April 2010

Ballhawk Winning Percentage

It’s been a while since I invented a ball-snagging statistic. In 2005, I gave you Cost Per Baseball, and in 2006, I came up with Competition Factor and the Mendoza Line of Snagging.

It’s time for another: Ballhawk Winning Percentage.

Let me explain…

On 4/7/10 at Citi Field, I snagged 15 balls, and the Marlins ended up beating the Mets by the score of 7-6. I remember thinking that I had more baseballs than the winning team had runs — so in effect, *I* won the game. Fast-forward a week. I snagged eight balls on 4/15/10 at Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees beat the Angels, 6-2. Once again, I snagged more balls than the winning team scored runs. My (hypothetical) won-lost record, therefore, improved to 2-0 — and my winning percentage held steady at a perfect 1.000.

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The way this stat works is simple. Basically, if you out-snag the winning team, you win, and if you don’t, you lose. It doesn’t matter how many runs the losing team scores. There’s no reward for out-snagging them, so if I’d gotten three balls at the Yankee game, that still would’ve resulted in a loss. If you end up snagging the same number of balls as the winning team, that’s a tie. Each tie counts as half a win and half a loss.

Are you with me?

My next game is going to be on May 1st — Twins versus Indians at Progressive Field. Let’s say the Twins end up winning by the score of 6-3. If I snag seven or more balls, my won-lost record will improve to 3-0. If I snag five or less, my record will fall to 2-1, and if I snag exactly six, I’ll be 2.5-0.5. That’s two and a half wins and half a loss. To calculate the winning percentage, I would simply divide 2.5 (the total number of wins) by 3 (the total number of games) for a first-place-worthy .833.

That’s pretty much it.

What do you think of this new stat? What’s your Ballhawk Winning Percentage (BWP) so far this season? Leave a comment and let everyone know.

——————

ADDENDUM:

I neglected to account for single-admission doubleheaders. After three days of consideration, here’s what I’ve come up with…

Let’s say you end up snagging five balls over the course of the day. And let’s say the winning team scores three runs in the first game and nine runs in the second game. The way it’ll work is that you’ll end up with a 1-1 record for the day. Get it? After the entire doubleheader is done, compare your final ball total to the winning score in Game 1 (win). Then compare your total to the winning score in Game 2 (loss).

I’ve attended a bunch of single-admission doubleheaders over the years, and I’ve counted each one as a single “game” in my stats. Similarly, when I’ve attended rainouts, I’ve counted those as “games.” Each trip to the stadium essentially counts as one game.

So, to recap, even though a doubleheader will leave you with just one entry in your stats, you’ll end up with two decisions for the Ballhawk Winning Percentage.

Boise Hawks championship ring

Last week, in my entry titled 4/15/10 at Yankee Stadium, I mentioned that I like the Angels. Remember? Here’s what I wrote:

“I worked as an unpaid intern for one of their minor league affiliates in 1995 — the Boise Hawks — and it was the best summer of my life. Among the many awesome things that happened, the Hawks ended up winning the Northwest League championship, and I was unexpectedly given a championship ring. It’s one of my most prized possessions, baseball or otherwise, so I’ve always rooted for the Angels as a result.”
After posting that entry, I realized that I’ve never actually shown the ring, so check it out:
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For those of you who don’t know, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim used to be called the California Angels. That’s what the “CA” stands for.
The ring, unfortunately, is not made of gold. It’s made of a “non-precious” metal called lustrium, but whatever, I still think it’s cool, and I don’t plan on selling it.
The lettering around the “CA” logo says, “NORTHWEST LEAGUE CHAMPIONS.”
Look how big the ring is…
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…and hey, did you notice that it has my last name on the side?
Behold!
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(FYI, the Boise Hawks are now affiliated with the Cubs.)
The ring is nearly as tall as it is wide:
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The other side of the ring shows the year above the Northwest League logo:
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Although Guinness doesn’t have an official listing for this, I have to assume that I hold the record for “Shortest Amount Of Time Spent In Professional Baseball Having Gotten A Ring.”
Or something like that.
I’ll leave you with this photo of me, taken in 1995 inside the Boise Hawks’ clubhouse.

Friends Seminary speech

I gave a speech earlier today:

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No, it didn’t take place in a church. I was in the Quaker meeting house at my old school, Friends Seminary, where I was a student from from 7th through 9th grade. My speech was about baseball, but more specifically, I covered the following topics (upon request from the administration):
1) my blog and how I use it to “market myself”
3) my new book and the writing process
4) my time at Friends and how it helped shape me
Here’s a shot that shows a bit more of the room:
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See that baseball on the podium? That was the Robinson Cano grand slam ball that I snagged on 9/28/09 at Yankee Stadium. I needed to have a ball with me, so I decided to bring a special ball that the high-schoolers would appreciate seeing.
Why did I need a ball, you ask?
For my glove trick demo, of course.
Check out the following photo. It shows even more of the room:
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The red arrow is pointing to the spot in the balcony where I lowered my glove. As you can see, the students seemed to enjoy it:
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Moments later, the ball was in my glove. Check out the reaction of the dude in the front row, third from the right:
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Big thanks to John Galayda — Friends Seminary’s Director of Communications — for taking these pics. Here one more that shows me reeling in the ball:
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My speech lasted about 35 minutes. Then I read a short section from my new book and spent another 10 minutes taking questions. My publisher had arranged for some copies of last book, Watching Baseball Smarter, to be on sale, so I stuck around and signed them for the students who were interested.
Good times. It really felt great to be back. It had been 18 years…

4/15/10 at Yankee Stadium

Several months ago, I heard that the old Yankee Stadium was finally being demolished. People sent me videos and photos and articles, but I never looked at any of it. Even though I often complained about that stadium, it really was a special place for me, and I wasn’t ready to see proof that it was gone. Yesterday, however, I had no choice. It was my first time at the new stadium since September 28th, and this was one of the first things I saw after getting off the No. 4 train:

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<deep breath>

I’d actually left my apartment extra early so that I’d have time to wander and take pics. I figured that if I had to see it, I might as well see ALL of it. Here’s another look at what remains of the old Yankee Stadium:

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I wonder how Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio would feel if they could see this.

The bleacher concourse, way out in what used to be deep left field, was partially intact:

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So was the escalator structure at the old home plate entrance:

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I headed down to street level and began walking clockwise around the old stadium. The outer shell was still intact in some places. Here’s a look at it from underneath the elevated train tracks on River Avenue:

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I peeked through a construction gate behind the old right field corner…

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…and imagined that it was just a bad dream. Then I headed up to the roof of the nearby parking garage, and when I looked back down, I was surprised to see how much clutter there was:

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I guess the Yankees are planning to build more scaffolding and dismantle it slowly? I have no idea, and I don’t even care. I’m just glad/sad to have seen it firsthand.

Here’s a shot that shows the new stadium off in the distance:

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Here’s another shot of the new stadium, taken from a bit lower down:

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The garage was practically empty. It smelled like concrete dust and urine. Just about everything was abandoned or in ruins. It felt apocalyptic, like a deleted scene from “Terminator.”

Here’s a photo (taken from the Metro-North station) that shows the shadow of the big bat on the rubble….
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…and this is what it looked like as I made my way around the stadium:

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There was one more place to take photos: from the walkway that runs along the edge of the new Joe Yancey Track and Field. Check it out:

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Here’s one final photo of the old stadium:

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I’m still in shock.

Anyway, enough of that. I should probably mention that Jona was with me. Here we are in front of the new stadium…

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…and here’s the crowd (at just one of the four gates) that was waiting to get in:

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Last year, Yankee Stadium opened three hours before game time. This year? Two hours. Lame, lame, lame. That’s still better than some teams, but the Yankees aren’t just any team. I think they owe it to their fans to open at least two and a half hours early so that people can watch Jeter & Company take batting practice for more than 20 minutes. (Every stadium should open two and a half hours early; if I were the commissioner, I’d make it a league-wide rule.)

Jona offered to take photos of me during BP, so I handed her my camera and raced inside. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to me way off in the distance:

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If you click the photo above to make it bigger, you’ll see a fan wearing a red shirt four rows in front of me. That was a 14-year-old ballhawk named Connor, whom you might remember from 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium. Yesterday, he and I often found ourselves in the same section, but we did a good job of staying out of each other’s way.

Halfway through the Yankees’ portion of BP, a left-handed batter (no idea who) hit a deep fly ball in my direction. The following four-part photo shows how it all played out:
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In case you can’t tell, the ball flew over my head and landed in the tunnel.

What happened next?

This:

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I’m always concerned that I’m gonna get shut out at Yankee Stadium, so it felt good to get that first ball out of the way. As it turned out, that was the only ball I snagged until the Angels took the field. Not good. But it wasn’t like I was dropping balls or misplaying them. There just weren’t many opportunities.

Now, let me just state for the record that I really do like the Angels. I worked as an unpaid intern for one of their minor league affiliates in 1995 — the Boise Hawks – and it was the best summer of my life. Among the many awesome things that happened, the Hawks ended up winning the Northwest League championship, and I was unexpectedly given a championship ring. It’s one of my most prized possessions, baseball or otherwise, so I’ve always rooted for the Angels as a result. That said, I’ve taken some heat from Yankee fans for wearing visiting teams’ gear in the Bronx, so I want to make it very clear that on this particular occasion, I did it for a personal reason. No disrespect intended.

Here I am with my second ball of the day:

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It was thrown by Angels catcher Bobby Wilson after he finished warming up along the left field foul line.

Ready for some more action shots?

When Jered Weaver finished warming up, I shouted his name and got him to throw me a ball from about 150 feet away. In the following photo, you can see me holding up my glove as he was just about to unleash it:

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Here’s a shot of the ball in midair (it’s just a teeny little speck)…
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…and here I am making a leaping catch:

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The foul line turned out to be a good spot while various players were finishing their warm-ups. Brian Stokes (who remembered me from his days with the Mets) tossed me another ball. The following photo shows me leaning out over the “moat” and making a two-handed catch
:
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I moved from the foul line to the seats in straight-away left field and snagged a home run hit by Brandon Wood. It landed several rows behind me and to the right, and I raced a couple other grown men for it. Then one of the Angels batters hit a deep line drive that short-hopped the outfield wall and bounced to Reggie Willits. I called out to him, and he tossed it my way. Here I am preparing for another two-handed catch. (Better safe than sorry.) The arrow is pointing to the ball, and you can see Connor in the background:

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Don’t feel bad for Connor. He ended up snagging a few baseballs of his own, and I’ll let him tell you about it himself in the comments.

The ball from Willits had a big dirt/scuff mark near the Rawlings logo, and the next ball I got — a home run that landed in the last row of seats — had a big grass stain in the same spot:

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BP ended shortly after that, so I raced through the seats and made it to 3rd base dugout just as the Angels were coming off the field. (I couldn’t get all the way down to the dugout. I had to stay half a dozen rows back.) First base coach Alfredo Griffin tossed a bunch of balls into the crowd. I got one of them. It was my eighth ball of the day, tying my personal new Yankee Stadium record.

Jona and I sat in straight-away left field during the game. This was the view:

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Nothing special, right? Well, for the first few innings, this is what it looked like to my left:

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There was SO much room to run, and on top of that, the left-handed Scott Kazmir was pitching for the Angels, so the Yankees’ lineup was stacked with righties. The good news is that there were four home runs (two by Robinson Cano, one by Hideki Matsui, and another by Derek Jeter). The bad news is that they all went to right field.

Between innings, I hung out near the Angels bullpen…

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…but didn’t get anything else. I did however, give away one of my baseballs to a little kid sitting directly behind me. He was so happy that he couldn’t stop playing with it. At one point, when the ball slipped out of his glove and nearly rolled under my seat, I joked, “Hey, look what I found!” and his parents laughed.

Time out for a moment. Do you notice the uniform number of the pitcher in the photo above? Did you notice the uniform number of the left fielder two photos before that? Yep, it was Jackie Robinson Day, so everyone was wearing No. 42 in his honor. My rosters were basically useless as a result, but I’m not complaining. Believe me. I’m just pointing out one silly/related detail. Okay, time in.

The game itself was interminable. Kazmir threw 87 pitches in four-plus innings, while Yankees starter Phil Hughes threw 108 in five-plus. Then the bullpens continued the trend of inefficiency. I wouldn’t have minded except it got really cold, and Jona’s allergies were killing her — but we stayed and watched Mariano Rivera bail out Joba Chamberlain with a one-out save. Final score: Yankees 6, Angels 2.


SNAGGING STATS:

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• 8 balls at this game (7 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 23 balls in 2 games this season = 11.5 balls per game.

• 631 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 137 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 4,381 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 17 donors (click here to learn more and support the cause)

• $1.61 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $12.88 raised at this game

• $37.03 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

FIRE!!!

As some of you already know, there was a fire in my building several days ago. Here’s the full story…

It all started at around 9:30am. I had a friend crashing with me, and we were both asleep. She was on the couch in the living room, which is right near the front door, so when the doorbell rang unexpectedly and woke us both up, she was the one to answer it. In my state of half-sleep, I recognized the voice she was talking to. It was one of the guys that works in the building. I didn’t hear what he said — I figured he was bringing up a FedEx package or something — so I closed my eyes and tried to fall back asleep.

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My friend walked into my bedroom.
“There’s a fire!” she yelled.
“What?!” I answered. I sat up. I didn’t smell any smoke or hear any noise. The only thing I noticed was that my bladder was ready to explode.
“There’s a FIRE!” she repeated. “We have to get OUT OF HERE!!!”
“Fire or no fire,” I said, “I gotta take a piss.”
Looking back on it, that was pretty stupid on my part, but what can I say? The alleged “fire” didn’t seem like a big deal at that point, and I seriously had to pee. I was about to pee all over myself — it was THAT bad — so I figured I’d spend an extra minute taking care of business and then head downstairs.
Well, wouldn’t you know it…it turned out to be one of those pisses that kept going and going and going. You know the kind, right? Just when I thought I was done, the stream rejuvenated itself — except it trickled out really slowly…and kept going…and going. If only there’d been an official from Guinness, I might have set a world record. Anyway, while I was standing there, I thought about the items I’d grab on my way out, and I came up with the following list: laptop, cell phone, camera, and a pair of disposable one-day contact lenses. (Hey, the lenses were right there on a shelf over the toilet. Why not?)
By the time I stepped out of the bathroom, the smell of smoke had seeped into my apartment, and I could hear the faint sound of firetrucks. This is when it first occurred to me that the fire might be serious — and closer to my apartment than I’d originally thought. I live on the eighth floor of a 15-story building. I mean, what are the odds?
I quickly packed up my computer and grabbed the other items.
“HURRY!!!” shouted my friend.
The smell of smoke was getting stronger. I grabbed my keys as we raced toward the front door, and when I opened it, we were blasted by thick black smoke. The hallway was filled with it. It was so strong that I couldn’t breathe and so thick that I couldn’t even see the lock from SIX INCHES AWAY when I pulled the door shut behind me. I was wearing a hoodie, so I yanked the cloth up over my nose and crouched down low. I heard lots of people shouting. The building’s fire alarms were wailing. Someone was holding the emergency staircase door open, and I darted toward it with my friend. While we were heading downstairs, at least a dozen firefighters were heading up. Those guys are incredible. My lungs hurt. My throat hurt. My eyes were stinging. I was running away from what felt like a near-death situation, and those men were racing toward it. Truly amazing.
By the time I got outside, the entire street was blocked off. There were firetrucks all over the place, and there was smoke pouring out of the building. I turned on my camera and started filming. Here’s a low-quality screen shot:
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Thirty seconds later, I heard the sound of shattering glass. I was already (thankfully) standing at a safe distance from the building, so I looked up and saw the windows being smashed. Thousands of shards of glass rained down onto the sidewalk. Then two giant window screens were bashed out and plunged to the street.
With my camera still rolling, I moved across the street and got some footage of all the on-lookers:
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Then I stopped filming and took some (high-quality) pics. Here’s one that shows some of the firetrucks:
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I still had no idea where exactly the fire had started, so I started counting the floors: one, two, three, four, five, six…I started getting that awful sinking feeling in my gut…seven…EIGHT?!?!?!
The fire was ON MY FLOOR. The smoke had stopped pouring out of the windows, so I figured that was a good sign in terms of my own apartment being okay, but what about water damage? And how about the smoke?
There was an SUV parked nearby that had a large side mirror. I used it to put in my contact lenses, then took a few more pics and made some phone calls, and finally, after half an hour, I was allowed back into the building.
I had to walk back upstairs. On each floor, there was water pouring out onto the landing through a space in the service elevator door, and the smell of smoke kept getting stronger. At one point, I had to step aside to let some firefighters through:
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There were so many of them that I lost count. Then came the moment of truth. I made it back to the eighth floor. There was sooty water everywhere (uh-oh) and the smell of smoke was so strong that it was still tough to breathe. Here’s a photo of the hallway, taken from just inside the doorway of my apartment. The open door at the far end (where a neighbor’s kid is standing) is the burnt-out apartment:
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My apartment was not damaged at all, but it was VERY smoky. I opened all the windows and then went to check out the actual fire damage.
Here’s a pic of the broken windows in the burnt-out apartment:
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Why is it so empty in there?
Because the place was under renovation. The theory about how the fire started is that the contractors were treating the wood floors with some chemicals, and they left a rag in a sealed plastic bag; the fumes from the rag were therefore trapped and somehow self-combusted.
Check out this toasted bed frame:
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Here’s some semi-charred clutter…
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…and here’s the more serious damage:
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Look at the ceiling:
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It’s rather unsettling (as you might imagine) to think that this happened less than 50 feet from me while I was sleeping.
Fortunately, no one was hurt in the blaze.
It still smells really strong in the hallway. This past weekend, there were three huge air-suction-purification machines out there:
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I’ve had to place wet towels at the bottom of my front door to try to prevent the smoky smell from coming in, but it’s not really working.
Anyway…
Phew!
That’s about it for now. I’m okay. Everything’s good. Just wanted to share this story. And I promise that my next entry will be baseball-related.

Awesome writing group photo

I don’t often blog about my writing group, especially during the baseball season, but the photo taken during yesterday’s meeting is so cool that I have to share it:

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I’m usually the photographer, so it was nice to be in one of the pics for a change. (Did you even notice that I’m in it? Did you notice Jona? She’s the one wearing the blue shirt on the right.)
IN OTHER NEWS…
I’ve been watching the Mets game on TV today, and in the top of the first inning, I saw a fan in a Nationals shirt catch a high foul pop-up behind the 3rd base dugout. “Huh,” I thought, “I wonder if that was someone I know.” My phone rang two minutes later — and sure enough, it was. Remember Joe Faraguna, my Watch With Zack client from 5/8/09 at Citi Field and 7/6/09 at Citizens Bank Park? It was him. He’d caught the ball — his very first foul during a game, so congrats to him. I’m sure he’ll have the story up later on his blog.

4/7/10 at Citi Field

This was my first game of the season. Don’t let my facial expression in the photo below fool you. I was indeed happy to be there:

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Mainly, I was (and still am) shocked that the season had arrived — that I was actually standing outside Citi Field. The off-season flew by. I never had a break from baseball. I was (and still am) working full-time on my book.

(If you’re not familiar with Citi Field, the Home Run Apple wasn’t there last year. It was hidden behind the bullpens. And FYI, this is the old Apple from Shea Stadium, which I miss very much.)

Now, onto another important topic…

As I mentioned recently on Twitter, I’ve gained 11 pounds in the last six months. I went from a light-on-my-feet weight of 167 pounds to a sluggish-and-constantly-feeling-bloated 178. I basically haven’t gotten any exercise since Game 5 of the 2009 World Series, so it was good to be back at a stadium where I’d be “forced” to run around. It was also good that my friend Greg was there with an old ball. He and I and another friend named Matt tossed it around for 20 minutes before the gates opened, and thankfully, I hadn’t forgotten how to catch. Here’s Matt getting ready to fire the ball to Greg:

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There was a fairly big crowd waiting to get in:

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In the photo above, you can see Greg waving. He started the day with a lifetime total of 875 balls, and because Citi Field is Citi Field, I got stuck in a bad line, and he got a major head start on the dash to left field — and surprise-surprise, he had two baseballs by the time I got there.

I was completely out of breath. It was pathetic. I mean, it’s a long run from street level behind home plate to the elevated concourse in the outfield, but still, that’s just lame. I have some serious work to do.

It didn’t take long for me to snag my first ball of the season. Mets reliever Ryota Igarashi threw it to me after I asked him for it in Japanese. Here it is:

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Oh yeah, baby, a Citi Field inaugural season commemorative ball. As it turned out, every single one of the Mets balls were commemorative. They obviously have a lot left over from last year.

Moments later, I snagged a Fernando Tatis home run that landed in the seats in left-center, and then I caught another one of his homers. That one came right to me. There was nothing to it. The real challenge came five minutes later when David Wright smoked a deep line drive in my direction. For some reason, I was standing in the middle of the third row when I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, so I quickly climbed over the seats into the second row, then climbed over THAT row of seats so that I was standing in the front row. I got there just as the ball was about to land, and I reached over the railing and made the catch.

“How did that feel?!” asked a man on my right, who probably thought it was the first ball I’d ever caught.

I shrugged and said, “Great.”

What else was I supposed to say? That those few seconds from the time the ball jumped off Wright’s bat until it smacked the pocket of my Mizuno glove showed me that I still had it?

When I finally looked at the ball, I noticed that it had a beautifully smudged logo:

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Matt’s goal for the day was to snag one ball. As soon as he got it, he came over and grabbed my camera and took a few action shots of me. Here’s one that shows me climbing over some more seats as a home run flew into the second deck. I was trying to get in position in case it bounced back down into the front row (it didn’t). The red arrow is pointing at Greg:

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Here I am scrambling unsuccessfully for a home run ball:

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The guy in the black jersey ended up grabbing it. I suspect that the man in the gray jersey was bending over in case the ball trickled down the steps. (He looks kinda funny, no?)

Angel Pagan then tossed up a ball that sailed over the first few rows and was about to sail over my head, too…

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…but I managed to climb up on a seat at the last second and catch it.

Matt told me to hold up the ball so he could take a photo, but I didn’t want to take my eye off the batter. In the two-part photo below, the pic on the left shows me saying, “Hold on,” and the pic on the right is the actual pose that Matt had requested:

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Toward the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, I caught two Luis Castillo homers on the fly in straight-away left field, then happened to catch another homer out in left-center. I wasn’t looking at the batter. I was trying to get someone to toss me a ball from down below, when all of a sudden, I heard people shouting at something else, so I looked up and saw a HIGH fly ball coming toward me. At first, I didn’t think it was going to reach the seats, but it carried, and I reached far over the railing and made the catch. It was either hit by Jeff Francoeur or Jason Bay. Not sure.

Before the stadium had opened, Matt predicted that I’d snag 12 balls. I thought his guess was too high, but by the time the Marlins took the field, I was two-thirds of the way there. Hmm…

My ninth ball of the day was thrown by Burke Badenhop. It helped that I had changed into a Marlins cap and shirt, but my outfit didn’t do me any good for the rest of BP. I’m happy to report, though, that I caught three more home runs on the fly. (That’s a total of eight home runs that I caught on the fly, in case you lost count.) The first was hit by Dan Uggla, and I have no idea who hit the next two. I gave one of them to the nearest kid.

With a few minutes remaining in BP, I made my way toward the dugout and didn’t get anything there — except a photo of my Marlins crew:

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From right to left, you’re looking at Greg (who ended up with nine balls), Matt (three), Ben (only one because he missed most of BP), me (keep reading), Ryan (six), and Ryan’s friend T.J. (three). Not one of us is actually a Marlins fan. We just had the gear to try to get extra baseballs.

Matt had bought a ticket in the front row behind the Marlins’ dugout. (Don’t ask how much it cost. He’s from California. This was his one and only game here, and the rest of his trip was paid for by his job, so he splurged.) I could’ve stayed down there with him, but I felt like wandering and playing for home runs. The left field seats were basically packed…

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…so I headed toward the newly named “Shea Bridge”…

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…and went up to the second deck in right field so I could take a photo of the bullpens. This is how the ‘pens looked last year. (If you’re too lazy to click that link, just know that they ran parallel to the outfield wall. The Mets’ bullpen was closer to the field; the visitors’ bullpen was tucked out of view below the overhang — stadium design at its worst.) This is the new bullpen configuration:

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Weird but better. (Does anyone know anyone who works for the architectural firm that designs all these stadiums? It used to be called HOK. Now it’s named Populous. With all due respect, they could really use my help.)

By the way, when I first tried to photograph the bullpens from the field level seats in right field, the security-guard-usher-type-person stopped me. He wouldn’t let me down the steps from the concourse — and this was 20 minutes after batting practice had ended. He told me that I needed to have a ticket to go down there. I told him that I’d heard about the new improvements to Citi Field, and that I was excited to see them and take some photos so I could blog about it, but he was like, “Sorry, you’re not allowed. You need a ticket. That’s what I’ve been told.” How sad that some teams are so un-fan-friendly.

There really wasn’t anywhere for me to go. Mike Jacobs was sitting on 99 career home runs, so I found my way into the seats in deep right-center for each of his at-bats. This was my lousy view:

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I don’t enjoy sitting 3.2 miles from home plate, but I’m willing to do it on special occasions. Of course, Jacobs ended up going 1-for-5 with a single and two strikeouts. I have nothing against the guy, but he doesn’t look good. He’s batting .111 so far this season, and it’s no surprise. He always seems to be behind in the count 0-2, and his swing looks awfully long.

Eventually, I went and sat with Matt behind the Marlins’ dugout. The view there was much better…

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…and thanks to his generosity, I got a third-out ball from Gaby Sanchez after the fifth inning. I was going to let Matt go for it, but he insisted.

“It’s for the charity,” he said.

When the Marlins made a double-switch with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, I was back in right-center. Emilio Bonifacio took over in center field, so Tim Wood came out of the bullpen to play catch with him. I quickly changed into my Marlins gear and heard a few grumbles (about my lack of team loyalty) from the fans sitting nearby. I hurried over to the side railing and got Wood’s attention as he was walking back toward the bullpen. He threw me the ball, and when I turned around, all the fans were smiling. They knew what was up, so once I was out of Wood’s view, I made a big production of taking off the Marlins gear and revealing my Mets shirt underneath. It was classic. The whole section burst into laughter, and then, for added comedic effect, I pretended to wipe myself with the teal-colored clothing.

The game was rather entertaining — and unusual. Not only did the Mets tie it up after trailing 6-1, but all six of their runs scored without a hit. In the bottom of the first, there was a sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the seventh, there was another sac fly and a bases-loaded walk. One inning later, they plated three more runs on a throwing error, another bases-loaded walk, and a balk.

In the top of the 10th, I was sitting several rows behind the Marlins dugout with Matt, Greg, Ben, and Ryan. Wes Helms led off the inning, and on a 2-1 pitch, he dribbled a foul grounder toward Joey Espada, the third base coach. Ryan reacted quickly and made a beeline for the front row. Espada scooped up the ball and tossed it into the seats. It wasn’t thrown to anyone in particular. It was just one of those up-for-grabs lobs, and Ryan gloved it. There was some talk about whether or not he’d “stolen” the ball from a kid, but I don’t think he did. Check out this screen shot from the game (sent by a friend in Florida):

mets_marlins_screen_shot1.jpg

See the little red numbers?

1 = Ryan
2 = me
3 = Greg
4 = Ben

From where I was standing, it appeared that the ball sailed above the kid’s left/bare hand. (I’m talking about the kid wearing the white striped shirt.) To some people, it may have appeared that Ryan reached in front of him, but in fact Ryan respectfully stayed behind the kid and simply reached above him. It’s hard to tell. There’s so much gray area with these things, but really, it looked like a clean play as far as I could tell.

Here’s another screen shot:

mets_marlins_screen_shot2.jpg

5 = Matt

The Marlins ended up taking a 7-6 lead, and guess who came in and notched his first major league save in the bottom of the 10th. That’s right: my boy Tim Wood.

After the final out, I got a ball from Laz Diaz, the home plate umpire, as he walked off the field. It was my 15th ball of the day — a new Citi Field record. My previous high for this stadium was 14 balls, which I accomplished on 8/4/09.

On my way out of the stadium, I gave another ball away to a kid and then posed with my eight Citi Field balls:

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SNAGGING STATS:

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• 15 balls at this game (13 pictured on the right because I gave two away)

• 131 balls in 14 lifetime games at Citi Field = 9.36 balls per game.

• 630 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 121 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,373 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 13 donors (click here to see what this is all about)

• $1.37 pledged per ball

• $17.81 raised at this game

• $17.81 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball.

Figuring out my first game…

I’m probably going to attend one Mets game this week, and I’m trying to decide which one it’s gonna be. I’d prefer to go on Friday for one reason only: the Nationals will be in town, and I really want to talk to Garrett Mock and let him know that I’m going to be raising money again this season for charity. You may recall that I had a conversation with him about it on 9/29/09 at Nationals Park. He seemed really interested then, and I suspect that if I could get his attention for even 10 seconds and remind him about it, he might be able to help. I’m not sure how, but I’d like to find out. The only problem is that it might rain on Friday, and I might not even end up being free — and the rest of the weekend is out. That pretty much leaves tomorrow and Thursday against the Marlins. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be amazing, so I’m thinking I might just go to that game. I really can’t attend too many games right now because it’s crunch-time on the book, so I have to choose wisely.

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Any thoughts? Anyone planning to be at Citi Field this week? I’ll make a decision by 3pm ET tomorrow and post it on my Twitter page.
In case I don’t get a chance to talk to Garrett Mock this week, do me a favor by talking to him on my behalf. You know…if you’re at a Nats game…and if he comes over to sign autographs…and if you’re standing nearby, just tell him something like, “Hey, Garrett, remember that guy you met at the end of last season who was snagging baseballs to raise money for charity? Well, he’s doing it again this year, and he wanted to let you know.” Or something like that. Let’s see if we can get him thinking about it now. Last season, when I saw Heath Bell for the first time on 4/15/09 at Citi Field, he already knew about the charity because someone who reads this blog had already told him. That made him much more receptive to the whole idea when I finally shared all the details, and he ended up pledging 50 cents per ball. So yeah, help me spread the word.
Another way to help is simply to do a Google search for the words “zack hample charity.” The more people who search for it, the higher up it’ll appear on that auto-suggest feature. Even if you can’t actually donate anything, you can still make a difference with five seconds’ worth of Google action.
More soon…

Hiram Bithorn Stadium tickets

Check it out. My tickets for the Puerto Rico series have arrived:

hiram_bithorn_stadium_tickets.jpg
Aside from that nifty hologram stripe down the middle, they’re rather plain/ugly, but that’s to be expected when buying tickets from a third party — in this case Ticketpop.
It was hard to get the tickets mailed to me, but it was worth it. If I hadn’t made the effort, I would’ve had to pick them up in person in Puerto Rico, and it wasn’t clear where I’d have to do that. At the stadium? At one of the Ticketpop locations? I’ll save you all the details, but I had to deal with a confusing web site, a Puerto Rican holiday, several unreturned phone calls, a borrowed FedEx account, a lady who didn’t speak good enough English to understand that the first letter of my name is “zee,” and several other challenges.
If only I can finish my book by the time I take this trip…
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