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.
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:
• 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
(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