5/3/13 at Rangers Ballpark

The highlight of my day took place on the way to Rangers Ballpark. I was with Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds, and we stopped in Irving, Texas, for a private tour of the Panini America headquarters. Here’s a photo of the lobby:

1_panini_lobby

Panini, for those who don’t know, specializes in trading cards. Remember Donruss? Panini bought them out in 2009, but that’s just one of their products. They’re the biggest collectibles company in the world, and they have licenses in all four major American sports, along with exclusive contracts with Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Stephen Strasburg, and other athletes. I learned all of this from the guy pictured below in the snazzy “Rated Rookie” t-shirt:

2_zack_scott_bianca

His name is Scott Prusha. He’s the marketing manager for Panini. He’s been with the company for 13 years, and he’s the one who showed us around.

In the photo above, the woman on the right is named Bianca Cadloni. She’s in charge of social media for BIGS Sunflower Seeds, and if she looks familiar, it’s because I met her on 4/21/13 at Angel Stadium.

(For those who are new to this blog and might not recognize me, I’m standing on the left in the previous photo; the reason why I’m wearing all the BIGS gear is that they’re sponsoring me this season.)

Before the tour got underway, Neal filmed Scott talking about the company:

3_neal_filming_scotty

Scott told us about the cards in one of the nearby display cases . . .

5_zack_case_of_cards

. . . which included astronauts, presidents, and war heroes.

Then we headed down this hallway . . .

4_panini_hallway

. . . and eventually ended up here:

6_entering_the_room_with_all_the_game_used_stuff

That room, as you might expect, had boxes of sports cards (many of which were autographed) all over the place . . .

7_boxes_of_cards

. . . but the coolest thing about it was the HUGE collection of game-worn and game-used memorabilia. Check out this collection of jerseys and hockey sticks:

8_jerseys_and_hockey_sticks

Scott correctly assumed that I’d be most interested in the baseball items, so he pulled out two Barry Bonds jerseys:

9_scott_with_barry_bonds_jerseys

I was also drawn to some the of basketball stuff. Here I am comparing my sneaker to Kobe Bryant’s . . .

10_shoe_competition_kobe_bryant_wins

. . . and here I am wearing a dress (aka a Shaquille O’Neal jersey).

11_zack_wearing_shaquille_oneal_jersey

Why does Panini have all of these game-worn jerseys?

Scott said, “We acquire them, cut them up, and put ‘em on trading cards to bring the fan and collector closer to the experience of meeting the athlete.”

Here’s an example of a card with a piece of a jersey on it:

18_panini_card_with_jersey

See the black circle? That’s the jersey. The cardboard is neatly cut out, and the actual fabric is inserted (or embedded or however you want to describe it) into the card. These cards are then randomly inserted into packs. I would’ve *loved* that as a kid, but back in the mid-1980s, when I started buying packs of Topps, the only “inserts” I got were stale, powdery pieces of bubble gum.

Scott showed us some other interesting pieces of clothing. In the following photo, I’m wearing a Rodney Dangerfield jacket, and Neal is wearing one that belonged to Red Buttons:

12_zack_and_neal_wearing_rodney_dangerfield_and_red_button_coats

In the previous photo, did you notice the big plastic bins stacked on the shelves in the background? Here’s a photo of one of them:

13_containers_of_cut_jerseys

I wonder why all those guys with first names beginning with the letter em were grouped together. I mean, why not store them alphabetically by last name? I would’ve asked Scott, but I didn’t notice the system until I went through the photos 24 hours later.

Here’s Scott with a putter that belonged to Ted Williams:

14_scott_with_ted_williams_putter

Good luck chopping THAT up and putting it on baseball cards.

Look at this game-used bat that I came across, along with all the others in the background:

15_didi_gregorius_bat

Ever since I snagged his first major league home run ball on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium, Didi Gregorius has held a special place in my heart.

Scott let us play with all the memorabilia for about half an hour, and then we kept moving. Here’s the area of the office where the designers work:

16_panini_designers

Bianca loves Justin Bieber . . .

17_bianca_loves_justin_bieber

. . . or maybe she was just kidding?  <3

There was so much stuff to see and photograph that I could’ve spent a week there, but Rangers Ballpark was going to open in two hours, so we had to keep moving.

Before we left, Scott gave us all some parting gifts. Not only did he hook me up with a t-shirt, but he handed me something that nearly made me gasp. Behold!

19_zack_with_ball_signed_by_willie_mays_given_by_scott

Ready for a closer look?

20_willie_mays_autograph_from_scott

That baseball is signed by Willie Mays. (?!?!?!) I have no idea why Scott gave it to me — maybe because I gave him some sunflower seeds? I mean, what are you supposed to do or say when someone gives you something much nicer than what you deserve? (“Umm, thanks?”) I practically felt guilty for accepting the ball, but he insisted. And that wasn’t all he gave me. Here’s a photo of all the schwag I received:

21_gifts_from_scott

Amazing.

Many thanks to Panini . . . and to Scott for the tour . . . and to Doug Drotman (who’s constantly working his magic behind the scenes) for setting it up in the first place.

Look what I saw when I headed outside to the parking lot:

22_bigs_van_in_texas

It was the BIGS tour van! (Yes, that deserves an exclamation point.) This was the first time I saw it in person, and Neal filmed me talking about the Panini experience while standing in front of it:

(BTW, Neal wrote his own blog entry about Panini. Click here to read it.)

Here I am with the “Ladies Of The Van,” as I like to call them — Bianca on the left and Allison (who had joined us for the Panini tour) on the right:

23_bianca_zack_allison_bigs_van

Basically, they drive the van all over the place — mainly to sporting events — and hand out free samples of BIGS seeds. If you want to catch up with them, follow BIGS on twitter and use the “BIGSnation” hashtag.

Neal and I didn’t get a chance to drop off our stuff at the hotel. We had gone directly from the airport to Panini, and from there we headed straight to Rangers Ballpark. While Neal parked the car and dealt with some other work-related stuff, I caught up with some old friends outside the home plate gate:

24_zack_trent_suede_cat_daddy

In the photo above, that’s Trent Williams in the red jersey. He’s the dude that sits out in center field and catches all those home run balls on the grassy berm. He’s the best ballhawk at this stadium, and I’ve known him since 2009. The guy on the right is named Clyde, and the kid is his six-year-old son, Suede. I’d met the two of them on 4/25/11 at Rangers Ballpark. Remember this photo from that entry? Anyway . . .

When the stadium opened, the three of them headed to center field, and I made a beeline for left. As I was cutting through the front row, one of the Rangers’ many right-handed batters hit a home run right to me. I caught it on the fly and took a photo of it:

25_ball6572

My next ball — another home run that landed in the seats — was the 100th that I’d ever snagged at this stadium . . . and then I grabbed three more homers. I don’t know who hit them. They all landed in the seats, and I’ll admit that there was very little competition at that point.

Eventually, when there was a brief lull in the action, I headed over toward left-center field to check out the newly-configured visitors’ bullpen:

26_visitors_bullpen_reconfigured

(Here’s what it used to look like.)

I don’t like the fact that the bullpen replaced so many bleacher seats, but DAMN it looks nice. Also, on the positive side, because stadium security here is cool with ball-retrieving devices, there are now more glove trick opportunities for me. In fact, I used the trick to snag my 6th ball of the day from the back of the bullpen:

27_ball6577_below_me_in_bullpen

It’s a good thing I have lots of string because that ball must’ve been 20 feet below me.

That’s when Hunter Pence showed up and grabbed a seat near me in the left field stands:

28_eric_sheffield_taking_notes

I’m kidding. That’s not really Hunter Pence. It was a reporter named Eric Sheffield from The Dallas Morning News, and he was there to do a story on me. (Do you remember the phone interview I’d done the day before at Neal’s friend’s place in Kansas City? That interview aired in Dallas on the morning of this May 3rd game; Eric heard it, Googled me, got in touch, and bam! Here he was with me at the stadium hours later.)

With the seats packed with Red Sox fans, my 7th ball was tossed up from the gap behind the left field wall by a groundskeeper, and my 8th ball was thrown by Daniel Nava.

The final group of hitters were mostly left-handed, so I headed over to the right field seats. That’s when Torii Hunter showed up and stood around with me.

29_zack_after_catching_ball6580

I’m kidding again. That’s not really Torii Hunter. It was a photographer named Vernon Bryant, and he was there to get some shots of me for Eric’s story.

In the photo above, did you notice the ball in my right hand? That was a homer that I’d just caught on the fly — pretty cool to do it in front of the media.

BP ended several minutes later, and I gave that ball to a kid. Then I realized that he was there with his younger sister, so to prevent sibling rivalry from ruining the game (and the rest of their lives), I gave her a ball too.

Eric and I sat down and continued talking:

30_zack_interviewed_after_bp_05_03_13

In the photo above, that’s Trent on my left (talking to his friend Arnie). My buddy Frank was also hanging out nearby, and Neal was now with me as well. It was fun to have a whole group of guys that I could share the experience with.

Eric wasn’t able to stay for the game, but before he left, I got a photo with him and Vernon:

31_zack_with_eric_and_vernon

I’m hesitant to compare the physical similarities of black guys because there’s always gonna be someone who’ll say, “Oh, right, so ALL black guys look alike?!” but seriously — Hunter Pence and Torii Hunter. Am I crazy? Decide for yourself:

pence_hunter_2013

By the way, whenever someone tells me I look like Billy Corgan or James Carville or Lex Luthor or Moby or Tim Hudson, I’m like, “Oh, sure, so ALL white guys with shaved heads look alike?!” (It’s okay. We do.)

Just before the game, Vernon came with me when I headed here:

32_red_sox_pregame_throwing_05_03_13

Two Red Sox were playing catch, and when they finished, I got Pedro Ciriaco to throw me the ball by asking for it in Spanish. That was my 10th of the day, and it had some cool streaks:

33_ball6581_interesting_streaks

This was my view for the first pitch of the game:

34_first_pitch_of_the_game_05_03_13

Anything goes at Rangers Ballpark — such a nice change of pace from the prisons back home known as Citi Field and Yankee Stadium. Can you imagine anyone at either of those two ballparks sitting with their feet on top of the dugout roof? I’m not kidding when I say this: they’d probably be arrested for trespassing.

Meanwhile, Vernon was camped out in the photographers’ box on my right:

35_vernon_in_photographers_box

He was there to get a shot of me snagging a 3rd-out ball, and I’m sorry to say that I made him wait for an hour, but you know what? It was Felix Doubront’s fault. That’s how long it took him to end an inning with a strikeout — the 3rd inning, to be specific. A.J. Pierzynski went down swinging at a 3-2 pitch, and Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tossed me the ball as he jogged off the field. There was no competition, and it felt GREAT — $500 more for Pitch In For Baseball, courtesy of BIGS Sunflower Seeds.

Vernon wanted to get a shot of me with some baseballs in the upper deck, so we headed upstairs. On the way, I gave one of my BP balls to a random kid and then photographed the ball that I’d just received from Saltalamacchia:

36_ball6582_heading_to_upper_deck

Neal (who had a seat in the upper deck) met us up top and documented Vernon’s photo shoot:

37_zack_with_eight_balls_05_03_13

Then I did a brief audio interview with Vernon on the concourse:

38_zack_bonus_audio_interview

He took off after that, and I headed downstairs with Neal. On the way, we saw/heard THE best vendor of all time. He was selling beer, and you simply must watch this video. It’s only six seconds, so you have no excuse. Make sure your volume is on.

Now, you know everything is supposedly bigger in Texas? Well, that was certainly true for this two-foot-long hot dog:

39_boomstick

This so-called boomstick — a new concession item at Rangers Ballpark — weighs three pounds and costs $26, and you know what? I kind of regret not getting one. It would’ve been a fun challenge to finished it all by myself, but instead I had two slices of pepperoni pizza and some overrated Blue Bell ice cream:

40_ice_cream_05_03_13

It wasn’t bad or anything. It was perfectly fine/normal/tasty ice cream. It just wasn’t worthy of all the comments I’d been getting such as, “Ohmygod, dude, you haaaaaaave to get Blue Bell. It’s the best!” The best ice cream I ever had was Godiva, and now I can’t find it anywhere. My new favorite isn’t technically ice cream. It’s gelato, and it’s made by a company called Talenti. (Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll sponsor me next year?) Eat some Blue Bell. Then try some Talenti — I recommend the “sea salt & caramel” flavor — and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no comparison.

I think it was the 6th inning by the time I finished my food and made it to the outfield. As much as I wanted to head to the seats beside the berm and show Trent how it’s done, I needed to take a moment to photograph this:

41_new_configuration_in_left_field

What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, do you see the red line on the ground? That’s where the stands used to end. If you wanted to move from left field to left-center, you had to go inside a doorway/tunnel-thing and take a really annoying detour. Now there’s a direct path, and I love it!

As for the berm, I was allowed to stand here for a little while:

42_next_to_the_berm_05_03_13

This was view to my right:

43_next_to_the_berm_05_03_13

(That whole section used to be bleachers, and there was no cross-aisle.)

This was the view to my left:

44_next_to_the_berm_05_03_13

I can’t even imagine having THAT much room to run for home run balls. Without a doubt, it’s the best ballhawking spot in the majors, and it kills me that I can’t be there regularly to take advantage.

As the game entered the 8th inning, I photographed the Red Sox bullpen . . .

45_visitors_bullpen_05_03_13

. . . and found an empty seat beside the berm. This was my view:

46_kid_with_ball_i_gave_him_05_03_13

Did you notice the kid sitting in front of me in the previous photo? See the baseball in his right hand? I gave that to him, and he was thrilled. His father told me that it was his first game and that he’d been hoping to get a ball all night.

Neal, evidently, had worked his way into the seats on the 3rd base side. Here’s a photo that I grabbed from his camera later that night. The red arrow is pointing at me:

47_zack_sitting_next_to_the_berm_05_03_13

It would’ve been SO nice if one (or eight) of the Red Sox or Rangers had hit a home run onto the berm. But no. There wasn’t a single longball all night. But hey, look, there were fireworks:

48_fireworks_05_03_13

Whoop-dee-doo.

After the fireworks, I got a photo with Trent . . .

49_trent_and_zack_05_03_13

. . . and with Frank:

50_frank_and_zack_postgame

After heading outside, Neal suggested that Trent and I do a little video together. Click here to see Neal’s blog entry about it. There are actually a couple of videos there worth watching (including a clip of Trent catching a recent game home run and robbing the Mariners’ center fielder in the process).

Finally, click here to see the article that Eric wrote about me in the Dallas Morning News. It’s supposed to appear in the print version today (May 5th), so look for it if you’re in Texas.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

51_the_seven_balls_i_kept_05_03_13• 11 balls at this game (seven pictured here on yet another ugly hotel room carpet because I gave four away)

• 123 balls in 17 games this season = 7.24 balls per game.

• 109 balls in 11 lifetime games at Rangers Ballpark = 9.9 balls per game.

• 889 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 11 stadiums with at least 100 lifetime balls: Shea Stadium (2,173), Citi Field (562), Old Yankee Stadium (560), Camden Yards (510), New Yankee Stadium (422), Citizens Bank Park (282), Nationals Park (248), Turner Field (186), Kauffman Stadium (116), PETCO Park (110), and Rangers Ballpark (109)

• 9 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, and Rangers Ballpark

• 6,582 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.)

• 25 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.61 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $17.71 raised at this game

• $198.03 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $4,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $26,104.03 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

One more thing . . . I’m guessing you didn’t bother clicking the photo of those seven baseballs, so let me show you a closeup of one of them:

52_ball_with_multicolored_streaks

Multicolored streaks? Never seen that before. Have you?

21 Comments

Interesting entry Zack. We loved Rangers Ballpark. Very friendly atmosphere and beautiful traditional style stadium. So much better than that horrible Cowboys stadium in the distance. When is the next game home run coming ? Keep up the good work.

Another great blog Zack! Your work is incredible! Looking forward to the game on Thursday! Any pointers you have for Camden Yards? Any tips you can give me would be appreciated…..My plans are to do batting practice and get some pictures with the players.

That is a really cool streaked ball Zack. Have fun breaking open all those cases of baseball cards!

RAY BURTON-
You and me, man. I think we agree on lots more things than we even know. Next game home run? Hmm. How about tonight in Cincinnati? Those left field seats are calling my name.

LARRY NY-
Thanks very much. Have you seen my old blog entries about Camden? All my tips and advice are there — not sure if I could come up with anything beyond that, and I’m sorry to say this, but I’m super-pressed for time right now.

CONNOR HOOPMAN-
I probably won’t open them. I’m thinking I’ll give them away, perhaps as a prize for people who donate to my charity fundraiser this season. We’ll see.

That shirt is SO f-ing cool. Oh my god, I, as I’m sure did you, had so many of those old Donruss cards with the Rated Rookie. That’s really awesome. So, what would I have to do to be able to get a tour of the Panini factory? :-)

Very good entry, just wondering when will you be at Progressive field in Cleveland?
-Thanks Cole

I’ve only been at the Ballpark once on the last day of last season. It was fan appreciation day, and as we went in, they gave each person a scratch off card for the chance to win the “jerseys off their backs!” Here in DC, you have to pay to have a chance to win the jerseys. Then, two times during the game, the Rangers cheer squad came out & tossed signed baseballs to the crowd. I have not been to many fan appreciation games, but it seems that the Rangers do a great job to make their fans feel appreciated. I came close to catching a signed baseball, but better yet was getting Chris Iannetta to toss me up a third out ball that Pujols had caught & tossed to him.

The sea salt & caramel is the best Talenti flavor. For gelato, you should try Stracciatela, a new flavor from Haagen Dazs. It’s pretty close to the Italian original, although a bit sweeter.

Zack- I don’t know if you saw, or if someone mentioned it, but Heath Bell mentioned you on Intentional Talk- Rose and Millar thought you only had 1,000 baseballs.

– Joshua McNeil
http;//joshuamcneil.mlblogs.com/

Hey Zack, wanna part with that Mays ball? (Only kidding!) D’ya think Panini might be interested in me doing a story on them?

You can’t judge Blue Bell solely by the helmet Sunday at the ballpark. You need to just sit down with a scoop of Homemade Vanilla as a control sample then toss in a scoop of whatever flavor sounds good for variety.

arent u lucky????
stretch ur arms and magically women appear ;-)
step in to one of the best factories of sports cards ever. nice rated rookie shirt.
great snags.
nice with the ladies.
lucky b*stard :-)
Great
-Navi from NY

by the way, thank Neal for filming the beer vendor, i swear Texas people have that cool oomph, he was, i must say he was THE BEST BEER VENDOR IVE SEEN IN A BALLPARK. WE COULD DEFINITELY USE SOME AT CITI FIELD AND YANKEE STADIUM.
-Navi from NY

Sooo, you got a third out ball from Saltalamacchia…Man I am envious. I swear the first thing coming out of the helicopter is going to be a watermelon….

^^^^Mike, you crack me up. Could the streaks on the ball be from the ink and stitching? The blue streaks seem to smear from the lettering.

Liz, as a huge Red Sox fan I would give a real body part, like a liver or a spleen, for a game used ball tossed up from the Red Sox (I usually pay $50 at the gift shop, and I get one. Zack gives me crap about it). for some unknown reason, the Red Sox players will not toss a ball to a large middle aged man when there are kids and pretty girls about. So when I see Zack so effortlessly collecting baseballs at diffrent parks there is that part of me that is engineering the bomb shackle to carry the watermelon under the helicopter when we do the drop in July. I mean i’d paint it to look like a baseball….

Mike, either go see the Sox on the road and sit behind the dugout, or sit behind the visiting dugout at Fenway, and look like you’re supporting the other team, that’ll get you a game used ball from Fenway and the Sox :-)

cool, I used to collect panini cards here in Poland some time ago :) They were football(soccer) cards though :-)

Zack! I think there is some Godiva ice cream at the King Soopers near my house. I’ll track some down for the time when you are here, and stock you up. Sound good?

BEN WEIL-
I knew you’d like it. Not sure about the tour, though. I don’t think they offer tours to the public, but you could contact them and ask. Or . . . buy me a flight to Rangers Ballpark, and I’ll make sure that we stop at Panini along the way.

COLE ADKINS-
D’oh! I was there yesterday. Sorry for the slow reply, but I’m absolutely swamped with a zillion things these days.

JAMES LEE-
Thanks for the desserty recommendation.

JOSHUA MCNEIL-
I had no idea. Thanks for letting me know, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the right link.

WRITER KID-
Ha, I think I’ll hang onto that ball. As for Panini, you should ask. Try tweeting them or even writing a letter to Scott. Tell them you learned about them from me and would be interested in doing a story. You never know.

DONNY IN HOUSTON-
I can’t? Why not? There’s lots of ice cream in the world — no time for second chances.

NAVI-
I am indeed lucky, though this is the least of it.

LIZ MERRY-
Interesting theory about the streaks. I hadn’t considered that.

MIKE-
I thought we were friends.

PIOTR-
Nice. Thanks for the long-distance comment.

BIANCA CADLONI-
It sounds amazing. You’re the best.

No ice cream should be judged before you try my homemade “Chocolate Fireball Fudge”. Unfortunately you will have to travel to Bend to sample.

Man, BIA looks gorgeous. That vendor was hilarious, too. I really gotta get out of NY.
– Chris

http://ballhawker.wordpress.com/

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