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

15 Comments

A bat? WOW. I’ve heard some great things about Jack.

I was at Progressive last year, it was beautiful.

Time Out. Did you hear the Giants claimed Heath Bell off of waivers? Time In:

Looks like that was a pretty successful Watch with Zack game. And it’s pretty cool that you saw the set for the Avengers movie. I do have another question. In 1999, you filed a segment for FOX sports at the coliseum where you taught this kid how to snag baseballs. (How did you mannage 14 in Oakland?) He snagged 4 and you snagged 14, which was a record for you at the time. Would you conisder this a Watch with Zack game even though you hadn’t officially started the business yet?

As someone who has ” ballhawked” Oakland several times this year I can tell you Since 1999 Oakland alot has changed — weekday games only open 1.5 hours before game time ( zero A’s practice is seen by the public ) and 0 % ball retrievers are allowed – makes everything a little more challenging .. you still planning to hit Oakland this year Zack ?

Spencer S,
I can agree with you on most of the thing you said. The gate openg times are true and ball retrievers are not allowed, click here for my interesting story about a ball-retrieving experience: http://wp.me/p1AVZv-71/ But I do have to say, due to the A’s poor defense this year, Bob Melvin has been having the infielders and pitcher take fielding practive before 75% of the games. An batting practice has been hapening on the field lately, you just have to go to the right games. Monday, Tuesday, and Friday games are the best times to catch BP. So Zack has planned his trip to Oakland on FRIDAY September 2nd well.

Very true Nick ..
I only go to A’s games during the week for that very reason – there 30 minutes before the gates opened every time : )))) nothing like being the first in a stadium )

Zach, what stadium is the best for ballhawkers?
http://www.yossif.mlblogs.com (The Rays Rant)

are u go 2 playoff games this year

Do the numbers on the bat mean that it is a 34.5 inches long and 32.5 oz heavy bat? So that would be a drop of -2?
Pretty long and heavy, isn’t it? Or is this a commonly used bat size in the Major Leagues?

Zack, I want to clarify two things for your readers since I am a lifelong M’s fan–even during the Bob Stinson and Rupert Jones days. I have to question the authenticity of the Smoak bat. It looks like there are a lot of ball marks on it as though he has actually hit a ball in the past five months which makes me wonder if it is actually his. And then you mentioned that Jack Z gave it away. I think it was an imposter because he normally just gives away good young talent and keeps the broken worn out things for himself.

Tell me when you’ll be at PNC again. I’ll track you down then.

I think the BP stamp and the Enron Field logo are both pretty disgusting. But the BP stamp is worse. MLB needs to keep advertisements off of the equipment and uniforms. Jack Zduriencik is awesome. Before he came on board I had never met a GM before. But Tim, Kellan and I have met Jack roughly 10 million times. Interestingly, he never remembers us (or gives us baseball bats). Still, he is an awesome guy and despite the Mariners troubles, I think he will ultimately prove to be a quality GM for the Mariners. It was great to see you with M’s fans at this game. But I have to admit that it was painful to see young M’s fans wearing Indians gear with the Mariners in the house. I think changing clothes to match the team on the field is a much more effective tool for adult ballhawks. Tim has never worn anything but Mariners gear (and as long as I have a say in it he never will) and he regularly gets toss ups from the other teams…well, except the Giants. Anyway, my point is that I think M&M could have got those exact same Indians toss ups while wearing their outstanding Mariners jerseys.

Zack –

Did Rawlings make those two balls that were given to you?

Ken

STEVE-
Much respect for your lifelong Mariners fan-status. Keep up the good work. While it certainly seems like you are joking at Smoak’s expense, I figured I’d throw in that Smoak personally gave my Dad one of his bats a couple years ago (while he was still on the Rangers), and it too was a Louisville Slugger S376 model. Interestingly, it was ash, not an M9 maple. Also, I think you’re mixing up Jack Z. with Bavasi (hey, remember Carlos Silva!). Jack did a great job unloading Bedard (effective when healthy, but almost always hurt) in exchange for Trayvon Robinson. While I was sad to see Fister go, Casper Wells looks like a quality pick up too.

JACOB DANOVITCH-
I know, pretty awesome, and yeah, that stadium is one of the best.

NICK BADDERS-
Yeah, I heard about that — proof that he’s better than Brian Wilson. Good question about the 14 in Oakland. The answer is that we got inside the stadium earlier than the general public. I guess it was sort of Watch With Zack-like, but we didn’t spend the actual game game together. We just hung out during BP.

SPENCER S-
Yup, still planning to be there on September 2nd…

YOSSIF-
Just saw this comment from you on a newer entry, so I answered you there.

BENNY-
Yes, but I’m not yet sure when or where.

TOBIAS-
I’m not sure. I never claimed to be a bat expert. :-)

PSU532-
Oh. Cool, thanks. I remembered hearing about it from a friend, but I couldn’t remember when that was. It felt like a long time ago, so I assumed it was last year.

STEVE-
Zing!!!

NY BISONS-
Definitely not until next year, and maybe not even then. I have no idea at this point.

COOK & SON-
You might be right about the Mariners/Indians gear, but we wanted to use every possible trick to snag as many balls as possible. C’mon, you can’t argue with that, though I respect your pain.

KEN-
Yeah.

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