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:

1917_penny.jpg

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:

zack_left_field_seats_09_24_08.jpg

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:

zack_glove_trick_09_24_08.jpg

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:

evacuation1_begins.jpg

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:

evacuation2_exiting.jpg

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

And then we waited…

evacuation3_crowd_outside.jpg

…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:

zack_right_field_09_24_08.jpg

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:

zack_dugout_after_BP1.jpg

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

ball3799_training_streaks.jpg

…but I also got a bat from Greg Norton:

zack_dugout_after_BP2.jpg

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:

zack_snagging_3800th_ball.jpg

Here’s it is–ball No. 3,800:

ball3800_martin_prado.jpg

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:

worst_view_ever.jpg

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:

benches_clear_09_24_08.jpg

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…

pierced_neck.jpg

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:

zack_bonus_items.jpg
Here’s a closer look at them:

lineup_cards_09_24_08.jpg

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

greg_norton_bat1.jpg

Here’s a close-up of his name:

greg_norton_bat2.jpg

Here’s the pine tar-coated trademark…

greg_norton_bat3.jpg

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

greg_norton_bat4.jpg

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

21 Comments

Sweet bat!

11 balls
1 bat
lineup cards

insane dude as always

and i like how in our society today noone is just smart enough to like look where the box is from or like a logo on the box or something…and then they had to detonate the hotdogs as a precaution…im so glad i live in a society where hotdogs can be confused for a bomb…just amazing

Awesome day and an awesome bat! I went to the “last game of the season” on Thursday. It the game itself was rained out, so only the hard-core fans were there. The absolute best scenario for players to be tossing balls and memorabilia into the stands. I got four balls in thirty seconds, and Wil Nieves’s bat.

For the second half of the season, I was trying hard to get lineup cards. I actually asked Manny Acta before the game if he could spare the lineup cards. He said “OK” and told me where to meet him when the game ended. Well, I went to the spot, and he never showed. I’m not that annoyed, in fact, there are probably a very low number of managers that could remember such as small thing after managing a whole game (even if it is the Nats).

If I don’t make it up to Baltimore on Saturday, that will give me 177 balls for the season in 44 games. :-/

Aaron
http://districtboy.mlblogs.com/

Oops, 45 games actually. I also forgot to mention I also snagged David Wright’s batting glove. Ay Caramba!

If the Nats trade Saul Rivera this off season, I’m boycotting.

Aaron
http://districtboy.mlblogs.com/

ridiculus.

Awesome haul! I love the random extras! Bats, gloves, those are the kind of things that you don’t hear (or think) about getting at games. Nice job on 3800, I knew you would do it. Just leaving yourself with some pretty lofty goals for next year! Finish strong! Brian

I don’t know how you do it Zach. I set a new record for myself tonight which I am proud of. The only thing is I always have good nights ballhawking when my beloved Twins lose. This was the first Friday night game I was able to make it to all year. They open up the gates a half hour earlier on Friday so you can actually catch the last 10 minutes or so of Twins BP. I immediately got Glen Perkins to toss me a ball after he commented on my big glove. I caught the ball without any issues. I then moved down about 40 feet and saw Delmon Young. Delmon has seen me in the left field seats a couple of dozen times this year and I knew he would recognize me with the big glove. He had no problem tossing me my second ball of the day.
The next thing is something I am wondering on the etiquette of. There is a ballhawk at the Dome that Puckcollector saw in action. This guy gets all the breaks in addition to being a pretty good ballhawk. He is the first one in the stadium EVERY SINGLE GAME. He races in and gets easter eggs. His seat gives him great range with the Dome’s stupid rules and he gets a lot of toss ups as well. Both me and Waldo as he is called went over to the railing and asked Randy Ruiz for a ball. Waldo did speak first but Randy told him he had to toss it to the guy with the big glove. Waldo in a pot calling the kettle black moment told Ruiz that I already had gotten a ball. Ruiz heard that and then told me sorry and tossed the ball to Waldo! The guy has thousands of balls and he tells the player that I already snagged one. Is that proper ballhawk ettiquette?

When the Royals took the field for BP I was able to get a player to toss me up a ball pretty much right away and then went halfway around the stadium to work the coaches hitting fungos. A coach I had asked smiled at me but didn’t hit or toss me a ball. I sat down for about 5 minutes and then heard a loud whistle. I looked and it was the coach holding up a ball. He tossed it to me and I did bobble it on to a seat and picked it up. He had tossed me a brand new ball. Talk about shiney new!
I then went down to where the pitching coach was tutoring one of his charges. They had a ball, but I wasn’t going to be rude and ask for it in the middle of their session. A ball came down the line and a player got it in shallow right field. I asked if I could have the ball and he said he had already seen me drop the one that the coach threw me. I told him that is why I needed to redeem myself. I told him that if I didn’t catch the ball cleanly I would toss it back to him. That was good enough for him and he let one sail. It got into the lights. However, I made a clean, albeit lucky, snare of the ball. I would have tossed it back if I hadn’t. So, the 5 ball total beat my previous total by 2 ball. If only my Twins would have won!

Please tell me I am imagining that you managed to get a bat and the lineup cards. I all but stopped going to the dugout during BP because I have NO luck at all getting ANYTHING! And you got a bat from Norton? Gah, figures! I asked after the game for the lineup card from the bullpen (Im on a first name basis with Eddie Perez) and they were giving it to the family of the policeman who died that they honrored before the game. Next year I am going to get one, Im just gonna ask again.

A bat…figures. The one day I almost went to the dugout instead of the left field corner. I had to go and second guess myself but I got a picture with Vladimir Nunez, haha.

Did you get a second rally towel for re-entering?

Sidenote-I watch the Braves games at CBP from the bullpen, I have many chats with the players….especially Ohman. And it was the best thing ever to be standing RIGHT THERE when they all piled out of the pens. The Phils players didnt bother with the steps, they just jumped out of it!

Aaron…

177 balls. Nice. Man, I’m telling you what. If all the commentors on here added up our snagging totals it comes out to a LOT OF BALLS. Nice season.

Leigh

Zack…

Nice job on the goodies. It’s too bad about the interuption of BP for your or it could have been an even BETTER day. I got to hang out a little with Rob from PETCO today. Remember him? He and his sister had a real good haul today between them. Something like 10 balls. I have a cold right now and wasn’t really feeling good at all. I missed a couple of good chances early on the beach and in LF as well. I only would up getting one ball. It was a BP homer from Jack Wilson. It stuck in a seat perfectly and I snagged it. It was a BRAND NEW BALL too. It seemed the Pirates opened some new boxes of balls right before the game. That was ball #102 for me on the year. A new single season record for myself. Two games to go to add on. I had a shot at Freddy Sanchez’s first inning homer, but two guys with beers in each hand came into my row literally 30 seconds before the homer and blocked me from going down my row to the left where the ball landed. I tracked it real well, but just couldn’t get over. Of course no one near the ball got a hand on it and it just hit a seat and bounced away. Ughhh. That’s the breaks I guess. Very frustrating. Good luck the last couple of days.

Leigh

Congrats on 3,800, Zack. Norton has been an excellent pinch hitter for us this season, as Mets fans saw 2 weeks ago :) Those lineup cards are a unique source of autographs, especially Cox and Manuel.
BRAVESGIRL- Are you from Atlanta?

Pretty good day for having to be evacuated. good job on getting a bat, I have one but it’s from a minor league game.
Check out my blog.

mlbwhiz.mlblogs.com

Wow a great day even without half of bp. A bat, lineup cards, 2 third out balls, nice. I wonder what theyll do 2moro if it pours at shea. Congrats zack. Joe

Hi Z-CHOKR JOB THE MESS ARE DOING. so much for my prediction mets angels WS. now it will be dodgers angels .bet the rent on Anaheim. Padreleigh get luis rod #1 hr,pick it up a lil,MLBhawk-get a playoff hr for#100 your life.manny first pitch swinging CF .sneaky?,

mets and brewers tied for wild card!!!! it still kinda hurts to watch the phillies win the division though but i hope the mets don’t lose tomorrow! see ya there zack, and i have a goal to get a bat, or something cool like that.

anyone have any tips on how to sneak into the picnic area during BP

Does anyone know how to get your blog picture on your blog after you upload it

mlbwhiz.mlblogs.com

EVERYONE!
ZACK CAUGHT THE BELTRAN HOMER IN THE FINAL GAME AT SHEA

that is one sick bat dude! keep up the good work!

So I am dying to know how in the world you managed to get the lineup cards? I also believe that if you take a ball you caught during batting practice or the game to the Ashburn Alley store you get a bunch of goodies like a 25 gift certificate and plastic case, have you heard of this?

On top of all that I have only a few balls from games and I am quite a charismatic person too. I love sneaking down but no one ever does it with me. Props to you and your collection. I will say that my latest ball from Game 5 (2nd half) WS ending with the Phillies winning is probably the most meaningful souvenir I will ever get, since I am a die hard Phillies fan.

Btw would you want to trade something for the Phillies lineup cards? I got tons of bobble heads, authentic autographs and various other stuff….let me know man

Best of luck getting 4k..you should wear a shirt that says that this year.

Oh and one more thing….you are the MAN

Wow, somehow I neglected to answer any of these comments ’til now. That said, I’m just going to answer the comments with questions in them…

TRM684-
Sounds like poor etiquette to me, based on what you described.

THE BRAVES GIRL-
Yup, I got another towel.

LEIGH-
Yeah, I totally remember Rob.

BASEBALL83-
Thanks so much. I just get the lineup cards by asking the coaches for them. Usually they ignore me, but every once in a while I get lucky. You can only get free stuff at the store if you catch a ball that looks like this…

http://www.zackhample.com/baseball_collection/photos/commemorative/ashburn_alley2.jpg

…and I don’t think they’re in use any more.

Thanks for the offer to trade, but I prefer to just hang onto all the stuff I get.

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