2011 ALCS — Game 4

As a baseball fan without a favorite team, I was thrilled when the Yankees and Phillies got knocked out of the playoffs, but as a ballhawk from New York City, I suddenly had to make a big decision: take a road trip or call it a season.

Given the fact that (a) I’d been hoping to attend at least one game during each round of the postseason and (b) every additional ball I snagged would extend the single-season record, I decided to go for it.

Where did I end up? Have a look at the fans below:

Yeah, Comerica Park. And it was raining. Here’s what it looked like inside the stadium:

If there was one thing I wanted, it was nice weather. No…wait, let me backtrack and correct that. My friend Ben Weil had made the trip with me. We’d driven 600 miles the day before, gotten to Detroit at 2:30am, and found a really cheap hotel near the airport; if there was one thing I wanted, it was NOT to have to deal with bedbugs. (Yes, you read that right: mother-effing bedbugs! If there’s one piece of advice I can give you, it’s to avoid the Quality Inn in Romulus, Michigan.)

Supposedly there’s a bedbug epidemic in New York City, but it hasn’t affected me. In fact, I’d never even seen a bedbug until I was getting ready for bed the other night (at the Quality Inn in Romulus, Michigan). When I first saw the bug crawling on my pillow (at the Quality Inn in Romulus, Michigan), I raced over to my laptop and did a Google image search for bedbugs. Then, since the bug (at the Quality Inn in Romulus, Michigan) was nice enough to wait there for me, I took a photo of it and posted it on Twitter. And now I’m posting it on my blog:

For the record, Ben and I switched rooms/floors, slept without incident, discovered another bedbug the following night, immediately checked out (of the Quality Inn in Romulus, Michigan), got a full refund, and used the money to get an excellent room at a nearby Holiday Inn.

<insert shudder here>

Anyway, Ben and I had bought standing-room-only tickets on StubHub. The good thing about them is that we got to hang out in the cross-aisle behind home plate for the entire game. Take another look at the photo of the tarp (two photos above). That was our view all day — and I do mean ALL day. The bad thing about having standing-room-only tickets is that in order to keep our spot, one of us had to stay there at all times. Here’s a photo of Ben (wearing the Rangers hat) holding it down:

Comerica Park had opened a little more than two hours before the game was scheduled to begin, and for the first hour and a half, there was NO action on the field.

I started getting nervous about my streak. Really really nervous. I’d snagged at least one ball at every game I’d been to since September 10, 1993 — 788 consecutive games, to be exact — and now what? Was the game going to start on time? Were any players going to come out and play catch? Rain or no rain, I knew that the stadium would be packed. And what about security? I assumed that once the game started, all the ushers were going to clamp down and check everyone’s tickets. How was I going to make it down to the dugout or to the bullpens? Was I going to have to catch a foul ball during the game in order to keep my streak alive?

Finally, when it felt like the universe was really out to get me, two Rangers walked out of the dugout and began playing catch in shallow right field.

“Go,” said Ben. “It means much more to you than it does to me.”

My ears had never heard sweeter words.

I took off for the right field foul line, and when I got there, this was what I saw:

Colby Lewis (the player about to throw the ball in the photo above) was playing catch with C.J. Wilson. I hung back several rows, and when they finished, I got Wilson’s attention by shouting and waving my arms like a madman. He then chucked the ball to me (from about 75 feet away), and when I caught it, I felt a profound sense of relief. Here’s a photo of the ball…

…and here I am showing Ben how I felt:

I still desperately wanted to snag one more ball (but not AS desperately); the last time I’d left a stadium with just one ball was at the 2007 All-Star Game — a streak spanning 313 consecutive games. That said, when the rest of the Rangers pitchers came out to throw, I stayed in the cross-aisle so that Ben could try to get a ball, and let me tell you, it was painful to be so far from the action. Here’s a photo of Ben (inside the red circle) heading out to the right field corner:

He was wearing a bright red Rangers jersey (with “HAMILTON 32″ on the back), so we both figured that he’d get a ball pretty quickly. Assuming that happened, the plan was for him to hurry back so that I could then run over and try to get another ball.

Things didn’t go as planned.

As each pair of pitchers finished throwing, I saw them toss the baseballs to other fans. I felt terrible for Ben (who just wanted to get *one* ball at this playoff game), and as his chances kept slipping away, mine went down too. As it turned out, Ben didn’t get anything from the Rangers and returned empty-handed.

The game was scheduled to begin at 4:19pm, but because of the rain, there was a two-hour and 13-minute delay. Thankfully, our standing-room spot was barely covered by the overhang of the upper deck, but we still got kinda wet. Worse than that, though, was having to stand all day. Here’s a photo of us in the cross-aisle:

With a few breaks here and there, Ben and I ended up standing in that spot for NINE hours.

At around 5:15pm, it stopped raining. Half an hour later, the grounds crew removed the tarp…

…and half an hour after that, several Tigers position players began throwing in shallow left field. Even though Ben hadn’t yet gotten a ball, he *had* gotten a bunch of opportunities from the Rangers, so he agreed that it was my turn to try to get another.

With a great deal of effort, I worked my way down to the front row…

…and not surprisingly, I didn’t come close to getting a ball. Ben, meanwhile, had to watch helplessly from the cross-aisle as two pairs of Rangers played catch in front of the 1st base dugout. It was a ballhawking nightmare, and when the game finally began at 6:32pm, things weren’t looking good. He still hadn’t snagged a ball, and I only had one.

During the 1st inning, Ben and I talked about going down to the Rangers’ dugout, or at least trying. Even though this was a playoff game, the players were still going to be tossing 3rd-out balls into the crowd, so why not give it a shot, right? That’s how I felt, but for some reason, Ben wasn’t totally into the idea, so he hung back and watched my backpack.

With two outs in the bottom of the 1st, I headed toward the dugout, and when I reached the staircase that I thought was best, I turned left and walked down it. Just like that. The usher was talking to someone and had his back turned, and since it was so early in the game, I managed to find an empty (and totally wet) seat in the 6th row. I wish I could show you a photo of my view, but like I said, Ben had my backpack, so you’ll have to take my word for it. I was really there, and this really happened: Victor Martinez, batting right-handed against Matt Harrison, got under an 0-2 pitch and hit a towering pop-up to the middle of the infield. Shortstop Elvis Andrus made the catch, jogged back toward the dugout, and tossed me the ball. Just like that.

I felt like a million bucks. And things got better from there.

By the third inning, a steady mist was falling. Here’s what it looked like from our spot in the cross-aisle:

Around that time, I realized that Lou Whitaker was sitting directly behind me. Several other fans requested his autograph and asked to have their picture taken with him, but I just let him be. I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t want to bother him, and I needed some time to think. Around the bottom of the 4th inning, the woman on my left asked if I was going to get him to sign anything.

“Nah,” I told her, “I don’t really go for autographs.” Then I paused for a moment and added, “I want to catch a foul ball and get a fist-bump from him.”

With two outs in the bottom of the 5th, Ryan Raburn stepped to the plate, swung at the first pitch, and sent a foul ball shooting back in my direction. Without even thinking, I quickly moved forward and darted several steps to my right and jumped and made the catch and got high-fives from everyone around me, including Mister Whitaker. Here’s a photo of the ball…

…and here I am getting that fist-bump:

(See all those white blobs and speckles in the photo above? Those are raindrops reflecting the light from my camera’s flash.)

Catching that ball was pretty damn exciting, but it didn’t really surprise me. You might recall that I caught two foul balls during the game on 9/11/11 at Comerica Park, so this just kinda felt like an extension of that. At Comerica, the cross-aisle behind the plate is one of the best places to catch foul balls in the majors, so I wasn’t merely hoping to get another; I was expecting it, and when it first started flying back toward me, I simply knew that I was going to catch it.

The game itself was a thriller, and OF COURSE it went into extra innings. I mean, we’d already been there all day, and our feet were already clammy and numb, so hey, why not? With the score tied, 3-3, Josh Hamilton led off the 11th inning with a double to right field off Jose Valverde. Adrian Beltre drew a one-out intentional walk, and it backfired; Mike Napoli followed with an RBI single to center, and Nelson Cruz put the game away (and gave the Rangers a 3-1 series lead) with a three-run homer to left-center. Final score: Rangers 7, Tigers 3.

After the game, there was a whole lot of activity on the field in front of the Rangers’ dugout:

Ben and I stuck around, and five minutes later, a ballboy poked his head out of the dugout and started tossing balls into the crowd. I caught one, and Ben kinda-sorta-but-not-really got one too. The ball he got was rolling toward him at an awkward angle on the dugout roof. As he was carefully lunging for it (so as not to bump into the woman on his right), a man reached out and grabbed the ball and handed it to him. The man was holding a little boy in his arms, and they’d just gotten another ball, so he was glad to give this one to Ben. The problem was that Ben wasn’t the first fan to actually acquire possession of the ball, so even though it was intended for him, he decided not to count it in his stats. It was a brutal way for him to end the night — but it wasn’t nearly as bad as having a bedbug (at the Quality Inn in Romulus, Michigan) crawl on him at four in the morning. Is there a bedbug epidemic in Arlington, Texas? If not, I might have to start rooting for the Rangers to reach the World Series.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave one to a little kid after catching the foul ball)

• 1,130 balls in 128 games this season = 8.83 balls per game.

• 789 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 314 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 147 foul balls during games (including two during the post-season; the other one hit by Jorge Fabregas in the 13th inning of Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS)

• 16 consecutive postseason games with at least one ball

• 5,792 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)

• $29.84 raised at this game

• $8,429.80 raised this season

37 Comments

Yay I get first comment!

Kind of, I guess, but what’s your comment? I mean, you’re just commenting about commenting; I don’t think that counts. :-)

Sorry about that last comment I forgot to log out from my wordpress account. My comment looks better under the name Skim. Anyway, great job on each ball, especially the foul ball. I was relieved also when the Phillies and Yankees were both eliminated.

Are you sure that was a bedbug? It looked too big to be a bedbug. Congrats on the foul ball!

Zack, not a criticism, not getting on a soapbox, just a thought…many kids (like my own) buy and read all of your books, seek you out for autographs, read your blog and look up to you as their baseball hawking superstar. When you blog with “mother effing” and “WTF!” it just…well, just saying it may be something to think about.

SKIM-
Ahh, I was wondering who that was. Thanks.

TEEN REDS FAN-
The general manager of the hotel admitted that there was a bedbug problem there several months ago. The bug was about as big as a ladybug, but much flatter.

A FAN-
For what it’s worth, there’s a “WTF” on page 245 in my new book (“The Baseball”), so if it was okay for my hyper-cautious editor at Random House, I figured it was okay here on the blog. In general, I try to be kid/family-friendly, but I’m not a saint. In fact, my very closest friends know that I’m one of the crudest/non-G-rated people on the planet. It’s tough for me to tone things all way down for the public, and sometimes, yes I do push boundaries. That said, I appreciate your comment and certainly don’t mean to offend anyone and will try to be more careful.

Wait wait wait….he said “mother effing” and “WTF.” Those are NOT swears. Those are things people do to AVOID swearing. And he’s getting called out for that? Now are we going to have to start saying “double you tee eff” because “WTF” is offensive?

Look, I’m not even that big on cursing. Unless the Yankees get some BS (sorry, “bee ess”) call in their favor, or I see some selfish person texting when they should be watching the road, I generally avoid swearing and I definitely don’t do it front of little kids. So I’m not saying we should all just let the expletives fly whenever we want. But Zack did exactly what you want here–he DIDN’T swear.

Well, that IS another way to look at it. Thanks, Jere.

I thought I saw Ben in the shot when MLB Network was showing Neftali Feliz and was wondering where you were. This explains so much.

Can you describe the shot? I’m trying to imagine where Ben could’ve been (and which camera angle was used) in order to get on TV.

Adult male tiger face painting should be illegal…even in the playoffs. Anyway, nice foul ball! Good thing you got it because my post-season Comerica Park foul ball guarantee was only as good as the virtual paper it was e-written on. So how do you rank the Comerica Park cross aisle in comparison to that inside walkway behind home plate at Miller Park?
-Todd

we talked about this in cincy, as I a housekeeping supervisor at the hotel next to the one you stayed at…there are bedbugs in every hotel, I tried to tell you but you kept interrupting me and saying “I don’t wanna hear about it!”, soo told ya so!

Kyle- I DON’T WANNA HEAR ABOUT IT!!!!
Mateo- Yeah, what shot?!?! I wanna know when and why I was on MLB network!
Zack, I appreciate you remembering the exact quote I said when you did go get that ball from C.J. Wilson. I shuddered again when you mentioned my encounter with the bedbug at the end of this entry. Aside from that, awesome entry, especially for a game that was so dull from a ballhawking standpoint.
And to everyone else- As for the Ryan Raburn foul ball (which for some odd reason I almost just wrote Josh Hamilton), I was in the middle of reacting to the fact there was a foul ball flying at us, as Zack had already bolted about 4 steps to his right, and leapt right in the middle of the cross-aisle, in front of people who didn’t even know what was happening. The ball was a lined shot, so any slower reaction, and it sails over our heads. Pretty impressive to see happen right in front of you.

No offense to the concerned parent, but if you don’t think kids are well versed in all kinds of obsenities you are fooling yourself. I am pushing 40 and grew up in a white bread suburb in MN. I can clearly remember me and my buddies using the F word as often as “and” & “the” as early as the first and second grade. And even back in the 70’s and early 80’s I can recall us watching porno movies before reaching our teens and regularly talking about servicing teachers and the girls in class. And THAT was a time of innocence! I can assure you that kids nowadays are much, much worse. Ask your kid what a blumpkin or a hot carl is and I bet they know the answer.

bigglovebob, jere80 was just making a suggestion and as the parent of a 7 yr son I would agree. I also grew up in Mpls. and than moved out to the country for 8 years and I can personally tell you I sure wasn’t using the F word in 1st or 2nd grade. The one time in my teen years when I dropped a swear word in front of my father that was the last time I used that type of langauge. I think jere80 is just trying to point out that we can be a lot better role model.

TODD-
Yeah, well, he had a hot girlfriend who seemed to be just as into the Tigers, so I won’t criticize him. As for foul balls, the Miller Park cross-aisle is the absolute greatest place in the majors. The second deck at the Oakland Coliseum is second best (but only because of the small crowds), and the Comerica Park aisle would be No. 3 on the list.

KYLE-
The truth hurts. You were absolutely right. I bow down to your expertise.

BEN WEIL-
Your comments are awesome. I’m often hesitant to go into too much detail about the balls that I catch because I don’t want to be accused of bragging, so it’s nice to have you as a witness/spokesman.

BIG GLOVE BOB-
I normally frown upon the usage of “LOL,” but in this case I’m going to make an exception. (Blumpkin?! There’s a word that I never would’ve expected to see on my blog. The fact that I know you and can picture you saying this makes it even funnier.)

HOOKSFAN/EVERYONE-
Yeah, we can be better role models, but it’s all relative. I wonder how many parents beat their kids for cursing, but have no problem smoking cigarettes in front of them. It blows my mind that TV networks can show all the violence they want, but it’s against the law to show a topless woman. But let’s get back to the issue of cursing for a moment. The best way that I’ve *ever* seen parents handle it was back in June when I visited some friends in Oregon. They’ve basically taught their six-year-old to swear — but they’ve also taught him when it’s not appropriate. One day, while the four of us were driving to a big family gathering, the kid and his parents had a hilarious/philosophical discussion about the difference between a sh*tload and a f*ckton. Essentially, they asked their kid which he thought was bigger, and a thoughtful/logical debate ensued. It was THE funniest thing I’ve ever seen, and I filmed it all with my digital camera, but whatever. My point is that when we were approaching the house where the family gathering was going to take place, the father turned to his son and said in a sweet but firm way, “I don’t think I need to remind you that some of the colorful words we use are not appreciated by certain people that we’re going to see today.” The kid was like, “Got it, Dad,” and his father said, “I’m glad I can trust you.” That was the end of it. The kid was (and remains) the most well-behaved, articulate, charming kid I’ve ever seen, but man, get him alone with his parents and watch out. The f-bombs and “pull-my-finger” jokes start flying. There’s more laughter, love, and mutual respect in that household that I’ve ever witnessed. The world is full of vices; instead of sheltering kids from them and pretending that they don’t exist, we should have some fun with them and teach kids manners and moderation in the process.

Well said Zack! I can’t wait to get home and tell my 7 year old it’s ok to swear in our home….now all I have to do is try and figure out a way to convince my wife that it’s ok….hmmm…

F.

“jere80 was just making a suggestion”

“I think jere80 is just trying to point out that we can be a lot better role model.”

You’re confusing me with “A. Fan”– he was the one saying not to swear, I was the one pointing out that Zack, in fact, did NOT swear anyway.

BRIANDRUM-
Have her read my last comment.

DENNIS-
Dude, that seriously made me crack up.

JERE80-
Oh yeah, hey, you *are* being confused with the other guy. How did I not even realize that?

Nelson Cruz hit a grand slam to end the game…not a three run homer. It was the first such walk-off GS in post season history. Suprised you missed that one.

Cruz hit the grand slam in Game 2, but thanks anyway.

I just realized that…I forget how much of a beast Cruz has been this postseason. The whole time I was thinking about game 2, didn’t realize it was game 4. Brain fart.

Ha, it’s all good. These things happen. I have to say, though, that for a split-second, you had me nervous. And hey, please watch your language. I prefer the term “brain flatulence.”

Man, Bens arms are hairy.

Hey, Mike G, isn’t this you in this photo:

photo/1

And glad I could help Zack.

Z-Man, You need to open up a Tripadvisor account and write a review of that motel with the picture included. Like I told you in KC, I painstakenly review every property I stay at on Tripadvisor. Most of the places I stay are really nice. I have learned the ins and outs of Priceline and Hotwire and routinely get $200 plus 4 star hotel rooms for well more than half off. For instance, I have the Hotel Phillips booked already for 3 trips next year to KC. It is a 4 star property right in the heart of downtown. The going rate is around $179. I got it for $59 a night. For my annual Milwaukee trip to see the Twins/Brewers and the Happy Youngster, I got a 3 star Courtyard that normally goes for a few ticks over $100 for a paltry $41 a night. I can assure you that Big Glove Bob don’t stay in fleabags and Big Glove Bob don’t pay retail for his lodging.

My distaste for kids has been noted before, but we really are raising a soft generation. I think that guy should let his 7 year old swear in the appropriate situations. And one final tangent. Why do parents outright LIE to their children about Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy? Sooner or later the kids are going to find out the truth and the parents are left to hold the bag as bold faced liars. So, when you tell your kids not to talk to strangers and brush their teeth so they don’t get cavities, they can just look at you and shake their heads and think that the advice they are being given comes from a known liar. For Pete’s sake, don’t lie to your kids. You know full well that a fat guy with a beard isn’t coming down your chimney with toys so don’t go selling that sham to your children.

Here are the reviews already on TA for that dump you stayed at: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g42653-d94556-Reviews-Quality_Inn_Suites_Romulus-Romulus_Michigan.html

And the Rangers won the pennant last night. Yeah buddy.

The camera was in about CF. Probably near/part of the platform out there. It was centered on Neftali Feliz as the commentators were making some remark about him and to show the rain delay/ the condition of the field. The shot was just wide enough to get Ben in. He was towards the left hand side of the screen, behind one of the players to (Ben’s) right. Neftali was where that player in white is in the 8_ben_going_for_balls_in_right_field picture if that is not Feliz himself. I can’t actually remember what color he was wearing. It did say “Ballpark Cam” in some corner and I remember being surprised because I am used to those being closer to the dugouts.

Lets go Rangers! What does everyone think about last nights game?

Hey Zack I’ve got a question. If all stadiums built after 1958 are supposed to be at least 325 feet down the line then why is the new Yankee Stadium like 314 and 318?

i never got to see that video. . .

Zack,
Awesome about the foul ball at the ALCS. I’m still impressed. I’ll lay off the whole swearing discussion, other than to say I’m really hoping my three year old doesn’t pick up on daddy’s habit. also, I’m working on drafting a highly experienced helicopter test pilot into our little scheme. He’s an ok baseball fan, but loves to drop things from helicopters.

MIKE G-
Ouch.

BEN-
Double-ouch! Haha!!

BIG GLOVE BOB-
I love it when you write about yourself in the third person. I don’t really feel like dealing with Tripadvisor. I know I *should* write a review, but quite frankly, I don’t want to think about that place anymore. I happen to adore kids (and very much want some of my own one day), but okay, I see your points.

DYLAN-
Yes, they certainly did, and I’ll be there for Games 3 and 4.

MATEO-
Interesting.

DOUBLE T-
I don’t think anything because I didn’t see a single pitch of it. (I was out with friends doing non-basebally things.)

BRENDAN ADAMS-
Quite simply, exceptions can be made. Because those were the dimensions at the old stadium, I think that MLB allowed the Yankees to recreate them at the new stadium.

JOE-
Ahh, there you are. I was wondering if you were lurking. Got anything to add to the cussin’ discussion? And about that video, I can (and should and will) mail you a DVD. I’ll email you about it now…

MIKE-
Awesome, awesome, and more awesome.

Fun the rangers won 15-4 I think

I am looking for a ball for the 10/4/11 game, would you be willing to sell one, or do you know where I may be able to find one? I’ve been able to find some for the games before and after, but not that specific one. If you know of anything, that would be awesome.

JAIME-
Sorry, but I can’t help. I’ve never sold a ball, and I’m not about to start now — and unfortunately I have no idea who else might have one.

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