6/27/07 at Citizens Bank Park

I was supposed to be filmed during batting practice by Comcast SportsNet, the Phillies’ cable network, but it didn’t happen. I made the mistake of not bringing the producer’s phone number, and when it was time to meet up, he made the mistake of calling my home phone instead of my cell.

Then things got worse.

road_block.jpg

The road leading to the left field gate–the only gate that opens two and a half hours early–was completely blocked off. Why? According to stadium personnel, the equipment for the following night’s fireworks was already being set up and the right field gate would be opening early instead. Fine. I headed there with my friend Ben, who’d joined me for the drive from New York City, and we waited. We were the first ones there, and by the time the gate was almost set to open, there was still a very small crowd. Ha! Everyone else was probably confused about where to enter, and I was looking forward to having the ballpark to myself for the first 15 minutes.

A few fans asked me which gate was opening first.

“This one,” I said. “At least that’s what I was told.”

They were satisfied, and I felt great, right up until 4:30pm or so when it hit me: the turnstiles were still covered, and there weren’t any ticket takers in sight. I got a sick feeling in my gut and called out to the few employees who were walking past on the inside. The one guy who was nice enough to walk over was a vendor who didn’t know anything. Moments later, fans started running through the concourse and heading to the seats. NOOOOOOOO!!!!!

By the time I found my way inside, the stadium clock said 4:45pm, the left field seats were packed, and I was seething. There was no chance for me to use the glove trick, and the players were only throwing balls to little kids and pretty young women (without gloves).

I knew I was going to have to catch a home run, and after five minutes of stewing in my own sweaty rage, I got my chance when a righty on the Phillies crushed a line drive in my direction. The ball was going to fall short so I scampered down the steps and made a backhand lunge as I reached the front first_two_home_run_balls.jpgrow. The ball barely cleared the railing and nicked the tip of my glove, but it dropped straight down and bounced right up to me off the concrete step.

I moved back to my spot just in time to see another ball hit higher and deeper in my direction. I could tell from the moment it left the bat that it was going to sail over my head, so I darted up the steps to the spot where I thought it was going to land. Everyone else on the steps thought it was going to fall short so they ran forward. They were wrong, I was right, and I ended up in perfect position to make the catch. At the last second, a couple guys who happened to be standing in the right row cut across and reach in front of me, but I reached through them and made the one-handed catch, nearly 400 feet from home plate. That one felt good.

ball_in_bullpen.jpg

The rest of the ballpark opened at 5:35pm, and I spotted a ball sitting in the Phillies’ bullpen–the type of ball that was MADE for the glove trick. The only problem was that it was partially wedged into the soft grass, so it took a few minutes to knock it loose and get it to stick inside my glove. While I was going for it, another ball landed in the bullpen, and as I was just starting to go for that one, a groundskeeper walked over and tossed it up to me. That was my fourth ball of the day.

view_from_left_field_griffey.jpg

I managed to get one more during the final 40 minutes of BP–a homer that bounced off someone’s bare hands in left-center field–and I got a sixth ball from Chad Moeller at the Reds’ dugout after the national anthem.

Ben and I had paid $27 each for seats in straight-away left field. The odds of catching a Ken Griffey Jr. home run were remote, but the game itself was awesome. In the bottom of the fifth, Ryan Howard put the Phillies on top, 3-0, with a 466-foot bomb over the batter’s eye. (According to Hit Tracker, it was the fifth longest homer in the majors this season.) Meanwhile, 44-year-old Jamie Moyer was mowing down the Reds with his 82mph fastball, and he took a no-hitter into the sixth. One inning later, the Reds knocked him out of the game and put up a six-spot, but the Phillies answered with three runs in the bottom of the frame to tie the score at 6-6. The Reds took a 7-6 lead in the eighth, and then the rain came:

rain_delay.jpg

By the time play resumed 42 minutes later, 90 percent of the fans had left, and I went to right field for Griffey’s at-bat in the top of the ninth. Man, if ever there was a time for him to hit a ball my empty_seats_for_griffey.jpgway, this would’ve been it. No one around me was even wearing a glove, and I had a LONG row of empty seats to myself. Of course, all Griffey could do was pull a sharp grounder to first base. Two batters later, Adam Dunn hit a two-run homer that landed in the section where Ben and I had been sitting.

Reds closer (closer?!) David Weathers retired the Philles in order in the bottom of the ninth. Final score: Reds 9, Phillies 6.

While the Reds all walked out onto the field to congratulate each other, I slipped into the front row behind the dugout and got my seventh ball from home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg. Thirty seconds later, I got Weathers to toss me the game-ending ball, and a minute after that, Reds reliever Victor Santos walked in from the zack_and_ben.jpgbullpen and threw me another. Wow! In the blink of an eye, I’d gone from six balls to nine. Poor Ben didn’t get any balls and saw his favorite team lose.

On the way out, I ran into a guy named Jon (aka “joneli” for those of you who read the comments) who’s been reading this blog for years. He’s a semi-regular at Shea Stadium, but somehow our paths had never crossed. We hung out for a bit and took a few photos. I signed his copy of my book, and he told me he’d just achieved a first as a baseball collector. I’ll let him be the one to share the story here…

STATS:

• 132 balls in 18 games this season = 7.3 balls per game.

• 473 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 20 consecutive games with at least four balls

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

• 65 lifetime balls in 7 games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.3 balls per game.

• 634 lifetime balls outside of New York

• 3,093 total balls

• 11 days until I’ll be at the Home Run Derby (and 12 ’til the All-Star Game)…

20 Comments

soory zack. we only waited 40 minutes, and it was rwally cool. im upset that i had my eyes close half the ride, and it all happened so fast, i dont remember half of it. but as good as it was, it turned bad. the picture that i wanted was a before and after picture, and the people gave me the after picture of my friend!! did u go on el toro?

37 hours til pittsburg(or at least til i leave)

so here it is…i was able to get carlos ruiz to quickly toss me a ball. and then when the reds came out todd coffey tossed me one after he was done playing catch in the outfield…i got josh hamilton to sign 2 cards, and that appeared to be it. i wasnt upset, i wasnt mad. it was my first time at citizens bank and just getting two balls was enough for me.

during the 8th inning there was something like a 45 minute rain delay, and as a result alot of people left. i sat down in a row of three seats on the aisle closest to home plate but still atop the reds dugout. adam dunn was up when he looped a pitch foul and to my right. unfortunately for me there was a big barricade in between where the ball was going to land and where i was. i was prepared to jump over it, but by the time i would have someone else would have gotten it. luckily for me the ball took a nice bounce and then went strait over my head. two guys both went after it, and as they both tried to make a lunging grab, they knocked it directly to me and as stunned as i was to see the ball coming right towards my mitt, i never hesitated and grabbed it with ease. MY FIRST CAREER FOUL BALL. i had recieved balls that were used in games before. but never directly from the bat to the stands. adam dunn then preceded to hit a homerun and even more of the phillies faithful left.

zack stole all the balls from behind the dugout. but i was flattered with getting three.

so im off to baltimore for fridays and saturdays game…so zack, i hope you see this: how is security at camden yards? if i have an upper deck seat is security going to be a pain and not let me in or do they check or anything…

if anyone knows please let me know…

and also zack, it was great to finally meet you. kinda weird how it wasnt at shea, but we did nearly get run down by jimmy rollins…anyway, good game for you…and ill let you know how baltimore goes.

Joneli: last year, i was able to move right behind the dougout at camde, but im a kid, so it might vary by age.

oh, and zack, you must be happy. The big hurt hit 500, and i remember you saying how u used to love him

And also congrats to Craig Biggio for getting #3000

PUCK COLLECTOR-
Only 40 minutes?!*****. Yes, I went on El Toro. (For those of you who have no idea what we’re talking about, we’re contining a very old conversation about Six Flags Great Adventure.) I’m happy for Frank Thomas but I was hoping to have a chance to catch #500 next month at Yankee Stadium.

JONELI-

Very nice description of the action. Thanks for sharing it with everyone, and congrats again.

CUBS-

Indeed. I was wondering if #3,000 was going to end up in the seats.

JONELI-
I just realized that I forgot to answer your question about security at Camden Yards. The answer is that there isn’t much, so go ahead and buy the cheapest possible ticket without fear. Some ushers will check tickets as you head down the steps to the dugout, but it varies from section to section, kind of like Shea. Even during the game, you can pretty much go wherever you want, but you still need to be smart about it. Don’t just walk RIGHT past an usher when he/she is looking at you. You know? But overall, you’ll see that the place is really a breeze.

is comcast goin to try to film you again?

You are completely soaked Zack! I love it! I’ll be at Citizen’s tomorrow. I am psyched!!

Well, I got ONE measly baseball yesterday at Shea. The Mets didn’t take BP, the Cardinals started their BP five minutes late and ended 20 minutes early. Then, even before the players could start their pre-game throwing, they put the tarp on the field 15 minutes before it started raining. And to make the day’s ********* complete, the game was rained out after a ten-minute minor drizzle followed by almost no rain for the rest of the night. What a disaster. Shea groundscrew: YOU S.UCK! (But Billy Wagner, thank you!)

Hey Joneli, I know exactly how awesome you feel about getting your first foul ball! I got my first in May (after trying and failing for about a year) and it was probably the greatest feeling I’ve ever had at a baseball game. I’ll never forget it, and I hope you don’t forget your’s either. Congratulations!

this has nothing to do with balls or autographs but the other day i went to a game and a guy had a #12 whitesox authentic jersey, just like a a.j. pierzinski one right? wrong instead on the back it said B.ITCH…it was pretty cool i hate aj so that was right up my ally..i was wondering how he could get that with mlb.com having like no profanity on custimized jerseys..anyways funny stuff

bergin: the guy with the 12 jersey could have bought the A.J jersey, the n taken it to a taylor, and had the new letters sewn on.

PUCK COLLECTOR-
I’m not sure about Comcast. You’re right about the jersey.

ALLMARSH-

C’mon, I’m sure you’ve gotten even wetter while vending, no? Hope you’re having fun in Philly. The Mets are currently winning, 6-4, in the eighth inning of Game One…

GREG-

Oh man, that’s AWFUL! I picked a good week to skip Shea. I forget if we already discussed this, but if you hadn’t gotten a ball, would you have considered it the end of your streak?

BERGIN-

That’s funny, and as you can see below, our resident Puck Collector has come through with an explanation.

I remember I caught my first and only foul ball 6 years ago at Dodger Stadium. It was like the 3rd ever major leage game that I have ever been to. My seat was on second floor deck on left side on home plate.

Chan Ho Park was pitching that day. I was wearing a glove, but did not believe I would ever catch a ball in a game. In like 5th inning, Fred McGriff fouled a ball DIRECTLY to my seat. All I recall is that something white coming to me, I didn’t know what it was, it was so fast, I just lifted my glove and caught it. It was a ball!!! I was totally shocked and speechless. People around me were applauding at me. It was the greatest feeling in the world. After the game, I was too excited that I couldn’t sleep the whole night. What a great day.

with all this talk about first foul balls, i hope that i get mine in pittsburg this weekend. i also hope for my first ball on a fly. countdown: 25 hours, 3 minutes

Yeah, that would have counted as the end of my streak. I decided last year that for the purposes of my streak, I would define a “game” as a trip inside a ballpark. By the same logic, if I ever get a chance to go to a single-admission doubleheader, it would count as “one game”.

(I love all these first foul ball stories! They make me feel very happy.)

Coors Field countdown: 2 days, 23 hours, 30 minutes, 5 seconds!

well the yankees finnaly won.

check out this story. whne i saw the headline, i thought it was zambrano and bartlett

http://nmsn.foxsports.com/other/story/6975592?MSNHPHMA

i leave my house in an hour.

my goal:

15 balls, a foul ball, nd linup cards.

ill try to post after each game, but i dont know if i can. have fun w/o me!

SAMMY-
Great story! Thanks for sharing it with everyone.

PUCK COLLECTOR-

I hope you get it too. Hopefully the attendance will stay low at PNC for you. That’s a really sad story about Roman Colon. (He once threw me a ball when he was up with the Atlanta Braves). But I feel especially bad for the guy he punched.

GREG-

Makes sense, and I love all the stories too. I also love all the countdowns.

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