June 2013

6/28/13 at Citi Field

In case you haven’t heard (not that there was a press release or anything), I have a newish girlfriend named Hayley. Not only was this her first major league game, but it was also the first professional sporting event she’d ever attended. Wow! (Right?) Here we are outside the stadium:

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Hayley has the coolest hair ever. You’ll see a few more photos of it in a bit, but first, check out the huge crowd waiting to get in:

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All those fans seemed grumpy, and you know what? I ended up feeling the same way when I ran inside and saw this:

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In case you can’t tell, the Mets were not taking batting practice. My only option, therefore, was to camp out along the left-field foul line and try to get a toss-up from the Nationals.

Hayley followed me down to the front row and grabbed a seat on my right:

4_hayley_in_the_seats

In the 20 minutes before the Nationals started hitting, two things happened:

1) Bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo threw me a ball (which he’d used to play catch with Stephen Strasburg).

2) A fan named Rich (pictured below in Mets gear) recognized me from this blog and asked me to sign a baseball for him:

5_zack_signing_a_ball_for_rich

Just as we were about to take a couple of photos together, I noticed that BP was starting, so we made a plan to meet later.

Citi Field is one of the worst stadiums for BP, but this was a rare day when there was actually a decent amount of action in the left field seats. Why? Because the wind was blowing out and the Nationals have a bunch of power-hitting righties.

Here’s a photo, taken by Hayley, that shows me running for my second ball — a deep home run by a batter that I couldn’t identify:

6_zack_running_for_ball6786

Did you notice that I was jumping over a row of seats? The ball sailed 15 feet over my head and deflected back in my direction for an easy snag.

My third ball was thrown by Ross Ohlendorf thanks to my friend Ben Weil who gave me a heads-up. (I hadn’t noticed that Ohlendorf was walking toward a ball on the warning track, and Ben had already gotten one from him in right field, so he was glad to help.)

Ball No. 4 was an Ian Desmond homer that I caught on the fly in the front row.

My next ball was a Jayson Werth homer that I caught “in traffic” after drifting 20 feet to my left. I gave it to the nearest fan, whose bare hands had deflected it.

Two minutes later, Werth cranked another deep fly ball, this time in my direction. My first instinct was to drift down the steps — that’s always my instinct at Citi Field because the seats are two miles from home plate — but because Hayley was sitting directly behind me, I held my ground. I figured it was better to watch the ball fall short than to let my girlfriend get beaned. As it turned out, the ball carried to my spot in the 4th row, and I reached up for the easy catch, saving Hayley’s life in the process. It seriously would’ve nailed her. I then gave it to her, and she photographed it:

7_hayley_holding_ball6790

My seventh ball of the day was a long home run by Ryan Zimmerman, which landed half a dozen rows back in left-center field. It must’ve hit an armrest (or something else with a hard edge) because the cowhide was punctured. Check it out:

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Rich caught up with me after that, and we finally took a few photos. Here’s one that shows him holding the ball that I’d signed:

9_rich_with_signed_ball

Hayley, meanwhile, was in awe of her surroundings. (She’s sitting next to me as I’m writing this and just said, “Really?” with a sarcastic tone.) With her own camera, she was taking photos like this . . .

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. . . and this:

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She also took a photo of me standing around . . .

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. . . but who can blame her for that?

(She just said, “Of course you don’t post any of the NICE photos that I took. I took some nice ones of the field.” It’s true. She did. And I’m not posting them. Haha.)

After BP, we took a leisurely stroll around the 100 Level. Our first stop was the section in right-center field. When we wandered down to the front row, a little kid recognized me and said excitedly, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from YouTube?!”

“I don’t know,” I replied, “there are lots of guys on YouTube.”

“No, you know, with all the balls? Like, don’t you get one every game?”

“Ha, yeah, pretty much. That’s me.”

He was with two other kids. They were all wearing gloves. I asked them if they’d caught a ball. His friends said they’d each snagged three, but the little dude who recognized me had gotten blanked . . . so I pulled a ball out of my backpack and handed it to him.

On my way out of the section with Hayley, I took the following photo of the three kids. The one I gave the ball to is on the far right:

13_right_center_field_06_28_13

Hayley was half-impressed and half-amused that so many people recognized me. One person who said hey was Adam from South Dakota — just want to give him a quick shout-out since he’d traveled so far to be at this game.

Okay, time-out for a moment . . .

Do you remember when I hung out recently at Citi Field for a film shoot with the Daily News? Here’s my blog entry about it, in case you missed it — pretty cool stuff. The Mets were on the road, and there was lots of work being done at the stadium. Remember this photo of Shea Bridge? It looked like it was being re-paved, and I wondered why. Well, here’s why:

14_shea_bridge_new_surface

That looks pretty snazzy. It’s amazing what an All-Star Game will do. (“Oh, hey, a zillion people are gonna be watching — guess we oughta try to make our stadium look nice!”)

Shortly before game time, while Hayley was waiting on line for 10 minutes for a crappy, overpriced cold-cut sandwich from Subway, I got my eighth ball of the day tossed to me near the 3rd-base dugout by a guy whom I can only assume was Landon Brandes, the Nationals’ strength and conditioning coach.

Here’s where we sat for the first six innings . . .

15_view_from_left_field_06_28_13

. . . and yes, that’s Hayley (and her rattail) in the foreground. Whenever possible, I have my companions sit in front of me at games. That way, I can still talk to them (or, you know, kiss the back of their neck, for example) while having as much room as possible to run for baseballs.

Because of the weather, there was indeed lots of room to run. Here I am huddled under an umbrella with Hayley:

16_zack_hayley_under_umbrella

Of course, there wasn’t anything to run for. That’s because (a) the Mets can’t hit and (b) Matt Harvey was pitching. He took a perfect game into the 5th inning, which Ian Desmond ruined with a towering homer off the facade of the second deck, two sections to my right.

That was the only longball of the night, which is a shame because I really did have a good shot. When the rain intensified, Hayley (and just about everyone else) moved underneath the overhang of the second deck. I sat with her during inning breaks and while left-handed batters were up; when righties stepped to the plate, I went here:

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In the 7th inning, we moved to this spot near the Nationals’ dugout:

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If I’d been there on my own, I would’ve stayed in the outfield, but because Hayley was with me, I wanted her to see the game (and especially Harvey’s mid-90s heat) up close.

By the way, in the photo above, that’s Hayley standing at the bottom of the staircase. She was interested in Jayson Werth’s beard, so when I noticed him walking slowly back toward the dugout, I sent her down there to get a closer look.

Toward the end of the game, Ben came and found us . . . and photo-bombed:

19_hayley_and_zack_with_ben_photobombing

As for the game itself, I have three words: poor Matt Harvey.

Here are a few more words: he left with a 4-1 lead in the 7th inning, and the Mets’ bullpen managed to blow it. In the top of the 8th, Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-out, three-run double to tie the game, and in the 9th, the Nats scored twice off Bobby Parnell. Final score: Nationals 6, Mets 4.

Here I am at the dugout after the game:

20_zack_at_dugout_postgame_06_28_13

I didn’t get a ball in that spot, but a minute or two later, I moved a section over and got one from Fernando Abad.

Here I am with Hayley before heading out:

21_zack_hayley_postgame_06_28_13

When we got home, I asked her if she was interested in writing something for my blog about her experience at the game. She said sure. Here you go:

“While Zack and I were walking around Citi Field, several of the people we encountered made joking remarks along the lines of: ‘Oh, it’s your first game and you’re spending it with this guy? Poor girl.’ But in fact I was glad to be with someone who made me run around for half the time we were there. Maybe sitting in one place, eating Shake Shack and watching the game for three hours is enough to entertain people who are really into the sport, but I probably would’ve been bored. Seeing Zack in action was fun, as was experiencing a stadium in person for the first time. I realized that there was a lot that I didn’t notice when watching games on television. Now I know to listen for players’ intro music selections, many of them amusingly corny, and that cameras really can’t capture the intensity of a 95 mph fastball. Maybe next time I’ll be less in awe of the clouds and finally get to put some of the baseball terminology I’ve picked up in the past few months to use.”

BALLHAWKING STATS:

22_the_six_balls_i_kept_06_28_13• 9 balls at this game (six pictured here because I gave three away)

• 334 balls in 44 games this season = 7.59 balls per game.

• 597 balls in 76 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.85 balls per game.

• 916 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 441 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 22 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, Rogers Centre, Miller Park, Busch Stadium, Wrigley Field, Target Field, and Nationals Park

• 6,793 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.)

• 30 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.88 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.92 raised at this game

• $627.92 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $11,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $33,033.92 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Finally, four of the six balls that I kept have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side photo of them in regular light and black light:

23_black_light_06_28_13

6/26/13 at Camden Yards

This was my mom’s first game at Camden Yards. Here we are outside the gates:

1_zack_and_naomi_outside_camden_yards

By the time that photo was taken, we’d already had a long day in Baltimore, which included:

1) Hanging out at our hotel and looking at the previous day‘s photos from Nationals Park.
2) Going to an Indian buffet (where I stuffed myself silly).
3) Walking around inside Camden Yards when it was open early in the afternoon.
4) Wandering around the Inner Harbor.
5) Sitting in an air-conditioned mall and playing with our iPhones.

All of that stuff turned out to be much more enjoyable than the game. You’ll see why in a moment, but first, here’s a photo that I took during batting practice:

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Looks good, right?

My mom was hanging out 20 rows back, watching from a safe distance:

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Again, it all looks good, right?

Yeah, well, five minutes later, THIS happened:

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I hadn’t even seen *one* full group of hitters take BP, and the stupid grounds crew pulled out the tarp. (Actually, they weren’t stupid. I’m just pissed off.)

Since it wasn’t yet raining, the Indians pitchers came out to play catch:

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Two minutes later (and I do mean *two* minutes), this was the scene:

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As you can see, it was raining like hell, the stands had pretty much cleared out, and most of the players were bolting for the dugout.

Somehow, within a three-minute span, I managed to get four baseballs thrown to me. Here they are . . .

7_four_baseballs_06_26_13

. . . and now I’ll explain.

Ubaldo Jimenez threw me the first ball just before it started raining. Then, as the sky opened up, I got another toss-up. Then, as I started heading up the steps (because the ushers were ordering everyone to take cover), I got one more, and when I reached the cross-aisle, I got a final ball thrown my way. It all happened so fast that I forgot who had thrown what, but I can tell you this: Nick Hagadone gave me one of the balls (the 2nd one, I think), and Justin Masterson hooked me up with another (the last one, I believe). And here’s something else that’s kinda cool: my 3rd ball of the day was the 3,000th ball that I’ve snagged outside of New York City.

By the time this flurry of toss-ups took place, my mom had moved into foul territory, so she got a great view of all the action. It was nice to share the moment with her, but mainly it was great to finally spend some time with her at my favorite stadium.

The rain and thunder and lightning became so intense . . .

8_raining_like_hell_06_26_13

. . . that a weather/safety advisory appeared on the jumbotron:

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My mom and I passed the time by making a list of all the major league stadiums that she’s been to:

1) Shea Stadium (a bunch of times, starting in the 1980s)
2) Old Yankee Stadium (a few times, starting in the 1980s)
3) Fenway Park (on September 7, 1991)
4) Veterans Stadium (on October 6, 1991 — the day David Cone struck out 19 batters)
5) Chase Field (back when it was called Bank One Ballpark on May 15, 1998)
6) U.S. Cellular Field (back when it was called Comiskey Park on June 5, 1999)
7) Citizens Bank Park (several times, including June 24, 2007)
8) Dodger Stadium (on May 18, 2009 — the day I snagged my 4,000th ball)
9) Citi Field (several times, including September 29, 2010)
10) Tokyo Dome (on March 29, 2012 for MLB’s Opening Series)
11) Nationals Park (on June 25, 2013)
12) Camden Yards (hopefully several more times)

That’s quite an impressive list for a lady who’s not really a baseball fan, don’t you think?

My mom was also with me when I took BP on the field at PNC Park in 2009, but we decided not to count that on this list because she wasn’t there for an actual game.

Anyway, here in Baltimore, the rain finally stopped . . .

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. . . and the grounds crew went to work:

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Eventually they folded up the tarp, but then they all stood around and waited for 20 minutes:

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It was bizarre, and I didn’t know what to think until I saw this:

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No, I’m not talking about the cop who was picking his nose. See the ladder on the warning track? See the guy standing near the top? He was putting big garbage bags over the camera that’s mounted to the protective screen. I figured that if he was putting in that type of time/effort, more rain was on the way.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the grounds crew re-covered the field:

14_here_comes_the_tarp_again

Aarrghh!!

My mom and I were gonna have to drive back to New York City after the game, and given the fact that she had an early-morning appointment the next day, we weren’t sure how long we’d be able to stay.

Finally, the Indians began warming up . . .

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. . . and after a 66-minute rain delay, the game got underway. This was my view for most of it:

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The following photo shows what it looked like on my left, with my mom circled in red:

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Here’s a photo that she took, which shows me standing toward the back of the Flag Court:

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It was a good setup. I ran around and did my thing while she sat in a spot where she could see me, and in case you’re wondering, it’s not like I ignored her. We talked between innings, and I hung out with her at other random times throughout the night.

As for the ballhawking . . . not only weren’t there any home runs out there, but Scott Kazmir took a no-hitter into the 7th inning. Take a look at the scoreboard:

19_scott_kazmir_no_hitter_through_six

My mom was getting antsy about the time, which was understandable, but damn, we couldn’t leave now — not during a no-hitter!

During the 7th-inning stretch, I said, “How’s this for a deal? We’ll stay for as long as the no-hitter is in progress.”

My mom understood the situation and agreed to it, and whaddaya know? Manny effin’ Machado led off the bottom of the 7th with a double down the left field line. Was it my fault? Did I jinx it? Regardless, a deal is a deal, so we left after that. I heard that the Indians ended up winning, 4-3.

On a final note, I’d like to say thanks to all the kind folks who met and schmoozed with my mom, including (but not limited to) Avi Miller, Tim Anderson, Alex Kopp, Doug Hakey, and a pair of ushers named Jim and Bobby. Great stadium. Great people. Can’t wait to go back.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

20_the_three_balls_i_kept_06_26_13• 4 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave one to a kid before the game)

• 325 balls in 43 games this season = 7.56 balls per game.

• 525 balls in 56 lifetime games at Camden Yards = 9.38 balls per game.

• 915 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 440 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 22 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, Rogers Centre, Miller Park, Busch Stadium, Wrigley Field, Target Field, and Nationals Park

• 3,001 lifetime balls outside of New York City

• 6,784 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.)

• 30 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.88 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $7.52 raised at this game

• $611.00 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $11,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $33,017.00 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/25/13 at Nationals Park

It was my mom’s birthday, and we celebrated by driving down from New York City to Nationals Park. Here we are outside the center field gate:

1_naomi_and_zack_outside_nationals_park

Believe it or not, this was her idea. The last time we’d attended a game together was ten months ago — 8/22/12 at Citi Field to be specific. That’s the day she tripped on these stupid steps, and I lost my beloved Rawlings infielders glove in the hectic aftermath, so we were eager to give it another shot. Of course, knowing that I dislike both New York stadiums, she suggested that we take a little road trip, so here we were.

Look who else was here:

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In the photo above, that’s Rick Gold on the left and Mateo Fischer on the right — two good friends, who both happen to be talented ballhawks. As for the cardboard box, that contained 1,500 All-Star ballots, which Mateo had punched out. (He’s insane and dedicated — two marvelous qualities.)

Here’s where I stood for most of batting practice:

3_zack_and_naomi_red_porch_seats

The Red Porch seats uses to be great. Now they kinda suck, but I still snagged a few baseballs. The first one was thrown by Jordan Zimmerman, and I handed it to a little girl on my right. Ten minutes later, I got Ross Ohlendorf to throw me another by shouting that it was my mom’s birthday. Here she is holding that ball . . .

4_naomi_with_ball6774

. . . and if you look closely, you can see Ohlendorf (No. 43) standing in the background.

My mom, by the way, didn’t mind being “used” for my own personal ballhawking gain. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that she enjoyed it, and she was good at it too; when I first shouted at Ohlendorf, and he turned around to look at me, my mom smiled and waved — perfect timing and instincts.

My 3rd ball was a Jayson Werth homer that landed in the seats. Ball No. 4 was thrown by Ross Detwiler as the Nationals started jogging off the field, and then I snagged another from the gap with my glove trick. I handed that one to the closest fans and then changed into my Diamondbacks gear.

Okay, time-out for a moment . . .

Remember when I had lunch with Heath Bell before the game on June 5th in St. Louis? Remember when we talked about hanging out in New York when the Diamondbacks come to Citi Field? Well, Heath didn’t know that I was going to be at Nationals Park, so while I was driving, he happened to text me to ask when I was going to be free the following week. (The D’backs will be in town for four games, starting on Monday, July 1st.) With my mom’s help (because I was driving), I texted him back to say that I was on my way to the game and that we should discuss our plan in person.

Okay, time-in . . .

Soon after the D’backs started taking BP, Heath spotted me in left-center and came over to say hey. We talked for a few minutes and made a plan for New York. Then he and my mom chatted for a bit:

5_heath_bell_talking_to_naomi

That pretty cute, no?

Twenty minutes later, I saw this:

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In the photo above, the guy with the shaved head is D’backs manager Kirk Gibson; he and Heath were clearly talking about pitching mechanics.

I moved to right-center for the last group of hitters. Here’s a photo of the very last guy to take swings:

7_army_guy_taking_bp

It was some random army guy — I’ve never seen that before — who failed to hit the ball out of the infield.

I didn’t snag any balls during the Diamondbacks’ portion of BP; the players just weren’t tossing much into the crowd (thumbs-down to A.J. Pollock), and the few homers went to right field or straight-away left.

After BP, my mom and I got pizza and ate it here:

8_naomi_pregame_pizza

The nearest usher saw us standing there and asked, “Where are your seats?” When I told him we were gonna be in left-center field, he offered to seat us in his section. He was actually the second usher who offered us a spot. The other was in right-center. I politely declined his offer, but when several Diamondbacks came out to do their pre-game throwing, I asked if I could go down into the seats for a few minutes to try to get a ball. The usher said it was fine, and as a result, I worked my way down to the dugout and got Willie Bloomquist to toss me my 6th ball of the day. THIS is how a stadium should be run. THIS is how fans should be treated. But in New York City, it’s just the opposite.

Anyway, this was our view at the start of the game:

9_view_during_game_06_25_13

In the top of the 1st inning, I had an entire empty row on my right . . .

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. . . but it didn’t stay like that for long.

Thankfully, because of the layout of the Red Porch section, I was still able to get over to the bullpen when the seats began filling up, and I took advantage of the mobility a bit later. When Adam LaRoche hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the 3rd inning that landed in the bullpen, I hurried over to see if I could get Heath to toss it to me. Unfortunately, though, a security guard retrieved it and appeared to be keeping it, so I returned to my seat while the inning continued. After the 3rd out, I walked back over to the edge of the bullpen. I didn’t have my glove — all my stuff was on the seat next to my mom — so I was surprised to see Heath looking up for me. With no hesitation, he pulled a ball out of his pocket and threw it to me from about 30 feet away. I was holding my camera in my right hand, so I bare-handed the ball with my left.

The stadium was very loud at that moment (as stadiums often are between innings), so I tried my best to shout at him.

“IS THAT THE ACTUAL HOME RUN BALL?!”

I wasn’t sure if Heath heard me, but he did seem to give me a subtle nod before walking off.

All I could do at that point was photograph the ball . . .

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. . . and head back to my seat. Here I am with it:

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I wasn’t positive that it was the home run ball, but I was pretty sure, so for the time being, I treated it as such. I even took a photo of the jumbotron when LaRoche came up to bat again in the 5th inning:

13_adam_laroche_homer_on_jumbotron

Knowing that he wouldn’t get the message until much later, I texted Heath to (a) thank him and (b) ask if the ball he’d tossed me was THE ball.

After the 7th inning, my mom and I moved here:

14_naomi_zack_third_base_side

The 8th inning ended with an Anthony Rendon flyout to right fielder Gerardo Parra. Given the fact that I was 16 rows back on the wrong (home-plate) end of the dugout, I didn’t think there was any chance I’d get the ball, but as I saw it get tossed around between the fielders on their way in, I figured I might as well stand up and wave my arms just in case. Martin Prado ended up with it, and as he approached the warning track, I saw him scanning the crowd. Then in happened: he spotted me and fired a seed in my direction. It sailed over everyone’s heads down in front and came right to me. I had to reach up and maybe even jump a couple inches — I don’t remember that level of detail — but I can tell you that I caught it. My mom was stunned, as was Mateo who’d recently moved to my staircase (in preparation for a post-game umpire ball). And you know what? So was I. I’d never gotten a 3rd-out ball thrown from such a great distance.

After the game, which the Nationals won, 7-5, Mateo and I ended up at the outfield end of the dugout. Here he is, not quite prepared to have his picture taken:

15_mateo_dugout_heath_bell_approaching

Did you notice the three guys walking in from the bullpen? Heath was on the right, and when he approached the dugout (and stopped to sign an autograph for a kid), I asked him about the LaRoche home run. He said that the guard in the bullpen told him he was supposed to keep the ball and give it back to the Nationals, but when the guard set it down for a moment, Heath went over to the equipment bag and pulled out a different ball and swapped it with the home run ball. HAHAHA!!! I love it. (By the way, in case anyone’s wondering, Heath said I could blog about this, so it’s not like I’m gonna get him in trouble.) I feel sorry for LaRoche — the poor sap thinks *he* has the ball — but I consider it payback for all the abuse I’ve taken at Nationals Park over the years, including:

1) Management’s piss-poor handling of a rainout on June 3, 2009.
2) Getting elbowed in the face by a despicable security guard on August 17, 2011.
3) Getting falsely accused of selling baseballs and ejected on September 19, 2012.

You know what? The LaRoche home run is just the beginning of payback. The ushers were all very nice to me this time around — no doubt my mom’s presence had a lot to do with it — but the team still has a loooooong way to go before I’ll forgive and forget.

At around midnight, my mom and I found ourselves here:

16_naomi_hotel_room_06_25_13

That hotel room was in Baltimore. We were planning to be at Camden Yards the next day . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

17_the_six_balls_i_kept_06_25_13• 8 balls at this game (six pictured here because I gave two away)

• 321 balls in 42 games this season = 7.64 balls per game.

• 261 balls in 19 lifetime games at Nationals Park = 13.74 balls per game.

• 914 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 439 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 30 lifetime game home run balls (24 directly off the bat; six tossed)

• 22 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, Rogers Centre, Miller Park, Busch Stadium, Wrigley Field, Target Field, and Nationals Park

• 6,780 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.)

• 30 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.88 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $15.04 raised at this game

• $603.48 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $11,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $33,009.48 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/21/13 at Yankee Stadium

There are four gates at Yankee Stadium. This was *part* of the crowd waiting to enter one of them:

1_crowd_outside_stadium_06_21_13

Yeesh.

In the photo above, do you see the fan on the far left in the black Nike t-shirt? His name is Andrew, and he recognized me . . . and here’s why:

2_zack_and_andrew_with_the_baseball_06_21_13

As you can see, he had a copy of my 2nd book, Watching Baseball Smarter. After I signed it for him, I asked why he had it with him.

“Were you just hoping that I’d be here today?” I asked.

“No, I was reading it on the train,” he said.

Andrew told me that he had never snagged a ball, and I’m sorry to say that we lost each other as soon as the gates opened, so I have no idea how his day turned out. (Andrew, if you’re reading this, leave a comment and let us all know.)

The Yankees’ portion of BP was deader than dead. There was only one full group of hitters, all of whom were right handed, none of whom hit ANY home runs. Here’s a photo that shows me standing around, wishing I were anywhere else in the world, except maybe Damascus:

3_zack_standing_around_06_21_13

That photo, along with all the other shots of me that you’re about to see, was taken by my friend Andy Bingham (who occasionally writes this blog). Andy is a semi-regular at Yankee Stadium — that’s how I got to know him — and since he’s not a ballhawk (and recently got a new/fancy camera), he kindly took some pics of me in action. Here’s a three-part photo that shows me (wearing Rays gear) snagging my first ball of the day in foul territory:

4_zack_snagging_ball6768

Here’s how I got it — kind of a funny story . . .

Two sets of Rays had finished playing catch at the same time. I waved and shouted at one player for a ball, but a different guy ended up tossing one my way. That ball ended up falling short, landing on a staircase, and bouncing into the empty seats behind me. Because I’d been looking at the other player, I had no idea who threw it, so ten seconds later, when I saw Evan Longoria standing around with a ball in his hand, I called out to him and asked for it.

“I JUST GAVE YOU ONE!!!” he shouted.

I felt really stupid and didn’t blame him for being annoyed. I just hoped he didn’t get a good look at my face so that he wouldn’t remember me.

Five minutes later, this happened:

5_zack_catching_ball6769

It’s pretty self-explanatory: Matt Moore tossed me a ball, and I jumped to make the catch. I wish my shoes were visible in that photo because they were a foot or two off the ground; I was using my right arm to push down on the concrete ledge in order to hoist myself up for some extra hang-time.

The next photo shows me catching my third ball — a home run (hit by an unknown Rays righty) that I caught on the fly:

6_zack_catching_ball6770

See the guy trying to reach in front of me? His name is Tobias, and he’s from Germany. And he recognized me. We’d been chatting for a few minutes before that ball was hit. After I caught it, he said somewhat jokingly, “You should have something in your book that warns people not to stand near you.”

“I thought that goes without saying,” I replied.

But seriously, don’t feel bad for Tobias. He said he’d gotten a ball the day before at Yankee Stadium, and he’s in the process of hitting up a bunch of ballparks on the east coast.

(By the way, in the photo above, did you notice the ball in the background being tossed up to the fan in the bleachers? Just a fun little bonus detail.)

Andy didn’t get any more action shots of me (because stadium security kicked everyone out of the left field seats that didn’t have a ticket for that area), so I’ll have to describe what happened next. For starters, I got my fourth ball tossed by Jamey Wright. Here’s a photo of him that I took moments later:

7_jamey_wright_after_ball6771

Toward the end of BP, I made my best catch of the day. I was standing on the staircase in the 4th row when a deep fly ball was hit 20 or 30 feet to my left. As I started running for it, I determined that it was going to fall a bit short, so at the last second, I jumped down over a row of seats and made a thigh-high catch. I was pretty sure that I’d landed before catching the ball, but the nearest security guard (who’s actually really cool) had gotten a good look from the back of the section and insisted that I was in mid-air. I don’t know who hit this ball either.

After making that catch, I wandered to the next section and handed two baseballs to a pair of little kids in the front row. Shortly before game time, I gave away another to a young fan sitting near me.

Okay, ready to see something **REALLY** cool? I need to set it up by sharing this photo first:

8_view_into_bullpen_06_21_13

The photo above shows my view of the Rays’ bullpen just before game time. I’d been standing there for several minutes, watching Roberto Hernandez warm up.

While he was warming up, I noticed that a coach was standing directly below me with a clipboard in his hand. I was able to press my camera against the netting and point it straight down and zoom in and . . . well, just take a look:

9_pitching_chart_06_21_13

HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!

I’d never seen anything like it before. Have you?

It seems that each main box represents the strike zone for one pitch. I’m guessing that the number indicates (a) the type of pitch and (b) the location of the catcher’s target; the circle seems to show where it was actually caught. But maybe I’m wrong?

Also, did you notice all the times written at the top of the chart? I had no idea that teams are so meticulous about charting this stuff — or maybe it’s just the Rays? And did you notice the random stuff scribbled on the actual clipboard? It makes me wonder who “Shady Brady” is.

Just before game time, I witnessed the Yankees being the Yankees, otherwise known as stadium security treating people like crap. See the two guys in the photo below?

10_guys_who_were_told_to_move_06_21_13

They were minding their own business and eating some concession food when a female security guard walked over and told them they had to move. Why? Because that precious metal ledge is a “RESERVED” seating area. Despite the fact it was otherwise empty, the guard was adamant about enforcing the rule. I don’t blame her because she was just doing her job; I blame the Steinbrenners for running a stadium in which there’s a serious lack of decency and common sense. Those fans were mid-bite. They had drinks on the ledge. One guy had barbecue sauce on his hands. And they were abruptly forced to move. They should’ve been allowed to stay there for three minutes to finish their meal. But no. At Yankee Stadium, there are a zillion unnecessary rules and no exceptions. *I* was even told to move because I wasn’t standing behind the white line (which is painted so far back in the concourse that you can’t see it in the photo above).

That said, if you have an issue with anyone or anything at Yankee Stadium, write a letter and send it to the following address:
thumbs_down_to_the_yankees
New York Yankees
Attn: Guest Relations
Yankee Stadium
One East 161st Street
Bronx, NY 10451

Several weeks ago, I mailed a letter to the Yankees and included my phone number at the bottom and actually got a phone call back from them. Of course, the employee who called was devoid of humanity and tried to justify the stadium’s asinine policies. In that same letter, I had praised a particular security guard for being friendly — there ARE a few cool people who work there — and later heard that this guard’s supervisor had read that portion of my letter to him during roll call.

The point is: WRITE A LETTER TO THE YANKEES. They will receive it and read it; if enough people do this, it might actually make a difference.

Here’s where I sat for the entire game:

11_view_during_game_06_21_13

There were three players in the starting lineups without any major league home runs: Wil Myers and Austin Romine, who are both right-handed, and Zoilo Almonte, who’s a switch-hitter. Well, wouldn’t you know it? There was only one home run all night — a solo shot by Almonte that was pulled into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center.

No other balls landed anywhere near me. I would’ve loved to move to right field when . . . oh, you know, the first SIX guys in the Yankees’ lineup were at bat since, you know, they were all batting left-handed. But no. At Yankee Stadium, you go to your seat, and that’s that.

Here’s a photo of the moon:

12_moon_06_21_13

It looked like a baseball, and I wanted to catch it.

Final score: Yankees 6, Rays 2.

Bleh.

On a final note, a friend and fellow Guilford College alum named Doug is doing PR for an event coming up at Yankee Stadium called the Runyon 5K, which benefits cancer research. As much as I hate Yankee Stadium, I must admit that this does sound kinda neat, so I’m doing him a favor by mentioning it here in case anyone’s interested. Basically, you run a 5K race inside the stadium — all through the concourses and up the ramps and stairs and even around the warning track. Here’s more info about it. The entry fee is $40 right now, but it’ll increase to $50 in a week. The event itself will take place on Sunday, August 18th.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

13_the_two_baseballs_i_kept_06_21_13• 5 balls at this game (two pictured here because I gave three away)

• 313 balls in 41 games this season = 7.63 balls per game.

• 462 balls in 72 lifetime games at Yankee Stadium = 6.42 balls per game.

• 913 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 438 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 22 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, Rogers Centre, Miller Park, Busch Stadium, Wrigley Field, Target Field, and Nationals Park

• 6,772 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.)

• 29 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $9.25 raised at this game

• $579.05 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $11,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $32,985.05 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/20/13 at Nationals Park

It’s weird to use the word “hate” to describe a stadium where I’ve averaged more than 14 balls per game, but that pretty much sums up how I feel about Nationals Park. Last season, on September 19th, I was falsely accused of selling baseballs and ejected by stadium security, and the season before that, on August 17th, I was bashed in the face by a security guard during batting practice. Nationals Park is Evil, yet here I was, giving it another shot. I’ll explain why in a moment, but first, here’s a photo of me outside the gates with a young man named Jacob:

1_zack_and_jacob_06_20_13

Jacob recognized me from this blog and asked me to sign a ball, and we ended up crossing paths throughout the day.

As much as I trash-talk Nationals Park, I must admit that there are a few nice things about it, starting with the fact that it opens two and a half hours early. That’s why I’ve snagged so many baseballs here, so I was looking forward to piling up some big numbers.

Unfortunately, when I ran inside at 4:30pm, this was the scene:

2_nationals_not_taking_bp_06_20_13

The field was set up for BP, but the Nationals were nowhere in sight. Evidently, because they’d played an extra-inning game the night before in Philadelphia, they were too tired to hit. (That game, by the way, went 11 innings and lasted a whopping three hours and 35 minutes. Boo-hoo.)

With absolutely nothing to do for the next hour, I headed over to the left field seats and caught up with these guys:

3_ben_mateo_left_field_06_20_13

In the photo above, that’s Ben Weil in the red jersey and Mateo Fischer in the teal shirt. Ben had driven down with me from New York City; Mateo, who used to live in New York, now splits his time between Washington D.C. (where he has family) and Minnesota (where he goes to college).

At around 5pm, I wandered out to right field because of this:

4_nationals_playing_catch_06_20_13

The result?

Nothing!

Nationals Park was dead, and I was regretting my decision to be here — and get this: one big reason was Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Normally I don’t follow basketball, but I’d watched the first six games and really gotten into it. LeBron James has a way of doing that to me, and I was certifiably bummed about missing the finale. That said, there *was* one more thing that I was still looking forward to doing at Nationals Park — one thing which, if it happened, would almost make the whole day worthwhile; the Rockies were in town, and I was hoping to snag one of their 20th-anniversary commemorative balls.

Long story short:

5_ball6763_rockies_commemorative

I didn’t get that ball for a while — the pitchers had been warming up with regular balls — and as you can imagine, I was pretty damn excited. It wasn’t until BP was well underway that one of the batters hit it to the warning track in left-center, and Jorge De La Rosa threw it to me.

I don’t actually like that logo. I think it’s too dark, and the mountains are not mountainous enough, and of course I hate the fact that there aren’t years. Every commemorative ball, in my opinion, should include the year(s) of whatever is being celebrated. Why not add a small “1993-2013″ in there somewhere? Remember the Chipper Jones commemorative balls that I snagged on 9/29/12 at Turner Field? Those had a perfect logo. There were lots of commemorative balls last year, some better than others. The 100th anniversary Fenway Park balls included the first year of that ballpark, but the Dodgers weren’t as smart in designing this logo for the 50th anniversary of their stadium. Check out all of my commemorative balls and see for yourself.

I managed to snag two more (regular) balls during BP in this section:

6_right_field_06_20_13

The first was a Todd Helton homer that I caught on the fly, and the second (which I handed to a little girl) was a random toss-up from the team’s strength coach.

Lame.

I caught up with my friend Wayne Cimons (aka “Father Puck” for those of you who’ve been reading the comments on his blog for a long time) and headed to the dugout toward the end of BP:

7_dugout_during_bp_06_20_13

Nothing.

I got some food after BP, caught up with Ben and Mateo, and eventually headed back to the Rockies’ dugout. This was my view for the first pitch of the game:

8_first_pitch_of_the_game_06_20_13

I still had one more thing to accomplish: snagging a game-used ball.

As you might already know, BIGS Sunflower Seeds is sponsoring me this season and sending me to all 30 major league stadiums. (I wish they’d sponsor my trip to Australia next year for the Opening Series, but hell, I’ll be there regardless.) For every stadium at which I snag a gamer, they’re going to donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, and I’m glad to say that it didn’t take long for me to cross Nationals Park off my list. With two outs in the bottom of the 1st inning, Adam LaRoche went down swinging at a 3-2 pitch from Roy Oswalt. Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba jogged off the field with the ball and flipped it to me on his way into the dugout. Here it is:

9_ball6766_hooray

Cha-ching!!

An inning later, I got another 3rd-out ball — a first-pitch fly out hit by Kurt Suzuki to Michael Cuddyer. It was very very very very very easy. (That’s one “very” for each ball I ended up snagging over the course of the day.)

I was tempted to stay behind the dugout and go for another, but I decided to head to the outfield instead and try to catch a home run. There were very few empty seats (the attendance was nearly 32,000), so I ended up here with very little room to maneuver:

10_view_from_left_field_06_20_13

Ben and Mateo were sitting on that same staircase, more than a dozen rows back, and eventually I went and hung out with them for a bit:

11_zack_mateo_ben_left_field_06_20_13

In the photo above, Mateo is pretending to take his own photo, and Ben is holding up a stack of All-Star ballots. He’d heard about a promotion at the stadium through which he could win a free Bobblehead doll if he punched out 500 ballots. So he did. I’d call him crazy, but who am I to talk?

I sat in the Red Porch seats in the middle innings, then got some more food around the 7th-inning stretch, and eventually made my way back to the dugout:

12_top_of_the_8th_inning_06_20_13

Jacob was sitting nearby in the front row and had snagged a 3rd-out ball — the very first one of his life. Here he is holding it up:

13_jacob_with_third_out_ball

There was only one home run hit all night — a 419-foot blast by Ian Desmond. Even if I hadn’t been sitting behind the dugout at the time, I wouldn’t have had a chance to catch it. Look where it landed.

After the final out of the Nationals’ 5-1 victory, I caught up with a couple of friendly ushers named Kenyon and Troy. (I should’ve gotten a photo with them. Damn.) I got to know them two years ago when I attended a bunch of games at Nationals Park. They still remember me, and they’re really cool, so you see? The stadium isn’t totally bad.

On my way out with Ben, I checked the score of Game 7. It was half-time, and the Heat were beating the Spurs by (I think) two points. Hmm. Even though we had a four-hour drive ahead of us, we decided to go watch the second half on a huge screen at a nearby outdoor venue called The Bullpen. Check it out:

14_watching_nba_finals_game_7

The Heat won. LeBron is good.

Seeing the game was a nice end to an otherwise difficult day. (And in case you’re wondering, the sun was coming up by the time I got into bed.)

BALLHAWKING STATS:

15_the_four_ball_i_kept_06_20_13• 5 balls at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 308 balls in 40 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 253 balls in 18 lifetime games at Nationals Park = 14.06 balls per game.

• 912 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 437 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 22 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, Rogers Centre, Miller Park, Busch Stadium, Wrigley Field, Target Field, and Nationals Park

• 6,767 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.)

• 28 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.83 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $9.15 raised at this game

• $563.64 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $11,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $32,969.64 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Here’s a bonus photo for you — a side-by-side comparison of one of the balls I snagged. Check out the invisible ink stamp (shown here in black light) on the right:

16_black_light_06_20_13

Behind the scenes at Citi Field

The Mets are on the road this week, and I got to hang out at Citi Field yesterday. Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain:

1_meeting_at_the_home_run_apple

Several weeks ago, the sports editor at the Daily News got in touch and asked if I’d contribute to a piece about how to catch baseballs at the Home Run Derby. I thought about saying no — there are certain secrets that I’d rather not share — but ultimately agreed. And here I was.

In the photo above, the young man on the left is a Daily News reporter named John. The guy on the right is a freelance photographer named Alex, who was hired for the day to accompany him. While we waited for the two-person film crew to arrive, I posed for a few photos . . . like this:

2_zack_photographed_at_home_run_apple

Once everyone showed up, we headed to the Hodges gate:

3_heading_to_the_stadium_06_18_13

In the photo above, the woman looking back at me is a videographer named Lindsay. The young lady walking just behind her on the right is her assistant Taylor.

On our way to the gate, I stopped to take a quick photo of this:

4_all_star_game_apple

It’s hard to believe that the All-Star Game is less than a month away. Who’s planning to be there? How about the Home Run Derby? I don’t have tickets yet, but I’ll probably attend both events. BIGS Sunflower Seeds is thinking about sending me, and there’s also a fan who has offered to pay for my Derby ticket in exchange for half the baseballs that I snag.

Anyway, a security guard met us at the Hodges gate . . .

5_hodges_gate

. . . and has us wait inside . . .

6_waiting_for_the_pr_guy

. . . for one of the Mets P.R. guys to show up.

Several minutes later, I was holding this:

5b_credential_06_18_13

The P.R. guy, whose name is Ethan, led us inside, and I have to say that it was pretty cool to get a behind-the-scenes look at the stadium. There were construction workers milling about, groundskeepers doing all sorts of weird things to the field, random folks playing softball in the outfield, and so on. Check out the hose that was snaking through the concourse:

7_hose_in_concourse

It was connected to this pressure washer:

8_pressure_washer

I don’t know if this is interesting to you, but I *loved* seeing all this random crap sitting around. I felt like I was seeing stuff that wasn’t meant to be seen, you know?

Here’s a hose that was coiled up on a table:

9_hose_on_table

In the photo above, did you notice the scaffolding in the left field seats that extends up to the second deck?

Here’s a random jug of something on a staircase:

10_jug_on_staircase

I should explain my specific purpose for being at Citi Field: the editor wanted me to point out the five best places to catch a home run at the Derby.

I told the crew to head down to the party deck in left field. Here they are from afar . . .

11_left_field_seats_06_18_13

. . . and here’s a photo of them from above:

12_crew_on_party_deck

I think I took more photos/videos of them than they took of me.

While Lindsay set up the camera, I noticed a crater in the warning track in left-center field:

13_crater_on_the_warning_track

WTF?

Before long, she was ready to go . . .

14_camera_set_up_on_party_deck

. . . so we filmed the first segment.

We had to be careful and constantly look over our shoulders because of the softball players in the left field corner. Take a good look at the following photo, and you’ll see them:

15_softball_being_played_06_18_13

One deep fly ball did indeed land on the party deck. I ran back (away from the LF corner) and nearly caught it, but got blocked by a row of stools, and to make matters worse, it bounced back onto the field so I didn’t even get to give it a toss.

John (the reporter) kindly grabbed my camera while Alex (the photographer) had me posing in various ways. Check it out:

16_zack_chillin_on_the_party_deck

Here’s some advice: don’t sit like that at Citi Field. You can get away with it if the team is on the road, but if you’re there for an actual game, it won’t go over too well with stadium security.

I led the crew through the center field concourse . . .

17_tarp_center_field_concourse

. . . toward the Shea Bridge:

18_shea_bridge_terrace

In the photo above, did you notice that some of the railings are laying flat on the bridge? Look closely and you’ll see some caution tape blocking the far end. The whole thing was blocked off. I have no idea what was happening. Last time I was there, the bridge seemed fine to me. I wonder if this type of work happens all the time at Citi Field or if the Mets are simply redoing everything in preparation for the All-Star Game.

Lindsay came and filmed me . . .

19_lindsay_coming_to_film_me

. . . and then we ducked under the tape . . .

20_ducking_under_caution_tape

. . . and headed to the next spot.

(Actually, I skipped a spot in this entry. If you want to see my pick for the 3rd-best area for catching home runs at the Derby, you’ll have to look for the piece in the Daily News.)

We headed downstairs to the Modell’s Clubhouse . . .

21_picnic_area_behind_bullpens

. . . which was cool because I’d never been in there. Here’s the interior . . .

22_indoor_area_of_modells_clubhouse

. . . and here’s the exterior:

23_outdoor_area_of_modells_clubhouse

This was actually my pick for the 5th-best spot. Did you see the gap between the netting and the top of the outfield wall? Home runs drop down there all the time. I’d be surprised if fewer than a dozen end up there during the Derby. Of course, it’ll be crowded as hell, and people will be climbing all over each other to snag them, but hey, that’s not my problem.

We had quite a trek to reach the last (4th-best) spot. We passed by this walkway . . .

24_walkway_behind_bullpens

. . . and got a peek at the service-level concourse . . .

25_concourse_06_18_13

. . . and continued here . . .

26_bullpen_gate_06_18_13

. . . and eventually reached the second deck in the left field corner. Before I show you exactly where we ended up, here’s a photo of a groundskeeper laying down some fresh sod:

27_grounds_crew_laying_down_sod

Okay, so . . . have you ever seen the Acela Club at Citi Field?

28_inside_the_acela_club

Neither had I.

Wannabe fancy.
Devoid of personality.
Typical of stadium clubs.

Of course, sitting behind plexiglass is no way to catch home runs, but have you seen the glorious outdoor terrace? Here’s a look at one small part of it . . .

29_acela_club_terrace

. . . and here’s the rest:

30_acela_club_terrace

WOW!!

Balls rarely fly that far during the regular season, but I guarantee that it’ll be within range at the Home Run Derby. Unfortunately, because it’s located down the line, it won’t get *that* much action, but I do expect to see a bunch of balls fly up there.

By the way, are you aware that most of the “best” spots I’ve shown here are inaccessible to normal fans? That’s Citi Field for ya. The only decent areas are premium seating locations that are sold to huge groups at insane prices. If you’re trapped in the regular seats without a cross-aisle or standing room, forget about it. You pretty much have no chance.

On our way out, I took a photo of this sign in the service-level concourse:

31_sign_for_mets_clubhouse

Here’s another sign that shows the different types of media credentials . . .

32_2013_credentials

. . . and here’s the visitors’ clubhouse:

33b_visiting_team_clubhouse_06_18_13

I can’t wait ’til July 17th.

Man Versus Ball

Several days ago, I received a free copy of a new sports book called Man Versus Ball. Take a look at the cover, and then I’ll explain why I’m blogging about it:

man_versus_ball1

Okay . . . check out the last quote on the back:

man_versus_ball2

Awwwwww yeah.

It’s a really entertaining book, so pick up a copy if you’re looking for something fun to read this summer.

Citi Field weirdness from the sky

Last week, when I flew out of LaGuardia (for this game at Miller Park), I got a good look at Citi Field and noticed something bizarre. Check it out:

citi_field_dirt_and_grass_from_above

Do you see what I’m talking about?
Did you notice the infield grass and dirt?
Here’s a closer look:

citi_field_dirt_and_grass_from_above_closeup

Any theories?
Seriously, WTF?

Was the grounds crew covering (or uncovering) the infield dirt for a non-baseball event? I’m officially mystified, and in case anyone’s wondering . . . this is NOT Photoshopped. I saw it with my own eyes and grabbed my camera. Promise.

6/11/13 at Target Field

I woke up in New York City at 4:30am with two and a half hours of sleep — and it was totally worth it. Look where I ended up 12 hours later:

1_zack_on_the_field_06_11_13

Let me explain . . .

Three years ago, when Target Field was just a month old, I showed up for a three-game series and randomly met a Twins employee who hooked me up with behind-the-scenes access. More specifically, on May 5, 2010, he approached me during BP and introduced himself, and on May 6, 2010, he gave me a private tour of the stadium. As I mentioned back then, he wants to remain anonymous, so I’m going to refer to him as “Kirby.”

Anyway, as you may have gathered, Kirby hooked me up again, this time with a fancy VIP pass that gave me early/field access. Look where I found myself two minutes later:

2_behind_the_batting_cage_06_11_13

As nice as it was to hang out on the field, all I wanted to do was go into the stands and get a head start on snagging baseballs. Kirby had no problem with that — he reads this blog and knows all about my collection — so we walked toward the left field foul line. On the way, I photographed some photographers . . .

3_photographers_on_warning_track

. . . and resisted the urge to grab this and run like hell:

4_basket_of_baseballs_06_11_13

In the photo above, did you notice the person in a Phillies uniform standing in the background? That was manager Charlie Manuel:

5_charlie_manuel_standing_around

In the photo of Charlie Manuel, did you notice the ball sitting on the warning track in the background?

Now listen, it’s not what you think. Yes, I walked over and picked it up . . .

6_zack_picking_up_the_ball

. . . but look what I did with it:

7_zack_tossing_the_ball_back_to_the_mound

As you can see, I kissed it goodbye and chucked it back toward the mound, and no, I didn’t count it as a “snagged ball.” For scorekeeping purposes, it was a non-event.

Kirby and I walked a little farther along the warning track and entered the stands here:

8_view_from_corner_spot_06_11_13

Looking back on it, I should’ve headed straight to the left field bleachers. Given the fact that I could’ve gone anywhere (and that the entire stadium was empty except for a few dozen season ticket holders who’d gotten early access and were confined to a teeny section in straight-away right field), hanging out in foul territory was dumb. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I thought it’d look bad if I ran wild, and also, Target Field, gorgeous as it may be, is configured so badly for catching home runs that I figured it wasn’t worth it.

Several minutes later, I got a call from Twins TV reporter Jamie Hersch. She was planning to interview me live on FSN during the game and wanted to come say hey while things were relatively calm. I told her where to find me, and before long, I saw her heading my way from afar:

9_jamie_hersch_heading_my_way

In the photo above, did you notice all those little white specks against the dark background? Those were raindrops, which, thankfully, weren’t coming down hard enough to cancel batting practice.

Shortly after Jamie arrived, a reporter from the Pioneer Press named Chad Graff came and found me. In the following photo, which features my first ball of the day, you can see him and Jamie (and blurred-out Kirby):

10_ball6750_and_friends

When there was a quick break in the action, I took a pic of my VIP pass:

11_vip_guest_pass_06_11_13

My second ball was a slicer hit by Joe Mauer that trickled toward me in the corner spot. Little did I know that as I leaned over the wall and snagged it in the tip of my glove, a Pioneer Press photographer named John Autey was zooming in on me from afar. Check out this awesome shot that he got:

12_zack_reaching_for_ball6751

I moved several sections toward home plate when the Phillies took the field . . .

13_view_before_ball6752

. . . and got my third ball of the day thrown by John Mayberry Jr.

Then I got a good look at two of the Phillies’ gloves:

14_ball_and_glove_up_close

After the gates opened to the general public, I got my fourth ball tossed by a player (most likely a pitcher) that I couldn’t identify. Several minutes later, Joe Savery hooked me up with ball No. 5, which I promptly handed to a very little kid on my left.

Then I headed to the 2nd deck in left field. Jamie had taken off by that point, and John (the photographer) was now with me. Here’s a photo of him:

15_pioneer_press_photographer_john_autey

Did you notice the white specks on the grass in front of the batter’s eye? Those were baseballs. Here’s a better look at them:

16_balls_on_the_batters_eye_06_11_13

If I had longer string (and diplomatic immunity from stadium security), I could’ve used my glove trick to reel in most of them, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. I did, however, discover a ball hiding in an unusual spot after moving to the lower level in right field:

17_ball6756_in_flower_pot

Did you see the ball hiding in the flower pot? How’s that for random? But hang on. Before I made an attempt to snag it, I got another unidentifiable Phillies player to toss up a ball — my sixth of the day. Then I waved John over and pointed out the “garden ball” so that he’d be able to position himself for the best possible photo. Chad and Kirby were hanging out nearby, so I also pointed it out to them, and then I went for it. To my surprise, I was able to reach it with the tip of my glove, and in a word . . . eww! Have a look:

18_ball6756_closeup

The ball was waterlogged — it probably weighed eight ounces — and had a pungent earthy odor. Unsure of what to do with it or how to store it, I stuffed it into the mesh pouch on the outside of my backpack and turned my attention back to the field. That’s when I had a horrendous streak of bad luck. For starters, a line-drive homer sailed five feet over my head, barely missed the overhang, and landed in the concourse, ricocheting off the back wall. Naturally, I scampered after it and barely lost the race to another fan, and get this: during the five seconds that I was gone, another homer landed in my exact spot in the front row. I barely missed out on that one too as it rattled around the mostly-empty seats. And wait! There’s more! After that, three homers that would’ve been easy catches barely carried a bit too far and got swallowed up by the overhang of the 2nd deck. These balls were all heading right for me, and there wasn’t any competition, so it was maddening. TaRgEt FiElD iS, LiKe, sOoOoOo AnNoYiNg, OMG!!!

Toward the end of BP, I managed to snag a home run ball, but only because the fans nearby were totally out of it. This ball — my eighth overall — smacked off an empty seat in the 2nd row near a family of four. They never saw it coming, and they must not’ve realized what had caused the loud noise because they never stood up to look for it. They were so close to it (and I was so far away — roughly 40 feet) that I didn’t bother going for it at first, but when they didn’t react, I ran over and found the ball wedged between two seats. Very strange. And then I handed it to the youngest member of the family — a little boy who looked to be about eight years old.

BP ended at around 6:15pm, which meant I had 25 minutes before my pre-game interview on FSN, the Twins’ TV network. During that time, I met a fellow ballhawk named Tony Voda, said goodbye to Kirby, and debated whether to go get food (I was so hungry that my stomach hurt) or lurk near the bullpens. There were several balls scattered there, and Tony advised me to stick around. He said that Twins bullpen catcher Nate Dammann was likely to toss a few into the crowd — and he was right. After a little while, Dammann made his way out to the bullpen and started walking toward the balls:

19_nate_dammann_before_ball6758

I’m happy to report that Tony and I each got one. Here’s a photo of him:

20_tony_voda_06_11_13

Earlier in the day, I had posted this tweet to ask if anyone would be able to take photos during my TV interview. Tony kindly offered to do it (as did a woman named Kelly), so now that the time had arrived, we headed over together. Before I handed him my camera, I took a photo of the set:

21_waiting_at_the_fsn_set_06_11_13

The two TV guys pictured above are Roy Smalley and Dave Benz. Smalley, you may recall, interviewed me in 2010 about my involvement with Pitch In For Baseball; he’s the president of the charity’s board of directors, so he was glad to talk about it with me on the air again.

When it was time for me to head up onto the stage, Tony grabbed my camera and took a TON of photos (of which I’m only going to share two). Here I am getting set up . . .

22_zack_on_fsn_stage_06_11_13

. . . and here’s a shot that was taken while Dave was introducing me:

23_zack_being_introduced

After the interview, I caught up with a local ballhawk named Dave Forstad, who had brought his copy of The Baseball. Here we are:

24_zack_and_dave_with_the_baseball

Dave has snagged approximately 800 balls. Just before my trip to Target Field, he sent me a long email with lots of advice about the stadium. He’s a really good guy, and from the little bit that I saw of him during BP, it’s clear that he knows what he’s doing.

Then I got a photo with Kelly . . .

25_kelly and_zack_06_11_13

. . . who was one of the charity prize winners last season.

I had to run after that — game time was 10 minutes away, and I *had* to get something to eat — so I told Kelly, Dave, and Tony to find me after the game at the Phillies’ dugout. (Everything is always rushed when I’m at a major league stadium.) I got pepperoni pizza with two minutes to spare, so I ran with it through the concourse and barely made it down to my seat for the start of the game. This was my view:

26_second_pitch_of_the_game_06_11_13

Because Cole Hamels (Booo!!) was pitching for the Phillies, I’d decided to work the home-plate end of the dugout. I figured he’d strike out lots of batters and that I’d have lots of chances. As it turned out, though, my first opportunity came from a ball that was put in play. Josh Willingham flied out to end the 1st inning; John Mayberry Jr. made the catch in right field, and since I was clearly sitting at the wrong end of the dugout, I darted up the steps and ran one section over and then headed a few rows back down. Mayberry spotted me deep in the crowd and lobbed the ball right to me. It was perfect. It sailed over everyone down in front, and I reached up for an easy catch, raising $500 for Pitch In For Baseball in the process. Here I am with the ball (after having changed into my BIGS gear):

27_zack_with_ball6759

(By the way, why is okay for fans to have sanctioned dance-offs on the dugout roofs between innings, but if fans dare to sit there after the game for quick photos, stadium security goes ballistic? Hmm? Anyone?)

Several people recognized me and congratulated me, including the nearest usher, who was super-cool about it. He told me that he’d let me run up and around and back down into the seats because of the charity, and I realized that he must’ve heard about it from Kirby. While I’d been busy working the Phillies for pre-game toss-ups, I noticed that Kirby was talking to the ushers. At the time, I didn’t think they were talking about me — I really didn’t think much about it at all — but damn, he must’ve put in a good word. (Kirby, I know you read this blog, so thanks for doing that, and thanks for everything. You’ve made Target Field [and baseball in general] so much more fun, and I seriously owe you for it. I just wish we could have a conversation sometime that lasts more than two minutes and isn’t constantly being interrupted by my zealous pursuit of baseballs.)

After snagging that gamer, which, by the way, was my 300th ball overall this season, I thought about heading to the outfield, but I stayed put, and here’s why:

1) The odds of catching a home run ball seemed rather slim.
2) I thought I had a good chance to snag another 3rd-out ball.
3) Lots more people recognized me, and I was schmoozing it up.
4) Jamie Hersch was planning to find me for a follow-up interview.
5) Chad Graff was also planning to come find me.
6) I was loving the view.

Let’s revisit No. 2 on that list for a moment, shall we? The 3rd inning ended with a Joe Mauer groundout to Phillies 2nd baseman Freddy Galvis. Ryan Howard caught Galvis’s throw at 1st base, and on his way back to the dugout, he tossed me the ball. Here’s a photo of me with it (while I was still wearing Phillies gear) that Tony took from the adjacent section:

28_zack_with_ball6760

Getting that ball was so easy that I was a bit embarrassed, but the fans around me were loving it. Word must’ve spread about me and the whole charity thing because half the people in my section were now coming up to me and shaking my hand and congratulating me and asking me stuff like, “How do you DO it?” and “What do you think of Target Field?” and “What’s the next stadium you’re visiting?” and so on. Like I said, it was embarrassing. I wasn’t really doing anything special other than wearing the right clothing and being in the right section, but I suppose that’s more strategy than most people even consider.

After snagging that ball, I decided to take a few photos of my surroundings. Here’s what it looked like on my right:

29_fans_on_my_right_06_11_13

As you can see, there weren’t any kids except for that one little guy with the awesome hair and white t-shirt. No one was shouting at me to give it to him. It wasn’t like that at all. Like I said, everyone seemed to be getting a real kick out of what I was doing, but I still thought it’d be nice to hook him up, so I handed him one of my BP balls. He and his mother were so appreciative that she later asked if she could take a photo of him with me. I gladly obliged, then asked if she’d send it to me, and got her permission to post it on my blog, so here you go:

30_zack_and_jasiah

The kid’s name is Jasiah, he’s seven years old, and he plays shortstop. His mother’s name is Tanaya, and she sent THE nicest email to me later that night. It’s pretty neat to make new friends by doing something as simple as giving away a baseball.

I ended up snagging another 3rd-out ball after the 5th inning — a Joe Mauer strikeout that was tossed to me by Phillies catcher Humberto Quintero. (Quintero is now the sixth player on my thrown balls list whose last name begins with a kue. The others are Chad Qualls, Paul Quantrill, Ruben Quevedo, Robb Quinlan, and Omar Quintanilla. Aren’t you glad to know that?) A minute later, I gave another ball to a different kid (who was sitting in the last row), so you can imagine how much the entire section was buzzing. Several people asked to take photos of/with me. Here’s one . . .

31_zack_and_fans_06_11_13

. . . and here’s another:

32_zack_with_usher_and_fan_06_11_13

(The usher pictured above was pretending to beg me for a baseball.)

All of these photos were sent to me by the folks whose cameras/phones they were taken with. I swear I wasn’t seeking all of this attention, but at the same time, I wasn’t going to hide from it. I mean, the attention is good because it proves that the BIGS Baseball Adventure has really taken off. More attention for BIGS Sunflower Seeds. More attention for Pitch In For Baseball. Everyone wins.

Guess who got the 3rd-out ball after the 6th inning? No, not me. It was Tony. He was in the fancy-schmancy club section directly behind home plate, and I took the following photo of him from above:

33_tony_voda_with_gamer_from_above

While all of this was happening, Chad was texting me interview questions, and Jamie was working out a plan for when and where to meet and do the interview. In the top of the 7th inning, she called (while I happened to be in the bathroom — never a dull moment) and said her producers wanted us to do it in the top of the 8th. She asked me where I wanted to meet, and I suggested the standing-room area in deep right field. It would’ve been fun to do it near all my new friends behind the dugout, but I had visions of catching a home run during the interview. How epic would THAT have been?

I told her to meet me near the American flag, and in the bottom of the 7th, I found her there. She’s the one wearing red pants in the following photo:

34_jamie_hersch_waiting_for_me_by_the_flagpole

As planned, the interview began in the top of the 8th, but unfortunately it ended up being VERY brief. Kevin Frandsen singled on the second pitch of the inning, and that was it. The producers told Jamie to wrap it up — she could hear them in her earpiece — so she could send it back to the booth. Why? Because the leadoff man was on. The Phillies had something going. The game was more important than me. What an outrage! But you know what? I was okay with it because in the brief time that I was on the air, I managed to mention Pitch In For Baseball *and* BIGS Sunflower Seeds. Go me.

Before Jamie took off, we got a photo together (in which I was holding my three gamers):

35_jamie_hersch_and_zack_with_three_gamers

By the time Chad came and found me in the bottom of the 8th, it had gotten dark. (Three pitching changes will do that.) Here we are:

36_zack_and_pioneer_press_reporter_chad_graff

With the Twins clinging to a 3-2 lead, I headed back to my seat in the top of the 9th. This was my view:

37_view_in_9th_inning_06_11_13

Soon after the final out, I took the following photo, which shows two important things:

38_jamie_hersch_interviewing_jamey_caroll_on_the_jumbotron

First, if you look at the Jumbotron, you can see Jamie Hersch interviewing Jamey Carroll, who had scored the winning run. Also, if you look at the field, you can see several Phillies walking toward me from the bullpen. Less than a minute later, Jesus Tiamo, the team’s bullpen catcher, tossed me my 13th and final ball of the day.

Tony and I finally got a photo together:

39_zack_and_tony_voda

He ended up snagging eight balls, and as you can see, he stores them in little plastic bags. Here’s his profile on MyGameBalls.com, and while you’re at it, check out his blog, especially the entertaining entry that he wrote about this game.

I also caught up with Dave and Kelly and met some other folks who recognized me.

I lingered in the stadium for such a long time that the lights were dimmed, and the grounds crew started pulling out the tarp:

40_tarp_on_field_06_11_13

I also caught the tail end of the FSN post-game show . . .

41_fsn_postgame_show_wrapping_up

. . . and eventually got a photo with Roy and Dave when they wrapped up:

42_zack_with_dave_benz_and_roy_smalley

Here are a few more random photos for you, starting with my post-game journey on the Light Rail:

43_light_rail_after_the_game

Did you notice the man’s t-shirt on the far left?

Wow.

Here’s the stack of tiramisu pancakes that I ate at IHOP before heading to my hotel room:

44_tiramisu_pancakes_at_ihop

Did you hear me? TIRAMISU PANCAKES!!!

Another wow.

Here’s what I did with the ball that I’d snagged from the flower pot:

45_ball6756_being_dried_off

When I took that photo, the hair dryer was on full blast. I left it there for about 10 minutes, rotating the ball every so often. That kinda did the trick; it dried out fast, but still smells like a compost heap.

Finally, check out Chad’s article about me in the Pioneer Press:

46_zack_in_pioneer_press

If you want to read the rest of the article, click here, and if you want to see the online version, click here.

Phew! What a day.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

47_the_nine_balls_i_kept_06_11_13• 13 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave four away)

• 303 balls in 39 games this season = 7.77 balls per game.

• 45 balls in 5 lifetime games at Target Field = 9 balls per game.

• 911 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 436 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 21 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, Rogers Centre, Miller Park, Busch Stadium, Wrigley Field, and Target Field

• 6,762 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.)

pitch_in_for_baseball• 28 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.83 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $23.79 raised at this game

• $554.49 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $10,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $32,460.49 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/7/13 at Wrigley Field

This was my 20th major league stadium of the season, and I snagged two baseballs before I even stepped inside. The first one . . .

1_ball6741_outside_wrigley_field

. . . was thrown over the right field bleachers onto Sheffield Avenue by a Cubs player — not sure who.

Before I caught the next one, I got a photo with Erik Jabs — a ballhawk with more than 2,000 lifetime balls — who had made the eight-hour drive from Pittsburgh. Here we are:

2_erik_jabs_and_zack_06_07_13

I had no idea that he was going to be there, so it was quite a surprise.

The unidentified Cubs player ended up chucking three more balls onto Sheffield Avenue — or at least he tried. The first one was snatched in a mad scramble by another ballhawk named Matt. Erik, leaping high above the competition, caught the second, and the third never reached the street. It landed in the walkway at the back of the bleachers, and everyone else gave up on it. A minute later, I noticed an employee up there and got him to toss it down. Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds was with me and took the following photo just before I reached up for the catch:

3_zack_about_to_catch_ball6742

Here are the two baseballs that I’d gotten:

4_balls6741_and_6742

A few minutes past 11am (game time was 1:20pm), I headed over to the bleacher entrance. Just before it opened, this was the line behind me:

5_bleacher_line_behind_me

Wrigley Field is officially a pain in the ass, but it’s also beautiful. This was my view from right-center field . . .

6_view_from_right_center_field

. . . and here’s what the bleachers looked like on my right:

7_wrigley_field_bleachers_06_07_13

Gorgeous.

But did I mention that it’s a pain in the ass? The biggest nuisance is that the bleachers are separated-ish from the rest of the stadium. Basically, if you have a ticket anywhere in foul territory, you can’t enter the bleachers, but if you have a bleacher ticket, you *can* go into foul territory. (It used to be that you needed a special type of bleacher ticket; now, any bleacher ticket will do.) That said, bleacher tickets aren’t cheap. At the box office, they cost $43.68 (including tax), and on StubHub, they were going for more than $50. Sorry, but no one should have to pay that much for the privilege of seeing a stadium — not even Wrigley effin’ Field — from every angle. (Of course, tickets in straight-away left and right field at Yankee Stadium have a $90 face value, but let’s not go there. Literally.)

My 3rd ball of the day was tossed by Cubs pitcher Blake Parker, and after the Pirates took the field, my 4th was thrown by Mark Melancon. I got both of these balls in right field.

Toward the end of BP, I headed to left field. Here’s a photo of me, taken from afar by Neal who was trapped in foul territory:

8_zack_in_left_field_06_07_13

Did you see me? In the photo above, I’m wearing yellow and standing in the very center.

Five minutes later, Erik robbed me of a homer, and I wasn’t too happy about it. Mainly, I was frustrated because I hadn’t snagged a batted ball since Monday’s game in Milwaukee, and I didn’t catch ONE homer on the fly on this entire trip. Getting toss-ups and using the glove trick is fine-n-dandy, but it gets old after a while when those are the only balls I’m snagging.

After BP, I got my 5th ball of the day tossed by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle at the 1st base dugout.

Then I went to this concession stand . . .

9_wrigley_field_concession_stand

. . . and got a terrible slice of pepperoni pizza, along with THE absolute worst “cheeseburger” in the 13.8-billion-year history of the universe. Have a look at this loathsome excuse for a meal:

10_worst_cheeseburger_of_all_time

The bun was stale, the burger was dry and overcooked (not to mention awfully thin), and the cheese wasn’t even melted. It was truly inedible, and so, as a punishment to the Cubs for charging $6.50 for this vomitous crap, I hereby encourage everyone to avoid spending any money on concessions at this stadium. Eat a big meal beforehand, smuggle in a protein bar, and go out for a bite afterward. TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE. I’m not sure which stadium has the best food, but Wrigley Field is by far the worst. The worst cafeteria burger that I ever ate in my life (circa 1991 at Friends Seminary) was much better than this. Shameful. I’m not kidding. I’m still angry about that burger as I sit here writing about it three days later.

After the national anthem, I caught up with a Pirates TV reporter named Dan Potash:

11_dan_potash_thumbs_up

Last year, Dan mentioned me on the air after I caught this Garrett Jones homer on 9/25/12 at Citi Field. Recently, he and I discussed doing a longer, follow-up interview, and since the Pirates were here at Wrigley, we decided to go for it. His producer wanted us to do it at the start of the 2nd inning, just to the right of the Pirates’ dugout where Dan would be spending most of the game.

This was my view in the top of the 1st . . .

12_view_during_1st_inning_06_07_13

. . . and as you can see in the following photo, Dan was sitting nearby on my right:

13_dan_potash_on_my_right

As soon as I failed to snag the 3rd-out ball that ended the 1st inning, I headed over to the fancy little media area where Dan was sitting. (He had told the ushers about the interview so I wouldn’t get hassled.) Neal, meanwhile, was chillin’ in the upper deck, and as the top of the 2nd got underway, he took the following photo of us:

14_zack_during_interview_from_afar

The interview was in progress at that point. Here’s a screen shot from the telecast:

14b_zack_being_interviewed_by_dan_potash_06_07_13

The interview lasted about two minutes, and if you want to watch it, click here.

By the way, my baseball total in the graphic above was wrong. When this trip started, I had 6,718 balls, but by the time I was live on the air here in Chicago, my grand total had reached 6,745. Also, did you notice the old guy sitting behind me in the light green sweater? HA!! I didn’t notice him at the time, but it seems that he got annoyed at me for blocking his view, and he ultimately stormed off. Normally I make a big effort *not* to block people’s views. For example, if I’m walking down a staircase when a pitch is about to be thrown, I’ll stop and crouch down until the pitch/play is over. (I’ve hardly ever seen anyone else do that.) But in this case, I have three words for the old guy: GET OVER IT. I wasn’t being one of those annoying fans, who stands for no reason. I was being interviewed on live TV. And did you notice all the empty seats in that section? Take another look at Neal’s photo from the upper deck. All the guy had to do was stand for a couple minutes (think of it as the 2nd-inning stretch) or move back a few rows. Jeez. Some people are cranky. Dan had actually apologized ahead of time to the folks sitting behind us. He told them that we’d only be in their way for a minute or two, but the old guy must not have heard.

After the interview, Dan and I sat down, and I was allowed to stay there until the 3rd out. It was nice to be so close to the action and get photos like this . . .

15_view_from_fancy_media_area

. . . but it really wasn’t much better than the spot where I’d been sitting behind the dugout.

Ryan Sweeney ended the 2nd inning with a routine fly-out to center fielder Andrew McCutchen. The ball was then tossed around among several Pirates as they jogged off the field; Neil Walker ended up with it and flipped it to me on his way in.

BAM!!

16_ball6746

Just like that, I had raised an additional $500 for Pitch In For Baseball, and as for my season-long quest to snag a game-used ball at every stadium, I’m now 20-for-20.

I gave two baseballs (from BP) to a pair of little kids sitting near me and then took off for the bleachers. I couldn’t get there from the right-field corner because of a private event in that area of the stadium, so I headed all the way around the concourse to the left field corner. Here’s what it looked like:

17_path_to_bleachers_06_07_13

In the photo above, the staircase leads up to the regular seats along the right-field foul line; the walkway on the left leads to the area behind the bleachers. I had to present my bleacher ticket there to get it scanned, and then I headed up the nearest staircase. This was my view of the field from the stairs . . .

18_view_behind_foul_pole_06_07_13

. . . and this was the scene behind me on Waveland Avenue:

19_waveland_avenue_from_staircase

I decided to hang out at the back of the bleachers:

20_view_from_back_of_bleachers_06_07_13

This was the view to my right . . .

21_view_to_my_right_06_07_13

. . . and to the left:

22_view_to_my_left_06_07_13

In the photo above, did you notice the flags atop the scoreboard in center field? The wind was blowing in HARD, and because of that, most of the regular Waveland Avenue ballhawks stayed home. One of the few guys who still showed up, of course, was Dave Davison. He’s standing on the corner in the following photo:

23_dave_davison_on_waveland_avenue_06_07_13

Did you notice the red cooler? It’s positioned just to the right of the dude sitting in the chair. Check out the sign above it:

24_water_for_sale_06_07_13

In case you can’t tell, it says:

WATER
Cubs fans $1
Pirates fans $2
White Sox fans $3

It appears that the “$3″ is crossed out and that the words “stay thirsty” are written underneath. Good stuff.

By the middle of the 6th inning, the Pirates were winning, 1-0, and it was clear that there weren’t going to be (m)any longballs, so I went back to the main part of the stadium. As I headed to the upper deck, I took a photo from the very back of the “field level” seats. Check out this wonky setup:

25_view_from_back_of_the_field_level_seats_06_07_13

The photo above is a bit too dark, and the one below is too bright, but it’ll give you an idea of what it looks like:

26_back_of_field_level_seats_from_above

Weird, huh? Lots of old stadiums used to look like that, but nowadays this type of design is unheard of.

It was really cold in the shade, and I stupidly hadn’t packed anything with long sleeves, but nevertheless, I stayed in the upper deck for the next hour. This was my view:

27_view_from_second_deck_06_07_13

In the photo above, do you see the tiny area of shade on the right side, all the way out near the foul pole? Here’s a closer look at it:

28_fans_avoiding_the_shade

I’m telling you, it was COLD.

I came close to a foul ball in the 8th inning, but there wasn’t much action, and in the middle of the 9th, I headed back down to the Pirates’ dugout. This was my view just after I snagged my 7th ball of the day:

29_view_after_ball6747

In the photo above, do you see the helmet poking out of the dugout, just below home plate? That was Rick Sofield, the team’s first base coach, and I’d gotten there just in time to get him to toss me the infield warm-up ball.

Speaking of warming up, it felt sooooo much better in the sun. Sitting in the windy/shady upper deck, it felt like the temperature was in the upper 40s; down by the dugout, it felt like the low 70s.

The seagulls were also catching some rays:

30_birds_in_the_outfield_06_07_13

The Pirates ended up winning, 2-0, and sure enough, there was a grand total of ZERO home runs. Unlucky pitchers (i.e. Cubs starter Travis Wood, who gave up one run in this game and lost) get lousy run support, and I have the ballhawk equivalent: lousy “home run support.” I’d love to know how many games there’ve been in the history of Citi Field with six or more home runs. I’d bet that Camden Yards and Great American Ball Park each typically have the same number of six-homer games per season. Go ahead. Look into it. I dare ya. Sure, there are lots of homers in the Bronx, but it’s not so easy to catch them when you’re handcuffed to your seat.

You want me to stop complaining?
Okay, I’ll stop complaining . . . for now.

Here’s a photo that I took as the Pirates walked off the field:

31_pirates_walking_off_the_field_after_winning

By that point, I’d already gotten my 8th ball from home plate umpire Jordan Baker. (I was tempted to scream at him for throwing huge wads of gum all over the outfield, but I went for the ball instead. Priorities.)

Moments later, I got another ball tossed up by the equipment manager.

Dan Potash was standing nearby, interviewing Jordy Mercer . . .

32_dan_potash_interviewing_jordy_mercer

. . . and when he finished, we said goodbye. He’s a really good guy. Some TV people have lots of attitude, but he was totally genuine and positive and friendly.

I took one final photo outside the stadium . . .

33_fans_outside_wrigley_06_07_13

. . . and then headed to the airport.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

34_the_seven_balls_i_kept_06_07_13• 9 balls at this game (seven pictured above because I gave two away)

• 290 balls in 38 games this season = 7.63 balls per game.

• 47 balls in 7 lifetime games at Busch Stadium = 6.71 balls per game.

• 910 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 435 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 20 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, Rogers Centre, Miller Park, Busch Stadium, and Wrigley Field

• 6,749 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.)

• 28 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.83 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.47 raised at this game

• $530.70 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $10,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $31,936.70 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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