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.

zack_testing_glove_trick.jpg

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).

34 Comments

COWABUNGA!

UNBELIVEABLE MAN!!! A BAT, LIENUP CARDS, 14 BALLS!!!!
Ms. Couric should be impressed! When is your segment going to air??

no,jimmy that jays-red sox game was not pretty okay Gustavo Chacin didnt let my sox hit.He needs to learn that the red sox um have bats and should win um okay.alright gunna read the post now.
-kaylee

ohh and the jays better not put my sox in third place and embarass the red sox.

WOW!

Sounds awesome, Zack. I can’t believe one of the players actually said something to you when you said about the jinx! They should read your blog. Lineup cards, 14 balls, what a day…

Just outta curiosity, if there had been no camera crew following you, would you have given those 2 balls away? Tell the truth.

kaylee-

The sox BETTER be in 3rd place. Go Jays

Time to make my OFFICIAL GUESS as to when you’ll pass 3,000 balls: 2nd game you attend in 2007.

the may put us there if the jays keep winning.I dont like them.

but if the sox do end up in third maybe theo will realize we need pitching.
-kaylee

BOODLEHEIMER-
Heh.

SENOR-

Thanks! She better be impressed.

:-)

I’m not yet sure when it’ll air, but I’ll post all the info here on the blog as soon as I hear anything.

KAYLEE-

Ugh. I can’t even deal with hearing Chacin’s name.

YANKS FAN-

It was pretty funny that Dempster responded like that. Hopefully, the camera’s microphone was able to pick up what he said. The TRUTH is that I absolutely would’ve given those two balls away, even if the camera wasn’t there. I swear. I’ve decided that I’m gonna start giving away some balls next season, like maybe one or two per game. I just happened to start a bit early. I think your BALL3K guess is a bit off, only because I might not attend any more games this season. That’ll depend on my ability to get Mets playoff tickets.

EVERYONE-

When you click the pictures, are you able to view them larger? or are they just coming up blank?

Hey zack i havnt read the post yet cause im so excited about just finding out i might go to the jays final game tommorow against the red sox. Any help on players and coaches? Kaylee your a big sox fan who are the nicer players on the sox?

Maybe i can get a manny ball or auto zack :D

THE PICTURES ARE COMING UP BLANCK BLACK :(

oh and the pics are normal zack… i read it wow thats an amazing game. dusty is prety good for lineup cards isnt he.

actaully nevermind not all of them work

No surprise that Dempster said that. He’s the joker of the team, I remember one episode of This Week In Baseball he took the tires off a rookies SUV and hid them around the stadium. ALSO!

IMPORTANT!

Just found out im going to the last home game vs the Red Sox any tips heavily needed. Just 1 more ball to reach milestone of 25!

Another COWABUNGA! All the pics work.

92 MPH! U madman!

TRUE PLAYA-
I’ll have to let you know about players and coaches later. I had so many issues with the photos (should be working now for everyone) that I’m now late for dinner with one of the greatest people on the planet. Will write more later tonight…

SENOR-

Try again. It should be okay. Phew.

JIMMY-

That’s funny about Dempster. You and True Playa should discuss strategies for tomorrow and be sure to stay out of each other’s way. As for the speed of my vehicle, I was just keeping up with traffic.

BOODLEHEIMER-

Another heh. Thanks for letting me know.

true playa-Nice guys on the red sox
markloretta

david ortiz

mike lowell

alex gonzalez

gabe kapler

manny?????-sometimes BUT DONT GET him on a bad day.

jason varitek

trot nixon

hope that helps

-kaylee

Good Job Zack and thanks for the advice about labeling the ball, I might get to one more game this season so maybe I’ll have a chance to get another

Zach-
what an amazing day. Im so happy that you were able to get that on camera. 7 balls aint bad, but 14 is double (literally) the pleasure and double the awesomeness of how amazing your skill is.

thats sick about the linup cards…it seems that dusty likes giving those away…i might just have to get to a cubs game next year for the lineup cards…or whereever he ends up.

mcfaddens is amazing…best philly cheese steak ever

keep it up…im looking foward to reading baltimore.

also, its cool how you got to show off the glove trick to o’malley and aardsma. i wish i could do that, but i only get pictures and have conversations with players…

i just found out that im going to be getting to mets spring training again this year, and in addition to that, im also going to orioles ST.

the mets ST last year i got 5 balls (which i do count to my collection), and looking back on it now, i propbably could have gotten about 10-15. its gonna be crowded there next year, but noone was going for balls, and im also very big on autos so im hoping for 20-40 next year.

orioles st on the other hand should be dead. so hopefully ill do well with balls and autos.

also, the pictures are coming up fine on mine

please get 3000 by the end of this season or that would be the ultimate cliffhanger. even though i know next year it will happen if not this, but you know what i mean.

oh and i forgot to mention, thanks for taking my idea and threatning thaat player with the hample jinx! lets hope word of it gets around the players :)

If any1 has MLB.tv or access to it I need your help! I wanna see myself on tv on September 15 2006 Jays vs D-Rays. I was on tv in the 1st inning when Overbay came up and I had A giant O for Overbay. So if any1 can try to get access to this video it will be greatly appreciated.

jimmy-i am not sure what you want but i have mlbtv that is how i see my sox games..

K then look at September 15 Jays and D-Rays and watch the bottom of the 1st inning when Overbay comes up and you might see me with a green florescent O around my neck. The announcer talks about me. Also Zack how did u host the video of you catching bonds on yur site b4 the guy sent it to you on the DVD cause then can u do me a favour and host that clip of me on this blog.

KAYLEE-
Thanks for the list of Sox players.

JOHN-

Glad to have helped. Let me know what happens.

JONELI-

Thanks so much. The TV crew didn’t get EVERY ball on film, but they got most. I think they got 12 of the 14, so that’s pretty cool. I don’t think the segment is going to be that long—possibly just a couple of minutes—so I wonder if there’ll be enough time to show all the snags. It really might be worth going to a Cubs game just for Dusty and his lineup cards. I wonder if he’s generous with them at Wrigley, or if it’s just a road phenomenon. Best cheese steak ever? That’s quite a bold statement. I’m tempted to go to Spring Training next season, but I’ll probably be too busy because that’s right when my book is scheduled to be published. Oh, another thanks for letting me know about the pics. I don’t know what went wrong the first time around, but it seems everything’s okay now.

MSTADLEN-

I know what you mean. And I’m sorry to leave you hanging, but it’s very very VERY unlikely that I’ll reach No. 3,000 this season.

SENOR-

It was a mighty fine idea. Hopefully it’ll spread and the players will take it seriously.

JIMMY-

No MLB.tv for me. Sorry. Now that Kaylee has already told you about the Sox, here’s my list of good ball-throwers on the Jays: A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, Josh Towers, Jason Phillips. Wish I could give you more names but I haven’t seen them enough. As for hosting my Bonds clip, I just uploaded it like I upload all the pics. But instead of an image, it just gave that little link that then plays the video when it’s clicked. Pretty simple. Don’t you have your own site/blog? Why can’t you post your video there?

Dam well umm plans fell through no Jays game :(

Oh no! What happened?

they ran out of the free 200 outfield tickets :(! PLus noone else wanted to go. Really crappy my seasons over :( but ill definately always remember this seeason a lot of credit to zack. Stupid jays gotta finish season with 2 road series and finish on a monday night.

but atleast now i can watch my falcons smoke mew orleans tonight. yeah zack i know you hate nfl.

Just like it was said above, friends would rather buy a belt than watch the Jays, but hey can’t blame em they arn’t into sports and are pretty disabled at any sports trust me.

Hey Zack, just checking in after my weekend. I went to both weekend games at Shea and snagged a total of ten balls, including my 100th career ball (from El Duque). I’m up to 103 lifetime balls. Four more and I’ll have 100 for the season. As you know, I’m going to Game 1 of the Playoffs, whenever that may be, so four will be my goal. It shouldn’t be too hard, but it’s tough to tell how crowded it will be during BP for a playoff game.

TRUE PLAYA-
I would’ve gone. How come you didn’t invite me? I wouldn’t say I “hate” the NFL. I just really have no interest in following any sport other than baseball…although I do get pretty annoyed at the NFL when its highlights take over SportsCenter and interfere with my baseball-enjoying capabilities.

JIMMY-

A belt?

GREG-

Excellent! I was wondering what you were up to. It’s been a while since I attended a playoff game, so I don’t know for sure what it’ll be like during BP, but I suggest that you get there *really* early. I must know how it goes, so be sure to write up a detailed report.

EVERYONE-

My life is officially insane, and I have no time for anything. That said, I might be able to start working on my Camden entry later today, but I have a few other major things that I have to deal with first, so who really knows…

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