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.

15 Comments

Hi, Zack. This is Dave from Petco (and a shout-out to Ben; we hung out at Padres vs Giants a few weeks ago). 22 is extremely impressive, nicely done. We all can only hope to do that one day, heck half that would be amazing. My daughter and I recently went to Padres vs Diamondbacks. I thought we snagged 7 balls but when we got home there were 8 in my backpack? What a treat! Turns out we both forgot about the toss-up we got after BP. As Gerardo Parra ran by I asked him how his wrist was. He said so-so and went into his back pocket and launched a ball my way without either of us asking for it. The large crowd around us (the AZ folks came out in droves to avoid the heat) couldn’t believe their eyes as they stood there shutout. It happened so fast we forgot about it till we got home. Like you said, Zack, great problem to have.

Zack-
It was nice to meet you at Nats Park this week, I had a great time. 22 balls is awesome!
Thanks,
Steve Miller http://www.fishfry55.mlblogs.com

Zack-

I classify all of the balls I catch by player, and have a weird situation. In tonights Brewers/Astros game there was a ground ball hit to Yuniesky Betancourt, and he made a throwing error to Prince Fielder at first. The ball hit off the camera well and popped right to me, and i snagged it bare-handed. The ball glanced off Fielders glove. Who should I classify it as who “gave” me the ball?!?

I believe 5,300th came from Marlins 3B coach, Joe Espada
Thanks again,
Steve

Big game. Your boy Heath Bell is possibly coming to Texas so if he does will you come to Arlington more often?

DAVE FROM PETCO-
Very cool. Nice to know I’m not the only one who can’t count. :-)

STEVE-
Great meeting you too, and thanks again for the pics. As for Joey Espada, you’re absolutely right! I just looked him up, and his head shot totally matches the guy who tossed me that ball. THANKS!!! For some reason, I thought that Espada was much older, so when that young guy tossed me the ball at the dugout, it didn’t occur to me that it might’ve been him. Hot damn.

BRANDON-
Definitely don’t give credit to Fielder. He doesn’t give balls to people; he only takes them away.

BIGGEST RANGER FAN-
Not really. It’ll probably mean that I make more of an effort to see the Rangers play on the road. I want to go to Rangers Ballpark more often regardless.

Dave, good to see you on here! Nice job with 8!!! I can barely get 1 at Petco, but you just rack em in! Way to go!!! I need to get me a daughter haha. Zack- this is why you shouldn’t write on balls!!! I think that is correct, that it IS 5,300, because does the Mexican League “Cook and sons” ball count?? ;-)

Ben, Ben, Ben…you’re gonna open Pandora’s box if you start questioning where the major leaguers get all of the baseballs that they toss up to fans. Who knows!? They just materialize at the ballpark. What is all of those easter eggs people find at Camden are really baseballs Avi had thrown to the seats from the top of the Hilton behind the ballpark? Who knows!? Isn’t it enough that Guthrie is a major leaguer and he tossed Zack the ball at a major league ballpark? Neither Avi nor I had touched that baseball for an entire week. Guthrie could have thrown it away, given it to another fan, used it for a bullpen session, autographed it and given it to his high school guidance counselor…or whatever he wanted to do with it, and there is nothing that Avi or I could have done to stop him. We surrendered possession to Guthrie. Sure he did it at our suggestion, but Guthrie exercised his own free will and chose to toss the baseball to Zack. Sounds like 5,272 to me. Although, I have to admit that when I saw the crossed out “5,300,” I had the exact same thought as you.

i note that you sweat-soaked your shirt, but failed to piss your pants this time.
NIce progress!

Never mind we got Mike Adams.

Oh Todd, I probably would have never said a word if he hadn’t crossed out the #, but like you said, it jumped into my mind as soon as I saw the # crossed out. I think everything happens for a reason, and I therefore think the reason Zack had an extra ball he didn’t know about today, was to make up for the Fembe ball. Just my opinion, but the fact that the ball indirectly came from you, makes it hard for me to accept.

Btw, “mikepiazza” is me, Ben. WordPress is so weird.

BEN-
Would it help if I told you that I was once an official bat boy for the Mariners? It was Spring Training 1991. Mariners beat the Cubs. With my help, Griff went 3-3 (his bat didn’t carry itself back to the dugout, you know!?). Plus, Avi is practically a member of the Orioles front office. Plus, I think I mentioned this already, there was the whole Jeremy Guthrie role…played by Jeremy Guthrie, an official Major League Baseball player.

I figured Mike Piazza was you, Ben.

I know Avi is practically part of the Orioles ballclub lol. You helping Griffey go 3-3 is a great story I’m glad I now know! And we all just have our own beliefs on what counts and what doesn’t. I guess I wouldn’t uncount a ball, but I don’t think I’d count if I knew in the first place.

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