September 2013

9/26/13 at Citi Field

This was the largest group I ever had for a Watch With Zack game:

1_colette_jack_zack_demetrius_jason_elliot

In the photo above, the kid in the Mets shirt is named Demetrius, and this was really HIS day – more on him in a bit, but first let me identify everyone from left to right:

1) Colette — Demetrius’s mother
2) Jack, age 9 — the younger brother of a girl that Demetrius knows from school
3) me — still rockin’ the BIGS shirt even though my sponsorship is now done
4) Demetrius, age 13 — getting to attend this game as a birthday present
5) Jayson, age 13 — Demetrius’s friend from school
6) Elliot, age 14 — another of Demetrius’s friends

The previous photo was taken by a fellow ballhawk named Jason (not to be confused with Jayson) whom I’d met once before. This time he showed up with two of my books . . .

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. . . and asked me to sign them.

As for Demetrius and his crew, I’d never met any of them before, so it was good that they showed up half an hour before the gates opened. We had plenty of time to catch up and strategize and establish a plan for batting practice.

Quite simply, they hoped to catch as many baseballs as possible, and they also wanted to learn by watching me in action. Demetrius had previously snagged a total of 10 major league balls, but none of the other kids had ever gotten one.

Now, in case you’re wondering, I don’t charge extra for bigger groups — I’d accompany a group of 100 fans for the same price — but there’s only one of me. The number of baseballs I can snag is finite, as is the amount of attention I can give. Demetrius and his friends knew this. I let them know ahead of time that while I expected to snag enough baseballs to go around, I could only guarantee getting one. That’s the deal with Watch With Zack games: I guarantee at least one ball or my client gets a full refund.

That said, my modest goal for the day was for us to combine for 10 balls. I figured I’d snag about half a dozen and that Demetrius would get two or three and that Jack would get one or two. (Remember, Jack was the youngest/cutest member of our group, so he was definitely going to get some attention from the players.) I wasn’t sure what to expect from Jayson and Elliot.

Just before the gates opened, Colette told me that all the boys were free to wander around the stadium on their own except Jack. That made sense, and I made sure to stay close enough to him that I could protect him if a batted ball sailed his way.

Not surprisingly, Jack snagged the first ball of the day . . .

3_jack_with_first_ball_of_the_day

. . . and he didn’t need much help. All I did was call out to Mets pitcher Vic Black on his behalf, but Jack made the catch on his own — very impressive.

It wasn’t long before I caught a home run on the fly in the front row. I’m not sure who hit that one or the next ball I snagged, which required me to run 20 feet to my right and climb back over two rows of seats and make a high back-handed catch. A few minutes later, I caught a Vic Black toss-up, and soon after that, Demetrius got on the board by convincing Travis d’Arnaud to throw him a ball in left-center.

When the Mets cleared the field, Demetrius changed into his Brewers gear and posed with his ball:

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Then he labeled it . . .

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. . . and headed into foul territory with me and Jack.

Meanwhile, Elliot and Jayson had gone to right field, but weren’t having any luck over there.

(Are you having a tough time keeping track of who’s who? Don’t worry, you’ll see more photos of everyone in a bit. For now, just remember that Demetrius is the 13-year-old birthday boy with a little bit of ballhawking experience, and Jack is the 9-year-old.)

After the Brewers finished playing catch along the left field foul line, Demetrius got a toss-up from Jean Segura. Here’s a photo that I took *just* as the ball was entering his glove:

6_demetrius_catching_his_second_ball

As you can see, he caught it above Jack’s glove. To his credit, Jack was cool about it, and I was glad to see him get another opportunity soon after. Someone on the Brewers (not sure who) tossed a ball in our direction, and he ended up grabbing it in the front row.

Somehow, despite the fact that Jack was clearly holding a ball in his right hand, I got Michael Blazek to chuck one in his direction. Here’s a photo of it sailing toward us:

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The ball ended up landing in the chained-off wheelchair aisle, so I climbed down there, got a dirty look from a nearby security guard, picked up the ball, and handed it to Jack.

Jack counted that as his third ball of the day, which is fine. I mean, it WAS his third ball, but for the purpose of keeping accurate statistics, it went on my personal tally since I was the one who actually attained possession of it first.

I was holding Jack’s first ball in my backpack. Here he is with the other two:

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See those magic marker streaks on the sweet spots? That’s how the Brewers are currently marking their balls. In the 1990s, they did it with a neat stamp, and several years ago, they wrote random words and phrases. In case you’re interested, here are some photos of all my marked balls from various teams over the years.

When the Brewers started hitting, we hurried back out to the seats in straight-away left field. Here’s a photo of Jack standing in the front row:

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I never strayed farther from him than that (except when Colette was with him), and yes, if the batter had smoked a line-drive homer right at him, I would’ve been able to get there in time to catch it.

After a few minutes, I saw a ball roll onto the warning track along the left-field foul line, so I suggested to Demetrius that he run over and stand near it. Moments later, he was there . . .

10_demetrius_standing_near_ball_in_foul_territory

. . . and eventually he got Lee Tunnell, the team’s bullpen coach, to toss it up:

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That was his third ball of the day. I’d gotten four and given one to Jack, who had also snagged two on his own. We had combined for nine balls — a solid total for that point in the day, but I really wanted to see Demetrius’s friends get in on the action.

Then it happened:

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In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a closer look:

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In the photo above, the arrow is pointing at Elliot, who was about to catch his first ball ever — a toss-up from Yovani Gallardo. Nice!

As a group, we had reached double digits, and since there was still so much time remaining, I started wondering if we could combine for 20. In my 38 previous Watch With Zack games, my clients and I had combined to snag 395 balls — an average of more than 10 per game — but the 20-ball plateau had only been reached three times.

That’s when Demetrius went on a baseball-snagging barrage. He started by getting a toss-up from Tom Gorzelanny in left field. Then he convinced Burke Badenhop to throw him this one in left-center:

14b_demetrius_catching_his_fifth_ball

That was his fifth ball of the day, and he wasn’t done. A little while later, he got a ball thrown to him in left-center by Kyle Lohse, and in the final group of BP, he grabbed a home run ball that bounced down off the facade of the 2nd deck. I think it was hit by Martin Maldonado, but I’m not sure.

Surprisingly, the final group was the best one. That’s usually when all the end-of-the-lineup scrubs and back-up players take their wimpy cuts, but for some reason, the Brewers were pounding the ball. It seemed as if the batters were trying to hit home runs, and as a result, there were lots of balls landing in the seats. Some went into the 2nd deck. Some landed on the Party Deck. Some were pulled down the left-field foul line. Some even went to right field. And thankfully, a few were hit to left-center. I ended up snagging two home run balls, practically back-to-back. The first one landed behind me and trickled down the stairs as Demetrius and several other fans were closing in on it. The second ball landed two sections to my left. In fact, it was so far away that I didn’t even bother running for it at first, but when I saw it bounce into my row, and when I noticed that the few other fans over there were slow to react, I took off.

At the very end of BP, Jack got a ball tossed up to him by some folks on the Party Deck. Because it was given to him by a fan (and not a player or coach or stadium employee), I decided not to count it in my official Watch With Zack stats, but as far as Jack was concerned, he had his fourth ball of the day.

Demetrius had snagged seven balls at that point, practically doubling his lifetime total. I had snagged six. Jack had gotten two on his own (plus two more that people had given him), and Elliot had caught one. Quick math . . . seven plus six plus two plus one . . . outstanding! We had combined to snag 16 balls. I knew that 20 was still possible, but it would be tough.

During the lull between BP and the game, we got some food and compared notes. Our seats were on the 3rd-base side, but we had no reason to rush over there. Instead we relaxed in left-center (where the seats were emptier), and I signed Demetrius’s copy of The Baseball. Here we are with it:

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Then I took a photo of Elliot with the hat that I’d signed for him . . .

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. . . and of Jack with a signed ball:

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As you may have noticed, that was not an official ball. He had brought it with him and gotten me to sign it while we waited for the stadium to open.

Jayson, by the way, hadn’t snagged a ball during BP, so I gave him one of the balls I’d gotten.

The following photo shows where we sat during the game:

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Did you notice the $5 bill at my feet? It was just there when I sat down, so the game was already off to a good start.

Elliot grabbed an empty seat directly across the staircase . . .

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. . . while Demetrius and Jayson settled into the row behind me:

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With two outs in the bottom of the 1st inning, I moved one section over so that I was behind the home-plate end of the dugout. I’d already given Demetrius and his friends some pointers about how to snag a 3rd-out ball, so I figured . . . why not give them some space while putting myself in a good spot to get a ball if the inning happens to end with a strikeout?

Well, guess what? The inning *did* end with a strikeout — thank you, Mike Baxter! — and Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy tossed me the ball on his way back to the dugout.

Here’s a photo of the ball (which I took after moving back to my original seat):

21_ball7136_tossed_by_jonathan_lucroy

I was prepared to give it away, but for the time being, I held onto it. I wanted to see how the rest of the game played out before making a decision.

One thing I did give away was sunflower seeds. Demetrius and I had been emailing back and forth for several days, and one of his messages went as follows:

And just so you know, I love Bacon BIGS. *hint*   *hint*

Therefore, I handed him this:

22_demetrius_with_bacon_seeds

The 2nd inning ended when Omar Quintanilla grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. I had no intention of going for the ball. I hung back and pulled out my camera and let the kids run down to the front. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows what happened when the Brewers jogged off the field:

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In case you can’t tell, Jack (in the blue cap) was right behind the dugout. Jayson (tan glove) was behind him, and Demetrius (black glove) was at the back. There were no other kids asking for the ball, so I *knew* that one of my guys was gonna get it, but who would it be?

In the screen shot above, did you notice Juan Francisco tossing the ball? Well, it ended up landing on the dugout roof, creating a tricky in-between hop that Jack wasn’t able to catch cleanly:

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The ball (pictured above just to the right of the tan glove) plopped into the 2nd row, where Jayson picked it up:

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Even though that was the first ball that Jayson had *ever* snagged, he gave it to Jack — a VERY classy move. (How many 13-year-olds do you know who are that mature and generous?) Demetrius also deserves credit for letting Jack and Jayson stand in front of him. I’m sure he would’ve snagged that ball if he’d been standing in the front row, but since he’d already gotten so many during BP, he gave his friends a chance. All four of these kids — Demetrius, Jayson, Jack, and Elliot — were awesome.

The scary moment of the night occurred in the bottom of the 3rd inning, when David Wright got hit on the helmet by an 86-mile-per-hour pitch from Johnny Hellweg:

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Thankfully Wright seemed to be okay . . .

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. . . but was taken out of the game as a precaution.

On the very next pitch, Hellweg hit Lucas Duda on the leg with a slider. The crowd was NOT happy about it, but I think most people knew deep down that it wasn’t intentional. In four innings, Hellweg (who’s 6-foot-9) walked four batters, hit two, and threw a wild pitch, so he wasn’t exactly in control.

In the middle of the 5th inning, I caught a tee-shirt during the tee-shirt launch:

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That was the first one I’d gotten all season, and I gave it to Demetrius. It would’ve been nice to keep it because it had the All-Star Game logo, but I figured he’d enjoy it more than I would, and anyway, this was HIS day.

In addition to the big bag of bacon seeds, I gave the kids some sample packs of other flavors. Here’s what happened when Elliot and Jayson tried the spicy buffalo wing seeds:

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HAHA!!

Here’s another photo of them with their mouths on fire:

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That’s good stuff.

By the 6th inning, there was a ton of competition for 3rd-out balls:

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Demetrius, therefore, moved one section over . . .

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. . . and tried to get the infield warm-up ball the following inning:

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In the photo above, did you notice him standing in the front row? Well, he didn’t get the ball, and unfortunately for him, the next two innings didn’t end with strikeouts.

We did, however, manage to get another game-used ball. I say “we” because I considered this to be a team effort, but I was actually the one who snagged it. With two outs in the top of the 8th inning, Yuniesky Betancourt swung a bit too soon at a 1-0 pitch from David Aardsma and pulled a weak grounder into foul territory. By the time Brewers 3rd base coach Ed Sedar retrieved it near the edge of the grass, I was already calling out to him from the front row. In fact, I was the only one asking for it, so he tossed it to me.

Here’s the ball:

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(I love that photo.)

That was my eighth ball of the day and No. 19 overall for our group.

Here’s a random ball that Demetrius had given to me earlier:

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Obviously that didn’t count as one of the 19, but I still felt it was blog-worthy. If you look closely, you can see that the main logo says “Hamptons Collegiate League.” Demetrius has spent a lot of time on the end of Long Island, so that’s how he got it. (If you look closely again, you can see the beautiful mess that Demetrius made with his sunflower seed shells.)

After the final out of the Brewers’ 4-2 victory, I figured we’d get a ball or two from home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor. (Side note: during the game, a fan sitting near us heckled Bucknor after a close call went against the Mets. “C.B. stands for Completely Blind!!!” he shouted. That made us all laugh.) Bucknor handed the first ball to a *very* little kid in the wheelchair aisle — no way to compete with that — and that was it! Bucknor walked off and told the crowd that he didn’t have any more baseballs. (Since when does an ump only have ONE extra ball in his pouch? Hmph!)

We hurried back toward the dugout to try to get a ball from the Brewers on their way in. I watched helplessly as several toss-ups went to other fans, including this one from Lee Tunnell:

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But wait! Look who ended up getting that ball:

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Woooooooo!!! It was Demetrius!!! I had no idea that he’d worked his way to the far end of the dugout, and whaddaya know, he ended up in the perfect spot for the final ball of the night. Nicely done! Our final tally went as follows:

Zack 8
Demetrius 8
Jack 2 (although he had five balls in his possession)
Elliot 1
Jayson 1

We had succeeded in snagging 20 balls, and let me tell you, it felt good.

We tried to take a group photo in the seats, but the security guards rushed us up into the concourse. Since Jayson had given up his game-used ball, I let him take his pick from the two that I’d gotten. He chose the Yuniesky Betancourt foul ball, and then I gave the other gamer (the Mike Baxter strikeout) to Elliot. Oh, and I forgot to mention that at some point during the game, I gave one of my BP balls to a random kid. Here we are with all the balls:

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Not bad, huh?

By the way, do you see that Brewers shirt on Jayson? That was my shirt. I lent it to him late in the game and forgot to get it back. D’oh! And to make matters worse, I didn’t realize it until I was packing up my things for the game the following day. I’m sure he’ll return it eventually.

Here are the three balls that I kept:

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I offered to give them away, but Demetrius was like, “You keep them — we got enough balls.”

If I’d been hoping to get my three baseballs autographed, I would’ve been disappointed. Check out the sweet spots:

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Finally, one of the three balls has a gorgeous invisible ink stamp. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:

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That’s pretty much it. It was a fun day, the kids were great, and we kicked Citi Field’s butt.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 8 baseballs at this game

• 678 balls in 88 games this season = 7.70 balls per game.

• 745 balls in 95 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.84 balls per game.

• 960 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 30 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, the Oakland Coliseum, and Coors Field.

• 7,137 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I’ve snagged 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.)

• 39 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.48 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $27.84 raised at this game

• $2,359.44 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $15,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $38,865.44 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/25/13 at Yankee Stadium

Two months ago, someone bought me tickets to the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game in exchange for half the balls I snagged. The same person (who wishes to remain anonymous) bought me a “Legends” ticket for this game at Yankee Stadium, and as you can see below, it wasn’t cheap:

1_legends_ticket_09_25_13

In fact, it cost a whole lot more than $260.00 because it came from StubHub.

I know what you’re thinking — why spend so much money for a ticket to a regular-season game, right? Well, the answer is that I’d heard (from a reliable source at MLB) that the Yankees were going to be using commemorative balls with a Mariano Rivera retirement logo. The guy who bought me the ticket wanted one of these game-used balls, and obviously I did too, but in order for me to get to keep one, I’d have to snag two. That was the deal. The first one would go to him, and the second one would be for me.

Unfortunately, the biggest source of stress had nothing to do with my ability to snag a gamer. I knew I’d get one, and I was pretty sure I’d get two. I was concerned that the commemorative balls weren’t even going to be used. I’d been told that they’d be used at every home game from September 22-26, but when I snagged a 3rd-out ball on September 24th, it turned out to be a regular ball.

1b_question_mark_signWhat was I supposed to do? Try to resell the Legends ticket? Keep the ticket and hope for the best? On the morning of September 25th, I decided to call Steiner Sports — “the official collectibles company of Mariano Rivera and the New York Yankees” — and pretend to be interested in buying one of these game-used balls. They said they had some from Sunday and that they’d be “getting more from tonight and tomorrow.”

“What about from yesterday?” I asked.

“No,” said the customer service representative, “those are the only three games that they’re being used.”

As soon as I heard that, I knew I had to keep the Legends ticket and go for it, but there was still lots of uncertainty. MLB had told me that the balls were supposed to be used the day before, so why weren’t they used? Was MLB wrong? Did someone with the Yankees mess up? If so, how did that happen? Could Steiner Sports be trusted? I truly had NO idea what to think, and I knew that by keeping the ticket, I was taking a huge risk. That’s because there was a two-part deal that would take effect if I failed to deliver:

1) If the Yankees ended up using commemorative balls and I failed to snag one, I would have to give the guy who bought the ticket my Scott Hairston game home run ball that I caught on 9/10/13 at Citi Field.

2) If the commemorative balls did not end up being used, I would have to pay for half the cost of the ticket, give up my Hairston home run ball, and give him a game-used ball from this game.

See why I was stressed? But hey, at least the shipment of Charlie Brown Bobbleheads had arrived:

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I’m not kidding. The Yankees were actually going to be giving out Charlie Brown Bobbleheads, and after the fiasco that occurred the day before with the Mariano Rivera Bobbleheads, it was a relief to see that things were running smoothly.

Before the stadium opened, I was joined in line by two friends:

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In the photo above, the man with the bag draped over his shoulder is named Andy Bingham, and he was planning to take some pics of me during BP. The guy he’s talking to is Chris Hernandez, whom you might remember from the helicopter stunt.

I ran in ahead of Andy, so I took the first photo of BP . . .

4_view_from_left_field_09_25_13

. . . and got a toss-up from Cesar Cabral soon after.

The Yankees only took one group of BP, but I made the most of it. I caught a towering home run by Mark Reynolds that I jumped for in the second-to-last-row. Then Reynolds smoked a line-drive shot just over my head that I grabbed in the folded-up portion of a seat. And finally, I ran one full section to my left and steadied myself just in time to catch an Eduardo Nunez homer. Andy got a photo of that one as the ball entered my glove:

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A few minutes later, when there was a quick break in the action, I met a guy from Brazil named Diego and signed his copy of Watching Baseballs Smarter. Here we are:

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Did you notice the hat I was wearing? Four words: Pitch In For Baseball. It’s not too late to make a pledge for my charity fundraiser — donations won’t be collected until after the World Series — and if you do, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

Check out this jumping catch I made on a Ben Zobrist homer:

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Here’s a closeup of the ball in the tip of my glove:

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Here I am getting a toss-up from Jamey Wright:

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That was my sixth ball of the day, and I wasn’t close to being done. A little while later, I caught a line-drive homer on the fly that was hit by the despicable Delmon Young, and then I made a good play on this home run:

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I’m not sure who hit it, but as you can see, I had stepped down over a row of seats to get into position. Here’s a closeup of the ball in my glove:

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As always, I was extremely careful not to bump into anyone, and I gave some balls away. Here I am handing one to a little guy that I noticed one section to my right:

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That was one of four balls that I gave away over the course of the day.

Here’s a cool photo of a ball that I didn’t catch:

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Did you spot me? My face is just below the two baseball gloves.

Take another look at the photo above, specifically at the two sections in right field below the Modell’s advertisements. See how they’re much emptier than the sections on the right? That’s because the security guards were in the process of making their “sweep.” That’s when they comb through the 100 Level seats DURING BATTING PRACTICE and kick out anyone who doesn’t have a ticket for that section. Got a 3rd base ticket and want to stay in left field? Screw you. Go back to your seat. Got a left field ticket and want to go to right field? Piss off. That’s not allowed. And that’s why I laugh when my friends in other cities complain about their local stadiums.

Anyway, after batting practice, I went and got my wristband for the Legends area:

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It’s a good thing I was hungry because there was LOTS of food, and it was all “free.” (Once you’ve taken out a second mortgage on your home to pay for the ticket(s), you don’t have to pay anything extra for the food. It’s just there for the taking.) I started in the upstairs restaurant, but decided not to get anything here at the Raw Bar:

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Instead I got some steak and pork tenderloin:

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After I ate that, I headed downstairs . . .

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. . . and passed through this dining area . . .

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. . . and got a few pieces of sushi:

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I could’ve gotten a lot more. In fact, when I pointed to a certain kind, the server grabbed four pieces. I guess that’s the default amount that they distribute, so I told him that I only wanted one of this and two of that, etc.

I was saving room for dessert:

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WOW!!!

(This was my 2nd time in the Legends area — click here to read about my first experience — but that didn’t make it any less fun.)

I started off easy with a Rice Krispy treat, two small cupcakes, and three chocolate-covered strawberries:

21_my_dessert_plate

If I hadn’t been eating, I could’ve been working the Rays for pre-game toss-ups behind the dugout and along the left field foul line. I could’ve also headed to the bleachers and tried to get a ball from Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey or from Rays bullpen catcher Scott Cursi, but whatever. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stuff myself silly, and I was also being strategic. If I’d gotten a bunch of toss-ups before the game, the players might’ve recognized me during the game and NOT tossed anything my way when it really mattered.

Eventually, though, it was time to head up into the seats. I could’ve gone anywhere — once you’re in the Legends area, you’re pretty much free to roam — so I chose the front row behind the Yankees’ dugout. Why not, right? Check out the view:

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After the national anthem, Mariano Rivera looked up into the crowd, so I waved at him. Here’s how he responded:

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That’s right — he waved back! Here’s a closer look at the previous photo:

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He was definitely waving at ME because there was no one else on either side of me, and I was the only one waving. That was pretty damn cool.

I was glad to see that he and all his teammates were wearing the commemorative patches on their uniforms. The commemorative balls HAD to be used. Right?

Just before the game started, I wandered as close as possible to the Rays’ on-deck circle:

24_near_field_before_game_09_25_13

Given the fact that I could go anywhere, I decided to sit here for the first two batters of the game:

25_first_pitch_of_the_game_09_25_13

I was planning to try to get the 3rd-out ball at the Yankees’ dugout after the top of the 1st inning, but why waste the first two outs over there? I figured . . . why not sit near 3rd base coach Tom Foley in case the batter were to hit a weak grounder into foul territory?

Well, there were no foul grounders, but while I was there, I leaned over the wall and noticed this:

26_commemorative_bases_09_25_13

Even the bases were commemorative! Ohmygod, the baseballs haaaaaaaaad to have a special logo on them.

With two outs (and the Rays already winning, 1-0), I headed to the 1st-base side. This was my view of the field . . .

27_view_from_first_base_side_09_25_13

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

28_view_to_my_right_09_25_13

Basically, I was lurking in the aisle between two staircases so that I could dart left (toward home plate) in case the inning ended with a strikeout or right (toward the outfield end of the dugout) in case the batter put the ball in play. That batter was the loathsome Delmon Young, who flew out to left fielder Alfonso Soriano. Here’s what ended up happening with the ball:

29_zack_not_getting_3rd_out_ball

(I had no idea that Andy was still taking pics. He’s the best. Check out his blog. It has lots of photos, and it’s called The Cooperstown Kid.)

In the photo above, the red arrow is pointing at me, watching helplessly as the ball was tossed to some middle-aged ladies on my right. I wasn’t concerned about not getting the ball because I knew I’d have lots more chances. I was, however, nervous as the ladies began inspecting it. I peeked over and thought, “Please-please-PLEASE, be commemorative!!” but then I saw the logo and was absolutely crushed to see that it was a regular ball. I can’t remember the last time I felt THAT disappointed about anything. Mariano Rivera is a hero to me. I hate the Yankees, but I love and respect him. His career started in 1995 when I was a senior in high school; he has been a part of my baseball experience for my entire adult life. I knew this was the last time I’d ever see him as an active player, and I wanted to snag a baseball SO BADLY that commemorated his brilliant career. It would’ve been the perfect end to this chapter of our baseball lives.

Ugh.

What was I supposed to do next? Run around and try to snag a bunch of regular baseballs and eat more free food? Why, yes, as a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I did.

My goal was to snag two more balls and reach double digits, and in the bottom of the 1st inning, I got one step closer. David Price was pitching. Vernon Wells was hitting. David DeJesus caught a fly ball for the 3rd out and tossed it to me on his way in. It felt good to snag a game-used ball, but compared to what could’ve been, I still felt deflated. This was my reaction:

30_zack_and_brandon_steiner

Do you recognize the white-haired man standing next to me? That’s Brandon Steiner — the CEO of Steiner Sports. I’d met him several years earlier at some fancy dinner event, but I’m sure he wouldn’t have remembered if I’d mentioned it here at Yankee Stadium. Instead, I showed him the ball that I’d just snagged and asked what the deal was. Quite simply, he was surprised that it wasn’t commemorative. I mentioned my guy at MLB and said I’d heard that the commemorative balls were going to be used. I even mentioned that I’d called Steiner Sports earlier in the day and gotten the same information. Brandon pulled out his phone and seemed to be looking for emails related to what we were discussing, but who knows? I could tell that he was a bit distracted, but before he wandered off, he complimented me for “being on top of it,” and he handed me his card:

31_ball7122_and_brandon_steiner_business_card

In the 2nd inning, I ate this:

32_ice_cream_helmet_09_25_13

After the 3rd inning, I got the 3rd-out ball — an Alfonso Soriano strikeout which ended up getting tossed from Jose Molina to Tom Foley to me. It was so easy. There was no competition.

The top of the 4th inning ended with an Evan Longoria strikeout, and yes, I got that ball from Chris Stewart.

Other than getting a commemorative ball, my biggest goal was to get a toss-up from Robinson Cano. Four years ago, I snagged a grand slam that he hit, but he’d never actually thrown one to me. When else would I have the chance to add his name to my list?

Over the last few seasons, I’d noticed that Cano had become the designated 3rd-out-ball tosser. It didn’t seem to matter how or where the 3rd out was recorded; when the Yankees jogged off the field each inning, the ball would inevitably find its way into his hands. Therefore, I made a sign to increase my chances of getting one from him, and in the top of the 5th inning, I finally had an opportunity to use it. This was my view with two outs:

33_view_before_ball7125

Jose Molina was at bat, and he ended up lining out to shortstop Brendan Ryan. To my delight, Ryan threw the ball to Cano, and when Cano jogged off the field, he saw my sign and laughed. I’m not making this up. He actually chuckled and pointed it out to one of his teammates. The sign itself wasn’t funny; he was, no doubt, amused by the simple fact that someone had bothered to make a sign in the first place, but anyway, he ended up flipping me the ball, and Andy got a photo of it in mid-air! Check it out — I’ve circled Cano on the left and my glove on the right:

34_ball7125_in_mid_air

Several folks behind me wanted to know what the sign said, so I held it up for everyone:

35_zack_holding_sign_for_everyone_to_see

Here’s a closer look:

36_zack_posing_with_ball7125_and_sign

See? There’s nothing funny about that. It simply says, “tirame la pelota, por favor,” which translates to “throw me the ball, please.”

Several people asked to borrow the sign, but I held onto it. Everyone was amused, and several folks recognized me. I really felt great after that, and I will always cherish that ball.

That was my 12th ball of the day, and there really wasn’t anywhere else for me to try to snag another. I’d gotten FOUR 3rd-out balls — one from each end of each dugout — so I decided to wander and take photos . . . and to eat more food.

Have you ever heard of the “Champion” seats at Yankee Stadium? They’re the final three sections along each foul line, which look just like the Legends seats. If you ever decide to spend hundreds of dollars for dugout access, make sure to buy a Legends ticket, not a Champions ticket, or else you’ll be trapped far from the action. Here’s a photo of the aisle behind the spot where the two areas connect:

37_aisle_from_champions_to_legends

See the security guard standing in the aisle? She was there for the sole purpose of preventing people with Champions tickets from entering the Legends area. (Even the wristbands that fans receive are different colors.) But of course with a Legends ticket, I was able to enter the Champions area. Haha! Here’s what it looked like behind me:

38_stairs_down_to_dkny_lounge

I headed down the steps and found myself outside the DKNY Lounge:

39_dkny_lounge_exterior

Here’s what the interior looked like:

40_dkny_lounge_interior

Here’s a photo of the area that leads to the bathrooms . . .

41_dkny_lounge_interior

. . . and here I am in the bathroom mirror:

42_zack_dkny_lounge_bathroom_mirror

All the food in the DKNY Lounge is free . . .

43_dkny_lounge_food

. . . but it’s not nearly as fancy as the food in the Legends area. There were hot dogs and ice cream sandwiches and sodas and bottled waters and bags of Cracker Jacks and a few other simple things. Here’s what I got:

44_buffalo_chicken_sandwich_with_blue_cheese_sauce

That’s a buffalo chicken sandwich with blue cheese sauce — way too bready, but still pretty good.

I took a peek at the field from the empty front row . . .

45_left_field_foul_line_09_25_13

. . . and then headed back to FancyLand. Craving something sweet after my spicy sandwich, I got some sorbet:

46_mango_and_raspberry_sorbet

Those two flavors are mango and raspberry.

Meanwhile, look who WISHED he were in the Legends area:

47_ben_weil_in_da_house

That’s my friend Ben Weil.

Over the course of the night, I must’ve passed by this wall of candy several dozen times:

48_wall_of_candy

Each time, I grabbed a handful of various stuff and tossed it into my backpack. Here’s a closer look at some of the items I got:

49_glove_candy_lady

The funny thing about that photo is that I’d been moving my glove for several seconds to find the right angle. The whole time, I was holding down the button on my camera, which was set on “continuous mode,” so I probably ended up with a dozen pics. At the very last second, that woman approached me, so I stepped aside to let her pass. I got the feeling she was thinking something like, “I’m hot and you’re weird.” Or maybe I’m just projecting.

In the 8th inning, I checked out the Kettle One Lounge down the right field foul line — same exact thing as the DKNY Lounge on the other side. Then I wandered toward the field through this tunnel . . .

50_camera_man_in_tunnel

. . . and checked out the view from the front row . . .

51_right_field_foul_line_09_25_13

. . . before returning to Legends area.

Given the fact that the Yankees were losing, 7-3, and about to get eliminated from the postseason, there were quite a few empty seats, so I sat in the front row behind the 3rd-base dugout. Just before the 9th inning got underway, someone in the dugout rolled a ball to me across the roof. I hadn’t asked for it, and I didn’t even see who it was, so it was like, “Umm, okay, thanks.” Easiest ball ever.

This was my view in the bottom of the 9th:

52_view_from_front_row_09_25_13

In the photo above, the player on the left is Chris Archer. Guess what happened? He rolled a ball to me across the dugout roof — yes, another ball that I hadn’t asked for. It was embarrassing, and I was loving every second of it.

Some old people behind me shouted, “What about us?”

Archer looked at them and shook his head. Then he pointed at the logo on his hat and said, “Yankee fans.”

It was classic.

After the final out of the Rays’ 8-3 victory, I got a ball from home plate umpire Mike Winters. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows him just before he tossed it:

53_mike_winters_tossing_ball7128

A minute or two later, I got my 16th and final ball of the day from Scott Cursi:

54_scott_cursi_tossing_ball7129

Wow and more wow. Can you imagine if there’d been commemorative balls? Or if I’d worked every possible angle for toss-ups before the game? What if I’d had *slightly* better luck during batting practice? (I didn’t catch anything during the final 20 minutes of BP.) I might’ve snagged 20 balls instead of tying my Yankee Stadium record of 16, but hey, I’m not about to complain.

Actually, yes, I will complain. I was told that commemorative balls were going to be used, and I feel cheated that it didn’t happen, and I’m going to lose hundreds of dollars (and a game-used home run ball) as a result. But it’s not just about me. Yankee fans and baseball fans deserved to see these balls. Everyone is going nuts for Mariano Rivera. We want as much of him as possible, and having commemorative balls during his final home series would’ve been a classy, ceremonious thing to do. The Braves and MLB did it last year for Chipper Jones; look at this gorgeous baseball that I snagged on 9/29/12 at Turner Field. Why why why why WHY were the Mariano Rivera balls NOT used at Yankee Stadium? It doesn’t make any sense. If anything, the Yankees lost money by not using them. Think about how much they’d be selling for right now.

Man.

I took one final photo of the field because Evan Longoria and James Loney were being interviewed:

55_evan_longoria_and_james_loney_interviewed

Then I turned around and got a shot of my friend Chris in the normal-people seats:

56_chris_hernandez_in_regular_seats

Ben gave me a ride . . .

57_ben_weil_and_his_car

. . . back to Manhattan, and when I finally made it home, I photographed my baseballs and all the candy I’d gotten. First, here are the dozen balls that I kept:

58_the_twelve_balls_i_kept_09_25_13

In the photo above, my four gamers are on the bottom row; the Robinson Cano toss-up is on the lower right.

That’s when I noticed that one of the BP balls has a wonky practice stamp:

59_wonky_practice_stamp

And finally, here’s the candy:

60_the_candy_i_borrowed

Halloween is starting early this year . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 16 baseballs at this game

• 670 balls in 87 games this season = 7.70 balls per game.

• 534 balls in 81 lifetime games at the new Yankee Stadium = 6.59 balls per game.

• 959 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 236 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 30 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, the Oakland Coliseum, and Coors Field.

• 7,129 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I’ve snagged 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.)

• 39 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.48 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $55.68 raised at this game

• $2,331.60 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $15,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $38,837.60 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/24/13 at Yankee Stadium

I need to start by saying that I don’t like Bobblehead Dolls — no disrespect to everyone who does, but for me, personally, they don’t mean anything. I avoid Bobblehead giveaways (and other popular promotions) because things tend to be insane, and I have more fun when there are fewer fans. That said, the Yankees were going to be giving away Mariano Rivera Bobbleheads at this game to the first 18,000 fans — a total nightmare as far as I was concerned — but I showed up for two reasons. I’ll explain everything in a bit, but first, here are some photos of the MASSIVE crowd outside the stadium. This was the scene near Gate 6:

1_crowd_outside_stadium_for_mariano_rivera_bobbleheads

As you can see below, the line wrapped around the corner and down the street under the elevated subway tracks:

2_crowd_outside_stadium_for_mariano_rivera_bobbleheads

Here’s another look at the crowd outside Gate 6:

3_crowd_outside_stadium_for_mariano_rivera_bobbleheads

Keep in mind that there are four gates at Yankee Stadium:

Gate 2 = left field
Gate 4 = home plate
Gate 6 = right field
Gate 8 = bleachers/center field

In other words, the photos above only show one-quarter of the mayhem.

Want to see what it looked like outside Gate 4? Yes, of course you do, and I hope you appreciate my photographic effort because in order to get there, I had to work my way through this crowd:

4_crowd_outside_stadium_for_mariano_rivera_bobbleheads

I should mention that I took these photos at around 4:45pm — a mere 15 minutes before the stadium was going to open — but I’d arrived before 3pm. My friend Tak was holding my spot (and watching my backpack) near the front of the line outside Gate 2 so that I could wander with my camera.

Anyway, at the Babe Ruth Plaza, which is located at the midpoint between Gate 6 and Gate 4, there was actually a civilized line of fans:

5_crowd_outside_stadium_for_mariano_rivera_bobbleheads

But get this — there was another line running parallel to it (and in the opposite direction) along the outer edge of the property:

6_crowd_outside_stadium_for_mariano_rivera_bobbleheads

There was no security. There were no barricades. I had no idea where the lines started or ended or which gate they were even heading for.

Total chaos.

This was the scene outside Gate 4 . . .

7_crowd_outside_stadium_for_mariano_rivera_bobbleheads

. . . and of course there was a very long line outside Gate 2 — so long that I couldn’t see the gate from the end of it:

8_crowd_outside_stadium_for_mariano_rivera_bobbleheads

I wish I’d taken a few pics of what happened next, but (a) there wasn’t actually much to photograph and (b) I got caught up in the stress of it all. It was so messed up that I couldn’t believe it at the time and I’m shaking my head now while writing this: when the stadium was supposed to open at 5pm, the Bobbleheads hadn’t yet arrived! So guess what happened? The stadium DIDN’T open. And there was no telling when it would.

I was tempted to leave. I swear, I was THIS close to stepping out of line and marching back to the subway, but I decided to stay, at least for a little while, for two aforementioned reasons. First, my friend Ben Weil had bought me a ticket so that I could get the Bobblehead for him, and second, I’d heard that there were going to be commemorative balls used during the game with a Mariano Rivera logo. The free ticket was nice, but the chance to snag one of those balls was the clincher. That’s why I was willing to endure this madness.

At around 5:10pm, I had a brilliant idea and waved over a security guard to pass it along: let people in who don’t care about the Bobbleheads, and everyone else can wait outside until they arrive. Haha, yes! I’d have to go on eBay later and buy Ben a Bobblehead, but it’d be worth it to pretty much have the stadium to myself during BP, which I was now missing. The security guard called a supervisor over, and the supervisor said no. Shocker.

Long story short: the gates finally opened at around 5:35pm, and security handed out vouchers for the Bobbleheads, so in addition to having waited outside the stadium for TWO hours, I was gonna have to wait in another effin’ line to actually get the damn thing.

I was *very* nervous about getting shut out. Between the size of the crowd and missing a huge chunk of BP, this was going to be one of my toughest challenges. I ran into the left-field seats, saw that several lefties on the Rays were taking cuts, and hauled ass to the right-field side. Ten minutes later, I was holding these:

9_first_two_baseballs_09_24_13

They were home runs hit by the same guy (not sure who), and I caught them both on the fly. For the first one, I drifted 10 feet to my left and made a careful two-handed catch. For the second, I hurried 30 feet to my right, climbed back over a row of seats, drifted a few more feet, and reached high over my head for a back-handed grab. That one felt GOOD.

When there was a quick break in the action, I photographed my voucher . . .

10_bobblehead_voucher

. . . and headed back to left field:

11_zack_with_ball7109

Did you notice me in the photo above? (Photo credit: Andy Bingham.) I’m standing just to the right of the TV camera in the front row, and as you can see, I’m holding a ball. It was thrown to me by Fausberto.

That was it for BP. Normally I’d complain about “only” snagging three balls, but given the circumstances, I was thrilled. Here I am holding the baseballs next to young man named Josh:

12_josh_and_zack_09_24_13

Josh recognized me from this blog and asked to take a photo (which he later sent to me), and tweeted about it.

I also met a guy named Sean who tweeted about our encounter.

Nice people.

A little while later, I got a ball tossed from the bullpen by Rays bullpen catcher Scott Cursi. Then, just before game time, I headed up to the bleacher terrace and got my fifth ball of the day from Mike Harkey. He usually throws a bunch of balls into the crowd after the starting pitcher is done warming up. Here he is tossing the final ball into the bleachers:

13_mike_harkey_tossing_balls_09_24_13

That was the 18th ball that Harkey has ever thrown to me, tying Livan Hernandez for the most. (Heath Bell is next with 17. I gotta let him know he’s slacking.)

I was eager to hurry back downstairs when a man standing next to me recognized me and asked me to sign a ball. His name is Dave. Here he is with it . . .

14_dave_with_signed_ball_09_24_13

. . . and for the record, yes, he asked me to write that.

On my way through the center field concourse, I saw a guy in handcuffs being escorted by a police officer:

15_handcuffed_fan_09_24_13

Sorry for the crappy quality of that photo. It’s actually a zoomed-in screen shot from a video, but anyway, I wonder what that guy did to end up cuffed. Any guesses? I’m thinking he either used the glove trick or put his feet on a cup holder.

I barely made it back to the Rays’ bullpen in time to see Matt Moore finishing his warm-ups:

16_matt_moore_warming_up_09_24_13

He ended up tossing me the ball — my sixth of the day — and I handed it to the nearest kid.

Now, as for those commemorative balls . . .

Do you remember when I flew to Atlanta on September 29, 2012 *just* for the purpose of snagging a Chipper Jones ball? I had found out about those balls from a high-ranking employee at Major League Baseball. He had recently told me about the Mariano Rivera commemorative balls. More specifically, he said they were going to be used during the final four games of the season at Yankee Stadium. He had told me about other balls in the past, and he was always right. He’s the most reliable source I could possibly ask for, so you can imagine how stunned and disappointed I was to snag THIS ball after the 3rd inning:

17_ball7113_not_commemorative

It was a 3rd-out ball tossed by Ben Zobrist. My first thought was . . . did he somehow pull a switcheroo and throw me the infield warm-up ball instead? The answer is no. Zobrist is a 2nd baseman, so there’s no way that he would’ve handled an extra ball on his way back to the dugout. The only player who ever does that is the 1st baseman. I had seen Zobrist make the play and jog in. I kept my eye on him the whole way, and THAT was the ball. Ugh!! I heard from a confused friend later on who also snagged a gamer — another regular ball.

WTF?!

I immediately emailed my guy at MLB, told him about the regular ball I’d just snagged, and asked if the plan to use the commemorative Mariano balls at the final four home games had changed.

He wrote back several innings later and said that the balls *were* supposed to be used.

I had NO idea what to think at that point, and I was actually quite upset. Remember the guy who’d bought me tickets two months earlier for the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game in exchange for half the balls I snagged? Well, based on the info about the Mariano balls that I’d gotten from MLB, he had already bought me a Legends ticket for the following game so that I could attempt to snag two of them — one for him and one for me — and now there was a chance that his money was going to be wasted.

I needed to take a walk, and the timing was actually good. The Yankees had made an announcement that fans could redeem their vouchers and claim their Bobbleheads “near the Turkey Hill Ice Cream stand at Gate 2″ from the 3rd inning until half an hour after the game. Well, when I headed up the steps into the concourse, here’s what I saw:

18_midgame_crowd_for_mariano_rivera_bobbleheads

The line (if you want to call it that) extended all the way from the 3rd-base side . . .

19_midgame_crowd_for_mariano_rivera_bobbleheads

. . . into the center-field concourse. Two words: SCREW THAT. I went back to my seat and watched the game (which the Rays ended up winning, 7-0, pretty much demolishing the Yankees’ chances of reaching the postseason). At one point in the later innings, two fans returned to their seats nearby with Bobbleheads.

“Excuse me,” I said, “how long did you guys have to wait in line to get those?”

“An hour and a half,” they said.

It would’ve been nice to have the stinkin’ Bobblehead in my possession by the time the game ended, but whatever. I figured I’d get one eventually since I *did* have a voucher. I mean, it wouldn’t’ve surprised me if the Yankees ended up running out, but that wasn’t my problem. I had talked to Ben during the game, and he told me it was fine to wait until it was over to go get it. I was hoping that the line would be shorter after the game, but no, it was even longer. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows it snaking through the center-field concourse:

20_postgame_line_for_mariano_rivera_bobbleheads

I’d post the video if not for all the four-letter words that I was mumbling under my breath.

The line wrapped three-quarters of the way around the 100 Level concourse — from the 3rd-base side around the left-field foul pole, into the center-field concourse, and into foul territory along the right-field foul line. I got on line at 10:52pm. Here’s what it looked like ten minutes later:

21_postgame_line_for_mariano_rivera_bobbleheads

By the way, I use the phrase “on line” when I’m the last person ON the line. I don’t feel that I’m “in” in the line unless I’m actually surrounded by people on both ends. Got it?

As the line crept along and moved into the left-field corner . . .

22_view_while_waiting_for_a_bobblehead

. . . I had a few thoughts:

1) What if I’m still in line after half an hour? Are the Yankees going to stop handing out Bobbleheads? If they do, there’s going to be a riot.

2) Who paid for all the cops to work overtime — the Yankees or taxpayers?

3) Why the hell weren’t these Bobbleheads shipped to the stadium earlier, like, oh, you know, a MONTH earlier? Obviously, the Yankees had been planning this for a while. Why wait until the last second when something could (and did) go wrong and screw everything up?

Here’s a photo of the line behind me:

23_the_bobblehead_line_behind_me

Half an hour came and went, but the line was still moving.

Eventually, after 35 minutes, I entered the home stretch:

24_bobblehead_home_stretch

Here’s how I was feeling at the very end:

25_zack_with_bobblehead

Thanks for the ticket, Benjamin. I hope you enjoy playing with your little dolly-poo.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

26_the_six_balls_i_kept_09_24_13• 7 baseballs at this game (six pictured here because I gave one away)

• 654 balls in 86 games this season = 7.60 balls per game.

• 518 balls in 80 lifetime games at the new Yankee Stadium = 6.48 balls per game.

• 958 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 30 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, the Oakland Coliseum, and Coors Field.

• 7,113 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I’ve snagged 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.)

• 39 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.48 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $24.36 raised at this game

• $2,275.92 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $15,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $38,781.92 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Can’t we all just get along?

Several days ago, a well-known ballhawk from Ohio named Rocco Sinisi wrote a VERY opinionated column on MyGameBalls.com about the “Ballhawk of the Year” Award, and within a matter of hours the blogosphere was abuzz. Quite simply, Rocco’s pissed that the same person — who now seems to have an unfair advantage — keeps winning it every year. Here’s how his column begins:

“Well, in a summer full of scam artists we have another dilemma that we might have to come to grips with. We may have to come to grips with the fact that we might have a professional ballhawk in our midst. Why is this a problem? Because the rest of us amateur ballhawks cannot compete with a guy who is being sent to ballparks to ballhawk on someone else’s dime.”

It’s no secret that the “professional” he’s talking about is me, so I thought I’d take a moment to respond . . .

For starters, I consider Rocco a friend. We’ve crossed paths several times at Great American Ball Park, and he’s always been cool. I didn’t take his column personally, and I’m not offended. If anything, I took it as a compliment because, evidently, I’ve set the bar so high that there’s now a discussion about leveling the playing field. That’s flattering, but it also sucks because I feel like I’m responsible for ruining other people’s fun.

Am I a professional ballhawk? I’m not sure. I’ve gotten paid to write about it, and I sometimes earn money by taking people to games. On two separate occasions, I received an honorarium for being interviewed about it on TV, and this season I was sponsored by a sunflower seed company. I’d say I’m semi-professional because (contrary to popular belief) I don’t make a full-time living doing this. Does being a semi-pro disqualify me from “competing” with my fellow ballhawks? Does it cheapen my ballhawking accomplishments or make them even more impressive? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I’ll let other people decide, if they even feel like thinking about it at all.

When I first really started getting into this as a 14-year-old in the spring of 1992, I had no intention of writing books or being on TV or getting any attention from it. I was just doing it because it was challenging and fun, and despite all the hoopla surrounding my collection nowadays, that’s still how I feel. If I somehow knew that I’d never be interviewed again, that wouldn’t affect the number of games I’d attend. I’d still be out there doing my thing, and in fact I’d be somewhat relieved. At times, the attention is overwhelming. I often long for the days when I could waltz into a stadium in another city without being recognized.

I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t care so much about the accolades and attention. There was a time when every interview stroked my ego; now I mainly do them for three reasons: they help raise awareness and money for Pitch In For Baseball, they help sell copies of my books, and they (sometimes) give me a chance to show the outside world that ballhawking is a good thing. Ballhawking has gotten some bad press in recent years, so I’m always glad when it gets portrayed in a positive light. But beyond that? I don’t really give a damn about what it means for me, personally. I’d rather sleep late than rush off to a TV studio at 5:40am to answer the same stupid questions.

Along those lines, I don’t care THAT much about the “Ballhawk of the Year” Award. I’ve always been honored to win it, but it never motivated me, and I think it’s a real shame that it’s now dividing the ballhawking community. I love the website MyGameBalls.com because it has brought so many people together. This really IS a community. We should be sticking together and rooting for each other, not having petty quarrels over who’s the most popular and who deserves to win an arbitrary award. As a ballhawk, my enemies are unreasonable security guards and judgmental idiots who tell me I need to get a life. My enemies shouldn’t be other ballhawks, but suddenly I’m feeling more tension among my peers.

If the tension continues, it will destroy the hobby as we know it. If we can’t get along amongst ourselves, how do you think the public and the media will react? I’ve seen two other similar communities get torn apart because of people who had their own selfish agendas. I’m talking about (a) competitive Scrabble and (b) competitive classic arcade video games. I don’t want to see the same thing happen in the ballhawking world.

In terms of the actual “Ballhawk of the Year” Award, Rocco made lots of interesting suggestions in his column, but I don’t think he’s found the perfect solution. To me, it seems that having a “Hall of Fame” or “Ace” category would complicate things. Giving elite ballhawks gold backgrounds on their MyGameBalls.com profiles seems gimmicky. Handing out extra awards to various groups determined by age, gender, and ballhawking experience seems like a hassle that would ultimately cheapen things. The more awards that are given out, the less meaningful they become. I’d rather finish in 3rd place for THE main award than win something that half a dozen people are also going to win. But maybe that’s just me. If everyone wants more awards, then let’s do it.

Rocco doesn’t want to have to compete with someone like me who gets sent to baseball games for free. I understand where he’s coming from, but would it be fair, then, for me not to want to have to compete with someone like him who gets to enter his home ballpark two hours and 40 minutes early every day? Do you think I like having my home run totals compared to the ballhawks in Baltimore who have endless room to run in that teeny ballpark? I hardly ever find Easter eggs in New York, and using the glove trick is strictly forbidden at both Citi Field and Yankee Stadium — but life goes on. We’re not just competing with each other. We’re competing against the odds and doing this because it’s fun . . . right?

It’s easy for me to say that I don’t need any more attention; I’ve gotten an awful lot of it over the years — way more that I’ve probably deserved — and inevitably I’ll receive more. But believe me, I know how much fun it is to be on TV or appear in a newspaper or magazine. Winning an award every now and then is fun too. Who doesn’t like being recognized for being good at something, if not The Best? If that’s your motivation, fine. I have no problem with that. We all have our own wacky issues and reasons for doing what we do, so let’s embrace it.

It seems to me that the best solution for dealing with the award is to just let things play out naturally. If enough people are pissed that I’ve won it several times, then they can vote for someone else. Erik Jabs has snagged more baseballs than me this season. Shawn Bosman, Alex Kopp, and Tim Anderson have all gotten more game home runs. There are some really talented guys out there. Vote for them if you think they deserve it.

Most importantly, be chill and have fun, and if you see a little kid with an empty glove, think about handing him (or her) a baseball. We have tens of thousands of balls among us. Some people have zero. As bad as things might seem when you barely miss a gamer, remember how lucky we really are.

9/18/13 at Coors Field

Remember the article I wrote in 2008 about Barry Bonds’ final home run ball? Remember the guy named Robert Harmon who nearly snagged it? Well, Robert and I have become good friends, and before this game at Coors Field, he invited me to his house for lunch. Here he is holding up a big bite of steak:

1_lunch_with_robert_harmon

In case you’re wondering, I had turkey cheeseburgers (which Robert cooked to perfection), and yes, that’s my laptop on the right. That’s how committed I am to writing this blog — I was stressing about it while I should’ve been enjoying a leisurely meal — and why I’m constantly tempted to give it up.

After we ate, Robert gave me a tour of his place. This was my favorite part . . .

2_robert_downstairs_baseball_memorabilia

. . . and this was my favorite ball:

3_baseball_with_misstamped_logo

I’ve seen lots of mis-stamped balls over the years, but this one (with the sides missing) was a first.

Did you notice how bright and sunny it was in the photo of Robert eating lunch? Look how un-bright and un-sunny it was by the time we got to Coors Field at 3:55pm:

4_outside_coors_field_09_18_13

Fifteen minutes before the gates opened, it was raining in the distance:

5_rain_in_the_distance_09_18_13

Not only did I assume there wouldn’t be batting practice, but I was cringing at the thought of getting soaked while waiting to enter.

Guess what happened next?

The sky brightened, and the stadium opened, and when I ran inside, I was thrilled to see that there *was* BP! Unfortunately, though, the Rockies didn’t hit, and I had several run-ins with stadium security, and it took me 48 minutes to snag my first ball. Can you believe that? Forty-eight effin’ minutes! I won’t bore you with excuses about all the balls I didn’t snag, nor will I dignify the misguided employees by complaining about their offenses. Instead I’ll just show you where I was when I got my first ball:

6_edward_mujica_after_ball7101

See those three players standing together? One of them was Edward Mujica. He threw it to me from nearly 100 feet away.

My second ball of the day was cheap. I won’t deny it. Jake Westbrook tossed it to a little kid behind me, who dropped it. I picked it up and handed it to him.

6b_joe_kelly_2013My third ball should’ve been a ground-rule double, but I completely tanked it. (It had a lot of topspin, okay?!) I felt really stupid and embarrassed about dropping it, but I channeled those toxic emotions and used them to get another chance. Basically, when Joe Kelly wandered over to retrieve a different ball, I asked him to help me erase the humiliation of my error.

“I am totally ashamed,” I told him.

“That was bad,” he said, shaking his head.

“It was REALLY bad,” I replied, “but let me show you that I *can* catch. I need to redeem myself, Joe. Please don’t let me go on feeling this way.”

“Alright,” he said, moving several feet back toward the edge of the outfield grass, “let’s see if you can catch this one.” Then he spiked the ball onto the warning track, causing it to bounce up toward me, and yes, I caught it.

I thanked him, and he congratulated me sarcastically, and you know what? That was fine. I deserved whatever abuse he felt like giving me.

Here’s the mark that the spiked ball created on the warning track:

7_mark_on_warning_track_from_ball7103

That was it for BP. The Cardinals finished hitting 70 minutes before game time, and I spent the next hour stressing out. That’s because I’d begun the day with a lifetime total of 96 balls at Coors Field; this was going to be my last game here until who-knows-when, and I really wanted to reach triple digits. I figured I’d have six or eight or maybe even ten balls by the end of BP, but somehow I only managed to snag three.

Finally, the Cardinals came out for pre-game throwing:

9_cardinals_pregame_throwing_09_18_13

Despite the fact that there were seven players in shallow left field, only one ball got used, and Daniel Descalso ended up tossing it to a little kid on my right.

I decided to work the dugouts in the 1st inning on my way out to left field. If I got a 3rd-out ball, great, and if not . . . well, I wasn’t going to stay in foul territory all night. Maybe I’d go for an umpire ball in the 9th inning, and that would be the end of it.

Anyway, this was my view in the top of the 1st . . .

10_top_of_the_1st_inning_09_18_13

. . . and here’s where I sat in the bottom of the inning:

11_bottom_of_the_1st_inning_09_18_13

As planned, I headed toward left field in the top of the 2nd. The first people I saw when I entered the section were my good friends Danny and Nettie. Here they are — do they look familiar?

12_danny_with_nettie_and_my_two_game_used_baseballs

You may recall that I stayed with them the last few times I visited Coors Field. Remember my blog entry from 2008 about Danny’s incredible baseball collection? Well, I’m glad to say that the two balls pictured above are not part of it. That’s right. Those were MY baseballs that he was holding for the photo. I snagged them both in the 1st inning — a 3rd-out ball from Todd Helton in the middle of the 1st and another one three outs later from Matt Adams on the 3rd-base side. BOOYA!!!

(After getting the ball from Adams, I gave one of my BP balls to a little girl who may have been too young to fully appreciate it. Her father, however, was delighted and shouted “Thanks!” at me as I headed up the stairs. I hadn’t robbed her of the ball, but she was near me when I got it, so I thought it’d be nice to hook her up.)

The ball from Helton was my 100th lifetime at Coors Field — mission accomplished. Coors is the 12th stadium at which I’ve reached triple digits. Here’s the complete list:

1) Shea Stadium — 2,173 balls
2) Citi Field — 737 balls
3) Old/Better Yankee Stadium — 560 balls
4) Camden Yards — 525 balls
5) Current/Awful Yankee Stadium — 511 balls
6) Citizens Bank Park — 292 balls
7) Nationals Park — 275 balls
8) Turner Field — 217 balls
9) Kauffman Stadium — 116 balls
10) PETCO Park — 110 balls
11) Rangers Ballpark — 109 balls
12) Coors Field — 101 balls (and counting)

In the top of the 3rd inning, I headed over here . . .

13_view_from_center_field_09_18_13

. . . to look for a Daniel Descalso ground-rule double that had bounced into the trees. I did end up spotting the ball, but never made an attempt to snag it. I’m not sure how I would’ve done so — perhaps lingering in the stadium after the final out and asking a groundskeeper to retrieve it?

For most of the game, I hung out in left field and had endless room to run. This was the view to my left . . .

14_view_to_my_left_09_18_13

. . . and to my right:

15_view_to_my_right_09_18_13

Oh.
My.
God.

It was home run heaven except for one trivial detail: NO ONE HIT A HOME RUN. In the three games that I attended at Coors Field, there was a grand total of *one* homer, and it landed in the Rockies’ bullpen.

Here I am with a guy (and his daughter) who knows a thing or two about catching homers:

16_zack_with_emily_and_dan_sauvageau

In the photo above, that’s Dan and Emily Sauvageau. He has snagged 87 home runs — all at Coors Field — and she has attended nearly 500 games with him. As I’ve mentioned in each of my last two entries, I featured him in The Baseball (see pages 287-288) as one of the Top Ten Ballhawks of All Time.

In the bottom of the 9th inning, with the Cardinals clinging to a 4-3 lead, I went here for an umpire ball . . .

17_view_behind_home_plate_09_18_13

. . . and nearly ended up with a whole lot of regret. In the photo above, did you notice that the bases were loaded? And that Todd Helton was at bat? If he had hit a walk-off grand slam to my seat, I might have harmed myself in some way, so it’s a good thing that he went down swinging to end the game. Less than a minute later, thanks to home plate umpire Kerwin Danley, I was holding this:

18_ball7106_from_kerwin_danley

Gorgeous.
Mud-rubbed.
Flawless.

On my way out, Robert photographed me with my three commemorative balls . . .

19_zack_with_three_commemorative_balls_09_18_13

. . . and gave me a ride back to my hotel:

20_robert_dropping_me_off_at_my_hotel

Goodbye, Coors Field. It might be a while ’til I return . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

21_the_four_balls_i_kept_09_18_13• 6 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave two away)

• 647 balls in 85 games this season = 7.61 balls per game.

• 102 balls in 18 lifetime games at Coors Field = 5.67 balls per game.

• 12 different stadiums with 100 or more balls

• 957 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 30 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, the Oakland Coliseum, and Coors Field.

• 7,106 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I’ve snagged 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.)

• 39 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.48 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $20.88 raised at this game

• $2,251.56 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $15,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $38,757.56 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/17/13 at Coors Field

The highlight of my day was getting to visit the BIGS Sunflower Seeds headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. The 45-minute drive from Denver, which I made with Neal Stewart, was scenic at times . . .

1_highway_and_mountains

. . . and alarming at others:

2_overturned_vehicle

Given the devastating flooding that had occurred in Boulder several days earlier, I was expecting to see the worst, but the area we drove through didn’t seem to have been hit THAT hard. We passed a sign that warned of a rock slide . . .

3_road_closed_ahead_rock_slide

. . . but we didn’t actually see it because the road was blocked by police cars and other official vehicles:

4_road_blocked_in_boulder_colorado

The worst damage I saw was on this street in downtown Boulder . . .

5_different_road_damaged_by_flood

. . . which appeared to have caved in near the curb and/or eroded. Several minutes later, when my camera was unfortunately tucked away in my backpack, I saw a line of 20 or so cars on the side of the road that were completely covered with mud — scary stuff.

Thankfully the BIGS headquarters didn’t suffer any damage, though the office had been closed for several days. This was Neal’s first time there since Wednesday of the previous week, and I took a photo of him as he headed inside:

6_thanasi_foods_front_door

Did you notice what he was cradling with his left arm? It’s hard to see in the photo above, but that’s a plastic shopping bag with all 30 game-used baseballs — one from each major league stadium that I have personally snagged this season. (In case you missed it, here’s a photo of those balls from my previous entry.)

Here’s what it looked like just inside the front door:

7_just_inside_the_front_door

In the photo above, the guy sitting with the laptop is named Josh Pearson. He’s the Vice President of Operations for Thanasi Foods – the company that owns BIGS – and at that moment, he was reconfiguring something on the TV. Here’s a closer look at it when he finished:

8_big_screen_with_twitter_feed

As you can see, the screen was displaying the BIGS Twitter feed along with other social media stuff.

In general, one of my all-time favorite activities is watching other people work while I sit around doing nothing. Come to think of it, that’s not much of an “activity,” and I suppose I sound like somewhat of a jerk in saying that, but whatever. It’s true. And I got to do it for several hours here in Boulder. When Neal and a half-dozen of his colleagues were in a marketing meeting, I poked my head in and took a photo of them . . .

9_meeting_in_conference_room

. . . and kept wandering around the office. Ha-HAAAAA!!! Awesome.

After reading the previous day’s boxscores (and after the meeting was done), I passed through this area of cubicles . . .

10_thanasi_foods_cubicles

. . . on my way to the adjacent warehouse. Justin Havlick, the company’s founder and president, told me I could take all the photos and videos I wanted, but requested that I only share this one of the interior:

11_boxes_in_thanasi_warehouse

That’s because of the recent flooding. Like I said before, there was no damage — but lots of stuff had been moved around, so the warehouse was somewhat cluttered.

Despite the fact that the weather had been perfect for a couple of days, there was still quite a bit of water behind the warehouse:

12_flood_water_behind_warehouse

For lunch, Neal drove us to Whole Foods where we picked up a few to-go items. Here he is back at the BIGS headquarters, eating in his office:

13_neal_eating_lunch_in_his_office

Do you remember the guy from BIGS named Logan Soraci who attended the helicopter stunt two months ago in Lowell, Massachusetts? Well, he was here at the office in Boulder, and I took a photo of him opening a very important package:

14_logan_and_jenny_opening_package

(The woman pictured above is named Jenny. She’s the one who picked me up at the airport the day before.)

Wanna see what was in that long, flat box? Check it out:

15_erik_josh_zack_justin_with_big_check

That’s right — an oversized check for $15,000 from the generous folks at BIGS to the non-profit charity Pitch In For Baseball. (As you probably know by now, BIGS sent me to all 30 major league stadiums this season and promised to donate $500 for each one at which I snagged a game-used ball. I was 29-for-29 when I arrived in Denver, so when I got my hands on that Todd Helton foul ball on 9/16/13 at Coors Field, it guaranteed the largest possible donation.) In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at Erik Havlick (Thanasi’s Vice President of Sales), Josh Pearson, me, and Justin Havlick. We posed for lots of photos, and eventually I decided to change things up:

16_erik_josh_zack_justin_with_big_check

Here’s one final shot of me before Neal drove us back to Denver:

17_zack_standing_around

Our destination was Coors Field, and look what he brought:

18_neal_with_big_check_outside_coors_field

We wanted to get a few more photos with the big check, but this time, Neal had arranged for someone from Pitch In For Baseball to be there . . . sort of. Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain:

19_zack_brett_cade_ansley_with_big_check

Pitch In For Baseball is located in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, so Citizens Bank Park was supposed to be my final stadium. If things had worked out that way, several folks from the charity would’ve been there, but because I screwed it all up by catching a John Mayberry homer in Philly on August 3rd, Coors Field became the final destination. Therefore, rather than spending a whole lot of money on flights and hotels to travel to Denver, Pitch In For Baseball sent a local “representative.” The man in the photo above is named Brett — and those are his kids Cade (age 4) and Ansley (age 1). Brett’s sister Meredith works for Pitch In For Baseball. That’s the connection — kinda random, but hey, we did what we could while being financially responsible.

Here’s another photo that we took outside the stadium:

20_zack_brett_cade_ansley_with_big_check

By that point, it was a little after 4pm so I headed over to Gate E. Unfortunately there were two guys already on line, and I ended up missing out on a ball as a result. Basically, it took about ten seconds for them to scan their tickets and pass through the turnstiles, and by the time I ran inside, a fan who had entered from another spot barely beat me out for a home run ball that had *just* landed in the bleachers. Ugh.

The Rockies were only on the field for a few minutes, and I didn’t get any baseballs from them. When the Cardinals came out started throwing, I talked John Axford into tossing me a ball in left field. Then, when the batters started taking their cuts, I headed to left-center . . .

21_cardinals_taking_bp_09_17_13

. . . and eventually caught a home run on the fly. I’m not sure who hit, but I can tell you that I had to jump for it, and I robbed my buddy Jameson Sutton in the process. That said, don’t feel bad for him. He’s there every day, he’s robbed me in the past, and he snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball, which he sold at auction for $376,612.

When the rest of the stadium opened at 5pm, I headed to right field . . .

22_view_from_right_field_09_17_13

. . . and met up with this guy:

23_pat_graham_hanging_out_with_me

That’s an Associated Press writer named Pat Graham, who’s based in Denver but sometimes covers sports all over the world. He and I met in 2008 at the press conference when Jameson announced that he was going to sell the ball; Pat wrote this feature story about me later that summer.

Anyway, I snagged two baseballs during the final 40 minutes of BP, and I got them both along the right field foul line. The first was sitting on the warning track, five feet out from the low wall, so I used my “half-glove trick” to knock it closer and handed it to a little kid. (That’s what I call it when I use the string but not the rubber band or Sharpie.) The second ball was tossed by Dennis Schutzenhofer, the team’s batting practice pitcher, but there was more to it. Several minutes earlier, a right-handed batter had sliced a one-hopper into the seats. I should’ve had it — there was hardly anyone else near me — but the ball took THE unluckiest series of ricochets ever known to humankind. Schutzenhofer must’ve seen it play out from afar (along with my less-than-pleased reaction) because he walked over and made a comment about my unbelievably bad luck and hooked me up as a result.

Halfway through the Cardinals’ portion of BP, I was approached by a man named Eric who’d brought his copies of my last two books — Watching Baseball Smarter and The Baseball. He asked me to sign them, and I kept meaning to, but there was never a break in the (potential) action, so he told me where he was gonna be, and I promised I’d find him. Forty-five minutes later, we got a photo together . . .

24_zack_and_eric_with_books

. . . and I signed the books.

I headed back out to right field when Wilin Rosario began doing some catching drills in the bullpen with coach Jerry Weinstein. This was my view:

25_wilin_rosario_practicing_blocking_balls_in_the_dirt

Twenty-four hours earlier, Weinstein had tossed me a ball under identical circumstances, so I was concerned that he’d remember me. But he didn’t. And I ended up getting another one from him. That was my fifth of the day and No. 7,099 lifetime.

Just before the national anthem, I moved behind the Cardinals’ bullpen:

26_view_behind_cardinals_bullpen_before_national_anthem

In the previous photo, did you notice the ball on the ground behind the benches? Well, *I* noticed that it was commemorative, so I timed my request just right in order to get bullpen catcher Jamie Pogue to throw it to me. (Bullpen coach Blaise Ilsley was also getting ready to toss a ball into the crowd, but I didn’t want it.) Here it is:

27_ball7100_from_bullpen_catcher_jamie_pogue

Nice!

This was my view for most of the game . . .

28_view_during_game_09_17_13

. . . and in the top of the 3rd inning, I came VERY close to catching a ball. Yadier Molina smoked a deep line drive that appeared to be heading right at me. At the last second, though, it sank a few feet and hooked slightly to the side and ended up slamming off the top of the wall for a double. Because I was so close to the wall, I threw my arms up in the air so that stadium security wouldn’t falsely accuse me of interfering (which once happened to me at the old Yankee Stadium). Take a look at the following screen shot:

29_zack_arms_up_on_yadier_molina_double

Gah!! So close!!

Earlier in the day, with permission from everyone at the BIGS headquarters, I grabbed a bunch of seeds to hand out to my friends at the game — and I’m not talking about the small sample packs. I took the 5.35-ounce bags. Here’s my friend Dan Sauvageau and his daughter Emily with some “original” seeds:

30_emily_and_dan_sauvageau_with_bigs_seeds

Dan has snagged 87 game home runs, and as I mentioned in my last entry, he’s featured in The Baseball (see pages 287-288) as one of the Top Ten Ballhawks of All Time.

Here’s my friend Robert Harmon with a bag of Old Bay seeds:

31_robert_harmon_with_bigs_seeds

Here’s Jameson (the guy who snagged Bonds’ final home run) with some original seeds . . .

32_jameson_sutton_with_bigs_seeds

. . . and here’s my friend “the Rockpile Ranter” with a bag of bacon seeds:

33_don_chilcote_with_bigs_seeds

He had requested pickle, and I failed to deliver, but hey, free seeds are free seeds.

Late in the game, I met a fan named Chris who had brought two copies of my books for me to sign:

34_zack_and_chris_with_books

He also brought one of the coolest baseballs ever, just so I could experience it. I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like this before:

35_19th_century_seamless_ball

I forget exactly what Chris called it — something like “a seamless reverse-stitched ball.” I should’ve taken notes or filmed a video of him describing it, but I think he said it’s from 1899. It’s so rare that (a) I never knew that such a thing existed and (b) none of the baseball memorabilia experts who run auctions featuring items from the 19th century have any idea how much it could/should sell for.

Late in the game, I got a photo with ten-year-old Emily and her five-year-old brother Ryan:

36_zack_with_ryan_and_emily_sauvageau

In the 9th inning, I headed here . . .

37_view_behind_home_plate_09_17_13

. . . to try to get an umpire ball, but after the final out, Lance Barksdale put his head down and marched quickly through the tunnel and didn’t give anything away. Lame.

Final score: Cardinals 11, Rockies 4.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

38_the_five_balls_i_kept_09_17_13• 6 baseballs at this game (five pictured here because I gave one away)

• 641 balls in 84 games this season = 7.63 balls per game.

• 96 balls in 17 lifetime games at Coors Field = 5.65 balls per game.

• 956 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 30 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, the Oakland Coliseum, and Coors Field.

• 7,100 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I’ve snagged 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.)

• 39 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.48 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $20.88 raised at this game

• $2,230.68 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $15,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $38,736.68 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/16/13 at Coors Field

Do you remember these two lovely ladies from the Sweets & Snacks Expo that I attended before the game on 5/22/13 at U.S. Cellular Field? One of them now works full-time at the BIGS Sunflower Seeds headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, so when I landed at the Denver airport, she picked me up and gave me a ride:

1_jenny_from_bigs_ride_from_airport

That’s Jenny in the photo above. She dropped me off at my hotel, and it wasn’t long before I ordered pizza:

2_pizza_in_hotel_room_09_16_13

That pizza had four toppings: pepperoni, sausage, tomatoes, and onions. Yum.

At around 3:30pm, Neal Stewart from BIGS gave me a ride to Coors Field. (He couldn’t stay for the game because he was scheduled to play in a tennis tournament.) I headed over to Gate E and was glad to see these folks:

3_emily_and_dan_sauvageau_outside_gate_e

That’s legendary ballhawk Dan Sauvageau and his ten-year-old daughter, Emily. If they look familiar, that’s because I’ve known them for years and included a photo of them on page 287 of The Baseball.

Shortly after the stadium opened at 4:30pm, I snagged my first ball of the day:

4_ball7088_first_of_the_day

It was a ground-rule double that I caught in left-center field. All I know is that it was hit by a right-handed batter on the Rockies.

Look who I ran into after that:

5_robert_harmon_with_carlos_gonzalez_glove

That’s another well-known ballhawk named Robert Harmon. You might remember him from this article I wrote five years ago about Barry Bonds’ final home run, and if you look closely at the double-photo above, you can see that he’s wearing Carlos Gonzalez’s glove.

When the Cardinals started hitting, I hung out in center field for a bit . . .

6_cardinals_starting_bp_09_16_13

. . . and when the rest of the stadium opened at 5pm, I headed to right field:

7_view_from_right_field_09_16_13

My second ball of the day was thrown by this guy:

8_sam_freeman_after_ball7089

At the time, I had no idea who he was. I assumed it was Adron Chambers, but found out later that it was Sam Freeman.

Ball No. 3 was a homer (no idea who hit it) that landed several rows in front of me and actually ricocheted back. How often does THAT happen?

My fourth and fifth balls were chucked randomly into the seats by the same player. Once again, at the time, I had no idea who he was, so I grabbed a photo of him . . .

9_carlos_martinez_afterball7091

. . . and found out later that it was Carlos Martinez.

After BP, I gave one of my baseballs to a kid and headed over here:

10_ball_trapped_between_rocks

The previous photo was taken from the concourse that runs behind/above the bullpens. Did you notice the ball sitting directly below me? You can see part of it poking out between the rocks. Unfortunately I failed to snag it with my glove trick, but it was fun trying and nice that stadium security didn’t notice or care.

I headed up to the second deck when two security guards started retrieving all the balls that had landed near the fountain in deep center field. See the guards in the following photo?

11_employees_retrieving_balls_from_fountain_area

They didn’t give away any of the balls. Instead they placed them in the Rockies’ bullpen so that coach Jerry Weinstein could use them for a catching drill with Wilin Rosario. Here’s a photo that I took just before they finished:

12_jerry_weinstein_before_ball7093

Moments later, Weinstein tossed a few balls into the crowd, and I got one. That was my sixth of the day, and in case you’re wondering, none of them were commemorative.

Just before the game, I headed back up to the second deck . . .

13_pitchers_warming_up_09_16_13

. . . but all I got was a nice view — in other words, no toss-ups.

Here’s where I sat for most of the game:

14_view_during_game_09_16_13

Normally I would’ve been hanging out in left field, but because of the charity/ballhawking challenge from the folks at BIGS Sunflower Seeds, I decided to stay closer to the action. As I’ve been mentioning since April, BIGS is donating $500 to Pitch In For Baseball for every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball. Entering this game, they had sent me to 29 stadiums, and I’d succeeded in getting a gamer at all of them.

The previous day, Todd Helton had announced his retirement, and before this game, he held a press conference to talk about it. Therefore, he received a standing ovation before stepping to the plate in the bottom of the 1st inning:

15_standing_ovation_for_todd_helton

In the top of the 2nd, I snuck down to the seats behind the 1st-base dugout . . .

16_view_from_1st_base_side_09_16_13

. . . but was prevented from crossing the yellow line on the staircase. See it there in the photo above? What a stupid rule. I can understand not allowing people to enter the first few rows while the game is in progress, but not even during inning breaks? C’mon.

After that, I gave up on the 1st-base side and stayed behind the Cardinals’ dugout. Inning after inning, for various reasons, I failed to snag a 3rd-out ball. After the bottom of the 6th, I was convinced that I wasn’t going to get one, and you know what? I was okay with that . . . kind of. Obviously I was excited about going 30-for-30, but I still had two more games here, so I figured it was going to happen.

When Todd Helton led off the bottom of the 7th with a foul ball into the seats on the 3rd-base side, I didn’t think much of it. But then he worked the count and hit another. And another. And yeah, another. One of the balls had landed two sections to my left, and another landed one section to my right. I remember thinking, “He’s due to hit one here,” and on the very next pitch, he hit a towering pop-up that appeared to be heading several rows behind me. I jumped out of my seat and turned around so that I was facing away from the field and began running up the steps — or rather, I *tried* to run up the steps. I got blocked by a beer vendor who was oblivious. Hoping to get him to step aside, I yelled, “Excuse me!! Excuse me!! Excuse me!!” but he didn’t budge, and I watched helplessly as the ball plummeted toward a man in an end-seat several rows back. But wait! The man didn’t have a glove, and the ball clanked off his bare hands, and by the time it plopped down onto the steps, I had wiggled past the vendor, and I was right there! I’m not sure if I pounced on it fast or if everyone else was just slow (probably a combination), but regardless, I reached down and grabbed the ball with my right hand, and just like that, I had completed the BIGS Baseball Adventure. I was 30-for-30. Somehow I had managed to snag a game-used ball from every major league stadium over the course of one season!

Here’s a photo of the ball:

17_ball7094_todd_helton_foul_ball

Beautiful, no?

As you can imagine, I was very very very VERY very excited. Has anyone else ever snagged a gamer from all 30 stadiums in one season? There’s no way to verify it, but I’m pretty sure the answer is no. At the start of this season, I believed that I would succeed, but I assumed that (a) I’d attend multiple games at each stadium and (b) there’d be some ohfers along the way. I figured I’d get gamers at 25 or maybe 28 of the stadiums the first time through and then have to revisit the places where I’d failed. But that didn’t happen. Sure, there was the White Sox game in May when I got blanked, but I went back the next day and got a Dustin Pedroia foul ball tossed up by Brian Butterfield. Of the 30 stadiums that I visited this season, there were 16 where I attended just one game, and yes, okay, there were lots of 3rd-out balls along the way, but I still think it’s pretty special.

Several minutes after snagging the Helton foul ball, a Cardinals fan in my row offered to take my picture with it. Here’s why:

18_zack_with_ball_7094

Yeah, I was decked out in Cardinals gear, and as a result, I was shown on the Cardinals’ telecast. Check it out — here’s a screen shot that shows me holding the ball and getting a pat on the back:

19_todd_helton_foul_ball_screen_shot

(Damn that vendor . . . doing his job . . . the chutzpah!)

Here’s a screen shot that shows the usher asking me if I was okay . . .

20_todd_helton_foul_ball_screen_shot

. . . and here I am giving *him* a pat on the back:

21_todd_helton_foul_ball_screen_shot

(How awkward would it be if fans congratulated each other like the players do, you know, with pats on the butt? Why do players do that anyway? There’s so much homophobia in the sports world — you’d think it would be the last thing that tough-guy athletes would do to each other.)

Finally, here’s a screen shot of me about to give a high-five . . .

22_todd_helton_foul_ball_screen_shot

. . . to the guy who ended up taking my picture with the ball.

If you look at the time stamps on the screen shots, you’ll see that I was shown for nine seconds. That’s a lot of airtime for a foul ball — way more than I’ve gotten for many of the home runs I’ve snagged.

In the 8th inning, I changed out of my Cardinals gear, headed to left field, and got someone to take another photo of me with the ball:

23_zack_with_ball_7094_in_left_field

I hung out in this tunnel in left-center . . .

24_view_from_tunnel_09_16_13

. . . and SO MUCH ROOM to run . . .

25_view_to_my_left_09_16_13

. . . but of course there was nothing to run for; the Rockies and Cardinals combined for a whopping total of zero home runs.

Knowing that I’d be giving the Helton foul ball to the folks at BIGS, I really wanted another gamer — or hell, even an umpire ball — for my own collection, so I headed here in the 9th inning:

26_view_behind_home_plate_09_16_13

After the final out of the Rockies’ 6-2 victory, I hurried over to the ump tunnel directly behind home plate. Bill Miller ended up giving a bunch of balls away . . . to other fans. That was disappointing, but again, I still had two more days to make something happen, so whatever.

Robert offered to give me a ride back to my hotel, but first we made a stop at the nearby Blake Street Tavern. Robert had a beer . . .

27_robert_at_blake_street_tavern

. . . and I had a brownie with vanilla ice cream:

28_zack_licking_plate

(I’m so charming.)

Back at the hotel, I photographed the five balls that I kept:

29_the_five_balls_i_kept_09_16_13

I forgot to mention that I gave one to a kid on my way out of the stadium, but anyway, check this out:

30_game_used_balls_from_all_30_stadiums

The Helton foul ball is on the lower right in the previous photo; I had brought the other 29 gamers to Denver, and I marked them as per Neal’s wishes. One week earlier, when he first told me that he wanted me to sign each ball and write the number and the date and the name of the stadium and the details about how I got it, I cringed. But you know what? I kinda like how it turned out. As for the fate of these baseballs, the folks at BIGS now own them and are planning — at least for a little while — to display them at their headquarters.

What an amazing season. HUGE thanks to BIGS for making all of it happen.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 7 baseballs at this game

• 635 balls in 83 games this season = 7.65 balls per game.

• 90 balls in 16 lifetime games at Coors Field = 5.63 balls per game.

• 955 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 30 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, the Oakland Coliseum, and Coors Field.

• 7,094 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.)

• 39 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.48 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $24.36 raised at this game

• $2,209.80 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $15,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $38,715.80 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/13/13 at Citi Field

Every now and then, when I’m waiting outside Citi Field, the security guards allow folks to enter early, and it always annoys me. I mean . . . who the hell gets to do that? Season ticket holders enjoying special perks? Family members of the players? I hate being on the outside looking in, and yesterday it happened again. Look at this nobody getting escorted inside:

1_dwight_gooden_entering_stadium

I’m kidding. That was Dwight Gooden, and he was there to do a book signing.

Anyway, my first ball of the day was a home run by a right-handed batter on the Mets that landed on the party deck. Here’s a photo of the ball, and if you look closely, you can see the green-shirted employee in the background who tossed it up to me:

2_ball7073

Five minutes later, Josh Satin threw a ball to two grown men in foul territory, who both reached for it and dropped it on the warning track.

“Hey, Josh!!” I yelled. “Throw one over here!! I’ll show those guys how to catch!!”

Satin turned and smiled at me, and I figured that was the end of it. I wasn’t going to ask him again, so I was pleasantly surprised when he fielded the next ball and immediately chucked it to me.

When the Marlins took the field, I wandered into foul territory and got pretty close to Juan Pierre:

3_juan_pierre_closeup

I was hoping for a toss-up and might’ve gotten one if I’d stuck around, but when the Marlins started hitting, I hurried back to the outfield.

It wasn’t long before Rob Brantly tossed me my third ball of the day in left-center field, and several minutes later, I got another one thrown (from about 120 feet away) by Arquimedes Caminero.

Over the next 20 minutes or so, I snagged four home run balls. I’m not sure who hit the first three, but I can tell you that I grabbed them after they landed. The final home run was a towering shot by Giancarlo Stanton that I caught on the fly while I was climbing back over (and straddling) a row of seats.

Needing two more baseballs to reach double digits, I headed out to right-center field. Eventually Jose Fernandez threw me this one . . .

4_ball7081

. . . which he underhanded from 75 to 100 feet away. The ball fell short and forced me to reach *way* down over the wall in the front row — so far down, in fact, that I was nervous about falling over. (Good thing I have big “Hample Legs” to help weigh me down.) Two minutes later, Steve Cishek tossed me my 10th ball.

At that point, there was one group of batters remaining. Here’s where I went for it:

5_view_from_second_deck_09_13_13

After a few minutes (during which I was salivating over the lack of competition), a left-handed batter LAUNCHED a home run in my direction, which sailed so far over my head that I thought it was going to clear the seats. It ended up landing here:

6_ball7083

(Did you see the ball sitting there, five seats in from the stairs?)

Two photos above, the player in right field was Sam Dyson. After several requests, I got him to throw me a ball — yes, all the way up from the warning track — and a little while later, I got one from this guy:

7_police_officer_with_ball7085

As you might already know, I count balls that are given to me by stadium employees, so this was my 13th ball of the day.

Before heading downstairs, I spotted a ball in the gap behind the right-center field wall, so I headed that way after BP and got this groundskeeper to toss it to me:

8_groundskeeper_after_ball7086

On my way to left field, I gave two baseballs away.

Then tai chi happened:

9_tai_chi_performance_09_13_13

Normally, at that point in the day, I wouldn’t have been allowed to go anywhere except to my ticketed section, but a friendly usher (who used to be a ballhawk) gave me permission to enter the seats on the 3rd-base side.

The sky was pretty:

10_pretty_sky_09_13_13

The game was about to begin:

11_marlins_walking_in_from_bullpen_09_13_13

I headed to my seat . . .

12_view_during_game_09_13_13

. . . and came VERY close to snagging Andrew Brown’s home run in the bottom of the 2nd — a no-doubter that reached the 2nd deck and ricocheted back down. I don’t know how many more near misses I can take. They’re really starting to make me question my purpose in life.

The game itself was good, I guess. Giancarlo hit two line-drive solo homers, and Lucas Duda connected on a three-run shot for the Mets. Final score: Mets 4, Marlins 3.

After the final out, I hurried down into the seats along the 3rd-base side in the hope of getting a ball from home plate umpire Mike Everitt. Here he is (in the light blue shirt) walking off the field:

13_umps_walking_off_the_field_09_13_13

When he got closer, I took a photo of him pulling a ball out of his pouch for me . . .

14_mike_everitt_holding_ball7087

. . . and holding it up . . .

15_mike_everitt_giving_me_ball7087

. . . before thrusting it into my glove.

That was my 15th and final ball of the day. Before leaving the seating area, I photographed the 13 balls that I still had in my possession:

16_thirteen_of_my_fifteen_balls_09_13_13

Then I stood around in the concourse for a little while, looking for a worthy recipient for one final ball. I saw plenty of little kids without gloves and bigger kids with gloves, but it just didn’t feel right . . . so I left.

Five minutes later, as I headed into the subway toward the No. 7 train, I saw this:

17_kid_i_gave_a_ball_to_09_13_13

In case you can’t tell, the little kid in front of me was pretending to catch imaginary fly balls. He had so much energy and was running and jumping all over the place. It’s hard to describe, but I just *had* to give him a ball, so while fumbling for my MetroCard, I grabbed the cleanest ball that I’d gotten during BP, and when he and his parents reached the train platform, I handed it to him. He was SO happy that it made ME happy. He smiled and laughed and stared at the ball and clutched it against his chest. He was truly in love with that ball, and of course his parents were pretty happy too. The night could not have ended better.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 15 baseballs at this game

• 628 balls in 82 games this season = 7.66 balls per game.

• 737 balls in 94 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.84 balls per game.

• 954 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 640 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 430 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 25 games this season with ten 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

• 7,087 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.)

• 39 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.48 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $52.20 raised at this game

• $2,185.44 raised this season through my fundraiser

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

• $38,191.44 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/12/13 at Citi Field

This was a day game, and the Mets had played the night before, so I didn’t expect there to be batting practice . . . but there was . . . sort of . . . but not really. Check it out:

1_david_wright_simulated_bp

Did you notice the catcher inside the batting cage? You never see that in regular BP.

The batter was David Wright — he was wearing Tom Goodwin’s jersey for some reason — and in fact he was the *only* batter. Mets bullpen coach Ricky Bones was on the mound, and he was throwing hard. Wright wasn’t up there to tee off on easy pitches; he was taking simulated at-bats.

During the ten minutes that he was in the cage, he managed to hit one home run. I didn’t snag that ball, but I did get one tossed to me in left-center field by coach Bob Geren. That was it for “batting practice.” No other Mets took any cuts, and the Nationals didn’t hit either.

Thankfully, the Nationals pitchers came out to throw:

2_nationals_playing_catch_09_12_13

In addition to getting toss-ups from Erik Davis and Fernando Abad, I got a bunch of autographs. Here’s a photo of Dan Haren signing . . .

3_dan_haren_signing

. . . and here’s what I actually had him sign:

4_dan_haren_autograph

That’s a ticket from the game I attended on 6/20/13 at Nationals Park.

Here’s Gio Gonzalez signing . . .

5_gio_gonzalez_signing

. . . and here’s his autograph:

6_gio_gonzalez_autograph

I only had three Nationals tickets on me, so everyone else I got had to cram their signatures close together. Here’s Tyler Clippard . . .

7_tyler_clippard_signing

. . . and Xavier Cedeno . . .

8_xavier_cedeno_signing

. . . and here’s the ticket itself:

9_ticket_with_seven_autographs

How many of the other signatures can you identify?

By the time the Nationals headed back to the clubhouse, the Mets were already playing catch in right field, so I ran over there:

10_mets_playing_catch_09_12_13

Several players ended up tossing balls to little kids in the front row. A few other players kept their baseballs and headed to the bullpen. And then there was Dillon Gee, who did something else entirely. While standing near the foul line, he launched his ball at the Home Run Apple in dead center. The ball landed on the slanted black surface to the right of the Apple and bounced behind it and disappeared from sight. I figured there was only one place it could be, so I ran over to take a look:

11_ball7069_on_batters_eye

Bingo!!

The way I saw it, there were three ways for me to attempt to snag that ball:

1) Use the glove trick (and get yelled at).
2) Jump down there (and get ejected).
3) Ask security to get it for me (and get laughed at).

I went with Option Three, and to my surprise, the guard told me I could get it myself. I should’ve taken a photo or two while I was down there, but he told me to hurry, so I didn’t want to delay things by fumbling around with my camera.

Rather than jumping over the side rail, I retrieved the ball in a most civilized manner. More specifically, I walked down the staircase to the party deck . . .

12_path_to_ball7069

. . . and then headed behind those green stools and stepped over the low black wall at the far end.

Easy.

That was my fourth ball of the day.

After the Tae Kwon Do demonstration that no one paid any attention to . . .

13_tae_kwon_do_in_the_outfield

. . . I got a pre-game toss-up from Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos in left-center. I gave that ball to the nearest/smallest kid . . .

14_kid_with_ball7070

. . . whose entire family was thrilled. This was the kid’s first game ever.

Just before the national anthem, I headed into foul territory and got Anthony Rendon to throw me his warm-up ball from more than 100 feet away. Here’s a photo of the ball, which I took in the spot where I caught it:

15_ball7071_from_anthony_rendon

This was my view in the bottom of the 1st inning . . .

16_view_during_game_09_12_13

. . . and here’s what happened after the third out:

17_here_comes_the_tarp_09_12_13

Several fans grumbled about the fact that it wasn’t even raining. One guy yelled, “Typical Mets!” as he marched up the steps toward the concourse, but I figured the grounds crew knew what they were doing.

Moments later, a “weather update” appeared on the jumbotron . . .

18_weather_update_09_12_13

. . . but it still wasn’t raining.

Then, all of a sudden . . . BAM!!!!!!

19_raining_like_hell_09_12_13

It rained about as hard as I’ve ever seen, and I have to admit that it was fun. This was the scene near Shake Shack:

20_raining_like_hell_09_12_13

The left field concourse was crowded . . .

21_concourse_crowded_09_12_13

. . . and when the rain finally let up, there were massive puddles on the warning track:

22_puddles_on_warning_track

I watched the grounds crew pull back the tarp . . .

23_tarp_removal_09_12_13

. . . and get rid of the water . . .

24_grounds_crew_at_work_09_12_13

. . . and after a 56-minute delay, the game resumed.

Here’s what the seats looked like on my left . . .

25_wet_seats_09_12_13

. . . and for an inning or two, this is how empty it was on my right:

26_nobody_on_my_right_09_12_13

For the record, I took that photo during the game.

If ever there was a time for a home run to be hit, THIS WAS IT. But no. It didn’t happen.

Before the rain delay, Ryan Zimmerman launched one onto the batter’s eye in dead center. In the 2nd inning, Adam LaRoche went oppo and barely reached the party deck in left-center. In the 5th inning, Wilson Ramos blasted a 416-foot line drive to left-center; I ran for that one, but given the fact that it landed in a small cluster of fans two sections to my left and five rows back, I had no chance. Finally, in the 9th inning, I got an unexpected opportunity to snag a home run, but things didn’t exactly go my way. Here’s the video. Basically, when the ball was hit, I could tell that it was going to fall short, so I climbed down over three rows of seats, only to watch helplessly as it took the most unexpected ricochet of all time, sailing OVER my head and pretty much landing in the exact spot where I’d originally been sitting. In the highlight, you can see me lunge for the ball, but I *barely* missed out. If my arms were a few inches longer or if I’d spotted the ball half a second sooner, I would’ve had it. It sucked so much that I nearly stormed out of the stadium. Since the game was almost over, I convinced myself to stay, but I had to get out of left field, so I went here:

27_view_from_foul_territory_09_12_13

After the final out of the Nationals’ 7-2 victory, I got my seventh and final ball from home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but who cares? I was so bummed . . . all the umpire balls in the world wouldn’t have made me feel any better.

Just before heading out, I noticed that Stephen Strasburg (who, by the way, is NOT friendly) came out to play catch with a coach. See them in the following photo?

29_stephen_strasburg_playing_catch_after_the_game

I had visions of outlasting stadium security and running back down into the seats and asking for the ball . . . but no. Let’s not even get into the reasons why it didn’t happen. Let’s not even think about this game anymore. Bye!

BALLHAWKING STATS:

30_the_six_balls_i_kept• 7 baseballs at this game (six pictured here because I gave one away)

• 613 balls in 81 games this season = 7.57 balls per game.

• 722 balls in 93 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.76 balls per game.

• 953 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 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

• 7,072 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.)

• 39 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.48 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $24.36 raised at this game

• $2,133.24 raised this season through my fundraiser

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

• $38,139.24 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/11/13 at Citi Field

Citi Field is beautiful from afar . . .

1_citi_field_from_subway_09_11_13

. . . but the inside of the stadium? Eh, not so much.

After botching my one good shot at a home run ball during the Mets’ portion of BP, I headed into foul territory when the Nationals came out:

2_nationals_playing_catch_09_11_13

After I few minutes, I got one of the catchers to throw me a ball. Was it Wilson Ramos or Jhonatan Solano? Maybe Sandy Leon? I had no idea.

My second ball of the day was an Anthony Rendon homer that I caught on the fly in straight away left field. That was my 600th ball of the season, and it wasn’t easy. For some reason, it seemed that every ballhawk in the New York/New Jersey area was at this game, so there was a ton of competition. For the Rendon homer, I had to run and jump and reach as high as possible in order to snag it over several other waiting gloves.

My 3rd ball was a line-drive homer by Rendon that pretty much came right to me. I caught that one on the fly without much of a struggle, but then had to battle for my next one — a Jayson Werth homer that once again required me to run and jump.

It’s good that I made a few decent plays because I was with a magazine reporter. I’ve been asked not to name him or the publication for which he writes, but I’ll say this: it’s very well known and should be out in a couple of weeks.

My fifth ball was thrown by Zach Walters, and my sixth was a homer (not sure who hit it) that I caught on the fly on the little platform that leads down to the party deck:

3_batting_practice_09_11_13

In the photo above, do you see the “hospitality attendant” in the green shirt? That’s the official title for those employees, which is absurd because most of them are anything BUT hospitable. This particular guy attempted to catch the ball — a huge no-no for employees — and then had the nerve to scold me for reaching in front of him for it.

Shortly before game time, I headed down to the seats along the left field foul line with this:

4_my_7000th_ball

That’s my 7,000th ball, which I caught during BP on 8/27/13 at Nationals Park. At the time, I was pretty sure that Rendon had hit it, and now I’m pretty close to certain. My goal was to get him to sign it — not an easy task, based on what I’d heard about him.

That said, do you remember when I talked to him the day before and told him about the ball and said how much it would mean to me if he’d sign it? Well, this was my chance, but I had to be creative. When I called out to him with a basic request (“Anthony, can you please sign?”), he ignored me, so I waited a minute and then shouted, “ANTHONY, I’M THE ANNOYING GUY FROM YESTERDAY!!!”

As soon as I said that, he looked at me and smiled and walked over — and he signed my precious ball on the sweet spot. Unfortunately, the word “practice” was in the way . . .

5_anthony_rendon_autograph

. . . but whatever. I got it signed, and that’s all that matters. (I was the only person that he signed for, by the way.) He was very friendly. We chatted for a moment. I thanked him. And just before he jogged off, he said, “Good luck.”

After that, there was an on-field ceremony to commemorate the 12th anniversary of 9/11:

6_pregame_ceremony_09_11_13

Did you notice the ball in the previous photo? Yes, of course you did, and after the ceremony, I got Landon Brandes, the Nationals’ Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, to throw it to me.

I spent the whole game with the reporter in left field and neglected to take a single photo. We were busy talking, and there wasn’t much action. Bryce Harper chucked a few warm-up balls into the seats, and Jayson Werth hit the game’s only homer onto the party deck. That was it. Final score: Nationals 3, Mets 0.

After the final out, I failed to get a ball from home-plate umpire James Hoye, but I did get one tossed to me by a Nationals coach in this spot:

7_ball7065_location

I’m not sure who tossed it, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was pitching coach Steve McCatty.

I gave away three balls over the course of the day — one to a little kid during BP, another to an employee (who said he was gonna give it to a kid) before the game, and another to a kid after the game.

Before heading out, I got a photo with the reporter:

8_zack_and_reporter_09_11_13

I really wish I could tell you who he writes for, but that would potentially mess up his story. Some media outlets love to hype things up ahead of time, but this one prefers a low-key approach. Stay tuned . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

9_the_five_balls_i_kept_09_11_13• 8 baseballs at this game (five pictured here because I gave three away)

• 606 balls in 80 games this season = 7.58 balls per game.

• 715 balls in 92 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.77 balls per game.

• 952 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 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

• 7,065 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.)

• 39 donors for my fundraiser

• $3.48 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $27.84 raised at this game

• $2,108.88 raised this season through my fundraiser

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

• $38,114.88 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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