4/25/07 at Citizens Bank Park

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I get excited easily. I admit it. But this really WAS a special day. I had an interview scheduled for 6:15pm on the Phillies’ cable network, and the producer of my segment–a supernice guy named Brian–offered to show me some behind-the-scenes stuff if I got there early.

We met at the “staff and media entrance” at 3:45pm and headed inside. A security guard inspected my backpack and told me to check in with the young man sitting at a nearby table.

“What’s your name?” asked the man.

“Zack Hample. H-A-M-P-L-E.”

He looked at his list, found my name, and slid a clipboard toward me.

“Sign here,” he said before handing me a media credential.

Brian was already 30 feet down the hall, and when I caught up, he led me through an unmarked metal door that led to the main concourse behind home plate. How exactly is this “behind-the-scenes?” I wondered, but had a feeling that the tour was just getting started.

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We walked through the concourse to the first base side, then turned left and headed down the steps through the empty field-level seats. It was drizzling. The tarp was covering the infield. No batting practice. Of course. Just my luck. Idiot, you’re not here to snag baseballs, said the voice inside my head. Batting practice is irrelevant.

“Make sure you wear this at all times,” said Brian, pointing to the media credential which was already dangling around my neck.

“I suppose I should put my camera away for now,” I said as we approached the field.

Brian nodded and swung open a little gate that was camouflaged by the padded railing at the front row. As I stepped onto the damp warning track in shallow right field, I half-expected an alarm to go off, but the stadium remained eerily quiet, and we walked toward the Phillies’ dugout.

“C’mon,” said Brian as he headed down the steps into it. We hadn’t been walking fast, but I still felt rushed. I wanted every step to last an hour.

A security guard at the home-plate end of the dugout peeked at my credential and had us both sign another clipboard. Then we headed down a few more steps and into the tunnel that connects the dugout to other key areas. We passed through another set of doors and walked through a hallway which was disappointingly generic–except for the stacks of boxes of Rawlings baseballs lining one of the walls. Finally, we rounded a corner, and before I even realized what was happening, I found myself standing INSIDE the Phillies’ clubhouse.

The place was buzzing. There were a dozen reporters waiting with notepads and tape recorders. There were two TV crews. Chase Utley walked past me. Ryan Howard was signing baseballs on the other side of a table. Antonio Alfonseca was yelling about a bad call in the Mets-Rockies game, which was playing on one of four TVs mounted high on the wall. Shane Victorino was in his underwear. Davey Lopes was in shorts and flip flops. Pat Burrell was startlingly huge. Jimmy Rollins was laughing. Aaron Rowand was reading a newspaper. Abraham Nunez sat quietly at his “locker.”

The lockers don’t have locks. They’re basically wide open closets, lined with jerseys and filled with other items such as bats, gloves, shoes, balls, and (speaking of balls) the occasional jock strap. The room itself must’ve been 80 feet long and 40 feet wide. It was carpeted, and there were half a dozen small red leather couches. The clubhouse was luxurious enough to double as a sports lounge in a fancy hotel, but it wasn’t intimate. There was nothing cozy about it. It seemed too spectacular and spacious and crowded to foster team unity, but what do I know? The players probably bond over the fact that they’re pampered, but regardless, it was obvious why guys do whatever it takes to make it to The Show.

At 4pm, Brian took me to the visitors’ clubhouse, which wasn’t nearly as big or nice as the Phillies’. Ahh, yes, part of the home-field advantage. We didn’t stay long, and that was fine. I felt awkward wearing my Phillies cap in front of the Nationals and worried that they’d recognize me later as a phony if I asked for balls.

We made it back onto the field via the 3rd base dugout and walked along the backstop to the Phillies’ side. Charlie Manuel was sitting in the dugout, giving generic answers to generic questions from a mob of reporters. (“Charlie, do you really think that a walk is as good as a hit?”) Brian made a phone call. I climbed the steps and stood on the warning track and watched Jamie Moyer play catch in shallow right field. When he finished and walked past me, I fought the urge to ask him for the ball. I just wanted one ball. I didn’t need 16. Just ONE to keep my streak alive. I didn’t know if I’d get any other chances. Not only had BP been rained out, but I’d soon have to leave the stadium and walk half a mile to the Wachovia Center for my interview.

Brian must’ve sensed that I was thinking about snagging. After his call ended, he told me it was fine to run around for balls as long as I waited for the gates to open at 4:30pm and didn’t use my media credential. He had to stick around the ballpark to film a few other things (including an interview with Ryan Madson) and offered to drive me to the Wachovia Center at 5:45pm. I figured that’d give me enough time…

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Of course there wasn’t a single player in sight at 4:30pm, but 15 minutes later, Jerome Williams began throwing in center field with Nationals bullpen coach Rick Aponte. I headed to the furthest possible seat in left center field and asked Aponte for the ball when he was done. Five minutes later, I leaned over the railing and caught his low throw.

At around 5pm, the entire Nationals pitching staff began throwing in the left field corner. I saw Ray King messing around with a knuckleball as he was finishing, so I shouted, “Ray! Let’s see that knuckler!” He immediately turned and threw one to me, but it fell short and landed in a dead area, which would’ve been perfect for the glove trick if some other fan hadn’t climbed over a railing and jumped down there. King got another ball and made a perfect throw to me.

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Two pitchers were still throwing, and I knew I wouldn’t get their ball by staying in the same spot, so I ran around to straight-away left field. I also knew I wouldn’t stand out if I positioned myself in the front row, so I stayed 10 rows back, and when the pitchers finished, I waved my arms like a madman and got the guy with the ball to toss it to me over everyone else.

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The Nationals went back into their dugout, leaving the field empty once again. I had half an hour to kill before meeting Brian, so I ate my first cheesesteak of the day and then used my media credential to get into the heavily guarded Diamond Club. It was fancy and glitzy and fun to check out for a few minutes, but why would anyone want to watch a baseball game there? I’d rather sit in the last row of the upper deck and eat a cheesesteak on a stale roll than be glued to a TV in a club that serves “Pan Seared Cod Filet.” Yes, that was actually on the menu. The full listing went like this:

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Lightly seasoned cod, pan

seared and served over warm

bean ragout and grilled baby

bok choy and then drizzled

with a lemongrass flavored

buerre blanc

$18.00

I will say this in defense of the Diamond Club: It provided a view of something that I’d never seen inside a major league baseball stadium. At the far end of the dining area, there was a little alcove of angled windows that overlooked the Phillies’ underground batting cage. The cage on the left was for the pitchers, who practiced bunting as a coach fed one ball after another into a pitching machine. The cage on the right was for the position players, who produced shotgun-like cracks with each powerful swing.

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I looked at my watch. 5:43pm. Ohmygod I hurried to the back of the club and walked up the stairs, found my way into the main concourse, and ran back to the first base side. Section 112. That’s where I was supposed to meet Brian, and there he was. Phew! He led me out of the stadium and to his car, and off we went to the Comcast SportsNet headquarters in the Wachovia Center. I changed into a nicer shirt in the bathroom and hung out with another producer who showed me some baseball memorabilia in his office and played a segment he’d filmed in Spring Training. He was about to play another when Brian returned and led me into the studio. The show was already in progress. Panel discussion. Two cameras. I could show the three balls that I’d gotten earlier in the day. I could demonstrate the glove trick. The host would plug my book at the beginning and end. There’d be some old footage used from my appearance last year on the Mets’ cable network. I had a bunch of questions. “This segment is almost done,” said Brian as we stood off on the side in semi-darkness. “Then there’s a two-minute commercial break, and you’re on.” And he left.

WHAT?!

Neil_hartmanThe segment finished. I walked to the set. I said hello to Neil Hartman (the host of the show) and the two sportswriters who’d be joining us. Some other guy told me sit down and “stay centered in front of the light” that was beaming up at me through a grate on the desk. He had me run a tiny microphone under my shirt, and he clipped it to my collar. The host asked me a couple quick questions: What’s your current ball total? Are you heading back to Citizens Bank Park after this? And so on. I didn’t even have a chance to ask which camera I should look into.

“Ten seconds!” shouted a voice. Then “Five, four three…” and we were on. Live. In 3 million homes across Pennsylvania. Just like that. I wasn’t nervous…just a bit perplexed over the lack of preparation I’d been given, but it all worked out fine…I think. I got to talk briefly about my book. I was mostly asked about my baseball collection. It was fun. The 10-minute segment flew by. Neil said, “Thanks for joining us,” and two minutes later, Brian was driving me back to the ballpark.

It was 6:40pm. I was on my own for the rest of the night. The tarp was coming off the field, and the Nationals had begun their pre-game stretching/running/throwing along the left field foul line. Robert Fick tossed me my fourth ball of the day, some random infielder threw me another moments later, and Felipe Lopez provided ball #6 right before the game at the dugout. Not bad for having missed an hour on a day without batting practice.

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My media credential was good for “pre-game” access to pretty much anywhere in the ballpark. During the game? I had a feeling the answer was no, but I had to try, so I took the elevator up to the club level and found the entrance to the press box. Yeah, so much for that.

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I returned to the field level seats and picked a great spot for foul balls. Within 10 minutes, someone hit one right at me which I easily would’ve caught on a fly, but get this…the ball nicked the thin steel cable that holds up the protective screen and deflected five feet to the left. Unreal.

I was so annoyed. No press box. It was drizzling and windy and cold. Stupid steel cable. I kept wandering and ate my sorrows away. I’d been eating all day. First, on my way to the garage at 1pm, I stopped at Subway and got a 12-inch barbecue rib patty with extra cheese. Then, at the ballpark, I decided I could eat whatever I wanted because it was a special day, so I got a soft-serve chocolate and vanilla ice cream cone at around 4:30pm. I wasn’t even hungry when I got my first cheesesteak 45 minutes later, but I figured I might get hungry soon, and that it wouldn’t be good for my stomach to growl during a live TV interview. Around the fifth inning, I got a hot dog from a concession stand behind cheesesteak.jpgthe plate and took it up to the register. The cashier told me it was $7.50, and I was like, “Excuse me?!” She apologized and said she thought it was a cheesesteak–an honest mistake as all the items WERE wrapped in tin foil. Anyway, I was like, “Oh man, you have cheesesteaks here?!” and she was like, “Yeah, baby, you wanna put that back and get one instead?” and I was like, “Nah, I’ll just eat this and then get a cheesesteak.” Still feeling more annoyed than hungry, I ate my hot dog (which was overcooked and dry) while walking through the concourse to left field, then got my second cheesesteak of the day. And then of course I had to end with something sweet so I got another ice cream cone. Yum.

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I wandered back toward home plate and saw the Phillies’ dance squad preparing for their seventh-inning-stretch routine. I wandered back to left field and found an empty patch of seats. I walked back to the first base side in the 9th inning and headed down to the second row behind the Phillies’ dugout. I didn’t even care about getting another ball. I just wanted to be close to the action and try to get the lineup cards, or a batting glove, or something. But no, after the final out, I ended up getting my seventh ball of the day instead. I phillies_approach_dugout.jpgdon’t know who tossed it. It just flew out of the cluster of players and landed on the dugout roof in front of me, so I grabbed it. Final score: Phillies 9, Nationals 3. Chase Utley went 5-for-5 with his National League-leading 12th and 13th doubles.

STATS:

• 35 balls in 4 games this season = 8.75 balls per game.

• 459 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 605 lifetime balls outside of New York (The Ray King ball was #600.)

• 2,996 total balls

• 24 days until St. Louis

25 Comments

Hey Zack,
I went to the Yankees game last night and got 5 balls, which is a record for me. I was the first person to enter at gate 6 and got the corner spot in right field.

The first ball was a toss from Brian Bruney. The second was a ball that landed in the space where the old dugout was, which a cop threw to me. The third was a toss from a yankees coach. The fourth was a toss from Sean Henn. The last one, Kyle Synder threw to me from a fairly long distance and landed just short. He walked over, said “my bad” and tossed it to me. I also asked Brendan Donnely if Matsuzaka throws the gyro ball and he told me to ask AROD.

WOW! Nice day, huh? No BP, miss an hour of pre-game ball-snagging time, and still bring home seven balls? And a TV interview? Nice indeed.

That’s really cool about the Phillies batting cages. Any way to get a ball from the restaurant overlooking them, or is it completely sealed off? Can the players below look up and see the people looking down at them, or is it a tinted window? Where is this Diamond Club? Can anybody (i.e. me, without a press pass) get in to watch the batting cages? So many questions, so little time!

Nice job snagging. Best auto so far this year would be Ryan Zimmerman. Signed 4 cards for me down the LF line during pregame stretching.

Nice post

Best line of the post…and (speaking of balls) the occasional jock strap.

Well anyway gonna head dwn to the Rogers Center 2morrow to see the Rangers, got any tips?

Zack- I just finished your book, and I got to admit, it taught me a LOT about baseball. I tried the reverse angle thing and it’s really cool. Nice job on the book, it was top 5.
http://baseballstuff.mlblogs.com

Zack- Nice job in Philly. I saw your segment and it was awesome. Did you ever end up giving away a ball to someone who watched it? Anyway, I just bought a copy of the book from amazon. I can’t wait for it to get here!

any link to watch the show…i usually watch the show but had a baseball game…tell me the next time ur going to citizens…i usually get autos there

http://www.freewebs.com/sgc90ace

KERRY-
Five balls at Yankee Stadium is VERY impressive. Congrats. Funny about the gyroball.

GREG-

Thanks much. No way to get balls from the underground cage. It’s all sealed off with that angled window. I’m not sure if the players can see in. From my point of view, it was just a normal window. The Diamond Club is directly behind home plate on the field level, and no, you absolutely can NOT get down there unless you have a ticket for that section. It’s the most heavily guarded section I’ve ever encountered. Not only do they check tickets, but they also make ticket holders wear little bracelets with the current date, so it wouldn’t do any good to ask people for their tickets on their way out late in the game…and those bracelets are attached in such a way that you’d have to cut them to get them off. It’s impossible. I couldn’t even use my credential to get into that section during the game. That’s how strict security is.

CHUCKSTER-

Thanks. Zimmerman seems snotty, but maybe I just ran into him on a bad day.

JIMMY-

I appreciate it. Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner with some tips for the Rangers. I’ve had an insanely busy weekend, and on top of that, I’m sick.

CHARLIE-

Awesome. So glad to hear that you enjoyed the book and learned some stuff in the process. (Top 5 out of what?)

PIGPEN-

Thanks. I did end up giving a ball away, early in the game when I wandered up to the club level. It figures…there are so many TVs up there. Thanks for checking out the book. Hope you enjoy it.

SGC90ACE-

I don’t think there’s a link. Maybe you can find one if you poke around on the Comcast SportsNet site? The best way to catch up with me at Citizens Bank Park is to keep an eye on this blog. I usually give a heads up when I’m going to a game.

Hey Zack, what’s up?
First of all, you’re awesome for living the dream, and although some would consider you greedy, I’d say you’re a genius with a passion.

Anyways, this has nothing to do with the post… though it’s pretty crazy that you leave the park for a TV interview and still get 7 balls…

I was wondering if you had ANY idea how I could get my hands on a copy of your first book which seems to be pretty elusive even after absolutely scouring the internet… If not I totally understand…

Sweet idea selling your services as someone to go see a game with. If I weren’t a poor college student who lived across the country… Anyways,

Peace.

top 5 out of everything.

NP I got a ball from Mickey Brantley the Jays hitting coach and got a ball signed on the SS by Akinori Otsuka, who was very nice, he signed the entire 1st baseline from one end to the other and posed for pictures and talked to fans.

BTW does any1 know the name on the D-Rays bullpen catcher from last year, he might be the same this year.

God.******. I have no words, Zack, that’s awesome. If I were in a similar situation, I probably would have fainted somewhere around the time Chase Utley walked by, or something. (Did you see Chris Snelling over with the Nats though? He’s an awesome awesome guy, crazy Aussie type who brings a Yoda doll with him everywhere. We miss him here in Seattle. Call him “Doyle” and he’ll throw you a ball I bet!)

If someone recorded the TV appearance, maybe they can YouTube it or something?

-deanna

ALEX-
Thanks so much! The best way to find a copy of my first book is to keep looking online. Try Amazon and abe.com. The book IS elusive (because it went out of print a few years ago), but copies do pop up every now and then. Wish I could tell you more.

CHARLIE-

Whoa. Cool. I’m honored.

JIMMY-

The Japanese guys are usually nice. Glad the day turned out well for you. I think Bobby Ramos was the D’Rays bullpen catcher last year. Not sure if he’s still with them.

DEANNA-

Funny. And yeah, I saw Snelling. The Philly fans were heckling him during the game for no apparent reason. One fan yelled one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard: “Hey Snelling!!! Your last name su.cks!!!” I wish I’d known the “Doyle” secret before I headed to the game. I should be getting a copy of the segment, but I don’t know how to convert into a format that can then be uploaded.

Hey Zack, one other quick question (since my searches for the first book seem to be in vain), do you have any specific tips for snagging at Dodgers Stadium? I looked through your blog archives like you suggested in your FAQ and couldn’t find anything.
Thanks,

Peace.

Ramos is the coach in the bullpen, cause I’m making a list of every1 whos tossed me a ball and I don’t know who that catcher was at first I thought it was Shawn Riggans, so I’ll probably stick with him.

Here are some pics I took of the game, seats were in 200 level infield 3rd baseside.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/7815739@N03/sets/72157600157383598/

wow gustavo on DL

Dam the JINX

That was sudden 2, I can officially say I believe you.

Hey, I just got back from Shea. Six balls – a decent night. I’m probably going to Baltimore for Saturday’s night game! Woo-hoo!

ALEX-
Dodger Stadium is one of the toughest places to snag. I haven’t been there since 2000, which is why you didn’t find a blog entry about it. The fans there are notorious for arriving late and leaving early, so my main advice (which I admit isn’t great advice) is to take advantage of the empty seats while you can find ‘em. The dugouts there are now completely blocked off, and there are boxes up and down the foul lines. Access is highly limited. You just have to tough it out. If I went there more often, I’m sure I’d be able to give you more specific tips.

JIMMY-

Good idea to make a list. Cool pics. And thanks for the update on Gustavo. I hadn’t heard about it until I read your comment.

GREG-

Nicely done, Son. Any unusual balls/stories?

Not really, mostly the standard snagging day at Shea. Although Marlins reliever Taylor Tankersley did tell me to alert him if any BP balls were hit near him while he caught for Lee Gardner in left field. I did, and he rewarded me with the ball at the end. I guess that’s kind of unusual.

When do you think you’re going to your next game?

While I was there on Sunday I asked about the indoor batting cages, since I remember you wondered if the players could see you. They can’t- they only see tinted windows. Also interesting is that the Phillies give themselves space for two players to hit and the visitors only get one.

Whoa! Nice investigative work! Thanks very much.

“Gimme a ball” “Gimme a ball” “Gimme a ball” Your generation sure knows how to beg.

Umm, okay.

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