June 2012

6/28/12 at Yankee Stadium

It was another day with the usual suspects at Yankee Stadium:

In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at . . .

1) Mateo
2) Dylan
3) Stephen
4) me
5) George

Did you notice that I was wearing a catcher’s mitt? That’s the one that Rawlings recently sent for my attempt to catch a baseball dropped from 1,000 feet. The mitt desperately needs to be broken in, so I brought it with me to the Bronx, hoping (but not expecting) to get one of the White Sox to play catch with it. It didn’t happen, but it was still fun to show it to my fellow ballhawks. I also had my regular glove, so that’s what I used during BP.

My first ball was tossed by Cody Eppley as soon as I entered the left field seats . . .

. . . and less than 30 seconds later, Mateo arrived on the scene:

The reason for his bemused expression in the previous photo is that he’d been facing the field for a solid minute. When he eventually turned around to tell me something, I happened to have my camera pointed at him.

For the next few minutes, the seats on my left were gloriously empty . . .

. . . and I took advantage by making a nice running catch on a Mark Teixeira homer. The ball was heading roughly 30 feet to my left, and while it was in mid-air, I realized that it was going to sail a bit too high, so after running for about 20 feet, I climbed back over a row and then kept running. I didn’t think I was going to be able to reach the ball, but I lunged for it anyway and barely caught it in the tip of my glove. I have to say . . . it felt really good.

When the White Sox started warming up, I headed to the seats behind the 3rd base dugout, and when I got there, I heard someone say my name. It was a woman who introduced herself as Eileen . . . and then showed me this:

Awesome. It was a library copy of my book The Baseball.

As you may have noticed (based on her purse), Eileen is a diehard White Sox fan. Because she wasn’t trying to get any of the players or coaches to toss her baseballs, she gladly helped me identify them. In fact, she even called out to them for me, and it definitely helped. Alexei Ramirez tossed me my third ball of the day, but unfortunately, when Eileen got Don Cooper to hook me up moments later, his throw sailed 10 feet over my head. (He flung it underhand, not that that’s an excuse.) Mateo was 10 rows behind me. The ball landed right between us. Wanna guess where it ended up? It’s really unbelievable. It landed ON the very top/plastic edge of a seat and skipped perfectly all the back into his row. <Insert joke about “sloppy seconds” here.>

As pissed as I was about the unlucky ricochet, it was nothing compared to how I felt about this:

That was the result of trying to be polite and saying “excuse me” while running behind a clueless fan who ended up bumping into me and causing me to slam my leg against the corner of a metal armrest. I was angrier about missing the ball than I was about my leg, and things got worse from there. Less than one minute later, while climbing over a row of seats, I tore the crap out of my cargo shorts. I didn’t even catch them on anything; the fabric simply gave out, and I ended up with a football-sized hole on my crotch. I realize that in the grand scheme of human suffering, missing a batting practice home run ball and scraping my leg and tearing my shorts (even nice cargo shorts of which I’ve grown fond) are thoroughly insignificant, but in the heat of the moment, it all added up to make me furious.

During the final group of BP, I caught two homers on the fly that were hit by Tyler Flowers. The first one came right to me. The second one required me to run to my right, climb back over a row and make a leaping, back-handed catch. I handed that ball to the nearest kid.

After BP, I met up with a guy named Jeff Sammut, who hosts a sports talk radio show in Toronto on a station called Sportsnet 590 The Fan. Here we are:

Jeff wasn’t working at this game. He was there as a fan, and if he looks familiar, it’s because he interviewed me on 5/27/11 at Rogers Centre. Click here to see the photo of us that was taken then. Jeff is planning to have me back on the show on July 9th to talk about the 1,000-foot catch. (Hopefully I’ll be alive then. If not, it’s going to be a boring interview.)

After Jeff and I parted ways, I left the stadium. Keep reading past the stats and I’ll show you why . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 balls at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 239 balls in 32 games this season = 7.47 balls per game.

• 824 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 349 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 172 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 6,058 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.)

• 34 donors

• $1.89 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $9.45 raised at this game

• $451.71 raised this season

• $19,608.71 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Okay, so . . . why did I leave Yankee Stadium before the game started? Because I was still pissed off. And because I was stressed. And because I’m really *really* REALLY busy these days. And because a gentleman who goes by “kslo69″ recently left a comment on my blog in which he suggested that I buy a skater’s wrist brace, you know, for the 1,000-foot catch. So I did. Here I am trying it on at a store called Blades (which wasn’t going to be open after the Yankee game):

Did you notice that I was wearing the brace backwards? Here’s another photo:

Do you see that curvy plastic strip? It’s meant to cover the heel of the hand and provide support when a skater falls on his (or her) ass. In my case, however, I’m not terribly concerned about hurting the heel of my hand. I’m much more worried about the impact of the ball snapping my hand back and breaking my wrist — but look! The plastic strip (which is VERY sturdy) should prevent that:

The wrist guards (one for each hand, not that I’ll need one for my right hand) cost $20. Then, for another $35, I bought knee guards, which I’ll wear on my elbows. Check it out:

I’m feeling well protected, and now check THIS out . . .

Here’s a double-photo (taken several days ago) that shows me in Central Park with the catcher’s gear from Rawlings:

In the photo on the right, did you notice that when I’m looking straight up in the air, the mask overhangs my throat? I really think I can do this.

6/26/12 at Yankee Stadium

I normally don’t reveal much at the start, but I feel like making an exception, so I’m going to mention now that I snagged 16 balls at this game. There. I said it. And it feels good. Let me take you through the day and show you how it happened . . .

First, I’d like you to know that the paid attendance was 43,006 — and it seemed that all those people were waiting outside Gate 6:

I took that photo at 4:30pm — half an hour before the stadium opened, so imagine how crowded it was at 5pm. (This, by the way, is just one of four entrances.)

As soon as I ran into the right field seats (near the foul pole), I saw a home run land several sections over (near the Yankees’ bullpen). I narrowly beat out my friend George for that ball, and two minutes later, I caught a Mark Teixeira homer on the fly. Here’s a photo of my first two baseballs . . .

. . . and here’s a closer look at the first one:

Any theories about how that weird mark got there? In case you can’t tell, it’s an indentation of some sort. My first thought was that the stitches of another ball got smashed against the cowhide on this one, but the individual indentations appear to be too close together. Right?

Anyway, for a change, I used some reverse-strategy and stayed in right field for the Yankees’ final group of BP. All but one of the hitters in that group were right-handed, and the sun in right field was absolutely brutal. Therefore, it would’ve made sense to play the percentages (and save my retinas) and run over to left field, but that’s where all the other ballhawks went. If I’d gone there with them, I probably would’ve gotten a ball or two, but who knows? All I can tell you is that the lone left-handed batter was Eric Chavez, and I caught one of his homers. It was a high fly ball that momentarily eclipsed the sun, but pretty much came right to me. My only competition was Ra.

That was it for the Yankees’ portion of BP.

When the Indians started playing catch, I headed over to the left field foul line and got two baseballs thrown to me. The first came from Johnny Damon, indicated below with the red arrow . . .

. . . although I should mention that he was much closer when he tossed it my way. Here’s the ball that he gave me:

The second ball that I got in foul territory came from Ubaldo Jimenez. Here he is playing catch with it shortly before hooking me up:

Indians pitching coach Scott Radinsky also threw me a ball, but his aim was way off, and it sailed 10 feet over my head. There was only ONE other fan in the section, and it happened to be Mateo Fischer, who was backing me up. I know for sure that Radinsky was aiming for me because after Mateo caught it, I flung my arms up in disgust. Radinsky responded by jokingly flexing his left bicep and then shrugging, as if to say, “What can I say? I’m too strong.”

For the first few rounds of the Indians’ portion of BP, nearly every batter was left-handed. Rather than using more reverse-strategy, I went to right field and toughed it out against the large crowd. I grabbed a spot in the last row and ended up getting two balls thrown to me over everyone down in front. The first came from Joe Smith, pictured below after wandering back to center field . . .

. . . and the second was tossed by a lefty that I didn’t recognize at the time, but later identified as Scott Barnes. That was my 7th ball of the day, and I gave it to the nearest kid.

After that, I had three chances to catch home runs, but only got one one of them. The first one required me to run left and climb back over a row of seats (while the ball was in mid-air) and look right up into the sun and jump and lunge at the last second. It ended up tipping off the very end of my glove, and even though it wasn’t an “error” on my part, I was pissed for not being half a step quicker. The second ball was coming right for me until Mateo, who was positioned two rows below, jumped up and caught it. (Good for him. Tough titties for me. That’s just how it goes.) The third home run, which I actually caught, required me to maneuver between a few fans (who had no idea where it was going to land) and jump/lunge to my left. As soon as I caught the ball, I realized that there was a high-school-aged kid with a glove behind me (who would’ve had a clear shot at catching it if not for me), so I handed it to him.

That was my 8th ball of the day, and at that point, I wasn’t thinking about breaking the New Yankee Stadium record of 14 balls. I was just hoping to snag a couple more and reach double digits.

Every batter during the final group of BP was right-handed, so I worked my way into the left field seats and caught THREE home runs on the fly. Here’s what it looked like in that section:

In the photo above, do you see the guy in the black shirt and tan shorts? He’s wearing a drawstring backpack and standing several rows below me on the steps. That’s George, whom I mentioned at the start of this entry. George is very good at catching balls that come to him, or that require him to run left and right, but like a lot of people, he sometimes struggles to judge the precise distance of home runs. That’s not meant as a diss. I’ll admit that I’ve struggled with that too. There’ve been times when I thought that balls were falling short, so I moved down the steps only to watch in horror as they sailed over my headed and landed right where I’d been. That’s what happened to George on the first of the three homers that I caught during the final group of BP. (I had to reach far to my left over one of those awful staircase railings in order to glove it.) After misjudging it, he turned and said, “What do you want from me?! I’m a pitcher, not an outfielder!” The second homer that I caught in left field was my 10th ball of the day. It was a line drive that didn’t look like it was even going to clear the wall. Still, I drifted 20 feet to my left to get in line with it and was shocked when it reached my row. The third homer required me to move down two steps, then drift five feet to my left, and jump a few inches. That was my 11th ball of the day, and it was also the end of batting practice. I still wasn’t considering the record. All I could think was, “Why couldn’t I have had a day like THIS when the guy from Cut4 was following me around?!”

When BP ended, I noticed that there were several balls in the left field bullpen:

In the photo above, the guy walking around is a groundskeeper. I didn’t expect him to give me a ball, but I asked him just in case . . . and he did! That was my 12th ball of the day, and for the first time, I started thinking about the record (which I’d set on April 14, 2011). I knew, though, that if I sat in my normal spot in right field during the game, I probably wasn’t going to snag anything else, so I decided to work the 3rd base dugout . . . but first, here’s a photo of Mateo with five of the six balls that he’d snagged at that point:

He’d given one away, and he ended up getting another ball later.

After I took that photo, I handed him my camera so that he could get a photo of me from above:

In case you’re counting my baseballs and scratching your head, remember that I gave two away in right field. That’s why I “only” have 10 in the photo above.

Before the game started, I moved to the section behind the dugout and got Jason Kipnis to throw me a ball. Here’s a photo of him before he hooked me up:

The strange thing about it was that he didn’t throw me the ball that he’d been using. He gave that one to a kid in the very front row. Then, as he was about to jog back to the dugout, he saw me — and get this: he went back to the ball bag, pulled out a brand new one, and threw THAT to me. That was my 13th ball of the day, and I tied my record soon after thanks to Lou Marson (and some very loud yelling). In the following photo, the arrow is pointing *from* Marson and indicating the direction that he walked after finishing his warm-ups:

I was behind the outfield end of the dugout, and he was behind the home plate end, and yet I somehow managed to get him to hear me and lob a ball my way.

I only needed ONE more ball to break the record, and when Robinson Cano grounded out to end the first inning, I knew I was about to get my chance. Justin Masterson fielded it and tossed it to first baseman Casey Kotchman. Kotchman then jogged off the field with it, and when he crossed the foul line and looked into the stands, I got his attention. This was the result:

BOO-YAH!!!

Just like that, I had my 15th ball of the day. I’m pretty sure, though, that Kotchman had pulled a switcheroo; rather than tossing me the actual game-used ball, I think he gave me the infield warm-up ball instead. Here’s a closer look at it:

In my experience, I’ve never seen a gamer that dirty, but whatever. Game-used or not, I still had a new record.

There was only one kid sitting in the entire section, and during the middle innings, he moved closer and sat on my right. Here’s a photo of him:

I decided to give him a ball. The only question was when. Part of me wanted to wait and see if he’d get one on his own, but the other part of me was like, “He’s not gonna get one, and even if he eventually does, why not give him one now so he can enjoy more of the game with a major league baseball in his hands . . . so I handed him the brand-new ball that Kipnis had thrown to me. The kid was excited, and his parents were truly thrilled. They thanked me a dozen times throughout the night, and at one point, they told me that if their son got a ball on his own, he’d return the one that I’d given him.

“No need,” I said. “He can keep it either way, but thanks.”

Something weird happened before the bottom of the 8th inning got underway. I didn’t even notice it at first because it seemed to just . . . I don’t know, happen out of nowhere. Take a look for yourself:

In the photo above, Jack Hannahan (wearing No. 9) had just gotten ejected by the 3rd base umpire, and as you can see, he was being separated by a teammate. What the hell was going on? The Indians were just starting to take the field . . . and there was an argument? My first thought was that Hannahan had probably been called out on a 3rd-strike/check-swing and was now bitching about it. I still don’t know for sure, but now that I’ve had some time to watch highlights and take a look at the box score, here’s what I think happened: With two outs in the top of the 7th, Yankees left-fielder Dewayne Wise made a leaping attempt to catch a foul fly ball and tumbled over backwards into the stands. I couldn’t see it from where I was sitting. All I knew is that it must’ve been hard for the umpire to see, because there was a pause before the call was made.  After a few seconds, the stadium erupted, and Wise jogged off the field — and that seemed to be the end of it. I was suspicious, though, that the replay was never shown on the Jumbotron. As a general rule, stadiums never show replays of close calls, yet home teams love to show their own players making dazzling catches. Something was up. When I got home, I saw the replay of Wise’s “catch” and all I can say is wow. Have a look for yourself. What does all of this have to do with Hannahan? He was the batter who’d hit the ball; it had obviously taken him a full inning to see the replay, or at least hear from someone in the clubhouse that the ump had botched the call. Here’s an interesting New York Times article about it.

The Yankees ended up winning the game, 6-4. After the final out, I got my 16th ball from home plate umpire Jim Reynolds and then turned my attention to the players coming in from the bullpen:

I didn’t get anything from them, but hey . . . I’m not about to start complaining. Here I am with my final ball of the day:

Here’s a closer look at it — a perfectly mud-rubbed ball that never made it into the game:

Here’s a photo of the 13 balls that I kept . . .

. . . and here’s a black-light comparison of the four that have invisible ink stamps:

Finally, before I get to my stats, here’s a scan of my roster and notes. I  thought it might be cool to show how I actually keep track of so many balls while I’m in the process of snagging them:

In case you’re wondering, the numbers that are circled indicate players who threw me balls for the first time. Joe Smith, for example, tossed one to me in 2008 at Shea Stadium, so he didn’t get a circle here. The circles help me remember which names to add to this list when I’m updating my website. Also, the balls that are crossed out indicate which ones I gave away (or, in the case of Kotchman, when I gave one away).

Nothing about this day stood out from a ballhaking perspective. I mean, it was nice catching six home runs on the fly during BP, but that’s not THAT unusual. What I’m saying is, this day never felt like an incredible, record-breaking performance. Certainly, nothing will ever compare to the 36 balls I snagged on 9/14/11 at Great American Ball Park, but even taking that insane game out of the equation, this just felt like a normal day that was consistently better than average.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 16 balls at this game (new record for the new Yankee Stadium)

• 234 balls in 31 games this season = 7.55 balls per game.

• 823 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 348 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 171 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 192 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 6,053 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.)

• 34 donors

• $1.89 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $30.24 raised at this game

• $442.26 raised this season

• $19,599.26 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

1,000-foot baseball visibility test

With my 1,000-foot baseball catch just nine days away, I thought it’d be a good idea to find out if I can actually SEE a baseball from that distance. I needed someone to help, of course, and since my girlfriend Robin was (and still is) concerned that I might die, she volunteered.

We started by doing some simple math . . .

Twenty city blocks = one mile.
One mile = 5,280 feet.
5,280 feet divided by 20 blocks = 264 feet per block.

Therefore, we had to stand roughly four blocks apart — and it began on 81st Street and Central Park West:

In the photo above, the arrow is pointing at Robin, and if you look closely, you can see her holding a baseball in front of her chest.

Robin stayed on that corner, and I walked south. Here’s what the ball looked like from 79th Street when she held it up:

Did you notice the little red circle in the photo above? That’s Robin. As teeny as she appears, you really CAN see the ball if you click the photo to expand it. Although I was only 500-ish feet from her at that point, you should know that my camera makes everything looks farther away than it actually is. I would estimate that your view of her in the photo above is similar to what my naked eye saw from 1,000 feet. For the record, I *was* able to see the ball from 77th Street, especially when she tossed it up and down. I suspected, though, that I was only able to see it because of the dark, colorful background of the city.

There were still a few more visibility tests that I wanted to try, but there were too many pedestrians in the way. (How DARE those people walk down the street when I’m preparing for a world record?!) Robin and I were communicating with our cell phones, so I told her to cross Central Park West and stand in the bike lane. Here’s a zoomed-in shot of her from four blocks away:

It was too tough to see her (with all those effin’ bicyclists in the way), so I asked her if she was willing to risk her life for me.

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

“Next time there’s a red light, can you go stand in the middle of the street, right on the double-yellow line?”

“Okay,” she said, “but you better make it quick.”

“It’ll be very quick. I’ll be out there too. I just wanna get a photo.”

Here’s the photo. Note that Robin is (a) holding the ball in front of her stomach and (b) about to get run over by a taxi:

(Aww, the things we do for love.)

Robin cursed me out on the phone, but other than that, everything was fine.

Do you remember those spray-painted baseballs that I blogged about in February? Well, I had them with me, and we took them into Central Park. Here’s Robin with the orange ball and a regular/white ball:

Basically, I wanted to see how the visibility would differ.

Here’s a photo of her walking away from me:

I don’t know how far away she ended up — probably a bit less than 1,000 feet — but I can tell you this: when she tossed the white ball up and down, I had no trouble seeing it against the dark background of the trees. Click the following photo, and you’ll see it for yourself inside the red circle:

Here’s a zoomed-in photo of her tossing the white ball . . .

. . . and here’s a zoomed-in (and slightly blurry) shot of the orange ball in mid-air:

In the photo above, I love the guy in the purple shirt. He is OUT. Meanwhile, the people sitting in a cluster farther away must’ve been wondering what the hell Robin was doing.

It occurred to me that the most important visibility test hadn’t yet been done. Sure, I could see a baseball from 1,000 feet against dark backgrounds, but what about seeing it in the sky? I told Robin (via cell phone) that I needed her to throw the balls high enough that they’d clear the treetops — not an easy task for someone who’s never played baseball or softball or thrown much of anything. But she did it. It took her several tries (and she had to put the phone down), but she did put enough muscle into it to give me the glimpse that I needed. The white ball was invisible above the trees, and the orange ball looked like a faint gray speck.

Hmm.

I didn’t know what to think as Robin walked back toward me . . .

. . . but now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I really want to do this stunt with regular/white baseballs, or at least unpainted balls. (Someone recently suggested to me that a coating of paint could affect the aerodynamics and possibly cause the ball to drop much faster.) I’m thinking that if I can get my hands on some Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud, I’ll rub some onto the balls; if it’s safe/legal in Major League Baseball, it should be safe/legal for my world record attempt.

6/20/12 at Citi Field

I attended this game with my friend Steve Gritzan. Here we are outside the stadium:

Steve and I have known each other for about three years, and I have to say . . . he’s pretty weird. He prefers listening to baseball on the radio rather than watching it on TV, and he likes the regular season more than the post-season. He says he enjoys the monotony of the season, when there are games every day that hardly matter. That said, I totally get his perspective and love the fact that he’s obsessed with baseball in his own special way.

One more thing about Steve and then I’ll move on: he owns an independent record store in Jersey City called Iris Records, and he once hosted one of my writing group meetings there. Here’s a photo of the place (taken during the meeting) in case you’re curious.

Soon after Steve and I had our picture taken, a nearby fan called me over. His name was Ian, he recognized me from this blog, and he asked me to sign his ticket. Here he is with it:

In the photo above, Ian is wearing orange, and his friend Ben is wearing yellow. Note the original Home Run Apple from Shea Stadium in the background.

As for batting practice . . . oy vey. I got completely shut out while the Mets were hitting. I didn’t snag my first ball until the Orioles came out, and even then it took another 20 minutes. Jake Arrieta threw me that ball, and I caught another less than five seconds later. Seriously. It happened THAT fast. The people near me were shouting and looking up, so I looked up too, saw a home run flying at me, took a few steps to my left, and reached up for the grab. Ta-daaa!! Then I gave one of the balls to the smaller of the two kids pictured below in the “WRIGHT” jerseys:

My third ball of the day was tossed by a player that I couldn’t identify. In the following photo, you can see him through the plexiglass. He’s standing on the right and wearing the black warm-up jersey:

I gave the ball to the kid pictured above, and then I took a slightly better photo of the mystery player:

I later showed that photo to my friend Avi Miller, who knows everything about the Orioles and was visiting from Baltimore. Avi needed approximately three-eighths of a nanosecond to identify the guy.

“That’s Pedro Strop,” he said.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “How do you know?”

“I recognize his necklace,” he said before “joking” that he could probably identify all the Orioles by their fingernails.

After batting practice, I got my fourth ball from an Orioles coach at the 3rd-base dugout. I’m not sure who it was, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was John Russell.

This is where Steve and I sat for the entire game:

At the end of every inning, I wandered down to the front row to try to get a 3rd-out ball from the Orioles. After four innings of neglect/failure, I finally got this:

It looked rather beat up for a game-used ball, but I assure you that it WAS the actual ball (as opposed to the infield warm-up ball that sometimes gets switched). How do I know? Because Justin Turner ended the inning by popping out to J. J. Hardy, and Hardy tossed me the ball. I had my eye on him the whole time.

An inning or two later, there was a brief pyrotechnic display (as part of an advertisement for Verizon) that left the stadium smokey:

Steve and I were not impressed:

As for the game . . . the Mets beat the Orioles, 4-3, despite Frank Francisco’s best effort to make things interesting in the 9th. (He entered with a 4-2 lead, loaded the bases, and walked in a run. It was ugly but exciting.) After the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Tim Timmons and then got a photo with Avi. Here we are:

Here are the four balls that I kept . . .

. . . and here’s a look at three of them in black light:

One last thing for now . . .

Do you remember this photo from my blog entry about Game 3 of the 2011 World Series? The photo shows me with a 14-year-old girl named Meggie Zahneis, who had won an essay contest sponsored by Major League Baseball. Meggie is now MLB’s Youth Correspondent, and she recently interviewed me for an in-depth article about ballhawking for charity. I tweeted the link last night, but for those who missed it, here it is again. Please read it if you have a few minutes to spare, and while you’re at it, give Meggie a shout on Twitter. She’s a great person and a very talented writer.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game

• 218 balls in 30 games this season = 7.27 balls per game.

• 822 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 347 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6,037 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.)

• 34 donors

• $1.89 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $11.34 raised at this game

• $412.02 raised this season

• $19,569.02 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/19/12 at Yankee Stadium

In my previous entry, do you remember the screen shot of the woman who freaked out after snagging Mark Teixiera’s home run? Do you remember the photograph of the reporter who interviewed her? And do you remember when the reporter later told me that he wanted to do a story about me the following day? Well . . . fast-forward 20 hours. Here I am with him (along with three of my fellow ballhawks) outside Gate 6:

In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at . . .

1) Mateo Fischer. In case you’re wondering, the last word on his shirt is “forgotten.”
2) Greg Barasch, who began the day with a lifetime total of 1,174 baseballs.
3) Me.
4) The reporter, whose name is Matt Latimer.
5) Ross (aka “The Boss“) Finkelstein.

Matt works for Major League Baseball as a social media correspondent. His job is to wander all over Yankee Stadium and film/photograph stuff for Facebook, Twitter, and MLB.com. (Not a bad gig, huh?) Yesterday his “assignment” was to get footage of me during BP and write a story about it for a blog on MLB.com called Cut4.

I started out in right field . . .

. . . and got nothing during the first group of hitters.

Matt followed me to left field . . .

. . . and watched me get completely shut out during the rest of the Yankees’ portion of BP.

NOT GOOD.

In the photo above, did you notice the microphone-lookin’ thing in Matt’s left hand? Here’s a closer look at it:

It’s actually a miniature video camera; the big, black foam piece is a wind guard for the built-in microphone. It was a snazzy device, and I’m happy to say that when the Braves took the field, Matt had a chance to use it. Tommy Hanson threw me my first ball of the day along the left field foul line, and five minutes later, I got another from Jack Wilson. Here’s a photo of Wilson before he chucked it my way:

My third ball was tossed from the left field bullpen by Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell.

During the final group of BP, all but one of the Braves hitters were left-handed, so I headed back to right field. Big mistake. Total waste of time. Look how crowded it was:

I didn’t snag any more balls during BP. Three lousy toss-ups. That’s all I got. It was very very very very VERY very frustrating.

After BP, I signed three baseballs for fans — one for a fellow ballhawk named Paul and two for these guys:

At that point, there were several balls sitting in the left field bullpen — BP homers that hadn’t yet been retrieved. I didn’t know it at the time, but when I wandered over to the side fence to take a peek, I was being watched from afar. (Ooooh, creepy!) The red arrow in the following photo is pointing at me:

Two minutes later, I happened to get one of the balls tossed to me, and as soon as I caught it, my cell phone rang.

“Nice catch,” said the caller.

“What?! You saw that? You’re HERE?”

“I’ve been spying on you for a few minutes.”

“Seriously? Well, get your ass over here.”

Look who it was:

That’s my girlfriend Robin, and in case you missed it, take a closer look at Greg in the background:

That’s a clown face, bro.

Matt asked me to pose with my four baseballs:

The photo above was taken by a ballhawk named Mark McConville, whom I’ve somehow neglected to mention or show on my blog . . . ’til now. Here we are:

Mark had missed the first hour of BP and therefore had zero baseballs. That’s why he was holding up his hand like that, but he did end up snagging one later.

Robin and I sat in straight-away right field during the game. This was our view, and I’m intentionally including the beer vendor because he’s such a character:

This guy has been working at the stadium for decades and loves to joke about the fact that the only way for his seniority rank to improve is if someone ahead of him dies. Every time he enters the section, he shouts, “Who’s ready for Cousin Brewski?!” and last night I heard him use a new line. After several people bought beers, he shouted, “Thanks for catching a buzz from the cuzz!” but here’s the funniest part: Whenever people buy beer at Yankee Stadium, the vendor is required to look at their ID. It doesn’t matter if the customer is hunched over and has wispy white hair and looks like a 149-year-old raisin. Every fan has to show ID. (I happen to think that the drinking age should be lowered to 18, if not eliminated outright, but that’s another discussion for another time.) Anyway, in the photo above, the vendor is asking a fan who was 20 feet away for his ID, but all he said was, “Just hold it up!”

Here’s a photo of the fan doing what he was told:

The fan then passed his money down the row, and the vendor sent some beers his way — and that was the end of it. I don’t know if the vendor was being lazy or if the fan really did, in fact, merely have to show his ID. All I can say is that some rules are really stupid.

Matt joined me for a few innings during the game so that he could ask a bunch of questions for his story. Here we are schmoozing it up:

In case it’s not already clear how insane the rules are at Yankee Stadium, listen to this: Matt had to jump through a bunch of hoops just to be able to enter the right field seats and sit with me. I’m talking about getting clearance from security supervisors and all that nonsense. Matt in an employee of Major League Baseball and has media credentials that allow him to enter the Yankees’ clubhouse, yet he was stopped from walking into a crappy section of seats 375 feet from home plate. It’s unbelievable. And that wasn’t even the first time that he’d gotten hassled. During batting practice, the security guards actually made him stop filming and leave the section until they verified that he was allowed to be there. Yankee Stadium is nuts, I tell you. NUTS!!!

Matt’s story/video is now up on MLB.com. Click here to check it out.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave one away)

• 212 balls in 29 games this season = 7.31 balls per game.

• 821 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 346 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6,031 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.)

• 34 donors

• $1.89 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $7.56 raised at this game

• $400.68 raised this season

• $19,557.68 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/18/12 at Yankee Stadium

I started out in left field and snagged two home run balls within the first few minutes:

The first was hit by Mark Teixiera and deflected perfectly off a seat. The second was hit by Alex Rodriguez and landed in the tunnel closest to the bullpen. Those were the only two batted balls that I snagged all day.

The seats were more crowded than usual during the Braves’ portion of BP:

As a result, the only ball I got was a toss-up from Craig Kimbrel. When he threw it, I was positioned in the 4th row, and there were so many people around me that I had to climb up on the *back* of a seat to catch it. Think about that. I didn’t stand on the folded-down/cushion-y part of the seat; I elevated above the crowd by standing on the thin/curved plastic part in back.

Before the game, while hanging out on the bleacher terrace, I got my 4th ball of the day from Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey. This was my view after catching it:

In the photo above, do you see the wide metal ledge on the right? Harkey’s throw fell several feet short, so I jumped/dove/lunged over the ledge and caught/trapped the ball against the side wall down below. (I was never in any danger of plunging over, so relax.) Let me try to explain this with as much detail as possible . . .

In addition to falling short, the throw also sailed a couple feet to my right. Rather than reaching all the way across my body with my left arm and trying to make a backhanded catch, I allowed the ball to hit the side wall, at which point I swatted at it with my glove in a forehand motion, kinda like how a first baseman would scoop up a short-hop on his glove side. (Is this making any sense?) The ball made a loud clanging noise as it struck the metallic side wall, but my glove was just in the right spot for me to snow-cone it. Meanwhile, I was laying across the ledge on my stomach with my feet off the ground, so yeah . . . even though it was a toss-up, it required quite an effort. As I made the catch, everyone below me in the bleachers shouted “OHHHHHHH!!!” and then applauded. Harkey pointed at me and made a series of fist-pumps. The whole thing was pretty cool.

After that, I tried to get a ball from the Braves bullpen, but all I got was a good view of Mike Minor warming up:

This was my view during the game:

I normally sit in right field, but because both starters were left-handed (CC Sabathia was pitching for the Yankees), I knew that there’d be  lot of right-handed batters. Right-handed batters, of course, are likely to pull their home runs to left field, so that’s why I sat there.

In the top of the 5th inning, I noticed that the Yankees hadn’t yet gotten a hit. Click the photo below for a closer look at the manual scoreboard:

Did you notice how crowded it was? Just about every seat was full. This is what I have to deal with in New York, especially this time of year when the weather’s nice and kids are out of school. Ballhawking is more fun everywhere else.

A-Rod broke up the no-hitter with a leadoff single in the 5th — and that’s when I got bored and antsy. I started playing with my camera and took photos like this . . .

. . . and this:

What else was I supposed to do? I had waaay too much energy to sit still, and it was frustrating as hell to be stuck in one section and KNOW that certain power-hitters WOULDN’T hit the ball there no matter what. I’m talking about Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Brian McCann and Jason Heyward. Lefties rarely hit home runs into the left field seats at Yankee Stadium, yet there I was, feeling more trapped than ever.

In the bottom of the 6th inning, I “almost” caught a Mark Teixiera homer. As the ball was sailing toward the section on my left, I scooted through the narrow space below the State Farm ad and got in line with it. I was RIGHT THERE in the perfect spot. All the ball had to do was reach me, but no, it fell four rows short. Here’s a screen shot that shows me (in the lower red circle) and the ball (in the upper red circle):

Here’s a screen shot that shows me throwing my arms up in disgust . . .

. . . and here’s another screen shot that shows the woman who snagged the ball celebrating like crazy:

She was SO excited and hyper that (a) the Yankees’ announcers talked about her briefly on the air and (b) a reporter from MLB.com ventured out to the left field seats and interviewed her. Here’s a photo of the reporter during an inning break:

When the reporter was exiting the section, I asked him what the interview was for.

“It’s for the woman who caught the home run,” he said.

“No, I know that,” I replied. “I mean, where is it going to appear.”

He told me that it was going to be on a blog on MLB.com called “Cut4,” and sure enough, here it is. I then mentioned my baseball collection to him, and before I even finished my sentence, he said, “Wait a second, are you the guy who’s on MLBlogs?” He had actually heard about me and had been hoping to run into me. He asked for my contact info and said he wanted to interview me the next day during BP, so we’ll see what happens.

As for this game . . . Sabathia went the distance, and for the Yankees, it was their 10th consecutive win. Final score: Yankees 6, Braves 2.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game (pictured on the right)

• 208 balls in 28 games this season = 7.43 balls per game.

• 820 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 345 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6,027 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.)

• 34 donors

• $1.89 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $7.56 raised at this game

• $393.12 raised this season

• $19,550.12 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/16/12 at Citi Field

Citi Field used to open two and a half hours early. It didn’t matter what type of ticket you had. It didn’t matter what day of the week it was. If the game was scheduled to begin at 7:10pm, everyone got to enter at 4:40pm. Now, unfortunately, because the Mets have spent all their money on people like Oliver Perez and Bernie Madoff, they can’t afford to pay their security guards to arrive as early, so the stadium opens two hours before the first pitch. The only exception occurs on weekends, when FULL season ticket holders can enter two and a half hours early.

This was a weekend — a good ol’ fashioned Saturday night game on FOX — and I wasn’t able to gets my hands on a season ticket. As you might expect, and as you can see in the following photo, I wasn’t happy about it:

In the photo above, does the guy on the left look familiar? Here’s a hint: he was with me when I snagged 32 baseballs on 6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium. Here’s another hint: he attended BallhawkFest on 7/23/11 at Camden Yards. The mystery man is Garrett Meyer, a 20-year-old fan from Kansas City, who began the day with a lifetime total of 568 baseballs. Here’s his profile on MyGameBalls.com. This was his first game ever at Citi Field and perhaps his only chance to see the Mets this year, so he VERY much wanted to snag a Mets 50th anniversary commemorative ball.

When we finally got to enter the stadium, we hurried out to the right field seats. I went to fair territory, Garrett hung out along the foul line, and guess which one of us snagged the first ball of the day? Here’s a hint:

That’s Frank Francisco in the photo above. He can be pretty nice if he doesn’t recognize you as someone who snags lots of baseballs, so Garrett had no trouble getting one from him. Unfortunately, though, the ball was not commemorative.

Look what I snagged five minutes later:

(Sorry, Garrett. Life is cruel.)

The ball pictured above was tossed by Mets rookie reliever Elvin Ramirez. Soon after I got it, I headed to left-center for the Mets’ final group of hitters. This was the view:

Given the fact that I was twelve miles from home plate, I knew that I wasn’t going to catch a home run ball. Instead, I was hoping that one of the batters would merely hit a deep fly ball in my direction. Do you see the two players standing in center field? The guy on the right is Miguel Batista. He’s always been nice, so I figured that if he had to run back in order to chase one down, I’d be able to get him to throw it to me. Two minutes later, that’s exactly what happened, and I’m happy to report that it was my 200th ball of the season.

Things picked up once the Reds took the field. During the first group of hitters, I snagged a home run that deflected to me off another fan’s glove, and during the second group, I made my best catch of the season. In order to describe what happened, I need to show you two photos. First, here’s what my view of the field looked like:

As you can see, I was standing several rows back, but more importantly, do you see the employee wearing green? She’s standing on a little platform that juts out from the regular seats. Here’s another photo that shows the platform from the side:

Okay, so, here’s what happened . . .

One of the many right-handed batters on the Reds launched a deep fly ball in my direction — I mean RIGHT in my direction. I knew that I was lined up perfectly, but I froze for a moment to determine just how far it was going to travel. As the ball reached its apex, I began drifting down the steps, and by the way, do you see the two large men in the photo above? They were both spilling out into the staircase, so I had to elude them, but anyway, after weaving in and out of the crowd, I made it all the way down to the platform. Then, as the ball was descending, I scooted forward and lunged as far as possible over the plexiglass, with the palm of my glove facing up. I didn’t think I was going to be able to reach the ball, but I figured, “Hell, now that I’m down here, I might as well stick my glove out,” and whaddaya know? I felt the ball hit the tip of my glove. For a moment, though, I didn’t know if I’d actually caught it. There were so many people reaching and so many bodies jostling that I couldn’t even see my glove — and then a scary thing happened: I began to tumble over backwards down the stairs. Thankfully, though, before gravity had its way with me, I reached out with my right hand and clumsily grabbed the plexiglass. I jammed my right thumb in the process, but hey, at least I didn’t break my neck.

Scroll back up for a moment and look at the first photo that shows the employee wearing green. So you see the little kid wearing the “DAVIS 29″ shirt? I gave him one of my baseballs.

Look how crowded it was at the end of BP:

There was NO room to run, and yet I somehow managed to catch one more homer. I had to move back a couple steps and drift slightly to my left and jump at the last second. As soon as I caught it, the guy behind me grabbed my glove and tried to yank the ball out. I yanked my glove much harder and broke free of his grasp, and let me tell you, I was really pissed off.

After batting practice, I took photos with a couple of fans who recognized me:

In the two-part photo above, I’m with Melissa on the left and Andrew (who first contacted me through my YouTube channel) on the right.

In my previous entry, do you remember my rant about all the ill-conceived sideshows (for lack of a better term) that take place at Citi Field? Well, here’s photographic evidence of another:

It was “Greek Heritage Night.” Those girls were part of a “Greek dance troupe” that performed near one of the concession areas during the game.

What.
The.
Hell.

This was my view for the first half of the game . . .

. . . and here’s where I sat (with Garrett) for the last few innings:

(Dear Mets: the dugout roof needs some help. I know that it’d cost a bit of money, but I suggest hiring someone to paint it, rather than pasting down those cheap panels. Seriously. Come on.)

When Aroldis Chapman entered the game in the bottom of the 9th, I decided to chart the velocity of each of his pitches. He threw four sliders, ranging from 86 to 87 miles per hour, and his other 17 pitches were fastballs, ranging from 95 to 99. Not too shabby, but it would’ve been nice to see him hit triple digits.

After the game, which the Reds won, 4-1, Garrett and I briefly went our separate ways. He had already snagged a commemorative ball — a 3rd-out toss-up in the middle innings — so when he failed to get one from the home plate umpire, it wasn’t a disaster. Meanwhile, look what I got at the dugout:

Not only did Reds 1st base coach Billy Hatcher toss me a commemorative ball, but Dusty Baker gave me the lineup cards. Here’s a closer look at them:

I’ve gotten lots of lineup cards over the years, so for the most part, I know how to make sense of them. The lefties’ names, for example, are printed in red. The circled numbers indicate which batters made the final outs of various innings. And so on. But there are certain things on these cards that I can’t figure out. Do you see the relief pitchers listed in the right-hand columns? I assume that the handwriting next to their names indicates how they each might be used. Doesn’t that makes sense? The “CL” next to Chapman’s name probably means “closer.” I suppose that “SIT” and “SU” next to Marshall’s name means “situational” and “set-up,” respectively. But what does the “S” stand for? What about “LMS” next to Sam LeCure’s name or “VS” next to Arredondo’s? Does it say “MI” next to Hoover for “middle innings”? Meanwhile, why does it say “Dusty’s +” on the upper right? I like that he signed the card “Johnnie B. Baker Jr.” I didn’t know until I looked him on Wikipedia that that’s his real/full name.

Check out the back of the card:

That chart shows when these guys pitched, how many innings they worked, and how many pitches they threw. Look at Tim Byrdak’s line. On June 12th, he threw 17 pitches in two-thirds of an inning, then didn’t pitch on June 13th (when R.A. Dickey tossed a complete-game one-hitter), then worked a 12-pitch inning on June 14th, and had another day off on June 15th. Pretty cool, huh? And hey . . . Jon Rauch’s name is spelled wrong. Haha! He deserves it for being mean.

Keep scrolling past the stats for more photos . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game (five pictured here because I gave one away)

• 204 balls in 27 games this season = 7.56 balls per game.

• 819 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 344 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 9 consecutive seasons with 200 or more balls

• 6,023 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.)

• 34 donors

• $1.89 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $11.34 raised at this game

• $385.56 raised this season

• $19,542.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Of the five balls that I kept, only one has an invisible ink stamp. Here’s a side-by-side comparison that shows it in regular light versus black light:

Finally, here’s a photo of my two commemorative balls, for which Garrett gets all the credit:

We were hanging out at my place, and he suggested that it’d look cool to get a shot of the balls with the New York City skyline in the background. (Good call, Garrett! You da man.) Good things always seem to happen when he’s around.

6/15/12 at Citi Field

I tried something different yesterday: as soon as the stadium opened, I headed to the second deck in right field. Here’s what it looked like as I entered that section:

(Funny how Citi Field and Wrigley Field have similar seating capacities, yet at Wrigley, if you were THAT far away from home plate, you’d be on a rooftop outside the stadium. By “funny,” of course, I mean “sad.”)

In the three-and-a-half-year history of Citi Field, I’d never gotten a ball up there, but yesterday I snagged two. The first was thrown by a player that I *think* was Jordany Valdespin. The second was an Ike Davis homer that landed next to the foul pole in the front row (and luckily didn’t bounce back onto the field).

I spent the rest of BP in left-center and snagged four balls there. The first was a homer by a Mets righty (no idea who) that I caught on the fly after stepping forward onto a chair to elevate above the competition. The second was thrown by Reds pitcher Jose Arredondo. I was several rows back at the time and took a photo of him after I caught it:

In the photo above, do you see the little kid in the “WRIGHT” t-shirt? (Arredondo is just above his head.) That’s who I gave my next ball to — a home run by Joey Votto that I caught on the fly. My fourth ball in left field (and sixth overall) was thrown by Sam LeCure. I was several rows back for that one and ended up scrambling on the ground; LeCure had clearly aimed for me, but his throw fell short, allowing two other (fully grown and gloveless) fans to reach up and deflect it. As soon as I grabbed the ball, I gave it to a girl with a glove.

After BP, I got three toss-ups at the Reds’ dugout. The first came from Mat Latos (who pretty much never gives balls away) and the second came from 1st base coach Billy Hatcher. Check out the following photo of Latos signing autographs:

Did you notice the Reds’ equipment guy in the background? He’s standing in the 3rd base coach’s box, transferring baseballs from the basket to a couple of zippered bags. That’s who tossed me my third ball at the dugout. I was actually surprised that he gave it to me because there was a little kid standing next to me, who couldn’t have been more than six years old, so I handed the ball to him.

Here’s a photo of the ball that Hatcher had given me:

Is that a beauty or what? The logo is too high. It’s scuffed. It’s dirty. It’s smudged. And I love it. Seriously.

(In case you’ve lost count, my baseball tally for the day was now up to nine.)

Here’s what took place between BP and the game:

There was a parade of Little Leaguers circling the warning track.
There was a Japanese dance circle in shallow center field.
There was a percussion group setting up their instruments in deep center.

Soon after, there was an interminable succession of presentations and introductions on the field, honoring various community leaders and military personnel and baseball coaches and other people who had been miraculously cured of terminal diseases. Good for them. I mean, really. GOOD FOR THEM. But man, it was too much. There were so many people being introduced that the public address announcer had to rush. It was one of the most annoying half-hour chunks of time that I’ve ever had to endure, and by the end of it, all of these people and groups were indistinguishable. Then, to make matters worse, Aaron Carter performed the national anthem, and yes, it was painful. His voice was unremarkable, he turned one-syllable words into five-syllable nuggets of torture, and worst of all, he improvised the melody. Why do so many of these so-called musicians think that they’re bigger than the song? Just sing it. And then leave. It’s not a concert. It’s a baseball game.

Speaking of the game, this was my view for the first eight and a half innings:

Want to see why I pretty much never catch home runs during games at Citi Field? Here’s what it looked like on my left:

There wasn’t exactly a whole lot of room to run.

The highlight of the game was also the lowlight, and hey, I just realized that the two main players involved both have “J.B.” as their initials. (Why does my brain work like this? I could be thinking of useful things that would benefit humanity, but instead I obsess with wordplay.) In the top of the 2nd inning, Jay Bruce sliced a deep line drive toward the left field corner. Jason Bay raced back and lunged for it on the warning track. The ball hit off his glove. Bay hit his head on the wall and lay there dazed for a moment. And Bruce circled the bases for an inside-the-park homer. I feel terrible for Bay (and for Mets fans who’ve had to endure three seasons of his injury-prone suckiness), but it WAS a cool play to witness. The only other inside-the-parker that I can remember seeing in person was Ichiro Suzuki’s in the 2007 All-Star Game.

In the bottom of the 9th inning, I moved here:

The Reds were winning, 7-3. Aroldis Chapman was pitching, and quite simply, I wanted a better view. Chapman’s first few fastballs “only” clocked in at 94mph, but by the end of the inning, he dialed it up to 98. At the time, I was thinking, “So THAT’S how fast the ball is going to be traveling when it’s dropped from the helicopter? Bring it.”

Since this wasn’t a save situation, I figured that Chapman would toss the game-ending ball into the crowd. Here’s a photo of him (and his teammates) walking off the field with it:

Chapman did give the ball away. Unfortunately he didn’t give it to me, so my night ended a shade below double digits. Boo-hoo, right? Life is hard.

REO Speedwagon played a post-game concert, but I didn’t stick around. Like I said earlier, I was there to watch baseball, not hear music, and by 10pm, I was so worn out from the huge crowd and strict security policies and incessant noise pollution that I just wanted to get the hell out of there.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 9 balls at this game (six pictured here because I gave three to kids)

• 198 balls in 26 games this season = 7.62 balls per game.

• 818 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 343 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6,017 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.)

• 34 donors

• $1.89 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $17.01 raised at this game

• $374.22 raised this season

• $19,531.22 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Are you still with me? Check out the sweet spots of the six balls that I kept. As you can see, they all have “practice” stamps:

One of the balls has a faint bat imprint:

Did you see it in the photo above? It’s just below the stitches . . . above the MLB logo. It looks like the imprint contains the first four letters of the word “GENUINE.”

Finally, four of the six balls have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light:

That’s all I got. Bye!

1,000-foot baseball catch

As you may have already heard, July 2nd is going to be a VERY special day for me (and hopefully not my last). Assuming everything goes according to plan, I’m going to attempt to catch a baseball that will be dropped from a helicopter 1,000 feet high.

If I succeed, it will be a world record, albeit unofficial, as the folks from Guinness World Records declined the invitation to attend. (Whatever. Their loss.) And if I don’t succeed? Let’s not think about that quite yet. Right now the record belongs to a Hall-of-Fame catcher named Gabby Hartnett, who managed to catch a ball that was dropped from a blimp 800 feet high in 1930. According to legend, Babe Ruth once caught a ball that was dropped from a plane flying 100mph at an altitude of 250 feet. Other players have caught — or at least attempted to catch — baseballs dropped from the Washington Monument (555 feet high), the Tribune Tower in Chicago (462 feet high), and the Terminal Tower in Cleveland (680 feet high). No one has attempted to break this record since the World’s Fair in 1939. That’s when a former player named Joe Sprinz broke his jaw and lost several teeth in a gruesome mishap; Sprinz managed to get his glove on the ball, but the force of the ball smashed his glove into his face. According to this article about him on Wikipedia, the ball was estimated to be traveling as fast as 154mph.

How do I know all of this? Because I researched it extensively and wrote about it in my latest book, The Baseball. (That’s what inspired me to attempt to break this record; check out the section called “Such Great Heights” on pages 54-58.) I also know, or at least have a good reason to believe, that the estimate of 154mph is way off. According to The Physics of Baseball, the terminal velocity of a baseball dropped from a great height is “only” 95mph. I asked Neil deGrasse Tyson about this when I met him several months ago at my family’s book store, and he confirmed it: 95 miles per hour. Why? Because of the air resistance. (If Neil says it, it’s true. Case closed.)

Catching a baseball traveling that fast is certainly difficult, but (a) it’s within the realm of human capability and (b) I’ve done it myself. Don’t forget that I played college ball and have snagged my share of wicked line drives in the stands at major league stadiums. That said, I do plan to wear a catcher’s mask and helmet, along with a catcher’s mitt and chest protector. I’m crazy but not THAT crazy.

My record attempt is going to take place at a minor league stadium in Lowell, Massachusetts, called LeLacheur Park. That’s the home of the Lowell Spinners – the short-season Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Jon Boswell, the Spinners’ Director of Media Relations, is totally on board with this stunt, but of course it wouldn’t be happening without approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. It just so happens that I’m friends with a guy who works as a test flight engineer for the FAA, and he’s taking care of all the logistics. His name is Mike Davison, and if you want to see what he looks like, check out this photo from my recent trip to Fenway Park. Mike is the big guy in the red shirt.

Now, just to give you an idea of the planning that’s been taking place, I’m going to share a snippet of an email that Mike sent to Jon three weeks ago:

“I will visit you next Thursday, which is my day off. I will bring a GPS so I can geomark the pitcher’s mound and second base. I will also bring the contact information for the Boston Flight standards district office (FSDO), as we need to get the briefing together and you need to give it to the Boston FSDO. Also, I need the elevation of your field above sea level.”

This stunt isn’t taking place in the parking lot of the stadium. I’m going to be standing ON the field — shallow center field, to be exact. At this point, the only thing that could prevent it from taking place is the weather. If the wind is stronger than 6 or 7 mph, we’re going to postpone it until July 3rd, and if it’s still windy on our backup day, we’ll have to postpone it for a few weeks. The wind, however, isn’t the only factor that we’re concerned about. If it’s raining or even foggy, we’ll have to call it off because of the lack of visibility, speaking of which . . . do you remember the mysterious blog entry that I posted several months ago with photos of spray-painted baseballs? THIS is why those balls were painted (by Mike) and mailed to me. At some point within the next week, I’m going to take those balls to the park and toss ‘em in the air and make notes about which ones are the easiest to see. Ultimately I’m hoping to do the stunt with brand new Rawlings Official Major League Baseballs, but if it’s too tough to see a white ball against the white sky, then we’ll break out the colors.

Mike says that once the helicopter is airborne, the biggest challenge will be getting the balls to land near me. Because of this challenge (and to help get me in the groove), he’s going to arrange for baseballs to be “test-dropped” from various heights. First the helicopter will hover at 300 feet, at which point several softballs will be dropped. Yes, softballs. The world record for catching a softball from the greatest height is only 200 feet, so we’re going to try to get that record out of the way first. Then the helicopter will rise to 500 feet . . . then 750 . . . and finally 1,000. Approximately five test balls will be dropped from each of those heights. I won’t try to catch those. I’ll simply stand aside and watch where they land. Hopefully they’ll all come down in roughly the same spot. Then I’ll move to that spot for the actual attempts. To clarify, the plan is for me to attempt to catch a baseball from each of those three heights: 500 feet, 750 feet, and 1,000 feet.

Because I won’t be able to see the balls when they’re dropped, Mike is going to stay with me on the ground and communicate with the people in the helicopter. They’ll let him know when they’re dropping each ball, and he’ll let ME know. He plans to be as far away from me as possible, but within shouting distance.

I don’t think I’m going to die, but I’m concerned about breaking my hand. Nevertheless, I’m going to proceed and hope for the best. If I can catch the balls in the pocket of my glove, I should be able to emerge from this stunt uninjured. Afterward, whether I’m successful or not, I plan to donate all the balls and catcher’s gear to Pitch In For Baseball.

I’m mainly doing all of this for fun (and because I’m nuts and because I want to have permanent bragging rights), but also because it’ll be good for the charity — and hey, if the stunt helps to sell a few extra copies of my books, that’ll be nice too, especially considering that I’ll be shelling out $1,500 of my own money for the helicopter. Renting it (along with a pilot) costs $500 per hour, and I’m going to need it for a minimum of three hours, so if anyone has ideas about how I might be able to find a sponsor, speak up!

Earlier today, while walking through midtown Manhattan after work, I looked up at the tallest buildings and tried to imagine catching baseballs being dropped from the tops. Here’s one . . .

. . . and here’s another:

What do you think? That doesn’t look like it’d be hard, does it? Just take those two buildings and stack them on top of each other and voila! One thousand feet!

One last thing (for now) . . .

The helicopter stunt is scheduled to take place on a game day for the Lowell Spinners, but not when the stadium is open to the public. The game is scheduled for 7:05pm, but I’ll be attempting to make history from 6am to 9am. According to Mike, that’s when the wind will be calmest, and also, it wouldn’t be safe to do this with the stands full of people. I might bring a few friends with me, and my terrified mother is thinking about being there, but whoever joins me will be kept in the dugouts (which are covered). I’m not sure if anyone else (other than the media) will be allowed to attend.

That’s it for now. I’ll post an update if anything changes, and in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Fenway Park ballhawking video

Do you remember the videographer that I hired to film me snagging my 6,000th ball on 6/8/12 at Fenway Park? Well, after a couple rounds of edits, the video is now complete. Here it is:

By the way, the videographer’s name is Adam “Ace” Spencer, and I highly recommend him to anyone who needs stuff filmed. He was reliable and fun to work with, and he totally understood my vision. I wonder if he’s willing to travel with me to other stadiums . . .

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