July 2012

7/29/12 at Yankee Stadium

This was a weekend game against the Red Sox.
I knew it was going to be insanely crowded.
Why did I torture myself by even showing up?
Because I love baseball too much to stay away.

Ninety minutes before the stadium opened, it rained like hell. One minute after the stadium opened, I got a ball tossed to me in right field by Clay Rapada, and one minute after that, I found a ball hiding in a little hollowed-out nook in the front row:

Yes, there was batting practice — the sun had come out just in time — but it didn’t do me much good. Look how crowded it was when the Red Sox started hitting:

Here’s a closeup from the photo above:

Sorry for the poor quality, but anyway, that’s my friend Ben Weil giving a thumbs-down. The seats were so packed that I didn’t bother going out there. Instead, I stayed in foul territory and watched Alfredo Aceves play pepper for more than 20 minutes:

When he finished, I got him to throw me my 3rd ball of the day.

That was it for BP.

During the game, I sat in straight-away left field and got Andruw Jones’s warm-up ball before the 2nd inning.

This was my view later on:

In the bottom of the 10th, with the Red Sox clinging to a 3-2 lead, I moved closer to the bullpen. Here’s what it looked like:

In the photo above, the player on the bottom left is Franklin Morales. After the final out, he tossed me my 5th and final ball of the day. I then gave a different ball to the kid in the red shirt because the one from Morales was commemorative:

That was nice.

After the Red Sox cleared the bullpen, there were still two baseballs sitting around. Can you spot them in the following photo?

One of the balls was tossed to a woman. The other was tossed to Ben. I miss PETCO Park. The end.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 347 balls in 43 games this season = 8.07 balls per game.

• 835 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 360 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 174 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 6,166 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.)

• 38 donors

• $2.10 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $10.50 raised at this game

• $728.70 raised this season

• $19,885.70 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/24/12 at Camden Yards

This was my first game at Camden Yards in 11 months, and look who joined me:

That’s my girlfriend Robin (who had just found a stick and was holding it up and trying to look mean). This was her first game ever at Camden Yards, and in case you’re wondering, the only other major league stadiums that she’s been to are Kauffman Stadium (because she’s from Kansas City), Citi Field (before she knew me), and the new Yankee Stadium (on April 15, 2012 and June 19, 2012).

I’d heard that the Orioles had made several changes at Camden Yards during the off-season, and that the stadium was now even better. Considering how awesome it already was, I found that hard to believe, but it turned out to be true, and I have photographic evidence. Before the gates opened, I noticed a new restaurant on top of the batter’s eye . . .

. . . and then I saw something that made me downright giddy. Have a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain:

From a ballhawking perspective, the worst thing about this stadium was the picnic area behind the bullpens in deep left-center. In order to run back and forth from left field to right field, I had to use the walkway around the outer edge of the picnic area — an annoying detour that wasted a solid minute when it was crowded. But now, as you can kinda see above (and will see better later on), there’s a new walkway that runs past the bullpens and leads directly to the left field seats.

Brilliant!!!

When the stadium opened at 5pm, I took advantage of the new shortcut by running like hell to the left field seats and finding FOUR baseballs in the front row! Two of them — the 2nd and 3rd ones that I grabbed, to be specific — were sitting next to each other in straight-away left. I did my best to photograph them on the run . . .

. . . because there were several other guys right behind me. As it turned out, there were at least two more Easter eggs hidden deep in the seats, but I didn’t get those. I did, however, notice a ball trickling down the steps in foul territory, so I raced over and grabbed it just ahead of the nearest fan (who was roughly twice my age). That was my 5th ball of day, and when I moved back to straight-away left field, I took a picture of it:

Why?

Because it was the 500th ball that I’d ever snagged at Camden Yards. (Why do I know that? Can you imagine if I used this number-crunching energy to play the stock market?)

Robin eventually made her way down to the front row. She’s the one with the green bag dangling at her side in the following photo:

Here are a few photos that she took, starting with a shot of me in the seats:

Here’s what the field looked like from where she was standing . . .

. . . and here I am running behind the left field foul pole:

When the Rays took the field, I got my 6th ball of the day in foul territory from bullpen catcher Scott Cursi. Two minutes later, Matt Moore tossed me No. 7. Here’s a photo of him that I took as he walked toward center field:

Late in BP, when several lefties started hitting, I ran to right field and noticed yet another “improvement” at the stadium: the new see-through railing in the Flag Court. This is what it looked like for the last 20 years, and this is what it looks like now:

The reason why I put the word “improvement” in quotes is that the Flag Court is now worse for me. Yeah, it looks better, and it’s more fan-friendly, but for my own selfish purposes, that’s a bad thing. The Flag Court is now so awesome (and it’s now so much easier to see the batter) that more people than ever are hanging out there. As you can see, there are stand-up table-y things in the middle, and as you can’t see, there are picnic tables with umbrellas at the back, so in addition to the larger crowds, there are more inanimate obstacles to deal with. Why did the Orioles have to screw things up by making everything so much better?!

I didn’t catch any homers in right field, but I snagged two more baseballs in right-center. First I used the glove trick for my 8th ball of the day . . .

. . . and then I got Burke Badenhop to toss me No. 9.

That was it for BP.

Now, here’s a better photo of the new walkway that leads to the left field seats:

Nice.

Here’s a photo of the Flag Court from afar:

I don’t see a yellow line above the scoreboard out there, so what does that mean? That in order to hit home runs, batters have to clear the see-through railing? Or do they need to reach the platform on top of the scoreboard? Either way, the Orioles are asking for trouble. There’s either going to be fan interference, or the umpires are going to be relying on instant replay.

Before the game, I took a photo of the action in the Rays’ bullpen . . .

. . . but not for the reason that you’d expect. I wasn’t interested in Jeremy Hellickson (who was warming up) or Luke Scott (who was standing in the batter’s box). I was focusing on catcher Jose Lobaton. As I’d mentioned that morning on Twitter, this was the one-year anniversary of the game at which I’d caught Mike Trout’s first career home run; Lobaton had ZERO career homers, so I was eyeing him and hoping that history would repeat itself.

Lobaton wasn’t the only player on the verge of hitting an important longball; B.J. Upton had 99 for his career, so I was focusing on that too. This was my view for Upton’s at-bat in the top of the 1st inning:

Long story short: Upton went 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts, and as for Lobaton . . . not only did he fail to put the ball in play (he went 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts), but the very next night, when I was back home in New York City, he hit his first home run, and the ball landed (un-caught!) in the middle of the frickin’ Flag Court.

Un. Real.

Lobaton is a switch-hitter, and at the game I attended, the left-handed Wei-Yin Chen was pitching for the Orioles, so I pretty much stayed in left field all night. This was the view to my left  in the 7th inning:

As you can see, I had a decent amount of room to run. (In New York, that kind of space is virtually unheard of.) But the main reason why I posted that photo is to show you the restaurant above the batter’s eye. I didn’t go up there, so I’ll check it out next time I’m at Camden Yards, whenever that may be.

After the game, I got my 10th ball from home plate umpire Jerry Meals, and then I got another at the 3rd base dugout from Wade Davis when the relievers walked in from the bullpen. Here’s the ball that Meals gave me:

Ooh yeah.

On my way out of the stadium, I gave two baseballs to kids. Then Robin and I shared a crab cake with fries, and I drove us back to New York.

(Sigh.)

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave two away)

• 342 balls in 42 games this season = 8.14 balls per game.

• 834 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 359 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 198 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 6,161 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.)

• 38 donors

• $2.10 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $23.10 raised at this game

• $718.20 raised this season

• $19,875.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/21/12 at PETCO Park

This was the final game of my west coast trip, and I was gonna have to leave early. Game time was 5:35pm, and my flight back to New York was scheduled for 9pm, so I figured I’d get to see the first five innings or so.

When I first entered the stadium, I was disappointed to see that batting practice wasn’t yet underway, but I still managed to snag a ball quickly. Brad Brach (indicated below with the red arrow) was playing catch along the right field foul line . . .

. . . and when he finished, I got him to hook me up.

One of the quirks of PETCO Park is that the visiting team occupies the 3rd base dugout, but uses an on-field bullpen down the right field line. This wonky setup forces visiting relievers and coaches to walk past the home team on the right field side — and that’s what happened here. Several members of the Rockies were finishing a bullpen session, and when I saw one of them, baseball in hand, cut through the throng of Padres players, I threw on my Rockies jersey and raced over to the 3rd base side. By the time he reached the dugout, I was all the way back in the cross-aisle, but because the stadium was so empty and quiet, I was able to get his attention and convince him to throw it to me. This was my view from the aisle after I caught the ball:

One minute later, a Rockies coach approached the dugout with a ball in his back pocket. I was already standing in the front row when he arrived, and I got him to toss it to me. Unfortunately I don’t know who either of those guys were.

When the Padres finally started hitting, I moved to the left field foul line and got my 4th ball from one of the players’ kids. He jogged over with it from straight-away left field, and as he tossed it to me, he said, “I’m not really supposed to do this.” (Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.) Here’s a photo of him with another kid that I took soon after:

Then I moved to the seats in straight-away left. Here’s what it looked like out there:

In the photo above, the fan sitting on the right (in the blue shirt and light gray shorts) is my friend Brandon. (He hates being photographed.)

Cameron Maybin threw me my 5th ball of the day, which I promptly handed to the nearest/smallest kid.

The final group of Padres hitters had several lefties, so I headed to right field. Words can not describe how frustrating it was out there, so here’s a photo instead:

Here’s what was happening in the photo above:

1) The ONE home run that reached the seats in straight-away right field went right to my friend T.C.

2) I easily could’ve moved in front of him and caught it. (You’ll notice that he was leaning over the railing and spilling onto my side of the staircase.)

3) T.C. shouted, “I got it! I got it! I got it!” as the ball descended toward us.

4) I backed off and leaned out of the way and let him have it.

In New York City, fans catch whatever they can catch. The very best of friends will cut each other off and climb up on seats and jump and reach and talk a whole lot of trash along the way. Basically, it’s an all-out competition, but in lots of other places, fans often back off if they realize that a ball is heading toward someone else. I certainly didn’t need to let T.C. catch that home run, but it seemed like the right thing to do. He attends every Padres game, so the way I saw it, I was in his house and wanted to be respectful. In addition to that, he *only* tries to catch home runs, and I knew that I’d have more opportunities to get toss-ups, so yeah, I gave way to the elder statesman. And it was frustrating. I was in a real home run slump. For some reason, I hadn’t caught any homers during my entire trip to California — and yet I was still averaging more than 10 balls per game.

Anyway, I eventually gave up on right field and ran over to the Padres’ dugout on the 1st base side. Home runs simply weren’t happening, so I hoped to get a toss-up when the players cleared the field. Here’s a photo of me waving my glove at them as they headed in my direction:

In case you can’t spot me in the photo above, I’m on the far left side.

Edinson Volquez threw me my 6th ball of the day, and then I got the other Padres player’s kid to toss me another.

Now, do you remember the tweet I posted about forgetting my Rockies cap in New York? Well, it didn’t end up making a difference. As I mentioned before, I had a Rockies jersey, and as for my headgear . . . I wore my umpire cap backwards.

Once the Rockies took the field, I moved to the 3rd base side and got three toss-ups within a two-minute span, all in the same spot. It was incredible. There happened to be a few balls scattered on the field in foul territory, and the Rockies happened to wander out of the dugout one by one. I’m not sure who the first player was (he was Latino, and I think he had a 1st baseman’s glove), but the next two guys were Jerry Weinstein (the team’s “catching coach”) and Jordan Pacheco. Here’s what it looked like from that spot:

I was already up to 10 balls for the day, and less than a minute later, I lunged over the wall and grabbed an overthrow that trickled by. Then, two minutes after that, I snagged a popped-up slicer near the corner spot that tipped off another fan’s glove.

Unreal.

My 13th ball was thrown by Adam Ottavino along the left field foul line, and my 14th ball was tossed by bullpen coach Jim Wright in left-center field. Here’s a photo of Wright that I took soon after. He’s the guy on the left:

Where was Brandon at that point? Spying on me from above. Here’s a photo that he took from the upper deck. It’s easy to spot me because I’m the only fan wearing Rockies gear:

For the final group of BP, I headed to the 2nd deck in straight-away left field. This was the view:

I don’t know who was hitting, but I can tell you that there were a couple of righties launching bombs. After several close calls, I finally got my chance. I ran to my left through this cross-aisle . . .

. . . and made a leaping/lunging catch. That one felt good. I hadn’t lost my touch after all. Unfortunately, though, that was it for BP.

Before the game, I moved back to the 3rd base side and gave away three balls, including two to these guys:

Their names are Ryan and Cory — future major leaguers, who will hopefully return the favor someday. I chatted briefly with their father Jack and was glad to help send them home with a couple of souvenirs.

In the 1st inning, I sat here and talked to my friend Kurt:

(Kurt is the 6-foot-5 guy that I mentioned in my previous PETCO entry.)

In the 2nd and 3rd innings, I hung out here and ate garlic fries:

Then I moved to right field . . .

. . . and chatted with Franklin and Ismael and Luigi for a couple innings. Of course I was mainly there to catch a home run, but nothing came anywhere near me.

When Brandon made an appearance at 7:15pm, I knew that it was time to go. Look closely at the following photo and you’ll see him (in the blue shirt) walking toward me on the right:

Before getting into his car, I needed to take a moment to say goodbye to the large baseballs outside the garage:

The Rockies had a 6-5 lead when we started driving to the airport, and when I arrived home in New York eight hours later, I found out that they’d won, 8-6, in 12 innings. It would’ve been nice to catch a game home run on this trip, but overall I have no complaints. I hung out with friends and family . . . and snagged 68 balls in 6 games. Not bad.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 15 balls at this game (eleven pictured here because I gave four away)

• 331 balls in 41 games this season = 8.07 balls per game.

• 833 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 358 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 197 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 6,150 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.)

• 38 donors

• $2.10 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $31.50 raised at this game

• $695.10 raised this season

• $19,852.10 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/20/12 at Angel Stadium

You know how some teams play “over their heads” and win more games than they should? You know how scrubby players sometimes get off to really hot starts in April, only to fall apart once the “sample size” increases? Here’s what I’m getting at . . .

Prior to this game, I’d only been to Angel Stadium twice since 1995, and both times I snagged exactly 11 balls. Angel Stadium, quite simply, is not an 11-ball type of place. I knew I wasn’t going to maintain that average forever, and unfortunately this was the day when it all came crashing down — when everything seemed to go wrong. The players were stingy. I was constantly out of position. Balls were taking unlucky bounces. And so on. It was a true ballhawking nightmare — but hey, at least I got to hang out with some friendly people before the home plate gate opened. Here I am with two of them:

In the photo above, that’s Warren on the left and Ryan on the right. Warren asked me to sign a card (which you can kinda see if you take a closer look) and Ryan had me sign copies of my last two books — Watching Baseball Smarter and The Baseball. Warren is a talented ballhawk who once somehow managed to snag 17 balls on back-to-back games at this stadium. Ryan is more of an autograph collector, and if he looks familiar, that’s because we met last year. (Yes, he’s holding a copy of The Baseball in both photos; the new one was for a friend who couldn’t make it.)

I also got to catch up with my buddy Devin Trone and re-meet a ballhawk named Eli. Here I am with them.

In the photo above, Devin’s wearing the red hat. He and I have crossed paths half a dozen times at various stadiums since last season. Eli, wearing the red shirt, was at the game that I’d attended here last year, but we’d only talked briefly and didn’t really get to know each other. (We still barely know each other, but this time we actually got to have a non-frenzied conversation that didn’t take place during BP.)

Despite everything I said earlier, batting practice *did* get off to a great start. During the first minute that I was in the right field seats, I used Japanese to get Hisanori Takahashi to throw me a ball, and it was commemorative! Check it out:

(The Angels used those balls last year and obviously have a bunch left over.)

Then my day fell apart. I didn’t snag another ball for the next HOUR, but before I get to that, let me show you a few photos. Here’s one of me in the second row, running behind Devin:

Here’s a shot of me with an Angel Stadium regular named Rob:

Rob (like Devin) is an old-school ballhawk in that he only tries to catch home runs. He hangs out in straight-away right field and usually wears shirts with cut-off sleeves, so he’s easy to spot. Next time you’re at Angel Stadium, go say hi to him, but give the man his space.

As you may have noticed, I was wearing Rangers gear in the photo above, but it barely helped.

Here’s a photo of me in the front row, being ignored . . .

. . . and here’s something random/funny for you — a photo of a fan walking on the batter’s eye:

See him in the background, trudging up the green hill? At the Rangers’ ballpark in Arlington, fans are allowed to run out onto a similar hill for baseballs, but here in Los Angeles of Anaheim, where the guards are way more strict than they need to be, it’s prohibited. Security didn’t chase him out there. They waited calmly for him to return to his seat, and then they removed him from the section. They might’ve kicked him out of the stadium and, for all I know, arrested him for trespassing. I’m not sure how it played out.

Toward the end of BP, I raced over to the corner spot in right-center field and got a ball from this guy:

At the time, I had no idea who he was, so my friend Brandon (who was with me for BP only) took that photo of him. My plan was to post it on Twitter and hope that someone would be able to identify him.

My 3rd ball of the day was tossed by Ian Kinsler before the game. Here’s a photo that I took as he flipped it to me:

Soon after, several Rangers relievers headed out toward left field . . .

. . . and so did I (via the concourse). Here’s what it looked like as I entered the seats in left-center at the start of the game:

In the photo above, do you see the wide green platform between the outfield wall and the stands? I decided to sit behind it in the mostly-empty second row. This was my view:

I was hoping that one of the Rangers’ many power-hitting righties — or better yet, Albert Pujols — would hit a home run onto the platform and that the ball would bounce to me. Not a bad plan, right? Well, with one out in the top of the 1st inning, Elvis Andrus cranked a 3-2 pitch in my EXACT direction, and I knew immediately that it was gone. The only problem was that it seemed to be traveling too far, so I climbed back into the 3rd row while the ball was in mid-air:

Let me clarify something: when I said that the ball was traveling “too far,” I didn’t mean that it was going to sail completely over my head. I meant that it was heading for the middle of the platform and was therefore likely to bounce over my head. During BP, I’d noticed that home run balls were bouncing high off the platform, so in order to have a chance now, I needed the ball to barely clear the wall — but Andrus’ shot was clearly going deeper than that. Here’s a screen shot of the ball landing . . .

. . . and here I am jumping helplessly for it:

The stupid ball bounced FIVE FEET over my outstretched hand and plopped into the lap of an unsuspecting fan several rows behind me. Can you believe that crap?!

At the time, I wasn’t sure where the ball had struck the platform. Maybe it *had* barely clearly the outfield wall. Maybe I was in the wrong spot. Perhaps the ball was destined to bounce half a dozen rows deep no matter where it landed. I drove myself crazy thinking about it, but now at least I have a definitive answer. Here’s a screen shot of the landing spot, courtesy of Greg Rybarczyk and his incredible website ESPN Home Run Tracker:

The ball HAD landed deep on the platform. GAH!!!!!!! I’d done everything right and gotten screwed at the end by bad luck. Here’s the actual video of the home run on MLB.com.

Halfway through the game, I gave up on home runs and found these guys:

That’s Kevin in the blue “Texas” shirt and his father Scott on his left. Scott is the guy who filmed me snagging this one-hopper as well as this ground ball during BP on 7/17/12 at Dodger Stadium. In the photo above, Kevin is generously handing me a memory stick with bonus footage from the two Dodger games that I’d attended earlier in the week. I hung out with them for a couple innings. Then I wandered for a bit and ended up here in the top of the 9th:

It seemed to be my best shot at getting a post-game ball. The Angels were winning, so I wanted to avoid the chaos behind their dugout, and the umpires were going to be inaccessible. They exit the field directly behind home plate, and without a Diamond Club ticket, there’s no way to get there, so I played the bullpen . . . and it worked! After the final out of the Angels’ 6-1 victory, I made eye contact with Alexi Ogando and got him to toss me a ball.

My day ended with four lousy toss-ups — not a total disaster, but from a ballhawking perspective, this was probably my most frustrating game of the season. I did, however, enjoy a brief post-game adventure. During the finale of the fireworks show . . .

. . . I found my way into the Diamond Club behind home plate. (Don’t ask how. Use your imagination.) Then, when the fireworks ended and the lights came back on, I took a bunch of photos. Here’s one that shows the staircase where the umps exit:

Here’s a peek inside the field-level seats behind home plate:

Here’s the outdoor table area (and wow, look at all the room to run for foul balls):

Here’s what the indoor dining area looks like . . .

. . . and here the hallway that leads to the bathrooms:

That’s all I got. Several yellow-shirted security guards were milling about, and I wasn’t feeling particularly conversational.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 316 balls in 40 games this season = 7.9 balls per game.

• 832 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 357 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6,135 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.)

• 38 donors

• $2.10 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $8.40 raised at this game

• $663.60 raised this season

• $19,820.60 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Now, about that mystery Rangers player who tossed me a ball . . .

It took me a couple days, but eventually I tweeted the photo of him:

Within minutes, a gentleman named Brian Miller responded, and several other fans confirmed his answer soon after:

Although my day in Anaheim ended on a positive note, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there and head back to PETCO Park for one final game.

7/19/12 at PETCO Park

One great thing about PETCO Park is “The Beach” in right-center field; having a huge sandbox-like section inside a stadium is a marvelous, kid-friendly idea. Unfortunately, though, half the section is usually roped off and wasted with sand sculptures. That was the case at this game . . .

. . . and that’s where I spent the first half-hour of batting practice.

T.C. was there too. (As I mentioned in my previous entry, he’s a legendary ballhawk that I featured on pages 281-282 of The Baseball.) Here we are:

My friend Brandon was at this game with his fancy camera and took lots of great photos. Here’s one that shows several fans competing for a toss-up:

I’m not in the photo above, but I need to point out two of the people who are: the guy in the Luebke jersey is named Ismael (there’s a photo of him in my previous entry), and the guy in the brown shirt is named Leigh (aka “Padre Leigh” in the comments section of this blog).

I got a couple toss-ups of my own in that section. The first came from Padres bullpen coach Jimmy Jones, and the second came from one of the players kids. That’s not the most exciting way to get a ball, but hey, it counts.

On my way to the main part of the stadium, I walked past these people:

In the photo above, do you see the guy in the dark gray suit? That’s Trevor Hoffman! I really wanted to say hello and get a photo with him, but he was busy — just as well, perhaps, because there were baseballs to be snagged.

For the next 20 minutes, I pretty much had the entire left field foul line to myself. That’s because I talked my way in with the season ticket holders, all of whom rushed to the Padres’ dugout on the 1st base side. (At PETCO Park, fans without season tickets are trapped in center field for the first hour; season ticket holders only have to stay there for the first half-hour.)

The short version of how I snagged my next ball is that I leaned over the wall and grabbed it off the warning track. The long version of the story goes like this: a right-handed batter on the Padres smoked a line drive toward the spot where the 3rd baseman normally stands. The ball happened to hit another ball that was sitting on the infield grass, and as a result, this other ball was knocked into foul territory. At the time, I was hanging out near the corner spot in shallow left field, and the deflected ball ended up on the warning track near 3rd base — more than 100 feet away from me. An on-field security guard (who was stationed near the dugout) started walking toward it and easily could’ve gotten it, but when he saw me charging toward him through the front row, he backed off and let me lunge over the wall and grab it. (In New York, I wouldn’t have been allowed to be in the front row. I also would’ve been yelled at for running, and the guard would’ve pocketed the ball.)

Moments later, I heard two guys shouting at me from above. More specifically, they were in the second deck near the Western Metal Supply Co. building, and as I quickly realized, they were employees. At first I thought I was trouble, but as it turned out, they simply wanted to inform me that there were two baseballs in the stands. (San Diego is the best.) They actually waved me up half a dozen steps and directed me through a specific row where they could see one of the balls. Then they pointed at a general area one section away where they’d seen another ball land . . . and sure enough, there it was. HA!!! I gave that ball to a kid who was wandering aimlessly in the seats along the foul line, and less than a minute later, I caught a foul pop-up that was sliced by a left-handed batter. Brandon was in the cross-aisle at that moment (slowly making his way over from the 1st base side) and took a photo just before I caught it:

I realize that you can’t see much in the photo above, so here’s a closer look:

As you can see, I was still holding one of the “Easter eggs” with my left hand; I was snagging baseballs faster than I could toss them into my backpack.

A few minutes later, Ross Ohlendorf jogged over to retrieve a ball in the left field corner. Before he bent down to pick it up, I asked him if he wanted to play catch — a reasonable request, given how empty the stands were. What did Ohlendorf do? He threw the ball to me and started walking away.

“Hey!” I yelled, “aren’t we gonna throw?”

“You can throw it back to me,” he said, “but I’m gonna keep it.”

“Oh, MAN!!!” I shouted, exaggerating my disappointment.

“Okay,” he said, “I’ll throw it back once.”

And that’s exactly what happened. I chucked the ball to him, and he tossed it back — not life-changing, but still fun.

Brandon (who hates being photographed) was sitting right behind me:

Hopefully he got some footage of me snagging my 8th ball of the day — a foul grounder that deflected off a protective screen on the warning track and rolled near me.

Then, all of a sudden, I noticed that the Padres were jogging in from the outfield. Batting practice was ending 15 minutes earlier than I expected. Without hesitating, I took off for the 1st base dugout, cutting through the cross-aisle and barely making it in time. In fact, I was still in the aisle when I got Alonzo Powell, the assistant hitting coach, to throw me a ball. Here’s a photo that I took from that spot moments later:

Then I ran back to the 3rd base side and got one of the Astros’ 3rd basemen (not sure who) to throw me a ball. This was my view after catching it:

That was my 10th ball of the day, and it didn’t take long to snag No. 11 — a wimpy grounder that trickled in foul territory. (I want to move to San Diego. To hell with Baltimore. Too humid.)

When the Astros took the field and started playing catch, I used my glove trick to snag two baseballs along the left field foul line. That gave me 13 for the day, and then I headed out to right field. Here’s a photo of me from afar:

It was only 5:30pm. The Astros were just starting to hit. I was thinking about going for 20 balls, and then . . . I got completely shut out for the rest of BP. Here are four reasons why:

1) The power-hitting lefties were absolutely worthless.

2) Several Astros players recognized me and wouldn’t toss balls to me.

3) The left field seats are configured miserably for catching home runs.

4) There was a PETCO Park regular named Kurt in the prime spot in left field, and I didn’t want to get in his way. It would’ve been fun to compete against him, but out of respect, I decided to give him space . . . and he ended up catching four homers on the fly.

So yeah, I was still stuck at 13 balls at the end of BP. (Poor me, right?) Here’s a peek inside my backpack:

“Padre Leigh” caught up with me at the dugout . . .

. . . and then I got a visit from Kurt:

During games, Kurt exclusively goes for foul balls, and T.C. goes for homers. They’re both really laid-back, but don’t let that fool you. They cover lots of ground and seem to catch more batted balls at PETCO than anyone.

While I was talking to Leigh and Kurt, Brandon was (literally) focusing on this woman:

It’s safe to say that he’s in love, but here’s the kicker: he has no idea who she is. He thinks she’s a Padres intern, but that’s all he’s got, so if anyone knows anything and/or has any expertise in arranged marriages, leave a comment here or give him a shout on Twitter @Trickholmes.

Here’s a random photo that I took of the glorious corner spot down the left field foul line:

Look at all that space! Ladies and gentleman, THAT is how to build a baseball stadium. (Now, if only the Padres would demolish those horrendous sand castles in right-center field.)

Shortly before game time, Scott Moore threw me my 14th ball of the day, and less than two minutes later, I got No. 15 from Gene Coleman, the Astros’ strength and conditioning coach. Here’s a photo of Coleman holding the ball just before he turned around and tossed it my way:

I spent the top of the 1st inning here, hoping for a foul ball:

I spent the bottom of the 1st inning here, hoping for a 3rd-out ball:

I spent the next few innings here, hoping for a long home run:

Then I moved to right field for a while . . .

. . . and eventually ended up back at the dugout:

I didn’t snag anything during the game, but that was okay because it WAS quite a game. Check out this mini-scoreboard, photographed by Brandon in the 9th inning:

As you can see, the Astros only managed to get one hit. Here’s another photo that Brandon took moments later:

Game over.
Final score: Padres 1, Astros 0.
(Terrible night to have tried to catch a home run.)

Edinson Volquez pitched a one-hitter, the lone hit being a fourth-inning dribbler by Matt Downs that Volquez himself failed to handle cleanly. (D’oh!)

After the final out, Brandon happened to take a picture of home plate umpire Lance Barrett . . .

. . . which turned out to be significant because Barrett hooked me up with my 16th and final ball of the day.

Over the course of the day, I ended up giving away eight balls. (Does anyone feel like combing through all my blog entries from this season and counting the number of balls that I’ve given away?) Here I am with six of the balls that I kept:

Did you see me in the photo above? Take a look at the area behind Trevor Hoffman’s right shoulder. (Yeeeeeah, baby!!)

The FOX Sports post-game show was taking place in the “Park at the Park.” That’s the area in very deep center field, and as is often the case with post-game shows, fans are able to hang out in the background and be obnoxious and get on TV.

The behind-the-scenes FOX people were all really cool, as were the security guards. At one point, they let all the fans move to the front of the set. Here I am hanging out there:

Everyone else was waiting/dying to get Hoffman’s autograph, but as I mentioned earlier when I saw him during BP, I just wanted to say hello and get a photo.

It took a while for the show to wrap up, but eventually . . .

Ta-DAAA!!!

When Hoffman saw all those baseballs, he asked me what the deal was, so I told him about my collection and thanked him for the ball that he’d thrown to me at Shea Stadium in the mid-1990s. I gave him a few details — that I’d seen him getting off the No. 7 train hours before game time, and that instead of requesting his autograph, I asked him if he’d toss me a ball later on during BP. (This story, by the way, appears on pages 231-232 of The Baseball.) Hoffman seemed to get a kick out of everything I was saying, and when I finished telling that story, he said, “You know something? I think I remember that.”

“No way, are you serious?”

“Yeah,” he said. “It was such an unusual request that it kinda stuck in my mind.”

Did I mention that I want to move to San Diego? (If I did move to San Diego, Brandon and I would probably drive each other completely insane — I’ve finally realized that we have a love/hate brotherly relationship — but it’d be worth it. And by the way, in case you missed it, Brandon’s video of me from 7/17/12 at Dodger Stadium is now done and on YouTube. Click here to watch it.)

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 312 balls in 39 games this season = 8 balls per game.

• 831 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 356 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 196 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 6,131 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.)

• 38 donors

• $2.10 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $33.60 raised at this game

• $655.20 raised this season

• $19,812.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/18/12 at PETCO Park

This was my seventh lifetime game at PETCO Park, and unfortunately it was the first without batting practice — no surprise as it was a day game, but it still sucked to run inside and see that the cage wasn’t set up:

The good thing about the lack of BP (combined with the awesomeness of San Diego and PETCO Park itself) is that the entire day was laid-back. There was a level of tranquility like nothing I’ve ever experienced at a game in New York. No one yelled at me or asked to see my ticket when I wandered down to the “handicapped” seating area . . .

. . . and when I looked to my right, I felt bad. I don’t know how else to describe it. All I can say is that when I saw all this open space . . .

. . . I actually had a melancholic feeling in my heart and a sinking feeling in my gut. Quite simply, PETCO Park is glorious, and when I found myself standing all alone in the front row, it was a visceral reminder of everything that’s lacking at my home ballparks.

Surprisingly, the few Padres that were standing around didn’t toss me a ball, so I headed over to the left field side. Several Astros players were starting to play catch . . .

. . . and for the next ten minutes, I was the only fan on that entire side of the stadium. Did you hear me? I had the place to myself for TEN MINUTES. That just doesn’t happen in New York. I schmoozed it up with the security guards, watched the Astros get loose, and eventually snagged a mis-thrown ball that deflected off one of the players’ gloves and trickled across the warning track right to me.

Several minutes later, a man and three boys wandered down to the front row. As it turned out, he recognized me from this blog, and when he snagged a ball of his own, we got a photo together:

His name is Mike Simpson, and in his spare time, he coaches and does the groundskeeping for a successful Little League team. I learned this after he waved over a Padres groundskeeper and had a semi-lengthy conversation about field preparation. Then I snagged another mis-thrown ball that rolled near me, and then I learned that the guy that Mike was talking to wasn’t just *a* groundskeeper. His name was Luke Yoder, and he was THE Padres head groundskeeper. Mike introduced me, and we all chatted for a few minutes. Ready for a “small world” coincidence? When I told Luke that I’d worked as a part-time groundskeeper for the Boise Hawks in 1995, he told me that he’d worked that season for the Sioux City Explorers — an independent league team that was owned by the same man. Amazing! (Not only had I heard of the Explorers, but I used to have an Explorers t-shirt that I wore all the time.) Luke also told me that he remembered the guy who was the Hawks’ head groundskeeper at the time — a guy named Joe Kelly that I’ve kept in touch with, who just so happens to be one of my absolute favorite people in the world.

The encounter with Luke made my day, and I haven’t even gotten to the best part . . .

He and I decided that we needed to take a photo together that I could email to Joe. Check it out:

That’s right, baby! I was on the field!

I was the one who suggested taking the photo on the field, and Luke didn’t even have to think about it. He just shrugged and was like, “Yeah, c’mon.” But it wasn’t that simple. Even though this was San Diego, it WAS still a major league stadium, which meant there were cameras all over the place and people secretly watching our every move. In addition to that, two security guards were standing near us on the warning track. They were both very friendly, and while they personally had no problem with my climbing over the wall and stepping onto the warning track, they had to radio their supervisor to get clearance. Luke kept telling me to just do it, but I hung back in the stands until I got the official go-ahead from security. I didn’t want to get the guards in trouble, nor did I want to end up in jail. After a minute or so, the guards told me it was okay.

After Luke and I got our photo together, I lingered on the warning track just long enough for Mike to take a bonus pic:

In the photo above, the guard on the left (if I’m remembering correctly and spelling it right) is named Sean, and he was shockingly nice. He wasn’t there to bust my chops. He was totally on my side and was genuinely interested in hearing about my baseball adventures. The other guard was also really cool, but I didn’t get to know him as well.

More than an hour before game time, I hurried over to the little “home run porch” down the right field line and got my 3rd ball of the day from Padres bullpen coach Jimmy Jones. Here’s what it looked like from that spot:

Interesting/unfortunate side note: Jones (indicated above with the arrow) took over that position from the recently deceased Darrel Akerfelds.

For the next 40 minutes, there was no action on the field, so I wandered and got a bite to eat and took a bunch of photos. Here’s my favorite:

There are cross-aisles, and then there are CROSS-AISLES. This one is as good/wide as it gets, and yes, okay, it takes quite a poke to reach it, but so what? It’s not 500 feet from home plate. It’s more like 400. That’s where I caught Barry Bonds’ 724th career home run on August 16, 2006 — a blast, according to ESPN Home Run Tracker, that traveled 409 feet.

Approximately half an hour before game time, I positioned myself here . . .

. . . and got a ball from Astros bullpen catcher Javier Bracamonte.

Then I ran over to the left field foul line . . .

. . . and got my 5th ball of the day from Brian Bixler. I’m a bit embarrassed to report (although I loved it at the time) that there was *no* competition for any of these balls.

I spent most of the game here in the second deck:

Just like the section in right field, it would’ve taken a bomb to reach me, but whatever. There was a wide cross-aisle, and I had lots of room to run. Also, I knew it was a good spot because this guy made sporadic appearances throughout the game:

For those who don’t know, that’s a legendary ballhawk named T.C. (See pages 281-282 of The Baseball; I featured him in the book as one of the all-time top ten ballhawks.) He attends every Padres game, so if you go to PETCO Park and hang out in the outfield, you’ll see him.

At some point during the middle innings, I headed over to right field to catch up with a couple other friends who attend every Padres game. Here I am with them:

In the photo above, the guy with his finger up in the air is named Ismael. (He’s the guy who put me on the phone with Heath Bell on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park.) The other dude is named Luigi. If you see either of them at the stadium, go say hi and tell ‘em that Zack from New York sent you. Same goes for T.C., and the same goes for the usher in right field named Franklin (whom I met in 2006). Not only is he a great guy who’s VERY knowledgeable about baseball, but he’s invented a statistic called “quick outs.” He and several of the regular fans in his section keep track of them like this:

In the photo above, that’s Franklin holding up the sign behind the Q’s.

What exactly is a quick out? It’s simple: three pitches or less. Here’s another photo of Franklin with more signs:

I love the concept of the “Q” because it promotes good, crisp baseball. Franklin hopes that “quick outs” will one day be part of every box score, and you know what? After hearing him talk about it and seeing how much fun everyone had whenever another “Q” was recorded, I do too.

This entire game was played quickly, especially at the start. Both pitchers — Wandy Rodriguez for the Astros and Clayton Richard for the Padres — were in the zone. The first three innings were done in 32 minutes.

THIRTY-TWO MINUTES!!!

The pace, of course, slowed down when the teams started scoring, but it was still done fast. Final score: Padres 8, Astros 4. Final time of the game: two hours and thirty minutes.

During the top of the 9th inning, I had moved here . . .

. . . and after the final out was recorded, I got my 6th and final ball of the day from home plate umpire Paul Emmel.

As the Astros relievers walked in from the bullpen, I noticed this little guy on my right:

I’m talking about the kid being held in his father’s arms. See his right index finger? He and his father were asking the players for “just one ball.” The players completely ignored them so I pulled a ball out of my backpack and handed it to the kid. Then, on my way out of the stadium, I gave away another.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game (four pictured here because I gave two away)

• 296 balls in 38 games this season = 7.79 balls per game.

• 830 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 355 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6,115 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.)

• 38 donors

• $2.10 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $12.60 raised at this game

• $621.60 raised this season

• $19,778.60 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Hang on! There’s more! I just thought it’d be fun to share some of the randomness that transpired after I walked out of PETCO Park. This was a 12:35pm game, so there was still plenty of day ahead of me . . .

I started by taking two trains:

The train on the left was a trolley that went from the stadium to the nearby Santa Fe Station. The train on the right was a “Coaster” that took me along the coast . . .

. . . and through the hills to Solana Beach. This was the scene when I got off the train:

Those people were dressed for Opening Day at the nearby Del Mar Racetrack. The plan was for me to jump in a cab and head over there to meet my friend Brandon, but it was so crowded and crazy at the track (and the drinks were so expensive) that Brandon left early and met me at the train station. (It was his birthday, so he was allowed to do whatever he wanted, including changing the plans at the last second.)

When Brandon met me, he was with some random guy that I’d never met. Here they are:

In the photo above, Brandon (who hates being photographed) is on the right, and as for the other guy . . . I didn’t know what to make of him. He was perfectly nice and looked like a rock-star wannabe. Right? Well, guess what? He pretty much IS a rock star. His name is Pat Kirch, and he’s the drummer for a well-known band called The Maine. What do I mean by “well-known”? Let’s put it this way: he has 58,889 followers on Twitter, and the band itself has 132,153. (I have 1,438, if that gives you any perspective.)

He and Brandon and I hung out for a couple hours, mostly here at this restaurant/bar:

Pat asked me all about my baseball collection, and I asked him all about his music career. It was pretty damn cool. (If you have a few minutes, watch/listen to the video of “Inside of You” by The Maine. I heard a bunch of their songs in the car, and that’s my favorite. It’s very pretty and catchy — straight-up rock/pop at its best.)

And finally, here’s how my day ended:

That’s me with an AK-47. (I look really mean with that pink No. 7 train circle on my shirt, don’t I?) Given recent events, I was hesitant to post that photo on my blog, and believe me, I’m not a fan of guns. I live in a peaceful, liberal neighborhood on the Upper West Side and went to Quaker schools for eight years. Guns are simply not part of my world . . . which is why I decided to post it. It’s so NOT ME that I find it disturbingly amusing.

7/17/12 at Dodger Stadium

I attended this game with a bunch of people, including my friend Brandon who took the following photo on our way to the stadium and insisted that I post it on my blog:

Brandon is a professional videographer, and I paid him to get footage of me during BP. (I don’t ask my friends to work for free.) He also took a bunch of photos, including this one of me walking briskly through the parking lot . . .

. . . and this one of me entering the stadium with several key people:

In the photo above, the man marked “1″ is my cousin Howie, and the kids marked “2″ and “3″ are his nine-year-old twins, Sam and Juliana. (We’d done a semi-official Watch With Zack game together the day before; now it was even less official and we were all just hanging out.) The man marked “4″ is my friend and fellow ballhawk Devin Trone. He, along with another Dodger Stadium regular named Jose, helped us get inside extra early with the season ticket holders.

When batting practice got underway, I led Sam and Juliana down to the front row near the foul pole. Here we are:

Brandon followed us and started filming me. Check out the huge microphone that was attached to his camera:

In case you’re wondering, the photo above is actually a screen shot from a video that Howie filmed with his Flip Cam. My day was being documented from all angles.

It didn’t take long for me to get Kenley Jansen to toss me a ball. Here I am reaching out for it:

Looks pretty simple, right? Well, it was . . . except for the fact that I asked him for it in Dutch!

As you might already know, I can ask for a ball in 35 different languages, some of which, like Turkish or Gaelic or Swahili, have very little chance of ever being used at major league stadiums. Being able to ask for a ball in those languages is nothing more than a party trick, but there are other foreign languages that really do come in handy. Spanish is the most common, followed by Japanese and Korean, but I’ve used others. I once got Montreal Expos coach Claude Raymond to toss me a ball by asking him in French. I also got a hearing-impaired outfielder named Curtis Pride to throw me a couple of balls by using sign language, and just last month at Fenway Park, I got Chien-Ming Wang to hook me up by asking in Taiwanese. I’m thrilled to add Dutch to my list, and in case you’re wondering, I learned the phrase from one of my mom’s friends, and it sounds like this: “(C)HOY meh de BALL alsh y’BLEEFT.” As for the pronunciation, the emphasis goes on the syllables with capital letters, and also, I put the ‘C’ in parentheses at the start because it’s semi-silent and funky. The first word begins with the sound that you’d make when saying the word “challah” (which, if you don’t know, is a delicious Jewish bread). As for Kenley Jansen, he didn’t respond when I first unleashed the Dutch, so I modified my request and asked again. My mom’s friend had taught me two versions of the phrase. The first one, he warned me, was rather formal, so he encouraged me to replace “alsh y’BLEEFT” with a syllable that sounds like “LILL” and literally means “dickhead.” I was told that it’s not nearly as insulting in Dutch as it is in English — that the word is playful and endearing — so that’s what I shouted at Jansen. And it worked. Amazing. I didn’t even know he spoke Dutch until Jose (who knew about my language trick) ran over and told me.

Anyway, I snagged my 2nd ball of the day by using something that I call the “half-glove trick.” I was able to reach the warning track, but the ball was too far away from me, so rather than rigging my glove with the rubber band and Sharpie, I simply used the string to fling it out and knock the ball closer. Here I am using the trick in foul territory:

Here’s another shot (taken moments later) that shows the ball directly below me . . .

. . . and here I am reaching all the way down and gloving it:

My first two balls were commemorative, and I gave them to the kids. Then I used the half-glove trick for my 3rd ball of the day in fair territory:

The kids got their baseballs signed by Aaron Harang . . .

. . . and came back over to show me:

Then I took a quick break in the action to pose for a photo with a gentleman named Frank:

As you can see, he had a copy of my latest book, The Baseball, and did you notice what I was holding in my right hand? That’s an OLD National League ball that he gave me. I don’t know exactly how old, but it had to be from 1969 to 1986 because Charles Feeney‘s printed signature was on it, and that’s when he was the National League president. Very cool.

Here I am signing the book for Frank (while keeping an eye on the batters):

My 4th ball of the day — another beauty with a commemorative logo — was No. 6,100 overall, and I gave it away. Why? Because a little kid standing next to me had gotten Ronald Belisario to toss it to him; the ball tipped off the end of his glove and bounced into my hands. I really wanted to keep it, and I could’ve made a case for doing so: not only is that kid there every day with his father, and not only have they combined to snag more than 500 balls over the past few seasons, but the kid laughed at me the day before when I barely missed a foul grounder that rolled by. Can you believe that? What would you have done — given it to him or kept it?

I used my half-glove trick to snag two more baseball from the warning track — my 5th and 6th balls of the day. Then I met a guy named David who’d brought copies of two of my books:

In addition to The Baseball, he had a copy of How To Snag Major League Baseballs, which, as you can see if you look closely, had an “autographed copy” sticker on the cover. David explained that it was already signed when he bought it. I’ll show you what it said in a moment, but first here’s a photo of me signing it again:

While I was signing his books, I snagged several more baseballs. It was nuts. The first was a deep line drive off the bat of Juan Uribe that was heading to my right. When the ball was hit, I quickly moved several several feet to my right, then bolted up a step or two and darted through the empty second row past the foul pole into foul territory. The ball skipped up off the warning track and barely missed the heads and hands of the fans in the front row. Not wanting to take a potential deflection off my grill, I flinched and stuck my glove in the spot where I thought the ball might zip into the stands, and BANG, it smacked right into the pocket for a web-gem-worthy back-handed catch. Here’s a YouTube video that kinda shows it:

That video was filmed by a man named Scott Moore, who attends lots of games with his 16-year-old son Kevin — super-nice guys who post lots of videos on YouTube. Their channel, in case you’d like to see more, is called “StadiumBound.”

Soon after I caught the Uribe one-hopper, I scooped up a ground ball, and Scott filmed that one too. Check it out:

Many thanks to Scott for getting footage of me in action.

Finally, after about 10 minutes, I finished signing How To Snag Major League Baseballs. Here’s what I wrote:

I always used to sign that book with my current ball total. (I’ve never signed Watching Baseball Smarter with the ball total — only the date — and I switch back and forth when signing The Baseball.) Given the fact that I finished the 1999 season with 1,517 and that I can look at my game-by-game stats and do the math . . . I signed David’s book for the first time between August 8, 1999 (when I snagged career ball No. 1,477 in Oakland) and September 17, 1999 (when I snagged No. 1,478 in Atlanta). Beyond that, I can’t remember any details about where or when I signed it.

While signing David’s copy of The Baseball, I snagged ANOTHER baseball. Here I am with it:

That ball was a home run that hooked just inside the foul pole and landed several rows back. I couldn’t get there before it landed, but I got close. When it first landed, I lost sight of it in the seats, and then I immediately felt something hit my right butt cheek. I assumed that someone had bumped into me, and when I turned around to see who, I saw the ball rattling around instead. Hilarious.

Just before the Dodgers finished hitting, Juliana got Steve Yeager to toss her a ball . . . and me being a great cousin, I helped to seal the deal by grabbing it off the warning track for her when another fan knocked it loose. Here I am handing it to her . . .

. . . and as you can see, she was pretty psyched:

Yeager wasn’t giving many balls away, so I was impressed that she managed to get one from him. Officially, that was my 10th ball of the day, but Juliana gets all the credit.

When the Phillies started hitting, I headed over to the left field pavilion with Brandon and my family. Here I am getting ready to enter . . .

. . . and no, I wasn’t concerned about my safety. As we all know, there was a horrifying incident last year at Dodger Stadium in which a fan wearing visiting team’s gear got beaten up so severely that he nearly died, but based on my experience, it’s hard to imagine. Lots of the fans in the pavilion look mean (i.e. neck tattoos), but I’ve talked to hundreds of them over the years, and most of them have been very friendly. During BP at this game, one of these guys looked me in the eye and shouted “The Phillies suck!!” He didn’t seem to be trying to start a fight, but he didn’t exactly say it with a smile on his face. Therefore, I figured that the way in which I reacted was going to affect the rest of our interaction. If I’d gotten up in his face and told him that the Dodgers suck, things might’ve gotten ugly, but instead, I laughed and said, “They totally suck. They’re gonna get their asses kicked tonight,” and whaddaya know? The guy cracked up and patted me on the back. Granted, I’m not a Phillies fan, so I don’t have any team pride, but still, who cares? If I owned the damn Phillies or if I had a son who played for them, I would’ve responded the same way. I’m not saying that the fan who got beaten up at the stadium did anything to deserve it, so please don’t take this the wrong way. I just wonder how it all went down — if there was a war of words that could’ve been avoided.

Anyway, Brandon and Howie and the kids and I were all supposed to sit together in the bleachers, along with one of Howie’s friends (who just so happens to have the greatest baseball name of all time), but due to a ticketing mishap, it didn’t happen. Basically, two of our tickets were duds, and because there was a beach chair giveaway, the pavilion was sold out, so in order to see the game at all, Howie had to buy his way into the main part of the stadium with the kids, and we all got separated. It was awful.

Howie’s friend wasn’t due to arrive until game time, so for the rest of BP, it was just me and Brandon (and a billion other people) in the pavilion. This is where I hung out:

I had endless room to run for home runs behind the outfield wall — so of course there were none. I did, however, snag three more balls, all in that spot. The first two were toss-ups from Cole Hamels that the fans above me collectively dropped, and the third was thrown by Michael Schwimer. Here’s a shot of that final ball — No. 13 on the day — sailing toward my glove:

My view during the game wasn’t much different:

From that spot on the staircase, I was in the perfect place to run like hell for home run balls. This was view to my left . . .

. . . and to my right:

Is that glorious or what? And best of all, there were no guards on the staircases, so I was allowed to stand there indefinitely.

Look how crowded it was up above in the pavilion:

The attendance at this game was 53,498, but that didn’t matter because I had room to maneuver. There are some stadiums — ahem, Citi and Yankee — that have no standing room or cross-aisles, so when the attendance is above 25,000, they’re pretty much worthless for in-game ballhawking.

Howie’s friend ended up with two legit tickets — one for the pavilion and another for the main part of the stadium — so he spent the first few innings with me. Here we are:

His name is Sparky Campanella.

(Wow.)

As you can see, I had de-Phillified myself for the game. Some fans remembered the red clothing that I’d been wearing earlier, and when I explained why, they all found it amusing, so you see? Dodger Stadium isn’t scary. You just have to respect the locals and have a sense of humor, and it’s all good.

I spent the whole game on the staircases in left field . . .

. . . while Brandon spent the whole game mackin’ on the girl sitting next to him and taking photos like this . . .

. . . and this . . .

. . . and this . . .

. . . and this:

And also this:

Meanwhile, Howie and the kids were having a blast. Here are a couple photos that he sent me later of some beach ball action . . .

. . . and the 7th-inning stretch:

I was worried that they were having a miserable time without me. Now I know not to flatter myself.

One of the true characters at Dodger Stadium is a ballhawk/hustler named Jose. I talked about him in my previous entry, and here he is again:

I’m not insulting Jose by calling him a hustler. He calls himself one . . .

. . . and takes pride in it. Two days after this game, he sent me a long email with hilarious details about how he hustles. I was going to pick out the best parts and rewrite it, but instead I decided to copy-and-paste it in its entirety. Here goes:

Zack wasssup bro when you give me props on your blog for hooking u up with all stadium access lol can you give a shout out to my crew I made called ” LEFT FIELD SUCIOS” Aka left field dirty boys! I’m the president & CEO we are around 25 season ticket holders who shag BP baseballs during BP and there are 5 of us who play a game during bp who ever carches a bp homerun on the fly gets $2 from everyone so its a pool at the end everyone has to pay up one time i caught 2 on the fly got $4 from 4 guys lolalso  I’m Jose aka josebeingmanny aka Mannywood but since manny left I’m known as “COMPA HOE” Compa short for compadre & HOE short for Jose but girls started callin me HOE because they say I’m always at the game all over left field pavilion & everyone knows me and I have hookups for everything I’m like a Mobile- HUSTLER on giveaways I trade the baseballs I get for bobbleheads and I wait for oppossing fans from the other team & as they come in I tell them hey you are not a dodger fan why do you want a dodger giveaway some just let me have it while others say its for their friends others I have to show them a $5 bill or $10 and I see that as an investment because I can sell a bobblehead for $25-30 so if I buy it for $10 that’s $20 profit lol that’s why I wear my ” HU$TLER ” jersey on giveaways cuz I’m hustling lol also i give baseballs away to Lil kids one per game and I stamp it with my SUCIOS FOUNDATION STAMP :)

And there you have it. Jose is a good dude, so if you see him, go say hi and tell him that Zack from New York sent you.

Late in the game, I gave a ball to this little guy:

This was my wonderful view for the final out:

Several security guards and supervisors had moved to the staircases and told ME to move. (The nerve.) Rather than cramming onto one of the mustard-yellow benches up above, I stayed behind the wall and hoped for some home run magic.

It didn’t happen. There were NO home runs hit in this game. Final score: Phillies 3, Dodgers 2.

I’m happy to report that Howie and the kids remembered my advice from the previous game and headed over to the Phillies’ bullpen in the 9th inning. When this game ended, Sam got Jesus Tiamo, the team’s bullpen catcher, to toss him a ball. Here he is with it, standing triumphantly beside his sister:

Congrats to both of them for each getting a coach to toss them a ball.

Now, speaking of hustlers and give-aways . . .

The beach chair give-away was set up in a logical but poorly-executed way. Rather than receiving the bulky chairs on our way into the stadium, we were given vouchers to be redeemed on our way out. The Dodgers had set up tractor trailers in the parking lot outside the pavilion and hired a crew to hand out the chairs, but the lines were ENDLESS, and they snaked all over the place. We waited in one of them for 20 minutes, only to discover that the line led us back to the place where we’d first started waiting. When we realized that the actual line was four people thick and extended for about a quarter of a mile, we nearly gave up, but then we heard that there was another trailer near the club entrance, so we headed in that direction, and voila! No line!

At that point, several members of our group had to use the bathroom, so we talked ourselves back into the stadium to use the facilities. Here’s what was happening on he field:

That struck me as an awful lot of water, so I asked my friend Joe Kelly about it. Way back in 1995, when I spent the best summer of my life as un unpaid intern with the Boise Hawks, Joe was the groundskeeper, and let me tell you . . . The Man Knows His Stuff. Here’s what he said about the Dodger Stadium infield: “Clay needs water. Maybe that field had been denied for a long time. Maybe they’re beginning a long road trip and preparing to do some renovation. I used to try to work more in whenever I had a chance. At the end of a home stand I’d slice aerify (two directions) both infield skin and all turf areas while the team was in the showers after the last game. I’d be flagging the sprinkler heads as the fans were leaving the park. I miss the hell out of that.”

And I miss the hell out of Joe.

Now take a look at the video that Brandon put together:

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 13 balls at this game (seven pictured here because I gave six away — four to my cousins and two to random kids)

• 290 balls in 37 games this season = 7.84 balls per game.

• 829 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 354 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 195 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 6,109 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.)

• 38 donors

• $2.10 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $27.30 raised at this game

• $609.00 raised this season

• $19,766.00 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/16/12 at Dodger Stadium

There are three things you need to know before we get started . . .

1) Dodger Stadium is confusing and annoying. Four years ago, I wrote a blog entry explaining why, but basically, the parking lot doesn’t officially open until the stadium itself opens, so you need to be strategic about gaining early access to the property.

2) This was a Watch With Zack game . . . sort of. My “client” was my cousin Howie, along with his wife Susan and their two kids Juliana and Sam. Howie had offered to pay me, and when I told him how stupid he was for even suggesting it, he insisted on paying for my flight.

3) I had heard that Dodger Stadium was now opening half an hour early for season ticket holders, so Howie and his family got me there even earlier than that. They were willing to wait in the car outside the parking lot while I went in on foot and tried to talk my way into the stadium.

At around 4:20pm — two hours and 50 minutes before game time — I ran into this guy:

His name is Jose, but he’s known as “MANNYWOOD.” That’s because he attends every Dodgers home game and used to dress up like Manny Ramirez. Check out this photo of us from Game 2 of the 2009 NLDS. How awesome is that?

In the photo above, did you notice what I was pointing at? It was Jose’s season ticket holder ID card. (Ooh yeah.) Here he is leading the way past security:

I was so excited that I neglected to note the exact time, but I know that it was still close to 4:20pm, which means that Dodger Stadium opens THREE HOURS EARLY for season ticket holders! And okay, so I missed the first 10 minutes, but whatever, batting practice was just getting underway, so I really didn’t miss much. This was my view as I headed down into the seats:

I should mention that the whole stadium doesn’t open at 4:10pm. Fans with early access have to enter near the left field foul pole and then stay between the left field bullpen and the 3rd base dugout. (To elaborate because I know everyone’s going to ask: if you have a bleacher [aka "pavilion"] ticket, you can still enter the main part of the stadium at 4:10pm. You just have to show it to security, and then they wave you through, the assumption being that you’ll leave at 5:10pm and head over to the pavilion and get it scanned there. The pavilions have their own separate entrances. Right field is separate from left field, so you can’t go back and forth, and both pavilions are separate from the main part of the stadium. [See what I mean about Dodger Stadium being annoying? And wait, there's more!] The main part of the stadium — specifically the gate near the left field foul pole — opens at 5:10pm for non-season/field-level ticket holders only, but until 5:40pm, everyone has to stay on the left field side. Phew! I’m probably forgetting some rules and messing up others, so consider this a basic overview.)

If Jose hadn’t gotten me in early, I might’ve been able to tag along with this guy:

That’s my friend Devin Trone, who seems to turn up everywhere. Last year I ran into him on 6/13/11 at Safeco Field and again at the All-Star Game in Phoenix and again on 9/5/11 at Angel Stadium. According to his profile on MyGameBalls.com, he’s snagged a lifetime total of 593 baseballs — a number that would be much higher if he went for toss-ups.

As for me . . .

I settled into a spot beside the foul pole and promptly snagged this:

It was a grounder that was pulled down the line by a right-handed batter. I’m not sure who hit it, and I really don’t care. I was just happy to discover that I could reach the warning track, and of course I was glad to get on the board. This was the 300th consecutive game outside New York at which I’d snagged at least one ball; the fact that it was commemorative made it even sweeter. (Yes, Jeremy Guthrie had hooked me up with one of these balls on 5/22/12 at Marlins Park, but it was nice to snag one *at* Dodger Stadium.)

Moments later, as Jose was getting ready to take my photo with that ball, I scooped up another grounder. This was my reaction immediately after:

Meanwhile, look where my cousin Howie was:

I felt bad knowing that while I was living it up inside the stadium, he and his family were stuck at a parking lot tollbooth, but what was the alternative? For me to sit in the car with them?

I caught two more grounders near the foul pole, the second of which was hit by Matt Kemp.

Jose was hanging out in foul territory and Devin was positioned several rows back for home runs, so my main competition was a fan with an ingenious snagging device. Check it out:

Stadium security doesn’t allow fishing nets, so as you can see, this guy legally improvised by extending his cap.

My 5th ball (which I snagged just before the stadium opened for real at 5:10pm) was a ground-rule double that skipped into the seats and deflected near me. Here’s a photo of it:

Nearly every ball that the Dodgers were using was commemorative. I loved it. And then I snagged a couple more. The first was a LONG foul homer that landed in the second deck and bounced down. The second was a grounder that the security guard standing right in front of me was nice enough to sidestep when I yelled, “Let it roll!”

Because of the ridiculousness of (a) the parking lots and (b) the gate opening times, my family didn’t find their way into the stadium until 5:35pm. Here they are:

In the photo above, that’s nine-year-old Juliana crouching down in front and her twin brother Sam in the green sweatshirt. Howie (my father‘s sister’s son) is on the right, and his wife Susan is standing behind the kids.

When the entire stadium opened at 5:40pm, we all headed to right field. Here I am with Sam and Juliana:

It was completely dead out there for the first 20 minutes. Not only weren’t Phillies tossing many balls into the crowd, but they were scooping up all the grounders. Eventually I convinced Antonio Bastardo to throw me a ball, and Howie got a video of it with his Flip Cam. Here’s a screen shot of Bastardo just before throwing it . . .

. . . and here I am reaching up for a two-handed catch:

As you can see, it was VERY sunny.

I handed the ball to Juliana . . .

. . . who then showed it to Sam:

Then they handed it back to me. I had told them that I was going to give them lots of baseballs, so we decided that it’d be easier for me to hang onto them until the end of the night. I had a drawstring backpack. They didn’t. It was that simple.

Two minutes after I got the ball from Bastardo, Howie snagged a ground-rule double and beat out several other fans in the process. Sam and Juliana were so psyched that they literally jumped into his arms:

Here they are with the ball:

That was it for the Phillies’ portion of BP, but when it ended, we were in the perfect position behind the dugout. Here’s first base coach Sam Perlazzo flipping a ball in our direction . . .

. . . and here I am reaching out for the catch:

I wanted Sam and Juliana to catch some baseballs on their own, but they weren’t too concerned about it. They mainly wanted to hang out with me and watch me in action, knowing they they’d end up getting to keep lots of the balls anyway, so I served as their Designated Snagger.

The ball from Perlazzo was my 9th of the day. As soon as I caught it, I handed it to Juliana . . .

. . . who had it snatched away by Sam . . .

. . . but as you can see, she didn’t seem to care:

She and Sam were exceptionally well-behaved, and they got along great with each other.

After Perlazzo disappeared into the dugout, a ballboy started transferring baseballs from the basket to the equipment bags. I got his attention by shouting. Then I got him to throw a ball in our direction by pointing at the kids:

The ball sailed high and to the right . . .

. . . and landed just beyond my reach in a sea of hands. Look closely at the following photo, and you’ll see the ball being bobbled in the upper right corner:

Here’s another shot of the ball . . .

. . . as it plopped down into the gap that separates the normal seats from the fancy dugout section.

Here I am leaning all the way down and grabbing it with my glove:

(In the photo above, did you notice that the ballboy was about to throw another ball into the crowd?)

Several things happened at that point:

1) A security guard scolded me for leaning over the wall.
2) I asked Howie if he’d gotten footage of my ass up in the air.
3) A different security guard scolded me for “using inappropriate language.”

“What did I say that was inappropriate?” I asked sarcastically. “Air?!”

“You said A-S-S,” she hissed. “This is your only warning. If I hear you use any additional inappropriate language, you will be escorted from the stadium.”

“Are you kidding me?! That word is used all the time on network television.”

“This is your only warning,” she repeated. “There are children right next to you, and we strive to maintain an environment that’s suitable for all our fans.”

The lecture was absurd, but whatever, I wasn’t gonna stand there and argue with her any longer. There was pizza to be eaten, and there were more baseballs to be snagged.

Roughly 20 minutes before game time, I took Sam and Juliana to the right field bullpen. Here we are watching Joe Blanton warm up:

Several minutes later, he bounced one of his pitches. The ball was then tossed aside to bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer, who flipped it right to me.

Howie stayed near the bullpen with Juliana while I took off with Sam for the seats in foul territory. I gave Howie some pointers on how/who/when to ask for a ball, and it paid off. Just after I left, he got a ball from Billmeyer.

Here’s where I ended up with Sam:

We couldn’t get any closer than that, but it didn’t stop me from getting Hunter Pence to lob a ball right to me. It was beautiful. The photo above was taken just after Pence hooked us up; you can see him signing autographs on the left.

Our seats for the game weren’t too far from that area. Here’s a photo of Sam and Juliana with their parents and, perhaps more importantly, their pre-game baseballs:

I had picked those seats because I wanted to be (relatively) close to the Phillies’ dugout. Even with the partition that separates the fancy seats from the regular seats, Dodger Stadium is one of the easiest places to get a 3rd-out ball.

With one out in the bottom of the 1st inning, I headed here with Juliana:

Here she is on my left:

Matt Kemp ended the inning by lining out to 3rd baseman Placido Polanco, and whaddaya know, when the Phillies jogged off the field, Polanco tossed the ball to me over everyone down in front. Here’s a photo of it that I took when we returned to our ticketed seats:

Of the 13 balls that I’d snagged at that point, SEVEN were commemorative! Check ‘em out:

(Sorry for the crotch shot, but there was no other way to simultaneously hide/photograph them.)

In the bottom of the 2nd, I headed back to the dugout, this time with Sam. James Loney ended the frame with a weak jam-job/pop-out to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and HEY, I got that ball too. (Stadiums not named “Citi” and “Yankee” are so easy.)

I didn’t notice it right away, but when we got back to our seats, something about the ball jumped out at me. Here’s a photo of it that I took later that night:

In case you can’t tell, that’s a deep gash in the cowhide. How could that have gotten there? My only guess is that Loney broke his bat on the swing, and a jagged piece of the wood cut the ball. There’s no way that the ball would’ve had that gash before before being put into play, so that has to be the explanation. Right?

I didn’t go back to the dugout for the rest of the night. (I can sense when enough is enough.) Sam and Juliana didn’t mind staying in our seats because they had other things to keep themselves entertained:

As for the game . . .

One of the highlights (for me, anyway) was seeing the umpires huddle after Dodgers manager Don Mattingly came out to argue about a blatantly bad call:

Ryan Howard had flat-out dropped a throw, but 1st base umpire Wally Bell had initially called it a catch. He mistakenly thought Howard had dropped it while pulling the ball out of his glove to make a throw. Bell was wrong. I can’t even begin to describe how obvious it was, so I was glad when the umps reversed Bell’s initial call and ruled the batter safe. That never used to happen back in the day. Whatever the call was . . . that’s how it stood. Hooray for accuracy finally starting to trump ego.

The Phillies were winning, 3-0, at that point, but by the time Jonathan Papelbon entered the game in the bottom of the 9th, it was a 3-2 game. Howie took the kids back to the bullpen. I headed behind home plate . . .

. . . and continued walking through the concourse toward the 3rd base dugout. On the way, I saw a bunch of game-used balls for sale (for $50 each!) at a souvenir stand:

I thought it was cool how they were labeled and displayed.

But anyway.

This was my view at the end of the game:

I was in the perfect spot for an umpire ball, but didn’t get one. Why? Because there were lots of kids down in front (in the fancy dugout area), and you know what? I was okay with that. With the 14 balls that I’d snagged, I’d set a new Dodger Stadium record.

Howie’s night of snagging, however, wasn’t done. Just as the final few Phillies were walking out of the bullpen, he convinced bullpen catcher Jesus Tiamo to toss him a ball.

Final score: Zack 14, Howie 3, Phillies 3, Dodgers, 2.

Let me clarify that it wasn’t a competition between me and Howie. We were all on the same team, ballhawking together for the fun of it and for the kids.

Here we all are after the game with the 14 balls that I’d snagged . . .

. . . and here’s a closer look at the balls themselves:

Maybe Dodger Stadium isn’t so bad after all.

On the way out, we ran into Pat Sajak. The kids were very excited. And to top it all off, they ended up with 10 baseballs in their possession.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 14 balls at this game (plus three more snagged by Howie that I’m not counting in my personal stats)

• 277 balls in 36 games this season = 7.69 balls per game.

• 828 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 353 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 194 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 37 consecutive Watch With Zack game with at least one ball; click here to see an extensive list of Watch With Zack stats and records.

• 6,096 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.)

• 38 donors

• $2.10 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $29.40 raised at this game

• $581.70 raised this season

• $19,738.70 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/13/12 at Yankee Stadium

I was the first fan to enter the stadium.
I made a beeline for the left field seats.
Mark Teixeira, batting right-handed, was taking BP.
Three swings later, the entire team jogged off the field.

That was it for the Yankees’ portion of batting practice. I don’t know what the hell happened. All I can say is that I was NOT happy when I took this photo:

I did several things at that point:

1) Unleashed a string of profanities.
2) Changed into my Angels gear.
3) Wished I lived in Baltimore.
4) Headed to the 3rd-base dugout.

This was the scene:

Several minutes later, I waved my arms to get the attention of a coach that I didn’t recognize. Then I made a few gestures to indicate that I wanted to play catch — you know, pretending to catch and throw and then rotating my arm/shoulder as if I were trying to get loose.

The coach responded by throwing me a ball, and as soon as I caught it, he gave me a target by holding up his glove. Even though I’d asked to play catch, I was surprised. As you can see above, there were lots of people standing on the warning track; I didn’t expect the coach to risk their safety by having some random fan chuck a baseball over their heads, but whatever, he was willing to do it, so it was ON.

We played catch for about a minute, and then he let me keep the ball . . . but who was he?! I took a couple photos of him . . .

. . . to show my west coast friends later on. I simply *had* to find out his name.

Five minutes later, I got his attention again and got him to play catch with me AGAIN with another ball. It occurred to me, though, that he probably wasn’t going to let me keep it, and you know what? Normally I would’ve been fine with that — simply getting to play catch was enough of a thrill — but this ball was special. There were two Twitter handles stamped onto the sweet spot! One said “@YANKEES” and the other said “@YankeesPR.” It pained me to throw that ball back to him, but what else was I supposed to do? I thought about switching balls, or maybe asking him to trade balls with me when we finished, but for the time being, I was playing catch again, so that’s what I focused on.

Moments later, something GREAT happened: my friends Mateo Fischer and Ben Weil appeared out of nowhere, and Mateo pulled out his photo/camera. I thought he was just taking pictures, but he was actually filming me. Here’s a screen shot from the video that shows the coach (in foul territory between 3rd base and home plate) throwing the ball:

Here’s a screen shot that shows the grip I was using:

That’s right: knuckleballs. Here I am throwing one:

To my surprise and sheer delight, the mystery coach let me keep the ball when we finished! Here’s a photo of it . . .

. . . and here’s the actual video:

Thank you, Mateo, for filming it!

Once I finished playing catch, there wasn’t exactly a whole lot of action . . .

. . . so Mateo and Ben and I clowned around for a bit. Here’s a photo of them in which (a) Ben is standing on a ledge to appear taller and (b) Mateo wants to be somewhere else:

We still had more time to kill, and apparently, so did Steve Phillips and Cecil Fielder. Here they are talking to each other:

As the Angels started hitting, I noticed these folks (in the red shirts) trying to get Mike Trout’s attention:

Given the fact that their shirts said “Trout” on the back and that they were pleading with security to let them move closer to the field, I assumed they were family. I cautiously approached them and asked if they were related, and when the woman identified herself as Mike Trout’s aunt Maureen, I told her that I had caught his first major league home run last year and that I gave it back to him and met his parents and brother and blah blah. I wasn’t trying to get anything from her. I just wanted to be friendly and say hello.

Look where it got me:

Mike Trout had made several half-hearted attempts, spread out over 20 minutes, to wave Maureen down toward the field. She, meanwhile, had been pleading/arguing with security, trying to prove that she WAS related to him and that he WAS, in fact, trying to wave her down. During this time, she’d been insisting that I stay with her. (She told me she recognized me from Mike’s Facebook page. I’m not on Facebook, so I’ll take her word for it.) She said she’d get me down to the front row, but I was torn. I was insisting that I didn’t want to intrude on her family, and I also told her that I wanted to run out to left field and catch some home run balls. At one point, Maureen grabbed the Angels cap right off my head and said she’d get it signed for me, but I politely refused. I needed my cap, and I didn’t really care about getting Mike Trout’s autograph. If anything, I just wanted to say hello to him, but DAMN, I was missing BP, and I was concerned that I was overstaying my welcome. The whole situation was bizarre and awesome, and when she made it clear (by jokingly raising her voice and cursing) that I had to stay with her, I obeyed her orders. Hell, the left field seats were packed beyond belief, so it’s not like I was was missing much anyway. At best, I might’ve caught a couple home runs out there, but that was a small sacrifice for hanging with Mike Trout’s family and seeing where the adventure would lead me.

Here I am with Maureen and her son Dan:

They were both extremely friendly.

While were hanging out in the front row, Gary Sheffield walked by and waved to us:

Then Maureen called some guy over who was standing on the warning track.

Why?

Because he was wearing this:

(In the photo above, that’s Maureen’s hand holding his hand. Thanks. Just wanted to make that clear.)

The guy said he was a scout, prompting Maureen to tease him about not picking her nephew, but the guy can’t be blamed; Trout was selected 25th overall in the 2009 draft, four slots before the Yankees got their first pick.

Maureen gave me her email address and asked me to send her some photos. I didn’t send her the shot I took of the dugout . . .

. . . but I did send her this one . . .

. . . and this one . . .

. . . and this one:

I could’ve easily gotten him to sign something, but I truly didn’t care. I didn’t want to ask Trout for anything. I was just there to take it all in as an innocent bystander. (Several collectors, upon seeing me heading down to the Legends area with his family, had asked me to get stuff signed for them, but I refused. Then they begged me, and I refused again. And again. They also begged Maureen repeatedly, and when they didn’t take “no” for an answer, they got yelled at by one of her friends. Twice. It was an ugly situation.)

Maureen was kind enough to re-introduce me to Trout.

“This is the guy who caught your first home run,” she told him.

“Hey, what’s up?” he said to me.

“Nice to see you again,” I said, extending my right hand for a firm handshake.

“Same here,” he said, and that was the end of it.

It would’ve been great to talk longer (and without a zillion people trying to get a piece of him), but whatever. I’m just glad I got to say hello, and I’m sure I’ll see him again before long.

On my way out of the Legends area, I grabbed a free bottle of water and raced to the left field seats. This was my view:

There was only one group of hitters remaining, and nothing came anywhere near me.

The only other ball I got for the rest of the day was thrown before the game by T. J. Harrington, the Angels’ strength and conditioning coach. Here’s a photo of him (in the black shorts and pink shirt) that I took shortly before he hooked me up:

Ben and I sat in straight-away left field during the game, and we both pulled out our cameras when we saw this:

Who keeps track of the number of homers that outfielders rob, and how do they do it? The Elias Sports Bureau? Do they sit there and review video footage from various angles to determine whether or not all these balls would’ve cleared the walls? Is that why the number is an approximation? I’ve seen a LOT of baseball stats in my life, but that was a first.

This was our view late in the game:

The attendance was 47,873.
There were very few empty seats.
There was no cross-aisle or standing room.
I wanted to scream.

Having NO ROOM to run for baseballs — essentially no chance of catching a game home run — is beyond frustrating.

You know what else was frustrating? Seeing Scott Downs (who’s very nice and funny) enter the game with an 0.30 ERA and leaving with a 1.47 ERA. With the Angels leading, 5-2, in the bottom of the 8th, Downs allowed four runs, including a three-run homer by Mark Teixeira that sailed just inside the left field foul pole and landed nowhere near me.

Final score: Yankees 6, Angels 5.

After the game, I figured out the mystery behind the “Twitter ball” that I’d snagged. Mateo informed me that it was “Social Media Night” at Yankee Stadium (whatever THAT means), and I  noticed that the groundskeepers were all wearing these shirts:

I figured out something else when I got home. Remember the two-part photo of the mystery Angels coach? Well, I posted it in the following tweet . . .

. . . and got a response two minutes later:

Mike Who?!

I poked around on Google for a minute, and sure enough, there he was. Social Media Night, indeed. I bow down to the power of the internet.

This was my response on Twitter . . .

. . . and that’s all I got for now.

My next game will be Monday night at Dodger Stadium. Anyone else gonna be there?

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 263 balls in 35 games this season = 7.51 balls per game.

• 827 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 352 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6,082 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.)

• 38 donors

• $2.10 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $6.30 raised at this game

• $552.30 raised this season

• $19,709.30 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/7/12 at Citizens Bank Park

This was my second (and final) Watch With Zack game with my new friends from Australia. Here we are outside the left field gate:

In the photo above, Emily (age 18) is on the left, Nick (age 21) is on the right, Alex (age 13) is standing in front, and their father Ray (age unknown) is in the middle. Ray’s wife Donna had attended the previous game, but she wasn’t feeling 100 percent when it was time to leave for this one, so she regrettably decided to skip it.

When the gates opened at 4:35pm, I bolted inside, and just like last time, it didn’t take long for me to snag my first ball. Phillies pitcher Brian Sanches threw it to me in left-center field, and as soon as I caught it, I took the following photo to capture the scene:

Sanches wears uniform No. 48, so in the photo above, you can see him standing second from the right.

Several minutes later, I stepped up onto the folded-up part of a seat to reach as high as possible and catch a home run on the fly, and soon after that, a young fan approached me with his copy of The Baseball. Here we are:

That fan’s name is John Lisankie, and if he sounds familiar, it’s because he posts lots of comments on this blog. It was great to finally meet him in person after having emailed and commented back and forth for such a long time. (John has his own blog. Here’s his entry about this game. He got some incredible photos of a crazy fan who ran on the field and tried to climb into the Phillies’ bullpen.)

Meanwhile, Nick and his siblings weren’t trying to snag baseballs. They were sitting in the shade near the back of the section . . .

. . . after after a while, Nick appeared on my staircase with this:

It was SO hot that I thought I was seeing a mirage. The temperature had reached 102 degrees earlier that afternoon, and the humidity was insane. Within the first few minutes of batting practice, I was drenched in my own sweat — not a bad ballhawking strategy, I suppose, because it probably made other fans want to keep their distance. At the previous game, I drank seven bottles of water, and at this one I drank six. I really didn’t mind the heat or humidity or sweatiness — the way I see it, that’s what showers are for — so I’m not complaining. I’m just trying to describe what it was like to be out there, and by the way, as long as we’re on the topic of “Things That The Aussies Gave Me,” did you notice the shirt that I was wearing? They generously gave that to me along with two Australian delicacies. Here’s a photo of them that I took when I got back home to New York City:

Vegemite! Ha-HAAAA!!! Awesome. I once had a taste at a friend’s place and hated it, but I’m willing to give it another shot, especially now that I own my very own jar of it. As for the Tim Tams, those got completely melted in my car, but I took Ray’s advice and stuck ‘em in the fridge when I got home, and that did the trick. They were delicious, and I polished them off with my girlfriend in one sitting. But anyway, let’s get back to Citizens Bank Park, shall we?

Other than myself, Ray was the lone member of the group who tried to snag baseballs. You can see him in the center of the following photo, wearing a red shirt with the No. 26 on it and holding his glove just above his head:

Ray had snagged two baseballs at the previous game, but he didn’t get any at this one — and that was fine. He wasn’t heartbroken. He didn’t have a streak to maintain. He and his kids just wanted to hang out and watch me do my thing, knowing that they’d end up going home with just about all the balls that I caught.

Halfway through the Phillies’ portion of BP, I snagged a home run that deflected right to me off a man’s glove in the front row. Then, several minutes later, I moved 15 rows back for Hunter Pence and made a running/jumping catch on one his many bombs. At the previous game, I’d given away the balls as soon as I caught them, but at this one, at least during BP, I tossed ‘em all in my backpack and distributed them later.

When the Braves took the field and started playing catch, I ran to the seats behind their dugout on the 3rd base side and got Chipper Jones to throw me a ball. He was standing right next to the batting cage, and I was half a dozen rows back. I took the following photo after I caught it . . .

. . . so as you can see, he had to put a little velocity on it in order to reach me. I stuck that ball in a separate compartment of my backpack so that I’d remember later on which one it was.

The ball from Chipper was my 5th of the day, and I should’ve gotten another one at the dugout. Jack Wilson chucked it to me from about 150 feet away, but it sailed 10 feet over my head. I still would’ve gotten it, but it took a horrendously unlucky bounce off a seat and deflected right to a middle-aged woman with no glove. Aarrghh!!

We all headed to right field after that, and I caught a special ball during the first group of Braves hitters. Never mind the fact that it was a home run and that I caught it on the fly after running one full section to my left. It was special because of the logo. Have a look:

Aww yeah, baby! It was a Houston Astros 50th anniversary commemorative ball. For some fantastic reason, the Braves were using two different types of commemorative balls during BP. Ready to see the other? Check out this photo of Nick:

Pretty sweet, huh? And get this: Nick and Emily snagged all three of those balls on their own! Emily got one tossed by Jonny Venters, and Nick snagged two Jason Heyward homers WHILE SITTING DOWN in the front row. The first one happened to land near him, and the second was a moonshot that landed in the second deck and bounced right down to him.

Amazing.

My 7th ball of the day was tossed by Braves bullpen catcher Alan Butts. Then I ran over to left-center and got my own Fenway Park commemorative ball:

That ball had been sitting on the warning track, and I was lowering my glove trick when Randall Delgado walked over and tossed it to me.

Two weeks earlier, the Braves had played a three-game series in Boston, so I can understand why they had those balls, but the ones with the Astros logo made no sense. The last time the Braves visited Houston was in April.

After BP, I got my 9th ball of the day at the 3rd base dugout from Braves coach Scott Fletcher.

Look how sweaty I was:

Given the fact that I looked like I’d wet my pants, it wasn’t the best moment to be recognized, but hey, I can’t control these things. Check out the following photo, and then I’ll explain who’s who:

The guy on the left is named Justin. He reminded me that he was the one who told me about the Ashburn Alley ball that I’d snagged SIX years earlier! (To be more specific, and in case you want to read my entry about it, I snagged that ball on June 14, 2006.) The other guy in the photo is named John. He informed me that he was one of the people who’d replied to my recent Arkanoid post on Reddit. (Reddit is probably my favorite website these days. If you’ve never seen it, I feel sorry for you.)

Something strange happened shortly before game time. Although the weather was perfect (and despite the fact that the batters’ boxes had just been chalked), several groundskeepers pulled tarps onto the mound and home plate area:

I figured they knew something that I didn’t, and when I saw them start to roll the tarp onto the infield . . .

. . . I was convinced  that something was up.

In the photo above, do you see the fan in the red “PENCE” shirt? That’s Nick, sitting next to his family, and guess what? Those were our seats for the game. As comfortable as they all appeared to be, I felt bad about insisting that they move, but I knew it had to be done. It was going to rain, and I told them that if we acted fast, we could grab some empty seats at the back of the section, under the overhang of the second deck. They didn’t argue. If anything, they appreciated the warning, and we quickly relocated to the second-to-last row.

Twenty minutes later, this was the scene:

It wasn’t raining yet, but as you can see, the sky had gotten much darker, and people were making their way up the stairs. The public address announcer had just told everyone that a severe weather front was about to hit, and everyone was forced to take cover.

Ten minutes later, while thousands of people were crammed in the concourse, we had comfortable seats and a great view of the lightning:

Did you see the lightning in the photo above? There’s a faint/curved bolt coming down from the top, just left of center. Also, did you notice the American flags blowing like crazy? Surprisingly, it didn’t rain hard, but it was VERY windy.

And then?

Everything cleared up, and the players came out for their pre-game warm-ups:

That’s when I moved three sections to the left with Alex. My goal was to get a toss-up, and it happened with relative ease. I had to shout pretty loud and wave my arms like a madman, but eventually I got Martin Prado’s attention, and Prado told the strength/conditioning coach (or whoever it was) to hook me up. I nearly dropped the ball because when it reached the top of its arc, it was right in the lights, but I was able to stay with it. That was my 10th ball of the day, and I handed it to Alex. Here he is with it:

After a 58-minute delay, this was our view during the game . . .

. . . and here’s Alex with my 11th ball of the day:

It was a 3rd-out ball from Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who, by the way, has one of the strongest infield arms that I’ve ever seen). With two outs in the bottom of the 2nd inning, Jimmy Rollins had been thrown out trying to steal 2nd base. Tommy Hanson had pitched that ball, Brian McCann had caught it and fired to Simmons, and now we had it. Pretty damn cool.

Fast-forward several innings . . .

With two outs in the top of the 6th, Dan Uggla swung way too soon at an off-speed pitch from Joe Blanton and hit a two-hopper into the Braves’ dugout. Eric Hinske was standing on the top step at the time, and I saw him asking someone down below for the ball; as soon as it was tossed to him, I asked him for it, and he flipped it to me. I handed that ball to Emily and then got some bubble gum from David Ross:

That wasn’t a major accomplishment because he was tossing out gum to everyone, but something funny happened a little while later. During an inning break, I walked down to the front row and told him that I needed more gum.

“I just gave you some!” he said.

“I know,” I replied, “and I appreciate it, but it lost the flavor.”

“You are high maintenance,” he said. His tone was serious, but I could tell — or rather I assumed — that he was amused by the whole situation. I sure was. And my request paid off. Ross disappeared for a moment, then poked his head above the roof and flung three more pieces of gum at me. That was all I needed to keep the flavor strong and blow respectable bubbles. Here’s one . . .

. . . and here’s another (with Alex pretending to punch me):

(For the record, Alex and his siblings couldn’t have any gum because they all wear braces.)

In the 9th inning, with the Braves holding a 6-3 lead, Alex and I moved one section closer to home plate. The change of location paid off almost immediately. Before the bottom of the 9th got underway, Terry Pendleton, the team’s 1st base coach, flipped the infield warm-up ball into the crowd. He wasn’t throwing it to anyone in particular. He just lobbed it randomly in our direction, at which point I jumped and lunged and bare-handed it, just above some gloveless grown-ups who didn’t seem to be paying much attention. Here’s Alex with the ball (and a piece of infield grass):

That was my 13th and final ball of the day. I should’ve gotten another after the game, but I happened to look down for a split-second, JUST as someone inside the dugout rolled a ball across the roof in our direction. (I think it was Cristhian Martinez.) I wasn’t upset about missing it because Alex grabbed it! He narrowly beat out another fan for it as it rattled around on the ground in the front row.

That was our final ball of the night, but I still have a few more photos to share. Here I am with two talented ballhawks named Mike (on the left) and Jerome (on the right):

I forget how many balls Mike snagged — it was either four or six — but I know that Jerome got three. Jerome had recognized me when I first ran inside the stadium, and he did some trash-talking, but I could tell that it was all in good fun.

As for my “clients,” here I am with them and all our baseballs:

I’d snagged 13, and they’d snagged 4, but as you can see, only 15 of the 17 total balls are pictured above. That’s because (a) I gave one to a little kid in our section who hadn’t gotten one and (b) Nick had forgotten to take the Chipper Jones ball out of his pocket — just as well because it was important to keep that one separated from the rest. Of the 13 balls that I snagged, I gave away 11 — one to the random kid and ten to my new best friends from Australia. They let me keep the two commemorative balls, but best of all, they told me that I’m welcome anytime to visit and stay in their home.

On a final note, don’t drink too much at baseball games or else . . .

. . . you might pass out and end up getting made fun of on my blog.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 13 balls at this game (not counting the four that my clients snagged on their own)

• 260 balls in 34 games this season = 7.65 balls per game.

• 282 lifetime balls in 30 games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.4 balls per game; click here to see my complete list of stadium totals

• 826 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 351 consecutive games with at least two balls

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

• 193 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 36 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls; click here to see an extensive list of Watch With Zack stats and records

• 6,079 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.)

• 38 donors

• $2.10 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $27.30 raised at this game

• $546.00 raised this season

• $19,703.00 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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