August 2011

8/29/11 at Citi Field

For a doubleheader, the day was astonishingly uneventful, in part because Citi Field opened just 60 minutes early. (Boooo!!!) During the brief portion of batting practice that I was privileged to see, I got one ball, thrown by Marlins bullpen coach Reid Cornelius in right field. Here’s what it looked like out there:

I headed to the home-plate end of the Marlins’ dugout just before BP ended…

…and got another ball from 3rd base coach Joey Espada.

When Mets starter R.A. Dickey began warming up 20 minutes later, I wandered out to right-center field and got a ball from pitching coach Dan Warthen. Here he is just before throwing it to me:

This was my view during the 1st game:

My mom showed up in the 8th inning.
We went downstairs in the 9th inning.
The Mets won, 2-1.
I got my 4th ball of the day from home plate umpire Cory Blaser.
Then I got a photo with my mom:

This was our view at the end of the 2nd game:

The Mets won, 5-1.
The Marlins are really bad.
Jack McKeon looks funny when he argues with the umps.
The End.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave one to a kid on my way out of the stadium)

• 850 balls in 102 games this season = 8.33333333 balls per game.

• 763 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 288 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,512 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)

• $28.48 raised at this game

• $6,052.00 raised this season

State Farm’s “Go To Bat” program

Do you remember when State Farm sent me to the Home Run Derby last month in Phoenix? Well, they’ve come through again for me in a BIG way, and I need your help making an important decision…

As you may already know, State Farm is conducting a program called Go To Bat. It’s basically a virtual Home Run Derby that fans can play online to raise real money for a bunch of different charities. Just recently, I learned that State Farm is going to give me $4,000 to donate to these charities, and I can divvy it up however I want. I’ve decided to give most of the money to Pitch In For Baseball. I could’ve given it all to them, but I thought it’d be cool to support some other causes too, so I combed through the master list of Go To Bat charities and picked four that are meaningful to me.

This is where you come in. I need help narrowing it down to two charities, and if you click this link, you’ll see a poll that looks like this:

For those who don’t know, The V Foundation funds cancer research, and The Jackie Robinson Foundation supports minority youths by helping them get scholarships to college. Other than that, it’s all pretty self-explanatory, right?

Unfortunately, you can’t vote by clicking the image above. You actually need to CLICK THIS LINK. It’ll only take a couple seconds, and you don’t need to submit your email address or anything, so really, you have no excuse not to participate. I’ll post a follow-up entry by the end of the week to announce the winners.

In the meantime, check out the Go To Bat page on MLB.com and play the game. Not only will you be helping to raise money for the charity of *your* choice, but you’ll also be entered into a sweepstakes to win free World Series tickets. Go there now. Play the game. Don’t be dumb about this. And if you win the tickets, you better invite me to go with you.

State Farm approached me about sharing why I “go to bat” for certain charities. I agreed to participate, and as a result, they’re donating to these charities on my behalf. I’m not being compensated in any way for this.

8/26/11 at Citi Field

Batting practice was never more pathetic. You want to know how pathetic it was? If it had rained and there WAS no batting practice, it would’ve been better. It was so pathetic that I only bothered taking one photograph — and here it is:

After Lucas Duda tossed me a ball along the right field foul line, I moved to left-center and got another from Manny Acosta.

And that was it.

Seventy-five minutes of batting practice. Two baseballs.

Does anyone want to guess what time it was when the first home run ball reached the left field seats? Let me just tell you: it was 5:53pm. The Mets didn’t reach the seats ONCE during their entire portion of BP, and when the Braves came out, they needed more than 20 minutes to go yard.

Welcome to Citi Field.

The day got a whole lot better after BP ended. When the Braves cleared the field, I got a ball tossed to me at the 3rd base dugout by Brian McCann, and then I got this:

Yes, a batting glove.
See the number on it?
Do you know who wears No. 22 on the Braves?
Jason Heyward, baby!

Here’s another photo of me with the glove…

…and here’s a two-part photo of the glove itself:

I didn’t do anything special (or anything at all, really) to get it. I was just standing behind the dugout. Heyward walked toward me and disappeared. I didn’t say a word. Moments later, the glove came flying up out of nowhere. Several hands reached for it, but mine was the quickest.

This was my view during the game:

Every few innings, the following message was posted on the JumboTron:

Why, you ask, were the following two games already postponed?

Because of this:

That’s a screen shot that I just took from a government weather site. Hurricane Irene is heading up the east coast, and things are getting messy here in New York City. You know that huge road trip that I’ve been planning for months? Well, my flight to Los Angeles on Monday has already been cancelled. I’m now scheduled to fly to L.A. (through Boston) on Tuesday night, which means I’m going to attend Wednesday’s day game at Dodger Stadium and skip Phoenix altogether — too bad because I probably would’ve snagged about 30 balls there in the two games that I was planning to see. At least I’ve already been to Chase Field this season, so my plan to visit all 30 stadiums is still intact. My plan to snag 1,000 baseballs, however, is taking a serious hit. Depending on how September goes, I might need to attend a bunch of playoff games, so if anyone has an extra ticket (that they’d sell me for a reasonable price) or a place to stay in Phoenix or Milwaukee or Detroit or Atlanta or Arlington (or maybe even Tampa or Anaheim or San Francisco), please let me know. I’ve come too far to let things fall apart now.

But let’s get back to Citi Field for a moment…

Chris Capuano pitched the game of his life. Not only did he record his first complete-game shutout in five years, but he surrendered just two hits, faced one batter over the minimum, and posted a career-high 13 strikeouts. Very very very very impressive. Final score: Mets 6, Braves 0.

After the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth — and then I gave a ball away to a kid. An hour later, when I exited the subway in Manhattan and had to wait for a “WALK” sign at a nearby intersection, I struck up a conversation with a father and his young son. They were both decked out in Mets gear, and the kid (who couldn’t have been more than five years old) was still wearing his glove.

“Did you catch a ball today?” I asked the boy, and when he shook his head, I pulled the Culbreth ball out of my backpack and handed it to him.

The kid was stunned. All he could do was stare at it.

“What do you say?” prompted his father.

“Thank you,” mumbled the boy.

He and his father happened to be walking in the same direction as me, so I chatted with them for another minute and told them that I’d gotten the ball from the home plate umpire.

“How did you do that?” asked the father.

I gave a quick explanation, and before we parted ways, I mentioned that the ball was rubbed up with mud. I’m not sure if he knew what I was talking about, but I do know this: that little boy is going to be a baseball fan for life.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game (two pictured here because I gave two away)

• 846 balls in 101 games this season = 8.38 balls per game.

• 762 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 16 lifetime batting gloves; click here to see my full collection

• 5,508 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)

• $28.48 raised at this game

• $6,023.52 raised this season

8/25/11 at Nationals Park

If I’d stayed in New York, I would’ve seen the Yankees hit three grand slams. But no. I allowed SOMEone (who shall remain nameless) to talk me into driving down to Washington, D.C.

When we got there, it started raining.

This was the result:

No batting practice.
Wonderful.

Thankfully, it was only drizzling when the stadium opened, so there was a bit of action in the Diamondbacks’ bullpen:

I have no idea who the catcher is in the photo above; all I can tell you is that when the bullpen session concluded, he tossed me the ball.

That was it for the next TWO hours.

It rained a lot.
My feet got clammy.
The folks in charge of stadium operations didn’t bother turning on the lights:

I spent the whole day wishing I weren’t there — not exactly how I envisioned my 100th game of the season.

Eventually the lights came on, and the players started warming up. Here I am waiting for a toss-up along the left field foul line:

I didn’t end up getting that ball, but Aaron Hill hooked up me five minutes later. The ball he tossed me was the 5,500th of my collection, so that was pretty cool. Here’s a photo of it:

Just before the game started, I headed out to left field and got a ball from pitching coach Charles Nagy, who was in the Diamondbacks’ bullpen.

I sat in left field during the game with my unnamed companion. This was our view:

In the bottom of the 3rd inning, the sky was red and crazy:

In the top of the 6th inning, Chris Young hit a home run that sailed *directly* over my head and landed several rows behind me.

In the middle of the 8th inning, the outfield warm-up ball got tossed to a little girl in the front row. Unfortunately for her, the ball fell short and disappeared in the flowers. Her father took a quick look for it and gave up, so I wandered down the steps, peered over the railing, pushed the flowers aside, immediately spotted the ball, and handed it to her. Here she is with it moments later:

In the middle of the 9th inning, I stood up and waved like hell at Diamondbacks left fielder Gerardo Parra:

I was hoping that he’d throw me the outfield warm-up ball — and he did. Here it is sailing toward me…

…and here I am pointing at him to say thanks:

Funny how two of the guys in the photo above were pointing at me. I wonder if anyone was pointing at them. We could’ve had a whole chain going.

With the Diamondbacks leading, 8-1, Micah Owings came in to pitch the bottom of the 9th. He retired the side in order and struck out Michael Morse to end the game. Owings tossed me the ball on his way in.

Before I left the section, I gave two baseballs to kids.
Then I made the four-hour drive back to New York.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave three away)

• 842 balls in 100 games this season = 8.42 balls per game.

• 761 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 263 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 5,504 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)

• $42.70 raised at this game

• $5,995.04 raised this season

8/24/11 at PNC Park

This was the fourth and final Watch With Zack game that I did with the folks from Seattle, and unfortunately the tarp was covering the infield when we entered the stadium:

Even if it hadn’t been raining, there still might not’ve been batting practice; game time was scheduled for 12:35pm, and the Pirates and Brewers had played the night before.

If there was one good thing about the lack of action, it’s that I had some time to photograph the awesomeness of PNC Park. Lots of people have asked why I included it in my “Top 10 Stadiums for Ballhawking” list in The Baseball, and here’s the answer:

PNC Park isn’t great for BP — the half dozen rows in the left field bleachers get clogged quickly –but the standing room behind the bleachers is pretty much ideal. And yeah, okay, it’s kind of far from home plate, but we’re not talking 500 feet. It’s more like 400 to 420.

Anyway, here’s a photo of my “clients” for the day — Maxine (age 7), Maple (age 8), and their father David:

As you can see in the photo above, the tarp was gone, and the Pirates pitchers were getting ready to warm up.

Several minutes later, I headed to the corner spot in foul territory with David and the kids. Here’s where they set up:

Chris Leroux ended up giving a ball to each of the kids. The first one was uneventful — a standard toss-up for Maple — but the second one? Yeesh! During one of the only moments that David happened to look away from the field, he got nailed in the side by an overthrow. Leroux was standing nearby, so he walked over and asked David if he was okay and offered him a ball. David said he was fine and pointed to Maxine, so Leroux handed it to her instead. (Way to take one for the team, Dad!)

When the Brewers came out, David and the kids stayed on the 3rd base side, and I headed toward the right field corner. This was my route:

(How beautiful is that?)

When I reached the end of the stands in foul territory, I found myself at an unguarded staircase, which led to a fancy area of seating down in front:

I looked around cautiously before making my move, and then it hit me: THIS IS PITTSBURGH!!! Fans are actually allowed to wander and enjoy themselves. What a concept! So yeah, I walked down to the front, and no one said a word. This was the view (facing to my left) at the bottom of the stairs:

During the 20 minutes that I spent there, I got Frankie De La Cruz to toss me a ball.

Then I headed out to deep left-center when Chris Narveson began throwing in the bullpen. This was my view…

…and when he finished, I called out to him and got him to throw me the ball.

Before the game, I got Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker to sign a ticket that I’d found. Here’s a photo of it:

Soon after, I noticed that Michael McKenry was long-tossing with coach Mark Strittmatter on the warning track in left field, so I hurried out there with the kids. This was the view to my right:

(In the photo above, you can see McKenry way in the distance near the foul pole, and evidently I took it when Maple was blinking. Sorry, Maple!)

Strittmatter ended up with the ball, and when I asked him for it, he asked who it was for. In other words, he couldn’t decide whether to give it to Maple or Maxine. I just shrugged and said, “Whoever you want, or you can give it to me, and we’ll figure it out later.”

Strittmatter nodded and said that in order to get the ball, we had to earn it by answering a trivia question.

“How many months have 28 days?” he asked.

“One,” I said, amazed to have gotten such an easy question, but fearing that I might’ve been missing something.

“They all do,” he said with a smile, “but that’s okay, I’m gonna give you another shot. Are you ready?”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling like the biggest idiot of all time.

“How do the people in Kentucky pronounce their capitol?” he asked. “Is it Loo-EE-ville or Loo-ISS-ville?”

It was another trick question. I knew that it wasn’t Louisville. It was another city altogether, but I couldn’t think of the answer. Just as I was starting to feel really embarrassed, Maple stepped up bigtime. Do you remember when Jason Grilli asked him trivia questions the day before? Well, this was one of the same questions! And Maple remembered the answer! He tapped me on the shoulder and called me closer to whisper it in my ear.

“Frankfort,” he said.

“What was that?” asked Strittmatter, sensing a correct answer.

“Frankfort!” I said.

“All right!” said Strittmatter, and he handed me the ball.

I then handed it to Maple and gave him a high-five. “This one’s for you,” I said. “You totally earned it. Nicely done.”

After that, I brought the kids back to our seats, where David was waiting for us. Here’s a photo that I took during the game from several rows behind them:

Not a bad view.

During the game, I noticed that every inning, the infield warm-up balls were getting tossed into the crowd behind the Pirates’ dugout. David and Maple agreed that if we got one, it would be for Maxine, so I kept taking her down to the front row (behind the middle of the dugout), and I kept trying to get the attention of Luis Silverio, the coach who was tossing all these balls. The first four were given to other kids, but as the 5th inning was about to get started, Silverio hooked us up. Maxine wanted me to catch the ball for her, so I did. Here she is with it back at our seats:

As good as our seats were, there was one problem: we were in the sun. Our solution was to move here:

We were in the shade *and* in a good foul-ball spot for right-handed batters. Several balls came close, but not close enough. That said, Maple still found a way to increase his total. With permission from his father, he headed back to the seats behind the Pirates’ dugout all by himself, and when the 6th inning was about to begin, he got the infield warm-up ball from Silverio. He was several hundred feet away from us, but we saw the whole thing. Here’s the ball in mid-air, sailing toward him…

…and here he is catching it with two hands:

(Sorry for the lousy photo quality, but it’s the best I could do with my little camera.)

We were SO happy for him. Simply making it to the dugout and finding the courage to be on his own was a major accomplishment; the ball itself was the proverbial icing on the cake. Maple raced back and showed it to us, then headed back to the dugout and got another ball from coach Nick Leyva in the middle of the 8th!

Amazing.

Maple is probably going to end up being 6-foot-9, so if he decides to take up ballhawking full-time, we’re all gonna be in trouble.

In the top of the 9th inning, with the Pirates clinging to a 2-0 lead, I took Maxine to the seats behind a special staircase on the 3rd base side. This was the view:

The staircase was where the umpires were going to walk off the field. Paul Schrieber was behind the plate, and after the final out, he pulled a ball from his pouch and gave it to us. I had been in charge of getting his attention. Maxine had been in charge of being cute. And after that, it was just a matter of acquiring the ball. I was hoping that he’d hand it directly to her, but instead he tossed it, so I made the catch.

This was technically my 5th ball of the day. I counted the one from Strittmatter because he had handed it to me, and I counted the one from Silverio because I was the one who caught it. Same deal here with Schrieber, but as far as Maple and Maxine were concerned, it was just a numbers game that didn’t affect them. They ended up with the balls and got to see/learn how I maneuvered through the seats and talked to the coaches and the ump, so it was cool for them regardless.

Maxine and I shifted over to the front row near the tarp. There were two coaches slowly making their way in from the bullpen…

…but they just shrugged when I asked them for a ball.

Before leaving the stadium, I asked a woman to take a photo of the four of us. Here we are on the spiral ramp behind the left field foul pole:

PNC Park is painfully gorgeous. That’s really all there is to it.

Now, I don’t know if it’s just me, but the whole time I was with Maple, I kept thinking that he looks like Justin Morneau. Do you see it? Check out the side-by-side comparison below:

I’m not saying that they’re identical — just that there are similarities.

Yes?
Maybe?
Anyway…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 836 balls in 99 games this season = 8.44 balls per game.

• 760 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 262 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 33 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls; click here to see a list of Watch With Zack stats and records.

• 5,498 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)

• $35.60 raised at this game

• $5,952.32 raised this season

Finally, you know how I’ve been photographing baseballs in black light to show the invisible ink stamps? Well, neither of the two balls that I kept has an actual stamp, but one of them appears to have been smudged all over with invisible ink. Check it out:

Pretty weird, huh?

(Oh, Pittsburgh, I miss you already…)

8/23/11 at Progressive Field and PNC Park

Indians: day/night doubleheader at Progressive Field beginning at 1:05pm.
Pirates: night game at PNC Park beginning at 7:05pm.
Distance from Cleveland to Pittsburgh: 133 miles.
The plan: oh yeah.

As I mentioned in my last entry, I had Watch With Zack clients from Seattle. Remember? Well, this two-stadium extravaganza was Day 2 of our adventure, and I have to admit that I was nervous. You see, things get screwy when there are doubleheaders. Teams rarely take batting practice, and stadiums often open later than usual. Progressive Field normally opens two and a half hours early, but in this case, it wasn’t going to open until 12pm — and as if that wasn’t bad enough, we were gonna have to leave at 1pm in order to make it to PNC Park in time for BP. With ONE hour to work with inside the stadium and NO batting practice taking place, my consecutive games streak was officially on the line.

Speaking of lines, there were quite a few people waiting outside Game C:

In the photo above, do you see the guy at the front of the line with his arms in the air? That’s David, the father of the family that I was with. Look closely and you’ll see his kids (wearing gray Mariners jerseys) standing just in front of him.

I neglected to mention in my last entry that David has three kids. Maple (age 8) and Maxine (age 7) came with him on this trip. His youngest child, a four-year-old boy named Hawthorne, stayed home in Seattle with his wife Michelle. And by the way, this was Maxine’s birthday.

When the four of us were waiting outside the gate, David told me that I didn’t have to count this game in my stats. He said something along the lines of, “No one has to know that you were here,” but I insisted that if I set foot inside the stadium, it *had* to count. The only exceptions would be if I (a) attended a game that got rained out or (b) entered a stadium on a day when there was no game.

Luckily, when we ran inside at noon, there were several Mariners standing around in the right field corner — and there were three baseballs sitting near them on the field. I hurried over with Maple, called out to bullpen catcher Jason Phillips, and got him to flip me a ball. Here’s a photo that I took moments later. It shows Phillips walking toward the bullpen:

Catching that ball was SUCH a huge relief — and not just for me. David and his kids all understood the implications, so they were all rooting for me.

As I expected, there wasn’t much action after that, so we all headed to the seats beside the Mariners dugout. And then we waited. This was our view of the dugout…

…and this was the dugout’s view of us:



Twenty minutes later, there was a sign of life:

In the photo above, that’s Adam Kennedy stretching (or at least doing something that vaguely resembles stretching). Ten minutes later, he came over and signed autographs. Maple and I each got him on our tickets. Here’s a photo of mine:

Ten minutes after that, I ran out to right-center field with Maple and got a ball from someone on the Indians that I couldn’t identify. This was my view soon after I caught it…

…and this is the guy who threw it, walking past me in the bullpen:

The other day on Twitter, I asked for some help identifying this guy. While some people guessed that it was Tony Sipp or Fausto Carmona, my friend Oliver insisted that it was Julio Rangel, the team’s “mental skills coach.” Can anyone confirm this or prove otherwise? It would be great to know. Sorry I don’t have a better photo.

As Maple and I were racing back toward the seats along the right field foul line, we saw Adam Kennedy toss a ball to Maxine near the dugout. The ball barely eluded her glove and ended up in the third row. It was then picked up by a teenage boy who kindly handed it to her.

Soon after, I was approached by a man who asked me if I would sign a baseball for his son. The answer, of course, was yes. Here’s a photo of him with the ball:

The man’s name is Mark Morris.
His son’s name is Zach.
“Z-Mo” is short for Zach Morris.
(Mark has six kids, BTW, and Zach is 15.)

By the time I finished signing the ball, several other Mariners were just starting to play catch, so I headed down to the front row with Maple. Five minutes later, rookie outfielder Trayvon Robinson threw a ball our way. I caught that one and gave it to Maple, and then two minutes later, my young companion caught one that was tossed by Casper Wells.

That concluded our snagging at Progressive Field. Here are the two baseballs that I ended up keeping:

In the photo above, the ball on the left appears to be dirtier (extra-rubbed with mud?) on one side. See it? Pretty strange. I offered to give both of these balls to David for his kids, but he told me there was no need.

As for the game at Progressive Field, we stayed long enough to see Ichiro ground out on the very first pitch…

…and then we took off (just before this earthquake struck). David had parked right across the street, so we hurried over there and threw our stuff in the back of the car…

…and hit the road. David drove. I sat in the back seat with the kids and helped him navigate and showed them the photos that I’d taken the day before. It was a stressful ride because David and I are both directionally-challenged and kept assuming that we were lost. Somehow, though, it all worked out, and we all found lots of stuff to laugh about.

When we were about to cross over from Ohio into Pennsylvania, David pulled off to the side of the road to take a very important photograph:

Thank you, Governor Corbett. We felt very welcomed.

At around 4:15pm, we reached the Allegheny River and drove over one of the famous yellow bridges:

PNC Park was going to open in 45 minutes — and that was fine. Not only was my friend (and PNC regular) Erik Jabs holding a spot for us at the front of the line, but David had booked a hotel very close to the stadium. How close? Check out the view from his room:

Nice.

We made it to the center field gate with 15 minutes to spare and got a big group photo with Erik and two other regulars. Here we all are:

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

1) David (who’s about 6-foot-3)
2) me (in the Homer Simpson shirt)
3) Nick Pelescak (who recently joined the 1,000-ball club)
4) Maxine (whose 7th birthday was off to a good start)
5) Zac Weiss (who, like me, is snagging baseballs for charity)
6) Erik Jabs (who founded the Ballhawk League)
7) Maple (rockin’ the green and white stripes)

(Side note: the last time that I attended two major league games at two different stadiums in one day was 4/14/11 at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium.)

When the stadium opened, I hung out with Maple in straight-away left field while David stood near the foul pole with Maxine. You can see the three of them in the following photo:

The bad news is that I got completely shut out during the Pirates’ portion of BP. The good news is that David and the kids didn’t.

Maple snagged the first ball of the day from Jason Grilli, but it wasn’t a simple toss-up. No sir. Grilli decided to make Maple work for it by asking him trivia questions. Here he is getting things started:

Grilli asked nothing but trick questions, for example, “How many outs are there in an inning?” (The answer is six if you count the top and bottom halves of the inning.) Maple handled it well and got rewarded with the ball:

Then he got a high-five:

Pretty cool.

(Another side note: I once had a 20-minute phone conversation with Jason Grilli. He probably would’ve remembered if I’d mentioned it, but I didn’t want to draw his attention away from Maple.)

As for Maxine, she received a toss-up from a Pirates player, and then David snagged a home run for her that landed near them in the bleachers.

When the Brewers took the field, I caught a home run on the fly that was hit by a player that I couldn’t identify. Erik was pretty sure that it was Jonathan Lucroy, so let’s go with that.

Erik had already snagged about four balls by that point and finished the day with seven. I have to say, his performance was impressive. On several occasions, when I found myself out of position, he came swooping in from nowhere and maneuvered into the perfect spot. He has attended hundreds of games at PNC Park; this was only my 4th, and it showed.

Here’s a photo of Erik flinging his glove at a ball on the warning track:

It was a bold move, and the ushers didn’t say anything, so I decided to step up my own glove-trick efforts. I ended up snagging four more balls during BP, all with the glove trick, and at one point, Brewers closer John Axford walked over for a closer look. Maxine, meanwhile, got three more balls during BP. The first was a deep drive that barely hooked foul and was grabbed by David. The second was a hand-off from Kameron Loe…

…and the third was thrown by Ryan Braun. These three balls raised her total for the day to five.

After she got the ball from Loe, a middle-aged man decked out in Brewers gear complained about it.

“That’s her FOURTH ball,” he shouted at Loe, “just so you know!”

To say that I didn’t appreciate his comment was an understatement, and quite simply, I wasn’t going to let him get away with it.

“Mind your own business,” I told him as I walked past. “There’s no need to ruin her chances of getting another ball.”

“Yeah, well, exploiting a little girl to get baseballs isn’t cool!”

“Excuse me,” I said calmly but forcefully, “that’s her father. They traveled all the way here from Seattle, and they like to collect baseballs. No one’s being exploited.”

That was pretty much the end of it, although I got a few dirty looks after that — but hey, better me than Maxine. I can take it. She’s only seven years old and shouldn’t have to deal with such bitterness and negativity. I mean, if you want to complain that *I* catch too many baseballs, go ahead, but for the love of Rawlings, don’t get all pissy about a little girl out-snagging you.

As for Maple, he got two more balls during BP. The first was thrown by Loe…

…and the second was a Ryan Braun toss-up. That ball deflected off my glove and landed near Maple in the 2nd row. People were scrambling like crazy, and Nick Pelescak ended up snagging it. Then, without even thinking about it, he handed it over. Very nice of him. Here’s a photo of the two of them with the ball:

Some people don’t count balls that are given to them by other fans, and some people do. Maple and Maxine *do* count balls like this, so that’s all that matters.

After BP, I took Maple to the 3rd base dugout and got two baseballs from the Brewers. The first was tossed by Shaun Marcum, and the second came from bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel.

Then I ran into a guy named David who’d brought all three copies of my books. Here we are with them:

After I signed them, I asked David if he could spare a few minutes take some photos of me. He said yes, so we headed toward the right field corner. That’s where I wanted to do it, and this was the result — me with a sign for my 91st major league stadium of the season:

Whoops. I had it upside down. Let’s try that again:

Here’s a collage of the first 15.

Before the game started, Maple got his 4th and final ball of the day from Pirates coach Mark Strittmatter. Then, soon after, Maxine got her 6th and final ball from Josh Harrison. Here she is waving to him:

Harrison ended up walking over and placing the ball in her glove.

David once again got great tickets. Check out our view during the game:

That was actually *my* view. David and the kids were sitting one row behind me. Big difference. I was hoping for some foul grounders, but there wasn’t any action.

Halfway through the game, the kids got really tired (can you blame them?) so David left and took them back to the hotel. (Before he left, I offered to to give them some/all of my baseballs, but he insisted that it wasn’t necessary.) I spent the last few innings wandering all over the place. This was my view from left field:

This was my view from the 1st base side:

This was my view after the game:

One of the many awesome things that Pirates season ticket holders get rewarded with is the chance to go out onto the field after a game and run around and play catch and do whatever. Can you imagine this happening at Yankee Stadium? HA!!!

The Brewers, it should be noted, won the game, 11-4, and the highlight (as far as I was concerned) was Josh Harrison’s first major league home run. Unfortunately, I was halfway across the stadium at the time. Doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t have caught it anyway. It landed in the middle of a crowded row in the left field bleachers and was caught on the fly by a man wearing a glove.

Here are two games’ worth of stats rolled into one.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 balls at these two games (eight pictured here from the 2nd game)

• 831 balls in 98 games this season = 8.48 balls per game.

• 759 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 261 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 32 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls; click here to see a list of Watch With Zack stats and records.

• 5,493 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)

• $78.32 raised at this game

• $5,916.72 raised this season

Finally, I need to share a few more photos of the balls…

Here are three (from the game in Pittsburgh) that caught my eye:

If you look closely at the ball on the left in the photo above, you can see that the seam is misshapen. The other two balls simply have interesting marks on them.

Of the eight balls that I snagged in Pittsburgh, four have invisible ink stamps: Here’s a side-by-side comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light:

The end.
(Phew!)

8/22/11 at Progressive Field

This was a Watch With Zack game, and my “clients” were a family from Seattle. Here we are outside the stadium before the gates opened:

In the photo above, the man on the left is named David. The boy is his eight-year-old son Maple, and the girl is his almost-seven-year-old daughter Maxine. (Her birthday is August 23rd, so these were her last few hours as a six-year-old.)

Just before the stadium opened, I was approached by a man named Larry, who gave me two unusual baseballs and asked me to sign his copy of my newest book. Here we are…

…and here’s a closer look at the balls:

The ball on the left is from the professional/independent Frontier League, and the ball on the right is from the NACSB. That stands for National Alliance of College Summer Baseball. Obviously I didn’t count these as “snagged” baseballs, but it was still cool to have them.

As for David and his kids, they’re huge Mariners fans and semi-regulars at Safeco Field. For them, like so many people, ballhawking adds to their overall enjoyment of the game; quite simply, the reason why he brought me along was to help his kids get as many balls as possible and to demonstrate all my strategies in the process. The initial plan was simple: he was going to stay with Maxine and help her while I hung out with Maple. When the gates opened, I encouraged him to grab the corner spot near the visitors’ bullpen. I figured it would be a good place to get a toss-up, and sure enough it was. Here’s a photo of David reaching out to catch a ball for Maxine, tossed by Indians pitcher Vinnie Pestano. Look closely and you’ll see the ball in mid-air:

For the record, David doesn’t keep any of the balls for himself. He gives them all to his kids.

The right field seats were much more crowded than I’d expected, so I guided Maple to the corner spot near the Indians’ bullpen in right-center field. Several minutes later, it paid off in the form of a toss-up from Chris Perez. Maple made a clean catch on his own, and by the time I pulled out my camera to take a photo, Maxine ran over to get in the shot. Here they are below. Please pardon the random sun-streak through Maple’s face. My camera’s lens is weird:

Did you notice the green thing on the baseball in the photo above? It was something that I’d heard about but never seen in person. Here’s a closeup of it on a ball that I snagged soon after:

Ahh, yes, the infamous BP logo. (What’s more offensive — this or the Enron Field ball?) I’m not sure when the Indians started allowing their baseballs to be defaced, but it must’ve been last year because I snagged a ton of balls at Progressive Field in 2009 and didn’t see any “BP” stamps. David and I heard that these balls are redeemable for $25 gift certificates at the team store (or something like that), but in order to get the prize, we would’ve had to return the balls. What did we do? Duh! We kept them.

I should mention how I snagged my first ball of the day, and in order to do that, I need you to take another look at the photo of Maple holding *his* first ball. It’s two photos above. Are you with me? See where Maxine is standing? See the platform directly behind her? Do you know about the piece of string that’s tied to my glove for the glove trick? Well, Maple and his father were standing in the corner spot when someone on the Indians hit a home run near them. As I started running in their direction, the ball squirted out onto that platform and began trickling away from Maple. I arrived when it was just beyond his reach, so I quickly let out a few feet of string and flung my glove so that it landed just beyond the ball. Then I tugged on the string and knocked the ball back toward me.

David snagged another ball for Maxine in the corner spot in right-center — a home run off the bat of Carlos Santana — but unfortunately it didn’t have the BP logo stamped onto it. Maple got another toss-up, this time from David Huff, but again, no BP logo. Thankfully, just before the Indians jogged off the field, Chris Perez threw me a ball with *two* stamps on it! Check it out:

I gave that ball to Maxine, and all was right with the world. She and her brother now each had a ball with the BP logo, and I also had one for myself. I offered it to David, but he said I could keep it. Like I mentioned before, he doesn’t collect baseballs for himself; as long as his kids snag some, he’s content.

Progressive Field opens two and a half hours early, which is great, but for the first 90 minutes, fans have to stay in right field. As a result, the seats got pretty crowded…

…and we were stuck there for the first part of the Mariners’ portion of BP. In the photo above, you can see Maxine with her personalized “MAXINE 6″ Mariners jersey. David is standing just to her left.

I used my glove trick to snag my 3rd ball of the day from the Indians’ bullpen, and I got No. 4 thrown by Chance Ruffin in straight-away right field. Maple also got a ball from Ruffin, and Maxine kept pace by getting a toss-up from Blake Beaven. David caught that one for her — and that made me think of something…

You know that I love to document everything, right? And that I love stats and numbers and records? Did you know that I have a whole page of Watch With Zack stats on my website? Well, before Maxine crashed the scene, the youngest Watch With Zack client to have ever snagged a ball was a nine-year-old boy named Cooper on 9/20/09 at Citi Field.

But hold on. Cooper had actually snagged the balls on his own, whereas Maxine had been getting some help from her father. At first, I wasn’t sure how to determine who should be recognized as the official record holder, but eventually I decided that in order for kids to qualify, they must acquire possession of a baseball on their own. That said, Maxine was doing a great job. She was dressed right. She was wearing a cute glove with pink trim. She was standing in the right spot. She was waving at the players to get their attention. And so on. She totally deserved all the balls that she ended up getting, but let’s face it, she’s very young, and young kids often need help catching things that are thrown to them. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and if she keeps practicing, she’ll be catching stuff before she knows it. More on this in a bit…

When the rest of the stadium opened at 6pm, I ran over to the left field bleachers with Maple. David, it should be noted, was fine with that. In fact, he encouraged his kids to be apart from him for a few minutes here and there because, you know, it would help them learn to be independent. Other parents are not as willing to let their kids wander off, and that’s fine. Everyone has their own way of doing things, but I have to say that it certainly made things easier to be able to dash off with Maple. Soon after we reached the bleachers, I helped him get a ball thrown by Felix Hernandez. (When you’re eight years old and love the Mariners, getting a ball from King Felix is quite a thrill.) And then he caught another one, thrown by a player that we weren’t able to identify. I managed to catch one ball in left field, and it was a good one — a deep home run hit by Wily Mo Pena that I caught on the fly (high over my head after climbing back over a row).

At that point, Maple and I had each snagged five baseballs, and Maxine had snagged three. Then this happened:

After BP ended, Maple and Maxine each got two baseballs, and Maxine got a bat.

Wow.

One man provided all of it. That man was Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik. Over the course of the previous year, David had gotten to know him — not well, but evidently well enough that Zduriencik recognized him and hooked up his kids with some goodies. The bat, cracked but very much intact, belonged to Justin Smoak. Here’s a four-part photo of it:

(Maxine is the first client to have ever gotten a bat; lots of records and firsts were being achieved.)

As for the baseballs that Zduriencik provided, get this…

He tossed two to David and one to Maple, then waved Maxine down to the front row and placed the final ball directly in her glove! In other words, Maxine had acquired possession of it on her own, which meant that she had officially become the youngest Watch With Zack client to snag a ball. (Congrats, Maxine!)

Soon after, I ran into a kid named Danny, who asked me to sign his copy of my previous book — Watching Baseball Smarter. Here we are with it:

I’d met Danny once before on 5/27/11 at Rogers Centre. Check out this photo to refresh your memory, and while you’re at it, check out Danny’s blog. I wonder if he’s going to track me down at another stadium with a copy of my first book. Hmm…

Before the game started, several Mariners came out to get loose in shallow right field, so I headed over there with Maple. Here’s a shot of him in the front row:

At that point, Maple was more interested in seeing me do my thing than he was in snagging the balls himself, so we made a deal: he’d follow me around until the game started, and I’d give him all the balls that I got.

I ended up getting two. Dustin Ackley tossed one to me when he finished playing catch in shallow right field. Then we headed to the Mariners’ bullpen, and I got another from bullpen catcher Jason Phillips.

David had gotten amazing seats for the game. Check out our view:

We were in prime 3rd-out-ball territory, but things didn’t go our way during the first few innings. At one point, when we had a brief break in the (potential) action, Maple wandered with me to a great foul ball spot behind home plate. Unfortunately, there were ushers guarding every tunnel, so we couldn’t enter the seats. We weren’t even allowed to stand in the tunnel, so we took a few quick photos before heading back to the dugout. Here’s a shot of me with my stadium number sign.

This was an important moment because it signified the halfway point in my quest to hit up all 30 stadiums this season. Here’s a collage of the first 15:

Back at the dugout, David decided that the next ball would be for Maxine — so I tried my best to snag one for her. With one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 4th inning, Michael Brantley hit into a 1-2-3 double play. First baseman Mike Carp ended up with the ball and tossed it to me when he returned to the dugout — or so we thought. Upon further inspection, we realized that the ball was a bit too dirty and banged up to have been the actual game-used ball. Carp, as many first basemen do, pulled a little switcheroo and tossed us the infield warm-up ball instead. But hey, it was still cool to get a ball during the game. Here I am with Maxine and THE ball:

Twenty minutes later, Carlos Santana bounced into a more traditional 6-4-3 double play to end the 5th inning. Maple was on his own to try to get Carp to toss it to him, so I hung back several rows. Guess what happened. Carp lobbed the ball five feet over Maple’s head. The ball fell five feet short of me and was bobbled back in my direction. David managed to get a piece of it, and I ended up snatching it with my glove. That was my 9th ball of the day, and I immediately handed it to Maple. Here we are with it:

Once again, we were pretty sure that Carp had switched balls on us, but that didn’t take away the excitement of having snagged it.

Late in the game, I took the kids out to the standing-room-only section in left field:

We were hoping for a home run, but we were only there for an inning, and most of the batters were left-handed, so nothing came our way.

The Mariners ended up winning the game, 3-2.
None of us snagged any more baseballs.
But we all had a great time.
Really REALLY great.
Some families are hard work.
This one wasn’t.
And that’s a good thing because this was just the first of several games that I’d be attending with them.

Look what we saw while walking back to our hotel:

Don’t be alarmed. It was just a set for a movie. But not just any movie. THIS movie.

Back at the hotel, the kids and I found a table in the lobby and spread out our day’s haul:

In the photo above, the white squares under the kids’ baseballs are pieces of paper; David had scribbled a bunch of notes so that he’d remember how each ball was acquired.

Not a bad day, and we were just getting started…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 9 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave three to Maple and two to Maxine)

• 820 balls in 96 games this season = 8.54 balls per game.

• 757 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 259 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 30 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls; click here to see a list of Watch With Zack stats and records.

• 2 very happy kids

• 5,482 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)

• $64.08 raised at this game

• $5,838.40 raised this season

8/20/11 at Citi Field

I was 14 years old when I started attending Mets games regularly in the spring of 1992. At the time, one of the Shea Stadium regulars that I got to know was a woman named Karen. She and I used to run into each other all the time, but lately we’ve been seeing each other less and less. Long story short: when I got off the train the other day at Citi Field, she was already waiting outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, and before I had a chance to say hello to her, she pulled out copies of my last two books and asked me to sign them. Here we are:

In case you’re not familiar with my books, that’s The Baseball on the left and Watching Baseball Smarter on the right.

The game was scheduled to begin at 4:10pm. Normally, there would’ve been batting practice, but because there’d been a really long rain delay the night before…

NOTHING — not at first, anyway, but at least there was a sign of life. The grounds crew was on the field. The batting cage and protective screens were set up. Everything was in place for BP; there just weren’t any players.

Fifteen minutes after the stadium opened, this was the scene:

In the photo above, do you see the fan wearing the navy blue shirt behind the dugout?

That was me.

Now, do you see the two guys walking across the left side of the infield? That was Rickie Weeks (also wearing navy blue) and a coach (wearing light gray). The coach had just finished hitting a few dozen fungos to him; the photo above was taken as they walked back toward the dugout with their bag of balls. When they reached the warning track, the coach pulled one out and tossed it to me.

One more thing about the photo above: did you notice the few players/coaches in center field? After I got the ball at the dugout, I jogged through the concourse and headed out there. Here I am making my way behind the batter’s eye:

Who took all these photos, you ask? Jona, of course. You’ll see a photo of us in a bit, but first let me show you what happened when I tried to enter the seats in deep right-center field:

That’s me on the left, being stopped by a “Hospitality Attendant” on the right.

Even though the game was still more than two hours away, and even though we were 14 light-years from home plate, she asked for my ticket. I told her that I didn’t have a ticket for that section. She told me that I wasn’t allowed to enter the seats. I explained that fans are normally allowed to go wherever they want during batting practice, except behind home plate and the dugouts.

“Batting practice,” I said politely, “isn’t technically taking place at the moment, but it’s early enough in the day that I should be able to go down there.”

The woman said that she had to find out what the rule was. Here she is walking toward some other Hospitality Attendants while a security guard waited with me:

The guard wasn’t sure what to do, so I followed the woman to see what was going on.

Ready for it?

Here goes:

The Hospitality Attendants discussed the matter and eventually concluded that I *should* in fact be allowed to enter the right-center field seats.

(Phew!)

The players and coaches were in the bullpen at that point, so I walked over and took a peek:

Chris Narveson was pitching, bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel was behind the plate, and manager Ron Roenicke was watching with bullpen coach Stan Kyles. I was the only fan there (and of course I was decked out in Brewers gear), so when they finished, I had no trouble getting Narveson to toss me the ball.

Then, as the stadium got a bit more crowded, I headed to the left field foul line when the rest of the pitching staff came out to throw:

Stan Kyles ended up tossing me a ball, which had a magic-marker streak through the sweet spot:

Many years ago, the Brewers used to mark their baseballs like this. Then there was a time when they didn’t mark them at all. Then they went to the marker streak. Then they started writing random crap on the balls (which made BP even more fun). And now they’re back to the streak. What next?!

The Brewers didn’t take BP, so the Mets pushed their own time slot back and started hitting at 2:30pm. That’s when I headed out to left-center field. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing at me:

Batting practice was dead. During the 40 minutes that the Mets were hitting, only a handful of batted balls reached the seats, and I didn’t snag any. Meanwhile, lots of balls were tossed to kids in the front row. I could’ve easily snagged this one by reaching over their gloves…

…but pulled my own glove back at the last second to let them go for it.

In the photo above, do you see the fan wearing the Jason Pridie Twins jersey? That’s my friend (and jersey-God) Ben Weil. I’m telling you, he has more jerseys than anyone. Ever. In the history of history. Someday I’m going to blog about it so you can see for yourself.

The final group of BP featured four lefties, so I made the trek to the second deck in right field. (It really *is* a trek to get there. You have to go all the way to the concourse in foul territory in shallow right field, then take a long escalator to the top, then walk through the concourse toward fair territory, then proceed through a couple of zig-zagging ramps, then cross the wide open-air concession area, then head down a few steps toward a slightly lower platform-thingie, and finally make your way down into the seats. It’s soooo not worth it. I pretty much ran up there for the exercise.) Here’s what it looked like up there:

Not surprisingly, there was a grand total of ZERO home runs that reached the seats.

And then batting practice ended.

Right before the game started, I made my way down to the 3rd base dugout and got a warm-up ball from Jerry Hairston. Before leaving the section, I asked the nearest security guard if there were any kids that he wanted to give a ball to. He said yes, so I handed it over and watched from afar. Here’s how it played out:

In the photo above, the kid is holding up the ball so that the fan on the far right (wearing the yellow cap) could see it. I assumed that was his father, but regardless, it was a cute scene that left me felling warm-n-fuzzy. This was one of three balls that I gave away over the course of the day.

Jona and I had really good seats for the game. This was our view:

It was a good foul-ball spot, made even better by the empty space on both sides. This was the view to my left…

…and this was the view to my right:

I seriously thought I was gonna catch at least two foul balls there, but no, the only one that came close flew directly over my head and was bobbled/snagged by a fan who was sitting seven rows behind me.

At one point in the middle of the game, I spent a few minutes wandering and taking photos of the fancy club that was connected to our section. Here’s one…

…and here’s another:

By the time I made it back through this tunnel to the seats…

…something rather insane was happening. Have a look at the following photo and see if you can spot it:

Give up?

Here’s a closer look:

Do you see the smoke billowing up behind the Budweiser sign? Evidently, there was a huge fire right across the street at one of the chop shops. Check out this brief article about it on MLB.com. I was tempted to run up to the upper deck in left field and have a look — dozens of fans were converging there — but I didn’t want to leave my awesome foul-ball spot.

Instead, I took this photo with Jona:

See the bruise on my nose in the photo above? Three words: Nationals Park security (with “security” in humongous quotes). Click here if you missed that story from earlier in the week.

As for the game…

The Brewers had a 7-1 lead after six innings.
The Mets scored five in the seventh and three more in the eighth to take a 9-7 lead.
The Brewers then scored four in the ninth and held on for an 11-9 win.

That’s just a quick/cheap recap; being there and witnessing it in person was really exciting. The best part was hearing Francisco Rodriguez get booed mercilessly — and then watching him surrender the three go-ahead runs in the eighth. Of course, the Brewers’ rally in the ninth made him a winner.

After the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez, and when the Brewers walked in from the bullpen, I got another from Stan Kyles behind the dugout. I was surprised that he didn’t recognize me. Perhaps the fact that I’d removed my hat had something to do with it.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 811 balls in 95 games this season = 8.54 balls per game.

• 756 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 382 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 5,473 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

• $5,774.32 raised this season

Finally, of the three balls that I kept, two have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the balls in regular light versus black light:

8/19/11 at Nationals Park

Twenty years ago, I saw a fan make an unbelievable catch that I never forgot. The game was on TV at the Padres’ old stadium, and the batter blasted a deep home run to left. Sitting near the front of the section, the fan turned his back to the field and bolted up a whole bunch of steps. Then, when he reached what appeared to be an arbitrary row, he cut to his left and ran at least 20 feet. When the ball landed, this guy was right there. There weren’t any other fans around. He was alone in the seats. It was basically him versus the ball — and he won.

The reason why I’m telling this story is that I made a similar catch the other day at Nationals Park. Granted, mine happened during batting practice, and the “row” I picked was much wider, but it still felt great, and I kind of surprised myself. I was standing in the Red Porch seats in left-center field when someone on the Nationals (not sure who) cranked one to my left. At the time, there was another fan standing three rows behind me, but he didn’t realize that the ball was going to travel a LONG way, so when it was hit, he simply started moving through his row. I immediately turned my back to the field and bolted up the stairs, well past his row. When I reached the first platform of tables, I cut to my left, and when I reached the spot where I thought the ball might land, I stopped abruptly and looked up. The home run was a such a towering blast that I still had a second to spare, and when the ball finally descended, I reached out and caught it.

Now that I’ve made a catch similar to the one I saw all those years ago on TV, I can tell you that there was lots of luck involved — and here’s why. Whenever a batter connects with the ball, it’s easy to determine which direction it’s heading. Left? Right? Or maybe right at you? With rare exceptions when the ball tails or hooks or gets blown to the side by the wind, you pretty much always know whether you have to move laterally. The biggest challenge is predicting the distance. This is most difficult when the ball is hit right at you, but when it’s hit to one side, you have a better view of the arc. You can see if the ball rockets up toward the sky, or if it merely sails upward like a routine fly ball. The point is that when this ball first shot off the bat, it was heading to my left, so I could tell that it was going to land deep in my section. At that point, since I was already standing on the stairs, there was only one way to go: UP. Then, when I reached the first platform of tables, it was pretty obvious that I had to turn left at that point. Sure, I could’ve proceeded up a few more steps and turned left at the next platform, but that simply would’ve taken too long. Even if I knew that the ball was going to land all the way up there, I wouldn’t have gotten there in time, so it made sense to take the first left and get in line with it. And then? It was just a matter of luck. The ball happened to reach that first platform of tables. It could’ve easily fallen five feet short or sailed ten feet over my head, but instead it came right to me, which probably seemed impressive to the few people who might’ve noticed the route that I took to get there. And it was impressive to me — at first. Ultimately, though, I realized that it was the only place to be. The fan who made the catch in San Diego deserves more credit for several reasons, but if I had to guess, I’d say he picked his row because of the timing of the situation. In other words, he probably didn’t know the exact distance that the ball would travel. Instead (and this is a total assumption on my part) he cut to the left when he did because he sensed that the ball was going to be landing soon. He knew that if he ran up three or five more rows, he’d be too late.

No one is THAT good at judging fly balls, but anyone with a certain degree of skill can get THAT lucky. No disrespect intended, but the guy in San Diego probably misjudged a homer earlier that day during BP. I’ll admit that I misjudge them all the time. Watch any major league outfielder on a routine fly; chances are he’ll start by taking a step forward when he should be moving back — or vice versa. Then he’ll drift with the ball right up until the moment that he catches it.

Anyway, the fancy-schmancy catch that I made was my second of the day. The first one came moments earlier and was as easy as it gets (so I won’t write 800 more words about it). After I made those two catches, a kid walked over and told me that he recognized me and asked me to sign a ball. His name was Mike, and here he is with it:

Soon after, another kid recognized me and said hello. He didn’t have a ball for me to sign, so he asked if we could get a photo together. His name was Jared, and here we are:

As you can probably guess from the photo above, the Nationals were playing the Phillies, and let me tell you, there were a TON of Phillies fans. Remember how empty the section was the day before after the stadium had been open for 40 minutes? Well, compare that to the following photo, taken at the same time with Philly in the house:

There wasn’t nearly as much room to run, but even worse was the fact that there just weren’t many home runs being hit. I don’t know why. That’s just how it was, and as a result, I only got one more ball while the Nationals were on the field — a toss-up from Ross Detwiler. (Can you spot Jona in the photo above? Virtual chest-bump to the first person to point her out.)

This might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not: nine out of every ten fans were wearing Phillies gear. It’s like I was *at* a Phillies game in Washington, D.C. (Note to self: along with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs, try to avoid seeing the Phillies on the road. Or ever.)

The right field seats were also crowded, of course. The only ball I got there was an Easter egg when that section opened at 5:30pm. I did have another chance to snag one…

…but didn’t go for it because it was heading toward a kid in the front row. I was standing on a chair at the time and easily could’ve reached above the kid and picked it off. Instead, I held back and let him have it — just a little FYI for the haters out there who blindly accuse me of stealing baseballs from children.

In the photo above, do you see the guy standing to my right? He’s wearing a dark blue shirt with white letters on the back. That was an usher, and after he noticed how I was positioned, he said, “Hey, buddy, this isn’t a gym. Do me a favor and don’t climb all over the seats, okay?”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, and we went our separate ways. Two minutes later, I saw the usher leading a small group of fans down to their seats. “You know,” I told him, “you should really be thanking me for stepping on the seats because if I leave footprints all over them, then you’ll get more tips from people when you wipe them off.”

He smiled subtly.

“I mean REALLY,” I said, loud enough for the group of fans to hear me, “you should be asking me to leave footprints on as many seats as possible. If anything, I would be doing you a favor.”

The usher didn’t respond. He just wiped the seats for the people and then headed back up the stairs toward where I was standing.

“So, did you get a tip from them?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said with a huge grin. “Thanks.” And he shook my hand.

I headed to left field after that and accomplished nothing there. Look how crowded it was:

I didn’t snag a single ball during the entire Phillies’ portion of BP. The only other ball I got all day was tossed by this guy after BP:

In the photo above, you can see him standing in front of the dugout, looking right at me. (I’m standing to the right of the guy in the “HOWARD” shirt.) I didn’t know who he was. I figured it was bullpen catcher Jesus Tiamo, but later when I combed through the head shots of the Phillies’ coaching staff, I couldn’t find him. Tiamo looks middle-aged. The guy who tossed me the ball looked like he was young enough to be a player, although perhaps a bit too hefty. Can anyone help me identify him?

Here’s something worth pointing out: when the Phillies cleared the field after BP, all the Phillies fans in the stadium cheered and applauded. It was an incredible display of team loyalty and support. How did the Phillies players react? By walking off the field stone-faced and with their heads down. Not ONE player acknowledged the fans in any way. Several little kids near me were screaming at Ryan Madson for an autograph, and he completely ignored them. (Karma, anyone?)

The forecast called for rain, so when the game started and the sky looked like this…

…I sat with Jona in the handicapped row under the overhang of the second deck. (The row was partially empty, and the usher gave us permission to sit there, so relax.)

Ten minutes later, this was the scene:

When it started pouring, the people who were sitting down below got absolutely SOAKED because everyone tried to leave at once, and the stairs were completely jammed. Jona and I just sat there and watched.

It was obvious that the rain wasn’t going to let up anytime soon, and we had to drive back to New York City that night. As much as I wanted to see the game, it just didn’t make sense to stay, so we left. The concourse was SO crowded…

…that it took about 15 minutes to walk from the 3rd base dugout to the left field foul pole. On the way out, I gave one of my baseballs to a little kid with an empty glove, and on the way back to New York, I took Jona to Waffle House for the first time in her life. She enjoyed the overall “experience,” but wasn’t impressed with the food. Of course, she was a vegan for 20 years and still tries to eat raw/organic food whenever possible, so what the hell does SHE know?

When we got back to New York, I learned that (a) the rain delay had lasted two hours and 22 minutes and that (b) the Nationals won the game, 8-4, on a walk-off grand slam by Ryan Zimmerman in the bottom of the 9th. Guess who surrendered it? That’s right: Ryan Madson. It would’ve been nice to be there for it, but there’s no chance that I would’ve caught the ball.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 805 balls in 94 games this season = 8.56 balls per game.

• 755 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 280 consecutive games with two or more balls

• 5,467 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)

• $35.60 raised at this game

• $5,731.60 raised this season

8/18/11 at Nationals Park

I need to start this entry by posting a photo of the very healthy lunch that I ate before the game. Why? Because in a few minutes, you’re going to see a photo of my very unhealthy dinner, and I want you to know that there’s balance in my life. Okay? Here goes:

Mmmm, yes! I was at a Korean restaurant with James, the guy who’s been filming me lately for a documentary. I wanted to order a generic chicken dish, but he insisted on ordering for me and picked the meal that you see above. It was essentially a bowl of vegetables (carrots, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, cucumber, bean spouts, mushrooms, and other stuff that neither of us could identify) with a fried egg on top. (I picked out the mushrooms. I don’t do mushrooms. But I ate everything else.) James told me to dump the little bowl of rice on top and mix it all up. So I did. And it was surprisingly good.

Anyway, let’s talk about Nationals Park…

When the stadium opened at 4:30pm, I headed out to the Red Porch seats in left-center. Remember the security guard from the previous game who’d bashed me in the face while racing me for a ball? Well, he was back there, and as soon as he saw me, he shook his head as if to say, “YOU again.” He was 100 feet away from me when he did that — all the way down in the front row — and as I started making my way toward him, he tried to avoid me by heading up the steps on the far side of the section.

“Hey!” I shouted. “Come here! I want you to see what you did to my nose.”

“No!” he shouted and turned his back. “I’m not interested!”

That was the end of it, at least with him. I later got scolded by a middle-aged/fake-blonde waitress at the back of the section. For some reason, she felt it was her job to regulate how many baseballs I could snag, so after I got a few, she started yelling at me from 50 feet away — and I do mean YELLING.

“You’re here everyday!!!” she hollered. “Give the kids a chance!!!”

Ready to see how many kids there were in the section? Here’s a photo that I took at 5:10pm — exactly *forty* minutes after the stadium had opened:

In the photo above, the kid in the red-and-black jersey snagged five balls — and those were just the ones that I saw. The other two kids down in front also got several balls apiece. In fact, by the time the waitress started nagging me, they’d already gotten a bunch of balls. Why was she so upset? The kids were in front. I was in back. They were getting toss-ups. I was chasing home runs. Everyone was happy.

Well, almost everyone.

Some guy who was about 8-foot-30 eventually marched down the steps and stood right in front of me. He was there to catch baseballs and, I gathered, to prevent me from catching any more. Well, after two home runs sailed directly over his glove and into mine, he decided to complain. He gave me a speech about how I was taking the joy out of it for everyone, and how I should give other people a chance, and blah blah blah, so I offered him a baseball. And he accepted it with a scowl on his face. And then he left.

Within the next few minutes, I gave two more baseballs away — not because some lunatic waitress was demanding it, but because it seemed appropriate at the time. I handed one to a very little kid who had just wandered down to the front row, and I tossed the other to a grown man who’d had it knocked out of his glove by another fan. Of course the waitress didn’t notice.

As for the balls that I snagged, the first nine were all home runs by the Nationals, and I only know who hit the first one:

1) Rick Ankiel; I picked it up in the seats
2) caught on the fly
3) caught on the fly
4) caught on the fly
5) landed on the staircase next to the batter’s eye
6) caught on the fly after it sailed right over the tall guy’s glove
7) caught on the fly near the bullpen
8) deflected off another fan’s glove; I picked it up in the seats
9) caught on the fly by reaching far over the plexiglass wall alongside the batter’s eye

Just before the Nationals finished hitting, I used my glove trick to snag my 10th ball of the day from the gap behind the outfield wall. And then things went dead.

I went to right field when Joey Votto and Jay Bruce were in the cage. I had endless room to run…

…but there wasn’t a single home run that landed there.

Then, when a bunch of righties started hitting in the next group, I moved to the empty seats behind the left field bullpen:

The day before, the Reds must’ve hit a dozen balls there, but when I decided to give it a shot…

Nothing.

I didn’t snag a single baseball during the entire Reds’ portion of batting practice. I seriously have no idea what was going on, but I made up for it at the 3rd base dugout when BP concluded. Billy Hatcher tossed me a ball. Then a ballboy (who hadn’t seen me get one from Hatcher) tossed one to me. And then some random Reds employee (who was dressed nicely and had some type of media credential dangling from his belt) tossed me another. The ballboy saw me get that one, so I shrugged.

“Give it to kid,” he suggested politely.

“I absolutely will,” I said. And I did. At the end of the night, when I was heading out of the stadium, I stood and waited in the concourse for several minutes until I saw a little kid with an empty glove. That’s who got the ball. I would’ve given it away immediately, but when BP ended, it was starting to rain, so the seats were nearly empty. There were only two other kids behind the dugout, one of whom was the kid who’d gotten (at least) five balls in left-center field, and the other had just gotten a ball. Sometimes there are 1,000 kids and only a few dozen baseballs to go around. Yesterday it felt like those numbers were reversed.

Look who I ran into at the dugout:

In the photo above, that’s me on the right (in case you can’t tell) and Avi Miller on the left. Avi is a regular at Camden Yards, and he’s awesome. ‘Nuff said.

Look who else I ran into there:

Do you remember when I was filmed by a local news station on 5/11/11 at Camden Yards? Well, in the photo above, the guy on the right is the one who put it all together. His name is Gregg Mace, and the young man on the left is his son Kyle. Despite not wearing a glove, Kyle ended up snagging a Brandon Phillips foul ball during the game. Very impressive.

I had some time to kill after BP, so I wandered up to the upper deck. This was the view from the last row in the outermost section in right field:

In the photo above, that’s Avi taking a photo of me. He decided to come along, just because.

This was the view to my right:

Here’s what the concourse looks like in the upper deck:

I was planning to head downstairs to meet a childhood friend, but he hadn’t yet arrived at the stadium, and I was hungry, and I noticed that there was a Shake Shack (with a not-terribly-long line), and look what happened:

I got a double-cheeseburger, an order of fries, and a vanilla milkshake. (And a bottle of water.) Not all that healthy. But hey, I shared my fries and shake with Avi, and of course I ate that insanely healthy Korean lunch, so it’s all good.

This was the scene when I made it back down to the 100 Level:

By that point, I had said goodbye to Avi and met up with my childhood friend. You’ll see a photo of us in a bit, but first, here’s a shot of Todd Frazier signing autographs:

I got Frazier to sign a ticket that I’d found the day before:

The game was delayed 32 minutes at the start. I didn’t mind because it gave me more time to catch up with my friend. His name is David Sterrett. Here we are:

David and I went to school together from 1st through 5th grade. Here’s some proof in the form of our 1st-grade class photo:

We’ve seen each other plenty of times since then, but it’s still special whenever we get together. David grew up in New York City, but now lives in Virginia. According to his Twitter page, he’s “an attorney with an interest in real estate investing as a hobby,” so basically, if you want to snag baseballs, follow me, and if you want to get rich, follow him. (If you want to see all my other class photos, click here and scroll down through the years.)

I’d started the day with a season total of 785 baseballs, so the 13 that I’d snagged before the game raised that number to 798. I’d been hoping to snag a couple more during the game itself, but there weren’t any foul balls near me, and I didn’t even bother going for 3rd-out balls — but no big deal. I figured I’d reach the milestone soon enough. That said, I still wandered down behind the Reds’ dugout in the bottom of the 9th. This was my view:

If nothing else, I was hoping to get a ball from Ed Rapuano, the home plate umpire, when he walked off the field. As it turned out, I got a whole lot more. Check it out:

I snagged two baseballs at the dugout AND a Joey Votto wristband. How effin’ awesome is that?! (Votto wears number 19.) The second ball, pictured above on the right, was randomly tossed onto the dugout roof from below. I didn’t see who tossed it, and I didn’t even see it coming. Another fan standing on my right (who already had a ball) said, “Hey, there’s a baseball,” and when I turned around and looked to my left, I saw it roll off the dugout roof and plop down into the empty front row. THAT was my 800th ball of the season.

As for the wristband, I really didn’t do anything special to get it. For some reason, Votto was lingering near the top step of the dugout. I couldn’t see his hands, but it appeared that he was struggling to take something off. I assumed it was his batting gloves, so I asked for them. Moments later, something red came flying up from below, and I darted to my left to catch it. (There wasn’t anyone standing on my left, so it’s not like I robbed anyone. I just wanted to catch it before it hit the wet/dirty ground.) After I snagged it, it took me a moment to realize what it was, and as you can imagine, I was pretty excited.

I’ve only gotten one other wristband in my life, and it’s not nearly as nice. It was given to me by Jermaine Allensworth at Comiskey Park in 1998, and as you can see in this photo of it, his uniform number (46) was merely scribbled onto the Nike logo. (Click here to see other “bonus items” that I’ve snagged over the years.)

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 15 baseballs at this game (11 pictured here because I gave 4 away)

• 6 home runs caught on the fly during BP

• 800 balls in 93 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.

• 754 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 279 consecutive games with two or more balls

• 3 consecutive games with 15 or more balls

• 5,462 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)

• $106.80 raised at this game

• $5,696.00 raised this season

Want to see a few more photos?

One of the balls I snagged during BP has a faint bat imprint on it. I think it’s the TPX logo. What do you think? Here it is:

Another ball that I snagged has three funky things happening. Check it out below and then I’ll explain:

First, the “practice” logo is off-center. Second, the stitch holes are being tugged to shreds. And third, there are two little crooked reddish brown lines on the ball (near the top of the photo). Those were there when I snagged it. Could they have been drawn on the ball by someone? I can’t imagine what might’ve caused such a bizarre marking.

Now here’s the coolest thing of all…

You know how I’ve been taking photos of baseballs in black light and looking at the invisible ink stamps? Well, yesterday, two of the balls had identical stamps! See for yourself:

As I’ve mentioned on my blog before (and in The Baseball), each employee at the Rawlings factory who stitches baseballs has his/her own serial number that gets stamped onto the balls with invisible ink. (It’s a quality control method.) The fact that these two balls have the same stamp means that the same employee stitched them. You might not realize it, but that’s very unusual. In fact, I challenge you to snag two balls in one day that were stitched by the same person in Costa Rica. Bet you can’t do it…

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