July 2008

7/29/08 at Yankee Stadium

My snagging nearly got off to an early start. Check out this pic I took in the subway on my way to Yankee Stadium:

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Here’s a close-up:

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This may surprise you, but I did NOT make an attempt to snag this ball. It’s probably still there. Go for it. Grand Concourse at 149th Street. No. 4 train platform. Let me know how it goes. Watch out for the rats.

I had to deal with a few human rats in the bleachers, but that goes without saying. Late in batting practice, after I’d changed into my Orioles cap and bright orange Orioles T-shirt, a 40-something-year-old man (who was so fat that he had to leave his Yankees jersey unbuttoned) told me, “You’ll be lucky to make it out of here alive.” He wasn’t giving me a friendly warning. He was issuing a threat, and several other fans joined him in harassing me. I resisted the urge to tell the guy he’d be lucky not to die of a heart attack before the seventh inning stretch.

The rest of BP was great. The stadium had opened at 5pm, and by the time the clock said 5:07, I’d already snagged three balls. The first was tossed by Jose Veras on that little platform in front of the bleachers. (Security was nowhere in sight for the first couple minutes.) The second was a home run by Derek Jeter that landed on the batter’s eye and somehow rolled close enough to the side fence that I was able to reach over from the seats and grab it. The third was a home run by Bobby Abreu that I caught on a fly. I was standing in the aisle, and the ball came RIGHT to me. I didn’t move an inch. All I had to do was reach up two feet over my head. (Of course I first had to judge the distance that the ball would travel and then make a split-second decision whether to stay put or run back.)

bleachers_07_29_08.jpgThe bleachers kept getting more and more crowded, but I wasn’t done. I kept positioning myself differently for every hitter, moving toward right-center for some guys and staying deep and toward the foul pole for others…like Jason Giambi who launched a deep fly ball behind me and to the left. Most of the nearby fans didn’t move until the ball had landed, at which point I was in full stride, and I grabbed it as it quickly started rolling down the steps. FUN!!!

A few minutes later, I found myself standing in the aisle at the front of the section when Wilson Betemit ripped a deep drive in my direction. I quickly determined that the ball was going to travel too far, so I spun around and put my head down and focused on NOT tripping as I bolted up half a dozen steps next to the tunnel. Two seconds later, when I figured the ball was about to land, I turned back toward the field and looked up and got temporarily blinded by the sun but then spotted the ball zooming toward me. It was still a little too high, and it was heading for the middle of the tunnel to my left, so I took one more step and reached as high as I could and lunged over the slanted railing to my glove side at the very last second and made the catch in the tip of my glove over the tunnel. Ohmygod, it was beautiful–easily one of my all-time Top Ten catches–and because I wasn’t yet decked out in Orioles gear, the whole section erupted with cheers and applause.

I used my glove trick to snag two more balls from the gap–one before the Yankees left the field and the other during the Orioles’ portion of BP–and would’ve been able to use it twice more if my friend Greg (aka “gregorybarasch”) hadn’t been there. Of course HE would’ve been able to use his cup trick twice more if not for me, and he also would’ve gotten the Veras ball. We just happened to end up in the same section at the same game so we made the best of it and agreed to share the balls that dropped into the gap.

We sat together during the game and didn’t snag any other balls. Nothing came close. Jeter doubled off the wall about 40 feet to our left, and A-Rod hit a home run that Veras retrieved in the bullpen, about 80 feet to the right. Bleh. The biggest highlight of the game was seeing a fan reach too far for a foul ball, tumble of out of his luxury suite, and briefly get stuck in the netting just below. Final score: Orioles 7, Yankees 6.

After the game, as fans were filing out of the stadium, I took a baseball out of my bag and waited in the concourse. Thirty seconds later, I spotted a deserving recipient: a little kid, not more than seven years old, who was with his dad and still wearing his glove, which appeared to be empty. “Did you catch anything today?” I asked, and when he said no, I handed him the ball. You could say he was pretty excited.

With just a few minutes to spare before security would be kicking everyone out, Greg went to the left field bleachers to look for ticket stubs, and I photographed my six remaining balls:

the_six_balls_i_kept_07_29_08.jpg

STATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 270 balls in 38 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.

? 534 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,547 total balls

My next game?
Tomorrow night.
Watch With Zack.
Fenway Park.

7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium

It was a day of new and old friends.

THE NEW: A 28-year-old Californian named Matt who’d been reading this blog (and keeping in touch with me) for months. He was finally in New York City and took me out to lunch before we headed to Yankee Stadium.

THE OLD: A 14-year-old Mets fan named Clif (aka “goislanders4″ if you read the comments) who was a Watch With Zack client on 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium.

This was another Watch With Zack game–for Clif only– although I still felt responsible for helping both of these guys snag a Yankee Stadium commemorative ball. Matt didn’t have many chances on the west coast, and he was going to be flying back there the next day at 6am. Clif, meanwhile, had been trying unsuccessfully to snag one of these balls all season–or at least at the few Yankee games that he was able to convince his mom to take him to. Clif had wanted one of these balls SO badly and for such a long time that he told me he felt like he almost didn’t want one anymore.

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Matt (on the left in this photo) and Clif (being goofy in the middle) and I hung out for 45 minutes outside Gate 6 and mapped out our strategies. Unfortunately for Clif, I didn’t know I’d be going to this game with him until about a week or two before the fact, whereas Matt had his trip planned for months. Therefore, I had told Matt well in advance that the place to be during BP was the corner spot in the right field seats, all the way out near the bleachers…so he rightfully claimed that spot. Still, I figured the right field upper deck would be pretty good during the first 10 or 20 minutes of BP, and I offered to give that area to Clif. He turned it down. He felt he had a better chance downstairs by roaming for home run balls, trying to get players to toss him balls, and using his “cup trick” to pluck balls off the warning track.

It made sense to split up so we wouldn’t all be directly competing with one another. Clif’s mom Gail had no problem with him being on his own for BP. We all had each other’s cell phone numbers, and I told Clif that if there was lots of action in the upper deck and I got a ball early on, I’d call him and tell him to run upstairs…and then I’d either get out of his way or stay up there and help him snag one. I was willing to simply GIVE Clif one of these commemorative balls, but to his credit, he didn’t want one unless he snagged it on his own.

The stadium opened at 5pm, and I raced up to the upper deck and had it all to myself for the first five minutes:

upper_deck_empty.jpg

Of course, there was NO action during this time. In fact, there was hardly any action up there during the forty minutes that the Yankees were on the field. By the time the upper deck was starting to get crowded, one ball was hit into the seats near the foul pole…and one ball was tossed up by Joba Chamberlain to a man with a cup of beer instead of a glove. It was a total disaster, but I did see Matt get a commemorative ball tossed to him by David Robertson.

Matt had told me outside the stadium that he really only needed one ball, and that if he snagged one, he’d hold onto the corner spot for me and let me slip in. After the Yankees finished their portion of BP, I ran downstairs and took him up on his generous offer. I would’ve given the corner spot to Clif, but I assumed the Orioles weren’t using commemorative balls, and anyway, he wanted me to catch at least one ball so my streak wouldn’t end.

I was in total panic mode by this point. It was coming up on 6pm, and the right field seats were so crowded that I literally could not move:

batting_practice_crowded_07_28_08.jpg

Luckily, I didn’t have to move once I had the corner spot, and thanks to my bright orange Orioles T-shirt (with “RIPKEN 8″ on the back), I was able to convince Jamie Walker to toss me a ball. His throw sailed high, so I timed it and jumped as high as I could and lifted myself up even higher by pushing off the side wall with my right arm…and I made the catch. PHEW!!! It was a regular ball, and I offered it to Clif, just because that seemed like the right thing to do, but he wouldn’t take it. And that was IT for batting practice. One lousy ball between the two of us. Can you believe it?

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Matt and I parted ways at that point, and Clif asked me if this was my worst game ever at Yankee Stadium. No. But it was close…at least at that point.

During the game, Gail stayed in her assigned seat in the Loge level with her friend Michael while Clif and I moved all over the place. We spent the top of the first inning going for foul balls on the 3rd base side. Since there was only one aisle seat, we alternated batters. I sat on the end for Brian Roberts (a switch-hitter batting lefty against Mike Mussina), then traded seats with Clif when (the next lefty) Nick Markakis came up.

No action.

We moved out to straight-away left field in the bottom of the first to prepare for A-Rod. Given the fact that this was the Yankees’ 31st sellout of the season, there weren’t exactly a whole lot of empty seats from which to choose. The best option was ALL the way out near Monument Park (at the very edge of the grandstand) in the first row behind the aisle. Basically, there was a side wall at the edge of the section, then two seats, then a staircase. As the Yankees went down one-two-three, Clif and I slipped into these two seats and security didn’t say a word. A-Rod was batting cleanup so we were going to have to wait half an inning for his turn. Clif sat on the inside (against the side wall) and left the end seat for me.

“I guess I should put on my glove,” I said to Clif as the right-handed Melvin Mora stepped into the box. I didn’t expect anything to come my way, and I almost didn’t care about catching any home run other than A-Rod’s, but it seemed silly not to be prepared…for whatever.

I told Clif that if someone hit a home run to left field, I’d be out of the seat in no time, and that he’d be able to follow close behind, and that if the ball weren’t caught on a fly, there would likely be a scramble for it, at which point there’d be just as good a chance for him to get it.

Mora fell behind in the count but then ripped a 1-2 pitch up the middle for a single. This brought up Luke Scott, a lefty, who pulled an 0-1 pitch through the right side to put runners on the corners.

Kevin Millar stepped up to the plate, and I asked Clif if he wanted to switch seats with me. He didn’t. And Millar crushed the first pitch to left field. And I was out of my seat in less than a second. As the ball left the bat, I had no idea where it was heading. Fly ball to the warning track? Home run into the seats? I wasn’t sure, but it was obviously well hit, and there was only one direction to run: to the right. The ball reached its apex, and I kept racing through the aisle, and as it began its descent I knew right where it was going to land. It WAS going to be a home run, and I had a chance to get there. I kept running. The ball was coming down. There was a tall guy and a group of fans blocking me at the front of the aisle. I wasn’t going to be able to make a backhanded catch…so I intentionally ran past the spot millar_homer.jpg
where I predicted the ball would land, then cut sharply back to my left at the very last second and jumped and lunged for the ball as half a dozen hands reached up in front of my face. BAM!!! I felt something hit my glove, and for a split second I wasn’t sure if it was someone else’s hand or the ball itself. I opened my glove. It was the ball.

I didn’t hold up the ball or make a big production of it; the last time I’d caught a home run in that section, security kicked me out because I didn’t belong there. After catching Millar’s blast, I just wanted to get back to my seat and apologize to Clif. HE was the one who needed a commemorative ball…not me. And yet he was so excited because he’d gotten to witness my catch. (He’s my new official good luck charm.) He said I disappeared from sight and that he spotted a glove go up at the last second and he knew it had to be me.

The security supervisor walked over–the same guy who’d kicked me out of this section once before.

“Are you the one who caught that ball?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I had to admit. (Leave it to Yankee Stadium to ruin what should be a joyous moment.)

“Wait right here,” he said as he focused his attention on his walkie-talkie. At that point, I turned to Clif and told him to get out of there. “Go find your mom.” I said. “I think I’m about to be ejected from the stadium. There’s no reason why you should stick around and get in trouble with me. Go! Hurry! I’ll call you in a little bit. Don’t worry. We’ll work it out…”

With that, Clif started walking away, and the supervisor turned back to me. He kept one ear to his walkie-talkie and said, “I gotta see if they want the ball.”

“Cool!” I said. “You mean there’s a chance that Millar wants it for himself?

“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” he said.

“Clif!!!” I shouted, barely getting his attention. He looked up from a distance, and I waved him over. When he walked back, I told him that I wasn’t in trouble and I explained the situation.

As it turned out, no one wanted the ball…except me. After this fact was established, it appeared that I was free to go, and I was just getting ready to head back to the seats when a vendor I know walked over and introduced me to the supervisor.

“Do you guys know each other?” he asked.

“We’ve crossed paths a couple times,” I said, aware that nothing good was possibly going to happen as a result of this interaction.

“This is my good buddy Zack,” said the vendor. “He catches lots of balls. He’s the king of the foul ball.”

“Oh yeah?” said the supervisor. “By the way,” he continued without hesitating, “where are you supposed to be sitting?”

I was officially busted. He told me to leave. I asked if I could come back just for A-Rod’s at-bats. He said no. And that was that.

Clif and I briefly visited Gail and Michael in the Loge, then got some Dippin’ Dots (yum!) and headed back down to the short porch in right field. There were NO empty seats out there, and I was hoping to catch a second home run, so I was forced to stand in the tunnel. This was the view:

right_field_tunnel_07_28_08.jpg

By the middle innings, the Yankees were getting blown out. The Orioles had scored four runs in the second, then added two more in the fifth and five in the sixth to take an 11-0 lead.

Perfect.

This meant people would be leaving early, so I took Clif to the third base side as the bottom of the sixth ended and got a fan to give me two ticket stubs for the seats behind the outfield end of the Orioles’ dugout. I knew Clif’s best chance to snag a commemorative ball would be to get a game-used, third-out ball tossed up by the Orioles. I lent him my Orioles shirt, watched as he used the tickets to get down to the fancy seats with his mom, and called him as I headed back to right field to give SPECIFIC directions on how to maneuver for third-out balls. The most important thing to do, I explained, was to anticipate the third out being recorded while the ball was still in play and bolt down to the front row during that small window of time. We discussed several other strategies as well during the top of the seventh. He was all set.

In the bottom of the seventh, I found an empty seat–a folding chair, actually–in the aisle directly behind the right field wall. Robinson Cano was called out on strikes and Xavier Nady followed with his first homer as a Yankee, a blast into no man’s land beyond the left-center field wall. Then there was a pitching change. Then Melky Cabrera reached on a throwing error by Brian Roberts. Then Jose Molina doubled. And then Johnny Damon hit a three-run homer 80 feet to my left that I had no chance of catching. But several pitches before this home run, nick_markakis.jpgDamon ripped a line drive that kicked off the base of the wall in foul territory and rolled all the way out to Markakis in right field. To my surprise, I was the ONLY fan who bothered to ask for it, and Markakis flipped it up right to me. Sweet! Two game-used commemorative balls at a sold out Yankee Stadium! But I still felt bad because once again, Clif needed one of these balls…not me.

After Damon’s home run, there was another pitching change, followed by a Wilson Betemit single, a Richie Sexson pop-up (shocker), and an inning-ending strikeout by A-Rod. I knew Clif was screwed. He was behind the outfield end of the dugout. Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez was near the home plate end of the dugout. And that’s where the ball ended up being tossed.

I called Clif again and discussed his remaining options. I told him he’d have another chance for a third-out ball after the eighth inning, and that he might be able to get a commemorative ball after the game. The Orioles were winning by such a wide margin that it wasn’t going to be a save situation. In other words, there was one less reason why an Orioles pitcher would want to hold onto the game-ending ball.

In the top of the eighth, Aubrey Huff crushed a home run off the facade of the upper deck. The ball plopped back down onto the field, and I almost got it tossed to me by Justin Christian, who had replaced Bobby Abreu the previous inning. (Maybe if I’d called him “Justin” instead of “Jason,” he would’ve tossed it to me. Oops.)

The bottom of the eighth seemed to last forever. Christian grounded out, Cano doubled, Nady struck out, Cabrera singled, Molina walked, and the Orioles made another pitching change. With two outs, Damon took the first pitch for a ball and then found himself in a hole after taking two quick called strikes. NOT GOOD. If he struck out, Clif would once again be screwed. I was praying that Damon would at least make contact. A ground ball would’ve been great. Millar always tosses third-out balls into the crowd. But a fly ball would’ve been even better…but not if it were hit too deep or near the foul lines. Then the outfielder might simply toss it to the fans where he caught it. What we needed was a…YES!!! A fly ball to center field. Yes, yes, yes. Center fielder Adam Jones made the easy catch and started jogging in with the ball. Then he tossed it to Markakis who jogged slowly bac
k to the dugout. From my spot all the way out in right field, I could see Clif wearing my bright orange shirt, and I saw Markakis heading toward his end of the dugout. Markakis was looking down as he approached. Not good! He needed to look up and see the shirt. LOOK UP, FOOL!!! At the very last second, he did indeed raise his head and flip the ball toward Clif. I saw a bunch of people reach in front of him, and I had no idea if he caught it. I immediately called him…but his voice-mail picked up. Crap! He was obviously calling me at the same time. I hung up and waited…waited…waited, and then the phone rang. Clif had the ball. I told him he was awesome. He told me he loved me. And we made a plan to meet after the game. (Final score: Orioles 13, Yankees 4.) Here we are, each holding our game-used, commemorative balls from Markakis:

zack_clif_commemorative_balls.jpg

Not bad.

And guess what? Not only had Gail managed to snag a ball (not commemorative) during the Orioles’ portion of BP, but Clif had gotten a second ball (not commemorative) from a security guard after the final out.

When I got home, I turned on “Baseball Tonight” but because I’m too dumb to figure out how to tape anything, I had to film the highlight of Millar’s homer with my digital camera. I’d share the video here, but it’s really low quality, and you can’t see much anyway. I mean, there’d be no way to tell that it was me who caught that ball, so you’ll have to settle for a few basic screen shots.

HERE’S THE PITCH:

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MUSSINA’S WHIPLASH:

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ME…JUST GETTING OUT OF MY SEAT:

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ME AGAIN…IN THE THICK OF IT:

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Again…I know it’s impossible to tell that it was me. I shared these screen shots so you can see how far I had to move to make the catch. I might share the video at some point (in which you can see a little white blur darting through the aisle), but right now I’m waiting to see if I can get a higher quality clip from someone else. Did anyone tape this game?!

I’ll be in the right field bleachers tonight…

STATS:

? 3 balls at this game

? 263 balls in 37 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.

? 533 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 119 lifetime game balls (not including game-used balls that get tossed into the seats)

? 100 game balls since my streak began

? 5 game home run balls

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

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

? 3,540 total balls

7/22/08 at Yankee Stadium

By the time Yankee Stadium opened at 5pm, the line outside the bleachers was VERY long:

line_outside_bleachers_07_22_08.jpg

That’s right…the bleachers. I’d been there for the first time in my life just nine days earlier at the Futures Game, then went back the next day for the Home Run Derby. This was my first regular-season game in the bleachers.

I was the first fan to enter the stadium, and it paid off. See the guy wearing No. 30 in the photo below?

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That’s David Robertson, a 23-year-old reliever who’s been pitching extremely well since first_ball_of_day_07_22_08.jpggetting called up last month from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. If you don’t know about him, you should–and now you do. Anyway, I’d never even been able to get his attention from the seats near the foul pole, but on this day, because I was right behind him and had the bleachers to myself for five whole seconds, I convinced him to toss me a ball that had sailed over his head and rolled onto the warning track…and yes, it was a Yankee Stadium commemorative ball. For the last few weeks, I haven’t seen a single ball being used by the Yankees that has NOT had this commemorative logo.

I managed to get one more ball before the Yankees
finished their portion of BP at 5:40pm. It was a home run that landed
in the gap between the bleachers and the outfield wall, and I used my glove trick
to fish it out. The pic below shows this gap, and although it’s kinda
hard to see from this angle, there’s a net hanging from a steel cable
in the middle:

gap_yankee_stadium_bleachers.jpg

The bleachers had remained pretty empty while the Yankees were on the field. Here’s what the section looked like from the last row…

bleachers_during_batting_practice1.jpg

…and this was the view from the aisle down in front:

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Nice, huh? You’d think I would’ve caught about 19 home runs out there, but there was a disappointing lack of longballs. I didn’t count the ones that reached the bleachers, but I’d say there were no more than half a dozen…in eighty minutes. It was lame, and by the time the Twins took the field, the section was packed:

bleachers_during_batting_practice3a.jpg

Did you notice the kamikaze pigeon? That was pretty much the only thing that flew anywhere near me during BP, but it almost didn’t matter. Not only did I use my glove trick to pluck three more balls from the gap (the last of which I handed to a nearby kid), but I had a secret weapon:

zack_twins_gear.jpg

You know how I own baseball caps of all 30 major league teams? Well, I’ve started buying T-shirts, and this one with “Twins” across the chest helped convince both Carlos Gomez and Dennys Reyes to toss balls my way. Ooh yeah.

Being trapped 400 feet from home plate didn’t leave many options once BP ended, so I ducked back into the concourse and headed around to the LF bleachers. At least there were bullpens over there, and as soon as I reemerged in the seats, I saw a group of kids shouting for a ball that was sitting somewhere down below. I squeezed to the front and peeked over the railing, and sure enough, there WAS a ball sitting in the flowerbed at the base of the stands. Just as I started lowering my glove, two things happened:

1) A groundskeeper hurried over and grabbed the ball and tossed it to a woman who needed three tries to catch it.

2) Half the kids recognized me (from various interviews and articles) as “that guy who collects balls.” They were all really cool. We talked for five minutes. A few of them had caught balls earlier in the day. It was a snagging love-fest, and we all posed for a group photo:

zack_group_photo.jpg

The people sitting in the front row were so annoyed by the fact that we were blocking their view of…nothing…that they wouldn’t move. That’s why you can see the backs of their heads on the lower right.

On my way back to the RF bleachers, I took a photo of something that needs to be shared. Remember during the Home Run Derby when two fans ran out onto the batter’s eye to chase one of Josh Hamilton’s bombs? Remember when one of these fans eluded the cops and raced down what probably appeared to be an empty tunnel? Well, in case ESPN didn’t provide a good view, here’s what it looks like from the other end:

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D’oh!

For the first nine outs of the game, I sat in the front row in right-center with the following view to my left:

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Wow. Too bad there weren’t any home runs that landed in the bleachers, and too bad I had to move when the rightful/gloveless owner of that seat showed up. I only saw a handful of fans with gloves the whole night. Why? Because the so-called “bleacher creatures” are too busy being obnoxious to do anything else, such as catch a baseball or actually think about what’s taking place on the field; when Dennys Reyes made two consecutive pick-off throws in the bottom of the sixth, the fans’ outrage and obscenity was so severe that you’d have thought he took a dump in Monument Park.

When Denard Span took his position in right field for the Twins, one fan screamed, “HEY, SPAN, YOU SUCK!!! YOU EVEN SUCK ON THE VIDEO GAME!!! YOU’RE NOT EVEN ON THE VIDEO GAME!!! YOUR MOTHER’S A YANKEE FAN!!! Then another fan yelled, “Drink lotsa water, Spanny! Yer gonna be running around all night!”

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Later, when the peanut vendor made an appearance and shouted, “Hey, peanuts
here!” another fan yelled, “Don’t crush the nuts! Hey! Sack of nuts
here! Big nuts here! Are they salted or unsalted? He’s got salty nuts!”

When a fan walked by with an “I love NY” T-shirt, another fan shouted, “New York hates you!”

It was like this all night.

At one point, the creatures spotted a fan who was both a) on the phone and b) wearing a button-down shirt and tie. Good looking guy. Young. Not more than twenty-five years old. Casual business attire. No penny loafers or tweed blazer or anything too conservative. Just a nice, relaxed, dressy look. Well, about a hundred fans started chanting in unison: “LOSE THE TIE, LOSE THE TIE…” which was followed by, “OFF THE PHONE, OFF THE PHONE…” When the young man failed to end his call, the fans chanted, “BUY BUY BUY, SELL SELL SELL, BUY BUY BUY, SELL SELL SELL…” Then one of the fans hollered, “At least loosen it!!!” Finally the guy loosened his tie, at which point the whole section chanted, “YOU STILL SUCK, YOU STILL SUCK…”

It was funny at first but got old really fast. Can you imagine sitting through all that trash-talking day after day? One fan had the right idea and listened to his walkman throughout the game. (I’m surprised he didn’t get made fun of for simply having a walkman.)

And oh my God, you should’ve heard what the creatures shouted at the few fans who were dumb enough to wear Mets gear. I can’t even repeat it on this blog.

Overall, it was a fun experience, and I hope to make it back out to the bleachers before the season is through.

Final score: Yankees 8, Twins 2.

the_six_balls_i_kept_07_22_08.jpgSTATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 260 balls in 36 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 532 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,537 total balls

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the Twins were using a combination of commemorative balls and regular balls. I wish I didn’t have to say this…BUT…please don’t email me and ask for a commemorative ball. I can’t count the number of requests I’ve gotten. It’s really getting out of hand. Sorry if this makes me seem greedy, but I truly love owning every single one of these special balls. I’m not interested in selling any, I’m not going to trade any, and I have no plans to give any of them away. Ever. Not even to my own future kids. I will take these balls to the grave and be buried with them. (Actually, I plan to be cremated, but you get the point.) If you’ve been reading this blog all season, then you know that I’ve started giving away balls at just about every game I attend, but those are regular balls, and I give them out AT the stadium (to kids with gloves who are trying hard to snag on their own). Once I take a ball home, that’s it. It’s not going anywhere. Especially commemorative balls. That’s just how it is. Some collectors keep every single ball. Others give most of their balls away. I fall somewhere in the middle, and I hope that’s okay.

7/21/08 at Camden Yards

I went to this game with one of my newer/favorite friends–a guy named Leon Feingold who happens to be a former minor league pitcher, a current member of Mensa, and a part-time competitive eater. He’s also pretty tall. Keep in mind that I’m 5-foot-11…

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Although Leon hasn’t pitched in the minors since 1995, he’s still a dues-paying member of the APBPA (Association of Professional Ball Players of America) and we got special treatment as a result. Camden Yards is one of those stadiums that opens in sections; everyone is allowed to enter two hours early, but for the first half-hour, the left field seats are open only to season ticket holders. Leon used his membership card (and did a whole lot of smooth talking) to get us into left field as soon as the gates opened.

For the first five minutes, there was officially NO competition. Check it out:

left_field_empty1.jpg

I moved to the front row in straight-away left field and promptly caught a home run on a fly
(as Randor Bierd looked on). This ball has one of the largest and deepest scuff marks I’ve scuffed_sweet_spot.jpgever seen. I’m guessing it was hit into the seats before the stadium opened and landed on a concrete step…then either bounced back onto the field or was tossed back by an usher. (I wrote the “3516″ because this was the 3,516th ball of my collection.)

Over the next 20 minutes, about a dozen other fans made it out to the left field seats, and I snagged five more home run balls:

The first one landed in left-center and bounced up against the chain-link fence that separates the seats from the bullpen. The second one hit my glove and landed in an empty row behind me as I jumped and lunged for it. The third landed near me and several other fans, and I won the scramble as it rattled around in the seats. The fourth sailed 15 feet over my head and took an incredibly lucky bounce right back to me. The fifth landed in the seats, and I out-scrambled Leon and several other fans.

Then I got another ball–my seventh of the day–tossed to me by Dennis Sarfate (pronounced sar-FAH-tay).

Don’t feel bad for Leon. He brought his glove and snagged two home run balls during BP. He caught the first one on a fly and got a lucky bounce on the second. And don’t feel bad for the other fans. There were PLENTY of balls to go around, and I ended up giving away one of mine to a father and his young son who somehow managed to come up empty. It was ball-snagging heaven.

roy_halladay_and_others.jpgAfter the Blue Jays took the field at 5:30pm, I got my eighth ball tossed by Roy Halladay, then used my glove trick to snag No. 9 off the rubberized warning track, and broke double digits thanks to a little charity from Scott Downs.

If you take a closer look at the photo on the left, you’ll see a “Southwest Airlines” sign on the outfield wall, just above the head of the guy (Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg) wearing No. 38. That wall is set several feet out from the base of the stands, so I sacrificed five minutes in left field and ran out there, just in case a ball had dropped into the gap when I wasn’t looking. I had to be slick about it, though. The day before Manny Ramirez hit his 500th career home run, a crazy usher had threatened to eject me for using the glove trick in that section, so I couldn’t just charge down the steps to the front row and lean over the railing. Therefore, I took my time…walked slowly…kept my glove hidden in my backpack…pulled out my camera…pretended to take some pics…casually made it down to the front…peeked over…moved 20 feet to my left…and took a pic for real. This is what I saw:

ball_in_gap_07_21_08.jpg

Ball No. 11, baby!

Unfortunately, I didn’t get anything else during BP, and I got ignored/dissed by Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston for a ball that almost anyone else in the world would’ve tossed to me. But why dwell donovan_santos.jpgon the negative? Shortly before game time, I got my 12th ball of the day from a guy whom I correctly assumed was Donovan Santos, the Blue Jays “Strength and Conditioning Coach” (pictured on the right in the black shirt).

I spent most of the game with Leon, talking ab
out pitching and going for foul balls on the first base side of home plate. Nothing came close, and that’s probably a good thing because he probably leon_zack_inside.jpg
would’ve caught it. The day before the game, I asked him if he was planning to bring his glove and go for balls, and when he said yes, I asked what would happen if we were sitting together during the game and a foul ball came our way. I wanted to know if he planned to compete with me, and I got my answer: “You better eat your Wheaties tomorrow morning.”

two_game_used_balls.jpgI played the dugouts for third-out balls and got one from each side. Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas flipped me the ball after Luke Scott took a called third strike to end the second inning…and Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar flipped me HIS ball after Matt Stairs grounded out to Brian Roberts to end the top of the seventh.

I jogged out to the right field standing-room-only section a few times over the course of the game, and and it’s a shame nothing came my way because that whole area of the stadium was a ghost town:

flag_court_empty.jpg

Still, I have two noteworthy things to report from my brief time in right field:

1) There was a fan wearing a T-shirt that said, “I AM KEEPING THE BALL.” Sadly, I didn’t get a photo, but I can tell you that it was a yellow shirt with the words stacked vertically. Very eye-catching. The back of the shirt said, “SEE FRONT OF SHIRT.”

2) At the foul-pole end of the standing-room-only section (you can barely see this in the photo above), the Orioles had one of several “ice stations” set up:

ice_station.jpg

Given the fact that it was 97 degrees and stiflingly humid at game time…how awesome is that? I’ve been to over 700 games in 44 different major league stadiums, and I’ve never seen this before. Can you imagine an ice station at Yankee Stadium? HA!!! You’d have to pay 25 cents per cube (no discount for fragments) and store the ice in a clear plastic bag because, as everyone knows, a styrofoam cup can be used as a weapon.

The Orioles won, 8-3. Jesse Litsch, who’s never been nice to me, took the loss. Radhames Liz, who has a phenomenal name, earned the win. Brian Roberts hit his major league-leading 37th double. Yay.

After the game, Leon got a ball (thanks to my expert guidance) from home plate ump Tim Tschida, and I got a ball from Alberto Castillo (not this Alberto Castillo, but THIS one, although I *have* received balls from both) at the Orioles’ dugout.

the_balls_i_kept_07_21_08.jpgSTATS:

? 15 balls at this game

? 253 balls in 35 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 11 lifetime games with 15 or more balls

? 84 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

? 29 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls

? 531 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 127 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

? 3,530 total balls

2008 Home Run Derby

There are rumors that I stole baseballs from kids, knocked over other fans, and got into an argument with a Chinese lady.

Allow me to set the record straight:

1) I didn’t steal a ball from anyone.
2) Other fans were crashing into ME.
3) The lady was Japanese.

The 2008 Home Run Derby was scheduled to begin at 8:00pm, batting
practice was going to start at 5:30, and Yankee Stadium was set to open at
4:30. What time did I get there? Shortly after 12pm, of course.

I had a ticket for the right-field bleachers (thanks to a friend who
hooked me up), and I’d planned my strategy days in advance. It was
pretty simple–or at least it was supposed to be: Be the first one on
line. Be the first one in. Grab the corner spot near the batter’s eye.
Use my big glove to get attention. Get lots of balls thrown to me.

Well, I *was* the first one on line–in fact I was the only person on line for nearly an hour and a half…

zack_1st_in_line.jpg

…and that’s when things went awry. But wait. Let’s slow this story
down. The day wasn’t all bad. There were some happy moments before the
stadium opened.

First of all, the big glove got lots of attention. Comments/questions
from passersby ranged from “I don’t wanna be sitting behind you” to
“Is that Shaq’s glove?” to “Aren’t you the guy who was on TV and
catches all the balls?” to “Where the **** did you find that thing?” to
“Oh my God that’s HUGE.” (Why…thank you.)

Here’s one of the dozens of random people who asked to try it on:

hottie_with_big_glove.jpg

Robert Harmon (the guy from my Bonds 762 story) stopped by and said hello on his way to Gate 6:

robert_harmon_drops_by.jpg
I got interviewed by a local news station and
hung out for a bit with a friend and fellow snagger named Clif (aka
“goislanders4″ if you read the comments) whom you might remember from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium.

clif_zack_derby.jpg
See the white pole on Clif’s right? It’s a “nuclear
radiation detector.” One of the nearby cops was poised with a portable
version:

cop_with_scary_gadget.jpg

By 4pm, there was a crazy-long line that snaked around the stadium:

line_outside_bleachers.jpg

Someone had held my spot at the front of the line. That’s how I was able to wander and take pics, but by the time I returned, there were several other fans who’d slipped in ahead of me. One of these fans was a Japanese woman I’d met two weeks earlier during BP. I figured she was a regular and that she knew someone else in line, but I didn’t appreciate the fact that she’d cut in. Still, I didn’t really care because there was NO WAY that I was going to let her cut in front of me when the gate actually went up…so I didn’t say anything.

This was when my day started falling apart. (I hope you’re sitting down.)

As soon as the gate went up, one of the security guards gave me a funny look and walked over.

“You can’t bring that inside,” he said, eying my big glove.

Are you serious?!” I demanded. Why not?!” I was about to ask to speak to his supervisor, and then I noticed that his shirt had the word “SUPERVISOR” on it.

He took a hold of my glove and said, “It’s too big.”

“Who cares?!?!”

He grabbed another fan’s glove and held it up against mine. “See?” he said. “This is a normal glove. Yours glove is too big.”

“So what?!?!”

weapons1.jpg
“So what?” he repeated, clearly trying to buy himself some time. “It could be used as a weapon.”

“WHAT?!?!?!”

“Yeah,” he said and then mimed swinging it around as if it were an ax.

Wow.

I really didn’t think the Yankees would stoop THIS low, but what could I do? The ticket-takers were activating their scanners and unlocking the turnstiles. The stadium was going to open any minute, and I **HAD** to get the corner spot. Batting practice wasn’t going to begin for another hour, by which time the bleachers would be packed. Snagging a ball wasn’t going to have anything to do with skill or luck. It was going to be all about positioning.

I stepped out of line, raced across the street with the glove, and spent six bucks to leave it at a bowling alley which in recent years has become more known for its bag-check than for the bowling. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankee security guards receive kickbacks.)

I barely made it back in time, and yes, in case you’re wondering, I’d also brought my regular glove. But get this…when I was finally given the green light to approach the turnstiles, my ticket wouldn’t scan. The scanner kept giving an error message.

“This is no good,” said the ticket-taker.

“EXCUSE ME?!?!”

“The code hasn’t been entered into the system. You need to go to Window 74 and have them take care of this.”

“WHAT?!?!”

Window 74?! The guy started giving me directions as he reached for the next fan’s ticket. That one wouldn’t scan either. Meanwhile, at least a dozen other fans–including the Japanese woman–filed past me at the next turnstile and hurried into the bleachers. I climbed over a railing, handed my ticket to the other ticket-taker, and successfully got scanned.

By the time I reached the bleachers, the other fans who’d gotten in first had spread out randomly along the railing, except for the Japanese woman. She was standing in the corner spot.

To make a long story short, we argued over who had the right to be there, and she finally moved when another fan (who’d seen that I’d been first in line) took my side. We quickly made peace and even shared a few laughs after she heard me ask for a ball in Japanese. AND…just so you don’t feel bad for her…she and her boyfriend ended up snagging two of their own.

As for me…
There was a lot of time to kill before BP so naturally I played with my camera. This was the view to my left:

view_from_corner_spot1.jpg

This was the view straight ahead:

view_from_corner_spot2.jpg

And this was the view to my right:

view_from_corner_spot3.jpg

Robert took a pic of me from the corner spot in the grandstand:

zack_corner_spot1.jpg

Finally, after waiting through one of the longest hours of my life, BP got started and bad luck took over. The outfield was crawling with the players’ kids who tossed at least half a dozen balls directly over my head. After 20 minutes, a kid with “RIVERA 42″ on his back fired a ball right to me, but I didn’t get it because some cameraman from ESPN who was standing near me on the batter’s eye stuck his hand out at the last second and deflected it elsewhere. (He claimed he did it in self defense, but I’m not so sure.) I seriously couldn’t catch a break, and I was getting a bit nervous because I had no chance to use the glove trick. Every time a ball landed in the gap between the outfield wall and the base of the bleachers, another cameraman went and got it and tossed it up to a cop who handed it to a kid. Good for the kids. Bad for me. I just wanted one ball. ONE BALL so my streak wouldn’t end. Even though this wasn’t an official game, it was still a major league event in a major league stadium so it counted for me.

Finally, just when I was starting to believe that a Higher Power was out to get me, I convinced one of the players’ kids to throw me a ball. As soon as I caught it and looked at it, my heart sank because it was a Futures Game ball. I’d snagged six of them the day before and this_one_counts.jpgreally didn’t need another. At least that’s how I felt at first, but then it occurred to me that it was actually kinda cool because I’d be able to count this ball in my collection. The Futures Game is a minor league event, so I hadn’t counted any of the balls I snagged that day. But hey, it wasn’t MY fault that one of these balls found its way into the BP bucket (and then into my glove) on the day of the Derby.

Would you believe that the fans behind me (who were trapped in the crowded aisle because they weren’t smart enough to arrive early) started whining after I caught this ONE lousy ball? One guy had the nerve to tell me to get out of the corner spot and give someone else a chance. Was this the first time he’d ever set foot inside a major league stadium? Or was he from Canada? I don’t know what his deal was, but there was no ch
ance I was moving. I simply HAD to snag at least one ball with the Home Run Derby logo on it. If that meant I had to snag 20 more balls before I got one, so be it.

Toward the end of the American League’s batting practice, I shouted at Mariano Rivera (in Spanish) and asked for a ball. He looked up at me and shrugged as if to say he didn’t have one. Then I noticed that he was drinking an ice-cold bottle of water (I could see the condensation) so I asked for that instead by making a drinking motion and shouting “Agua!” He laughed and held up the bottle as if to say, “You want THIS?” I nodded excitedly and made an exaggerated gesture with my shirt to show how hot it was. He kept looking at me and smiling so I kept going with it. I grabbed my throat with my right hand and made a choking gesture, then drooped my eyelids as if I were passing out. To my surprise, he started walking toward me, and when he got within 30 feet, he underhanded the bottle in my direction. It was falling short, so I reached over the railing and extended my glove…and the damn thing tipped off my fingers and dropped into the gap. I flung up my arms in disgust, and he did the same.

Not all hope was lost, however.

I shouted at the cameraman, and when he came over, I pointed out the bottle and asked him to hand it to me.

He looked at the cop for guidance.

“It’s okay,” said the cop. “Mariano Rivera tried to give it to him.”

The cameraman looked totally confused, but once he heard that, he fetched the bottle and tossed it to me. Woo-hoo!!! I truly WAS thirsty and didn’t care that the bottle was two-thirds empty; if Mariano Rivera had cooties, I wanted them.

agua_from_mariano_rivera.jpg

I chugged the water as the American Leaguers jogged off the field and snagged my second ball of the day 10 minutes later. Some random kid wearing a Rockies cap tossed it to me from the warning track, and I took an elbow to the kidney as I reached straight out to make the catch.

At this point, the people around me seriously started going crazy. There was a skinny little kid with glasses, standing directly behind me, who couldn’t have been more than eight years old. He was so intent on pushing his way up to the front that every time I leaned forward (to see where a ball was landing elsewhere in the bleachers) and settled back down from my tip toes, I ended up stepping on HIS toes. He was literally wedging his feet in the space underneath MY feet whenever he had a chance. I don’t know what he was thinking, but when it became clear that he wasn’t going to stop, I turned around and looked him in the eye and told him gently but firmly that it was impolite and dangerous for him to crowd me like that. He said he was sorry, ended up getting a ball from the cop two minutes later, and quickly disappeared. The cop, meanwhile, wasn’t too happy about the fact that I now had two baseballs.

“Ya gotta let the kids get some,” he growled.

“The kids are getting plenty thanks to you,” I said. “They don’t need MY help.”

Now don’t get me wrong…I love it when kids get balls, especially kids who are wearing gloves and making a sincere effort to snag on their own. I often go out of my way to help kids get balls, and I now give away at least one of mine at just about every game I attend. But this 2008_home_run_derby_ball.jpg
was a different story. I wasn’t about to give away my Futures Game ball, and there wasn’t a chance in hell that I was going to part with my second ball. Why? Because it had a Home Run Derby logo on it. That’s why.

Of course the cop didn’t get it. First he asked me to give away a ball, and when I refused, he asked me to move from the corner spot.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he insisted.

I resisted the urge to tell him that the right thing for HIM to do was to mind his own business and consider Weight Watchers. Instead, I calmly explained that I’d gotten to Yankee Stadium an hour and a half earlier than everyone else for the sole purpose of standing in this spot.

“Where are you supposed to be?!” he demanded. “Where’s your ticket?!”

“It doesn’t matter where my seat is,” I said. “This is batting practice. Everyone’s standing wherever they want.”

This prompted the man who’d elbowed me to turn around and shout (in a derisive, sing-songy manner) to everyone behind us: “WHO THINKS HE SHOULD GO?!?!?!” The whole section cheered. “WHO THINKS HE SHOULD STAY?!?!?!” he continued, and the whole section booed.

“That’s it,” said the cop, “you have to go back to your seat.”

“That’s ********,” I said. “You can’t make me move. You can’t make a special rule just for me. I’m not moving unless you make everyone else go back to THEIR seats.”

So he did!

I couldn’t believe it. He actually got on his walkie-talkie and issued a directive to all the other cops, and in less than a minute, EVERYONE was forced to step away from the railing and vacate the aisle and tunnels. People were NOT happy about it, and I don’t blame them. The whole thing was arbitrary and dumb. The cops tried enforcing a rule that simply shouldn’t have been enforced. Some fans (including me) kept lingering in the aisle while pretending to head somewhere else. A few people simply defied orders and stood there anyway, and as you might expect there were some pretty nasty confrontations.

I wandered toward the foul-pole end of the bleachers and took a peek at the grandstand:

robert_corner_spot.jpg

Sure enough, the cops over there hadn’t forced anyone back to their seats–a good thing for Robert who technically belonged in the upper deck. Robert told me later that he snagged three balls (all with the Derby logo) and when other people started complaining, he shouted, “I have four grandkids so I’m still one ball short! Do YOU want to give me one?!” People left him alone after that.

I managed to snag one more Derby ball toward the end of BP. I should’ve had two more, but the second one (which was thrown by a teenage kid from about 100 feet away) fell short and tipped off my glove and landed in the gap. Even though he had clearly intended to throw it to me, the cameraman who retrieved it handed it to someone else.

That was it. Three balls. Not great. Not terrible. But if I’d been allowed to bring my big glove inside and stay in the corner spot, I would’ve snagged at least a dozen. I really believe that.

The Derby itself ended up being extremely frustrating. I had a second-row seat and found myself trapped behind a group of fans who jumped up at all the wrong times. Whenever a left-handed batter lifted a routine fly ball in our direction, they were on their feet in no time. But the few times that a right-handed batter hit a home run to right-center, they didn’t move because they weren’t expecting it. When they didn’t move, I couldn’t move. I felt like a caged animal. It sucked.

zack_caged_in_during_derby.jpg

The highlight of the day (other than not being shut out during BP) was getting to witness the  first-round, record-breaking performance by Josh Hamilton. The man hit twenty-eight home runs, including two that traveled more than 500 feet.

josh_hamilton_domination.jpg

During the second half of the Derby, security wasn’t quite as strict about keeping people in their seats, so I escaped from the second row and moved around a bit. I had three very close calls, including a chance to catch one of the coveted gold balls, but I came up short for various reasons. I misjudged one, failed to be blessed with a 36-inch vertical leap on another, and got boxed out on the third. That was the gold ball. Ouch. It was a lazy fly ball (relatively speaking) that barely cleared the railing five feet to my left. The aisle was packed and I couldn’t move. Not even one foot. It’s like I was battling a brick wall.

It pained me to see other fans snag these gold balls, but I took a picture anyway of a guy holding one up:

fan_with_gold_ball.jpg

It also pains me to see this screen shot from ESPN (which someone was kind enough to send my way). It shows a fan directly behind me zack_espn.jpginspecting a ball that he caught on a fly. This is the one I misjudged, but you have to understand what “misjudged” means in this case. I bolted two steps to my left as the ball exploded off the bat–that’s the direction that it was initially heading–and then when it drifted five feet back to my right, the aisle was too crowded for me to be able t
o drift back with it. If I’d just stayed put, it would’ve been an easy catch, but what can you do? These types of mistakes happen. I know a guy (a legendary Bay Area ballhawk, in fact) who would’ve caught Barry Bonds’ 714th career home run if he hadn’t outsmarted himself by reacting too soon and moving away from the spot where it ultimately landed.

Even though Hamilton put on a home run clinic in the first two rounds, he ended up losing to Justin Morneau in the finals. Everyone was criticizing the rules of the Home Run Derby, saying it wasn’t fair that one guy could hit so many longballs and still lose. But hey, that’s how it goes. If Hamilton had paced himself better, maybe he would’ve had more energy at the end. Or maybe he had plenty of energy and just happened to swing the bat poorly. Let’s not assume that his power outage in the finals was a direct result of his goose-bump-inducing performance in the opening round.

After the Derby was done, I went back to bowling alley and claimed my big glove, and while I was there I took a pic of the three balls I’d snagged:

three_derby_balls.jpg
Robert and I finally made it into the subway at midnight, and we were immediately approached by several fans wearing Minnesota Twins gear. One of them recognized me from TV and asked if I knew how to ask for a ball in Arabic. I told him I didn’t, so he taught me. Ready? It’s short-n-sweet. Here it is, spelled phonetically with the emphasis in CAPS:

OTT-nee KOO-rah

For the last syllable, you need to roll the ar. (Did you know that the letter ‘R’ is spelled ‘ar’?) Of course there aren’t any Arabic-speaking major leaguers yet, but boy, when one finally comes around, I’ll be ready.

tris_speaker.jpg
STATS:

? 3 balls at this game (or “event” or whatever you want to call it)

? 238 balls in 34 games this season = 7 balls per game.

? 530 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 2 consecutive Home Run Derbies with at least three balls

? 33 languages in which I can ask for a ball

? 3,515 total balls…moves me past Tris Speaker (3,514) and into fifth place on the all-time hits list. Next up is Stan Musial (3,630). (If you’re wondering why I’m comparing balls to hits, click here.)

? 1 fancy-schmancy ticket stub that actually contains dirt from Yankee Stadium. Check it out and I’ll explain below:

2008_home_run_derby_ticket.jpg

Okay, so I’ve shown the front and back of the ticket. See the brown strip on the front, about an inch from the bottom? See how it’s kind of…speckled…as opposed to being one neat/solid color? Well, those speckled marks are actually little particles that are embedded into the glossy strip. On the back of the ticket, I’ve drawn a red arrow to a little blurb that says the following: “To commemorate the final season of the historic ballpark, this ticket contains dirt collected from the field at Yankee Stadium which has been authenticated under the auspices of the MLB Authentication Program.

Cool, huh? (Too bad that program failed miserably on No. 762.)

So yeah, the ticket is a true collector’s item, but I question the photography that was selected for it. First of all, what’s so special about a hot dog and why does the mustard stop short on the north end? Secondly, why does the view of the field show the area behind home plate instead of the unique facade in the outfield? Third, why was the photo of the seat taken while the rest of stadium was empty? (See the little patch of blue near the upper right in that photo? Those are empty seats.) And fourth…taxis? Seriously?! That’s the best design MLB could come up with? I’ll bet the people who designed this ticket haven’t ever BEEN to New York. And while I’m already dissing this, I might as well share my thoughts on the logos for the Futures Game and Home Run Derby. In a word: LAME!!! The 2007 Futures Game ball at least had some artwork, albeit generic, while the 2007 Home Run Derby ball had artwork that was unique to AT&T Park. Why didn’t this year’s Derby ball have a facade or some pinstripes or an image of Monument Park? When will MLB and ESPN finally learn that they need to hire me? I have so many great ideas. If only someone would listen…

7/13/08 at Yankee/Shea

2008_futures_game_ticket.jpgDoes the name Robert Harmon sound familiar? He’s the bearded ballhawk from Denver–the guy who came THIS close to snagging Barry Bonds’ 762nd home run ball. I wrote a big article about it a few months ago. Remember?

Robert was in New York City and joined me for this monster day, which started with the 2008 Futures Game at Yankee Stadium and ended with some Mets-Rockies action at Shea.

Even though I wasn’t going to count any balls from the Futures Game in my collection, I still printed rosters for both teams. I had to take my 2008_futures_game_rosters1.jpg
snagging seriously enough to familiarize myself with the bleachers. That’s basically the only reason
I went to the Futures Game. I’d never been in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, and I was going to be there the following day for the Home Run
Derby.

Outside the stadium, there wasn’t a single security guard who knew what time the gates were going to open. Some of them shrugged, others said “eleven o’clock,” and I ended up getting in at 10:30am. As I bolted into the bleachers, I got Nate Schierholtz to toss me a ball despite the fact that I wasn’t yet wearing my glove. (I wasn’t wearing it because the geniuses who run Yankee Stadium recently decided not to let me bring my dangerous drawstring backpack inside, so now I’m forced to smuggle it in while cradling all of my belongings in my arms.) Phew! I caught my breath, took out my bag, put my stuff in it, looked around…and wow.

bleachers1.jpg

From a ball-snagging perspective, the bleachers were truly glorious. I couldn’t believe it’d taken me nearly two decades (and an impending Home Run Derby) to make it out there.

Robert didn’t have a ticket for the bleachers. He’d never been inside Yankee Stadium, and because he’s a semi-professional photographer, it was important for him to be able to wander robert_from_bleachers.jpgand explore the ballpark from as many angles as possible. (At Yankee Stadium, you can’t move back and forth between the bleachers and the rest of the stadium.) But before he wandered, he grabbed the corner spot in the RF grandstand and snagged a few balls during batting practice.

BP went pretty well for me. I got my second ball tossed by Rockies prospect Dexter Fowler, then grabbed two home run balls that landed behind me in the empty benches. I got my fifth ball tossed by Casey Weathers–another Rockies farmhand–and got my sixth and final ball tossed up by…someone. I forget who, and it doesn’t matter. I ended up giving away two of my six balls, and I passed up opportunities to snag others because I ran into someone that I simply HAD to talk to.

At the end of BP, I approached a middle-aged man who was wearing a black Marlins cap and said, “Excuse me, you look familiar.”

“Okay,” he said, waiting for me to take the lead.

“Do you live in Miami?” I asked, and when he nodded, I said, “Griffey six hundred.”

“Oh my GOD!” he shouted to his friends. “Someone recognized me!”

After catching Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run, this guy had revealed himself to the media simply as “Joe” and did not allow anyone to take his picture. (He’s lucky my camera joe.jpgbroke earlier that day.) Naturally, when I spotted him at Yankee Stadium, he asked how I knew who he was, so I told him I was five feet away from catching that ball. Then I said, “I was the guy who tried to give you a contact card.”

“Oh yeah! I remember that,” he said. “I didn’t want it. I just wanted to get out of there. You’re some sort of businessman? A memorabilia dealer?”

“Not exactly,” I replied, “but I do collect baseballs.”

I started telling him about myself, and when I mentioned my name, not only did he know who I was, but he pulled out a folder which contained a copy of the New York Times article that was written about me in 2006. (His copy of the article was from another newspaper that hadn’t used the photo.)

We ended up talking for the next half-hour. He told me every detail about his pursuit of No. 600 and the controversy that followed. Turns out he’s snagged more than 1,000 baseballs including 65 home runs DURING games! (So at least I didn’t get outsnagged by some random/lucky chump.)

Joe never told me his last name, but he did take one of my cards, and he promised to keep in touch.

As you can imagine, there’s a LOT more I could say about our conversation, and perhaps I will at some point. Joe mentioned that a publisher has already approached him about writing a book….and I mentioned that I’d be interested in co-authoring it with him, or perhaps writing the foreword…so we’ll see.

After we parted ways, I explored the bleachers and took dozens of photographs. Here’s the gap between the bleachers and the grandstand:

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Here’s the “platform” seating in front of the bleachers:

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Here’s a view from the left field bleachers (which, I discovered, are accessible via a long concourse that begins under the right field bleachers):

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Shortly after the game began, I exited the stadium and used an extra (non-bleachers) ticket I’d bought to re-enter.

2008_futures_game_ball.jpgI caught up with Robert in right field and photographed one of my four remaining Futures Game balls. This
robert_photographs_ball.jpginspired him to do the same with one of his.

I don’t know what inning it was. I don’t know who was winning at that point, and I didn’t care. My mission for (the first part of) the day had been accomplished. I just wanted to chill out with Robert and help him take the best possible photographs, so I led him to the upper deck and ended up taking a few pics of my own. Here’s a look at the New Yankee Stadium (which we saw from an escalator landing area on the way up):

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Here’s the view from the last row in the upper deck:

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Here’s a look at the auxiliary press area…

auxiliary_press_area.jpg

…and here are two cops on the top edge of the upper deck:

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I think there were more cops than fans. It was insane.

Robert and I left Yankee Stadium at 2:45pm. The Futures Game still had a couple innings remaining (and there was still an entire celebrity softball game to be played), but we had to go. Why so soon? WELL…if bags were allowed inside Yankee Stadium (as they should be), we could’ve brought our stuff for Shea and stayed longer and then headed directly to Queens. But no. We had to go all the way back to my place on the Upper West Side for a pit-stop and then head back out to Shea. Thanks. Thanks a lot, Yankees. I really appreciate it.

We arrived at Shea at 4:55pm–forty minutes before Gate C was scheduled to open. This gave me time to buy two tickets and get on line, and it gave Robert (who’d never been to this stadium either) an opportunity to take more pics.

Here’s one I took of Citi Field on the way to the ticket windows:

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Here’s a rare photograph of Robert wearing anything other than Rockies gear as we waited for the gate to open:

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Robert really wanted to snag a Shea Stadium commemorative ball, so I lent him a Mets shirt and printed him a Mets roster and showed him exactly where to stand during BP and convinced him to beg for balls.

It worked.

Less than five minutes after we entered the stadium, Robert got one tossed to him by Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti, and it was indeed one of the prized commemorative balls.

As for me…
I ended up snagging seven balls, and I got each one in a different spot.

1) A 2008 All-Star Game ball (the Mets have been using them in BP) from Brian Schneider along the right field foul line.

2) Another All-Star ball from Billy Wagner in the second deck (aka the “Loge Level”) in right field.

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3) Yet another All-Star ball from hitting coach Howard Johnson at the 1st base dugout when the Mets came off the field after their portion of BP.

4) A regular ball (which I later gave to a kid) from Rockies bullpen catcher Mark Strittmatter at the 3rd base dugout after BP.

5) Another regular ball from Joe Koshansky during pre-game throwing along the left field foul line.

ramon_castro_foul_ball.jpg
6) A commemorative foul ball hit by Ramon Castro in the bottom of the 8th inning which I caught on a fly behind home plate in the Loge.

7) Another commemorative ball…after the game…from a security guard who got it from home plate umpire Marvin Hudson…in the seats behind the plate on the Field Level.

Earlier in the day at Yankee Stadium, Robert had collected a bunch of those commemorative plastic cups–you know, the ones that come from concession stands. Brilliant! Why hadn’t I done this yet at Shea? I don’t know. Maybe because I’m so focused on snagging baseballs that I forget to collect anything else. Anyway, I followed Robert’s lead and grabbed a bunch of these cups after the game. Final score: Mets 7, Rockies 0.

mets_cups.jpg

Speaking of collecting things other than balls, I suppose I should mention that I got Jeff Francis to sign my ticket after BP. Unfortunately, he used someone else’s wimpy pen:

jeff_francis_autograph.jpg

I think that about covers it. In the next day or two, I’ll post an entry about my experience at the Home Run Derby.

STATS (not counting the Futures Game):

? 7 balls at this game

? 235 balls in 33 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.

? 529 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

? 75 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium

? 3,512 total balls

Look for me on TV (part 3)

I’m going to the Home Run Derby, and I’ll be sitting in a pretty good spot: Section 43 in the right field bleachers. Check it out…

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As you can see, I’ll be in right-center field…in the section closest to the batter’s eye…directly behind the black-and-red “Canon” sign:

canon.jpg

(Canon should sponsor me. Oh well. Too late.)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a ticket in the front row, but I *will* be in the second row. Not too shabby. I just hope Robert Wadlow doesn’t come back from the dead and sit in front of me.

Below is a photo of the bleachers I took last week in the upper deck during batting practice. See the red arrow pointing to a fan standing on a bench? THAT is my row…

2008_derby_location2.jpg

To make it even easier for you to look for me on TV, I will of course be wearing my “Where’s Waldow” shirt:

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I know it’s ugly and obnoxious. You don’t have to tell me. We’ve been through this before. All that matters is that it works.

The Home Run Derby begins at 8:00pm ET on ESPN on Monday, July 14th. Don’t miss it.

Gustavo Watch, Part 16

I know I said I’d blog about my seat location for the Home Run Derby, and I will…tomorrow…but first I have to give an update about North America’s No. 1 ball thief.

you_are_jinxed.jpgYou all remember the sad story of Gustavo Chacin, right? On 8/1/06 at Yankee Stadium, he knocked a ball out of my glove while I was using the glove trick–sound familiar?–so I put the Hample Jinx on him and he began to suffer one misfortune after another. First he pitched badly. Then he got hurt. Then he was arrested for DUI. Then he got sent to the minors.

Well…
The the update is that he has spent the entire 2008 season pitching for Class A Advanced Dunedin in the Florida State League. HA!!!

But wait, it gets better. Ready for his stats? In 11 starts, he’s 1-7 with a 7.88 ERA. He has allowed more than 14 hits per nine innings. His WHIP is nearly 2.00 and he has surrendered more than one home run per start.

You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. And you don’t mess with the Hample.

7/8/08 at Yankee Stadium

Desperate times call for desperate measures. The cheapest ticket available at the window was $60 (or at
least that’s what the Yankees wanted me to believe) so I took a proactive approach…

i_need_one_ticket.jpg

…and found my way inside for $30. That still might sound like a lot, but when the cheapest seat in the entire stadium (bleachers excluded) has a face value of $22, it’s actually not terrible.

Anyway, batting practice was bad news all around. To start things off, a woman on the lower level (who was not paying attention, of course) was hit on the side of the head by an A-Rod slicer and needed medical attention:

woman_after_getting_hit_by_ball.jpg

Then, to make matters worse, the brilliant Yankee staff failed to move her out of harm’s way, and she nearly got hit again! I also saw two little kids nearly get taken out by line-drive home runs in the upper deck. The first kid was wearing a glove but had no clue how to use it, and the second kid was sitting with his father who didn’t even see the ball coming. That ball missed his head by six inches and truly might have killed him. I don’t understand how parents can be so careless and dumb. There are plenty of places in the stadium where balls can’t go. If the grown-ups don’t care about catching one and the kids aren’t coordinated enough to protect themselves, why not sit there?

Those two home runs, by the way, were the ONLY two home runs that reached the upper deck in eighty minutes of BP. Thankfully, while the Yankees were on the field, I got a commemorative ball thrown by Joba Chamberlain…

joba_from_above.jpg

…and when the Rays came out, I got a regular ball from Edwin Jackson.

That was it.

I stayed in left field for the whole game, and nothing came anywhere near me. Jeter’s 200th career homer? Didn’t happen. Arod’s 537th (passing Mickey Mantle on the all-time list)? Ditto.

The funny (and yet sad) moment of the night occurred when Jose Molina came up to bat and the Jumbotron said he had thrown out the last 12 base-stealers and had “not allowed a SB since June 3rd.” The woman behind me asked her male companion what “SB” meant.

“Second base,” he told her.

Scott Kazmir pitched well, giving up two runs and striking out nine in five innings–but Andy Pettitte pitched much better, surrendering just four hits in eight scoreless frames as the Yankees cruised to a 5-0 win. Guess who got the game-ending ball from reliever Edwar Ramirez. Rudy freakin’ Giuliani. That’s who. He had the corner seat in the front row next to the dugout (How the hell am I supposed to compete with that?) and then got to bring his little entourage out onto the field for a photo-op:

rudy_postgame.jpg

Before I wrap up this entry, I want to give a quick shout-out to a young Yankee fan named Jon Herbstman (aka “karenherbstman” if you read the comments) who spotted me late in the game as he was walking past me in the concourse. First he did a double-take…then a triple-take…then a quadruple-take before stopping and making a U-turn and walking over and staring at me and saying incredulously, “Are you Zack Hample?!” It was priceless. And when I said yes, he shouted at his dad to stop walking and asked for my autograph. It was a nice end to an otherwise slow and forgettable day.

Oh wait, one more thing…
I finally got around to scanning the article about me that appeared in the Palm Beach Post. Here it is.

STATS:

? 2 balls at this game

? 228 balls in 32 games this season = 7.125 balls per game.

? 528 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,505 total balls

Holiday softball

Got to play a little softball this past weekend (an hour north of NYC), although the field wasn’t in great shape when everyone arrived…

puddles.jpg

After a group groundskeeping effort…

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…we all took a little batting practice. Here I am, about to unload:

zack_taking_batting_practice.jpg

The following pic must’ve been taken after a different swing (because the little kid in the yellow shirt has magically disappeared), but it’s still a pretty follow-through, and I feel the need to share it:

follow_through.jpg

I got to field a few balls at shortstop. Here I am running in for a pop-up:

zack_fielding_pop_up.jpg

During the game, I went 4-for-5 with a double, a triple, and two bombs that were ruled “singles” after clearing the short fence in left field. Here’s the pitch that I intentionally hit down the right field line…toward the 11-year-old girl wearing pink who was afraid of the ball…for the triple:

zack_about_to_swing.jpgWhat! You think that’s mean? It was just payback. Whenever she was at bat for the other team, we gave her 19 strikes, and when she finally tapped the ball into fair territory, we all allowed her to get on base and eventually score. So? If she was going to be an automatic run every time she came up, she was going to have to field a ball that I hit. (Or at least dodge it.) 

Anyway, I gotta give props to the pitcher for backing up the plate as I cruised into third base. Excellent fundamentals:

zack_pulling_into_third.jpg

I’d also like to point out my own solid fundies. Here I am playing shortstop, pointing up to help my left fielder spot a fly ball against the overcast sky:

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…and that’s pretty much it.

Fun weekend. Lots of Scrabble. Not that much baseball. Good company. Good food.

Next game I attend? Probably on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium–and of course it’s only seven days ’til I’ll be at the Home Run Derby. I’ll post an entry about that later this week…

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