4/22/09 at Wrigley Field

I started the day by bowing down to a legend.

Moe Mullins, perhaps the most successful ballhawk of all time, made his way out to Sheffield Avenue nearly two hours before the stadium was going to open. The man has snagged 238 game home runs from major league games, including five grand slams. His lifetime ball total, including everything he’s caught at batting practice and Spring Training, is 5,274. Truly incredible.

Here were are:

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Two other very successful ballhawks made their way out to Sheffield as well. There was Ken Vangeloff (first time I’d met him) and Dave Davison (a friend for the last decade). I truly felt like I was in the presence of greatness.

The Cubs started taking BP…

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…and I got the attention of one of the players…and got him to toss a ball over the bleachers and onto the street…but he airmailed me…and since there was a car speeding past at that exact moment, I wasn’t able to cut across and race after it.

“Chicago ballhawks don’t beg,” said Dave. (It’s true that he and Moe and the other guys rarely ask the players for balls.)

“I’m a roving ambassador,” I replied, “so doesn’t that give me permission?”

Dave said he was just messing with me, then added, “We’re in mid-season form. It’s either rip or BE ripped.”

Remember when I mentioned last month that I’m working on a new book? One thing I’m in the process of doing for the book is interviewing the all-time greatest ballhawks. Moe is obviously one of them, and he told me he doesn’t really like talking on the phone, so I put away my glove and pulled out my digital voice recorder (yes, I came prepared) and interviewed him, right there on the street, for an hour and two minutes. During that time, three more balls got tossed out onto Sheffield, and I’m pretty sure I would’ve snagged at least one or two of them had I been trying. It was pretty frustrating (and I felt guilty about the charity) but I simply HAD to talk to Moe. That’s actually one of the main reasons I made this trip: doing research for the book.

Because the wind was blowing in from left field, the ballhawks didn’t bother running over to Waveland Avenue (which runs behind the left field edge of the ballpark) when righties were at bat. They just stayed on Sheffield, and Moe didn’t even bother wearing his glove:

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Pretty soon it was time for me to go inside so I said goodbye to the ballhawks and headed to the VIP entrance near the right field foul pole. I’d splurged and bought a “bleacher box” ticket for sixty-two dollars. Ouch! (Research for the book. Yes, that’s my excuse.) At Wrigley, you can’t get into the bleachers with a regular ticket, and if you’re in the bleachers, you can’t get into the main part of the stadium. BUT…if you have a bleacher box ticket, you can go everywhere. I figured it was worth doing once. This was the first time I’d ever been in the bleachers at Wrigley, and I wanted to make sure I could explore fully.

I started off by running to left-center because there were a few righties taking turns in the cage. This is what it looked like out there:

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Then I ran a couple sections toward the foul pole and noticed that the ballhawks had moved to Waveland:

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The bleachers were filling up fast. That’s because it’s general admission out there; everyone arrives early to claim a good seat. In addition to that fact, batting practice was dead. I kept moving back and forth for lefties and righties, but no one hit a ball within 100 feet of me.

When the Reds took the field, I moved over to my exclusive section down the right field foul line:

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People with regular bleacher tickets couldn’t get in there, so there was truly NO competition:

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By the way, that’s me in the photo above, leaning on the railing and wearing a Reds cap. See those two ladies sitting to my left? I overheard one of them asking the other, “So wait, where’s home plate?” My friend Kelly was right when she said that most of the people in the bleachers don’t know that much about baseball and are really only there to hang out and get drunk.

My first ball of the day was tossed up by Arthur Rhodes (and let me just say that neither team hit a SINGLE ball into the bleacher box section). It rolled onto the grass in front of me while he was still playing catch. I didn’t bother asking for it until he finished throwing and walked over to pick it up. Too easy.

There were still a few Reds playing catch at that point, so I moved into foul territory and got two more balls within the next five minutes. The first was tossed by some guy that I couldn’t recognize–he recognized the fact that I was decked out in Reds gear–and the second was a glove trick masterpiece.

There was a security guard on the field, about 10 feet out from the wall and maybe 15 feet to my left. His job? To stare up into the seats and make sure that people were behaving. I’d heard that the guards at Wrigley did NOT allow fans to use ball-retrieving devices, so I was glad that this ball was right below me. Now…you know how a successful base stealer will study a pitcher’s pick-off move and look for tendencies? How long will he hold the ball? How quick is his move? Will he throw over three times in a row? Stuff like that. Well, I studied the guard in just the same way, and after a couple minutes I discovered his pattern of crowd surveillance. He would look at the batter for a moment (to make sure no one was hitting a line drive at him) and then he’d quickly look back and scan the crowd. Then he’d look back at the batter for about five to ten seconds…and then look back at the crowd. He did this again and again. The first look away was short. The second look away was long. I prepared the rubber band and magic marker and made sure my string wasn’t tangled. I knew I only had one shot, and even then, there was a good chance that the guy would stop me. Quick look at the batter. Quick look back. Long look at the batter…and then BAM…I went for it. Down went the glove. It dropped over the ball. The guard was still staring at the batter. If my band was on too tight or too loose, I was screwed. No second chances. The glove dropped over the ball, and I heard the crowd get excited. I slowly lifted it up, and the ball was inside. I looked at the guard…and then he looked over at me. CRAP!!! My glove was only about five feet off the ground at that point, and the guard immediately ran over to try to grab it. I kept lifting it…six feet…seven feet…and just as he made it over to me, I’d lifted the glove beyond his reach. HAHA!!! He immediately started yelling at me, and I disappeared into the crowd, took off my hat, and returned to the safety of my bleacher box section. I was so happy. I love sticking it to security when they make stupid rules that prevent true fans from taking home an extra baseball or two, especially when it’s for charity!

Late in BP, I got Jay Bruce to toss me my fourth ball of the day. Look how crowded the left field bleachers were at that point:

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I moved back into the main part of the stadium at the very end of BP and nearly got Reds bench coach Chris Speier to toss me a ball. His aim was off, and it sailed two feet over my glove. (If I’d been allowed to go right down to the dugout, it would’ve been easy. He would’ve tossed it right to me. But no, thanks to Wrigley’s way-too-strict rules, I had to stay back in the cross-aisle, and since there were other fans crowding around me, Speier didn’t have an easy throw.)

I had about 40 minutes ’til the game was going to begin so I decided to head back to the bleachers and take a bunch of photos. I started by going down this staircase in the grandstand:

8_grandstand_to_bleachers.jpg

(Did you notice my shadow waving at you?)

The next photo was taken from that first staircase. See the ushers (wearing blue) in the distance? They had to re-scan my ticket in order for me to leave or re-enter the bleachers, and then I walked up that staircase near them:

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At the top of the staircase, this was the view behind the bleacher box section:

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Not a bad spot to run for home run balls, eh?

Down on Sheffield Avenue, people were lining up for one of the rooftops:

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Look how much space there is (for home run chasing) behind the bleachers in straight-away right field:

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I walked up the steps to the center field bleachers, then turned around and faced the right field foul pole and took the following photo:

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Here’s the area in the deepest part of center field, directly under the big scoreboard:

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Here’s the view from behind the left field bleachers…

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…and here’s the narrow walkway that runs behind it:

16_space_behind_LF_bleachers.jpg

I don’t think that walkway would be good for catching home runs. It looks like the people sitting in the last row could easily catch (or deflect) all the balls before they’d reach it.

The area under the bleachers was, in typical Wrigley fashion, a maze of concourses and ramps and beams and chain-link fences.

If you’re standing below the right field bleachers, this is the view to the right…

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…and this is the view to the left:

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Funky stuff, I tell ya:

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Back up in the seats, I noticed that the rooftops were packed:

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The entire bleacher area felt like one giant frat party. I’ve never seen so many 20-somethings drinking beer at a baseball game. People were standing everywhere, blocking aisles and ramps…wherever it was possible to see the field, people were there. It was actually kinda nice that security wasn’t policing it and just letting people hang out.

This was my view during the game:

21_view_during_game.jpg

Was it a high-scoring affair with a bunch of homers to my empty section?!

Umm, no, the Cubs got shut out, 3-0, and the only longball was an opposite field shot by the left-handed hitting Jay Bruce in the top of the ninth, by which time I was already sitting here:

23_view_late_in_game.jpg

What a waste of a great ballhawking opportunity.

At least Ryan Hanigan tossed me a ball down by the dugout after the game.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 5 balls at this game

24_ticket_04_22_09.jpg

• 67 balls in 9 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.

• 578 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,887 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $17.07 pledged per ball

• $85.35 raised at this game

• $1,143.69 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

21 Comments

Zack,
5 balls is pretty solid for Wrigley Field. I don’t know if I would’ve been as brazen as you with the glove trick, but nice job pulling it off. I got screamed at last year when I was a newbie to the glove trick because the marker fell out on the field. I changed it now so that I slipped one of the laces of the glove under the pen cap and taped it, so its impossible that it will fall out. I tuck the pen into a strap at the base of the glove so its always ready to go.

I’ll be in Cleveland tomorrow, not many chances for the glove trick with their right field (they have that 5 foot black platform between the wall and the front row).

-Erik
http://countingbaseballs.mlblogs.com

That’s nice to hang out with the other ballhawks, and to just know other people with your exact interests.

I’ve never been able to use th eglove trick becuase Coors Field doesn’t allow it, but I always see some ball sitting right there on the warning track or even in a good position at the bullpen and think of how I wish I could use it.

First of all, you don’t know how happy the glove trick story made me… haha, truly amazing. Take that security! :). Second, I had no idea you knew Dave the ballhawk. He’s the guy I like to talk to if I hang out on waveland.

I’m still not sure if I’m going to the cell for either of the games, but I’m still in the process of looking for cheap tickets.

Zack, I just thought of something you could do on your blog or website. It’s just a suggestion that would help you out with one of the most asked questions in your comments: where to go at a specific stadium to snag balls. You are one of the best when it comes to snagging baseballs and finding the right spots to snag them, but you haven’t been (from what I’ve read) to a lot of stadiums in quite a few years. My idea was that people who read this blog could leave a comment on a blog post telling about good spots to be at a stadium that they go to quite often and know very well. You could then make a compilation of the most useful comments for as many stadiums as you can get. The only thing is, is that this would probably take a lot of time, and from what I also read, time is not something you have a lot of. It was just a suggestion so people wouldn’t have to dig deep into your well written blog entries in the archives. It could be easily accessible and would eliminate the problem of people commenting on an entry, and then having to wait for a response. Instead, they could check out the user comments and find their answer in one simple step. Just at thought.

I just started reading your blog and I have a feeling I’m going to be following it all season! Awesome look at a classic ballpark…..

Yo Zack,
Looks like a lot of fun. Great to see old Wrigley in its true glory. So ya headed off to the Cell, or are you already there? My only problem is your Cubbies hat. Haha, at least you’re making them lose. Great job on the charity thing.
Have fun,
Tanner

Hey Zack – I was sitting in those exact seats in the LF bleachers that you took the first picture from for the Winter Classic on New Years Day. They were pretty horrible seats for a hockey game but I imagine they would be pretty good for baseball. I’ve only sat in the last row of the upper deck for baseball games. If you want to see some good chain-link fencing, check out the view to the city from those seats. Also, its not just the fans in the bleachers who are there to hang out and get drunk. People don’t go to Cubs games to watch baseball – they go to be able to tell their friends they have Cubs tickets. Barely a true baseball fan in the whole place!
http://houseserikandpeterbuilt.blogspot.com

All of these photos of Wrigley and it’s surroundings are pretty serious. I definitely need to get out there man…Do you know of your plans for when you get back to NY?

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

erikpbal,

while it is true there are many fans like that, there’s a LARGE number of people who DO go to Cubs games for baseball (including me). You just don’t hear about them in the news because they don’t boo their own players after a bad week, throw balls at players, or say racial slurs. Just because the real fans don’t make the press doesn’t mean we don’t exist!

I second what Cubs0110 is saying. I have been to, oh I dunno, over 300 Cubs games in my 30 years on this planet. And although the bleachers are pretty ridiculous, there are some really loyal, knowledgeable fans that are there day in and day out. Go to the upper deck and talk to people, they know the score.

In addition, anytime you have a team who is widely popular, you are going to have a higher percentage of douchebags. I mean, when I went to see a KC game, there were 4000 awesome people there. But it was still empty and boring. Even if they don’t know much about baseball, it is amazing to see a fanbase, in April, on their feet for a big strike out in the 4th inning.

scott

Well good entry!!!! It’s good you met some of the most sucessful ballhawks I think for you it was like a learning experiance….well good luck on the rest of your trip

Zack,
I am going to NY next week. I am likely to go to game on Tue and Thur. You mentioned in your previous entry that if you have bleacher seats, you got to stay in that section, does it mean that you are stucked in that area that you can’t explore the rest of the ballpark?

And for CitiField, can you go down to field level w/o tickets during BP?

Thanks

Great photos my friend! After years of the Ballpark in Arlington, it’s cool to see parks that have some “old school” left in them! So let me pose this question (& everyone can answer too if you want), if you could go to 1 park, & 1 park ONLY for the rest of your life, which would it be? Something fun to think about, I can’t answer ‘cuz I’ve only been to one.
– Brian
http://txbaseballfan.mlblogs.com

Zack-

Long time, no post. It’s nice to see the bleacher box hasn’t changed since I was there last in ’06 (If you recall, http://home.comcast.net/~dfmaverick/ballparks.html); nice & empty for BP. I did like being there so that I could explore the rest of the ballpark like you did.

I’ll be making a trip with the nephews there again this year to watch the Twins play in June, but we’ll just be in the regular bleachers this time.

I haven’t read every blog entry lately, but I’m sure you are aware that the Twins are using commemorative balls this season for the last year of the metrodome like every other team does with a new or outgoing park.

Keep snagging.

Rich

I just noticed you are seeing Toronto again. Are you going to try and avoid Litsch this time? I’d love to see his reaction if he recognizes you in the crowd.
Enjoy U.S. Cellular. I heard negative things about it, but really enjoyed my time there last season. I just don’t like the rule about staying on the level for which you have a ticket.

Puck Collector has a conflict on Monday so I was wondering if anyone wanted to buy two tickets for Monday night’s Mets’ game against the Marlins. The seats are in Section 518, Row 4 ($15 each), behind home plate–although I know most of you will be roaming elsewhere.

Just shoot me an e-mail Thanks.

Zack,
Awesome writeup as always. I am jealous of you and Erik J. I have been only able to attend (4) Tiger home games since 4/10/09. (As my Tigers are out of town until 4/27/09).
I have not been able to use the glove trick at the COPA in a long time. I have benefited by becoming friends with most of the COPA crowd Mgrs. Matter of fact one of them let me roam the SRO section behind home plate during the last CWS game. Matter of fact she went out of her way to tell all of the Section Ushers that I had an SRO ticket and that everyone else had to vacate SRO w/ no ticket. I was in Snag heaven. Came close to (2) fouls balls during game play. Did not take one home though.
I am so glad that the COPA is my main Snagging park. I can roam wherever I want to until 15 mins prior to game time.
They can keep the new Yankee Statdium and Citi field where you cannot even get down to the dugouts prior to game time. That SUCKS…
Keep up the great Snagging details.
Mike in Detroit…

EVERYONE-
I’m maaad presssed for time, so I’m only gonna answer the comments with questions…

THOMASB-
Very cool idea. Perhaps someday…

TANNER-
Heading to the Cell this (April 24) afternoon…

DONNIE-
Citi Field for sure on May 8th. Maybe Yankee Stadium on May 15th. But beyond that? Dunno.

SAMMY-
I’m not sure about bleacher access at Yankee Stadium. As for Citi Field, you CAN definitely get into the field level seats without tickets during BP; you just can’t go near the dugouts.

BRIAN-
Camden Yards.

RICH-
I am indeed aware of the Twins’ balls.

BRAVES04-
Are you kidding? I’m gonna make a point of saying hello to Litsch. He won’t give me a ball, but it’ll still be fun.

KELLY (and Jen)-
Thanks for everything! See you again in a few days.

Are you still able to get tickets for that Budweiser Patio section?

I think so. I’m trying to remember which ballhawk went there last year — Greg Barasch, maybe? Ask him if he went. I got your email, BTW. If I don’t respond tonight, I’ll get to it soon . . .

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