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:

1_hayley_zack_outside_citi_field

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:

2_crowd_waiting_to_enter_06_28_13

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

3_mets_not_hitting_nationals_throwing

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:

8_ball6791_closeup

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 . . .

10_kids_photographed_by_hayley

. . . and this:

11_sky_photographed_by_hayley

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

12_zack_standing_around_06_28_13

. . . 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:

17_zack_in_homer_spot_for_righties

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

18_view_from_3rd_base_dugout_06_28_13

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

30 Comments

Zack, first, congrats on the new girlfriend (I am curious to know what happened to Jona). Second, are you planning on going to All Star Sunday at Citi Field?

Jona?! Dude, that was so 2011. (Actually, Jona and I were happily in touch until she recently decided to be pissed off.) I had a girlfriend named Robin last year, and now it’s the Hayley era. As for All-Star Sunday, I doubt it. I really don’t have time for softball or minor league baseball.

Regarding the comment above…
Zack, I know we’ve disagreed about this in the past, but I absolutely think the futures game should count as a game for ballhawking. Yeah, they are minor league players but It’s a MAJOR league baseball event at a MAJOR league park and the commemorative baseballs are stamped “*Official* Major League Baseball”. Your thoughts?

Yeah, well, when the Tigers used Triple-A balls during BP for a couple of years, I counted those. To me, it’s more about the players and the circumstance than what happens to be stamped on the balls.

Oh. Robin. (damn my memory). As for the All-star Saturday, that’s too bad, I’m there covering the Futures game for Prospects2pros, so I thought it would be something, although I am planning on going to see Mets-Royals in August.

You are forgiven. Not sure if I’ll make it to that Friday night Royals game. That’s the day I’ll be flying back from Atlanta.

I’ll let you know. Having never seen a day game at Citi Field, 8/4 seems to be a real possibility. Plus, it’s a week before my birthday, so I might call it the annual birthday game.

Sounds good.

You should totally grow a matching rat-tail, Z!

Hey Zack , i know this might be outta topic for this post, but remember when last time you visited Minute Maid Park in on a Saturday in May , The astros website said that the gates opened 2 hrs. before each Saturday game , but it ended up being wrong, and it was only 1 hr & 1/2 ? Well just about two weeks ago, the astros announced that EVERY DAY for the rest of the season, the gates will now be open 2 hrs. before gametime . Damn, that 1/2 would have made a difference last time for you . just thought i had to let you know . -angel .

COOK & SON BATS-
I’m trying to match by getting Hayley to shave her head, or at least part of it.

ANGEL-
Yes, I remember, and UGH, are you serious?! To bad I missed it. Did they say why? Are they trying to be more fan-friendly because the team sucks so much? That’s what the Mets did in 1994 after losing 103 games in 1993. Gate times went from 1.5 hours (in 1993) to 2.5 hours (in 1994). It stayed that way through 2010, and then the cheap-ass Mets cut it back to 2 hours in 2011 to save a few bucks.

Nice entry. I really like Hayley’s input.

Thanks. Hayley really likes you.

…congrats on the NEW babe!!! Me & Jill just hit 23 YEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks. That’s a long damn time. I would love to see a pic of you two when you first started dating. Make it happen! Email it to me.

Hey Zack, I am currently in the process of reading all of your old posts(right now I am at July, 2008). I am going to the Nationals/Brewers game Tues. in DC, does the whole stadium open up 2 1/2 hours before the game only part of it?

Enter the center field gate 2.5 hours early; you’re then stuck in fair territory at the start, which of course is the best place to be anyway.

Hey Zack on Sunday At the mets game the Mets pitched there bullpen catcher so I was wondering are you aloud to do that?

Anthony Recker isn’t a “bullpen catcher.” That’s Dave Racaniello’s job. Recker is the team’s backup catcher. He’s a major league player on the active roster, so yes, he’s allowed to play any position.

Dude, what happened to Jonah?

Read the second comment here.

Yes, poor Matt Harvey. The Mets’ FO has promised us two years in a row that they “fixed the BP”. Hilarious. Welcome, Hayley! She is adorable. Did I miss the backstory on how you two met? I will cool it on my fantasy of you and Eri Yoshida dating in deference to the developing relationship. Rocco, my husband and I are together 23 years, too! Wootwoot!

No way you are going to sit behind me at a baseball game after that admission. Is there still room for Heath in this relationship ? Ha Ha. My Heath Bell Diamondbacks jersey arrived today. Ready for 2014 !! .,

Hey Zack, any idea yet of when you’ll be in Atlanta?

…NICE LIZ!!!

Zach, what is the significance of the invisible ink stamps? I thought “special” balls are serial numbered when a milestone event is possible to authenticate the ball.

LIZ MERRY-
The backstory? Some things are better left unsaid. Heh. Congrats on the 23 years. Awesome!

RAY BURTON-
Ha, probably just as well. I’m looking forward to seeing your jersey. I hope Heath is still with the team next year.

MATT-
July 31st and August 1st.

PADDY-
Click the words “invisible ink stamps” above the black light photo. :-)

New woman friend, congrats! I wanted to get to a Arizona game at Citi this week, thanks for that tweet last night. Maybe tomorrow night’s game. I assume you’ll be there due to Heath.
– Chris

http://ballhawker.wordpress.com/

HAPPY PIRATES FAN-
Ha! Good stuff.

CHRIS-
Thanks! Have fun at tonight’s game.

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