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:

2_dry_and_windy_at_stadium.jpg

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:

3_there_is_batting_practice.jpg

Sweet Jesus!

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

4_enormous_crowd_for_batting_practice.jpg

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:

5_heath_bell_throwing.jpg

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:

7_heath_bell_hooking_me_up.jpg

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:

8_ball_4136.jpg

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:

9_raining_during_batting_practice.jpg

I took the sock out of my backpack…

10_sock_from_heath_bell.jpg

…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…

11_treasure_inside_sock.jpg

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?

12_ball4138_location.jpg

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…

13_drew_macias_pregame_throwing.jpg

…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:

14_zack_and_morgan.jpg

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:

15_room_to_run_during_game.jpg

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:

16_eric_bruntlett_hitting.jpg

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:

17_food_for_11_dollars.jpg

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

28 Comments

Z

What a great day you carved out for yourself.
And what a terrific Zackfan Heath Bell is.
It’s amazing how you two have hooked up – fan and player.
Here”s a crazy notion:
Ya know how you placed The Hample curse on Chacin because he snatched a ball away from you during an attempted glove trick? And your curse wrecked his career?
Why not do the opposite for Bell?
Place the Hample Blessing on him, so he’ll become the best closer since Mo.
Whaddya think?

Keep up the good snagging – and the fine writing.

Good job on the 10 balls, Zack. I’m having terrible luck this summer with snagging. I didn’t bother versus the Yankees and Red Sox in June thanks to the the transplant fans’ invasion. Then, work prevented me from getting to the Ted early on this last homestand. I had finally planned to snag against San Francisco, but a bad cold kept me at home.
My bit of good luck came on Sunday Night Baseball when David Wright fouled one off to my great spot behind the Braves dugout in the cross aisle. A fan had it lined up, but failed to catch it and it rolled down some steps right to me. No competition since everyone was focused on the guy trying to make the barehanded catch.
I can’t wait for school to start so I can have BP back to myself lol.

Zack, I think boodleheimer1 is onto something! Give Heath Bell your blessing! What a great idea. But cheerleaders at a baseball game? When did this happen??? Btw, I’m getting nervous. I might have to up my pledge to make it an even $25 – you know me and numbers! :)

Hey Zack, nice game. Heath Bell sounds like THE man. I’m glad he’s having a stellar year. I’m heading off the a Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ game soon. (AA affiliate of the Royals BTW) Once again congrats, and due to your great tips, I know I’ll return with a boadload of balls.

-Conner
(Once again, I’m the third comment.)

Wow, Zack! Great entry and I’m glad Heath hooked you up. I’d been waiting to read this since TC mentioned to me at Angel Stadium BP that you were in Philly. Thanks again for inspiring so many people (like me) to take up similar collections–I’ve got 12 this week! But no commemorative Metrodome balls from the Twins even though seven of the balls I snagged were from when they’ve been in town.
Oh, well…
~Matt
http://bloggingboutbaseball.mlblogs.com/

its funny that they make everyone huddle in LF during BP since during the game they guard LF like its Fort Knox. what’s the story with the green sock? maybe its heath’s game used sock from one of the Padres camo-uniform days?
-Todd
http://cookandsonbats.mlblogs.com

Man, Heath Bell is a cool guy. It’s nice to see players make a connection with fans over their shared love of the game. That WBC ball is a very unique specimen; I’ve never seen gold used on commemorative balls before. Keep up the good work, ZH!

-John

i hope the all star balls r used during bp. heath bell is awesome. got his auto at the last second at the nats game last night. i tried to tell him tht i knew u, but he went off too fast. got 6 in my first game of my mini trip. nats game tonight. camden on monday, see u there?

Sweet, I am glad I got to meet Heath when he was playing vs the Rangers this year. Only one day before you mentioned in the blog that you would be going to this game. Next time you are in Texas we can get the good food at the ball park. Not only the cheap food. Hopefully I can get some balls later this year.

Nice entry. Glad to see Heath kept his word in brining you the WBC ball. About the height thing i geuss you can say im pretty tall if you remember how tall i was at the disney series last year. Im 16 and about 6’3- 6’3 1/2 now, and the height for me doesnt help to much in regular seats unless a ball is tossed up by a player, but i have a HUGE advantage when it comes to bp on the berm at disney for spring training or the past 2 disney series that were played down at disney. When the ball is coming over and its the mob of fans trying to catch it ( as you may remember when you were down last year ) Im able to jump and out reach everyone including many muscular adults.

Very cool Zack! Does this mean I can have the WBC ball I gave you back ….. lol

Did you see that you were mentioned in an article on Canada.com today?

Check it out! It is a decent article!

John
Baseballs 4 MADD – MLBallhawk
http://ballhawk.mlblogs.com
http://mlballhawk.com

also how are you doing in the Beat the streak thing on mlb.com?
Michael from Florida

haha zack u called it heath did have an asg ball and does anyone have any tips for LA/Anaheim cuz i am goin there next week

Zack,

That is awesome. I am jealous. Juan Nieves and Mark Salas of the Chi White Sox bullpen keep their pre-game warmup balls (balls rubbed up with Lena Blackburn mud) for their starting pitching staff in a sock similar to the one Heath gave you.

Mike in Detroit

EVERYONE-
I have a Watch With Zack game tomorrow afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Looks like the weather is gonna be good, but who knows if there’ll be batting practice?

BOODLEHEIMER-
Why do you think Heath made the All-Star team? :-)

BRAVES04-
Sounds like a rough stretch for you, but congrats on that foul ball.

GREEN EYED LADY-
The cheerleaders aren’t normally there. They were just there that night for some random reason.

CONNOR-
Thanks and good luck in Double-A.

MATT-
Sorry you didn’t get a Twins ball. Any other chances this year? Maybe there’ll be some of those balls floating around next season.

TODD-
I have no idea about the sock. I’ll ask him…

JOHNMCRAE1-
If you look at all my commemorative balls, you’ll see a few others with gold stamping…but it’s rare.

BASEBALL EXPERIENCES-
That’s cool that you got Heath to sign, and nice job with the six balls. Camden Yards on Monday is looking good!

TEXAS4-
Sounds good.

PJPMC1-
C’mon now, that’s not THAT tall. Still cool. But not the kind of height where you can dominate without even jumping. I’ve been struggling with Beat The Streak, but I currently have an 8-game streak, so that’s nice.

JOHN-
Sure, if you really want it. I thought you knew when you gave it to me that I’d be getting one from Heath. I talked all about it on my blog in April and then I saw you in May. I was wondering why you gave it to me (beyond the fact that you’re a very generous individual). I had no idea about the Canada article. I was interviewed for that a few weeks ago and then forgot all about it. Thanks for letting me know.

YANKEES42294-
You’ve seen my blog entries about L.A. and Anaheim, right? Check my archives from August 2008…end of the month.

MIKE IN DETROIT-
Cool. I’ve seen those ball socks before. I don’t really get it.

for a 16 year old i geuss its kinda tall but not that tall. maby in the future ill be one of those freakishly tall guys like 6’11 who knows. And thats not to bad with the beat the streak thing it took me like 10 trys to get to 8 but now i have a current streak of 21 so hopefully i can continue picking well.
– Michael from Florida

Hey ur the top story on MSN. There is a picture of you and the Title is ballhawks play hard to make a buck
http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/9802806/Fans-play-hardball-snagging-milestone-home-runs?GT1=39002

Well its just the WSJ article

zack, you going to be at citi field on monday?

so i work for a minor league baseball team in the summer, just in concessions for some quick money. (the nj jackals, montclair nj, the whole yogi berra owns it and whatnot)

anyway, last night they were advertising an obnoxious amount for people to come sunday. i asked around, turns out eric gagne is starting for quebec today. in independent ball. i saw him warming up last night, which was weird because i talked to one of the coaches and gagne only usually comes when hes pitching. when the game got rained out, gagne sent a batboy to the concession stand for a six pack for himself. it was rather funny. well hes pitching today, im pretty interested in how hes gonna throw.

Hey you are gonna pass Pete Rose soon.

I would just like to formally announce myself as a ZackFan. I love reading this blog even though I’m not really a ballhawk myself. It did inspire me to create a blog about my own collection. Zack, maybe I’ll see you in Boston sometime!

http://bostoncollector.mlblogs.com/

Did anyone see the front page on MSN.com?? One of the slides on the featured stories has a photo of Zack and links to the Wall Street Journal article from a few weeks back claiming we’re all money-hungry.
When someone asks why I go after so many, I just say “‘Cause it’s a lot more fun that collecting stamps.”

if i ever get a ball with any value from anyone i want a donation to a charity of my choice and a authentic jersey.

Wow that’s a pretty good hook-up. Sorry for not commenting these past couple weeks, but I have been reading almost every post. The most interesting would have to be the Newark Bears game. That sounds awesome to hang out with those players/coaches at the stadium.

I just went to the Giants/Rockies game on Saturday night, but there was no BP because of fan photo day (WTF?!) but I ended up with Barry Zito’s autograph and a ball from Nate Schierholtz.

I am going to follow the Giants this weekend for their games against the Phillies, I will see if I can get a ball at my first MLB stadium besides Coors Field.

Hey Zack – I’ve been following along for almost a year now, first time commenting. Heath Bell is really a class act. The fact that he protected them in that sock and even tied a knot in between them to prevent them from scuffing each other shows that he knows they mean a lot to you. MLB could use more like him (players and stadium staff). Are you planning to come down to Baltimore again soon? I’ll be there 8/14 vs. the Angels and 9/5 vs. the Rangers.

I know this is an older entry and shame on me for not getting to it sooner.
NICE PLAYER WIN. I really could have used your Heath Bell stories in my most recent entry. I wish I’d thought of that.
Congratulations on the commemorative balls! I can’t remember if I told you this or not, but I had to summon the knowledge I gained from your blog to acquire two balls from my beloved Rockies. One was from a bullpen member (whose face or number I could not see) and it was RUBBED UP and had GRASS on it. I was psyched. The other was tossed to me by Ian Stewart… but I missed it. Embarrassing. But the nice guys behind me gave it to me.
? Kylie — http://kylie.mlblogs.com

MICHAEL-
Well yeah, that’s true, you’re probably gonna grow at least a few more inches. VERY impressive streak. Let me know how that goes.

PUCK COLLECTOR-
Thanks for letting me know. I took a screen shot (thanks to you) which I might share in a couple days when things calm down a bit.

LI7039-
Whoops…delayed reply, but no, I wasn’t there. I was at Camden yesterday. I’m pretty much trying to avoid Citi Field as much as possible. I do NOT like that place at all. I don’t like how it was designed, and I don’t like how it’s run, but I’ll continue to make occasional appearances here and there.

GJK2212-
A six pack of beer?! Or soda?

BOSTON COLLECTOR-
You are too kind. Not sure if I’ll make it up to Boston this season, but I’ll be back soon-ish, for sure.

BRAVES04-
That’s a good line. I should use it.

CHARLIE-
No worries about not commenting. I barely have time to read any other blogs, let alone comment on them.

BREES6221-
Thanks for reading and commenting. I was just in Baltimore last night, and I’ll be back there on August 10-11.

KYLIE-
Nicely done!

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