4/22/08 at Champion Stadium

Major League Baseball at a Spring Training ballpark…really, does it get any better than that?

In case you haven’t heard (or if you’re reading this ten years from now and don’t remember), the Tampa Bay Rays moved three of their regular season home games from ugly/indoor Tropicana Field to beautiful/outdoor Champion Stadium, located in Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. The stadium holds about 9,500 people. It normally functions as the Spring Training home of the Atlanta Braves. I don’t count Spring Training balls in my collection, but I decided that if the games and stats count in the Major Leagues, then the balls should count for me.

This was my first of the three games. The first pitch was scheduled for 7:10pm, so naturally I arrived at the complex shortly after 12pm:

zack_arrives.jpg

I wanted to scope out the place and hopefully find a few balls lying around in the bushes outside the stadium. The Rays hadn’t played the day before, so there was a chance they’d been there, perhaps scoping out the place themselves. Who knows if they did? I didn’t find anything, but I got a good look at the outside of the ballpark…

outside_stadium_4_22_08.jpg

…and when I walked up the stairs way in the background in the photo above, I noticed that one of the gates was wide open. What to do…hmm. I figured that since I already had a ticket for the game, I couldn’t be arrested for sneaking in. Yes…I’d just play dumb and say I was from New York…no, bad idea…I don’t know. I just had to wander inside and take a peek…just a little peek at the concourse:

inside_stadium1_concourse.jpg

But then I noticed a sign for the lawn seating…

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and decided it wouldn’t cause any harm if I took a little peek at that as well:

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That’s when a group of stadium employees walked over…and smiled at me…and asked if I wanted them to take my picture. Seriously?! I felt pretty safe after that, so I kept wandering and I inspected the grassy area (aka the “berm”) from several angles:

inside_stadium4_berm_views.jpg

I couldn’t WAIT for batting practice to start, but I was also afraid that it’d get pretty crowded out there. Anyway, there was still more wandering to do, so I checked out the upper deck…

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…and the view from the inner concourse on the lower level…

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…and the drool-inducing, open-air concourse along the right field foul line:

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I didn’t know where else to go at that point. I considered running onto the field and making naked snow-angels at shortstop (I guess those would’ve been “dirt-angels”) but thought that might be pushing it, so I just grabbed some bench and watched the b
atting cage get towed into place:

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Then the groundskeepers started watering the infield dirt and players started walking in. Can you identify the two guys in the pic below?

inside_stadium9_players_arrive.jpg

I could’ve easily run down to the front row and asked them to sign, but it didn’t seem right. I wasn’t even supposed to be there, and since I’m more interested in getting baseballs than autographs, I decided it wasn’t worth it. I was just thrilled to BE there:

inside_stadium10_zack.jpg

I voluntarily walked out of the stadium at around 2pm, and soon after that, I ran into a guy from San Diego named Leigh (aka “padreleigh” for those of you who read the comments) who had told me he was gonna be there. We’d been emailing for months. He was actually the one who first informed me that the tickets for this series were on sale…and this was the first time we’d ever met in person. Very cool guy. It was great to have an instant new friend.

The stadium didn’t open until 5pm (ugh!), by which time there was a disappointingly long line of fans waiting to get in:

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At least I was one of the first fans to run inside and THE first fan to reach the berm. Look what was waiting for me:

early_bird_gets_the_berm.jpg

Less than ten seconds later, B.J. Upton smoked a line drive over the left field wall and I picked up that ball too. Not a bad way to start, but then the berm started filling up.

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Before long the berm was packed, and to make matters worse, the Rays and Jays weren’t hitting much over the wall, so I had to use other methods…like the glove trick. I used it to pluck a ball out of the bullpen near the foul pole, and as soon as I held it up to show Leigh (who was at the far end of the berm), a security guard marched down the hill and said, “Give me the ball.”

I had no choice but to hand it over.

“Thank you,” he said condescendingly before flinging it back into the bullpen.

I wasn’t sure whether or not to count this ball in my collection, so I consulted Leigh (who’s snagged about 700 lifetime balls). He felt I should absolutely count it. “You had it in your hand,” he said, then added that when you go fishing and catch a fish and throw it back, it still counts. So I counted it.

Back in my early days of ball-snagging, I only counted balls that I actually brought home, but once I started giving away balls on a regular basis, I decided that the number of “balls snagged” was more important than “balls owned.”

I got my fourth ball of the day when some pitcher lobbed one high into the air toward a bunch of us on the berm. We all jostled and jumped and booted it. The ball plopped onto the grass beside me and I snatched it. Pretty simple. I have no idea who the pitcher was because the left field wall was a foot too high. This was my view when I stood directly behind it:

view_behind_left_field_wall.jpg

Not only was it a challenge to identify the players, but it was just as hard to get their attention when they walked onto the warning track. I got my fifth ball thrown from a distance by Scott Downs–that was easy–but then when Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg walked over to retrieve a loose ball, I had to jump up and put my right arm on the top of the wall and support all my weight with it while keeping my head above the top of the wall and reaching out with my glove hand. The padding sagged and the tips of the chain-link fence dug into my forearm. Not fun. But at least I got the ball, and thankfully security didn’t confiscate it although a different guard walked down the hill and told me not to climb up there. (Well then don’t build a seven-foot wall that fans are obviously gonna want to see over, geniuses.)

I was getting baseballs…that was good…but I still hadn’t caught a home run. It was tough. The berm was steep and the
grass was slick, and there were fans all over the place, including a bunch of guys my age/size with gloves. At one point, when a homer was coming right toward me and I tried to take a step back, someone pushed me forward. And whenever a ball was heading for the berm 20 or 30 or 50 feet away, there were already people right there. It was not a good situation and things took a sudden turn for the worse toward the end of BP. Another home run was coming right toward me, and as I reached up to make what should’ve been an easy catch, some jerk cut in front of me and stuck up his glove at the last second and deflected the ball right into my nose. CRACK!!! I heard the scary sound of the ball meeting my face, and I nearly fell over from the sheer surprise of getting hit. Blood started dripping out of my right nostril, and everyone gathered around. My first thought was, “[Expletive deleted], I hope it’s not broken.” My second thought was, “This is really [expletive deleted] embarrassing. People are going to think that *I* missed the [expletive deleted] ball and let it hit me. My third thought was, “[Expletive deleted] this, I don’t want to miss any BP,” so when the same guard who’d scolded me walked back down the hill and asked me if I wanted to go to the first aid room, I wiped the blood away and said I’d wait until the end of batting practice.

Jeremy Accardo saw what had happened and got my attention and threw me a ball (my 7th of the day), and as soon as I caught it, some guy behind me started claiming that the ball had been intended for a little girl with a glove directly behind me (soooooo not true) but whatever. She hadn’t yet gotten a ball, so I gave it to her.

zack_ouchy_nose.jpgBP ended moments later. Leigh caught up with me as I was escorted to the first-aid room and told me my nose was already looking bad. (Thanks.) I got some gauze and held it against my nose until the bleeding stopped, then got a cold pack and held it there for the next 20 minutes, during which I probably cursed about 813 times. I went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and my nose did indeed look bad. (I had been told that in addition to possibly having a broken nose, I might wake up the next day with two black eyes. Thankfully that didn’t happen; the dark circles I now have under my eyes are merely the result of exhaustion.)

I got a buffalo chicken sandwich (with ranch dressing). My nose hurt when I chewed. I stopped eating and realized it still hurt, so I kept eating.

I finished the sandwich just before the singing of the national anthems and went down to the Rays’ dugout on the 1st base side. A few guys were playing catch. Jason Bartlett ended up with the ball just in front of me, and when I asked him for it, he scanned the entire front row for someone younger/cuter to toss it to, then reluctantly flipped it to me after he failed to spot a more deserving recipient. Meanwhile, the competition for a warm-up ball on the other side of the stadium was truly insane:

pregame_throwing_berm.jpg

Okay, so there were only 8,269 fans at this game, but since the stadium only holds 9,500…well, let’s do the math. It means the stadium was 87 percent full. If Shea Stadium were 87 percent full, there’d be about 48,000 fans, and that’s what this felt like. The point is…it wasn’t nearly as easy to snag at Champion Stadium as I’d hoped. In fact, it was harder to snag here than at most major league stadiums which are huge and have nooks and crannies and which provide a variety of opportunities. This place? As far as BP was concerned, it was boring and crowded and challenging.

The game, however, was much better. I went back to the concourse on the right field side:

heavenly_concourse_during_game.jpg

David Eckstein was first batter of the game, and on the fifth pitch from Rays starter James Shields, the little man sliced a foul ball about 30 feet to my left. I raced over, got right behind eckstein_foul_ball.jpgit, watched it skip off the bare hands of a man just in front of me, and bounce into my waiting glove. Mwahaha. I suddenly felt a whole lot better about life, although I was bummed that the ball was not commemorative. Wouldn’t it have been cool if there was a little Mickey Mouse in place of the standard MLB logo? Oh well.

It might’ve happened in the bottom of the first inning, or maybe it was the top of the second, but regardless, some right-handed batter hit a foul ball that cleared the grandstand behind the plate and flew out of the stadium. As soon as I saw this, I headed out there myself (thumbs-up to Disney and the Rays for having a re-entry policy) and tried going for foul balls, but it wasn’t meant to be. First of all, the game wasn’t on the radio so I couldn’t follow the action on the walkman (yes, a walkman, don’t laugh too hard) that I’d borrowed from someone who shall remain nameless, and on top of that, I couldn’t even hear the public address announcer saying the hitters’ names, so I didn’t know if there were righties or lefties up at bat. I got bored really fast and headed back inside to the right field concourse.

Leigh wandered over (from his spot on the berm) and hung out with me for an inning, and we re-enacted my injury:

zack_leigh_reenact_injury.jpg

That, unfortunately, was the extent of the action for the rest of the game. I couldn’t believe how few foul balls were hit to the right side, but at least I broke double digits by getting a ball at the Rays’ dugout after the game. (Oh yeah, the Rays won, 6-4.) I think it was tossed by J.P. Howell but I’m not sure.

I’ll be heading back to Champion Stadium in about an hour…

STATS:

• 10 balls at this game

• 77 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 70 balls in 6 games this season = 11.7 balls per game.

• 502 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 784 lifetime balls outside of New York

• 22 lifetime game balls outside of New York (not counting game-used balls that are thrown into the seats)

• 113 lifetime game balls

• 4 lifetime trips to the First Aid room

• 44 major league stadiums with at least one ball

• 17 stadiums with at least one game ball

• 3,347 total balls

18 Comments

Sorry about your nose Zack. Glad to see you shrugged it off and still got 10 balls though. So when did you get a new Rays hat?

BJ Upton Zack, BJ!!!

Upton and Crawford. Zack, let us know if you are/were changing your “plan of attack” now that you’ve been to a game at Disney. Good luck tonight.

Don’t worry about the BJ Upton/Justin Upton thing… Comcast Sports Net here in Chicago ALWAYS gets them mixed up.

Wow…. A (maybe) broken nose? Was it worth it?
I think I already know the answer to that. :)

ooohh nice…at least it looks good lol

i guess it it tough to snag there….but still, 44 stadiums, youll have 50 soon with the 2 ny ones, minnesota, oakland, tampa..

you should go to puerto rico, mets marlins in july i think..

and whats with the new rays hat?

BJ Upton! not Justin he plays for the DBacks

The two guys in the pic are Upton and Carl Crawford

sorry about your nose

good luck tonight

pretty much what everyone else said

and even if you did ask them for autos BJ probably would have had a fit but crawford would have been cool

Zack,

Man that nose is huge. LOL…TsykJAMv
I have nightmares about that happening to me at the COPA. Snagged my 2nd gamer last night at the COPA. The ball hit off the 1st base line UPP DEck facia and literally (I kid you not) slammed right into the heel of my glove. Almost broke double digits last night. Snagged (9) balls total. Found my 1st Easter egg last night in the bleacher section…(3) PCL balls last night. All bumpy and dented in. (man those China balls suck…)
More later..
SnagFan out to the COPA…(Count is up tp 34 this year w/ (2) gamers)….

EVERYONE-
I just got back from my second game here at Disney. BJ…not Justin…d’oh!!! Believe me, I know who’s who. It was just a stupid mistake I made while RUSHING to write this entry. Seriously, you have NO idea how fast I banged this thing out. It was sick. Three years ago, I mixed up the Zambranos while racing though a 4,000-word entry about RFK Stadium. It happens. Sorry. But anyway, it was another pretty good night tonight, and I’m gonna get started on the entry soon. (Give me some credit…I knew the difference between Dan Johnson and Elliot Johnson earlier today.)

And you knew the difference in the Welke’s… ha

Not doubting you. I considered it kind of funny because BJ has come out and said he has been getting flak (for not matching) his brother’s powerful start.

That hill is definitely a beast. When I went there this spring I saw much more pushing/shoving for baseballs than I am used too. Something about the open area seems to make everyone there a bit more aggressive…surprising since it’s Disney and all.

Hi Zack….

Just wanted to let you know that it was great meeting you in person finally. I had a good time hanging out off and on throughout the game. It was fun to see you get double digits. Good stuff. Don’t you love how I sat on the berm for four innings waiting for a homer, then leave…..and of course there is a homer there right after I left? That’s the story of my life sometimes. I got four balls though, which isn’t bad for me. I’ll take it. Picked up an Easter egg, caught one from a player (which I gave to a kid because the player overthrew the kid in the first place), caught a BP homer and caught the warm up ball thrown up right before the game. I also got the Shannon Stewart autograph on my ticket stub. Not a bad day indeed. Looking forward to adding to my season total on Wednesday and Thursday. Then, it’s off to Tampa vs Boston to try and snag Manny Ramirez career homer number 497. I think that’s what number he’s at.

That did suck about your nose. The berm got kind of rough out there after a while. It was like Australian Rules Snagging. I wholeheartedly agree about the height of the left field fence and the public’s view during bp. What were they thinking. It’s not like that anywhere in Arizona. I did miss the actual ball striking your schnoz, but I did see the aftermath and your cursing tirade. That was worth the price of admission right there. Once again, great meeting you and hanging. You were a lot different in person than I thought you would be. That’s a good thing by the way. See you tomorrow.

Leigh

Zack –

I went to Mets v Nats BP yesterday, ended up with 8, 4 Nats and 4 Mets. No commemorative balls, although I came close to a nice Shea ball. It started in Billy Wagner’s glove, then moved to Feliciano’s, Perez’s, Sanchez’s, and back to Feliciano’s, . I had seen in during Wagner’s warmup and tracked it. Then finally they were done with it and I started calling. Perez pointed to the kid to my left, and threw it right to me. I had another ball in my hand to give to the kid if I caught this one, so it was working out perfectly. To Perez tosses the ball to me, but it is slightly to my right (I really don’t get how these professional players can’t throw the ball into the stands with accuracy). I am moving and reaching and ready to catch it, and can actually SEE the logo on it, then this 5’4″ 225lb rotund jerk of a Mets fan who had been yelling various incorrect first names at the mets pitchers beneath, sees the ball from his position about 10 feet away and runs down the empty aisle and slams into me. He takes me, the little kid, and the old lady standing next to the kid out in the process, spazzes out and smacks the ball with his oversized first basemen’s mitt where it promptly goes back onto the field far from Perez but near a trainer, who then picks the ball up and throws it into the center field bucket. Guy, if you are reading this by some chance… Seriously Dude?

In other news, just after I caught a BP HR earlier in the day after ranging to my left and making a nice snag, another fan says “You aren’t a crazy ball catcher like the guy who was here during the last homestand, are you?” I said, “You mean during the Marlins game?” The guy says “Yeah, that guy was nuts, running all over, and everyone was pissed at him.” Turns out you’ve got a bit of a reputation from your one game at Nationals Park. I told him a little about you and that you do it for fun and do not sell balls that you catch for profit (as apparently many people believe you do). Amazingly enough though, no glove or cup tricks still at Nationals Park, even during a Mets game.

One final story is about another Mets fan. Similar situation to before, but this time another ball in Sanchez’s amazing 5″ glove, seriously, it looked like a glove day kids glove. So Mr. Short Loud (I am calling him that) is at the game on his own. He is snagging like the rest of us and eventually I got a decent spot in the front along the left field railing. There was a small gap to my right when a little kid left the railing after I got a ball and gave it to him. Each ball I would catch I would check for logo and if no logo, give it away. So Mr. Short Loud pushes his way into the small spot left by Mr. 7 Year Old. Mr. Short Loud starts yelling at players “YO DAUNER, HOW BOUT A BALL FOR THE KID?”, “YO OLIVER, LOOK AT THE SHIRT, HOW BOUT A BALL?”, “YO BILLY, HOW BOUT TOSSIN A BALL UP, FOR THE KID?” The kid, what kid? You have no kid around you, you have no kid with you, you are just Mr. Short Loud with a glove. At this point Mr. Short Loud is on my right and a new Mr. 6 Year Old is on my left, silently waving his glove, also a mets fan. I told him the next one I get is going to him. After the players grew tired of hearing from Mr. Short Loud, one finally throws up a ball up in our direction. Now the advantage I have over Mr. Short Loud is that my arms are longer and I am more athletic (I’m assuming here, but I don’t usually assume my superior athleticism). So I reach out and catch the ball, do my logo check, and then immediately hand it to the young Mr. 6 Year Old on my left as promised. I get a wave of recognition from Sanchez as I believe the ball ended up where intended. However, Mr. Short Loud was sure it was meant for him and informs me that “That wall was for ME! Next time I’m knocking you down for it.” I said, “I gave it to “The Kid” like you said.” He responded, “I meant for *my* kid.” I then said, “Ooooohhhh, you see, you didn’t specify, and I don’t see *your* kid, so I had assumed you meant the little guy standing to my left. You see, if he doesn’t end up with a ball, he knows what he is missing, and if your absent kid doesn’t kid one, he won’t really know the difference.” The remainder of batting practice he keeps yelling at the pitchers telling them how I “stole” the last one that was intended for him and he needed another, you know, for “My Kid.” So a few minutes later I snagged my last HR on the fly, Mr. Short Loud saw me and held his hands up as if to suggest that I should now give him the ball, I took the ball from my glove, checked for the logo, there was none, and politely handed the ball to… the little girl standing next to me at the time.

Alex….

I absolutely HATE those Mr. Short Loud types. I don’t have to deal with them much on the West coast, but I have seen a few here on the trip to Florida. Most of them were wearing Yankees hats. It’s kind of hard for them to drive to California, but easy to drive to Florida. I loved how you burned him in the end. Good for you.

Leigh

PSU532-
I bought the new hat at about 12:30pm on April 22. Didn’t plan on getting a new one…just happened to walk into the team store…and there it was.

MUNKITTR-
I’m very embarrassed. Good point about the open space making people crazy. Alex (from D.C.) feels the same way, and I agree with you guys.

PJMORGAN11-
Things didn’t go as planned. I assumed I’d catch a ton of home runs. When that didn’t happen, I changed my plan. Yes indeed.

CUBSBASEBALL-
If that’s really true about Comcast, then I feel a little less bad about my Upton mix-up. As for the nose…was it worth it? Yeah, I guess so, but I’m still pissed off about the whole thing.

NJMETFAN-
What do you mean, “What’s with the hat?” A man isn’t allowed to buy a new hat?! :-p

JONELI24-
Oh seriously? B.J. isn’t nice about signing? Hmph. He wasn’t too nice about throwing balls into the crowd either, but I didn’t really have many chances to get one from him.

SNAG FAN-
Well, at least one of us had a good day. I mean, this day was good except for the nose. I would rather have done what you did: nine balls and NO injury.

LEIGH-
Thanks so much for everything. You weren’t quite what I expected either, and I also mean that in a good way. I had a great time (I’ve already said this in a comment on a more recent entry), and you really added to my whole experience in Orlando. Congrats on the four balls. Sorry the final two games didn’t go a little better for you, and that Manny didn’t go yard for you at the Trop.

ALEX-
That is a horribly annoying and fantastic story about Short Loud. Glad it turned out the way it did, and thanks for taking the time to share the details here. I know I rubbed a few people the wrong way down in D.C. but I’d have to say the feeling is mutual. Whenever anyone demands that I give a ball away…let’s just say I’m not too happy about it.

well, four years later.

IM HERE TOO TODAY.WHAT A TRIP….TC SEARCHING OLD CLIPS.PADRELEIGH WAS HUNGRY AND IT COST HIM STAY IN YOUR SPOT BRO

KSLO69-
Hi.

TC-
Wish I could’ve been there with you . . . except maybe not because I was in Japan.

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