October 2009

2009 World Series — Game 2

I headed out to Yankee Stadium yesterday with a homemade sign and a whole lot of hope that it would land me a ticket:

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In case you’re too lazy to click the photo above, the sign has this pyramid photo of me with “4,352 baseballs and counting…” written underneath it.

I arrived at the stadium at 1:30pm — six and a half hours before game time — and there was already a huge line of fans, hoping that some tickets might get released:

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I held up my sign and walked around and flapped my glove at everyone who looked at me. Over the course of the day, at least 100 people asked me the following question: “What does ballhawk mean?” It was annoying to have to explain the same thing over and over, but I was glad to be educating the public.

The area outside the stadium was swarming with media. Several journalists and news crews interviewed me. So did Juliet Papa from 1010 WINS (pictured below), who interviewed me live for 40 seconds.

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Afterward, she said, “Two million people just heard you.”

The 2009 World Series ball was on sale for $30, ball cube included:

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The ball has a nice logo, in my opinion. I like that the words “WORLD SERIES” are large, and that the words “Fall Classic” appear beneath the MLB logo. (Have those words ever appeared on the ball before? I’m not sure.)

During the four hours I spent outside Yankee Stadium, only two people offered (read: tried to sell) me a ticket. The first was a shady-looking scalper who said he could get me a ticket “for six.”

“Six what?” I asked. (Six BP balls?)

“Six hundred,” he said.

(Anyway…)

The second guy was a Yankee employee — one of those guys who stand outside with those signs that say “How May I Help You?” — who said he had a friend who was selling bleacher tickets for $550.

(Wow, what a bargain! Really?! Does your friend take cash?!)

When I told him that was way beyond my price range, he said, “I know a guy who can walk you in for two-fifty. Then you’re on your own. Standing room only.”

(How about I take a photo of you and report you? Unless you let me in for twenty bucks.)

It was 5pm. The gates were opening. People were pouring out of the subway and into the stadium:

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I lingered for another half-hour. I had $200 on me and I was still willing to spend it on a real ticket. I figured I still had the Phillies’ portion of batting practice — if I could somehow get inside — but it wasn’t meant to be. Some random rent-a-cop saw my sign and told me that it’s illegal to solicit tickets on stadium property. (Oh yeah?! Well, it should be illegal for you to…nevermind.) So I put my sign in the nearest trash can and headed back to the subway.

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Someday I’m going to be rich and/or famous and I won’t need to deal with this B.S.

(Let’s go Padres!)

Latest NPR interview

In case anyone’s interested…

I was interviewed earlier today on a show on NPR called “Talk of the Nation.” The interview lasted 17 minutes, and you can listen to it by clicking here. Sorry for not announcing it ahead of time, but it all came together at the last minute.

In other news, I’m still trying to find my way into a World Series game — ideally at Citizens Bank Park — and I’d rather not spend $700 for a standing-room-only ticket on StubHub, so if you have any leads, please let me know.

Get your donations ready…

As many of you already know, I’ve raised over $13,000 this season for a charity called Pitch In For Baseball.

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Since my chances of attending a World Series game are VERY slim, I’d like to start collecting donations now.

So…if you’ve already made a pledge, there are two ways you can make your donation:

OPTION ONE = WRITE A CHECK:

Make the check payable to Pitch In For Baseball and mail it to:

Pitch In For Baseball
c/o Zack Hample
1541 Gehman Road
Harleysville, PA  19438

FYI: The reason for writing “c/o Zack Hample” is to inform the folks at Pitch In For Baseball that you’re one of my donors. This will help them keep track of all the money I’m raising for them. Not a single penny of the money will ever end up in my possession (in case Conan succeeded in raising doubts).

OPTION TWO = PAY BY CREDIT CARD:

Here’s how to do this:

1) Visit my fundraising page.
2) Scroll to the bottom.
3) Look for the red banner that says “Make a Contribution.” 
4) Click the “Other” option at the bottom of the box.
5) Type in the amount of your donation.
6) Click the “Continue” button down below and follow the remaining steps.

If you’re wondering exactly how much you owe, click here and scroll down to the master list of donors. Here’s a screen shot from the middle of the list:

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As you can see, there are two columns of numbers. The column on the left indicates how much money you pledged per ball; the column on the right shows how much your donation has amounted to. (I snagged 532 balls this season, so all the pledges have been multiplied by that number.)

Does all of this make sense?

Let me know if you have questions.

BTW…I’m going to follow up with people via email, especially those who don’t read this blog regularly, so don’t worry…all 128 donors will be hearing about this.

Three more things:

1) If you’re trying to decide between sending a check or paying with a credit card, go for the check. If you use a credit card, the credit card company will skim a small processing fee from your donation, but if you pay with a check, 100 percent of your donation will go to Pitch In For Baseball. That said, don’t feel guilty about using a credit card. It’s really not THAT big of a deal.

2) It’s not too late to make a pledge. Even though I probably won’t snag any more baseballs this season, you can still donate money to this cause.

3) If there’s anyone reading this who has an extra World Series ticket
that they’d be willing to sell at a reasonable price, please let me
know. It’d be really cool to make it to one more game this season…

That’s it.

Thank you so much!

(I’ll keep blogging throughout the off-season so keep checking back…)

Taking batting practice at PNC Park

The best thing that happened on my birthday this year was NOT snagging 22 balls at Camden Yards. Not even close. The highlight was receiving the following email from my friend Erik Jabs:

Zack,
I remember you writing that one day you’d like to take BP on a major league field.

PNC Park is having a season ticket holder batting practice on Tuesday,
Oct 6. It’s a regular BP with the cages and screens and everything.
They also use MLB balls, and you can elect to use players’ game bats.

I’d you’d like to, you’re welcome to be my guest and take BP on that day.

I wrote a little about it last year when my blog was beginning:
http://countingbaseballs.mlblogs.com/archives/2008/09/92408_pnc_park_season_ticket_h.html

Let me know,
Erik

Three weeks after I received this email, I flew to Pittsburgh with my mom (who came along just to watch) and my friend Brandon (who took all the photos you’re about to see)…

Here I am walking into PNC Park with Erik and a few of his friends:

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This was my reaction after stepping onto the field:

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It was nine o’clock in the morning. The sun was bright, but the grass was still wet, and it was only 49 degrees — not ideal conditions to jack one over the fence, but I was hopeful.

There were only about 100 people in our 9am-11am group, and we all gathered in the stands for the welcome speech:

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The speaker thanked us for supporting the Pirates in 2009 (You’re welcome!) and explained a few basic things about how our three-group session on the field was going to be run:

Group One would be hitting first…

Group Two would be free to roam anywhere on the field and shag baseballs…

Group Three would start by lining up on the warning track in right field and catching fly balls that were going to be fired from a pitching machine…

I was in Group Three, which meant that all the balls were going to be soggy by the time I stepped into the cage. It also meant that I had to break the rules for a couple minutes and play catch at shortstop:

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The rules, it should be noted, were not strictly enforced. Some people from Group Two made a beeline for the right field warning track, while others in Group Three (like me and Erik) wandered all over the place.

Here I am with Erik:

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(Erik is 6-foot-4.)

The fly ball machine was positioned on the infield dirt behind first base:

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It wasn’t THAT exciting to catch routine 200-foot fly balls fired from a machine, especially when I had to wait in line for five minutes between each one. What WAS exciting was simply being on the field:

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Quite simply, it was a dream come true.

Finally, after more than an hour, Group Three was called in to hit. I raced to the front of the line and grabbed an aluminum bat that belonged to one of Erik’s friends. I could’ve used wood — there were more than a dozen players’ bats lying around — but I decided I’d go with metal until I put one out.

Unfortunately, that never happened (and here’s where I make tons of excuses)…

In addition to the balls being damp, I had to hit off a pitching machine that was firing most of the balls shoulder-high. Also, the late-morning sun was shining right in my eyes from straight-away center field. In addition, I only got eight pitches, which included my bunt to start the round as well as another pitch that I took moments later because it was head-high. There were so many people waiting to hit, and the guys feeding the machine were in such a rush to get me out of the cage that they only gave me three seconds between each swing to get ready for the next one. It was like, “Hurry up and have your fun and get the hell out.” (But don’t get me wrong: it WAS fun.)

Here I am taking a mighty cut at one of the only belt-high pitches I saw:

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Although, as I mentioned above, I didn’t hit a ball out of the park, I did manage to hit a line drive that bounced onto the warning track. If the ball weren’t damp and heavy, it might’ve gone out, and if I’d swung about an eighth of an inch lower, it definitely would’ve gone out.

After everyone in Group Three got their eight-pitches (no one in any group even came close to hitting one out), we each got to jump back in the cage for a four-pitch lightning round. Brandon wandered out behind the mound and took the following photo of me at the plate:

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Same result:
Damp balls.
Too high.
Good swings.
Totally rushed.
Decent contact.
No homers.
Major frustration.

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It was exhilarating to get to take BP on a major league field, and
while it certainly went down as I expected, it wasn’t anything like
what I’d dreamt of so many times. In my own personal FantasyLand, I
have a stadium all to myself. The grass is dry. It’s 82
degrees. Leon Feingold is pitching BP fastballs to me with pearls, and of course I’m hitting the crap out of them.

Former big league pitcher Rick Reuschel was hanging around near the batting cage. He and I talked for a minute and then had our picture taken.

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(In my next life, I’m going to be 6-foot-7.)

Here I am with a gentleman named Nick Pelescak: 

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Nick is:

1) a friend of Erik’s
2) a Pirates season ticket holder
3) the owner of the metal bat I’d used
4) a member of the Ballhawk League
5) a good ballplayer
6) a great guy

As you can see in the photo above, Nick brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter for me to sign…which I did…with an extra big smile because it was the most worn-out/well-appreciated copy of the book that I’d ever seen. Nick told me he’d read it several times and underlined his favorite parts, which turned out to be half the stuff in it. Check out this two-page spread in the “Umpires” chapter:

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The whole book looked like that.

It was lunchtime. Our two-hour session on the field had ended.

We entertained ourselves at the speed-pitch booth:

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In the photo above, that’s me on the left, Nick on the right, and Nick’s younger brother Bryan in the middle. Bryan (who’s just 16 years old) threw the fastest pitch of the day at 73mph.

Then it was time to eat:

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And then we wandered back down to the field:

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Thanks to a not-so-secret loophole in the system, we all got to head back onto the field. Here I am, waiting for my turn to hit:

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See the batting glove I’m wearing in the photo above? On this fine day in Pittsburgh, I decided to use Jeromy Burnitz’s batting gloves — the ones he tossed to me in 2004 at Shea Stadium. (Here’s my whole collection of batting gloves, in case you care.)

There were a dozen helmets lying around next to the cage…

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…and none of them fit.

These were some of the bats:

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I took my eight swings with Nick’s metal bat…

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…and finished up with Jose Bautista’s wood bat. No homers. But I hit some deep fly balls and got a compliment from former Pirate John Wehner. Here I am with him:

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Wehner said that even HE wouldn’t have been able to hit a home run with such bad balls. (I wish I had a photo of the balls, but since I don’t, let me just say this: the worst ball that you could possibly catch during BP at a major league game would be better than any ball I was invited to hit at PNC Park.) He might’ve just been saying that to make me feel better…but then again, he did only hit four career homers in the big leagues…but no, it was nice to hear.

Brandon and I wandered out to the bullpens. Here I am on the mound:

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Here I am on the bench:

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Here’s a sign that was on the wall out there:

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Here I am clowning around on the warning track (robbing a…double?) with Bryan looking on:

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Brandon and my mom and I were going to have to leave for the airport soon, so I spent my remaining time catching fly balls from the pitching machine.

Here I am getting ready to catch one:

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Here I am losing my footing on another:

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(We were not allowed to wear spikes or cleats.)

I failed to catch that particular ball and ended up like this:

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Good times!

Here’s one final photo of me and mom before we headed out:

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The Pittsburgh Pirates are awesome for letting their season ticket holders take over the field for a day. By comparison, the New York Mets “rewarded” their season ticket holders by letting
them run the bases (for 20 seconds) after the final game of the season.

I have to end this entry with a BIG thank you to Erik for giving me the opportunity to do this. Check out his blog. He should have an entry up about it soon. Also…thanks to Brandon for taking all the photos.

MLB Network

Last month I visited the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball and took a bunch of photos for this blog. Remember? Well, after my meeting there, I was invited to visit the MLB Network headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey — and once again I was allowed to bring my camera.

Here what the outside of the building looks like:

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Here’s the view from just inside the glass doors:

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(FYI: The MLB Network is not open to the public. You can’t just show up and ask to have a look around. That said, the security guard at the front desk told me that random people drop by every day and try to talk their way inside. But anyway…)

As soon as I arrived, I was escorted down a hallway and through the following doors:

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As soon as the doors closed behind me, I ran into two guys who had each played in the Major Leagues for more than a decade: Harold Reynolds and Tony Clark. They just happened to be harold_reynolds.jpgheading into a meeting and were walking toward me from the opposite direction. They stopped and said hello to the MLB representative who was showing me around, and then I was introduced to them.

“This is Zack Hample.” Pause. “Zack is…” Another pause.

I wasn’t sure if the gentleman from MLB was searching for the right words or if he was simply waiting for me to take the lead, so I jumped in and said, “Basically, I’m the guy who’s caught more baseballs in the stands at major league games than anyone.”

“How many?” asked the 6-foot-7 Clark.

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“Well,” I said, “including all the balls I’ve snagged during batting practice, over 4,300.”

Reynolds and Clark were shocked. I thought there was a chance that they didn’t even believe me so I pulled out my wallet and showed them the bathtub photo and told them that this was only one-fifth of my collection.

“You’re a sick man,” said Reynolds with a grin.

“Thank you,” I replied. “I’ll take that as a compliment.” Then I turned to Clark and said, “Now, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way — I don’t want you to feel used or anything — but you actually contributed to my collection by tossing me a ball a few years ago.”

“Where was that?” he asked, so I told him that he’d flipped me a 3rd-out ball while jogging off the field late in a game at Chase Field in 2007. “I got 21 balls that day,” I said. Clark just shook his head and laughed.

He and Reynolds had to make it to their meeting, so we all shook hands and parted ways, and my tour continued in THE main studio:

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It was silent in the studio. Most of the lights were off. There were no other people. It was surreal. I couldn’t believe that I was standing there — twenty minutes earlier I’d been riding a dingy bus from the NJ Transit station — and now all of a sudden here I was, getting another behind-the-scenes glimpse at the world of Major League Baseball. I was so excited…so energized…I just wanted to run and around and shriek…but I held it all together and settled for taking a few more photos.

Here’s the side desk:

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In the photo above, do you see the staircase in the background? Here’s what it looks like at the top:

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Here’s another look at the darkened studio:

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Do you see the big MLB logo into the background?

That’s actually the entrance to the studio.

Here I am inside the logo:

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Wow.
Okay.
Moving on…

This is where most of the video editing takes place:

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Here’s another area where that work is also done:

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Do you remember the autographed walls in my behind-the-scenes entry from my recent appearance on “The Tonight Show”? The MLB Network also has an area of autographs, except it’s waaay cooler because all the autographs were written by baseball players. Here’s a photo of the walls:

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How many of the autographs can you identify?

Here’s another photo…

…and another:

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Here’s my favorite:

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In my opinion, one of the best things about the MLB Network is that there’s a huge studio called MLB Park. Basically, it’s a small replica of a field where the analysts are often filmed recreating plays and teaching fundamentals. Check it out:

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Look how realistic the dugouts are:

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Here’s a view of the outfield wall and the scoreboard and the bleachers:

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Gorgeous:

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While I was wandering around with my camera, most of the lights in MLB Park were abruptly shut off, and a very large camera was wheeled across the infield, just in front off the mound. The network was getting ready to tape a segment in there, so I had to head out, but first I crouched down behind the plate (outside pitch to Albert Pujols) and took one final photo:

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And there you have it.

I’ll admit that I was a bit slow to tune in when the MLB Network first launched on January 1st — I didn’t even know that I had it as part of my Time Warner cable package — but I’ve been watching it religiously since the All-Star break. If you’re not sure if you have the network in your home, click here and type your zip code into the “channel locator.”

2009 NLDS — Game 2

This wasn’t just another game. Not only was it the National League Division Series — Cardinals vs. Dodgers — but there was something extra special about it for me: it was the day before my appearance on “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” and I was going to be filmed by a roving camera crew.

Half an hour before the gates opened, I headed to the Top Deck and picked up my media credential:

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I headed down to the left field pavilion and met up with the crew along the way. Here I am explaining my various T-shirts to the camera:

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Once inside the stadium, my job was simple: snag as many balls as possible so that there’d be some exciting footage for the show.

In the photo below (taken by my girlfriend Jona), I’m the guy wearing the “RAMIREZ 99″ shirt:

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There wasn’t much action early on — I had a couple close calls — so I spent most of my time explaining things to the camera.

Finally, after 15 minutes of nothingness, Manny Ramirez launched a home run over my head and I raced up the steps:

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There was an all-out scramble for the ball as it rattled around underneath the benches, and I managed to come up with it. Huge relief. Up until that point, I felt like I was personally letting down Conan — like I was a ballhawk fraud who’d made preposterous claims and then failed to back them up.

Several minutes later, I caught a ground-rule double behind the left field wall…and that was it for the Dodgers’ portion of BP. Not good. I’d been hoping to pad my numbers early on before it got crowded, but at least both of the balls had a Dodgertown stamp on the sweet spot. (If you want to see my complete collection of stamped/marked balls, click here.)

Because of my media credential, I was able to exit the pavilion and re-enter the main part of the stadium. My plan? To get some balls from the Cardinals on the right field side. First, of course, I changed into my bright red Cardinals gear, and even though my Dodgers shirt was poking out underneath, I was able to convince Ryan Franklin to toss me a ball. If you look closely at the photo below, you can barely see the edge of the ball as it disappeared into the pocket of my glove:

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Soon after, Matt Pagnozzi threw me my fourth ball of the day. Here I am preparing for the easy two-handed catch:

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I headed to the right field pavilion after that and snagged a home run that ricocheted down into the gap behind the wall. (I’m not sure who hit it.) Then, when Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday started taking their cuts, I raced back around to the left field side and positioned myself deep in the cross-aisle, more than 400 feet from home plate. Holiday hit two consecutive bombs that reached the aisle. I bolted to my right for the first one, but it sailed over my head and was promptly snatched by another fan. The second homer came closer to me, and I was able to climb over a few benches and reach out over the bullpen for a back-handed catch. The whole section booed me because of my clothing, so I lifted up my Cardinals shirt and revealed my Dodger Blue underneath. Some people laughed, some people cheered, some people continued booing, and some people were like, “Huh?” It was pretty funny.

I played the staircases for the rest of BP…

…but nothing else came my way.

Right before the game started, I headed back into the main part of the stadium and got Mark DeRosa to toss me his warm-up ball behind the 1st base dugout.

Then Slash performed the national anthem…

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…and I headed back outside the stadium once again. It was time to change into my Waldo shirt:

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In my previous entry I mentioned I was going to wear it, not because it’s sexy but because I knew it’d be easier for people to spot me in the crowd. The only problem was…I was never IN the crowd. I spent the first few innings halfway down a staircase behind the left field wall, and then when security told me I couldn’t stand there, I moved to the very bottom. That really sucked because it meant I couldn’t even see the game. All I could do was look up at the sky and hope that I’d be able to see the baseballs coming toward me. In the bottom of the 4th, I came *really* close to snagging Andre Ethier’s home run, but it took a bad bounce after it cleared the wall and ricocheted right to the ONE other guy who’d raced down a different staircase. That also really sucked, but at least I got to hang out with Manny:

 

The guy in the photo above is named Jose (aka “Mannywood” and “Jose Being Manny” and he told me that he sometimes refers to himself as “The Mexican Zack Hample”). You can see more photos of him on MySpace and MyGameBalls.com. He’s a super-cool guy, and he always hangs out in the left field pavilion.

The game itself was DAMN exciting, but it didn’t end the way I wanted. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th and the Dodgers trailing, 2-1, James Loney hit a line drive right at Holliday in left field. All Holliday had to do was catch it, and the game would’ve been over. The Cardinals would’ve evened up the series at one game apiece. But Holliday failed to make the catch. He said later that he never even saw the ball, and I believe him. As he charged in toward it, it nailed him in the stomach. Casey Blake then drew a nine-pitch walk and Ronnie Belliard followed by ripping the first pitch he saw into center field for a game-tying single. Everyone in the stadium was going nuts, but for different reasons; the other 51,818 fans were simply cheering on their beloved Dodgers. I, however, was ecstatic because it meant the game might go into extra innings, which meant I might get another chance to catch a home run. Russell Martin walked to load the bases, and then Mark Loretta ruined everything with a game-winning single.

Final score: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 2.

After the game, the camera crew got a final shot of me holding up all seven of my baseballs. Once they took off, I gave away two of the balls to kids and then got a friend to take my picture with Jona:

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Good times. Playoff baseball is intense.

SNAGGING STATS:

12_the_five_i_kept_10_08_09.jpg• 7 balls at this game (five pictured here because I gave two away)

• 3 ticket stubs collected at this game (pictured below the balls)

• 532 balls in 59 games this season = 9.02 balls per game.

• 628 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

13_tickets_10_08_09.jpg• 11 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball

• 4,352 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (click here to make a pledge…or just to learn more)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $176.82 raised at this game

• $13,438.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One last thing…

The best article EVER written about me was published yesterday on ESPN.com. Here’s the graphic that was originally up on the site…

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…and here’s the article itself.

Next game for me?
Who knows…

10/4/09 at Citi Field

This was the final game of the regular season, and I was there for one reason only: to snag a piece of equipment after the game at the winning team’s dugout. There was no guarantee that this would happen, but since it WAS the last day, I knew that the players would be extra generous.

Unfortunately, since it was a day game and both teams were mailing it in, there was no batting practice…BUT…the lack of action did give me a chance to hang out with half a dozen of my fellow ballhawks:

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Pictured from left to right: Conner (whom I met on 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium), Joe (a former Watch With Zack client who combined to snag 22 balls with me on 5/8/09 at Citi Field), Alex (whom I met at Game 4 of the 2008 World Series), me, another Alex (who you might remember from 8/17/09 at Citi Field), Ross (another Watch With Zack client who snagged four different types of balls on 9/23/09 at Citi Field), and Clif (who first attended a game with me on 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium). I knew all these guys pretty well, so it was good to catch up with them.

We were all so frustrated at the lack of BP that we posed for a second photo in which we pretended to punch each other…

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…except for Clif (in the red hat). Somehow he escaped unscathed.

There was NO action on the field for the first hour, so we all wandered into the area behind the center field scoreboard and took some swings in the batting cage. Here’s a two-part photo of me in which I’m a) settling into my stance and b) unleashing a furious swing (at a 30mph pitch):

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I hadn’t swung a bat for quite some time, and since I had plans to take BP on the field at PNC Park two days later, this was a valuable tune-up.

Yes, you read that right: I’m going to be taking BP on a major league field on Tuesday, October 6th, and I owe it all to Erik Jabs. I’ll be sharing the details/photos after it happens. I think that’ll be my next blog entry, but there’s so much stuff going on right now that I’m not even sure what to write about next. But anyway…

A few Mets pitchers finally came out and started playing catch in right field. The front row along the foul line got so crowded that I headed up to the second deck…

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…but no one tossed any balls to me.

Half an hour later, ONE Astros player came out to play catch (with some random strength coach guy) on the left field side. It was a relief pitcher named Samuel Gervacio, and as soon as he finished, he began walking toward me with the ball in his hand:

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At that point, I was concerned about getting shut out, and there weren’t any other players in sight, so my heart sank when he ended up tossing the ball to someone else.

BUT…

He then pulled another ball out of his back pocket and kept walking toward the stands and eventually tossed it right to me.

Here are two photos of the ball:

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Some teams have tried marking their baseballs so their employees won’t steal them and get them signed; the Astros have been marking their balls with an “H” for as long as I can remember.

I was already wearing my Astros gear by the time I got the ball from Gervacio, and so were most of my snagging companions. In the photo below, not one person is an actual Astros fan:

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Sorry, Houston.
Nothing personal.

A few minutes later, someone asked me how many balls I’d snagged this season, and when I said, “Five hundred and twenty-four,” Brandon took a photo that captured a nearby woman’s reaction.

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Right before the game started, Chris Johnson (wearing No. 23 in the photo below) and several other Astros played catch in shallow left field:

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I got Johnson to throw me the ball when they were done.

Ready for a totally random/worthless statistic? This was the 11th guy named Johnson to have thrown me a ball. The other 10 are: Ben, Brian, Howard, Jason, Jonathan, Kelly, Mark P., Nick, Reed, and Russ. What’s YOUR record for the most players/coaches with the same last name to have given you a ball? (For the complete list of everyone who’s ever thrown me a ball, click here.)

For the first few innings, while I was making unsuccessful attempts to snag a 3rd-out ball behind the Astros’ dugout, Brandon was taking action shots (like the one below) of the game itself:

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The batter in the photo above is Mets rookie catcher Josh Thole. He entered the game batting .286 (14-for-49) and went 3-for-4 to finish the season at .321. Nicely done.

Mets left fielder Angel Pagan had an even better day, going 4-for-4 with two doubles and a triple, but the best performance belonged to starting pitcher (and super-nice guy) Nelson Figueroa. Entering the final day with a hard-luck record of 2-8 and an ERA of 4.70, he pitched the first complete game of his career — a four-hit shutout with no walks — as the Mets beat the Astros, 4-0.

Lots of fans had homemade signs. This was the best one:

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As for me…

It took a major effort just to make it down into the front row behind the Mets’ dugout, and once I got there, I wasn’t too hopeful. I was trapped in the middle of the section, in between the two entrances to the dugout, which meant I wasn’t going to be standing directly in front of the players as they walked off the field. Still, I stayed alert and kept looking out in front of me to pick up on any possible opportunity. Several players flung their caps into the crowd 20 feet to my right. Then I saw a few balls get tossed as well as some batting gloves, but I wasn’t close to any of it, and it was killing me. Ten seconds later, I noticed that Angel Pagan was veering toward my end of the dugout and looking up into the crowd, so I took off my cap and made a frisbee-throwing gesture with it. I was trying to indicate that I wanted him to throw HIS cap to me…and it worked! But he flung it way over my head. When the cap first left his hand, it looked like it was going to reach the sixth row, but then, somehow, thankfully, just like a frisbee that gets thrown up at an angle, it started slicing back down toward me, and I jumped for it:

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It’s easy to spot me in the photo above because I’m the only person who appears blurry. While everyone else was simply reaching (and pushing) for the cap, I was the only person who actually jumped for it. (What a concept!) As you can see, I was wearing my glove on my left hand and holding my own cap in my right hand. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to catch Pagan’s twirling cap in my glove and then be able to hold onto it, but I had no other choice. I *had* to try to catch it that way…and it worked! I caught the damn cap IN my glove and then immediately brought it down to my chest and hugged it tightly. One second later, after I had transferred Pagan’s cap to my right hand, the guy standing next to me tried to snatch it, but I had a death-grip on it. There was no way anyone was going to steal it, and I offered the guy a few choice words.

Here’s a look at the cap:

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As you can see, the Citi Field commemorative logo is on the outside, and Pagan’s uniform number is written on the inside. Coolness. It was the fourth cap I’d ever gotten and the first with a commemorative logo. You can see the other caps here.

Here’s one final photo that shows me with everything I snagged at this game:

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Ooh yeah, that’s right, I also got a little sumpin’-sumpin’ during the 5th-inning T-shirt launch. I haven’t kept track of all the T-shirts I’ve snagged, but I’m pretty sure that number is in the double digits.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 525 balls in 58 games this season = 9.05 balls per game.

• 627 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 351 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 4,345 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $50.52 raised at this game

• $13,261.50 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One thing about the charity (since people have been asking)…

It’s not too late to make a pledge. There’s a good chance that I’ll be snagging a few more balls this post-season, so hold onto your donations until the end of the World Series, and then I’ll email you with some very easy instructions about how to pay. You’ll have the option of using a credit card on the Pitch In For Baseball web site OR mailing them a check. Either way, your money will never be in my possession.

Stay tuned for some BIG stuff over the next week. PNC Park is just the beginning…

9/30/09 at Nationals Park

This was the Nationals’ final home game of 2009 — a 4:35pm start — and my friend Brandon was there with his fancy camera…

When we first ran into the stadium at 2:05pm, all the Nationals players were stretching in right field, yet batting practice WAS taking place. There was some type of bonus round of BP for Nationals employees, and as you can imagine, most of them were terrible hitters. One guy, however, was good enough to reach the warning track, even with the crappy training balls that were being used, and I ended up getting two them tossed to me. The first came from a ballboy near the foul pole, and the second came from a coach named Jose Martinez who was shagging in straight-away left field. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to me as I reached out to catch my second ball, and the vertical arrow is pointing to Martinez:

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My third ball of the day was a ground-rule double — hit by the random/talented employee — that barely cleared the railing and landed in the third row. There was only one other fan who was close enough to go for it, but he didn’t move until the ball was already in the seats, so I was able to beat him to it.

Without any warning or any break in the action, Adam Dunn stepped into the cage so I raced over to the right field seats. Moments later, a ball rolled onto the warning track in right-center, and I convinced a different random employee to toss it up. Brandon was still in left field at that point, but he had his camera aimed at me and got the following photo of the ball in mid-air:

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In this photo (which you can click for a closer look), the arrow pointing up shows the ball, and the arrow pointing down shows me. The guy who tossed it was moving to his left at the time, so it looks as if the ball is heading toward the other fan in the front row, but I assure you that’s not the case.

Marquis Grissom tossed me my fifth ball of the day in straight-away right field, and then 10 seconds later, he saw me catch a Dunn homer on the fly. I was standing on the staircase, six rows back. The ball came right to me. I made a two-handed catch. It was embarrassingly easy, and by the way, every single one of these balls was a training ball.

adam_dunn_2009.jpgMy seventh ball of the day was thrown by Marco Estrada, and my eighth was another Dunn homer. I had to run about 15 feet to my right for it, and then as the ball was descending, I climbed back over a row (in the middle of the section) and reached over my head to make a back-handed catch. A gloveless man behind me complained that I’d already gotten a ball. I responded by offering to give him the one I’d just caught, but he didn’t want it.

“Give it to a kid instead,” he said.

You have no idea how much I do for kids,” I replied, but the guy clearly wasn’t interested in anything I had to say, so I let it go and moved on and continued to put on a snagging clinic.

(For the record, there was only one other kid in the section, and he’d already gotten a ball. It was one of those days where the players were being generous. Basically, everyone who asked for a ball got one.)

Saul Rivera threw me ball No. 9, and he did it as if he were turning a double play. He had Victor Garate throw him the ball, and as he caught it he made an imaginary pivot (as if he were a second baseman) and then fired it in my direction.

I looked at the clock. It was only 2:24pm. The stadium had been open for 19 minutes. Oh my God. I wasn’t just thinking about reaching the 20-ball plateau; I was thinking about what it would take to snag 30 and possibly even break my one-game record of 32. Meanwhile, Brandon finally made it out to the right field seats and got a cool shot of me catching my 10th ball of the day:

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It was thrown by Livan Hernandez from the foul line, and as you can see in the photo above, there weren’t a whole lot of kids in the stands. Even the guy in the red jacket got a ball thrown to him. I’m telling you…there were PLENTY of balls to go around, and as a result, I was truly heading for the game of my life.

But guess what happened next…

Here, let me show you:

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That’s right. It wasn’t even raining, and the grounds crew decided to (leisurely) roll out the tarp.

Unbelievable.

The good news is that there were several balls sitting in the left field bullpen, and I was able to use my glove trick to reel in one of them. The following three-part photo (which you absolutely HAVE to click) shows how it played out:

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The ball was sitting underneath the overhang, so I had to swing my glove out and back in order to knock the ball out into the open. As you can see in the photo on the left, the the string angled back at the bottom of the Harris Teeter ad. The photo in the middle shows two important things (in addition to the ball itself): 1) my awesome farmer’s tan and 2) the glove being being propped open by the Sharpie. The photo on the right shows me reaching for the ball. I’m always paranoid that the ball will fall out at the last second, but it rarely does. The key is not to panic — not to rush — while raising the glove. I just try to keep lifting it up steadily.

In the middle photo up above, do you see the man in the light gray vest jacket? While I was carefully lifting up my glove, he said, “Excuse me, but your last name isn’t Hample by any chance, is it?”

I told him it was, and he told me that he owned a copy of my second book (Watching Baseball Smarter) and that his eight-year-old son loved it and that they actually had it with them and that they’d been hoping to get it signed…so of course I signed it as soon as I was done using my glove trick, and then I posed for a photo with his son. When I changed into my Mets gear soon after, three other kids recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs. Here’s the autograph session in progress…

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…and here we are with the balls:

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Five minutes later, several Mets players and coaches walked out to the bullpen and tossed the remaining balls into the crowd. I got one of them from Sandy Alomar Jr.

Then it started raining, and for some reason, someone in the bullpen tossed a ball into left field. The arrow in the following photo is pointing to it:

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I found out later that the ball had been used by Pat Misch during his bullpen session, and that when it started raining, it slipped out of his hand and sailed high above the catcher and hit a railing and ricocheted sideways all the way onto the field. Of course I wouldn’t be telling this story if I hadn’t ended up snagging it. Randy Niemann eventually tossed it to me while walking in from the bullpen:

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Abe Lincoln was not impressed:

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It got sunny again by 4pm, and with the game set to start on time, I headed to the seats near the Mets’ bullpen. There was lots of activity out there. It just seemed like the place to be. Bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello was warming up Tim Redding in left field. Omir Santos was playing catch with Alomar on the warning track. Several relievers were standing around with baseballs in their hands. Ken Takahashi tossed a ball to the kid on my right. Then Brian Stokes (who has recently gotten to know me) spotted me and tossed me the ball that he was holding. Here I am reaching out for it:

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In the photo above, Stokes is the guy who’s standing still and cradling his glove against his chest.

Another thing about the photo above…

On the left side, you can barely see a catcher sitting down. He’s mostly chopped out of the picture, but just above the red flowers and the green edge of the outfield wall, you can see his black shin guard curling up over his knee. Right? Well, that was Santos, and when he headed into the bullpen one minute later, I leaned over the side railing and asked him for his ball in Spanish:

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This was the result:

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He flipped it up directly from his glove. It was my 15th ball of day. It had a Citi Field commemorative logo on it. Yay.

Josh Thole and Nelson Figueroa started signing autographs along the 3rd base line, so I headed over there and got them both. Thole signed my September 30th ticket, and Figueroa signed one from the previous day. Here I am after getting Thole…

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…and here are the autographs themselves:

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Right after the national anthem, David Wright tossed me his warm-up ball at the dugout:

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I was tempted to stay behind the dugout and go for 3rd-out balls — I only needed four more balls to reach 20 — but the temptation to catch a home run was even greater, so I headed back out to left field. Here’s where I sat:

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I had empty rows on both sides. There were very few fans with gloves. The circumstances were ideal. But of course nothing came anywhere near me.

Halfway through the game, when Nationals starter John Lannan came to bat, I noticed a statistical oddity on the scoreboard. Can you spot it? I’ll tell you what it is after the photo:

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His on-base percentage was higher than his slugging percentage, which means that over the course of the season, he’d collected more walks (two) than extra bases via hits (one).

In the middle of the 7th inning, I got my 17th ball of the day from a Mets reliever in the bullpen, and I’m ashamed to admit that I couldn’t identify him. I think it was either Tobi Stoner or Lance Broadway, but I’ll never know for sure.

In the bottom of the 9th inning, Brandon and I moved to the third row behind the Nationals’ dugout. This was our view:

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Francisco Rodriguez was pitching. The Mets had a 4-2 lead. The left side of my brain (or maybe it was the right) figured he’d nail down the save. The right side of my brain (or maybe it was the left) figured he’d blow the game. Either way, I was convinced that the Nationals’ dugout was the place to be. As I mentioned at the top of this entry, it was the Nats’ final home game of the season; I thought the players might be extra generous and throw some bonus items into the crowd.

Alberto Gonzalez led off the bottom of the 9th with an infield single. Then Mike Morse was called upon to pinch hit and took a called first strike. The second pitch was a 55-footer. Omir Santos blocked it and handed it to Kerwin Danley, the home plate umpire. Danley inspected it and handed it to the ballboy, who’d jogged out with a supply of fresh baseballs. As the ballboy returned to the dugout with the scuffed ball, I simply stood up and made eye contact with him and flapped my glove, and he tossed it to me. (HA!!!) Four pitches later, Morse ripped a ground ball single up the middle. Willie Harris followed with a sacrifice bunt and Elijah Dukes walked on a full count to justin_maxwell_2009.jpgload the bases. Ryan Zimmerman came up next and struck out on three pitches. There were two outs. The Mets were still winning, 4-2. The bases were still loaded, and then Adam Dunn walked on another full count. This forced in a run and trimmed the Mets’ lead to 4-3. Justin Maxwell, who had entered the game as a pinch runner in the 8th inning and remained in center field as a defensive replacement, stepped up to the plate. He took the first pitch for a ball and then watched the next two pitches zip by for called strikes. The fourth pitch was a ball. The count was even at 2-2. Then he fouled off the fifth pitch and took the sixth to bring the count to 3-2. Everyone in the stadium knew that Rodriguez was going to throw a fastball; the right-handed Maxwell, however, was so geeked up that he swung too soon and yanked a monstrous drive over the 3rd base dugout. On the next pitch — another 3-2 fastball — he swung too late and lifted a foul pop-up into the seats on the 1st base side. It was the most exciting at-bat I had ever seen in my life, and on the following pitch — the 9th pitch of the battle — Maxwell’s timing was perfect. He centered the ball and launched it into the flower bed in left field for a walk-off grand slam:

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Final score: Nationals 7, Mets 4.

Wow.

After all the celebrating and shaving-creaming was done, the Nationals DID toss a bunch of stuff into the crowd. They must’ve thrown 100 T-shirts (leftovers from the T-shirt launch) and two dozen balls. One player (not sure who) threw his batting gloves over the dugout. Incredibly, I didn’t get any of it. Not one damn thing. It was quite a letdown, but obviously I was still happy about the overall outcome of the day — that is, until Brandon and I made it back outside and walked to the parking lot. I’ll show you what I’m talking about after the stats…

SNAGGING STATS:

23_the_seventeen_i_kept_09_30_09.jpg• 18 balls at this game (17 pictured here because I gave one away after the game)

• 523 balls in 57 games this season = 9.18 balls per game.

• 626 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 120 lifetime games with at least ten balls

• 4,343 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $454.68 raised at this game

• $13,210.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

As I was saying, the parking lot…

When I parked my parents’ gray Volvo there earlier in the day, it was in perfect condition, and when I returned eight hours later, it looked like this:

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That’s me in the photo above, crouching down to assess the damage while holding a cell phone up to my ear and telling my dad about it.

Someday — SOME day — I’m going to attend a game at Nationals Park and have everything go smoothly…

9/29/09 at Nationals Park

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This was the third time I’d ever been to Nationals Park, and it was the third time that something went wrong. This time? I took a wrong turn and got stuck in traffic and missed the first 20 minutes of batting practice. I would’ve missed even more if not for my friend Brandon and girlfriend Jona. They were with me, and when we got close to the stadium, they agreed to park the car (not an easy task in Washington, D.C.) so I could run in and try to make up for lost time. I was totally out of breath by the time I made it to the left field seats, and then when I realized that the left-handed Adam Dunn was taking his cuts, I sprinted around to the right field side. Here’s what it looked like out there:

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Thirty seconds after arriving, I got Justin Maxwell to throw me a ball in right-center field. Then I hurried back to the other end of the section and convinced Ron Villone to toss me another…so at least I wasn’t shut out. Ten minutes earlier, while stuck in traffic and biting the crap out of my fingernails, I figured I’d be able to salvage the day and snag a decent amount of balls, but then again, every worst-case scenario still found its way into my head. Anyway, after getting the ball from Villone, I took a peek into the gap behind the outfield wall — just in case – and this is what I saw:

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Out-STANDING!

I crouched down in the front row (to avoid drawing extra attention to myself) and set up my glove trick, and within moments I had the ball in my possession. It was my third ball of the day, and they were all training balls:

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I hate training balls. They’re cheap and plasticky. It’s no wonder that the worst team in baseball uses them, but hey, I wasn’t about to stop snagging.

A few minutes later, Adam Dunn launched a home run that landed 15 feet to my right and three rows behind me. I was able to grab that ball out of the seats, and then I raced down to the front row as Zack Segovia retrieved a ball from the warning track.

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“Hey, Zack!” I shouted. “My name is Zack, too, and I have ID to prove it! Any chance you could toss me a ball, please?!”

I was already reaching for my driver’s license, but he didn’t ask to see it. Instead, he simply smiled and flipped the ball up to me.

My next ball was tossed by Garrett Mock, and I wouldn’t have gotten it if not for a fellow ballhawk named Aaron (aka “districtboy” in the comments section). Aaron happened to get into a conversation with Mock, and I happened to hear him mention my name, so I headed closer to see what was going on.

“You guys talking about me?” I asked.

“This is the guy,” said Aaron, pointing me out to Mock.

Mocked looked over at me and said something like, “So, what’s the deal with your charity?”

That’s when Brandon and Jona showed up and started taking photos of me. (Brandon is a professional photographer and had two cameras with him.) Here’s a shot of Mock looking up:

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He and I talked for a couple minutes. I told him all about the charity and how I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag during the 2009 season, and I mentioned that Heath Bell had made a pledge and that I’d raised over $12,000 and that the money was going to be used to provide baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Mock was interested enough that he asked if I had any additional info. I tossed one of my contact cards down to him, and he tossed a training ball up to me. (That was my sixth ball of the day, and yes, all of them were training balls.) He then thanked me and said he’d try to help out by mentioning the charity to the Nationals’ P.R. people.

I then had my picture taken with Aaron:

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(In case you’re new to this blog, I’m on the left.)

My seventh ball of the day was a home run by Mike Morse. I had to climb down over a couple rows while the ball was in mid-air, but I didn’t quite reach the front row in time so the ball tipped off my glove. Luckily, it didn’t ricochet too far away, and since there wasn’t anyone standing near me, I was able to grab it.

Moments later, Segovia tossed another ball into the seats that landed one section away and began trickling down the steps. I raced over and picked it up and immediately realized that the ball had been intended for a kid in the front row, so I opened up my glove and let the kid reach into the pocket and grab it. The kid seemed a bit dazed by the whole situation, but his parents were very thankful.

By the time the Mets took the field at 5:30pm, I already had eight balls. I’d been planning to head over to left field at that point, but it was far less crowded in right field so I stayed put.

nelson_figueroa_2009.jpgSomeone on the Mets hit a ball that rolled to the wall in right-center. Nelson Figueroa walked over to retrieve it, so I asked him if he “could please toss the ball up.” Figueroa did toss it up, but it fell short and landed back on the warning track.

“Nelson!” I shouted. “Please, one more try!”

Once again, he tossed the ball straight up and it fell just beyond my reach.

Brandon was in left field at that point, and he took a photo that captured the ball in mid air. Check it out:

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(Don’t forget that you can click all these photos for a closer look. Also, FYI, I had changed into my blue Mets gear by this point.)

After the second bad throw, I realized that Figueroa was messing with me, so I asked, “Could you please toss the ball up TO ME?!”

“Ohh!” he said with a big grin, “To you?! Sure, why didn’t you say that? Before, you just asked me to ‘toss it up.’” And then, sure enough, he tossed the ball to me. It was my first non-training ball of the day.

Meanwhile, the sun was brutal. It wasn’t directly over home plate, but it was still pretty tough to see:

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I was one ball short of double digits, and I ended up getting No. 10 from Brian Stokes. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to him just before he threw it…

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…and here’s a shot of the ball in mid-air:

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I snagged two more balls in the next five minutes. The first was a Mets homer that landed in the wide open area behind the center field wall. It was tossed up to me by some random employee who was hanging out back there. The second was another Mets homer (not sure who hit it) that I caught on the fly. I made a lunging catch over the railing in the front row after climbing over two rows of seats, so I felt pretty good. It was redemption for the Mike Morse homer that had tipped off my glove earlier under similar circumstances.

I had 12 balls at that point, which brought my season total to 499. I walked over to Jona at the back of the section and told her that she HAD to get a photo of my next ball.

“Please don’t miss it,” I implored, and as the word “don’t” came out of my mouth, she took the following photo:

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She was like, “Yeah yeah, I’ll get a photo,” but that didn’t comfort me. I was about to snag my 500th ball of the season, and I wanted it to be well documented. What made me relax was knowing that one of our three cameras was bound to capture the milestone moment. Here’s a three-part pic that shows Jona (on the left) and me (middle) and Brandon (right):

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We were good to go, and then I had my chance…

Bobby Parnell was shagging balls in center field and accidentally let a grounder slip under his glove. The ball rolled back toward the wall and then trickled into the wide open space behind it. I raced over to take a look…

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…and as you can see in the photo above, Brandon ran after me (with a baseball glove on his left hand).

Thankfully, there were different guys down in the open space this time, so I didn’t have to worry about being recognized. One of the guys got the ball and then when I asked him for it, he started walking toward me. In the following photo, you can see the guy with the ball in his left hand, and you can also see what that whole area looks like:

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The guy’s first throw fell short. That was probably a good thing. It gave Brandon a couple extra seconds to move up against the railing with me. Then the ball was tossed up for a second time. The throw was right on the money, and I reached out for the easy catch:

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Perfect!

YESSSSSS!!!

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I caught another home run on the fly soon after. It was hit by a lefty. I have no idea who. It was my 14th ball of the day. It pretty much came right to me.

Then, with batting practice winding down, I ran back to the left field side and got Mets coach Razor Shines to toss me a ball near the foul pole. The arrow in the following photo is pointing at the ball:

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I didn’t know it at the time, but when I updated my stats later on, I discovered that this was the 4,000th ball I’d snagged since my consecutive games streak began on September 10, 1993. That’s kind of a random stat, but I think it’s cool. Also…this was the 625th game of my streak, which means I’ve been averaging 6.4 balls per game.

My 16th ball of the day was thrown by Pedro Feliciano. Nothing special there. I was standing near the Mets’ bullpen. He walked over to pick up a ball off the warning track. I asked him for it and expected to get dissed because he’s not exactly the most fan-friendly player in the majors, but to my surprise, he turned and chucked it to me. (So I guess that IS special.)

I wasn’t done…

David Wright launched a home run into the left field bullpen, and the ball happened to settle in the perfect spot for my glove trick. Here’s a shot that Jona took…

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…and here’s a shot that Brandon took at that same exact moment from across the stadium:

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A nearby Mets fan saw me use the glove trick and responded with a gesture as if to say “We’re not worthy!”

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At the very end of batting practice, after all the Mets players and coaches left the field, there was a ball sitting on the warning track near the foul pole. I ran over and tried using my glove trick to knock it closer, but a groundskeeper wandered out and picked up the ball before I had a chance. I asked him for it, and when he looked up and saw me decked out in Mets gear, he said, “You’re wearing the wrong clothes.” He then pointed to the little kid next to me and tossed him the ball, but guess what? The ball sailed over the kid’s head, and I ended up catching it. I didn’t reach in front of him. I had stepped back so that he’d be able to experience the rush of getting the ball on his own. It was a total accident that the ball found its way into my hands, and I immediately turned it over to the kid.

It was 6:25pm. The game was going to start at 7:05pm. What happened next? Brandon and Jona and I left the stadium (I gave away another ball to a kid on the way out), and we never looked back. This was all part of the plan, but it’s not the end of this blog entry, so keep reading past the stats…

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 18 balls at this game (15 pictured on the right because I gave three of them away)

• 505 balls in 56 games this season = 9.02 balls per game.

• 625 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 150 consecutive games with at least two balls

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

• 119 lifetime games with at least ten balls

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• 4,325 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (one more month remaining to make a pledge)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $454.68 raised at this game

• $12,756.30 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Okay, so, as I was saying, we left the stadium:

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We jumped in the car and set out on a 13-mile drive that ended up taking 90 minutes! Traffic in D.C. was a true nightmare, especially for Brandon because he lives for music, and we were on our way to a concert. Isn’t life funny? Less than four hours earlier, I was stressed out of my skull because I was missing batting practice. Now it was Brandon’s turn to freak out about missing Muse play the opening act.

By the time we reached our destination, it was dark:

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Can you tell where we were? Look closely at the photo above, and you’ll see a small “REDSKINS” sign on the light pole. That’s right, we were at FedEx Field for a huge huge HUGE concert. Traffic outside the stadium (in case you couldn’t tell from the last photo) was insane. I mean, it wrapped all the way around the place and then snaked around endless/temporary barricades in various parking lots that had been set up just for this event. Jona and I agreed to park the car so Brandon could run in and try to catch the first part of the show.

Finally, by like 8:30pm, Jona and I made it into the stadium and met up with Brandon. We walked through a VERY crowded concourse and eventually headed out through one of the tunnels. This was our first glimpse inside the seating bowl — and of the stage:

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What the hell?!

Did you ever see anything like that? It reminded me of the huge alien-monsters in “War of the Worlds.” I was almost afraid to go near it, but in fact we were about to go very near.

Are you wondering what concert we went to? Who we went to see? The answer lies at the top of this ticket stub:

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Yup, U2.

I’d never seen them in concert before, but that’s not saying much; I’d only been to a handful of concerts in my life, and they were all small shows, so this was quite an experience.

23_fedex_field_seating_chart.jpgTake another look at the ticket. See where it has the date? See right underneath it where it says “GENADM”?

Want to see where our general admission tickets put us?

Take a look at the FedEx seating chart here on the right (courtesy of StubHub).

See the red section that says “FLOOR GA”?

That’s where we were. It was a huge standing-room-only section right down ON the actual field itself. Well…we weren’t standing on the grass. There was a floor that’d been built for everyone to stand on, but it was still great to be down there. If we’d gotten there earlier, we could’ve rushed right up to the front, but because I’d selfishly insisted on stopping at Nationals Park for batting practice, we had to settle for being about 100 feet away from the main part of the stage.

Here I am in front of the big freaky structure:

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Did you notice that I was making “U” and “2″ symbols with my hands?

We moved as close as we could just in time for the main part of the show, and then…

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Wow.

U2 was on the stage.

Bono himself was close enough that I could’ve thrown a baseball to him had he asked.

The name of this tour was the “360 Tour” because of the circular stage and venues. The circular video screen was amazing. The lighting was cool. Everything was cool. Here are four different shots I took during the show (with my rinky-dink camera that I smuggled inside). In the photo on the lower left, all the little lights are cell phones that people help up at Bono’s urging:

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It was truly an extravaganza. Was it worth leaving Nationals Park early and giving up a guaranteed 20-ball performance? Sure, why not. It was my own stupid wrong turn that cost me the 20 minutes of BP at the beginning, and I kept thinking about that throughout the show. But the show WAS good. I’m not a concert expert, so I don’t even know how to write about it. I only have five U2 songs on my iPod, and I was just glad to hear a few of them. I was bummed, though, that my favorite U2 song wasn’t played, but I wasn’t surprised because no one else in the world seems to know it or like it. It’s called “In a Little While,” and I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. (For the record, I have 139 Beatles songs on my iPod. I gravitate toward older music in general, but what would you expect from someone who didn’t own a cell phone until 2007 and still isn’t on Facebook?) Anyway, for me, this whole concert experience wasn’t about the music. It was just about being there and experiencing it with two great friends and simply witnessing the magnitude of it all.

Here’s some more Bono action:

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After the show, when the general admission area began clearing out, we walked up to the edge of the stage:

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We couldn’t get any closer than that because of the barricade, which you can see in the photo below. Also in the following photo: three cameramen suspended from some sort of diagonal beam. (The correct terminology is escaping me, but you get the point.) The red arrow is pointing to the cameraman in the middle:

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I kept thinking about how many people had to be employed to put on the show and build the stage and how long it took and how much it all cost and how much money U2 makes for each show. If only there were a book called “Watching Concerts Smarter.” I also tried to guess how many people had been in attendance. According to the FexEd Field page on Wikipedia, the stadium holds over 91,000 people. I assume that figure doen’t include the field itself. The seats were basically full except for a few rows at the very top of the upper deck. So how many general admission tickets were sold? Were there over 100,000 people altogether?!

Here’s one final photo of me on the field/floor:

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The traffic wasn’t too bad on the way out, mainly because we lingered inside the stadium for about an hour. Then we drove back to our hotel and ate a huge, fattening meal at 1am. It was the perfect end to an unforgettable day.

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