I have NO idea when I’ll finish. Possibly late tonight…

…Perhaps not until tomorrow–but I might be filmed tomorrow at Camden, so really, I have no idea…

******U P D A T E******
It’s 6:58pm. I just got a call from my guy at CBS. I’m going to Baltimore tomorrow.

9/18/06 at Shea Stadium

the_year.jpgLet me start with a list of players and coaches who either turned down my requests for balls or flat-out ignored me: Chad Bradford, Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman, Guillermo Mota (cursed at me), Roberto Hernandez, Oliver Perez, Dave Williams, Mike DiFelice, Tom Nieto, Lastings Milledge, Shawn Green, Willie Randolph, Sandy Alomar Sr., Manny Acta, Jerry Manuel, Rick Down, Miguel Cabrera, Joe Girardi, Yusmeiro Petit, Renyel Pinto, Reggie Abercrombie, Chris Aguila, Jeremy Hermida, Perry Hill, Bobby Meacham, and Jim Presley.

And now, the guys who DID toss me balls: Guy Conti, Orlando Hernandez, and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.

The Conti ball was as simple as it gets. It was batting practice. I called down from the right field Loge. He tossed it up.

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The El Duque ball was fun. He had just finished a bullpen session and had several balls in his glove. I asked politely if there was any chance that he could spare one.

“Which one do you want?” he said, placing them on the orange bench and pointing to each ball. “One, two, three, or four?”

It was hard to see the balls, not only because I was 30 feet up, but because I’d been to my eye doctor hours earlier and gotten some drops in my eyes (glaucoma test) that blurred my vision slightly for most of the afternoon. I was looking for commemorative logos, but all the balls pretty much looked the same. I couldn’t make up my mind. El Duque was getting impatient. I didn’t want to lose my chance. stupid_ball.jpg“Number one” seemed to have a hint of yellow in the stitching, which meant it was probably one of those stupid unmarked All-Star balls from 2004.

“Number four looks pretty good!” I shouted.

El Duque must’ve forgotten which was which because he promptly grabbed number one and fired it at me–and sure enough, it was one of THOSE balls.

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As for the Loria ball…

I spotted him at the dugout after BP (he’s the one wearing sunglasses), and when I asked him for a ball, he looked around and shrugged and said, “There are none.” Actually, sir, there were three zipped bags full of balls right next to you. Just at that moment, a ballboy walked by with–what else–a ball in his hand. Loria practically grabbed it from him and tossed it to me. Brand new. I jeffrey_loria_autograph.jpgmean flawless. You couldn’t buy a more pristine ball. And then he signed an old Mets-Marlins ticket stub (upside down, of course) that I’d brought.

Five random things:

1) When I asked Girardi for a ball, he looked up and noticed a little kid (without a glove) sitting on my right. Girardi pointed at the kid to indicate that he was going to toss the ball to HIM, but then realized that the kid wouldn’t be able to catch it. “I’ll catch it for him,” I said. Girardi then tossed me the ball, and I handed it over. I don’t count that ball in my collection.

2) An autograph-collecting friend of mine happened to get a ball at the Marlins’ dugout as BP was winding down. It was a bit too scuffed for him to get signed, so he gave it to me. I don’t count that one either. I’m going to take it with me to Philadelphia tomorrow and give it away, most likely to an unsuspecting kid (WITH a glove) who’s actually paying attention and trying hard to get a ball, but just coming up a bit short.

3) As I was heading for the dugout at the end of BP, I heard a distant “Zack!” and turned around and spotted a father and son waving at me from the Loge. I didn’t recognize them. Was it the blurred vision? Or am I just a forgetful jerk? I don’t know. I paused for a moment and waved back and then continued on my way. And then I felt bad. I did, in fact, need to hurry to the dugout to get in position in the front row, but I could’ve taken a minute to go over and say hi. So…whoever you are…I apologize. It wasn’t an intentional diss. I get recognized 20 times a day at Shea (at the very least), so it’s sometimes hard to remember who I’ve actually met in person when there are so many others who randomly shout my name because they recognize me…from wherever.

4) “Congrats on seven-twenty-four,” said a young man as I made my way up the steps after BP. He was referring to Barry Bonds’ 724th career home run, which I caught on 8/16/06 at PETCO Park…but who was he and how did he know? I asked him how he’d heard about it. He said he’s been reading my blog regularly for about a year. Cool! His name is Greg, and he’s left a few comments as “skykid3000.”

gregory_barasch.jpg

5) Another Greg (a.k.a. “gregorybarasch” — pictured here with his cup trick outside GATE C) left a comment on my last entry and said he got 11 balls at THIS game. It’s true. He put me to shame. He did have a few extra tricks up his sleeve that made it impossible for me to compete with him, but that doesn’t take away from his monster day. It’s all about outsmarting the competition and coming up with an edge. And he did it. Congrats. Although it’ll make me cringe, I look forward to hearing the details.

In terms of foul balls, the game was unbelievably frustrating. I don’t even want to write about it. That’s how bad it was. All I can say is that there’s a certain beer vendor and usher that I wish I’d never have to see again. But the night was still a success. A HUGE success. Steve Trachsel pitched brilliantly and Jose Valentin slugged two homers as the Mets clinched the NL East with a 4-0 victory, ending the Braves’ steak of 14 consecutive division titles.

somebody_clinch_me.jpg

After the first out in the top of the ninth, I had headed back down to the Field Level and squeezed my way through the crowd toward the front row behind the middle of the Mets’ dugout. After the on-field celebration, most of the Mets exited the field at the first-base end of the dugout, and one of the players flung his hat into the crowd. “Oh MAN!” I thought. I’d actually been thinking of going to that side. But then a few of the players veered from the pack and headed straight toward me. Woodward was one of them, and as he approached, I took off my hat and made a flinging gesture, which obviously worked chris_woodwards_cap.jpgbecause he took of his hat and flipped it high in the air. Everyone else reached up. I jumped up and reached out, barely snatching it above a dozen hands before belly-flopping on the dugout roof. I was psyched, as if you can’t tell from the picture. I’ve been to 630 games in my life, and this is my first cap ever. It was sweaty and stinky and had Woodward‘s No. 4 written on the inside with a thick black marker. Awesome.

So yeah, I only got three balls, but who cares? Do you care? I don’t.

STATS:

Competition Factor = 140,187.

• 185 balls in 26 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.

• 453 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 4 consecutive games with at least three balls!

• 2,937 total balls

Remember the talk show that I mentioned in my last entry? Well, it fell through, and that’s a shame because it was Letterman. But there’s something else with CBS that’s still in the works…

Clinch?

It’s 2:35pm. I’m running off to Shea Stadium in half an hour. Gorgeous weather. Boring pitching matchup (Moehler-Trachsel) but whatever. If the Mets win tonight, they’ll clinch the NL East. That’d be fun to see.

It’s not definite yet…BUT…I might be filmed later this week at games in Philadelphia and Baltimore. I also got a call from a certain talk show which for now shall remain nameless. Details to follow…

Jinxed_8—————————————
GUSTAVO WATCH, PART 8
Gustavo Chacin has fallen victim to the Hample Jinx yet again. Even though he made a “quality start” last night, allowing three runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings, his offense let him down and left him with a no-decision…against the Devil Rays. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go laugh.

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