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

44 Comments

Nice one Zack. See my e -mail.

It’s too bad I’m not a Yankee fan or I would have watched that game and said ‘what a lucky son of a gun.’ Can’t wait to see what happened when you gave the ball back to Didi.

That poor woman is still traumatized! LOL. Just out of curiousity…..what would you have done if that other fan snatched the ball out of your hand and threw it onto the field? That would have sucked if that happened. What would you have done?

Zack…awesome night, go figure it could’ve been 3 HR’s…how about those cute kids you gave real MLB games balls too…..great stuff……can’t wait for ball number 70000!
from Deklen and Nicolena

Zack: Thanks for spending some time with our grandson, Tyler Olsen, and his favorite player, Heath Bell. Hey, how’d you like to take in a Diamondbacks game at Citi Field in July with Ty, his dad, his grand-dad and your old SCRABBLE buddy John Williams? RSVP.
:Troy Gustavson

“I put the ‘stud’ in study.”

EVERYONE-
Because I’m so busy (and because I’m about to head to the airport to hit up four stadiums on the west coast), I’m writing this blog entry in stages. Check back and look for more updates. This whole story of this game is amazing. You don’t want to miss it.

RAY BURTON-
The answer is yes! I am astounded by your generosity. I don’t have time to answer any emails now, but we’ll discuss when things calm down a bit. What about home run balls, for example, that land in the bullpen and get tossed up? Do those count the same or do I need to snag ‘em without an “assist”?

ALEX GIOBBI-
Stay tuned. I’ll be sharing all the details soon.

LEIGH BARRATT-
I probably would’ve cried.

DEKLEN & NICOLENA (& JOHN)-
Great to hear from you guys. I’m planning to share a photo of us. I just haven’t gotten that far yet in telling the story. Hope to hear from you again soon.

TROY GUSTAVSON-
You’re welcome. Thanks for getting in touch. Tyler is one cool dude. I enjoyed overhearing bits of his conversation with Heath Bell. How do you know John Williams? Wow! I’d love to meet up with you guys at Citi Field, but do you have a date yet? I really can’t commit to anything that far in advance, but let’s see if we can figure something out.

JOHN LISANKIE-
Life is unfair. If I were to wear a shirt like that, it’d look stupid, but when Didi wears it, it’s just plan awesome.

Congrats Zack! Haven’t been on here in a while. Been a bit busy.

HAHAHA the message on the scoreboard behind you and Tyler is so ironic…

Good job getting two bats for the DIDI HR BALL.i just watched the whole game from friday, your buddy went 3 for 3 cargo had something to say, .you could move to phoenix and just ballhawk year round, .Be a BIGGS distributor .and you just missed the LONGHAUL bombers,they are at petco 4 days later. post game.

DOUBLE T-
Thanks. Nice to hear from you.

GARRETT MEYER-
Didn’t even notice it ’til you pointed it out.

BLOGGING BOUT BASEBALL-
Yep, both times.

T.C.-
Two bats? If only.

Awesome job!!!!! I loved this entry and can’t wait for the next part! Keep up the great work because you have an amazing blog!!!!

Where are your seats at the Giants game on the 23rd? I’m going to that game hopefully!

Do you know where you’ll be on May 9TH at the O’s game? I’m going to try to come and meet you…

Zack,

Greetings from Dallas! I’m not sure if you saw this but Trent made an amazing catch on the berm in center field, robbing Franklin Gutierrez. Go Rangers!

I would have punched that guy who tried to take away the Cervelli home run. He’s such an idiot.

Judging by your latest interactions with the Diamondbacks, I wouldn’t be surprised if they became your new favorite team. Oh and by the way, I’m actually writing an article that talks about you and Didi. I’ll link you up when it’s finished.

The fat Rangers fan trying to steal your ball doesn’t surprise me 1 bit. Or the jack ass Pirates fan trying to take the first homer from you. Yankee Stadium is worse than going through airport security. I feel less violated having a TSA employee frisks me than having some 19 year old kid with a double-digit IQ tell me that I’m not in my ticketed section.

I instantly recognized you on tv and when you did the finger wave I thought of the Geico commercial and that’s where you got it from!

Jeremy has nice taste in hats. Good call, Jeremy.

Zack, congrats on the great snags!
No offense but ur gettin old in a good way.
and the nerve of that a–hole to stick up that middle finger.

U shoulda said a fu-k u to the two bums trying to steal those homers from ya.

Congrats Zack!

Will you be coming to Kauffman Stadium this year?

im glad i was there to witness everything in person. And to think you were thinking of going home if not for Jeremy meeting you. Even tho there was no BP and nobody threw before the game and it was raining, it actually turned out to be a pretty fun and interesting night. Thanks for introducing me to Heath, that guy is mad cool and thank you for the seeds, both the bacon and original were fantastic

Wow! What an amazing story! That Heath Bell signed cap would make a terrific prize in the charity drawing at the end of the year. Hint hint…

Zack,
Did you think to try to find the MLB authenticator and get the home runs authenticated? Same thing goes for all those 3rd-out balls you get. I would do that if I ever caught a game ball. I see to remember reading that you did that once.

That reporter chick is pretty hot. Just sayin. MILF alert.

The guy trying to steal your Cervelli homer looks demonically happy. Cracked me up. Congrats!

WES-
Thanks so much. It’s all done now, so I hope you’ve seen the whole thing.

AUSTIN-
I don’t know yet. I’ll be buying a ticket tonight. Gonna try to get near the visitors’ dugout, but it’s super-expensive, so I’m not sure where I’ll end up. You’ll find me running around the outfield during BP, though — mainly in right-center and left field, most likely.

EDISON-
I hope you can make it. I always buy the cheapest seats in Baltimore and then move around. I’ll enter the Eutaw Street gate in deep center field and then mainly hang out in LF during BP. During the game, I’ll probably be shifting constantly from the first-base side of home plate to the Flag Court in RF. You seriously can not miss me.

CHASE A-
Thanks for the link. Trent is the man.

CBELTRAN15-
Yeah, and then he was *acting* nice to me after.

ALEX GIOBBI-
Cool, thanks. I’d love to see it when it’s done.

MIKE-
:-)

BAYLOR-
Nice. I knew about the finger wag from back in the day when Dikembe used to play, but it has certainly been on my mind recently.

COOK & SON-
Ha, I was waiting for that.

NAVI-
Those fans *were* both amazingly rude, but I’ve learned not to be surprised by behavior like that in that stadium.

AIDAN-
Yep, I’m probably going to be there on May 1st and 2nd. Check out bigsbaseballadventure.com and click “The Adventure” link to keep up with my schedule.

MARK MCCONVILLE-
You’re welcome for everything. It was great to share the moment(s) with you. Now I wanna see you experience some big stuff of your own. :-)

LIZ MERRY-
Ohhhhh, but I *love* that hat and will always treasure it for being THE hat that I was wearing that day.

BRANDON S-
MLB no longer authenticates balls that enter the stands. The only exception is ultra-imporant milestone balls that are marked ahead of time.

RICKY W-
She is, indeed, a rather attractive person.

MEGGIE-
Heh, thanks. Always a treat to hear from you. I’ve been keeping my eye on you from afar. Hope our paths will cross again this season.

http://prospects2pros.mlblogs.com/2013/04/22/when-the-final-out-meets-prospects2pros/ Here is the write up. Took some time as I was away from my compute for the weekend.

Thanks for including me on your blog. It was great meeting you!

Hi Zack, Just sent you an email, I was at the game on Thursay, and seeing you snag the two homeruns, got me thinking about a possible project, you may be interested in – pro-bono. Please take a look at my email dated today, 4/23 at 1:35pm.

ALEX GIOBBI-
I love it. Thanks so much for writing about this whole crazy thing. And yes, I’ll save some bacon seeds for you. :-)

TFO2-
Who is this? I don’t recognize your handle on here.

MARSHALL LEVINE-
Just saw your email. Sounds cool. But how exactly would it look/work? Guess we can discuss, but things are sooooo insanely crazy right now.

This is Tyler.

Ohhh!! What’s up?! I hope we’ll see each other again soon.

…NICE SNAGS!!!

Zack, did you know that DiDI was a Cincinnati Red??? He had the coolest at-bat music of all time…he had a song that had his own name in it…”Gregorius”!!!

Mike: It’s not a Rangers sweatshirt, it’s a “FURTHUR” one, in the style of the Rangers logo. I can only assume these were made for when Furthur played MSG in November of 2010. (Which I had to look up because I hate that Grateful Dead crap, and it’s fitting to me that one of those people would try to shamelessly steal a ball right out of someone’s glove.) Still, you called him a Rangers fan which he very well could also be. Let’s just agree that he’s fat and a douche for at least two reasons.

ROCCO SINISI-
Yep, I looked him up online and say his stats and then remembered that he was on the Reds.

JERE80-
I’d just like you to know that my ankle *still* hurts from when that fat guy at Fenway intentionally body-checked me into the seats on April 10th.

mehhhhhh, the press is always looking for a negative slant to some degree, cool photo with Didi G, buddy boy!

Thanks, Pei. Great to hear from you. Miss you in NYC.

Heath 4 Prez

I like it. Legally, he’s old enough.

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