July 2011

7/29/11 at Yankee Stadium

The game was scheduled to begin at 7:05pm…
My family had a big group dinner planned for 7pm in Manhattan…

In order to make everyone happy AND inch closer toward my goal of snagging 1,000 baseballs this season, I went to Yankee Stadium for batting practice — and then left.

My 1st ball of the day was tossed by Sergio Mitre in right field, my 2nd ball was a Curtis Granderson homer that landed in the seats, and my 3rd was another Granderson blast that I caught on the fly — all within the first 10 minutes. Normally I would’ve been thrilled with my fast start, but in this case, I was feeling rather unsettled because another fan in my section had gotten drilled in the mouth by a home run ball. In fact, he was only five feet away from me when it happened, and it didn’t take long for the blood to start dripping from his mouth. Here’s a photo of the guy getting medical attention; I’ve blacked out his eyes to protect his privacy:

The home run that hit him had been knuckling like crazy, and it totally fooled me — twice. As the ball reached its apex, I shifted to my right. Then, as it started descending, I darted to my left. And by the time it landed, it was back on my right. The ball landed several rows below me, and as this guy reached up for it, another fan lunged and deflected it into his face. A similar thing had happened to me on 4/22/08 at Champion Stadium — the only difference was that the ball hit my nose — so I could definitely relate. Incredibly, he didn’t lose any teeth and was told that he didn’t even need stitches, and when the players saw what had happened, they tossed up a baseball for him. That said, it was still a scary scene that made me realize (yet again) how dangerous ballhawking can be.

When the Orioles took the field, I moved to the left field foul line…

…and got two baseballs thrown to me. The first came from Troy Patton, and the second came from a player that I couldn’t identify.

During the final 40 minutes of batting practice, I only got one more ball — a toss-up by Kevin Gregg in straight-away left field. Meh. There were very few homers, and the seats were so crowded that I barely had any room to run anyway.

Still, I was glad to have added six more baseballs to my season total, and on my way out of the stadium, I handed one to a very stunned kid, who was walking in with his parents.

Goodbye, Yankee Stadium. See you in a couple weeks…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 baseballs at this game (five pictured here because I gave one away)

• 649 balls in 78 games this season = 8.32 balls per game.

• 739 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 154 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

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

• 5,311 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.)

• 56 donors

• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $42.72 raised at this game

• $4,620.88 raised this season

7/27/11 at Nationals Park

Hello, everybody.
I snagged lots and lots of baseballs at this game.
Ready to hear about it?
Good. Here we go…

When the stadium opened at 4:30pm, the lower deck in right field was closed, and the Nationals pitchers were starting to play catch, so I headed up to the second deck in right field. My fellow ballhawk Alex Kopp had the same idea, and in the following photo, you can see us both (I’m closer to the camera) in the front row:

We each got one ball tossed to us; mine came from Tyler Clippard, who needed three attempts to reach me.

I snagged my 2nd and 3rd balls of the day in the “Red Porch” seats in left-center field. The first was tossed by a groundskeeper who was walking along the warning track, and the second was a ground-rule double that I didn’t see until the moment before it landed. I had briefly turned away from the field to talk to Rick Gold, who was standing two rows behind me; at the very last second, I noticed that he was staring intently over my shoulder and jockeying for position, so I turned around, and BAM, the ball bounced right to me. If I hadn’t been there, he definitely would’ve caught it.

I used my glove trick to snag my 4th and 5th balls of the day. The first came from the left field bullpen, and the second was sitting in the gap behind the outfield wall in left-center.

Then, after getting a toss-up from Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus, I caught two homers on the fly in straight-away left field. Here I am catching the first of those longballs — a blast by Ryan Zimmerman that cleared the left field bullpen:

I don’t know who hit the second homer. All I can tell you is that I caught it next to the bullpen after scampering up a few steps and drifting to my left.

Jona was with me and (as usual) took a bunch of great photos. Here’s a two-part photo that shows me using the glove trick to snag another ball from the gap in left-center:

That was my 9th ball of the day, and as soon as I reeled it, I handed it to a little kid who was standing next to me. I’d actually offered baseballs to four other kids earlier in BP, but none them were interested; they’d either already snagged one or wanted to snag one on their own. Bravo to them.

When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I raced into the right field seats (on the lower level) and found two baseballs sitting in the front row. Then, after changing into my Marlins gear, I got Burke Badenhop to throw me my 12th ball of the day in left field — and then I ran back to right field and used my glove trick to snag No. 13 from the bullpen. Here’s a photo of me reeling it in:

Back in left field, I got Clay Hensley to toss a ball to me over the left field bullpen, and then I got Anibal Sanchez to throw one to me in foul territory. Here’s a photo of Sanchez letting it fly:

That gave me 15 balls, but get this: I completely spaced out and forgot to scribble the ball from Sanchez into my notes, so for the rest of the day, the number of balls that I *thought* I’d snagged was one below the number that I’d *actually* snagged.

(Has that ever happened to you?)

Batting practice was almost over, so I cut through the seats and headed to the 3rd base dugout. On the way, I found a ball in the eighth row! How random is that?! I would’ve taken a photo of it before I picked it up, but there were lots of people nearby, and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I just wanted to grab it and continue on my way.

I had started the day with a lifetime total of 5,283 baseballs. The ball I found in the seats was my 16th of the day, but at the time, I thought it was my 15th — so at the time, I thought I needed two more balls to reach 5,300. (Are you with me?) As it turned out, the NEXT ball that I snagged was No. 5,300, and Jona happened to get a photo of it being tossed to me behind the dugout:

In the photo above, the guy who tossed the ball (as well as the ball itself) is inside the red oval. Does anyone know who that is? I wasn’t able to identify him, and since this was somewhat of a milestone ball, it’d be cool to know.

Anyway, moments after I got that ball, DeWayne Wise walked off the field and tossed me another. This was my 5,301st lifetime ball, but at the time, I thought it was No. 5,300, so I posed with it triumphantly:

Naturally, I marked this ball by writing “5300″ on it.

Big mistake.

Look what I had to do later when I discovered the missing ball in my notes:

This was the first time that I’d ever written the incorrect number on a ball. At first, I was really bummed about having to cross it out, but then I just shrugged it off, and now I’m kind of amused by the whole thing. I mean, I’d snagged so many balls that I lost count. That’s really what this all comes down to, and c’mon, that’s a good thing, right?

The ball that Wise tossed to me was my 18th of the day, but I thought it was my 17th. I really wanted to reach 20, a total that I’d only achieved ten times before. In reality, I only needed two more baseballs to get there, but at the time, I thought I needed three.

After BP (and after changing out of my Marlins gear), I gave away another ball to a kid behind the dugout — and got a solid high-five in the process:

In the photos above, did you notice how sweaty I was? The darker gray portion of my shirt is not a shadow, my friends.

Just before the game started, Hanley Ramirez came out to play catch in front of the dugout:

When he finished, he tossed the ball four rows behind me. Two fans reached out for it and knocked it away from each other. (One of those fans happened to be Garrett Meyer, who established a personal high by snagging 12 balls at this game.) The ball then plopped into the seats and trickled all the way down to me in the front row. (Ha!) That was my 19th ball of the day, but at the time, I thought I needed two more to reach 20. I gave that ball to the nearest kid and then headed over to the Nationals’ dugout on the 1st base side.

After the top of the 1st inning, first baseman Michael Morse tossed the 3rd-out ball to a coach on the top step of the dugout. The coach then placed the ball on a narrow wooden ledge just inside the protective netting and walked away. Ian Desmond was sitting next to the ball, so I called out to him and said, “Hey, Ian, any chance you could give that ball a toss?”

He looked up and shook his head mumbled something simple. I think he said, “Sorry, man.”

“No problem,” I shouted. “Thank you anyway.”

Just as I was getting ready to head back up the steps, I heard someone in the dugout yell “Hey,” so I turned around and noticed that Desmond was looking at me. He then tossed a different ball to me, totally unexpectedly.

I took the following photo of him moments later:

That was my 20th ball of the day, but I thought I only had 19. (I suppose the word “only” should be in quotes, but whatever. You know what I mean.)

I spent the rest of the game trying unsuccessfully to get a 3rd-out ball behind the Marlins’ dugout — or should I say MOST of the rest of the game. When Danny Espinosa struck out against Edward Mujica to end the 8th inning, Marlins catcher John Buck took the ball back to the dugout and lobbed it several rows deep. I was right there to make the catch, and I was PUMPED. Of course, this was actually my 21st ball of the day, but at the time, I thought I had finally reached 20 after a whole game of uncertainty.

I moved closer to the home-plate end of the dugout in the bottom of the 9th inning…

…and after the final out, I got my final ball of the day from home plate umpire Angel Hernandez. At the time, I thought it was my 21st ball, but it was actually my 22nd. (I didn’t discover my note-taking error until two days later.)

Here I am with Rick Gold, Garrett Meyer, and Jona:

Do you remember the ground-rule double that I’d snagged in front of Rick earlier in the day? Well, I made up for it by driving him (and Jona) back to New York City.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 22 baseballs at this game (19 pictured here because I gave 3 away, and hey, I forgot to mention that for the first time in years, the Nationals weren’t using those horrible Training balls)

• 643 balls in 77 games this season = 8.35 balls per game.

• 738 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 263 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 11 lifetime games with 20 or more balls; 10 of these games have taken place — surprise-surprise!! – outside of New York

• 5,305 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.)

• 56 donors

• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $156.64 raised at this game

• $4,578.16 raised this season

Of the 19 baseballs that I kept, more than half have invisible ink stamps on them. Here are some the better ones (including one ball that simply has invisible ink smudges):

Finally, I got an email several weeks ago from someone who had recently started examining his own baseballs in black light. He sent me a photo of a ball with a single-digit invisible ink stamp and asked me if I’d ever seen one like it. My answer at the time was no. My answer now is yes:

Nifty.

Charity, family, library, documentary

If you’ve read my blog at all since 2009, then you know that I’ve been raising money for a children’s baseball charity called Pitch In For Baseball — and if you’ve been reading it for the past few weeks, then you know that I’m being filmed for a Korean documentary.

(Right?)

Well, two days ago, I drove down to the Pitch In For Baseball warehouse (located in Harleysville, PA) to meet the filmmaker and show the place to my family. I’d been there once before, but they’d never seen it. Here I am with everyone just before the tour/filming got underway:

In the photo above, from right to left, you’re looking at…

1) me
2) Jona
3) my mother Naomi
4) my half-brother Henry
5) a Pitch In For Baseball employee named Tom
6) the filmmaker named James

From afar, the crates and boxes might not look like much…

…but they’re all filled with various pieces of baseball and softball equipment that are getting ready to be shipped out to communities all over the world.

Halfway through the brief tour, Tom and I worked together to pack up a box with gloves and uniform pants and a few other items:

Then I lugged it to the front entrance:

Tom didn’t exactly need help, but James wanted to get some footage of me doing something other than standing around. (Yes, even “reality” TV is often staged.)

Here’s a photo that actually shows some of the equipment:

That’s a lot of bats, and they’re all organized by size.

Here are some softballs:

One of the best things about being in a warehouse filled with baseball equipment is the opportunity to play with stuff. Here I am “jousting” with Jona…

…and here we are ready for game action:

I would’ve stayed at the warehouse for hours, but I had a busy schedule of events ahead of me.

First, there was a big family dinner in Philadelphia. Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll identify everyone:

Here goes…

1) James, the Korean filmmaker, who got lots of footage during the meal
2) my mom
3) my 90-year-old aunt Barbara (my dad’s sister)
4) Henry
5) my first cousin Cathy
6) my “first cousin once removed” Corinne
7) me
8) my cousin Doug (father of Corinne)
9) Stephanie, the girlfriend of…
10) Scott, another “first cousin once removed”
11) Scott’s father Steve
12) Jona

I had to rush out of the restaurant at 6:45pm to make it to Free Library of Philadelphia. Here’s why:

I was scheduled to give a 20-minute talk about my new book, The Baseball, and then sign copies.

Here’s a table of books in the lobby:

The book on the left is called Campy. It’s a biography about Roy Campanella. The author, Neil Lanctot, was also going to be giving a talk and doing a signing. I’d never met him before, and he turned out to be a really great guy — and not surprisingly, he knows a LOT about baseball.

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see copies of The Baseball as well as my previous book, Watching Baseball Smarter. See the sign on the right side of the table? There were several others placed in key spots around the library, including on the outside of the door to the auditorium, where Neil and I would soon be speaking. Check it out:

Here’s a look at the auditorium:

The Phillies-Giants game was being projected onto a large screen at the front, and hey, don’t judge me on the size (or rather lack) of a crowd in the photo above. It was still early, so most of the seats weren’t yet filled. The room never did get packed, but I’d say there were about 75 people. There would’ve been a lot more if the host of the NPR affiliate that I was going to do an interview with earlier in the day hadn’t been called for federal jury duty.

While I settled in at the front of the room, James positioned his camera at the back:

Jona took all these photos, but she didn’t take any while I was actually speaking.

Why not?

“Because I didn’t want to distract you,” she told me later.

That was thoughtful of her, but I still wish she’d taken a few. (I’m always happy when photos are being taken.) She did, however, get a photo of the stage where it all went down:

I gave my speech at the podium on the left. Then, after Neil followed me with a speech of his own, we sat next to each other on the chairs and took questions from the audience.

The actual signing took place in the lobby. Here I am next to Neil. I’m wearing a light pink shirt, which I’d changed into after dinner:

Here’s another photo of the book signing. The woman leaning over the table next to me is my aunt Barbara:

Barbara lives in Pennsylvania, as do several of my relatives who came out for this event. I don’t see her nearly enough, so it was great to catch up for a bit. Here’s a closer look at us:

My dad used to make fun of her for looking like George Washington. (Some of us still do. Barbara just laughs it off.) He used to ask people if they wanted to see a picture of her, and when they said yes, he’d reach for his wallet and pull out a one-dollar bill. Truly hilarious. And unapologetically offensive. THAT was my dad, and I miss him like hell.

Here’s a close-up of me signing a book:

Several people who attended this event told me that they’d found out about it because my Mike Trout home run catch. Word spreads fast, evidently.

As the event was winding down, I posed for a photo with Neil:

In the photo above, the black thing poking out of my shirt is a microphone. This documentary seems to be the real deal, and as soon as James gets permission from MLB to film me inside major league stadiums, we’re going to hit up several games together.

Toward the end of the evening, I was asked to sign a poster-sized cover of The Baseball:

In the photo above, the gentleman standing across the table from me is Andy Kahan, the director of author events at the Library. He and I had worked together several years earlier when I was there for Watching Baseball Smarter.

Just before I headed out, one of the folks who’d attended the event showed me something cool about my first book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs. In the following photo, do you see the book called The Disciple Making Church?

Well, check out that book’s bibliography:

My first book is listed there!

Unfortunately my name is spelled wrong, and the year of publication is off, but that just adds to the random awesomeness of it. I asked the guy who showed it to me why my baseball book was referenced in a religious book. He said that the author made a point along the lines of, “If people were as passionate about God as Zack Hample is about catching baseballs, the world would be a better place.” Or something like that.

Good times in Pennsylvania. Thanks to everyone who attended.

7/24/11 at Camden Yards

This was the scene when Camden Yards opened at 11:30am:

No batting practice.
Fabulous.
But that was to be expected.

Not only was it unbearably hot and humid, but the Angels and Orioles had played the night before. I figured there wouldn’t be BP, and I nearly skipped this game as a result.

That said, my day still got off to a pretty good start. When the Angels first came out and began stretching, bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio spotted me in the front row and tossed me a ball. Just like that. I didn’t even have to ask for it. Then, 15 minutes later, I got two more toss-ups from Scott Downs and Jordan Walden. I was deeper in the seats for these two baseballs — in the 10th row for Downs and all the way back in the cross-aisle for Walden — because there was a bit of competition. Mateo Fischer, Garrett Meyer, and Flava Dave were also there and trying to get the players’ attention. I had moved way back, hoping that the players would opt for the longer throws to me rather than the easier tosses to my buddies down in front. And it worked. (Don’t feel bad for these guys because they ended up snagging a few balls too.)

Half an hour later, I got my 4th ball of the day from Jake Arrieta behind the 1st base dugout. Nothing fancy there (other than the fact that he threw it left-handed). He’d been playing catch in shallow right field, and when he started walking back toward the dugout with the ball, I cut through the seats and asked him for it. Then I found my people and grabbed a seat with them in the shade:

In the photo above, you’re looking at:

1) Garrett Meyer (my post-game accomplice on 6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium)
2) Ben Weil (who arrived late…just because)
3) Jona (who also arrived late…because she *had* to go to Whole Foods)
4) Flava Dave (whose last name remains a mystery)
5) Mateo Fischer (a Watch With Zack client on 7/27/10 at Citi Field)

For more than half an hour, there wasn’t any action on the field, so we all just sat there. And waited. And talked. And ate the free ice that the Orioles were kind enough to provide. Check out the following photo of one of the “ice stations.” This one was set up in the field-level concourse behind home plate:

Camden Yards is the best. That’s really all there is to it.

Shortly before game time, I wandered out near the bullpens…

…and got a very unexpected ball from Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair. There were other fans in front of me, and I didn’t have time to take off my Angels shirt, so I didn’t bother asking for it. I just stood there and watched, and for some reason, he looked at me and held my gaze for a moment. I responded by holding up my glove, and he lobbed me the ball. Very strange.

I’d given away eight balls over the previous two games and was planning to give more away at this one, but I decided to wait a bit. Instead of handing out balls so early in the day, I wanted to wait until the game was over. Just because.

You know what else had happened at the previous two games? I’d snagged two foul balls — one each day — and I’m not talking about BP. I’m talking about the game itself. My goal, as I mentioned on Twitter, was to make it three in a row, but when the game was about to start and I saw how empty the left field seats were, I decided to go for home runs instead. But not just any home run. I specifically wanted to catch one hit by Angels mega-prospect Mike Trout. He’d just been called up two weeks earlier and had yet to go deep in the Major Leagues.

This was my view at the start of the game:

Did I mention that it was hot? Officially, it was 99 degrees at game time, but with the sun beating down on me and sizzling my dark green plastic seat, it felt like 199 degrees. Of course, that was a good thing (skin cancer excluded) because it kept a lot of folks away. Look how empty it was on my left:

Most of the fans were sitting in the first six rows; I could’ve sat anywhere but chose to stay farther back because (a) it doesn’t exactly take a bomb to reach the left field seats in Baltimore and (b) I had much more room to run.

My friends were scattered throughout the stadium. Mateo was hanging out in the right field Flag Court, Ben was wandering in search of food, and Dave and Garrett were also in left field. As for Jona, she was sitting 50 feet behind me under the overhang of the second deck. Here’s a photo that she took from that spot.

In the photo above, that’s me facing the camera, hands on hips, red Angels shirt on head. I didn’t care how stupid I looked. Despite all the sunblock I’d been rubbing into my skin, it felt like I was being cooked, so whatever. Comfort over beauty, right?

Halfway through the game, Ben came out and found me, and once again, he was rockin’ the Troy Glaus Turn Ahead The Clock jersey:

Ben wasn’t in left field to compete with me for home runs. He was just there to hang out.

As the innings rolled by, one of the many topics that we discussed was Mike Trout. I told Ben that if I were to catch his first major league homer, I’d take him with me when I went to give it back. There was never any doubt that I’d give it back. I wasn’t there to cash in. I just wanted to be a part of baseball history — to add “Mike Trout’s 1st major league homer” to my ballhawking résumé — and I really felt like I had a great chance. As I mentioned before, there were lots of empty seats all around me. All he had to do was HIT it.

Unfortunately, the opportunities were dwindling, and when Trout stepped to the plate with one out in the top of the 8th, I remember thinking, “This sucks. He basically has to hit a home run right row or else I’ll never have a chance to catch it. This is probably going to be his last at-bat, and then the Angels are traveling somewhere else.”

Ben wasn’t in his seat when the at-bat began. Having signed up as a “designated driver,” he was on his way back with two free Cokes. Meanwhile, I moved four rows back. I’d been doing that on and off throughout the game for the more powerful righties: Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, Mark Trumbo, and of course Mike Trout. I’d seen all these guys mashing tape-measure home runs during BP and thought that moving back a bit might help.

After Orioles reliever Mark Worrell had already thrown a couple of pitches to Trout, Ben made it back to the seats and offered me a soda. I declined and said sarcastically, “I can see how much YOU want to catch this ball.”

“Well, his at-bat is still happening!” he said.

Ben told me later that when the count went to 3-1, he made a comment about how Trout was going to do it. I don’t remember that, but that’s not to say that Ben is a liar. All I remember is this:

Trout BLASTED a deep drive on the next pitch, and the first thing I thought was, “Ohmygod, here it comes.”

I knew right away that it was going to be a home run and that it was going to land pretty close to my row, but regardless of the distance, the first thing I had to do was get in line with it, so I jumped out of my seat and bolted 20 feet to my left. By the time the ball reached its apex — only 83 feet high according to Hit Tracker — I determined that it was going to sail a bit too far over my row. For a split second, I was sure that I wasn’t going to be able to reach it, so I thought about turning around to play the ricochet. But hell, I still had another second or two to work with, so I proceeded through my empty row, and at the last second, I was able to jump/lunge to my glove side and catch the ball high above my head — or at least I thought that’s what happened. It wasn’t until I got back to my hotel later that evening and watched the highlight on MLB.com that I realized that I’d climbed back over a row while the ball was in mid-air. Check out the following screen shot. I’m inside red circle, and if you look closely, you can see that one of my legs is up:

Evidently, my instincts had taken over. I didn’t think about climbing one row back. I just did it. It was something I’d done countless times during BP, and I was proud of myself (and shocked) when I discovered that I’d done it here, when it really mattered.

Here’s a screen shot of me catching the ball:

Here’s another screen shot of the catch. Check out my extension…

…and check out that humongous wet spot on my crotch. That’s sweat, okay? I swear!

Here’s a screen shot that shows me reacting after the catch:

Jona had already grabbed her camera by that point, and she took a photo moments later:

She had no idea that it was an extra-special home run until this happened:

As you can see, an usher, security supervisor, and police officer descended upon my section within 30 seconds. By that point, I had been called over to the Angels’ bullpen by one of the players. (I think it was Bobby Cassevah.) He told me that it was Mike Trout’s first home run, and then he asked for it. I told him that I was aware of the significance of the ball and that I wanted to give it back to Trout myself.

Moments later, the head of stadium operations arrived. He’s the guy wearing sunglasses in the following photo:

In the photo above, that’s Garrett in the red shirt on the far left. Ben is bending down just behind the head of stadium operations, wearing a blue backpack. I’m also in there between the stadium operations guy and the cop.

I was pretty damn happy…

…not to mention excited as hell:

People ask me all the time, “What’s the best ball you’ve ever caught?” and for several years, I’ve had two answers:

1) the last Mets home run ever hit at Shea Stadium
2) Barry Bonds’ 724th career home run

I knew right away that the Mike Trout ball would ultimately end up becoming one of my answers, and hey, speaking of Bonds, this is kind of freaky…

A friend pointed out to me that Trout was born on August 7th — the day that Bonds hit his 756th career home run to become the all-time leader — and that Trout hit his first career homer on July 24th — Bonds’ birthday. And there’s more. Bonds’ birthday is 7/24, and I caught his 724th career homer. (Cue the Twilight Zone music.)

Anyway, when the head of stadium operations asked me what I wanted for the ball, I told him that I wanted to give it back to Trout myself so I could shake his hand.

“Well, this is a getaway day,” he said, “so I can’t guarantee that.” He then explained that the timing was going to be difficult because the Angels were going to be in a rush to leave.

Although I didn’t say this to him, I didn’t care how big of a rush the team was in. Quite simply, if I wasn’t going to be allowed to personally hand the ball back to Mike Trout, then I was going to keep it. That’s the only thing I wanted — just a chance to meet him and say hello and be connected to this special moment — and I didn’t think it was too much to ask.

Meanwhile, I was getting mobbed by fans:

Many of these folks said they were friends or relatives of Mike Trout, so of course they were all concerned about what I was planning to do with the ball, and how much I was going to ask for in exchange.

A few minutes later, the head of stadium operations told me that he’d take me down to the Angels’ clubhouse after the game.

(Thank you.)

I told him that I wanted to bring a few people with me and identified Jona as one of them. Here I am pointing her out:

I was told that I could only bring one person with me.

That really bothered me, and I was tempted to play hardball, so to speak. I thought about demanding to bring my whole crew and threatening to leave with the ball. I’m sure that the Orioles and Angels would’ve caved in and allowed me to bring anyone I wanted if that’s what it was going to take, but I didn’t want to be difficult. I didn’t want to taint the situation with negativity, and I kept thinking about how great I’d been treated over the years at Camden Yards. It really is one of the most laid-back, fan-friendly places in the Major Leagues — that’s why I drive down there so often from New York — so I wanted to return the favor and just go with the flow. Also, this wasn’t about me. It was about Mike Trout. I was just glad to be a part of his big moment. I wanted him to get the ball back, and I wanted the situation to proceed as smoothly as possible.

In the bottom of the 8th inning, his parents (Jeff and Debbie) and brother (Tyler) made their way out to the left field seats. Here I am in the tunnel with them:

In the photo above, that’s Jeff in the red Angels cap and Tyler wearing sunglasses.

I had actually met Mike Trout’s mother two days earlier. During that game, I’d been standing in the cross-aisle when I saw a woman walking toward me with a snazzy “Hooked on Trout” t-shirt. I stopped her and asked where she got it. She then told me that she was Mike Trout’s mother. When I reminded her of this story after catching the home run, she remembered me. That helped establish a friendly rapport, and I think it make her feel a bit more relaxed. I got the sense, though, that the whole family was really cool, so even if I hadn’t had that chance encounter with her two days earlier, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

I posed for a bunch of photos with the Trout family. Here’s one of us from above/behind:

Little did I know that the Angels’ TV broadcast was showing the whole thing in between pitches. Here’s a screen shot…

…and here’s another regular photo of me with Mike Trout’s parents:

See what I mean? Friendly.

When I told them that I was going to give the ball back to their son, Debbie asked if she could take it for him. I then explained that I wanted to hold onto it a bit longer and give it back to him myself. She understood my desire, and I really appreciated that she let me do that. Of course, it was still technically MY ball, so I was free to do anything with it that I wanted, but I still wanted to make sure that she was cool with my plan. She thanked me for being generous and asked if there was anything that they could do for me — anything that I wanted.

I really wasn’t planning to ask for anything, but when she offered, I decided to present an idea that I’d had for years.

“I don’t know if this is too much to ask,” I began, “but I’ve never gotten a jersey. Do you think I could possibly get one that belongs to your son? Maybe an actual game-worn jersey?”

“That’s not too much to ask,” she said. “I don’t know about a game-worn jersey, but I think that’s doable. I’ll talk to Mike to see if he has any extras, and when you meet him, give him your contact info.”

I told her that if I couldn’t have a jersey, it was no big deal and that I was still going to give the ball to him regardless — and that’s pretty much how we left it.

Once the Trout family was gone, the security supervisor told me to go back to my seat:

I’d been laughing it up and posing for photos and soaking in every moment of the situation, but he and the head of stadium operations were all business. Their job was to make sure that I didn’t disappear with the ball or pull a little switcheroo. Of course, right after I’d caught the ball, I was the first person to suggest having it authenticated, but apparently that didn’t matter now, and they watched me like hawks. In the following photo of the ball, you can see them standing in the tunnel in the background:

Just before the game ended, a random fan asked me if I wanted to sell the ball.

“No thanks,” I said. “I already told stadium security and Mike Trout’s parents that I’m going to give it back.”

The guy just kinda shrugged, so I explained that I’ve never sold a ball in my life and that I didn’t want to start now. I told him that if I were able to get “life-changing money” for a ball, then I’d probably sell it, but that wasn’t the case with the one I’d just caught. I did think about the fact that if I held onto the ball and Trout were to end up in the Hall of Fame, I could potentially have a piece of memorabilia that would be worth six figures. Think about how much Albert Pujols’s first major league homer would be worth today. Or A-Rod’s first homer. I know those guys are two of the biggest starts in baseball, but if Trout lives up to all the hype, there’s no telling how great he’ll be. But whatever. I wasn’t going to deny him the ball based on a 25-year investment that might not even pan out. I mean, it’s fun to think about money, but ultimately it’s not what motivates me to go to games and catch all these baseballs. That said, I asked the guy how much he’d give me for the ball, you know, just for fun.

“Three hundred to five hundred dollars,” he said, “but I’d need to go to an ATM. I’ll do it right now if you want to sell it.”

Again, just to be clear, I had *no* intention of selling the ball. I was just rolling with the conversation for the hell of it. I asked the guy what he’d do with the ball if I sold it to him. He said he’d keep it. And that was the end of it.

Finally, when the Angels put the finishing touches on their 9-3 victory, it was time to head down to the clubhouse. As for who I got to bring, Jona had told Ben that he could go with me; the only requirement was that he had to use her camera to take a ton of photos.

Here I am holding the ball and waving to Jona as we headed off:

Here I am being led through the concourse. I might look all serious and mean in this photo…

…but this is how I really felt:

I was taken to the main entrance/lobby behind home plate.

Who was there at the security desk?

Mike Trout’s parents:

In the photo above, the woman wearing sunglasses is Mike Trout’s girlfriend Jessica, and evidently, while waiting to be taken downstairs to the clubhouse, I made her laugh:

I have no idea what I was talking about, but it looks like we were all having fun. And by the way, that’s Mike’s brother Tyler in the red shirt.

After the Trout family headed downstairs to a waiting room, I did my own waiting in the lobby. In the photo below, Garrett is wearing the red shirt without a cap, Mateo is wearing a red shirt with a cap, Avi Miller is wearing orange, and Jona is sitting next to me:

Finally, the head of stadium operations led me out of the lobby and into the concourse. Then he pulled out of a set of keys and opened this unmarked door:

The door led to a staircase, and I headed down it:

In the photo above, the woman that you see is named Amanda. She works in P.R. for the Orioles.

At the bottom of the stairs, we exited another door and ended up here:

And then here:

And finally here:

(There’s always time to be a clown.)

After standing outside the Visitor Clubhouse for a few minutes, the moment finally arrived. Mike Trout walked out dressed in black slacks and a fancy blue shirt, and he immediately bent down to sign a baseball:

“That’s funny,” I thought, “I wonder who that’s for.”

I thought he was going to send the signed ball to one of his friends or family members in the waiting room — or maybe it was going to be the consolation prize for the fan who’d been closest to me in the left field seats?

Trout then came over and shook my hand…

…and I realized then that the signed ball was for me. His mother obviously hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to him and tell him about my request for a jersey, so this was all I got. Here we are exchanging the baseballs…

…and here’s a close-up of his autograph:

I thought about mentioning the jersey to him, but once again, I didn’t want to taint the situation by asking for anything. I didn’t even want to ask him to personalize the autograph by adding my name to it, although that would’ve been really cool. (“For Zack, nice catch! Mike Trout.”) Also, I’d already given one of my contact cards to his mother, so if the jersey was meant to be, then I figured I’d end up hearing from her, and if not, no big deal. I was really hoping that Trout would walk out of the clubhouse with a jersey and hand it to me, or better yet, walk out wearing a jersey (on top of an undershirt) and take it off for me, so once that didn’t happen, I kinda put the whole thing out of my mind. I mean, I didn’t just want *a* jersey. I wanted a jersey *from* Mike Trout, you know?

I don’t mean to complain. I’m thrilled with how the whole thing turned out. If I really wanted a jersey, I would’ve insisted on getting one. More than anything, though, I just wanted to be chill about the whole thing and see how everyone handled it and just be a part of it. That’s what I did after catching Mike Nickeas’s first (and so far only) major league home run on 4/21/11 at Citi Field. I didn’t ask for anything in return — just a handshake — and it was interesting to see how that situation played out.

Trout and I posed for a photo outside the clubhouse:

In the photo above, he’s holding his home run ball, and I’m holding the one that he’d signed for me.

Now that I think about it, I did make one final request to him: I asked him to remember me. I told him that I attend lots of games and that in the future, it would be cool for him to come over and say hey if I call out to him from the stands.

He said he’d definitely remember me.

Then we headed into the waiting room…

…where he hugged his father…

…and his mother:

Witnessing that was better than getting a jersey.

Really.

In a situation like this, I’d much rather experience something great than own something great, so in that sense…mission accomplished.

Here I am with the Trout family:

From left to right in the photo above, you’re looking at:

1) me
2) Mike’s father Jeff
3) Mike Trout himself
4) Mike’s mother Debbie
5) Mike’s brother Tyler
6) Mike’s girlfriend Jessica

Awesome people.

Back upstairs in the lobby, Mike greeted some friends and relatives and signed a few autographs:

(Do I get to call him “Mike”? I think I earned the right to be on a first-name basis with him.)

After everyone cleared out of the lobby, I got a final photo with my crew:

I should explain why I was wearing an Angels cap during the game. Most of you probably know that I don’t have a favorite team and that I normally wear a cap of the home team during games. It’s easier to fit in that way; my intention is not to piss off the locals. But the fact is that I’ve liked the Angels ever since I worked for the Boise Hawks — one of their (former) minor league affiliates — in 1995. That was THE best summer of my life, and it was capped off by receiving this championship ring. How could I not like Angels? But that’s not the reason why I was wearing the cap on this fine day. It might be hard to believe, but I was wearing it in case I caught Mike Trout’s first major league homer — you know, so I’d be dressed for the occasion. I thought it’d look better on TV if his first home run was caught by an Angels fan, or perhaps I should say someone who appeared to be an Angels fan. Of course, I would’ve been celebrating regardless, but it might not have made quite as much sense to the public.

As I mentioned earlier in this entry, I intended to give some of my baseballs away after the game, but I was so distracted by all the home run hoopla that I flat-out forgot. I’ll give away an extra ball or two next game to make up for it. And no, I’m not going to count the ball in my stats that Mike gave me outside the clubhouse. I could make a case for counting it, but it just doesn’t feel right. I mean, it’s an outstanding memento, and I’m really glad to have it, but I think it belongs in a separate category. Check out my stats below and then keep scrolling down to see more photos and screen shots…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 baseballs at this game (five pictured here because I gave one to Mike Trout)

• 621 balls in 76 games this season = 8.17 balls per game.

• 737 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 262 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 16 lifetime game home run balls; click here for the complete list

• 5,283 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.)

• 56 donors

• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $42.72 raised at this game

• $4,421.52 raised this season

Of the five baseballs that I kept, one has a beautiful invisible ink stamp on it. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the ball in regular light versus black light:

And now, let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about Twitter…

Word spread fast across the internet that I was the one who caught Mike Trout’s home run. As a result, I got a few new Twitter followers in the 24 hours that followed. Here’s a screen shot of the Twitter notifications in my email inbox:

That’s 68 new Twitter followers, and people are still finding me. (Thank you all and welcome aboard.) For months, I’ve wanted my number of followers to exceed the number of tweets that I’ve posted, and I’ve finally gotten there, 947 to 926.

As you might expect, there were lots of people who mentioned me in their tweets. I’m going to show a ton of them in a moment, but first I want to post the two that stood out the most. I was really touched by what @TylerTrout (Mike Trout’s brother) said…

…and then I saw this tweet from someone I’ve never met:

It’s not accurate to say that I didn’t get anything in return, but still, I appreciate the kind words.

Here are all the tweets. Props to @ravensfan0321 for being the first:

Hours after catching the home run, I did a 48-minute phone interview about it with a columnist from the Orange County Register named Marcia Smith. Here’s a partial screen shot of the article she wrote:

Click here if you want to read the whole thing.

Kevin Baxter from The Los Angeles Times blog also wrote a story about me. Here’s a screen shot of the first part of it…

…and here’s the link to the whole thing.

Everyone always talks about how lucky I am, and how I always seem to be in the right spot, but I don’t really think I’m all that lucky. Obviously, there was a **HUGE** amount of luck involved with catching this particular home run, but think about all the other longballs that I haven’t caught. I’ve been to 76 games this season, and although I haven’t even sat in the outfield for half of them, I’ve only snagged three home runs (four if you count Robinson Cano’s final-round blast during the Home Run Derby). No one thinks anything of it when I go to a game and don’t catch a home run; people only seem to notice when I do, so to the casual observer, yeah, I must seem like the luckiest guy ever. The reality, however, is that I try to catch EVERY ball and fail most of the time, but I try so often that I still succeed fairly regularly. That said, it all comes back to one of my favorite quotes of all time:

“Luck is the residue of design.”
-Branch Rickey

7/23/11 at Camden Yards

Several months ago, I got an email from Alan Schuster, the webmaster of MyGameBalls.com, about organizing a gathering of ballhawks.

“BallhawkFest.”

That’s what he named it in an article he wrote in April about the event, and by the time he posted an update nearly two months later, a bunch of folks were already on board.

July 23rd was the big day, and it started with a softball game at 11am near Camden Yards. Here’s the crew when we first gathered on the field:

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see that the one person wearing long pants is holding a large video camera. His name is James Lee, and if you read this blog regularly, you’re probably going to be seeing a lot of him. He works for the Korean Broadcasting System, and he’s planning to follow me around for the next few weeks, interviewing me and getting footage for an hourlong documentary about…umm, me. Remember when I first tweeted about this on July 15th? At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was really going to happen, and of course it still might fall through — you never know with these things — but once James actually showed up with his camera (and wired me with a remote microphone), it seemed much more official.

I suppose I should point myself out in the photo above. I’m standing second from the left, wearing tan cargo shorts and a blue t-shirt.

After a few more people arrived, we spread out on the field and played catch:

James interviewed me on and off throughout the day…

…and filmed my every move:

As it turned out, we didn’t have enough people for a nine-on-nine softball game, so we improvised and played our own version of Home Run Derby. Here’s how it worked:

1) We split up into two teams and played seven innings.

2) Each inning, every person on the team got two swings — one with a softball being pitched and one with a baseball.

3) Every batted ball that reached the outfield grass on the fly without being caught was worth one point, and it earned another swing.

4) If a batted ball cleared the outfield fence on the fly, it was worth five points and also earned another swing.

Does that make sense? Yes? Maybe a little? Doesn’t really matter. All you have to know is that we goofed around on the field for a couple hours and had a *great* time.

I did most of the pitching. Here I am laying one in there for a fellow New Yorker named Mateo Fischer:

Here I am at bat, ready to unleash a ferocious swing…

…and here I am connecting on another:

In the photo above, I barely got under the ball and hit a towering fly ball to straight-away left field. Over the course of the game, I think I hit four balls over the fence. The only other person to go yard was Todd Cook, pictured below watching one his blasts. The ball is the little speck inside the red circle:

(UPDATE: Todd just reminded me that Alan also went deep. Sorry, Alan. No disrespect intended. That was quite a blast.)

Ben Weil showed up late, but made up for it by (a) dressing like Ricky Vaughn and (b) breaking out a vuvuzela:

By the way, Jona took all these photos, and you’ll see her in a moment. First, though, here’s a look at the final scorecard, partially penned by Todd’s five-year-old son Tim:

Yes, my team lost. I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just move on to the group photo instead:

In the back row (from left to right), you’re looking at Ben, me, Oliver Rowles, Alan Schuster, Garrett Meyer, Alex Kopp, Mateo, and Oliver’s dad Mike. Jona is kneeling on the left, and next to her, we have Flava Dave and the Cooks — Tim and Todd.

After the softball game, we all headed to an awesome Italian restaurant called Di Pasquale’s. Matt Hersl (who claimed he was too sore to play softball with us) recommended the place and met us there. In the following photo, he’s sitting behind Alan with a guilty look on his face:

As for me and Ben, we were displaying the prizes we’d won in the raffle that Alan put together. Ben is cradling a Frank Thomas bobblehead, and I’m holding a Red Sox cap (wrapped in plastic with a sticker on the front) of questionable design. Just about everybody won a prize, but the best prize of all was getting to spend time together. Awww!!

Unfortunately, we couldn’t all fit at one table. Here’s the other half of the group:

You might remember Garrett from this photo in my previous entry; you might also remember him as the guy who was with me when I set my single-game record of 32 balls on 6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium.

Lunch ended at around 3:30pm. Less than an hour later, we reconvened outside Gate H at Camden Yards, and look! We’re all dressed the same!

Sort of.

For the reasonable price of $10 apiece, Alan had arranged for each of us to get a “BallhawkFest” t-shirt, and for the record, they were ugly by design. We all voted on yellow because we wanted to stand out in the crowd and be able to spot each other from across the stadium.

(“I didn’t vote for yellow,” Jona just said. “That’s for sure.”)

The shirts weren’t identical on the back. We each got our names (or MyGameBalls.com usernames) on there, along with our lifetime ball totals through the All-Star break. Check it out:

In the photo above, Garrett and I are high-fiving to celebrate our status as the top two ballhawks in attendance. Matt, pictured on the right, has snagged quite a few baseballs over the years, but went with the number “1″ just for kicks.

As for James, he hadn’t yet gotten permission from MLB International to film me inside stadiums, so he had to settle for getting footage of us on the outside. Here I am trying to run the microphone wire up the inside of my shirt:

When the gates opened at 5pm, I headed to the left field seats. In the following photo, I’m standing in the front row…

…and if you’re wondering why the players were wearing shorts, that’s because it was insanely hot — so hot that I had assumed there wouldn’t be batting practice.

I snagged three baseballs during the Orioles’ portion of BP and felt like I should’ve had ten. (That’s just how it goes sometimes.) The first was a Derrek Lee homer that landed in the seats, the second was thrown by Jeremy Guthrie, and the third was another Lee homer.

But let’s get back to Guthrie for a moment…

Did you see my recent tweet about snagging a weird ball? Well, I didn’t ask him for the ball that he threw to me. He had actually shouted my name to get my attention, and when I looked up, he tossed it over. But that’s not the weird part. Guthrie and I have known each other for years, and he often does cool/random stuff, so I wasn’t that surprised by his act of generosity. What surprised me was the ball itself. I was downright shocked when I first got a glimpse of it and immediately pulled out my camera to take a photo:

Want to see what I was seeing?

Check it out:

What the–?!

FEMEBE?!?!

Was it some type of female/women’s league ball? My fellow ballhawks gathered around to have a look at this weird ball for themselves. I asked them if it should officially count in my collection, and the consensus was yes; it was a ball that was given to me by a major league player at a major league stadium, so why not? After all, I’d counted the handful of minor league balls (like this and this and this) that I’d snagged over the years under similar circumstances.

But damn! This thing looked more like a Christmas tree ornament than a baseball. Did it really belong in my collection? I still wasn’t sure, but my peers insisted. So I counted it. (Lifetime ball No. 5,272.) And then I took a closer look at the logo on the bottom panel:

Whoa!!!

Jeremy Guthrie had thrown me a Mexican League ball!!!

How many people out there have snagged one of those? I’m guessing not too many — perhaps no one at a big league game.

Here’s a random/funny/embarrassing photo that Jona took toward the end of Orioles BP. It shows me and Avi Miller reacting to a ball deflecting off the seats:

Oof.

I don’t even know what to say about that, other than I hope it made you smile.

When the Orioles cleared the field, I threw on my red Angels shirt and promptly lost out to Alan on a scramble for a home run ball:

But then, just a few minutes later, I caught a Bobby Abreu homer on the fly. In the following photo, the arm/glove reaching up from below the top of the outfield wall belongs to Dan Haren:

As soon as I caught the ball, I said to him, “You weren’t going to rob a FAN of a souvenir, were you?”

I said it humorously. I was kinda trash-talking, but mainly just making conversation — or at least trying. Haren ignored me and walked back to his spot in left-center field, and you know what? I’m not surprised. In all the times that I’ve ever seen him, I don’t think he has ever smiled or even acknowledge the fans. Am I missing something? Has anyone ever had a positive interaction with him? I respect the man as a pitcher, but it’s hard for me to root for someone who acts like that.

Toward the end of BP, I used my glove trick to snag a ball that had landed in the gap in right-center. I ended up giving it to the kid that it had been tossed to, and then I headed back to left field. There were a bunch of balls scattered in the Orioles’ bullpen. Here I am with Ben after BP, looking over the railing at one of them:

Did you notice how sweaty I was? It was 102 degrees (and humid!) at game time so you can imagine how hot it was earlier in the afternoon. Ben got so drained by the heat that he actually gave up during BP and wandered off to relax in the shade. As a result, he ended up with zero baseballs and held out his empty hands to show it in this group photo:

Allow me to point out a few things about the photo above…

1) Ben owns an buttload of jerseys. The one he’s wearing here is a Troy Glaus “Turn Ahead the Clock” jersey from 1999. Pretty damn cool.

2) Avi is wearing orange. Not sure what happened to his BallhawkFest shirt, or if he even got one in the first place.

3) The kid on the far right was a late arrival. (I say “kid” because he’s 15, but he’s taller than me. I hate that.) His name is Jeremy Evans.

4) I’m holding five baseballs because I got one tossed after BP by Orioles bullpen coach Don Werner. (I’d snagged six by that point and given one away.)

This is where Jona sat during the game:

This is where I stood for just about every left-handed batter…

…and it paid off in the bottom of the 3rd inning when I snagged a Nick Markakis foul ball. It shot off the bat really hard, sailed underneath the “ROMA” advertisement, and got bobbled by the fans sitting above the cross-aisle. The ball then squirted out of the seats and dropped into a staircase, and I grabbed it when it bounced down to me. This was the second straight game at which I’d snagged a foul ball, and it was my 15th gamer of the season (13 fouls and two home runs). That broke my previous record of 14, which I set in 1993, so on a very random/personal level, I felt a nice sense of accomplishment.

Over the course of the game, I gave away two more baseballs. Normally I hand them directly to kids, but in this case, I gave them to ushers who requested them for kids in their sections.

The game lasted two hours and 21 minutes, and the Orioles won, 3-2. (Whatever. I was just there to see baseball.) After the final out, a bunch of BallhawkFest participants met behind the 3rd base dugout for another group photo:

Then we turned around to show the numbers on our shirts:

Note that Benny was holding his empty hands behind his back. Very nice of him to play along.

Before leaving the stadium, Jeremy pulled out his copy of The Baseball and asked me to sign it. Here I am fulfilling his request (with his father looking on)…

…and here we are with the book, pretty much all alone in the concourse:

See what I mean? He’s taller than me. (So unfair.) Who looks like the “kid” now?

Anyway, as if it’s not obvious, it was an incredibly fun day from start to finish. Major thanks to Alan Schuster for planning everything, and thanks to everyone else who helped out and showed up. It’s amazing how the ballhawking community is continuing to grow and come together.

(Keep reading past the stats for an important announcement…)

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 7 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave three away)

• 615 balls in 75 games this season = 8.2 balls per game.

• 736 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 261 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 154 lifetime balls during games (not counting game-used ball that get tossed; 138 foul balls, 15 home runs, and a ground-rule double)

• 50 lifetime balls during games outside of New York

• 5,277 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 get involved.)

• 56 donors

• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $49.84 raised at this game

• $4,378.80 raised this season

As I mentioned earlier today on Twitter, I’m going to be in Philadelphia tomorrow evening (July 26th) for a book event at the Free Library. I’ll be giving a talk for about 20 minutes, then turning the floor over to a fellow baseball author named Neil Lanctot. He’s a true baseball historian and will be discussing his new book about Roy Campanella. After his presentation, he and I will take questions from the audience, and then we’ll sign copies. (I’ll let him sign my book if he lets me sign his.) This event is free. It starts at 7:30pm. If you’re in the area, c’mon by and say hey. Here’s the link on the Free Library’s website, and here’s a screen shot:

I’ll have to inform everyone tomorrow that I’ve snagged more than 4,600 baseballs. That was the number when my book was published in March.

UPDATE: It’s now July 28th as I’m writing this, and I just learned that the Mexican League ball was the centerpiece of an elaborate prank. There’s a whole story about it on MyGameBalls.com, which you can read here. Wow. I’m truly speechless.

7/22/11 at Camden Yards

This was the hottest game at Camden Yards in twelve years — 104 degrees when the first pitch was thrown at 7:08pm — so you can imagine the sauna-like conditions during batting practice.

Even before BP got underway, and even though I was sitting in the shade, sweat was oozing out of me. Check out the wet blotches creeping through my pink shirt in the following photo:

Jona was with me. She made me wear that shirt, and for the record, she took all these photos.

As you can see in the photo above, I’m standing next to a young fan who’d brought his copy of my newest book, The Baseball. His name is J.B. (check him out on Twitter @J599), and we’d recently been in touch. He was very polite — a little too polite, in fact, and kept calling me “mister” and “sir.” No matter how many times I told him to stop, he kept doing it, so eventually I refused to answer him unless he called me “Zack.” (And BTW, yes, that’s a paper towel on my head.)

When the gates opened at 5pm, I ran out to left field and found my first ball of the day in the seats. Then I moved into foul territory and scooped up a grounder that Blake Davis sliced down the line:

Less than a minute later, I moved back to straight-away left field and got a lucky ricochet on a home run ball that had landed 15 rows behind me. Here I am about to catch it after it bounced off the steps:

After that, I caught two more homers on the fly and grabbed another in the seats. The first was hit by Derrek Lee, the second by Mark Reynolds, and the third by Lee again.

Soon after the Angels took the field, I moved back into foul territory and got a toss-up from Scott Downs. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, so I put the ball in my backpack with the others. It was my 7th ball of the day, and the snag itself was incredibly easy. No big deal, right? Well, half an hour later, I realized that it was my 600th ball of the season! GAH!!! I should’ve paid more attention to my numbers, but I was so busy catching baseballs that the impending milestone had slipped my mind.

Halfway through the Angels’ portion of BP, Jona took a great photo of me leaping for a home run ball:

(That’s me wearing red. I had changed into my Angels gear.)

As you can see in the photo above, I narrowly missed catching the ball on the fly. Thankfully, though, I was able to grab it when it plopped down near me on the steps. Don’t feel bad for the guy in the orange shirt — or for anyone else, for that matter. During BP, there must’ve been 50 home runs that landed in the seats, so everyone had plenty of opportunities.

I snagged two more baseballs before the Angels cleared the field. The first was a homer (not sure who hit it) that I caught on the fly after climbing up onto a seat. The second was given to me by Hisanori Takahashi’s translator after I asked for it in Japanese. That was my 10th ball of the day. And this was my sweaty arse:

Did I mention that it was hot? You seriously have no idea what it felt like out there. I was absolutely drenched, and other than the few wise cracks that people made about my not knowing where the bathroom was, I really didn’t care. (My shorts were just as wet in the front.) It actually felt great to sweat. It was the first time since I sprained my ankle on 6/3/11 at Citi Field that I felt like I’d gotten a workout.

After BP, there were *nine* baseballs scattered in the Orioles bullpen:

See the guy in the orange shirt up above? That’s a groundskeeper who had just given one of them to me. As soon as he’d entered the bullpen, I asked him for a ball. He then picked one up and walked it over to me — and then he left. The other eight balls were still there, so I figured I might be able to get one from the next person who entered the bullpen. That person happened to be Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair. He generously threw all of the remaining balls into the crowd, and I got two of them. The first was tossed directly to me — nothing fancy there — and the second was intended for Jona, but she knew what was up. As soon as Adair let it fly, she stepped aside and let me catch it. Tee-hee! But wait! I wasn’t done milking the bullpens for all they were worth. Several minutes later, I got my 14th ball of the day thrown by Angels bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio.

Before the game started, I gave five balls away. First I handed one to this kid…

…who didn’t want to take it at first. He was like, “Nah, that’s okay, it’s yours,” so I had to convince that I had a few others to spare. (That’s J.B. in the photo above. We got to hang out for a bit after BP.)

Then, while walking through the cross-aisle toward home plate, I spotted a father with three young kids — two boys and a girl. I asked if any of them had gotten a ball yet, and when they all said no, I hooked them up. Here I am placing a ball into one of the boys’ gloves…

…and here’s the girl with a souvenir of her own:

Jona didn’t get a photo of all three kids getting their baseballs, but that’s not her fault. It’s not like I’d planned it out ahead of time, and it all happened pretty fast. And then, like I said, I gave away another after that.

There were three highlights for me during the game…

First, do you remember the kid named Emory who asked me to sign a ball on 7/15/11 at Camden Yards? Well, he was back, this time with a copy of The Baseball. The two-part photo below shows me signing it and posing with him:

Highlight number two: snagging a foul ball hit by Luke Scott in the bottom of the 5th inning. I was hanging out in the cross-aisle behind the plate, and the ball flew way over my head, so I turned around to play the potential ricochet of the press level. The ball did indeed bounce back toward me, but was deflected by a fan sitting in the row above. Thankfully, it ended up landing near me in the aisle, and I scrambled after it as it began trickling down to the steps. Here I am with it, doing my best/sexy “Real Men Wear Pink” pose:

I think the ASO brace kills the mood, but hey, I tried.

The final highlight was meeting Alan Schuster, the founder of a website that I love and mention often: MyGameBalls.com. We’d probably sent several hundred emails back and forth over the past two seasons, and this was our first face-to-face encounter. The other part of this highlight was seeing my friend Garret Meyer for the first time in two years. Remember when I snagged 32 balls in one day on 6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium? And do you remember that I had an accomplice for my post-game shenanigans? Well, that was Garrett. He was here in Baltimore for “BallhawkFest,” and it was great seeing him. Here I am with Alan (on the left) and Garrett (on the right) after the game:

All three of us have profiles on MyGameBalls.com, and if you’ve ever snagged a ball at a professional baseball game, you should too. Here’s Alan’s profile, here’s Garrett’s profile, and here’s mine. This website is kinda like Facebook for ballhawks. It’s a great way to check out other people’s collections and get in touch with them. Don’t be stupid. Join the site. You’ll love it.

As for the game itself, Ervin Santana pitched great, Vernon Wells hit a grand slam, and the Angels won, 6-1.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 15 baseballs at this game (ten pictured here because I gave five away)

• 608 balls in 74 games this season = 8.22 balls per game.

• 735 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 260 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 153 lifetime balls during games (not counting game-used ball that get tossed; 137 foul balls, 15 home runs, and a ground-rule double)

• 5,270 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 get involved.)

• 56 donors

• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $106.80 raised at this game

• $4,328.96 raised this season

7/20/11 at Citi Field

As if ballhawking isn’t already tough enough at Citi Field, this was the scene when the gates opened at 5:10pm:

In the photo above, the people on the warning track and in the left field seats are season ticket holders.

From what I’ve heard, every season ticket holder doesn’t get to do this every day; it’s just a one-time perk that each season ticket holder gets to do over the course of the season. In other words, there are often dozens of fans on the warning track and in the stands when I first enter the stadium, but there are different fans every day. Does that make sense? The Mets are doing everything they possibly can to keep their season ticket holders happy, and in the process, they’re making certain things, shall I say, more challenging for everyone else.

That said, batting practice was as slow as I can remember — not just at Citi Field, but anywhere. I didn’t snag a single ball during the 20 minutes that the Mets were on the field, and I only got *one* during the Cardinals’ portion of BP — a toss-up from Trever Miller in left-center field. I took the following photo after I got that ball; Miller is standing on the right:

Yup, that’s all there is to say about batting practice.

And now let me say this…

Yesterday afternoon, just before leaving for Citi Field, I mentioned on Twitter that I was considering leaving after BP. It’s never my preference to do that, but there are times when I’m so busy that I truly can’t be at the stadium for five hours (plus the hour of travel each way on the subway). Yesterday was one of those times. I had so much other stuff to do that I had to make a choice: go to batting practice and then leave *OR* don’t go at all. Obviously, I chose the first option, but guess what? I pretty much had to stay past BP. Why? Because the last time I’d gone to a game and didn’t snag at least two baseballs was at the 2007 All-Star Game. Yesterday, when BP ended, I had a personal 258-game streak on the line, and I needed one more ball to extend it. As busy as I was, there was NO WAY that I was going to leave the stadium and willingly end the streak.

Right before the game, several Cardinals came out to play catch in shallow left field, and when they finished, I got David Freese’s attention and got him to throw me a ball.

PHEW!!!

I immediately handed the ball to a little kid in the front row. Here he is looking at it with his dad:

Then I turned my attention back to the field and got another ball from Daniel Descalso.

I was still tempted to leave at that point, but hell, the game was about to start, and I ran into some friends who had really good seats, so I decided to stay and hang out with them. This was our view:

In the photo above, the pitcher is R.A. Dickey. Check out the following close-up photo of his knuckleball grip that one of my friends took with a super-fancy camera:

Until last night, I don’t think I ever realized how lame my camera is.

One of the highlights of the game, beyond getting a 3rd-out ball tossed to me by Skip Schumaker after the 4th inning, was seeing a fan run out onto the field and elude stadium security for a solid minute. Here’s a low-quality screen shot from a video that I filmed. The arrow is pointing at the fan:

Here’s a photo that I took when the fan was being led off the field:

I don’t condone this sort of behavior. I think it’s incredibly disrespectful to the Great Game of Baseball, but I have to admit that I find it rather entertaining. This fan in particular was young and agile and put on quite a show. The only reason why the guards caught him is that he surrendered.

Late in the game, a well-dressed/gloveless young man in the front row behind the Cardinals’ dugout got a 3rd-out ball tossed to him. Several fans near him asked to see the ball, so he passed it down the row. When the ball was returned to him, a kid in the sixth row asked to see it, so the man tossed it to him. Naturally, the kid wanted to keep the ball, and when the man asked for it back, everyone started booing.

“This is the first one I ever got!!” he protested, but it was no use. The more he waved at the kid to toss the ball back, the more the kid cradled it and pouted at the thought of giving it up. (This kid was roughly 12 years old and had a glove.) This made the crowd boo even louder and then, predictably, everyone started chanting, “GIVE IT TO THE KID!!! GIVE IT TO THE KID!!!”

When the man first got the ball, he should’ve held onto it. Tossing it deeper into the crowd? Well, that’s just stupid. He should’ve assumed that the kid would want to keep it — that’s just human nature — but I still felt bad for him. It was *his* ball, after all, and he’d played by all the rules (including paying $250 for his front-row seat) in the process of snagging it.

Meanwhile, the kid’s parents did nothing to help calm things down. In my opinion (and despite the fact that their son was disappointed), they should’ve said, “That’s not your ball. The man is showing it to you. Now give it back.” But no such words were spoken because his parents weren’t parenting.

When I was a kid, I tried *unsuccessfully* to catch a ball for six solid years — ages 6 to 12 — and I survived. When I was nine years old, I once asked to see a foul ball that a grown man had caught near me in the stands at Shea Stadium, and after I looked it over, I gave it back. (I didn’t even want it because I hadn’t caught it on my own.) No one booed or protested on my behalf, but that was the 1980s. Life was a little grittier back then, I suppose, and kids weren’t pampered every second of their lives.

In any case, as things were about to spiral out of control, I pulled a baseball out of my backpack and waved my arms to get the kid’s attention. He didn’t see me, so I shouted “HEY!!!” at him a couple times. Finally, when he looked at me (from about four rows back), I shouted, “Give the man his ball and take this one!” The kid then made a horrendously wimpy throw that nearly hit a woman in the back of the head (two rows short of where the man was standing) and caught the replacement ball that I tossed to him. The whole section erupted in cheers, but I felt terrible. I didn’t give that ball away for the kid; I gave it away for the man who was getting bullied by an entire section of misguided fans.

For the record, I’m totally in favor of kids getting baseballs, but I don’t believe it’s their god-given right, nor do I feel that grown-ups who catch baseballs should be attacked for wanting to keep them. If you want a baseball, try putting in some effort, and if you end up failing, deal with it and move on — or go buy one from the gift shop. Damn.

Anyway, like it even matters, the Mets won the game, 6-5, on an Angel Pagan walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning. Then, less than a minute later, I got a ball from home plate umpire Todd Tichenor.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 593 balls in 73 games this season = 8.12 balls per game.

• 734 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 378 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 259 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 40 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls

• 5,255 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 get involved.)

• 56 donors

• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $35.60 raised at this game

• $4,222.16 raised this season

7/19/11 at Citi Field

This was my 72nd game of the season — and the first that I attended with my mom. Here we are waiting on line outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda:

The photo above was taken (with my rinky-dink camera) by a German/freelance writer named Sebastian Klement. He was there to photograph and interview me, so when the gates opened at 5:10pm, he followed me inside and took a ton of photos (with his fancy camera).

Here’s a photo that he took of me in right field:

Batting practice was dreadfully slow. I only managed to get ONE ball while the Mets were on the field, and it was thrown by Jason Isringhausen. Here I am posing with it:

The photo above was taken by Sebastian.

The photo below was taken by my mom; I’m on the left (after changing into my Cardinals gear), and Sebastian is on the right:

The Mets had ended BP nearly 20 minutes early, so there was quite a bit of time to kill.

Although there wasn’t much action in the stands when the Cardinals finally started hitting, Sebastian still went to town with his camera. The following six photos of me were taken by him.

Number One — eyeing a ball in right field:

Number Two – running back toward left field:

Number Three – holding up my glove after catching a Matt Holliday homer:

Number Four – signing a copy of The Baseball for a fan named Jaron:

Number Five – posing with Jaron as my mom took her own photo:

Number Six – wishing I were in Baltimore…

…or Washington D.C. Or Kansas City. Or San Francisco. Or Milwaukee. Or Atlanta. Or San Diego. Or Pittsburgh. Or Cleveland. Or Denver. Or Houston. Or Arlington. Or Minneapolis. Or Seattle. Or Los Angeles. Or Chicago. Or Boston. Or Tampa. Or Miami. Or Detroit. Or Phoenix. Or St. Louis. Or Cincinnati. Or Philadelphia. Or Anaheim. Or Toronto.

Here’s a photo that I took that shows why it was so tough to snag baseballs:

I’m not even going to bother explaining why it was tough. I think you can see for yourself.

Here’s the last photo that Sebastion took. Nothing fancy. Just nice and mellow. It shows me walking behind the Cardinals’ dugout after BP:

Then we did the actual interview:

As you can see in the photo above, I had changed out of my Cardinals gear, and by the way, the thing I’m holding in my right hand is Sebastian’s iPhone. He was asking me questions, and I was speaking into it. I’m not sure if iPhones come with voice recorders or if he had to buy/download an app in order to do that, but in any case, that’s what was going on. (I don’t have a smart phone. I’m still rockin’ the RAZR. To hell with checking email all day long. When I’m out, I don’t want to be bothered.) (Speaking of email, if you’d like to get in touch with Sebastian, you can reach him at senikl@gmx.de)

Sebastian sat with me and my mom for a couple innings. Then he wandered off to another section to meet a friend. It was great hanging out with him — he’s a really nice guy, and I can’t wait to read his article — but I was also glad to have some one-on-one time with my mom.

This was our view for the game:

After Ronny Paulino lined out to Cardinals second baseman Skip Schumaker to end the 5th inning, I wandered down the steps and got Schumaker to toss me the ball on his way in.

Several minutes later, a young fan recognized me and came over to introduce himself. He then handed me a baseball that he’d snagged during BP and asked me to sign it. His name was Jason. Here he is with it:

I get recognized at games fairly regularly — more this season than ever, it seems — but this time was extra special. Not only was Jason particularly well mannered and enthusiastic about meeting me, but my mom was there to witness it. It was a really nice moment for everyone involved.

After the 6th inning ended, I got another 3rd-out ball from right fielder Lance Berkman. I’d never gotten one from him, and I’d always wanted one, so that was cool.

Although there’d been a zillion kids screaming for baseballs during BP, there were very few in my section during the game. In fact, there was only one kid who made any effort to snag a 3rd-out ball, and she didn’t even make an attempt until the 7th inning. I noticed her standing at the bottom of the stairs during every inning break. You can see her (with her mom crouching behind her) in the following photo:

I watched closely to see if she’d be able to snag a baseball on her own, and not surprisingly she wasn’t. Inning after inning, she returned to her seat empty-handed, so eventually I gave her one of mine. She didn’t even say “thank you.” These things happen.

Toward the end of the game, Jason returned with a friend who was even more excited to meet me. His friend’s name was Nick, and he asked me to sign his glove. Check it out:

Did you notice that the number under my name was “5249″ for Jason and “5250″ for Nick? That’s my lifetime ball total; in between autographs, I got the 3rd-out ball from Berkman.

Here I am with Nick and Jason:

Cool kids. I’m glad they introduced themselves, and I hope they keep their promise to create profiles on MyGameBalls.com. (Nick and Jason: if you’re reading this, leave comments with links to your profiles so everyone can check it out.)

As for the game itself, Mets starter Dillon Gee was perfect through three innings, faced the minimum through four (there was a walk followed by a double play), and had his no-hitter broken up in the 5th. He ended up getting the win (and improving to 9-3) as the Mets held on for a 4-2 victory. Carlos Beltran reached base in all five plate appearances and hit his major league-leading 29th and 30th doubles. Jose Reyes had two hits. Lance Berkman hit a mammoth home run onto the Shea Bridge shortly after tossing me that 3rd-out ball. All was right with the world.

After the game, my mom and I got a final photo together outside the stadium…

…and then we took the No. 7 express train back to Manhattan.

UPDATE: Here’s the article that Sebastian wrote. For a laugh, copy the text of the article, then go to Google Translate, then select German to English, and then paste the text.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 baseballs at this game (three pictured here because I gave one away)

• 588 balls in 72 games this season = 8.17 balls per game.

• 733 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 377 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 5,250 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 get involved.)

• 56 donors

• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $28.48 raised at this game

• $4,186.56 raised this season

Finally, of the three balls that I kept, one has a beautiful invisible ink stamp. Check out the following side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:


Gustavo Watch, Part 29

It’s been eight months since my last update on Gustavo Chacin, but hey, I’ve been busy, and there wasn’t all that much to report about his forgettable performance in the minor leagues.

But now there’s some news about him — about the “man” who stole a baseball from me on 8/1/06 at Yankee Stadium.

First, Gustavo was released by the Astros (haha), and now he has been signed by the Mets (double-haha) to a minor league contract (triple-haha). He might have escaped Texas, but there’s no escaping the Hample Jinx

7/18/11 at Citi Field

What if I posted a short game entry without photos? What if I told you that I snagged five baseballs and then listed them quickly?

1) Ronny Paulino BP homer on the fly in left field.
2) Toss-up by Michael Dunn in right field.
3) Toss-up by Mike Stanton in right-center.
4) Toss-up by Mike Cameron in left-center.
5) Foul grounder pulled by Ruben Tejada in the 3rd inning that deflected off my glove and was tossed to me by the ballboy.

Not all that interesting, right? Well, consider this entry a reflection of how I feel every time I set foot inside Citi Field.

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