5/22/07 at Busch Stadium

The day began when I woke up in NYC at 7:45am with five and a half hours of sleep. On the way to the airport, my taxi driver blasted easy-listening music from a radio station in Connecticut with horrible reception. At the airport, security confiscated my toothpaste and deodorant. On the plane, I sat within three rows of a shrieking baby, a restless little boy, two whiny little girls, and the most annoying parents of all time. Then, after only an hour, my laptop battery died.

It got better from there.

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The flight landed a few minutes early. The weather in St. Louis was great. I had a radio-free taxi ride to my hotel (which is within walking distance of Busch Stadium and The Arch). I got an Internet connection in my room. I gathered my stuff for the 7:10pm game and headed to the ballpark nearly five hours early.

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While photographing the place from every angle, I found a restaurant that serves “toasted ravioli.” I’d been told to look for it. It’s a delicacy in this town, and after one bite I knew why. Of course I photographed that as well. (The ravioli was just my appetizer. I also had a grilled chicken sandwich with BBQ sauce, melted cheddar and fried onions. I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted to overeat.)

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For most of the afternoon, I couldn’t decide whether to go to right or left field for batting practice. From what I’d seen of Busch on TV, it appeared to be extremely segmented. There were too many railings. There wasn’t enough access from one section to the next. It seemed that it’d be easier to move around in right field bleachers, but thanks to my roster, I knew there’d be far more righties during BP. Of the 13 position players on the Cardinals, there were only three lefties (Adam Kennedy, Chris Duncan, and Jim Edmonds) and two switch-hitters (Aaron Miles and Scott Spiezio). Because Zach Duke–a lefty–would be making the start for the Pirates, I figured the switch-hitters would take most of their cuts from the right side. In addition, there was a huge crowd outside the right field gate, so I chose left field.

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Another problem with left field (both fields, actually) is that the bullpen is positioned just beyond the outfield wall in the power alley. Most home runs would land there, so I had to choose between the crowded section down the line or the emptier section behind the bullpen, 425 feet from home plate. I chose the latter, mainly because Pujols was about to hit, and I figured he could reach me.

I figured right.

It took a few minutes, during which I second-guessed myself as fans in all other sections were catching balls, but Pujols finally cranked one in my direction. I mean RIGHT in my direction. It seemed to have
the proper height and trajectory, so I froze and worried that I was misjudging the distance. The ball kept coming. The guy in the green hat stood up at the last second and made a feeble attempt to barehand it. I reached out and caught it one-handed just over his hands.

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“Ohh, we got a professional over there!” shouted a guy from the next section.

“This is my first game here!” I insisted while glowing over the fact that I’d now snagged at least one ball at every current major league stadium.

“Yeah right!” he said.

“I swear.”

“It was a nice catch,” he admitted, “but it won’t happen again.”

One minute later, Juan Encarnacion blasted a deep fly ball in the same spot, and I caught that one too.

“Excuse me,” said a voice from behind. “Are you Zack Hample?”

It was a man who recognized me from this blog. His name is Wes Wagner. He’s caught about 400 balls in his life, including three homers during games. We chatted for a few minutes and kept running into each other for the rest of the night.

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I had an easy chance to use the glove trick for a ball that was sitting in the bullpen, but a security guard stopped me. Meanwhile, it was nearly impossible to use the trick in the left field corner because of the thick metal ledge and the strip of half-dead grass on the other side of the railing. I couldn’t even lean out far enough to look directly down at the warning track.

“Have you been shut out yet?” asked another guy as I was running all over the place.

“Huh? Not since 1993.”

Turns out he recognized me from last year’s segment on CBS, during which I mentioned my streak of snagging at least one ball at every game.

Armas_grabow_marteWhen the Pirates started throwing in left field, I turned my attention toward them and got a ball–my third of the day–thrown to me by Tony Armas, Jr. Luckily, John Grabow hadn’t seen me catch it, so I got him to toss me another five minutes later. After that, I hit a long dry spell but held my ground along the LF foul line and eventually got Damaso Marte to flip me a ball.

I didn’t get a ball after BP at the Pirates’ dugout, but I did get recognized again. It was another “Are you Zack Hample,” this time from a kid named Darron who reads the blog. Earlier in the day, he had snagged his 8th lifetime ball which he didn’t think was very good compared to my total.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Twelve.”

“Guess what,” I said. “I didn’t catch my first ball until I was twelve, and I only got four balls that entire season, so you’re already ahead of my pace.”

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He asked for my autograph (NOT on the ball), and we had our picture taken with both of our cameras.

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I headed to the concourse, got a bottle of water, wandered aimlessly, took some photos, made my way back to the Pirates’ dugout after the national anthem, and got my 6th ball of the day from last year’s National League batting champion. He and Jack Wilson were playing catch. There wasn’t another fan in sight with a glove or Pirates gear. No matter which player ended up with the ball, I knew it was going to be mine.

I missed the first three innings, and I didn’t care. This day was all about the ballpark, not the ballgame. I wandered through every concourse…

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…and eventually reached the upper deck…

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…and caught a glimpse of the scoreboard. The Cardinals were winning, 3-1.

I wandered back down to the field level, stopping along the way to eat (a hamburger and soft-serve ice cream) and take more pictures…

busch_wandering.jpg

…and when I finally decided to watch the game, it was the top of the 7th inning, and the Cardinals were ahead, 9-2. WHAT?! At least the score was so lopsided that a lot of fans had already left. I grabbed a seat in the 3rd row behind the Cardinals’ dugout, where I figured I’d have a good chance of getting a ball after the game.

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With one out in the bottom of the 8th, Chris Duncan swung a little too soon at a pitch low and inside and sent it bouncing toward the dugout. I thought it might bounce into the dugout, so I stood up and took a step forward in case one of the players tossed it up, but instead, the ball skipped through the space in chris_duncan_foul_ball.jpgthe railing and shot over the dugout roof. The guy in the white visor was wearing a glove, but he was caught off guard as the ball whizzed right past him and into my glove. I don’t know exactly how I managed to catch it because it was out of view until the last second. I think I must have been anticipating where it might bounce. I don’t know. It all happened so fast–and yet it seemed so easy. The man sitting a few seats over kept congratulating me and raving about how fast I’d moved my glove. He said he’d never seen anyone with such quick reflexes.

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I also snagged a t-shirt during the t-shirt launch, which was so small (and covered with Cardinals players, ewww) that I couldn’t imagine ever wearing it again, so I gave it to a woman who’d been harassing me about stealing that foul ball from all the people in the section who actually had tickets there. Um, lady, if I hadn’t been sitting there, someone else would’ve been heading to the emergency room.

Kelvin Jimenez caught Ryan Doumit looking at strike three to end the game, and he tossed me the ball–my eighth of the day–on his way in. I gave it to a kid and took some more photos on my way out.

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STATS:

• 202 photos taken

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• 70 balls in 8 games this season = 8.75 balls per game.

• 42 different major league stadiums with at least one ball

• 463 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 92 consecutive games outside of NYC with at least one ball

• 613 lifetime balls outside of NYC

• 17 lifetime game balls outside of NYC

• 101 total game balls

• 15 different stadiums with at least one game ball

• 3,031 total balls…moves me ahead of Lou Brock (3,023) and into 22nd place on the all-time hits list. Next up is Rod Carew (3,053).

26 Comments

glad you’re having such a great time…and doing exactly what you want. love all the pix too. it’s seems like a beautiful stadium. the views from the upper deck are spectacular; i love seeing all the red in the crowd; obviously a lot of devoted fans there.
great catches too…congrats.

mike

Looks like Busch Stadium turned into a nice place, it was only 95% done when I was there. I’d never heard of toasted Ravioli ’till I went to St. Louis either. Now here’s the good news, there’s a place(at least one) in Manhattan that has them. The Talking Dog Cafe on…I think it’s 34th, maybe 33rd between Lex and 3rd has them as an appetizer. They weren’t as good as St. Louis, but filled my craving.

Sounds like you had a good time Zack! Funny story about the t-shirt launch at Shea. A few years ago, I got 4 great field box seats to a Mets/Pirates game. My friend is a huge Pirates fan, so he was there with me. (He might’ve been the only Pirates fan in the entire stadium). Anyway, during the t-shirt launch, he ends up catching a t-shirt, and maybe 30 people in our section were screaming at him to give it to a kid, or a Mets fan, but he refused. He got home and put the shirt on, and it was like a belly shirt! It was even tighter than yours, and he’s a lot bigger than you. haha

looks like you had a great day. eight balls for a new park is tremendous…and 202 photos? i’ve had my camera since 2005 and i dont even think i have 202 photos on it, and thats w/o deleting any

anyway glad to see some scenery there. it looks like a really nice park…and im now going thorugh a massive grilled chicken sandwich withdrawl so thanks for that…

but anyway, the pirates seemed nice, did any of the tips help you or were they like all wearing jerseys?

good luck tonight

Zack, I saw this article on Tim Keefe and the Big Unit and I thought of you….

You better hope the Big Unit doesn’t pitch in 2009, or else he might get 1 or 2 more stadiums in NY under his belt! (I’m not sure if they would play the NYY that year)

http://sportsreviewmagazine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=900

they picture of the concourse (the picture above the picture with the escalaotos) sorta looks like camden out in right feild.

and in that same set of pictures, the one in the bottom right looks like pittsburgh

r the pirates nice? im going to PNC for 3 days in june, and im hopin for good weather, and good players

Yikes, Zack, the restaurant in St. Louis, Mike Shannon’s, that I told you to try to go to was just named in a lawsuit by Josh Hancock’s dad.

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2881602

Are you counting the ball you gave to a kid in your collection

That’s an awesome day! Sounds like a beautiful ballpark. So were you right about left field being very segmented?

MIKE-
Thanks so much. St. Louis really IS a great baseball town. No doubt about that.

CEETAR-

The Talking Dog Cafe? Never heard of it. Cool.

PSU-

That’s hilarious about your friend getting the shirt. Were you the one who originally asked about the Cardinals media guide? I’m at work right now, and unfortunately there isn’t one. Sorry about that. I wonder which four current stadiums The Unit hasn’t won at, but that’s fine…let him pitch a few more years. I’ll be adding to MY stadium total, too. Crazy about Mike Shannon’s restaurant – but even crazier that we live in a country where there’s no such thing as personal responsibility. (Maybe if I injure my back, I can sue the Mets for giving me too many baseballs to carry.)

JONELI-

You need to take some more pics. What’s up with that?! Your tips actually did help a little, mainly in terms of knowing who was nice/rude, but yeah, most of the Pirates had their names and numbers covered.

BCIMONS-

You know how all those ugly cookie-cutter stadiums from the 70s looked alike? Well, I’m not saying all the new ballparks are ugly, but a bunch of them really do look alike in some ways. The Pirates were very nice, but they didn’t sign many autographs…not inside the stadium, at least.

KERRY-

Absolutely.

GREG-

Thanks. I was right. Left field was annoying, but not quite as bad as I’d feared.

EVERYONE-

I went back to Busch stadium last night for my second of two games. Now I’m back in NYC. I’ll be working on the entry tomorrow and, if necessary, on Saturday as well. Either way, I’ll have it up as soon as possible.

thanks for that comment on personal responsibilty. i feel sorry for that kid’s parents, but if they were so concerned about him maybe they would helped him with his drinking problem while he was alive instead of trying to cash in on him when he’s dead…just my take on it.

Yeah Zack, I was the one asking about the media guides. I know back in the 80’s and 90’s, there would be a page in every media guide that listed where every opposing team would stay. It was pretty interesting. Something tells me that after 9/11 and all of the other security stuff that’s been going on, they probably removed this page from the media guides, but I was just curious.

I think I’m heading to Shea next Thursday to see Balco boy……last year I had front row seats right by the left field ball boy, and I literally lost my voice yelling at Bonds! Some kid printed up about 100 flyers with a big asterisk on it, and he passed it out to everyone. It was pretty funny.

astreisk’s!! that great!!

i’m heading 2 yankee Stadium for tonights game, and i was wondering how u say “can i have a baseball please?” in spanish.

the yankees are sooooo out of it, so hopefully BP won’t b 2 crowded

when do u think Rocket should return?

yeah BC the yankees are so out of it…probably tonight’s game will be completely empty as well. right.

MIKE-
I feel sorry too, but that’s an excellent point.

PSU-

The media guides DO still list the hotels where the teams stay. There were a bunch of 2006 media guides at work…just not one for the Cardinals. I looked at other NL teams to see where they stay in Philly, and there were various hotels. If they all seemed to be staying at the same place, then I would’ve been able to say, “Aha, the Cardinals must stay there, too!” And I would’ve passed along that info.

BCIMONS-

Guess what. You might see me there. I have to go to tonight’s game, and when I finally get around to blogging about it, I’ll explain why. The Spanish phrase is “Da me la bola, por favor.” I have no idea about the Rocket, but if he’s getting smacked around in the minors, he should stay there for at least one more start.

to the annoying lady fan, some peopl just dont get it.

zack i had a similar experience if u remember the story i told u about catching the chone figgins foul ball in my second major league game, the person who spilled beer on my demanded i give him the ball, i was like wow you spilled the beer on me and now ur making an excuse so that u can get this from me, umm no.

But nice trip Zack, i enjoyed the pictures and the stories. keep it up

i didnt get what you said…did u find out where the cards stay in philly?

Summing up your tumultuous day: Bad to worse to okay to better to absolutely oustanding! The new Busch is really a gorgeous place! Man, I want to go there.

so yea, o went to borders tonight and went looking for your book…and i could not find it at all. i looked over and over with a friend and neither one of us could find it, and they said at the store that they had it…oh well ill just have to wait alittle longer…

RAMONES-
Thanks, and yes, I remember the Chone story very well.

SGC90ACE-

No, I didn’t find out. Sorry for the confusion.

DANNY-

A fine summation. Go to Busch. Let nothing hold you back.

JONELI-

So the store had the book but wouldn’t tell you where to find it? Duh!

EVERYONE-

I just got back from the Yankees game. AAHH!! I’m two games behind, and I have two more games coming up next week. Stay tuned for several entries. I just need to find the time to write them…

GREG-

Did you get a ball from the umps? How did the rest of your night turn out.

BCIMONS-

I enjoyed BP more because you were there. Great seeing you.

Hey Zack, just got back to the hotel from the Cardinals game. I figured I’d remind you that I got Kelvin Jimenez’s autograph and I asked him about the ball he threw at the end of the game on Tuesday to the baseball collector and he said “that Hample guy?” and laughed when I said yes. That’s all he said though. Then, during the game, a woman from St. Louis sitting by us had heard of you and said she knew you were in town earlier this week. You’re famous man! Haha…I’ll take a pic of the autographs and show you later…(Kelvin Jimenez and Randy Flores) and I also stole some gravel from the warning track…hahah
Cya man

-Brady

Yes, I did get a ball from home plate ump Jim Joyce after the game. It was like the scariest moment of my life, because I was so worried I would get shut out if Joyce just happened not to have a leftover ball. But he did, and when I caught it, it was like the most relief I’ve felt in my baseball collecting career. (That makes 40 straight games with at least one ball, by the way.) Have you ever had a situation like this? Getting a ball at the last moment to end a shut out?

well zack i enjoyed seeing u there to… i think. no foul balls for me though, but i still ended up with 2. That puts me at 1.6 balls per game. hey thats better than chone figgins batting average!! they game was painfully slow, and my sisters and i were complaining, so we left when the score was 10-3. do any of the media gides say where the Nationals , and Brewers stay when they are in Pittsburg? My dad got a 4-star hotel on hotwire, so i hoping that they stay in our hotel. :)

BRADY-
Are you serious? I’m not sure if I believe you, but if a Major Leaguer actually knew my name, that’d be incredible. It’s never happened before. Gravel. Nice going.

GREG-

I see that you reposted this comment on a more recent entry, and I’ve answered it there.

BCIMONS-

Ditto.

Welcome to where I go when I go to major league games! Oh, man. If I had known you were in my area back in 2007, I’d have gotten tickets to that game- I went to more in 2006 than 2007 because of “new” Busch opening (I liked the old one better, but that may be from all the memories in it). I didn’t start reading your blog until 2009. I’d have LOVED to meet you in person. I saw you mentioned how security won’t let us do the glove trick. I don’t get how I’m “throwing something” onto the field, when I’m just trying to snag a ball no one is using!! Oh well, at least you know what I went through over the years trying to get one! Maybe I should try moving around more during batting practice. I just wish I could get one already! I’ve been going to baseball games since 1980 (my parents got me into the sport when I was 3), and after 31 years still have NO BASEBALLS caught!!

Well, damn. It would’ve been nice to meet you, but maybe we can make it happen next year. Busch is a TOUGH stadium to catch baseballs. I feel your pain.

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