August 2011

8/17/11 at Nationals Park

This was one of those days when everything went right — or at least almost everything. I snagged so many balls during batting practice that I briefly lost count, and so many of these balls were home runs that I couldn’t keep track of who was hitting them. The worst thing about the day was that no one was with me to film or photograph the action.

That said, let’s start here:

That was my view for most of BP, and I snagged half a dozen balls within the first 15 minutes:

1) a home run that landed near me in the seats
2) a toss-up from Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus
3) a home run by Rick Ankiel that I caught on the fly
4) another home run that I caught on the fly
5) yet another home run that I caught on the fly
6) yet another additional home run that I caught on the fly

Sorry to be blowing through this so quickly, but (a) I can’t remember all the details of every snag and (b) if I did, it would take me all day to blog about it. I will say, though, that the Rick Ankiel homer was one of the best catches that I’ve made all season. I was in the 3rd row when he hit it, and believe me, I was surprised that a lefty hit the ball so far to the opposite field. As soon he connected, I could tell that it was going to sail over my head and tail away from me, so I darted about 10 feet to my right, then climbed back over a row, moved a bit more to my right, climbed back over another row, and at the very last second, I lunged high over my head and to the right for a back-handed catch in the tip of my glove. Some of my home run catches were easy, others (like this one) required a bit of effort, and beyond that, I really can’t remember which ball was which.

For the record, there were four other kids in the entire section.

“Have you gotten a ball yet today?” I asked one of them.

“No, but that’s okay,” he said, “I’ve gotten, like, a hundred.”

I offered a ball to another kid, who told me that he’d already snagged two. And so on. Fifteen minutes into BP, every kid around me had snagged multiple baseballs, except for the one boy who claimed triple digits. This is important. While I was snagging just about every homer that reached the seats, the kids were cleaning up in the front and getting toss-ups from the players. No one was upset with me. In fact, several parents actually thanked me for offering to hook up their kids.

Now that you know that, take a look at the following photo. It shows the seats behind me, and more importantly, it shows the most despicable security guard of all time. He’s the guy wearing yellow:

Before I tell you what he did, you need to know that the kid pictured above was not standing there when this happened. He was down in front. At the time of this incident, there was NO ONE behind me.

Okay, ready to hear what the guard did?

Someone on the Nationals (probably Michael Morse, if I had to guess) launched a colossal homer in my direction. The ball cleared the regular rows of seats and landed near one of the tables up above. (You can’t see the tables in the photo above, so just know this: the back of the section is like a terrace/restaurant, where people can sit and eat. Of course, there was no one there at the time because it was only 4:50pm.) I paused for a moment to see where the ball was going to end up. I thought it might ricochet all the way back down to me — that happens sometimes when there’s lots of concrete and flat surfaces — but instead the ball settled underneath one of the tables. At that point, I started running up the steps, and when I reached the row of tables where the ball was, I ran to my right. Well, wouldn’t you know it…the security guard decided to race me for the ball, and he came charging at me from the right. I thought he was just messing with me at first and making it look like he was gonna rob me, so I kept running, and we both arrived at the ball at the same time. When I bent down to reach for it, he also bent down and SLAMMED into me. More specifically, his left elbow whacked me on the nose. And he took the ball. And he wouldn’t give it back.

I was shocked and then furious. I’ve been to an awful lot of games, and I know this: stadium employees are not allowed to keep baseballs that enter the seats, especially not when there are fans in the seats, and ESPECIALLY not when doing so injures the fans. It was truly unbelievable, and my nose was throbbing. When I told the guard (who was about 6-foot-5) that what he did was completely unacceptable, his response went as follows:

“You wanna make a scene? You know you ain’t even supposed to be in this section without a ticket for here.”

That was simply not true. The Red Porch seats are open to everyone during batting practice. It didn’t use to be like that, but now it is.

When I complained further, he simply said, “Man, how many balls you got today?”

“That’s not the point!!” I yelled. “You just hit me in the face with your elbow!!”

“Okay, now you a liar,” he said. “I used to play football. If I’da hitchoo with my elbow, you’d still be on the floor. I *might* have hitchoo with my hand.”

We argued for a solid minute after that. He knew he was wrong because he handed me the ball and seemed to be slightly apologetic. If BP wasn’t in progress, I would’ve stormed off and demanded to speak to the head of security. I nearly did it anyway. I was SO ANGRY about what had happened. You seriously have no idea. I felt like I could’ve put my fist through a brick wall.

<deep breath>

That was my 7th ball of the day. My 8th was a homer that came right to me. My 9th was a deep homer that landed 20 feet behind me in a seat. My 10th and 11th were homers that I caught on the fly. My 12th was a homer that landed near the tables and bounced down to me. Nationals Park hadn’t even been open for an hour; I was already thinking about reaching the 20-ball plateau.

When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I hurried into the right field seats and found two baseballs. (I learned later, while slicing-n-dicing my stats, that the second of these two “Easter eggs” was the 200th ball that I’d ever snagged at Nationals Park.) Then, with the Reds just getting their portion of BP underway, I got a toss-up from Homer Bailey and headed back to left-center field.

There were lots of ball in the bullpen…

…but I didn’t have the guts to snag any of them. Instead, I used my glove trick to get the ball in the following photo. Look closely and you’ll see it poking out below a crossbar in the gap:

As soon as I reeled it in, I handed it to the nearest kid, whose father had kindly stepped aside to let me take a shot at it. The father had two little boys with him, so I asked if they’d each gotten baseballs.

“Yes,” he said, “but I’m still trying to get another for my daughter. She’s not here today.”

When I heard that, I reached into my backpack and pulled out the newest ball and gave it to him.

“Are you sure?!” he asked. “You really don’t have to do that.”

“It’s my pleasure,” I said. “Enjoy.”

Of course the guard didn’t see me give those balls away, nor did most other fans in the section, but that’s just how it goes.

My 17th ball of the day was thrown by Travis Wood. My 18th was tossed by Aroldis Chapman. (I was psyched to get one from him.) My 19th was tossed by Bill Bray, and less than a minute later, I took this photo of him. He’s kind of hidden behind Bronson Arroyo:

Yes, that’s why I took that photo — to show Bill Bray.

I wish I had a dramatic story about how I got my 20th ball of the day. But I don’t. Instead I can only report that it was thrown by Sam LeCure in left-center field. But hey, I’ll take it. This was only the 12th time in my life that I’d snagged 20 balls at one game. And I wasn’t done! My 21st ball was a home run that I caught on the fly. Then, when BP ended, I raced to the 3rd base dugout and got two more balls tossed to me. (Crazy, no?) The first came from coach Billy Hatcher, and the second came from a ballboy. I stood on a chair to get Hatcher’s attention and took the following photo moments after he hooked me up:

See all those kids in the front row? They all got baseballs. Hatcher kept reaching into the basket and pulling out balls and tossing them left and right. It was a spectacular display of generosity. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen more baseballs end up in the crowd in one day than I did at this game. Batting practice resembled the Home Run Derby, and the players were friendly from start to finish. I know it looks bad when I snag so many balls because the assumption is that for every ball I get, there’s a weeping child out there who must’ve been deprived (or knocked over) in the process, but that wasn’t the case at all.

Check out the following four-part photo of some interesting balls that I snagged:

On the upper left, there are some unusual streaks on the sweet spot. On the upper right, there’s a big/pretty/dirty scuff. And on the lower left and right, there are two variations of “practice” balls. Part of the reason why there were so many home runs yesterday is that the Nationals are no longer using those crappy Training balls. Now, for the first time in years, when their batters make solid contact, the balls have an excellent chance to leave the yard.

Before the game, I was hanging out on the 3rd base side of home plate when I noticed some activity near the left field warning track. This was my view as I cut through the seats…

…and soon after I arrived, I got a ball thrown to me. I think it came from bullpen catcher Mike Stefanski, but I’m not sure.

Now, as for my nose, I didn’t realize until the 2nd inning that it had a small bruise. Check it out in the following photo:

See it there on the bridge of my nose? Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, this is a very minor boo-boo. The point is: the security guard whacked me hard enough to leave a mark — and it still hurts. During the game, I talked to one of the heads of stadium security and complained. I doubt anything will come of it, but it definitely felt good to vent my frustrations to the boss of the yellow-shirted goon.

This was my view during the game.

It was a good foul ball spot for left-handed batters, but unfortunately, of the 18 guys in the starting lineups, only four were lefties: Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Rick Ankiel, and Danny Espinosa.

Despite the lack of foul ball opportunities, the game was highly entertaining. Johnny Cueto pitched eight scoreless innings before giving up a leadoff homer to Ryan Zimmerman in the ninth. The Reds had been holding at 2-0 lead at that point, so the homer made it a one-run game. Francisco Cordero came in for the save and loaded the bases with one out. Then Wilson Ramos stepped to the plate, swung at the first pitch, and grounded into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play. I listened to talk radio during the 20-minute drive back to my family’s place here in Greenbelt, MD, and all the callers were pissed off. They were blasting Ramos for not being patient, but you know what? If he’d gotten a hit, they would’ve been praising him for being aggressive. People are dumb. Ramos’s approach was solid; he just didn’t achieve the desired result. It’s baseball. These things happen. Perhaps Davey Johnson, the Nationals manager, should be getting blasted for not calling a suicide squeeze.

After the final out, I got my 25th ball of the day from home plate umpire Ed Hickox — and then gave two more balls away to kids on my way out of the stadium.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 25 baseballs at this game (21 pictured here because I gave 4 away)

• 8 home runs caught on the fly during BP

• 785 balls in 92 games this season = 8.53 balls per game.

• 753 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 278 consecutive games with two or more balls

• 12 lifetime games with 20 or more balls

• 5,447 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)

• $178.00 raised at this game

• $5,589.20 raised this season

Finally, of the twenty-one balls that I kept, seven have invisible ink stamps, some more distinct than others. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light:

8/16/11 at Nationals Park

People often ask how the hell I can afford to travel to so many games. One of the answers is that I stay with friends and family whenever possible, and right now, I’m with family in Greenbelt, MD. Here they are:

In the photo above, the guy in the striped shirt is my half-brother’s husband Barry. (They got legally married in California just before Prop 8 passed in 2008, and BTW, this is not the same half-brother that was with me on 8/1/11 at Citi Field. I have two half-brothers and a half-sister.) The woman on the left is his sister Robin, and the young man on the right is her son Evan.

Barry and Evan came to Nationals Park with me. Here we are outside the center field gates:

Five days earlier, the Korean filmmaker was planning to get some footage of me during BP at Camden Yards. Of course, the Orioles denied him permission, and I ended up snagging fifteen baseballs. Yesterday, the filmmaker was once again planning to follow me around during BP, and guess what happened? The Nationals said no, and I ended up snagging sixteen baseballs. WHY IS THIS SO DIFFICULT?!?! I truly don’t get it.

Anyway…

When the stadium opened, I headed to the 2nd deck in right field and got Tom Gorzelanny to throw me my 1st ball of the day. Here it is:

Then I headed to the “Red Porch” seats in left-center and started piling up the numbers. My first ball out there was retrieved from the gap behind the outfield wall by a groundskeeper. The groundskeeper then handed it to a security guard in the front row, and the guard then handed it to me — kind of cheap, but it counts. My next ball was the opposite of cheap. While standing in the front row, I saw a right-handed batter (not sure who) crush a deep drive in my direction. I could tell right away that the ball was going to carry over my head, so I climbed back over a row. Then another row. And another row. At the last second, I turned back toward the field, and when I looked up, the ball came right to me for an easy catch. (I gave that ball to the nearest kid.) My 4th ball of the day was a ground-rule double. (I gave that one away too.) My 5th ball was tossed by Livan Hernandez, who now officially recognizes me. (“How many balls have I given you this year?” he asked before tossing it. “You’ve thrown me a few,” I said, “but it’s a brand new day, baby!” I felt really stupid saying that, but it worked. Livan is the best.) My 6th ball was thrown by some random strength-coach-type-guy. Here’s a photo of him in the outfield:

My 7th ball was a homer that I caught on the fly. (Nothing fancy about that one.) My 8th ball was tossed from the bullpen by a security guard. (There were half a dozen balls there, and he chucked them all into the crowd.) My 9th ball was another homer that I caught on the fly. (I was in the front row and lunged far to my left for it, snagging it right above the head of a little girl who hadn’t seen it coming. I then gave the ball to her.)

When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I raced into the right field stands (on the lower level) and found two baseballs sitting in the seats.

Barry and Evan had no interest in snagging baseballs. They just followed me around and sat in the shade:

My 12th ball of the day was tossed by Sam LeCure. Then I headed back to left field and used my glove trick to snag a ball from the bullpen. The following photo shows two baseballs sitting there; I got the one that was closer to the stands:

When BP was about to end, I headed to the 3rd base dugout and got two balls tossed to me — my 14th and 15th of the day. The first came from Billy Hatcher. The second came from an equipment guy who was dumping the balls into a couple of zippered bags.

Before the game, I noticed that Ramon Hernandez was playing catch in left field with bullpen coach Juan Lopez. I headed out there, and when they finished, Lopez threw me the ball. Here’s a very exciting photograph that I took of them, less than a minute later:

Barry and Evan and I sat along the left field foul line until the 7th inning stretch. Then they left and I moved here:

I didn’t snag any balls during or after the game.

Final score: Nationals 6, Reds 4.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 16 baseballs at this game (13 pictured here because I gave 3 away)

• 760 balls in 91 games this season = 8.35 balls per game.

• 752 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 5,422 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)

• $113.92 raised at this game

• $5,411.20 raised this season

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

8/13/11 at Yankee Stadium

It was a VERY busy day, and I’m going to tell the story quickly, so get ready…

You know about the Korean documentary that I’m being filmed for? Well, the filmmaker (whose name is James) showed up at my apartment at 9am and got footage of just about everything. Here he is filming me while I brushed my teeth:

(This is going to be a very exciting documentary.)

Two hours later, we went to my mom’s place. Here she is being interviewed about me:

James got lots of footage there. It’s where I store most of my baseballs.

The Yankees had a 4:10pm game against the Rays, so James and I left for the stadium at 12:30pm. Weeks earlier, he had requested permission to film at Yankee Stadium — and he kind of got it. But not in writing. So he didn’t bring his big camera. Instead, we stopped at a camera store along the way, where he spent $800 for a small HD video camera. The plan was to secretly get some footage of me during BP and then wait to use it until the Yankees gave full/official permission in writing. Here’s James outside the stadium with his new camera:

I had bought my ticket several days earlier on StubHub for $30. James, unfortunately, never received a media credential from the Yankees, so he had to buy a ticket in person. When we asked for “the cheapest ticket in the stadium,” we were told that it would cost $100. James forked over the money and ended up with a ticket in straight-away left field on the lower level. More on this in a bit.

As for batting practice, here’s all you need to know:

The place was PACKED!!!
And I was glad to avoid getting shut out.

My first ball of the day was thrown by Nick Swisher in right field. My second ball was an Eduardo Nunez homer that I caught on the fly in left field (after running to my left and climbing down over a row of seats). My third ball was tossed from the left field bullpen by Jake McGee. And that was it for BP. James missed all of it because he was being hassled about his camera and was told that he wasn’t allowed to film. Look how small his camera was — and look how crowded it was during the game:

I forgot to mention that I got two more balls tossed to me from the left field bullpen. The first came from Rays bullpen catcher Scott Cursi at around 3:45pm. The second came from Jeremy Hellickson, the starting pitcher, after he used it to warm up.

As for the “cheapest ticket” issue, here’s a photo that I took during the game:

It shows a whole bunch of empty seats at the very back of the upper deck in deep right field. Obviously those seats were unsold, so why didn’t the Yankees sell one to James when we asked for THE CHEAPEST TICKET IN THE STADIUM?! Nice scam. Way to go, Yankees.

James and I left after a couple innings because there was some place else that we needed to be. More on that after the stats…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 744 balls in 90 games this season = 8.27 balls per game.

• 751 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 5,406 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

• $5,297.28 raised this season

Okay, so, what was so important that I left Yankee Stadium early? Three words: my writing group. I had to be at my friend Sunita’s apartment by 6:45pm, and James came along with his big camera. Here he is in the subway:

Over the course of the day, this was the third time that we were in the subway. We also took two cabs and rode the bus once.

Sunita lives in a big/fancy building with a 40th-floor roof deck. At the start of the meeting, a few of us went upstairs to have a look. Here’s James filming in the distance:

We were all going to hang out up there, but it started drizzling so we held the meeting in Sunita’s apartment (on the 20th floor). Here’s a photo that I took during the writing hour:

In the photo above, you can only see half the people who actually attended the meeting. The group has been around for nine years. There are more than 400 folks on the email list. We get fairly big crowds.

That was pretty much it. James and I left at around midnight, so I was basically filmed on and off for 15 hours. He got shots of me riding the subway, eating pizza, talking on the phone, packing up my stuff for the game, walking down the street, hugging my mom, etc. I’m surprised he didn’t come to the bathroom with me every time I needed to take a leak — not that I’m offering.

8/12/11 at Yankee Stadium

It was 3pm when Jona decided to join me for this game. By that point, the cheapest ticket on StubHub was $57 (including the wonderful fees), and when we got to the stadium, the cheapest ticket there was $60. I already had a ticket for myself, so I made a sign for her and hoped for the best. Here she is with it:

Shortly before the gates opened, someone offered her a $125 ticket for fifty bucks. In most other stadiums, a ticket that expensive would have you sitting IN the dugout, but at Yankee Stadium, it pretty much gets you into the bathroom. In the upper deck. So she declined the offer.

She was still looking for a ticket when I snagged my first ball of the day — a toss-up in left field from Yankees reliever Hector Noesi. Here’s a photo of the ball with Noesi in the background:

This was somewhat of a milestone ball for me because it extended my consecutive games streak to 750. (For those who don’t know, I’ve snagged at least one ball at every game I’ve attended since September 10, 1993 — a streak that now stands at 750.)

My 2nd ball of the day was a home run by Francisco Cervelli. When he first connected, it appeared that the ball was heading about 25 feet to my left, so I started running and briefly took my eye off it in order to focus on my path. When I looked back up, the ball was hooking to the right of where I’d expected it to land, so I had to change directions. Ultimately, the ball fell a bit short of my row, so I reached down and made a one-handed catch over some empty seats. Jona had just walked into the section moments earlier — she got a good deal on a ticket with a $48 face value — so she saw me make the grab.

When the Rays took the field, I moved to foul territory and got two balls thrown to me. The first came from Reid Brignac, who was about 150 feet away. He was at shortstop, I was 20 rows back in shallow left field, and his throw was right on the money. The second ball was tossed by Jeff Niemann, who managed to airmail me from half the distance. Here I am waving my arms at him…

…and here’s the ball sailing over my head:

In the photo above, I was already running up the stairs and looking at the seats where the ball was going to land; once I knew that I wasn’t going to catch it on the fly, I wanted to get as close to it as possible.

Back in straight-away left field, I had a funny exchange with James Shields. For some reason, he didn’t notice that Scott Cursi had walked behind him to retrieve a ball, so when I shouted, “Scott!” Shields turned around and looked at me and said, “My name is James.”

“I know who you are,” I told him. “I was just trying to get Scott’s attention.”

“My name isn’t Scott,” he said with a puzzled look on his face.

At first I thought he was kidding, but he truly had no idea what was going on, so I explained (with more detail) that I was trying to get the attention of Scott Cursi, the bullpen catcher.

Shields then tried to get Cursi’s attention, but by that point, Cursi had already thrown the ball back to the bucket in shallow center field — so when Shields went to get him, Cursi looked over at me with a “WTF” expression.

“No!” I shouted at Shields, who was now thoroughly confused. “I wanted to get Scott’s attention because he had a ball.”

“You want a ball?” asked Shields.

“Well, yeah,” I said, holding my glove just high enough for him to see it above the wall. “If you happen to get a hold of one, that’d be cool.”

Two minutes later, the batter hit a line drive that rolled into left-center field. Shields walked a bit out of his way to retrieve it and then headed back in my direction and threw it to me. Fun stuff. (One possible reason for all the confusion is that there *is* another pitcher named Scot Shields.)

My 6th ball of the day happened to be the 5,400th ball of my life. It was tossed by Joel Peralta in straight-away left field, and soon after I caught it, I posed with it — with my friend Ben Weil:

Yep, we’re dweebs.

Just before the game started, I got my 7th and final ball of the day from Rays coach Stan Boroski. I was standing next to the bullpen, he was walking around inside the bullpen, and I got his attention. Nothing fancy about it.

Okay…

So, you know how I recently retook my “stadium number sign photo” at Camden Yards? I wrote about it in my previous entry, so if you have no idea what I’m talking about, read that entry and then come back. Are you with me? Good. I finally got around to retaking my Yankee Stadium photo. Here’s what I came up with:

Ben took that photo of me in the second inning. Soon after, he and Jona and I left the stadium. She didn’t care about the game and simply wanted to hang out. I cared very much about the game but had to get home. And as for Ben? Let’s just say that my facial expression in the photo above speaks for an awful lot of people.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 7 baseballs at this game (pictured on the right)

• 739 balls in 89 games this season = 8.3 balls per game.

• 750 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 155 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 26 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls

• 5,401 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)

• $49.84 raised at this game

• $5,261.68 raised this season

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

8/11/11 at Camden Yards

I snagged 15 balls before this game started, and you know what? They all felt worthless by the end of the night. During batting practice, I put on a snagging clinic of such epic proportions that two of my fellow ballhawks actually bowed down in a “we’re not worthy” pose. Everything (and I mean EVERYthing) went right, but when things mattered most, I pissed it all away. I truly can’t believe how stupid/moronic/idiotic I am, and if I weren’t going for 1,000 balls this season, I’d probably skip the next month of games and get as far away from this cruel sport as possible.

Before I entered the stadium, I made a deal with another ballhawk named Tim Anderson involving potential “Easter eggs” in left field. You see, Tim is half my age and happens to be very fast and athletic; even if I didn’t have lingering pain from my June 3rd ankle sprain, he’d still beat me in a race. The Orioles were giving away Jake Arrieta T-shirts, so the deal was that I’d give him mine in exchange for a head start toward the left field seats. As a result, I found a ball sitting in the front row…

…and then I found another one here:

Take a closer look at that ball:

Pretty cool, huh?

Two minutes later, Tim (and a few others) arrived and told me that he’d found a ball in the right field seats. Here he is standing behind me with his arms folded:

My 3rd ball of the day was a slicer hit by Chris Davis into the totally empty seats along the left field foul line. I ran all the way over from straight-away left field and found it in the front row. Then I hurried back to straight-away left field and caught three J.J. Hardy homers on the fly.

When the White Sox took the field, Zach Stewart played catch in deep left field with bullpen coach Juan Nieves. When they finished throwing, they stood around and talked…

…and when they finished talking, Nieves flipped me the ball.

“Give it to a kid,” he suggested, even though there weren’t any kids around.

So I did. Sort of. The ball that Nieves gave me was unusually dirty and rubbed with mud…

…so I kept that one for myself and gave a much cleaner ball to the nearest/smallest kid.

My 8th ball of the day was thrown by Alejandro De Aza. I was in the front row along the left field foul line. He was about about 100 feet away in straight-away left field. As soon as I caught it, I once again handed it to the nearest kid.

The left field seats were pretty crowded by that point…

…but that didn’t seem to slow me down. Jake Peavy tossed me a ball with a beautifully smudged MLB logo…

…and then I snagged three more home runs…

The first was hit by a right-handed batter on the White Sox. Several fans behind me reached for it and collectively dropped it, and it bounced *right* to me. My friend Ben Weil was right in the thick of it, and when he saw me get the ball, he shouted, “SERIOUSLY?!”

The second homer was hit by Adam Dunn. I caught it on the fly in the tip of my glove after making a mid-row leap.

The third was hit by Carlos Quentin. It landed near me in the seats next to the Orioles’ bullpen and luckily didn’t ricochet far.

My 13th ball of the day was a random, no-look toss-up by Jesse Crain. With his back to the stands, he flipped it high over his shoulder. I was in the 4th row, and whaddaya know, the ball came right to me. I gave that one to a little girl who’d been trying hard to catch one for the previous 10 minutes.

At the very end of BP, I caught another homer on the fly in deep left-center. I had just raced up the stairs to chase another home run. I failed to snag that one, but then as soon as I turned around, the batter (not sure who) blasted another one right to me. I’m telling you, luck was on my side.

After BP, I got Gavin Floyd to sign my ticket:

As he handed it back to me, he smiled and said, “No fly balls today.” Very cool that he remembered our exchange from the previous game.

Approximately 15 minutes later, I got my final ball of the day from Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair. There had been several balls sitting in the bullpen — home runs that had landed there during BP — and when Adair made it out there, he tossed them into the stands.

Now, you know how I’ve been taking photos with numbered signs at various stadiums this season? Here’s a collage of the first 12. I’m planning to hit up all 30 stadiums this year, and starting with the 3rd one that I visited, I’ve been making different faces to show how I feel about each place. Camden Yards was No. 2, and if you look at my face in the collage, you can see that I was smiling generically. That’s no way to represent THE best stadium in the Major Leagues (or at least one of the best stadiums), so I decided to re-take the photo. Here’s what I came up with:

Just so you know, I picked that photo from many others. Look how many different faces I made (and how much time went into it):

What do you think? Did I pick the best one?

Many thanks to Ben for hangin’ in there while I made love to the camera.

As for the game…oof. It was great for Tim, who cemented his superstar ballhawk status by snagging a home run for the *third* straight day (and making it into SportsCenter‘s Top Ten plays), but it was a true nightmare for me. In the bottom of the 3rd inning, Nick Markakis hit his 100th career home run to the ***EXACT*** spot in the Flag Court where I always stand for left-handed batters — but he hit it on the first pitch of the at-bat, and I literally got there two seconds late. I was actually running out there as he stepped into the batter’s box, and I simply didn’t make it there on time. For some reason, none of my fellow ballhawks were out there. The home run landed at the very back of the Flag Court. All of the fans were at the front. There was truly NO competition, and it would’ve been the easiest catch ever. But no. As I was running out there — and JUST as I entered the Flag Court near the foul pole — Markakis launched the ball over my head. I tried running for it and ended up watching helplessly as it clanked off a garbage can (five feet from where I would’ve been standing) and then (to add insult to injury) bounced back over my head to a gloveless fan who snagged it right where I’d been two seconds earlier. So basically, if I’d gotten there two seconds sooner or later, I would’ve had the ball. FML.

I was so upset at that point that I went here:

I just had to get away.

As for the rest of the game…whatever. I don’t remember anything.

This was my parting photo of the 12 balls that I kept:

I’m a jackass.
The End.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 15 worthless baseballs at this game (twelve pictured above because I gave three away)

• 732 balls in 88 games this season = 8.32 balls per game.

• 749 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 274 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,394 total balls

• 1 inexcusable mistake

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

• $5,211.84 raised this season

8/10/11 at Camden Yards

I only took two photographs during batting practice yesterday. This was the first…

…and this was the second:

In the photo above, the red arrow is pointing at a young fan named Ross, who was technically my Watch With Zack client for the day. I had spent the previous game with him, and as I mentioned in my blog entry about it, he didn’t want any help snagging baseballs.

Yesterday, as it turned out, *I* was the one who could’ve used help during the Orioles’ portion of BP. Despite the fact that the left field seats were nearly empty, I only managed to snag ONE ball — and I got it with my glove trick. It was a home run that landed at the bottom of the staircase between the stands and the Orioles’ bullpen, and because of how the ball was trapped against/below the chain-link fence, it took me five minutes to knock it loose. Ross, meanwhile, grabbed a home run ball in the seats as soon as he ran in, and when the White Sox started warming up, he got a toss-up from bullpen coach Juan Nieves.

When the Orioles cleared the field, I raced over to their dugout on the 1st base side and got a toss-up from a young kid who was wearing the team’s uniform. My friend Tim Anderson later identified him as Vladimir Guerrero’s son.

I salvaged my day when the White Sox came out. I grabbed three home run balls that landed in the left field seats (the fist of which was hit by Alex Rios) and got an unusual toss-up from Gavin Floyd. When he first scanned my section for a worthy recipient, I called out and told him to make us all jump for it.

“You want to jump?” he asked slightly confused.

“Yeah!” I shouted. “Make us work for it! Throw it high into the air!”

Floyd responded by throwing the ball roughly 50 feet high — and nearly straight up. I was in the 2nd row at the time, and unfortunately, the ball sailed 10 rows back where it was gloved by a fellow ballhawk named Matt Hersl.

“Not to HIM!!!” I shouted at Floyd.

“You said you wanted to JUMP for it!” he replied with an amused look on his face.

“Yeah, but *I* wanted to be one of the people who jumped!”

He laughed and shrugged, so I kept shouting…

“That ball wasn’t even in my vicinity!” I said. “I mean, what the hell kind of throw is that?!”

Floyd seemed to be enjoying the whole exchange, and the crowd was getting into it too. I had given my previous ball to the nearest kid, and a bunch of people had noticed, so they weren’t annoyed that I was now shouting for another. Anyway, Floyd got another ball and chucked it skyward. This time it fell short of the stands and landed on the rubberized warning track, just beyond my reach. When the ball bounced up, I lunged for it again and barely missed it. It then bounced again, and I lunged again and barely missed it again. Each time it bounced, it got a little bit closer to the wall, and on the THIRD bounce, I managed to reach over and snatch it with my bare hand. I gave that ball away too.

Right after BP ended, I got my 7th ball of the day at the 3rd base dugout from White Sox bullpen catcher Mark Salas.

Ross hadn’t gotten any balls from the White Sox and was not happy about it. Here we are with our haul:

Just before the singing of the national anthem, I got Brent Morel to sign my ticket…

…and when the game got underway, I headed to right field. Look how empty/beautiful it was out there:

Nick Markakis was sitting on 99 career home runs, so it was great to have lots of room to run. The Flag Court was pretty empty too. The arrow in the following photo is pointing at Ross…

…and if you count seven people to his right, the fan in the orange shirt was another fellow ballhawk named Alex Kopp — so yeah, there was plenty of room to run, but there was still some competition.

Markakis ended up going 1-for-4 with a sacrifice fly, and no, the “1″ was not a homer. (Booo!!)

While Tim was busy catching J.J. Hardy’s first-inning home run, Ross and I spent most of our time going for foul balls behind home plate, and let’s just say that it didn’t go too well. Here’s a photo of Ross from afar:

Ross had more near misses than he could count, and I flat-out misplayed a towering foul-pop-up in the bottom of the 10th inning. It didn’t clank off my glove or anything embarrassing like that. I simply misjudged it and barely overran it at the very last second — and I felt like a complete ass. But let’s not dwell on that. Instead, let me tell you about the exciting/bizarre series of events that took place soon after…

Bottom of the 10th.
Tie game.
One out.
Runner on 1st.
Jason Frasor on the hill.
Nolan Reimold at the plate.

I was standing in the cross-aisle behind home plate, shaded slightly to the first base side, hoping for another foul ball to fly my way. I would’ve preferred to be one section farther over toward first base, but Ross wanted that spot, so I gave it to him. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Reimold absolutely CRUSHED the ball toward left-center field. I knew instantly that it was going to be a home run and that the game was going to end, so while everyone else in the stadium was staring and cheering, I bolted down a nearby staircase to the umpire tunnel. I didn’t even wait to watch the flight of the ball. I just took off. By the time I made it down to the bottom, Reimold was getting mobbed by his teammates, and the umps were about to walk off the field. (It was a “walk-off” homer, after all.) This was my view:

When James Hoye, the home plate umpire, gave all his baseballs to little kids, I took off for the Orioles’ dugout. The seats in the first few rows were packed, so it took quite an effort to get there. By the time I reached the dugout, most of the Orioles players were gone — and that was fine. I didn’t expect anything from them anyway. I was merely hoping to get a ball from one of the relievers or coaches walking in from the bullpen. Instead, all I got, at least initially, was a good view of Reimold getting attacked with shaving cream. Though predictable, it was still fun to watch, and since there wasn’t anything else to do, I switched my camera to “continuous mode” and took a bunch of photos of the aftermath. Here’s the best one:

As you can see, it shows Reimold wiping himself off as the last few relievers (none of whom had baseballs) walked past. Less than a minute later, I noticed three final guys walking across the field from the bullpen — and then I noticed that the guy on the left was holding a ball. When he got closer, I was able to see that he was wearing No. 62, so I pulled out my roster and scanned the “Manager & Coaches” section for his name. Rudy Arias…the bullpen catcher. That’s who it was. There were a bunch of other fans in the front row, and I was sure that they were going to ask for the ball, so I made sure to ask first. Before Arias reached the foul line, I started shouting his first name and waving my arms. He immediately saw me and prepared to throw the ball my way, but before he let it fly, he shouted something at me. I could barely hear what he said, but I could read his lips. It sounded/looked like he was saying “Home run! Home run!” and then he turned around and pointed toward the bullpen. Then he threw the ball to me, and I made the catch. My first thought was, “COULD IT BE?!?!” I mean, did Rudy Arias seriously throw me a walk-off home run ball? Reimold was standing right in front of him when he threw it; why wouldn’t Arias have given it to him instead? If Arias was going to give the ball to a fan, why wouldn’t he have tossed it into the crowd near the bullpen. Maybe Arias was joking? Maybe it was an elaborate hoax concocted by Avi Miller and Jeremy Guthrie? And okay, so what if it WAS the actual home run ball? There was no way to prove it. The ball *was* rubbed up with mud, and it even had a small piece of a blade of grass embedded into the cowhide, along with a small grass stain. These things were consistent with a game-used ball landing in the grassy bullpen, but all I could do at that point was to exit the stadium. I mean, that was it. Game over. Final score: Orioles 6, White Sox 4. Good night. Right?

Well, when I made it outside the stadium, I decided to call Avi. I knew that he’d been sitting near the bullpens, at least for part of the game. Maybe he saw something? Or knew something? He attends nearly every single Orioles game. He’s basically the mayor of Camden Yards. If anyone could help, it had to be him.

I told Avi what had happened and asked if there was any chance that the ball I got was THE ball that Reimold had hit. He said that the home run had sailed completely over the Orioles’ bullpen and landed in the White Sox bullpen…and that the White Sox players and coaches left the ball sitting there…and that a groundskeeper eventually retrieved it and tossed it to Arias just after the Orioles coaches started walking across the field.

It sounded plausible, but it also sounded too good to be true. And the story had come from Avi. Avi knows everything about baseball and about the Orioles. When he’s being serious, he’s the most trustworthy source of news and info, but he’s not always serious. AARRGHH!!!

At that point, there was nothing else to do except go back to my hotel room and update my stats and photograph the six balls that I’d kept from this game. See below and make sure to keep scrolling down because this story isn’t done…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 8 baseballs at this game (six pictured here because I gave two away)

• 717 balls in 87 games this season = 8.24 balls per game.

• 748 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 273 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 29 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least one ball; click here for all the Watch With Zack stats.

• 5,379 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)

• $56.96 raised at this game

• $5,105.04 raised this season

Finally, when I started combing through all my photos from the day, I discovered something that literally made me gasp and gave me chills. Remember the photo of Nolan Reimold wiping off the shaving cream? Well, look what was taking place in the background:

The photo above is cropped directly from the original photo. The red arrow is pointing at Arias, who appears to be staring at the bullpen and holding up his glove.

Now, do you remember when I said that I had my camera on continuous mode? When Reimold was wiping himself off, I was holding my finger down on the button, and the camera was taking several photos per second. Were there other clues waiting to be discovered?!?!

Here’s another photo of Reimold…

…and here’s a closer look at what was happening the background:

OH MY GOD!!!

Avi was right! In the photo above, you can clearly see that a groundskeeper (dressed in orange) was about to throw something toward my man Arias. I mean, Arias is unmistakably giving the guy a target.

Here’s another photo of Reimold, taken a fraction of a second later…

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

Ha-HAAA!!!

Unless the groundskeeper was performing a modern dance number, he was definitely throwing something.

Here’s another photo of Reimold…

…and here’s a closer look at Arias:

Although it’s cut off at the top, I’m certain that Arias was reaching up with his glove to make the catch.

Almost done…

Here’s one more photo of Reimold…

…and here’s a close-up of Arias:

Ohhhhhhh yeeeeeeeeeeah, baby!!!

If this doesn’t prove that the ball I got was indeed THE ball, then the whole concept of “evidence” is worthless. Down with scientific analysis! Down with the entire judicial system! (Well, that actually IS flawed, but let’s not get into that.) The point is, I’m ninety-nine-point-something percent sure that I got Nolan Reimold’s walk-off home run ball — and here it is:

How does this ball factor into my stats?

Excellent question. I’m glad you asked.

My lifetime tally of “game balls” does NOT include game-used balls that were tossed to me. Third-out balls are great, but they’re too easy and predictable, so while they do count toward my overall number of 5,379 baseballs, they don’t belong in a separate category. Same with foul balls that trickle to the 3rd base coaches and get tossed into the crowd. Same with home run balls that get tossed into the crowd. This has always been my personal rule. If there’s an “assist” involved, then it simply doesn’t count, so as special as the Reimold ball is, it doesn’t change my lifetime total of game home runs. That number is still 16, and you can see the complete list here. In fact, this isn’t even the first time that I’ve had a game home run ball tossed to me. Back in 1992, Mel Hall blasted one into the short porch at the old Yankee Stadium. That ball bounced back onto the field was tossed back up to me by Angels right fielder Von Hayes. I’ve also caught two home runs during actual Home Run Derbies that aren’t on my list, and when I jumped down into the gap behind the outfield wall on 6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium, one of the balls I grabbed there was almost certainly a Ramon Hernandez homer that had been hit several days earlier — but there was no way to prove it, so I left that ball off my list as well. Basically, when it comes to game home runs, I would rather have a shorter list of quality snags than a fluffy, asterisk-laden list that includes glorified toss-ups.

Finally, here’s the video highlight of Reimold’s homer. Watch the reaction of the White Sox players as the ball lands in front of them. Classic!

8/9/11 at Camden Yards

Last month, I did a couple of Watch With Zack games with a 14-year-old ballhawk named Ross. Remember? Our first game was on 7/14/11 at Camden Yards, and then we went back (and took a tour of the ballpark) the following day. As I mentioned then, Ross knows his way around major league stadiums and doesn’t need help snagging baseballs; as a fellow New Yorker, he merely needed help getting to the stadium — and that’s where I came in. Same deal here. This was technically another Watch With Zack game, but once we arrived at Camden Yards, we kinda did our own thing.

Unfortunately, the weather screwed us over and wiped out batting practice at the last minute. Here I am with Ross and a bunch of Camden Yards regulars, showing how we felt about the wet conditions:

In the photo above, Matt Hersl is standing on the left, and Avi Miller is wearing the orange shirt. We were all *supposed* to be making a “thumbs-down” sign, but Tim Anderson (wearing the plaid shorts) just HAD to mess it up. The tall guy who looks like a pimp from the 1970s is Ben Huff. I’m wearing the “Willets Point/Shea Stadium” shirt. (Gotta represent!) The kid in the black Orioles shirt is named Emory — you might remember him from this photo — and Ross is standing on the far right.

As you can see in the following photo, the batting cage was set up. And it was sunny. And the grounds crew was removing the tarp from the field:

I was hoping that the players would resume taking BP once the tarp was gone, but no, that didn’t happen. In fact, nothing happened, and as a result, this turned out to be one of the slowest/deadest days I’ve ever experienced inside a major league stadium.

Ross managed to get a toss-up from one of the few White Sox players who came out to throw, and thanks to my glove trick, I managed to snag the ball pictured here:

I didn’t know it at the time, but Avi took a bunch of photos of me using the trick. Here’s the best one:

Avi later told me (and I think he was 82 percent serious) that he was going to charge me $1 for each of his photos that I used in this entry. But you know what? Rather than handing him money, I think it’d be much better for him if I link to his blog and encourage everyone to go check it out. Don’t you agree? Don’t you want to see all of Avi’s brilliant Orioles analysis? Don’t you want to read about his adventures at Camden Yards? Yes, of course you do because it’s going to save me a dollar. In fact, if Avi’s traffic increases a lot, I might actually charge HIM a dollar. That sounds fair, right? Anyway, here’s his blog. And hey, as long as I’m sharing links, here’s Avi on Twitter. (Avi, you now owe me $2. I hope it was worth it.)

After I snagged the ball with my glove trick, things went completely dead.

At Camden Yards, the indoor batting cages are located on the Orioles’ side, so when there’s no BP on the field, the visiting team’s players walk across to the 1st base dugout. That’s where I hung out for more than half an hour. Here’s a photo of A.J. Pierzynski walking toward me:

Nice farmer’s tan, pal! (Actually, I have a pretty bad one myself right now.)

Why was I hanging out in that spot? Two words: Alex Rios.

As you might recall, my 5,000th ball was a BP homer hit by Rios on 5/28/11 at Rogers Centre. (If you haven’t yet seen the YouTube video of me catching it, click here.) I really really *really* want Rios to sign it, so I brought the ball with me to Baltimore, and surprise-surprise — when Rios came out, he completely ignored me. If there were such a thing as the Ignoring Olympics, he would’ve won the gold medal. I’m currently trying to work a connection to get him to sign the ball when I’m at U.S. Cellular Field next month, but damn, it really shouldn’t be this hard. If there are two dozen fans in the entire stadium, and if one of them is decked out with the gear of your (lousy) team, and if he’s asking *very* politely for your autograph, you sign the damn autograph. I truly don’t understand why some players are so anti-fan. I’m not saying that every player should sign autographs for every fan all the time, but this was one of those times when it would’ve been easy and appropriate. Right, Alex?

Rios had ignored me on his way into the Orioles dugout, and he ignored me on his way out. It was then that I shouted, “Alex! What would it possibly take to get your autograph?! I will PAY you for it! I will do *whatever* it takes! Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it! Please!! Is there ANY chance?! It would mean SO MUCH to me!!” The stadium was basically empty, and I was shouting really loud, and he was less than 50 feet away, so I know he heard me.

Of all people, why did my 5,000th ball have to come from HIM?

Ross, meanwhile, was positioned behind two players along the left field foul line:

He didn’t get that ball because it was tossed to a very little kid.

Just when I was getting ready to head off to another section, Jeremy Guthrie made an appearance:

I waited patiently while he talked to a few other people. Then, with the usher’s permission, I moved down to the front row and shook Guthrie’s hand and thanked him for participating in The Prank. (Check out my entry from 7/23/11 at Camden Yards to read about it from my perspective.) I forget his exact response, but it was something along the lines of, “It was no big deal. Your friends did all the work.”

Shortly before game time, I got Omar Vizquel to sign my ticket:

I *really* wanted to get one more ball in order to keep a certain streak alive. This was the 747th consecutive game at which I’d snagged at least one ball, but I also had a long streak of games at which I’d snagged at least two — 271 games, to be specific, dating back to the 2007 All-Star Game. Well, after I got the Vizquel autograph, I moved over to the dugout. Alexi Ramirez was playing catch with Alejandro De Aza, and when they finished, Ramirez ended up with the ball. He walked right toward me with it. I asked him for it in Spanish. There weren’t any kids near me, or even any grown-ups who were asking for the ball. I figured this was going to be a super-easy snag, but no, Ramirez ignored me and disappeared with the ball. Ross hadn’t gotten any additional baseballs either, and with the game about to start, we each had just one. Here’s how we felt about it:

I moved all over the place during the game. For most right-handed batters, I stood here for foul balls:

For many of the lefties, I moved out to the Flag Court in right field, and Ross came with me. The arrow is pointing to him in the following photo:

Late in the game, while heading to the Flag Court, I saw something rather peculiar. In fact, for a split second, when I first saw it, I was really concerned. Have a look:

A fan in a wheelchair was tilted ALL the way back. At first, I thought he was falling, or perhaps stuck in a crazy position and unable to call for help. But then I noticed that he was perfectly calm and that his friends sitting nearby didn’t think anything of it. This guy’s chair was (evidently) made to lean far back, and for whatever reason, he was chillin’ like that.

When the 8th inning rolled around, Ross and I still had just one ball apiece. In the bottom of the frame, when Mark Reynolds came to bat with two outs, I knew what I had to do: get down to the home-plate end of the 3rd base dugout. Reynolds strikes out more than anyone, and he happened to be facing Chis Sale, a tall/lanky lefty with nasty stuff, who averages slightly more than one strikeout per inning. I just *knew* what the result of that at-bat was going to be.

Well, I did make it to the seats behind the dugout — and just in time. Moments after I took the following photo…

…Reynolds got fooled by a curveball and watched it sail past him for a called third strike. I bolted down the steps, and when A.J. Pierzynski brought the ball back to the dugout, I got him to toss it to me. It was too easy, and yet it felt incredibly satisfying to make the catch. When I walked back up the steps to the cross-aisle, I noticed that there was one other fan in the section who’d been trying to get a ball — a young girl who must’ve been about 10 years old. I wanted to keep the game-used ball, so gave her the one that I’d snagged earlier in the day. The usher came over to thank me, and as our conversation deepened, I knew what was going to happen. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve gotten held up at Camden Yards for just a few seconds, only to watch helplessly as a foul ball landed *right* in the place where I would’ve been. And yes, that’s exactly what happened here. With the hard-throwing Chris Jakubauskas on the mound, Brent Lillibridge fouled one back RIGHT into the cross-aisle where I’d been standing all damn night. My first thought (when the ball first nicked the bat) was, “What kind of God would allow this to happen?” My second thought (as the ball sailed over the protective screen) was, “Where’s Ross?!” My third thought (as the ball slammed into a brick wall at the back of the aisle) was, “That’s Ross running after the ball!” And my fourth thought (as I saw how it all played out) was, “ZOMG!!! Ross just snagged it!!!” As I mentioned last night on Twitter, it was the very first foul ball that he had ever snagged during an actual game. Here he is with it:

Nice job, Ross! Well played and well deserved.

Congrats are also in order for Tim (the guy in the plaid shorts who ruined the first photo). In the top of the 2nd inning, he snagged a Carlos Quentin homer in straight-away left field.

The White Sox won the game, 4-3. After the final out, I moved down to the front row behind the dugout…

…and got nothing. Ross went to the tunnel directly behind home plate and got a ball from umpire Tom Hallion. And so…he ended up outsnagging me, 3-2.

Here I am with Ross after the game:

Not a bad night after all.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 709 balls in 86 games this season = 8.24 balls per game. (BTW, 86 games is the most I’ve ever been to in one season. My previous record was 85, and that was back in 1993.)

• 747 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 272 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,371 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)

• $14.24 raised at this game

• $5,048.08 raised this season

8/8/11 at Citi Field

I attended this game with a friend named Amanda. Here we are outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda:

In the photo above, the reason why I’m wearing a Padres hat (beyond the simple fact that the Mets were playing the Padres) is that Heath Bell gave it to me (and I love him). The reason why Amanda is decked out in blue and orange is that she loves the Mets. Take a look at her earrings…

…and check out her World Series socks:

I first met Amanda last year at my writing group. In addition to her various literary pursuits, she’s a singer/songwriter and has a YouTube channel, so you know, go watch some of her videos.

As for me…

I started the day with a season total of 699 baseballs. When the gates opened at 5:10pn, I headed to the right field seats and found a ball near the foul pole…

…but get this: I left it sitting there for a moment because the batter had just ripped a line drive into the right field corner, and Chris Capuano was on his way to retrieve it. As he walked toward me, I didn’t want him to see me bending down and picking up another ball, so I pretended that it wasn’t there. Thankfully, the seats remained empty for a minute, and my strategy paid off; I got Capuano to toss me the ball from the warning track, and as soon as he turned away, I grabbed the other. Here I am with my 700th ball of the season — the one that Capuano gave me:

In the photo above, that’s quite a dramatic beam of sunlight, huh? (I swear it’s not Photoshopped.) Also, that’s quite a stupid hat for me to wearing during the Mets’ portion of BP, wouldn’t you say? My intention was not to wear it inside the stadium until the Padres came out, but I obviously forgot to switch it up. DUH!!! Once I realized that I’d been wearing it, I appreciated Capuano’s generosity even more.

Here’s a closer look at Ball No. 700:. It’s a real beauty:

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I prefer snagging old/worn baseballs than pearls. Brand-new balls are boring. Yeah, they’re great for getting autographs, but they have no personality — no bumps or bruises or big league experience.

Amanda, meanwhile, was *thrilled* when she snagged a newish ball in left field. Here she is with it:

Dillon Gee had been shagging near us, so I told her to go down to the front row and shout his name and act all girly. It worked almost immediately. (Sometimes I really wish I were a girl. I suppose I could dress like one, but I probably wouldn’t get the desired results. Then again, my cross-dressing worked wonders in college for other reasons which I won’t get into here.)

When the Padres took the field, I got a ball thrown to me by Justin Hatcher, the bullpen catcher. I took the following photo 10 seconds later as he was walking away. You can see him next to the on-field security guard:

My next ball, a home run hit by one of the Padres’ many right-handed batters, was special for a specific reason. Never mind the fact that I caught it on the fly. It was special because it pushed my season total of money raised for charity passed the $5,000 mark.

I snagged three more home runs after that. The first landed in the seats in left-center. The second was a high fly ball that a tall fan in the front row was kind enough NOT to jump for. And the third was a line drive that *I* jumped for several rows back. I was in the zone. But then batting practice ended.

Shortly before game time, I got a warm-up ball from Jason Bartlett near the 3rd base dugout. That was my 8th and final ball of the day.

Then it was time for the national anthem and…just look:

Yeah.

Amanda and I spent most of the game in the “Excelsior” level behind home plate. On the way to our seats, we got a peek into the TV control room. Or maybe it’s just the jumbotron control room. But either way, it was still cool. See for yourself:

I think this is a new addition at Citi Field — not the room itself, but the fact that fans can now see into it. There’s a window built into the concourse wall, just to the right of home plate (if I’m remembering correctly), and you can stand there and stare for as long as you want. You might recall that I got a similar peek into a control room just last week on 8/4/11 at Sun Life Stadium.

This was our view for most of the game…

…and this was our view at the end:

The Padres took an 8-6 lead into the bottom of the 9th inning, but Heath Bell failed to hold it. The Mets rallied for three runs off him and won the game. This made me very sad.

It was still a fun day, though. Cheers to Amanda for putting up with my baseball shenanigans.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 707 balls in 85 games this season = 8.32 balls per game.

• 746 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 271 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,369 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)

• $56.96 raised at this game

• $5,033.84 raised this season

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

8/6/11 at Citi Field

Relatively speaking, it was an uneventful day. The highlight was my mom. The lowlight was the weather. And as for batting practice? Well, at least there *was* batting practice. By most people’s standards, I suppose it was pretty damn good, but for me the whole day felt like a struggle.

It started when Angel Pagan attempted to throw me my 1st ball of the day and missed. At the time, I was the *only* fan in left field, so if he was concerned about my safety, he should’ve aimed for the empty seats behind me. Instead, he babied the throw, and when the ball fell short and bounced back onto the outfield grass, he left it there. Two dreadfully long minutes later, he got another ball…

…and gave me another shot. This was more than bullpen catcher Eric Langill did half an hour later when *his* throw fell short. When Langill saw that his aim was off, he shrugged and ignored me for the rest of BP, so yeah, it was like that.

After I got the ball from Pagan, I snagged two home runs that landed in the left field seats. (I’m not sure who hit the first one. I think Jason Bay connected on the second.) Then I got Ryota Igarashi to throw me a ball in left-center, and I snagged two more homers, this time on the fly. Pagan hit the first one; I moved to my right and climbed up on a seat to make that catch. Nick Evans hit the second; I drifted down the steps and reached above the “BELTRAN” fans in the following photo:

These guys hadn’t seen the ball coming, and they weren’t wearing gloves, so they weren’t the least bit annoyed that I caught it.

When the Braves took the field, I noticed that the jumbotron was playing an episode of “Mets Weekly.” More specifically, there was a segment about a kid named Jacob that I’d met earlier this season at Yankee Stadium. Here he is on the big screen:

The reason why Jacob was being featured is that he’d recently won a contest to do the play-by-play announcing for an inning during a Mets game; the reason why I took the photo of him on the jumbotron is that I was planning to email it to his father. Well, moments after I put my camera away, Jacob and his father showed up. It was quite a pleasant surprise, and when there was a quick break in the action, they asked me to sign their copy of Watching Baseball Smarter. Here I am with Jacob and the book:

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to hear Jacob’s inning on the air because I was at Tropicana Field that night, but based on the clips that played during the “Mets Weekly” segment, he seemed to do a great job — and I’m not surprised. He’s a really sharp kid.

After signing the book and posing for a couple of photos, I caught two more homers on the fly. The first was a line-drive shot by Chipper Jones in left-center field; some random guy tried (unsuccessfully) to buy it from me soon after. The second, my best catch of the day, was hit by a batter that I couldn’t identify; I started in the second row, then climbed into the first row as the ball sailed toward me, and lunged over the railing for it at the last second. My mom had arrived when the Braves took the field, so she witnessed both of these catches and, you know, looked all mom-ish and proud.

Check out the smudged Rawlings logo on the Chipper Jones home run ball:

Cool, huh?

The left field seats were pretty crowded by the end of BP…

…so I didn’t snag any more homers. I’m happy to say, though, that Jacob and I each got a ball from rookie pitcher Anthony Varvaro. That was my 9th of the day, and when BP ended, I got a toss-up at the 3rd base dugout from Braves hitting coach Larry Parrish. This ball raised my season total to 699, so obviously, I wanted to snag at least one more. No problem, right? The day before, I had four baseballs when BP ended and finished with ten, so I assumed I’d have several more chances here.

At around 6:30pm, the grounds crew pulled out the tarp:

The game started an hour late, and as for the weather…oof. It drizzled on and off and eventually rained like hell:

As for me…no more baseballs. I won’t bother listing all the close calls I had during BP or the instances of bad luck that took place during the game. I’ll simply repeat what I stated at the beginning: the whole day felt like a struggle. I mean, I’m always happy when I break double digits, and I know that I shouldn’t be complaining, but if things had gone better — if I’d been a little more WITH IT and on my game — I could’ve easily finished with 16 or 17. Just to give you a couple examples of how lame things were…

After the game, when the Braves walked across the field from the bullpen, I noticed that Jonny Venters had a ball tucked in his glove. It was raining hard. There weren’t any kids nearby. I was decked out in Braves gear. And when I asked him politely for the ball, he ignored me. Then, moments later, when bullpen coach Eddie Perez walked in and I asked *him* for a ball, he looked up at me and said, “Stay right there. I’ll be back.” But guess what happened? He never came back out. Stupid stuff like that happened all day, and ohmygod, I won’t even get into the Freddie Freeman foul ball that landed three rows directly in front of me…or the infield warm-up ball that bounced over Terry Pendleton’s head and ended up in the crowd…or the muddy game-used ball thrown by Chipper Jones that the drunk guy behind me caught because I looked down for two seconds (because my backpack was getting soaked). I’m just gonna shut up.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 baseballs at this game (nine pictured here because I gave one to a kid after the game)

• 699 balls in 84 games this season = 8.32 balls per game.

• 745 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 270 consecutive games with at least two balls

•31 games this season with at least ten balls

• 5,361 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)

• $71.20 raised at this game

• $4,976.88 raised this season

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

Finally, I’m very sorry for being slow to respond to comments, Twitter replies, and emails. I have several hundred dating back to July 29th that I simply haven’t had time to answer. I usually respond to the shortest emails first, so if you contact me to share a link to an article or to tell me a long story about something or to ask a bunch of questions, I probably won’t get to it for a while. If you want advice about a particular stadium, there’s a good chance that I’ve blogged about it already (or shared tips about it in The Baseball), so do a Google search for “baseball collector” along with the name of the stadium, and my entries about it should appear at the top. I’m currently in the midst of attending 12 games in 13 days at 5 different stadiums. This week I’ll be in New York and Baltimore. Next week I’ll be in Boston and Washington, D.C. The week after that I’ll be Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and the week after THAT I’ll be flying to Los Angeles to begin a 25-day/15-stadium roadtrip with my friend Brandon. Combine all of this travel with writing thousands of words per day on my blog (and choosing/editing/uploading dozens of photos, sometimes with a painfully slow internet connection), and I don’t have time to do much else. It’s not my intention to ignore anyone; I’ve been reading every incoming email and blog comment, but I simply haven’t had a chance to respond. I hope you understand. And whenever I find a few minutes free, I’ll get back to you as best I can.

8/5/11 at Sun Life Stadium

You know that the Marlins are moving into a new ballpark next year, right? Well, I went and checked it out the other day. I can’t tell if it’ll be easy to snag baseballs there — my guess is no — but it sure looks spiffy from the outside. Let’s get the tour underway.

First, here’s a photo of me with the ballpark in the background…

…and here’s a photo of Jona, who was with me:

In the photo above, the orange sign said, “ROAD CLOSED AHEAD.” Of course, there wasn’t anyone to stop us from wandering closer, but I figured it’d be a good idea for us to keep our distance. There were cranes and construction workers all over the place, along with a steady whirring of machinery and clanking of metal.

The ballpark is going to have a retractable roof that slides off on gigantic tracks. Here’s a photo of that setup:

It appeared that there were parking garages being constructed on opposite sides of the ballpark:

Here’s a spiral ramp that (I’m guessing) will be used to get to the upper seating levels…

…and hey, is that a jumbotron attached to it?

Based on the following photo, it doesn’t look like the roof is high enough for towering pop-ups:

But maybe the actual playing surface is below street level. Or maybe the inside of the ballpark is deceptively spacious.

In any case, Jona (who has fair skin) went back to the car to hide from the sun. I continued walking counter-clockwise around the ballpark toward the spot that will ultimately be the right field corner. That’s where I first encountered a security guard. I waved a friendly hello. He just sat there motionless and glared back:

Now that I think about it, he might’ve been sleeping. I don’t think he moved an inch during the two minutes that I was there.

Here’s the parking garage on the other side of the ballpark:

I walked around the back of the garage and took the following photo to show where I came from:

In the middle of the photo above, you can see one of the tracks for the retractable roof, and on the left, you can see what the surrounding neighborhood looks like. Here’s a better look at the adjacent property:

It’s strange to have a half-billion-dollar stadium on one side of a street and low-income housing on the other. I’d imagine that some of the residents are thrilled (because the new ballpark will increase their property value) and others are furious (because of the noise and crowds).

Each side of the ballpark, evidently, will have two rectangular parking garages. Here’s what it looks like between the two garages in deeeeeeeeep right field:

Here’s a close-up-ish photo of a construction worker on the roof:

(Better him than me.)

After walking the length of both garages, this is what I saw:

I was in dead center field, if you can call it that — about 1,000 feet from home plate.

I walked closer and zoomed in with my crappy little camera and saw three essential features:

1) the left field foul pole
2) actual seats in the upper deck
3) the lights

The quality/lighting isn’t great in the following photo, but have a look for yourself:

I walked away from the ballpark to get a photo of it looming up above the neighborhood:

(Flying saucer, anyone?)

Then I cut across a residential street toward the left field corner, and when I began walking back toward the ballpark, I saw (and then heard) something amusing. Check it out:

In the photo above, the arrow is pointing to a rooster. Or was it a hen? Do hens make that “cock-a-doodle-doo” noise? No, right? Leave me alone, I’m a city boy. I’m not supposed to know these things. But anyway, I had a good laugh and tried to get closer and take a better photo, but the “henster” ran away and slipped back through a chain-link fence into someone’s yard.

It looked like it was about to rain…

…so I took one final photo…

…and found Jona. (Actually, she found me.)

As it turned out, it didn’t rain, which was a good thing because I still had a Marlins game to attend. But first, I headed over to a famous bar/restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard called Rickey’s. I’d never been there before, and I really wanted to check it out because it’s owned by the family of a friend of mine named Billy Mitchell. Here I am with Billy outside the place:

Billy (who’s about 6-foot-6) is famous for his accomplishments in the world of classic arcade video games. He was the first person ever to play a perfect game of Pac-Man, and he starred in the so-called documentary “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.” (This film was largely a work of fiction. It was edited deviously to portray certain people/events in ways that weren’t accurate, all for the sake of creating drama and making a better story line. It’s an incredibly entertaining film, but you shouldn’t believe much in it. I know this because I was there when a major portion of it was being filmed, and I know most of the people involved.) I first met Billy at a video game competition in 2000 — that’s when I broke the Arkanoid world record — and we’ve been friends ever since.

Here’s the inside of Rickey’s:

Not fancy. But cozy. And festive.

Billy has a reputation for having a huge ego, and yeah, he does stuff that seems to infuriate the haters, but if you actually get to know him, you’ll see that the “ego” is just part of his schtick. He’s a true character and a natural-born performer — one of those people who was meant to be famous. One of his “things” is that he always dresses in black and wears ties with American/patriotic images. He also gives thumbs-ups in photos. Always. Don’t question it. It’s just a fact of life. Here he is with Jona in the back of the restaurant…

…and if you look closely at his tie (which Jona was holding to be mock-sexy), you can see the World Trade Center.

I wanted to eat at Rickey’s, but Billy was craving pizza from a particular restaurant in a nearby mall — so we went to the mall. Here we are:

Billy owns a hot sauce company called Rickey’s. For the record, I’m no hot sauce connoisseur, but I’ve tried his brand (on many occasions), and I think it’s damn good, and I recommend it. I’d actually be interested to hear how Billy’s sauce compares to others, so if you’re up for a taste test, give it a shot and let me know what you think.

Jona and I said goodbye to Billy at around 4:15pm — and then goodbye to each other half an hour later. She had decided not to attend the Marlins game (imagine THAT), so she dropped me off at Sun Life Stadium. Here I am, shortly after she left, making use of my camera’s 10-second timer:

Yeah, my ankle is feeling better, but it’s still not 100 percent. I’d say it’s about 80 to 90 percent because my left foot is still weak and hurts every time I take a step.

I hurried to the ticket window, overpaid for a seat in the left field club level, changed into my Cardinals gear, and hurried over to the gate. As soon as I got there, a fan named Josh (who’s been leaving comments on my blog for years) waved me over and asked me to sign his copy of The Baseball. Here we are with it:

Josh told me that one of his friends had gotten a hold of this copy and underlined some key points in Part Three. That’s the part of the book titled “How to Snag Major League Baseballs.” Here’s a look at two pages from Chapter 11, which is called “How to Get a Player to Throw You a Ball”:

When the stadium opened, I headed straight up to the club level and quickly got Kyle McClellan to throw me a ball. This was my view right after I caught it:

This was as crowded as it got during BP…

…and yet I still only managed to snag three baseballs there, all of which were home runs that landed in the seats. The last one was hit by Albert Pujols. I’m not sure who hit the other two.

In the photo above, do you see the two players? If you click the photo for a closer look, you’ll notice that the player on the left is looking up at the seats. That was Kyle Lohse. He was looking at the upper deck because (for some reason) he’d just thrown a ball up there. It landed right near the bottom of the American flagpole in dead center field. Hmm…

Toward the end of BP, I hurried down to the 3rd base dugout, and when the Cardinals cleared the field, I got hitting coach Mark McGwire to toss me a ball. I didn’t feel THAT special because he tossed three other balls into the crowd, but still, it was pretty cool.

Then I started thinking about the upper deck. I’d heard from a couple of fans that it was closed for Marlins games, but was it *CLOSED* or merely “closed”? There’s a difference. If there were chains or barricades or locked gates that physically blocked people from going up there, or even signs that said, “DO NOT ENTER,” then that would’ve been the end of it. I didn’t want to get arrested for trespassing. But what if it was wide open and unguarded? What if there were no signs? I decided to go have a look.

Starting in the 100 Level concourse, I walked up one of the circular ramps to the Club/200 Level. Upon entering a set of glass doors, I was stopped briefly by a security guard who checked my ticket. I was in the left field corner when this happened, so I headed through the fancy concourse toward the elevators in left-center. As I mentioned in my previous entry, these elevators are only guarded on the 100 Level, so when I got inside one of them, I pressed “4″ to go up to the 400 Level. Meanwhile, I had noticed that there were security cameras all over the place (including inside the elevator), but whatever. I had to go for it. This was a very important mission, and there was no turning back.

As the elevator doors were about to open on the 400 Level, my heart was racing. I wasn’t really scared or nervous — just excited and antsy. I had no idea what to expect. Maybe there’d be a security guard there? Deep breath. I stepped out into the concourse, and wow, there was NO ONE in sight. This was the view to my right…

…and to my left:

In a word, it was surreal.

I walked through the concourse toward center field. There were more security cameras. More deep breaths. My heart was racing quicker, but again, what was the big deal? I hadn’t broken any rules to get up there, and all I wanted to do was look for an otherwise forgotten baseball. If anything, I was helping the Marlins by cleaning up the seats. (I’m so good at justifying things.)

After walking for a minute and stopping to take a few more photos, I reached the tunnel in dead center:

Wandering through an empty concourse is one thing; entering the seats in a restricted area is another, so I knew I had to move fast. I was simply going to walk through the tunnel and take a quick peek for the ball, and in case I found it, I had my camera ready to take an even quicker photo.

This was the result of my quest:

GREAT SUCCESS!

But of course I still had to make it out of the upper deck. Even if security didn’t shoot me on sight, there was still the issue of the ball: I wanted to keep it as a memento of my little adventure and was concerned that it might be confiscated.

I headed back through the tunnel, and as I made my way back toward the elevators, I stopped to take a photo at the edge of the concourse:

Then it occurred to me that there might be more baseballs in the upper deck. I mean, as long as I was already up there, why not take a look at the seats in straight-away left field? Mike Stanton and Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday had all been launching BP homers in that direction for the last two days, and yeah, most of these balls had bounced back down. But maybe not all?

I picked this tunnel in left field…

…and when I made it down to the front row, I crouched down low to peek underneath the seats. There was nothing on my left, but when I looked to the right, I saw this:

OH YEAH, BABY!!!!

I hurried back through the tunnel and decided to walk all the way around the concourse toward home plate. Maybe there were some foul balls there from the previous game?

That’s when my Easter egg party came to an end. While rounding the concourse in the left field corner, a security guard appeared out of nowhere and began walking toward me. I didn’t run. I didn’t put up a fight. I kept walking toward him and turned myself in. Actually, it was no big deal. He was friendly, and I played dumb. He told me that fans are not allowed in the upper deck and asked how I’d gotten there. I showed him my Club-Level ticket and explained the whole deal with the elevators and said that I was from out of town (true) and that this was going to be my last game ever at this stadium (also true) and that I thought it’d be nice to wander and take a few photos (partially true). It probably helped that I was still wearing my Cardinals gear. The guard then walked me to a service elevator (which was being operated by another employee) and took me down to the Club Level. When the door opened, I asked if I could go all the way down to the 100 Level.

“But this is where your seat is,” he said.

“I know,” I said, “but I actually need to meet up with a friend who’s sitting down there on the 3rd base side.” (Totally untrue.)

The guard bought it and took me down to the 100 Level. Even if he had insisted that I get off at the Club Level, I still could have made it all the way down; at Sun Life Stadium, you don’t need a ticket for the 100 Level in order to enter the 100 Level. In fact, everyone is pretty much forced to be there because (a) the upper deck is closed and (b) the club level is somewhat exclusive, so it’s not like I was getting away with anything when I told the guard that I needed to go downstairs. It was just a matter of saving time and getting down to the seats along the left field foul line as quickly as possible. Why the rush? Because the Cardinals were already doing their pre-game throwing…

…and when they finished, I got Daniel Descalso to throw me my 8th ball of the day.

(BTW, at the expense of dissing my own story here, I’d have to say that my upper deck escapade ranks third behind my two best ballpark capers. Number One has to be the post-game stunt I pulled on 6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium, followed closely by my early-afternoon antics on 9/2/08 at Dodger Stadium.)

This was the scene during the national anthem:

In the photo above, do you see the cheerleaders (aka “The Mermaids”) on the field in front of the 3rd base dugout? More on them in a bit, ho ho ho…

As much as I wanted to work the dugouts for 3rd-out balls and play the tunnels behind the plate for foul balls and go for double digits, I decided to sit in straight-away left field. The seats there were unbelievably empty, and Albert Pujols was in the lineup, and hey, I’d overpaid to be there anyway.

As it turned out, there was only one home run hit all night — an opposite-field blast by the right-handed-hitting Matt Holiday. Hmph! But I still had fun hanging out with the guys there. This was the main crew during the game:

In the photo above, the guy sitting closest to the camera is named Joe Scherer. As I mentioned in my previous entry, he has caught a LOT of baseballs, including Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run. The guy standing in the 2nd row in the white “Marlins” T-shirt is named Drew Gregg. Like Joe, he’s a regular at Sun Life Stadium and has also caught a crapload of baseballs. These guys are SO friendly. Unlike certain ballhawks in San Francisco who literally threatened me with physical violence when I showed up in their precious section, Joe kept telling me that he wanted to see me catch a homer, and Drew kept shuffling out of my way so that I’d have more room to run. I kept telling them that since this was their turf, I wanted to stay out of *their* way, but they insisted. Go say hi to these gentlemen if you make it to any remaining games at this stadium, or look for them next year (and beyond) at the new ballpark. They have so many crazy stories about finding home run balls in the various nooks and crannies of Sun Life Stadium that you almost won’t believe it — but these guys are legit. As for the three men standing behind them, the one on the right is named Bob, and the other two are his sons Michael (wearing the Cardinals cap) and Brandon. The three of them have snagged a total of 1,100 baseballs (many of which are now autographed) and have been to 29 of the 30 major league stadiums; all that remains for them is Coors Field, which they plan to hit up next year.

The Cardinals ended up winning the game, 3-2. I was near the 3rd base dugout when it ended, and after the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Paul Schrieber. That was my 9th ball of the day, and then five solid minutes later, when nearly every fan had vacated the seating bowl, I got No. 10 from a ballboy. Here he is pointing at me after tossing it…

…and here’s the ball itself:

Is that a beauty or what?!

The way I got this ball was kinda fun. I’d been asking two ballboys for a ball, and when one of them told me (with a smile) that I was “too old,” we ended up jawing back and forth for a while. It was good old fashioned trash-talking, and just as I was getting ready to leave, the other ballboy reached into his back pocket and pulled out a ball and threw it to me. The ball sailed right over the head of an old security guard who’d been telling me that I had to leave and insisting that I wasn’t going to get a ball, so it felt pretty great when I actually caught it.

Now, about those cheerleaders…

For some reason, there were a bunch of them near the exit when I walked down the ramp, so I grabbed a quick photo with these two ladies, then gave those two baseballs to a couple of kids on my way out, and met Jona soon after in the parking lot.

Adios, Miami…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 baseballs at this game (eight pictured here because I gave two away)

• 689 balls in 83 games this season = 8.3 balls per game.

• 744 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 269 consecutive games with at least two balls

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

•30 games this season with at least ten balls

• 5,351 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)

• $71.20 raised at this game

• $4,905.68 raised this season

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