July 2010

7/27/10 at Citi Field

This was no ordinary game. It was a Watch With Zack game, and my client was a 15-year-old kid named Mateo. He and I met on the Upper West Side at around 3:30pm, rode the subway together, and talked baseball/life for the entire 45-minute trip to Citi Field. Here we are outside the stadium, waiting to enter the Jackie Robinson Rotunda:

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Mateo had snagged a total of five baseballs in his life, including a batting practice homer that he caught on the fly, so although he was inexperienced as a ballhawk, it was clear that he had some skills. It turned out that his main problem — the main thing that was preventing him from putting up big numbers — was his hesitance to call out to the players. Therefore, after I got a quick ball from Henry Blanco in left-center field, I turned all my attention toward him.

Several lefties started hitting, so we ran over to the seats in deep right-center. I set Mateo up in the corner spot next to the bullpens. Here he is from behind:

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If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a long, narrow sign on the facade of the upper deck on the 3rd base side that says, “NOW BATTING – #5 DAVID WRIGHT.” Pretty cool, huh? Although I’m sure it’s been done before, this is the first time (outside of the 2007 Home Run Derby) that I’ve ever seen a stadium display the name of the batter in the cage.

Anyway, while Mateo was in the corner spot, he narrowly missed a ground-rule double that skimmed six inches beyond his reach, and then five minutes later, I got Johan Santana to toss him a ball that sailed three feet over his glove. It was just one of those
3_chris_carter_2010.jpgdays, and since Mateo wasn’t speaking up, I continued to do all the shouting/begging. I gave Chris Carter a friendly earful about how much it would mean to “this young man right here” to get a ball, and what I said was true. Mateo had never snagged one at Citi Field. Obviously I was prepared to give him the ball I’d gotten from Blanco, but he wanted to snag one on his own. Carter acknowledged us at first and seemed to indicate that he was gonna hook us up. He turned and held up his index finger as if to say, “Hang on, I’ll get one for you,” but then he didn’t. It was strange and frustrating because he retrieved several balls within 30 feet of us and easily could have tossed one in Mateo’s direction, but for some reason he refused. At one point, a white-haired man with a glove wandered near us, and the first thing I thought was, “No way you’re interfering with my dude.” I wasn’t too concerned, though, because the man looked friendly and stayed a few feet away from us. Meanwhile, I kept calling out to Carter and trying to convince him to show us some love. Eventually, he chased a ball onto the warning track, and he turned and tossed it to Mateo. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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Mateo caught it easily and then introduced me to the white-haired man. It was his father! Here they are together:

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(In case you’re wondering, Mateo’s father is not 6-foot-8. In the photo above, he’s standing one row above his son.)

When the Cardinals took the field, I lent Mateo my “PUJOLS 5″ shirt, and we ran all over the place. We started in foul territory when the pitchers warmed up:

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Nothing.

We hurried back to straight-away left field when some righties stepped into the cage:

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Nothing.

We even headed up to the second deck when Pujols and Holiday started taking their cuts:

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There were lots of other people up there who had the same idea…

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…and as a result: nothing.

It was one of the toughest batting practices ever, and my other ballhawk friends agreed. Greg Barasch was there. He often breaks double digits at Citi Field, and yet he only managed to snag ONE ball before the game started. Joe Faraguna was there. So was Gary Kowal and Clif Eddens. All these guys regularly snag half a dozen balls per game, but on this difficult day, no one finished BP with more than three.

Toward the end of BP, I got Dennys Reyes to toss me a ball in left-center field. I gave that one to Mateo, and then I caught a Ryan Ludwick homer on the fly in straight-away left. Mateo was near me on that one, but it was really crowded, and he was blocked by a railing. The Ludwick home run ball had one of the biggest grass stains I’ve ever seen, and you’ll see a pic of it at the end of this entry.

After BP, there was a gathering of ballhawks behind the 3rd base dugout:

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In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at: Dan, Mateo, me, Clif, Joe, Greg, and Gary.

During the game, Mateo and I made a point of heading out to left field for all of Albert Pujols’ at-bats. (No action there. Pujols went 0-for-5 with a strikeout.) We spent the rest of the time behind the Cardinals’ dugout, going for 3rd-out balls. The following photo shows our view. You can see Mateo (in the red Pujols shirt) sitting on the right-hand side of the staircase:

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Whenever there were two outs, he inched toward the front. I stayed back and watched his backpack and had my camera ready to get an action shot, but…nothing. He came really close to a few balls, but like I said before, this was just one of those days. He wasn’t getting the breaks.

As for the game itself, the outcome was shocking. Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright entered with the second most wins (14) and the second lowest ERA (1.94) in the majors. How did he do, you ask? He surrendered a season-high six runs in five innings, and the light-hitting Mets won, 8-2.

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After the game, Mateo and I attempted to get a ball from home-plate umpire Marvin Hudson. I had offered to help him get one — to shout at Hudson on his behalf and then stand back and let him catch it — but he wanted to try to get one on his own. Unfortunately, I ended up getting a ball from Hudson and Mateo didn’t. We then hurried over to the dugout to try to get a ball from the Cardinals relievers as they walked in from the bullpen. That didn’t work out, but two minutes later, when all the players and coaches were gone, a ballboy stuck his head out of the dugout and threw me a ball. It was totally unexpected. I wasn’t even wearing my glove, and just like that, my total for the day had jumped from three to five.

I showed the ump-ball to Mateo and asked him if he’d ever gotten one that was rubbed up with mud. He hadn’t, so I gave it to him. His father then took one final photo of us before we headed out:

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Before we said our goodbyes, his father told me that they have a copy of my second book, Watching Baseball Smarter, and that he loves how it was written. He said that between the book and everything I’d taught them about snagging, I’d made baseball more enjoyable for them — that I helped show them a new dimension of the game. He thanked me for that, and I thanked him for the kind words. It was truly one of the best compliments I’d ever received.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 5 balls at this game (3 pictured on the right because I gave two to Mateo)

• 195 balls in 21 games this season = 9.3 balls per game.

• 650 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 354 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 16 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls

• 23 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls (click here to see all the stats and records from my Watch With Zack games)

• 4,553 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 44 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.46 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $32.30 raised at this game

• $1,259.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/23/10 at Yankee Stadium

I attended this game for one reason only: to catch Alex Rodriguez’s 600th career home run.

The day, of course, started with batting practice, and there was quite a surprise waiting for me on the inside of Gate 6. Check it out:

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It’s a little hard to see, so in case you can’t tell, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte was there to greet fans and hand out the giveaway. (It was “Yankees Insulated Can Cooler Night.”)

A few other fans got in ahead of me, one of whom stopped to have his picture taken with Pettitte:

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As much as I wanted to race inside and start snagging baseballs, I couldn’t pass up the chance to say hi to the potential/future Hall of Famer. I reached out to shake his hand, and he responded by handing me a Can Cooler.

“Thanks,” I said, “but I really just wanted to shake your hand.”

“Oh!” he said. “Well, it’s good to meet you.”

I attempted to take a photo with him. I stood next to him and held the camera at arm’s length and pointed it back toward us. I’m usually good at taking photos like that, but in this case, it turned out looking ridiculous, so I’m not going to share it here.

I hurried out to the right field seats and grabbed two home run balls within the first minute. Colin Curtis might’ve hit one of them, but I’m really not sure. I didn’t catch either one on the fly, but that didn’t matter to me. I was just glad to get on the board and not have to worry about being shut out.

Five minutes later, I got C.C. Sabathia’s attention (by jumping and waving and shouting) and got him to throw me a ball. The following photo shows where Sabathia was when he threw it:

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It was gorgeous. He lobbed it with the perfect arc so that it sailed over everyone’s heads and came right to me. I’ve always liked Sabathia and rooted for him, so it was great to finally get a ball from him.

That’s all I got during the Yankees’ portion of BP. Once the Royals started hitting, I headed over to the left field side. This is what it looked like over there — pretty standard stuff:

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My fourth ball of the day was another home run. Once again, I have no idea who hit it — all I know is that it was a right-handed batter — but this time I caught it on the fly. Several other fans were closing in on it, so I jumped and reached above them at the last second.

The ball had an interesting marking on it:

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Royals closer Joakim Soria threw me my fifth ball of the day. Then I snagged a ground-rule double (hit by a lefty) that bounced off the warning track and rattled around in a mostly-empty row. Finally, toward the end of BP, I got another ball from Soria. This time he flung it randomly into the crowd. The ball landed in an empty row, and I barely beat out another man for it.

“That’s okay!” shouted the guy as I walked off. “I’ll get A-Rod’s!”

I gave that ball to the littlest kid in the section and later gave another ball to a slightly bigger kid.

Shortly before the game started, Chris Getz hooked me up with my eighth ball of the day. He and Mitch Maier were playing catch in shallow left field. I got as close as possible, which wasn’t close at all because of that stupid partition, and managed to get his attention from about 100 feet away. Here’s a photo of him walking back toward the dugout after he threw me the ball:

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I had a great seat in left field for the game. Check out the view in the bottom of the first inning:

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Things got a bit more intense when A-Rod stepped to the plate…

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…but then again, not everyone was into it. Check out the two fans sitting down in the following photo:

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A-Rod ended up working the count full and then drawing a walk. No big deal. The night was young, and he wasn’t the only player going for a milestone. Jorge Posada had 999 career RBIs, and I had visions of catching his home run, but it wasn’t meant to be. He stroked a run-scoring double down the right field line, and that was that:

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A-Rod led off the bottom of the 3rd with a single. The people who operate the Jumbotron responded by posting a baby photo of him the following inning:

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A-Rod struck out swinging in the bottom of the fifth, and then there was an 85-minute rain delay. Here’s the grounds crew rolling out the tarp:

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Here’s a shot of the water on the field:

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I did some wandering and found myself in the Great Hall:

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Eventually the grounds crew removed the tarp…

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…and when the game resumed, the seats were half-empty.

Perfect! I finally had some room to run. All A-Rod had to do was hit a line drive right at me, and I’d have an easy, uncontested catch. But no, he singled in the 7th and grounded out weakly in the 8th.

There’s a lot of other stuff that took place over the course of the day, but I’m too busy/stressed/exhausted to go into great detail about any of it. To give you a quick rundown:

1) While waiting for the stadium to open, I did a 20-minute phone interview about A-Rod’s 600th home run for the SeatGeek Blog.

2) During the rain delay, a man had a seizure in the Great Hall and had to be carted off on a stretcher. (He was rather large. Not sure if that had anything to do with it.)

3) Late in the game, a female security guard recognized me and asked in all seriousness, “How are your balls?”

4) Even later in the game, I had a long conversation with the man behind me about why he hadn’t brought his glove.

Final score: Yankees 7, Royals 1.

It was a busy night, and right now, it’s a busy life. That’s why it took me three days to post this entry. I’m dealing with a lot of stuff right now, some good, some bad. I was planning to go to Cleveland and make an attempt at No. 600 there, but I’ve had to cancel my trip, at least for now. Maybe I’ll still make it out there for a game or two if A-Rod holds off a bit longer.

SNAGGING STATS:

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

• 190 balls in 20 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 649 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 138 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 9 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls

• 4,548 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 44 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.46 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $51.68 raised at this game

• $1,227.40 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Another dream about snagging

If I’m counting correctly, I’ve blogged three times in five years about specific baseball dreams. There was this one from March 2006, these two from the same night in November 2007, and this one about the new Yankee Stadium in January 2009. I’ve always had lots of baseball dreams, but I seem to be having them even more this summer. Usually, these dreams aren’t just about baseball, but rather snagging baseballs. That was the case last night:

It was a rainy night at Shea Stadium, and I was there with Jona. During the game, we were sitting about 15 rows behind the 3rd base dugout, which happened to be the section where home runs to center field were landing. After narrowly missing out on a David Wright homer, I got my chance soon after on another ball. I wasn’t sure who hit it. It was some guy I’d never heard of, and I didn’t see his name on the scoreboard. All I saw was the ball flying high over my head. It occurred to me that it was going to hit the facade of the Loge Level and ricochet back into my section, so I got ready for it, but when the ball dropped down a few rows away, I lost sight of it. The only way I knew where to go was that one man was lunging over the back of his seat and scrambling for it, but the ball was just out of his reach. I raced to the row directly behind him and saw the ball on the ground behind me, tucked just out of reach under a seat. People were closing in on it from all sides, and the ball was just beyond my outstretched fingertips. I took off my glove, reached further out with that, and pulled the ball back toward me by rolling it on the step. I grabbed it with my other hand and jumped up to hold it in the air. That’s when I got a glimpse of the scoreboard. It said that the home run was the player’s first major league hit! I still didn’t see his name — it was Nolan something — but that didn’t matter. I had never snagged a ball that a player actually wanted back, so this was going to be my first chance to experience an exchange. I was still so excited, and I also wanted to make sure that the security people would be able to identify me, so I held up the ball triumphantly and ran through the cross-aisle all the way out toward the left field foul pole. Then I slowly walked back toward my seat. The ball felt cold and clammy, and although I didn’t look at it, I knew that the mud on it was smeared all over. I hoped that the player wouldn’t mind that his ball looked messy, but at least he’d get it back. Before I made it back to where Jona was sitting, a security guard (who was dressed as a cop) and a security supervisor (in plain clothes) approached me. We all recognized each other, and the supervisor said, “Zack, ya gotta give it back. There’s no arguing.” I knew he was wrong. If I wanted to keep the ball, I could have, but I kept my mouth shut because I was planning to give the ball back to the player anyway. I was two sections away from Jona, and the guards were in a rush to take me down into the bowels of the stadium, so I called out to her. She didn’t hear me, so I shouted as loud as I could, and she looked up. I made a gesture with my left hand to simulate taking a photograph, so she hurried over with her camera. The guard and supervisor walked us into the concourse and started heading toward a escalator that led down below the stands. I stopped them and asked if I could get a photo with them. They were kind of annoyed and looked at each other with a ‘WTF’ expression on their faces, so I explained to them that yes, the photo request might seem a little strange, but in order for me to feel good about returning the ball, that was one of the things I wanted — that I wanted to document every part of the process for my blog. They looked at each other and shrugged, and the three of us posed against the outer concourse wall. Jona took a few pictures without a flash. I knew they were going to be dark and blurry, so I asked her to take one with the flash, which she did, but it came out way too bright. I asked her to take a couple steps back and try again, but that’s when the guard and supervisor got really impatient and told me we had to go. That was the end of the photo session. For some reason, Jona had some type of Mets yearbook or program with her, and she opened it up to a signed photo of all three Mets announcers. “See?” she said. “I have a good photo for you right here, and it’s autographed.” I was really disappointed because the photo in the book had nothing to do with my experience of returning the ball, but it was too late to do anything about it. The supervisor stopped near a tunnel at the top of the escalator because that’s where his post was, and the guard was already heading downstairs. I called out to him and asked him to come back up so we could try one more time to get a good photo, but he was gone. I was so angry at that point that I decided to inform the supervisor that he had no right to take the ball from me. I still planned to give it to the player, but I wanted him to know that I was doing so voluntarily. “If I wanted to keep this ball, I could,” I told him. “A hundred percent no!” he shouted. “A hundred YES,” I insisted. “I’ve been doing research on this for a book. A hundred years ago, you would have been able to take the ball from me, but that’s not how it works anymore.” I paused for a moment, and just as I was getting ready to explain why, he said, “You are a creep and a *******.” (FYI, the bleeped word begins with “bas” and ends with “tard.”) I was starting to get really upset because I hadn’t gotten a good photo, and I was dealing with an absolute jerk, and I also hadn’t even considered what to ask for in exchange for the ball. I was unprepared. Everything was going wrong…
…and then I woke up.
To give you a visual, here’s the real-life cross-aisle that I ran through in my dream. Imagine it at night with a game in progress and the stands half-full:
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I used to complain about Shea Stadium all the time, and now that it’s gone, I miss it so much. Funny how that works.

Facebook vs. Twitter

There seems to be some confusion regarding my use of social networking web sites, so let me set the record straight:

I’m not on Facebook.
Got it?
To be fair, I can see why there’s confusion. It’s because there are five different Zack Hample pages on that site, including a few that are impersonating me. (See here, here, here, here, and here.)
The impersonation has really gotten out of hand. One of the fake Zack Hamples has not only been accepting friend requests from people who vaguely know me, but then RSVPing to their invitations. Just last week, a young woman in my writing group (who Googled me and assumed I was on Facebook) sent the fake Zack Hample an invitation to a book signing. He responded and said he/I would be there. As you might expect, the woman was peeved when I didn’t show up, and I had some explaining to do. I have since informed all 400-plus people on the writing group’s email list that I’m not on Facebook. (As for why I’m not on it, you’ll find a long explanation at the bottom of the FAQ section on my web site.)
Meanwhile, you might be interested to know that
I *am* on Twitter.
Of course, there’s also a fake Zack Hample on that site (who posts nothing but spam), so don’t be fooled. THIS is my real Twitter page. Check it out. You’ll see that it’s not just a bunch of links to my blog entries; I actually write full sentences about what I’m doing and thinking. (What a concept!)
Now, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I still have a profile on MySpace. At this point, I hardly ever log in to that site (does anyone?), but in case you do, feel free to add me as a friend. Meanwhile, I’m not at all embarrassed about my page on MyGameBalls.com. I also have a channel on YouTube, speaking of which…
Exactly 10 years ago, I appeared on a game show called “To Tell The Truth.” There were two other contestants who teamed up with me and pretended to be Zack Hample. (Very appropriate given all the Facebook nonsense that I’ve had to deal with.) A panel of celebrity judges then grilled us in an attempt to determine which one of us was “the real Zack Hample.” The way the show worked was that for every incorrect guess by the panel, we got $1,000 — not exactly life-changing money, but still pretty good. Anyway, I have the entire segment on YouTube, and it’s pretty silly, so if you have a few minutes to spare, check it out. Here’s the link.

ESPN the Magazine (take 3)

I finally got a copy of the July 12th issue of ESPN the Magazine, and sure enough, I’m in it. 

Here’s the cover…
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…and here’s the article. FYI, the red arrow isn’t actually in the magazine. I drew that to point out the section about me:
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Really nice of ESPN to suggest that I’m a “Ball Hog.” The media absolutely sucks sometimes. They’ll invent negative stuff instead of mentioning positive facts. I mean, why couldn’t they have titled the piece “Ball Magnet” or something like that? And by the way, the “Best Place to Catch a Baseball” is Camden Yards. The reporter asked me about the “best place to catch a foul ball during a game,” so I named Miller Park. Unbelievable.
(I’ve now been in ESPN the Magazine three times. This was the first, and this was the second.)

Steinbrenner and Sheppard

bye_bye_steinbrenner.jpgI just got an email from a friend in Maryland. The subject was “George S” and the message said, “Sucks for the Yankees. What’s the mood like around New York?”

In case you haven’t heard, Yankees owner George Streinbrenner died this morning of a heart attack at the age of 80. As for the mood of the city, I have no idea. I haven’t been outside (or listening to talk radio) much lately, and I’ve only attended one game this season at Yankee Stadium.
I shouldn’t say much about “The Boss” because a) I never met him and b) this isn’t the time to be negative, but basically, from what I’ve gathered from being a diehard baseball fan living in New York City for more than three decades, the man was feared and not well liked, but respected for building a winning team.

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Personally, I’m more affected by the recent death of Bob Sheppard, the Yankees’ longtime public address announcer. Once again, I won’t say much because it’s all been said by other people, but basically, every time I stepped inside the old Yankee Stadium, it felt like I was entering enemy land. My stomach would actually churn. That’s how stressful it was to attend games there (and how it still is at the new stadium, times ten). Sheppard’s soothing and dignified voice made it bearable. In fact, it was something to look forward to. It was a link to the past, to previous generations, to the Golden Age of baseball — something I wish I had gotten to experience.
Although I’ve never rooted for the team in the Bronx, my heart goes out to the families of George Steinbrenner, Bob Sheppard, and all members of the Yankee family.

A good week for the baseball

There’s been a lot of ball(hawk)-related action in the news this past week. Just thought I’d share a list of some of the newsworthy stories as well as a few other things you might not be aware of…

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1) The Jayson Werth Incident. It happened on July 8th in Philly. Drew Stubbs hit a foul ball down the right field line. A fan in the front row caught it bare-handed. Although the fan didn’t actually reach out of the stands, Werth felt he would’ve been able to catch it and screamed at the guy. Shades of Bartman. Here’s the story on ESPN.com.
2) Mike Stanton’s well-placed homer. It happened on July 7th at Dodger Stadium. Stanton homered into the left field bullpen, and the ball landed in a catcher’s mitt that was sitting on top of an equipment bag. Here’s the story on a Yahoo Sports blog.
3) Fan’s web gem. It happened last night in Washington, D.C. The fan who caught Buster Posey’s homer was featured in the “web gems” segment on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight.” The guy made a bare-handed catch while leaning over the railing. The umps reviewed the play for potential fan interference, but because the railing is set back from the wall, the home run stood.

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4) Ryan Franklin’s accusation. According to a friend of mine, it happened after the Rockies scored nine runs in the bottom of the 9th inning to beat the Cardinals on July 6th. Franklin claimed that the baseballs felt slick, suggesting that the Rockies were suppling him with non-humidor balls. (I’m looking for more info about this, possibly for my book, so if you can find anything about this, please leave a comment or email me.)
5) Home run ball exchanges. When Mat Latos hit his first career home run on July 8th, TV camera captured members of the Padres’ bullpen tossing four balls to the fan who caught it. Two days earlier, in an exchange that almost no one knows about, A-Rod gave a jersey to the fan who snagged/returned his 597th career homer. The ball landed in the gap behind the center field wall. A security guard retrieved it and tossed it up into the crowd. As it turned out, A-Rod wanted it for himself. And by the way, Andruw Jones hit his 400th career home run this afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field. The ball landed in the left field bullpen and was retrieved by one of his teammates.

6) The fan who fell. It happened on July 6th at Rangers Ballpark. A fan in the front row of the second deck turned around to watch a foul ball that sailed over his head. When it ricocheted back in his direction, he leaned back too far for it and plunged 30 feet over the railing. He suffered a fractured skull, but thankfully/incredibly, he seems to be okay and was just released from the hospital. Here’s the story on MLB.com.

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7) Speaking of Rangers Ballpark, two prominent ballhawks snagged game home runs there this week. On July 6th, Nick Yohanek (aka “The Happy Youngster“) grabbed one off the berm in center field. Three days later, Greg Barash (aka “Greg Barasch“) used his cup trick to reel one out of the gap behind the left field ball.
8) Speaking of prominent ballhawks, Shawn Bosman snagged TWO home run balls during yesterday’s game in Milwaukee. Here’s his blog entry about it. Robert Harmon (remember him from my article about Barry Bonds final home run?) also caught a home run this week — a Felipe Lopez blast on July 6th at Coors Field. (Speaking of prominent ballhawks and Bonds’ final home run, has anyone spotted Jake Frazier this week at Citi Field? Jake hardly ever leaves the Bay Area, but last night I heard that he’s in New York.)
One last thing…
Earlier this afternoon, the Mets announcers mentioned me on TV. The cameras happened to show some little kids with gloves, one of whom looked upset, so Gary Cohen said, “Never promise your son a ball unless you’re with, uhh, what’s his name? Zack. Yeah, Zack the ball catcher.” A couple minutes later, Cohen said, “By the way, it’s Zack Hample…I just Googled ‘zack foul balls’ and it came up.”

Gustavo Watch, Part 25

Gustavo Chacin’s career is once again going down the toilet because of

a) his foolish decision to steal a baseball from me on 8/1/06 at Yankee Stadium
and
b) the fact that he’s living under the shadow of the Hample Jinx.
Yesterday, at the tail end of his team’s 8-0 loss to the Cardinals, Gustavo surrendered two earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. This raised his ERA from a respectable 3.86 to a teetering-on-being-sent-down-to-the-minors 4.57.

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That’s all the news for now, but let me leave you with a master list of all my previous “Gustavo Watch” updates:
Gustavo Watch, Part 17 (bottom of the entry)
Gustavo Watch, Part 8 (bottom half of the short entry)
Gustavo Watch, Part 7 (bottom half of the slightly longer entry)
Gustavo Watch, Part 6 (bottom of the entry)
Gustavo Watch, Part 5 (I seem to have skipped No. 5)
Gustavo Watch, Part 4 (bottom of the entry)
Gustavo Watch, Part 2 (bottom of the entry)

Bonus pics from Puerto Rico

As you may already know, I recently attended all three games of the Mets/Marlins “San Juan Series” at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. My girlfriend Jona joined me for two of those games, and believe it or not, we actually found some time on our trip to do other things that had nothing to do with baseball. Here’s the photographic evidence…

The trip began with a JetBlue flight out of JFK airport. Note the “90% humidity” forecast on the boarding sign before we got on the plane:
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The first night in Puerto Rico was uneventful.
(Jona is sitting next to me as I write this, and as soon as she read that last line, she yelled, “Hey! We went to that restaurant and had beans and rice.” See what I mean? Uneventful. “Hey!” she just yelled again, this time whacking me on the left side of my head. Listen, baby, the beans and rice were lovely — we also had some delicious sweet plantains — and it was great to be away with you on a trip, but let’s face it: wandering around the hotel and eating that meal and watching the last inning of Sunday Night Baseball and passing out early wasn’t exactly life-changing. Okay? Can we move on, please? “Whatever,” she just said.)
The real action (at least as far as my camera was concerned) began the next day. First, here’s a look at the view from our hotel room:
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It was half-nice and half-sucky because of those rooftops right below us, but whatever, no big deal. We weren’t in Puerto Rico to sit around and look out the window all day. No siree! We were in Puerto Rico to eat. Check out our exquisite Day 1 breakfast:
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(This is why Jona is healthy and why I’ve gained ten pounds since last year.)
Now, this may look like any ordinary breakfast from The States, so allow me to point out a couple things. Jona had four slices of starfruit on her plate, and my omelet contained chorizo. So there.
After breakfast, we set out on a 15-minute walk to a gigantic public beach. This is what the street/neighborhood looked like outside our hotel:
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There were a few nice restaurants, but overall, it was shockingly run down and desolate.
Here I am standing near a crappy little beach that we passed along the way:
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You can tell it’s crappy because there wasn’t anyone else there, and by the way, I was wearing my hoodie for extra protection from the sun.
We kept walking…
We passed an abandoned building with graffiti all over.
We passed a construction site with trash strewn all about.
I asked Jona, “What do you think of this area?”
This was her reaction:
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Then things got better. We made it to The Almighty Beach:
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We swam.
We played chicken with the waves.
We frolicked in the sand.
(“I don’t think I’d ever frolicked before,” Jona just said.)
That was it for Day 1. We headed to the game after that.
Day 2 started off with brunch in a nearby restaurant. The entire staff was glued to the World Cup on a rinky-dink TV…
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…while Jona and I faced the other way and saw this…
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…but here’s the best view of all:
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(“What’s that white stuff on it — that’s cheese?” Jona just asked. These are the questions one gets when dating someone who was a vegan for 20 years. I mean, yes, that’s cheese. “It’s funny how you’re answering me without telling me,” said Jona, “so I have to look and see what you’re writing.” Yeah? Well, it’s funny that you don’t know cheese when you see it. No wait, it’s not funny. It’s sad. Even though I’m laughing as I type this, I am deeply saddened by your lack of knowledge of dairy products.)
My meal, by the way, consisted of chicken enchiladas and rice and guacamole and salsa and chips and CHEESE!!!
(“How come you didn’t get a picture of my meal?” asked Jona. Because who wants to see a photo of beans and rice?)
Back at the hotel…
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…Jona and I found some chairs in the shade, and I got started on my first blog entry:
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Do you see the effort I make to bring you such quality ballhawking reports?
Anyway, that was it for Day 2. I headed to the game after that, and by the time I got back, Jona had informed that she had gotten us switched to a better room with an ocean view — for free! Of course, it was dark when I returned, so I waited until the morning of Day 3 to photograph the view.
Check it out:
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Niiiiiiiiiice!
(Jona is no longer sitting next to me. She’s getting ready to go jogging. I will not be jogging because as soon as this entry is done, I need to get back to work on the book. I don’t even want to spend half an hour doing something healthy if it pulls me away from the book. Isn’t that sad? Deadlines are awful. Don’t ever write a book, or if you do, make sure to ask for twice as much time as the publisher initially wants to give you. If they say they want it done in a year, ask for two — and then demand twice as much money. Just a little piece of advice.)
Jona and I took a cab to Old San Juan. We didn’t have time to do much sightseeing (and we didn’t really want to anyway), so while we were in the car, I took a photo of some old fort that the driver pointed out on top of a hill…
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Jona had done some research and found the restaurant of her dreams, so that’s where the cab dropped us off. Inside the restaurant, Jona found the man of her dreams: 
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My charms were no match against the old, toothless, 4-foot-11 street musician, who had wandered inside and started playing “Guantanamera.” I gave him two bucks to leave, but played it off like I was rewarding him for his outstanding talent.
During the meal, I noticed a family of three (with a teenaged boy) staring at me from a nearby table. They were trying to be subtle, but it was painfully obvious that they were talking about me. Was is the stupid pink shirt that I was wearing (in preparation for being spotted on TV at the stadium)? No, it wasn’t that. I knew what it was, and I went along with it, eating my meal, and minding my own business. When I finally got up to use the bathroom, the father walked over and said, “I’m sorry to bother you, but are you the guy who catches all the baseballs?”
I told him I was.
He told me his son had recognized me and was hoping to get a photo with me…and here it is:
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I don’t often get recognized outside of baseball stadiums, but when it does happen, I’m usually not too far from home, so this came as a real surprise. Thank you, Matt from Plainview, for spotting me and making me feel famous for five minutes.
After the meal, Jona and I got a fellow tourist to take this photo of us just around the corner…
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…and then we wandered around the city:
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That was pretty much it. At around 3:30pm, we jumped in a cab and headed right to the stadium for the third and final game (during which there were NO home runs; yes, I’m still upset about it).
Before we checked out and headed to the airport the following morning, Jona took this photo of the hotel lobby…
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…and this photo of the deck out back, where we sat and ate our final meal:
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Gustavo Watch, Part 24

jinxed_with_the_astros.jpgIt’s been a while since my last Gustavo Watch because I’ve been busy.

In any case, the Hample Jinx is still inflicting pain and suffering on Gustavo Chacin, the man who stole a baseball from me during batting practice on 8/1/06 at Yankee Stadium.
Entering today, ol’ Gussy-boy had an ERA of 2.70. Not bad, right? Well, in tonight’s game against the lowly Pirates, he managed to give up three earned runs in one pathetic inning of middle “relief.” Now his ERA is 3.86, and I have news for you: it’s only gonna get worse.
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