4/7/09 at Rogers Centre

The day got off to a great start.

Thanks to the location of my hotel room and the impressive right arm of a Blue Jays pitcher, I was able to snag a ball 15 minutes before Rogers Centre opened. This is where it all went down:

zack_snagging_in_hotel_room.jpg

I’m not sure who threw it–it’s kinda hard to recognize faces from three kilometers up–but I think it was Jesse Litsch. I’d gotten his attention as soon as the Jays started taking BP, and when I asked for a ball, he grabbed his shoulder and rotated his arm as if to indicate that it was sore.

“I can’t throw that far!” he shouted.

“Gimme a break!” I yelled. “I played D-3 ball, and *I* can throw that far!”

That convinced him to give it a shot, but his first throw fell short and the ball bounced out of the 500 Level. Then, before he tried again, he told me that this was going to be his last try. The ball barely sailed wide and again bounced out of the seats.

“C’mon!” I yelled.

He ignored me.

I thought that was it, but then he surprised me by making one final attempt about 20 minutes later, and it was right on the money. That is one impressive throw, and of course it felt incredible to head outside and get on line and already have a “1” in the ball tally. FYI, there’s no way to enter the stadium from the hotel. I had to go outside and wait at the gate like everyone else, and when I got outside, I discovered that it was snowing. Then, according to the plan,
I headed to Gate 13 and met a fellow ballhawk named Nick Yohanek (aka “Happy Youngster“) for the very first time. Here we are…Nick on the left and his father Jack on the right:

nick_zack_jack.jpg

Nick and I had known each other through email and blog comments for a few years. Like me, he had planned to go to Toronto to make an attempt at catching Gary Sheffield’s 500th career home run. Even though Sheff got released by the Tigers during the final week of Spring Training, we were still here. Nick and his father had made the 650-mile drive from Milwaukee.

My only concern about meeting fellow ballhawks is that we’ll end up getting in each other’s way and competing for the same balls, but that didn’t happen here. Rogers Centre is big enough (and the crowd was so small) that everyone was able to spread out. As soon as the gates opened, Nick made a beeline for the 200 Level and found an easter egg. I raced to the 100 Level and got one of the Tigers (no idea who) to toss me a ball in right-center field. The first thing I thought of was the charity; snagging baseballs, as fun as it has always been for me, now feels even better because of this new added meaning.

A few minutes later, a ball rolled onto the warning track in right-center:

ball3829_warning_track.jpg

I used my glove trick to reel it in and heard some fans cheering for me in left-center. The day before, I’d stayed in the 200 Level and didn’t get recognized by anybody. On this fine day, however, I stayed downstairs and had a bunch of people coming up to me and recognizing me from this blog and from YouTube.

Eddie Bonine walked over and asked how I got the ball to stick inside my glove.

“Put another ball down,” I said, “and I’ll show you how it’s done.”

He was so intrigued by my contraption that I think he was considering it, but then another ball rolled onto the warning track.

“There you go,” he said, pointing at it.

The ball was halfway out on the track and my attempt began with a struggle to knock it closer, only because I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself by flinging the glove way out. I was trying to be subtle and gentle with all my movements, and it just wasn’t happening.

eddie_bonine.jpg

Bonine moved the ball closer to the wall, then stepped back and watched with Nate Robertson as I reeled it in. Once I had the ball in my hand, he told me to give it to him.

“I’ll give it back,” he said. “I want to see you do it again.”

I tossed him the ball and worried that a) security was going to raise hell and that b) I was missing other snagging opportunities, but I had to go with it. When a major leaguer is talking to you, you can’t just walk away.

Sure enough, as I was reeling in the ball for the second time, a young female security guard (wearing a menacing bright yellow jacket) approached me from behind and told me I had to stop. Bonine jumped to my defense, saying I wasn’t causing any trouble and that he wanted to see what I was doing.

“In that case keep right on going,” the guard told me. “I have to say I’m impressed.”

I got the ball to stick inside my glove and then as soon as I began lifting it up, Bonine kicked the glove and made both the ball and Sharpie fall out. I wasn’t mad. I knew he was just being playful, and I thought it was funny. Then he grabbed the Sharpie and wedged it in my glove and tossed the ball up to me. Mission accomplished.

I ran to left-center because a bunch of righties were taking turns in the cage. Of course there wasn’t a single ball that landed anywhere near me, but I did get Carlos Guillen to toss one my way–ball No. 5 on the day.

Three of the last four balls I’d snagged were from the International League. (Booooo!!!) They felt cheap and plasticky, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re made in China:

international_league_balls.jpg

Real balls, of course, are made in…let’s say it all together: COSTA RICA!!! And let me just point out that the Tigers are now 0-3 in games I’ve seen them play since last year, so I’ll say it again: If you practice with minor league balls, you’re gonna play like a bunch of minor leaguers. I’m telling you, the Tigers are done. They’re not going anywhere this year. It’s just like the Nationals and their God-awful training balls.

Right after BP, I got Curtis Granderson (he’s nice) to sign my ticket…

curtis_granderson_autograph.jpg

…and then I met two of Toronto’s best ballhawks. They knew I was going to be at this game, and they’d said a quick hello during BP in left-center. Once all the players were off the field, we had a good chunk of time to catch up. Here were are in the photo below. The guy on the left is named Ryan, and he’s snagged a grand total of 696 balls. His friend on the right is Tyler, and he’s gotten around 630:

ryan_tyler_zack.jpg

“We’re like the you of this stadium,” said Ryan.

He and Tyler each had me sign a ball. Then we took some photos, and they had me leave a voice-mail for their friend who’s away in college right now–another ballhawk whose claim to fame is that when Carlos Delgado was on the Jays and hit four homers in a game, he snagged the third one. So there ARE some experienced ballhawks here. I hadn’t met any when I was in Toronto in 2000, but of course I didn’t have this blog then, so I wasn’t coming into contact with nearly as many people. Oh, and one more thing about Ryan and Tyler…they each have a full season ticket plan. All 81 home games. When I tell you how much they pay, you’re going to cry and/or move to Toronto. Ready? They pay just $81. Not per ticket, but for the entire season! One dollar per game. That’s one of the deals up here. Of course their seats are in the 500 Level, but it doesn’t matter because they never go up there. Can you believe that? It makes me loathe New York City. But let’s move away from hateful thoughts. Here’s something funny and sooooooo Canadian…

Twenty minutes before game time, as I was walking through the seats, I saw a kid with a hockey goalie glove, and yes, he said he’d brought it to try to catch a foul ball:

hockey_goalie_glove.jpg

I was tempted to give him one of my baseballs, but since he was sitting with three other kids, I didn’t want to do anything that would make the rest of them jealous, so I kept walking around and looking for a worthy recipient. After a few minutes I saw a little boy, probably about five years old, sitting between his parents, wearing a glove and Tigers gear. I walked up and asked him if he’d gotten a ball yet, and when he said no, I handed him the ball that Eddie Bonine had flipped up to me. It was the only ball I had in my possession with an MLB logo. All the others were International League balls. (The ball I’d caught in my hotel room was a real ball, but I didn’t take it with me.)

Right before the game, I got my sixth ball of the day tossed at the Tigers’ dugout by guess who? Mister Carlos Guillen. God forbid he ever has to pick out the perp in a police lineup.

On Opening Day, the attendance was 48,027. At the second game of the season, the crowd shrunk to 16,790, and that was the “paid” attendance. There’s no way there were that many people in the ballpark. Maybe the fact that there was no alcohol had something to do with it? Whatever the reason, it was great for me. I had endless room to run for foul balls, as you can see in the photo below (along with an arrow pointing to my hotel room):

empty_seats_during_game_04_07_09.jpg

The seats got a little more crowded during the middle innings, so I wandered up to the 500 Level. Can you spell D-E-S-O-L-A-T-E? Here’s the concourse behind the right field foul pole…

500_level_concourse.jpg

…and here are the empty seats. Note all the railings. Awful:

500_level_empty_seats.jpg

Here’s the view from the last row behind the plate:

rogers_centre_panorama.jpg

I wish I’d taken photos of what happened next. There wasn’t an actual event, but rather just some good ol’ fashioned exploring. Let me try to describe it. As I was walking down one of the ramps from the 500 Level, I noticed a little alcove at one end, with some steps leading up to an
unmarked metal door. I looked around. No fans. No guards. No security camera. No sign saying “keep out” or “authorized personnel only.” Nothing like that. So, I walked up the steps (slice of pizza in hand) and peeked under the door. All I could see was that the area behind it was well lit. I had no idea what was there. Security? Media? Garbage? Storage? I didn’t even know if the door was locked, so I slowly pulled down on the latch handle, and it moved. I opened the door very slowly…then a little more…and a little more…and found myself in a short hallway, maybe 20 feet long, with another unmarked door at the other end. Weird!! I walked up to that door, and it was also unlocked. Surely there HAD to be a guard on the other side. But no. I opened it all the way and walked right through, and there wasn’t another human being in sight. Turned out I was in the exclusive 300 Level:

300_level_concourse.jpg

I walked through the narrow hallway, passed a few security cameras, and expected to be approached by stadium personnel within 60 seconds. But no. I passed a few employees (including a chef with a huge white hat) and no one said a word. Very strange. Easily one of my strangest stadium experiences ever. I wandered some more, took a few pics, and then found an elevator that deposited me in the 100 Level. Even if I had been caught, it’s not like I would’ve gotten in trouble, right? I wasn’t breaking any rules. I was just wandering. (That’s what I would’ve told the judge.) If they don’t want people to wander, then they should lock the doors and put up signs. Simple as that.

Anyway, I picked out a seat in the ultimate foul ball location…

foul_ball3833_seat.jpg

…and it paid off in the bottom of the 8th inning. Marco Scutaro fouled off a 2-1 pitch from Brandon Lyon. The ball sailed 20 feet over my head, landed in the 200 Level, and bounced down into an empty row. Easy. And lucky. I won’t deny that. I pulled it right out of a folded seat.

After the game, which the Jays won, 5-4, on a walk-off sac fly by Rod Barajas, I caught up with Happy Youngster and invited him (and his dad) to check out my hotel room:

nick_zack_hotel_room.jpg

Did you notice the shirt he’s wearing? Last week it became a rather famous design. If you have 1 minute and 50 seconds to spare, check out this YouTube video, and note how many views it’s gotten.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game

marco_scutaro_foul_ball.jpg

• 13 balls in 2 games this season = 6.5 balls per game.

• 571 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 144 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 1,100 lifetime balls outside of New York (No. 1,100, pictured here on the right, was the Scutaro foul ball; much better than No. 1,000 which was the product of a cracked rib on 8/30/08 at Angel Stadium)

• 125 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 26 lifetime game balls outside NYC

• 3,833 total balls


CHARITY STATS:

• 69 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)

• $14.04 pledged per ball (and counting)

• $98.28 raised at this game

• $182.52 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Finally, in case you’re interested, I taped a radio interview yesterday which is going to air this afternoon (April 8th) at around 4:15pm ET (but you might want to tune in at 4pm to be safe). The network is called Mile High Sports Online. Just visit the site and click the “listen now” button on the upper right, and you should be good to go. In case you miss it today (apologies for the short notice), my segment is supposed to re-air on Saturday, April 11th, at 10am ET.

26 Comments

Hey Zack nice snagging day. Are you going to go to Miami for the Mets series from Friday- Sunday to try for Sheffields 500th?

-Michael

Zack,

1st place in the ballhawk league?? How can we tell who is winning throughout the season? Enjoy Toronto, eh.

HOWIE

Zack… my man!

Any tips for snagging balls in a cramped, outfield deck-less minor league stadium? No access to the upper deck, either. Gotta patrol the lower-level concourse and seats.

81 BUCKS for SEASON TICKETS!!!! 81 bucks can get you 1 seat in the 300 level at yankee stadium. Thats crazy. Have a great rest of the trip in toronto, keep blowing out the competition of the league. Joe

If it was a redheaded pitcher who is about 210 lbs, then it was Jesse Litsch.
Amazing, an ex-Rays batboy can throw it to a hotel room in Rogers Centre.
I know I stayed at the hotel for a three game series, but I never even thought of having them throw a ball up. But that is why I sit on the line in right field, so I do not have to think like the master.
Glad you are having a great time up in Toronto.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Zeeee –

The pic of you in the window scoping out the field is a classic. Would maybe make a great cover for one of your books or a poster for don ‘t-know-what – maybe the future Snagging Museum in Cooperstown?

Who else would even dream of attempting to con a player to throw a ball up to him in his hotel room? It’s like a crazy/wonderful dream touched with your infectious madness!

It’s lovely to see your numbers building up on behalf of Pitch In For Baseball – a marvelous wrinkle to add extra interest to your quest for balls.

What’s your next move – to go for Sheff’s 500th at Citi?

An even better day at the Centre my dood! The catch that Happy Youngster had was awesome! Saving lives, one at a time! My 2008 All Star Game ball feels like plastic. The stitching is correct but the ball feels like it was made with a different material. I can’t believe the price of the ticket you purchased, or the price of season tickets at the Rogers Centre. $81 is crazy! If I was a Yankees fan, I’d make the switch in a heartbeat. See you at Citi on the 15th, officially!

– Donnie
http://donnieanks.mlblogs.com/

Hey Zack, I got one of those International League balls at the Tigers/Braves exhibition last week. I thought it was from the Braves at first, but now it must’ve been from the Tigers. I hadn’t noticed the difference in stitching, but it’s weird how they are similar to those training balls. Luckily, the other 4 last Friday were standards. I really hope the Braves ditched the training ones. Pretty cool that only 2 games has raised $182 and that will certainly grow!

Oh yeah. I forgot to mention I have an extra ticket for 4/15. It’s in Section 135, Row 4. Close, if not the perfect spot for Sheffield. Let me know if you want me to save it for you. I should be at the gates before they open in Left Field anyway if the trains run smoothly. I bought the tickets for $45 each, I’ll sell it to you or anyone that needs the ticket for $35 – $40. Let me know what’s good!

– Donnie
http://donnieanks.mlblogs.com/

Wow, sounds like you had a great game! I think there were a lot smaller crowds the second game. The Padres had 45,000 on Monday but 20,000 yesterday.
http://kaybee.mlblogs.com

Ok, was that Zack that just got the Cabrera home run ball in Toronto? I only know of one person to bolt through the seats like that with a glove, especially in Toronto.

Zack,
Another fine showing for you. That sucks about the minor league balls, I hope no other teams are planning on using those this season.

Howie,
I’ll update the standings for the ballhawk league each Monday on my blog. I’m having all 16 members email me their weekly stats on Sunday, and then I’ll compile them and post an update on my blog. If any members still want in, post a comment on my blog.

-Erik
http://countingbaseballs.mlblogs.com

Hey Zack, funny thing about that video clip, I was watching the game when that happened. I never in my life thought it would be linked back to a reader. And about that shirt, I could’ve sworn I just saw that on Baseball Tonight getting a HR ball from Miguel Cabrera.
Nothing exciting ball-wise yesterday. I got Dan Haren’s warm-up ball, but feel like an idiot bacause I misjudged a BP HR ball from Brad Hawpe. Just went down one step too many and when I realized my mistake, it was just too late. I reached up as far as I could but it tipped off the top of my glove.
Good luck in the rest of your games in Canada! I like the fact that you’ve raised just about (probably more now) $100 for charity in just 2 games. Keep up the good work!

EVERYONE-
Day 3 was good. I probably won’t get a chance to post an entry about it until Thursday night. I have to wake up early and check out (of this glorious hotel), then go to the afternoon game (I’m praying for BP), and then race to the airport.

MICHAEL-
No, dammit. I can’t because of two stupid commitments in NYC this coming weekend. I’m so **********.

HOWIE-
I’m having fun, but if I had to grade this place, I would not give it an Eh-plus.

ANDERSCONRAD12-
Oish. Without seeing the place, I wouldn’t be able to give you any advice.

JOE-
Yeah, it’s nuts.

RAYS RENEGADE-
I know what Litsch looks like. I just couldn’t tell from up in the sky. Oh well.

BOODLEHEIMER-
Well, there *are* other people in the world who would’ve thought of snagging a ball up there if they’d be given the opportunity, but thanks. Let’s see what happens with Sheffield this weekend before we start thinking about Citi.

DONNIE-
I’m glad we’re finally gonna meet up. I already have a ticket, but thanks for the offer.

BRAVES04-
Thanks, and yeah, those Triple-A balls are the worst. What’s this about bolting through the seats? I didn’t get that ball, but I *was* running through the second deck as soon as it was hit.

KAYBEE-
Yeah, it usually drops way off in a bunch of stadiums. (Not in Philly, of course. Lucky me.)

ERIK-
Hopefully we can get more than 16 by season’s end. When’s the deadline for joining? All-Star break?

DNESBITT14-
Yep, that was the shirt tonight with Cabrera. Sorry about you misjudgment. That’s a crappy feeling.

Zack-

When I was in “Boston” aka Fort Myers for Spring Training, they happened to be playing the Tigers, and I was attempting to use the glove trick when security walked over (I mentioned this before). Well, there were 2 tigers players standing about 50 feet away watching, kinda laughing and interested, and sure enough, you know who one was? A pitcher I really had no idea who he was 2 weeks ago – #49 Eddie Bonine!! Go figure!! He loves that thing!

Ben

Hi Zack…

That’s really cool you got to meet the Happy Youngster. Good times in the snagging world. That was a real cool entry. I liked all the sneeking and peeking. Good stuff. Can’t wait for the next entry!

I got to BP kinda late today. It was all pretty much a bust. My favorite part was when I asked Matt Kemp to please sign his home run ball from Opening Day. He looked at me like I was from the planet Neptune or something. Then, he kind of jogged off to another part of the field. Nice huh? I’m not sure if I even want it signed now. Oh well.

I did get one ball today. Chase Headley threw me his warm up ball in between innings. He lofted it perfect to me in a sea of Dodger fans. A perfect throw. It was a rubbed up game ball too, not a crappy BP ball.

On a side note I got to meet Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger and Maria Shriver today. I wish I would have had a baseball for him to sign. I didn’t know I was going to meet him though. It was a surprise. I wonder how far he could hit a baseball at his peak steroid strength? Ha ha. Take it easy and I can’t wait for the next entry.

Leigh

I thought it looked just like you on the Cabrera HR. What’s the deal with this shirt? That video you posted has already been removed from YouTube and I don’t know what exactly to search.

I thought it looked just like you on the Cabrera HR. What’s the deal with this shirt? That video you posted has already been removed from YouTube and I don’t know what exactly to search.

That’s funny about the 300 level! I once snuck into CBP accidentally like an hour before the gates opened…wandered over to a side door out of curiousity to see where it led (got their early and I was bored) and to my surprise, it opened. I wandered in and it took me to the main concourse. Probably 15 employees walked right by me; I smiled, said hello and they said hi back and just kept going. Eventually, I wound up down front near BP and snagged 2 balls that rolled against the wall and another that was in the stands. Security guards watched me do this and even though the gates weren’t open yet, they said nothing. Guess they thought I worked there? Who knows…but it was fun to see BP all by myself :O)

Jenn
http://philliesphollowers.mlblogs.com/

Well. I guess I should have gotten here sooner ’cause that video link to youtube isn’t working now. Oh well. Awesome job with the glove trick! It seems to make it better when you get player interaction. I’ll be going to the Tx/K.C. series next week, hope to get ball #1 of the year real soon. Brian

Well. I guess I should have gotten here sooner ’cause that link for youtube isn’t working now. Oh well. Awesome work with the glove trick! It seems to make it better when you get player interaction. Will be going to the Tx./K.C. series next week, hope to get ball #1 soon. Brian

sounds like a great time

ill be at shea wednesday in of seats, sheff dont hit it in miami please!

rip # 34 nick adenhart

just saw him pitch last night..really puts things in perspective..

love that hotel room, Great pics Zack, you dont forget anything, I think this will be your best season yet when it comes to getting baseballs and all the great stories..
Tony
http://thet206kid.mlblogs.com/

EVERYONE-
I didn’t get home until 9pm, then a friend had a medical emergency, and then I couldn’t get an internet connection. Ugh! My next blog entry will either be done by like 3 or 4am tonight, or I’ll just have to do it when I wake up. I’m exhausted. I have some good stories to tell…

BEN-
Funny about Bonine.

LEIGH-
I’m disappointed to hear that about Kemp, but very cool about Ahh-nold.

BRAVES04-
When I’m the commissioner of MLB, I won’t delete anyone’s YouTube videos for “copyright infringement.” So dumb. Sorry for the dead link.

JENN-
Wow, awesome story.

BRIAN-
Yeah, man, you have to get yourself on the board with snag No. 1. Make it happen!

GJK2212-
Wow, I think everyone’s gonna be at…wait, where? on Wednesday.

TONY-
I hope you’re right.

Thanks for the private tour of those sweet hotel rooms.
You da’ man, Z.
“Happy”

http://thehappyyoungster.mlblogs.com/

How can *I* be the man when YOU are the man?

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