4/9/09 at Rogers Centre

Last day in Toronto.
Day game after a night game.
Was there going to be batting practice?

Yes!!!

I had seen the batting cage and screens from my hotel room, but unfortunately this is what was taking place when I ran inside the Rogers Centre at 11am:

blue_jays_stretching.jpg

At least it was the Blue Jays and NOT the Tigers who were on the field; at each of the previous three games, Detroit had been using cheap International League balls during BP.

Not long after the Jays started throwing, one of the balls got loose and rolled halfway onto the warning track in foul territory. I’m not sure which player had let the ball get away from him, but instead of walking over and picking it up and using it to finish throwing, he left it there and pulled a new ball out of his back pocket. The abandoned ball was sitting 30 feet to my right. There was an on-field security guard standing 50 feet to my left. In New York City, he would’ve walked over and grabbed the ball (and probably kept it for himself), but here in Canada, where
zack_loves_canada.jpgfew people go out of their way to snag baseballs, the guard just stood there and watched while I ran over and successfully used the “half-glove trick.” That’s what I call it when I don’t actually rig my glove to pick up a ball but simply fling the glove out in order to knock a ball closer. Then I moved one section to my left to get near the pitchers–and I found myself standing right in front of the guard.

“Thanks for letting me get that ball,” I said.

“No problem,” he replied. “You’re the guy who gets all the balls, right?”

“Yeah! How’d you know?”

“I’ve been reading your blog,” he said. “I think what you do is pretty cool. I don’t want you writing about any Gestapo sh*t here, and I don’t want you to put the Gustavo curse on me.”

WOW.

Again, just to point out the difference between Toronto and my hometown…

In September 2008, a bunch of security guards at Shea Stadium actually got angry at me (and confronted me) after they read a Newsday article in which I was paraphrased–not even quoted, mind you, but paraphrased–as saying that security at Shea was more lax than at Yankee Stadium. I meant it as a compliment, but they took it as an insult that would get them in trouble with their superiors. Unbelievable.

jesse_litsch.jpg
Anyway, I bolted out to the seats in left-center field as soon as the Jays started hitting, and I used my glove trick to pluck my second ball of the day off the warning track. Several players watched me do it and were nice enough not to interfere, but when I ran around to right-center and tried to use the trick again, they weren’t as kind. As I began raising my glove with my potential third ball of the day wedged precariously inside, Jesse Litsch and Jesse Carlson both started throwing balls at my glove to knock it loose. I got the sense that they weren’t REALLY trying to mess me up. If they seriously wanted to foil my attempt, they could’ve just jogged over and grabbed the ball out of my glove…but instead they stayed about 40 feet away and took turns
firing balls at it.

“This guy gets like 800 balls a year!” said Litsch to his teammate.

“I don’t get THAT many!” I yelled, “but wait, how do you even know who I am?”

“Man, I see you EVERYwhere,” he said as he continued to fire balls at my glove. “You’re in New York. You’re in Baltimore. You’re all over the place.”

The balls he and Carlson were throwing were thumping off the padded outfield wall as I continued to lift my glove. One of their throws nicked my glove and caused it to spin around, but incredibly the ball remained inside.

As I kept raising my glove, their throws kept getting higher and higher and eventually reached the top of the outfield wall. Litsch had another ball in his hand and paused to look up at me.

“Yeah, what’choo got NOW!!!” I yelled.

He cocked his arm as if he were threatening to throw it.

“Go ahead!” I yelled as my glove dangled just a couple feet below the railing. “Throw it! I dare you! I’ll just catch it!”

I grabbed the string with my left hand in order to free up my dominant right hand, and just then, Litsch fired his ball at my glove and I reached down and bare-handed it just before it was able to hit it.

“HAHA!!!” I yelled. “Yeah!!! That’s what I’m TALKIN’ about!!! You like that?! Pretty good hands, huh?!”

He didn’t say anything. He just turned around and walked back to his spot in shallow right-center field. It felt amazing. I’d lunged and caught a 50mph throw in my right hand while another ball was tucked inside my glove that was dangling by a string from my left hand. It was truly a glorious moment.

The stadium had been open for about 15 minutes, and look how empty the seats were:

BP_after_15_minutes.jpg

That’s why I don’t feel sorry for people who tell me, “I’ve been going to games for 40 years, and I’ve never gotten a ball, not even in batting practice.”

I mean…DUH.

The left field seats got fairly crowded (by Toronto’s standards) toward the end of BP, and if you look closely at the photo below, you can see Nick Yohanek (aka “Happy Youngster“) in the second deck, wearing a blue jersey and long white sleeves:

left_field_crowded_04_09_09.jpg

My fifth ball of the day was a random toss-up that got bobbled by some fans and rolled right to me through an empty row. Total luck, yes.

After the netting above the Jays’ bullpen was pulled back (as it always is late in BP), I used the glove trick to snag another ball there. Then, two minutes later, I used the trick yet again to pull up a ball from the wide gap on the center field side of the ‘pen. My string got tangled on that one, and I nearly ran out of time.

After BP, I got Jesse Litsch to sign my ticket…jesse_litsch_autograph.jpg

…and asked if he was the guy who’d thrown a ball up to my hotel room two days earlier.

“That was YOU?!” he asked.

(Heh.)

Here’s a photo of him signing…

jesse_litsch_signing.jpg

…and here’s a shot of his glove, which was sitting on top of the low wall right in front of me:

jesse_litsch_glove.jpg

Five minutes before the game started, I headed out to the front row along the left field foul line to say hey to the nice security guard. We talked for a bit, and then I noticed that there was a ball sitting underneath the ballboy’s stool:

ball3850_stolen_from_ballboy.jpg“I’m guessing I’d probably get yelled at if I went over there and grabbed that ball,” I said to the guard.

“Do what you need to do,” he said. “It’s his fourth day on the job. He doesn’t know what’s going on.”

Poor ballboy. Totally oblivious. He was looking out at the field and talking to the fans sitting behind him. I felt guilty, like I was taking advantage of him, like I was about to steal his lunch money. And what about the Blue Jays outfielders? How would they warm up if I took that ball? Screw it, I thought. They’ll find another ball somehow. It’s not my problem.

“I gotta do it,” I told the guard. “In the name of charity. Yes! It’s for a good cause!”

He seemed to be getting a kick out of the whole thing, so I shared my plan: I was going to head up the steps, cut through an empty row, head back down the steps, and stand right behind the ballboy until I felt he was sufficiently distracted. Then I was going to reach over the low wall, grab the ball, and run like hell.I thanked the guard, told him this was my last game in Toronto, said goodbye, took a deep breath, and made my move. Up the steps, through the row, down the steps. I looked back at the guard, and he was watching while making it look like he wasn’t watching. I looked all around. The fans were clueless. The ballboy was yapping away. The guard at the top of the steps had his back turned to me. I waited for the ballboy to lean forward a bit, and as soon as he did, I reached carefully over the wall and under his stool. If he’d leaned back at that moment, his back would’ve pinned my arm against the wall, and I would’ve been busted. I actually had to feel for the ball because there wasn’t room for me to bend all the way over and look for it, so that took a couple seconds, and I was very nervous, but I got it! I grabbed the ball with my fingertips and lifted it up over the wall and BOLTED up the steps. I turned back quickly, spotted the guard, and pumped my fist. He gave a subtle nod, and I disappeared into the concourse.

Because the 200 Level wasn’t quite as empty as I’d hoped it would be, I spent the game going for foul balls on the first base side of home plate. Nothing came my way, but I did manage to maneuver down behind the dugout after the first inning and get Tigers first baseman Miguel
ball_3851_miguel_cabrera.jpgCabrera to toss me a ball on his way in. I quickly realized that it was not the ball he’d actually caught to end the frame; it was too scuffed/marked (as you can see on the right), which means he’d switched the gamer with the infield warm-up ball and given me THAT one instead. Rrr.

I really wanted one more ball. That would’ve given me double digits, my personal benchmark of stadium domination, but it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t get any (other) third-out balls, and like I said, there weren’t any fouls that came anywhere near me. I felt like I would’ve had a great shot at getting an umpire ball after the game, but when Nick made his way down into my area in the late innings, I told him he could go for it. It was only fair. He’d backed off the day before and given me the dugout, and I’d snagged two balls as a result. Now it was my turn to be generous, and sure enough he ended up getting a ball at the dugout, not from home plate ump Chris Guccione but from one of the Tigers pitchers walking in from the bullpen. Overall, during the three days that Nick and I were both at the Rogers Centre, we managed to stay out of each other’s way and NOT lose any opportunities, but this was one of the few times that it couldn’t be avoided. It happens. Sometimes there IS only one place to be, but we handled it well. We communicated and shared our strategies and made it work.

The game itself was historic. It was the first time in major league history that two first-round draft picks made their debuts against each other. Ricky Romero, drafted 6th overall by the Blue Jays in 2005, earned the win after giving up two runs on seven hits in six innings. Rick Porcello, the 27th overall pick by the Tigers in 2007, suffered the loss after allowing four runs on nine hits in five innings. (I should’ve saved my ticket and tried to get it signed by them instead of Litsch). Final score: Toronto 6, Detroit 2.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 9 balls at this game

• 31 balls in 4 games this season = 7.75 balls per game.

• 573 consecutive games with at least one ball

pifb_logo1.jpg

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

• 3,851 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $14.88 pledged per ball

• $133.92 raised at this game

• $461.28 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

22 Comments

Nice work Zack! Sounds like you and Happy had quite an opening series. My blog is up and running. Although, my exploits are nearly as interesting. The dome just plain sucks for snagging. Although I did have some luck. I don’t even own a digital camera. That is sad, I know. I have a $60,000 car but no friggin digital camera. I am just not tech oriented I guess. I will find a way to take some pictures to upload to my blog to make it more interesting. Those red hot Blue Jays are coming to town to take on my Twins for a 4 game stand Monday through Thursday. Hopefully they cool down some.

zack-
great series up there over the border. the best stat is the $461.28 that was raised for charity. its incredible that just doing what you normally do can help raise so much for people who can really use it.

anyway, i went to i minor league game friday night, in manchester, new hampshire, about an hour fifteen minutes away from my school. it was the new hampshire fisher cats (AA affiliate Blue Jays) vs. the new britain rock cats (AA affiliate Twins). it was a 6:35 game, so the gates opened at 4:35 but youre limited to only the left field picnic area for an hour. luckily the area is in fair territory and that helps. i got a rock cats pitcher, i believe yohan pino, to toss me my first ball of the day. as he tossed it to me a liner was hit way to my left. i couldnt get to it on a fly, but luckily the 0 other fans trying to get any balls didnt go for this one and i could have left it there and got it at the end of BP. 20 mins passed and nothing else came, and as frustrating as it is, you have to realize that these guys are in AA and have basically no power except for a few. then someone hit a shot over towards me. i didnt have to go very far, but it was falling a few feet short of clearing the wall, so i laid myslef out over a picnic table and leaned over and made a snow cone catch, which i was very lucky to hang onto, and actually got applauds from a group of pitchers, including jay rainville, who was a #1 draft choice in 04. then when the rest of stadium opened up i grabbed a ball that was sitting under a seat down the left field side, which i gave to a little kid with a glove, who couldnt have been more than 4 or 5. i headed over to the fisher cats side for some autographs. i talked a little while with nick gorneault, who i saw make his major league debut with the angels in late june 2007. i asked him if he knew Nick Adenhart at all, and he did know him, but they werent too close, but he did have “NA” written on his hat, which he showed me after i asked him. i got 11 autographs on a team pennant, and quickly raced down the line and got a ball from jonathan diaz, after his pregame warmups. that was it for the day, the players pretty much gave any ball coming in to the umpire or the few times they kept it gave it to little kids or kept it and walked into the dugout with them. new hampshire won 5-0 and i asked the manager for his lineup cards but he told me he needed them for game records or something. it was a lot of fun, and its a really nice stadium, and im probably going to go back once more before before school begins.

last note, im coming home this weekend and the next weekend after (milwaukee/cleveland…washington) i dont plan on going to any games, but im definately going to be in the city at the hotels, so ill definitely get a recap of those, and i think im going to start a blog, so i will keep you posted about that

Hey Zack….

Holy Baloney!! I caught Henry Blanco’s 1st home run in the 3rd inning. Caught it in traffic too. It was a line drive homer that kind of hooked back into us at the last moment. They got a pretty good picture of the catch in the San Diego Union Tribune today (I made the Sunday paper on Easter!!) The only problem is that the guy next to me is blocking my face. Rats. I know who I am though. Anyway, I’m having a good week at PETCO. I didn’t even get Jake’d.

http://albums.signonsandiego.com/Sports/Padres/2009/04-11-Giants/tn/Padres_Giants12.jpg.html

http://albums.signonsandiego.com/Sports/Padres/2009/04-11-Giants/tn/Padres_Giants09.jpg.html

I liked your final entry on Toronto alot. That was awesome with the security guard knowing you. How great is that!!!??? The only problem is the players starting to know you. At least this time they were cool with you. Have fun in New York this week with Heath Bell. He’s having a great start as our closer. I feel good things for you this week at Citi Field.

Leigh

Excellent work in Toronto.. I hope you can do the same when you come to Chicago..

I liked the story of the ball under the ball boy. Some of my favorite snag stories are the ones that are unique and challenging. My first ever snag was a ball that got stuck in the ivy at Wrigley early in BP. My friend and I had to work a security guard for innings to finally have him go in there and look for the ball that was stuck. Once we got it, we felt like we heisted the entire stadium haha

Great work in Toronto! Enjoy your time back in the states snagging balls.

http://baseballintheattic.mlblogs.com/

Small crowds do not provide a fun game atmosphere, but they are certainly beneficial to getting baseballs and autographs. My best experiences were the three years the Nats played at RFK. The stadium was barren.

Is it too late to make a pledge for Pitch In For Baseball?

-Mark
http://philliesperspective.mlblogs.com

Good job in Toronto. Hope your luck continues at the new stadiums.
I was disgusted with myself today at Turner Field. Paid attendance was only 19,873 and I got shut out. Nothing went right today and BP was dead. I always hurry to get there before gates open, but then they ALWAYS open 10 minutes late making me miss part of BP.

Hey zack its me again Andre, and I think its really cool that you catch balls for charity and I dont know who came up with the idea but I think it was a great idea beacause obviously a lot of money will be going into it. Also I was wondering if you know if your going to the mets game this friday becuase me and my friend are going and i went to the yankees exhibiton game last friday and i got shutout with no balls or autographs and I really need your help Friday to guide me through because I must be doing somehting wrong. Please think about it..Thanks
-Andre

Zack, congrats on snagging a total of 31 baseballs in your opening series of the 2009 regular season! I had no clue that you were going to raise this much money for Pitch In For Baseball already, and just thinking about it, there’s still another 157 games to go. Boy, the kids in need are gonna LOOOOVEEEE you! Lol. Anyway, I take it this Wednesday at Citi Field is your next game? Just promise me you STAY OUT OF MY WAY! …please. :) Just kiddin’ brotha! I seriously can’t wait for Wednesday night. I believe it’s going to be one of the best nights I’ve had in awhile. Once again, see you at Citi this Wed man!

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

Yes I did talk to Dan Wheeler. I brought you up. And congrats with the 31 balls, probably the most out of anyone this week.
http://riveravenue.mlblogs.com
Alex

Wait, you’re going to Milwaukee, eh?
http://riveravenue.mlblogs.com
Alex

GREAT blog right here and sounds like a fantastic trip. Friday I’m headed to my first game of the season at the Safe vs the Tigers. I REALLY hope I don’t come in contact w/ any international balls… It’s Ichiro bobblehead night so I hope that doesn’t hamper my ball count. Where you off to next big guy?

Awesome work & great recap! So, is Toronto going to make it into the yearly rotation? The security alone would make it worth the trip. Well, keep it up! Brian

Good stuff Zack,, Are you going to be at the Mets and Brewers game this Saturday?
Tony
http://thet206kid.mlblogs.com/

Zee

Oh, how I wish there were a video of you barehanding the throw from Litsch or Carlson (?) while operating the Hample glove trick with your other hand. Very tricky stuff. And fun. You da MAN!

Zack, it has been great reading about your first successes of the 2009 season. Congratulations! I can’t believe that you’ve already raised so much for charity–that’s awesome, dude. I’ve got 5 baseballs this year to your 31… but I (like most of us) am not as skilled as you… man, glove trick and a bare-handed catch?!? Incredible!
~Matt
http://bloggingboutbaseball.mlblogs.com/

BIG GLOVE BOB-
Thanks, and yes, it was quite a nice start to the season. What’s the exact URL for your blog?

JONELI24-
Nice recap of the minor league game. Sounds like you made one hell of a catch. I think you should definitely start a blog. Let me know…

LEIGH-
That’s awesome!! Many many congrats on the game homer. Man, I’m starting to feel lame with my lone game foul balls. Both you and Happy are already on the board, but you’re the king so far since you caught it on the fly.

SSWEENE1-
Thanks. I’m about to reveal the exact dates of my Chicago/Milwaukee trip. See you there?

BASEBALL IN THE ATTIC-
Thanks.

MARK-
It’s not too late at all. Go for it! (Thanks for asking.)

BRAVES04-
Shut out? Ohhh nooooo!!

ANDRE-
There’s a chance that I might be at Citi on Friday, but I probably won’t know until I wake up that day. Depends on the whether and also how much work I can get done on my book between now and then.

DONNIE-
Wednesday will indeed be my next game. Of course I wish I were there tonight, but I don’t have season tickets so it would’ve been waaay too expensive.

ALEX-
Very cool. Thanks for doing that. And yes, it’s true about Milwaukee.

SPORTZFREEKA-
Oish. I hope the crowd isn’t too crazy for you as a result. Good luck…and my next game will be Wednesday at Citi Field.

BRIAN-
Yearly rotation? Nah. It was fun, but it wasn’t THAT fun.

TONY-
Nope. Not Saturday. I’ll be at Yankee Stadium that day.

BOODLEHEIMER-
I wish there were a video too! Most of my greatest moments go un-documented.

MATT-
Well, if not for Sheffield sitting on 499, I never would’ve gone to Toronto, and you’d be beating me 5-0.

GARY SHEFFIELD-
Can you please just send me a private email and tell me when and where you’re going to hit No. 500? Thanks. I appreciate it.

They just said sheff is starting in right field on wednesday during the mets game.

Haha, I am in the pic of the left field outfield pics! I was trying to harass Scott Downs (among others) to toss a ball, as I said I followed him as an Expo, which I did. Not sure if he heard.

I’m the guy who saw you do the glove trick during game 2. Not sure if you noticed, I said, we meet again, when you were doing your glove trick during game 4, you ended up right beside me, and your cord was tangled. Might I suggest a reel, something not dissimilar to a fishing reel to keep the cord untangled.

Anyway, I only got a couple balls, as I am a wannabe ball snagger!

http://baseball363.blogspot.com

that would only happen in Toronto…congratulations!

wow…that is so nice!..Toronto Security Guard how i wish i could go to Roger’s Centre..

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