April 2013

4/26/13 at Safeco Field

It’s never a good sign when fans are sitting in line outside the gates of a Major League Baseball stadium:

1_early_crowd_for_bearded_hat_night

In this case, there was a large crowd because (a) it was Friday, (b) it was “college night, and (c) there was a “beard hat” giveaway for the first 20,000 fans. I figured there’d be a large crowd, but I wasn’t prepared for the madness.

My first ball was a fluke. I was standing on the center field party deck (which, by the way, had a huge area blocked off for a private gathering) when Oliver Perez flipped a ball to a fan in the front row. Several folks reached for it, and they all bobbled it, and the ball somehow fell to the ground and trickled 20 feet back to where I was standing.

There were two reasons why I was positioned so far back:

1) It was crowded at the front.
2) Michael Morse was hitting.

As if on cue, Morse crushed a monstrous fly ball in my direction. I barely had to move, and I caught it on the fly. Here’s a photo of the ball, taken at the spot where I gloved it:

2_ball6553_caught_in_this_spot

That’s a looooong way from home plate — roughly 425 feet.

Meanwhile, my friend Max Van Hollebeke was using the glove trick to snag a ball from the bullpen:

3_max_using_the_glove_trick

The day before, I’d snagged two that way before security shut me down, but he managed to get away with it here.

As much as I hate promotions, I have to admit that the beard hats were amusing. Little kids were wearing them . . .

4_father_and_son_with_beards

. . . as were the not-quite-drunk guys on the new left field party deck:

5_view_from_new_left_field_party_deck

I went up there because there was nowhere else to be. Safeco Field is nice-lookin’, but let’s face it: left field is worthless when it comes to catching home runs.

After a minute or two, I headed to right field, stopping along the way to photograph the center field party deck from above:

6_center_field_party_deck_crowded

How about NO.

The right field seats were also crowded, but I managed to snag a couple of baseballs there in the next half-hour. The first was thrown by Angels pitcher Barry Enright in this area . . .

7_ball6554_location

. . . and the second was a long home run by Hank Conger, which I caught on the fly here:

8_ball6555_location

Yes, I was actually underneath the overhang, twenty (or however many) rows back. There weren’t any empty rows farther down, so I played deep and got lucky.

With Albert Pujols set to take his cuts in the next group, I headed to the second deck in left field. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t much action up there, but I did get a nice look at the new, two-tiered party deck setup in the left field corner:

9_new_left_field_party_decks_from_above

While I was up there, I got an autograph request — the second of the day. Before the stadium had opened, a man had approached me and asked me to sign a baseball with my “number” on it. I had ended the previous day with a lifetime total of 6,551 baseballs, so that’s what I wrote. Fast forward 90 minutes. A teenaged kid asked me to sign another ball the same way . . . so I did with a “6555″ after my name. As it turned out, these two fans were a father-and-son duo named Mark and Alex. Here they are with the baseballs:

10_mark_and_alex_with_signed_balls

A little while later, I played pretend-catch with Ernesto Frieri. In other words, I pretended to throw a phantom ball to him, and he pretended to lunge and catch it and throw it back. I then pretended to catch *his* throw behind my back, and then I threw him an imaginary knuckleball, which somehow sailed over his head. He actually jumped for this nonexistent knuckler and chased it down by jogging toward the infield — hilarious, but as we all know, my aim isn’t that bad. After our little game of make-believe, he got his hands on a real ball and threw it to me. He then flapped his glove to indicate that he wanted me to throw it back, so I did — right on the money. His return throw fell short and landed in the bullpen. I pretended to dive after it. He held up his right index finger as if to say, “Hold on.” He then went out of his way to get another ball, and before he threw it to me, I handed my camera to Mark. I was hoping to continue playing catch with him and get a video of it, but unfortunately he didn’t ask me to throw the ball back a second time. The video isn’t really worth posting, but I’ll share a couple of screen shots. Here’s Frieri throwing the ball . . .

10b2_ernesto_frieri_throwing_ball6556

. . . and here I am catching it:

10c_zack_catching_ball6556

Many thanks to Mark for documenting it. Too bad it wasn’t more exciting.

(It should be noted that Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds didn’t attend this game. Earlier in the day, he flew to Baltimore for another work assignment; I’ll be seeing him in Kansas City in a few days. He and I are planning to attend games at Kauffman Stadium on May 1st [and possibly the 2nd], Ameriquest Field on May 3rd, Minute Maid Park on May 4th, Great American Ballpark on May 6th, Progressive Field on May 7th, PNC Park on May 8th, Camden Yards on May 9th, and Nationals Park [where I hopefully won't get ejected for photographing my baseballs] on May 10th. Come say hi if you see me.)

The upper left field party deck was packed:

11_upper_left_field_party_deck

No thanks.

Here’s a look at the lower of the two left field party decks from above:

12_foul_pole_and_party_deck

Yuck. But if you think THAT’S crowded, check out the concourse behind the left field bullpens:

13_crowded_concourse_behind_bullpens

It. Was. Insane.

And it was like that all night. It felt like a frat party — loud/awful music, endless lines for the bathroom, schmucky drunk people behaving obnoxiously. I hated everything about it. At one point, I saw a guy with a very bloody nose.

Batting practice ended while I was trapped in the crowd, so I went and checked out the lower party deck. I had to show my ID to get in. Then I walked through this area:

14_entering_the_lower_left_field_party_deck

The outdoor portion of the deck or bar (or whatever you want to call it) was absurdly crowded:

15_lower_left_field_party_deck

If this party deck were empty, it’d be a nice little spot to catch home run balls, but as things were, the only good thing about it was the gap behind the outfield wall:

16_lower_left_field_party_deck

I photographed the oddly-configured area around the foul pole . . .

17_netting_surrounding_foul_pole

. . . and got the hell out of there. Not only was I about to lose my mind, but my friend Joe had arrived from Portland, Oregon with his eight-year-old son, Booker. Here I am with them:

18_zack_joe_booker_04_26_13

I’ve known Joe since the summer of 1995; I had an internship with the Boise Hawks, and he happened to be the head groundskeeper. He’s one of my favorite people in the world — I can’t even comprehend what it’d be like not to have him in my life — and Booker is one of the best kids I’ve ever known.

We all chatted for a bit until I noticed that two Angels were playing catch in the left field corner. Booker decided to come with me as I headed off to try to get the ball, and I succeeded because of him. I have no doubt about it. Bullpen coach Steve Soliz (who was one of the guys playing catch) saw me in my Angels gear crouching down next to Booker, and quite simply he couldn’t resist. He tossed the ball in our direction. I caught it and immediately handed it to my young companion, and yes, I counted it — my 6th ball of the day. Think of all the balls I haven’t gotten *because* there were cute little kids standing next to me. Now that I happened to be with one and got a ball as a result . . . ha! You bet your ass I counted it.

Booker and I headed closer to home plate — to the front row along the left field foul line. Two more Angels were throwing, and although we didn’t get a ball from them, we still got hooked up. Check out the following photo:

19_strength_coach_after_ball6558

See the guy in the black pants? I can only assume that he’s the Angels’ strength and conditioning coach, He walked over to the edge of the warning track and waved to get our attention. When I looked up at him, he tossed us a brand-new baseball. Once again, I made the catch and promptly handed it to Booker. Here he is with it, and if you look closely, you can see the other ball in the right/front pocket of his shorts (just to the right of his forearm).

20_booker_with_ball6558

Booker is officially my secret weapon — too bad he lives 2,894 miles away or else I’d bring him to every game.

Just before game time, Mike Trout signed a few autographs along the left field foul line, so I went over and said hello. I had gotten my picture taken with him the day before, and this time we got to talk a bit more.

“Whose home run are you trying to catch today?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “there are three guys on your team who haven’t yet hit a major league homer, so I’m focusing on them.”

Then I asked him if he’d heard of BIGS Sunflower Seeds. He said he had, so I told him about my sponsorship and the whole thing about the charity. He mentioned that he’d seen the split-screen of me on “SportsCenter” after my two home run snags at Yankee Stadium. I said that it was great to see him again, and we shook hands, and just before he ran off, I got him to sign one of Booker’s baseballs:

21_booker_with_mike_trout_autograph_that_i_got_for_him

I’m not sure if Booker realized that he was in the presence of greatness, or if he appreciated the awesomeness of that autograph. Joe certainly did, and he captured the aftermath with his camera:

22_joe_photographing_booker_and_his_balls

Do you remember all the stuff in my previous entry about Angels bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio? The quick recap is that he had recognized me and told me to come find him in the bullpen during the game. Of course, I’d spent the entire previous game hustling for a 3rd-out ball, so now I finally had my chance. I headed out there in the top of the 1st inning . . .

23_view_during_game_04_26_13

. . . and got his attention in the bottom of the frame. He came over, and we talked for about five minutes. How cool is that? I don’t care if he’s “only” a bullpen catcher. He played briefly in the major leagues, and he now travels with the team and wears the uniform and appears in the “manager & coaches” section on the roster. THAT is cool. It turns out that he’s from New York City — born in Brooklyn, raised on Staten Island — so we had some stuff in common. I told him about my books and ballhawking and about the BIGS Baseball Adventure. He told me about his family and about life on the road and his off-season routine. He asked me when I’m planning to see the Angels again. I said I had no idea — probably whenever they head to New York — and he told me to look for him and say hello. Before he walked off, I asked if I could get a photo of him giving a thumbs-up for my blog. Here it is:

24_tom_gregorio_thumbs_up_after_we_talked

It’s been a good week for me in terms of being recognized by major leaguers. First it was Didi Gregorius, and then it was Mike Trout and Tom Gregorio. I also had several long conversations with Heath Bell, and in just a few days, I’ll be seeing Jeremy Guthrie at Kauffman Stadium. There are lots of other guys that recognize me: Chris Tillman, Ricky Bones, Jordan Zimmermann, and Frank Francisco, just to name a few. I miss Brian Stokes, Josias Manzanillo, Mike Nickeas, and Dan Wheeler. And Ryan Speier. All of those guys recognized me too.

Joe and Booker and I hung out near the bullpen for a few innings. Here’s a photo of Booker with his baseballs and beard hat:

25_bearded_booker_with_baseballs

Here’s something random that amused me: In honor of Jason Bay (who, for some terrible reason, was batting leadoff for the Mariners), I brought a bag of “old bay” sunflower seeds:

26_old_bay_jason_bay

Heh.

For the record, those seeds were DAMN GOOD. Joe and Booker liked ‘em too.

Eventually we headed up to the second deck in left field . . .

27_joe_and_booker_second_deck

. . . which was nice for about an inning. It was good to rest my feet for a little while, but after that, I got antsy and felt detached from the game and had to get back downstairs. Here’s where I ended up:

28_tom_gregorio_warming_up_a_pitcher

My view of the game was lousy, but I enjoyed being close to Gregorio.

In the bottom of the 9th inning, I headed to the Angels’ dugout:

29_maple_moody_several_rows_in_front_of_me_on_the_left

In the photo above, do you see the kid looking back at me? He’s sitting three rows down, and his leg is sticking out. If you’ve been reading this blog for a couple of years, he might look familiar because we attended four games together in 2011 in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. His name is Maple, and he (along with his sister Maxine and father David) was a Watch With Zack client.

I knew he was going to be at this game, and it was great to catch up with him, although it was way too brief. After the game, which the Angels won, 6-3, I got a photo with Maple and his friend Wes:

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Then I got another pic with Maple and his father:

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(Maple still looks like Justin Morneau . . . no?)

After that, I took a pic of the trio of ballhawk siblings: Luke, Hannah, and Max:

32_luke_hannah_max_04_26_13

Luke had caught two baseballs, Hannah had gotten one, and Max had snagged nine, all with the glove trick. There wasn’t time for him to explain how it all went down, so I’m hoping he’ll leave a comment and share some details.

Max had given away four of his baseballs, and I’d given two of mine to Booker. Therefore, we were each left with five::

33_max_and_zack_with_baseballs

I really like Max and Luke and Hannah. Wayne too. And Tom. And Maple and Wes. And Mark and Alex. There’s a genuine feeling of camaraderie among these Seattle ballhawks. There’s no trash-talking. There’s no ill-will or cut-throat competitiveness. It’s like they’re all in it together, and I was glad to be welcomed into their world for a couple of days.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game

• 99 balls in 14 games this season = 7.07 balls per game.

• 886 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 411 consecutive games with at least two balls

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

• 7 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, and Safeco Field

• 6,558 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.51 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $10.57 raised at this game

• $149.49 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $3,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $25,055.49 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

 

4/25/13 at Safeco Field

I’d like to start by showing you my luggage:

1_zacks_luggage_04_25_13

As you probably know by now, I’m being sponsored this season by BIGS Sunflower Seeds, but here’s the story (in list form) behind the previous photo:

1) I woke up in San Francisco, still a bit worn out from the previous day.
2) Neal Stewart told me that a large package of BIGS Sunflower Seeds had arrived.
3) We headed to the airport (with the seeds) for our flight to Seattle.
4) Neal realized he was gonna have to pay $25 to check the seeds.
5) We stuffed as many packs as possible into our suitcases.

I was genuinely excited about the seeds because there were some new flavors that I hadn’t seen, but there was no time to try them. We rushed to our gate, and while we waited to board the plane, I plugged in my laptop and blogged:

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When our flight landed, we took a train to downtown Seattle, which passed by Safeco Field:

3_safeco_field_from_the_train

Then I had about half an hour in my room before heading downstairs . . .

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. . . to meet Neal in the lobby.

(Between the travel, the games, the blog, and occasionally some sleep, I have absolutely *no* time for anything else. If you’ve emailed me and I haven’t yet written back, that’s why.)

On the way to Safeco, Neal peeled off to grab a sandwich. I made it to the stadium at around 4:20pm . . .

5_outside_safeco_field_04_25_13

. . . and took a peek inside . . .

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. . . as I headed to the center field gate. (FYI, this is the only gate that opens two and a half hours early; fans are then confined to the party deck in center field and the concourse behind the bullpens in left field for the first half-hour.)

One of the first fans to arrive was my friend Wayne Peck. Here we are:

7_wayne_and_zack_recreating_fist_bump_from_japan

Why did we pose like that? Because (a) we’re dweebs and (b) we were recreating our fist bump from 3/28/12 at the Tokyo Dome. (Check out that little girl staring at us in the background. Hilarious.) We hadn’t seen each other since then, so it was great to catch up.

When the stadium opened at 4:40pm, I headed here:

8_view_from_the_pen_in_center_field_04_25_13

There was lots of room to run . . .

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. . . but unfortunately there wasn’t much to run for. That’s Mariners baseball for ya.

Sensing that I wasn’t going to catch a home run or convince any of the Mariners to throw me a ball, I wandered toward the bullpens:

10_area_behind_bullpens_04_25_13

That’s when I saw a ball sitting on the grass:

11_ball6541_in_the_bullpen

Knowing what the answer was gonna be, I showed my string to the nearest usher and asked if I could go for it. (I had to ask because he was standing right there.) To my surprise, he shrugged and said, “I’ve never heard any rule about that either way,” so I set up my glove trick and snagged the ball. While that was happening, another one landed a few feet away, this time farther out from the stands. Here’s a video that shows me snagging it:

At the end of the video, I wasn’t joking when I said, “And now security is coming to bust my balls.” Two yellow-shirted supervisors did indeed wander over and inform me that I’m not allowed to do that . . . so I informed them that I’d pretty much gotten permission ahead of time. We all chatted for a minute, and that was the end of it — no harm done.

Back on the party deck, I photographed the two baseballs:

12_balls6541_and_6542

When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:10pm, I headed to right-center field:

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In the photo above, do you see the platform that the usher is standing on? That’s where I snagged my 3rd ball of the day. He had tossed it (from down below) to some fans in the front row, but the ball had fallen short and rolled under the chairs. I hurried over and leaned waaay down over the railing and snared the ball in tip of my glove. I then offered it to a girl named Hannah, whom I’d met at Safeco two years ago, but she wouldn’t accept it.

“I can’t count it in my ballhawking stats,” she said, and I realized right away what she meant. Because I had acquired possession of it first, it effectively became worthless to her, and I felt really bad. I knew that she tried to get baseballs, but I didn’t realize that she was so strict with her stats. (Thumbs-up to her integrity.) If anything, I thought I was doing her a favor by grabbing the baseball; there was a smaller boy standing next to her, and I thought the usher might eventually retrieve the ball and hand it to him. I ended up giving her the ball so that she could give it to the boy, so it all ended up reasonably well.

In the previous photo, did you notice the netting in the gap? (It’s gotta be there to prevent people from falling and dying, right?) You can’t see it in the following photo, but there was netting in the gap in straight-away right field as well:

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Remember the netting. It helped me snag a ball later on.

When the Angels took the field, I headed to the seats along the left field foul line:

15_angels_warming_up_04_25_13

It was totally dead, so I headed to the Angels’ bullpen:

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In the photo above, the guy standing and adjusting his mask is named Tom Gregorio. He’s the bullpen catcher, and when he saw me standing there, he walked over with a curious expression and said, “Weren’t you just at our stadium earlier this week?”

It was pretty cool to be recognized, and we chatted for a bit. He started by asking me if I’m following the Angels around, so I replied with a question of my own: “Have you heard of BIGS Sunflower Seeds?”

16b_tom_gregorio_2013“Baked sunflower seeds?”

“No, BIGS Sunflower Seeds.”

“Oh, yeah, I have,” he said, so I told him briefly that they’re sponsoring me this season and sending me to all 30 major league stadiums and helping me raise money for charity. Our conversation got cut short because he had to do a bullpen session with one of the pitchers, so he told me to come back in the 1st inning.

“Or maybe after a few innings?” I asked. I figured my best chance to snag a 3rd-out ball would be early in the game, so I wanted to take care of that before schmoozing it up with him.

“Sure, no problem,” he said.

Here’s something (unrelated to Mister Gregorio) that I forgot to mention earlier: because we had so many seeds with us, Neal had logged into the BIGS Sunflower Seeds Twitter account and posted the following:

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Several people responded by tweeting the word “bacon” at me, but that didn’t count. This was an in-person contest, and the winner was a young man named Max. Here he is with the prize:

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Fun fact: Max is the older brother of Hannah (she’s the one who was standing near the platform in right-center field), and they have a brother named Luke who showed up later — pretty neat to see a trio of sibling-ballhawks.

I headed back to the party deck (aka “The Pen”) in center field and promptly caught a Mike Trout homer on the fly. That was my 4th ball of the day, and I met up with Neal soon after. Here he is:

18_neal_stewart_04_25_13

A few minutes later, I caught another homer on the fly (not sure who hit it), which was nice except for the fact that a woman got knocked down in the process. I’m *not* the one who knocked her down. In fact, I probably saved her from getting drilled because she was drinking a beer and never saw the ball. There was another guy out there who was reckless. He’d already crashed into Max, and he’s the one who slammed into her. She went down hard and appeared to be pretty shaken up. The other guy was reasonably apologetic, but he made an excuse which I thought was 100 percent unacceptable: he said he was “just watching the ball.” I scolded him and told him he can’t do that — that he needs to take his eye off the ball and look at the crowd and figure out what his path is gonna be.

“Easier said than done,” he replied.

I wanted to say, “Really? I just did it, you jackass,” but I let it go. The two security supervisors had just arrived, and they reprimanded him. I ended up giving the ball to the woman and moving to the corner spot in center field. I get furious at people like that guy because they ruin it for everyone; they injure innocent bystanders and give people like me a bad name. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been accused of knocking over little kids, but I *can* count the number of times that I’ve actually done it: ZERO. (I’ve never knocked down anyone, big or small.) Considering I’ve been to more than 1,000 games, I’d say that’s a pretty good record.

Anyway, I got three balls thrown to me in the corner spot within the next ten minutes or so. The first came from Sean Burnett, and the next one came from this guy:

19_guy_who_threw_me_ball6547

After the game, I tweeted that photo and asked for help identifying him. My friend Matt Jackson replied and said, “That’s Shayne Kelley, Josh Hamilton’s accountability partner.”

Can anyone else confirm or deny that?

The final ball that I got on the party deck was thrown by Peter Bourjos, and it was weird — I hadn’t even asked him for it. He turned around unexpectedly and tossed it right to me. Here’s why:

20_ball6548_thrown_by_peter_bourjos

After that, I headed to right-center field and got my 9th ball of the day tossed by Nick Maronde. Then I ran into this guy whom I’d met two years ago:

21_justin_talented_ballhawk

His name is Justin, and he’s a very talented ballhawk. He doesn’t go for toss-ups, but watch out on home runs. He judges them well, catches just about everything, and shows no mercy. Shortly after I took that photo, I drifted 20 feet to my left for what should’ve been an easy snag. I figured he was gonna let me have it because we were standing next to each other and chatting. I wasn’t planning to run for anything hit to my right, and I assumed he’d extend the same courtesy on anything hit to his left. So much for that. He darted down to the row below me and ran like hell and jumped up and caught the ball right in front of my glove. He said he had to do it because he wanted to “rob the best.” Flattering? Meh. I was just annoyed, but really I blame myself. I shouldn’t have been crowding him on his home turf, but given the fact that I was, I shouldn’t have given him any room to slip past me.

Now, remember that netting in the right field gap? Well, at the very end of BP, a left-handed batter hit a deep line-drive that was coming right at me. The sun, however, was so bad that I had to turn away and flinch at the last second. I was scared of getting hit by the ball, but thankfully it landed in the gap and skipped off the netting and deflected straight up in the air for the easiest and luckiest of snags. That was my 10th ball of the day.

After BP, I met up with a guy named Tom, who had brought his copy of my latest book, The Baseball. Here we are with it — and with his 16-month-old son, Easton.

22_zack_tom_easton_with_the_baseball

What’s with the bag of seeds, you ask? Well, Tom had said “bacon” to me earlier in the day, but not early enough to win the contest. Fortunately for him, it just so happened that I had another bag of bacon seeds with me. I was gonna pour him a big handful, but Neal suggested that I give him the whole thing.

Tom, by the way, is a semi-regular at Safeco Field. He had already snagged five balls that day, giving him a lifetime total of 262. He said he’s gotten at least one ball at 117 consecutive games, including seven foul balls from live play. Not bad.

Then I grabbed a couple slices of pepperoni pizza and tried to eat fast . . .

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. . . but I wasn’t quite fast enough. I was still holding the plate when I ran down to the front row to say hello to Mike Trout:

24_zack_and_mike_trout_04_25_13

The conversation went as follows:

ZACK: “Hey, Mike, I’m the guy who caught your first home run in Baltimore.”

MIKE: “Hey! I remember you . . . didn’t you catch a home run last week at Yankee Stadium?”

(Actually, Michael, I snagged two in one game. Thanks.)

I was stoked when he said that. (I’m on the west coast, so I’m allowed to use the word “stoked.”) Ever since I caught his first homer on 7/24/11 at Camden Yards, I’d barely gotten to talk to him, so I really wasn’t sure if he remembered me.

We didn’t get to talk long because the national anthem was being announced, but I did get a photo with him before he ran off:

25_zack_and_mike_trout

After the anthem, I was spotted by a guy named Mike (not Trout), who had met me once before in Baltimore. He was sitting with two friends, and he asked if they could get a photo with me. Neal took one with their camera, and then he took this one with mine:

26_davin_mike_zack_mitch

In the photo above, Mike is the dude in the Angels jersey. The guy on the left is named Davin, and the guy on the right is named Mitch. Very nice guys. I’m glad they waved me down.

When the game got underway, I had double-motivation to snag a 3rd-out ball as quickly as possible. Not only would it mean $500 more, courtesy of BIGS Sunflower Seeds, for Pitch In For Baseball, but it would free me up to go talk to Tom Gregorio in the Angels’ bullpen. I started the game on the 1st base side, hoping to get a 3rd-out ball from the Mariners . . .

27_going_for_a_mariners_3rd_out_ball

. . . but had no luck. In the bottom of the 1st inning, I moved to the Angels’ side, but this was all I got:

28_all_star_ballot_while_going_for_an_angels_3rd_out_ball

It’s a bit early to be voting for All-Stars, don’tcha think?

Every half-inning, I moved back and forth from dugout to dugout, but I didn’t snag a thing. It was really frustrating. Eventually, to increase my odds of obtaining a gamer, I sat here for right-handed batters . . .

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. . . and here for lefties:

30_going_for_a_lefty_foul_ball

My goal was to snag a foul ball. Of course, I only sat there for the first two outs of each half-inning (so that I could be in position for 3rd-out balls), and nothing came close. (I did, however, give away another ball to a little kid who was sitting near me with his mother. Also, it should be noted that the ushers never asked to see my ticket. What a pleasure!)

Finally, when Angels reliever Nick Maronde struck out Dustin Ackley to end the 8th inning, I scurried down the steps and got catcher Chris Iannetta to flip me the ball. (Tom gets the assist on that one; he was just starting to drift down the stairs with Easton when I blew past him. Rather than competing with me, he let me go for it because he knew the stakes.) I then offered one of my BP balls to the nearest kid, but the usher told me that he’d already gotten one, so I handed it to a different kid and then gave away another, just because. Even though I’d missed my chance to talk to Tom Gregorio, I was feeling good. I was gonna be here for one more game, and I was glad that my charity challenge wasn’t going to spill over into the following day.

I was as drained and stressed as I was relieved. My facial expression in the following photo says it all:

31_zack_with_ball6551

(BTW, this ball pushed my total fundraising effort for Pitch In For Baseball above the $25,000 plateau — that is, since I started working with them in 2009.)

Five minutes later, the Mariners won the game, 6-0, and five minutes after that, I got a group photo with the Safeco Field ballhawks:

32_easton_tom_max_hannah_luke_zack

Wayne had unfortunately disappeared, but as for the people pictured above, you’re looking at Easton, Tom, and the three siblings — Max (age 19), Hannah (age 13), and Luke (age 15). Luke and I were both on crutches the last time I visited Safeco, and let me tell you, it felt GREAT this time around to be able-bodied.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

33_the_six_balls_i_kept_04_25_13• 11 balls at this game (six pictured here because I gave five away)

• 92 balls in 13 games this season = 7.08 balls per game.

• 885 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 410 consecutive games with at least two balls

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

• 7 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, and Safeco Field

• 6,551 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.51 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.61 raised at this game

• $138.92 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $3,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $25,044.92 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

4/24/13 at AT&T Park

I woke up at 5:30am with four hours of sleep and jumped in a cab to a nearby radio station:

1_taxi_to_radio_studio_04_24_13

Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds was with me. When we reached our destination, he signed us in at the front desk . . .

2_neal_signing_us_in_04_24_13

. . . and we headed upstairs:

3_radio_station_logo_on_wall

In the photo above, did you notice the glass door on the left? Well, when I peeked through it, I saw AT&T Park way off in the distance:

4_view_through_window_next_to_logo

Neal and I had arrived 15 minutes early, so we hung out next to the studio. Here I am waiting to go on the air:

5_zack_waiting_to_go_on_the_air

I was interviewed live on a show called “The Rise Guys” on 95.7 FM The Game. Here’s a photo that Neal took during the interview:

6_zack_on_the_air_04_24_13

It lasted for about 10 minutes, and the three hosts — Whitey Gleason, Mark Kreidler, and Dan Dibley — were great. I expected them to diss me relentlessly (because that’s the nature of morning radio), but they treated me with respect and still managed to keep things light and funny. Click here to listen to it.

From there, Neal and I grabbed a quick bite to eat at a nearby coffee shop, and whaddaya know? There happened to be newspaper box right outside with free copies of The San Francisco Examiner. Remember this article about me that was published online the day before? Well, I grabbed a copy of the print version . . .

7_san_francisco_examiner

. . . and was pleased to find the article:

8_zack_in_the_san_francisco_examiner

Our next stop was AT&T Park . . .

9_juan_marichal_statue

. . . and as I tweeted at the time, it was the earliest (7:45am) that I’d ever been at a major league stadium. We were there because I had two live TV interviews scheduled in the eight and nine o’clock hours on Good Day Sacramento.

Before I went on the air, this guy was interviewed, and I was concerned that his act would be tough to follow. Check it out:

10_piano_bike_guy_being_interviewed

In the photo above, that’s not just any old bike you’re looking at. It’s a “pianobike,” and yes, the guy in the white hat was riding and playing at the same time. His name is Gary, and he let me take a photo of his pianobike up close:

11_piano_bike closeup

There was plenty of time to spare before my first segment, so I goofed around with the host:

12_cody_and_zack

His name is Cody Stark, and in case you’re wondering, that was *his* (yucky) baseball. He and I had corresponded several years ago, but this was the first time that we met in person.

We still had more time to kill, so I sat on a gigantic concrete baseball and read some box scores:

13_zack_checking_email_on_big_baseball

Finally, at around 8:45am, it was time for my first interview. It was still cold — probably in the 50s — but I took off my hoodie and jacket and ski cap so that the world (or at least Sacramento) could see my BIGS gear. And then, suddenly, I was on live TV:

14_zack_being_interviewed_for_good_day_sacramentoy

Neal did a solid job of documenting everything. Here’s another shot he took during the interview:

15_zack_being_interviewed_for_good_day_sacramento

In addition to the two segments, Cody and I filmed a bunch of teasers, and by 9:15am we were done. I was absolutely exhausted, but I held it together for one final photo with him and some seeds:

16_cody_and_zack_with_bigs_seeds

Cody actually loves sunflower seeds and had requested that I bring some for him; in one of our teasers, we both had a mouthful, and we were eating them and spitting the shells. Fun stuff.

Here’s a screen shot from one of the segments:

16b_good_day_sacramento_screen_shot

If you want to watch it, click here.

Neal and I took a cab back to the hotel. All I wanted to do was take a nap (for about a week and a half), but instead I fired off a few urgent emails and gathered my stuff and took another cab back to the stadium:

17_taxi_arriving_at_at&t_park

Before the gates opened, I caught up with this guy on the portwalk:

18_joe_dirt_on_the_portwalk

His name is Joe Dirt, and he’s there EVERY day. He’s famous for fishing home run balls out of McCovey Cove. He’s gotten more than two dozen gamers over the years, including Brandon Belt’s 9th-inning homer the day before.

Eight minutes before the “Marina” gate opened, this was the scene:

19_small_crowd_at_the_marina_gate

As you can see, there wasn’t much of a crowd — but it didn’t make a difference because there was no batting practice. When I first ran inside, the only action consisted of several Giants pitchers playing catch along the left field foul line:

20_giants_playing_catch_04_24_13

Two minutes later, Javier Lopez threw me a ball, and get a load of this — I took a photo as it was flying toward me:

21_about_to_catch_ball6539

Once the Giants were gone, I headed to the right field corner where two Diamondbacks players were running:

22_matt_reynolds_and_heath_bell_jogging

It turned out to be Matt Reynolds and Heath Bell . . .

23_matt_reynolds_and_heath_bell

. . . and when they finished, Heath came over to say hello:

24_heath_and_zack_04_24_13

The previous photo was taken by one of those annoying fan-photographer people, but in this case, hell, it turned out to be a good thing. That photo is actually a screen shot of a thumbnail on the Giants’ website, which I expanded in Photoshop — a bit pixelated, but whatever.

Heath and I talked about all kinds of stuff for ten minutes — chewing tobacco, drinking (or lack thereof) in the clubhouse, charging the mound, Zack Greinke vs. Carlos Quentin, Heath’s contract, the Mets’ payroll, Omar Minaya, PETCO Park, Jose Reyes’s injury, and more. It was fascinating. I *love* that guy.

At the end of our chat, I took a photo of our gloves . . .

25_heath_bell_and_zack_hample_gloves

. . . and he told me to text him next time I’m gonna see the D’backs.

The D’backs ended up taking infield practice, which was fun to watch. What wasn’t fun was when the coaches walked in with a bag of balls . . .

26_diamondbacks_not_giving_me_a_ball

. . . and completely ignored me. Not only was I the only fan in the fancy/restricted seats behind the dugout, but I was decked out in red Diamondbacks gear and had asked them politely. I was shocked that they didn’t hook me up. Alan Trammell? Not a friendly man.

While I was down there, the friendly usher told me that my ticket entitled me to go anywhere in the stadium except the luxury suites.

“You mean I can go check out the club level?” I asked.

“You sure can,” he told me.

Therefore, after grabbing some food and photographing a skinny Brandon McCarthy signing autographs . . .

27_brandon_mccarthy_signing_autographs

. . . I headed up to the “Virgin America Club Level” via this escalator:

28_entering_the_pink_virgin_tube

At the top of the escalator, I headed through these doors . . .

29_entrance_to_the_virgin_america_club_level

. . . and found myself in a nice-but-generic concourse:

30_virgin_club_level_concourse

The floor was shiny, but so what? Airports and shopping malls also have shiny floors.

There were airplane logos all over the place . . .

31_airplane_logo_on_club_door

. . . which was annoying, but okay, fine, I’ll stop complaining. Here’s something that I thought was pretty cool. While standing in this spot . . .

32_view_from_club_level_04_24_13

. . . I could look directly into the press level on my left:

33_looking_inside_the_press_box

Another nice thing (from a ballhawking perspective) is that there’s a cross-aisle between the seats and press box:

34_cross_aisle_in_club_level

That said, it’s not a great spot for foul balls because it’s narrow, and of course fans aren’t allowed to stand there.

Shortly before game time, I headed back down to the regular seats along the right field foul line:

35_heading_down_into_the_seats_for_ball6540

Several D’backs were playing catch, and I ended up getting a ball from bullpen catcher Mark Reed. I handed that ball to a little girl with a glove (and gave her entire family some BIGS Sunflower Seeds), and then I headed out to the left field bleachers. This was my view:

36_view_from_left_field_04_24_13

I was in heaven. (I even made friends with the folks sitting near me by handing out more packs of seeds — the Vlasic Pickle and Buffalo Wing flavors, to be specific.) Look how much room I had to run:

37_view_to_my_right_04_24_13

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the rightful owners came for their seats, and I had to move.

One good thing about AT&T Park is that the Giants are really good, and the stadium is packed, and the atmosphere is lively; this was a weekday game in April, and I felt more energy in the building than I did last year at Yankee Stadium during Game 5 of the ALDS. The bad part about all of this is that there were *NO* empty seats in the outfield. I tried floating from spot to spot, but the people either returned to their seats or the ushers kicked me out. It was frustrating as hell, but hey, that’s just how it goes sometimes. I stood here for a little while . . .

38_view_from_tunnel_in_left_field_04_24_13

. . . until the usher told me to move.

AARRGHH!!!

I headed out to the Arcade in right field, but the view was crappy:

39_view_from_the_arcade_04_24_13

In addition to that, the walkway was too crowded to run for home run balls . . .

40_view_to_my_left_04_24_13

. . . and most of the batters in the game were right-handed, so I gave up out there. Before I left, I took a photo of the scene behind me:

41_joe_dirt_and_kayakers

I know I’ve already posted a photo of the Marina Gate, but I have to share another because it’s so damn beautiful:

42_marina_gate_from_above

Lots of fans headed for the exits as the game dragged on, but it seemed that the bleacher crowd didn’t thin out at all. Meanwhile, I was so tired that my eyes hurt, and I just couldn’t deal with the hustle of eluding the ushers . . . so I headed back up to the club level. I spent a few minutes looking at the cases of memorabilia in the carpeted (Ooh! Wow!) concourse behind home plate including signed baseballs . . .

43_memorabilia_in_the_club_level

. . . and commemorative bases . . .

44_memorabilia_in_the_club_level

. . . and Bobblehead dolls and baseball cards . . .

45_memorabilia_in_the_club_level

. . . and bats:

46_memorabilia_in_the_club_level

As I’ve said before, I’m not the museum type, but I did enjoy *briefly* looking at all that stuff. Then I grabbed a seat here in the shade . . .

47_going_for_foul_balls_04_24_13

. . . in the hope that a right-handed batter would hit me a foul ball. Nothing came close, and I ended up moving back down to the dugout . . .

48_view_from_dugout_04_24_13

. . . for the final three outs. Final score in 10 innings: Diamondbacks 3, Giants 2. And let me point out the fact that my man Heath Bell pitched a scoreless inning to lower his ERA to a respectable 4.50. (Remember, he’s still recovering from a dreadful first outing in which he surrendered two homers and three runs in a third of an inning.) Also, his 14-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn’t so bad.

Despite all the fans who’d left early, the exit ramps were still packed:

49_crowded_ramps_after_game_04_24_13

When I finally made it outside, I took a photo of the one ball that I’d kept . . .

50_ball6539_the_one_i_kept

. . . and took a cab back to my hotel and collapsed in bed.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game (one pictured above because I gave the other away)

• 81 balls in 12 games this season = 6.75 balls per game.

• 884 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 409 consecutive games with at least two balls

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

• 6 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, and AT&T Park

• 6,540 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)

• 23 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $2.52 raised at this game

• $102.06 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $3,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $24,508.06 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

4/23/13 at AT&T Park

The day started with (1) returning the rental car in San Diego, (2) a flight to San Francisco, (3) checking into a hotel, and (4) a cab ride to my first interview:

1b_neal_helping_me_get_places

The guy in the photo-collage above is named Neal Stewart. He works for BIGS Sunflower Seeds, the company that’s sponsoring me this season, so he’s traveling with me and making sure that everything runs smoothly.

As for the interview, here’s a photo that Neal took as it was wrapping up:

2_zack_interviewed_by_bennie_martin

In the photo above, the guy on the right is named Bennie Martin. He writes for the San Francisco Examiner. (See the voice recorder in his right hand?) His article about me was published online several hours later — click here to read it — and there was a print version the following day.

From there, Neal led me to my next interview . . .

3_neal_walking_to_radio_interview

. . . at a nearby radio studio. Here I am with the sign in the lobby.

4_zack_sports_byline_sign

We had a few minutes to spare before the interview, so I wandered the hallways:

5_radio_station_hallway

At the last minute, I learned that the interview was going to air on 500 stations in 177 countries. (No pressure, right?) It started at 4pm, and Neal (who was in the studio with me) filmed the whole thing. I’m not gonna post the video (because it’s 15 minutes, and who really cares?), but here are a couple of screen shots. The first one shows Ron Barr, the founder of the station and the host of the show . . .

6_ron_barr_interviewing_zack

. . . and the second one shows me:

7_zack_interviewed_by_ron_barr

After the interview, I was asked to sign the wall:

8_zack_signing_the_wall

Then Neal and I jumped in a cab to AT&T Park. We headed to the Marina Gate (which is in center field), and within a few minutes, I saw a familiar face:

9_lee_wilson_showing_up_with_his_bike

In the photo above, the guy with the bike is featured in The Baseball as one of the Top Ten Ballhawks of All Time. His name is Lee Wilson, and in case you haven’t seen the book, he caught Nomar Garciaparra’s 1st major league hit (which was a homer), and he also caught Barry Bonds’ 64th home run in 2001 — the year that Bonds set the single-season record. Not bad.

Then I caught up with another Top-Ten Ballhawk:

10_alex_patino_and_zack_04_23_13

The dude pictured above is named Alex Patino. (Check out pages 283-284 in the book to see the full interview with him. He’s absolutely hilarious.) He has snagged thousands of baseballs including 97 game home runs (including two or three Bonds homers, depending on how you look at it; he was involved in a lawsuit after scuffling for Bonds’ 700th).

The stadium opened at 5:15pm, and I was the first fan to run inside. As I hurried through the concourse toward the left field bleachers, I found a ball at the bottom of one of the staircases. Several minutes later, as the bleachers began to fill in, Alex shouted at Giants pitcher Chad Gaudin for a ball. (Actually, he’s always shouting.)

“I’m here every DAY, baby!!” he yelled. “Hook it UP!!”

Gaudin ignored him, and when things quieted down, I called out and said, “I live in New York City, so I’m NOT here every day. Any chance you could toss one up, please?”

That did the trick, and Gaudin threw the next ball to me. Here are the two baseballs:

11_balls_6532_and_6533

A minute or two after that, I snagged a home run that landed deep in the bleachers and ricocheted down to me in the cross-aisle. I’d been inside the stadium for five minutes and gotten three balls. Unfortunately, those were the only ones I got during batting practice. AT&T Park is gorgeous, and the layout (with all of its cross-aisles and standing-room areas) is ideal for ballhawking. As a result, there are a zillion ballhawks, so there’s an extreme level of competitiveness and aggression.

For some reason, everyone was standing *on* the bleacher benches:

12_fans_standing_on_bleachers

That makes no sense. It’s not like they wouldn’t have been able to see if they were standing on the ground, right? And what the hell were they all planning to do when home runs were hit? Run on the benches? That doesn’t sounds safe, does it?

Halfway through BP, I switched into my Diamondbacks gear, but that didn’t help.

I hid my frustration when this young man approached me and introduced himself:

13_austin_and_zack_04_23_13

His name is Austin, and he recognized me because he reads this blog. He’s 12 years old and has collected seven major league baseballs — a respectable total which puts him ahead of my pace, as I only had four at that age.

Look where Neal was this whole time:

14_neal_on_the_warning_track

In the photo above, that’s him looking up at me from the warning track. Somehow, he’d worked his way down there into a private party, but he didn’t snag any baseballs.

Several lefties were batting, so I walked up the steps in deep right-center . . .

15_deep_in_right_center_field

. . . and headed to the standing room area in right field (aka “The Arcade”). Look who had the same idea:

16_lee_wilson_on_the_arcade

In the photo above, that’s Lee Wilson, and when a bunch of righties started taking their cuts in the next round, I found him back in left field.

One cool thing about AT&T Park is that there’s no restriction about using ball-retrieving devices. In fact, so many people use them that it has become part of the ballhawking culture here. That said, check out the following photo:

17_coach_messing_with_fans

In case you can’t tell, two different fans had flung their “cup tricks” at a ball on the warning track. A Diamondbacks coach was messing with them by repeatedly tapping the ball away from them with his bat. Eventually, a third fan flung another device at the ball — a large net attached to a rope — and the coach backed off and watched them all battle for it. Alex Patino is the king of ball-retrieval devices. He uses a metal cooking pot (yes, he’s allowed to bring that inside) with a bungee cord stretched over the open part. The device is indestructible and can hold three our four balls, so if he sees a few sitting near each other on the warning track, he can go bang-bang-bang and pretty much get them all at once.

After BP, I met another ballhawk named Spencer who’s been reading this blog and following my baseball adventures. Here we are:

18_zack_and_spencer

Spencer, who has snagged 172 lifetime baseballs, has a profile on MyGameBalls.com, and he’s also on Twitter, in case you want to see what he’s up to. Really cool guy. I love the fact that I get to meet so many people when I travel; no matter what stadium I visit, it seems that a bunch of folks always recognize me and want to say hey.

Neal and I shared some garlic fries before the game and each got our own “main course” — a chicken sandwich for him and a sausage with onions and peppers for me. Then we parted ways. BIGS Sunflower Seeds has been great about buying me tickets near the dugouts at all these stadiums, but in some cases, they’re only buying one ticket there per game. In other words, they want to help me get close so I can go for game-used balls and raise lots of money for charity, but at a place like AT&T Park, which is hella pricey, they don’t want to pay for Neal to sit with me — totally understandable, in my opinion. Neal, therefore, had a crappy seat in the upper deck (poor guy) and I had a ticket that allowed me to be here:

19_tunnel_to_fancy_seats

Check out the view from the front of the tunnel:

20_didi_gregorius_on_deck

I stood there for as long as the ushers would let me, hoping that an inning would end with a strikeout and that I could get D’backs catcher Miguel Montero to toss me the ball.

Inning after inning passed — and no luck. One inning *did* end with a strikeout, but the ball bounced in the dirt, and Montero barely missed tagging the batter (like, by two inches), so he had to throw the ball to first base. That was painful.

I was getting more and more stressed, but at least I was having fun being so close to the action. Several fans recognized me as the guy who snagged two home runs on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium, one of whom invited me to sit in his seat beside the dugout while he went to the get food. Speaking of that Yankee game, do you remember the Diamondbacks’ TV reporter who interviewed me that night in the left field seats? Her name is Jody Jackson, and get this — when she saw me here at AT&T Park, we ended up texting. Here she is sending me a message:

21_jody_jackson_texting_me

Our text conversation went as follows:

JODY: Surprised you are sitting there.

ZACK: Just for a few minutes. Trying to snag a gamer for charity.

21b_texting_jody_jackson copyJODY: I don’t know if I will be interviewing you tonight but we are definitely going to show you on the broadcast.

ZACK: Cool, no problem.

JODY: I think it’s awesome what you are doing- did I read 500 per ball to charity?

ZACK: $500 for every stadium at which I snag a game-used ball. None yet tonight, unfortunately, but I did get three in BP.

JODY: What’s the charity?

ZACK: Pitch In For Baseball. They provide baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world.

JODY: Awesome. Thanks for the info.

ZACK: Thank YOU.

Jody is super-cool, as you can probably tell. Follow her on Twitter and show her some love.

A bit later in the game, I moved to another open seat here:

22_didi_gregorius_on_deck_again

In the photo above, that’s Didi Gregorius on deck. You may recall that he hit the first of the two home runs that I snagged the other night in the Bronx, and that it was the first of his major league career. After that game, I met him outside the visitors’ clubhouse and gave the ball back to him, so when I saw him so close during this game here in San Francisco, I couldn’t resist saying something. I waited until there was a lull in the action and then shouted, “Didi! I got your first home run last week in New York!” (I tweeted about this at the time. Remember?) He looked up and smiled wide and pointed at me. He obviously couldn’t talk, but he totally recognized me, which was cool.

Then I moved back to the seats next to the dugout:

23_zack_sitting_beside_dugout

Neal, meanwhile was sitting here:

24_neals_view_during_the_game

Haha.

I finally gave up on snagging an inning-ending strikeout and moved behind the outfield end of the Diamondbacks’ dugout:

25_my_view_in_the_7th_inning

Finally, thankfully, mercifully . . . Buster Posey popped out to D’backs 2nd baseman Martin Prado to end the 8th inning, and Prado tossed me the ball on his way in. All I could think was, “Cha-ching!! Another $500 for Pitch In For Baseball,” and let me tell you, it was a HUGE relief to get that ball and take care of my AT&T Park challenge:

26_zack_excited_about_ball6535

(In addition to the money that BIGS is donating, I’m doing my own fundraiser for Pitch In For baseball. Click here to learn more.)

The fans sitting in front of me asked if they could get a photo with the ball:

27_fan_posing_with_ball6535

One inning later, with the game going into extras, I got another 3rd-out ball from 1st baseman Paul Goldschmidt — no extra money for the charity for that one, but it still made me feel good.

At that point, I gave one of my BP balls to the nearest kid. (I’d given another ball away earlier in the game.) One of his parents asked if they could take a photo of him with me, so I obliged and then asked if I could get one with my camera. Here we are:

28_kid_named_george_with_a_ball_that_i_gave_him

The kid’s name is George. He was very appreciative of the ball. (I normally only give baseballs to kids with gloves, but occasionally I make exceptions.)

The D’backs won the game, 6-4, in 11 innings, thanks in part to my man Didi Gregorius who hit a one-out hustle-double and scored the go-ahead run. After the final out, two things happened:

1) Diamondbacks coach Steve Sax tossed me my 6th ball of the day.
2) Didi was interviewed in the dugout by Jody Jackson:

29_jody_jackson_interviewing_didi_gregorius

How good are your eyes? Did you notice the THREE baseballs in the previous photo? Didi tossed them all into the crowd, including one for me. That made me very happy.

I was one of the last fans to leave the stadium — good thing I wasn’t in the bleachers because the seagulls were raiding it for scraps of food:

30_seagulls_04_23_13

My final photo before leaving was taken with a 17-year-old named Connor, who’d brought his copy of my book:

31_connor_and_zack_with_the_baseball

To be fair, Connor and I are the same height; he was standing one step below me because security was kicking us out, so we didn’t have time to stop and get settled. (Thanks to his friend Sam for taking that photo.) He and I had met once before on 9/3/11 at AT&T Park. Do you remember this photo of him holding a ball that I had signed? You probably don’t, but anyway, I signed the book for him in a fancy, under-the-stands concession area, and while we were there, Heath Bell walked by (in street clothes) with some friends. I walked over, said hello, gave him a fist-bump, and said I’d see him tomorrow.

It was pretty late by the time I left. Neal had taken off after the 9th inning because we were gonna have to get up at 5:30am the next day for another radio interview.

It took forever to find a cab, but at least I had a nice view of the stadium while I waited:

32_outside_at&t_park_postgame

BALLHAWKING STATS:

33_the_five_balls_i_kept_04_23_13• 7 balls at this game (five pictured here on an ugly hotel rug because I gave two away)

• 79 balls in 11 games this season = 7.18 balls per game.

• 883 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 408 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, and AT&T Park

• 6,538 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)

• 23 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $8.82 raised at this game

• $99.54 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $3,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $24,505.54 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

4/22/13 at PETCO Park

My afternoon started with a huge, unhealthy meal at a place near PETCO Park called BUB’S:

1_zack_huge_pregame_meal_04_22_13

I had to eat fast and rush to the ballpark to meet a local TV sportscaster named Steve Smith by 4pm. He’s the guy who filmed me on 8/29/08 at PETCO Park, and now that I was back with a sponsor, he wanted to do another segment. Here I am talking to him before the gates opened:

2_zack_talking_to_steve_smith

In the photo above, Steve is on the left, and I’m on the right, having just put on my BIGS Sunflower Seeds cap. The dude in the middle works for BIGS; his name is Neal, and he’s traveling with me and helping with all the logistics and media stuff. If you’re wondering who took that photo, that would be my friend Brandon. He’s the guy who helped me build the pyramid of baseballs, and just so you know, he took most of the pics of me that you’re about to see . . .

My 1st baseball of the day was thrown by a Padres coach at the 1st base dugout. I’m pretty sure it was Alonzo Powell, but I’m not sure. After that, I changed into my Brewers gear and got a kick out of the fact that Steve was filming everything. When I retied the laces on my left sneaker, he was all over it:

3_zack_filmed_while_tying_shoes

Here I am catching my 2nd ball, which was thrown from the middle of the infield by Rickie Weeks:

4_zack_catching_ball6522

The outfield seats weren’t yet open, so I killed some time along the left field foul line. Here I am on the staircase; look how gorgeous the stadium is:

5_zack_left_field_foul_line_04_22_13

Steve filmed me taking a peek at my rosters:

6_zack_being_filmed_04_22_13

When the rest of the stadium opened, I headed up to the 2nd deck in left field. With Ryan Braun and several other power-hitting righties in the cage, I figured there’d be some action, but no, it was totally dead. Here I am looking over the railing at the seats below:

7_zack_second_deck_04_22_13

I was doing that in order to see which section/row was least crowded.

I ended up in left-center, and within a few minutes, I got Ryan Braun to throw me a ball. Here I am reaching out for the catch:

8_zack_catching_ball_6523

Here’s a face that should look familiar:

9_tc_in_left_field_04_22_13

He and I had our picture taken together the day before at Angel Stadium, remember? And he’s featured in The Baseball as one of the Top Ten ballhawks of all time. In case you’re drawing a blank, his name is T.C.

If Brandon had brought his fancy-schmancy camera (or rather, if he hadn’t forgotten his memory card and been forced to use my camera), the following photo wouldn’t have been blurry, but I don’t really care. I still like it. It shows me snagging my 4th ball of the day — a home run that I caught on the fly:

10_zack_catching_ball6525

My 5th ball was another homer that I caught on the fly. Then I got Yovani Gallardo to hook me up with ball No. 6. Normally, when there’s a photo that shows a ball flying my way, I like to circle it in red or draw an arrow, but I’m not gonna do it here. Your challenge is to spot the ball on your own:

11_zack_catching_ball6526

I handed that ball to the nearest kid, pictured below in the red hoodie:

12_zack_and_kid_who_received_ball6526

Now, as you’ve probably heard or seen, the Padres brought the fences in over the winter. One of the wonderful changes (from a ballhawking perspective) is that there’s now a gap behind the outfield wall in left-center. Here I am using my glove trick to snag a ball from it.

13_zack_glove_trick_for_ball6527

I was worried about getting busted by stadium security, but the only guard who saw me didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he was rather intrigued by the whole operation. Here he is watching me do my thing:

14_security_guard_watching_04_22_13

Just as I was starting to coil up my string, I heard people shouting and sensed everyone tensing up in such a way that could only mean one thing: a ball was flying toward me. I awkwardly wedged my left hand into my glove and looked up and saw the ball and reached up and caught it:

15_zack_catching_ball6528

That was my 8th ball of the day and the final one that I snagged during BP. I came close to another homer soon after, and when I saw the photo of myself scrambling for it, I had to laugh. Check out how ridiculous my face looks:

16_leigh_jumping_zack_funny_face

Neal brought his glove on this trip:

17_neal_stewart_04_22_13

His goal is to snag ONE ball, and he would’ve gotten it during BP at this game if I hadn’t robbed him on one of the homers. (Oopsie!)

After BP, I was hoping to get a photo with T.C. and another PETCO regular named Leigh (aka “Padre Leigh” in the comments on this blog). It didn’t happen. T.C. vanished, and I didn’t see him for the rest of the night, but I did catch up with Leigh. Here we are with our baseballs:

18_leigh_and_zack_with_baseballs

Then I did a sit-down interview with Steve . . .

19_zack_being_interviewed_04_22_13

. . . and got a photo with him before he took off:

20_zack_and_steve_smith

He’s really nice. And knowledgeable. And professional. For those of you in San Diego, keep an eye on Channel 10. The segment should air at some point in the next week or two, and for the rest of you, I’ll post a link when it’s available.

Here’s another photo of the gap . . .

21_new_gap_in_left_center_field

. . . and here’s a shot of the new bullpen configuration:

22_new_bullpen_configuration

Do you remember that the visitors’ bullpen was on the field along the right field foul line? Well, now it’s positioned behind/above the Padres’ bullpen in deep left-center. In the photo above, do you see the stairs (a white-ish railing, really) on the left side? That’s how the visiting team accesses its new bullpen, and look! Here I am getting my 9th ball of the day from it:

23_zack_catching_ball6529

In the photo above, the guy standing on the right is Brewers bullpen coach Lee Tunnell. That’s who threw it.

Brandon took the following photo of Jason Marquis warming up, and he insisted that I post it:

24_jason_marquis_warming_up

(Are you happy, Brandon? I insist that you not forget your memory card next time.)

When the game got underway, I was sitting behind the Padres’ dugout. It took me all of three outs to snag a game-used ball. Jason Marquis pitched it. Alex Gonzalez check-swung at it and hit a wimpy pop-up. Padres 1st baseman Yonder Alonso caught it and tossed it to me on his way in. By that point, the Brewers were already winning, 5-0.

I moved to the 3rd base side for a bit because there were a zillion empty seats . . .

25_empty_seats_on_my_left_04_22_13

. . . but then, when all the power-hitting righties came up for the Brewers, I ran to the 2nd deck in left field. This was my view:

26_view_from_second_deck_04_22_13

That’s pretty much what I did all night: 3rd base side for the wimpy/lefty Padres hitters and the left field 2nd deck for the Brewers. If I’d been in that spot in the top of the 1st inning, I would’ve caught Yuniesky Betancourt’s three-run homer. It landed at the bottom of those stairs, so it would’ve been pretty easy for me to drift forward and make the play.

<sigh>

Look how wide the cross-aisle is in the 2nd deck:

27_amazingly_wide_cross_aisle

<sigh again>

There was NO competition up there. It was just me versus fate, and on this particular night, fate gave me the finger.

Here’s a photo of me that Neal took from foul territory:

28_zack_in_second_deck_from_afar

In the photo above, do you see the fans sitting just above the red circle? Well, when they saw all the BIGS gear that I was wearing, they started asking/pestering me for seeds in a funny way. They threatened to eat competitors’ seeds unless I brought them free samples. I told them I had samples. The issue was that the seeds were in my backpack, which Neal was holding for me on the 3rd base side. I promised these fans that I’d be back in a couple innings with seeds, and they were like, “You better!! We’re counting on you!!” Even the usher wanted seeds, and I promised her I’d bring some.

First, though, I needed (and I do mean NEEDED) to wander out to right field and photograph the new Jack Daniels Party Deck. It’s sort of like the party deck at Citi Field, except nicer and roomier and cheaper (because there’s no free food) and easier to get into. Take a look for yourself:

29_the_new_jack_daniels_party_deck

Here’s what the end of the deck looks like closest to the foul pole:

30_party_deck_bar_in_corner

There was an usher stationed at the bottom of the stairs in the middle of the deck. You can kinda see her through the small glass panel two photos above, but anyway, I noticed that none of the fans there had wristbands, so naturally I tried to get down there — and let me tell you, it was very easy. I waited ’til there was a group of fans heading down, and then I merged into the middle of their pack, and I pretended to be looking at my phone as I went down the steps. And that was it. I waltzed right past the usher and ended up here:

31_party_deck_room_to_run

Can you imagine having that much room and so little competition? Man, oh man.

Here’s what the tables and chairs look like on the party deck . . .

32_party_deck_table_and_chairs

. . . and here’s a big logo on the back wall:

33_jack_daniels_barrel_and_logo

Why does every stadium party deck have to be named after alcohol or some other crappy beverage? Why not the “Pink Lady Apple Party Deck” or the “National Scrabble Association Party Deck?” or the “Drink Water Because Its Free And Healthy And Won’t Give You Diabeetus Party Deck”? Know what I mean?

I hung out there for an inning or two and would’ve stayed longer (like, forever) except I had a promise to keep: BIGS Sunflower Seeds for the fans in the 2nd deck in left field.

Check it out:

34_fans_with_bigs_seeds_04_22_13

They were SO happy to get the seeds. As a sucker for free food, I know the feeling.

With the Brewers holding a 7-1 lead in the bottom of the 9th inning, I really wanted to go to their dugout and try to get a ball or two after the final out, but damn, Jedd Gyorko was due to bat 4th, and he was still stuck at ZERO career home runs.

I decided to start near the dugout, and if anyone got on base, then I’d run out to left field. As it turned out, Mark Kotsay reached base on a one-out error, so I took off. Chris Denorfia followed by striking out on three pitches. That meant Gyorko was coming up (I was still racing through the concourse when his name was announced) and the game would end unless HE got on base.

Just as I was entering the left field seats, the son-of-a-gun swung at the first pitch and hit a single. GAH!! I was pissed about the lack of a home run, but excited to possibly have a chance to get back to the Brewers’ dugout. I just needed Nick Hundley to have a longer-than-average at-bat in order for me to make it in time, and whaddaya know? He did. Just after I got here . . .

35_view_in_9th_inning_04_22_13

. . . he grounded out on the 6th pitch of the at-bat.

Moments later, I got a ball from a ballboy –my 11th of the day — and handed it to a little kid on my right. Less than a minute after that, I shouted at the coaches and ended up getting them to give me their magnificent lineup card. I was pumped:

36_zack_with_lineup_card_04_22_13

Neal and Brandon and I went to In-n-Out Burger:

37_in_n_out_burger_04_22_13

Neal, trying to reduce his carb intake, ordered his burger on a lettuce wrap. I’d never heard of such a thing, so I ordered one for myself. Here’s what it looked like:

38_burger_in_a_lettuce_wrap

It was weird and disappointing, and here’s how I see it: if you’re gonna have a salad, be healthy and eat a damn salad; if you’re gonna have a burger, accept the fact that you’re THIS much closer to dying of cancer and go all out. It’s like diet muffins or diet soda or low-fat anything. If you have to eat or drink the diet version, well, I’m sorry, but you probably shouldn’t be eating or drinking it in the first place.

Speaking of malnourishment, Neal and I spotted a HOOTERS in a nearly mall, and we simply *had* to stop and take a photo:

39_hoors

It’s amazing how big of a difference two missing letters can make, although it could be argued that in this case, they made no difference at all.

At around midnight, Neal and I went to an all-night FedEx shipping center:

40_neal_at_fedex

He had to mail a 50-something-pound tent back to the office, and I decided to mail the lineup card to myself in New York City. In the photo above, the lineup card is sitting on the end of the counter (five feet to the right of Neal). Here’s a closer look at it:

41_lineup_card_04_22_13

Is that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in your entire life, or at least in the past 24 hours? Seriously, I think it’s amazing, and I can’t believe I got it. I’ve collected dozens of lineup cards over the years, but this was only the second big one. Click here to see the other.

I’d like to point out three unusual language-related things about the lineup card pictured above:

1) The reserve players’ names were all written without vowels. (But why?)
2) Norichika Aoki’s name is written in Japanese.
3) The Hebrew word (in the middle near the top) says “Jesus.”

Finally, be sure to check out Neal’s short blog entry (which has a video of me) about this game on BIGSBaseballAdventure.com.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

42_the_nine_balls_i_kept_04_22_13• 11 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave two away)

• 72 balls in 10 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

• 882 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 407 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 213 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 5 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, and PETCO Park

• 6,531 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)

• 23 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $13.86 raised at this game

• $90.72 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $2,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $23,996.72 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

4/21/13 at Angel Stadium

Angel Stadium is one of my least favorite ballparks, but I was still excited to be here:

1_zack_outside_angel_stadium_04_21_13

This was the first game of my first road trip with Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds. Neal, as you may recall from my entry about being sponsored, is the Director of Marketing for BIGS and will be spending quite a bit of time with me this season. (I’m happy to report that he’s a whole lot of fun to be around.)

Look who showed up a little while later:

2_tc_and_zack_04_21_13

In the photo above, the guy on the left (who, it should be noted, brought his own bag of BIGS seeds), is a legendary ballhawk named T.C. In fact, he’s so legendary that I featured him on pages 281-282 of The Baseball as one of the Top Ten ballhawks of all time.

Soon after that, I photographed T.C. getting Joaquin Benoit’s autograph:

3_tc_and_joaquin_benoit

Neal, meanwhile, had brought two flavors of BIGS seeds to give away as free samples — buffalo wing and dill pickle. Here he is handing them out to everyone:

4_neal_handing_out_seeds_04_21_13

Neal will usually be the only BIGS representative with me at games, but here in Los Angeles of Anaheim, we were joined by a woman named Bianca Cadloni, who does social media for the company. Here she is (in the white t-shirt and green shorts) handing out free samples of seeds as well:

5_bianca_handing_out_seeds_04_21_13

The stadium was supposed to open at 11am, but get this: at around 10:40, a security guard announced that the right field gate would open at 10:45, so everyone hurried over there:

6_angel_stadium_right_field_gate

The extra 15 minutes made a difference. When I first ran inside, Max Scherzer was playing catch along the right field foul line:

7_max_scherzer_playing_catch_04_21_13

He finished five minutes later and threw me the ball . . .

8_ball6517

. . . and for the record, he threw it hard (compared to the gentle lobs that fans typically receive) — probably about 50 miles per hour.

In the photo of Scherzer playing catch, did you notice the white chain barricade on the warning track? It was Little League Day, which meant three things:

1) no batting practice
2) a zillion kids
3) lots of stress

Day games tend to suck in general; day games on weekends are the absolute worst. Everything that I normally try to avoid at stadiums was happening here. It was my ballhawking nightmare, so I was relieved to have kept my streak alive.

I noticed that one of the Tigers was throwing a bullpen session, so I ran over. It was Justin Verlander, and he was just finishing up. He signed exactly one autograph for another fan . . .

9_justin_verlanding_signing

. . . and headed toward the dugout.

Then all the Little Leaguers came out and started walking around the field:

10_nightmare_little_league_day

An hour later, I got my 2nd ball of the day from Scott Pickens. (Getting a pre-game toss-up from a bullpen catcher isn’t terribly exciting, but I was proud of myself for this one. I was in right field when I saw him playing catch on the other side of the stadium, so I raced over and got there just in time.) Here I am with it:

11_zack_with_ball6518

Just before the national anthem, I went here . . .

12_ball6519_location

. . . and got Austin Jackson to throw me my 3rd ball. Because it was so crowded, I had to stand on a seat and wave my arms to get his attention. His throw fell several feet short, but the guy pictured above with the straw hat wasn’t paying attention. (None of the other fans seemed to notice the ball either.) If he had been, he could’ve easily reached up and caught it.

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

13_first_pitch_04_21_13

Bianca was still handing out seeds to random people, and for a little while, Neal had my camera. Here’s a photo that he took of a nearby family with their free samples:

14_kids_with_bigs_sunflower_seeds_04_21_13

As part of the BIGS Baseball Adventure, my challenge is to snag a game-used ball at all 30 major league stadiums this year; for every venue where I succeed, BIGS will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball. Therefore, I hung out near the Tigers’ dugout in the hope of snagging a 3rd-out ball.

The 1st inning ended with an Albert Pujols strikeout; Tigers catcher Brayan Pena kept the ball. The 2nd inning ended with a Hank Conger groundout; Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder tossed it to a grown man 20 feet to my left. The third inning ended with a Howie Kendrick groundout — Doug Fister, an extreme ground-ball pitcher, was on the hill — and this time Prince Fielder hooked me up. Here he is about to toss it to me while walking toward the dugout . . .

15_zack_about_to_snag_ball6520

. . . and just like that, I’d raised another sizable chunk of change for my favorite charity.

I ended up giving away my Austin Jackson ball to the nearest kid. (I would’ve preferred to part with the Pickens ball, but it had a black marker streak on the sweet spot, so I decided it was too ugly to give away. The Tigers do that to some of their baseballs. It’s annoying.) Then I changed out of my Tigers gear and into my official BIGS attire for a photo:

16_zack_with_ball6520

Do I mind wearing that clothing with the BIGS logos? Hell no! I actually think it’s pretty cool. Did you notice my shirt in the photo with T.C.? Take another look. Underneath the BIGS logo, it says:

1 SEASON . . . 30 STADIUMS
SNAGGING BASEBALLS FOR CHARITY IN 2013

What’s not to like about that? And wait’ll you see the back of the shirt. It’s mostly visible in the photo of Bianca handing out seeds, but I’ll post a better shot in just a bit. Even if I hated the shirts, I would still wear them because BIGS is paying for *all* my expenses as I travel to all 30 major league stadiums this year. My taxi to the airport two days ago in New York City? The $25 fee to check my bag? All the tickets to games and all my food? Yes, yes, and yes. This is a dream come true, so I want to help them as much as possible.

Speaking of food, look what I ate in the later innings:

17_orange_chicken_and_honey_shrimp_with_walnuts

That’s orange chicken (on the upper right) and honey shrimp with walnuts (on the left). I have a weakness for crappy Chinese food. And hey, did you notice where I was sitting? I was in the “front row” in left-center — 50 feet behind the outfield wall with an obstructed view of the field. (Why, exactly, does anyone claim to like Angel Stadium? I like the weather and the easy-to-circumvent ushers, but that’s about it.)

Neil and Bianca were sitting on my right:

18_bianca_and_neal_in_left_field

The most annoying kids of all time were climbing all over the place on my left:

19_the_parents_of_these_kids_really_suck

I think kids are great and would love to have my own someday (if I ever happen to meet a woman who, shall we say, embraces my oddities), but these little guys were hard work. Really, I blame their parents, who were sitting 15 rows back and letting them run wild.

Little League Day. Awful.

Check out the back of my shirt:

20_back_of_my_shirt

Neal told me that he had 72 of these shirts made! I’m not sure what he’s planning to do with them all, but don’t be surprised if you see me wearing them for years to come.

Speaking of shirts:

21_bellies

Yeah, so anyway . . .

Bianca was scheduled to fly out of San Diego at 8pm, which wouldn’t have been a problem under normal circumstances, but when the game dragged into the 12th inning, she and Neal started scrambling for other options. Here they are changing her flight to a closer airport:

22_neal_helping_bianca_change_her_flight

Bianca had already checked out of her hotel room, and she had all of her stuff in the car, so Neal left the game with her and took her to the airport. All of our phones were about to die — not only did the game last more than four hours, but we were out in the sun for most of it, so we had to crank up the brightness, which drained the batteries — so Neal and I made a plan: I was going to stay at the game until it ended and then meet him at the big A in the parking lot.

Soon after they left, Mark Trumbo led off the bottom of the 13th inning with a 425-foot blast to straight-away left field. Game over. Final score, Angels 4, Tigers 3.

Here’s where the walk-off home run ball ended up:

23_mark_trumbo_walkoff_home_run_ball_in_bullpen

It had short-hopped the back wall of the Tigers’ bullpen (less than 40 feet to the right of where I’d been sitting) and then rolled back toward the field. Jeff Kunkel, the Tigers’ other bullpen catcher, was the last member of the team in the bullpen. I asked him for the ball, but he ignored me and walked off. (It really WAS a walk-off homer.) Everyone was screaming and begging the nearest usher to go get it, but he said he wasn’t allowed.

Take another look at the photo above. See the kid hanging on the fence and leaning over the railing? Well, it occurred to me that if I waited long enough (for some fans and ushers and guards to take off), I might be able to glove-trick the ball from that corner spot — you know, fling my glove way out at it and get the glove to land beyond it and then tug my string in order to knock the ball closer. Just as I was starting to set up my glove and head over there, a teenaged kid in Yankees gear jumped out of the stands and ran into the bullpen and grabbed the ball and tried to make a quick exit . . . but didn’t get very far.

Here he is standing on a nearby staircase, surrounded by stadium security:

24_kid_who_grabbed_it_from_the_bullpen_in_the_yankees_shirt_in_deep_shit_with_security

I was glad he got busted because he’d ruined my chance to snag a game home run ball, and also, ball or no ball, YOU DON’T JUMP INTO A MAJOR LEAGUE BULLPEN. Seriously, what a jackass.

I was also glad that one of the ushers confiscated the ball, and if you look closely at the photo above, you can see it. Check it out:

25_home_run_ball_in_ushers_pocket

After the kid was hauled off, I politely asked the usher for the ball.

“Sorry, can’t do it,” he said, “It’s going to a challenger.”

“A what?”

“A child in a wheelchair,” he explained.

I couldn’t argue with that. Of course, I never did see the usher give the ball away (and believe me, I kept my eyes on him for a while), but who knows what happened? Chances are he kept it, but maybe it did end up in the hands of a kid who will always treasure it. I’d like to think so, anyway.

I headed toward the big A and photographed the three balls that I’d kept:

26_the_three_balls_i_kept_04_21_13

With my last remaining shred of iPhone power, I read the previous day’s box scores until Neal showed up.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game (three pictured above because I gave one to a kid)

• 61 balls in 9 games this season = 6.8 balls per game.

• 881 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 406 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 4 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and Angel Stadium.

• 6,520 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)

• 23 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $5.04 raised at this game

• $76.86 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $2,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $23,482.86 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium

If I hadn’t been planning to meet a friend at this game, I probably would’ve skipped it. The weather was iffy, and I was tired, and I had a lot of other stuff to do, and blah blah. I just wasn’t feeling it, and when I heard that the tarp was coming out, I was pissed. Check out my reaction on Twitter. “I wish I were home,” I said.

When I headed inside Yankee Stadium at 5pm and actually saw the tarp, this was how I felt:

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The day before, I’d snagged nine baseballs during batting practice (plus a 10th right before the game). Now that it was drizzling and the teams weren’t hitting, I feared it would be a struggle just to keep my streak alive — 879 consecutive games with at least one ball.

Sure enough, there was *no* action for nearly an hour. I didn’t see a single player on the field until Heath Bell, my friend and favorite player, came out at 5:55pm. Even though there were only a few hundred fans in the entire stadium, I had to beg the security guards to let me down into the seats to talk to him. Yankee Stadium has more rules than the other 29 stadiums combined.

By the time I made it down to the front row, Heath was already talking to some fans. Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain:

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See the phone on the edge of the wall? Heath was watching video footage of that kid’s Little League at-bats and giving him pointers. As it turned out, that was no ordinary kid. His name is Tyler, and he reads this blog, and he’s friends with Heath too. (Heath should run for public office; all he’d have to do is get his friends to vote for him, and he’d blow away the competition.) It took a few minutes for Tyler to realize that I was standing there, but once he did, we all ended up chatting. It was pretty cool to stumble into that random triangle of connectedness, so in a way, my day was already a success, and get this: there was footage of our interaction on the Diamondbacks’ pre-game show:

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Soon after that, several kids appeared out of nowhere and asked Heath to sign autographs. One of them had a snazzy sliver marker, so I figured I might as well get Heath to sign my cap with it. I felt kinda funny asking because I don’t really collect autographs anymore, and if I wanted, I could’ve gotten him to sign a thousand things for me over the years, but anyway, here’s how it turned out:

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Can we all agree that Heath Bell is THE nicest guy in the major leagues? Seriously.

I got a photo with Tyler . . .

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. . . and then went to meet my friend Jeremy, who had just arrived. Our seats were in straight-away left field, which was convenient because Diamondbacks coach Glenn Sherlock started playing catch nearby:

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Game time was only 25 minutes away, so you can imagine how relieved I was when Sherlock finished throwing (with Miguel Montero) and hooked me up with this:

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In the photo above, that’s Jeremy in the light blue shirt. He’s the guy who was with me on 4/21/11 at Citi Field when I caught Mike Nickeas’s 1st career home run, so if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, he might look familiar.

Jeremy went to get a beer. I wandered back into foul territory and got two more baseballs thrown to me. The first came from Cliff Pennington, and the second came from Cody Ross. I ended up giving both of those balls away to a pair of little kids. More on that later . . .

Just before the national anthem, I got a call from another friend who had an extra ticket out in Section 104 and said I should drop by. Normally, I’d never leave a good home-run area — not even to visit my own mother — but I considered it because he was in straight-away right field (and because I hadn’t seen him in a while). Of course, I didn’t want to abandon Jeremy, so I said I’d think about it and try to find him before the night was through.

7b_didi_gregorius_2013I must’ve been in the middle of tweeting or emailing when the starting lineups were announced because I remember asking Jeremy to look up one of the players on his iPhone: Didi Gregorius, batting 8th and playing shortstop for the D’backs. I vaguely knew that name . . . or did I? Was he a rookie? Had I seen his name last year in a few box scores? Most importantly, had he ever hit a home run in the major leagues? And did he bat right-handed? The answers to the last two questions were NO and NO. Zero home runs. Left-handed batter. Hmm.

I decided then that I’d wait to visit my friend in Section 104 until Gregorius was coming up to bat. That way, in case he happened to go yard, I’d have a chance to catch it. I didn’t expect him to go oppo at Yankee Stadium; left-handed batters rarely do that.

Meanwhile, this was my view from left field:

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The D’backs sent four batters to the plate in the top of the 1st inning, which meant that Gregorius was due to bat fourth in the top of the 2nd. As much as I wanted Arizona to win, I was hoping that they’d go down in order so that Gregorius would lead off the top of the 3rd. If that happened, it would give me some extra time to head to right field and find my friend. I told all of this to Jeremy and asked if he was okay with being on his own for half an inning. There were two more lefties due to bat after Gregorius, so I told him I wanted to stay out there for all three. Jeremy was cool with it, but first we had to see how the 2nd inning would play out.

Cody Ross led off with a routine fly ball to Ichiro Suzuki. One out.
Eric Chavez followed by striking out. Two outs.
With Gregorius on deck, A.J. Pollock went down swinging. Inning over.

While the Yankees batted in the bottom of the 2nd, I made a plan with Jeremy: I was going to leave my backpack with him — cell phone and everything — and be gone for five minutes; if, by some miracle, Gregorius went deep and I happened to catch it, Jeremy’s job was to grab my backpack and come find me ASAP.

“I’m gonna be on the exact opposite side of the stadium,” I told him. “See the tunnel between those two Modell’s ads, one section away from the Yankees’ bullpen? That’s the staircase where I’ll be. Look for me.”

The moment that Eduardo Nunez struck out to end the 2nd inning, I bolted up the steps and jogged through the concourse past Monument Park and over to the right field side. I arrived as Gregorius was walking to the plate, so I quickly explained my situation to the security guard, or at least part of it. I didn’t mention anything about home runs. I just told him that I had a friend in his section with an extra ticket. He didn’t want me walking down into the seats, though. He didn’t want me to block anyone’s view, and of course he needed to see that there WAS, in fact, an extra ticket for me. Time was running out for me to get my friend’s attention. I had wanted to surprise him by shouting his name from the back of the section, but he was in the middle of the third row, and it would’ve been a big production, and Phil Hughes was about to throw the first pitch to Gregorius, and then it happened:

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Gregorius connected on a knee-high fastball and rocketed a deep line drive in my direction. Part of my brain was like, “You gotta be kidding me,” but the other part didn’t care about the improbability of the situation. My instincts took over. That’s all I can say. I knew right away that it was going to be a home run, but (a) it was going to fall well short of the tunnel where I was standing, and (b) it was heading several seats to the right of the staircase.

I’ve drawn a red circle around myself in the following screen shot:

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As you can see, I was at the very back of the section — but not for long. I hurried down the steps, and as the ball was approaching, I knew I had no chance to catch it on the fly. It was too far away, and when I saw a tall guy in the second row reach up for it with his glove, I figured I had no shot. Thankfully the ball sailed a foot over his glove (he didn’t even jump) and landed in a small cluster of gloveless fans. The seats around them were crowded, but not packed, so I had a bit of room to maneuver. I scooted into a row that had some open space at the end, and incredibly, I saw the ball rattling around in the row directly behind me. The following screen shot shows what happened next:

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Do you see the fans marked with the small red numbers? Here’s what was going on:

1) This guy (the number is on his head) was in the row where the ball landed. He was bending down and reaching for it.

2) That’s me. Remember, I was in the row below the ball, so I was facing away from the field and lunging back over the seats for it.

3) This woman was sitting in the row where the ball landed. She barely went for it — probably didn’t notice that it was at her feet until the very last second, by which point I had grabbed it.

Now, just to set the record straight, it was a totally clean snag on my part. I didn’t bump into anyone. I didn’t grab the ball out of anyone’s hands. I got it fair-n-square. I’ve gotten a few nasty tweets from people who saw the game on TV and accused me of diving on top of that woman, but if you look closely at the screen shot above, you can see that I didn’t do that. See how she’s sitting in the second seat in from the stairs? See the end seat next to her? Well, it’s empty. You can see that I was not in that row. I was in the row below her, and when I lunged for the ball, I went to the side of her.

The first thing I did after grabbing the ball and holding it up was to look for Jeremy across the stadium. “Please!” I thought. “Get up out of your seat and GO.” And he did. He stood up and grabbed my backpack and flew up the stairs and through the tunnel. Yes!! Obviously, I was VERY excited, but as for the sea of Yankee fans surrounding me? Eh, not so much, and they all got pissed as I continued holding the ball up. If you watch the replay (which I’ll link to later), it might appear as if I were taunting someone. Indeed, I was making a “c’mere” gesture and clearly mouthing off about something, but it’s not what you think. I was shouting (in the general direction of the Diamondbacks’ dugout), “That’s his first home run! Come and get it!” Everyone around me was yelling at me to “throw it back,” so I defiantly repeated the part about it being his first. Then, while I was still holding up the ball, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that someone was lunging at me from the side:

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Somehow I managed to move my hand away just in time, and he whiffed. Then, perhaps inspired by the new Geico commercial featuring Dikembe Mutombo, I gave the guy a condescending finger-wag:

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Here’s some more TV footage that everyone (including the “SportsCenter” hosts) misinterpreted:

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Again, I’ll link to all the replays and highlights later, but for now . . . does this look familiar? In the screen shot above, the guy in the gray jacket was telling me to calm down, but he wasn’t trying to start a fight. I’ve seen him at lots of games, and he’s cool as hell. We have a great relationship, and he’s always looking out for me. He was just trying to keep the peace, which he did by escorting me back up to the tunnel. The security guards didn’t know what was going on. They thought this guy was trying to mess with me, so when they saw us heading up the steps together, they asked me if I was okay. The whole thing was crazy.

I decided to wait in the tunnel for security. I had no doubt that they were gonna come looking for the ball, and since I was planning to give it back to Gregorius, I figured I’d take a picture of it:

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By the way, that ball represents an additional $500 for Pitch In For Baseball; for every stadium this season at which I snag one during a game, BIGS Sunflower Seeds is going to donate that amount of money to the charity.

It took security about a minute to arrive, and Jeremy showed up 30 seconds later. Here’s a photo  he took that shows me talking to them:

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One of the TV cameras was getting a shot of me at that moment:

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Moments later, my friend Tony Bracco (who happened to be sitting nearby) took this photo:

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My biggest concern was that I was going to get in trouble for being in a section where I didn’t belong, so when the security supervisor asked where my seat was, I had a mini-heart attack.

“You ARE in this section, right?” he asked.

“Well, see, that’s the thing,” I began and then told him the story about visiting a friend and how I was only here for ONE pitch. I apologized profusely and said I was nervous about getting in trouble because I go to lots of games and don’t want to cause problems and–

“It’s okay,” he said, “you’re not in trouble.” He explained that he wanted to know where my actual seat was so he’d know where to find me later.

I showed him my ticket — that’s what was happening in the photo above — and he took down my info. He and the other security personnel were very nice to me, perhaps because they realized that I wasn’t going to make their job difficult. One of the first things I told them was that I wanted to give the ball back to Didi Gregorius and that I didn’t need him to give me anything in return. I explained that I simply wanted to meet him after the game and hand the ball to him myself. (This was the third time that I’d snagged a player’s 1st major league home run. In addition to the Nickeas ball, I caught Mike Trout’s 1st career homer on 7/24/11 at Camden Yards, and I’d always asked for the same thing: to meet the player so that *I* could be the one to hand it over.)

To complicate things, the Diamondbacks’ roving TV reporter appeared in the tunnel and asked if she could interview me. Why was it complicated? Because the security people wouldn’t let her! Naturally, she wanted to do the interview in the seats, but the issue had nothing to do with my seat location. The issue was that the Yankees don’t allow the media to enter the seats during games. Unreal.

As you might imagine, the TV reporter, whose name is Jody Jackson, was bewildered by the resistance she was facing.

“Why can’t I go out there and interview him?” she asked the supervisor. “I’m just trying to do my job.”

“And I’m just trying to do mine,” he said. They weren’t yelling at each other, but they were both getting a bit annoyed. He couldn’t let her down into the seats without clearance from *his* supervisor, and Jody couldn’t understand why. (“Two words,” I told her. “Yankee Stadium. That’s why.”) She asked if she could interview me right there in the tunnel, but the answer was no. In fact, we were told to move to the concourse because we were in the way. Here we are, trying to figure out what the hell to do next:

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We had to rush because (a) she needed to move on to her next assignment, and (b) security was eager to whisk me off and make a plan. At the last second, she told me her phone number, and I frantically scribbled it down, and as I was being led away by a different security guy, she told me to text her and let her know where I was gonna be.

Jeremy and I followed the security guy through the center field concourse and eventually toward a locked door with a sign that said something like, “employee lounge.” Here’s what it looked like on the inside:

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He led us through the lounge and into a back office, where I met with a man who had appeared briefly in the tunnel when I first snagged the ball. I don’t know if he’s the head of stadium security or one of the top guys, but he’s gotta be up there somewhere. I’ve seen him around a lot, and I’ve always been scared of him because it’s clear from his demeanor that he means business. Our meeting began with him telling me that I couldn’t take photos.

Jeremy and I were probably in there for 10 minutes. The reason why it took so long is that he made several calls to the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse. Basically, he told them what I wanted, and they told him what THEY wanted. He said they wanted to get the ball from me right away and that I could go meet Gregorius after the game and take a photo with him. As politely as was humanly possible, I insisted on holding onto the ball until the end of the game and giving it to Gregorius then. Our discussion dragged on because he was trying to get me to change my mind, and I was explaining why it was important for me to hold onto it.

“Didi Gregorius is going to own this ball for the rest of his life,” I said. “I just want to enjoy having it for the next four or five innings.”

In case there was any suspicion of my pulling a switcheroo, I showed him a distinctive mark on the ball. It had been rubbed with quite a bit of mud, yet there was a light-ish streak above the Rawlings logo.

Eventually, I was told that I could return to my seat in left field with the ball.

“We’ll keep an eye on you,” he said. “You should be easy to spot with that red hat, and we’ll come and get you after the game and escort you down to the visitors clubhouse.”

“Thank you very much,” I said, “and just to make sure, I’d like my friend Jeremy to be able to join me.”

“That won’t be a problem,” said the security guy. And that was it.

As Jeremy and I headed back to left field, we had the whole, “Is this really happening?!” conversation. What are the odds? Jeremy’s been to three games with me, and I’ve snagged a player’s 1st career home run at two of them.

In the bottom of the 5th inning, Jody tried to find me in left field, but was once again stopped by security. Check out the following photo. It shows her trapped in the corner tunnel past the State Farm ad:

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As the Diamondbacks came to bat in the top of the 6th, I headed over to say hey. Here she is with the guard (whose name is Nigel):

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Being out of my seat made me antsy. I had a good spot in straight-away left field, and there was a half-empty row on my right, but whatever. I was only gonna talk to her for a minute or two.  It was a nice thing to do. She was there to interview me, and I felt bad that she was still getting hassled.

WELL . . .

Within a minute of walking over there, Martin Prado hit a home run that landed in that gosh-darned empty row, ten feet to the right of where I should’ve been sitting! Can you believe it?! I watched helplessly from afar as some gloveless Yankee fan picked up the ball and chucked it back onto the field. I was stunned and heartbroken. If I’d been in my seat, it would’ve been THE easiest home run catch of all time, and I knew that I’d missed a tremendous opportunity. Instead of this whole thing being a nice local story for the Arizona media, it would’ve blown up and gone viral/national. I’m telling you, I practically felt sick to my stomach. The joy I’d experienced with the Gregorius homer was pretty much wiped out. That might sound silly, but I can’t help it. That’s just how my mind works. I’m an all-or-nothing kinda guy, and I couldn’t trick myself into being happy about the one that I’d caught.

I remember thinking, “What are the odds that there’ll be another home run hit to the same spot tonight?” Obviously, the odds were crappy (and then some), but I believed it was possible. Last season, when I was sitting in right field, I missed a Robinson Cano homer by six inches when another fan lunged in front of me at the last second and caught the ball in front of my glove. I was so upset at the time that I thought about going home, but I stayed and ended up catching a game-tying solo homer by Derek Jeter IN THE SAME SPOT in the bottom of the 9th inning. I wasn’t going to leave this game because I was all set to meet Gregorius after the final out, so I just sat there in left field with Jeremy and hoped for another chance.

Jody eventually made it down to my section and interviewed me:

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The highlight was when she asked about my Diamondbacks gear, and I admitted to having a “man-crush” on Heath Bell. (Two days later on my way to the airport, Heath texted me and said, “Man crush????” I texted back and told him I hoped he wasn’t getting too much [crap] about it from his teammates, and he said it’s all good.) The whole interview lasted about 90 seconds, and by the way, I don’t blame Jody at all for the Prado homer that I missed. I blame myself for getting out of my seat, and I blame the Yankees for having so many rules at their stadium. If they had let her interview me when I first got the Gregorius ball, I would’ve been sitting in my seat for Prado.

Remember those two pre-game balls that I said I’d given away? Well, here I am with the recipients:

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In the photo above, that’s Nicolena (age 9) on the left and her brother Deklen (age 6) on the right. Cool names. They’d been sitting in front of me all game with their parents, and when they overheard me and Jeremy talking about the Gregorius ball, Deklen asked to see it. I felt bad about saying no, but I had to because he was eating ice cream and his hands were sticky. (You’re welcome, Didi.) His parents understood, and it’s not like Deklen was upset or anything, but still, I wanted to do something nice for them. I usually give a few baseballs away at each game, and since I hadn’t given any away yet, it was the perfect opportunity.

When Gregorius came to bat in the 9th inning, I took the following photo:

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The Diamondbacks were winning, 2-1, and J.J. Putz was getting ready to come in and close it out, so Jeremy and I took a bunch of final photos with the ball. Here he is with it:

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Here I am with it . . .

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. . . and here I am some more:

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I admit it: I’m a dweeb. I can’t help it. This is what I do. I love baseball, and I catch baseballs, and I take photos, and I get excited, and I act weird.

Just before the bottom of the 9th inning got underway, Tony took a photo of me and Jeremy from right field:

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I was getting more and more excited about meeting Gregorius, but as fate would have it, it was gonna have to wait a bit longer. With one out in the bottom of the 9th, Putz hung a 1-2 slider, and Francisco Cervelli crushed it in my direction:

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Let me clarify: it was hit RIGHT in my direction. I jumped out of my seat, paused for a split second to gauge the distance, and then scooted down to the front row. The ball was coming closer and closer, and I knew it was coming right to me as if I were a magnet. The whole thing was too good to be true, but it WAS true, and as I reached up and opened my glove . . .

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. . . the man on my left (in the blue hoodie) bumped my arm. I felt the ball hit my glove, and for an instant, I didn’t know whether I’d caught it or dropped it. I opened my glove, and THERE IT WAS!!! Somehow, against all odds, I’d snagged my second home run of the game after all. (For the record, I got bashed that night on Twitter for reaching over the wall and “interfering” with the ball, but as the screen shot above clearly shows, my glove was well above the wall. I may have reached a few inches forward, but this was not a towering fly ball. It was more of a line drive, so it wasn’t falling at a sharp angle. Also, consider this: if I’d interfered, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson would’ve come out to argue, and the umps would’ve gone into the video room to review it on instant reply, and then they would’ve reversed their call, and the whole stadium would’ve wanted to kick my Bartmanesque ass, and then I would’ve been ejected. Of course, none of these things happened, so y’all can relax. Both of my home run snags at this game caused a bit of controversy, but I’m telling you I did nothing wrong.)

I couldn’t believe my luck at the time, and I’m still having a tough time grasping it now as I’m typing this, but anyway, the first thing I did was hold up the Cervelli ball and try to grab the Gregorius ball from my zipped jacket pocket:

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Then I felt someone yank my glove . . .

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. . . and try to grab the ball:

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I was SO ANGRY about it (for a number of reasons), but all I could do was try to prevent him from stealing it. I grabbed his hand and yanked his arm down below the edge of the wall:

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I was losing my grip on the Cervelli ball, and I didn’t want it to fall onto the warning track. Thankfully, when it did fall out, it landed at my feet, and I was able to re-snag it before anyone else around me could snatch it. Unbelievable. Two home run balls; two attempted robberies.

My rage quickly turned to jubilation as I faced the nearby camera:

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Jeremy took a photo of me at that moment . . .

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. . . as well as this short video, and when things calmed down a bit, I posed with both baseballs:

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Did you notice the guy in the background in the previous photo? Gotta love New York.

Most of the fans in my section were actually very nice, and lots of them asked to take photos with me. Here I am with one of them . . .

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. . . and here I am with another:

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This went on for several minutes, during which time my phone was ringing, and people were texting and emailing and tweeting at me. There was total chaos in my world, and I loved every second of it.

The game went into extra innings, which was good because it meant I’d get to enjoy my special night a bit longer.

Here’s a closeup shot of the two home run balls:

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In the photo above, the Gregorius ball is on the left — easy to tell the difference because it was darker.

My buddy Mark McConville got a toss-up from the bullpen in the 10th inning. Here he is with it:

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When Cervelli came up to bat again in the 11th inning, I took a photo of the jumbotron:

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It’s always fun to see “HR” up there after I’ve caught the ball.

The TV cameras kept checking in on me . . .

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. . . but unfortunately, there was no more action — too bad because my section was practically empty:

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Heath Bell pitched the 11th inning, and although he gave up a couple of hits, he escaped the jam and sent the game into the 12th. Then Arizona put up a four-spot, making him the winning pitcher. Final score: Diamondbacks 6, Yankees 2.

That’s when a security guard came to get us. First he took us here:

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Then he led us toward the suite entrance . . .

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. . . which looked like this inside:

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I’d been there once before on May 23, 2011. That’s when I was treated to a game in the Legends Seats by a generous friend (who paid $550 per ticket).

Then we took an elevator down to the Service Level, and the guard told us to wait here:

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Jeremy and I were alone there for a minute, and we took a bunch of pics. Here’s one that shows the Service Level concourse through the window:

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When the guard came back to get us, he said we were no longer allowed to take photos or videos unless we asked and got permission. (I forgot to mention that two other guards had insisted that I delete photos of them that I’d taken earlier in the night. What IS it with this place?) Naturally, I asked if I could take a couple photos of the concourse. The answer, I’m happy to say, was yes. Upon passing through the glass doors, this was the view to the right:

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This was the view to the left:

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That’s the direction that we headed. (See the “visitors clubhouse” sign in the photo above?)

The guard asked us to put away our phones and cameras, and he reminded us that we had to ask for permission to take photos. He said we could ask Didi Gregorius to get a photo with him, and if he was okay with it, then it was fine. Everything was so strict and methodical — almost surgical. It wasn’t like that at all when I caught the Nickeas ball at Citi Field or the Trout ball at Camden Yards.

As soon as we reached the area outside the clubhouse, a different security guard got on his walkie-talkie, and within a matter of moments, Didi Gregorius walked out with a Diamondbacks staff member. We said a quick hello, and I congratulated him for hitting the home run. Then I asked if we could get a photo of us both holding the ball with the “clubhouse” sign in the background, and he said sure. Here we are:

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I was hoping that Didi would give me a bat in exchange for the ball, and you know what? I certainly could’ve gotten one if I’d initially told security that that’s what I wanted. Hell, I probably could’ve gotten two or three if I’d insisted, but that’s not my style. I really just wanted to meet him, and I wanted him to have the ball, and if he gave me anything in exchange, cool.

As it turned out, he gave me a ball and signed it for me:

53_zack_and_didi_gregorius

That’s probably the last thing I would’ve wanted, but whatever, it’s all good. (By the way, Mike Nickeas gave me this bat in exchange for his home run ball, and Mike Trout gave me this signed ball. I might need to request something totally different next time. Hmm. Oh, and if you look closely at the photo above, you’ll notice that Didi is holding his home run ball between his left arm and his ribcage. See it tucked in there, barely peeking out? You’ll see the ball in his hand in the next photo.)

Didi and I chatted for a minute or two. I told him about my baseball collection, and then he asked me what exactly happened with the fan who tried the snatch the ball out of my hand. Evidently, he had already seen the highlights, so I told him the whole story, including the part about the finger wag, which made him crack up:

54_zack_and_didi_gregorius

There were several professional photographers taking pics of us, including someone with the team and another from the Associated Press:

55_zack_and_didi_gregorius

I forgot to mention that I’d gotten a call from a reporter with the Associated Press during the game. It happened while Jody was talking to me in the concourse, which was happening while stadium security was rushing me along. You have NO idea how crazy things were for a few innings, but anyway, this reporter was like, “Hello, this is Ron Blum from the AP. Is your age 34 or 35?” At the time, I didn’t even know that the AP was doing a story on me, and I had no idea how this guy got my cell phone number.

It was clear that Didi needed/wanted to get back into the clubhouse, so we wrapped up our conversation:

56_zack_and_didi_gregorius

Just as security was about to lead me back through the service concourse, the AP reporter showed up and started asking me a zillion questions. When he’d first called me during the game, I was only going to get a brief mention in the game story, but now that I’d caught a second home run, he was doing an entire feature piece on me. Security wouldn’t let me stand there and talk to him. They told him we had to go and that he could follow us and talk near the elevators, so he walked with me and asked questions and scribbled notes. When we reached the fancy room with the elevators, he came inside and continued to interview me. Here I am looking up my home run stats for him:

57_zack_interviewed_by_ronald_blum_from_the_associated_press

So crazy.

When Jeremy and I exited the suite area, I took a pic of the ball that Didi gave me . . .

58_signed_ball_from_didi_gregorius

. . . and when I got home, I photographed the other two baseballs that were still in my collection:

59_the_two_balls_i_kept_04_18_13

In the photo above, the brand-new ball from Glenn Sherlock is on the left, and the mud-rubbed Francisco Cervelli home run is on the right.

I examined both balls under black light and discovered an invisible ink stamp on the home run:

60_ball6516_with_black_light

At around 1am, I started combing through the hundreds of tweets and emails that I’d received. One person told me I was on the front page of MLB.com, and sure enough . . .

61_zack_on_mlb_dot_com

. . . there I was.

I was also written up on Cut4. Here’s a screen shot of the first part of that story . . .

62_zack_cut4

. . . and if you want to read the whole thing, click here.

At 1:46am, the New York Daily News posted a story about me on its website. Here’s the first part of it . . .

63_zack_daily_news

. . . and here’s the link to the whole thing.

Less than two hours later, the Associated Press published its feature story on me. Here’s a screen shot of the first part . . .

64_zack_associated_press

. . . and if you want to read the whole thing, just do a search for the opening line: “Zack Hample leads the majors in hogging home run balls.” I was really pissed off when I saw that. Why the negative slant? Using a word like “hogging” is unnecessary and makes me look bad.

More and more articles were appearing, including this one on MSN . . .

65_zack_msn

. . . which you can see here in its entirety.

I gained more than 300 new twitter followers overnight, and so many people emailed me that it’ll take weeks to respond to everyone, if I get around to it at all. I truly appreciate all the positive messages that people have sent. I’ve read every single one, and while I do hope to answer everyone individually, I can’t make any promises. This blog entry is more than 6,000 words and has taken me four days to write. Now I’m in Anaheim, having just attended a game here, and in the next five days, I’ll be seeing five more games in San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle (and writing an additional 10,00o to 20,000 words). Under normal circumstances, I spend about two to eight hours a day answering emails; lately it’s been none, so keep that in mind if you’re waiting for a response.

Of all the articles and images and messages and videos that I received, this is probably my favorite:

66_zack_as_a_meme

Someone saw it on their Facebook feed and sent it to me.

Now, as for the video footage that I’ve been promising, it seems that MLB.com has most of the action in one compilation, which you can see here. In addition to that, I was No. 5 in the Top Ten plays on “SportsCenter,” which also featured me in the opening. Remember the guy named Tony who took a photo of me in the tunnel with security? Well, he also made it onto “SportsCenter” (because of a Derek Jeter sign that he’d made), and he copied and edited the opening of the show. Click here to check it out. I was also featured on “Quick Pitch” on the MLB Network, and the following day, I had people calling and tweeting to say that Kevin Millar and Chris Rose were talking about me on their MLB Network show, “Intentional Talk.”

I could link to a dozen more articles and tell you 100 more things, but I think it’s time to wrap this up. You get the point. I’ll leave you with some stats in case you’re interested.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 balls at this game (not counting the one that Didi Gregorius gave me; I gave three of the five away — two to kids and one to Didi)

• 57 balls in 8 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.

• 880 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 405 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 24 lifetime game home run balls (not counting the five that were tossed to me; click here to see the complete list)

• 3 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, and Yankee Stadium.

• 6,516 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)

• 23 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $6.30 raised at this game

• $71.82 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $1,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $22,977.82 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Two home runs!!

As you may have heard, I snagged two home run balls tonight (April 18th) during the game at Yankee Stadium. (As you definitely heard if you were there, I got called all sorts of names for not throwing the first one back onto the field, but c’mon, that was Didi Gregorius’s first major league homer. I’m not stupid.) I’m just getting started on a big blog entry about it, so here’s a quick photo for now:

zack_two_home_runs_in_one_game

Stay tuned. Lots of details and photos coming soon . . .

4/17/13 at Yankee Stadium

Remember all those sunflower seeds that I received the other day? Well, I brought a couple packs to this game at Yankee Stadium, and my friend Chris was the first person to try them. Here we are outside Gate 2 with the “Sizzlin’ Bacon” variety:

1_chris_and_zack_with_bigs_seeds

Chris appears to be unenthused, right? Well, look how his mood brightened once he popped a handful of ‘em in his mouth:

2_chris_trying_the_bacon_seeds

Here’s his official critique:

3_chris_thumbs_up

The other pack I brought was the “Original” flavor. Several hours later, I tried both during the game (and made a fabulous mess with all the shells), and I was quite pleased. It’s a good thing I’m not being sponsored by an asparagus company.

When the stadium opened at 5pm, I rushed to the left field seats and promptly got Adam Warren to toss me a ball. Here it is:

4_ball6502_from_adam_warren

For the Yankees’ 2nd group of hitters, I headed to the 2nd deck in right field . . .

5_view_from_second_deck_04_17_13

. . . and eventually caught a Lyle Overbay homer on the fly. I had to climb down over a row of seats while that ball was in mid-air.

That was it for the first half-hour. Not great. Not terrible.

When the Diamondbacks took the field and started playing catch, I headed into foul territory . . .

6_left_field_foul_line_04_17_13

. . . and eventually got J.J. Putz to throw me a ball. I keep using the word “eventually” because things were happening slowly; although I seemed to be getting baseballs everywhere I went, there was a whole lot of dead time in between each one.

My 4th ball was a homer that landed in the last row in straight-away left field, just below the State Farm ad on the right in the following photo:

7_little_girl_i_gave_a_ball_to_04_17_13

Did you notice the little kid above the tunnel? That was a two-year-old girl. I gave her that ball by tossing it up to her mother.

My 5th and 6th balls were home runs that I caught on the fly. (I never knew who was hitting for the D’backs.) The first came *right* to me, and the second required me to drift down the steps and make a back-handed catch in the front row, directly in front of the TV camera.

That’s when I noticed something weird happening. Check out the photo below, and then I’ll explain:

8_helmet_guy_and_steve_sax

See the coach near the warning track with the bat? That’s Steve Sax, and he was hitting EVERY ball back to the bucket as a fungo. Heath Bell was shagging in right-center field — you can see him out there — and whenever he fielded a ball, he chucked it over to Sax. Sax must’ve hit 50 of them back to the bucket. Maybe more. Maybe 100. I have no idea. I wasn’t counting, but I can tell you that I’d never seen anything like it.

I got one more ball in left field — a home run that I grabbed in the second-to-last row — and then headed to right field, where the visibility was brutal:

9_sunny_in_right_field_04_17_13

In the photo above, the guy wearing red is my friend Greg. He narrowly missed catching a homer, which sailed a foot over his glove and landed in my row. I snagged that one and then grabbed another home run ball that landed deeper in the seats. That gave me nine balls for the day, and I gave away two more.

Shortly before game time, I got my 10th ball from Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey. I promptly handed it to a father for his little boy and noticed them photographing it soon after:

10_little_boy_i_gave_a_ball_to_04_17_13

Back in left field, I took a photo of Heath Bell with his teammates in the bullpen:

11_heath_bell_in_the_bullpen_04_17_13

I sat in straight-away left field during the game . . .

12_view_from_left_field_04_17_13

. . . and got a lengthy visit from these two gentlemen:

13_andrew_and_matt_from_cut4

They both write for Cut 4, a feature on MLB.com. The guy on the right is named Matt Latimer. He covers Yankee Stadium and did a feature on me last season. The guy on the left is named Andrew Harts, and he covers Citi Field. They’re both really cool guys with equally cool jobs.

As for the game itself, the Diamondbacks scored twice in the 1st inning off CC Sabathia and tacked on an insurance run in the 5th. It wasn’t enough. The Yankees tied the game with three runs in the 7th. Then they took a 4-3 lead in the 8th, and Mariano Rivera came in to pitch the 9th. Just before the final out, I took this photo of Heath Bell (and J.J. Putz) in the bullpen, watching the action:

14_heath_bell_9th_inning_04_17_13

Mariano closed it out for his 612th career save. He’s pretty good.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

15_the_six_balls_i_kept_04_17_13• 10 balls at this game (six pictured above because I gave four away)

• 52 balls in 7 games this season = 7.43 balls per game.

• 879 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 404 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 212 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 2 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field and Fenway Park.

• 6,511 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)

• 23 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $12.60 raised at this game

• $65.52 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $1,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $22,471.52 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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

16_black_light_04_17_13

In case you’re not aware, this is highly unusual. It means that the ball failed its first inspection at the Rawlings baseball factory, got sent back to the employee who’d stitched it, got fixed, got sent back to the inspection room, failed the inspection again, got fixed again by the same employee, and finally passed. Oof.

4/16/13 at Yankee Stadium

My goal for the day was simple: I wanted to talk to Heath Bell. I hadn’t seen him since last season, and as you might already know, he and I are pals. But before the Diamondbacks took the field for BP, there were Yankee baseballs to snag — or rather baseBALL, singular. Here’s the only ball I caught during the 25 minutes that the home team was hitting:

1_ball6494

It was a home run. I don’t know who hit it. All I can tell you is that I ran the full length of that empty row and caught it on the fly near the side-fence of the bullpen.

Then I headed into foul territory . . .

2_left_field_foul_line_04_16_13

. . . and had to compete with my friend Greg Barasch for toss-ups for the next few minutes. (In the photo above, he’s the taller of the two fans standing on the right in red D’backs gear.) I ended up getting two baseballs in that area — one from Cliff Pennington and another from pitching coach Charles Nagy.

I headed back to my regular spot in straight-away left field, and when I saw Heath jogging toward the bullpen, I shouted his name REALLY loud. I had to because he was about 150 feet away. Thankfully, he heard me and looked over in my direction, and when I waved my cap, he came over to say hey:

3_heath_bell_coming_over_to_say_hi

He started by asking me how my off-season was, and the conversation took off from there. I told him that I’d emailed and texted him over the winter about writing a book with him, but never heard back. He told me that his email address had changed, and he started giving me the new one, but it was kind of long and complicated, and he didn’t want any of the fans standing near me to overhear him, so we started talking about his phone number. I grabbed my iPhone and pulled up his contact info and read him the last four digits.

“Gimme your phone,” he said, so I reached down and handed it to him. That’s when the nearest security guard walked down the steps and told me not to “hang over the wall.” (Yankee Stadium is SO MUCH FUN!!!) Whatever. I was just glad that Heath had my phone, and I took the following photo as he typed in his new contact info:

4_heath_bell_with_my_iphone

After he returned my phone, he told me that he had actually been thinking of calling me about doing a book together.

“You’re the only person I know who writes books,” he said.

“That’s surprising,” I replied, “because you must know a lot of people, but anyway, here’s the important question that we should be asking ourselves: Do you think I could pitch better than you could write?”

heath_bell_2013He thought for a moment and said, “Yeah, probably.”

“I *was* once clocked throwing 79 miles per hour,” I told him.

“Then definitely,” he said.

“But I’ve probably lost 10 to 15 ticks on the gun since then,” I confessed.

Then I asked him how his wife and kids are doing — they’re still living in California, he said — and how his off-season was. The main thing he talked about was the difference between the Marlins and Diamondbacks and how his mechanics got all screwed up last season and how the Marlins tried to fix him their way (which didn’t work) and how the D’backs have taken a much better approach and helped him HIS way.

“I’m back on track,” he said. “I figured it out.”

We talked about his mechanics for a bit. You know how he has that little jump-step where he sort of goes up high and then comes back down before pitching the ball? Well, that’s the main thing that he’s been working on. He said his velocity is fine and WAS fine last season, so he really couldn’t understand what was wrong. It was great to talk about all this stuff with him.

Then I showed him my new glove. Here he is wearing/inspecting it:

5_heath_bell_with_my_glove

“I should get you a glove,” he said — so then we talked about gloves for a while.

Then I told him that I’m being sponsored this season by BIGS Sunflower Seeds. I mentioned that they’re gonna be sending me to all 30 major league stadiums and challenging me to snag a game-used ball at each venue, and that for each place where I succeed, they’re going to donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball. (Heath knows about that charity because he made a sizable donation to it through my fundraiser in 2009. By the way, did you know that Pitch In For Baseball was recently featured on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams? Click here to watch the segment.) I told Heath that I’ll see him in San Francisco next week. (BIGS Sunflower Seeds is sending me to Angel Stadium on April 21st, PETCO Park on April 22nd, AT&T Park on April 23rd and 24th (when the D’backs will be there), and Safeco Field on April 25th and 26th. If you’re going to be at any of these games, find me. There might be some free seeds in it for you.) Heath asked when I’m planning to be at Chase Field. I said I’d let him know, and that was pretty much the end of it.

As I was walking back up the steps, I heard him shout my name. I turned around and saw him back in the outfield.

“Text me!” he yelled, and I gave him a thumbs-up.

I don’t know how many home run balls I missed during the 10 or 15 minutes that we were chatting, but it was worth it. I seriously love that man.

Halfway through the Diamondbacks’ portion of BP, I headed to right field and had to compete with my friend Ben Weil. In the following photo, he’s wearing the Randy Johnson jersey.

6_ben_weil_in_right_field_04_16_13

He snagged a *lot* of baseballs out there, but I got a few as well. I’m not sure who was hitting — probably Eric Hinske and Eric Chavez — but anyway, my 4th ball of the day was a homer that sailed directly over his head and into my glove. My 5th and 6th balls were home runs that landed in the seats, and I do mean *in* the seats. (I gave one of those away.) My 7th ball was a long home run that landed in the mostly-empty bleachers behind me. There was one kid up there, probably about 10 years old, who would’ve easily snagged it, but unfortunately for him, the ball took a horrendously unlucky ricochet and bounced completely out of the bleachers as he chased it down the steps. I made a lunging bare-handed grab (facing away from the field) as it dropped down into my section, and without hesitating, I tossed the ball up to him. He was thrilled, and everyone thanked me, and THAT’S when it occurred to me that that was my 6,500th ball. DAMN!!! I thought about it for a minute and came up with a solution that would make everyone happy: I walked back over to where the kid was standing (he was about 20 feet away) and said, “Hey, I’ll trade you a brand-new ball for the one I just gave you.”

“Really?!” he shouted.

“Yeah,” I said and held up the replacement ball. He then tossed down my precious milestone ball, and I tossed him the pearl. That was a huge relief for me, and he was even more excited than before.

Back in left field, I caught one final BP homer on the fly. Once again, I have no idea who hit it. It was a righty, and I made a nice play on it, but only because I misjudged the ball in the first place and had to recover. Basically, when it was hit, I moved down a row, but then as the ball was approaching, I realized that it was going to sail a bit over my head, so I climbed back over a row of seats (which, evidently, is now a felony at Yankee Stadium) and then jumped as high as I could and caught it back-handed and then pretty much fell over in a belly-flop position onto the empty row of seats behind me. My right knee is now bruised as a result, but it was totally worth it. Thankfully, the security supervisor (who had told me two days earlier not to climb over the seats) didn’t see any of that.

Ben had snagged nine balls at that point. Here’s how he labels/differentiates them:

7_ben_weil_napkin_balls

In case you can’t tell, that’s his 9th ball of the day wrapped in a napkin, on which he has messily written:

“9 – Caught
leaping over
rail in 103″

That would be section 103 in right field. Ben doesn’t like to mark the balls themselves, so he writes notes that he keeps with them, and when he gets home, he puts each ball in a Ziploc bag and labels it neater. (By the way, did you notice his Sesame Street hat in the photo above? He’s quite a character.)

Ben had never reached double digits at the new Yankee Stadium, and because he was nice enough to give me an extra ticket in left field, I let him go for the pre-game t0ss-up from the bullpen. Later in the game, he got another ball and ended the day with 11. We try to stay out of each other’s way and not rob each other. Sometimes we can’t help it, though, and then we just end up trash-talking and laughing like hell.

Twenty minutes before the game, I sent the following text to Heath: “Hey, it’s Zack. Great catching up with you today. I’ll let you know when I’m gonna be at Chase Field. See you tomorrow.”

(Around that time, I received the following email from someone I don’t know: “Hi Zack, are you interested in selling all of your baseballs?” I had a good laugh, showed Ben, and eventually wrote back and said, “Nope, but thanks for asking.”)

Ben and I sat together during the game. This was our view:

8_view_during_game_04_16_13

Heath Bell wasn’t kidding when he declared that he’s “back on track.” Here’s a photo of him warming up in the bullpen . . .

9_heath_bell_warming_up

. . . before entering the game in the bottom of the 8th inning and striking out the side. Now, I know what you might be thinking: how can someone with an ERA of 9.00 claim to have it all figured out? Well, okay, fine, that *was* his ERA at the start of the night. He had allowed four earned runs in four innings (three of which came in his very first outing in which he worked just one-third of an inning). Now his ERA is down to 7.20, and if he pitches another scoreless inning or two, he’ll be back in the land of respectability. Meanwhile, in five total innings of work this season, he has walked one batter and struck out ten. That’s pretty damn impressive, so let’s just see how it goes.

In the photo above, did you notice the “4″ on his back? The Yankees were celebrating Jackie Robinson Day. Normally it takes place on April 15th, but because these two teams didn’t play that day, all the players were wearing No. 42 at this game instead.

The Yankees ended up winning, 4-2. Robinson Cano (who was named after Jackie Robinson) hit a three-run homer, and Mariano Rivera notched his 611th career save.

Eleven minutes after the game ended, Heath texted and said, “Great seeing u too.”

I responded with, “Awesome 8th inning tonight. That was really fun to see,” and then he sent me back a smily face. BFFs forever!! <3

Ben was kind enough to drive me home, and when I got there, these two boxes were waiting for me:

10_bigs_sunflower_seeds_shipment

SCORE!!!

It was my long-awaited shipment of BIGS Sunflower Seeds. (The ball in the photo is there to show you the size; that’s my 6,500th ball, by the way.)

I opened one of the boxes:

11_bigs_sunflower_seeds_shipment

It was a bucket of seeds. Here’s a peek inside . . .

12_bigs_sunflower_seeds_shipment

. . . and here are all the packs of seeds spread out:

13_bigs_sunflower_seeds_shipment

As you can see, there were 16 packs and four different flavors — Sizzlin’ Bacon, Dill Pickle, Buffalo Wing, and Original. Here’s a closer look:

14_bigs_sunflower_seeds_shipment

I do like seeds, but I gotta say that I’ve always been an “original” kinda guy. I never really got into flavored seeds, but I’m willing to give all this stuff a shot. And for the record, the folks at BIGS didn’t ask me to photograph the seeds and blog about it. They said I could do whatever I wanted with them, but I *did* want to blog about it. I’m excited. Free seeds! What’s not to like? You know how much I blog about my food in general — ballpark concessions, unusual meals when I’m traveling, my plate at most Thanksgivings, and so on.

Anyway, here’s a closeup of my 6,500th ball . . .

15_ball6500

. . . and here are the six that I kept:

16_the_six_balls_i_kept_04_16_13

I was surprised to discover that all six baseballs have invisible ink stamps, some more noticeable than others. Check it out. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:

17_black_light_04_16_13

That’s it for now. I have a zillion things to do, and I’m heading back to Yankee Stadium in a few hours.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 8 balls at this game (six pictured above because I gave two away)

• 42 balls in 6 games this season = 7 balls per game.

• 878 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 403 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 2 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field and Fenway Park.

• 6,501 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)

• 23 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $10.08 raised at this game

• $52.92 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $1,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $22,458.92 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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