5/12/09 at Citi Field

As a native New Yorker, I’ve been conditioned not to talk to strangers or even make eye contact with them, so when I got on the subway yesterday to go to Citi Field and heard some guy ask a question about Johan Santana, I ignored it. It was a silly question anyway: “What happened with Johan last night? He just didn’t have it?”

Of course Johan HAD it. Sure, he suffered the loss, but–

Suddenly it occurred to me that since I was wearing a Mets cap and a Shea Stadium shirt, the Johan chatter might have been directed my way, so I looked up and sure enough the guy was staring right at me.

johan_santana_headshot.jpg
“Actually, he pitched great,” I said. “He only allowed two runs, and they were both unearned.”

“Really,” said the guy with enthusiastic surprise. “I didn’t get to watch the game. I only heard a little bit on the radio.”

We ended up talking for the next five minutes. He asked me if I’d been to Citi Field, and what I think of the new Yankee Stadium, and how I get to go to so many games. Each question led to another and another, so finally I just came right out and explained my whole deal with snagging baseballs.

“How ’bout you?” I asked. “What do YOU do?”

“I’m an actor,” he said.

“Oh…cool,” I replied, not knowing how to follow that up with anything insightful or intelligent. All I could think of was that he was young-ish, outgoing, good looking, and well dressed, so his answer made sense.

“I was on the Sopranos for four years,” he said.

“Seriously?! Wow, forgive me, I’m clueless when it comes to pop culture and the media and celebrities.”

“No problem,” he said.

sopranos.jpg
“So wait, if I watched that show, I’d totally recognize you right now?”

“Yup.”

“So…people come up to you all the time and know who you are?”

“Yeah,” he said, “especially at Mets games for some reason.”

“What’s your name?”

“Will Jano…”

What did he say? Jano…what? There was another syllable at the end, but I didn’t quite catch it, and I didn’t want to make an even bigger fool of myself by asking him to spell it, so I just said I’d look him up later. I asked if he had any projects currently in the works, and he named a couple movies including “Taking Woodstock.”

will_janowitz.jpg

I gave him my card, and we shook hands and parted ways when the train pulled into Times Square.

ANYWAY…
I have since looked him up, and his name is Will Janowitz. Has anyone heard of him? Here’s his page on IMDb.

My trek to Queens on the #7 train was less eventful. I sat in the last car, ate two slices of pizza, and wrote a page in my neglected journal. Then, after getting out at the Mets/Willets Point stop, I headed downstairs and walked over to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.

Who was there? Three important people:

1) My friend Greg (aka “gregb123″) in the comments section.

2) My friend Donnie (aka “donnieanks”).

3)
A 60-ish-year-old man named David Ross (not to be confused with the 31-year-old David Ross who plays for the Braves) who’s an editor for an “online rich media magazine” called FLYP.

David was there to interview me (with a very small HD video camera), and he got started right away. I handed my camera to Greg and asked him to take a few photos of me. He took four, and I look ridiculous in all of them, only because I was either blinking or in mid-syllable. (At least that’s what I’m going to tell myself). Here’s the least bad of the four photos:

1_zack_getting_interviewed.jpg

See what I mean? Ridiculous. But at least it gives you an idea of what was going on.

I raced out to the left field seats when the gates opened at 4:40pm, and Gary Sheffield greeted me by scorching a line-drive homer to left-center. I was the only one out there (Greg and Donnie had positioned themselves closer to the foul pole), and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to catch it on the fly, so I just prayed that it wouldn’t ricochet back onto the field. Thankfully, the ball stayed in the seats and rolled down into the front row. I pulled out my camera, looked over my shoulder, and saw Donnie give me a nod as if to say, “Go ahead and take your damn photo. I’m not gonna run over there and steal the ball from you.”

Here’s the photo:

2_ball3990_sheffield_homer.jpg

Is that a nice sight or what?

By the way, that ball had last year’s Yankee Stadium commemorative logo on it. Pretty nifty. And random. Obviously there are a bunch of extras floating around.

A minute later, with David’s camera pointed at me, I caught a homer on the fly and robbed the 6-foot-5 Donnie in the process. Donnie was cool with it. I hadn’t boxed him out or slammed into him. It was a clean play all the way. As soon as the ball was hit, I stepped down into the row in front of him, then drifted laterally as the ball approached, and made a leap at the last second. If it had been a couple feet higher, or if he’d run down into the row in front of me, he would’ve had it. That’s how we do it in New York City. If you can catch a batted ball, you go for it. Period. You don’t back off (as the uber-polite guys at Coors Field do) just because someone else is camped under it. In New York, there’s ALWAYS someone else camped under it. It’s a real competition, not a family softball game. That’s what makes it fun, and of course Donnie was a true gentleman about it.

You know who wasn’t a gentleman? A security guard out in center field who stopped me from using the glove trick to reel in the following ball:

3_ball_i_was_stopped_from_getting.jpg

I flung the glove out and knocked it closer, and after I’d moved the ball to a spot right below me, he started shouting and then walked out onto the batter’s eye and snatched it. Not cool. I could understand if security wanted to stop me from pulling up a ball off the warning track, but in the dead area behind the outfield wall? Really?! Good job, Mets. Way to train your employees. Tell them to focus on stealing balls from fans (and money from charity) instead of making sure that there aren’t razor blades out in the open in the seating areas. Yeah, that’s right, I found one sitting on the steps in left-center. Unbelievable. Welcome to Citi Field, everybody. Come see the Mets and die.

My third ball was thrown by Livan Hernandez, and it tailed a foot or two to my left. After I reached out and caught it, I realized that it had been intended for the woman standing next to me, so I handed it to her…and yes, it counts as part of my collection. Both Greg and Donnie said it was fair to count it, as did my friend Brad who’s the ultimate voice of reason when it comes to ballhawk-related issues. If Livan had pointed to the woman before throwing the ball, I would’ve stepped aside and let her catch it, but since it wasn’t obvious when he first let it fly (from a distance of about 75 feet), I decided to go for it.

That was it for the Mets’ portion of BP, and I didn’t get anything during the first 20 minutes that the Braves were on the field. Slow day. I was nervous. I’d started the day with a lifetime total of 3,989 balls, and I was planning to snag No. 4,000 in Los Angeles six days later. In fact, by this point, it wasn’t merely a plan–it was a promise. I’d already spoken to someone with the Dodgers and guaranteed that I would snag No. 4,000 at Dodger Stadium on May 18th. This game at Citi Field was going to be my last before flying to the west coast, so I *needed* to snag at least a few more balls. Ideally, I wanted to snag about seven or eight. That would’ve left me three or four balls short of the milestone–just the right amount to create a little suspense but not so short that I’d be nervous about failing to reach it. Even if I only snagged six balls at this game, I felt like I could still probably find a way to snag five at Dodger Stadium, but I didn’t want to take that chance…so yeah, I needed four or five MORE balls in addition to the three I’d already snagged from the Mets.

Tim Hudson flipped one up without looking. I was in the crowded front row, and as soon as the ball left his hand, I knew it was going to sail over my head, so I started climbing over the seats, and when the it plunked down (thankfully there was no one behind me), I was right in position to grab it. Phew! That was ball No. 4.

This is how crowded the seats were at that point:

4_left_field_during_BP.jpg

As you can see, it was packed near the foul pole, but there was some room to run in left-center. Of course, there’s a reason for all that room, namely the distance (well over 400 feet) that a batter would have had to hit the ball to clear the 16-foot wall to the right of the “384”
sign.

Toward the end of BP, Jeff Francoeur launched a deep drive to my left. I darted across an entire section before anyone else even budged, and I was able to grab that ball off the ground. Hell yes. I was approaching my recommended daily allowance of balls…and then I reached it. Martin Prado tossed me ball No. 6 (I later gave that one away to a kid) and I felt relieved. I was almost certain that I’d find a way to snag at least one more ball, but even if I didn’t, at least I was only five away from the Promised Land.

That was it for BP.

David interviewed me for a bit before the game, and then we moved to our very good seats (courtesy of FLYP) behind the Braves’ dugout.

First inning? Nothing.
Second inning? Dead.
Third inning? Nada.
But in the middle of the fourth inning, I got Braves first base coach Glenn Hubbard to toss me the infield warm-up ball.

Sweeeeeet! That was my seventh ball of the day. I was SET. As far as No. 4,000 was concerned, I didn’t need to snag anything else, but of course I kept at it because a) I can’t be at a baseball game and NOT try to use my glove, and b) I still wanted to raise money for Pitch In For Baseball.

The fifth inning came to an end when Mike Pelfrey hit a weak grounder up the middle. Yunel Escobar fielded it, stepped on second base to force out Omir Santos, and threw me the ball as he approached the dugout. It was a thing of beauty (and not just because it was commemorative). Escobar was a full section to my left, but he spotted my Braves gear and tossed the ball JUST high enough to clear the reaching hands of the fans next to me. If they had even a three-inch vertical leap, I would’ve been out of luck. (Not that I’m an Olympian or anything, but I’m always amazed at how unathletic people are.) Anyway, in case you’ve lost count, that was my 8th ball of the day. Now, just three balls away from 4,000, I was really *really* set.

Although this might be hard to believe, the highlight of the game was NOT Carlos Beltran’s extra-inning walk-off walk. No sir. The highlight (and I forget the exact moment at which it occurred) was when a fan ran out onto the field wearing nothing more than a Mets rally monkey. Seriously…he was naked except for…the monkey. The guy ran out into the infield, made a rather graceful foot-first slide into second base (ouch), and was apprehended by security soon after:

5_streaker.jpg

The photo above was taken by Donnie (my camera…don’t ask) and it’s not even the best photo he got. If you want to see the real zinger, you’ll have to check out his blog entry about this game. So funny! On Donnie’s blog, you can actually read what’s written on the guys’ stomach.

The game itself was truly exciting. For most of the last two innings, everyone in the stadium was standing, and in the following photo, you can see Fernando Tatis getting plunked by Mike Gonzalez:

6_tatis_gets_plunked.jpg

After the game (which the Mets won, 4-3), I couldn’t resist trying to get a ball from home plate umpire Andy Fletcher…and I succeeded.

Jeez.

I almost felt bad about ruining the suspense of ball No. 4,000. Now there’s really no question about whether or not I’ll get it on May 18th at Dodger Stadium. The only question is…how will I get it? (And also how far past 4,000 will I go?)

As for the FLYP interview, I’m not sure when it’ll be ready, but hopefully I’ll have an update within the next week or two.

SNAGGING STATS:

8_the_seven_balls_i_kept_05_12_09.jpg• 9 balls at this game (7 pictured here because I gave two away)

• 178 balls in 22 games this season = 8.09 balls per game.

• 591 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 473 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 343 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 3,998 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.70 pledged per ball

• $186.30 raised at this game

• $3,684.60 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

26 Comments

Zack,

Another good showing. Have fun in LA.

playball999

PS- First comment (hopefully)!

Haha, you look like a complete idiot in that pic. I love it. I hope you enjoyed your diced pineapple in the nude after you got home.

By the way, if anyone’s interested, I snagged a total of 12 balls in the two games at Citi this week.

Almost 4000, that’s crazy! Anyway, late comment to the Baltimore rain delay game, but that sure looked sweet, gotta say I am a bit jealous! I’ll have to try and see Minnesota in Toronto for a commemorative ball perhaps (and the Yankees just before that!)!

BALL4K! This absolutely HAS to be documented on video. Good video too, not shaken nor stirred. Get crazy man…get crazy. And you said it right when I pointed to you to take that photo in left-center, lol. Enjoy your week off brotha…

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

Hey Zack…

Wow….you are dripping with confidence and cockiness. “I almost felt bad about ruining the suspense of ball No. 4,000. Now there’s really no question about whether or not I’ll get it on May 18th at Dodger Stadium. The only question is…how will I get it? (And also how far past 4,000 will I go?).” Hmmmmmm. Don’t tempt the baseball Gods. There could be an earthquake, you could break your leg in the parking lot. So many possibilities. Just don’t jinx it. I think the bad possibilities are remote though. I have a feeling you’ll be getting #4000 during Dodgers BP. Good luck my friend. I’ll talk to you later.

Good Hunting,
Padreleigh

Ugh, I gave into the advertising on his stomach… But it’s still pretty funny:
http://tr.youtube.com/watch?v=37O5vF_qQjg

Good luck out here on the West Coast, Zack. I hope you get some great photos of 4,000 and your adventures in Dodgertown.
~Matt
http://bloggingboutbaseball.mlblogs.com/

Hey Zack, was wondering if you caught sportscenter at all tonight and saw the highlight from the brewers/marlins(?) game? there was a “professional” ballhawk who snagged a career first from some guy. (i really was paying close attention wasnt i?) said it was his 49th hr grab i believe. he was then interviewed and stuff as well. i immediately thought of you and figured id tell ya, also reminded to me to catch back up on your blog, which i have been doing tonight into these wee hours of the AM. take care, Ryan

Hey Zack….

I just read your response about your dad. I need to sit down and talk to him sometime. This is crazy, but one of my areas of “expertise” is on Americans who joined the RCAF prior to America’s official entry into WWII. They went on to form the famous “Eagle Squadrons” in the RAF. Sounds like your dad had bad timing in trying to join the RCAF. Ask him if he tried to join through the Clayton Knight Committee? He should know what that is. I have a very good friend here in San Diego who joined the RCAF in 1941. He joined the RCAF secretly in NY City and snuck into Canada and on to England. He shot down 10 German planes to become a double ace. It’s a great story. He’s 89 years old now and great to talk to. I really should talk to your dad sometime. You should be very proud of his submarine service. A very dangerous job in WWII.

I MIGHT see you on Monday in LA. It’s a big maybe, but I kinda want to be there for #4000. Talk to you later.

Leigh

Holy ****! I just saw happy on Sportscenter! I was walking in the room and all i saw was a close up of you talking w/ a reporter, and i recognized you b/c of you shirt!

Nice catch Happy!!

Padreleigh

Zack,

I thought this might interest you:
http://gallery.pictopia.com/chictrib/gallery/82773/photo/8082322/?o=30

EXTREME BALLHAWKING!

-Dennis

I wouldn’t have recognized the guy either, I didn’t watch the Sopranos. Although, I _did_ see Taking Woodstock. got lucky with some screener tickets to a showing a couple of months ago. I really enjoyed the movie.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this one, but it’s the best brick I’ve seen yet. (I keep forgetting where it is, it’s in the front row of the two sections of bricks, I think fifth from the right. It’s near the bottom right park of the brick, oriented so that if you’re walking towards the rotunda, you can read it normally)
http://www.ceetar.com/optimisticmetsfan/2009/05/best-brick-ever/

Zack,

It might not be too late to catch last night’s Sportscenter. The highlights from the Marlins / Brewers game in Milwaukee featured some dude in right field catching a home run. They cut to an interview with the guy who goes, “I am what you might call a professional ballhawk. They call me the Happy Youngster.” He said he travels around the country catching balls and this was his 49th home run catch or something. He said he wanted Hanley Ramirez’s bat “because he’s a stud.” Do you know this dude?

He’s stealing your thunder, Z.

=)

that guy played the boyfriend of Meadow Soprano in the show. his role was important to the story but he didn’t get much screen time. highlight of his career though, is getting to play Jamie-Lynn Sigler’s boyfriend. good stuff

Yea, lucky guy for playing Meadow’s boyfriend. No, EXTREMELY LUCKY GUY. A real good actor though. And in the Sopranos, his character is a huge Yankees fan. Mets fan in real life though, I guess … very cool.

nice job zack- thats just stupid about that security guard in center and that razor blade? scary stuff. what if someone fell or a little kid found it? good going mets. anyway, while you were at citi (and the first time i did type in shea) i was at the hotel racking on autos. 64 in two days…chipper x6, glavine x4
mccann x4, fancoeur x5, lowe x2, don sutton x2…i mean i wrecked this team, you have no idea

check out my posts if you get a minute…got some nice pictures too!
http://nycautographcollector.mlblogs.com/

Did you guys hear about the new Yankee Stadium policy. They are now letting people into the field level seats for some of batting practice.
http://newyork.yankees.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090513&content_id=4708954&vkey=news_nyy&fext=.jsp&c_id=nyy

To those that asked…

Yes, Zack knows Happy Youngster. Go back to his recent trips to Toronto and Milwaukee.

WTG Happy.

In case your wondering, you can only get into the outfield sections for B.P…Until 2 hours before gametime. Oh well.
http://riveravenue.mlblogs.com
Alex

EVERYONE-
Check out Happy Youngster’s blog. He has quite a story to tell (which should be up soon). He caught a home run ball last night, and he’s been getting bashed by the media. All I can say is…he’s NOT a bad guy, and before you judge him, you need to hear his side of the story. You can find his blog here:
http://thehappyyoungster.mlblogs.com/

PLAYBALL999-
Thanks very much.

GREG-
Shh! You weren’t supposed to tell anyone. :-)

GTAPUNK-
Crazy is a good thing, right? Anyway, I hope you get yourself a Twins ball.

DONNIE-
Thanks. The gameless week has been great so far.

LEIGH-
Give me a break. I’m not predicting that the Padres are gonna win the NL West. I’m only saying that I expect to snag at least TWO baseballs at the game. Given the fact that I’ve been averaging over eight balls per game this year, this shouldn’t be too hard. I hope you can make it, and if you do, you can ask my dad about his WWII service because he’ll be there.

DANNYMB87-
Thanks for the link. Good stuff.

MATT-
Thanks.

RYAN-
I didn’t see SportsCenter until the next morning, but yeah, that was “The Happy Youngster.” It’s really a crazy story.

PUCK COLLECTOR-
You mean…you recognized HIM.

DENNIS-
Man, that IS extreme. Thanks.

CEETAR-
That’s a mighty fine brick.

ALEXMCMURRAY-
Yeah, I know him quite well. He’s a cool dude. I don’t think he’s stealing my thunder at all. He deserves lots of credit for this catch and all his ballhawking accomplishments.

SPICTACULAR.STUD-
Cool, I had no idea. Thanks.

BRENTGRIFFIN-
Nice.

NYC AUTOGRAPH COLLECTOR-
I love your usage of the verb “wreck.” I think it’s accurate based on the names/numbers you just threw at me.

JACK-
It’s about effin’ time.

TWIBNOTES-
And Chicago…but yes, thanks.

ALEX-
So…during the visiting team’s BP, security is gonna start kicking people out?

Have fun in L.A Zack and keep up the great work. make sure #4,000 is a memorable one!
– Tony

So, turns out I’m going to the Yankee game tonight. Maybe I can get an HHH ball and a New Yankee Stadium ball all in one shot. (Then I wouldn’t have to go back there ever again!)

Zack: Yeah, and they’ll start kicking them out before that even. Just watch carefully and hope people throw during that first hour, but if you are smart enough and are in a good spot, just sit down in about row 7 and wait until they are done kicking them out. I’ll see how they are on either the 17th or the 18th.
Greg: What day are you going? And for the Yankees ball, try to Yankees side.
http://riveravenue.mlblogs.com
Alex

nice job Zack, sounds like a good game to be at as well. good luck in LA, you should have no trouble snagging #4000

Hey Zack-

I just went to a game last month and i tried to get a ball pretty far out next to the apple and the security guard did the exact same thing. Sucks that we have rules like that in NY.

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