4/11/07 at Shea Stadium

shea_from_train.jpg

One problem with Shea Stadium is that there are only a few decent spots for snagging balls during batting practice. My favorite is the corner spot in the right field Loge. It’s a good place to get balls tossed from the Mets pitchers 25 feet below. That’s been my spot since the 1990s. Last year, I made the mistake of talking about that spot on TV, and today, when I sprinted up there from GATE C at 4:40pm, there was already someone there…someone who reads this blog and comments regularly…someone with whom I’m having a season-long competition to see who can snag more balls.

Fair enough.

found_ball.jpg

I sprinted around the entire stadium and reached the quieter LF side before anyone snatched that corner spot too. I plopped down my backpack and looked under all the seats, as I always do, just in case there happened to be a forgotten ball lying around–and wouldn’t you know it? There was.

Last year, for whatever reason, the Mets used balls from the 2005 All-Star Game during BP. Rumor had it that they were now using balls from the 2006 All-Star Game, so naturally I was dying to get one.

Moises Alou was shagging in left field, and two balls rolled past him. It appeared, from my perch, that the ball closer to me had something dark and triangular on it. What was it? A stain or a smudge? Doubtful. But that was actually my first thought. Then–Duh!–I wondered if the dark triangle was a commemorative logo…the type that might be on an All-Star ball. Whatever it was, I knew it wasn’t a standard ball. No time to think. Moises was walking toward the first ball. If I made my request too soon, he might toss me the wrong ball. If I waited a few seconds too long, the one other fan who’d made his way into the section might ask for it. I didn’t just want any ball. I wanted the ball closer to me. I had to take a chance, so I waited. Moises grabbed the first ball and 2006_all_star_ball.jpgchucked it toward the infield. “Mo!” I shouted. “Could you please toss a ball up here?” (How innocent.) Luckily, the other fan hadn’t said a word. Moises grabbed it and looked up and threw it hard. THWAP!!! Right into my glove. It was indeed a 2006 All-Star ball, and as anti-climactic as this will sound, I got another one five minutes later from Mets catching instructor Tom Nieto. Know why the stitches are yellow and black? Those are the Pirates’ colors. The 2006 All-Star Game was played at the Pirates’ home: PNC Park.

A few other fans had trickled down into the front row of the Loge, and two young guys in particular were not too happy when I replaced my Mets cap with a Phillies cap. “Traitor!” they yelled. I tried to convince them I really DID like the Mets, but it was no use. Their abuse continued, then intensified when they saw me snag two more balls from Phillies pitchers. One was thrown by Jon Lieber, the other by Tom Gordon. “He already got one!” they complained–and suddenly their attitude changed. “Hey, aren’t you that guy who wrote a book?” one of them asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“And you have a big collection of balls?”

“That’s me.”

“I just read that book.”

“Cool!” I said. “Have you seen my web site?”

He hadn’t yet checked it out. I told him that the URL was printed in the book below my author bio. His friend didn’t own the book, so I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out one of my new contact cards. Ha-haaa! I finally got to give one away! Not a single person had recognized me last week at Yankee Stadium, and I’d been kicking myself for having 1,000 cards printed.

The rest of BP was dead. And crowded. So I headed downstairs, stopping briefly to say hello to two other guys I recognized from last year. Had they seen my web site? No. Two more contact cards.

As I headed down the steps to the Phillies’ dugout, someone shouted, “Hey! It’s that guy who collects balls!”

“Aren’t you the guy who was on TV?” someone asked.

“Yeah, it is!” someone else shouted. “He wrote a book about getting balls!”

It was insane. Everyone started talking to me and asking questions. How many balls are you up to now? Is it true you own 30 different hats? How does that trick with your glove work? Where do you keep all the balls? Which ballparks have you been to? Can I have your autograph? No joke. Some kid asked me to sign his ball, right next to Wes Helms’ signature. I tried to tell him that my autograph would ruin the value of his ball, but he didn’t care. (Another guy asked me to autograph one of MY balls for him. I told him he’d have to provide the ball.) Naturally, I had one question for everyone: “Have you guys seen my web site?”

Bourn_hendersonWhen BP ended, Phillies outfielder Michael Bourn tossed two balls into the crowd. I let the kid on my right get the first one, and I snagged the second. One minute later, bullpen coach Ramon Henderson started tossing one ball after another into the crowd. The woman on my left got one. I snagged another (my seventh of the day). All the kids in the front row got one. Everyone was happy. And just about everyone recognized me for the rest of the night. I must’ve given away 30 or 40 more cards.

I didn’t sit down once for the entire game. Instead, I headed back up to the Loge and ran back and forth all night in the concourse behind the plate, scurrying up the runway on the first base side for right-construction.jpghanded batters, and doing the same on the third base side for lefties. The view of Shea, with Citi Field’s skeleton rising in the background, was nice…but I digress. By positioning myself differently for every hitter, I doubled my chances of snagging a foul ball, and in the bottom of the fifth it paid off. Jose Valentin led off the inning and floated a 1-1 pitch from Adam Eaton in my direction. I mean RIGHT in my direction. I took a step forward, braced myself for the inevitable impact with the woman carrying a cup of hot chocolate who was oblivious to the fact that a ball was sailing at her head, reached up, and made the catch. The woman bumped into me, then scowled and grunted and kept walking. Umm, honey-pie, I saved you AND your precious beverage.

When I’d gotten the two balls at the dugout, I thought about what it’d take to reach double digits–but it wasn’t meant to be. The Valentin ball was my last of the day.

The teams combined for just 10 hits, and thanks to the 11 walks issued by the Mets pitchers, the Philles came out on top despite going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Final score: Phillies 5, Mets 2.

eight_balls.jpg

STATS:

• 12 balls in 2 games this season = 6 balls per game.

• 457 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 9 consecutive seasons with at least one game ball

• 99 lifetime game balls

• 2,973 total balls

• 40 days until St. Louis

40 Comments

I remember the Valentin foul, and I remember “Zack should be able to get that one”.. guessI was right. Thanks again for signing the book.

hey that save with the hot chocolate sounds like a “web gem”.
mike

good game zack..i cant believe you got to sign an autograph on a ball i always wanted to do that for someone..haha

Nice day, but those grass stains on the ASG balls make em look bad (IMO anyway).

Hey Zack, sorry about stealing your Loge corner spot. I wasn’t going to until someone stole my favorite spot (RF Field Level corner spot). Sorry, but it didn’t seem to affect you neagtively.

Nice job…. I just got your book yesterday!

http://baseballstuff.mlblogs.com

Greg, was that me? because only 3 balls were thrown to where I was standing. 2 of them to little kids and one to me, so you were probably better off up in the Loge.

JOHN-
That foul tip was custom made for me. I mean, other than the hot chocolate lady sort of being in the way, it doesn’t get much easier than that. You’re welcome for the book. Thanks for buying it in the first place.

MIKE-

Ha. Nice.

BERGIN-

It’s actually really tough to sign a ball because there’s nothing to lean on, and on top of that, of course, it’s small and round. It’s tough to write neatly even with a pen, and this kid insisted that I sign it with his THICK black magic marker. Oy.

JIMMY-

Thanks, but c’mon, those grass stains add to the beauty and authenticity.

GREG-

It’s all good. Hope you don’t mind that I took a little swipe at you in the entry. The thing I want to know is: how the heck did you get up there so fast? I didn’t even see you outside GATE C. (Did you grow six inches this winter?*****!)

CHARLIE-

Thank you! Hope you enjoy the book.

Hey zack nice job. The autographs I got were 2 ryan howards, 1 chase utley, 1 cole hamels, 1 jimmy rollins,1 jerry koosman and moises alou. That guy that told me the mets batted first was obvilusly wrong. My next game is sat vs wsh what about you?

27 until 3000, what a number/milestone that will be. Perhaps St. Louis will be the place to snag it?

does ryan howard sign a lot..I’ve met a number of people who claim to have it so he must be a nice guy huh?

No problem, man. I actually thought it was kinda funny to see that at the top of the entry. And I half expected that you would do something like that. When you made it up to the Loge, the look on your face upon seeing me was so priceless. I knew you hadn’t see me at Gate C, and I wanted to surprise you by being there. The way I got in so fast was that I had a few things going for me: I had no bag to be checked, I sprinted from the gate to the field (because I was worried about my spot being taken, and it was anyway), I was on the right side of the throng of people at the gate, which opened first (you were on the left, and I wanted to come over and say hi, but I got stuck), and finally, I evaded the frisker guy, so I was the second person in the ballpark.

And yes, I did grow a lot this winter.

Also, this *****: during BP, I tried to use my cup-trick for a ball behind the outfield wall from up in the Loge, but it was too far out. In the process of pulling it back up, the whole top of my trick broke and fell off into the trashy area behind that wall.*****. Now I have to rebuild it.

John – No, it wasn’t you that stole my spot. It was some big fat guy with a big backpack. I saw him get like three balls in the first 20 minutes of BP in MY spot.*****.

Yeh he caught a foul ball during BP right above my head, and when Jeff Wilpon through me that ball, the same guy immediately started yelling at me, WRITE ON IT!! WRITE WHEN YOU GOT IT!! He kept insisting that I write like a pargraph on it with the time and date..?
Greg, did you hear the girl that caught the ball next to you in the Dream Seats? She kept calling Antonio Alfonseca fat and stupid, but he still threw her the ball?

Yeah, it’s people like those two you just mentioned that annoy the **** out of innocent snaggers like you and I. By the way, it was nice to meet you yesterday. How many balls did you end up with?

Yo Zack,

Going to the Jays/Tigers game on Saturday should be good I guess, but whenevr the Tigers come I always have a feeling of being shutout, that also occurs against the White Sox, I don’t know why. Anyway do you think or know if the Tigers have any World Series balls or any other commemerative balls lying around and any of the good tossers/signers, sry if me asking you bothers you, but get used to it. :)

John-Girls can get away with anything.

Just the one and Pedro Feliciano’s autograph, my dad was with me so I didn’t really want to leave him for too long, otherwise I may have got a few more

Chuckster – You are absolutely right. But these girls were SOOO annoying. They had no idea what was going on, they didn’t know any of the players, they didn’t even have gloves, and yet they got a ball. And after Antonio Alfonseca threw this one girl a ball, she was like “Can’t you at least sign it, you fat ***?” (but not so Alfonseca could hear it).

However, not all girls at games are annoying. There was this one girl who really knew what she was doing. I think Zack met her yesterday. She was sitting near me during the game and she must’ve gotten like seven or eight balls DURING the game.

Zacker

First: Excellent photo of Shea from the outside.

Second: The Mets should make it to the world series again this year — no problem.

Third: Another nickname for you — the “Ball Hustler”!

Last word: Please don’t leave home without your lawyers business card…

The nerve of that woman carrying the hot chocolate, you could have been scalded and out of action for weeks. Snagging balls is serious business!

Bergin42- Yea howard is a great guy. He did like 4 at once for this really greedy annoying kid. Also zack how was that chinese food you were eating? Next time you better eat a healthier breakfast before you become like mo vaughn. Mo vaughn brings back great memories for a mets fan don’t you think? All my best, zach

ZNEUFELD-
Man, you really scored in the autograph department. I got to sign a few, which was cool, but didn’t get any for myself. That’s just weird. The Chinese food was excellent. General Tso’s, baby, with some snow peas and white rice. Nuthin’ wrong with that. I used to eat a Subway sandwich at 4pm, and I’d be starving by the third inning. For just a dollar or two more, I got that huge container of Chinese food, and I was still full when I got home at 11:30pm. I’m not sure when my next game will be. Don’t talk to me about Mo Vaughn…at least not while I’m eating.

DANNY-

Yeah, I’m really looking forward. I suspect I’ll snag BALL3K at Yankee Stadium in early May, though nothing’s definite.

BERGIN-

Even I, the pseudo autograph collector, have gotten Ryan Howard.

GREG-

Aha, that explains it. I knew it had to be something like that. I thought I saw you have some cup-trick issues from across the stadium but I wasn’t sure. That stinks. Which girl got all those balls during the game? Was she wearing a Phillies cap and sitting with a young boy with longish blond hair, like, in the first or second row right behind the middle of the 3rd base dugout?

JOHN-

You got a ball from Wilpon?!

JIMMY-

I’d say there’s a decent chance that the Tigers could still have a few World Series balls mixed in with the others. That’d be cool if you got one, but I’d be maaad jealous. On the Tigers, Jose Mesa is a nice ball-thrower, and believe it or not, so is Gary Sheffield.

CHUCKSTER-

It’s so unfair.

MIKE-

Thanks. I hope you’re right about the Series. It would be cooler than cool if I actually/finally got to go to one of those games at Shea. I was too young in 1986, and not rich/lucky enough in 2000 to get tickets. Ball Hustler? Not sure how I feel about that one, but I agree about Hot Chocolate Lady. She should have been walking through the concourse, not the aisle. Oh well. It all worked out in the end.

Yeh, he was coming out of the bullpen and I was the only person that realised he was holding a ball, which when I asked for he threw right at me even though I was surrounded by 5 year olds.

Zack:

I forgot to mention the striking resemblance that you have to the backup goalie of the New York Islanders Wade “DUBIE” Dubielewicz! He snags hockey pucks for a living and you snag balls as a hobby… But I wouldn’t be surprised if you get asked for your autograph on the street and they actually think your “DUBIE”!

Good call Mike. He definitely resembles Dubie.

http://www.newyorkislanders.com/team/images/player/dubielewicz1.jpg

I still like my Jim Leyritz reference from a few weeks ago though.

http://www.mlb.com/players/jeter_derek/imgs/photos/golf7.jpg

Zack, I just scored some really good field level seats for the Mets-A’s game on Saturday, June 23rd. 7:10 PM night game on a Saturday! Should be a good day for checking out BP.

Gonna make an appearance at one of those games to see Mike Piazza? I’m wondering if he’ll even play in any of those games. Maybe only as a pinch hitter.

Zack, just finished the book. It was great. I thought it would some more on snagging but I was wrong. I guess my next game might be with my bro (Nick) in August. The Twins come into town in a 4 game series. But I think Nick is gonna be in college so my snagging ability will drop down greatly. I’m still at the beginner stage of snagging. And hey, you never know, you could get number 3k at the next game if you get lucky enough haha.

JOHN-
Wow.

MIKE-

C’mon, I don’t look like that guy. His head is top-heavy, and he’s got a skinny little nose. Other than being white and shaved, I don’t see the resemblance.

PSU-

Whoa, cool. I didn’t know there was a bidder until I saw this comment from you. Thanks for letting me know. I wonder if anyone else will bid before the day is through. As for that A’s series, I probably won’t go since it’s a weekend. I generally avoid weekend games because they’re so crowded.

DB3PAR-

Thanks. No snagging at all in the new book. Originally, I had a brief section about it, but I took it out at the last second. It just seemed pointless to barely scratch the surface like that.

Yes, that girl. She really knew what she was doing. I swear, she must’ve caught seven balls DURING the game. She was the one you were talking to at the end of BP (I overheard about five seconds of the conversation).

Hey Zack, I was looking through your list of players/coaches who have thrown you balls (don’t ask me why; I was bored), and I noticed that you spelled Javier Lopez’s name “Javier Jopez.” It’s in the right place alphabetically, so it doesn’t really matter, I just thought I’d let you know.

Zacker:

Listen up, the celebrity that you like the most is the host of the NBC hit game show “DEAL OR NO DEAL” — Howie Mandel…

You have the same high-energy, nerves of steel, instincts and raw intuition of Mandel.

Should you consider filling in for Howie when he’s under the weather or as a contestant on the show — all you have to do is grow a patch of hair under the lower lip line. Nobody will be able to tell the difference, your a clone…

You will be confronted with 26 sealed brief cases full of varying amounts of cash and your chance to win a million dollars!

DEAL OR NO DEAL!

GREG-
She told me she got about 100 balls last year, and based on the location of her seat alone, I’m not surprised. That whole family was very knowledgeable. I asked them if they wanted to adopt me, but no, I’m still a lowly Hample. (No offense, Mom & Dad.) Thanks for catching that typo. Hopefully I’ll be able to fix it soon. Right now, I’m still at work…at the Argosy.

MIKE-

I’ve never seen that show, but I think I know who you mean. What about Tim Hudson? Do you think he and I look alike?

Okay Zack, I’ll grant you Tim Hudson, he’s better looking!

Yeah, that’s the part of the conversation I overheard (the adoption thing and the 100 balls thing).

Also, have you heard that there will be special balls in use all across Major League Baseball on Sunday with a “42” stamped somewhere on them to celebrate the 60th aniversary of Jackie Robinson’s MLB debut? I’m hoping the Mets will have a bunch of ‘em left over when they come back to Shea next Friday. I must know what they look like!

Got my 2005 and 2006 balls too, Zack! Your charisma rubbed off when I said hi to you Z. It happens everytime ,Z!!! That night I also got Jerry Kooseman to sign for me outside the Mets Office. The funny thing about this is that no one recognized him there. A real nice guy. Very gracious.

MIKE-
Thank you.

GREG-

No, I didn’t hear about the special balls. Man…how can we get our hands on ‘em?

NELSON-

Koosman?! Lucky you. Actually, I don’t think I’d be able to recognize him. Nice job.

Yeah, I need to get my hands on one of them. I’m actually considering ******* it up and heading out to Shea on Sunday, even though all the factors are against me. If I see what the ball looks like and I feel like I’ll die if I don’t get one, then I’ll think about going. Even if the forecasted monsoon does happen. Plus, they have tickets for $2.50 for the game. We’ll see.

If my average bedtime weren’t five hours before Shea opens on day games, I’d think about going on Sunday.

Hey everyone, just trying this out on my Nintendo Wii. It has an internet feature thats really cool.

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