February 2010

An unusual request

This is one of those things that I just have to share. It’s a random email that I received two days ago. Check it out:

Zack,

 

My name is Jason I am from Cincinnati Ohio, going to the dodgers spring training this year….

 

So my real question is, can you send me a good picture of your face, I want to get you tattooed on me. I think of you as a baseball hero! More along the lines of doing something you love and getting paid. Wish I could do what you do.

 

Well anyways, also If I sent you a ball would you autograph it? I would include all the return postage as well.

 

Well let me know, keep up the good grabs, 7 days till spring training game!!!!


Jason


After writing back to Jason, I received the following reply:


Zack,

 

Yes I am sincere, I have get portraits of people who have inspired me, and people who I like, I am thinking about 5-6 inches tall and 4-5 on the width maybe if you could take one with you holding a baseball in each hand up to your face, that would be great. It will most likely be on my right leg.


I know it is a strange request, an I am happy you are flattered and yes I would send you a pick of the finished result, and I would eventually like to meet you one day to show you in person.

 

I will mail you the ball early next week to your family’s bookstore!

 

Thanks Zack!!!!

 

Jason

I answered him again, and here’s what he wrote:

Yes blog away! Taking a few pictures would be awesome, then I will let you know which one I choose. It all depends when my tattoo artist has an opening, but most likely before this year’s season starts. Just email me the photos when you have time, and we will go from there. Cool?

 

Thanks Zack!

 

Jason


…and that’s where it stands. Assuming he actually goes through with it and then sends me a photo, I’ll post an update, so stay tuned…

2010 commemorative balls

One of my contacts at MLB just sent me the official list of commemorative balls for the 2010 season.

There are six balls that will actually be used in games/exhibitions…
1) Target Field inaugural season
2) All-Star Game
3) Home Run Derby
4) Home Run Derby gold ball
5) Futures Game
6) World Series
…and two more that will only be used for ceremonial first pitches and sold as collectors’ items:
7) Opening Day
8) Jackie Robinson Day
And there you have it — no surprises, but hey, I’m just glad to have received the official list in advance. What do you think of it? Any ideas for other commemorative balls that MLB could’ve decided to make for the 2010 season? Any random commemorative ball ideas in general?
(If you want to see all the commemorative balls that I’ve personally snagged over the years, click here.)
(If you want to join the 2010 Ballhawk League, c l i c k  h e r e.)
(And if you want to follow me on Twitter, C-L-I-C-K  H-E-R-E.)

omegle.com

A few days ago, I blogged about Chatroulette. (This is what happens to me during the off-season.) Now I’d like to tell you about my experience on another newish site called Omegle. For those who don’t know, it’s basically like Chatroulette, but without the video or sound…which is to say that it’s only text. Yes, random one-on-one IM conversations with strangers. You never know who you’ll get paired up with, and once you ARE paired up, you have no idea who you’re talking/typing to. I took some screen shots to show you how it all went down, and in case it’s not clear, wherever it says “You” in blue font…that’s me. As you’ll see, I started by telling the first “Stranger” that I was going to share the conversation with the world. Check it out:

omegle1a.jpg
Yes, hilarious! (Actually, I did find this to be quite amusing. It’s about what I expected. And FYI, I blurred out the R-rated word. Omegle doesn’t censor anything, so you can see whatever the other person types. Oh, and another thing…if you’re ever on this site and someone sends you a link, don’t click it. People try to send viruses that way, but other than that, it’s all good.) After this, I decided not to let people know that I was going to share the conversations. Instead, I asked for some advice. You never know where genius lurks:
omegle3.jpg
My conversation partner was once again completely useless, but at least he (I assume it was a guy) didn’t make any obscene remarks. Hmm…I couldn’t stop thinking about my book. You may recall that I’d recently blogged about a potential new title. Lots of people left comments and said they didn’t like it because of the word “ballhawk,” so I decided to take up the issue on Omegle and get the opinion of the next Stranger:
omegle4.jpg
Yeesh. It was time to ask something less controversial — a simple yes or no question — and I already knew the answer. Clearly, it was going to be yes:
omegle5.jpg
FML. (I’ll have to work on that. I wonder if the person would have said “yes” to Moe Mullins, Rich Buehrke, Dave Davison, Artie Laurain, Alex Patino, Dan Sauvageau, Nick Yohanek, Greg Barasch, Erik Jabs, Leigh Barratt, Tracy Collins, Lee Wilson, Kevin Kruse, Tyler Snyder, Robert Harmon, Jake Frazier, Jameson Sutton, Tony Dobson, John Witt, or Joe Faraguna.)
I was getting way too distracted from my book. I needed to find a way to motivate myself to jump back in:
omegle6.jpg
I probably should’ve known better than to ask that guy, but whatever. Anyway, I couldn’t go out like that. I truly needed to get some advice:
omegle7.jpg

Chatroulette

I’d been hearing about Chatroulette from friends for the last few weeks. Then I stumbled upon a New York Times article about it a few days ago. And now I’m obsessed. In case you don’t know what it is, and if you’re too lazy to click the links and find out, it’s basically random video chatting with people from all over the world. You never know who you’re going to get…or, umm, ahem, what they might be in the process of doing…which is exactly what makes it fun (and scary for some people). Here are eight different screen shots I took of the randomness and silliness that recently went down:

chatroulette.jpg
(That’s Jona with me in some of the shots.)
At one point, I decided to point my camera out the window and sit and eat a meal in front of it:
chatroulette_eating.png
This particular guy I was talking to was like, “WTF?” but lots of other people said “bon appetit” and asked what I was eating. (Salmom with sun-dried tomatoes and pesto, for the record.)
One great (and necessary) feature on this site is that if you don’t want to talk to the person on the other end (for whatever reason), there’s a “next” button. You just click it and get someone else. As a result, most conversations last all of two seconds. Some folks, I quickly discovered, don’t even want to talk. They just want to hit “next next next” and see as many different people as possible. But it’s definitely possible to find cool/smart/fun/interesting/ attractive people and have long conversations.
That’s it.
(And now I have to get back to work on my book.)
(Bye-bye, Chatroulette. See you again soon…)

Book update No. 13 — possible new title

I just got a call from my editor. She said she woke up at 5am last night with an epiphany for a possible new title. (It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who’s losing sleep over it.)

She suggested calling it:
Ballhawks: The Legacy, The Obsession, And The Insanity Surrounding the Baseball
The book, as it stands now, is tentatively titled “Five Ounces and 108 Stitches,” but we’ve been considering other titles such as “The Glory of the Baseball” or “The Actual Baseball Itself” or “Cork, Rubber, and Cowhide.” (A friend of mine jokingly suggested calling it “Absorb the Orb” or “The Sphere we Hold Dear” or “Bleed for the Seed” or “The Thrill of the Pill.”)
As you may already know, this book is going to cover all the historical and factual stuff about baseballs (including evidence of the juiced ball controversy dating back to the 1860s), as well as a ton of quirky/wacky/funny stories. There are going to be chapters called “Death by Baseball,” “Foul Ball Lore,” “Foul Balls in Pop Culture,” “Stunts,” and more. There’s going to be a ballhawk glossary at the end. There are going to be blurbs about famous fans and celebrity ballhawks. There’s also going to be a whole chapter about ballhawking controversies, and the final third of the book is going to be a massively new-and-improved “How to Snag” section. This book covers SO much stuff. It’s insane. And yeah, I’m still trying to find the right title for it.
Three months ago, I wrote this blog entry in which I tried to distance myself from the word “ballhawk.” As I mentioned back then, the word has negative connotations. But now I’m starting to think…why hide from it as if it’s a bad thing? Why not own it and reclaim it and show the world that being a “ballhawk” is something to be proud of? The ball is the object that’s at the center of the baseball universe. It’s a cultural and historical phenomenon. That’s why people are so crazy about studying them and collecting them — and why Todd McFarlane paid $3.005 million for one in 1999. This book is a celebration of the ball and (in part) the people who obsess over it. Would a “Ballhawks” title capture that in a positive way? Or would it be too specific and discourage people from reading it? I welcome everyone’s thoughts. Help me tweak the new “Ballhawks” subtitle so that it fully captures the scope of this book. Or feel free to suggest a whole new title. If there’s something on your mind, I want to hear it.
Finally, if you’d like me to email you when the book comes out in March 2011, let me know. I’ll add you to the growing list of people who have requested an official reminder.

Book update No. 12 — meeting with my editor

I just got home from a 90-minute meeting with my editor at Random House. She recently finished editing the first two parts of the book.

The good news is that she said the writing is “tight.”
The bad news is that the book might need to be restructured.
(That’s bad news because it means a lot more work for me, but it’s good news because the book will end up being even better.)
More good news: I think I convinced her to let me write Part Three in the first person. (Part Three is the “How to Snag” portion of the book. I started writing it last week. I think it’ll be more fun and personal if I inject myself into it a bit and get to tell some funny stories.)
More bad news: The whole book has to be written, edited, and totally finished by July 15th. (That doesn’t give me a whole lot of time, which means I’m not going to have much of a life between now and then. It also means I won’t be attending too many games before the All-Star break.)
I never wanted to become one of those people who puts their career first, but right now, I have no choice…

Martha Stewart loves tall people (and so do I)

My 6-foot-6 friend Leon Feingold sent me the following email a few nights ago:

“Hey, want to meet some 7-footers tomorrow??? Call me around 10 or 11am….”

Based on this blog entry that I’d posted a month earlier, you could say that my response went something along the lines of “HELL yeah!!!”<

martha_stewart_logo.jpg

It turned out that the 5-foot-9 Martha Stewart was going to be taping a show based entirely on tall people. There was going to be a fashion show with extra-tall models (run by a tall designer), an interview with a 6-foot-3 woman who wrote the definitive book about being tall, and other tall-related topics.

“You can’t come into the studio audience,” wrote Leon in his follow-up email the next day, “b/c EVERYONE in the audience must be minimum 6′ and I’m afraid you just miss the cutoff. But you can come meet me and mom lining up outside at 221 w 26th (7/8) where they’ll be doing the taping, and meet Dave Rasmussen, who I think is 7’4″. We’re heading over now, and will be there through 4pm.” 

It just so happened that I had to be at West 13th Street for a two-hour meeting ending at 12:30pm, so I headed over to find Leon as soon as I got out. Here I am with him and his 6-foot-1 mother, Eleanor:

1_zack_starting_to_feel_short.jpg

(Note my “trying-to-appear-taller-than-I-actually-am” pose. For the record, I’m officially 5-foot-10 and five-eighths, which I normally round up to 5-foot-11.)

Unfortunately, I had just missed the super-tall guy — actually, there were two super-tall guys — but at least I got to hang out with Leon for a while. And if I wanted to wait for a couple hours, I could catch them on the way out.

Hmm…

Suddenly, the line started to move. Leon and his mother and all the other tall folks were about to head inside. He said he’d try to sneak me in. I didn’t see how that was possible. (Leon once snuck me into Citi Field, so I should stop doubting him.) He’d once snuck me into a Mensa meeting (where I managed to trick everyone into thinking I was smart), but how do you fake height? I happened to be wearing thick-ish sneakers, so that was good for about an inch, but everyone was wearing shoes that made them look taller. It was a celebration of height. Even the women were at least six feet tall, and most of them were wearing high heels.

We headed inside to a little check-in/security area with an airport-style metal detector. There were several “Martha Stewart” employees standing behind a counter, looking at everyone’s IDs and having them fill out forms. I was screwed. I knew it. Crap. I wasn’t scared about getting in trouble, but I was ready for them to tell me to get lost.

I handed my driver’s license to one of the ladies.

She looked it over and said, “You’re not on the list.”

“This is my friend, Zack,” said Leon. “He decided to join us at the last minute. Is there any chance you can still add him?”

“I think so,” she said. Then she checked the list to review some other names, and before I knew it, I was holding a ticket to the studio audience:

2_martha_stewart_ticket.jpg

Ha-HAAA!!!

The fact that I was standing on my tiptoes might’ve helped, or maybe I’d managed to trick her because Leon had poofed up my hat to make me look a little taller. I don’t know what happened. Maybe the lady just wasn’t paying attention, or maybe she didn’t care, but regardless, I was in. Every member of the studio audience was given a yellow, ruler-like name tag. Here’s how I filled out mine:

3_zack_rounding_up.jpg

There was a large waiting area with dozens of chairs and people milling about. I kept walking around on my tiptoes. My calves got sore within three minutes. I was thrilled to be there, but felt so out of place.

“Imposter!” snapped a middle-aged 6-foot-2 woman as I walked past the coat check area.

I couldn’t tell if she was joking, so I just shrugged and pointed at my name tag.

“You’re not six feet,” she said a bit too seriously.

I smiled and said, “I rounded up.”

And then it happened: the two TALLEST human beings I had EVER seen walked by with a bunch of other tall people (who looked short by comparison).

“Go get a photo!” said Leon.

Eleanor grabbed my camera (which I always carry with me, just in case), and we followed the crowd into a hallway. Everyone immediately turned and stared at me. It was bizarre. The two super-tall guys…THEY were the freaks of nature (I mean that in a good way), yet I was being looked at as the freak. Everyone was smiling, though. They knew why I was there.

“YOU!” I said, pointing up at a 7-foot-3 black guy named Curtis, and “YOU!” I said again, turning toward the 7-foot-4 (if you round up) white guy named Dave. “I *need* to get a photo with you two!!”

They just kinda looked at each other and shrugged and said okay. We gathered close together…and Eleanor took a couple quick photos…and oh my God. Check it out:

4_zack_with_seven_footers.jpg

Seriously…JEE-zus Aitch. I was happier standing between those two guys than I would’ve been if I’d been standing with Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken Jr. I don’t know what it is. I just freakin’ LOVE tall people. You know how you hear stories about women who feel trapped in men’s bodies? Well, I feel like a 7-foot-8 monster who’s trapped in a nondescript 5-foot-11 (if you round up) body. I realize that 5-foot-11 is a perfectly acceptable height. In fact, it’s actually slightly taller than average, but as far as I’m concerned, just based on how I feel in my head and in my gut, my height is a complete disaster.

BTW, when I thanked these guys after the photo and reached to shake their hands, it’s like I was reaching right for their crotches. The whole thing was just…weird.

Eventually, it was time to line up outside the studio:

5_waiting_to_enter_studio.jpg

See that guy at the bottom of the ramp? He’s 6-foot-6. And the woman between him and Leon? 6-foot-2.

Once we got inside the studio, we were told that we could take photos before and after the taping, so…here you go:

6_martha_stewart_studio.jpg

The show itself was fine. I won’t give a play-by-play. You can watch it for yourself if you’re interested. It’s going to air on Thursday, February 18th. You might even catch a glimpse of me. On several occasions, those cameras that get shots of the crowd were pointing right at me, but I have no idea what exactly they captured or if it’ll be used in the actual show.

During the commercial breaks, I talked to the two women sitting next to me. One was 6-foot-1. The other was 6-foot-2. They told me that they’re members of the Tall Club of New York City. I fessed up and admitted that I’m not quite six feet tall (we were sitting down, so it wasn’t obvious) and asked if I’d be allowed to attend one of their events. They said there are get-togethers in bars that are open to the public. “Anyone can come,” said one of the women, “but we don’t like it when really really short guys show up. You know, really short, like 5-foot-8 or under. We call them ‘tree-climbers’.”

After the taping, Martha Stewart lingered in the studio for a few minutes and took questions from the audience:

8_martha_stewart_close_up.jpg

In the photo above, do you see that big brown thing behind Martha? That, my friends, is a 1,250-pound chocolate cake (with a cherry made of sugar on top). Every audience member was given a piece of a different chocolate cake during the Q&A session. Each of us also received a copy of The Tall Book as well as a coupon for a free extra-tall cutting board. I’m thinking I might use mine as a coffee table.

Another thing about the photo above…

See all those people standing next to the cake? See the guy standing closest to it? That’s Tom Cruise. Sort of. It’s a life-sized cardboard cutout of him, which is to say that it’s exactly 5-foot-7…

9_tom_cruise_and_zack.jpg

Mwahaha!! Suck it, Cruise!

Here are three more photos of people standing with the cutout, going in increasing height order.

First, we have a random six-foot-tall hottie:

10_tom_cruise_and_hottie.jpg

Next we have Leon:

11_tom_cruise_and_leon.jpg

And (drumroll) here’s the tallest of the tall:

12_tom_cruise_and_dave.jpg

(ScienTALLogy, anyone?)

Here’s a group photo, and FYI, the woman wearing red underneath the “AR” in “MARTHA” was standing on a bench:

13_tom_cruise_group_photo.jpg

Here’s one last photo (which needs no explanation):

14_zack_harem_and_bodyguard.jpg

Good times.

(If there’s anyone reading this who’s at least seven feet tall, please get in touch. I want to know you and have 18 million of your babies. Okay, that was a joke, I only want 16 million, but no, seriously, I do want to know you. I swear this isn’t a sexual fetish. I just really REALLY adore tall people. The end.)

VERY tall people

Last month, I posted a random blog entry about my fascination with height…remember? It was called, “Are you seven feet tall?

Well, earlier today, the answer was yes. And yes again. Check out the following photo, taken just a few hours ago:
zack_feeling_short.jpg
Umm…wow?
In case you’re new to this blog (or if you don’t recognize me without a baseball cap), that’s me in the middle.
I’m 5-foot-11.
Those other guys are both 7-foot-3.
?!?!?!
I love living in New York City. Anything is possible.
This was all part of a much bigger (and totally unexpected) adventure, and yes, I have lots of other photos. Gimme a day or two to sort through them, and then I’ll post another entry that tells the whole story…

Polo Grounds snagging analysis

Last month, after I critiqued Forbes Field from a baseball-snagging perspective, a bunch of people suggested that I do the same thing for other defunct stadiums, so here we go. This time it’s the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants from 1891-1957 (and home of the Mets and Yankees at various times, too).

My overall assessment is that this stadium would’ve been a nightmare for ballhawks. Take a look at the following aerial view, and then I’ll start explaining why: 
polo_grounds1.jpg
See those little red numbers? Here are the distances to those spots:
1) 279 feet
2) 455 feet
3) 483 feet
4) 449 feet
5) 258 feet
Ordinarily, small dimensions are great for ballhawks — a ton of balls reach the seats — but in this case, because the outfield wall jutted back at such a crazy angle, the dimensions got deep in a hurry. In other words, there were probably some great home-run-catching opportunities down the lines, but the rest of the stadium would’ve been a waste.
Here’s another aerial view (taken after the rail yard was replaced by an apartment complex) that shows a couple interesting things:
polo_grounds2b.jpg
In the photo above, the arrow is pointing at a fabulous corner spot down the left field line. There would’ve been some foul ball opportunities there — before and during games — and if any players DID throw balls to the fans, that clearly would’ve been the place to snag one.
Also, in the photo above, do you see where I’ve placed two red dots in the stands? Do you see the slightly curved white line that connects them? (The line extends past the dots on both sides.) That line is a cross-aisle, and although it appears to be rather narrow, it would’ve been a good spot to run back and forth for foul balls.
In case you can’t tell from the photo above, there was an awful lot of foul territory on the field. Good for the pitchers. Bad for the ballhawks. Check it out:
polo_grounds3.jpg
In the photo above, the arrow is pointing at the low wall in right center field. Granted, this section was a loooooong way from home plate, and the wall was probably a bit too high for fans to reach over and pick up baseballs off the warning track, but there were probably some ground-rule doubles that reached the first few rows. Also, in the photo above, do you see the rolled up tarp down the right field foul line? That was another corner spot. And if you look at the front row just to the right of the tarp, it seems that the railing was pretty low. The fans sitting there probably would’ve been able to reach over and scoop up foul grounders during the game. That was probably the best opportunity of all.
Speaking of wall height, look how ridiculous it was in left field:
polo_grounds4.jpg
One of the most famous home runs of all time landed in the lower deck down the left field line. I’m talking about The Shot Heard ‘Round the World — Bobby Thomson’s blast off Ralph Branca in 1951, which sent the Giants to the World Series.
The next photo is going to show you how unlikely it was for that ball (or any ball) to land in the lower deck. Ready? It shows the upper deck overhanging the field (as seen from foul territory in the left field corner):
polo_grounds5.jpg
Yikes.
The upper deck would’ve been good for home runs, but only near the foul poles.
In the photo above, do you see the chains in the foreground? Those, unfortunately, were not limited to the outfield sections. See here:
polo_grounds6.jpg
Those chains would’ve made it nearly impossible to run for balls.
In the photo above, I have once again drawn two red dots. If you look closely, you can see a dark line that connects them. This is further proof of the existence of a cross-aisle.
Last photo:
polo_grounds7.jpg
The two arrows pointing up show the protective screen, which completely covered the seats behind the plate. (Not good.) But on a positive note, there was a tunnel in the second deck, positioned just to the side of the screen. Although it doesn’t appear that there was much room to run in the second deck, that tunnel probably saw some action when lefties were at bat.
Did foul balls ever fly completely over the grandstand and land outside the stadium? I have no idea, but it sure seems possible. There’s a chance that some home runs (if hit very far directly down the lines) cleared the roof as well.
Anyway, there you have it.
Snagging baseballs at the Polo Grounds.
Not easy, but not impossible.

George H. W. Bush update

Three weeks ago, I contacted George H. W. Bush’s personal aide to get more information about a foul ball that the former president once snagged at Yankee Stadium.

I just received the following reply:

——————————————————————-

Mr. Hample –

Thank you for your patience in awaiting a reply to your request.

Unfortunately, at age 85, President Bush simply does not have the recall of such events that he used to have. I hate to be the bearer of disappointing news, but President Bush will not be able to provide anything for your project. He is of course a big baseball fan and if you are looking for further information on his thoughts on baseball in general I would suggest contacting the Presidential Library in College Station, TX.

Best of luck with the project,

[name deleted for privacy]
Aide to President Bush

——————————————————————-

Alas.

I’d been hoping to get all the details about Bush’s snag and write up a whole story about it for the “celebrity ballhawks” section of my book, but instead, it’ll only get a brief mention.

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