March 2011

My blog is under construction.

In case you haven’t noticed, some of my old blog entries and photos have gone missing. MLBlogs is in the process of transferring all the content from Six Apart to WordPress, and I’ve been told that they need a little more time to work out the kinks — and that all my old content should reappear soon. Thanks to all of you who’ve emailed me to express your concern. I think it’s gonna be okay, and on a positive note, the new WordPress software does look pretty sweet.

Bergino Baseball Clubhouse

Several months ago, when word was first spreading about my new book, I heard from a guy named Jay Goldberg, who offered to host a book event for me at a place called the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse.

I’d never heard of it, so I checked out the website and ran it past my publicist. I had no idea what to think. Who the hell was this guy? Was he planning to charge me to use his space? What did he hope to get out of it?

Long story short: Jay is awesome. He’s a retired sports agent and a diehard baseball fan. He hosts regular book events at his baseball-themed store — the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse — and he hosted one for me last night.

Here’s a look at the Clubhouse from the street. It’s located at 67 East 11th Street in New York City:

Here’s a better look at the entrance:

In the photo above, do you see the little table in the window on the right? I’m going to show you a close-up of that in just a bit, but for now, check out the interior of the Clubhouse:

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Normally there are baseball books on the bleacher benches, but Jay had moved them to make room for people to sit.

Here’s another photo of the interior:

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In the photo above, do you see what’s perched between the two green chairs?

Here’s a closer look:

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It’s a voice recorder/microphone (sitting on top of a game-used base from Shea Stadium). The plan for the evening was for Jay to ask me questions for half an hour, and then for me to continue the Q&A session with the audience — and best of all, the whole thing was going to be recorded as a podcast.

Okay, let’s go back to that table in the window. Look what was on it:

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Do you see the baseball on the lower right?

Jay has dozens of “novelty” baseballs for sale at the Clubhouse. Here are a few:

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By 7pm, the Clubhouse was starting to fill up…

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…and by the end of the evening, there were people standing in the doorway and spilling out onto the sidewalk. I didn’t invite that many friends because I’d heard that space was limited, but according to Jay, we still managed to draw a record crowd.

Jay was an excellent host. He asked me interesting questions and then allowed me answer them in great detail. In fact, we got to cover so much stuff that we used up the full hour-long time slot for the podcast, and then I still took more questions from the audience. It was a beautiful evening.

Then I signed some books:

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Sorry for the teeny photos, but they turned out really blurry, so this is all you get.

Jay and I got a photo together at the end of the event…

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…and then I went out for Thai food with a bunch of friends, including fellow ballhawk Rick Gold. I was hoping that Artie Laurain (a truly legendary ballhawk who’s featured on pages 277-278 of The Baseball) would make an appearance, but it turned out he wasn’t free.

If you want to listen to the podcast from last night’s event, click here. And if you want to talk baseball with a truly great guy, visit the Clubhouse in person and look for Jay. Tell him Zack Hample sent you.

I don’t have any other book events planned for New York City, but I have a big one scheduled at the Free Library of Philadelphia in July. I’m not planning an official book tour, but get this: I’ve been studying the MLB schedule and planning some trips (nothing’s set yet) and trying to swing it so that I’ll visit all 30 stadiums this season.

Finally, I was interviewed on NPR today on a show called “Here and Now.” The interview was taped, and I was told that it’s supposed to air tomorrow (March 24th) at 12:49pm ET. If it doesn’t air tomorrow, then it’ll probably air the next day at that same time. (Yay!)

The Baseball — media update

It’s been a busy two weeks since The Baseball was published…

First of all, the book got a brief mention in the April issue of Maximand whaddaya know, my name was spelled wrong. Check it out (on the 4th page of the “baseball preview” article):
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At least Maxim didn’t misspell the title of my book. Impossible, you say? Well, it actually happened in 2007.
In other media news…
Do you remember the ESPN.com reporter named Patrick Hruby who joined me on 8/10/09 at Camden Yards? A few weeks after that game, he wrote THE best article that’s ever been written about me. Well, four days ago, he wrote up a big Q&A interview that we did about my new book. Here’s a screen shot of the first part of the interview:
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Click here to read the interview in its entirety, and BTW, that photo of me was taken on 6/18/08 at Coors Field for this Associated Press story. And then it was used again here three months later. Funny how certain media gets recycled and then re-recycled.
Maxim and ESPN were certainly the biggest media outlets to mention The Baseball, but without a doubt, the best review was published by The New York Journal of Books. Here’s a screen shot of the first half…
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…and here’s the link to the whole thing, which you should definitely read. This is the most flattering review I’ve ever seen, and let me tell you, it feels great to finally have people responding favorably to something I was pretty much secretly working on for a year and a half. It feels more than great. There really aren’t words.
The Kansas City Star also published a great review. Here’s a screen shot of the first half…
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…and here’s the link to the whole thing. Kauffman Stadium is truly a gem, and I’m happy to report that I’ll probably be there this season for a couple games.
Fredericksburg.com, the website for a newspaper in Virginia called The Free Lance-Star, published a review yesterday. Here’s a screen shot of the first part of it…
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…and here’s the link to the whole thing.
Ready for more?
A “literary baseball magazine” called Spitball also reviewed my book, and what they said wasn’t entirely flattering. Here’s a screen shot of the first part of the article…
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…and here’s the link to the whole thing.
The worst/shortest review appeared on a website called MyCentralJersey.com. (Now I have a legitimate reason to talk trash about New Jersey.) The woman who wrote the column reviewed several books. Here’s what she said about mine…
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…and here’s the link, just in case you want to leave a comment there and tell this woman how wrong she is. (I’m not offended by what she wrote. I actually think it’s kind of funny.)
Want to see the most random/unofficial review out there? It was written by some guy in the forum on a website called Game Used Universe. Here’s a screen shot…
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…and here’s the link if you want to read the rest of it. My favorite thing about this particular review (which you’ll see if you click the link) is that the guy praised the “great index.” You may recall that I compiled the index myself, so this is an awesome (and unexpected) compliment.
Now, onto some blogs…
My friend and fellow ballhawk Avi Miller blogged about my book (along with some Orioles ticket info) a couple weeks ago. Here’s a screen shot of the first part of his entry…
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…and here’s the link to the whole thing. I would recommend reading Avi’s blog in general. The young man knows everything about the Orioles and Camden Yards, and he’s a really good guy in general. The ballhawking community needs more people like him.
Another friend and fellow ballhawk (and former Watch With Zack client) named Mateo Fischer also blogged about The Baseball. Here’s a screen shot of the first part…
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…and here’s the link to his VERY long blog entry. I can’t even imagine how much time and effort went into this review. (Thanks, Mateo!) (Oh, and by the way, this is the game that we attended together.)
Another friend (who’s definitely not a ballhawk) blogged about The Baseball on the day it came out. Her name is Dorkys Ramos. She’s a magazine writer, and her blog is always beautifully written. Here’s a screen shot…
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…and here’s the link to the complete entry.
The Baseball also got a nice write-up on a blog called “The View From Arizona.” Here’s a screen shot of the first part of it…
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…and here’s the link to the full entry.
One last thing — and this isn’t exactly “media,” but I feel compelled to share it nonetheless. It’s a photograph of my second cousin Sam with a copy of the book. Check it out:
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Last night in Brooklyn

I despise bars. I really truly hate them and do my best to avoid them, but every now and then I’ll make an exception and head out to Barcade in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It’s basically a bar combined with a video game arcade, and best of all, the games are classics from the 1980s.

I went to Barcade last night for the first time in several years. It was the very first time I’d ever seen it in daylight. Here’s a look at the place from the outside:
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Here’s the interior. Note the red arrow:
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The arrow is pointing to a big chalkboard, which serves as the bar’s high-score list. Here’s a closer look at it. Note the high scorer on Arkanoid.
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As you can see, my high score has stood for five years, and I’m pretty sure that it’ll be there for as long as Barcade is in business. According to Twin Galaxies, no one else in the world has ever scored that high on the game. That said, I was still kinda bummed last night, as you can see by the look on my face below…
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…because the control knob on the Arkanoid machine was all screwed up. It just wasn’t calibrated properly. I won’t go into the specifics, but trust me. It was bad. (Okay, here’s one example: whenever I loosened my grip on the knob, the paddle would drift an inch or two to the left.) I struggled just to break 1 million points. Normally I score at least 1.4 million, so it was pretty frustrating.
My mood improved when a cute girl from some random birthday party offered me a gigantic piece of this Nintendo cake:
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An hour later, my mood got even better when I headed to a nearby bar and found $67 sitting on the floor. It was the biggest lump sum that I’d ever found. Years ago, I found $40 on two separate occasions (once in a diner and once at Shea Stadium). I also once found $25 floating in a pool at Disney World. I’ve also found several $20 bills here and there (including two last month, one of which I tweeted about). But as for last night…the bar was packed. Everyone was standing around and drinking and talking, and I noticed some bills on the floor near some people’s feet. If I’d seen these people drop the money, I would’ve been the first person to hand it back to them, but the bills were already there and people were shifting around, so there was no way to tell who might’ve dropped it. I even waited 10 seconds to see if anyone was frantically checking their wallet or pockets, but everyone was oblivious, so I went for it. There were two $1 bills on their own, sitting a couple feet apart from each other, and then there was a rolled up wad with a $20 bill on the outside. It turned out that the wad contained three $20 bills and a $5 bill, and wow, all I can say is that I was pretty gosh-darn psyched. I was tempted to spend half the money on a taxi (it was 2am and I was exhausted), but I had an advanced copy of a baseball book with me that I wanted/needed to read, so I took the slow/cheap way home. (The subway.) I might blog about this book within the next few days (I’ll be blogging about other stuff in the meantime), so stay tuned. It’s a very cool story, but I need to get permission to share certain details…

Brazil and Ireland unite!

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I want to share a recent (and VERY random) email exchange that’s connected to Ireland.

First of all, do you remember when I traveled to Ireland in December 2008? Click here, here, here, and here to see all four of my blog entries from that trip.
Now check out this email I received on February 8, 2011:
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Hi Zach,


I’m Alex Andreoni from an independent rock band from Brazil called SANTAREM (www.santarem.art.br)


We would like to use one of your Dublin photos as the cover of our next CD (called “No Place To Hide”), that will be released by brazilian record label Die Hard Records.


We’d like to have your permission… of couse we will mention your name as the photographer in the CD sleeve.


Do you give us your permission?


See the attatched unfinished cover art


Thank you very much

Alex Andreoni

Sao Paulo/ Brazil

 

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I combed through my Ireland entries and found the photo that Alex wanted to use. It was in my Day 2 entry. Here it is:

 

 

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I wrote back to Alex and told him that “it would be an honor” to have my photo appear on the cover of his CD. I also requested that my name be spelled correctly (why do people spell it “zach” when it says “zack” twice in my email address?) and asked if I could share his version of the photo on my blog. This was his reply:

 

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Thank you very much Zack !!!


Sorry for writing your name wrong… I’m sure it will be ok on the cover credits…


We’re doing some little adjustments on the CD cover art and then we send you the final result. Of course you can publish on your blog (Final CD art, my e-mail, whatever you want etc.)


Thanks again…


We’ll keep in touch.

Alex

 

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After reading Alex’s warm note, I forgave him for the misspelling and waited eagerly to see the finished product.

 

But wait!

 

He emailed me again the following day with another request:

 

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Hi Zack,

Hello again.

Our designer (who’s working on the CD Cover art) asked me that you could have that Dublin photo with a higher resolution (the original one) than the photo that is in your blog.

Do you have a bigger file (more pixels file) for that photo?

Thanks again…

Alex

Sao Paulo / Brazil

 

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Sure enough, I did have a larger version of the photo, and when I sent it to Alex, I got another friendly reply:

 

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Hi Zack,


Thank you very much again…


this 1600 px photo is better than that 1000 px photo, I’m sure we’ll have a great final result. As soon as our desiner finish the art (maybe 3 or 4 days)  we send it to you.


Alex

 

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That last email was sent on February 11, 2011. Fast-forward 33 days. (That brings us to yesterday.) I finally received the much-awaited follow-up email from Alex, and it contained the final artwork for his band’s CD. Check it out:

 

 

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How cool is that?!

 

Here’s a side-by-side comparison with my original photo:

 

 

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Ta-daaa!

 

I know this was totally random, but I still wanted to share it. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Baseballs and black light

I’m going to start by showing you something really cool, and then I’m going to explain it…

Check out this photo that I took of some baseballs under a black light:

Do you see the “1297″ on the left side of the photo? Do you see the other faint numbers that appear to be illuminated? That’s invisible ink. It only appears under ultraviolet light.

Let me show you a couple more pics…

Remember when I caught Barry Bonds’ 724th career home run on 8/16/06 at PETCO Park?

Here’s a side-by-side photo of that ball. The image on the left shows it in normal light; the image on the right shows it under a black light:

I learned about the invisible ink while doing research for my new book — and then I got to see the ink being stamped on the balls when I visited the Rawlings baseball factory in Costa Rica.

There are 350 employees at the factory who do nothing but stitch baseballs all day — by hand. Every employee has a stamp with a unique serial number. When the balls are done being stitched, they get stamped with invisible ink. That way, if an inspector finds a “correctable flaw” on a ball (for example, a stitch that’s not quite tight enough), he can examine it under a black light, mark down the serial number, and send it back to the person who stitched it. It’s basically an extra method of quality control.

Even though every ball gets stamped with the ink, you won’t always see it on the balls you get a hold of — that is, if you bother to go out and get yourself a black light. That’s because every ball gets wiped with a cleaning solvent at the factory. The purpose of the solvent isn’t to remove the invisible ink. Rawlings doesn’t care about that. The solvent is used to remove excess wax or oil that might’ve found its way onto the cowhide cover, and in the process, the invisible ink is often rubbed off.

Now, how about some more photos? Here are some balls in regular light…

…and here they are under a black light:

For an extra cool effect, download the previous two photos so you can open them both at once and flip back and forth.

I was absolutely stunned when I shined a black light on my baseballs for the first time and saw all these little serial numbers appear out of nowhere. I had snagged thousands of balls over the course of two decades, and I thought I knew everything about them, and then I discovered this whole secret element to my collection. It was like…I don’t know…not to get overly dramatic or anything, but it’s like I’d stumbled into an alternate reality. Of all the things I learned while doing research, this was definitely my favorite.

More pics?

Let’s take a look at the two commemorative balls that Heath Bell gave me on 7/23/09 at Citizens Bank Park. Here they are in regular light…

…and here they are under a black light:

As you can see, there’s a very faint invisible ink stamp on the World Baseball Classic ball — just to the left of where it says “official ball.”

Here’s a closer look at the brighter stamp on the right:

I’m not sure what it says or how to decipher it.

B08I?

Is that a period after the 8?

You know what? It doesn’t even matter. It’s just awesome. Let’s leave it at that.

Here’s one more photo for you:

I like the stamp on the lower left that simply says “6-11.”

See the one just to the upper right of it that says “036I”? That’s a 2008 All-Star Game ball, in case you were wondering.

That’s pretty much it, but let me just say quickly (for those who don’t know) that my new book is called The Baseball, and if you’re interested in checking it out, here it is on Amazon. Chapter 7 is called “The Rawlings Method,” and there’s a TON of info about the entire manufacturing process — stuff that some people might find hard to believe.

Twitter action

Just thought it’d be fun to share all the tweets that people have been posting about me since my new book came out yesterday. The newer ones are on top, so you might want to skip to the bottom and scroll up. And by the way, this is a gigantic screen shot, so you won’t actually be able to click the links. Enjoy!
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THANK YOU to everyone who has already picked up a copy of the book. Extra thanks to my friend Avi (“2131andBeyond“) for being as enthusiastic about the book as anyone in the world, and to my future friend A.J. (“oriolefan0321“) for his incredibly kind tweets.

Snagging baseballs for charity — 2011

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As you may already know, I’ve been raising money since 2009 for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Each season, I’ve been asking folks to pledge a little bit of money for every baseball that I snag at Major League stadiums — and the money has really added up. With everyone’s help, we’ve raised more than $12,000 for this great cause.

Let’s keep it going. Let’s make 2011 the biggest year yet. Opening Day is just a few weeks away. It’s officially that time, and I need your help once again. Check out this charity page on my website. There’s lots of info there about what I’m doing and how it’ll work and why Pitch In For Baseball is so awesome. Even MLB recognizes the awesomeness.

Finally, if you need extra motivation to get involved, I’m going to give away a few baseball prizes at the end of the season — but only the people who make pledges will be in the running. Details coming soon.

Again, CLICK HERE to learn more about my charity drive. Even if you don’t actually donate anything, I still want to thank you for being a part of it from the sidelines. It’s nice just to get to share this on my blog and let everyone know what I’m doing.

Watching Baseball Smarter update

You remember Watching Baseball Smarter, right? That was my last book. It was published four years ago — and someone just wrote a new review of it for a gambling website called Gaming Today. Here’s a screen shot. The part about me starts halfway down:

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And hey, check out the comment by “CAMetgirl” on this Mets forum. Here’s a screen shot in case it disappears or gets buried:
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Nice to see that my old book is still getting some love. The new one, by the way, is officially coming out in two days.

Charlie Sheen got me fired

Charlie Sheen owes me. Sort of.

He got me fired from CBS. Sort of.

Let me explain…

Way back in 2003, I got a job as a production assistant for a big-budget morning talk show on CBS called “Living it Up! With Ali & Jack.” (If you’ve never heard of this show, I envy you.) One of my many tasks was to edit the bios that the segment producers put together for the celebrity guests. The producers, it should be noted, never bothered to research anything before the year 2000, so when Charlie Sheen was booked for an appearance on the show and I read the first draft of his bio, I noticed that my favorite story about him was missing: in April 1996, Sheen purchased more than 2,600 outfield seats at an Angels game to increase his odds of snagging a home run ball. (It should also be noted that he failed.)

With every celebrity interview, the producers’ goal was to come up with offbeat topics that the rival talk shows (read: “Regis & Kelly“) wouldn’t cover, so when I told my superiors about Sheen’s ballhawking obsession, they ran with it. The day before his appearance, they found a photograph of him in his empty section and paid Sports Illustrated $400 for the right to use it on the air.

Fast-forward a day. It was 7am, Sheen was set to arrive in an hour, and the producers decided that they wanted to have a baseball glove and ball for his segment. They asked me if I had that stuff at my desk. No. They asked if the nearby Sports Authority was open. No. But before they had a chance to panic, I offered to race home — only 14 blocks away — and retrieve my own glove and ball.

Sheen’s interview went great. They talked about his sitcom. They talked about his family. They talked about his baseball antics. And in the closing moments, co-host Jack Ford pulled out my glove and handed it to Sheen and told him that the folks at “Living it Up” were going to make his dream of catching a ball come true. Sheen put on the glove, and a young woman in the audience tossed my ball to him. (How clever.)

Five minutes later, I wandered into the hallway outside the studio and found the segment’s producer — a tall, slender, striking woman with wavy red hair. She said she’d gotten Sheen to autograph the ball for me, and sure enough, when she handed it over, I recognized his signature on the sweet spot. Moments later, Sheen walked by with his entourage and waited for the elevator, ten feet from us. My heart raced. I’d always liked him, and we had a wacky baseball connection, and I was dying to say a quick hello, but I couldn’t do it. The producer even said I couldn’t do it. The number-one rule for lowly employees like me was **NOT** to talk to the celebrities. No exceptions. Period.

My heart sank as the elevator doors closed behind him. I knew I’d never get the chance to see him again. But what could I do? I wandered back into the studio, helped move some equipment around, and headed downstairs several minutes later to return to the office across the street.

Sheen was still in the lobby and was getting mobbed by fans! He was signing autographs and posing for photographs – and didn’t seem to mind. I hung back as he made his way outside. His black Mercedes Benz (with tinted windows) was now waiting for him at the curb. People were still surrounding him. I was so conflicted. I wanted to join the crowd and shake his hand, but knew I’d somehow get in trouble, so I kept my distance.

At the very last second, just before Sheen was about to pull the door of his car shut, I held up my baseball and shouted, “Hey, Charlie, thanks for the autograph!”

He looked up and made eye contact with me.

“Hey, c’mere for a minute,” he said.

I hurried over, figuring it was now okay to talk to him since he was the one who’d initiated the conversation. I mean, if he didn’t want to talk to me, he could’ve responded by giving a thumbs-up, or he could’ve flat-out ignored me. Right? Anyway, he told me that he felt bad after signing the ball because he saw the “2126″ that was written on it.

“I thought it was one of the Ripken balls,” he said.

“No, that’s how many balls I’ve caught,” I said, kneeling on the sidewalk and noticing the thick layer of makeup on his face.

“That’s amazing,” he said. “I’ve been to a thousand games and never caught one.”

“Well let me know when you want me to take you to a game,” I half-joked. “It’s actually pretty cool that you signed it because out of all the balls I’ve ever caught, I’ve only gotten three of them signed: number one thousand, number two thousand, and this one from you. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks.”

“My pleasure,” he said.

We shook hands. I stood up. He closed his car door. I ran across the street and felt like a superstar.

The next day, the supervising producer of the show — the man who had hired me in the first place — called me into his office, and I had that sinking feeling in my gut. He’d heard that I had spoken to Charlie Sheen, and he told me that it was a violation of the strictest company policy. He said that my “job duties were being reevaluated,” and that as of the following Monday, I would no longer be allowed to enter the studio.

I felt sick. It was lunchtime, but I couldn’t eat. Instead I cried.

At least they didn’t fire me, I thought, but I was upset all weekend and emailed a thoughtful apology to my boss on Saturday night.

On Monday afternoon, I was fired.

Months later, I mailed a copy of How to Snag Major League Baseballs to Sheen and included a note that told him about my ordeal.

I never heard back.

So yeah, Charlie Sheen got me fired from CBS and owes me. Sort of.

As for his ridiculous attempt to snag a home run ball, you can read more about it in my new book, The Baseball, which is coming out in four days. Chapter Five — “Foul Balls in Pop Culture” — contains a whole section called “Celebrity Ballhawks.” You’ll find Mister Sheen on pages 81-82.

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