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

24 Comments

To quote Queen…where was I going with that? Ah yes, above the red hat. Yes, those were two separate thoughts.

I really need to learn how to position my self better. I almost snagged the Kurt Suzuki homer in the the 5th. I am not on TV, as I am watching the video right now. THis is making me mad.
Back to your entry… it seems like Heath Bell is the player that is nicest to you in MLB. You know that place you got pizza from, I have gone there, about 10 times.

Wheres the ball? Above the head of the guy on the left side with a Blue Shirt and Red Hat. Fist bump!! Nice job Zack!!!

Zack,

Good stuff, man! Fenway seems decent enough to shag baseballs but as you’ve said its quite pricey. So I guess I’ll continue to save my pennies before I make an East coast tour of stadiums nxt year!

Great read!

-Wayne

Zack,
The kid in the Padres jacket who tossed you the baseball is Jeff Moorad’s(Padres majority owner) son.

If lakeerie92 is right, are you going to count that ball? I mean you counted the Mariners pitching coach’s son, didn’t you?

The ball is in the upper left quadrant just above the head of the man wearing a red hat and black shirt, do i get the virtual fist bump?

I see it but I aint the first so…….. but blue shirt,red hat. Mitch Moreland hit another double deck shot in Arlington. WALK-OFF BABY. Wonder if Trent was there.

i knew you could do it. You’re my hero.

I LOVE the Lena Blackburne shirt in the photo with Bell. Cool you got to meet his family.

I’m shocked Clayton Richard was so friendly. I saw him with the White Sox and Padres in 2009. Each time, I had his team’s gear on and he ignored every request and never had any interaction with fans. Maybe living in San Diego has helped him relax lol.

I’m about your age Zack, and I took a nasty fall this winter on the ice. Landing with all my weight on my shoulder. About 10 years ago, this probably would have bugged me for the weekend and I’d be fine. My shoulder is just starting to get right after 6 months.

We’re older now, friend. The aches and pains don’t go away as easily. I know where you are coming from.

Zack, I’m glad you took my advice and went to the centerfield wall. That’s my favorite shagging spot by the camera well.

Excellent work, Zack: playing through pain to snag double digits. Finish a game with your ankle wrapped up like Heath Bell’s arm, and we’ll *really* be impressed. (Bet it feels like you could use that, though, doesn’t it?)
From my personal ankle-wrecking experience, I’d say be prepared for months, not years, to be 100% again. My sprain was somewhat worse (judging by the bruising), and I am some years older, and it was half a year before I was back to 90-95%. (I’m 99.9% today.) It won’t be easy, but it will come back. Hang tough.
I have to wonder about Red Sox fans sometimes. The biggest Fenway crowd in 70 years … for a Padres game? No offense to the Padres — well, a little — but you’d expect to hit that mark with the Yankees, or at least Tampa Bay. Oh well, what the heck. It’s all baseball.

Hey Zack, great entry… i’m curious, did you figure out who tossed up the glove and can we see a picture? And Heath Bell seems like an all around great person.
Michael

I’m going to Fenway for part of the Blue Jays and Orioles series, so I have some questions for you. How strict is the security? Can you go wherever you want during and after batting practice, and is it hard to sneak into the dugout seats during the game? Also, after the game do they let you go down to the dugouts? And where is the umpire tunnel located? Any other tips would be appreciated, sorry for all the questions.

nice job zach youu seem to have the charm what was the last game homer you caught and have u ever caught back to back balls?

The ball in the batting glove is the weirdest/coolest thing I’ve seen thus far at a baseball game. It’s like you get 2 for 1!!!

MATEO-
Fist-bumb!

NICK-
Sorry about the homer, and yeah, Heath is the absolute friendliest player as far as I’m concerned.

KYLE-
Nice job spotting the ball. It took me a minute the first time I saw that photo.

WAYNE-
Next year. Hell yeah. Can’t wait ’til you’re out this way.

LAKEERIE92-
Damn, for real? No wonder he gets lots of baseballs.

MICHAEL-
The pitching coach’s son was not in the stands. If a fan (or in this case an owner’s son) is in the stands, that’s a deal-breaker. But…good question. My rules are somewhat arbitrary — I’ll admit that — but they’re going to be arbitrary no matter what. Some people count baseballs from Spring Training. Some people don’t count toss-ups. We all have our own ways of documenting our collections.

VERBYN-
Well, you’re not the first person to find the ball in that photo, so Mateo (who WAS first) gets a double fist-bump and everyone else gets a single. :-)

DYLAN-
Trent is always there, isn’t he?

JOE-
Shux.

MATTHEW-
I’m glad SOMEone noticed my awesome shirt. Thank you. And that’s weird about Clayton Richard.

RYANMAC-
That sucks. And lesson learned: I need to be more careful. Thanks for weighing in on this.

MIKE-
Hell yeah. That seems like the place to be.

SHANE-
Yeah, I don’t why this game, of ALL game, was extra-crowded. As for the ankle, you’re scaring me. I really hope it won’t plague me for the rest of the season, but I’m thinking that it will.

MICHAEL-
Oh, you mean a closeup photo of the batting glove? I still need to photograph it, and when I do, it’ll go on this page on my website: http://www.zackhample.com/baseball_collection/photos/bonus_items/batting_gloves.htm
I don’t know who tossed it up, and I don’t think I ever will.

ALEX-
Not strict at all. You can go to the dugouts at anytime throughout the day. The only problem is finding empty seats during the game. Just about EVERY seat is full there. It’s bizarre. Normally there are no-shows, but hardly ever at Fenway. The umps exit at the home plate end of the 3rd base dugout. Hope that helps.

TYLER-
The last game homer I caught was the 1st (and so far only) that Mike Nickeas hit. I’ve caught back-to-back foul balls but not home runs.

BEN-
Two for one…yes! I remember thinking that at the time.

Zack,
I twisted my ankle playing tennis and it wasn’t nearly as bad as your sprianed ankle and it took about 9 months to fell 100% again.

Ken

Glad you got a good seat–see what I meant about just going wherever and hoping for the best? Fenway rules. I’ve sat in front row Monster Seats for entire games while only having paid for a SRO ($35 vs $165). Sometimes the real ticket-holder comes, but you just try a different seat.

But paying 60 for an SRO? Go to redsox.com right now and look at the tix available for, for example, an equivalent game to this one, the next Tuesday home game, and you’ll see lots of SRO available. They’re 20 bucks. Ah well, people thinking “you can’t get tickets at Fenway” means more face value tix for me!

Thanks for the shout-out in the other Fenway post, too.

KEN-
Crap.

JERE80-
How the hell do you get up into the Monster seats without tickets for that section? (Maybe send me a private email about that. Heh.) I had no idea that tickets were that easy to get. Thanks. And I’m gonna look at your email/links in a bit. For now, I’m still catching up on a few other things…

zack, i just went to a game at at&t park giants vs. padres and Darrell is by far the most fan unfriendly coach i have ever seen. I got an autograph from clayton richard he’s a really nice guy.

We go to the Padre games a lot. I think Heath Bell is the coolest, not just for his wind up, but he is consistently nice to fans of all ages.

OROW24-
Glad someone else agrees about THAT coach.

ERICA-
Thanks for the comment. Always nice to hear from a fellow Heath fan.

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