October 2012

Time to donate

Now that the 2012 World Series is over, it’s time to send your donations to Pitch In For Baseball. I ended up snagging 640 balls in 80 games, so the math is pretty simple. Click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how much you owe — and get ready to win some prizes. As I mentioned in this blog entry before the season started, I’m going to be giving away a bunch of baseball-related collectibles:

1) a ticket and envelope from the Opening Series in Japan
2) a bat signed by Edgardo Alfonzo
3) a game home run ball hit/signed by Edgardo Alfonzo
4) a Dom DiMaggio Bobblehead doll
5) another Dom DiMaggio Bobblehead doll (yes, there are two)
6) a Hall of Fame postcard signed by Billy Herman
7) a Bernie Williams CD (Wow!!)
8) a signed copy of The Baseball (which I will personalize, if you want)

Make sure that Pitch In For Baseball receives your money before December 1st. That’s when I’m going to conduct the drawing, and remember that the more you donate, the more chances you’ll have to win something. (For every penny that you donate per ball that I snagged this season, your name will be thrown into the hat, so in other words, if you donate $6.40 to the charity, your name will be in there once. If you donate $32 — the equivalent of five cents per ball — your name will be there five times, so you’ll be five times more likely to be chosen. The first person whose name is drawn will have the first choice of which prize to receive. That person will then be ineligible to win anything else, so there will be eight different winners. The second person whose name is chosen will get to choose one of the remaining seven prizes, and so on.)

There are two ways  to pay:

OPTION ONE:

Mail a check, payable to Pitch In For Baseball, to the following address:

Pitch In For Baseball
c/o Zack Hample
1541 Gehman Road
Harleysville, Pa 19438

FYI: The reason for writing “c/o Zack Hample” is to inform the folks at Pitch In For Baseball that you’re one of my donors. This will help them keep track of the all the money I’m raising for them.

OPTION TWO:

Pay with your credit card by following these steps:

1) Visiting my fundraising page.
2) Scroll to the bottom.
3) Look for the red banner that says “Make a contribution.”
4) Click the “Other” option at the bottom of the box.
5) Type in the amount of your donation.
6) Click the “Continue” button down below and following the remaining steps.

Thanks so much! I love being able to use my collection to raise money (and awareness) for this charity, and obviously I couldn’t do it without your help.

World Series discussion thread

Earlier this week, I predicted that the Tigers would win the World Series in six games. Now that the Giants have a 2-0 lead, it’s clear that I know nothing about baseball.

What are your thoughts about the Series? Are you going to attend any of the remaining games, or will you be watching at home on TV? Best/worst commercials? Funniest McCarver-isms? What do you think about the fan who got arrested for trespassing after snagging (not “catching”) Pablo Sandoval’s 3rd home run ball in Game 1? Should Doug Fister have gone for a CAT Scan? Have you seen this hilarious YouTube video of the woman who knows nothing about baseball providing commentary on the highlights from Game 2? Are you going to claim your free taco on October 30th? (I’ve never eaten Taco Bell, and I’m not about to start.) Anyone applying for the 2013 Fan Cave? Anything else on your mind?

I’m sure we’re all gonna have lots more to say as the next few games take place, so feel free to post a comment and say it here.

Baseballs in advertising

While flipping through Yankees Magazine for my previous entry, I saw countless baseball-themed ads, two of which caught my eye because they feature actual baseballs. The first one is extremely clever . . .

. . . and the second one pisses me off. Take a look and see if you can figure out why:

Did you notice the MLB logo on the ball? It has been Photoshopped, and it’s facing the wrong way. See what I mean? It appears on the ball where the Rawlings logo is supposed to be. If the MLB logo were flipped 180 degrees, then it’d be in the right place — but of course the portion of the stamp with the commissioner’s signature is missing.

Still, it’s nice to see baseballs in advertising, and I have a few more examples to share. As you might know, I’ve been saving magazines since the 1990s and using them to decorate. Check out this photo of my college dorm room and this photo of my previous apartment to see what I mean. Earlier this year, I started decorating my new place, and in the process of combing through hundreds of old mags, I found this . . .

. . . and this:

I also found two souvenir-themed ads (with photos that were taken in Anaheim). The first one has several inaccuracies (starting with the fact that these cars would be about 700 feet from home plate) . . .

. . . and the second one is just plain awesome:

You know what else deserves a thumbs-up? This photo from a fashion magazine:

Show of hands: who wants to see photos of my new place when it’s done?

Also . . . World Series predictions, anyone? I’m rooting for the Giants, but I think the Tigers will win in six games.

Yankees Magazine — Fun with Photos

Do you remember the game I attended on 8/1/12 at Yankee Stadium? That was the day when Mark Reynolds hit a towering fly ball to the top of the wall in left field. If it had traveled an additional foot or two, I would’ve caught it, but instead, a man who goes by the name of Ichiro made a leaping catch and practically robbed me. Here’s a screen shot of the play to refresh your memory:

Does that look familiar? (That’s me in the yellow shirt, FYI.)

Why am I talking about this ten weeks later? Because I recently got a hold of the September 2012 issue of Yankees Magazine . . .

. . . and look what I found on page 22:

I’ve always loved these photo games, so to actually BE in one of them is awesome.

Now, I could’ve scanned/posted the answer key, but I thought it’d be more fun to let you find the answers on your own, and hey, let’s do it like this: post the answers in the comments — but only one per person, so in other words, the first person to comment should only mention one of the ten changes. The second person then has to name another. And so on. Naturally, it’ll get harder and harder, so take a good look and see what you can find, and don’t forget that you can click the photos to expand them.

2012 ALDS — Game 5

This was the scene outside Yankee Stadium at around 1:30pm — an hour and a half before the gates opened:

Thirty minutes later, there were a bunch of fans lined up behind me, and the media was out in full force:

I expected the stadium to be packed, but as you’ll soon discover, that wasn’t the case.

I snagged my first ball of the day as soon as I ran inside and reached the right field seats. Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey retrieved a couple of balls near the foul pole, and because I was the only fan in the stadium, he had no choice but to throw one to me. Here’s a photo that I took moments later. Harkey is standing on the left:

I snagged one more ball during the Yankees’ portion of BP — a home run by Eduardo Nunez that sailed over my head and landed in the last row. I should’ve caught it on the fly and certainly *could’ve* caught two others, but the sun was brutal, and wind was strong. Yeah. That’s my excuse.

When the Orioles came out and started throwing, I was shocked to see Luis Ayala’s monster glove. It wasn’t as big as mine, but it was still quite a sight. Here are a couple photos:

I’m sure it’s fun to play around with that glove — but seriously, Luis?! Before the decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series?! That doesn’t seem like the best time to clown around.

A little while later, I saw a fan attempting to use a retrieval device to snag a ball off the warning track in left-center field:

I’m not sure how his device worked, but I can tell you that it really sucked. He struggled with the ball for a solid minute, somehow didn’t get spotted by security, and eventually managed to reel it in. Not surprisingly, when he tried again several minutes later, he got shut down.

As for me, I got completely shut out during the Orioles’ portion of BP, and it didn’t make any sense. Remember when I snagged 14 balls at Yankee Stadium on the final day of the regular season? That’s how crowded the seats were at Game 5, which is to say . . . not terribly crowded by Yankee Stadium standards. There were lots of Orioles fans, so it was tough to get toss-ups, and the batters weren’t hitting many home runs. Even so, with slightly better luck and a tad more awareness sprinkled in, I could’ve ended up with five or six balls. Things just weren’t going my way, and I’ll admit it: I wasn’t on my game. It also didn’t help that the Orioles cut BP short and cleared the field at 4pm. That was more than an hour before game time, but I still blame myself.

This was my view for the first half of the game:

Not bad, huh?

Take another look at the photo above, more specifically the section behind the foul pole in the 2nd deck. It was practically empty! And now look at this:

The photo above shows my (partially zoomed-in) view to the left. There were huge patches of empty seats in all three levels, and sure enough the attendance for this game was later announced at 47,081. That’s 3,416 *below* the attendance two days earlier for Game 3. Was it the 5pm start-time on a weekday? I don’t get it, but I do know this: it doesn’t speak well for the stadium or the Yankees’ fan base. Do you remember when the Braves failed to sell out a bunch of playoff games and everyone made fun of the fans for being spoiled and apathetic?

On a personal level, the lame crowd was great. It meant that when a friend of mine (who wishes to remain anonymous) got me into the section behind the 3rd base dugout, there were actually a few empty end-seats for me to work with. As a result, when Russell Martin flew out to center field to end the 5th inning, I got Adam Jones to throw me this:

Niiiiiice.

After getting this ball (which Jones threw *right* to me as a knuckleball over all the fans in the Legends area down below), I gave one of my BP balls to a kid. For the record, this kid had been sitting 10 feet to my right, so it’s not like I’d robbed him. It just seemed like a nice thing to do. Then I left the section, waited in line for five minutes to use the bathroom, got a slice of pizza, and caught up with another friend in left field. I’ll show you a photo of him in a moment, but first, check out the view:

It was a do-or-die moment late in the game — so important and intense that even Pedro Strop (who was in the process of getting loose in the bullpen) had to watch:

As for my friend, his name is David, and he’s standing below the “m” in the following photo:

He had purchased the two corner seats at the back of the section next to the bullpen, and he was kind enough to let me hang out there with him for the final few innings.

As for the game . . . it was another pitchers’ duel. Both starters — CC Sabathia for the Yankees and Jason Hammel for the Orioles — were perfect through three innings. Sabathia surrendered his first hit in the 4th, and Hammel finally allowed a hit in the 5th. That was the beginning of the end. The Yankees scored one run that inning, then tacked on another in the 6th and another in the 7th. That’s all they needed. The Orioles managed to score a run in the 8th and load the bases with one out, but Sabathia shut them down after that. He surprised the crowd by coming back out for the 9th inning, and when he got Matt Wieters to end the game with a weak come-backer, this was the result:

As you can see above, the Yankees relievers raced across the field from the bullpen, and as you can see below, the Orioles had to make the march of death:

Poor Orioles. I really really *really* wanted them to win. For the first time in more than a decade, they were actually good enough to beat the Yankees. They just fell a bit short.

Having been to both teams’ stadiums for a playoff game within the span of one week, it was obvious which fan base wanted it more. I always like to quantify things, so it’d be nice to say something like, “Camden Yards was 10 times louder and more intense,” but that would be an insult to Camden Yards. There was truly no comparison. It felt like Orioles fans were going to erupt in the biggest celebration of all time, whereas Yankee fans were merely preparing to call into the Michael Kay Show and complain (for the zillionth time) about A-Rod. A-Fraud. A-Roid. Gay-Rod. Earn your Pay-Rod. Not Today-Rod. Go Away-Rod. It’s so tiresome. It doesn’t matter that the Yankees wasted $29 million on him this year, or that they’re gonna have to waste $28 million on him next year, $25 million in 2014, $21 million in 2015, $20 million in 2016, and $20 million more in 2017. Why? Because they’re the Yankees. They spend money. That’s what they do. Yankee fans were thrilled when Joe Girardi benched A-Rod for Game 5, but guess what? Eric Chavez, his replacement at 3rd base, went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, and no one said a word about it. If the Yankees had lost this game, fans would be calling for Girardi to be fired, saying that A-Rod needs to be in the lineup everyday because HE’S A-ROD. (Play-Rod!) New York is a funny baseball town. The Mets are embarrassingly inept, and their fans suffer for obvious reasons; the Yankees are embarrassingly successful, and their fans suffer because anything less than perfection is unacceptable. New York is a tough place in general — too many people, too much attitude, and too many expectations. I’m finally feeling it myself and often fantasize about leaving.

But for now . . . the show goes on.

I lingered in the left field seats for a while. CC Sabathia was shown on the jumbotron . . .

. . . followed by the celebration in the clubhouse:

Two things about the photo above:

1) Is it just me, or does Joba Chamberlain look like he weighs 350 pounds. He is a *large* man and, in my opinion, does not appear to be healthy.

2) Did you notice the huge wrap on Joba’s right elbow? You may recall that he was struck there the day before by a flying/broken bat — interesting to see how his arm is being treated.

Several minutes later, I saw something interesting in the bullpen:

See the guy crouching? Given the fact that he was carrying a roll of stickers, I knew right away what he was doing. He was an authenticator, and he was marking/authenticating the pitching rubber . . . but why? (“This marks the spot where Pedro Strop stood and wished that his team could hit.”) Here’s a closer look at the rubber after the guy took off:

I once got a baseball authenticated — the final Mets home run at Shea Stadium, hit by Carlos Beltran on September 28, 2008 — so if you’re curious to get an even closer look at a similar sticker, click here.

I lingered beside the bullpen until a police officer told me to leave. As a result, I didn’t have a chance to look for tickets, so I was quite pleased to find one in the subway 10 minutes later:

I have to say, though, that that is one fugly ticket. What’s with the plaid background pattern and the generic hitter? I mean, even putting an image of Clay Rapada on there would’ve been an improvement.

When I got home, I turned on Game 5 of the NLDS between the Nationals and Cardinals — we all know how THAT turned out — and photographed the two baseballs that I’d kept:

The Ichiro foul ball that I’d gotten at Game 2 in Baltimore had a messed up logo. (I know, I know, poor me, right?) I’m talking about the part that says, “OFFICIAL BALL 2012 POSTSEASON.” It was so worn (as you can see in this photo) that I could barely read it, so it’s nice to have another that looks better. Of course, the “postseason” logo on this new ball is a bit scuffed, but hey, that’s just how things go.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 640 balls in 80 games this season = 8 balls per game.

• 872 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 21 consecutive postseason games with at least one ball

• 108 lifetime postseason balls

• 6,459 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.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $8.16 raised at this game

• $1,740.80 raised this season

• $20,897.80 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

2012 ALDS — Game 2

Camden Yards is so awesome that it hurts. Literally. It’s such an incredible stadium that I actually get a sinking feeling in my gut when I think about all the games there that I miss. If I tried to list all the great things about it, it’d take me an hour, so for now, I’ll just explain the one great thing about Camden Yards that took place long before Game 2 of the American League Division Series got underway. You’re familiar with the huge warehouse in deep right field, yes? And you’re aware that there’s a wide walkway — an open-air concourse, of sorts — that runs alongside it, right? Well, that walkway is called Eutaw Street, and if you arrive early enough on a game day, you’ll find that it’s open to the public. You can’t go into the seating areas of the stadium or even into the Flag Court, but there’s quite a bit of room to wander, including this spot in deep left-center:

The photo above was taken at around 3:30pm, and just to be clear, I didn’t have to do anything to be there — didn’t need to show my ticket for the game or anything. I just walked in with my friend Andrew Gonsalves (pictured above in the Dodgers cap), and that was it.

Based on that photo, you’re probably thinking that it was a sunny day. Let me assure you: it was not. Not only did it rain a bit during our drive down from New York City, but the forecast in Baltimore called for a 65 percent chance of precipitation in the late afternoon. As a result, I truly believed that my streak (870 consecutive games with at least one ball) was in jeopardy. Here I was at (a) a sold-out playoff game against (b) the Yankees at which (c) there likely wasn’t going be batting practice. Despite buying tickets in advance (from my friend Jere), I considered skipping the game and staying home and watching it on TV . . . but then I thought, “That’s stupid. I’m going. If my streak ends, then it ends.” I mean, what good is a statistic if you don’t challenge yourself to achieve it? Anyone can manipulate numbers. Stats should reflect life; life shouldn’t be lived for the sake of having good stats. Of course, I was still nervous, and when I saw that the batting cage wasn’t set up, that doubled my anxiety. Then I noticed that the tarp’s cover had been removed:

In other words, the grounds crew was ready to roll out the tarp. But wait! Moments later, I saw the cover being put ON the tarp. (Would a tarp cover be a “tarp tarp“?) That was a great sign. It meant that the grounds crew didn’t expect to need to use the tarp . . . but damn. BP was still hours away — plenty of time for things to go wrong.

Ten minutes later, a player started throwing in left field:

It took me a moment to realize that it was Derek Lowe. Then I watched him move back. And back. And back. Eventually his throwing partner wasn’t able to reach him. The solution? The throwing partner became a hitting partner; he hit long fungos to Lowe, who fielded them and fired them back. When he finished, I tried to get him to throw me the ball. All I got, unfortunately, was a wave, but several minutes later, when this guy wandered over near the bullpen . . .

. . . I got him to throw one to me! At the time, I wasn’t sure who he was — Jorge Posada’s cousin? — but now I’m certain that it was bullpen catcher Roman Rodriguez. Anyway, as you can imagine, I was rather excited:

As I tweeted soon after, the stadium hadn’t even officially opened, and I was already on the board. It was a HUGE relief.

After that, Andrew and I had lots of time to kill, so we got sandwiches (at Jimmy John’s, if you must know) and ate them outside the gates. Then we stood around. Very exciting stuff. Here’s Andrew:

Not only was this his first time at Camden Yards, but it was the first postseason game he’d ever attended for any sport. Rain or no rain, BP or no BP, Andrew was just glad to be here.

The following photo doesn’t even begin to show the enormity of the crowd . . .

. . . so take my word for it. It was packed.

It was strange to see all those barricades. Camden Yards is normally the most laid-back stadium. I’m not complaining, though. This was the 20th postseason game that I’d ever been to, so I knew what I was in for. Mainly, I was loving the fact that the Orioles were IN the postseason. They’d been so bad for such a long time that when I finally ran inside and saw the ALDS logo on the jumbotron . . .

. . . I was filled with pride and joy on behalf of Baltimore. They’d finally made it.

The left field seats got crowded fast . . .

. . . and I got completely shut out during the Orioles’ portion of BP. When the Yankees started hitting, I moved to the Flag Court, but it was insane out there. Again, the following photo doesn’t capture it . . .

. . . so let me just say that there were half a dozen other guys with gloves, all within 10 or 20 feet of me. Every time a ball merely flew in our general direction, there was a stampede. I expected dozens of balls to be hit onto the Flag Court, but there were very few. Most of them cleared the wall by 5 or 10 feet and got swallowed by the throng of fans at the front. I only had one good chance out there, and I misjudged it. I knew right away that it was an extra-long homer, but I made the mistake of drifting to the back gate. As it turned out, I should’ve drifted through the opening in the gate and out into Eutaw Street because that’s where the ball landed. It sailed completely over the Flag Court and bounced off the warehouse and landed on a slanted awning, and I still nearly chased it down. I was sprinting to get underneath it before it trickled off, but there was a 6-foot-6 guy already standing there. He was holding a plate of Boog’s BBQ in his left hand and reached up for the ball with his right. I had no chance.

I gave up on that area and moved to the seats in right-center. Look how crowded it was in left field at that point . . .

. . . and did you notice the guards standing on the warning track? So much for using the glove trick.

Here’s what the crowd looked like on my left:

It was absolutely packed, and there wasn’t much action in the seats. This was one of the toughest BP experiences of my life, and I wondered if I’d find a way to snag another ball.

Toward the end of BP, Derek Lowe wandered into the Yankees’ bullpen. I don’t know why he went there, but after a minute, he headed back out and stopped to pick up a ball below the “Utz” advertisement:

I shouted my head off and managed to get his attention, and to my surprise, he chucked me the ball from that spot. As you can see in the photo above, it was quite a distance, and his throw was right on the money. That was huge for me because it extended another streak: 396 consecutive games with at least two baseballs.

I headed back to left field during the final group of BP, but it was so crowded there . . .

. . . that I didn’t bother staying. Instead I headed to the 3rd base dugout. This was my view:

Soon after I got there, I recognized a guy on the warning track with whom I’d worked at minorleaguebaseball.com. His name is Dan Friedell, and when I called out to him, the first thing he asked was how many balls I’d gotten. I was ashamed to reveal my total, and when I did, he pretty much said what I expected. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something along the lines of, “That’s it?! I’m disappointed. For you, that’s like getting shut out.”

One minute later, I realized that I was standing next to a kid that I’d met several times before. Remember Emory? That’s who it was. I’m so bad with names/faces, and it took me a moment to recognize him.

Just before BP ended, I noticed that Andruw Jones had a ball in his back pocket. When he started walking toward the dugout, I called out to him and asked for it, and he hooked me up.

Something strange happened after BP — something that I’d never seen before. There was a 40-minute rain delay, and the tarp was never used. It drizzled enough for the grounds crew to cover the mound and home plate area with mini-tarps, but evidently it wasn’t raining hard enough to prevent several other groundskeepers from watering the infield dirt. I’m not making this up. Check out the following photo:

Of course, it WAS raining hard enough to chase thousands of fans into the concourse. I made the mistake of trying to get food around that time, and it was ridiculously crowded. Look how packed this tunnel was:

Shortly before game time, I wandered down to the Yankees’ dugout to try to get Alex Rodriguez’s warm-up ball . . .

. . . but he didn’t end up near me, and he tossed it to a little kid.

I lingered behind the dugout for a few more minutes and LOVED the size and intensity of the crowd:

I knew it was going to be tough to snag anything during the game, but I didn’t really care. This was playoff baseball! This was what I’d signed up for.

Early in the game, I got a peek at a foul ball that was snagged by a nearby fan. It had a special/commemorative “postseason” logo on it, and quite simply, I *had* to get one for myself. I decided to abandon my quest for home runs and go for foul balls instead — that is, for the first five outs of each inning. Then I finished each inning by making an attempt to get a 3rd-out ball at the Yankees’ dugout.

This was my view for right-handed batters:

This was my view behind the dugout . . .

. . . and this was my view for lefties:

The crowd was into the game with a spectacular level of intensity like nothing I’ve experienced at the new Yankee Stadium. Playoff baseball in the Bronx, quite simply, is business as usual. For Yankee fans, it seems that there’s no joy in winning; there’s only outrage in losing. But here at Camden Yards, the crowd was going crazy in a truly blissful way. It was great to be a part of it.

From a ballhawking perspective, time was running out. Getting a 3rd-out ball proved to be impossible. Inning after inning, Robinson Cano got all the 3rd-out balls thrown to him as the Yankees jogged off the field. He’s the designated 3rd-out-ball-tosser, and he tossed them to everyone BUT me — little kids in the very front row and fans decked out in Yankee gear 30 feet behind me. Meanwhile, things just weren’t going my way with foul balls. There were two VERY close calls, but I just didn’t get lucky deflections.

The luckiest thing that happened during the first half of the game was getting this:

Andrew and I had standing-room-only tickets, so we stayed on our feet all night and floated from tunnel to tunnel. At one point, some random guy walked up to us and offered us his tickets. He said he was leaving because his wife was bored, or something like that, so we were like, “Hell yeah! Your wife is awesome!” I took the previous photo from our new seats. Andrew sat there for the rest of the game; I kept wandering all over the place in pursuit of a foul ball, and in the top of the 7th, I finally got my chance. It happened with no outs and Wei-Yin Chen on the mound. Ichiro Suzuki was at bat and sliced a ball back in my general vicinity. It was clearly going to fall short of the cross-aisle, and it was heading roughly 20 feet to my left, so I took off, weaving in and out of several people along the way. The ball skimmed off the hands of the fans 10 feet in front of me and deflected back toward the aisle. As I closed in on it, it landed IN the aisle and bounced against the back wall. That’s when I got there. The ball skipped up toward me at chest level, and I did my best to smother it against my body as other fans swarmed me. For a split-second, I had the ball pinned between my right wrist and my fingertips and my stomach. Another man reached for it and partially got his hand on it and tried to snatch it away from me — but it was pinned against MY body — no way in hell I was going to let this opportunity slip away. While continuing to press the ball against myself, I managed to get a better grip on it by sliding my arm to the right. This caused the ball to roll from my wrist into the palm of my hand. I was squeezing it SO hard, and the guy was still grabbing it. I couldn’t believe that he was trying to steal it from me, and a mini-tug of war ensued. I started screaming, “MINE!! MINE!! MINE!! MINE!! MINE!!” and twisted quickly and violently back and forth to shake him. That did the trick, and he finally lost his grip, and the ball was indeed MINE. The whole thing probably lasted just a couple seconds, but it was the most intense ball-related struggle of my life, and let me tell you . . . I was PUMPED. This may sound strange but I was much more excited about this ball than most of the home runs that I’ve caught this year. The Derek Jeter homer on 8/27/12 at Yankee Stadium was obviously a great moment, but even that didn’t energize me to this extent. Here’s why — just take a look at the ball:

It’s not the fanciest or most distinctive logo, but I still love it. I don’t know what’s gotten into my head over the last few years, but commemorative balls are now turning me into a whole new level of crazy. I think it’s because of all the opportunities that I missed during the first decade that I did this. Even as recently as 2004, I had no idea what I was doing. The Phillies opened Citizens Bank Park that season and used commemorative balls during all 81 of their home games — and it didn’t even occur to me go there and try to catch one. What was I thinking?! Same deal with game home run balls. I’d easily have more than 100 by now (including some huge milestones) if I’d just put in the effort, so now it’s payback time. And by the way, the extra-special thing about this “postseason” ball is that it’s the first time since 1999 that there has been a commemorative ball in the playoffs. I’m not talking about the World Series; there’ve been commemorative balls used in the Fall Classic since 1978. I’m talking about the League Division Series and the League Championship Series. I happened to get lucky and snag a couple of those balls in 1999 — see here and here — but there’s been a dry spell ever since. Big thumbs-up to the folks at the commissioner’s office for reversing it and designing these new balls.

Here’s something funny for you: as soon as I snagged the Ichiro foul ball, an old/female usher told me to leave. She was like, “Okay, you got your ball. Now go stand somewhere else.” She wasn’t really picking on ME because she’d been doing a half-assed job all night of shooing people away, and in addition to that, there’s kind of an understanding between me and the ushers behind home plate. They don’t *really* let people stand in the tunnels, but I can usually get away with it for a couple of batters here and there. I just need to keep moving, and that works out just fine because there are inning breaks and pitching changes, and of course I constantly reposition myself for righties and lefties, so I’m never in one spot for more than a couple minutes. Anyway, when she told me to leave, I was like, “Why? What’s the problem?”

“You’re always here!” she complained, gesturing toward the tunnel.

“Are you kidding me?” I replied. “This is only my second game at this stadium all season, and I wasn’t even HERE last time.”

That was true. I had spent the entire other game in straight-away left field. I hadn’t even stood in her precious tunnel the year before; whenever lefties were at bat, I was in the Flag Court. Same with the 2010 season. This woman was remembering me from years ago — and conveniently forgetting all the balls that I’d given to kids in her section. So I took off. I mean, whatever. There were only a couple innings remaining, and I *had* indeed gotten the ball that I wanted. That’s why the previous photo was taken on the first base side of home plate; I had returned to the seats that Andrew and I had been given.

If you take another look at the photo of the ball, you’ll see that it’s a bit too light. I tried over and over to get a good shot, but it just wasn’t happening, so Andrew made an attempt his camera phone:

Too dark.

It was a good problem to have, and eventually I tweeted a photo of the ball. As a result of that tweet, I got a reply from my friend Tom in Kansas City. He correctly assumed that it had occurred during Ichiro’s at-bat in the 7th inning, so he took/sent a screen shot of Ichiro’s lone foul ball from that at-bat. Here it is:

Tom nailed it. That’s THE ball being fouled off.

In the 8th inning, I headed out to the Flag Court for a few batters. I neglected to take a photo out there, but I did get a shot along the way, and as you can see, it was rather crowded:

You might be getting tired of hearing this, but I don’t care so I’m going to say it again: it was bizarre/awesome to see Camden Yards overflowing with fans. Obviously I’ve enjoyed being there when the attendance has hovered around 10,000 per game, but this playoff experience was a different kind of special. I was SO happy for the Orioles and for the city of Baltimore. I really feel like they needed this.

They also needed to win this game. If they lost, they’d end up heading to Yankee Stadium trailing 0-2 in the series — not good.

Did you notice the score in the screen shot of Ichiro? The Orioles were winning, 3-2, and that’s where things stood when the Yankees came to bat in the top of the 9th inning. Jim Johnson, the Orioles’ closer (who led the major leagues with 51 saves during the regular season), got Derek Jeter to ground out on the first pitch. Ichiro then grounded out, and when Alex Rodriguez stepped up to the plate, I found myself here:

The crowd was going nuts:

It was such a beautiful moment — and A-Rod made it even better by striking out.

I tried unsuccessfully to get a ball from home plate umpire Angel Hernandez. (He only gave baseballs to little kids.) Then Andrew and I had our picture taken together on the way out . . .

. . . and we found some tickets in the seats. Here are the ones that I collected:

Look how crowded it was on Eutaw Street:

The game didn’t end until 11:58pm, and we didn’t make it back to the garage until 12:30am. Then we got held up there for a while, in part because there was an all-out brawl between some Orioles and Yankees fans. These guys were pummeling each other and flopping/wrestling on the ground between cars. It was terrible and fantastic all at once. Andrew and I were in our car at the time, watching and then filming through the windshield. I wish I’d grabbed my camera sooner because it would’ve been a smashing success on YouTube. We hit the road at 12:46am. I was home at 4am and in bed an hour later.

What.
A.
Day.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 637 balls in 79 games this season = 8.06 balls per game.

• 871 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 20 consecutive postseason games with at least one ball

• 176 lifetime game balls (not counting toss-ups); 153 foul balls, 22 home runs, and 1 ground-rule double

• 52 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection

• 6,456 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.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $10.88 raised at this game

• $1,732.64 raised this season

• $20,889.64 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Now that you’ve made it this far, I have one more photo for you — a side-by-side comparison of the four baseballs in regular light versus black light:

That glow-ball on the upper left is pretty weird, huh? I have no idea how it ended up looking like that.

The end.

10/3/12 at Yankee Stadium

As soon as I entered the stadium and ran to the right field seats, I got Phil Hughes to throw me a ball. Five seconds later, Hughes saw me catch a Brett Gardner ground-rule double — I told him I’d give it to a kid — and ten seconds after that, he saw me bolt one section to my left and lunge over the wall and catch a home run ball that had bounced down from the second deck and landed on the warning track and skipped back up to me because of the backspin. (Phew!) Hughes was stunned, and hell, so was I. I’d just snagged three baseballs in less than half a minute, and I nearly got another soon after. Check out the following photo:

Do you see the little white speck below the guard? That’s a home run ball that had landed deep in the bleachers and trickled down to the front. The guard couldn’t find it, so I pointed it out, hoping that she’d hook me up because there weren’t ANY other fans in sight . . . but no. Some other guard who was stationed at the top of the bleachers started yelling at her not to give it to me because I’d just gotten three balls, so she held onto it and gave it to the first fan to enter her section, who happened to be a middle-aged man with no glove. Hmph.

Several minutes later, I hastily photographed the three balls:

Then I headed to left field and gave one to a kid.

Things were dead out there, at least until the Red Sox started warming up:

Andrew Bailey tossed me my 4th ball of the day in the front row. Then I moved to the back of the section and caught a Cody Ross homer on the fly. I gave that ball to the nearest kid, and then I caught three more homers on the fly. (No idea who hit them.) I tossed two of those balls to some kids in the front row of the bleachers — and I was only getting started.

Here’s a photo (taken by my friend Andrew Bingham) that shows me jumping for and catching another homer:

In case you can’t tell, I’m the guy wearing tan pants, and by the way, the fan in the red shirt is a friend and fellow ballhawk named Mark McConville. Part of me felt bad for him because he was right behind me for most of the home runs that I caught. The other part had no sympathy because he’d chosen to be there. I mean, he could’ve been anywhere else in the entire stadium, and I even suggested (on more than one occasion) that he move to the next staircase. His response was simple: “It’s too crowded over there.” He was right. It WAS too crowded. We were clearly in the best spot. I just happened to end up in the slightly better spot.

Now, just so YOU don’t feel too bad for Mark, I should mention that at the start of the day, when we were in right field, he caught two homers in front of me. I should also mention that he finished the day with five balls, including one that he wouldn’t have gotten without me. In Mark’s defense/praise, he was *very* respectful of me and my space. Whenever I was camped underneath a ball, he didn’t shove me or try to jump over me — not that I would’ve done that to him, but still, I just want it to be known that he’s a good dude.

Here’s another photo (taken by Andrew) that shows me tracking another home run:

Did you notice the white thing in my right hand? Those were my notes, which I’d been frantically scribbling on the back of my rosters. Take a look at them and then I’ll explain a few things underneath:

1) I wore my Homer Simpson shirt during the Yankees’ portion of BP; I’d gotten Hughes to throw me the ball by yelling, “How ’bout a ball for Homer?!”

2) “GR 2B” means “ground-rule double.”

3) When I cross out a ball, it means I gave THAT ball away. In addition to the three cross-outs, I also noted two other balls that I gave away. After my 3rd and 12th balls of the day, I wrote “gave one” in order to remind myself when it happened.

4) I was indeed standing in the camera well when Bailey hooked me up.

5) Nearly half of the Red Sox’s baseballs had the Camden Yards 20th anniversary commemorative logo, so whenever I caught one, I wrote “Camden” — that is, if I remembered or had time.

6) My 9th ball of the day was a home run that landed in the seats, so that’s why I wrote “seats.” I didn’t catch it on the fly. If you count all the balls that do have the word “fly” written next to them (or quotation marks under the word “fly,” as is the case with my 7th and 8th balls), you’ll see that I legitimately *caught* eight home runs. Including the ball that had bounced down from the 2nd deck and the one that I grabbed in the seats, I snagged 10 home runs. Including the Brett Gardner double, I snagged 11 batted balls.

7) After my 9th ball of the day, I mis-numbered my lifetime total. (For Ball No. 10, I should’ve written “6448″ but wrote “6446″ instead.) Everything got messed up after that, and I corrected it later with a different pen. To be clear, though, I knew exactly how many balls I had, and my lifetime total is accurate; I just had a little brain-fart along the way.

Here’s a photo that I took toward the end of BP:

As you can see, it was kinda crowded, but not THAT crowded. I had a little bit of room to run, but hardly needed it. Most of the homers landed within five feet of where I was standing. It was incredible and almost unbelievable. I’d never had so many balls come right to me like that. For the record, no one was pissed at me for catching so many because I kept giving them away to little kids.

Looking back at my notes, I see that I wrote the word “Camden” three times, but in fact I snagged four of those balls:

I made sure not to give any of the commemorative balls away.

This was my view during the game:

It was the final day of the regular season, and two different divisions had not yet been decided. At least that’s what I thought when I looked at the scoreboard:

See the top score below the arrow? The A’s and Rangers began the day tied for first place. This was the first time that I saw the final score, and I was very happy about the outcome. I tend to root for underdogs. And I’m also sick of the Rangers. And, you know, George Bush.

Meanwhile, do you see the score at the bottom of the column? The Rays were beating the Orioles, 1-0, in the top of the 2nd inning — a huge game because the Yankees began the day with a one-game lead over the Orioles. In other words, if the Orioles were to beat the Rays AND the Yankees were to lose to the Red Sox, then there’d be a bonus/163rd game the following day in Baltimore to determine the division winner.

So much for that.

With one out in the bottom of the 7th, there was an announcement that the Orioles had lost in Tampa. This was the reaction at Yankee Stadium:

Several minutes later, I took the following photo when Robinson Cano was at bat:

The man is incredible. As you can see above, he was 4-for-4 with two homers, six RBIs, and three runs, and to cap it off, he walked in his final plate appearance.

In the top of the 9th inning, I headed to the bleachers above the Red Sox’s bullpen. Look what was lurking behind the left-center field wall:

It didn’t take long for Yankees ace Freddie Garcia to strike out the side, prompting his teammates to rush in from the bullpen:

The Red Sox relievers slowly made the trek across the field, leaving this guy to deal with the ball bag:

Click the photo above for a closer look. See the balls on the ground in the corner of the bullpen? There were half a dozen, and that guy left them all there.

Meanwhile, this was taking place just in front of me:

There were NINE balls in the bullpen, and when it became clear that they weren’t gonna get tossed up into the bleachers, I took off and headed toward the 100 Level seats. On the way, I ran into my friend Leon Feingold, who was there with a girlfriend named Blanca. I told them that we all had a chance to get baseballs, but we had to move fast. This was the result:

(Leon is 6-foot-6.)

The groundskeeper tossed all the balls into the crowd, and look who else got one:

That’s Mark McConville. He was about to leave when I arrived with Leon and Blanca; from where he’d been standing, he couldn’t see any of the balls in the bullpen, so I told him to stick around. (By the way, the reason why he’s holding four baseballs is that he gave one to a kid during BP.)

Here are the eight balls that I took home:

Why eight and not nine? Because I gave one of my Camden Yards commemorative balls to a security guard who’d been especially nice to me all season.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 14 balls at this game (eight pictured above because I gave six away)

• 633 balls in 78 games this season = 8.12 balls per game.

• 870 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 395 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 210 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 6,452 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.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $38.08 raised at this game

• $1,721.76 raised this season

• $20,878.76 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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

Finally, since people are asking about my post-season plans, I’m going to attend Game 2 of the ALDS tomorrow (Monday the 8th) in Baltimore, and I might make it to another game or two after that. Stay tuned . . .

10/1/12 at Yankee Stadium

Luck was not on my side.

During the first group of batting practice, I managed to catch a Jayson Nix home run on the fly in left field, but things fell apart after that. Just to give you one example (and then I’ll shut up about it), I was hugging the line for Andrew Jones deep behind the foul pole, and the seats all around me were virtually empty. Jones smoked a deep/foul line drive, and I bolted to my right, only to watch in horror as the ball ricocheted up into the 2nd deck. So yeah. It was like that.

By the time the Red Sox started throwing, the left field seats had gotten crowded . . .

. . . so I headed into foul territory and got a ball thrown to me by this guy:

He was much closer to me when he threw it, and I have no idea who it was. He wasn’t dressed like a player, and he seemed too young to be a coach. Maybe a bullpen catcher?

Anyway, I moved back into fair territory and got three more toss-ups in a span of 45 minutes. The first came from Mark Melancon, the second came from Junichi Tazawa (after I asked him for the ball in Japanese), and the third came from Aaron Cook.

Then, just as BP was ending and the players were starting to jog off the field, someone randomly flipped a ball deep into the crowd, and whaddaya know? It happened to come right to me. This was my 6th ball of the day, and I later gave it to a security guard to give to a kid.

The best thing about BP was the variety of baseballs that I snagged from the Red Sox . . .

. . . and by the way, the gentleman who’s making a funny face in the background is my friend Ben Weil. The only reason why he attended this game was to snag one of those Fenway Park commemorative balls, and I’m happy to report that he succeeded.

Shortly before game time, I went here . . .

. . . to try to get a ball from Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey. He always tosses balls into the crowd after the starting pitcher finishes warming up — or perhaps I should say *almost* always. This was the first time all year that he didn’t toss any.

During the game, I sat in straight-away right field and enjoyed watching this obnoxious Red Sox fan . . .

. . . get into it with the Bleacher Creatures:

Security didn’t intervene until the Sox fan nearly interfered with a potential Russell Martin home run in the bottom of the 2nd. I thought it was hilarious (and of course the Bleacher Creatures were incensed) that of all the people sitting in the outfield, the one dude who was decked out in Red Sox gear and acting like a complete ass had a Yankee ball hit right to him. While the umps reviewed the play, several guards escorted the fan from his seat and stood with him on the stairs. They *so* wanted to eject him, but had to wait and see if they could get away with it. The umps eventually ruled that it WAS a home run — no fan interference on the play — so the guy was allowed to return to his seat. Silly guards. All they had to do was accuse him of selling the ball, and that would’ve been the end of it.

Meanwhile, Martin’s home run was the third that the Yankees had hit THAT INNING — and they weren’t done! Six batters later, Mark Teixeira went deep, and the Yankees put up a nine-spot:

Even when I’m sitting in the outfield and trying to catch home runs, I don’t like seeing so many being hit. It’s bad baseball.

This was my view in the top of the 8th inning:

In case you can’t tell what was happening, three Japanese women were crouching at the bottom of the stairs and excitedly photographing Ichiro Suzuki, who had just moved from left to right field.

In the bottom of the 8th, with the Yankees clinging to a 9-2 lead, Melky Mesa got his first major league at-bat . . .

. . . and ripped an RBI single up the middle. Melky Mesa. Pinch hitting for Alex Rodriguez. No comment.

Final score: Yankees a lot, Red Sox a little.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 619 balls in 77 games this season = 8.04 balls per game.

• 869 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 186 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 6,438 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.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.32 raised at this game

• $1,683.68 raised this season

• $20,840.68 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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

Do you see both stamps? The main one says “28″ followed by another digit that has been partially rubbed off. The bonus stamp is much smaller and fainter and appears on the upper right. What does it say — “007″? Is this a James Bond ball? Is this Eon Productions‘ subtle way of promoting “Skyfall“? I really like James Bond, but I really hate movie theaters, so I’ll wait for it to come out on VHS.

9/30/12 at Turner Field

Do you remember the crappy meal that I ate the previous day in the airport? You know, the one that left me feeling sick? Well, I was feeling even worse when I arrived at Turner Field for Chipper Jones’ final regular-season home game, but I managed to hold it together for this photo with my friend Katie:

As you can see, she was holding her copy of Watching Baseball Smarter, which I signed for her.

Given the fact that this was a Sunday afternoon game and the Braves and Mets had played the night before, I assumed there wasn’t going to be batting practice. And I was right. This was my view of the field when I first entered the stadium . . .

. . . and this was my view one minute later:

If you’re appalled by the photo above, just be glad that (a) I didn’t show you more or (b) you weren’t in the next stall.

By the time I made it out, two pairs of Mets pitchers were playing catch in shallow left field:

In the photo above, the player standing closest to the right field foul pole is Manny Acosta. (I realize he’s not close at all, but that’s an effective way of describing his placement on the field, no?) When he finished warming up, he chucked me the ball.

Then I made another trip to the bathroom — a different bathroom. No point in returning to the scene of the original crime.

Once again, when I made it out, there was more action on the field. Several Mets pitchers were warming up, and bullpen coach Ricky Bones was standing around with a ball in his back pocket. I waited until he happened to glance in my direction. Then I held up my glove and casually asked him for it.

He gave me a funny look and walked right toward me in foul territory.

“If I give you this ball,” he said, “what number is it gonna be?”

“Wait, what?” I stammered. “How do you know who I am?” Aside from the ball that he’d tossed me in 1993 at the old Yankee Stadium, I’d never had any interaction with him, so I really did want to know how he recognized me.

All he said, though, was this: “You think I’m a coach because I’m stupid?”

To be clear, he wasn’t being rude. On the contrary, he was quite friendly and seemed to be interested in talking to me, so I crouched down in order to be at eye level with him. Here’s a photo (taken by my friend Bryce) that shows us chatting. I’m wearing the orange shirt:

I told Bones about my baseball collection and about my charity fundraiser, and I made sure to mention that I frequently give baseballs to kids. (I also mentioned the helicopter stunt.) I was no longer trying to convince him to give me the ball that was still hiding in his back pocket; I just wanted him to know that I’m a decent guy and a diehard baseball fan.

After a minute, he pulled out the ball and repeated his original question: “What number is it gonna be?”

I told him he didn’t need to give it to me — that he’d already done enough by coming over to talk to me.

“What number?” he insisted, still being friendly.

“Six thousand four hundred and twenty-eight,” I confessed, and with that, he handed me the ball. Here I am with it . . . and with him:

Bones (whose name, FYI, is pronounced like the word “bonus”) wandered off for a minute, but then returned and asked me if there was anything on the internet about my fundraiser. I told him there was and offered to give him a card with my website on it. I expected him to say, “That’s okay, just tell me where to look it up,” but he gladly accepted it . . .

. . . and kept talking to me for another minute or two:

What a cool dude. I hope the Mets bring him back next year.

Just as Bones and I were finishing our conversation, I noticed that Justin Hampson and Collin McHugh were about to finish throwing. Hampson ended up with the ball, and I got him to toss it to me. No big deal, right? Well, before he walked off, I asked him if he wanted to play catch, and he responded by holding up his glove as a target. Here are a few photos that Bryce took, starting with a shot of Hampson:

Here I am catching his throw . . .

. . . and here I am tossing it back:

It would’ve been nice to play catch from more than 40 feet away, but the stands were fairly crowded, so it wouldn’t have been safe for me to move back much farther.

Hampson and I played catch for a minute or two. I was throwing knuckleballs, and he was throwing a type of pitch that I’d never seen before. In fact, when I saw the ball coming out of his hand each time, I couldn’t understand how it was even possible. It was moving like a knuckleball — that is, with very little rotation — but he was gripping it like a palmball. After the first one, my jaw literally dropped and I walked toward the front row and asked how the hell he did it. He showed me how he held the ball tightly with his thumb and index finger . . . but he was also gripping it with his entire palm/hand. Then, when he released it, he flicked all of his fingers. I didn’t think it would be this hard to explain, and I still don’t know how in the world he threw it. After we finished playing catch, I asked him where he’d learned that pitch. He told me that a catcher in the minor leagues had taught it to him. Hampson said he can’t use it in a game because he can’t throw it more than 50 miles per hour.

“You should teach it to R.A. Dickey,” I said, “so he can add a knuckle-change-up to his repertoire.”

“He seems to be doing just fine without it,” he replied.

Hampson had to get going after that, but before he took off, I got him to sign a ticket that I’d found the previous day. Then I got Robert Carson to sign it too. Check it out:

How’s that for a fun ten-minute chunk of time? First I talked to Ricky Bones. Then I played catch with Justin Hampson and discovered a new type of pitch. And then I got a couple autographs.

Even though the game was more than half an hour from starting, these fans were displaying their Chipper Jones sign(s):

They were starting to put it away when I ran over to take that photo, so in case you can’t read it, it says, “THANKS 4 THE MEMORIES #10.”

A little while later, several Mets took the field for some pre-game throwing:

In the photo above, do you see the guy wearing No. 28? That’s Daniel Murphy . . . and get this: when he finished throwing, he got *my* attention in order to hook me up with the ball. How did that happen? It was pretty simple, really. I was looking elsewhere and shouting at Lucas Duda for a ball; when Murphy saw that I didn’t get it, he held up *his* ball and waved his arms. I noticed him out of the corner of my eye, and when I turned to face him, he threw it to me.

That was my 4th ball of the day.

Just before game time, I had a great view of Chipper taking the field by himself:

He waved to the crowd . . .

. . . and received a thunderous ovation.

Five minutes later, I got this:

No, wait, it might’ve only been three minutes later. It happened really fast. Ruben Tejada led off the game by taking a called strike from Kris Medlen and then grounding out on the next pitch. Daniel Murphy was the next batter, swung at the first pitch he saw, and slashed a foul ball off the protective screen in front of the Mets’ dugout. By the time the ball ricocheted to 3rd base coach Tim Teufel, I was standing in the front row and shouting for it. Third pitch of the game. Nice.

This was my view when Chipper led off the bottom of the 2nd . . .

. . . and here’s what it looked like behind me:

The crowd was going absolutely berserk. For most of the 50,635 fans in attendance, this was going to be the last game they’d ever see him play. Seeing the outpouring of love from everyone in the stadium gave me chills.

I lost count of the number of signs that people made for him, but here are a couple:

Quick grammar lesson: the sign on the left needs a comma after the word “you” because it’s addressing Chipper directly. The sign on the right has the comma, but ugh! Don’t get me started with ‘u’ versus “you.”

After the 2nd inning, I saw the funniest sign of the day on the jumbotron:

In case you can’t tell, that’s an elderly woman holding the sign. Everyone around me was cracking up.

Look closely at the jumbotron again. See the fan wearing the white Braves jersey? See the word “chemo” on the white sign that she’s holding? The sign says, “I SKIPPED CHEMO TO SEE CHIPPER,” and she ended up making headlines as a result.

Turner Field was rockin’. It felt like a playoff game without all the tension. It was a party. That’s really the best way to describe it.

Fast-forward to the bottom of the 5th inning. Two outs. Jenrry Mejia on the mound. Freddie Freeman at the plate. Ground ball to Ruben Tejada. Long throw to first baseman Ike Davis. And then this:

It was just like all the other 3rd-out balls that I’ve gotten over the years, except it had a Chipper Jones commemorative logo — my 4th such ball in two days.

After that, I gave a non-commemorative ball to the nearest kid and left the section for good. I spent a couple innings playing the tunnels behind the plate for foul balls . . .

. . . and when Chipper came to bat for what I assumed would be the final time during a regular-season game in Atlanta, I moved to the outfield:

(Hampson was in the game at this point, so Chipper was batting from the right side.)

Here’s what it looked like on my left:

Wouldn’t it have been nice if Chipper had hit a home run right to me? Yeah, well, he walked instead, and everyone booed.

In the 9th inning, the Braves were winning, 6-1, and I went here:

Being behind the Braves’ dugout seemed like a good idea. Not only was there a slim chance that a player would end up tossing a random piece of equipment into the crowd, but more importantly, I’d have a great view of Chipper. I knew there’d be something happening after the game, and I wanted to be as close as possible.

Justin Turner (pictured above at bat) led off the 9th inning by flying out against reliever Cory Gearrin. Ike Davis followed by hitting a double, and with two outs, he advanced to 3rd base on wild pitch. After that, Lucas Duda walked, Andres Torres hit an RBI single, and Craig Kimbrel came in to pitch. Craig Kimbrel is very good. The game ended three pitches later.

The Braves spilled out onto the field, and if you look closely at the following photo, you’ll see Chipper just below the red “Kia Motors” ad on the outfield wall:

Half a minute later, Chipper was being followed by a cameraman on the warning track:

Here he is walking past me:

I could tell by his body language that he was extremely emotional.

By the way, just after I took that photo, Kimbrel tossed the final-out ball into the crowd. It landed three rows deep and roughly seven feet to my left. Then it got bobbled back toward the field, and was snagged by a gloveless girl two people next to me in the front row. I would’ve LOVED to get that ball. Not only had Kimbrel used it to record his 42nd save of the season, but as you’ll soon find out, this was a historic/record-breaking win.

Chipper did a post-game interview that was broadcast on the jumbotron:

Here’s a closeup of him . . .

. . . and here are his teammates watching from the dugout:

Take a look at the crowd behind me:

No one had left. It was impressive. Braves fans showed tremendous passion and class, and I have a whole new level of respect for their organization.

Here’s my favorite photo of the post-game interview:

It’s my favorite because there’s lots of stuff happening all at once: Chipper is on the jumbotron, his teammates are watching him, one of the photographers is shooting them, and so on. I posted that photo on Reddit and got 543 upvotes.

Here are a few more closeups of Chipper during the interview:

When it ended, Chipper took a moment to visit his parents in the stands directly behind home plate. It was a touching moment, and he was VERY emotional afterward:

As he walked back toward the dugout, it looked like he was going to cry:

As far as I could tell, though, he didn’t . . . which is weird. Hell, *I* almost cried.

Chipper put his hat back on . . .

. . . and forced a smile . . .

. . . and headed into the dugout directly in front of me:

Here he is disappearing from sight:

Pretty cool to be RIGHT there when he walked off the field. I wonder if I’ll ever see him again.

Once Chipper was gone, the Braves acknowledged the other remarkable thing that had gone down:

Quite simply: wow.

And to think . . . Medlen threw just 79 pitches in this historic performance, and I snagged one of them.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 613 balls in 76 games this season = 8.07 balls per game.

• 868 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 6,432 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.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.32 raised at this game

• $1,667.36 raised this season

• $20,824.36 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Finally, of the five balls that I kept, only the Daniel Murphy foul ball has an invisible ink stamp. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of it in regular light versus black light:

9/29/12 at Turner Field

My day started at 5:45am. That’s when I woke up in New York City, and when I walked to the nearest subway station half an hour later, it was still dark:

The subway platform was desolate . . .

. . . but the train had a bunch of half-asleep passengers:

I reached Penn Station at around 6:40am . . .

. . . and had a little time to spare, so I got an egg-and-cheese-on-a-croissant sandwich from Dunkin Donuts. No coffee. Just the food and some ice water. Coffee is for wimps (and tastes like crap).

At around 7am, I found myself on the NJ Transit platform . . .

. . . and ended up on this train . . .

. . . to Newark Liberty International Airport. Of course, in order to connect from the train to the airport, I had to wait here for a tram:

In the photo above, do you see the guy in the dark green camouflage jacket? He’s walking on the right and carrying a light gray bag. Well, soon after I took that photo, he turned around and walked back in my direction and approached me.

“Excuse me,” he said, “are you Zack Hample?”

How’s that for random? He recognized me from this blog — only the third time that a stranger has recognized me in a non-baseball setting — and we rode the tram together. Here he is giving me a thumbs-up:

His name is Andrew, and he has a weird/awesome/hilarious blog called Mr. Moody Met. I won’t describe it. All I’m gonna say is that you should check it out, especially if you’re a Mets fan.

An hour after arriving at the airport, I boarded this teeny plane to Philadelphia:

That’s right. Philadelphia.

Because I booked this trip at the last second, it would’ve cost more than $1,000 to fly nonstop to Atlanta, so I opted for a layover and saved $700.

Here I am on the plane:

When the flight landed, I rode this bus . . .

. . . to another terminal . . .

. . . where I accidentally walked through the wrong doorway and had to go through security AGAIN. That cost me 20 minutes and caused a whole lot of aggravation.

Then I had this for lunch at 10:30am:

Blecchh!!!

It was chicken parmesan from a certain Italian fast-food chain, and it was bad. It tasted like it’d been sitting around for a while. I don’t want to blame this particular chain for anything — I’ve eaten there dozens of times over the years without incident — but I just so happened to start feeling sick several hours later. I’m talking run-to-the-bathroom sick. It wasn’t pretty. And it was a miserable way to start my trip.

After my meal (which I didn’t finish), I sat here for a while . . .

. . . and worked on my blog entry from 9/25/12 at Citi Field. Look closely at the photo above, and you’ll see the title of that entry in a WordPress template on my laptop.

Then I flew to Atlanta . . .

. . . and took another tram . . .

. . . to yet another terminal. Rather than spending $30 (or $50 or whatever it would’ve cost) for a cab to my hotel in downtown Atlanta, I spent $3 and rode MARTA. Here I am on the train:

I really wasn’t that tired — just fed up with all the planes, trains, and automobiles, but hey, that’s what I had to do in order to take this trip, so whatever.

I finally reached my hotel at around 3pm . . .

. . . and chilled out in my room . . .

. . . for about 20 minutes. Then I took a $10 cab . . .

. . . to Turner Field and arrived with roughly 40 minutes to spare:

There was a long line of fans waiting to buy tickets . . .

. . . and there were already a bunch of folks waiting outside the gates:

This was the scene shortly before the stadium opened:

Yikes.

Turner Field had a playoff atmosphere, and here’s why:

See that button on the supervisor’s shirt? That’s THE reason why I’d made the trip. This was Chipper Jones’ final regular-season series at home, and I’d heard from a few people (including my friend Zach at bigleaguebaseballs.com) that the Braves were going to be using commemorative balls with that logo. I simply had to have one. I’d never snagged a commemorative ball with a player-logo on it. I’d only gotten balls commemorating stadiums and dates and important games and foreign series and anniversaries, so yeah, that’s why I’d spent several hundred dollars to be here. Crazy, you say? Well, yes, it kind of is.

When the stadium opened, the first thing I noticed was the huge “10″ that was painted on the grass in center field:

Normally, fans at Turner Field are confined to the left field seats for the first half-hour, but on this fine day, all the sections opened at the start.

I took advantage by heading to right-center and getting a toss-up almost immediately from Jason Heyward. Then I snagged a home run ball that landed near me in the seats. And then I saw this:

In case you’re not familiar with Turner Field, there’s a gap between the outfield wall and the stands, which is great for reeling in baseballs. The ball pictured above, as you can see, was sitting in a puddle, but that didn’t stop me from snagging it with my glove trick. I must admit, though, that I struggled with it for a couple minutes, and yes, I have an excuse: I had a new rubber band that was too thick and too tight, and as a result, I had a tough time getting it to stretch around the ball. I must also admit that my friend Bryce, a regular at Turner Field with a ball-retrieving device of his own, was kind enough to let me get this ball. He could’ve easily pulled an Alex Patino and swooped in for the kill . . . but he didn’t. And I greatly appreciated it. In fact, he even offered to let me use HIS device to get the ball, and when I politely declined, he backed off and took a photo of me going for it:

I got my rubber band to loosen up after that and snagged FIVE more balls with the glove trick — one in right-center and the rest in left field. I gave three of those balls to the nearest kids (one of the kids’ fathers tried unsuccessfully to force a $10 bill into my hand) but made sure to keep this one for myself:

Why?

Because that was my 600th ball of the season.

In case you’ve lost count, I had eight balls by the time the Mets came out and started throwing, and by the way, none of them were commemorative. Meanwhile, the outfield seats were very crowded, and most people were sitting. Very strange. Check it out:

I thought I was gonna get a bunch of balls from the Mets — not only was I the only fan decked out in Mets gear, but I recognized all the players — but that’s not how things worked out. Quite simply, it was too crowded.

This was my view from left-center field:

In the photo above, the one player not wearing a hat is Robert Carson. I got him to toss me my 9th ball of the day, and then 20 minutes later, I got No. 10 from Josh Edgin in right field.

That was it for BP, and that’s when I started feeling sick.

I caught up with Bryce (who’d snagged seven balls) and my friend Matt (who’s always at Turner Field, it seems). I also spent some time with another friend and Turner Field regular named Katie, along with two of her friends named Leah and Andy. I was starving, but afraid to eat anything, so I got the plainest/blandest thing I could find: a pretzel, which was decent, but not worth the $4.25 that I had to throw down for it.

Twenty minutes before game time, I went here:

In the photo above, do you see the player wearing No. 4? That’s Mike Nickeas, a not-well-known but VERY nice guy. You may recall that I caught his first career home run on 4/21/11 at Citi Field and had long conversation with him after the game when I gave the ball back to him. Nickeas has remembered me ever since, and when he saw me standing behind him here in Atlanta, he said hello and then pointed toward left field.

“Go stand out there when I’m hitting,” he joked.

I never did go to the left field seats, but when he and Mets starter Chris Young moved to the bullpen, I went here:

I stood there and watched for ten minutes — never called out or asked for a ball or anything. I just wanted to be near Nickeas and watch him do his thing, so I was pleasantly surprised when he caught the final warm-up pitch and immediately looked up and threw it to me.

(If only Mike Trout would be one-tenth as friendly when I see him; all things considered, I kinda wish I’d kept that ball.)

As a baseball fan, the highlight of the game was witnessing/experiencing the Chipper Jones love-fest. This was the crowd’s reaction when he came to bat for the first time:

Lovey-dovey feelings aside, I needed to snag a game-used baseball, and despite the fact that my stomach wasn’t cooperating, I still made an all-out effort. Whenever the Mets were in the field with two outs, I made sure to be here . . .

. . . and the rest of the time, I played the tunnels behind home plate . . .

. . . in the hope that a foul ball would float my way. As I moved back and forth throughout the game, I saw this kid with an adorable sign:

It made me smile for a moment, but I was panicking. You see, Chris Young is an extreme fly-ball pitcher, so the Mets outfielders kept ending up with the 3rd-out balls, and they kept tossing them to the same damn section behind 3rd base. In the 4th inning, it made sense for left fielder Jason Bay to toss the ball there on his way back to the dugout because that section juts out a bit, and he had to jog past it, but in the 5th inning? Right fielder Scott Hairston caught the 3rd out and jogged right toward me from the outfield. I was perfectly lined up with him. He was going to enter the dugout directly in front of me. I thought I was set to receive a Chipper Jones commemorative ball . . . but as he approached the foul line, he turned to the right and threw it on a 45-degree angle toward that SAME section! You’d think that the Mets’ girlfriends were all sitting there, or something. I seriously hadn’t ever seen anything like it.

With two outs in the bottom of the 6th, Andrelton Simmons grounded out to first baseman Lucas Duda, and I was once again hopeful of finally getting a shot . . . and?

BAM!!!

Hell.
Yes.

I’d heard that game-used Chipper Jones commemorative balls (from the previous night) were selling in the team store for $300; I’d spent more than that to simply attempt to catch one, and suddenly it all felt very worthwhile. That said, the one I got had a slightly messed-up logo, so I was still hoping to snag another.

Something unusual happened in the top of the 9th inning — a double injury delay:

David Wright had gotten hit by a pitch, causing a deflection that struck home plate umpire Paul Nauert. Thankfully, neither injury was serious. Both men were merely shaken up a bit, but for a moment it was kind of scary.

Chipper Jones ended up going 0-for-4, but the Braves won, 2-0. (Craig Kimbrel worked the 9th inning to earn his 41st save of the season and lower his ERA from 1.04 to 1.03. That’s just sick.)

After the final out, I moved down to the front row and hoped that Nauert wasn’t in too much pain to toss a few balls into the crowd. As he approached the stands, he handed a ball to a little girl who already had one, and just before he disappeared under the dugout roof, he randomly flipped another high into the air. A gloveless man on my left half-heartedly reached for it . . . but I reached higher . . . and here it is:

Perfection!

That is a beautiful, classy logo. I can’t think of anything that could possibly make it better (except maybe red stamping, but I’ll give MLB a pass).

After the game, I got a photo with Matt and Bryce:

Bryce, pictured above in the red shirt, had snagged a Chipper Jones commemorative ball during the game. He also told me that he’d used his device the previous night to snag Ruben Tejada’s ground-rule double from the gap. Not too shabby.

I caught up with Katie and her friends, and we all headed out together. On the way, I stopped to take this photo . . .

. . . and then headed back to my hotel.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 13 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave four away)

• 607 balls in 75 games this season = 8.09 balls per game.

• 867 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 392 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 209 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 51 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection

• 6,426 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.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $35.36 raised at this game

• $1,651.04 raised this season

• $20,808.04 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Hang on! There’s more. Of the nine balls that I kept, two have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the first one in regular light versus black light . . .

. . . and there’s the other:

That’s all for now, but stay tuned for my upcoming entries from 9/30/12 at Turner Field and 10/1/12 at Yankee Stadium — lots of baseball(s) during this final week of the regular season. Also, FYI, when I have a bit more time, I’ll catch up on emails and comments and Twitter replies. Things are very very extremely hectic at the moment (and I’m still feeling a bit sick).

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