9/11/11 at Comerica Park

I’m such an idiot.

After using my glove trick twice the day before, I neglected to coil up the string. Instead, I just bunched it up and stuffed it back inside my glove. As a result, it was tangled as hell at the start of batting practice, and I had to spend a couple minutes dealing with it. Here I am being an idiot:

Worse than the tangled string was my unscannable ticket. I’d bought it from StubHub and printed it on a crappy PC in my hotel’s business center. The barcode looked kind of screwy, but I thought it’d work. No such luck. And as a result, I missed the final five minutes of the Tigers’ portion of BP. The players were jogging off the field when I ran in. Max Scherzer had a ball in his hand. I called out to him and asked for it. He turned and chucked it in my direction. It sailed five feet over my head and ricocheted to a pudgy middle-aged woman.

Given the fact that this was the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it feels wrong to be complaining about such trivial details or even to be blogging about…anything, really, but hey, life goes on, so I might as well keep telling my stories, right?

By the way, since I get asked about this a lot, the answer is yes. I was in New York City on September 11, 2001. I was with my mom at a local bank, several miles from the area now known as “ground zero.” She was helping me open a checking account when we overheard an employee’s phone conversation about the first plane. We didn’t see or hear the explosion — there were lots of tall buildings between us and the southern tip of Manhattan — so all we could do was run home and turn on the TV. I didn’t know anyone who died in the attacks, but I knew people who lost friends and family members. I’m getting chills as I’m typing this, and if I think too hard about it, I might start crying, so for my own sanity, I just want to get back to baseball. No disrespect intended.

<deep breath>

The Twins started hitting before I finished untangling my string, but that didn’t stop me from shouting at Jose Mijares and asking him for a ball. Of course my glove was on the ground at the time, and my string was all over the place, so I had to catch the ball bare-handed. Here I am leaning back for the grab:

My glove came in handy for my second ball of the day, and in fact I wouldn’t have caught the ball without it. Lester Oliveros threw it. I had to lean way over the railing. Have a look below. The following photo was taken as the ball entered my glove:

My 3rd ball of the day was a home run that I caught on the fly. (Not sure who hit it.) It was also my 5,599th lifetime ball, and I gave it to the nearest kid. Brandon was just returning from the bathroom and got a photo of the hand-off from the back of the section:

My next ball — No. 5,600 — was another home run by a player that I couldn’t identify. (Bummer.) Here I am catching it…

…and here’s the ball itself:

That was it for BP.

Twenty minutes earlier, I had raced over to left field for a few minutes, and it was worthless. The bullpens swallowed just about every home run, and the first few rows behind them were a bit too crowded. Meanwhile, the right-center field seats were way too deep to see any action, and the section in straight-away right field got packed. Comerica Park officially sucks for BP, and the fact that it opens just 90 minutes early on weekends doesn’t help. In any case, I found myself behind the 1st base dugout when the Twins cleared the field and got Jerry White, the team’s 1st base coach, to toss me a ball. This was my view just before I snagged it:

Remember the kid that I gave the ball to? It turned out that his father knew who I was. At the time, he told me that they owned a copy of one of my books, and after BP, they came and found me at the dugout. The father (Jeff) then asked me to sign the ball for his son (Bram). Here I am scribbling my name on the sweet spot:

After that, I had roughly half an hour to wander around the stadium. As I mentioned in my last entry, this wasn’t my first time at Comerica, but it’d been so long that I wanted to experience it from scratch.

My first stop was the last row of the upper deck behind home plate. Here’s my sorry attempt at photoshopping two pics together to make a panorama:

When I headed back down the steps, I noticed the snazzy design of the staircases leading up into the seats. Each section has its own staircase, and there’s a tunnel in between that leads to the seats below the cross-aisle:

Are there other stadiums with staircases like this? I’m guessing that there are, but I can’t think of any right now.

While heading through the concourse toward the left field corner, I saw this off to the side:

As you can see, it’s a picnic area, and there’s a ferris wheel at the far end.

Very nice.

Here’s the view from top corner of the upper deck in left field:

In the photo above, do you see the huge T-shaped platform between the outfield wall and the stands in straight-away left field? It has a gigantic image of a baseball glove on top. That’s where the Joe Mauer home run ball landed the previous day. If you haven’t read my entry about it, you should check it out and then come back. This entry is kind of like a sequel, so you’ll appreciate it more if you know what preceded it.

Before I headed down the steps, I turned to the left and took this photo:

In the photo above, the building on the left is Ford Field, home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions.

Then I ran all the way around the stadium to the right field side. (I’m not kidding. I really did run. I wanted to cram in all of my sight-seeing before the game started. Comerica Park is bad for ballhawking during BP, but the in-game foul-ball opportunities are outstanding.) Here’s what it looked like from the right field side:

I headed down to the front row, and when I peeked over the edge, my eyes lit up. Here’s what I saw:

Do you see what I was seeing? Click the photo above for a closer look and spend a few seconds examining it. I didn’t notice it right away, so don’t feel bad if you’re not seeing it. After all, this is just a photo, and I was actually there.

Here’s an even closer look:

In case you still can’t tell what I’m talking about, there’s a ball sitting on the edge of the canopy. (See it now? You can actually see it in all three of the previous photos.) I waited until the nearby security guard looked the other way, and then I flung my glove out at it. It took several attempts (during which no one said a word) to move the ball closer. Unfortunately I ended up knocking the ball off the edge (I seem to be really good at that), but luckily got some random employee to toss it up to me. That was my 6th ball of the day, and let me tell you, it felt great to get it.

The game was less than 20 minutes away, so I had to move fast. I headed around the back of the batter’s eye…

…and briefly checked out the statues on the other side:

While heading through the concourse in foul territory, I took a peek at one of the stadium’s most famous attractions — the carousel:

Then things got quiet for the 9/11 ceremony:

I’ve gotten a few comments lately from people who disapprove of the fact that I sometimes take photos during the national anthem. Again, no disrespect intended. The reason why I do it is that I tend to appreciate and remember things better when I document them. Quite simply, when the 9/11 ceremony got underway, I wanted to have a visual record of it for myself, so please don’t take my camera usage the wrong way.

As I mentioned in my last entry, Comerica Park has a wide cross-aisle behind the plate, and fans are (usually) allowed to stand there. At this particular game, I was told that I couldn’t stand on the 3rd base side of home plate, but I was allowed to hang out on the 1st base side. That actually worked out well because most of the batters were right-handed.

Do you remember the guy named Dave that I hung out with the day before. (He’s 6-foot-6. Does that ring a bell?) He’s good friends with a woman named Shannon, who attends just about every Tigers home game with her 12-year-old daughter Morgan. Dave had told me that they own a copy of Watching Baseball Smarter — and he told them that I was going to be at this game. In the 4th inning, they found me in the cross-aisle. Here’s a photo of Shannon handing me the book…

…and here I am with Morgan (who reads this blog and claims to love it):

In the bottom of the 5th, I spotted a little boy (four years old, tops) walking by with his dad. The kid was wearing a glove, so I quickly pulled a ball out of my backpack and literally chased after them.

“What’s this for?” asked the father when I caught up with them and held it out.

“Just because,” I said. “I got a few today, and it looks like your kid could use one.”

Shannon and Morgan were still hanging out with me, and they got to witness a little bit of ballhawking action. With two outs in the top of the 6th, Luke Hughes swung late/underneath a Doug Fister heater and sent the ball flying back over the protective screen. It happened fast. Brandon’s camera was off. I don’t have an exciting story about it. All I can tell you is that the ball came *right* to me, and I caught it on the fly. Difficulty level: none. (To the people who claim I’m lucky, I’ll partially agree and remind you that I wasn’t standing there by accident. See “Foul Ball Theory” on pages 245-250 of The Baseball.)

Shannon and Morgan already knew about my kooky ballhawking methods, but once they actually saw me catch that ball, we got into talking about the specifics of Comerica Park. I mentioned the Joe Mauer homer that I’d kinda/sorta snagged the previous day and described the bizarre circumstances. I told them about the guard in the bullpen who seemed to be fumbling with something before he tossed me the ball — but was it THE ball? I never did find out, and it was still driving me crazy.

“Was it a big black guy?” asked Shannon.

“Yeah,” I said. “It totally was.”

“That’s Leo,” she replied. “He’s the head of security out there.” Then she turned to Morgan and said, “Hey, will you text him and ask him about the ball?”

“Sure,” said Morgan, pulling out her phone.

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” I said, “you KNOW this guy well enough that you have his number?!”

Shannon and Morgan then reminded me that they attend every Tigers game, and that they know everyone.

Morgan sent a flurry of texts over the next few minutes and kept updating me after each of Leo’s replies. How awesome! I was actually going to get a definitive answer about the home run ball. Even if Leo (aka “Big Daddy”) switched balls on me, at least I’d know the truth. That’s all I wanted. Ready to see the actual text-conversation? I took photos of Morgan’s phone at the time, but here’s something better — a screen shot that she sent me later on:

And there you have it. I am the proud owner of a Joe Mauer home run ball — the 84th home run of his young career. I don’t count toss-ups in my master list of game home runs that I’ve snagged, but it’s still pretty damn special. (Still no explanation for how the ball was so beat up by the time I got it.)

I celebrated the good news about the Mauer homer by catching another foul ball. Brian Dinkelman, a left-handed batter, led off the top of the 8th against Joaquin Benoit and sent the ball flying back in my exact direction. (Since it was late in the game, the security guards weren’t being militant about kicking people out of the aisle, so that’s why I was standing there.) This time I had to jump for it, reaching several feet above the elevated railing at the back of the aisle. The man sitting above/behind me thanked me for “saving” his jaw. The ball was indeed flying right at his face, and he was like a deer in the headlights. That was the 20th foul ball that I’d snagged this season — a nice personal milestone, so I obviously wasn’t going to give that ball away. Instead, I grabbed a newish BP ball from my backpack and gave it to the nearest/youngest kid. It might seem like a dick move to keep the gamer and hand over a practice ball instead, but trust me, little kids don’t care. To them, it’s a major league ball and they’re always thrilled to have it. Don’t argue with me. This is one of the laws of the universe.

Random challenge: find me in the following photo:

After the game, which the Tigers won, 2-1, I posed with my two foul balls:

Here’s a closer look at them. The one on the left had a fresh/sticky pine tar smudge:

On the way out, I noticed something gross. Check out the seat backs in the following photo:

I’m not sure how that happened, but my guess is that the cleaning crew hosed down the seats, causing the crud on the concrete to splash up and then dry. Yuck.

Now, you may have noticed that I never photographed the outside of the stadium. The reason, quite simply, is that I didn’t arrive early enough either day to walk all the way around it — so I explored the exterior after this game. I started here…

…and headed to the left. Here’s what it looked like:

The Tigers’ stadium is very Tiger-y.

I like it.

Here’s a closer look at one of the ball-mouthed beasts:

Here’s one of the main entrances…

…and here’s the unfortunate scene that was taking place nearby:

Here’s a four-part photo that shows some more stuff I saw while walking around:

The neighborhood around Comerica Park (hell, in most of Detroit) is kinda rough, and here’s proof:

That’s a photo of a guy picking up cigarette butts off the sidewalk (and putting them in his pocket). I lost count of the number of homeless people who asked me for money outside the stadium. It was nice because it reminded me of home.

During my lap around the stadium, I called Dave and told him about Morgan’s text-conversation with Leo. Dave then told me that he knows a cop named Derek who’s usually stationed in the bullpen.

“Do you think he might have seen anything?” I asked.

“Hold on,” said Dave. “I’m gonna call him right now and ask him about it, and I’ll call you back in less than five minutes.”

It wasn’t long before my phone rang. Dave told me that Derek confirmed that the ball I got was indeed THE home run ball — that Derek was right there when it happened and that he had a clear view of whole thing. (Dave, if you’re reading this and have a couple minutes to spare, could you post a comment and let everyone know exactly what Derek told you? I could paraphrase our conversation, but it’d be great to see it in your own words.)

Anyway, here’s the last stretch of road/sidewalk, leading back to the intersection where I started:

Overall, Comerica Park is a lively/attractive/solid ballpark. It’s definitely in the top half of major league stadiums, possibly in the top third, but certainly not worthy (in my opinion) of being grouped with the best of the best. That said, I’m really glad to have visited. Hopefully it won’t be another eight years before I make it back.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 942 balls in 113 games this season = 8.34 balls per game.

• 774 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 299 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 162 lifetime games balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd; 145 foul balls, 16 home runs, and 1 ground-rule double)

• 20th time snagging two or more game balls in one game

• 5,604 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)

• $58.88 raised at this game

• $6,933.12 raised this season

22 Comments

Black backpack in front of the guy in the orange and blue(black?) striped shirt. More bragging rights?

Damn. You’re good. Got your follow-up email, BTW, after the game in Anaheim. Thanks for the kind words. Just haven’t had a chance to answer any emails lately, but I plan to catch up (on emails, blog comments, and tweets) once the regular season ends and I actually have some time at home.

Great stuff Zach……Funny when you got that “ball” you insisted on NOT calling it a home run ball. Me, I said pffft as far as you know it IS the ball. You refused. Well now you have indisputable proof. I indeed talked to Derek and he said YES by all means that was the ball. IF it was not he would have told me. And Leo wouldnt lie to Morgan. Our seats are right down by the bullpen. That is where Shannon became my stalker…..errrrr my friend….We met there a few years ago..or a couple i lose track. Leo is awesome and works down there on the pen. I am glad you have a good time and rank Comerica up in your top 3rd of MLB. Next year we will have to do a series here or somewhere else….Oh and Shannon if you are reading you know I love ya…lol.

Zack,
Your next book should be pics and descriptions of visits to all stadiums as a ballhawker. I would buy a copy.

LEO IS THE MAN! He is probably the biggest reason my kids have loved going to the park for 6 straight long seasons :) Glad we could help and get you the info on that ball! Morgan thought it was great meeting you, she has told all of her friends. It such an experience to be part of the whole atmosphere at the park, including stalker Dave :) JK we have a great family of friends there and are happy we got to have a “Hample” expericnce. We will be looking for you next year :) Unless of course you come back for the WS!! Nice meeting you, thanks again and BOOO YANKEES

He is not a Yankee fan dork

Cool story about the Mauer ball. It’d be interesting to know how it got so used looking. I visited Comerica Park for the first time back in May and thought it was great. Didn’t get any balls, but really loved the feel of the ballpark.
– Malcolm

http://theballparkguide.mlblogs.com/

Hey there Zack. Another great series of entries! What a whirlwind tour you’re on, sounds like a blast! I noticed on your itinerary that you have scheduled a break right around the 24th. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Anyway, if you have a second, I’m hoping you can clear up a question for me. My friend and I were discussing dugouts at parks, and he thinks that the home team is always on the first base side dugout. My feeling is that this is *almost* always the case, but that there are exceptions, though I can’t name them. If I have a leg to stand on, could you list a few examples? Thanks, J.

I knew it would be the homerun ball. It’s interesting how that black smudge got there though. Should’ve asked the security guard.

yesss my record still stands maybe next time zack ahah

Hey Zack I was watching a thing from those firefighters ESPN thing and your in it. You were looking at something and you went Wooooo. Just had to tell you.

Malcom – You are correct – usually the home team’s dugout is on the first base side but not always. In San Fran the Giant’s dugout is on the third base side because of the sun……talk about home team advantage!

It’s great you got a ball from Mauer, Hughes, and Dinkleman because I’ve seen them play in Rochester (AAA) a million times.

Hey Zack just wondering if you’ve ever fallen onto the field for a ball. I did once at Safeco Field and didn’t get the ball :( but it was still cool to fall on the warning track in foul territory!

Tiger Stadium is beautiful. Yes, it SUCKS for BP, and the city itself, but put it in say, Seattle, I’m putting it in my top 3. But I do love that place, so it’s probably still top 6. And I LOVE the text conversation! So cool

We went to Comerica Park for the first time this season. I don’t judge ballparks on a ballhawking scale…and our game didn’t have BP…so I’ll leave the ballhawking assessment to you. But I felt the place was flat out amazing. It gave me one of the warmest and fuzziest feelings of any ballpark I have ever visited (which is almost every MLB ballpark). Ben mentioned it would be in his top 3 if it was in Seattle. I’m originally from Seattle, and I’ll put Comerica Park in my top 3 even in Detroit. The place is amazing. Ballpark is crazy awesome. People (fans and ushers) were outstanding. I can’t say enough about it. And I knew you would get a foul ball there.

Hey Zack this is Ryan, i lost your email can you email me at ryn_strong@yahoo.com

Zack,

You are 32. 9/11 was 10 years ago. Why does a 22 year old need his mother to help him open a checking account?

Chill it Joseph

Joseph what is it in life you are lacking? Something for sure. Maybe you and your Mother were not close enough…..

I love how everyone gets so defensive on here. It was a joke. But thank you for the free physiatric evaluation.

DAVID LALLY SR-
Thanks so much for providing extra details/proof, and yeah, we need to hit up some games together next year. Or hell, maybe I’ll see you at the World Series in a couple weeks…

JOM CONARROE-
Interesting idea. I’m definitely considering it.

SHANNON-
Great to hear from you. I practically felt like I was family when I was there. Boooo, Yankees, indeed. You know I don’t like them, right?

MALCOLM-
I would love to know how it got so beat up.

KSLO69-
The home team is usually on the 1st base side, but there are definitely some exceptions: San Francisco, Oakland, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Toronto, both Chicago stadiums, and so on. Don’t make me go through my entire mental rolodex.

BRAD-
I don’t think the guard would’ve known. It was probably like that by the time he picked up, and who knows if he even noticed?

OROW24-
Aarrghh!! :-)

DYLAN-
Cool…yeah, I’ve been hearing about that from a bunch of people.

JON MADDEN-
Nice that you got to see all these guys play in the minors.

BRENDAN ADAMS-
Yeah, a couple times over the years.

BEN-
Top three? You crazy.

COOK & SON BATS-
Wow, well, your assessment carries serious weight because I know you’ve been to a LOT of places. Interesting. The fact that you like it so much makes me like it more. Seriously.

RYAN-
Done.

JOSEPH-
She was actually there to help change my diapers.

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