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 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:
• 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
(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