8/3/13 at Citizens Bank Park

This was a VERY long day, and I was exhausted from the start. It began when I woke up at 7am with three hours of sleep and drove to Philadelphia with my friend Ben Weil and his girlfriend Jen. Why were we going to a weekend day game with iffy weather? Sounds like a nightmare, right? We made the trip to be a part of BallhawkFest — an annual gathering of ballhawks organized by Alan Schuster, who created the website MyGameBalls.com. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to BallhawkFest last year in Pittsburgh, but you might remember my blog entry about the one on 7/23/11 at Camden Yards.

Anyway, the day in Philly started here:

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In the photo above, that’s Jen and Ben walking toward a field that Alan had reserved. We didn’t play an actual game with balls and strikes and outs and runs. Instead, we had a good ol’ fashioned home run derby.

After dodging a few raindrops and saying hello to everyone in the dugout . . .

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. . . I was told to join the team in the field, so I ran out there with my camera. Here’s what it looked like from deep left:

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The rules were simple:

1) Every batter in the “lineup” got to hit until he (or she!) made two outs.
2) An out was a batted ball that touched the infield dirt, went foul, or got caught on the fly.
3) A batted ball that landed on the grass was worth one point.
4) A home run was worth five points.

We kept hitting and changing sides as if there were innings, and even though we lost track of the exact score, we all had lots of fun. Here I am taking a pitch:

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I hit a few balls over the fence (and got some laughs by poking several opposite-field line drives), but the real hitting star was Rick Sporcic — more on him in a bit, so for now I’ll just say that he put on a home run clinic.

Here’s a photo of me (with the black eye I got on 7/31/13 at Turner Field) and Alex Kopp heading back into the field:

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We were talking about Chris Davis’s 40th home run of the season, which Alex had snagged the night before at Camden Yards. It was cool to hear the details of how he got to meet Davis and exchange the ball for a whole bunch of stuff.

We played baseball until 12pm and then posed for the first of many group photos:

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In the photo above, you’re looking at:

1) Jen
2) Ben Weil
3) Rick Gold
4) Alex Kopp’s father Mark
5) Alan Schuster
6) Alex Kopp
7) Quinn Imiola (who was celebrating his 14th birthday)
8) Quinn’s father Dave
9) Zachary Ben Hample
10) Rick Sporcic (pronounced “SPORE-sick”)
11) Jeremy Evans (who you might remember from this photo in 2011)
12) Max Pinsky
13) Todd Cook (who always wears Mariners gear)
14) Harrison Tishler (who did a great job of helping to organize the day’s activities)
15) Todd’s younger son Kellan
16) Todd’s older son Tim

It was a short drive to Citizens Bank Park, and when we entered the parking lot, I was surprised to see that it had changed:

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See all those beams and awning-type-things? Those were new to me. (Here’s photographic evidence that they didn’t used to be there.)

For lunch, we made the convenient choice and went to McFadden’s, which is located in the stadium. Here’s half the group at one table . . .

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. . . and here are the rest of sitting nearby:

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Did you notice what I was eating? Here’s a closer look:

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That’s right: pizza fries — so tasty and unhealthy . . . just what I needed.

And hey, did you notice what I was wearing? Alan had shirts made (for which we each paid $18) that said “BallhawkFest” on the front, along with the name of the stadium and the date, and which featured an emblem of a fellow ballhawk named Matt Hersl, who was tragically killed earlier this year in a car crash in downtown Baltimore. The backs of the shirts were jersey-like, customized with each person’s name and number of lifetime baseballs snagged.

At one point during the meal, Alan passed around a shirt that he’d made for Matt and encouraged everyone to sign it for the family. We also signed a type of card/sign/certificate as well. Here I am signing the shirt, and here’s Ben with the other item:

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Ben often makes ridiculous faces in photos, so don’t get upset. He wasn’t making fun of Matt. If anything, Matt would’ve been glad that Benny was still being Benny and that we were all spending some time together and having fun and thinking about him.

The game was scheduled to begin at 4:05pm, which meant the stadium would open at 1:35pm. Therefore, after sitting around McFadden’s for a while, we had to wrap things up and head over to the left field gate. First, though, I photographed my “2012 Ballhawk of the Year” certificate, which Alan finally gave me:

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Then I took a photo of Tim with his family’s “2012 Photo Scavenger Hunt Champions” certificate:

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This was the scene outside the stadium:

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It was some sort of barbecue convention; at every table/tent, there were a bunch of guys grilling various types of meat smothered in sauce. This may sound weird, but it smelled TOO good. I had to get out of the road and walk on the sidewalk because I knew that if I proceeded any farther, I’d smell like barbecue sauce for the next month.

Here’s a group photo (somewhat replicating the one taken in 2011) in which we were lined up in ball order:

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Okay, that sounded weird, but you know what I mean. Look:

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BIGS Sunflower Seeds had generously donated so many seeds to BallhawkFest that everyone had their own full-sized pack and we all got to try each other’s flavors:

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As you may already know, I’m being sponsored this season by BIGS, but this was not my “official” visit to Citizens Bank Park. The folks at BIGS are helping me raise money for Pitch In For Baseball, which is based in Pennsylvania, so for media/closure purposes, we’d been planning for Philly to be my final stadium on September 20th. For that reason, I was thinking about skipping BallhawkFest, but rather than missing out on all the fun, I came up with a compromise at the last minute: I’d go to this game at Citizens Bank Park, but I wouldn’t snag a game-used ball. That way, there’d still be suspense at the end of the season about my completing the charity challenge here in Pennsylvania. To be specific, rather than sitting close to home plate and going for 3rd-out balls, I decided to stay in left field for the entire game. The odds of catching a home run in that crowded section were slim, but if, by some unlikely twist of fate, it actually happened . . . well, then I’d hope that the folks at BIGS would forgive me.

Of course, in order to feel comfortable about sitting in the outfield during the game, I had to snag at least one ball before the game to keep my streak alive — a massive challenge given the fact that (a) the tarp was covering the field and (b) I was soon going to be competing with all of these guys:

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Well, maybe not quite ALL of them . . .

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. . . but there was no doubt that it was going to be tough. (By the way, you may have noticed Mateo Fischer and Chris Hernandez two photos above; they showed up halfway through lunch.) What would happen if I were shut out toward the end of the game? Would my fellow ballhawks put their own pursuits on hold and let me try to get a ball? Would I even want them to do that? If my streak were going to end, then it should happen in a blaze of glory, and if it were going to be extended, it shouldn’t be due to other people’s charity.

Shortly before the stadium opened, I posted this tweet, and when I ran inside, this was the ominous scene:

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WHY WAS THE TARP ON THE FIELD?!?!?!
IT WASN’T EVEN RAINING!!!

Oh, man, I was nervous as hell and truly believed that my streak was going to end.

That said, I was glad to see a few Braves playing catch in left field, and by the time I wandered down to the front row, the groundskeepers were folding up the tarp:

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The way I see it . . . if there’s not going to be batting practice, then it might as well rain like crazy and chase all the casual fans away, so when the grounds crew started rolling up the tarp, I was even more nervous. (Sunny days without BP are the absolute worst.) It occurred to me that maybe it was still early enough for them to set up the field for BP — and then I laughed at myself for being so dumb and optimistic.

craig_kimbrel_hates_meMy chances of snagging a ball took another hit when Craig Kimbrel spotted me in the front row. It’s bad enough that he has recognized me for a couple of seasons and has refused to throw me baseballs, but now, because of what happened last week, he’s actually going out of his way to prevent me from getting any. Seriously. I wish I were making this up. Do you remember when I was shown on TV with my black eye? Well, evidently, that footage made it into the game’s highlight reel, so ALL the Braves saw it, and because I was wearing a Rockies jersey at the time, I was screwed here in Philly. It didn’t matter that I was now decked out in Braves gear, and in fact, that just made things worse because they figured out my trick, and so, when Kimbrel spotted me, he pointed at me and shouted to his teammates, “DON’T LET THAT GUY GET A BALL!!!”

My streak was *going* to end. I had no doubt about it — and not just because of Kimbrel. When I ran over to the seats in left-center to try to get Mike Minor to throw me a ball that was randomly sitting in the outfield, Rick Sporcic was there with a big glove:

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I was screwed. There was no way around it. And get this: Minor didn’t throw the ball to anyone. He held onto it and began walking to the bullpen in a bizarrely solemn manner.

Just then, I realized that two other players were about to finish throwing in straight-away left, so I *sprinted* through the seats to get there. The front row was pretty crowded, so I stayed ten rows back and shouted like crazy at Luis Avilan, who had just ended up with the ball. He looked up and threw it perfectly right to me . . . right over everyone down in front. As soon as I caught it, Kimbrel shouted “NOOOO!!!” and flung his arms up in disgust. It was a beautiful moment.

Here’s the ball, photographed at the spot where I caught it:

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I celebrated with some ice cream . . .

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. . . and then saw something amazing:

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No, I’m not talking about the dead Phillies player on the foul line; the grounds crew was setting up the field for batting practice. Wow!! As far as I can remember, this was the first time I’d ever entered a stadium with the tarp on the field and ended up seeing BP.

There was lots of time to kill, so I hung out with Rick Sporcic in left-center field for a little while and photographed him with his three gloves:

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He mainly uses the big one to get the players’ attention, but several months ago, he famously caught a foul ball with it during a game at PNC Park. Normally, he catches batted balls with the red glove, and the black one is strictly used for the glove trick. Look how he has it set up:

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As you can see, he has it permanently propped open with bolts and a long screw. It’s a cool idea, but personally, I wouldn’t want to have to carry an extra glove around all the time. One more noteworthy thing about Rick is that he recently snagged 138 baseballs at a minor league game . . . sort of. It’s a crazy story, and you can read his blog entry about it here.

When the Phillies started running and stretching, I found myself here with Chris Hernandez and the Cook family:

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Finally, the Phillies began playing catch . . .

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. . . and soon after that, BP got underway. Can you spot me in the following photo?

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Batting practice was tough. The Braves didn’t hit, and the seats were crowded, and I only managed to snag two more baseballs. The first was sitting on the warning track in left-center and was tossed by John McDonald as I began lowering my glove. I got the other ball in right field . . .

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. . . with my glove trick, and that was it. Three balls would normally be a disappointing total for me, but in this case I was okay with it. I wasn’t here to pile up huge numbers. I just wanted to hang out with everyone, and given the circumstances, I was glad not to have gotten shut out.

After BP, we all gathered near the Richie Ashburn statue in deep center field for yet another group photo:

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As you can see, most of us had snagged at least one ball, and Jeremy was the only person who’d gotten four.

We clowned around for a bit before the national anthem . . .

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. . . and went our separate ways for the game. My ticket was in the middle of a row in straight-away left field, so I showed it to the usher at the top of the stairs and then sat here:

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As you can see, there were plenty of empty seats, so it seemed like a good spot. If a player happened to hit a home run in my general vicinity, I’d be able to move for it, and if a fan happened to come for the seat that I was sitting in, I’d move up or down a row — no big deal, right?

Wrong. The usher appeared out of nowhere and asked to see my ticket. I told her that I was supposed to be in the middle of a row and asked politely if I could sit on the end since there were so many empty seats. I also said that I wanted to have an easier time getting up so that I could get ice for my black eye. None of this seemed to matter to her, and she asked me to return to my ticketed seat.

Now, I understand that “rules are rules,” and that she was “just doing her job,” but you know what? Jaywalking is technically a crime, but there aren’t many police officers who enforce it. I’ve been to 50 different major league stadiums, and yes, okay, fine, fans are supposed to sit in their actual/ticketed seats, but at most places, the ushers don’t notice or care. I’ve done this a thousand times, usually without incident, but for some reason, the Phillies were all over me from the start. Perhaps I should’ve waited an inning or two before switching seats, but I really didn’t think it was gonna be an issue.

Anyway, when the usher told me to return to my seat, she walked back up the stairs, assuming I’d do as I was told, but instead, I grabbed a different end-seat. I knew it was a risky move, but this time I sat several rows behind the spot where I was supposed to be. Surely, she wouldn’t take issue with THAT . . . right?

Wrong. In the bottom of the 1st inning, she noticed that once again, I was not in my actual seat, and she was not pleased. She was like, “I don’t think you understand me. I need you to be IN your ticketed seat.”

At the time, I was wearing my lime-green BallhawkFest shirt, so after the third out, I found the nearest bathroom and changed into my white “BIGS Baseball Adventure” shirt. Then I headed over to the next staircase — one section closer to the left-field foul pole — and hoped that the usher(s) wouldn’t recognize me. It’s funny . . . even though I was kinda hoping NOT to snag a game-used ball, I couldn’t bear the thought of being trapped in the middle of a long row. I have no problem watching baseball on TV when there’s obviously no chance of catching anything, but put me at a game, and I *need* to be able to get up and move. My brain is weird like that, but anyway, the ushers never said a word, and I grabbed one of the many empty end-seats. More specifically, I was now sitting in Row 10 with the stairs on my right.

In the top of the 2nd inning, Chris Hernandez had no trouble getting down onto my staircase despite the fact that he was “supposed” to be sitting near the foul pole, and soon after that, Ben and Jen found us. I’ve always liked Citizens Bank Park because it’s fairly laid-back. Ushers check tickets for the first inning or two, and then whatever. You can go almost anywhere you want. That’s why we picked this stadium for BallhawkFest and why we never ever EVER want to do it in New York.

In the bottom of the 2nd, THIS happened:

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That’s a screen shot of John Mayberry mashing a 2-2 pitch from Brandon Beachy. As soon as he hit it, I knew it was gone and that it was heading in my direction. That was the easy part. The real challenge was determining how far it was going to travel, so I jumped out of my seat and paused for a split-second:

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Then I realized that the ball was going to sail way over my head, so I did a 180 and turned away from the field and sprinted up the steps. I’m not sure how far I ran — Ben and I later estimated six rows — but after another second or so, I turned back toward the field and looked up in the air, and THERE was the ball, coming RIGHT to me:

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I reached up above several other fans and caught it one-handed, high above my left-shoulder. And then the celebration began:

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Unreal.

In the screen shot above, Ben is right next to me in the plain white t-shirt. You can also see Chris’s head (and barely his ears) at the very bottom. For the record, I’d like to point out that although the paid attendance was more than 41,000 and that the stands did look quite crowded on TV, there *were* quite a few empty seats. Take another look at the previous screen shot. See how the entire column of seats beside the stairs is empty? Yeah.

As for catching the ball, I didn’t know what to think, but for a moment, it was hard to believe that it had actually happened. The main thing going through my mind was, “Ohmygod, I just totally screwed everything up with BIGS Sunflower Seeds and Pitch In For Baseball.” (Of course, I’d also just raised $500 more for the charity, so at least there was THAT. I also felt pretty good about myself because it was the best play/catch I’d ever made on a game home run BY FAR, but of course there was lots of luck involved. As for picking the exact spot where the ball ended up landing, I’ll admit that it had more to do with timing than location. I remember running up the stairs as fast as I could and suddenly thinking, “Dude, you better turn around because the ball is probably about to land.” Oh, and one more thing: a young woman thanked me for catching it because, according to her, it was going to hit her. No problem, ma’am — glad to help.)

Moments later, I had a mini-panic attack when this security supervisor showed up . . .

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. . . but as it turned out, all he wanted to do was tell me that I could get the ball autographed. (Huh?) He said it’s something the Phillies do for fans — that anyone who catches a home run hit by the home team can turn in the ball at the fan assistance booth behind home plate. I was skeptical from the start, but he insisted it was legit and said he’d personally walk me over there so they could get my info and have the player sign it and then mail the ball to me.

I kept expressing doubts about actually getting THE home run ball returned to me, and he kept trying to convince me to do it. (Weird.) I told him that I don’t really collect autographs, but that I was considering his offer because I was raising money for a children’s baseball charity and that this ball would be auctioned at the end of the season for it. He told me to think about it, but urged me not to wait too long.

When he headed back up the stairs, I photographed the ball . . .

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. . . and then I took a closeup of an irregularity on the surface:

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I was strongly considering the autograph offer, but I wanted to make sure that if the Phillies tried to pull a little switcheroo and mailed me a different mud-rubbed ball, I’d have photographic evidence. And THEN I remembered THIS:

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That’s a photo of a page in my latest book, The Baseball. (My agent and publisher would probably freak out if they knew I were sharing it here for free, so don’t tell them, okay?) To summarize, when Ryan Howard hit his 200th career home run Florida, it was snagged by a 12-year-old girl, who was convinced by a Phillies representative to turn over the ball so that it could be autographed for her. They ended up giving her a different ball, and when the girl’s mother found out, she took their asses to court.

Now that you know all of that, how do you think I felt about giving the Phillies my Mayberry home run ball? (By the way, here’s the video highlight of it.) It would’ve been great to have it signed for the charity auction, but to be blunt, I don’t trust the Phillies. I’d rather be able to offer an unsigned game home run ball than a signed who-knows-what ball.

When things calmed down, I called Neal Stewart, the Director of Marketing for BIGS. I rarely call him — we generally communicate through the written word — so he answered with a drawn-out “Yes?”

“I have some bad news,” I told him, “but it’s really kinda good news, I think, but . . . oh hell, I don’t know. I’m in Philly for BallhawkFest, and I just caught a home run during the game.”

“Ha-HAAA!!!” he yelled, and I knew right away that everything was gonna be okay.

I apologized and said I hoped I hadn’t screwed up all of his publicity plans, and he told me not to worry. He said that I should still attend the September 20th game in Philly, but that Coors Field would now become the final stadium at which I snag a gamer. (I’m supposed to be there from September 16-18, although it’s not actually booked yet.) BIGS is based in Colorado, so hopefully they can work the local angle . . . but wow, what a wacky bunch of circumstances, huh?

Soon after the phone call ended, the security guy approached me again, but this time he wasn’t in a good mood.

He said something like, “I understand that you were giving one of our ushers a hard time about not sitting in your seat. I’m gonna need to take a look at your ticket.”

I apologized and asked for permission to remain in that end-seat, but he wasn’t having it. (By the way, Alex Kopp and Quinn Imiola were sitting behind me at that point, having walked right down into the section without any of the ushers saying a word.) He told me sternly to move to my ticketed seat and that if he found me in any other seat, I would be removed from the stadium. (Then he kicked out Alex and Quinn, but didn’t say anything to Chris, Ben, or Jen, who were obviously with me — so strange.) He then headed up the steps, and I knew right away that I had to get the hell out of there.

I told my friends where I was heading and moved to right-center field — no issue whatsoever getting into this section:

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Did you notice the balloons in the photo above? I assume those got loose from the barbecue area.

After a few innings, Chris caught up with me. Here we are with Harrison, who dropped by for a quick hello:

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Chris sat with me for a few innings and suggested that I take a photo of the scoreboard when Mayberry came back up:

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That’s something I normally do after catching home runs (because c’mon, it’s cool to see a homer listed up there that I got), but in this case my head was elsewhere.

I stood here between innings . . .

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. . . and communicated with head-nods and subtle gestures with Craig Kimbrel. At one point, he held a baseball over his eye, and when I scrambled to pull my camera out, he stopped doing it. I pretended to hold a ball over my eye and then pointed at him as if to say, “You do it,” prompting him to shake his head. Fun stuff.

The following photo shows how lax the Phillies are about checking tickets:

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As you can see, there were about a dozen other BallhawkFest people in straight-away right field, none of whom technically belonged there, but they weren’t causing any harm, and the ushers left them alone. That’s how it should be at baseball games, and excluding the two stadiums in New York, that’s how it usually is.

The game went into extra innings, which was a shame because some people had to leave, and we’d all been planning to meet at the 3rd-base dugout after the final out. One person who came over to say goodbye was the man himself — Alan Schuster. Here I am with him:

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He was bummed that I wasn’t wearing the BallhawkFest shirt when I caught the homer, but he understood why I had to take it off. (By the way, if that first usher hadn’t kicked me out, I never would’ve moved, and therefore I wouldn’t have caught the home run. Life is funny.) Once again, Alan is the creator of MyGameBalls.com, which is a wonderful, free site. Please check it out, and if you’ve ever snagged a baseball at a game, consider creating a profile. You can upload photos and update your stats and link to your blog and mark certain games on a calendar that you’re planning to attend and contact other ballhawks and enter contests and so on. I really can’t say enough nice things about it. Alan is always on the lookout for people to write feature articles for the site. Unfortunately there isn’t any money involved — he does it for the love of the game — but for anyone out there who wants to get some writing experience and get a byline and see your work published, here’s your chance.

With the game tied at 4-4 in the top of the 12th inning, the Braves loaded the bases, and the Phillies made a pitching change. Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton — both powerful righties — were due to bat, so I decided to run over to left field. Given everything that had happened earlier with security over there, it felt like a risky move, but what could they do to me? The game was nearly four hours old, and there were so many empty seats. I could see from halfway across the stadium that my entire row (as well as the row in front of and behind it) was completely empty.

Everything seemed fine until I made it down to my row and plopped my backpack on a seat. That’s when three security supervisors surrounded me. One of them said, “We’re gonna need you to come with us. Have your ticket and ID out.”

“Is there a problem?” I asked, trying to figure out what was going on.

“Yeah, there’s a PROBLEM,” he answered.

“What did I do?” I asked.

He repeated his command about about my ticket and ID, and they all marched me up the stairs.

Once we reached the top, they asked me if I recalled having used a derogatory word to insult them, and I was like, “Huh? No, I really don’t,” and I meant it. Yeah, I have a potty-mouth sometimes, but I would never curse at a stadium employee, especially when I was already in trouble. That would be the stupidest thing ever.

I was truly puzzled and had no idea what this was all about until the guards informed me that a beer vendor had heard me use a bad word in describing them, at which point it all came back to me, and I felt horrified and embarrassed, and yes, angry. Indeed, when I was leaving the the left field seats in a huff, a young/cool-looking vendor had asked me what was up, at which point I said, “I gotta get out of here — the guards are being a bunch of . . . “

I won’t repeat the word, so don’t ask, but as I tweeted later, it wasn’t derogatory toward any culture or minority; it was an anatomical reference. I also tweeted that I was sorry. I never want to make anyone feel bad, but I was also sorry about my own behavior, namely that I stooped so low and had made a useless, throw-away comment that could not have possibly led to any positive outcome. What I said to the beer vendor could have only made things worse, and indeed it did. Is he mega-lame for ratting me out? Yeah. What’re we — in 3rd grade here? But whatever, that was his choice, and of course the whole thing could’ve been avoided had I not even uttered that word in the first place.

Anyway, the security guards were pissed at me, and when I said, “I’m sorry,” the one who was writing down my name and address shouted, “NO!!! THERE **IS** NO ‘SORRY’!!! YOU KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!?!?!”

I stared at my feet and nodded, and when he was done with my license, they escorted me toward the 3rd-base gate. On the way, the guard who had initially come to talk to me about the home run ball said, “If you attempt to reenter the stadium, I will find you and have you arrested, and you will spend a WEEK in jail; if you come back tomorrow or any other time this season, all will be forgotten. Is that understood?!”

Once again, I nodded and considered what he’d said. The last part of his statement surprised me, and in fact I thought it was nice of him. Of course, at that moment, I didn’t ever want to return and hoped that once I was out of town, a gigantic sinkhole would swallow the entire stadium.

Thankfully, the Braves had scored a run in the top of the 12th, so I figured that with Kimbrel entering the game, I wouldn’t have to wait long. In the meantime, I made a couple of phone calls and told my companions on the inside what had happened.

Kimbrel did indeed nail down the save (take THAT, Phillies!) and when fans started pouring out of the stadium, I took this photo:

49_thumbs_down_after_ejection

This was the sixth time that I’ve been ejected from a major league game. I was ejected four times from Shea Stadium by guards who thought it was their job to regulate the number of baseballs that I could snag; they invented a special set of rules to make it harder for me, and when I refused to follow those rules or give them any baseballs, things got ugly. All of those incidents took place before I started blogging in 2005, but I do have an entry about my fifth ejection. It happened on 9/19/12 at Nationals Park when I was falsely accused of selling baseballs. That one REALLY pissed me off because I was totally innocent, and the goons who run the stadium were out to get me. As for this nonsense here in Philly, I’ll accept some responsibility, but I don’t think I’m the criminal that the guards made me out to be. I know there’ll be folks leaving comments about how it’s all my fault, and that I act like an entitled brat, and why can’t I follow the rules like everyone else, and blah blah. Listen, I think we can all agree that there ARE certain rules in the world which are terrible. Of course, what I happen to think is terrible might differ from what you think is terrible, but so what? I’m just making a general point, okay?

Do I think that the ushers and guards in left field were overly strict? Yes. Did they have a right to enforce their rules and get pissed off at me? Yes. Where does that leave us? Let’s think about it like this: when I enter certain stadiums, I sometimes get good vibes and feel really happy because I can tell that the team wants me to have a good time. On the other hand, there are stadiums where, unfortunately, the opposite seems to be true, and I’m sorry to say that Citizens Bank Park has irrevocably slipped to the wrong end of the spectrum.

Here’s the group photo:

50_group_photo_outside_stadium

Everyone wanted to hear the story of my ejection — I must’ve told various bits and pieces 20 times — and everyone congratulated me on the home run. I’d like to congratulate Quinn, who snagged one of the coolest balls of all: the final out of game, tossed by Kimbrel himself — not a bad birthday present.

I’d also like to thank everyone for being part of this day. Alan did the most work putting it all together, but Harrison was also very much involved, and lots of other people contributed in other ways. You guys are the best. Hope to see you all at BallhawkFest in 2014, wherever it may be . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

51_the_four_balls_i_snagged_08_03_13• 4 balls at this game (pictured on the right)

• 447 balls in 58 games this season = 7.71 balls per game.

• 286 balls at 31 lifetime games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.23 balls per game.

• 930 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 455 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 26 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, and Citizens Bank Park

• 25 lifetime game home run balls (plus an additional six that I don’t really count because they were tossed up, and let’s face it, those are way too easy and predictable to be lumped in with the others I snagged unassisted); click here for my complete list.

• 6,906 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.)

pitch_in_for_baseball• 36 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.18 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $12.72 raised at this game

• $1,421.46 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $13,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $35,827.46 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Are you still with me? Good because I have a few more photos for you, starting with a side-by-side comparison of the home run ball in regular light versus black light:

52_ball6909_in_blacklight

I’m not sure why, but mud-rubbed balls rarely have invisible ink stamps, and when they do, they’re usually faint. Perhaps the mud-rubbing process itself removes the ink or covers it up?

Finally, here’s where the ball is now:

53_ball6906_in_ziploc_bag

I don’t normally store my baseballs like that, but I’m doing it with all my gamers this year for the Pitch In For Baseball charity auction. That way, I’ll know which ball is which (and so will you) without having to mark/deface them.

26 Comments

That was very nice of you to give the paragraph-long shout-out to mygameballs.com. It truly is amazing what that site has created.
-Mateo

http://mateofischer.mlblogs.com

Hey zack, I’m headed to an upcoming Yankees game, and I am wondering what time the stadium usually opens when the game is scheduled to take place at 7:00? And if the game is scheduled to start at 7, at what time do you have to sit in your assigned seat? Thanks so much for your help!!

I was at the same game as you and I had seats on the scoreboard porch. I wanted to move down to the LF seats around where you caught the HR. in the 12th with i went down there and before I even sat down she told me to go back to my seat. it frustrated me because a lot of people left and it wasn’t like I was trying to move behind home plate, they were the same price as my tickets. Last time I went to Philly they let me move in the 4th inning and were a lot better.

Zack,
It was nice finally meeting you. Had a great time hanging out with you. When the security guard made you go to your actual seat in the middle of the row, he just kicked out Alex. He sort of just stared at me and didn’t kick me out. I was actually sitting right next to where you talked to the vendor. When you left, the vendor knew that I was with you somehow so he asked me multiple questions on why you said that, why security was mad, why you left and stuff like that, but I just told him I have no clue. I stayed in Left Field until the 6th inning just 2 rows behind from where you were sitting when you caught the HR ball and nobody ever questioned me. My actual ticket was in the 200s in RF.
Thank you on congratulating me on the save ball from Kimbrel. Oh, and after the game, Eddie Perez, for the second straight day, said,”YEAHHHHH! YEAHHHHH! YEAHHHHH!” when I asked him for the line up card but never have it to him. I think you should definitely put the Hample Jinx on him.
Great time meeting you and hanging out with you. Hope to see you again some time soon.
-Quinn

Here’s a multi-part comment for you: (1) That about-to-lick-the-ice-cream shot might be one of the scariest photos I’ve ever seen. I might have nightmares now. (2) Big thanks to BIGS seeds. Zack undersold their contribution. I think most people got multiple full-sized packs of seeds. Tim and I devoured a full bag of Salt/Vinegar seeds during the game…well, Tim just spit a lot of them on Benny after sucking off the flavoring. (3) It was great fun relaxing with everyone in RF. (4) Regarding there being BP despite tarp on the field early, “I told you so!” (5) Finally, FYI, I am not wearing any Mariners gear right now…but I will soon put on a Mariners hat.
-Todd

Judging by the pics of Jen, it looks like Ben won the home run derby! Do you guys call them Bennifer? Also, is she wearing Toyota sunglasses?

Absolutely RIDICULOUS that they tossed you for calling a security guard who clearly was being a d!ck, a d!ck. You’re bigger man than me Zack. There’s no way I would have been able to keep my cool if they told me I was in trouble for calling and another *adult* a d!ck…especially if I said it to someone other than the person I was referring to!

Anyway, that’s too funny you caught the HR ball when you ‘weren’t supposed to’! It seems your luck this year…especially the last few games has really been incredible! Good for you man. Keep it up!

stinks u got kicked out of Philly. nice catch on that homer and have some good luck on those last 4 stadiums

Talk about highs and lows in one 5 hour time period. Nice home run snag and a classy exit stage right from CBP. Whew , life truly is an adventure when you are Zack Hample. The stuff of dreams.

Kellan’s face in the McFadden’s picture is priceless! And Ben smiling in the HR catch picture is the face we are used to seeing, not the smile-less face in the tweet you sent during the game.

Amazing how some baseball security/ushers truly lack perspective about what they do. If I was even in the general vicinity of that, it would have completely ruined my day there. Definitely makes me not want to visit Corporate Sponsor Park in Philly to know that they treat their paying customers in that manner.

I never thought I would be upset after reading one of your posts, but some ushers sure are power-hungry. I’ve only had one incident at AT&T. I didn’t attempt to move closer, but during an 18 inning night game, ushers wouldn’t let people sit closer to the field. I think there were about 1000 people left by that time and it didn’t make sense. I wrote to the team but never got an answer (surprise). Anyway, congrats & bummer for catching the HR ball!

Great post Zack. Congrats on the homer! Have you thought about your streak hitting 1,000 at all? Only 30 games away!

MATEO-
Anyone who doesn’t like that website is dumb. There. I said it.

JYS750575-
It opens two hours early. Security starts checking tickets about 45 minutes after that.

CAMERON-
That sucks. I’m sorry to hear that.

QUINN-
Well, the fact that they only kicked out Alex makes the whole thing seem even more silly and arbitrary. If I ever see that vendor again . . . oof, I’m really gonna have to control myself. Eddie Perez needs to go away.

TODD-
1) I can show you much scarier. Trust me.
2) Hilarious. I didn’t realize any of that.
3) . . . as it should be.
4) I bow down to your greatness.
5) Get on it!

ANDY-
I don’t know about the sunglasses, but I do know that she’s wonderful. I’m glad to have them both in my life.

BRIAN-
Don’t assume that that was the word I used. It might have been, but it might not have been. I might have called them “elbows” or maybe it was something far worse. Regardless, thanks for your support. Much appreciated.

AARON-
Thanks.

RAY BURTON-
Yeah, seriously. (By the way, I know I owe you an email. I’m still trying to catch up on all my messages. More soon.)

JAMES LEE-
The fact that you notice faces is a nice thing. I think it reflects positively on you.

MARK-
Amen, brotha!

JESSE-
Wow, that’s bad. I heard that even the way-too-strict Mets were being nice to people at the 20-inning game a month or two ago — letting fans down behind the dugouts and everything.

LARRY-
Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it, but I think you mean 70 games away. Whatever. It’s still less than a season’s worth of games for me. I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t begun planning anything.

Who supplied the baseballs at ballhawkfest this year? major league?

Wow. Such drama! Congrats on the Mayberry HR!

Zack, one of the first things you learn about MLB cities is that Philadelphia is home to the most subhuman people in baseball. And yes, the security guards are pricks, if you’ll excuse my language. Secondly, have you considered Hample Jinxing Kimbrel just as a joke to get back at him for his part in nearly ending your streak? Like a temporary jinx so that the Braves pull a 2007 Mets and let the NL East really go for a dogfight?

Third, I’m going to be in the city on August 12th for a doc appointment, and I was thinking of pulling a stop over at Argosy as soon as I’m finished. any chance you might be there? I’m probably going to bring my copy of The Baseball to get signed. (by the way, great read, took me about 2 hours to get through.)

Alex.

GARRETT MEYER-
Rick Sporcic provided the balls. They were mostly minor league, I think.

LIZ MERRY-
Thanks.

ALEX-
I can think of a team whose fans/employees are much worse. I won’t name names, so use your imagination. I see Kimbrel as more of a playful little punk than someone who’s really mean and out to get me, so no Jinx for him. Plus, he HAS thrown me three balls (although one of the three was thrown to some other fans 30 feet above me who dropped it), and I really like him as a player. As for August 12th, don’t visit the Argosy. I’ll be in Phoenix. Glad you enjoyed the book.

Absolutely ridiculous. My Dad taught me when I was a wee lad how to move to better seats at Riverfront stadium in the mid-80’s. We always bought red seats and moved to blue seats around the 6th inning. It’s as much a part of the game as peanuts, cracker jacks and BIGS sunflower seeds (see what I did there?). The part that makes this so unreal is that you weren’t even trying to move to a more expensive seat or section. And to think they heard all this second-hand from a beer vendor who tattled? Wow. I see a letter writing campaign in the near future.

…NICE CATCH!!!!!!!!!

…GLAD YOU GUYS (& GALS) HAD FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

…ALAN SCHUSTER IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! MYGAMEBALLS.COM IS INSANE COOL!!!!!!!!!

Zack, you are the hero to all the ball hawks around the country, but let me give you a piece of advice, if I may; you need to CHILL once the game starts with the ball hawking! You are going to get in serious trouble, and/or punched out!!! There is no way else to say it! I consider you a friend, and I know you to be a great guy that only does good for our sport/hobby, and I have always seen you treat people with respect, and be kind to the kids. And, I always defend you, and what you’re about, but not everybody sees it like this.
The “stuffy” affluent fans that buy tickets around the dugouts DON’T want to see *middle aged guys* going for 3rd out balls or Umpire balls!!! I know you’re snagging for charity, and all that, but these fans don’t care about that. When me and some other Cincy ball hawks tried to start snagging balls for a charity last year…people around here laughed at us!!! Charity they said; Hell, you just want to snag balls for yourself! They can barely stand it when us ball hawks run around like nuts at BP, let alone during the game

…What you don’t know, because you are from N.Y., is that there are some seriously crazy Red Necks that wouldn’t think twice about whoppin’ your ass over messin with their kid! If they think that you are impeding their kids ability to snag a baseball, they will flip out on you… a la Atlanta!!! Here in the Midwest/ South they have a whole set of “UN-WRITEN RULES” of baseball game etiquette, especially when it comes to KIDS!!! Erik Jabs saw me trying to be like YOU, running all around the stadium a few years ago, and offered me a freindly piece of advice…SLOW DOWN!!! Walk to the next section, don’t RUN…don’t let the ushers see you moving around alot…hide in the shadows of the stadium…take your hat off and look like a regular schmoe…Erik alot of times dosn’t stay for the games, he just hits BP, and moves out.. You can do what you want, and I might get crucified for giving “the Great Zack Hample” some advice, but I’m telling you, you are a middle aged man
NOW, people are going to start to give you crap at the dugouts, and pull out their cell phone cameras

…and try to catch you in the mix! Take it from an Ex-Cop! I had to deal with people for a living. I know that you are at a seriously high level of snagging balls right now, and you are trying to do good for your charity and all, but somebody is going to try and take you down…be careful…

Rocco, if you wouldn’t mind keeping your rants to one comment, my ass does not need another massage, thank you.

BEN-
I see what you did there, and I like it. I also like your dad, and I like your entire comment. Thanks. That’s a nice way to look at it.

ROCCO SINISI-
I just took the liberty of combining all your comments into one. I hope that’s okay, and in the future, if you could try to put all your thoughts in one comment, that would be great — easier and less annoying for everyone. I love your enthusiasm and the fact that as soon as you have something to say, you just say it, but seriously, dude, it’s getting out of hand. As for what you said, first of all, I don’t consider myself a middle-aged man. I consider myself a third-aged man because I’m going to live to be at least 105. Secondly, people in the fancy seats usually think very highly of me because when I sit there during games, I often give a ball away every time I snag one. Therefore, anyone whose kid is sitting near me has a better of chance of getting one. I never reach in front of kids. I never knock anyone down. Yeah, I sometimes run from one section in the stadium to another, but I do that in the concourses and usually during BP, when there are fewer fans and everything’s super-laid-back. I appreciate all the advice, but I’m also surprised to hear it from you because you’ve seen me in action enough to know that I don’t do any of the crap that you’re warning me about.

ALEX-
Did you mean message? *My* ass could sure use a massage. :-)

…who is Alex Giobbi??? WTF dude, this isn’t even your conversation…

Games at the Vet were enjoyable to attend because the staff did not harrass the paying customers. Not so at this new park where prices have risen and employees attitudes have dropped. I do not go to any more games there.

ROCCO-
You haven’t heard of Alex Giobbi?! He once interviewed me on the radio about my collection.

SHEA1969-
If only the Phillies were reading these comments.

Zack, I love ya man, but the way I see it is; you almost lost your EYE, you almost lost your TEETH (crazy guy at the dugout), you almost lost you FREEDOM (almost getting arrested in Philly), and the whole Braves team is pissed at you…all in one week…again, you might want to slow down a bit…and yes, cursing in public is a CRIME!!! (*Disorderly Conduct*)

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