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

25 Comments

Hi Zack, that’s great you’ve explored so many stadiums this year alone. It must never get old. I have that passion for baseball and can tell by your writing that you do too. It’s great to read. I’ve been reading this for a while now but just decided to comment for my first time finally. You’re living a baseball fan’s dream and I appreciate all you’re doing for the charity, and letting us see these stadiums through your pictures and writing. Separate note, just curious, do you ever have the urge to just relax and watch a game and enjoy it rather than running from one section to another throughout the entire game? It’s great you know where to be, but does part of you ever wish you didn’t have this streak so that you could just sit down and relax and watch the great game?

Thanks for the nice comment, and for reading this blog. I really appreciate it. To answer your question, yes, there are certainly times when my steak feels like a burden, but of course I’m thrilled to have kept it alive for such a long time. Last night for example (here in Atlanta), I just didn’t feel like running around for balls during the game, so I found a spot behind the dugout and just sat and watched. Yeah, I went for third-out balls, but my main goal during the game was sitting/relaxing/observing, and it felt nice.

Yeah, I’m sure it’s tough to balance staying where you are and enjoying watching or running around to get into the most optimal spot for each batter and moving around. I used to have the luxury of living in upstate NY (an hour from Monteal) and easily catching balls in Olympic Stadium, where there was little competition. Now that I’ve grown up and have a big boy job down in NYC, my home turf is Yankee Stadium and I just stay in one spot and enjoy the game. Well, keep it up, I want to see your lifetime total keep growing and keep providing us fans with exciting content to read!

What was all that stuff about you losing your streak? Doesn’t look like it…

Whew! A baseball nuts dream! Thanks for all the great stories. Since I feel like I know you so well, I feel like I’m right with you or at least watching from afar. Your Host Mom and Dad in Denver.

Wow. I can only say wow. This is so cool.

Wow Im glad you got a ball because some guy named Tmuddly or something who commented on your game at Target Field said you lost your streak. Im so happy! Why would you say that Tmuddly?

Ditto to the above. I was really scared when I read that comment that I had steered you wrong in telling you to go in at Gate 4. Now I can breathe a sigh of relief that you don’t have a reason to hate me for the rest of your life;)

Glad to see you end your road trip on a great note. Hopefully the new Marlins park will be a ballhawking heaven, looks like I’ll be headed down there next spring.
Steve
http://fishfry55.mlblogs.com

Once again it was great meeting you Zack. I guess I’m just a forgettable person, from a forgettable stadium, that belongs to a (maybe) forgettable team. Yes, my name was (and still is for that matter) Tyler lol. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to everyone who was gullible enough to think that your streak was over. Zack is King of The Ballhawks! Someone will break Dimaggio’s hit streak before Zack ends his own consecutive games with a ball streak. Don’t ever doubt him. Zack, keep on keepin on big guy. I enjoy reading your posts and I think you’re doing a great thing for charity. Come back to Busch if you ever feel like beating your head against a wall (ballhawking wise).
TO EVERYONE ELSE- Zack told me not to comment and mention things that occurred so that you could hear about his games from him. With his permission, I decided to steer you in the oppostie direction of what actually happened. My deepest apologies.

Anyone think my Oscar shirt was goofy? I tried to be unique in BP so that I would be seen…….it did’nt work as I was shutout. I told Zack at the beginning I was going o stay out of his way so that he could snag as many as possible. I did’nt have either of his books with me thats why I look grouchy also I always have a slight sad look. Trust me I was having fun. I had a great time sitting and talking even though every seat we sat in was someone elses lol. Anytime you want to come in and ballhawk on my territory go ahead and please try to box that one idiot out that we talked about. (not Tyler he seems pretty cool)

Ha! You got me Tyler. Shouldn’t have fallen for that one!

Darron,your shirt was pretty awesome. I guess it didnt catch players attention because of the dull color. Maybe bigbird would be better?

“no one else around me even bothered reaching for it. (I love going to games outside of New York.”

I can think of another place where you would have had twenty little kid arms and twenty more big kid arms in your way….. :p (Though I trust you still would have made the grab, of course.)

NYYMIKEY23-
Going from Olympic Stadium to Yankee Stadium has to be awful. I mean, Expos games were always depressing because of the atmosphere, but MAN it was awesome for chasing baseballs.

NICK-
Oh yeah, that. As Tyler has now pointed out (in a comment well below yours), the whole thing was just a silly joke. The streak is very much intact.

DANNY WOOD-
Always great to hear from you. I miss you guys and hope I can come visit next year (when I’m not on crutches and dependent on your help to do EVERYthing for me). Glad you’re enjoying the blog. Still got a few entries to write about Atlanta, and then maybe some playoff games…

NICHOLAS-
Thanks. I can only say thanks. :-)

BRENDAN-
Tmuddly was just being silly and trying to cause a stir. He had asked me if it was okay to do it, and I said, “Yeah, why the hell not. Go for it.” But let’s not all make a habit of it. It was fun once, so let’s leave it at that.

DAVID-
Ha, you’re safe. No hatred here.

STEVE-
Not sure how good or bad the Marlins’ new ballpark will be until I’m actually there. My guess is that it’s gonna suck. The trend in new stadiums is to stack the outfield decks on top of each other. That makes it really hard to catch home runs because anything deep (my MIke Trout homer, for example) would land in the second deck.

TYLER!
Thanks for commenting and sorry about your name, but you’re actually not forgettable because I *did* remember, although…fine, I did have a bit of doubt. But really, thanks for everything. It was great meeting you too, and don’t worry about the “streak” comment from a few days earlier. It’s all good.

DARRON-
Oh, right, the lack of books. I forgot that that contributed to your “bad” mood. Glad to hear you were having fun, but I knew that already.

BEN S-
Big Bird. Nice.

JERE80-
Might you be talking about Fenway?

EVERYONE-
I plan to catch up on all the blog comments from my road trip at some point, hopefully in the next week or so. Just trying to ride the final wave of the regular season for now, and of course I still have a few more blog entries to plow through. Turner Field is amazing.

Ben- If I can find a Big Bird shirt and hat I will wear it to a game next year and post a link to the picture!

an interesting story that i witnessed at tonight’s sox-blue jays game: after mark buehrle recorded the final out in the 7th inning, like his last pitch as a White Sox, alexei ramirez accidentally threw the ball into the stands. a minute later, aj pierzynski and ramirez motioned for the ball to be returned. the man with the ball reluctantly came down and tossed the ball back in exchange for…a different ball. but…half an inning later, aj tossed him his bat that he had signed for him. pretty crazy. what’s more is that the ball was tossed a row behind where i was sitting, but i had gone down a few rows after the inning to try to get the ball.

Zack, your day with reporter Reid Forgrave on the 17th paid off. While perusing Foxsports.com last night for wild-card race scores, I found the link to his story about you on the home page. Not the KC sub-site: THE home page, and pretty prominent, too. You couldn’t have asked for better. (And it’s a good piece, of course.)
For anyone interested in reading it, I provide the link:
http://www.foxsportskansascity.com/09/23/11/Ball-hawk-traveling-across-country-to-se/landing_royals.html?blockID=567242&feedID=5070

Nice link PSU. “I’ve gotten that look before” indeed. Well the 24th has passed, and the 200,000th game was a little under-whelming, (how come nothing has an equally balanced whelming factor?) between two non-contenders. Due to dbl headers and rain delays, I guess the exact game wasn’t determined until it was already under way. Too bad, I guess it would’ve taken a miracle to get you there. Congratulations on a great season though, it was great to be able to “take the tour” with you! J.

Zach…don’t let Ricky Bones attitude get you down, he was a grump as a coach in Buffalo this year. I think he’s sick of people pronouncing his last name wrong all the time…He’d curse guys out every single day since he prefers is pronounced “Bohn-ez.”

also, just noticed that the only picture in the collage where you aren’t wearing the hat of the home team is the first one, at yankee stadium. just wondering…why not?

Hi Zach, I am the guy with the curly hair and the yellow shirt you gave away the ball to which we both dove for as it came down the third base line. I wanted to say thank you for getting me my first major league baseball. I ended up getting it signed by Mike Baxter and it is now sitting atop by bookshelf. It was good to meet you and I wish you the best of luck with your baseball collecting.

JAKE-
Man, that’s nuts. Thanks for telling me that story.

SHANE T.-
Sweeeet! Thanks for letting me know and sharing the link with everyone here.

PSU532-
Damn.

KSLO69-
200,000 is obviously a huge/important number, but I never felt the urge to be there for it (not that I knew where “there” was going to be).

GREG S-
Maybe he’s still suffering from ‘roid rage.

JAKE-
Let’s just say that I’m not too fond of the Yankees.

JOHN IN ST. LOUIS-
Great to hear from you, and you’re very welcome for the ball! Nice to know that you got it signed and that it has a happy home.

UGH! I’m from St Louis, and tried and tried many of your tricks. The next I’ll try is the string/glove/pen trick. After 34 years (same age as you), I still have NOT caught ANY balls!!! It’s getting frustrating, VERY frustrating!!!! If we ever cross paths, maybe you could help me…

Anyway, I saw you on the World Series going into center field when it looked like it was going to go out. Easy to spot you, yellow shirt, black pants!!

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