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):

3_patrick_hruby_interviewing_fan.jpg

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:

4_four_cool_balls_08_10_09.jpg

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:

9_patrick_following_zack.jpg

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

12 Comments

Hey Zack, great game! It’s cool that even though you had an “off day”, you still reached double digits. Snag on (for charity)!

I know about the high expectations, I have them for myself. Not just with ballhawking, but in everything in my life. You know what you’re capable of accomplishing, and when you don’t, you want to know why. The good thing is, those times don’t come around as often as the good days. You’ll be back in the groove next game!
Brian
http://txbaseballfan.mlblogs.com

Hey Zack! Congrats on the 10 balls! Thanks for adding me to the List.

Keep on snagging!

P.S. Those were cool autographs you got!

Zack,
I checked out the link to the reporter from espn.com and he has an article from a couple weeks ago called “The 20 things that make you look like a doofus.”

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=hruby/090731

This is #16….”16. Beating a kid for an autograph or baseball”

Hopefully he won’t take that angle with the upcoming story. We’ll see. Could you tell if he had some sort agenda for his article?

-Alan
http://www.myGameBalls.com

This is my first time commenting, but I have been a long time reader. Congrats on doing what you do for charity. I would do something like that at a Marlins game one season. Right Field is basically empty during BP and the Fish have a lot of lefties. I bet you could get 20 balls there if you came down and tried.

Anyways, keep doing what you are doing. I hope you raise 10,000 this year. That would be special.

Also, I can’t wait to read your article on ESPN. I’ll tell all my friends about it.

Sorry that you had an off-day, but you’ve beat my lifetime total of five (that’s counting a college ball and two MILB balls!) in one day :)
SO GUESS WHAT? One of my friends from school told me he might have an extra ticket to the Rox game on the 24th, and even if he doesn’t he can give me a ride. This means I will be at that game. I would love to just say hi, get you to sign “Watching Baseball Smarter” and let you go on your way. Shall I email you?
Kylie — http://kylie.mlblogs.com

Zack,
Nice seeing you in Baltimore.

As for the crack sweat, try wearing a pair of basketball shorts under your regular shorts, it will prevent that.

We were watching you go for that glove trick ball from the center field seats, when that usher came and ruined your attempt.

Erik
http://countingbaseballs.mlblogs.com

Hey Zack…

Just wanted to tell you my ribs hurt. Also, do you think that the fact you were trying to do snag somewhere you weren’t supposed to and got scolded by the usher will have a negative impact on your article? Did the ESPN guy see this exchange?

Leigh

ROYALS FREAK-
Thanks, and yes, I know that I’m lucky to have still put up good numbers even though things overall didn’t seem all that great.

BRIAN-
Thanks for understanding, and you were right about the next game being better.

REDSFAN101-
You’re very welcome.

ALAN-
Uh-oh, I didn’t know about that, but anyway, Patrick didn’t seen to have any type of agenda, other than being a nice guy and a thorough reporter.

FLORIDAFLY-
Thanks for reading and for finally commenting. It’s good to hear from you. I was in Florida for four games last year, and I didn’t do too well. The problem is that the stadium doesn’t open particularly early, so there aren’t many opportunities.

KYLIE-
Coolness. Yeah, keep me posted about the 24th. I’m pretty much gonna be out in left field, in that wide front-row-aisle-thingie for both BP and the game. You won’t have any problem finding me, and of course if you get there early enough, we can hang out outside the gate before the stadium opens. I’ll be at the LF gate, sort of near the foul pole. It’s down some steps from normal street level, I think…the street that runs all the way around the stadium near home plate and the base lines. Am I making any sense? Hmm…

ERIK-
Interesting idea about the basketball shorts. Do you actually do that?

LEIGH-
Although I might be living in a fantasy-land, I kind of feel like the thwarted glove trick attempt reflects poorly on the stadium, not on me. I guess we’ll see how it gets mentioned in the article. Sorry about the ribs. Just know that it WILL get better, but it’ll take a few weeks.

A few days ago, I posted this picture showing the DodgersWIN stamped ball.

http://www.mygameballs.com/baseballdata?db=MANNYWOOD&action=showphoto&data_type=photo&photo_id=403&game_id=51

If anybody cares, I found out that DodgersWIN is actually some sort of charitable foundation the team has starterd called “Dodgers Women’s Initiatives Network”. I guess that stamp is a lot lamer than I thought it was.

Oh, here’s a link that shows exactly what the DodgersWIN stamp would look like if it wasn’t smudged: http://losangeles.dodgers.mlb.com/la/community/win/index.jsp

Hey Zack, i just got tickets for august 25th for the rockies dodgers. Batting practice is gunna be packed.
Noah

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