2011 All-Star Sunday

Hello from Phoenix.

The All-Star Game is taking place here tomorrow, and there are signs for it everywhere:

There are also celebrities everywhere. In the photo above, do you see the “INFORMATION” sign off in the distance on the left? See the guy standing below the first “O” with his right arm in a sling? That was Joe Torre. He was on my flight from Newark. Of course, he was in the very first row of first class, and I was in the very last row with my back against the toilets. Such is life.

At my hotel, there were huge All-Star Game signs outside…

…and smaller signs in the lobby:

In the photo above, do you see the woman wearing white pants, standing to the left of the sign?

That was Jennie Finch. Here I am with her:

She really IS six feet tall. Yowza! (And I really *do* have a right arm.)

This was the check-in area at the hotel…

…and if you think that’s cool, check out the key card for my room:

I’ve only been to one other All-Star Game. That was back in 2007. I don’t remember the hype being anything like this.

When I checked in, I was given the following envelope:

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, State Farm is sponsoring my trip. They basically invited a handful of bloggers (I’m the only one who writes about baseball) to attend the Home Run Derby, all expenses paid, in exchange for…nothing. That’s right. Nothing. I don’t owe them anything. I don’t have to plug them on my blog. I don’t even have to blog at all. Quite simply, they brought me out here to experience everything and have a good time, and whatever I want to say (or not say) about it is up to me.

Do you see where it says “Go To Bat” on the envelope? More on that in a bit. For now, I want to show you one of the items inside the envelope:

It was a ticket to FanFest at the nearby convention center. The best thing I saw there wasn’t the world’s largest baseball…

…or the cardboard cutouts of the entire Diamondbacks team:

The best thing, or rather the best experience, was getting to hang out with Tony Womack. Here we are:

Does anyone know where I went to college? Here’s a hint: the name of the school is on my shirt.
Womack also went to Guilford, and although he’s eight years older than me, we got to know each other in 1996. I was playing Fall Ball with the college team, and Womack often worked out with us. I turned double plays with him during infield practice and once lined out to him in an intrasquad game. Over the next few years, whenever I saw him at major league stadiums, he always remembered me and sometimes went out of his way to toss me a ball. He was super-cool, but as things go, we lost touch. This was the first time we’d seen each other in about a decade, and he remembered me. The first thing he asked was, “How many balls are you up to now?”

There was a VERY long line of fans, waiting to get his autograph:

I waited until the very end of the autograph session, and then with State Farm’s blessing, I got to talk to Womack for several minutes. I didn’t ask him to sign anything. I really just wanted to say hello and reconnect — and that’s exactly what happened. No one else got more than a few seconds of his time, but because of my affiliation with State Farm, I really got to schmooze it up with him. In fact, the State Farm representatives knew about my Guilford connection so they made sure that I got to talk to him. Pretty damn cool.

Now, about that envelope…

“Go To Bat” is essentially a virtual Home Run Derby where fans can hit longballs to raise money for 40 different charities. Check it out. Here’s the link. Pitch In For Baseball, the charity that I’ve been raising money for since 2009, is one of the choices, so I’m really excited about this. And hey, look, there was a huge “Go To Bat” display near the spot where Womack had been signing:

Once I’d had my time with Womack, I hopped into a pedicab and headed to Chase Field:

By the time I arrived, the Futures Game was in the 3rd inning. I didn’t have my glove. I wasn’t there to snag baseballs. (I don’t count balls that’re used by minor leaguers, even if they ARE being used at a major league stadium, so as far as I was concerned, this game had absolutely no effect on my ballhawking stats.) Instead, I was there on a reconnaissance mission for the following day’s Home Run Derby. I wanted to get a sense of stadium security, refamiliarize myself with the bleachers, and make a strategic plan for snagging baseballs.

I headed up into the Friday’s restaurant, free of charge, and got a really nice view of the field:

After a few minutes, I called my friend Ben Weil. (He’s the guy from New York who owns a gazillion jerseys.) I knew he was at this game, and when I told him that I was going to buy a ticket and enter the stadium for real, he told me not to. He said he had an extra print-at-home ticket and would meet me near the left field gate and give it to me. So that’s what we did. Here he is, showing off his “PIAZZA” jersey:

As soon as I parted ways with Ben, I was flagged down by a guy with two kids.

“Are you Zack?” he asked.

I’d never met him before; he recognized me from the cover of How to Snag Major League Baseballs, and he offered me a ticket to the game — not the ugly print-at-home type, but rather a REAL one. I told him that I’d just gotten a ticket from my friend, but he insisted. He said he had an extra that was going to waste, so he gave it to me. Here’s a photo of him with his two boys:

In the photo above, Matthew (on the left) is holding out the ticket for me, Shane (on the right) is proudly showing the commemorative Futures Game ball that he’d snagged during batting practice, and that’s Charlie in the middle. Really nice folks. I’m glad to have met them. (I just noticed that Charlie left a comment on my previous entry.)

Finally, I entered the main part of the stadium and grabbed a seat here:

In the photo above, that’s Bryce Harper in left field. It was the first time I’d ever seen him in person.

I wandered for a bit after that and found some potentially great spots for the Home Run Derby. I’m not going to say where — gotta save a couple secrets for myself — but you’ll hear about it in my next entry. Gotta get to sleep now. I have a big day ahead of me, the least of which is the Derby; I’ll be meeting Cal Ripken Jr. at the convention center at 9am and taking part in a youth Home Run Derby to raise more money for charity.

I was invited to the State Farm® Home Run Derby and Go to Bat kick-off programs by State Farm. All my travel, food, and lodging expenses were taken care of by State Farm. I was not paid to write this post.

58 Comments

It’s going to be a fun day.

wow, that’s so cool that they’re hooking you up with absolutely nothing in return. I really wasn’t expecting that. Hope all goes well today!

I work for State Farm. I have worked for several employers and can easily say it the most honest company I have worked for–true to it’s Midwestern farm roots and values. I’m glad they took care of you.

Even if you don’t count MiLB balls that logo is pretty friggin’ awesome. Can’t make it to BallhawkFest but will definietly try to go next year.

Was Jennie Finch impressed that you’ve gotten over 5,000 baseballs mostly at batting practice? Her gold medal is slightly more distinguished, lol. Mention your bum ankle to her?

Zack, Awesome as always. Just love hearing that you are having so a great time and its only the first day. Have a blast with Cal. He truly is baseball royalty.

What hotel are you staying at? Thats pretty cool about you and Womack.

That’s really awesome of State Farm to do that. Nothing in return expected huh? They probably knew that with their good will you’d praise them even more;)

Wow. Hate to bring it up Zack but the whole ASG experience and meeting Cal Ripken must make up at least somewhat for the Jeter ball…

I am really Jealous. I was there is Sa Fran in ’07 and that was a great experience. Can’t wait to see the Home run Derby.

Looks like a great time! I have a quick question for you. Do you ever get baseballs with random messages on it. I have a ball that was hit by Ryan Braun during batting practice 2 years ago at Wrigley that says “Kid vs Android” Just wondering if you have any balls with written messages on them OR if you know anything about teams writing words or messages on baseballs.

The Futures game balls have a pretty cool logo–I looked at yours from 2007, Zack, and I wonder when they had that dramatic shift in logo to what the one Shane is holding and mine from 2010: http://mlblogsbloggingboutbaseball.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/futures20ball20from20romine1.jpg
Kind of cool to track their evolution… I definitely like the stars design that has been in use the last two years.
~Matt

Hey there Zach ill be at the Game tommarow. Hope to meet you tommarow if i see you ill probably try to get to the Left Field Bleachers for BP maybe ill see you. see you tommarow.

Tony Womack is such a nice guy, met him at Josh Hamilton’s baseball camp at NC State back in 2008. He is really cool, its great that you got to re-meet him

FYI in response to Matt –
The evolution of the Future ball, and all others for that matter, can be found here: http://www.photos.bigleaguebaseballs.com/Official%20Special%20Event%20Game%20Balls/
It started in 2000. Some of them are very rare and I believe never sold regular retail. The TRUE HRD Money ball this year is a bit absurd, but still cool: http://www.bigleaguebaseballs.com/main/

Looks like your having a lot of fun. Congrats on meeting Jennie. She’s smokin’. I’d love to meet Cal, I’m a life long O’s fan and greatly appreciate what he did while he played. Found this pic on the web. http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/XrpuIJsRY5_/Gatorade+All+Star+Workout+Day/yjfeCAPmHE4 Check it out.

Wow, nobody’s commented about Zack being on ESPN yet… Holliday hit a homer that landed a couple rows in front of Zack, who was running along a walkway/ramp behind that part of the stands in left. I spotted the Homer shirt. ESPN put up their little distance graphic, and it was right ON Zack. I wonder if he’ll get another shot. I’m guessing he’ll find a way.

I was able to snag 2 of those Futures Game balls yesterday… one from winning pitcher Jarred Cosart, and one BP ground-rule double that bounced up at me! The logo IS really cool. Sadly, I couldn’t attend tonight’s HRD or tomorrow’s ASG, but I’ll be there in spirit! Hope you have/are having fun!

And with all lefties i round 2, Zack has moved to right. Just spotted him on a Gonzalez home run. It landed a little in front of him. Then he waved both arms over his head.

Zack very close on a Fielder blast! He’s in the right spot, with lots of chances left…

Aw! Zack may have had a shot at this one Cano homer that hit the Combos sign and landed a little to his right. Came down fast though–he didn’t have any time to react.

And on the next one, ZACK MAKES THE CATCH!!!!!!!!! Holy crap. And then almost gets another.

Zack just caught it…sweet grab in the crowd!

Congrats Zack! Nice snag!

DUDE!!! YES!!! (btw, you almost had 2!!)

ZACK! Nice snag on the Cano homer!

I knew you’d get one, Homer…almost two in a row!

Just saw your catch on tv! I’ve seen pictures of you on tv, but not actually live like tonight. Nice catch dude!

i saw u on tv in your Homer shirt.. good job!!

Zack, just saw you with your big homer shirt catch Cano’s 7th homer in the final round. Awesome job man. I was almost scared your streak would end, but I should’ve known better that you’d come through.

Just saw the cano catch… Amazing!!!!

Dude you got one!!!

Zack, haven’t been around much this season, but just saw you snag you HR at the Derby! Well done sir!

Gratz on the Cano ball!

Woo-hoo! Hell yeah! Ba-BAM! Nice.

I did a crappy job of YouTubing the original here:

There was an alternate angle of it too which I put up here:

what planet are you from? (and i say that wuth the utmost respect)

(I just posted the links, I see they came out as full screens, sorry. But, uh, hopefully no one minds…) (Hopefully someone can YouTube it better–I just recorded the TV off my laptop built-in cam…)

I hadn’t been reading the blog, so when I saw some guy in a Homer tee catch a ball, I turned to my friend and said, “Hey, that’s Zack!” Congrats and looks like a fun time.

Zack, since you were at the Futures Game you got to see one of our infielders, Jose Altuve from the Corpus Christi Hooks.

I just started checking this out a week back. I read the post about the Homer shirt, it did not come through my thoughts clearly at first, until I saw the Cano Homer you caught I saw the camera zoom in and was like I know who that guy is to which my housemates looked at me like I was an idiot. Nice snag man.

Awesome catch Zack. Truly impressive given that there was so many people around!

Great catch Zack!! That’s amazing, you have some kind of sixth sense when it comes to positioning. And to get one from the champ, even sweeter. Cano really is one of the best hitters in baseball.

Zack, that looks like a fun time. Hope you got a ball during the Home run
derby. Bryce Harper is going to be here in Akron on the 18th,19th and 20th to play against the Aeros. Hate I am going to miss it but at least I’m going to get a ball signed by him thanks to a friend.
Go get a couple balls during the game tonight. Jerry

Great catch Zack! No doubt you were gonna snag one.

I feel a monster blog entry is in store for the HR Derby day.

hey Zack, sweet grab on the Robbie Cano blast, we were shut out yesterday, but there is always today. Nice meeting with you the other day, thanks for the post on the blog, and the boys say congrats. Shane said he would trade you balls! hahahaha See ya again.

i missed your catch. a lot of people decided to wear yellow last night. you should have set with the guy that about fell over the rail he snagged three balls last night. he must have been in a sweet spot. i would have been sitting in the pool. how much do you think it cost for pool seats?

i guarantee you i have WAY MORE jerseys than your friend

Saw you catch live man! Jumped off my couch screaming, “THAT’S ZACK!!!!”

I can’t make it to BallhawkFest, but I will definietly try to go next year. I can’t believe the season is more than half over already.

EVERYONE-
Wow! Thanks for all the comments. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to answer them because I still have two MONSTER blog entries to write about the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game, but I want you to know that I’ve read them all. It’s a good thing I took a lot of photos here in Phoenix (flying home today) because without them, you would not believe the things that have happened.

@ Alex Romanelli- Unless your family owns Majestic, sorry kid, but you don’t have more jersey’s than me. But please, feel free to tell me how many you own, and some of your favorites.

I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to have more jerseys than Ben Weil.

@Dylan- Haha, thanks man. Have we met? I appreciate the confidence in me, I’m just wondering how you know to have it!

@ Ben i have too many to count all i know is that i have so many it takes up two storage units upstate somewhere. my favorites are probably my milwaukee brewers alternate away jersey, an atlanta thrashers old navy home jersey, my patrick kane blackhawks jersey,and my jose reyes 2010 allstar game jersey. and fyi im not rich i buy all of these when they are on sale, every jersey was on sale except the reyes and patrick kane besides those every one has cost me $50 or less.

Other than the Kane, primarily because I don’t like hockey, I own the same 3 jersey’s you mentioned. I’m willing to bet if they cost $50 or less though, they are fake.

And just so you know, I own over 60 Mike Piazza jersey’s alone.

they aren’t fake i have bought them from modells, stadiums and websites like shop.nhl.com mlb shop i forgot to mention i have gotten alot of them for my birthday but i own only one fake jersey and that is another blackhawks jersey. i thought i was the only person in the world who wears nothing but sports shirts and jerseys im glad im not alone lol

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