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

No Comments

Hi Zack…

Eight more balls to go buddy!! You can do it. Wow. It’s a double edged sword with the New York media market. You get noticed for what you did, and you get hated for what you did. Be careful the last game there. Sounds like the people are out to get you. Take it easy.

Leigh

PS. First

Hey Zack,
Regarding the Bleacher Creatures – they were only out to get you because your Orioles gear – “Why are you gay” is a legendary BC song for the opposing teams fans; check it out on YouTube. Just be happy you did wear any Red Sox gear, then you may not have made it out alive! :) And where can I get your book???

Maria

I meant to say “Just be happy you DIDN’T wear Red Sox gear” – Best of Luck
Maria

Zack,
You can already say you caught two of the last 10 home runs at yankee stadium. Enjoy the last game.
AC

hey zack
what time are u goin to tonights game? are u goin at 1 when the gates open or later then that. and what gate would you be at?

Zack, I’ll also be at the game tonight! Maybe if I see you this time I won’t be too afraid to say hi. That’s what happened at a Mets game when I saw you and I regret it. I am kinda rooting for the Yankees to be eliminated tonight because that would be quite a way to close the stadium. So, Let’s Go Orioles!
-Ellie

zack, you probably wont have time to answer this before i leave, but what time are you getting there? gates open at one. and are you brining wwz clients, cuz i want the corner spot, so i dont get shut out.

8 more balls til 500. sounds like you’re having a busy life right now.

it might be time for Zack Hample The Movie

EVERYONE-
I just got back from The Final Game at Yankee Stadium a little while ago. I’m *dead* tired, and I have a big day ahead of me, so I’m officially going to bed.

Don’t rest now, you have the whole off-season to rest! Just kidding, you’re almost there (500), hopefully you make it. Can’t wait for your next entry. Brian

Way to get the ball and make sure that dude saw it..lol!

Nice Adidas kicks too by the way.

Is Julie Chen as hot in person as she appears to be on TV?

Looking forward to your next posts. You going to Shea tonight?

im anxious to read the final total at yankee stadium.

Heres the cbs segment on youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUTT3ohcdhg

Cant wait to hear about sundays game!

As am I, twinslove. As am I.

It must have been unique to say the least. Since Yankee Stadium and Shea are selling out every game anyway, you must wonder how much worse the competition will be at the new stadiums. It shouldn’t be that much worse considering the capacities of the news one are smaller. Attedances will go down. And of course, the obvious fact that the Yankees have been getting worse for the past eight years.

Aaron
http://districtboy.mlblogs.com/

Zack,

as I told you when I saw you at YS, I am in Texas for 2 games. I wont go into great detail, but I have to say, this is the best snaggin I have ever seen. the outfield has a gap all around it and the usher actually encouraged me to use the glove trick. Get down here to Arlington! I have a ticket for you! this is a snaggers dream!!!!!!!

Brendan

What was that picture above your living room couch?

EVERYONE-
I just got back from Philly. It was a frustrating day in the snagging department, but because Citizens Bank Park is awesome, it turned out not to be so bad in the grand scheme of things. I still haven’t even had a chance to label my pics from The Final Game at Yankee Stadium, but I’m gonna try to get that entry up later today (Tuesday). I don’t know…I’m planning to cram in as many games as possible during this final week of the regular season. I might be catching up on the blog and all the comments during the playoffs?if I don’t end up going to THAT many games. That’s the update. Oh…and the Mets are pathetic. Even my mom is aware of how bad their bullpen is.

BRENDAN (aefeq) –
Are you going to the 9/23 game in Tex? If so let me know I’ll be there too. Brian

Zack,

No bullpen is worse than the Tigers BP right now…..

Mike in Detroit

The Tigers bullpen isn’t choking away a playoff berth, though.

zack-if your mom knows about how bad the bullpen is they must REALLY be bad…haha, glad to hear Mrs Hample is keeping up with NY sports! haha

brian,

sorry for not responsidng sooner but I was at the 9/23 game. It was great. The ballpark is great and I got my last ball f the day from Casey Chavez (A’s bulpen catcher). It was alan Embree’s 7th inning warmup ball.

How did you do??

Hope we can catch up next year when I am back in TX.

BRENDAN-
By now you have probably read my comment on zack’s entry from I think 9/22. Got a ball from a security guard during BP. If you get the chance read the comment about it, kind of cool. Yeah, keep in touch for next year. Did you get an ’09 schedule while you were there? If not it’s on the Rangers website. Brian

Zack, I’ve reached p. 167 in Watching Baseball Smarter, and I have a number of questions, as for example on p. 166 the statement that managers are forced to choose weaker players for the All Star game. I know no one w/the expertise to help me since my son-in-law mentor was killed, and it occurred to me that since you offer an email in the book, I might be able to go directly to the souce: can I thus get my questions answered? Thanks, Bob Hooper

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