6/2/11 at Citi Field

On Thursday, May 5th, the Mets and Giants played a 1:10pm game at Citi Field. Instead of batting practice, there was an “environmental education” program for thousands of schoolchildren. On Thursday, May 19th, the Mets and Nationals played a 1:10pm game at Citi Field, and once again, instead of batting practice, there was a “weather education” program. See where I’m going with this? Yeah. Yesterday was another Thursday afternoon game — this time against the Pirates — and this was the scene two hours before the first pitch:

It was “Heath & Fitness Education Day” at Citi Field, so naturally, every fan received THIS upon entering the stadium:

Seriously, Mets? C’mon.

When the pitchers finished playing catch, three of them began signing autographs along the right field foul line. I noticed that Bobby Parnell had an extra ball in his back pocket, so I got as close to him as possible…

…and politely asked him for it. He ignored me, so I waited 10 seconds and asked louder. He ignored me again, so I gave up. I didn’t really expect to get that ball. I figured he’d hand it to a little kid, but he ended up taking it back to the dugout. (Frowny face.)

There were so many kids sitting along the left field foul line that the Pirates pitchers warmed up near the bullpen in right-center:

I’d never seen that before.

When the first pair of guys finished, Jose Ascanio threw me a ball, and then I got another less than a minute later from Joel Hanrahan. (He obviously hadn’t seen me get the first one, and by the way, he threw it to me as a knuckleball.)

Half an hour later, there was an announcement that the Long Haul Bombers were about to begin their home run hitting competition. Ha! Yes! I’d heard about these guys, but hadn’t ever seen them, and now, finally, here they were at Citi Field. Basically, the Long Haul Bombers are a group of amazing/monstrous softball players. Yes, softball, but hey, wipe that skeptical look off your face. I’d heard that they hit these balls as far as major leaguers hit baseballs, so I raced up to the second deck in left field. This was my view:

Here’s what it looked like on my left…

…and it was just as empty on my right. I pretty much had the whole second deck to myself, and it paid off. Look what I snagged several minutes later:

There were a total of seven hitters, each of whom got 15 swings. It didn’t matter if all 15 were ground balls or home runs. Fifteen swings apiece. Period. The first three hitters were right-handed, and I snagged a total of four softballs. I caught two on the fly — the public address announcer complimented me on the first one — and grabbed the other two in the seats. Here’s a four-part photo of one of the balls:

The last four hitters were left-handed, and if I’d done some research ahead of time, I might’ve known that in advance — and if I’d known that, I would’ve made a beeline for the second deck in right field. Unfortunately, by the time I realized that everyone else was going to hit from the left side, it was too late. No more softballs for me. And let me just say, for the record, that these softballs will NOT count in any way for my baseball collection. I just caught them for fun. I mean, no, wait, I catch baseballs for fun, too. Oh hell, you know what I mean.

Twenty minutes before game time, I found myself back in right-center field. This was my view straight ahead…

…and this was the view to my right:

As you can see, there were a million kids, but none of them were wearing Pirates gear, nor did any of them have gloves. Guess who got the ball from Pirates bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade? Yep…me. Later in the day, I did spot a schoolgirl with a glove and decided to give her a ball. Normally, I avoid giving baseballs to kids if they have siblings who might get jealous, but in this case, I thought it’d be funny to fan the flames a bit. This girl was with her entire class, so I walked up and handed her the ball and told her (loud enough for all her friends to hear) that she was getting the ball because of her glove. “You obviously want a ball more than they do,” I said, pointing at her classmates. Their jaws collectively dropped — it was like something out of a cartoon — and she literally jumped up and down with excitement.

Before the game started, I gave away another ball and met a guy named James who recognized me and asked me to sign his ticket. I noticed that Mets pitcher Michael O’Connor had already signed it, so I asked him if he was sure that he wanted me on there as well. When he insisted that he wanted my autograph, I offered to sign the back of the ticket, but he wanted it on the front. This was the result:

(As I often do when signing autographs, I wrote my lifetime ball total under my name. I’d started the day with 5,035, so the three that I got from the Pirates in right-center bumped that number up to 5,038. See? Softballs not included.)

Five minutes later, when Josh Harrison and Neil Walker started throwing, I headed down to the seats along the left field foul line. This was my view:

I couldn’t make it all the way down because the very front row is its own little section, and you specifically need a ticket for the front row to get there. It’s right next to the photographers’ box, and it’s connected to the umpires’ tunnel, so I can understand why the Mets wouldn’t want random fans wandering down there at will. I’d never been in that front row, and I had no idea how the fans there got tickets, so I figured I’d ask. Why not learn something about my home stadium, right? Well, in the photo above, do you see the fan who’s touching the back of his head? Moments later, he was standing with his back to me, so I said, “Excuse me,” to get his attention. When he turned around, we were both stunned. He and I had played baseball together at Guilford College in North Carolina, and we hadn’t seen each other since! How’s that for a coincidence? His name is Matt. He was a pitcher. He’s large. Here we are together:

(By the way, I didn’t get a pre-game warm-up ball. Josh Harrison pulled the biggest ignore-job on me of all time. What can you do?)

Matt was there with a few other guys who just so happened to have an extra ticket, so I was able to stay there for the entire game. Here’s a better look at the section:

In the photo above, do you see the usher standing at the far end? He’s wearing tan pants and a dark green shirt. Directly behind him was the umpires’ tunnel, and I was allowed to hang out there for a minute and take photos. Check this out:

In the photo above, the guys wearing blue are groundskeepers. They were waiting there because of this:

For some reason (maybe because there were so many kids in the stadium), there was more trash than ever blowing out of the stands and onto the field. Every half-inning for the entire game, a swat team of groundskeepers dashed out of the tunnel and made their best attempt at cleaning it up.

Here’s another look at the tunnel, this time facing away from the field:

See that door in the photo above? Here’s what it looked like when I stepped inside:

There was a one-person bathroom on the left, which I was allowed to use, but I couldn’t go any farther than that.

Back in the tunnel, there were even more groundskeepers:

During the summer of 1995, I worked as a groundskeeper for a minor league baseball team called the Boise Hawks. As a result, I have a HUGE appreciation for groundskeepers, so it was pretty damn cool to be standing around with all these guys here in New York.

I wasn’t really supposed to hang out there, so I headed back to my seat and took a picture of the photographers’ box on the way:

Here’s another look at the exclusive front-row section:

This was my view for most of the game:

(You know you have a good seat when the third base coach is blocking your view.)

Two days earlier, my friend Ben Weil (who often sits behind the 3rd base dugout) had given me a valuable tip: Pirates first base coach Luis Silverio was tossing the infield warm-up ball into the crowd every inning.

Fast-forward to the present…

Armed with this crucial bit of knowledge, I worked my way over to the dugout while the Pirates were warming up in the middle of the 2nd inning — and Silverio ended up tossing me the ball. (Ben, I know you’re gonna read this, so thanks very much. You get the assist on that one.) It was very easy and yet very satisfying.

I kept my Pirates gear on all day. (No offense, Mets fans.) It was easier that way. I didn’t go back to the dugout, but I still tried to get 3rd-out balls from the Pirates every inning, and I didn’t want to have to keep changing my outfit.

All game long, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, ready to pounce over the wall and reach past the rolled-up tarp for a foul grounder. But there was hardly any action. In the bottom of the 6th, however, with the Mets mounting a comeback and Ruben Tejada stepping to the plate with the bases loaded, my sixth sense kicked in. The left-handed Paul Maholm was on the hill; he wasn’t throwing hard, and many of his pitches were tailing inside on righties. But the main thing that crossed my mind was that Tejada, just 21 years old, would probably be geeked up with the bases juiced. I expected him to swing at the first pitch, and I had a feeling that he might swing a bit too soon. I wish there were some way to prove that I really DID think about all of this as he stepped to the plate, but in any case, on the very first pitch, Maholm threw an 88mph fastball on the inner half…

…and Tejada pulled it foul. (Thanks to my friend Avi for sending me these screen shots.) Here’s the ump making the call as the ball rolled toward the stands:

Moments later, there was a flash of yellow, bursting from the front row! Okay, that was overly dramatic, but here, have a look:

I was able to stretch completely across the tarp and scoop up the ball (on a semi-tough in-between hop, thank you).

Score!

It was my 5th ball of the day, but more importantly, it was the 150th game ball that I’d ever snagged — NOT counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd. Those are simply too easy, in my opinion, to be counted separately.

My friend Matt congratulated me, and the camera happened to get a shot of it:

When I snagged that ball, I’d actually been sitting 15 feet to the left of Matt. I was in the last seat of the section, as far from home plate as possible. Just because. That spot seemed good, so when it had opened up an inning earlier, I moved there. Here’s a photo of my seat:

Did you notice the ball in the cup holder?

Here’s the tarp. I took this photo to show how far I had to reach in order to touch the field:

Below is a three-part photo of the ball itself. The photo on the left shows the smudge where the bat had hit it, the photo in the middle shows the dirt/scuff from when Tejada had pounded it into the ground, and photo on the right shows the grass stain from when it bounced for a second time in foul territory:

Cool, huh?

After the game, I got another ball from home plate umpire Dana DeMuth. No, I didn’t mug him for it in the tunnel. I actually went up into the stands and asked him for it like a “normal” person.

As for the game, the Mets came back from a 7-0 deficit and beat the Pirates, 9-8. According to this article in USA Today, it was their biggest come-from-behind win since June 30, 2000. Not bad, Mets. Not bad at all. But then again, it was against the Pirates, so it almost shouldn’t count.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 379 balls in 44 games this season = 8.61 balls per game.

• 705 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 372 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 231 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 150 lifetime game balls (134 foul balls, 15 home runs, and 1 ground-rule double)

• 5,041 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.)

• 48 donors

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

• $41.64 raised at this game

• $2,630.26 raised this season

When I got home from the game, I wanted to get a photo of the baseballs with the softballs. It was a weird combination, though, and I struggled to find the best way to arrange them. This was my first attempt:

What do you think? Good?

I went for this next…

…followed by this:

My thinking for the photo above was that the softballs were spooning with the baseballs. (D’awww!)

No?

Okay, here’s one more attempt. This one is my favorite:

(It KiNd Of LoOkS liKe ThIs.)

Finally, I have to share a four-part photo of the infield warm-up ball that I got from Luis Silverio. Remember that blog entry I posted several months ago called “Baseballs and black light“? Well, this ball doesn’t have a standard invisible ink stamp on it. Instead…I don’t even know how to describe it. Just look:

I’ve never thought of baseballs as being “trippy,” but this one might qualify.

15 Comments

Sweet seats! And those softballs are really cool.
For the record, I freakin’ love that Dunkin’ Donuts was the sponsor of “Health and Fitness Education Day.” AWESOME!

Zack -

I went to a game in Seattle a couple of years ago and the Long Haul Bombers were there as well. I stood in the minimal left field bleachers and nearly got one ball. However, there were only about a half a dozen that made it that far and the rest of the balls either went into the bullpen or were not even HR’s.

My opinion is that Seattle is one of the worst fields for ballhawking.

Hope to see you June 9th at Coors Field! Less than a week now.

Peas Out

Nice variety of game balls. Makes me wonder, is there an “Official” league softball? I consider the softballs used in the Celebrity All-Star Game to be “official” if any.

Speaking of the All-Star Game – I received renderings of the 2011 HR Derby Balls, and Future Ball. Here’s an article and pics: http://www.bigleaguebaseballs.com/main/2011-hrd-gold-futures-balls/

Hey Zack sweet grab over the tarp. Did u end up finding out where to get those tickets?
-ben

Nice grab reaching over the tarp! I can’t believe that you have 150 game balls. Pure awesomeness!

That’s cool that you got the softballs at a baseball game. And cool that you got to sit in those great seats. What’s not so cool is this article: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/news/story?id=6624227
Terrible, Terrible thing that happened.
-Matt

Had no idea they showed him congratulating you after it, must not have watched far enough in. Whoops. Oh, and do the softballs not get blacklight photos?! :P
 
-Avi M
 
2131 and Beyond: The games. The news. The experiences. The Orioles.
 

Hey there Zack! Congratulations on # 5,000! That is quite a milestone! I want to ask you your opinion on the Posey / Cousins collision, and more specifically, ask you to explain why it seems runners never have interference called at home plate. I’m not heated on the issue, just trying to understand the discrepancy. Is there a difference between catchers and other position players in the umps eyes? Thanks for your time! Jason. Bend Elks home opener June 10th! YeeHaw!!

Of COURSE I’m gonna read this!! Thanks for the mention, and you are of course welcome!!! I will always feel indebted to you for the Jamey Carroll ball at the Dodgers dugout I got, so I will assist when possible :-)

MALCOLM-
Beyond awesome.

ROCKTOBER_93-
Safeco does look tough. Seems like right field would be the place to be. Left field looks kinda worthless.

BIGLEAGUE-
I have no idea about softballs. I can only handle being obsessed with one type of ball. Maybe for my next book…

BEN-
The people sitting there all told me that they got ‘em online. Someone mentioned a website called…Turbo Ticket, or something like that.

NICK BADDERS-
Thanks!

MATT-
Oh my GOD. I wish I hadn’t read that.

AVI-
I examined the softballs in black light, and there was nothing worth sharing here.

KSLO-
Thanks. I actually haven’t seen the collision, so I can’t comment on it. I’m really squeamish about injuries, so I try to avoid seeing highlights/replays of them. My general thought, however, is that the rules should not be changed. Knocking over the catcher has been part of the game for generations. Sometimes people get hurt, and that sucks, but there are many other ways to get hurt that don’t prompt rule changes.

BEN-
You’re welcome. You and I take good care of each other.

Those seats are handicapped seats. You can get them by calling the box office when tickets go on sale, but I think more often than not they get scooped up by scalpers to sell online. Was Gil the usher? He’s been with the Mets/Brooklyn since Ebbets Field. He is one of the best part of those seats.

I agree with you on not changing the rules. I guess I’m just confused about what constitutes interference, and if there are different guidelines when it comes to different positions.
On a different subject, my nephew Cameron loved “The Baseball”. My sister-in-law tells me that it is the first book that he has actually enjoyed reading on his own time. Kind of a cross-over book for him. I thought that was pretty awesome, and I plan on grabbing him a copy of “Watching” soon. Cheers! Jason.

Can I have the softballs?

thanks

MK-
Yep, it was Gil. Super-cool guy. Wish there were more like him.

KSLO69-
Yeah, there are different rules, and it’s all a bit confusing, and if I weren’t CRAZY-stressed right now, I’d explain it — but I just got home from 13 days on the road (on crutches), and I just want to sleep and hide from the world.

JEFF-
Sorry, but I’m gonna keep them. I play softball every so often, and those balls will really come in handy.

i went with my school to this game and got a ball from the bullpen catchier signed to

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