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:

2_michael_and_zack_07_30_13

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:

3_double_stamped_ball_07_30_13b

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:

5_left_field_empty_07_30_13

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:

6_view_to_my_left_07_30_13

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:

7_ball6864_thrown_by_the_kid_in_the_gray_cap

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:

8_zack_with_eve_and_andy

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 . . .

10_view_for_righties_07_30_13

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

11_view_behind_3rd_base_dugout_07_30_13

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:

14_zack_and_linda_brandt_07_30_13

Meanwhile, the lights were all screwy:

15_some_lights_coming_back_on

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

16_heath_bell_signing_autographs_as_the_game_was_about_to_resume

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:

17_oh_what_a_relief

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:

18_didi_gregorius_postgame

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

19_zack_talking_to_heath_bell_07_30_13

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:

20_zack_with_ball6865

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

19 Comments

I will see you in Phoenix on 8/13!

You might wanna get ur “injury” checked out. it might be serious cause of the discoloration. Anyway, u made a great effort for that 3rd out ball. Im impressed.
-Navi from NY

Will you be at the game on the 2nd because that’s when I’m going. I’d really hope you are

Good job on the gamer. Quick question though who on the Cincinnati reds is good about giving baseballs out. Good luck on the west coast.

Good job Zack! I almost see you at Atlanta(I’m going to be there on August 9-10). Guess i’ll have to go to New York to see you(You have to sign your 3 books that I have from you). Good luck for the 8 remaining stadiums!
-Michael(The 16 years old guy from Montreal )

Not as extreme as michael, but we have got one double stamped ball during BP: http://www.cookandsonbats.com/baseballs/298-TommyHanson.jpg
Was michael’s stamped as a “practice” ball?

Do they still have that joke of a rule where you’re not allowed in the 1st row of the outfield sections during BP?
– Chris
http://ballhawker.mlblogs.com

Will you be at petco park wile the mets are their? Because I am taking a family vacation to California and we are catching a padres game i would love to meet you again

You think that trying to get into the Trop was bad. How did you go trying to get home after ? When we saw a series against the damn Yankees , the job of getting to the bus after the game can only be described as a nightmare. Anyway , good to see the fans showing up ( finally ). Go Rays !!!

I went to The Trop over a winter break a few years ago and asked for a tour. They thought I was insane.( which can be argued) Everywhere else I’ve gone you can get a tour, anytime during the year, and they are happy to do it. The guys running the Rays know very little about customer satisfaction, in my opinion.

Last time I went to the Trop and did BP this season they were still enforcing the “no front row” rule. I’m sorry you didn’t snag your usual numbers, but at least it confirmed to me that it is indeed a bad park for hawking. And the ever-escalating prices added to the drive time for me from Orlando cuts down on my inclination to go there more than a few times a season. Especially with Spring Training and the far-more-economical minor league and college summer league teams in the state.

Oh, I completely forgot to mention when I published it, but if you’d like to read the whole blog entry that I wrote about the helicopter stunt, here’s that: http://mateofischer.mlblogs.com/2013/07/31/zack-hample-baseball-drop/
-Mateo

I’m looking forward to seeing you in Oakland this year! I’ll be there on the 14th, but not the 15th, it looks like. The Coliseum has been tough this year, its been more crowded than I expected, but hey, the A’s are the 5th best team in Major League Baseball! I don’t know if you heard, but for the rest of the season, the A’s are opening the gates 2.5 hours early on Fridays only. Other times are still the same. Now, A’s fans actually get to see their team take BP. Of course, there are only 5 more times that it will take place. They did this all because Yoenis Cespedes won the HR Derby. So… for Yoenis Cespedes bobblehead day, on August 17th, the gates will open THREE AND A HALF HOURS EARLY. Yes. 2:30pm for a 6pm game.
-Nick
http://nbbaseball.wordpress.com/

EVERYONE-
Thanks very much for the comments. I read them all, but don’t have time to respond now. I need to hurry off to Turner Field. More later . . .

I hated my visit to Tropicana Field earlier this year as well. The security and ushers were applying rules that shouldn’t have been there. Good luck the rest of this season, though!
– Josh McNeil
http://joshuamcneil.mlblogs.com/

…I love it when you get to experience what it’s like to be ME!!! I want a 3rd OUT BALL just like everyone else, but they always seem to go to those cute little kids at the dugout! Once the players see a middleaged guy with a belly, glove or no glove, they just can’t bring themselves to toss that ball to me. It sucks doesn’t it? It’s not as easy as you think, once you get up there in age! I have to be rocking all the gear Majestic & New Era makes, for me to even have a fighting chance at a 3rd out ball! I’ve tried about 15 times this year and snagged 2. I never jump the kids though; that would be suicide!!! I weighed 127 lbs. in High School, now 193…stay *THIN* for as long as you can my friend…

EDISON-
Excellent.

NAVI-
Thanks. My eye seems to be okay, but it’s still ugly as hell.

JOHN-
Which game? I was at Citi on August 2nd.

AARON-
That’s not a quick question because I had to go look at the roster. Mat Latos is the worst. Sam LeCure is the best.

MICHAEL-
Sorry to miss you. Hope to see you in NYC, and of course I’d be delighted to sign your books.

COOK & SON-
Yeah, it did have the “practice” stamp.

CHRIS-
Yup. It’s terrible.

NICK M-
No, unfortunately I won’t be there, but I hope we can catch up some other time.

RAY BURTON-
It’s not a fun area. After a few minutes of waiting/confusion, I was able to find an electric “green” taxi with a top speed of 20 miles per hour to drive me back to my hotel.

MIKE-
That’s funny and lame. Jeez.

DAVE MITCHELL-
Very interesting to hear that. I suspect you speak for a LOT of fans. The Rays could/should do a lot more to entice folks to show up.

MATEO-
Just read it. You’re goooood. Really. Thanks.

NICK BADDERS-
Well, dang. Now I wish I were gonna be there on a Friday, but silly me, I decided to avoid that day because I figured it would be crowded. Anyway, see you soon!

JOSH MCNEIL-
Sorry you had a crappy time there, but I’m glad that we at least agree.

ROCCO-
It’s definitely tough, but somehow I’m still able to pull it off. Thanks for your weighty advice. I do intend/hope to stay thin.

I’ve only been to 1 Friday game this year, and it was against the Rangers this past week. It was the first time I ever got to see A’s BP in it’s entirety and I was not impressed. The Rangers didn’t hit much out either. If you are able to I would recommend extending your trip in Oakland by a day, so you can get in the Friday game vs the Indians. From what I’ve personally seen, plus what I’ve heard from others, the crowds have been very manageable, so knowing you, it could wind up being great for you!
-Nick
http://nbbaseball.wordpress.com/

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