4/27/09 at Miller Park

I woke up in Chicago, took a 90-minute train ride to Milwaukee, and found my friend Nick Yohanek waiting for me outside the station:

1_happy_youngster_meets_me.jpg

Nick is an extremely skilled ballhawk who’s known as “The Happy Youngster.” He has his own website and blog, and although we’d been emailing back and forth for a couple years, the first time we met in person was 20 days earlier in Toronto. (One great thing about being a ballhawk is that friendships often develop fast with other ballhawks. Three weeks ago, I barely knew Nick…and now here he was, picking me up at a train station and letting me crash at his place for a night.)

Nick gave me a scenic tour of Milwaukee (which even HE would admit is an oxymoron) on the way to his place. We drove past Miller Park…

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…and pulled into his driveway less than 10 minutes later:

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As much as Nick loves the Brewers, he loves the Green Bay Packers even more. His basement is basically a memorabilia shrine for the two teams. Check it out below. Here’s one wall of stuff…

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…and here’s another:

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In the photo above, the home plate-shaped display case holds all 48 game home run balls that Nick has snagged. Truly remarkable. On the lower left, you can see his trademark t-shirt: Glove + Ball = Happy. (Nick is a police officer and has a very effective way of protecting his memorabilia collection. I’ll explain in my next entry.)

We headed to the stadium at around 3pm–plenty of time for me to wander all the way around the outside of it and take some pics. But first, here’s one that Nick took of me:

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Nick then walked me out to a nearby spot in the parking lot and showed me this:

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It says: “This marks the landing location of the final home run of Hank Aaron’s career, #755, hit at County Stadium on July 20, 1976.”

That final home run ball, by the way, caused a LOT of controversy. It was retrieved by a groundskeeper, and when the team asked the guy for the ball, he said he wanted to hand it over himself to Aaron. The team refused, so he was like, “Fine, then I’ll just keep the ball.” What did the team do? They fired him AND they docked him five dollars from his final paycheck for the cost of the ball. True story. (Shame on the Brewers.) I’ll be writing more about this in my next book, along with a bunch of other ball-related controversies. The last thing I’ll say about it for now is that the groundskeeper eventually got the last laugh.

Nick followed me as I kept wandering and taking pics. Miller Park is very nice, but the surrounding area is, in a word, nondescript:

8_outside_miller_park.jpg
There’s no real atmosphere outside the ballpark. There are just a bunch of parking lots, but at least everything was clean and well-built and non-sketchy.The temperature was in the 70s, and the retractable roof was barely open:

9_outside_miller_park.jpg
The roof ended up staying closed for the game, but it was cool to get there early enough to see a sliver of sky peeking through.Here’s another look at the outside of the stadium. There’s nothing WRONG with it. It’s just not sexy:

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Two edges of the stadium are slightly elevated above the surrounding land, so there’s a railing around the perimeter:

Now…I know that the people in Milwaukee are passionate about their bratwurst, so as I made my way around the stadium with Nick, it saddened me greatly to see the following:

12_outside_miller_park_brat.jpg

I can’t explain it. It was just…there.

Here’s one final look at the outside of Miller Park. This is the home plate entrance (and you can see Nick in the yellow shirt):

13_outside_miller_park.jpg

As for the inside of Miller Park…

I met a fellow ballhawk named Shawn and his mother Sue (who also snags her fair share of baseballs). Shawn had a copy of my first book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs, and Sue had the new one, Watching Baseball Smarter:

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I signed the books for them and then got my snagging underway.

Ball No. 1 was tossed by Brewers coach Joe Crawford, and it had something strange written on it. Check it out:

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I’ve snagged a lot of marked balls over the years, including this one from the Brewers back in the 1990s, but I’d never seen anything like this. Within the last year or two, I’d been hearing stories about how the Brewers were writing random stuff on their practice balls, so it was great to finally get one.

When the Pirates took the field, there were still a few of the Brewers’ balls laying around on the warning track, and I got Zach Duke to toss one to me. (The line I used was, “How ’bout a ball for a fellow Zack?” First time I ever used that line successfully. I even offered to show him ID, but he took my word for it. Zacks are just cool like that, as are Zachs.) This second ball also had something written on the sweet spot, and when I ran over the right field bullpen and used my glove trick to reel in the following ball…

16_ball3911_bullpen.jpg…there was yet another random thing written on it.

Here are those first three balls I snagged, logos up:

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Now, here they are with the sweet spots up…

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…and let me just stress again that I did NOT write this stuff on the balls. They were like this when I caught them.

I managed to glove-trick another ball from the bullpen before security shut me down. There was just one usher who seemed to have a problem with my device, and when he told me I might get ejected if I used it again, I decided to move my operation to the second deck in left field.

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I didn’t expect to catch much up there, but it turned out to be a great spot. First, Brandon Moss threw me a ball, and then I snagged a home run that flew 10 feet over my head and landed in the mostly empty benches. Several minutes later, John Grabow tossed me my seventh ball of the day, and soon after I snagged another home run off the steps.

That wasn’t it.

While I was labeling the balls and scribbling down some notes about how I’d gotten them, I noticed that Craig Monroe was getting ready to throw a ball to some fans in the front row about 30 feet to my left. As he fired it up, I bolted to my left and cut through my row. The ball sailed over the fans’ heads, landed several rows behind me, hit the back of a bench, and bounced right back to me as I was cutting across. It was beautiful. I ended up giving that ball away, but it was still fun to catch it, and of course it counts in my stats and for the charity.

Nyjer Morgan then threw me another ball. I hadn’t even asked him. He just looked up into the seats and spotted me, so I pointed at him to acknowledge that I was ready. He fielded a ball moments later and immediately turned and fired it up at me. Perfect aim. Embarrassingly easy. And just like that, I had reached double digits.

I made it to the Pirates’ dugout just before the end of BP and a got my 11th ball tossed to me by coach Luis Dorante as everyone was coming off the field. It was a real beauty:

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Nick and Shawn were also down by the dugout, and since security is so laid-back and awesome in Milwaukee (with the exception of that one guy who’s anti-glove trick), we sat down and hung out for about 20 minutes. Turns out we were captured by the Pittsburgh TV cameras. Thanks to Erik Jabs for passing along the following screen shot. You can see Nick on the left, Shawn in the middle, and me on the right:

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My plan for the game was simple: Go to the second deck behind the plate, stay there all night, and catch a foul ball. Miller Park has THE best spot for foul balls in the Major Leagues. By far. The only other time I’d ever been to this stadium was on June 11, 2003. I snagged 17 balls that day including two foul balls during the game in that section.

What’s so good about it?

This was my view of the field (I was hearing Bob Uecker’s voice all night)…

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…and this was my view to the left:

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Is that not THE most glorious cross-aisle you’ve EVER seen?

The height and distance of the section is perfect. The protective screen at the backstop is not too tall. Heaven, I tell you! If I were going to custom-build a stadium, just for myself in order to have the best possible chance of catching a foul ball, this is what I would’ve come up with.

Surprisingly, there wasn’t any action during the first third of the game, but I got my chance in the top of the 4th. Brian Bixler fouled one back and to my left. It was heading toward the “family section” portion of the “KOHL’S” sign in the photo above, so I took off running. I couldn’t reach the ball in time to catch it on the fly, but because the aisle was completely empty, the ball smacked off the blue wall, ricocheted back and hit a seat back, then rolled back toward the wall…and that’s when I swooped in and scooped it up.

Check out the mark on the wall/ball:

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Sadly, that was the only ball that came back there all night, but I was satisfied. I mean, what kind of jerk would complain about “only” snagging one foul ball during a game? (Don’t answer that.)

The Brewers had a 10-5 lead heading into the 9th inning, so who did they bring in? All-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. He’d been hurt. This was his Brewers debut. The crowd went nuts, and I ran down to the dugout…

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…just in time to see him record the final out.

Five minutes later I realized that the foul ball I’d snagged was my 100th ball of the season. (I’d started the day with 88 and the modest of goal of snagging 12 balls combined in the two days I’d be at Miller Park.) Here I am with the ball at the Pirates’ dugout:

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You can see a closeup of the ball in the photo down below on the right. I’m pretty sure that the smudge (on the seams to the right of the MLB logo) came from the bat. The blue mark on the sweet spot (shown three photos above) obviously came from the wall. But what’s with the smeared logos in two different places? You can see that “Rawlings” is smeared on the top of the ball, and so is the word “baseball.” Very strange. I’ve never gotten a game-used ball with that many markings.

27_ball3920_100th_of_2009.jpg
SNAGGING STATS:

• 12 balls at this game

• 100 balls in 13 games this season = 7.69 balls per game.

• 12 consecutive seasons with at least 100 balls

• 582 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

• 3,920 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $18.17 pledged per ball

• $218.04 raised at this game

• $1,817.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

34 Comments

Very nicely done…let’s do it again, sometime, shall we??
“Happy”

http://thehappyyoungster.mlblogs.com/

Congrats on 100. Thats pretty odd that the brewers write random stuff on their balls. Its not as bad as houston, but i wouldnt like remember the alamo written on the sweet spot of the ball. That section is so nice for foul balls. Too bad its in milwaukee and not ny.

Nice,
I predicted 100 for you in April about 2 weeks ago. Is that an all time April record for you?

Erik
http://countingbaseballs.mlblogs.com

Cool entry! I love seeing the inside of parks I’ve never seen before. Nick seems like a great guy (even though he’s a Packers fan). Weird balls too, I think that would be a 1st for just about everyone. Well, you nailed 12, now go for 20! Keep up the great work, I’m sure “Pitch in..” is loving it.
Brian
http://txbaseballfan.mlblogs.com

Looks like I just missed getting on TV with the three of you, oh well. I did however, sit in the 3rd row behind the dugout for the entire game. I was hungry and had to use the restroom, but I was afraid I wasn’t going to get back down without a ticket, but it was well worth it. So I paid $1 for my ticket, and sat in a $65 season ticket seat, and while walking to my car, I found 3 quarters on the ground, so I “technically” only paid $.25 for my seat, not a bad day at all.

wow happy youngsters room is like the ultimate sports room i have ever seen. and its funny to see the stadium in the middle of nowhere. congrats on ball #100 thats great for april. oh by the way i like your shirt LOL -bettencourt08

I forgot to mention that I also spotted that “wounded soldier” bratwurst, except when I got to it someone had firmly stepped on, further decreasing its chances of being consumed by a fan. What a shame.

Wow.. I hope to have a nice collection like Nick has in my home, it looks impressive.. Nick is a really cool guy, he let us come from Chicago and snag balls that would have probably been his and had no issues with it haha.. then again, he got 15 the other day so I am pretty sure he continues to get his.. haha

I got a ball that had the word “Mountain Man” written on it, the same blue Sharpie and handwriting, but it was hit by a pirate.

I got a ******** 2. I need to start keeping a glove trick handy haha

thanks for the tips this week Zack

Towards the end of last year (when the Brewers were making a push for the playoffs) they had things like “KEEP GOING” and “IN IT TO WIN IT” written on the balls. I really wanted one, but I think my Cubs attire scared them off :)

I would definitely suggest spending the last available day in Milwaukee, the weather looks pretty crappy here this week (although I’m going Friday with friends no matter what)

Congrats on 100! I’m still shooting for 100 lifetime :)

Dude, AWESOME Mario shirt.

Zack, nice recap. I’d love to try to get out to Miller Park this summer. I’m hoping to get to Wrigley for Mets-Cubs around Labor Day weekend. We’ll see if it happens. So any big plans for ball # 4,000? I witnessed you catch # 3,500 at Camden Yards last year (the same day as Manny’s 500th). I think Chad Bradford was the one that threw it to you, just after soon as the stadium opened…..

As of now my next baseball game is Mets-Red Sox at Fenway on the day before Memorial Day. That should be a fun game up in Boston…..

scratch my comment about your “last game”

apparently I thought you were leaving later than you were, and that you already WENT to your last game, my bad!

wow, that guy has a nice display room,, and that braut, on the ground was the funniest thing yet
http://thet206kid.mlblogs.com/

I had a decent night at Citi Field last night, with 8 balls. BP was fun (which felt weird, because I was at a Mets game). Donnie, it was great meeting you. Did you get any other balls later in the day?

Hey Zack! This is Kristin, we met at this game. First, nice job on reaching 100 balls so soon!

I just wanted to comment on “There’s no real atmosphere outside the ballpark. ” Outside the park may not be like stadiums such as Wrigley Field, or Fenway, but that’s what’s especially cool about it. The atmosphere comes from the fans and how we Wisconsinites love to tailgate. On weekdays there are not nearly as many fans tailgating, but if you ever can come back here for a Friday night, summertime game, the atmosphere is completely different. People are grilling, drinking, and just all around having a good time. It’s a blast.

Glad to see you had a great time! Hope you caught a lot at last night’s game!

-Kristin

EVERYONE-
I’m back home in NYC…briefly. Gonna post an entry tomorrow about my 2nd/final game in Milwaukee…

HAPPY-
Absolutely!

YANKEES5221-
Yeah, but if it were NYC, those seats would cost $200, and you’d have to undergo a background check to get into that section.

ERIK-
I believe it is an April record. I’m gonna comment on your blog soon. I’ve just been hella busy.

BRIAN-
Thanks very much. Talk soon. :-)

BREWFAN87-
Yo! Sorry you didn’t end up making it into the entry, but it was still great to meet you. I like the idea of a 25-cent ticket. Beautiful.

BETTENCOURT-
Thanks!

SSWEENE1-
Nick is awesome. That’s really all there is to it. (You and Chad aren’t so bad either.)

CUBS0110-
I saw some other balls that had writing on them (balls that Nick caught) and of course they were much cooler than mine. One said “YOU’RE MARRIED?” and another said “LIVING THE DREAM.” Why couldn’t *I* have snagged the latter?

SKIKOLA-
Thanks for noticing. :-)

PSU532-
I’ve been hoping to get No. 4,000 at Camden, but I’m afraid it might not work out with my schedule.

TONY-
Very very nice room.

GREG-
Where ya been?!

KRISTIN-
Hey! Very nice meeting you. I’m bummed it was so slow up in the Loge during the game…but hey, that gave us more time to talk. Thanks for setting the record straight on the area surrounding Miller Park. That’s good to know.

ha, i love that pic of the three of you in pirates gear on the pirates broadcast. little do they know……fake fans!

i found it funny that i used that same line to mike pelfry last night saying “hook another mike up” but he didnt throw one up and anyone goin to yankee stadium tomorrow night?

Hey Zack,
I was wondering if you (or some Miller Park regular) could answer a question I had about the stadium. I am going to be at Miller Park in the middle of May and I was wondering if I bought a cheap upper deck ticket, could I still walk around the rest of the ballpark or am I blocked off from the lower levels? Also, I am going to Wrigley the next night and I was wondering if you could only go for one game would you sit in the bleachers or the regular stadium? Thanks!

Hi Zack….

In a word….SWEET. Good times. San Diego trip scheduled yet?

Leigh

Zack,

We CAN’T go on May 18th, our dad has a business trip. )=
Have fun at Dodger Stadium.

playball999

hey, Zack. having just started my own (http://cookandsonbats.mlblogs.com), I have a blog question for you. is it possible to upload more than one picture at a time on mlblogs.com? if so, i haven’t figured it out yet. and it is SO darn cumbersome going picture-by-picture…really annoying and time consuming. i’m hoping i’m just missing something.

by the way, look out for five days of Safeco Field (a/k/a baseball heaven) blogs coming at you from Cook & Son Bats…flying to Seattle tomorrow with my son!
-Todd

Yeah, sorry for being a bit of a stranger. I’ve been pretty busy with college, but I’ve snagged 27 balls so far this year, and I’ll be getting to a bunch of games starting in two weeks or so.

Hey, unrelated but thought you may be interested in this if you haven’t seen it already: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0KQmYzvSzk (fast forward to 1:58) It is how baseballs are made. The gold and black balls at the beginning are interesting. Oh and the sewing room is pretty crazy!
http://bluejaysoutsidethedome.mlblogs.com

Zack! Thanks for linking to my blog and getting me some face time on your own! I had so much fun sitting back and watching the master (you) work his magic (snagging)!!! You need to come back to Miller Park soon! It certainly was fun doing my thing and seeing a celebrity like you competing with me a few sections over.

Shawn (and Sue!)

http://realtalk.mlblogs.com

ZACK – Swell job at Miller Park sir. I can’t wait for the second entry. It looks like a real neat park to visit over there in Brew City.

GREG – It was nice meeting you as well man. I ended up with three on the day, all BP home runs, the first from Jose Reyes and the following two were consecutive HR’s from Gary Sheffield, the second one was caught on a fly. I’ll be hitting up Yankee Stadium this afternoon/tonight with Gary, so if anyone is going to be there, let one of us know.

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

“If I were going to custom-build a stadium…”

I have a feeling that your stadium would just be empty, no security and you would have the only ticket to get in. That way you wouldn’t have to worry about getting hasseled by: seats, other fans, security.

When are you going to be at citi field again?

GOISLANDERS4-
Never trust anyone.

YANKEES42294-
That’s because there are too many Mikes, I guess.

REDSOX113-
During BP, you can go anywhere no matter where your actual seat is. After that, from what I hear, the ushers can be a bit cranky. I can’t say for sure because both games I was there, I headed directly to my actual section in the second deck. Getting down to the dugout at the end of this game was the easiest thing ever. No one asked for my ticket. As for Wrigley, I would probably go to the main part of the stadium if I could only be there once, just so I could explore as much as possible. And…the main part is much cheaper and less rowdy.

LEIGH-
Not yet. I asked Heath about the makeup game in Philly in July, but he hasn’t gotten back to me.

PLAYBALL999-
Bummer!

TODD-
The photo situation IS annoying. I don’t know a quicker way. I usually just get all my photos ready and then put on some music as I upload them one by one.

GREGB123-
Excellent. Let me know about your plans. It’s not that I don’t want to see you, but we should probably plan to avoid each other at Citi, if at all possible.

GTAPUNK-
Thanks for the link. I’m gonna check it out as soon as I have a little more free time.

SHAWN-
You’re welcome! I had fun snagging alongside you. You and Nick are the official kings of Miller Park. (Hi, Sue.)

DONNIE-
Thanks, yo.

EXCITINGJAE-
You might be right.

INFO-
May 8th, but it’s a Watch With Zack game, so I’ll be busy. After that? Who knows. Maybe a few days later. Maybe a few weeks later. I’m not in any rush to go back.

Dang. Miller Park looks pretty but yeah, the area around it sure is empty.
Remember the Alamo indeed! I wonder if there’s a Texan on the roster who wrote that.
Kylie — http://kylie.mlblogs.com

“I mean, what kind of jerk would complain about “only” snagging one foul ball during a game?”

That jerk would be Jake “snake” Frazier. He’d complain about not bowling over enough families or snatching enough balls out of a child’s hands. Then he’d complain about non-legalization of marijuana and yet blame his inability to get more balls to the fact that that he got too stoned.

I just heard of this guy yesterday and I already wanna END his LIFE.

(Ugh. I shouldn’t have answered that.)

KYLIE-
Well, at least with “empty” comes room to park, unlike Yankee Stadium or Fenway or Wrigley.

JAMESLU2000-
Wow, that’s pretty harsh. Where did you hear him? Was he interviewed on the radio or something? I some issues with him a couple years ago in San Francisco, but then last year he was pretty cool to me and let me interview him for my Bonds 762 article. I’ve heard lots of complaints about him over the years.

Not sure if you check this anymore but great artical and I’m a bears and cubs fan but I like the memorabilia collection my question is where is the best spot to stand durring Bp at miller park I’m going there Saturday with my baseball team and I was hoping to snag a few balls, last time I went I got tod coffie to throw me a ball

I still see new comments, but anyway, the second deck in LF is probably the single best spot. The park is kinda tough for BP, but *amazing* for foul balls during games. Good luck.

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