August 2013

8/27/13 at Nationals Park

This day had huge potential from the start. Not only was I four baseballs away from No. 7,000, but I’d heard that the Nationals were using a variety of old commemorative balls during BP, including two that I’d never gotten from the 2010 All-Star Game and World Series. I was so excited that I was practically jumping out of my shoes when I arrived at the stadium. I couldn’t wait to see the field, so I headed to the roof of the parking garage in deeeeep right-center field for a sneak-peek:

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Excellent! The weather was iffy, so it was great to see that the field was set up for BP.

Here’s another photo that I took from the garage roof:

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That photo shows the center field gate, and if you look closely, you can see my friend Ben Weil on the sidewalk. He’s wearing a white t-shirt and standing triumphantly with his arms in the air.

At 4:30pm, the stadium opened, and by 4:33pm, I’d snagged my first ball — a home run that I think was hit by Gio Gonzalez. I was in straight-away left field, and when I grabbed it in the seats, I pretty much freaked out because it was a 2010 All-Star Game ball.

After that, I headed to the Red Porch seats in left-center, and within a few moments, I was spotted by Nationals batting practice pitcher Ali Modami. The first words out of his mouth were, “You have enough balls!”

Fabulous.

2b_ali_modami_2013Modami is perfectly friendly, but ever since he figured out who I am and heard about my collection, he stopped giving me baseballs. I can’t really blame him, but now I needed his help more than ever. I asked him if it were true that the Nationals were using 2010 World Series balls in BP. He said yes and mentioned some of the other commemorative balls that that he’d seen. I told him I already had all the others and that I was *dying* to get a 2010 World Series ball and that I’d driven down here from New York just for the purpose of getting one.

As luck would have it, the batter promptly hit a ball to Modami, who fielded it and inspected it.

“This is a 2010 World Series ball,” he shouted from 50 feet away, “but it’s kind of messed up!”

“I don’t care!” I yelled. “If you’d be willing to give it to me, I promise I’ll never harass you for another ball for the rest of my life!”

It was an offer he couldn’t refuse, and to my delight, he threw me the ball. The logo wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t THAT bad. Nevertheless, he offered to get me a better one. (Was I dreaming? Had I died and gone to ballhawking heaven? Oh wait, I don’t believe in heaven.) There were two kids shagging near him, and for the next few minutes, whenever either of them fielded a ball, Modami got them to throw it to him, and sure enough, he inspected them all. Unbelievable.

Eventually he got his hands on a good one and looked in my direction. I thought he was simply going to swap balls with me, but instead, he told me to give the crappier ball to the fan on my right. As soon as I did that, he handed the better World Series ball to one of the kids on the field and told him to run over and toss it to me . . . and just like that, I had a brand-new 2010 World Series ball (with the word “practice” stamped on the sweet spot). It was too good to be true.

For the record, I decided NOT to count both World Series balls toward my grand total because (a) the second ball was a replacement for the first one and (b) I knew ahead of time that I could give away one to get another. If, hypothetically, I’d given away the first one without being asked and Modami happened to witness it, and he decided to give me another ball as a reward, then I would’ve counted both. Do you understand the difference? It’s subtle (and yes, totally arbitrary), but I do have my reasons for counting certain balls and not others. Ultimately I try to make the “right” decisions that reflect my effort/achievement without falsely padding my stats. So again, just to be clear, the way I saw it, I had snagged *two* baseballs by this point in the day, bringing my lifetime total to 6,998.

My third ball was a homer that I caught on the fly. Here’s a photo of it, along with the first two:

3_first_three_balls_of_bp_08_27_13

Is that a beautiful sight or what? And yes, the third ball was from the final season of the Metrodome.

Why are the Nationals using all these balls? My guess is that Rawlings had a surplus and sold them cheap. Years ago, the Mets got all the leftover commemorative balls — that’s how I snagged my All-Star balls from 2005, 2006, and 2008 — and now the Nationals seem to have them. Lucky me.

My next ball was going to be No. 7,000, so I wanted it to be a good one, and most importantly, if it ended up being a home run, I wanted to know who hit it. Several days earlier, I had thought about hiring a videographer. That’s what I did for my 6,000th ball at Fenway Park last season, but this time around, I decided to film myself. Here’s how it played out:

Quick recap for those who didn’t watch the video: it was a line-drive homer that I caught on the fly, reaching far over the railing in the front row. I didn’t know who hit it, so I asked Taylor Jordan, who said (unconvincingly) that it was Anthony Rendon. And there you have it. Here’s a list of all my personal milestones:

Ball No. 1,000 — thrown by Pedro Borbon Jr. on June 11, 1996 at Shea Stadium
Ball No. 2,000 — thrown by Joe Roa on May 24, 2003 at Olympic Stadium
Ball No. 3,000 — snagged with the glove trick on May 7, 2007 at the old Yankee Stadium
Ball No. 4,000 — thrown by Livan Hernandez on May 18, 2009 at Dodger Stadium
Ball No. 5,000 — BP homer by Alex Rios on May 28, 2011 at Rogers Centre
Ball No. 6,000 — thrown by Brad Lidge on June 8, 2012 at Fenway Park
Ball No. 7,000 — BP homer by Anthony Rendon (??) on August 28, 2013 at Nationals Park

I’ve made a point of snagging all these balls at different stadiums. I’m hoping to get No. 10,000 at Camden Yards, and I’d like to get No. 8,000 and No. 9,000 outside of New York City. I feel like Philly is due for some milestone love, even though they don’t love me, but whatever, I have two years to figure it out.

Here I am with my 7,000th ball . . .

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. . . and here’s a closer look at it:

5_ball7000_all_star_2010

It’s weird to achieve a milestone in 2013 by catching a ball from 2010, but hey, that’s just how it all worked out.

My fifth ball of the day was a line-drive homer that I caught on the fly in the front row in left-center field. I have no idea who hit it, but I can tell you that it was another 2010 All-Star Game ball.

My sixth ball was a homer that I caught on the fly after jumping pretty high in the middle of a row in left-center. Check out the logo on THAT one:

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I didn’t “need” any commemorative balls from Minnesota, but it was still fun to catch them.

Here’s a photo that I took after the Nationals’ portion of BP ended — can you find the ball?

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In case you missed it, it’s sitting in the gap behind the right-center field wall. I had noticed it land there several minutes earlier, so when there was a break in the action, I hurried over and snagged it with my glove trick. Look what type of ball it was:

8_ball7003_world_series_2010

HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!?!?!

I was hoping that the Marlins would use some of the Nationals’ commemorative balls during BP, but unfortunately, every ball I got for the rest of the day had the standard MLB logo. (Poor me, right?)

Here’s where I was when I got my eighth ball:

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In the photo above, the player standing in front of me is Mike Dunn. He had tossed it to me, and when I saw the logo, I handed it to a kid on my right.

My ninth ball was a homer by Christian Yelich that landed in the seats in right-center and ricocheted in my direction as several other fans were closing in on it. Two minutes later, I reached double digits by grabbing a Logan Morrison homer in the seats. That one was pretty simple — a line-drive shot that I read well off the bat. I darted two rows back while the ball was in mid-air and then cut across toward the spot where it ended up landing. Of course, I was still kicking myself for the two Jayson Werth homers that I’d misjudged earlier, and there were others that I coulda/shoulda caught. If I’d done everything right, I might’ve ended up with 20 balls by the end of BP.

At around 6pm, I headed back to left field . . .

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. . . and saw something icky:

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In the photo above, that’s an exterminator spraying chemicals into a grate beneath a seat in the front row. (Here’s some advice: DON’T SIT THERE.)

My 11th ball was thrown by Arquimedes Caminero, and it was very lucky. I was standing in the front row behind the bullpen when he chuckled it (from the warning track) to a middle-aged woman on my right. The ball clanked off her bare hands and skipped off the railing in my direction. Instinctively, I lunged for it and managed to glove it before it plopped down into the bullpen — and then I handed it to her.

On my way back to the Red Porch seats, I gave another ball to a little kid, and two minutes later, I used my glove trick to snag this one from the gap:

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After BP, I used the trick again to snag my 13th ball from the bullpen. In the following photo, there are two balls in the flowers; I got the one directly below me . . .

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. . . and gave it to the nearest fan.

Ben had done *very* well in BP. In addition to snagging balls from the 2010 All-Star Game and World Series and from the 2009 All-Star Game, he also got this:

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That’s a gold ball from the 2010 Home Run Derby.

WTF?!

It wasn’t actually used during BP; Modami had told one of the kids to hook Ben up after BP, so when the whole stadium opened at 5:30pm, Ben hurried over to the seats behind the Nationals’ dugout, and somehow the kid (who had gone inside for a few minutes) appeared with that ball in his hand. That’s insane, and you know what? Ben wins. I don’t know WHAT he wins. He just wins. All-Star balls and World Series balls are nice. The logos change every year, and it’s fun/challenging to snag them, but getting a gold ball from the Derby? Are you kidding me?!

Here’s where I sat for the first half of the game . . .

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. . . and here’s where I sat for the rest of it:

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While I was in the outfield accomplishing nothing, Ben got two 3rd-out balls behind the Marlins’ dugout, bringing his total for the day to 11.

In the 9th inning, I moved beside the Marlins’ bullpen . . .

18_marlins_bullpen_9th_inning_08_27_13

. . . and after the final out, I got bullpen coach Reid Cornelius to toss me my 14th ball.

Final score: Nationals 2, Marlins 1.

Here are the four different commemorative balls that I’d snagged:

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Here’s my 7,000th ball with the empty stadium in the background:

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Here’s the ball at a nearby Chinese restaurant . . .

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. . . and here it is in our hotel room:

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In case you’re wondering, Ben was not naked. He was wearing shorts. And gold chains.

He’s special.

Here’s a closeup of the ball . . .

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. . . and here are the ten that I kept:

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The Nationals might be my new favorite team. Just kidding. Go Diamondbacks!! But seriously, what a day. I wonder how long the Nationals’ supply of commemorative balls will last . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 14 baseballs at this game (ten pictured above because I gave four away)

• 551 balls in 73 games this season = 7.55 balls per game.

• 275 balls in 20 lifetime games at Nationals Park = 13.75 balls per game.

• 945 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 470 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 59 different commemorative balls (click here to see my whole collection)

• 29 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, Tropicana Field, Turner Field, Citizens Bank Park, Dodger Stadium, Chase Field, and the Oakland Coliseum

• 7,010 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.)

• 38 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.43 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $48.02 raised at this game

• $1,889.93 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $14,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $37,795.93 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/26/13 at Citi Field

For some reason, when I ran inside the stadium at 5:10pm, the Phillies were already warming up in left field:

1_phillies_out_early

That didn’t affect my day at all. I’m just pointing it out because it was strange. Normally the visiting team doesn’t come out until 5:25 to 5:30.

Anyway, my first ball came from a security guard, and my second was tossed by Andrew Brown. See the two Mets standing near each other in the previous photo? Those are the two bullpen catchers — Dave Racaniello and Eric Langill — and when Rac saw me get the toss-up, he shook his head and started talking to his buddy. I assumed he was telling him about me, so I waited until he finished and then shouted, “Eric!! Only half the bad things he told you about me are true!!” They both cracked up, and we all talked for a bit. Fun stuff.

The Mets’ portion of BP was pathetic. All the good hitters took their cuts before the stadium opened, and as a result, my only other ball from the Mets was thrown by Gonzalez Germen. I was in right field, and he flung it lazily at the very tail end of BP, forcing me to scurry up the steps and make an awkward back-handed lunge.

My fourth ball was a John Mayberry Jr. homer that I caught on the fly. Twenty minutes later, I got Justin De Fratus to toss one to me, but at the time, I had no idea who he was. Many thanks to everyone on Twitter who responded after I posted a photo of him.

I caught two more homers after that. My friend Greg thought they might’ve been hit by Kevin Frandsen, but we weren’t sure. In any case, I caught the first one while standing on a seat and caught the second while leaning far over the railing in the front row. I handed that one to the nearest fans, and after BP, I gave away another to this guy:

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His name is Ryan, and he was there with a man named Ed, who’d contacted me several days earlier to ask if I’d be there. Neither of them had asked me for a ball. If they had, I would’ve said no, but since they’d been trying hard to get one on their own and came up short, I decided to hook them up.

Here’s some random weirdness that I witnessed after BP:

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I think there was some sort of cultural/heritage pre-game ceremony taking place. The Mets seem to have lots of them, and no one ever seems to care.

During the lull between BP and the game, I wandered off to use the bathroom and get a drink of water. Normally this would’ve been uneventful — you know, not the type of thing worth blogging about — but on this fine day, I happened to find a fancy ticket in the concourse:

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The Empire Level?! I hadn’t even heard of that, much less actually BEEN there. It turned out to be the suite level, so you can imagine what I did. I used the ticket to get in there, and I wandered all over the place and took a bunch of photos. Here’s what the concourse looked like:

5_empire_level_concourse

Meh.

In the previous photo, did you see the doors on the right? One of them was open, so I took a quick peek through the doorway . . .

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. . . and then kept walking. Look what I stumbled upon next:

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Did you know that Citi Field has an auditorium? Neither did it. Do all stadiums have auditoriums? Is that a thing?

All I could think as I entered and walked though this corridor . . .

8_heading_into_auditorium

. . . was something along the lines of, “Where the HELL am I?”

The answer to that question is evident in the previous photo; I was next to the Brooklyn Dodgers Rotunda. But no, wait . . . seriously, what WAS going on? Why was there a frickin’ auditorium inside Citi Field?

Here’s what it looked like from the back:

9_inside_the_auditorium

I kept expecting security guards to appear out of nowhere and ask me what I was doing there, but that never happened. Instead there were just a bunch of young Asian folks milling about, none of whom said a word to me or even made eye contact.

Seriously, WTF?

That auditorium gave me the creeps, so I kept wandering . . .

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. . . and of course I took more photos along the way:

11_empire_level_elevators

Citi Field was built with only 41,000 seats to be “cozy.” Does the photo above strike you as cozy?

I really wanted to check out one of the suites, and eventually it appeared that I had my chance. I saw one that was wide open, and there wasn’t anyone it, and there weren’t any security guards in sight, so I stepped inside:

12_inside_an_empty_empire_level_suite

Could I have gotten in trouble? Probably not. Was I doing anything wrong? Not really. I was just taking a peek — not taking the furniture.

I walked to the far end with the glass door, and to my delight, it was unlocked. Here’s what it looked like when I stepped outside:

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This was the view to the left:

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I didn’t stay there long — just long enough to call Greg and wave — and on my way out, I took one more photo inside the suite:

15_inside_an_empty_empire_level_suite

That looks more like an IKEA showroom than a place where I’d actually want to hang out. The same could be said about this portion of the concourse . . .

16_empire_level_concourse

. . . which felt like the corridor of an upscale mental institution (which isn’t far from the truth).

At one point, I passed these two open suites:

17_people_in_suites_08_26_13

I was tempted to wander inside and try to schmooze my way into getting some free food, but I thought better of it. Besides, the game was about to begin, and I wanted to get back downstairs to the area in the stadium where I feel most comfortable: straight-away left field.

Here’s one end of the Empire Level concourse:

18_end_of_empire_level_concourse

On my way to the other end, I passed by this candy area:

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This candy was not free.

Here’s the other end of the Empire Level concourse:

20_other_end_of_empire_level_concourse

That’s where I exited. None of the guards up there recognized me, which was great. One guy gave me detailed instructions for finding my way back down to the 100 Level concourse. (“It goes all the way around the stadium,” he told me. “You can walk in a full circle.” HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Thanks. See ya.)

Here’s where I sat during the game:

21_view_during_game_08_26_13

Cliff Lee pitched eight innings, and the Phillies won, 2-1. There were no home runs, and to make matters worse, news of Matt Harvey’s injury broke. That’s the New York Mess for ya.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

22_the_five_balls_i_kept_08_26_13• 7 baseballs at this game (five pictured here because I gave two away)

• 537 balls in 72 games this season = 7.46 balls per game.

• 687 balls in 89 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.72 balls per game.

• 944 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 469 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 29 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, Tropicana Field, Turner Field, Citizens Bank Park, Dodger Stadium, Chase Field, and the Oakland Coliseum

• 6,996 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.)

• 38 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.43 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $24.01 raised at this game

• $1,841.91 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $14,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $37,747.91 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/24/13 at Citi Field

I knew this was going to be a good day. Not only had I gotten my hands on a season ticket (which got me in the stadium half an hour early) but it was Cal Ripken Jr.’s birthday. Seriously, what more did I need?

When I first ran inside, the Mets hadn’t quite started taking batting practice, so I headed to right field:

1_view_before_ball6970

In the photo above, the player on the right is Daisuke Matsuzaka. He was playing catch with pitching coach Dan Warthen, and when they finished, I got the ball by asking for it in Japanese.

Here’s a photo of my second ball of the day:

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See it? It’s sitting under the drink/food shelf in the front row. The Mets had started hitting. I was in the regular seats in left field. That ball landed on the party deck, and since there wasn’t anyone else around, I ran down the steps and grabbed it.

My third ball was a homer that landed in the seats near the left field foul pole. It took me a few seconds to find it, which made me nervous, but I still pretty much had the place to myself, so it didn’t really matter.

My friend Greg Barasch had also gotten in early with a season ticket. If you look closely at the following photo, you’ll see him posing with a ball on the far end of the party deck:

3_greg_with_ball_on_party_deck

My fourth ball was another homer that landed on the party deck, and I’m sorry to say that I have no idea who hit it. Travis d’Arnaud? Andrew Brown? Wilmer Flores? Juan Lagares? I had no clue.

My fifth ball was tossed by Mets coach Tom Goodwin, and as soon as I caught it, bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello shouted, “Nooooooo!!!”

“Rac” (as he’s known) has given me lots of baseballs over the years and knows all about my collection. He’s always been cool, but in this case, I suppose he was annoyed to see me get such an easy toss-up. He then proceeded to tell Goodwin about me and shout, “How many are you up to now?!”

Goodwin has always been generous with toss-ups, but now I’m not sure if I’ll ever get another one from him.

My sixth ball was a homer that I caught on the fly after running a section and a half to my right. The reason why I was able to run so fast and so far is that I wasn’t staring at the ball the whole way. I saw it get hit. Then I focused on sprinting through the front row. Then I looked up at the last second and grabbed it.

Ball No. 7 was a homer that landed closer to Greg, but he couldn’t find it when it was rattling around in the seats, so I was able to race over and snatch it. That said, don’t feel bad for him. Not only has he snagged more than 1,700 baseballs, and not only did he end up with 10 at this game, but he’d robbed the hell out of me several days earlier on a BP homer.

After that, an usher walked over and asked for two baseballs. Normally that would drive me crazy, but this was a guy who has always been friendly, and he said he wanted to give them away later to kids . . . so I obliged.

That’s when Greg suggested that I might end up with 20 balls, and then, as if to make his prediction come true, I caught three homers on the fly within a 30-second span — and look! Two of them were commemorative balls from last year:

4_balls_6977_6978_6979

One of these homers was a towering fly ball to my right that Greg nearly caught; the other two were hit to my left. I was in the front row for all of them, and they were hit by the same batter — maybe Andrew Brown? I was dying to know, so I called out to just about every Mets player/coach in left field and asked, but they all ignored me. Zack Wheeler was the worst ignorer of all. He was standing right in front of me, so I *know* he heard me, but for some reason, he didn’t have the courtesy to turn around and give me a quick answer. Why would someone behave like that?

By that point, I’d only been inside the stadium for 25 minutes, so I really did feel like I had a shot at 20, and not to sound greedy or anything, but as long as I was gonna be aiming high, why not try to break the Citi Field record of 21, which I set on September 17, 2010?

My 11th ball was a homer that I caught on the fly, reaching down over the railing in the front row. Greg guessed that it was hit by Wilmer Flores, but we weren’t sure.

Then, for some reason, Racaniello threw me a ball. I hadn’t asked for it. He just turned and let it fly, and when I asked him what the hell that was all about, he shrugged and said, “I don’t know, I’m in a good mood today.”

Just before the gates opened to the general public, an employee on the party deck tossed a (commemorative) home run ball to me.

Amazing.

Everything was going my way, and with Marlon Byrd and John Buck still due to take their cuts, I thought I might snag 20 balls before the Tigers even took the field.

Look who showed up and grabbed a seat behind me in the shade:

5_hayley_chilling_behind_me

That’s my girlfriend, Hayley. She hadn’t decided to join me until the night before, at which point it was far too late to try to track down another season ticket for her. I’d warned her that I was going to be able to enter the stadium half an hour early, and that she’d be stuck outside the gates on her own during that time, and she was okay with it. (Does that make me a bad boyfriend or a dedicated ballhawk? Or both?)

My 14th ball was a homer that I caught on the fly, once again reaching down below the railing in the front row.

My 15th ball was a fairly deep homer that I caught on the fly in left-center. Here’s a photo, taken by Hayley, that shows me just before I gloved it:

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Knowing that Hayley was sitting behind me, I busted out with some goofy dance moves. Little did I know that she’d photograph me and later insist that I share it on my blog:

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Here I am catching my 16th ball — yet another home run by an unidentifiable right-handed batter on the Mets:

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Suck it, Greg.

I handed that ball to the nearest kid, and then, to my dismay, the Mets jogged off the field. WTF?! Not only was BP ending 15 minutes early, but the two best righties — Byrd and Buck — had never come out. Oh, what might have been! It was extremely frustrating, but what could I do? I headed to the back of the section with Greg, and we changed into our Tigers gear. That’s when a kid named Eli approached me and asked me to sign a baseball. Here he is watching me do so:

9_zack_signing_ball_for_eli

There was so much time to kill that I wandered into foul territory for a bit. I hoped to get a toss-up, but had no luck as the Tigers were not being generous.

Eventually one of the coaches wheeled out the basket of balls . . .

10_tigers_getting_ready_to_start_bp

. . . which was a good sign. At least the Tigers *were* going to take BP. Of course, by that point, the left field seats were fairly crowded . . .

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. . . but that didn’t stop me from catching a line-drive homer off the bat of Austin Jackson. I handed that ball to the nearest kid (who happened to recognize me from YouTube), and when I saw that Prince Fielder was going to hit in the next group, I headed to the second deck in right field. This is kind of a weird camera angle, but look how steep and scary it is out there:

12_zack_second_deck_08_24_13

In the photo above, that’s me standing on the staircase.

Things didn’t go too well for me at first. I got robbed on a Victor Martinez home run by a fan who narrowly edged me out in the front row:

13_zack_getting_robbed_08_24_13

As it turned out, that fan recognized me and tweeted at me later. His name is Brendan, and that was the first home run he’d ever caught. (Congrats, Brendan! That was one hell of a snag.)

I made a decent catch of my own soon after on a homer by Prince Fielder. I had to run 15 feet to my left and then jump to reach it, and in the process, I banged the crap out of my left shin. That was my 18th ball of the day, and I got another homer five minutes later — a Victor Martinez blast that landed in the seats far to my left. In fact, it was so far away (roughly one and a half sections) that I didn’t even bother running for it at first. There were other fans standing closer to the spot where it was heading, but when I saw slowly/apathetically they all reacted, I decided to haul ass.

That it for BP . . . sort of. There was another group of hitters after that (during which I positioned myself in left-center), but I didn’t catch anything else.

I figured I wasn’t going to break the Citi Field record — that was going to require snagging an additional three balls — so at the very least, I hoped to get one more in order to push my total to 20. I’d snagged 20 balls at a single game 15 times, but only once in New York City, so I was on the verge of achieving something special.

After BP, I raced to the 3rd-base dugout . . .

14_no_love_at_the_dugout_08_24_13

. . . but got ignored by the last few coaches to clear the field.

Twenty minutes before the first pitch, I sweet-talked my way down into the seats in deep right-center . . .

15_no_love_in_right_center_08_24_13

. . . but didn’t get anything there.

Then I rushed back to my ticketed section in the hope of getting a pre-game toss-up . . .

16_no_love_third_base_side_08_24_13

. . . but the result was the same: no love from the Tigers! (I did, however, give another ball away.)

With Max Scherzer on the hill, I would’ve liked to sit near the home-plate end of the dugout. I figured that several innings were going to end with strikeouts, but let’s just say that I’m not exactly welcome over there. I’m on good terms with nearly every Citi Field employee, but unfortunately, the one who happens to enjoy checking my ticket is stationed there. So I kept my distance and sat here with Hayley:

17_view_for_first_batter_08_24_13

In the second inning, I had a great opportunity to catch a high foul pop-up that landed four rows in front of me on the stairs, but wouldn’t you know it? The wind was swirling, and the ball drifted slightly, and I got hung up on one of those gosh-darned railings, and the ball ended up falling *just* beyond my reach. That REALLY sucked.

I made myself feel better by thinking about the 19 balls that I’d snagged, which included ten home runs that I’d caught on the fly. Also, I was with my girlfriend, and we were witnessing an incredible pitching matchup. Max Scherzer (and his 18-1 record) was facing Matt Harvey (who had started the All-Star Game last month). It doesn’t get much better than that. And we got to see Miguel Cabrera too. Check out his absurd stats:

18_miguel_cabrera_insane_stats

Whenever Cabrera took the field, he got heckled mercilessly by this guy:

19_annoying_heckler_08_24_13

That guy wasn’t funny. He was flat-out annoying, and I was amazed that no one complained about him. He stood there for entire at-bats — sometimes for entire half-innings — so he was definitely blocking the view of numerous fans. At one point, Cabrera turned toward this guy and (from 100 feet away) made a subtle shushing gesture. It was hilarious, but didn’t exactly work.

Here I am with Hayley:

20_hayley_and_zack_08_24_13

D’aww!!

The previous night, whenever a batted ball resulted in the final out of an inning, Cabrera had it tossed to him, and he proceeded to throw it into the crowd. I had seen a grown man get one of these 3rd-out balls on this same staircase where I was now sitting, so I figured it was a good spot. Unfortunately, at this game, four of the first five innings ended with strikeouts, so I never had much of a chance.

Scherzer ended up fanning 11 batters in six scoreless innings; Harvey surrendered a career-high 13 hits in 6 2/3 innings, but allowed just two runs. The Tigers ended up winning, 3-0, so Scherzer’s won-lost record improved to 19-1. Wow!

After the final out, I figured I only had one good chance to get a ball — not from the players or coaches, but from home plate umpire Jeff Nelson. Can you spot me in the following photo?

21_zack_about_to_get_ball6989

See the yellow-shirted security supervisor on the field? He’s standing directly beyond my glove. Moments after that photo was taken, Nelson tossed me a ball! He gave one to Greg too, and he also hooked up several other fans.

I admit that that’s an unexciting way to get a ball, but given the statistical circumstances, I was pumped. Here I am with Greg and our umpire balls:

22_zack_and_greg_with_umpire_balls

Here’s a closeup of my final ball — No. 20 of the day:

23_ball6989_20th_of_the_day

If Greg hadn’t been there, I probably would’ve gotten 25 balls, but of course he could say the same about me. Ultimately, we’re friends, and while we do enjoy talking trash every once in a while, we root for each other to catch as many balls as possible and try to stay out of each other’s way.

Here are the 15 balls that I kept:

24_the_fifteen_balls_i_kept_08_24_13

Five of them have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:

25_black_light_08_24_13

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

And finally, here are some stats . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 20 baseballs at this game

• 530 balls in 71 games this season = 7.46 balls per game.

• 680 balls in 88 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.73 balls per game.

• 943 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 468 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 16 lifetime games with 20 or more balls

• 29 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, Tropicana Field, Turner Field, Citizens Bank Park, Dodger Stadium, Chase Field, and the Oakland Coliseum

• 6,989 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.)

• 38 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.43 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $68.60 raised at this game

• $1,817.90 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $14,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $37,723.90 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/23/13 at Citi Field

I brought a secret weapon to this game:

1_tongs_at_citi_field

No, I wasn’t invited to a tailgate party; I had some wacky ballhawking plans . . .

Do you remember the ball that I saw in a bullpen gutter on August 21st? In case you don’t, here and here are photos of it. You may recall that I wasn’t quite able to reach that ball, in part because a security guard stopped me from leaning out of the stands. When I blogged about it the next day, several people told me that I should make another attempt to snag it, and one guy suggested that I bring barbecue tongs to extend my reach — more on that in a bit, but first take a look at the crazy-long lines outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda:

2_crazy_long_line_08_23_13

My line was so long that it curved into the parking lot. Why was it so crowded? Because this was a Friday, and the weather was perfect, and the mighty Tigers were in town, and there was going to be a post-game concert by Third Eye Blind.

Urrghh.

As I was running toward left field at 5:10pm, a home run landed in the empty seats and trickled down to the front row. Naturally, I took a photo of the ball before I grabbed it . . .

3_ball6963_in_the_front_row

. . . and within the next few minutes, I got two more baseballs. The first was thrown by Josh Satin, and the second was tossed up from the party deck by an employee.

That’s when I made my move.

Hoping that the ball would still be in the gutter, I ran over to the seats in right-center. Here’s what I saw:

4_ball6964_in_bullpen_gutter

The ball was there! And when the security guard turned his back, I pulled out the tongs and snagged it:

5_ball6964_held_with_tongs

The ball was nasty. I have no idea how long it had been sitting there, but it felt damp — and it smelled like it.

Question: What does one do with such a putrid object?
Answer: One places it in a plastic bag and ties it in a knot.

6_ball6964_bagged_up

And then what?

Well, after tossing it in my backpack, I wondered whether or not to count it — you know, as a “snagged ball” in my collection. What do you think? Should I count it or not? I’m going to let YOU decide, but in order to do that, you need to leave a comment with your vote, and if possible, explain your reasoning. After 24 hours, we’ll count the votes, and that will settle it.

Here are two things to consider when voting . . .

1) Several days ago, I tweeted about this ball and asked if it would count. This was the most common response — several folks told me the same thing in person — and this was the funniest.

2) A few people have said it shouldn’t count because it’s not a complete ball. That’s true, but neither was this one that I snagged during BP at Game 3 of the 2011 World Series. I counted that one, and everyone seemed to agree that I’d made the right decision, so why is this ball less valid? Because more of it is missing? (It’s still a “ball,” after all.) Because I can’t verify the source? (We can’t verify the source of “Easter eggs,” but we still count those.)

There’s lots to consider, but rather than typing an endless list of potential arguments, I’ll let you decide. I’m leaning toward counting the ball, but if you guys collectively tell me not to, then I won’t. It’s that simple, so speak up!

Anyway . . . back in left field, an unidentifiable Met tossed a ball to me that fell short and landed on the party deck. The same employee who’d given me the other ball tossed me this one, and I immediately handed it to the nearest kid. That was my 4th or 5th ball of the day, depending on the outcome of the vote.

My next ball was a home run by a right-handed batter on the Tigers. It sailed five feet over my head — the wind was shifty and making it tough to judge fly balls — but I was able to grab it in the seats. Take a look at it:
7_ball6966_marked_by_tigers

Lots of teams have marked their baseballs over the years; this is how the Tigers have been doing it for a while.

I snagged three more balls during BP:

1) A home run which I caught on the fly in a rather crowded area.
2) A toss-up from Matt Tuiasosopo which I handed to the nearest kid.
3) A toss-up in left-center from one of the bullpen catchers, I think.

That brought my total for the day to eight or nine.

I headed to the Tigers’ dugout after BP, but all I got there was a photo of Max Scherzer:

8_max_scherzer_08_23_13

You know about his eyes, right? If you’ve never noticed, they’re different colors.

During the lull before the game, I decided to unravel the cover-less ball and settle the main argument once and for all. If it turned out to be an official major league baseball, that would strengthen the case for counting it — and believe me, I would know if it were the real deal.

I took the ball out of the plastic bag . . .

9_zack_with_ball6964

. . . and placed it on the ground and began pulling the thread:

10_unraveling_ball6964

It was hard to get started because there was a crusty layer on the ball, but once I got past that, the process was smooth. After five or ten minutes, I’d removed the entire outer layer:

11_first_layer_unraveled

Why did it take so long? Because that layer contains 555 feet of poly/cotton thread. That material is supposed to be white — it basically looks like dental floss — but this ball was waterlogged straight through to the core.

The next layer — 150 feet of gray three-ply yarn — came off quicker:

12_second_layer_unraveled

The third layer — 65 feet of tan three-ply yarn — came off really fast . . .

13_third_layer_unraveled

. . . and I kept going with the fourth/innermost layer:

14_fourth_layer_unraveled

That final layer had even thicker (four-ply) yarn. Here’s what it looked like when I reached the end:

15_pill_dangling_from_fourth_layer

Yep, this was definitely an official major league baseball — no doubt about it. That little pink ball is called the pill . . .

17_the_pill_of_ball6964

. . . and I decided to cut it open when I got home.

Here I am with the entire ball:

16_zack_with_ball6964_dismantled

After that photo was taken, I placed the pill and all the thread and yarn back in the plastic bag. Then I went to the bathroom and scrubbed my hands with warm water and soap for like two solid minutes.

Yuck.

Here’s where I sat during the game:

18_view_during_game_08_23_13

There were three home runs (two of which were hit off Daisuke Matsuzaka in the first two innings of his Mets debut). Unfortunately, they all landed one or two sections to my right. Miguel Cabrera hit one of the homers — a three-run shot in the second inning, giving him 41 longballs this season, to go with 126 RBIs and a .356 batting average. That’s just sick.

The Tigers won the game, 6-1, and no, I didn’t stay for the concert. I did, however, give away another ball before leaving the stadium.

When I got home, I began the difficult process of cutting open the pill:

19_cutting_open_the_pill

That rubbery reddish/pink layer measures one-tenth of an inch thick.

The black layer underneath . . .

20_pulling_apart_the_pill

. . . measures 0.15 inches thick . . .

21_the_pill_of_ball6964

. . . and the little ball in the middle (aka “the pellet”) has a diameter of thirteen sixteenths of an inch. I talked about all this stuff in great detail in The Baseball, specifically in Chapter 7 which is called “The Rawlings Method.” If you consider yourself a serious baseball fan, you really oughta read it. The manufacturing process is so complex that it’ll change the way you think about the sport.

Anyway, that’s pretty much it. I snagged nine balls at this game and kept six of them. Here they are:

22_the_six_balls_i_kept_08_23_13

Of course, if you guys think I should only count eight, then that’s what I’ll do. I’m torn, and I could argue either way, so help me figure it out.  Voting will end at 12pm ET on Sunday, August 25, 2013.

Thanks!

And hey, even if the ball doesn’t count, it was still fun to snag it and take it apart and share the process with everyone.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 9 baseballs at this game . . . I think.

• 510 balls in 70 games this season = 7.29 balls per game . . . right?

• 942 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 467 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 29 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, Tropicana Field, Turner Field, Citizens Bank Park, Dodger Stadium, Chase Field, and the Oakland Coliseum

• 6,969 total balls . . . maybe?

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.)

• 38 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.43 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $30.87 raised at this game . . . yes?

• $1,749.30 raised this season through my fundraiser (or perhaps only $1,745.87?)

• $14,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $37,655.30 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009 . . . or not.

8/21/13 at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium

This was a LONG day of baseball, which started here at Citi Field:

1_chris_rick_zack_garrett

In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at:

1) Chris Hernandez
2) Rick Gold
3) me
4) Garrett Meyer

Even though this was a 1:10pm game, I was hoping there’d be batting practice, but no, there wasn’t . . . of course. Here’s what the field looked like when I ran in:

2_no_effin_batting_practice_08_21_13

Ugh.

After 20 dreadfully slow minutes during which several other fans got baseballs tossed to them, I positioned myself here . . .

3_pedro_feliciano_before_ball6955

. . . and ended up getting one from Pedro Feliciano. The best thing about it (beyond the fact that I’d avoided getting shut out) was that he threw it HARD — probably more than 60 miles per hour. On its way to me, the ball had tailed a bit and nearly hit the man sitting on my right — a sportswriter named Jon Hart. He’s the author of a new book called Man Versus Ball, and he was there to take notes and do a story on me.

The ball itself was a thing of beauty. Check it out:

4_ball6955

For some reason, the Braves’ pitching staff never came out to play catch, so I decided to pass some time by wandering out to the seats in deep right-center. While standing in this spot . . .

5_view_from_right_center_08_21_13

. . . I looked down and to my left and saw this:

6_ball_in_bullpen_gutter

The photo above shows a ball in the gutter on the roof of a little structure in the Braves’ bullpen.

Here’s a closer look at the ball:

7_ball_in_gutter_closeup

That’s right — the cover was missing.

My first thought was, “If I were to grab the ball, would it be fair/accurate to count it in my collection?” I turned to Twitter for some guidance, and everyone pretty much said the same thing: the ball should count if it IS, in fact, an official major league ball. Of course, in order to determine that, I was gonna have to unravel it, the worst part of which would be getting my hands dirty, but whatever. Citi Field has good bathrooms, and I’d dismantled several balls in the past, including this one. Yes, if this gutter ball were the real deal, I’d know it by the time I got to the core. The only problem was that I couldn’t quite reach it without causing a scene. My fingertips came up several inches short, and although I was able to touch the ball with my glove, there wasn’t enough room in the gutter for me to get the leather around it. Just as I was planning to try to scoop it up with my Braves’ cap, a security guard walked down the stairs and told me to stop. I was tempted to say, “Show me IN WRITING where it says anything about fans not being allowed to reach out of the stands before the first pitch,” but I decided to let it go. To hell with the Mets and their withered balls.

Soon after, I saw something amusing in the Braves’ bullpen:

8_roger_mcdowell_filming_julio_teheran

Julio Teheran was working on his mechanics, and pitching coach Roger McDowell was (presumably) filming him with a smartphone. It was a good use of technology, but still made me smile.

I was almost certain that I’d get a ball when they finished — McDowell had a couple of baseballs in his back pocket — but bullpen coach Eddie Perez tossed it to another fan instead. No big deal, right? People ask for baseballs all the time and don’t always get them . . . right? Well, there was another guy near me who was so pissed that *he* didn’t get the ball that he started yelling at Perez and saying stuff like, “I hope you get hit by a foul ball!” This was a grown man, and okay, fine, he was frustrated that he hadn’t gotten the ball for his son, but still, there’s no excuse for behaving like that, and let me tell you, I gave him an earful. I shouted all kinds of stuff back at him, including, “You know why players act rude when they come to New York? Because of people like YOU!!!” I was really annoyed, not to mention embarrassed for my city. On my way out of the mostly-empty section, I got a thumbs-up from a woman and a subtle head-nod from another fan.

Because I’d spent so much time near the bullpen, I missed my chance to say hello to Craig Kimbrel, who’d been signing autographs for quite a while along the left field foul line. All I got was a photo of him . . .

9_craig_kimbrell_signing_08_21_13

. . . before he said, “Sorry, I gotta go,” and ran off.

Just before the game started, I went here . . .

10_view_before_ball6956

. . . and got a toss-up from Braves 3rd baseman Chris Johnson. Andrelton Simmons (who recognizes me) saw me catch it and shook his head. Of course, he wasn’t looking when I handed the ball to a little kid ten seconds later.

Here’s where Jon and I sat during the game:

11_view_during_game_08_21_13

I had lots of room to run, but of course there was nothing to run for.

Jon asked me lots of questions and took a zillion notes.

At one point, when he went to get a drink of water, I took a photograph of my right eye:

12_eye_closeup_08_21_13

That looks a lot better compared to how it was three weeks earlier, huh?

Speaking of the destructive force of baseballs, look what happened to Jason Heyward:

13_jason_heyward_broken_jaw

That was the result of a 90-mph fastball from Mets starter Jon Niese. At the time, I had no idea what had happened, but as it turned out, Heyward had suffered a broken jaw!

Thankfully, he was able to get up on his own . . .

14_jason_heyward_broken_jaw

. . . and walk back to the dugout:

15_jason_heyward_broken_jaw

Chris and Garrett were sitting near the dugout and told me later that Heyward was spitting blood — scary stuff, and hey, what IS it with Braves players suffering season-ended injuries whenever I go to Citi Field? Last month, you may recall, I saw Tim Hudson break his ankle and get carted off the field.

With the score tied 1-1 in the top of the 8th inning, I left Citi Field so that I could get to Yankee Stadium in time for the start of BP. (I found out later that Chris Johnson hit a three-run homer in the top of the 10th; the ball landed one section to my right, and the Braves won, 4-1.) Garrett stayed for the entire Mets game. Chris and Jon left with me, and we ran into Rick on the way. I was exhausted by the time we made it to Grand Central Station . . .

16_zack_exhausted_in_grand_central_station

. . . and the day was still young. Here I am outside Yankee Stadium with a few friends:

17_jeff_chris_zack_andy_george

In the previous photo, the guy on the left is named Jeff. His son George is on the right. Chris (having changed into a Yankees shirt) is standing next to me, and the other guy is named Andy. He posts lots of Yankees photos on his blog and was kind enough to take pics of me for mine . . . like these:

18_zack_snagging_ball6957

The photos above show me snagging my first ball during BP. Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey had thrown it to me, and it fell two rows short. Look closely and you can see me climbing over the seats and reaching down for it.

Here’s a photo that I took soon after:

19_fan_standing_on_railing

Did you notice the old guy standing on the railing? I was amazed that he got away with it, but then again, not really; certain guards at Yankee Stadium see what they want to see.

Take another look at the photo above. See the woman wearing dark shorts at the end of my row? Moments after I took that picture, I sensed that a ball was about to be thrown in her direction, so I hurried over in case it sailed a bit too high, and whaddaya know? That’s exactly what happened. The ball missed her bare hands by an inch, and for the record, she hadn’t even jumped. As soon as I caught it, someone shouted, “Aww, c’mon, ya gotta give it to her!! That was HER ball!!” Another fan heard that and yelled, “That ball was thrown by Mariano!! He should keep it!!” Sure enough, Mariano was standing just below us in the bullpen — so I kept the ball and gave her the one that I’d gotten from Harkey. She was disappointed, and I don’t mean to be a jerk, but too bad. I’m disappointed about lots of balls that I almost caught. That’s life.

After that, I headed to left field and caught a Vernon Wells homer on the fly — my 500th ball of the season. Here I am with it:

20_zack_with_ball6959_500th_of_2013

When the Blue Jays started hitting, I changed into my Jays gear and headed back to right field. After a while, I managed to get one more ball, possibly hit by Anthony Gose, although I’m not sure. Here it is heading toward me . . .

21_zack_catching_ball6960

. . . and here I am making the catch:

22_zack_catching_ball6960

Toward the end of BP, Andy photographed me standing next to a famous fan — the woman from Seattle who used to have the “Ichi-Meter” at Safeco Field. Check it out:

23_ichi_meter_3999

Entering this game, Ichiro Suzuki had a total of 3,999 hits in professional baseball — 1,278 in Japan and 2,721 in the Major Leagues. That’s pretty much why I attended this game — not just to SEE him reach 4,000, but to actually catch the ball. Of course, given the fact that he was gonna have to hit a home run (or a ground-rule double) in order for me to get my hands on it, the odds were stacked against me, but the way I saw it, the odds would’ve been far worse had I been home watching the game on TV.

After BP, I met up with Garrett in the bleachers, and we headed here:

24_zack_garrett_designated_driver_stand

He was planning to sign up to be a designated driver in order to get a free soda, and he asked me if I’d do the same (so that he could have two sodas). I said sure, and we were all set to do it when we learned that the Yankees don’t give free soda to designated drivers. Huh?! Since I don’t drink alcohol or soda, and since I don’t own a car, I don’t make a habit of signing up for these things, but I’ve seen enough of these booths at various stadiums to know that teams *always* give free soda — well, except the Yankees, evidently. And get this: if you sign up here at Yankee Stadium, you get a Budweiser key chain as a reward. WTF?! Do the Yankees want people NOT to drink, but to be tempted to drink? I don’t get it.

Here I am with Garrett before the game:

25_zack_garrett_bleachers

Jon and I had tickets on the lower level in straight-away right field, but Garrett was going to be sitting elsewhere, so we were discussing our plans.

This was my view for Ichiro’s first at-bat in the bottom of the 1st inning:

26_view_for_ichiro_08_21_13

With R.A. Dickey on the mound, Ichiro slapped a 1-1 pitch past the 3rd baseman for his 4,000th professional hit. That’s pretty much what I expected, and yes, it was great to witness this historic moment, but on a deeper/personal/selfish level, it was disappointing.

The crowd went nuts . . .

27_crowd_reacting_to_ichiro

. . . and after a few seconds, I got really into it too. Here’s a photo of me taking a photo:

28_zack_taking_photo_08_21_13

Here’s what I was photographing:

29_ichiro_4000_hits_on_jumbotron

Ichiro’s teammates had already spilled out onto the field by that point . . .

30_ichiro_congratulated_by_teammates

. . . and the crowd was still cheering like crazy:

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Andy capped the moment by getting a shot of the woman with the Ichi-Meter sign:

32_ichi_meter_4000

Many thanks to Andy for taking and sharing so many great photos with me. I know I linked to it before, but here’s his blog. Check it out if you get a chance.

When Ichiro took the field in the top of the 2nd, he tipped his cap to the crowd:

33_ichiro_waving_to_the_crowd_08_21_13

Later in the game, there was a congratulatory video message from his old Mariners teammate, Ken Griffey Jr.:

34_ken_griffey_jr_video_message_for_ichiro

It wasn’t long before vendors started selling t-shirts (for $35) and commemorative pins (for some other ungodly amount):

35_ichiro_merchandise_for_sale

I get it. Believe me. I really do. The Yankees failed in their attempt to sabotage A-Rod’s season and get their insurance company to pay his $28 million salary, so now they’re desperate to make money, but jeez, couldn’t they have waited a day? It’s bad enough to see Ichiro in pinstripes, but to see vendors hawking this merchandise . . . I don’t know, man. It really cheapened the accomplishment.

Of course, at Yankee Stadium, there’s always something special happening, and in the top of the 9th, the great Mariano Rivera entered the game:

36_mariano_rivera_entering_the_game_08_21_13

Rajai Davis managed to hit a one-out double off him, and before the next pitch, Mariano picked him off 2nd base. You can’t make this stuff up. It was the first pick-off at 2nd base of Mariano’s entire career. Final score: Yankees 4, Blue Jays 2.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

37_the_four_balls_i_kept_08_21_13• 6 baseballs at these two games (four pictured here because I gave two away)

• 501 balls in 69 games this season = 7.26 balls per game.

• 3 consecutive seasons with 500 or more balls

• 941 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 466 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 29 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, Tropicana Field, Turner Field, Citizens Bank Park, Dodger Stadium, Chase Field, and the Oakland Coliseum

• 6,960 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.)

• 38 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.43 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $20.58 raised at these two games

• $1,718.43 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $14,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $37,624.43 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/20/13 at Citi Field

There was some serious competition at this game:

1_garrett_rick_greg_08_20_13

In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at:

1) Garrett Meyer (a friend/ballhawk from Kansas City with 956 lifetime baseballs)
2) Rick Gold (1,667 lifetime balls including 47 game home runs)
3) Greg Barasch (1,694 lifetime balls including an average of nearly 8 per game this season)

Batting practice got off to a BAD start. Although I did end up grabbing it in the seats, I’m embarrassed to admit that I flat-out dropped an easy John Buck homer, and then to make matters worse, Greg robbed me on the next one when I failed to reach all the way forward.

This was my view when the Braves took the field:

2_view_during_bp_08_20_13

See the group of three players? Luis Avilan, standing on the right, threw me a ball and then asked, “How’s your eye?” (You may recall that I got a black eye on 7/31/13 at Turner Field and was recognized by just about everyone on the Braves several days later in Philadelphia.) That was pretty cool.

My third ball was a Freddie Freeman homer that landed on the party deck in left-center and took a shockingly lucky ricochet up to me. My fourth ball was a Jason Heyward homer that I caught on the fly, reaching down over the plexiglass wall beside the green-shirted guard. I handed that ball and the one after — a Joey Terdoslavich homer that I caught on the fly — to the nearest kids. My sixth and final ball was a B.J. Upton homer that I caught on the fly while standing on a seat . . . so at least I somewhat redeemed myself athletically.

After BP, I gave away another ball and met up with Greg, who showed me this:

3_greg_and_his_christmas_ornament_ball

That’s how it was when he caught it — weird, no?

Greg and Garrett sat behind the 3rd-base dugout during the game. Rick and I sat in left field, and I *nearly* caught a Marlon Byrd homer in the 6th inning. Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain:

4_stupid_stupid_stupid

That photo shows the view to my right. See the man in the blue shirt in the middle of the row in front of my row? The home run ball went right to him, and by the time he reached up for it with his bare hands, I was standing directly behind him and reaching too. Based on the video highlight, it seems that at least one other person was making an attempt to catch it, and you know what happens when there are several hands and gloves in one spot. That’s right: no one catches it! We collectively bobbled the ball five feet to the right, and some little kid snatched it off the ground. Good for him. Bad for me. And by the way, the guy in the blue shirt was pissed. He actually yelled at me, but later calmed down and apologized and acknowledged the fact that I hadn’t done anything wrong.

Final score: Mets 5, Braves 3.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

5_the_three_balls_i_kept_08_20_13• 6 baseballs at this game (three pictured here because I gave three away)

• 495 balls in 67 games this season = 7.39 balls per game.

• 649 balls at 85 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.64 balls per game.

• 939 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 464 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 29 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, Tropicana Field, Turner Field, Citizens Bank Park, Dodger Stadium, Chase Field, and the Oakland Coliseum

• 6,954 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.)

• 38 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.43 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $20.58 raised at this game

• $1,697.85 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $14,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $37,603.85 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Finally, of the three ball I kept from this game, one has a snazzy invisible ink stamp. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:

6_black_light_08_20_13

8/15/13 at the Oakland Coliseum

I knew there wasn’t going to be batting practice; this was a 12:35pm game, and the A’s and Astros had played 11 innings the night before. Thankfully, though, both teams were playing catch when I entered the stadium . . .

1_no_effin_batting_practice_08_15_13

. . . so I figured I’d have a couple of chances to get a toss-up.

After heading down toward the front row and standing around for a minute or two, I saw a ball get thrown wildly and roll onto the warning track. Take a look at the following photo — see it there against the little side-wall that juts out?

2_ball_on_the_field_08_15_13

Did you notice the guy standing in the front row with the green bag? When I ran over there and eyed the ball, he said, “That’s my ball. I just dropped it.”

“Oh really,” I replied without missing a beat. “Were you just out there on the field playing catch? Because I’m pretty sure it was an overthrow.”

He laughed nervously and said, “Well, I’m claiming it.”

“Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. No one can claim a ball until they actually have possession of it.”

“Oh, so you’re one of THOSE guys,” he said.

“One of what guys? I’m just a human being, and I’m trying to get a baseball.”

By that point, I was starting to set up my glove trick, and a security guard was walking toward us. The other fan asked for the ball, but the guard said he wasn’t allowed to give it away. The guard then noticed my string and informed me that “retrieval devices are not allowed at the Coliseum.” And that was it. I have no idea what ended up happening to that ball, but I can tell you that I got one thrown by A.J. Griffin. Then I raced over to the right-field foul line and got this one from an Astros player that I didn’t recognize:

3_ball6747

Nice! I’d been hoping to get one of those. (For those who don’t know, that’s one of the commemorative balls that the Astros used last season for their 50th anniversary. Here’s a better photo of one that I snagged on 5/14/12 at Citizens Bank Park.)

Here’s a random photo of two players walking across the field, presumably after taking BP indoors:

4_astros_players_walking_across_field

The player on the right is Brett Wallace. Any idea who the other guy is? In general, I’m pretty good at recognizing major leaguers, but Great God Almighty, I have no clue with the Astros. Talk about a bunch of no-names! I think I’m more famous than half the team, which is pretty sad for them.

Do you remember the nice conversation I’d had the day before with Astros bullpen catcher Javier Bracamonte? Well, I caught up with him again. This time I gave him three different flavors of BIGS Sunflower Seeds . . .

5_javier_bracamonte_with_bigs_seeds

. . . and ended up answering a bunch of his questions about the helicopter stunt. He’s SUCH a nice guy, and in case you’re interested, he’s on Twitter.

After chatting for a while with Bracamonte, I got a visit from my friend and fellow ballhawk Spencer. Here’s a photo of us . . .

6_zack_and_spencer_photographed_by_jeff_murphy

. . . which was taken by the Astros’ other bullpen catcher, Jeff Murphy.

Can you spot the BIGS Seeds in the following photo?

7_bigs_seeds_with_bullpen_equipment

I’d assumed that Bracamonte had taken those sample packs into the clubhouse, so it took me by surprise to see them sitting with the other equipment in the bullpen.

A little while later, Murphy did a catching drill with Carlos Corporan . . .

8_carlos_corporan_catching_drill

. . . and yes, a bunch of the balls *did* have last year’s commemorative logo:

9_commemmorative_balls_from_2012

I didn’t get any of them, but I did get three Astros to sign my ticket:

10_signed_ticket_08_15_13

The signature on the left is Chia-Jen Lo. The signature in the middle is Josh Zeid. (He’s the player in the photo above.) As for the signature on the right . . . I think it’s Brad Peacock, but I’m not sure. His jersey was hidden, and he jogged off before I had a chance to take his picture. Can anyone confirm who it is? (Who ARE these guys? Is this really the major leagues?)

I lingered along the foul line just long enough to watch Erik Bedard finish warming up:

11_erik_bedard_warming_up

Then I headed up to my *actual* ticketed seat in the second deck:

Section 219
Row 1
Seat 9

If you want to catch a foul ball, that’s where you should sit for left-handed batters. Anywhere in Row 1 of Section 219 is pretty much ideal, and those seats are almost always empty. Just walk up to the ticket window on the day of the game and ask for it. If you sit there for an entire game, it’s more likely than not that you will snag a foul ball. For right-handed batters, Section 215 is the place to be. Be advised that the ushers do check tickets in those spots, and since it’s always so empty, there’s no way to sneak in there. They’ll see you, so just buy a ticket. They’re not that expensive, and the A’s could really use the money.

Anyway, this was my view of the field . . .

12_view_for_lefties_08_15_13

. . . and here’s what it looked like on my left:

13_view_to_my_left_08_15_13

See what I’m talking about? I’m telling you, it’s foul ball heaven, and in the top of the 2nd inning, I caught one:

14_ball6948_marc_krauss_foul_ball

Before I explain how it all went down, I need to share two more photos. First, here I am with the ball:

15_zack_with_ball6948

Second, here’s the best height differential that I’ve ever seen in the major leagues:

16_height_differential

The photo above shows Nate Freiman (6-foot-8) standing next to Jose Altuve (5-foot-5). Given my fascination with tall people, you can imagine how much that made me smile.

Now, as for the foul ball that I caught . . . I was promptly congratulated by the nearest usher who handed me a “Foul Ball Club” card, which I eventually filled out. Here’s the front of it . . .

17_foul_ball_club_card_front_08_15_13

. . . and here’s the back:

18_foul_ball_club_card_back_08_15_13

By the way, this is the ball that I’ll be offering in the end-of-season auction to benefit Pitch In For Baseball. I think it’s better than the Josh Reddick strikeout ball that I got the day before because this one was thrown by Sonny Gray in his first major league win. Of course, there’s no telling what kind of career he’ll have, but c’mon, that’s pretty cool.

Over the course of the game, I moved back and forth from the 3rd-base side of home plate (for lefties) to the 1st-base side (for righties). Although it would’ve been much easier to use the cross-aisle, I didn’t want to block anyone’s view, so I took the following route instead. From my seat on the 3rd-base side, I headed through this tunnel and down the stairs:

19_path_to_spot_for_righties

Then I hurried through the concourse for 100 to 150 feet . . .

20_path_to_spot_for_righties

. . . and finished by running up here:

21_path_to_spot_for_righties

This is how I stay fit during the season. Seriously.

I was hoping to catch another foul ball — or maybe six more foul balls — but nothing else came near me.

The A’s won the game, 5-0. I took a photo of the players and coaches spilling onto the field . . .

22_athletics_celebrating_the_win

. . . and I ran downstairs in time to see Bracamonte walking in from the bullpen:

23_javier_bracamonte_postgame

On my way out, I got a pair of “goodbye” waves from a friendly guard and usher on the field:

24_guard_and_usher_waving_goodbye

I had talked to them for a while before the game. Really nice people.

Even though I only snagged five balls in two days and had miserable luck during the games, I was sad to leave. Watching baseball in Oakland is a unique experience, and I probably won’t be back for a while.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

25_the_three_balls_i_kept_08_15_13• 3 baseballs at this game (pictured on the right)

• 489 balls in 66 games this season = 7.41 balls per game.

• 54 balls at 8 lifetime games at the Oakland Coliseum = 6.75 balls per game.

• 938 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 463 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 156 foul balls snagged during games (not counting toss-ups)

• 29 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, Tropicana Field, Turner Field, Citizens Bank Park, Dodger Stadium, Chase Field, and the Oakland Coliseum

• 6,948 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.)

• 38 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.43 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $10.29 raised at this game

• $1,677.27 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $14,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $37,583.27 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/14/13 at the Oakland Coliseum

The Oakland Coliseum is ugly, and the surrounding area is even worse:

1_area_outside_coliseum_08_14_13

No disrespect intended. In fact, I like it *because* it’s ugly. In this era of new/sterile stadiums where every inch is micro-managed, I enjoy the Coliseum for being just the opposite. There’s lots of wasted space, but the design is unique. The crowds are small, but the fans who show up are REALLY into the game. The team has a minuscule payroll, but the players keep finding ways to win. And so on. There’s really nothing else like it in baseball.

Anyway, I walked along this bridge toward the stadium . . .

2_bridge_to_coliseum_08_14_13

. . . and moments after I took this photo . . .

3_outside_game_mm_08_14_13

. . . I heard someone call my name. It was a guy named Ryan who’s been following me on Twitter and recognized me from this blog. He introduced me to his friend Michael, and a little while later, their buddy Nick Badders showed up. Here I am with them:

4_ryan_michael_zack_nick

In the photo above, Ryan is on the left, and Nick is on the right. Nick and I had met two years earlier at this game – remember him from this photo?

Twenty minutes before the gates opened, my cousin Howie (who lives in California) showed up with his ten-year-old kids Juliana and Sam and their friend Rohan. Here we are:

5_howie_juliana_sam_rohan_zack

Do you remember them from 7/16/12 at Dodger Stadium? Here’s a photo of us that was taken that night after the game.

I wasn’t done running into people. Here I am with the legendary Lee Wilson . . .

6_zack_and_lee_wilson_08_14_13

. . . whom you might recognize as one of the top ten ballhawks of all time in The Baseball (see pages 285-286).

Then this young man approached me and asked me to sign a baseball:

7_john_with_signed_baseball_08_14_13

Shortly before the gates opened, Nick told me that the A’s would be gone by the time we ran inside, so I changed into my Astros gear:

8_zack_astros_gear_feeling_hyper

If you think *I* was hyper, check out Sam and Juliana:

9_sam_rohan_juliana_hyper

Finally, security was ready to let us in . . .

10_waiting_to_enter_08_14_13

. . . and after running like crazy through a maze of concourses, staircases, and tunnels, I emerged in the right-field bleachers. Within the first minute, I got a ball thrown to me by the player pictured below:

11_kevin_chapman_after_ball6944

I had no idea who it was, so I asked around in case anyone knew. Ryan said it was Kevin Chapman, and I confirmed later that he was correct.

The first group of hitters had several lefties, but none of them hit any home runs into the bleachers. The next group was mostly right-handed, so I moved to left field:

12_view_from_right_field_08_14_13

It was dead out there — only one home run and a couple of toss-ups, all of which went to other fans.

Lee Wilson was standing one staircase to my left . . .

13_lee_wilson_one_staircase_over

. . . but neither of us had any reason to run for anything. It was truly pathetic.

Back in right field, the season ticket holders were being filmed for a segment on the local news:

14_fans_in_bleachers_being_filmed

Howie, meanwhile, had gotten a toss-up from one of the Astros, which he gave to Rohan:

15b_juliana_rohan_sam_with_ball

Guess what? That was it for batting practice! The Astros finished 15 minutes early — a total disaster. I was still in the bleachers when they started jogging off the field, so it took quite an effort on my part to make it to the dugout before they were all gone. (The last time I had “only” snagged one ball was at the 2007 All-Star Game, so I *really* wanted to get at least one more.) I thought I had a good chance when bullpen catcher Javier Bracamonte started walking toward me with the ball bag. He’s extremely friendly and had thrown me two baseballs in 2012, but when I put in my request this time, he responded with the following:

“You came all the way here from New York to ask me for a baseball?”

“Oh, man!” I replied, “you remember me?”

“Of course!” he said with a big smile before disappearing.

Then I changed back into my A’s gear and showed the camera how I was feeling:

16_zack_thumbs_down_after_bp

Did you notice Sam in the previous photo? He seemed to be enjoying the fact that I was miserable. How sweet.

Several minutes later, I met up with a fellow ballhawk named Spencer, who had also snagged ONE ball during batting practice. This was our reaction:

17_zack_and_spencer_sanborn_only_one_ball_each

It made no sense.

I realize that most people would be thrilled to snag one ball in their entire lives, but you have to understand that things are different for us. I’ve been averaging more than seven balls per game this season, and Spencer has also put up some good numbers. ONE ball?! Seriously?!

I was in a slightly better mood by the time I met these guys:

18_nicholas_matt_zack_matt_brady

In the photo above, the man in the plain-white shirt is named Matt. He had contacted me months earlier about possibly doing a couple of Watch With Zack games — one here and another at AT&T Park — but it didn’t work out. Still, we’d kept in touch, and he was able to make it to this one with his six-year-old son, Nicholas (pictured above in the light green shirt), his friend Matt (in the darker green shirt), and Matt’s seven-year-old son, Dylan. (Yes, there are two guys named Matt in that photo. Are you with me?) The five of us hung out for a bit before the game. It would’ve been nice to chat longer, but they left to get food, and I there were some other things that needed attention.

For starters, I gave my BP ball to Sam, and then I got Rohan’s ball signed by Astros bench coach (and former major leaguer) Eduardo Perez. Rohan, surprisingly, was more interested in my autograph, and he insisted that I sign the ball too. Here are two photos of it:

19_perez_hample_autographs_for_rohan

Howie had purchased four tickets in the 3rd row behind the Astros’ dugout. I’m not sure how much he paid for them, but in order to sit here at Yankee Stadium . . .

20_howie_and_the_kids_in_their_seats

. . . he would’ve had to add a zero on the end. And then double it.

Shortly before game time, Bracamonte walked back out onto the field and asked what I was doing in Oakland. I took off my Astros shirt and showed him what I was wearing underneath. Then, after making sure that he had a minute to chat, I explained that I’m being sponsored this season by BIGS Sunflower Seeds and that I’m being sent to all 30 major league stadiums and that for each stadium where I snag a game-used baseball, the folks at BIGS are donating $500 to a children’s baseball charity called Pitch In For Baseball.

159448084_TFa_HOU_059“You need a ball from here?” he asked.

“Well, yeah, but it has to be game-used.”

“If they hit a foul ball to the bullpen,” he said, “I’ll save it for you.”

“Are you serious? That is SO nice of you! Okay . . . I’ll be hanging out here during the game and also trying to catch a foul ball in the second deck behind home plate, so if you get one, just hang onto it for a minute or two, and I’ll run right over.”

He said he would, and then he asked if I could send him one of the BIGS t-shirts.

“No problem,” I said, and that was pretty much it.

WOW!!!

Feeling especially optimistic, I headed to the second deck in the top of the 1st. This was my view in the bottom half of the inning:

21_view_for_lefties_08_14_13

Check out all the room I had on my left:

22_view_to_my_left_08_14_13

This is one of the two best spots to catch a foul ball in the major leagues. The other one is here at Miller Park.

With two outs in the bottom of the 1st, I headed back down to the dugout:

23_view_from_dugout_08_14_13

I was pretty sure that if the inning ended with a strikeout, Astros catcher Jason Castro would toss me the ball on his way in. Yoenis Cespedes ended up falling behind 0-2 and then grounding out to the shortstop. Boo!!

Back in the second deck, I had an *absurd* amount of room to run for foul balls on the 1st-base side of home plate. This was the view to my left . . .

24_view_to_my_left_08_14_13

. . . and to the right:

25_view_to_my_right_08_14_13

Of course, because my luck was absolute crap, there were no foul balls hit anywhere near there when I had all that space to myself. Unreal.

Therefore, the only “action” that took place in the second deck was getting to catch up with Nick . . .

26_nick_badders_in_the_second_deck

. . . who was also going for foul balls. By the way, Nick was recently featured in an article on MiLB.com. Click here to check it out — you’ll see that I was mentioned in it.

Every inning, I’d been moving between the second deck and the Astros’ dugout, and every inning, the result was the same: NOTHING. There hadn’t even been a foul grounder into the Astros’ bullpen. What in the world was going on — some sort of conspiracy to keep me here in Oakland forever?

With two outs in the bottom of the 6th, I returned to the dugout once again with the hope that Josh Reddick would go down on strikes. When the count went to 3-0, a strikeout seemed unlikely, but whaddaya know? He took the next pitch for a strike and yanked the one after that foul. Of course, I was so focused on the potential strikeout that Howie had to point out the fact that the foul ball had rolled into the Astros’ bullpen and that Javier Bracamonte had gotten it from the ballboy. As Reddick was digging in for the 3-2 pitch, I quickly looked toward the bullpen, and sure enough, Bracamonte was sitting on the far end, holding up the ball and waving at me. He was about 200 feet away, so I doubt he saw my “hold on” gesture, but nevertheless, I stayed where I was, and five seconds later. Reddick took a called third strike. Then, as I’d predicted, Castro tossed me the ball on his way in! Sweeeeeet!!! I immediately turned toward the bullpen and saw that Bracamonte was giving me a series of fist-pumps. I gave a few in return, and *then* I ran over to see him. Were the ushers going to check my ticket or tell me that I couldn’t approach the bullpen during the game? No and no. Everyone at the Coliseum was chill, and before the 7th inning got underway, I was able to catch up with The Man. Here he is smiling at me:

27_javier_bracamonte_smiling_at_me

How awesome is that?

I thanked him for having saved me the ball, but told him that since I got one on my own, I didn’t need it. He was super-cool about the whole thing and said he was glad to help.

From my temporary spot down the right field foul line, I photographed the ball:

28_ball6945

Then I headed back to the dugout and showed it to a friendly usher who’d been rooting for me to get one:

29_zack_showing_ball6945_to_friendly_usher

During the next inning break, Howie took a few photos of me with the ball. Here’s the one that I posted on Twitter, and here’s another . . . just because:

30_zack_with_ball6945

Several fans sitting behind me had overheard bits and pieces of my conversation. One guy Googled my name (which he saw on the back of my shirt) and pulled up this photo and was like, “Hey, that’s really you!” Here I am talking to him:

31_zack_talking_to_fans_08_14_13

(Don’t worry, I made sure to look at the field whenever a pitch was about to be thrown. Getting hit in the eye once per season is enough.)

An inning later, I was back in the second deck with Nick. Check out my wonderful view:

32_fabulous_view_from_second_deck

I should admit that I’d made a conscious effort to take that photo so that the railing was in the worst possible spot. I actually like those railings; they make the view so lousy that no one ever wants to sit in the front row, which of course makes it much easier for me to catch foul balls. When I visited the Coliseum two years ago, I snagged four foul balls in 22 innings, but this time? Meh. There just weren’t any foul balls to be snagged.

In the 9th inning, I got some chicken and fries . . .

33_shitty_chicken_and_fries

. . . which turned out to be HORRIBLE. It was probably the second-worst stadium food I’d ever eaten. The worst has to be this “burger” that I got on 6/7/13 at Wrigley Field. Yuck!

As you might expect, this guy got heckled pretty badly:

34_hoes

As the game went into extra innings, I was torn between staying with my family near the dugout or going for foul balls in the second deck. I picked the dugout because it seemed like the right thing to do, and MAN-OH-MAN did I regret it! In the top of the 11th, just after I once again forced myself not to go upstairs, Jake Elmore led off against Sean Doolittle and hit FOUR foul balls into the mostly-empty section where I would’ve been sitting. I have no doubt that had I been there, I would’ve snagged at least two of them. Howie saw how upset I was and told me to go up there, by which point it was too late. Not only was Pablo Sandoval blocking the cross-aisle on the 3rd base side . . .

35_pablo_sandoval_going_for_foul_balls

. . . but there weren’t any more foul balls up there. It was terrible — and that was the final inning. Final score: Astros 2, Athletics 1.

After the final out, I hurried back down to the dugout and got a glimpse of Bracamonte heading in:

36_javier_bracamonte_postgame

I’m glad to report that Juliana had gotten a toss-up between innings late in the game, so each of the kids ended up with a ball. As for me . . . even though my numbers were down and I’d lost an ideal opportunity in the 11th inning, the day still turned out reasonably well. I’d gotten to meet some people, catch up with friends, and hang out with my family, and of course, thanks to BIGS Sunflower Seeds, I’d raised another sizable chunk of change for Pitch In For Baseball — can’t argue with that.

Nick and his father headed out with us . . .

37_parking_lot_postgame

. . . and Howie gave me a ride back to my cruddy hotel. Here I am in his SUV with the kids:

38_zack_and_kids_in_car_08_14_13

For some reason, Sam was calling me “shorty-pants” even though I’m more than a foot taller than him. Somehow, that turned into “poopy-pants,” which I then combined to “shorty-poopy-pants.” They were all cracking up, and that made ME crack up. Kids have a way of making everything feel right. Good times in Oakland!

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 2 baseballs at this game

• 486 balls in 65 games this season = 7.48 balls per game.

• 51 balls at 7 lifetime games at the Oakland Coliseum = 7.29 balls per game.

• 937 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 462 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 29 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, Tropicana Field, Turner Field, Citizens Bank Park, Dodger Stadium, Chase Field, and the Oakland Coliseum

• 6,945 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.)

• 38 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.43 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $6.86 raised at this game

• $1,666.98 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $14,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $37,572.98 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/13/13 at Chase Field

My day at Chase Field started at 3pm in the administrative offices, and no, I wasn’t in trouble. I was there to meet the man pictured below in the white shirt:

1_jeff_munn_and_josh_rawitch

His name is Jeff Munn, and he works for the Diamondbacks as a public address announcer and part-time radio guy. In the photo above, the man standing next to him is Josh Rawitch,  the team’s Senior Vice-President of Communications. Josh had arranged for Jeff to interview me on the pre-game radio show, and voila! Here I was at Chase Field roughly three and a half hours before the first pitch.

Josh handed me a media credential and took off to get back to work. Jeff led me to a quieter spot and taped a quick interview with his digital voice recorder. And then? It was still so early in the day that I wasn’t sure what to do with myself — go back to my hotel and take a nap? Wander up to Friday’s and try to get a toss-up during early BP? As it turned out, there was a third option, which proved to be much better: getting a behind-the-scenes tour from Jeff. We started by taking an elevator one floor up, and when the doors opened, this is what I saw:

2_second_floor_lobby_08_13_13

Then we headed through this hallway . . .

3_hallway_to_offices_08_13_13

. . . where I was as intrigued by the boardroom . . .

4_boardroom_doorway

. . . as the breakroom:

5_breakroom_08_13_13

We passed by a bunch of offices, which looked ordinary except for the fact that Luis Gonzalez was in one and Roland Hemond was in another. I felt like I was in a baseball sanctuary and made sure not to show how excited I was.

Jeff took me into a video editing room . . .

6_video_room_08_13_13

. . . and then we headed to the press area. The main broadcast booth is named after Joe Garagiola . . .

7_joe_garagiola_broadcast_booth

. . . and the hallway outside the booth has a huge/photographic timeline of his career:

8_joe_garagiola_hallway

Jeff showed me the press box . . .

9_chase_field_press_box

. . . and the area behind the press box:

10_area_behind_press_box

I took a quick photo of this . . .

11_modernized_grease_board

. . . as we headed into the press lounge:

12_chase_field_press_lounge

I would’ve taken some pics there, but (a) I didn’t want to bother the few people who were eating and (b) Jeff was in a hurry to get downstairs for Kirk Gibson’s media session.

I followed him downstairs . . .

13_jeff_heading_into_service_level_concourse

. . . and into the service-level concourse:

14_chase_field_service_level_concourse

That’s when I expected him to shake my hand and say that it was nice meeting me, but instead, he invited me to join him here:

15_heading_into_press_interview_room

Wow!

Two years ago, I got to see the Mariners’ interview room during a private tour of Safeco Field, but the team was off that day. Here at Chase Field, however, there were media people sitting around:

16_waiting_for_kirk_gibson

Jeff said that Gibby was scheduled to arrive in five minutes, so we chatted for a bit. My mind was racing. I photographed my media credential:

17_my_media_credential_08_13_13

Then, suddenly, the door opened and Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson entered the room. I had been expecting some type of announcement — was I supposed to stand and take off my hat? — but the whole thing was unceremonious. There were about ten other people in the room by that point, and no one exchanged any type of greeting. I thought it was actually kind of awkward, but maybe that’s just how these things go. Gibby simply took a seat at the podium and stared out at us.

After a few seconds, one of the reporters asked him a question about his plans for getting Adam Eaton more playing time. Then someone else asked about Trevor Cahill’s progress coming back from hip/shoulder injuries, and after that, there was a question about whether Eric Chavez would need a rehab start in the minors. I could’ve asked a question, but decided not to because it would’ve been something along the lines of, “Can I take batting practice with you guys?” If I had, I’m sure his facial expression would’ve looked like this:

18_kirk_gibson_media_session

Gibby has an odd demeanor. I’d seen him interviewed several times on TV, and he acted the same way in person. He seemed to be confused and irritated, almost like he didn’t want to be there and couldn’t understand why any of these people wanted to ask him questions.

One of the reporters began a question by saying, “If the Dodgers win tonight, they will have taken 40 of their last 50.” Gibby was asked if he’d ever seen a team go on a run like that. He said he’d been on a team that had and added that it’s not fun to be on the other side of it. “At this point,” he said, referring to the Dodgers, “it’s pretty much historic.” Of course, he followed that by saying all the right things: there are still lots of games, and we have time to put together a run of our own, and blah blah.

None of the questions and answers were riveting, but the whole experience of being there was tremendous. Many thanks to Jeff Munn and Josh Rawitch and the whole Diamondbacks organization for allowing me to take a peek behind the scenes. Even though my credential technically gave me clubhouse access, I didn’t go there. I made sure not to push the boundaries.

After the media session (which lasted less than 10 minutes), I wandered up to the podium and took a close-up photo of the microphone:

19_diamondbacks_microphone_closeup

Do you remember the Diamondbacks’ TV reporter who interviewed me after I snagged Didi Gregorius’s first major league home run on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium? Her name is Jody Jackson, and we’ve been running into each other at various stadiums ever since. I’m mentioning this because she was sitting near me at Gibby’s media session, and when it ended, we walked out together into the concourse. I asked if I could take a photo of her for my blog, and she said sure, so here you go:

20_jody_jackson_service_level_concourse

She’s lovely.

I wasn’t sure what to do with myself at that point, so when she invited me to tag along and check out the Diamondbacks’ batting practice, I was like, “Hells yeah.” Of course, I didn’t know exactly what she meant or where we were going — back up to the press box, perhaps?

I didn’t ask questions. I just walked with her and took photos along the way, such as this . . .

21_minor_league_storage

. . . and this:

22_diamondbacks_opening_day_lineups

One minute later, Jody took my picture in front of the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse . . .

23_zack_outside_diamondbacks_clubhouse

. . . and soon after that, we headed down this ramp:

24_heading_farther_down_08_13_13

I had *no* idea where we were, which of course made the whole adventure extra-fun. What was I going to see next?!

I’ll show you what. Check it out:

25_steps_leading_up_to_dugout

Those steps led to the Diamondbacks’ dugout! Look where I ended up:

26_entering_the_dugout_08_13_13

Actually, that’s not where I ended up. I was allowed to step out onto the field . . .

27_zack_on_the_field_08_13_13

. . . and best of all, stadium security wasn’t threatening to arrest me. I talked to one of the guards, and he was very friendly. I talked to Pat O’Connell, the Manager of Player & Media Relations, and he was super-cool. Everyone was great. I truly can’t say enough nice things about the Diamondbacks. Even when Heath Bell no longer pitches for them, I’ll still be a fan.

Although it may be hard to believe, I wasn’t tempted at all when I saw this:

28_ball_bag_on_the_warning_track

Snagging baseballs in the stands is fun. Stealing them from a ball bag on the warning track? Who gives a damn. That’s not my style, and yes, okay, I’ll admit that I’ve done a few sneaky things over the years AS A FAN in order to acquire a few extra baseballs, but now wasn’t the time. I wouldn’t have counted them in my collection anyway. Seriously, what would’ve been the point? It just would’ve made me feel bad/guilty.

Look who I saw in the dugout:

29_didi_gregorius_in_the_dugout

That’s Didi Gregorius, who graciously posed for that photo.

It was nice to see him, and yes, he remembers me from our post-game meeting back in April at Yankee Stadium. Here at Chase Field, we shook hands and chatted for a minute.

“I’m sitting out in left field tonight,” I told him, “so unless you go oppo . . . “

He laughed and said, “I don’t have that kind of power.”

In the photo above, the player entering the dugout is Miguel Montero. At one point, perhaps ten or twenty minutes later, I accidentally knocked over his bat, which had been leaning against the bench. It made that awful clanking-on-concrete noise, so I quickly grabbed it and looked around as I put it back in place. I hoped no one had noticed, but guess who was standing right there? Yep . . . Miguel Montero. D’oh!!! He was wearing his batting gloves and standing on the dugout steps, and he reached his hand out toward me. I assumed he wanted the bat, so I handed it to him. Indeed, that WAS what he wanted, and within a minute, he was taking cuts with it in the batting cage.

Back out on the field, I found myself standing next to Gibby:

30_kirk_gibson_laughing_near_me

Then I took a pic of the batting cage . . .

31_standing_near_the_batting_cage

. . . and tried to figure out what to do next.

Part of me wanted to stay near the dugout and soak in this incredible experience for as long as it lasted. The other part of me was like, “Dude, enough already — get your ass out to the left field bleachers and snag some baseballs!”

I ended up doing a little of both. Basically, I decided that I *needed* to snag a few baseballs, but that it’d be cool to be back on the warning track when all the players — especially Heath Bell — came off the field. Knowing that the season ticket holders were going to enter the stadium at 4:30pm, I headed out to the bleachers at 4:29. I know that’s sneaky, but hey, I had a media credential that entitled me to go pretty much anywhere in stadium, and in fact, I had seen some random employee picking up baseballs in the seats five minutes earlier. No one had said anything to him, so I figured I could do the same. I mean, on the grand scheme of things, that’s a fairly harmless crime, don’t you think? Also, I was the Diamondbacks’ guest, and they seem like the type of organization that wants their guests to have a good time. (Aren’t I good at justifying my actions?)

Out in left field, I found this . . .

32_ball_6938_easter_egg

. . . and this:

33_ball_6939_easter_egg

There were actually two other Easter eggs that I missed because (a) I’m dumb and (b) I’d given myself such a small head start on the season ticket holders that there wasn’t even time for me to scour the entire area.

Several minutes later, with a handful of fans scattered throughout the bleachers, I jumped and caught a ground-rule double in the front row in left-center. I didn’t know who hit it, but one of the regulars was pretty sure that it was Jason Kubel.

As much as I wanted to stay there and try to snag more baseballs, my paranoia about missing the players coming off the field was even stronger, so I headed back to the dugout . . .

34_heading_back_to_the_dugout_08_13_13

. . . and out through this gate onto the field:

35_gate_open_to_the_field

For the next ten minutes, I cringed every time a home run clanged off the bleacher benches — and let me tell you, I did a LOT of cringing. I think I would’ve gotten an additional half-dozen balls if I’d stayed out there while the D’backs were hitting. The missed opportunities hurt, but I still felt like I was doing the right thing. This was a once-in-a-lifetime situation, right?

Eventually, the players cleared the field and entered the dugout. I said hello to a few of them, but they were mostly in a rush to get back to the clubhouse. There was, however, one player who stopped to chat:

36_heath_bell_in_the_dugout

HEATH BELL, BABY!!!

He stayed and talked for like 15 minutes. Jody was there too . . .

37_heath_bell_and_jody_jackson

. . . so we all hung out.

During this time, the Orioles had started taking BP, and of course they were peppering the bleachers with balls. I probably would’ve finished the day with 15 to 20 if I’d been out there the whole time. (If the season ticket holders read this entry and get mad at me for grabbing those two Easter eggs, they should keep in mind that I “gave” them many more by not even being out there for most of BP, so let’s just call it even, huh?)

At one point, Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers walked past me and headed onto the field. I asked Heath and Jody if they thought he’d mind if I asked to have a photo taken with him on his way back in. They said he’d be fine with that, so I told Heath that I wanted *him* to take the photo.

“I’ll do it if he comes back here within the next two minutes,” he said.

Towers didn’t come back for five minutes, but Heath and Jody were still there, so I handed  him my camera. This was the result:

38_kevin_towers_and_zack

After Towers headed off, Heath asked me about my baseball collection. More specifically, he wanted to know if I held the Guinness World Record for most baseballs, so I told him the story. (The short version is that I don’t hold any “official” Guinness World Records because they make everything insanely difficult/expensive.) Then we talked about records in general, and I mentioned that I have the highest score ever on Arkanoid.

Somehow, he must not have understood me because he said, “I could probably beat your score.”

“Heath,” I replied, “that’s like ME saying I could probably throw a baseball faster than you.”

“I don’t know,” he said, “I used to be really good at that game when I was a kid.”

I told him that I have a full-sized/coin-operated Arkanoid machine at my apartment in New York City and that he should come over and play sometime.

“Maybe next season,” he said.

Before he took off, he grabbed a ball from a nearby equipment bag and flipped it to me. At first, I wondered if I should count it in my collection. After all, I was *on* the field, so it seemed to contradict my ballhawk rules. But then I thought about fans who get to watch BP from the warning track, whether in the outfield or behind the plate, and how *they* can snag baseballs. Wait a minute . . . I’d gotten a few that way too. Remember when I hung out here on 9/1/08 at Dodger Stadium? I decided that being on the field doesn’t automatically negate a snag. It all has to do with the way in which the ball is acquired. If I’d grabbed one myself from the ball bag, that wouldn’t have counted, but because a player had given it to me . . . why not? Therefore, that was my fourth ball of the day.

Here’s where I was, more or less, when I got my fifth ball:

39_view_from_deep_right_center

As you can see, I was standing in the concourse in deeeeeeep right-center when Chris Davis launched a home run in my direction. The ball ended up landing on the balcony below me . . .

40_ball6942_location

. . . so I jumped down there and grabbed it.

(I took the balcony photo after I grabbed the ball, FYI.)

If I tried something like that at Yankee Stadium, I’d end up in solitary confinement at Riker’s Island for a month, but here at Chase Field, no one said a word. I really really LOVE Chase Field. From an architectural standpoint, it’s not the best stadium for catching baseballs, but from an overall-happiness standpoint, it’s at the top of the list. If you haven’t been there, you should make a point of visiting, and if you’re not a fan of any other team in the NL West, you should consider rooting for the D’backs.

My sixth ball was thrown by Orioles bullpen catcher Rudy Arias:

41_ball6943_location

He was closer when he threw it, but that photo was taken in the spot where I was standing. Of course, he ended up airmailing me, so I had to scamper after the ball in the concourse. As soon as I grabbed it, I noticed a little kid ten feet away, who was just starting to run after it himself, so I walked over and handed it to him.

I didn’t get any toss-ups at the Orioles’ dugout after BP, but I did sign two autographs. The first was on a ball that this guy Jake had snagged . . .

42_jake_with_signed_baseball

. . . and the second was on a photo that this young man named Edison had printed off my blog:

43_zack_and_edison_with_signed_photo

Remember him? We met on 5/9/13 at Camden Yards. That’s when that printed photo was originally taken. This game at Chase Field marked Edison’s 14th birthday. (Happy birthday, dude! Glad I could be there to help you celebrate.)

I did some more wandering before the game started. I headed down this staircase . . .

44_heading_to_club_area_08_13_13

. . . and when I got to the bottom, I turned left and headed down here:

45_staircase_to_club_entrance

In the photo above, do you see the guy at the very bottom? That’s where I went, and here’s what it looked like:

46_audi_quattro_lounge_entrance

The Audi quattro Club . . . hmm. What’s with all these stadium clubs being named after cars? Citi Field has the Hyundai Club. Yankee Stadium also has an Audi Club. I’d rather hang out in a Ferrari Club or better yet a Model T Club. Who gives a fig about Audi or Hyundai? (There goes my chance of being sponsored by either of those companies next season.) Anyway, here’s what the Audi quattro Club at Chase Field looks like:

47_audi_quattro_lounge_interior

Not bad. Cozy. I dig it.

The far end of the club has a hallway . . .

48_hallway_from_lounge_08_13_13

. . . that led here:

49_area_beyond_hallway_08_13_13

I kept walking and ended up here . . .

50_sign_in_hallway_08_13_13

. . . and then here:

51_another_hallway_08_13_13

What the–?!

I seriously thought I was lost. All I knew was that I was heading toward the 3rd-base side — and then I saw this:

52_sedona_club_entrance

Now see? That’s a nice name for a stadium club. Here’s what it looked like inside:

53_sedona_club_interior

After wandering around the club for a couple of minutes, I continued walking down the weird/unmarked hallway. Look what I saw at the end:

54_groundskeeper_area_08_13_13

Then I turned right and headed through a corridor that led to the seats beside the 3rd-base dugout.

Interesting.

The game was about to begin, so headed up the main/100-Level steps to the concourse and made my way out to left field. Look how heavily guarded it was out there:

55_no_guard_in_left_field

For the record, there *was* an usher at that staircase who happened to be talking to someone nearby when I took that photo. I could’ve gone down there, and he never would’ve noticed, but I waited. Remember, I still had a media credential, so I could go anywhere, but he didn’t ask to see it, nor did he ask for my ticket. When I approached the staircase, he simply said, “Hey, how’s it going?”

CHASE FIELD IS THE BEST.

Let’s not talk about the J.J. Hardy homer that I would’ve caught had I not moved two staircases over toward left-center after the first inning. Instead, let’s just take a look at my view during the game:

56_view_during_game_08_13_13

In the photo above, did you notice the lack of infielders on the left side? The shift was on for Chris Davis. Just when I was thinking that he should bunt down the 3rd-base line, he blasted a two-run homer to right. That was his 44th longball of the season. Incredible.

Around that time, I got a visit from a buddy named Kenny (who recently snagged his 1,000th lifetime ball). We hung out for a bit, and during an inning break, he had me sign this:

57_kenny_with_signed_photo

Ha!! How awesome is that? The photo that he’s holding had been taken the previous night after I snagged a 3rd-out ball. Kenny printed it off my blog. He’s hilarious guy, and it was great catching up with him.

I also got a visit from an old friend named Jake — not the Jake that I’d signed the ball for after BP. As you can see below, this was a different guy, and he’d brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter. Here we are after I signed it for him:

58_zack_and_jake_with_watching_baseball_smarter

Remember the guy named Stuart Jon that I’d seen the night before? Well, he also came and found me in left-center. Here I am with him and Jake and Kenny:

59_stuart_kenny_zack_jake

Eventually, they all went their separate ways, so when Didi Gregorius came to bat in the bottom of the 9th in a potential walk-off situation, I headed here:

60_view_for_didi_in_walkoff_situation

How sweet would it have been to catch his game-ending home run? The answer is: I don’t know because he grounded out.

Paul Goldschmidt had homered in the bottom of the 9th to tie the game, and in the bottom of the 11th, he went yard again. (Final score: Diamondbacks 4, Orioles 3.) Unfortunately, he hit the ball to right field, but at least I *saw* it. You may recall that I missed Adam Eaton’s walk-off homer the previous night because I was in the bathroom. Anyway, here’s photographic evidence that I was in the stands for Goldy’s heroics:

61_diamondbacks_celebrating_win_on_paul_goldschmidt_walkoff_homer

The best part about this homer was that it gave Heath Bell the win. Bell had entered the game in the top of the 11th and retired the Orioles on six pitches. Of course, I probably could’ve retired them on five pitches.

On my way out, I gave two baseballs to a pair of little kids. What a great night in Phoenix. Now, if only the Dodgers would lose 40 of their next 50 . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

62_the_three_balls_i_kept_08_13_13• 6 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave three away)

• 484 balls in 64 games this season = 7.56 balls per game.

• 84 balls at 9 lifetime games at Chase Field = 9.33 balls per game.

• 936 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 461 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 28 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, Tropicana Field, Turner Field, Citizens Bank Park, Dodger Stadium, and Chase Field

• 6,943 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.)

• 38 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.43 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $20.58 raised at this game

• $1,660.12 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $14,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $37,066.12 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/12/13 at Chase Field

My day started with a bus ride to the airport in Los Angeles:

1_flyaway_shuttle_to_lax_airport

Then I nearly boarded the wrong flight . . .

2_almost_boarding_the_wrong_plane

. . . and after arriving in Phoenix, I took a cab to my hotel:

3_taxi_to_phoenix_hotel

After settling into my room, I ordered pizza . . .

4_pizza_hut_in_hotel_room

. . . and began blogging about the previous day’s game at Dodger Stadium.

At around 4pm, I walked in the 105-degree heat to Chase Field . . .

5_approaching_chase_field_08_12_13

. . . and caught up briefly outside Gate B with a friend/ballhawk named Tony, who has season tickets. Here he is:

6_tony_dobson_in_line_08_12_13

At Chase Field, season ticket holders get in half an hour early. Tony had offered to help, but a different friend hooked me up. (Why is everyone so nice?!)

When the stadium opened, I headed to right field and called out to Heath Bell. In the following photo, you can see him (with the red socks) walking toward me:

7_heath_bell_walking_toward_me_08_12_13

He and Josh Collmenter came over to chat for a few minutes:

8_josh_collmenter_and_heath_bell

During that time, a left-handed batter launched a home run into in the swimming pool area on my right. It missed the water and ended up on the walkway, so I tip-toed over and picked it up:

9_ball6933_homer_into_pool_area

It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Heath and Josh and I mainly talked about my travel schedule — where I’ve been and where I’m heading next on the BIGS Baseball Adventure. They also wanted to hear some details about the black eye I’d gotten twelve days earlier at Turner Field, and finally, I told them about the helicopter stunt, which they somehow hadn’t heard about. Don’t these guys watch SportsCenter every night?

Look who else I saw in right field:

10_jeff_summers_near_the_pool

That guy’s name is Jeff Summers, and if he looks familiar, it might be because we’d met six weeks earlier at the MLB Fan Cave. How’s that for random? Take a look at this photo from my blog entry about the game I attended on 7/2/13 at Citi Field? See him there on the couch next to Heath Bell? Jeff is funny and smart and opinionated (and sometimes gets himself into trouble as a result) and writes an entertaining blog. Here’s the link. Check it out. It’s very well written. It would’ve been nice to catch up with him for more than 30 seconds, but hey, the Orioles had taken the field, and I had to spring into action.

I headed into foul territory . . .

11_orioles_warming_up_08_12_13

. . . and ended up playing catch for a minute with Brian Matusz — one of several Orioles who recognize me. Unfortunately, he didn’t let me keep the ball at the end, so I decided not to count it in my stats. I could make a case for it and argue that I “chose to give it to him,” but for some reason, it just didn’t seem right at the time.

My official second ball of the day was thrown by Miguel Gonzalez in left-center field. Here’s what it looked like out there:

12_view_from_left_field_08_12_13

You’d think that Chris Davis would’ve hit the most impressive home run during BP, but it was actually Adam Jones. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to the spot where one of his blasts “landed”:

13_adam_jones_homer_went_here

I used the glove trick to snag my third ball off the warning track in left-center, and bullpen catcher Rudy Arias tossed me No. 4 in right field.

That was it for BP — pretty sad.

Before the game, I caught up with a 16-year-old fan from Los Angeles named Aaron, who’d brought his copy of The Baseball. Here we are:

14_zack_and_aaron_with_the_baseball

A little while later, this was my view for pre-game throwing:

15_pregame_throwing_08_12_13

Normally I would’ve been right behind the dugout, but because of the charity challenge from BIGS Sunflower Seeds to snag a game-used ball at every stadium this season, I stayed back. I was concerned that if I got a ball before the game, the players would recognize me, and it might hurt my chances later on when it really mattered.

My actual seat was in the middle of Row 11 behind the 1st-base dugout. Of course, Row 11 was semi-crowded, and I wanted to sit on the end, so I moved back to Row 17, which was empty. In Philadelphia, I would’ve gotten ejected for doing that, but here in Phoenix, it was no problem. An usher came over to ask what was up, and when I told him that I preferred to have some empty seats around me, he let me stay there. WOW!!! Amazing! The Diamondbacks know how to treat people.

The bottom of the 2nd inning was rather eventful. For starters, there was a moment during which five separate “huddles” were taking place on the field:

16_five_huddles_after_disputed_interference_call

Orioles 3rd baseman Manny Machado had been called for interference, so manager Buck Showalter was out there discussing/arguing.

That play took place on a stolen base attempt while (MY MAN!!!) Didi Gregorius was batting, so I took advantage of the delay by photographing the jumbotron:

17_didi_gregorius_on_the_scoreboard

Gregorius reached base on an error, Wade Miley followed with a bullet of a single up the middle, and A.J. Pollock ended the inning with a groundout to 2nd baseman Brian Roberts. Chris Davis caught Roberts’ throw at 1st base, and when he jogged off the field, he tossed it to me. As you can see below, I was rather excited:

18_zack_with_ball6937

As you may already know, BIGS Sunflower Seeds is sponsoring me this season and donating $500 to Pitch In For Baseball for every stadium at which I snag a game-used ball. This one from Davis made it 28-for-28, which means that with BIGS’s generosity, I’ve helped raise $14,000 for the charity. Can you blame me for being pumped up?

My friend Kenny took that previous photo of me. You can see him below, being goofy as usual:

19_ball6937_and_kenny_being_goofy_as_usual

There were five home runs hit in this game, and I didn’t catch any of them. That’s because I stayed behind the dugout all night, and you know what? I stand behind my decision. I was tired and hungry and just wanted to hang out and watch the game from a good spot.

In the 5th inning, I got Chinese food:

20_chinese_food_08_12_13

In the 6th inning, the Diamondbacks mascots walked behind me:

21_diamondbacks_mascots_aisle

In the 7th inning, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid in the concourse as I went to get ice cream:

22_ice_cream_08_12_13

Oh my.

I don’t usually eat like this. When I’m home in New York City, there’s lots of salad and healthy stuff, but when I’m on the road, my diet goes to hell — good thing I run around a lot.

Look who entered the game with two outs in the top of the 8th inning:

23_heath_bell_on_the_mound_08_12_13

That’s Heath Bell on the mound. At the time, the score was tied, and he ended up retiring the only batter he faced. In the bottom of the 8th, Wil Nieves hit a leadoff homer, which should’ve given Heath the win, but stupid Brad Ziegler blew the save and allowed the Orioles to tie the game in the 9th. GAH!!!

That’s when I decided to run out to left field and try to catch a homer in case the D’backs hit a walk-off shot. Adam Eaton, a 5-foot-8 lefty, was due to lead off the bottom of the 9th, followed by righties Paul Goldschmidt and Aaron Hill, so I figured I had time to use the bathroom. I had to pee SO BAD, so I went and did it — no big deal, right? All I had to do was get down into the seats in time for–

Suddenly the crowd erupted, and I had no idea why. It took me a moment to finish, and when I ran out into the concourse, I learned that Eaton had hit a walk-off shot into the swimming pool on the first pitch! Man oh man. Stupid Ziegler got the win, and I missed the most exciting part of the game, but hey, good for the D’backs. They ARE my favorite team (as long as Heath pitches for them).

Before leaving the stadium, I caught up with a friend named Stuart Jon, who used to live in New York, but now resides in Phoenix. Here we are:

24_zack_and_stuart_jon_traynor_postgame

Stuart Jon and I met for the first time on 7/26/09 at Yankee Stadium. Remember this photo of us from that day? No? Well, whatever, *I* remember, and that’s all that matters.

I took one final photo outside the stadium:

25_people_exiting_chase_field

Then I gave another BP ball to a kid and walked back to my hotel — the same place where I stayed during the 2011 Home Run Derby and All-Star Game.

I love it here in Phoenix — even the weather. Seriously. I might have to come back sometime for a 10-game home stand.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

26_the_three_balls_i_kept_08_12_13• 5 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave two away)

• 478 balls in 63 games this season = 7.59 balls per game.

• 78 balls at 8 lifetime games at Chase Field = 9.75 balls per game.

• 935 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 460 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 28 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, Tropicana Field, Turner Field, Citizens Bank Park, Dodger Stadium, and Chase Field

• 6,937 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.)

• 38 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.43 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $17.15 raised at this game

• $1,639.54 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $14,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $37,045.54 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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