March 2010

Ebbets Field snagging analysis

Welcome to Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913 through 1957:

From the outside, it looks an awful lot like Citi Field, huh? More on that in a bit, but in the meantime, let’s head inside so I can show you what an awesome ballpark this was:
Is that glorious or what?
Here’s the view from the second deck in dead center:
In the photo above, did you notice the right field wall? Here’s another look at it:
Do you know how tall it was? I’m talking about the ads combined with the screen up above. It was 38 feet, which means it stood a foot taller than the Green Monster. (By the way, whenever a batter got a hit, the “H” would light up on the “Schaefer” ad, and when a fielder made an error, the same thing would happen to the “E.”)
Do you know what was behind the right field wall? Have a look at this aerial view:
That’s right, nothing but a wide-open street — and it was only 297 feet down the right field line. You think Waveland Avenue is good for snagging home runs? Man, I can only imagine how many balls cleared the right field wall at Ebbets. Here’s what it looked like back there:
Okay, so it’s official: the park was great on the outside.
How about the inside, you ask?
Have a look at the photo below. Turns out there was a cross-aisle. Connect the two red dots I’ve drawn and you’ll see it:
Why is this a big deal? Because the ability to move laterally is key; without an aisle (or a standing-room only section), it’s impossible.
But wait, it gets better…
I managed to find an old photo of Ebbets Field that was taken during batting practice…meaning the stands weren’t crowded…meaning you can see the configuration of the seats. Check it out. There were TWO cross-aisles:
(Did you notice the puny protective screen in front of the first baseman? Also, that red railing looks nice and low — great for the fans sitting right behind it.)
lower deck on the 3rd base side had a double cross-aisle as well, and it doesn’t look like the ushers were quick to kick people out:
Here’s another look at the stands on the 3rd base side. You can see the inner cross-aisle, and I’ve drawn a red arrow pointing to the corner spot:
This would’ve been a good place for scooping up grounders during BP and maybe even convincing the occasional player to toss up an old ball.
Guess what? It gets even better. It was hard to tell in previous photos (when the stands were packed), but the seats in straight-away left field had a cross-aisle as well:
You can see it better in the following photo. It’s another aerial view, taken when the ballpark was empty, and I’ve drawn two more red dots to point it out:
It looks like the aisles were fairly narrow — that’s just how old ballparks were designed — so it might’ve been tough to run great distances for baseballs when the place was sold out, but still, there was at least a chance to run.
The next photo is pretty random. It looks like there’s a group of kids walking toward home plate — and is that the tarp covering the field? Whatever. I’ve included this photo to give you a look at the seating situation behind the plate. There doesn’t appear to be a cross-aisle in the second deck, but at least there were tunnels, where fans probably could’ve gotten away with standing:
Even better than the chance to catch balls in the second deck was the fact that the fans were right on top of the action. That deck wasn’t too high, and it was stacked right on top of the lower deck — not set back an extra 100 feet like the upper decks in new stadiums.
One more thing: protective netting.
The picture below shows that the netting completely blocked the seats on the lower level behind the plate:
But what about the seats behind the plate in the second deck? Based on the picture above, it doesn’t look like those seats were protected, but in the photo below (which was taken from the second deck)…
…it’s clear that there was netting. (That’s a good thing for that pennant-waving kid. Without the netting, he’d be in the perfect spot to get drilled by a foul ball from a right-handed batter. Where are his parents, anyway? DOWN IN FRONT!!! That is a boy, right? Wait a minute…) Still, there were lots of other places to snag:
1) behind the right field wall
2) cross aisles all over the place
3) low railings along the foul lines
4) tunnels to stand in
5) corner spot down the left field line
There also a good chance that foul balls flew completely out of the stadium behind first and third base.
My analysis: Ebbets Field was about as good as it gets.
And now I’ll leave you with more photos. The first is a side-by-side comparison of Citi Field and Ebbets Field. Does this make anyone (else) sick?

This next/last photo makes me wish I were born two generations earlier. It was taken in 1947. You can see Ebbets Field off in the distance behind the trolley car:
In case you want to check out more defunct ballparks, I’ve done three other entries like this on Forbes Field, The Polo Grounds, and Exhibition Stadium. I’m not sure when I’ll do another — probably within the next few weeks, and of course I’ll be blogging about other stuff in the meantime…

Book update No. 15 — change of scenery

I haven’t been getting out much lately. The book has completely taken over my life. I’ve taken three days off from it since December 16th, and as I mentioned last week on Twitter, I survived a stretch of voluntary home confinement that reached 153 consecutive hours. 

Well, today, at the suggestion of my girlfriend, I took my laptop up to the roofdeck and did some work there — and of course there’s photographic documentation:
I would’ve stayed longer, but it was a bit cold (56 degrees) and windy.
The book itself is coming along — not as fast as I’d hoped, but it’s getting there. Overall, I’m up to 61,194 words. Watching Baseball Smarter was about 64,000, and I still have a long way to go on the new one, so it’ll end up being considerably longer. Part Three (the how-to-snag portion of the new book) is currently up to 13,281 words. That’s the part I’m working on now. I recently finished a section called “Foul Ball Theory,” and now I’m trying to plow through a section about catching game home run balls. I was hoping to finish Part Three by Opening Day, but there’s no way that’s gonna happen. Even when I do finish that part of the book, I’ll still need to write a few more chapters that I skipped earlier. The whole thing is supposed to be done and totally edited by July 15th. (Ha.)
In other book news, I recently had two new baseball books sent to me by friends. The first is called The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow, and the second (which hasn’t officially been released yet) is Rickwood Field by Allen Barra. Check ’em out:
I’m so ridiculously busy with my own writing these days that I don’t have time to read anyone else’s, but I did skim through both of these books, and I read a few sections, and I liked what I saw. If you own a copy of Watching Baseball  

unwritten_rules.JPGSmarter, then you know I have a two-page section in Chapter 9 called “Unwritten Rules.” (I’m pointing to it in the photo on the right.) Well, The Baseball Codes is basically a whole book about guys breaking those rules, and it’s filled with colorful stories and quotes. Rickwood Field has a lot of great historical stuff. Yes, it’s a minor league ballpark, but it was also home to several Negro League teams and for major league Spring Training back in the day. Some of the biggest names in baseball history (Babe Ruth, Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Honus Wagner, Hank Aaron, etc.) played there, and there are some amazing stories about these players that I’d never heard. So…if you’re looking for an interesting read, you might want to pick up these books. And when I finally finish writing mine, I’ll be digging back into them.

Spring Training snagging tips…?

This time of year, I always hear from random people who want advice about Spring Training. Unfortunately, I haven’t been to Spring Training since 1995, so I have no idea what to tell them, and now I’m actually wondering:
What ARE the best tips for snagging baseballs at Spring Training?
I’m thinking of writing a short piece about Spring Training in my book. It’s not a guarantee at this point, but if I end up doing it, I’ll give a shout-out in the acknowledgments section to the three people who share the most/best advice. So…if you’ve been to Spring Training within the last few years, and you have a few minutes to spare, leave a comment and tell me whatever you think I should know. — video games

reddit_logo.jpgI’m not sure how “blog-worthy” this is, but I’m hoping it’ll be of some interest because there’s a bit of baseball talk taking place…

That said, there’s a web site that I absolutely love called Reddit. If you don’t know it, you need to go there immediately and spend at least three hours poking around. And then create a free account. And then leave comments and “upvote” the stuff you like and “downvote” the things you don’t. It’s brilliant.
Anyway, there’s a section on Reddit called “IAmA” where folks with all kinds of unusual experiences allow other people to ask them questions about…whatever makes them unusual. I posted something a few hours ago, and you can see it at the top of this screen shot:
The “AMA” (at the end of most lines) stands for “Ask Me Anything.”
I’ve been getting bombarded with questions for the last few hours. (I needed a break from my book, and this has been perfect.) To view my actual submission on Reddit and read all the questions/answers, click here. Just be warned that there’s some NSFW language here and there, mostly from other people.
(Part of the reason why I blogged about this [and also mentioned it on Twitter] is to prove to the people on Reddit that I’m legit. So…there you have it. It’s really me, Zack Hample.)

Cleveland, Minnesota, and Atlanta

As I mentioned yesterday on Twitter, I’ve booked trips to see games in Cleveland, Minnesota, and Atlanta. But as I didn’t mention on Twitter, here are the dates:


May 1st — Cleveland (7:05pm; Indians vs. Twins)
May 2nd — Cleveland (1:05pm; Indians vs. Twins)
May 3rd — Cleveland (7:05pm; Indians vs. Blue Jays)

May 4th — Minnesota (7:10pm; Twins vs. Tigers)
May 5th — Minnesota (12:10pm; Twins vs. Tigers)
May 6th — Minnesota (7:10pm; Twins vs. Orioles)

May 17th — Atlanta (7:10pm; Braves vs. Mets)
May 18th — Atlanta (7:10pm; Braves vs. Mets)
May 19th — Atlanta (7:10pm; Braves vs. Reds)
The last time I was at Progressive Field, it was called Jacobs Field. We’re talkin’ 1998. Look at this photo of me there (in my Guilford College “Class of 2000” T-shirt). That’s still the only time I’ve ever been to that stadium. One game. Twelve years ago. I barely remember anything. Gotta do something about that. And since I’ll be seeing two games there against the Twins, I’ll have some extra chances to snag a commemorative Target Field ball. I’d love to get one in Cleveland so I don’t have to worry about it in Minnesota. Unfortunately, May 1st is a Saturday, so I’ll have to deal with a bigger weekend crowd, but the Monday game on May 3rd should be nice-n-empty. 
I’m most looking forward to Target Field, which will be my 47th major league stadium. Based on what I’ve seen of it so far, it looks like an annoying-but-interesting place to snag baseballs. 


(I’m hoping to get a ball from Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya, who, alphabetically speaking, would become the last name on my list. “David Aardsma to Joel Zumaya” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?) Now, it just so happens that Pitch In For Baseball has a big media connection in Minnesota, so I might get interviewed about my fundraising efforts while I’m there. That connection, by the way, is Roy Smalley, a former major league All-Star, who does pre- and post-game commentary for FSN (the Twins’ FOX affiliate) and recently became the president of the charity. But wait, it gets better! My girlfriend will be flying out from NYC and meeting me on May 4th.
Speaking of girlfriends, the thing I’m most looking forward to in Atlanta is meeting up with my very first girlfriend ever. Her name is Amy. She lives there now. Here we are in 1995. I haven’t seen her since 1996, and after that, there was a 10-year span when we fell completely out of touch. (It’s kinda funny how we did get back in touch: she randomly stumbled upon this article about me and then tracked me down on Friendster.) Relationship reminiscing aside, I’m really looking forward to checking out Turner Field. The last time I was there? The year 2000, and here’s my photographic proof.
I’m planning to have a “Top Ten Stadiums for Snagging” list in my new book. Target Field probably won’t make the cut, but Progressive Field and Turner Field probably will. Therefore, in all seriousness, the research element will be a big part of these trips.

Exhibition Stadium snagging analysis

In January, I analyzed Forbes Field. Last month, I took a look at The Polo Grounds. Now here’s a look at Exhibition Stadium, former home of the Toronto Blue Jays from 1977-1989.
This stadium, in a word, was weird. That’s because it was originally built for football. Here’s an aerial view that shows how the field was “converted” for baseball games:
See what I mean?
Not only was it a single-deck stadium, but the bleachers were covered…and the grandstand wasn’t.
Here’s a photo taken during a game…
…and here’s another:
As you can see in the three-part photo below, there was a cross-aisle that extended around the entire grandstand:
This means it would’ve been easy to catch foul balls, especially behind the plate where the aisle appears to be much wider. Here’s a closer look at it: 
There’s no telling what that open concrete area was used for. Wheelchair seating, perhaps? Even so, it looks like there would’ve been significant room to roam for foul balls.
But forget the fouls. This place was a dream for snagging home runs. Even though there wasn’t a cross aisle in the left field seats…
…the first few rows were always empty because it was impossible to see over the outfield wall. (BTW, do you see that yellow line running down the middle of the left staircase in the photo above? That unofficially marked the boundary between fair and foul territory.) In other words, if you were willing to sacrifice your view, you could’ve hung out in the front and had a totally clear path to any homer that barely reached the seats.
But wait, it gets better…
Every time a home run was hit to right field, the fans sitting in the far end of the bleachers would run out onto the football field to try to snag it. Can you imagine the opportunities?! Here’s another aerial view that’ll show you how that would’ve been possible:
In the photo above, check out the open area just foul of the left field corner. It looks like there are a few buses parked there, and that there’s a fence at the back…but still. Any ball that landed there probably had a chance to bounce out into the open. And what about foul balls flying completely over the grandstand? The stadium seems small enough that it could’ve happened, if not regularly, then at least on occasion.
That’s about it. Short analysis. There’s really not much to say about this stadium — no corner spots, bullpens, unusual distances to the outfield walls, or unusual protective netting — but I still wanted to blog about it. I’ve always been fascinated by the bizarre configuration. I wish I’d made it to a game there, but I was only 11 when the Jays moved out. 

Snagging Baseballs for Charity — 2010

As many of you already know, I raised over $10,000 last season for a charity called Pitch In For Baseball. The charity provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world — and I raised the money simply by snagging baseballs. Remember? I got people to pledge a little bit of Thumbnail image for pitch_in_for_baseball4.jpgmoney for each ball that I snagged, and because so many folks got involved, it really added up by the end of the season.

Well, I’m doing it again this year, and with your help, I’m hoping we can raise even more money. If you don’t want to pledge, don’t worry about it. I just want you to know what I’m doing. Maybe you can help by telling a few friends about it. If you’re thinking about pledging, but you don’t have much money, you can pledge one penny per ball. Even that little bit will add up to a few dollars and help make a difference. And if you want to pledge even more, go for it. (Last season, Heath Bell pledged 50 cents per ball. Go Padres!)
I have a lot more info HERE on my web site, but let me break it down with a few links:
1) Some FAQs about all of this.
2) A blog entry with pics I took last season at the charity’s warehouse.
3) A recent article about the charity.
4) My fundraising page from last season.
5) And finally…
Thank you all for being a part of this.

Hate Mail — my official response

1_hate_mail_envelopesNormally, I try to keep this blog positive, but because of something rather disturbing that’s been taking place, I’m taking a break from my normal routine to address it publicly. More specifically, I’ve received a series of threatening letters dating back to July 11, 2009. The letters started being sent (to my family’s book store) because I had a VERY ugly altercation with several Yankee fans at a game on May 21, 2009. Although I haven’t been asked to do so, I’ve removed the photographs of these people that I originally posted on my blog. I just felt it was the right thing to do, and that it would help everyone involved move on.

These letters, as you’ll see below, contain “adult” language, so here’s my official disclaimer: Read this entry at your own risk. The people who wrote the letters asked me repeatedly to respond here on the blog, so I finally decided to scan the letters and share them so that I can answer them one by one.
Here’s the 1st letter:
Here’s my response:
I remember why you guys first got so mad at me. It’s because I changed into an Orioles shirt during batting practice in order to get the Orioles players to toss baseballs to me. So you’re right, what I do IS an “act.” I’m not really an Orioles fan, and I hope it’s okay for me to say this, but I’m not a Yankee fan either. It might sound strange, but I don’t have a favorite team. I only root for individual players, and for the record, I happen to love Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera (and I really miss Bernie Williams). I will never root against those guys, and I was glad for both of them when the Yankees won the World Series last year. In this letter, you’ve accused me several times of not being “normal.” I realize I’m not normal. Lots of people have said this over the years. But the way I see it, it’s not such a bad thing. I just have my own way of doing things — working, being in relationships, watching baseball games, you name it. I never intended to bother you (or anyone) by being the way I am. Finally, yes, I do run around a lot at baseball games, but I’ve never knocked anyone over — not once in more than 800 games. Again, I’m sorry you’re bothered by this, but I want to assure you that I’m always very careful.
Here’s the 2nd letter:
Here’s my response:
I know I need to grow up. I’ve always been somewhat immature for my age, and I’m working on it. But at the same time, I really feel like I have my life together in many ways, so c’mon, give me some credit. You said that I should stop selling my baseballs. What’s up with that? First of all, if I wanted to sell balls, I don’t see why that would be a problem, and secondly, I’ve never sold one anyway. Not one ball. Ever. I’ve given away lots of balls to kids (perhaps not as many as some people would like), and I’ll continue to give away many more. You said that most people my age “are married, have steady jobs, children, play softball, & drink beer.” That’s true. But why do I have to be like everyone else? I’m 32 years old. My dad married my mom when he was 48, and he was 51 when I was born. Now he’s 84 and still going strong. He’s a hero to me. I love him and admire him and take after him in many ways. The fact that he was older than most fathers when I was born didn’t seem to affect him or me in any negative way, so what’s the big deal if I wait a few more years to get married or have kids? Like I said, I know I have some growing up and maturing to do. That’s why I don’t want to rush into starting a family. There’s still a lot I need to learn. As for softball, I love playing it. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough free time to play (because I’m so busy working), but I’m hoping to get back into it someday and maybe join a league. And as for beer, what can I say? I’ve tried it, but I just don’t like it. Alcohol is really dangerous for me anyway because I’m severely hypoglycemic; I have a serious blood sugar imbalance, and I’ve heard that alcohol turns into sugar after people drink it. I was once told by a nutritionist that I could become diabetic if I’m not careful, so I try to stay away from sweets. I know that alcohol is an acquired taste, but quite frankly, I don’t see the point of drinking something repeatedly in order to make myself like it when it happens to be extremely unhealthy for me in the first place. I once got high, so it’s not like I’m terrified of adult substances. It was an interesting experience, and I’m glad I did it, but it’s just not something that I felt the need to do again. No judgments against people who drink and smoke and take drugs. All I can say is that it’s not for me. Finally, you asked if I’ve ever gotten laid. I was a late bloomer. It didn’t happen for me until I was 20. But yes, to answer your question, I’ve done pretty well with the ladies ever since. I’m not even sure how. I think I’ve gotten luckier in that sense than I have with all the baseball stuff.
Here’s the 3rd letter:
Here’s my response:
I’m not gay (ask Jona and all my ex-girlfriends if you don’t believe me), but yes, I’m friends with people who are. I don’t think that should be a problem. I’m also friends with tall people, short people, white people, black people, rich people, poor people, Mets fans, Yankee fans, old people, and young people. The way I see it, if someone’s cool, they’re cool. That’s enough for me. As for hanging out with 13-year-olds at the ballpark, there are kids everywhere. I think kids are fun. Lots of the people who read this blog are kids, and they happen to be really cool people. Am I supposed to avoid them? As I said in my response to your 2nd letter, I give away lots of baseballs to kids. Last year, I helped raise more than $10,000 for a children’s charity, and I’m planning to organize another fundraiser this season. Here’s the press release about my charity work. I take this very seriously. I don’t have any evil intentions, if that’s what you’re asking or suggesting.
Here’s the 4th letter:
Here’s my response:
What’s with all the talk about beer? Seriously, I just don’t get it, but I’ll tell you what: next time I see you guys, if you want, I’ll buy you each a beer. How’s that? I can’t promise I’ll drink one too, but the first round is on me. Let’s just talk face to face and shake hands. I think this whole thing was just a bad misunderstanding that got blown out of proportion. Also, I want you to know that I *do* enjoy the game of baseball very much. It’s not just the balls that I’m after. I watch games on TV all the time, and I read every boxscore every day. I don’t even play fantasy baseball. I just keep up with the stats and standings because I love the sport and I want to know how all the players and teams are doing.
Here’s the 5th letter:
Here’s my response:
Many people have told me to “get a life.” I used to hear that all the time when I was in school. I don’t know what it is about my life that everyone seems to think is so screwed up, but anyway, like I said, I’m working on a lot of things, so hopefully that will make a difference in the long run. I know I’m not perfect. Not even close.
Here’s the 6th letter:
Here’s my response:
I mean this is all seriousness: it seems like it would be a lot cheaper to drink before or after the games. What are the Steinbrenners charging for beers these days? It’s like $10 for one of those plastic bottles, right? Even if I wanted to drink at games, I don’t know if I could afford it. I’m a writer, after all, so I don’t make that much money.
Here’s the 7th letter:
Here’s my response:
I’m not gay. I’ve gotten laid. I don’t want to fight with you. And yes, here I am, replying to your letters.
Here’s the 8th envelope (which I just opened today):
Here’s the letter:
And here’s the hockey puck that was inside the envelope:
Here’s my response:
Come on, this is just uncalled for. There’s no need to bring religion into it or to make these kinds of threats. Jews are really sensitive to this kind of stuff. My parents were so freaked out about this that they called the police and filed a report. I actually had a detective from the 18th precinct contact me this evening. He asked me if I knew who was sending the letters and if I wanted to press charges for aggravated assault. I told him I didn’t want to press charges. I said I just wanted to deal with these people directly, man to man, and hopefully settle this like civilized people. So what do you guys think? Can we do that? I regret arguing with you at the game last season, and for pulling out my camera and turning this into a bigger deal than it ever should have been. That was a real mistake on my part, and I’m sorry. I remember that one of you guys asked me for a baseball for your grandson. At the time, I was so angry that I never would have considered it, but now, if you’ll give me a chance, I’d like to try to catch one for him. Let me know what you think.
Zack Hample

Book update No. 14 — stadium mentions

My first book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs, was published in 1999, but I wrote it in 1997. At that point in my life, I’d only visited seven major league stadiums, and it showed. The book had dozens of references to Shea and Yankee Stadium, but I hardly mentioned any other places. Now that I’m working on a new (and vastly improved) version of that book…and now that I’ve been to 46 different major league stadiums…I’m trying to mention as many of them as possible — at least the current ones. Here’s how I’m keeping track. It’s a screen shot of a list I created, which I refer to and update constantly:
Each dot, as you probably figured, represents one mention in the book. So, for example, if I need to name a stadium where the right field stands are too steep, I’ll know not to mention Great American Ball Park or Citi Field, and I’ll talk about PNC Park instead. It’s a good system, I think. The biggest challenge in writing this book has been organizing everything — establishing a logical outline and then making the necessary adjustments. It might not sound hard, and when you finally read this book next year, it’ll all (hopefully) flow brilliantly, so just take my word for it: writing this thing has been a major struggle.
The good news is that I’ve really gotten focused lately. I don’t know what happened. Something inside my brain just clicked, and now I’m churning it out. Normally, if I can write 250 words in a single day, I’m satisfied (if not downright thrilled). That’s about one double-spaced page, and again, that might not sound like anything special, so you’ll have to take my word for it. I can write a 250-word email in three minutes, but when I’m trying to crank out a polished piece of book-worthy prose, it’s completely different. And draining. A few months ago, I spent eight hours working on a single paragraph. (And what a good paragraph it turned out to be. It was the opening of a very important section, so it had to be just right, and I wasn’t willing to move on until I felt I’d nailed it.) Yesterday alone, I wrote more than 1,600 words for my “Batting Practice” chapter. I wrote the final paragraph for a section about snagging ground balls, and then I wrote my entire “Glove Trick” section. I was up ’til 5:30am working on it. I slept until 1:05pm this afternoon. No alarm clock. Nothing else on my mind. It’s just me against the book. And now I need to get back to it…