April 2011

4/15/11 at Citizens Bank Park

I attended this game with four friends from my writing group:

1) Erik (from Wisconsin; pictured below in the Brewers cap)
2) Leslie (from Texas; wearing the green sweater)
3) Travis (from Michigan; leaning to his left)
4) Ky (from California; wearing the camera around her neck)

Here they are:

It was the first time that I’d been to a game with any of them. They had no interest in snagging baseballs, but enjoyed seeing me in action, speaking of which…

My first ball of the day was a batting practice home run off the bat of John Mayberry Jr. I was about six rows back in straight-away left field and determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, so I climbed over two rows and lunged out at the last second for a back-handed catch. Here’s a photo of the ball:

Making that catch felt great. I was ready for another monster day ballhawking, but unfortunately that was the only home run I snagged. The players just weren’t hitting much into the seats. It was cold, and the wind was blowing in, and deep fly balls were simply dying.

That said, I still managed to snag several baseballs during the Phillies’ portion of BP. Cliff Lee tossed one to me in left-center, and then I got two more with my glove trick. Here’s a photo of the first of those two glove-trick balls sitting on the field; Lee is walking past on the edge of the grass:

The second glove-trick ball required more of an effort because it rolled onto the warning track in the left field corner:

Check out this awesome photo that Ky took while I was going for it:

(BTW, Ky’s name is pronounced like the word “key.” Her last name, which appears in the bottom left of the photos she took, is pronounced “Hyoon.”)

Here’s another photo she took after I reeled in the ball:

Ky took a bunch of other photos that I wasn’t in. Here’s one of my favorites:

For the first hour at CItizens Bank Park, fans are limited to the left field seats. As a result (and as you can see in the photo above) it gets really crowded, especially in the first few rows, so when it’s cold and the wind is blowing in and the few homers are barely clearing the wall, there’s not much opportunity.

Toward the end of the Phillies’ portion of BP, there was an entire group of left-handed batters. It was a complete waste of time. There was absolutely no chance that any of them would reach the seats, and by that point, the players in the field were only tossing balls to little kids in the front row, so I put away my glove and posed with my No. 4 sign and made a face to show what I think of the stadium:

Citizens Bank Park is the fourth stadium I’ve been to this season, and it’s pretty good for ballhawking. Those of you who’ve read The Baseball know that this stadium didn’t make my Top Ten list in the final chapter, and here’s why: The outfield seats are spacious, and I love that there aren’t any railings on the staircases, but there aren’t any cross-aisles or standing-room-only areas, so when it gets crowded (which is now always), there’s no room to run. Same with foul territory, for the most part.

Here’s a collage of photos from the four stadiums I’ve been to this year. (Only 26 more to go!) I didn’t make faces for the first two, so I’ll try to retake them at some point.

When the Marlins took the field…

…I changed into my Marlins gear and photo-bombed a shot that Ky was taking of Leslie and Travis. Have a look at the photo, and then I’ll explain:

When Leslie and Travis showed up at my apartment in NYC earlier in the day, they were completely underdressed for the frigid night ahead, so I lent them some warm clothes. I gave them several options, and they both went for the Scrabble sweatshirts (which, thank you very much, I got for free for having worked/played/volunteered for the National Scrabble Association). I also lent Erik a sweatshirt, but it was just a plain one, so he didn’t get to be part of the totally rad Scrabble photo.

Ricky Nolasco tossed me my 5th ball of the day, and Clay Hensley tossed No. 6. I gave that one to the nearest kid and headed to right field for the final 20 minutes of BP. This was my view:

I didn’t snag anything there. At one point, I got Edward Mujica to throw me a ball from about 150 feet away, but another fan reached up at the last second and bumped my glove, and neither of us got it. I was really pissed at the time, but hey, these things happen, and he had a right to go for it.

It was Jackie Robinson Day, so all the players were wearing No. 42:

As a result, it was hard to identify them. In the photo above, the player on the left is Hanley Ramirez, and the tallest guy (under the orange AT&T ad) is Mike Stanton, but other than that? Who knows. I was hoping/expecting Ramirez to throw me his warm-up ball, but instead he chucked it to a grown man with no glove who was decked out in Phillies gear. Go figure.

Despite the near-capacity attendance of 45,667, Erik and Travis and Leslie and Ky and I found some empty seats on the third base side. This was our view for most the game:

It was a decent foul-ball spot for left-handed batters, and there was a ball that landed exactly one staircase to my right, but I couldn’t get there. If the seats had been empty, I would’ve been able to drift through my row and make a very easy catch, so that was frustrating. (See what happens when there’s no cross-aisle?)

Here’s a photo that Ky took of the No. 42’s…

…and here’s a photo that I took in the 5th inning:

I’d moved behind the dugout to try to get a third-out ball, and it paid off one inning later. Shane Victorino grounded out (Haha!!) to second baseman Omar Infante to end the bottom of the 6th. Infante threw the ball to Gaby Sanchez for a 4-3 putout, and Sanchez tossed it to me as he jogged off the field.

The Phillies had jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the 1st inning. By the end of the 5th, they were winning, 3-1, but the Marlins scored three unanswered runs and won the game, 4-3. After the final out, I got my eighth ball of the day from home plate umpire Rob Drake, and when the Marlins’ coaches were walking off the field, I started shouting for the lineup cards.

“Yeah, THAT’S not gonna happen,” said a hulking frat-boy-like Phillies fan on my left.

Oh really?

“Whoa, cool!!” he yelled, sounding more like a schoolgirl. “That was pretty slick!!”

Less than a minute later, some random Marlins guy (no idea who) poked his head out of the dugout and moved to the top step. He had two baseballs in his right hand, and he eyed the crowd to find worthy recipients.

“Don’t throw it to him!” shouted the Phillies fan while pointing to me. “He just got one!”

The Marlins guy tossed the first ball to a kid on my left. He then tossed the second ball two feet over my head, so I reached up and gloved it. It occurred to me that he might’ve been aiming for someone behind me, so I turned around, and sure enough, there were two women standing there. I handed the ball to them, and when the Marlins guy saw me do that, he said, “Hang on, I’m gonna get you one.” He then disappeared into the dugout for a moment, then poked his head back out and tossed me another ball — and just like that, I’d stumbled into double digits.

Here’s a closer look at the lineup cards:

If you want to see all the lineup cards I’ve collected over the years, click here.

Here I am with Travis, Ky, Erik, and Leslie after the game:

I drove us back to New York City in record time. It only took 85 minutes to get from the parking lot of the Holiday Inn through the Lincoln Tunnel. Unfortunately (and as I mentioned on Twitter), I ended up getting a ticket while driving through Times Square. I was heading toward 6th Avenue to drop off Erik and Leslie and Travis near the F train when we ran into a police checkpoint. Were the cops looking for drunk drivers? No, of course not. That would’ve been too easy since I hardly ever drink alcohol. Instead, they were looking at everyone’s registration and insurance cards. Well, wouldn’t you know it? My insurance card (technically my mom’s since it’s her car) had expired FOUR DAYS EARLIER. She even had a new card, but hadn’t yet gotten around to putting it in the glove compartment. Sigh. I’m not blaming her. (Love ya, Mom. You’re the best!) I’m just reporting the lameness of the entire situation, but whatever, it was still a great day.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 77 balls in 10 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 671 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 137 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,739 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)

• $57.40 raised at this game

• $441.98 raised this season

Finally, here’s one more photo of the baseballs in black light:

The ball on the lower left (with the “80” stamp) is the one that Gaby Sanchez tossed me after the 6th inning. The ball to the right of it (“448″) came from the umpire. My favorite ball is marked “068” because the invisible ink stamp is so bright. I also like the one marked “429” on the sweet spot. (That could be a “1” to the left of the four, but I think it’s just an open bracket — you know, like the edge of the stamp. Not really sure. I wish I’d taken a closer look at the stamps when I visited the Rawlings baseball factory last year.) Wouldn’t it be cool to have both an autograph and an invisible ink stamp on the sweet spot?

4/14/11 at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium

Two games at two stadiums in one day?

Oh yeah:

Please excuse me for looking pissed off in the Citi Field photo above. The Mets had a single-admission doubleheader against the Rockies starting at 12:10pm, and let’s just say that I had to wake up much earlier than usual to get there before the gates opened. Meanwhile, the Yankees had a 7:05pm game against the Orioles, so it was going to be a long day of baseball. (By the way, the Mets and Yankees don’t often overlap like this; the last time I attended two games at two stadiums in one day was September 10, 2003.)

I expected Citi Field to open at 10:40am — 90 minutes before game time — and I expected there NOT to be batting practice. As it turned out, the stadium didn’t open until 11:10am, but the Rockies were hitting!

Here I am in the front row in left-center field:

Moments after I got there, Troy Tulowitzki hit a home run to straight-away left. The ball landed in the seats, and I managed to snag it during the subsequent scramble. Here I am climbing over a row of seats for it:

Tulo hit another home run soon after. That one pretty much came right to me. The only challenge was not searing my retinas as I looked up into the sun. The two-part photo below shows me shading my eyes (on the left) and then actually making the catch (on the right):

Soon after, I drifted 30 feet to my right and caught a Ty Wigginton homer on the fly. The red arrow below is pointing from that ball to my glove:

As soon as I made the grab, the man standing right behind me said that he was hoping to catch that ball for his son, pictured above in the dark blue shorts with white stripes. Because the man was polite, I tossed the ball to his kid.

Here’s a two-part photo that shows me (after losing the jacket and hoodie) trying to get in position for another home run ball.

I didn’t end up snagging that one because it fell short — the fan in the “WRIGHT” jersey caught it — but I was glad to have judged the flight of the ball perfectly. In the left-hand photo above, I was already climbing forward over a row of seats, long before the ball arrived.

Toward the end of batting practice, I caught one more home run on the fly. I don’t know who hit it. I think it was a lefty, and therefore I’m guessing it was Carlos Gonzalez, but in any case, here’s another two-part photo that shows how it played out:

In the left-hand photo above, I’m racing past two younger fans who must not have thought that the ball was going to reach the seats — more on them in a moment — and in the photo on the right, I’m reaching out for the snag.

After BP, Matt Reynolds and Huston Street played catch in deep left field. Reynolds ended up with the ball and tossed it to me:

In case you’ve lost count, that was my 5th ball of the day.

Now, remember those young fans I pointed out two photos ago? Here I am with them:

They recognized me from this blog, and we all hung out and talked for a while. That’s Eli on the left and Ben on the right. They each snagged one ball and later got a few autographs.

If you look closely at the photo above, you can kinda/almost/barely see that the ball I’m holding doesn’t have a standard MLB logo. Here’s a closer look at it:

Cha-ching!

It was another one of those Salt River Fields balls. (You can read more about these balls here on BigLeagueBaseballs.com.)

Shortly before Game 1 started, Ian Stewart and Troy Tulowitzki played catch in shallow left field. I waved to get Tulo’s attention as they were finishing up…

…and he threw me the ball before jogging back to the dugout.

Here’s a random photo that simply MUST be shared. It shows the thickest/strongest man I’ve ever seen in person:

Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but damn, I’m glad he wasn’t out in the left field seats during BP.

I couldn’t decide where to sit during the game. My preference is always to stay in the outfield and go for home runs, but the left field seats were a bit too crowded to make it worthwhile. I hung out behind the Rockies’ dugout for the first few innings and got a 3rd-out ball from Jason Giambi after Daniel Murphy grounded out to Greg Reynolds to end the bottom of the 3rd. That was cool. I once caught a home run that Giambi hit, but this was the first time that he’d actually tossed one to me.

This is where I sat for the second half of the game:

As you can see, there were empty seats all around me, but nothing came my way.

The game itself was exciting. The Mets took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 4th. The Rockies then scored in three straight innings to pull ahead, 6-2. The Mets scored three runs in the bottom of the 9th to chase closer Huston Street and narrow the deficit to 6-5. Three batters later, they loaded the bases with two outs. David Wright stepped to the plate and worked a full count and blasted a deep fly ball to right field…which Seth Smith caught on the warning track to end the game. That ball would’ve been 10 rows deep at Yankee Stadium, but here in Queens, batters actually have to earn it.

I worked my way down to the dugout after the final out…

…but didn’t get any more baseballs. I ended up snagging seven at this game and keeping six of them. Here’s a two-part photo that shows the balls in regular light vs. black light:

At the start of the day, my plan had been to leave Citi Field no later than 3:30pm. Even staying that late would’ve been pushing it, but of course this first game lasted 3 hours and 23 minutes, and since it didn’t start until 12:10pm (and since there was no way I was going to leave during that exciting ninth inning), I ended up being way behind schedule. Still, I stopped to sign a ball for a fan named Stuart…

…before rushing to the No. 7 train:

In the photo above, do you see the man standing on the left with the green Mets bag? That’s a very good friend of mine named George Amores. He and I met way back in 1992 because we both attended lots of games at Shea and Yankee Stadiums; I was there, of course, to snag baseballs, and he was there to get autographs. Here’s a photo of us (taken yesterday, not in 1992) on the train:

George peeled off after a few stops. I stayed on until Grand Central, then transferred to the No. 4 train and rode that uptown to 161st Street. Here I am (carrying the backpack in the photo below) on the subway platform at Yankee Stadium:

Here I am (looking pissed off once again, but actually loving life) waiting for the gates to open.

When I left Citi Field, I only had something like 78 minutes until the gates were going to open in the Bronx, and I arrived with less than 10 minutes to spare. Thankfully, my friend Ben Weil (facing me in the photo above…with his left arm bent up) was holding a spot for me at the front of the line.

As soon as the gates opened, we raced out to right field. Ben slowed down near the foul pole to look for balls in the seats. (There were none.) I kept running to the section near the bullpen, and when I got there, one of the security guards unexpectedly handed me a ball. That might sound like a cheap way to get one, but I decided long ago to count balls that are given to me by stadium employees. Fans? No way, and I’ve rejected plenty of those. But anyone who works for a team (and therefore isn’t allowed to keep baseballs)? Absolutely.

Moments later, thanks to my request in Spanish, I convinced one of the Yankees’ Latino players to toss me a ball that had rolled onto the warning track. Here I am about to catch it:

I think it was Ivan Nova who tossed me that ball, but I’m not sure.

Anyway, enough with the charity balls and easy toss-ups. Ready to see some action shots? The following photo sequence shows me catching an A-Rod homer on the fly, and although it took place in a mostly-empty section during batting practice, it was still pretty special.

This is where I was standing when he hit it:

Here I am moving to my right:

Here I am getting ready to jump for it:

Here I am in mid-air:

Now wait…

In the photo above, I wasn’t at the top of my leap. I was still on the way up. The following photo shows how high I got:

Here’s a closer look at my glove from the previous photo. Note the ball peeking through the webbing of the pocket:

When I first made the catch, I didn’t really think I’d jumped that high. I figured I’d gotten about one foot off the ground, but when I saw this photo later, I was like…damn. If you look back at the photo in which I’m moving to my right, you can see that the back of the seats are thigh-high — kinda just below the bottom of my butt. And if you look back at the photo where I’m at the top of my leap, you can see the differential. (Not bad for a 33-year-old white guy, eh?)

Anyway, because I had to reach out and make a fully extended back-handed catch, I ended up twirling 180 degrees in mid-air. Here I am facing completely away from the field on my way down:

Ta-daaa!!

Moments later, I caught a Nick Swisher homer on the fly. I was in the last row and nearly got robbed by some guy in the bleachers:

I caught another Swisher homer (my fifth ball of the day at Yankee Stadium). Then I changed into my bright orange Orioles shirt and headed over to the left field side. On the way, I ran into a friendly security supervisor that I’ve known for years. I gave him a high-five, pulled a brand new baseball out of my backpack, handed it to him, and said, “Give this to the kid of your choice.”

Once I reached the left field seats, Kevin Gregg and Mike Gonzalez tossed me balls within one minute of each other. Here I am about to catch the one from Gonzalez:

As I’ve mentioned before, I keep detailed stats for all the balls I’ve snagged. I don’t have all my stats memorized, so when I got home, I realized that the ball from Gonzalez was the 4,400th that I’d snagged since my consecutive games streak began. (For those who don’t know, I’ve gotten at least one ball at every game I’ve attended since September 10, 1993.) (There’s something about September 10th and years ending in the number 3. I better make sure to attend a game on September 10, 2013 — assuming the world doesn’t end.)

My eighth ball of the day (not counting Citi Field for the moment) was a home run hit by Vladimir Guerrero. It carried into the last row, and I out-scrambled a few other fans for it:

(My friend Ben is actually here right now as I’m writing this. He just said, “I’m pretty sure it was only me that you out-scrambled.”)

During a quick break in the action soon after, I gave away another baseball, this time to a young girl who’d wandered over with her father. Here he is taking a photo of us:

Before he took the photo, I pointed out the logo of the ball to the girl and suggested that she hold it so that it was facing the camera. Details! Details!

Here’s another cool photo of a ball I didn’t catch. Someone on the Orioles hit a home run that was heading for the fence that separates the stands from the bullpen. While the ball was in mid-air, I raced a full section to my left, then jumped and reached over the railing and tried to pull it back. Check it out:

Unfortunately it was just beyond my reach, but I made up for it by catching a Mark Reynolds homer on the fly. Here I am climbing back over a row of seats while tracking the ball:

That was my 9th ball of the day. I was looking forward to reaching double digits, hoping I would break my own “new Yankee Stadium” record of 11, and really really hoping to break Alex K‘s new Yankee Stadium record of 12.

Well…

Here I am out-scrambling Ben once again (he’s laughing right now in a very good-natured way) for my 10th ball of the day:

It was another home run. I don’t know who hit it. Possibly Robert Andino. Sorry for the blurry photo, but it’s all I got. Special thanks to my photographer who was with me all day and got lots of incredible shots — like this one:

(Ben just said, “Special thanks to Ben who failed to out-scramble me for any ball on this particular day…I love this photo because it just describes us so well. It shows my disappointment and you feeling bad for me.”)

Ball No. 11 was another homer, hit by the same guy (Andino?) who’d connected on the previous one. Here I am climbing forward over a row of seats as the ball was descending…

…and here I am about to catch it:

Ben had been in that spot all day, and nothing was hit to him. The moment he left (to try to get a ball tossed to him in the front row), a ball landed right here. You can see him in the photo above, eyeing me with dismay. Life is funny sometimes.

Speaking of funny, check out the following two-part photo. It shows me catching my 12th ball of the day — a home run hit by (I think) Cesar Izturis:

In the left-hand photo above, look at my wimpy right arm, and in the right-hand photo above, look at the guy standing in front of me. He’s like, “Ayyy! Don’t hurt me!”

(This was the 12th home run I’d snagged all day — four at Citi Field and eight at Yankee Stadium. Of these 12 homers, I caught nine on the fly — three at Citi and six at Yankee.)

As soon as I caught that ball, I tossed it to a kid in the front row. It was the fourth ball I’d given away on this fine day (the third at Yankee Stadium), and five seconds later, I realized that it was my record-breaking ball. I was tempted to ask the kid if I could give him a different ball instead, but that seemed like a lame thing to do. My only option, therefore, was to snag another ball — and I got one after BP from Orioles bullpen catcher Ronnie Deck. I had raced over to the dugout as soon as BP ended and got him to toss it to me (over the partition) as he was dumping the balls from the basket to a zippered equipment bag. Here I am posing with it:

As for Ben…don’t ask.

(“You just saved me from writing my own blog,” he just said. “I’m gonna post this on my Facebook.”)

The only thing he got was a battered leg. Here he is showing me his multitude of scrapes and bruises:

My facial expression says it all, and by the way, that’s Mateo looking on in the burgundy sweatshirt. He snagged two baseballs at this game.

Shortly before the game started, I snagged my 14th ball of the day. Cesar Izturis tossed it to me after warming up in front of the dugout. Here I am about to make the catch:

This is where I sat (and sometimes stood) during the game:

The section was much more crowded than I’d expected, but what could I do? It’s impossible to move anywhere at Yankee Stadium, so I was stuck there all night.

As for the game, it was another good one. The Orioles scored two runs in the 3rd, one run in the 4th, and two more in the 5th to take a 5-0 lead. The Yankees then methodically chipped away, scoring one in the 5th, two in the 6th, and one in the 7th to make it a 5-4 game. Jorge Posada led off the bottom of the 9th with a homer off Kevin Gregg. Mariano Rivera shut down the O’s with a seven-pitch effort in the top of the 10th. Nick Swisher hit a game-winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the frame. Poor Orioles.

After the game, in an attempt to break my all-time (new or old) Yankee Stadium record of 14 balls, I tried unsuccessfully to get the attention of the players and coaches in the Orioles’ bullpen:

Oh well.

Here’s a post-game look at the famous intersection of 161st Street and River Avenue:

Ready for two games’ worth of stats rolled into one? (I don’t know how else to do it.)

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 21 balls at these two games (17 pictured on the right because I gave four away)

• 67 balls in 9 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.

• 670 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 361 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 143 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 136 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,729 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)

• $120.54 raised at these two games

• $384.58 raised this season

And hey, here’s a two-part photo of the 11 balls I kept from Yankee Stadium. Once again, the image on the left shows the balls in regular light, and the image on the right shows them in black light:

Phew!

Charlie Sheen autograph

Remember when I blogged last month about how Charlie Sheen got me fired from CBS in 2003? Well, I finally got around to photographing the ball that he signed for me. Here it is…

…and FYI, the number “2126” is written on the ball because it was the 2,126th ball that I had snagged at a major league game. That’s how I used to (and still sometimes) mark my baseballs.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to leave for a baseball game in Philadelphia. More tomorrow…

4/12/11 at Yankee Stadium

The weather was crappy. Seriously crappy. It was raining when I left my apartment. It was raining when I got off the No. 4 train at 161st Street. And it was raining when I ran inside Yankee Stadium.

This was the result:

No batting practice.

Last season, I never would’ve left home on a day like this. I was hard at work on The Baseball and didn’t have much free time, so I had to choose my games wisely. In other words, I pretty much only went to games if the weather was nice, and as a result, I averaged 9.5 balls per game. This season, that number is already way down, and that’s fine. I’m more interested in the total number of balls that I snag, and I’m also making more of an effort to catch game home runs, so even if it rains, there’s a good chance that I’ll be there.

Anyway, as you can see in the photo above, several Orioles were playing catch. At one point, Zach Britton (the lefty wearing orange) made a low throw that skipped past Jake Arrieta and bounced all the way into the sixth row. Unfortunately, I was stuck behind the partition (seven rows back), but since there weren’t any other fans around me, the nearest security guard had no choice but to toss the ball to me. Here’s a photo of her:

The photo above shows the partition. See the railing and the row of cup holders? You can’t get any closer than that unless you pay zillions of dollars for a ticket right near the field.

Two minutes after the guard tossed me that ball, I got one of the Orioles to throw me another — and he threw it HARD, easily 60 to 70 miles per hour. I’m not sure who it was. I took a rushed/blurry photo of him and emailed it to my friend Avi, who’s a diehard Orioles fan and knows everything about the team. This was his reply:

“He’s a random coach the Orioles have, last name I think is Mauro (something like that, maybe Mavro, don’t remember). I see him during BP in a uni but nowhere else. I’ll text Ronnie Deck (bullpen catcher) in the morning to ask his name.”

I haven’t yet gotten a follow-up email from Avi, but I’m confident that he’ll figure out this mini-mystery for me.

Speaking of Ronnie Deck, I believe that’s who tossed the final ball into the seats. He lobbed it to a man and his two young daughters who were standing just behind the partition, ten feet to my left. The ball sailed too high, ricocheted absurdly off a railing, and trickled right to me through an empty row. I picked it up and handed it to one of the girls, and yes, I do count that ball in my stats.

At 6:40pm I was interviewed by phone for a podcast on a Phillies blog called FightinPhillies.com. Before I post the link to it, I have to warn you that I was a bit distracted for four reasons:

1) It was really noisy at the stadium and hard to hear.
2) My friends Andrew and Dorkys showed up mid-interview.
3) I was getting rained on.
4) I heard an announcement that the Yankee game had been postponed.

That said, click here if you’d like to listen to the interview. Despite the distractions, I think it still turned out great.

Here I am with Andrew and Dorkys just after the game had been called off. Look how sad we are:

Andrew asked a good question as we were heading out of the stadium: “How does this affect your stats?”

The answer is that I do count it as a “game” because…the three baseballs I snagged didn’t materialize out of thin air.

“But what if you hadn’t snagged any balls?” he asked.

I shrugged. I’d been to lots of postponed games over the years, and I’d always managed to get at least one ball.

Andrew, a huge Lakers fan, compared it to the “and one” situation in basketball: if you get fouled while taking a shot, it only counts as a shot attempt if you make it. I never thought of ballhawking at a postponed game that way — it only counts if you snag something — but it makes perfect sense.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 3 balls at this “game”  (two pictured here because I gave one away)

• 46 balls in 7 games this season = 6.57 balls per game.

• 668 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 142 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 4,708 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)

• $17.22 raised at this game

• $264.04 raised this season

Two more things…

1) Here’s a side-by-side photo of the two balls I kept — one photo in regular light and another in black light:

2) On my way to this game, I took a photo from the train of the old Yankee Stadium, or rather what’s there now. Check it out:

So sad.

4/11/11 at Citi Field

The Mets are trying really hard to encourage people to buy season tickets. Yesterday, when I ran inside the stadium for batting practice, there was a fenced-off area ON THE FIELD for season ticket holders to hang out and snag baseballs. Check it out:

Of course, the Dodgers have been doing the same thing for years, and they provide a much bigger area to hang out, and you don’t even need to be a season ticket holder to be there. If the Mets want people to buy season tickets, they should let the fans take BP on the field, like the Pirates do. Granted, the Pirates have far fewer fans, but it could still be done. I would actually buy a full season ticket plan just for the opportunity to do that. (Are you listening, Mets? No, of course not. Whatever. Your loss.) And by the way, in the photo above, the fan standing in the fourth row is a good friend and very talented ballhawk named Greg Barasch.

Anyway, I began the day with a lifetime total of 4,699 baseballs, so the first ball I snagged was extra special. And here it is. It was thrown to me by Jason Isringhausen:

I don’t have all my ballhawking stats memorized — imagine that! — so I didn’t realize until I got home that this ball was also the 200th that I’d ever snagged at Citi Field.

My second ball of the day was tossed by Bobby Parnell in left-center field — nothing special about that one — but the next ball I caught literally made me gasp. Are you aware that the Rockies and Diamondbacks opened a joint Spring Training facility this year, and that there was a commemorative ball used during all the games there? I’d read about it in this outstanding article on BigLeagueBaseballs.com. I don’t count Spring Training (or minor league) balls in my collection. I haven’t even been to Spring Training since 1995, so I was hoping that some of these balls would make their way to major league stadiums. In any case, my third ball of the day was a home run that was hit by a right-handed batter on the Rockies. There were several fans near me (including Greg) so I jumped at the last second and caught it just above several other gloves. I didn’t look at the ball right away. I took a moment to trash-talk with Greg, and then…

OH. MAH. GAWD.

It had the logo! I was so happy to get to add it to my collection of commemorative balls. Here’s a closer look at it:

Is it just me or does the commemorative logo look better in the photo at the stadium than in the closeup shot? I hate to say this, but I think the logo actually wore off a bit in my backpack between the time that I snagged it and returned home six hours later. That’s never happened before, and it’s incredibly frustrating/puzzling that it happened now. As for the logo itself, note how the outline of the Rocky Mountains is formed by a snake. Rockies…Diamondbacks…get it? Very nice touch.

I caught another home run on the fly in left field, and once again, I have no idea who hit it. All I can tell you is that I drifted 20 feet to my right for an easy back-handed grab. Then, when several lefties started hitting, I moved to this spot in right field:

I wasn’t expecting to catch a home run there because there’s not much room to run. I was just hoping that one of the Rockies would toss a ball to me, but whaddaya know, someone did hit a homer right to me. (I mean right to me.) And yes, for the record, I caught that one on the fly too.

After BP, I took a photo of that section from the other side of the stadium. The spot where I caught the ball is directly above the “378” sign:

Now, you know how I’m trying to visit all 30 major league stadiums this season and taking pics with numbered signs along the way? Yesterday I thought it’d be fun to make faces that show how I feel about the various stadiums (so I might have to retake the photos from Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards). Here’s what I came up with for Citi Field…

…and here I am with my friend Ben Weil, who took that photo:

Ben attends lots of games and usually snags at least a ball or two. He’s really cool, so go say hi if you see him. He’s easy to spot because he has a few facial piercings and always wears a jersey of the visiting team.

I was in the perfect spot to snag a warm-up ball during pre-game throwing…

…but ended up losing a ball instead. Okay, I didn’t exactly “lose” it. The Rockies tossed their baseballs elsewhere, and I gave one of my own to the only kid who was standing near me and shouting at the players.

In the photo above, do you see the empty section in right-center field above the “Nikon” and “Geico” ads? There were only TWO fans in that entire section when the game started, so I headed out there. Granted, I was 8 million feet from home plate, but it was still exciting to sit in Home Run Land without any competition. This was the view to my left:

This was the view to my right:

And here’s what the section looked like behind me:

Wow and a half.

Unfortunately, over the next two innings, the section filled up just enough to make it worthless for my purposes, so I wandered all over the place. This was the first spot I went to…

…and it paid off (as I expected) when Carlos Beltran whiffed to end the 3rd inning. Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta took the ball with him as he jogged off the field, and he tossed it to me before disappearing into the dugout.

That’s when a security guard kicked me out of the section, or at least out of the seats directly behind the dugout. I had a seat in the 26th row of that section, but rather than heading back there, I moved here for the middle innings:

There were lots of left-handed batters. My plan was to catch a foul ball that one of them would hopefully slice in my direction, but there wasn’t any action.

The Mets played such a sloppy game (shocker) that lots of fans left early. I took advantage of the emptier seats by moving to left field. This was my view:

With one out in the top of the 8th, Troy Tulowitzki belted a line-driver homer to left field. It landed exactly one staircase to my left, and I couldn’t get there in time.

After the game, another friend and fellow ballhawk named Ryan Restivo pointed out a ball that was wedged underneath a padded railing in the Rockies’ dugout:

We were both shouting for it (okay, fine, I did most of the shouting), and when I asked the ballboy for it, the response was something along the lines of, “You have every baseball! Don’t you have enough?! I never forget a face.” (He said this in a particularly snotty tone of voice.) Then he picked up the ball, which turned out to have the commemorative Salt River Fields logo, and disappeared with it. Booooo!!!

On a happier note, Ryan brought his copy of The Baseball, and I signed it for him. Here we are with it:



Final score: Rockies 7, Mets 6.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game  (five pictured here because I gave one away)

• 43 balls in 6 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

• 667 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 360 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 4,705 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

• $246.82 raised this season

Finally, here’s a side-by-side photo of the five balls I kept — one in regular light and another in black light:

I love that the Salt River Fields ball has a faint invisible ink stamp beside the commemorative logo. The ball on the lower right is the one that Chris Iannetta tossed me during the game, and the ball on top (with the “practice” stamp under the MLB logo) is No. 4,700. That one doesn’t have an invisible ink stamp, and if you’ve read my entry called “Baseballs and black light,” you’ll know why.

4/9/11 at Citi Field

BAD NEWS: Citi Field no longer opens two and a half hours early. More on this at the end of the entry, but for now, all I can say is that after receiving a tweet about it two days ago, I had to experience it to believe it.

Naturally, since this was just the Mets’ second home game of the season, and because it was a weekend and because the gates opened half an hour later than everyone expected, there was a huge crowd waiting to get in:

Thankfully I was at the front of the line (I headed to the back to take that photo), but it made no difference. I didn’t snag a single baseball during the Mets’ portion of batting practice. Finally, after being inside the stadium for more than half an hour, I got Nationals pitcher Chad Gaudin to throw me a ball near the left field foul pole. Here’s a photo of the ball with Gaudin in the background.

This was a special ball for me. It marked the 500th consecutive game in New York at which I’d snagged at least one ball — a streak that dates back to September 10, 1993. The ball was also special because it was an actual official ball (albeit one with a crooked logo and a “practice” stamp on the sweet spot) as opposed to the cheapo training balls that the Nationals had been using for years.

My second ball of the day was thrown by Livan Hernandez in left-center field…

…and as soon as I caught it, I handed it to a 10-ish-year-old girl on my left (who was wearing a glove and trying hard to get a ball on her own).

My third ball of the day was a home run that I caught on the fly. I’m not sure who hit it. Might’ve been Ryan Zimmerman or Michael Morse or Jayson Werth, but in any case, I was in left-center and drifted 20 feet to my left and reached up at the last second for the easy one-handed catch. That ball was brand new, as was the one that Matt Stairs tossed me at the dugout after BP.

That was it. Four balls. Not great. But I was satisfied. Given the circumstances, I really couldn’t have done much better.

Over the course of BP, three young fans asked me to sign baseballs, and each was special for a different reason. First take a look at the photo below, and then I’ll explain:

The fan in the green Mets hat is named Zach. He was very excited to meet me and mentioned that he’d watched all my YouTube videos. It was truly flattering, and I enjoyed talking to him and getting to watch him in action.

The fan wearing the Midville hoodie is named J.P. He was in foul territory when I got the ball from Gaudin, and he called out to me and asked if he could have my autograph. “Yeah, c’mon over here!” I called back. Note the railing behind him. At Citi Field, it’s impossible to cut through the seats from foul to fair territory. You have to walk up the steps, head through the concourse, and then walk back down. It’s really annoying. Great American Ball Park has a similar partition in the left field corner. I don’t understand why stadiums are built like that, but anyway, J.P. gave up his spot along the foul line and made the effort to come up and around, so that was cool.

Then there was Jamie, the fan in the NY Giants hoodie. I was talking to some friends behind the dugout after BP, so he approached me cautiously and politely with his father. He asked me to sign a ball that was already autographed by several players, so that was flattering too.

Then these guys asked me to sign their Mets Magazine:

After I signed it, the older boy said, “You’re a player, right?”

“A player?!” I replied. I felt terrible for having defaced his magazine.

“Yeah,” he said, “Which team do you play for?”

It was an odd question for two reasons. First, if I were a player, I wouldn’t have been hanging out in the stands, and second, I was decked out in Nats gear, so again, if I were a player, I certainly wouldn’t have been on any other team. But I can understand why they made the assumption. I’d been signing autographs and talking to lots of people and taking photos, so they guessed right in assuming I was someone. Ultimately I explained who I was and apologized for the misunderstanding, but they didn’t seem upset at all. In fact, they actually seemed intrigued to hear that I’d written a few books and snagged so many baseballs.

Look who I got a photo with next:

Do these guys look familiar? That’s Joe Faraguna on the left (who’s now as tall as me, dammit) and Ross Finkelstein on the right. They’re both former Watch With Zack clients. Joe first attended a game with me on 5/8/09 at Citi Field. He and I combined that day to set the record for the most balls at a Watch With Zack game with 22. We also went to a game together on 7/6/09 at Citizens Bank Park, and then the following season, Joe set another record on 6/23/10 at Camden Yards: most balls at a single game snagged by a client…eleven! Ross, meanwhile, has attended two games with me and might join me for another this summer, possibly at Camden Yards. He outsnagged me, 5 balls to 2, on 9/6/09 at Citi Field, and then we combined for 16 balls on 9/23/09 at Citi Field. Good times. If you want to see all the Watch With Zack snagging stats, click here.

What happened next might shock you, but it was part of the plan: I left the stadium and went home. Here’s a look at the Jackie Robinson Rotunda on my way out:

I had to be at a party back in Manhattan by about 9pm (this WAS a Saturday night, after all), and I was given a free ticket to this game, so I figured, why not go for a couple hours and check out the scene and snag a few balls and then be on my way? BTW, there was no mention of baseball at the party. I didn’t find out until 2am that the Mets had won, 8-4.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave one away)

• 37 balls in 5 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.

• 666 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 359 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 4,699 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)

• $22.96 raised at this game

• $212.38 raised this season

Ready to see the three baseballs in black light? Here’s a side-by-side photo so you can compare:

As you can see, the invisible ink stamps appear on all three balls, but they’re all messy and partially rubbed off. I love the illuminated MLB logo on the bottom ball. That’s the one that Chad Gaudin tossed my way. Show of hands: how many of you have bought black lights in the last month?

Finally, let’s get back to the issue of gate opening times at Citi Field…

The Jackie Robinson Rotunda now opens two hours early for all home games; on Saturdays and Sundays, season ticket holders can enter 30 minutes earlier than that. Unlike Rangers Ballpark, where season ticket holders can bring non-season-ticket-holding friends inside, you actually have to have your own season ticket at Citi Field — and not just any type of partial season plan, but a FULL season ticket. It’s a real pain, and you can imagine how frustrating it was for me yesterday to stand there helplessly and watch the few season ticket holders trickle into the stadium ahead of me. The bigger issue, however, beyond early access for season ticket holders is that the stadium now opens half an hour later. For everyone.

Prior to this season, the Mets had opened their stadiums (Shea and now Citi) two and a half hours early since 1994. Ownership had to be extra fan-friendly at that time because the team had lost 103 games the year before. Why is the policy changing now? (Do the Mets expect to be good this year? They’ll be lucky to win 75 games.) Why deprive fans of the opportunity to see the entire portion of their home team’s batting practice? EVERY SINGLE MAJOR LEAGUE STADIUM SHOULD OPEN TWO AND A HALF HOURS EARLY EVERY DAY. This should be a league-wide policy. It would be GOOD for baseball, and it’s especially important in New York (and Los Angeles and St. Louis and Boston and Minnesota and a few other places), where there are so many fans.

I want to know who made the decision that Citi Field should open later, and I want to know why. Just how much money do the Mets save each game by keeping the fans out until 5:10pm? I called the Mets yesterday and asked who’s behind this. I was told that it was a decision by ownership and the “guest experience” department. I asked for a name, but was not given one. It’s probably too late to change anything this season, but I suggest that we all start making phone calls and writing letters and trying to get to the bottom of it. I know I’m not the only one who’s upset about this, so if you feel the same way I do, let’s make some noise and let the Mets (and other teams) know that we’d like things to change. Let’s start by getting a name. Was it Fred Wilpon himself? Help me investigate, and let’s see if we can do something about this. GAH!!!

4/7/11 at Camden Yards

My secret photographer was with me once again and (as usual) got some shots of me running all over the place. Here I am dashing through the seats for a batting practice homer:

(Puerto Rico in the house!)

I can’t remember if I snagged the ball that I was running for in the photo above, but I did grab three home run balls within the first 10 minutes, all of which landed in the seats. The first was hit by Mark Reynolds, and the next two came off the bat of Derrek Lee.

Here I am tracking Lee’s second homer:

In the photo above, the two guys in the orange Orioles shirts are Camden Yards regulars. Tim Anderson is wearing the “SCOTT 30″ shirt, and Avi Miller is running up the stairs on the far left.

Several minutes later, Orioles pitcher Jake Arrieta wandered near the warning track to retrieve a ball. I had just changed into my Tigers gear, so I didn’t even bother asking him for it. (The reason why I changed early is that the Tigers were already playing catch along the foul line, and because the Orioles rarely toss balls into the crowd during BP.)

Arrieta must’ve seen me change because he looked up and asked, “Why are you wearing a Tigers shirt?”

“I’m just wearing it to try to get the Tigers to toss me a ball,” I said apologetically.

This is what happened next:

That’s right. Arrieta tossed me the ball anyway — and then he told me to throw it back:

We ended up playing catch for two minutes, and we threw nothing but knuckleballs. It was kind of wimpy because we were only 40 feet apart, but it was still fun. Ultimately he let me keep the ball. Below are two cool photos of it. The image on the left shows the extensive grass stains; the image on the right was taken in black light. Note the invisible ink stamp below the MLB logo:

If you haven’t yet seen my entry called “Baseballs and black light,” you must check it out immediately. Here’s the link.

I headed over to the foul line and got my 5th ball of the day from an on-field security guard. Here’s a photo of the ball being tossed to me:

Looks incredibly easy, right? Well, the catch itself was easy, but there was more to it than what you can see here. A right-handed batter on the Tigers had hit a ground ball just inside third base. I knew it was going to hook to me, but one of his teammates was standing on the foul line, and the ball was heading right to him. As he prepared to scoop it up, I yelled, “Let it go! Let it go!” The player (not sure who) understood that the ball was heading toward a fan in the front row, so he backed off and let it roll. The guard, however, stopped the ball with his foot just before I was about to reach out and snag it. I think he felt guilty after doing that, so he picked it up and tossed it to me.

Back in straight away left field, I finally managed to catch a home run on the fly, and it took a bit of an effort. I’m not sure who hit it, but anyway, the ball was heading 15 feet to my left, and as soon as it got up in the air, I could tell that it was going to sail a bit too far, so I climbed back over a row of seats…

…and then moved farther down the row for the catch:

In the photo above, the guy two rows behind me in the white shirt is another Camden regular. His name is Ben Huff, and he’s about 6-foot-30 and catches everything, so don’t stand anywhere near him. He’s perfectly nice, but he WILL out-snag you. Beware.

The following four-part photo shows what happened on my 7th ball of the day. See how much of the action you can figure out on your own, and then I’ll give the play-by-play account:

1) An unidentifiable right-handed batter on the Tigers hit a deep drive toward some fans in the front row. The arrow is pointing to the ball.

2) The two grown-ups and the little kid all reached out for it. I stayed just to the right because (a) I didn’t want to interfere with their chance to catch a home run and (b) in case they missed it, I didn’t want the ball to deflect off their hands and hit me in the face. (I did once get hit in the face by a deflection. Remember? It happened on 4/22/08 at Champion Stadium.)

As it turned out, all three of them missed/deflected the ball. I was able to snag it in the second row, and I handed it to the kid.

3) Moments later, the kid and his father decided to leave the section. On their way up the steps, I got a high-five from the kid…

4) …and from the father.

That was it for BP. Not great. Not terrible. I used to do much better in Baltimore, but now that I have to compete with Avi and Tim and Ben (and usually Matt Hersl) everyday,  my numbers are way down.

After BP, I met up with a friend from Baltimore named Adam. Look what he’d brought with him:

It’s a copy of my new book, The Baseball. I signed it for him, and we ended up hanging out for most of the game. (I’ve posted pics of Adam before, so he might look familiar.)

Shortly before game time, a bunch of Tigers played catch along the left field foul line. Austin Jackson tossed me his ball when he finished, and then I moved over to get in position for Ramon Santiago. There was a little kid on my left with a glove. I asked him if he’d gotten a ball yet, and he said no.

“If Ramon Santiago doesn’t throw you that ball,” I told him, “I’ll give you this one that I just got from Austin Jackson.”

The kid was too stunned to be excited, and he didn’t quite know what to make of the whole situation, so I explained that no matter what happened, he was going to get a ball.

For whatever reason, Santiago ended up tossing the ball to me:

As soon as I caught it, I held my glove open for the kid and let him grab the ball. (I know, I know, I promised him the ball from Jackson, but ended up giving the ball from Santiago instead. Oh no.)

Then I moved closer to home plate and got my 10th ball of the day from Victor Martinez:

Martinez gave me a bounce-pass. He aimed low and skipped the ball to me off the rubberized warning track. As you can see in the photo above, no one was even paying attention to Martinez because Miguel Cabrera was signing autographs nearby, and yes, I got Miggy to sign my ticket:

Adam and I spent most of the game in the Flag Court…

…but nothing was hit there all night. There were three home runs, but one (Vladdy Guerrero) went to center field, another (Alex Avila) went to straight-away right, and the last (Adam Jones) went to left. And…it was freezing. And the game moved at a painfully slow pace. And both of my knees hurt from having smacked them against the new cup holders in left field. I was happy, of course, to simply BE at a baseball game, but the whole day/night was draining and physically uncomfortable.

Final score: Orioles 9, Tigers 5.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game  (8 pictured here because I gave 2 away)

• 33 balls in 4 games this season = 8.25 balls per game.

• 665 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 135 lifetime games with at least ten balls

• 65 lifetime games outside of New York with at least ten balls

• 4,695 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)

• $57.40 raised at this game

• $189.42 raised this season

Here’s one more double-photo of the eight balls I kept. The image on the left shows them in normal light; the image on the right shows them in black light. As you can see, six of the balls have invisible ink stamps:

Meanwhile, I’m still in Baltimore, and the weather is terrible, but I’m still planning to attend the game tonight (against the Rangers). No way there’s gonna be BP. I’d love to snag five balls and reach 4,700, but that might be impossible.

UPDATE: It’s 5:23pm, and I’m *not* going to the game tonight. It’s absolutely freezing and rainy, and I didn’t pack warm clothes. I was just outside for 10 minutes, and my hands were completely numb. I’m not going to risk getting sick by being outside for the next five hours (or more if there’s a rain delay). I have a big/non-baseball weekend ahead of me, and I’m planning to attend a bunch of games next week. Gotta look at the big picture.

ANOTHER UPDATE:  The game got rained out. Haha! I made the right decision.

4/6/11 at Camden Yards

The good news is that I had a personal photographer with me. The bad news is that I got massively held up at the turnstiles:

It might appear that I was about to be the first fan to enter the stadium, but that was not the case. Several dozen people had already raced in ahead of me, and that’s when the ticket scanner decided to stop working. Once I got in, the only way to make up for my lost time was to SPRINT through Eutaw Street and head for the left field seats:

(I’m flying! I’m flyyyyyyy-ing!!)

Once I made it to left field, I asked Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman if we could play catch. He ignored me at first, but a minute later he turned around and chucked a ball to me.

“Thanks!” I yelled, thinking that he was simply giving it to me, but then he flapped his glove to indicate that he wanted me to throw it back. Here’s a photo of us from afar. You can see him reaching down to catch the ball:

Here he is about to throw it back:

Our throwing session didn’t last long. We each made three tosses, and then he let me keep the ball.

Five minutes later, I stumbled upon this. Hmm…

If you don’t see what I’m talking about, look closely at the folded up portion of the seat on the lower right. Ooh yeah, baby, an Easter egg.

That’s when I hit a streak of bad luck. There were several home runs hit near me, and they ALL seemed to sail two feet over my glove. Here I am jumping unsuccessfully for one of them:

I would’ve preferred to play deeper in the stands, but there were several other ballhawks in attendance — Matt Hersl, Tim Anderson, Ben Huff, and Avi Miller. They were all playing deep, and they’re regulars at Camden Yards, so rather than competing directly with them (which would’ve been fun to do), I decided to move up and give them some space.

Detroit took the field. I changed into my Tigers gear. I continued getting bad breaks. I was NOT happy:

The left field seats got packed when the whole stadium opened at 5:30pm, so I moved into foul territory and got a couple balls thrown to me. Here’s the first. It came from Ramon Santiago, who’s wearing No. 39 in the photo below. The other arrow is pointing from the ball to my glove:

The second thrown ball (which was my fourth overall on the day) came from Brennan Boesch. He made me crouch down as if I were a catcher, and he pretended to shake off my imaginary signs.

Once the Tigers were done playing catch, I ran over to left-center field and got Max Scherzer to toss me a ball that had rolled onto the warning track. Moments later, while lingering in the front row for Boesch’s turn in the cage, I caught a ground-rule double that bounced right to me. I nearly got handcuffed by it because the warning track is made of rubber, and the ball landed pretty close to the wall, so it came up fast.

Now, do you remember the marked balls that the Tigers were using last year when I saw them at Target Field? The Tigers are still marking their balls, and it’s not pretty. Here’s the one that Boesch hit:

Here’s another Tigers ball that I snagged earlier in BP. As you can see, it’s not marked on the logo, but there are two magic marker streaks on the sweet spot:

Here’s an action shot that shows me going for a loose ball:

Matt Hersl (pictured below in the blue and white jacket) swooped in at the last second (as usual) and snatched it. Good for him. Bad for me.

During the final two minutes of BP, I headed to the Tigers’ dugout, and when all the players cleared the field, Brandon Inge flung a ball to me directly from his glove. That was my 7th ball of the day. Here it is in mid-air.

In the photo above, I’m on the left. The guy on the right wasn’t even trying to catch the ball. He already had a ball in his hand, and he was leaning forward to try to get it signed.

Look who signed autographs 20 minutes later:

Yup, Miguel Cabrera.

I handed him two ticket stubs, figuring he’d sign the top one and hand them both back, but to my surprise…

…he signed them both! I haven’t really been THAT into getting autographs in recent years, but I was psyched to get Miggy because (DUIs aside) he’s awesome.

Shortly before game time, I got Austin Jackson to throw me my 8th ball of the day. He’d been playing catch in shallow left field, and when he finished, I shouted like hell and got his attention. There was nothing fancy about it, but I really like him, so I was glad to get that ball. You may recall that he gave me his bat on 10/3/10 at Camden Yards.

On my way to the standing-room-only section (aka “The Flag Court”), I stopped to have this photo taken of me:

Yankee Stadium was the first ballpark I visited this year; Camden Yards is the second. How high will that number go?

I stayed in the Flag Court for all left-handed batters. This was my normal position, all the way at the back:

In the top of the 4th inning, I decided to move up toward the front when Alex Avila stepped to the plate. I couldn’t see the field from the back, and I figured he wasn’t going to crush the ball because he’s only 5-foot-11, and…I’m an idiot. He did crush it, and it sailed over my head, and I raced back on it and watched helplessly as it clapped off the pavement and bounded up against the tall metal gate. There was no telling which way the ball was going to ricochet, and there was a stampede of drunken fans right behind me. Here are a couple of TV screen shots to show what happened next…

The ball bounced high in the air, and I jumped for it:

The camera cut away at that moment, so the people who saw my tweet and watched the highlight on TV assumed that I made a clean snag at that point.

Wrong.

The guy in the orange Orioles jersey slammed into me just before I was about to grab the ball, and it ended up dropping to the ground. There was a SERIOUS scramble for it, and I came out victorious:

I also came out wearing half a beer…

…but whatever. That’s what my washing machine is for.

Check out the huge scuff mark on the ball:

It hit the pavement so hard that the stitches were nearly torn.

Several innings later, I ran into a young ballhawk named Mike, who had left a comment the previous day to tell me that he’d be there. I had actually seen him on and off throughout the game, but this time was extra special because he was holding a copy of my new book:

(Mike is not actually a Tigers fan, FYI.)

I signed it for him as his father looked on (nice matching shoes, fellas)…

…and congratulated him on the six balls he had snagged that day. Very impressive. The two of them were really cool.

After I snagged the Avila home run, I was really hoping to snag a foul ball. I had never snagged a homer and a foul ball in one game, so I made an extra effort to run into foul territory whenever righties came to bat.

Ready for it?

Look what I snagged in the top of the 9th inning:

I got so caught up in the moment that I completely spaced out and forgot who was even batting. It was either Casper Wells or Miguel Cabrera. I’m hoping to figure it out by somehow watching those two at-bats, but anyway, it was a high foul pop-up that sailed about 30 rows back and landed in the cross-aisle behind 1st base. I sprinted TWO full sections to my right, and when the ball deflected off some fans and ended up in a staircase, I was all over it. That really felt great.

I celebrated by calling a few friends…

…and the game ended soon after.

Final score: Tigers 7, Orioles 3.

I tried to get a ball at the umpires’ tunnel…

…but came up empty. That was fine. Despite a rough BP (during which I didn’t snag a single home run ball or get to use my glove trick), I still managed to put up double digits and snagged two game balls in the process. Here I am with those two precious baseballs…

…and here I am talking to Mike’s whole family on the way out:

The kid in the Mets jacket is Mike’s younger brother Tommy (who will hopefully soon create a profile on MyGameBalls.com).

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game  (9 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 23 balls in 3 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

 

• 664 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 134 lifetime games with at least ten balls

• 64 lifetime games outside of New York with at least ten balls

• 141 lifetime games balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 14 lifetime game home runs (click here for the complete list)

• 17th time snagging two or more game balls in one game

• 4,685 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.)

• 32 donors

• $4.91 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $41.90 raised at this game

• $112.93 raised this season

And now here’s a look at the baseballs in black light:

The end.

4/5/11 at Yankee Stadium

The day got off to a fun start as I was heading to the stadium…

It was 4:10pm. I was in the subway at 59th Street and Lexington, waiting for the No. 4 train, when an African-American high school kid noticed my Twins shirt.

“You going to the game tonight?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“And you’re wearing THAT?!”

I shrugged.

“Be careful, man,” he said.

“Whatever, I’m not even a Twins fan,” I told him. “I have a hat and shirt of every team because it hel–“

“Wait a second,” he interrupted. “Weren’t you in, like, a newspaper or something?”

“Yeah, a bunch,” I said, and we talked for a couple minutes until the train came. It was pretty cool to have been recognized, even though I had to talk about myself in order for him to figure out who I was.

Anyway, it had rained all morning and afternoon. I was convinced that there wasn’t going to be batting practice, but I’d decided to go regardless, so you can imagine how excited I was when I ran inside the stadium and saw this:

Even though the ground was still wet (as you can see above), the Yankees were hitting. Right field, however, proved to be dead, so I raced over to the left field side and snagged three quick balls. The first was an A-Rod homer that landed in the bleachers and (very luckily) bounced down into the seats below. The following photo shows where it landed and where it ended up:

The second ball was tossed by Freddy Garcia, and it had a huge wet stain:

My third ball was a line-drive homer hit by a righty on the Yankees — probably Russell Martin, but I’m not certain. In any case, I darted 30 feet to my right, and at the last second, because there was a cluster of fans in front of me reaching for it, I flinched and turned completely to the side to protect my face — but I kept my glove in the spot where I figured the ball would end up. Then I heard the ball tip off of someone’s hands and felt it smack the pocket of my glove.

Nice. I needed some luck after the dreadful performance I’d had the day before during BP.

When the Twins took the field, I got Scott Baker to toss me my fourth ball of the day…

…and then I headed back to right field when Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Jim Thome starting taking their cuts. One of the three — I think it was Morneau — launched a deep homer that was heading a full section to my right. There were three guys in my row, so I had to shuffle down a few steps before cutting across, and by the time I got there, the ball had landed in the tunnel closest to the bullpen (and nearly taken out an oblivious female security guard in the process). Luckily, there was no one in the tunnel, and I was able to scoop it up.

Moments after I returned to my spot in straight-away right field, Morneau cracked a line drive that was heading ten feet to my left. I was in the back row, and I could tell that the ball was going to fall well short. As it got closer (and keep in mind that this all happened really fast), I could tell that it had a chance to clear the wall, but more specifically, it occurred to me that it might land on the flat concrete surface on top of the wall. The red arrow below shows what I’m talking about:

I started drifting to my left to get in line with the ball, figuring that if it DID land on top of the wall, it would bounce all the way back in my direction.

Guess what?

That’s exactly what happened. I had to jump about six inches to reach it because the ball took a big bounce. The best thing about snagging it was that I anticipated a highly unlikely ricochet, and when it happened, I was prepared.

Check out the beautiful smudged logo on that ball:

Less than a minute later, one of the three lefties launched another homer into the bleachers, just over my head. If it had been two feet lower, I would’ve jumped for it, but instead I just had to stand there and watch helplessly as it sailed toward a guy with a glove. Guess what? He bobbled it, and the ball plopped right down to me. That was my seventh ball of the day, and that’s when it occurred to me that I might be able to reach double digits for the first time at the new Yankee Stadium. This was only the 12th game that I’d ever attended there, and my record was eight balls. But I had to work fast. It was already close to 6pm, so there wasn’t much time remaining.

I headed back to left field, and although things were slow at first, I went on a mini-hot streak toward the end of BP. I caught a homer on the fly (a towering fly ball that I judged perfectly), and then I caught another (a line drive that forced me to run 20 feet to my right). I don’t know who hit either one, but the second of these two balls had barely flown over a kid’s outstretched glove in the front row, so as soon as I caught it, I handed it to him.

BP was moments from ending, and I just needed one more ball to reach the promised land. Someone on the Twins hit a deep fly ball that trickled to the wall in left-center field. Matt Capps wandered over to retrieve it, and I raced over to get as close to him as possible. Was he going to recognize me from the previous game and remember that he’d already tossed me a ball? Only one way to find out…

“Matt,” I said quietly since he was just a few feet away,” any chance you could spare that ball, please?”

He looked up and gave it an easy toss in my direction, and just like that, I’d done it. Double digits were mine. Domination of the new Yankee Stadium had essentially been achieved. And I wasn’t done.

I hurried to the Twins’ dugout as soon as BP ended. I couldn’t make it all the way down, of course, because of the ill-conceived partition, but I still managed to get the attention of Joe Vavra, the team’s hitting coach. He spotted me and chucked a ball to me over the half-dozen rows in front. I nearly lost the ball in the lights, but I made the catch.

Look who I ran into in that section:

Actually, I’d been running into him all day. His name is Mateo Fischer. You might remember as a former Watch With Zack client back on 7/27/10 at Citi Field. He has his own blog called “Observing Baseball,” and you can also check out his profile on MyGameBalls.com.

The following photo, taken just before the playing of the national anthem, shows where I sat during the game:

There were lots of empty seats. There was lots of room to run. And I nearly snagged Andruw Jones’ first Yankee homer. This was the view to my right; the guy in the yellow jacket ended up getting that home run ball:

“You know that’s Jones’ first home run as a Yankee, right?” I asked the guy during the following inning break.

He had no clue, so I explained that it was probably a meaningful ball to Jones. I told him that there was a 50/50 chance that some representative from the Yankees would show up and ask for it.

“At the very least,” I told the guy, “if you decide to give the ball back, you should be able to hand it to Jones yourself and shake his hand. If he won’t meet you, then the ball obviously isn’t that important to him, and you have every right to keep it.”

The guy was absolutely loving every word I was telling him, so I continued…

“In addition to meeting him,” I said, “you can ask for some memorabilia in return. Ask for his jersey or a bat. That’s not unusual in these situations.”

Long story short: the Yankees’ director of security came out half an inning later and tried to get the ball. The fan asked to meet Jones. The security guy said that was impossible. The fan asked for one of Jones’ bats as well as a ball signed by Jones. The security guy said he couldn’t give away a bat and offered two signed balls instead. The fan said no, and that was the end of it. He told me later that the home run ball itself was much more meaningful to him that a couple of autographs, even from a potential future Hall of Famer. Can’t argue with that. The Yankees are worth more than a billion dollars; if they can’t spare a few goodies in exchange for a meaningful home run ball, then they don’t deserve it.

As for the game itself, CC Sabathia pitched seven brilliant innings and left with a 4-0 lead — and the bullpen blew it. The Twins put up a four-spot in the top of the eighth and scored another run two innings later. Final score: Twins 5, Yankees 4.

It was late. I was freezing. I hurried to the subway, and while I waited for my train on the elevated platform, I took this photo of the stadium:

Ready for some stats?

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 balls at this game  (10 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 13 balls in 2 games this season = 6.5 balls per game.

• 663 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 141 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

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

• 133 lifetime games with at least ten balls

• 23 different stadiums with at least one game with ten or more balls

• 4,675 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.)

• 31 donors

• $4.87 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $53.57 raised at this game

• $63.31 raised this season

One last thing…

Nine of the ten balls have invisible ink stamps. Here they are in black light:

For the sake of comparison, here are the last two photos side by side:

Looking at baseballs in black light will never get old.

4/4/11 at Yankee Stadium

My season got off to a terrible start. I went to Yankee Stadium for my first game of 2011…

…and when I ran inside and pulled out my camera to take this photo…

…my friend Ben ran in behind me and found a ball sitting near me in the empty seats.

Then things got worse.

I misjudged several home run balls, including two that would’ve been easy catches had I simply stayed put. I don’t know what was going on. I kept assuming that the balls were going to fall short, but instead they kept carrying. I can’t blame it on a winter of inactivity; at my first game last season, I snagged 15 balls including EIGHT home runs that I caught on the fly.

Anyway, this was my view from right field…

…and when the Yankees finished their portion of batting practice, I had ZERO baseballs. I could’ve easily gotten one from Mariano Rivera at one point. He walked into the bullpen and picked up all the loose home run balls that had landed there, and he began tossing them into the crowd. He aimed one toward a girl who was standing ten feet to my left, but his lob fell short, and the ball bounced back into the bullpen. I wandered over behind the girl, figuring that he’d give her another shot, but I decided ahead of time not to jump or reach over her. I was simply going to reach straight up, and then if the throw sailed too far over her head, I’d innocently end up with it. Well, the throw did sail too high, and just as I was about to squeeze my glove around it, a large man reached in front of ME from behind and snatched it. It was six inches from my glove. The girl had no chance. All I had to do was jump ever so slightly, and I would’ve made an easy grab from a future Hall of Famer, but no, I lost my chance by not being aggressive. I suppose that’s a good way to be in general, but in this case it backfired.

Still, I wasn’t afraid of getting shut out, although maybe I should’ve been. I began the day with a streak of 661 consecutive games with at least one ball — a streak that dates all the way back to September 10, 1993 — and yet I just didn’t feel a sense of urgency. I figured I’d get some baseballs when the Twins started hitting, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

Matt Capps tossed me my first ball of the year. I was hoping that it would be a leftover Target Field ball from last season, but no it was just a regular “Selig” ball:

Still, it was great to get on the board.

But would you believe that I only snagged one other ball all day? Some righty on the Twins (no idea who) lofted a deep fly ball in my direction toward the end of BP. I managed to judge it perfectly, and I camped out in the spot where I knew it was going to land and jumped for it at the last second, simply to prevent the guy on my left from robbing me. All the other fans cheered and yelled “Nice catch!” and I got a few hand shakes and high-fives. That was nice, but I was still annoyed with myself.

The highlight of the day was running into two young fans named Vincent and Adam, who recognized me from this blog. Here I am with Vincent, who’d brought his copy of my new book:

I signed it for him, and we all hung out for a bit. Then I got Vincent to take a potentially very special photo of me. I’m kind of planning to attend games at all 30 major league stadiums this year, so just in case it ends up happening…

For those who can’t tell, that’s a big number “1” that I’d drawn with magic marker on a piece of printer paper. I’m thinking it’d be cool to have photos of myself holding signs numbered 1 through 30 at all the different stadiums. I’ve already booked flights to games in Arlington (April 25-28), Houston (April 29-30), Toronto (May 26-29), Denver (June 9-12), and Seattle (June 13-15). I’m planning to be in Baltimore this week (April 6-8) and Citi Field next week (April 11-13, but probably not if it rains), and I might hit up Philly on April 15th. I’m also thinking of going to Pittsburgh for the first weekend in August and to Boston on June 20-21. Beyond that, don’t ask. I’m hoping to take a mega road trip with my friend Brandon through the midwest and out to the west coast in August and September, but it’s not even close to being confirmed. People often ask me to let them know when I’m gonna be at various stadiums, and I always tell then to check my blog for updates, so here you go. Hope to see/meet lots of you guys along the way, and if you do have a copy of The Baseball, please bring it so I can sign it for you.

Anyway, back to Yankee Stadium, I tried to get a ball from the catchers and coaches shortly before the first pitch. And of course I failed. But I still like the pic I took, so here it is:

The left field seats were spectacularly empty during the game. This was the view to my left in the bottom of the first inning:

In the photo above, did you notice the name on the jumbotron? Yeah, Alex Rodriguez. My number one ballhawking goal is to catch one of his home runs, and whaddaya know, right after I took that photo — I’m talking about the very next PITCH — he smoked a line-driver homer to left field. Unfortunately it landed two full sections (about 100 feet) to my right. Ben and Vincent and Adam were sitting there and all came within five feet of it. If you watch the highlight, you can see me (before the camera zooms in) streaking from the right side of the screen. (One day, A-Rod. One day…)

Speaking of the jumbotron, look at this nifty fact that was displayed during one of Jim Thome’s at-bats:

He’s homered in 46 ballparks, and I’ve snagged at least one ball in 48 ballparks. (Clearly I’m much more talented.) Here’s my complete list.

The Yankees had a 4-3 lead when the top of the ninth inning rolled in. What did that mean? Enter Sandman. Mariano Rivera. Gosh-darn I love him! Here’s a photo of him running in from the bullpen. You might want to click it for a closer look:

Not surprisingly, he pitched a scoreless inning to notch his 562nd career save.

On my way out of the stadium, I looked for the youngest kid I could find who had a baseball glove. It took a while — this was a chilly weeknight in April, after all — but eventually I spotted an adorable boy (who must’ve been about six) walking with his dad. I walked up alongside them and said to the kid, “Hey, did you catch a ball today?”

He looked up and shook his head and looked kinda bummed.

“Well, here’s one for you,” I said, pulling the ball from Matt Capps out of my pocket and handing it over.

The kid’s face lit up. His dad could not believe it and asked, “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “I got two baseballs during batting practice, so I have one to spare.”

The father thanked me profusely and shook my hand. He then told his son to thank me, and when the kid turned back my way and mumbled a few polite words, I said, “I decided to give YOU the ball because you have a glove. It showed me that you really wanted one.”

The kid smiled and disappeared with his dad into the crowd.

As for the other ball that I’d snagged, I took a few photos of it when I got home. First, check out the beautiful imprint of the MLB logo:

Do you see it? It’s just below and to the right of the Rawlings logo. I love stuff like that, and if you click here, you’ll find some other weird/imprinted balls that I’ve snagged over the years.

Now…do you remember that recent entry I posted called “Baseballs and black light?” If you haven’t seen it, you must check it out immediately. And now check THIS out. I looked at the ball in black light, and sure enough, there was an invisible ink stamp on it:

Unbelievable.

Here’s a side-by-side look at the ball in regular light versus black light:

Baseballs make me happy. That’s really what it all comes down to.

Hopefully I’ll do better at my next game. Perhaps later today at Yankee Stadium? Not sure. When I’m home in NYC, it’s always a last-minute decision.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 662 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 140 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

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

• 4,664 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.)

• 30 donors

• $4.86 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $9.72 raised at this game

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