2011 ALCS — Game 5

QUESTION: What happens when the home team falls behind three games to one?
ANSWER: Ticket prices plunge and very few people show up early for batting practice.

VERY few people. When Comerica Park opened at 2pm, there was such a small crowd outside the right field gate that I almost couldn’t believe it. There couldn’t have been more than three dozen fans, and best of all, despite the iffy weather, there *was* batting practice.

Here’s a photo of the right field stands that I took less than a minute after running into the stadium:

In the photo above, do you see the man wearing the backpack in the 4th row? That’s my friend Dave, whom you might remember from this photo on 9/10/11 at Comerica Park. See the kid standing in the front row with his back turned to the field? That’s Dave’s seven-year-old son David. And finally, do you see the fan in the white T-shirt, standing about a dozen rows back, also with his back turned to the field? That’s my friend Ben Weil, whom you might remember from a zillion different entries this season. (He’s the guy who owns more jerseys than Lady Gaga has Twitter followers.) Here we are together:

In the photo above, Ben is wearing his “BallhawkFest” T-shirt from 7/23/11 at Camden Yards, and in case you’re wondering, he’s holding up three fingers because he’d already snagged three balls. Of course, I’d already snagged four (mwhahaha!!) and when we changed into our Rangers gear, I let him know it:

How did I snag those first four balls?

The 1st was sitting on the warning track in right-center, and I reeled it in with my glove trick. The 2nd was thrown by Phil Coke in right-center; his aim was so bad that I had to lunge out of the stands and trap the ball against the padding of the outfield wall. He responded by giving me a thumbs-up and complimenting my athleticism. The 3rd ball was tossed by Doug Fister in straight-away right; it was intended for David, but sailed over his head, and since David had already snagged half a dozen balls and was rubbing it in my face (in an adorable seven-year-old kinda way), I decided to keep it…for the time being. The 4th ball was thrown by Austin Jackson in right-center, and Ben got the unofficial assist. One of the batters had hit a line drive toward the gap, so I started running toward it, hoping that I’d be able to glove-trick it at the base of the wall. Jackson, however, raced over and fielded it, and for some reason, I completely gave up. Ben shouted at me to keep going and told me to ask Jackson for the ball — so I did. And I got it. I don’t know what I was thinking. Normally, I would’ve been all over it, but in this case, I guess I just lost my focus.

I snagged my 5th ball with the glove trick, got my 6th from Neftali Feliz, and used the glove trick again for No. 7. That brought my lifetime total to 5,799 balls, so the next one was going to be extra special — and here it is, sitting two feet out from the wall on the warning track:

I used my glove trick to snag it and quickly noticed that the logo was askew. Have a look for yourself:

Did you notice that the star on the left side of “OFFICIAL” is much closer to the stitches than the star on the right? It’s not a big deal — just kinda funky.

Rangers infielder Andres Blanco had seen me using the glove trick from afar. Evidently he was intrigued because he walked over and asked me how I did it.

“Put another ball down there,” I said, “and I’ll show you.”

“No!” he yelled emphatically, shaking his right index finger and then pointing at me. “Show me with THAT ball!”

I told him that if he placed another ball on the warning track for me, I’d give it away to a kid — and that’s exactly what happened. But that’s not the whole story. While I was dangling my glove over the ball, the glove was twirling slowly, and Blanco kept moving with it so that he could see exactly how it worked. In other words, whichever direction the open pocket was facing, that’s where Blanco went, so he was practically running in circles to make sure that he had the best possible view. As a result, he wasn’t paying attention to the batter and nearly got drilled by a deep fly ball. Blanco reacted as you might expect from someone in that situation: he was startled as hell and nearly jumped out of his shoes. Rangers outfielder Endy Chavez saw the whole thing play out from shallow right field, and when Blanco cautiously turned his attention back to my glove trick, Chavez fired a ball in his direction. The ball thumped off the padding of the outfield wall and completely freaked him out, prompting a whole lot of laughter (from Chavez and his teammates) and a barrage of Spanish curses (from Blanco). It was truly hilarious.

Soon after, I took a photograph from the 3rd row in straight-away right field. Here’s what it looked like out there:

Toward the end of BP, I got Matt Harrison to toss me a ball, which was significant for two reasons:

1) It was the first time that I’d snagged 10 balls at a postseason game.
2) It was the first time that I’d snagged 10 balls at Comerica Park.

And then I got another — No. 11 on the day — with my glove trick. Harrison saw me going for it and appeared to be ever-so-slightly miffed, but was nice enough to let me keep going. Ben, meanwhile, had snagged eight (including a really nice play on which he climbed up on a bench and caught a home run), and David (who never stopped talking trash) had gotten seven.

I made it to the 1st base dugout just in time to see this:

In the photo above, do you see the two guys handling the basket of balls? The man on the left was wearing a jersey that simply said “13″ on the back. There was no name, but that didn’t matter. I simply took a peek at my cheat-sheet and learned that it was a coach named Johnny Narron. Then I called his name and got him to toss me my 12th ball of the day. Hooo-haaaa!!!

Now, do you remember everything I said about the standing-room-only tickets in my previous entry? To refresh your memory, those were the tickets that Ben and I had bought, and we were allowed to stand in an awesome foul-ball spot *in* the actual cross-aisle behind home plate, but in order to keep that spot, one of us had to stay there at all times. I’m repeating this because Ben and I had the same tickets again for Game 5, and if not for a very kind gentleman named Mike, we would’ve been screwed.

Who is Mike, you ask? He’s the guy wearing the gray All-Star Game shirt in the first photo of this blog entry – and now here he was in Detroit, doing me an incredible favor. Quite simply, Mike stayed in my favorite standing-room spot for ALL of batting practice and somehow managed to prevent anyone from standing next to him. If not for this act of kindness, Ben and I would’ve had to take turns missing BP in order to stand there, or we just wouldn’t have been able to stand there at all during the game. HUGE “thanks” to Mike. I was really blown away by the sacrifice that he made for us, and because of it, this was our stellar view during the game:

Compare the tranquility of the photo above to the madness of the photo below:

It was a good game. The Rangers, one win away from their second straight World Series appearance, took a 1-0 lead in the top of the 1st inning. The Tigers tied the game in the bottom of the 3rd and took a one-run lead in the 4th. The Rangers tied it in the 5th, but the Tigers answered with four runs in the 6th. And so on. Very exciting and lots of fun.

Before the game, Mike had asked me to sign his copy of The Baseball; during the middle innings, Ben took our photo with it:

At one point, when I darted several steps for a nearby foul ball, a gray-haired security supervisor told me to be careful and added that “it’s just a baseball.” The next time he walked by, I handed him Mike’s copy of my book, told him that I’d written it, and said, “Not to me.” He was actually really cool, and we chatted for a minute between innings. He asked all about the book and told me that he has a huge collection of baseballs “dating back to the Spalding era.”

“Are these balls that you’ve purchased or snagged at games?” I asked.

“All of the above,” he said.

For the first half of the game, I never left my spot (except to chase the occasional foul ball). I never went down to the Rangers’ dugout for 3rd-out balls, and when left-handed batters stepped up to the plate, I never headed to the 3rd base side. Most of the batters were right-handed anyway, and I was content to just stand there and watch — that is, until the top of the 6th inning. That’s when I decided to move to the 3rd base side whenever there were two lefties in a row, as was the case with David Murphy and Mitch Moreland. As it turned out, one of them did hit a foul ball near me, and even though I didn’t catch it, it was nice just to use my legs and to see the game from a different angle.

In the bottom of the 6th, Alex Avila was the lone lefty, but I still made the effort to hurry to the 3rd base side. Same result: no foul ball for me, but whatever. I was having fun running around, so I wasn’t stressed out about it — but then again, I kind of did want to catch a foul ball. After batting practice, I had called Alan Schuster, the webmaster of MyGameBalls.com, and learned that I’d already broken two records: most balls at a postseason game and most balls in one game at Comerica Park. Therefore, if I did somehow manage to get another ball, I’d be setting the bar even higher for the next challenger.

Fast-forward to the top of the 7th. Elvis Andrus (a righty) was due to lead off, Josh Hamilton (a lefty) was going to bat second, and Michael Young (a righty) was in the No. 3 slot. I’d noticed that Hamilton hit lots of foul balls throughout the game, so I made sure to get over to the 3rd base side when his turn came up. Every single standing-room spot was taken over there, so in order to hang out in that vicinity, I had to stand against the side wall of a staircase behind the cross-aisle. Normally, I would’ve been kicked out of that spot, but because it was so crowded, I kinda managed to blend in. And then it happened: Hamilton swung a bit too late at a pitch from Justin Verlander (who doesn’t?) and fouled the ball back in my exact direction. At the time, I was standing on the first step of the staircase, and I determined right away that the ball was going to fall about ten feet short, so I scooted down into the aisle, then crossed the aisle, and finally headed down the steps into the seats. Lots of fans had spilled onto the staircase, so I had to weave my way around a few other guys, and at the last second, as the ball was coming right toward me, I jumped and reached up and caught the damn thing right above everyone else’s hands. Part of me was stunned; I’d actually managed to impress myself. But the other part of me just shrugged it off; I was, after all, standing in a high-probability spot, so what was the big deal? Even though I didn’t *know* that Hamilton was going to hit a foul ball, I was more prepared for it than anyone else around me, so that’s why I’d gotten a good jump on it.

By the time Ben took my photo with the ball, the sky had gotten dark, and I was feeling rather Zen about the whole thing:

Here’s a closer look at the ball itself:

It’s a shame that Major League Baseball no longer uses commemorative balls during the first two rounds of the postseason. They used to (from 1996 through 1999), and it made ballhawking much more fun. Check out this ball from the 1999 ALDS and this ball from the 1999 NLCS. Those were the good ol’ days.

Soon after I caught the Hamilton foul ball, I was approached by a teenaged fan who recognized me from this blog. His name is Mitchell, and he was with a friend named Jack. Here I am with them. Mitchell is on the left:

With two outs in the top of the 9th and the Tigers leading, 7-4, Ben and I headed down to the umpire tunnel directly behind home plate. This was our view:

In the photo above, that’s Josh Hamilton at bat. He ended up drilling a double to center field and scoring on a single by Michael Young. The next batter, Adrian Beltre, drew a five-pitch walk. Anyone want to guess what happened on the one pitch that was a strike? That’s right. Beltre hit a foul ball DIRECTLY to the spot where Ben and I had been standing ALL GAME. Unbelievable. Then Mike Napoli grounded into a fielder’s choice.

Final score: Tigers 7, Rangers 5.

After the final out, Ben and I got completely ignored by the umpire, so we hurried over to the Rangers’ dugout and got ignored by everyone over there. The highlight was seeing Nolan Ryan walk by with a few other people:

Before leaving the stadium, Ben needed 15 minutes to make some phone calls, so I passed the time in three ways. First, I stood in the middle of the concourse and looked for little kids with empty gloves. I’d decided to give away two baseballs (in addition to the one I gave away during BP), and it took quite a while to find a pair of worthy recipients. Second, I got Orel Hershiser (who strolled by casually with Dan Shulman) to sign a ticket that Mike had given to me. Check it out:

And third, I sat here and watched the rain begin to fall:

Then Ben and I made the 600-mile drive back to New York City. I got home at 6:30am and (because I’m an idiot) didn’t get into bed for three more hours.

Keep scrolling down past the stats to see a few more photos…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 13 balls at this game (ten pictured here because I gave three away)

• 1,143 balls in 129 games this season = 8.86 balls per game.

• 790 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 315 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 181 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 49 games this season with ten or more balls

• 32 lifetime stadiums with at least one game with ten or more balls

• 22 stadiums this season with at least one game with ten or more balls

• 165 lifetime games balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd; 148 foul balls, 16 home runs, and 1 ground-rule double)

• 21st time snagging foul balls during back-to-back games

• 17 consecutive postseason games with at least one ball

• 5,805 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.)

• 61 donors

• $7.47 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $97.11 raised at this game

• $8,538.21 raised this season

Okay, ready for more photos?

First, of the ten balls that I kept, four have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light:

It’s been a while since I posted black light photos, so if you have no idea what it’s all about, click here.

Now check this out — an email that I got from the Tigers after I made it back to New York:

When I clicked the “Start Tagging” button, I was taken to a page on MLB.com that looked like this:

I started zooming in and quickly spotted myself:

Have a closer look…

…and an even closer look:

In the photo above, that’s me in the white T-shirt (yapping about something), Ben in the yellow shirt (wishing I’d shut up), and Mike standing just to the right (looking at us quizzically). Good thing we weren’t picking our noses.

Next up for me? Games 3 and 4 of the World Series. As I mentioned last night on Twitter, I’ve already booked a flight to Texas, and as I didn’t mention on Twitter, I might end up with incredible seats. Stay tuned for an update in the next few days…

32 Comments

The thing about Texas is that it’s infested with critters a *heck* of a lot worse than bedbugs. . . the whole place is literally swarming with texans.

Sounds like a good trip Z. Minor correction, playoff balls were used starting in 1996. Here they all are: http://www.photos.bigleaguebaseballs.com/Rawlings%20Official%20MLB%20Playoffs%20Baseballs/

If your gonna be at the World Series at Arlington I’m gonna start looking for tix. and it’s on a weekend. You sit in the bleachers, right?

When I went to a spring training game in Suprise, Arizona, Nolan Ryan came and sat right in front of us. It was cool. He would have stayed the whole game but someone sitting behind us decided it would be a great idea to go ask for his autograph and then security came and ejected him from that section. They also asked Nolan to leave for his “safety”.

JOE-
Oh boy, here we go…

BIG LEAGUE-
D’oh! Thanks for catching that. I just fixed it.

DYLAN-
Yeah, I’m hoping to get bleacher tickets. It would be cool to see you there.

DOUBLE T-
For his safety?! Jeez.

The World Series! Wow. Have fun

Hey Zack….

I’m going to be in Arlington for the World Series. I have tickets for Game 5 so far but have yet to get tickets for Game 3. It’d be cool to get to meet you. I may end up sitting in the bleachers too for Games 3 and 4 so I’ll let you know when I buy them.

I’m sorry I meant Game 3 or 4.

Yep Zack. For his safety. There were maybe 35 people at that game.

Im going to Minnesota Friday with my dad and when we pass the Metrodome I am going to think about all the snow that plowed in to the stadium. If you do not know what I am talking about here is the link that shows the footage of over 67 tons of snow pummels to the ground of the old Minnesota Twins stadium.

DOUBLE T-
The Metrodome roof collapse was crazy. A few months later, I walked the concourse and took pictures of the collapsed roof. You can check it out here: http://cookandsonbats.mlblogs.com/2011/03/19/mad-max-beyond-metrodome/
-Todd

Two playoff foul balls in two days! Congrats Zack. Cant wait to read your blogs about the World Series

“…making phone calls.” Yeah, THAT’S what I was doing. Notice the little marker in the fourth tagoramic picture (2nd closest view)? That was me, having tagged myself haha. And as for the Josh Hamilton foul ball, simply amazing. I mean, I know we were playing for foul balls, but you walked over, for one batter, to a particular spot, and returned with a foul ball. WHO DOES THAT?!?!? Given, it wasn’t right at you. I mean, you did have to walk down from the one step you were on, through the 8 foot wide cross-aisle, then down 2 steps into the seats and jump for the ball through a sea of hands, so ya know, you’re not perfect (insert rolling my eyes face at my own sarcasm here). If everyone in the world could make a list of 5 things they would love doing more than anything else, and be the best in the world at one of them, only then could they understand what snagging a baseball (or more specifically in this case, a foul ball) must be like for you. And we’d all be a lot better off!

Hey Zack, was surprised myself how few people were in line when the gates were open. I was the guy standing in front of you when you got there. Got there at 1:15 and expected alot more people. Got 4 down by the first base line.

Hey man it’s been a while since i’ve posted on your blog! It was an awesome game. I love doing that kind of “spot myself” thing! I did at our game in May at Rogers Centre when a Blue Jays player hit a homer. I’m hoping that next season we can meet at more than one game! (Maybe Detroit, definitely the Centre, maybe Cleveland. Even Philly would work. Then you could meet my cousin).

Hey zack its mitchell i was so greatful to meet you and that you put me in the blog any chance you could give us a follow back on twitter @mwj5596 @jiwrey

Hey Zack have you ever gone to Omaha, Nebraska for anything in your life? It is awesome to live here with the College World Series ( and the overflowing Missouri River)

MIKE-
Thanks. I seriously can’t wait.

TXRANGERSFAN-
Cool, keep me posted.

DOUBLE T-
Crazy stuff about the roof. I remember seeing this video when it first happened and wondering if it was real. As for Nebraska, no, I don’t think I’ve ever been there.

TODD-
Awesome stuff. I remember seeing your blog at the time.

TEEN REDS FAN-
Thanks.

BEN WEIL-
Some things are better left unsaid, but anyway, yeah, I noticed that you’d tagged yourself. Thanks once again for the kind words about my snagging. I hope you get to witness more of it this coming weekend

BRAD-
I remember you and was wondering where you went and how you did. Very nice.

JON MADDEN-
Welcome back. Philly is probably the best option since it’s so close to me, but it’s so crowded that I don’t like going there anymore. I really like Cleveland and would love to spend a few days there. We’ll figure it out next year. I can’t even think about it now.

MITCHELL JONES-
Great meeting you guys. For me, the thing with Twitter is that I only follow people who are really close friends (as opposed to people that I’ve only met a handful of times), so I’m gonna hold off for now, but I *did* add you both to my “baseball friends” list so that I can check up on you easily and see what’s going on. Hope that’s okay. Lots of people have asked me to follow them on Twitter, and I always feel bad when I don’t, but that’s just how I’m doing it for now.

Zack, nice haul at Comerica! Did you see this Scrabble drama? haha

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/10/18/earlyshow/leisure/main20121795.shtml

Great game as always Zack and hope you to do well in the WS. I got Hershiser’s autograph earlier this summer at the Little League World Series.

PSU532-
Yeah, I just heard about it. Maybe this is what the Scrabble world needs — a little controversy to draw more people in. I do know the guy (Nigel Richards) who won the championship, though not well. I’ve met him a few times at national events here in the States.

JOEYORR4-
Thanks very much, and nice job with Hershisher.

Hey Zack, might be at ws game….My dad trying to get tickets….if he does…..i’ll be in center field for bp if it does happen…..hope to see ya there……btw it’s Angel from Houston

btw….I was the one who wanted to met you in Houston 4/29/11…..I’ll be in a corner spot in CF and hopefully we can meet each other finally……hope to see you there…..

Zack, can you make a list of stadiums and dates for next year? (I am not talking about right now, but later in the year like 2012) I would like to meet you. The only real stadium I have access to is Kauffman. So tell me when you plan on heading out there next year. You would be surprised how young I am. (11 2/3)

Zack: Would you pass along Howard’s contact info to me, or mine to him? I have some Hank Greenberg memorabilia from his heyday that I’d like to share with him. Thanks!

I can’t make it to the WS because ticket prices are sky rocketing so I will see you next year.

Zack, I know you love your old school Razr phone. Gonna splurge on the new Droid Razr smartphone??? Slimmest smartphone around….

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/technology-blog/motorola-razr-back-reinvented-android-175310177.html

ANGEL-
It’s good to hear from you and good luck with the tickets. Let me know if you’re gonna make it.

DOUBLE T-
Wow, that *is* a lot younger than I expected. I don’t mind making a list of dates and games, but I usually don’t plan things out so far in advance. I mean, in August next year, I might decide to go to Kauffman Stadium in September. This was an unusual season for me. It probably won’t be like this again next year — or ever. I don’t know if I’ll make it to Kauffman at all next season. I’d like to be there for the Home Run Derby, but there’s no guarantee that that’ll happen.

LISA LARK-
I just sent Howard your email address and Facebook link. Thanks so much (on his behalf)! Hopefully he’ll get in touch with you soon.

DYLAN-
That sucks. Sorry.

PSU532-
I wouldn’t say that I “love” my old phone. I just dislike cell phones in general (for a variety of reasons), so I’m avoiding the technology as much as possible. I’m trying to wait as long as possible before I become one of THOSE people, and when I do, it’s gonna be an iPhone. No question about it.

OK cause my dad wants to get us tickets to HR Derby and All Star Game.

congrats on breaking my record

David ended up getting 9 balls…..And he is a little smack talker. Great seeing you again. We will see you next year.

Thanks again

I have seen you on the game tonight you for sure have a good spot. I seen you when they did a wide view before a pitch. if I didnt know you were there I would not have known. lol

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 303 other followers