4/8/08 at Fenway Park

Since September of 1993, I’ve managed to snag at least one ball at EVERY game I’ve attended. One reason I’ve been able to keep the streak going so long (other than the fact that I have mad skills) is that I choose my games wisely. I generally avoid day games, especially those that follow night games, because the players often sleep late and skip batting practice. I also avoid games with big crowds, especially when lots of fans are likely to show up early.

There’s no way I would’ve attended this game had it not been an official Watch With Zack outing. As gorgeous as Fenway Park is, it’s also expensive and crowded and cramped and lousy for snagging baseballs. This game in particular was the Red Sox home opener, and everyone on the team was going to be receiving their 2007 World Series championship rings during a huge ceremony starting at 1pm. Batting practice was scheduled to end early. Fans were advised to show up extra early, and not only that, my three clients (who had no interest in snagging baseballs) had originally planned to meet me outside the stadium half an hour after the gates opened. As far as my 498-game streak was concerned, it was a nightmare waiting to happen, and yet I was okay with it all. After all, I was there on business, and this day was all about them.

When we had still been in the planning stage, I mentioned my streak and asked them to meet me half an hour earlier at 11:30am. More balls for me, I explained, would mean more balls for them. Even though they weren’t planning to bring their gloves and run around with me, they were hoping I’d snag a few for them.

looking_up_behind_monster_04_08_08.jpgI reached Fenway at around 10:30am and sweet-talked my way up onto the garage roof behind the Green Monster. BP started at around 11am, giving me half an hour to get one ball. Because I’d been out there for Game 1 and Game 2 of last year’s World Series, I knew exactly where to stand and what to do…and before long I got my chance. Without warning, a home run ball came flying over the Monster and landed with a loud thud on the roof of the gray van parked at the front edge of the lot. By the time the ball dropped out of sight on the right side of the van, I was already sprinting forward and weaving between the vehicles. I knew there were other fans standing nearby and hoped that they hadn’t seen it coming. Turns out they hadn’t, but the ball was bouncing and rolling slowly toward a ledge where they would’ve been ball_behind_monster_04_08_08.jpgable to reach it. That’s when I swooped in and gloved the ball, shin-high, right off the concrete, and I kept running. Wooooooo!!! Of course, one of the garage attendants then swooped in and told me I had to leave, but that was fine. I had my ball for the day, and life was good.

Two of my three clients, a couple named Ann and Ben, showed up right on time, and they were easy to spot amongst the hundreds of fans on Lansdowne Street. Several days earlier, Ann had told me on the phone that she would have her gray hair up in a bun and that Ben had a white beard like Santa Claus. We said quick hellos. (She’s a pediatrician and knew a lot about baseball. He’s an orthopedic
surgeon and had only been to a few games in his entire life.) They handed me a ticket. I handed them the ball. We fought our way through the crowd and headed around the corner toward Yawkey Way.

Last year, on 9/29/07 at Camden Yards, I experienced the largest pre-game crowd of my life. Guess what. That was NOTHING compared to the sea of people waiting to get into Fenway. Ready to see what I’m talking out? You might want to get a glass of cold water and find a comfy chair because the following photograph is likely to make you sick and/or light-headed. Okay, THIS was going to be my competition during batting practice:

line_outside_gates_04_08_08.jpg

Good thing I got that ball on the garage roof, huh? At least that’s what I was thinking, but then batting practice turned out to be pretty easy. Ann went straight to her seat and had a beer. Ben followed me down to the front row along the third base line, and amazingly I was able to squeeze into the corner spot…you know, where the wall is really low and juts out close to the  foul line. It was a great spot to catch grounders, except none came my way, so I focused on getting balls thrown to me by the players.

view_from_corner_spot_04_08_08.jpgMy first victim was Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson (standing with his back facing me in the pic on the right). He walked past me while the Sox were still hitting. I didn’t think he had a ball, so I said, “Curtis, is there any chance you could toss me a ball if they hit one your way?” He didn’t say a word, and he didn’t need to. He had a ball tucked in his glove, and he flipped it to me. It was a minor league ball from the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, and at first I didn’t know whether to be disappointed or excited. Last year, Mets pitcher Aaron Sele tossed me an Arizona Fall League ball during batting practice at Shea Stadium. It was the first minor league ball I’d ever snagged at a major league game, and I decided to count it. The way I saw it, if the ball was good enough for major leaguers to use, even during BP, then it was good enough for me to count it in my collection. Same deal with those cheap, made-in-China, green and blue training balls that the Nationals have been using for the last two seasons. I hate them, but they count.

Ben eventually went to find Ann at the seats and told me to stay and enjoy batting practice and get as many balls as I could. Meanwhile, I was wondering if the Pacific Coast League ball was a random/fluky ball that somehow got mixed in with the others, and within a few minutes, I had my answer. Justin Verlander was manning the bucket in shallow center field, pacific_coast_league_ball_04_08_08.jpgand I shouted really loud and got his attention and waved my arms and got him to roll me a ball from more than 150 feet away. I leaned way out, hooked my feet inside the wall, used my arms to walk my upper body out on the warning track, and scooped up the ball in front of several other outstretched arms. Same ball as before: Pacific Coast League. Bleh. A little girl got a ball soon after. I asked to take a look. Pacific Coast League. Jason Grilli rolled me a ball 10 minutes after that. I reached out and caught it despite the effort of the gloveless man on my left who tried to tug my arm out of the way. Pacific Coast League. Jeremy Bonderman rolled me my fifth ball of the day. Pacific Coast League. AARRGHH!!! I’d snagged more than enough PCL balls when I got a behind-the-scenes tour of Cheney Stadium (home of the Tacoma Rainiers) in 2002. I didn’t need more of them in Boston. Why were the Tigers using them? And why were the players rolling them instead of throwing them like real men? No wonder they haven’t won a game yet this season.

My lifetime ball total was now 3,299. I really wanted one more ball so I could reach the mini-milestone at Fenway, but it wasn’t meant to be. I did have one more chance to snag a ball with the glove trick, but it meant giving up my corner spot. I ended up keeping the spot, NOT snagging another ball there, and losing my chance at No. 3,300. Great.

grilli_autograph_04_08_08.jpgBatting practice ended so early that I was taken by surprise and didn’t have a chance to make it to the Tigers’ dugout before the players and coaches left the field. I was, however, able to get Grilli’s autograph on my ticket stub, which was cool because I had interviewed him several years ago for a story on MiLB.com, and he had called me back several days later, on his own, to discuss a business venture that had nothing to do with baseball. We ended up talking a few times on the phone throughout the off-season, and this was the first time I’d seen him since then. I’m not sure if he remembered me, or if he was just being polite, but either way, we got to talk for a minute, and I gave him a contact card with my web site on it, so who knows, he might end up reading this someday.

It took about half an hour to get from the Tigers’ dugout on the 3rd base side to the concourse behind the plate (bathroom) and back up into the grandstand seats on the 1st base side where I found
Ann and Ben and met her practice partner named John. He was closer to my age and had four young kids at home. One of them was too young to appreciate owning a baseball, so I gave him three of my Pacific Coast League balls and kept one of them (the Verlander ball, pictured above) for myself. I was fine with that. He was fine with that. Everyone was happy. It was freezing. We didn’t care. And before long, the ring ceremony was underway.

It was QUITE an extravaganza. The entire Boston Pops Orchestra was playing in center field as huge, Monster-sized banners were revealed and flags were hoisted. There were video highlights. Touching tributes. Deafening cheers. Appearances from members of the Bruins, Celtics, and Patriots. It was an all-out spectacle, and I was thrilled to be there.

opening_day_festivities_04_08_08.jpg

This was our view during the game. Yeah, there was a support beam partially blocking the field (and yeah, my tiny seat had a few wooden slats missing), but hey, it’s all part of Fenway’s charm, or something like that.

Both teams were introduced. The orchestra played the national anthem. Three fighter jets did a fly-over. Bill Buckner threw the ceremonial first pitch (a perfect strike to Dwight Evans). Johnny Pesky stepped to a microphone and said, “Let’s play ball!”

The game was finally set to start, and I found myself sitting between John, who knew a lot about baseball, and Ben who asked me to explain everything. It was a bit of a challenge because he said he’d read Ann’s copy of my book (which I signed for her later in the day), so I wasn’t sure what he already understood and what he might’ve forgotten. So I just started giving a running commentary, pointing out everything I noticed, like…for example…Mike Lowell was playing even with 3rd base in anticipation of a bunt, but moved back with two strikes because of the foul-bunt rule. Kevin Youkilis was standing on 1st base to keep the runner close, and as soon as he knew that the pitcher (Daisuke Matsuzaka) wasn’t going to throw over, he scooted a few steps off the base to get into position to field a potential grounder. The batter was digging in at the back of the box instead of the front to give himself an extra fraction of a second to react to the pitch. The umpire was resting a hand on the ben_ann_zack_john_04_08_08.jpgcatcher’s back. The catcher handed him the ball whenever a pitch hit the dirt. The ball boy kept running out with new balls. The batter would always run down to first base in a curved path if he hit a single into the outfield. And so on. I showed him the grips for different pitches. I explained more rules and strategies. It was lots of fun to help teach him about the game, and it forced me to pay closer attention, so I got more out of it too.

As for the game, Dice-K was dealing. He ended up working 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing four hits and four walks while striking out seven and improving to 2-0. Kenny Rogers (booooo!!!) took the loss for Detroit, and the Red Sox won, 5-0. Youk was the offensive player of the day, going 3-for-3 with a walk, a double, two RBIs and a run scored. The game lasted three and a half hours. We could see our breath the whole time. Lots of “fans” left early. But not us. We stayed and watched baseball like it was meant to be watched.

Ann and Ben were nice enough to let me make a final attempt to get a ball at the dugout. I waited until there were two outs in the ninth, then snuck down to the third row with John and got into a perfect position as soon as Jacque Jones struck out swinging to end it…but Hideki Okajima took his ball with him into the dugout, and that was that.

STATS:

• 5 balls at this game

• 22 balls in 3 games this season = 7.3 balls per game.

• 499 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 6 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least one ball

• 746 lifetime balls outside of New York

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

• 27 balls in 6 lifetimes games at Fenway Park = 4.5 balls per game.

• 3,299 total balls

• 13 days until I’ll be snagging baseballs at Disney World

19 Comments

Zack,

Sound like you had fun. Even w/ the huge crowd. I watched the game on TV. I was thoroughly depressed that my Tigers lost again. 0-7 ugghhhh. I will have to keep an eye out for the PCL balls from my Tigers when I go there on the 14th and 15th vs. MINN.
My wife cracked up last night when I told her that I would sell her sister my (4) tickets for the LAA game on 4/26/08. I told her that there is an on field clinic before the game. She said, “so what”. I said that = no pregame BP, plus tons of kids attend the pre game clinic games. I want to keep my “Hample Snag Process” streak going.
Did you hear about the new box seat autograph rules at Dodger Stadium. Sucks to be a Dodger fan….
Have Fun,
Mike

Zack,
Me again. Hey, I meant to ask you. Is there a particular brand of string that you like for the glove trick? I am already using the Large Red rubber bands that you recommended in your blog for my Rawlings (Griffey JR. Model 12.5 inch glove).
3-3 w/ the glove trick at the COPA. Even having to do it from the high Right Center field wall location.

plmk,
Mike

Interesting about the PCL league. This spring, when they came to St. Pete, the Tigers were hitting out International League balls…go figure.

Last night the Rays had their home opener. I snagged 3, including a ridiculously improbable one.

At Tropicana field, the left field wall has 2 sections: The first is the foam padded area that comprises about the first 9 feet or so. Above that there is a wire mesh material, which supports the yellow bar, which is the top of the fence.

Around 4:45, about 5 minutes into BP, a Rays player hit a high fly about 15-20 feet to my right. After tracking it in the air for a second, I had to look down to watch out for people. This is a big no-no at the Trop, as the domed roof ensures that once to take your eye off the ball, it becomes extremely difficult to find it again (even the players have problems with it).

So on this ball I made the horrible mistake of taking my eye off it, or so I thought. Instead of bouncing off the bar, and back onto the field, or to fans behind me, the ball landed wedged perfectly between the padded portion of the wall and the wire mesh above it. I quickly grabbed it, and exchanged puzzled looks with the 20 or so people who saw it.

I have been watching baseball for about 20 years now. I have seen balls get lost in the ivy at Wrigley. I have seen rollers to the gap get wedged between to padded sections. But I have never seen anything like what happened to me last night.

Andy

Here is another post about Nationals Park Zack, you will need to find your way out soon enough. My most recent trip was about as opposite as possible from your trip to Boston.

I went to the Game #2 at Nats park, a 7:10 start time against the Fish on a 45 degree night. The cold, time, being up against the NCAA game, and playing the Marlins on a Monday night meant about 12,000-15,000 showed of the 20K paid.

I got to the game 2.5 hours before first pitch, and after some slight confusion, the side gates opened. Apparently the center field *side* gates will open 2.5 hours before, NOT the main gates. So we actually got in about 10 minutes late, but we were allowed into the entire left / left center part of the seats.

Nats BP was already underway, so as I walked to my spot on the aisle above the left field wall, I looked through the rows for some already hit HRs, but none were to be found. I called out to Chad Cordero and he tossed me a ball he had in his hand so I had my first within 2 minutes of being in the stadium, but not my goal of being a batted ball. Training ball, cheap Nats. A few minutes later someone (my bad eyes could tell) hit a line drive shot to my basic area. A few steps to my right, reaching straight ahead, and I heard a nice pop as the ball hit the pocket of my glove. I had to beat out a kid reaching in front of me and shoving a bit, but it was mine the whole way. I was surprised to hear a pretty loud round of applause from the crowd who was behind me. The game may have ended up being sparsely attended, but a lot of people showed up more than 2 hours before game time. This will die down as the season progresses, but was nice to see a turnout for the 2nd game.

Dukes was signing quite a few things, Lastings was running around and throwing balls into the stands, and Willie Harris was making nice grabs against the wall, and throwing balls he made nice catches on into the stands, and balls he dropped back into the bucket. Cordero dropped an easy fly ball in left and the rest of the bullpen pretty soundly made fun of him. He blamed the lights.

1.5 hours before the game the rest of the stadium “opened” up, so we could wander down into the same corner where you ended up for BP at Fenway. Standing there for 5 minutes I had two more balls through grounders. The Marlins pitchers started throwing next to the wall and man, THEY ARE TERRIBLE. They must have thrown the ball into the stands at least 3 times for each of them. They were lined up right next to me, so it was killing me to watch them and watch the batter. I ended up catching an overthrow and giving it back to them. They said “I’ll give it to you when we are done,” but after they finished I never got the ball back. The Marlins were using official balls at least.

We went to our seats for the game and unfortunately, my 2nd row seats are RIGHT behind the right field ball girl. And we all know, ball girls like to give the balls they catch to little kids, oh well. At least she is very nice, and she seems to know how to field a ground ball. I did see one of the game balls that a little kid got and it did have the inaugural season logo on it, so I am hoping to get at least one of those this season. I have a plan for the rest of the season. I will get as many balls as I can in BP and stick them in my pack. Then when the game comes along, I will score some points with the ball girl and give all of the BP balls to kids who are pestering her. Maybe if I do this enough, she will be kind enough to flip me a gamer. Either that or I will need to snag one myself. I’m pretty sure I will see my fair share once the weather warms up and people start floating fouls my way.

The game was FRIGID and we were pretty miserable, but baseball is baseball, and it was great to be at the park.

I will be at tomorrow’s game too, supposed to be 70 degrees so a little more enjoyable.

One last thing, not sure how long this will stay up, but I love it. http://clarkconstruction.oxblue.com/clarkhuntsmoot/ Its the ballpark construction cam and it is still up during games. Its nice to check it out before I leave for the park to see if the turtle shell is out to determine if they are holding BP or not. I also can always find myself after the game when I get home. Its like Where’s Waldo?

When i read the first paragraph, i thought you didn’t get one, and i scrolled down and to my relief saw a pic of you holding one. Phew!

Can you describe the “side” gate better cuz the Nats conviently dont show the gate on the seating plan or anywhere else on the site.

Wow.. seeing that pic of the fans outside of Fenway is crazy… I think I would have turned around and went home…

You don’t see stuff like that in Houston. I mean, we had 43,000+ on opening day, but the crowd was nothing like that.

Stros Bro
http://www.crawfishboxes.com

Wow, that picture outside is crazy. I went there a couple summers ago and it was nothing like that – still crowded though. When I get to the park in AZ there are maybe 30 people in line and I think THAT is bad. Anyway I’ve been a regular reader of this blog, just never commented – so I have seen your entries on Chase Field, just none of it ever works for me. If you remember we kind of met during BP when you broke your record there last year. Oh well I’ll see how I do this year. 2 more days until my first game Rockies @ D’Backs.

Are the seams on the MiLB balls larger? Congrats on keeping the streak alive. And maybe 3300 will be an MLB ball not an MiLB ball. good luck

Side Gate –

When you take the metro to the Nats Park, you exit through the West Navy Yard entrance onto half street and turn left. The Stadium is dead ahead, and so is the CF gate, and very clearly labeled too. As you get closer, look to either the left or the right of the CF gate where you can walk alongside the fence and next to buildings. Either side is open 2.5 hours early, so go to either side to wait in line, not in the main center area. They are all part of the CF gate, just to the far left or right. This was the way it was on Monday, we’ll see if it is the same tomorrow.

EVERYONE-
I went to Shea Stadium last night (Wednesday) and I’m leaning toward going to D.C. later today (Thursday) to check out the new ballpark. I’ll have a lot of catching up to do here on the blog, but you know I’ll get around to it before long. Last night was GREAT. Stay tuned for all the details…

hi zack, did you pawk yor core in the yord?pay 20$ this time in the lot,.have any chowdre or a boston lager?did you like neil diamond?sweet caroline played at my grannys funeral back in 93/her 1st name was caroline.did you a fenway frank? more details please we live for this………..hi padreleigh c u @orlando/mlb.com/

good night last night…get anything during the game?

5 balls from nelson figueroa, carlos muniz, pedro feliciano!!, ramon henderson, and someone playing catch with brian schneider. idk who it was. racaniello promised me a ball when he and pelfrey were throwing before the game, but then they went into the pen. i went up to the loge to discover-luis. after his normal stay one section over, then go to your seat, dont yell at players, i had to leave. i asked him why he had to be like that. he didnt answer. and yeah, feliciano threw a ball! while he was signing, a ball rolled to him. 10 minutes later, he threw it up in the air in the 40 person or so crowd. and i caught it barehanded.

and we finally beat the phillies

Zack, 5 of your baseball pictures were linked on the Uni Watch Blog today. They’re towards the bottom of today’s Uni Watch News Ticker.

http://www.uniwatchblog.com/2008/04/10/gimme-provolone-with/

He talks about logos on baseballs, and links to 5 of your pictures. Pretty cool.

Have fun at the Nationals game!

Hi Zack…

Interesting clients. Talk about RANDOM. It sounded like they were hardly involved. It’s hard to believe a doctor of that age had no real clue about baseball. I just don’t really get the whole thing. Well, you got paid anyway and BUSINESS IS BUSINESS. Congrats on your snagging. The Padres are killing me by the way. Gee wilikers.

Leigh

Again ask to see luis’ boss. i dopn’t think he can tell you not to yell at players. if someone doesnt complain it will continue, and if i went actually was able to get to shea i wouldn’t care. whats he gonna do? kick you out? just buy another ticket.
like the usher in SF, he needs to get paid

well it think that i figured out why the tigers were so bad to start the year…theyre not even using real MLB balls! no wonder they were playing at a AAA level…

anyway….as i told you zack when i emailed you I absolutely racked up on the drays at the hotel on friday and saturday after the game…66 for the 2 days: crawford, uptonx2, pena x4, percival x2, shields x2

i got everyone on the team except for gary glover (who i had nothing for) and mike difelice (cause he was only there for saturday, and i didnt see him)

ahh baseball back at fenway park after an offseason…
what a tough crowd, those bostonians can get crazy.
nice to see you had fun and got a couple of snags on opening day at fenway, after a world series winning season no least.

EVERYONE-
It’s 3:52am. I just got back from the Nationals game in Washington, D.C. It was incredible. I mean…seriously…incredible. I need to go to bed. I also need to blog about Wednesday’s game at Shea before I get into the Nats. Bear with me. I have a lot of catching up to do (on this blog AND in life)…

Four hours of sleep last night. THAT was fun…

MIKE-
I like the term “Hample Snag Process.” Very nice. I have not heard about the Dodger Stadium rule. What’s the deal? As for the string, I’m not sure exactly what kind I use, but I can tell you that the thicker it is the better (up to a point) because it’ll be less likely to get tangled.

ANDY-
International League? That’s bizarre. Also bizarre: the way you got that ball. Great story. I love stuff like that.

ALEX-
Thanks for all the tips about Nationals Park. Clearly it paid off. :-)
It was great meeting you last night. Thanks for NOT saying anything yet about how I did…and now of course I still need to post my Shea entry from the game two nights ago. I can’t believe how the Marlins robbed you of that ball that you’d already snagged. That’s awful, and if I were you, I’d put a jinx on their entire team. Sorry your seats are right behind the ball girl. That’s rough. But I’m sure you’ll be catching a bunch of foul balls directly off the bat before the year is through.

PUCK COLLECTOR-
Worry not, m’boy! The streak is still alive and well. Needs to get paid…nice. That’ll never stop being funny.

STROS BRO-
Well, as you know, I couldn’t turn around because I literally had to be there, but thank God it all worked out for the best. I remember the pre-game crowds in Houston in 2005, and I envy you.

DNESBITT14-
Welcome to the comments section (where all the cool kids hang out). The pre-game crowds in Arizona were the smallest I’d ever seen. I’m so jealous. Good luck at the game today.

CSPARKS-
Nope, not any larger. Ball No. 3,300? You’ll have an answer by the end of the day…

TRACY COLLINS BECKY-
Parked for free at a friend’s racquetball club. No chowda or laga. Neil’s cool. Ate a so-so hot dog. Can’t think of any other details, but feel free to ask.

NJMETFAN-
Did I get anything during the game two nights ago at Shea? Paitience, patience…the blog entry will most likely be up at some point this afternoon/evening. I can’t believe you got a ball from Jose Feliciano (as Keith Hernandez once called him on the air). Luis must be stopped. Call the Mets and let me know what they say.

PSU532-
Awesome! Thanks for letting me know. That was really cool to see those links.

LEIGH-
I suppose it was a bit random, but not everyone wants to snag, after all, and that’s a good thing because if everyone did, I’d probably only average about .13 balls per game. People think it’s weird that I don’t know anything about football, but IS it? I just never got into it for various reasons. I’m sure Ben has his reasons for never getting into baseball.

JONELI24-
Good point about the Tigers and their balls. Congrats on cleaning up with the Rays in town.

RAMONES18-
Well said.

EVERYONE-
If you’ve emailed me recently, you might need to wait a bit longer for a reply. I have so many things to catch up on that I’ve lost count, but I *am* going to write my Shea entry first…

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