April 2011

4/28/11 at Rangers Ballpark

This was a dreaded “day game following a night game,” and as a result…

…there was no batting practice.

In the photo above, that’s me in the yellow shirt.

It was only 10:30am. The game wasn’t going to start until 1:05pm. There was a LOT of time to kill.

Eventually, Blue Jays pitcher Jesse Litsch headed to the bullpen with coaches Bruce Walton and Pat Hentgen. Here they are:

In the photo above, do you see the fan standing up above in the red shirt? That’s Trent Williams. He’s a regular ballhawk at Rangers Ballpark. The day before, he caught a Mitch Moreland home run during the game.

Anyway, when two other members of the Blue Jays began playing catch in shallow left field, Trent headed to the front row along the foul line:

As you can see, the stadium was empty. When the gates had opened, there were, like, two other fans waiting to get in. It’s a shame there wasn’t batting practice because I probably would’ve snagged 50 baseballs.

Litsch’s bullpen session seemed to last forever. I enjoyed watching from such close proximity:

I could hear some of what the coaches were saying. (They were giving Litsch pointers on his mechanics.) It’s like I was getting my own personal pitching lesson.

Finally, when the bullpen session ended, Litsch flung the ball to me directly from his glove. It was rubbed up with mud. Check it out:

In the photo above, do you see the player standing on the edge of the warning track in center field? That’s Kyle Drabek. He’d been running back and forth and was taking a short break.

Chris Woodward was also running:

Although I was disappointed at the lack of baseball-snagging opportunities, I really WAS enjoying myself. I had plenty of time to wander and play with my camera and take artsy shots like this:

Two more Blue Jays came out and played catch:

In the photo above, Carlos Villanueva is getting set to fire the ball to Mark Rzepczynski. When they finished, Rzepczynski was the one who had the ball so I asked him, “If I go long, will you throw it to me?”

“What?” he asked.

“If I run up the steps,” I clarified, “and go long like a wide receiver, will you throw me the ball?”

Rzepczynski responded by walking over to the front row and opening up his glove.

“Thanks,” I said, reaching for the ball, “but I wanted to work for it.”

He laughed and that was the end of our little exchange

Now, you know how I’m raising money for a children’s baseball charity by snagging baseballs at games? So far this season, 39 people have made pledges, ranging from one penny to 50 cents per ball. Why am I mentioning this now? Well, it’s never a bad time to talk about charitable fundraisers, but more specifically, the ball from Rzepczynski put the total money over the $1,000 mark. Coming into this game, the amount had reached $989.82, and if you add up all 39 pledges, each ball I snag is worth $6.11 for the charity. See how the math works out? Fun stuff. For those of you who’ve made pledges, thank you very much, and for those who haven’t, I hope you’ll consider it — even if it IS just one or two cents per ball. It all adds up and really helps, and it only takes 20 seconds. Click here to fill out the simple form. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been raising money for three seasons. Here’s a press release from 2009 about my fundraiser, and here’s a link to the charity itself. It’s called Pitch In For Baseball, and it’s a totally legit organization that’s affiliated with Major League Baseball.

Soon after I got the ball from Rzepczynski, Litsch came over and started signing autographs. I got him on my ticket…

…and then I got three other guys — Rzepczynski, Ricky Romero, and Frank Francisco — to sign my tickets from the previous three games. Here’s a photo of Romero signing…

…and here are the autographs:

Rzepczynski’s autograph is on top (on the April 27th ticket), Romero’s is in the middle, and Francisco’s is on the bottom.

My third ball of the day was thrown by Rangers bullpen coach Andy Hawkins in right field. Here he is playing catch with it before he gave it to me:

Ten minutes later, all the Rangers were gone except Hawkins and C.J. Wilson. They weren’t throwing. They were talking. And talking. And talking some more. I moved up to the seats along the foul line and took this photo of them:

The reason why I lingered there is that Wilson had a ball tucked in his glove. Luckily, when his conversation ended, Hawkins peeled off toward the bullpen in right-center, and Wilson headed my way. I shouted his name and held up my glove, and he chucked the ball to me.

There was more time to kill. I got some chicken tenders and fries. I found some shade. And eventually the Blue Jays’ position players came out for a session of pre-game throwing:

Jose Bautista threw me a ball — my 5th of the day — and I got another from the guy pictured above on the right. I assume it was the Blue Jays’ strength and conditioning coach, but I’m not sure. Basically, all the players had taken off and left those three balls sitting on the grass. This guy picked them up, and because he hadn’t seen me get the ball from Bautista, I was able to convince him to toss one to me.

Just before I left that section, I noticed this:

As you can see, it was a gigantic fishing net. How awesome is it that the Rangers allow their fans to bring stuff like that into the stadium? (Dear Major League Baseball, are you reading this? This is how it should be. Let me work with you as a consultant. I will help make your stadiums more fan-friendly. More people, especially kids, will grow to love baseball as a result. You will sell more tickets and more merchandise and make more money, and this great sport will continue to expand and prosper for generations.)

Shortly before the first pitch, a 24-year-old Rangers fan named Chase flagged me down. He’d brought his copy of my last book (Watching Baseball Smarter) for me to sign. Here we are with it:

A few weeks ago, Chase snagged a foul ball during a game at Rangers Ballpark. Click here to see a short video of it.

Do you remember the guy named Clyde that I met on 4/25/11 at Rangers Ballpark? I had mentioned that he’s a DJ for a hip hop radio station and that he has a bunch of tattoos. Well, Clyde sat right behind me during the game, and he took off his shirt for some photos. Check it out:

Clyde (aka “Cat Daddy”) is from Baton Rouge; the tattoo on his back is a crawfish. The station he works for is K104 in Dallas, and if you’re interested in his work, you can follow him on Twitter. (I’m also on Twitter @zack_hample.)

There was only one home run during the game. It was hit by Adam Lind in the top of the 1st inning, and it went to straight-away right field. The Rangers stole five bases. Alexi Ogando struck out seven batters to establish a new career high. But the Blue Jays won, 5-2.

After the game (and after all the players and coaches were gone), I got a lineup card from the Jays’ bullpen for the fourth consecutive day. The security guard out there peeled it off the wall for me. Here he is walking with it…

…and here’s a closer look at it:

Two days earlier, Trent and I had been talking about throwing “dummy balls” back onto the field after catching home runs hit by the visiting team. I’ve never thrown ANY ball back, but Trent was really geeked up about it. I told him that he had to write something funny on the ball and mentioned that some ballhawks write stuff like, “Don’t throw that pitch again” or “Cardinals suck!” or whatever.

Are you ready to see what Trent came up with? This is hilarious:

As you can see, it says, “This is NOT the game ball. Do you think I would catch a home run and…”

Underneath that on the sweet spot, it says…

“Throw it back,” and just to the right of that, it says, “Hell no.”

(BTW, in case you didn’t notice, that’s Trent and Clyde standing in the background.)

Just above that, it says…

“Trash trash trash.”

Above the Rawlings logo, it says…

“Trent Williams Mr. Center Field.” And there’s another “trash” down below for good measure.

Even though I failed to catch a home run during any of my four games here, I still had an amazing time. Arlington rules.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game (pictured on the right)

• 168 balls in 20 games this season = 8.4 balls per game.

• 681 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,830 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)

• 39 donors

• $6.11 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $36.66 raised at this game

• $1,026.48 raised this season

4/27/11 at Rangers Ballpark

It was 4:30pm.
Rangers Ballpark was opening for batting practice.
A security guard asked me to open my backpack, and when I did, the zipper broke.

NOT GOOD.

I got my ticket scanned, cradled my already-stuffed backpack in my arms, and sprinted out to the left field seats. Sixteen minutes later, when the first group of hitters finished taking their cuts, I had so many baseballs that I’d lost count. I thought I had 11. Turns out I only had 10. But still, ohmygod. It was a repeat of the previous day, except the stands weren’t totally empty. This time I actually had to compete against two other guys, and I suffered a very minor injury while scrambling for one of the balls. Check it out:

As you can see, I scraped the knuckle on my right thumb — not a big deal, although it did sting for a little while.

Anyway, my first 10 balls were all hit into the seats; the first five were home runs, the sixth was a liner into the stands along the left field foul line, and the following four were homers. Ian Kinsler hit a few. Adrian Beltre hit a few — or was it Nelson Cruz? I was so busy snagging that I didn’t have time to take notes or photos. I do, however, remember one of my catches, but can’t recall which ball it was. Kinsler blasted a deep drive that I quickly determined was going land several rows behind me, so I turned my back to the field and raced up the steps and and darted to my right. When I turned back around and looked up for the ball, it was right there. I mean RIGHT there. It felt great to have picked the exact spot where the ball was going to land, but I ended up misjudging another homer at the end of BP, so, you know, I’m not perfect.

Do you remember Trent and Clyde from 4/25/11 at Rangers Ballpark? They were both playing the berm in center field…

…and snagged several balls apiece.

Chris Davis was shagging balls in left field:

At one point, when he jogged toward me to retrieve a ball near the warning track, I asked him if he wanted to play catch. He responded by tossing it to me, and when he held up his glove, I threw a decent knuckleball back to him. He smiled and gave me a friendly nod and fired an equally decent knuckleball back my way. We kept throwing knucklers, taking brief breaks whenever the batter was about to swing, and after a minute he let me keep the ball.

My 12th ball of the day was a home run that landed in the seats. My 13th was a homer that landed in the gap behind the left-center field wall; I used my glove trick to reel it in.

Several other fans had retrieval devices. Here are two guys attempting to pluck baseballs from the visitors’ bullpen:

As I’ve mentioned before, the security guards at Rangers Ballpark don’t stop people from using devices. The whole stadium is fan-friendly in every conceivable way.

In the photo above, the man using the device in the corner of the bullpen was unable to snag the ball, so I ran over and asked if I could give it a shot. It turned out that he worked at the stadium, so he stepped aside and let me go for it. My glove trick worked perfectly, and as soon as I lifted the ball all the way up, I handed it to a little kid who was walking past with his family. Moments later, another home run landed in the bullpen and rolled to the back wall. Here’s a photo of me lowering my glove for it:

As my glove reached the ground, an employee in the bullpen walked over and picked up the ball. Then he grabbed my glove and peeked inside to see how it was set up. Then he tossed me the ball, my 15th of the day. I returned to the left field seats with it and picked out the smallest kid in the section. I walked over to him (and his family) and asked to see his glove. He must’ve thought I was going to do something bad because he hid it behind his back and hugged his mother. I responded by holding out the ball for him. He didn’t understand what was happening, so his father encouraged him to show me his glove.

“Go like this,” I said, making a gesture with my own glove so that it was open with the palm facing up. When the kid imitated me, I placed the ball in his glove, and his entire family cheered.

Here’s a random photo of some fans chasing a home run ball on the berm:

What an awesome stadium. Wow, wow, and more wow.

When the Rangers cleared the field, I changed into my Blue Jays gear, and it paid off immediately. Travis Snider wandered over in my direction to retrieve a ball on the warning track.

“Travis,” I called out politely, “is there any chance you could toss that ball up here, please?”

“No chance at all,” he said without looking up.

“What would it possibly take to get one from you?” I asked.

That made him look up for a split-second.

“Oh! I didn’t see what you were wearing,” he said, and he flipped the ball to me. That was my 16th ball of the day, and I got No. 17 from Shawn Camp soon after. My 18th ball was a homer that landed on this platform behind the left field wall:

I used my glove trick to snag it and handed the ball to the nearest kid. My backpack, meanwhile, was getting heavier by the minute. I had to hold it carefully to prevent all my stuff from spilling out. It was a constant source of stress.

Soon after I snagged the ball off that platform, I caught a home run on the fly. It wasn’t easy because the left field seats were filling up, and the sun was in my eyes. That was my 19th ball of the day, and I got No. 20 from Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo (who was wandering in left field with a fungo bat).

I wasn’t quite done. I got one more ball during BP — a Juan Rivera homer that deflected off a man’s glove and landed in my row. Then, with BP about to end, I raced over to the Jays’ dugout…

…and got Kyle Drabek to toss me a ball on his way in. That was my 22nd ball of the day, and this was my reaction:

All I could do was shrug.

An hour earlier, I ran into a guy named Frank who’d brought his copy of my new book, The Baseball. At the time, I was too busy snagging baseballs to sign it or pose for a photo, so we took care of all of that after BP. Here we are with it:

For the record, Frank is 6-foot-5, and if you’ve been reading my blog for a couple years (and have a sick memory), he might look familiar. He and I first met on 5/3/09 at Rangers Ballpark when he showed up with a copy of my last book, Watching Baseball Smarter.

Shortly before 7pm, I waltzed down to the dugout for pre-game throwing. This was my view:

Unfortunately, I didn’t end up getting that ball.

I could’ve easily stayed in the first or second row for the game. There were empty seats, and the usher didn’t seem to notice or care that I was in her section, but I gave up that spot for this:

This was the view from my actual seat. To hell with third-out toss-ups. I wanted to run out onto the berm and catch a home run. That was actually my goal — the ONE thing I wanted to accomplish — in Arlington.

I did catch something halfway through the game…

…but it was just a T-shirt. I gave the shirt to an 11-year-old girl named Sarah, who was sitting directly behind me, and I gave a baseball to her six-year-old brother, Drew. Here they are with their father, Mark:

The three of them were great, and we talked on and off (mostly on) throughout the game.

“Can I ask you a really random question?” I said to Mark in the sixth inning.

He said yes, so I told him about my broken zipper and asked if he could think of any place nearby where I might be able to buy a new backpack. He and two other guys (who were sitting next to me and getting in on parts of the conversation) said there was a Walmart just down the road. They looked it up for me on their iPhones — I’m still rockin’ the Razr — and showed me a map. It was right next door to the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium, which was about a mile away. I knew I wasn’t going to have time the next day to get over there — the Rangers were gonna be playing a day game, and the stadium was going to open at 10:30am — so my only option was to go to Walmart after this game. I didn’t really want to walk, and I wondered if Trent (who was sitting directly across the berm from me) would be able to give me a ride. I didn’t have his phone number, so during the 7th inning stretch (with Mark keeping an eye on all my stuff), I hurried up the steps, ran around the back of the batter’s eye, and headed down the steps toward Trent’s seat. The steps were packed. It seemed as if everyone was heading to or from the bathroom or carefully carrying beers or walking slowly because they were fat or old or both. Still, I headed down the steps and talked to Trent for a minute. He wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to drive me to Walmart because he planned to stay at the stadium for a while and get autographs. We planned to meet up after the game regardless, and then I hurried (as best I could) back up the steps and back around the batter’s eye. The bottom of the 7th was about to get underway. I’d already heard Mitch Moreland’s name announced, and I was worried that I wouldn’t get back to my seat in time. I completely missed the first pitch of his at-bat — a called strike. As I headed down the steps toward my seat, Octavio Dotel (who had just entered the game for the Jays) went into his windup. I’d made it about halfway down (there are about 20 rows; my seat was at the end of Row 5) when Moreland connected on a DEEP drive that was heading just to the right of dead center. It took me a split-second to realize that the ball was going to be a home run, so I jumped over the side railing (without my glove!) and started running. Here’s a screen shot from MLB.com that shows how it played out:

As you can see, Trent had also jumped over the railing (on the right side of the berm). The dollar sign indicates the “money spot” where the ball ended up landing.

I could tell that Trent had me beat. The ball was much closer to his side, and he played it perfectly. Here he is reaching up for the catch:

Now, do you remember when I caught home runs on back-to-back nights during the final week at the old Yankee Stadium? Do you remember the silly cabbage patch dance that I did after each one? (Click here and here to see what I’m talking about.) Well, as soon as Trent caught the ball, he did THAT DANCE while running back to his seat:

I wasn’t sure what to make of it. For a moment, I thought he was taunting me, but then I realized (and he confirmed it later) that he did it as a shout-out/tribute to me. He’s a good guy, and he was just having fun with it, and if I couldn’t be the one to catch the ball, I was happy that he got it. But man, I was really kicking myself for not having been in my seat. I still think Trent would’ve caught the ball, but I would’ve made it a lot closer. Here’s the video highlight of the home run on MLB.com.

The Rangers ended up winning the game, 7-6. Moreland’s homer was the difference. After the game, I got another lineup card from the Blue Jays’ bullpen and then met up with Trent:

Here’s a closer look at the lineup card…

…and here’s a photo of Trent reenacting the dance:

Trent wasn’t able to give me a ride, so I went back to my hotel and dropped off my dying backpack. Then I spent an hour updating the stats and taking the ball photos that you’re soon going to see. Then I walked to Walmart. It was midnight. It was cold. I had to walk past cheap motels and car dealerships and fast food chains that I didn’t even know existed. I stopped at Hooters to ask for directions. (No, really.) And when I reached the Wall of Mart, I saw a wall of backpacks that all had Cowboys logos. Thankfully, there were two other sections in the store with backpacks, and I found a logo-free beauty for $17. It was 1am by the time I got back to the hotel. I was dead tired –but happy — and I stayed up for a couple more hours.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 22 balls at this game (18 pictured on the right because I gave 4 away)

• 162 balls in 19 games this season = 8.5 balls per game.

• 680 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 140 lifetime games 10 or more balls

• 10 lifetime games with 20 or more balls (nine of which have taken place outside of New York…shocker)

• 4,824 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)

• 39 donors

• $6.11 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $134.42 raised at this game

• $989,82 raised this season

Here are a few more photos of the baseballs. First, check out this one with a scuffed logo:

Here’s a practice ball with a huge blemish (if that’s the word) under the MLB logo:

I snagged six practice balls at this game. Here they are:

(The day before, I had snagged 12 practice balls, 11 of which looked like this.)

Of the 18 balls I kept, seven had invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparision that shows these balls in regular light versus black light:

And here’s the end.

4/26/11 at Rangers Ballpark

I snagged so many baseballs at this game, and it was so easy that I’m feeling somewhat ashamed and embarrassed. But you know what? I need days like this to stay sane. Citi Field has been really tough this season. The gates there are now opening later. The pre-game crowds have been enormous. The on-field snagging area has made it almost impossible to get toss-ups. Stadium security doesn’t allow the glove trick. The weather has sucked beyond belief. And so on. At my last two games in Queens, I busted (not to mention froze) my ass during batting practice and managed to snag a whopping total of five baseballs. That might sound like a lot to some people — it would’ve been a dream come true for me 25 years ago — but numbers like that now leave me feeling incredibly frustrated.

That said, are you ready to hear about the paradise known as Rangers Ballpark? For starters, there were only about 20 fans waiting to get in the stadium when it opened at 4:30pm. That’s what time season ticket holders can enter. The general ticket-holding public, meanwhile, has to wait until 5pm, but I found my way in with the early group. Most people were there to get autographs, so they made a beeline for the Rangers’ dugout. A few people wandered out to right field. A few others hung out near the grassy berm in center. And I had left field to myself. For half an hour. It was truly unbelievable. I’ve never experienced such a total lack of competition at a major league stadium. I don’t know what was going on, but for whatever reason, I was alone in the seats for thirty solid minutes.

As soon as I ran in, Cody Eppley tossed me my first ball of the day near the left field foul pole. I didn’t even know his name or call out to him. I just saw the No. 50 on his uniform and held up my glove. Moments later, I used the glove trick to snag this ball in the gap behind the outfield wall in left-center:

In the photo above, do you see the two guys wearing red in the left field seats? They were employees. The person in the gray shirt several sections to the left also worked at the stadium and didn’t stay there long.

This was my view from left field:

This was my (gorgeous) view to the left:

In the photo above, the man standing one section over is a fan, but he was only there for 30 seconds. I’m telling you, I had the whole place to myself. See the people wearing red in the front row in left-center? They also worked at the stadium. And do you see the clock way off in the distance? It’s on the facade of the second deck in right field. It says “4:38,” which means the stadium had been open for eight minutes. Did I mention that I had the whole place to myself?

This was the view to my right:

Now, forgive me for the lack of details here, but I got five home run balls in a very short amount of time. I have no idea who hit them. Ian Kinsler? Adrian Beltre? Nelson Cruz? I can’t even remember how many I caught on the fly (one or two, at least) or anything else about them. Baseballs were raining down, and I was practically grabbing them faster than I could toss them into my backpack.

I used my glove trick to snag my 8th ball of the day in left field, then caught a homer on the fly in the front row, and then used the glove trick again to snag this ball in left-center:

I gave that ball to one of the employees. It was my 10th ball of the day. It was only 4:48pm. Total insanity. I’d snagged so many balls — and had been so busy running all over the place — that I hadn’t even gotten a chance to scribble down any notes. Finally, when there was a break in the action, I was able to catch up. I’ll show a photo of my notes in a bit, but for now, let’s get back to the snagging…

While I was standing in straight-away left field, a left-handed batter on the Rangers (possibly Julio Borbon) sliced a ball into the seats along the left field foul line. Did I mention that I had the whole place to myself? I really couldn’t believe it at the time, and I still find it hard to believe as I sit here writing about it. Because there wasn’t another fan within 200 feet of me, I had time to pull out my camera and take a pic of the ball sitting in the seats:

Isn’t that a lovely sight?

The ball had obviously hit the concrete when it flew into the stands because the stitches were pretty chewed up:

The on-field security guy (pictured below) called me over. Was I in trouble? Not at all. He told me that there was another ball in the seats that had landed a few rows behind the tarp. Here it is:

I thanked him profusely, and perhaps because I was so appreciative, he told me that there was another ball in the seats. I couldn’t find it at first, so he described where it had landed, and sure enough, there it was:

(I’m seriously stunned by all of this. Don’t think that I’m taking it for granted.)

After I picked up that ball —  my 13th of the day — the guard told me that he’d been hoping that a kid would find it. Since there were no kids (or grown-ups) around, I offered it to him so that he could give it to the kid of his choice later on. Instead, he told me to place the ball in a cup holder just behind the first row. So I did. That way it was kind of hidden, and yet he knew where it was so he’d be able to direct a kid right to it.

While this was taking place, two balls rolled into the left field corner. I ran over there and began setting up my glove trick. I wasn’t sure what the policy was for plucking balls off the field, and it’s probably just as well that I didn’t get the chance to find out. The on-field guard walked over and picked up the balls and tossed them to a nearby Rangers player. But get this: the grounds crew had a cart loaded with equipment in the left field corner, and just before the guard was about to walk back to his normal spot, I noticed that there was a ball in one of the buckets on the cart. Here’s a photo that I took several minutes later to show where the ball was:

The guard didn’t notice the ball, so I pointed it out to him. He ended up tossing it to me, and I didn’t even have to ask for it.

“You are THE NICEST security guard I’ve ever met!” I shouted down to him.

“Thank you!” he called back.

“But I’m from New York City,” I continued, “so that’s not saying much!”

He laughed, and I thanked him again.

The stadium opened to all fans soon after, and when I snagged a home run in the left field seats, I handed it to the nearest kid. That was my 15th ball of the day.

Several lefties were hitting, so I ran to the right field side. It was still quite empty…

…and I ended up snagging two more home runs that landed in the seats.

Insanity!

Now, just so you don’t think that everything was going my way, there were two balls in the gap behind the outfield walls that I couldn’t snag. One was wedged against a chain-link fence in the visitors’ bullpen, and this was the other:

I tried to knock this ball loose, but gave up after 30 seconds. It simply wasn’t gonna happen, but it was nice to at least have the opportunity to try without being hassled by security. And hey, here’s another example of things not going my way: at one point in the first 15 minutes of BP (when I had all of left field to myself), a home run ball landed five rows behind me and bounced back over my head onto the field. That really sucked, but given how everything else went, I really can’t complain.

Thanks to my glove trick, I snagged one more ball during the Rangers’ portion of BP. It was a home run that landed in the visitors’ bullpen and rolled all the way to the back wall. There were actually two baseballs in the bullpen (see the red arrow below), but I could only reach one:

That was my 18th ball of the day.

The Blue Jays took the field.

Here’s a photo that I took from the left side of the grassy berm:

That’s quite a difference from this crazy scene back on 5/3/09 at Rangers Ballpark, huh?

Anyway, thanks in part to a crappy/retro Blue Jays jersey that I was wearing, Jason Frasor threw me my 19th ball of the day in left-center field, and Carlos Villanueva hooked me up with No. 20. It was only the 9th time in my life that I’d gotten 20 balls at a game, and there was still half an hour remaining in BP. My next ball was thrown by Shawn Camp in left-center, and it was the 4,799th ball that I’d ever snagged. The next one was going to be a milestone, so if possible, I wanted it to be a good one.

Mission accomplished.

It was a Jose Bautista homer that I caught on the fly while looking right up into the sun. It was a lot harder than any of the jumping catches (like this and this) that I’d made earlier this month, but probably didn’t look all that impressive from afar.

My 23rd ball of the day was sitting in the gap behind the wall in left-center field, and then I raced to the Blue Jays’ dugout at the end of BP. Someone rolled a ball to me across the dugout roof, but whoever it was, he was out of view at the time. I think it was bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos, but who knows? That was my 24th ball of the day. Here I am with it:

Phew!

I was feeling pretty wiped out, but whatever. That’s what a good night’s sleep is for.

During batting practice, I ran into two guys who each owned a copy of my new book, The Baseball. The first guy, Graham, unaware that I was gonna be at Rangers Ballpark, had mailed me the book a few weeks earlier with a self-addresses stamped envelope. The second guy, Scott, knew I was going to be here, so he brought his copy of the book with him for an in-person autograph. Here we are with it:

Scott is from San Francisco and, like me, was wearing Jays gear for the sole purpose of sucking up to the Blue Jays players. He also has a profile on MyGameBalls.com, which you can see here. (Speaking of MyGameBalls.com, the feature story right now is about my catch on Mike Nickeas’s first major league home run. Check it out, and if you haven’t yet created a profile on that site, WTF are you waiting for?)

After Scott and I said our goodbyes, I took a pic of the inside of my backpack:

As promised earlier, here are the notes that I scribbled down during BP:

This is how I was able to remember all the balls I snagged, although as you can see, my 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th balls of the day were all a blur and got lumped together. I also marked down what time it was when I snagged certain balls, just because I got off to a blistering pace and thought it’d be cool to remember. The balls that are crossed out (No. 10, 13, and 15) were ones that I gave away. (My handwriting is actually very neat under normal circumstances, but when I wrote all of this, I was standing and rushing and leaning on my glove, which is not exactly a flat/smooth surface.) On the upper right, I wrote “Scott MGB” and underneath it, it says “mysteryca,” which is his user name on MyGameBalls.com. On the left-hand side, kind of toward the bottom, it says, “Clyde & Suede” as well as “Trent & Brent.” Those were the four guys I’d met the day before. I scribbled their names down at the time so I’d remember, and then my notes from this game overlapped.

Clyde was at this game too. He snagged a few balls on the grassy berm and generously treated me to a much-needed bottled water after the Rangers had finished hitting.

I also ran into a friend named Brian Powell (aka “Txbasebalfan” on MyGameBalls.com). Here we are together, just before game time, with his friend Dirk. In the photo below, Brian is on the left and Dirk is on the right:

As you can see, I had changed out of my Jays gear.

This was my view during the game…

…and this was my view to the left. Trent was sitting directly across the berm from me:

When I met Trent two days ago, he had never heard of MyGameBalls.com. Now he has a profile, although he has yet to fill out his stats.

In the photo above, do you see the man standing near Trent in the tan pants and white shirt? That’s Jim Knox, the Rangers’ roving TV guy. Trent has become somewhat of a local celebrity for catching a recent home run on the berm; when Knox went to say hello to him, Trent talked about me, and Knox ended up coming over to my section. He said he wanted to interview me on the post-game show and told me where to be and when to be there. As it turned out, it was only a 15-second interview that was done while I was buried in a crowd of exceptionally rowdy fans, but it was still cool.

Over the course of the game, I had cause to jump out of my seat twice, but in both cases, the balls ended up falling short. No action once again. Bleh. The Blue Jays did hit three home runs (including two by Adam Lind, who went 3-for-5 with five RBIs), but the balls all went to left and right field. Final score: Blue Jays 10, Rangers 3.

After the game, I got another lineup card from the Jays’ bullpen. Here it is, along with the guard who kindly peeled it off the wall and handed it to me:

Here’s a closer look at it:

Do you remember the lineup card that I got the day before? And do you remember the kid named Dylan that I met right after I got it? Well, Dylan left a comment on my previous entry and pointed something out about it that I hadn’t noticed: Pedro Strop’s last name was spelled wrong. It’s good to see that the Jays also noticed and fixed the mistake.

I met up with Trent before heading out. Here I am with him and my 4,800th ball:

Trent is a BIG dude, and he’s only 16. (For the record, I’m 5-foot-11.) I’m a bit scared to think about how he’s gonna tower over me when I’m back here next season and beyond…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 24 balls at this game (21 pictured on the right because I gave 3 away)

• 140 balls in 18 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

• 679 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 24 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls

• 139 lifetime games 10 or more balls

• 9 lifetime games with 20 or more balls

• 4,802 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)

• 38 donors

• $6.09 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $146.16 raised at this game

• $852.60 raised this season

Ready for a few more photos of the balls? Fifteen of the 21 had invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:

(Yes, I took my black light with me on the road; my shirt speaks the truth.)

In the left-hand photo above, did you notice that some of the balls have the word “practice” stamped on the sweet spot? I snagged 11 of those balls yesterday…

…and I also got a practice ball that looked like this:

The reason why these balls say “practice” is that they have very subtle cosmetic flaws — anything from a misaligned stitch to a tiny imperfection on the cowhide. All the other specs (size, weight, compressibility, etc.) are fine. These imperfect balls get stamped with the word “practice” at the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica and are sold to teams at a discount. (This is one of the many things you can learn about baseballs in my new book.)

Here are two more funky baseballs that I snagged yesterday. The one on the left has a beautifully smudged logo. The one on the right has a bizarre mark next to the MLB logo:

Does anyone have an idea of what might’ve caused that mark? I’m guessing that it’s a bat imprint (like the imprints you can see here), but it’s hard to say.

4/25/11 at Rangers Ballpark

I’m in Texas, son!

Okay, that was ridiculous, but anyway, hello. Yes. Arlington. Rangers Ballpark. Most underrated stadium in the Major Leagues. Painfully gorgeous. Incredibly laid-back. And yesterday, no batting practice. This is what I saw when I first ran inside:

It’s bad enough when BP gets wiped out by rain. It’s even worse when BP gets cancelled because of the threat of rain. That’s what happened yesterday. In all fairness, there was a nearby tornado in the mid-afternoon, but the weather ended up being sunny and beautiful. It was extremely frustrating, but I still ended up having a good time thanks in large part to a 16-year-old season ticket holder who’d recognized me outside the stadium. He had started by asking me where I was from, and when I told him New York, he said, “Are you the guy who was on TV for catching a lot of baseballs?”

“Yup, that’s me,” I said, and we ended up having a long conversation until the gates opened. He told me that he was featured on SportsCenter last week for catching an Adrian Beltre homer, and he showed me the video of it on his iPhone. His name is Trent, and he was there with his friend Brent. For real. Trent and Brent. They were both really cool, and we spent the next two hours together.

Brent snagged the first ball of the day (I’m not sure how he got it) and Trent snagged another soon after in center field. For some reason (early BP?), there was a ball sitting in the gap behind the outfield wall, and he reeled it in with his cup trick. Here’s a photo of Trent dangling the cup before knocking the ball closer:

In the photo above, Brent is the other fan looking on.

Just about every ballhawk at Rangers Ballpark has a retrieval device because (a) there are gaps behind the outfield walls and (b) stadium security actually allows fans to reel in the balls that land there. What a concept! Fans can also bring as much food as they want into the stadium, and they can bring drinks too, as long as the drinks are not in glass bottles or metal cans. If you want to bring a gallon of water or a two-liter bottle of soda, no one will hassle you. And the stadium opens two and a half hours early every day for season ticket holders — not just full-season ticket holders, but anyone with any type of ticket plan. THIS IS HOW A STADIUM SHOULD BE RUN. And my god, look how beautiful it is:

The Rangers’ bullpen is out in the open where fans can actually see their favorite pitchers warming up. Again, what a concept!

Trent, it turns out, recognized me from this crappy segment on the CBS Evening News, so he knew all about my streak of consecutive games with at least one ball.

“It was up to four hundred and something back then,” he said.

“It’s now six seventy-seven,” I replied.

Trent and Brent both wanted to make sure that I’d keep my streak alive, so they told me they were going to let me have the next ball. I told them they didn’t have to — that I didn’t want any charity and I’d definitely find a way to snag at least one before the day was through — but they insisted.

There were two baseballs sitting on the field. The first was on the warning track in straight away right. Josh Frasier, the Rangers’ bullpen catcher, walked over and tossed that one up to me, and then we all turned our attention to this ball near the (not-yet-chalked) foul line:

I asked Trent and Brent how we should handle it — if we should all just jump for the ball when it ended up getting tossed our way, or if they wanted it. I told them that since this was their home turf, I didn’t want to get in their way, and I offered to back off and let them have it.

Two minutes later, Alexi Ogando walked out of the bullpen. Trent called out to him for the ball. I figured that meant that I wasn’t going to get it, but while Ogando was walking toward it, Trent told me that I could have it.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“It’s no big deal,” he said. “I already got one, so I’m good.”

“What about you?” I asked Brent.

He just shrugged.

By that point, there was another fan in the section — a guy closer to my age named Clyde, who was there with his four-year-old son, Suede. I had talked to Clyde outside the stadium as well. He’s a DJ for a local hip hop radio station, and although you won’t see it in the next photo, he was covered with tattoos. Anyway, I asked Clyde if he wanted the ball for his son, but they’d already gotten one, so he was like, whatever. Basically, everyone was cool with me getting the ball from Ogando, so when it ended up being tossed our way, I reached out and caught it.

Here I am with Trent (in the red shirt), Brent (in the blue shirt), Suede (coolest name ever), and Clyde (with the red glove):

After that, there was absolutely nothing happening on the field, so Clyde and Suede headed off to do their own thing. Trent and Brent, meanwhile, led me to the Wiffle Ball field to take some batting practice. Trent had vouchers so we could all hit for free. (He really hooked me up.) Here’s a photo of Brent at the plate:

The Blue Jays’ pitchers came out to play catch…

…and it’s hard to believe, but I didn’t get a single baseball from them. I was completely decked out in Jays gear, and I had a glove, and I knew all their names and asked politely and spoke to the Latino players in Spanish — and I didn’t get one ball. Unbelievable. The players were tossing balls to gloveless men in Rangers gear, but for some bizarre reason, it’s like I was invisible.

After the players were gone, Brent took a photo of me with my No. 5 sign:

Why No. 5?

Because this is the 5th stadium I’ve been to this season.

Why the silly face?

Because my facial expressions indicate how I feel about each stadium. Rangers Ballpark is as good as it gets.

There was more time to kill, so Trent and Brent led me up to the Diamond Club in deep left field. I had thought that I needed a special club-level ticket (or a season ticket holder ID card) to get in there, but no, it’s open to everyone. Check out the view…

…and look at the buffet area:

I grabbed a bottled water and treated Trent and Brent to sodas at the bar. I really wanted to go for the buffet, but it was expensive (close to $30), and I knew I wasn’t going to have enough time. Trent, however, decided to go for it, and while he walked around filling up his plate, I followed him and took pics of all the food. Here’s a gigantic collage of all the options:

I won’t bother listing everything that was available, but it was impressive. I mean, there was prime rib and stir fry and hot dogs and fruit and salad and fortune cookies and cake and sundaes and chips with chili and cheese sauce. Wow. I’m getting hungry just writing about it.

I explored more of the Diamond Club…

…and the guys came with me to show me the balcony. Here they are in another dining area that opens up to it…

…and here they are on the balcony:

Although I don’t typically like to sit 600 feet from home plate, I must admit that the view was spectacular:

Trent stayed in the club to get his money’s worth at the buffet. Trent and I headed back down to the field-level seats, and we said our goodbyes near the left field foul pole. He headed off to meet his father (who works at the stadium) near the Rangers’ dugout. I cut through the seats toward third base because the Jays’ position players were starting to throw along the foul line. As I made my way through one of the many empty rows, I literally did a double-take when I saw this:

If you don’t see what I’m talking about, look at the bottom right corner of the photo above.

It was 6:40pm — the stadium had been open for more than two hours — and I found a ball. Crazy stuff.

I realize that photos of baseballs sitting in the seats can be dubious. I mean, anyone could place a ball in the seats and take a photo of it and say, “Look what I found!” but seriously, this ball was sitting there, waiting for me to rescue it. Look at the sad/lonely expression on its face:

I headed down toward the front row, not because there were cute girls launching T-shirts into the crowd…

…but because the Blue Jays were throwing. Really. And I ended up getting THREE balls within a five-minute span. Yunel Escobar tossed me the first, and then less than five seconds later, someone else threw me another. I got so caught up in the moment that I totally spaced out and forgot who’d given it to me. (Has that ever happened to you?) Then a little kid with a glove wandered down and stood right beside me. He was shouting aimlessly (and not nearly loud enough) for the last ball in use, and when the players were almost done, he got distracted and turned his back to the field. (Duh.) John McDonald ended up tossing me the ball because there was no one else worth giving it to. As soon as I caught it, I tapped the kid on the shoulder and handed it to him.

This was my view for the game…

…and yes, that’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I bought at a kids’ concession stand for two bucks. I actually bought two of these sandwiches and washed ‘em down with an ice-cold bottled water.

I was sitting right next to the grassy batter’s eye (aka “Green’s Hill”). It was the perfect spot for running out and catching a home run ball. (Yes, fans are actually allowed to do that.) This was the view to my left (sans PB&J):

Trent was sitting directly across the grassy area from me. I was in the 5th row on the left side of the hill; he was in the 5th row on the right. That’s his regular spot, and I was looking forward to some friendly competition. We’d both been gracious about the pre-game toss-ups in right field, but we both knew that if a home run were hit to dead center during the game…oh yeah, it was gonna be ON.

Travis Snider was definitely not “on” when his headshot (or rather mugshot) was taken. Behold the frightening absurdity:

The closest I came to snagging a ball during the game was a deep drive by John McDonald in the top of the 3rd inning. Here’s a screen shot of Rangers center fielder Julio Borbon chasing it down:

I was hoping that the ball would land on the warning track and bounce up to me, and it totally would’ve *if* it had landed on the track. I was right in line with it, but it touched down several feet short on the grass. Damn!

Borbon wasn’t able to catch the ball. Here’s another screen shot taken moments later:

There were five home runs hit during the game, and they all went to left and right field. Nothing in center. (Frowny face.)

The Blue Jays won, 6-4, and after the final out, I raced over to their bullpen. Within a minute, everyone had left except Shawn Camp and bullpen coach Pat Hentgen (and bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos). Camp was getting in some extra work, so I stood and watched and waited and noticed that there was a lineup card taped to the far wall:

Camp finished his session a few minutes later and tossed me the ball. Not only was it was rubbed up with mud, but it had a few bonus clumps of mud attached to it:

(Wow! Major League mud! Except not. Ew.)

Then, several minutes later, I got one of the groundskeepers (pictured two photos above) to peel the lineup card off the wall and hand it to me, just as I’d done on 5/3/09 at Rangers Ballpark, only this time it was much easier.

In between the time that I got the ball and the lineup card, I talked to a kid who recognized me from this blog. His name is Dylan. He said he’d ready every single one of my entries (dating back to April 2005!), and he seemed really glad to meet me. The feeling was mutual. It’s always cool to meet people who appreciate what I do.

Here we are together with the lineup card:

Today (April 26th) is Dylan’s birthday. I believe he’s 12 years old (if I’m remembering correctly), so I’d like to take this moment to wish him a very happy birthday. (Dylan, I know you’re reading this, so I hope you have a great day. Leave a comment or send an email and keep in touch.)

Here’s a closer look at the lineup card:

Did you notice that the lefties are highlight in yellow, and that the lone switch-hitter is highlighted in blue? It’s kind of like the blue-and-red color coding on the lineup cards that I got on 4/15/11 at Citizens Bank Park. (FYI, I’m going to wait to put the Jays lineup card on this page on my website until I get back home and scan it.)

Another nice thing about Rangers Ballpark (and most stadiums outside of New York, for that matter) is that security doesn’t kick everyone out as soon as the game ends. They actually let people linger and take pics — like this one:

Is that not a gorgeous sight? I’m already bummed that I only have three more games here before I have to leave for Houston. (No offense, Houston. I’ll be bummed when I have to leave you too.)

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 116 balls in 17 games this season = 6.8 balls per game.

• 678 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 204 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 4,778 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to get involved.)

• 38 donors

• $6.09 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $42.63 raised at this game

• $706.44 raised this season

4/22/11 at Citi Field

Not much to say about this game…

During the Mets’ portion of batting practice, the season ticket holders were back in their on-field snagging area…

…and I didn’t get a single baseball until the Diamondbacks took the field.

Deep in right-center, I spotted a father setting up the glove trick with his son:

In the photo above, the father is wearing the red Diamondbacks cap. Take a closer look and you’ll see (a) the rubber band stretched around the outside of his glove and (b) the Sharpie in his right hand. I advised them not to use the glove trick — security at Citi Field does NOT approve of retrieval devices — and they ended up getting the ball from D’backs pitching coach Charles Nagy.

Five minutes earlier, Nagy had tossed me a ball in straight-away right field. The only other ball I got during BP was a home run that I caught on the fly in left field (after climbing up on on a seat). Like the day before, it was really cold, and the balls just weren’t carrying.

Now, you know how I always wear the visiting team’s gear during BP? Well, lots of other people are now doing it too and…just look at the following photo:

The guy on the left didn’t have Diamondbacks gear, so he improvised. (Security made him put a shirt on soon after.) The guy on the right is a friend and fellow ballhawk named Ben Weil — and he owns a LOT of jerseys.

After BP, I got my 3rd ball of the day at the 3rd base dugout from a player on the D’backs. Not sure who.

Then I met up with a young fan named Aaron who’d brought his copy of my new book. Here we are with it:

Aaron had tweeted me the day before to ask if I was going to be there, and I said yes. (Isn’t technology grand?) Aaron has a profile on MyGameBalls.com and writes a blog. If you want to read his entry about this game, click here. And hey, did you notice the shirt that he’s wearing in the photo above?

The game itself was…cold. This was my annoying view:

The reason why I sat there is that I had some room to run on both sides…

…but that didn’t last long. By the 3rd inning, most of those seats were full, so I moved to straight-away left field. Nothing was hit anywhere near me all night.

Halfway through the game, a small-but-noisy bunch of Mets fans started chanting, “CHRIS YOUNG SUCKS!!! CHRIS YOUNG SUCKS!!!” at the Diamondbacks’ center fielder. Young turned around and smiled at them. That made everyone cheer for him, and before the chant resumed, he pointed at his teammate Gerardo Parra in left field as if to say, “Heckle him, not me.” The fans immediately started shouting, “PAR-RA SUCKS!!! PAR-RA SUCKS!!!” at which point Young turned back around with an even bigger smile and tipped his cap. Good stuff.

Final score: Mets 4, Diamondbacks 1.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game (pictured on the right)

• 109 balls in 16 games this season = 6.8 balls per game.

• 677 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 203 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 4,771 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to get involved.)

• 37 donors

• $5.99 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $17.97 raised at this game

• $652.91 raised this season

Here’s another photo of the three balls I snagged. The image on the left shows them in regular light; the image on the right shows them in black light:

Next game for me?

Tomorrow (April 25th) in Arlington, Texas. Oh yeah.

4/21/11 at Citi Field

You’d think that a Thursday night game on a freezing day in April between two of the worst teams in baseball wouldn’t draw much of a crowd, right?

Wrong.

Look how many people were waiting outside Citi Field for the gates to open:

In the photo above, that’s me in the MLB cap with my arm around Mateo Fischer. He’s a fellow ballhawk and former Watch With Zack client — we attended a game together on 7/27/10 at Citi Field — and as you can see, he’d brought his copy of my new book. I signed it for him before the stadium opened, and then we raced out to the left field seats.

It was truly one of the worst batting practices of all time. During the 25 minutes that the Mets were hitting, there was exactly ONE home run. Not only was the temperature in the mid-40s, but a very strong wind was blowing in. Deep fly balls that normally would’ve landed several rows deep were dying and falling short of the warning track. I’d never seen anything like it.

My friend Jeremy showed up 10 minutes after Citi Field opened. He’s a serious baseball fan, but doesn’t try to catch baseballs in the stands. In fact, this was the first time (in roughly 100 games) that he’d ever arrived early enough for batting practice. He was content to just sit and drink beer and watch me do my thing, but unfortunately, as I’ve already mentioned, there wasn’t a whole lot of action. Shortly before the Mets cleared the field, I got one of the players to throw me a ball. I have no idea who it was because he was bundled up and had a blue hood covering the edges of his face. (Yes, it was THAT cold.) Here’s the ball with Jeremy in the background:

I snagged two more baseballs during the Astros’ portion of BP. The first (pictured below on the left) was a Hunter Pence homer that I caught on the fly. The second (pictured below on the right) was a so-called Easter egg; forty-five minutes after the stadium had opened, I found it tucked under a seat in the sixth row:

Interesting side note: Ever since I started attending games regularly in 1992, the Astros have been marking their practice balls with big H’s on the sweet spot, like this. The Hunter Pence homer was the first Astros ball I’ve ever snagged that was H-free.

Anyway, that was it for batting practice. Lame City. I actually apologized to Jeremy for the lack of action and for not putting on a better show. He didn’t care. He’d never caught a ball before, so the fact that I’d snagged three seemed impressive. Shortly before game time, I picked out a cute young kid with a glove (who was sitting on the 3rd base side with his father) and gave him a baseball. Naturally, they were both thrilled and didn’t quite know what to say. Whenever I give balls away, no one really understands why — at least not at first. I mean, why would a stranger just walk up and hand over a baseball?

“I got a few during batting practice,” I always say, “so I had one to spare.” In this case (and as I often do), I told the kid that the reason why I gave him a ball was that he was wearing a glove. “It showed me that you really want a ball,” I said, “but I still want you to try to catch another one during the game, okay?”

As for the game, there were two left-handed starters — Chris Capuano for the Mets and J.A. Happ for the Astros — so I decided to sit in straight-away left field. I’d warned Jeremy ahead of time about our seat location, and he was cool with it. This was our view:

At Citi Field, I normally don’t stay in the outfield during games because (a) the seats are 14 light years from home plate and (b) there’s no room to run. But since the majority of batters on this frigid night were going to be hitting from the right side, I decided to give it a shot.

In the first inning, Jeremy made a comment about how unlikely it’d be for any home runs to come our way, and I agreed. It was even colder now, and the wind was still blowing in, but I insisted that anything was possible. I told him a story about a kid on my college baseball team who blasted a BP homer over the scoreboard in left field on a cold/drizzly day with the wind blowing in and a bucket of old soggy baseballs. “I don’t care that he hit it with a metal bat,” I said. “If a teenaged Division III player can hit a ball that far under those conditions, then major league hitters can certainly reach us tonight.”

That said, I still didn’t like my chances. Most of the rows were full, and there simply wasn’t any room to run. In the second inning, we moved to the other side of the staircase, and in the middle of the third inning, I spotted some empty seats one section over. Jeremy was willing to head there, but I told him that I wanted to stay put. “Let’s just stay here for three more outs and see what happens,” I said.

Well, wouldn’t you know it? With one out in the bottom of the third, Mets rookie catcher Mike Nickeas blasted a deep drive that appeared to be heading right at me. I jumped out of my seat and froze for a split-second to figure out exactly where the ball was heading; the last thing I wanted to do was maneuver myself out of position. As it turned out, it WAS coming right to me, but I got the sense that it was going to carry just a bit beyond my row and hook slightly to the right, so while the ball was in mid-air, I backed up a couple steps and scooted through the two empty seats in the row directly behind me. The ball was coming…coming…COMING…and a whole bunch of hands reached up for it directly in front of me, but those hands didn’t reach quite high enough, and I jumped at the last second and felt something smack the pocket of my glove. I’d caught it!!

Here’s a screen shot that was taken at the instant before the ball went into my glove. You can see just how crowded it was. The guy in the sky-blue shirt reached up and missed the ball by three inches:

Here’s another screen shot that shows my reaction after catching it:

Here’s one more screen shot after the camera zoomed back out. It’s kind of hard to see, but I’m still holding up both arms. The ball is in my right hand (a little white speck against a black background) and my glove is on my left hand:

Moments after I caught the ball, I began to wonder if Nickeas had hit any other home runs in the major leagues. I remembered his name from last year — he’d been up briefly with the Mets — but I really didn’t know anything about him. Before Jeremy had a chance to pull up any stats on his iPhone, I heard another fan shouting that it was Nickeas’s first major league homer.

How cool! For the first time in my life, I’d managed to catch a home run ball that a player was actually going to want back for himself. I’d heard about these situations so many times. I’d interviewed other ballhawks about their experiences and written a whole section about it in The Baseball. The section is called “Nice Catch! Now What?” (see pages 257-263) and basically educates fans on what to do after catching an important home run. Now it was time to follow my own advice.

Two batters later, a pair of 6-foot-6 security guards marched down the steps.

“Who caught the ball?!” asked one of them.

“I did,” I said, holding it up.

“Come with us,” he said.

“HAHA!!! He’s getting ejected!!!” shouted a fan as I made my way up the steps.

“No I’m not,” I said when I reached that fan’s row. “It’s the guy’s first major league home run, and he wants it back.” I didn’t get heckled after that.

Jeremy had followed me up the steps. I wanted to make sure that he got the full experience, and I also wanted him to take photos. Here I am right after I reached the concourse:

As you can see, I was rather excited. (It was so cold that I was wearing black gloves on both hands. I was also wearing long underwear. Just thought you should know.)

Within a minute, I was surrounded by security guards and supervisors. Fans were high-fiving me, and some of the guards recognized me and shook my hand. It was a truly awesome moment, but I knew that things could quickly turn ugly if I didn’t handle it properly. Meanwhile, the cameras had found me again. Here’s another screen shot that shows me posing with the ball:

“What’s it gonna take?” asked one of the supervisors.

“Well,” I began, “at the very least, I want to be the one to give the ball to Nickeas and shake his hand.”

“THAT’S not gonna happen,” he said with the hint of a sarcastic chuckle.

“Okay,” I said, “then I’ll just keep the ball.”

“WHOA-WHOA-WHOA-WHOA!!!” he said. “Whaddaya mean y–“

“The way I see it,” I explained, “if I’m gonna give a guy his first major league home run ball and he’s not gonna meet me for a minute, then it’s obviously not worth that much to him, so I’ll just keep it.”

There was a frenzy of walkie-talkie chatter after that, and 20 seconds later, the supervisor said, “Okay, if that’s what you want, you can give the ball to him yourself.” (Thank you.)

I suggested to the guards that if the Mets wanted to work a positive media angle, they could mention on the air that the fan who caught the ball is KNOWN for catching balls…and that he wasn’t asking for anything in return…and that he simply wants people to know that he’s raising money for a children’s baseball charity by catching balls at games. I thought about demanding that the charity be mentioned — if the Mets had said no, would that have made me or them look bad? — but ultimately decided to be chill about the whole thing. I really just wanted to meet Nickeas and make sure that he got his ball back. I suppose I could’ve demanded a signed David Wright jersey and/or a Jose Reyes jock strap, but what was the point? I was more interested in the experience than in the potential goodies that I could take home.

In any case, the plan was for me to meet up with a supervisor named Kim near the “Shea Bridge” at the start of the 9th inning. Kim has been working for the Mets for years. She was out in the bleachers with me on September 28, 2008 when I caught the last Mets home run ever hit at Shea Stadium, and she knows all about my baseball collection. She’s always been very friendly, and we get along great, so it was comforting to have her be the one in charge.

Here’s a photo of me surrounded by security personnel. Kim is the one with the long blonde hair:

“Can we have the ball authenticated?” I asked. “I don’t want you guys to accuse me after the game of pawning off a phony ball.”

“You’re fine,” said Kim. “I know you.”

“Or,” said the security guy pictured above with the glasses and gray hair, “you can give the ball to me now, and I’ll hold it for you.”

“I think I’ll just hang onto it myself,” I said, and we all laughed. It was a big game of cat-and-mouse, and for the moment, I had the upper hand.

Finally, after about 10 minutes, Jeremy and I returned to our seats. Here we are with the ball:

Here’s a closeup of the ball, and yes, I removed my gloves for this photo:

Other fans wanted to know what the security guards had said, and several people asked to take my photo. It felt SO good to sit there and watch the game and have the home run ball in my pocket and know that I was going to get to meet the guy who had hit it. It also felt good to see The Home Run on the JumboTron:

When the 9th inning got underway, the Mets were leading, 9-1. Jeremy and I made our way to the Shea Bridge in deeeeeeeeep center field. (I made sure that he’d be able to come with me.) Here’s a photo of what it looked like back there:

Nickeas caught a Matt Downs pop-up to end the game — how fitting — and Kim rushed me down some stairs:

We walked through the area behind the bullpens (this area is open to the public) and headed toward the “Modell’s Clubhouse” sign:

Here I am posing in front of the sign…

…and this is what it looked like when we passed through the doors and turned left:

As you can see, there were lots of barricades and security guards. Kim told the guy in green that Jeremy and I were with her, so he allowed us to proceed down a long tunnel to the left. Here’s what it looked like:

After a solid minute of brisk walking, Kim and I rounded a corner…

…and walked some more. There were players and coaches walking alongside us, and after another minute, we reached the area just outside the Mets clubhouse:

How awesome is that?

The clubhouse doors closed after all the players had made it inside, and I posed for a photo with the home run ball:

Nickeas had entered the clubhouse through another door, so I still hadn’t seen him. That was fine. It only added to the suspense. I wondered if he was showering and changing into street clothes or if he was going to come out in his full uniform. Was it going to take five minutes? Or half an hour? The longer the better. I was so happy to stand there and soak it all in. I thought about asking Nickeas for something/anything when it was time to give him the ball. I wasn’t going to make any sudden demands — I really WAS fine with giving the ball back for free — but I thought that if he was cool and if I got to talk to him for a minute, that…I don’t know…I might mention that I was a collector and tell him that if he were willing to part with any piece of his equipment, that I’d really appreciate it. But again, that was just a passing thought. I really didn’t want to taint the experience (for either of us) by asking for stuff and appearing greedy. I was so happy to be in this situation that it almost didn’t matter what happened at this point.

“So, you caught the ball?” asked a man standing nearby. Turns out it was a writer with the Daily News. We had a couple minutes to kill, so we ended up talking…

…and it turned into a mini-interview.

Then the clubhouse doors swung back open, and Nickeas made his way out:

I didn’t realize it at first, but he was carrying a bat. Was it for me?!

He walked over to me.

“Mike Nickeas,” he said, extending his right hand. “Great to meet you.”

“Zack Hample,” I said, giving a firm handshake. “Great to meet you too. Congrats on your first home run. I got the ball right here.”

I held it out for him:

He was so happy. I could see the huge grin on his face, and that felt great.

“Well, I have a bat for you,” he said, holding it out for me:

The bat was already signed: “Great hands! Best Wishes, Mike Nickeas.”

He asked if I wanted him to write my name on it. I said yes and he asked how to spell it.

“Z-A-C-K,” I said, and he wrote it above the inscription:

He was incredibly friendly. At first I wasn’t sure if he was just being nice because I’d given him the ball, but it became clear pretty fast that he was a genuinely awesome person.

“Thanks so much for the bat,” I said. “I really wasn’t expecting anything in return, so this is a great surprise.”

“You’re welcome,” he said.

“I really just wanted to make sure you got the ball back,” I continued. “There’ve been plenty of incidents where a fan catches an important home run and makes a bunch of unreasonable demands, and then no one ends up getting what they want. I didn’t want that to happen here. It’s obviously much more impressive to hit a home run in the major leagues than it is to catch a home run in the stands, so, you know, you’re the one who needs to have this ball, not me.”

“I might need you in left field for all my at-bats,” he joked.

He was very appreciative, and it didn’t seem like he was in any rush to leave, so we kept chatting:

I told him that my only request was to give the ball back to him myself, and I described how the security guards weren’t initially going to allow that.

“I figured that YOU weren’t the one saying no to that request,” I said, “and that it was their own dumb security policy.”

“No, of course not,” Nickeas replied.

I told him that I’d caught a lot of baseballs, including several historic home runs, but this was the first time that a player had actually wanted one of them back, and that this was a very special moment for me. He said that the ball was very meaningful to him and that he was going to put it in a box and mail it to his father. Having lost my own father last year, that was especially touching for me to hear.

I was so focused on talking to Nickeas that I didn’t even realize when Mets manager Terry Collins walked by. But hey, here’s photographic proof, courtesy of Jeremy:

I was concerned that I was taking up too much of Nickeas’s time, so I asked him, “Are you okay to talk for another minute? I don’t want to hold you up.”

“I’m fine,” he said, and we kept talking:

I gave him a card and told him to check out my website. I also told him briefly about my books and my charity fundraiser.

We then posed for a photograph…

…and kept talking:

It’s a special feeling to spend time one-on-one with a celebrity (even a rookie ballplayer that most people haven’t heard of) and really have the person’s attention.

I did make one final request before we parted ways: I asked Nickeas if he’d toss me a ball someday if I get his attention from the stands. Of course he said yes.

Then, after Nickeas was gone, I got congratulated by a very friendly security guard named Joe:

Joe has been working for the Mets for as long as I can remember. We always used to see each other when I was running around the Loge Level for foul balls at Shea Stadium, so it was cool to run into him here after a really big moment.

All the security guards were great. I especially appreciate that they didn’t rush me. They all just stood off to the side while Nickeas and I were talking, and they let me do my thing.

Before heading out, I stared lovingly at my new bat…

…and then Jeremy posed with it once we got outside:

(Another interesting side note: Jeremy recently had a short baseball-related story called “Lovers’ Balk” published by Spitball — the same magazine that published this review of The Baseball. Here’s the link to Jeremy’s story in case you want to check it out.)

The ride back to Times Square on the No. 7 train was rather entertaining. I mean, you can’t carry a bat out of a stadium and not be noticed, and in this case, there was a whole group of middle school and high school baseball players who surrounded me and asked questions and took photos:

In the photo above, you can only see one camera, so here’s another angle:

Here’s another look at me and the kids:

The kids then took turns posing with the bat and photographing each other:

It was…wow.
What a day.

When I finally made it home, I photographed the bat up close. Here’s a pic of the whole thing:

Here’s Nickeas’s name, along with the model number:

Here’s what he wrote for me:

Here are two logos on the other side of the bat:

Here’s one end of the bat (with Nickeas’s uniform No. 13 written on)…

…and here’s the other end:

I’d never seen a bat knob like this before. I’d only seen the numbers written on with magic marker. Orange and blue, of course, are the Mets colors, so this is extra special. If you want to see all the other bats (and random pieces of equipment) that I’ve gotten at games, click here.

Now, here are my stats. Make sure you keep reading because I have one more thing to show you at the very end…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game (2 pictured on the right because I gave 2 away)

• 106 balls in 15 games this season = 7.07 balls per game.

• 676 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 202 consecutive games with at least two balls

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

• 362 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 4,768 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(As I’ve mentioned several times in this entry, I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)

• 37 donors

• $5.99 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $23.96 raised at this game

• $634.94 raised this season

Okay, remember that Daily News reporter? My name didn’t make it into the hard copy of the paper itself, but I was mentioned online. Here’s the link. The article is basically a collection of newsworthy Mets tidbits. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page (the article is split up into two pages), you’ll see the blurb about me.

Meanwhile, my name somehow found its way into the New York Post. Here’s the cover of the paper…

…and here’s the article itself. Check out the blurb next to the red arrow:

Oh yeah, baby!

Oh, and one final thing…

The section in my book that I mentioned earlier (“Nice Catch! Now What?”) begins as follows:

“On average, roughly one of every 15 home runs is so important that the player or team will try to get the ball back. There’s not an official stat for this. It just seems to work out that way…”

Would you believe that the Nickeas home run was **THE** 15th homer that I’d ever snagged during a game? Click here for the complete list.

4/20/11 at Camden Yards

I didn’t put up great numbers at this game, but as I mentioned last night on Twitter, all my baseballs were batting practice home runs that I caught on the fly.

Jona was with me once again and got some great photos. Here’s one that shows me maneuvering into position for my first ball of the day…

…and here’s another photo, taken moments later, that shows me reaching up for the catch:

The left field seats were crowded from the start, and as a result, this was the only ball I got during the Orioles’ portion of BP.

Before I caught it, I’d been talking to Jeremy Guthrie, who was (jokingly?) complaining yet again about not being written into my new book. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of, “I gave you a ball on the final day of [the old] Yankee Stadium. I can’t believe that’s not good enough for more than a mention with everyone else in the acknowledgments.”

“Oh, Jeremy,” I said. “I mentioned you the other day on my blog, and I get about two thousand hits a day, so at least there’s that.”

“Did you link to me on Twitter?” he asked.

“No, but I will in my next entry.”

“Thank you,” he said, “and if I see you make a nice catch today, I’ll tweet about it.”

Well, Jeremy, I’m waiting…

In all fairness, my first catch of the day probably didn’t look all that impressive. The best part about it was that I judged the ball perfectly from the moment it left the bat and zig-zagged around a few fans and railings to get into position. The catch itself was easy. I was right there. I didn’t have to lunge or jump or do anything except reach up. And that’s probably the only thing that Guthrie saw. As soon as I caught it, I looked at him and held my arms out as if to say, “Was that good enough for you?” (It’s a shame he wasn’t with me when the Twins were hitting.) He just shrugged and held his glove up. It took me a moment to realize that he wanted me to throw the ball to him. So I did. We ended up playing catch for a few minutes, and Jona filmed the tail end of it. Here’s a screen shot of the video that shows me throwing the ball…

…and here’s another screen shot that shows Guthrie throwing it back:

In the screen shot above, the player standing 15 feet behind Guthrie (in the black shirt) is Chris Tillman. At one point when I was about to throw the ball, I noticed him waving and realized that he wanted me to throw it to him over Guthrie’s head. So I did. Then he tossed it to Guthrie, and Guthrie threw it back to me. Fun!

When the throwing session ended, I moved over to foul territory and talked to Tillman for a minute. Here we are shaking hands:

He asked me how many baseballs I’d snagged, and when I told him the grand total, he asked how many I’d caught during games.

“A hundred and twenty-seven foul balls, fourteen homers, and a ground-rule double,” I said.

I asked him if he’d ever tried to catch baseballs in the stands, even as a kid. The answer was “not really.” He said he’d once tried to get one during Spring Training.

“That’s a shame,” I said, “because you’re, like, 8-foot-19. You’d be really good at it.” (For the record, Tillman is 6-foot-5. So unfair. And yes, I’m obsessed with height.)

Ten minutes later, a man called out from the stands and asked Guthrie for two baseballs for his kids. “Can you hook them up?” he asked.

“No,” said Guthrie, “but I know someone who will.” Guthrie then pointed at me and and said, “That guy has thousands of balls and would love to give one to your kids.”

Here’s a photo that was taken during this whole exchange:

“Jeremy,” I said, “I was going to keep this ball because you and I played catch with it, so it’s special, but I’ll tell you what: I’ll give it to one of the kids if you give a ball to the other.”

As I handed the ball over, the Orioles finished hitting, and all the players (including Guthrie) jogged off the field. Bad timing.

Two things happened when the Twins came out:

1) I changed into my Twins gear.
2) The left field seats got really crowded.

Look how many gloves (including mine) ended up in the same spot for a home run in the front row:

I didn’t snag that ball, but did catch one less than a minute later in the same spot. And by the way, I have no idea who hit any of these balls. I think Mark Reynolds connected on the first one that I caught, but I’m not sure.

When several lefties started hitting, I moved to the standing-room-only section (aka “the Flag Court”) in right field. Here I am getting ready to jump for a long home run…

…and here I am in mid-air. The red arrow is pointing from the ball to my glove:

Here I am (STILL in mid-air!) coming down with the ball — my 100th of the season — in my glove:

I don’t think either mid-air photo captured me at the top of my leap. (I love that in the first jumping pic, my glove is blocking the sign that says, “Watch out for batted balls.” How perfect is that?)

Moments later, I caught another home run behind the Flag Court on Eutaw Street. When I saw the ball get up in the air, I backed up through an open gate and felt my back pressed up against a recycling bin. I couldn’t have moved back any farther. Luckily the ball came right to me and narrowly missed hitting the top bar of the gate. It was quite a blast.

There was another fan in the Flag Court who’d also caught two home runs. His name is Eddie, and he told me that he’s caught more than 300 balls overall. In the following photo, he’s the guy wearing orange. The usher pictured below, meanwhile, told us that if we caught another ball, we “had to” give it away to a kid:

That really pissed me off. The usher actually said, “For every three balls you catch, ya gotta give one away. That’s how it is.”

“Yeah, well, I already gave one away in left field,” I told him.

“Well, that’s not here,” he replied.

I’ve given away at least one ball at every game I’ve been to this year. Sometimes I’ve given away two or three, but not because I’m forced to. It bothered me when Guthrie put me on the spot and essentially made me give away my only ball. I forgive him because he’s always been really cool to me, but this usher had absolutely no right to make demands. As a general rule, I never EVER give baseballs to people who ask for them, and I don’t ever give baseballs to kids who aren’t wearing gloves. Sorry, but those are my personal rules.

Well, sure enough, there was another deep home run hit in my direction. Here I am staring up at it…

…and here it is about to fly into my glove:

Years ago, I would’ve kept that ball and told the usher to go you-know-what himself. But things are different now. Even though he should’ve been minding his own business and had no right to demand anything of me, I decided to give away the ball. He’s always in that section. I didn’t want to make an enemy that I’d have to see over and over. Keeping the peace, I realized, was more important than keeping the ball. And when he picked out a kid for me to give the ball to, I handed it to the usher so that he could get the satisfaction of giving it to the kid himself.

BP ended 65 minutes before game time (lame), so I found myself with extra time to kill. The same was true of the other regular ballhawks in attendance, and we all happened to end up in left field. Totally unplanned. Totally cool. THERE we all were.

We decided to gather close together for a few group photos. Here’s one of the lighter moments in between shots:

Yes, I’m wearing a “Shea Stadium” shirt at Camden Yards because…why not?

Let me identify everyone in the photo below…

SITTING (left to right): Rick Gold, Dave, Avi Miller, me, and Tim Anderson.
STANDING (left to right): Alex K, Ben Weil, Zevi, Sean, and Matt Hersl.

Here’s another shot of us sitting in one row:

I can’t even count the number of “balls” jokes that were made. We had lots of laughs and also joked about sitting together during the game and chasing home runs as if we were a mob. Man, it was hilarious. You had to be there, and guess what? You CAN be there. On Saturday, July 23rd, there’s going to be a huge “BallhawkFest” at Camden Yards. Alan Schuster, the founder of the (awesome) website MyGameBalls.com, is working out the details, so stay tuned and drop him a line if you’re interested

During the game, I hung out here for most left-handed batters:

Nothing came my way, but look who caught Vladimir Guerrero’s third-inning homer:

It was Tim!

Here’s a screen shot that shows him celebrating after making the impressive jumping catch:

Meanwhile, this was the only action I saw in the Flag Court:

The Orioles won, 5-4. The game lasted just 2 hours and 18 minutes. After the final out, I didn’t bother going to the ump tunnel or dugouts. I stayed in the outfield (because the final two batters were lefties) and made a beeline for the exit.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 balls at this game (3 pictured on the right because I gave 2 away)

• 102 balls in 14 games this season = 7.29 balls per game.

• 675 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 201 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 4,764 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)

• 36 donors

• $5.74 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $28.70 raised at this game

• $585.48 raised this season

Finally, here’s another photo of the three balls, this time in black light. Check out the invisible ink stamps:

BTW, the reason why I didn’t include a black light photo in my previous entry is that my black light died. Turns out it just needed three new AA batteries, and now I’m back in business.

4/19/11 at Camden Yards

It rained until 4pm.

Camden Yards opened an hour later, and this was the scene:

No batting practice.

Snoresville.

A fellow ballhawk from New York (who desperately needs to update his MyGameBalls.com profile) made an unexpected appearance at this game. His name is Alex, and in the following photo, we’re discussing our snagging strategies for the day:

(That’s me on the left in the Mauer shirt.)

Basically, we both wanted to snag as many baseballs as possible without getting in each other’s way, so we negotiated and planned to cover different parts of the stadium at different times.

Five minutes later, Alexi Casilla walked by while bouncing a ball on his bat, as if to taunt me:

My first ball of the day was thrown by Jose Mijares. Here it is sailing toward my waiting glove:

It was dead after that for a solid hour. The only action involved getting Matt Capps to sign my ticket. Here I am showing it to Jona’s camera…

…and here’s a closer look:

Did I mention that it was dead?

Seriously.

Boring.

B
O
R
I
N
G

There was absolutely nothing to do except sit there:

I decided to pass the time by blowing spit bubbles — a special skill that I picked up at sleep-away camp when I was 12 years old. Here’s one floating out of my mouth:

Jona is normally grossed out by the bubbles. In fact, she hates them so much that she typically responds with violence and abusive language, but things were different this time. Why? Because she had her fancy camera and was willing to take pics.

Here’s another bubble floating out of my mouth…

…and if you can’t spot it in the photo above, here’s a closer look:

Don’t ask me how to blow spit bubbles. When I was 12, I saw a camp counselor doing it, and when I begged him to teach me, all he said was, “It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.” (That’s deep.) Ever since, that’s been my answer whenever someone asks me.

Blowing spit bubbles for the camera made me crack up. That made Jona crack up. And then things just got silly:

Yeah.

Did I mention it was dead?

Shortly before game time, Matt Tolbert tossed me a ball…

…and then I was set to get another from Danny Valencia. Here he is about to throw it my way:

Here’s the ball flying toward me…

…and oh damn:

The ball went to Alex in the 10th row.

Good for Alex.
Bad for me.
It was one of those days.

During the game, I hung out in the standing-room-only section for all the left-handed hitters. Tim Anderson, a Camden Yards regular, joined me for Jim Thome’s at-bats. He normally sits in left field, and in the following photo, he’s pointing out his exact spot:

Thome, sitting on 590 career home runs, went 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the 8th inning. Meanwhile, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer didn’t even play. From a ballhawking standpoint, it was a total waste of time.

Here’s a random photo that Jona took during the game (the Orioles won, 11-0)…

…and here I am showing how I felt about having snagged just two baseballs:

On a positive note, this was the 200th consecutive game at which I’d snagged at least two balls — a streak that dates back to the 2007 All-Star Game.

Finally, since it’s now 4/20 as I sit here blogging, I’ll leave you with this:

Really, Orioles?

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 97 balls in 13 games this season = 7.46 balls per game.

• 674 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 200 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 4,759 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)

• 36 donors

• $5.74 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $11.48 raised at this game

• $556.78 raised this season

4/18/11 at Camden Yards

I attended this game with Jona, owner of a fancy new camera. She thought it’d be cool to take all the photos in black and white, and although I was skeptical at first, I have to admit that she was right. Here’s a look at Camden Yards just after it opened:

I raced out to left field, and before she got there, I snagged three home run balls that landed in the mostly empty seats. (The second one was hit by Derrek Lee; I have no idea who hit the other two.) Unfortunately, I whacked the CRAP out of both of my knees while scrambling for them and felt throbbing pain with every step for the rest of the day. The new cup holders at Camden Yards are killers. There was never much room in between the rows here, and now it’s even worse.

Here I am in the 4th row, trying to ignore my scrapes and soon-to-be bruises:

The seats look almost entirely empty in the photo above, but there were several talented ballhawks (including Tim Anderson, Matt Hersl, and Ben Huff) positioned just behind me.

The second group of Oriole batters featured several lefties, so I ran/limped/winced to the standing-room-only section in right field. There wasn’t nearly as much action as I’d hoped, but I still managed to catch a Felix Pie homer on the fly. Here I am back-peddling for it…

…and here I am making a leaping catch:

Jona took lots of great photos, and they weren’t all action shots. Here’s one that I really like, taken at the Orioles’ dugout…


…which reminds me that when I first ran into the stadium and made my customary beeline through the seats, Jeremy Guthrie shouted at me from the dugout and waved me down to the front row. He thanked me for sending him a copy of The Baseball, but (jokingly) complained that he wasn’t in it.

“You ARE in it,” I said.

“I went straight to the index, and I’m not there,” he replied.

“Check out the acknowledgments,” I told him.

We kept jawing back and forth for a minute after that. He couldn’t believe that despite everything he’d done for me over the last few years, I hadn’t written him into the book. But hey, that’s not what the book is about.

ANYway, I changed into my Twins gear and headed back to left field. Here I am jogging (painfully) through the seats…

…and here I am getting a ball from Matt Capps:

In the photo above, the arrow is pointing from the ball to my glove. Capps is heading off to the right and looking back at me.

I headed back to the standing-room-only section. In the following photo, you can see me standing at the end of the cross-aisle:

Soon after, one of the Twins lefties hit a long home run that was heading right toward Jona. This is how it played out:

As the ball was coming, she ducked and pointed the camera over her shoulder back at me and kept shooting. Wow and a half.

That was my 6th and final ball of batting practice, but I kept on snagging. There were several balls sitting in the Orioles’ bullpen, and I got one of them tossed to me by a groundskeeper. I got more baseballs after that, but hang on for a moment…

Earlier in the day, I ran into a fellow ballhawk named Sam whom I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. He told me that he had a copy of my book with him, so we made a plan to meet up after BP — to catch up for a bit and for me to sign the book. Here we are near the bullpen (right at the spot where I got the ball from the groundskeeper):

We hung out for about 10 minutes, and when I spotted this ball in the Twins’ bullpen…

…I headed closer to it and changed back into my Twins gear.

The move paid off. Someone on the Twins (possibly the bullpen catcher) eventually headed out to the ‘pen and tossed the ball up to me. Here I am reaching out for it…

…and get this: Sam had stayed in the spot where we’d been chatting, and he took a photo at the exact same moment:

(Sam took a color photo, but in the interest of keeping things consistent, I converted it to black and white. I mean, c’mon, we’ve come this far, right? The whole entry has to be black and white.)

Here’s a photo of the guy who tossed me that ball. He’s standing on the left:

Does anyone know who that is?

My 9th ball of the day was tossed by Matt Tolbert along the left field foul line. Here’s a photo that shows Tolbert on the left, the ball in mid-air, and me (in the Mauer shirt) leaning in for the catch:

Tolbert autographed my ticket, and then I got Denard Span to sign Jona’s. Here I am getting Span…

…and here are the autographs:

Three minutes later, Danny Valencia and Luke Hughes began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I got Valencia to toss me the ball — my 10th of the day! — and Jona got a photo of me marking it:

This was the 4,755th ball I’d ever snagged, so I wrote a neat little “4755” on it. I don’t actually mark all my baseballs at this point — just the ones that are special, so I marked this ball because I think that Valencia could end up being a true superstar.

During the game, I split my time between the standing-room-only section and this tunnel:

In the photo above, that’s me standing on the lower left.

Here’s a closeup shot of me in the tunnel:

I wasn’t smiling because I’d narrowly missed two foul balls. One landed 20 feet in front of me on a staircase and bounced five feet directly over my head. The other landed five feet behind me on a staircase, and bounced 20 feet back toward the field. AARRGHH!!! But I still like the photo.

I ran my ass off all night and had nothing to show for it (except more pain in my left knee). But then something funny happened in the bottom of the 9th inning. With the Twins leading, 5-2, I made my way through the cross-aisle on the 3rd base side. Matt Wieters, batting lefty against the right-handed Capps, stepped to the plate. There was one out. My intention was to head down to the Twins’ dugout, but I ran into Sam and his mother. He was really excited because he’d actually gotten Wieters’ home run ball two innings earlier. He’d been sitting next to the bullpen (in THAT spot), and when the ball landed in the ‘pen, he got one of the Orioles to toss it up to him — so we stood there and talked for a minute. Wieters, meanwhile, worked the count to 2-2 and then sliced a sharp foul ball right at me. I could tell right away that it was going to fall a few rows short, so I was hoping for a deflection, and that’s exactly what happened. A gloveless fan stuck his hands up (probably to protect his face more than anything) and deflected it, and the ball shot back two feet to my right, and I stuck my right hand out and made a face-high/bare-handed grab. BAM!!! Just like that. It probably seemed impossibly quick to most people, but the whole thing played out for me as if it were taking place in slow-motion. As soon as the ball had hit the bat, I imagined the exact chain of events that were required for me to snag it, and when it happened, I was all over it.

Here I am moments later with Sam. He’s holding the Wieters home run ball, and I’m holding the Wieters foul ball that I’d just snagged:

Here are two photos of the foul ball. The image on the left shows the smudged logo; the image on the right shows the ball’s invisible ink stamp in black light:

Wieters ended up striking out. Luke Scott then pinch hit and crushed a solo homer to right-center. This was my view for it (although Brian Roberts is actually at bat here):

It was impressive to say the least. Scott’s bat speed was phenomenal. The ball seemed to explode toward the outfield, as if propelled by a gun. I hardly ever sit that close to the action. (At Yankee Stadium, those seats are fiercely guarded and cost about $847,233,492,102 dollars. Maybe if the Yankees didn’t employ so many security guards, they wouldn’t have to charge so much for the seats, you know, to help pay all those salaries. Just a thought.) So it was pretty special to be there, if only for the final two batters of the game.

After the final out, I slipped into the front row…

…and got a VERY dirty/scuffed ball tossed to me by one of the coaches. (Not sure who.) Check it out:

Then, back in the concourse, I gave two brand new baseballs to a couple of random kids. Here I am (wearing the backback) talking to the kids and their parents:

If Eutaw street gets this crowded after a game with 13,138 fans…

…I would hate to see what it looks like at a sellout.

On my way out, I ran into one of the friendliest ushers of all time and reenacted my foul ball snag:

This woman’s name is Kelly. She works in left field near the bullpens. She’s usually hanging out toward the back, in the cross-aisle. If you see her, go say hi and tell her that “Zack from New York” sent you. She’s truly wonderful.

Every time I leave a stadium, I hold my favorite ball of the day. It just makes me happy to actually have it in my hand, as opposed to buried in my backpack. That said, here I am with the Wieters foul ball (although I’m not exactly “holding” it):

Knee injury aside, it was an awesome day. Cup holders and narrow rows aside, Camden Yards is an awesome stadium:

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 12 balls at this game (10 pictured on the right because I gave 2 away)

• 95 balls in 12 games this season = 7.9 balls per game.

• 673 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 138 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 67 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls

• 142 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd; 127 foul balls, 14 home runs, and 1 ground-rule double)

• 4,757 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)

• 36 donors

• $5.74 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $68.88 raised at this game

• $545.30 raised this season

4/17/11 at Yankee Stadium

I attended this game with my friend Danny. Here we are together outside Gate 6, waiting for Yankee Stadium to open:

Danny’s the one with the crazy/awesome hair, and you probably noticed that I pointed out two other fans in the background. More on them in a bit…

The sun was brutal during batting practice…

…and since this was a Sunday, the seats ended up getting really crowded.

I managed to snag two baseballs during the Yankees’ portion of BP, both of which were home runs by Brett Gardner. I didn’t see the first one coming and only realized that it was heading my way when the people around me started jockeying for position. The ball ended up landing 15 feet to my right in an empty row; I caught the other one on the fly.

Now, remember the fan named Edwin in the first photograph? He snagged a ball during BP and asked me to sign it. Here he is with it:

Note the number underneath my name. That was my current/lifetime total of baseballs, and because I snagged a few more soon after, Edwin is the only person who will ever have a “4741” autograph.

I headed over to left field when the Rangers started hitting. This was the view:

See the fan in front row with the gray and red jacket? That’s Jordan, a fellow ballhawk who’s pretty much just getting started with all of this and already knows what he’s doing. I first met him on 4/9/11 at Citi Field and saw him snag a bunch of balls that day.

In the photo above, did you notice the piece of paper taped to the camera?

Here’s a closer look…

…and here’s an even closer look:

It was a cheat sheet with all the players’ faces and names. I used to make sheets like that every game. They really come in handy when trying to identify people, but it’s time-consuming, so I stopped. But now, of course, I’m wondering where that particular cheat sheet came from and if I could somehow get my hands on a copy in the future. Hmm.

The left field seats got crowded:

It wasn’t packed, but as you can see, there wasn’t a totally open row anywhere.

Halfway through the Rangers’ portion of BP, I got Arthur Rhodes to throw me my 3rd ball of the day. Ten minutes later, I snagged two home runs balls pretty much back-to-back. I caught the first one on the fly (after maneuvering around a gloveless, beer-drinking man) and grabbed the second one after it landed. Not sure who hit them. I gave the second ball to a young fan in the front row.

That was it for batting practice — not terrible, but still kinda lame, at least compared to my record-breaking performance three days earlier.

Danny and I sat in straight-away left field during the game, and there was room to run. Check out the view to my right:

In the top of the first inning, Adrian Beltre lifted a deep fly toward the section on my right. I sprung out of my seat, scrambled around the railing, scurried through the empty row, and seriously thought the ball was coming right to me. Ultimately, it carried a bit too far, so I jumped as high as I could for it and missed it by TWO FEET. It landed two rows behind me, and I dove for it (without seeing exactly where it was), but another fan had already snatched it, and before I even stood up, he’d thrown the ball back onto the field. Crapola.

In the photo above, do you see the fan with the red sleeves one section away? That was Jordan, and in the bottom of the 5th inning, he snagged a Russell Martin homer! The seats were more crowded by then, and Jordan was actually trapped in the middle of the row, but Martin hit the ball right to him. The fans in front reached up and bobbled it. If not for them, I’m sure Jordan would’ve caught it on the fly, but anyway, the ball squirted back a few feet, and he was all over it. Nicely done.

There was thunder and lightning during the game, and it rained pretty hard for a few minutes, but thankfully there was no delay. It was cold. The game hadn’t started until 8:05pm — it was the ESPN game of the week — and I wanted to get home. Mariano Rivera took care of that by retiring the Rangers in order in the top of the 9th. It was his seventh save of the season (to go with his 0.00 ERA) and the 566th of his career. The man is not human.

Jordan and I each got a ball from the Rangers’ bullpen after the game. And that was it. Six balls for me. Lots of frustrating moments and close calls. But it was fun hanging out with Danny. That was by far the highlight of my day. Here we are after the stadium had emptied out:

Next time Danny’s gonna bring his glove, and hey, random plug, but he has a poetry blog, so if you’re into that kinda thing, check it out. Here’s the link.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 83 balls in 11 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

• 672 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 144 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 4,745 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)

• 36 donors

• $5.74 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $34.44 raised at this game

• $476.42 raised this season

Finally, here’s a two-part photo that shows the balls in regular light vs. black light:

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