8/11/10 at Citi Field

QUESTION: What do you do when you’re craving baseball, but you have a ton of work and a huge family dinner planned?

ANSWER: You go to batting practice and then leave.

That’s what I did yesterday at Citi Field (and yes, I still had to buy a ticket just like everybody else).

Here I am with some of the usual supects before the stadium opened:

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In the photo above, you’re looking at:

1) Greg Barasch, who recently joined the 1,000-ball club.

2) Gary, who has some pretty impressive stats of his own.

3) Brian (aka “puck collector”) who’s not too far behind Gary.

4) Me!

5) Mateo, my Watch With Zack client from 7/27/10 at Citi Field.

6) Mike from Denver. I had just met him through a mutual friend: Robert Harmon of 762 fame.

7) Brian’s father Wayne (aka “father puck”) who’s holding up his copy of the new Sports Illustrated article about me.

When the gates opened at 4:40pm, Brian won the race to the left field seats and narrowly beat me out for the first ball of the day. It was a BP homer that landed in the 3rd row, and he was all over it.

Less than a minute later, I got Elmer Dessens to throw me a ball in left-center field, and moments after that, I got another tossed to me by Mike Pelfrey. That second ball was pretty special:

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As you can see, it had a Citi Field commemorative logo from last year’s inaugural season of the stadium. It’s nice to see that these balls are still floating around. (Here’s what a good one looks like, and while we’re at it, here’s my entire collection of commemorative balls.)

After the seats had filled up a bit, I saw Chris Carter toss a ball to a little kid in straight-away left field — and wouldn’t you know it? The kid dropped it. I wandered closer as Carter jogged over to retrieve the ball, and when he gave it another toss, it happened to sail over the kid’s head and come right to me. I made the easy catch and immediately handed it to him. That was my third ball of the day. (I count balls even if I give them away.)

A bunch of lefties started hitting, so I headed over to the right field side. I wasn’t too optimistic because of the overhang of the second deck…

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…but I gave it a shot anyway. As I headed down to the corner spot near the bullpen, a fan dressed in Rockies gear recognized me and introduced himself as Alex. He reads this blog. He was wearing a glove. And he pointed out a ball that was trapped nearby in a narrow gap behind the outfield wall. Check it out:

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I asked Alex if he was gonna go for it, but he didn’t have a ball-retrieving device, so basically, it was all mine. All I had to do was a) use my glove trick to knock the ball closer and b) not get caught by stadium security.

While I was contemplating my next move, Hisanori Takahashi picked up a ball in right field. Once again, I asked Alex if he wanted to go for it — to call out to Takahashi and ask for it — but he was like, “Nah, that’s all you.”

So…I called out to Takahashi in Japanese, and he threw it to me.

Then I took another peek at the ball in the gap:

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There was a gutter with a small metal flap jutting out at the bottom. I was going to have to be careful not to get my string tangled around it.

Long story short: I knocked the ball closer on the first try and reeled it in without incident.

I thanked Alex for being so generous, and before I took off, we got a photo together:

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Alex is a fan of both the Rockies and Yankees, and he writes a blog called “Purple & Pinstripes.” Here’s the link. Check it out if you get a chance.

At around 5:30pm, I changed into some Rockies gear of my own. Remember when I got that free jersey on 8/26/09 at Coors Field? Well, it was time for the jersey to make its Citi Field debut:

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The jersey didn’t draw as much attention as I’d hoped for, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Once the Rockies started hitting, Ubaldo Jimenez tossed me a ball in left-center, and I later got one in the same spot from Jorge De La Rosa. The latter wasn’t thrown specifically to me. It was tossed high in the air, and when I came down with it, I noticed that there was a really little kid standing nearby, so I handed him the ball.

At one point toward the end of BP, I had another chance to use my glove trick. This time the ball was sitting one foot out from the wall on the warning track in left field. I looked around, wondered if security was watching, and although I didn’t see a direct threat, I decided against going for it. Thirty seconds later, Gary hurried over with his cup trick and began lowering it over the railing. I got my camera out to take a photo of him reeling it in, but instead I ended up with a photo of this:

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Stadium security (wearing maroon) appeared out of nowhere and confiscated the cup trick from Gary (wearing the black Rockies T-shirt). They didn’t give him a warning or anything. They just took it, leaving me to wonder what would have happened if they’d caught me instead. A cup is relatively easy to replace, but a well-worn baseball glove? Not so much.

In case you’ve lost count, I was now up to seven balls for the day. It would’ve been eight, but Gary had actually robbed me of a home run in right field during the Mets’ portion of BP. I’m not complaining — just reporting. He had a better angle on it and reached out right in front of my glove for the catch. You want to know how severely he robbed me? When I squeeze my glove to make the catch, I ended up squeezing his glove in the process. I basically caught his glove as he caught the ball. Lots of people teased me about it — Greg had seen the whole thing play out from right-center — but that’s just how it goes. You can’t win ‘em all, and as I often say, what makes it fun is that it’s a competition.

I raced over to the Rockies’ dugout at the end of BP and got two baseballs within a 60-second span. The first was tossed by hitting coach Don Baylor, and the second came from bullpen catcher Mark Strittmatter.

Of the seven balls that I kept, four looked pretty cool:

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Did you notice that the ball on the upper left is lopsided? And that the ball on the bottom right has a crooked logo? I love that kind of stuff.

It was tempting to stay and go for double digits, but quite simply, I *had* to head home.

This was my view of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda on my way out:

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It bothered me that just inside the entrance, Jackie Robinson’s name was covered by a bunch of dirty floor mats, but hey, that’s the Mets for you.

The area outside the stadium was bustling, and let me tell you, it felt weird to be out there right before game time.

I’m not really sure what to say about the following photo other than the fact that I took it before heading to the subway:

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What was that dog looking at, you ask?

See here:

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Poor dog. Dressed up in Mets gear. How humiliating.

The dog’s owner, it should be noted, was making a LOT of money. Just about everyone (including me) put a dollar in the jug.

I took one final photo of Citi Field from the platform of John Rocker’s favorite train:

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And that was it.

SNAGGING STATS:

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

• 220 balls in 24 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.

• 653 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 355 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

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

• 4,578 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $58.41 raised at this game

• $1,427.80 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

13 Comments

I just saw that dog as I was getting on the subway after the game today, and I was close from taking it with me and stop letting some ***** get rich off it. Poor dog. Btw, thats no mistake. I went to a day game after a night game with rain today, and I don’t know what I was thinking. Joe

Ah, I caught someone else’s glove who was in turn catching my baseball once. It was in 2008 at my final game at old Yankee Stadium and it was a BP foul ball hit by my favorite all-time player, Ken Griffey, Jr. It would have been the only hit ball I ever caught from him. It was mine from the moment it left his bat. But at the last second, a ridiculously tall guy sitting down in front of me stood up and put his glove inside mine and caught my Griffey ball. It was so very, very sad.
-Todd
http://cookandsonbats.mlblogs.com

Hey Zack, do you have any upcoming trips or games In new york?

wow man 9 balls thats awesome!! nice jersey btw. also thanks for talking about me on your blog I really appreciate that. It was really awesome to meet you!

As usual great review of the ball hawking experience. Excellent Jersey choice as it is similar to the one I wear to every Rockies game.
– Ken

Zack, congrats on the great BP total. Read most of the Watching Baseball Smarter recently.

One question I have is, what exactly is the “cup trick” and how do I make one? Any help would be cool. Sounds cool. Never heard of it.

Nice snagging, Zack! Ubaldo Jimenez has to be one of the nicest guys in baseball, btw. I’m not surprised that he threw you a ball :D Too bad you couldn’t have stayed for the game…maybe you’d have snagged Mora’s grand slam ball!

Zack,
Enjoyed the blog. I’m 46 and have been ball hawking since 1990 (fulton co. stadium, a great stadium with great access between aisles). I average at least two a game though I only attend 3-6 games a summer. I don’t ask players for balls since I cannot pass as a youngster lol. I have to rely on my experience. I have two five gallon buckets full of balls. I’ve caught balls at Fulton Co, Turner Field, Milwaukee Co, Miller Park, Riverfront Stadium and now Great American Ball Park. Miller Park was the best, I never could get one at Wrigley, I was pushed out of the way on a few tries. I’ve given balls away to friends and to other fans at the park. It is a great hobby and people enjoy and marvel at my success. My 16 year old is now trying to watch and learn from his old man!
If you are ever in the Cincinnati area, give me some advance notice and maybe we could attend a game together.

Jim Conarroe
Dayton, Oh.

JOE-
Seriously, what *were* you thinking?!

TODD-
Believe me when I say this: I feel your pain.

NEW YORK HAWKING-
Nope, not a single game planned for the rest of the season. That’s not to say that I *won’t* be attending any more games, but as of now, I have no idea about anything. My first priority now is finishing the book.

BYG AL-
Thanks, and it was great meeting you, too.

KEN-
Glad you enjoyed in the entry, my jersey brother. :-)

AUSTINBASEBALL211-
Thanks for reading my book. I hope you’ll recommend it to everyone you know (assuming you liked it). As for the cup trick, it’s basically just another type of device that can be used to pick up baseballs that are out of reach. I’m going to have instructions on how to make one in my new book, but the main idea is to get a cup with an opening that’s slightly smaller than the ball. Then you wedge it down over the ball and get it to stick inside.

METALLICAMANDA-
Ubaldo *is* the nicest. He seems sweet and gentle, and he always interacts with the fans.

JIM-
Thanks for leaving this comment. It’s always great to hear from fellow ballhawks, especially those who’ve been at it for a long time. (I started in 1990, too.) Sorry to hear that you had a rough time at Wrigley, but I’m not really surprised. That stadium along with AT&T Park, in my opinion, is where fans are the most aggressive. Great American is not the easiest place to snag baseballs, so I’m not sure if I’ll be back anytime soon, but I’ll keep you posted. One last thing for now…I’m wondering how many baseballs you’ve snagged in your ballhawking career, so if you get a chance, lay some stats on me. And also, you might want to consider creating a profile on mygameballs.com. That site is free, and it’s a great/budding community of ballhawks from all over the country.

Zach great meeting you in NY on my trip. Thanks for coming out with such a busy schedule. sorry I missed you at the end of BP. Good luck with the book.
An Ubaldo is one of the nicest guy you will ever meet in a Major League uniform a true professional. I have seen him sign a couple of hundred autos after his work out.
Mike From Denver

MIKE!
It was great meeting you, too. Sorry we didn’t connect at the end of BP, but my family was calling and I got pulled in a bunch of directions. I hope (and assume) we’ll meet up again before too long. I hope to make it back to Denver next season.

Waring track?? I’m gonna let you find that spelling error.

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