July 2009

7/27/09 at Camden Yards

Earlier this season, I had two Watch With Zack games with a 14-year-old Yankee fan named Joe. He and I combined for 22 balls on 5/8/09 at Citi Field, and then we visited the Pitch In For Baseball warehouse on our way to Citizens Bank Park on 7/6/09. Remember?

Well, Joe is incredibly generous. He had an extra season ticket for this game at Camden Yards, and he offered it to me. (A season ticket at Camden gets you into the left field seats half an hour early.) He didn’t care that I’d be competing with him for baseballs. He just wanted to see me in action and hang out and help me add to my collection. Truly amazing. And of course I took him up on it.

I made the drive from New York City with Jona, and we arrived at the stadium at around 4pm. Here we are with Joe outside the Eutaw Street gate:

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See that ball I’m holding? It was a cheap, six-dollar “Babe Ruth” ball that Joe bought from the team store so that we could play catch:

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He had just gotten a new glove and needed some help breaking it in.

The stadium opened at 5pm, and we hurried out to the left field seats. (Jona, unfortunately, was trapped in right field for the first half hour because she didn’t have a season ticket.)

jeremy_guthrie_2008a.jpgJeremy Guthrie was shagging in left field, so I shouted his name, and when he looked up, the first thing he shouted back was, “Hey! How’s the baseball collection coming along?!”

Then he walked a little closer and told me that he’d heard I was at Yankee Stadium the previous week.

“Yeah,” I said, “on July 20th. I was looking for you.”

And that was pretty much the end of our conversation.

Two minutes later, Joe and I each found a ball sitting in the second row. Here’s the one that I grabbed (which I later gave to an usher to give to the kid of his choice):

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Then I went on a snagging rampage. I started by picking up a ball that bounced into the first row in left-center field. Then I caught FOUR home runs on the fly, all pretty much in straight-away left. (I think Ty Wigginton hit one of them and Adam Jones hit another, but whatever.) Then I won a two-person race and grabbed another home run ball that had
landed in the folded up portion of a seat, and I finished the first half-hour by catching another
ball4150.jpghomer on the fly (pictured here on the right). Some guy in the row in front of me had jumped for it at the last second, and it cleared his glove by six inches. That gave me eight balls on the day. It was nuts. At one point I had six balls bulging out of my pockets because I didn’t have a chance to label them and put them in my backpack. I should admit that I missed out on three balls that I should’ve (or at least could’ve) had. Two were home runs that basically came right to me, but I wasn’t aggressive enough in boxing out this one other guy. Then there was a ground-rule double that tipped off the very end of my glove when I jumped for it. AARRGHH!!! I wasn’t making flat-out errors, but I still wasn’t happy with my performance.

This was the scene shortly after 5:30pm when the left field seats opened to everyone:

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Do you see anything disturbing in the photo above?

No?

Let me zoom in a little for you:

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What kind of IDIOT leaves a little kid alone in a section where baseballs go flying into the crowd, not to mention a little kid who’s sleeping?!?! (These are no doubt the the same type of parents who leave their kids in the car with the windows rolled up when they go shopping at Walmart, or better yet, who use their kids as drug mules.)

Halfway through the Royals’ portion of batting practice, I tried using my glove trick to pluck a ball off the warning track–and I would’ve gotten it if Roman Colon hadn’t walked over and moved the ball further out. Here’s a photo that Jona took from about 50 feet away. You can see my glove dangling on the field:

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I could tell that Colon was just having fun and messing with me in a good-natured way (unlike our friend Gustavo Chacin), and sure enough, after teasing me for a solid minute, he picked up the ball and flipped it to me.

A few minutes later, I made my best play of the day. There was a deep fly ball hit in my direction, and I immediately judged that it was going to sail over my head, so I drifted back a couple steps, then looked down and scooted further up the stairs. It was kinda like I was an outfielder who takes his eye off the ball and runs to the spot where he thinks it will land. I looked back up and spotted the ball as it was descending…

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…and then reached way up over my head at the last second and made the catch. See the guy wearing the yellow shirt? If this had been a basketball game, he would’ve been charged with a foul–possibly even a flagrant foul. At the instant that the ball smacked into my glove, his left arm was wrapped tightly around my neck. I think it was an accident, but still there’s no excuse for that.

Here’s my favorite photo of the day. It shows me taking notes while Joe is looking out at the field:

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See that pinkish ring on the inside of my right knee? Yeah, ouch. Twenty minutes earlier, I banged into a seat while scrambling for a loose home run ball, and no, I didn’t get it.

Orioles manager Dave Trembley signed autographs after batting practice:

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I got him on Jona’s ticket:

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Here I am with Joe a few minutes later:

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If you want to know how many balls Joe ended up snagging, you’ll have to check out his blog.

I headed over to the 3rd base side. Billy Butler and Zack Greinke started signing:

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That’s me in the blue shirt, patiently waiting for my turn. I’d brought a ticket from Kauffman Stadium and got them both to sign it:

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Greinke signed in black ON the black portion of the ticket with someone else’s Sharpie. Brilliant. And when I told him that my name is “Z-A-C-K as well,” he didn’t even look up or respond. What a doofus. Has anyone ever had a positive interaction with him? When I saw him last month in Kansas City, he was similarly quite/cold/rude. Is it the social anxiety disorder? Is that a legitimate excuse for not even responding when someone speaks politely to you from three feet away? I was the only fan who bothered to thank him for signing, and he didn’t say “You’re welcome.” I don’t care who you are or what kind of “disorder” you’re diagnosed with. How hard is it to say “You’re welcome”? Am I being too critical? I’ve met parrots who can say it.

Maybe I’m just writing this blog entry out of frustration…

Right before the game started, I positioned myself along the foul line in shallow left field to try to get a ball tossed my way. I was the ONLY fan with a glove, and I was the ONLY fan wearing Royals gear. If ever there was a guaranteed ball, this was it. What happened next? Alex Gordon threw me a ball…and missed…by ten feet! Here I am, climbing up onto the brick ledge, reaching out helplessly with an extreme look of dismay:

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Here’s a closeup of my reaction (with Gordon trying to use body English on the upper right to direct his crappy throw my way):

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Five words, Mister Gordon: That’s why you’re the Royals.

During the game, I stayed in the right field standing-room-only section for all the lefties, and of course there was no action. As for the righties, whenever there were at least two of them hitting back-to-back, I moved to a tunnel behind home plate. Perfect foul ball spot. At one point late in the game, I stopped to talk to a friendly usher on the way to my spot, and wouldn’t you know it, a high-arcing foul ball landed EXACTLY where I would’ve been standing–where I *had* been standing throughout the night. The ball clapped off the pavement in the middle of the empty cross-aisle. It was painful, so please, forgive me for being annoyed after having snagged 10 balls. The day was filled with more frustration than success.

Let me end on a positive note. Here are two nice things about the day:

1) I met a bunch of different people who read this blog, as well as a few folks who recognized me from YouTube and various other places.

2) Billy Butler was my Beat The Streak hitter, and he went 5-for-5, mwahaha! I now have a 10-game streak for the first time since I started playing last month. (I have Prince Fielder going tonight against Collin Balester.) Of course, now that I’ve bragged about it, it’s surely going to end. I’d just like to say, though, that if I somehow win the $1.5 million prize, I’m going to use the money to attend 150 (or more) baseball games in one season at all 30 major league stadiums, and I will attempt to snag 1,000 balls. (And, since I promised, I’m also going to buy Jona a Mini Cooper.)

Anyway, that was it. No homers near me during the game. No foul balls. No umpire ball. No dugout ball. No bullpen ball. Nothing. All of my snagging was confined to the first 50 minutes of the day. What a waste of a potentially monstrous performance. (So much for ending on a positive note. Oops.)

SNAGGING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game (including 6 home runs that I caught on the fly)

• 332 balls in 39 games this season = 8.51 balls per game.

• 608 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 110 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 49 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls

• 4,152 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.69 pledged per ball

• $246.90 raised at this game

• $8,197.08 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

(Wait, THAT’S a positive note. I passed the $8,000 plateau…)

7/26/09 at Yankee Stadium

When I ran inside Yankee Stadium yesterday, I was glad to see that the grounds crew was in the process of setting up batting practice:

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Why was I glad? Because BP was not guaranteed. Not only was there a “flood watch” in the forecast, but this was a dreaded weekend day game–the absolute toughest time to snag baseballs. If it were up to me, I would not have attended this game. But it wasn’t up to me. I 2_zack_eli_kathryn_pregame.jpghad Watch With Zack clients, and this was the game they picked. The photo on the right shows me with the two of them, and yes, they’re both grown-ups.

This photo was taken at about 11am. By that point, batting practice still hadn’t started, and the right field seats (as you can see) were already packed. Not good.

As for my clients, the man standing next to me is named Eli (pronounced “Ellie”), and the woman on the right is his wife Kathryn. They’ve been married for 20 years. She grew up in Kansas City and went to a ton of games there. He grew up in Israel and only recently got into baseball. This was just the fourth game he’d ever been to, and it was the first time he’d ever arrived in time for batting practice. Needless to say, he’d never gotten a ball from a game–and neither had she, but that wasn’t why she had hired me for the day. I was, in effect, Eli’s surprise birthday present. (Kathryn always orchestrates some type of surprise for his birthday; last year she flew a bunch of his friends in from Italy.) I was there strictly to teach him about baseball and to help him understand all the rules and strategies and nuances and statistics, etc.

Anyway, batting practice, afterthought that it was…

The Yankees finally got started at around 11:30am. I had two close calls but ended up empty handed. (The sun got in my eyes on one; a security guard got in my way on the other.) No big deal, right? I’d snag a bunch of balls during the Athletics’ portion of BP…right?

WRONG!!!

The Athletics didn’t take BP, but no problem, right? I’d just get a ball from one of the pitchers playing catch in left field…right?

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WRONG!!!

Even though I was decked out in a rather eye-catching Athletics costume, no one threw me a ball. And then the grounds crew took the screens down and started preparing the field for the game.

Crap. (And then some.)

My streak was in serious danger of ending. I’d gotten at least one ball in each of the previous 606 games I’d been to–a streak dating back to September of 1993. And now I could feel the whole thing slipping away. In fact, I was convinced that it was going to end, and not only that…I was going to have to refund the $500 fee that Kathryn had paid me. That’s part of the deal with a Watch With Zack game: No ball = epic fail = full refund for the client.

Somehow, despite my inner turmoil, I was able to pull myself together and smile for a photo with this guy:

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His name is Stuart Jon (check out his web site) and he’s been reading my blog for quite some time. After many many emails (and his pledge of three cents per ball for my charity), this was the first time we’d met in person. Knowing I would be at this game, he brought both of my books and asked me to sign them for his one-year-old boy named Charlie.

Finally, at around 12:45pm, there was a promising sign of life on the field:

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The A’s players had come out to stretch and run and throw. THIS was going to be my chance to get a ball, but it wasn’t going to be easy. I couldn’t go in front of the railing (the one with the drink holders in the photo above), so I was somehow going to have to get the players’ attention and convince one of them to launch a ball over eight rows of seats and dozens of fans. I had done it before, but it was always tough.

There were only two balls in use. I screamed my head off for the first one, but Adam Kennedy tossed it to a little kid in the front row. Daric Barton, the starting first baseman, ended up with the other ball, and I was sure that he’d hang onto it and use it as the infield warm-up ball, but I shouted for it anyway. What else was there to do? I shouted and he ignored me, so I shouted again, and he looked up into the crowd, so I shouted once more and waved my arms and he looked right at me. I flapped my glove, and he turned and fired the ball. It was falling a bit short. I knew that I’d be able to reach it, but I was afraid that the man in front of me would reach up and intercept it…but it barely cleared his hands, and it smacked right into the pocket of my glove. It was the biggest relief EVER. The ball had a Yankee Stadium commemorative logo (like this) and I immediately handed it to Eli:

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Five minutes later, a few outfielders began throwing, and I got a second ball (also commemorative) from Rajai Davis! I gave that one to Kathryn. Here she is with it in her hand as she was filling out the starting lineups on her score sheets:

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Hooray.

My streak was alive. They both had a ball. I could relax…and that was great because there wasn’t much I could’ve done during the game anyway. We were sitting in the middle of a long row, one and a half sections from the end of the 3rd base dugout. Great seats to watch the game? Yes, of course. Great seats to catch a foul ball or a 3rd-out ball? Erm…no. I’d bought the tickets off StubHub, which unfortunately doesn’t provide seat numbers so there was no way to find out (until the transaction was complete) if we’d be on the aisle. So yeah, we were all trapped there, but given the fact that I’d snagged those two baseballs, it was actually nice to sit still and focus on Eli and not have to worry about adding to my total.

This was our view.

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This was my lunch:

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This was also my lunch:

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I don’t have good luck with waiter-service-food at baseball games. This was only the second time I’d ever ordered it. The other time was at Turner Field nearly a decade ago. I’d snuck down into the fancy seats with a friend, so we ordered food and before it arrived, we got kicked out by security. We’d already paid for it, and thankfully we were allowed to wait at the top of the section (in the cross-aisle) until it arrived. It was highly embarrassing.

I sat next to Eli during the game and explained stuff nonstop from Watching Baseball Smarter. He already knew quite a bit (including the infield fly rule), so it was a challenge at times to come up with things that were new, but I found a way.

The game itself was thoroughly entertaining. There were several lead changes, and there was only one home run. (Home runs bore me if I’m not in a position to catch them. I wish the MLB Network would show highlights of triples instead.) When Mariano Rivera entered the game (for a four-out save) and “Enter Sandman” started blasting, a fan in the upper deck was shown headbanging on the Jumbotron. I’ve seen this guy before. He’s hilarious:

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During the 9th inning, Kathryn asked me to sign the baseballs to her and Eli. I suggested signing one ball to the two of them so they could keep the other ball pure. She was fine with that, and this was the result:

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The “4142” represents my current ball total. That’s how I sign everything snag-related.

Kathryn and Eli had their own copy of “Watching Baseball Smarter,” and after the game I signed that too. Here we are:

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Final score: Yankees 7, Athletics 5.

Here are Kathryn’s score sheets:

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Very impressive. (“I’m a semi-serious geek for a girl,” she told me.)

On our way out, I stopped to get a pic of the Great Hall…

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…and when we got outside (and because Kathryn and Eli’s camera battery had died), I took one last photo of them, which you can see below on the right.



16_kathryn_eli_outside_stadium.jpgSNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 322 balls in 38 games this season = 8.47 balls per game.

• 607 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 135 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 6 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls

• 18 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 4,142 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 114 donors (It’s not too late to make a pledge. Click here to learn more…)

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $49.18 raised at this game

• $7,917.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/23/09 at Citizens Bank Park

This is one of those stories that requires context, so here it is:

1) I’ve become friendly with Padres closer Heath Bell.
2) Heath knows about my baseball collection and seems to enjoy adding to it.
3) When I saw Heath on 4/15/09 at Citi Field, he told me he had saved a ball for me from the World Baseball Classic–but he didn’t have it with him. The ball was in San Diego.

heath_bell.jpgEver since that game, Heath and I have been texting back and forth, trying to figure out when and where we could meet. Obviously, since the Padres’ travel schedule was set, it was up to me to make the effort.

Here’s some more context…

The week before the All-Star Game, Heath left me a voice-mail in which he asked if I was going to be there. “Unfortunately I don’t have a ticket for ya,” he said, “just ’cause I got a bunch of people coming, but hey, if you are, hit me up.” I called him back, got his voice-mail, and told him that I was not going to be attending the All-Star Game. Then I reminded him that I’d be in Philadelphia on July 23rd and said that if he happened to see an extra All-Star Game ball lying around, it’d be cool if he could grab it for me, but if not, no worries.

On July 21st (the day before the Padres were going to be leaving on an eight-game road trip), I texted Heath with a “friendly reminder” to bring the ball from the World Baseball Classic.

1_driving_in_the_rain.jpgYesterday was THE day: July 23rd at Citizens Bank Park. Was Heath really going to bring the ball? I wasn’t sure…and it ended up raining like hell during the drive down to Philly (see the photo on the right)…but I had to keep going. I had to be there. To hell with batting practice. There was no other way I’d ever get to count a ball from the World Baseball Classic in my collection. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I don’t count Spring Training balls, and the only minor league balls I’ve counted were used by major league players at major league stadiums at actual major league games. (For the last few years, the uber-cheap Tigers have been using balls like this and this during BP.) Along these lines, I decided back in 2006 not to count balls from the Classic–it’s an exhibition that isn’t exclusively played by major leaguers–but if I somehow were to snag a Classic ball at a regular season game, that would be the one exception.

I reached the stadium at around 3:30pm, and even though it was really gray and windy, there was no sign of rain:

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There was no sign of life either, and for a while I didn’t know what to think. Would there possibly be batting practice? Would there even be a game?

By the time the stadium opened at 4:35pm, there was a huge crowd waiting outside the gates, and when I ran inside, this is what I saw:

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Sweet Jesus!

Of course the left field seats (where everyone is confined for the first hour) ended up getting unbearably crowded:

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During that first hour, I managed to snag three balls. The first was thrown by Joe Blanton at the furthest edge of the seats in left-center field. The second came via the glove trick near the foul pole, and the third was a home run that I caught on the fly. I don’t know who hit it. There’s a slim chance that it was Jayson Werth, but whatever. Doesn’t matter.

I spotted Heath as soon as the Padres took the field:

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I shouted his name and waved my cap (the one that he gave me on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park) and he looked up and spotted me in the crowd. As he started throwing, he told me to wait for him in foul territory. For some reason, though, the rest of the stadium still hadn’t opened by 5:40pm, so when Heath headed off to the clubhouse (presumably to get THE ball), I wasn’t able to keep pace with him by cutting through the seats toward the dugout. That sucked. It meant I had to wait with everyone else near the foul pole, where the wall was so high that I wasn’t going to be able to have a normal conversation with Heath or shake his hand. And then it started to rain. The Padres kept hitting, however, and eventually Heath came back out and started walking toward me:

It looked like he had something tucked inside his glove, and as he got closer and tossed it up, I still had no idea what it was:

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I could tell that there was a ball inside…no wait…there were TWO balls inside. It was some sort of tube sock…dark green fabric…with knots tied around each ball to keep them separate. My mind couldn’t process it, but I snapped back to reality just in time to yell “Thank you!!” as Heath jogged off toward right-center. Two balls?! Seriously? Had he given me two balls from the World Baseball Classic? Or was one of them from the All-Star Game? Or maybe from some other All Star event? Since I now number my baseballs, how would I know which one I’d snagged first? I got them both at the same time. But why even number them if they were each one-of-a-kind?

Hmm…

I was dying to untie the knots and see what was inside the sock, but there was a ball that was sitting on the warning track in left-center. I decided that my surprise would have to wait for a couple minutes, so I ran over and leaned way out over the flower bed and used my glove trick to reel it in. When I pulled the ball out of my glove, this is what it looked like:

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The rain, meanwhile, was great. It was light enough that the Padres kept hitting, but heavy enough that it chased half the fans out of the seats:

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I took the sock out of my backpack…

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…but just as I was about to start untying the knots, several righties starting taking their cuts, so I threw the sock back in my bag. AAHH!! It was killing me to keep waiting, but it would’ve killed me to miss any opportunities.

My decision paid off. Someone on the Padres hit a home run that landed near me in a small cluster of fans. The ball got bobbled (not by me) and landed briefly on the top edge of the back of the seat right in front of me, at which point I snatched it. Nice! That was my seventh ball of the day, including the two that Heath had given me.

Okay.

Deep breath.

It was time to see what was in the sock…

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Like, wow.

If I’d gone to the All-Star Game, the flights and hotel and ticket would’ve cost more than $1,000, and what would I have hoped to get out of it? Umm, snagging the ball pictured up above on the right. Yay for Heath Bell. That’s all there is to it. (Oh…and if you want to see my entire collection of commemorative balls, click here.)

Anyway, a bunch of lefties started hitting so I ran over to right field and ended up catching a home run on the fly. See the guy below in the “HAMELS 35″ jersey?

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After I caught the ball by reaching in front of him, he threatened to throw me over the wall.

Stay classy, Philadelphia! Yeah!

My goal, at that point, was to snag two more balls and reach double digits. I didn’t snag anything else during BP, but I did get my ninth ball right before the game started. Drew Macias was playing catch with Will Venable…

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…and Macias hooked me up when they finished. (I’m proud of myself–even though it’s indicative of other problems–for not getting distracted by the cheerleaders.)

Over the course of the day, several people recognized me from YouTube, including one guy who’s 6-foot-10, and since I have an obsession with height (obviously not my own), here we are:

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If I’m remembering correctly, his name is Morgan. I asked him if he has ever tried to catch baseballs at games, and luckily for the rest of humanity, his answer was no. Can you imagine how much he would dominate? Who would ever stand next to him? He’d have a whole section to himself wherever he went. Is there anyone reading this who’s freakishly (and I mean that in a good way) tall? If so, I want to hear about your snagging experience. I wonder if there’s ever been a seven-footer who was serious about ballhawking. Yikes.

After the national anthem, Heath and I caught a glimpse of each other near the dugout. I mouthed the words “thank you” and put my palms together and make a little bowing gesture. He gave me a nod as he began walking across the field toward the bullpen, and that was the last I saw of him.

As for the game, I’d splurged and bought a Diamond Club ticket. Why, you ask? Because of all this room to run for foul balls:

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The only problem was that there weren’t any foul balls to be caught. That area seems like it would be awesome, but it’s so close to home plate and so close to field level that most foul balls fly way overhead.

One good thing about the Diamond Club is that there’s a sweet view of the batting cages. Here’s Eric Bruntlett taking some mid-game hacks:

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Another good thing is the food. Yes, it’s expensive, but the quality really is the best I’ve ever experienced at a stadium. Check out what I got for 11 bucks:

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That’s a burger with grilled onions, swiss cheese, and bacon, along with a caesar salad and fresh pineapple. Yum! (I’d also eaten two hot dogs after BP, one with diced/raw onions and another with cheese sauce. So?)

After the game, I went to the Padres’ dugout (even though they lost) and saw a ballboy tossing out ball after ball. I got him to toss one to me, and for a second, I thought it was commemorative because there was a big dark spot on it, but it turned out just to be a smudge:

Still, the ball was clearly game-used, so that was cool.

As soon as I snagged it, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid. It just so happened that an on-field security guard (who recognizes me, it should be noted, and is exceptionally rude) saw me hand it over. What was his response? Instead of a) praising my generosity or b) simply keeping his mouth shut, he c) started scolding the ballboy for giving a ball to me (“What’s the matter with you?!”) and demanding that I give away balls to all the other kids in the section.

Citizens Bank Park has officially become Yankee Stadium.

SNAGGING STATS:

19_the_nine_balls_i_kept_07_23_09.jpg• 10 balls at this game (9 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 320 balls in 37 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.

• 606 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 109 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 48 lifetimes games outside of New York with at least 10 balls

• 4,140 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $245.90 raised at this game

• $7,868.80 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/20/09 at Yankee Stadium

Once again, there was a huge crowd waiting to get inside Yankee Stadium:

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Think that’s a lot of people? Well, guess what…this was just one of the four entrances. I wasn’t surprised or concerned. It’s always that crowded, and I’ve learned to deal with it. There was, however, one thing that set this day apart from all of my other trips to The New Stadium: it was a Watch With Zack game.

My clients were a father and son from California, and the photo below shows the three of us. I’m on the left, 11-year-old Andrew is in the middle, and Jeff is on the right:

2_zack_andrew_jeff.jpg

For the record, they weren’t wearing Yankees gear just to fit in; they really are big Yankee fans.

Batting practice hadn’t yet started, so we took some more photos and discussed our ball-snagging strategies. Then, to make it easier for Andrew and Jeff to ask the players for baseballs, I gave them each a sheet of paper that looked like this:
3a_orioles_yankees_rosters.jpg

Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey had been playing catch with Chien-Ming Wang. I’d had my eyes on them at first, then shifted my attention elsewhere, and luckily looked back up just as they were finishing.

“MIKE!!!” I yelled.

There were other grown-ups and ballhawks standing all around us. It all happened so fast. There wasn’t time to get Andrew out in the open where he might’ve been seen, so I instinctively darted off to the side and waved my arms and got Harkey to throw me the ball. It was commemorative:

4_ball4128_mike_harkey.jpg

The fact that I had snagged that ball was both good and bad. It was bad because Andrew hadn’t gotten it, but it was good because I was on the board. I no longer had to worry about getting shut out, so I turned all my attention to Andrew and made sure that HE would be the one to snag the next ball.

Coming into this game, Andrew had snagged a lifetime total of four baseballs, including one that his dad had caught and given to him. Andrew’s single-game record? One ball. I was determined to help him break that.

Several Yankee pitchers were playing catch in right field, so I headed over to the foul line with him and set him up as close as possible:

5_andrew_RF_foul_line.jpg

As you can see, this actually wasn’t close at all, and the pitchers didn’t show him any love. We could’ve fought our way down into that section on the right, but it didn’t make sense to be buried in the crowd.

Speaking of crowds, look how crowded it was in right field as BP was getting underway:

6_right_field_crowded.jpg

In the photo above, the red arrow is pointing to a fellow ballhawk named Alex who did three nice things for me over the course of the day:

1) He took photos of me with Andrew and Jeff.
2) He gave me space during BP (so we wouldn’t compete for the same balls).
3) He hooked me up with a dugout-area ticket stub during the game.

As for Andrew, I knew he needed to be in the front row, and although it took some time, eventually I found him the perfect spot. When you’re 11 years old–let’s face it–most people are going to be taller than you, so I had Andrew slip into a spot that was good for two reasons. First, there were two pitchers playing catch right in front of him, and second, the person on his right was even shorter:

7_andrew_RF_front_row.jpg

Three minutes later, Phil Coke ended up with the ball and looked up into the crowd to pick out a worthy recipient.

“Phil!” I shouted. “How ’bout a ball for this young man right here?!”

Coke looked up, and I pointed down at Andrew from the second row. That did the trick. Coke took a step toward us and appeared to be getting ready to toss the ball. At the very last second, I leaned forward and reminded Andrew to reach as far out as possible for it. The ball started sailing our way, and the little kid on the right made his own attempt to catch it. This was the result:

8_andrew_ball1_phil_coke.jpg

It was a perfect Yankee Stadium commemorative ball.

BTW, did you notice that the woman in the background has a ball in her pocket? Yeah, don’t feel bad for that little kid who got outsnagged by Andrew. That woman was the little kid’s mom. He’d already gotten a ball.

Andrew ran over to the next section and showed the ball to his dad:

9_andrew_showing_ball_to_his_dad.jpg

If I’d been at this game by myself, I would’ve snagged several balls during the Yankees’ portion of BP. Lots of homers had landed near my normal spot at the back of the section, but I was at this game for Andrew. He wanted to get balls on his own rather than having me run all over the place and snag balls for him. And so…I only got one ball out in right field. It was a homer that *might* have been hit by Erik Hinske, but I’m not sure. It landed in a thick crowd of people and ricocheted right to me. Commemorative ball. Pristine logo. Hell yes.

Three days earlier, the Yankees had been using Metrodome balls during BP, but now, I’m happy to report, the Yankee Stadium balls were out in full force.

After the Yankees finished hitting, we headed over to the left field side and changed into bright orange Orioles shirts. I already had my own “RIPKEN 8″ shirt that I bought on eBay a while back, and just recently I’d received a free pair of “MORA 6″ shirts at a Camden Yards giveaway. I lent those two shirts to Andrew and Jeff. Look how much it helped them stand out…

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…and within a couple minutes, Andrew snagged his second ball of the day:

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This one came from Felix Pie. I helped Andrew by calling out for it, and Andrew helped himself by making a nice jumping catch–and just like that, he had doubled his single-game record.

He and I each snagged one more ball during BP. For me, it was a home run (don’t ask me who hit it) that landed in the seats, and for him, it was a toss from Brad Bergesen.

Once BP was done, we took off the Orioles shirts and posed with our haul:

12_andrew_zack_balls.jpg

Just before game time, Andrew and I worked our way to the seats behind the Orioles’ dugout. Of course we had to stay behind that ghastly partition, but because he was once again wearing one of my bright orange Orioles shirts, it didn’t make a difference. I don’t need to point him out with an arrow in the photo below. You can pick him out easily on your own:

13_andrew_during_pregame_throwing.jpg

This was the scene two minutes later:

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Yes, he had snagged another ball (his fourth of the day), this time courtesy of Nolan Reimold.

With a bit of trickery and assistance, Andrew and his father and I managed to stay in that section for the rest of the night. It was a great spot not only to watch the game but for Andrew to get a 3rd-out ball. Unfortunately he did a lot of shouting/waving that wasn’t getting him anywhere. Here’s one of his unsuccessful attempts to get a ball…

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…and here’s another, this time in competition with Alex:

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Things weren’t looking good. Even when 1st baseman Aubrey Huff ended up with the inning-ending balls, he wasn’t throwing THE game-used balls into the crowd. He was saving those for himself (or perhaps for MLB’s authentication program) and tossing the non-commemorative infield warm-up balls into the crowd instead.

Finally, though, Andrew had his chance.

The sixth inning ended when Huff fielded a grounder and tossed it to pitcher David Hernandez, who ran over to cover 1st base. Alex wasn’t there (it turns out he was on line for sushi), so Andrew didn’t have any competition. Andrew didn’t realize that Hernandez was the guy who had the ball; he had his eye on Huff and nearly gave up when Huff disappeared under the dugout roof. I told him that the pitcher had the ball, so Andrew held his ground, and we both started waving our arms to get Hernandez’s attention.

Here’s a photo of Hernandez throwing the ball into the crowd:

17_andrew_getting_3rd_out_ball.jpg

Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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It appeared to be falling short. I wasn’t sure who Hernandez was aiming for, but I didn’t think there was any chance for Andrew to catch it.

Here’s a photo of Andrew reaching WAY over the railing for the ball, while the grown men in front of him are falling all over themselves:

19_andrew_getting_3rd_out_ball.jpg

And here’s a priceless reaction from one of them:

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Why was that guy so stunned (and saddened)? Because my young dude had just made a catch that would’ve made most major league 1st basemen wet their pants.

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Andrew had more-than-doubled his entire lifetime total in one game. We joked about the fact that I’d have to snag more than 4,000 balls in one game to do that.

During the game, I sat next to Andrew and pointed out some of the things I had written about in Watching Baseball Smarter: the positioning of the 3rd base coach, the catcher looking into the dugout for signs, the runner on 2nd taking his lead behind the baseline, etc. Meanwhile, Jeff used a fancy camera to take some high-quality action shots. Here’s one of them:

22_jeff_photographs_jeter.jpg

The game itself was good, I suppose, if you enjoy games in which every run scores on a solo homer.

Top of the 1st inning? Nick Markakis homer.

Bottom of the 2nd inning? Eric Hinske homer.

Bottom of the 9th inning? See below:

23_jeff_photographs_matsui.jpg
Walk-off shot by Hideki Matsui. (Nice camera work, Jeff!)Final score: Andrew 5, Zack 3, Yankees 2, Orioles 1.

Andrew really deserved to get pointed at in the post-game photo:

24_zack_andrew_jeff_postgame.jpg

He and his father were nice enough to let me keep my two commemorative balls. I gave the other/standard ball to Andrew (I couldn’t send him back to California without an official Zack Hample snagged ball), and then he posed with all of them:

25_andrew_postgame.jpg

SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game

• 310 balls in 36 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.

• 605 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 134 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 5 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least three balls

• 17 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 4,130 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $73.77 raised at this game

• $7,622.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

But wait! There’s more!

We lingered outside the stadium until most of the people were gone, and then Andrew and I played catch for about 20 minutes. This is what it looked like from my point of view:

26_zack_andrew_playing_catch_postgame.jpg

After that, we rode the subway together back into Manhattan and then said our goodbyes.

7/17/09 at Yankee Stadium

When Yankee Stadium was getting ready to open yesterday at 4pm, there were at least 1,000 fans waiting to get in at Gate 6 alone. The fans (myself and Jona included) had formed mini-lines in front of the dozens of guards and doors. For some reason, however, only TWO of these doors were opened, causing 10 minutes’ worth of congestion while everyone was forced to head to that one spot from various directions. Look at this mess:

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I truly don’t understand it.

To make matters worse, I felt a few raindrops as soon as I forced my way inside, but thankfully the grounds crew left the batting cage in place. Batting practice hadn’t yet started so I headed toward the Yankees’ dugout, picked a spot behind that horrendous partition, got the attention of hitting coach Kevin Long, and got him to throw me a ball. Here I am reaching for it (with a red arrow pointing to the ball):

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I was hoping that the ball would have a commemorative logo…and it did…but it wasn’t the one I wanted.

Check it out:

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I’d already gotten a bunch of these Metrodome balls earlier in the season. (Here’s a better one.) What I really wanted was a ball with the new Yankee Stadium logo. I’d only snagged one of those all season (on May 21st) and it ended up getting water-stained because of a terrible mishap. Quite simply, I needed another.

Nevertheless, I was still glad to have the Metrodome ball because a) any commemorative ball is cool and b) it was my 300th ball of the season. Here I am posing with it:

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Finally, at around 4:25pm, the Yankees started taking BP. I headed to right field and briefly had the last few rows to myself:

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Five minutes later, the whole section was packed and I had to fight (not literally, although that wouldn’t be a stretch at Yankee Stadium) for both of the balls I caught out there. The first was a home run by Hideki Matsui with another Metrodome logo, and the second was a regular ball hit by Nick Swisher. Here I am catching one of the balls:

5_zack_catching_home_run.jpg

The photo above might make it look like I’m trampling that poor woman, but that wasn’t the case at all. At Yankee Stadium, there’s a good amount of space between rows, so I was able to step carefully in front of her and reach up at the last second. She’s not flinching because of me; she’s flinching because she was scared of the ball and didn’t see it coming. Even though it wouldn’t have hit her, she thanked me on three separate occasions for saving her life. You 5b_zack_signing_ball.jpg
know whose life I *did* save? Jona’s. As you can kinda tell based on the photo above, she was sitting two rows directly behind the spot where I reached up.

After the catches, several fans recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs and to pose in photos with them. I obliged their requests only when right-handed batters were in the cage.

I moved to left field when the Tigers started hitting, and it was nearly a total waste. The only ball I snagged during their entire portion of BP was a fungo that sailed over an outfielder’s head and landed in the third row. And, of course, since the Tigers are too cheap to use real major league balls, this is what I found myself holding:

5a_the_tigers_have_cheap_balls.jpg

YUCK!!!

(In case you’re wondering, this ball counts in my collection because it was used by major league players in a major league stadium.)

Last season, at the Red Sox home opener, the Tigers were using Pacific Coast League balls. What kind of garbage balls will they be using next year?

At the end of BP, I noticed that there was a ball sitting in the corner of the left field bullpen:

6_ball4124_in_bullpen.jpg

I’d been planning to take Jona for a scenic tour of the stadium, but once I saw that ball, I had to stay and wait until someone came and got it. While I was standing around, I saw a teenaged kid hurdling seats and running toward me.

“OH MY GOD!!!” he shouted. “ZACK HAMPLE!!! ZACK HAMPLE!!!!!!!!!!!

At first I thought he was making fun of me with sarcastic enthusiasm, but he turned out to be totally serious. He was just…excited to see me, apparently. His name is Jon Herbstman. (We’d met once before on 7/8/08 at Yankee Stadium.) Here we are:

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Fifteen minutes later, a groundskeeper wandered into the bullpen, and Jona got a real action shot of him handing me the ball:

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It was another International League ball, and yes, it counts. As long as another fan doesn’t give me a ball, it counts, and would you believe that that actually happened yesterday? One of the guys who’d been waiting for my autograph snagged a home run ball that I would’ve gotten had he not been standing there. He obviously felt guilty about getting in my way (it was my own stupid fault for having misjudged it) so he scooped it up and flung it to me in one motion.

“I don’t want this,” I said as I tossed it back to him, “but thanks.”

I’ve probably had 10 to 20 fans randomly try to give me balls over the years. I’ve never accepted a single one, although I now realize I should’ve taken them, NOT counted them in my collection, and used them for my own BP in Central Park.

Shortly before the game started, I got Adam Everett to toss his warm-up ball to me over the partition. (That was my sixth ball of the day.) The four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, shows how it all played out. The arrows in the final three photos are pointing to the ball in mid-air:

9_zack_getting_ball4125.jpg

This ball had the regular MLB logo.

My goal during the game was simple: Hang out behind the Tigers’ dugout and try to get a 3rd-out ball tossed to me over the partition. Having seen the Tigers for four games in April, I remembered that their first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, had a habit of tossing balls deep into the crowd. I felt good about my chances. All I needed was a third out to be a ground out.

It didn’t take long. With two outs in the bottom of the first, Tigers starter Lucas French induced Jorge Posada to roll one over to 3rd baseman Brandon Inge. I crept down the steps as Inge fired the ball to first base and waited for Cabrera to jog in.

He tossed me the ball!!!

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But it turned out to be a regular ball. GAH!!! Cabrera, as some first basemen have started doing, pulled a little switcheroo and threw me the infield warm-up ball.

It was a major letdown.

But at least the game itself was entertaining. The highlight was the 57-minute rain delay in the bottom of the eighth because it chased away 90 percent of the “fans.”

Here’s a photo I took during the delay when everyone was hiding under the overhangs and in the main part of the concourse:

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The way-too-narrow center field concourse was eerily quiet:

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I love having a stadium to myself, or at least feeling like I do, especially when that stadium is typically packed beyond belief.

I was in left field when A-Rod came up in the bottom of the 8th. If EVER there was a time when he should’ve hit a home run in my general vicinity, this was it. I had empty rows on both sides of me. No one else was wearing a glove. Blah blah. But of course he struck out to cap his 0-for-5 performance.

Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth:

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He allowed a one-out double to Placido Polanco, then retired the next two batters on two pitches. He’s so good. And classy. It pains me that he’s on the Yankees because I’m forced to root for them whenever he’s in the game.

Final score: Yankees 5, Tigers 3.

During the game, I had used Jona’s iPhone to look up the box score. I learned that Tim Tschida was the home plate umpire. After the final out, I moved one section to my left, to the approximate spot where he’d be exiting the field. I was still trapped behind the partition, so I shouted “MISTER TSCHIDA!!!” as loud as I possibly could. To my surprise, he actually looked up, at which point I took off my black, MLB umpires’ cap (thank you very much) and 13a_i_heart_tim_tschida.jpgwaved it at him. Was I going to be able to get him to pull one of the Yankee Stadium commemorative balls out of his pouch and chuck it to me over half a dozen rows of fans from more than 50 feet away? It seemed unlikely, but I went for it and continued shouting my request. While walking toward the exit, he pulled one out and under-handed it to me (!!!) but it drifted to the right, and I leaned way out over a side railing to try to make the back-handed catch, and I watched helplessly as it sailed less than a foot past my outstretched glove. NO!!! I looked back at the field, figuring he’d be gone, but he was still there…and he was watching! He had seen some other fan get the ball, so he pulled out another. At this point all the other fans realized what was going on, and they all crowded toward me, so I climbed up on a little concrete ledge just behind the partition and waved my arms. Tschida flung the second ball toward me. It was heading in the right direction, but it was sailing too high, so I waited until the last second and then jumped up off the ledge and made the catch and landed right in the middle of a big puddle in the drainage-challenged front row. Water splashed everywhere, mostly on me, and I was over-JOYED. I was holding a game-rubbed commemorative ball:

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As soon as I caught it, a little kid three rows back started chanting, “Give it to the kid! Give it to the kid.”

“I don’t think so,” I told him, then headed up the steps and handed one of my regular baseballs to a different kid who happened to be walking past with his dad (and with an empty glove on his left hand) at that exact moment.

SNAGGING STATS:

15_the_seven_i_kept_07_17_09.jpg• 8 balls at this game (7 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 4 different types of balls at this game (might be a world record)

• 307 balls in 35 games this season = 8.77 balls per game.

• 604 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 133 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 4 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least four balls

• 4,127 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $196.72 raised at this game

• $7,549.13 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Book update No. 2 — equipment managers

What better time is there than the All-Star break to get some writing done?

(Click here for update #1.)

The latest update is that I’ve completed the first five chapters of Part One of the book. I’ve written about 17,000 words overall. (One double-spaced page is about 250.) As a reminder, the whole book needs to be about 60,000 words so I’ve made some good progress but I still have a long way to go. (Who knows how many of the 17,000 words will get cut by my editor?)

Want some even better book news?

I’ve interviewed two different guys who are equipment managers for major league teams. I asked them a ton of questions about baseballs. One guy was even nice enough to tell me exactly how much the team pays Rawlings for the balls. I can’t tell you the exact number here, but let me just say that whenever a player tosses a ball to you, the team deserves a thank-you note. Seriously, the balls are not cheap. I already knew they were expensive, but it turns out that they cost even more than I imagined.

One of the equipment managers is going to let me WATCH him rub up the game balls with mud. (I was nervous about asking him, but I decided to just go for it, and he was like, “Oh yeah, that’s no problem.” I couldn’t believe it.) We just need to figure out a time when we’re both free. I think the rubbing demo might need to wait ’til next month. Maybe he’ll let me try rubbing up a few myself? So cool…

BTW, it’s been really tough getting to talk to equipment managers. I called a bunch of teams, and most of them flat-out denied my interview request. Then there were a few that considered it, but they made me prove that I really AM writing a book that IS going to be published. A few teams even asked to speak to my editor at Random House! And even THEN some of the teams were like, “Nope, no interview for you.” It’s crazy how the inner/secret world of Major League Baseball is so hard to penetrate at times. Can you imagine how hard it must be to interview someone like Jeter or Pujols?

Anyway, that’s the story for now. I have one more chapter to write for Part One, and I hope to finish that by the end of this month. I still don’t know what the book is gonna be called, but I promise it’ll be interesting and fun.

My 2009 All-Stars

Every year I enjoy making my own hypothetical All-Star teams, using only players who have thrown baseballs to me. Here’s what my 2009 teams would look like:

American League:

1B — Miguel Cabrera
2B — Brian Roberts
SS — Jason Bartlett
3B — Mike Lowell
C — Rod Barajas
LF — Johnny Damon
CF — Ichiro Suzuki
RF — Nick Markakis
P — Roy Halladay

Extra starters: Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Josh Beckett, Cliff Lee
Relievers: Brian Fuentes, David Aardsma, Mariano Rivera

National League:

1B — Albert Pujols
2B — Freddy Sanchez
SS — Hanley Ramirez
3B — David Wright
C — Brian McCann
LF — Adam Dunn
CF — Willy Taveras
RF — Jayson Werth
P — Johan Santana

Extra starters: Matt Cain, Jason Marquis, Zach Duke, Carlos Zambrano
Relievers: Heath Bell, Kevin Gregg, Trevor Hoffman

Who would win? Looks like my AL team has better pitching while the NL has a stronger offense.

In other news…

The ballhawk web site MyGameBalls.com has a cool new feature. From now on, the home page is going to be updated with the Top 5 headlines…headlines about the snagging achievements of members of the site. Here’s what the home page looks like right now:

mygameballs_home_page.jpg

If you click on any of the headlines, you’ll see a short/original article written by Alan Schuster, the president of the site. It’s amazing how much work he’s putting into this, and he’s not charging any money for people to become members.

Finally, in case it’s unclear, I will NOT be in St. Louis for the All-Star festivities. It would’ve been too expensive to fly there and get a hotel room and buy tickets, so I’ll be watching it all on TV and living vicariously through my friend Nick Yohanek (aka “The Happy Youngster“). During the Home Run Derby, he’ll be sitting in the first row behind the right field bullpen, and of course he’ll be wearing his famous yellow shirt. (I want to see Pujols hit one completely out of the stadium to straight-away left field. Think that’s impossible? Just you watch…)

7/8/09 at Citi Field

The Dodgers were in town, Manny Ramirez was back from his 50-game suspension, and the sun was actually shining. Citi Field, as I expected, ended up being unbearably crowded, but for the first 20 minutes after the gates opened, I had some room to maneuver, and I made the most of it.

My first ball of the day should have come from Mike Pelfrey. Within the first minute after I reached the left field seats, I got him to throw one to me–but he chucked it 10 feet over my head. The stands were still totally empty at that point, so I wasn’t too concerned about his horrible aim until I turned around and saw another fan who just happened to be walking down the steps at that very moment. This other guy didn’t have a glove and of course he ended up with the ball.

That hurt. But then things got better.

A right-handed batter on the Mets (no idea who) launched a high fly ball in my direction, and as it sailed over the wall, I drifted a few feet to my left and caught it easily on the fly. The ball had last year’s Shea Stadium commemorative logo. Check it out:

1_ball4110_shea_commemorative.jpg

The logo, as you can see above, was smudged, but that didn’t bother me. I’d snagged a bunch of these balls last season and had plenty (like this one) that were game-used and in “perfect” condition.

Two minutes later, I caught another home run that (I think) was hit by Nick Evans. It was a line drive that hooked 15 feet to my right. I bolted through an empty row and made the back-handed catch and then noticed that the ball had a pristine Shea logo.

A few minutes after that, two home runs landed in the seats, prompting an all-out scramble among the fans. I lost out on the first ball to an older man, but grabbed the second ball under a seat just before the nearest guy could get his hands on it.

That was the end of the first round of BP. There were a bunch of lefties due to hit in the second round, and I noticed that there was a ball sitting on the warning track in right-center field…

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…so I ran over there and stood above it and decided to wait until a player came to retrieve it. The section began filling up a bit during the next few minutes, but I figured I still had a great shot at getting it. Under normal circumstances, I would have simply snagged it with my glove trick, but Citi Field is not normal. Security is incredibly strict, and as soon as I had entered the stadium, I had been warned/threatened not to use the trick by a guard who recognized me (but obviously didn’t know about my charitable efforts).

Sean Green was the player closest to me:

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He’s usually nice about tossing balls to fans, so I was still liking my chances.

Now…I should mention that my friend Andrew Gonsalves was at this game. Andrew and I met a few years ago at my writing group, and just this past winter, he and I spent many many hours together, designing the program that now accepts pledges for the charity.

Three more things you should know about Andrew:

1) This was his first game of the season.
2) He lived in L.A. for a while and loves the Dodgers.
3) He had never snagged a baseball, nor had he even tried.

He hadn’t planned on trying to snag anything at this game. He just wanted to watch his favorite team and see me in action, but once he saw how many balls Livan Hernandez was tossing into the crowd, he decided to give it a shot. I took a photo of him from where I was standing…

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…and then he took a photo of me:

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Green eventually came over and tossed me the ball, and then less than a minute later, Andrew got one from Livan:

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Andrew even snagged a second ball after that and handed it to the woman standing next to him.

When I headed back to the left field seats, I saw a ball sitting on the batter’s eye, just to the side of the Home Run Apple:

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It would’ve been SO easy to snag it with my glove trick, but I was too scared to go for it. If I’d gotten caught, I might have been ejected or had my glove confiscated. (I was ejected four times from Shea Stadium for committing horrible crimes such as catching too many baseballs and not sitting in my assigned seat, and I did once have my glove confiscated at Yankee Stadium, although I was able to get it back soon after.)

Toward the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, I made a nice catch on a Gary Sheffield homer. It was a high fly ball that was carrying a bit over my head and 10 feet to my right. While the ball was in mid-air, I took my eye off it and climbed back over a row of seats, then picked up the ball as it continued its descent. At the last second, as I reached up to catch it, I was clobbered from behind by a man who of course was not wearing a glove. Not only did I manage to hang onto the ball, but when my hat went flying, I swooped it up before it hit the ground and put it right back on my head in one motion. The man congratulated me and apologized. I noticed that he was wearing a media credential. How dare he compete with (and crash into) fans?

Dodgers BP was a nightmare. I couldn’t even get into the front row to try to get players to toss balls to me. Look how crowded it was:

8_BP_crowded_for_dodgers.jpg

You know why it’s so crowded? Because Fred Wilpon, the owner of the Mets, thinks it’s a good idea to keep fans out of the seats behind the dugouts during batting practice. (Imagine all the horrible things that would happen if fathers and sons were to loiter there and try to collect autographs. God forbid!) Therefore, all the fans are forced to stand along the foul lines and in the outfield. It’s awful. Shame on the Mets. I refuse to root for a team that treats its fans this way. Go Royals!

Somehow, against all odds, I managed to catch two more home runs on the fly during a 10-second span at the end of BP. They might have been hit on back-to-back pitches. I have no idea, but I remember that I was still holding the first ball in my bare hand when I caught the second ball in my glove. Both balls came within five feet of where I’d been standing, but when the seats are packed, five feet feels like a mile. That said, I judged both balls perfectly. I mean…before the balls even reached their apex, I was carefully weaving in and out of people toward the EXACT spot where they ended up landing, and then I had to reach above all the other gloves (a few of which were bumping into mine) to actually catch them. After I caught the second of these two homers, everyone with a glove crowded around me, as if moving closer was somehow going to increase their chances. One word: duh.

It ended up not making a difference. There wasn’t much else that landed in the seats after that, so I took off for the dugout.

I got some equipment guy to toss me my eighth ball of the day after all the players had disappeared into the clubhouse.

Then Donald Trump made an appearance and started signing balls:

9_donald_trump_signing.jpg

Andrew got him:

10_trump_autograph.jpg

(I think the signature says “Duuuuuuy” which of course would be pronounced “DOYYY!!!”)

I could have easily gotten an autograph, but there was no way I was going to allow Donald T. Rump to deface one of my precious baseballs. That just wasn’t going to happen. (How would he like it if I wrote my name on one of his buildings? Yeah.)

Right before the game started, I got Casey Blake to toss me his warm-up ball at the dugout, and then two minutes later, I got another (my 10th of the day!) from Mark Loretta. That one was marked by the Dodgers on the sweet spot:

11_ball4118_marked.jpg

I later wrote the “4118” because this was the 4,118th ball I’d ever snagged. (If you want to see my entire collection of marked balls, click here.)

I headed out to left field for Manny’s first at-bat, and there was really no point in being there. There simply weren’t ANY empty seats, not at least in the section I had chosen, so I headed back to the Dodgers’ dugout with Andrew, and we stayed there for the rest of the night.

Here’s Oliver Perez (fresh off the DL) pitching to Manny several innings later:

12_oliver_to_manny.jpg

You can see the ball in the photo above, but it doesn’t look like a ball. My camera’s shutter speed isn’t all that great, so the ball looks like a streak. It’s on the grass just below the white ESPN sign…just barely above and to the right of first base.

I was hoping to get a third-out ball tossed to me, but there was some serious competition:

13_kids_on_staircase.jpg

I’m talking about the kids who were sitting near the bottom of the staircase, ready to race to the front row as soon as the third out was recorded.

As for my claim about left field being packed, here’s proof:

14_left_field_packed_during_game.jpg

There aren’t any cross-aisles on the field level at Citi Field, so once the seats fill up, the only way to catch a batted ball is to pick a staircase and pray. Sorry, but even with two members of the 500 Home Run Club (Sheffield was the other) in the starting lineups, I wasn’t going to waste my time in the outfield. And hey, my decision to stay close to the action paid off. No, I didn’t snag a third-out ball or an infield warm-up ball or a foul ball, but for the first time in my six games at Citi Field, I grabbed a T-shirt during the T-shirt launch:

15_zack_t_shirt_launch.jpg

The guy sitting behind me offered me $20 for it, but his offer was only good if I left the shirt wrapped up. (He wanted to give it away to someone as a gift.) Up until that point, I had never gotten a look at one of these shirts, so as tempting as the offer was, I decided to keep the shirt and unwrap it and take my chances that it would turn out to be something cool that I’d actually be proud to wear. Here’s how that played out:

16_zack_t_shirt_launch.jpg

Given the fact that the Citi Field logo is an utter disaster (Dominos Pizza, anyone?), I should’ve known that the shirt would be fugly.

I was really hoping to snag one more ball. That would’ve given me 300 for the season–a number I’ve never reached before the All-Star break–but there weren’t any other balls to be snagged.

(Click here for Andrew’s blog entry about this game.)

SNAGGING STATS:

17_the_nine_i_kept_07_08_09.jpg• 10 balls at this game (9 pictured here because I gave one away to a kid as I was leaving the stadium)

• 299 balls in 34 games this season = 8.79 balls per game.

• 603 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 344 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 6 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least 9 balls

• 108 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 61 lifetime games in New New York with at least 10 balls

• 12 games this season with at least 10 balls

• $6.95 remaining on the MetroCard I found on the third base side in the top of the ninth inning

• 4,119 total balls (73 more balls needed in order for my ball total to surpass Ty Cobb’s lifetime hit total)

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.37 pledged per ball

• $243.70 raised at this game

• $7,286.63 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

By the way, in the wake of all the negative attention I’ve been getting because that silly Wall Street Journal story, it’s nice to get emails like this:

Hi Zack–

Just wanted to drop a line and let you know that we are big fans, here in Boise, ID (home of the (last place) Hawks!)

I’m sorry about the negative press in the WSJ and others, but I hope you don’t pay attention to people who don’t get what you do. You have brought a lot of fun into our family with your books and blog. My husband has only become interested in baseball after reading Watching Baseball Smarter.

Also, I gave a copy to my brother-in-law, whose claim to fame up to now has been that the only book he ever read was ‘The Outsiders’ in seventh grade. Now he can add yours to his list! Yay!

Take care and keep up the awesomeness!

Heather
Boise, ID

p.s. I think the Watch with Zack program is so cool. I have been impressed with how respectful you are of the families and kids. I really appreciate your passion and love for the game. If we were closer I’d send my seven year-old with you in a heartbeat!

7/6/09 at Citizens Bank Park

On 5/8/09 at Citi Field, I had a Watch With Zack client named Joe, and we combined for 22 balls…remember? Yesterday Joe joined me for another Watch With Zack game, and it turned out to be an all-day adventure.

Everything got started at around 9:15am when Joe was dropped off at my place in New York City. I wasn’t expecting him to arrive until 10am, so while I got ready and gathered all my stuff for the game, he played some Arkanoid, checked out my 213-pound rubber band ball, and took a peek at my business card wallpaper. Here’s a shot of Joe with the Arkanoid machine and the rubber band ball in the background. Note his homemade “Cincinnati Reds” T-shirt:

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Just after 10am, we made the six-block walk to my parents’ place. That’s where I keep most of my baseballs, and Joe wanted to see them. We spent about 20 minutes inspecting and discussing various balls with gashes and smudges and bat imprints and commemorative logos, and before we headed out, we recreated the New York Times photo:

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We walked another seven blocks to the garage where my family’s car was parked, then drove two hours to Harleysville, PA and blasted music and talked baseball the whole way down.

QUESTION: What’s in Harleysville, PA?
ANSWER: Pitch In For Baseball’s new warehouse.

(I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag in 2009. That money is going to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball which provides “new and gently used” baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Click here to learn more about my involvement with the charity.)

I hadn’t yet been to the warehouse. David Rhode, the director of Pitch In For Baseball, had recently taken over the space and offered to give me a tour, and now that I was finally making my first trip of the season to a game in Pennsylvania, I was taking him up on it.

Okay, so, here’s a look at the warehouse:

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I really had no idea what to expect. I assumed it would be bigger, but the fact is…it’s just a 4,000-square-foot room with high ceilings and cinder block walls. The charity has only been around for a couple years, so it makes sense that it’s not a huge operation yet, and on a personal level, it’s kind of nice that it’s not huge because I know that my efforts are actually making a difference. I’ve already raised over $7,000 for Pitch In For Baseball this season (thanks to many of you who read this blog), and that’s a lot of money for them. But if I’d raised that money for a gigantic charity such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has an annual budget of tens of millions of dollars, that would only be a drop in the bucket, and I doubt I’d get to hang out with the head of the charity and get a behind-the-scenes tour, so really, this was all ideal.

The photo above might make it look like a warehouse that specializes in cardboard, but all those boxes and barrels were filled with baseball equipment…stuff that gets sorted and then stored before being shipped back out to kids. Check out the four-part photo below. You can see the boxes and barrels filled with bats and balls and helmets and gloves and catchers’ gear:

3_pitch_in_for_baseball_equipment.jpg

I had such a great time looking at all the equipment, and I know Joe did too. There’s something about baseball, whether it’s a major league game or a small pink batting helmet, that just makes me HAPPY.

David told me all about the various places that the equipment is about to be shipped (there was a big box right in the middle of the room with “Nigeria” written on it), and he told me about some different programs and partnerships that are in the works.

Meanwhile, I kept taking photos. Here are some equipment bags, shoes, base sets, and caps:

4_pitch_in_for_baseball_equipment.jpg

It’s amazing how much equipment is needed. Pitch In For Baseball can’t simply send bats and balls and gloves; in some cases (like when the hurricane in Galveston, TX wiped out an entire Little League’s storage facility), David has to make sure to replace everything. Of course, some things never get donated, so that’s why the charity needs money. (Who has a random base set lying around in their attic? I don’t even have an attic.)

I loved seeing random boxes lying around with the word “baseball” on them…

5_pitch_in_for_baseball_boxes.jpg

…and even when the word “baseball” was nowhere to be found, I knew that there was still baseball (or softball) stuff inside.

David (pictured below in the blue shirt) told Joe about the charity…

6_david_rhode_and_joe.jpg

…while I poked around and took more photos. (For the record, Joe has already made a 10-cent-per-ball pledge, and yesterday he even brought two pieces of equipment to donate directly: a bat and a glove, both of which were in excellent shape.)

I inspected the baseballs and softballs. Look what I found sitting in one of the barrels:

7_commemorative_ripken_ball.jpg

Oh my GOD. I’d seen photos of that special “Ripken” ball, but I’d never held one. Old American League balls were always stamped with blue ink (here’s proof) so I’m not sure why this one was black. In the photo above, it’s funny how the people in the background have their arms folded as if to say, “We see you, Zack, and you’re not getting out of here alive with that ball.” I got the impression that David might have given me the ball if I’d asked him for it, you know, as a “thank you” for all my work for him, but I wouldn’t have taken it. I have absolutely NO interest in owning any baseball that I didn’t snag at a major league game. People are always emailing me and asking me if I’ll trade baseballs with them, and some people even try to sell or give me balls, but I’m just not interested. So yeah, the Ripken ball was cool to see, but as far as I was concerned, it was about as valuable as a rock that I might’ve found in the parking lot.

Once the tour was finished, it was time to play:

8_zack_hitting_and_joe_catching.jpg

The pink helmet had a chin strap that nearly cut off my oxygen flow. The bat, in case you can’t tell, was only slightly bigger than a toothpick. Joe was wearing a light pink glove and a hockey-style catcher’s mask with a flame pattern on top.

David suggested that I climb onto the pile of helmets. I was afraid that they’d crack under the weight of my big Hample butt, but he assured me they’d hold up just fine…and he was right:

9_zack_helmets.jpg

At around 2pm, it was time for a final group photo before hitting the road. Down below, from left to right, you’re looking at me, Joe, Mark (a board member for Pitch In For Baseball), Angela (another board member), and David:

10_zack_joe_mark_angela_david.jpg

In case you’re wondering, the T-shirt I’m wearing (with “Columbia Prep” on it) is from high school. Here’s my 12th grade class photo. Can you find me?

Thanks to Joe’s GPS device, we made it to Citizens Bank Park just after 3pm…

12_joe_zack_mike_schmidt_statue.jpg

…and had time for cheesesteaks at McFadden’s:

11_zack_joe_cheesesteaks.jpg

The two photos above were taken by a fellow ballhawk named Gary (aka “gjk2212″ in the comments section). Joe and Gary and I ran into another ballhawk at around 4pm outside the Ashburn Alley gate–but not just any ballhawk. It was Erik Jabs, founder of the ballhawk league, who’d made the four-hour drive from Pittsburgh. I foolishly neglected to take a photo of him, but damn, there was so much other stuff going on that it was hard to think logically.

The four of us played catch for about 15 minutes and then got on line when other fans started showing up.

Right before the gates opened, a freelance photographer named Scott Lewis appeared on the other side of the turnstiles:

13_photographer_scott_lewis.jpg

Scott was there to take photos of me for a big ballhawk-related article that’s now supposed to come out within the next 12 hours. Beyond that…I’ve been asked not to say anything else about it.

The stadium opened at 4:35pm, and we all ran to the left field seats. Here’s Joe, wearing the Phillies cap and shirt that I lent him:

14_joe_start_of_batting_practice.jpg

The seats started filling up fast.

Scott photographed my every move:

15_photographer_at_work.jpg

Joe and I spread out so we could cover twice as much ground. (As I mentioned the last time I went to a game with him, he’s 14 years old and doesn’t need me to stay by his side at all times. If he were a few years younger, or if he or his father had asked me to stay with him, then of course I would have.) At one point, I noticed that he was standing in a place where he was blocked on one side by some fans, so I ran over and told him to make sure he had empty seats on both sides. Here’s a photo that shows his improved positioning:

16_joe_in_left_field_seats.jpg

It got REALLY crowded during the Phillies’ portion of BP…

17_crowded_during_batting_practice_07_06_09.jpg

…and to make matters worse, most of the batters were left-handed, so there wasn’t much action. (At Citizens Bank Park, fans are confined to the left field seats for the first hour.) Still, I john_mayberry_2009.jpgmanaged to snag a few balls. The first was a home run hit by John Mayberry Jr. It pretty much came right to me, but it was so crowded that it still took a decent amount of skill to make the catch. There were half a dozen other fans jostling for position and reaching up in front of my face.

My second ball was initially tossed by Mayberry, but it fell short, hit the top of the left field wall, bounced back onto the outfield grass, and was retrieved by Eric Bruntlett. I hadn’t been the intended recipient of the first throw. It was so eric_bruntlett_2009.jpgcrowded that I was trapped in the third row, but luckily, when Bruntlett sent the ball back into the seats, he flung it sidearm without picking anyone out, and the ball sailed right over the outstretched arms of the people in the first two rows. I jumped and reached up and made the one-handed catch.

Then I used my glove trick for a ball that was sitting halfway out on the warning track, just to the left of the batter’s eye. I had to swing the glove out and knock the ball closer, and while I was doing it, I noticed two things. First, Scott was standing nearby with his camera pointed at me, and second, every single fan around me was doubting my ability to get the ball. They had no idea how I was going to get it to stick inside my glove, so they assumed *I* didn’t have any idea either. Not one person bothered to ask me how I was planning to do it, or if I’d ever done it before. Instead they all trash-talked until I actually snagged it, and then they erupted with a combination of applause and disbelief. One guy patted me on the back and shouted, “I knew you could do it!”

coils.jpg
“No you didn’t,” I told him. “I heard you talking the whole time about how I needed a coil in my glove.”

(A coil?!?!)

He didn’t say anything after that, and I took off for the left field foul pole. There were two balls lying nearby on the warning track, and I managed to reel in the first one with the trick. Just as I was getting close to snagging the second, Arthur Rhodes walked over and picked it up and flipped it to a kid. (Can’t argue with that.)

It was nearly 5:30pm when Joe snagged his first ball of the day. The Reds’ pitchers were playing catch along the left field foul line, and it was tossed by one of them. Joe isn’t sure who, and I didn’t see it because I was busy dealing with the photographer (who later took some photos of me and Joe) in straight-away left field.

Once the rest of the stadium opened, I ran back and forth between right field and left field, trying to give myself an advantage based on who was hitting. Joe eventually came with me to right field, but we didn’t snag anything for the next half-hour because it was so crowded. I suggested to Joe at one point that he should move to the corner spot near the bullpens in right-center. I had a feeling that he’d get a ball over there, but he stayed in straight-away right field, hoping to get a ball from Carlos Fisher. Less than two minutes later, another kid took the corner spot and immediately got a ball tossed to him. (D’oh!) Joe listened to me after that and then tried his luck in the corner spot for a bit…

18_joe_corner_spot_in_right_field.jpg

…but there was no action there.

Joe wasn’t doing too well in the outfield, so he told me was gonna head over to the Reds’ dugout for the end of BP. I decided to give him his space, so I moved to left field and caught another home run on the fly. I judged the ball perfectly, crept down the steps as it was descending, and intentionally positioned myself a bit too far forward so that I’d be forced to jump for it at the last second. There were SO many people around me that I didn’t want to camp under the ball nonchalantly and risk getting robbed by someone with long arms–or worse, having someone deflect the ball into my face. My plan worked perfectly, except for when some guy’s elbow whacked the top of my head as I went up for the ball.

“Hey! He’s got two!” shouted someone who must’ve seen me catch Mayberry’s homer in that section an hour earlier.

I moved to right-center for the last round of BP and made a catch that truly would’ve been a Web Gem had there been a TV camera documenting it. The ball was hit on a line to my right, and I took off running through an empty row. As the ball was about to land, I could tell that it was a bit too high and just out of reach–that is, if I’d merely kept running and made a simple reaching attempt…so I jumped up and out and coasted through the air with (what felt like) some major hang time, and I made the back-handed catch at top of my leap. This was done while I was running full-speed, mind you, and at the very last second, some HUGE guy (who must have weighed about 275 pounds) stepped down into my row and deflected me (for lack of a better term) onto the row of seats behind me. I went flying and landed on my right hip. The guy knew it was his fault, so he quickly helped me up and asked me if I was okay (I was) and he shook my hand and told me it was a hell of a catch. Even though I was decked out in Reds gear, the entire section responded with thunderous applause. I even had a guy recognize me ten minutes later in the bathroom as “that guy who made the incredible catch.”

When I made it to the Reds’ dugout, Joe had a little surprise for me:

19_joe_with_all_his_goodies.jpg

Not only had he gotten a second ball (from Paul Janish), and not only had he gotten two autographs on his Reds cap (from Micah Owings and Jay Bruce), but he’d also gotten a batting glove! He thinks it came from Jerry Hairston Jr., but there were so many distractions at the dugout that it was hard to see who’d actually tossed it.

Here’s a closer look at the front and back of the batting glove:

20_batting_glove_front_and_back.jpg

It was the first “bonus item” that Joe had ever gotten at a game. Very cool. We joked about the fact that I couldn’t take credit that he got it, but he admitted that it was my blog that inspired him to start going early to batting practice in the first place. I guess that counts as a team effort.

As for the game itself…wow.

Reds starter Johnny Cueto allowed SEVEN runs in the top of the first inning and promptly left for an early shower:

21_johnny_cueto_early_shower.jpg

But wait…
When he was taken out of the game, he was still responsible for runners on first and second. Daniel Ray Herrera was brought in to face Chase Utley, and I told Joe, “If Utley goes deep here, it’s going to be a ten-run inning.”

Well, guess what happened next.
Just take a look at the scoreboard:

Cueto, who had entered the game with a 2.69 ERA, ended up being charged with nine earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. According to Eric Karabell of ESPN.com, Cueto “became the first Reds pitcher since 1912 to allow nine or more earned runs in less than an inning pitched.”

Ouch.

Joe played the dugouts for third-out balls throughout the game, and I followed him everywhere. Even though he was getting himself into a great position most innings, he wasn’t having any success.

Here he is trying to get a ball as the Reds came off the field after the fourth inning:

23_joe_trying_for_3rd_out_ball.jpg

The ball got tossed to someone else. Joe was ready to race back over to the Phillies’ side, but I told him to stay put–that Reds coach Billy Hatcher often tosses the infield warm-up ball into the crowd, and that he (Joe) would have a better shot of getting that ball than a third-out ball on the home team’s side. I also helped Joe by lending him my Reds shirt. That way he’d stand out even more.

Two minutes later, this is what happened:

24_joe_getting_infield_warmup_ball.jpg

That’s Joe standing all by himself at the bottom of the steps as Hatcher is tossing him a ball.

Neither Joe nor I snagged anything else for the rest of the night, but we sat right behind the dugout and saw an interesting (or perhaps “unusual” is a better word) game.

Final score? See below:

25_final_score_07_06_09.jpg

I’ve been to two games this season in which a team has scored exactly 22 runs. The other was 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium.

By the way, did you notice the Reds lineup on the scoreboard in the photo above? Did you see who’s listed as the pitcher? That’s right: Paul Janish, who’s normally an infielder, and it wasn’t pretty. He surrendered all six of those runs in the bottom of the 8th, including a grand slam by Jason Werth. Luckily, Janish is a solid .208 career hitter so at least he has THAT to fall back on.

Gary ended up with three balls, and I know Erik snagged at least two, but he disappeared late in BP, so I’m not sure how his day turned out. As for me and Joe, I might’ve outsnagged him, 6-3, but if you add his two autographs and the batting glove, he got six total “items” as well. Not bad.

After the game, we got to hang out in the car for another hour and a half while I drove him to his grandmother’s place in Brooklyn.

(Check out Joe’s blog if you get a chance.)

SNAGGING STATS:

the_five_balls_i_kept_07_06_09.jpg? 6 balls at this game (Five pictured here because I gave one to a kid on my way out of the stadium. The kid, who looked to be about eight years old, was with his whole family, and he was like, “Are you sure?!” I told him I’d gotten a few during batting practice and that I had one to spare, so then his dad started asking me how I managed to catch all those balls. I gave the family a two-minute lesson on Snagging 101 and wanted to hand them a card so they could go to my website and perhaps appreciate knowing more about the source of their ball, but ultimately I decided to part ways without identifying myself–just a small, anonymous gift from a stranger. I would have given one or more of my baseballs to Joe, but he didn’t want them, just as I hasn’t wanted the Ripken ball at the warehouse.)

• 289 balls in 33 games this season = 8.76 balls per game.

• 602 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 16 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least one ball

• 4,109 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.37 pledged per ball

• $146.22 raised at this game

• $7,042.93 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Two articles (and July 4th fun)

The first time I attended a game at the new Yankee Stadium, I met a 13-year-old kid named Connor. Remember?

Well, Connor wrote an article about me in his school’s newspaper, and due to various snail-mail issues, I *just* received a copy of it this weekend.

Here’s what the front and back of the paper looks like…

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…and here’s a close-up look at the article itself (in which I look a tad crazy):

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Did you notice the caption under the photo? Hey, typos happen, and I take this one as a compliment. (I’m pretty sure the typo wasn’t Conner’s fault anyway.)

The other article isn’t about ME specifically. It’s about home run balls, and I was quoted a few times. Here it is.

As for the July 4th weekend, it included some lake time:

swimming_07_04_09.jpg

It was the first time that Jona had EVER gone swimming, so she held on tight to the green float. I’m in the water right next to her, and that’s my dad standing in the red shorts.

The weekend also included a big softball game at a nearby field. Of course there’s no footage of my defensive wizardry at shortstop, but that’s fine. The highlight (for me) was hitting bombs over the shallow fence during early BP. Check out this ridiculous follow-through and egomaniacal longball admiration:

hitting_bombs_07_04_09.jpg 
My dad was pitching, and that’s my mom standing on the right with her hand on her hip.

At some point in the next decade, I need to take BP with real baseballs on a major league field. I’ve never done that. It’s one of my biggest life dreams.

I’ll be in Philly tomorrow. If I manage to snag 17 balls, that’ll give me 300 for the season. I’ve never reached 300 before the All-Star break. Maybe Joe (who’s going to be my Watch With Zack client) and I can combine for 17 balls? And then maybe I can reach 300 later in the week at Citi Field…?

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