4/24/09 at U.S. Cellular Field

The last time I visited this stadium, it was called Comiskey Park and my one-game record was just 14 balls. Now, a decade later, my simple goal for the day was to snag half that many and bring my lifetime total to 3,900.

I took the subway (or whatever it’s called here in Chicago) to the stadium. Four stops from my friends’ place. Fifteen minutes. Easy. This was the view from the platform after I got off the train:

1_cell_from_train_platform.jpg

The inside of U.S. Cellular Field (aka “The Cell”) had changed a bit in the last decade, but the outside is the same: UGLY. Still, I had a great time walking all the way around it and taking photos.

Down below, I’ve combined four photos into one image. Starting on the upper left and then going clockwise, you can see 1) the walk from the subway to the ticket windows, 2) the ticket windows, 3) me with the home plate gate in the background, and 4) the 1,450-foot Sears Tower way off in the distance.

2_outside_the_cell.jpg

What’s so ugly, you ask? Bland design, mainly. The stadium thinks it’s pretty and classy–like a woman who’s wearing too much makeup and carrying a (fake) designer handbag–but there’s really nothing to it. And to make matters worse, the surrounding area is desolate and boring.

Here’s another four-part pic. It shows 1) the fenced-off area past the right field gate, 2) the walk around the fence, 3) an empty area beyond that, and 4) a dead end:

3_outside_the_cell.jpg

Lameness!

I had to walk back in the direction I came from and then make a WIDE berth in order to keep going. Here’s the last four-part pic I’ll make you look at. It shows 1) a beautiful plastic bag stuck in a beautiful tree, 2) a sketchy stretch of road that turned into a sketchy alley, 3) the projects, and 4) another random stretch of required walking:

4_outside_the_cell.jpg

Am I the only baseball fan in North America that likes to walk all the way around stadiums and take photos? I mean, is it that strange to want to get a sense of the architecture and surrounding areas? I must be the only one who does this on the south side of Chicago because a police officer, sitting in his parked car, actually waved me over and demanded to know what I was doing.

I finally made it past the projects…

5_outside_the_cell.jpg

…and walked along the final edge the stadium. It looked like a boarded up construction zone:

6_outside_the_cell.jpg

Okay, enough with the outside of the stadium. I don’t want you to get depressed.

The right field gate opened at 5:40pm–just 90 minutes before game time. (Actually, game time was officially 7:11pm because the White Sox have a partnership with the 7-11 chain. Lovely.) That wasn’t going to give me much time to snag…maybe 45 minutes at the most. At a decent stadium with a not-too-large crowd, I’ll average about one ball for every ten minutes of batting practice. At a lousy stadium, I’ll snag a ball every 15 to 20 minutes, and at a great stadium, I might be able to get a ball every five minutes. Keep those numbers in mind.

As soon as I got inside, I sprinted up four ramps, showed my field level ticket to get past a security guard, bolted across the open-air concourse, and scurried down the steps toward the bullpen. JACKPOT!! There were two balls sitting there, waiting for me and my glove trick. My friend Kelly had told me that security at the Cell is extremely lax, and she was right. I reeled in the first ball with ease, and then I flung my glove out a few times to knock the second ball closer. While I was in the process of doing this, a security guard in the party deck down below saw what I was doing and gave me a strange look that could’ve been interpreted in any number of ways.

“Do you mind?” I asked innocently.

He shrugged and simply said, “Go for it.”

THAT is how a major league baseball stadium should be run. I’m not saying people should be allowed to dangle gloves there (or onto the field) during games, but jeez, what’s the big deal about doing it so early in the day when no one is around? I’m SO pleased to say that White Sox management has the right idea, and as a result, I’ll be rooting for the team (once I leave Chicago) and encouraging people to go to this stadium.

Here’s a look at the bullpen. I took this photo after I’d snagged the two balls, but you can see how awesome it is:

7_right_field_bullpen.jpg

The bullpen in left field is even better because the seats behind it aren’t as high up. Check it out:

8_ball_3896_LF_bullpen.jpg

Did you notice that there are two balls in the photo above? The ball on the left was too far out, but the one on the right (just next to that coiled green hose) was all mine. Too easy.

Now, just to prove that I actually CAN catch batted balls, I made a nice play on a home run that was hit by a Blue Jays righty. The ball was heading about 20 feet to my left, so I cut through an empty row, and then as it was about to land in a small cluster of semi-clueless fans, I jumped and reached out to my left and plucked the ball out of the air, just above their outstretched arms. They weren’t pissed. If anything, they were impressed, and I heard one guy mumble something like, “He must’ve played high school ball.”

“College,” I said.

“Oh yeah?” he replied.

“Well, a little bit.”

“It shows,” he said, and I thanked him.

The White Sox fans were so nice, even though I was decked out in Blue Jays gear:

zack_blue_jays_gear.jpg

Throughout the entire course of the day, I only heard one “Blue Jays suck” directed at me, and the guy who said it was smirking in a friendly way. I explained that I’m not even a Jays fan, and he got a kick out of that. The photo above was taken by a guy whose name is also Zack. I got recognized by a few people during BP, so I can’t remember if he was the one who asked this, but at one point, when people saw me snagging balls left and right, someone was like, “Wait, are you THAT GUY?”

The person who asked this knew the deal, and I knew that he knew, so all I said was, “Yeah, I’m that guy.” He recognized me from the two home runs I caught on back-to-back nights last September at Yankee Stadium. Why? Because those homers were hit off White Sox pitching.

Anyway, I was in glove trick heaven. Look at this glorious gap behind the left field wall:

9_left_field_gap.jpg

Several balls landed there, including this one which I reeled in for No. 5 on the day:

10_ball3898_gap.jpg

I used the trick to snag No. 6 from the bullpen, and I immediately noticed that it had a faint bat imprint. Check it out below. I wrote the “3899” because it was the 3,899th ball I’d ever snagged, but right below that, in the very middle of the ball, you can see the first two letters of a reversed TPX logo:

11_ball3899_tpx_imprint.jpg

I love stuff like that.

Batting practice was still in full swing, so I knew I was going to reach 3,900. The only question was…how was I going to get it?

Five minutes later, someone on the Jays hit a home run that barely cleared the outfield fence. The gloveless fans in the front row reached out for it, and this was the result:

12_ball3900_gap.jpg

(Can you see why I was in heaven?)

No one else in the stadium had a ball-retrieving device (how is that possible?), but I still rushed over. The rubber band was already on my glove, so I stretched it into place and propped the glove open with my Sharpie and went in for the kill.

Whenever I snag a ball, I take a quick peek at it right away. Is it marked? Smudged? Stained? Mis-stamped? Lopsided? Is it a minor league ball? A commemorative ball? A training ball? Is there a weird pattern on it? Is there a gash? A bat imprint? I might not have a chance to label it for a few minutes, but at the very least, I take a moment to inspect it.

Well…

This is what I had just pulled out of the gap:

13_ball3900.jpg
Hell YES!!!

The Twins are using these balls in ’09 to commemorate the final season of the Metrodome. I’ve already booked a two-day trip to Baltimore next month for when the Twins will be there, and I was (emphasis on past tense) also planning on going to Yankee Stadium on May 15th when the Twins will be THERE. If I didn’t snag one of these balls at any of those games, I would’ve seriously had to consider going to Minnesota and buying a ticket in the front row behind the visitors’ dugout and snagging an effin’ third-out ball. Now I don’t have to, and it’s SUCH a relief.

Let me not overlook the fact that it really IS a nice logo. Compare it to the blandness of the Citi Field balls. See what I mean? The Twins ball has the name of the stadium. It has the “TC” logo (which stands for “Twin Cities,” in case you didn’t know.) It shows the whole stadium as opposed to a random little sliver of it. Bravo, Twins. Excellent design.

It didn’t occur to me when I booked this trip…and I just realized now…that the Blue Jays were IN Minnesota for four games last week. That explains it. DAMN I’m happy.

It was getting crowded toward the end of BP…

14_left_field_crowded.jpg

…but that didn’t stop me. Double digits, you ask? Read on…

Another ball landed in the gap, and as I was about to go for it, Brandon League jogged over to field a ball that had rolled nearby. I got him to toss me that one and then began what should have been the easy process of using the glove trick.

The ball was kinda underneath the overhang of the gap, so it took me about 30 seconds to knock it into plain view. Once I moved it a bit, I saw that it had the Twins commemorative logo! Ohmygod, I *had* to get it.

I got the ball to stick inside my glove, and as I was gently lifting it up, a hand reached out of nowhere from down in the gap and yanked my string, causing both the ball AND the Sharpie to fall out. What the–?!

I figured someone was just messing with me. Maybe a player had gone in there to get the ball? And maybe he was about to emerge and laugh at me and then toss me the ball and my marker? Nope…nothing. I yanked the glove back up, readjusted the band, pulled out another Sharpie (preparation, baby) and lowered the glove for a second attempt. Then…way off in the distance…far to the right, all the way at the end of the gap, a security guard started walking toward me, and when he saw what I was doing, he started walking faster. Come on, ball!! Go into the glove!! The guard was getting closer. Luckily for me, he was, shall we say, rather hefty and elderly. (He looked like Santa Claus, except he had a white mustache instead of a full beard.) He wasn’t moving fast, but he was gaining ground. I got the ball to go into the glove and started lifting it, and just then the guard made his best attempt to run toward me. He was like 50 feet away, and the glove was only a few feet off the ground. I only had a few seconds, and I was panicking. If I didn’t raise it fast enough, not only would he take the ball but he might cut my string and confiscate my glove. I had no idea. And if I raised the glove too fast, the ball would probably slip out. I kept raising it as fast as I could while keeping the whole operation
under control, and when the guard got very close, I started walking away from him along the front row. I was lifting the glove and keeping my distance at the same time. It was beautiful, but I wasn’t moving fast enough, and he swooped it and made a lunge for my glove, so I had no choice but to yank it up, and the ball stayed inside!!!

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!

The guard was so pissed. I got far away from the front row, and I heard from the fans that he was still down there for the next 10 minutes, looking for me and asking everyone where I was.

I only managed to snag one more ball during BP. That gave me double digits. I got it with my glove trick in the left field corner, and I gave it to the nearest kid.

As for the game itself, there were two players whose potential home run balls I wanted to catch: Jim Thome because he’s a future Hall of Famer who’s already in the 500 Home Run Club and A.J. Pierzynski because he was sitting on 99 career homers. (Thanks to Happy Youngster for reminding me of that fact earlier in the day.) Unfortunately, neither of those guys went deep, and I wandered throughout the night.

This was my view in the top of the first inning:

15_cell_view_in_1st_inning.jpg

Then I made my way out past center field…

16_center_field_cameras.jpg

…and picked a spot in a very crowded right field:

17_crowded_in_right_field.jpg

I tried playing for third-out balls behind the Jays’ dugout…

18_view_behind_jays_dugout.jpg

…but I kept having to leave and run back out to right field whenever Thome (batting cleanup) and Pierzynski (batting 7th) came up. It didn’t give me much of a chance to just sit and relax and watch the game, but that’s life.

By the middle of the 6th inning, the White Sox were losing, 12-0. I felt sorry for the fans, but it was great for me because the stadium cleared out.

After the 7th inning, when the Sox outfielders were warming up, right fielder Brian Anderson looked up into the crowd as if he were going to throw his ball to someone. I jumped up, moved through my (now) empty row, and waved my arms. He threw the ball right to me. Perfect aim. I was in the third row, and it barely cleared the people sitting in front of me. It was totally unexpected. I was just sitting out there in case someone (even Lyle Overbay or Travis Snider) happened to go yard, and I actually felt bad that I was missing opportunities for third-out balls at the dugouts…so this was great.

Despite the lopsided score, some Sox fans were still into the game:

19_topless_sox_fans.jpg

The Blue Jays scored two more runs in the final three innings:

20_scoreboard.jpg

I’m definitely rooting for the Jays this year in the AL East. I obviously don’t want the Yankees to win it, and I’m getting pretty sick of the whole Red Sox Cult Bandwagon Nation. Now that Manny Ramirez isn’t in Boston, the only reason why I root for that team is because I don’t want the Yanks to finish in first place.

After the final out, I went down to the seats behind the Jays’ dugout and snagged a ball that was rolled to me across the roof. I have no idea who it came from. There was a cluster of players that disappeared from sight, and the ball came from one of them who had obviously seen me standing there with my my Jays gear. That ball–number 12 on the day–was rubbed up and had a big smudge:

21_ball3905_smudge.jpg

I’ve caught dozens of foul balls like this during games, so I assume this one was game-used. I won’t count it as a gamer, of course, but it’s still cool to think about when/how it was used.

By the way, you do need a field level ticket to get into the field level at the Cell, but once you’re in, you’re totally free to go anywhere. I was able to walk down any staircase at any point in the day. Most staircases weren’t even guarded, and the few guards who were scattered around didn’t ask for my ticket. What a great stadium. Except for that one guard in the left field gap, I wouldn’t change a thing.

SNAGGING STATS:

22_the_11_balls_i_kept.jpg

• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 85 balls in 11 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 580 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,905 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $17.27 pledged per ball

• $207.24 raised at this game

• $1,467.95 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

30 Comments

Awesome entry, Zack. Congrats on your dozen at U.S. Cellular (and the Metrodome commemorative balls). When I was there last summer I only snagged one… a third out toss by Ross Gload of the Royals… but I owe that one to using your tips! Here’s well-wishing for continued success through the season, dude!
~Matt
http://bloggingboutbaseball.mlblogs.com/

Hey Zack,
Cool entry. You have to love the South side of Chicago. When I went there about 7 years ago it looked a whole lot worse than you showed in your pictures. I really like those Twins logos, I don’t know why but it really catches my interest. Good luck on the reat of your trip and keep on raising that money!

I told you you’d like the cell better for bp!

you should have been there the day I went last year. There were almost 20 balls in the left field bullpen, no joke.

That was the first time I used the glove trick, so I only felt comfortable getting 2 that were close to the wall, but you could have got most of them…. Good luck tonight, I’m still thinking of going if I can find a cheap ticket.

Our subway is called “the eL”… as in elevated train. Hope the weather gets better for you today. I feel like the temp dropped about 20 degrees in the past hour. Good luck tonight, and go Jays! ;)

Great job Zack! That security guard must be related to Gustavo Chacin! Way to stick it to him anyway. Not too impressed with the photos though, not because you took them, but because what you had to take pictures of. Pretty sad. Well, at least you got some Twins commemoratives! They’re coming to Arlington once in July & once in August, so I’ll definately be going for some of those. Keep up the awesome work bro!
P.S. — Does anyone know if the Royals are using 40th anniversary balls?
–Brian
http://txbaseballfan.mlblogs.com

Woah Zack!!

Do you feaking realize that you just earned $200 for charity in 3 hours. That’s sweeeeeeet! And awesome on your Minnesota commemorative ball.

Good to see you got two more! BTW that big construction board looking area is to block people from the sidewalk from seeing into the White Sox players’ parking lot. Hopefully the rain tonight didn’t deter you too much.

BTW: you messed alot of key features outside of the stadium.

1. the redesigned Gate 5 entrance
2. The plaza and statue to the 2005 World Series outside Gate 4.
3. The commemorative spot where the old home plate was in Old Comiskey Park.

Zack,
I wrote to you on the blog of April 15 when you went to the Citi Field, I wrote how the Twins were using commemorative baseballs… well i’m so happy to see that you snagged one of those baseballs. THEY’RE FREAKIN INSANE, i hope when you go to Yankee stadium next you get a Yankee Commemorative, because they’re just as good as the Twins, good luck with Pitch In For Baseball.

-Colton

Well Zack, May 15th is now ruined for me.

Well, on second thought, now that you have a commemorative ball, you dont have to go on the 15th right?

Oh, and the Twins may be showing the entire stadium, but all it is is a giant inflated plastic bag.

Zack,
First, congrats on getting 12 and the commerative balls. Second, I’d hate to correct you but the Sears Tower is now called the Willis Tower(I hate it, but thats the way it is).
-Eric

Eric-

It’s still the Sears Tower for now. I heard it will be officially re-named this fall.

i better work on learning your glove trick. i’m going to the Cell in August. Regarding the outside the Cell, I have to ask, it couldn’t be any worst than the row of auto repair shops across the street from Citi Field. The the most appealing looking strip of roadway that I’ve ever witnessed (actually, I just witnessed that strip of roadway a couple hours ago after my first game at Citi Field).

That metrodome logo IS nice. Congrats on the snag!

$1500 in the first three weeks of baseball !!!! You’re insane. So May 8th at Citi? I can’t believe you’re going to a Friday night game in New York. You usually don’t attend games that attract big crowds, although they are playing the Pirates, and there aren’t too many Pittsburgh Pirates fans around here. I would go as well, but I’ll be there the night before and YS the night before that. I’m sure we’ll cross paths again this season.

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

Zack, I was at the Cell when it was brand new and it was worse than, much worse. Right in the middle of the ghetto. The Jays must have gotten a case or two of the commemorative balls off of the Twins when they were here because they were using them in BP at the Dome.
I got Ricky Romero to toss me a ball during Jays BP and the thing was a pristine Twins commemorative. It must have just been put into circulation. I have gotten a few more commemoratives this year as well, but none in that nice of shape. A guy named Matt that met you at a game last year from California is coming up here in early May. Hopefully I can help him land a commemorative ball. The Happy Youngster is also going to be at the Dome in late May. My first ever trip outside of the Dome to ballhawk is coming up at Miller Park in June. I am looking forward to your blog entry from Miller. To answer the earlier question, The Royals are not using commemorative balls this year.
http://bigglovebob.mlblogs.com/

Great game!!!! Man it’s insane how much money you raised!!!! I guess you should visit chicago more often….congrats on the commeratative baseballs!!!

BIGGLOVEBOB–
Thanks for the answer, hoped they were.

Hey there Zack…

Some nice snags at the White Sox game. Great entry. I like the Twins commemorative alot. I did get lucky yesterday and snag a Citi Field commemorative ball from the Padres yesterday. They did bring a few back from New York. I sent you a pic in an email. Check it out when you have time. The Padres are coming back to reality. They lost 10-1 tonight and are now 10-7. Still better than last year I guess. Take it easy and good luck tomorrow.

Leigh

Zack,
Thanks for the awesome writeup and photo review of the Cell. (You are unequivocally “THE SNAG MASTER”). I was hoping that you would be going there soon. Great to hear that you can use the glove trick there. I am hoping to get a Twins Comm ball this year at the COPA. The Yankees are in town at the COPA this week. Rain forecasted everyday but (1) that the Yans will be in town. Oh well, if BP is cancelled due to rain I will have to switch into autograph mode and work on my Tigers team ball. (It will hurt my ballhawk stats this week, but I will still enjoy all of the fun. Nothing like being in Rt/Ctr at the COPA for Yankees BP….)

Mike in Detroit

One of the guys from the YES network is having a contest to give Yankee Stadium a NickName. Check it out here http://offthewall.mlblogs.com/archives/2009/04/new_stadium_nickname_contest.html and PLEASE vote for the top one on the list ……….. IT’S MINE!!

John
Major League Ballhawk
http://ballhawk.mlblogs.com

Zack, this might be kind of a random time to ask this question, but has anyone ever told you you look like Joe from Blues Clues? When my kids and I met you at the Dodger game on Memorial Day last year they were a little shy, but now every time they see me reading your blog they ask “Is that Zack?” I think you are growing on them now. Maybe the part of it is because Joe is such a warm and friendly guy.

Hey Zack, how do you make the string on your glove trick go down quickly? Because in Left Field at Citi, it took like a minute to get it down to field level, but then a player took the ball. What do you use?
http://riveravenue.mlblogs.com
Alex

Zack- Im so busy now, and your all over the place its hard to even keep track of what city your in. Got 5 balls at the game today-sunday- and watched the nationals- my 2nd team, crush,no DESTROY the mets. My highlight was getting ryan zimmermans AND adam dunns warmup balls within 30 seconds of each.gary and clif- that was great, we NEED to get that usher fired though. hahaha.
Were still on for the MAy 8th Zack right?

Zack- Im so busy now, and your all over the place its hard to even keep track of what city your in. Got 5 balls at the game today-sunday- and watched the nationals- my 2nd team, crush,no DESTROY the mets. My highlight was getting ryan zimmermans AND adam dunns warmup balls within 30 seconds of each.gary and clif- that was great, we NEED to get that usher fired though. hahaha.
Were still on for the MAy 8th Zack right?

I just voted, and i cant believe that the House that George Built isnt getting more votes. my dad and i have been calling it that since last september.

EVERYONE-
Thanks once again for reading, and for all the comments. Nice to know you’re all following my games on this trip. To answer your questions…

PUCK COLLECTOR-
Well, I still do need a Yankees commemorative ball, so I might show up at that May 15th game.

COOKANDSONBATS-
You’re right about the repair shops, but I’ve seen them so many times that I don’t even notice.

DONNIE-
May 8th is a Watch With Zack game.

LASMOG-
I never even heard of Blues Clues. What is that…a band?

ALEX-
I don’t do anything special. I just try to coil it nearly after each use.

YANKEES5221-
Very much on. It might take me a few days after that to get the blog entry up because I will have just been at Camden for two games.

Hey Zack,

A few things. First off, I hope the “beautiful plastic bag in a tree” was somehow a reference from the movie American Beauty. Second, I love how the shirts and hats you wear are always so old school. I may need to start lending you some jerseys. Third, you mentioned you got a ball, then gave it to a kid. Did you give him the actual last ball you got, cause you once mentioned before how you don’t do that, just in case you never get another ball, and i like and agree with the fact you do that. Lastly, you’ve seriously never ever heard of blues clues? It’s some strange show on Nickelodeon with a blue dog and some guy.

Ben

Blues Clues is a TV show for Preschoolers – It is fairly new, so if you don’t hang out with little kids you probably wouldn’t know about it. Here is a link http://www.tvguide.com/tvshows/blues-clues/photos/194498/1 so you can see if you think you look like Joe – the only non-cartoon member of the cast.

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