August 2009

8/27/09 at Coors Field

This was the final day of my trip, and it began with a home-cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs:

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The meal was prepared by Nettie, my “host mother” for the week. She and her husband Danny have season tickets at Coors Field, and to put it lightly, they are C-R-A-Z-Y about baseball. Their home is filled with baseball-related items, and when I finished eating my breakfast, I photographed as much of them as I could before leaving for Coors Field.

First of all, did you notice the smaller plate in the photo above? Yeah, those are baseball seams coming out in all four directions. And how about the salt and pepper shakers? I’m telling you, these people are nuts (and I mean that in a good way; I keep trying to get them to adopt me). Wherever I looked, there was a baseball-themed object.

The four-part photo below shows some of their food-related baseball items. Starting on the top left and then going clockwise, you can see 1) a baseball sign on their kitchen wall, 2) a baseball mixing bowl, 3) teeny baseball candles with burnt wicks, and 4) a baseball toothpick holder:

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See what I mean?

Nuts.

And we’re just getting started…

Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) baseball caps hanging on baseball hooks, 2) mini-baseball statues high up on a ledge, 3) a baseball key hook with an “I Love Baseball” lanyard hanging from it, and 4) a baseball stool sitting in front of a bottle-shaped Colorado Rockies piggy bank:

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Ready for more?

Here’s another collage that shows 1) baseball rugs, 2) a baseball lamp sitting in front of a baseball clock, 3) a baseball calendar, and 4) baseball coasters and a baseball pad:

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Speaking of clocks…

The one pictured below on the lower left has a baseball pendulum swinging back and forth:

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Let’s go from clocks to pillows…

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…and from pillows to the downstairs bathroom. Here are the towels:

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Here’s the soap dish:

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And hey, let’s not forget the baseball hooks on the inside of the door:

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Elsewhere in Danny and Nettie’s apartment, there were two baseball mouse pads:

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Then there was the pair of All-Star Game sneakers, which were sitting in front of a dresser with baseball handles:

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And finally (although I’ve only shown a fraction of the baseball items in their home), check out the Rawlings luggage:

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How cool is that?! (I’d be too nervous to travel with it. I’d be paranoid that someone would steal it.)

Anyway, yes, Coors Field…

It was a dreaded day-game-after-a-night-game, which meant there might not be batting practice. Still, I was optimistic and marched confidently toward Gate E:

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Oh yeah, baby, that’s right: the big glove was BACK.

Unfortunately, this is what the field looked like when the stadium opened:

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No batting practice!
Faaaaaaaaaaaack!

I don’t get it. Why wasn’t there BP? The previous night’s game (at which there was no BP because of rain) had started at 6:40pm. It lasted two hours and 46 minutes. That means it ended at 9:26pm. That’s not exactly late. And the Rockies had only scored one run. Why?! I demand to know! Because it was get-away day? Sorry, but that’s lame.

This was my eighth game of 2009 without batting practice. My baseball totals at the previous seven were: 4, 3, 3, 6, 3, 4, and 2. That’s an average of a little over 3.5 balls per game. Not good…not now…not when I needed to snag five balls in order to reach 400 for the season. It’s not like this was going to be my last game of the year, and it’s not like I’d never reached 400 before. It’s just that…I don’t know…it was something I’d been shooting for by the end of August.

There wasn’t much happening early on, but I still had a chance to get myself on the board. Several Dodgers pitchers began playing catch in the left field corner, and one of them made a bad throw that rolled all the way into deep left-center. They didn’t bother to retrieve the ball, so it just sat there, right on the grass in front of the warning track. Naturally, I ran over and got myself as close to the ball as possible. This was my view as I waited there for the next five minutes:

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Finally, a couple pitchers stepped out of the bullpen in right-center and began walking slowly across the field. Hiroki Kuroda was the player closest to me, and he spotted the ball on his own. I didn’t have to point at it or call his name. I didn’t even bother asking him for the ball in Japanese. I didn’t say a word. I was the only fan standing there *and* I had the big glove. If ever there was a guaranteed ball, I figured, this was it…and sure enough, he walked over and picked it up and tossed it to me. I made a careful two-handed catch and squeezed the ball inside the gigantic pocket. I thanked Kuroda in Japanese, then took a peek at the ball, and was happy to see that it said “DODGERTOWN” on the sweet spot. Nice!

Danny had not snagged a Dodgertown ball at either of the previous two games, and he knew that I had, so he asked me if I could spare one of mine.

“I know you always give away one of your baseballs to a little kid,” he said, “so can I be the little kid today?”

Danny had the ball in his possession soon after. It was an honor to give it to him, knowing that he would treasure it in his own collection.

There wasn’t too much action after that, unless you consider THIS to be action:

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Everyone inside Coors Field, it seemed, wanted to see the big glove, and everyone asked the same question: “Where did you get it?” I meant to count the number of times I got asked that question, but once the stadium opened, I quickly forgot. I would estimate the number to be somewhere around 50, and I gave the same answer every time: “I don’t know. It was a gift. A friend found it online and sent it to me.” Next time I take the big glove to a game, I might print up cards with that answer and hand them out.

Meanwhile, the lack of activity on the field was mind-numbing. All I could do was spend my time posing with the big glove…

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…and then take photos of my friend Robert Harmon doing the same:

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Yawn.

Finally — I don’t even know when — a few more Dodgers came out to run and stretch and throw in shallow left field.

Ramon Troncoso spotted my big glove and asked if he could see it.

Here he is checking it out as Ronald Belisario stood nearby looking on.

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Belisario tossed a few balls to Troncoso, who struggled to catch them and seemed to enjoy the challenge. Then he handed the glove to Belisario, who inspected it thoroughly before walking it back over to me:

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(Is it just me, or does the glove kinda look like an octopus or giant squid? You have to click these links. Especially the octopus. In fact, better yet, copy-and-paste the link into a new window and then drag it down next to the glove. Huh? Huh?)

Soon after my big glove was returned, I got George Sherrill to toss me my second ball of the day. Just like the ball I’d gotten from Kuroda, this one also had a Dodgertown stamp on the sweet spot.

One of the nice things about being at a game without batting practice (just kidding, there IS nothing nice about it) is that the players have more free time, and they’re usually more relaxed, and it’s easier to get close to them. That was the case here, as Troncoso came over and leisureley signed autographs for everyone:

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I got his autograph on a ticket from the previous game, then ran around to the right field side and got Ubaldo Jimenez to sign one from August 25th. Here are the two autographs:

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Coincidentally, both of those players wear number 38 and wrote it underneath their names.

Then, once again, there was a lack of action.

See what I mean?

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I *thought* I was going to snag my third ball along the right field foul line, but I ran into some bad luck. Franklin Morales was playing catch with Joe Beimel, so I headed down to the front row and held up the big glove:

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I simply wanted Morales to see me so that he’d consider tossing me the ball when he was done. Well, totally unexpectedly, right in the middle of long-tossing, he decided to throw one to me — except he airmailed me, and the ball landed in the fourth row, and some other fan ended up with it. Fabulous.

I headed to the left field corner after that because Jonathan Broxton started playing catch with Guillermo Mota. Here’s a shot of Broxton catching one of the throws:

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There were a bunch of fans waiting along the foul line, but I was the only fan in fair territory. When the two players finished throwing, Broxton walked over and looked at the big glove and smiled and fired the ball at me from about 40 feet away. I was lucky to catch it. It was another Dodgertown ball, and before I had a chance to label it, he started waving at me with his glove as if to say, “Throw it back.” So I did. I tossed him a near-perfect knuckleball, and he seemed to be mildly impressed. He then turned his back to me and took a few steps toward the fans in foul territory and cocked his arm back as if he were going to throw them the ball. He then turned back to me and laughed and tossed me the ball for a second time. I was really surprised by the whole interaction. I’d seen the Dodgers a bunch of times in recent years, and Broxton was never friendly. It’s nice to know that even the most serious player can be “cracked,” as it were, and it’s also nice to have an extra reason to root for him (beyond the fact that he’s a freak of nature with a frighteningly strong arm).

The following photo needs no explanation…

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…although I should point out (because it’s hard to see here) that the guy has a purple goatee.

Shortly before the game started, Juan Castro threw me another Dodgertown ball along the left field foul line, and then I got Andre Ethier to sign a ticket. This one, unlike the autograph he’d signed for me the day before, did not get smudged:

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A few minutes later, Manny Ramirez and several other guys began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I decided to put on my Dodgers T-shirt, and I wore it backwards so that the “RAMIREZ 99″ would face toward the field. I *really* wanted a ball from Manny, and I thought it might help convince him to toss one to me. Unfortunately (I know…shocker) when Manny finished throwing, he didn’t toss the ball to anyone. He didn’t even end up with the ball (he could have if he wanted to), so I turned my attention elsewhere. Rafael Furcal…yes! He’d thrown me a ball two days earlier, right in that section, right before the game. I knew he was going to end up with the ball again. My only concern was whether or not he’d recognize me.

“Ladies and gentlemen…” boomed the voice of the public address announcer, “will you please rise and remove your hats for the singing of our national anthem?”

Furcal caught the final throw and jogged toward the dugout. I was being forced to stand behind Row 10. (That’s one of the stupid rules at Coors Field.) I held up my big glove and shouted his name. He looked up and lobbed the ball to me. I was convinced that someone else was going to reach in front of me…but no one touched it! I made another careful two-handed catch with the big glove and felt great about having just snagged my 400th ball of the season. (My single-season record is 543. I did that last year.)

Seconds before the music started, I took a photo of the ball. The red arrow is pointing to Furcal:

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Then, after the anthem was done, I asked a nearby fan to take my picture in the approximate spot where I’d made the catch:

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It was game time. I headed out to my front-row seat in left field.

The two worst things about the game were that:

1) There was only one home run, and it didn’t land anywhere near me.
2) I was sitting in the sun, and the right side of my face ended up pinker than the left.

The highlight of the game was when a one-armed fan (who looked like Robert) ran over and grabbed my big glove and sat back down in his seat (in front of which was his own little strip of AstroTurf) and posed for my camera:

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Yep, just another day at the ballpark…

Here’s a photo of me, taken by Robert who was sitting just beyond the one-armed fan:

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Here’s another photo that was taken by Robert. He’s in the middle. Jameson Sutton (the guy who snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball and sold it for $376,612) is on the left…and I’m on the right:

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I’m ashamed to admit that Robert’s ear hair (okay, no, it was just his regular hair) was tickling MY ear…and no, I didn’t enjoy it. (The fan in the background is like, “Whoa, take it easy, fellas…”)

Good times (but not a whole lot of balls) in Denver.

Final score of this game?
Dodgers 3, Rockies 2.
My boy Broxton notched a four-out save.

And then Danny and Nettie drove me to the airport.

SNAGGING STATS:

33_the_four_I_kept_08_27_09.jpg• 5 balls at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 400 balls in 47 games this season = 8.51 balls per game.

• 616 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,220 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.86 pledged per ball

• $124.30 raised at this game

• $9,944.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/26/09 at Coors Field

Talk about bad timing…

There was only half an hour of rain all day, and it came right around the time that the grounds crew would’ve been setting up the field for batting practice. When the gates opened, I was hoping to see various screens out on the field, but instead, THIS is what greeted me:

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See that yellow chain?

Not only was the infield covered, but I wasn’t even allowed to run down into the seats along the foul line; whether or not there’s BP at Coors Field, fans have to stay in the left/center field bleachers for the first half-hour.

There was, however, something good that happened as a result of the limited access and lack of baseball-snagging opportunities: I ran into a guy named David — a friend of a friend — who works inside the manual scoreboard and invited me back to check it out. Remember when I first visited the scoreboard on 6/20/08 at Coors Field? Well, this second visit was special because I was with my friend (and personal photographer) Brandon and got to share the experience with him.

Here I am inside the scoreboard:

Here’s a photo of David, monitoring the scores on a laptop:

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The TV in the background is new. It gets a special feed from the MLB Network and can display eight games at once.

I helped out a little by removing the previous day’s scores and placing the wooden panels back on their hooks…

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…but mainly I was just there to goof around:

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The lovely Ladies of the Scoreboard welcomed me and Brandon into their work space and seemed to appreciate our enthusiasm:

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That’s Nora on the left and Liz on the right. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see that Nora has a small bandage on her right shin. Several days earlier, while working inside the scoreboard, she got nailed by a BP homer that sailed through one of the small openings.

Here’s a photo that shows how long and narrow the space is back there…

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…and here’s a shot I took of some cobwebs:

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Normally I get freaked out by cobwebs (I’m a city boy so I’m allowed to get freaked out by anything that even resembles nature or the wilderness; you get freaked out by riding the subway to the Bronx so we’re even), but it was oddly comforting to see them here. It showed that there can be neglected nooks and crannies even in a relatively new stadium.

I removed another panel and took a peek through the open space…

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…and noticed that there was a ball sitting on the field:

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Brandon and I left after that. I had to get back into the stands and make an attempt to snag it.

We headed down the steep steps…

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…and walked with Dave back through the employees’ concourse:

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He led us to the tunnel that connects to the center field bleachers, and we said our goodbyes.

It was several minutes past 5pm. The whole stadium was now open, which meant I was finally free to go to the right field seats. On my way out there, I ran into a friend and fellow ballhawk name Don (aka “Rockpile Ranter“), who was there with his son Hunter. The three of us barely had a chance to talk. I had to rush out to right field, and then I ended up getting pulled in a bunch of different directions, and they ended up leaving the game early because Don had to wake up for work the next day at 2:30am. Yeesh!

Anyway, right field…

I raced out there and grabbed the corner spot near the Rockies’ bullpen:

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Juan Rincon had started playing catch, and as he backed up, he kept getting closer and closer to the ball:

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Moments later, he was standing (and throwing) right behind it:

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I called his name, and he looked up.

I pointed at the ball and flapped my glove.

He picked it up and paused to look at it:

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(Was there something unusual that caught his attention?)

Then he turned to throw it to me, and I gave him a target:

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His throw (probably in the neighborhood of 50mph) was right on the money. I caught the ball one-handed in front of my right shoulder and felt incredibly relieved; my consecutive games streak had survived a BP-less day.

As for the ball, there WAS something unusual about it:

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Here’s a closer look at both the logo and the Dodgers’ stamp on the sweet spot.

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I’d snagged two of these balls the day before, and as I mentioned then, “WIN” stands for a charity called “Women’s Initiatives Network.”

A few more players came out and started throwing. Check out this magazine-quality photo that Brandon took of Rafael Betancourt:

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I was busy at that point, taking my own photos and stewing over the fact that it was sunny AND the tarp was still on the field:

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One of the Rockies’ pitchers made a bad throw that rolled all the way out to the grass in front of the warning track in straight-away center field. His throwing partner didn’t bother to retrieve the ball. As soon as I saw that (and because there were so many other fans along the foul line), I headed toward the left field bleachers. My simple plan was to position myself as close to the ball as possible — all the way out in the corner spot of the front row in left-center. There were several Dodgers in the bullpen. I was thinking that when they finished their throwing session and headed out of the ‘pen, I might be able to convince one of them to take a slight detour and walk over to the ball and toss it to me. My plan, however, was foiled as I headed toward the bleachers. I was running through the open-air concourse at the back of the bleachers when I noticed that a groundskeeper was driving a lawnmower on the grass at the edge of the warning track. He was heading right for the ball, and when he got close to it, he stopped the mower, climbed down, picked up the ball, stuck it in his pocket, and then kept mowing. By the time I made it down to the front row, he was driving past me. It was too loud for me to shout at him. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there and watched him mow a few more lanes into the outfield grass. Then, rather abruptly, he drove off into a wide ramp near the foul pole — a ramp that evidently leads to a concourse where the groundskeepers store their equipment. I rushed over to the edge of the ramp and waited for a minute. All of a sudden, the groundskeeper reappeared without the lawnmower and ran past me out onto the field. I don’t know what he did out there. Maybe he was on his way somewhere and forgot something because he then ran back to the ramp and disappeared into the concourse. Then he reappeared, and as he began to run past me for a second time, I yelled, “Hey, did you happen to pick up that baseball in center field?” He looked up and nodded, so I shouted, “Any chance I could have it, please?” He never said a word. Instead, he held up his right index finger as if to say, “Hold on.” Then he ran back into the concourse. Ten seconds later, he came running back with the ball and tossed it to me. Then he disappeared once again. How random is THAT?

Brandon, unfortunately, was on the phone while this whole thing played out, so he wasn’t able to get an action shot. Here’s a photo of me posing with the ball next to the ramp:

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Here’s a photo of the ball itself:

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As you can see, it’s rubbed with mud, which means it was either used during a game or was intended for game use. I love how the mud is caked into the stitch holes above the logo.

Here I am with Brandon:

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In case you’re wondering, Brandon was wearing a Padres cap because he’s from San Diego. (He hadn’t been home for 70 days because he’d been on the road with Warped Tour.) He WAS planning to sit with me during the game, but his family decided at the last minute to show up (they live 50 miles from Denver), so he spent the game with them on the 3rd base side.

Too bad for him. He missed the next round of action out in the bleachers…

My friends Robert Harmon (the bearded guy who nearly snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball) and Dan Sauvageau (the clean-shaven guy who has caught 41 game home runs on the fly) were engaged in a secret mission in one of the tunnels:

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What were they doing?

Umm…blowing up a huge, inflatable baseball glove.

Here are a couple photos of the finished product:

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As soon as Dan took those photos, I raced over to the seats along the left field foul line. I was hoping to get one of the Dodgers to throw me a pre-game warm-up ball, but instead I had to settle for getting Andre Ethier’s autograph on a ticket from the previous day:

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Do you see that nice little smudge? Ethier did that. After he “wrote” his name (if that’s even what he “wrote”), he carelessly touched it while handing the ticket back to me.

Once the game started, Brandon took a photo of me from afar. I’m sitting right behind the last “R” in the “Frontier Airlines” advertisement:

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If you look to the left of me, there’s a guy wearing a maroon baseball cap. That’s Dan. He always sits near the Frontier ad, and he always wears that cap, so you can look for him on future home run highlights. His five-year-old daughter Emily (blonde hair) is sitting beside him. I’m not sure who the two guys are to the left of Emily, but the two people next to them are Nettie (platinum blonde) and her husband Danny (black cap), my “host parents” for the week.

Speaking of hair, this was my view of Manny Ramirez, who was unable to stand still for more than two seconds at a time:

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This was the best anti-Manny sign of the night:

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Once again, the fans were really letting Manny have it. My favorite heckles included:

• “Hey, Manny! We’re having a pool: who’s gonna have kids first, you or your wife?!”

• “Manny, it’s okay, I like boobs on a guy!”

• “Did you and Big Papi share a needle?”

• “Back to ‘The View,’ Sister Act!”

• “I didn’t know ‘HGH’ stands for Hair Growth Hormone!”

• “Girl, you know it’s true: you suck!”

I used to be a HUGE Manny fan, and even *I* will admit that he sucks. He’s a lazy, arrogant, one-dimensional player (who cheats, no less), and I feel that he deserves everything negative that comes his way as a result.

But enough of that…

If you’ve been reading this blog consistently since the beginning of this season, take a good look at the following photograph and see if you spot a familiar face somewhere in the crowd:

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Here’s a close-up of the photo above. Any thoughts? Here’s a hint: it’s a legendary ballhawk who doesn’t normally attend games at Coors Field:

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Okay, here’s one last chance to identify the mystery fan before I tell you the answer. He’s sitting halfway up the section just to the right of the steps. He’s wearing a black Rockies cap, a gray T-shirt, and black pants. He’s touching the right side of his face with his hand, and his elbow is resting on his right knee.

Come on!

If you’re going to call yourself a ballhawk (or even a fan of ballhawks), you have to know the all-time greats.

Here I am with him:

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It’s Rich Buhrke (pronounced “BRR-kee”) from Chicago. This man has snagged 178 game home runs (including five grand slams!) and more than 3,400 balls overall. Although Rich does count balls from Spring Training, it should be noted that more than 97 percent of his home runs are from actual regular-season or post-season major league games.

Halfway through the game, Robert was miked up for a segment on FSN that was going to air the next day. In the following photo, you can see the microphone’s battery pack sticking out of his pocket:

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Robert attends EVERY game and always sits in the front row in left-center. If you ever visit Coors Field, go find him and buy him a beer, or at least tell him that Zack from New York says hello. Anyway, Robert told the FSN producer about me, so the producer came over and told me that he was gonna have Robert sit with me for half an inning and ask me some questions, and that we should just have a normal conversation about baseball. The producer also mentioned that everything I said would get picked up by Robert’s microphone and might end up getting used on the air. Robert came over after that, and we did our thing, which was kind of silly because we just ended up talking about stuff that we’d discussed a hundred times in the past (how many balls have you snagged, what do you think about the new stadiums in New York, etc.), but it was still fun. Just about all TV is staged theater. Even when things look like they’re random and spontaneous, they’re not.

During an inning break late in the game, the Rockies’ mascot came running out onto the field for the “jersey launch.” Yes, jerseys. The Rockies don’t give away cheap T-shirts with fugly corporate logos (ahem, Citi Field, cough, cough). You see, at Coors Field, they do things right and give away real, authentic, high-quality, Majestic jerseys that fans are proud to wear — jerseys that would normally cost about $100 in the team store. Why am I telling you this? Because the mascot came running out on the warning track in front of my section. He (She? It?) had one of these jerseys in his hand, and as he started running out toward left-center, I followed him by running through the not-too-crowded aisle. It seemed like an obvious move, and eventually, as I predicted, the mascot flung the jersey into the crowd, and whaddaya know? It came right to me, and I made a leaping grab. Apparently this was a **BIG** deal, but I didn’t know it until Robert ran over and basically tried to mug me for the jersey (in a friendly way). Indeed, when I thought about it, it occurred to me that the jerseys had not been launched anywhere near the bleachers over the previous two days. They got shot (and in some cases tossed) into the crowd sparingly, and always in different spots.

Cool, huh?

Here I am wearing the jersey:

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Whose fingers are those behind my head? Robert’s, of course.

(See my glove sitting on the chair on the lower right? Thanks to Dan, my seat was a folding chair. I turned it around so that I’d be able to jump up and immediately start running for balls without having to maneuver around it.)

Here I am with Nettie and Danny:

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(Danny forgot to take his earphones out for the photo. He and Nettie both listen to the radio broadcasts of the games.)

And finally, here I am with Emily and Dan. As you can see, I borrowed some of Emily’s hair for the photo:

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I came really close to snagging Ryan Spilborghs’ solo homer in the bottom of the third inning. It sailed 10 feet over my head, landed on the staircase, and then ricocheted back toward me. Dan had raced up the steps ahead of me. I was right behind him. He got close enough to the ball that he ended up scrambling for it underneath a bench, but some lady (without a glove, of course) managed to reach down and grab it.

Andre Ethier hit two homers for the Dodgers, both of which landed in the bullpens in right-center field.

What a waste.
Still a fun day.

Final score: Dodgers 6, Rockies 1.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 395 balls in 46 games this season = 8.59 balls per game.

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• 615 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,215 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 120 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a donation)

• $24.86 pledged per ball

• $49.72 raised at this game

• $9,819.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/25/09 at Coors Field

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I’m staying here in Denver with my friends Danny and Nettie. Danny has THE most extraordinary collection of baseballs you’ll ever see. I blogged about it last year and showed a bunch of photos. Yesterday I visited his office where he has even more memorabilia. It’s truly unbelievable…

First, here’s a shot of Danny in his office. It was such a big space that I had to take two photos and fuse them together with Photoshop:

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Seriously, THAT is an office.

Here’s a look at one of the walls:

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Here are some bobblehead dolls:

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Did you notice the shelves below?

Yup, all different kinds of baseballs. Here are my four favorites:

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Here’s another cool ball, which has a painting of Buck O’Neil along with some info about him on the other side:

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Of all the balls in Danny’s collection, my absolute favorite is this:

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Those little metal things are the actual sewing needles.

Wow.

Here are some wooden baseballs…

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…and yes, Danny has a matching set from the American League.

Danny has a closet in his office.

Does he hang coats in there?

No, of course not.

He has more baseball stuff:

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Have you ever seen a “Gold Glove Award” baseball?

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Neither had I.

Danny has a few non-baseball items, such as this signed program from a golf tournament in 1994:

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There actually IS a baseball autograph in there — someone who was serving as a caddy for one of the golfers. Can anyone pick out the signature and identify whose it is?

After the office tour, Nettie and Danny took me to lunch (they’re outstanding host-parents), and I headed to Coors Field at around 4pm. It had drizzled a bit earlier in the afternoon, and it was still cloudy when the gates opened, but there WAS batting practice.

I started out in the front row…

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…and got Jorge De La Rosa to toss me my first ball of the day.

Then I met up with my friend Brandon. Here he is, refusing to look at the camera:

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If Brandon looks familiar, that’s because we’ve been to several games together including (but not limited to):

4/24/08 at Champion Stadium
8/29/08 at PETCO Park
8/30/08 at Angel Stadium

Brandon is a professional photographer/videographer, and once again, he got some great photos of me in “action.” (The word “action” is in quotes because, as you’ll see, there wasn’t much of it.)

mark_strittmatter_2009.jpgMy second ball of the day was tossed by Rockies coach Mark Strittmatter at the 1st base dugout just after the Rockies finishing taking BP.

After that, I changed into my Dodgers gear and headed back to left field. My Dodgers shirt does, unfortunately, say “RAMIREZ 99″ on the back. I’m no longer a Manny fan, and in fact I was ashamed to have his name on my back. But, for the record, I bought the shirt long before he was busted for steroids, and I do still feel somewhat of a connection to him because (as I’ve mentioned in the past) I’ve been close friends with Manny’s high school coach since Manny was in high school. The point is, it’s hard not to root for a guy that I’ve been hearing about since he was 16 years old, but I *am* in fact done with him.

Anyway…

I was dying to snag some balls from the Dodgers because of this. In case you’re too lazy to click the link, it’s a photo of fan from Los Angeles who’s known as “Mannywood” on MyGameBalls.com. In the photo, he’s holding a baseball that was stamped “DodgersWIN” on the sweet spot. The “WIN” stands for a charity called Women’s Initiatives Network. There’d been some talk about these new stamped balls in the comments section on this blog and so…I really REALLY wanted to get one.

Someone on the Dodgers hit a ball that rolled to the wall in left-center. I positioned myself right above the ball as Ramon Troncoso walked over to retrieve it. Here’s a photo of me leaning over the wall, asking him for it:

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Troncoso looked up and flipped me the ball, or at least I thought he did. The ball sailed five feet over my head and landed behind me in the wide front-row aisle. I scrambled back and grabbed it off the ground, and when I looked at the ball, I was excited and puzzled and slightly disappointed. Here’s what was on the sweet spot:

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I’d forgotten that the Dodgers are now stamping their baseballs in two different ways. Yes…it was all coming back to me. I’d seen photos of these “DODGERTOWN” balls as well. It was great to finally have one, but I still really wanted one of the balls that said DodgersWIN.

Two seconds after I grabbed this ball, I realized that Troncoso had been trying to toss it to a little kid who’d been standing in the front row behind the aisle. I decided to give him the ball…but wait…did I have to give him THAT ball? Could I keep the one that said DODGERTOWN and give him the regular ball from Strittmatter instead? The kid was there with his mother, and I explained the situation to them and pointed out the stamp on the sweet spot. The mother assured me that the kid just wanted *a* ball and didn’t care what was printed or stamped on it, so I made the switch.

I headed to the left field corner and lined myself up with Guillermo Mota and Jonathan Broxton. They were the last two guys who were playing catch, and Mota promised to give me the ball when he was done. I looked closely at it each time he took it out of his glove, and I finally saw that it was a brand new DodgersWIN ball. I was bursting with anticipation as the throwing session came to an end. When Mota caught the final throw, he flung the ball directly from his glove, and it sailed ten feet wide. The seats were empty at that point except for ONE guy who happened to be sitting right where the ball was heading. He didn’t even have a glove. He just reached back and snatched it out of the air with his left hand. I wasn’t too pleased. Mota didn’t even acknowledge his mistake, nor did he hook me up with another ball. He just walked out toward the middle of the field, and that was that.

I headed to right field and ran around nonstop…

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…but didn’t catch anything.

Then I went back to left field and did some more fruitless running:

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The photo above is actually kinda cool. As Troncoso was running for that ball, I was racing over from the opposite direction, hoping to get near it and convince him to toss it up.

Here’s another action shot. It shows me racing down the steps from the right while another guy is racing down on the left. We were both going for the ball that was sitting on the warning track:

17_zack_running_for_ball4209.jpg

It’s hard to tell from this angle, but that ball was about five feet out from the wall, so none of the fans were able to reach it. Once I moved into the front row, I let out of a few feet worth of string (which is tied to my glove) and easily knocked the ball closer. I bent down and grabbed it, and I was thrilled to see that it had a DodgersWin logo! But then some guy in the front row started making a big fuss about how the ball had been thrown to his kid, and he basically demanded that I hand it over. It was the biggest crock, and I was stunned when the other fans nearby took his side. The whole thing was about to turn ugly. I offered to give one of my regular balls instead, but they wouldn’t accept it. They wanted the DodgersWIN ball (even though they were Rockies fans). I had two choices: 1) Tell them all to **** off or 2) give them the damn ball. Fifteen years ago, I would’ve gone with Option No. 1, but this is 2009, and I like to think of myself as being a bit more generous and mature, so I went with Option No. 2. (What would YOU have done?) I figured I’d snag another one of those balls at some point in the following two days, so as frustrating as it was to finally get my hands on one and then immediately turn it over, I wasn’t terribly concerned.

Broxton (who is NOT a friendly man) had seen the whole thing play out and rewarded me with another ball. DodgersWIN?! No…Dodgertown. It was my fifth ball of the day (counting the two I’d given away).

Batting practice was almost done so I headed to the Dodgers’ dugout as everyone was coming off the field. Then, totally unexpectedly, a ball came flying up from below. Someone had tossed it from inside the dugout. It landed on the roof about five feet to my right and started rolling away from me. Luckily, the front row was empty enough that I had room to chase after it and grab it. I had no idea where Brandon was at that point, and in fact I was annoyed that he wasn’t with me. I didn’t know that he was watching my every move from afar, and as I learned later, he took a photo of me taking a photo of the ball. Did that make sense?

Here…look at the photo below. The arrow is pointing to me, and I’m taking a picture of the ball that I’d just snagged:

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Why was I photographing it?

Check it out:

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Hell YES!

I’d snagged both kinds of balls and met Brandon back in left field:

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Before the game, I got Casey Blake to sign a ticket…

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…and then Blake tossed me his warm-up ball at the dugout five minutes later. It was another DodgersWIN ball, and then moments later, Rafael Furcal tossed me one that said DODGERTOWN. There was NO competition for balls at the dugout. The only challenge was that the ushers made me stay behind Row 10. That’s just one of the silly rules here. But thankfully there was no one in front of me with a glove.

This was my view during the game:

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The fans behind me were heckling Manny nonstop. More on this in a bit…

This was the view to my left, and if you look closely, you’ll see a tiny red dot in the aisle, off in the distance:

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I put that dot there to indicate where I ended up after running for Blake’s home run in the top of the 4th. It was probably 80 feet away, and I might’ve caught it had it actually landed in the aisle, but no, it landed three rows deep. That was the first of three home runs. Brad Hawpe hit the second one to center field in the bottom of the 4th (Jameson Sutton nearly caught it) and Clint Barmes hit one to my section in the 7th. I was in line at a concession stand at that particular moment (duh) so you know who ended up catching it? Dan Sauvageau, the guy who hooked me up with the front row ticket in the first place. Here he is with his five-year-old daughter Emily, who’s holding THE home run ball:

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It’s the 41st game home run that Dan has caught on the fly. He’s snagged another 50 or so that have landed in the front row, but he doesn’t even count those.

Now, about those Manny hecklers…

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They were out in full force. Here’s a Top Ten list (in reverse order) of the best heckles I heard:

10) “Get a haircut, you cheater!”
9) “How does it feel to be the worst left fielder in the National League?!”
8) “Where’d you get your uniform, Goodwill?”
7) “Man-roid!”
6) “Hey, Manny, I got some weed for you from Jackson Heights!”
5) “You look like the Predator!”
4) “The only thing steroids gave you was hemorrhoids!”
3) “Hey, Manny! One word: shrinkage!”
2) “When you heard that Tulo hit for the cycle, did you think you had a new friend?!”
1) “You let everybody down!”

After Heckle No. 6, I shouted, “It’s Washington Heights!” to which the heckler replied, “Whatever, he doesn’t know the difference!”

There were, of course, a number of anti-gay (and otherwise obscene) taunts, the worst of which came from a fan who was wearing a Mets cap. Of course, the ushers did nothing to stop him, and yet security felt the need to stop me from using my harmless glove trick the day before for a damp ball that wasn’t even on the field.

The game went into extra innings. I moved to the seats behind home plate with Brandon. The Rockies put runners on the corners with nobody out in the bottom of the 10th. Coors Field was rocking:

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Then, after a one-out intentional walk loaded the bases, Troy Tulowitzki delivered a walk-off single. His teammates mobbed him behind second base:

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I didn’t get a ball from the ump. I didn’t get a ball from the Dodgers relievers when they walked in from the bullpen. Nothing. My night was over. But I’m not complaining. I snagged a bunch of interesting balls, hung out with some friends, and saw another great game.

Final score: Rockies 5, Dodgers 4.

SNAGGING STATS:

28_the_six_balls_i_kept.jpg• 8 balls at this game (6 pictured here because I gave two away)

• 393 balls in 45 games this season = 8.73 balls per game.

• 614 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,213 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.86 pledged per ball

• $198.88 raised at this game

• $9,769.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/24/09 at Coors Field

I woke up at 6:20am, raced to Newark International Airport, flew nonstop to Denver, and made it to Coors Field by 3:30pm:

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I headed inside to the Rockies’ office…

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…and met up with Jay Alves, the Rockies’ vice president of communications and public relations. I’d spoken to him a week earlier, told him that I was working on a book about baseballs, and asked if I could see the humidor. (In case you don’t know, the Rockies have been storing their game balls in a humidor since 2002 to prevent them from drying out in the mile-high air; dry baseballs become lighter and harder, and they travel way too far when they’re hit.) Jay warned me that I was going to be “underwhelmed” by the humidor — that it was small and that there really wasn’t much to see. I didn’t care. I had to set foot in it, and Jay kindly accommodated me. He even let me take photos, and he said I could share them on my blog, so here we go…

The humidor is located in the street-level/employees-only concourse:

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The whole thing is VERY small (and yes, it’s locked). Here’s what it looks like on the inside:

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As you can see, there are cases of balls on the left (six dozen balls per case). The smaller boxes which hold a dozen balls apiece are on the right.

The temperature in there is 70 degrees, and the humidity is kept at 50 percent, but I didn’t see any dials or gauges.

Even though the room was small, there was a lot to see…

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…but I didn’t get to photograph everything because Jay was in a serious rush to get back to work. I probably spent less than two minutes inside the humidor, but at least I got to SEE it.

Here I am inside it:

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Before I knew it, I was back out on the street. The brief tour felt like a distant blur, like a strange fragment of a dream that kept replaying in my mind.

I headed over to Gate E and (after switching caps) met up with some friends.

Pictured below from left to right:

1) Dan Sauvageau (who has snagged roughly 90 game home runs)
2) Danny Wood (who showed me his incredible baseball collection on June 20, 2008)
3) Danny’s wife Nettie (who’d picked me up at the airport earlier in the day)
4) me (happy to be staying with Danny and Nettie this week)

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The gates opened at 4:30pm (two hours and ten minutes before game time) and I raced out to the left field bleachers. Here’s what the seats looked like after a couple minutes:

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Dan had hooked me up with a front-row ticket, but there were a bunch of ballhawks in that row, so for the most part, I stayed farther back and took my chances in the main part of the bleachers. (At Coors Field, you can’t go into the front row in left field unless you have a ticket for the front row, even during batting practice.) I got Ubaldo Jimemez to toss me a ball by asking him in Spanish, and that was the only ball I snagged during the Rockies’ portion of BP.

When the Giants started hitting, I headed over to right field. As you can see in the following photo, the platform that extends out from the seats makes it impossible to use the glove trick for balls that are sitting on the warning track:

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The nice thing about the right field section, however, is that there aren’t any railings in the staircases, so it’s easy to run around. Unfortunately, the section only extends out to straight-away right field, so most of the home runs were uncatchable and landed in the bullpen in right-center.

Tim Lincecum was shagging in right-center, and I got him to toss me a ball. I took the following photo from the row where I caught it:

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Five minutes later, I caught a home run that was hit by Eugenio Velez. It was a line drive that was heading RIGHT at me, but since I was in Denver (where the air is thin and balls carry a long way), I turned around and bolted up the steps past a fat guy with a glove, then turned around at the last second and jumped as high as I could and made the catch high over my head. And guess what? That was the end of batting practice. It ended more than 20 minutes early because it started drizzling and the wussy grounds crew rolled out the tarp:

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I noticed that there were two balls sitting within reach in the bullpen. I used my glove trick to reel in the ball on the right…

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…and was stopped by security while going for the ball on the left.

There were more than a dozen balls sitting further out in the bullpens. Two security-type guys walked out and retrieved them and didn’t toss a single ball into the crowd. I thought that was really weak, and I let them know it. There were a few young kids with gloves nearby, standing quietly in the rain, but no, the Rockies couldn’t afford to part with a few baseballs (which were probably too damp to re-use anyway). I later gave away one of my baseballs to a kid.

I had some time to kill after BP, so I wandered up to the “rock pile” section in deeeeeeep center field and took a few photos. Here’s one of them:

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(The tarp didn’t stay on the field long.)

Before the game started, I snuck down near the Giants’ dugout and tried to get Pablo Sandoval’s warm-up ball…

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…but I ended up getting one from Nate Schierholtz instead.

Then Schierholtz signed my ticket:

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What a lame signature. Seriously, what kind of garbage IS that?

I headed out to left field once the game started. This was my view:

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This was the view to my right…

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…and this was the view to my left:

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It was home run HEAVEN — or rather it would have been home run heaven if anyone had managed to hit a ball anywhere near me, but no, my game home run curse continued.

Do you remember that story I wrote last year about Barry Bonds’ final home run ball? Well, two of the three key ballhawks in that incident were at the game last night. Jameson Sutton, the fan who snagged that ball was there:

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Jameson sold that ball at auction for $376,612 largely because of this man, Robert Harmon:

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Robert, as you may recall, snagged a dummy ball that Jameson had inadvertently dropped while going for the real one. I won’t re-tell the whole story here. It’s archived on Yahoo Sports for your viewing pleasure.

Anyway, the game was really slow for the first 13 innings. Pablo Sandoval put the Giants on the board with a sacrifice fly in the top of the 1st, and Todd Helton tied the score by drawing a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 5th.

That was it.

The 14th inning, however, was a totally different story. In the top of the frame, Edgar Renteria hit a one-out triple and Travis Ishikawa walked. Eugenio Velez then hit a two-run triple to left center and scored two batters later on a Juan Uribe groundout,.

The Giants had taken a 4-1 lead:

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I was sick of sitting 400 feet from home plate at that point, so I told Robert that I was heading over near home plate, and that he could have the walk-off grand slam.

This was my view in the bottom of the 14th inning:

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How did that half-inning start? With a leadoff walk to Dexter Fowler. Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti made a visit to the mound, and his advice must have helped because Brandon Medders got Clint Barmes to pop out.

But then things fell apart.

Medders was taken out of the game and the new pitcher, Justin Miller, proceeded to give up a single to pinch hitter Chris Iannetta. Then he walked Troy Tulowitzki to load the bases, and then he walked Adam Eaton to force in a run. (Did you hear me? He walked ADAM EATON!!!) Merkin Valdez came in to pitch after that, and on his second pitch, Ryan Spilborghs blasted an opposite field shot into the Rockies’ bullpen. It was the first walk-off grand slam in Rockies history.

Final score: Rockies 6, Giants 4.

Wow.

SNAGGING STATS:

23_the_four_balls_i_kept_08_24_09.jpg• 5 balls at this game (4 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 385 balls in 44 games this season = 8.75 balls per game.

• 613 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,205 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 119 donors (Heath Bell made a pledge; you can too)

• $24.76 pledged per ball

• $123.80 raised at this game

• $9,532.60 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Gustavo Watch, Part 20

I was recently informed that Gustavo Chacin — the pitcher who foolishly stole a baseball from me on 8/1/06 at Yankee Stadium — had a sparkling outing yesterday.

jinxed_now_with_phillies.jpgIs this a cause for concern? Is the Hample Jinx wearing off?

No. And no.

Although Chacin managed to pitch eight scoreless innings, it should be noted that he did it in the minor leagues. He was facing a Triple-A lineup that included: Josh Reddick, Bubba Bell, Jeff Bailey, Brian Anderson, Mark Wagner, Aaron Bates, Travis Denker, Chris Woodward (whom I adore, but let’s face it, he doesn’t exactly strike fear in opposing pitchers), and Gil Velazquez.

Fine, Chacin pitched well. He did his job. He’s been pitching effectively all year — in the minor leagues. Between Reading and Lehigh Valley, he has gone 8-3 with a 3.17 ERA. Good for him. You know how I see it? I say…let the ball thief pitch well and earn himself a September call-up with the Phillies. Then he’ll have a chance to get bombed on a national stage.

8/17/09 at Citi Field

Jona hadn’t yet been to Citi Field, so she came with me.

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(We’re such dorks.)

Right before the gates opened at 4:40pm, I explained where I planned to enter, which staircase I was going to run up, which direction I was going to turn, and where I was planning to go after that. It all made perfect sense to her, but then we got separated because a) security had to pat her down and b) I ended up running all over the place. Sometimes these things happen.

My first ball of the day was tossed by Mike Pelfrey in left field. Other than the fact that it was a brand new commemorative ball from the final season of Shea Stadium, there wasn’t anything special about it. I was the first one there, so he had no choice but to throw it to me. (I suppose he could’ve just ignored my polite request, but he’s too nice for that.)

Soon after, Jona got a photo of me running for my second ball of the day — a home run hit by Omir Santos that landed in the empty seats in left-center:

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The younger fan trailing behind me is named Alex. I met him once before at Citi Field. He has snagged quite a few balls and he writes a blog about it…and…just so you don’t feel bad for him, you should know that yesterday he beat me out for a loose ball on two separate occasions.

The Santos homer also had the Shea Stadium commemorative logo, but it was special for another reason: it was my 4,191st ball. That’s how many hits Ty Cobb collected in his career. Way back in July 2005, I half-jokingly started comparing my ball total to various players’ career hit totals. Here’s my original blog entry about it. I know it’s much-much-MUCH harder to get a hit in the major leagues than it is to snag a ball in the stands. Like I said, it was mainly a joke. It was just a way for me to have even more fun with numbers and stats and to give myself something tangible to shoot for. At the time, I had a grand total of 2,548 balls, which put me in 76th place on the hits list between George Van Haltren (2,532) and Willie Davis (2,561). I’ve been creeping up the leaderboard ever since, taking aim at the game’s all-time greats, and getting more and more into the whole thing. Yesterday, after snagging the Santos homer, I was finally in a position to pass Ty Cobb and move into second place behind Pete Rose (4,256).

fernando_tatis.jpgEnter Fernando Tatis, the only player in major league history with two grand slams in one inning.

The seats were still fairly empty, so I had plenty of room to run when Tatis lofted a high, deep fly ball toward left-center field. It was heading about 20 or 30 feet to my left, so I bolted through my row, then kept drifting with the ball as it began to descend. I knew I was in the perfect spot — I knew it was going to come right to me — but I sensed that there was another fan moving toward me from the opposite direction who was going to 3_bye_bye_ty.jpgmake an attempt of his own. I wasn’t sure who it was. I was too focused on the ball, so I braced myself and leaned forward at the last second and reached up as high as I could to prevent the other fan from interfering. SMACK!!! The ball landed right in the pocket of my glove. I looked down to see who the other fan was…and it was Alex. Our gloves had bumped gently as we both reached up to make the catch. It played out as if we were infielders who failed to call each other off on a pop-up. In situations like that, it’s usually the taller guy who ends up making the catch. That was the case here, and although it came at Alex’s expense, I was still really happy to have achieved a personal milestone.

The Tatis home run?
Another Shea Stadium commemorative ball.

Moments later, Tatis smoked a deep line drive to my right — a full section to my right. I ran as fast as I could and reached the next staircase, and while I was still on the run, I reached down and across my body with my glove hand and made a back-handed catch over the row of seats in front of me. If I hadn’t caught that ball on the fly, I wouldn’t have gotten it because there were other fans standing nearby. That ball was also commemorative, and so was the next one. I used my glove trick to pluck it off the warning track in straight-away left field. Pelfrey walked over to retrieve the ball as I started lowering my glove, but he was nice enough to stand off to the side and let me get it. Once I started lifting the glove with the ball tucked inside, he moved closer and pretended to hit the glove to make the ball fall out, but like I said, he’s a good guy. He would never pull a Gustavo Chacin.

Here I am with the five balls I’d snagged…

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…but back to the glove trick for a moment. There were two funny things that happened while I was using it. First, when I was about to lower the glove onto the ball, a fan standing 10 feet to my left shouted in a thick New York accent, “Sorry, buddy, dat ain’t gonna work!” and then two seconds later when I started lifting the glove with the ball inside, the same guy said (almost as if it were part of the same sentence), “Okay, nevermind!” It was classic. Moments later, the fan on my right was focusing intently on what I was doing. “That’s just like that guy Zack Hample!” he said, to which I responded matter-of-factly, “I am Zack Hample.”

The Mets finished batting practice 15 minutes early. The field was empty. It was lame. The Giants came out and stretched. There was nothing for me to do except wander over to their dugout:

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I was wearing a white Giants T-shirt at that point, along with a standard black-and-orange Giants cap. It must’ve helped because a Giants ballboy ended up rolling a ball to me across the dugout roof. I ended up giving that ball away to a kid after the game.

Once the Giants started hitting, I ran back to the left field seats and contemplated my next move. Tim Lincecum was standing in left field, more than 100 feet from the outfield wall. I was slowly walking through the half-empty second row. He looked up in my general direction, and I tim_lincecum_2009.jpg
noticed that he was holding a ball, so I jumped up and down and waved my arms to get his attention. For some reason, he then threw the ball right to me…or maybe he wasn’t aiming for me. Who knows? The ball sailed 10 feet over my head and landed in the empty seats several rows behind me. Fans started racing over from both sides as I began climbing directly over the seats. I simply HAD to get that ball. I’d been dying to get one from Lincecum for two years, and this was finally my chance. I was so determined to snag it, and I chased after it so aggressively, that I banged the absolute crap out of my left knee. But…I’m happy to report that I ended up getting the ball, and of course I didn’t injure anyone in the process except myself. I watched Lincecum closely after that and was in awe of his gracefulness. The way he chased fly balls, and even the way he caught throws from the warning track and relayed them toward the bucket — it was a thing of beauty, and I’ll be rooting for him even more than before.

Eventually, after things had slowed way down for me, I moved to the front row, just to take a peek at the warning track in case there was a loose ball sitting there that I hadn’t seen. There were no balls, so I should’ve walked back up the steps and assumed my normal position. But it was so tempting to stay in the front row. The field looked so nice. But I knew it was stupid to stay there. The only way to catch a ball there would’ve been to catch a home run on the fly, and it would’ve had to be hit RIGHT to me because the front row was packed, and the stairs behind me were crowded. Well, wouldn’t you know it, Aaron Rowand ended up hitting a ball RIGHT to me. It would’ve hit me in the head if I hadn’t caught it. That’s how “right to me” it citi_field_sucks.jpgwas. Truly incredible. And then, three minutes later, I caught a home run hit by Juan Uribe in left-center. I was several rows back at that point, and no one else had even seen it coming because there was a man in the front row who was trying to reel in a ball with his cup trick. Everyone was crowding around him to see if it would work…and it did…but unfortunately for the guy (who had his young son with him), he struggled with it for a minute or two, which exposed him to Citi Field’s goons (aka security). There were so many security guards who descended upon our section, you’d’ve thought there was a bomb scare, and half of them easily weighed more than 300 pounds. The biggest, meanest-looking men in New York had deliberately been hired and then sent to intimidate this guy (and, consequently, to leave his young son in tears). It was completely uncalled for. Not only did they confiscate the man’s device, but they wouldn’t even give him a claim check for it, so in other words, he was not even allowed to retrieve it after the game. It was gone. Forever. Just like that. Without a warning. There’s not even any mention of ball-retrieving devices in Citi Field’s rules. Some stadiums allow fans to use such devices. Others don’t but at least have a policy. The Mets (in case it wasn’t already obvious) are doing everything wrong.

Anyway, toward the end of BP, I snagged one more home run ball that landed in the semi-crowded seats in left-center. That was my 10th ball of the day. My lifetime total, at that point, was 4,199. My next ball would bring another mini-milestone.

Alex and I both tried to get Pablo Sandoval to toss up a ball before the game…

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…but Sandoval chose to throw it to three gloveless college-aged women who weren’t even asking for it.

During the game, Jona and I not only sat in a great place to watch the action, but in a perfect spot for me to get a third-out ball. This was our view:

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There were no third-out balls to be had. The Giants players were tossing them every which way. Bengie Molina threw two third-out/strikeout balls toward some Giants’ family members who were sitting about 30 rows back. I’d never seen anything like that.

Jona and I invented our own little game-within-the-game involving the players’ head shots on the Jumbotron. We’d look at each photo and then try to come up with a hypothetical/humorous situation that would’ve prompted the facial expression. Luis Castillo, for example, had a photo in which he looked very serious — almost angry, in which he was glaring at the camera with piercing eyes. I decided that the reason he looked that way must’ve been as follows: He got fed up with all his teammates patting him on the butt whenever he did something good, so he asked them not to do it anymore. He requested high-fives and fist-bumps instead, but they kept touching his heinie, and then one day, after it happened yet again, he just snapped. “Who did that?!” he demanded to know (in Spanish, of course). “I will kill the man who did that!” And then his photo was taken.

Jona came up with a good scenario for the Giants’ starting pitcher, Joe Martinez:

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I didn’t have anything original for him and suggested something that had to do with flatulence. Jona, on the other hand, suggest that Martinez was in a bar and some random guy who didn’t recognize him insisted that he could throw a baseball faster than him. Brilliant.

The Mets lost the game, 10-1, and allowed 18 hits. They only had one extra-base hit of their own, a meaningless eighth-inning double by Daniel Murphy. Giants left fielder Eugenio (pronounced “ay-yoo-HAY-nee-oh”) Velez might be the fastest player in baseball. He hit a gapper to right-center and was sliding into third base before I could blink. I was really into the game and noticed the bold strategic move by Giants manager Bruce Bochy in the top of the sixth inning. The Giants were winning, 3-1, and had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. Martinez was on deck, so the Mets intentionally walked Edgar Renteria to get to him. Even though Martinez had only thrown 67 pitches, Bochy chose to pinch hit for him, hoping to put the game out of reach. Nate Schierholtz was called upon and responded by crushing a 380-foot line drive to right-center — a shot that would’ve been a grand slam in most ballparks, but at cavernous Citi Field, it was just a two-run double. Still, that gave the Giants a four-run lead, and then Velez plated Renteria with a sharp ground out to shortstop. It was beautiful baseball.

After the game, I squeezed into the front row behind the Giants’ dugout…

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…and unexcitingly got my 4,200nd lifetime ball tossed by this guy:

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Does anyone know who this is? Here’s a closer look at him…

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…and here’s a shot of me with the milestone ball:

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Yes, it was another Shea Stadium commemorative ball. I heard (although I didn’t see it) that someone snagged a 2008 World Series ball during the Mets’ portion of BP, and of course there are some Citi Field balls and 2008 Yankee Stadium balls floating around as well. So, if you can stand seeing the Mets play in an overrated/overpriced new stadium with unreasonably strict security guards, you might come out of it with a few special baseballs.

SNAGGING STATS:

13_the_ten_i_kept_08_17_09.jpg• 11 balls at this game (10 pictured here because I gave one away; the ball at the top is No. 4,200)

• 380 balls in 43 games this season = 8.84 balls per game.

• 612 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 346 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 8 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least nine balls

• 114 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,200 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 118 donors (click here to learn more and make a pledge)

• $24.75 pledged per ball

• $272.25 raised at this game

• $9,405.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud

I went to Citizens Bank Park yesterday and didn’t snag a single ball. That’s because the Phillies were in Chicago. I was invited to the stadium by Dan O’Rourke, the Phillies’ equipment manager, for a demonstration on how he rubs mud on the baseballs. (For those who don’t know, every game-used ball gets rubbed with a special type of mud in order to reduce the slickness and glare.) Here’s what a container of the mud looks like:

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Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud. That’s what it’s called. It’s THE only mud that professional teams use. I’d never even seen a photograph of it, so it was pretty cool to be seeing it in person.

Now…do you see that lovely carpeting in photo up above? That was the floor of the umpire lounge, which is where the rubbing demo took place. Here’s Dan rubbing up a ball:

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In the photo above, you can see the open container of mud on the floor, along with a cup of (muddy) water that Dan dips his fingers into every so often.

See those red bags? That’s where the rubbed balls go:

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Did you notice the cardboard boxes?

Here’s a look at those:

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Each box is called a “case” and it holds six dozen balls.

I should mention that the purpose of my trip to Philly — the reason why Dan graciously allowed me to enter his world for 90 minutes — was to do research for my next book. That book, as I’ve mentioned before, is all about The Baseball Itself, and it’s scheduled to be published in March 2011. I should also mention that Dan gave me permission to share these photos on my blog. He was unbelievably accommodating. I’d called a bunch of other teams, and there was only one other equipment manager who even talked to me.

But let’s go back to the balls…

After Dan had rubbed enough of them to fill both red bags, he started filling up one of the boxes:

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As you can see, some balls are darker than others. That just happens.

Dan told me that the balls in one of the red bags would be used on Tuesday the 18th against the Diamondbacks, the balls in the other red bag would be used on Wednesday, and that he’d probably have enough left over to combine them with the balls in the cardboard box for Thursday’s game.

The thing that really surprised me when I touched the freshly rubbed baseballs was that there was a dirty/powdery residue that came off on my hands. There’s never been that type of residue on any of the game-used balls I’ve snagged over the years, and that makes sense. Think about how hard the bat hits the ball, or how hard the ball hits the catcher’s mitt. There’s no way that the residue would last long enough for a fan to feel it.

By the time Dan was down to his last few dozen balls, I made a comment about how the rubbing process looks like hard work. His hands were filthy, and he’d been rubbing the balls so vigorously that he actually took off part of the logo several times. He mentioned that his wrists were hurting, so I half-jokingly offered to help him out by rubbing a few.

“You want to rub?” he asked.

Hell YEAH I wanted to rub, but I tried to play it cool.

Dan then talked me through the whole process, which was helpful even though I’d just been watching him do it for 20 minutes…and before I knew it, I was actually rubbing mud on baseballs that were going to be used in a major league game! Here’s a screen shot of this bless’d moment from a video that I filmed by placing my camera on a nearby table:

zack_and_dan_rubbing.jpg

I was worried that I’d mess up the balls — you know, make them too dark or too light or too wet, but Dan eased my fears by telling me that if I screwed one up, he’d fix it, and if he couldn’t fix it, he’d leave it to the umpires to toss it out of play. Having worked for both the Astros and the Phillies for the past 19 years, he had SO many cool stories about baseballs, involving players and umpires, the cost of balls, the number of balls, the amount of mud that gets used. He told me what happens to old balls. He told me about the blem balls that were used in the 1990s and the practice balls that’ve been floating around ever since, and of course he told me about Houston’s famous H-balls. Spring Training balls? Batting cage balls? Minor League balls? You name it. We covered it all, and I’ll be sharing this stuff in the book.

By the time we finished rubbing the remaining baseballs, there was mud embedded in every single pore and crease on my hands:

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The umpire lounge, in case you’re wondering, has three different areas:

1) The main room where we rubbed the baseballs. There were shelves with LOTS of different snacks (chips, cookies, gum, sunflower seeds, etc.) and there was a deli-type drink cooler — the kind with the sliding glass door with dozens of bottles of water and juice and soda. There was a TV mounted high on the wall, a couch, a small table, chairs, and a kitchenette.

2) The locker room. There were six lockers (which in the baseball world are really just big open stalls) with several different umpires’ names on top. That room was carpeted, too. It was probably 300 square feet, and there wasn’t anything else in it.

3)The bathroom. Also big. There was one urinal, several toilets, and a few shower stalls. There was a long counter with sinks and a big mirror. On top of the counter, laid out nice-n-neat, was a gigantic assortment of toiletries: toothpaste, deodorant, shaving cream, etc. It was impressive, and Dan is responsible for all of it because he’s both the equipment manager AND umpires’ attendant.

I took photos of videos of everything, but I can’t share it here. Dan asked me not to show anything other than the baseballs, so I have to respect that.

…BUT…

There’s one other ball-related photo I can share. Dan took me into the Phillies’ “storage room” which is basically a mini-warehouse for ALL the equipment. There were industrial-type metal shelves from floor to ceiling, and the ceiling was high — probably about 13 feet. There were boxes and plastic containers everywhere. There was a whole wall of spikes (including Ryan Howards’ size 15) and uniform pants. There were dozens of jerseys hanging in various places, both overhead and at eye level. There were huge equipment bags stuffed with helmets, dangling from a horizontal pole 10 feet high. There was also a locked area behind a chain link fence. Here’s a photo from inside that area:

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See all those boxes? Those are cases of balls. Wow.

See that ledge on the upper left with all the red bags? That’s where all the bats are stored. That ledge was like 15 feet long. There were bats all over the place, poking out of rectangular cardboard boxes. Wow again. The whole experience was mind-numbing.

Oh, and I got to park in the players’ lot.

It’s too bad that Rawlings won’t let me visit their baseball factory in Costa Rica. I tried. They said no. So I’m trying to think of other ball-related adventures worth pursuing. Any suggestions? Since I’m already planning to visit Coors Field later this month, I’m going to call the Rockies next week and try to talk them into letting me see the humidor. They weren’t particularly accommodating last year when I was trying to unravel the Denver-based mystery of Barry Bonds’ 762nd home run ball, so I’m expecting the answer to be “NO!!!” but it’s worth a shot.

I’ll leave you with one more photo. I can’t resist. It shows a double-typo on the label of the mud container:

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Double typo = double facepalm.

8/11/09 at Camden Yards

“T-Shirt Tuesday” always draws a big crowd at Camden Yards:

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Thankfully I had a spot at the front of the line, and it paid off. As soon as the stadium opened at 5pm, I raced out toward the left field seats and found a ball sitting in the front row along the foul line. The ball was VERY scuffed and even had a tiny piece of concrete embedded in its cowhide cover. Check it out:

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I would’ve taken a photo of the ball sitting in the seats, but Jona had my camera, and since she didn’t have a season ticket, she was trapped in right field for the first half-hour. The good news is that she took a bunch of photos of me from afar. In the photo below, I’m the guy in the white T-shirt:

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Within the first few minutes, I lost a three-person race for a loose ball in the seats…

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…but quickly made up for it by making a nice running catch on a home run hit by Melvin Mora. The following four-part photo (starting on the top left and then going clockwise) shows me 1) running through an empty row, 2) crossing the staircase, 3) pausing for a moment to look up, and 4) lunging far to my glove side to make the catch:

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That first section was 22 seats wide. I love having room to run. Baltimore is the best.

Unfortunately I had some bad luck after that. Three different balls tipped off the very end of my glove — two of which ricocheted back onto the field — and then I got robbed on a deep fly ball by Chris Tillman:

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Cool photo, huh? Here’s a closer look:

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It might look like the ball is falling short of my glove, but I guarantee that I would’ve caught it.

I’m happy to say that my luck improved soon after. Robert Andino launched a deep home run to my right and I took off through an empty row. As I reached the staircase on the far side of the section, I looked up just in time to see the ball fly 20 feet over my head. It landed on the staircase and took a gigantic bounce deeper into the section. It bounced all the way into the seats above/behind the cross-aisle (which is about 25 rows back). I sprinted up the steps as a fellow ballhawk trailed close behind…

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…and I cut through the aisle and managed to grab the ball as it began to trickle down the steps of the elevated section. Fun!

That was my third ball of the day, and I snagged another soon after. I’m not sure who hit it. All I know is that it was a home run by a right-handed batter on the Orioles. It landed in a mostly-empty patch of seats in left-center field, and I ran over and grabbed it. There was nothing special about it until I took a peek at the ball itself. Here are two photos of it:

Have you ever seen anything like that?! Forget the small gash on the right. I’m talking about the bas-relief-like impression on the left. It looks like there are letters, perhaps the first three of the word BASEBALL? But if so, what would have created that mark on the ball? Could it have been a bat? And if it was, why aren’t the letters reversed like a mirror image? I’ve snagged my share of bat-imprinted balls, and the markings always look two-dimensional like this, so I’m completely stumped here.

At 5:30pm, I changed into my dark green A’s gear, and Jona headed over to left field. She took a photo of me standing around…

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…and got another photo of me climbing over some seats:

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I didn’t end up getting that ball. I wasn’t getting anything. I kept having close calls, and Jona captured me with a look of dismay after one of them:

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Somehow, I ended up snagging a bunch of balls after that. I don’t know why. I guess my luck just improved. It started when I positioned myself deep in the section for Tommy Everidge. I caught one of his home runs on the fly, and then ten seconds later, I grabbed another one of his home run balls that whacked a seat and bounce right up to me. It was beautiful. I was running through the row, and the ball popped up waist-high, and I kind of swatted at it with my andrew_bailey_2009.jpgglove and scooped it up in one motion. (I later gave that one away to a kid. I should probably keep the home run balls and give away the ones that are tossed to me, but whatever.) Then, a few minutes later, I started using my glove trick to knock a ball closer on the warning track, and a player came over and picked up the ball and tucked it into my glove. I’m not sure who it was, but the same thing happened AGAIN five minutes later with Andrew Bailey (whom I now realize was the guy who bounced the ball to me off the warning track the day before). Anyway, poof, just like that, I’d snagged four balls within a 10-minute span to salvage my day, and then I snagged another home run ball — my ninth ball overall. It was absurdly lucky. The ball fell five feet short and headed right toward two guys with gloves who were standing two rows in front of me. Incredibly, they not only dropped it, but they somehow managed to bobble it two rows back. It kind of skipped off their wrists and blooped right into my row where I bent down and grabbed it without any competition. I mean, the seats were fairly crowded at that point, but there wasn’t anyone else in my row at that moment (which is why I was IN that row). You get the point. It was as lucky as it gets.

Meanwhile, when BP ended a few minutes later, I was as sweaty as it gets:

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I don’t know what it is with me and butt sweat. I’m not sure if that’s a perfectly normal bodily reaction to running around nonstop for 70 minutes when it’s 90 degrees and humid…or if I should see a doctor about it. As for my upper body, my white T-shirt was completely soaked, and the A’s shirt was absorbing the moisture. I didn’t even care. That’s what showers are for. Someone once suggested that I get one of those under-armor shirts, but I haven’t gotten around to it.

I headed to the left field foul line when the A’s came back out to stretch and run and throw…

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…and I got Mark Ellis to sign a ticket:

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(Nice handwriting, pal. You’re fired.)

Then I got Adam Kennedy to toss me his warm-up ball after he finished throwing. I was surprised he gave it to me. He’d thrown me one the day before at the same time in the same spot when I was wearing the exact same thing.

During the game, I stayed in the right field standing-room-only section whenever there was a left-handed batter, and I moved to the seats on the right side of home plate for most of the righties. I was constantly on the move…

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…and Jona was kind enough to carry my backpack for me.

(By the way, that alien shirt is THE shirt I was wearing as an 18-year-old in 1996 when I snagged my 1,000th ball. Check it out. On the front it says, “Baseball: a higher form of intelligence.”)

There weren’t any home runs that came anywhere near me, but there was some action behind the plate. In the top of the fifth inning, Mark Ellis hit a foul ball that shot straight back over the protective screen. It was heading about 40 feet to my left. The photo below was taken from the tunnel where I was standing, and the arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball ended up:

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Naturally, I bolted through the aisle (is it too late to have an aisle installed at Citi Field?) and watched with great pleasure as a gloveless man sitting in the elevated section behind the aisle bobbled the ball and dropped it over the railing. There was another fan standing nearby in the aisle, but he didn’t even know what was happening, so I was able to swoop in and grab the ball after it took one bounce. It was embarrassingly lucky and easy, and I won’t lie — I love it.

I got even luckier after that (although in this case there was some skill involved too). One inning later, as I was hurrying through the aisle from the outfield to my normal spot behind the plate, Scott Hairston happened to slice a high foul pop-up in my direction.

Take a look at the photo below. It shows the aisle where I was walking, but even more importantly, it shows a platform that extends out from underneath the second deck. (There are TV cameras up there.) Here it is:

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The ball went HIGH up in the air, and I really didn’t think I was going to have a play on it. I couldn’t be certain where exactly it was going to land, but I knew it was going to come close, so I got myself into position to give myself a chance. I weaved in and out of a few people, then did the same thing with those vertical/folding chairs. It felt like there were a million obstacles, and as the ball started to descend, I thought, “No way…” If the ball carried far enough back into the stands to reach the aisle, it was going to land on that platform. At least that’s what I thought…and I was pretty sure that if it missed the platform, it wasn’t going to reach me. Still, I kept drifting and looking up and tracking the ball as it came closer and closer, and then before I knew it, I was surrounded by grown men who were all jostling for position and reaching up. It was coming right to us…to ME. I had picked THE perfect spot, so I reached up as high as I could with both hands and squeezed my glove around the ball when it landed. Ha-HAAA!!! It was a totally unexpected foul ball. I hadn’t even been in a “good” spot. I was merely passing through. The whole section erupted with cheers, and I got high fives and fist bumps from half a dozen fans. Best of all, I got a kiss from Jona who’d been standing 20 feet away and saw the whole thing.

I went ALL OUT to get more foul balls after that — my one-game record is three — but I didn’t have any other chances.

The game itself was great. The Orioles won, 3-2, and the whole thing was done in 2 hours and 23 minutes. (I later learned that I witnessed a bit of history: Rajai Davis hit the 10,000th double in A’s history.)

After the game, I got a ball at Oakland’s dugout. A bunch of relievers walked in from the bullpen, and when they all disappeared from sight under the dugout roof, a ball came sailing up and bounced right to me. It was rubbed with mud, which means it was either used in a game or intended for game use, so that’s cool.

On my way out, a large middle-aged man struck up a conversation with me. He recognized me from the day before as That Guy who had gotten a foul ball from the press box and handed it to a little kid sitting nearby. It just so happened that this man was Landon Powell’s father, and the little boy (who was at his first game ever) was one of Landon’s nephews. Landon ended up signing that ball for him.

The End.

SNAGGING STATS:

17_the_two_foul_balls_08_11_09.jpg• 13 balls at this game (the two foul balls pictured here on the right)

• 369 balls in 42 games this season = 8.79 balls per game.

• 611 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 113 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

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

• 10 lifetime game balls at Camden Yards

• 15th time snagging two or more game balls in one game

• 4,189 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.75 pledged per ball

• $321.75 raised at this game

• $9,132.75 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/10/09 at Camden Yards

1_if_you_cant_stand_the_heat.jpgIt was really hot.

And I was interviewed for ESPN.com.

I met the reporter, Patrick Hruby, at my hotel at 2:30pm. Then we went out for (mediocre) Thai food (which ESPN paid for) and drove to Camden Yards at 4:45pm.

As we headed toward the media entrance, I stopped to take a photo and Patrick inadvertently walked into the frame:

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I didn’t bother to retake the photo because we were in a rush. He had to pick up his media credentials. I needed to walk halfway around the stadium to meet Jona, who was holding a spot for me at the front of the line.

Patrick wasn’t allowed to enter the stadium until 5pm, and even then he had to use the media entrance behind home plate. By the time he caught up with me in left field, I had already snagged three balls. The first was a home run by a left-handed batter (possibly Luke Scott, but I’m not sure) that landed in the totally empty seats in left-center. (I ended up giving that ball to a kid during the game.) The second was a homer by Melvin Mora that I scrambled for in straight-away left, and the third was a homer that also landed in the seats. I have no idea who hit that one.

Just as Patrick made his way out to left field, he saw me sprint across two sections toward the foul pole and beat out a couple other guys for yet another home run ball. The photo below shows Patrick interviewing one of them; the arrow is pointing to Erik Jabs, founder of the ballhawk league (which recently got a nice mention in USA Today):

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I made sure that Patrick and Erik talked to each other.

My fifth ball was a home run that I caught on the fly. It was only 5:08pm. I was all pumped up and ready for a monster day, but then things slowed down and the bad luck kicked in. Adam Jones, for example, hit a home run right at me when I was the ONLY fan in the section. The ball fell two rows short, smacked off a seat, and bounced back onto the field. If the ball had stayed in the seats — even if it had ricocheted 30 feet in any direction — I would’ve been able to get it. I did, however, manage to snag two more home run balls that landed in the seats. I have no idea who hit them. Most of the hitters were wearing warm-up jerseys that covered their uniform numbers, and I was also distracted (in a good way) by Patrick’s steady stream of questions.

Four of the seven balls had interesting markings:

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I’m pretty sure that the ball on the top left got scuffed by landing on a concrete step in the stands. The “Rawlings” logo on the top right probably got smudged by a non-squarely-hit drive off the bat. The ball on the bottom left? No idea. Maybe it hit one of the screens? The ball on the lower right probably got its mark from skipping off the infield dirt.

I changed into my A’s gear for the second half of BP, and Patrick kept interviewing me:

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I only managed to snag ONE ball during the A’s portion of BP. It was a lame performance on my part. There’s no denying it. I just wasn’t on my game. I wasn’t judging homers as well I normally do, and of course I had more bad luck…for example…I was in the third row and got Trevor Cahill to toss a ball in my direction, but the ball fell a bit short, which enabled the fans in front of me to reach up for it. The ball tipped off of someone’s glove and ended up hitting me on the left wrist as I was reaching down to make the catch — and then the ball bounced off in some crazy direction and someone else grabbed it. Crap like that. As for the one ball I snagged from the A’s, it was “thrown” into the crowd in the form of a bounce-pass off the rubberized warning track. I don’t even know who threw it (which is another example of the lameness of my overall performance), but I did make a decent play on it. I was in the front row, and it was pretty crowded, and the ball was sailing three feet over my head, so I jumped as high as possible and reached up with my right hand and swatted at the ball with my fingertips in an attempt to tip it back toward me, and it worked, but I bobbled it a bit, and everyone was grabbing for it, but I managed to secure it after a second or two. Phew! That felt good.

After BP (another mistake was not making it to the A’s dugout) I spotted a ball in the staircase next to the bullpens in left-center. Here’s a cool photo, taken by Jona, that shows me leaning out and looking at it:

6_zack_through_fence.jpg

Then I made a brazen attempt to reel it in with my glove trick

7_zack_glove_trick_over_fence.jpg

…and I was stopped by a female usher within five seconds. I kind of expected that, but hey, ESPN was with me so I had to go for it. (And hey, did you notice my delicious crack sweat?)

The thing that bothered me in this situation is that the usher threatened me with a trespassing charge if I didn’t bring my glove back up. (Please.) As soon as I climbed down off the seats, a whole bunch of fans (who recognized me and had been talking to me throughout BP) approached her and said, “Do you know who this guy is?!”

“No,” she said, “should I?”

The fans then proceeded to tell her all about me. They mentioned that I was there with ESPN and that I had caught over 4,000 balls.

“Am I supposed to be impressed?” she asked in the most condescending of tones.

They told her all about my TV appearances and mentioned that I’m snagging baseballs for charity and said that I give balls away to kids (“That’s what a good Christian does,” she replied a little too enthusiastically), but she didn’t seem to care. At one point, she asked me if other stadiums allow fans to use ball-retrieving devices, and I informed her that YES, some places do.

Anyway, enough of that.

Right before the game started, I got autographs from Tommy Everidge and Rajai Davis…

8_autographs_08_10_09.jpg

…and snagged two more baseballs. The first was thrown by Adam Kennedy along the shallow left field foul line, and the second ball was tossed further down the line by A’s bullpen coach Ron Romanick (who has used it to play catch with Kurt Suzuki). It was beautiful. Although the front row was full, I was the only fan with a glove, so it was basically a guaranteed ball. I need those to balance out the inevitable bad luck. It’s sort of like how a .300 hitter needs to get his share of swinging-bunt base hits and broken-bat bloopers to make up for all the “at ‘em” balls.

In case you’ve lost count, I had 10 balls at this point — a number I’d told Patrick after lunch that I’d be shooting for. Even though it wasn’t a particularly skillful or action-packed 10, at least I hadn’t embarrassed myself.

Patrick followed me everywhere during the game:

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I had warned him that I’d be moving all over the place and suggested that he wear comfortable shoes.

Here we are in the tunnel on the right side of home plate:

10_interview_during_game_08_10_09.jpg

It was a great foul ball spot, and I had a great opportunity to catch one…BUT…bad luck, of course. The ball shot back over the protective screen, ricocheted off the concrete facade of the press level and bounced RIGHT back to me as I darted to my left through the cross-aisle. Unfortunately, however, just as I put up my glove to make the catch, a man stood up in the seats above me (those seats are behind the aisle, and they’re elevated about six feet) and he reached out and caught the ball bare-handed.

See what I mean? Yes, sure, fine, I had snagged 10 balls (and raised an additional $247.50 for Pitch In For Baseball). I know that’s nothing to be complaining about. Most people don’t snag 10 balls per week, month, season, lifetime, etc. I realize this. But for ME, things just weren’t going well. I hope I don’t sound spoiled or obnoxious. The fact is, I know what I’m capable of (when I’m at an awesome stadium with an attendance under 15,000) and I’m very competitive, and I’m a perfectionist, and I hold myself to very high standards…and it simply wasn’t happening as I envisioned it. Does that make sense? I know that my fellow ballhawks (especially the ones who average half a dozen balls per game) understand what I’m talking about, but I want everyone to get it.

I played the right field standing room only section for lefties…

11_standing_room_only_interview.jpg

…but there wasn’t any action.

More bad luck? Gio Gonzalez, a left-hander, was pitching for the A’s, so the Orioles stacked their lineup with righties. Only two Oriole batters were left-handed. That would be Nick Markakis (future Hall of Famer…don’t argue) and Luke Scott, who hit the game’s lone longball to center field.

It rained like HELL during the 7th inning…

12_rain_delay_08_10_09.jpg

…which should’ve been a good thing. I figured that after the rain delay I’d have a chance to get a ball thrown to me when the players came back out to warm up…and I did…but the throw was a bit off, which enabled another fan to reach out and catch the ball right in front of me.

NOW do you get it?

But wait, that wasn’t the end of my bad luck. In the eighth inning, a foul ball shot back over the screen and landed in the press box. First of all, if it had gone six inches lower, it would’ve hit off the base of the press box and ricocheted into a section which, by that point, was completely empty. Secondly, I was the first fan to run up there (you can just about look into the press box from the last row of seats) and asked the guy who retrieved the ball if I could “please possibly” have it. He said he wanted to give it to a little kid, and he scanned the seats to find one.

“There ARE none!” I wanted to scream, but I just stood there silently, knowing I wasn’t gonna get it. Five seconds later, the guy finally spotted a kid. How much did the kid want that ball? Let’s just say that even when the guy called out to him, the kid didn’t look up. So…I offered to deliver the ball to the kid, which I did (resulting in a big round of applause), and no, I’m not counting that ball in my collection because it was predetermined to be for someone else. If I’d randomly gotten the ball and THEN decided to give it away (as I normally do), then I would’ve counted it.

Blah blah blah. I even failed to make it to the A’s dugout at the end of the game. Why? More bad luck…duh! Melvin Mora was on second with one out in the bottom of the ninth, and I was making my way though the cross-aisle on the first base side. What happened next? Not only did Cesar Izturis swing at the first pitch, but he lined it back to the pitcher for a 1-6 double play.

UN-BE-LIEVE-ABLE.

And then, of course, I saw a ball get tossed right to the spot where I would’ve been standing.

Final score: A’s 9, Orioles 1.

I’m not sure when the story will be up on ESPN.com, but I was told that it’ll probably be a couple weeks.

SNAGGING STATS:

13_the_nine_i_kept_08_10_09.jpg• 10 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave one away)

• 356 balls in 41 games this season = 8.68 balls per game.

• 610 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 112 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

• 4,176 total balls

• 13 days until I’ll be at Coors Field

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.75 pledged per ball

• $247.50 raised at this game

• $8,811.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Book update No. 3 — conquering the 1870s

I need your help, but first let me give you a general update…

I’ve pretty much finished writing Part One. Eventually I’ll have to go back and add a few (hopefully) small sections, but for now, I’ve completed six chapters, and my total word count
is a little over 21,000. Part One, as I’ve mentioned before, will probably be called “Baseballs in the News.”

Part Two is going to focus on historical and factual stuff. I’ve recently been digging through some OLD newspaper articles — here’s where I need your help — and I found an advertisement from 1870 for a “red dead ball.” I might end up quoting part of this ad in the book, but there’s one word that I can’t decipher. Can anyone figure out what it says? I’ve put red asterisks at the beginning and end of the line, and I’ve underlined the mysterious word. Here it is:

red_dead_ball.jpg

Cool, huh?

As far as I can tell, the whole line reads as follows: “One of the merits of the RED DEAD BALL is the ???? which is a great benefit to players on a sunny day.”

Am I right about that? What’s the mystery word?

By the way, do you remember all the juiced ball theories in 1998 when McGwire and Sosa were going nuts? Or in 1987 when there was an inexplicable surge in the number of home runs? Well, guess what. The juiced ball debate goes back a long, long way. I’m talking back into the 1870s. Maybe even earlier. I still have a lot of research to do, and you wouldn’t believe the stuff I’ve already found. Some of it is hilarious, like the language that writers used back in the old days. For example, they sometimes referred to pitchers as “slabsmen” and “moundsmen.” Ninety years ago a pitchers’ duel was described as “brilliant moundsmanship.” Gotta love it.

Here are my previous book updates in case you missed them:

UPDATE #1
UPDATE #2

One final note…

I’ve been compiling a list of people who want to be notified when the book comes out, so if you’re interested, let me know.

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