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.
“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.
• 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
(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