September 2011

9/27/11 at Turner Field

Turner Field is glove trick heaven. I talked about it in my last entry. I talked about it in my latest book. And I experienced it first-hand at this game by using the trick to snag my first four balls. The 1st was sitting in the gap behind the left field wall when I first ran inside the stadium. The 2nd was a home run that landed in the gap in right-center. The 3rd was another homer that ended up just behind the center field wall, and I took a photo of it before I reeled it in:

My 4th ball was tossed to a little kid in left field by Braves outfielder Antoan Richardson; the kid dropped it in the gap, so I ran over and snagged it and handed it to him. Here’s a photo that shows me lowering my glove over that ball:

The photo above was taken by my friend Matt. He’d brought his camera, and since he’s not a ballhawk, he didn’t mind following me around for a bit and documenting some of the action. I posted a photo of Matt at the end of my last entry, and you’ll see him again toward the end of this one.

I had a chance to use my glove trick for a 5th ball, but because of Tim Hudson, it wasn’t meant to be. The following photo says it all:

As you can see, Hudson came running over as I lowered my glove from about 20 feet up. He then grabbed the ball and threw it back onto the field.

“Please don’t put the Hample Jinx on him until after tomorrow,” said Matt. (At the time, the Braves were clinging to a one-game lead over the Cardinals for the wild-card, and Hudson was scheduled to pitch the next day — the final game of the regular season.) Although I was annoyed by what Hudson did, I wasn’t planning to jinx him. That’s because he’d thrown me a couple of baseballs in the past (one on 9/16/05 at Shea Stadium and another on 5/12/09 at Citi Field) and didn’t seem to be targeting ME with his behind-the-wall antics here in Atlanta; there were several other balls back there, the rest of which were well beyond my reach, so I got the sense that he would’ve retrieved them even if I hadn’t been there.

In the previous two photos, do you see the fan in the blue shirt? His name is Bryce, and he’s a regular at Turner Field. The day before, he approached me early in BP and introduced himself. He’s a ballhawk and reads this blog, and because he has a ball-retrieving device, we ended up competing directly against each other a few times. Other than that, we managed to stay out of each other’s way, but still found some time to chat.

I didn’t need my glove trick to snag my 5th ball of the day. It was a home run that landed halfway up the left field seats, so I simply needed the glove itself. That said, I did make a good play on it, so let me show you what happened. Ready? This my view from the 3rd row when the ball was hit:

After hesitating for a split-second, I determined that the ball was going to sail over my head, so I turned completely away from the field and bolted up the steps to this spot:

Then I stopped abruptly and turned back toward the field and looked skyward. At that point, it took another split-second to realize that the ball was going to fall a bit too short; I’d overrun the ideal spot ever so slightly, but I recovered by making a waist-high basket catch. There were a few other fans in my section, but none of them were impressed. That didn’t bother me, but it was odd. It was a pretty solid catch, and no one even seemed to notice.

Anyway, I headed to straight-away right field and used my glove trick to snag a ball from the gap. It had been thrown by Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez, and I gave it to the fan that it had been intended for. Toward the end of the Braves’ portion of BP, I got Terry Pendleton, the team’s 1st base coach, to toss me a ball that had rolled into the right field corner. Then I bolted toward the dugout, and when all the guys cleared the field, I got my 8th ball of the day from pitching coach Roger McDowell. (Thank you, Braves coaches!)

When the Phillies started hitting, I headed to the left field foul line, and when I took a peek at the warning track, I saw this:

The pitchers were still playing catch at that point, so I figured that those two baseballs had been placed there intentionally, you know, as extras, just in case.

What to do…

Half of my brain was saying, “Leave those baseballs alone, Zachary. Snagging them would be theft.”

The other half of my brain was saying, “Theft-schmeft! Go for it, Zacky-bay-beee! You deserve it, kid. You’ve earned it. Hell, you invented the glove trick for situations like this. Do it for the charity, and give the balls away to kids, and hey, by snagging those balls, you’ll actually be helping to restore the competitive balance in Major League Baseball. Think about it: the Phillies are dominating the league and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. Why? I’ll tell you why, pal. It’s because they have a ton of money to spend on big-name free agents, so if you snag those balls, they’ll have to spend more on their equipment and less for their players. See what an important service you’d be doing for the baseball world? The other 29 teams would love you for it, and if Bug Selig were here, he’d beg you to snag those balls. You don’t just deserve it; you owe it to your fellow Americans.”

I couldn’t say no to such a convincing argument, so I set up my glove trick and snagged the first ball with five seconds. (It was brand new.) Then I lowered my contraption back down and snagged the other ball just as quickly. (Also brand new.) Before I had a chance to stuff the string all the way back into the palm of my glove, Antonio Bastardo finished playing catch near me, so I called out to him and asked for the ball. Without hesitating, he tossed it my way, but then when he took a closer look at me and noticed my string dangling down, he got annoyed.

“You just took those balls over there!” he yelled.

“Relax!” I shouted. “I’ll give it to a kid.”

He stood there glaring at me with his hands on his hips as I scanned the seats for a worthy recipient. “Look!” I shouted at Bastardo as I made a big production of handing the ball to a young Phillies fan. “I’ll give the other balls away too!” I said, but the unfortunately-named pitcher had already turned his attention elsewhere.

At that point, I’d snagged 11 balls, and the way things were going, it felt like I was just getting started.

Hunter Pence was hitting, so I raced out to straight-away left field and positioned myself all the way back in the cross-aisle, pictured below:

Not only was it 380 feet to the outfield wall, but there were 15 rows of seats in front of me, and I was probably 30 feet above field level. It was going to take a serious BLAST to reach me, and I knew that Pence could do it. The day before, I’d positioned myself halfway between the outfield wall and the cross-aisle, and he hit everything over my head.

To put it simply, my adjustment paid off. Moments after I got there, Pence launched a deep home run 75 feet to my right. I bolted through the aisle and carefully weaved my way around a couple of spectators. The ball landed in a tunnel 20 feet away from me, so I scampered after it and snagged it on the first bounce. Then, after I hurried back to my spot, Pence crushed an even deeper home run. This one came right to me in straight-away left field, and I caught it on the fly.

Later that night, I took a screen shot of the Turner Field “scatter plot” from ESPN Home Run Tracker. Then I drew a red dot where I’d caught Pence’s home run…

…and emailed it to my friend Greg Rybarczyk who runs the site. In my email, I described the trajectory as “pretty much ideal.” (It wasn’t a line drive or a towering fly ball; Pence had hit it just right.) I was hoping to find out how far the ball had traveled, and I got an answer hours later. “If the trajectory was optimal,” wrote Greg, “it was probably around a 465-foot home run. Pretty good one!”

ESPN Home Run Tracker used to be called Hit Tracker, but the site still looks the same. If you don’t know about it, you simply HAVE TO check it out immediately. It’ll change the way you look at home runs. (The only thing that I don’t like about the site is that I didn’t think of it first.) (By the way, the Pence homer is pretty much tied for being longest one that I’ve ever caught on the fly. The Robinson Cano bomb that I caught during the final round of the 2011 Home Run Derby was estimated to have traveled 466 feet. What’s the longest home run that you’ve ever caught on the fly?)

My friend Matt followed me out to right field and took the following photo:

No, I didn’t buy a Phillies jersey for the occasion. It was lent to me by — Who else?! — my friend Ben Weil, who owns nearly as many jerseys as there are stars in the Milky Way. Ben is also in the photo above, wearing the Roy Halladay (No. 34) jersey behind me.

It was so sunny and hard to see in right field…

…that I completely misplayed a home run. I suppose it would’ve been ruled a “hit” if I were the right-fielder and it landed on the field, but I still felt stupid for ducking out of the way at the last second. Still, I managed to snag two baseballs in that section — my 14th and 15th of the day. The first was a ground-rule double that skimmed over the outfield wall, hit a railing near the Braves’ bullpen, and took an absurdly lucky bounce right to me. (Ben and I were both running for it. He was in the row directly behind me and was ready to strangle me when I caught it. I then offered the ball to him as a joke, at which point he threatened to throw it back onto the field.) The second ball I got was tossed by John Bowker, and once again, Ben barely missed out. But don’t feel bad for him. He snagged a few balls at this game and has nearly 200 this season.

My next stop was the left side of the batter’s eye. Bryce was hanging out near the corner spot, and there were two players near us on the field: Michael Schwimer in center and Antonio Bastardo in left-center. Check it out:

Before long, the batter hit a deep line drive that bounced to the wall in front of us. Schwimer jogged over to retrieve it, so I quickly said to Bryce, “Do you mind if I ask for it?”

“Go ahead,” he said. “You’d probably get it anyway because of your Phillies gear.”

Schwimer ended up tossing me the ball, and guess what happened next? Bastardo saw me get it and gave me the dirtiest look of all time. I responded by smiling and giving him a sarcastic/exaggerated thumbs-up (kinda like this). He shook his head and appeared to be thoroughly disgusted. Normally I would’ve felt bad — it’s never my intention to piss off the players — but given the fact that he’s on the Phillies, it didn’t really bother me. Funny how that works.

During the final five minutes of BP, I misplayed two more balls in right-center. One was a homer. The other was a ground-rule double. Neither one hit off my glove or anything like that. I just took bad routes and found myself slightly out of position at the last second. I was really bummed because I figured I’d cost myself the chance to finish with 20 balls — but the night was still young.

When BP ended, there was a ball in the gap behind the outfield wall in right-center. Within 30 seconds, I snagged it with my glove trick and handed it to a nearby father and son.

Half an hour later, I got Roger McDowell to toss me another ball, this time from the Braves’ bullpen in right field. (I was surprised that he didn’t recognize me.) Here’s a photo that I took moments later. You can see McDowell (wearing No. 45) on his way out:

I was still there when the Braves took the field for the game. Why? Because Eddie Perez had several baseballs in his back pockets. When I asked him for one, he threw his arms up and looked really annoyed and said, “You got like ten balls in batting practice!”

I felt busted and couldn’t think of anything clever to say or do, so I hung my head and acted really sad and made an exaggerated pouty-face (like this). I don’t know how Perez responded because I didn’t look at him as I left the section. I just wanted to get the hell out of there.

This was my view during the game:

As is often the case, I was tempted to stay in the outfield and try to catch a home run, but the lure of the dugout was too great. This was the second-to-last game of the regular season, and as I mentioned before, the Braves were clinging to a one-game lead for the wild-card. It might sound crazy, but I really wanted to WATCH the game, and of course it didn’t hurt that in doing so, I’d have a steady flow of snagging opportunities.

My 19th ball of the day was tossed by Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz after the 2nd inning; Jason Heyward struck out (against Roy Oswalt) to end the frame, and Ruiz hooked me up with it on his way back to the dugout. I then reached into my backpack, pulled out one of the brand new balls that I’d plucked off the field with my glove trick, and handed it to a little kid who got so giddy as a result that his parents had a hard time calming him down.

My next ball was going to be significant for two reasons. Not only was it going to be my 20th of the day, but it was going to **DOUBLE** the previous single-season record of 544, set last year by Erik Jabs.

After I got the ball from Ruiz near the home-plate end of the dugout, I moved one section over toward the outfield end. It paid off. Chipper Jones grounded into a 1-6-3 double play to end the 3rd inning, and Ryan Howard tossed me the ball on his way in. Here it is:

This ball is so important to me that I have to post another photo of it:

For the record, as soon as I caught it, I pulled another practice ball from my backpack and handed it to a different kid.

Something weird happened in the top of the 4th inning: I snagged a foul ball right behind the dugout and got some unintentional help in the process. It was a foul chopper that was pulled by Carlos Ruiz. The ball took a huge bounce (with lots of topspin) into the dugout. Several Phillies reached up for it. The ball deflected off their hands and shot back into the crowd. It was then deflected by a man who was sitting in the front row. I was already moving down the steps (from my seat in the 4th row), and when I reach the bottom, the ball was skimming across the dugout roof. I lunged at it and knocked it into the front row, where it settled at my feet. No one else was scrambling for it or even seemed to care, so I was able to reach down and grab it. How’s THAT for random?

That was my 21st ball of the day, and I wasn’t done.

As the bottom of the 9th inning was about to get underway, it occurred to me that Phillies coach Sam Perlozzo might toss the infield warm-up ball into the crowd, so I quickly moved back toward the home-plate end of the dugout. That’s where he was waiting for Ryan Howard to throw the ball back, and sure enough, at the very last second, Perlozzo gave it a no-look toss into the crowd. The ball came right to me, and when I caught it, I noticed that there were two kids who’d crept up right beside me. They were brothers. One of them had gotten a ball earlier. I handed this one to the other. It was the 7th ball that I’d given away.

The Braves ended up losing the game, 7-1. (The Cardinals won their game in Houston, 13-6, which meant these teams would be tied for the wild-card, heading into the last day of the regular season. More on this in my next entry.) After the final out, Ben and I both tried to get a ball from home plate umpire Dan Iassogna. Rather than littering the following photo with a bunch of red arrows, just take a look and then I’ll explain who’s who:

The guy facing the crowd and wearing the light blue shirt is Iassogna. He was pointing to a little kid in the crowd. See the fan in the “THOME” jersey? That’s me. Ben is standing on my right in the “HUDSON” jersey, and by the way, the man standing next to Iassogna is Phillies TV commentator (and former player) Gary Matthews Sr.

Anyway, after Iassogna gave balls to the few little kids in the section, he tossed one to me. And that was it. (Sorry, Ben. Thanks for the jersey. I’ll have it dry-cleaned for you within a week.)

Matt had brought his copy of The Baseball. Here we are with it:

Did you notice my fingers in the photo above? I’m making a “2” and a “3” to indicate how many balls I’d snagged — at least up until that point. As I headed out of the stadium with Ben and Matt, I spotted a ball in a random/cheap location:

That’s the back of a Speed Pitch booth, and to my surprise, it was easy to lift up the bottom edge of the chain-link fence. I wasn’t even thinking of counting that ball in my stats until I took a closer look at it:

It was an official major league baseball!!!

Should it count?
Should it NOT count?

It seemed like a really cheap way to get a ball, and get this — I noticed three others inside the back of the cage, two of which are pictured here:

I grabbed all three of those balls (four total from the cage) and questioned whether or not to count them. Matt and Ben were adamantly opposed to counting them, and I agreed. I mean, two percent of my brain was trying to come up with a reason for why the balls should count, but I knew from the start that it was a bad idea. Still, I needed a definitive answer, so I called my friend Brad. When it comes to ballhawking matters, he’s The Voice of Reason, so I was relieved when he answered his phone. Here I am explaining the situation to him:

This is how Ben felt::

As I expected, Brad was opposed to my counting the Speed Pitch balls — and I was glad. The whole thing never felt right. Ultimately, before leaving the stadium, I returned all four balls to the cage and left them in a spot where they’d be easy for the employee(s) to see the next day. So yeah, just to be clear, I did NOT count any of the balls that I grabbed through the fence of the Speed Pitch booth. It was a silly idea to grab them in the first place, and I’m glad my friends were there to straighten me out. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 23 balls at this game (16 pictured here because I gave 7 away)

• 1,091 balls in 124 games this season = 8.8 balls per game.

• 785 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 310 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 179 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 5,753 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.)

• 60 donors

• $7.46 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $171.58 raised at this game

• $8,138.86 raised this season

9/26/11 at Turner Field

One word: THIRTY.

That’s how many major league stadiums I’ve now visited this season. Of course, it didn’t become official until I set foot inside Turner Field, but I was so pumped when I first arrived that I held up my sign for a photo:

Half an hour later, there was a sizable line outside the gate in left-center field:

While I was wandering and taking photos outside the stadium, someone was holding my spot at the front of the line — a very good thing because when I first ran inside, I discovered a ball sitting in the gap behind the outfield wall:

Less than a minute later, I reeled it in with my glove trick, and less than a minute after that, I found another ball in the 4th row in left-center field. At that point, there were already a few dozen people scattered throughout the seats, including a woman who was absent-mindedly standing right next to the ball, so I didn’t attempt to take a photo of it. I just grabbed it and got the hell out of there.

Turner Field is glove trick heaven. The gap (pictured above) extends all the way around the outfield, so no matter where I was, I had a chance to snag ANY ball that barely cleared the wall. That’s what happened with my 3rd ball of the day. Someone on the Braves (not sure who) hit a home run that fell short of the seats, and I was all over it. As soon as I reeled it in, I handed it to the nearest kid.

Things slowed way down after that. I’d snagged those three balls within the first five minutes, but only got two more during the next hour. The 1st was a home run that I caught on the fly after running one full section to my left, and the 2nd was tossed by George Sherrill in right field. That raised my total for the day to five.

I was battling the sun in right field when the Phillies starting taking BP…

…and when Hunter Pence started hitting bombs, I took off for the left field side. I ended up snagging one of his home runs — a true moonshot that landed in the cross-aisle in straight-away left and took a *perfect* bounce back to me several rows below. I often complain about balls that land near me and take crazy/unlucky bounces to other people, so this was a case of the universe attempting to even things out.

My 7th ball was a homer (once again, no idea who) that landed in the partially empty front row. I snatched the ball as several other grown-ups closed in, and I handed it to the nearest kid. I also gave away my 8th ball of the day — a gentle toss-up from Kyle Kendrick that fell short of the kid that he was aiming for and landed in the gap.

Kendrick didn’t see me give it away, nor did he see me catch a home run in the front row for my 9th ball of the day, so I tried to convince him to throw me another. I noticed that he was strictly tossing balls to little kids, so when he jogged near me to retrieve a ball from the warning track, I asked, “Kyle, is there any chance to get a ball from you, or am I too old?”

“Too old,” he said after glancing at me for a split-second.

For the next five minutes, I noticed that whenever he fielded a ball, he took a quick peek at me before chucking it back toward the bucket in shallow center. The more he did it, the more animated I became in giving him a target. First I held up my glove. Then I waved my arms. Then I ran down to the front row. Then I ran down to the front row and jumped up and down. And so on. I was trying to get inside his head and make him want to throw me a ball, and eventually it paid off. Two minutes before BP ended, he fired a seed at me from about 100 feet away. Here it is:

In the cluster of players pictured above, Kendrick is standing on the right.

When BP ended, I was at the 3rd base dugout, and when the Phillies cleared the field, I got my 11th ball from Ali Modami, the team’s batting practice pitcher. Just before I caught this ball, I took a photo of it flying toward me. Check it out:

(For the record, I had my camera in my right hand and my glove on my left hand.)

Do you remember when I met a guy named Matt on 5/17/10 at Turner Field? Or when I met another fan named Evan on 5/19/10 at Turner Field? I’m guessing that the answer is no, so let me refresh your memory. Here’s the photo that I got with Matt last year, and here’s the one with Evan. Does that ring a bell? Maybe? Slightly? No? Not at all? Well, both of these guys were at this game, and I hung out with them after BP. Evan’s family has season tickets, and he pretty much knows everyone in the stadium, so he got me into the club level, just to have a look around. Matt joined us, and I took a few photos along the way.

Here’s the club level concourse:

Here’s the inside of the 755 Club restaurant:

Here’s the view of the stadium through the restaurant windows:

By the time we made it this far, Evan had taken off, so I kept wandering with Matt. When we headed from the restaurant into the seats, this was the view on my right…

…and this was the view on my left:

Nice, I guess, but whatever. If someone paid me the price of the ticket, I still wouldn’t sit there for the game. (I can be bought, but it takes more than that. Throw in some desserts, and I’m there.) That said, I thought it was a nice place to take my final “stadium number sign” photo. Matt graciously said that he was willing to spend as much time as it took to get the perfect shot, so I handed him my camera.

As you probably know, I’ve been making different faces (and sometimes poses) in all these photos to show how I feel about each stadium, mostly from a ballhawking perspective. Given the fact that this was my FINAL stadium, I wanted to get it right. I won’t tell you how many photos I forced Matt to take. Instead, I’ll just show you the two that I like best. At first, I was sure that I was gonna go with this…

…but then I started to like this one more and more:

It’s more dignified and triumphant. (Me? Dignified? HA!!!) Ultimately, that’s the one that I decided to use for my final collage:

The entire collage is more than 4,000 pixels wide. Each individual photo measures 800 x 600, so click it and make it bigger and have a closer look.

Here’s a list of the stadiums in the order that I visited them, along with their locations and the dates that I knocked each one off the list:

1) Yankee Stadium — Bronx, NY — April 4, 2011
2) Camden Yards — Baltimore, MD — April 6, 2011
3) Citi Field — Flushing, NY — April 9, 2011
4) Citizens Bank Park — Philadelphia, PA — April 15, 2011
5) Rangers Ballpark — Arlington, TX — April 25, 2011
6) Minute Maid Park — Houston, TX — April 29, 2011
7) Nationals Park — Washington, D.C. — May 2, 2011
8) Rogers Centre — Toronto, ON — May 26, 2011
9) Coors Field — Denver, CO — June 9, 2011
10) Safeco Field — Seattle, WA — June 13, 2011
11) Fenway Park — Boston, MA — June 20, 2011
12) Chase Field — Phoenix, AZ — Home Run Derby
13) Tropicana Field — St. Petersburg, FL — August 2, 2011
14) Sun Life Stadium — Miami Gardens, FL — August 4, 2011
15) Progressive Field — Cleveland, OH — August 22, 2011
16) PNC Park — Pittsburgh, PA — August 23, 2011
17) Dodger Stadium — Dodgertown, CA — August 31, 2011
18) Oakland Coliseum — Oakland, CA — September 2, 2011
19) AT&T Park — San Francisco, CA — September 3, 2011
20) Angel Stadium — Anaheim, CA — September 5, 2011
21) PETCO Park — San Diego, CA — September 6, 2011
22) Miller Park — Milwaukee, WI — September 8, 2011
23) U.S. Cellular Field — Chicago, IL — September 9, 2011
24) Comerica Park — Detroit, MI — September 10, 2011
25) Great American Ball Park — Cincinnati, OH — September 12, 2011
26) Target Field — Minneapolis, MN  — September 16, 2011
27) Kauffman Stadium — Kansas City, MO — September 17, 2011
28) Wrigley Field — Chicago, IL — September 19, 2011
29) Busch Stadium — St. Louis, MO — September 20, 2011
30) Turner Field — Atlanta, GA — September 26, 2011

Phew!

I never thought I’d hit up all 30 stadiums in one season, and at this point I don’t think I’ll ever do it again, but who knows? All I can say is that it’s been outstanding and exhausting all at once. This season feels like it’s lasted about three years, which isn’t a bad thing; the older I’m getting, the quicker time seems to be flying by, so it’s nice to have found a way to slow things down.

Anyway, let’s get on with this game at Turner Field, shall we? This was my view before the first pitch…

…and this was my view during the 7th inning stretch:

Notice a trend?

I normally post photos during the actual game, but in this case, why even bother?

I did snag a ball “during” the game. Before the bottom of the 2nd inning got underway, Phillies 1st base coach Sam Perlozzo tossed me the infield warm-up ball. Several innings later, I gave that ball to a kid who was so young that he couldn’t squeeze his tiny glove around it, so his dad had to hold it for him.

After the game, which the Phillies won, 4-2, I got my 13th ball of the day from home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor. Then I photographed Raul Ibanez being interviewed:

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was being shown on TV at the exact moment that I took the previous photo. Check out this low-quality screen shot from the Phillies’ broadcast:

In case you can’t tell, that’s me on the left. I’d been wearing Phillies gear during the game, and I took it off before getting this photo with Matt:

Turner Field is full of win (with the exception of the Braves’ performance).

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 13 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave four away)

• 1,068 balls in 123 games this season = 8.68 balls per game.

• 784 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 309 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 178 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 5,730 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.)

• 59 donors

• $7.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $95.68 raised at this game

• $7,860.48 raised this season

9/21/11 at Busch Stadium

This was the final game of my 23-day/13-stadium road trip, and things got off to a pretty good start. Soon after I entered the stadium, I used my glove trick to snag my 1st ball of the day from the Mets’ bullpen. Mike Nickeas (my newest BFF) was standing nearby and let me go for it. Some players would’ve snatched the ball before I had a chance to reel it in, but he was curious to see how my device worked.

My 2nd ball was thrown by Bobby Parnell, and my 3rd was tossed by Mets bullpen catcher Eric Langill. In the following photo, Langill is standing in the right-hand corner of the bullpen; I’m wearing the orange shirt in the 4th row, and if you look closely, you’ll see the ball floating into my glove:

I ran all around the outfield seats after that — left field for right-handed batters and right field for the lefties — and accomplished nothing. I’m gonna get tired of saying it (and I feel bad for saying it because St. Louis is an outstanding baseball city), but this stadium is miserable for ballhawking. Every minute that I spent in the outfield was a wasted minute of frustration, and okay, fine, the Mets’ hitting had a lot to do with that, but whatever. It was clear that I wasn’t going to catch any home runs, so I moved to the corner spot along the left field foul line.

The move paid off.

Someone on the Mets (I forget who) rolled a ball to me from deep left field. As I leaned out and reached down for what should’ve been an easy back-handed grab, the ball hit a pebble (or something) and took a bad hop. It wasn’t a crazy-bad hop that anyone else in the stadium would’ve noticed — just bad enough that the ball ended up two inches to the side of where I expected it to bounce, and as a result, it deflected off the edge of my glove. I still ended up snagging the ball (because I knocked it down), but it was embarrassing because several people noticed my error, including Mets reliever D.J Carrasco. He responded by telling me to throw the ball back to him so that he could give me another try to catch it cleanly. Here’s his return throw…

…and here I am using textbook fundamentals to make sure that I didn’t botch it again:

Ten minutes later, Mets coach Ricky Bones threw me my 5th ball of the day and intentionally aimed low to give me a challenging in-between hop. I caught it cleanly (on the 1st try, thank you very much), and when I thanked him for it, he turned his back and flung his hand at me as if to say, “Shut up, go away.” I’m not saying that THAT’S what he meant, but that’s what it looked like. It was an odd gesture for him to make, and whatever he was thinking, he clearly wasn’t happy.

Bones was even less happy when he saw me scoop up a foul grounder two minutes later. In the following photo, he’s standing on the left and staring right at me:

(Haha! Suck it, Bones!)

Bones started yelling at me for having snagged two baseballs (make that six, pal), and when he finally turned his attention elsewhere, I handed the one that I’d just gotten to the man on my right. You can see this man two photos above, standing just behind me in the pale yellow shirt.

After BP, I met a guy who’d brought copies of my last two books — Watching Baseball Smarter and The Baseball. Here we are:

I feel embarrassed to admit this, but I’m drawing a blank on this guy’s name. I think it’s Tyler, but I’m not sure. When I met him, I wrote his name on a piece of paper so that I’d remember, but now, as I sit here writing this blog entry six days later, I’m in Atlanta, and I just realized that I left the paper at home in New York City.

<sigh>

I do remember the name of the guy in this photo:

That’s because I’ve known him for years, albeit mostly through blog comments and emails. His name is Darron, and we first met on 5/22/07 at Busch Stadium. Don’t be fooled by his serious expression. He was in a perfectly good mood. He just has a history of not smiling for photos (and on top of that, he was trying to look grouchy to match the character on his clothes). Check out this photo from our very first encounter, and you’ll see what I mean.

Before the game, I got David Wright to throw me his warm-up ball in shallow left field, and 30 seconds later, I got another ball from Justin Turner in the same spot. I handed the second of these baseballs to the nearest kid and caused a big/happy scene in the process. The kid was there with his whole family, so his father came over and thanked me. The usher also thanked me and chatted for a minute. Everyone else was smiling and in awe of the fact that I’d gotten two baseballs, perhaps because I’d been standing four or five rows back and seemed to be buried in the crowd, but it was no big deal. My bright orange Mets shirt helped me stand out, and on top of that, I was the only fan who was waving and shouting at the players. There were other kids in the section, but they were all standing around passively, mostly waiting for autographs. Josh Thole finally obliged:

I’m aware that photo above isn’t terribly exciting. I pretty much took it to show where I was standing when I caught those two balls. My friend Brandon had been with during batting practice — that’s why there were action shots of me snagging baseballs — but once BP ended, he left the stadium and went back to the hotel. I can’t explain it. He’s just not THAT into baseball, evidently, which is strange because he’s the one who suggested/planned this whole trip in the first place. To his credit, he brought his glove to this game and caught a home run on the fly in left field — his only ball of the entire trip. I would’ve taken a photo of him with it, but he hates having his picture taken.

Anyway, I want to show you two different types of practice balls:

In the two-part photo above, the ball on the left is the one that I got from David Wright, and the one on the right came from BP.

I sat behind the Mets’ dugout during the game, and when Skip Schumaker grounded out to end the 3rd inning, I got the ball from first baseman Josh Satin as he jogged off the field. Here it is:

This ball was significant because according to MyGameBalls.com, it established a new single-game record for Busch Stadium. (The previous record of eight was held by…ME!!) I celebrated by giving a ball to this random young fan on my right:

At that point, I was hoping to snag one more ball and reach double digits — something that I’d previously thought was impossible at Busch Stadium.

As the innings ticked by, my opportunities dwindled, and when Adron Chambers struck out on a 55-footer to end the 8th inning, I figured I had no shot. I was sitting behind the outfield end of the dugout, way too far from the home-plate end where Mets catcher Ronny Paulino would soon be walking back with the ball. At the last second, though, I noticed some empty seats in a nearby row, so I scooted through it toward the home-plate end until I couldn’t go any farther. Throughout the game, Paulino had tossed all the 3rd-out balls over that end of the dugout, so now that he had one final ball to give away, he looked elsewhere. I waved my arms and shouted my head off, and succeeded in getting his attention. The only problem was that I was half a dozen rows back, so if he even tossed the ball my way, there was no telling if it’d ever reach me. Well, he did toss it to me, and his aim was perfect, and no one else around me even bothered reaching for it. (I love going to games outside of New York.) I made the catch and felt pretty damn good. Here’s a photo of the ball, complete with the dirty scuff mark from having bounced in front of the plate:

Ready for a random/awesome statistic? I’ve now had a double-digit game in **TWENTY** different stadiums this season. That has to be a record, and I challenge anyone/everyone to break it. (Going to all 30 stadiums in one season is pretty special; having a double-digit game in all 30 stadiums in one season would be insane. What do you think? Is it even possible? Should I try to do it next year?)

As for the game, all the Cardinals fans around me were anxious when the Mets took a 4-3 lead in the top of the 3rd inning.

“Don’t worry,” I told the ladies sitting behind me, “the Mets will blow it.”

And they did.

In an extreme case of over-managing by Terry Collins, three different Mets relievers each surrendered a run in the bottom of the 7th. That gave the Cardinals a 6-4 lead. The Mets scratched out a run in the top of the 9th, but that was it. Final score: Cardinals 6, Mets 5.

After the game, when I saw D.J. Carrasco walking in from the bullpen with a ball in his hand, I took off my Mets cap in the hope that he wouldn’t recognize me. And it worked. Sort of. He ended up rolling this beautiful ball to me across the dugout roof…



…and just as he was about to disappear from sight, he held up two fingers and yelled, “That’s two!” (Make that eleven, buddy-boy!)

He wasn’t pissed about it like Ricky Bones had been during BP. Carrasco just seemed to be amused. He’s a good guy.

On my way out, I lingered in the concourse for a few minutes until I saw a little kid with an empty glove. I gave him one of my BP balls, and when the stadium cleared out, I went back into the seating bowl and used my camera’s 10-second timer to take this photo of myself:

It was hard to believe that my huge road trip was over. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t burned out. I wasn’t sore or injured in any way. I felt better than ever and could’ve gone to another 13 stadiums if the schedule (and my budget) allowed it.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 balls at this game (seven pictured here because I gave four away)

• 1,055 balls in 122 games this season = 8.65 balls per game.

• 205 balls in 20 games on this road trip = 10.25 balls per game.

• 783 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 308 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 177 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 5,717 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.)

• 59 donors

• $7.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $80.96 raised at this game

• $7,764.80 raised this season

9/20/11 at Busch Stadium

My day started with a brief visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Here’s the outside of it…

…and here I am on the inside:

It wasn’t my idea to go to the museum. My friend Brandon (pictured on the left in the first photo) wanted to check it out, and since we pretty much had to drive past it anyway on our journey from Chicago to St. Louis, I couldn’t really argue. As I mentioned in my entry from 9/17/11 at Kauffman Stadium, I’m not the museum type, and yet I must admit that I enjoyed this place quite a bit. I don’t know why I liked it. I just…liked it. Okay? Can we leave it at that?

In order to exit the museum, we had to pass through the gift shop.

“Ha, nice trick,” I thought. “It’s not gonna work on me.”

Five minutes later (and $26 poorer), I was the proud owner of an Abraham Lincoln t-shirt. Check it out:

The photo above was taken outside the left field gate at Busch Stadium. The guy on the right is named David, and as you can see, he’d brought his copy of The Baseball. (By the way, my shirt says “nerds are cool” underneath Lincoln’s name, and below that it says, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” How could I *not* buy it?) When I asked him how he wanted me to sign it, he requested something that I hadn’t ever been asked to do: sign the baseball on the blank page before the introduction. Here’s what we came up with:

The whole thing was David’s idea. He asked me to (a) write his name on the top part of the ball, (b) sign my name on the sweet spot with my current lifetime ball total, and (c) write the words “and counting…” on the bottom. Very cool.

Game time was 7:15pm, the gates opened at 5:15pm, and when I ran inside, the Cardinals were already done taking batting practice. (LAME!!!) Thankfully the Mets were already on the field, and it didn’t take long for me to snag my 1st — and favorite — ball of the day. Do you remember when I caught the first (and so far only) career home run of Mets backup catcher Mike Nickeas on 4/21/11 at Citi Field? If you’ve never seen that entry, you should check it out immediately, but anyway, when I met Nickeas after that game to return the ball to him, we chatted for a few minutes, and just before we parted ways, I asked him if he’d throw me a ball someday if I got his attention from the stands. He said he would, but unfortunately I never saw him again after that; he got sent back down to the minors, and then when he came back up, the ticket-checking policies at Citi Field made it impossible for me to get anywhere near him. (At Citi Field, the “hospitality attendants” start checking tickets right after BP ends, so no matter where you want to go, you need to have a ticket for that section. Even if it’s 45 minutes before game time and you want to hang out near the Mets’ bullpen [which is 400 feet from home plate] to say a quick hello to the player whose first major league homer you caught, you need to have a ticket. It aggravates me to no end, and if that sounds bad, know that Yankee Stadium is even stricter. This, essentially, is why I root against both New York teams and attend games at their stadiums as infrequently as possible.)

As luck had it, Nickeas wandered out to the warning track soon after I entered Busch Stadium, and he had a ball in his hand.

“Mike!” I shouted from the front row behind the Mets’ bullpen, prompting him to turn around. “I’m the guy who caught your first home run back in April! What’s up?!”

“Hey, Zack!” he replied. “How’re you doing?”

“Great!” I shouted, stunned that he remembered my name. “It’s nice to see you again!”

“Same here!” he shouted back.

We were about 50 feet away from each other, and the music was blasting, so we really did have to shout in order to be heard. When our conversation was winding down, I asked him if he’d toss me the ball. This was the result:

In the photo above, the red arrow (in front of the batter’s eye) is pointing at the ball. Nickeas is on the warning track with his arms up, and I’m standing behind the U.S. Cellular sign, wearing an orange Mets shirt.

Less than a minute later, Bobby Parnell tossed me my 2nd ball of the day. Here it is flying toward me:

Getting toss-ups had never been easier. Not only was I one of the only fans in stadium wearing Mets gear, but I recognized EVERYone. I didn’t even need my roster to identify the September call-ups.

My 3rd ball of the day was thrown by Ryota Igarashi. Here he is letting it fly…

…and here I am making the catch in foul territory:

As you can see, there wasn’t a whole lot of competition for baseballs, but because Busch Stadium is so bad for ballhawking, I only snagged one more ball during BP — a slicer by a left-handed batter that bounced into the stands and deflected right to me.

Why is the stadium so bad? Because the bullpens are placed where most home runs land — straight-away left and right field. In addition to that, there’s no cross-aisle behind the plate or in left field. There an aisle in deep right field, which is great if anyone happens to hit a 400-plus-foot home run over the bullpen, but that doesn’t happen often. And in addition to THAT, the bleachers behind the bullpens are separated from the seats near the foul pole; in order to move from one section to the other, you have to go up the stairs to the concourse and then head back down. There are worse stadiums for ballhawking — Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, for example — but Busch definitely ranks among the toughest. Therefore, I made a point of looking pissed off in my “stadium number sign” photo:

Busch is the 29th major league stadium that I’ve visited in 2011. (Awww yeah, baby!!) Here’s a collage of the first 28.

There wasn’t much action between BP and the game, but Brandon kept taking photos regardless. Here’s David Wright warming up:

Here’s an on-field videographer getting footage of the Mets:

Here I am posing for a photo (with some random guys who recognized me) while several Mets played catch:

Brandon took photos in the top of the 1st inning…

…and in the bottom of the 1st as well:

We were sitting 10 rows behind the Mets’ dugout, so when Lance Berkman hit a towering two-out pop-up near home plate, I made my move.

The following five photos could be called “The Anatomy of a 3rd-out Ball.” In the first one, you can see me moving down the stairs while Mets catcher Josh Thole circled underneath the ball:

By the time Thole headed back toward home plate to retrieve his mask and helmet, I was already in the front row:

I wanted to be standing 20 feet to my right because it would’ve been easier to get his attention. The front row, however, was packed, so I had to stay where I was and try extra-hard to get him to see me. I did that by waving both arms as he approached the dugout:

Moments later, Thole saw me and under-handed the ball in my direction:

Here I am reaching up for the catch:

Easy.

Here’s a closer look at the ball. Note the smudge on the bottom half where the bat made contact with it:

The worst thing about the game was this guy:

He was single-handedly making the entire 3rd-base side of the stadium hate New York. Every time the Mets scored (which, surprisingly, was quite often in the early innings), he stood up and turned around and cheered obnoxiously. When the Mets took a 4-0 lead in the top of the 3rd, he faced everyone and held up four fingers:

Everyone eventually got so mad at this guy that the usher told him to stop doing what he was doing — and when he did it again late in the game (right in the usher’s face), three things happened:

1) He got ejected.

2) On his way out, a beer-guzzling Cardinals fan grabbed his cap and flung it into the next section.

3) The Cardinals fan got cheered — and then ejected too.

For the record, the Mets fan did get his cap back, but man, what an idiot. He’s lucky he wasn’t at Dodger Stadium.

During the middle innings, I wandered out to center field:

(Brandon was already gone by that point. He was bored, so he went back to the hotel. I truly don’t understand him.)

I was hoping to find an empty row, or even a few empty seats, but it was a lost cause. Look how crowded it was out there:

The best thing about walking around the stadium was that I found eight bucks in the concourse (and used five of ‘em to buy a footlong corn dog). The other best thing was that it really made me appreciate my front-row view for the final two innings. Behold the awesomeness:

At Busch Stadium (and many other places), the ushers and guards aren’t anal about people sitting in the front row. If it’s late in the game, and if there are empty seats, people can move there. No big deal. (Dear fellow New Yorkers: see how good it *can* be?)

In the photo above, the two players whose heads are poking up in front of the dugout are Mike Nickeas (yay!) and Chris Schwinden. At one point, when Nickeas turned around, he saw me sitting there and gave me a subtle nod. It might sound silly, but that was one of the highlights of my day.

Shortly after the Cardinals put the finishing touches on their 11-6 win, I got my 6th ball of the day from Jason Pridie. He was right in front of me in the dugout, I was the only fan who recognized him, and he tossed it to me. I then gave that ball to the nearest kid, and that was actually the 2nd ball that I’d given away. I’d given one to another kid right after BP.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game (four pictured here because, as I just mentioned, I gave two away)

• 1,044 balls in 121 games this season = 8.63 balls per game.

• 782 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 307 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,706 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.)

• 59 donors

• $7.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $44.16 raised at this game

• $7,683.84 raised this season

9/19/11 at Wrigley Field

Before I talk about Wrigley Field, I need to tell you about something that happened on the way there because it was SO DAMN AGGRAVATING. Basically, I just need to vent for a minute, because if I don’t, it’s going to stay bottled up inside, and that’s not healthy. Right?

First, have a look at the following photo. It shows me walking across a lane of traffic at a toll plaza in Illinois:

The story is that the tolls in Illinois are stupid and moronic and idiotic and all messed up. At the previous toll plaza, which my friend Brandon and I had driven through the night before, we received a ticket from a machine — you know, one of those slips of paper that indicates where you are so that your distance can be tracked. Well, when we got to the next toll (pictured above), we handed over the ticket and learned that we had to pay two fees. First, there was a $1.90 charge just for being there, and in addition to that, based on where we’d been when we received the ticket, we had to pay an additional $2.15, or something dumb like that. I forget the exact amount, but it was a random/annoying total that required nickels and dimes. In any case, the stupid/moronic/idiotic/messed-up part is that before we paid, we were told that we had to fill out a form with our license plate number as well as the date/time that we’d passed through the previous toll. We were also told that we could (a) pay online or (b) pay through the mail or (c) pay the next time we passed through this particular toll plaza (as along as it was within seven days, which of course wasn’t gonna happen) or (d) pull off on the side of the road and fill out the form and then take it back to the toll booth and hand over the cash to go with it. Given the fact that we were on the verge of running late, we were NOT happy to be forced to jump though all of these ridiculous hoops, but regardless, we chose Option D, and that’s why I was walking across the friggin’ highway. Unreal. I might have to put the Hample Jinx on the entire state of Illinois.

Okay. (Deep breath.) I feel better now. Ready to hear about Wrigley?

Brandon and I arrived at around 4:15pm and headed straight to Waveland Avenue — the famous street behind the left field bleachers. That’s where I ran into an old friend and *legendary* ballhawk named Moe Mullins. Here we are:

Moe might look familiar to those of you who own a copy of The Baseball (see pages 271-272) and even to some of you who don’t. He’s been interviewed and featured all over the place, and he’s recognized by lots of people as the No. 1 ballhawk of all time. When I asked him what his lifetime total was up to, he said, “Hang on, I gotta take a look at my schedule.” It’s not that he was too busy to give me an answer; he literally writes the number of balls that he snags ON his Cubs pocket schedule. Check it out:

As you can see, he writes the number of balls each day and totals it up each month — pretty impressive stats for a guy in his 60s who doesn’t ask for toss-ups and hardly ever sets foot in foul territory. But the most impressive stats are written on the top of the schedule: “241 HR’s” and “5 GS.” Of the 5,517 baseballs that Moe has now snagged, 241 have been game home runs, including five grand slams. (Wow, oh my god, holy crap, and furthermore wow.) I might have him beat in “total balls,” but when it comes to game home runs, he’s the undisputed king, and I bow down to his greatness.

Another bigtime ballhawk named Dave Davison (who refused to be interviewed for my book) was also hanging out on Waveland Avenue. More on him in a bit.

The Cubs were about to start taking BP, so I headed around to Sheffield Avenue — the street behind the right field bleachers. On that side of the stadium, there’s a gate with a space in it (similar to the one at AT&T Park) that allows people to see inside. That’s where I hung out for the next half-hour, and that’s where a young woman named Kyra found me with her copy of The Baseball. Here we are with it:

The signed book was going to be a gift for her boyfriend Ryan, who was stuck in school that day. (I hope he’s received it by now or else I just ruined the surprise.)

Ten minutes later, a batter on the Cubs ripped a line drive into the right field corner. John Grabow jogged over to retrieve it, and guess what happened next? I got him to throw the ball to me over the bleachers and onto the street. Here I am making the catch:

Hot damn! I was pumped!

Dave (the guy wearing the dark green shirt in the photo above) and the few other old-school ballhawks out there gave me crap about begging for toss-ups, but whatever. They all had smiles on their faces, and we were all doing what we each wanted to do: they were strictly trying to catch home runs, and I was trying to snag as many balls as possible.

Here I am marking the ball with a tiny “5691”:

I no longer mark all of my baseballs — just the ones that are extra-special. This one qualified since I snagged it outside the stadium and because it was my first ball at Wrigley in two and a half years.

Shortly before the gates opened, I ran into another friend and superstar ballhawk named Rich Buhrke. Here we are shaking hands:

Over the past few decades, Rich has snagged more than 3,500 balls, including 175 home runs at major league games. Like Moe, he’s also gotten his glove on five grand slams, and you can read more about him in The Baseball. (See pages 273-274.)

When the stadium opened at 5pm, Moe and I were two of the first fans to head inside…

…and it didn’t take long before I got robbed. Check out the follow two-part photo. The arrow on the left shows a home run ball streaking down right to me; the arrow on the right is pointing to the glove that caught it:

Oh well. These things happen. And it didn’t take long for my fortunes to change.

My 2nd ball of the day was a Reed Johnson homer that I caught on the fly after climbing up three rows. My 3rd ball, pictured below in mid-air, was a toss-up from rookie pitcher John Gaub:

Big thanks to Brandon for taking a bunch of excellent photos of me over the course of the day. He’d skipped the previous two games at Kauffman Stadium, so it was good to have him back.

Here’s a photo that I took of my 4th ball of the day:

It was a home run by a Cubs righty that I couldn’t identify; I caught it on the fly after jumping as high as I possibly could in the middle of the section.

I had a bit of time to kill toward the end of the Cubs’ portion of BP (Tony Campana was spraying weak line drives all over the field), so I got my “stadium number sign” photo out of the way. Here it is:

In all of these photos, my facial expressions indicate how I feel about the stadiums, mostly from a ballhawking perspective. Wrigley Field is a pretty tough place to snag baseballs, but it’s so unbelievably awesome in every other way that I decided to go with a neutral expression.

Here’s a collage of photos from the first 28 stadiums that I’ve visited this season:

Here’s a gorgeous photo, taken by Brandon, that shows the bleachers and Waveland Avenue:

It’s hard to believe that Wrigley Field and Citi Field pretty much hold the same number of people. Taking standing room out of the equation, both stadiums have capacities in the 41,000 range.

When the Brewers took the field, I snagged my 5th ball of the day — a Corey Hart homer that I chased down and grabbed after it landed in left-center. I handed that ball to the nearest kid, and ten minutes later, I got Marco Estrada to toss one to me.

Then I grabbed another home run ball in left-center. On the upper right of the following photo, the red circle shows it streaking down, and at the bottom, you can see me running toward the spot where I’d predicted it was going to land:

Isn’t it odd that NO ONE behind me was making any effort to catch the ball? They were all just…sitting there.

Something really funny happened in right field toward the end of BP…

Brewers bullpen coach Stan Kyles was shagging in the outfield near LaTroy Hawkins and Francisco Rodriguez. I’ve seen the Brewers enough this year that I can recognize most of the players and coaches, but evidently, lots of fans confuse Kyles with Hawkins. These guys are both slender and African-American, their skin tone is similar, and Kyles is only 11 years older than Hawkins. From 100 feet away, it’d be easy for a casual fan to confuse them. That said, when Kyles fielded a ball and I shouted his first name, Hawkins immediately turned toward me and yelled, “Ohhh, you got it right!!! Just for that, you get a ball!!!”

Kyles, however, was not impressed, and he fired the ball back toward the bucket in shallow center field. Hawkins responded by holding up his right index finger as if to say to me, “Hold on, I’m gonna get you one.” Sure enough, he then motioned to one of his teammates to throw him a ball, and just before he got it, Rodriguez fielded one that was hit.

“Here you go, homeboy!” shouted Rodriguez as he turned and threw it to me.

The following photo was taken while the ball was in mid-air. Look for the little white streak inside the red circle:

By the time Rodriguez threw me that ball, Hawkins had just gotten another ball from one of his teammates, and if you look closely at the photo above, you can see him holding it. Two seconds after I caught the Rodriguez ball, Hawkins held up his ball and waved it to get my attention, and then he threw it to me. I was stunned. Nothing like that had ever happened before.

“TWO baseballs?!” I shouted. “What’s up with that?!”

“Stan said he’d kick our ass if we gave you a ball!” shouted Hawkins with a large grin.

“Well,” I shouted back, “Stan has a lot of ass-kicking to do!”

Hawkins and Rodriguez cracked up, and then I made them laugh even harder when I yelled, “Stan, it’s gonna be a busy night for you!!”

The whole situation was hilarious, and after things calmed down, this was my reaction:

By the way, I normally wear a shirt of the visiting team during BP, but because I’d switched some dates/games around during this trip, I found myself without the proper attire.

At the end of BP, I headed to the Brewers’ dugout on the 1st base side, but had to stay all the way back in the cross-aisle. That’s one of the silly rules at Wrigley, but thankfully it didn’t affect me. I still got a player to toss a ball to me over 10 rows of seats. This was my view shortly after I caught it; the arrow is pointing to the guy who threw it:

I wish I knew who it was because this was my 5,700th lifetime ball.

Here’s a closeup of the ball:

All six of the balls that I got from the Brewers were marked on the sweet spot. Here are the five that I kept:

Because the Cubs were playing the Brewers, and because Chicago is less than two hours (by car) from Milwaukee, look who happened to be there:

That’s my friend Nick Yokanek (aka “The Happy Youngster“), who’d traveled from Milwaukee to see his beloved team inch closer to the post-season.

During the game, while I sat here…

…in an attempt to catch a foul ball, Nick sat here…

…in the last row in straight-away left field in an attempt to catch a home run.

Wanna guess which one of us came closer?

If you said Nick, you’d be correct. In the bottom of the 3rd inning, Geovany Soto launched a two-run homer that appeared to be heading right toward him.

Wanna guess who ended up catching it?

This man standing in the middle of Waveland Avenue:

That would be Dave Davison (wearing his famous blue “BALLHAWK.NET” shirt). The dude is incredible.

Late in the game, I wandered out to the bleachers. Soon after I got there, Alfonso Soriano was getting ready to throw his warm-up ball into the crowd:

In the photo above, that’s me on the staircase. I didn’t bother waving at him because I could tell that he was going to throw it far to my right. Look closely at the following photo to see where the ball ended up:

No, I didn’t end up snagging it. I just really like that photo (taken by Brandon) and wanted to share it.

Nick and I hung out on the narrow walkway behind the bleachers and talked for quite a while:

He’s a really good guy, and it sucks that the media dragged him through the mud after he caught Chris Coghlan’s 1st career homer and asked for a few goodies in return. (See pages 260-261 of The Baseball for the real story of what happened, or better yet, read about it here in great detail on his blog.)

In the top of the 9th inning, Brandon and I headed toward the Cubs’ dugout. From that section all the way in foul territory, he took this outstanding photo of the fans in left field:

Why was everyone looking up?
Because a home run (by Casey McGehee) was about to land amongst them.

Why did I put red numbers on four of them?
Because their reactions are priceless:

1) “OH MY GOD!!! IT’S THE MOST BEAUTIFUL HOME RUN I’VE EVER SEEN!!!”
2) Absolutely no chance in hell of catching it.
3) Twenty feet from the landing spot and cowering (slightly) in fear.
4) “La-la-la, nice night for a stroll.”

Not surprisingly, the ball was bobbled:

(People! Bring your glove to the game! It doesn’t matter if you’re 6 or 16 or 60. Bring. Your. Glove.)

Carlos Marmol, the pitcher who surrendered that longball, got a visit from his teammates soon after:

Several fans sitting near me were grumbling about Marmol’s pitching skills, but the homer didn’t make a difference.

Final score: Cubs 5, Brewers 2.

Geovany Soto, the only player on either team with more than one hit, went 3-for-3 with two homers and knocked in all the runs for the Cubs.

Ronnie Woo-Woo was excited…

…and so was I. I’d seen a great game, gotten to hang out with some friends, and put up double digits in a rather difficult (but awesome) ballpark.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave one away)

• 1,038 balls in 120 games this season = 8.65 balls per game.

• 781 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 306 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 176 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 100 lifetime games outside of New York with ten or more balls

• 5,700 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.)

• 59 donors

• $7.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $73.60 raised at this game

• $7,639.68 raised this season

9/18/11 at Kauffman Stadium

Not only was this a day game after a night game, but it rained. Not only wasn’t there batting practice, but for the first hour, there weren’t any players who came out to throw — a real shame because I was THE ONLY fan inside the stadium. Despite the weather, there was still an Early Bird Tour, and because of the weather, there weren’t any other fans who showed up for it. Incredible. I had the stadium to myself for 60 solid minutes and didn’t get a single baseball as a result. Instead, I watched the groundskeepers play with the tarp…

…and roll up a protective mat at home plate:

I also watched a stadium worker squeegeeing the steps behind the dugout:

As you can see, it was a very exciting day.

The ushers were chilling in the seats behind me…

…and a pair of coaches — one from each team — were having a leg-crossing competition in the bullpen:

After the stadium opened to everyone at 11:30am, two White Sox pitchers came out to play catch:

In the photo above, the player near the foul line is Jesse Crain, and when he finished, I got him to throw me the ball.

Ten minutes later, I wandered out to the right field bullpen…

…and when Gavin Floyd finished his session, one of the coaches tossed me the ball. (Not sure who.) I then handed it to the nearest kid.

Fifteen minutes later, the tarp was back on the field…

…and 20 minutes after that, the grounds crew rolled it back up:

The highlight of the day was getting to see Jeff Francoeur for the first time since last year, when I’d met him at a sporting goods store in New York City called Modell’s. Here he is tipping his cap to me and a few other fans at the dugout:

Okay, so, what was the big deal about seeing Francoeur again? Well, if you clicked the link above the previous photo, then you saw how I was dressed when I met him. As ridiculous as that outfit was, it helped jump-start a lengthy conversation with him during which he promised to give me a baseball the next time he saw me.

“In fact,” he had said last year, “I’m gonna give you two. I think what you’re doing is awesome.”

“Thanks so much,” I remember saying, “but how will you remember? Should I just mention Modell’s?”

“Yeah,” he said, “Modell’s. I’ll remember.”

As luck had it, he was traded from the Mets to the Rangers the next day, and I never saw him again — until this game at Kauffman Stadium.

Francoeur did remember me — “I’ll get you one to add to the collection,” he said at the dugout — but didn’t seem to remember that he’d promised me two baseballs. I was okay with that. I thought it was cool that he remembered me at all, so I waited at the dugout for him to come back out.

While I was waiting, half a dozen White Sox players began warming up along the left field foul line. I knew that I would’ve gotten at least one ball from them, but I didn’t want to lose my chance to get one from Francoeur. So I kept waiting. And waiting. By the time he came back out, the Sox players were gone, and he didn’t even have a ball. He simply came back out to do a little stretching and running in shallow right field. On his way back in, I shrugged when he made eye contact with me, and he said, “I got you.” At that point, I assumed that he was going to grab one of the many baseballs from the dugout and pop back out with it, but that didn’t happen. I thought there was still a chance that he’d have a ball for me when he ran out to take the field at the start of the game — but that didn’t happen either, so I headed to my favorite spot in left field.

This was my view…

…and this is what it looked like on my left:

Once again, if anyone had a hit a home run anywhere near me, I would’ve been all over it, but it never happened.

I’d pretty much given up on Francoeur at that point, but just for the hell of it, I went over to right field before the 5th inning got underway and tried to get his attention while he was warming up. Unfortunately, he didn’t see me until after he made his final throw back to the ballboy. Then he happened to look up in my general vicinity, so I waved. He saw me and pointed at me, which I (mostly) took as a good sign. Had he completely forgotten about me? Did he now suddenly remember and feel bad? Was he simply planning all along to give me a ball after the game? I had no idea what to think, so I headed back to right field when he came back out to play catch before the start of the 6th inning. When he finished, he turned and looked right at me. Then he took a few steps toward me and gingerly threw the ball in my direction. I’m not sure if he was afraid of hurting me or just trying to aim really carefully, but regardless, his throw was pretty much right on the money. I had to reach down and make a back-handed catch over the railing, but whatever. I had the ball, and it felt great. I’ve always liked Francoeur, so it was cool to get to add his name to this list.

This was my view soon after he threw me the ball:

Ready to hear about my bad home run luck?

I’d been running back and forth all game for just about every batter — right field for lefties and left field for righties. The one exception was Juan Pierre. I didn’t bother making the effort for him, and thankfully it didn’t cost me. But I’m telling you, for EVERY other batter, I was always in position.

Make that every other batter except one.

Paul Konerko, a right-handed batter, led off the 7th inning with a home run that landed in the left field bullpen. I ran over to try to get one of the White Sox relievers to toss it up, and while I was there, the left-handed-hitting A.J. Pierzynski crushed a home run to right field that got bobbled by some fans and rattled around the walkway roughly 50 feet from where I would’ve been standing. There’s no guarantee that I would’ve snagged that ball, but if I had to guess either way, I’d say that I probably would’ve gotten it. And of course the White Sox relievers kept the Konerko home run ball.

GAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

When the bottom of the 9th inning started, I thought, “Screw home runs. I’m going for an umpire ball.” It was “Bark at the K” Day at Kauffman Stadium — a promotion that allows people to bring their dogs to the game — and as I headed toward the dugout, I saw a funny sight:

This was my view for the last two outs:

Final score: White Sox 10, Royals 5.

I didn’t get an umpire ball, but I did get a photo with my friend Garrett:

Finally, do you remember what I said in my last entry about baseballs sinking in the fountains? Well, on my way out of the stadium with Garrett, we saw a whole bunch of balls clustered underwater in deep/straight-away right field:

Those might not all look like balls, but trust me, they were. The ripples on the surface of the water were creating weird shapes at the bottom, but anyway, isn’t that sad? Those baseballs could have ended up in the hands of children if the Royals weren’t so mean.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 1,028 balls in 119 games this season = 8.64 balls per game.

• 780 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 305 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,690 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.)

• 59 donors

• $7.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $22.08 raised at this game

• $7,566.08 raised this season

9/17/11 at Kauffman Stadium

The last time I went to Kauffman Stadium, the gates opened two and a half hours early, and I snagged 32 baseballs. Oh, how things have changed…

The gates now open 90 minutes early, so if you want to get inside for the start of batting practice, you have to get one of these:

It’s an “Early Bird Tour” ticket, and as you can see above, it costs ten bucks. The good thing about the tour is that it gets you in the stadium two and a half hours early; the bad thing, unlike the exceptional BP Tour at Great American Ball Park, is that you have to stay behind the dugouts.

(All together now: BOOOOOOOO!!!!!)

Before the tour group got to enter the stadium, everyone gathered around the tour guide and listened to some quick instructions:

She basically told us that we were going to head inside the Royals Hall of Fame, and that after we spent some time there, we’d have a choice of which dugout to go to.

In the photo above, do you see the guy standing just to the right of the tour guide’s hand? He’s wearing a blue, long-sleeved shirt, and his arms are folded. That’s my friend Garrett Meyer. He’s basically the only regular ballhawk at Kauffman Stadium, and as you may recall, he was with me two years ago when I snagged all those baseballs. He was also at BallhawkFest two months ago at Camden Yards, and he was there the following day when I caught Mike Trout’s 1st career home run. Garrett is the friendliest dude of all time, so if you’re ever at this stadium, make sure to find him and say hello. Also in the photo above, do you see the guy to the left of Garrett? He’s partially blocked by the tour guide’s arm, and he’s wearing a tan jacket. That’s a journalist named Reid Forgrave, who was there to write a story about me for FOXSports.com. He was hoping to witness my 1,000th ball of the season, but unfortunately for him, I’d snagged it three days earlier in Cincinnati.

In any case, here’s a photo of Reid and Garrett (and the rest of the group) entering the Royals Hall of Fame:

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not exactly the museum type. I’m more into DOING than SEEING, and on top of that, I was aching to go down into the seating bowl. As a result, I didn’t appreciate everything that the Hall of Fame had to offer, but I did enjoy the ceiling…

…as well as this gigantic sculpture of baseballs:

Royals Hall of Famer George Brett wore No. 5 during his career; the sculpture’s 3,154 balls represent the number of hits that he collected. (Warning: don’t touch those baseballs. I found out the hard way and got scolded by a security guard.)

After about ten minutes, the group was led down into the seats…

…and given a choice of dugouts. Garrett chose the Royals’ dugout on the 1st base side; I decided to stay behind the White Sox’s dugout on the 3rd base side.

This was my view for the first hour:

This was also my view for the first hour:

I would’ve MUCH preferred to be in the outfield with 50 people than behind the dugout with just a select few, but still…not too shabby.

I used all of those empty seats to my advantage, first by getting a player on the Royals (no idea who) to throw me a ball from the left field corner. The ball landed two sections short, so I scooted through my row and grabbed it.

I snagged three more balls during the hourlong “tour.” The first was thrown by White Sox catcher Ramon Castro, and the other two were pulled into the empty seats by righty-handed batters on the Royals. (Once again, I have no idea who. Oh, shut up. I’m from New York. I’m not supposed to be able to identify scrubby September call-ups in the midwest.)

When the stadium opened for real, I headed out to left field with Reid and Garrett. Here they are on the walkway between the seats and fountains:

The last time I was at this stadium, I brought a water-retrieval device to fish balls out of the fountains — and it worked perfectly. This time, however, the water level was so high, at least at the start of BP, that I didn’t need the device; when Alexi Ramirez hit a home run that sailed over my head and splashed down, I simply waited for the ball to float closer.

“You can’t reach over the railing,” said the nearest usher as I was preparing to make my move.

“You’ve gotta be kidding,” I replied.

“I don’t know why that’s a rule,” he admitted, “but that’s just how it is.”

The way I felt at that point went something like this:

1) Wow, Royals, you really suck.
2) At every other stadium, fans are allowed to reach over railings.
3) I’m not gonna stand here like a schmuck and watch that ball sink.
4) Come and get me.

Then I lunged over the railing and grabbed this…

…and whaddaya know? I never got in trouble. I hate rules that exist just for the sake of having rules, and this was clearly one of them.

I headed to the right field “party porch” soon after…

…and when another home run landed in the water, I pulled out my device and flung it at the ball. The nearest usher responded by grabbing my string and yanking it out of the water.

“You can’t do that!” he said abruptly.

“Why not?!” I asked.

“Because if we let you do it, then everyone would be doing it.”

“So what?”

“I’m sorry, but that’s our policy.”

I’m sorry, but that’s lame. What the hell happened in the last two years that caused the Royals to become so anti-fan? First they shaved an hour off the gate opening time, and then they arbitrarily decided not to let fans retrieve baseballs from the fountains? I truly don’t get it. I mean, if the ushers fished the balls out of the fountains and the Royals donated them to Pitch In For Baseball, then I wouldn’t argue, but the way things work now, those balls stay in the water until they sink. And then they stay there some more, sometimes for days or even weeks. And then, presumably, they get thrown out. What a horrible fate for such important objects!

After BP (yes, the Ramirez homer was the only ball I got), I met up with some folks who’d brought copies of my books for me to sign. Here I am with a guy named Kent (whom I met two years ago) and his copy of The Baseball:

(See how important baseballs are? A fancy-schmancy publisher in New York City thought it was worth it to pay me to write a whole book about them.)

Here I am with a gentleman named Tom and his two sons, Zachary and Connor:

In the photo above, Zachary is on the left, holding a copy of Watching Baseball Smarter, and Connor is on the other side of me. Here I am signing the book for the boys:

Tom and I had been emailing back and forth for months, but this was the first time that we’d met in person. Throughout our correspondence, he was incredibly friendly and generous, and he offered to help me (in more ways than I can count) at Kauffman Stadium. He’s been attending games here regularly since it opened in 1973, so he knows the place inside and out. Like Garrett, he’s super-friendly, so add him to your list of people to meet. (Kent is also friendly. Everyone is Kansas City is friendly, except for the people who established the BP policies.)

Twenty minutes before game time, I caught up with Garrett and another friend from out of town named “Big Glove Bob.” Here we are:

Do you remember Bob from 5/5/10 at Target Field? That’s where I first met him. Two years earlier, he’d been inspired by the big glove that I brought on 4/24/08 at Champion Stadium, so he got one of his own and now brings it to every game.

It was time for my “stadium number sign” photo, and I thought hard about what ridiculous facial expression to make. Ultimately I chose this…

…because it represented my two conflicting emotions at the time. On one hand, I was pumped to be at such an awesome stadium, but on the other hand, I was pissed off about the un-fan-friendly policies. And there you have it: 27 stadiums down, 3 to go. Here’s a collage of the first 24.

Reid, meanwhile, kept pace with me and never stopped asking questions about what I do and how/why I do it. Most media people who attend games with me leave after BP. Some stick around for a couple innings. But hardly any stay for the whole game. Reid stayed. I can’t single-handedly give him a standing ovation, so I’m standing as I’m typing this sentence. Seriously. (Okay, I just sat down, but I’m not done. As a bonus thank-you to Reid for all the time he spent with me and all the running he did as I constantly raced back and forth from right to left field, I’m going to link to his writing archive so you can check it out and show him some love. Here it is. And for those of you on Twitter, you can find him @ReidForgrave.)

This was my view for right-handed batters…

…and this was what it looked like on my left:

Why why why why WHY couldn’t someone have hit a home run to deep left field? It kills me when there’s so much room to run, but nothing to run for.

For every left-handed batter, I had even more room to run in right field, but didn’t have a chance to flash the leather. In the bottom of the 5th inning, Mike Moustakas hit a home run RIGHT AT ME, but it fell ten feet short and barely cleared the wall. The other two homers — a solo shot by Alex Rios in the 2nd and a three-run bomb by Jeff Francoeur in the 8th — didn’t come close.

Before the 9th inning started, I got Alex Gordon’s attention and got him to throw me his warm-up ball from more than 100 feet away. Unfortunately he airmailed me and the ball went in the drink. At the time, there was lots of in-between-inning activity (crowded aisles, gimmicky videos on the jumbotron, etc.), so the nearby usher didn’t notice my water-retrieval device until it was too late. I reeled in the ball and was glad that Reid got to witness it. Tom also got to witness it and took a couple action shots. Here’s one of them:

Good times at the K.

Final score: Royals 10, White Sox 3.

On the way out, I got a photo with Reid:

No, I wasn’t pissed off — just being silly and pretending to be serious.

Once I made it outside, I ran into several White Sox players, who (for some reason) were standing around and waiting for a cab. (Don’t major leaguers have helicopters or golden limousines that pick them up whenever/wherever they want? Jeez. Standing around in the parking lot is so bush league.) Here I am with them:

In the photo above, Ramon Castro is wearing the white shirt, Chris Sale is rockin’ the stripes, and John Danks is wearing orange. (Sergio Santos is taking a swig from his soda cup in the background on the left.) All three of these guys were nice enough to sign my ticket:

Sale signed it on the left, Castro signed the middle, and Danks signed it on the right. (Danks complimented my t-shirt, BTW.) I didn’t ask Santos to sign it. If I had (and if he’d agreed), he would’ve had to sign it on the back — and there would’ve been plenty of room:

Garrett informed me that the Royals had run out of ticket stock, so the tickets were all blank and boring as a result. Hilarious. Garrett also deserves a standing ovation (hold on, let me stand up again) for giving me a coupon that essentially got me the ticket for free. (I’m standing again as I’m typing this. No joke. The angle makes it a little tough, but I’m managing.) I had to pay a one-dollar handing fee at the box office, but luckily I’m a high roller, so that was no big deal. (I just sat back down, and it feels really comfortable. I hope I don’t think of anyone else who did me favors because I don’t want to have to get up again.)

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave three away — two to a pair of little kids after BP and another to a slightly older lad in left field during the game)

• 1,025 balls in 118 games this season = 8.69 balls per game.

• 779 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 304 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,687 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.)

• 59 donors

• $7.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $44.16 raised at this game

• $7,544.00 raised this season

Nearly an hour after the game ended, I joined a few friends for a spectacularly unhealthy meal at Denny’s. Here we all are:

In the photo above, you can probably recognize me and Garrett and Big Glove Bob. The man on the left is named Fred, and the boy on his right is his son Colin. I’d met them at Kauffman Stadium two years ago, and I’m sorry to report that when I first saw Fred this time around, I had a brain-fart and forgot his name. I do that sometimes. Forgive me, Fred, and to the rest of you, forgive me in advance.

As for the meal, it started with an order of cheesy bacon fries…

…and continued with this:

That’s chicken-fried steak with gravy, scrambled eggs, and potatoes — and stupid me. I was so busy pigging out that I neglected to photograph my final course: strawberry pancake puppies with cream cheese icing.

Hell.
Yes.

9/16/11 at Target Field

This was my view from outside Gate 34:

This was my first look at the field, more than half an hour before the stadium opened to the public:

This was my first ball of the day (a slicer by a right-handed batter)…

…and this was how I felt:

If you’re wondering how I got into the stadium early, let me ask you this: Do you remember when I met a member of the Twins’ front office on 5/5/10 at Target Field? And do you remember the private tour of the stadium that he gave me the following day? Well, this guy (who wishes to remain anonymous) hooked me up again this time around. Even though I could’ve gotten inside the stadium for free, I still bought a ticket; he then met me outside Gate 34 at around 4:15pm and walked me in through a side door. The best part about all of this was that he was totally cool with the whole ballhawking thing. He reads this blog, knows about my baseball collection, and wanted to help me add to it. His one request was that I *not* ask the players for balls before the gates opened. Beyond that, he told me that if any balls landed in the seats, I was free to retrieve/keep them — and of course if a player offered me a ball, well, I was certainly allowed to accept it. That’s what happened soon after BP got underway when rookie pitcher Scott Diamond saw me sitting half a dozen rows back and held up a ball for me.

“Oh!” I said, taken by surprise, as he tossed it to me. It was a real beauty:

My 3rd ball of the day was a liner into the seats by a left-handed batter on the Twins — no idea who. Here’s where it ended up…

…and here’s a closer look at it:

That’s quite an unusual mark, huh? I wonder how it got there.

Before the gates opened, I snagged two more baseballs. The first was sliced into the seats along the right field foul line by a righty, and the second was sliced to me by Matt Tolbert on the left field side. I caught that one on the fly.

This was my view from the corner spot down the left field foul line:

I was expecting dozens of fans to swarm the section when the gates opened — that’s how it was last year — but as it turned out, there were just a handful of folks who made their way down to the front row. Among them was my friend Brandon and his girlfriend Siobhan. (They could’ve gotten inside early with me, but instead chose to have an early dinner near the stadium. What fools!)

My 7th ball of the day was sliced into the mostly-empty seats by Ben Revere, and my 8th was thrown by Tsuyoshi Nishioka after I asked him in Japanese. Here’s a photo of him letting it fly:

Brandon, meanwhile, was trying to convince Siobhan to try to snag a ball, and when I saw her tiny pink glove, this was my reaction:

I was thinking, “Ohhhhhh boy, how the hell am I gonna compete with that?”

I know it’s tough being a woman, but when it comes to snagging baseballs at games, it’s the easiest thing ever. I explained to Siobhan that all she had to do was make herself seen/heard, and she’d be *guaranteed* to get a ball. She basically just had to stand there and hold her glove up, but for whatever reason, she got all shy about it and never made the effort. Brandon, for whatever reason, got pissed off at me for not helping her, but there was nothing else I could’ve done. So I kept on snagging.

When the Indians took the field, I got two toss-ups from players that I couldn’t identify and scooped up a grounder that was sliced down the line. I also got Jim Thome’s autograph. Here he is signing for me…

…and here’s the autograph itself:

Yeah, I got him to sign my ticket. You got a problem with that?!

Just before BP ended, my anonymous friend from the Twins’ front office took off. As a parting gift (as if bringing me inside the stadium early wasn’t enough), he gave me a copy of this gorgeous book — and then apologized for making me have to carry it around. Poor me.

I had 11 balls when BP ended, which, according to MyGameBalls.com, established a new single-game record for Target Field. (The previous record of nine was set by…me!!) As beautiful and classy and fan-friendly as the stadium is, it’s terrible for ballhawking; no offense to the Twins organization, but that’s why I have a disgruntled look on my face in the following photo:

Target Field is the 26th major league stadium that I’ve visited this season. Here’s a collage of the first 24.

My anonymous friend had actually given me two parting gifts. In addition to the book, he shared an insider piece of knowledge. He told me that after the national anthem, all the Twins players were going to throw autographed baseballs into the crowd near the dugout. Before I headed over there, I decided that if I got one, and if it was an official ball, then I’d count it toward my grand total. Of course, I’d counted the Mexican League ball that Jeremy Guthrie had thrown to me as part of an elaborate prank on 7/23/11 at Camden Yards, but that was different. I can’t really explain why. It just was. And I’ll admit that I kind of regret counting it. Therefore, when the national anthem concluded and Carl Pavano tossed this ball to me…

…I decided that it wouldn’t count. I could’ve made a case for counting it — it WAS, after all, thrown by a major league player on a major league field at a major league game — but somehow it just didn’t seem right. Subconsciously, I think I wanted to even the score and prove to myself that I’m not so desperate to pad my total that I’ll count ANYthing. (I didn’t count the autographed ball that Mike Trout gave me outside the visitors’ clubhouse after I returned his 1st career home run to him on 7/24/11 at Camden Yards, and if you want to go back even further, I didn’t count these four balls that I found on 9/22/05 at Shea Stadium because they weren’t official balls, and I hadn’t seen them actually being used by the players. Some people might argue that it’s cheap for me to have counted the six balls I snagged before the gates opened here at Target Field, but what can I say? I go by instinct. When you attend hundreds of games in dozens of stadiums, weird circumstances are inevitable. Sometimes I count the balls and other times I don’t, but ultimately it’s my decision. So there.)

Five minutes before the game started, I worked my way down to the Indians’ dugout and got Asdrubal Cabrera to toss me his warm-up ball. I then stayed there for the first few batters…

…before moving here:

That was my view from the standing-room area in deep right field. It was tempting to stay near the dugout and try to snag a 3rd-out ball, but given the significant home-run catching opportunities, I simply had to be in the outfield. Not only was Jim Thome batting clean-up with his 602 career homers, but there were three guys in the Twins’ starting lineup with ZERO career homers: Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson, and Brian Dinkelman. (BTW, Dinkelman hits more foul balls than anyone I’ve ever seen, so stay on your toes whenever he’s at bat.)

In the top of the 2nd, Carlos Santana blasted a homer that landed 30 feet to my right. I got a late break on it (as you can see in the replay) because I was looking in my backpack for a clean BP ball to give to a kid who was walking by at that moment. Even if I hadn’t been distracted, I don’t think I would’ve caught Santana’s homer. I just would’ve gotten really close, but still, it was incredibly frustrating. Over the course of the day, I gave away four baseballs.

Between innings, I wandered a bit and took some photos. I noticed that the trees in front of the batter’s eye were gone…

…and I marveled at the new/gigantic/vertical video board, if that’s even what it should be called. Check it out:

In the photo above, the reason why it says “Rene” is that Rene Tosoni had just been announced as a pinch hitter. It was the bottom of the 5th inning. The Twins were losing, 5-0. Brandon and Siobhan, I discovered, had left the game and gone to the Mall of America, and in the bottom of the 6th, he made me leave too. He and I were going to be at a game in Kansas City the next day, and he wanted to get a head start on the driving. Of course, soon after we got out of Minneapolis, we stopped for an hourlong dinner at Chili’s — time I could’ve spent at Target Field — but hey, not everyone likes baseball as much as I do.

Finally, as if it had been scripted to infuriate me, Jim Thome blasted a home run to right field with two outs in the 9th. I wouldn’t have caught it, but still, screw that.

Goodbye, Target Field:

It was fun while it lasted.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 12 balls at this game (eight pictured here because I gave four away)

• 1,019 balls in 117 games this season = 8.71 balls per game.

• 778 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 303 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 175 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 43 games this season (at 18 different stadiums) with ten or more balls

• 5,681 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.)

• 59 donors

• $7.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $88.32 raised at this game

• $7,499.84 raised this season

9/14/11 at Great American Ball Park

I won’t claim that this was my best birthday ever — nothing will ever beat That Weekend on Shelter Island in 2003 — but from a baseball standpoint, this was as good as it gets.

It started with the “batting practice tour” at 4:30pm. Here’s the ticket for it that I bought at the Reds Hall of Fame:

As I mentioned two entries ago, Great American Ball Park opens in three stages:

1) Right field opens for the BP tour at 4:30pm.
2) The entire right side of the stadium opens for season ticket holders at 5:10pm.
3) All the gates open to the general public at 5:40pm.

Two entries ago, I also mentioned that there wasn’t exactly a huge crowd for the tour. The Reds limit the number of people to 50, but there were only about 20 of us that day. Remember? Well, at the September 14th game, there were only six fans who entered the stadium for the tour.

DID YOU HEAR ME?!?!?!

SIX FANS!!!!!!

This was my view from right field…

…and for the first 40 minutes, this was what it looked like on my left…

…and on my right:

For 40 solid minutes, it never got more crowded than that, and for the record, here’s what it looked like behind me:

To say that it was ball-snagging heaven is an understatement. Of the six fans who were in the stadium, there was a father with his very young son. They hung back several rows and got a bunch of toss-ups from the players. There were also three adult men, one of whom had a glove — and there was me.

Happy birthday, indeed.

Before I tell you how many baseballs I ended up snagging, you need to know this: I began the day with a season total of 971 balls, which meant I was 29 short of reaching my goal of 1,000.

Hmm…

My 1st ball was a ground-rule double by Dontrelle Willis that bounced into the seats in right-center field. The stadium had just opened, so the section was totally empty, but it was still a challenge to snag it because I had to race one of the other guys there.

My 2nd ball was a Todd Frazier homer that I caught on the fly. I was in the middle of the front row when I realized that the ball was going to sail over my head, so I climbed back into the second row and then back again to the third before making the grab. That one felt good.

My 3rd ball was tossed by a security guard on the fake-grassy slope in front of the batter’s eye. There were several balls up there, and he tossed them all into the “crowd.” As soon as I caught it, some random stadium employee who was sitting near the guard shouted, “That’s his third ball!” The guard responded by demanding that I give it back to him. I thought he was kidding at first, but he was dead serious. (Picture the guard standing there with one hand on his hip and the other making a patronizing “come here” gesture.) I pleaded my case, which included telling him that (a) it was my birthday and that (b) I’d promised to give a ball to the little kid if he didn’t get one on his own. The guard made a big fuss about it at first, but eventually relented and let me keep the ball. I then informed the random employee that I’d paid $15 to be there, and when he started arguing with me, I politely suggested that he mind his [expletive deleted] business.

At around 5pm, a right-handed batter on the Reds sliced a foul ball into the empty seats along the right field foul line. At the time, I wasn’t allowed to go there, so I stayed in straight-away right and snagged two baseballs that were hit by Yonder Alonso. The first was a ground-rule double that I caught by leaning *way* over the outfield wall, and the second was a homer that landed behind me in the seats.

When the stadium clock said 5:10pm and a handful of season holders filed into the stadium, I ran over to the seats in foul territory and found this:

That was my 6th ball of the day.

Bill Bray tossed me my 7th ball, and I got No. 8 with my “half-glove trick.” (That’s what I call it when I simply swing my glove out to knock a ball closer.) That one was sitting on the grassy slope in front of the batter’s eye. It was roughly 10 feet out from the corner spot in right-center, so it took quite an effort to snag it. I kept expecting stadium security to shut me down, but no one said a word.

A little while later, I used my glove trick to snag a ball off the warning track in straight-away right field. Reds pitcher Jose Arredondo saw me doing it and, evidently, was so intrigued that he got another ball and rolled it to the wall below me. Here he is waiting for me to snag it…

…and here’s the ball itself:

It only took a matter of seconds to reel it in, and just like that, I’d reached double digits. Soon after, I gave that ball to a kid.

It was only 5:20pm, so I still had 20 more minutes before heading to left field. During that time, I caught a Brandon Phillips ground-rule double in right-center and then had a chance to snag a homer that landed several rows behind me. One of the gloveless guys from the tour was right near me, so we both scrambled for it. When I tried to reach around him to pick up the ball, he yanked my left arm away to prevent me from getting it.

“WHOA WHOA WHOA!!!” I yelled as I reached around with my right arm and grabbed the ball. “DON’T TOUCH ME!!!”

“Don’t climb on my back!” he snapped. “The next time you do that, I’m gonna kick your ass!”

Long story short: the guy ended up apologizing and admitting that he got carried away in the heat of the moment.

At around 5:35pm, I had a chance to use my glove trick for a ball in right-center, but just as I was about to make my move, a left-handed batter on the Cubs sent a deep line drive my way. At the time, my glove was sitting on the pavement in the front row, and my string was partially uncoiled, so I shifted over and prepared to make a bare-handed catch. The ball ended up landing on the warning track and skipping up to me with a ton of topspin. I stuck out my right hand and caught it cleanly. That was my 13th ball of the day, and less than two minutes later, I snagged a Carlos Pena homer that landed near me in an empty row.

The stadium had been open for 70 minutes, and I’d snagged 14 balls. My goal was to snag six more and reach the 20-ball plateau for the second straight day. I was hoping to find a ball or two when the left field seats opened at 5:40pm. Instead, I ended up finding FIVE. I wish I had photos of all the balls sitting there, but there were other fans (all adults, FYI)  running right behind me, so I didn’t even have one second to spare. I did take a photo of the five balls after I grabbed them all:

There’s a reason why I put all those balls there, and no, I didn’t do it for the purpose of taking a photo. I put ‘em there because I needed to take off my backpack and unzip it and toss them all in.

Anyway, it was only 5:41pm, and I already had 19 balls. On each of the previous two days, the Cubs’ portion of BP had lasted until 6:30pm, so I figured I had 50 more minutes to…I didn’t even know what. Snag 10 more and reach 1,000 for the season? If I got 29 balls, then I’d have to go for 30, and if I got 30, then I’d have to try to break my record of 32, which I set on 6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium. But then it occurred to me that maybe I shouldn’t snag 10 more balls — that if I got seven or eight, perhaps I should stop. My friend Brandon, a professional photographer/videographer, was planning to take some epic action shots of the milestone ball, but he wasn’t with me. He was with his girlfriend at a Blink 182 concert in Cleveland, and they were planning to return the next day. They’d both be with me at Target Field for my next game, so I was thinking that if I got close to snagging my 1,000th ball, that I should hold off in order to ensure that it’d be properly documented. AAAHHH!!! I was driving myself crazy. Too much thinking. Too much planning. I just wanted to have fun and be in the moment and try to snag as many balls as possible.

This was my view from left field:

Less than a minute after I took that photo, I got my 20th ball of the day from Rodrigo Lopez, and then I got Tyler Colvin to throw me another. That’s when I noticed a couple of kids in the front row — a boy and a girl who had gloves and were standing next to their parents. I told the kids that if they didn’t get baseballs by 6pm, I’d give them each one — but I insisted that they try.

“Don’t just stand there and watch the minutes tick by,” I told them. “I want you to focus on the players and really try to catch some baseballs on your own, okay?”

The kids nodded, and their parents thanked me, and I got back to business.

My 22nd ball of the day was a homer that landed in the mostly-empty seats — not sure who hit it, but I can tell you that I handed it to the nearest kid. Then John Gaub tossed a ball that sailed over the head of the boy that I’d been talking to and landed at my feet. I picked it up and handed it to him. My 24th ball was a Reed Johnson homer that I caught on the fly. I had to climb down a couple rows for that one, and I gave it to the man who’d jumped and barely missed it.

By 6pm, the girl that I’d talked to was still empty-handed, so I kept my promise and gave her one of my baseballs.

By this point, I really thought I had a chance to put up some ridiculous numbers. I was only five balls away from 1,000 — and things kept going.

Ball No. 25? A home run by Alfonso Soriano that I caught on the fly after running one full section to my left and leaping. Ball No. 26? Another Soriano homer that landed in the seats in straight-away left. I gave both of those balls away as soon as I snagged them. It was like…catch a ball, give it to the nearest kid, catch another, give it to another kid, and so on. Although I knew exactly how many balls I was catching, I lost track of how many I’d given away.

This was the view on my left…

…and this was the view on my right:

That was as crowded as it got.

Do you remember the guy named Kyle from my previous entry? He showed up around this time and camped out behind me:

I’m glad he was there to witness all of this because I almost couldn’t believe it myself.

I told him that I was only three balls away from snagging 1,000 for the season, and we counted down together. Ball No. 27 was another homer that I caught on the fly. Same deal with Ball No. 28. I don’t remember the details, and I can’t tell you who hit them other than right-handed white guys on the Cubs. Koyie Hill? Jeff Baker? DJ LeMahieu? Bryan LaHair? I seriously had no idea. If I’m remembering correctly, I drifted down a few steps for one of these catches, and the other ball pretty much came right to me. Everyone in the section was amazed. They couldn’t believe how many balls I was catching, and they were all thrilled because I kept handing them off to various kids. My season total had reached 999, and then it happened: one of the batters sent a deep fly ball in my direction, and I *knew* that I was going to catch it.

“Here it is!” I yelled at no one in particular, but mostly for Kyle’s benefit.

The ball was carrying a bit, so I drifted back about three or four steps, then shifted to my right, and settled under the ball for what turned out to be a very easy catch.

Number one thousand. I handed my camera to Kyle and posed with the ball:

Here’s a two-part photo of the ball itself:

I was kind of in a state of shock because it all happened so fast, and then when it DID happen, it was rather anti-climactic. Brandon wasn’t there to take photos, and I didn’t even know the name of the player who’d hit it. And yet…there it was in my hand…my 1,000th baseball of the season. I barely had time to appreciate it or reflect, so I’ll do it now. When Opening Day rolled around, I wasn’t even thinking about catching 1,000 balls. My goal was to break Erik Jabs‘ single-season record of 544 balls, but then I thought, “Hell, if I’m gonna go for 545, I might as well go for 600.” That was my initial goal. I figured I could average 100 balls per month, but then I got off to a blistering pace. I ended up snagging 184 balls in April, so I thought, “Hell, instead of averaging 100 per month, why not aim for 150?” And then I thought, “Hell, if I’m gonna aim for 900 balls, I might as well aim for 1,000.” I truly didn’t think it was possible, though. It was more of a fantasy than a goal. I’d crunched the numbers and figured that I needed to attend 125 games and average eight balls per game. (That’s a lot of games and a lot of balls.) Somehow I was still on pace in early June — that is, until I sprained the crap out of my ankle on 6/3/11 at Citi Field. That was such a bad injury that I thought my chances of snagging 1,000 balls were gone. And then, you know, blah blah, I came back with a vengeance. I don’t need to give you a play-by-play rundown of the entire season. The point is that I’d been aiming for this number for a while, so it felt *amazing* to finally get there.

After snagging my 29th ball of the day, I sensed that BP was about to end, so I hurried into foul territory and made my way toward the Cubs’ dugout on the 3rd base side. I barely made it before the players and coaches cleared the field. When I reached the outfield end of the dugout, I got a coach (no idea who) to toss me my 30th ball of the day. I had my camera on at the time, and as the ball sailed toward me, I took the following photo of it:

Then, when the second/final wave of guys began heading toward the home-plate end of the dugout, I hurried over there and got another coach to throw me a ball. I didn’t know who it was, but I took a photo of him just before he let it fly. Have a look:

Does anyone know who that is?

At that point, I’d snagged 31 baseballs. Here are four photos of the more interesting ones…

…and here’s the coolest ball of all:

Do you see that mark in the middle of the ball? That’s a bat imprint, and I’m quite certain that it says “CINCINNATI” — backwards and reversed, of course. Pretty nifty, eh?

Anyway, I simply *had* to find a way to snag two more baseballs and break my record. That record, you may recall, had an asterisk because of some shady tactics that I’d used to snag a whole bunch of balls after the game. Here’s the link to my entry about it, in case you’ve never seen it or want to take another look.

I had a little time to kill, and I spent it with a guy named Brandon (no, not THE Brandon) who’d recognized me during BP and asked me to sign his ticket. At the time that he first introduced himself, I had about a dozen balls, and I knew that I was in the midst of doing something special, so I didn’t want to lose any opportunities. I asked him if he could wait until after BP, and when he said yes, I told him to meet me behind the 3rd base dugout. After BP, Brandon was nice enough to wander out to left field with me to the exact spot where I’d snagged my 1,000th ball of the season. I figured that’d be a good place to take my “stadium number sign” photo, and we got right to it. Here I am:

Great American Ball Park is the 25th major league stadium that I’ve visited this season. I wasn’t too happy about being there the first day, but I held off on taking my stadium number sign photo because I could tell that things were going to get better.

Here’s a collage of my first 24 stadium photos:

Two photos above, did you notice that there were people walking around the warning track? There was some type of “bring your dog to the park” promotion, which was cute and all, but more importantly, Ramon Hernandez was playing catching catch with bullpen coach Juan Lopez. When I saw that, I bolted for the corner spot in left-center. There were a bunch of kids nearby, but they weren’t there to get the ball. They were just interested in the dogs, so there was literally NO competition, and when the guys finished throwing, I got Lopez to hook me up. That was my 32nd ball of the day. Here’s a photo that I took 10 seconds after catching it:

After that, I signed Brandon’s ticket and then upgraded my own. I actually took my left field ticket to a ticket window inside the stadium and paid the difference for a new ticket behind the Cubs’ dugout. It was a lot more money than I wanted to spend, but I felt like I had to do it. My best chance to break my record was going to happen there in the form of 3rd-out balls. The previous day, I’d gotten kicked out of that section by a grouchy usher, and I knew he’d give me the boot if he saw me again. Therefore, I had to buy my way down to where I wanted to be — something I normally wouldn’t do — but this was a special occasion. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever have another game like this, so I wanted to maximize my opportunities, even if it meant feeling like a schmuck for spending an extra fifty bucks.

Brandon came with me when I upgraded my ticket. On the way there and back, I grabbed a slice of pizza, which I ate while running through the concourse. Every second was crucial. I knew that the Cubs might start their pre-game throwing at any moment, and that it wouldn’t last long.

We made it back to the seats just in time and got a photo together. Here we are:

As I predicted, it wasn’t long before the Cubs started throwing. In the following photo, Darwin Barney is the player on the right:

In the photo above, you can see that none of the fans were standing up in the front row. In New York, there would’ve been half a dozen kids screaming for the ball and waving their arms, but here in Cincinnati, there was zero competition. As a result, when Barney finished, I got him to throw me the ball — my 33rd of the day and a new record. Here I am with it:

I truly didn’t know how to pose or what to think.

Here’s a two-part photo of the record-breaking ball:

Did you notice the screwy “practice” stamp on the right? Someone needs practice stamping “practice.”

Once the game started, my plan was simple: run back and forth from dugout to dugout and try to snag as many 3rd-out balls as possible. If I played things right, I figured I could get one ball from each team — and maybe more.

I won’t give you an inning-by-inning account of the entire game. Instead, I’ll just say this: after Brandon Phillips struck out to end the bottom of the 2nd, I got Cubs catcher Geovany Soto to throw me the ball on the 3rd base side.

This was my view from the 1st base dugout:

As you can see, I was in the perfect spot for the catcher, and when Carlos Pena struck out to end of the top of the 8th, I got Ramon Hernandez to throw me the ball.

“You mean it’s THAT easy?” asked a nearby fan after I got the ball from Hernandez.

“Sometimes,” I said with a shrug.

It wasn’t easy in the bottom of the 3rd when Pena caught the final out and tossed it to me several rows back. Like an idiot, I hung back and waited for his perfect throw to come to me, and at the last second, a gloveless, college-aged kid sitting one row below me jumped up and deflected the ball just before I was about to catch it. If I’d moved down one step and forced myself to jump for the ball, no one else would’ve been able to interfere. That’s a maneuver that I often use in New York and other places where people are aggressive, but here in Cincinnati, I waited passively because I assumed that everyone around me was going to stay seated. This ball from Pena was, as they say, “the one that got away,” but what can I do? These things happen, and it was still a magical day.

Here’s a photo of the two 3rd-out balls that I snagged — numbers 34 and 35 of the day.

As the game approached the 9th inning, I had to make an important decision: where to be for the final out. The Reds were winning, 7-2, but the umpires were going to exit on the Cubs’ side. Ultimately, I chose the Cubs’ side and sat here for the final two outs:

I was situated on the perfect staircase for the umps, and after the game ended, BAM!!!

I got my 36th and final ball of the day from home plate umpire Gary Darling. Here’s a closeup of the ball:

Unreal.

I don’t know how else to describe it, and my friend Brad (the guy who got the huge shout-out on page 325 of The Baseball) called it. He knew it was my 34th birthday, so when I talked to him before heading off to this game, he said, “Snag your age.”

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a rare accomplishment to outsnag one’s age. Think about it. How many five-year-olds are capable of snagging six balls at a major league game? How many 10-year-olds can snag 11 balls? How many people of any age can snag 20 balls? After a certain point, the older you get, the harder it becomes. I was 31 years old when I snagged 32 balls in Kansas City; now I’ve outsnagged my age again, possibly for the final time ever. Have you ever outsnagged your age? I’d be curious to know if I’m the only one who’s done this.

On my way out of the stadium, I met up with Rocco and his wife Jill. As I mentioned two entries ago, Rocco is a regular ballhawk at this stadium and had taken really good care of me during my few games here. The first time I met him, he was treating me like a brother. As a token of my gratitude (and because my backpack was still way too heavy), I gave them each a baseball. Here they are in the concourse behind home plate:

It was then that I realized just how many balls I’d given away over the course of the day. I’d given away ten — also a record.

Once I made it outside, I used my 26 balls to create some “balligraphy.” Check it out:

The balligraphy drew a small crowd of onlookers:

In the photo above, there are eight pairs of feet. Those belong to me, Rocco, Jill, three random boys, and two parents. It turned out that the parents knew all about me and had heard of The Baseball. I think they told me that they own a copy of it. Yes…that has to be what they said because I remember telling them that if they mail it to me, I’ll sign it and mail it back. All three of the boys already had baseballs (which they asked me to sign), and we got a photo together:

In the photo above, that’s Nick on the left, Steve next to him, and Grant on the right. Cool kids. We all hung out for 10 to 20 minutes, and that was pretty much it. It started raining, so I hopped in a cab back to my hotel and prepared for the next leg of my road trip…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 36 balls at this game (26 pictured here because I gave 10 away)

• 1,007 balls in 116 games this season = 8.68 balls per game.

• 777 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 302 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 174 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 14 lifetime games with twenty or more balls

• 2 lifetime games with thirty or more balls

• 5,669 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.)

• 59 donors

• $7.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $264.96 raised at this game

• $7,411.52 raised this season

Hold on. We’re not done quite yet. I thought it’d be fun to see what 36 balls look like, so I grabbed 10 from the day before (to replace the 10 I’d given away) and spread them all out:

Damn, that’s a LOT of baseballs! It’s hard to believe that I snagged that many at one game.

Here’s another look.

Here’s one final photo of 36 balls:

I nearly posted it on Twitter (@zack_hample) the next day, but then I figured, “Hell, I’ll just make everyone wait to read about it on my blog.”

9/13/11 at Great American Ball Park

The weather was perfect, the stadium was practically empty, and I’d learned from all the stupid mistakes that I’d made the day before. Of course, even with all those mistakes, I still managed to snag nine balls, so you can imagine what kind of monster numbers I put up here.

Things got started at 4:30pm in right field. This was my view:

The previous day, one of my mistakes was that I wasn’t aggressive enough with the glove trick. Several balls had rolled onto the warning track, and I don’t know what happened inside my brain, but I was scared to go for them. I thought I was going to get in trouble, so I just stood there passively and watched my opportunities slip away. At THIS game, however, when the first ball rolled onto the track…

…I was all over it, and guess what happened? Not only didn’t I get in trouble, but my “tour guide” (for the early BP experience) wanted to see how I’d managed to make the ball stick inside my glove. Ha! Her name was Connie, and when another ball rolled onto the warning track soon after, she called me over and encouraged me to snag it. (I love Cincinnati.) I thanked her by giving her the ball, and she asked me to sign it. Here she is with it:

Several minutes later, I noticed that a player on the Reds randomly tossed a ball into the empty seats behind the 1st base dugout. At the time, I wasn’t allowed to run over and look for it because that part of the stadium hadn’t yet opened, so I kept my eye on the clock and kept doing my thing in straight-away right. Jay Bruce threw me a ball. Then Sam LeCure threw me another. And when the seats along the right field foul line opened at 5:10pm, I raced toward the dugout. This was the result:

When I made it back to straight-away right field, someone on the Reds hit a deep fly ball that carried to the outfield wall in front of me. I reached out to catch it, only to be robbed by a player who jumped up and caught it at the last second.

“You robbed me!” I shouted. “Any chance for a little help?”

The player turned around and flipped me the ball. I found out later that it was a rookie pitcher named Matt Maloney.

Look how empty it was in right field:

It was 5:14pm. The left field side of the stadium wasn’t going to open for another 26 minutes, so I still had some time to work with over here.

The next 10 minutes were dead, so I ran back to the 1st base when the Reds cleared the field. That’s where I got my 7th ball of the day — a toss-up from coach Billy Hatcher.

I ran back to right field when the Cubs started hitting and immediately snagged a home run ball that deflected off a man’s head in the front row. Thankfully, he was okay because he’d managed to get a piece of it with his bare hands, but it was still scary, and I gave him the ball. Then I snagged another homer that landed behind me in the mostly-empty seats. I’m not sure who hit these balls, but if I had to guess, I’d say that the 2nd one came off the bat of Tyler Colvin.

Remember all those mistakes that I talked about at the beginning of this entry? Well, another stupid thing that I did the day before was that when the left field seats opened at 5:40pm, I didn’t bother racing over there to look for Easter eggs. Big mistake. The guys who ran over found a bunch of balls in the seats, and I vowed to get in on that action the next day.

Long story short: I found FOUR balls in the left field seats, so my total for the day jumped from nine to thirteen. That’s when I realized that I had a chance to snag 20 balls — and I sure as hell had enough empty seats to work with:

Ramon Ortiz tossed me my 14th ball of the day. Then I snagged a home run that fell two rows short and ricocheted back to me. (How often does THAT happen?!) My 16th ball was tossed by rookie pitcher John Gaub, and No. 17 was thrown from afar by a player that I couldn’t identify. All I can tell you about that one was that I was standing on the steps in the 6th row and had to jump as high as possible to catch it.

By the way, did you notice that I didn’t catch a single home run on the fly all day? The lack of catchable home runs confirmed my previous day’s opinion about Great American Ball Park. The layout is bad for ballhawking; the only reason why I was putting up big numbers is that the place opened extremely early (two hours and 40 minutes before game time) and no one was there. Anyway, when the Cubs’ portion of BP ended, I got a ball from coach Dave Keller at the 3rd base dugout. That was my 18th of the day. Here’s a photo of four different balls with interesting markings — scuffs, grass stains, practice stamps, et cetera:

After BP, I caught up with a guy named Kyle who’d brought his copy of The Baseball. Here we are with it:

Cool guy. Our paths crossed several times over the course of the day, and we ended up chatting quite a bit.

Just before the game started, I got my 19th ball from Darwin Barney at the 3rd base dugout. I forget who he was playing catch with it, but whatever. There really wasn’t anything to it. There was absolutely NO competition, so when he finished, he had no choice but to throw the ball to me.

When the game started, I really wanted to head out to left field and try to catch a home run, but DAMN, I was still stuck at 19 balls, so I stayed by the Cubs’ dugout in the hopes of snagging a 3rd-out ball. This was my view:

Drew Stubbs struck out to end the 1st inning, and Mike League went down swinging to end the 2nd. Both of those balls got tossed into the crowd at the home-plate end of the dugout, but it was still early. I still had hope.

When Joey Votto bounced into a 4-6-3 double play to end the 3rd inning, I figured I was in the perfect spot to get the ball from Cubs 1st baseman Carlos Pena — but he ended up jogging back toward the home-plate end of the dugout. Damn.

With two outs in the bottom of the 4th, Juan Francisco hit a towering pop-up to the right side of the infield. Pena drifted back and called for the ball. Darwin Barney drifted to the side and settled under it as well. I was praying that he’d call off Pena. If Pena caught it, he’d take the ball to the wrong end of the dugout, but if Barney caught it, he (and all the other position players) would jog in toward my end. As luck had it, Barney called off Pena at the last second and started heading toward me. I moved down to the front row and took off my Cubs hat to make it harder for him to recognize me, and when he reached the warning track, he tossed me the ball.

Hell yeah.

This was just the 13th time in my life that I’d snagged 20 balls at a single game, so it was a pretty big deal.

I moved to straight-away left field after that, but there wasn’t any action — and that was fine. At that point, I was content to just sit there and watch the game. Mike Leake outdueled Ryan Dempster. Final score: Reds 2, Cubs 1.

After the game, I posed for a photo with a fellow ballhawk named Michael who’d brought his copy of The Baseball:

Then, on my way out, I gave away three of my baseballs to kids.

Here’s a photo of my 20th ball of the day outside the stadium:

I made sure to keep that one for myself.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 20 balls at this game (15 pictured here because I gave 5 away)

• 971 balls in 115 games this season = 8.44 balls per game.

• 776 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 301 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 173 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 13 lifetime games with twenty or more balls

• 5,633 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.)

• 59 donors

• $7.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $147.20 raised at this game

• $7,146.56 raised this season

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