September 2008

9/27/08 at Shea Stadium

This was a day game that followed a night game, and it was drizzling when the stadium opened, so you can imagine how shocked I was when I ran in (with my girlfriend Jona) and saw the Mets taking batting practice.

I raced out to the seats along the right field foul line and quickly got my first snagging opportunity. There was a slicing line drive hit by a right-handed batter, and as the ball was curving toward me, I could tell that it wasn’t going to curve enough for me to reach it, so I climbed over one of the many orange railings and darted five feet to my right and reached far out of the seats at the last second and made a back-handed catch. It felt good at the time (especially when all the Mets who were standing in right field applauded) and it felt even better later on when I saw the great photos that Jona had taken from the Loge Level.

Here’s one that shows me starting to lean out for the ball. I’m wearing a white long-sleeved shirt, and if you look closely at the photo you can see the ball itself:

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Here’s another photo that Jona took just after the ball entered my glove. Notice the full extension:

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Here’s a closer look:

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I didn’t realize just how far I’d reached until I saw the photos. Go me.

Jona headed back down to the Field Level and took a few more photos of me before we headed out to the bleachers (which you can see in front of Citi Field below):

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There wasn’t much action out there:

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In fact, it was so dead that I only snagged one more ball for the rest of the day. It was a BP homer by Nick Evans. I caught it on a fly, and Jona once again caught me in action:

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Cool, huh?

Both of my baseballs were commemorative:

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Jona and I never left the bleachers. After BP ended, we staked out a great spot for potential home-run catching, but as it turned out, nothing left the yard. It was all about the pitching. Johan Santana, working on three days’ rest and fighting to keep the Mets’ playoff hopes alive, went the distance and blanked the Marlins, 2-0. He allowed three hits and three walks while striking out nine…truly brilliant. The crowd of 54,920 was as revved up as ever, and I took a bunch of photos during the final few pitches of the game.

This was my view of the field:

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This was the view to my left…

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…and this is proof that just about EVERYONE in the stadium was standing:

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The Mets had entered the day one game behind the Brewers in the Wild Card race. The Brewers lost their game to the Cubs, which meant it was all gonna come down to the Final Day…

STATS:

? 2 balls at this game

? 533 balls in 71 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 567 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,810 total balls

9/25/08 at Shea Stadium

The game was thrilling; the snagging was not.

I arrived at Shea at 4:43pm–three minutes after the stadium opened–and bought a $10 ticket and raced inside to the left field foul line.

I managed to get ONE ball during the entire Mets’ portion of batting practice, and it was thrown by Nick Evans from more than 100 feet away:

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Earlier this season, I’d gotten Evans to throw me a ball by announcing that I was “going deep” and then bolting up the steps. I didn’t think it’d work a second time, but I tried it anyway, and to my surprise he threw the ball in my direction. The first time he did this, he’d waited for me to reach the cross-aisle and then made a perfect throw that hit me on the run. This time, however, he launched the ball 10 feet over my head before I’d made it up half a dozen rows. Luckily, there were only a handful of fans scattered along the front row and none of them bothered to run for the ball after it landed. The ball was commemorative, and the logo was so scuffed and worn that I couldn’t read any of it:

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If this had been my first Mets commemorative ball, I would’ve been pissed, but I’ve gotten enough that I actually thought this one was kinda cool.

At around 5:25pm, I exited the stadium and headed to the bleacher entrance and was lucky enough to run into my friend Gail (aka “Clif’s mom”) who introduced me to a woman who happened to have an extra ticket. This other woman wouldn’t let me pay her for it. She gave it to me for free, and in exchange I had to catch a ball for her.

I didn’t give her the next ball I snagged because it was commemorative AND brand new. For some reason, the Cubs were using it, and I got Michael Wuertz to toss it to me. Check it out:

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The bleachers were still gloriously empty five minutes later…

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…and they remained fairly empty throughout BP.

With powerful righties like Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Mark DeRosa all taking cuts, you’d think that I would’ve snagged about 40 balls. But no. I only got ONE more ball–a regular ball–and it was tossed to me by Jeff Samardzija. I know he’s supposed to be the future stud of the world, but still…what a disappointment. I can’t explain it. Batting practice was just dead.

I gave the regular ball to the lady who’d given me the ticket and then (since the bleachers are general admission) claimed a spot in the front row out in left-center.

This was the view to my left in the top of the first inning…

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…and this was the view straight ahead about an hour later:

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Yeah…it rained.

A lot.

And I sat through it with Gail and Clif because a) I really wanted to catch a home run and b) the game was THAT important/good.

Unfortunately, the only two home runs were hit by Micah Hoffpauir, who bats left-handed and pulled them both to right field. These two home runs (which were part of his 5-for-5 performance) happened to be his first longballs in the major leagues, and thanks to Shea Stadium’s lack of outfield seating, I wasn’t able to get near either one.

Enough about me. Let’s talk about the game…

The Mets basically HAD to win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive, and they DID win after coming back from a three-run, seventh-inning deficit. Pedro Martinez pitched for the last time at Shea and struck out a season-high nine batters. Jose Reyes scored a pair of runs and stole three bases. And then there was that game-tying, Houdini-like slide by Ryan Church with two outs in the bottom of the eighth. I didn’t get a great view of it from my spot nearly 400 feet from the plate. All I could tell was that the ball beat him by like 10 feet and yet he somehow managed to elude the catcher and reach back with his hand…and that the ump called him safe. It was unreal.

There weren’t many fans left at that point…

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…but that just made the whole thing more special. It was OUR little private game. OUR Amazin’ Mets. OUR soggy/dumpy stadium. OUR walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth.

Final score: Mets 7, Cubs 6.

(Hooray for meaningful baseball games in late-September.)

STATS:

? 3 balls at this game

? 531 balls in 70 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 566 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,808 total balls

9/24/08 at Citizens Bank Park

I knew this was going to be a good day when I bought a bottle of water at a 7-Eleven on the way to Philadelphia and got a 1917 penny in my change:

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It also didn’t hurt that my girlfriend Jona was with me; good things tend to happen when she’s around.

When the stadium opened at 4:35pm, I raced inside and briefly had the left field seats to myself:

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There weren’t any balls hiding in the flower bed, nor were there any home runs that flew my way, but I did have a chance to use my glove trick when a ball rolled to the wall in left-center field. In the following photo, you can see me way off in the distance, leaning over the railing as I was getting the glove to lower onto the ball:

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Ten minutes later, I snagged my second ball of the day–a home run hit by a righty on the Phillies that landed several rows in front of me and began rolling sideways through the seats. Several other fans quickly closed in on it, and I thought I was out of luck, but then the ball kicked back my way just enough for me to lunge and grab it underneath a seat. As I reached for it, my right shoulder happened to bump the back of the seat where a woman, who was also scrambling for the ball, happened to be bracing herself. As a result, one of her fingers happened to get pinched between my shoulder and the seat, and she reacted as if I’d killed her firstborn.

“I’m terribly sorry,” I said but she wouldn’t accept my apology. Instead, she proceeded to shake her hand (to exaggerate the pain) for a good 30 seconds while looking around for support from her fellow fans. No one noticed or cared. There was nothing TO notice. It was the most minor incident (if it could even be called that) in the history of baseball-snagging. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and she finally realized this and let it go.

Drama aside, things were going well. I’d been in the stadium for about 20 minutes, and I’d snagged two baseballs–a decent pace for reaching double digits, but then my snagging suffered a disastrous interruption. Several stadium employees (one of whom has an arrow pointing to him in the photo below) started combing through the seats and telling all the fans to head back up to the concourse and exit the stadium through the left field gate:

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In the 750 (or so) games I’ve attended in my life, I’ve been denied batting practice for a variety of reasons–bad weather, subway delays, fan photo events, policemen vs. firemen softball games, etc.–but what kind of sick joke was this?!

Apparently it wasn’t a joke. I heard rumors of a “bomb scare” as I walked through the concourse and headed toward the gate:

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Once all the fans AND employees had been evacuated, the gate was closed behind us.

And then we waited…

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…and waited.

And waited.

So much for this being a good day, I thought.

I stayed close to the gate and kept trying not to look at the clock inside the stadium. I couldn’t help it. It was 5:15pm. Then 5:20. Then 5:30, at which point I knew the Phillies were off the field so I changed into my Braves gear.

“We’ll be opening back up any minute,” said a Phillies official who was brave enough to remain on the inside of the stadium.

Meanwhile, the rumors about the bomb scare were taking shape. Just about everyone, it seemed, was on a cell phone, talking to someone they knew who lived nearby and was watching the live coverage on the news.

I overheard someone talking about “suspicious packages.”

evacuation4_zack.jpgIt was 5:45pm. I wasn’t happy.

There was half an hour of batting practice remaining. I thought about stepping out of line and walking b
ack to the ticket office and demanding a refund and driving back to New York City…but I decided to wait a little longer, at least until batting practice would be ending. If I wasn’t back inside by then…then screw it.

I overheard someone talking about the suspicious packages being a shipment of hot dogs.

?!?!?!?!

It was 5:50pm.

The Phillies official approached the gate and made an announcement (that only 38 people heard) that all fans who had already been inside the stadium would have to get their tickets re-scanned.

I wondered if that would even work with those stupid scanners, and the official was probably wondering the same thing because he then borrowed a woman’s ticket (without asking her if she’d already been inside) and tested it. Whaddaya know, it worked.

It was 5:55pm when the stadium reopened. I’d missed over an hour of batting practice. I raced back to the left field seats to look for easter eggs–there weren’t any because the employees had already reentered through another gate–and then sprinted around to the right field side, hoping to salvage my day:

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I quickly caught a home run on a fly that was hit by a righty on the Braves. Nothing special. It was an uncontested, chest-high, one-handed catch that I made while drifting to my right through the front row in right-center field. When I looked down at the warning track, I saw Jeff Bennett looking back up at me.

“You like that?!” I shouted.

He didn’t respond.

Five minutes later, I got a ball tossed to me by Braves “Baseball Systems Operator” Alan Butts. It was totally lucky. I was in the fourth row. Several fans were in the front row. I saw them yelling for a ball and didn’t even know who they were yelling at. All of a sudden, a ball sailed up and flew five feet over their heads and came RIGHT to me. It almost made up for the home run I misjudged and didn’t snag soon after.

That was it for BP. Four balls. It was pretty sad.

I ran over to the Braves’ dugout just before the players and coaches came off the field. I positioned myself behind the home-plate end and waved my arms in the hopes that SOMEone would see me and flip me a ball:

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Not only did I get a crappy (though interestingly streaked) training ball from hitting coach Terry Pendleton…

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…but I also got a bat from Greg Norton:

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Mama mia! This instantly made the whole day worthwhile. The bat wasn’t even cracked, and I hadn’t even asked for it. Norton had just slid it to me across the dugout roof without warning. That’s how I’ve gotten all four of my bats–just dumb luck–and you can see them all (along with some other “bonus items”) on this page on my web site.

I was afraid that stadium security would make me leave the bat with Fan Assistance until after the game (that’s what happened on 9/22/06 at Camden Yards), but no one said a word and I was left in peace to enjoy the delightful essence of pine tar.

I had 3,799 lifetime balls when several Braves began their pre-game throwing along the left field foul line. The seats were practically full by that point (damn the Phillies for being in first place) so I wasn’t able to position myself in a good spot. I had to squeeze against a railing next to two women (who were there for some unknown reason), and when Martin Prado ended up with the ball, my view of him was partially blocked by an usher and a cop who were standing on the warning track. Well, Prado ended up spotting me anyway, and you can see how the whole thing played out in the four-part pic below. Starting on the top left and then going clockwise, I’m a) waving to get Prado’s attention, b) watching and waiting and determining if I’m going to need to jump as his throw sails toward me, c) reaching up as high as I can and making the catch without jumping, and d) holding up the ball and feeling great about life:

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Here’s it is–ball No. 3,800:

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I can’t really say that Jona and I “snuck” down to the Phillies’ dugout in the top of the 1st inning because that would imply that the ushers were trying to keep us out. Ins
tead, we waltzed down to the dugout and grabbed a couple seats on the end of a row, about eight rows back. Conveniently, Ryan Howard ended up with the ball at the howard_kotchman.jpg
end of the inning courtesy of Brett Myers, who induced a 1-6-3 double-play groundout from Omar Infante. I was down in the front row before Howard even caught the throw from Jimmy Rollins (and of course I crouched down as I crept there so I wouldn’t block anyone’s view), and I had exactly NO competition as he jogged off the field and tossed me the ball.

Fast-forward seven outs. It was the bottom of the second inning. I was sitting with Jona in a similar spot on the Braves’ side. Jo-Jo Reyes got Chris Coste to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play. Casey Kotchman took the throw at first base and began jogging toward me. I was wearing my Braves hat and Braves shirt. There were no kids in sight. None of the grown-ups were aware of the snagging opportunity that was about to unfold. It was going to be so easy that I was almost embarrassed. It’s like the ball was guaranteed, and sure enough, Kotchman flipped it right to me.

That was my 8th ball of the day. Not bad.

Believe it or not, I was prepared at that point to call it quits on the snagging and just sit and watch the game with Jona (and root for the Braves). So that’s what we did…until the top of the fourth inning when the guy whose seats we were in decided to show up.

The field level seats were as crowded as I’d ever seen them, and since our actual seats were way up at the top of the upper deck, there was no place to go. Therefore, we wandered and ate and checked out the view from the party deck (or whatever it’s called) in the deepest part of center field. I’d never been up there, and this is why:

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Awful! You can’t even see two of the outfielders, but I guess if you like to drink and you’re willing to think of the deck as a bar with a $10 cover charge where you can kinda see some baseball way off in the distance, then it’s probably a great place to be. Needless to say, Jona and I didn’t stay long. We didn’t need to. The Braves scored six runs in the top of the fifth to take a 9-3 lead, and by the end of the sixth, thousands of fans had left.

I love it when fans leave early. I love it so much. I love empty seats. I love having space to maneuver. I wish the home team would always get blown out when I’m at a game (with rare exceptions, like if I have a son someday who ends up playing in The Show and I go to watch him at his home ballpark).

Anyway, Jona and I went back to the Braves’ dugout, but this time I picked a different staircase–one section closer to home plate. I figured that if the bottom half of any of the remaining innings ended with a strikeout, I might be able to get the ball from catcher Brian McCann.

Jayson Werth did indeed end the bottom of the seventh with a strikeout, but McCann held onto the ball and took it into the dugout. While I was down in the front row, however, first base coach Glenn Hubbard wanted to toss a ball to the woman directly on my right but before he let it fly, he tried to fake me out by pointing to the left so I’d lunge that way and be unable to interfere. It didn’t work. I kept my eyes on him the whole time and was perfectly aware of the situation. He had no choice but to toss the ball, and when he did, I stepped aside and let the woman catch it. Five seconds later, Hubbard poked his head back out of the dugout and rewarded me with a ball of my own.

shane_victorino.jpgjulian_tavarez.jpgSomething funny happened in the bottom of the eighth–something I’d never seen at any baseball game. Not on TV. Not in person. Not in Little League. Not in the Major Leagues. Shane Victorino (aka Mr. Feisty) was leading far off third base and, for a moment, not paying attention so Julian Tavarez (aka Mr. Hothead) sprinted off the mound in an attempt to tag him. Victorino made it back to third base safely but must’ve gotten quite a scare because he didn’t notice what was happening until Tavarez was halfway there.

Now, I have no idea who started it…all I can tell you is that Victorino and Tavarez started jawing at each other.

“Gimme the camera!!! Gimme the camera!!!” I yelled at Jona as both dugouts and bullpens emptied onto the field:

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It was never a “brawl.” No one threw punches. No one was ejected. But home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg did issue a warning to both teams. Tavarez then proceeded to strike out pinch hitters Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs to end the inning. This time, McCann tossed me the ball, and as I was reaching up casually to glove it, I sensed that someone was invading my personal space from behind, so I lunged for the ball at the last second, and as I closed my glove around it, a 40-something-year-old fat man lunged at my glove and clawed for the ball and yanked my arm down as he stumbled forward. My shoulder was actually a bit sore after that–luckily Jona is a professional massage therapist–but I held onto the ball and returned to my seat. I realized later that this was a milestone ball; it was Tavarez’s 50th strikeout of the season.

Other highlights from the night included seeing a fan with a pierced neck…

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and getting a ball from Kellogg shortly after the Phillies (and Myers, ha-HAAA!!!) lost 10-4.

Oh, and I also got the lineup cards:

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Here’s a closer look at them:

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…and here are a few photographs of the bat, starting with a shot of Norton’s uniform number written on the end:

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Here’s a close-up of his name:

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Here’s the pine tar-coated trademark…

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…and here’s his name and number on the knob:

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As for the bomb scare, THIS is what really happened.

What a day.

STATS:

? 11 balls at this game

? 528 balls in 69 games this season = 7.6521739 balls per game.

? 565 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 142 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 96 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 39 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

? 23 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)

? 3,805 total balls

9/23/08 at Shea Stadium

My trip to Shea Stadium started with a live 20-minute interview on the Covino & Rich Show on Sirius Satellite Radio. I actually had to go to the studio for this one, and while I was waiting (on the 36th floor of the McGraw-Hill building on 49th Street & 6th Avenue) for the producer to come and get me, I got permission to take photographs. Here’s the lobby area:

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See the blue screen on the upper right? See the black panels with orange text just below it on either side? They were like little scoreboards that kept listing different song titles and artists. I think they indicated what was being played on the various Sirius music channels.

I took a pic of the view of Radio City Music Hall…

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…and was led into the studio soon after.

Covino and Rich were great. I expected them to diss me nonstop–this WAS Maxim-affiliated after all and Maxim had dissed me in the past–but instead they treated me with unprecedented respect. I really couldn’t believe it, and they even gave my new book (“Watching Baseball Smarter”) several plugs. If anything, I thought they’d only mention my first book (“How to Snag Major League Baseballs”) because this entire interview came about as a direct result of the two home runs I caught on back-to-back nights last week at Yankee Stadium.

After the interview ended at 3:55pm, Jessica the call-screener took a photo of me and Covino (Rich was still sitting across from us)…

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…and then I got a shot with both of the guys:

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It was 4:04pm when I made it back out to the street. I ran over to 7th Avenue and then ran seven blocks south (right through Times Square) and ran down the steps into the subway and kept running until I was on an express No. 7 train…which then sat in the station for about 10 minutes.

By the time I made it to Shea, Gate C was already open and hundreds of fans were in the process of filing in.

No problem.

My plan was to wait outside until I found someone with an extra bleacher ticket–and the bleachers weren’t even going to open for another 50 minutes.

It took 40 (of the longest) minutes (ever) to get myself the ticket I needed, at which point I raced back to Gate C (you can enter the main part of the stadium with a bleacher ticket) and ran up the ramps to the Field Level concourse and headed around to the first base side and darted down the steps to the front row behind the Mets’ dugout. The Mets were still taking BP. This is what it looked like:

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See the guy standing on the warning track with the tan pants and dark green jacket? That’s Marty Noble, the Mets’ beat reporter for MLB.com (in case you’ve seen his name a thousand times and always wondered what he looked like).

When the Mets finished their portion of BP and came off the field five minutes later, I spotted bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello (who has recognized me for years) and yelled, “Hey, Dave, did you see me on SportsCenter?!”

dave_racaniello.jpg“No,” he said, walking over toward the basket of balls.

“You didn’t see the thing about the guy who caught home runs on back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium?”

“I saw that,” he said.

“Well that was ME,” I said.

“That was YOU?! No way.”

I then tried to convince him that it WAS me while he transferred the balls from the basket to the equipment bags. I’m not sure if I succeeded, and it didn’t matter. The only reason I was at the dugout was to try to get a ball, and before I even had a chance to ask for one, Dave looked up and said, “I suppose you want a ball.”

“Well,” I said, “if you happen to have a really dirty one that you were planning to throw out anyway…”

Dave then started fumbling through all the balls and he quickly pulled out a dirty one and tossed it to me. It was commemorative. Here it is:

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“Thanks so much,” I said. “I really appreciate it.”

“I know,” he replied with the hint of a smile and disappeared underneath the dugout roof.

The bleachers opened five minutes later, and as I was running up the steps, I heard the unmistakable sound of a ball clanging off the metal benches. I was at the top of the steps three seconds later and saw a security guard walking…somewhere.

“Where is it?!” I asked frantically.

“Over there,” he said, pointing toward the front row in the middle of the bleachers.

I ran over and saw the ball sitting right where the guard had been pointing, and I took a photo before I grabbed it:

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The Cubs were already on the field by this point, and I quickly got my third ball of the day from Carlos Zambrano. Then, because the section were still basically empty, I had ZERO competition when a home run ball landed in the center field end of the bleachers. I was like 40 feet away, and there wasn’t anyone else over there or even near me–not even security–so

I was able to take my time (relatively speaking) and jog over there and pick up the ball as it slowly started trickling down the steps.

A few minutes later, a man turned around and said, “Hey, aren’t you the guy who was on the FAN?” (He was referring to my recent radio interview on the “Boomer & Carton” Show on 660 WFAN here in New York City.)

ball3788.jpg“Yup, that’s me,” I said as another home run ball headed our way, landed on a metal bench two rows in front of us, bounced up and hit me on the wrist, and settled at my feet where I picked it up. (This ball, pictured on the right, had a VERY cool smudge on the logo.)

“How many balls is that now?” asked the man.

“Lemme think for a second,” I said, trying to remember how many balls I’d finished the previous day with. “Um…this one makes it three thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight.”

The man didn’t seem jealous or pissed off or anything about the fact that I’d just snagged this one right next to him. He seemed happy for me. I love Mets fans.

My sixth ball of the day was thrown by Reed Johnson–the 10th “Johnson” (along with Ben, Brian, Howard, Jason, Jonathan, Kelly, Mark P., Nick, and Russ) to have thrown me a ball–and my seventh was tossed by a player that I couldn’t identify.

I’d snagged the last six balls in such a short time frame that I didn’t have a chance to label any of them or put them away. Good thing I was wearing cargo pants with lots of pockets…and good thing there weren’t more people out there because I’m sure I would’ve gotten some strange looks. There were balls bulging out everywhere (sorry if that sounds gross), and it was hard to walk. I couldn’t even sit down because I had two of the balls in my back pockets. Thankfully, I soon had a minute to spare when the Cubs started a new round of BP so I quickly wrote the numbers on the balls and put them in my backpack.

My friend Greg (aka “gregb123″ if you read the comments on this blog) was watching all of this from the corner spot in the left field Loge, and when I happened to move closer to him at one point, he got my attention and told me that a ball had dropped into the gap at the far end of the bleachers, all the way out in left-center field. Naturally, I ran over there and took a look, and this is what I saw:

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Sweet!! (Thanks, Greg.) I set up my glove trick and reeled in the ball with ease.

Eww.

There were two clumps of G.S.M. (Grody Shea Muck) caked to the sweet spot:

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Still, I was glad to have the ball and made my best attempt to clean it off (by scraping it on the edge of a bench) before dropping it into my bag.

My ninth ball of the day was thrown by Kerry Wood, and my 10th was a home run that I caught on a fly in the wide cross-aisle. That one (I have no idea who hit it) had a big dirt/scuff pattern on it:

ball3793.jpg

I managed to get one more ball, and I wouldn’t have had this one either if not for Greg. It was a ball that he’d pointed out at the start of the Cubs’ BP. It was in the gap behind the wall on the foul-pole end of the bleachers, and I hadn’t seen it because it was half-buried under weeds and trash. You can see the ball clearly in the photo below, but when I’d originally peeked into the gap from a spot to the left, it was completely hidden. Check it out:

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It took me quite a while to fish this one out of the gap. At one point, I had it in the glove and started to lift it up when it slipped up. I nearly had a fit when that happened, but I kept trying (starting with swinging my glove from side to side in order to knock the ball a few inches to the side where I thought I’d have fewer leaves getting in my way) and eventually got it.

This ball, like several others I’d snagged throughout the day, was worth photographing:

ball3794.jpg

I ended up giving three balls away to little kids; the security guards had been so nice to me during BP–first by pointing out the ball when I ran into the bleachers and then by letting me use the glove trick–that I decided to “share the wealth” a little more than usual with the fans in their section. I don’t normally take pics of the kids that I give balls to, but I made an exception because one of them was just sooooo damn cute:

kid_i_gave_ball_to.jpg

The game itself was boring from a ball-snagging standpoint but exhilarating from a Mets-supporting standpoint. The Mets fell behind, 2-0, early on but tied the game in the fifth inning and took the lead for good in the sixth on Jose Reyes’ 200th hit of the season, which just so happened to be his 19th triple, which just so happened to come with the bases loaded. I was very excited. Shea was rockin’. It was fun.

Meanwhile, Johan Santana struck out 10 batters in eight solid innings to pick up his 15th win.

Final score: Mets 6, Cubs 2.

STATS:

? 11 balls at this game

? 517 balls in 68 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 564 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 95 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 22 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)

? 3,794 total balls

AND IN OTHER (media) NEWS…

1) Someone at CBS recently uploaded my “Early Show” segment onto YouTube. In case you haven’t seen it, here it is.

2) Do you remember when I mentioned in my last entry that I had to pull over while driving to Philadelphia to do an interview with a reporter at the Wall Street Journal? Well, that story is now up, and you can read it here. Because it’s a blog-type piece, there are comments at the bottom, and as a rule, I never read comments about myself on other people’s blogs. They’re always so negative, and they’re always from people who don’t know a single thing about me (or might have seen me snag 11 balls but didn’t notice when I quietly gave three of them away), so please, if you’re going to read that piece, don’t leave a comment here and tell me how badly I’m getting bashed. I’m not interested.

3) I got quoted today in the New York Times about something only slightly related to snagging baseballs. Here’s the article. You’ll find my name about halfway down…

9/22/08 at Citizens Bank Park

On September 12th, I heard from a guy named Charlie Schroeder who produces a show on NPR called “Weekend America.” He’d heard an earlier in-studio interview I did and thought it might be cool to do one at a game–to have a reporter follow me around with a microphone and capture all the sounds of snagging. We picked September 22nd. This was it…

Before I met the reporter from NPR, I had to do another interview with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. He needed to get in touch ASAP. I’d emailed him my cell phone number before I left New York City and told him I’d have time to talk starting at around 3:45 to 4pm when I’d be waiting to enter the stadium. He ended up calling at 3pm. He couldn’t wait. I was three-quarters of the way to Philadelphia. I didn’t want to have to split my attention between the road and the interview so I found a place to pull over (NOT on a major highway) and spent the next 35 minutes answering questions about Giambi and Damon and lots of other snagging-related topics. I was then forced to drive like a maniac and still didn’t make it to the Ashburn Alley gate until 4:16pm–less than 20 minutes before the stadium was going to open.

The reporter from NPR–Tim Jimenez was his name–was nearly a decade younger than me, and as it turned out, he didn’t actually work for NPR. He worked for a local radio station and was hired for the day to do this as a freelance assignment. Unfortunately, he had to stay at his regular job until 4pm and didn’t reach the stadium until 4:45. I’d already snagged two balls by the that point and had a funny exchange with–who else?–Shane Victorino. It all started when I ran into the left field seats, had the ENTIRE section to myself, and had to watch helplessly as a home run sailed five feet over my head and landed on a staircase and bounced all the way back onto the field. Victorino started laughing at me from left-center and shouting about how I should’ve caught it.

shane_victorino.jpg
“It was too high over my head!” I yelled.

He responded by waving his glove dismissively and turning his back.

“Shane!” I shouted, prompting him to turn around. “Did you see the thing on ESPN about the guy in New York who caught home runs on back to back nights?”

“Yeah!” he shouted.

“Well that was ME, so show some RESPECT!”

“That was YOU?!”

“Yes!” I yelled, pretending to be annoyed that he didn’t recognize me, and then I did my stupid dance.

Victorino cracked up because he realized it really WAS me and then he did the “We’re not worthy” move from “Wayne’s World.” (I can’t find the actual clip from that movie, so here’s a random example from YouTube.)

As for the two balls I snagged early on, the first was a home run that I caught on a fly (which Victorino saw and applauded) and the second was thrown by Scott Eyre near the cameras in center field.

Tim showed up five minutes later. Here he is:

tim_jimenez.jpg

Of course I didn’t snag another ball for the remaining 45 minutes of the Phillies’ portion of batting practice. Still, Tim followed me everywhere and asked questions (that he’d been given), and I tried to make his life easier by talking non-stop. Every time I did ANYthing–even moving up or down a row–I explained my logic. I knew it was better for Charlie to have too much audio than too little.

The Braves took the field at around 5:30pm, and a ball immediately rolled onto the warning track in left-center field:

ball3776_on_warning_track.jpg

I had to lean forward just to take this photograph; I had to stretch all the way across the flower bed (and try to avoid the bird poop) to actually snag it with my glove trick. Tim, meanwhile, had his microphone in my face and was asking me to describe what I was doing.

“It’s kinda hard to talk and do this at the same time,” I huffed while supporting all the weight of my upper body on my elbows, which were now digging into the metal railing. (I really couldn’t talk, and I hoped that by saying that, I was providing an entertaining sound bite.)

will_ohman_2008.jpgI reeled the ball in. All the fans around me cheered. I hoped that Tim’s microphone captured them. But mainly, I was just glad to have snagged my 499th ball of the season.

Several other balls were sitting on the warning track, so I had an instant shot at No. 500, but as soon as I started lowering my glove, Will Ohman raced over and grabbed all the balls and fired them back toward the bucket in shallow center field. I wasn’t mad. Ohman has always been nice, and it just seemed like he was being playful.

Sure enough, less than five minutes later as the Braves pitchers were finishing their throwing, Ohman spotted me along the left field foul line and tossed me a ball–number five hundred:

500th_ball_of_2008.jpg

It was just a regular ball–no interesting markings as you can see–and it came from a player that isn’t exactly heading for the Hall of Fame, but it’s still one of the most special balls I’ve ever snagged.

I jogged to the right field seats and Tim followed–that is, until I took off running for a home run that was heading one-and-a-half sections to my left. I raced through an entire 20-something-seat row and realized that the ball was going to sail a bit over my head, so I darted up a few steps and then cut across, two rows above where I’d been running seconds earlier. Several other hands reached up as the ball came down…right to me…right into the pocket of my glove while I was still on the run. It was a MUCH better play than either of the two home runs I’d caught at Yankee Stadium the week before, and yet no one (outside of this blog) will ever hear about it or care. That’s how it goes.

I used the glove trick to pluck my sixth ball of the day off the warning track, and before I’d reeled it all the way back up, a not-too-happy security guard was standing behind me. He confiscated the ball (it still counts in my collection so whatever) on the grounds that I was “stealing.” He then cut the string off my glove…

string_after_getting_cut.jpg

…and threatened to eject me if he EVER saw me do it again. (Why is it that Giants management doesn’t consider it “stealing” and welcomes fans to bring ball-retrieving devices into AT&T Park and yet this one mean dude in Philly has a problem with it? I guess I shouldn’t complain. The fact that every ballpark is different is one of the many things that makes baseball as great as it is. It’d just be nice if security in all the ballparks were a little more fan-friendly.)

BP ended earlier than I’d expected so I missed my chance to get a ball from the Braves behind their dugout as they left the field.

Every time I go to Citizens Bank Park, my goal is to snag at least ten balls. As I’ve said many times in the past, there’s just something great about breaking double digits–but it didn’t look promising on this day when I finished BP with six. Still, I had a plan. All I needed to do was snag one ball during pre-game throwing, one third-out ball at each team’s dugout during the game, and one more ball after the game. Could it be done?

Pregame throwing?

pregame_throwing_09_22_08.jpg

Check. Omar Infante hooked me up by intentionally bouncing his toss off the warning track.

Third-out balls?

gamers_09_22_08.jpg

Check, check. Like clockwork, Ryan Howard tossed me the first ball after the top of the second inning. Braves catcher Clint Sammons had popped up to him (notice the big smudge where the bat hit it) and he lobbed it to me on his way in. Then, half an inning later, on the other side of the field, Casey Kotchman threw me the second ball after Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ made the third out by hitting a wimpy grounder to Kelly Johnson. How nice. (Actually, the ball from Kotchman WAS nice. I’d always wanted one from him because his father, Tom, was the manager of the Class A Short-Season Boise Hawks when I worked for the team during the summer of 1995. Little 12-year-old Casey was often hanging around the ballpark, and whenever he took BP [on the field, after games, which I had to help set up and clean up as a part-time member of the grounds crew], everyone would rave about his beautiful swing and how he was going to be a great player someday. So yeah, it was cool to finally get to add him to my list.)

By this point, Tim had gotten all the audio he needed, so we parted ways. As for me…I still needed one more ball to reach double digits, and although I knew it would’ve been easy to get it between innings, I abandoned the dugouts. Quite simply, it was time to move on. I hadn’t felt guilty when I snagged balls there early in the game, but after a while there were lots of kids running down to the front row after every third out, and I wanted to give them a chance.

I spent the middle innings in left-center field, hoping for a home run to fly my way. This was my view:

view_from_left_center_09_22_08.jpg

It was boring. I didn’t like my chances. And I really wanted to WATCH the game (imagine that) so after the seventh-inning stretch, I moved to the seats behind the Braves’ dugout. It was “rally towel” night, or whatever the hell those obnoxious snot-rags are called:

rally_towels_09_22_08.jpg

I didn’t even bother running down to the dugout for third-out balls. I didn’t want to get yelled at. I just watched the game and rooted for the Braves and after they lost (6-2 was the final score), I tried to get a ball from the ump (and failed) but did get Buddy Carlyle to throw me my 10th ball of the day as he walked across the field from the bullpen. Woo!

Then I approached the family of the youngest kid (with a glove) I could find and asked if he’d gotten a ball. When they all said no, I handed him the second cleanest ball I’d snagged that day. The cleanest happened to be my 500th; there was no way I was giving THAT one up.

STATS:

? 10 balls at this game

? 506 balls in 67 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 563 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 141 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 94 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 38 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

? 21 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)

? 3,783 total balls

(FYI, the “Weekend America” segment won’t air until the World Series.)

9/21/08 at Yankee Stadium

Last day ever at Yankee Stadium…

thanks_for_the_memories.jpg

The magnitude of this game never really sunk in; although I felt a bit
sad at various points throughout the day, I still had to keep reminding
myself that this was THE LAST time I’d ever be there. It just felt like
all the commotion was yet another formality. I mean, even in May, there were fans who couldn’t find tickets…

fan_needs_tickets.jpg

…so what made this any different?

Obviously this is just a matter of opinion, but I think MY sign was
better. Here I am holding it up with my Watch With Zack clients for the
day: a man named Jeff and his two sons Scott and Adam:

zack_sign_jeff_scott_adam.jpg

If you’ve been reading this blog since last year, you might remember these guys from 9/29/07 at Camden Yards.

Here are our four tickets. Silver stamping. Nice…

final_game_tickets.jpg

The stadium was going to open at 1pm–more than seven hours before game
time–and we arrived a couple hours before that. We waited outside Gate
6 so that we’d be able to run inside and claim the corner spot on the
short porch in right field. Clearly, THAT was going to be the best
place to get balls during batting practice. Even though fans were going
to be allowed to walk *ON* (and all the way around) the warning track
from 1 to 4pm, I didn’t want to take any chances by not going to the
corner spot right away. BP was scheduled to begin at around 5pm. I knew
the stadium would be packed by that time. I didn’t want to end up
scrambling for a spot at the last minute and getting buried in the
crowd, and more than ever I needed to be in a visible spot. Not only had Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie promised me a ball two days earlier,
but my 561-game streak was on the line. I didn’t want to blow it for
the chance to scoop up some warning track dirt, and besides, there were
other mementos available…like the peeling paint on the outside of the
stadium, which the fan below was unabashedly pulling off for a
photographer:

fan_chips_paint_off_wall.jpg

There was a huge crowd behind us when GATE 6 opened for the final time.
We ran in and sprinted to the corner spot. Just about everyone else
made a beeline for Monument Park. That’s where fans were going to be
allowed to walk onto the field–through the same gate that Mariano
Rivera would be using in the ninth inning–but none of us had any
serious interest. Jeff had been on the field before. I’d been on other
fields, so I didn’t feel the NEED to walk on this one. I just wanted to
hold onto the corner spot, and Adam (who really wanted a ball) was
happy to hang with me. Scott (who hadn’t brought his glove because he
couldn’t find it) was the only one who wanted to walk on the field, so
he and his dad headed over to the other side of the stadium. They
returned less than an hour later. The line was absurdly long so they
gave up. Jeff said it snaked way back into the concourse, then up the
ramps to the upper deck (!!!), then through the upper deck concourse
and back down the ramps toward home plate, and I think he even said it
then went back toward home plate and up again to the Loge Level. I
forget the exact details of his account of the line, but you get the
point. Therefore, the four of us hung out on the short porch, which
remained mostly empty for the first two hours.

The highlight of my day (and there were many) was running into a
legendary ballhawk I used to know in the early 1990s–an older gentleman
named Artie. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him. It had been about 15
years since we’d crossed paths, and he was already gray-haired back
then. We used to see each other ALL the time, and when he disappeared,
I didn’t know what to think. Had he gotten too old to chase baseballs?
Had he given up his season tickets? Had he died?! For years and years,
I had been thinking of him and remembering all the times that he took
me under his wing and calmed me down when stadium security and other
fans were giving me a hard time. It’s like he was a second father to
me, or maybe even a grandfather. We were ALWAYS out in right field
together, chasing baseballs, and we’d talk for hours every day during
BP and after BP and during the game. I’d told other friends about him,
and I always wondered how many baseballs he had. I knew it had to be
hundreds, and I suspected his grand total was probably in the
thousands. So…what ever happened to him? How is it that we both ended
up near the corner spot on the LAST day ever at Yankee Stadium? It
turned out that *I’m* the one who disappeared. He only has a weekend
season ticket plan, and I stopped going to games on weekends. That was
it. He’d still been going to Yankee Stadium all these years.
Incredible. We were both so happy to see each other. I’m telling you, I
almost cried when I saw him after all these years. He really was a
legend to me, but we’d never kept in touch away from the ballpark. This
time, however, I made sure to get his phone number and ask him dozens
of questions, and then his daughter Cathy took a few photos of us. Here
we are:

artie_zack.jpg

You want to know how many baseballs Artie has caught since 1945?

3,950

That’s more than me!

He told me he’d heard about my books and had seen me catching those two
home runs on TV, and when I told him what MY grand total of baseballs
was, he said, “You’ve carried on my torch, and you did it in a graceful
way. I’m proud of you.”

I can’t tell you how good it made me feel to hear him say that.

The fans started making their way around the warning track…

fans_on_field.jpg

…and there was still lots of time to kill, so Artie and I kept
talking. He doesn’t know exactly how many game home run balls he’s
snagged, but he has 36 of his catches just on tape. In 1961, he caught
home runs by both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, and he said those are
the only two balls he kept. He wishes he’d kept more, but he donated
them all to an autism foundation. (He has two autistic grandkids.) His
one-game record is 12. His single-season record is “over 200.” That was
back in ’61. He’s gotten lots of balls tossed to him by players
(including Ted Williams!) but he’s never used a ball-retrieving device.
He told me that back in the 1940s, players didn’t throw many balls into
the crowd, and they almost never hit home runs during batting practice
because they actually treated it like “practice” and didn’t swing for
the fences.

Artie, who will be turning 70 in February, pulled out a little photo
album and told me stories as I flipped through. There were photos of
him on the field with Don Mattingly, walking in the stands with Roger
Maris, at a birthday party with Billy Martin. I’m telling you…the man
is a LEGEND, and I might have to write an entire chapter in my next
book about him. I don’t know, but I can tell you that this is not the
last time you’ll be hearing his name.

I took a break from my conversation with Artie to do a five-minute live phone interview with a radio station in England called “talkSPORT.”
Then, while Jeff held the corner spot, I took Scott and Adam with me
and caught up with Ken Derry, the managing editor of Yankees Magazine.
Ken had gotten in touch after my home run catches and said that he was
going to do a “little story” on me.

The “little” story was apparently going to have a little photograph of me:

zack_photo_for_yankees_magazine.jpg

(Thanks to Scott for taking the photo that you see above.)

The photographer–her name was Arie–took about 50 shots in the span of
two minutes and then disappeared into the crowd. Ken then pulled out a
voice recorder and interviewed me for about 20 minutes. The story will
appear in the “closing ceremonies” issue, which will be coming out in
November.

After the interview, I took a photo of the nearby “SportsCenter” set-up…

sportscenter.jpg

…and the show went to a commercial break, I shouted at Steve Phillips.

He looked up.

I did my stupid “Cabbage Patch” dance.

He raised his eyebrows and pointed at me as if to say, “That was YOU?!”

I nodded and pointed at myself.

He nodded and gave me a thumbs-up.

I was hoping he’d wave me down to the front row and bring me on the air, but no, that was the end of it.

(In case you haven’t yet seen my home runs catches and celebratory dances, you can see the Jason Giambi homer here and the Johnny Damon homer here.)

I went back out to the corner spot in right field (big thanks to Jeff
for staying there) and saw Spike Lee following Reggie Jackson with a
small video camera:

spike_films_reggie.jpg

Finally, at around 4:30pm, the Yankees came out and began stretching:

yankees_before_batting_practice_09_21_08.jpg

Looks like a nice relaxing day, right?

Well, check out the view to my left:

crowd_before_batting_practice.jpg

Thank God I had the corner spot because it would NOT have been easy.
See the tall guy wearing the backwards cap and the unbuttoned road
jersey? He ended up catching four balls, including two home runs on a
fly and a third which hit the Loge facade and bounced back to him. See
the kid at the bottom middle of the photo with his chin on his fist?
That’s Brian (aka “puckcollector”) from this blog. And do you see the
man who’s standing closest to the camera with his cap pulled down over
his eyes? That’s Jeff.

Just before BP started, I ran into another stadium regular named Howard
Pressman. He had been quoted in the first paragraph of the first article EVER written about my baseball collection. Here we are:

zack_howard_pressman.jpg

BP finally got underway, and Adam snagged a ball before I did. Yankees
reliever Phil Coke tossed it to a security guard who flipped it up.
Even though I could’ve caught it, I didn’t reach out for it because it
was clearly intended for Adam, and I wanted him to enjoy the rush of
catching the ball on his own. It was commemorative, and here he is holding it up:

adam_showing_his_ball.jpg

I also managed to talk Phil Coke out of a commemorative ball even
though he recognized me as THAT GUY who caught the two home runs and
wasn’t exactly dying to give me one as a result. I ended up giving that
ball to Scott who had positioned himself in the seats along the right
field foul line and therefore didn’t have a chance to snag a ball on
his own.

When the Orioles came out, I quickly got Jamie Walker to throw me my
second ball of the day. Thankfully, Jeremy Guthrie was nowhere in sight
at the time, so when he finally appeared, he greeted me with a smile
and imitated my dance…

jeremy_guthrie_imitating_my_dance.jpg

…and then tossed me ball No. 3.

Guthrie is a COOL guy. Not only had he remembered me after two days and
kept his promise by hooking me up with a ball, but he was interacting
with the fans throughout BP. One fan asked him to scoop up some dirt
from the warning track, and he did it! Check it out:

jeremy_guthrie_scooping_dirt.jpg

I got one more ball tossed to me by Brian Bass. It was just a regular ball, but it ended up being a very special ball indeed…

ball3773_last_at_yankee_stadium.jpg

The four of us headed upstairs for the pre-game ceremony. This was our view:

pregame_ceremony_view.jpg

It was incredible to hear a recorded welcome message from longtime P.A.
announcer Bob Sheppard…and to see Babe Ruth’s daughter throw out
(okay, so she bounced it) the ceremonial first pitch…and to see
former Yankee greats actually wearing the uniforms and taking their
positions on the field…but the ceremony was still lacking, in my
opinion. To me, it seemed like it was TOO focused on the players and
not focused enough on the stadium itself. But hey…still cool.

The four of us stayed in our seats through the top of the first inning
and then headed downstairs for the sole purpose of catching the last
home run at Yankee Stadium.

There were hardly any empty seats (as you might imagine), so we
wandered aimlessly for a bit and couldn’t see much of the game. Scott
was more interested in watching, and Adam was more interested in
snagging, so we split up. Scott and his dad went back up to the seats
while Adam and I roamed.

We started in left field, but there truly wasn’t any place to sit or
stand, so we headed all the way around the stadium and camped out in
the tunnel in the middle of the short porch.

Security kept telling us we had to move, so we kept shuffling our
position in attempt to linger there as long as possible. At one point,
we walked back to the corner spot and stayed back against the railing
at the back of the aisle. That’s where Artie and Cathy were sitting,
and they didn’t mind that we were, as I described it, “invading” their
space.

“I want you to catch it,” said Artie.

“If I catch the last home run in your section.” I said, “I’m always gonna feel guilty.”

He assured me I didn’t need to and was glad to catch up with me again for a bit.

In the bottom of the third inning, with two on and nobody out, Johnny
Damon hit a home run that landed IN the aisle about 40 feet to our
left. We couldn’t move. There was hardly any room to walk, even when
there wasn’t a valuable ball flying in our direction, so once the ball
left the bat and people stood up out of their folding chairs, that was
it. Done/ No chance. If I’d been standing at the front of the tunnel, I
would’ve had a great chance of catching the ball, but even then there
wouldn’t have been a guarantee.

The guy who caught it (barehanded, no less) was mobbed by reporters
within minutes. I walked over and took a photo. Was THIS going to be
the last home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium? I didn’t know. So at the
time this was a BIG deal. Here he is with the ball. His name is Brian
Elmer:

brian_elmer.jpg

It was a regular/commemorative ball. I was thinking that there might’ve
been special “final day” balls in use, but that wasn’t the case. The
ball wasn’t marked either. Security never escorted him off. The MLB
authenticator never made an appearance. It was sloppy, and I was
stunned. This was a big deal, as I mentioned above, and yet it
wasn’t…based on the way it was handled.

Here’s a photo that’ll give you an idea of how cramped the aisle was in
right field. You can actually see a reporter (in a tan shirt) crouching
in the aisle while interviewing Elmer.

short_porch_aisle.jpg

Adam and I were kicked out of the corner spot soon after, and ten
minutes after that, we were kicked out of the tunnel. (Damn!) We had no
choice but to head back to left field, and while we were on our way,
Jose Molina hit a home run that landed on the protective netting over
Monument Park. (I heard later from my friend Eric Marinbach, a Yankee
Stadium regular who sits out there, that a security guard ended up
GIVING the ball to another fan. What the hell?!)

Amazingly, we found two empty seats in the first row behind the aisle,
all the way out against the side wall in straight-away left field. I
ended up sitting in the exact same seat that I was in when I jumped up
and caught the Kevin Millar homer two months earlier. This was the view:

view_from_left_field_09_21_08.jpg

Sadly, there weren’t any other homers for the rest of the night.

This is how the Yankees announced the attendance:

total_attendance.jpg

This was the scene less than 60 seconds after Mariano Rivera threw the last pitch:

postgame1_police.jpg

(I got a great video of the final pitch. You wouldn’t believe how many
flashbulbs were going off. I might post the video on YouTube at some
point.)

Here’s the final score:

postgame2_scoreboard.jpg

Adam and I headed to the upper deck and got there in time to see the Yankees’ final lap around the field:

postgame3_yankees_victory_lap.jpg

It took us about 20 minutes to reach our assigned seats, where we caught up with Scott and Jeff. Here I am with the boys:

postgame4_scott_zack_adam.jpg

I didn’t see THAT much vandalism. This was the worst of it…

postgame5_vandalization.jpg

…although I did notice that there were an awful lot of cup holders
missing when we all wandered back down to the field level. This was the
scene:

postgame6_stadium_emptying_out.jpg

And that was pretty much it. Jeff had to work early the next day, while
Adam and Scott had to be at school–and they had to drive back to New
Jersey, so they headed off. I lingered inside the stadium until
security kicked me out. The only thing I grabbed on my way was a
three-inch stack of napkins that’d been abandoned on an empty vending
cart. Why not.

Goodbye, Yankee Stadium. I hate to admit it, but I’ll miss you…

STATS:

hank_aaron.jpg

? 4 balls at this game

? 496 balls in 66 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 562 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

? 3,773 total balls

Remember when I started comparing my baseball total to players’ career hit totals? Well, I’m now ahead of Hank Aaron (3,771) and in third place all time behind Ty Cobb (4,191).

(Apologies for any typos in the this entry. I wrote the whole thing in
less than three hours and didn’t even have a chance to read through it
once. I’ll give it proper edit tonight when I get back from Shea.)

9/19/08 at Yankee Stadium

It was dark when I woke up. I’d gotten less than four hours of sleep. I
quickly shaved and brushed my teeth and got dressed and headed
downstairs with my glove and my girlfriend Jona and a duffel bag full of baseballs. It was 6:30am. There was supposed to be a car waiting
for us. I was supposed to be on “The Early Show” in half an hour. I
called my contact at CBS. She told me the car was on the way. I called
back three minutes later. Still no car. She told me to get a cab and
that she’d reimburse me. Then the car showed up. We picked up my mom
and flew through Central Park:

CBS1_ride_to_early_show.jpg

I hadn’t even been awake for an hour, and the day was already a blur.

We
arrived on the set–an outdoor plaza on 59th Street & 5th Avenue–at
around 6:50am. It was cold and windy. Several staffers greeted me and
rushed me off the sidewalk and hooked me up with a microphone and an
ear piece as my mom (holding the green Argosy bag) looked on:

CBS2_zack_getting_miked.jpg

The ear piece wouldn’t stay in my ear.

“If it falls out on-air, just hold it in place,” said a voice.

Several other staffers appeared with two rectangular clear plastic boxes and helped me transfer the balls into them.

Then, almost without warning, I was told to get ready to open the show.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked.

“Hold up your two home run balls and do your dance,” said the woman in the green jacket.

“For how long?”

“Until I tell you to stop.”

“We’re on in thirty!” yelled another voice.

“Okay,
stand by,” said the woman, and before I knew it, she was pointing at me
to indicate that the cameras–all three of them–were rolling. I was on
live national TV. I held up the balls as the audio portion of the show
pounded my left eardrum. Then I danced, stopping briefly to roll my
eyes, and continued until my right ear heard someone shout, “That was
great!”

I was rushed inside to get a new ear piece and then led (along with my mom and Jona) to the green room:

CBS3_green_room.jpg

We
helped ourselves to some food, and the producer of my segment came in
to prep me. Super-nice guy. Young. Cute (according to Jona). His name
was (and still is, I imagine) Warren. He asked to see the glove trick,
reviewed the three ball-snagging tips we’d discussed the night before
on the phone, and told me that my entire segment had been bumped up
“from a minute and thirty seconds to two-ten.”

Then I headed back outside to do another “teaser”:

CBS4_zack_teaser1.jpg

At 7:21am, I was finally given some makeup to hide the bags under my eyes. Naturally, this was Jona’s favorite part of the day:

CBS5_zack_makeup.jpg

Then it was back outside for another teaser. I decided to juggle:

CBS6_zack_teaser2.jpg

This
was the last teaser. I headed back to the green room (as three security
guards stayed with the balls) and talked to the two international
soccer players who were going to be doing a cooking segment later in
the show.

Warren came and got me and led me back outside. This time it was the real deal:

CBS7_before_main_interview.jpg

The
main feature of the interview was the glove trick. First I showed Julie Chen (who was holding one of the two home runs balls) how it works…

CBS8_zack_glove_trick.jpg

…and then struggled briefly during my attempt to reel in the other. CRAP!!!
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the ground (as you can kinda see
in the following photo) was slanted down toward the drain in front of
me, so as soon as the tip of my glove touched the ball, it started
rolling away. Fortunately I made a quick recovery and proved to the
world that the glove trick really does work:

CBS9_zack_glove_trick.jpg

The segment closed with another dance performance, and I felt a little less stupid about it when all the anchors joined me:

CBS10_zack_dancing.jpg

Jona later admitted that they danced even worse than me. (“I thought it was just a white-boy thing,” she said.)

It took a team effort to pack up the balls…

CBS11_balls_being_packed_up.jpg

…and then I went home for a live phone interview with “Boomer and Carton” on WFAN 660AM. You can find the segment and listen to it on this page.
Just do a search for my name or scroll down ’til you see me. Remember
that the date was “9-19″ and when you see the little blurb about me,
click the tiny “play” button.

Once again, just like
the day before, I had a million calls and emails to deal with, and
whenever I had a break, I worked on my blog. (Jona, meanwhile, went out
to run a few errands and came back with a copy of Newsday which had this article
about me.) I heard from a guy at “Inside Edition” and talked to someone
else at NPR and eventually met FOX News at my parents’ place at 2:30pm.
That’s where I keep most of the balls.

We did the first part of the interview while the balls were still hidden…

FOX1.jpg

…and then I opened up the barrels and drawers for the camera:

FOX2.jpg

After the FOX people left at 2:50pm, I basically passed out in the living room (Jona doesn’t miss a thing)…

FOX3_napping_after_interview.jpg

…but
didn’t get to rest for more than 10 minutes before leaving for Yankee
Stadium. (The FOX segment, by the way, aired that same day on the local
six o’clock and ten o’clock news. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to give a
heads-up, but I was told that it can now be seen online. I haven’t yet had
a chance to look for it so let me know if you find it.)

Remember
the guy named Hideo who works for a Japanese public TV station called
NHK? Well, he was back at Yankee Stadium, and when he saw me (and
Jona) waiting outside the bleacher entrance, he asked if he could film
me again.

First he had me re-enact the walk from the subway:

NHK1.jpg

Once we reached the bleacher entrance, I showed all my ball-snagging “equipment”…

NHK2.jpg

…and after answering a bunch of questions about what Yankee Stadium means to me, I demonstrated the glove trick:

NHK3.jpg

Several people asked to have their picture taken with me…

zack_and_random_fans1_09_19_08.jpg

…and before long, it was time for batting practice.

I roamed all over the place early on…

zack_during_BP1_09_19_08.jpg

…but
didn’t get a thing. I had a few very close calls and several other
unlucky bounces. On a good day, all those balls might’ve ended up in my
drawstring backpack, but on this day it just wasn’t happening. I don’t
know why. Just one of those things?

I got lucky halfway through
the Yankees’ portion of BP when some fans dropped a ball into the gap
between the outfield wall and the base of the stands. By this point it
was too crowded for Jona to find a space along the railing and capture
the action below, so she stayed behind me and ended up getting a pretty
cool shot. Notice how my feet were off the ground…

glove_trick_09_19_08.jpg

…which
means all 175 pounds of me were being pressed against the railing via
my stomach. (I was balancing on the railing in the exact same way when
I caught the Damon homer–feet off the ground and everything–but you
can’t tell in any of the footage.
What a shame.) The reason I was up on the railing is that the ball was
on the far side of the netting. (If you’re unfamiliar with the
bleachers, you can see a photo of the gap and netting in this
entry.) Basically I had to get up high in order to reach far out.
Anyway, the trick worked, and I had my first ball of the day–a very
important ball as it turned out, and yes, it was commemorative:

ball3768.jpg

There
wasn’t much action after that, so Jona borrowed my Orioles cap (to
shade her eyes) and waited patiently as I suffered. Here she is–the
woman behind the camera:

jona_during_BP.jpg

Once the Yankees jogged off the field, I switched into my Orioles gear and stood out in the sea of white and gray and navy blue:

zack_during_BP2_09_19_08.jpg

It
didn’t help. The Orioles hardly threw ANY balls into the crowd, and the
fact that most of their batters were right-handed didn’t help my cause
either. I didn’t snag a single ball during the 45 minutes that they
were on the field.

HOWEVER…

There was one good thing
that happened during that time. When I asked Jeremy Guthrie for a ball,
he turned around and immediately recognized me as THAT GUY who caught
the two home runs. I know he recognized me because he briefly imitated
my dance move. Wow. He walked over to the warning track and asked if I
was really THAT GUY, and when I said yes, he started quizzing me about
the various T-shirts that I’d been wearing throughout the week.

“What’re you doing wearing an Orioles shirt?” he asked.

“I’m
not actually a Yankee fan,” I said. Then I turned around and showed him
the back of my shirt and told him that Ripken is my favorite player of
all time.

Guthrie took the ball out of his glove.

“Don’t give it to him!” shouted another fan.

jeremy_guthrie_2008.jpg
“Don’t worry, I won’t!” yelled Guthrie. “He’s got enough already!” and with that he flipped the ball 20 feet to my left.

I caught his attention just as he was getting ready to walk away.

“Listen,” I said. “I don’t care about catching any balls today, but I’m gonna be here on Sunday for the final game, and I’m dying to get a ball that day. Is there any chance at all that you might be able to hook me up?”

“You mean a BP ball?” he asked.

“Yeah, anything.”

“Oh yeah, that’s no problem.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah,” he said, “where are you gonna be?”

“Well
that’s the thing. I’m not sure. I haven’t figured out my strategy
yet. Do you know if you guys are even gonna take BP?”

“I’m not sure.”

The
conversation went on for another minute, and he told me that if there
was BP, I should meet him on the short porch in right field and if
there wasn’t BP, he’d still have to come out and throw in which case
he’d look for me along the left field foul line.

How.
Awesome.
Is.
That.

I
just hope he remembers and keeps his promise. The last time I went to a
game and didn’t snag at least one ball was in September of 1993. It’d
be a real shame if that streak were to end on an otherwise incredible
day.

After BP, I caught up with a fellow baseball-snagger named
Mike (aka “yankees42294″ if you read the comments on this blog) who was
also wearing a Ripken shirt and had a ball-retrieving device. Here we
are:

michael_and_zack.jpg

A few more fans asked to take their picture with me…

zack_and_random_fans2_09_19_08.jpg

…and that’s when the battery in my camera died.

The rest of my evening can be summed up as follows:

1)
A particular season ticket holder who narrowly missed both of the home
runs I caught ratted me out to security and told them I didn’t belong
in the wheelchair aisle. (The way I see it, if he leaves the game in the
seventh inning and I take his seat and catch a homer in the eighth,
that’s not my fault.)

2) Security and several other
season ticket holders made me feel rather unwelcome. (Good thing this
was the last time I was ever planning to be in the bleachers anyway.)

3)
I left the stadium with Jona, walked to the ticket office, and bought
two seats IN the aisle in front of section 41 which is exactly where I
wanted to be. (It had occurred to me that those seats, if left unsold,
would be released to the public at some point; clearly that point had
arrived by the time I tried to buy them in the top of the third inning.)

4)
I waltzed back into the bleachers and stunned everyone when I appeared
in the wheelchair aisle with two folding chairs and a sexy mama by my
side. (Not surprisingly, a good number of people still felt the need to
call me “gay” despite the presence of the aforementioned sexy mama. I
think it was all the dancing that had them convinced.)

5)
No home runs were hit into the bleachers. (I heard later that Michael
Kay spotted me on a deep fly out to right-center by Xavier Nady.)

6)
After I returned to the seat from having my picture taken with a few
more people, Jona said she overheard a fan behind her talking about how
all he wanted to do was prevent me from getting another ball. She then
told me that for the rest of the night, whenever I got up to chase a
ball, she would get up too and block this other fan. (Jona is 5-foot-8
and knows how to…let’s say…use her body. Don’t mess with her.)

7)
Before the ninth inning got underway, Brett Gardner threw his warm-up
ball into the crowd, or at least he tried to. Unfortunately for the
fans he was aiming for, and luckily for me, it fell short and landed in
the gap. I already had the rubber band stretched around my glove, just
for ball3769.jpg
this reason. Before Mike had a chance to run over with his cup trick,
and before security had a chance to stop me, I was standing over the
ball and lowering my glove. The glove made it all the way down, but I
couldn’t get the ball to stick inside on the first try. That’s when I
heard a police officer tell me I had to stop doing that. I played dumb
for two seconds, raised the glove a few inches, and lowered it back
over the ball for what I knew would be my final attempt. The officer demanded
that I stop at once and bring my glove up. So I did. Slowly. Because
the ball was tucked snugly inside. (Once I had the ball in my bare hand, I made sure to hide it until
I’d walked past the cop. Then, once I was within view of the fan who was
supposedly going to try to interfere, I made sure he and his buddies saw it.)

8) Mariano Rivera nearly blew the save but escaped his own jam and preserved the Yankees’ 3-2 lead.

9) After the final out, Jona and I made a mad dash to the subway and beat the crowd.

I
just did a little calculatin’ and came up with this nugget: If the
Yankees and Orioles don’t combine to hit more than three homers in the
Final Game, I’ll be able to say that I caught two of the last ten home
runs ever hit at Yankee Stadium. Of course, given the fact that I’ll BE
at the Final Game, I’m obviously hoping to catch THE final home run. I
won’t be sitting in the bleachers. I’m not sure exactly where I’ll be
or what I’ll be wearing, but know that if there’s a way to make
something happen, I’m bound to find it…

STATS:

? 2 balls at this game

? 492 balls in 65 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 561 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,769 total balls

9/18/08 at Yankee Stadium

I don’t even know where to begin…

Yesterday I woke up way too early with way too little sleep and spent the entire morning and afternoon attempting to blog. It was impossible to write more than a couple sentences at a time because I was on the phone nonstop, mostly with people from the media asking me when I was free, and I was also trying to keep up with the steady flow of emails. Here’s a (partial) screen shot of my inbox from earlier this morning. Keep in mind that these are just the messages that I haven’t yet had a chance to answer…

inbox.jpg

I spent most of my time talking to a producer at CBS, who told me that “The Early Show” wanted me the next day at 7:30am. (Damn, that IS early.) I talked to other TV people, a few radio producers, and some newspaper reporters. I can’t even list them all.

I was supposed to meet a member of the Japanese media at Yankee Stadium between 4pm and 4:15, but I ended up running late and calling him and pushing things back to 4:30. I was trying to finish my blog while shaving and gathering my stuff for the game while getting calls from CBS and the YES Network (and a few other places) while updating my publicist while checking my email. I truly can’t convey how crazy it was.

I left my apartment at around 3:45pm and RAN seven blocks to the subway at 72nd and Broadway. Just before I was about to head underground, I remembered I had to return a call from a guy at Newsday…so I called him and got him on the phone, and he immediately started interviewing me. Then I got a call on the other line from a guy with the local NBC news. He wanted to meet me at the stadium, and we made a plan to do the interview at 4:45pm outside the bleacher entrance. (Batting practice was going to start at 5pm and I didn’t want to miss any of it.) I switched back to the Newsday guy and said I had to get taxi_to_stadium.jpg
to Yankee Stadium ASAP and asked if we could talk after BP…but no, he was on a strict deadline, so it was now or never. I put my MetroCard away and ran over to Amsterdam to hail a cab. That was the only way to get to the stadium AND have cell phone reception at the same time. It took a few minutes to find a cab, and then I was off. We talked nearly the whole way up. Twenty-five dollars later, I was dropped off near the players’ entrance and RAN halfway around the stadium, where there was already a line of fans waiting to get into the bleachers. Luckily I knew a guy (from Shea) at the front, and he let me stand with him.

PHEW!!!

I had a couple minutes to spare, so I ate my chicken sandwich (with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and provolone). Dozens of people recognized me as THAT GUY who caught the two home runs, and lots of them asked to take pictures with me. One guy even asked me to autograph a mini-bat for his kid. I did all this with mouthfuls of food. (Charming.) Then the NBC crew showed up, and I handed my camera to the nearest fan and asked him to take a few pics while I was being interviewed. Here’s one of ‘em:

interview1_NBC.jpg

Oh, I forgot to mention that the Japanese guy (whose name is Hideo) was late, and he showed up AS this other interview with NBC was getting underway. I thought this was going to be a problem, but it wasn’t. Hideo (who’s filming a documentary about the final days of Yankee Stadium for a public TV station called NHK) was glad to get some footage of me talking to the other TV crew…and when I wrapped it up with NBC, he came over and asked his own round of questions. I didn’t get anyone to take a pic of me during the NHK interview so as soon as it was done, I asked Hideo if he could hold up his video camera and point it at me (you know, to recreate the interview from my perspective)…which he did…while cracking up…and this is the pic I got:

interview2_NHK.jpg

The stadium opened at 5pm, and when I ran inside, I got a ball almost immediately. It was a home run by Hideki Matsui. (Yay, Japanese people!!) It landed in the empty benches behind me and took a nice ricochet back into my waiting glove. Thank God. I was relieved to get that first ball out of the way.

My cell phone rang. It was a photographer from Newsday who asked me where I was and then headed out to the RF bleachers. He found me easily because of the bright yellow “Homer” shirt I was wearing. Just as he was getting ready to start shooting, I got a call from a high-ranking official (who’s also a friend) at the National Scrabble Association who’d seen my Scrabble T-shirt all over the news and just wanted to say “hey” and “thanks.” (I was wearing the shirt when I caught the Johnny Damon homer. Here’s the footage again, in case you missed it the first 79,000 times.)

Back to the Newsday photographer…

interview3_newsday.jpg

He had me pose this way and that, and at one point I had to take a one-minute break to reel a ball out of the gap with my glove trick.

The photographer finished up a few minutes later. Then I caught an A-Rod home run on a fly. Then a three-member crew from the YES (Yankees Entertainment & Sports) Network showed up and took me to the back of the bleachers for a five-or-so-minute interview, which aired a short while later on the Yankees pre-game show. Here they are:

interview4_YES.jpg

In case you’re wondering, Kimberly Jones (holding the microphone) was very nice. After the interview, I handed her a card and told her to give my love to Michael Kay.

I probably missed a ball or two because of the interview (and photo shoot), but whatever. It was obviously worth it.

My first three balls were all commemorative:

three_commemorative_balls_09_18_08.jpg

My fourth ball, which came via the glove trick, was just a regular ball, so as soon as I got it, I handed it to a little girl who was standing on my left…and I’d just like to point out that yes, she was wearing a glove. (Bring your gloves, people!)

The bleachers were very crowded by the end of BP…

bleachers_during_BP.jpg

…and I didn’t snag any more balls.

After BP, I managed to find a few f
ree minutes (when I didn’t have to be on the phone) and took a picture of the Jumbotron as it showed highlights from the previous game…including my celebratory dance:

zack_jumbotron_09_18_08.jpg

After the highlights were done, half the people in sections 41 and 43 were staring at me, so I recreated the dance and got a bunch of laughs and cheers. Throughout the night, people asked to take pictures with me. It never got old.

As for the game…
There was only one home run that landed in the bleachers. It was Bobby Abreu’s second homer of the night–the first one went into the upper deck–and it sailed 10 feet directly over my head. Wow. If he’d swung a millimeter (or something like that) higher, he would’ve hit the ball a little bit more on a line…and it wouldn’t have traveled as far…and I have no doubt that I would’ve caught it. Can you imagine THAT?!

Worse than not catching the ball was the fact that I dropped my five-dollar-and-twenty-five-cent hot dog during the scuffle. And then, for good measure, someone stepped on it:

zack_loses_hot_dog1.jpg

It was a very sad moment indeed. I *had* managed to take a bite before gravity got the best of it, but I was still hungry so I bought another. I gave the vendor a 75-cent tip each time–one rule of ballpark etiquette is never to ask for coins back from a vendor–so in effect I paid $12 for a hot dog, or two dollars per bite.

The Yankees, as they’ve been doing all week, flashed a message on the Jumbotron that urged fans not to dismantle the Stadium. I just thought it was cool, so naturally I took a picture of this as well:

dont_damage_the_stadium.jpg

Once the game became official in the middle of the 5th inning and the “MetLife regular season countdown” changed from 4 to 3, I got a picture of that as well:

three_games_remaining.jpg

By the late innings, my ex-hot dog wasn’t looking too good…

zack_loses_hot_dog2.jpg

…and by the time Chris Britton retired Juan Uribe for the final out, my two-game home run streak had ended.

Final score: Yankees 9, White Sox 2.

I stopped in the bathroom on the way out and heard a guy in a stall behind me say, “Final piss at Yankee Stadium.”

His friend said (with a heavy New York accent), “Ya want me t’get my video camera?”

“Whoa!” I shouted. “I didn’t know it was gonna be THAT kinda party!”

“It’ll be a very short story,” said another man.

“OHHHH!!!” we all shouted, and that was that. (Thankfully.)

I met up with Hideo outside the bleacher entrance, and we discussed dates/times for a follow-up interview. Thousands of fans were filing past us toward the subway, and many of them recognized me. A bunch of people came over and asked to take pics with me, so I got Hideo to get some shots with my camera as well.

Here’s one of the photos:

zack_and_random_fans1.jpg

Not great. Not bad. Right?

Well, it got better…

zack_and_random_fans2.jpg

Eventually I made it to the subway, and before I got on the No. 4 train, I took one final pic of the New Yankee Stadium:

new_yankee_stadium_09_18_08.jpg

I’ll be back at the old one tonight with my girlfriend. Look for me/us in the right field bleachers.

STATS:

? 4 balls at this game

? 490 balls in 64 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

? 560 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,767 total balls

…oh, and one more thing. The Newsday article is out. It’s in the actual paper today (Sept. 19), on page A69 in the sports section, and it’s probably online as well. I got a hard copy, and I’ll scan it and share the link as soon as I get a chance.

OH! And I was on “The Early Show” today, and I’m meeting a TV crew from FOX at 2:30pm. I’ll share all the details (and photos) in my next entry.

9/16/08 at Yankee Stadium

I attended this game with my friend Jordan (aka “hockeyguy1011″ if you read the comments) and his friend Josh. They’d flown in from Florida just to see Yankee Stadium, and of course they were each hoping to catch a commemorative ball. They had tickets for the main part of the stadium so I sent them to the corner spot at the end of the short porch. I had a seat in the right field bleachers and my day of snagging got off to a fast start.

phil_hughes.jpgLess than a minute after I entered the stadium, Phil Hughes tossed me ball number one. Even though his aim was perfect, I jumped up on the chest-high railing so that I was briefly balancing on my stomach…so that I could reach out as far as possible and prevent anyone else from interfering.

bleachers_during_BP_09_16_08.jpgFive minutes later, I caught a Robinson Cano homer in the crowded aisle, and five minutes after THAT, I got another ball from Hughes. He didn’t intend to throw this one to anyone in particular. He just flipped it up randomly–one section to the right of where he’d tossed the first ball–and I happened to be standing there so I jumped and made the catch.

I was checking in on Jordan every now and then–his corner spot was only 30 feet from the left edge of the bleachers–and at one point, when I was more than 100 feet away, I saw a player toss him a ball. I ran over and yelled his name and got him to hold it up…

jordan_ball_corner_spot.jpg

…and learned later that a) the ball was tossed by Alfredo Aceves who b) also tossed one to Josh, and that c) both balls were commemorative. Not bad.

I ended up snagging three more balls with my glove trick during the Yankees’ portion of BP. The first two landed in the narrow gap behind the outfield wall in right-center field, and I had to pounce on them because Greg (aka “gregb123″) was there with his cup trick, and another man (who told me he was inspired by this blog) was there with his own makeshift ball-retrieving device. Those two guys each pulled a ball out of the gap, and Greg ended up getting a couple other balls as well. Anyway, my third glove-trick ball came in left field. I saw a player throw a ball to some fans in the bleachers. Naturally they dropped it, and I ran over, and to my surprise Greg was already on the scene.

“You can have it,” he said. “It’s too far out.”

ball3757_too_far_out_for_greg.jpg
Indeed, the ball WAS nearly ten feet out from the wall (check out the lame photograph on the right), and Greg’s cup wasn’t going to cut it.

Cup tricks are better than glove tricks in certain situations (like when a ball is sitting on thick grass or surrounded by garbage, as is often the case in the various gaps at Shea Stadium), but here, when the ball needed to be knocked closer, I was all over it.

Fortunately, stadium security was nowhere in sight, so I was able to spend several minutes flinging my glove out past the ball and then dragging it back by pulling the string. Once I’d moved the ball off the grass, it took an extra effort to bring it closer because the dirt area was slightly sloped and the ball kept trickling away from me. Finally, though, I had the ball where I needed it and went in for the kill.

The man on my right was skeptical, as people often are.

“What you need is a secondary string,” he said.

A secondary…WHAT?!?!

I didn’t respond at first. I just went about my business, and ten seconds later I was holding the ball.

“What was that you mentioned about extra string?” I asked.

I ran back to right field with six commemorative balls in my drawstring backpack. It’d taken me 40 minutes to snag them, so I figured I’d be able to get four more over the next 45 minutes with the White Sox hitting. It always makes me happy to reach double digits, especially in a tough ballpark like Yankee Stadium, but guess what happened…

I
didn’t
snag
another
ball
for
the
rest
of
BP.

The Sox hardly tossed any balls into the crowd. Most of their hitters were right-handed. Their few lefties were either too wimpy to reach the bleachers or, in the case of Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr., having too much fun taking aim at the right field upper deck. It was totally dead and my once-promising day quickly turned into a slightly-below-average performance.

I caught up with Greg after BP, and he (expertly) took the following photo:

zack_six_commemorative_balls_09_16_08.jpg

I only had the baseballs out of my bag for a minute, during which time two people approached me separately and wanted to buy one.

“How much do you want?” asked one guy.

I didn’t even bother asking how much he was willing to pay or making up a number, but it obviously would’ve been a lot more than $30. That’s how much these balls cost in the stadium souvenir stores–and mine were actually USED by the Yankees.

All I said was, “I’m sorry, they’re not for sale.”

I played the tunnels in right field for the first couple innings of the game and had a decent view of Jeter’s fake hit–the one that moved him past Lou Gehrig for “most hits all time at Yankee Stadium.” Seriously, I can’t believe it was ruled a hit. I don’t care what kind of pressure Bill Shannon, the official scorer, was feeling in terms of making a hometown call. He was wrong and his poor decision jeter_passes_gehrig.jpgcheated Jeter and every Yankee fan. He ruined a historic moment. The ball was hit hard–I won’t deny that–but third baseman Juan Uribe should’ve caught it. He’s a major leaguer. Make the play. Get in front of the ball. Move your feet. Knock it down. I used to play shortstop and third base, and I was charged with errors on much harder plays than that. You know when there’s a line drive hit right at an infielder and it in-between hops him and deflects off his glove? In my summer ball leagues (where the fields were crappy and you were lucky if the ball didn’t take a bad hop), those were ruled errors. In the major leagues, why are these plays ruled hits more often than not? It makes me sick. Jeter’s routine ground ball three feet to the right of Uribe should have been caught, and since it wasn’t, it should’ve been an error. Everyone in the stadium kind of cheered as soon as the ball got through, but we were all holding our breaths and looking at the scoreboard. After five to ten seconds, when it was ruled a hit, THEN everyone cheered. It was terrible. And it’s not even like this was the last game at Yankee Stadium. There were still five games and eight innings remaining at that point, so the Captain was clearly going to have plenty of chances. What the hell.

In the second inning, one of my vendor friends walked out of the tunnel where I was standing and said, “No seat again tonight, Zack?”

I actually *did* have a seat in section 41–the second section over from the batter’s eye–but it was in Row M, and there was no way I was gonna sit there.

To make a long story short (and to protect the people who made it happen), I got to sit on an extra folding chair IN the actual aisle directly behind the wall. That aisle is normally reserved for wheelchair seating (just like at Coors Field), but not everyone there is necessarily disabled because those seats often end up getting released to the public shortly before game time.

My view of the game itself wasn’t great because I had to watch the action through the railings…

view1_during_game_09_16_08.jpg

…but the space on either side of me (and the lack of competition) was to die for. Was this really happening at Yankee effin’ Stadium? This was the view to my left…

view2_during_game_09_16_08.jpg

…and this was the view to my right:

view3_during_game_09_16_08.jpg

Wow. If ever there was a night to catch a home run, this was it.

The bottom of the third inning was thoroughly entertaining, not in a snagging sense, but because of the idiot fans sitting directly behind me. Bobby Abreu had committed the horrible crime of grounding out to the pitcher with one out and runner on third, so the fans were already angry when A-Rod stepped into the batter’s box. One guy started screaming, “LOSER!!! LOSER!!!” which prompted his friend to shout, “Pop up to the infield and then pretend you care! I love it!”

(Clearly, A-Rod wants to fail and is more talented as an actor than as an athlete.)

After A-Rod ended the inning with a towering fly out to right field (which would’ve been a 430-foot homer had he swung half an inch higher), the first fan yelled, “YOU BUM!!! YOU BUM!!! YOU PIECE OF SH*T!!!” Then his buddy yelled, “Cheat on your wife!!”

When Abreu took his position in right field in the top of the fourth, another fan screamed, “Way to get the run in, Bobby!! Welcome to free agency!! The Yankees hate you!!”

(Let it be known that Abreu is batting .298 with 91 runs, 17 homers, 19 stolen bases, 38 doubles, and a .372 on-base percentage. Not exactly a terrible season.)

Then the fans started talking about how A-Rod should be dropped to the 8th slot in the lineup, and that the only reason why manager Joe Girardi won’t do it is because it “goes against the book.”

Duh.

Anyway…
When Jason Giambi led off the bottom of the fourth inning, I was thinking that he had a better chance than anyone on either team to hit a home run to me. That said, I wasn’t rooting for this to happen. I don’t like the guy. To me, he’s a villain who deserves to fail.

Gavin Floyd quickly fell behind in the count 3-0, and all I could think was something along the lines of: “I don’t even want Giambi to enjoy the pleasure of getting a base on balls.”

Giambi predictably took the next pitch–a strike–and fouled off the next one to bring the count to 3-2. I was sitting on the edge of my seat, as I always do, hoping but not necessarily expecting anything to come my way.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, Floyd grooved a 91mph fastball, and Giambi launched it about 20 feet to my right. From the moment it left the bat, I knew it was gone, but at first I thought it was going to sail over the aisle and land out of reach in the packed section behind me. Still, I jumped up and drifted through the wide aisle and got in line with the ball. Somehow, either because it was a cool night or because the wind was blowing in (or maybe because I flat-out misjudged it initially), the ball didn’t travel as far as I thought it would, and it began descending toward me in the aisle. I stayed near the back railing, still preparing for the ball to carry (and of course because it’s easier to move forward than backward at the last second), and then determined that the ball was going to land right in the middle of the aisle. Rather than taking ball3758_giambi_home_run.jpg
one step forward and preparing to make a face-high catch, I took two steps forward, thereby forcing myself to jump for the ball so that I could catch it as high as possible–and in front of anyone else who might’ve been hoping to make their own attempt.

And that’s exactly what I did.

I jumped. I caught it. The place went nuts (not for me but rather for Giambi) and I held up the ball triumphantly. Then, since I knew I was sitting in a spot where I “belonged” and that I wasn’t going to get kicked out of the section by security (as was the case after my other two home run catches this season), I quickly decided to do a little dorky/celebratory dance…nothing fancy, and certainly nothing GOOD. Just a few silly moves so that that cameras might stay on me for a couple seconds…just to have fun with it and entertain my friends and family and all you blog readers (and the millions of baseball fans) who would end up seeing the highlights later that night.

As it turned out, the cameras captured the whole thing quite well.

The swing:

giambi_screen_shot1.jpg

My catch (leaping and reaching just behind the “G” in “AIG):

giambi_screen_shot2.jpg

Holding up the ball:

giambi_screen_shot3.jpg

Dancing (badly):

giambi_screen_shot4.jpg

Talking on my cell phone (to Jordan who saw me from the upper deck and called immediately):

giambi_screen_shot5.jpg

I want to give a BIG thanks to my friend Michael Fierman (formerly “tswechtenberg” and now “pinched”) for taping the game and making a compilation of all the footage.

CLICK HERE to watch it, but be warned that it’s about 16 MB and might take a little while to load if you have a slow internet connection.

I was dying to catch another home run–two in one game is a very rare feat–but it wasn’t meant to be.

zack_with_giambi_home_run_ball.jpgI am proud to say, though, that as of this moment, I am the proud owner of the last home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium. There are five more games remaining there, and I’ll be at three of them. What are the odds that a) there won’t be any more homers or b) there will be another and I’ll catch it?

Hmm…

Final score: Zack 7, White Sox 6, Yankees 2.

STATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 481 balls in 62 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 558 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 11 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

? 3 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly at Yankee Stadium)

? 122 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 6 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)

? 20 lifetime game balls at Yankee Stadium

? 3,758 total balls

When I got home, the following email was waiting for me. The subject was “I see 3′s and 1′s.” It was from my friend Brad. Here goes:

Zack,
 
There has been a streak of HR catches by some notorious ballhawks over the last six (3 + 3) days. Wanna see how the numbers “3″ and “1″ occur prominently for each of these?
 
On Thursday in San Diego, T.C. got Drew Macias’s first (1) MLB homer. Macias’s jersey number is 11 (1) (1). And Leigh got Adrian Gonzalez’s’ 31st (3) (1) homer of the season.
 
On Friday in San Diego, T.C. got Pedro Sandoval’s third (3) homer of the season,
 
On Friday in Oakland, Tyler got Hank Blalock’s HR. Blalock went 1-3 that game and wears number nine (3) X (3).
 
On Saturday at PETCO, Leigh got Bengie Molina’s 13th (1) (3) homer of the year. That’s also 31 backwards from the Gonzalez homer (3) (1) and Molina’s jersey number is one (1).
 
Monday night at Coors Field, Danny got Matt Antonelli’s first (1) MLB HR. Antonelli is #9 (3) X (3). That catch also makes a total of (3) ballhawks that we know of who got a player’s first (1) major league home run this season; Tyler’s brother Tom in Oakland got Carlos Gonzalez’s first (1)
 
With all these one’s and three’s flyin’ around, we should have been able to predict that you would catch Giambi’s 31st (3) (1) on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. That also made you the first (1) person to catch three (3) homers at Yankee Stadium in it’s final season. It also happened in the 4th inning (3) + (1). And Giambi ended up going 1-3
for the game.
 
Also on Tuesday night: Prince Fielder hit his 31st (3) (1) homer of the season onto Sheffield Avenue at Wrigley, and the probability is high that one of the regular ballhawks out there got it. So it is possible that You and Leigh and one of the Wrigley guys have someone’s 31st (3) (1) homer of the 2008 season.
 
And for the most bizarre stat of the night– the attendance at Yankee Stadium was 52,558.
5 + 2+ 5 + 5 + 8 = 25 (Giambi’s number.)

As awesome as that email was, the response of the night went to my girlfriend (a former professional dancer) who watched the footage and said, “So you were churning butter and then you started doing aerobics.”

Yup. And it worked.

9/15/08 at Yankee Stadium

What a stupid day. The White Sox didn’t take batting practice, and the game ended with Ken Griffey Jr. in the on-deck circle. But don’t worry. I still snagged five balls.

I used my glove trick to pluck two of the balls from the gap behind the outfield wall, and I had to work fast because there was another guy who had a ball-retrieving device of his own. His name is Tom (aka “runshouse” if you read the comments on this blog) and his device was a cup trick, which you can see on the ground in front of his right shoe in the following photo:

cup_trick_09_15_08.jpg

I also got a ball tossed by Phil Hughes and caught a home run on a fly. I think it was hit by Wilson Betemit. I’m not sure, but I can tell you that I made a pretty nice play on it. I was standing about 10 rows back in straight-away right field when the batter lifted a high/deep fly ball a bit to my right. I quickly determined that it was going to reach the stands but fall short of my row, so I climbed onto the bench in front of me and then cut diagonally–down and to my right–by stepping directly from one bench to the next. As the ball was in mid-air, I shifted my gaze between the benches (so I wouldn’t break my face) and the ball (so I wouldn’t lose it against the bright sky) and reached the spot where it landed at the last second. Several people without gloves reached up for it. I kinda reached through them (without bumping into anyone) and made a back-handed catch that drew applause from everyone in the section. It wasn’t a dazzling play by any means, but it still felt good.

You know what else felt good? All four of my balls to that point were commemorative:

commemorative_balls_09_15_08.jpg

Sadly, though, when the Yankees jogged off the field at 5:40pm, the White Sox were nowhere in sight:

no_white_sox_bp1.jpg

Eventually some Sox pitchers came out and played catch along the left field foul line, but because there’s no access between the bleachers and the main part of the stadium, this was as close as I could get:

no_white_sox_bp2.jpg

Nice view…sort of…but not ideal for getting another ball…at least not at first. After about 10 minutes, two of the pitchers–Ehren Wassermann and Mike MacDougal–walked all the way out to the bullpen to do some more throwing. Wassermann started off on the mound with MacDougal crouching for him behind the plate. When they switched and MacDougal walked past me, I asked if he’d be able to spare the ball when he was done. (I put in my request early because there was another fan with a glove and a White Sox cap.) He looked up and nodded, then pitched to Wassermann for another five minutes or so, and finally hooked me up with the ball.

That was it.

I spent the whole game in the right field bleachers, standing in various tunnels…

view_during_game_09_15_08.jpg

…and hoping to catch a home run off the bat of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jim Thome, and/or Griffey, but the Fantastic Four went a combined 0-for-15 with six strikeouts.

Bobby Abreu tossed his 9th inning warm-up ball directly over my head–30 feet over–and Mariano Rivera mowed down Chicago on seven pitches to earn his 36th save of the season and preserve reliever Phil Coke’s first major league win.

Final score: Zack 5, Yankees 4, White Sox 2.

I’m thinking the Sox skipped BP because they’d swept a doubleheader the night before and probably didn’t arrive in New York City until the wee hours. The question is…did they score a measly two runs because they were tired or because they neglected to take BP? I already know the answer. I hope Ozzie Guillen knows it too and makes his team hit every day for the rest of this four-game series.

STATS:

? 5 balls at this game

? 474 balls in 61 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 557 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,751 total balls

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