May 2013

5/26/13 at Citi Field

Occasionally, depending on the circumstances, snagging baseballs is embarrassingly easy. That was the case for the first half-hour that I was inside Citi Field because I’d gotten my hands on a season ticket which gave me early access. But after that, when the stadium opened for everyone else, my day completely fell apart.

This was the scene early on:

1_empty_seats_and_party_deck

In the photo above, that’s my friend Ben Weil and his girlfriend Jen (who was dancing to all the crappy pop music and being ridiculous). Our friend Greg Barasch was also at this game, and for a little while, he hung out in second deck in right field:

2_greg_second_deck_05_26_13

The four of us combined to snag 34 balls, and we got most of them during the first half-hour. Did you notice the empty party deck two photos above? See the usher standing atop the stairs at the far end? Well, when we first got there, there was no security on the party deck. Ben and Greg actually camped out there, and when they finally got the boot, we still ran down the steps from the regular seats to grab home run balls that landed on it. It feels weird to say this, but for a little while, Citi Field was actually fun.

I snagged eight balls during the first half-hour:

1) A home run in the regular seats in left-center field. I think John Buck hit it.
2) A John Buck homer that I caught on the fly reaching over the railing.
3) A Marlon Byrd homer that landed on the empty party deck.
4) Another Byrd homer on the party deck.
5) A toss-up from Mets pitcher Jeremy Hefner.
6) A homer on the deck hit by a lefty — probably Daniel Murphy.
7) Another lefty homer on the deck, once again probably hit by Murphy.
8) A Justin Turner homer that I caught on the fly in the regular seats.

Then it got stupid-crowded . . .

3_crowded_during_bp

. . . and I only snagged ONE more baseball for the rest of the day — a B.J. Upton homer that I caught on the fly with fans crowding me from all sides. I handed that ball to the nearest kid.

This “regular” portion of BP was about as unpleasant as it gets; the lowlight was nearly getting trampled by an aggressive fan who plowed through a half-empty row as I was reaching back for a loose ball. Ben, unfortunately, took the brunt of this idiot’s recklessness and ended up with a sore, swollen ring finger.

Shortly before game time, I tried to go here . . .

4_citi_field_can_suck_it

. . . but was denied by the usher because I didn’t have a ticket for that section.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME, METS?! IT SHOULD BE ILLEGAL TO CHECK TICKETS IN ANY SECTION WHERE YOUR TEAM IS UNABLE TO HIT THE BALL. Seriously. Wow. I was more than 500 feet from home plate and simply wanted to watch Braves starter Julio Teheran warm up in the bullpen. I explained this to the usher, who peeked over his shoulder at the field and snapped, “They’re done warming up.” Nice.

Five minutes later, with some help from a friend, I worked my way down to the seats near the Braves’ dugout. A few players were warming up, and when they finished, I called out and asked for a ball. Dan Uggla happened to be jogging past me, and he turned and said something.

“What?!” I yelled.

“You have enough balls!!” he shouted.

Since when does Dan Uggla know who I am? And more importantly, how does he know who I am? This is very strange. And annoying. I suppose I should be honored to be recognized by players, and sometimes I am, but when they refuse to throw me baseballs and/or give me crap, it’s really just a pain.

This was my lousy view during the game:

5_lousy_view_during_game

These were the astoundingly bad stats of the Mets’ first baseman:

6_ike_davis_is_horrendous

Why, exactly, is he still on the team? Matt Harvey would have better offensive stats if he played every day. Come to think of it, so would Jason Bay.

Somehow, the Mets won this game, 4-2. On my way out, I gave away another ball to a kid and got a photo with Ben, Mateo, and Greg. Here we are:

7_ben_mateo_zack_greg

Ben ended up snagging six baseballs, Jen got four, and Greg collected fifteen plus a Juan Francisco batting glove, which you can see in the photo above.

Here are the seven balls that I kept:

8_the_seven_balls_i_kept_05_26_13

Here are some interesting smudges, stamps, and marks:

9_nifty_balls_05_26_13

Here’s an invisible ink stamp on one of the balls (seen here in regular light versus black light):

10_black_light_05_26_13

A different ball had *two* invisible ink stamps, which means it failed an inspection at the Rawlings baseball factory and had to be fixed. Check it out:

11_black_light_05_26_13

Citi Field drives me crazy — can’t wait to hit the road again next week: Miller Park on June 3rd, Busch Stadium on June 4th and 5th, and Wrigley Field on June 7th.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 9 balls at this game

• 254 balls in 33 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 905 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 430 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 17 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, Camden Yards, U.S. Cellular Field, Comerica Park, and Rogers Centre

• 6,713 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.)

• 27 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.68 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $15.12 raised at this game

• $426.72 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $8,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $30,332.72 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/24/13 at Rogers Centre

It was 6:45am when the phone in my hotel room rang, and I wanted to tear it right out of the wall. Yeah, I was the one who’d requested the wake-up call, but dammit, now that it was blaring in my ear, it felt like the middle of the night. Why do the most important days always start with the least amount of sleep?! I was scheduled for a live TV interview on FOX, so not only did I *have* to drag my butt out of bed, but I was also gonna have to be perky and enthusiastic.

Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds drove me to the TV station. Here we are at the security checkpoint:

0_arriving_at_fox_for_an_interview

We arrived at 8am and were led through a school-like hallway to the following green room:

1_neal_in_the_green_room_05_24_13

I had half an hour before I was going to be on the air, so I wandered around with my camera. Here’s a photo of the hallway . . .

2_honors_and_awards_in_hallway

. . . and here’s a peek inside the bathroom:

3_fox_bathroom_05_24_13

Don’t worry. I was the only one in there. I wasn’t being a creeper — just getting a shot of the couch (which you would’ve done too because, let’s face it, how often does one see a couch in a bathroom?).

At around 8:30am, I got miked up. Five minutes later, I was standing here inside the studio . . .

4_inside_the_fox_studio_05_24_13

. . . and two minutes after that, I was live on the air. Here’s a photo that Neal took during the interview:

5_zack_live_interview_on_fox_05_24_13

Here’s a screen shot from the actual broadcast that shows my name on the screen . . .

6_fox_screen_shot_05_24_13

. . . and here’s another that shows me with the host:

7_fox_screen_shot_05_24_13

Her name is Anqunette Jamison, but everyone called her “Q.” Here’s a photo of us after the interview:

8_anqunette_jamison_and_zack

She was great — totally respectful and lots of fun. My segment lasted a little under four minutes, and if you want to watch it, click here.

Now, here’s something random for you . . .

The previous day, Neal and I had gotten a bunch of tweets from a guy in Detroit named Andy Dupont. He’d been looking forward to meeting me at Comerica Park and getting me to sign his copies of my books, but because the weather was so bad, he had to skip the game. Check out this tweet he posted, along with this one and this one and especially this one. Seriously, click those links to see what he was saying. It was sad, but also touching, and quite frankly, it was a real honor that he thought so highly of me. Neal and I talked about it and eventually got his info — and get this: at the time that we were going to be driving to Toronto, Andy was going to be at work 30 miles north of Detroit (at a Chrysler assembly plant in a town called Romeo), so we decided to pay him a visit. Check it out — here I am with him:

9_zack_and_andy_05_24_13

Unfortunately for Andy, our visit was so unexpected that he didn’t have the books with him, but we still enjoyed hanging out and chatting for a bit — and as an added bonus, Neal gave him a bunch of BIGS seeds.

The drive to Toronto should’ve taken four hours . . .

10_driving_to_toronto_05_24_13

. . . but because we hit traffic and ultimately got lost (because we were in Canada and our smart phones were being stupid), it took more like six. Still, we had a good time in the car . . .

11_zack_and_neal_in_mirror

. . . and I was excited when I finally saw the CN Tower looming up in the distance:

12_cn_tower_05_24_13

Because Neal had done all the driving, he needed some time to relax and catch up on work, so while I waited here for Rogers Centre to open . . .

13_outside_rogers_centre_05_24_13

. . . he was doing his own thing elsewhere.

My goal for day (beyond snagging a gamer and raising $500 more for Pitch In For Baseball) was to snag six balls and reach a lifetime total of 6,700.

Batting practice got off to a decent start. The Orioles were already hitting when I ran inside . . .

15_empty_seats_and_bullpen_05_24_13

. . . and within the first few minutes, I got two baseballs thrown to me in left field. I’m pretty sure that the first one came from Nolan Reimold; I’m certain that the second ball came from Nate McLouth.

15b_brian_matusz_2013A few minutes later, Brian Matusz jogged toward the warning track to retrieve a ball, and when he looked up and spotted me in the stands, he said hello. That surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. I keep forgetting that he knows who I am. Every time I see the Orioles, I end up chatting with Chris Tillman, who has recognized me for years. Tillman and Matusz often hang out together in the outfield during BP, so of course Matusz knows me. Duh. This time, however, Tillman was nowhere in sight because he was going to be the starting pitcher.

“How about a ‘Welcome to Canada’ ball?” I asked Matusz.

He inspected the ball and shouted, “It doesn’t say ‘Canada’ anywhere!”

I asked him if we could at least play catch with it, and once again, he surprised me, not only by throwing it in my direction, but then flapping his glove to indicate that he wanted me to throw it back. So I did. I tossed him a knuckleball that was good enough to make him nod and raise his eyebrows. We threw the ball back and forth a few times, and eventually he let me keep it.

My 4th ball of the day was thrown by Freddy Garcia in right-center field. I handed it to the nearest kid (whose bare hands it had bounced out of) and ran back to left-center. Look who I saw hanging out near the batter’s eye:

16_todd_tim_and_kellan_05_24_13

That’s the famous trio known as Cook & Sons – Todd (giving the thumbs-up), Tim (age 7), and Kellan (age 2). They attend games all over the place, and I keep hoping that they’ll adopt me. Most recently, I’d seen/fist-bumped them on 5/8/13 at PNC Park.

My 5th ball was an Adam Jones homer that I snagged several rows back in straight-away left field. I had to run a long way for it, but didn’t quite get there in time to catch it on the fly. That brought my lifetime total to 6,699 baseballs.

Chris Davis and another lefty were hitting in the next group, but I stayed in left field. More specifically, I moved to left-center because I know the Orioles, or at least I had a hunch. Several minutes later, Davis launched a deep drive in my general direction, and I knew right away that it was gonna reach the seats. To set the scene, I was standing in the front row, the ball was heading roughly 15 feet to my left, and there was a 12-ish-year-old kid in the way. He was standing five feet to my left and had a glove, and when the ball was hit, he tentatively began drifting toward it. Obviously I wasn’t going to knock him down — that’s not my style — and I also decided not to reach in front of him, so here’s what I did: I drifted with him and very carefully moved behind him. (We were both in the front row.) If he reached up and caught the ball, good for him, and if he somehow missed it, then it was gonna be mine. That sounds fair, right? Well, for whatever reason, this kid stopped drifting at the last second, and as the ball descended, I reached out to my left and caught it with full extension. (Several people who witnessed it told me later that it was pretty cool how I didn’t ever make contact with the kid or reach in front of him.) He was kinda stunned by the whole thing, and even though I hadn’t robbed him, I still gave him a ball — not THE ball, but rather one of the other BP balls that were zipped up in my backpack. He and his father were very appreciative, and when they turned their attention back toward the field, I took this photo of them along with my 6,700th ball:

17_ball6700_hit_by_chris_davis

Several minutes later, I caught another Chris Davis homer in the same spot — this time without all the fancy maneuvering, as it came right to me.

“Hey!” said a voice from below. I looked down and saw Orioles pitcher Tommy Hunter staring up at me from the warning track. “How do you know where to be for all these home runs?” he asked.

17b_tommy_hunter_2013“Wait, what?! You know who am I am?”

Everyone knows who you are!” he said, and then he rephrased his question: “How do you decide where to position yourself?”

“Well, Davis obviously has a ton of power,” I began, “and I know that he likes to go oppo, so I figured that this section in left-center was a good bet.”

“No, not in batting practice!” said Hunter. “What about the big ones that you caught, like the Barry Bonds homer? How did you know where to be for that?”

Hunter and I ended up chatting for another minute or two, and I kept wondering how he knew about me. Had he seen me on TV somewhere, or had Tillman told him about me? Regardless, it was pretty cool, and I loved the fact that all these guys on the Orioles who recognize me are young. Hunter and Matusz are both 26, and Tillman is 25, so I’ll have some friends in the major leagues for quite some time.

I snagged one more ball during BP — a toss-up from Miguel Gonzalez in left-center — and then I met up with a bunch of fans behind the Orioles’ dugout, starting with this guy:

18_drake_with_signed_baseball

His name is Drake, and as you can see, he had asked me to sign a baseball. (For those who don’t know, I often sign my name with a number after it; that number represents my lifetime baseball tally. Also, FYI, if you want to catch up with me at a game, this is usually a good time/place — behind the visiting team’s dugout after BP.)

After chatting with Drake for a couple of minutes, I posed for a photo with a fan named Shane and signed a ball for him too:

19_zack_and_shane_05_24_13

Then I did the same thing for a guy named Josh . . .

20_josh_and_zack_05_24_13

. . . and then I met a young lady named Jessica:

21_zack_and_jessica

After that, I spent a few minutes catching up with this guy:

22_zack_and_mike_with_signed_photo

His name is Mike, and did you see what he was holding?! Here’s a closer look:

23_signed_photo_closeup_05_24_13

That’s a photo that we’d taken together on 5/26/11 at Rogers Centre. He had brought all three of my books that day, and now that I was back in Toronto, he had printed that photo from my blog and gotten me to sign it. I love stuff like that.

Here’s where I sat in the 1st inning:

25_view_behind_1st_base_dugout

I was hoping that the third out would be a strikeout and that Orioles catcher Matt Wieters would toss me the ball on his way back to the dugout. As luck would have it, J.P. Arencibia *did* strike out to end the frame, but stupid Wieters rolled the ball back to the mound.

By the bottom of the 2nd inning, I had moved one section over toward the outfield end of the dugout. (I figured that Wieters was a lost cause and that I should focus on the position players.) With two outs, Melky Cabrera popped out to 3rd baseman Manny Machado in foul territory. Machado caught the ball so close to the stands that I was surprised when he didn’t immediately toss into the crowd. Instead, he jogged across the field with it, and I drifted down the steps. There were a few fans shouting for it in the front row, but I got his attention, and he under-handed the ball to me, right over everyone’s outstretched hands. It was perfect! And as I caught it, I heard a little “cha-ching!!” inside my head. Not only did this game-used ball represent another $500 donation from BIGS Sunflower Seeds to Pitch In For Baseball, but it pushed my grand total of money raised past the $30,000 plateau — that is, since I started my fundraising campaign in 2009.

Neal found me soon after (he’d seen me snag the ball from afar) and took my picture:

26_zack_with_ball6703

We sat together behind the dugout for an inning and clowned around a bit. Here’s a photo of Neal with a whole sample pack of sunflower seeds crammed into his mouth:

28_neal_sunflower_seeds_stuffed_in_mouth

I can’t tell if that’s funny or just downright creepy. What do you think?

A little while later, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid who was at the game for his birthday.

Eventually I needed some food, and I also wanted to check out the new party deck in center field. Here’s a photo that I took on the way there:

30_heading_to_new_center_field_party_deck

Do you see the area between the red “Rogers” and “Budweiser” ads? That’s the party deck. Here’s what the concourse looks like behind it:

31_concourse_behind_party_deck

In the photo above, do you see the guy wearing the blue “Reyes” jersey? Well, here’s what the view looked like when I went and stood beside him:

32_view_from_concourse_railing

Here’s one of the staircases that leads to the party deck . . .

33_heading_down_to_the_party_deck

. . . and here’s what it looked like on the deck itself:

34_party_deck_05_24_13

I hate most party decks because that’s where the loudest, drunkest, and least-interested baseball fans hang out, but hey, maybe that’s a good thing. Give them a space where they can congregate? Keep them away from everyone else? In all seriousness, though, the new party deck at Rogers Centre is beautiful. There are three levels where anyone with any ticket can hang out and watch the game. In general, the fewer rules the better, not just at baseball stadiums, but in life. Fans like being able to walk around; standing room is good, and the Blue Jays now have lots of it in center field. (If only the team would start opening the stadium earlier; this whole 90-minute thing is horrendously UN-fan-friendly. Bad Jays.)

When I finished touring the party deck, I ran into a bunch of familiar faces in the concourse:

35_cooks_neal_mike_concourse

In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at . . .

1) Todd’s father Jim
2) Todd
3) Todd’s son Tim
4) Tim’s little brother Kellan
5) Neal
6) Mike

Some time around the 5th inning, I headed here:

36_cop_in_left_center_field_05_24_13

I had to ask an usher for permission to sit there, and he let me. (The fact that my actual seat was behind the 1st base dugout is what got me into this outfield section; the usher used common sense and realized that I was downgrading my seat location, so he was cool with it. For the record, downgrading is not allowed at either New York stadium. You buy a ticket. You go to your section. The end. It blows.) Why did I want to sit all the way out in left-center? Because of all this space:

37_empty_seats_in_left_center_05_24_13

Why was there so much space? Because it was the “no alcohol” section, which is nice in theory, but in actuality, it was a total joke. I saw several fans walk down the steps with full cups of beer, sit in the adjacent section and drink, and then cross over into my section to sit and watch the game. Anyway, there were no home runs hit anywhere near me . . . of course.

After the game, which the Orioles won, 10-6, I got my 10th and final ball of the day at the Orioles’ dugout. I’m not sure who tossed it to me because there was a whole cluster of players walking in from the bullpen. Was it Pedro Strop? Maybe. Probably? No clue. I handed that ball to a little kid on my right and then took the following photo . . .

38_postgame_eye_candy_05_24_13

. . . just because.

Before heading out, I caught up with a guy named Ivan (aka “Toronto Ballhawk“) who’d brought his copy of The Baseball. Here we are:

39_zack_and_ivan_with_the_baseball

After signing the book for him, I signed a ball for Mike with my up-to-the-minute number . . .

40_mike_and_zack_with_signed_baseball

. . . and that was it.

41_cn_tower_postgame_05_24_13

Good times in Toronto.

Oh, one last thing: click here to read Neal’s recap of this entire trip, which also included games in Chicago and Detroit.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

42_the_six_balls_i_kept_05_24_13• 10 balls at this game (six pictured here because I gave four away)

• 245 balls in 32 games this season = 7.66 balls per game.

• 904 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 17 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, Camden Yards, U.S. Cellular Field, Comerica Park, and Rogers Centre

• 6,704 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.)

• 27 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.68 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.80 raised at this game

• $411.60 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $8,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $30,317.60 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/23/13 at Comerica Park

This was my 7th lifetime game at Comerica Park, and for the 4th time, rain wiped out batting practice. What fun.

Several minutes after I entered the stadium, two Tigers began playing catch in shallow left field. If you look closely at the following photo, you can see them in the distance:

2_dave_lally_sr_05_23_13

See the guy in the red sweatshirt? That’s a season ticket holder named Dave. See the kid in the orange shirt in the front row? That’s his nine-year-old son David. They live in Michigan, but I met them several years ago at Camden Yards, and we’ve become friends. One of the highlights of this day was getting to see them and catch up.

Dave and David know all about my baseball collection, and they wanted to help me keep my streak alive. Therefore, they not only helped me identify the two guys playing catch — Anibal Sanchez and bullpen catcher Jeff Kunkel — but they graciously stepped aside and let me go for the ball. Because I was the only fan asking for it, I ended up getting it from Sanchez.

Ten minutes later, when Max Scherzer began warming up in deeper left field, I returned the favor by letting David go for the ball. Here he is waiting for it . . .

4_david_lally_jr_05_23_13

. . . and not surprisingly, he ended up getting it. (For the record, he made a nice lunging catch over the railing.)

After that, there was NO sign of life on the field for the next hour and a half — no players, no groundskeepers, nothing. The game was clearly going to be delayed, if not canceled altogether.

Officially, the temperature was somewhere in the 40s, but it felt much colder. I could see my breath, but couldn’t feel my hands, and quite frankly, I wished I weren’t even there. I asked Dave if there was a place in the stadium where I could go indoors and stay warm, and he sent me here:

5_picnic_area_05_23_13

In the photo above, do you see the red “Captain Morgan” sign? That’s where I went, and here’s what it looked like inside:

6_bar_where_we_kept_warm

As you can see, the place was packed, but hey, whatever. I had no intention of eating or drinking anything. I just stood off to the side, and eventually Dave and David came and found me. We hung out there for at least half an hour, then headed back to the main part of the stadium and had our picture taken:

7_zack_david_dave_05_23_13

There ended up being an hourlong rain delay. Just before the game started, I noticed that a player wearing No. 5 in the Twins’ dugout had two baseballs in his back pocket. Here he is:

8_eduardo_escobar_before_ball6693

I quickly looked at the rosters that I’d printed, learned that the guy’s name was Eduardo Escobar, and got him to toss me a ball by asking for it in Spanish.

This was my view when the game started:

9_view_in_1st_inning_05_23_13

Look how much room there was to run for foul balls:

10_sooooooo_much_room_to_run

WOW!!!

In my previous six games at Comerica, I’d snagged five foul balls. I was convinced that I’d get one  at this game, if not two . . . or ten. There was no competition. I was moving freely back and forth through the cross-aisle for lefties and righties. The circumstances were ideal, but as the first inning was winding down, I had nothing.

It was time for Plan B, namely to work the Twins’ dugout for a 3rd-out ball. This was my view when Miguel Cabrera came to bat with one out in the bottom of the 1st:

11_view_behind_visitors_dugout_05_23_13

Normally, I would’ve waited until there were two outs to head down there, but because there was a runner on first base, I decided to get a head start in case Miggy hit into a double play.

He crushed a two-run homer to left field instead.

Prince Fielder followed by popping out to first base. Victor Martinez kept the inning alive with a ground-ball single up the middle, and Jhonny Peralta took a called third strike. Ugh! Twins catcher Joe Mauer ended up with the ball and tossed it into the crowd near the home-plate end of the dugout.

Guess who got the 3rd-out ball at the Tigers’ dugout after the top of the 2nd inning? Not me! David managed to work his way down there, and when Aaron Hicks went down swinging, he got hooked up by Tigers catcher Brayan Pena. It was the first game-used ball that he’d ever snagged. Very cool. I was glad to be there to witness it.

As for me, I didn’t get anything in the 2nd inning, but when Cabrera struck out to end the 3rd, I got Joe Mauer to toss me the ball! That felt good, not only because I’d always wanted to get one from him, but because it also raised $500 for Pitch In For Baseball. (That’s the amount of money that BIGS Sunflower Seeds is donating this season for every stadium at which I snag a gamer.)

David and I had our picture taken with our game-used baseballs . . .

12_zack_and_david_with_game_used_balls

. . . and then we headed to the right field seats. He and his father sat in front of me (so that I’d have room to run in case a home run flew my way). This was my view:

13_view_from_right_field_05_23_13

Did you notice the shirt that David was wearing? Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds happened to have an extra one, and David was the lucky recipient. (The fact that Dave helped us get free parking and did several other favors might’ve had something to do with it.) I hear that there are still a few extras, so if you’re interested, give BIGS a shout on Twitter.

As for my seat in the outfield, this was the view to my left . . .

14_view_to_my_left_05_23_13

. . . and to my right:

15_view_to_my_right_05_23_13

I had all kinds of room to run, but of course there were no home runs hit anywhere near me, and to make matters worse, two foul balls went *right* to the spot where I’d initially been standing for every right-handed batter. I have no doubt that I would’ve caught them both on the fly.

Earlier in the game, I met a guy named Paul who recognized me and knew about my BIGS Baseball Adventure. He was there with three kids, and I caught up with them in the 7th inning:

16_paul_casey_zack_tyler_sean

In the photo above, that’s Paul on the left. The girl in the white hoodie is his daughter Casey. The young man in the red hoodie is his son Tyler, and the kid on the right is Tyler’s friend Sean. Good people. I was glad they said hey but sorry that we didn’t have more time to talk.

It was so cold in the outfield (with the wind whipping all over the place) that I truly couldn’t take it, so I moved back to the cross-aisle behind home plate. No foul balls. No umpire ball. No post-game ball at the Tigers’ dugout. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Adios. Good night. See ya later, Detroit.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

17_the_two_baseballs_that_i_kept_05_23_13• 3 balls at this game (two pictured here because I gave one to a little kid who was sitting near me in right field with his father)

• 235 balls in 31 games this season = 7.58 balls per game.

• 40 balls in 7 lifetime games at Comerica Park = 5.7 balls per game.

• 903 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 16 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, Camden Yards, U.S. Cellular Field, and Comerica Park

• 6,694 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.)

• 27 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.68 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $5.04 raised at this game

• $394.80 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $8,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $29,800.80 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/22/13 at U.S. Cellular Field

My second day in Chicago began like the first: crashing the Sweets & Snacks Expo and grabbing as many free samples as possible. Once again, I took lots of photos, but this time I promise to go much quicker . . .

One of the first things I saw in the convention center was the PeepsMobile:

1_peepsmobile

Here’s a photo of the staircase leading up to the expo . . .

2_staircase_to_sweets_and_snacks_expo

. . . and here’s a guy who was giving out samples of beef jerky:

3_jerky_sample_guy

Those packs were Velcro’ed to a full-body suit.

My name was misspelled on my badge . . .

4_nametag_name_misspelled

. . . but hey, it still got me inside, and that’s all that mattered.

On my way to find Neal Stewart and the other folks from BIGS Sunflower Seeds, I walked past the Charms booth . . .

5_charms

. . . and grabbed a few Blow Pops from this bin:

6_blow_pops

Then I tasted some chocolate-covered fruit at the Liberty Orchards booth . . .

7_chocolate_samples

. . . and ate a few Memories biscuits nearby:

8_memories

Cool set-up, no? Kinda looks like a jewelry store, and by the way, do you remember the company from Saudi Arabia that I mentioned in my previous entry? That’s Memories. Really good stuff.

You know what else was good? Check out these unusual flavors of Gummi Bears that I sampled in the next aisle:

9_gummi_bears

The folks at that booth must’ve appreciated my positive reaction because they handed me this:

10_gummi_frog

Here’s something I wanted no part of — Test Tube Candy:

11_test_tube_candy

Yuck! Have you ever heard of that? Or worse, tried it? I suppose I’m a hypocrite if I’m willing to eat a sour Gummi Frog, but not try Test Tube Candy. All I can say is that we all have our limits.

I needed something healthier, so I dropped by the Carolina Nut Company booth, which featured a race truck. Here I am standing beside it:

12_zack_carolina_nuts_truck

Then I caught up with Neal, who looked rather snazzy:

13_zack_and_neal_stewart

On our previous trip, his hair was much longer, and his face was scruffy, and he admitted to looking “borderline homeless.” It’s amazing how an expo can change a man.

I spent lots of time at the Thanasi Foods booth. (As I mentioned in my previous entry, that’s the company that owns BIGS Sunflower Seeds.) Here’s what my view looked like from there:

14_business_meeting_at_the_bigs_booth

In the photo above, the guy sitting on the right (on the bucket) is Justin Havlick, the founder/CEO of Thanasi. The guy on his left (also wearing red) is his older brother Erik. They ended up joining me at the White Sox game, along with a bunch of other people from BIGS.

At various times throughout the afternoon, I found myself standing beside a bin filled with BIGS sample packs . . .

15_bigs_samples

. . . so eventually I grabbed one of each flavor — original, ranch, buffalo wing, and pickle. Why not, right? I’d been helping myself to samples from every other booth, so why should BIGS be treated differently? Also, I should admit to taking a big pack of Old Bay-flavored seeds. (Soooo good!) There was an entire rack of big packs, which were not meant to be taken as samples. They were there for display purposes, but I noticed that Justin occasionally gave them to key sales people and other VIPs. Quite simply, I decided that *I* was a VIP, so I grabbed one to take back home to New York City.

Before leaving for U.S. Cellular Field, I took another walk and saw some interesting things, such as this:

16_scripture_candy

That company is called Scripture Candy, and it uses slogans such as “Reaching The World One Piece At A Time!” and “Jesus: Sweetest Name I Know.”

Just across the aisle, there was a PEZ motorcycle:

17_pez_motorcycle

Several minutes later, I stumbled upon the Chocolate Creations booth, where I saw this:

18_chocolate_shoe

Those shoes are made of chocolate.

Keep in mind that the photos you’ve seen in this entry represent a tiny fraction of what I actually experienced at the expo. The event was HUGE, and I could’ve easily spent a solid week there.

Back at the Thanasi booth, I caught up with Jenny and Krista:

19_jenny_zack_krista

Ready to see all the free samples that I got? Make sure to enlarge the photo by clicking it:

20_all_of_my_free_samples

Oh yeah, baby! Hopefully all this stuff will last me until next year’s expo. (Hey, Neal, you ARE going to invite me back, right?)

At around 4pm, Neal and I headed out with Jenny and Krista for a ride to the stadium in the BIGS van. On the way, my friend (and BIGS colleague) Bianca posted this tweet:

20a_bianca_tweet_05_22_13

Whoa.

Remember the reporter named Mike Tanier who joined me on 5/9/13 at Camden Yards? Remember the Sports On Earth story that he wrote about me that was published five days later? Well, the story about me in USA Today was *that* same story — amazing how it’s still making the rounds.

Neal and I stopped at a couple of gas stations and picked up a bunch of copies, but for some reason, the ones we found had a different cover:

20b_zack_not_on_the_cover

That really pissed me off — not only because I wasn’t on it, but because of the tiresome “there won’t be any more 300-game winners” argument. How are people THAT dumb? CC Sabathia has a good chance of winning 300, and there’ll be others down the road. It’s such a stupid argument that I won’t even bother explaining why it’s stupid.

Anyway, when I opened up the paper, I hoped there’d be a photo of me wearing BIGS gear. After all, none of this stuff would’ve been happening without BIGS, so I wanted them to get the attention they deserved. Needless to say, Neal and I were both *very* excited when we saw this:

20c_zack_on_page_3

This was the scene outside Gate 2 . . .

21_crowd_outside_gate_2

. . . and here’s what I saw when I ran inside the stadium:

22_sunny_and_no_batting_practice_05_22_13

Noooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was a sunny day without batting practice — my nightmare scenario. In all fairness, it had been raining like crazy all night and into the early afternoon, but still . . . damn!

I seriously wondered if I was going to get completely shut out. Not only wasn’t there BP, but the Red Sox were nowhere in sight. That meant I might not have a chance to even go for a ball until pre-game throwing, and what if I didn’t get one then? Then I’d have to rely on getting a 3rd-out ball — something I’d failed to accomplish the night before. Would I have to catch a foul ball or try to get one from the ump after the game?

Thankfully I didn’t have to worry for long because I spotted three baseballs in the Red Sox’s bullpen. One was sitting too far out, but the others were hugging the back wall. It was the perfect situation for the glove trick. Here I am reeling in the first ball — look closely and you’ll see it in my glove:

23_zack_glove_trick_for_ball_6686

For the second ball, I had to lean out and swing my glove back a bit . . .

24_zack_lowering_glove_onto_ball6687

. . . and when I snagged it, I felt a huge sense of relief.

As for the other ball in the bullpen, I showed my string to an on-field security guard (who hadn’t seen me snag the first two) and asked if I could swing my glove out and try to get it. He chuckled and said no, but then did something that surprised me. He walked over to the bullpen bench and picked up a ball that happened to be sitting there and tossed it to me.

Around that time, I met a couple of guys who recognized me from this blog:

25_walter_zack_ryan

In the photo above, that’s Walter (age 17) on the left and Ryan (age 21) on the right. (They had never met each other, FYI.) Because there was no action on the field, we hung out and chatted for a while, and I ended up running into them several more times by the end of the night.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, Justin and Erik planned to attend this game with a whole bunch of people from (and connected to) BIGS Sunflower Seeds — sales people, clients, etc. Neal had gotten a few dozen tickets, and when everyone started showing up, we met them in the Bullpen Bar, which is located beneath the right field seats. Here’s what it looked like just inside the entrance:

26_bullpen_bar_interior

One of the first people we saw was The Man himself: Justin Havlick. In case you’ve forgotten, he owns the company, so you can imagine how excited he was when Neal showed him the USA Today article. Here I am with Justin:

27_zack_and_justin_with_usa_today

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: he’s a great dude. His company is based in Boulder, Colorado, and he told me that when I visit Coors Field, I need to stay with him — and that he considers me “part of the family.” I’m not sure if I’ll take him up on it, simply because Denver and Boulder are 30 miles apart and the logistics might be tough, but I know I’ll at least drop by for a visit. Somehow, someway, I need to check out the BIGS Sunflower Seeds headquarters before the season is through.

The Bullpen Bar has an outdoor seating area that looks great for a number of reasons:

28_tables_behind_outfield_wall

Want to know how to get a table? It’s easy: just get there before other people.

During the half-hour before the game started, I schmoozed it up and posed for photos with a bunch of folks from our group:

29_zack_with_bigs_clients_and_sales_people

While that was happening, I scarfed an order of chicken tenders and then raced up to the 100 Level. I had to show my ticket just to get into the concourse . . .

30_security_checking_100_level_tickets

. . . and then it was show-time.

I *needed* to snag a game-used ball — this was my second and final game at The Cell — so I maximized my chances by moving back and forth each half-inning from dugout to dugout. This was my view from the White Sox’s side in the top of the 1st . . .

31_view_in_top_of_the_1st_inning_05_22_13

. . . and here I am behind the Red Sox’s dugout in the bottom of the frame:

32_zack_in_bottom_of_the_1st_inning_05_22_13

I was sitting on the edge of my seat because (a) I was in the perfect spot to get a 3rd-out/strikeout ball from Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and (b) there were two outs and two strikes on Paul Konerko.

Just one more strike! Come on!

Konerko took the following pitch, which was SO close to being called a strike. Man!

Look at my reaction:

33_zack_reacting_to_a_pitch_that_just_missed_being_called_strike_three

Konerko lined out on the next pitch to left fielder Jonny Gomes, who ended up tossing the ball to the fans at the far end of the dugout.

I seriously couldn’t catch a break.

Back on the 3rd base side for the top of the 2nd inning . . . nothing.
Back to the 1st base side for the bottom of the 2nd inning. . . nothing.

Just when I figured I had no chance, luck finally swung in my favor. I was back on the 3rd base side in the top of the 3rd when Dustin Pedroia led off and hit a foul grounder in my direction. The 159447663_RRa_BOS_361ball wasn’t hit hard, but because of the angle, 3rd base coach Brian Butterfield decided to play the carom off the dugout fence, so he started moving away from me. According to basic physics and geometry, the ball *should* have bounced off the fence and continued rolling toward the outfield, and if that had happened, Butterfield would’ve retrieved it 30 feet to my left. Fortunately, though, it hit something that caused it to bounce back toward home plate, so when Butterfield walked over to retrieve it, he ended up heading in my direction. Even though I was behind the White Sox’s dugout, I was wearing my Red Sox cap. Why? Because I was prepared for this exact scenario. I called out to him before he picked up the ball, and he seemed to give me a subtle nod. Then he grabbed it and looked at me and tossed it my way. BAM!!! I got my gamer, and in the process, I raised $500 more for Pitch In For Baseball.

Walter was sitting several sections over, so when he saw me snag it and head up the stairs to the concourse, he met me there and took my picture:

34_zack_with_ball6689

This was an important moment because it marked the halfway point in my BIGS Baseball Adventure – 15 stadiums down, 15 to go.

I spent the next few innings here:

35_view_from_left_center_05_22_13

It was a lousy spot, but every other outfield section was packed. I was hoping that Konerko or Adam Dunn or Alex Rios or Mike Napoli or David Ortiz would hit a bomb in my direction, but I had no such luck. The only good thing that happened in deep left-center was that Krista and Jenny found me:

36_krista_zack_jenny_05_22_13

Neal showed up soon after, and we all headed into foul territory in the right field corner. That’s where everyone else’s seats were.

At one point, several college-aged guys showed up and asked if they could get a photo with me. Here we are:

37_zack_photographed_with_fans_05_22_13

It turned out that they were friends with Ryan, so that’s how they recognized me.

Here’s a funny (and by funny, I mean sad, but no, it’s actually funny) photo for you:

38_sad_neal_is_sad

That’s Neal in the red cap (surrounded by other folks from BIGS). I don’t know if he was pretending to be glum, or if he was actually feeling that way — or maybe he was just focusing on the game? Regardless, it made me laugh.

I came really close to a foul ball in the 7th inning. Some lefty yanked a grounder just outside the bag that kinda hugged the wall and somehow rolled all the way out to the right field corner. I darted down to the front row and lunged over onto the warning track and missed it by four inches. GAH!!! It would’ve been nice to snag that ball in front of everyone from BIGS, but hey, it’s not *my* fault that I’m only 5-foot-11.

Late in the game, I moved here:

39_no_home_runs_landed_here

As you can see, that entire terrace was empty, and man, let me tell you, if anyone had hit a home run there, I would’ve hopped that railing in a flash. But no, of COURSE there were no home runs. (I wish everyone would stop saying that I’m lucky because I’m really not. As a matter of fact, I feel decidedly unlucky.)

After the game, which the Red Sox won, 6-2, I got my 5th ball of the day from home plate umpire Mike DiMuro. Then I hurried to the 1st base dugout as the last few Red Sox were walking off the field and got another ball from coach Arnie Beyeler.

A few minutes later, I caught up with Ryan, who had brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter for me to sign:

40_zack_and_ryan_with_watching_baseball_smarter

Then I got a photo with Walter and my six baseballs:

41_walter_and_zack_with_baseballs

I ended up giving two of my baseballs away, not to kids as I usually do, but to these guys instead:

42_erik_zack_justin_with_baseballs

That’s a photo of me with Erik and Justin in the Bullpen Bar. The whole BIGS crew hung out there until the place closed.

One last thing . . .

Riley Blevins, the reporter who’d been with me the day before, did a follow-up interview with me about my second game at The Cell. I thought he might end up writing a blurb about it, but he wrote another full-length article! Here’s a screen shot of the first part of it . . .

42b_redeye_05_23_13

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

43_the_four_balls_i_kept_05_22_13• 6 balls at this game (Four pictured here because I gave two away. The Pedroia foul ball is on the lower left. Note the mark on the logo from where he pounded it into the dirt near home plate.)

• 232 balls in 30 games this season = 7.73 balls per game.

• 69 balls in 10 lifetime games at U.S. Cellular Field = 6.9 balls per game.

• 902 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 15 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, Camden Yards, and U.S. Cellular Field

• 6,691 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.)

• 27 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.68 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $10.08 raised at this game

• $389.76 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $7,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $29,295.76 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/21/13 at U.S. Cellular Field

My day started at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in downtown Chicago. In fact, that’s why I was in Chicago on this particular date; I could’ve visited U.S. Cellular (or Wrigley) Field anytime, but the folks at BIGS Sunflower Seeds had a booth at the expo and wanted me to be there.

Here’s a photo that I took as I approached the convention center:

1_heading_to_the_sweets_and_snacks_expo

Did you notice the two women carrying BIGS buckets? That’s Krista on the left and Jenny on the right. I’d just met them, and we headed inside together.

I was also there with Neal Stewartthe Director of Marketing for BIGS. Based on everything he’d learned about me during our travels (i.e. my sugar addiction), he knew that I was going to *love* this expo. While he went to the registration area to get my badge, I stood around and practically drooled at what I saw in the distance:

2_sweets_and_snacks_expo_from_afar

This expo was wasn’t just big . . . it was COLOSSAL. There were more than 2,000 candy/snack manufacturers in an area the size of four football fields, and according to Neal, most of them were gonna be giving out free samples! It was like Halloween for adults, or in other words, payback for all the Halloween candy that my health-conscious mother used to confiscate when I was little.

Here I am at the Jelly Belly booth:

3_zack_jelly_belly

“Booth” might not be the best word, but whatever, you get the idea.

As Neal lead me toward the BIGS booth, I stopped and took photos. I also took samples of every type of candy you can imagine. Some of it looked cheap and gimmicky . . .

4_kizandy

. . . but there was plenty of good stuff to balance things out. Check out the Toblerone booth:

5_toblerone

That guy was pouring melted chocolate onto strawberries. I ate two . . . along with several pieces of the chocolate that was sitting on those plates . . . and then I grabbed a few packaged chocolate bars from the bowl at the far end of the table.

Heaven.

Meanwhile, at a nearby booth, Lindt was doing a live show/demo:

6_lindt_chocolate_presentation

Eventually, Neal and I reached the BIGS booth:

7_bigs_sunflower_seeds_booth

In the photo above, do you see the banners that say “Thanasi Foods”? Thanasi is the parent company that owns BIGS Sunflower Seeds. They also have a line of beef jerky (and other “small batch smoked meats”) called Duke’s:

8_dukes_small_batch_smoked_meats

I’m not really a jerky person, mainly because I avoid beef, but I tried a bunch of the different flavors, and it’s truly outstanding (and all natural). If you eat jerky, look for Duke’s and give it a shot. I’d actually be curious to hear what you think because, like I said, I’m not an expert on this stuff, and I wonder how it compares to other brands.

In the photo above, did you notice the guy’s face on the packaging? That’s Justin Havlick, the founder/CEO of Thanasi. Neal is the guy who came up with the idea of sponsoring me, but Justin is the man who approved it, and this was the first time I met him. Here’s a photo of him (sitting on a BIGS bucket) during a sales meeting:

9_view_from_bigs_booth

In the photo above, the other guy sitting at the table is Justin’s brother, Erik. They are *great* guys. They thanked me for everything I’ve done for them, and they were extremely friendly and positive and encouraging.

I should mention that the Sweets & Snacks Expo isn’t open to the public. (I got to be there because of my connection to BIGS.) The purpose is for all these companies to connect with the sales people who choose the products that appear in stores. As a writer, I can relate to that challenge; you have no idea how frustrating it is to walk into a book store and look for my books and discover that they aren’t even sold there. The folks at BIGS obviously want consumers to purchase their seeds, but before that can even happen, they have to convince stores to carry the seeds in the first place. That’s why all these companies hand out free samples, but hey, I’m giving back to the NCA by blogging about it and spreading the love . . . right?

After spending some time at the booth and schmoozing it up with a bunch of industry insiders, I wandered the floor by myself. Did you notice the Herr’s booth in the previous photo? Here it is close up:

10_herrs

Some companies didn’t offer any samples. (Booo!!) Many companies had free stuff that I could eat on the spot (the Toblerone strawberries, for example), while others had packaged stuff that I could take with me. The best booths, from my moochy standpoint, were the ones with a huge amount of samples that weren’t being monitored. That’s how the Snyder’s-Lance folks did it:

11_free_samples_of_crackers

In the photo above, that entire rack was filled with stuff that was meant to be taken. I only grabbed a couple things. Discipline.

Here’s an example of a booth with free samples that I had to eat right away:

12_candy_coated_almonds

I’d never heard of Sweet Retreat Naturals. Really good stuff.

I helped myself to a few Original Gourmet Lollipops over here . . .

13_lollipops

. . . and grabbed a couple bags of Wonderful Pistachios . . .

14_wonderful_pistachios

. . . on the way to the Wild Garden booth . . .

15_hummus_dip

. . . where I was given an entire “hummus dip” box. Nice! But I wasn’t really in the mood to be healthy. I was on vacation, or at least that’s how I thought of it, and when that’s the case, I eat whatever the hell I want. No limits. No regrets. So I looked for more stuff with sugar.

I was excited to find Big League Chew (which is probably my favorite gum) . . .

16_big_league_chew

. . . but unfortunately it was trapped in a glass case. No sample. Did I miss it? (“Quick! Hide the product! Hample is coming to sample! He’s gonna wipe us out!”)

I got some free mini-packs of Mike and Ike . . .

17_mike_and_ike

. . . and loaded up on some taffy samples, courtesy of Taffy Town:

18_taffy

Are you beginning to understand the enormity of this expo, and how happy I was to be there? In addition to all of my favorite candy, there was stuff I hadn’t heard off — fig cookies from a company in Saudi Arabia, chocolate makers from Central America, and so on.

I’m telling you: it was Halloween for adults. And it’s not like I was doing anything wrong. (Well, I was definitely doing something wrong to my body, but that’s another story.) Thanasi had paid lots of money to be at the expo, and in doing so, they were granted a certain number of visitor badges. I was fortunate enough to receive one, and get this: on my way in, I was directed to a check-in booth where I was handed a fancy/empty shopping bag, the purpose of which was to hold all the free samples that I’d be getting.

The Concord Confections booth . . .

20_concord_confections

. . . had a bin of Dubble Bubble. I could’ve taken 100 pieces if I wanted, but that would’ve used up precious space in my bag.

I promise there’s some baseball stuff coming, but hold on. I need to show you the gigantic Hershey’s area:

21_hersheys

I can’t even describe all the free stuff they were giving away, so here’s a photo of some of what I got:

22_hersheys_ice_cream_and_desserts

That cup contained soft-serve vanilla ice cream with caramel syrup, Reese’s Pieces, and Heath Bar crunch. I could’ve gone back ten times and gotten ten more cups (there were many other toppings available), but jeez, enough is enough.

Kit Kat had sponsored the lounge area:

23_kit_kat_lounge

At a nearby booth, there were cardboard cutouts of Matt Kemp and Cole Hamels:

24_life_sized_baseball_cutouts

(See? Baseball stuff! More to come . . . )

At around 4:15pm, I headed out with Neal, Krista, and Jenny:

25_neal_krista_jenny_leaving_expo

Take a look at the stuff I’d gotten:

26_all_the_stuff_i_got_at_the_expo

The photo above was taken inside the BIGS van. Here’s what it looked like in the back:

27_jenny_in_the_bigs_van

Jenny (pictured above) and Krista have been driving the van all over the place lately and giving out free samples. Remember this photo of me with Bianca and Allison from 5/3/13 at Rangers Ballpark? That’s a different van. The folks at BIGS are spending lots of time and money to get their product out there, and it isn’t easy. When we drove the van to U.S. Cellular Field, we weren’t allowed to park because of the logos/branding on the vehicle. Krista and Jenny were planning to join me and Neal at the game, but because of the parking issue, they decided to take off. Here’s a photo of the van that I took before they left . . .

28_bigs_van_at_us_cellular_field

. . . and no, they weren’t planning on leaving it there. They went to pay to park in an actual lot near the stadium, and they were denied.

U.S. Cellular Field didn’t open until 5:40pm, which meant that when I ran inside for batting practice, the White Sox were already gone. (I think it’s inexcusable that certain stadiums open so late that fans can’t watch the home team warm up. If I were a fan of any team that did that, I’d organize a petition, and if that didn’t work, I’d stop being a fan. I’m serious. It really sucks.) Thankfully, though, there *was* batting practice. For days, I’d been monitoring the weather, and I was convinced that it was going to rain.

When I reached the right field seats, I met up with a journalist named Riley Blevins, who was there to interview me for a local newspaper called The RedEye. He’d gotten inside the stadium early and had already snagged a ball. Moments later, I got Red Sox pitcher Clayton Mortensen to throw one to me near the foul pole, and a couple of minutes after that, I got a toss-up from Clay Buchholz in right-center.

Here’s what it looked like out there:

29_view_from_right_center_05_21_13

Here’s a photo of Riley . . .

30_riley_blevins_05_21_13

. . . who followed me to left field for the next group of hitters. I was hoping to put on a good show for him, but there wasn’t much home-run action. The best I could do was get Ryan Lavarnway to throw me a ball in left-center and use my glove trick to snag this ball from the bullpen:

31_ball6681_in_the_bullpen

I gave that ball to the nearest kid.

I headed back to right-center for the remainder of BP and snagged a Mike Carp homer. I should’ve caught it on the fly, but misplayed it and had to settle for grabbing it in an empty row.

As the players and coaches jogged toward the dugout at the very end of BP, I shouted loud enough to get one of them to throw me a ball from shallow right field. I’m not sure who it was. It would’ve been nice to know, but I was just glad to have snagged my 6th ball of the day.

Look who I caught up with after that:

32_zack_with_dave_davison_and_rick_crowe

That’s Dave Davison (who has snagged thousands of baseballs) on the left and Rick Crowe (another ballhawk) on the right.

Before the game, Riley took a few photos of me for his story . . .

33_riley_photographing_zack

. . . and then the real challenge began.

One good thing about U.S. Cellular Field is that you can pretty much go wherever you want. You do need a 100 Level ticket in order to enter the 100 Level (even during BP), but once you’re in, the ushers and guards leave you alone. Therefore, I sat here in the top of the 1st inning . . .

34_top_of_the_1st_inning_05_21_13

. . . and moved here (near my actual seat) in the bottom of the frame:

35_bottom_of_the_1st_inning_05_21_13

As you might already know, BIGS Sunflower Seeds is donating $500 to Pitch In For Baseball for every stadium at which I snag a game-used ball this season, so I stayed near the dugouts and kept moving back and forth. Luck was not on my side. White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers rolled every 3rd-out/strikeout ball back to the mound, and first baseman Paul Konerko only seemed to toss baseballs to little kids and attractive women. Over on the Red Sox side, there were a ton of kids, and they got all the toss-ups. Fair enough. Can’t argue with that. But it sure made things tough for me.

I had a very close call in the 2nd inning when Alexei Ramirez ended up with the 3rd-out ball and looked right at me as he jogged toward the dugout. At the last second, he spotted a little girl standing right behind me on the stairs, and in one motion, he pointed at her and flipped the ball in our direction. Because of how we were positioned, I knew that my body was likely blocking her view of the ball. I wanted to let her catch it, but (a) I would’ve had to lean out of the way and (b) it might’ve ended up hitting her, so I caught it and immediately handed it over. Ramirez gave me a nod. The girl was thrilled. Several people applauded. And I wasn’t sure what it all meant. Did that count for the BIGS charity challenge? What about my own personal ball-snagging stats? Neal was sitting nearby and had witnessed it. He said I did the right thing but because (a) the ball wasn’t intended for me and (b) I didn’t end up with it in my possession for the end-of-the-year charity auction, it would *not* count. Meanwhile, I decided to count the ball in my own stats. It felt weird, but I stand behind everything that Neal and I decided. Officially, it was my 7th ball of the day.

I continued playing both dugouts for the rest of the game. From the 2nd through 7th innings, I’m certain that I would’ve gotten a 3rd-out ball from Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia if any inning had ended with a strikeout. There was one little girl in my section who got a ball from Salty after the 1st inning, but other than her, it was all me — NO kids. Of course, there were numerous two-out/two-strike counts on White Sox batters, but they all managed to put the ball in play.

By the 8th inning, it was raining, and 90 percent of the fans had left. I was sitting in the 2nd row behind Boston’s dugout when Adam Dunn came to bat with two outs. I really thought that I was finally gonna get my gamer — that Dunn would strike out (as he does so often) and that Salty would hook me up. Well, wouldn’t you know it . . . Dunn DID indeed strike out, but at the last second, a 30-something-year-old guy who had *just* moved into the front row stood up and hoisted his toddler (who was too young to know what was going on) and got the ball. That was very frustrating because when I give balls to kids, I always make sure that they’re old enough to appreciate it. And by the way, I had given away another ball to a kid in the concourse during the middle innings.

My last shot was to get a foul ball in the top of the 9th, and you know what? I really thought I was going to. The rain was coming down HARD, and the non-covered portion of the 100 Level seats was practically empty. If a foul ball had landed anywhere near me, I probably would’ve gotten it. As it turned out, there was only one foul ball in the 9th — a towering pop-up that flew back exactly in my direction . . . but sailed 50 feet over my head and reached the upper deck. I was amazed that the game was still being played. It was practically pouring, but obviously the umps wanted to wrap things up.

After the final out of Chicago’s 3-1 victory, I hurried through the empty rows to the umpire tunnel directly behind home plate. I was the *only* fan in the seats, and home plate ump Chris Conroy hooked me up — easiest umpire ball in the history of ballhawking. It was a nice end to an otherwise frustrating day.

During the final inning, Riley and Neal had been hanging out in the concourse with my backpack. I was totally soaked when I caught up with them – and that’s when I took this photo:

37_two_minutes_after_the_final_out

Look closely and you’ll see several Red Sox walking in from the right field bullpen. Also, check out the puddles in the infield and on the warning track. What a wonderful mess.

That’s when two kids approached me and said hello. They had recognized me during the top of the 9th, and I’d told them to find me in the concourse after the game. Their names were Bair and Jacob. Cool guys. I gotta give them props for sticking it out ’til the end. We chatted for a few minutes. Then I got a photo with Riley . . .

38_riley_and_zack_05_21_13

. . . who ended up writing a terrific story, which appeared online the next day. Here’s a screen shot of the first part of it:

39_zack_redeye_screen_shot

If you want to read the whole thing, click here, and if you want to see what else Riley is up to, check him out on Twitter. He did an amazing job of sticking with me all day and capturing so many details in his story.

On our way out, we took a peek inside the White Sox’s new social media lounge. Have a look:

40_white_sox_social_media_lounge

It’s located in the concourse behind Section 154 down the left field foul line — and it’s free/open to fans. You can charge your phone there and use the WiFi and keep tabs on the White Sox and interact with other fans on various social media platforms. It’s a great idea, and evidently it’s the first of its kind in the major leagues.

Oh, and by the way, because of the Sweets & Snacks Expo, I was scheduled to stay in Chicago for an extra day, which meant I’d have one more shot to snag a gamer at The Cell . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

41_the_five_balls_i_kept_05_21_13• 8 balls at this game (five pictured here because I gave three away)

• 226 balls in 29 games this season = 7.79 balls per game.

• 63 balls in 9 lifetime games at U.S. Cellular Field = 7 balls per game.

• 901 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 14 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, and Camden Yards

• 6,685 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.)

• 26 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.63 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $13.04 raised at this game

• $367.38 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $7,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $28,773.38 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/20/13 at Citi Field

I’d been looking forward to this game for several days because my first ball of the day was going to mark the 900th consecutive game at which I’d snagged one — a streak dating back to September 10, 1993.

When the stadium opened at 5:10pm, I headed to the left field seats with a clear vision of how I wanted things to play out:

1) Snag a baseball.
2) Get someone to take a photo of me with it.
3) Label it and stick it in a special compartment in my backpack.

Simple enough, right? Well, after several minutes had passed, my friend Mateo (who just returned from his freshman year of college in Minnesota) got Mets coach Tom Goodwin to throw him a ball. Unfortunately for him, it sailed a bit too high and barely eluded his glove. I didn’t bother going for it at first because Mateo was standing one full section to my right, but when I realized that he had no idea where the ball was, I ran over and grabbed it. (Sorry, Mateo, but you would’ve done the same thing to me, right? And I wouldn’t have blamed you.) At the very instant that I got that ball, I heard another one slam into the seats near me. First I flinched. Then I saw it rattling around in my row five feet away. Then I grabbed it. Five seconds later, it occurred to me that I had no idea which ball was which. D’oh!! I’m pretty sure that the second ball was a Justin Turner homer, and I’m positive that if I’d seen it coming, I would’ve caught it on the fly. I felt kinda bummed about the haphazard, semi-botched milestone, but what I could I do? I photographed the two baseballs . . .

1_900th_consecutive_game_with_at_least_one_ball

. . . and got on with my day.

The worst thing about BP (aside from the fact that this was Citi Field) was the steady flow of fans getting wristbanded on the way to the Party Deck:

2_party_deck_crowd_05_20_13

Sure, I could’ve moved to a different staircase, but (a) there were other ballhawks on my right and (b) hitters rarely reach the seats on my left.

My 3rd ball was another toss-up from Goodwin. (He hadn’t seen me get the first one.) My 4th ball was a homer by a right-handed batter on the Mets that I caught on the fly in the front row. (I gave it to man standing next to me, who handed it to his very thankful daughter.) My 5th ball was a home run by a left-handed batter on the Reds that I caught on the fly in the 3rd row. (My friend Mark was in the 2nd row and got a bit tangled up and couldn’t quite reach it.)

I should’ve caught another homer late in BP, but *barely* misjudged it. Basically, as the ball reached its apex, I drifted down the steps and hurriedly picked a spot because there were several other fans closing in from various directions. The ball ended up drifting about a foot farther than I’d predicted, and when I jumped and reached for it, it tipped off the end of my glove. That really pissed me off — and that was it for BP. Meh.

A little while later, I caught up with a young fan named Zach, who’d brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter for me to sign. Here we are with it:

3_zack_and_zach_with_watching_baseball_smarter

Zach and I have crossed paths at a bunch of Mets games over the last few years. Despite usually showing up late for BP, he usually finds a way to snag a ball or two, and this game was no exception. He made a nice grab on a home run (hit by Brandon Phillips, I think) that was rattling around the left-center field seats.

I also caught up with a guy named Jon, who’s an expert autograph collector and has been reading this blog for years. He’d gotten Votto and several other guys outside the team hotel earlier in the day, and he got a few more signatures behind the Reds’ dugout.

Here’s a photo that shows where I sat for the 1st inning — directly behind a guy wearing the best jersey I’ve seen all year:

4_view_during_game_05_20_13

In the second inning, I moved one section to my left, and in the 3rd inning, Mark caught a Marlon Byrd homer two sections to my right. It was a nice play, mainly because he’d been half-paying attention when the ball was hit and had to scramble to get ready for it, but even he would admit that it was lucky. He was sitting on the end of a row, and Byrd drilled a line drive RIGHT at him. I tweeted a congratulatory message and hoped I’d get some home run action of my own, but it wasn’t meant to be.

During the middle innings, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid sitting behind me.

After the game, which the Reds won, 4-3, I gave away another ball at the dugout and then got one tossed to me by Reds coach Billy Hatcher. Look how beat-up and gorgeous it is:

5_ball6677_from_billy_hatcher

Then I caught up with Mateo and another ballhawk named Aaron (aka “Howie”). The three of us posed with Mark and his home run ball:

6_mark_mcconville_with_marlon_byrd_home_run_ball

Aaron initially posed with the ball that he’d gotten, but I was like, “Nope, gotta put it away. None of us are showing our baseballs. It’s all about Mark.”

Mateo ended up with three. A few other guys each managed to get one or two.

Tough day.
Tougher stadium.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

7_the_three_balls_i_kept_05_20_13• 6 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave three away)

• 218 balls in 28 games this season = 7.79 balls per game.

• 900 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 14 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, and Camden Yards

• 6,677 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.)

• 26 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.63 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $9.78 raised at this game

• $354.34 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $7,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $28,760.34 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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

8_black_light_05_20_13

5/17/13 at Yankee Stadium

It’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve gone to a game and *not* snagged at least one ball — and my streak nearly ended at this one. No matter where I went or what I did, it seemed to be the wrong choice. Bad luck. Bad ricochets. Lots of competition. Rude players. It was amazing.

I started in left field . . .

1_view_from_left_field_05_17_13

. . . and watched helplessly as another fan caught a home run that sailed right to him in my regular spot. No, I don’t own that spot, and yes, he’d gotten there first; I can’t complain, but it still bummed me out.

When I saw that Curtis Granderson and Travis Hafner were getting ready to hit in the next group, I raced to the 2nd deck in right field:

2_view_from_second_deck_05_17_13

As you can see, there wasn’t a whole lot of competition. ANY home run that landed anywhere near me would’ve been mine, but there were none. Hafner pounded nearly a dozen grounders and line drives in my direction. All he had to do was elevate! But no. Nothing. Unreal.

When the Blue Jays started hitting, I headed back to left field:

3_back_in_left_field_05_17_13

In the photo above, do you see the big/square area on the lower right, blocked by railings? It’s also blocked by chains in the front row. See the guy wearing black shorts? There are chains just to his right. That space is sometimes used for TV cameras, but even when it’s empty, fans (for some reason) are not allowed to be there. Keep that in mind. I’ll be talking more about it in a bit.

I figured that there’d be lots of action in left field. Jose Bautista? Edwin Encarnacion? J.P. Arencibia? Brett Lawrie? Hell, even Henry Blanco and Mark DeRosa. All these guys bat right-handed, but they combined to put on a pathetic display. There seriously would’ve been more action in the left field seats if *I* had been hitting (with a metal bat). I knew I was in trouble, and I tweeted about it. One home run sailed 10 feet over my head and was grabbed several rows behind me by another fan — the ONLY fan, it should be noted, who was behind me. Another homer landed 20 feet to my right and deflected back to the exact spot where I’d been standing before I started chasing it. Another one landed 30 feet to my left and unexpectedly deflected AT ME and tipped off my glove as I scrambled for it. I was having THE worst luck. Around that time, I tweeted another update, and let me tell you, I was nervous as hell. Getting shut out during BP at just about any other stadium wouldn’t be the end of the world, but here at Yankee Stadium, where *every* staircase is fiercely guarded throughout the game? Oy vey. I knew I wouldn’t be able to head into foul territory for a pre-game toss-up or a 3rd-out ball. Somehow, I was gonna have to find a way to snag a ball in the outfield, but BP was winding down, and to make matters worse, the Blue Jays pitchers in left field completely ignored me. They had no problem tossing baseballs to other fans (a) in Blue Jays gear or (b) who were female, but for whatever reason, it’s like I didn’t exist to them. I’m talking about Casey Janssen, Brett Cecil, Esmil Rogers, Chad Jenkins, and the worst of the worst . . . Brad Lincoln. I was making the nicest and funniest and most polite requests of all time, but none of these last-place bozos even looked at me. (And to think that I actually rooted for them at the beginning of the season!)

Something lucky happened at the end of BP, and I do mean THE END. On the 2nd-to-last pitch, the batter hit a deep line drive in my direction. It was hooking a bit to the right of my staircase, and I could tell that it wasn’t going to reach me in the 4th row, so I scurried down the steps and hopped the chain to get into the camera well, and I reached out for the ball as Brett Cecil was jumping up for it . . . and BAM!!! I felt the impact on my glove, but what caused it — the ball or his glove? I opened mine, and the ball was there! I actually thumbed my nose at him as he jogged off, though I’m sorry to say he didn’t notice. Then I got scolded by security for entering the precious camera well, but it was worth it. I’d extended my 898-game streak to 899, and no one could take that away from me. Moments later, I photographed the ball . . .

4_shutout_avoided_05_17_13

. . . and if you look closely, you can see the last-place Blue Jays jogging back to the dugout in the background.

I tweeted another update with this photo:

5_zack_relieved_but_still_stressed

It’s weird to be simultaneously stressed and relieved.

After I posted that tweet, my friend Todd Cook responded with this, and he was correct. It was indeed “Harkey time.”

Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey tosses half a dozen balls into the crowd before every game, and I’d already gotten seven from him this season. In fact, I’ve gotten one from him every time I’ve tried, except once, and that was when a security guard kicked me out of the bleachers (despite the fact that I had a much better 100 Level ticket), so it almost doesn’t count. If I ever needed a ball from Harkey, this was the time. Yeah, I’d managed to keep my streak alive, but I had another one on the line: 423 consecutive games with at least two baseballs. The last time I “only” snagged one ball was at the 2007 All-Star Game.

Long story short: Harkey hooked me up. I don’t think he recognizes me because I always change my appearance and position myself in different spots. Sometimes I work the 100 Level seats. Other times (when security isn’t being insane) I play the bleachers, and occasionally I go here:

6_mike_harkey_after_ball6670

I took that photo from a terrace, which has lately been closed quite a bit for “private events.” Thankfully it was open at this game, and I took advantage. In the photo above, you can see Harkey walking on the bullpen mound, about to disappear from view. The ball I got from him was the last one that he threw. Phew!

After that, I hurried down to my ticketed section, which just so happened to be adjacent to the last-place Blue Jays’ bullpen. Here’s what I saw when I got there:

7_alex_andreopoulos_before_ball6671

Pitching coach Pete Walker was talking to starter Mark Buehrle. Walker, as you can see, was holding a baseball in his right hand, which he ended up tossing into the bleachers. But wait! Did you notice the 3rd guy in the bullpen? See his head poking up on the left? That was bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos, whose pockets were stuffed with baseballs. He tossed them all into the crowd, and I snagged one.

I sat in straight-away left field for the entire game. This was the view to my left . . .

8_coolest_dude_ever_05_17_13

. . . and this was the view to my right:

9_kid_i_gave_a_ball_to_05_17_13

Why did I draw a red circle around that little kid? Because (a) it would’ve been tough to point him out without it and (b) I gave him the BP home run ball that I’d caught. He was sitting there all night with his glove, staring at everything super-attentively. Every time a vendor walked down the stairs and shouted, the kid turned and looked. Every time there was a video on the jumbotron, he watched it. He was *so* into the entire experience, but of course there was one thing missing. It was the middle of the 4th inning, I think, when I walked over to him and said, “Hey, you look like you could use a baseball. Am I right?” Then I held out the ball, and man-oh-man, the way his face lit up might’ve been the highlight of my day.

The lowlight was when I missed a David Adams ground-rule double in the bottom of the 7th inning by an arm’s length, and you know what? If I hadn’t been skittish about the camera well, I totally would’ve caught it. Basically, I was standing next to the chain as the ball was approaching. I didn’t think it was going to clear the wall, so I didn’t bother climbing over. Catching a ball in a restricted area is bad; jumping into a restricted with NO ball is worse, so I hung back and reached out pathetically as the ball skimmed over the wall by mere inches. It deflected off some fans and unfortunately, rather than plopping down into the camera well where I could’ve grabbed it, it bounced deeper into the section. These are the folks that ended up with it:

10_fans_with_ground_rule_double

As they posed with the ball, I thought, “They’ve snagged as many ground-rule doubles in their life as I have — and who knows, maybe more?” (My one ground-rule double was hit by David Justice at SkyDome in 2000; I would’ve caught another two years ago at Coors Field if I hadn’t been on frickin’ crutches.)

The game itself was . . . pthpththpththh!!! Hiroki Kuroda limited the last-place Blue Jays to two hits and a walk in eight scoreless innings — his ERA is now 1.99 — and the Yankees won, 5-0. There were no home runs.

After the final out, I hurried over to the last-place Blue Jays’ bullpen and tried unsuccessfully to get one final toss-up. I ran into a fellow ballhawk named John Lisankie (whom I’d seen on and off throughout the night), and we chatted for a minute. He’d managed to get one ball during BP — tough day all around. When he and his father left, I lingered in the seats for another minute, first to chat with a few other fans that I recognized and then to say goodnight to the security guard, who’s actually really cool. That’s when I noticed this:

11_lineup_card_in_bullpen_05_17_13

You have no idea what I’m talking about, right? See the big blue advertisement below the bleachers? See where it says “AgeWell”? See the little white rectangle on the dark blue wall below it? That was the last-place Blue Jays’ lineup card. They were nice enough to leave it behind, and the groundskeeper was nice enough to peel it off the wall and hand it to me. Here’s a closer look:

12_lineup_card_05_17_13

Here’s an even closer look, and if you want to see all my lineup cards, click here.

Getting this lineup card (or “LINE-UP CARD” as the last-place Blue Jays call it) kinda almost made the whole day worthwhile. Here I am with it before leaving the stadium:

13_zack_with_lineup_card_05_17_13

This is where the story would normally end, but in this case, I have one last thing to share . . .

While waiting for the downtown No. 2 train at the 149th Street station, look what I saw on the tracks:

14_ball_on_subway_tracks_05_17_13

See that little round white thing? Yep, that’s a baseball, and check it out — it definitely came from a major league stadium:

15_subway_ball_closeup_05_17_13

That’s a “practice” stamp on the sweet spot. How do you like that?! (I hope that’s not the ball that I gave to the kid.) Upon seeing that ball, my thoughts went something like this:

1) I could jump down there and get it!
2) Oh, wait, it wouldn’t even count because I’m not IN a stadium.
3) Screw it — probably not the safest thing to do anyway.
4) Oh! I could glove-trick it.
5) Oh, wait, I don’t have any of my glove trick materials on me.
6) Those were some big rats.
7) Here comes my train.
8) Maybe the ball will still be there next time I’m coming home from a Yankee game!
9) Oh, wait, that’s gonna be at least two weeks from now.
10) What would I do with that ball anyway?
11) Who cares? I’d enjoy the challenge of snagging it.

I just thought of one more thing that I need to share . . .

Before the game, I was talking to a friendly guard in the bleachers (yes, they do exist), who told me something interesting: last season, his shifts started at 4:30pm for night games, but this year, his clock-in time has been pushed back to 4:45pm. He said it’s because ticket sales are down and the Yankees are losing money — and he’s going to quit as a result. Every four days, he loses an hour of pay, which he can’t really afford, but it’s not even about the money. He said the Steinbrenners have added a bunch of rules that he now has to enforce, so his job has become more annoying and difficult. I asked him to give an example, so he pointed out a white stripe on the pavement behind the last row of bleacher benches. He said it wasn’t there last season, but now he’s being instructed not to allow fans to stand in front of it. As you might expect, fans get pissed off when they’re told to move (when they’re already standing 500-plus feet from home plate), so he’s constantly forced to be the bad guy. Many guards enjoy wielding their power, but for the decent folks who work at The Stadium, the rules are a real burden.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

16_the_two_baseballs_i_kept_05_17_13• 3 balls at this game (two pictured here because I gave one away)

• 212 balls in 27 games this season = 7.85 balls per game.

• 899 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 424 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 32 lifetime lineup cards (or pairs of lineup cards)

• 14 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, and Camden Yards

• 6,671 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.)

• 26 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.63 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $4.89 raised at this game

• $344.56 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $7,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $28,750.56 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/16/13 at Yankee Stadium

I realize that I’ve started a few recent entries with photos of baseballs, so for a change, here’s a shot that I took while waiting in the shade for the gates to open:

1_chilling_in_the_shade_05_16_13

Nothing special — just a different look at a lesser-seen part of Yankee Stadium.

As for the baseballs . . .

My 1st of the day was my 200th of the season. It was thrown by Phil Hughes in right-center field, and here’s a photo of it:

2_ball6659_200th_of_the_2013_season

Moments later, I caught a Brett Gardner homer on the fly (which came right to me) and soon after that, I ran to my left and grabbed a Curtis Granderson homer that had landed in the seats. Check out the beautifully smudged logo on that one:

3_ball6661_smudged_logo

The next/final group of Yankees had one lefty (Travis Hafner) and three righties (Ben Francisco, Alberto Gonzalez, and Austin Romine), so I went to left field. I figured it was a good decision, but as it turned out, Hafner hit more balls into the right field seats than all three righties hit to left.

This was my view:

4_left_field_05_16_13

I caught one home run there on the fly (I’m not sure who hit it) after drifting down the stairs and reaching over the wall beside the TV camera. That was my 4th ball of the day.

In the photo above, the player wearing No. 38 is Preston Claiborne. Several minutes before I caught the home run, I had asked him for a ball. His response went as follows: “Didn’t you get about six yesterday?” (No, Preston, I got eleven. Pay attention.)

When the Mariners started hitting, I headed back to right field and battled the sun. The following photo kinda shows how hard it was to see:

5_right_field_sunny_05_16_13

My 5th ball was a Jesus Montero homer that I caught on the fly. I drifted 15 feet to my right and jumped a few inches to reach it.

My 6th ball was a Kendrys Morales homer that I should’ve caught on the fly. I expected it to slice more than it did, so I headed down the steps, and it ended up landing on my right. I felt stupid about that one, but hey, at least I got the ball, and by the way, a bit later, Morales hit an opposite-field homer into the second deck in right field! He also went oppo into the right field bleachers. Very impressive.

My 7th ball was a line-drive homer that I caught on the fly in the front row. I’m not sure who hit this one, or either of the next two. Maybe Dustin Ackley?

My 8th ball was another line-drive homer that I caught on the fly, this time looking directly into the sun. I had seen the ball go up in the air, and I knew that it was heading to my left, so I began drifting in that direction. Then I completely lost sight of it, so I stopped moving and looked to the  to the side and waited for it to reenter my line of vision. At the very last second, I saw it flying toward me, so I lunged to the left and somehow managed to glove it. There were people all around, but no one else had even flinched. We were all temporarily blinded, and I ended up seeing spots for next minute. Look what number ball this was for me:

6_ball6666

How appropriate that the ball with “666″ — and then some — nearly ruined me.

My final ball of BP was another homer that I caught on the fly. I had to run 40 feet to my right and jump as high as possible in order to backhand it. I’m sure it looked impressive, but the previous ball that had ended up in the sun was much more challenging. Anyway, I gave the ball to the nearest kid and discovered later that someone had tweeted about it:

7_nice_tweet_05_15_13

Thank you, Joey Bag of Donuts. Much appreciated.

When I headed through the tunnel and reached the concourse, I was recognized by two guys named Sean and Tom. They’ve been reading my blog and wanted to say hey, so we chatted for a few minutes and eventually asked a cop to take our photo. I would’ve spent more time with them, but I needed to meet up with a friend who had access to the Audi Club.

Ooooh-hoooo! The Audi Club! Let’s all say it together: “OWW-DEE CLUB.” Wow!! Sounds fancy, right?!

The first thing I did was show my friend’s ticket to a security guard to go here:

8_heading_up_to_club_level_05_16_13

Did you see the elevators under Babe Ruth? I rode one to the “250 Level,” and when I got out, this was the view:

9_view_from_elevator_area

Yawn.

In the photo above, did you notice the “suite level” sign on the right? The guard standing below it let me take a peek inside. There was some sort of office directly behind him . . .

11_suite_level_office

. . . and a mosaic-lookin’ thing from the Old Yankee Stadium on the wall nearby:

12_suite_level_mosaic

Here’s what the suite level itself looks like:

10_suite_level_concourse

The word “sterile” comes to mind. It was nice to see all this stuff for the first time, but I wouldn’t want to be there for an entire game.

Back in the elevator area, I took a photo of the entrance to the Audi Club:

13_audi_club_entrance

I wasn’t sure if I was gonna be able to get in. Why? Because the Audi Club page on the Yankees’ website says, “Appropriate attire is required at all times. Attire will be deemed appropriate at the sole discretion of the New York Yankees.” And here I was wearing sneakers, jeans, a sweaty t-shirt, and a baseball cap.

The guard let me in, and I wasn’t the least bit underdressed. (“Appropriate attire” my ass.) Here’s what it looked like when I headed inside:

14_audi_club_entrance

In the photo above, the metal stand on the left has Audi pamphlets.

Give. Me. A Break.

The club has a bar, of course:

15_audi_club_bar

On the other side of the bar, two guards were blocking a dining area:

16_audi_club_guards_blocking_buffet

They told me that for $65, I could go in there and enjoy the buffet. (Ha-HAAAAAA!!! Good one, Yankees.) It was the least baseball-y atmosphere that I’ve ever experienced in a stadium, and given the location of this club, I’m not surprised. Check out the view:

17_audi_club_open_seating_area

Yeesh.

Here’s a photo of the seating area:

18_audi_club_seating_areas

The Audi Club feels like an airport (although that’s an insult to some lovely airports out there), and of course it’s in the worst location imaginable — just below the upper deck, all the way out past the left field foul pole. It strikes me as a place for people with crappy seats (who think they have good seats) to go and feel special. I can wrap my brain around some of the most heinous crimes that people have committed throughout history, but I really don’t understand why anyone would want to spend time in the Audi Club at Yankee Stadium.

Shortly before game time, I returned the club-level ticket to my friend and headed out to my normal spot in straight-away right field. That’s where I snagged my 10th and final ball of the day — a pre-game toss-up from the bullpen by Yankees coach Mike Harkey, which I handed to a group of fans seated nearby. I’ve gotten more than half a dozen from him this season.

This was my view during the game:

19_view_from_right_field_05_16_13

The good thing about it was that the Yankees lost, 3-2. The bad thing was that the security guard was out to get me. As I tweeted in the middle innings, I had a ticket in the middle of Row 12 (which is the 3rd row in that section). I wanted to move back to an end seat in Row 16, but the guard wouldn’t let me. He told me that I had to sit *in* my seat, yet he didn’t stop anyone else from moving around. The section was two-thirds empty. There was plenty of room, especially as the game dragged on, but the guard wouldn’t let me budge. Eventually, I moved down one row (where there was lots more space), and when he saw me, he said, “Now you’re just trying to play games with me,” and he ordered me back to my seat. This is the same guard who (a) spends half of every game on his phone, (b) has no problem with fans cursing loudly at the players, and (c) told me during the previous home stand that I’m not allowed to leave my section to catch home runs, yet never enforced that rule with any other fans. This guard (who, by the way, is 19 years old) is out of control, and I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve given him baseballs. I’ve talked at length with him. He knows about my collection and the charity. He even tried out for the baseball team at George Washington High School, where I’m great friends with the coach. What’s the deal? Can anyone offer some advice? I don’t need special privileges in right field. I just want to be left alone.

I’m so pissed at the Yankees that words can’t begin to describe it. The way their employees treat people is sickening, yet I keep going back. Why? Because I love baseball more than I hate their stadium, but I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.

During the game, I learned that my segment had aired on the MLB Network. It would’ve been nice to get some notice, but whatever. This is the piece that was taped on 5/7/13 at Progressive Field, and I think it turned out pretty well. It’s only a minute and a half, so check it out:

Anyway, here are the eight baseballs that I kept . . .

20_the_eight_balls_i_kept_05_16_13

. . . and here’s the one with the best invisible ink stamp:

21_black_light_05_16_13

Did I mention that I’m pissed off?

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game

• 209 balls in 26 games this season = 8.04 balls per game.

• 898 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 14 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, and Camden Yards

• 6,668 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.)

• 26 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.63 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.30 raised at this game

• $339.67 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $7,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $28,745.67 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/15/13 at Yankee Stadium

The good news is that I caught seven home runs on the fly during batting practice. The bad news is that there’s not a single photo of me in action, so I’ll have to describe how it all went down . . .

I snagged my first three baseballs fairly quickly in right field:

1_first_three_baseballs_05_15_13

The first was thrown by Brett Marshall, and I’ll admit that I didn’t deserve it. My friend Ben Weil had called out to him, but when Marshall looked up, he saw me first.

The second was a Brett Gardner homer that I caught on the fly. I drifted about 25 feet to my left and jumped as high as I could for it.

The third was a Lyle Overbay homer. It was pretty much hit right to me — I might’ve ranged 10 feet to my left — but the challenge was the sun. In the late afternoon, visibility in right field at Yankee Stadium is brutal.

For the next/final group of Yankee hitters, I went to left field and caught two more homers on the fly. I’m not sure who hit them, but I remember exactly what happened. The first was a lazy fly ball that barely cleared the wall, just to the right of the TV camera. A gloveless man was standing there, so I climbed down over a couple rows of seats to get behind him, and at the last second, I flinched (so as not to get hit in the face by a potential deflection) and reached across my body and blindly stuck out my glove in the spot where the ball was heading. The next home run, a well-hit ball heading roughly 20 feet to my left, appeared to be falling short of my row, so I took a step down before cutting across. Stupid me — the ball ended up carrying into the row where I’d started, and I had to jump high to catch it.

When the Mariners started hitting, I went back to right field and got my 6th ball of the day tossed by Aaron Harang. My 7th ball was a towering homer (possibly hit by Michael Saunders) that I caught just behind Ben in the 2nd row near the bullpen. My 8th ball was a line-drive to straight-away right field (possibly hit by Endy Chavez) that bounced off the warning track and skipped over the wall and hit an unsuspecting fat guy in the belly. I picked up the ball with my glove and handed it to him.

Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll point something out:

2_guy_with_ball6656

Do you see the fan who’s using his glove to shield his eyes? See the baseball in his right hand? That was my 9th ball of the day — another homer that I caught on the fly. It was hit *right* to him, but he lost it in the sun. I caught it after climbing down into the camera well and pulling another flinch-job. I think the ball actually tipped off his glove on its way into mine. I didn’t need to give it to him — grown men with gloves don’t get much sympathy from anyone — but it just seemed like a nice thing to do. He was so thankful that he offered to buy me a beer. I thought about asking for a milkshake instead, but ultimately declined.

My 10th ball was a homer by a right-handed batter that I caught on the fly in right field. There was nothing fancy about it. I was standing one and a half sections away from the bullpen, and it came right to me in the 3rd row. Then I handed the ball to the nearest kid.

Even though I was catching balls all over the place, no one (except Ben) was pissed off because I gave a bunch away. In fact, I later gave away a fourth ball to a kid sitting in the front row.

Now I’ll fess up about the home run ball that I absolutely butchered. Man, it hurts to even write about it, but anyway, when I was in left field, I somehow wasn’t paying attention when a deep fly ball started sailing in my direction. I was in the 4th row, and by the time I looked up and saw it, I realized that it was barely going to clear the outfield wall. In my attempt to climb down into the camera well, I took a bad route and got tangled up on the railings. Still, I might’ve been able to lunge for the ball and catch it on the fly, but the camera was kind of in the way, and I got nervous about taking a deflection in the face, so I pulled back and planned to grab it after it landed. The ball ended up deflecting perfectly to me — a nice, chest-high bounce straight into the air, but in my rush to snag it (which involved swiping at it with my bare hand), I managed to swat it back onto the field. GAH!!! If there’s one good thing about the whole situation, it’s that the ball ended up getting tossed to a little kid, but wow, other than flat-out dropping a ball that comes right to you, it’s not possible to mess up worse than I did.

Just before the game got underway, I got my 11th ball thrown from the Yankees’ bullpen by coach Mike Harkey.

Look what happened in the top of the 1st inning:

3_yankees_getting_shellacked_05_15_13

The Mariners scored SEVEN runs off Phil Hughes, including a grand slam by Raul Ibanez, which ended up here:

3b_raul_ibanez_home_run_ball_05_15_13

In the photo above, do you see the ball on the dirt strip on the right? Well, after it sat there for 15 minutes, Yankees bullpen catcher Roman Rodriguez eventually picked it up and tossed it into the ball bag with all the other balls. That was painful.

Here’s a random piece of trivia for you, courtesy of the jumbotron:

4_justin_smoak_is_special

I know I complain a lot about Yankee Stadium, but there *are* some good things, including the random/interesting facts that get displayed during the game. Thanks to the jumbotron, I also learned that Ibanez (who, by the way, later hit an opposite-field two-run homer) is one of four players with three different stints with the Mariners. I can’t think of the other three. Can you?

This was my view late in the game:

5_view_during_game_ichiro_stretching_05_15_13

I really thought I was going to catch a home run, but other than the Ibanez granny, nothing came close. The game was so lopsided by the end (final score: Mariners 12, Yankees 2) that Joe Girardi brought in a position player — infielder Alberto Gonzalez — to pitch with two outs in the 9th. Throwing 83mph fastballs, he got Robert Andino to fly out to right fielder Ichiro Suzuki.

Fun stuff.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

6_the_seven_balls_i_kept_05_15_13• 11 balls at this game (seven pictured here because I gave four away)

• 199 balls in 25 games this season = 7.96 balls per game.

• 897 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 14 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, and Camden Yards

• 6,658 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.)

• 26 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.63 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $17.93 raised at this game

• $323.37 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $7,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $28,729.37 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Finally, of the seven balls that I kept, five have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:

7_black_light_05_15_13

If I had more time (and more space in my luggage on road trips), I’d post black light pics in every entry.

5/14/13 at Yankee Stadium

This will be brief. Just because. Yankee Stadium is a tough place to watch a ballgame. Let’s leave it at that . . .

My 1st ball of the day was thrown to me by Ichiro Suzuki after I asked him for it in Japanese. Here’s a photo of that ball with The Man in the background:

1_ball6642_from_ichiro

After the first group of hitters, I headed over to left field and stayed there for the rest of BP — not because I wanted to, but because I had to. That’s how it is at Yankee Stadium; you go where your ticket tells you to go, even during BP.

My 2nd ball of the day was a home run that I caught on the fly. I think it was hit by Ben Francisco, but I’m not sure.

This was my fabulous view when the Mariners took the field:

2_view_from_left_field_05_14_13

My 3rd ball was a home run that landed near me in the seats. (I should’ve caught it on the fly, but that was the ONE pitch I didn’t see all day, so of course the batter hit it right near me.)

My 4th ball was thrown by Hector Noesi. (Right after I caught it, I realized it had been intended for my friend Ben Weil, who was positioned three rows behind me.)

My 5th ball was a Jesus Montero homer that smacked off the back wall. (It took a fantastically lucky ricochet off a seat and bounced in my direction.)

My 6th ball was another toss-up from Noesi. (Once again, he was aiming for Ben, but this time, rather than throwing it too short, he airmailed him. The ball hit the back wall and bounced off a seat *away* from Ben and deflected right to me as he came charging through an empty row. He was ready to kill me, but you know what? He’d already gotten four balls, including one or two that I certainly would’ve snagged had he not been there.) (The outfield sections at Yankee Stadium only have ten rows; there’s very little room to work with, so inevitably we end up getting in each other’s way.)

After BP, I gave a baseball to a little girl sitting near the bullpen, and during the game, I gave two more to the kids pictured below at the bottom of the stairs:

3_kids_in_left_field_05_14_13

They’d been sitting right in front me, and I noticed that before each inning got underway, they went down there in the hope of getting a toss-up from Yankees left fielder Curtis Granderson. The most they got from him was a smile and a subtle head-nod (which is more than most players would’ve offered), so I waited until the 6th inning and hooked them up. Half an hour later, one of the boys’ fathers scolded him for playing with the ball. I didn’t say anything, but it really pissed me off. The kid wasn’t tossing it in the air or distracting anyone. He was simply pounding the ball into his glove and practicing different grips, and oops! He happened to drop it at one point, forcing the folks in front of them to retrieve it from under their seats. Big deal. The kid was having fun, and I wanted to hand his father a “Parenting 101″ book for thwarting it.

Anyway, that’s where I sat for the entire game. I hate staying in one spot, but that’s just how it is at Yankee Stadium. The Mariners (behind Felix Hernandez) blew a 3-0 lead, and the Yankees (behind CC Sabathia) ended up winning, 4-3. There was one home run. It landed in right field. Bleh.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

4_the_three_i_kept_05_14_13• 6 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave three away)

• 188 balls in 24 games this season = 7.83 balls per game.

• 896 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 14 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, and Camden Yards

• 6,647 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.)

• 26 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.63 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $9.78 raised at this game

• $305.44 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $7,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $28,711.44 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 286 other followers