5/11/11 at Camden Yards

This was an extra special day. Not only was the weather perfect, and not only was I at one of my favorite stadiums, but I was filmed for a segment on abc27, a news station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

How did this interview come about, you ask? It was pretty simple. Gregg Mace, the sports director at abc27, heard about me from his son Kyle, who’s been reading this blog for a couple years. (Ta-daaa!)

The plan was to meet outside Gate H at 4pm. In addition to Gregg, there was a cameraman named Mike, and Kyle was also there to help out and take bonus photos. Here we are, moments after arriving:

Gregg got things started by hooking me up with a wireless microphone:

The microphone enabled Mike to hear and record everything I said while I ran all over the place during batting practice — but before the gates opened, we did a brief interview. Here I am waiting to say a few basic lines to the camera…

…and here’s the actual interview taking place:

(BTW, all of these photos were taken by Jona, who once again did a masterful job of documenting the action.)

The segment was going to end up being less than three minutes, so Gregg made sure to cover the basics. He started by asking how I got into ballhawking. Then we talked about some of my strategies, and it just went from there. When the interview was done, we got a photo together…

…and planned to meet in the left field seats once the stadium opened. Because Gregg and his crew had media credentials, they were able to get inside early and wait for me to come running in.

It was only 4:20pm. The gates weren’t going to open for 40 more minutes, but three Camden Yards regulars were already there. In the photo below, Ben Huff is standing at the gate, Avi Miller is wearing the orange shirt, and Tim Anderson is sitting on the table:

The day before, Ben had snagged 14 balls, and Tim had gotten 12. I’d finished with 10, and we all did our share of friendly trash-talking.

How would the numbers play out at this game?

Well, as soon as I reached the left field seats, an usher tossed me a ball that had just landed there. Gregg and Kyle and Mike were stationed just in front of the cross-aisle, and in the following photo (which Jona took from the other side of the stadium), you can see all of us:

Do you see the cluster of players above? See the fan standing just behind them in the front row? That’s me. Now, if you look one section to the left, there are four people hanging out 20 rows back. The guy on the left (wearing white) is an usher. The three people to the right are Mike, Kyle, and Gregg.

Gregg had brought his glove — he’d never snagged a ball before — and soon ventured down toward the front row. Here we are talking…

…and here I am catching a J.J. Hardy homer on the fly:

In the photo above, I’m kind of hidden behind the fan in the striped shirt, but you can see my glove, and if you look closely, you can see the ball inside of it.

Jeremy Guthrie wandered over to say hello…

…and to complain (for the 10th time) that I hadn’t written him into The Baseball. It was the same old tired argument. He named all the things he’d done for me, including playing catch and recognizing me on SportsCenter and hooking me up with a ball at the last game at the old Yankee Stadium. Meanwhile, I thanked him for everything and told him (for the 10th time) that the book isn’t about that.

“Zack, I thought we had something,” he said.

“Oh Jeremy,” I replied, “you know I love you.”

Here’s more Guthrie:

He kept jawing at me, so I finally asked him if he’d actually read the book. (I sent him a signed copy last month.) He said he hadn’t and that he’d get around to reading it eventually. (He knew he wasn’t written into the book because as soon as he’d gotten it, he turned right to the index and didn’t see his name listed there. Poor guy.) And so it went.

My 3rd ball of the day was another J.J. Hardy homer. This one, unlike the other, required me to move more than five feet. The following four-part photo shows how it played out:

As you can see above (in Photo No. 1), I climbed down over a row of seats while the ball was in mid-air. Then I made a running catch and nearly fell over. Mike got the whole thing on film and then got a shot of me putting the ball in my backpack:

Here I am talking to the camera:

I’m not sure what I was saying at that moment. I might have been describing the second Hardy homer from my point of view.

My 4th ball of the day was a ground-rule double hit by Jake Fox. I snagged it clumsily by trapping it against the top of the left field wall. Tim gave me an earful about it, but hey, it had taken an awkward bounce, and it was the best I could do.

When the Mariners came out, Mike got a shot of me changing into my Mariners gear. Then I got three balls within three minutes. The first two were tossed along the left field foul line by bullpen catcher Jason Phillips and rookie reliever Dan Cortes. The third ball was thrown in fair territory by Brandon League. Here’s a photo of it sailing toward me:

That was my 7th ball of the day.

I headed to the standing-room-only section (aka “The Flag Court”) in right field…

…and immediately saw some action. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of action I wanted. I jumped for a home run ball and got slammed from behind (by a guy who outweighs me by 75 pounds) while I was in mid-air. When that happens, it’s rather difficult to land on one’s feet, and in this case, my feet ended up in the air. In the following photo, the arrow is pointing at my feet. It’s hard to see me because I’m blocked by people and padded poles, but if you look closely, you can see that I’m on my back:

Although I haven’t yet seen the video footage, I suspect that my tumble looked a lot worse than it actually was. Here I am reenacting it:

You know what they say about karma, right?

Well, the guy who knocked me down ended up losing his footing on the next home run ball that was hit our way. Here I am jumping for it (the arrow is pointing at the ball), and as you can see, he was starting to go down:

The ball sailed over my glove by two inches and took a series of crazy ricochets. In the following photo, there’s a ball lying on the ground, but I’m not sure if that’s the ball I was chasing. I think the ball pictured below might have fallen out of the pocket of the guy who’s sprawled out behind me. See for yourself:

It was a crazy sequence of events, so it’s hard to know exactly what was taking place, but if you look at my eyes in the photo above, I’m clearly staring in the direction of the camera, and I *do* remember the ball bouncing toward that end of the Flag Court. But if that’s the case, then where’s the ball that the guy dropped in the following photo?

Maybe it was behind one of my legs?

In any case, the ball pictured above WAS the home run ball that I was chasing, and that’s Gregg in the blue shirt. He nearly grabbed it, but it was still ricocheting all over the place, and it deflected off his glove. That’s when I swooped in and snagged it. At the time, I was afraid that if I backed off and let him go for it, someone else might’ve ended up getting it. Once everything calmed down, however, and I had a chance to look around, I realized that it had essentially been a one-on-one scramble. I felt bad that I’d snatched his potential first lifetime ball (and of course I was thankful that he was even there with me in the first place), so I offered it to him:

Gregg gladly accepted the ball and held it out for the camera:

BAM!!! There was another home run. The ball rolled to the back of the Flag Court…

…and after I grabbed it, I celebrated with a series of goofy dance moves for the camera:

This wasn’t planned. I was just so pumped about getting another ball, and I was feeling so energetic that…what can I say? This artistic expression just poured out of me.

Five minutes later, one of the Mariners’ many left-handed batters crushed a ball that sailed completely over the Flag Court and thumped the green awning of Boog’s BBQ. For those who don’t know, “Boog” is Boog Powell, a former major leaguer who hit 339 home runs and played 14 of his 17 seasons for the Orioles. He often hangs out at the BBQ place, and wouldn’t you know it, he happened to be the one who picked up the ball. Avi and I hurried over and asked him for it. Of course, I was wearing Mariners gear, so I said, “Boog, if you give me that ball, I’ll take my shirt off right now.” Boog decided to toss the ball back over the gate into the Flag Court, and he was nice enough to let us know that he was going to do that. This gave us time to get into position, and it meant that Avi and I were going to have a good old fashioned battle of vertical leaps. Well, at least that’s what I thought was going to happen. When the ball sailed back over the gate, I took a flying leap, while Avi calmly hung back in case I missed it:

I ended up catching the ball — my 10th of the day — and I need your help deciding how to count it. I tweeted about this last night, but in case you missed it…you know that I have a huge list of players and coaches who have thrown baseballs to me over the years, right? Well, do you think Boog Powell now belongs on that list? Leave a comment and tell me what you think. I’ll wait 24 hours and tally up the votes and then do whatever you guys tell me.

Here’s a funny/scary pair of action shots, taken during the chase for yet another home run. The first one shows everyone (including me) running for the ball:

Do you see the usher in the photo above? She’s wearing tan pants and a white shirt and standing next to a padded pole.

Here’s the scary part — scary from her perspective, I assume. As the ball descended and everyone made a final charge for it, she wisely hid behind the pole and covered her face:

I didn’t catch that ball, but thankfully, she was okay. (She’s always out there, and she’s super-friendly, and she recently told me that she’d checked out my website.) The guy who caught that ball was the same guy who’d knocked me over 20 minutes earlier. I was really pissed when it first happened, but by this point, I was over it. It also helped that he came over and apologized and gave me a bro-hug:

He’s a good guy. We’d met once before, and as I told him yesterday, “In the heat of the moment, these things happen.” Personally, I’ve never knocked down a single person in 870 games and 22 years of ballhawking, but I’ve certainly made other mistakes in life, and I wouldn’t want to be judged solely on those few lapses of good judgment.

Anyway, Gregg felt he’d gotten all the footage he needed, so he filmed a final spot (with his baseball) out on Eutaw Street:

I raced back to left field, and before Jona got there, I caught a home run on the fly. (Not sure who hit it.) Then, at the tail end of BP, I raced to the 3rd base dugout, and before Jona got there, I got another ball from one of the players. (Not sure who tossed it.)

That was my 12th ball of the day. Ben and Tim each had eight at that point. (Ben ended up with nine, and Tim finished with ten.)

Speaking of Ben, check out the beautiful scrape he’d gotten below his right wrist:

Ben suffered his injury early in BP, and at the time, I didn’t realize that anything that happened to him. He basically leaned back, caught a home run on the fly, and lost his balance. He was at the end of a row, and the stairs were on his right, so he reached back with his right hand to brace himself. No big deal, right? I mean, the whole thing seemed to happen in slow motion. He didn’t fall over. He just kinda tipped back a bit. Well, when he reached back, his right forearm scraped the edge of a concrete step.

Yeah, ouch.

I gotta give him props, though. He took it like a man and didn’t even go to First Aid. There were more baseballs to be snagged, so he stayed in the left field seats and bled.

After BP, I gave away two more baseballs, including one for the little girl pictured below:

I’d heard from one of the ushers that it was her first game ever, so I thought it’d be nice to make the day extra memorable for her.

Twenty minutes before game time, I got Mariners bullpen coach Jaime Navarro to toss me a ball that was sitting in the bullpen. The following photo shows me reaching out for it. No red arrow this time. You’ll have to look closely if you want to see the ball…

…and as for Navarro, I think it’s funny that he was already turning away before I caught it. He flung the ball to me and immediately started walking off.

Here’s a closeup of the ball:

Do you see the stain below the MLB logo? That was pine tar. The ball was very sticky. (Kinda suspish, no?)

I spent most of the game in the Flag Court. In the first inning, the sun was in my eyes, and it was almost impossible to see:

Here’s another look at the sun from foul territory:

In the photo above, that’s Gregg and Kyle in the blue and red shirts. Mike is sitting in the row in front of them. They were done working at that point, so they just hung out for a bit and enjoyed the game.

Here’s Jona (in her usual-ish spot) during the game:

With two outs in the top of the 7th inning, Michael Saunders launched a home run that hit the back gate of the Flag Court on the fly, and I *nearly* snagged it. Take a look at the following screen shot from MLB.com. The arrow on the left shows where I was standing when he connected, the arrow on the right shows me as I was running, and the circle shows the ball just before it landed:

I normally stand much closer to where this ball landed, but because the seats in straight-away right field were so empty (look just to the left of the Flag Court), I thought it’d be smart to play both areas. But guess what? I still would’ve been able to catch this home run under normal circumstances. Take another look at the screen shot above. Do you see the blue thing in between the two leftmost flag poles? It’s at the bottom, just where all the people are. (If you still can’t tell what I’m talking about, it’s above the “O” in the “Geico” ad, but all the way up where the crowd is. Got it?) That was a garbage dumpster. It was huge and had wheels on the bottom, and it was only there for a total of two minutes all night. Every three innings, an employee rolled it into the Flag Court and emptied the smaller trash cans into it. The big blue dumpster was parked against the back gate. When it was time to run for this homer, the dumpster was completely blocking my route. I had to slow down in order to side-step it, and that one-second delay made the difference. I got to the ball half a second too late, and some other guy (holding a beer in one hand, no glove on the other) was able to grab it. SOOOOO FRUSTRATING!!!!!! But you know what? I can’t blame the garbage man or the gloveless fan or anyone but myself. I had moved away from my normal spot, and then on top of it, I didn’t bother to rethink my strategy even when I saw that my route was blocked. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I totally cost myself a game home run ball.

I kinda gave up on home runs after that and went for foul balls. I was NOT happy…

…and with the Orioles still leading, 4-2, there were only two innings remaining, so whatever. I just wanted to get back to the hotel and go to sleep.

It’s funny how such a great day can feel so empty with just a small/cruel twist of fate — that is, if you believe in fate, which I don’t. Ultimately, it was a great day. I don’t mean to complain. I had lots of fun, and it was an honor, as always, to share my antics with the media.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 13 balls at this game (ten pictured here because I gave three away)

• 251 balls in 29 games this season = 8.66 balls per game.

• 690 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 216 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 144 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 4,913 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.)

• 43 donors

• $6.62 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $86.06 raised at this game

• $1,661.62 raised this season

Finally, I want to give a shout-out (and a virtual hug) to my friend Nick Yohanek (aka “The Happy Youngster“) in Milwaukee. Four years ago, he caught Geoff Jenkins’ 200th career home run, and last night, he caught Prince Fielder’s 200th. Congrats, Nick. Very nicely done.

25 Comments

Zack: My name is Ed. I read the blog all the time, but this is my first time posting a comment. I’m a HUGE baseball fan from the Philly area. I felt compelled to comment on this one because when I was a senior at Elizabethtown College (Pa.) back in 2003, I was a sports intern at abc27.

I worked directly for Gregg Mace and spent many nights going to various games with Mike, the camera guy. One of the highlights of the internship was getting to go to a bunch of Harrisburg Senators baseball games with Mike and Gregg.

Needless to say, the internship was absolutely amazing. Working for Gregg and Mike was a dream job, especially for a college kid. They were awesome. At the time, I wanted to get into TV production and their advice and guidance was invaluable. Every day was a unique experience and it was one of the top three best experiences of my college career. It’s been 8 years since I had that internship and graduated from college and I still remember it both vividly and fondly.

So, I was thrilled to see that Gregg and Mike were featured on your blog. I will look for the video segment online. If Gregg and Mike read this, I just want to tell them thank you for making my senior year of college memorable. Hopefully, they remember me!! I never did get into the TV production business, but I was a newspaper reporter for a while and I now work for a college in the communications office, doing a lot of writing.

I enjoy all the ballhawking tales on the blog, Zack. Keep them coming. I love to read about it. Hopefully, I’ll bump into you at Citizens Bank Park one night. I’m there often and would love to say hi.

And just one other note: I’ve only ever “caught” three balls at a game. A Giants coach tossed me one when I was a kid, and I grabbed one on the rebound in Philly during the 2009 NLDS. It was a Jayson Werth batting practice home run.

The other was a foul ball that went back and over the seating area in the Harrisbug Senators ballpark while I was working for abc27. I left my post with Mike, walked around to the concession area, and found the ball just sitting there. Mike video taped me retrieving the ball and we watched the footage when we went back to the station to edit highlights.

I still have the ball at my parents’ house.

Well, I don’t think I can top Ed’s EPIC comment, so I won’t try. Just wanted to say that I DON’T think you should count the ball from Boog as a “player” ball. Sure he used to play. But I think that list should be for balls you got from players that were currently players when they tossed it to you. Also, when did you say you were planning on being at PNC Park? I’m going to be there Aug. 4 and 5, and thought I remembered you saying something about going there sometime during the first week of Aug. Maybe not?
-Matt

hey zack, i do think you should count it. and are you planning on coming to kaufman stadium anytime this season?

I think Boog goes on the list.

My opinion about the shots where the ball seemingly disappears (the one you gave to Gregg): I think the ball you see on the ground IS the ball you’re chasing. It’s closer to the camera than you are and going away from you (and the cam caught it at the moment it was making contact with the ground). By that point you know exactly where it’s going and you’re looking out in that direction (towards us). If you’re running to the spot you’ve already determined a ball is going to, you’re gonna be looking up and out at where you’re going, not directly down at the ball, at least for a portion of your sprint.

It’s kinda like walking in NYC–my girlfriend will point out dog shit to me on the sidewalk two feet away as we approach, but what she doesn’t know is I’ve seen the shit 20 steps ago, and I’m already looking ahead 20 more, able to step over/around the shit without looking straight down at it, having kept it in my peripheral vision. You know what I’m talkin’ about :)

I think Boog should make your list. And–whoa–spoiler alert… THREE FOUL BALLS?!?
~Matt
http://bloggingboutbaseball.mlblogs.com/

I’d put Boog on the list. I assume you counted the first ball of the day as coming from an usher, right? What’s the difference. The ball was hit and grabbed by someone then thrown to you. It just happened to be Boog.

Yep, I agree with the above commenters… Boog should go on the list. Whether or not he’s a current major leaguer shouldn’t matter. If I got a baseball today from, say, Randy Johnson, I’d be counting it.

@Matt

Well, do you count coaches that throw you balls? Coaches aren’t currently playing. What’s the difference if Boog Powell gave you a ball in 1970 or in 2011? He’s still Boog Powell.

Howdy Zack. Jeronimo received his copy of “The Baseball” Tuesday, as did his cousin Cameron. Thank you for that! I am writing to let you know that I signed up to pledge towards your charity, but have yet to receive a confirmation letter. Maybe it’s on the way. If I haven’t heard back in a few days I will let you know. Thanks again! Jason.

…also, as to the polled Q, I think that retired players could count towards your totals w/o compromising the integrity of the list. J.

I’d count the ball from Boog. Also, any chance you’ll be at the mets game tuesday against the marlins?
-Will

3 foul balls!! Awesome… made it to hot clicks on SI.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/extramustard/hotclicks/05/13/arianny-celeste-orioles-fan-catches-three-foul-balls-in-one-game/index.html

Click on ‘one fan catches 3 foul balls’

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=14747057

I love how the announcer think you’ve only caught 3 in ur life

3 foul balls Zack!?!?!? Crazy!!! I saw the video on MLB.com and was thinking that it was probably you. I was right. That’s awesome.

Zack, I think that you should count that ball that Boog threw to you on your list. I can’t really explain why but he’s not a fan really, he’s more of an employee in a way and you count balls from them.

Sorry Zack I thought you were wondering whether to count the ball in your entire collection or not. I say that Boog should not go on the player list.

I vote yes to Boog.

PS – When Colleen and I got married we were living just outside of Harrisburg (in New Cumberland, PA) and I was working in downtown Harrisburg. Its a great little city. I really enjoyed living there. City lsland where the Harrisburg Senators is awesome.

Dang Zack, You’re everywhere!!
You made SI’s hot clicks, mlb.com, espn, etc…
Great job man!!

ED-
Thanks for the long/awesome comment, and sorry it has taken me several days to respond. I just copied and pasted your comment into an email and sent it to Gregg, so if he hasn’t already seen it, he soon will. Really cool to hear such nice things about him — and I’m not surprised. I might be at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday or Friday or Saturday this week (weather permitting), so hopefully I’ll see you there.

MATT-
Thanks for weighing in on Boog. I’m gonna tally up the votes and make a decision on that. As for PNC, I am indeed planning to be there on August 4-5, but those plans aren’t firm and might change.

ROYALS2110-
Thanks for the Boog comment, and as for Kauffman Stadium, yes, but not for a few more months. I’ll post my whole stadium itinerary once I make it official.

GREG B-
Word.

JEFF-
Thanks!

JERE80-
Haha, I know *exactly* what you mean about the sidewalks of New York City. I do the very same thing. It also helps avoiding cracks and potholes and other uneven patches of pavement. And as for the ball that I was chasing, hmm…you might be right.

MATT JACKSON-
Thanks for Boog-ing it up, and the spoiler was most welcome. It’s not like it was a secret.

TIM ANDERSON-
Yeah, I noted in my “ball log” that the first one came from an usher. Good call.

ANDREW MEEUSEN-
I’m starting to agree with all those commenters too. I’m tallying up the votes, and so far, five people have said that Boog should go on the list, and one person has said he shouldn’t.

KSLO69-
Howdy. Glad to hear the books arrived. You’re very welcome. As for the charity, it appears that when you signed up for that initial pledge, you neglected to actually “confirm” it, so that’s why you didn’t receive the follow-up note. So…I logged into the system and confirmed it for you, and you’re now all set. Thanks for your generosity.

WILL-
Boog…cool. The weather is supposed to suck tomorrow, so I might skip the game. I don’t know. I want to go today, but the weather is sucky right now too. This could end up being an exceptionally lame week of ballhawking.

B-RAD-
Sweeeeet!

NOAM-
Yeah, that cracked me up.

TANNER-
Thanks so much.

JOEYORR4-
Thanks for your opinion on Boog, but it seems that the majority of people here think he SHOULD go on the list, so despite everything you’ve said, I’m going to add him.

TODD-
Perhaps we should call it “Harrisboog.”

ROYALSFREAK-
And CNN today. Crazy stuff.

EVERYONE-
There were eight votes to add Boog Powell to the list…and two votes to keep him off the list. Therefore, I’m going to add him. Thank you all for your thoughts.

Sweet. Thanks for that. I bought the family tix for Red Sox @ Mariners on August 13, so that should be fun. I plan on bringing the “Bend Elks” hoodie, see if I can’t get some love from Jacoby. I’ll let you know.

Cool, definitely let me know how it goes…

You should dedicate your next book to Jeremy Guthrie and say: “So that he can stop pestering me about not being in my last book.”

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