5/10/11 at Camden Yards

The left field seats were mostly empty during the first half-hour of batting practice…

…but the competition was fierce. Camden Yards regulars Ben Huff and Tim Anderson both put on a ballhawking clinic and achieved career highs with 14 and 12 balls, respectively. Matt Hersl and Avi Miller were also there, and despite the fact that they were both battling various ailments and injuries, they still managed to catch a bunch of balls.

Where did that leave me?

Well, for starters (and for a change), I happened to beat all of these guys out to the left field seats, and as a result, I grabbed the one ball that was sitting in the front row. I don’t have a photo of that ball because slow-ass Jona (she told me to write that) attended this game and insisted that I *not* bring my camera so that she could be the one to take all the pics.

She got some good pics of me playing catch with Adam Jones. Here I am throwing the ball to him…

…and here he is throwing it back:

I got him to play catch by (a) asking if we could play catch and (b) telling him that I wanted to show him my knuckleball. I actually do throw a mean (though inconsistent) knuckler and impressed him with it several times.

Now, about that fierce competition…

This is what I was talking about:

In the photo above, that’s me holding onto the railing, Avi in the orange shirt, Ben with the rolled up sleeves, and Tim just in front of Ben in the adorable matching outfit. It seemed that every time a ball flew into the seats, there were at least three gloves reaching for it. See what I mean?

The photo above shows me catching a Mark Reynolds home run, with Tim (left) and Ben (right) surrounding me. That was actually my 4th ball of the day; 30 seconds earlier, I had grabbed another homer that landed in the seats. (Not sure who hit it.)

My 5th ball was a ground-rule double that landed 10 rows back near the bullpens in left-center field.

Soon after, I got robbed by Tim on a home run…

…and after I changed into Mariners gear, I got robbed by a random guy in the front row on another:

It was one of those days.

When the Mariners finished playing catch along the left field foul line, I got Brandon League to throw me my 6th ball of the day. Here I am reaching up and catching it:

Because the Mariners had so many lefties, I headed over to the right field Flag Court. Avi positioned himself at the front and caught three homers on the fly. I stayed toward the back and only managed to catch one. (Once again, I don’t know who hit it.) Here I am running for it…

…and here I am looking up at it, half a second before it smacked the pocket of my glove:

(I love that photo. And I love Ichiro.)

Back in left field, a left-handed pitcher on the Mariners tossed me my 8th ball of the day. I think it was Aaron Laffey, but I’m not sure. Jason Vargas and Erik Bedard are the only other lefty pitchers on the team, and I’d like to think that I would’ve recognized them.

Right after BP ended, I got a ball from a Mariners coach at the 3rd base dugout, and once again, I’m not sure who it was. If I had to guess, I’d say Mike Brumley.

I had nine balls at that point, four of which had interesting markings:

I had a few minutes to kill before pre-game throwing got underway, so I took off my shoes and spread out in the seats and got as comfy as possible:

In the photo above, the reason why I’m looking off to the side is that I was talking to Avi and another Camden Yards regular named Zevi.

I’d started the day with a lifetime total of 4,890 baseballs. I needed 1o to reach 4,900, and as I mentioned above, I had nine at this point. Unfortunately, the only thing I got before the game was a pair of autographs — one from Carlos Peguero and another from Jack Cust…

…but you know what? That was actually a good thing. It meant that my milestone ball might end up being game-used. Way back in 1993, my 200th lifetime ball was an in-game foul hit by Walt Weiss at Shea Stadium. Twelve years later, on 6/7/05 at Shea Stadium, my 2,500th ball was another in-game foul hit by Marlon Anderson. And let’s not forget my 3,100th ball, a home run hit by Justin Morneau during the 2007 Home Run Derby. That was an incredible experience, but hell, it happened four years ago, so I was due for another memorable snag.

Let’s fast-forward to the bottom of the 12th inning, shall we? With two outs and the score tied 5-5, Brian Roberts stepped to the plate against Chris Ray, and I found myself in the cross-aisle on the 3rd base side of home plate. Roberts swung at the first pitch and hit a towering pop-up that was clearly heading back in my direction. The ball was so high up, and there was so much backspin (and perhaps some wind to go with it) that it was really hard to judge. I did my best to drift with the ball, and when I got boxed in against a seat at the last second, I knew that I was going to have to reach for it. I ended up lunging more than reaching — far across my body to the right — and made a thigh-high, back-handed catch with full extension.

Hot damn. I celebrated by giving away one of my BP balls to a nearby kid.

Jona had actually left the game early (she was tired and went back to the hotel), so I wandered out to the left field seats and found Avi. He was kind enough to take the following goofy photo of me with the ball:

Here’s a closer look at the ball:

The game itself was nuts. The Mariners took a 2-0 lead in the 2nd inning. The Orioles pulled ahead, 3-2, in the 6th. The Mariners went on top, 4-3, in the 7th, and the Orioles regained the lead once again, 5-4, in the 8th. The Mariners tied the game off Orioles closer Kevin Gregg in the top of the 9th, then scored the go-ahead run in the top of the 13th. The Orioles tied it in the bottom of the 13th, and just when I thought that I’d be at Camden Yards all night, they added another run to win the game, 7-6. The Orioles collected 20 hits, including four by J.J. Hardy and three apiece from Nick Markakis, Vladimir Guerrero, and Adam Jones. I had spent most of the game in the outfield, and there were two homers, but neither one was hit near me.

Crazy night. Can’t wait to get back there later today.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 238 balls in 28 games this season = 8.5 balls per game.

• 689 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 143 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 144 lifetime games balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd; 128 foul balls, 15 home runs, and 1 ground-rule double)

• 4,900 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.)

• 42 donors

• $6.47 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $64.70 raised at this game

• $1,539.86 raised this season

6 Comments

Wow – that 4897 photo is awesome. You oughta frame it.
-Todd
PS – Go Mariners!

when do you and jona get back together?

Zack, you should try to average 9 balls a game for a while so that your 5000th ball would be caught in your 700th consecutive game with one ball.

When you were talking about #4900 being a game ball I was thinking for sure homerun, not quite as spectacular as that but still pretty cool. Congratulations on 4900 and only 100 more to 5000(now that’s a milestone!).

*for sure IT WAS GOING TO BE A homerun BALL*

TODD-
I just might.

JOE-
Well, nothing’s official. Let’s just say we’ve been spending some time together, and it’s been nice.

NOAH-
There’s actually a chance that I might do that, although the weather is terrible this week in New York City, so if I go to any games, it’s gonna bring my average way down.

JOEYORR4-
Thanks! Maybe 5,000 will be a home run during a game? Hmm…

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