January 2013

7/13/98 at County Stadium

Last week I blogged about a game I attended at the Kingdome in 1999. The week before that, I blogged about being at Tiger Stadium in 1998, and the week before THAT, I blogged about snagging my 1,000th ball at Shea Stadium in 1996. Now let’s take a little trip back in time to Milwaukee in 1998 . . .

Wanna see ugly? Take a look at the monstrosity that was known as County Stadium:

1_outside_county_stadium

Oof.

Back in 1998, I pretty much thought that every old stadium was ugly, and now of course I miss them all.

Here’s another photo of the exterior:

2_outside_county_stadium

Did you notice the large green banner that says, “We’re taking this thing national”? Well, this was the first season that the Brewers were in the National League. (Show of hands: who remembers them as an AL team?)

After wandering all around the stadium, I bought my ticket here . . .

3_county_stadium_ticket_windows

. . . and had lots of time to kill before the gates opened for BP at 5:30pm.

As soon as I ran inside, the Brewers were clearing the field, so my first ball of the day came from the Phillies. Two pitchers were playing catch. One of them had thrown it wildly. The ball ended up on the warning track in the left field corner, and it just sat there. The wall was only about three feet high in that spot, and the ball was roughly five feet away from me. My solution was to use the “half-glove trick.” That’s what I call it when I use the string on my glove, but not the rubber band or Sharpie. All I had to do was swing the glove out and tug the string as it landed on the ball. Easy! I knocked the ball closer on my first attempt, and whaddaya know? Just after I leaned over and grabbed it, the nearest usher flipped out and started yelling at me. Given the fact that he’d scolded me one minute earlier for standing in the wrong spot, I figured he’d overreact to the glove trick, but man, I had no idea he’d get *so* pissed off. Long story short: we had a huge argument, he went to get security, I ran to the other side of the stadium, and that was the end of it. Dammit, Brewers! WTF?!

Out in right field, I got Yorkis Perez to throw me my second ball by asking him in Spanish. Then, after the Phillies finished taking infield/outfield practice (yes, major league teams actually used to do that), Mark Parent tossed me ball No. 3 at the third-base dugout.

When there was a lull in the action, I had my picture taken (with Miller Park, then in the early stages of construction, looming in the background):

4_zack_inside_county_stadium

(I was 20 years old, in case you’re wondering.)

I headed down to the front row for a closer look at the field:

5_county_stadium_third_base_dugout

While I was there, I got Phillies pitcher Mark Leiter to autograph my ticket:

6_mark_leiter_autograph

Before the game, I wandered a bit and took a photo of . . . I don’t even know. The batter’s eye? The construction? Check it out:

7_miller_park_construction

I’m not sure what I was thinking, and it doesn’t really matter. I’m just glad that I had enough sense to take some photos and write all the details in my journal.

Just before the game started, I got my 4th ball from Phillies infielder Desi Relaford at the third-base dugout (and nearly got into it with a different usher).

Here’s where I sat for the first couple innings:

8_county_stadium_right_field_corner

As you can see, I had lots of empty seats to work with, but of course there weren’t any balls hit near me.

In the 3rd inning, I headed toward the upper deck and stopped briefly to take this photo along the way:

9_county_stadium_overhang_above_seats

This was the view once I got upstairs:

10_county_stadium_view_from_upper_deck

Here’s what it looked like to my right . . .

11_county_stadium_view_from_upper_deck

. . . and look! Here’s a “panorama” of the previous two images Photoshopped together:

12_county_stadium_panoram

I don’t remember where I sat or what I did for the rest of the game. All I can tell you is that I didn’t snag any more baseballs and that Brewers beat the Phillies, 4-2.

On my way out, I got a bunch of ticket stubs . . .

13_county_stadium_ticket_stubs

. . . and when I had some free time the following morning, I wrote about the game in my journal. Here’s the first page of my entry:

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The entry continues here . . .

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. . . and here . . .

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. . . and if you want to hear more about the evil usher in the left field corner, keep reading here:

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That usher really pissed me off . . .

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. . . which is part of the reason why so many words are bleeped out.

Aren’t these old journal entries fun?! This one continues here . . .

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. . . and here . . .

20_journal_volume38_page114_115

. . . and ends here:

21_journal_volume38_page116

So, uh, yeah, I was madly in love with Alli, but enough about that. Let’s talk about happier things, shall we? See the name Joe Kelly in the 4th line above? He was the groundskeeper when I worked for the Boise Hawks in 1995, and we’re still in touch! He’s one of my all-time favorite people in the world. You might remember him (wearing the brown jacket) in this unglamorous photo of me that was taken on 6/14/11 at Safeco Field.

5/29/99 at the Kingdome

Two weeks ago I blogged about a game I attended at Shea Stadium in 1996. Last week I blogged about a game I attended at Tiger Stadium in 1998. Now I’m taking you to Seattle in 1999 . . .

At the start of the 1999 season, I knew that the Kingdome’s days were numbered, but I didn’t realize just how numbered. I’d never been there, and I really wanted to go for a couple of games, but I figured I had all summer to plan a trip. Safeco Field was still under construction, and I assumed that it would open in 2000. As it turned out, Safeco was nearly done by the spring of 1999, and I discovered in May that the Mariners were planning to start playing there after the All-Star break! I had two choices: buy a last-minute plane ticket and get my ass to Seattle or “be responsible” and just forget about it. To complicate things, my college girlfriend, Alli, was staying with me and my parents for the summer, and the thought of leaving her for a weekend didn’t seem right. Long story short: I went to the Kingdome and brought her with me. Hell, it wasn’t cheap, but I’d recently made some money from How To Snag Major League Baseballs. And that’s what money’s for right?

Anyway, on the morning of May 29, 1999, Alli and I woke up insanely early in New York, headed to the airport, flew to Seattle, and got a ride to our hotel. On the way, I took several photos of both stadiums side by side. Here’s one . . .

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. . . and here’s another . . .

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. . . and another:

3_kingdome_and_safeco_field

I don’t know if the word “fugly” had been invented by 1999, but it certainly should’ve been. There’s really no other way to describe the Kingdome — and yet I was thrilled to be there. Up to that point in my life, I’d been to 17 different major league stadiums and was already trying to visit as many as possible.

In the early afternoon, Alli and I made the short walk from our hotel to the dome. Here’s a photo of it that she took — look closely and you’ll see me leaning against a tree:

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This was the scene shortly before the stadium opened:

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It was Beanie Baby Day, so there were a zillion kids lined up outside the gates. Thankfully, we were not stuck at the end of that line.

(Alli and I each had summer jobs — she was working at the Argosy Book Store, and I was interning at Workman Publishing — so we had to make this trip on a weekend. In fact, we pretty much had to go on this particular weekend. There was no avoiding this dreadful promotion.)

When the stadium finally opened and I ran inside, a friendly usher pointed out a ball that was sitting in the front row along the left field foul line. Sweet! I was on the board.

The stands got crowded fast. There wasn’t much action. It was maddening, and when the Devil Rays took the field for batting practice, I decided to head to right field. (At the Kingdome, the visiting teams occupied the right side.) On my way out there, I caught a home run on the fly in left-center — no idea who hit it. I was so busy making my way through the crowded aisle that I didn’t see it coming ’til the last second.

Once I made it to right field, I got my third ball of the day thrown to me by Rick White. Then, toward the end of BP, I used my glove trick for ball No. 4 along the right field foul line. Some other kid with a device had beaten me earlier for a ball; he was nice enough to let me get this one.

Just before the game started, I worked my way down to the Mariners’ dugout on the 3rd base side and got my 5th and final ball of the day from Butch Huskey . . . I think. It was tossed from under the dugout roof . . . and I was busy dealing with a rude usher . . . and Huskey had just disappeared from sight with a ball in his hand.

Look how crowded it was during the game:

6_view_from_behind_home_plate

Okay, fine, so the upper deck in right field had lots of empty seats . . .

7_view_from_behind_home_plate

. . . but still, the paid attendance was 38,093.

Here’s a photo of the field and roof . . .

8_kingdome_field_and_roof3

. . . and here’s a look at the roof and speakers:

9_kingdome_roof

FUGLY!!! Right?

By the way, if you scroll four photos back, you can see Jeff Fassero warming up in the top of the 2nd inning. Better-known Mariners in this game: Alex Rodriguez (who went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two runs scored), Ken Griffey Jr. (0-for-4 with a walk and a run), and Edgar Martinez (2-for-5 with two RBIs). Lesser-known Mariners in this game: Charles Gipson (0-for-1 with a run scored), Jose Paniagua (two-thirds of a scoreless inning pitched), and Rafael Carmona (one inning pitched; one solo homer surrendered). The Devil Rays, meanwhile, had some superstars in the lineup such as Jose Canseco and Fred McGriff, along with a few guys that I don’t even remember, like Danny Clyburn and Mike Duvall. (Have you heard of Danny Clyburn and Mike Duvall? Be honest.)

Final score: Mariners 11, Devil Rays 5.

After the final out, Alli and I had our picture taken . . .

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. . . and I collected a bunch of ticket stubs, including five that were different:

11_kingdome_ticket_stubs2

That’s pretty much it.

Alli and I went back the next day, and I snagged 14 balls. I don’t plan to blog about that game because (a) I didn’t take any photos and (b) I didn’t log each ball in my journal.

Speaking of my journal, here’s the beginning of my original handwritten entry from May 29, 1999:

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The entry (which contains lots of details not mentioned on the blog) continues here . . .

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. . . and here . . .

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. . . and here . . .

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. . . and here . . .

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. . . and here . . .

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. . . and ends here:

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The precision with which I used words to document my life is astounding. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m *so* glad I did it. I know I missed out on some experiences because I was busy writing in my journal(s) — but the stuff I did write about is 100 times more memorable than it would’ve been. Of course, it also helps to have photos, and hey, as long as I’m blogging about Seattle, I might as well share two more pics from the breakfast that I mentioned in my journal. (I’m talking about the breakfast on May 30th — the day after this game.) Here’s a shot of me and Alli . . .

19_the_next_day_alli_and_zack_at_breakfast

. . . and here’s a group photo of us with my friend Morgen and her boyfriend Matt:

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That was the last time that I ever saw Morgen. Life is funny. Morgen Morie. We were freshmen together at Guilford College, and then she transferred. I wonder what became of her — where she lives and what she’s been doing for the last 14 years. I’m tempted to join Facebook just to try to find out. Anyone want to look her up for me? Am I being creepy? Just reminiscing about an old friend (and wishing I had a better sense of style). That’s all.

7/10/98 at Tiger Stadium

Last week I blogged about a game that I attended at Shea Stadium in 1996. Now I’m taking you to Detroit in 1998 . . .

This was the 14th stadium that I’d ever been to, and I was only planning to be here for one game. I was on a mini-road trip that had started the previous day in Cleveland; after Tiger Stadium, I was planning to head to Chicago for two games at Comiskey Park, followed a game at County Stadium and another at Busch — so I had to make it count.

I began by wandering all around the stadium and taking a bunch of photos. Here’s what it looked like from across the street:

1_outside_tiger_stadium_across_street

Yeesh.

It wasn’t exactly the nicest neighborhood, but whatever. I was just glad to finally be there.

Some of the streets were named after Hall-of-Fame Tigers:

2a_outside_tiger_stadium_street_signs

I got my picture taken next to a couple plaques . . .

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. . . and that was pretty much the extent of the “action” until the gates opened at 5:30pm. I’d arrived way too early, and there wasn’t anything to do, so I wandered over to Gate 9 . . .

4a_outside_tiger_stadium_gate_9

. . . and read the latest issue of “Baseball Weekly.”

By the time the stadium was set to open, there was a huge crowd waiting to get in. I’d stupidly planned to be here when the Blue Jays were in town; Toronto is only a four-hour drive from Detroit, so a whole bunch of Jays fans had made the trip.

I didn’t have a plan for BP, and it showed. I only snagged three balls — all in right field — but now that I think about it, I’d have to say that the stadium itself had a lot to do with my lack of success. Not only did the gates *not* open in time for me to see the Tigers take BP, but the layout of the upper deck made things tough. Here’s a photo that I took after BP, which will show you what I mean:

5_right_field_corner_and_overhang

As you can see, the upper deck (which isn’t even that high in the first place) overhung the lower deck, so most of the home runs landed upstairs. In addition to that, when I stood in the front row on the lower level, the wall/chain-link fence was higher than eye level, so there was no way to reach forward/out of the stands for balls.

I snagged my first two baseballs in the upper deck. Dan Plesac threw me the first one, and I got the second with my glove trick . . . sort of. I was dangling it all the way down (probably 30 to 40 feet) to the warning track when a player on the Blue Jays — not sure who — gave me an assist by stuffing the ball into my glove. I was surprised that the ushers didn’t yell at me, although it wasn’t long before I got into it with one of them for a different reason.

Toward the end of BP, I went to the lower level and got my final ball tossed by Bill Risley — and that’s when I nearly lost my temper. At 6:25pm, some old, cranky usher started kicking everyone out of the section, insisting that batting practice was over. The thing is, though, that BP wasn’t over. There were still a few guys taking turns in the cage, so I refused to leave and nearly got into a shouting match with him. Amazing. Do teams *try* to hire rude people? Is it a requirement that in order to be an usher, you have to hate humanity? I really wonder.

Here’s another photo that I took after BP:

6_right_field_from_first_base_side

Soon after, I got Risley to sign my ticket stub:

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Then I wandered behind home plate and had my picture taken near the protective screen:

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With a bit more time to spare before the game, I headed to the third-base side and peeked into the dugout:

9_third_base_dugout

See how cramped it was? In the photo above, the player wearing No. 17 is Tony Clark, and okay, fine, so he’s 6-foot-7, but still, he shouldn’t have had to duck every time he went in or out. Tiger Stadium was cramped all over, and it was a total dump. I remember seeing lots of cobwebs in the seats toward the back of the lower level in right field, and look at the chipped paint in the photo above. At the time, I dissed the stadium in my journal — hell, I dissed everything back then — but now I miss it. Now we have all these new, wannabe-old-looking stadiums that try to be cozy and intimate, but they’re not. They’re cavernous monstrosities — sterile and expensive and generic. Tiger Stadium was a place where you could truly GET LOST. There were nooks and crannies and areas so dark with shadows that you could practically hide. For many people, baseball is an escape — and I can only imagine what a marvelous escape this place would’ve been on a regular basis.

Anyway, I headed through the cross-aisle on the third-base side . . .

10_third_base_side

. . . and took a photo of Tigers starter Seth Greisinger warming up:

11_seth_greisinger_warming_up

Does anyone remember him? C’mon, be honest.

I took this photo during the national anthem . . .

12_tigers_during_national_anthem

. . . because of Deivi Cruz (No. 8), who had played in Boise three years earlier — not as a member of the Hawks, but on one of the visiting teams, namely the Bellingham Giants. One day that summer, when I was working in the ticket office, the Giants’ bus broke down in the parking lot, just outside my window. All the players were sitting around, so I found a baseball and a pen and stuck my head out. I waved the nearest player over — it happened to be Cruz — and got him to take the ball around and get it signed by all his teammates. Fast-forward three years to this game at Tiger Stadium. It was the first time I’d seen him since then, and I tried to talk to him, but he ignored me. That’s what success does to people. Of course, I’d never let it do that to me.

This was my view in the first inning . . .

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. . . and here’s a similar photo that shows what it looked like on the right:

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Tiger Stadium was gorgeous, but I was too young (20 years old) and dumb to realize it.

This was the view to my left:

15_view_from_2nd_deck

Halfway through the game, I moved to the left field foul line:

16_view_from_upper_deck

Check out this shot of the left-field cross-aisle from above:

17_left_field_seats_and_cross_aisle_from_above

Do you see what I’m talking about? See the red “FLAGSTAR” ad and the yellow ad to the right of it? Look at the insanely wide aisle down below, just behind the left field wall. Goodness gracious. That was home-run heaven, and it didn’t even occur to me at the time. Instead, I’d spent half the game in the upper deck behind home plate, hoping for a foul ball.

Eventually I moved to the lower level in left field:

18_view_from_left_field

I’m not sure why I didn’t sit down in front. Were there empty seats? Did I try to sit there and get kicked out by the crabby ushers? Was it too hard to see? Did I simply have my head up my ass? (Yes, that’s probably it.) In any case, the Tigers beat the Jays, 3-2, on a 10th-inning double by Cruz.

On my way out, I collected a bunch of ticket stubs:

19_tigers_ticket_stubs

And now I have a special bonus for you. Just as I did with my old Shea Stadium blog entry, I’ve photographed the original handwritten pages from my journal (and blurred out the curses). That’s how I’ve been able to recreate these blog entries all these years later. This journal entry is long, but you really oughta read it. It starts with a funny story about my crappy hotel room and then goes from there. You’ll see more details about the mean usher in right field, and there are other things here that I didn’t include in the blog. Enjoy . . .

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The journal entry continues here:

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My GOD I used to write a lot:

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Yup, there’s more . . .

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. . . and here’s the end:

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I love these old journals SO MUCH, not just from a baseball perspective, but because I’m re-discovering my old self. That said, I can’t help thinking about which game should I blog about next? So many options . . .

6/11/96 at Shea Stadium

Yeah, that’s right, I’m taking you back in time to the summer of 1996 and writing about the game at which I snagged my 1,000th ball. Ready? Here goes . . .

I started the day with a lifetime total of 998 balls. The weather was iffy, and while I hoped more than ever that there’d be batting practice, I was confident that I’d reach No. 1,000 regardless. I pretty much had to be; not only were my parents with me, but I was planning to meet a freelance journalist outside Gate C — some guy named Charlie Butler who was going to write an article about me! First, though, I had to buy our tickets, and since this was a special day, my folks documented everything with their camera. Here I am at the ticket window:

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Here I am outside Gate C soon after:

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Charlie showed up at the last minute, and when the stadium opened at 5:10pm, we hurried toward the right field corner.

Guess what?
NO BATTING PRACTICE.
And it wasn’t even raining.

Things got worse from there. I’d brought my video camera to this game so that my dad could film me. And guess what? Both of the batteries turned out to be dead. I don’t know what the hell happened. All I can tell you is that I was devastated. Baseball was my life, and snagging 1,000 balls had become my ultimate goal. I wanted everything to be perfect, and now that the day had arrived, everything was falling apart.

Anyway, here’s a photo of me from afar:

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In the photo above, do you see the fan wearing yellow underneath the “Armitron” sign. That’s my dad.

Here’s a closer look at us:

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Here’s a photo of me and Charlie, and as you can see, a bunch of players were now warming up:

5_zack_and_charlie_butler

I ended up getting Bob MacDonald to hook me up with lifetime ball No. 999. Then I hurried to the other side of the stadium, where Mark Wohlers and Pedro Borbon Jr. were playing catch. At one point, the ball got loose and Wohlers walked over to retrieve it. Given the fact that he had an extra ball and that the outfield grass was slightly damp, I thought he’d toss it to me FOR SURE, but no, he not only kept it, but told me that he wasn’t gonna give it to me. I have no idea what that was all about. I had asked him politely, and I was wearing a Braves cap, so what the hell? What more did I have to do?!

Thankfully Borbon ended up with that ball, but when I asked him for it, he ignored me and started walking toward the bullpen. (Stupid Atlanta Braves.) Then it occurred to me that he probably didn’t speak English too well, so I asked him again in Spanish. That did the trick! He looked up at me and chucked the ball in my direction . . . but it was falling short. Did it have enough distance for me to reach it?

YES!!!

Here I am leaning out over the wall for the catch:

6_zack_catching_ball1000

(I shouldn’t have been wearing my backpack, but I was only 18 years old and didn’t know any better. There’s a lot I didn’t know back then. It’s embarrassing now when I think about it. And while we’re at it, what’s with those light blue jeans? I’m not exactly a fashion guru these days, but DAY-um.)

My mom was super-excited about my 1,000th ball and made a bigger fuss about it than I would’ve liked. (Talk about embarrassing!) But hey, it’s better to have parents who care too much than to have parents who don’t care at all, right?

I’d never gotten any of my baseballs signed — I always wanted to keep them in their original condition — but I was hoping to make an exception for Borbon . . . and I’m happy to say that on his way back from the bullpen, he came over and signed:

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I wanted to get him on the sweet spot, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible. This is what the ball looked like when I snagged it:

14a_1000th_ball

STUPID ATLANTA BRAVES!!! Over the years, lots of teams have marked their baseballs, but of all the balls in the world, why did THIS one have to be marked?!

All I could do was hand Borbon the ball and let him sign it wherever he wanted. This is how it turned out:

14b_1000th_ball_signed

Even though it wasn’t perfect, I was still glad to have his signature, and since he didn’t seem to mind giving multiple autographs, I had him sign my ticket stub:

14c_pedro_borbon_signed_ticket

My dad had the camera at that point and took this photo of me with the ball and ticket (while my mom ducked out of the way):

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Here’s a better photo of me with the ball:

9a_zack_holding_ball1000

Did you notice the tarp in the background? I wasn’t kidding when I said there wasn’t BP.

Here’s something random and fun, although it didn’t really register at the time: there was a VERY attractive woman sitting nearby, and when she overheard a snippet of conversation about the number of baseballs that I had, she started talking to me. Check it out:

10_zack_and_hottie

My head was seriously up my ass. It didn’t even occur to me that she was attractive until my dad pointed it out. I was a late bloomer with girls (thanks in part to attending an all boys school from 1st through 6th grade), and this woman was probably a decade older than me, but still. What the hell, younger self?!

She was there with a friend, and when they both started asking me about my hobby, I pulled out my wallet and showed them a photo of my collection:

11_zack_and_hottie

(As a public service announcement to all the teenage boys out there: this is an example of how NOT to impress women.)

The hottie clearly knew that she was hot, and eventually I realized it too. Just look at this photo.

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And this one:

13_zack_and_hottie

(Nice work with the camera, Dad!)
(Get a haircut, younger self!)

When I headed up the steps to the cross-aisle, several vendors who recognized me asked what was going on, so I showed them the wallet photo:

15_zack_showing_photo_to_vendors

Then I half-heartedly attempted to snag a ball during pre-game warm-ups:

16a_zack_pregame_throwing

It might sound strange, but I was only going through the motions at that point. I didn’t really want to snag another ball. I wanted to end the day with exactly 1,000.

Before the game, I wandered through the concourse and ran into several guys I knew on the cleaning crew:

17_shea_stadium_cleaning_crew

In the photo above, the guy on the left is named Shawn. Several years later, he got promoted to the grounds crew and ended up tossing me a few baseballs.

Here’s a photo of my parents that I took during the game:

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Here’s a photo of the sprinklers going off in the top of the 9th inning:

19_sprinklers_going_off

(Ohhhhh, Mets.)

When the game went into extra innings, we moved closer to home plate. Here’s a photo of John Franco pitching to Fred McGriff in the top of the 10th:

20_fred_mcgriff_at_bat_10th_inning

The Braves ended up defeating the Mets, 4-3, in 13 innings.

Winning pitcher?
Pedro Borbon Jr.
It was like the reverse Hample Jinx.

Back at home, I posed for a photo near the updated fridge magnets:

21_zack_fridge_stu_grabs_crotch

It should be noted that my dad took that photo and got me to laugh by grabbing his crotch. He often did that before taking photos, and if I didn’t laugh . . . well, let’s just say he’d find a way to make me laugh. It should also be noted that he’s the one who added the “I’M FAY-MIS” to the fridge; this was the first time that I’d ever been interviewed for anything baseball-related, so it was a pretty big deal.

Now, in case you’re wondering how I managed to remember so many details about a day that took place 17 years ago, it’s because I wrote about it in my journal. I recently decided to comb through all my old journals (there are about 120 of ‘em) and photograph every single page. Ideally, I’d prefer to have all this stuff typed on my laptop, but that would take forever. The next best option? Scanning everything. But that would also take a crazy-long time. That said, here are a few photos of my original journal entry (written the following day) about this game. I’ve blurred out a few curses, and you’ll probably notice a few spelling mistakes, but whatever. Here’s how it started:

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The entry continued here . . .

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. . . and here . . .

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. . . and ended with two lines atop the following page:

25_volume8_page76_77

Each one of my journals has 128 handwritten pages. That’s more than 15,000 pages overall, so this is going to be a massive project. I’m hoping to complete it this winter. Any interest in seeing more “Turn Back the Clock” entries?

Finally, in case you’re wondering about the article that Charlie Butler wrote, he pitched it to a bunch of places, and it was eventually picked up by a monthly magazine called Inside Sports. Here’s the cover of the issue that contained the article about me . . .

26_inside_sports_cover

. . . and here’s the article itself:

27_inside_sports_article

In case you’re interested, you can click here to see all the articles about my baseball collection.

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