7/6/12 at Citizens Bank Park

Do you remember the blog entry that I posted two months ago called “Tampa vs. Philadelphia“? To refresh your memory, a potential Watch With Zack client was interesed in booking me for two games, and I was trying to decide between the two options that he’d given me. Several weeks later we picked Citizens Bank Park — and now here I was with him and his family:

In the photo above, the guy wearing the purple shirt with the “Transformers” logo is the one who’d initially contacted me. His name is Nick, and he’s 21 years old. His 13-year-old brother Alex is on the left, and their 18-year-old sister Emily is on the right. The two folks standing next to her are their parents, Ray and Donna (and in case you’re new to this blog, that’s me in the Lowell Spinners shirt).

Nick and his family live in Australia and LOVE baseball. Nine days earlier, they’d flown for 14 hours from Sydney to Los Angeles. Then, after a brief layover, they flew to Dallas/Fort Worth and attended four A’s-Rangers games at Ameriquest Field. After that, they flew to St. Petersburg for a three-game series between the Rays and Yankees at Tropicana Field. And now here they were at Citizens Bank Park to see the Phillies and Braves.

When the stadium opened at 4:35pm, I bolted inside and snagged my first ball within seconds. I don’t know who hit it. All I can tell you is that when I first saw it, it was already flying toward the left field foul pole. I cut across the empty seats (from left-center) and ended up grabbing the ball in the front row, just as a 60-something-year-old usher was walking toward it from the other end of the section. Then I jogged back to left field, handed the ball to Ray, and caught another home run on the fly. I tossed that one to Alex, and several minutes later, I snagged another homer and handed it to Nick — not a bad start to the day.

Here’s what the seats look like soon after:

In the photo above, Alex is about 15 feet away, leaning against a seat in the 4th row and looking at me. His father is three rows behind him with his arms up in the air. Nick and Emily, meanwhile, were standing right behind me . . .

. . . and if you look closely at that photo, you can see their mother sitting seven rows behind them, wearing a red cap. Another thing about that photo: the guy on the far right in the light blue shirt recognized me from this blog. His name is Tim, and if my lens were just a bit wider, you’d see that he was wearing a glove on his left hand. Unfortunately Tim and I only got to talk for about 30 seconds, but that’s just how it goes during BP when I’m running all over the place.

Whenever I book games with people, I ask them what they want to do and how I can help them have the most fun and get the most out of their time at the stadium. Nick’s answer to this question (several weeks earlier via email) went as follows: “I’m perfectly fine with catching as many as we can during batting practice and then just sitting down, watch the game and pick your brain. You’re more than welcome to run around until your hearts content. We’ll just see what sounds good when we get there.”

As it turned out, Nick and his family weren’t concerned about who caught all the balls; they just wanted to see me in action, and they wanted to go home with as many as possible. That made things easier for me because (a) I was able to give them a few pointers and (b) run around and do my thing without worrying about them. If they followed me and actively tried to snag some balls, cool, and if they sat 20 rows back in the shade and just watched . . . also cool.

Halfway through the Phillies’ portion of BP, Ray snagged a John Mayberry homer that he knocked down with his bare hands. (His experience playing cricket helped.) Then I caught a Placido Polanco homer on the fly after climbing up on a seat. I handed that ball to Donna, then snagged a Hunter Pence homer in deep left-center (which I should’ve caught on the fly) and gave it to Emily. I’d only been inside the stadium for half an hour, and I’d gotten a ball for each of the five people I was with. Go me.

As soon as the Braves started hitting, I got Chad Durbin to toss a ball to me over several rows of fans. I gave that one to Alex and promptly ran to right field. This was the view:

When the rest of the group caught up with me, I positioned Alex and Emily in the corner spot in right-center. Here they are:

I didn’t catch anything else during BP, but I’m glad to say that my group of aspiring Australian ballhawks snagged three additional balls! Nick and Emily each got one from a groundskeeper in the bullpen, and Ray out-scrambled the competition for a home run that (I think) was hit by Freddie Freeman. He got a bit scraped up in the process and said it was totally worth it. What a cool dad.

After BP, two different fans approached me and asked me to sign baseballs that they’d snagged. Their names were Darren and Jack. Here they are with their freshly-inked autographs:

I was surprised how many people recognized me throughout the day. There were three guys who were particularly friendly and asked if they could take photos with me, so I wanna give them a shout-out here. Their names were Scott, Steven, and Michael, and if I’m getting all my facts straight, they all recognized me from YouTube.

At around 6:30pm, I accompanied Ray and his boys to the team store in deep center field. One of their things is to buy t-shirts and hats of the home team at each stadium that they visit, so I hung out with them for about 10 minutes while they browsed. That’s when it occurred to me that the pitchers were probably warming up and that I had a chance to get a ball from the Braves’ bullpen. I told Ray that I was gonna run off for a bit, and he was fine with that. He told me to meet them at our seats whenever I was ready.

Here’s where I ended up:

(Quick side note: the bullpens at Citizens Bank Park are glorious, and I’m not saying this from a ballhawking perspective. I’m talking about the overall design and fan-friendlieness — how the ‘pens blend into the rest of the stadium and provide views and proximity. The only bullpens in the majors that are better are the ones at Safeco Field. I know Seattle is far away from just about everything, but it’s worth making a trip just to check out that stadium. Anyway . . .)

In the photo above, there’s lots of stuff happening in the bullpen. Tim Hudson is warming up on the left, the relievers (led by Craig Kimbrel) are walking up the stairs on the right, and two coaches are watching in the middle. The coach standing closer to the field is Eddie Perez. The coach standing to his left is Roger McDowell. Several minutes after I took that photo, Hudson threw a 55-footer, and when the ball was thrown back to him, he flipped it to McDowell, and McDowell tossed it to me. Then, when I met up with my group at our seats, I gave the ball to Nick.

(In case you’ve lost count, I’d snagged seven balls at that point and given them all away.)

This was our view during the game:

When Nick and I had been emailing months earlier, he never asked me where I wanted to sit, so when I learned that we were gonna be in the 4th row in straight-away right field, I was quite pleased. Ray sat on my left and took a bunch of photos:

The others sat on my right and just took it all in:

Early in the game, when I started to explain stuff to them, I was surprised that they already knew everything I was telling them. Nick was talking about pitch selection and on-base percentage and defensive strategies, and Ray was telling stories about various stadiums and his favorite players on the Rays. It was really impressive. How the hell did this family from Australia know so much about the sport? This is going to sound like a shameless plug, but it happens to be true: they’d read Watching Baseball Smarter. Ray told me that he “discovered” me several years ago while Googling something random about baseball, and that he’d gotten my books and had been following my blog ever since. That was awfully nice to hear.

I still explained stuff to them, but mainly we just sat there and sweated and drank cold beverages and watched the game and talked baseball. It was a great day all around.

When I got a huge cup of highly-seasoned crab fries (with white cheddar dipping sauce) in the 6th inning . . .

. . . the game was scoreless. Each team only had a couple of hits at that point, which was kind of disappointing. Ray and I agreed that pitchers’ duels are far more entertaining on TV, while slugfests are better in person.

The top of the 8th inning turned out to be a mini-slugfest; the Braves erupted for five runs, capped by a Brian McCann grand slam (which unfortunately landed in the bushes in dead center).

In the 9th inning, with Ray’s permission, I hurried off with Nick and Alex to the opposite side of the stadium. The plan was to (a) get down into the seats behind the Braves’ dugout, (b) snag a ball after the final out, and (c) meet the others in the concourse behind Section 130.

Everything went exactly as planned. This was our view for the final three outs:

The Braves relievers didn’t toss us anything when they walked in from the bullpen . . .

. . . but home plate umpire Jerry Layne hooked me up with this:

Nick insisted that I keep the ball for myself, and then we all gathered (with our DOZEN balls!) for a group photo:

Hell yeah.

(Nick never smiles in photos, but don’t let that fool you. He’s extremely friendly.)

In a delightful twist of fate, it turned out that we were all staying at the same hotel several miles away, so they piled into my car . . .

. . . and I gave them a ride. Here they are in the hotel lobby:

In the photo above, did you notice that Donna is holding copies of my last two books? They asked me to sign them, and then Nick had me sign one of his baseballs. They were all SO nice and easy to be with, and the next day, we were gonna be doing it all over again . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 8 balls at this game (not counting the four that they snagged on their own)

• 247 balls in 33 games this season = 7.48 balls per game.

• 825 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 350 consecutive games with at least two balls

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

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

• 6,066 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)

• $16.80 raised at this game

• $518.70 raised this season

• $19,675.70 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

23 Comments

Here’s a tough one. So, if I paid you $500 for a Watch with Zack game, and I wanted you to just talk to me about baseball and let me snag everything. You wouldn’t be allowed to snag ANY baseballs. Would you take the money and honor my wishes and end your streak or would you turn me down?

Hey Zack, have you ever not caught a ball for a person at a watch with zack game?

Say you’re doing a Watch with Zack game, what is the record # of baseballs that you and the client(s) have snagged in one game?
Paul

http://apieceofthegame.mlblogs.com/

Zack, I don’t think one of the things to buy is t-shits.

@LEIGH, I’d have to say, without a shadow of a doubt that there’s no way Zach would lose his streak over $500. Heck, w/ a streak like that, I’d find it hard to believe just about anyone would give it up!

What a lovely family! My favorite games are the ones at which I meet a memorable group of “neighbor fans”. Like the teenaged boy I met at AT&T Park, whose father had just won several million dollars in the NY lottery. They were using what I can only assume to be a sizeable chunk of that money to visit every MLB ballpark. Nice kid, cool dad. I admire their priorities.

Three comments for you:
1) I hope these Aussies are Ryan Rowland-Smith supporters b/c that guy is simply awesome. And he’s pitching well in AAA for the Cubs so hopefully he’ll make it back to the Bigs.

2) Thanks for the kind words about Safeco Field. Everyone should definitely go check it out.

3) Tim and I have unofficially named the “corner spot” in CF (section 101) the “pizza wedge” — for reasons that I believe are obvious. The pizza wedge is a great spot. Wait…I mean, the pizza wedge is a terrible spot definitely don’t go there (at least if you see us at the game).

“One of their things is to buy t-shits and hats…”

T-Shits Zack? Lovely.Cool that everyone got their own ball to keep though. Are you planning on going to Yankee at all this upcoming homestand?

Zack,

Great see you at this game. Always nice to see you makin your magic. Gald to see the picture at the fromnt gate I took cvame out ok. I guess you did not end up with any Fenway balls the Braves were using?

Brendan (Helmet Guy)

Zack, Just in case your not a Dodger fan, allow me to ask you for the Beach Chair on Tuesday ; Ill be there with your book to sign. Enjoy your time in Cali, its been hot out here lately. BTW if you get a chance, try to make time for the beaches.

LEIGH BARRATT-
Even though I know you’re just being a dumb-ass, I’ll give you a serious answer: since I started taking people to games in 2007, every single one of my clients has wanted me to catch baseballs and keep my streak going. If someone insisted on ending my streak, I simply wouldn’t book a game with him.

BLUE JAYS FAN 75-
The fewest number of baseballs that I’ve snagged at a Watch With Zack game is two.

PAUL-
Check out this page on my site:

http://zackhample.com/baseball_collection/watch_with_zack/stats.htm

It has all the stats and records for “Watch With Zack” games. To answer your question, the record for one game is 22, set by me and Joe Faraguna on 5/8/09 at Citi Field.

CHASICLE-
Yikes. I really did type that. That’s quite a mistake. It’s now fixed.

BRIAN-
You are correct.

LIZ MERRY-
Did you ask those people at AT&T Park if they’d like to adopt me?

COOK & SON BATS-
1) Not sure.
2) You’re welcome, and yes, everyone should.
3) Mmmm, pizza.

CHRIS H-
D’oh to the typo. Yes to Yankee Stadium. I’ll be there tomorrow.

BRENDAN-
Nice seeing you too, and I’m glad your streak lived another day. I didn’t get any commemorative balls at this game, but wait for my next entry . . .

FRANK CALDERON-
I don’t care about the beach chair, but I’m planning to offer it to my cousin, who will be there and paid for my flight. If he doesn’t want it, though, it’s yours. You just have to be at the same gate as me (not sure where yet) because I really don’t feel like schlepping it around.

I’ve caught one ball in my life and that was at bp. when ever i ask a player for a ball I do it politely but nobody ever tosses me a ball what should i do?

@Ben Zitouni – Use their first name, wearing their team’s hat/shirt/colors.

Email sent regarding a game I am attending this Sunday. Hope you can reply ASAP!

BEN ZITOUNI-
You should pick up a copy of a book called “The Baseball” and read the chapter titled “How to Get a Player to Throw You a Ball.” It’s a really great book. I know the guy who wrote it.

BEN S-
I still have unanswered emails from June, but hopefully I’ll get to them/yours soon.

LIZ MERRY-HIS NAME IS GREG BARASCH ,NO? will did u put some shrimp on the barby and drink some fosters ZACK? did they pay u in aussie dollars? i have a 5$ bill from australia………later mate

I like that you indirectly got a ball from Tim Hudson after he foiled your glove trick last year in Atlanta lol. Seriously, I was really worried you were gonna put a Hample Jinx on him after that.

You would honestly turn $500 down? Didn’t you take any business classes in college? I’m disappointed in your business sense, but salute your baseball sense.

TC-
You are a complete nut. Don’t change a thing. No Aussie dollars.

MATT H-
I’ve always liked Hudson, although that doesn’t make him immune to the jinx. But yeah, no jinx for him . . . for now.

LEIGH BARRATT-
There are some things that money just can’t buy.

Both your books r awesome. I tried the glove trick, it works like magic except the marker has a hard time staying in the glove what should i do?

How old do you have to be to start a blog?

where do u find most of your easter eggs and where r the best spots to find them in Miller Park and Wrigely Field?

TC, that may have been his name. Big boy, dark hair, Mets jersey. I have a photo of him somewhere. Will try to dig it up and photobucket it. Zack, get in line for adoption! There’s already a son. He clearly needs a big sister.

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