5/29/11 at Rogers Centre

One nice thing about Rogers Centre is that you can pretty much go anywhere during batting practice — like here:

In the photo above, BP technically wasn’t in progress. It was a Sunday afternoon game. The White Sox decided not to hit. The Blue Jays got a slow start. But still, there was going to be BP and the ushers let me wander all over the place. (For the sake of comparison, at Yankee Stadium you have to pay about $1,000 to get this close.)

This was the view to my right:

In Toronto, the visiting team occupies the 1st base dugout. I decided to hang out there for a few minutes in case Alex Rios poked his head out. I’d gotten my 5,000th ball from him the day before — click here to watch the video of me catching it — and I really wanted to get it signed. Rios, however, was nowhere to be seen.

The Blue Jays started playing catch in left field, so I moved to the left field foul line. Carlos Villanueva was the player closest to me…

…and it just so happened that he fielded a batted ball in between throws. I asked him for it. He tossed it to me. Easy.

I moved to left-center field when BP got underway, and before long, a ball rolled onto the warning track near me. Jon Rauch, the 6-foot-10 monster with neck tattoos, jogged over to retrieve it. As soon as I asked him for it, he threw it at me much harder than he should’ve, and then he said, “Don’t ask for another one, okay, bud?”

“Okay,” I said shakily, startled by what had just happened.

Here’s a photo of Rauch (and the roof opening) that I took soon after:

Since Rauch was out of earshot, I asked Casey Janssen for the next ball that rolled onto the warning track, and he tossed it to me. (“Don’t ask for another one” my ass!)

I used my glove trick to snag my 4th ball of the day soon after. It was a homer (not sure who hit it) that cleared the left field wall, but fell short of the stands. Just as I was starting to lift my glove back up, a security guard appeared below and looked up at me. Did he yell at me and cut my string and confiscate the ball and threaten to have me arrested for “throwing objects onto the field”? Hell no. This was Toronto, not New York, so he simply smiled and watched and said, “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

The stadium was unbelievably empty. I pretty much had all of left-center field to myself. If the Jays had hit 10 balls into the seats, I would’ve snagged 11 of them. Check out the following photo (I’ll explain the arrows and markings in a moment), and you’ll see what I mean:

That’s what the outfield looked like forty-five minutes after the stadium opened — on a Sunday!

Wow.

(Show of hands: how many ballhawks in New York often wish they lived somewhere else?)

Anyway, I caught two home runs on the fly, and the photo above shows how far I ran for the first one. The arrow on the bottom shows where I was standing when the ball was hit. Now, do you see the “red seat” in the next section? It’s in the 3rd row on the far end of the next staircase. That’s where I caught it. While the ball was in mid-air, I ran the entire length of my 22-seat section, then navigated around the big concrete step, ran an additional five seats, and reached high up for a back-handed grab. There wasn’t anyone else going for the ball — those guys in the front row just stood there and watched — but it still felt great. As for the second homer, it was hit in my direction but falling short, so I drifted down the steps and reached over the railing for it. Unfortunately, I don’t know who hit either of these balls.

One more thing about the photo above…

Do you see the arrow pointing to a fan behind the bullpen? That’s my friend Andrew. (He’d made this trip with me from New York City.) When BP ended, I had six balls, and he had five — pretty impressive considering he’d only snagged a total of five in his entire life before that. His first two baseballs of the day were tossed before BP started. During BP, he got Marc Rzepczynski to throw him another, then caught a home run on the fly, and finally grabbed another homer in the seats.

Before the game, Alex Rios came out to stretch and run:

I screamed my head off and tried to get his attention, but he ignored me and cut across the infield to get back to the dugout. Does anyone have advice for getting him to sign? Does he ever sign inside stadiums? Does he sign on his way in or out? Does he sign at the hotels? Does he ever sign for anyone under any circumstances? Do I need to be blonde and have large breasts? (Anything is possible nowadays.) Seriously, WTF do I need to do in order to get that man’s autograph on my 5,000th ball? Should I mail the ball to him with a SASB? (That would be a self-addressed stamped box.) Should I contact his agent or the White Sox? Should I wait until Rios retires and then pay some excessive fee to get him at a card show? I’ll do whatever it takes (as long as it’s legal).

Soon after Rios blew me off, I got Alexi Ramirez to bounce-pass a warm-up ball to me off the fake grass.

This was my view for the first pitch of the game:

Nice but nothing special, right? Well, check out the view to my right:

The pitching matchup featured two lefties — John Danks versus Ricky Romero. Of the 18 batters in the starting lineups, 15 were right-handed! I just needed one of them to swing late and slice a foul ball down the line. Just one. Was that too much to ask?

Several innings passed. The Blue Jays scored a lot of runs. There was no foul-ball action. I was getting antsy. The seats were filling up a bit. Andrew and I moved one section farther away from home plate. In the 4th inning, I wandered past the foul pole and took this photo of the White Sox bullpen:

In the top of the 5th inning, Andrew went to get pizza — once slice for each of us — and in the bottom of the 5th, he came back with it. I started eating, but I was still paying close attention to the game, and I was ready to pounce.

Can you tell where I’m going with this?

With two outs, Jose Bautista stepped up to the plate, and when the count went to 2-2, he sliced a deep drive toward the right field corner. I took off running immediately, pizza in hand, even though I wasn’t sure where the ball was going to land, and instead of looking for the ball, I kept my head down and focused on sprinting through my empty row. The following screen shot, sent by my friend Avi Miller in Baltimore, shows me running for it. Andrew is inside the circle. I’d been sitting just in front of him:

I didn’t see the ball until it was about to land. And then? Not only did it land in my row, but it landed in the folded up portion of a seat and stayed there. Talk about lucky. Here I am getting closer to it:

Here I am reaching down and grabbing it:

(Did you notice that no one else had even moved from their seats?)

As soon as I picked up the ball, I noticed that my half-eaten slice of pizza had slipped out of the box and was pressed against my t-shirt:

There was grease and tomato sauce on me — not enough to appear on camera, thankfully, but enough for me to be annoyed.

I fumbled with the ball and pizza…

…and finally held up the ball for the camera:

I continued eating the pizza as I walked back to my seat, and when I got close to Andrew (and had my mouth full), he took the following photo:

Here’s a closer look at the ball:

The previous day, I’d met a really nice security guard who’d recognized me from my radio interview. His name is Glenn. He works the right field foul line. And when he saw me snag that foul ball, this was his reaction:

People are so nice in Canada. You’d think it was like…another country, or something.

Some people, though, could use a little help with their signs:

(Sorry, is that mean? Listen…when I was that age, I knew how to spell “White Sox.”)

I moved behind the 1st base dugout in the top of the 9th inning. This was my view…

…and on the pitch that was thrown immediately after I took that photo, Ramon Castro hit a two-run homer. That made it a 13-4 game, and that was the final score.

After the final out, I moved down to the front row. Can you find me in the following photo?

I snagged two more baseballs there. The first was thrown by home plate umpire David Rackley, and the second was tossed by a White Sox bullpen coach who was wearing No. 73. Does anyone know who that is? He’s not on the roster. He looked to be about 50 to 60 years old. He has a gray-ish mustache. I think he’s Latino, and he walked in with bullpen catcher Mark Salas.

Anyway, that gave me 10 balls for the day. Double digits, baby!

I wandered into the concourse and gave away two baseballs to a couple of little kids with gloves. I’m not sure who was more stunned — the kids or their father. Then I took a pic of Andrew with his five balls, and he took a pic of me with my remaining eight:

Here’s another photo of the two of us:

On my way out of the stadium, I gave away another ball and took one final photo of the seats along the right field foul line:

Back at the hotel, I had an hour to kill before leaving with Andrew for the airport. We’d already checked out that morning, so we hung out in the lobby and used the free WiFi. Among the many emails waiting for me in my inbox (many of which I still haven’t had a chance to answer), there was an interview request from a reporter named Tristan Hopper with the National Post. (The Post did a huge feature on me in 1999, BTW.) He wanted to get a quote from a “baseball expert” about Jo-Jo Reyes’s near-record-breaking losing streak. Long story short: I emailed Tristan, he called me back, we did a quick interview, and the following day, my name/quotes appeared in the paper. Here’s an online version of the article, in case you want to check it out. And wouldn’t you know it? Reyes ended up pitching (and winning!) a complete game on the same day that the article was published. I must be good luck.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game

• 353 balls in 41 games this season = 8.61 balls per game.

• 702 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 228 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 149 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 133 lifetime foul balls during games (not counting foul balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 5,015 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.)

• 47 donors

• $6.84 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $68.40 raised at this game

• $2,414.52 raised this season

14 Comments

Speaking of Mr. Rios and autographs, Alexis caused a stir in Toronto a few years ago when this video surfaced…

Those screen shots are quite fantastic, I must say. :)
 
-Avi M
 
2131 and Beyond: The games. The news. The experiences. The Orioles.
 

The foul gods finally let you get a foul ball. All right! Do you know where you’re going next?

Zack,

Rios was an easier auto when he played in Toronto. He stayed at the Renassance for the first part of his career there. The White Sox were one of the few AL teams that also stayed in the hotel (most had other affiliations in the city before ’89 when the stadium was built and the hotel went live). When Inworked there 5 hrs ago I checked Konerko in and spoke with Ozzie etc.

Not sure if they still stay there but Jennifer will know and she will also have good intel on Rios.

She knows all the players and will be able to tell you how to hook up with him next time the Sox are in T.O.

Zack,
I was wondering 2 things. One, how many baseball games have you gone to in your enire life? How many of those games idid you reach double digets in baseball?

Sorry, I meant how many of all of the games that you have gone to, have you reached double digets in baseballs?

Congrats on a great four days in Canada, Z. Oh and I love the Where’s Waldo photo. “Nice job, Andrew!”

awesome series. great seeing you!

lol Here I am to the rescue with another Sox name! That bullpen coach is Juan Nieves. I knew who he was as soon as you described him but, just in case, I did a Google Image search to avoid sounding like an idiot =P
– Anders (The Hitless Wonders)

Zack,
Fun to read about your adventures in Toronto, and good job with the milestone ball and the Bautista foul — super cool!
I’ve never had luck with Rios through the mail or in person, so I definitely wouldn’t try the mail approach, especially with a ball so important.
I might watch for a Chicago-area show in which he’s signing; these shows often accept items by mail, so that might be an option.
Good luck with it!
Malcolm

Two hands up. Oh… and a nice entry too.

BEN WIDERMAN-
Damn. Alex Rios needs to learn NOT to respond to people.

AVI-
Why yes. Yes, they are.

MLBLOGSBIGGESTRANGERFAN-
Citi Field all this week. Maybe Baltimore early next week. Denver and Seattle after that. Fenway in late June. And so on.

CHRIS-
Cool, thanks for the info and insights.

NICHOLAS-
I’ve hit double digits at 150 different games, and I’ve been to about 880 games overall. I think. I know the exact number of balls that I’ve snagged, but when I was little (and not yet snagging baseballs), I didn’t keep track of every game I attended.

BIBBY-
Thank ye.

JON MADDEN-
Great seeing YOU. You made the Rogers Centre extra fun for me, so thanks for that.

ANDERS-
Juan Nieves! Yes! I should’ve remembered. He tossed me a couple balls in Arlington two years ago.

MALCOLM-
Okay, thanks. No mail. Got it. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for shows.

MATEO-
Heh. Thanks.

Well, you could try to go to a kids day at us cellular and give it to a kid to get him to sign. Rhys my advice

Thanks, but I try to avoid games when there are gonna be a zillion kids.

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