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!)

41 Comments

Well, their owner is an art designer or something like that!

Why don’t you bring your big glove around anymore? If you go to the HRD you should bring it or even to Citi FIeld.

I have no idea what you were trying to get across in the first photo. You’re weird.

Zack I got bored so I sent a letter to Argosy please reply Thankss

Nice photos up close. I just moved from Miami about 4 months ago and I never got to see the finished product up close. Many times have I passed it on the Dolphin Expressway, but never drove next to it. One of these days I will return to Miami to check it out. Can’t wait for your game blog Zack.

That is so cool you were there for Moyer’s game. I was actually checking the blog to tell you of the event, but you were there! :D

It’s the little things about this blog, like the thought of you, an hour before the gates open, timing your leap in front of the camera, that bring a smile to my face.

I work as a bartender in the stadium, and reached out via twitter to you. Hope you had a great experience at the ballpark

Wow. The ballpark is amazing. I realize the current trend is red brick retro, but this fits right in with the look and feel of Miami. I hope to swim at the Clevelander in my Mets bikini some day! Which reminds me, Ron Darling and Gary Cohen gave you a shoutout on the Mets@Bucs broadcast yesterday. They were discussing the Reds fan who caught 2 HR balls and was made Honorary Captain. Ron and Gary were almost dismissive, saying (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Big whoop. That guy Zack catches 10 per game.” : )

And I love the first photo. FTD Florist pose.

Zack, great entry. Just a quick note for your readers who are members of myGameBalls.com…the site is completely and utterly hosed right now, apparently due to a hardware issue on the server. It could be a while before it is back up. Please be patient and I hope to have it straightened out soon.

Alan Schuster
President, myGameBalls.com

I’m on the edge of my seat, Zack!
And thanks for the update, Alan.
~Matt

Looks like you had a great time. I don’t know why they had so harsh restrictions when I went last month. I’m just glad the Marlins are winning and Heath Bell is back on track (at least for now)!
Steve
http://fishfry55.mlblogs.com

Alan-
Thank you for letting us know. I had been wondering about that.

Freddy Sez:
That’s one weird ballpark.

Great entry! I really want to visit Marlins Park this year!

Told you karma would pay you back! Just kidding since you dont believe in it.

Great post Zack. Next week I am going to Marlins Park and I am hoping to catch a lot of baseballs. So during BP which do you rather recommend, Right Field or Left Field?
-Ethan
http://teenredsfan.mlblogs.com/

JOHN LISANKIE-
Mr. Loria is indeed into art.

SKIM-
I don’t bring it because several people “borrowed” my idea, and it’s just not special anymore as a result.

LEIGH BARRATT-
You’re just jealous because I defy gravity better than you. :-p

DOUBLE T-
I’ll be on the lookout for it.

NICHOLAS LE-
Glad to provide a glimpse for you.

KSLO69-
More like two hours before the gates opened, but hey, thanks. As for Moyer . . . funny how the timing worked out.

DEVIN-
Thanks for getting in touch, but I’m sorry we missed each other. Where in the stadium do you work?

LIZ MERRY-
The pool is only three feet deep — maybe four at the most — and it’s not very big, so you won’t actually be able to swim much. I’d never seen the FTD Florist logo until you mentioned it. Good call. And as for the Mets announcers, I heard about it from one other person and managed to get a clip of it. Thanks for letting me know.

ALAN SCHUSTER-
Damn, that sucks, but thanks for letting us all know. I hope you get it back up and running soon.

MATT-
I hope you’ve read the whole thing by now.

STEVE-
I really did have a great time — much better than I expected — and of course Heath Bell was a huge part of it.

COOK & SON BATS-
Yep.

NICHOLAS BADDERS-
Thanks. And yes. Definitely go visit this ballpark.

AUSTIN-
In my world, that’s called a “coincidence.”

ETHAN-
Right field. There are more sections there, and you’ll be closer to more players from the visiting team. (That’s just a generic strategy. I could’ve told you that without even going there.) Good luck!

It took me 3 sittings to finish reading it, but great detailed post! And cool ballpark, I’m not really a fan of all the lime green though.

Thanks for the good look into the Clevelander. I’m slightly tempted to get a ticket for it just for the ball opportunities alone, but I can’t stand the music when I’m sitting in left field so inside the club would probably drive me insane.
I don’t like the colored tiles around the inside either. They remind me of an elementary school cafeteria. Overall though I really like the place. It’s so nice to have a roof so its not so hot and no rain delays.

Zack-
“Borrowed”? Hell, I outright stole the big glove idea from you. However, with the popularity of your blog and you authoring books detailing your tricks, I know it doesn’t come as a surprise. I loved the Marlins entry. If I ever get out there I will refuse to sit anywhere other than the Clevelander. Ol’ Big Glove Bob will put those sluts through their paces. Barely clad hoes and baseball is something I can really get behind.

I have a policy of staying on the ground. It’s safer.

Love the first picture and the whole post! Great stuff! Now I have some inside info for when I visit this ballpark. Well done!
-Emma
http://crzblue.mlblogs.com

Im usually in the suite level, but I go all over

Did you find a way to get the “orphan baseball”?

CONNOR-
Yeah, the green is rather jarring. Congrats on making it all the way through this monster entry.

KELLY T-
School cafeteria . . . ha! Good call.

BIG GLOVE BOB-
I like people who know what they like.

LEIGH BARRATT-
Not if the ground is covered with lava.

EMMA-
Thanks so much! Glad to help. (Not sure why your comment initially went into the spam folder.)

DEVIN-
So, if I’d caught up with you at the stadium, would you have been able to get me into that level? I really wanted to check it out, but had no way of getting past security.

BLAKE THE SNAKE-
Nope.

EVERYONE-
My entry about the game from May 22nd will be up this weekend. Hopefully tomorrow.

Zack,
If you watch the replay of the home run, the fans that bobbled the ball, we’re actually above the Clevelander, and not the bullpen. They kind of swat it at the last second and it falls into the bullpen. I can also see you running to where you think the ball will land. Anyway, very cool of Bell.

Sounds like you had a BLAST Zack!!! Just an FYI, and maybe I read this wrong, but the body painted girl you took a photo w/ didn’t have bolt on’s. Those were real. How do I know you ask? Let’s just say…I’ve seen/felt/had my fair share. :-)

That stadium looks like a heck of a lot of fun. Need to try and plan a trip down there sometime to see it in person.

Did my letter come in the mail yet?

BLAKE THE SNAKE-
Very cool of *you* to notice.

BRIAN-
Well then. Perhaps you’re more of an expert on these things than I am.

DOUBLE T-
Yes, I got it today, and I’m going to mail you something this weekend.

Okay at least I know you got it.

I followed all of your tips for Fenway Park. I bought a membership for Red Sox Nation but since it was a Friday night game, we were only allowed to go up on the Monster for a half hour. I got one ball tossed to me up there. Then, they told us all that we had to stay in one place until the rest of the gates opened. I asked if I could go up there (pointing to the ramp that led to right field) and I was surprised when the guy said yes (I remembered that it was Fenway, not Citi FIeld). I stayed in the cross-aisle in right field, but nothing came on the fly or on the bounce, so I went to where the right field wall meets the center field wall. Some guys above me were giving me grief over changing hats but I just laughed it off. I had 4 balls, 2 of which were MLB balls, 1 of which was a Fenway Park commemorative, and 1 which was an Oriole Park commemorative. At the dugout, I got an Oriole Park ball. I stayed behind the dugout, and when Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out to end the top of the first, I got Chris Gimenez to throw me the game used, Fenway Park commemorative ball. There was absolutely no competition. Then, in the bottom of the 8th, Kevin Youkilis was hitting a lot of foul balls, and one of them rolled to the third base coach, and I took off my Rays hat and he threw it and I made a jumping snare at the last second. After the game, I got one thrown by some guy coming in from the Rays’ bullpen. Total: 8 balls

The multicolored tiles show the change from one section of the ballpark to the other. Marlins park is divided into 4 sections, each having a color to categorize it.

Were you at Citi Field on Saturday afternoon? I think I saw someone that looked like you wearing a Nets shirt in the video when Mike Nickeas hit his grand slam.

Maybe it was some other guy.

It was karma.

Great job Zack, man that park is a trip for sure…. you’re right that was a GREAT looking drink, especially the “drink” on the left…. haha.. Keep up the great work!
http://bornonthird.mlblogs.com/

DOUBLE T-
Yep.

SKIM-
Very nice! Congrats.

MAX-
Well, it’s still ugly.

GEORGE-
It wasn’t me.

KSLO69-
Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnot!

BORN ON THIRD CUBS-
Ha, thanks.

I’ve noticed another word that gets misused in place of “coincidence” is “irony/ironic”. Just as humorous, really.

That imprint on the first ball you got looks like it is from a axis bat

KSLO69-
You’re right about that.

MAX-
Hmm, interesting. You might be right.

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