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

16 Comments

Nice haul for a day where ya didnt almost show up!:)

I really enjoy your blog. The female usher in left field is notoriously known for being a power hungry jerk. (or very good at what she has been told to do if you want to look at it that way) I somehow snuck past her and sat in the shade in a game earlier this summer. I witnessed her make at least 15 other people leave the section. There was only myself and about 10 others in the entire section. Again…I really enjoy reading your blog.

I say you should have kissed the ball; given it wouldn’t have gotten cut off.
-Mateo
http://mateofischer.mlblogs.com

4 tickets, 4 hot dogs, 4 ‘soft drinks’ (booo…how bout beers, darn it?!?), a parking pass, game program and a $10 Chevron promo card…all for $69!?!? THAT’S a GREAT deal!

Zack, That was awesome HIllman hooked you up. Nice class act. I find it interesting that Mattingly signed the lineup card as well, since he was suspended. Aren’t you glad you decided to go to the game?!

Nice entry Zack. I’m curious how you were able to determine the first grouping of Braves batters to take BP, and still make it to the bleachers before they started hitting. It seems you were pretty far away at the time. Just superb vision, or is there another trick here? Also, I’ve noticed that you have a pretty good hold on the “single eyebrow arch”, which seems to be the one over-riding prerequisite for a career in Hollywood (watch for it). Just saying, should you ever decide to retire from ballhawking.

I asked Bob Melvin for the line up cards after the A’s game yesterday, but he popped out and told me that he was going to recycle them so there was no point in my having them… Anyway…. I almost got kicked out of the Coliseum because the usher in my section behind the A’s dugout got mad at me when I tried to get 3rd out and infield warm-up balls. He would yell “LET THE KIDS HAVE A CHANCE!” I plan on buying new glasses that make me look like I am 6. Oh, and some guy asked me how many balls I have this year. When I told him that I had 9 Minor League and 16 Major League balls, on the year, he told me that some day I will trade the balls for a girlfriend. I told him that I have a girlfriend that loves all of my balls very much and he shut up for the rest of the night.

Best Kiss Cam moment I’ve seen was at Camden Yards when one of the camaramen caught two Angels players sitting next to each other in the dugout watching the jumbotron…they were the last couple to be shown, haha.

BLUE JAYS FAN 75-
Seriously. And to think . . . I almost skipped the Sunday afternoon game last year when I ended up catching a home run by some guy named Trout.

DAVID-
You know which one I’m talking about? She was all the way under the overhang at the top of the steps, like, if you walk 20 rows up from the cross-aisle. This was in foul territory, probably a bit closer to home plate than where the left fielder would normally play.

MATEO-
Good one.

BRIAN-
Ha, I didn’t even notice that ’til you pointed it out.

RYAN S.-
Very very very glad.

KSLO69-
I was in left field when the Braves started hitting. As soon as I saw all those guys come up, I bolted to right field. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

NICK BADDERS-
That’s an awesome response, but still . . . be careful. It sounds like you’re having lots of run-ins with people. The same thing happened to me when I first started doing this. Eventually I learned to tone things down and share some baseballs, and it has made a huge difference.

BEN-
I’ve seen that done a few times at various stadiums. Fun stuff.

You got cut off on the Kiss Cam because it took you an entire 5 seconds to realize what was happening lol. Glad you were able to link to the Tout video. It’s a cool service I think you could use during BP.
I’ve seen Katie around the stadium before, so it’s cool y’all know each other.
P.S. Don’t throw anymore hats…

I gave away 2 balls at this game, and I am trying to give away more balls, I gave away my first ball in late July. And believe it or not, the guy who I had been talking to subscribed to my blog, and after I followed him on Twitter, he sent me a DM and apologized for what he said told me that I need to teach him how to snag balls. I then referred him to your website and blog. And regarding my encounters down the RF line, I talked to the security guard who had witnessed it all, and he told me that he wants more fans like me at A’s games. He told me other that the Chris Perez incident, his life would be boring without me.

I would have picked option 2 as well.
– Chris
http://ballhawker.wordpress.com/

I know it doesn’t really count as I am ball hawking at minor league games but I am gunning for your record next year. I just snagged my 1,000th of the season last night and with the season winding down I am not going to break you 2011 record but next year I will!!

Al- do you have an account at MyGameBalls.com Minors? If not, you should make one and enter your balls. The guy with the most balls has like 380 or something like that.

Just noticed how crazy tired I look in that picture! Ugh.

MATT H-
No more hat throwing. Okay. I promise. (I was well-behaved during the final series of the season, right?)

NICK BADDERS-
Very cool. You’re going to become the mayor of the Coliseum if you keep doing so many nice things for so many people.

CHRIS-
Word.

AL-
Go for it! You can set the minor league record (in case you don’t have it already).

KATIE-
Ha, it does look like you’re collapsing on me.

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