June 2008

False accusation

Because of the AP story that was recently written about me, there’s been a case of mistaken identity. Basically, some guy posted a comment on this blog and falsely accused me of stealing a ball from his son–and since the comment was posted on an old entry, I’m sharing it here (along with my response) for everyone to see.

Here’s the comment, posted at 10:28pm on June 28, 2008:

YOU are the guy who snagged, wait.. flat out STOLE a baseball underhand
tossed by Aaron Rowland then of the Phillies intended for my 5 year old
behind the visitors dugout at Shea last September.

No, it wasn’t a
misunderstanding.

At the last second you leaped from nowhere getting
your fat butt in my son’s face and STEALING his baseball. Then you ran
like a girl when everyone who witnessed your manic behavior booed you.

YOU don’t remember stealing the ball from my kid, but he sure does.
Shame on you. Karma, baby, Karma.

Ouch! But like I said above, this is a FALSE accusation. Keep reading and you’ll see what I mean. Here’s the response (plus some added links) that I emailed to the guy at 2:32am on June 29, 2008:

Hey-

I just saw the comment you left on my blog, and while I’m terribly sorry to hear what happened to your son (and to hear that he’s still upset about it), I want to assure you that I was NOT the person who stole that ball. Here’s proof:

1) I keep a VERY thorough list of every player and coach who has ever tossed me a ball, and Aaron Rowand (not “Rowland”) is not on it. That list can be found here on my web site.

2) I didn’t see the Phillies play at Shea Stadium last September. (I wish I had so I could’ve booed them.) Of the five games I attended that month at Shea, one was against the Astros, another was against the Braves, two were against the Nationals, and the last was against the Marlins.

In addition, I know it wasn’t me because I simply don’t DO that to people. I’ll admit that when I was a kid, I used to reach in front of people for balls, and I’m ashamed I acted that way. The good news is that I learned from my mistakes and cleaned up my act. Now, not only do I go out of my way to help kids get balls, but I even GIVE away lots of balls to kids.

So yeah, you got the wrong guy. It happens. No hard feelings, at least not from my end. I realize I’m pretty generic-looking, and on top of that, there are lots of other people at Shea who try to snag baseballs. Some, apparently, go about it the wrong way.

Again, I’m really sorry to hear what happened to you guys, and I hope this clears things up.

Sincerely,
Zack Hample

There’ve been lots of nasty things written about me on other blogs and message boards over the years. For those of you who just discovered this blog because of the AP story, I just want to say…don’t believe everything you read. The AP story itself is great, but there are a lot of angry people out there who hide behind anonymous email addresses–people who’ve never met me yet still make assumptions and accusations. Check out my web site. Read this blog. Leave me a comment. Send me an email. Join me for a game. Watch me in action. Get to know me. You’ll (hopefully) see that I’m not such a bad guy.

Shame on Griffey

I just lost a lot of respect for Ken Griffey Jr.

Did anyone else see this article on MLB.com?

Wow.

Griffey wants his 600th home run ball back, so what did he do? He made a comment about how it isn’t worth that much in order to discourage the fan who caught it from selling it.

“I didn’t break any record, tie any record or anything,” Griffey told MLB.com. “I was the sixth person to hit 590 and 602, too.”

What a lame thing to say. And even if the ball IS worth as little as he claims, then why doesn’t he just keep quiet and bid on it when it goes up for auction? He’s made over $130 million in his career. I think he can afford it.

Meanwhile, when Griffey’s equally lame agent, Brian Goldberg, was asked about the fan (a guy named Joe Scherer) who caught the ball, he had the nerve to say, “He’s got to separate fantasy from reality…I don’t think the dollar value is going to be
anything close to what Joe thinks. This ball didn’t break any records
and it’s not unique.”

If it’s not unique, then why does Griffey want it? What a bunch of tools.

Associated Press

Just a quick update (before I run off to my writing group) to let you know that the Associated Press story just hit the wire. USA Today already picked it up, and you can read it here.

In other news…
The Palm Beach Post recently ran a separate Griffey-related story about me. Check it out.

Gotta run. More later…

6/23/08 at Shea Stadium

I did something really stupid…

Yesterday afternoon I charged the battery for my digital camera, and when I left for Shea a few hours later I forgot to take it off the charger. I realized I’d done this as soon as I got off the No. 7 train and tried to take a pic of Citi Field, and for a second I considered heading right back to the subway and going home. You know how some people feel naked without their cell phone or jewelry or makeup? That’s how I feel when I don’t have my camera.

ticket_june_23_2008.jpgAnyway, I decided to stay, and it’s a good thing…and as for the no-camera issue, I was able to scan a couple things when I got home (like my five-dollar ticket) and take some pics of the balls and dig up a few old photos of Shea to illustrate the day’s better stories.

My first 50 minutes inside Shea turned out to be a complete waste of time. First of all, the Mets hadn’t even started taking batting practice when I ran inside at 4:40pm, and when I finally headed up to the second deck (aka “the Loge Level”) in right field there was no action. There were exactly ZERO balls that landed in the seats, I couldn’t get any players to toss me a ball, and it got worse from there. I tried to use my glove trick to snag a ball that (for some strange reason) was resting on a little wooden platform above the gap behind the right field wall, but unfortunately it was stuck in a rut against a metal pole and before I had a chance to dislodge it, an usher on the Field Level noticed what I was doing and ordered me to stop.

My friend Greg (aka “gregorybarasch” if you read the comments on this blog) was at this game, and when he saw my failed glove trick attempt from the seats below, he ran up to the Loge and snagged the ball fairly easily with his own ball-retrieving device: a cup trick. In most situations, my glove trick has its advantages over cup tricks, but this wasn’t one of them. Greg’s cup had a thin edge that slid between the ball and the pole, whereas the thicker fingers of my glove couldn’t fit.

2008_all_star_ballot.jpgNot only had Greg already snagged a ball before he came upstairs, but he then got Billy Wagner to throw him his third ball of the day.

As soon as Greg caught it, he ran over and said, “You gotta see this!”

“Something tells me I don’t want to see it,” I said, but it was too late. Greg was already holding out the ball, and I nearly had a heart attack. The stitches weren’t red…they were gray and navy blue…it was…a 2008 All-Star Game ball…WHAAAT?!?!?!

I couldn’t believe my eyes, but it was true. It was the same ball I’d been trying not to notice every time I filled out an All-Star ballot. Weeks before Greg caught this ball, I was already so worked up and pissed off about NOT being able to snag one (because I can’t afford to go to the All-Star Game) that I’d been planning to go out of town during All-Star week and NOT watch any of the festivities on TV. It was just going to be too painful to see these commemorative balls sailing into the seats at a stadium I’d been to hundreds of times.

Greg went back to the Field Level, and I was on a mission like never before. I figured that if there was one All-Star Ball in use, there had to be another and I paid extra close attention to every ball that rolled anywhere near me. Of course, I was about 30 feet above the field so it was tough to distinguish the standard balls from the prized All-Star balls, but I tried my best.

oliver_perez.jpgSoon after, a home run landed in the bullpen, and while I couldn’t pick out any special logo, I knew what to look for: the ball was brand new and the seams did not appear to be red. I kept my eye on that ball for five minutes, hoping that a player or coach would stroll into the ‘pen and retrieve it, but eventually some random employee went and got it, turned down my request for it, and flung it back onto the field. The ball rolled to a spot about 20 feet behind Oliver Perez (who’s always been friendly to me).

“Oliver!” I shouted, “right behind you!”

pedro_feliciano.jpgPerez turned around and looked briefly at the ball but didn’t move. That’s when Pedro Feliciano (who has NEVER and WILL never throw me a ball) walked over and picked it up and took a long look at it. Ohmygod, it WAS an All-Star Ball, and I begged him for it. What did he do? He turned around and waved condescendingly at me and then tossed it to another fan on the Field Level.

claudio_vargas.jpgI made sure not to ask for any balls unless I was certain that they were of the All-Star variety…but most of the balls that rolled onto the warning track were standard balls. Finally, Claudio Vargas walked over and retrieved a ball that had the All-Star logo. I was the only fan who asked him for it. He looked up at me, told me he’d give me a ball later, chucked the All-Star ball back toward the bucket, and promptly moved to center field.

The Mets’ portion of batting practice was going to be ending soon, and not only didn’t I have an All-Star ball…I didn’t have ANY balls. It wasn’t late enough in the day to start worrying about being shut out altogether but the thought did cross my mind.

dave_racaniello.jpgEnter Dave Racaniello. He’s been the Mets bullpen catcher since 2001, and although he doesn’t know me by name, he does recognize me. He knows all about my
baseball collection, and he still tosses me a few balls per season. It’s awesome. Usually, whenever a player or coach (or bullpen catcher) recognizes me, that’s it. No more balls. But that’s not the case with this guy. I can’t explain it. He’s just cool like that.

With 15 minutes remaining in BP, I saw Racaniello pick up a standard ball in right field and head into the bullpen. I kept my eye on him but didn’t say anything. That’s when HE looked up at ME and took the ball out of his glove as if he were about to toss it up and shouted, “Here ya go, ball number three thousand–”

“Wait! Wait! Wait!” I shouted, holding out my open palms as if to say “stop.”

Racaniello gave me a funny look, and I kept talking: “I noticed you guys are using a few All-Star balls in BP…”

“We are?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, “and I would DIE to get my hands on one. Is there any chance that if you happen to see one, you could hook me up?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said and disappeared from sight.

Ten minutes passed. He was nowhere to be seen. It was 5:30pm. The Mets were going to wrap up their portion of BP in five minutes. I had to get downstairs and try to work my way into the seats behind the dugout. I knew there was a good chance to get a ball there, even a regular ball. I was getting desperate. And just as I was about to exit the Loge, Racaniello appeared in right field and looked up at me. He had a ball in his hand. OH MY GOD. He waved me over to a section in foul territory where there weren’t any fans. I ran through the aisle, and then he waved me back. Ha! He was messing with me, and a few Mets pitchers were looking on. I rolled with it and kept moving back and forth as he made gestures like a traffic cop. The usher in my section realized what was about to happen and pretended to jump in front of me and interfere, but he soon backed off, and Racaniello unleashed a throw. I was right in the aisle, about six rows back from the railing. That way, if his throw fell short, it would at least reach the empty seats and I could pick up the ball, but “Rac” (as the players call him) threw a perfect strike, and I made the catch. I opened my glove, and this is what I saw:

2008_all_star_ball1.jpg

I thanked him profusely, then hugged the ball and blew kisses at him (which he may or may not have appreciated–let’s not make any assumptions either way) and flew down to the Field Level. There was an all-out mob of fans behind the dugout, but none of them were going for balls. They were all there for autographs, and I managed to find a spot in the front row. Three minutes later, when all the players and coaches came off the field, I made a leaping catch for a ball thrown by Duaner Sanchez and then got coach Sandy Alomar Sr. to toss me a ball 30 seconds later. What kind of balls, you ask? Voila!

two_more_all_star_balls.jpg

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…there is now extra incentive to see the New York Mets.

I was beyond happy as the Mariners took the field. I’d never felt so light on my feet as I raced around to the left field side. I’m telling you, I was so pumped up I felt like I could’ve dunked on an 11-foot rim. (Believe it or not, I did once dunk on a standard rim so this isn’t THAT much of a stretch.)

The Field Level was both packed and dead, so I headed up to the left field Loge and got one more ball–a standard ball–tossed to me by a pitcher that I couldn’t identify. He was young and white and tall and fairly thin and right-handed and had a beard that wasn’t particularly thick or dark. Any ideas who it might be? I know it wasn’t R.A. Dickey, who also has a beard.

eddie_rodriguez.jpgI made my way to the Mariners’ dugout as BP ended and got my fifth ball of the day–another standard ball–from 1st base coach Eddie Rodriguez.

After batting practice, I hung out with Greg and a couple friendly ushers (yes, they actually DO exist at Shea), then failed to get a warm-up ball after the national anthem, and spent the whole game running around for foul balls in the Loge. I came close to a few, but luck wasn’t on my side, and that was fine. I was still glowing about the All-Star balls. Even though the Mets had been using 2005 All-Star balls during BP in 2006…and 2006 All-Star balls the following season, I never expected to get one (let alone three!) from the 2008 All-Star Game. That was just too cool.

The game itself had a rather depressing moment for Mets fans, but since I’m really more of a “baseball fan” than a fan of any one team, I was able to appreciate it. With two outs in the top of the second inning, David Wright made an error that loaded the bases and Mariners starter Felix Hernandez blasted Johan Santana’s next pitch over the wall in right-center field–the first grand slam, I later learned, hit by an American League pitcher in 37 years. Those four unearned runs made the difference. Final score: Mariners 5, Mets 2.

After the game, I got another ball tossed to me at the dugout by Rodriguez, and then I met up with Greg to take the train back to Manhattan…but before we left, he wanted to head out to the right field corner. He’d seen Ichiro hit a ball in BP that landed in the gap behind the outfield wall, and he thought there was a chance it might still be there. Well, it was, but neither of us could get it. Take a look at the photo below and I’ll explain:

right_field_gap.jpg

This is a photo of the gap from above. The thick orange beam is the right field foul pole. The red arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball was sitting. There wasn’t quite as much trash in the gap yesterday as you see in this photo, but still, it’s always pretty nasty and cluttered back there. (That’s the beauty of Shea Stadium.) I took this photo from the Loge Level (during batting practice last season), b
ut we couldn’t get up there after the game last night because security was kicking everyone out. The only place where we could get close to this ball was in the Field Level concourse. Unfortunately, we were blocked by several large screens/nets, so we weren’t able to lean over into the gap, and since the ball was several feet out–and since there was also a mess of cables and wires hanging from an adjacent camera platform–it would’ve been nearly impossible. Still, I helped Greg by holding his string while he worked his cup through a small hole in the netting. Then I moved the string over the top of the netting to a point where he could reach it. I know this is tough to visualize, but you get the point. There were all kinds of obstacles, and we stood there and schemed for 15 minutes, waiting for the brief intervals when the two nearest security guards happened to be looking away simultaneously, but eventually we decided it was too tough and too risky (I was afraid my glove would get caught on something) and decided to leave.

At the bottom of the ramp…right where the ramp meets the ground-level concourse that leads to the area behind the Mets bullpen, I happened to see a familiar face. It was a guy named Shawn who’s been working at Shea for years. I first met him when he was a bathroom attendant on the Field Level, and then one day I saw him out on the field. He’d been promoted to the grounds crew, and ever since I’ve been shouting his name and waving to him from the stands and keeping him updated about my baseball collection. Here’s a pic I took of him back in 2005:

friendliest_groundskeeper_ever.jpg

Even though Greg was the one who first thought about checking the RF gap for this ball, he knew he couldn’t have asked Shawn for it because he didn’t know him. Thus, it was all mine…

When I got to the bottom of the ramp, I walked up to Shawn and shook his hand and explained the situation.

“Where exactly is it?” he asked.

“In the narrow gap behind the outfield wall,” I said, “all the way in the corner, just foul of the foul pole.”

“Meet me back in the Field Level seats,” he said, and as I bolted up the ramp, a nearby security guard who hadn’t heard what we’d been discussing said I wasn’t allowed to go back up.

Shawn explained what was going on, and the guard said it was okay…but once Greg and I reached the Field Level concourse, a different (on-field) guard spotted us and walked closer along the warning track in foul territory. I tried to explain that a groundskeeper was about to give me a ball, but I knew I wasn’t making any sense. It even sounded absurd to me…twenty minutes after the final out…in an empty stadium?! I entered the seats and tried to explain that I had to be there to get the ball, and just when the confused guard was about to radio for backup, Shawn walked out onto the field through a door in the right field wall (that leads to the bullpen), and he had the ball in his hand. He told the guard to chill, and that he was giving me a ball, and he walked closer and finally flipped it to me from about ten feet out.

Unbelievable. I loved the fact that my day’s snagging began and ended with a personal connection.

From now on, whenever I’m asked about the weirdest way I ever got a ball, I won’t be sure what to say. It’s a toss-up between this one (that you just read about) and THIS one (from 2003). What do you think?

STATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 217 balls in 28 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 524 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,494 total balls

6/20/08 at Coors Field

Does the name Danny Wood sound familiar? It should if you’ve read (and memorized) my last four blog entries, but just in case you’ve forgotten:

1) He’s a season ticket holder at Coors Field.
2) He snags a LOT of baseballs.
3) One of those balls was Barry Bonds’ 698th career home run.

Danny and I had never met until our mutual friend Dan Sauvageau (another bigtime ballhawk) introduced us outside Gate E four days earlier–and and on THIS day, I took a pre-Coors detour to visit his place and check out his baseball collection. Dan had been telling me I had to see it. I couldn’t imagine what the big deal was, but let me just say he was right:

danny_in_his_basement.jpg

The photo above doesn’t even BEGIN to capture the magnitude of his collection, so hopefully the following photos will. Here’s another shot of Danny’s collection:

more_of_dannys_collection.jpg

Every ball in the double-case above was autographed by a Hall of Famer. We’re talking more than 150 balls, and most were signed on the sweet spot. It was truly awesome.

Now…keep in mind that Danny hasn’t caught all these balls himself or gotten them all signed in person. He’s bought lots of stuff on eBay, but still, it was the most incredible collection I’d ever seen.

There were several smaller cases of note. Here’s one that had a variety of All-Star and World Series balls:

case1_all_star_world_series.jpg

Here’s one with Little League balls and various National League presidents:

case2_league_presidents.jpg

One of his cases featured balls that were falling apart…

case3_falling_apart.jpg

…and another had nothing but baseball boxes from various manufacturers:

case4_boxes.jpg

Then there were individual balls that I’d never seen in person and, in some cases, didn’t even know existed. In the photo below, the top two balls are self-explanatory, and as for the bottom two…

four_amazing_balls.jpg

…the ball on the left is from the Negro Leagues, and the ball on the right is an official American League ball from 1927 which oh-by-the-way just happened to be signed on the sweet spot by Babe Ruth.

Ever heard of “millennium balls”?

millennium_balls.jpg

Neither had I.

Are you aware that baseballs used to be covered with horsehide until MLB switched over to cowhide in 1974? Yeah, Danny had balls to mark THAT occasion as well:
first_cowhide_balls.jpg
One cool thing about the balls from the early 1970s is that they were made by different companies:

American League balls were made by Reach, and National League balls were made by Spalding. (Reach was owned by Spalding, but it’s still cool.)

Rawlings didn’t start making balls for MLB until 1977…the year I was born…HEY!!!

first_rawlings_ball.jpg

Let’s not forget that Bonds homer–number six-ninety-eight:

barry_bonds_698th_homer1.jpg

Here’s a closer look at the sticker that an authenticator from MLB stuck on the ball…

barry_bonds_698th_homer2.jpg

…and here’s Danny’s unofficial certificate of authenticity on MLB.com:

barry_bonds_698th_homer3.jpg

There are dozens of other photographs I could share. I could literally write a different blog entry about his collection every day for a year and still have plenty of stuff left to talk about. It was THAT impressive. But I’ll just leave you with one other pic from Danny’s place.

I had heard that at Coors Field, fans received “Clean Catch” pins from the ushers whenever they caught a foul ball or home run on a fly during a game–but I hadn’t actually seen one. Naturally, Danny had about a dozen, and here it is:

clean_catch_pin.jpg

What a great idea. Seriously…what an excellent way to encourage fans to bring their gloves and be participants. What a shame that neither team in my hometown has the brains/incentive to do this.

As if the tour of his collection weren’t enough, Danny took me out to lunch with his family (at the famous Blake Street Tavern) and we all walked over to the ballpark together.

I took a few photographs of the exterior…

outside_coors_field.jpg

…and posed with my two shirts once we reached the gate:

zack_two_shirts.jpg

As you may already know, I own all 30 major league team caps; visiting teams love to spot their “fans” on the road and reward them with baseballs. In this case, since the Mets were the visiting team, I went one step further and brought a matching shirt–but I didn’t wear it during the game. That’s where the striped shirt came in. My plan (as I mentioned in an entry last week) was to dress like Waldo to make it easier for people to spot me on TV.

Gate E opened at 5pm, and I nearly got hit by a ball as I ran inside. From the concourse behind the left field bleachers, I saw one of the Rockies players looking up as if he were following the flight of a long home run. I paused for a second, expecting the ball to clang off the metal benches down below when all of a sudden, SMACK!!! The ball hit the concourse five feet to my left (about 425 feet from the plate according to Hit Tracker), bounced up and hit a metal support beam above the roof of a concession stand, and ricocheted back toward me. I was totally caught off guard. I wasn’t even wearing my glove…I was carrying it with my right hand, so I lunged forward and knocked the ball down with my left hand (almost like a basketball dribble) to prevent it from bouncing back into the bleachers, and I finally grabbed it.

Moments later, another home run landed near me, this time in the bleachers, and when I ran over and grabbed it off the concrete steps, an usher down below yelled, “Give it to the kid!”

I looked up, and there was indeed a kid nearby, but I
knew he didn’t need any charity. His name was Hunter. I’d signed a baseball for him the day before. He and his dad Don (aka “Rock Pile Ranter” if you read the comments) had front-row access for this game, and sure enough, they ended up snagging a bunch of balls…and you can read about it on Don’s blog.

The Rockies’ portion of BP was slow. I didn’t get any more balls from them. The highlight was seeing Danny trade gloves with Ubaldo Jimenez…

danny_trades_gloves.jpg

…and then use it to catch a home run ball. Unfortunately, it was a ball I easily could’ve caught, but I backed off (because the idea of robbing him on his own turf made me feel guilty) and let him have it, and he thanked me several times.

Anyway, it almost didn’t matter because I got SEVEN balls tossed to me during the Mets’ portion of BP. The first came from Scott Schoeneweis near center field. The second came from coach Guy Conti in left-center. The third came from Ramon Castro near the left field foul pedro_martinez_playing_catch.jpgline. The fourth came from Conti again…it was ridiculous…I didn’t even ask him for it…I was sitting just behind the wall in left-center, minding my own business and labeling the ball from Castro when Conti walked over and grabbed a ball off the warning track and flipped it up without looking at me. The fifth ball came from Marlon Anderson in straight-away left field. The sixth came from Pelfrey, also in left field, and the seventh came from Pedro Martinez in center. It was incredible. There was NO competition, and yet some of the fans behind me were grumbling. One guy (who I’m ashamed to admit was wearing a Mets jersey) shouted angrily, “How many balls do you need?!” and before I had a chance to walk over and respond, he snapped, “Go ahead, say something stupid.”

Too bad he was so rude. I’d been considering giving one of my baseballs to his son, but instead, when batting practice ended, I handed one to a different kid whose father had been minding his own business.

I made sure not to give away any of the three baseballs in the following photo:

three_balls_during_batting_practice.jpg

As you can see, I got two commemorative balls. The one on the left was thrown by Castro, and it happened to be the 900th ball I’ve snagged outside of New York. The ball in the middle was thrown by Pelfrey, and it’s just cool. I love how worn out it is. The ball on the right (not commemorative but still cool) was thrown by Pedro.

Okay, so the seven balls that the Mets threw to me gave me nine for the day, and I managed to snag one more. Remember the aggressive fan who had shoved me while going for a ball three days earlier? Well, he was back in his usual spot, and I made a point of standing right behind him and shutting him down. Toward the end of BP, one of the Mets righties lifted a deep fly ball in our direction. I judged it perfectly and jumped as high as I could at the last second…and although I didn’t catch it cleanly, I successfully prevented this other guy from catching it. Our gloves made contact, and the ball plopped down into the aisle, and I snatched it before he knew what was happening. I’m proud to say that he did not snag ONE ball since The Shove.

Anyway…
Throughout the week, Danny had been telling me that he knew one of the guys who worked the manual, out-of-town scoreboard in right field (?!?!) and he kept offering to arrange a visit for me. This was the day that I finally took him up on it…so after BP ended, Danny made a phone call and sent me on my way. It was as simple as that. I exited the tunnel at the bottom of the left field pavilion, turned right, and walked through the “secret” concourse:

scoreboard1_secret_concourse.jpg

After walking for a couple minutes and not really knowing who or what to look for (and hoping that I wasn’t going to be arrested), a woman stuck her head out of one of the black doors on the right and called me over by name.

Nice.

HER name is Beverly Coleman. She works for the Rockies in the “Business Operations” department. (You can find her on this list of Rockies front office employees.) Her husband is the guy that works the scoreboard.

Beverly led me down into a party area…

scoreboard2_party_area.jpg

…and we headed toward an unmarked door…

scoreboard3_unmarked_door.jpg

…and climbed some steep/narrow steps…

scoreboard4_stairs.jpg

…and before I knew it I was standing behind the scoreboard, witnessing an update in progress:

scoreboard5_update_in_progress.jpg

Then things calmed down a bit, and I met her husband, David Holt:

scoreboard6_david_holt.jpg

David gave me a quick tour and told me I was welcome to take as many photos as I wanted and share them on my blog.

This was my view of the field through one of the small holes in the wooden boards…

scoreboard7_view1.jpg

…and this was the view through one of the grated windows (which was damaged by a ball):

scoreboard8_view2.jpg

Did you notice the ball in the photo above? It’s tucked into a little nook in the wall on the upper right. Here’s a closeup:

scoreboard9_ball.jpg

I was in heaven:

scoreboard10_zack.jpg

David introduced me to a guy named Jim Park who was monitoring every game on a laptop:

scoreboard11_jim_at_laptop.jpg

Here’s a closer look at Jim’s work space:

scoreboard12_clipboard_laptop.jpg

At least once per minute, Jim shouted some sort of update–a score change, an inning change, or a pitching change–and David went to work:

scoreboard13_david_at_work.jpg

He showed me how to make sure that the boards were facing the right way. Quite simply, the front (which faced the field) had big letters…

s<br />
coreboard14_baltimore_front.jpg” class=”mt-image-left” style=”float:left;margin:0 20px 20px 0;” height=”412″ width=”550″ /></a></span></p>
<p>…and the back had small letters:</p>
<p><span class=scoreboard15_baltimore_back.jpg

If the board was right-side-up in the back, that meant it was facing the proper way in the front. Easy…I had it…and David let me make some updates:

scoreboard16_zack_making_update.jpg

Seventeen years ago, I got to work the electronic portion of the scoreboard at Fenway Park for an inning during a game…but I did it from the press level high in the grandstand behind home plate…so this experience at Coors Field was a first. Unbelievable. I still can’t get over it.

…and it got better.

Beverly, being a front office employee, had received a 2007 National League Championship ring and gave me all the time I needed to photograph it. Note her last name (Coleman) on the side:

scoreboard17_ring.jpg

I actually didn’t have much more time. The game was about to begin, and although I probably could’ve stayed longer, I really wanted to get back to left field and unleash my Waldo Essence.

David removed one of the boards so I could reach out and take a few more photos before I left. Check this out. You can see the shadow of my hand and camera:

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I made it back to the left field pavilion just before the first pitch, then pulled out my big glove and let Emily (Dan’s four-year-old daughter) try it on:

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I didn’t bring the big glove to help me snag extra balls. I just brought it to help me stand out even more on TV.

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I was so psyched to be sitting in the wide aisle in straight-away left field. Even though I didn’t have much room on my right…

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I had a ton of space on my left:

view_during_game_left.jpg

In the top of the second inning, Carlos Beltran led off with a single and Carlos Delgado followed with a deep drive to my left. I jumped out of my seat, raced through the aisle, and watched helplessly as the ball sailed 15 feet over my head.

So much for that.

There were two other home runs in the game, both of which were hit in the first few innings and went to right field, so I had to find other forms of entertainment:

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Final score: Mets 7, Rockies 2.

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STATS:

? 10 balls at this game

? 210 balls in 27 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 83 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

? 28 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls

? 18 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls

? 523 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 126 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 905 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,487 total balls

6/19/08 at Coors Field

Let me start with a big THANKS to everyone who took photographs of me yesterday. I really appreciate it…

Okay, so the Associated Press was done with me. They had followed me around for the past two days and felt they got everything they needed, so I was on my own. As a result, I decided to break out the big glove (which I had used only once before on 4/24/08 at Champion Stadium). I figured the Indians were sick of me and probably wouldn’t throw me any balls unless I had an edge–a really, really obnoxious edge.

As soon as I ran inside Coors for batting practice, two home runs clanged off the metal bleacher benches in left field, and I grabbed them both. Check out the gash on the first ball:

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Before the bleachers got crowded, I was able to race up the steps from the front row whenever a home run was sailing over my head:

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Unfortunately I didn’t snag the ball in the photo above (or any of these balls for that matter), but I did get one tossed to me by Kip Wells:

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It was still early so I kept the big glove in my backpack. There weren’t any kids behind me shouting for balls (yet) but I did have to compete with two Coors Field regulars: Jameson Sutton and Robert Harmon. Here we are…walking around in the front row:

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Jameson (wearing the dark blue T-shirt), as many of you know, is the fan who snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball, and Robert (in the background with the gray beard) was right there with him on that fateful September night. It was strange to be snagging baseballs with these guys after having written a long article about them only a few months earlier. For the bulk of last winter, I had been trying to track down the mystery man who snagged that ball. I was talking to fans (starting with Robert) and members of the Rockies’ front office and people at the Hall of Fame and presidents of auction houses. It was the ultimate scavenger hunt…and then…poof! Jameson appeared. And it was a HUGE story in the sports world. And I flew to Denver for the press conference. And now…here we all were, just hanging out and chasing BP balls like it was nothing. And by the way, about half an hour later, I saw Jameson reach over the wall and make a nice one-handed catch on a home run. The point is…when I was first interviewing him on the phone, he had claimed that he dropped the Bonds homer because he was bumped from the side, and although the video replay backed him up, I still thought he was just some lucky klutz who’d let a life-changing ball deflect off the heel of his glove. But now that I’ve seen him in action, I can say with confidence that Jameson is very athletic and perfectly capable of catching any ball that comes his way.

It was time for the big glove:

zack_big_glove_coors1.jpg

Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (who surrendered Bonds’ final home run) tossed me a ball just before the Rockies finished BP, but the Indians weren’t impressed. C.C. Sabathia smiled at me for about an eighth of a second and then tossed a ball to someone else:

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Two minutes later, Ben Francisco showed no love for the big glove by tossing a ball right over my head. Could I blame him? Not at all. Check out my competition:

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I happened to be wearing the big glove a bit later in left-center field (because I was trying unsuccessfully to get Grad
y Sizemore’s attention) when one of the Indians batters hit a deep fly ball in my direction. Rafael Perez chased the ball but couldn’t catch it and it bounced right to me:

zack_big_glove_coors3.jpg

Did I catch it? No. The fan next to me reached out and deflected it and caused the ball to drop back onto the field.

I sensed an opportunity in straight-away left field and took off:

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Yes! Francisco DID show me some glove-love after all:

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As for Rafael Betancourt?

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No love. And when BP ended soon after, I only had five balls. I was hoping for double digits, at least one on this trip, but it just wasn’t happening. At least Mr. Evil (arms folded in the photo above) got shut out for the second game in a row. He hasn’t gotten a single ball since he shoved me three days ago.

After BP, I signed a couple baseballs for two kids named Hunter and Mylee–the kids of a guy named Don (aka “Rock Pile Ranter” to those of you who read the comments) who’s wearing the floppy hat in the following photo:

zack_signing_autographs.jpg

I (jokingly) told the kids to hold onto the baseballs because they were worth a lot of money.

“Yeah,” said Jameson in front of the other ballhawks, “but my autograph is worth more than yours.”

We all laughed (even *I* had to laugh) and then posed for a photo:

zack_robert_dan_danny_jameson.jpg

The guy standing on the right is Danny Wood (who snagged Bonds’ 698th career homer), and the guy to HIS right is Dan Sauvageau (who’s caught 36 homers on a fly during games). I know I’ve mentioned these snagging accomplishments in previous entries, but I’m saying it again here in case you missed it or forgot. Between the five of us, we’ve probably snagged close to 10,000 balls.

I used the big glove to get Casey Blake to throw me a ball at the Indians’ dugout just before the first pitch, and guess what happened…the ball went right through! Apparently, one of the holes in the webbing is just a bit too big, but I got lucky and still ended up with the ball. It landed behind me in the empty second row and trickled out onto the staircase where several other fans were a bit too late in trying to snatch it.

The game was a disaster for me. I had a ticket for the front row in left-center field, and I decided to sit along the left field foul line instead:

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I figured it’d be dead in the outfield and that I’d have a bunch of chances to scoop up foul grounders.

This was my view during the game…

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…and I *did* catch a foul grounder (my 200th ball of the season) off Francisco’s bat in the top of the third inning…

Dippin’ Dots and photographing the clouds…

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…but I couldn’t even do THAT right. Robert, the real photographer, was also taking pics of the clouds, and snapped one that was just a little bit better:

clouds_by_robert.jpg

In case you’re wondering, Robert’s photo is not Photoshopped. There was no trick photography involved, and I know this because:

1) The silhouette of the stadium isn’t blurry, which means he wasn’t moving the camera, and

2) He came back to my hotel room directly after the game, swapped memory cards with me, and I downloaded all his photos directly onto my laptop. This was one of them.

Here’s another…of me photographing the ball with the gash:

zack_photographing_his_pathetic_balls.jpg

Yes, I like bottled water. And I recycle.

Anyway, the Rockies swept the Indians. Blah blah. As if it matters. I’m so pissed off. And I’m acting like a baby. I know this. You don’t need to point it out. Hopefully I can end this trip with some better luck tonight against the Mets. Reminder: LOOK FOR ME ON TV. Tape the game if you can. If I do happen to catch a home run, I’d love to own the footage. I might not be sitting exactly in my seat all night, but I’m definitely not going to stray too far. Look for the Waldo shirt and if you’re up for it, keep a running tally of all the times you spot me. Game time is 9:05 p.m. ET. Don’t miss it.

STATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 200 balls in 26 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

? 522 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 125 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 895 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 117 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

? 25 lifetime game balls outside NYC

? 5 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls (Click here for my yearly breakdown.)

? 3,477 total balls

6/18/08 at Coors Field

For the second day in a row, the Associated Press was waiting for me at the top of the stairs when Gate E opened at 5pm:

associated_press_waiting_for_me.jpg

The photographer (David Zalubowski…standing on the right) took pics as I bolted up the stairs, and the writer (Pat Graham…wearing the white striped shirt) sprinted after me as I raced through the concourse and headed to the front row in left field.

Within the first few minutes of batting practice, Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa tossed me a ball, and I used my glove trick to snag another off the warning track.

As soon as there was a break in the action, I labeled the balls and scribbled down a few notes on my rosters. David kept taking photos and Pat looked on:

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In the photo above, there are three important fans that need to be pointed out. The blond woman on the right is Deb Arguijo, the mother of Jameson Sutton who snagged Barry Bonds’ 762nd home run ball. The man to the left of Pat (in the dark cap and flowery shirt) is Danny Wood, the guy who caught Bonds’ 698th home run and robbed me of several BP balls two days earlier. And finally, the guy standing to the left of Danny (in the maroon cap) is Dan Sauvageau who once caught two home runs on a fly in one inning and turned down a request to be on “Good Morning America” because he was going on a golf trip the next day.

At around 5:25pm, when the Rockies finished BP and the Indians took the field, David moved a little farther back to get some shots from a different angle. See if you can spot him in the following photo:

photographer_further_back1.jpg

Give up? Here, let me zoom in a bit and show you:

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That’s right, he took photos of me from the upper deck. It felt great (and a bit scary, too, I suppose) to know that everything I did was potentially being captured from so far away.

The evil fan (who shoved me the previous day) showed up halfway through BP, and I made a point of standing right behind him…

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…and I successfully prevented him from snagging a single ball. Meanwhile, I made another attempt with my glove trick for a ball that was sitting halfway out on the warning track. I figured the ushers wouldn’t be too happy about it and might even stop me before I got it, but at the very least I wanted to give David another opportunity to take some photos. Well…sure enough, just after I flung my glove out onto the field, I heard someone shout, “Zack!!! Zack!!! Zack!!! Zack!!! Zack!!!” I thought it was another fan, warning me that an usher was coming over, but when I looked up I realized it was the head usher himself. Oy. I apologized profusely and thankfully didn’t get in trouble. He was super-nice. The fact is…there’s a rule throughout Coors Field (it’s even printed in the stadium A-to-Z guide) that ball-retrieving devices are not allowed, and he had to enforce it. The good news is that Indians pitcher Edward Mujica walked over and flipped me the ball. I looked up at David in the upper deck and gave a fist pump, and he gave one back. Success!

For some reason, there were a ton of lefties taking BP, and the balls just weren’t flying to left field. I only got one more ball during BP, and it was a line-drive homer that pretty much came right to me. Neither the evil fan on my left nor Danny on my right had a chance to interfere, and I made an easy one-handed catch at the wall.

After BP, David returned from the upper deck and took some photos of me holding up my four balls. As soon as he was done, I gave one of them away to a kid with a glove who had gotten shut out.

I took one last photo with Pat…

zack_and_pat_graham.jpg

…and we parted ways. He felt he had everything he needed and wanted to get a head start on writing the story.

I headed to the right field foul line, immersed myself in the mob of fans, came six inches from catching a ball tossed by Garrett Atkins, and got Ryan Spilborghs’ autograph:

ryan_spilborghs_autograph.jpg

With two soft-tossing lefties on the mound–Jeff Francis for the Rockies and Aaron Laffey for the Indians–I figured all the right-handed batters would be pounding foul grounders down the third base line, so this is where I sat:

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I didn’t snag anything, but it wasn’t because of the competition:

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No…the reason I got blanked during the game is that there were only TWO foul grounders that headed in my direction. The first was scooped up by the third base coach (of course) and the second hooked a bit to my right and bounced too far away from the wall.

I still had a great view and saw a good game. Laffey picked up his first major league hit. Willy Taveras stole his National League-leading 31st base. Jeff Baker, who had hit an inside-the-park home run the day before, went deep again (this time OUT of the park) and scored three runs for the Rockies who won, 4-2. Brian Fuentes fanned Kelly Shoppach to end the game and record his 12th save, and he tossed me the ball on his way in. Rockies first base coach Glenallen Hill (who once struck out 211 times in a minor league season) also tossed me a ball, and that was it.

coors_empty_seats_postgame.jpgSTATS:

? 6 balls at this game

? 193 balls in 25 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

? 521 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 124 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 888 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,470 total balls

In case you’re wondering, the AP story should be hitting the national wire on Friday, June 27 (but you have to understand that I have no control over that). Meanwhile, the Palm Beach Post is putting together a front-page article about Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run, and since I was five stinkin’ feet away from catching it, they interviewed me. That piece is scheduled to run on June 22. And finally, since I have a few minutes to spare before heading back to Coors Field, I’m going to comb through all the comments on my last few entries and answer everyone’s questions. If you left a comment but didn’t actually ask a question, I won’t respond, only because I don’t have time (and I apologize for that), but know that I always read every comment.

I’ll leave you with one more photo…of a fan who loves the Rockies AND Indians:

rockies_indians_fan.jpg

6/17/08 at Coors Field

zack_outside_coors_field.jpgThis was it…the big day…my first of two games with an Associated Press writer named Pat Graham.

Pat picked me up at my hotel at 2pm, took me out to lunch, and interviewed me extensively about my baseball collection. We had talked for an hour before I’d left for Denver, and by the end of the meal, he had more than 5,000 words of notes and quotes on his laptop.

We headed over to Gate E at 4:45pm. Pat had a press pass that gets him into just about any game in any sport in any stadium–but he didn’t have a ticket for this game at Coors, so he had to trek halfway around the stadium to the media entrance and then ball_number_3458_smudged_logo.jpg
rush back. He barely made it in time, and it’s a good thing because I snagged three home run balls within the first minute or two of batting practice. The first landed in the front row aisle all the way out in left-center field and rolled to an usher who was kind enough to step aside and let me grab it. The second (pictured here on the left) landed several rows deep in the bleachers near the foul line, and since the stands were still mostly empty, I had time to race up the steps from the aisle and cut through the section of metal benches. The third landed 15 rows deep and conveniently bounced right back to me.

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As soon as I stopped running all over the place for balls, the Associated Press photographer showed up, but before long, he got a cool action shot of me lunging for (and catching) a ball tossed by Indians pitcher Scott Elarton. Over the next 20 minutes or so, I got two more balls thrown to me (one of which I gave to a kid with a glove) by David Dellucci and Edward Mujica, and that was IT for batting practice. It was incredibly frustrating. I came within five feet of at least half a dozen balls, both home runs and ground-rule doubles. I don’t know what was going on. I just seemed to be consistently out of position or a step too slow. Was it just bad luck? Was I losing my edge? I really can’t explain it. Then, on several occasions, when I left my spot briefly to try to get a ball thrown to me somewhere else, the batter ended up hitting a home run RIGHT to where I’d been standing. It was just one of those days, and the worst moment of all occurred late in BP. First check out the following photo (taken by my friend Robert Harmon…the guy from my Bonds 762 article), and then I’ll explain what happened:

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Let me start by identifying everyone:

1) the AP photographer
2) an usher (note the tunnel that he’s standing in)
3) a guy named Dan who reads this blog and brought his copy of my book for me to sign
4) Zachary Ben Hample
5) Pat Graham
6) pure evil

If you ever find yourself in the front row at Coors Field, I want you to stand right next to this guy and make it your personal mission to prevent him from snagging any baseballs. If, on  the other hand, you’re there with kids, keep them far away from him. His name is Doug, and I think he’s a season ticket holder, but most importantly he’s a jerk and a maniac. Forget the fact that he had ignored me earlier when I complimented him for catching a ground-rule double, and listen to this…

There was a home run ball hit right at us that barely sailed over our heads. We jumped for it, or at least *I* jumped for it. I don’t even know if he’s athletic enough to get both feet off the ground at the same time, but anyway, after we missed the ball, there was a brief lull when drawing_of_tunnel.jpgwe were both trying to figure out where it went. Suddenly we realized that it had landed in the tunnel directly behind us, and we started running. I didn’t take a pic of this tunnel, so you’ll have to settle for this cheap drawing. Basically, where the tunnel goes underneath the stands, the left half is blocked by a concrete wall, and the right half has an open door. The ball had rolled through the door, and I was running straight for the opening, about to zoom past this guy Doug when he realized he was about to get beat so he elbowed me from the right side and shoved me into the wall on the left as he kept running…and he ended up getting the ball. I couldn’t retaliate with a shove of my own because my every move was being witnessed and captured by the Associated Press (and anyway, using physical force against other fans is not my style), so I had to settle for giving him a piece of my mind. I pretty much told him that what he did was uncalled for and that that kind of behavior belongs at Yankee Stadium.

His response: “Oh grow up!!”

But enough of that. I have better things to talk about, like the fact that Pat was so nice that it was almost unbelievable. I got the sense that he would’ve been interested in me even if he weren’t writing about it for his job. I’m not saying he still would’ve hung out and taken notes for eight and a half hours, but he was just a GOOD guy. Some people in the media have gone out of their way to make me look bad and poke fun at what I do, but I knew that wasn’t the case with Pat. And then there were the little things he did for me…like, for casey_blake.jpg
example…when he ran up to the press box after BP to drop something off, he returned with a cup of peanut M&M’s.

Before the game started, I snuck down to the Indians’ dugout and heard an usher tell another fan (who wasn’t as skilled in the art of sneaking) that the players don’t give out balls. Thirty seconds later, after the fan had walked back up the steps, Casey Blake tossed me my seventh ball of the day.

Generally speaking, a seven-ball day is great in the Bronx and lousy in Philadelphia. Overall, it’s about average for me–not enough to celebrate, but not bad enough that I can complain. That said, I was sooooooo frustrated to have snagged just seven balls by that point. If things had been a little better during BP, I could’ve easily had a dozen. I explained all of this to Pat during the game, and he never stopped taking notes. At one point, he pulled out a voice recorder and had me give a 90-second monologue about what I do and how I got into it. While I was halfway through, an Indians batter lost the grip on his bat and sent it flying in our direction. (It fell about 30 feet short.) I didn’t miss a beat and kept talking, but I must’ve been distracted because when I mentioned my ball total, I accidentally said “3473″ instead of “3463.” Pat told me not to worry about it. The way he saw it…I would have that many balls by the time the piece ran. He told me that the audio clip would soon be on the AP web site along with a slide show from BP. (The photographer had to leave before BP ended, but he’ll be back again today with Pat. It was so much fun just to BE photographed. He was crouching in the aisle during BP, telling me to pose this way and that, getting pics of my glove…and of course all the fans were staring at me and probably wondering, “Who the hell is THAT guy?”)

I never went to my assigned seat during the game. Instead I worked the dugouts and tried to get a third-out ball tossed up. Once again, things just weren’t going my way, and in case you want to hear me complain a bit more, let me just say that Brad Hawpe hit a home run view_from_29th_row.jpgEXACTLY to the spot where my seat had been the night before.

Despite the fact that the attendance was only 28,146, the lower level was nearly full. There weren’t many aisle seats behind the dugout, so I ended up having to sit in Row 34. That’s not exactly the best place to be if you want a third-out ball, but I got lucky as the sixth inning came to a close. Hawpe hit a towering pop up to shortstop Jhonny Peralta, so I had time to bolt down the steps while the ball was in mid-air. I ended up getting it tossed to me, and when I turned around, there was a little kid (with a glove!) standing right behind me. It just so happened that I already had another ball in my pocket because I’d been planning to give it away, so I asked the kid if he’d snagged a ball yet, and when he said “no,” I pulled out the practice ball and handed it over. He thanked me and raced up the steps to show his family. The usher patted me on the back and several fans gave me high-fives, and meanwhile I got to keep the game-used ball so it was a win-win situation. By the way, this was the furthest back I’d ever been sitting before a successful attempt for a third-out ball. I challenge you–I dare you–to sit in the 30th row (in the ballpark of your choice) and try to snag one.

More frustration? Late in the game, I tried to move to a great spot for foul balls behind home plate and was stopped by an usher. Less than an inning later, a batter hit a high foul pop-up that landed on the staircase ***RIGHT*** where I wanted to sit (there were even a couple empty seats there), and no one even bothered to stand up and try to catch it. AARRGHH!!! Pat could’ve used his press pass to get me into any section in the stadium, but he wanted to see how I maneuvered on my own.

I tried going for an umpire ball after the game and ran into some bad luck there as well. Tim Tschida, it turned out, only had two extra balls and gave them both to kids in the first few rows. He actually stopped and told me he only had two…and get this…he apologized and then thanked me for asking.

Yeah, great, you’re welcome. Anytime.

Final score: Rockies 10, Indians 2.

STATS:

scott_elarton_autograph.jpg? 1 autograph at this game (Scott Elarton)

? 8 balls at this game

? 187 balls in 24 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 520 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 123 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 882 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,464 total balls

6/16/08 at Coors Field

coors_field_from_afar.jpgThe day started with five hours of sleep and a delayed flight from New York City to Denver. My friend Dan Sauvageau (who has caught 36 home runs on a fly during games) picked me up at the airport and drove me to my hotel, and soon after I made the 15-minute walk to Coors Field.

I didn’t have time to wander and take pics outside the stadium. I pretty much had to head straight to the gate, and even though I arrived with half an hour to spare, there were already dozens of fans on line. Not only were the Rockies playing the Braves, but there was a big giveaway: replica championship trophies. By the time the gates opened, there were hundreds of fans, and it didn’t matter to me because I had a ticket to snagging heaven…

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The front row at Coors Field is THE place to be for batting practice, and I wouldn’t have been able to go there without a front-row ticket. I was psyched just thinking of the opportunities, but I knew I had to play it cool. I’d heard that the ushers weren’t too fond of ball-retrieving devices (like my glove trick), and I also wanted to be respectful of the regular ballhawks who hang out there. Dan was one of them, and Robert Harmon (the guy from my Bonds 762 story) was another. This was their den. I didn’t want to barge in and act like a jerk.

In the photo above, you can kind of see the number on the back of the nearest player’s jersey. It was number 23…Ryan Speier…the guy who’d given me his glove on 9/29/05 at Shea Stadium. After the “glove incident,” I didn’t see him for a couple years, so I was shocked when HE remembered ME. That was in Philadelphia. Now, here we were, a year later, in a different time zone. Would he still remember?

zack_talking_to_ryan_speier.jpgI walked over and said, “Hey, Ryan, it’s me, the glove guy.”

“Hey!” he said, then walked over and shook my hand. “What brings you out this way?”

“I’m gonna be written up by the Associated Press,” I told him. “There’s gonna be a writer following me around the ballpark starting tomorrow.”

“Sounds like you’re getting some good press,” he said.

“You know about my baseball collection, right?”

“Yeah, I’ve been to your web site,” he said.

“Oh yeah,” I said, “That’s right.”

Just then, the batter happened to hit a ball that rolled right to him, and I didn’t bother asking for it. I figured there’d be no way that he’d give it to me, but he scooped it up and said, “Here,” and flipped it my way.

“Wow, thanks!” I said and kept talking. “I want you to know that the glove you gave me is the absolute coolest item I’ve ever gotten at a game. It’s better than any of the balls, even the Barry Bonds home run that I caught, better than the bats, lineup cards, everything, so thanks again.”

ryan_speier_thumbs_up.jpg“You’re welcome,” he said. “I’m happy to hear that.”

And that was pretty much the end of the conversation.

My second ball of the day was a ground-rule double in left-center field. I could’ve actually caught a couple home runs by that point, but one of the regulars, an older guy named Danny (who caught Bonds’ 698th career homer), was hanging out nearby and I felt guilty about reaching in front of him, so I let him take a direct route to the edge of the wall, and I hung back in case the balls sailed over his head. On one of the homers, when the ball was at the top of its arc, I actually said to him, “Fine, you can have it,” and sure enough, he reached up right in front of my face at the last second and caught it. He appreciated my courtesy but also encouraged me to compete with him and the other guys for balls.

The Braves took the field, and I got two balls thrown to me within five minutes. The first came from Brandon Jones and the second (which I later gave to a little kid with a glove) came from Jeff Ridgway.

I finally got to use a little athleticism, and Robert was the unfortunate victim. One of the Braves batters hit a high fly ball that landed in the middle of the warning track in front of me. zack_front_row_batting_practice.jpgRobert had time to run over just before the ball hit the ground, and when it predictably bounced high above our heads, it was a straight-up battle of vertical leaps. There was no trash-talking. No shoving. No bitterness. I actually said “sorry” right after I gloved the ball and Robert gave me a high-five. Danny told me I got some “nice air.” Everyone was happy. The competition was friendly. It was the total opposite of Yankee Stadium.

Batting practice ended earlier than I expected. I figured it’d last until 6:25pm (or so) and I’d been planning to run over to the
Braves’ dugout to try to get a ball when all the players and coaches came off the field. So at about 6:10pm, as one of the rounds of BP was winding down–the last round, as it turned out–I found myself all the way out near the end of the left field pavilion, about as close as you can get to center field. There was a lefty in the cage (not sure who), and he ripped a deep line drive in my direction. There was no one else standing anywhere near me, so I shuffled over a few feet and got in line with it. The ball hit the edge of the grass just before the warning track and skipped up toward me. I leaned over the wall and made the catch, and when I looked up I saw all the Braves running off the field. It had been the very last swing of BP.

secret_concourse.jpgSoon after, Robert and Dan gave me a tour of the under-the-stands concourse that’s only accessible to players, employees, and fans with front-row tickets…and I have to say, it was pretty cool. At one point, we saw a Braves player (I think it was Manny Acosta) just sitting against the wall, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, talking on his cell phone.

Back in the seats, I met two fans who’d brought their copies of Watching Baseball Smarter for me to sign. The first was a guy named Don, who leaves comments on this blog as “Rock Pile Ranter,” and the second was a Braves fan (who reads this blog but doesn’t comment…yet) named Caroline. I also met several other fans who recognized me and just wanted to say hey. I was about 1,600 miles from New York City and felt like I was home.

Just before the game started, Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar began playing catch in very shallow left field, and when they took a break for the national anthem, I snapped a pic of the ball peeking through Johnson’s glove:

kelly_johnson_ball3456.jpg

Of course, I wouldn’t be showing you this pic if I didn’t actually GET the ball. As soon as the music finished, the guys continued playing catch, and since I was the only fan wearing a glove, Johnson had no choice but to toss it to me when he was done.

I worked the dugouts for third-out balls for the first few innings and didn’t get a thing. I was annoyed, obviously, every time Mark Teixiera jogged off the field and flipped his ball to grown men without gloves, but for the most part I was okay with it. My goal was to familiarize myself with the dugout seats so I’d be able to dominate the next day when the AP guy would be with me. Was it easy to sneak down? Which staircase was best? Were there enough empty seats on the ends of rows? I quickly answered my own questions and then headed to the upper deck to play with my new camera.

Here are two pics that I took from the last row directly behind home plate. When I got back to my hotel, I used Photoshop to combine them and make a panorama:

coors_upper_deck_panorama.jpg

No trip to the Coors Field upper deck is complete without visiting the purple row, which sits exactly one mile above sea level:

purple_row.jpg

The Rocky Mountains were hiding way off in the distance against the bright sky, so I darkened the following photo to make them stand out:

rocky_mountains.jpg

I headed downstairs in the fifth inning and photographed the mysterious area in front of the batter’s eye…

batters_eye.jpg

…and caught up with Dan and his four-year-old daughter Emily (who knows every Rockies player’s number) in the sixth inning…

emily_dan_during_game.jpg

…and finally made it to my actual seat in the seventh inning. This was the view:

view_from_actual_seat.jpg

I took off after the eighth inning and went to the Braves’ dugout, hoping to get a ball after the final out.

No luck.

Final score: Braves 7, Rockies 1. Chipper Jones went 2-for-4 with a walk to raise his batting average one point to .403.

johnson.jpgSTATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 179 balls in 23 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 519 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 122 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 874 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 9 guys named Johnson who have now thrown balls to me

? 3,456 total balls

Look for me on TV (part 2)

If you’ve been reading this blog since last summer, you might recall that I posted an entry about my seat location before heading to the 2007 Home Run Derby and All-Star Game.

Well, I’m about to fly to Denver for five games at Coors Field, starting on Monday, June 16th, and since I’m going to have seats in very visible locations, I thought I’d give a heads-up so you can look for me on TV.

Here’s a satellite image from Google Earth that shows where my seats will be throughout the week:

coors_google.jpg

The “Friday night” location is the most important because the Mets will be in town and the game will be televised in New York City (my hometown).

Here’s another image to show you where I’ll be sitting during the Mets game on Friday, June 20th:

coors_left_field_from_afar.jpg

In the photo above, you can see that there’s a blue sign on the outfield wall. On Friday, June 20, I’ll be sitting just above the far right edge of that sign.

That sign says “Frontier Airlines,” and here’s a close-up:

coors_frontier_sign.jpg

See the guy in the black hoodie? That’s where I’ll be. But I won’t be wearing anything black and generic. Oh no. Not me. Remember my “Where’s Waldo” shirt? That’s right. Even though wheres_waldo_shirt.jpg
a certain someone (who shall remain nameless) hates this shirt, I’ll be taking it with me and breaking it out at the Mets game. I know it’s obnoxious. I know it’s not the best fashion choice. But it’s great for being spotted in a crowd, and if you don’t believe me, here’s proof.

I’m not sure if I’ll end up sitting in my seats during any other games. I’m gonna be with an Associated Press writer for at least a few days, and he wants to see me in action. Sitting in one spot (400-plus feet from home plate) for three hours and hoping for a home run ball doesn’t exactly qualify as “action,” so I’ll probably be running all over the place. But again, and for the final time, it’s all about June 20th. Put it on your calendar. The first pitch is scheduled for 9:05pm ET.

By the way, my seats for all five games are in the front row just behind the outfield wall–and this isn’t your typical front row. It’s really more of an aisle, one that happens to be nice and wide, and fans can’t even go there during batting practice without a ticket for that row.

How many balls do I expect to snag in Denver? I have no idea, but I’d like to get at least 28 in five days. That would give me 200 for the season. I’ve never reached that milestone before the All-Star Break…

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