4/25/13 at Safeco Field
I’d like to start by showing you my luggage:
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:
When our flight landed, we took a train to downtown Seattle, which passed by Safeco Field:
Then I had about half an hour in my room before heading downstairs . . .
. . . 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 . . .
. . . and took a peek inside . . .
. . . 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:
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:
There was lots of room to run . . .
. . . 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:
That’s when I saw a ball sitting on the grass:
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:
When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:10pm, I headed to right-center field:
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:
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:
It was totally dead, so I headed to the Angels’ bullpen:
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?”
“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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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 . . .
. . . 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:
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:
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:
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 . . .
. . . but had no luck. In the bottom of the 1st inning, I moved to the Angels’ side, but this was all I got:
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 . . .
. . . and here for lefties:
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:
(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:
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.
• 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
(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