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.

14 Comments

Zack, about Haren, he’s never really been the type of player to go out of his way for fans. Here’s my one and only interaction with him: on Fridays and Saturdays at Chase Field, the gates open half hour early for season ticket holders. He was throwing a bullpen session and after he finished signed autographs for the 5 of us that were standing there. The PA announcer always informs the staff in the ballpark that the stadium is opening to the general public and when he said “the gates to Chase Field are now open” Haren said “S**t, gotta go” and ran into the dugout. So yeah, not the most fan friendly of players.

Looks like you guys had a GREAT time. In other news, do you think Heath is going to get traded? If so, to what team?
-Matt

Love the blog. Great stuff. I’d really like to get your opinion on my blog – http://davidblattman.mlblogs.com/ – let me know what you think!

-David

Great entry for a great day, Zack. It was great hanging out with and getting to know everyone. And, for the record, Alan also hit one homerun. It grazed the top of the fence on its way out. Also, special thanks to Jona. She was great hanging out with Tim in the dugout during softball. He really enjoyed chatting with her at softball and during the game.

Zack, you ARE hooking me up with that Sox cap right?? (Just kidding, if I wanted a hat like that I’d just bleed all over my own Red Sox hat.)

Hey, don’t knock the hat Red Sox hat!!! Haha. Thanks for defending me against that heat. And I did have a really good laugh over that picture of you and Avi.

Ben

Looks like so much fun! I wish I coulda been there–West Coast next year, right?!?

Can’t believe I’m the first commenter to notice, but … the brace is off! I assume there’s still pain, but hopefully it’s diminishing (and you’ve learned how to play through it by now, of course).
I had hoped I had seen the last of those blasted vuvuzelas. Just glad you didn’t embed a sound file.
Good luck in Philly. The Free Library is a nice (cool) place, a good site to talk about books.

What’s wrong with yellow?

a player on the newark bears gave me one of those femebe balls last year. I played home run derby with a bucket of them once

There was a “fembe” league ball in my high school team’s practice bucket this year. It was a fun joke around the team!

http://www.fishfry55.mlblogs.com

hey zack. cool shirt. anyway, I have one of those femebe league baseballs. there was a baseball event at forest park and they had a batting cage set up and they were using those balls. after the event, they gave one to everybody. so thatswierd that they use cheap little league practice balls at camden yards. see ya!

I cant believe you got pranked by todd and avi. still a tossed to you by a major leaguer. Hah!

Never been to Baltimore, wanna go some day to cheer on the O’s

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