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:

30_wes_zack_maple

Then I got another pic with Maple and his father:

31_david_maple_zack_04_26_13

(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

 

21 Comments

Dear Zack,
I hope you may remember me from the kid who tried to meet you in Houston in 2011. I write you to say if you are going to minute maid on may 4th, I might try to attend the game in the sole purpose of meeting you. So maybe this time we can actually meet each other. Meeting you is in my bucket list of life. So yeah.

Thanks,
Angel.

You made his bucket list, dude! That’s now on my bucket list, to get bucket listed by someone.

Nice day Zack

Been reading the blog for about two years first comment. Sounds like you’re going to have the best summer ever! Any word on when you’re going to swing by Tampa?

You got to put some good word in to Trout on me!

-Tyler

Booker and Zack–
The two best sons a guy could ever ask for. . .

Zack,

I am getting extremely close to buying tickets to the O’s game on May 9TH, so I should be able to be there. I’ll try to say hi after batting practice.

OMG ZACK, DID U NOTICE THE CREEPY USHER IN THE BACKGROUND SMILING IN THE PICTURE OF U AND MAPLE AND WES?
nice shave by the way.
and fantastic snags.
Its pretty COOL that you are so chill with all these Major Leaugers. I must say, hard work and ballhawking payed off… -Navi from NY

Yep, there I am, in the picture above your mention of the Conger homer (nice catch btw) with the red shirt. My first attempt at commenting didn’t post for some reason, but then again it was about a page, so I’ll try to keep this recounting shorter:
I had changed from my Mariners gear into my Angels shirt (no Angels cap so I turned my M’s hat around, hats come in all different colors nowadays), yelled for balls like everyone else, and finally caught a toss-up over a few hands. I turned around, and there you were. After a minute in awe of the fact that I’d just snagged my first ball, and in the presence of the undisputed king of snagging, during which I made disbelieving noises, my first words were “Do you have any idea who threw that?” to which you responded, “No…maybe Nick Moran?” I put my ball in my bag and continued calling out to Hamilton, Weaver and Co., and you did your thing, and that was it.
So when are you coming back to Safeco this season? Seriously, just seeing you hawking was awesome and an honor. I know it’s a long flight because Seattle’s not close to anywhere, and the nights can get pretty cold, but you just have to come back. I really recommend the King’s Court; after I did it the first time, I questioned why anyone would sit anywhere else during a Felix Hernandez start. You might not get as many balls (aka only single digits) but it’s definitely an experience. With any luck, my lifetime total will be up to double digits by then.
-Joe

Gotta admit, I’ve always been a David seeds fan, but Bigs OLD BAY?! As a Marylander, that is the spice of my life! I have got to try those!!!

Hi, Zack. I can confirm that the dude in the black pants that threw you a ball is, indeed, T.J. Harrington. He’s the S&C Coach for the Angels. I loved reading about your adventures in Seattle, man. I think Safeco is the next field I’m going to…
~Matt

Good blog holmes

How about sending some of those seeds to Australia. I’m sure they’ll catch on. Just label them processed food. Looks like you had fun in Seattle. Lot of ballhawks on the west coast by the look of it.

It’s great that the ballhawk community is so non-competitive in Seattle. Much more fun that way, I imagine.

It’s Nick Horowitz again, ya know, the kid. Lol So my team had BIGS the other day at our game and also, I can’t find those old bay seeds anywhere and I’ve been DYING to try them. Any heads up for where my mom can take me to get them?

Hey Zack, was great meeting you and watching you in action. Keep up the good charity work and good luck in getting a gamer in the rest of the ballparks.

Oh yeah, thanks for the Bigs sunflower seeds, the bacon flavored ones are fantastic.

Good luck in Houston on Thursday. I might try and make it out there but we’re in the process of selling our house and buying another so it may not be likely. Should be ripe for the picking though since attendance at MMP is ridiculously low this year.

Saturday, not Thursday. I got my munfs rong.

ANGEL-
I do remember you, and I hope we can meet this time around. I’m still planning to be at Minute Maid Park on May 4th.

7240-
Welcome to the comments section. Check out bigsbaseballadventure.com and click the “Adventure” link. There’s a calendar toward the bottom with games that I’m likely going to attend. I think Tampa is on there somewhere.

JGK-
Shux.

EDISON-
Please do.

NAVI-
Ha, didn’t notice the usher ’til you pointed it out. I don’t know if “creepy? is the word I’d use, though. Maybe “awkward”?

JOE-
That was YOU? Oh, man, that’s hilarious. I remember how excited you were after getting that ball, and I was wondering, what’s THAT dude’s deal? Nice.

NICK HOROWITZ-
It’s a new flavor, so it’s harder to find. You can order them on the the BIGS website (bigs.com) so check that out.

TOM & EASTON-
Great meeting you too. Thanks for bringing my book, and thanks for letting me go for that 3rd-out ball. MUCH appreciated.

DONNY IN HOUSTON-
Hope you can make it. Looks like I’m only gonna be there for one game, so work your magic.

EVERYONE-
Sorry for not answering everyone. I’m on the road, and I’m exhausted, and I gotta get to work on my next entry . . .

yea, that’ll work too :-)

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