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

28 Comments

It was great seeing you last night, but I can’t help but think AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH! How could I forget about the lineup card? I’m gonna get it next time. Hopefully I’ll run into you sometime again this year.

Talk about train wreck. YOU ARE A STRONG BALLHAWK FOR KEEPING YOUR STREAK ALIVE ZACK! GREAT JOB
-Navi from NY

JOHN LISANKIE-
Ha, I thought of you when I saw the lineup card because I knew you’d be bummed about missing it. I nearly missed it too. Have you ever gotten one?

NAVI-
Thanks. The streak is easy to maintain at most games, but every now and then, it’s a major struggle.

I’ve always wondered what would happen when Zack Hample’s streak breaks. Will it be a cataclysmic event? Will it be like when Ripken or Gehrig sat out?

Secondly. It’s a good thing you didn’t go after that ball. First of all, it’s a New York subway tunnel (ew) so we are talking major sanitation issues, regarding the rats and fetid water and/or dirt that may or may not end up on your hands.

Call me a germaphobe, but I make sure when I ride the subway to a. Take a seat as far away from everyone else as possible or b. if forced to hold the handrail, to either hook my arm around it, or if I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt, use the sleeve as a glove.. Considering I’m going to the Mets-Braves game next Sunday by train, I’m prepared to smuggle in a bottle of Purell if I have to resort to drastic measures.

Interesting note about the usher at the end of your entry. I was wondering the other day reading your last entry whether your buddy Larry is so strict with you because he fears losing his job if you have too much fun at yuckee stadium. what do you think?

Ahh, the old train track dilemma. Definitely have to think about that one. There was a kid, in 1975 I think, that was killed behind Fenway going for a ball

Looks like the Toronto Blue Jays have a new name – the Last Place Blue Jays. Good work on keeping the streaks alive. It would be devastating to lose that impressive record. Watch out for trains. Given recent events , you don’t want that statistic. Go Zack !!

Glad to hear the real Mike is back. Not the one who has English as a second language.

ALEX GIOBBI-
I hear ya about the germy trains. I try to avoid touching the rails, too, but as long as I know I’ll be able to wash my hands before my next meal, then I don’t stress it too much. You need SOME germs.

COOK & SON-
I thought about that, but after further consideration, I’ve determined that he’s simply out to get me.

MIKE-
Yikes, for real? I would love to see an article about that, if one exists. Had I known about this three years ago, I might’ve included it in my “Death By Baseball” chapter in my last book.

RAY BURTON-
You crack me up, and hey, thanks for all your comments. After spending all these hours writing these entries, I always look forward to reading your take on things.

I didn’t know that there is a second lineup card in the bullpen. Zach you should stop going to Yankee Stadium and go to Citi Field instead!

The bullpen always has a second lineup card, but most teams take them after the game. I might try to go to Citi more and Yankee less this summer.

That groundskeeper…. the one that mistook me for you last September when I asked for the lineup card and then he got nasty with me and wouldn’t let me talk? Oh, that groundskeeper. I read your other recent posts, so I’ll save you the comments… I loved this quote: “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.” Couldn’t agree more. Wrigley Field tomorrow, I don’t know what to expect!

- Chris
http://ballhawker.wordpress.com/

It seems like you’re going to more Yankee games than Mets, is there a reason you don’t go to Citi field more since Yankee stadium is just sounding worse and worse?

Just saw someone (another Connor) pretty much asked that a few comments above. Oh well

Im glad the streak remained alive and well Zack! I saw that first tweet you sent out about being shut out at the time still. My reply to you was to “Hawk hard” and i guess it worked out! You, and all other fans out there at Yankee stadium sound like you deal with alot stuff that isnt very fan friendly. Thats too bad. Like you and the others said though, its gonna be interesting in a few years as attendance and fan appreciation of that ballpark drops even lower. I’ve been to 7 different Major League Baseball stadiums, and have seen and experienced the differences in rules, employees, and fans. Yankee Stadium just flat out sounds horrible compared to all of these. Anyhow, keep up the good charity work, and maybe i’ll catch you sometime soon on a west coast swing!

So Zack, what happened to the subway ball?

CHRIS-
Oh yeah, you *did* have issue with that guy. Hope your trip is going well. You’re not missing much in NYC.

CONNOR #1-
I snag the same number of balls at each place (roughly speaking), but because of the way that Citi is configured, I end up catching fewer batted balls there. That’s why I’ve favored Yankee Stadium this season, but things may soon change.

CONNOR #2-
I’m so confused. You guys need to add stuff to your names/handles so I can differentiate you.

TOMMY M.-
I saw your tweet at the time, but didn’t have a chance to respond . . . but it was definitely nice to see. Thank you! Hope to see you soon on the west coast. I seriously need to get away from this place (and from this crappy weather).

NICHOLAS LE-
My train came, and I got on it. No idea about the ball. It might still be there.

Alright, no more BS. It is time for Ol Big Glove Bob AKA “Long Relief” to weigh in on the recent blogs. I can see both Zack’s points and the Yankees points and neither are way off base. At the end of the day, it’s the Yankees house and they can do what they want to to who they want to(assuming it is legal) and there is nothing you can do about it. If the ticket says you must sit in your assigned seat, well then you must sit in your assigned seat unless granted the privilege of moving by a member of their staff.

I understand the fairness argument, although I dislike it. If I could address young children and tell them one thing it would be this: life is not fair! Good people die horrible deaths and bad people prosper, people get jobs based on who they know and not on qualifications and so on and so on. Anybody who expects life to be fair is in for a long ride. Should all fans paying their money be entitled to the same experience? On paper? Sure. In reality? No so much.

You are a known rule breaker. You are in no way a sympathetic character. Meaning you are not really young or really old, you are not a pretty girl, you are not handicapped, etc. None of the things that make people want to go out of their way for someone apply to you. You have even advertised and semi gloated over your flouting of rules. As you may know, and it is indeed sad, but Ol Big Gloveski here has been in charge of enforcing rules, policies, procedures, and at times, laws and ordinances for over 20 years. Do I treat everyone equal? Heck no. I have discretion. If someone is polite and respectful and contrite and the issue not too heinous I will most often times offer up a stern warning and hope that corrects the undesired behavior. However, there are people who are habitual rule/law breakers and I give them no slack at all. They are on a list of people I have earmarked as “zero tolerance”.

The Yankees rules do seem unnecessarily harsh and certainly far less fan friendly than in other parks. I personally would vote with my wallet and not patronize the place. Another way to look at things is that just based on the law of averages you are bound to run into an usher here and there that you don’t see eye to eye with. Fortunately, they have been few and far in between.

I will begin my next point by taking myself out to the woodshed before I call you out to join me. Back in my college days, I became a Big Brother through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. I was a good “big” in that the child I was assigned to must of thought that I was the greatest thing on earth. This kid came from a very poor inner city family. I imparted many lessons on the lad and always made sure we did fun stuff on our outings. However, I must admit that my motives were unpure. I joined the program for two reasons. The first reason was I knew that hiring managers LOVE that kind of volunteer service and it would make me a much better candidate for jobs. Secondly, I knew it would score points with the babes. Who couldn’t help but to be attracted to a guy that would drive into ghetto Minneapolis once a week to take an impoverished black child out of his misery and show him the ways of the world? Sure, the kid got a great Big Brother for two years or so, but I really cheapened my service by using it to gain favor in job interviews and winning over broads.

What is my point with the Big Brother story? My point is that when you call attention to the fact that you are raising money for charity to ushers and stadium personnel, you cheapen things. It no longer appears to be a selfless endeavor as much as it appears to be another ploy to get more baseballs. The same thing can be said with trumpeting the giving away of balls to kids. It comes across as a contrived move to position yourself as a good guy among the ushers and thus allow you to snag more baseballs. I have spoken with other ballhawks who have flat out admitted to giving away balls in full view of ushers in order to gain favor and aid in “sneaking” into sections. Do I fault these ballhawks? No Way Jose. Us humans are selfish beings that instinctively put our wants first. Lots of things in life are about putting yourself in the best position for good things to happen to us. But let’s not throw out our shoulder patting ourselves on the back when our motives are not entirely pure.

The people that I really admire are the people that give to charities anonymously or keep it as low key as possible. When I see that donors give huge money in order for a building to be called the “Joe Blow center for early childhood diseases” or donate big dough for access to the best football tickets that cheapens things.

I don’t think you are a bad guy at all and I find you to be immensely interesting and thoughtful. I just think that you, like most of us, cannot see the forest for the trees all the time.

BOB-
I appreciate your long, thoughtful comment. Your honesty is refreshing, and I agree with much of what you’ve said, but I have a serious issue with your point about life not being fair. True, it’s NOT fair at all, but we all owe it to ourselves and to others to fight for fairness. If everyone accepted inequity, then black people would still be slaves in this country, women still wouldn’t be able to vote, and gay people wouldn’t be able to get married. Oh wait, gay people still can’t get married in most places. We live in an awful world, and no, I’m not saying that I’m being persecuted as badly as these other groups. I’m aware that my troubles are a laughing matter compared to the real-life injustices that most people face. I’m just making a point that everyone has a right, if not an obligation, to stand up for what they believe in — and I believe that certain power-hungry guards at Yankee Stadium need to be stopped. Anyway, jeez, let’s get back to talking about baseball, huh? I’m gonna be at U.S. Cellular Field tomorrow. I’d rather focus on that.

Nice job on the lineup card. I got one from the Brewers last year. I especially like that Narron writes Aoki’s name in Japanese. I clicked on the link to the page on your website that has all the lineup cards. I noticed that you wrote “Brewers manager Jerry Narron is known for his stellar penmanship.” Narron is in fact the bench coach for manager Ron Roenicke. Not a big deal but it was something that caught my eye. It’s too bad Roenicke doesn’t sign the lineup cards though, I think it would’ve been cool to have his signature on it as well.

D’oh! I knew that and must’ve had a brain-fart. Thanks for pointing it out. I just fixed it.

Nice post Big Glove Bob.

and Zack, somehow I still see you focus on Yankees Security guards as your nemesis. And you also avoid MOST if not all of Bob saying. it is interesting to say the least — of how you normal reply to someone post, then just blah blah blah your way around the subject.

Call it as i see it.

I have nothing to hide, but I do have very limited time. Let’s just talk in person.

Couple of points to consider. How else do you increase awareness of a charity except through publicity ? How many people had heard of PIFB before Zack adopted their cause ? MLB does a similar thing with breast cancer awareness days. Also , maybe Zack truly does enjoy giving baseballs to children. Not every gesture needs to be product of ulterior motives. Just as Yankee stadium ushers are not representative of stadium staff in general , maybe Zack has more pure motives behind his actions rather than self promotion. We call this “the tall poppy syndrome ” in Australia. I obviously have not known Zack as long as you guys have , but , to me his actions and words have the ring of authenticity.

Wow Zack that really sucks that your streak ended but hey that must be some sort of world record… Good luck for the rest of the season!!

Anti shout out to the previous commenter for not reading the whole post. I take that back, it was also in the very first sentence: “and my streak *NEARLY* ended at this one.” Zack didn’t put it in all caps but I did for emphasis. I would be interested in seeing how Zack reacted if his streak did end. I think he’d get over it pretty quickly, unless of course it ended at 999 games. Ouch, that would hurt.

Hey Zach, Jack Walker here. Just wondering when you will be back at Minute Maid? I was there when the astros played the tigers. I met you and got an autograph. Just wondering when you will be back?

RAY BURTON-
Many thanks, as always. If you didn’t live half a world away, I would insist that we hang out often.

RILEY JOHNSON-
Umm . . .

BREW FAN 87-
Thanks for the anti-shout-out. That made me smile.

JACK WALKER-
Probably not this season, but I’m really not sure. Right now I have no plans, but that could always change.

EVERYONE-
This blog is set up to automatically delete comments that use “inappropriate” language. If you’ve commented recently and you don’t see your comment here, that’s probably why, so if you have time, please re-post it and keep it clean.

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