June 2011

6/29/11 at Yankee Stadium

As usual, there was a huge line outside Gate 6, but for a change, there was someone special waiting just inside to greet everyone. In the following photo, this “mystery person” is standing behind the closed/gated door:

Any guesses?

Time’s up.

It was Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Here’s a two-part photo that shows me (left) and my friend Ben Weil (right) with him:

Girardi was there…just because. Pretty cool, huh?

When I made it out to the right field seats, I got Nick Swisher to throw me my first ball of the day. Here’s a photo of him that I took soon after:

Ben also got a ball from him.

Then I caught an A-Rod homer on the fly. And then Ben caught one too.

I headed to left field when the Brewers started hitting…

…and snagged two more baseballs. The first was tossed by Chris Narveson. (Ben’s 3rd ball of the day was a Chris Dickerson homer in right field.) The second was a homer, possibly hit by Yuniesky Betancourt, that landed in the seats and took a lucky ricochet right to me. I gave that ball to a kid soon after. (Ben’s 4th ball was a homer, definitely hit by Ryan Braun, that landed in the seats and took a lucky ricochet right to him. He’d given away his 3rd ball of the day. Hmm.)

After BP, there were eight balls sitting in the left field bullpen, most of which can be seen in the following photo:

As for the guy in the photo, that was a groundskeeper who kept everyone waiting for the balls while he took down the metal poles and protective netting. When he finished five minutes later, he tossed most of the balls into the bleachers, but I managed to get one from him. (Ben’s 5th ball was nonexistent. He ended the day with four. Haha!! I mean, wait, that wasn’t nice of me. Sorry, Ben. Thanks for driving me to and from the stadium, two days in a row.)

Time out…

Back on 4/14/11 at Citi Field, I met a pair of young fans named Ben and Eli. Remember? Here’s a photo of the three of us.

Time in…

Eli was at this game, and he knew that I was going to be here too, so he brought his copy of The Baseball. Here we are with it:

In the photo above, Eli is holding the two baseballs that he’d snagged during BP.

In the photo below, a gentleman named Stuart Jon is holding a baseball that I signed:

I’ve gotten to know Stuart Jon over the past few years through emails and several face-to-face encounters at the stadium, the first of which occurred on July 26, 2009. He owns copies of all three of my books. He’s made donations to my charity fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball. He’s a diehard Yankee fan and all-around great guy. And he’s an architect. Check out his website.

This was my view during the game — not great because the cameraman was standing directly in front of me, but still pretty cool because there was a TV monitor showing all the action and slow-Mo replays:

Speaking of Mo, the Yankees took a 5-2 lead into the 9th inning. You know what that means, right?

Mariano Rivera!

Here’s The Man jogging in from the bullpen:

Mariano retired the Brewers with just 12 pitches to earn his 580th career save. I don’t care for the Yankees, but I love Him.

After the game, while the Brewers were clearing the bullpen, Chris Narveson got some extra work in, and Marco Estrada tossed me my 6th ball of the day. In the following photo (taken just after I got the ball), Estrada is the guy who’s walking away from me on the right:

And then…I went home.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave two away)

• 470 balls in 58 games this season = 8.1 balls per game.

• 719 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 244 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 150 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 5,132 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.)

• 55 donors

• $7.11 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $42.66 raised at this game

• $3,341.70 raised this season

Finally, of the four baseballs that I kept, only one has any trace of invisible ink on it, but man, wait ’til you see it. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:

In case you can’t tell, the marks surrounding the “110” stamp are fingerprints — and look, there’s more:

THAT, my friends, is a snazzy baseball.

6/28/11 at Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium was unbearably crowded yesterday. Here’s the line outside just ONE of the four gates…

…and here’s a look at the right field seats during the Yankees’ portion of batting practice:

There was absolutely no room to run.

Speaking of running, this was my first game off crutches since spraining my ankle on 6/3/11 at Citi Field. Obviously it felt great not to have to use them, but my foot still hurt every time I took a step, and I spent the entire day in fear of re-injuring it. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t jog. I couldn’t jump. I couldn’t even hurry. All I could do was limp around slowly and hope for a miracle.

When the stadium first opened, I spent 20 minutes in the right field seats and managed to grab a Brett Gardner home run that landed near me in the last row. Then, over in left field, I carefully drifted 15 feet through a partially empty row and caught a towering fly ball hit by Andruw Jones.

Just before changing into my Brewers gear, I met a guy named Daniel who’d brought his copy of my new book. Here we are after I signed it for him:

Daniel knew I was going to attend this game because I’d told him on Twitter two days earlier.

In the photo above, do you see the fan behind Daniel’s right elbow? He’s wearing a blue cap and a drawstring backpack. His name is Ben. We’d met on 4/14/11 at Citi Field. Here’s a better look at him, along with the insanely crowded left field seats:

Toward the end of BP, Brewers bullpen coach Stan Kyles tossed a ball to me from the left field bullpen — but it fell short and hit the cross bar on top of the netting. As the ball dropped back down into the bullpen, he yelled “HAAA-HA!!” in a sing-songy way. I thought he was taunting me and wasn’t going to give me another shot, but he quickly walked over and hooked me up.

Here’s a random photo of the batting cage being dragged away:

What you can’t see from this angle is that there was a guy on the inside of it, pushing really hard.

Zack Greinke was the starting pitcher for the Brewers. (Did you notice my Greinke shirt in the photo with Daniel?) Before the game, he went through the normal routine of long-tossing on the field, and then he continued warming up in the bullpen. I watched him on and off and kept my mouth shut. It was that time of day. He was getting ready. He was in the zone. I didn’t want to bother him. Eventually, as the public address announcer told everyone to rise and remove their caps for the national anthem, I noticed that Greinke made one final pitch. I thought that the timing of it bordered on being disrespectful, but whatever, no harm done, and anyway, it’s not my job to mandate patriotism. The anthem was still several seconds away, so the bullpen catcher quickly tossed the ball back. Greinke, who had already removed his cap by that point, caught the ball and (for some reason) looked *right* up at me and flipped it to me over the netting.

Ta-daaa!!

Here’s a photo that I took moments later:

In the photo above, that’s Stan Kyles on the right, wearing uniform No. 53. Do you see the white thing sticking up out of his back pocket? That’s a lineup card. During the 7th inning stretch, when he wandered over near my end of the bullpen, I called down to him and said, “Hey, Stan, is there any chance that I could have the lineup card after the game? If you’re not going to save it? Please?”

He looked up and told me that he needed to keep it because there were notes about which pitchers were being used, and that the team needed that info for the following game. “If you’re gonna be here tomorrow,” he said, “I’ll give it to you then.”

“I will be here tomorrow,” I told him, and he gave me a friendly nod before walking off. That made the whole night worthwhile and erased some of the frustration I’d felt during BP. (Earlier in the day, several balls had landed near me, and I didn’t even make an attempt at catching them. I simply couldn’t move. If I weren’t injured, I easily would’ve caught two or three more home runs.)

This was my view during the game…

…and it was officially a laugher. The Yankees scored twice in the 1st inning and added five more runs in the 2nd to chase Greinke — and things kept going like that from there.

In the 6th inning, I gave one of my baseballs to a woman who’d gotten hit so hard by a ball in BP that it left stitch marks on her skin. The ball had hit her near the elbow, and some kid, she said, grabbed it and ran off. I didn’t see it happen. I only heard about it in the 6th inning when she noticed the ASO brace on my ankle and started describing her own injury.

Before the 9th inning got underway, Chris Dickerson (who had just entered the game to play left field) threw me his warm-up ball. My friend Ben Weil had been sitting with me all night and was NOT happy about it. He had moved into the front row, I had picked a spot in the 6th row, Dickerson threw it directly over his head, and Ben was a good sport about it, as always.

The Yankees ended up winning, 12-2. Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira each finished with four RBIs. Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Alex Rodriguez each scored two runs. The Yankees stole four bases without getting caught. Swisher had two outfield assists. It was total domination — and the Brewers are a first-place team. It was such a brutal defeat for them that after the game, Kyles walked over and found me.

“Here,” he said, handing me the lineup card through the narrow space below the netting. “You might as well take this now. It might be bad luck.”

Here I am with it (check out my ankle brace)…

…and here’s a closer look at it:

If you look at my entire collection of lineup cards, you’ll see that teams are now regularly using colors to indicate lefties and switch-hitters. This lineup card from the Brewers is the first I’ve seen with three colors (not counting black): red for the lefties, blue for the righties, and green for switch-hitters. It’s also unusual that one left side of the lineup card is completely blank. It makes sense, though, for the Brewers’ bullpen to ignore their own lineup. After all, it’s not like they were gonna have to come in and face their own hitters, but still, there’s some cool stuff here, and I’m really glad to have gotten my hands on it. And by the way, there aren’t any notes on it. Maybe Kyles was planning to scribble down some notes after the game and used a separate piece of paper instead.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 464 balls in 57 games this season = 8.14 balls per game.

• 718 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 243 consecutive games with at least two balls

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

• 5,126 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.)

• 52 donors

• $6.94 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $34.70 raised at this game

• $3,220.16 raised this season

One last thing…

Three of the four balls that I kept have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light:

I love how the magic marker streak happened to be drawn on top of the invisible ink stamp. It’s kind of like the stamp is being crossed out.

30 stadiums in 2011

As many of you already know, I’m planning to visit all 30 major league stadiums this season — and while I’m at it, I’m gonna try to snag 1,000 baseballs. Just for fun. And, you know, for charity.

I’ve already been to 11 stadiums this season (Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, Citi Field, Citizens Bank Park, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Nationals Park, Rogers Centre, Coors Field, Safeco Field, and Fenway Park). That leaves 19 more, and here’s my itinerary:

Chase Field — July 11-12 (HR Derby [courtesy of State Farm] and the All-Star Game)
Tropicana Field — August 2-3 (I might be filmed during BP for a local news station)
Sun Life Stadium — August 4-5 (Jona will join me at both Florida stadiums.)
Progressive Field — August 22 (“Watch With Zack” game with a family from Seattle)
PNC Park — August 23-24 (another “Watch With Zack” game with them on the 23rd)
Dodger Stadium — August 29 (big road trip starts here with my friend Brandon)
Chase Field — August 30-31 (yes, Chase Field again ’cause Brandon really wants to go)
O.co Coliseum — September 2 (this is the new name of the Oakland Coliseum…yeesh)
AT&T Park — September 3 (wish I could spend one month in SF instead of one day)
Angel Stadium — September 5 (I’ll try not to crack a rib this time, as I did on 8/30/08)
PETCO Park — September 6 (Heath Bell for President! But will he still be a Padre then?)
U.S. Cellular Field — September 8 (hoping Alex Rios will finally sign my 5,000th ball)
Miller Park — September 9 (hoping the Happy Youngster will take me back to Kopp’s)
Comerica Park — September 10 (Brandon wants to see Blink 182 on September 11th)
Great American Ball Park — September 12 (nice place overall; tough for ballhawking)
Turner Field — September 13-14 (my birthday is on the 14th so it better not rain)
Wrigley Field — September 16 (tempted to spend the game out on Waveland Avenue)
Target Field — September 17-18 (I wonder if any Target Field balls will still be in use)
Kauffman Stadium — September 20 (UPDATE: Gates now open 90 minutes early.)
Busch Stadium — September 21 (final game of the road trip with Brandon…phew!)

The road trip was initially going to start earlier and last longer and cover even more stadiums, so if I emailed you any dates earlier in the season, please note that they might have changed. That said, if you live near any of these stadiums, please come and find me and introduce yourself (if we haven’t met) and bring your copies of my books so I can sign them for you. Since people often ask, the best times to meet are (a) outside the stadium before the gates open, (b) behind the visiting team’s dugout right after batting practice, and (c) after the game at one of the dugouts, probably that of the visiting team. Although I’m happy to meet anyone at anytime and say a quick hello, I generally prefer to wander and focus and do my own thing during BP and the game itself. I hope that’s okay. If you’re wondering how I plan to get tickets, that’s easy: with just a few exceptions, I’m going to buy cheap seats on the day of the game. And if you’re wondering how the hell I can afford to do all of this in the first place, that’s also easy (but maybe not quite as easy): I have some money saved up and travel very cheaply, often crashing with friends so I can avoid hotels. Anyway, hope to see/meet lots of you in the coming months…

***UPDATE***
I got screwed by Hurricane Irene and can’t make it to Los Angeles until late at night on Tuesday, August 30th. As a result, I’m going to attend the 12:10pm game at Dodger Stadium on August 31st and skip Chase Field. <frowny face> Everything else will hopefully proceed as originally planned.

6/22/11 at Citi Field

I woke up in Boston with four hours of sleep, took a four-hour bus ride to New York City, took a cab to my apartment, dropped off all my stuff, and took the subway out to Citi Field — all on crutches.

By the time I entered the stadium for BP, I was truly exhausted and kinda wished I weren’t there.

Here’s what it looked like from right-center field:

Just after I took that photo, a kid recognized me and asked me to sign a baseball. His name is Kyle. He is with it:

Soon after I signed it, Kyle got one of the players to toss him a ball. And then I got one from this guy:

I didn’t know who he was at the time, so I looked him up when I got home. He’s a former minor leaguer named Eric Langill, and he just started working for the Mets as a bullpen catcher. (Dave Racaniello, the Mets’ longtime bullpen catcher, still has his job, and that’s a good thing because he’s super-friendly.)

When Oakland took the field, Kyle and his father changed into their eye-catching A’s gear:

“We got that from you,” said his father.

Soon after, I headed to straight-away right field and got a ball from the guy wearing yellow sleeves in the following photo:

It was a coach, but I’m not sure who. I think it was Gerald Perry, but it might’ve been Tye Waller.

Then I cautiously used my glove trick to snag a ball off the warning track, and I immediately handed it to the nearest kid. I hadn’t used the trick all season in New York and wasn’t sure what (if anything) the Mets’ response would be. Surprise, surprise — two minutes later, a pair of security guards walked down the stairs and approached me.

“You can’t do that here, Zack,” said one of them.

“Are you serious?” I asked rhetorically.

“I’m serious,” he said. “They already called it in and told us to come find you. They don’t want anything going down onto the field.”

:-(

Grant Balfour tossed me my 4th ball soon after, and then I headed to left field. It was dead out there as usual, but hey, I got a cool photo looking out/along the railing:

Before BP ended, I got one more ball tossed my way by…someone. I think it was Joey Devine, but for all I know, it could’ve been Graham Godfrey. Living on the east coast and following the Mets much more closely than the Yankees, the American League West feels like an alien division. You know what I mean? I rarely get to see those teams play, even on TV, and I don’t recognize many of the players.

After BP, I was so tired and my left foot was feeling so weak that when I saw this…

…I decided to go home. The game lasted 13 innings, and I didn’t watch any of it. I just needed to get away from the baseball world for a few hours.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 459 balls in 56 games this season = 8.2 balls per game.

• 717 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 243 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,121 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.)

• 52 donors

• $6.94 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $34.70 raised at this game

• $3,185.46 raised this season

Finally, all four baseballs have traces of invisible ink on them. Three actually appear to be stamped, and the fourth has a random blotch. Check it out:

As for my next game, don’t ask. I was planning to take my mom to Camden Yards this weekend, but I still can’t walk without crutches, so there’s no point in being there. Along those lines, I might skip the entire Rockies series at Yankee Stadium because, to put it kindly, that place is tough enough under normal circumstances. The good news — no wait, the really awesomely GREAT news — is that I might be getting a free trip to the Home Run Derby in a few weeks. I can’t say anything else about it yet, but will hopefully have an update soon.

6/21/11 at Fenway Park

It was another day on crutches at Fenway Park…

…but that didn’t seem to hold me back.

Soon after Gate C opened at 4:40pm, I got Darnell McDonald to throw me a ball near the center field cameras. (Upon entering Gate C, you have the option of going to the Monster Seats or to the center field bleachers. The day before, I chose the Monster Seats.) Here’s a photo of me reaching out for it:

My 2nd ball was tossed up by a security guard on the warning track:

My 3rd ball, pictured inside the red circle below, was thrown by Michael Bowden:

Before the Red Sox cleared the field, I got another ball from Rich Hill:

It was beautiful. I stayed in one spot, but the players kept rotating, so I kept getting baseballs from them.

Hill, a left-handed pitcher, had undergone Tommy John Surgery 12 days earlier, so he tossed me the ball with his right hand. Seeing the huge robot-like cast/brace on his left arm made me feel better about my own injury. I remember thinking, “If HE can recover from that and pitch again in the Major Leagues, then *I* can recover and run again someday, pain-free.” It had been 18 days since I sprained my ankle, and my foot still wasn’t feeling right — or even close to it. I seriously wonder how long it’s gonna take before I feel 100 percent. Weeks? Months? Hopefully not years.

When the Padres took the field, I changed into my Padres gear and got my 5th ball of the day from Clayton Richard. Here he is just before letting it fly:

As soon as I caught it, some guy on my left shouted, “He’s got seven already!!”

Richard just smiled and shrugged. “Now he’s got eight,” he said.

What an awesome guy. He tossed several other balls into the stands and briefly played catch with a little kid. The section didn’t get too crowded during the first hour of BP, so everyone (and I mean everyone) who was there with a glove got at least one ball.

At one point, I had a chance to use my glove trick

…but Padres bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds (who has never been fan-friendly) marched over and grabbed the ball:

According to MyGameBalls.com, the all-time record for the most balls in one day at Fenway Park was eight, set by my good friend Greg Barasch on July 9, 2009. My personal Fenway best was seven — a number that I’d achieved twice, most recently on June 1, 2005. Obviously, with five easy snags during the first hour of yesterday’s BP, I was hoping to break my own record and possibly even make a run at double digits.

When the rest of the seating areas opened at 5:40pm, I hurried to the corner spot along the left field foul line. Not surprisingly, another fan beat me there — a tall, athletic guy with a glove — and as I watched helplessly from afar, he scooped up TWO ground balls in a matter of minutes. Thankfully, he vacated that spot soon after I got there, so I slipped in…

…and snagged a grounder toward the end of BP. (No idea who hit it.) That was my 6th ball of the day — not great, not bad, but all things considered, I was quite pleased.

After BP, I ran into a friend and fellow ballhawk from San Diego named Leigh Barratt (aka “Padre Leigh” to those of you who read the comments on this blog). Here we are together near the 3rd base dugout:

Shortly before game time, I caught up with another friend named Heath Bell (aka “the Padres’ closer” to those of you who follow baseball). Here we are:

All of these photos were taken by my (camera-shy) friend Brandon Sloter. He and I had spent a total of $122 for two standing-room tickets, yet we ended up with the following view for the entire game:

Don’t ask me how. The attendance of 38,422 was the largest at Fenway since World War II (seriously), but we still managed to find a few empty seats behind the Padres’ dugout. Brandon took advantage by taking lots of awesome photos. Here’s Anthony Rizzo unleashing a mighty swing…

…and here’s a foul ball entering the crowd on the first base side:

(Can you find the ball in the photo above? The first person to point it out gets a virtual fist-bump.)

I took advantage of the seats by getting Rizzo to throw me this ball…

…after the 3rd inning. The ball was kinda grass-stained, so I’m thinking he pulled a little switcheroo and tossed me the infield warm-up ball. But hey, I’ll take it. It was my 7th ball of the day, and I still had more than half the game to work with.

Here’s something random that amused me:

Look at Adrian Gonzalez’s face, and check out his stats just to the right. It’s like he’s eyeing them lovingly, and you know what? If I were leading the Major Leagues in runs batted in, extra-base hits, total bases, hits, and batting average, I would be too.

Mat Latos was pumped after escaping a jam:

Ryan Ludwick was a bit more subdued after his turn at bat:

Late in the game, Rizzo evidently ran out of people to toss his 3rd-out balls to. Shortly after the 8th inning ended, he reluctantly rolled a ball to me across the dugout roof — and I promptly handed it to a little kid on my right. That was my 8th ball of the day.

The Padres took a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the 9th inning. You know that means, right? Two words: Heath Bell. Here’s The Man delivering a pitch to David Ortiz:

Bell worked in and out of a jam. After allowing a leadoff single to Kevin Youkilis, he induced Ortiz to ground weakly into a double play and then struck out J.D. Drew to end the game. I was *so* happy, and I let Bell know it as he walked off the field. Here he is looking up at me in the front row…

…and here he is giving me a fist-pump as I pointed at him (and reminded him how awesome he is):

Before Bell and his teammates had walked off the field, I got my 9th ball of the day (suck it, Greg) from home plate umpire Brian O’Nora. Then, as the cluster of Padres entered the dugout, a batting glove came flying up at me out of nowhere. Here I am grabbing it:

I have no idea who tossed it, and I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I nearly dropped it, but there’s a reason for my near-error. Have you ever picked up an object that you thought was light, but it turned out to be heavy? You know what I’m talking about right? You get completely thrown off. It’s like your muscles and brain can’t process what’s happening, and you suddenly turn into a klutz. Well, when the batting glove first made contact with my right hand, it was a lot heavier and bulkier and harder than I expected. Why? Because there was a ball tucked inside! (Double digits!) I’ll show a photo of it in a bit.

I asked Bud Black for the lineup card…

…and thought he was gonna hook me up.

“Let’s see,” he mumbled as he approached the dugout. “We oughta give it to someone if we’re not saving it.” But then he disappeared and never came back out. Hmph.

Moments later, I got another ball tossed to me…

…but I didn’t know whether to count it. In the photo above, do you see the guy wearing the Padres jacket? He’s in the stands just past the dugout, all the way down near the field. That’s who tossed it to me.

“Do you work for the Padres?” I asked, hoping he’d say yes. My rule is that I count balls that are given to me by stadium (or team) employees, but not by fans.

He shook his head.

“Oh, so you’re just a fan?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, “but I get a lot of balls.”

So much for that. I immediately handed the ball to a kid on my left and turned my attention back toward the field. Four Padres were walking in from the bullpen, and the guy on the left had a ball in his glove:

I had no idea who he was (can someone identify him?), but still managed to get him to toss it to me. Here’s a better look at him as the ball was just starting to float out of his hand:

When the game had ended, I’d snagged eight balls. Five minutes later, my daily total had reached eleven! Here I am with the final three (batting glove included):

The security guy on top of the dugout recognized me from this YouTube video and asked if he could take my picture.

“Sure, no problem,” I told him, “but first let me change out of my Padres gear.”

Moments later, he took the photo. Then I headed up the steps, through the cross-aisle, and down the nearest exit ramp. When I made it to the concourse, there was a crowd of Padres fan waiting for…something. I asked what was going on. They said that the players might come out. I was totally confused and thought the whole thing was a waste of time and wanted to leave, but Brandon (a diehard Padres fan) convinced me to wait there with him for five minutes.

One minute later, Heath Bell walked out of a doorway on the far side of the concourse. (I later learned that the door was connected to the clubhouse.) His right arm was wrapped in ice, and he had removed his cap and jersey. (Wow.) He talked to a few of the other people who were standing around, and then we shook hands:

I congratulated him on the great game, and he busted my chops for wearing a Red Sox cap — for not wearing the Padres cap that he’d given me on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park.

“Hang on,” I told him and quickly switched caps. That drew some laughter from the crowd, and we kept chatting for a bit:

It turns out that the “other people” that Heath had initially talked to were part of his immediate family. In the photo above, the blonde woman with her back turned to me is his mother. The guy (looking down) in Padres gear over her left shoulder is his father. The kid staring at me (just to the right of my crutches) is one of his four kids, and his wife was there as well. While Heath talked to some other other people, I introduced myself to his family and told them how I’d first met him. When I mentioned the fact that I’ve snagged more baseballs at major league games than anyone, his kid said, “How many, fifty?!”

When I told him “more than five thousand,” his jaw dropped.

Heath had to get going after that, so we got a photo together…

…and then I headed out:

But wait! There’s more!

After exiting the ballpark (note that I call it a “ballpark” and not a “stadium”), Brandon and I walked along Yawkey Way…

…and stopped at a pizza place for a midnight snack. (The game lasted three hours and 42 minutes, so by the time we ate, it really was close to midnight.)

Before jumping in a cab, I wanted to give away one more ball — but it was a weeknight so there weren’t many kids around. After several minutes of scouring the crowd, I found a very worthy recipient. Here I am handing the ball to him…

…and here he is with it in his glove:

The kid was wearing a Yankee cap — only because his Little League team is called “The Yankees.”

“In that case,” I joked, “it’s okay, but be careful wearing that thing around here.”

The End.

(Thank you, Boston!)

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 baseballs at this game (nine pictured here because I gave two away)

• 454 balls in 55 games this season = 8.25 balls per game.

• 716 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 242 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 153 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 27 different stadiums with at last one game with ten or more balls

• 5,116 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.)

• 52 donors

• $6.94 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $76.34 raised at this game

• $3,150.76 raised this season

6/20/11 at Fenway Park

This was my first game at Fenway Park since 2008, and I had a new trick up my sleeve: early access to the Monster Seats. I’d heard about this from a couple friends, and now I’m gonna pass this lesser-known trick onto you. If you line up outside Gate C at around 4pm, you’ll see a woman selling memberships to Red Sox Nation. She basically walks up and down the line with a clipboard and wristbands, so you can’t miss her. (She works for the Sox, so it’s all totally legit and official.) The membership, which is good for a full season, costs $15, and once you have it, you can enter the Monster Seats two and a half hours early for batting practice. The rest of the stadium opens two hours early, but for the first half-hour, fans have to stay behind home plate and the dugouts, so getting into the Monster Seats effectively provides an hourlong head start on the competition. I’d never done this before. In fact, I’d never even been in the Monster Seats, so I was excited to finally see what it was all about. Here I am in line outside the ballpark:

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see that I was still wearing that gosh-darn aircast, 17 days after spraining my ankle on 6/3/11 at Citi Field. Do you see my crutches leaning against the gate? See the guy (in the beige shorts and black shirt) standing next to them? His name is David A. Kelly, and he’s a fellow baseball author. More on him in a bit.

Because I was on crutches, I got to enter the Monster Seats a few minutes early. It didn’t help me snag any extra baseballs, but it was still cool to be there ahead of the crowd and get to soak it all in. Here I am heading to the seats via a walkway at the back of the section:

Just about every photo in this entry was taken by my friend Brandon Sloter. He’s a professional photographer/videographer, and I’ve mentioned him lots in the past. Prior to this, our last game together was on 6/10/11 at Coors Field.

I headed down to the corner spot in the front row…

…but was told that I couldn’t stand there — Acchh!! So many rules!! — so I moved toward straight-away left field:

It was amazing to finally BE in those seats, but from a ballhawking perspective, the setup was lousy. The rows were narrow, and the stairs were steep, and of course the whole section got really crowded. I did manage to snag a couple baseballs in the front row and got a little bit of help on both of them. The first was thrown over my head by rookie pitcher Tommy Hottovy. David (the author I mentioned after the first photo) could’ve snagged it, but he let me grab it. That was very kind of him, so when a home run landed in the second row and was handed to me by a stadium employee, I gave that one to him. Yes, I know, these snags were lame and uneventful, but I do have a rigid set of rules for what counts and what doesn’t, and both of these baseballs fell within the parameters.

After a while, I moved to the back of the section and played the walkway — or at least attempted to do so. I still couldn’t run because it was too painful, so whenever a ball came near me, I had to hop after it on my right foot. The closest I came was on a home run that deflected off a kid’s glove right in front of me. Here I am flinching as I reached down for it:

The ball bounced past me and promptly got snatched by another fan.

When the Padres took the field, I immediately spotted Heath Bell. Look! Here he is:

I called down to him, and we had a minute-long conversation. (Even though I was so high up, it was easy for us to hear each other.) I told him about my ankle. He thanked me for the book. It was nice to catch up briefly.

A few minutes later, I got Ernesto Frieri to throw me a ball by asking for it in Spanish. Unfortunately, he was standing near the foul line, and there was a kid standing directly on my right. I mean, it was good for the kid but bad for me because the kid was able to reach out and rob me. Here’s some photographic evidence:

I could’ve boxed the kid out or reached around/over his glove, but that’s not my style. I stayed where I was and simply extended my arm directly out. If the kid hadn’t been able to reach it, then I would’ve caught it (and I might’ve then handed the ball to him), but as it turned out, he made a nice play.

When the rest of the stadium opened, I headed to the center field seats. Heath Bell was out there (in the deepest part of the ballpark) talking to the fans and deciding who to give a ball to:

He’s awesome.

Here’s a photo of the right field seats…

…and if you look closely at the following shot, you can see me hopping after a ball:

I didn’t snag it, but I did get one tossed to me out there by Clayton Richard.

That was my 3rd ball of the day, and I got No. 4 at the Padres’ dugout right after BP ended. As all the players started walking off the field, I noticed the ball sitting on the grass and pointed it out to Mike Adams:

He actually stopped and walked out of his way to pick it up and then threw it to me. If you look closely at the following photo, you can see the ball in mid-air:

Fenway Park is the 11th stadium I’ve been to this season, so once all the players were gone, I posed for a photo with my “11” sign:

Can you interpret my facial expression up above? (In case you’re new to this blog, I’ve been making different faces in most these photos to show how I feel about each stadium. Here’s a collage of the first nine.)

Moments later, a longtime reader of this blog found me with his copy of The Baseball. Here we are with it:

His name is Jere (pronounced “Jerry”), and he has posted lots of long/insightful comments over the years as “jere80.” It was great to finally meet him. (UPDATE: Here’s Jere’s blog entry about the day. I’m mentioned several times in it, and there’s also a video of the kid robbing me atop the Monster.)

David had also brought The Baseball, along with his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter. And hey, do you remember when I mentioned that he’s a baseball author as well? Here we are holding each other’s books:

David (who stumbled upon my blog in February while doing research) has written two books and has several more on the way. They’re part of a Random House children’s book series called Ballpark Mysteries. In the photo above, the one on the left is called The Fenway Foul-Up, and the one on the right is called The Pinstripe Ghost. I’ve gotten to read these books, and they’re really fun, so check ‘em out if you have kids who like baseball.

Before the game, I caught up again with Heath Bell at the dugout…

…and asked for his medical advice. I was hoping he’d tell me about some secret major-league/sprained-ankle remedy, but all he said was, “I don’t know, elevate?”

Thanks, Heath. Thanks a lot. Don’t mind me. I’ll just keep limping around.

Brandon took a great photo of the umpires discussing the ground rules with Bud Black…

…and then he got an even better photo of Black walking back to the dugout:

(Brandon, a die-hard Padres fan and San Diego native says, “Having lost eight of his last nine games, he looked miserable, and he should be. Reverse the curse, dude.”)

Here are a bunch of other photos that he took…

Anthony Rizzo:

Our very brief view in the top of the 1st inning (before the people came for their seats):

Dustin Pedroia throwing the ball across the diamond:

Pedroia getting out in front of a pitch and connecting on a fly ball…

…that barely stayed fair for a double. Here’s the ball making its descent:

This was our actual view from our actual seats, which cost $73 apiece (including the fees) on StubHub:

(We were packed in the middle of a row. I didn’t bother wearing my glove.)

This is me, exhausted:

I’d taken a redeye flight from Portland, Oregon the night before and slept one or two (or maybe three hours). Then, before heading to Fenway, I managed to take a nap on a horrendously uncomfortable couch in Brandon’s friend’s place in Allston. (I’m at this place now. It’s a total bachelor bad, and I know I shouldn’t complain because I’m staying here for free and saving about $200 on a hotel room, but I’m going to complain anyway. There’s no toilet paper, okay? And when I woke up this morning and took a shower, I had to dry myself with one of my T-shirts. The guys who live here are great, though, and I *do* appreciate getting to crash.)

As for the game…

…all I can say is that the Red Sox are really good, and the Padres are really bad. The final score was 14-5.

After the final out, I headed down to the dugout…

…and got a final ball from home plate umpire Ed Rapuano. Here I am holding it up as I headed back toward Brandon through the cross-aisle:

In the photo above, do you see the kid (wearing the backwards gray cap) looking up at me? When I noticed that, I asked her if she’d gotten a ball…

…and when she said no, I handed it to her:

She was SO happy — a nice end to an overall difficult day. As I mentioned last night on Twitter, Fenway is gorgeous but stressful.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 baseballs at this game (three pictured here because I gave two away)

• 443 balls in 54 games this season = 8.2 balls per game.

• 715 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 241 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,105 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.)

• 52 donors

• $6.94 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $27.76 raised at this game

• $3,074.42 raised this season

Behind the scenes at Safeco Field

Two years ago, I got a random email from some random guy who told me that his fiancée worked in the Mariners front office — and that if I ever made it to Seattle when the team had an off-day, she’d give me a tour of Safeco Field.

Long story short: the guy came through. Just the other day, at 10 o’clock in the morning, he and his (now) wife met me near the home plate gate of the stadium. Here’s where we went and what I saw…

Let’s start with my Safeco Field visitor pass:

(Yes, I got to keep it when the tour was done.)

The photo above was taken inside the Diamond Club entrance. Do you see the small green lights in the distance? We headed in that direction and took an elevator down one level. (You know you’re going someplace special inside a stadium when you start at street level and then go down.) When the doors opened, this was the view:

Sweeeeeet!

TIME OUT…

I should mention that the random guy who emailed me is named Adam — he’s not so random after all — and his wife, whose name you can see on my visitor pass, is Heidi. They were both incredibly nice (giving me the tour in the first place) and patient (letting me stop and photograph everything while I limped around on crutches). It was great to finally meet them and get to know them a little bit.

TIME IN…

We turned left and entered the actual Diamond Club:

After curving around the bar, I saw the following door and ramp:

We walked up the ramp. This was my view to the left:

After lingering there for a couple minutes, we headed back out of the Diamond Club, walked a short distance through the concourse, and entered this room:

How cool is that? It’s the media room where press conferences take place.

Here I am at table at the front:

This is what it looks like from that spot:

Do you see those gray steps/platforms at the back of the room? That’s where the cameras are normally set up.

I’ve gotten some sneak-peeks at other stadiums before, most recently Citizens Bank Park when I got to rub mud on baseballs with the Phillies’ equipment manager, but this was the first time that I’d ever seen the media room. Seriously cool.

Back in the concourse, I saw something else for the first time — something that I’d never even imagined. Have a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain:

See the white line painted on the floor at the bottom of the photo? And do you see the person crouching off in the distance? That’s Adam. You’ll see a photo of him and Heidi in a minute, but anyway, did you notice the sign on the wall? Here’s a closer look at it:

Brilliant!

I’m not sure if other teams do this, but basically, the Mariners have designated an area in the concourse where the lucky folks who get to throw ceremonial first pitches can warm up and practice.

Right near this area, there was a sign and a door…

…that led to the field. On the way, we passed the visitors clubhouse:

Unfortunately, because the Mariners had just played at Safeco the day before and were going to host another series starting the next day, there were some players around, so we weren’t allowed to enter the clubhouse. (Frowny face.)

We weren’t allowed to enter the umpires room either…

…but I was able to get up close and photograph the signs. Here’s the one next to the door…

…and here’s the one on the door:

By the way, did you notice that the “umpires room” sign has braille on it?

Heh.

Here’s the tunnel that leads to the field:

Once we reached the warning track, I took a photo of Adam and Heidi:

(Standing ovation for Adam and Heidi!)

Then I entered the visitors’ dugout…

…and noticed the following sheet of paper on the bulletin board:

I really wanted to take it, but Heidi told me she didn’t want to get fired, so I reluctantly left it behind. I couldn’t argue with a women who works for the Mariners and was giving me a private tour of the stadium and, you know, wanted to keep her job. But I did have fun messing with her and talking about breaking every imaginable rule. Lawnmower? Hey! “I’m gonna ride that and mow some crazy patterns into the outfield grass.” Random piece of equipment sitting around? Oh boy! “I’m gonna take that and add it to my collection.” Et cetera. Heidi was cool about it and (perhaps somewhat nervously) laughed off my exuberance.

Going back to the previous photo for a moment, do you know why there’s a phone for the press box? I’ll tell you why: It’s there so the players can call the official scorekeeper and kvetch about his decisions. (“You called THAT an error?!?!”) No joke. In extreme cases, players have made crude gestures at the press box from first base after their would-be hits have been ruled errors.

As we exited the dugout, there was a groundskeeper blowing dirt off the home plate cutout:

Adam took my picture on the warning track…

…and again in the left field corner:

(Damn those crutches. It’s been 16 days since I sprained my ankle, and I still need them.)

This was the view from the warning track as we headed toward center field:

Along the way, I noticed that the outfield wall was patched up in lots of places:

At first I thought the holes were the result of outfielders puncturing the padding with their spikes, you know, when jumping and climbing up in an attempt to rob home runs, but then I saw one near the top of the wall (just below the yellow stripe) and didn’t know what to think. Could baseballs have made all those holes? Unlikely, right?

Here’s the bench inside the visitors’ bullpen…

…and here’s a look inside the Mariners’ bullpen:

It was weird to be standing in the spot where players and coaches had been tossing balls to me over the previous three days.

Here’s what home plate looks like from the edge of the warning track in dead center:

The batting cage was tucked behind between the outfield wall and batter’s eye:

As we headed toward home plate along the right field foul line…

…look who appeared in the dugout and walked past us in the opposite direction:

Can’t tell who that is?

Here’s another photo:

ICHIRO!!!

It was 11am on an off-day, and The Man was at the stadium, stretching and running and eventually throwing — and who-knows-what-else-ing. Incredible.

Check out the phones in the Mariners’ dugout:

GM Suite?! What’s that all about? If a rookie makes an error and strikes out in his first three-at bats, does the GM call down to the dugout and tell the guy that he’s gonna be demoted if he whiffs again?

Adam and Heidi only had about 10 more minutes, so we had to pick up the pace at that point. (It was my own fault for being on crutches and then stopping every five seconds to take pictures.)

Our final stop was the press level. Here’s the concourse up there:

Here’s the press box itself…

…and this is the view from the first row of seats:

That’s pretty much it.

Sorry if this blog entry felt rushed, but my whole life is rushed at the moment. As I sit here typing this, I’m on an overnight JetBlue flight from Portland, Oregon to Boston. (I won’t be able to post the entry until later. No WiFi on the plane.) I can’t tell if it’s 3:40am or 6:40am, but either way, I’m tired as all hell, and I’ll be at Fenway Park in a matter of hours. I was just in Portland for three days. Before that I was in Seattle for three days, and before that I was in Denver for four days. I had hoped to post this entry 24 hours earlier, but simply didn’t have the time or energy. In any case, the Safeco Field tour was incredible. As much as I enjoy being inside major league stadiums, I love being inside empty stadiums even more. Thumbs-up to the Mariners and huge thanks to Adam and Heidi for making it happen.

6/15/11 at Safeco Field

This was my last game at Safeco, and I wasn’t the only fan on crutches:

In the photo above, that’s me in the middle wearing the white T-shirt and black jacket. See the guy giving the thumbs-up on the left? That’s Max Van Hollebeke, an 18-year-old ballhawk that you might remember from this photo on 6/13/11 at Safeco Field; the other fan on crutches is Max’s 13-year-old brother, Luke, and the girl on the right is their 11-year-old sister, Hannah. The fan wearing the red sweatshirt is Ben Mersereau (aka “sportzfreeka” to those of you who read the comments on this blog), and the guy wearing the light blue jeans is Wayne Peck. Wayne is almost always at Safeco Field, and Max is there quite a bit, but this was the first time that I’d met the others.

Within the first few minutes of batting practice, I got a ball from some kid in the Mariners’ bullpen. I was on the party deck in center field, and when I asked him for it, he walked over and handed it to me. Here’s a photo of the ball (upside down, just because) and the kid:

“Are you related to one of the players or coaches?” I asked him.

“I’m the pitching coach’s son,” he said.

It took me a moment to remember who the Mariners’ pitching coach is: Carl Willis. Very cool. Nice kid. I talked to him for a bit, and he gave baseballs to two other fans, including Hannah.

Five minutes later, rookie outfielder Greg Halman threw a ball toward me on the party deck. The ball sailed a bit too high, so I tried to jump for it off my one good foot. That failed. I only got about six inches off the ground, and the ball sailed a foot over my glove. Normally, I would’ve jumped and caught it easily, but in this case, all I could do was turn around and watch helplessly as a few other fans scrambled for it. Incredibly, the ball eluded all of them, ricocheted off some steps 10 feet behind me, and bounced slowly back in my direction — at which point I carefully bent down and picked it up.

After that, I slowly made my way to the area behind the bullpens. Here’s a photo of the awesome setup back there…

…and here’s another:

I *love* the fact that fans can get close to the bullpens at Safeco Field. I mean really close. This, in my opinion, is stadium design at its very best, and I wish more places were built like this.

When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:10pm, the area behind the bullpens cleared out. Most of the fans took off for other sections at that point, and just as I was also planning to leave, an opportunity presented itself. Someone on the Mariners hit a home run that barely cleared the wall in left-center field, landed on the concrete ramp (which you can kind of see in the photo above), and bounced up into the bullpen. The ball ended up very close to the ramp, so when I saw Jaime Navarro heading down that way, I called out to him and pointed at the ball and asked politely if he’d give it to me. He paused for a moment (while walking down the ramp), carefully reached through a space in the railing, grabbed the ball, and threw it to me.

My day was off to a good start, and I attempted to keep things going in right-center field. Of course, it took me five minutes to make it out there — who knows how many baseballs I missed during that time? — but once I arrived, I liked what I saw. This was my view to the right…

…and to the left:

Gap City!
Glove trick heaven!
Snagging paradise!

Max wandered out to that section and warned me that the on-field security guard is anti-glove trick — that whenever a ball lands in the gap, the guard hurries in there and literally runs through and tries to grab it as fast as possible. That was good to know, but as it turned out, it didn’t matter. There weren’t any baseballs that landed there. I stayed in the front row and got three players to throw me balls within a half-hour span. Aaron Laffey hooked me up with the first. Then, when the Angels took the field, I got one from Hisanori Takahashi (who threw it all the way from the warning track in center) and another from a player that I later identified as Bobby Cassevah. It helped that I’d changed into an old-school Angels cap and a bright red Angels shirt. You’ll see photos of this outfit in a bit.

I headed up the steps and hurried (as best I could) behind the batter’s eye. I stopped briefly to photograph the party deck from above…

…as well as the Mariners’ bullpen:

What an awesome stadium.

I’d started the day with a lifetime total of 5,090 baseballs. Now I had 5,096, and I set my sights on snagging four more.

I went to the left field seats and immediately sensed another opportunity. Ever seen a player taunt the fans by repeatedly tossing a ball into the air just beyond their reach? Well, that’s what someone was doing down below, just on the other side of the manual scoreboard. Because the wall/scoreboard is so tall, I couldn’t see the player. The only thing I saw was the ball rising and falling, five or maybe six feet feet out from my spot in the front row. And then…BINGO!!! My crutches!!! It’s like a light bulb went off inside my brain. Yes! I placed one of the crutches on the seats and grabbed the other one by the narrow end at the bottom. Then, moments later, when the ball reappeared briefly right in front of my face, I jabbed the crutch out underneath it like this…

…and tugged back at just the right instant to make the ball hit the inside of the wider/padded portion at the other end. I knew I’d only have one shot at it, and I nailed it! The ball few back toward me and dropped down into the gap between the scoreboard and the stands. Ha-HAAA!!! My plan was working! Next up? The glove trick. I quickly pulled my glove out of my backpack (I had to stick it back in there while hobbling from right to left field) and set up the rubber band and Sharpie. Scott Downs, I realized, was the player who’d been tossing the ball up and down. By the time I was ready to reel in the ball, he and bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio were staring at me from straight-away left field with looks of sheer awe and bewilderment. They kept staring as I (a) lowered the glove and (b) brought it back up with the ball tucked snugly inside. At the end of it all, I held up the crutch and gave them a fist-pump. They responded with subtle nods of approval.

So.
Much.
Fun.

According to Max and Wayne, the ushers don’t mind when fans retrieve balls from the left field gap, so when another one landed there soon after, I sprung back into action:

Unfortunately (and as you can kind of see in the photo above), the ball was trapped in a narrow space at the far edge of the gap. My glove (with the Sharpie propping it open) was too wide to fit down in there, so I used a different piece of equipment:

In order to reach the ball, I had to extend the crutch to the 6-foot-6 setting and then lean waaay down and out of the front row. (Relax, Mom. I wasn’t in danger of flipping over. Well, maybe a little.) I was hoping to knock the ball out of the narrow space and up onto the main portion of the gap’s platform. Balancing carefully on the railing, I took a little back swing with the crutch and swung it one-handed like a golf club. The good news is that I connected with the ball and moved it from that spot. The bad news is that it dropped down into a hole that I hadn’t seen. That was it. It was gone. But I sure as hell had fun trying.

With ten minutes remaining in BP, I got some random Japanese dude in left field to throw me my 8th ball of the day by — how else — asking for it in Japanese. Then I slowly made my way to the dugout and barely got there as the Angels cleared the field. Russell Branyan threw me my 9th ball of the day from the foul line. I had to catch that one bare-handed because my glove was once again back in my bag. One minute later, with Branyan gone and a new batch of Angels approaching, I convinced pitching coach Mike Butcher to toss me another. He didn’t have a ball on him, so he unzipped a ball bag that was sitting on the top step of the dugout and pulled one out for me — and it was brand new. I’m talkin’ right from the Rawlings box to the bag to his hand to my glove. It was my 10th ball of the day and the 5,100th ball I’d ever snagged. Here I am with it:

I took a moment to mark the ball, and then Max took the following photo:

Another example of Safeco Field’s awesomeness: the ushers behind the dugout didn’t immediately kick us out. They knew we didn’t have tickets there, and we knew we were gonna have to leave, but for 20 minutes, they allowed us to sit there and relax. Before long, Ben and Wayne and Luke and Hannah found us, so we all got to hang out some more. Here we all are:

(In the photo above, are the people in the second row trying to lean out of the way? Nice try, guys, except NOT. You actually made the photo worse by drawing attention to yourselves. Next time, just sit there and act like you don’t see the camera.)

When the game started, I decided to head up to the upper deck and wander all over the place. Screw the crutches! I wasn’t going to let them hold me back, and if I missed a ball or two in the process, so be it. I really wanted to explore the outer reaches of the stadium and photograph the place from all angles. Evidently, Max and Luke and Hannah and Ben felt the same way, as did three of Luke’s friend’s. They ALL decided to head upstairs and wander with me. Here we are after getting off the elevator:

See the kid in the green “Seattle 20″ jersey? His name is Aiden. Did you notice his left foot? Yeah, our crew was the walking wounded. The kid on his right is named Cody, and the kid at the very back (wearing the black ski cap) is Ross.

Let the tour begin…

The first stop was the very last row of the upper deck. Here I am working my way up the steps:

(Click the photo above for a closer look at my face. My expression really says it all.)

The railings on the steps actually made it harder to get up and down because there wasn’t enough room to brace myself with my crutches at my sides. As a result, I had to carry my crutches and limp all the way up and down.

I decided that after the game, I was going to give away two baseballs to random kids. Here I am with the eight balls that I ended up keeping:

Here’s my lame attempt at making a panorama from the last row:

After spending a couple innings directly behind the plate, the eight of us headed back down to the concourse…

…and around toward the right field side. When we reached the outermost/right-field corner of the concourse, I had to stop and take a photo. Just look:

That roof is, like, something from a sci-fi movie. It’s huge and dramatic-looking, and I love it. What an awesome stadium.

A few minutes later, we walked out through this tunnel…

…and then headed all the way to the right. When we reached the last section of the upper deck (in straight-away right field), I headed all the way up to the top:

In the photo above, the two people on the far left are random fans who happened to be sitting there. The two people (wearing red) to the right of me are Luke and Hannah.

Here’s what it looked like from up there:

I could’ve made that photo lighter (by not pointing my camera right at the setting sun), but then the water wouldn’t have been visible. I really like water. In an alternative life, I could envision myself as a fisherman out at sea for months at a time.

Anyway, the next stop was the farthest corner of the upper deck in left field. We had to walk all the way back around the concourse and, you know, because I like numbers so much, I decided to count my steps — well, not exactly steps, but rather how many times my crutches touched the ground. Luke walked alongside me in perfect unison and helped me count. Wanna guess the number? I’ll give you the answer after this photo:

Three hundred and eight.

That might not sound like a lot of steps, but imagine what it’s like on crutches. Imagine all your weight pressing against your hands and armpits every single time. I was unbelievably sore, but it was totally worth it; I’ll get un-sore in the near future, and there’s no telling when I’ll be back in Seattle. And also, the view from the left field corner of the upper deck was spectacular. See for yourself:

In case it didn’t occur to you, those tracks on the left are used to roll the roof open and closed.

What an awesome stadium.

Here’s the view to the right, taken from the same spot as the previous photo:

The crew had split up by the time I made it back downstairs in the 5th inning. The game was scoreless, and I really didn’t care. I was worn out, but totally happy and in my own little world. This was my view for the last few innings:

Even though I was in a decent foul ball spot, I didn’t bother wearing my glove. I was content just to sit and stare off into space and take a rare break from ballhawking mode — from always being ON, you know? My body and mind needed to relax.

The Mariners ended up winning the game, 3-1. Erik Bedard pitched seven scoreless innings. Greg Halman hit his first career home run (to dead center so no one snagged it.) Ichiro Suzuki hit two doubles and stole two bases, including the 400th of his career.

After the game, I said goodbye to Wayne, Aiden, Cody, and Ross, and I walked out with Max, Luke, Hannah, and Ben. They all asked to take individual photos with me…

…and then Luke and I clowned around for the camera. First we showed our boots…

…and then had a competition to see who could balance the longest on our crutches:

I think Luke won. Close call.

Finally, Max and Hannah and Luke each asked me to sign one of their baseballs:

Not only is Safeco Field an awesome stadium, but there’s an awesome bunch of people who hang out there.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 baseballs at this game (eight pictured here because I gave two away)

• 438 balls in 53 games this season = 8.26 balls per game.

• 714 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 240 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,100 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.)

• 52 donors

• $6.94 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $69.40 raised at this game

• $3,039.72 raised this season

Two more things…

First = black light: seven of the eight baseballs that I kept have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light:

Second = Twitter: Check out this awesome tweet that Luke posted last night:

And hey, did you see the photo that I tweeted yesterday afternoon? In case you missed it, I was a given a private tour of Safeco Field by someone who works in the Mariners’ front office. I’ll be blogging about the experience this weekend…

6/14/11 at Safeco Field

Let’s start with a photo of the GIGANTIC crowd outside the center field gate, 25 minutes before the stadium opened. Ready? Here goes:

Yeah. It’s like that. And by the time the stadium did open, there were only about a dozen more people.

In the photo above, the guy standing up is Josh Boyd, and the guy sitting down (in the white shirt) is Wayne Peck. They’re fellow ballhawks whom I’d met the day before for the first time.

Speaking of Wayne and his shirt, here’s a closer look at him/it:

Nice.

When the gate opened at 4:40pm, I made my way to the party deck in center field and grabbed the corner spot next to the camera. Wayne then took the following photo of me from behind:

Eleven days after spraining my ankle on 6/3/11 at Citi Field, I was still on crutches and (as you’ll see later) still wearing a bulky aircast.

Mariners pitcher David Pauley tossed me my 1st ball of the day, and soon after, I used my glove trick to snag another — a ground-rule double that a nearby fan dropped into the gap below. Wayne had his own glove trick, but generously let me go for the ball.

At around 5pm, I moved to the area behind the visitors’ bullpen. Here’s what it looked like from that spot:

In the photo above, did you notice the ball sitting on the grass? Well, there was a nearby usher who kindly looked the other way as I repeatedly flung my glove out and knocked it closer. Here are four photos, taken by Josh, that captured the action:

(Awesome photos, Josh. Thanks!)

Once the ball was directly below me, I made the easy snag with my glove trick.

Two minutes later, another ball landed in the bullpen. I used the glove trick once again and promptly handed the ball to the nearest/youngest fan. Here I am with him and his parents:

The “fan” was a four-month-old baby. Normally, I only give balls to kids with gloves, but in this case, an exception was clearly in order.

Moments later, another home run ball landed in the bullpen, and like the others that I’d just snagged, it was within reach. Why the hell hadn’t I hung out here the day before?! The setup behind the bullpen was ideal, and the opportunities seemed to be endless. I was practically drooling at the thought of glove-tricking 10 or 20 balls over the course of BP — and then it all came crashing down.

“Don’t do that,” said a different usher as I flung my glove out.

In an instant, my mood went from excited to deflated. I tried to reason with the guy, but it was no use. He was stationed right near the bullpen and simply wouldn’t change his mind. And then, to make matters worse, another ball landed in the bullpen and rolled right below me.

I didn’t know what to do with myself at that point. On one hand, I didn’t want to stay there, but on the other hand, it required too much of an effort to move. Hmm, what to do…

Just then, I noticed that the roof was closing, so I decided to stay for a minute and take some photos. Here’s the best one I got:

In the photo above, do you see the fan in the corner spot above (and to the right of) the bullpen? He’s wearing red and white Angels gear. I’d met him the day before, and just a few minutes earlier, he and his friend had been standing behind me as I used the glove trick. His name is Devin Trone, and according to his MyGameBalls.com profile, he’s snagged a lifetime total of 256 baseballs. He doesn’t go for toss-ups or use a retrieval device; he just tries to catch batted balls, so obviously his numbers could be a lot higher. Really nice guy.

After taking photos of the roof and once again contemplating my next move, a right-handed batter on the Mariners drilled a deep fly ball right at me. I’m not sure who hit it. I think it was either Greg Halman or Franklin Gutierrez, but anyway, the ball cleared the outfield wall, landed two-thirds of the way back in the bullpen, and skipped up toward me off the grass. I jumped off my good leg and lunged over the ledge and caught it.

A female security supervisor walked up to me after that.

“We have a ruling on you throwing your mitt out there at the balls,” she said very matter-of-factly.

“Am I in trouble?” I asked. I had a sinking feeling in my gut and didn’t know what she’d say. I thought she was going to tell me that if I did it again, I’d be ejected — or maybe she was going to cut the string off my glove. My heart was racing.

“Not at all,” she said. “The rule is that you can get the balls so long as there are no players in the bullpen.”

“Oh!” I said, trying to contain my excitement.

“Can you agree to that?”

“Yes,” I said calmly, “I think that’s reasonable, and I appreciate it.”

Before she left, I made sure that the strict usher knew about the official ruling. Unfortunately, however, the two baseballs that had recently landed in the bullpen had already been removed by a police officer who was stationed there.

I was so pumped after that. All I could think was, “C’mon baby, let’s see some longballs!” but of course nothing else reached the bullpen. I’m happy to say, though, that I got Brandon League to throw me a ball from deep left field — I had to lunge even farther for that one — and then I got Jamey Wright to throw me another. I gave that final ball to a kid (with a glove!) who was standing nearby with his mother.

The security lady came back.

“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” she began, “but the big boss overheard our conversation and said you can’t place anything in the bullpen.”

“Are you serious?!” I asked.

“Yes, unfortunately,” she said, “it’s considered part of the field, and we can’t have any objects thrown or lowered there.”

That was that. I can’t really blame the Mariners for being strict about the bullpen. I mean, some teams are fine with retrieval devices, even when used to pluck balls off the warning track. What annoyed me is that Safeco Field has been open for TWELVE years, and the polices still aren’t set in stone. Make a decision. Inform ALL your employees of that decision. And then stick to it. It’s not hard. Come on. This is a widespread problem throughout the major leagues. Some ushers are nice, some ushers are mean, and they all seem to invent or ignore rules at will.

Anyway, I’d snagged seven balls by the time the Angels took the field, so I was thinking about reaching double digits. Beyond that, I was hoping to break the single-game Safeco Field record of 11, set by Max Van Hollebeke on May 31, 2010.

I threw on my Angels gear and headed up to the corner spot above the visitors’ bullpen. Wayne eventually wandered over and took another photo of me:

I spent the entire portion of the Angels’ batting practice shouting/begging unsuccessfully for baseballs. It was bizarre how every single player ignored me. At one point, I took off my hat to make sure that I wasn’t accidentally wearing the wrong one. (I’ve done that several times.) Fernando Rodney, Ervin Santana, Bobby Abreu, and coach Alfredo Griffin were all standing below me, and despite my polite requests in Spanish, they didn’t even look up.

Finally, with two minutes remaining in BP, Santana tossed a ball to me, and then as all the players began jogging off the field, Griffin turned around and threw me another. For some reason, I wasn’t wearing my glove when Griffin let it fly, and I was bracing myself with one of my crutches, so I had to catch the ball one-/bare-handed while leaning out a bit over the railing. It wasn’t hard, just strange, and I handed the ball to a little kid (with a glove!) behind me.

Before the game, Angels bullpen coach Steve Soliz played catch with Hang Conger along the left field foul line. I slowly worked my way over there and took the following photo of Soliz throwing the ball:

When they finished, Soliz tossed it to me, and I handed it to the nearest kid. As soon as I did that, I kinda wished that I’d kept it because it marked the first time that I’d reached double digits at this stadium, but whatever. It just made me extra motivated to snag another.

Just before the Mariners took the field, I caught up with Wayne, who’d brought his copy of my 2nd book, Watching Baseball Smarter. Here we are with it:

It looks like we’re standing on the field, doesn’t it?

The wall in foul territory is very low, and hey, since there were several empty seats in the front row, I decided to stay there. This was my view in the top of the 1st inning:

I was convinced that I was going to snag a foul ball there, but not surprisingly, I got kicked out within a couple minutes. When the usher asked me where I was supposed to be sitting, I pointed back and over a couple sections and told her that my folks were there. She bought it. And it was almost true. There WERE, in fact, parents sitting where I pointed — just not my parents. Do you know the name Todd Cook? He’s a diehard Mariners fan who travels all over with his kids and tries to get baseballs (and ice cream helmets) and blogs about it. Here’s a photo of me with his family that was taken on 5/12/11 at Camden Yards — the day I caught three foul balls during one game. Todd’s parents are partial season ticket holders at Safeco Field. I’d never met them before, but they were at this game, and Todd had told me where to find them. In fact, he asked me to find them because, he said, they were going to bring their copy of my new book, The Baseball, so that I could sign it. Here we are with it:

Todd’s parents’ names are Marilyn and Jim. I wasn’t planning to sit with them for more than an inning or two, but (a) they were incredibly friendly, (b) they had awesome seats and lent me a ticket stub when the usher came down, and (c) a friend of mine arrived in the top of the 2nd inning with his kid, and they needed a place to sit, so when they came and found me, I just stayed there, and we all hung out. This was our view:

Did you notice this in the previous photo?

Cheer up, man! The Mariners might suck, but you’re at a major league baseball game!

I was sitting on the end seat next to the stairs, directly in front of Jim, who was wearing a glove. Marilyn was sitting on his left. My friend and his kid (who you’ll soon see) were sitting on my left. Sorry if that’s confusing, but you have to understand the seating arrangement. Here’s a really cheap diagram that should make it clearer:

Are you with me? Okay…

Given the fact that I was injured AND invading Jim’s area, I decided not to wear my glove. The odds of a foul ball coming right to us were very slim, and if I had to get up and move…screw it. Todd had told me that his father had snagged two foul balls over the years, so I figured I’d let the man snag a third — that is, if one happened to come our way. (Despite being on the verge of tying/breaking the single-game Safeco Field record and feeling extra motivated 20 minutes earlier, I was now feeling pretty chill about everything.)

Well, with nobody out in the bottom of the 2nd inning, Adam Kennedy fouled off a towering pop-up, and wouldn’t you know it? The ball was heading right for us. At first, I thought it was going to come to ME, so I got ready to bare-hand it. As I said before, I was prepared to let Jim go for any foul balls — but not at the expense of my getting hit. The ball kept coming and coming, and I’m telling you, I was directly in line with it. At the last second, though, I realized that it was going to land a few feet behind me, so I half-heartedly reached back for it. I knew that it was going to fall just beyond my reach, and I figured that Jim would be there to catch it. Sadly (and terrifyingly), that’s not what happened. Jim had misjudged it and shifted over to the other side of the stairs, so by the time the ball landed, it was beyond his reach as well.

CRACK!!!

I heard the ball strike something that sounded like bone. It’s a truly eerie and unmistakable sound, and for a split-second, I was freaking out and imagining the worst — that Marilyn might have gotten hit on the head.

“OW!!! OW!!! OW!!!” she yelled, holding the back of her right hand.

She was in serious pain, and as I turned to get a better look at her, I tweaked my bad ankle and noticed the ball trickling down the steps right to me. I grabbed the ball (there were no other fans involved in the “scuffle”) and before I even had a chance to give it to her, I got booed by some schmucks in the second deck. Seriously, people?! I was going to give her the ball, and I *did* give it to her a minute later, but when she first got nailed by it, the ball itself was the least of our concerns. She was in pain. I was in pain. My friend’s (six-year-old) kid was utterly amazed by the whole thing. And then the usher rushed down the stairs with an ice pack and two paramedics.

“Can I get another bag of ice?” I asked, and within a minute, I had it. For the next few innings, Marilyn iced her hand, and I iced/wrapped my foot. What the HELL is going on with me this month? It’s been one ball-related disaster after another.

The following photo shows what happened next:

Marilyn and I each had to fill out a “Safeco Field Incident/Accident Report Card.”

I had already given her the ball at that point; she “lent” it back to me so that I could take a picture of it. And then she lent me this as well:

Even though I was the one who’d snagged the ball, the usher handed her that nifty “Seattle Mariners Foul Ball Club Member” card. No biggie. I was glad just to photograph it so I could share it here on the blog.

What an insane series of events. And hey! I got my 11th ball of the day out of it! (Ugh. Stupid Adam Kennedy. If possible, I would gladly give up that snag and undo the whole thing. I’m sure Marilyn feels the same way.)

Here’s a photo of the five of us:

In the photo above, the guy wearing the brown jacket and red plaid shirt is the mystery friend that I’ve been talking about. His name is Joe Kelly, and we’ve been friends since 1995. That’s when I spent a summer working (as a 17-year-old unpaid intern) for the Boise Hawks, a Class A short-season minor league baseball team in the Northwest League. Joe was the head groundskeeper, and the rest, as they say, is history. He’s one of my all-time favorite people in the world. You know how some people just have something magical about their personalities? That’s Joe. He never went to college, and yet he’s smarter and writes better than most of my New York writer-friends. He’s completely crude (even in front of his son), yet eloquent and inspiring and hilarious at the same time. He’s the coolest dude ever, doesn’t give a damn about anything, never used to wear a shirt, smoked two packs of unfiltered Lucky Strikes every day, and just…I don’t know. I love him. I’m not IN love with him — that’s an important distinction — but I truly love that man and can’t imagine not knowing him. I hadn’t seen him for four years, so it was incredible to be reunited with him and to get to know his son, Booker, who was wearing diapers when I’d seen him last.

Joe and Booker went to get food during the middle innings, and when they returned, Joe made good use of my crutches:

I said goodbye to Jim and Marilyn before the 9th inning and headed closer to the dugout. This was my view in the bottom of the 9th — of Jered Weaver pitching to Ichiro Suzuki:

Suzuki doubled to right-center on that pitch, but Weaver escaped the jam and completed the game with a 128-pitch effort. Final score: Angels 4, Mariners 0.

As soon as the last out was recorded, I sprung into action and hopped down the steps into the front row. I just needed ONE more ball to break the Safeco Field record, and unfortunately, I didn’t get anything from home plate umpire Joe West as he walked off the field. Weaver, of course, wasn’t going to toss his “shutout ball” into the crowd, but thankfully, Alfredo Griffin walked out with a ball in his back pocket. Was he going to remember me from BP? I had no idea. All I could do was ask and hope…and he tossed it to me! Hell yeah!! The Angels relievers were quickly approaching from the bullpen, so I limped through the second row toward the outfield end of the dugout, and BAM, Jordan Walden tossed me a ball as well. I had to reach way out for it and battle a pack of rowdy/gloveless/grown-up fans who were clawing for it. Whatever. It was clearly intended for me, and I’d already given away five balls at this game, so I felt that I had a right to snag this one. And then, as it turned out, those fans got a ball tossed to them, so everyone was happy. Here I am with my record-breaking 12th and 13th balls of the day:

Wayne and Josh and Josh’s girlfriend Ginny caught up with me:

We were some of the last fans to leave the stadium, and once I made it outside, I got a photo with Joe and Booker:

Booker is the coolest kid ever. Joe says he’s “gonna be famous,” and I believe it. Perhaps this blog entry is the start.

(Keep reading past the stats for more photos…)

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 13 baseballs at this game (seven pictured here because I gave six away…yes, six…I gave one to Booker back at the hotel)

• 428 balls in 52 games this season = 8.23 balls per game.

• 713 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 239 consecutive games with at least two balls

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

• 26 different stadiums with at last one game with ten or more balls

• 6 consecutive games at which someone showed up with a copy of The Baseball

• 5,090 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.)

• 52 donors

• $6.94 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $90.22 raised at this game

• $2,970.32 raised this season

Okay, time for more photos…

Six of the eight baseballs that I brought back to the hotel have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light:

One of the balls has an eye-catching streak on the MLB logo, almost as if the ball IN the logo is whizzing past at a high speed:

Another one of the balls has a “secret fingerprint.” That’s what Booker and I called it. Check it out:

I told Booker that he could pick one baseball and keep it. He chose the one with the fingerprint.

“I bet Uncle Zack’ll sign it for you if you ask nicely,” said Joe.

Booker did indeed ask nicely, and this is what I wrote on it:

Joe and Booker had made the three-hour drive from Portland, Oregon to meet me at Safeco Field, and they crashed in my hotel room. While Joe read the paper and I got started on this blog entry, Booker entertained himself by playing video games:

As I sit here writing this, Joe and Booker are already gone, but we didn’t have a sad goodbye. Tomorrow I’ll be taking a train to Portland to spend a long weekend with them. But first, I have to survive one more game at Safeco — or maybe Safeco has to survive one more game with me…

6/13/11 at Safeco Field

Normally, when I visit a stadium for the first time, I walk around the outside of it and take dozens of photos. Then, once I’m inside (and batting practice is done), I wander all over the place and take even more photos from every conceivable angle. That said, this wasn’t my first game at Safeco Field. I was here once before in 2002, but I didn’t remember much. I didn’t have a blog or even a digital camera at the time, so now that I was back, I wanted to document everything from scratch. Unfortunately, I’m still on crutches, so I couldn’t do anything except hobble into the stadium and yell for toss-ups.

Safeco opens two and a half hours early, but for the first 30 minutes, everyone is confined to the party deck in center field and the area behind the bullpens in left. Here’s what it looked like from the party deck:

Even though there were only a dozen fans waiting to get in the stadium at 4:40pm, the party deck filled up fast, and there simply wasn’t much action.

I headed over to the area behind the Mariners’ bullpen in left-center field. Here’s what it looked like back there:

Do you see the big support beam in the middle of the photo above? And do you see how there’s open space to the left of it (and to the right)? Well, that space was covered with a screen back in the day, so there was no chance to get baseballs there. But now? Heh. In the photo above, do you see the guy leaning on the bullpen railing? That’s Mariners bullpen coach Jaime Navarro. Two minutes after I took that photo, he walked over and tossed me a ball.

I made my way back to the party deck after that…

…and got Erik Bedard to throw me another ball. Here it is:

Moments after I photographed it, I handed it to a little Asian kid on my right who was calling out to the players so softly that *I* could barely hear him. I also gave him a few pointers on how to ask for baseballs.

“It’s okay to be loud,” I told him. “As long as you say ‘please’, it’s not rude. And hey, even though I gave you a ball,” I continued, “I still want you to try to catch another on your own, okay?”

The kid was stunned and didn’t know what to say. His mom, however, was excited and very thankful.

“He’s always wanted to get a ball,” she said, “and he always asks, ‘How come all the other kids them?'”

“Well, now he IS one of those kids,” I said.

When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:10pm, I began making my way back to the concourse via a narrow walkway on the center-field side of the party deck. Just as I was heading out, one of the Mariners hit a home run to dead center, and whaddaya know, the ball ended up on the grass just beside the walkway. I used my glove trick to reel it in and then took the following photo:

Two ushers on the party deck saw me using the glove trick, and they just smiled. If I didn’t have crutches, would they have hassled me? I don’t think so. I got the sense that everyone was friendly — just because. Thumbs-up to Seattle and the Mariners and Safeco Field.

The ball that I snagged with the glove trick had a huge grass stain, as well as another green mark on top of that. Check it out:

I slowly headed to the corner spot above the manual scoreboard in left field and got my 4th ball of the day from David Pauley. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but later figured it out by looking at all the Mariners’ head-shots online. (I used ESPN.com, which has much better photos than MLB.com. Look at the difference here and here.) (Dear people at MLB.com, my humble suggestion is to show players’ regular head-shots on their “bio” pages and then provide bonus links for action photos. Yes? Maybe next season, before the world ends?)

I made my way up to the area above the bullpens. Here’s what it looked like on the left…

…and on the right:

My main gripe about Safeco Field is that the left field seats only extend a few sections past the foul pole. Most home runs to left field, therefore, are uncatchable, but that really only affects me and a handful of hardcore ballhawks. From a general, non-ballhawking perspective, the stadium is gorgeous and brilliantly designed. I *love* that there are so many standing-room areas, and it kills me that more ballparks (ahem, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium) weren’t designed like this. The party deck in center field? Standing room. Anyone with any ticket can hang out there for as long as they want. Over the bullpens? Check. Behind the bullpens? Check. (Home run balls that land in the bullpens sometimes bounce back into the crowd, and the ones that don’t can be retrieved with glove tricks and other devices, so in a sense, every home run to left field CAN potentially be snagged.) There are probably other standing-room areas that I don’t even know about because I wasn’t able to wander, but whatever, I don’t need to see every inch of the stadium to determine that the Mariners got it right. Bravo to the entire organization. I hope they win the World Series. (That is, if the Padres don’t. Heath Bell for president!) And let’s not forget that this stadium has a retractable roof. Wow.

This was my view when the Angels started playing catch:

(I’m supposed to be icing my foot and elevating it as much as possible.)

I was hoping to snag a few of these commemorative balls from the Angels, but there weren’t any in use — not at least from what I saw. That was quite disappointing. But anyway, I used my glove trick to snag a ball from the gap near the left field foul pole. There were several kids nearby, one of whom asked to see it. I handed it to him and told him he could keep it. Then, several minutes later, I got Hisanori Takahashi to throw me my 6th ball of the day by asking for it in Japanese.

Toward the end of BP, when I was wishing that I were in right field, I went back to the area above the Angels’ bullpen. Here’s a photo of me. I’m the one in the red shirt:

I got Vernon Wells to throw me a ball, but it sailed four feet to my left, and I was too gimpy to take even ONE step to the side. All I could do was lean in that direction, and I still would’ve caught it if not for an old man who reached out bare-handed and inadvertently knocked it away. When he looked up at me and saw my crutches and my Angels shirt and realized that the ball had been intended for me, he apologized.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “You had as much of a right to try to catch it as I did.”

It took me 10 minutes (no exaggeration) to make it from the left field seats to the 3rd base dugout. I arrived just as BP was ending…

…and got Angels bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio (pictured above wearing No. 60) to throw me a ball.

I was SO sore at that point. You really have no idea. The heels of my hands are so tender right now (from grinding against the handles of my crutches) that it hurts too much to clap. It even hurts a little bit as I’m sitting here typing this because the heels of my hands are pressing against my laptop — just a little FYI.

After BP, I got a group photo with several Safeco Field regulars. Have a look, and then I’ll identify everyone:

The guy holding the copy of my book is Josh Boyd. (He’s the one who took the photo of me in the red shirt.) The woman on the left, Ginny, is his girlfriend. The guy on the right is Wayne Peck, and the young man in the purple cap is named Max Van Hollebeke. I’d heard from all these guys ahead of time, and we were all looking forward to meeting each other. It’s amazing how the previously disjointed world of ballhawking has become a community over the last few years (in large part because of MyGameBalls.com). I feel like I have friends in every stadium, even before I get there, and that’s simply amazing. Max had emailed me several days earlier with a whole bunch of info and strategies for Safeco Field. Wayne had been leaving (THE most positive and supportive) comments on this blog. And Max, of course, showed up with my book. Earlier in the day, I had met these guys outside the center field gate, and we kept crossing paths during BP. I tried to stay out of their way, they tried to stay out of mine, and in the end, we all went home (or in my case, back to a hotel) with baseballs.

Here’s my assessment of Safeco Field:

In case you’re new to this blog, I’m planning to visit all 30 stadiums this season; in the photo above, I’m holding that sign because this was my 10th stadium since Opening Day. (I’m a third of the way there, bay-beee!!)

This was my view during the game:

In the photo above, do you see the guy in the aqua-colored shirt sitting on the steps? That was the usher. It wasn’t hard to get down into the seats behind the dugout — I’d spent $44 on a ticket in section 142, and no one ever asked to see it — but it was impossible to get past the usher. That’s good/fair security. Let people go wherever the hell they want except the first few rows behind the dugout. Still, I managed to get a 3rd-out ball after the 3rd inning. Adam Kennedy flied out to center fielder Peter Bourjos to end the frame. Bourjos threw the ball to one of his teammates (possibly Torri Hunter) who then passed it on to Maicer Izturis…who flipped it to me from the warning track. The ball had lots of hang time as it floated toward me. I was sure someone else was gonna jump up and grab it, but no. Not ONE person stood up or even seemed to notice that there was a game-used baseball sailing toward them.

That was my 8th and final ball of the day, but it wasn’t the last thing that I snagged. After the final out of the Angels’ 6-3 victory, I hopped down to the front row behind the dugout. (Once the game is over, the ushers let people go everywhere.) Chad Fairchild, the home plate umpire, ignored my polite request for a ball. (The umps exit at the home plate end of the 3rd base dugout.) And then the Angels dissed me. When I asked the coaches for the lineup card, Mike Butcher said sarcastically, “Okay, we’ll get right on that!”

What a dick, I thought, but then 30 seconds later, someone from below reached up and placed a folded sheet of paper on the dugout roof. The female usher who was standing there saw the whole thing go down, so when I asked her for the paper, she gladly handed it to me. And then, for good measure, I got one of the ballboys to toss up a half-full packet of “Ranch!”-flavored sunflower seeds:

“WOO-HOO!!!” I yelled for the whole section to hear. “MAJOR LEAGUE SUNFLOWER SEEDS!!! YES!!! I WILL TREASURE THESE FOREVER!!!”

(What happened to David’s sunflower seeds?)

Several kids behind me were cracking up, so I kept going with my shtick. I asked every on-field employee for whatever they were carrying — bottled water, gum, Gatorade, cups, bats, towels, helmets, rakes, you name it. Not surprisingly, no one else gave me anything, but it was fun just to stand there and act like an idiot.

I caught up again with Josh, Ginny, Wayne, and Max and headed up the steps with them. Max accompanied me to the team store where I bought a new Mariners cap. (My old one looked like doodie.) Then we exited Safeco together, chatted for a few minutes, and called it a night.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 8 baseballs at this game (six pictured here because I gave two away)

• 415 balls in 51 games this season = 8.14 balls per game.

• 712 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 238 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5 consecutive games at which someone showed up with a copy of The Baseball

• 5,077 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.)

• 52 donors

• $6.94 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $55.52 raised at this game

• $2,880.10 raised this season

Finally, two of the six baseballs have distinctive invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side look at those balls in regular light versus black light:

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 314 other followers