May 2008

5/28/08 at Citizens Bank Park

greg_zack_parking_lot1.jpgI went to this game with my friend Greg.

Greg Who?

Greg Barasch…a college freshman, Shea Stadium regular, and successful baseball-snagger. (He leaves comments on this blog as “gregorybarasch” and you might remember him from previous entries such as this and this and this.) In fact, he’s such a good snagger that I normally avoid Shea whenever he tells me he’s gonna be there. I was nervous about going to Citizens Bank Park with him because I figured we’d end up getting in each other’s way, but we made it work.

playing_deep_in_left_field.jpgFor most of the first hour of batting practice (when all the fans were confined to the left field seats), I positioned myself deep in straight-away left and Greg played shallow in left-center. Our unrealistic goal for the day was not to let any other fans catch a single ball. Our more realistic goal was to combine for 20 balls, and based on how things started, we were well on our way.

I used my glove trick to snag my first ball off the warning track near the foul pole–this wasn’t easy as I had to lean way out and balance on the double-railing over the flower bed–and 30 seconds later I got another ball tossed to me by the Phillies’ strength and conditioning coach.

My third ball was a home run that barely reached the first row and got bobbled by a group of gloveless fans. Then, when the mighty Pat Burrell started taking his cuts, I moved back about a dozen rows and quickly caught one of his bombs on a fly. I was glad to have four balls but frustrated I didn’t have seven. Not only did I misjudge one home run that should’ve been an easy catch, but there were two others that were coming right to me, and at the last second, other fans reached up and caught them RIGHT in front of my glove.

Greg had already snagged a few balls at this point, and I’ll let him share the details in a comment. As for me? I got my fifth ball tossed by Phillies bullpen coach Ramon Henderson in left-center.

As soon as the Rockies took the field, Manny Corpas thwarted my glove trick attempt by grabbing the ball before I had a chance to snag it. Five minutes later, as my glove was once again dangling over the left field wall, I was afraid Brian Fuentes was going to interfere as well, but instead he flipped the ball to me. Moments after I’d recoiled the string and tucked it into the palm of my glove, I caught a home run on a fly that required me to lunge to my left above a mini-cluster of fans who didn’t even see it coming.

weird_marking.jpgThe rest of the stadium opened at 5:35pm, and I headed to the right field seats. I saw several balls lying in the bullpen, and I got two of them tossed to me by a groundskeeper-type-dude. I gave the first to a little girl with a glove and kept the second because of the unusual marking. Any theories about what might’ve caused this curved black streak?

greg_cup_trick.jpgGreg made his way out to right field and used his cup trick to pluck a ball from the bullpen as several fans and employees stood next to him and watched.

I headed into foul territory along the right field foul line and got my 10th ball of the day tossed by some guy on the Rockies named Josh Newman–and I wouldn’t have gotten it if not for my cheat-sheet. Actually, it was Greg’s sheet…sort of. He made one for himself and was nice enough to print a second copy for me. Newman was cheat_sheet_josh_newman.jpgwearing a warm-up jacket over his jersey, so I couldn’t see his number. I correctly assumed that he was a pitcher, and since he was left-handed, I was able to narrow down the possibilities of who it might’ve been. I knew what Jeff Francis looked like. This wasn’t Francis. I knew Fuentes as well…nope. Was it Jorge De La Rosa? No way. It almost HAD to be Newman, and when I looked at his face pic, I felt confident in yelling his name. Sure enough, he tossed me a ball moments later.

Toward the end of BP, I caught a homer on a fly and grabbed another ball that landed in a small patch of empty seats.

I didn’t bother going to the Rockies’ dugout at the end of BP. I knew Greg would be there, and I was having too much fun chasing home runs, but nothing else came my way.

I caught up with Greg behind the dugout at around 6:40pm. Was it hard to get down there? No. Did security hassle me and ask to see my ticket? No. Did my being there cause any problems? No. And just to give you an idea of how pleasant the vibe can be inside a major league stadium…at one point I was half-standing/half-sitting against a chair in the middle of an empty row when an usher walked over and asked, “Is that your seat?”

“Umm…well, no,” I said nervously.

“Oh, no problem,” she said cheerfully, “’cause if it was, I was gonna wipe it off for you.”

(De
ar Steinbrenner Family, THIS is how to treat people. Psychology 101. If you treat people with respect, they will act respectfully in return. But when you chain off every section and prevent fans from bringing backpacks into the stadium and instruct your vendors to remove bottle caps, people get pissed off and they ACT pissed off, and then you have to spend as much money on security guards as you do on acquiring free-agent pitchers at the trading deadline. So go ahead. Keep being rude…)

Greg and I each got a ball along the left field foul line during/after the Rockies’ pre-game throwing. The ball I got was the product of an errant throw that rolled against the tarp, and I leaned waaay out of the stands to grab it. The ball Greg got? You’ll have to read the comments.

todd_helton_autograph.jpgTodd Helton came over and signed autographs for less than 30 seconds, and I was lucky to get him on my ticket.

Greg stayed behind the Rockies’ dugout for the entire game and managed to snag a few more balls. I stayed in left-center field because I wanted to catch a home run in back-to-back games. (In case you missed it, I caught a Shelley Duncan homer at my previous game.) But there were only two home runs all night, and both went to right field.

The Phillies won, 6-1. It was a fun day. Apologies for the quick write-up (there’s a LOT more I could’ve written), but I’m getting ready to spend the weekend in Baltimore. Manny Ramirez will be at Camden Yards tomorrow, and he has 499 career home runs…

STATS:

? 13 balls at this game

greg_zack_parking_lot2.jpg? 79 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 119 balls in 14 games this season = 8.5 balls per game.

? 108 lifetime balls in 11 games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.8 balls per game.

? 510 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 113 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 814 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,396 total balls

5/23/08 at Yankee Stadium

When I arrived at Yankee Stadium at 4pm, I learned that the entire upper deck was sold out and that the cheapest ticket available was $95. Since I never buy tickets ahead of time, my normal course of action would’ve been to curse my way back to the subway and go home, but on this fine day, a friend of mine had an extra ticket and I got in for less than 20 bucks.

brian_greg.jpgBut wait…
Before the stadium opened, I ran into a couple of fellow snaggers outside Gate 6. One of them was Greg (aka “gregorybarasch” for those of you read the comments), and the other was Brian (wearing orange; aka “puckcollector”). Brian already had a ticket, but Greg didn’t. He was there with his father, and when they found out how much it was going to cost to get in, they left. As you can see in this photo, Greg and Brian each had a sheet with the rosters and face pics of both teams. I didn’t. It would’ve taken me half an hour to prepare one, and I didn’t think it was worth it for a game at Yankee Stadium which is always so crowded and noisy that it’s nearly impossible to interact with the players. Anyway, Greg generously gave me his sheet before he took off.

When the gates opened at 5pm, Brian and I ran inside at full speed. Initially, he had a head start because of his position behind the barricade, but somehow he got held up for a couple seconds. Did security look in his bag a little longer than mine? Was the guy who scanned his ticket a little slower? Did the ladies giving away the All-Star Game caps take their time with him? I don’t know, but whatever happened, it made a huge difference. I was just a few steps ahead of Brian as we raced through the tunnel that leads to the seats, and AS we rounded the corner and got our first look at the field, a lefty on the Yankees lofted a fly ball down the right field line that bounced off the warning track and plunked gently in the seats near the foul pole. I was all over it and felt incredibly relieved. The day before, it took me more than an hour to snag my first ball, and I was scared that my streak was going to end.

I think Brian’s family was trying to distract me. At one point, Brian told me that his sister had texted a message with my name it in to the text message board, and that I should look for it. What?! I didn’t even know there WAS a text message board.

“Yeah, right over there,” said Brian, pointing to the thin electronic board along the Loge facade across the stadium. Sure enough, there was a loop of text messages, sent in by the fans, that rotated every few seconds. For the first two minutes, my favorite was “i luv u robbinson cano” but that one soon got trumped by the following:

text_message.jpg

This was by far the highlight of batting practice. I managed to snag one more ball with my glove trick, only after Brian failed to pluck it off the warning track with his. I tried to let him get it. I hung back a bit and lowered my glove slowly, but Brian rigged his rubber band too tight and couldn’t get the ball to go inside the glove. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem. He just would’ve raised the glove back up, loosened the band, and then lowered it for the easy snag. But in this situation, there wasn’t time to mess around. Another kid (or should I say “brat”) with a cup trick quickly crashed the scene and started going for the ball. I didn’t mind not getting the ball if Brian got it, but there was no way I was going to let this other kid poach our prize. There are many rivalries in baseball–Mets/Phillies, Mets/Yankees, Yankees/Red Sox, A’s/Giants–but none is bigger than that between the glove-tricks and cup-tricks. Even this fall’s McCain/Obama showdown will pale in comparison. You have to understand…I could NOT allow this ball–a commemorative ball no less–to be stolen by the enemy, so I made a full-fledged attempt to snag it. My string got tangled briefly with Brian’s, but he worked with me to free it, and I was able to get the ball to stick inside my glove. As I raised my contraption with the ball tucked snugly inside, the other kid swung his cup from side to side and hit my glove in an attempt to knock the ball out. I swear…these punks with the cups better watch out. One of these days, I’m gonna pull out a pair of scissors and start snipping some string.

Brian managed to get a ball tossed to him by Ross Ohlendorf, and that was it for batting practice. The right field seats should have officially been declared a disaster area. Look at this photo:

Thumbnail image for horrendously_crowded1.jpg

I took this photo from the aisle behind the right field wall, or at least what was left of it. How the hell is one supposed to run for a ball or make eye contact with any of the players? Yankee Stadium is THE worst place to snag in the major leagues. I don’t care what anyone says. You’re wrong if you disagree. I don’t want to hear about how hard it is to get to the dugouts at Dodger Stadium or how crowded the foul lines become at Wrigley Field. Those stadiums are like Sesame Street compared to the House that Ruthless Built.

Left field was just as bad. I ran over there (took about five minutes to get from RF to LF) after Ichiro took his cuts, and this was my fabulous view for the rest of the BP:

horrendously_crowded2.jpg

At one point, I carefully worked my way into the front row to see if I had a chance to use the glove trick. So much for that.
A rather large Yankee fan in that row was eating a cheeseburger and drinking an equally large cup of soda. Although he had no desire to snag a baseball, he intentionally blocked me from passing in front of him, and he refused to let me through even after I politely said “excuse me.” I just needed to lean over a little bit to get a better look at the ball…

“You drop my soda,” he snapped, “and I’ll drop YOU.”

“Thanks for asking nicely,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” he answered with fake charm.

I was so angry that I nearly went home. Right then. Right in the middle of batting practice. I came THIS close to storming right out through the tunnel and getting on the No. 4 train. I had no desire to be inside that disgusting mecca of rage and pompous entitlement. But I stayed. I don’t know why. I guess I was afraid that this would be the night when A-Rod would hit a home run to my spot in left field…and I also wanted to see if I could sneak down to the seats behind the Yankees’ dugout and get Jeter or A-Rod to toss me their warm-up balls after the national anthem. I decided that if I got kicked out, I’d go home.

national_anthem.jpg
Long story short: it took half an hour, but I made it. Jeter tossed his ball over my head to a guy my age with a button-down shirt and no glove, and A-Rod tossed his to a teenage girl five feet to my right.

I started the game in right field. Ichiro was due to bat first, and I thought it would’ve been pretty cool to catch one of his home runs. But no. He took three called strikes, and I immediately began my trek around the stadium to the left field side. Brian was out there. We both wanted to catch an A-Rod homer, but A-Rod struck out to end the first inning. Moments later, the security supervisor walked over to Brian (who had grabbed an empty seat 10 feet to my right) and asked to see his ticket and told him he had to leave the section. Brian, being a friendly young lad, walked over to say farewell (and to vent his frustrations). This was the worst thing he could’ve done. It didn’t occur to him that he was still being watched by the supervisor, so when he started interacting with me, it revealed the fact that I didn’t belong there either. I once made the same mistake at Shea Stadium and unintentionally got a friend kicked out as well. No harm done. Nobody went to jail. This is how we learn.

In any case, the supervisor didn’t say anything to me at the time, but I knew something was up because he kept looking at me whenever he walked by. I was a marked man, but as long as I wasn’t getting kicked out, I decided to stay. I could’ve gone back to right field for Ichiro’s second at-bat, but I just had a feeling about left field. Two lefties were pitching: Erik Bedard and Andy Pettitte. Most of the batters were right-handed. It was a fairly warm evening. The ball would be carrying. The wide aisle in front of me was emptier than usual. I had a feeling that someone was going to hit a home run in my direction, and even if it wasn’t A-Rod, it was going to be fun to catch it. I kept thinking about the likelihood of catching a home run, and more I considered it, the more obvious it seemed that it was going to happen. It was only 318 feet to the foul pole. I was sitting fairly close to the foul line, so it was probably 330 to the wall directly in front of me. Then there were about 10 rows of seats in front of the aisle. Add another two feet per row? So I figured I was, at most, about 350 to 360 feet from home plate. That’s not far. I reasoned that a righty wouldn’t even have to hit a ball that well to reach me. Three hundred fifty feet was a routine fly ball to the center fielder. All the batter had to do was hit a routine fly ball and swing a little too soon and pull it down the line. Why didn’t this happen all the time?

The Mariners, meanwhile, sandwiched three singles between three strikeouts in the top of the second and took a 1-0 lead.

Hideki Matsui opened the bottom of the inning with a single to center, and Jason Giambi followed with a walk. That’s when Shelley Duncan stepped into the batter’s box with a grand total of zero home runs and a .182 batting average. The fans sitting behind me started debating whether or not he should bunt, at which point I started having a bunch of thoughts that went something like this: Does this guy even know how to bunt? If he could, it would certainly help the team. Runners on second and third with one out? For Robinson Cano? That would be pretty good for the Yankees. Okay, I hope he doesn’t bunt. I hope he swings away and hits into a double play. Well, if he wants to hit a home run to me instead, that’d be cool. I could accept that even though it’d give the Yankees the lead. Alright, Shelley, go ahead, hit the ball to me. Fine.

And that’s exactly what he did. After a called first strike, Bedard threw a cutter down and in, and Duncan dropped his bat on it and lifted a high fly ball in my direction. I was out of my seat in no time, standing in the aisle, watching the ball, half-disbelieving that this was actually about to happen and half-annoyed that it was going to be THAT easy. The ball had the perfect arc. I judged it perfectly. I knew from the second it left the bat that it was coming right to me, and as the ball began its descent, I became hyperaware of everyone around me. The only challenge was going to be making sure that no one else reached in front of me. I sensed that there was an older man, about my height, without a glove, on my left, who was also tracking the flight of the ball, but not quite as well as me. From the moment the ball left the bat, I could have held up my glove like a target, and I wouldn’t have had to move it more than a few inches. That’s how perfectly I judged it. The other fan, whom I realized would be my only competition, seemed to have an idea of where the ball would land, perhaps within an area of several feet. But I was in THE spot. My feet were planted, and I didn’t reach up too soon. I didn’t want to reveal the exact spot where the ball would be coming down, so I waited and waited as the ball floated slowly toward me. It hung up in the air for what felt like two minutes, and finally, at the last second, I reached up above the other man’s hands and caught it effortlessly in the pocket of my glove. It was one of the easiest home run catches of my life. It was so easy that I felt guilty. I was ashamed to take any credit for catching such an easy ball. The stadium roared, and I walked quietly back to my seat. It’s such a cliché to celebrate a snag. Everyone does that. But how many zack_catches_duncan_homer2.jpg
times do you see a fan catch a home run ball and react like he has instead picked a piece of lint off his shirt? That’s what I did initially. I thought I’d stand out more by not reacting, and perhaps I did stand out to the people in my section, but then I quickly realized that this wasn’t the best way to get on TV. I was in my hometown ballpark. Lots of friends were probably watching, so I felt I should do something that would make the cameras focus on me. That’s when I held up the ball. Nothing fancy. Just enough to be seen.

It turned out that YES never never showed me, but FSN did. My friend Michael Fierman (aka “tswechtenberg”) happened to tape the game and he emailed me the clip later that night. CLICK HERE to watch it.

shelley_duncan_home_run_ball.jpg
As soon as I returned to my seat, the security supervisor walked over and said, “Okay, you got your ball. Now you gotta go.”

I was so annoyed. I didn’t even WANT a stupid Shelley Duncan home run ball. I was there for one reason only: to catch an A-Rod homer, and now I’d blown my chance by catching this other ball. I tried to get the supervisor to let me stay. I gave him every excuse. I even told him about my first book. But it was no use. I was officially banned from the section…so I went back to the right field seats and stayed there for the rest of the night. I had considered hanging out behind the plate and simply going for a second game ball, but I figured I should attempt to catch a second home run. THAT would’ve been cool, but it wasn’t meant to be. The Duncan homer was the lone longball of the game, and I must say that it did feel pretty great to have caught it, especially when I saw the Jumbotron during his subsequent at-bats:

shelley_duncan_jumbotron.jpg

The Mariners trimmed the lead to 3-2 in the top of the third, but the Yankees answered with two runs in the fourth and eight more in the fifth. Final score: 13-2.

STATS:

? 3 balls at this game

? 106 balls in 13 games this season = 8.2 balls per game.

? 509 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 113 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 4 game balls in 13 games this season = 1 game ball every 3.3 games.

? 115 lifetime game balls

? 4 lifetime game home runs (not counting Mel Hall’s home run in 1992 which bounced back onto the field and got tossed up to me by Von Hayes)

? 3,383 total balls

BONUS STATS — DUNCAN’S HOME RUN (courtesy of Hit Tracker):

? distance: 349 feet

? apex: 114 feet

? speed off bat: 100.1 mph

? angle off bat: 40.7 degrees

shelley_duncan_scatter_plot.jpg

5/22/08 at Yankee Stadium

blog_reader_named_ming.jpg
Technology is a beautiful thing.

Yesterday, when I arrived at Gate 6, there were already two guys on line, both of whom are regular readers of this blog. One was Nelson (aka “nelsonvarona” for those of you who read the comments), and the other was a guy named Ming (who doesn’t comment…yet). They had not seen my entry about the previous day because I’d only posted it a couple hours earlier, so Ming pulled out his iPhone and accessed the blog and read it on the spot.

THAT, unfortunately, no offense to Ming, was the highlight of my day. The right field seats, as usual, were ridiculously crowded during BP. I had several close calls, but things just weren’t going my way. No lucky bounces. No generous players. Lots of competition. Nothing hit right to me. It was brutal, and after an HOUR, I still hadn’t snagged anything. I was so stressed that Nelson (who caught a commemorative home run ball early on) got stressed just by being near me. I’m telling you, it was not fun.

painfully_crowded.jpgI wasn’t even the only fan with a ball-retrieving device. Ming had a glove trick and there were three other fans with cup tricks–all within a 100-foot wide section.

Finally, after losing several battles for balls that rolled onto the warning track, I found myself in a direct competition with one other guy with a cup trick. The ball was just a few feet from the edge of the outfield grass, so I had to swing my glove way out and knock the ball closer. The guy was ten feet to my left, so he swung his cup from side to side and really had no chance. Thankfully, I managed to move the ball where I needed it and got it to stick inside my glove. As I was carefully lifting it back up, the guy kept swinging his cup and actually hit my glove. The jerk was trying to knock the ball loose, and when he failed, he had the audacity to ask me for it.

Ahh, yes, Yankee Stadium.

Toward the end of BP, I caught a home run that was hit by a lefty on the Orioles. I was standing in the aisle behind the wall, and the ball was coming right to me. I took a step forward so that I would need to jump for it, therefore preventing anyone else from reaching in front of me. And that’s exactly how it played out. Half a dozen hands reached up, and my glove was a foot in front of them all.

That was it for BP.

I hung out in left field for the first third the game, which was an accomplishment in and of itself. Look how crowded it was:

view_from_left_field.jpg

There were hardly any empty seats, even 450 feet from home plate, and even though A-Rod went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, I still got a game-used ball. Aubrey Huff flied out to left field to end the top of the 3rd inning. Johnny Damon caught it and chucked it into the crowd. Unlike everyone else around me, I was already standing in the aisle before he turned around, predicting that this might happen. The ball came right to me, but I didn’t take any chances by waiting for it to ball_from_johnny_damon.jpg
reach my glove. Just as I did with the BP homer, I took a step forward and jumped. Given the fact that I was at Yankee Stadium, several fans crashed into me and knocked me backward. I was fine, but the woman behind me had her drink splashed all over her face, arms, chest, and lap. The security supervisor came over, saw that I had the ball, assumed that the drink incident was my fault, asked to see my ticket, and kicked me out of the section. (I still snuck back in for A-Rod’s at-bats.)

And that, my friends, was it. Three lousy balls. Seven in two days. At this rate, I’d have to go to Yankee Stadium eight times to equal The Day I had at Nationals Park last month.

STATS:

? 103 balls in 12 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.

? 508 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 112 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 3,380 total balls

5/21/08 at Yankee Stadium

Let’s begin with a look at the New Yankee Stadium from the above-ground “subway” platform of the No. 4 train:

new_yankee_stadium.jpg

Just before my train pulled into the station, I got a quick peek inside the stadium (you can see that peek here) and saw that the field WAS set up for batting practice. Phew! The weather was iffy. There was rain in the forecast. I had no idea what to expect, and I’d decided that if there wasn’t BP, I wasn’t even going to exit the subway. I would’ve just switched over to the downtown platform and gone home.

Of course, after I exited and walked halfway around the stadium and bought a ticket and walked back to Gate 6 and got on line and ate my egg salad sandwich, it started raining. Panic set in. But I stayed. And ran inside at 5:05pm. And crossed the concourse. And hurried through the tunnel for a look at the field. And there was…batting practice! Wooo!

Less than a minute later, I asked LaTroy “Headhunter” Hawkins to throw me a ball, and as soon as the words were out of my mouth, another fan asked him too. This other fan was taller and older and had a glove. LaTroy tossed it up between us. I jumped higher and made the catch, and that’s a good thing. Check it out:

commemorative_ball_from_latroy.jpg

Okay…I have good news and bad news. First the bad: The Yankees ended BP ten minutes early, didn’t hit a single home run into the short porch (one reached the upper deck), and only tossed balls to kids who appeared to be less than six years old. Now the good: Most of the balls were commemorative. I made a point of looking at the balls that other fans snagged, and I’d say two-thirds were the kind you see above. In addition, the one I got was clearly brand new. It wasn’t rubbed up with mud like this ball from Shea, so in other words, commemorative balls are now going straight from the Rawlings boxes to the BP buckets. So in other words, there’s no reason to email me and ask for one. Seriously, the season is barely six weeks old, and I’ve already gotten more emails than I can count from people who want one. These balls are not THAT scarce. It’s only May. There’s plenty of season left. Just go to ONE Yankees batting practice and catch ONE ball, and the odds are that it will be commemorative.

Forgive me if I’m being harsh. There’s something about Yankee Stadium (even writing about Yankee Stadium a day after the fact) that puts me on edge. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the fact that after the Orioles took the field for BP and I’d switched into my Orioles cap, a Yankee fan happened to bump into me from behind as he tried to work his way through the crowded aisle behind the right field wall.

“Whoop, sorry,” he said.

“No problem,” I replied as I turned around and gave him a friendly nod.

“Wait a second,” he said, looking at my hat. “No I’m not.” And he disappeared into the crowd.

He wasn’t joking. No smile. No pat on the back. No “good luck to your team.” (Not that I even have a team.) Just pure hostility. And THAT is Yankee Stadium for you. Two weeks ago, I got a random email from a guy in San Diego who wanted to know if I thought it’d be safe for him to wear a “Friar robe” to Yankee Stadium for the Padres series in mid-June. How sad is it that a fan would have to worry about his safety before rooting for his team? Equally sad, I had to advise him not to wear it. One of the best things about attending last year’s All-Star Game was getting to see fans from all over coming together and representing their teams and celebrating baseball as a whole. At Yankee Stadium, that doesn’t happen, and it’s one of the many reasons why I don’t like being there. To be fair, I don’t like being at Shea either, and Mets fans are a different kind of lame for still being so bitter about last season’s collapse and continuing to boo their team (and manager) into oblivion.

jeremy_guthrie_foul_line.jpgAnyway…
Once the O’s took the field, I snagged my second ball off the warning track with my glove trick and used my keen observational skills to get ball #3. From my spot in straight-away right field, I saw Jeremy Guthrie head over to the foul line to sign autographs, and less than a minute later, one of his teammates threw/rolled a ball at him from a couple hundred feet away. The ball trickled to the base of the wall at his feet. Guthrie turned back to give his teammate(s) a dirty look, then picked up the ball and stuck it in his back pocket. I watched closely (while keeping an eye on the batter) to see what he did with the ball. I figured he was going to hand it to a kid, but he never did. Meanwhile, batting practice was deader that dead–the first home run ended up landing in the porch at 5:50pm–so I abandoned my spot and raced over to the foul line and stayed five rows behind the mob.

“Jeremy,” I said loudly but politely, “is there any chance you could spare that ball, please?”

He looked up and saw my Orioles cap and said, “There’s a very small chance.”

“That’s better than no chance,” I said. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

jeremy_guthrie.jpg
He looked in my direction several times over the next few minutes, and I alternated between pointing at my glove and pointing at my hat. Finally, he looked right at me and flipped the ball to me over everyone’s hands. It was beautiful.

Five minutes later, I was back in right field and had another chance to use the glove trick. As I was lifting it slowly from the warning track, Guthrie starting sprinting toward me, presumably to knock the ball out of my glove, so I tugged the whole thing up a quickly as possible. I was sure the ball was going to slip out, but I had no choice. Somehow, though, the ball stayed in the glove as Guthrie lunged and jumped for it. I’m telling you, it was JUST beyond his reach and he went all out to get it. This was my fourth ball of the day and 100th of the season. I got the sense that Guthrie was just being playful, and because he’d already given me a ball, I wouldn’t have put the Hample Jinx on him even if he’d denied me from getting this one.

I came close to catching a home run toward the end of BP, and even though I didn’t get it, it’s still worth mentioning. The ball was hooking into the gap between the grandstand and the bleachers, so I moved five or ten feet to my right, and at the last second I jumped up onto the slanted side wall so that I was briefly balancing on my stomach, and I leaned way out into the gap and reached as far as I could. The ball tipped off the very end of my glove. So frustrating.

RF_from_LF.jpgI stayed in left field for most of the game, hoping once again to catch an A-Rod homer. The Man is locked in. He’s in The Zone. He hit everything hard. It was like Yankee Stadium was his personal playground, not nearly big enough to contain him. Bottom of the third? A-Rod got under the ball and still hit it out to the deepest part of the yard. It was a lazy 410-foot fly ball (if there IS such a thing) that kept carrying and carrying and landed on the center-field side of Monument Park. The next inning? Line-drive double down the right field line. Two innings later? Another home run which was hit so hard to right-center and ricocheted so fast off the side of some concrete steps right above the wall that the helpless umps ruled it a double.

And that was it. The Yankees scored enough runs and had had enough base runners for A-Rod to get a fifth at-bat in the bottom of the seventh, but no, with an 8-0 lead, Joe Girardi took him out of the game and sent up Morgan Ensberg instead. What a waste.

For the last nine outs, I sat in the third row behind the Yankees’ dugout and enjoyed watching Joba Chamberlain up close. He topped out at 100mph. His fastballs were exploding out of his hand and reaching the batter in such a short amount of time…it was almost comical. And then he dropped a few shin-high pitches at 88mph. I don’t know if it was his change-up or slider–I couldn’t see lateral movement from my view from the side–but all I know is that he looked as dominant as any pitcher I’ve ever seen. I don’t even like the Yankees and I’m excited to see what this guy’s gonna do in the starting rotation.

STATS:

? 4 balls at this game

? 100 balls in 11 games this season = 9.1 balls per game.

? 507 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 111 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 11 consecutive seasons with at least 100 balls

? 3,377 total balls

5/15/08 at Shea Stadium

First the good news: I had three Watch With Zack clients at this game.

Now some bad news: A magazine writer had been planning to tag along and write about it, but he had to cancel/postpone at the last minute.

arthur_cooper_jon.jpg
More bad news: Not only was this a day game following a night game…and not only wasn’t there batting practice as a result…but it was “Weather Education Day” at Shea. The ballpark opened an extra 40 minutes early because there were 18,000 kids on hand for a special program.

More good news: One of my three clients was a seven-year-old boy named Cooper who had never been to a major league baseball game. (It doesn’t get any better than that.) The other two were his father, Jon, and grandfather, Arthur–and we all ended up having a great time.

Really, though, this day was all about Cooper. He had gotten to skip school and fly up from Washington D.C. with Jon, just to go to this game with me. In fact, Jon had considered taking him to Nationals Park earlier in the season but decided to wait so that Cooper’s first game would be with me. It was truly an honor. I knew I was part of something–responsible for shaping something–that he’d never forget.

The stadium was dead when we entered Gate C at 10am, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t matter to Cooper. It almost didn’t matter to me. I just stood back and grabbed my camera as Arthur and Jon led him across the concourse for his first look at the field:

coopers_first_look_at_field.jpg

I remembered the first time I saw a major league field–Yankee Stadium…summer of 1984…me and my dad…walking through a tunnel on the first base side of the upper deck–and I experienced the rush all over again.

Arthur knew a LOT about baseball and could’ve explained everything to Cooper, but instead he let me do it, often with a gentle prompt. “You wanna tell Cooper about the retired numbers?” he asked. “Why is there all this netting?” And so on.

I asked Cooper if he knew what the big building was in the distance, and he did. He told me it was the new stadium. I asked him if he knew what it was called, and when he shook his head, I told him “Citi Field” and explained how it got the name. I kept telling him stuff until the team store opened at 10:40am. Then the three of us grown-ups picked out a Mets cap for him (to go with the Nationals cap he already had) and headed out toward the left field corner where several Nationals pitchers had begun throwing.

weather_education_day.jpgThe entire left side of the stadium was empty. The right field side, meanwhile, was packed with kids, and it continued to get more and more crowded. Not good. I wasn’t thinking about snagging ten balls. I just wanted ONE. Obviously I wanted to keep my own streak alive (505 consecutive games with at least one ball), but again, this day was all about Cooper. There was no way I was gonna let him go back to D.C. without a ball.

By the time we made it to the outfield seats, there were two other kids with gloves, and they each got a ball tossed to them. Thankfully the kids left as Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire began throwing with John Lannan, so Cooper and I slipped into the corner spot. Before long, there were a few other fans around us, but we were the only ones wearing Nationals gear. I was sure we were going to get the ball, but no, Lannan ignored my polite request and disappeared into the bullpen. After a few more minutes, Saul Rivera started playing catch with Jesus Colome. THIS would be the ball. Yes, I knew it. I paid close attention as their throwing came to a close, and I positioned Cooper in front of me and told him to hold up his glove. Colome ended up with the ball, and I asked for it, and he quickly turned and tossed it in our direction. TIME OUT…I wanted Cooper to enjoy the rush of catching a ball on his own, but I
didn’t want to take a chance that he’d miss it and possibly get hurt. I had asked Jon earlier if Cooper would be able to catch a ball that was thrown to him. The answer? Probably not. Jon said that Cooper simply wanted a ball and wasn’t too concerned about how it ended up in his zack_cooper_ball.jpgpossession…TIME IN The throw from Colome sailed right toward us. There was an older kid with a glove, standing just to the left–no way I was going to let him interfere, so I reached out and made an easy one-handed catch and immediately handed the ball to Cooper. Just when I was getting ready to apologize for it being one of those cheap training balls, I realized that it had the Nationals Park commemorative logo instead. Wow. How’s THAT for a first ball? If I hadn’t snagged six of these balls on April 10th, it probably would’ve hurt to give this one away, but as things were, it didn’t bother me at all.

We didn’t snag any other balls in that spot, but I helped Cooper get four autographs: Joel Hanrahan, Tim Redding, Jon Rauch, and Saul Rivera. Cooper got three of those guys to sign redding_rauch.jpghis cap and the fourth to sign his glove. I got Redding and Rauch to sign a couple old ticket stubs. (Of course Rauch signed it upside-down.)

Soon after the Nationals finished throwing, the Mets pitchers gathered in the right field corner and began their own warm-ups. The Field Level was completely packed, so we headed to the right field cooper_cow_bell_man.jpgLoge and shouted at the players from above. No luck. But Cooper DID get his ticket stub autographed by “Cow Bell Man.”

We got some food and went to our seats–just a few rows behind the Mets’ dugout. I tried unsuccessfully to get Cooper another ball before the national anthem, and finally, after having spent three hours and ten minutes inside Shea Stadium, the game was underway. Mike Pelfrey versus Jason Bergmann. Not exactly a match-up that we expected to yield a pitcher’s duel. But sure enough, that’s exactly what we got. Pelfrey was perfect through the first two innings, then allowed two walks in the top of the third before escaping further damage.

Cooper and I had been running back and forth from the Mets’ dugout to the Nationals’ dugout each half-inning. I really wanted to get him a game-used ball, and that was the best way to do it. Finally, after nearly half a dozen unsuccessful attempts, Carlos Beltran ended the bottom of the third with a line-out to right fielder Austin Kearns. Cooper and I scooted down to the front row right behind the dugout, and as Kearns jogged in with the ball, I yelled at him and asked him for it and pointed at Cooper, and he tossed it right to us. Again, I reached out and caught the ball and handed it over to my snagging companion. Another commemorative ball…this time with the Shea logo.

I have to give credit to Arthur and Jon. They get an unofficial assist on that ball. If they hadn’t trusted me enough to let me run around with Cooper, I never would’ve been able to get it.

Cooper and I made it back to our seats as the fourth inning got started, and every fan around us was amazed that he had two baseballs:

cooper_commemorative_balls.jpg

For the first few innings, whenever Cooper and I were behind the Mets’ dugout, we sat next to each other. Arthur and Jon sat directly behind us. We had a four-seat box. Two seats in front, two in back. Shea is weird like that. But it worked out fine. I kept telling Cooper lots of stuff about the field and the stadium and the players and the game itself. I made sure we talked about some fun stuff (skipping a day of school, for example) so he wouldn’t feel overwhelmed with his first MLB lesson. I’ve said it jon_cooper_during_game.jpg
before, and I’ll say it again…I’ve always wished I had a little brother, and for a while on this glorious day at Shea, it felt like I did.

Pelfrey kept cruising, taking his no-hitter into the fourth…fifth…and sixth inning. The game, however, remained scoreless. There were some amazing plays in the field. Cooper got some cotton candy. The weather was perfect. The world seemed right. Eventually I switched seats with Jon so he could sit next to Cooper. Father and son. It was a beautiful thing to see.

During the seventh-inning stretch, I moved back half a dozen rows for the t-shirt launch (no point in standing right next to Arthur and Jon) and ended up snagging one, and my logic paid off. That logic is as follows:

zack_arthur_t_shirt_launch.jpg
1) Spread out.

2) Cover twice as much ground.

3) Snag twice as much stuff.

Arthur also grabbed a t-shirt, which meant I got to keep mine. If he hadn’t gotten one, I would’ve given him the one I caught, and let me tell you, it’s a GOOD looking shirt. I’m thrilled to own it. No joke. It’s such a nice shirt that it’s almost worth going to Shea just to try to catch one. Check it out:

t_shirt.jpg

Anyway, Pelfrey lost his no-no when Aaron Boone led off the seventh with a clean/solid line-drive single to right field. An inning later, Jesus Flores ripped a lead-off double, advanced to third on a sac bunt by pinch hitter Willie Harris, and broke the scoreless tie by coming home on a Felipe Lopez sac fly.

After Jose Reyes ran the Mets out of a potential rally in the bottom of the eighth (by trying to go from first to third on a sac bunt), Arthur was ready to leave and beat traffic. Cooper wouldn’t have it. He wanted to stay. (My kinda kid.) So we stayed.

Matt Wise kept the Nats off the board in the top of the ninth, and the Mets came THIS close to tying it in the bottom of the frame. With Beltran on first and nobody out, Ryan Church sliced a fly ball down the left field line. Harris (who replaced Rob Mackowiak in left field) sprinted toward the foul line and dove headfirst and caught the ball IN FAIR TERRITORY inches off the ground, arm fully extended, kicking up a cloud of dust as he skidded across the warning track. Unbelievable. Beltran then stole second base and advanced to third when the throw went into center field. Carlos Delgado followed with a low line drive down the first base line, but Boone, playing first, snared it on a fly and chucked the ball to Ryan Zimmerman at third for a game-ending double play. Final score: Nationals 1, Mets 0.

STATS:

? 2 balls at this game

? 96 balls in 10 games this season = 9.6 balls per game.

? 506 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 324 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball

? 7 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

? 3,373 total balls

Coors Field!

It’s official. I’m going to Coors Field next month for five games:

June 16 — Braves
June 17 — Indians
June 18 — Indians
June 19 — Indians
June 20 — Mets

Last time I was at Coors?
Six years ago.
Why am I going back now?
Two words: Associated Press.

Way back in March, I met an AP writer at the Barry Bonds 762 press conference. He said he wanted to do a story on me, and since he lives in Denver, I’m going back to Coors. It’s that simple. While I’m there, I’ll be hanging out with a few friends and fellow ballhawks. Remember Jameson Sutton and Robert Harmon? (Click here if you don’t, and pay close attention to the name of the guy who wrote the article.) I’m really looking forward to seeing those guys again, along with another Coors regular named Dan Sauvageau (whom I met at the 2007 All-Star Game) who has caught 36 home runs during games on a fly.

Greatest. Email. Ever.

In addition to the blog comments that are posted here, I get lots of emails that most people never see. Here’s one that was too good not to share (and yes, I got permission to share it from the person who wrote it):

———————————————————————————————

From: Carter R
Subject: !!!YOU ARE AMAZING!!!
Date: May 5, 2008 6:21:28 PM EDT
To:   zack@zackhample.com

  Hey ! whats upp?? Well let me tell you something… my name is carter r . and i am 12 years old…    and i live in kansas city!!!      The royals suck, and they probably always willl, but that is not why i am e mailing you!

      I was on youtube and i searched “baseball” I saw a video and it looked cool!!!  IT WAS YOU!  You where with that kid at the athletics BP,,,  I have been searching for the last 3 days non-stop all about your facts you talked about, and im even gona buy your books very soon.  This is probably the  millionth  e-mail you have read today that is the exact same as all the rest.  But i really want to learn more about snagging balls!

           It all stated this morning when i made THE GLOVE TRICK! I thought it was such a great invention! I came right home from school today, and showed my mom how it worked!

          I even  showed her all of you videos on youtube , and i convinced her to take me to the   red sox(my fav team)vs. the royals BP

           The game is not till august, but it will no doubt be one of the best experiences of my life, and i could have never convinced her with out your videos!!!

        My goal is to get a ball from DAVID ortiz and MANNY ramirez…
 i am gona try to ask them in spanish too  !!!!!!….. DAME LA BOLA POR FAVOR……..!!!!!!!!

    Man i wish i could meet you some day ,,,, i want you to know that there a lot of kids who look up to you and you are a great blogger too……..

                 MY ONLY QUESTION IS… WELLL SINCE I AM ONLY 12 DO YOU THINK THAT ANY OF THE SECURITY GUARDS WWILL GET MAD WHEN I DO USE THE GLOVE TRICK….

you ARE  a true life saver …. PLEASE CONTACT BAK AS SOON AS POSSIBLE at…

Class photos

Yes, I’m posting an entry that has NOTHING to do with baseball. I had some extra free time this week, so I combed through my old yearbooks and scanned ALL my class photos…every single one from nursery school through 12th grade.

In case you want to look at them all, go to the photos page on my web site and scroll down to 1982. That’s where it all started. I’ll leave you with my 1st grade class photo (from 1984), and now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to watching the Mets game…

1st_grade_class_photo.jpg

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