4/10/13 at Fenway Park

The last few years have been a struggle for me at Fenway Park. In 2011 I attended two games there on crutches, and last season, when I hired a videographer to get footage of my 6,000th ball, batting practice was wiped out by rain.

Things went much better this time around. Here I am outside the stadium:

1_zack_outside_fenway_park_04_10_13

The previous photo was taken by my friend Ben Weil. He and I drove up for the day from New York, courtesy of BIGS Sunflower Seeds — my official sponsor for the 2013 baseball season. Ben had to pay for his own ticket and food, but everything else was covered. All I had to do was try like hell to snag a game-used ball, and if I succeeded, it would mean an extra $500 for Pitch In For Baseball.

Speaking of food, here’s a double-photo of me and Ben having lunch:

2_zack_and_ben_lunching

We were at the Bleacher Bar — a great place to go if you want a sneak peek at the field. (I had a grilled chicken sandwich and an order of cheese fries with bacon and sour cream.) Check out the view to my left:

3_bleacher_bar_view_during_lunch

The forecast was iffy, so it was nice to see that the batting cage was set up. When we finished eating, the Red Sox were taking early BP, so we headed here:

4_hanging_out_on_the_garage_roof

That’s the view from the open-air parking garage behind the Green Monster. Ben and I were hoping for a few longballs to find us, but there wasn’t any action.

At around 3:45pm, we headed over to Gate C and met up with a couple of friends and Fenway regulars. Do you recognize them?

5_mike_zack_jere_ben_04_10_13

In the photo above, the 6-foot-5 guy on the left is named Mike. He works for the FAA and helped me last summer with the helicopter stunt . . . remember? Ben is on the right (molesting the lamppost), and the guy between us is named Jere (pronounced “Jerry”). It’s kind of hard to tell, but Mike is holding a pair of DVDs, which contain bonus video footage from the helicopter stunt. (I know there hasn’t been *any* footage posted yet, and believe me, I’m not too happy about it. Someday, I promise you’ll see how it all went down. I might post some of the bonus footage myself if I can figure out how to convert/edit it.)

When the stadium opened at 4:40pm, Mike and Jere and I headed to the center field seats:

6_mike_and_jere_heading_to_their_spots_in_center_field

Several minutes later, I snagged this:

7_ball6471_mike_napoli_ground_rule_double

It was a ground-rule double hit by Mike Napoli. (Even though the center field wall is 17 feet high, balls do sometimes bounce over it — or at least high enough up it than you can lean over and grab them.)

Halfway through the Red Sox’s portion of BP, I headed to right field. This was the view . . .

8_view_from_right_field_04_10_13

. . . and this was right below me in the bullpen:

9_ball6472_in_the_bullpen

I snagged it with my glove trick, marking the 400th consecutive game at which I’ve gotten at least two baseballs — a streak that dates back to the 2007 All-Star Game.

In the following photo, do you see the two baseballs in the bullpen?

10_ball7473_in_the_bullpen

Well, I used my glove trick to snag the closer of the two and handed it to the little kid pictured below in the Pedroia jersey:

11_kid_that_i_gave_ball7473_to

Then I headed back to center field, and just as the Sox were wrapping up BP, I got David Ross to throw me my 4th ball of the day.

Soon after the Orioles came out, Chris Tillman recognized me and struck up a conversation. (We got to know each other a little bit at Camden Yards over the past few seasons.) In the following photo, there are two players standing next to each other near the warning track. Tillman is on the right . . .

12_chris_tillman_on_the_right

. . . and if you’re interested in hearing what we talked about, check out Jere’s blog. He got some of it on video. Basically, Tillman wanted to know about the three foul balls I caught on 5/12/11 at Camden Yards, and I told him I’d mail him a copy of my latest book, The Baseball. (I also told him about my sponsorship with BIGS. One of his teammates then pulled out a packet of seeds. I asked if it was David’s — that’s the brand I’ve seen most often at major league games — but they told me it was Frito Lay. [This portion of the conversation was not captured on video.] Never in my life did I ever expect to be so interested in sunflower seeds.)

When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:40pm, I headed here:

13_view_from_the_corner_spot_04_10_13

I wasn’t thrilled about those protective screens blocking my view, but I knew that balls would still be able to hook around them. The only problem was that it never happened. Nothing was hit to me. Nothing was thrown to me. During the Orioles’ portion of BP, I snagged a grand total of zero baseballs. Thankfully I managed to get Ronnie Deck, the team’s bullpen catcher, to toss me a ball at the dugout right after BP, but still. Bleh. This was my reaction:

14_zack_with_ball6475

Several things happened in the following half-hour:

1) I tweeted a photo of myself with four baseballs.
2) Jere’s finger was bleeding from a scrape he suffered while scrambling for a ball.
3) Mike and Ben schmoozed it up:

16_mike_and_ben_schmoozing

Then it started raining, and I headed to the Orioles’ dugout to try to get a warm-up ball. In the following photo, do you see the player standing near home plate?

17_manny_machado_warming_up_with_ball6476

That’s Manny Machado, and when he finished playing catch with J.J. Hardy, he tossed me the ball — my 6th of the day. Ben was mildly annoyed at that point because he had chosen to go to the other end of the dugout, figuring that Hardy (the veteran) would end up with the ball. Two minutes later, two more Orioles came out to throw. I asked Ben which side of the dugout he wanted, and he picked the home-plate end. I don’t even remember which two guys were throwing. All I can tell you is that Ryan Flaherty was closer my end of the dugout — the outfield end — and when the warm-up session ended, guess who got the ball? Yep. Flaherty flipped it up, and Ben was ready to strangle me. (Don’t feel too bad for him. He ended the day with four baseballs of his own.)

When the game began, my goal was simple: hang out near the Orioles’ dugout and try to snag a 3rd-out ball. I didn’t get one after the 1st inning, but when Stephen Drew ended the 2nd with a routine fly ball to left fielder Nate McLouth, things went exactly as planned. Here’s a screen shot that shows the ball (circled in red) sailing toward me:

18_zack_snagging_ball6478

Here’s another screen shot that shows me reaching out for the snag:

19_zack_snagging_ball6478

The video itself (filmed by Ben) isn’t worth sharing. I never intended to post it. I just wanted to be able to grab a few screen shots.

Here I am with the ball, excited to have raised more money for charity:

21_zack_with_ball6478

After that, I spent the next few innings here:

22_view_in_middle_innings_04_10_13

Not only was the view good, but there was an empty cross-aisle right behind me:

23_empty_cross_aisle_was_useless

I thought it’d be a great spot for a foul ball, but nothing came close.

In the 5th inning, it started raining pretty hard . . .

24_raining_hard_04_10_13

. . . so I headed for the concourse. Look how crowded it was:

25_crowded_concourse_04_10_13

I happened to run into Ben, who told me during the bottom of the 5th that he was going to try to get a 3rd-out ball. I held his backpack while he hurried toward the Orioles’ dugout. While he was gone, I got a vanilla ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles, and when he returned (like, two minutes later), I took the following photo:

26_ben_and_his_3rd_out_ball

Impressive. Dustin Pedroia had struck out to end the inning, and Ben got Matt Wieters to toss him the ball. And then there was a rain delay:

28_tarp_on_the_field_04_10_13

Ben and I considered leaving — it was gonna be a long drive back to New York — but we ended up talking ourselves into staying. The way we saw it . . . if the delay didn’t last long, then there was no point in leaving, and if it DID last long, then everyone else would leave and we’d hate ourselves for not being there.

As it turned out, the delay only lasted 43 minutes. I tried to get a warm-up ball from J.J. Hardy before play resumed, but instead, all I got was a photo of coach Wayne Kirby goofing around near the dugout:

29_wayne_kirby_being_silly

Late in the game, the Red Sox announced that their record-setting sellout streak had officially ended at 794 games (plus 26 post-season contests for a total of 820) — the longest streak in the history of “major professional sports.” This was the message on the jumbotron:

30_sellout_streak_over

In the last 24 hours, some media outlets have posted positive stories about the streak, while others have bashed its fraudulence. Either way you look at it, it’s still pretty cool that the Sox were THAT popular for THAT long, and I was glad to be there for the historic end. It was certainly easier to move around and find empty seats.

With the Sox holding a 5-3 lead in the top of the 9th inning, Ben and I wandered back toward the dugout. Joel Hanrahan was on the mound:

31_joel_hanrahan_blowing_the_game

We hoped to snag a post-game ball from the umpire or from anyone, really. (By the way, can you spot Ben in the previous photo? It’s not hard.)

Hanrahan completely melted down — and it wasn’t my finest inning either. Chris Davis greeted him with a leadoff homer to center field, which I would’ve caught had I been camped out there in the cross-aisle, which is where I’d talked about sitting earlier in the evening. Then, after two quick outs, Hanrahan surrendered a single and two walks and uncorked a 55-footer to tie the game. On the very next pitch, Manny Machado blasted a three-run homer over the Green Monster to put the Orioles on top, 8-5. That ball was thrown back onto the field, retrieved by 2nd base umpire Jim Wolf, tossed to Orioles 3rd base coach Bobby Dickerson, and then tossed to me in the front row behind the dugout. Sounds good, right? Well, I didn’t catch the ball. You know how an outfielder will sometimes dive headfirst for a sinking liner, and the ball will land a few inches short of his glove? Well, that’s sort of what happened to me. Dickerson’s throw was clearly going to fall short, but because there were huge/aggressive guys on either side double_facepalmof me (whom Ben had warned me about), I was forced to lunge forward and dive/flop for the ball atop the dugout roof. Unfortunately, the ball short-hopped my glove and hit the very tip of it and bounced back into the dugout. It was then tossed back up toward me, but fell so short that it didn’t even reach the roof. It was then tossed to a completely different section 20 feet away. At first I was bummed more than words can describe, but then it occurred to me: Would that ball have even counted?! One of the biggest rules in ballhawking, at least for me, is that I have to be the first fan to attain possession of the ball. (This rule is even listed here on the BIGS Baseball Adventure website.) That home run ball WAS acquired by another fan when it first landed in the Monster seats, so if I’d caught it when the Orioles’ coach tossed it in my direction . . . then what? Should the rule be modified so that home run balls that get thrown back onto the field can be “re-snagged” when they re-enter the stands? If so, what would happen if a fan were to throw back a home run ball from deep in the bleachers, only to have the ball fall short and never make it *out* of the stands? Would that count for the person who re-snags it? This is murky, so in a weird way, I’m glad that I didn’t snag the ball. Everyone would’ve been divided. If I counted it, people would be calling me a fraud, and if I didn’t count it, that would’ve felt weird because it *was* the actual home run ball. Oy vey. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this.

Anyway, the Orioles held on for an 8-5 win, and after the final out, I got my 9th and final ball from home plate umpire Cory Blaser. On my way out of the stadium, I gave away a ball to a young, exuberant fan named Kyle.

Ben drove us back to New York. I was home by 3:15am and in bed at around 4:45am. Oof. Next time I go to Boston, I need to spend a solid week at Fenway rather than doing this back-and-forth-in-a-day nonsense.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

32_the_seven_i_kept_04_10_13• 9 balls at this game (seven pictured here because I gave two away)

• 20 balls in 3 games this season = 6.7 balls per game.

• 875 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 400 consecutive games with at least two balls

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

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

• 6,479 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(In addition to the money that BIGS Sunflower Seeds will be donating, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)

• 23 donors

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

• $11.34 raised at this game

• $25.20 raised this season (plus $1,000 from BIGS)

• $22,431.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Finally, one of the seven balls that I kept has an invisible ink stamp (surrounded by unusual speckling). Here’s a side-by-side comparison of it in regular light versus black light:

33_black_light_04_10_13

13 Comments

Good to see you. Tell me how it goes with the videos. And for the record, if you snagged Manny Machadios homer, you could have given it to me, thus alleviating yourself of that pesky moral dilemma. ( just kidding)

You should include the $500/stadium in your charity stats. Would look way more impressive.

I’d count the ball. After all, it WAS a Major League homer, plus you never know if the fan dropped it or not. And it was thrown to you by a Major League coach. Looks like Fenway might not be so bad crowd wise this year…
– Chris

http://ballhawker.wordpress.com/

If the ball had been tossed back by a fan, and nobody involved in the game touched it and somehow you snagged it, that ball shouldn’t count. However, an umpire AND a coach touched the ball, so according to your rules, since you would not have gotten the ball from a fan, but a coach, it should have counted (that is, if you had snagged it).

That is a tough one. I think I would have counted it. Quite a conundrum though.

Cant wait to take a trip to Fenway this year. BTW saw someone on twitter tweet at the guy who runs the website, barstoolsports.com, about how many balls you got and meeting you last night.

Sawadee Zack , how much are you being sponsored for a game home run ball caught by you ? How are the ushers and security @ Fenway ? See you got to use the glove trick – what’s it like with the new mitt ?

Zack, I would count it because it was thrown to you by a coach. i would not count it as a game ball because the fan might have done a switch-a-roo.

I would for sure have counted it considering you put in all the effort into snagging it. Think of all the balls in BP that are dropped back onto the field or even thrown back by fans (it happens). If a player were to throw it to you after a fan had touched it in a case like that, I’d bet you’d still count it.

I would consider anything that either renters the field or is thrown again by a coach fair game.

I wouldn’t count it. What if Ben brought a ball from his collection with him, dropped it on the field, and then a coach handed it to you? Would you count that? I doubt it. It’s essentially the same thing. It was in a fan’s possession, they threw/dropped it on the field, and a coach gave it to you.

Who gets the most of the blame with the Dodger Padre brawl?

MIKE-
What a great solution! I figured out how to view the videos — very cool stuff — but I’m not sure how to convert them. Hmm.

CHASICLE-
Good call about the charity stats. I added it because of your suggestion. Thanks. As for whether or not to count the ball, it’s hard to argue with what you’re saying. But I will. It could be “scored” based on intention, like when a player bunts. If he’s bunting for a hit and gets thrown out (even with a runner on base), he’ll be 0-for-1, but if he’s bunting for a sacrifice, then he doesn’t get charged with an at-bat. You know? How about making rulings in the same way based on balls that get “returned” to the field by fans. If it’s an obvious set-up, then it wouldn’t count, but if a ball is thrown back with no sneaky intentions, then it’s all good? Acchh!

CHRIS-
Thanks for weighing in. Makes sense. And I think you’re right about the crowds. The third game of the season only had about 27,000 fans.

JAMES LEE-
I like that logic.

LEIGH BARRATT-
Thanks for your thoughts on the matter.

MARK MCCONVILLE-
Oh yeah? I never saw anything that was posted/tweeted. If you see a link, send it my way.

RAY BURTON-
No extra money for 3rd-out balls versus game home runs, but that’s an interesting idea. I wonder if it would be possible for the folks at BIGS to toss in some bonuses/incentives. The ushers at Fenway are the best. They don’t care where you go or what you do, perhaps because they’re used to the place being packed — so where *would* people go, other than their assigned seats? At one point in this game, there were a couple of guys standing in the aisle, and a female guard walked by and said, “Grab a seat. There are plenty open.” THAT is how it should be at every stadium. As for the glove trick, I have a new set-up. It takes a bit longer because I take the whole thing apart each time, but once I have it ready to go, it works better than the old one because my new glove is heavier, so it drops down better over the ball. (Basically, I got fed up with always having that wad of string in the palm of my glove, so I use a carabiner to get it on/off quickly.

RUSSELL-
Good point about the switcheroo. Damn, this is really tough.

CONNOR-
I see your point, and it makes sense in theory, but balls don’t get thrown back onto the field during BP. Seriously, when does that ever happen?

BENZ-
Everyone. They’re all idiots.

To push back a bit, what if Ben intentionally throws a ball that has been in his collection for 10 years back onto the field during BP and the trainer tosses it to you? What then? Just another hypothetical to make it more difficult, even though you’ll probably never have to decide for real. :-)

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