3/29/12 at the Tokyo Dome

Once again, the line outside the Tokyo Dome was humongous . . .

. . . and the bleachers started filling up fast:

I didn’t think there was any chance of approaching the total of 12 baseballs that I’d snagged the day before, and you know what? I didn’t care. As long as my streak (of 793 consecutive games with at least one ball) didn’t end, it was all good.

Roughly 10 minutes into batting practice, a ball rolled out to the right field corner. I worked my way down to the front row and got a good look at it:

Then I unleashed my glove trick — Japan never saw it coming — and got a bunch of cheers and smiles from the crowd. The one person who didn’t appreciate it was the nearest security guard, who hurried over and told me in broken English that I wasn’t allowed to “lean over.” He then insisted that I put my string away and stood there watching me until I did. Of course, the string was attached to my glove, so I had to stick the whole glove in my backpack. Then he half-followed me and half-eyed me as I slowly attempted to escape to the next section. Eventually, he had to turn his attention to confiscating home run balls from fans — and I lost him.

My 2nd ball of the day was thrown by A’s pitcher Ryan Cook in straight-away right field, and my 3rd (pictured below) was tossed by Brian Fuentes in right center:

Niiiiiiiiiiiiiice.

By the middle of the Mariners’ portion of BP, the right field seats were so crowded that I pretty much had to stay at least half a dozen rows back. My 4th ball — another commemorative beauty with a partially worn logo — was thrown by Fautino De Los Santos. I was in the 7th row when I caught it. My 5th ball was a home run hit by Ichiro that I caught on the fly. For that one, I was in the 8th row in straight-away right, and less than 10 seconds later, an usher appeared and demanded the ball. My disappointment must’ve showed because he mumbled the word “sorry” as he took it from me.

“You’re not sorry,” I said, wondering if he understood me. I understand that rules are rules and that he was just doing his job, but still, it sucked. I caught a HOME RUN hit by ICHIRO SUZUKI at the TOKYO DOME and didn’t get to keep the ball. I suppose that if I’d planned better, I could’ve had a dummy ball ready and given *that* to the usher, or hell, maybe I could’ve handed him a Little League ball. Would he have known the difference?

My 6th ball of the day was thrown by Steve Delabar — I was still in the 8th row at that point — and I used a subtle trick to get him to hook me up. A minute earlier, I’d seen him take off his hat to wipe away some sweat. I noticed that his head was shaved, so when I shouted at him and got him to turn around, I took off my hat to show him *my* shaved head. He immediately spotted me and lobbed the ball directly to me over everyone down in front. If I hadn’t done the hat thing, he still probably would’ve seen me and thrown me the ball, but it sure didn’t hurt.

By the time the lefty-dominant Mariners started hitting, the only empty patch of seats was in right-center field, all the way out near the batter’s eye, so that’s where I headed. Before long, I got Lucas Luetge to throw me a ball, but his aim was off, and it sailed five feet over my head. The ball (which had been thrown kinda hard) went right through the bare hands of a middle-aged Japanese man two rows behind me, bounced off his chest, and plopped right down to me. As soon as I grabbed it, I reached back and handed it to him — and got thanked roughly 18 million times. That was my 7th ball of the day.

Two minutes later, I got Casper Wells to throw me a ball (from more than 100 feet away) in the same spot, and then I attempted to use my glove trick for a home run that landed in the tunnel-y thing behind the outfield wall. (You can see the tunnel in the previous photo.) As I was about to get the ball to stick inside my glove, a security guard appeared out of nowhere and began scolding me in Japanese. I ignored him for the three extra seconds that I needed to complete my maneuver, then played dumb and acted apologetic. My glove was still dangling 15 feet below, but thankfully the guard only stuck around as I *started* to lift it back up. Because of where he’d been standing, he never saw the ball. If he had, he probably a) would’ve waited for my glove to come all the way back up and b) demanded that I return the ball. Therefore, I was extra careful while lifting my glove to make sure that it didn’t slip out. If it had, there’s no way that I could’ve gotten away with making another attempt to snag it.

I handed that ball to the nearest kid and then gave away another to this young man:

I headed to the left field side with a modest goal: snag ONE more ball in order to reach double digits. I decided to position myself way back in the 12th row. This was my view:

In the previous photo, do you see the guy standing on the field close to the outfield wall? That’s bullpen coach Jaime Navarro. Based on having seen the Mariners numerous times over the previous few seasons, I knew that he was friendly, so I shouted at him and asked for a ball. He didn’t have one at the time, and that was fine. All I wanted to do was make my presence (and request) known. He looked up at me and seemed to give me a subtle nod, so I stayed there and hoped that one of the hitters would send a ball flying his way. After a minute or two, he caught a deep fly ball. Then, without much of a hesitation, he turned around and threw it to me. Unfortunately it fell three rows short. I flung up my arms in exaggerated disgust, and he shrugged. Was that it?! Was he going to give me another chance? I had no idea what was going through his head, and time was running out. (There had actually been an announcement that the Mariners would be finishing batting practice in five minutes.) After what felt like an eternity, Navarro got his hands on another ball and once again turned toward me. I held up my glove to give him a target — and once again, his delicate throw fell short.

“C’mon, Jaime!!” I yelled. “Put some velocity on it!! I won’t get hurt, I promise!! New York City in da house!!”

I could see him smiling, so I figured he’d give me one more shot. I just needed him to get another ball, and with *very* little time remaining, he did. I positioned myself on the staircase and watched as his throw sailed toward me. At first I thought the ball was going to fall short, so I took a step closer to the field, then realized that it had been thrown a bit too far and had to recover. I ended up scampering up a couple steps and making a back-handed catch way over my head. Double digits had been achieved.

That was it for BP.

I met up briefly with my friend Wayne and took a few photos in deep left field. Here’s one that shows a funny “caution” sign . . .

. . . and here’s another of a narrow walkway:

Wayne and I parted ways after that. (If you want to read his blog entry about this game, click here.) I headed down to the bottom concourse and waited in an endless line for food — pork curry with rice, if you must know. I also waited in another long line at a souvenir stand and bought an “Opening Series Japan” T-shirt for 3,000 yen. It was a bit small, and there was nothing I could do about it. I *had* to have one, but there were only two sizes available throughout the two-game series: “adult” and “youth.”

By the time I made it into the seating bowl, the game was about to begin. This was my view for all nine innings:

With one exception after the 8th inning, when I wandered down near the dugout and got A’s 1st base coach Tye Waller to toss me the infield warm-up ball, I made no attempt to snag. I was there with my mom (Naomi) and half-sister (Martha). (They’d arrived after BP.) We had great seats, and I was content to sit there with them and watch the game. Imagine that.

The A’s won, 4-1. Bartolo Colon pitched eight sharp innings. Yoenis Cespedes hit his first major league home run. (No way I could’ve caught it; the ball landed in the middle of a packed section in left-center, where there was no tunnel, cross-aisle, or standing room.) The Mariners combined for just three hits, and Ichiro went 0-for-4. It was a nice, crisp game.

Here I am with my family during the post-game ceremony:

The ladies waited patiently as I walked through the empty seats . . .

. . . and looked for ticket stubs. The security guards, however, were not as patient and soon directed me toward the concourse. Before heading for the exit, I took two final photos of the stadium. Here they are, fused together to make a panorama (which you should totally click for a closer look):

Chances are, I’ll never be back at the Tokyo Dome, and I’m okay with that. I didn’t see/experience everything, but for the most part, I kicked its ass.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 balls at this game (seven pictured here because I gave four away — three to fans and one to an evil usher)

• 23 balls in 2 games this season = 11.5 balls per game.

• 794 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 319 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 183 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 49 different major league stadiums with at least one ball

• 5,842 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 about my fundraiser, and click here to see the prizes that I’ll be giving away to donors.)

• 12 donors

• 79 cents pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $8.69 raised at this game

• $18.17 raised this season

• $19,175.17 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Wait! There’s more! Martha had taken a bunch of photos with her own camera. Here are the best four . . .

There was a snazzy logo on the scoreboard during the pre-game ceremony, which I completely missed:

I also missed this:

I don’t even know how to describe it, but based on the photo and what Martha told me . . . all the lights were dimmed, and there was some type of traditional Japanese samurai action.

I also missed this . . .

. . . and at the end of the game, I neglected to photograph this:

That’s it.

I’ll post more photos from the rest of my trip in the coming days . . .

20 Comments

Such a badass trip…

http://www.stock350i.mlblogs.com

Sounds like an amazing trip Z! So how many countries / territories have you snagged a ball in now, four? Guess that might not be worth adding to the stats just yet, but I think it’s impressive. Might I suggest attending the World Baseball Classic next?! (And if you do, I think those should count.)

FYI the dealer came through on a special order of Japan balls for collectors, wanted to see if you’d mind me link to the post on our site? I posted the article with a few of your pics and a link to their shop: http://www.bigleaguebaseballs.com

And they got an order of the rare Marlins final from last year – I’m going to try and get an extra of each to donate for your charity, but their pretty limited. Regardless I’ve picked out half a dozen older commemoratives to send your way. A 93, 94, 96 & 97 ASG and Ripken “8” balls. Still digging through storage to see what else I have extras of. Any special requests?

Sweet Panorama! just thought i would share this with everyone: at an omaha stormchaser game last year, i juggled 3 baseballs for Johnny Giavotella and he let me keep all three.

Awesome trip!

Is there anywhere that I can buy an Opening Series baseball? I really want one.

Very cool trip!! What trip do you have planned next?
-Quinn

Love the caution sign….. Love it!

Sounded like you had a great trip Zack! Good job catching double digets at both games you went to!
-Ethan

http://teenredsfan.mlblogs.com/

Ooh, the NEW MARLINS BASEBALL is looking pretty sweet!
SPOILER ALERT!

http://www.bigleaguebaseballs.com

I assume this wasn’t planned but I think its really cool that we weren’t able to find out what the Inaugural Season baseballs for Marlins Park looked like until after they were officially used. In fact, it was nearly impossible to find the logo for the new stadium. Zack, I know that you never like to look at the baseballs before hand. You like to surprise yourself when you actually catch one of the commemorative balls. I may not have caught one yet, but it was a real thrill following the game tonight and finally getting a look at the ball. Also, the first game ball may be what was used for the ceremonial first pitch, as it wasn’t used for the actual first pitch or during the game itself. Regardless, this year is going to be awesome for ballhawks and collectors alike, with 6 teams using commemorative balls for all of their home games this season. It is a tall task to snag all of them, but if there’s one person to do it, you’re that person, Zack.

-Will

What’re you doing, man!? I was all ready for you to pull out the dummy ball to save your Ichiro homerun. Aye…no good. But, otherwise, good.

Very glad you had success in Tokyo. Went to the Marlins’ home opener tonight and can’t say I was overly impressed with the stadium. It was new and clean, but there wasn’t much unique except the home run sculpture & aquarium behind home plate. Snagging looks tough with the limited space to run for home runs and excessive premium seating. I’ll send some pics your way if you want. Best of luck this season!

From now on, you have to acquire a few little league balls and keep one in your pocket at all times. When the security guard demands the ball, give them the dummy ball, and if they notice, then say “This is the ball I caught” and when they leave you have to say “20 years ago in the outfield to win the game for my little league team.”

Hey Zack, How terrible are the Mets’ policies about going down to the dugout without a ticket for there? Because we are friends with Dbacks coach Glenn Sherlock, we plan on trying to chat with him before one of the Dbacks/Mets games in May. Please let me know!

WAYNE-
Amen, brotha!

BIG LEAGUE BASEBALLS-
You are too kind, and by all means, link it. No special requests. Whatever you feel like donating will be much appreciated. Just send it to me at the Argosy Book Store on East 59th Street. Google it and you’ll find the address. Then I’ll photograph the stuff and add photos to my blog and let everyone know about the bonus prizes being offered. As for countries and territories: America, Canada, Puerto Rico (however you want to count that), and Japan. Am I forgetting anything?

DOUBLE T-
Pretty cool about the juggling.

NICK BADDERS-
Thanks!

IJWBALLHAWK-
Contact the folks at bigleaguebaseballs.com. They might be able to help.

QUINN-
The next trip that’s planned is Miami next month.

BRAVES FAN-
:-)

ETHAN-
Thank you. It helped that the stadium opened three hours early both days and that there was very little competition from anyone who actually knew what they were doing.

WILL-
I guess it is kinda cool that the whole thing was a secret. May the commemorative snagging begin for us all!

COOK & SON BATS-
I know, I know . . . I failed.

MATT HIETT-
Pretty much as I expected. Based on everything I’ve seen and heard, I’m not thrilled with that stadium, but I suppose I’ll wait to judge it until I’m there next month. Very cool that you were there for the FIRST GAME.

SKIM-
Ha, cute.

BEN S-
The policy sucks. You need a ticket behind the dugout to go behind the dugout, even at the beginning of BP.

Thanks, are you going to marlins park? That would be your 50th major league baseball stadium.

Zack,
I just got my first look at the new fences inside citi field. I am very disappointed. Instead of actually moving it in, they just built a newer lower fence. Not only does this not help for snagging at citi, but it looks terrible. Can the meta get anything right?

DOUBLE T-
Yeah, I’ll be there on May 21-22. I’m very excited to reach the 50-stadium plateau.

SNAGGING AUTOGRAPHS AND BASEBALLS-
I’m stuck at work, so I’m not watching the game, but I saw a photo of the new left field fence and blogged about it last month. See here:

http://zackhample.mlblogs.com/2012/03/02/left-field-at-citi-field/

If the weather’s nice next week, I’ll try to make it to a game or two at Citi, at which point I’ll post my own photos and give a full critique.

good job zack let me know if your going to be at pnc this year

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