9/26/13 at Citi Field
This was the largest group I ever had for a Watch With Zack game:
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 . . .
. . . 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 . . .
. . . 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:
Then he labeled it . . .
. . . 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:
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:
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:
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:
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 . . .
. . . and eventually he got Lee Tunnell, the team’s bullpen coach, to toss it up:
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:
In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a closer look:
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:
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:
Then I took a photo of Elliot with the hat that I’d signed for him . . .
. . . and of Jack with a signed ball:
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:
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 . . .
. . . while Demetrius and Jayson settled into the row behind me:
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):
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:
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:
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:
The ball (pictured above just to the right of the tan glove) plopped into the 2nd row, where Jayson picked it up:
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:
Thankfully Wright seemed to be okay . . .
. . . 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:
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:
Here’s another photo of them with their mouths on fire:
That’s good stuff.
By the 6th inning, there was a ton of competition for 3rd-out balls:
Demetrius, therefore, moved one section over . . .
. . . and tried to get the infield warm-up ball the following inning:
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:
(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:
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:
But wait! Look who ended up getting that ball:
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:
Jack 2 (although he had five balls in his possession)
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:
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:
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:
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:
That’s pretty much it. It was a fun day, the kids were great, and we kicked Citi Field’s butt.
• 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
(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