May 2012

5/29/12 at Citi Field

When the gates opened at 5:10pm, I ran like hell to the right field seats and got Ronny Cedeno to throw me my 1st ball of the day.

Less than a minute later, Frank Francisco and Ramon Ramirez walked by. I was hoping they wouldn’t notice me — Francisco knows me and refuses to give me baseballs — but of course they happened to look right at me, and there was nowhere to hide. All I could do was give them each a subtle nod and hope that they’d leave me alone.

Ramirez fielded a ball soon after, and I didn’t bother asking for it. I mean, there was no WAY that he was gonna give it to me, so I just stood there and kept my mouth shut. Well, wouldn’t you know it . . . he turned around and looked at me, but I still didn’t say anything. I just shrugged. And then he threw it to me. So weird. Here’s the ball:

In the photo above, Ramirez is standing on the warning track with his right arm cocked back.

I should mention that as soon as I caught the ball that he threw me, I asked him if he wanted to play catch. He didn’t say anything, so I shouted, “C’mon, I wanna show you my knuckleball!” Francisco responded by flapping his glove at me, so I fired a decent knuckler to him. He then turned away as if he were going to throw the ball back to the bucket, which gave me a sinking feeling in my gut. What was I thinking?! Throwing back a commemorative baseball?! And to Frank Francisco of all people?! Thankfully, though, he was only messing around tossed it back to me.

Just as I was cutting through the seats toward right-center, a left-handed batter hooked a line-drive into the seats, right where I’d been standing in the fifth row. I was convinced that the ball was going to bounce back onto the field — and it nearly did. Instead, it ricocheted down into the front row, and since I was still the only fan in the section, I had time to take this photo before I grabbed it:

Then I ran to the left field seats — and here, let me actually show you what that route looks like . . .

I started by running across the “Shea Bridge” in deep right-center:

Then I headed behind the batter’s eye and passed through this concession area . . .

. . . before approaching the left field concourse:

In the photo above, in order to get down into the seats, I turn left between the blue garbage can and the escalator.

As far as right-field-to-left-field routes go, this one actually isn’t bad. Kauffman Stadium is the best because there’s a walkway directly behind the batter’s eye. Camden Yards, which I love in absolutely every other way, is tough because the path isn’t direct and leads through a picnic area, which is sometimes blocked off, which makes it a real pain in the ass, but I digress. Here’s where I ended up . . .

. . . and soon after the Phillies started hitting, I caught a Hunter Pence homer on the fly.

Chad Qualls threw me my 5th ball of the day. Lots of other fans had been shouting at him (including several kids down below on the Party Deck), but he made a point of walking closer and pointing right at me. As he let the ball fly, he said (loud enough for the entire section to hear), “You’re the only one who said please!”

Halfway through the Phillies’ portion of BP, there was an entire group of left-handed batters, so I headed back to right field. Wanna guess how many balls I got?

If you said “none,” step right up and claim your prize — and now let me show you why. This was my view of the field straight ahead:

Not terrible, right? But not great either. I’d always rather be positioned straight-away or in the gaps than down the lines, but here’s why I had to choose that spot (and why it’s so lame). This was the view to my left . . .

. . . and this was the view to my right:

There’s absolutely nowhere to go at Citi Field if you want to catch a home run by a left-handed batter. In the photo above, did you notice the overhang of the second deck? You can see it just above the Budweiser ad. The second deck prevents most home runs from reaching the seats on the lower level.

After BP, I got my 6th ball of the day at the 3rd base dugout from Phillies coach Mick Billmeyer.

Before the game started, I headed out here . . .

. . . and left the section one ball lighter. Not only didn’t I get anything tossed up by the players, but as I was heading up the steps, I saw an adorable little boy who was sitting with his mother. He was wearing a glove, so I pulled out the cleanest ball I had and handed it to him. They were both thrilled and stunned.

Then I headed here . . .

. . . and once again left the section with a slightly lighter backpack. This time I gave a ball to a security guard to give to the kid of his choice. (That’s a double-whammy giveaway; it makes the guard happy *and* it makes a kid happy.)

This was my view for the first seven innings of the game:

Lately I’ve been spending most of my time in the outfield, but because of the timing of my upcoming 6,000th ball, I wanted to pad my numbers. I figured that sitting beside the dugout and shouting for 3rd-out balls was a good way to make it happen, but during the first half of the game, the only thing I snagged was this:

After the 7th inning, when the Phillies were jogging off the field, I got first baseman Ty Wigginton to throw me ball. Unfortunately he’d pulled a switcheroo and tossed me the clean, non-commemorative infield warmup ball, but hey, I was glad to be slightly closer to my milestone.

Half an inning later, this happened:

There was an announcement which mentioned something about hail and 60mph wind gusts, but I wasn’t paying much attention, and none of that stuff happened. Instead, it just rained a whole lot, and when the game resumed after a 64-minute delay, the stadium was as empty as I’d ever seen it. Here’s a photo that I took during the bottom of the 8th inning . . .

. . . and here’s another shot that shows the left field seats:

The Mets were winning, 6-3, at that point, and it was a weeknight, and there were only six outs remaining when the grounds crew rushed to cover the field with the tarp, and the crowd had been kinda lame in the first place, so yeah, Citi Field ended up looking deserted. It was incredible. Everyone was allowed to enter the 100-level seats (that’s how it is just about everywhere else ALL the time), and everything was super-laid-back. I didn’t get any foul balls out of it, but still had a great time.

I forgot to mention that just before play resumed, I got Placido Polanco to throw me his warm-up ball near the dugout, and as soon as I caught it, I handed it to the nearest kid.

After the final out of the Mets’ 6-3 victory, I got my 9th ball of the day from home plate umpire Mark Carlson. Two minutes later, when the Phillies relievers walked in from the bullpen, I got another from Jose Contreras.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game (seven pictured here because I gave three away)

• 161 balls in 21 games this season = 7.67 balls per game.

• 813 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 338 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 4 consecutive games games with 10 or more balls

• 5,980 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.)

• 30 donors

• $1.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $17.20 raised at this game

• $276.92 raised this season

• $19,433.92 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Wait, there’s more! Of the seven balls that I kept, three have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:

Sankei Sports article

Remember the two Japanese guys that I met on 5/22/12 at Marlins Park? Well, here’s their article about me in Sankei Sports:

I’m hoping to get a translation soon . . .

5/22/12 at Marlins Park

This entire day was insane.

It started when I met two members of the Japanese media outside the stadium at 4:30pm:

This wasn’t an accidental encounter.

In the photo above, the man on the left (a reporter named Gaku) had contacted me in February after he saw this blog entry with my tickets for the Opening Series at the Tokyo Dome. Several weeks later, he and the man pictured above on the right (a photographer named Ryo) met me in New York to interview me. Gaku’s plan was to write about my trip to Japan in early April, but when I mentioned that Marlins Park was going to be my 50th major league stadium, he decided to meet me there and hold off on the story until May . . . so here they were.

Meanwhile, look who else I ran into outside the stadium:

In the photo above, the young man on the left is a Florida-based ballhawk named Michael Calabro. He and I first met on 4/22/08 at Champion Stadium, and we’d recently run into each other on 4/15/12 at Yankee Stadium. It was good to see him again and finally get a photo together. (If you ever see him at a game, go say hi because he’s really cool, but don’t stand anywhere near him during BP because he’s really tall and catches absolutely everything.)

Now, do you remember how screwy everything was when I’d tried to get inside Marlins Park the day before? You may recall that I had a ticket for the club section behind the left field wall — officially known as “The Clevelander” — which failed to open on time. Allow me to make a long story short by sharing a few tweets:

So, what about those baseballs? Well, less than a minute after I entered the Clevelander, I got Marlins pitcher Ryan Webb to toss me this:

I love baseballs with smeared logos. Here’s a great one that I snagged in the early 1990s, and here’s another beauty from the more recent past.

Look who showed up during the next group of Marlins hitters:

That’s my friend Rick Gold — a veteran ballhawk with more than 1,300 lifetime snags. (Why he was wearing a flannel jersey in Florida is beyond me.)

Several minutes later, I got a home run ball tossed to me by a guard in the Marlins bullpen, and soon after that, I spotted Allison Williams, the Marlins’ roving TV reporter. Here we are:

How did I recognize her? Because I’d met her on 4/24/12 at Citi Field, and let me tell you, the whole thing was totally random. At one point during that game, she happened to be standing near me on the Party Deck (with her FOX microphone), so I struck up a conversation. I mainly wanted to ask her how she’d gotten into TV and landed the job with the Marlins, and eventually I mentioned that I was going to be at Marlins Park in May. I forget exactly how it happened — it probably started when she asked me what was bringing me down to Florida, but anyway, I ended up telling her about my whole deal with baseball and writing and traveling and ballhawking, at which point she said she’d like to interview me when I made it down. I gave her the dates of my trip and scribbled down my email address, but never heard back. I figured she’d lost it or got sidetracked or simply didn’t care, and that was fine. She certainly wasn’t obligated to follow up with me, and I didn’t feel like forcing the issue. Fast-forward to batting practice on this fine day in Miami. Allison happened to wander through the Clevelander, and when I waved at her, she immediately remembered me. She admitted that she’d lost track of the dates of my trip, but said that she still wanted to interview me and that she’d come back and find me during the game. That’s when we had our picture taken together. (Photo credit: Rick Gold.)

While I was attempting to snag baseballs in the Clevelander, two important things were happening. First, this was taking place directly behind me . . .

. . . and second, Gaku and Ryo were watching/photographing me from the warning track in front of the 3rd-base dugout.

When the Rockies took the field and started hitting, I moved here:

I figured I’d get just as many (if not more) toss-ups by roaming around the stadium as I would’ve caught home runs in the Clevelander — and since Rick Gold was in the Clevelander, and since he *only* tries to catch home runs, it made sense to give him some space. When I first told him my plan (before the Rockies’ portion of BP got underway), he told me that when the 2nd group of Rockies started hitting, he was gonna move to right field . . . so I decided that I’d head back to the Clevelander at that point. Rick and I have attended lots of games together, and we hardly ever get in each other’s way.

Gaku came and found me along the right field foul line, just in time to see me catch a long/foul fly ball that sliced RIGHT to me. Two minutes later, I got Esmil Rogers to throw me my 4th ball of the day, and then Gaku followed me to right-center field. My good luck continued there when a right-handed batter (not sure who) crushed a 400-foot home run RIGHT to me. I caught that one on the fly, and then got a call on my cell phone. It was Joe Capozzi, the Marlins’ beat reporter for The Palm Beach Post. Joe had written this article about me after I narrowly missed catching Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th home run in 2008, and we’d kept in touch. Several weeks before my trip to Marlins Park, I told him I was gonna be coming to town . . . so yeah, now he was calling me during BP, trying to figure out where I was. While talking to him and saying that I was in the 3rd row in right-center field (and briefly not wearing my glove because I was carrying too much and doing too much), I told him to hold on for a moment so that I could shout at Tyler Colvin. Colvin had just jogged over to the edge of the grass to retrieve a ball, and when he looked up and saw me waving, he threw it to me. With my phone pressed against my left ear, my glove tucked against my rib cage with my left elbow, and my backpack dangling off my right shoulder, I leaned forward a bit and caught the ball with my right hand.

“I think I see you,” said Joe. “Is that you that just made a bare-handed catch out there?”

“That’s me!” I told him. “Where are you?”

“I’m in left field.”

“Okay, give me a few minutes and I’ll meet you in the Clevelander.”

Gaku, meanwhile, was witnessing all of this, and Ryo was . . . probably halfway across the stadium, zooming in on me with his humongous telephoto lens. Although I wasn’t trying to do anything special or extraordinary, I realized that I was putting on quite a show for them.

When I finally made it back to the Clevelander, Joe was nowhere in sight. I hadn’t actually ever met him, so I had no idea what he looked like, but still, it was pretty clear that there weren’t any reporters (other than Gaku) in the club, so I called him.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“I’m in the left field seats,” he said. “Where are YOU?”

“What?! I’m in the Clevelander directly behind the outfield wall in straight-away left!”

“Can I get down there?” he asked.

“I assume they’ll let you in if you show ‘em your credentials.”

“Okay, I’ll head down your way. See you in a bit.”

As soon as I folded up my old-school flip phone and plopped my backpack on a seat, I walked up the few steps to the edge of the pool to check in with Gaku. Five seconds later, I scurried back down and caught a home run that was hit by a left-handed batter. That was my 7th ball of the day. Rick Gold told me after BP that it was hit by Carlos Gonzalez; he knew that because he’d gone to right field to try to catch one of his home runs — oh, the irony!

Jeremy Guthrie saw me make the catch and came over to say hi. He thanked me again for the beverage that I’d gotten him the day before and asked what he could do for me.

“Do you want me to get Jamie Moyer to sign a ball to you and write ‘50 stadiums‘ on it?”

“Nah,” I said. “I really appreciate the offer, but I’m not really an autograph guy.”

“Well, what else?”

“Listen,” I told him, “I don’t want you to get annoyed with me and feel like you need to avoid me in the future because I’m always asking for stuff.”

“It’s no problem,” he said. “You need a Marlins ball?”

“I actually got Tulo’s home run ball yesterday, so I’m all set there.” Then I thought for a moment and said, “I don’t know if it’s possible, but I know for a fact that two fans here have snagged Dodger Stadium commemorative balls from the Rockies during BP — one yesterday and another today. If you happen to see one, can you grab it for me?”

“I’ve been looking whenever I have to throw a ball back to the bucket, and I haven’t seen any.”

“Eh, all right,” I told him, “don’t worry about it. I’ll be in L.A. in a couple months, so hopefully I’ll get one then.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said before jogging back into the outfield. Sure enough, every time he fielded a ball, he took a quick peek at it before tossing it back in. At one point, he walked over to the other few players in left field and told them something. I have no idea what he said, but I hoped that he was telling them to be on the lookout for those special balls.

Several minutes passed, and I suddenly realized that Guthrie was gone. I also realized that Joe Capozzi was missing all the action, but whatever, I couldn’t control that. All I could do was focus on the batters and make sure not to fall into the pool. Then, out of nowhere, I saw Guthrie jogging toward me in shallow left field, and he had a baseball in his hand! Where the hell had he been? Had he gone to the bucket to look through all the balls? Or to the dugout or clubhouse to grab one from a secret stash? Was he going to prank me again with another Mexican League ball? I had no idea what to expect — Jeremy Guthrie will keep you guessing — but when he jogged closer and waved the ball at me, I knew that I was about to find out. There were a few other fans and employees scattered around me, so I truly hoped that he’d throw it accurately . . . and he did. Here’s what I saw when I pulled it out of my glove:

YESSSSS!!!!!

(In the photo above, did you notice Gaku? He’s wearing the green shirt.)

Of course, simply catching the ball wasn’t enough. I wanted to get a photo of it with Guthrie in the background, so I asked him to pose for me. This was the result:

Pretty cool, huh?

I asked him if he had to get going, but he said he wasn’t in a rush, so we took another photo:

(Nice fingernails, Jeremy. I’m very impressed.)

What a guy. Seriously. He and Heath Bell are The Best.

By the time Guthrie and I had finished chatting, Joe Capozzi found his way into the Clevelander. Batting practice was almost done, so he only saw me snag two baseballs. The first (my 9th of the day) was a home run that landed (and stayed) on a small patch of netting overhead. Can you spot the ball in the following photo?

I took that photo before I knocked the ball down by repeatedly throwing my glove at it. I was surprised/delighted that the Clevelander staff allowed me to do that. (At Yankee Stadium, I would’ve been arrested, and at Citi Field, I would’ve been ejected. I’m not joking.) Several minutes later, I misplayed a home run that barely cleared the outfield wall. As it was flying toward me, I was afraid that it was gonna clip the top of the outfield wall and deflect into my face, so I flinched at the last second and pulled my glove out of the way. The ball ended up clearing the wall by two inches, and when it landed near me, it took a horrendously unlucky bounce and ended up somewhere else. I made up for it, though (and reached double digits!) when I grabbed a ground-rule double that barely skimmed the top of the outfield wall. That one WAS lucky; if it had bounced two inches higher off the warning track, it would’ve cleared the wall and sailed 10 feet over my head, right into the glove of Rick Gold who was positioned behind me.

That was it for batting practice.

Before Joe Capozzi took off (I keep mentioning his last name because I love it), I asked him if we could get our picture taken together. He said yes and asked the two nearest waitresses to join us. Here we are:

Joe Capozzi does have a left arm, by the way. Its just . . . hiding.

Now let me show you something that wasn’t hiding:

In the photo above, the ladies are looking off to the side because several other people were taking pictures of them at that exact moment, and they happened to be looking at a different camera. I was okay with that.

(As I mentioned in my previous entry, these women are paid models. They get paid because they look like that, and they get paid to be nice to the fans and pose for photographs, so don’t get on my case about being creepy. I mean . . . I *am* creepy, but thankfully my behavior was acceptable in this situation.)

Gaku pulled me away from the eye-candy. He needed to ask me some questions, and Ryo needed to take more photos, so we headed here:

In the photo above, you can see Gaku taking notes and Ryo (four rows below in the darker green shirt) adjusting the settings on his camera.

When they were ready, we converged in the middle of a row. Then I pulled out all 10 baseballs (holding seven in my glove) and posed with my back to the field. Ryo only needed me for a couple minutes, after which he headed to the photographers’ box — not to take more pictures of me, but to get shots during the game for Sankei Sports, a daily sports newspaper in Japan that he and Gaku work for. Their story about me is supposed to run in a few days.

Shortly before game time, I parted ways with Gaku and headed through the concourse toward the 1st-base side. Look what I passed along the way:

I don’t collect Bobbleheads (or even understand the appeal), but seeing so many of them in one place was cool.

Just before the game started, I made it down to this spot . . .

. . . and got Troy Tulowitzki to throw me a ball over everyone’s heads down in front. It was beautiful.

Then I headed back to the Clevelander and stayed there for the rest of the game. This was my view of the field:

This was the view to my right . . .

. . . and this was the scene directly behind me:

The woman in the photo above is getting body-painted. (Don’t forget that you can click all these photos to expand them.)

At several points during the early innings, I wandered over near the tinted glass panels that separate the Clevelander from the Marlins’ bullpen. I was hoping that Heath Bell would see me and come over to say hello, but he didn’t look up. Eventually, though, he noticed me and we ended up talking for five minutes through a narrow gap in the wall. I mainly asked him about his family (his wife and four kids are still in San Diego, so he rarely sees them) and about the transition to Miami (he loves playing in front of bigger crowds), but the conversation went all over the place. At one point, I asked if he can see the Clevelander models from the bullpen, to which he replied, “Yeah, but it gets old after a while.” We also talked about the Opening Series in Japan and what it’s like as a player to make that kind of a trip and how the A’s are probably the last team that anyone in Japan wants to see. It was fun and educational. (Heath Bell for President!) (In 2024. Gotta give him time to finish his baseball career.) At the very end of our chat, I asked if he could move his face all the way forward against the chain-link fence so that I could try to take a photograph of him. Here’s how it turned out:

The photo above does not represent what it looked like while we were talking. It’s hard to explain, but because of the weird configuration of the beams and walls, we weren’t able to face each other. It was way too loud and would’ve been awfully uncomfortable. As I mentioned in my previous entry, in order to hear him, I had to turn sideways so that my ear was right in that gap, and vice versa.

Here’s something that I neglected to show in my previous entry:

That shower stall is inside the Clevelander bathroom. There are also lockers in there, so if you feel like ballhawking *and* swimming with the honeyz, you can store your towel and bathing suit. (Skinny dipping is not allowed. Yes, I asked.)

In the 4th inning, I ordered pizza, and in the 5th inning, it arrived:

It was damn good.

Allison Williams found me in the 6th inning, and in the top of the 7th, she interviewed me live. This was the very first shot of us:

In the screen shot above, the red arrow is pointing at me. Allison is on the left, and do you see the fan wearing the orange shirt on the right? That’s Rick Gold. He generously sat beside me (sacrificing his chance of running for a potential home runs) and took photos during the interview with his own camera. I’ll show you his best photo in just a bit, but first, here are some more screen shots from the FS Florida broadcast . . .

When the interview got started, the production crew put my Twitter handle on the screen for everyone to see:

While it was there, I gained approximately one follower per second; unfortunately it was only up for nine seconds, but hey, I’ll take it.

We kept talking while this was happening . . .

. . . and Allison kept the questions coming: How many baseballs have you caught? How did you get started? Can you share any tips with the people watching at home? What do you think of the stadium?

When I started talking about the stadium . . .

. . . and explaining that it’s a tough place to catch baseballs because the outfield seats aren’t expansive and because the second deck overhangs the lower level, the viewers saw this:

That shot panned slowly from left to right so that the viewers got a complete look at the outfield. It was very nicely done, and in case you’re wondering, I did say lots of nice things about stadium. I mentioned that I surpassed my per-game average and that the Clevelander is the best place to catch baseballs and that I really liked the overall design.

Here’s a photo that Rick took during the interview:

The interview lasted four minutes, which was longer than I expected. That gave me a chance to mention my connection to Heath Bell, and Allison gave a really nice plug for my second book, Watching Baseball Smarter. (A year or two ago, her producer had bought a bunch of copies and given them to all the interns and some of the full-time employees, so she had actually read it [and loved it!] long before meeting me at Citi Field.)

The best part of the interview might have been what was said immediately after by the Marlins’ announcers. I’m not sure who was doing the game, but anyway, here’s what they said:

ANNOUNCER NO. 1: “That’s one of the best in-game guests . . . “

ANNOUNCER NO. 2: “That’s a sharp guy.”

ANNOUNCER NO. 1: ” . . . that we have ever had.”

ANNOUNCER NO. 2: “He knows what he’s doin’.”

ANNOUNCER NO. 1: ” Knowledgeable, likes the park, and an author as well. Jordan Pacheco couldn’t hold up, and he goes down swinging.”

After Allison and I said goodbye, this happened:

In the bottom of the 8th, I noticed that very few people were paying attention to the game:

That’s because the Miami Heat were in the midst of a playoff game, which you can see on two of the TVs in the photo above. Also in that photo . . . do you see the guy in the white dress shirt with his back to the field? He’s sitting right in front of me, and his tablemate is staring in the same direction. Here’s why:

No matter which way I turned, there was lots to look at, but ultimately I just wanted to see this:

That was my view in the top of the 9th inning when Heath Bell came in to protect a 7-6 lead. When he gave up a leadoff double to Jordan Pacheco, I thought he was screwed. Carlos Gonzalez followed with a groundout to second which moved Pacheco to third, but Bell got Troy Toluwitzki to pop up to Jose Reyes at shortstop. That brought up Todd Helton, who took two called strikes and fouled off the next pitch. That’s when I took the following photo:

By golly, there were kids in the Clevelander! And they weren’t paying attention to anything that was happening on the field! Everyone else, though, was really into the game, and as Helton worked the count to 2-2, I turned to my left and took two interesting photos. Here’s one . . .

. . . and here’s the other:

Yes, even during tense 9th-inning moments involving my favorite player, I still find time to dick around with my camera.

Helton fouled off the 2-2 pitch and then took a called third strike to end the game.

WOO!!!

After the game, I saw something that I can’t explain. Have a look:

The grounds crew rolled out the tarp in the outfield . . . and then left it there.

Seriously, WTF.

I understand that in a domed stadium, the grounds crew has to make an extra effort to get sunlight on the grass, but pulling out the tarp after the game? Where was the tarp during the game? I couldn’t recall seeing it on the field, so it must’ve come from a secret spot. Does the following photo offer any clues? Check out the space in the wall in center field:

Is that where the tarp stays when not in use? Why even HAVE a tarp? In case the roof malfunctions and gets stuck in the “open” position? As you can see in the photo above, the tarp was still sitting there in left field.

Before leaving the stadium, I gave one of my baseballs to the smallest, glove-wearing kid that I could find. (I would’ve given baseballs to the kids in the Clevelander, but they weren’t wearing gloves and didn’t seem to like baseball.) When I made it outside, it was drizzling:

And so . . . some bigwig with the Marlins had decided to open the roof? And then grounds crew decided to cover one little strip of grass in the outfield?

Somebody explain this to me!

Please!

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 balls at this game (ten pictured here because I gave one away)

• 151 balls in 20 games this season = 7.55 balls per game.

• 812 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 337 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 296 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

•189 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 47 different commemorative balls snagged; click here to see my entire collection

• 5,970 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.)

• 29 donors

• $1.67 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $18.37 raised at this game

• $252.17 raised this season

• $19,409.17 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/21/12 at Marlins Park

Did you hear the latest news about Rockies pitcher Jamie Moyer — about how his start last night at Marlins Park marked the 50th major league stadium at which he has pitched? Well, Mister Moyer and I have something in common: not only was I there, but this was my 50th major league stadium too. I had snagged at least one ball at each of the previous 49, so obviously I was hoping to get at least one ball here and keep the streak alive.

I was pretty excited when I arrived at Marlins Park:

In case you’re wondering, I took that photo with my camera’s 10-second timer, and yes, it took several attempts. It didn’t seem like I was jumping *that* high at the time, and who knows? Maybe I wasn’t. Maybe it was the angle. But when I’m SO pumped up that I feel like I’m gonna leap out of my shoes, anything’s possible.

That photo of myself wasn’t the first one that I took outside the stadium. When I first arrived (at around 3pm), my taxi driver dropped me off here:

My plan for the next hour was to walk all around the stadium and take photos. Here’s what it looked like as I got closer . . .

. . . and here’s a rather dramatic view of the roof:

The roof was open, so it was overhanging that side of the stadium, and I have to say . . . it was pretty damn cool.

If you’ve been reading my blog since last season, you might recall that I saw Marlins Park when it was still under construction. (Here’s the entry with all the photos.) As you can imagine, it was great to be back and see the completed stadium. Overall, I think it’s sleek and unique and beautiful, but there *are* a bunch of things that I would’ve done differently had I been in charge of the design. Check out the photo below:

Did you notice anything ugly? See the colorful/striped path that cuts across the main walkway? There are bunch of little paths like that, and quite frankly, I think they’re tacky. I believe that less is more — I’m a fan of visual simplicity — so in that sense, Marlins Park isn’t as beautiful as it could’ve been. As you’ll see, there are other decorative elements that just don’t work . . . for me. They feel contrived, and they seem to detract from the stadium’s otherwise sharp design.

Here’s an example of the sharpness . . .

. . . and here’s another:

One thing is clear: Marlins Park is not Camden Yards, but that’s okay because it’s not trying to be. It looks like a spaceship, and I’m fine with that (even though Olympic Stadium did it first).

Because of the large Latino community in Miami, there are lots of signs in Spanish outside the stadium. Here’s one . . .

. . . which simply means “TICKETS.”

Here’s what it looks like outside the left field corner of the stadium:

Here’s another photo, taken close by, that shows the stadium on the left and a parking garage on the right:

The reason why I took that photo from that specific spot is because I’d taken one there last year, and I wanted to compare them. Here they are side by side:

As I continued making my clockwise lap around the stadium, I saw this:

I later heard that these “buried letters” are supposed to represent the remnants of the Miami Orange Bowl, which occupied the site until it was demolished in 2008. Cute.

Here’s some interesting architecture for you:

It’s not exactly the image that first comes to mind when I think of a baseball stadium, but it IS pretty snazzy.

Finally, after having walked three-quarters of the way around Marlins Park, I saw the Clevelander:

The Clevelander is a club that’s located inside the ballpark, just behind the left field wall. I’d paid $50 for a ticket there because (a) I’d heard that it opens half an hour earlier than the rest of the stadium and (b) it seemed like a good place to catch home runs.

It was only 4pm, so I still had an hour to kill. I used the time to wander and take more photos like this . . .

. . . and this . . .

. . . and this:

Before long, I found myself in an area that didn’t look like it was meant for fans:

I kept walking and found myself standing just outside the loading area:

No one was guarding the entrance, so I easily could’ve walked all the way in and then played dumb, but it didn’t seem like there was any purpose in doing that.

It was 4:20pm when I made it back to the Clevelander. Here’s a zoomed-in photo of what I saw from the outside:

Batting practice was already underway.

I had visions of home run balls hitting the pavement (and missing the swimming pool) in just the perfect way that they would bounce all the way back to me — but that didn’t happen. Part of the reason why is that there were several Clevelander employees patrolling the club with baseball gloves. You can see one of them in the photo above.

I was nervous that the club wasn’t going to open on time. I don’t know why. I just had a hunch, so I asked every employee I could find. Two guys at a nearby ticket windows said it’d be open at 5pm. A Clevelander employee also told me 5pm. Even the barricades outside the club said it would open two hours early. Scroll back seven photos and take a look for yourself. But when five o’clock rolled around and there didn’t seem to be any way to enter the stadium, I got nervous. Was I standing in the wrong spot? What the hell was going on? I found a security guard (with a Clevelander logo on his shirt) in a side door and asked what time it was going to open. He told me 5:30pm. I ran back to the first Clevelander employee and told him what the guard said. He just shrugged and said they usually open at 5pm. I ran over to the left field gate and asked what time it was going to open. The answer was 5:30pm. I asked how I was supposed to get inside the Clevelander at 5pm and was told that I couldn’t — that I couldn’t enter the stadium until the regular gate opened. I asked an employee at a nearby “fan assistance” booth. He had absolutely no idea and said that the Clevelander is its own separate area and the Marlins have nothing to do with it. NO ONE KNEW A DAMN THING, and I was seriously pissed off. I returned to the gate and asked to speak to a supervisor and was told that the supervisor was busy. Sorry but that’s crap. I mean, to advertise an expensive section as opening early and then NOT open early and then NOT be available to do something about it . . . that is thoroughly unacceptable. As pissed off as I was, there was another fan named Joe Scherer who was downright furious. Who’s Joe Scherer? He’s the guy who caught Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run, and let me tell you, he raised hell about the gate opening time. He didn’t even have a ticket for the Clevelander; as a longtime Marlins season ticket holder, he was angry as a matter of principle — so angry, in fact, that he nearly got into a shouting match with the female manager of the Clevelander. It was hilarious and cringe-worthy all at once. She could’ve been more helpful, and he could’ve been nicer, and as for me? I just stood there and discretely filmed them jawing at each other. It was 5:10pm, and I clearly wasn’t going to get in for another 20 minutes, so when Joe finished ranting, he and I and his friend Drew got a photo together outside the gate. Here we are:

In the photo above, Joe is on the left (still too pissed off to smile), and Drew is on the right. If these guys look familiar, that’s because I posted a photo of them (with a few other fans) on 8/5/11 at Sun Life Stadium.

Finally, at 5:30pm, the stadium opened. I got my ticket scanned, charged through the gate, cut to my left, and made a U-turn toward the Clevelander through a narrow corridor. Along the way, a male security guard stopped me to look at my ticket and several female employees stopped me to give me a wristband. After that, I got my first look inside the almighty Clevelander. Check it out:

Wow. (Right?)

Unfortunately, the Marlins were JUST in the process of running off the field, so I didn’t get to see a single pitch of their portion of batting practice. As a result, my chances of snagging a Marlins commemorative ball took a major hit. Would the Rockies be using any in BP? Would I have to give up this awesome spot in the outfield and go for third-out balls during the game? I really didn’t know how to play it. Meanwhile, the Rockies weren’t yet hitting, so I got the hell out of the Clevelander and headed into the main part of the stadium. (Yes, you can go back and forth, which is quite nice, although it takes a while.) Here’s where I ended up:

In the photo above, did you notice the basket of balls sitting on the warning track? Several Marlins players and coaches were still on the field at that point, and when they headed back to the dugout, I shouted at them unsuccessfully. Eventually, I was able to get the attention of hitting coach Eduardo Perez, who chucked a ball to me 10 rows back. Here I am with it:

Having spent way too much time at Yankee Stadium, I had assumed that I wasn’t allowed to go down to the dugout, but guess what? I totally was. At Marlins Park, the seats right behind the dugouts are open to everyone during batting practice.

Anyway, the ball that I got there was very significant because it marked the 50th major league stadium at which I’ve snagged at least one ball. (It was also significant because 10 guys named Perez have now thrown balls to me: Carlos, Chris, Eddie, Eduardo, Juan, Melido, Oliver, Rafael, Timo, and Yorkis. I’m such a dweeb.)

Take a closer look at the ball:

Did you notice the imprint below the R in “Rawlings”? I think that’s the TPX logo, but I’m not sure. What do you think? It’s not as sharp as any of these amazing imprints, but it’s still pretty cool.

When the Rockies started playing catch, I ran around to the seats along the right field foul line. Still unaware that I was allowed to go much closer to the field, here’s where I ended up:

Not surprisingly, I didn’t get a ball there, but at least I quickly realized that it was hopeless and didn’t waste more than a couple minutes in that spot.

Here’s where I ended up next:

In the photo above, the pitcher on the bullpen mound is Jeremy Guthrie — one of several major leaguers who know me by name. (The others that come to mind are Heath Bell, Dan Wheeler, and Mike Nickeas.) I could’ve shouted at him from where I was, but that’s no way to have a conversation, so I moved to the far end of the bullpen and waited until there was a break in the action.

“Is that my friend Jeremy Guthrie?” I called out from above.

That got him to look up in my direction, and when his eyes met mine, he said, “Hey, Zack! I was wondering if I was gonna see you this season.”

We chatted for a moment, and then we each got back to “work.” He continued his bullpen session, and I turned my attention to the seats in right-center field. Here’s what it looked like:

In the photo above, do you see the fan standing in the fifth row with the white jersey? He’s wearing a black cap and has his arms folded. That’s my friend and fellow ballhawk Rick Gold. Rick lives in New Jersey and works for MLB.com in New York City. We knew that we’d be seeing each other at Marlins Park, but didn’t plan it that way. We just happened to end up here at the same time.

Soon after I took that photo, someone on the Rockies hit a deep drive in my direction. The ball landed on the warning track and skipping off the top of the outfield wall into the seats, where I was able to grab it. It was very lucky. The outfield wall is rather high, so in order for a ball to bounce over, it has to land in the perfect spot — and as for home runs? Forget about it if you’re anywhere in the stadium other than the Clevelander. I’m not saying it’s impossible to catch homers in other sections, but because of (a) the deep distances to the outfield walls, (b) the inconvenient placement of the bullpens, and (c) the overhang of the 2nd deck in right field, it’s tough to catch batted balls. Combine those three factors with the un-fan-friendly gate opening time, and you have a VERY DIFFICULT stadium. Of course, I kinda found a way to beat the system with my special ticket.

By the time the 2nd group of Rockies hitters were taking turns in the cage, I was back in the Clevelander. This was my view:

Here’s what it looked like on my left . . .

. . . and on my right . . .

. . . and directly behind me:

I made sure not to keep my camera or cell phone in my pockets; if I ended up in the pool, whether on purpose or by accident, I didn’t want to have to replace them. But hold on a second. I want you to scroll back up and look the photo that showed the view to my right. It’s two photos above, and there are two things in it that I need to point out:

1) The wall of tinted glass panels separates the Clevelander from the Marlins’ bullpen. Keep this in mind because that wall is gonna be important later on.

2) The guy standing near the edge of the pool (wearing light blue jeans and a dark blue shirt) worked for the Clevelander. I was stunned that he and a couple other employees remained there with their baseball gloves after the stadium opened — and get this: not only were they stationed at various spots in the club, but they actively pursued home run balls that I might’ve been able to catch. I actually found myself competing with them on several occasions.

“Don’t worry,” one of them told me. “If I catch one, you can have it,” and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened — not once but twice. Two different employees caught home runs on the fly, and because I was the only fan in the entire club (and because the second guy hadn’t seen the first guy hook me up), they handed both balls to me. I’ll admit that it was a cheap and uneventful way to add to my total, but for as long as I’ve been doing this, my personal rule has always been as follows: I don’t accept balls from other fans, but if a stadium employee gives me a ball (even if that employee is in the stands), then it counts.

My 5th ball of the way was a monster home run that landed on the staircase (just to the left of the home run sculpture) in left-center field. You’ll see some pics of the staircase in a bit, but for now, I’m just going to describe what happened. There was a Clevelander employee at the end of the club, passively guarding the area that leads to the staircase. While the ball was in mid-air, I bolted right past him, swerving around a small barricade in the process, and by the time I reached the bottom of the staircase, the ball was about to land. Fortunately it didn’t bounce back onto the field. Instead it rattled around for a moment and then began to trickle down the steps as I ran up. It was a fun way to snag a ball, and I ended up getting scolded. The guard told me that the staircase is for employees only. Hmph.

Halfway through the Rockies’ portion of BP, Jeremy Guthrie wandered out to left field, and when he saw me behind the chain-link fence, he came over to say hello. Here we are:

The first thing we talked about was my book, The Baseball. He was actually the one who brought it up. First he asked how it’s been doing and then he complained (for the millionth time) that I didn’t write him into it. I told him that I mention him all the time on my blog. He told me that he hasn’t been pitching well lately. I told him about my 50-stadium connection with Jamie Moyer. He asked me if I’d applied for the MLB Fan Cave. It went back and forth like this for a few minutes, and then out of nowhere, he asked me to get him a drink from the bar — a non-alcoholic beverage, he said, “with Sprite and cherry syrup.” Neither of us could think of the name, but the bartenders knew exactly what I was talking about. (They informed me that it’s called a “shirley temple.”) I asked them if I could take a photo of them holding the drink. They were fine with being photographed, but not with the drink being in their hands, so here’s what I got:

Goodness. That is one FINE lookin’ drink!

The female manager of the Clevelander (the one who’d gotten yelled at by Joe Scherer) was standing nearby, and when she heard what I was planning to do with the drink, she wouldn’t allow me to take it away from the bar — but when I told her that it was non-alcoholic and that the player had requested it, she gave her unofficial approval and didn’t charge me.

Then I walked it back toward the field . . .

. . . and assisted Guthrie in quenching his thirst.

Here’s where I set the drink down:

See it there at the bottom of the fence?

Guthrie’s attitude changed for the better after that. Don’t get me wrong — he’s always been nice to me, but previously, he truly seemed to be bothered that I hadn’t mentioned him in my book. I mean, it’s one thing to joke about something once or twice, but when a person “jokes” about the same thing EVERY time you see them, you start to wonder if it’s really a joke at all. That’s how it was with the book, but after this whole situation with the drink, he was 100 percent appreciative and didn’t give me crap about anything.

“I owe you, he said. “I owe you baseballs.”

(Is there anything better for ME to possibly hear from a major league baseball player? Seriously, in my world, it doesn’t get much better than that.)

I told him about the commemorative baseballs that are being used this season by six teams and asked if the Rockies were using any of the special “Marlins Park” balls in BP. He said he didn’t think so, but told me that he could probably get one.

Eventually, he moved back to straight-away left field and continued shagging. Five minutes later, some random trainer-type guy on the Rockies jogged over to retrieve a ball near the warning track. He wasn’t wearing a uniform. He was decked out in all-black athletic/workout gear, so I had no idea who he was. That didn’t stop me from asking him for it, and to my surprise, he tossed it to me. Unfortunately, I was in the front row (right behind the chain-link fence) and the ball sailed five feet over my head and plopped into the lap of another fan. I called out and asked for another shot, and he held up his right index finger as if to say, “Hold on.” Then, sure enough, when the next ball came his way, he walked over with it and made a much better toss right to me. The he said, “Jeremy told me you were, like, a professional ball catcher.”

Ha!! Awesome.

I ended up talking to the guy for a minute, during which time we both explained who we are and what we do. He’s not a trainer. He’s an advance scout named Chris Warren, and if you’re interested, here’s a short article about him that was written last year on the Rockies’ website.

My 7th ball of the day was a home run that I caught on the fly with Guthrie watching from 30 feet away. I should’ve asked him who hit it, but didn’t think of it at the time. My 8th ball was another home run. This one barely reached the seats up above. The fans up there bobbled it, and the ball dropped right down to me.

Take a look at those two balls:

If you’ve ever snagged a “practice” ball, there’s a 99 percent chance that it looks like the one pictured above on the left.

Soon after, as the Rockies were jogging off the field, Guthrie turned around and indicated with body language that I should finish his beverage. (He basically pointed at me and made a drinking motion with his right hand, as if he were holding a cup.) So I did. This is the second time that I’ve shared a beverage with a major leaguer. The first time happened at the 2008 Home Run Derby when Mariano Rivera tossed me this bottle of half-consumed water.)

Anyway, yeah, eight baseballs — not bad for a tricky stadium that had opened just 90 minutes early, but I wanted more. My goal was to reach double digits and break the one-game Marlins Park record of nine that my friend Matt Winters had set the week before. Could it be done? Maybe, but I wasn’t going to find out right away. While the groundskeepers started preparing the field for the game, I ran (yes, RAN) all around the stadium to take a bunch of photographs. That said, my stadium tour was delayed briefly at the start because I *had* to stay in the Clevelander and watch this:

With great difficulty, I pulled myself away and walked over to the staircase in left-center. Here’s what it looked like as I got closer:

In the photo above, do you see the barricade with the blue strip? Here’s an even closer look at it:

As you can see, it doesn’t extend all the way across, so from a physical standpoint, it’s easy to get around it. The only challenge is eluding the guard.

Here’s a photo that shows the entire seating area of the Clevelander . . .

. . . and here’s a photo that I took from halfway up The Staircase:

How did I get up there? Simple: I asked the guard, and he nodded. This wasn’t the same guard who’d told me earlier that the staircase is for employees only, so as you can see, there’s a huge disconnect among Marlins Park personnel. No one knows when the stadium opens. No one knows which areas are off limits. The policies change from one hour to the next, and it’s completely maddening. What is so hard about establishing a set of rules, informing ALL the employees of the rules, and then sticking to it?

Here’s what the home run sculpture looks like from below:

As I passed behind it, I noticed an orphan baseball. Can you spot in the following photo?

I took two photos when I reached the top of the stairs. Here’s what it looked like on the right . . .

. . . and on the left:

Then I headed up to the second deck and photographed the sculpture and concourse from above:

Nice.

Here’s the view from deep center field:

Someday Giancarlo Stanton is going to hit a home run into the second deck in dead center. Mark my words.

Here’s another shot of the home run sculpture, along with the unusual configuration of the left field wall and seats:

The 2nd deck in right field is VERY steep:

If you plan on going up there during BP, I suggest being extra careful. It’s tough enough to run through the seats in a relatively flat section; do it here and you might end up breaking your head.

The area behind the 2nd deck is rather odd. It’s basically a mess of staircases and catwalks and platforms. Have a look:

Here’s a photo, taken from the catwalk, that shows the right field bullpen:

In the photo above, that’s Jamie Moyer on the far right, walking on the grass near the warning track. Fifty stadiums for him, fifty stadiums for me — I love it.

Here’s a shot that I took from the right field corner of the 2nd deck:

Did you notice how straight the wall is in foul territory? I like it because it’s different, but I don’t like it because it’s boring. When a stadium has seats that jut out near the foul line, there’s suspense on every hard-hit ball that hooks inside the bag. Will the ball roll all the way to the corner for a potential triple? Or will it hit the stands and carom back into fair territory and give the outfielder a chance to hose the runner at 2nd base? In my opinion, it’s a shame that the latter won’t ever occur at Marlins Park.

I headed back down to the lower concourse . . .

. . . and quickly found the ramps to get all the way back upstairs:

Before heading up, I turned to the right and took the following photo:

Despite everything I’ve been complaining about, I have to say that Marlins Park is absolutely gorgeous in many places, this being one of them.

Here’s another look at the outer/wrap-around walkway from above:

Can you honestly look at that photo and say that Marlins Park isn’t cool? I still don’t like the colorful/striped paths at ground level, but those are no big deal; when I own the team someday, I’ll just pave over them.

Here’s what the upper deck concourse looks like . . .

. . . and here’s what I saw as I approached the seats:

The following photo will show you why it’s so hard to catch batted balls at this stadium:

See the seats in fair territory down the left field line? There are only three sections (not counting that little sliver of a section on the right). Those seats are high above the field. There aren’t many rows to work with. The incline is steep. And those sections are not in an area where most home runs go. Most homers go to straight-away left or right field and to the power alleys in left- and right-center. The only thing that would make the left field seats worse would be if there were an upper deck that overhung that area and swallowed most of the home runs — kind of like how it is in right field. I’m very conflicted about this stadium.

The cross-aisle in the upper deck would be better if it were a foot or two wider:

If two vendors (or two Prince Fielders) walk toward each other, one person is going to have to lean out of the way (or stand sideways) to let the other pass. There’s no purpose for that. (If you think this cross-aisle is narrow, check out the aisle in the upper deck at the old Yankee Stadium. It’s at the bottom right of this four-part photo.)

Here’s my amateur attempt at making a panorama from the last row of the upper deck:

I created that image by combining two regular pics in Photoshop. It’s 3,000 pixels wide (compared to the 1,200-pixel width of most of the other shots), so you can click it for a much closer look.

Here’s a photo of me, taken by a friendly usher:

The game was about to begin, and I had to make a quick decision: play the dugouts and try to get a third-out ball with the Marlins Park commemorative logo or head to left field and try to snag a home run. I decided to aim big — Screw foul territory!! — so I hurried down these stairs to the main concourse:

Once again . . . very cool stadium design. It’s like a forest of support beams, and I really like the big windows (which can slide open along those tracks in the floor). For some reason, though, the roof had been closed before BP started, and it stayed that way throughout the game. It wasn’t raining. It wasn’t even hot. It was about 75 degrees at game time. WTF.

When I made it back to the Clevelander, the music was blasting so loud that I took my time walking through the corridor toward the pool. There was no way, I assumed, that the music would be playing during the game . . . right?

Wrong! As was the case during batting practice, a relentless playlist of the newest (and often most annoying) dance/pop songs assaulted my eardrums. I’d still recommend checking out the Clevelander; you just have to be mentally prepared that you’re going to club and not a baseball game.

Here’s what it looked like during the top of the first inning:

Again, do you see those tinted glass panels? Well, with one out in the top of the first and the Rockies already on top, 2-0, Troy Tulowitzki launched a deep drive to my right. I wasn’t sure if the ball was going to end up in the Clevelander or the bullpen, but one thing was clear: it was definitely going to leave the yard. As it turned out, the ball sailed completely over the Clevelander, reached the front row of regular seats up above, got bobbled by the gloveless fans, and dropped down into the bullpen. Moments later, I was standing at the tinted glass, trying to get a look at where it ended up. Here’s what I saw:

From a distance, it was nearly impossible to see through the glass, but once I was standing beside it (and cupping my hands around my eyes), the visibility was solid. I tried knocking on the glass, but the players either didn’t hear me or didn’t care. Now losing, 4-0, they just sat around like statues and didn’t seem to care that there was a home run ball in their midst. Moments later, I was told by a security guard that I had to move. You see, there’s a little staircase that runs alongside the glass. That’s where the servers walk up and down to bring food and drinks to the fans sitting behind the chain-link fence, and I have to admit that I *was* blocking their path, but DAMN, there was a home run ball! What to do . . .

I walked back up the steps and stood near the glass, trying to peer into the bullpen and also trying NOT to get completely distracted by this:

In case it’s unclear what I’m talking about, here’s a closer look:

During every game at the Clevelander, models are hired to come hang out and essentially be eye-candy. They wade in the pool. They pose for photos. They dance. And they get body-painted. That’s what was taking place in the photo above, and Great God Almighty, it was impossible not to stare. And then it happened. When I took another peek at the bullpen, Heath Bell (or at least the silhouette of a player that vaguely resembled Heath Bell) stood up and appeared to glance in my direction. Did he see me?! I took off my hat — something I always do when I see him because my shaved head is easy to spot — and waved like a lunatic. I could only half-see him at that point, but I could tell that he was pointing at me and then shrugging as if to say, “What the hell are YOU doing here?” Then, as if on cue, we both started walking toward the bottom/corner of the glass/bullpen. I had to use the steps to get there, but the guard didn’t stop me this time, perhaps because he realized that a player was on his way to talk to me. When Heath and I converged, it was nearly impossibly to communicate. Remember, the music was pumping on my side of the glass, which seemed to be soundproof. There was no way to shout through it, so we both put our faces down at the very front and yelled through an inch-wide gap between the outfield wall and a green support beam. Because of the configuration, we couldn’t even see each other. We had to shout around the beam. When he was shouting, I had to turn my head sideways and put my ear against the gap, and vice versa. It was the nuttiest way I’ve ever had a conversation, and we didn’t talk long. He pretty much just told me that he didn’t know I was going to be here, and he asked how long I was gonna be in town. I told him that I was only here for two games, and then he kind of cut me off, which was totally okay because he shouted, “Hang on, let me get you a ball!” What exactly did he mean by *a* ball? I didn’t want any old ball. I wanted The Ball. Was that what he meant? He then walked back to where his fellow relievers were sitting and seemed to ignore the ball — THE ball. I wanted it so bad, and I was the only fan that was trying to get it. I didn’t know why Heath was making me wait. Was he messing with me or was he taking his time for some other reason? Maybe he was waiting in case the Rockies called the Marlins’ bullpen and said that Tulowitzki wanted the ball? I decided to get out of the way — no point in blocking the staircase if Heath wasn’t right on the other side on the glass. Then, after a minute or two (which felt like an hour or two), he walked over and picked up THE ball and headed toward the corner spot near the bottom of the stairs. I hurried over and feared that he might airmail me. I hoped that he’d have the sense to get as close to the wall as possible and to toss the ball nearly vertically so that it came right down to me on the other side. Heath did not let me down. He got really close and made a gentle toss that barely kissed the padded top of the wall before dropping into my waiting glove. Total perfection!

As soon as Heath saw me catch it, he shouted, “I gotta go!” and started walking off.

“WAIT!!” I yelled and waved him back. “Is this the actual home run ball?!”

“Yes!” he said.

“Ohmygod!!” I shouted, “Thanks so much!! I love you!!” And that was it. Take a look at the ball:

Sweeeet!!!!

That’s four E’s and four exclamation points for the four different commemorative balls that I’ve snagged so far this season, the other three coming from the Mets, Orioles, and Astros. (I supposed I could’ve thrown an extra E and exclamation point in there for the Opening Series Japan ball that I snagged on 3/28/12 at the Tokyo Dome, but that falls in a separate category of awesomeness.) Only two other teams’ commemorative balls remain un-snagged for me in 2012: the Red Sox and Dodgers. But enough about commemorative balls. The biggest and best part of this was that it was the 5th time that I’d ever gotten a game home run ball tossed to me. Combine those 5 with the 17 game home runs that I’ve snagged unassisted, and I have a total of 22. Click here to see my complete home run list.

Now, about that body-painting:

There were models all over the place . . .

. . . and I got my picture taken with a bunch of them:

In the photo above, I’m holding the Tulowitzki home run ball. I was so happy at that moment — the women, the baseball, the cheesy music, the fact that I was on vacation and didn’t have to be at work for three more days . . . I mean, I’ve attended some events that make the Clevelander look like Sesame Street, but for what this was, it was total bliss.

Here’s some more body-painting for you . . .

. . . and here I am with two more women:

The women pictured above were wearing such appropriate outfits, don’t you think? I mean, they really helped to get me into the spirit of being at a baseball game. Here’s a look at them from behind . . .

. . . and here I am with the model who’d gotten body-painted:

(Yes, my girlfriend is going to read this entry, as will my mother, as will my future kids. It’s all good.) (No, I’m not a fan of implants. I think they look and feel nasty, and I don’t care for the type of women who generally have them, but that’s kind of why I enjoyed the Clevelander. It was so tacky and over-the-top. It was like the junk food of sex, you know?) (By the way, I was told by one employee that kids are not allowed in the Clevelander — and then I was told by another that kids ARE allowed, but only until the game ends, at which point everyone has to be 21 and older. Get it together, Marlins!)

In the bottom of the 4th inning, when Giancarlo Stanton came to bat against Jamie Moyer with the bases loaded, the result wasn’t just a grand slam. It was THE hardest-hit home run in the major leagues since 2006. I’m not making this up. According to ESPN Home Run Tracker, the ball jumped off Stanton’s bat at a speed of 122.4 miles per hour (which explains how it managed to break the scoreboard). Since 2006, the next hardest-hit ball was a blast by Mark Reynolds at Chase Field on April 20, 2010 that traveled 122.3 miles per hour. Interestingly, both of these home runs were hit down the left field foul line. Here’s a diagram that shows where Stanton’s landed, and here’s the diagram for Reynolds. Because of the “elevation angle” off the bat — 25.3 degrees for Stanton and 27.4 for Reynolds — Reynolds’ shot traveled 481 feet while Stanton’s “only” went 462.

In the 5th inning, I had this for dinner:

That’s a chicken caesar salad on the left and a cheeseburger with sweet potato/tater tots on the right.

Yum.

There was more body-painting during the late innings . . .

. . . and when the Marlins took a 7-4 lead into the top of the 9th, I abandoned the club and headed into the main part of the stadium. My plan — not a goal, mind you, but a PLAN — was to work my way down to the 1st base dugout and get a ball from home plate umpire Ted Barrett when he walked off the field. I knew that if I could get down there, I’d get one, but I didn’t know how tight security would be. Getting into the seats from the concourse was no challenge. All I had to do was wait for a mini-cluster of fans to approach the staircase. Then I slipped into the pack and gave a friendly nod to the usher to make it look like I knew where I was going. (I did, in fact, know exactly where I was going.) But when I got down to the cross-aisle near the dugout, the usher who was stationed there asked for my ticket. Busted! I had no choice but to head back up to the concourse and try this staircase instead:

Once again, getting down into the regular seats was easy. The usher there didn’t even seem to notice me, and you know what? That’s how it oughta be in the 9th inning. If people want to move closer, let ‘em move closer, but anyway, this time, when I made it down to the cross-aisle, I got a couple of stares from a pair of ushers. I responded by looking them in the eyes and saying “How’re ya doin’?” and pretending like I owned the damn place. It worked. They didn’t say a word, and I waltzed right past them. Then I turned left and made my way through the cross-aisle toward the dugout. It was THAT easy.

Here’s where I ended up:

Heath Bell (pictured above on the mound) mowed down the Rockies to earn his 6th save of the season. As soon as the final out was recorded, I cut through an empty row of seats, and then this happened:

In the two-part photo above, the red arrows are pointing at Barrett. In the picture on the left, he’s standing on the warning track, and in the picture on the right, there’s a baseball flying right at me.

Cha-CHING!!!

In the photo above, you can see that the roof is opening. Evidently that’s a post-game ritual at Marlins Park, and lots of people stick around to watch it. The ushers allow everyone to stay in the seats until it’s done, and then they ask folks to head up to the concourse. I like that. It’s a friendly, laid-back policy.

While the roof was opening, I took the following photo:

That’s a BIG sectioned-off area (with ugly wall tiles, for the record). I can understand why the Yankees have a section like that at their stadium — there are lots of suckers in New York who are willing to pay $500 per ticket in order to blow kisses at Derek Jeter and eat themselves silly — but here in Miami? Not only is attendance likely to plummet at Marlins Park over the next few seasons, but the ushers don’t even seem to care about keeping people out. The Marlins have always struggled to draw fans to their games; now they have a stadium that’s designed to keep people far away from the field. I truly don’t get it.

I gave one of my baseballs to a little kid on the way out and then took the following photo before jumping in a cab:

What a day.

(Did I mention that I’m conflicted about this stadium?)

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave one away)

• 140 balls in 19 games this season = 7.37 balls per game.

• 811 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 336 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 295 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

•188 lifetime games with 10 or more balls (109 of which have taken place outside of New York)

• 50 different stadiums with at least one ball

• 33 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls

• 46 different commemorative balls snagged; click here to see my whole collection

• 5,959 total balls

• 7,275 words in this blog entry — second only to the 7,612-word entry I wrote about 6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium

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.)

• 29 donors

• $1.67 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.70 raised at this game

• $233.80 raised this season

• $19,390.80 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Wait! There’s more. When I got back to my hotel, I sent the following tweet to Heath Bell:

Several hours later, I got a reply and a new follower:

Cool.

(Okay, now we’re done. Phew!)

5/18/12 at Yankee Stadium

Batting practice got off to a good start. As soon as I ran inside stadium and got my first glimpse of the empty right field seats, someone on the Yankees hit a home run that landed in the last row. I’m not sure who it was, but I think it was Nick Swisher. Soon after, I got another home run ball from a security guard in the bleachers; there weren’t any fans in that section, so when the ball landed there, I got him to toss it down to me. Then, when things calmed down for a moment, I took the following photo:

Do you see the red “Modell’s” advertisement in the photo above? Well, the home run that had reached the bleachers had sailed just above it, and the home run that I’d grabbed in the seats had landed just below.

I headed to the left field seats for the Yankees’ second (and final) group of BP. This was the view, and as you can see . . .

. . . there were quite a few Reds fans.

I didn’t snag any more balls until the Reds came out and started throwing. In following photo, do you see the player walking toward the outfield along the edge of the warning track?

That’s Jose Arredondo. I took that photo less than a minute after I’d gotten him to throw me a ball. His throw had sailed so far over my head that I didn’t even bother jumping for it. The ball landed in the folded-up part of a seat, and I grabbed it just as several other adults were racing over.

When I got Mike Leake to throw me my 4th ball of the day in straight-away left field, the seats were still fairly empty, but look how crowded it got:

This is nothing new. Yankee Stadium is always crowded. There are less than a dozen rows of seats between the outfield wall and the bleachers, and when you combine that with the huge pre-game crowds . . . there’s just not any room for people to spread out. It’s one of many reasons why ballhawking in the Bronx is so difficult. That said, I got lucky and snagged SIX more balls by the end of batting practice — numbers 5 through 10 on the day. Here’s how I got ‘em all . . .

Ball No. 5: I was standing in the third row, decked out in Reds gear. A 12-ish-year-old kid was standing in the first row, decked out in Yankees gear. Reds pitcher Alfredo Simon threw a ball in our direction, which ended up sailing a bit too high for the kid. As he reached for it, I flinched and got my face out of the way in case he deflected it. Both of us missed it. It landed in the second row. I grabbed it and handed it to him.

Ball No. 6: The story behind this ball started two days earlier at Citi Field, but I didn’t know it at the time. When batting practice ended at Citi Field, I was standing behind the home-plate end of the Reds dugout. One of the players was taking off his batting gloves as he walked toward me, and I wasn’t gonna say anything, but then he kinda looked up in my general direction, so I asked him if I could have them. “I need them!” he said playfully, so I replied, “I neeeed them too, in a different way.” He smiled before disappearing inside the dugout, and that was the end of it. Fast-forward two days to BP at Yankee Stadium. The same player — turned out to be Mike Costanzo — was standing in deep left field when one of his teammates hit a home run into the front row. The fans, none of whom had gloves, collectively reached for it and dropped it on the warning track. As Costanzo was walking over to get it, I said, “Hey, since I couldn’t have your batting gloves the other day, how about a baseball?” I’m not sure if he remembered the specifics of our brief exchange at Citi Field, but in any case, he looked right at me and flipped up the ball.

Ball No. 7: This was another home run that was misplayed by the fans in the front row, but this time, instead of plopping back onto the field, the ball landed in the folded-up part of a seat. I was in the third row, and the ball ended up in the front row, so I lunged over the seats and grabbed it. There was a little kid standing nearby, so I asked him if he’d gotten a ball yet, and when he said no, I handed it to him. I was later told by a couple of Reds fans that Chris Heisey had probably hit it, but they weren’t sure.

Ball No. 8: Brandon Phillips hit a deep line drive that was clearly going to reach the seats. The only question was how deep in the seats it was going to land. The ball was heading roughly half a section to my left, so I darted through a half-empty row to get in line with it. As it turned out, the ball traveled just the right distance for me to reach up and catch it. The only trouble was that I was surrounded by fans on three sides and got jostled slightly at the last second — not enough to drop the ball, but enough to cause it to hit me RIGHT in the palm of my glove. It hurt like a bitch and made an incredibly loud clap (that my friend Greg Barasch later told me he heard from two sections away), but I held onto it. The gloveless/mustachioed man on my left, who, for the record, had bumped into ME, was so pissed off (presumably about his athletic inferiority) that he later threatened to knock me down when I drifted near him for another ball. Rather than saying something and getting into tiresome war of words, I responded with my hands. That is, I snagged two more baseballs and shut him down in the process.

Ball No. 9: Do you remember the Reds’ equipment guy (pictured here) who tossed me a ball on 5/16/12 at Citi Field? Well, late in BP at Yankee Stadium, he was roaming the outfield and tossed another one to me. I handed that one to a very little kid on my right, who was probably four years old. He was too shocked (or perhaps just too shy) to say anything, so before his parents had a chance to embarrass him by coaxing him into saying thanks, I held up my right hand and told the kid, “I’m gonna need a high-five.” Then, after he smacked my hand with his, I said, “Now how about some glove love? That’s when two people hit their baseball gloves together. Here, touch my glove with yours.” Then I held out my leather, and he tapped it with his. Gotta teach these kids when they’re young. I think he was just old enough that he’ll always remember that moment. I hope so, anyway.

Ball No. 10: I was standing in the 3rd or 4th row when one of the Reds’ many right-handed batters launched a ball in my direction. I quickly determined that it was going to land well past my row, so I took my eye off it and bolted up the steps (past a guy with a glove who was frozen in place). When I reached the last row, I cut to my left and then looked up for the ball. An instant later, it smashed off the back wall — off the very top of the “State Farm” ad — and bounced down into the second-to-last-row, where it got wedged between the concrete and the bottom of a seat. Several other fans got there at the same time as me, but because they were coming from below and from the side, they didn’t see it. I then lunged down over the seats (causing THEM to lunge, although they didn’t actually see what they were lunging for) and yanked the ball free. My legs got banged up in the process, but the pain didn’t last long.

After BP, there was a police officer who was so impressed by my ballhawking performance that he asked if he could be in a photo with me on my blog. Here we are:

Okay, I made up the last part about the cop. What actually happened was that I had asked a security guard to take my picture, and as he was about to do it, the cop accidentally walked past me (from below) and apologized. I told him that there was nothing to be sorry about, and that he should be in the picture with me.

This was my view during the game:

Not bad, but unfortunately the only two home runs of the night landed nowhere near me. They were both hit in the bottom of the 8th inning. The first was an absolute BOMB by Robinson Cano that sailed 50 feet directly over my head and landed more than halfway up the bleachers. Check out this diagram on Home Run Tracker that shows its path. Estimated distance: 438 feet. The second homer, a line drive near the foul pole, only traveled 356 feet.

In other news, Jay Bruce is old . . .

. . . but let’s get back to the home runs for a moment. It’s a shame that nothing landed near me (specifically on my left) because for the final inning of the game, I had an entire row to myself:

Of the 15 games that were played last night in the majors, this one, surprisingly, was the shortest. Justin Verlander’s one-hitter in Detroit lasted 2 hours and 25 minutes; this game beat it by a minute. That’s because the score was 1-0 in the eighth inning, and both starters — Bronson Arroyo for the Reds and Andy Pettitte for the Yankees — were still in it. The game would’ve been much quicker had the Yankees not hit those two homers. Arroyo got the hook after 7 2/3 innings. If he’d retired one more batter, he would’ve recorded a rare complete-game loss. As for Pettitte . . . well, he was awesome. He pitched eight scoreless frames to earn his first win since 2010, lowering his season ERA in the process from 5.68 to 2.51.

Final score: Yankees 4, Reds 0.

Here’s a random photo for you, just because. It shows my view on the subway after the game:

Yeesh.

Now that you’ve seen that, I want you to keep reading past the stats because I have some photos of the baseballs. They’re nice photos. I promise . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game

• 130 balls in 18 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

• 810 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 556 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 166 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 187 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 5,949 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.)

• 28 donors

• $1.66 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.60 raised at this game

• $215.80 raised this season

• $19,372.80 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Okay, photo time . . .

Here are the seven balls that I kept:

Five of them, as you can see below, have “practice” stamps on the sweet spot:

Finally, here’s a two-part photo of one of the balls. There’s nothing THAT special about it. I just think that the smudges are kinda cool:

Click the photo above for a closer look. I made it big so you can really see the details and contours.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to start getting ready to visit my 50th major league stadium: Marlins Park. I’ll be there on Monday and Tuesday . . .

5/16/12 at Citi Field

Here’s how my day started . . .

. . . and now let me explain.

That’s me in the photo above. I was waiting for a live phone interview to start on “The Jay Thomas Show” on Sirius XM Radio. It was supposed to begin at 4:30pm. I’d planned it that way so that I’d be done well before the stadium opened at 5:10pm. Things didn’t exactly go as planned, however, and I didn’t get on the air until 4:55pm. (I took that photo of myself with my 10-second timer. At the time, I was on hold, waiting for my segment to start, listening to an on-air discussion between Jay and another guest about whether evolution is real or if humans simply mated with monkeys. And by the way, in case you’re wondering, I was wearing my “San Juan Series” t-shirt from 6/30/10 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium as well as the Joey Votto wristband that I got on 8/18/11 at Nationals Park. But anyway.) I’d been told that Jay would wrap up my interview by 5:10pm, but things dragged on, and that was a good thing because . . . what freelance writer wouldn’t want to be given extra air time? Of course, since I was *on* the phone, I couldn’t check it to see what time it was, but I knew that we were pushing it, and I decided to just go with it. Batting practice at Citi Field is so lame — especially when the Mets are hitting — that missing a few minutes of it, I’d told myself, wouldn’t matter. That said, my attitude began to change when I actually SAW people entering the stadium. I gave it a few minutes, but it was too painful. I simply *had* to get inside the stadium, so I started walking toward the gates and told Jay (on the air) that I was going to enter. The security guard who checked my bag kinda gave me the evil eye; he probably thought I was rude for being on the phone, BUT IF ONLY HE KNEW. Then I got wanded by the next set of guards (standard procedure for all criminals — err, fans at Citi Field) and self-scanned my ticket at the turnstile. As I made my way up the crowded escalator, Jay asked if he could call me back 15 minutes later and have me back on the air while I was trying to catch baseballs. I said yes (of course) and then raced out to the left field seats. (Just another relaxing day at the ballpark.) This was the view:

I need to point out two things about the previous photo:

1) The usher standing right in front of me was friendly, but nevertheless he still served an evil purpose: preventing fans from wandering down the stairs to the all-you-can-eat-and-drink Party Deck. I just wanted to go down there to catch baseballs. I didn’t give a damn about the food. I would’ve donated food to hang out there.

2) Do you see the guy holding a fungo bat and walking toward the ball in left-center field? That’s Mets first base coach Tom Goodwin. He ended up tossing me a different ball several minutes later.

Soon after the Reds took the field, my phone rang — it was “The Jay Thomas Show” — and when I answered it, my friend Mateo took a photo of me from behind with his own camera. As you can see, I had already changed into my Reds gear:

Just like that, I was back on the air, and moments later, I got Sam LeCure to throw me a ball. Here I am catching it:

Jay and his co-host had heard me shout “SAM!!!” and asked me lots of questions about batting practice. My attention was divided between catching baseballs and being articulate, and as a result, I didn’t succeed with either. During the next five minutes, several listeners called in with questions, and EVERY time they asked me something, one of the Reds batters hit a home run near me. It was nuts . . . but unfortunately (and as I mentioned last night on Twitter) I didn’t snag any of them. Here’s one more photo from Mateo that shows me chasing a home run:

Do you see me? Here, have a closer look:

When a ball is in mid-air, it’s tough enough to climb back over a row of seats when I’m NOT being interviewed live on a nationally syndicated cable radio show; doing it with one hand holding a phone up to my ear (while trying to hear what some snarky callers were saying while crappy pop music was blasting from the stadium speakers) was nearly impossible. One female caller named Michele made the claim that what I do is no big deal and that if she tried, she’d get five balls a game.

“What do you have to say about THAT?” asked Jay.

“Well,” I said for, “if Michele is as cute as she sounds, then she’s probably right. Players love to toss baseballs to little kids and beautiful women, and since I’m neither, I’ve had to get a bit creative in my approach.”

The interview cost me several baseballs. I have no doubt about it. But it was worth it. I wouldn’t want to spend every batting practice doing phone interviews, but trying it once was fun. Just before I got off the phone, a Reds player tossed a ball toward two little kids in the front row who missed it. I was in the third row at the time, so I reached down over the seats, picked up the ball, and handed it to them. That was my third ball of the day. I don’t know who threw it . . . or who threw my next ball because I simply wasn’t watching. I’d been focusing on the batters, so when these random toss-ups started sailing in my direction, I just kinda reacted at the last second. Anyway, do you remember the kid named Zach who got the Marlins commemorative ball that I snagged on 4/25/12 at Citi Field? Well, he was back at this game and had already snagged a few more baseballs, so when he missed one that I ended up catching, I decided to keep it — this was my fourth ball of the day — and to his credit, he was cool with it. What happened was . . . someone on the Reds tossed him a ball that barely eluded his glove and landed right on top of the narrow/flat railing in the front row. The ball then skipped back with a perfect little mini-arc, and I caught it in my glove while cutting through my empty row.

Several minutes later, I took a photo that made me smile. Take a look and then I’ll explain it (for those who might not see what I’m talking about):

See the kid standing in the front row? Did you notice what he’s hiding behind his back? I used to do the same thing before I started bringing a backpack to games.

Toward the end of BP, I got a ball thrown to me by Reds bullpen coach Juan Lopez, and as soon as I caught it, I handed it to a little kid on my right. One minute later, after I’d moved two sections away, the kid, no doubt prompted by his parents, ran over and thanked me. He was really small — barely taller than the seats — so it was pretty damn cute to see him making a beeline right for me.

After batting practice, I made it down to the 3rd base dugout and got my sixth ball of the day from the Reds’ equipment guy. You can see him in the following photo, transferring the balls from the basket to the zippered bags. He’s wearing a red shirt and tan pants:

The way I’d gotten him to hook me up was by asking for an old/dirty ball — and let me tell you, he seemed happy to oblige. It’s a trick I’ve used for years; see page 236 of The Baseball for more details. (Ha! Shameless plug!)

Here’s a photo of the ball that he tossed me:

Is that a beauty or what?

This was my view during the game . . .

. . . and here’s what it looked like on the left:

As you can see in the photo above, I had plenty of room to run; not surprisingly, there was nothing to run for.

Three more things about the photo above:

1) Do you see the fan sitting at the far end of the section, one row behind mine. He’s wearing shorts and a Reds cap. That’s Mateo. More on him in a minute . . .

2) Do you see the portion of the scoreboard above the “Budweiser” ad, just to the upper left of where it encourages all the children in attendance to “Grab some buds”? The answer is no, you can’t really see it because of the overhang of the second deck. That overhang blocks the only line score in the entire stadium — you know, where it lists the runs inning by inning. As a general rule, I love looking at the line score, but at Citi Field, forget about it if you’re sitting in left field. This is what we call “bad stadium design.”

3) Did you notice whose stats are listed on the scoreboard? No, of course you didn’t because (a) you’re too lazy to click these photos to make them bigger and (b) even if you’d clicked the photo above, the batter’s name would’ve remained too small, so let me tell you. It was Mike Nickeas. Every time I see him, I fondly remember having caught his first career home run on 4/21/11 at Citi Field. Now, nearly thirteen months later, it’s still his only homer. Check out his career stats:

Mister Nickeas needs to get off the interstate, or else he’ll soon find himself in Triple-A.

Now, as promised, here’s Mateo:

In the photo above, did you notice the mark on his left thigh? Let’s zoom in on it, shall we?

Ouch.

During batting practice, while chasing one of the Reds’ elusive home run balls, Mateo had run into an armrest. (You know you’ve smacked into something waaay too hard when it’s not even sharp and there’s blood involved.) (Here’s Mateo’s blog. He’s only 17, and he’s already a very good writer.)

The Reds took a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the 9th inning, and since there wasn’t exactly a whole lot of right-handed power due to bat, I moved here:

My plan was to get a post-game ball from Paul Emmel, the home plate umpire. After the final out, there was a flurry of activity on the field:

Were you able to spot Emmel in the previous photo? He’s just to the right of 3rd base.

When he got closer, I called out to him and got him to throw me a ball — quite satisfying after the slow night I’d had, sitting nearly 400 feet from home plate (and NOT BEING ABLE TO SEE THE LINE SCORE). Speaking of 400, this ball was the 400th that I’d ever snagged at Citi Field. Hooray for milestones, random as they may be.

Two minutes later, when the Reds relievers walked in from the bullpen, a female security guard overheard me shouting for a ball and, of course, had to express her opinion.

“Didn’t you already get one?!” she said as if I’d done something wrong.

How did she know? Because she’d been standing near the Reds’ equipment guy when he tossed me the ball after BP. In fact, if you scroll back up to that photo, you can see her on the right. She’s wearing maroon and looking off to the side.

“Yeah,” I said casually, “I got a few, but it’s all good. I give an average of three balls to kids at every single game that I go to.”

“Oh yeah?” she replied. “Well, why don’t you give a ball to THAT kid over there who’s crying.”

I looked in the direction where she was pointing, and sure enough, there was a little boy, not more than four years old, who was sobbing. (The kid looked like a mini-version of Jose Valverde, minus the glasses and facial hair.) His father was trying to comfort him, but it was no use.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said, pulling the cleanest ball that I had from my backpack, and holding it out for the guard. “Why don’t you give it to him so that you can be the hero.”

I get so pissed when people pressure me into giving baseballs to kids that sometimes I like to show them how ridiculous they are.

“Can’t do it,” she said, pulling back and acting all righteous. “We’re not allowed to take balls from fans.”

Yeah, right. I can’t even count the number of times that . . . oh hell. Never mind.

“Okay, then I’ll do it,” I said.

Even though the guard had annoyed the crap out of me, I wasn’t gonna hold it against the kid. Hell, I probably would’ve seen him anyway one minute later and given him a ball without being peer-pressured, so whatever . . . I walked up the steps, slowly approached him, and held out the ball.

“Hey,” I said, “would this make you feel a little better?”

The kid nodded just enough for me to see, and whaddaya know? He actually seemed to stop crying, although he was still trembling a bit and his cheeks were still streaked with tears.

“Thanks SO much,” said his father. “That’s actually why he was upset.”

“No problem,” I told him. “Baseballs are the perfect remedy.”

I didn’t bother looking back at the guard. I didn’t give a damn whether she saw me or not. I mean, now that I’m thinking about it, I hope she saw me so that she’ll leave me the hell alone next time she sees me asking for a ball, but while it was happening, I just wanted to leave.

Before running to the subway (and hurrying back to the Upper West Side to meet my girlfriend at Shake Shack before it closed at 11pm), I stopped to take a photo of the ball that I’d gotten from the umpire:

See ya later, Mets. Watch your balls because I’ll be back . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game (four pictured here because I gave three away)

• 120 balls in 17 games this season = 7.06 balls per game.

• 809 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 555 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 390 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 4 different stadiums with 400 or more lifetime balls

• 5,939 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.)

• 28 donors

• $1.66 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $11.62 raised at this game

• $199.20 raised this season

• $19,356.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Finally, of the four balls that I kept, only one has an invisible ink stamp. Here’s a two-part photo  that shows it in regular light versus black light:

If you’ve never seen my entry about baseballs and black light, click here. You won’t regret it.

5/14/12 at Citizens Bank Park

It was a dreary day in Philadelphia . . .

. . . but that didn’t stop me from driving down from New York City. Wanna know why? Because the Astros were in town, and I wanted one of their commemorative baseballs.

As you might already know, six teams are using special baseballs this season — the Mets, Orioles, Dodgers, Marlins, Red Sox, and Astros — and my goal is to snag at least one of each. Last month, I checked the Mets and Orioles balls off my list . . . and now here I was in Philly, on a soggy day without batting practice, hoping for some love from the Astros. Of course, since I was seeing the Astros on the road, there was no guarantee that any of their baseballs would even be commemorative. But what the hell was I supposed to do? Wait for the Astros to visit Citi Field in late August? Spend $500 traveling to Minute Maid Park? No and no. I had to go for it HERE at Citizens Bank Park, even if it meant staring at this for the first hour of the day:

At around 5:15pm, a small group of Astros wandered out of the dugout:

In the photo above, pay no attention to the player grabbing his crotch. (Oops, too late.) Instead, take a look at the guy who’s wearing shorts. See the black thing that he’s carrying? That was the ball bag. I just *knew* (or at least suspected, or at least hoped) that the bag contained at least ONE commemorative baseball, and dammit, I was going to snag it.

This was the scene five minutes later:

In the photo above, do you see the players near the right field foul pole? Those were Phillies pitchers, and as far as I was concerned, they meant nothing. This day was all about the Astros, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get any closer to them until 5:35pm. Do you see the yellow chain in the photo above? It’s barely creeping in from the right edge. That chain extends all the way back to the concourse. It’s there to prevent fans from spilling prematurely into the rest of the seating bowl, and for a little while, I was concerned that the Astros would finish throwing while I was trapped in the left field corner.

Thankfully that wasn’t the case:

That made a huge difference because I was able to attempt to see the logos on the baseballs that were being used. Brandon Lyon and Brett Myers? It was hard to tell at first with them. Lyon was about 30 feet away, and every time he transferred the ball from his glove to his throwing hand, the logo was facing the wrong way — or he just did it too quickly and I couldn’t tell. Eventually, though, I was able to determine that they were *not* using a commemorative ball.

Then there was Wilton Lopez — the player wearing No. 59 in the photo above. I had a tough time seeing the logo on his baseball until he failed to catch an in-between hop. The ball scooted right between his legs and trickled near me on the warning track. IT WAS COMMEMORATIVE!!! There was a big “50″ on it. That’s all I needed to see. My God. I had to have it. I mean, I seriously HAD to have that ball.

Before Lopez even had a chance to pick it up, I asked him (politely and in Spanish) if he’d give it to me when he finished. He didn’t say anything, and I had no idea what to think, but my mind was racing. Meanwhile, when Lyon and Myers finished throwing, I made sure *not* to ask for their ball because I knew what would happen. Lopez would see me catch it, and then he’d decide to give the commemorative ball to someone else. There’s no way that I was going to allow that to happen, so I just stood there quietly and waited to see which other fan Lyon was gonna toss it to. Wanna guess what happened? I’ll tell you what happened. Lyon spotted me in my Astros gear and threw the damn ball to me! It was probably the only time in my life that I *didn’t* want to catch a baseball, but I had no choice. If I hadn’t caught it, it would’ve hit me. I quickly glanced at Lopez to see if he had seen me catch it, but he gave no indication. He was half-facing me at that point, still in the process of getting loose, so there was no telling if he’d noticed. DAMN!!!

Finally, after several excruciating minutes, he and his teammate finished playing catch. Lopez ended up with the ball, and at first it appeared that he wasn’t going to give it to anyone. He took a couple of steps toward the infield, but then when I called his name, he looked up. What did he do next? He scanned the crowd for a moment, presumably to see if there was anyone younger or cuter, and my heart sank. What if this was my only opportunity? What if I’d never see another one of these commemorative balls again? Would the Astros still have some of these balls next year? Should I book a flight to Houston instead of going to the Home Run Derby in Kansas City? My thoughts were becoming more negative by the nanosecond, and then it happened: Lopez turned and faced me and threw me the ball. Here it is:

Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-HAW!!!

And yeah, okay, fine, so the logo was a bit messed up, but whatever. I had my ball, and I could tell what it was supposed to say. If I could get a better one that wasn’t so scuffed . . . awesome. But if I never saw another one . . . to hell with flying to Houston. I was all set.

I gave the first ball that I’d gotten to a little kid, and then I got another ball thrown to me by a player that I couldn’t identify. I had no idea what to expect in terms of the logo, so as soon as I caught it, I frantically looked inside my glove . . . and had to turn the ball around  . . . and it was commemorative! But it was only slightly better than the other ball. Acchhh!! I mean, I was thrilled to now have two of these precious baseballs, but it was a shame that neither one was pristine. Anyway, here’s a photo of the player heading back to the dugout:

Can anyone identify him for me?

I headed to the home-plate end of the dugout to say hello to a friendly usher. When I got there, a man (who I think had been standing near me when I caught the previous ball or two) asked, “What’s your count up to?”

I figured he recognized me, and I don’t mean that in a cocky way. What I mean is . . . I get that question a lot from random people who seem to know who I am, so when I told him, “Five thousand nine hundred and twenty-four,” I was surprised when HE was surprised.

“Wait!” he said and then thought for a moment. “Are you Zack . . . Hample?!”

“That’s me,” I said.

He then told me that he had a copy my latest book, The Baseball, in his car and that if he’d known I was going to be here, he would’ve brought it for me to sign. I told him (and this goes for everyone reading this) that if he mails it to me at the Argosy Book Store, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, that I’d be happy to sign it and mail it back. Then he asked if we could get a photo together. The answer, of course, was yes, so he handed his camera to the friendly usher, who was standing atop the dugout roof. Then I handed my camera to the usher, and this was the result:

The man’s name is Chad, and he was really friendly, so I’m happy to report that he ended up getting a perfect, mud-rubbed commemorative ball five minutes later from Astros coach Dave Clark, who was chillin’ on the top step of the dugout. Seeing Chad with that flawless ball fueled my desire to snag one of my own. Rather than pestering Clark for one, I raced out to the seats in right-center when the Astros’ starting pitcher (Lucas Harrell) and catcher and coaches began their pre-game throwing routine. Once I got out there, this was my view:

In the photo above, there’s a red arrow pointing at bullpen catcher Javier Bracamonte because he ended up throwing me this:

GREAT SUCCESS!

I was starving at that point, but there was no time to eat; several of the Astros’ position players were warming up in shallow left field, so I hurried back to that side of the stadium. This is what it looked like as I made my way down into foul territory:

In the photo above, do you see the “STAFF” member on the steps in front of me? When I approached him, he turned around and asked to see my ticket. I responded by (a) admitting that I didn’t belong in that section and (b) asking if I could wander down a little closer to take a few photos. (Never admit to stadium security that you’re trying to catch baseballs. Always claim that you want to use your camera. It sounds much more innocent.) What did the guy say? He told me that I could go all the way down to the front row, but that I had to leave before the game started. Wow! I’ve been attending so many games lately in New York City that I’d forgotten how NICE it is at stadiums everywhere else. The Mets and Yankees should seriously take a lesson from the Phillies. This is how fans should be treated at baseball games.

Anyway, I got two baseballs thrown to me within a five-minute span. The first came from Chris Johnson, and the second came from Jordan Schafer. Neither one of the balls was commemorative, so I gave the second one (my 6th overall of the day) to the nearest kid.

Game time.

This was my view in the bottom of the first inning:

By the time I took that photo, I’d already snagged my 7th ball of the day. It was the infield warm-up ball that the Astros had used when they first took the field. Bobby Meacham, the team’s first base coach, tossed it to me just before the bottom of the first inning got underway. It was a regular ball, but I was still glad to have it.

One inning later, Placido Polanco (who, by the way, was sitting on 1,999 career hits), hit three foul balls off his foot in a span of four pitches. Every one of these balls rolled out into the infield. It was bizarre (and quite painful, I’d imagine). The final foul ball rolled all the way to Astros third baseman Chris Johnson. Johnson scooped it up and tossed it toward the dugout, at which point I stood up and walked down the steps to the front row. Some random trainer-type guy (wearing a striped, black-and-white polo shirt) popped out of the dugout and picked up the ball. I asked him for it, and he tossed it to me. Just like that. Soooooooooooo easy. There was absolutely no competition (which was a very nice change of pace from the typical mob of ballhawks in New York).

Later in the game, a bunch of kids caught onto the whole “snagging baseballs” thing and crowded the dugout between innings:

Despite having absolutely no clue (staring off into space and not knowing who or when to ask), nearly all of those kids received baseballs before the game was through — and the ones who didn’t? They got hooked up by a ballboy at the very end of the night. I’m telling you, there were plenty of baseballs to go around.

There was a steady drizzle throughout the game, so when I went to get food in the middle innings (a chicken cheesesteak with onions, if you must know), I lingered for a while in the concourse. This was the view:

Call me a wimp if you want, but I’d been getting soaked, so it was nice to be covered for a bit.

Something kinda neat happened in the bottom of the sixth inning . . .

With two outs and runners on 2nd and 3rd, Freddy Galvis ripped a single to left field. Placido Polanco, the lead runner, scored on the play, but John Mayberry was thrown out at the plate by Travis Buck. Astros catcher Chris Snyder made the tag, and when he returned to the dugout, he tossed me the ball.

Where were all the kids, you ask? I have no idea. They were nowhere in sight. They only seemed to go down to the dugout when their parents told them to, and that seemed to happen only when Carlos Lee — the first baseman — ended up with the third-out balls, or when the Astros were warming up between innings.

Late in the game, when a bunch of fans took off, I moved down to the second row:

If I’d moved a bit quicker, I could’ve sat in the very front, but the guy pictured above with the helmet and beard beat me to it. No one cared. There weren’t any security guards micro-managing the movements of the fans. It was a beautiful, relaxed environment — the way baseball should be. Sneaking down to better seats is part of the game. It’s part of our culture. Who the hell stays in the last row when the seats closer to the field open up? My dad used to sneak closer with me when I was little, so the way I see it, every time I sneak around a major league stadium nowadays . . . I’m doing it in his honor.

In the top of the eighth inning, Marwin Gonzalez, a switch hitter who was pinch hitting for Fernando Abad, hit his first major league home run. It was kind of depressing not to be in the outfield when it happened, but I wasn’t too hung up about it because I wouldn’t have caught it anyway. I would’ve been sitting several rows back in straight-away right field, and the ball landed in the front row, one full section toward the foul pole. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Placido Polanco, who hadn’t homered since last season, ended up going yard for his 2,000th hit. If I’d been trying to catch that ball (which I suppose I should’ve been), I would’ve been sitting several rows back in straight-away left field, but the ball barely cleared the wall in left-center. No harm done, but still, it served as an semi-painful reminder than I need to focus more on catching homers.

After Jonathan Papelbon struck out the side in the top of the ninth inning to secure the Phillies’ 5-1 win, I got my 10th ball of the day from home plate umpire Jerry Layne. Then I got No. 11 from that ballboy I mentioned earlier. He had unexpectedly poked his head out of the dugout, and then he tossed half a dozen balls into the crowd. I gave away another ball before leaving the stadium and drove back to New York in near-record time.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 balls at this game (eight pictured here because I gave three away)

• 113 balls in 16 games this season = 7.06 balls per game.

• 808 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 333 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 294 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 186 lifetime games with ten or more balls (only three of which have happened on days without BP)

• 46 different commemorative baseballs snagged; click here to see my entire collection

• 5,932 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.)

• 28 donors

• $1.66 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $18.26 raised at this game

• $187.58 raised this season

• $19,344.58 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

“You are a sad/worthless dude!!!”

Check out this email that I received the other day:

My first thought upon reading this was, “Why don’t YOU do the right thing and put a space in between sentences?” My second thought had to do with blocking the guy’s address so that if he ever wrote again, his emails would automatically be deleted. It’s something I often do with spammers, but rarely with haters. I don’t need to. Most of the emails I receive are friendly, and I don’t even bother reading — let alone responding to — the ones that aren’t. But this time things were different. I decided to answer the guy (and tweet about it). Here’s what I said:

That was it — just a quick question to get more info. I hadn’t been to Camden Yards this season, so why was this random guy accusing me of something? Was he confusing me with someone else? It certainly wouldn’t have been the first time. I once got the nastiest email from someone who blamed me for stealing a ball from his kid at a specific game . . . that I hadn’t even attended. Anyway, this was the reply:

August 10th? I couldn’t remember where I’d been that day, so I looked at this list, and sure enough, I was at Camden Yards. But so what? Just because I was there didn’t make this guy right. In fact, I knew he wasn’t right, and here’s what I told him:

In my response above, the word “this” linked to a recent blog entry called “In Defense of a Ballhawk,” written by a gentleman named Andrew Gonsalves. If you haven’t yet read it, I command you to do so immediately! But anyway, I wasn’t sure what kind of response I was going to get from the guy. I kind of expected him not to write back at all, but when I woke up the next morning, this was in my inbox:

Wow. Just wow. All I could say was . . .

For the record, there ARE times when I believe that kids don’t deserve baseballs, but I don’t run around preaching it at games. I’ll say it here, though. I’m talking about gloveless kids who pay more attention to their cotton candy than to the action on the field. We’ve all seen them, right? When people nag me about giving baseballs to kids like that, I get annoyed. When I give baseballs away, I do it on my own terms, not because I’m being begged or bullied, and I only give ‘em to kids with gloves. That’s all. Just had to share.

5/11/12 at Yankee Stadium

My first ball of the day was an A-Rod homer that landed in the empty seats in right field. I snagged that one as soon as I ran into the stadium, and two minutes later, I got Phil Hughes to toss me another. Here’s a photo that I took from the spot where I caught it:

In the photo above, Hughes is the player standing closest to me.

After the first group of Yankee hitters, I ran over to the left field side, and it was dead. Andruw Jones hit two homers into the second deck, one of which bounced down into the lower level, but I was nowhere near it — and that was pretty much it. I had lots of room to run, but there was nothing to run for. I hate it when that happens.

I headed back to right field when the Mariners started hitting and promptly got Chone Figgins to throw me a ball in the last row. Unfortunately, he didn’t aim high enough, so the guy in front of me was able to reach up and grab it — but Figgins, a man of great character, quickly got another ball and gave me another shot. His second attempt was right on target.

Moments later, I won a mini-scramble for an Ichiro homer that landed near me in the seats. That was my fourth ball of the day, and let me be clear about something: it wasn’t easy. Not only was the sun in my eyes, but the section was crowded. Here’s a photo that I took during the next group of hitters. It’ll give you an idea of the conditions I was facing:

Despite the challenges, I ended up going on somewhat of a snagging spree, grabbing four home run balls within the next 10 minutes. I don’t know who hit any of them, so I’ll just give you a rundown of the action. The first home run — more of a line drive than a fly ball — landed 20 to 30 feet to my right. After darting through an empty row to get in line with it, I lunged/reached forward over TWO rows and caught it back-handed. The force of the ball hitting my glove slammed my left forearm against the back of a seat. It still hurts, and I don’t care. It was totally worth it. The second home run flew directly over my head and landed in the tunnel. Thankfully, there was no one in it at the time, so I had zero competition while chasing it down. I neglected to take a photo of the tunnel after this particular snag, so here’s a shot of it (and of me!) from a game last month. The third home run could not have been much easier. It was a lazy fly ball (relatively speaking) that came right to me in the last row. There was a gloveless fan in front of me (who looked to be in his 50s) who had every intention of trying to catch it . . . until he lost the ball in the sun. The fourth home run took me by surprise. I had just made a bone-headed mistake while scrambling for a ball and had to climb over a few rows to get back to my spot. While en route, I sensed that the people around me were jockeying for position. It was the type of mini-frenzy that can only mean one thing: a ball was coming. When I looked up, I spotted it instantly, high in the bright sky, and I quickly determined where it was going to land: one or two rows in front of me and several feet to the right. While the ball was still in mid-air, I looked back down for a split-second and climbed down over a row. Then I looked back up for the ball, drifted to my right, squinted in the intense glare of the sunlight, and reached up above a ducking kid for the catch.

“Who caught that?!” he asked.

“I did,” I said, showing him the ball inside my glove.

“Thank you!” he yelled. “That woulda killed me!”

I asked the kid if he’d gotten a ball, and he admitted that he had, so I started tossing balls to other kids. The whole section seemed to be in one collective state of shock. First I’d caught just about ever ball in sight, and then I started giving a bunch of them away — three to be exact, to some kids who turned out to be part of the same group. Several minutes later, a man (who must’ve been one of their fathers) came over and thanked me and asked if he could take my picture.

“Sure,” I said, “but let’s get the kids in it too.”

The father then took a couple photos of us in the last row, at which point I asked if he’d take another one with my camera. Here it is:

Unfortunately I didn’t get the kids’ names. They were all leaving, and BP was still underway, so we said a quick goodbye, and I turned my attention back to the field. But wait! Before I tell you what happened next, I have to point something out in the photo above. Do you see the ball that I’m holding? That was the final home run during my mini-snagging spree — my eighth ball of the day. I had started the day with 92 balls this season, which means that that one was No. 100, which means that 2012 is the 15th consecutive season in which I’ve hit triple digits.

During the final group of BP, a Mariners player in deep right field turned around and threw a ball into the stands. (I think it was Hector Noesi.) It was a fairly gentle toss, and he aimed it several rows deep. I was in the last row at this point, so the ball was clearly falling short. Way short. Like . . . 10 feet short . . . and get this: not only did the fans completely miss it, but the ball landed on the skinny/flat portion of an armrest — an ARMREST, for Chrissakes!! — and skipped right back to me, eluding several other fans along the way. It was probably the single luckiest ricochet of my life, and the guy standing next to me was so annoyed that he tried (unsuccessfully, for the record) to claw the ball out of my glove. That was my ninth ball of the day, and here’s a photo of No. 10:

Just before BP ended, I spotted a couple balls sitting on the field in foul territory, so I snuck over there (security had already kicked everyone out who didn’t belong) and ended up getting Mariners bullpen coach Jaime Navarro to throw one of them to me. His throw sailed 10 feet over my head, landed right in the middle of a group of gloveless adults, and bounced back down to me. Double digits had been achieved. Ooh yeah.

I celebrated by giving away another ball (NOT to the gloveless adults) and then attempting to talk my way into the exclusive Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in deep center field. Here’s a photo of it from the way-too-narrow-what-the-hell-were-they-thinking concourse that runs behind the batter’s eye:

($1.5 billion for a stadium, and they can’t even get the concourses right.)

In order to get into the Mohegan Club, you need to have a membership — or in this case, you simply have to be me and ask really nicely and say that you just want to take a few photos and then promise not to stay for more than five minutes. That’s all it took, and I don’t understand why. Over the past few seasons, I’d tried to get inside the club half a dozen times and was always denied.

Anyway, here’s what it looks like just inside the doors . . .

. . . and here’s the view to the right:

Here’s a closer look at the bar (with a glimpse of the field in the background):

This is what the main part of the club looks like:

This club is located inside the batter’s eye. The windows appear to be black from the outside, but from where I was standing, I could see out just fine:

The problem is . . . it’s INSIDE THE BATTER’S EYE, sealed off from the outside world. What’s the point of being at a baseball game if all you’re gonna do is watch it from a glorified cubicle?!

Check out the view of home plate from the club:

Would you pay extra to sit there? I’d pay extra NOT to sit there. I can imagine that it’d be quite nice to be inside the club during a rain delay when it’s 38 degrees and windy, but other than that? I really don’t get it. Can anyone explain to me, in a serious/non-sarcastic way, what the draw is? I would genuinely love to know.

Here’s a closer look at the club’s menu:

I have to admit that everything on the menu looks good, but DAY-um, sixteen bucks for a burger?! Hey, Pedro Feliciano’s contract isn’t gonna pay itself.

I’m glad to have seen the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar because now I never have to go back. As far as I’m concerned, this is the best possible place (within Yankee Stadium) to sit and watch a game:

Here’s what the Mohegan Club looked like from where I was sitting:

In the photo above, do you see the three flat-screen TVs mounted to the concrete wall? They’re way off in the distance, just above the “Toyota” and “DKNY” ads. Do you know why those TVs are there? It’s because the Mohegan Club obstructs the view of a *huge* portion of the bleachers. Here’s a photo from my archives that shows just how bad it is:

Who designs a stadium like that? And who, exactly, is dumb enough to sit there?

Let’s get back to baseball, shall we? In the top of the 6th inning, Jesus Montero hit a solo home run to right field that gave the Mariners a 2-1 lead. (I ran through an empty row and came within 10 feet that ball.) In the bottom of the 6th inning, Raul Ibanez hit a three-run homer off Felix Hernandez to put the Yankees on top, 4-2. (That ball also went to right field and missed me by the same distance.) Andruw Jones, pinch-hitting for Eric Chavez in the bottom of the 8th, blasted a two-run homer to the back of the bullpen in left-center, and that was it. Final score: Yankees 6, Mariners 2.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game (six pictured here because I gave four away; check out the mis-stamped logo, barely overlapping the stitches, on the ball in the middle of the right-hand column)

• 102 balls in 15 games this season = 6.8 balls per game.

• 807 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 554 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 165 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 15 consecutive seasons with 100 or more balls

• 185 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 5,921 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.)

• 28 donors

• $1.66 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.60 raised at this game

• $169.32 raised this season

• $19,326.32 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Here’s one more photo for you — a side-by-side comparison of two of the balls that I kept in regular light versus black light:

The End.

5/10/12 at Yankee Stadium

QUESTION: What do you call five minutes of action followed by five hours of frustrating nothingness?

ANSWER: This day at Yankee Stadium.

When the gates opened at 5pm, I bolted out to the short porch and immediately snagged a ball that bounced off the warning track and landed in the totally empty seats. (I have no idea who hit it.) Then I raced to the left field side, convinced Cody Eppley to toss me a ball, and snagged two A-Rod homers that landed in the seats. It was only 5:07pm, and as it turned out, my day of snagging was done.

This was my view while waiting for the second group of hitters to begin taking their cuts:

Two minutes later, I headed back to right field . . .

. . . and it was dead out there.

In the photo above, that’s Greg Barasch looking at me. Nice guy. Awesome ballhawk. He didn’t have any baseballs at that point, but ended up with seven.

Eventually I headed back to left field . . .

. . . and it was dead there too, at least for me. Everyone else was snagging baseballs. I was getting all the bad breaks. It happens.

Shortly before game time, my friend Andrew showed up. I took a photo of him . . .

. . . and then he took a photo of me:

I photographed the upper deck facade . . .

. . . and then I photographed Andrew’s fancy shoes:

It was that kinda night.

I should mention that Andrew’s shoes are so fancy (and have caused such a stir amongst our circle of friends) that he recently wrote an entire blog entry about them. (Andrew also recently wrote a blog entry about me called “In Defense of a Ballhawk.” It’s really good, so if you haven’t yet seen it, check it out. Here’s the link.)

The highlight of the game was witnessing a major milestone in the 6th inning that probably went unnoticed by 99.9 percent of the fans in attendance: Derek Jeter’s 10,000th career at-bat. This was my view for it:

Jeter grounded out to third — part of an o-for-4 performance that lowered his season batting average to .376 — but it was still cool. He’s just the 25th player in baseball history to amass 10,000 at-bats, and nearly everyone ahead of him on the list is a Hall of Famer. Look at the names he’ll pass this season: Frank Robinson (10,006), Rabbit Maranville (10,078), Al Kaline (10,116), Tris Speaker (10,195), Luis Aparicio (10,230), George Brett (10,349), Honus Wagner (10,430), and so on. Not too shabby. I don’t know why I love numbers so much. I just do, okay?

The Yankees won the game, 5-3. CC Sabathia allowed two runs — none earned — in eight innings to improve to 5-0, and get this: his season ERA and career ERA are identical at 3.51. I love stuff like that, temporary as it may be.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game (two pictured here because I gave two away — one after BP and another in the 5th inning)

• 92 balls in 14 games this season = 6.57 balls per game.

• 806 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 553 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 164 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 5,911 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.)

• 28 donors

• $1.66 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $6.64 raised at this game

• $152.72 raised this season

• $19,309.72 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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