7/2/13 at Citi Field

I often get accused of sucking up to the media and trying to get as much attention as possible, so here’s an example of how that’s *not* true. Last week, I got an email from a Japanese newspaper reporter who was writing a story about the Rawlings baseball factory in Costa Rica. She and a colleague had been unsuccessful in their attempt to visit the factory themselves, so when they stumbled upon my blog entry about being there in 2010, they got in touch and asked me a few questions. Several emails later, they asked if they could interview me in person and offered to meet whenever/wherever I wanted. I suggested meeting at my family’s book store at 2pm on July 2nd because I had to be there anyway for work, and okay, I’ll admit it, I was hoping they might end up mentioning it in their story. Anyway, here are the two reporters, sitting across a table from me in the store’s autograph department:

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The woman’s name is Kaoru Ishiguro, and as it turned out, she was there to translate for Fumitaka Ohnishi, the man on the right, who was going to be doing the writing. They’d done a bit of research on me, so they knew the basics about my books and baseball collection. Eventually, I asked if they knew that I’d visited the Tokyo Dome last year. No. I asked if they’d read about my helicopter stunt. No. I asked if they knew about my partnership with BIGS Sunflower Seeds. No. Raising money for charity? No.

Initially, they had only planned to write about the factory, but the more I told them, the more interested they became in me. They ended up interviewing me for nearly two hours, at which point I told them I had to leave for Citi Field. The fact that they worked for the Asahi Shimbun — the second-largest newspaper in the world with a circulation of 8.3 million — was irrelevant. We all have our priorities, and I HAD TO GET TO BATTING PRACTICE.

I grabbed a few slices of pizza on the way to the subway and finished eating them outside the stadium. This was the crowd behind me just before the gates opened:

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The Mets’ portion of BP sucked even more than usual. It ended at 5:17pm, which means I got to see them for seven whole minutes. During that time, I managed to get one ball — a half-hearted toss-up from Juan Lagares in left-center field, which fell short and forced me to lunge far over a railing. That ball happened to be the 600th that I’d ever snagged at Citi Field. Here I am with it, standing with a gentleman named Jeff, who had shown up with his copy of my latest book, The Baseball:

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After signing it for him, I ran off to meet a friend who had an extra ticket behind the 3rd-base dugout. (It’s a shame that at Citi Field, fans aren’t allowed to go behind the dugouts unless they have tickets for those sections — not even during batting practice.) The Diamondbacks hadn’t yet started hitting, but it was cool to see the players up close. When Didi Gregorius walked by, I got his attention by shouting, “It’s home run time!” It’s cool that he still recognizes me as the guy who snagged/returned his first career home run ball.

I was especially glad to catch a glimpse of Heath Bell:

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(In the photo above, he’s reaching up for a ball that a fan had tossed to him.)

Heath and I had hung out at the book store the day before, and we were planning to do something extra-special after this game: visit the MLB Fan Cave! More on that in a bit, but first, let’s talk about baseballs . . .

I was in the front row behind the home-plate end of the dugout when Miguel Montero walked toward me with a ball in his hand. When I asked him for it, he told me that I get a ball every day, but since no one else was asking, he still tossed it to me.

Several minutes later, Gregorius finished playing catch in shallow left field and looked into the stands to find a worthy recipient. Not expecting much, I ran up the stairs and waved my arms. I didn’t think he’d even see me, but to my surprise, he turned and chucked the ball in my direction. I was a dozen rows back at the time, and it sailed 15 feet over my head. Thankfully, there was no one near me, so I snagged it easily.

When the D’backs started hitting, I headed out to left field and stood around bored for 20 of the dullest minutes imaginable. Then I snagged two Paul Goldschmidt homers within a 10-second span. I caught the first one on the fly and grabbed the second one in the seats and promptly handed it to a girl standing nearby. As soon as I did that, I realized that I’d just given her my 6,800th lifetime ball, so I said, “Hey, can I trade balls with you? The one I just gave you is meaningful to me.” Both balls were brand new, so she didn’t care. She was just thrilled to have *a* ball, and of course I was glad to maintain possession of No. 6,800. Here it is:

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In the photo above, the girl is wearing the striped shirt, and if you look closely, you can see Heath Bell in center field. There are two players standing next to each other; he’s on the left. It was pretty cool to see him out on the field doing his thing, knowing that we were gonna have our own special adventure together later on.

Toward the end of BP, a ball landed in the gap in right-center field, so when the D’backs wrapped things up, I headed over to see if I could snag it with my glove trick. On the way, I saw something that I’d never seen in any stadium — an employee handing out free samples of a concession item. Check it out:

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Those little cups contained two different types of smoothies — strawberry and watermelon. I was so thirsty that I took one of each, and look what I saw after that:

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That’s right . . . more samples! The employee pictured above was handing out two different types of meat: ground beef (for tacos) and pulled pork. I didn’t take either because I was still stuffed from all the pizza I’d eaten on the way to the stadium, but wow! I was truly impressed with the Mets at that moment.

That said, my warm-n-fuzzy feelings quickly turned to anger when the green-shirted guard pictured below denied me entry into the right-center field seats:

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“Batting practice is over,” he said.

“You’re kidding me,” I replied, but I knew he was serious. That’s the Mets for you. It was 40 minutes before game time, and the guards were already checking tickets, even in one of the worst sections in the stadium.

A little while later, I was spotted by a young man named Nick, who asked me to sign a baseball. Here he is with it:

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He and I (and two of his friends) chatted for a few minutes, and he ended up posting this tweet with a photo of us. Cool kid.

Meanwhile, I was stressed as hell about the game — not about snagging baseballs but because of the thought that it might drag on and wreck my plan to visit the Fan Cave. Heath and I thought it’d be fun to watch the end of the west-coast games there, but in order for that to happen, we had to leave Citi Field at a reasonable hour. If the Mets game went into extra innings, or worse, if there was a lengthy rain delay, the whole plan could be ruined. Consider the timing of everything: after the final out, he was gonna need half an hour to shower and get changed, and then what? He’d been talking about riding the subway into Manhattan, which was fine by me — I ride the subway all the time — but it was going to take at least an hour. If the Mets game lasted until 10:15pm (not unreasonable, given the 7:10pm start time), we’d be lucky to make it to the Fan Cave by midnight. That would give us about an hour to hang out there, so ALL I WANTED was a quick game here at Citi Field. I wanted every batter to swing at the first pitch, and I wanted every swing to result in the ball being put into play — no foul balls or swings and misses, and while we’re at it, no pick-off throws, no conferences on the mound, and no pitching changes in the middle of innings. Wanna bring in a reliever? Fine. Just wait ’til there are three outs. Normally, I want as many foul balls or home runs as possible, but on this night, I was rooting for D’backs starter Patrick Corbin to throw an 84-pitch, 1-0 shutout.

To my delight, the game got off to a fast start, but unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating. This was my view after a few innings:

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Yeah, I know, I was using an umbrella. How wimpy. Blah blah. Normally, I would’ve sat there and gotten drizzled on, but I didn’t want to be soaked when I showed up at the Fan Cave — that is, *if* I even ended up making it there. Every inning, the rain got a bit heavier, and I was VERY concerned that the game was going to be delayed.

If there was one good thing about the weather, it was that it sent most fans running for cover, so I had lots of room to chase potential home run balls. Look at all the empty seats on my left:

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In the photo above, did you notice the fan wearing red at the end of my row? That was a fellow ballhawk named Tyler (who’s also friends with Heath Bell). Here’s a selfie that we took between innings:

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If Tyler looks familiar, it’s probably because of this photo that we’d taken together on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium.

By the time we posed together here at Citi Field, the game was in the 5th inning, and it was only 8:15pm! Corbin was dealing, as was Mets starter Jeremy Hefner. Neither team had scored, and I started to wonder if anyone would. With my luck, I’d get my pitchers’ duel, and it would still be scoreless after 16 innings.

Anyway, the game was absolutely flying. I remember exactly what time it was at the 7th-inning stretch — 8:43pm. Amazing! But the weather was seriously screwing me. Look how hard it was raining in the bottom of the frame:

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I couldn’t believe that the game was still being played. Look how wet the infield dirt was:

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Maybe the umps knew that it was about to stop raining? Or maybe they were hoping that the Mets and Diamondbacks would maintain the blistering pace and play right through it? Regardless, I was praying that Dzahui would allow the sky to clear up because I knew that the field couldn’t take much more abuse.

So much for that:

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Why why why why WHY did the game have to get delayed? This was a nightmare scenario, and I didn’t know what would happen.

I spent the first part of the delay charging my phone here . . .

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. . . and eventually texted Heath. I asked what we should do if the game didn’t end until 11 or 11:30pm. He said we could still go to the Cave or we could visit it the following morning before the game.

“Sure, we can go early tomorrow,” I wrote back, “but only if you let ME pay for lunch.”

“Funny,” he said. “Let’s wait and see.”

(You may recall that I’d forgotten my wallet the day before when he and I went out for a meal.)

“Ha, okay,” I replied. “You watching the Reds game right now? Homer Bailey has a no-hitter going with one out in the 9th inning.”

“Yep,” he said, and that was that.

Heath, obviously, was watching the game in the clubhouse; I was watching it on a on a small TV mounted above a Carvel stand, and within another minute or two, Bailey nailed it down.

I was craving sugar so badly and came THIS CLOSE to buying ice cream, but didn’t feel like giving the Mets any money. If the rules at Citi Field weren’t so strict, and if it were actually pleasant to be there, I’d be glad to help support the team. See how that works?

Finally, after an hour or so, the Mets groundskeepers began working on the field:

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I decided to head through the concourse into foul territory, just in case upper management decided to be nice and instruct the guards to stop checking tickets.

Ha! Wishful thinking. But something even better happened. I ran into a friend who’d bought a fancy ticket in the front row of the exclusive “Sterling” section behind home plate. This friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, offered to lend it to me for 10 or 20 minutes so I could wander down there and check it out. (I guess I’m not so unlucky after all.) Here’s the ticket . . .

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. . . and here’s where my mini-adventure started:

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I headed through this walkway . . .

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. . . and when I got directly behind home plate, I turned left into this tunnel:

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The tunnel led to this hallway:

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Click the photo above above for a closer look. See the guy standing at the far end? That was umpire Tim Welke. (Wow.) He and another ump walked right past me. (Double-wow.) For a moment, I was concerned that I’d entered a totally restricted area, so I asked a security guard at the end of the tunnel if I was in the wrong place.

“Where are you trying to go?” he asked.

“I heard there’s a lounge here,” I said, and sure enough, there was. After checking my ticket, he directed me back through the tunnel, and after walking about 50 feet, I entered a door on my right and found myself here:

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It really wasn’t much of a “lounge.” Other than the few high-chairs at the bar, there weren’t any seats, and as you can see, the decor resembled that of a third-rate hotel. But I was THERE. That’s all that mattered. Citi Field has been around since 2009, and this was the first time that I’d ever seen this.

Here’s what the other half of the room looked like:

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I was surprised to learn that all the food there was free. There were spring rolls and chicken fajitas . . .

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. . . along with stuff for salad and tacos:

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Near the bar, there was a barrel of peanuts beside a table with cookies and coffee:

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I still wasn’t hungry, but I figured it’d be dumb *not* to take advantage of this lovely little situation, so I helped myself to a small plate of food and grabbed a little sumpin’-sumpin’ to go. The quality wasn’t great, but the overall experience was really cool. I love getting to wander around the lesser-seen areas of stadiums. On my way out, I felt like I was being watched, so I took a few secret photos of other doors and signs. This one said “visiting team clubhouse” . . .

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. . . and this one said “weight room”:

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Any idea what the numbers on the signs mean? They look like dates — the one above looks like January 37, 2003 — but I’m thinking they must represent the location. Perhaps the “01″ refers to the lowest level of the stadium?

Sensing that the game was about to resume, I headed back through the tunnel . . .

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. . . and out into the seats . . .

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. . . and then I returned the ticket to my friend, who was waiting for me in the 100 Level concourse.

Phew! I’d been on edge the entire time, constantly trying to avoid the guards who recognized me and hoping to go unnoticed by the ones who didn’t, but really, was I doing anything wrong? Perhaps the ticket shouldn’t have been “transferred” to me. Perhaps I shouldn’t have eaten any of the free food. Perhaps I shouldn’t have smuggled these back into the left field seats:

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Mwahahaha!!! I got my sugar fix after all and watched the rest of the game in peace.

Look how empty the seats were on my right:

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Of course there weren’t any homers hit near me, and unfortunately the Mets’ offense erupted with seven runs in the 7th inning.

The Mets ended up winning the game, 9-1, which, I suppose, wasn’t entirely bad. It meant that they didn’t have to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning, so that saved 10 minutes. (The game itself only lasted two hours and twenty-four minutes, but the delay lasted an hour and forty-one minutes. Ouch.) I still wasn’t sure, though, what the plan was with Heath. I hurried over to the dugout to catch him walking in from the bullpen . . .

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. . . but he looked pissed off (as one might be expected to look after getting blown out) and kept his head down, so I didn’t try to talk to him. I figured I’d head downstairs as we had initially planned — he had said he was gonna leave me a pass to get into the family lounge — and text him again to figure out what we were going to do. But before I headed up to the concourse, I got one final ball from bullpen coach Glenn Sherlock. That was my sixth of the day, and it felt good.

I ended up taking one of these elevators . . .

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. . . all the way downstairs. (The 100 Level concourse is actually the third floor/level in the stadium.) I wasn’t sure what to expect when the doors opened. Would there be lots of security guards? Would they give me a hard time?

As it turned out, there were a bunch of Sterling-club hostesses standing around.

“Does anyone know where I can pick up a pass for the family lounge?” I asked.

“Right this way, Zack,” said one of the young women, and I was like . . . whaaaaa?!?!

Evidently, she used to work for the Pepsi Party Patrol — that’s the group of employees who do the t-shirt launch — and we’d met each other several years ago. As a general rule, I’m good with names if I see someone three or four times within a few months or maybe a year, but I cross paths with so many people at stadiums that I often forget the folks that I meet in passing.

Anyway, the woman walked me into the service-level concourse and told one of the security guards that she knew me and that it was okay for me to head to the lounge. Here’s what it looked like in the concourse:

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That’s when I heard someone else say my name. (Seriously, WTF.) I turned around and saw a tall, athletic-lookin’ guy standing against the outer wall. He recognized me as the fan who snagged the two home runs on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium. He said his girlfriend took a picture with me that night. He also said he played ball with Josh Collmenter in the minor leagues.

Moments later, Heath texted and asked where I was. That surprised me because it was 11:26pm, which meant the game had only ended 11 minutes earlier. I figured he was going to take another 20 minutes and then tell me that it was too late to visit the Fan Cave, but anyway, I texted him back and said, “Waiting with some other fans in the concourse just outside the clubhouse.”

“Come down,” he replied, perhaps confused about which concourse I was referring to. Or maybe *I* was confused? In any case, I wrapped up my conversation with Collmenter’s buddy and tried to figure out where to go.

Take another look at the photo above. See the guy in tan pants walking toward me in the middle of the concourse? That was Diamondbacks pitcher Chaz Roe, who had made his major league debut the night before. See the woman in the red shirt exiting a doorway on the right? THAT was the family lounge . . .

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. . . and that’s where Chaz and I both ended up going.

The lounge was very small — just a few tiny couches and tables — and there were a few other people hanging out, some of whom were decked out in Diamondbacks gear. I wanted to take a photo, but first I texted Heath to let him know I was there. Ten seconds later, I saw him poke his head in the door, and he was like, “Let’s go.”

“Oh!” I said, taken by surprise. “Can you gimme a moment to take a photo here?”

“Hurry,” he said, and I pulled out my camera. I wasn’t trying to photograph anyone or anything in particular. I just wanted to take a pic that would capture the space and help me remember this very cool moment. Check it out:

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I actually felt bad about taking that photo because Patrick Corbin was standing right there. (That’s him in the black pants.) I didn’t mean to invade anyone’s privacy, but I think it was fine. No one else seemed to noticed that my camera was out, and anyway, it’s not like there was a “no photography” sign on the wall.

Then I headed out into the concourse with Heath, and as we began walking (towards I-didn’t-know-where), I switched my camera to video mode and let it roll. Here’s a screen shot that shows some cops and security guards that happened to be walking alongside us:

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Thirty seconds later, I recognized a guard walking toward me who always seems to give me a hard time. During the rain delay, for example, he stopped me from entering the Sterling area, presumably because he knew I didn’t *really* belong there and didn’t want to get in trouble with his supervisor, but mainly, I got the impression that he was just messing with me, so now I decided to return the favor.

“What’s up!” I shouted at him as we passed each other, and when he looked at me with a stunned expression, I said, “I’m everywhere!”

“Whoa-whoa-whoa!!” he shouted at me as I kept walking.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m with THIS guy,” and I pointed at Heath.

“Whoa-whoa-whoa!!” he repeated as if to make a spectacle of busting me in front of all of his colleagues. “You don’t belong in HERE!!”

“Yes I do!” I shouted. “Heath! Tell him! They’re on my trail!”

“It’s fine,” Heath said to the guard.

“He’s with YOU?!” shouted the guard, prompting Heath to give him a thumbs-up. It was CLASSIC.

We kept walking and walking. And walking. And walking some more. What in the world was going on? Were we taking a lap around the entire stadium? Heath told me that he’d called a car service, but even *he* was puzzled by the route. There was a clubhouse attendant walking alongside us, and I didn’t realize until the rest of the crowd thinned out that he was actually there with us — kind of like an escort.

After three solid minutes of walking at a brisk pace, the clubby turned left and led us through this door:

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Then we passed through this hallway . . .

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. . . and exited this lobby (which I’d never even seen before) . . .

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. . . and ended up on the street near all the auto repair places. Here’s a final screen shot that shows Heath walking toward our car:

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I ended the video just before getting inside.

Of all the possible topics of conversation in the world, Heath and I discussed one of my favorites: players throwing balls into the crowd. I told him that Chaz Roe had completely ignored me when I’d been asking him for a ball during BP.

“It was his second day in the big leagues,” said Heath.

I told him that I’d gotten plenty of balls from brand-new major leaguers before — guys who were so surprised that anyone recognized them that they seemed to reward me as a result.

Heath was like, “Yeah, but it’s one of those old-school things where you shouldn’t. He has proper manners.”

We ended up discussing young players who act like big shots from the moment they get called up from the minors, and then we got back to talking about thrown balls. I told him that he’d tossed one during BP to a good friend of mine in right-center field, and that the friend then handed it to a kid nearby.

“Yeah, I saw that,” said Heath. “I also saw you give one to a girl.”

“You did?!”

“I saw you catch one on the fly and then pick up another off the ground right after and hand it to her in the front row.”

“Man, you see everything! But wait a second. Did you recognize my friend in right-center? His name is Ben. He goes to lots of games and owns a ton of hats and jerseys.”

“No, but he looks like one of your guys,” he said.

“Okay, so . . . why did you throw him a ball?”

“Because he wasn’t annoying.”

That was amusing, and I asked him what he meant. He said that Ben had politely asked several times for balls, but didn’t pester him or complain when he didn’t get one. Heath said that some fans are like, “OH, COME ON!! YOU GOT A HUNDRED BALLS!!” when he doesn’t give them one, and understandably, he doesn’t appreciate that. He said that one time, a fan was shouting “Taco Bell” at him, as in: “C’mon, Taco Bell, throw me a ball!” That annoyed him so much that he told the entire section that no one would get a ball until that fan left. He also told me that it annoys him when people use my name to ask him for balls, as in: “I know Zack Hample — can you throw me a ball?” He said he always responds with, “No you don’t,” which is funny because I’m sure that lots of people who use that line *do* know me, but hey, now you know that it won’t work.

We also talked about commemorative balls. It’s common knowledge (if you’ve read The Baseball) that teams give each other dozens of balls every day on the road. He said that when he was on the Marlins last year, they brought back a bunch of Dodger Stadium balls from Los Angeles and ended up using them during BP at Marlins Park. That would explain why my buddy Jeremy Guthrie (who was then on the Rockies) was able to hook me up with one when I was there on May 22, 2012. I told Heath about ballhawking at the Tokyo Dome, and we briefly discussed next year’s Opening Series in Australia. I told him that if the Dodgers and D’backs end up using commemorative balls during BP, then I’ll be fine, but if not, then it’d be great if he could try to grab one for me. He said he would. He’s the best.

I don’t remember what time we got into the car outside Citi Field, but I know what time we arrived at the Fan Cave. It was 12:03am, which meant we’d have at least an hour to hang out there. I was fine with that. Heath initially offered to pay for the ride, but because of the the previous day’s wallet debacle, I insisted on paying — $65 plus a tip — until the driver said that his credit card machine wasn’t working. (That’s a total scam, by the way. If a cabbie ever tells you that, get his info and report his ass.) I wasn’t in the mood to argue, and I didn’t have enough cash to pay for the whole thing, so I split it with Heath.

Before we got out of the car, a security guard met us on the street and led us inside the Cave. Here’s a photo that I took just before entering:

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Heath was already inside when I took that photo. Here’s another shot that shows him being greeted by all the Cave dwellers:

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They must’ve heard he was coming. Players are always welcome to visit the Cave — it’s not open to the public — but MLB likes to get a heads-up. (The security guard told me a funny story about Bryce Harper showing up unannounced and having trouble getting inside.)

There were only two games still in progress: the Cardinals and Angels were in the 7th inning, and the Cubs and A’s were in the 6th. Sweet! We were gonna have a decent amount of time to hang out after all.

After a few minutes, everyone moved to the couches:

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We all hung out there for the next hour or so, and by the way, it should be noted that Heath had already visited the Fan Cave earlier this season. In fact, he’s the only player to have visited every year since it opened.

Anyway, Heath spent most of the time answering everyone’s questions — everything from All-Star balloting to hotel aliases to Ozzie Guillen to the challenge of dealing with beat reporters. Heath also talked at length about signing autographs. He said he never gets invited/paid to sign at card shows because he signs so often for fans at games; quite simply, the promoters know that he’s “easy to get.”

I asked the Cave dwellers a bunch of questions and learned some interesting things, starting with the fact that they DO get paid. Also, they don’t live at the Cave; MLB provides housing for them in SoHo, and they each have one roommate. They showed me how the wall of TVs works and told me that they’re expected to post six to eight tweets per day. The following day, the first game wasn’t scheduled to start until 6:05pm ET, but they were due back at 10:30am to meet Dan Shulman. Also, the Cave is sponsored by numerous companies, including Pepsi and Budweiser, which means the dwellers have a free/unlimited supply. (I don’t drink soda or beer and was glad to find some bottled waters.)

While the two west-coast games were taking place, one of the dwellers named Travis Miller offered to give me a tour. He’s the guy wearing Mets gear in the previous photo. (That’s another thing I learned: the dwellers don’t actually have to watch every pitch of every game; they just need to be there while games are taking place, but of course they’re expected to watch as much as possible.) I started by taking a photo of the Fan Cave entrance:

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The dwellers are allowed to leave when the final game each day is over, but there’s a security guard there at all times. I heard from the guard that during the Cave’s first season, someone threw two bricks through the windows.

Travis led me toward the big orange slide at the back of the Cave . . .

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. . . and then we headed up these stairs:

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Those are Instagram photos (of players and other visitors) all over the wall and steps.

Here’s what it looked like at the top:

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Here’s the top of the slide, along with a funny list of rules:

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Assuming that the sign is referring to CC Sabathia, I’d like to point out the fact that CC doesn’t have any periods in his name. It’s not “C.C. Sabathia.” It’s just “CC Sabathia.” Sheesh! You’d think that MLB would get that right. But who knows? Maybe the sign is referring to Carl Crawford? Or Coco Crisp? Or Chris Coghlan? Or Chris Carpenter? Chris Carpenter is way too big for that slide.

Here’s a photo of Travis at his locker:

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He showed me the office space . . .

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. . . which is filled with MLB employees during business hours. We wandered in there, and he briefly explained how all the audio/video equipment works:

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He was really cool about everything — very generous with his time. He could’ve been chillin’ with a major leaguer, but chose to show me around instead.

We passed by “mission control” on the way back to the main TV-viewing area:

55_mission_control_at_the_fan_cave

Travis offered to show me how it worked, but I was eager to rejoin the group. The final game was nearly done, and I assumed that we’d all be heading out soon.

I was wrong.

The game DID end, but Heath was in no rush to leave . . . so no one else left. I was truly stunned at how late he stuck around, but maybe I shouldn’t have been? What I love about him is that on one hand, he’s a two-time All-Star closer in the major leagues, but on the other hand, he’s just a regular, down-to-earth, fun-loving dude who likes schmoozing and hanging out.

The Cubs/A’s game ended at 1:25am ET. This was the scene ONE HOUR later:

56_everyone_sitting_around_07_03_13

As you can see, everyone was still there — and there was no sign of things slowing down.

As you can also see, my sneakers, baseballs, and glove were strewn about. Everything was super-relaxed. At one point, I showed everyone the glove trick. And we all kept talking.

At 3am, everyone was STILL there, and we all had a good laugh at the expense of one of the Diamondbacks fans. In the photo above, he’s sitting on the right (in the white jersey), and to be fair, he deserved it. Let me explain . . .

Last month, when Heath and I met in St. Louis, he told me about a guy who had bashed him on Twitter and gotten into it with his wife. (Heath is no longer on Twitter, but his wife is.) Basically, the fan had made a “fat” joke, and Heath’s wife was like, “He is actually a very healthy eater.” The fan responded by saying, “So is Godzilla,” and it went from there. Well, guess, what? THAT FAN is the guy pictured above in the white Diamondbacks jersey. How’s THAT for awkward?  :-o

The good news is that the fan (whose name is Jeff Summers) ended up apologizing to Heath’s wife (whose name is Nicole), and they’ve since made peace with each other. Heath, to his credit, was cool about the whole thing when it came up in conversation at the Fan Cave. He made a Godzilla gesture (picture him making V’s with both hands and clawing at the air with a high-pitched roar) and told the guy that he’d never let him live it down.

“From now on,” said Heath, “every time I see you, it’s gonna be [Godzilla gesture].”

It was SO funny.

In case you’re wondering, Jeff and the other D’backs fan (who happens to be his son-in-law) are not full-time Cave dwellers. They’d won a contest to visit New York City (and the Cave) for this series at Citi Field.

At around 3:10am, things started winding down. I’d been told that I could hang out at the Cave as long as the dwellers were there with me, but once they left, I was gonna have to head out with them. Once again, Travis offered to show me the rest of the place, but I was torn because Heath was nearly ready to go, and I’d been planning to leave with him.

Travis said we could make it a quick tour, so off we went . . .

The first thing he showed me was Dirt Bar. (Note: it’s not “the Dirt Bar” — just “Dirt Bar.”) Here it is from afar:

57_dirt_bar

Dirt Bar, quite simply, is a collection of dirt from all 30 major league stadiums. Here’s a closer look:

58_dirt_closeup

See how each stadium’s dirt — except for one — has an authentication number? Yeah. That’s the Yankees for you. I don’t know exactly how it works, but I assume that the team has an exclusive contract with Steiner Sports and therefore won’t authenticate anything for anyone else — not even a handful of dirt for MLB.

Here’s a photo of Heath talking to the security guard:

59_heath_standing_around_before_leaving

He was basically ready to leave at that point, so Travis and I moved fast. Here’s the artwork near the Fan Cave entrance:

60_artwork_near_entrance

Here are some of the switches on “mission control” . . .

61_mission_control_switches

. . . and here are some gauges . . .

62_mission_control_switches

. . . which indicate that the dwellers have seen approximately 1,200 games, 21,000 hits, and 2,500 home runs this season. (By the way, I owe a big thanks to all the dwellers for being so friendly and welcoming me to the Cave. In addition to Travis, I got to hang with April Whitzman, Marcus Hall, Aaron Roberts, Danny Farris, Mina Park, and Ben Wietmarschen. Hopefully they’ll invite me back, even if I’m not with Heath, because it was really fun to be there.)

Travis showed me a huge wall of signed baseballs that form the MLB logo . . .

63_mlb_logo_with_signed_baseballs

. . . and then he took my picture in front of it:

64_zack_with_mlb_logo

We passed quickly through the game room . . .

65_fan_cave_game_room

. . . and headed toward a music-themed lounge at the back of the main floor called “The Vault.” Here’s Travis opening the door . . .

66_the_vault

. . . and here’s the lounge itself:

67_lounge_inside_the_vault

Did you notice the TV in the previous photo? Travis told me that he and his fellow dwellers are able to watch games there, and FYI, there’s also a TV in the game room.

Check out this baseball-stiched seat:

68_chair_with_baseball_stitching

Here’s a photo of the slide and the “nonopus”:

69_nonopus_and_slide

Where there nine tentacles? I don’t know. I didn’t count. But it’s being called a “nonopus” because of the “no-no” that Homer Bailey had pitched.

Travis and I hurried downstairs . . .

70_staircase_to_lower_level

. . . to this gigantic lounge:

71_fan_cave_lower_level

Did you notice the bathtub in the previous photo? Here’s a closer look . . .

72_lower_level_bathtub

. . . and in case you missed it, here’s a segment that Heath and a couple other guys filmed there earlier this season.

There was a pool table in the corner . . .

73_lower_level_pool_table

. . . with special balls:

74_diamondbacks_pool_balls

Back upstairs, everyone was standing around and ready to go:

75_everyone_ready_to_leave

We all headed outside and said our goodbyes, and Heath and I jumped in a cab — my treat. On the way to his hotel, I thanked him for everything, told him that I planned to skip the final two games of the Mets/Diamondbacks series, and made a final request.

“Can I take a photo of you here in the cab?” I asked. “I think it’d be a nice way to end the epic blog entry that I’m gonna write.”

Heath obliged:

76_heath_bell_taxi_back_uptown

That was pretty much it. I dropped him off at the hotel and continued on to the Upper West Side. I made it home at 3:50am and got into bed an hour and a half later. This entire day was so incredible that I didn’t want it to end.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

77_the_five_balls_i_kept_07_02_13• 6 balls at this game (five pictured here because I gave one away)

• 342 balls in 46 games this season = 7.43 balls per game.

• 605 balls in 78 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.76 balls per game.

• 918 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 443 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

• 6,801 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

• $642.96 raised this season through my fundraiser

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

• $33,048.96 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Are you still with me? Well then. Let’s do the black-light thing, shall we? Four of the five balls that I kept have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison:

78_black_light

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click here.

Bye!

42 Comments

I’m jealous too. When we were in Costa Rica we couldn’t ‘get into the Rawlings factory either. Mmmmm , dos Imperial por favor !

Hey Zack! I’ll be looking for you early August at some games! Have you ever heard about the National Sports Collectors Convention or wanted to go to one? Just kinda curious. Thanks!

-Baylor

Epic entry Zack. Don’t forget about our deal regarding Opening Day commemorative balls in Sydney next year. The Fan Cave looks amazing . Heath Bell should stand for President of the USA when he retires !

Great log entry! Heath Is good people…all baseball fans should vote heath in for the 2014 all star game..he is truly the peoples championship!

Very cool that you got to visit the Cave. The inner world of Citi Field was interesting too. The best part was reading about Heath just hanging out with the cave dwellers for so long. We tend to forget that baseball players are people like the rest of us, and it’s nice to see that he doesnt’t forget that.

However, the burning question (more like two or three) is about the wall of baseballs: what kind of balls are the blue & red ones? Official MLB specially made for them? Or did someone just get cheap balls and spray paint them? I have a picture of Cal Ripken Jr. standing in front of that wall with a ball and pen on his hand, and when I zoom in behind him, the white balls are showing the Official Major League Baseball wording and no signature. Are the signatures facing down? If so, why? Or are they somewhere else?

Zack, how do you manage to get 3rd out balls despite the fact there are little kids all around the dugout? I was at a nationals game today with 3rd row dugout seats and no matter how hard I tried, every single ball was tossed to a little kid in the front row right near me.

This entry was well worth the wait. I loved seeing more of the fancave stuff and that d-backs spot was hilarious! Two questions for you:
A) The red and blue baseballs on the mlb logo on the wall… Are those fake? Plastic? painted?
B) After touring the FanCave and talking to all the dwellers, does it make you more or less inclined to apply for next year? Hopefully this visit will get you a leg up because it would be VERY interesting to see you in the cave.

Thats an incredible day, Heath is the man and getting to see the inside of the cave is really cool. Im guessing they have pool balls for all 30 teams and change them according to who’s in town and id pay to see Big Papi go down that slide.

Wow. That is a truly epic day. Ballcaps off to you, man. I think every baseball fan is envious of you after this entry. My biggest hope was to someday be famous enough that a team requests me to throw out the first pitch (priority sequence: Mariners, Giants, other West Coast teams, other West division teams, all other teams, Yankees, any and all minor league teams, Cleveland), but now I’m hoping one of my baseball player friends makes it to the Show and invites me along for the ride so I can have an experience like this. Heath Bell is a class act, and while I don’t mean any offense to the Diamondbacks (Randy Johnson is one hell of a pitcher), I hope he gets signed by the Mariners or Giants sometime soon so I have more opportunities to see him. Looking at the spread at the moment, though, I would guess if he’s going anywhere, it’d be Detroit…wherever he may end up, best wishes to him, and to you.

Crazy entry there, Zack. Further evidence that Heath is the man. I noticed the things he was telling you when I went Wednesday. People just constantly harassing him for a ball. So when he came near me I just said “excuse me Heath, if it’s possible could I have a ball please?” and he smiled and tossed it to me (although I shamelessly thought of pulling the I know Zack trick… glad I didn’t!). Where are you gonna be next week? Yankee Stadium is so expensive lately for no reason. I didn’t know obstructed view bleacher seats needed to cost me 38$ to watch a .500 injury ravaged anemic hitting lineup lose to the Orioles.
- Chris

http://ballhawker.wordpress.com/

That Diamondbacks fan has his own blog, and he has his own version of meeting Heath and Zack: http://diarydiehard.com/2013/07/my-personal-heathbellexperience-day-2-12/

Zack, great post. I think you have a typo though. You said ” I was stressed at hell”. I think you meant “stressed as hell”? Haha. I’m surprised you didn’t think the fan cave people were paid. They had to give up a job for 6 months. I would hope they’d be compensated! I wonder if they realized that you would’ve been the best fan cave dweller ever if they picked you??

It’s a shame that jerks like that Jeff guy end up winning cool contests. After abusing Heath (nicest guy ever) and his wife so much on twitter, he should’ve been banned from the contest! He’s no bargain either (with that huge nose and all) so he should’ve just kept his mouth closed!

Epic post Zack. Heath is the man. Just one question. What’s the helicopter stunt?

Very interesting James Lee , thanks for the link. Heath is both generous and , more importantly , forgiving. Nice to see a professional sportsman or any ” celebrity ” for that matter being so gracious. Heath’s wife sounds amazing. Sound like good people.

I have to say that this is probably my favorite blog you’ve written, Zack. Seems like you had one hell of a fun day!!!!

Oh noes! Alex Justice (Indians representative in the Cave) was no longer there! :(

RAY BURTON-
Getting into the Rawlings factory is pretty much impossible. I’m still amazed that I somehow got to visit. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about our deal.

BAYLOR-
It sounds familiar, but I’ve never been — sounds like it’d be cool to go check out sometime.

K LEE-
That would be hilarious if Heath gets voted to the All-Star Game, but it’d be even better if he bounces back next year as a full-time closer and earns his way.

JAMES LEE-
I’m sorry (almost ashamed) to say that I can’t answer your questions about the wall of balls. I was so rushed when I was there (which feels weird to say because I was at the Cave for three and a half hours) that I didn’t get to look too closely at anything. Thanks for the link to Jeff’s blog entry about Heath Bell. That was a great read — very funny and thoughtful.

MARK-
Were you sitting behind the Nationals’ dugout? If so, that’s why. Were you sitting behind the visitors’ dugout without wearing any gear of their team? If so, that’s why. Beyond that, I’m not sure what to tell you. I don’t *always* get one.

GARRETT MEYER-
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. James Lee (two comments above yours) asked the same stuff about the balls, so look for my reply to him. As for the Cave itself, being there solidified all my notions about what it would be like as a “full-time” dweller. I would miss going to games, but I feel that it would be worth it for a season. One issue, though, is that MLB only seems interested in fans who are obsessed with individual teams. I’m not sure they’d make a place for someone like me, who simply loves the sport, and that’s a shame because I think there are lots of other under-represented fans out there like me. We’ll talk more about this when you come to visit New York City next month. There are some things that I just can’t say publicly.

MARK MCCONVILLE-
You’re right about the pool balls. Those D’backs balls were on the table because the D’backs were in town.

JOE206-
Thanks so much. Your list of teams for first pitches is hilarious. I got to throw a ceremonial first pitch last year at a Spinners game (short-season A ball) in Lowell, MA. It was fun and nerve-wracking. If you ever get to do it, make sure to warm up.

CHRIS-
Everything about your comment made me smile. Nice job on the toss-up from Heath. You couldn’t have done it any better. Next week, I plan to skip Monday’s Yankee game and go on Tuesday and/or Wednesday if there’s no rain. The Royals will be in town, and I’d really like to see Jeremy Guthrie. I might also go on Friday, but eh. That place isn’t a whole lot of fun right now.

HAPPY PIRATES FAN-
Thanks for catching my typo. I guess I knew that the dwellers are getting paid, or I would’ve guessed, but on some level, I kinda figured that it’s so damn cool to get to be there all season that MLB wouldn’t need to pay them, ya know? As for that guy Jeff, Heath forgave him and I think we should too. I think we’ve all said stupid/hurtful things that we wish we could un-say — I certainly have, and I wouldn’t want to be judged negatively on them for the rest of my life. And c’mon, what’s with making fun of Jeff’s appearance? By doing that, you’re stooping to the level of his original twitter comments.

MIKE-
The helicopter stunt? I’m glad you asked. One week from today, I will attempt to catch a baseball dropped from a helicopter 1,000 feet high.

BRIAN-
I’m glad to hear that you (and other people) enjoyed it because it took three days of my life to put this together.

JARED-
Bummer.

So…is this “good Mike”, “bad Mike”, or some other “undeclared Mike” we haven’t met yet?

It’s The Best Mike.

Holy baseball! Talk about lucky Zack Hample, huh? That was totally worth a 76-photo blog post. Heath Bell is awesome. I seriously like the dirt bar. Thanx for sharing all this stuff with the world, it was nice of u writing such a long blog post. Hey Zack, I’ve been wondering if I should try out to be the ball boy of the Mets next season. what do you think about that? And by the way are you planning to come to the Mets All Star Game on July 16th? And how much do u occasionally pay for a seat behind the visitors dugout? I’m thinking about sitting either behind the visitors dugout or in left field based on the odds of catching a homerun or third out ball. And if i wanted to watch BP at Citi Field, at what time would i have to go on line for tix at the box office? Thanx Zack, i appreciate all your answers.
-Navi from New York

Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it and made it all the way through. You should definitely try out to be a ballboy — why not? I still don’t have tickets to any All-Star events, but I’m planning to be there. I would advise you against buying a seat behind the dugout. Just get into the 100 Level during BP (when everyone’s allowed there) and then walk through the seats before the game to get behind the dugout. It’s very easy. Or, you could try to keep your purchase to the $30 range by getting a seat at the very back of the section on a day when no one really wants to be there. Get on the ticket line by 4:30pm and then head over to the Rotunda and wait on line there ’til the gates open at 5:10pm.

Thanks Zack!

Great article; I enjoyed reading it. It was a pleasure meeting you and fascinating to hear your stories. Best of luck and please let me know when you come to Chase Field and I’d be happy to get you in with the Season Ticket Holders or show you around.

JEFF-
Thanks. It’s great to hear from you, and it was fun hearing your stories as well. It’s not definite, but I’m thinking of being at Chase for two games against the Orioles on August 12-13. I’ll keep you posted . . .

Awesome finally meeting you Zack! Hopefully we’ll see each other again in the future, enjoyed talked with you.

Same here. The fact that the Mets stopped hitting early was a good thing, in a weird way, because it gave us more time to talk. Very cool about your dad and Glenn Sherlock. My dad didn’t know any baseball people — just a bunch of writers and actors. (Boring!)

Question: I was listening to the Mets radio broadcast tonight and Howie Rose was talking about the home run derby this year. He mentioned the balls were supposedly smaller than a regular baseball. Is this actually true? I didn’t know who to ask but since you were a baseball collector, I figured to ask you. Thanks.

I’d like to know where Howie Rose heard that. I’ve caught Home Run Derby balls, and they don’t look/feel any different.

Just watched The Franchise and saw a story about Heath and his dad’s fight with cancer. Got me choked up. Deep guys.

zack and friends,
do you have any idea where the mlb all stars are staying in new york for the all star game?

DYLAN-
I still haven’t seen it.

JOSH-
No clue.

Hey Zack, thanks for the great read! Are you going to the opening series in Australia next year?

You’re welcome. And yes.

It’s on YouTube,

@ Ray Burton, I’m hoping you will take Zack to a Cricket Match!! I would love to read a blog about that!

Josh, when the ASG was at the new Yankee Stadium, most of the players stayed at the Hyatt in Grand Central. They even made hotel room keys that had the ASG logo on it. I’m sure they’re doing it again.

Will you be at the all star game and the home run derby

JOHN IAQUINTA-
Yes.

Zack-

Huge favor from a huge fan,
Can you go to Camden Yards on
8/1/13

Thanks for asking, but I’ll be at Turner Field that day.

When is the soonest you will be going to Camden Yards again?
After your next game at Camden Yards
can u drop by for a game at Harbor Park (home of the AAA affiliate of the O’s, the Tides)in Norfolk,VA. If u can make it to Harbor Park, can u tell me when you will be there so I can meet u

I’m not sure. I might not make it back this season — or if the Orioles make it to the playoffs, I might drive down from NYC for a day. As for Harbor Park, I’m honored that you want me to be there, but I’m really only interested in attending major league games.

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