July 2013

7/30/13 at Tropicana Field

The paid attendance was only 17,402, but the pre-game crowd was huge. Here’s a photo that doesn’t even begin to capture the mass of humanity waiting to enter Tropicana Field:

1_crowd_outside_tropicana_field_07_30_13

Why were there so many people on a Tuesday? Because kids are out of school? Because the Rays recently moved into first place, and this was their first home game after the All-Star break? Because everyone else wanted to see Heath Bell too?

While waiting to enter, I saw a familiar face:

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In the photo above, the guy on the left is a fellow ballhawk named Michael. We first met in 2008 at Champion Stadium, and we saw each other most recently on 5/22/12 at Marlins Park. He knew I was going to be at the Trop, so he brought a weird baseball to show me. Check it out:

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Have you ever seen anything like that?! Michael said he snagged it during batting practice earlier this season, and he made a good point: the double-logo can’t be the result of another ball hitting it because then there’d be a mirror image. Somehow, this fantastic defect must have occurred during the stamping process at the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica.

Here’s another shot of the crowd waiting to enter:

4_crowd_outside_tropicana_field_07_30_13

As you can see in the photo above, the lines went all the way back past the bag check area and into the parking lot. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the lines were longer here (for a regular-season weeknight game) than at Citi Field for the Home Run Derby. I don’t get it, but hey, good for the Rays.

When the stadium opened, I sprinted to the left field seats, and for about 30 seconds, I had the place to myself:

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During that brief window of time, I got J. J. Putz to throw me a ball.

A little while later, this was the view to my left:

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In the photo above, do you see the guy crouching in the front row? That’s a friend of mine named Andy — more on him in a bit.

Ten minutes into BP, I got a ball tossed by Brad Ziegler (which I handed to the nearest kid), and soon after that, I got another toss-up from Brandon McCarthy.

At 6:05pm, I was stunned/pissed to see the Diamondbacks jogging off the field. Because the stadium hadn’t opened until 5:40, I’d only gotten twenty-five minutes of BP, but even worse was the fact that I missed my chance to say hello to Heath Bell at the dugout. I still headed over there (because there wasn’t anything else to do) and ended up getting a very scuffed/dirty baseball:

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In the photo above, do you see the kid in the gray cap on the right? He’s the one who tossed it to me, and yes, I decided to count it in my collection. I asked him if he was connected to the Diamondbacks in any way, and he told me that his father works for the team. I resisted the urge to ask who his father is, but later on I saw him sitting next to Derrick Hall in the front row behind the dugout. Pretty cool.

A few minutes later, Andy found me behind the dugout. Here I am with him and his almost-two-year-old daughter named Eve:

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I spent the next half-hour with Andy, Eve, and Michael . . . and Michael’s father Paul — a great bunch of folks. I feel lucky to have gotten to know so many nice people in various baseball cities.

My plan for the game was simple. For left-handed batters, I stood in a tunnel here:

9_view_for_first_batter_of_the_game_07_30_13

For righties, I moved here . . .

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. . . and when there were two outs in the bottom half of each inning, I hung out here:

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I figured that between all the foul balls and 3rd-out balls, I’d have no trouble snagging a gamer and raising an additional $500 for Pitch In For Baseball. (As you might already know, BIGS Sunflower Seeds is going to donate $500 to that charity for every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball.)

Here’s something random for you . . .

Do you remember when I injured my leg on 7/24/13 at Citi Field? Okay, fine, “injured” might be too strong of a word, but anyway, here’s what it looked like at Tropicana Field one week later:

12_bruise_from_last_week_at_citi_field

Running full-speed into metal armrests isn’t fun.

Early in the game, in between batters, I heard some thunder that was so loud and perfect that I wondered if it was a stadium sound effect. Then I heard it again during an at-bat and realized that there was, indeed, a powerful storm in the area. In the bottom of the 2nd inning, the lights flickered and then dimmed slightly, and I knew right away that the game was going to be delayed. The only question was . . . how long would it last?

Here’s a photo that shows the umpires huddling and the Diamondbacks walking off the field:

13_players_walking_off_the_field_when_the_lights_dimmed

Like I said, the lights were slightly dim — probably about 10 percent dimmer than normal, if you want to quantify it — but that was enough to mess everything up. I didn’t mind, and in fact I was glad. It gave me some time to hang out with my friend Linda (whom I know from the world of competitive Scrabble) along the left field foul line. Here we are:

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Meanwhile, the lights were all screwy:

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After a 20-minute delay, the Diamondbacks took the field, and Heath Bell stopped to sign autographs on the way to the bullpen:

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He’s the best.

I said a quick hello as he walked past, and we made a plan to meet near the dugout after the final out.

The game was a disaster. I only came close to one foul ball and eventually got scolded by stadium security for standing in the tunnel on the 1st-base side. So what did I do? I moved to the tunnel on the 3rd-base side, but they found me there and threatened to eject me if I didn’t go to my seat. Meanwhile, the 3rd-out balls simply weren’t happening. There were a zillion kids, and the Diamondbacks were unpredictable, and I was constantly out of position. I was so sure that I wasn’t going to snag a gamer that I pulled up the Rays schedule on my phone and figured out when I’d be able to come back: August 27th and 28th for the Angels.Of course, I didn’t want to come back. I wanted to snag a gamer and be done with this cruddy stadium, but my opportunities were dwindling. By the 8th inning, I knew I only had one more shot. I *had* to get the 3rd-out ball, and I was stressing bigtime. Long story short: after jockeying for position and boldly predicting that the inning would end with a strikeout . . . it happened! Chaz Roe struck out James Loney, and D’backs catcher Wil Nieves tossed me the ball over several rows of fans. Some guy in front of me reached up for it and barely missed it by two inches, enabling me to make the catch. I was SO relieved. You really have no idea, but the following photo might give you an indication:

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The Rays ended up winning, 5-2, behind a 102-pitch, complete-game effort by “Fausberto,” as Andy calls him.

I hurried down to the seats beside the dugout and got a fist-bump from Didi Gregorius, who walked past to greet some other fans. As he was posing for a photo with them, Heath and two other relievers headed in from the bullpen:

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Heath went inside briefly, but then came back out to chat. Here’s a photo of us (which was taken by Andy):

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Our conversation didn’t last long. Mainly, I wanted to let him know that I’ll be at Chase Field on August 12th and 13th, speaking of which . . . I now have three more stadium visits planned. I’ll be at Dodger Stadium on August 9th and 11th (and maybe also on the 10th, which is a Saturday afternoon Hideo Nomo Bobblehead giveaway, so I’m tempted to skip it and relax). Then I’ll be heading to Chase Field, and after that, I’ll be in Oakland for two games on August 14th and 15th. Given my challenge from the folks at BIGS to snag a gamer at each stadium, it’s much better when I can be at a place for more than one day. Many thanks to BIGS for making all of this happen. Visiting these stadiums never gets old, and even though I sometimes complain, I’m constantly grateful.

Before exiting Tropicana Field (with a different bunch of guards nagging me about “the bowl” being closed [which I interpreted as "the toilet bowl"]), I threw on my BIGS shirt and switched caps for one final photo with The Ball:

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Goodbye, Florida. I won’t miss you.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

21_the_four_balls_i_kept_07_30_13• 5 balls at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 406 balls in 54 games this season = 7.52 balls per game.

• 29 balls at 4 lifetime games at Tropicana Field = 7.25 balls per game.

• 926 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 451 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 24 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, Nationals Park, Marlins Park, and Tropicana Field

• 6,865 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, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 33 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.06 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $15.30 raised at this game

• $1,242.36 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $12,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $34,648.36 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/29/13 at Marlins Park

Let me start by saying that I had a good time — but I also want to state, for the record, that Marlins Park is VERY annoying. If I lived in Miami and had to attend games here regularly, I would seriously lose my mind.

Anyway, I arrived at the stadium several minutes before 5pm . . .

1_outside_marlins_park_07_29_13

. . . which was cutting it close. Sort of. Remember the club in left field where I hung out last season? It’s called the Clevelander, and sometimes, if the people in charge were in a good mood, it used to open at 5pm — half an hour before the regular gates. Fast-forward to 2013. The Clevelander no longer opens early. Ever. But I knew someone with connections who claimed to be able to get me in.

Early access or not, I still wanted to get a Clevelander ticket for the game itself, but because there was gonna be some sort of charity auction taking place (with free food and other perks), tickets cost more than $100. Therefore, when I arrived, all I could do was look inside . . .

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. . . and wait.

It wasn’t long before I saw a familiar face:

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In the photo above, I’m attempting to stand tall beside Erik Jabs, a talented ballhawk from Pittsburgh (who’s 6-foot-4). He goes to a ton of games, and we seem to run into each other in random places every season. I didn’t see him on 5/8/13 at PNC Park, but we crossed paths on 6/7/13 at Wrigley Field. Go figure.

While Erik and I were chatting, I was recognized by this young man:

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His name is Andrew, and he described me to his family so quickly and excitedly that one of the grown-ups mistook me for a player.

Then I ran into these guys:

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From left to right in the photo above, you’re looking at Carol, Joe, me, Drew, and Stacy. (Did you notice Drew’s shirt? Aww yeeeah.)

Joe and Drew have been attending Marlins games for years, and they seem to know everyone. They often use their connections to get inside the Clevelander early, and in this case, since I was only here for one day (and since we’re good friends), they took me inside with them. I offered to stay out of their way, but they insisted that I try to snag a ball or two.

We didn’t get inside until 5:15pm, and when I asked Drew if he wanted to run ahead of me, he shook his head and extended his arm as if to say, “After you.” As a result, I was the first (among our little group of five) to make it down to the front row, and look what I found:

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In case you can’t tell from the photo above, it was a Marlins Park commemorative ball from last year!

Moments later, I heard the unmistakable sound of a baseball landing on pavement — and then I noticed that a ball was bouncing down the stairs toward me. (WTF?) It must have landed on the canopy up above and plopped down, and guess what? It was another commemorative ball. Check it out:

7_balls6850_and_6851

(That’s another annoying thing about Marlins Park. The one good place for BP happens to be a club which is tough to get into, and there are now canopies that cover most of it during BP. Balls that land on the canopies drop down into the first two rows, but it’s not fun.)

Even though I’d snagged a few of these commemorative balls last year (including the first Rockies home run ever hit at Marlins Park), I was excited to have a couple more.

Drew and Joe were all smiles . . .

8_drew_gregg_and_joe_scherer_clevelander

. . . and why not? They’re practically the kings of that stadium.

I quickly photographed one of the charity brochures . . .

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. . . and then got a shot of the entire Clevelander seating area:

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Several minutes later, as the Marlins started running off the field, Chad Qualls tossed Stacy a ball that landed on a canopy and plopped down near me in the 2nd row. Even though it had a commemorative logo, I felt that she deserved it, so I picked it up and handed it to her. (That was my third ball of the day.) She had also grabbed a ball on her way in, and I think Joe had gotten one too. It was *very* kind of them to bring me inside with them because it was a small space with a limited number of opportunities, so they willingly sacrificed a few baseballs. If you visit Marlins Park, say hi to these guys if you see them, but don’t ask them to get you in early. I’ve known them for years, and Joe actually knew about me before we ever met, so that’s why they hooked me up. (By the way, Joe is the guy who caught Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run on 6/9/08 at Dolphin Stadium. I didn’t know him them, but met him soon after.)

At 5:29pm, the five of us exited the Clevelander and got on the regular line at one of the regular gates:

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When the stadium opened for real, I headed to the right field foul line . . .

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. . . which turned out to be totally dead, so I headed to right-center:

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That was dead too, so I ran to the left field corner . . .

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. . . and managed to get a toss-up from Mets coach Tom Goodwin. (He’s great about tossing balls into the crowd, so keep that in mind if you see the Mets.)

Twenty minutes later, I was back in the right field corner . . .

15_mets_pitchers_walking

. . . and got Josh Edgin to throw me a ball — my fifth of the day. (Quick shout-out to a ballhawk named Clark who recognized me in right field.)

I coulda/shoulda snagged another ball toward the end of BP, but I guessed wrong. Basically, I decided that it wasn’t worth being in the outfield, so I headed here instead:

16_watching_bp_from_1st_base_side

My strategy was to get a toss-up from the Mets when they cleared the field, and it backfired. Not only did the Mets ignore everyone, but someone (maybe Andrew Brown) blasted a home run to the exact spot in left field where I would’ve been. These things happen.

Being near the dugout turned out to be a good thing because I was spotted by a random guy named Jeff who offered me an extra ticket in the front row! He reads this blog and knew that if I snagged a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds would donate an additional $500 to Pitch In For Baseball. That’s why he offered to help.

So, why is Marlins Park annoying? Well, in addition to not opening early enough for fans to see the home team warm up, and in addition to the terrible layout of the stadium (and the gosh-darned canopies in the Clevelander), they charged me $10 for this inferior pizza:

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Technically, they charged BIGS Sunflower Seeds $10, but still . . . what a ripoff! And as if that’s not bad enough, they were going to remove the cap from the $4 bottle of water that I was about to buy. Sorry, but that’s just stupid. Not even the Mets and Yankees (who treat fans like crap) do that anymore, and yet in Miami of all places, where fans are so scarce that everyone should receive a free massage, the team doesn’t trust people with bottle caps. That is lame. And I didn’t buy the water. Screw them. In 50 years, their stadium is going to be UNDER water.

This was my view during the national anthem . . .

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. . . and here’s where I was sitting for the first pitch of the game:

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Not bad.

Many thanks to Jeff (pictured below in the orange shirt) for hooking me up:

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In the photo above, the young lady is his daughter Danielle, and the gentleman in the red shirt is her friend Robert. Really nice folks. Unfortunately, their seats were in the middle of the section, but they had no problem with my desire to roam. (I rarely take people up on ticket offers because I don’t want to be expected to watch the game with them. Thanks but no thanks. I’d rather pay my own way in and be free to do whatever the hell I want.)

For the first few innings, I spent most of my time here:

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I was hoping for a foul ball to land in the cross-aisle, and of course by staying back there, I could dart to either end of the dugout depending on how the inning was going to end. Two outs and two strikes? No problem. I’d wander toward the home-plate end in case of a strikeout. Two outs and the ball put into play? Easy. I’d hurry over to the outfield end to catch the position players jogging off the field.

Actually, it wasn’t easy. There were lots of Mets fans and kids, and I didn’t get anything through the first two innings. (Oh no! Two whole innings! I know, I know. Poor me. But no, really, there was lots of pressure because this was my only game in Miami. Somehow I *had* to get a game-used ball.)

Just before the bottom of the 3rd inning got underway, Mets first baseman Ike Davis tossed the warm-up ball on one bounce to Justin Turner, who was hanging out at the top step of the dugout. Turner had thrown the previous two warm-up balls into the crowd, so I made a point of getting into a good position, and sure enough, he spotted me and hooked me up. That was my sixth ball of the day, which was nice, but it wasn’t a gamer. For the BIGS charity challenge, I specially have to snag game-used balls.

I didn’t get the 3rd-out ball after the 3rd inning, and yes, it was still “early,” but I was officially in freak-out mode. At the start of the night, I had expected to do all my in-game snagging behind the Mets’ dugout, but now that it wasn’t happening, I decided to maximize every opportunity, so I headed to the Marlins’ dugout on the 3rd-base side. When Mets pitcher Jeremy Hefner came to bat with two outs . . .

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. . . I knew I had a good chance of getting a strikeout ball from Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis.

That’s exactly what happened. Here I am with it:

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I was very very very happy at that moment, although I was doing a good job of hiding it.

The person who took that photo is a young ballhawk named Michael, whom I’d met last year. Here’s a photo of him (he’s on the right) with lots of baseballs and a friend named Brian (who also had lots of baseballs):

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I hung out with them for a few minutes, then hurried back to the Mets’ dugout and ended up getting the next 3rd-out ball over there. Moments later, I gave one of my practice balls to a little girl who was sitting nearby — she held it up triumphantly for 30 seconds as if it were an Olympic medal — and then I realize that I’d snagged *both* 3rd-out balls in the 4th inning. Here they are:

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One thing that I like about 3rd-out balls is that they actually represent a piece of action from a major league game. Sometimes it’s a strikeout. Sometimes it’s a double-play or an out at the plate, and so on. But THIS 3rd-out ball that I got from the Mets . . . wow. It represents a whole lot. It was a bases-loaded grounder hit by Jacob Turner that Omar Quintanilla booted to allow two unearned runs to score. Jake Marisnick, the runner who’d started on 1st base, ended up getting caught in a run-down between 2nd and 3rd. After several throws, David Wright tagged him out, and soon after that, he flipped me the ball on his way back to the dugout. Hot damn! I really love that ball, and I’m going to donate it to the charity auction at the end of the season that BIGS will organize. All proceeds will go to Pitch In For Baseball. Stay tuned for details.

I intended to head to the outfield after that, but with views like this . . .

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. . . and this . . .

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. . . it was tempting to stay.

When the dancers were doing their thing on the dugout roof, I made Wheeler chuckle by shouting, “It’s okay, Zack, you’re allowed to look!”

Eventually, I headed to left field . . .

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. . . and not surprisingly, it was dead out there. The best thing that happened was getting to hang out with Joe and Drew (and their exuberant friend Frank) for a couple of innings.

At one point, I wandered down to the front row and took a photo of the folks directly below me in the Clevelander:

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Then I headed as far to the left as I could possibly go in the front row and leaned over the railing to get this shot:

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Marlins Park is so weird! I kind of like it. But no, I mostly hate it.

In the photo above, did you notice the two baseballs atop the outfield wall? Here’s a closer look:

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Drew was certain that one of those balls was Giancarlo Stanton’s recent game home run, but whatever. There was no way to get there.

Drew, by the way, snagged FIFTY-ONE game home runs during the final three seasons at the Marlins’ old stadium. Wanna guess how many he has snagged through the first season and a half at the new ballpark? Here’s a hint: none. And that just goes to show how important a stadium can be. Did Drew suddenly lose all of his ballhawking ability? No. So don’t judge ballhawks on the number of game home runs or foul balls that they snag without considering all the factors. Some of the most talented ballhawks are stuck in the worst stadiums and rarely get any opportunities, and on the other hand, there are some real klutzes out there who rack up huge numbers because of easy circumstances.

Late in the game, I stopped by the bar in deep left-center to chat with this guy named Devin:

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He had shouted my name earlier in the day when I was running back and forth during BP, but I didn’t have a chance to say a proper hello then. He said he recognized me from the old Yankee Stadium.

Eventually I made it back to the Mets’ dugout and snagged another 3rd-out ball after the 8th inning. See the dirty scuff on it?

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That’s the result of Mets 2nd baseman Daniel Murphy catching a short-hop and tagging out Nick Marisnick, who was caught stealing.

Cool.

With the Mets clinging to a 6-5 lead, I moved here in the bottom of the 9th . . .

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. . . and after the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Andy Fletcher. He placed it right into my glove as he walked past. That was my 10th ball of the day and 400th of the season.

A minute or two later, I got my 11th and final ball of the day from Gonzalez Germen when he walked in from the bullpen.

Phew!

Here I am (holding No. 400) with Joe and Drew and their friend Shelly — an usher who remembered me from the 2008 Home Run Derby:

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By that point, I had given a third ball away to a little kid behind the dugout, and just before leaving the stadium, I gave away another. (I owe another shout-out to an usher near the dugout named Nick. He was really cool, and given the fact that I was being respectful of all the fans in my section, he seemed to get a kick out of watching me do my thing. There are some really good people at Marlins Park. It’s a shame that the owner isn’t one of them.)

Here are the seven baseballs that I kept . . .

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. . . and here are some numbers for you:

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 balls at this game (seven pictured above because I gave four away)

• 401 balls in 53 games this season = 7.57 balls per game.

• 32 balls at 3 lifetime games at Marlins Park = 10.67 balls per game.

• 925 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 450 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 227 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 23 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, Nationals Park, and Marlins Park

• 6,860 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, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 34 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.03 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $33.33 raised at this game

• $1,215.03 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $11,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $34,121.03 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Charity prizes — 2013

Remember when I gave away a bunch of prizes last year to people who donated money to Pitch In For Baseball through my fundraiser? Well, I’m doing it again in 2013. Let me start with a quick list of the stuff you can win. Then I’ll show you photos of it and explain how this is going to work:

1) a towel and bracelet that were given out at the 2013 All-Star Game
2) a copy of Baseball Scorekeeper
3) eight packages of BIGS Sunflower Seeds
4) a New York Mets media credential that I used on June 18, 2013
5) an autographed copy of The Wrigley Riddle
6) an autographed copy of Miracle Mud
7) a whole bunch of Panini baseball cards
8) an autographed copy of The Baseball
9) a Tokyo Yakult Swallows baseball
10) a Lowell Spinners baseball signed by pitching prospect Ty Buttrey
11) an autographed copy of Man Versus Ball
12) a ball signed by three Dodgers that I acquired on 8/9/13 at Dodger Stadium

Ready to see what all of these things look like? Here’s the towel and bracelet from the All-Star Game:

all_star_towel_and_bracelet

Just so you know, the bracelet says “Bank of America” and “We support our troops” on the other side, and as I mentioned above, these items were handed out to all fans who entered Citi Field for the 2013 All-Star Game.

Here’s the front cover of Baseball Scorekeeper (pardon my camera’s reflection):

baseball_scorekeeper_2013a

. . . and here’s the back:

baseball_scorekeeper_2013b

As you can see, my name is on there because I wrote a short introduction for this book. That’s why I have it. I was given several copies, and now I’m re-gifting one to you.

Here are the sunflower seeds:

bigs_sunflower_seeds_2013

Why do I have all these seeds, and why am I giving them away? Because I’m being sponsored this season by BIGS Sunflower Seeds. And because they sent me more seeds than I can possibly eat. Each pack weighs 5.35 ounces, and they don’t “expire” until next year. (They’ll probably still be good long after that.) All eight of BIGS’s flavors are represented here. Yum!

Here’s the media credential:

mets_media_credential_2013

I know that’s a weird prize, and you know what? I wasn’t even planning to give it away until someone left a comment and suggested/requested it. As a reminder, this was the credential I used when I spent an afternoon at Citi Field with some folks from the Daily News, and just so you know, it’s no longer valid.

Do you remember the children’s book author named David Kelly that I met on 6/20/11 at Fenway Park? Take a look at this photo of us. Does that ring a bell? No? Well, David kindly donated two of his books to be given away as prizes. (Actually, he donated more, but I’m gonna save the rest for next year.) Here’s the cover of the first one, which is called The Wrigley Riddle . . .

wrigley_riddle_2013a

. . . and as you can see below, it’s autographed:

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Here’s the cover of his other book called Miracle Mud . . .

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. . . which is also autographed:

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David’s a pretty fascinating guy. Check out his website to see what else he does.

Remember when I got a private tour of the Panini headquarters on my way to the Rangers game on May 3, 2013? On my way out, I was given three boxes of baseball cards *and* a fancy Panini bag, and I’m offering all of it as a single prize. Here’s the bag that you can win:

panini_cards_giveaway4_bag

Here’s one of the boxes of cards . . .

panini_cards_giveaway1a

. . . and here’s some more info on the side of it:

panini_cards_giveaway1b

Here’s the second box of cards . . .

panini_cards_giveaway2a

. . . along with some info:

panini_cards_giveaway2b

Here’s the third box of cards . . .

panini_cards_giveaway3a

. . . and some info:

panini_cards_giveaway3b

If I still collected cards, I’d keep all of this for myself, but lucky you . . . I don’t.

Here’s the front cover of The Baseball:

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That’s my latest book, and I’ll autograph it for the winner. Just tell me how you want it signed, and I’ll do it before mailing it out.

Here’s the Tokyo Yakult Swallows baseball:

tokyo_swallows_ball

I don’t remember where I got it. Someone gave it to me. Now I’m giving it to you.

Here’s the Lowell Spinners ball, which is signed by Ty Buttrey:

ty_buttrey_autographed_ball

Buttrey is a 20-year-old, 6-foot-5, right-handed pitcher who was drafted in the 4th round in 2012. He might end up being a front-of-the-rotation stud in the big leagues, or he might fizzle out next month. That’s what makes this item fun — you just don’t know what you’re getting. In case you’re wondering, I acquired it from Jon Boswell, the Spinners’ director of media relations, when I was at LeLacheur Park earlier this month for the helicopter stunt.

Here’s the front cover of Man Versus Ball:

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I’m friends with the author, Jon Hart, who said he’ll personalize it for the winner.

And finally, here’s the baseball signed by three players on the Dodgers:

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From left to right, you’re looking at the signatures of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ricky Nolasco, and Scott Van Slyke.

pifb_logo_07_28_13People who donate money to Pitch In For Baseball through my fundraiser will be eligible to win these prizes. (I don’t get any money from this because my fundraising page is simply a place for people to make pledges. After the final game of the World Series, I will email everyone with info about how to actually donate the money directly to the charity. If anything, I will personally lose money by mailing all these prizes to the people who win, but that’s fine. It’s my way of contributing, and I’m glad to do it.) Remember how this worked last year? It’s all based on how many baseballs I snag over the course of the MLB season. For every penny per ball that you donate, your name will be entered into the drawing; in other words, someone who donates 25 cents per ball will have five times the odds of winning over someone who donates a nickel per ball. The person whose name is picked first will get to pick which prize they want; the person whose name is picked second will get the next choice, and so on. It looks like I’ll end up snagging about 600 balls this season, so if you pledge one penny per ball, that will end up being about a $6 donation. You can make a pledge anytime — here’s more info about my fundraiser — but in order to be eligible to win a prize, you’ll need to send in the money by December 1, 2013.

On a final note for those who don’t know, Pitch In For Baseball is a non-profit charity that provides baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Here’s a blog entry that I wrote earlier this year about the charity helping Hurricane Sandy victims. There’ve also been a bunch of articles about Pitch In For Baseball on MLB.com, which you can read here and here and here and here.

7/24/13 at Citi Field

Batting practice was great, but the rest of the day was better. Mets coach Tom Goodwin got things started by tossing me my first ball in left field, and several minutes later, I got Zack Wheeler to throw me another. I was pretty happy about that (mainly because he’s a fellow Zack) and took the following photo to capture the moment:

1_zack_wheeler_after_ball6839

My next two balls were home run by Juan Lagares that I caught on the fly, and when the Braves took the field, I got two quick toss-ups from Jason Heyward and Luis Avilan.

That’s when THIS happened:

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Doesn’t look like much, right? Yeah, well, have a closer look:

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That was the result of running carelessly through an empty row and slamming into an armrest, and since you’re probably wondering . . . no, I didn’t get the ball.

My seventh ball was an Evan Gattis homer that barely cleared my glove and landed behind me in an empty row. My eighth ball was another homer (not sure who hit it) that landed in the seats, and ball No. 9 was a deep line drive by Reed Johnson that I caught on the fly.

The stands were fairly crowded at that point . . .

4_ben_weil_during_bp

. . . and if you look closely, you can see my friend Ben Weil. In the photo above, he’s wearing the red jersey and tan shorts at the far end of my row.

My 10th ball was a Jason Heyward homer that landed several rows deep and ricocheted toward the back of the section. Ball No. 11 was a towering fly ball hit by Reed Johnson that I caught on the fly, and my final ball was a B.J. Upton homer that I caught after drifting 20 feet to my right and reaching above a gloveless middle-aged man. (In case you lost count, I snagged eight home run balls including five that I caught on the fly.)

I gave three of my balls away and met up with a friend who hooked me up with a ticket to the exclusive Hyundai Club:

5_hyundai_club_ticket

This friend wants to remain anonymous, and no, it’s not the same person who bought me tickets to the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game. (There are lots of nice people out there who do lots of nice things for me; I’m always happy to name names and give credit, but some folks don’t want it.)

Here’s what it looked like inside the club . . .

6_hyundai_club_interior

. . . and to my delight, there was a whole lot of free food. Here’s some of it . . .

7_hyundai_club_food

. . . and here’s the first plate that I got:

8_hyundai_club_plate_of_food

In the photo above, starting at the top and going clockwise, you’re looking at (a) turkey with gravy, (b) cranberry sauce, (c) some sort of beef-like substance, (d) pasta with tomato sauce, (e) fried sweet plantains, and (f) fish with avocado.

Overall, the food was good, but not great. The plantains, for example, were excellent, but the beef was rubbery and the fish was okay — the type of thing you’d order at a place that doesn’t specialize in fish and then wonder why you’d ordered it in the first place. But it was free! And I was starving. So I was happy. Getting anything for free from the Mets is cause for celebration.

This was the view from the club’s outdoor seating area . . .

9_hyundai_club_view

. . . and as you can see below, there was a cross-aisle, which provided some room to chase foul balls:

10_hyundai_club_cross_aisle

Of course, there were none, and to make matters worse, Dan Uggla hit a home run *right* to the spot where I would’ve been sitting in left field. I could’ve predicted that because that’s the kind of luck I have. Sit in left field all season? No home runs. Sit behind the plate for ONE GAME to enjoy some free food? Bam! Home run.

But let’s not think about that. I’d rather talk about the food some more. (Based on some of the comments on my previous entry, it seems that you do too. To quote a reader named Liz, “How are we supposed to live our dream lives vicariously through you when there are no food pictures?” Well, Liz, it’s your lucky day.) Here’s a look at the grilling area . . .

11_hyundai_club_dogs_and_burgers

. . . and here’s what I got:

12_hyundai_club_another_plate_of_food

That’s a bacon-wrapped hot dog, which would’ve been better had the bun not been stale. I also had a pulled pork sandwich and a small burger — those buns were soft and fresh — which I dressed up with some nearby condiments:

13_hyundai_club_condiments

I grabbed a fist-sized portion of cotton candy . . .

14_hyundai_club_cotton_candy

. . . which was also stale. (It had been a while since I’d eaten cotton candy, but as far as I know, it’s not supposed to crunch when you bite into it.)

After that, I helped myself to a small portion of tortilla chips, cheese sauce, chili, and guacamole:

15_hyundai_club_chips_cheese_chili

I also ate more plantains:

16_hyundai_club_fried_sweet_plantains

As for the game, the following photo says it all:

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The Mets, as a whole, are not particularly exciting, but that didn’t matter to me. I entertained myself with dessert . . .

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. . . followed by more dessert:

19_hyundai_club_more_dessert

The muffins were bland, the mini-tarts were somewhere between forgettable and decent, and the oatmeal raisin cookie was very good.

While I was stuffing myself silly, Ben was lurking behind the Braves’ dugout. Here’s a photo of Jason Heyward tossing him a ball after the 7th inning:

20_jason_heyward_tossing_a_ball_to_ben

That was Ben’s seventh of the day.

Unfortunately, the most memorable part of the game was Tim Hudson’s injury in the bottom of the 8th. Basically, he ran over to cover to 1st base, kept his foot on the bag a split-second too long, and had his ankle spiked/trampled by Eric Young Jr. It was so gruesome that the whole stadium (or at least the fans near the TVs) gasped when the slow-motion replay was shown. As the swarm of players, coaches, trainers, and umpires gathered around Hudson, I took lots and lots and lots of photos. Look what I happened to capture in one of them:

21_tim_hudson_injury

As you can (kinda) see, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez had taken the ball from Hudson and flipped it to home plate umpire Chad Fairchild. Obviously, though, the situation was much more important than the ball. Here’s another photo that shows the activity on the field:

22_tim_hudson_injury

Young stayed near Hudson the entire time, and the two men shook hands before Hudson was carted off:

23_tim_hudson_injury

It was extremely touching to see that type of sportsmanship and camaraderie.

After a long delay, the cart drove off . . .

24_tim_hudson_injury

. . . and the game resumed. I learned later that Hudson suffered a fractured ankle and will not pitch again this year. Given his age (38) and the fact that he’ll be a free agent after this season, I wonder if he’ll ever pitch again in the major leagues.

I feel so bad for him and the Braves. Never mind the fact that he’s tossed me several baseballs over the years. I’ve always liked him as a player, and based on everything I’ve heard about him, he seems to be a really good guy.

That said, life/baseball goes on, huh?

With the Braves holding an 8-2 lead, I moved near the dugout in the bottom of the 9th . . .

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. . . and got the lineup cards from Fredi Gonzalez after the final out:

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That kind of makes up for the Uggla homer that I missed . . . but not really. If you want a closer look at the those lineup cards, click here.

On my way out of the stadium, I met up with my friend and returned the ticket. (That was part of the deal.) And then I headed home on the No. 7 train.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

27_the_nine_balls_i_kept_07_24_13• 12 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave three away)

• 390 balls in 52 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

• 635 balls at 82 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.74 balls per game.

• 924 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 449 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 33 lifetime lineup cards (or pairs of lineup cards); click here to see my whole collection

• 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

• 6,849 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)

• $22.56 raised at this game

• $733.08 raised this season through my fundraiser

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

• $33,139.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Wait, there’s more! Four of the nine balls that I kept have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:

28_black_light_07_24_13

On a final note, my next game will be at Marlins Park on Monday, July 29th. The following day, I’ll be at Tropicana Field, and after that, I’ll be hitting up Turner Field for two games on July 31st and August 1st. This trip will be part of my BIGS Baseball Adventure, speaking of which . . . the folks at BIGS are running a contest and giving out free t-shirts and sunflower seeds. To win, all you need to do is write a paragraph (or so) about your favorite ballhawking story. I’m not on Facebook, but evidently there’s more info there. Here’s the link.

7/23/13 at Citi Field

This pretty much sums up my day:

to_hell_with_everyone_and_everything

Here’s a summary of what happened:

1) The Mets took BP for 12 minutes, during which I got a toss-up from Jeremy Hefner and caught two Marlon Byrd homers on the fly.

2) The grounds crew pulled out the tarp, and then it rained . . . briefly.

3) I was not happy.

4) I got a pre-game toss-up from Justin Upton on the 3rd-base side.

5) I gave two of my baseballs away and sat in left field during the game. It was boring.

The end.

2013 All-Star Game

My All-Star Game experience started at 10:04am . . . sort of. I was at home, working on my blog entry about the Home Run Derby when I got an email from some random guy whose address ended with “@abc.com.” He simply stated that he was “with Diane Sawyer at ABC News” and followed that by asking, “Wanted to know if I could give you a call?” Long story short: so much for blogging. I spent the entire morning working out a plan with the folks at the network, sending them photos, promising not to do any other interviews until after their piece aired, getting copies of my books messengered from my publisher, and so on. Shortly after 12pm, I met two ABC employees near Lincoln Center . . .

1_jared_and_carina_from_the_abc_news_with_diane_sawyer

. . . and my crazy afternoon was officially underway. In the photo above, the man on the left is a producer named Jared, and the woman is an intern named Carina (who had not yet been born when I snagged my first baseball in 1990).

We met at that location because (a) their office was one block away and (b) Jared wanted to film me riding the No. 7 train to Citi Field. Here’s a photo that I took when we stopped briefly at Grand Central:

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Lots of passengers asked who they were and why they were filming. Jared, meanwhile, told me to ignore him and do whatever I’d normally be doing on the train.

“You really want me to eat my everything bagel and cream cheese?” I asked.

“Sure, go for it,” he said, but I decided not to. I figured the subway footage wouldn’t make the final cut, but what if it did? Did I really want millions of people to see me doing that? Not so much.

I spent the first half of the ride answering Jared’s interview questions, and after that, he and Carina kept their camera rolling. When the train approached Citi Field and I stood up to take this photo out the window . . .

3_citi_field_from_train_07_16_13

. . . they stood up with me and filmed that too.

Being filmed is fun, but it’s also draining. It’s like being at a job interview or at dinner with your girlfriend’s parents for the first time. You have to watch everything you say. You have to think about your posture. You’re constantly ON — always micromanaging your performance (while making it look like you’re the chillest dude in the world).

We arrived at Citi Field at 1:30pm . . .

4_home_run_apple_all_star_logo

. . . which was three hours before the gates were (supposedly) going to open.

Perfect.

There were very few fans at that point, so for a while, I was able to relax. Jared and Carina had to get their media credentials, and they also needed to find Jonathan Karl — the main guy who was going to be interviewing me. (I watch TV so infrequently that I’d never heard of him, but evidently he’s a big deal. He’s the Chief White House Correspondent for ABC News and has 45,648 Twitter followers.) I told them to meet me at the right field gate, and then I headed in that direction by myself. On the way, I saw a folding chair on the sidewalk near the Mets’ offices . . . so I grabbed it. I knew there were security cameras everywhere, but was I really doing anything wrong? I wasn’t stealing the chair — just moving it. Here I am using it:

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No harm done, right? (By the way, I took that photo myself with a 10-second timer, so yes, it’s totally posed. In fact, I had to run to the chair in order to pose before the timer went off, but it does, in fact, accurately capture the moment. I sat like that, all alone at the gate, reading box scores on my phone for about 20 minutes.)

Nearly an hour later, there were half a dozen other fans at the gate, and I had a Mister Softee ice cream cone that was dripping like hell:

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I don’t know what I was thinking. It was 95 degrees, and if I’d gotten a shake, this wouldn’t have happened:

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So sad. And by the way, that cone cost six bucks! Can you believe that? Anyway, with ice cream and sprinkles still coating my left hand, I headed over here when the team buses arrived:

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Here are some photos of guys that I hadn’t seen arriving the day before, starting with Davey Johnson:

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Here’s a three-part image that shows Mike Trout, Pedro Alvarez, and Yadier Molina:

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Trout waited at the door for Miguel Cabrera and several other guys:

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Can you identify everyone in the following four-part image? Take a look, and then I’ll tell you who’s who:

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In the image above, you’re looking at . . .

1) Justin Masterson and Robin Ventura
2) Bartolo Colon and Jose Bautista
3) Prince Fielder and his kids
4) Mariano Rivera (in the light blue pants) and his entourage

Here’s another four-part image of players walking individually:

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Were you able to identify them? Here’s a hint: Alex Gordon, Chris Davis, Grant Balfour, and Justin Verlander.

I took even more photos than that, but enough already, huh?

At around 3:40pm, Jared and Carina caught up with me, and Jonathan was with them. Thankfully, my friend Ben Weil had recently arrived, so he grabbed my camera and took a bunch of photos while I was interviewed. Here’s one that shows how it went down:

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Jonathan asked me a bunch of questions, but I knew that the segment was going to be very short. Jared had told me “60 to 90 seconds,” and it wasn’t all about me. When ABC had first contacted me that morning, I assumed it would be, but as it turned out, I was part of a bigger piece about snagging baseballs. Click here to watch the segment and try not to laugh/cringe TOO hard when you hear the part about my “9,000 balls.” Yikes. Give me a few years.

The gates did indeed open at 4:30pm, and I bolted inside. Once again, I had a seat in right-center, but this time, because the guards weren’t checking tickets, I picked a section in straight-away right. This was my view:

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I learned later that the guards *did* check tickets; evidently, I’d gotten inside the stadium so quickly that they hadn’t yet gotten into position. Ha!

In any case, it wasn’t long before I snagged my first ball of the day — Brian McCann threw it to me — but unfortunately it was one of the leftovers from the Home Run Derby:

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I was glad to “get on the board” and avoid being shut out, but seeing that logo on the ball was extremely disappointing. The previous day, I’d snagged six balls that looked just like that. Now that I was here for the All-Star Game, I wanted an actual All-Star Game ball. Is that to much to ask?

Ten minutes later, a home run landed in the bullpen, and I got one of the employees there (pictured below with his arms folded) to throw it to me:

17_guy_in_bullpen_who_threw_ball6827

It turned out to be another Derby ball. Damn!

When other fans near me snagged baseballs, I tried to get a look at them. Every single ball had the Derby logo. NOT GOOD. The way things were going, I was gonna have to snag a ball during the actual game, which of course was going to be insanely difficult.

At one point, when Mets coach Ricky Bones (who recognizes me) was about to toss me a ball, I stopped him and asked if it had the All-Star logo. He took a look at it and shook his head, so I told him *not* to throw it to me and asked him to keep an eye out for an All-Star ball instead. He said he would, but he must not’ve seen one, or maybe he just forgot because he never came back to hook me up, and so . . . by trying so hard for an All-Star ball, I’d cost myself a perfectly good Home Run Derby ball, but it was worth it. I had to try everything. I would have rather snagged one All-Star ball than 30 Home Run Derby balls. I needed one, and if possible, I needed two. Remember when I mentioned in my last entry that someone had bought me tickets in exchange for half the balls I snagged? Well, what if I only ended up snagging one All-Star ball?

Jason Grilli threw me my third ball of the day, and guess what? It was another Derby ball. GAH!!! I was doing everything right, but the stupid Mets (or Commissioners Office or whoever was in charge) weren’t doing their part. Two years ago, at the All-Star Game at Chase Field (at which Brian McCann also happened to throw me my first ball of the day), most of the BP balls *were* All-Star balls, so within the first few minutes, all my stress was gone. Now that I was at All-Star batting practice here at Citi Field, what was I supposed to do? Simple: snag as many balls as possible and HOPE that one (or better yet two) of them would be All-Star balls.

Toward the end of the National League’s portion of BP, I got Patrick Corbin to throw me a ball. He was about 100 feet away, so I had no idea what the ball looked like ahead of time. Once again, I assumed it was going to be another Derby ball, but when I opened my glove, my eyes nearly bulged out of my head. Check it out:

18_ball6829_from_patrick_corbin

YES!!!!!!!!!

I was *so* happy at that point. The fact that the logo was slightly smudged didn’t really bother me. I had an All-Star ball, and that’s all that mattered.

Everyone around me was jealous of that ball, and some people even asked if they could have it, but what was I supposed to do — apologize? I ignored everyone and turned my attention back to the field.

Several minutes later, Clayton Kershaw tossed a ball directly over my head to the mob of fans behind me. I turned around to watch everyone battle for it, and wouldn’t you know it? They all collectively bobbled it, and it plopped down right to me. I stuck out my glove and scooped it up in one motion, much to the dismay of the man standing beside me. Not only was his glove positioned directly underneath mine, but it was another All-Star ball. This is not an exaggeration: he begged me for it for the next half-hour. He offered to buy it, and when I said that I didn’t sell balls, he offered to make a donation to my charity fundraiser. He knew who I was, so I felt bad about ignoring him or telling him to leave me alone. Aside from all the begging, he was perfectly nice and friendly, but the fact that he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer really wore me down mentally. He and his kids had already snagged about half a dozen balls that day, all of which had the Derby logo, and now here I was with two — TWO!! — All-Star balls. Oh, the injustice! I told him that I owed half my baseballs to the guy who’d bought me the ticket, but he didn’t seem to understand. I tried to make it clear that I *was* going to leave the stadium with both of those All-Star balls, but he was like, “C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon!!! It’s for my kids!!! C’mon c’mon c’mon!!! You got two!! C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon!!! Just don’t tell the guy who bought you the tickets that you got two!!! C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon!!! Please, Zack, I’m begging you!!!” And so on. I was like, “If you want one of those balls so badly, just go buy one in the team store,” and he was, “But it’s not the same!!! The ones you got came from the field!!! You know how that is!!! C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon!!!” I was seriously about to lose my effin’ mind. He was badgering me with every reason you could imagine for why I should give him one of my All-Star balls, but it simply wasn’t going to happen. I got him to calm down by telling him to wait and see what happened during the American League’s portion of BP. “You might catch one yourself — there’ll be lots more opportunities,” I said, to which he replied, “Okay, so just let me have one of your baseballs now, and then if I get one, I’ll give it back to you. C’mon, Zack!!! Zack, you’re killing me!!! Zack, c’mon, just one ball. ONE BALL, Zack. C’mon, that’s all I’m asking of you. You got two. I just want one for my kids!! C’mon, Zack, please! Help me out!! C’mon!!”

I’m not kidding. It was like this for a solid half-hour — maybe even 45 minutes. During that time, I was spotted by a young fan named Nick Horowitz, who reads this blog and had been looking forward to meeting me. Here we are:

19_zack_and_nick_horowitz

Cool kid. He’d left a few comments lately that had been so friendly that I was looking forward to meeting him too. (Nick, if you’re reading this, I hope we’ll get to meet up again sometime when it’s not so crowded and crazy.)

When the National Leaguers finished hitting, they gathered in deep center field for a team photo:

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Look how many people were on the field at one point:

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The Giants gathered for their own group shot:

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Then the American Leaguers posed for a team photo . . .

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. . . and the Tigers did their thing:

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The Giants and Tigers played each other in last year’s World Series. That’s why they were each represented by so many players and coaches at the 2013 All-Star Game.

The American League’s portion of BP got off to a good start. Within the first few minutes, I got a ball from a teenager with “ROJAS” on the back of his jersey — probably Mike Rojas Jr., the son of Tigers bullpen coach Mike Rojas (who’s the son of former major leaguer Cookie Rojas). Then, a few minutes later, I got my seventh ball of the day from Greg Holland. Here it is flying toward me:

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Both of those balls had the Home Run Derby logo on them, which was kind of a bummer, but it didn’t really matter at that point.

I’m happy to say that the guy standing next to me finally DID get an All-Star ball, and he was about as excited as you’d expect. “God bless you!” he said as we shook hands.

I was hoping to hit double digits, but things slowed way down after that. Why? Because several Blue Jays were camped out directly in front of me. Brett Cecil? Not a nice man. Steve Delabar also ignored everyone, as did Jose Bautista. I don’t know what it is with the Jays, but they’ve really sucked this year about tossing balls into the crowd. They were like that on 5/17/13 at Yankee Stadium, and I nearly got shut out as a result. (Have fun in last place, ya bums!)

At one point in the middle of BP, the entire six-man umpire crew walked the length of the warning track:

26_umpires_in_the_outfield

I assumed they were looking at all the ill-conceived nooks and crannies and reviewing the unnecessarily complicated ground rules. All stadiums should have a simple gap around the outfield like Turner Field. That way, there’s *no* chance of fan interference, and there’s hardly any confusion about whether or not a ball clears the wall. It’s amazing to me that so many of the newer ballparks have seats right up against the outfield walls, and then security gets all pissy when fans try to reach over and catch home runs. I’m not saying that fans should be able to interfere, or that security shouldn’t get upset, but jeez, it’s human nature to reach for baseballs. Just build the damn stadium so that the fans are several feet back. Why is that so difficult?

One of the highlights of BP was seeing this little kid throw a ton of baseballs into the crowd:

27_brookens_jr_throwing_a_ball_into_the_crowd

The back of his jersey said “BROOKENS,” so I’m going to assume that it was Tigers coach Tom Brookens’ grandson. This kid must’ve thrown 20 balls into the right-center field seats (all of which seemed to fly directly over the head of my friend Greg Barasch, who was positioned in the front row). Fun stuff. Always remember that the players’ and coaches’ (grand)kids are often the best source of baseballs at All-Star events.

Look how crowded the center field concourse was after BP:

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(Did you notice me looking creepily at the camera in the previous photo? Heh. Just making sure that it was pointing at the best angle.)

I got some much-needed ice water and headed over to left-center to catch up with a friendly usher. I hung out with him and photographed some of my baseballs . . .

29_four_of_my_seven_bp_balls_07_16_13

. . . before the pre-game festivities got underway. Then I grabbed a double-cheeseburger and headed to the upper deck, not because I had to, but because I thought it’d provide me with a cool vantage point.

I was right.

Take a look at the American League reserve players being introduced:

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Check out my overall view of the field:

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The stadium was SOOOOO crowded . . .

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. . . but there *were* some empty empty seats — more on that in a bit, but first, check out the “out-of-town” scoreboard at the top of the upper deck in left field:

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As you can see, it was showing the scores of the previous 16 All-Star Games.

When the managers and umpires met at home plate to exchange lineup cards, I noticed someone futzing with the grass/dirt nearby:

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Any theories about that? Was it a groundskeeper doing some last-minute cosmetic work on the field?

Around the time that Tom Seaver threw the ceremonial first pitch . . .

35_tom_seaver_ceremonial_first_pitch

. . . I was eyeing my section in right-center:

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More specifically (and I couldn’t have done this without zooming in with my camera), I was making a mental note of all the empty seats. I was hoping to find a spot beside the batter’s eye, and it appeared that it was going to happen, if only for the first few batter’s of the game. Take another look at the photo above. It’s hard to see, but the end-seats were empty in the 2nd and 4th rows. (There were more seats farther back, but eh, I wanted to be close to the action.)

Less than ten minutes later, this was my view as Mike Trout slid into 2nd base with a leadoff double:

37_mike_trout_is_the_man

Not bad.

Two batters later, I still had my spot in the 4th row, though I was paranoid — not about getting in trouble with security (because I wasn’t doing anything THAT bad), but about losing that seat. I was loving it and didn’t want to move, but anyway, what was I going to do? Worry myself sick and not enjoy the game? No, screw that. I acted like the seat was mine and went about my business. Here’s a photo of the scoreboard:

38_lineups_in_first_inning_07_16_13

I thought it’d be nice to photograph it in the 1st inning and again in the 9th in order to see how all the players changed.

Meanwhile, this was the view to my right:

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During the regular season, fans are allowed to run out onto the batter’s eye for home run balls, but you rarely see it happen. That said (and despite not knowing what the rules were on this special night), I was absolutely/totally/definitely 100 percent gonna jump over that railing if any of the All-Stars sent one flying deep in my direction. But of course it was a pitcher’s duel. The game was scoreless until the top of the 4th inning, and even then it took a sacrifice by (by Jose Bautista) to plate the first run.

To my delight, no one ever came for that seat. In fact, there were several empty seats next to me (which meant I was able to plop by backpack there), and half of the row behind me was empty as well.

This was my view (of Adam Jones in center field) in the middle innings:

40_adam_jones_in_center_field

Nice.

I knew that my chances of catching a home run were slim, but it was serene out there in Section 140. It had been such a long, hectic day, and I’d already snagged a pair of All-Star Game balls, and I just didn’t feel like trying to sneak around for another. Even if I could’ve gotten down to the seats behind one of the dugouts, I wouldn’t have wanted to. I just wanted to be left alone, so having the batter’s eye on my right and a few empty seats on my left was ideal.

Here’s a photo of the mascot race getting started . . .

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. . . and speaking of moronic creatures running on the field, here’s a screen shot from a video that shows a fan getting tackled by security:

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See him to the left of 2nd base? (Andrew McCutchen was not impressed.) I learned later that it was an 18-year-old kid who’d posted on Twitter that if he got 1,000 retweets, he’d run across the field. Well, he did . . . and he kept his word. I’ll give him credit for not being a flake, but wow, what a schmuck.

At the 7th-inning stretch, with the American League holding a 2-0 lead, there were a whole bunch of empty seats behind me:

43_empty_seats_behind_me

Here’s a photo of the American League outfielders gathering in center during a pitching change:

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When the top of the 8th inning ended, I was excited though appalled to see Mariano Rivera jogging out of the bullpen:

45_mariano_rivera_entering_the_game

The American League had a 3-0 lead at that point, so it *was* a save situation, but WTF?! Given the fact that this was going to be Mariano’s final All-Star appearance, was Jim Leyland planning to use him for a six-out save? I was so confused when I saw this legendary pitcher take the mound and tip his cap to the crowd:

46_mariano_rivera_tipping_his_cap

The entire field was empty (except for the catcher) when Mariano began throwing his warm-up pitches:

47_mariano_rivera_alone_on_the_field

How cool is that?!

My excitement, though, turned to anger when I realized that he wasn’t going to get to close the game in the 9th inning. I had tweeted about it, and based on the responses, I learned that Leyland was using Mariano in the 8th inning so that he’d be guaranteed to pitch. What if someone else pitched the 8th inning, and the National League scored four runs and took the lead and there WAS no bottom of the 9th? Then what? Huh?

I’ll tell you what: then you would’ve brought Mariano in the game during the bottom of the 8th and let him go for a four-out (or however-many-out) save. I understand that Leyland (and everyone else) wanted to do that special thing where Mariano took the field by himself — that WAS spectacular — but give me a break! To not let the greatest relief pitcher of all time go for the save in his final All-Star Game is outrageous. You have to take a chance! This was the worst managerial decision since Grady Little allowed Pedro Martinez to keep pitching in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Seriously . . . AWFUL. I’m not even a Yankee fan. In fact, I hate the Yankees, but I love Mariano, and it killed me to see his final All-Star appearance butchered like that. Having him pitch in the eighth inning?! Are you kidding me?

Mariano, not surprisingly, retired the side in order, and that was it. So disappointing.

I photographed the scoreboard in the top of the 9th . . .

48_lineups_in_ninth_inning_07_16_13

. . . and Joe Nathan came in for the save in the bottom of the frame.

JOE NATHAN?! Yeah, the dude’s had a nice career, but I’m sorry . . . that’s just terrible.

The American League won the game, 3-0. Not only weren’t there any home runs, but the National League only had three hits. (David Wright had one of the three, woot-woot!)

Before the game ended, I had thought about trying to go for an umpire ball, but instead I decided to hurry over to the bullpen, which was only two sections away. Maybe there’d be a chance to get one final ball over there?

It took about 20 seconds for me to reach the side railing, and when I peeked over, I was stunned to see Mike Rojas throwing ball after ball after ball into the crowd. Here are four screen shots from a video I filmed:

49_mike_rojas_throwing_balls

He must’ve thrown a dozen balls into the crowd, all of which had the All-Star logo. Not only did I get one, but it was rubbed with mud:

50_ball6833_from_mike_rojas

How beautiful is that? (In case you’re wondering, the guy who’d bought me the ticket let me keep two of the All-Star balls. He was totally laid-back about the whole thing. He said I could give him any half of the balls that I wanted, so I suppose I could’ve given him four Derby balls, but that would’ve been crappy. He’d done a nice thing for me, so I made sure to return the favor.)

Thankfully, the security guards weren’t checking tickets at that point, so I headed over to the 3rd-base dugout and caught up with Greg and made him take my picture:

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Aside from the lack of game home runs, it was a very good night. And it wasn’t done. Before I headed up the steps, I photographed the MLB Network area . . .

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. . . and made Dan Pleasac laugh by shouting that I loved him.

Several minutes later, I found a lanyard and All-Star Game ticket in the concourse:

53_lanyard_with_ticket_that_i_found

I couldn’t believe it. It was just sitting there while fans walked right past it — pretty nice to get a hard ticket after using those ugly print-at-homes for the past two days. And then I got more. Ben had acquired a bunch (because he buys and sells tickets all the time) and gave me one of each — one from the Derby and another from the All-Star Game. Here’s a photo of him with the two that he gave me:

54_tickets_from_ben_weil

Ben was sad because he’d snagged four baseballs (and given away two), but they all had the Home Run Derby logo on them — no All-Star balls for him or for Greg, who had snagged five during BP.

Ben offered to give me a ride back to Manhattan if I gave him one of my All-Star balls. (He lives near Citi Field, so this would’ve been a huge inconvenience for him.)

“If you want one so badly, why don’t you just buy one?” I asked.

“I’m going to,” he said, “but I’d rather save twenty-five dollars.”

I then offered to buy one for him, and as luck would have it, the financial blow will be easier to take because I found this on the subway on the way home:

55_ten_bucks_that_i_found_07_16_13

Funny story about how I got it: when the train pulled into Grand Central, a group of guys hurried out, and one of them dropped the $10 bill in the doorway. I assumed that whoever it was . . . he was going to realize it a moment later and reach down for it. But that never happened. The guys disappeared, so I jumped up and grabbed the money and stuck my head out the door of the train. I expected to see someone running back toward me, but instead, these guys were all 30 feet down the platform. And it was noisy. What was I supposed to do — shout for the entire station to hear, “HEY, DID ANYONE DROP ANY MONEY?!” I stood there feeling kinda weird about it, not knowing what to do. Just then, some other guy who’d gotten off the train put his hand out as if to ask for the money. Was he serious?

“Umm, I’m pretty sure this was dropped by someone else, but nice try” I told him.

“Hey!” he replied, “aren’t you the guy who catches all the baseballs?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

And that’s how my night ended. If you don’t believe me, you can can ask Greg. In the photo of the money, that’s him and his father Sheldon in the background.

When I got home, I photographed the eight balls . . .

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. . . and then looked at them in black light. Two of the All-Star balls have invisible ink stamps. Here’s one . . .

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. . . and here’s the other . . .

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. . . and by the way, in case you’re new to all of this stuff, All-Star balls have multi-colored stitching to represent the home team. The Mets, of course, wear orange and blue.

On a final note, this was my 3rd All-Star Game. If you want to read my entries about the other two, here’s the one about the 2007 All-Star Game at AT&T Park, and here’s the one about the 2011 All-Star Game at Chase Field.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 8 balls at this game

• 374 balls in 50 games this season = 7.48 balls per game.

• 19 balls at 3 All-Star Games = 6.33 balls per game.

• 922 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 447 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 57 different commemorative balls; click here to see my whole collection

• 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

• 6,833 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

• $703.12 raised this season through my fundraiser

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

• $33,109.12 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

2013 Home Run Derby

Do you remember when the Mets unveiled the logo for the 2013 All-Star Game? It happened in a pre-game ceremony on August 7, 2012, and when I blogged about it the next day, I threw a little parenthetical in there which said, “(If anyone feels like buying me a ticket for the 2013 Home Run Derby or All-Star Game, I’ll share half the balls I snag. Just putting it out there now because it’s never too early to start planning.)” The following day, I got an email from someone who offered to spend up to $1,000 to send me to the Derby. Ultimately, rather than using all that money to buy the very best ticket, he decided to split it up and buy me two decent tickets — one for the Derby and another for the All-Star Game, and so, 11 months after he first contacted me, here I was:

1_home_run_apple_all_star_logo

This was my fourth Home Run Derby, and I’m happy to say that I haven’t paid to attend any of them. For the 2007 Derby at AT&T Park, a friend bought me a ticket and flew me out to California as part of a Watch With Zack package that he sold on eBay. The following season, a different friend gave me a ticket to the 2008 Derby at Yankee Stadium (in exchange for half the balls), and for the 2011 Derby at Chase Field, State Farm hooked me up with an all-expenses-paid trip.

Anyway, as you probably determined from the previous photo, I arrived at Citi Field VERY early. Not only did I hope to beat the crowd, but I wanted to have plenty of time to wander and soak in all the hoopla. The last time the Mets had hosted the All-Star Game was in 1964, and the next time they host it, I’ll probably be old enough to get on the bus for half-price, so why NOT get there early?

This was the scene on the 3rd-base side of the stadium . . .

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. . . and here’s what it looked like on the 1st-base side:

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Several minutes later, I heard sirens in the parking lot and rushed over to see what was going on. Check it out:

4_police_escort_for_national_league_bus

In the photo above, do you see the bus in the background? I heard someone say that the National League All-Stars were on it, so I headed over here to *try* to catch a glimpse of them:

9_viewing_spot_for_all_stars

At Citi Field, you can’t get anywhere near the players as they enter . . . ever. Those barricades and covered fences are always there, even for regular-season games. As a fan, the best you can do is see the tops of the taller players’ heads as they walk inside. It’s one of the many reasons why this stadium sucks.

My solution was to stand against the fence and hold my camera high above my head and zoom in and hold the button down. “Continuous mode” is a beautiful thing, and although my photos tuned out kinda blurry, I still think they’re pretty cool. Here are the first three guys that got off the bus:

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In the photo above, that Joey Votto in the gray pants. He’s shaking the hand of Bryce Harper, who appears to be carrying a plastic take-out container. The player behind them is Jordan Zimmermann.

Here’s a four-part photo of some players walking by themselves — Domonic Brown, Marco Scutaro, Jean Segura, and Patrick Corbin:

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I wonder what was inside Corbin’s box.

Here’s a photo of Clayton Kershaw, Freddie Freeman, and Jeff Locke:

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Ready for a four-part photo with twelve players? See how many you can recognize, and then I’ll identify everyone:

9b_twelve_all_stars

Okay, here goes . . .

1) Mark Melancon (the worst-dressed player, in my non-expert opinion)
2) Paul Goldschmidt (walking confidently . . . I like it)
3) Travis Wood (so clean-shaven that it took me a minute to figure out who he was)
4) Carlos Gonzalez (carrying his own bag — a man of the people!)
5) Edward Mujica (who looks like he’s learning how to walk)
6) Joey Votto (who’s forgotten something and returned to the bus)
7) Madison Bumgarner (cheer up, buddy)
8) Buster Posey (I think — hard to tell based on the back of his head)
9) Adam Wainwright (who looked freakishly tall in street clothes)
10) Troy Tulowitzki (oh, the after-hours stories I’ve heard about HIM)
11) Michael Cuddyer (who “looks [expletive deleted] OLD” according to my girlfriend)
12) Brandon Phillips (whose attire matches his personality)

Here are Sergio Romo and Andrew McCutchen . . .

10_sergio_romo_and_andrew_mccutchen

. . . and finally, we have Carlos Beltran, Jason Grilli, Jose Fernandez, and Aroldis Chapman:

11_beltran_grilli_fernandez_chapman

I’d been planning to enter the Bullpen Gate, and by “planning,” I mean obsessing/worrying for weeks. The Bullpen Gate is in right-center field, and when the stadium opened, I wanted to get out there as quickly as possible. Why all the stress? Because at Citi Field, there’s one gate that always opens half an hour earlier than all the others — the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which is located at home plate. I had heard that “all gates” were going to open at 5:15pm for the Derby, but I didn’t believe it. Why? Because the Mets, quite simply, are inept and unreliable. And sure enough, every employee that I asked about the gates gave a different answer. GEEEAAAHHH!!!

At around 2pm, there were a few fans already waiting outside the Bullpen Gate . . .

12_bullpen_gate_screw_you_mets

. . . and I seriously didn’t know what to do.

Feeling anxious about my decision, I waited there too. Fifteen minutes later, some random guy with a reporter’s pad approached the other fans and started asking them about catching baseballs at the Home Run Derby. When he finished with them, I asked if he was with the New York Times, and indeed he was; a friend of mine had run into this reporter half an hour earlier and told him about me, so we were actually looking for each other at this point. This reporter’s name, by the way, is Corey Kilgannon, and we ended up talking for quite a while.

At around 3pm, several employees began setting up a row of tables and chairs inside the Bullpen Gate, right in front of the main part of the gate. This seemed rather odd, so I got their attention and asked where exactly I should wait in order to be at the front of the line. One of the employees walked over and said, “I don’t think this gate is opening to the public. There’s gonna be a private event here.”

Wow. Just wow. I ran over to McFadden’s (that’s the bar/restaurant built into the stadium) to ask if THEY were going to open at 5:15pm, but of course they didn’t know. (“We haven’t been told anything,” they said.) Then I ran back past the Bullpen Gate and around the corner to the Right Field gate. Thankfully, there wasn’t much of a line there, but I still didn’t know what to do. One of the fans there called the Mets’ front office and asked about that gate and was told that it *would* open at 5:15pm. Then we heard 5pm from someone else. Several minutes later, my friend Ben Weil called me from the parking and asked where he should go. He, too, planned to camp out in right field for BP, so I told him to grab a spot in line outside the Rotunda. That way, if I found out that the Right Field gate WAS definitely going to open at the same time as all the others, he could run over there and jump in line with me, and if I found out that it wasn’t going to open on time, then I could run over and join him, and at least we’d be among the first fans to enter the stadium somewhere. People with standing room tickets were showing up early to claim spots on the Shea Bridge, autograph collectors were there to grab spots in the front row along the foul lines, and of course there were lots of folks who were going to head straight to the outfield seats to try to catch baseballs. Jesus Aitch. It was so stressful, and I’d done everything ahead of time to figure all this crap out. Several weeks earlier, I’d heard that there was going to be a big security briefing at Citi Field on July 11th, so I arranged for two different Mets employees to find out how things were going to be and to email me. Unfortunately, the briefing, according to one of these employees, “turned out to be a customer service rally,” and I didn’t get any insider info.

A little after 4pm, a security supervisor poked his head out and told everyone that the Rotunda was going to open at 4:30, so naturally, we all freaked out and ran over there. My spot outside the Right Field gate had been in the shade, but at the Rotunda, everyone was forced to stand in the sun, and let me tell you, it was HOT. To my delight, Ben had managed to get a spot at the front of the line. Here he is, reacting to the suffocating humidity:

13_ben_weil_at_the_rotunda

Five minutes later, one of the kids who’d run over with me from the Right Field gate told me that he’d just heard that it WAS going to open at 5:15pm. WHAT THE HELL?! He said his dad had stayed at the Right Field gate, and as soon as we all left, the supervisor came back out and apologized and said he’d gotten confused by the gate-opening time for the All-Star Game (which was supposed to be 4:30pm) and that all the gates *would* be opening at the same time. I was so pissed off at that point that there truly aren’t words to describe it. What was I supposed to do — go BACK to the Right Field gate? What if the kid and/or the supervisor was wrong? What if they were right? Two years ago in Phoenix, there was practically a stampede when the gates opened for the Derby, and the left field seats filled up shockingly fast. Now, suddenly, after weeks of planning, and after having gotten to the stadium four hours before the gates were supposed to open, I felt everything slipping away.

Ben and I decided to stay at the Rotunda and to run like hell when it opened. But then what? At the Derby in Phoenix, fans were actually forced to go TO THEIR SEATS during batting practice. Not only did I have to show my left field ticket just to get into the left field seats, but the ushers made me (or at least they tried to make me) stay in my seat in Row 12, or wherever the hell it was. It was a disaster, and I was paranoid that the way-too-strict Mets would have a similar policy in place. I had a ticket in right-center field, but it was waaay at the back of the section. If I had to stay there for all of BP, I was probably going to be shut out, and for the record, the last time I was shut out at a major league stadium was September 10, 1993. Do you understand why I was so stressed? Worse than the rules themselves was not knowing what the rules were going to be. I’m usually in control when I go to games, but now I felt helpless.

Here’s something cool that the Mets did . . . sort of. Half an hour before the gates were (supposedly) going to open, manager Terry Collins walked through the crowd:

14_terry_collins_walking_through_the_crowd

Of course, there was no warning, so most people didn’t even realize he was there, and he was surrounded by security so you couldn’t get THAT close to him, and they all walked very fast, so I was like, “Oh hey! Oh . . . well, bye.”

Fifteen minutes before the gates were (supposedly) going to open, I walked several hundred feet away from the stadium and photographed everyone:

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I’d actually expected the lines to be much longer, so hmm . . . maybe I was going to survive this day after all?

Finally, after hours of agonizing, the gates DID open at 5:15pm, and I made a frickin’ beeline for my section in right-center. When I first got a glimpse of it from the 1st-base side, I could see that it was mostly empty, but what was gonna happen during the minute that it’d take for me to run out there? Would a bunch of people get there ahead of me? Had the Right Field gate opened? I was so nervous, but all I could do was keep running. Thankfully, when I made it to the outfield, all I had to do was show my ticket to a guard at the top of the stairs, and then I was free to go anywhere within the section. WOO-HOO!! I ran down to the front row and grabbed the spot beside the batter’s eye. Here I am with a dopey grin on my face:

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I didn’t expect any homers to come directly to me, but I’d been planning or at least hoping to be able to run out onto the batter’s eye in case any balls landed on my right.

So much for that.

Not only was there a Chevrolet truck positioned next to me, but a guard was standing behind me on the slanted, black surface. Check it out:

17_guard_on_the_batters_eye

During regular-season games, fans *are* allowed to run out there for baseballs, but it doesn’t happen often. Most people don’t even realize they can do it, and even so, there aren’t many opportunities. Here at the Home Run Derby, however, I didn’t bother asking the guard if I could run out there. I feared I might get ejected for even thinking about it, so I turned my attention back to the field and focused on getting a toss-up.

Then it happened:

18_ball6820_from_carlos_gomez

[Cue the sound of angels singing.]

Carlos Gomez tossed me that ball, and I was very very very VERY very happy and relieved. But what if I didn’t snag another? Who would get to keep it — me or the guy who’d bought me the ticket?

Several minutes later, a ball landed in the gap on my left:

19_view_to_my_left_07_15_13

Under normal circumstances, it would’ve been an easy snag with my glove trick, but here at the Derby, I was nervous about (a) getting busted by security and (b) losing my spot, so I didn’t go for it.

Ten minutes later, I got another ball (with a Home Run Derby logo) from Clayton Kershaw, and despite the fact that I’d jumped and caught it back-handed above my right shoulder, the people on my left complained that I “stole” it from them. Unreal. Thankfully they soon snagged a ball and stopped pestering me.

That was it for the National League’s portion of BP. Here are the American Leaguers warming up in left field:

20_american_leaguers_warming_up_07_15_13

As I’ve mentioned before in other blog entries about Home Run Derbies, there are always lots of kids running around the outfield during BP — players’ and coaches’ kids, to be specific, and some of them throw a LOT of balls into the crowd. That said, here’s a photo of my third ball . . .

21_ball6822_from_little_kid_barr

. . . which was thrown by a little kid with “BARR 13″ on the back of his jersey. (It’s unusual to see a worn-out Home Run Derby ball.) Here’s a photo of BARR, along with Prince Fielder’s kid who tossed me ball No. 4:

22_barr_and_fielder

Does anyone know who BARR is? I have no clue, but it’d be nice to find out. I’d also like to know who this guy is . . .

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. . . because he threw me my fifth ball of the day (after I asked him for it in Spanish). I apologize for the crappy quality of the image of him facing the camera, but he was very far away, so I had to zoom way in, and I was also shooting into the sun. I think it’s Mariano Rivera Jr., but I’m not sure.

Toward the end of BP, the left field seats were insanely crowded:

24_left_field_crowded_07_15_13

Corey (the newspaper reporter) caught up with me to find out if I’d snagged any baseballs. Here he is (with the colorful, striped bag) looking at me:

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Mariano Rivera Sr., meanwhile, was being interviewed by Harold Reynolds in center field:

26_mariano_rivera_and_harold_reynolds

When BP ended, there was a ball sitting nearby on the warning track.
Several minutes later, a groundskeeper walked by and tossed it to me.
All six of my baseballs had the Home Run Derby logo on them.

The Shea Bridge was an absolute zoo . . .

28_shea_bridge_crowded_07_15_13

. . . but that’s what I expected. The whole stadium was packed — the official attendance for this event was 43,558 — and that’s a good thing. Although the dreadfully slow, commercial-packed pace of the Derby has alienated lots of fans, it’s still extremely popular.

Before the Derby got underway, I wandered all over the place, caught up with some friends, used the bathroom, got some food, etc. Basically, I got everything out of the way before 8pm so that I wouldn’t have any distractions when it mattered most.

In the days leading up to the Derby, I’d considered positioning myself behind the seats in the 2nd deck in right field, but when the time came, it seemed like such a long shot that I gave up on that spot. Instead, I went with a different strategy and pretty much stayed here all night:

29_view_during_derby_07_15_13

Five of the eight participants in the Derby were left-handed, or at least that’s what the media had reported, so I figured that right field was the place to be. As it turned out, though, two high-school studs each got to take some cuts (with metal bats!) as part of some type of bonus round; they both batted right-handed and launched balls all over left field . . . and I was trapped in right field at the time.

Despite the fact that I couldn’t see the batters, I felt like I had a good chance of getting some home run action. I could kinda see the Jumbotron through the beams of the Shea Bridge . . .

30_shitty_view_of_the_jumbotron

. . . so I knew when each pitch/swing was happening. In the photo above, the bridge was more crowded than it was for most of the Derby. The security guards out there did a decent job of confining all the people with standing-room tickets to the front of the walkway. That left lots of room in back for people to pass through, and there were times when there was quite a bit of open space. I knew that it was going to take quite a blast to reach me, no doubt upwards of 460 feet, but I knew it was possible. Unfortunately, there were very few balls that actually flew in my direction. It was strange and *very* frustrating. If anything had come near me, I would’ve had a great chance of catching it, but there just weren’t any opportunities. Sure, I could’ve camped out in the seats in right-center, and of course I’d considered getting a ticket on the lower level in left-center, but those areas seemed lousy. Lots of balls landed there, but because there was no aisle or walkway, if I caught anything, it would’ve been a matter of luck. In the regular seats, balls would’ve had to come right to me, and that didn’t seem ideal. That’s why I picked the weird spot next to the bridge, but it completely backfired.

I thought it was cool to be near the ESPN tent until I imagined what Barry Larkin and Curt Schilling were saying about me:

31b_barry_larkin_and_curt_schilling

When Yoenis Cespedes was due to bat late in the 2nd round, I headed up to the 2nd deck in left field. He had hit lots of balls there his first time up, so I figured . . . why not try to see if I can get into a good spot? To my surprise, it was easy. Lots of fans had already left (because David Wright had been eliminated), and some of the guards weren’t checking tickets! I didn’t catch any home runs up there, but I liked my chances; I’d found an empty seat on a staircase, so at least I was able to move up and down.

After Cespedes finished hitting, I ran back downstairs for the final round — Cespedes versus Bryce Harper. Those were the two guys who were gonna be competing, and the left-handed Harper was going to be swinging first. That’s when I posted this tweet, announcing that I’d be in the 2nd deck for Cespedes. Harper’s turn at bat was worthless. He hit eight home runs (which isn’t bad), but none of them came anywhere near my spot beside the bridge. Then I raced back to the 2nd deck and got ready for my final chance. This was the view:

32_left_field_second_deck_for_cespedes

Remember when I blogged about what I was planning to wear at the Derby? Well, don’t be fooled by the white shirt that I wore during BP. For the Derby itself, I wore the yellow Homer Simpson shirt, which can be seen in the following screen shot:

33_zack_on_tv_07_15_13

Cespedes hit two home runs RIGHT at me in the final round. I’m telling you, the direction could not have been better. Unfortunately, though, the first one fell five feet short of the 2nd deck, and the second one landed just above me in the upper deck. What a pisser. And that was it. He ended up crushing the clincher to dead center — an absolute blast that hit the back wall of the batter’s eye on the fly! Amazing. But also disappointing. I really wanted to catch a home run during the Derby, and I failed.

Before leaving the stadium, I headed over to the 3rd-base side. While Cespedes was being interviewed on the field, look who was decked out in A’s gear in the front row behind the dugout:

34_ben_at_the_dugout_in_athletics_gear

That’s Ben. The dude has a zillion hats and jerseys, and he practically brought them all to the Home Run Derby.

Here’s a photo of Cespedes being interviewed:

35_yoenis_cespedes_interviewed

Here I am (drenched in sweat) with my six baseballs . . .

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. . . and here are the balls themselves (three of which I was gonna have to give away):

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Did you notice how weird the “2013” looks on the Home Run Derby logo? The first two digits appear to be navy blue on a white background, and the last two digits are the opposite — white on a navy blue background. I don’t like that at all, but I do think the apple looks nice.

In case you’re wondering, Derby balls are subject to the same type of scrutiny at the Rawlings factory as all the others. Here’s a photo of one with an invisible ink stamp:

38_derby_ball_in_black_light_07_15_13

Evidently, toward the end of the Derby, there’d been a subway fire on the No. 7 line that screwed up everyone’s commute back to Manhattan. Here’s an article about it with some photos. Some of my friends got in touch to ask if I got caught up in it, and the answer is no. Trains were suspended (or should I say “Cespended”?) at around 10:40pm, and by the time I left the stadium well after midnight, everything was running smoothly. Always remember that the best way to beat the crowd is to outlast it.

Finally, speaking of articles, here’s the one by Corey Kilgannon in the New York Times. You’ll find me in the final two paragraphs.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game (and yes, I do count the Home Run Derby as a “game” in my stats)

• 366 balls in 49 games this season = 7.47 balls per game.

• 23 balls at 4 lifetime Home Run Derbies = 5.75 balls per game.

• 921 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 446 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

• 6,825 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)

• $11.28 raised at this game

• $688.08 raised this season through my fundraiser

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

• $33,094.08 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

The Helicopter Stunt (Part 2)

Last year I attempted to catch a baseball that was dropped from a helicopter 1,000 feet high — and I nearly succeeded. If you saw my blog entry about it, you may recall that I caught several balls from various heights before the 1,000-foot drop was called off due to strong wind. At the time, I was VERY disappointed to have lost my opportunity, so you can imagine how excited I was to be back in Lowell, Massachusetts, to give it another try.

Anyway, let’s get right to it, huh? Here’s the helicopter coming in for a landing at LeLacheur Park:

1_ch_helicopter_landing_on_field

Did you notice the clock? That’s right — it was 6:10am (and I’d only gotten three and a half hours of sleep). The reason why we started so early was to avoid the wind. I’m no meteorologist, but evidently the air is calmest at that time of day.

I should mention that if you hover your cursor over any of these photos, you’ll see a number followed by two letters, which represent the initials of the photographer. The previous pic was taken by my friend Chris Hernandez, who’d arrived several minutes before me. If you see “ag” on any photos, that’s my friend Andrew Gonsalves. The letters “hd” indicate that my girlfriend Hayley was behind the camera, and “zh” is me. I just wanna make sure that everyone gets the credit they deserve.

That said, you can figure out who took the following photo (or rather a screen shot from a video) as I entered the stadium:

2_ag_zack_posing_with_stretcher

In case you’re new to this blog, that’s me in the red cap, and just so you know, I’m being sponsored this season by BIGS Sunflower Seeds. In addition to paying for the helicopter (which cost $450 per hour), the folks at BIGS also paid to have paramedics at the field. The stretcher in the previous photo was for me! As you can imagine, it was rather disconcerting to walk in and see that, but I wasn’t too concerned. Last year my biggest fear was having to catch a 1,000-foot knuckleball and getting hit in the face and breaking my neck and becoming paralyzed or getting killed, but once I saw that the balls were NOT knuckling, I knew I could do it. Still, even on this attempt, I was nervous about breaking my hand or wrist. The terminal velocity of a baseball falling from a great height is “only” 95 miles per hour, but get this: it has the force of a 103mph fastball. That’s because pitch speed is measured upon release; by the time a major league fastball reaches home plate, it loses approximately eight miles per hour, so a “95mph fastball” is really only traveling 87mph when the catcher gloves it. But enough about that.

See the big guy on the left in the following photo?

3_ch_mike_davison_safety_talk

His name is Mike Davison, and without him, none of this would’ve happened. He’s a test flight engineer for the FAA, and he handled all the logistics; the hardest thing about this whole stunt wasn’t making the actual catch itself. The biggest challenge was setting it up.

In the photo above, Mike was leading us through a safety briefing and going over some other key points. See the guy wearing jeans and the tan baseball cap? That’s Bob Cloutier, the helicopter pilot. He and Mike and I were the only people who could call off the stunt at any time for any reason. See the guy to the right of Bob in the BIGS shirt? That’s Logan Soraci, who works for the company as a brand manager. (Neal Stewart couldn’t make it.) The guy standing to the right of Logan was one of the paramedics, and to the right of him, you can see two police officers. Mike had arranged for them to be there (and BIGS had paid for them) to block the walking path behind the outfield wall. That way, if a baseball happened to land outside the stadium, it wouldn’t kill anyone, but still, Mike said that if a ball did land there, he would call off the stunt.

There was a bit of time to spare before the helicopter took off, so I put on my chest protector and began playing catch with Andrew:

4_hd_zack_playing_catch

Mainly, I just wanted to get loose and have some fun in the process, but once we got started, I realized that our throwing session served another purpose: I was providing some good B-roll footage for the cameras. Did you notice the guy with the tripod? That’s Nathan Minatta, who had traveled here with Logan from Colorado. He’s a professional photographer/videographer, so his job was to document everything.

A little while later, several folks gathered near the helicopter:

5_hd_folks_near_the_helicopter

In the photo above, everyone but Mike was going to be riding in it. Bob, of course, was going to be flying it, and Logan was going to be filming. Andrew was going to photograph the altimeter every time a ball was dropped, and the guy pictured on the left was going to do the actual dropping. His name is Caspar Wang, and he’s an aerospace engineer for the FAA. (I want to be an aerospace engineer just so I can tell people that I’m an aerospace engineer.) See the bag he’s carrying? That was filled with the six dozen baseballs that I’d brought, and by the way, these were all balls that I’d snagged at major league games and rubbed with mud. I figured that if major leaguers are allowed to use mud-rubbed balls to help them see better, then so could I.

Before the helicopter took off, Andrew made sure to get a photo of the altimeter, and a little while later, I did the same. Check it out:

6_ag_altimeter_on_the_ground

If you look closely at the double-photo above, you’ll see that the altimeter was set for 90 feet. (Because of the angles at which these two photos were taken, it looks like 100 feet on the left and 80 feet on the right.) Why not set the altimeter to “zero” on the ground? Two words: barometric pressure. I’m no test flight engineer, but evidently this can skew the altimeter readings, so the FAA provides pilots with info for what the local settings should be. (Mike, I know you’re gonna be reading this, so can you provide a better explanation in the comments section?)

At around 6:40am, the helicopter was ready for takeoff, and Andrew marked the occasion by taking a selfie in the co-pilot’s seat:

7_ag_andrew_in_the_helicopter

Can you blame him? This was the first time he’d ever been in a helicopter.

Hayley got a nice shot of it taking off . . .

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. . . which shows two important weather-related things:

1) The flags were hanging limp, which meant there was no wind on the ground.
2) The sky was overcast, which meant I’d have an easier time seeing the balls.

Last year’s attempt took place on a sunny day, and even though I wasn’t looking directly up at the sun, I still struggled with visibility. There were a couple of drops that happened to take place as a cloud passed behind the helicopter, and those were the ones I had seen best. Against a blue background, the mud-rubbed balls looked like grains of sand — that is, when I could even see them — but against the white clouds, they showed up as minuscule (though unmistakable) black specks.

Did you notice the scoreboard in the previous photo? I had no idea that my name was going to be there, so that was a pretty cool surprise.

As the helicopter got into position, I quickly put on the rest of my safety gear:

9_ch_zack_putting_on_safety_gear

The chest protector, mask/helmet, and catcher’s mitt were all donated by Rawlings for this stunt; my plan was (and still is) to donate the gear (along with all the baseballs) to Pitch In For Baseball.

Mike had arranged for me to catch balls from two different heights. I’d been told that the first one was going to be dropped from 550 feet, thereby equaling the approximate height of the Washington Monument, where several baseball drops had occurred more than a century ago. Then, after I completed this test/warm-up, the helicopter was going to climb to 1,000 feet for the main attempt.

While Andrew was seeing this . . .

10_ag_view_from_helicopter

. . . my friend Ben Weil was helping me tighten the straps on my helmet:

11_hd_ben_tightening_helmet_for_zack

Did you notice the guy in the previous photo in the maroon shirt? His name is Dennis Link, and he’s a member of SABR — the Society for American Baseball Research. He had contacted me after my attempt last year, and when I mentioned that I was going to try again, he asked if he could be there.

This event was NOT open to the public. It would’ve been dangerous (if not criminal) to have spectators in the stands, so the few people in attendance had to stay inside the 1st-base dugout. When the helicopter had first taken off, Mike noticed two random guys taking photos from the open-air concourse behind home plate. This was a major cause for concern, but as it turned out, they were members of the cleaning crew, and he instructed them to take cover in the doorway of the men’s room.

Here’s a photo of the helicopter getting into position:

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I was already out in shallow center field at that point, and the cameras were ready:

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In the photo above, that’s Nathan wearing the helmet, Chris wearing the No. 5 jersey, Mateo Fischer in the gray tee-shirt, and Dennis standing on the bench.

As for me . . .

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. . . I was doing my thing on the field, running all over the place and chasing the baseballs, which seemed to be landing everywhere. Here’s one falling well beyond my reach in deep center:

15_hd_zack_running_for_a_ball

The helicopter was so loud that Mike led everyone in a countdown from “five” for every drop. That way, I knew exactly when each ball was coming.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the helicopter was hovering much higher than 550 feet. The reason was simple: better to be too high than too low. Can you imagine how crappy we all would’ve felt if I ended up catching one from 1,000-ish feet, only to discover that it was only 950? That said, Mike had told Bob to aim for 600 feet for the first set of drops; to make sure there was no issue, Bob went even higher than that. Check out the altimeter:

16_ag_altimeter_when_i_caught_the_first_one_650_feet_above_the_ground

As you can see, it was showing a reading of 740 feet; subtract the ground measurement of 90 feet from that, and the helicopter was actually 650 feet above the ground. That was the altitude when I caught this ball:

17_hd_zack_catching_ball_from_650_feet

I didn’t really dive for it so much as leaning and lunging and then plopping onto my stomach. It’s a shame that I caught the ball in front of a white advertisement because I snow-coned it, and if there’d been a dark background, you’d really see it in the tip of my glove. Still, if you click the four-part photo above and zoom in on image No. 3, you can kinda/barely/almost see the ball. Here’s a video, filmed by Mateo, that shows several failed attempts leading up to the catch itself:

Allow me to point out several things:

1) To the casual observer, it probably looks like I can’t judge or catch a pop-up, so let me just say that it was HARD. I’ll explain why in a bit.

2) Did you notice that the first ball didn’t bounce? It went straight into the ground and got embedded in the grass. I felt really bad for the groundskeeper.

3) Even though I was wearing a heavily-padded catcher’s mitt along with a batting glove and a wrist/palm guard, I figured that if the ball hit my palm or one of my fingers, it would be an automatic broken bone. Well, wouldn’t you know it? I *did* catch this ball on my palm — that’s why it squirted to the tip of my glove — but amazingly it didn’t hurt. I took my glove off and shook my hand out of instinct, but I’m telling you, there was zero pain. Lucky me.

Ben and his girlfriend Jen hadn’t heard that the helicopter was going to start at a lesser height, so when they saw me catch the ball, they assumed that I’d just broken the record. As a result, this was their reaction:

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They took the news well. If anything, they were excited to get to see me give it another shot.

Nathan interviewed me for a couple of minutes . . .

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. . . while the helicopter climbed to 1,000-plus feet:

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I should mention that I was wearing a mouth guard and elbow guards, but no protective cup. (You might remember the cup from this photo of my equipment.) I had it with me at the field and briefly put it in place, but then decided . . . screw it. Yes, I’d like to have kids someday, but protective cups are **SO** uncomfortable, and this seemed like a low-risk situation. Getting hit in the balls by something falling from directly above just doesn’t happen. I wore the cup last year in case I ended up back-peddling for a ball and tripping and landing on my back and being exposed, so to speak, but that never happened, so yeah, to hell with the cup. I always wore one when I played shortstop, and I always hated it. If you’ve ever worn a cup, then you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, then I envy you.

Mike was in constant communication with the helicopter. Here I am with him shortly before running back out onto the field:

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Here I am showing off my mouth guard:

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(I am soooooo handsome. Admit it.)

Did you notice the BIGS Sunflower Seeds logo on my chest protector? Logan, sensing a bonus opportunity to promote the company, stuck it there, and I was fine with that. BIGS has done so much for me this season that I’m glad to do what I can for them.

A minute or two later, the helicopter was in position at 1,000-plus feet. Once again, Andrew was going to photograph the altimeter every time a ball was dropped. Therefore, if I did succeed in catching one, we’d know that his final photo would be THE photo — pretty simple, really.

Here I am, back out on the field, looking skyward for the first ball:

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As I mentioned last year, the mask/helmet was so heavy (and my head was tilted back at such an uncomfortable angle) that I constantly had to lift it slightly off my face. That’s what I was doing in the photo above. Sometimes, when I got tired, I’d hold the mask there *while* the ball was starting to descend. From 1,000-plus feet, it took approximately 11.5 seconds for each ball to reach me. That’s a long time to be looking straight up at the sky. Try tilting your head all the way back and staring at a point on the ceiling directly above you. Do it. Now. I mean it. I actually want you to take a break from reading this and hold your head like that . . . and then don’t move for 12 seconds. It’s not all that comfortable, huh? Now imagine doing it with several pounds of weight on your head. And imagine doing it over and over and over and over and over.

And over.

It seems funny to say this, but trying to catch baseballs dropped from a helicopter is quite an intense workout.

Here I am running for a ball . . .

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. . . which ended up bouncing off the infield dirt:

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Here I am narrowly missing another . . .

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. . . and another:

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I didn’t drop any of these balls; I just didn’t quite get to them quick enough.

According to Bob, the wind was blowing 23 miles per hour at 1,000-plus feet *and* it was blowing in different directions at various altitudes. Not only was it challenging for him to keep the helicopter stable, but it was tough for me because the balls didn’t fall in a straight line. They’d start drifting one way, then another . . . and sometimes another and another. And there was no pattern. For example, there were a few balls that initially appeared to be heading toward the warning track, so I started running in that direction — but then the wind took them back toward the infield and I had to scramble back toward the spot where I’d started. After that, I made sure to stay near the infield, assuming that the balls would blow toward me . . . but then the wind completely shifted, and the balls DID end up near the track. I didn’t mind the challenge, and in fact, I thought it was fun. The only thing that concerned me was losing my opportunity to make a successful catch. We were going through lots of balls, and of course if any of them landed outside the stadium, that was it. Game over. One ball landed on the pavement in the stands on the 3rd-base side and bounced about 50 feet in the air. You’ve never seen a ball bounce that high before. It was pretty cool, but served as a sobering reminder of how fast it was actually falling.

In the following photo, can you spot the ball? I could’ve circled it in red, but thought I’d give you a chance to find it for yourself:

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As you can see, I was jumping and reaching for that one, and I only missed it by a couple of feet.

Here I am nearly catching another:

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There were a few balls that appeared to be descending right toward me, but time after time, they veered off course at the last second, and since they were already traveling 95 miles per hour, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to react.

Here’s a cool (though massively pixelated) shot of Caspar releasing one of the balls:

30_hd_caspar_dropping_ball_from_1000_feet

I found out later that he was actually tossing them (with some spin to prevent them from knuckling). That’s because the wind was forcing the helicopter to hover in various spots, and in some cases, he needed to put a little velocity on it in order to set the ball on the proper course.

Although, like I said, the wind was shifting, overall it seemed to be blowing in from left field. Because of that, the helicopter was hovering above the outer/left-field perimeter of the stadium, and that seemed to work. Most balls ended up drifting into the middle of the outfield, but I was concerned that if the wind changed slightly (or even died down for a moment), that one of the balls would land in the trees beyond the outfield wall.

That’s exactly what happened, and my heart sank when Mike started walking slowly onto the field with his head down.

He asked me where the ball had landed. (Evidently he hadn’t seen it.) Here we are talking about it:

31_hd_mike_and_zack_talking_after_a_ball_landed_outside_the_stadium

I reluctantly told him that it had landed outside the stadium, but I quickly added that (a) it had barely cleared the outfield wall and (b) it was due to the helicopter’s positioning more than the wind itself. I begged him not to call things off and reminded him that the cops were there for this exact reason — to block that area so that no one would get hurt. (The cops were in their cars; Mike had joked during the safety briefing that “if any balls hit the cars, the nice people at BIGS will pay for the damage.”) Mike got on his walkie-talkie and communicated with Bob. I asked if we could try again with the helicopter positioned above the field. Please please please!!! I was much more concerned about *not* getting to try to catch more baseballs than I was about possibly getting hurt or killed by one — funny how my mind works.

After talking to Bob and considering all the circumstances, Mike said yes! Things would proceed as planned! Here’s we are returning to our respective spots:

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Moments after that photo was taken, I ran back toward him to ask an important question: “How many balls do they have left?”

Mike got back on his walkie-talkie and asked Caspar. I was expecting the answer to be something awful like “six,” so I was thrilled to hear that there were still THIRTY balls remaining! I asked Mike what would happen if they ran out of balls — could the helicopter land and gather them all and head back up for another round? He wasn’t sure, but indicated that it was unlikely.

It was now or never.

Here’s a three-part photo that shows me chasing after one ball. As you’ll see, I started by running away from the infield, then turning back/left, and finally jumping/reaching unsuccessfully to my right:

33_hd_running_all_over_the_place

Did I mention that it was challenging?

I only lost sight of one ball, and it happened when I took my eyes off it. I did that because I knew that it was going to land far away, so rather than running like a doofus with my head tilted back, I sprinted toward the spot where I thought it was gonna end up, and when I looked for it . . . I was like, “Uh oh.” Thankfully I wasn’t in any danger because (a) I spotted it after a few seconds and (b) it ended up landing 50 feet away from me.

Meanwhile, I was *completely* out of breath and drenched in sweat. I could’ve used a breather, but since there weren’t many baseballs left, I decided to stay out there.

Here I am barely missing another stupid baseball:

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I was still having fun, but by this point, I was entering “stressed as hell” territory.

Wanna guess what happened next? Here’s a hint:

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That’s a photo of the altimeter at 1,140 feet, which means the helicopter was actually 1,050 feet above the ground when THIS happened:

Unfortunately, Mateo, who filmed that video, didn’t capture the countdown because he had *just* swapped SD cards, but it’s still great to have this footage. Nathan, of course, was also filming, but I’m gonna wait and show you his video at the end. For now, here are some photos of my record-breaking catch. This one shows me tracking the ball when Caspar first released it:

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I was ready to run in any/every direction, just like all the others, but to my surprise, the ball kept coming . . . and coming . . . right at me. As you saw in the video, I shuffled my feet and took a few steps, and then I settled under it — or at least I tried:

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Ideally, I wanted to make a one-handed catch directly above my left shoulder. Some people had advised me to use two hands (dumb because it would’ve exposed an extra body part to danger) and others suggested that I make a basket catch (dumb because you have less control when you’re not “looking” the ball into the glove). I knew what I wanted to do. It was just a matter of executing it.

The ball drifted a foot or two to my left, but by the time I realized that it was heading there, it was too late to move my feet. The ball might only have been 100 feet above me at that point, and since it was traveling so fast, that meant I had less than one second to react. Therefore, all I could do was  hold my ground and brace myself and reach out to the side:

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In the photo above, you can see the ball in my glove, and in the next photo, you can see me staring at it while trying to maintain my balance:

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The ball came down with tremendous force, but it didn’t feel nearly as powerful as the one I caught last year from a height that turned out to be 822 feet. (At the time, we thought it was 762 feet, but because of a discrepancy with some of the settings and measurements, the change swung in my favor and added an extra 60 feet. Of course, that accomplishment is much less significant now because of the 1,050-foot catch. By the way, some media outlets are mistakenly reporting that this catch broke Gabby Hartnett‘s record of 822 feet, but don’t be fooled. In 1930 Hartnett caught a ball dropped from a blimp that might have been flying as high as 800 feet. Ever since, he has been acknowledged as the unofficial record holder, so I guess some folks got confused about which record I broke.) The force from last year’s catch may have felt more powerful because I was wearing a flimsy infielder’s glove with no padding. This time around, not only was I using the catcher’s mitt, but the ball didn’t land squarely in the pocket; it landed just to the side of the pocket and seemed to rattle around for a split-second. That may have dispersed the force of the impact, but whatever happened, I was just glad that I didn’t drop it and that I didn’t get hurt.

Here I am holding up the ball:

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Here’s a four-part screen shot from the video that Nathan filmed:

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Here’s Mike coming out to congratulate me:

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This time, when Ben jumped over the dugout railing . . .

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. . . the celebration was for real.

He ran out onto the field . . .

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. . . and chased me around as if I’d just won a crucial game with a walk-off hit.

I ran away from him at first . . .

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. . . but then I turned back, and we shared a big ol’ hug behind the pitcher’s mound:

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Ben is the opposite of jealous. He’s been with me for some of my biggest moments (including the day I caught Mike Trout’s 1st career home run), and he’s always SO happy for me. Sometimes I think he gets more excited about these things than I do — and I *do* get pretty revved up. He is truly one of the best/kindest people that I’ve ever known.

Here I am walking off the field with him, Mike, and Nathan:

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The photo above reminds me of this. Heh.

We had to clear the field ASAP because the helicopter was going to be landing. Here’s a photo that Andrew took of the houses below . . .

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. . . and here’s another that shows the field:

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Beautiful.

By the time the helicopter landed, I was standing safely on the warning track:

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As soon as Mike and I knew that everyone else was safe, we shared an emotional hug:

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Then I was interviewed for a few minutes by Nathan and Dennis:

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At that point, I wasn’t paying any attention to the helicopter — why should I have been, right? — so I wasn’t aware that Logan and the others had started walking toward the dugout:

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Here’s what happened a minute later:

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As you can see, instead of dumping a cooler of Gatorade on my head, Logan showered me with an entire bucket of BIGS sample packs. Awesome.

I opened a pack of the Old Bay seeds, put way too many of them in my mouth, struggled to talk, spat some out into Jen’s cupped hands (I was hoping she’d eat them), and continued talking to the cameras:

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By the way, I ended up taking all of these sample packs home to New York City, and I’ll probably end up bringing some with me on the road, so if you see me at a game and I give you one . . . now you know the story behind it.

Here’s a random/artsy photo that Hayley took:

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A few minutes later, I headed to the outfield to collect my baseballs and survey the damage that they’d caused. This crater should give you an idea of the force with which they’d thumped the turf:

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Here’s what the ball looked like when I pried it out of the ground:

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I owe a huge thanks to Spinners groundskeeper Jeff Paolino, not only for allowing this to happen on his field, but for waking up at 5am to be there in the first place. Everyone who participated in this event was incredible.

While I was in the outfield, Mateo and Ben played catch on the 3rd-base side:

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Then I posed for a photo with Mike and Bob:

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In case you’re wondering, the ball I’m holding is THE ball. Mike had asked to keep the one that I’d caught from 650 feet, and I made sure to hang onto the record-breaker for myself.

Here’s another random/artsy photo for you:

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Here’s a less artsy shot of Ben and Andrew playing with the sunflower seeds:

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(That’s Benny being Benny.)

Eventually, everyone gathered near the helicopter for a group photo:

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I don’t know the name of the officer pictured above, but I can identify everyone else. From left to right, you’re looking at Nick (one of the paramedics), Mike (always the biggest and tallest), the cop (who hopefully won’t arrest me for spacing out on his name), Matt (the other paramedic), Bob (whose company is called C-R Helicopters), Andrew (who thinks the Dodgers will win the NL West), Hayley (who will hopefully forgive me for making her wake up so early), Ben (who owns more hats and jerseys than you and all your friends and all of their friends combined), Jen (who is adored by everyone), me (still never tasted Coke or Pepsi), Logan (who was cool as hell about everything), Caspar (who thankfully didn’t kill me), Mateo (hiding in the back in typical Mateo fashion), Chris (kneeling and feeling good about life), and Dennis (who plans to make a presentation about this madness to his fellow SABR members). I wish that Jeff (the groundskeeper) and Jon Boswell (the Spinners’ director of media relations, who had also done so much for me) had made it into the photo, but they’d already moved on to other tasks, as overworked/underpaid minor league employees tend to do. I also wish that Nathan had made it into the group shot, but he was too busy documenting everything to be a part of it.

Here’s a photo of the baseball that I caught from 1,050 feet:

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Some media outlets have mistakenly reported the helicopter’s altitude at 1,200 feet. I’m not sure how that happened, but my guess is that word spread a little too quickly. There were times when the altimeter *did* reach 1,200 feet, so that number must’ve been shared before we determined the actual reading for my catch (1,140 feet) and then subtracted the starting altitude (90 feet). Are you with me? Just to repeat it (because there are lots of numbers in this paragraph), the ball I caught was dropped from 1,050 feet. Okay? Good.

Here’s a photo of Caspar . . .

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. . . who’s one of those guys that I know I’d be great friends with if we didn’t live so far apart, and if our lives were more interwoven. I’m glad to say, though, that we had a long phone conversation  several days later, and it looks like we’ll stay in touch.

Ben and Jen had never been in a helicopter, so Mike arranged for Bob to fly them back to the airport. Here they are, ready for takeoff:

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Meanwhile, it was business as usual for Jeff, who was tending to the field:

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After the helicopter lifted off (and before it flew away), I ran out onto the field for one more wacky attempt: catching a camera. I’m not sure what type of camera it was, but (a) it belonged to Nathan, (b) it had streamers attached to it, (c) it was weighted so that the lens would face down, and (d) supposedly it could withstand a major impact. Here I am, ready for it:

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Here’s a closer look at the camera being dangled from an open door:

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The idea was to get a shot of what the drop would look like from the ball’s perspective. Unfortunately, though, I failed to catch the camera . . .

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. . . and the glass (or was it plastic?) cracked when it hit the ground. Here I am showing it to Logan:

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Because the helicopter had been hovering so low, the rotor wash was VERY strong and blew the camera away from me. Nathan and Logan had wanted to drop it from 650 feet, but Mike wouldn’t allow it; he wasn’t sure how or where the camera would fall, so he couldn’t take a chance on people’s safety on the ground. If it *had* been dropped from that height, then I would’ve worn it as a helmet-cam for the 1,000-plus-foot attempts. THAT would’ve been cool. (Maybe next time?) (You think I’m kidding about doing this again? Well, I’m not. I would love to catch baseballs dropped from anywhere. Someone suggested that I try to catch one dropped from the CN Tower into the Rogers Centre. Of course, that person has no clout with the Blue Jays or any governmental agency in Canada, so it probably won’t happen, but seriously, if the mayor of St. Louis lets me attempt to catch a ball dropped from the top of the Gateway Arch, or if the President of the United Arab Emirates invites me to try it at the Burj Khalifa, I am soooooo there. What about the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower? Let’s think big! Do you think Felix Baumgartner would be willing to take a bucket of balls with him next time he visits the stratosphere?)

After the helicopter took off . . .

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. . . we had some time to spare. The plan was for Mike to drive back to the stadium with Ben and Jen, so we all entertained ourselves in various ways. Andrew played catch . . .

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. . . while Hayley photographed my ass:

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Here’s the bucket of balls:

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It’s weird to see a mud-rubbed ball with the word “practice” stamped on the sweet spot, no?

Hayley took my picture with Dennis . . .

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. . . and then he took a picture of us:

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Here I am with Logan:

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I was totally sweaty and disgusting, so Logan hooked me up with a spare BIGS shirt, just like the one he was wearing. Check it out:

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While I was having a serious conversation with Dennis about baseball history, Andrew was making a mockery of the national pastime:

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Then I played catch with Chris . . .

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. . . and called my mom to let her know that I wasn’t dead. And then I started writing this tweet:

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It would’ve been fun to stay for the Spinners game that night, but someone had to get back to New York (or rather New Jersey) for a Taylor Swift concert.

Before leaving LeLacheur Park, I swung by the office and said goodbye to Jon. Here he is with the team’s clubhouse attendant, who goes by the name of “Dogman.” Can you guess which one is which?

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Dogman is quite a character. I’d met him last year, remember? He’s the guy who gave me ice after I bruised my finger on an 822-foot pop-up.

Look what I found on my way out of the stadium:

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No, not the BIGS bucket (which was filled with my baseballs). I’m talking about the ball sitting in the bushes. That was also one of mine! It was the one that had landed on the pavement and bounced absurdly high — how nice to be reunited with it.

There was one last hurrah before hitting the road — brunch at the Owl Diner. Here’s a group photo:

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Yes, I had two plates of food: blueberry pancakes *and* scrambled eggs with melted cheddar, home fries, and a very buttery English muffin. And did you notice the baseball on the table between the plates?

At the end of the meal, Jen had some fun with the ketchup bottle:

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At the time, we didn’t yet know the exact height from which the ball had been dropped, but we all know now: 1,050 feet.

MANY thanks to everyone who was involved: Mike for handling all the logistics, Jon for letting me do this at the Spinners’ stadium, my friend Ben Hill for introducing me to Jon in the first place, Jeff for expertly fixing the mini-craters in the field, Caspar for tossing the balls so well, Bob for flying the helicopter in challenging conditions, Nathan for documenting everything, the paramedics for being ready to save my life, the police officers for blocking the walking path behind the outfield wall, Dennis for sharing this adventure with his colleagues at SABR, Logan for being there and making the whole day a success, BIGS Sunflower Seeds for picking up the tab, Rawlings for donating the catcher’s gear, Jim Bintliff for donating a container of Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud, and all my friends who were there to support me. This was a team effort all the way.

The final part of the effort was orchestrated by Logan and Nathan. While the rest of us were stuffing ourselves silly at brunch, they were working hard to edit the footage and send clips to the media. Here’s the video they came up with:

Twenty-four hours after they uploaded it to YouTube, it only had a few hundred views. Now, four days later, it’s been seen more than 40,000 times. I don’t know if that qualifies as having gone viral, but it’s pretty damn cool.

Before we parted ways, Logan mentioned something about ESPN, and I remember thinking, “Yeah, okay, whatever, riiiiiiiight,” but somehow I ended up making SportsCenter‘s Top Ten plays the following day:

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Later that day, Arsenio Hall posted a couple of tweets about it . . .

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. . . and the story took off from there. A friend in Australia emailed to say that she’d heard about my record-setting catch on the news, and a cousin in England send me this newspaper article:

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That’s not any old “thrower.” That’s my pal Caspar Wang, who’s a frickin’ aerospace engineer for the FAA! C’mon, England, get with it!

The catch also made headlines in America. Here’s a screen shot from Yahoo! Sports . . .

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. . . and here’s the link to the piece itself. The host who narrated the video segment started by saying, “If you’re trying to break a world record, you might wanna have someone from the Guinness Book standing by.”

Dear Yahoos, if you wanna have someone from the Guinness Book standing by, you’re gonna have to pay roughly $50,000. Yeah. Seriously. That’s what it costs to have one of their “adjudicators” present for a record attempt. Maybe YOU’D like to pay for them to come and watch me do it again? And by the way, it wasn’t Hartnett who caught the ball from 822 feet. GAH!!!

I was also mentioned briefly on NPR. And so on.

IN-SANE!!!

Look for me on TV . . .

I’m still working on my blog entry about the helicopter stunt, so in the meantime, here’s a quick heads-up on what I’ll be wearing tonight at the Home Run Derby at Citi Field. I’m planning to rock the yellow Homer Simpson shirt . . .

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. . . and red BIGS Sunflower Seeds cap:

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Got it?
Yellow shirt.
Red cap.
Look for me on TV.

I don’t want to reveal my exact seat location, so let’s leave it at this: pay extra-close attention when the lefties are up.

Tomorrow!

Last summer I attempted to catch a baseball that was dropped from a helicopter 1,000 feet high. The stunt took place at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Massachusetts . . . remember? This was my blog entry about it, and there were several articles, including this one in the Boston Globe and this one on MiLB.com. As some of you already know, I’m going to make another attempt tomorrow — July 13, 2013.

Here’s all my equipment and safety gear:

helicopter_stunt_equopment_07_13_13

This might sound strange, but my biggest concern is the weather. Yesterday, the forecast for July 13th called for a 50 percent chance of rain at 6am (which is when this whole thing will be taking place). Thankfully, things are now looking better:

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Of course, I *am* also concerned about my safety. If things go horribly wrong, I could die or become paralyzed. If things go semi-wrong, I could break my hand or wrist or jaw. (Joe Sprinz, the last person to attempt this, broke HIS jaw at the World’s Fair in 1939.) But I feel like I can do this — otherwise I wouldn’t be attempting it.

I’m not sure how much tweeting or blogging I’ll be able to do tomorrow, so if you want to know what’s going on, here are some people to follow:

1) Andrew Gonsalves (He’s going to be recording data *in* the helicopter.)
2) Mateo Fischer (He’ll be watching/documenting from the ground.)
3) Ben Weil (He’ll also be watching, but probably not documenting.)
4) Chris Hernandez (He’ll be there too and plans to blog about it.)
5) BIGS Sunflower Seeds (They’re sponsoring this event and will provide updates.)
6) Lowell Spinners (They’re kindly allowing me to do this at their stadium.)
7) Jon Boswell (He’s the Director of Media Relations for the Spinners.)

One final/unrelated thing for now . . .

Today’s copy of the Daily News has a huge spread with my photo and ballhawking advice for the Home Run Derby. Check it out:

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(NOTE: you can click the image above to get a closer look.)

Oh, and for those of you who’ve been emailing me and asking on Twitter . . . yes, I’m planning to attend the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game — that is, if I don’t get seriously injured in Lowell. Someone (who reads this blog and wishes to remain anonymous) bought me tickets in exchange for half the balls I end up snagging — a pretty good deal all around. Stay tuned. This is going to be a VERY exciting week.

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