June 2010

6/23/10 at Camden Yards

Technically, this was a Watch With Zack game, but for a change, my job didn’t involve teaching anything about baseball or helping anyone snag baseballs. That’s because my “client” — a very talented ballhawk named Joe Faraguna — didn’t need that kind of help. Joe is only 15 years old, and since he lives in New York, he mainly needed help getting down to Baltimore. Beyond that, he just wanted to hang out.

Joe and I left New York City at 11:30am, blasted music and talked baseball for the entire three-hour drive, and went to lunch at Hooters (his choice, though I didn’t complain). Then we walked to the stadium in the 98-degree heat. Here we are standing outside the Eutaw Street gate:

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If Joe looks familiar, that’s because we did two Watch With Zack games together last season: 5/8/09 at Citi Field and 7/6/09 at Citizens Bank Park.

You might also know about Joe because:

1) He was featured in this blog entry in 2008. (Scroll down to #5.)

2) He regularly leaves comments on this blog as “yankees5221.”

3) He writes his own blog: baseballexperiences.mlblogs.com

4) He has a profile on MyGameBalls.com.

5) He has the second highest balls-per-game average of anyone in this year’s Ballhawk League.

Anyway, like I said, Joe didn’t need my help snagging baseballs. In fact, he told me that he wanted us to split up so that we could combine for as many balls as possible — but we both still raced out to left field as soon as the gates opened.

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Thirty seconds after we got there, Jason Berken and David Hernandez walked out to the warning track, and one of them asked, “How many balls are you up to now?” I was so focused on the batter that it took a moment before I realized that they were talking to me.

“Wait…what?!” I asked. “How did you know who I am?”

“How many!” demanded Berken with a smile on his face.

“Four thousand, five hundred, and twenty. But how did you know?!”

“We saw you on CNN,” replied Hernandez.

“CNN? That was eleven years ago. Are you sure that’s what you saw?”

“It was the one with Katie Couric,” said Berken.

“Oh, you mean CBS,” I told them. “Yeah, that one aired in ’06.”

“You still got the streak?” asked Hernandez.

Before I had a chance to answer and confirm that my streak of consecutive games with at least one ball WAS, in fact, still going strong, a right-handed batter launched a deep fly ball in my direction. There were a few other ballhawks in the stands, but I managed to get underneath it and hold my ground and reach up for the one-handed catch.

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The first thing I noticed was that the ball had a beautiful smudge on the logo. The second thing I noticed was that Berken and Hernandez were rather amused.

“Yes,” I told them, “my streak is still alive, and it just lived to see another day.”

“Oh, so you count batting practice?” asked Berken.

“Yeah, of course,” I said.

Hernandez asked to see the ball, so I tossed it to him.

“This one is all messed up,” he said. “You don’t really want it, right?”

“Are you kidding me?! I love baseballs that are beat up. Brand new balls are boring.”

Hernandez then tossed the ball back. He and Berken kept talking to me for a few minutes. I should have taken photos, but there were so many home runs flying into the seats that I truly didn’t have a chance to pull out my camera.

Joe already had three balls by that point, including a homer that he caught right in front of me. I had been cutting through the second row. He was camped out in the front row. A line drive was heading toward him. He stuck his glove up and nabbed it. Once he turned around and realized that I was standing behind him, he apologized profusely for robbing me, but there was no need for that. He made a nice catch. The end.

I caught two more homers in the next five minutes. The first was a line drive hit by Julio Lugo that barely cleared the outfield wall. I drifted down the steps. David Hernandez jumped up and reached for it. The ball sailed six inches over his glove. (I discovered later that this ball represented three personal milestones: the 4,200th ball during my consecutive games streak, my 1,600th ball outside of New York, and the 300th ball I’d ever snagged at Camden Yards. Coolness.) The second was a lazy, 375-foot fly ball that was hit half a section to my right. I jogged through an empty row of seats and made the easy back-handed catch.

It was only 5:10pm. I had three baseballs and Joe had five. We were both set for a monster day of snagging when this happened:

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In case you can’t tell what’s taking place in the photo above, all the Orioles were jogging off the field. Their portion of batting practice ended 25 minutes early — POOF!!! — just like that.

Evidently, the team’s new/interim manager, Juan Samuel, changed the BP schedule. It now starts earlier and ends earlier, and as a result, it’s now like this almost every day.

Joe and I were in shock:

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After a long wait, the Marlins finally came out and started throwing:

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In the photo above, the three fans in the front row are regulars at Camden Yards. I know you can’t see their faces, but I still want to point them out. The kid wearing the backward O’s cap is named Zevi, the guy in the middle is Matt Hersl, and the man on the right is Ed. There were other regulars in attendance as well, along with other folks that I’d met before, or who recognized me and said hello. Let me see if I can remember everyone:

1) Avi Miller, who has an excellent web site about the Orioles

2) Casey from Milwaukee, who writes a blog about ballhawking

3) Wiley from Milwaukee, who also blogs about his games

4) Jon Herbstman from NYC, whom I last saw 11 months ago

5) Jon’s friend Bennett

6) Kevin, whom I last saw nearly four years earlier

7) Craig, who spotted me during BP and got really lucky later on…

Am I forgetting anyone? If so, I apologize. I talked to so many people at this game that my head is spinning. But let’s get back to the Marlins. This may be hard to believe, but they did not throw a single ball into the crowd during batting practice. I’ve never seen anything like it. Avi told me that the Marlins had thrown so many balls into the crowd the day before that the players actually got scolded by a coach.

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The seats were fairly crowded. Yeah, there was room to run, but there were lots of guys with gloves. Basically, there was competition for every home run ball. You know what I mean? There was almost no chance to make an easy, uncontested catch. Keep in mind that the photo above was taken at 5:50pm — half an hour before BP ended, so it got a lot more crowded than that.

My fourth ball of the day was a homer that I caught on the fly. The easy part of it was that it was hit right to me. The tough part was that the guy standing directly behind me clobbered me from behind as I made the catch. (I’m pretty sure it was an accident, but still, that’s just uncalled for.)

Ten minutes later, I caught another home run, this time off the bat of Hanley Ramirez. It was a high fly ball. That made it tough. It gave everyone else time to drift underneath it, but I picked the right spot and reached up through a sea of hands at the last second.

Then something funny happened. Some guy (who was about 50 years old and not exactly in shape) started complaining about all the balls I’d caught. He told me he was going to “shut me down” and prevent me from getting any more.

“You’re gonna have a professional outfielder trailing you,” he warned.

“Sounds like fun,” I said.

The guy proceeded to stand directly in front of me on the staircase — and you can probably guess what happened next. The batter hit a deep fly ball to my right. I took off running through an empty row. The guy was blocked by a railing and watched helplessly as I made the catch. He was furious. I later gave the ball to a kid.

That was it for BP. I’d snagged six baseballs, and every single one was a homer that I’d caught on the fly. I found Joe behind the Marlins’ dugout. He was up to seven balls at that point, and he’s also gotten two batting gloves — one from Chris Coghlan and another from Brian Barden. Joe had actually gotten a third glove, which he generously gave to the kid who’d let him move into the crowded front row.

Despite the earlier stinginess, the Marlins did toss their pre-game warm-up balls into the seats behind the dugout. Joe got two of them (one from Gaby Sanchez, another from Dan Uggla), and a little kid on my left got the other (from Hanley Ramirez).

I spent the entire game in the outfield. I never went for a foul ball or a 3rd-out ball or even an umpire ball at the end of the night. I just focused on home runs, and I constantly ran back and forth from right field to left field, depending on the number of righties and lefties that were due to bat.

Joe stayed behind the plate and used his speed to snag a foul ball in the top of the first inning. The following photo shows where Joe was sitting and where the ball ended up. The amount of ground he covered was seriously impressive:

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I immediately called and congratulated him. (It was his second lifetime game foul ball.)

“You saw that?!” he asked.

“Hell yeah!” I said. “Who else here would be streaking three full sections for a ball?”

A bit later on, this was my view for left-handed batters:

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Joe was in the standing room section because Nick Markakis was at bat. Other than that, Joe pretty much stayed in foul territory. As for me, I normally play lefties farther to the left at Camden, but because the seats in straight-away right field were so empty, I stood behind that staircase and gave myself a chance to run down the steps.

In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Luke Scott hit a homer into the seats, but it was too far to my right. By the time it landed, I was still 20 feet away, and another fan immediately grabbed it.

There was even more action for me in left field.

In the top of the 3rd, Gaby Sanchez hit a bomb that was heading a full section to my right. I jumped up and raced through the seats. I knew that the ball was going to sail over my row, so while everyone else around me was frozen in place, I put my head down and focused on running toward the spot where I predicted the ball would land. Check out this screen shot from the Orioles’ broadcast:

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A split-second later, I was heading up the steps:

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See the guy in the white shirt reaching up with his bare hands? With my back to the field, I could tell from his body language that the ball was heading right for him, but I couldn’t quite get there in time. My only hope was that he’d drop the ball and cause it to bounce down to me.

Sure enough, the ball clanked off his hands. I could see it on the ground, and we both scrambled for it…

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…and he grabbed it JUST as I was reaching for it.

That really sucked, but there was no time to mope. Jorge Cantu was due up two batters later, and he was sitting on 99 career home runs. I’d already been thinking of what to ask for if I caught No. 100. I had the whole thing worked out. I was visualizing everything. I was more prepared than ever. And then whaddaya know, Cantu blasted a drive toward the seats in left-center. This time the ball was heading a section to my left (AARRGHH!!) so I started running through my row…

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…and I reached the staircase as the ball was descending.

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Nooooooo!!! It was falling short!!!

I tried to work my way down the steps, but I just couldn’t get there in time:

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But wait! The fans bobbled the ball and kicked it all over the place. It was still rattling around on the staircase two seconds later…

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…and if not for the two fans who were blocking me, I would’ve dove on top of it.

GAH!!!!

So close!!!

The ball somehow rolled all the way down to the front row. In the screen shot above, do you see the guy in the white Orioles jersey at the front? That was Craig, the guy I’d talked to during BP. He’s the one who ended up grabbing it, so I gave him all kinds of advice on what to tell security when they came to get the ball from him. I told him he could get all kinds of goodies for it, and that he could meet Cantu, but in the end, all he got for it was a signed ball by Nick Markakis. I thought he really wasted an opportunity until I noticed the name of the back of his jersey: MARKAKIS. Still, he could’ve gotten a Markakis bat to go along with his Markakis ball, if he really wanted it…but oh well. He was happy, and Cantu was obviously thrilled, so in the end, it all worked out perfectly.

As for the game itself…whatever. Joe pretty much summed it up when we were driving down to Baltimore and naming all the reasons why the attendance would be low. “This is probably the least cared about game in the majors,” he said.

Amen, brotha.

Final score: Joe 11, Marlins 7, Zack 6, Orioles 5. (My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .781 — 12.5 wins, 3.5 losses.)

You can read all about the balls that Joe snagged on his blog. The entry isn’t up yet, so keep checking back. I’m sure he’ll be posting it soon…

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 6 balls at this game (5 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 168 balls in 16 games this season = 10.5 balls per game.

• 645 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 4,204 balls during the consecutive games streak

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

• 1,604 lifetime balls outside of New York

• 304 lifetime balls at Camden Yards

• 4,526 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 37 donors (click here to learn more; Jason Berken and David Hernandez now know about it)

• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $32.46 raised at this game

• $908.88 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

WATCH WITH ZACK STATS:

Did you know that I have a whole page of Watch With Zack stats on my web site? Click here to check it out. Joe became the first client to snag a foul ball during a game, and he also broke two records: most balls by a client at one game and most balls by a client overall. Congrats, Joe. Snagging 11 balls (including a foul ball) and two batting gloves is about as good a day as anyone could hope for.

Crosley Field snagging analysis

It’s been a while since my last snagging analysis of Ebbets Field. Now it’s time for a look at Crosley Field, home of the Cincinnati Reds from 1912 to 1970.

Let’s start with a side-by-side comparison of two aerial views of the stadium. The photo on the left was taken when Crosley first opened (it was called Redland Field at the time), and the one on the right was taken in the latter years:
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In the photo on the left, you can see fans standing on the actual field. I’m not sure how that would’ve played out from a baseball-snagging perspective. All I can tell you is that teams used to let fans do that back in the old days. It was the original version of “standing room only.”
In comparing the two photos, you can also see that the buildings beyond the outfield walls were demolished, the second deck was extended down the lines, and lights towers were added. (On May 24, 1935, the first night game in major league history was played at Crosley Field.)
But what about the snagging?
Well, catching a home run was obviously tough to do inside the stadium because there weren’t any seats in left or center field, but snagging a homer would’ve been easy outside the stadium. Here’s another aerial view. It appears that the area behind the center field wall was a public street where anyone could’ve hung out:
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Here’s a look inside the stadium from around 1940. Check out the front of the bleachers in right field:
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The first few rows appear to be empty.
Weird, right?
Here’s why:
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I’m not sure if it was netting or fencing, but either way, it obviously wasn’t easy to see through, so the fans must have stayed back far enough that they could see over it. This would’ve made it really easy to snag home run balls that barely cleared the fence. I mean, there would’ve been a ton of room to run left and right.
It looks like there may have also been a cross-aisle seven or eight rows back:
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See that row with the arrow drawn in? Because of the slightly wider space between benches, there must have been some extra room to run. Unfortunately, the steepness of the stands would’ve made it hard to maneuver, but it still looks pretty good out there.
The main part of the grandstand looks cramped, but at least there were tunnels where you might have been able to stand and catch foul balls. Those tunnels have red numbers above them in the following photo:
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See how much foul territory there was? That would have made it tough to catch foul balls in stands, both in BP and during games.
The good news is that there were cross-aisles. You can see them better in the photo below:
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There was also an aisle in the upper deck:
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If you look at the tunnels in the photo above, you can see that they’re set a few rows back from the aisle. What this means is that the tunnels wouldn’t have a been a great place to stand because you would’ve had to dart forward before you could’ve run left or right.
Here’s an old photo taken from the Crosley Field press box. The aisle in the upper deck appears to be extremely narrow, but the aisle on the lower level looks better:
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It looks like the right field corner might have also been sloped. Check it out:
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What’s the deal with that guy crouching to the left of home plate? Is he a photographer? That’s my guess. No chance he was wearing a helmet. If you look at the right field bleachers, you can see that the first few rows are full, so maybe the Reds only sold those tickets if everything else was sold out. Also, look at the front row in foul territory. That wall was really low — great for leaning over and scooping up foul grounders.
Finally, here’s one last photo, taken during the final game ever at Crosley Field on June 24, 1970:
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It looks like a minor league game, doesn’t it? Or even a semi-pro game in the middle of nowhere — but in fact that’s Bobby Bonds at bat and Johnny Bench behind the plate. I would’ve loved to be standing behind that left field wall.

Book update No. 18 — anatomy of the ball

Seven months ago, I sent Rawlings a bunch of questions for my book.

One question was: “How much string and yarn is there inside each major league baseball?”
Their answer was simple: “The amount is proprietary.”
So…guess what I just did? Here’s a hint:
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That’s right. I took apart a major league ball, unraveled the contents, and measured it myself.
Proprietary?
Oh please…

New York Daily News

I’m in today’s Daily News. Check it out:

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If you click the article (to make it bigger) and it gets cut off at the bottom, try looking at it on my web site or on the Daily News site. I was interviewed for it two weeks ago, and I really like how it turned out. The writer did a great job of talking to people and gathering info and getting quotes, but guess what? All those numbers about how many baseballs get used…that’s not the whole story. I’ve been researching this very same thing for my new book, and I have a lot more details. I was able to dig up some insider info that has never been written about out. I seriously can’t wait to share it, so get ready…

ESPN goofs; Des Moines Register wins

I have two snag-related stories to share…

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1) Last week in Oakland, a teenaged ballhawk named Warren Laufer got screwed by ESPN. Basically, what happened is that he snagged a game home run ball off the bat of Bobby Abreu, and then 10 minutes later he grabbed a foul ball hit by Kevin Kouzmanoff. Not bad, huh? Well, one of the TV cameras zoomed in on him after the foul ball. It showed him switching balls before giving a ball to a little kid — and that’s when things went downhill. The clip went viral, and ESPN made Warren look like a bad guy for giving away a phony ball. It turns out that that’s not actually what happened. Click here to read Warren’s blog entry about it. Truly fascinating stuff. Warren later demanded an apology, and it looks like he may have gotten it. (Warren, if you’re reading this, let us all know how it turned out.)

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2) In other news, another fellow ballhawk named Phil Joens recently had a big article written about him in the Des Moines Register. Click here to check it out. You’ll see that he does most of his snagging at the Independent League level, but hey, pro ball is pro ball, and what else are you supposed to do when you live hundreds of miles from the nearest major league stadium? Before Phil was interviewed for this article, he contacted me to get some advice on how to deal with the media. Then, evidently, when he was being interviewed, he mentioned me to the reporter, so my name ended up appearing in the piece. If you read the article, don’t miss the two-minute video segment, and while you’re at it, check out Phil’s blog.
That’s it for now.

Gustavo Watch, Part 23

jinxed_with_the_astros.jpgI’ve been getting lots of emails lately about Gustavo Chacin because — let’s face it — the guy has been pitching well. Through yesterday’s action, his ERA was just 1.46, but let’s not get carried away. He had only appeared in 10 games and pitched 12.1 innings.

I have news for you: Gustavo is still falling victim to the Hample Jinx. Not only did his team just get swept by the Yankees, but he appeared in today’s game and pitched horribly. He faced just two batters and walked them both, and then the following pitcher allowed both runners to score. So, in a matter of minutes, Gustavo’s ERA doubled to 2.92. Obviously, that’s still very good, but let’s see how long it lasts. (Insert evil laughter here.)
In other news (for those of you who’ve been following my Best Buy saga), I finally got my new TV up and running:
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6/8/10 at Citi Field

I attended this game for one reason only: to see my buddy Heath Bell. (If you’re new to this blog, click here, here, here and here to read old entries about Heath’s awesomeness.) But before he and his Padres teammates took the field, there were Mets BP balls to be snagged…

My first ball was tossed by a player who was jogging on the warning track. I think it was Fernando Nieve, but I’m not sure because I never got a good look at him. In any case, the ball sailed right over a little kid in the front row, so as soon as I caught it, I gave it to him. My friend Brandon was at this game and took the following photo as I handed the ball over:

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In the photo above, the fan wearing the white shorts is a friend of mine named Brian (aka “puck collector” in the comments). The other fan wearing the red cap is his dad, Wayne (aka “father puck”). I didn’t know they’d be there, so it was a nice surprise to see them. Brian got off to a slow start during BP, but recovered nicely and finished with a total of four balls. As for me, my day got off to a blistering pace.

John Maine tossed me a ball in left-center…

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…but his throw fell short and bounced off the plexiglass at the bottom of the steps. Guess what happened next? He went and got another ball, and he threw that one too short as well. I’m not sure if he was messing around with me or what, but he was acting like his arm hurt too much to reach me. (For the record, he is on the 15-day DL with “right shoulder weakness,” but come on, he couldn’t have been much more than 50 feet away.) Francisco Rodriguez, who was shagging in right field, saw what was happening and took over for Maine. He got a ball and FIRED it at me from about — oh, I don’t know — 150 to 200 feet away, and his aim was perfect. (Too bad he can’t pitch like that when it counts.) It felt great to catch it. I’d been trying for years to get one from him, especially in recent years after he set the single-season saves record, but he was always…how should I say this? Umm…rude.

Chris Carter tossed me my third ball less than a minute later, and then I lunged awkwardly over the railing and grabbed a ground-rule double that unexpectedly bounced all the way up off the warning track.

Ready to see a VERY cool photo? Look what a fancy camera can do:

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Here, let me give you a closer look:

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It was a home run that was hit by a right-handed batter on the Mets. I wish I knew who, but whatever, the most important thing is that I caught it, and as you can see, I was straddling a row of seats at the time. Basically, what happened is that I ran to my right when the ball was hit, and then once I got in line with it and determined that it was going to fall a bit short, I started climbing forward over the seats. What I love about the photo is that you can see the seams on the ball. There’s no way that I could ever capture that kind of movement/detail with my little rinky-dink camera, but hey, that’s why Brandon is a professional videographer and I’m not. (That’s part of the reason, at least. It also helps to have mad camera/editing skills.)

Speaking of video, Brandon was filming when Jason Bay belted a home run right to me. Here are a few screen shots that show how it played out. You can see the ball in the first one:

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See the guy wearing the white shirt on my left? He was cutting through the row just in front of me, and if you look closely, you can see that he was reaching up with his bare hand even though he had a glove. What you can’t see is that this guy was out of control. I didn’t mind that he tried to rob me — a home run is anyone’s ball, and he had every right to go for it — but I didn’t appreciate the fact that he smacked into me. That said, check out what happened next:

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That’s right. The guy lost his balance and went flying. (He wasn’t hurt, and he ended up snagging two baseballs later on, so don’t feel too bad for him.) In the photo above on the right, you can see me holding up my arms as if to say, “I have nothing to do with this.”

My seventh ball of the day was tossed by Hisanori Takahashi (yes, I asked him in Japanese), and my eighth was totally unexpected. Jose Reyes was in the cage, taking cuts from the right side and peppering line drives all over the field. At one point, I turned to watch one, and before I knew it, I heard everyone around me yelling, “HEADS UP!!!” I looked up just in time to see another ball flying 10 feet to my left and five feet over my head. And then — CRACK!!! — Reyes promptly hit another line drive somewhere. Could Reyes have hit a home run in such a quick time frame when I wasn’t looking? It seemed unlikely, and after I chased down the ball, I looked up and noticed that a coach was hitting fungos from shallow center field. I would bet that the ball was a fungo that sailed too far. The guys in front of me insisted it was a Reyes homer, but I didn’t trust their baseball knowledge.

Here’s another series of three photographs, but I’m going to show them one at a time. First, Brandon took a shot of me standing around (which he later converted to sepia):

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Then Jose Reyes scorched a deep line drive in my direction. Brandon told me later that he thought the ball was going to sail over my head. This was never even an option in my mind. I had it all the way and knew that it was going to fall short, so I drifted down to the front row…

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…and then lunged as far over the railing as possible:

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I caught the ball in the tip of my glove and got a thumbs-up from Takahashi.

I had nine balls. It was 5:02pm. The stadium had only been open for 22 minutes. (If the wind hadn’t been blowing in, I’m sure I would’ve had at least a dozen by that point — maybe even 14 or 15.) That’s when my friend (and former Watch With Zack client) Ross showed up. (You might remember him from 9/6/09 at Citi Field and 9/23/09 at Citi Field.) Here we are talking to each other:

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“Want to guess how many balls I’ve snagged?” I asked.

“One?” he said. “Two?”

He was rather surprised to hear the actual number, and he took it well. (He was supposed to have arrived at the start of BP, but got held up because of an unfavorable train schedule.) He ended up snagging two baseballs — a respectable total under any circumstances, and especially good for having missed such a big chunk of time at the start.

Okay, get ready for another three-part photo, and let me first explain what you’re about to see…

The batter hit a home run to my right — a full section to my right — so I started running through a half-empty row. There was a man standing in the middle of the row, so I knocked him down and kept running. Just kidding. (No really, I’m kidding.) Without slowing down, I leapt over the seats into the next row and kept running. I didn’t end up getting the ball, so you know it has to be cool if I’m still showing it. Here, check it out:

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See what I’m talking about? In the first photo, I’m jumping off my left foot and lifting my right leg over the seats. (You may recall that I sprained my left ankle on 5/19/10 at Turner Field. Needless to say, it’s all better.) In the middle photo, I’m flying above the seats with my legs pulled up. And in the photo on the right, I’m about to land on my right foot while looking up at the ball. I didn’t even realize that I’d hurdled a row of seats until Brandon showed me the footage later on. (Don’t you just love the fact that Wayne is not even looking up? He was filling out his scorecard.)

This is when things slowed waaaaay down for me. You see, Heath Bell wandered out in front of the Padres’ dugout while Mets were still hitting, and I had to head over and talk to him:

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“First things first,” I told him, “congrats on an outstanding season in every possible sense.”

“Thanks,” he said, “but we still have a few more months to go.”

We chatted about random stuff for a minute, and then he asked, “How’s the book coming along?”

“Oh my GOD,” I said, “It’s killing me. It’s taken over my life, and I’m completely stressed.”

He asked me why, so I told him about my deadlines and all the remaining chapters that I still need to write and then edit.

I thought we were going to keep talking for a while, but all his teammates started pouring onto the field, so he had to go stretch with them. It was kind of frustrating because I knew he would’ve talked longer, but at least I got to see him.

I headed back to left field while the Mets finished hitting. When the Padres came out to throw, Brandon took a bunch of photos of Heath, including this one:

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The Padres eventually began their portion of BP, and it was dead. The players shagging in left field were ignoring everyone (ahem…cough-cough…Mat Latos), so I headed over to right field. I thought I might have better luck there, and also, Heath was in right-center. I wasn’t planning to ask him for a ball. I just…I don’t know…wanted to stand closer to him because…why not?

Brandon followed me out to right field, and soon after we arrived, he began shouting like a madman. Let me paraphrase:

“ZACK!!! HERE IT COMES!!!”

When I looked up, the only thing I saw was the overhang of the Pepsi Porch. (That’s the second deck.) Where was the ball? Was it a home run? Or was a player throwing one into the seats?

THWACK!!!

A ball came out of nowhere and landed in my row about 15 feet to my right. Luckily, it didn’t take a crazy bounce, and I chased after it:

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I was able to grab the ball just before the other guy (wearing the orange shirt in the photo above) got there. It was my 10th ball of the day, and it was a beauty. Check out the double-scuff:

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Heath saw the whole thing play out and came over to talk to me. In the following photo, you can see me leaning out of the stands just to the left of the “M” in “The Mo’s Zone.” Heath had to keep one eye on the batter, so that’s why he’s not looking at me in this particular shot:

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The music was blasting, so we had a tough time hearing each other. In addition, Heath had to keep craning his neck to look up at me, so he told me to head over to the seats along the right field foul line.

Much better:

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See the cap I’m wearing? Here’s a closer look at it. Heath gave it to me on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park.

Heath and I talked for the rest of BP, and eventually, other fans got in on the conversation, too. One topic that came up was his recent bashing of the Mets organization. I hadn’t even heard about this. Another fan brought it up and was NOT happy about it. Heath was cool about it and defended himself well. He said that the newspaper pulled random quotes out of context and completely got the facts wrong, and that he’s so mad about it that he’ll never talk to any reporter from that paper again. He did, however, give a specific example of how badly the Mets treated him, and it was shocking. He said that when the Mets clinched the NL East in 2006, he was reprimanded and fined for “celebrating excessively” after the game. I asked him what exactly he had done that was deemed excessive. He said he was just spraying champagne in the clubhouse with David Wright and Jose Reyes and jumping around with everyone else and screaming and going nuts, but because he hadn’t been on the team all year — because he had spent more time in the minors than the majors — some people in the front office basically said he shouldn’t have been THAT excited…and that he was out of line…and that he didn’t really deserve to be such a big part of the celebration. These are not exact quotes. I’m just summing it up, but you get the idea. I was amazed and disgusted to hear that the Mets treated him like that. As Heath pointed out, he’d already been with the organization for many years at that point. He said he absolutely loved the Mets and rooted for them as much as anyone, even when he was in the minor leagues, so when he finally made it to the majors and the team clinched, he was as excited as anyone and just let loose. Can you blame him? All I can say is: shame on the Mets. Of course, there may be another side to the story, and if there’s anyone from the team’s 2006 front office who’s reading this, please get in touch and tell me the story from your point of view, and I’ll be happy to blog about it. (Maybe the Mets executives from 2006 are now running Best Buy. That would explain a lot.) Heath did say that he’d be happy to return to the Mets someday. He said he’s only upset about how he was treated by a small group of executives, most of whom are now gone.

Everyone appreciated hearing Heath speak from the heart, and let me make one thing clear: the time he spent chatting it up along the foul line wasn’t all negative. On the contrary, there were lots of funny moments. For example, there was an annoying kid who kept begging for a ball and eventually told Heath that it was his first game.

“It’s my first game, too,” said Heath. Then he paused and said, “Today.”

Everyone laughed, and then Heath turned to one of the security guards and said, “What about you?”

“It’s also my first game,” said the guy with a rough New York accent.

“Hey, me too!” I shouted. “This is my first game ever!”

It was hilarious. Everyone was cracking up and declaring that it was their first game, and as for the kid, Heath ended up signing an autograph for him, so all was right with the world. Heath signed for everyone. He was accommodating and funny and insightful and friendly. If you don’t root for him (at least when he’s not facing your favorite team of your fantasy players), then there has to be something wrong with you.

Shortly before the game started, I snagged my 11th ball of the day behind the Padres’ dugout. Jerry Hairston tossed it to me after playing catch, and then I grabbed a seat in the eighth row. It was a good spot to snag a 3rd-out ball, but I had some competition. Brian and Ross were there, and they were both wearing Padres gear. We decided to take turns each inning rather than simultaneously charging down to the front row and creating a mini-stampede. Brian, we all agreed, would get the 1st, 4th, and 7th innings, I would get the 2nd, 5th, and 8th, and Ross would get the 3rd, 6th, and (if necessary) 9th. We were all sitting behind the outfield end of the dugout — the perfect spot to get a ball from the first baseman, but a terrible spot to get one from the catcher. I would’ve gone to the home plate end, but I’d just gotten the ball from Hairston over there, and I didn’t want to intrude on the people in that section. I told Ross that he should go there, but he didn’t, and whaddaya know? Ike Davis struck out to end the first inning, and Nick Hundley, the Padres catcher, tossed the ball into the crowd right where he would’ve been. One inning later, when Mike Pelfrey tapped softly back to the pitcher for the final out, I headed down to the front row and knew that I was going to get the ball. There was absolutely no doubt about it. The only question was whether Adrian Gonzalez would toss me the actual game-used ball or if he’d pull a switcheroo and give me the infield warm-up ball instead.

Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air, heading toward me…

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…and here’s the ball itself:

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Clearly, it was the infield warm-up ball; a gamer would never be that dirty and messy. Did I care? Not at all. I was just glad to have another ball.

That was the last time I went down to the dugout for the rest of the game. Instead, I sat with Brandon (and his family) near the back of the section. This was our view:

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His mother had purchased tickets there, and while it pained me to sit in the middle of a row, I knew that there really wasn’t any other place I could’ve gone that would’ve been much better. Citi Field is a decent stadium for batting practice, but once the game starts, it’s terrible for ballhawking. I won’t get into all the reasons why. Just take my word for it.

Late in the game, I headed out to the seats in deep right-center. This was my fabulous view:

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I wasn’t out there to look at the field. I just wanted to get close to the bullpen so I could see Heath again. This was the view to my left and behind me (after I reached over the railing with my camera):

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In case you can’t tell, that’s Heath on the left. Soon after I took that photo, he saw me and gave a subtle nod.

The game was awesome. The Padres were winning, 1-0, with two outs in the bottom of the 7th inning. I was counting down the outs — four to go at that point — until Heath would get a save opportunity, but Jose Reyes spoiled it with a deep drive to left. The ball hit the very top of the wall and bounced back onto the field. At first, it was ruled “in play,” but then the umps reviewed it and overturned the call and awarded Reyes with a game-tying homer.

Before I headed back to the dugout, I met a young man named Brian (not to be confused with the Brian that I mentioned earlier) who told me he’d been reading this blog for a couple years. He also told me that he had a photo of me, and he asked if I would sign it. My answer, of course, was yes, and he let me take a photo of him holding it up:

Anyone want to guess what baseball I’m holding in the signed photo? Here’s a hint: you can find it in the photo section of my website. Also, FYI, the number under my name says “4520.” That was my current ball total at the time that I signed it. I’ve been signing all snag-related autographs like that since my first book came out in 1999. I never signed Watching Baseball Smarter with my ball total under my name, but I plan on going back to that signature when The Baseball comes out next year.

I made it back to the dugout during the top of the 10th inning, and Ike Davis won it in the bottom of the 11th with an absolute BOMB to right field. According to Hit Tracker, the ball traveled 444 feet (and jumped off the bat at a speed of 113.7 miles per hour). Look where it went. Cool, no?

Davis’s home run was a solo shot.

Final score: Zack 12, Mets 2, Padres 1.

My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .833 (12.5 wins, 2.5 losses). That’s good for first place in all six major league divisions.

Next game for me? Who knows. I seriously have to get back to work on my book.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 162 balls in 15 games this season = 10.8 balls per game.

• 644 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 353 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball (338 at Shea Stadium; 15 at Citi Field)

• 127 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,520 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 37 donors (click here to learn more)

• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $64.92 raised at this game

• $876.42 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Best Buy sucks, Part 4

best_buy_sucks.jpgSorry to keep blogging about this, but wait ’til you hear what happened. This is beyond outrageous. I mean…the word “disgusting” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

As the title up top suggests, this is my fourth Best Buy entry. Click here for the first, here for the second, and here for the third. And now get ready to hear about their latest series of failures.
Yesterday, the 57th day since I had a working TV, was supposed to be THE day that my new TV was delivered and installed. Did it happen? No, of course not. Keep reading and you’ll see why…
MESS-UP #1: Best Buy told me that I’d get a phone call half an hour before the TV was delivered. Surprise-surprise: no one ever called. The delivery guys showed up out of the blue with it — not a big deal, but it still annoyed me. More than anything, though, I was relieved (and in a state of shock) that the TV was actually in my possession:
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MESS-UP #2: I was given a four-hour window when the installation would take place. Initially, it was set up for 8am to 12pm, but (shocker!) at the very last second, it had to be pushed back to 12pm to 4pm. I don’t even know why. Somehow, the guys who were supposed to do it in the morning were unavailable. I accepted this, but told Best Buy three different times that I was going to have to leave my place no later than 3:30pm. They promised me that the Geek Squad — that’s who was going to be installing the TV — would arrive early and finish the job by that time.

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MESS-UP #3: At 2pm, the Geek Squad called to ask what streets I live between — and to get subway directions. You’d think that after 57 days, Best Buy might have that information in its computer system.
MESS-UP #4: The Geek Squad did not arrive until 2:45pm — way too late to finish the job on time.
MESS-UP #5: Only ONE guy showed up to do the job — a major problem considering that the new TV weighs 97 pounds and needed to be lifted onto a wall mount.
MESS UP #6: The Geek Squad guy mistakenly thought that his job simply entailed mounting the TV. Inexplicably, Best Buy had neglected to inform him that he’d need to run a monster cable from the TV to a nearby audio-video cabinet, then drill a hole in it to get the wires through, and set up various pieces of electronic equipment (DVD player, VCR, high-def receiver, old-school Nintendo, etc.).
MESS-UP #7: The guy didn’t have the right parts to secure the brackets for the wall mount. He actually had to ask me for nuts and bolts; naturally I didn’t have the ones he needed.
MESS-UP #8: Get ready for it. No really…get ready. At around 3:15pm, I discovered that the TV screen was cracked!!! I truly could NOT believe it. Here I am taking a photo of the damage (with the Geek Squad guy calling his supervisor):
cracked_TV1_zack.jpg
By the way, my apartment looks empty because I had to move all my furniture out of the way. Everything has been a mess here for weeks. It’s so stressful to have my home turned upside down, and this is where I work every day on my book. My career has been suffering as a result of this ordeal. I’m not joking. The amount of time and energy I’ve wasted, along with the aggravation I’ve endured, can’t even be measured or reimbursed.
Want to see the actual cracks? (Yes, there were two.) Check this out:
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Here’s a closer look at the crack on the right:
cracked_TV3_closeup.jpg
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!?! BEST BUY MADE WE WAIT N
EARLY TWO MONTHS FOR A TV AND THEN DELIVERED ONE WITH TWO ******* CRACKS!!!!!! WHAT THE **** DO I HAVE TO DO TO GET A ******* TV THAT ******* WORKS?
But wait, that’s not all…
MESS-UP #9: The Geek Squad guy told me he’d call his supervisor and then call the store and then call me back with an update. He had my home phone number. I gave him my cell phone number. He never called. No text message. No voice-mail. Nothing. So, basically, I have not heard a single thing from Best Buy in the 11 hours since I discovered that they sent me a cracked TV — not an apology or an explanation or an update or anything.
I am so angry about this that…I don’t even know what to say anymore. To everyone reading this, please spread the word. Tell everyone you know not to shop at Best Buy. Tweet about it. Post on Facebook about it. Link to my blog entries about it. Do not EVER buy anything from this company. They are thoroughly inept and apathetic. They’re idiots and thieves. I truly hope that it goes bankrupt (but not before they refund my money). I don’t even want them to keep trying. I don’t want a TV from them. I just want my money back, and of course they’re refusing to give it to me.
Finally, I now have *two* lawyers on the case. I’m going to make a conference call to the Best Buy corporate headquarters later this morning with one of them, and depending on how that turns out, I have another lawyer-friend who’s gathering details and info and preparing to fax Best Buy’s general counsel’s office a letter, informing them that they’re being sued.

Best Buy vs. The Better Business Bureau

The Best Buy nightmare is still dragging on. (That’s 56 days and counting.) As I mentioned last week, I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. I finally got a response, which you can see at the end of this entry, if you even care. (I don’t expect you to care. I’m mainly blogging about this because I’m frustrated and because I want there to be an official record that lasts for all of eternity on the internet to show the world how much Best Buy sucks.) 

best_buy_sucks.jpg

Ready for the latest chapter in the saga? My new TV is supposed to be installed tomorrow — June 8, 2010. But guess what? Best Buy never arranged for the TV to be delivered. I was JUST informed (at 6:46pm, after *I* called to confirm everything) that the TV is going to be delivered tonight.
Ahem, tonight?!
Now see, this is a problem because a) I have plans to be out tonight, and more importantly b) deliveries are not allowed in my building after 5pm. As a result, the whole thing remains uncertain, so let me say this: if my TV isn’t delivered and installed tomorrow, Best Buy is going to get sued. I already have a lawyer on my side who’s ready to fax over a letter to the company’s general counsel’s office.
And let me say this a few more times so that it shows up better in search results:
Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks. Best Buy sucks.
There, that oughta do it. Now here’s what I got from the Better Business Bureau:
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Go ahead, Best Buy. Make me wait an extra day and see what happens…

A fun day in three parts

Just because it’s baseball season (and just because I have to write a book) doesn’t mean I can’t have some random fun. Yesterday, my writing group met in Madison Square Park, and the weather was perfect. Here’s a photo of everyone that I took during the hour of writing:

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After the writing, we formed a circle…
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…and took turns reading our work. I shared three short sections (about “Celebrity Ballhawks”) from the book.
At around 6pm, we went to dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant called Curry In A Hurry. Check out my gigantic meal:
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TOP RIGHT: chicken tikka masala
BOTTOM RIGHT: basmati rice
BOTTOM LEFT: naan
TOP LEFT: curried potatoes & eggplant
Yum!!!
The whole meal cost $13, which is incredibly cheap for New York City. It also came with unlimited rice pudding, which I neglected to photograph (but ate three servings of).
Speaking of photographs, look at these horrible photos that one of the waiters took of our group:
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For those of you who think that those photos look fine, let me explain what’s wrong with them…
LEFT: The woman wearing the white shirt is taking up half the photo and consequently absorbing most of the light from the flash. I mean, it’s a great shot of her right shoulder and the back of her neck…if that’s what you’re into.
CENTER: The camera is angled too low, and no one’s even paying attention.
RIGHT: It’s a good photo of half of us, but we were a big group at a long table. Note the face I’m making as if to say, “Umm, dude, I don’t think this angle is gonna cut it.” (In case you’re new to this blog, I’m the one wearing the MLB cap and the black Guilford T-shirt.)
Finally, I took my camera and got the following photo:
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Yes, there are Red Sox fans who live in NYC, and by the way, no one was smiling because they were worn out from all the previous pics.
After dinner, we headed to my girlfriend Jona’s place for Movie Night. Want to know what we watched? Take a look at the screen. It should be pretty obvious: 
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Yup, we watched “The Sixth Sense,” but with a twist. You’ve heard of Mystery Science Theater, right? (If not, that’s why I linked to it.) Well, it was kind of like that. There’s this thing called RiffTrax. I don’t really know how to describe it, but basically, it’s like Mystery Science Theater. There are a couple guys who make fun of movies…and they have their own hilarious running commentary…and they record it into MP3 format…and you pay a few bucks to download it from their web site…and then play it while the movie is running…and it’s all synched up…and…am I making any sense? It’s like having two comedians making fun of the movie as you’re watching it. So, for example, Haley Joel Osment‘s character’s name is Cole; at one point in the movie, when his mom is shouting his name in a panicked state, the RiffTrax guys are like, “She’s announcing her favorite kind of slaw.” Stuff like that.
Anyway, yeah, fun day. Just wanted to share. Less than 48 hours ’til I’ll be at Citi Field…
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