December 2009

Foul ball commercials

I’m trying to come up with a list of TV commercials that have foul balls in them. Can you help me think of some?

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There’s the Rolling Rock commercial in which a ball hits a bunch of people in the groin.
There’s the Coors Light commercial in which a ball nails some guy in the head.
There’s the Flomax commercial (can’t find the video) where a guy catches a ball.
There’s even a Kool-Aid commercial where Kool-Aid himself catches a home run.
There’s also a commercial that was on TV earlier this year — I forget what was actually being advertised — where a foul ball gets suspended in mid-air, and some guy reaches up through a frozen sea of outstretched hands and grabs it. Does anyone remember that? Oh…and I vaguely remember another commercial from a few years ago…it was for a sandwich place…Subway or Quiznos or something like that…where a home run ball landed in the seats, and some guy dropped his sandwich while trying to grab it, but instead of going for the ball, all the fans tried to snag the sandwich. Cute idea, but once again, I can’t remember exactly who or what was being advertised. Help me out, please! And let me know if you can think of any other ballhawking-themed commercials.

Mystery men identified!

In my last entry, I asked for help identifying two guys. Thanks to a few of you, who left comments and sent me private emails, I now have the info I need.

The Phillies announcer (in the video on this page) IS, in fact, Tom McCarthy, and name of the fan who caught the ball is Shane Gift.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work on the book…

Help me identify two guys…

Do you remember the fan in Arizona who caught a foul ball this past season while holding his son with his other arm? See below:
nice_catch_there_buddy_who_the_hell_are_you.jpg
I’m in the process of writing about this for my book, and I need some help.
First of all I don’t know this fan’s last name. This article about him (which contains a video clip of the catch) only says that his first name is Shane, and that he coaches baseball at Mesquite High School in Gilbert, AZ. Has anyone heard of this guy? Is there anyone reading this who actually goes to that school? (Wouldn’t THAT be convenient.) I tried calling the school, but of course they’re closed for the holidays. I went to the school’s web site, but of course there’s no faculty directory. I even went on MySpace and did a keyword search and randomly contacted a bunch of Mesquite HS students (who are no doubt gonna think that I’m totally creepy). I’d really like to figure this out soon because I’m supposed to turn in the first two parts of my book right after the New Year, and I don’t want to have any missing pieces. My perfectionist brain just can’t allow that.
The other guy I’m trying to ID is the Phillies’ announcer in the video clip. (To watch the clip, click here and scroll down to the second image and hit play and then wait for the 30-second advertisement to run its course.) There are two announcers, actually. I know that one is Gary Matthews, but who’s the other? I *think* it’s Tom McCarthy, but I don’t know what his voice sounds like, so I can’t be sure. Here’s a list of all the Phillies’ announcers.
Anyway, yes, please help.
(And did you know that I’m now on Twitter?)

Baseball fields from above

You know what I love about flying?
Looking out the window at all the baseball fields.
Like this…
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Obviously it’s impossible to spot baseball fields from an altitude of 35,000 feet, but when the plane is only a few hundred or a few thousand feet high, I notice them everywhere. Check out the fields in the photo below, way off in the distance:
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I took all these shots earlier this year while flying back home to New York City from Chicago.
Here are the baseball fields in Central Park; the red arrow is pointing to my bedroom window, more or less:
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In case you can’t tell, the plane was heading north.
Do you know what sits several miles north of Central Park?
Yankee Stadiums: 
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(Is it too late to restore the old one?)
Major league stadiums aside, I like to look at each field and analyze the surrounding area to see where a foul ball or home run might end up landing. In a parking lot? On a tennis court? A highway? An apartment complex? A body of water? Trees? (Am I the only one who does this?) Then I try to estimate the distance that a ball would have to travel in order to be a home run. I do this by figuring out where home plate is, figuring out where the base is, and then visualizing how many of those lengths (at 90 feet apiece) would be able to fit between home plate and the foul pole. (Did that make any sense?) Or I’ll look at the distance from home to second base and see how many of THOSE lengths (127 feet and change) would fit between home and the center field wall.
But what if there is no wall? Take a look at the cluster of four fields below:
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You see the two bigger fields that are facing each other? I would estimate that if batters on each field hit a 275-foot fly ball to center, those balls would land in approximately the same spot. If there were good teams playing on those fields, you could have a situation where the two center fielders would actually be facing each other. (Once again, am I making any sense?)
Here are a few more fields:
It looks like the one next to the track would require a mammoth 200-foot blast for a home run. Do seven-year-olds play there? Or do grown-ups use that field and only give each other doubles when the ball clears the fence? And how about that baseball diamond embedded into the football field? Playing shortstop on the 20-yard line would either be really cool or really distracting. And then there’s the field on the upper right. Looks like you’d have to hit one about 350 feet to get it on top of that building down the left field line.
Here are some more fields:
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Look at this one:
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I always loved AstroTurf. It was the only time that I played to my full potential because I was never scared of taking a bad hop to the retina; I could get in front of the ball and play with perfect fundamentals.
Here’s one more photo. I probably took it in the Bronx. Or maybe Queens? I don’t remember which airport I was flying into.
baseball_fields_from_above9.jpg
That’s it. Just wanted to share this random baseballness.

Winter meetings

I have a friend named Ben Hill who writes for minorleaguebaseball.com.
Ben was in Indianapolis this past week for the winter meetings.
Now…do you see the “About Zack” photo on this blog? I’m talking about the photo in which I’m wearing the red shirt and buried in a bathtub full of baseballs. (That photo was from this article, BTW.)
Good.
Check out this photograph of Ben giving a presentation at the winter meetings. It’s a screen shot I took of an article he wrote:
ben_hill_talking_about_me.jpg
In the photo above, do you see the white screen that he’s pointing to at the front of the room?
Heh.
If you want to read the article itself, here’s the link.
If you want to see Ben’s blog (which I recommend), click here.
And for those of you who are into Twitter, here’s more Ben.
Speaking of Twitter, I signed up for it a few days ago, but haven’t yet done anything with my account. Not sure if I will. I kind of think it’s dumb. Or at least unnecessary. For me. But I’m willing to be proven wrong.
Thoughts?

Doug Flutie

Has anyone ever heard about Doug Flutie’s snagging skills? Apparently the man has caught several foul balls at Fenway Park. I’m thinking of writing about him in my book, but I can’t find definitive info about this. Want to help me out? Let’s see if we can compile a master list of all the balls he’s gotten. And while we’re at it, can you think of any other celebrities who have caught (or attempted to catch) baseballs at major league games? I already have a list (Charlie Sheen, Ben Affleck, Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson, and more). Tell me who I’m missing…

New Jersey Star-Ledger

Do you remember when I tried to get into Game 2 of the World Series by bringing a homemade sign to Yankee Stadium? There were two articles written about me that day, and I shared the links in this entry, but those were the online versions of the articles.
Lame.
Several weeks ago, my friend Todd (who lives in Pennsylvania) was kind enough to send me a hard copy of the article that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and just the other day, I finally received a hard copy of the other/better article from the New Jersey Star-Ledger. Here’s what it looks like (in case you’re too lazy to click the link):
NJ_star_ledger_article2.jpg
You may recall that I ended up getting a free ticket to Game 5, so it all worked out in the end.
If you want to see all the articles that’ve been written about my baseball collection, click here.

Book update No. 6 — questions for Rawlings

I’ve been working like a maniac on my new book. (This winter, if you don’t hear from me for days at a time, that’s why.) I’ve written about 41,000 words overall, and I recently interviewed a retired ballhawk who snagged 112 lifetime game home runs. This guy never-ever spoke to the media, so it’s pretty cool that a) he was willing to share his story with me and b) that I was even able to find him in the first place.

Anyway…

rawlings_logo.jpgI’m getting ready to write a section about the Rawlings baseball factory in Costa Rica, and about all the different steps in the manufacturing/testing process. I’ve been talking to some folks at the commissioner’s office, and just today I briefly spoke to someone at Rawlings who offered to answer all my questions.

What I want to know from you is: if you were in my position and you could ask anything you wanted about baseballs, what would it be? How many baseballs are manufactured every year? Who designs the commemorative logos? How are the balls stored in the Missouri warehouse before being shipped out to the teams? C’mon, help me out. Unload your questions on me. Give me some ideas. Don’t be shy. Get crazy and creative and help me add to my own mega-list of things to ask.

I’ve done a LOT of research, so don’t bother sending me links to articles about the factory or the balls. I guarantee you that I’ve read all of it. If you want to read that stuff on your own, fine, but keep in mind that a lot of it is out of date. That’s one reason why I’m glad to be in touch with Rawlings — so I can fact-check and get all the updated info as the book is getting ready to go off to print.

In other/related news, one of my contacts at MLB said that around the second week of January, he should be able to provide me with a list of every commemorative ball that will be used in 2010. Remember those “video game” balls that were being used briefly during BP at Citi Field this past season? He even knows about those. I got the full explanation, and if they ARE going to be manufactured and used again, I’ll hopefully get the inside scoop.

That’s it for now. For previous book updates, see below…

UPDATE #1
UPDATE #2
UPDATE #3
UPDATE #4
UPDATE #5

Steiner Sports dinner

Last night, thanks to an invitation from my friend Mike, I attended a Steiner Sports dinner in New Rochelle, NY. (For those who don’t know, Steiner is basically THE biggest sports memorabilia company in the world.) The purpose of this event was a) to showcase some items that will be sold at an upcoming auction and b) to raise money and awareness for a not-for-profit agency called Family Services of Westchester.

Here’s a photo of the room where the event took place:

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Some people were wearing suits and ties. Others were wearing jeans and baseball caps. And Dwight Gooden was wearing a leather jacket:

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Gooden was one of three players in attendance. Unfortunately I didn’t get to have my photo taken with him (or to tell him that I attended his no-hitter in 1996) because it was so crowded, but I managed to get photos with the other two guys:

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I knew I was only going to have 20 seconds with Yogi Berra, so rather than telling him that my dad served with him at a submarine base during World War II, I mentioned my baseball collection and asked if he had any weird stories about baseballs. All he said was that back in the old days, when balls were hit into the stands during BP, one of the coaches would sometimes walk out there and ask the fans to give ‘em back.

As for Brett Gardner, the first thing I told him was, “Last year, during the final week at the old Yankee Stadium, you tossed your ninth-inning warm-up ball into the bleachers, and I got it, so thank you for that.”

“Oh…” he said, “you’re welcome.”

“Now, I don’t want you to feel used,” I continued, “but I’ve actually caught a LOT of balls in my life, and if I told you how many, you’d probably call me a liar.”

“How many?” he asked.

“Over forty-three hundred,” I said, and since there was no one else waiting to talk to him at that point (he’d already been there for a couple hours), we got to chat for a few minutes. He asked me questions about my collection, and after I explained some of the details, I told him that I used my collection to raise a lot of money for charity this year. I then asked him what his fastest time running the 60-yard dash was, and he said it was something like “six-three-six,” meaning 6.36 seconds, which is thoroughly insane, not to mention more than a full second faster than I ever ran it. I bowed down to him in “We’re not worthy!” fashion, and he admitted that he’s probably not quite that fast anymore.

“But you WERE when it mattered,” I said, “when all the scouts had their stopwatches ready.”

Dwight Gooden and Yogi Berra and Brett Gardner weren’t the only celebrities at the dinner; the man responsible for the food itself — Executive Chef Robert Hesse — was quite well known as well. Here’s a photo of him with my friend Mike:

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Hesse starred on the show “Hell’s Kitchen” and has recently worked as a personal chef for some bigtime sports stars (including Hank Aaron). Here’s a short article about him.

In the photo above, the plate in Hesse’s right hand has two slices of pork tenderloin and a small cup of his beyond-awesome sausage gumbo. The plate in his left hand has a pulled pork slider, mac-n-cheese, and roast beef with some kind of white/creamy sauce on top.

I asked Hesse if he’d ever caught a baseball at a game, and when he said no, I said, “Good because I’m completely inept in the kitchen.”

Back to the baseball memorabilia, here are a few of the items that were on display:

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In the photo above, do you see that little case just beyond the upper right corner of the “final season” base? That contained a freeze-dried clump of dirt and grass from the old Yankee Stadium.

Here’s another cool item. I don’t know exactly what to call it or where in the old stadium it was located, but it seems to be some kind of mail slot unit. Check it out:

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Here’s another photo of the room:

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Did you notice the turnstile in the photo above? (I miss the old NYC stadiums so much. I can’t even describe it. I had a dream last night that I was at Shea, and there were about 14 fans in the entire ballpark. I was in heaven…and I was nearly depressed when I woke up.)

Here’s a signed “holiday ball” from Joba Chamberlain:

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(I got Joba’s autograph for free at the 2007 Futures Game. Haha.)

I wanted to see what kind of ball Joba had signed. In other words…what did the logo say? Was it an All-Star ball? Those are typically the only types of balls with multi-colored stitching (click here and here and here for some examples), so I walked around to the back of the table and crouched down. This is what I saw:

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Whoa. That’s pretty snazzy. I never knew that such a ball even existed…and do you see the name on it? The printed signature? It says “Brandon Steiner.” That’s THE guy at Steiner Sports — the head of the whole company. Shortly after I took this photo, I got to meet him and chat for a few minutes, and based on a few things we discussed, I have a feeling that I might be crossing paths with him again next season…

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