August 2012

8/28/12 at Yankee Stadium

The day got off to a dreadfully slow start and never really picked up. The Yankees finished BP at 5:15pm. Then the Blue Jays came out and stood around doing nothing:

I didn’t snag my first ball of the day until 5:30pm — a toss-up on the 3rd base side from Jays coach Torey Lovullo.

When the Jays started hitting, I moved to straight-away left field. This was the view:

There was a decent amount of action, but for the most part, things didn’t go my way. There was a line-drive homer that I jumped for and missed by a foot. There was another homer that bounced off my glove when a teenage fan reached for it. There were balls that landed near me that I simply couldn’t move for because the seats were packed. The Blue Jays pitchers who were shagging in left field completely ignored me. And so on. It was just a BAD day of ballhawking. Halfway through BP, I caught two homers on the fly, but the whole experience was unsatisfying.

I do have a couple of cool photos for you, which were taken and then Photoshopped by a friend named Andrew Bingham. The first one shows me posing with one of the home run balls . . .

. . . and the second, taken from behind, shows me watching a kerfuffle down in front:

During the final group of BP, when several lefties started taking their cuts, I headed to the 2nd deck in right field. This was the crappy view . . .

. . . and whaddaya know, I didn’t snag any baseballs up there. Why was I in the second deck and not in the 100 level in straight-away right field? Because my ticket was in left field, and AT YANKEE STADIUM, THE SECURITY GUARDS CHECK TICKETS HALFWAY THROUGH BATTING PRACTICE AND KICK PEOPLE OUT OF THE FIELD-LEVEL SECTIONS WHO DON’T BELONG THERE. Sometimes I’m able to get around this screw-the-fans-we’re-the-Yankees rule, but other times I’m left with no place to go. It sucks. I hate it. It really sucks. I hate it. I hate it. It sucks. I hate it.

You know what else I hate? When my view of the first pitch of the game looks like this:

One of the few good rules at Yankee Stadium is that fans are not allowed to enter the seating areas while an at-bat is in progress. Of course this rule rarely gets enforced. (Fans should also be prevented from leaving the seating areas during at-bats. Getting up from one’s seat should be counted like strikes; do it three times over the course of the game and you’re out. Bye-bye. Automatic ejection from the stadium. Who’s with me?)

I’m not a hateful person. I’m actually quite happy and loving. Let me prove it by showing something/someone that I absolutely adore:

Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiichiro!!!

I truly love that man. I’m not IN love with him, mind you. I just . . . love him. There IS a difference.

Ichiro, for those of you who haven’t been fortunate enough to sit behind him during a game, is fun to watch because he never stops fidgeting. In the nine-part photo above, his movements are as follows:

1) saluting the Bleacher Creatures during role call
2) imagining what it’s like to be a catcher
3) stretching his hamstrings
4) wiping the remnants of his pre-game meal on his sleeve
5) bored
6) stretching his triceps
7) keeping his ankles loose
8) stretching his calves
9) my personal favorite — The Suzuki Sumo

Did I mention that I love him? Anyway, this was my view when Adeiny Hechavarria stepped to the plate in the top of the 3rd inning:

Adeiny Who?!

Exactly! He’d recently been called up from the minor leagues, and sure enough, when I looked him up, I discovered that he hadn’t yet hit ANY major league home runs.

The good news is that he homered in the 5th inning. The bad news is that the homer landed in right field. I wouldn’t have caught it even if I’d been sitting in my regular spot out there, but it still sucked. Later on, I heard that during one of the inning breaks, Blue Jays right fielder Moises Sierra brought a ball out to the field with him and traded it with the fan for the home run ball.

The highlight of my day was getting a lineup card after the game:

It had been taped to the wall in the bullpen. After the final out of the Yankees’ 2-1 victory, I got a groundskeeper to hand it to me. Pretty simple. And pretty rad. I’ve collected dozens of lineup cards over the years, and it never gets old.

The photo above was taken by my buddy Chris Hernandez — so here’s a photo of me WITH Chris:

Chris writes his own blog about ballhawking, and he also has a profile on MyGameBalls.com, so check out his stuff online and say hello if you see him in person. He’s a good dude.

Here’s a closeup of the lineup card:

I love the fact that there’s not enough space for the longer names; Edwin Encarnacion had to be shortened to “ENCARNACN,” and Curtis Granderson was turned into “GRANDRSN.” What would Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s name look like? “SLTLMCCH” Or maybe just “SALTY”?

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game (two pictured here because I gave one away to a little kid in my section in the 6th inning; I discovered later that it was his birthday, so he and his family were thrilled)

• 484 balls in 61 games this season = 7.93 balls per game.

• 853 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 6,303 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.)

• 43 donors

• $2.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $7.08 raised at this game

• $1,142.24 raised this season

• $20,299.24 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Finally, of the two baseballs that I kept, one has an invisible ink stamp. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of it in regular light versus black light:

Next game for me?
Friday at Yankee Stadium.
Who else is going?

8/27/12 at Yankee Stadium

Do you remember when I caught my 5,000th ball on 5/28/11 at Rogers Centre? Check out this video of it and look for the fan in the yellow and black striped shirt. You can see him right at the start, and then he gives me a high-five at the 22-second mark. He had brought copies of two of my books — How to Snag Major League Baseballs and The Baseball — and we got a photo together later that day. Is any of this familiar? Yes? Maybe? Well, I’m mentioning it because that fan was at Yankee Stadium with his copy of my other book, Watching Baseball Smarter. Here we are together outside Gate 6:

His name is Jon, and it’s a little bit frightening, but he’s only 13 years old. The dude is built and has BOSS sideburns (not to mention a voice that’s deeper than most adults), and he’s barely old enough to . . . umm, what can 13-year-olds legally do nowadays? Umm . . . have a Bar Mitzvah AND set up a Facebook account! (Two things I’ve never done.) But anyway, it was great running into him again. This was his first game ever at the new Yankee Stadium, and I’m glad to say that he snagged two baseballs during BP. The first was a toss-up from CC Sabathia, and the second was a Raul Ibanez home run. As for me . . .

When the gates opened at 5pm, I headed to the 2nd deck in right field and found this:

Then, as I made my way down to the front row, I found two more balls, so my day was off to a great start. Two minutes after the stadium had opened, I was already thinking about double digits.

Unfortunately there weren’t any home runs hit into the 2nd deck while I was there, and I didn’t get any balls thrown to me either. The Yankees, by the way, are *great* about throwing balls into the crowd, especially to little kids standing in the front row. I’ve never seen a home team give so many balls away, which is a shame because that’s how it oughta be at every stadium.

I moved to left field for the Yankees’ final group of BP and caught a Jayson Nix homer on the fly. It came right to me, but it was still a tricky play because there was an old guy with a glove standing directly in front of me. When the ball reached the top of its arc, I had to decide whether to move in front of him and try to make a leaping catch . . . or to stay where I was and hope that he wouldn’t be able to reach it. I decided to stay back, and sure enough, the ball ended up sailing one foot over his glove. Don’t feel bad for him, though. He was a good sport about it and caught a Blue Jays homer later on.

As for the Jays, I moved into foul territory when they started playing catch . . .

. . . and figured I’d get at least one ball thrown to me — probably two.

So much for that.

I couldn’t recognize most of the players, and I got ignored by the few whose names I knew. It was terrible, and while I was there, three home runs landed within 10 feet of my spot in straight-away left field. By the time I headed back out there, the seats were packed:

I mean, there was NO room to move, but I still managed to snag three home run balls. The first landed directly behind me and nearly hit the security guard who was standing in the tunnel. (I would’ve caught it on the fly, but I was several rows below the landing spot and got blocked on the stairs.) The ball smacked off the pavement, bounced off the metal fencing above the tunnel entrance, and ricocheted in a perfect/straight arc back in my direction. I took a step back and then jumped as high as I could (on the very crowded staircase) and caught  it. The next two homers pretty much came right to me, and I caught them both on the fly. (I got hit in the face on the first one by some guy who carelessly waved his cap at it.)

That brought my total for the day to seven, but I only had five in my backpack. That’s because I’d given two baseballs away to kids.

I headed to right field for the final group of BP, and as you can kinda see in the following photo, the sun was brutal:

I snagged one home run ball out there, but should’ve had three. I don’t know what the hell was going on inside my head, but as soon as I entered the section, back-to-back homers landed near me, one of which came so close that I nearly got hit by it. I never saw either ball coming, but not because of the sun. I simply wasn’t paying attention to the batter, and I’m not sure why. I must’ve been getting settled into my spot — you know, looking all around to identify the competition and to figure out where I was gonna have the most room to run, but that’s no excuse. As for the one home run that I did snag . . . I ran and jumped for it in the last row and would’ve caught it on the fly if not for a fan directly above/behind me in the bleachers who reached out and bumped my glove with his. (Of course, HE probably would’ve caught it if *I* hadn’t been there, so I can’t complain.) The ball bounced off my glove and landed in the second-to-last row, where I was able to grab it.

That was it for BP.
Eight balls.
Not bad.
But I felt I should’ve had at least a dozen.

Shortly before game time, I got my 9th ball of the day from Alex Andreopoulos, the Blue Jays’ bullpen catcher. (For some reason, I neglected to take photos of this. Sorry.) He was in the left field bullpen and tossed it to me over the side fence. At the time, there were two adolescent girls decked out in Blue Jays gear, who were standing directly in front of me. The ball had sailed just over their outstretched arms, so I offered it to them.

“That’s okay,” said one of the girls. “We already got one.”

The girls ended up getting another ball from Andreopoulos five minutes later — and five minutes after that, he threw me another! I’ll admit that he wasn’t aiming for me this time, but for the record, it’s not like I robbed anyone. There were a bunch of fans crowding the fence, so he lobbed it in our direction, and what can I say? It happened to come right to me, and I happened to reach up higher than everyone else. As soon as I caught it, I handed it to the man standing next to me — a friendly guy named David who had recognized me from this blog. We’d been talking for several minutes, and he had mentioned his three kids, so I gave him the ball to take home to them. Normally I don’t give away balls in these situations — I need to SEE the kid to believe it, and of course I *don’t* like being asked, but David didn’t ask. He’d actually been telling me about some of the balls that his kids had snagged earlier in the season, so I didn’t feel pestered. He was really cool, in fact, so I was glad to hook him up.

Fast-forward to the bottom of the 4th inning. I was sitting in right field and blew my chance to catch a Robinson Cano homer — and to make matters worse, it cost me $10. Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain what happened:

When Cano first made contact and sent the ball flying in my direction, I took a step back and paused for a split-second. I thought it was going to sail deep into the seats, but then I realized that it was going to fall short, so I quickly scooted down the steps. See the guy with his feet up (directly in front of the kid with the cotton candy)? He wasn’t there at the time, so I moved into his row and reached out with my glove for a waist-high catch. That’s right. Despite briefly misjudging the ball at first, I was able to recover and make it to the exact spot where it was going to land. I thought I was going to catch it FOR SURE. I mean, like I said, I was actually reaching out for it, and not even with full extension. I had it all the way. Take another look at the photo above. See the arrow pointing to the fan in the second row, toward the left side? He’s sitting just past the guy in the orange shirt, and he’s turning around to talk to someone behind him. Well, that fan came flying out of nowhere and lunged right in front of me at the last second and caught the ball on the fly ONE FOOT in front of my glove. I practically caught his glove with my glove. That’s how close I was to catching this ball. I was more stunned than pissed, but it still hurt. I mean, good for him. He was wearing a Cano jersey, and I learned later that he was only 15. He did everything right and made a helluva catch, and I congratulated him later, but as for me . . . I was really bummed that I’d misjudged the ball. You know how outfielders sometimes get fooled by big swings and take a step back before running in? That’s what happened to me. It’s a perfectly excusable thing to do, but I was still mad at myself for not reading the ball quicker off the bat. If I had, I would’ve been able to scoot all the way down into the empty camera well, where I would’ve been able to make an uncontested chest-high catch. As for the $10 . . . do you see the other fan with the arrow pointing at him? Well, right after I failed to catch the ball, I felt something under my left sneaker. It turned out to be his box of chicken tenders and fries. He was chill about it, and I was actually the one who said something first. I began by apologizing and then offered to buy him a new one — or to give him the money. He kind of shrugged and nodded, so I asked how much I owed him. He pulled out a receipt for $15, which thankfully included another item that I hadn’t trampled. The chicken and fries had cost $10.50 — a dollar CHEAPER than it is at Citi Field! — so I offered him ten bucks. I would’ve given him the full amount but (a) I didn’t have change and (b) I noticed that it was partially eaten. He accepted the money and never bothered to go spend it. The whole situation was a disaster for me, and the more I sat there and thought about it, the more upset I got. I even considered leaving. What were the chances, I thought, of another home run landing in the same spot in the same game? Not very good. It was crowded. I was tired and sweaty. I was hating myself, and I just wanted to escape. I wanted to go home and get naked and eat ice cream in my air-conditioned apartment with my girlfriend.

It’s a good thing I stuck around.

After sitting in right field for the first eight innings, I decided to run over to left field for the top of the 9th. That’s because the Jays, who were trailing, 6-4, had three right-handed hitters due to bat: Yorvit Torrealba, Moises Sierra, and most importantly Adeiny Hechavarria, who had a grand total of ZERO career home runs. Because I didn’t have a ticket in left field, I wasn’t able to enter the seating area, so I hung out in the tunnel and chatted with the security guard.

Torrealba worked the count full against Yankees closer Rafael Soriano, but then went down swinging. Sierra followed with a single up the middle, and Hechavarria popped out to Cano. That brought up Rajai Davis — another right-handed batter — who managed to keep the game alive with a grounder that snuck through the left side of the infield. Sierra went to 3rd base on the play, but so what? His run didn’t mean anything, and the game was probably gonna end anyway.

The next batter was Colby Rasmus, a power-hitting lefty. I remember thinking, “Crap, I should really be in right field,” but it was too late, so I just stood there and watched, not even sure what to root for at that point.

Rasmus took the first pitch for a ball and launched the next pitch into the second deck in right field — a 381-foot blast that I had no chance of catching — and just like that, the Blue Jays took a 7-6 lead. Edwin Encarnacion then ended the inning with a strikeout.

So . . . there was now going to be a bottom of the 9th. Derek Jeter was due to lead off, but I wasn’t really thinking about his at-bat. Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano were gonna be coming up after him. THOSE were the guys that I was looking forward to seeing, so I slowly made my way back to right field. First I said goodbye to the guard. Then I took a peek at my phone. Then I walked back through the concourse.

By the time I started heading into the corridor/tunnel that leads to the right field seats, Jeter was in the process of taking the first pitch for a called strike. This was my view just before the next pitch was about to be thrown:

The guard waved me down — you know, told me to “go ahead” despite the fact that the at-bat was in progress — but I declined.

“Thanks,” I said, “but I’ll wait here for one more pitch. I don’t want to block anyone’s view.”

Guess what happened on THAT pitch: Jeter connected on a fastball . . .

. . . and sent a deep, towering fly ball in my direction. I knew immediately that it was going to be a home run, and I also knew (simply because it was Jeter and because it was hit so high) that it was not going to land deep in the section. Therefore, there was only one direction to go: down the steps. Here I am near the back of the section . . .

. . . and here I am making my way down toward the front:

Sure enough, the ball barely cleared the wall, and as luck had it, it entered the seats RIGHT on the staircase — three feet to the left or right, and I wouldn’t have had a chance. Take a look at the following screen shot. It was so crowded at the wall that you can’t even see me . . .

. . . but I was there.

And I barely felt something hit my glove.

There were two other fans reaching for it with their gloves, including the guy who’d caught the Cano home run. All of our gloves bumped, and for a split-second I didn’t know whether or not I’d caught the ball. Well, somehow I *did* catch it!!! Somehow the ball found its way into MY glove, and the more I watched the highlight, the more astounded I was that it actually happened. The cameras, unfortunately, or at least the clip on MLB.com, didn’t show my celebration. They showed this instead . . .

. . . but then there were replays of the ball entering the crowd. The red arrow in the following screen shot is pointing at me:

See the three gloves reaching for the ball? The fan on the right (in the pinstriped jersey) is the kid who’d caught the Cano homer. He was wearing a black glove. The fan on the left (in the navy blue Yankees shirt) is reaching up with a reddish-brown glove. My glove is the light tan one at the top/back of the cluster. Here’s another screen shot that shows the ball streaking toward us:

Can you BELIEVE how crowded it was? And how it all came down to a couple of inches? It looks like the fan on the right had a clear shot at catching it . . . right? My glove appears to be positioned slightly behind his . . . and it seems that the ball barely cleared his glove by a couple inches before smacking into the pocket of mine.

Craziness.

The following screen shot shows the ball poking out of my glove right after I caught it:

Yeah, there was a little bit of snow-cone action, and I’m thankful/amazed that I was able to hang onto it.

Here’s one final screen shot that shows me holding up my glove:

Did you notice the backpack that’s draped over my right shoulder? I’m telling you, I was just chillin’ in the tunnel when this all unfolded, so that’s why I was wearing it.

Wow and a half.

When things settled down a bit, I took a photo of the ball . . .

. . . and tweeted about it. Soon after, I got a photo with the fan who’d caught the Cano homer. Here we are:

His name is Alex, and he was cool about everything. He wasn’t pissed at me for catching the ball, but really, he had no reason to be. He might’ve been pissed at himself for not jumping or reaching higher, just as I’d been pissed at myself for not judging the Cano homer quicker, but we’d both made clean plays. There was no shoving or fighting or anything. It’s just nuts to think that he would’ve caught both home runs if not for me, and I would’ve caught both if not for him, but ultimately we each went home happy.

My friend Matt Latimer (who works for MLB.com) came and found me in the 10th inning. Here we are with the ball:

I wanted the game to last 20 innings. Or 120 innings. I was so happy that I wanted to sit there forever and soak it in — but no, the Jays scratched out a run in the top of the 11th, and that was the end of it. Final score: Blue Jays 8, Yankees 7.

After the final out, several fans congratulated me for the catch, and two guys asked if they could pose with the ball. (One kid asked if he could HAVE the ball.) I took a photo of them with their camera and then took this shot with mine:

That’s when it occurred to me that I’d achieved my own mini-milestone with the catch; the Jeter home run was my 6,300th lifetime ball. More importantly, it was his 3,262nd career hit, which to me is much cooler than it being his 254th career home run.

I truly couldn’t stop holding and photographing the ball. Here it is on the No. 2 train:

It’s no secret that I’m not a Yankee fan, but Derek Jeter has always been one of my absolute/all-time favorite players. Whenever he’s at bat, I *am* at Yankee fan. I can’t root against him in any situation no matter what. Even when the Yankees were playing the Mets in the 2000 World Series, I still rooted for Jeter. I *love* him with every morsel of my baseball DNA — Is that a creepy thing to say? — so to finally catch a home run that he hit . . . there are no words.

Keep scrolling past the stats because I have some more photos (plus a humongous screen shot) that might be of interest . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 481 balls in 60 games this season = 8.02 balls per game.

• 852 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 203 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 19 lifetime game home run balls (plus an additional five that I don’t really count because they were thrown to me); click here to see the complete list.

• 6,300 total balls

• 1 unquantifiable dose of happiness

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.)

• 43 donors

• $2.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $25.96 raised at this game

• $1,135.16 raised this season

• $20,292.16 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Ready for a few more photos? Okay then. Of the eight balls that I kept, three have invisible ink on them. (Note that I didn’t say “invisible ink stamps.”) Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the Jeter home run ball in regular light versus black light:

Here’s a much better stamp on one of the BP balls . . .

. . . and here’s a pair of fingerprints on another:

Pretty neat, huh?

Finally, I thought it’d be fun to share the activity that took place on Twitter (including one message from a hater) after I caught the home run, so here’s a very long screen shot for your viewing pleasure:

Virtual fist-bump to David Bond for being the first to reply and thanks to (almost) all of you for the messages and follows and retweets. Knowing that so many people were thinking of me — and thinking happy thoughts — made the whole experience even better.

8/24/12 at Citi Field

When the stadium opened at 5:10pm, I headed straight for the 2nd deck in right field. I thought there’d be some action up there with left-handed batters like Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Mike Baxter, and Jordany Valdespin. Hell, maybe even Josh Thole or the switch-hitting Andres Torres would surprise me and crank one in my direction? Yeah, well, by the time I made it upstairs, I realized that most of the batters were right-handed. My strategy had completely backfired, but while I was there, I saw a ball land in the gap in right-center field. You can’t really see it in the following photo . . .

. . . so here’s a closer look:

Even though the glove trick is prohibited at Citi Field, I still considered going for it. If I got ejected, or if my glove got confiscated, so be it. I was frustrated beyond words at the lack of ballhawking opportunities, so I wanted to make something happen. Well, just as I was setting up the rubber band and Sharpie, I convinced Dave Racaniello, the team’s bullpen catcher, to throw me a ball. Wanna guess where it ended up? That’s right: in the gap. Wanna guess what Racaniello did? That’s right: he walked into the gap, tossed me one of the balls, and kept the other. Here’s a photo (taken by my friend Mateo) that shows me in the seats after I got the ball; Racaniello is walking away from me inside the gap:

That was the end of BP.

It was only 5:18pm.

There was absolutely nothing to do for the next 20 minutes except stand here in the shade and stare longingly at the field:

The Astros finally came out and started playing catch . . .

. . . but the only thing I got in foul territory was Justin Maxwell’s autograph on my ticket:

The action didn’t pick up until the second group of Astros hitters. I was in straight-away left field at that point, and I ended up catching three home runs on the fly. I had to jump for two of them because the balls carried several feet farther than I’d anticipated.

Take a look at the following photo:

See the two players in left field? Dallas Keuchel, the player on the left, threw me my 5th ball of the day, and as soon as I caught it, I handed it to the kid on the left (wearing the black and yellow cap). Several minutes earlier, I had given one of my home runs balls to the kid on the right (wearing the solid blue t-shirt).

Of the three balls that were still in my possession, two had different types of “practice” stamps. Check it out:

My 6th ball of the day was the most satisfying. The national anthem had been performed, the Mets were about to take the field, and I was heading up the steps toward the concourse, roughly 20 rows back on the 3rd base side. At the time, I was still wearing my Astros gear, so some random fan stopped me and asked how long it takes to get from the airport in Houston to the stadium. I could’ve simply told him that I didn’t know, or I could’ve made something up (“twenty-five minutes without traffic”), but instead, I decided to give him a semi-detailed explanation of why I was wearing Astros gear. Ten or twenty seconds later, I abruptly excused myself and bolted back down the steps. Why? Because Jordan Lyles, the Astros’ starting pitcher, was walking across the field from the bullpen (with his catcher and bullpen coach), and I noticed that he had a ball in his glove. I had to cut across two sections and then race down the remaining steps. Before I made it to the front row, Lyles approached the dugout and scanned the crowd for a worthy recipient. He spotted some fans down in front, and then he noticed me and lobbed the ball in my direction. I was roughly six rows back at the time, and the ball barely cleared the right hand of a gloveless man directly in front of me who jumped and reached for it. When I headed back up the steps, the guy who’d asked me about the airport was stunned. He’d seen the whole thing play out and said, “How did you DO that?!” I just shrugged and disappeared into the concourse.

Now, as I’d been mentioning all week, David Wright was STILL sitting on 199 career home runs, so I found my way into the left field seats and picked the spot that gave me the most room to run. When he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 1st inning, this was the view to my right . . .

. . . and this was the view to my left:

Obviously I wasn’t happy about sitting next to that railing, but man, let me tell you, if he’d hit that baseball anywhere near me, I would’ve run right THROUGH it.

I never got the chance.

In the bottom of the 4th, Wright sent a deep fly ball down the right field line — but not THAT deep. Distance to the right field wall: 330 feet. Estimated distance of Wright’s fly ball: 338 feet. It wasn’t just a “wall-scraper.” It was also a pole-scraper. The umps initially ruled it a home run, then reviewed it on instant replay . . . and the call stood. If that ball had traveled a few inches less, it would’ve hit the top of the wall, and if it had sailed an inch or two to the right, it would’ve gone foul. Check out the following chart (courtesy of ESPN Home Run Tracker) that shows the path and landing spot of the home run:

In the image above, the blue dot represents the spot where it entered the stands, and the green dot indicates how far it would’ve traveled if hadn’t hit anything at all.

Unbelievable. And as if to add to my frustration, when the ball bounced back onto the field, the clueless Astros’ right fielder tossed it BACK into the stands in foul territory. I would’ve torn my hair out if I had any, and to make matters even worse, there was a group of middle-aged men sitting directly behind me who recognized me and made fun of me for not catching it. I moved to foul territory after that and watched the rest of the game from a spot near the 3rd base dugout.

After the game, which the Mets lost, 3-1, I got a ball from home plate umpire Brian O’Nora. Five minutes later, I photographed that ball from the back of the section as the field was being set up for a merengue concert:

This was the last time that I was gonna see Mateo for a while. He was getting ready to leave for college in Minnesota, so I made sure to get a photo with him — along with another friend named Greg who was there too. Here we are in the Brooklyn Dodgers shrine:

Mateo, I’m going to miss you. Have fun, kick some ass at Target Field, and keep in touch.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game (five pictured here because I gave two away)

• 470 balls in 59 games this season = 7.97 balls per game.

• 851 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 376 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6,289 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.)

• 43 donors

• $2.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.52 raised at this game

• $1,109.20 raised this season

• $20,266.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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

I think my black light flashlight needs new batteries. Oh, and one more thing: in case you’re wondering, the Astros didn’t have ANY commemorative balls with them, and evidently they’ve stopped bringing them on the road. Greg spent half the game near the Astros’ bullpen in right-center field and talked about it with Javier Bracamonte.

8/23/12 at Citi Field

This was a Thursday afternoon game. The Mets and Rockies had played until 10:25pm the night before. I knew there wasn’t going to be batting practice, but I *had* to be here; David Wright was still sitting on 199 career home runs, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to catch No. 200.

When the stadium opened at 11:10am, I headed out to right field and saw something weird. As you can see below (if you expand the photo by clicking it), there were five baseballs sitting on the grass along the foul line:

Half an hour later, the Mets pitchers came out and used those balls to play catch, but I was gone by that point. That’s because Jhoulys Chacin started playing catch in right-center field:

In the photo above, did you notice the white speck on the lower left? There were two more balls sitting there.

Several minutes later, I was spotted/approached by a man named Carl, who had emailed me several times over the past season. This was the first time that we’d met in person, and he asked if I’d pose for a photo with his kids, William and John. I said yes, of course, and this was the result:

Unfortunately we didn’t get to chat long. That’s because Chacin moved to the bullpen, and I took off for the seats in right-center. This was my view:

How’s THAT for ugly?

My view of the catcher (given the fact that I couldn’t see him) was even worse:

Thankfully the atrocious design didn’t stop me from getting this ball . . .

. . . from pitching coach Bo McLaughlin.

I headed to the seats along the left field foul line and got a couple Rockies to autograph my ticket:

In the photo above, the player standing in front of me is Matt Reynolds. His signature is on the right side of the ticket, and Adam Ottavino’s is next to it.

A little while later, I moved closer to home plate when Alex White and Drew Pomeranz started playing catch:

White ended up throwing me a ball — but not THAT ball. Here’s how it all went down . . .

1) Before he played catch, I noticed that he was getting photographed near the dugout with a ball in his hand, so I ran over, and when he finished, I asked him for it. He said he needed it to play catch.

2) When he finished playing catch, he threw the ball to someone else. I then called out to him and played dumb and said something along the lines of, “Any chance for the ball now?”

3) He must’ve felt bad because he ended up going into the dugout, disappearing briefly from sight, and reemerging with a ball that he threw to me. Here’s a photo of him (still in the dugout) just after he threw it:

I took that photo from the spot where I caught it, and just to be clear, he threw it FROM the dugout. His aim was perfect, and I thanked him as best I could from 90 (or whatever) feet away. Curses to Citi Field for being built/run in a way that keeps fans away from the field. Wanna go behind the dugout? Sorry, you need a ticket. Wanna go next to the dugout? Sorry, there’s a humongous photographers’ area that’s off limits (and never full). Wanna hang out down the left field line and try to scoop up a ground ball during batting practice? Sorry, there’s a wheelchair row down in front, which is blocked anyway by the tarp. Wanna go to left field and get close to the players? Sorry, there’s a party deck where tickets cost anywhere from $100 to $200 apiece, and which are only sold to groups of 25 or more. Wanna go to right-center and take a peek at the warning track? Sorry, there’s a huge gap behind the outfield wall (where the glove trick isn’t allowed) because the stadium was designed so badly that the fences had to be brought in. Wanna spend some time directly behind the right field fence? Sorry, that’s another group-only area called the Modell’s Clubhouse, and it’s covered with netting. Wanna hang out down the right field line and try to get an autograph of your favorite Mets players? Sorry, there’s another wheelchair aisle down in front, and your favorite Mets won’t sign because they’re rude. Wanna go behind the 1st base dugout? Sorry, you need a ticket for that area, even when you’re there two hours before game time and the team is 3 million games under .500 and there are 14 fans in the entire stadium. Wanna wander behind home plate and watch the movement of the pitches? Sorry, that’s a club area, and you have to be rich to sit there, but we’d be delighted to sell you a ticket in the 500 level for $13. You’ll be so high up that you’ll need an oxygen tank, and you won’t be able to see the ball, but look at the bright side: you’ll be THAT much closer to God.

Approximately one hour before game time, Rafael Betancourt and Matt Belisle played catch in left field. Check out the following photo and note the red oval that I’ve added:

In case you can’t tell, there were three balls sitting on the grass in that spot, and when Betancourt and Belisle finished throwing, they tossed their ball toward the others. More on that in a bit.

I got two more autographs on my ticket:

The signature that overlaps the date belongs to Josh Roenicke; the other one (on the upper left) was scribbled by Will Harris.

Here’s some more weirdness for you — check out the groundskeepers’ wonky method of whitening the foul line:

Here’s a closer look:

Twenty minutes before game time, the four baseballs were still sitting on the grass near the left field foul line:

When the Rockies’ position players came out to run and stretch and throw, they brought balls with them from the dugout, so the ones that were already sitting in the outfield were unneeded.

Five minutes before game time, Jerry Weinstein, the team’s “catching coach,” walked briskly toward the balls and ended up tossing them all into the crowd. I caught the first one, which I promptly handed to a little girl who was standing near me. The other two were tossed to kids.

I’ve always said that pitchers’ duels are more entertaining on TV, and that slugfests are better in person. Therefore, you can imagine how I felt (especially sitting in left-center and hoping for some home runs to fly my way) when the final score ended up being 1-0.

The highlight of the game was eating an order of “frisky fries” from Shake Shack:

The lowlight was seeing THIS in the bottom of the 7th:

That’s a photo of Rex Brothers intentionally walking David Wright. I should specify that the Rockies were the team that scored The Run, so my attempt to catch a milestone was going to have to wait at least one more day.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game (two pictured here because I gave one away)

• 463 balls in 58 games this season = 7.98 balls per game.

• 850 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 375 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6,282 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.)

• 43 donors

• $2.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $7.08 raised at this game

• $1,092.68 raised this season

• $20,249.68 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/22/12 at Citi Field

For the first time this season, my mom joined me for a game. Here we are outside the Brooklyn Dodgers Rotunda:

The stadium wasn’t crowded during batting practice, but the emptiness didn’t help while the Mets were batting. During the one — that’s right, ONE — group of hitters that I got to see, a grand total of zero home runs reached the seats. I can no longer use words like “unbelievable” to complain about BP at Citi Field because . . . this is simply how it is. David Wright and Jason Bay take their cuts before the stadium opens, Scott Hairston occasionally hits one out, and the rest of the hitters are left-handed and/or worthless. Thankfully I managed to get Daniel Murphy’s attention, and when his wimpy-ass throw fell embarrassingly short, some other player that I didn’t recognize retrieved it and flipped it up to me. This was a significant ball . . .

. . . because it marked my 400th consecutive Mets home game at which I’ve snagged at least one ball — a streak that began in 1992 at Shea Stadium.

As you can see below, my mom was blown away by this incredible achievement:

Several minutes later, the same mystery Met threw another ball into the stands, this time to a teenage girl who tanked it and bobbled it near me. I grabbed the ball (just as some old guy was swooping in) and handed it to her.

The left field seats never got crowded . . .

. . . but there was no action until close to 6pm. Two days earlier, the first two groups of Rockies had hit at least a dozen homers into the seats, but now? Nothing.

Things eventually picked up, and I snagged four home run balls. The first landed in the third row in left-center; I sprinted one full section to my left and grabbed it. The second was a line drive that pretty much came right to me; I moved back three rows, took a couple steps to the side, and caught it on the fly. The third was a towering fly ball that landed 20 feet to my right; I drifted through my row, settled under it, jumped, and caught it back-handed above a gloveless man. I then gave that ball to the smallest kid with a glove. The fourth home run landed 20 feet to my left; I caught it thigh-high as it nicked the glove of a skinny teenager. I gave him the ball even though he fell into the “too old/too bad” category. I don’t know who hit any of these balls, but I remember catching the last two during the final group, when there were just two hitters: Jordan Pacheco and Andrew Brown. (Yes, I could read their uniform numbers from nearly 400 feet away — numbers 22 and 12, respectively.)

My mom and I got some food after BP — a turkey sandwich for her and chicken tenders with fries for me. After the national anthem, I made an unsuccessful attempt to get a pre-game warm-up ball along the left field foul line. Then we moved 20 (or so) rows back for the first pitch. My plan was to sit in straight-away left field, but because the first three Rockies batters were left handed, I decided to stay in foul territory for the top of the 1st inning. I mean, why not try to catch a foul ball when there’s absolutely no chance of catching a home run, right?

The Rockies went down in order and didn’t hit anything near me. That’s when I decided to head toward left field, but rather than heading directly up the steps to the concourse, we cut through the mostly-empty seats. No harm in that, right? Well, at one point, when I turned around to make sure that my mom was keeping up, I saw her GETTING TO HER FEET one full section behind me. What the hell?! I hurried toward her and discovered that she’d fallen down and twisted her ankle!

Now, just to give you a visual of how/where this happened, here’s a photo that I took the following day:

Take a look at the rows to the sides of my finger. See how the row on the left is perfectly flat and level? See how the row on the right has a useless, dangerous, ill-conceived “platform” that rises six inches up? My mom fell off that platform because she didn’t realize that there WAS a platform, and okay, fine, she should’ve been paying more attention to where she was walking. She’ll admit that herself, but why is there a goddamn platform there in the first place? Twenty minutes earlier, I had actually told her to be extra careful because “there are lots of weird steps and places where the concrete is hazardous.” I shouldn’t have to warn someone about that. This is supposed to be a baseball stadium where people go to have fun, but instead it’s like a prison where people can easily get hurt.

Yes, I bash the Mets a lot because they deserve it, but I also give them credit when it’s deserved, and this was one of those times. My mom could barely walk, so I found a security guard, who called Emergency Medical Services (EMS). The EMS people showed up several minutes later with a wheelchair, brought her to the first aid room, and took great care of her. Here she is (from the thighs down) being examined on a padded table:

She was in so much pain that we were advised to go to the hospital for X-rays. Rather than taking an ambulance (which would’ve cost more than $600), we took a cab to Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan. Big thanks to the Mets employee (I didn’t catch his name) who wheeled my mom out of the stadium (at some point in the 4th inning) and took us to the place (under the elevated tracks of the No. 7 train) where the cabs were waiting.

Half an hour later, this was the scene at the emergency room:

We got there at around 9pm and didn’t get out until close to midnight. The good news is that my mom didn’t break any bones. The bad news (and yes, I realize that this is insignificant compared to matters of health and wellness) is that I seem to have lost my Rawlings baseball glove. I can’t find it at my place, so I’m thinking I dropped it amidst the post-injury commotion at the stadium. I’ve checked the lost-n-found at Citi Field. It’s not there. I’m very very VERY upset about it — and for a number of other reasons — but most importantly, my mom is gonna be okay.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 460 balls in 57 games this season = 8.07 balls per game.

• 849 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 400 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 6,279 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.)

• 42 donors

• $2.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $13.56 raised at this game

• $1,039.60 raised this season

• $20,196.60 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Given everything that happened at this game, it feels funny to be sharing black light photos, but the show must go on! Two of the three balls that I kept have invisible ink stamps. Here’s one . . .

. . . and here’s the other:

While we’re on the topic of baseballs and black light, do you remember the double-stamped ball that I snagged last week? Well, I got an explanation from my friend at Rawlings.

I had emailed him about it and said, “My theory is that the ball didn’t pass inspection the first time, had to get sent back to the stitcher, and got a smaller/secondary stamp in the process.”

His response went as follows: “Yes that is why it would have two stamps. It probably meant a second person went and fixed it. I guess the first person couldn’t get it fixed.”

And there you have it.

8/20/12 at Citi Field

Rough day.

Thanks to a stupid mistake and some bad luck, I only managed to snag one baseball during the first 40 minutes of batting practice — a ground-rule double that was hit by . . . someone on the Mets. I was in left field. The batter was right-handed. He was wearing a jersey with the number “1″ on the back, and none of it made sense. Jordany Valdespin wears No. 1, but he’s left-handed, so who the hell was in the cage? More on that in a bit.

During the first two groups of Rockies batters, I moved all the over the place and didn’t snag a thing. Center field was dead . . .

. . . and the players in foul territory . . .

. . . completely ignored me.

Finally, at around 5:50pm, I got a ball thrown to me by a player that I couldn’t identify. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing at him:

I handed that ball to a girl, who’s tossing it in the photo above.

Then I caught two homers on the fly. (Don’t ask who hit them. I have no idea.) The first was a line drive that pretty much came right to me, and the second was a high fly ball that landed roughly 30 feet to my left.

A funny/annoying thing happened toward the end of BP. Some random fan who was in his 20s approached me and asked if I was “the foul ball guy.”

“Yeah,” I told him, “and I’m also the home run guy.”

“Cool, I’ve seen you on TV,” he said. He then sat down right next to me (with a friend) and proceeded to ask me at least 20 questions. How many games do you go to? What’s your favorite stadium? What’s your least favorite? Why don’t you like Citi Field? Have you ever caught a home run from a famous player? How many balls have you gotten? How many balls today? Can I have one for my fiancée?

“Absolutely not,” I responded to the last one. “You’re sitting down, drinking a beer, and asking ME for a ball? You’re not even putting in any effort! I give baseballs to people like THAT,” I said, pointing at the girl several rows in front of us. (She heard all of this and smiled.) “You’re a grown man,” I continued. “Get off your ass and try to catch one for yourself.” The guy knew I was right, and for a few minutes, he gave it a shot. He was actually pretty cool overall. I just didn’t like being asked for a ball, and I could’ve done without the impromptu interview. That said, I realize that he was asking questions because he cared, which, ultimately, is a compliment.

That was it for BP.

Forty minutes later, I borrowed someone’s silver Sharpie and got Jordan Pacheco to sign my ticket:

In the previous photo, did you notice the tiny red numbers above two players’ heads? Number 1 is Pacheco, and number 2 is Jonathan Herrera, who threw me this ball soon after:

As I’ve mentioned before, some teams mark the sweet spots on their BP balls to prevent their own players and employees from stealing them and getting them signed. Generic marker-streaks are lame; I much prefer balls that are stamped or marked uniquely, like this and this and this and this and this and . . . oh hell, you might as well click here to see my entire collection of marked balls.

After changing out of my Rockies costume, I ran into a kid named Kyle, whom I’d met before. Here I am with him and his friend Jason:

In the photo above, Kyle is on the right, and as you can see, these guys had snagged a bunch of baseballs. Very impressive.

I spent the first few innings here . . .

. . . and when I moved down several rows, I was appalled by the view. Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, this is stadium design at its worst:

What in the WORLD were the architects/owners thinking? (This was my very first time sitting in that section, so I’ve never had a reason to complain about it ’til now.) For starters, there’s no reason to have a concrete ledge separating the sections, nor is there a reason to have that huge mess of a railing on top of it. Oh, you don’t want people to fall or jump over? Well, here’s a suggestion: don’t create useless barriers (or useless rules, for that matter) because fans like to move around. You want to see sharp stadium design? Check out PNC and PETCO Park. Those places have countless nooks and crannies that actually work. This section at Citi Field is a total disaster. The whole stadium is terrible. It’s a schizophrenic/Mr. Potato Head hodgepodge of wannabe-interesting ideas that all fail miserably.

Halfway through the game, I moved to straight-away left field, where the highlight was catching up with my buddy Jacob Resnick. Here we are:

Jacob, for those who don’t know, won a contest last year through which he got to do the play-by-play for an inning during a Mets game. While he was in the booth, Jose Reyes happened to hit a home run, and Jacob’s call was so awesome that he got invited to try out for a job with the Mets’ cable network — SportsNet New York, aka “SNY.” Jacob ended up getting the job, and he’s been working for the Mets this year, interviewing players and hosting segments for a show called “Kids Clubhouse.” (I was filmed/interviewed for this show back in 2006. Here’s the segment on YouTube.)

Now, remember the ground-rule double that I’d snagged during BP? Jacob was near me at the time, so I half-jokingly asked him to use his connections to find out who the batter was. Well, guess what? He DID find out, and he emailed me about it the following day. Jacob identified the guy as “a recent international signer” named German Rosario, and sure enough, there’s now an article about it on the Mets’ website.

As for the game, the last-place Rockies beat the soon-to-be-last-place Mets by the score of 3-1. There was only one home run, and it went to right field, of course.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 454 balls in 56 games this season = 8.11 balls per game.

• 848 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 399 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 6,273 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.)

• 42 donors

• $2.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $11.30 raised at this game

• $1,026.04 raised this season

• $20,183.04 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/19/12 at Turner Field

I’ll admit that I wasn’t really looking forward to this game. I was exhausted. It was Sunday morning. I’d snagged 15 balls the night before (including five of these). I assumed there wasn’t gonna be batting practice, and I didn’t feel like begging all day for toss-ups. I didn’t have a specific goal, and it seemed that no matter what I could possibly accomplish, it would be a letdown. I actually considered skipping the game and sleeping late and doing nothing all day — I’m really good at doing nothing — but then I thought about my return flight to New York. I’d booked it for 8:35pm so that I *could* attend this game. So I went.

My day at the ballpark got off to a good start when I ran into my friend Katie outside the left-center field gate . . .

. . . and things got even better when I finally ran inside and got my first look at the field. Here’s what I saw:

The batting cage was set up!!

Here’s a closer look at the groundskeepers doing their thing:

There was an awful lot of time to kill, and I had to make a tough choice in deciding how to spend it . . .

Option No. 1: Get in line with Katie to get Phil Niekro’s autograph in the Fan Plaza. She’d told me that the Braves have a promotion called “Alumni Sundays” during which fans can get free autographs of former players. On this particular day, it was Niekro, but he wasn’t going to start signing until 11:30am — half an hour after the stadium opened. That’s a long time to stand around doing nothing. But Phil Niekro!

Option No. 2: Get some food, grab a seat in the shade, watch the groundskeepers set up the field, and be ready in case the Dodgers came out to hit or throw.

I went with the second option, in part because I was so hungry that my stomach hurt. (I ate a salted pretzel with a side of processed/artificial cheese sauce. It was wonderful and horrible.) Mainly, though, I didn’t want to miss any opportunities to get baseballs. While I sat and ate, I took photos like this . . .

. . . and this:

Batting practice WAS going to happen. It was just a matter of when — and which team.

At around 11:20am, several Dodgers started playing catch in left field. In the photo of them below, the red arrow is pointing at my friend Andrew:

Ten minutes later, when the entire stadium opened, Andrew stayed near the foul pole and I ran to the seats in foul territory. Just as I was entering the section (from the cross-aisle 20 rows back), Kenley Jansen randomly threw a ball into the empty seats. There were several fans closer to it, but for some reason, they didn’t bother going for it, so I was able to hurry over and grab it. Here’s a photo of the ball before I picked it up:

Andrew (pictured above next to the foul pole) flipped me off from afar.

Shawn Tolleson finished throwing soon after, or at least I thought he’d finished. When I asked him for ball, he said something like, “Hang on, I need to go use it in the bullpen.” I wasn’t sure if he was intending to give it me, so I followed him there. Here’s what I saw:

In the photo above, Tolleson is standing closest to me . . . at the bottom/left of the group of players. Ten minutes later, he finished throwing and started walking back toward the field. A woman called out to him and asked for the ball. He looked up at her and said, “Sorry, I already promised it to someone.”

“Hey, Shawn, I’m right here,” I said.

He then looked in my direction and gave me a nod and tossed it to me.

The woman was pissed. “Oh!” she yelled, “just because he’s wearing a DODGERS shirt?!”

Yup. Pretty much.

I knew I wasn’t going to get another ball in the same spot, so I moved here . . .

. . . and got one from bullpen coach Ken Howell when all the guys headed back toward the field.

The Braves eventually started taking BP. Three power-hitting lefties — Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, and Juan Francisco — were all in the first group, so I headed to right field. On the way, I saw Katie in line and got a glimpse of Phil Neikro:

One minute later, this was my view:

The section was dead — very few toss-ups, even fewer home runs, and no glove trick opportunities. All the action was in right-center.

The Braves only took two groups of BP, and I didn’t snag anything until I moved back to left field at the very end. As I was making way down into the seats, I saw a ball drop into the gap behind the outfield wall. Thankfully I was the only fan with a retrieval device — the regulars must’ve assumed there wasn’t gonna be BP — so I was able to take my time. First I photographed the ball:

Then I moved closer to it, used my glove trick to reel it in, and handed it to the smallest kid. That’s when BP finished. And that’s when I noticed two more balls in the gap in left-center. I snagged them both with my glove trick, gave one to a kid, and kept/photographed the other:

That was my 6th ball of the day.

After BP, I caught up with my friend Matt, who unfortunately had to witness an unpleasant situation for which I was responsible. Game time was still an hour away, so we decided to head for a seat in the shade . . . far from the field . . . under the overhang down the left field foul line. Quite simply, the female usher at the very top of the section denied us. I politely informed her that I had a seat behind the 3rd base dugout and asked if we could sit in the shade for a bit. She responded by saying it was time for us to go to our seats. She was so robotic in her response — she had such a profound lack of compassion and common sense — that it drove me into a mini-fury. I’ll spare you the details. And of course Matt and I were able to find a shady seat elsewhere.

Meanwhile, here’s what was taking place on the field between BP and the game:

At around 1:15pm, this was the scene in shallow left field:

As you can see, two Dodgers were playing catch, and none of the fans were making any effort to get the ball. The people wearing Dodgers gear were all waiting for autographs, so I had no trouble getting Matt Treanor (the player on the left in the photo above) to throw me the ball when he finished. I offered the ball to the only kid near me, but he didn’t want it.

I moved down a few rows and took a peek into the dugout:

Then I moved behind the dugout and got another ball — my 8th of the day — from Hanley Ramirez.

This was my view when the game started:

I stayed there for the first few innings, and in the middle of the 4th, I stood up and moved to the front row and planned to ask for the infield warm-up ball. I was semi-disctracted at the time because the “Kiss Cam” was happening. I mean, who doesn’t love the Kiss Cam? Who doesn’t enjoy making fun of all the dopey couples giving each other pathetic/G-rated pecks on the lips? Who doesn’t enjoy seeing people squirm and/or revel in the spotlight? Who doesn’t hope that the jumbotron will show a brother/sister or a father/daughter or two guys or two girls? Anyway, as the inning break came to a close, 1st baseman Juan Rivera threw the ball toward the dugout, Davey Lopes retrieved it from the warning track, and I asked for it. Lopes then disappeared from sight, and that’s when it occurred to me that the song “Mr. Lonely” by Bobby Vinton was playing. At some stadiums, the Kiss Cam will conclude with a shot of a (male) fan sitting alone, usually all the way up in a totally empty section in the upper deck. I was still eyeing the dugout, hoping that Lopes would reappear and give me the ball, but at the same time, I wanted to see who was getting mocked by the Kiss Cam, so I took a quick peek at the jumbotron. “Ha,” I thought, “they’re making fun of some Dodger fan,” and then I looked back at the dugout. Then I was like, “Ohmygod, that’s ME on the jumbotron!” The whole stadium was laughing, and just at that moment, the ball was rolled to me across the dugout roof from someone down below (presumably Lopes). I quickly grabbed it and held it up for the camera — but the shot BARELY got cut off before I had a chance to show it off. This wasn’t how I envisioned making it onto the Kiss Cam, but hey, I’ll take it. It WAS pretty damn funny. And if the Kiss Cam ever DOES show me with my girlfriend, all I can say (to her as well as the viewing audience) is watch out. I’m going to turn kissing into an Olympic event.

After I got the infield warm-up ball, I moved to the tunnels behind home plate. This was my view for all the right-handed batters . . .

. . . and unfortunately, the only time that the aisle was blocked happened to be the exact moment that I had a chance to catch a foul ball. (A 400-pound man, if you must know, was being moved from his seat to a wheelchair, so there was NO getting around him.) The ball was a high pop-up off the bat of Dan Uggla that landed RIGHT in the middle of the aisle, roughly 20 feet to my left. If it had been hit at ANY other moment during the game, I would’ve been able to drift underneath it and make a very easy catch. It was painful.

I’m happy to report that the day ended on a positive note. After the Dodgers recorded the final out of their 5-0 victory, I asked the manager for the lineup cards and got them! But it wasn’t Don Mattingly. Mattingly had recently been suspended for two games, so Trey Hillman (who’s normally the team’s “bench coach”) was running the show. In order to hand me the cards, he climbed up on the edge of the camera well and reached across the dugout roof. Here’s a photo of him that I managed to take at the last second . . .

. . . and here’s a 15-second video of the exchange that Matt filmed.

COOL!!!

You could say that I was excited:

Here’s a closer look at the cards:

(If you want an even closer look, click here, and if you want to see my entire collection of lineup cards, click here.)

Note Mattingly’s signature on the blue card (partially obscured by my thumb). I guess he was still officially “the manager” even though he wasn’t allowed to be in the dugout?

I had calmed down somewhat by the time I had my picture taken with Andrew:

Andrew, for the record, snagged three balls at this game, bringing his lifetime total to 19 — not too shabby for someone who’s barely/kinda getting into it and still doesn’t try THAT hard.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 9 balls at this game (seven pictured here because I gave two away)

• 449 balls in 55 games this season = 8.16 balls per game.

• 847 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 372 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6,268 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.)

• 42 donors

• $2.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $20.34 raised at this game

• $1,014.74 raised this season

• $20,171.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/18/12 at Turner Field

So . . . yeah, I went to Turner Field.

I usually announce my trips far in advance, but this time I just didn’t feel like it. There was a VERY special baseball to be snagged, and quite frankly, I didn’t want to have a ton of competition. Forgive me.

Let me explain by showing you a couple photos that I took before the gates opened. Here’s the first:

Do you see the security supervisor in the tan shirt? Check out the button that he was wearing:

Since 2007, Major League Baseball has had an annual Civil Rights Game. For the first two years, it was a pre-season affair that took place at AutoZone Park, and after that it became a regular-season event. (I never knew about it until this season; the Civil Rights Game, evidently, doesn’t receive national publicity.) In 2009 and 2010, it was played at Great American Ball Park, and last year the game moved to Turner Field. This season it was back in Atlanta . . . and I’d heard that a special/commemorative ball was going to be used . . . so that’s why I made the trip.

I was hoping that some of the special balls would find their way into the batting practice buckets, but no, this ball . . .

. . . and everything else that I snagged before the game had the standard MLB logo.

My 2nd ball of the day was thrown by Jack Wilson, and it had a really cool marking on it:

Okay, I lied. I did tell one person about my trip, but (a) he’s not a ballhawk and (b) I didn’t tell him until the day before. His name is Matt, and here he is with a brand-new Braves cap for me:

Matt is a regular at Turner Field and has become a good friend. You might recall that on September 26, 2011, he was the one who took the final photo of me for my 30-stadium collage.

Ten minutes after Matt found me, I saw a ball drop into the gap behind the right-center field wall. I was still in left field at the time and assumed that one of the other fans out there had a retrieval device, but hell, I felt like getting some free exercise, so I ran over and peeked into the gap. This is what I saw:

Sweet! The ball was still there. I used my glove trick to reel it in and was told by a nearby fan that it’d been thrown by Brian McCann.

When the Dodgers started hitting at around 5pm, I ran back to left field and caught an A.J. Ellis homer on the fly. Then I used the glove trick to pluck two more balls from the gap, the second of which I handed to the nearest/smallest/glove-wearing kid.

Toward the end of the Dodgers’ portion of BP (which ended half an hour early at 5:45pm), I ran back to right-center and snagged two more balls. The first was a home run that bounced off the padding atop the outfield wall and plopped into the gap. The second was a towering homer by James Loney that I caught on the fly in the 7th row. I was in the 6th row when the ball was hit, but because I’d been looking elsewhere, I didn’t see it until it was at the top of its arc. I quickly determined that (in addition to landing 20 feet to my right) it was going to sail a bit too far, so I climbed back over a row and reached high over my head for a back-handed grab.

Just before the Dodgers finished hitting, I made it down to the seats behind their dugout on the 3rd base side. This was the view:

D’awww!!

When BP ended, bullpen coach Ken Howell tossed me my 9th ball of the day, and I knew right away that I had a chance to get another. Look what was happening in foul territory:

In case you can’t tell, two coaches were transferring all the balls from the basket to an equipment bag. I ended up getting a ball from one of them, and I have no idea who he was. I think the back of his jersey said “MC CULLUM 89.” Look closely above the Red Sox cap two photos above and you’ll see him. Does anyone know who that is?

Twenty minutes later, this happened:

Good timing, huh?

It was pouring, but that didn’t stop the red-shirted fans (whoever they were) from walking slowly around the warning track. The forecast hadn’t called for rain. Few of them had umbrellas. I found it amusing.

Here’s a photo of Matt staying dry:

In the photo above, did you notice the guy in the Dodgers cap? That’s my friend Andrew. (Okay, so I told him about my trip to Atlanta too.)

When the game started, I decided to go all out and try to milk every possible opportunity for a ball. My plan was to go for foul balls in the tunnels and cross-aisle behind home plate . . . and also to play both dugouts for 3rd-out balls . . . and if all else failed, I figured I’d have a shot after the game with home plate umpire Mike Winters.

In the top of the 1st inning, a foul ball sailed 15 feet directly over my head and was caught bare-handed by a fan in the middle of a crowded section. All I wanted to do at that point was SEE the ball; if I was going to bust my ass for one all night, I needed some confirmation that it really WAS commemorative. I headed up the steps and planned to ask the guy if I could take a quick look at it, and as I said the words, “Excuse me,” he happened to move it around in his hands, and I got a glimpse of it. In place of the standard MLB logo, there appeared to be three words in big/bold/capital letters. I couldn’t read them, but assumed they said, “Civil Rights Game.”

Oh.
My.
Gawd.

I was DETERMINED to snag one of these balls. I simply had to. Not only wasn’t I sure if I’d ever have another chance, but I’d spent roughly $400 to be here for the sole purpose of getting one. The roundtrip flight cost about $280. The hotel cost about $80. The cab to the game cost $14. And so on. Quite simply, if I managed to snag one of these balls, I was going to be overjoyed, and if I didn’t, I was going to need therapy. (I might need therapy regardless, but that’s another discussion for another time.)

I didn’t get the 3rd-out ball at the Braves’ dugout after the top of the 1st inning, so I headed to the Dodgers’ side. Michael Bourn, the leadoff batter in the bottom of the 1st, drew a four-pitch walk. That brought Martin Prado to the plate, and that’s when I took the following photo:

Prado worked the count to 1-1. Then Aaron Harang made a pick-off throw to 1st base. And then Prado drilled an RBI-double into the left-center field gap. Moments later, when the action was done, the umpires called “time,” and the ball was rolled out of play toward the Dodgers’ dugout. By the time Juan Uribe climbed the dugout steps to retrieve it from the warning track, I was already standing in the front row (fully decked out in Dodgers gear) and asking him for it in Spanish. This was the result:

HELL YEAH!!!!!!!!!

I was truly thrilled at that moment. Mission accomplished. Goal fulfilled. Dreams realized. Okay, I’m getting carried away, but seriously, I was pretty much ecstatic.

During the top of the 2nd inning, I was back behind the Braves’ dugout when three Dodgers batters — Hanley Ramirez, James Loney, and Luis Cruz — hit back-to-back-to-back home runs off Ben Sheets. Here’s a photo of Cruz connecting on the final longball:

I went back to the Dodgers’ dugout in the bottom of the 2nd, and when Michael Bourn went down swinging to end the frame, I figured I had no chance to get the ball. I was sitting behind the outfield end of the dugout, but catcher A.J. Ellis was going to enter the home-plate end. Short story short: I got him to throw the ball to me from about 75 feet away. It was truly a thing of beauty.

Now, as you might expect, the people sitting around me weren’t exactly delighted by the fact that I’d gotten two baseballs in two consecutive innings, but they all ended up loving me. Why? Because I pulled a (batting practice) ball out of my backpack and handed it to the nearest kid. And I wasn’t done. I noticed another kid sitting nearby, so I grabbed another and hooked him up too.

I really wanted to take a photo of the “Civil Rights Game” ball that I’d just snagged, but I didn’t want to flaunt it, so I kinda hid it below the seats and photographed it like this:

Yes, I realize that my hand looks fat and awkward in the photo above, but anyway, fast-forward to the bottom of the 4th inning. I was back at the 3rd-base dugout and got ANOTHER game-used ball. This time it was a foul-grounder (I totally forgot who was hitting because I got caught up in the excitement of the moment) that was fielded by Dodgers 3rd baseman Luis Cruz. Cruz threw it into the dugout, and one of the coaches tossed it to me. (I think it was Trey Hillman, but it could’ve been Tim Wallach. Again, my mind went blank because of the excitement. At the time, I recognized the coach who gave it to me, but then . . . I don’t know, five seconds later, I completely forgot who it was. Very strange.) Here’s a secret photo of that ball:

In case you haven’t noticed, all three of my “Civil Rights Game” balls were somewhat flawed. The main part of the logos (where it says “official major league baseball”) was rubbed and scuffed, so yeah, I was still hoping to snag another.

In the top of the 6th inning, I found myself behind the Braves’ dugout yet again, but this time I knew I had no chance. Here’s why:

As you can see, there were kids standing at the bottom of the staircase, waiting for the 3rd out to be recorded, and no one was stopping them.

I gave up on both dugouts at that point and spent the last few innings going exclusively for foul balls. I had several close calls, and luck finally tipped my way. It was the top of the 7th inning. Luis Avilan was on the mound for the Braves. Luis Cruz was at the plate for the Dodgers. With no outs and a 1-2 count, Cruz sent a foul ball my way. It came back at the perfect angle, smacked off the facade of the press box up above, landed in the tunnel, and bounced over my head back toward the field. Thankfully, it didn’t bounce too high or far, and I was able to scramble after it and catch it. I then gave one of my BP balls to a nearby kid, and I’m glad to say that my friend Matt was there in the tunnel to witness the whole thing. Several minutes later, when the Dodgers were back out in the field, he took my picture with the ball:

It’s hard to tell in the photo above, but THAT logo was messed up too. Hmph.

Here’s a photo of the tunnel/aisle where I snagged it, along with the overhang up above. I’ve drawn a red arrow to show where the ball deflected off of it:

Phew/wow.

It was quite a night, and as the 9th inning rolled around, I had a chance to make it even better. I went down to the Dodgers’ dugout one final time . . .

. . . and when the game ended, I got a PERFECT ball from the umpire. Check it out:

Final score: Dodgers 6, Braves 2.

Oddly, there were nine total hits in the game — four by the Dodgers and five by the Braves — and ALL of them went for extra bases. All four of the Dodgers’ hits were home runs, while the Braves had three doubles, a triple, and a homer.

As for the “Civil Rights” portion of the day . . . I don’t know what to say. Hank Aaron was there, along with several other baseball dignitaries and three of the original members of Earth, Wind & Fire. There was a smattering of pre-game activity (largely consisting of videos being played on the jumbotron), but it wasn’t extravagant like the kind of stuff I’ve grown accustomed to seeing at All-Star Games and the World Series. There wasn’t a flag that covered the entire outfield. There wasn’t a military jet flyover. And you know what? That’s good. I tend to think that “less is more.” I just wish that more people knew about the Civil Rights Game because it obviously supports a great cause and has a positive message.

Before heading out of the stadium, I grabbed as many of the commemorative balls as I could hold in one hand — that would be four — and took a photo with the other:

Matt was standing nearby and offered to take a photo of me so that I could hold up all five. Here is it . . .

. . . and for the record, I had no idea that Andrew was lurking/pouting in the background until later. Andrew did snag one ball during the game, but it was a regular/practice ball that got tossed up from the Dodgers’ dugout.

Matt and I got a photo together . . .

. . . and then we all headed out. What an awesome day.

Here’s a pic of the 11 balls that I kept . . .

. . . and here are some stats:

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 440 balls in 54 games this season = 8.15 balls per game.

• 158 balls in 11 lifetime games at Turner Field = 14.36 balls per game.

• 846 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 371 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 202 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 50 different commemorative balls; click here to see them all

• 6,259 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.)

• 42 donors

• $2.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $33.90 raised at this game

• $994.40 raised this season

• $20,151.40 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Welcome to the end of the stats section, where all kinds of cool things happen. Of the 11 balls that I kept, three have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:

8/15/12 at Yankee Stadium

If I hadn’t bought tickets in advance, I would’ve skipped this game. The weather was brutal, but I’d made plans several days earlier to be here with a friend. No big deal, though, right? At the five games without batting practice that I’d attended this season, I’d snagged a total of 36 balls. That’s an average of more than seven per game, so you know, whatever . . . right?

WRONG!!!

This particular game at Yankee Stadium was a ballhawking nightmare. There wasn’t a single player in sight for the first 25 minutes after the gates opened, and even then, there wasn’t exactly a whole lot of action:

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a lone Ranger standing in the dugout. He didn’t stay there long, and for the next ten minutes, the stadium was dead.

Finally, at around 5:35pm, there was a sign of life . . .

. . . and I was truly concerned that my streak was going to end.

Why the hell was I in the second deck, you ask? Because there were LOTS of fans cramming into the first few rows down below, many of whom were young and/or female and/or wearing Rangers gear. Quite simply, I felt that I needed to distinguish myself from the masses, even if it meant doing something drastic like moving far from the action. What would you have done? Look how crowded it was by the time the players started throwing:

As each pair of players finished throwing, the first few balls got tossed to the fans down below, including one that went to my friend Mateo. (If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the upper half of Mateo’s body. He’s wearing a red cap and blue shirt, and he’s standing a dozen rows back on a staircase.

Just as I was questioning my decision to be in the 2nd deck, I sensed an opportunity and shouted like CRAZY at Roy Oswalt and got him to throw me a ball! I was in the fourth row when he chucked it, and while the ball was in mid-air, I had to scramble down to the second row to catch it. Here it is:

In the photo above, Oswalt is walking toward the tarp on the right, but anyway, as you can imagine, I was incredibly relieved. My consecutive games streak was saved! The last time that I’d attended a game and *didn’t* snag at least one ball was nearly 19 years ago — September 2, 1993, to be exact, at the old Yankee Stadium. (If I could go back in time and attend that game, I’d probably snag half a dozen balls; I had no clue back then and wasted countless opportunities.) Of course, I was still nervous because I still had another streak on the line, dating back to the 2007 All-Star Game: 369 consecutive games with at least *two* baseballs.

Two minutes after I got the ball from Oswalt, I got another player’s attention. I don’t know who it was. All I can tell you is that I got him to look up at me by jumping up and down and waving my arms after he finished throwing. He then acted like a traffic cop and used arm/hand signals to direct me to various spots in the stands. First he had me move one section to my right. Then up the steps until I was a dozen rows back and underneath the overhang. Then five seats to my right. It occurred to me that he might’ve been messing with me — that he’d seen me get the ball from Oswalt and that he had no intention of actually throwing me another. That wasn’t the case. He DID throw me the ball, but as I feared, it fell several rows short and bounced all the way down to one of the first few rows, where another fan ran over and grabbed it. I threw my arms up in disgust, prompting the player to throw his arms up too as a type of shrug, and that was the end of it.

This was the scene for the next hour:

It was pouring, and there was NO action on the field. My only option, therefore, was to camp out behind the 3rd base dugout and wait for a toss-up.

There was an awful lot of waiting. The game was delayed for an hour and 45 minutes at the start.

Finally, when the rain tapered off, the grounds crew came out to remove the tarp:

That’s when my friend showed up — my friend Jeremy, that is, who was with me when I caught Mike Nickeas’s 1st career home run on 4/21/11 at Citi Field. He and I got some food and schmoozed it up while the grounds crew watered the grass in shallow left field:

(There are drains in the field. The water was gone two minutes later, though the turf remained soggy.)

At around 8:35pm, the tarp was rolled up:

I was VERY much looking forward to pre-game throwing. Because there hadn’t been batting practice, I figured there’d be more players than usual getting their arms loose. Good logic, right? Yeah, not so much. Only TWO players bothered to play catch, and unfortunately, one of them was Mike Olt, the starting 1st basemen, who predictably kept the ball for infield warm-up purposes. Therefore, when the game started, I still only had one ball.

The Rangers went down in order in the top of the first inning — nothing newsworthy there — but listen to what happened next . . .

Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the first, worked the count to 2-1 against Scott Feldman, and then hit a chopper/come-backer to the left side of the mound. Feldman bounded after it, made a lunging/back-handed catch, and made an awkward, across-the-body throw with all of his momentum pulling him toward the 3rd base line. The ball in-between-hopped Olt at first base and took a tricky bounce off the wet turf, but he made a clean catch! The ball was then thrown around the horn, and when 3rd baseman Adrian Beltre ended up with it near the mound, home plate umpire Vic Carapaza was already walking out with a new ball in his right hand. Feldman was still near the 3rd base line at that point, so Carapaza had to wait for a moment. That’s when two things happened simultaneously:

1) Beltre turned toward the dugout.
2) I jumped out of my seat and started waving my arms.

Beltre spotted me right away and lobbed the ball in my direction from more than 100 feet away. As the ball descended toward me, it nearly clipped the steel cable that holds up the protective screen, but thankfully it reached me unobstructed, and I extended my glove above everyone else’s hands for the catch. Here’s the ball — note how far away Beltre is:

That was my final ball of the night.

As for the game itself . . .

Josh Hamilton hit two home runs (and collected his 100th and 101st RBIs of the season), the second of which traveled 447 feet and landed halfway up the bleachers in straight-away right field. When Hamilton was in the field, some of the bleacher creatures were shouting stuff at him like, “Ready to be a Yankee next year?!” while others were taunting him about his drug and alcohol additions. That’s exactly how Yankee fans treat A-Rod; half of them love him, and half of them hate him — but for all the wrong reasons.

Hamilton’s homers accounted for all of the Rangers’ offense, and it wasn’t quite enough. Final score: Yankees 3, Rangers 2.

Meanwhile, Jeremy and I were so busy talking to each other and watching the game that we neglected to get a photo together at the stadium . . . so here’s one of us in the subway on the way back to Manhattan:

Jeremy is from Seattle, so he was wearing an old-school Mariners hat in honor of Felix Hernandez, who had pitched a perfect game earlier in the day. I was wearing a “National Scrabble Championship” t-shirt (from San Diego; the event took place there in 2002) in honor of Nigel Richards, who, earlier in the day, became the first four-time national champion.

The End.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 425 balls in 53 games this season = 8.02 balls per game.

• 845 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 370 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6,244 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.)

• 42 donors

• $2.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $4.52 raised at this game

• $960.50 raised this season

• $20,117.50 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/14/12 at Yankee Stadium

For a change, I headed up to the second deck in right field at the start of BP:

The good news is that I snagged two baseballs there, both of which were home runs by Ichiro that landed in the seats. (I gave one of those balls to the kid pictured above in the “JETER” shirt.) The bad news is that I should’ve had half a dozen. Let’s just say that luck wasn’t on my side.

My 3rd ball of the day was a ground-rule double, hit by a right-handed batter on the Rangers, that I caught on the lower level in left field. Then I scooted through a row and carefully maneuvered around a seated women for my 4th ball — a home run that I caught on the fly.

My 5th ball was a homer that landed in the tunnel at the back of the section. Some 20-something-year-old guy with no glove had used his arms and elbows to block me as I hurried back for it. He had no idea where it was going; he just didn’t want me to get past him as I made my way up the stairs, so I shouted “DON’T BLOCK ME!!!” and he quickly stepped aside. I then blew past him, and when the ball landed in the tunnel, I was all over it. As I returned to the seats with it moments later, I saw him turn to his friend and say, “He’s good.” I gave that ball to a kid, and I gave away my next one as well — a line-drive homer that I somehow caught on the fly in the middle of a thick cluster of fans.

I spent the next 10 minutes in straight-away right field and watched helplessly as home run balls landed all around me. It was so crowded out there that I couldn’t move more than five feet in any direction. Eventually, though, a left-handed batter (not sure who) hit one right to me, and I caught it on the fly. That was my 7th ball of the day. Ten seconds later, a father approached me with his little boy and asked, “Could he just take a quick look at it?”

I handed the ball to the kid and said, “You know what? You can keep it.”

“Are you serious?!” asked the father.

“Yeah, no problem,” I said. “I’ve already caught a few today.”

“Can I give you twenty bucks for it or buy you a beer?”

“Nah, no need,” I told him, “but I’ll tell you what . . . ” Then I reached into my backpack and pulled out one of my contact cards. “Here, take this,” I said. “That’s a good deal, right? A baseball in exchange for a website hit?”

“Absolutely,” he said. “You just made his day.”

I didn’t want to put the kid (or the father) on the spot by asking to take their picture, so I waited until they turned away from me. This was the scene:

In the photo above, the father is wearing olive-green cargo shorts and bending down with his hands on his knees. His son is barely visible just past him, and if you look closely, you can see the ball in the kid’s glove, just below the father’s right ear. The photo above also (kinda) shows how crowded it was.

Soon after I gave that ball away, I heard a voice say my name from above. It was a guy named Pat Duffy, whom I’d met outside the stadium earlier that day. He and I had recently been tweeting back and forth a bit, and if you’re in the mood for an R-rated laugh, check out his Twitter handle. Cool guy. Here he is with his girlfriend and the ball that they’d snagged:

After getting kicked out of the right field seats for committing the horrible crime of not having a ticket for that section, I headed back to left field for the final group of BP. That’s where I snagged my 8th ball of the day — a rather long toss from Alexi Ogando. Here he is shortly after hooking me up:

He wasn’t THAT far away when he threw it to me, but whatever. The real story behind that ball is that my friend Ben Weil was the one who called out for it. Ben was in the last row at the time. I was in the . . . 5th row? I don’t remember my exact location, but anyway, Ogando lobbed it in Ben’s direction, but it happened to fall short and come right to me. (Sorry, Benny! Not.)

When the Rangers jogged off the field at the end of BP, they left a ball sitting on the warning track near me. Lots of fans were shouting for it when the groundskeepers passed by, and when it was tossed up, I caught it and handed it to the lady on my left. That was my 9th ball of the day.

Here’s a group photo that was taken after BP:

In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at Ben Weil, Greg Barasch, Matt Latimer (a baseball reporter whom you might remember from 6/19/12 at Yankee Stadium), me, Mateo Fischer, and Mark McConville. The reason why I’m standing there with my arms dangling dumbly at my sides is that I was completely sweaty and didn’t want to contaminate my friends.

During the game, Ben and I sat together in straight-away left field, and at one point in the early innings, this was the view:

See the woman wearing green at the bottom of the stairs? She and a bunch of other fans were dressed as superheroes.

In the middle of the 3rd inning, I noticed that Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda had a no-hitter. Here’s a photo of the scoreboard:

Three innings later, the no-no was still intact:

Just before the Rangers came to bat in the top of the 7th inning, I posted the following tweet:

I didn’t want to jinx the no-hitter by mentioning it, so let me ask: I didn’t say anything wrong, did I? Yes, it was a suggestive tweet, but I figured it was harmless.

Well, wouldn’t you know it . . .

On the VERY FIRST pitch of the 7th inning, Elvis Andrus hit an infield single, at which point I posted a follow-up tweet:

Kuroda ultimately had to settle for a two-hit shutout. Final score: Yankees 3, Rangers 0.

After the final out, I got my 10th and final ball near the bullpen from Rangers bullpen coach Andy Hawkins. Then I took a photo of the superheroes. Look closely and you’ll see that three of the ladies were posing for me:

Here are logos of the five balls that I kept . . .

. . . and here are the sweet spots:

The ball in the middle without the “practice” stamp is the one that I got from Hawkins.

Ready for a few more photos of balls? Good.

Two of the balls have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of one in regular light versus black light . . .

. . . and here’s a comparison of the other:

Did you notice the double invisible ink stamp on the ball above? I wonder why that happened. Show of hands — who wants me to ask my friend at Rawlings to explain it?

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game (five pictured above because I gave five away)

• 423 balls in 52 games this season = 8.13 balls per game.

• 844 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 578 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 180 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 6,242 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.)

• 42 donors

• $2.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $22.60 raised at this game

• $955.98 raised this season

• $20,112.98 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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