March 2009

So much for No. 500

I check Google News every morning. Moments ago, when the headlines appeared on my screen, my reaction was “OHHHHH NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” (I’m alone in my apartment, and yes, I shouted out loud.) This is what I saw:


I already have a flight and hotel booked for the Tigers’ first series of the season. They’re playing in Toronto from April 6-9. Gary Sheffield has 499 career home runs. The entire purpose of my trip WAS going to be to make an attempt at catching No. 500. Sure, I’ll still be able to raise money for charity, but this absolutely sucks. I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, though. Two months before Spring Training started, my incredibly wise friend Brad said he thought Sheffield might end up getting released, and we’ve been monitoring his performance ever since. Crap, crap, crap. NOW what?

Citi Field critique

For the last six months, people have been sending me photos and videos of Shea Stadium being torn down. I never looked at a single one. The mere thought of it not being there was too painful, but I had to face that reality today as the No. 7 train approached the Willets Point station. Shea was now just a big pile of rubble–and Citi Field, trying so hard to be charming, stood nakedly behind it:


Speaking of Willets Point, the signs no longer say “Shea Stadium” on them:


This was Citi Field from the subway platform…


…and this was Shea just a couple hundred feet to the left:


Maybe it was the gloomy weather. Maybe it was the fact that I had to wake up at 8am (which for me is essentially the middle of the night) to get there. I don’t know, but I wasn’t happy. It felt lonely and foreign, like the first day at a new school.


I walked up to the gate outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, stuck my camera through the bars, and took a pic. I have to admit it was nice. Seriously nice. Downright glorious, in fact:


“Are you Zack?” asked a voice. It was a kid named Aaron (aka “Howie” in the comments section) who knew I was going to be there. I signed his copies of my first two books, and in exchange he and his father Jon gave me a free ticket (for the meaningless college game that was scheduled to begin at 1pm). Here we all are:


A few other baseball collectors met us there, and then we all headed over to the left field gate, which was going to open first:


Because I happened to be the first fan to run inside, I got interviewed by a reporter from the New Jersey Star Ledger:


As a result of the interview, it took a few minutes for me to reach the “seating bowl” and get my first look at the place:


A couple minutes after that, I went to the nearest concession stand and got a hot dog–the very first hot dog sold in the history of Citi Field (according to the employees there). Here it is:


It sucked. It cost $4.75 and the bun was stale, and even the dog itself wasn’t all that great, and you want to know what else sucked? One of the ushers tried to stop me from walking down into the left field seats. It was two hours before the start of a COLLEGE game, and he asked to see my ticket. Are you kidding me?! Fortunately the other ushers let me walk down into the seats and take pics. Ready for more suckiness? First of all, there’s no cross-aisle…so it’ll be impossible to move laterally during games…so for anyone who hopes to catch a game home run, you’ll have to sit on the end of a row and pray that the ball is hit directly toward your staircase…and then you’ll have to judge it perfectly. Secondly, there’s a big railing that makes it impossible to move directly from fair to foul territory:


Third, there are smaller railings on all the staircases that block two out of every three rows, and if that’s not bad enough, they were built six inches too long (in my not-so-humble opinion) so they jut out into the rows that they’re not even supposed to be blocking:


These railings are pointless and in some cases dangerous. Some ballparks have them. Some don’t. If they really made people feel THAT safe, and if they really prevented THAT many folks from taking nasty spills, I think you’d see them in every stadium. (Citizens Bank Park, by the way, doesn’t have any staircase railings.) Lucky me. I’ll be battling these effin’ things until I die. At least the seat backs are raised enough for balls to trickle down the steps:


That’ll be good for me and bad for just about everyone else who makes the mistake of running directly to the row where the ball lands. Anyway, the railings are annoying, and the overhang of the second deck will be a nightmare (don’t bother trying to catch a ball behind Row 10) but at least the home-run-catching area spans from the foul pole all the way out to left-center:


Another good thing: glove trick opportunities at the bottom of the hill next to the (new) home run
apple. It’s kind of hard to see in the following photo, but the slope flattens out at the bottom. Of course stadium security will probably be stupid and strict and try to prevent fans from using ball-retrieving devices, but if we can get away with it, this will be a good spot:


Remember the huge scoreboard out in right field at Shea Stadium? On the top of that scoreboard, there was a NYC skyline. Nice to see it survived the demolition and has a home in the new ballpark:


Here’s a look at the bullpens (terrible design to have them side by side and not even have the one in back elevated) and a row of tables above them:


(Am I being too negative?) It would be fun to use the glove trick from up there, and maybe I’ll get away with it once, but I don’t expect that to be a permanent option. That said, behold the bridge!


Here’s the way-too-steep section in right field:


There are lots of interesting angles and nooks and crannies at Citi Field. Some were clearly intentional and some were just as clearly random byproducts of questionable design. In the photo below, you can see that the rows of seats end with a foot or two (or three) of space next to the concrete wall. So…although there IS room for people to walk between the seats and the wall, it wasn’t meant to be used as a staircase because there aren’t any little/manageable steps. And let me tell you, if there IS room for people to move around, the room WILL be used. So basically, what you’re gonna have here is people wedging themselves between the seats, trying to climb up these gigantic double steps. It’s funny for me because I’m 31 years old and in the best physical shape of my life so I can treat Citi Field like my personal playground and stomp all over these unintentional obstacles, but I feel strongly that this is TERRIBLE stadium design. Thus, I’m forced to ask: when is HOK going to hire me as a consultant?


Ready for more weirdness? Check out the space surrounding the right field foul pole:


I’m thinking there might be cameras there during the regular season, and if there are, then the Mets should install a chain to keep people out. If, however, there’s neither a camera nor a chain, this area will be great for catching home runs during games, especially for the fan in the front row who’s sitting closest to the pole. Here’s a look at that same area from above:


More weird angles:


I really don’t understand the point of all these walls and railings. I think the architects were just showing off. And here’s the weirdest one of all. I’ve never seen anything like this in ANY stadium. Can someone please explain this? Here…look:


Yes, that’s right, there’s a random row, right in the middle of all the other rows, where the seats are elevated a few feet. If there were an aisle in front of the elevated row, I could understand it. You know…give people a spot to cross through the seats. But no. It just randomly…goes up…and there’s not much extra space. Maybe a few inches. You know what that means? I’ll tell you. The people in the elevated row will be the only people in the stadium without cup holders. This means they’ll be forced to put their cups on the ground (life is hard) and then those cups, when kicked over (and they WILL be kicked over) will splash the people’s heads sitting in front of them. Brilliant. And even if the people sitting in front don’t get splashed, they will definitely get kicked in the head, especially when little kids are sitting behind them. Just look at this absurdity:


Why not just have the entire lower level of seats slant up uniformly? It seems to work fine in every other stadium. Ready for something else? This’ll look like an ideal spot to catch foul balls and get autographs…


…except you will never, EVER be allowed to go down there. Not even God will get to sit there. I have no idea what those fancy seats are for (millionaire fans and their disabled companions?) but I can guarantee you they will be totally off limits. It’s just another example of opportunities to collect being taken away. And wait…it gets worse. Ready for THIS? The entire seating area behind home plate is completely sectioned off. I think it’s called the Sterling Club, or some nonsense like that, and the face value on those tickets starts in the triple figures. Here, have a look. I’m standing at the edge of the section (you can see the railing at the bottom of the photo), and I’ve drawn a red arrow which shows the boundary on the other side. That is a LOT of real estate which is now completely off limits:


At least the water fountains are good:


The field level concourse behind home plate? Awful. The ceiling is claustrophobically low to make room for an extra level of suites. Look:


But okay, I’ll take a break from my complaining to show you the magnificent Rotunda. This is truly incredible. HOK deserves some props for this:


I had to talk my way down into the seats behind the third base dugout. It looks a lot like Philly, except there are railings on the staircases. Pretty standard design. I can work with that:


The St. John’s players began warming up…


…and even though I didn’t bring my glove or bother to print their roster, I still got one of them to toss me a ball. I learned later that it was a player named Scott Ferrara, who can supposedly run the 60-yard dash in 6.3 seconds. Hey look! There’s more weird space around the left field foul pole:


I returned to the foul line when another group of players began throwing and I got a second ball from a freshman named Kevin Kilpatrick. Here are the two balls (which will NOT count in my collection):


Did I mention that the balls will NOT count? Good. Okay. Ready for another critique? This one is minor, in the grand scheme of things, and it’s going to take three photos to illustrate my point, so bear with me. Here’s the first. It shows the ramps leading up to the “Empire,” “Excelsior,” and “Promenade” levels:


(By the way, what’s with the fancy names of the seating levels? Are they actually planning to play baseball here or are they just gonna sit around and plan wars?) Here a photo of the first landing. Notice where the big metal beam is?


It’s right at eye level! It completely blocks the view! DUH!!! Why not put that beam a couple feet higher and create a nice little area where people can look out and catch their breath? Am I crazy?


Here’s something that actually looks pretty…


…but upon closer inspection, there appears to be a bit of a drainage problem:


Here’s a nice look at the lowest concourse from a couple levels up…the third deck…the Excelsior Level:


Here’s the field from the third base side. Not bad:


This brings me to the club itself. I don’t know if it’s going to be open all the time, or if this was a special day. I hope it’s open all the time because people seem to like it, and the more people who go up there, the fewer people I’ll have to deal with in the seats. It was “nice” in that it was clean and spacious and well designed, but I think the design would be more appropriate for a mall and/or an airport:


I mean…really?

All right, here’s the single greatest thing about Citi Field. If you can afford $150 tickets (or whatever they cost…probably more on StubHub), you’ll have a phenomenal foul ball opportunity behind the seats on the Excelsior Level. Here’s the view of the field…


…and here’s the view to the left:


Wow! The only problem is that in order for the ball to reach the aisle, it’ll have to fly back on a line or else it’ll clip the facade of the upper d–err, I mean, the “promenade” level. But seriously, if I can find a way to get into that heavily guarded section during the regular season, I’ll be a happy boy.

I bought a six-dollar slice of pepperoni pizza. It was small (the baseball is in the shot for perspective) and forgettable. It was like college-cafeteria-quality pizza. Soooo not worth it. Granted, I only tried a couple items, but my early assessment is that the food at Citi Field sucks bigtime. Do yourself a favor and eat before you go to the ballpark, then pack a protein bar and avoid having to eat there. Stick it to the Mets for raising ticket prices and trying to sell crappy food:


I wandered up to the right field corner…


…and saw the very nice bridge from above, as well as the old home run apple…


…and made it to the top corner of the second deck (which is the top deck in right field):


There was a big open-air concourse up there, which looks a lot like the one in Anaheim:


Then I went to the Promenade level and got a photo from the highest/furthest corner in right field:


Here’s the Pepsi Deck from above. I think you’ll see guys like Adam Dunn and Prince Fielder hit balls completely over the seating area. It should be fun up there during the Home Run Derby:


I’m not sure how far back foul balls will fly (I can’t judge distances in a college game where the pitchers are topping out at 81mph or whatever), but I’d say that some foul balls WILL reach the top deck. This is the view from a potentially good foul ball spot up there:


It’s good because of the room to run on either side:


But like I said, there might not be too many balls that go up that high. We shall see. Here’s the view from the last row of the upper deck directly behind the plate:


Here’s more weird random space, this time between the staircase and the wall, under a lowish ceiling:


Check this out. Look how easy it’ll be for people to jump onto the roof and run around near the fans and cause all kinds of trouble. People WILL do it. People will get drunk and clown around and climb up there, with very little effort, and if they stick their fingers into that machinery…yeah:


Here’s the Promenade concourse:


I want to see Fred Wilpon and the CEO of HOK sit and watch a game from the last row of the Promenade level in left-center field. This is what it’ll be like for them:


What the bloody hell is the purpose of that obstruction? Why have it in the first place? And why build seats that’ll force people to stare at it? Here’s another look from the side:


Here’s one final shot from way up high that shows the area behind the batters eye:


That’s it. I know I complained quite a bit, but it’s more fun that way, right? I have to be critical because I’ve been to 44 other major league stadiums, and this is the one I’m going to be stuck with for the rest of my life. My overall assessment is that it’s a quality structure. Aside from several drainage problems, it’s well put together. Solid. Pretty. Nice. I just question some of the choices that were made. The third base side looks like Philly. The left field seats look like Cincinnati. The right field seats look like Washington D.C. combined with Arlington. It’s like a big Mr. Potato Head stadium. Too segmented overall. Too complicated. It’s like a poster with ten different fonts and too many exclamation points. It’s trying sooooo hard to be nice, and in most places it succeeds, but if you look closely and KNOW what you’re looking for, you can see a lot of flaws. Fan interference is going to be a big problem at this stadium because there’s nothing that separates the fans in the front rows from the field. No gaps. No flower beds. Nothing. So get ready for that. The whole place strikes me as a haphazard collection of quirks and interesting features without much consideration about how it’s all going to play out and what it’s going to be like for the majority of fans who either want to collect things and get close to their favorite players or who simply can’t afford the best seats. The main thing that’ll make this place tolerable is that it will open two and a half hours before game time. Eventually, when the Mets lose 100 games and Citi Field is old news and the crowds shrink to 20,000 or so per game, this place might be great, but until then, I don’t expect to average much more than my typical seven balls per game. And even THAT might be tough to achieve here for quite some time.

The votes are in…

The votes from my last entry are in:

29 people voted that I should attend the college game at Citi Field on March 29th.
24 people voted that I should skip the college game and wait for the real thing.

So, it’s official: I’m going for the sneak peek on March 29th, but let me clear something up…

It has nothing to do with my streak.

Several people suggested that I should attend the college game in order to protect the streak (which currently stands at 569 consecutive games with at least one ball). The logic was that I’d get to familiarize myself with Citi Field during a meaningless exhibition game so that when I’m finally there for real on April 15th, I’d then be better prepared to run right in and start snagging baseballs.


Without a sneak peek, you don’t think I’d find a way to get ONE ball that entire day? Come on. Do you really think I’m worried about getting shut out? I’m not being cocky. I’m not claiming I’m going to snag at least 10 balls that day. Just one. And don’t forget…my friend(ly acquaintance) Heath Bell will be in town with the Padres.

I’m aware of the charity factor, and that IS a good reason to go for the sneak peek, but still, if it were up to me, I would totally skip the college game and save my excitement for the real thing. In fact, there’ve been several new stadiums that I’ve made a point of NOT seeing in advance–not even on TV–so that I was able to challenge myself when I finally made it there.

Anyway, yes, I’ll be at Citi Field on March 29th. Who else is going for sure? How are you planning to make the most of your time inside the stadium? I think we should all meet up somewhere. How about outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at 10am? That would give us yankees_magazine_2009.jpghalf an hour (or so) to hang out before the place opens…right? I think we should get a group photo for this blog. Maybe play catch for a few minutes? (Ten-way catch might be tough.)

In other news, I’m in the new issue of Yankees Magazine. CLICK HERE for the full-sized article on my web site.

Sneak peek at Citi Field?

I have to make a decision and I need everyone’s help. There’s a college game that’s gonna be played at Citi Field on Sunday, March 29th. The choice I’m facing is:

Should I go and get a sneak peek at the stadium? Or should I wait to see Citi Field until I’m actually there for my first regular season game on April 15th?

I can think of two reasons to attend the college game and three reasons to skip it:

1) I’ll get to scope out Citi Field and discover the best spots to snag, and then when I’m there FOR REAL on April 15th, I’ll be able to run right in like I own the place.
2) I’ll get to reconnect with a bunch of friends and fellow baseball collectors (like Greg and Clif and Gary…who else? Puck Collector?) who are all planning to be there.

1) If I snag baseballs at the college game, I won’t count them in my collection, and they will NOT raise money for my charity drive.
2) I like the idea of running into Citi Field on April 15th and knowing nothing about the place and being forced to quickly figure it all out on the spot, with my consecutive games streak on the line; a sneak peek would be cool, but I feel like it might take away from the TRUE experience of running into the stadium the first time it really matters.
3) I’m now working full-time on my new book; the whole thing has to be written by March 2010 so I feel all kinds of pressure to stay in and make the most of my time when I don’t *really* have to be doing anything else.

Leave a comment and tell me what you think. I’ll tally up the votes when I wake up on Thursday (March 26th), and I’ll do whatever you guys tell me.

Ballhawk League

My friend and fellow ballhawk Erik Jabs recently came up with a great idea of starting a “Ballhawk League.” Basically, the way it’s gonna work is that Erik will be running a season-long competition to see who can snag the most balls. He’ll be keeping track of various stats such as:

1) games attended
2) total balls snagged
3) balls per game
4) batted balls snagged
5) thrown balls snagged
6) balls retrieved with special devices (like the glove trick)
7) Competition Factor

Can anyone think of some other key stats that Erik should keep track of? Maybe the number of game-used balls? The number of different stadiums in which each ballhawk snags at least one ball? The number of games at which each ballhawk reaches double digits?

maxim_cover1.jpgIt’s totally free to participate in this league. Five people including me have committed to it so far, and I hope a lot more will join us.

Check out Erik’s blog and leave him a comment if you’re interested. Read other people’s comments on his blog. Leave a comment here too if you have any thoughts. Let’s get a good discussion going and establish the rules for this league.

(In other news, I’m in the current issue of Maxim…very briefly and in absurdly small font. Click here to check it out–and to see the full-sized Malin Akerman cover–on my web site.)


If you’ve seen Mark Newman’s blog recently–specifically the entry called Snagged!–then you probably saw the press release that was issued by Pitch In For Baseball. It mentioned that I’ll blue_jays_schedule.jpg
be in Toronto for the first four games of the season. One person even left a comment about it on my last entry, so it made sense to announce it here for everyone to see.

I booked the trip last week. I wanted to begin the season with a bang and jump-start my charity drive, and since the Tigers are going to be opening the season in Toronto, and since Gary Sheffield is on the Tigers and currently has 499 career home runs, the decision to go to Toronto (where flights are cheap and where I have a friend I want to visit anyway) was a no-brainer.

The official first-game-of-the-season countdown is now at 22 days. Unfortunately, the last game I’ll be seeing in Toronto is a day game, so there probably won’t be batting practice, and I just remembered that the gates at Rogers Centre don’t open until 90 minutes before game time (C’mon Canada, get it together!) but hopefully it’ll still be a good trip. Twenty balls in four games? That might be pushing it, but that’s what I’ll be aiming for.

Snagging baseballs for charity

pitch_in_for_baseball.jpgYou know how some people run marathons for charity and get their friends to pledge money for every mile? Well, that’s sort of what I’m going to be doing in 2009–except my marathon will be the entire Major League Baseball season, and I’ll be snagging balls instead of running miles. (Cool, huh?) I’ve hooked up with a charity called Pitch In For Baseball that collects new and “gently used” baseball equipment and re-distributes it to needy kids around the world. It’s a great cause, it’s very easy to make a pledge, and I’m more excited about baseball than ever.

CLICK HERE to read more.


Last week I said I was gonna be sharing some big news…remember?

Well, the news is that I now officially have a new baseball book in the works! I haven’t signed a contract yet, but it’s basically a done deal.

Earlier this winter (in case you’re wondering about the process leading up to this), I wrote a 20-something-page book proposal and sent it to my agent. She then looked it over and suggested some edits, and we sent it back and forth a few times. Once we felt we had it right, she passed it along to the people at Vintage. (That’s the company that published Watching Baseball Smarter.) They took a couple months to review it and finally made an offer last week, which I accepted after a brief negotiating process.

That’s how it all went down. Pretty standard procedure. And now I have exactly 12 months to write it. From start to finish. 60,000 words. Ouch. And then 12 months after THAT it’ll be published. (That’s March of 2011 for those of you who are keeping score at home.) Why so long? Because once I submit the manuscript, it’ll still need to be edited and illustrated and marketed and printed and distributed, etc.

What’s the book going to be about? I’m not quite sure how to describe it, so let me ramble on for a bit and hopefully that’ll give you an idea. It’s sort of going to be like my first book–How to Snag Major League Baseballs–except ten times better. It’s sort of going to be like my second book–Watching Baseball Smarter–except it’s going to focus on THE BALL itself. So, in addition to having a huge how-to-snag section in there, I’ll be writing about historical facts and anecdotes and trivia and wacky/funny/quirky stuff…all related to the ball. I’m even going to try to visit the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica and write about that, although it might be impossible. (Maybe the Rockies will at least give me a tour of their humidor at Coors Field.) I plan to have a whole section called “Death By Baseball” where I talk about all the players, coaches, fans, and animals that have been killed by balls. Stuff like that. I plan to have a section of snagging-related controversies. I might even have a section that profiles other legendary ballhawks. It’s hard to say. I still haven’t even discussed the specifics with my editor, but we’re planning to talk later this week, and then I’m going to plunge in.

Right now the book is tentatively titled…

THE BASEBALL: Five Ounces and 108 Stitches of Glory

…but that will probably change. If you have suggestions for what the book should be called, feel free to leave a comment and share them with me. If your title ends up getting picked as THE title, I’ll send you two signed copies of the book when it comes out and mention your name in the acknowledgments. (Sorry, I can’t promise you a percentage of the royalties, but hey, at least that’s something, right?) I’m hoping to make this whole process interactive, at least to the extent that Vintage allows it, so stay tuned for more updates.

And get ready for some other big baseball-related news within the next week or two…