October 2013

2013 World Series — Game 6

The night before Game 6, I looked at ticket prices on StubHub, just for the hell of it. I wanted to see how much money I wouldn’t be spending, and the answer was $1,002. That was the price of the cheapest ticket at Fenway Park — standing room way up in the upper deck along one of the foul lines. Thanks, but no thanks. I had a much better offer, courtesy of my friend Ben Weil, although I refused to believe that it was going to happen until it actually happened.

First things first: he and I drove from New York City to Boston in the early afternoon. At the end of our journey, he dropped me off near Lansdowne Street . . .

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. . . and eventually chose a place to park roughly two miles away. The Red Sox were one win away from winning the World Series at home for the first time in 95 years; we figured there would be mayhem and didn’t want the car to be anywhere near the stadium.

Before Ben made it back to Fenway, I headed over to the nearby garage to catch up with my friend Lee Gregory. (Remember this photo of us from Game 2?) As it turned out, he was there with a fellow ballhawk from Chicago named Dave Davison, so the three of us got a photo together:

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That’s Lee on the left and Dave on the right. (Remember Dave from this photo from 5/21/13 at U.S. Cellular Field?) Neither of them had tickets, and under normal circumstances, I would’ve stayed out there with them all night. As things were, however, I had to say a quick goodbye and hurry over to the center field gate, where I ended up being first on line. Ben didn’t find me for another 45 minutes, but when he did, we were both in a great mood:

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That’s because he had two tickets for the game! Here’s a photo of mine:

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Look closely and you’ll see his name on it. Look right above that and you’ll see the face-value price of $250. That’s how much he paid for each ticket, and that’s how much he “charged” me for mine — still a lot of money, but a true bargain compared to what it could’ve been.

How did Ben pull this off? Simple: he has a close friend — a former college housemate, to be specific — who used to work for the Red Sox. She still knows lots of people with the team, and she used her connections to get him a pair of tickets at face value. Ta-daaa!!!

Every gate opened two and a half hours early, and I headed for my favorite spot in center field. This was my view at the start of batting practice:

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Within the first minute, I got a ball thrown to me by Koji Uehara’s kid, and no, it wasn’t commemorative:

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I’ve never seen World Series balls get used during BP at World Series games. (Dear MLB: that’s lame.) At best I was hoping to snag a few 2013 postseason balls, but as it turned out, the Cardinals used regular balls too. (Dear MLB: super-lame.)

Here’s a photo of . . . someone with a catcher’s mitt walking toward my second ball of the day:

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I had no idea who it was, so I took/tweeted a crappy photo of him. Several folks suggested it was Brandon Workman, while a few others said it was Ryan Lavarnway. Between the two, Lavarnway makes more sense because he’s a catcher, albeit not on the playoff roster, but I’m still not sure.

I got one more ball from the Red Sox — a toss-up from coach Arnie Beyeler — and then the Cardinals took the field.

A little while later, I had a chance to use my glove trick for one of three balls on the warning track . . .

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. . . but before I had a chance to set it up, Jason Motte jogged over and picked them all up. He ended up tossing one to me, and it wasn’t long before I got another — my fifth of the day — from Randy Choate.

Ballhawking in center field at Fenway Park is boring but reliable. There aren’t many home runs (especially in October when balls don’t carry), but it’s a good spot to get toss-ups.

My sixth ball of the day came from this group of players:

9_tony_cruz_after_ball7175

See the guy standing on the left? That’s Rafael Furcal, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery, so I forgive him for under under-handing a ball to me — yes, two “under”s because his throw fell short. It was retrieved and thrown accurately to me by the bearded player pictured above. At the time, I didn’t know who it was, but later I figured out that it was Tony Cruz. That ball, by the way, had a blade of grass stuck to the logo. Check it out:

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My final ball was thrown by Jaime Garcia — nothing fancy about it.

Over the course of BP, I gave two baseballs away. Meanwhile, Ben snagged three, beating his previous World Series record of one.

After BP, Ben and I were shocked to find an unguarded staircase leading up to the Monster Seats . . . so up we went. At the top, I took a photo of the field . . .

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. . . and of Lansdowne Street.

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When we tried to walk a little farther into the section in left field (as opposed to lurking on the walkway in left-center), we were stopped by an usher at a checkpoint.

We headed back down to the field level to check out the view from our actual seats:

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Not bad.

And look what was right near us:

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That’s the famous Pesky Pole, which I photographed close up:

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Normally I’d be horrified by graffiti on a historic artifact, but this foul pole is known for being scribbled on. It’s part of Fenway’s charm.

We didn’t linger at our seats, and in fact I never went back there during the game. Ben wandered off to find his friend who’d gotten him the tickets, and I made my way toward home plate. Look how crowded it was in the concourse on the 1st-base side:

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This is not an exaggeration: at one point, it took five minutes to move 15 or 20 feet, and I couldn’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if there’d been a fire. Not good. But let’s not think about that.

Look how crowded the tunnel was leading into the seats . . .

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. . . and look how crowded it was in the cross-aisle before the national anthem:

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What cross-aisle?

Yeah, exactly.

Fenway Park is such a pain in the ass, but DAMN it’s beautiful . . . sometimes. Usually. If you’re not trapped in the wrong spot.

A few minutes later, my friend Brandon (the one from California that I seem to visit every year) texted me and said, “Send me a pic of ur seat.” Now, keep in mind that I *hate* texting. I make exceptions every now and then for Heath Bell, but other than that, when people text me, I either ignore them outright or wait a couple days and answer them via email. That said, I decided to mess with Brandon (because he deserves it), so I sent this photo:

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This was my view for the first pitch of the game:

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I might’ve been in the cross-aisle at the time. I can’t remember, but I will say this: for all the moving around that I did throughout the game, I never blocked anyone’s view. When I was in the aisle, I only stood up between pitches or when the people in front of me were standing. And whenever I found an empty seat, I only stood when I had to.

I ended up on the 3rd-base side . . .

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. . . and back on the 1st-base side . . .

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. . . and then back on the 3rd-base side:

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With a scoreless tie in the bottom of the 3rd inning, the Red Sox loaded the bases with two outs. It was the moment of truth. I could just feel it. And Shane Victorino delivered with a three-run double high off the Green Monster.

Naturally, everyone (except the handful of Cardinals fans) went nuts, and I knew right then that the Red Sox (who were leading, 3 games to 2) were GOING to win the World Series. The way I saw it . . . the Cardinals were gonna have to score four runs to win this game, and that simply wasn’t going to happen. John Lackey wasn’t going to let it happen, and if he somehow got into early trouble, Koji Uehara would come in for a 15-out save.

In the bottom of the 4th, Stephen Drew and his .063 World Series batting average led off with a tremendous home run to right field — and this was happening against Cardinals starter Michael Wacha, who had been unbeaten and nearly unhittable this entire postseason. If there was any doubt after Victorino’s double about the fate of this game, it was gone now. And then for good measure, the Sox tacked on two more insurance runs to take a 6-0 lead:

24_boston_with_early_lead

Yes, the Sox were GOING to win the World Series — something I’d never seen any team do in person, so while the game itself wasn’t particularly compelling after the first hour or so, it was still great to be there and watch it all go down.

Because the score was so lopsided, lots of fans left their seats in the middle innings to get food and use the bathroom. I took advantage by sitting here for a little while:

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When the rightful, gray-haired owner of that seat returned, he was super-nice about it.

“Sorry,” I said as I got up.

“No worries,” he replied. “I’ve done the same things myself many times.”

Lackey eventually gave up a run, but for the Cardinals, it was too little too late. By the 8th inning, most fans were back in their seats for good, and it seemed like the celebration had already begun:

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Meanwhile, a bunch of MLB bigwigs were crowded around nearby in the concourse, watching the last few outs on TV:

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I should mention that I tried *all* night to snag a 3rd-out ball, but it was nearly impossible. Yadier Molina tossed the few strikeout balls into the sections closer to home plate. First baseman Matt Adams never tossed anything into the crowd. Third baseman David Freese caught a line drive and flipped it into the front row before I could get down there, and two outfielders (Carlos Beltran and Jon Jay) tossed their baseballs toward a teenaged kid decked out in Cardinals gear, one staircase to my right. Things at the Red Sox dugout were far too crazy. I couldn’t even get close over there.

At one point in the early innings, I came five feet from a foul ball on the 3rd base side. I was in the cross-aisle, and it landed a dozen rows behind me. The fans in that section proceeded to bobble it . . . and bobble it . . . and bobble it nearly all the way down to me. It was like it was bouncing down a staircase right to me, but at the last second, a women in the 3rd row from the aisle reached up and snagged it.

Remember where I stood for an inning or two during Game 6 of the ALCS? Well, during this World Series game, Matt Holliday hit a foul ball RIGHT THERE. As frustrated as he might’ve been not to drive that hittable pitch, I guarantee you I was more frustrated not to have been there to catch it. Holliday has probably already forgotten about it, and if he hasn’t, he will no doubt move on before long, but that foul ball will bother me for decades. I’m not kidding.

This was my view before the top of the 9th inning got underway:

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There wasn’t an empty seat, but because everyone in the stadium was standing, I was able to walk down that staircase and stand with them. As a result, I had a great view for the rest of the game:

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Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso hit fly balls to left fielder Jonny Gomes for the first two outs, and then, after a lengthy at-bat with three consecutive foul balls, Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter to end it.

Here’s a screen shot from a video I filmed of the Red Sox celebrating:

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I tried to get home plate umpire Jim Joyce’s attention on his way in — how great would it have been if he’d tossed me a commemorative World Series ball?! — but it was no use. The crowd was going nuts, and he probably didn’t hear me, and anyway, his mind must’ve been elsewhere. From a ballhawking standpoint, that was it — seven balls, all in BP, nothing commemorative. No gamer. No World Series ball. Quite disappointing. But from an “I love baseball more than life itself” standpoint, the whole experience was thrilling, and I was so glad to be a part of it.

I photographed all the activity on the field . . .

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. . . which included David Ortiz waving a huge flag at home plate:

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At one point, I handed my camera to the security guard atop the dugout roof and had him take my picture:

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Then there were fireworks . . .

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. . . which caused a whole lot of smoke to fill the ballpark:

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Here’s my favorite photo of the smoke:

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Eventually the players were interviewed and presented with the World Series trophy:

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Then David Ortiz received the MVP Award:

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Even though I can’t stand him, I suppose he deserved it. He went 11-for-16 in the World Series with two doubles, two homers, and eight walks. That’s a .688 batting average, a .760 on-base percentage, a 1.188 slugging percentage, and a 1.948 OPS. Not bad.

After FOX announcer Erin Andrews finished interviewing him, she ended up 10 feet away from me on the warning track:

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I’m not particularly fond of anyone who works for FOX, but it was cool to be so close to her and to the field and to all the activity.

Eventually I moved down to an open seat beside the Cardinals’ dugout:

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Then I leaned over and took a photo of the tunnel that leads toward the clubhouse:

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After that, I moved a couple dozen rows back to get a better perspective of the huge crowd on the field:

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Then I fought my way through the unexpected stench of cigar smoke toward the Red Sox’s dugout. This was as close as I could get:

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After a few minutes, I headed back to the cross-aisle and caught up with Ben:

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As we made our way toward right field, I spotted Steve Horgan, the famous bullpen cop, doing his famous arms-over-head gesture for the fans along the foul line:

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Then we noticed some fans writing on the Pesky Pole . . .

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. . . and since they weren’t being tasered, I decided to get in on the action. Here’s a photo of me writing on the pole:

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Here’s what I wrote:

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See it? I wrote “ZH 7176.” That’s my initials and lifetime ball total. I’m sure the Sox will paint over all that crap by Opening Day, but whatever. It was fun just to climb up there and do it.

Ben also wrote on the pole, and when he finished, we both had the same thought: “Can you imagine that happening at Yankee Stadium?”

Nearly an hour and a half after the game had ended, we made our way out through this mostly-empty concourse:

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Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a cluster of cops and official-lookin’ people walking quickly toward an unmarked corridor. I took a closer look and noticed Matt Holliday, dressed in street clothes, in the middle. He didn’t look happy, but then again, does he ever?

By the time we made it outside, I wanted to head straight to the car and drive back to New York City. It was already close to 1am, and I didn’t know how long my energy would last, but Ben talked me into making a detour toward Lansdowne Street.

On the way, we saw this:

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I tweeted about it and got 26 retweets, which I think is a personal record — not that I keep track. It’s just interesting to note what has gotten the most attention.

As for Lansdowne Street . . .

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. . . there were cops everywhere, and the bars were closing, and there just wasn’t much happening. And that was it. We headed toward the car (which was thankfully upright) and hit the road at around 2am. I was home by 5:45 and asleep an hour later.

I’m *so* glad that the baseball season is over. Fun as it was, this one was particularly draining, and I need time to recover and do other things. If you’ve pledged money for Pitch In For Baseball through my fundraiser, hang tight. In a few days, I’ll post an entry with instructions on how to donate, and I’ll follow up with emails soon after.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

51_the_five_balls_i_kept_10_30_13• 7 baseballs at this game (five pictured here because I gave two away)

• 717 balls in 94 games this season = 7.63 balls per game.

• 84 balls in 14 lifetime games at Fenway Park = 6 balls per game.

• 127 balls in 24 lifetime postseason games = 5.29 balls per game.

• 966 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 38 balls in 9 lifetime World Series games = 4.22 balls per game

• 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.

• 7,176 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.)

• 42 donors for my fundraiser

• $4.24 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $29.68 raised at this game

• $3,040.08 raised this season through my fundraiser

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

• $39,446.08 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

2013 World Series — Game 2

Remember when I “attended” Game 1 of the 2007 World Series at Fenway Park? I spent that entire game on the parking garage behind the Green Monster and ended up snagging three balls during batting practice that sailed completely out of the stadium. Last night for Game 2 of the 2013 World Series, I planned to do the same thing, more or less — the goal, of course, being to catch a home run during the game.

Here’s what Lansdowne Street looked like at around 3:30pm:

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Six years ago, I had some issues with being allowed to hang out on the garage, so this time, my solution was to actually pay to park there. That way, I figured, the parking lot attendants couldn’t legally tell me to leave, right? Well, unfortunately, when I arrived at the garage, I discovered that it was a “permit only” situation, so I was screwed. I ended up having to pay (an obscene amount) to park somewhere else nearby.

As it turned out, the garage attendants didn’t seem to care when I walked up the ramp and wandered around here:

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Perhaps that’s because it was so early in the day; batting practice wasn’t going to start for another hour, so they had no reason to protect their terrain.

When BP finally started, one of the attendants walked by with a 2013 postseason ball . . .

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. . . and offered to sell it to me for $20. (Thanks, pal, but I got seven of ‘em last week.)

Given the fact that these guys sell all the baseballs they can grab, I was surprised that they didn’t kick me out, along with all the other random folks who had wandered up there. Look how crowded it was:

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As you can see, the cars were right in the way. They’re always parked there, well within home run range, and sure enough, the back window of an SUV ended up getting smashed:

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We all agreed to leave the ball inside the car — standard policy for such situations — but that didn’t stop me from carefully reaching inside the car to take a photo of it:

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For the record . . . no, I didn’t take the ball, and yes, there were witnesses.

A little while later, another ball flew over the Monster and landed in the middle of the cars. Several guys, myself included, started chasing after it, but we had no idea where it went. That’s when I heard several fans in the stadium (at the top/back walkway of the Monster Seats) shouting frenzied directions about where the ball had rolled. It was under one of the vehicles — no double about that — but which one?

“The gray one!!” someone shouted from the Monster Seats, and we all hit the deck and looked under the closest gray car.

No ball.

While the other guys were looking around frantically on the ground, I took a moment to peek at the fans inside the stadium. One of them ended up pointing at a different gray vehicle — a pick-up truck in the row behind me — so I hurried over and sprawled out and looked underneath it, and I SAW THE BALL!!! But it was beyond my reach. I was looking under the front passenger door, but the ball was tucked inside the tire on the driver’s side. I quickly got up, and as I began racing around to the front of the car, another guy beat me to the spot . . . but he ran right past it. Ha-HAAA!! He had no idea where the ball was, so I hurried into position and flopped onto the pavement and rolled underneath the truck in order to reach it. SUCCESS!!!

Here’s a photo of the ball:

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Is that paint residue? Interesting.

The bad news is that I got kicked off the garage after snagging that ball, as did almost every other fan who’d been hanging out there. The one fan who got to stay happened to be a friend of mine named Lee, who had secured a parking spot there much earlier in the day — more on him in a bit.

As a result, I had to hang out *on* Lansdowne Street for the rest of BP, which meant I was too close to the Monster. Check out my crappy view . . .

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. . . and by the way, here’s what the street looked like on my left:

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In order to snag anything there, it was gonna have to be a deflection — either off someone or something in the Monster Seats or off the facade of the building behind me. My chances of getting another ball were VERY slim, which meant that a long streak of mine was in serious danger of ending: snagging at least two baseballs per game. The last time I had “only” gotten one ball was at the 2007 All-Star Game in San Francisco. Ever since then, I’ve always gotten at least two — a span of 489 games including All-Star events and World Series games at half a dozen different stadiums, plus rainouts and countless sellouts . . . you name it. And sure enough, when BP ended here in Boston, I still only had one ball.

I know what you’re thinking: don’t “count” this World Series game in my stats, right? After all, it’s not like I went inside the stadium, so how can I be penalized for not snagging a certain amount of baseballs? Right?! The answer is that I have to count it *because* I got a ball. That ball didn’t materialize out of thin air. There was a game being played (or in this case batting practice on a game day), and I acquired a ball from it — not by buying it or trading for it or receiving it as a gift from another fan. I snagged it in the the most legit of ways, so therefore the ball counts, and I need to have a “game” in my stats that reflects when/where it came into my possession.

On the flip side, if I hadn’t snagged any balls outside the stadium, then this wouldn’t have counted as a game in my stats. That’s how I handle being inside a stadium for what turns out to be a rainout: it only counts if I get a ball. As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, it’s the equivalent of an “and one” situation in basketball, where the shot attempt only counts as an attempt if the ball goes in. For ballhawking purposes, I know that it’s a statistical oddity, and I’m not thrilled about it, but that’s just how it is. I’ve always done my stats like this. Take a look at the list of games I attended in 2002. See the one on June 16th at AT&T Park? I didn’t go inside the stadium that day; I got those two balls during BP on the portwalk between the right field stands and McCovey Cove.

Anyway, there was lots of action on Lansdowne before the game:

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Once the game started (and there weren’t many people/baseballs), I was allowed to return to the garage roof, which was a HUGE relief. I seriously doubted that I was going to catch a home run there, but it was nice (after having driven all the way up from New York City) to at least get to stand there and have a remote chance.

It was also nice to hang out with my friend — the guy I mentioned earlier who’d gotten to stay on the garage when everyone else got the boot during BP. His name is Lee, and I’d met him on the garage in 2007. (More recently, I ran into him on 6/8/12 at Fenway Park, which was the day I snagged my 6,000th ball. Here’s a photo of us.) He lives in Texas and has flown to Boston for every ALCS and World Series game since 2004. but he never actually goes inside the stadium in the postseason. Given how much the tickets would cost, he actually prefers to hang out on the garage.

Now that you know all of that, take a look at Lee’s rental car:

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Not only had he made a sign (which said “Going… Going… GOMES!!” on the back), but he had an elaborate setup of wires and electronic devices with which we could watch/listen to the game. Lee can’t stand the FOX commentators (Joe Buck and Tim McCarver), so he muted the TV (which was perched on a chair in front of his car) and blasted the radio broadcast (featuring Dave O’Brien and Joe Castiglione), but there was one issue. The radio broadcast wasn’t properly synched with the TV feed, so Lee had a laptop with some fancy software that enabled him to delay the radio just enough so that it matched up. Brilliant!! And by the way, Lee has worked as an electrical engineer.

Throughout the game, there was a small crowd of us huddled around the TV:

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Unfortunately for Lee, the Cardinals won, 4-2, and unfortunately for us both, there weren’t any balls that flew over the Monster, but we still had a great time.

Here I am with him during an inning break:

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It was very cold (game-time temperature: 49 degrees), but I felt fine thanks to wearing long underwear, two shirts, a hoodie, a ski hat, and my heaviest winter jacket. And a beard.

If there’s a Game 6, which now seems likely with The Series tied, 1-1, I will almost certainly be back at Fenway, and who knows? I might even end up with a ticket and go inside.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 1 baseball at this game

• 710 balls in 93 games this season = 7.63 balls per game.

• 77 balls in 13 lifetime games at Fenway Park = 5.92 balls per game.

• 120 balls in 23 lifetime postseason games = 5.22 balls per game.

• 965 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 31 balls in 8 lifetime World Series games = 3.88 balls per game

• 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.

• 7,169 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.)

• 42 donors for my fundraiser

• $4.24 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $4.24 raised at this game

• $3,010.40 raised this season through my fundraiser

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

• $39,416.40 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

2013 ALCS — Game 6

You know what really sucks?
Being on the outside looking in.

That’s what the first three weeks of the postseason felt like. I was home in New York City, watching everything on TV, and wishing I were there. Life was officially getting in the way of baseball, so when I found out I was going to be free for Game 6 at Fenway Park (and that it wasn’t supposed to rain and that the cheapest tickets on StubHub were only $123), I was psyched.

Anyway, let’s cut to the chase, huh? Here’s where I hung out for batting practice . . .

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. . . and to properly set the stage, this was the view to my right . . .

2_cameras_on_the_right

. . . and to the left:

3_seats_on_my_left_10_19_13

My first ball of the day was thrown by a little Asian kid in center field, who, I found out later, is Kuji Uehara’s son. It was a regular Selig ball — kind of a bummer, but no surprise. Last year, when I attended Game 2 of the ALDS at Camden Yards and Game 5 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium, none of the BP balls were commemorative, but I was hopeful this time around; I’d heard that the Tigers had been using postseason balls during BP.

Although the Red Sox were still hitting, my next two balls were thrown by a kid in Tigers gear. Take another look at the first photo — see him there wearing No. 28? It must’ve been Prince Fielder’s kid, and yeah, for some reason, he tossed me two baseballs in a 10-minute span. The first one came right to me, but the second one sailed over my head and forced me to scamper after it.

My fourth ball was a David Ortiz homer that landed in the camera area. I coulda/shoulda caught it on the fly, but let’s not talk about my failure to do so. I will, however, admit that my home-run snagging skills were noticeably rusty. I wasn’t judging balls well, and I wasn’t getting good jumps on them. Had I been in midseason form (and perhaps been a bit more familiar with the layout of this particular section), I would’ve caught two other home runs on the fly.

Shortly after the Tigers took the field, a ball rolled near the warning track roughly 40 feet to my right. Take a look at it in the following photo, and then I’ll explain more about what was happening at that moment:

4_ball7162_on_the_field

See the guy in the orange jacket? His name is Bruce Ely, and he was there to take this panoramic photo for MLB.com. He and I had been chatting throughout the Red Sox’s portion of BP, and I’d told him about my baseball collection. When the ball (pictured above) rolled near the edge of the grass, I asked if he could take a close-up photo on his fancy camera so that I could see if it had a postseason logo. I told him that if the stamping was dark blue, then it was a regular ball, and if it was gray, then it was the type of ball I wanted. Here’s the photo he ended up taking:

5_ball7162_on_bruce_elys_camera

It was gray!!

Moments later, Phil Coke started walking toward the ball from left field.

“In ten seconds,” I told Bruce, “I’m going to be holding that ball in my hand, and it’s going to have a postseason logo, and I’m going to be VERY happy.”

My prediction came true:

6_ball7162_in_my_hand

Outstanding.

I had already given away two regular balls at that point — one to a kid in the next section and one to Bruce, who had told me he was hoping to get one for his nephews back home in Oregon.

A few minutes later, Jim Leyland walked by and waved . . .

7_jim_leyland_looking_up_at_me

. . . and during the next group of hitters, I got two more toss-ups from Justin Verlander and Hernan Perez. All three of the balls I’d gotten from the Tigers had the gray stamping and postseason logo. Bruce really wanted one, but I told him that I never give away commemorative balls.

Toward the end of BP, I saw a ball land in one of the bullpens. Can you spot it in the following photo?

8_ball7165_in_the_bullpen

In case you can’t see it, the ball is sitting on the dirt near the far corner of the bullpen. See that little white speck between home plate and the orange Gatorade cooler?

Well, not only was Bruce nice enough to watch my backpack while I ran over there, but he took some photos of me snagging the ball with my glove trick. Here I am knocking the ball closer . . .

9_zack_glove_trick_for_ball7165

. . . and here I am reeling it in:

10_zack_glove_trick_for_ball7165

Now, in case you’re about to accuse me of being the Worst Guy Ever, let me say that YES, there were a bunch of kids near me, but NO, none of them seemed upset that I got the ball. In fact, they were all quite impressed (you can see it on their faces), and despite the fact that I was decked out in Tigers gear, some of them (along with their fathers) said “congrats” when I finished and gave me high-fives.

In other news, did you happen to notice something different about my face? More on that in a moment, but first, here’s what happened during the final group of BP: Anibal Sanchez threw me my ninth ball of the day, and Jose Veras tossed me ball No. 10. Both of those balls were commemorative, and I gave the final one to Bruce . . . just because.

Here I am with him:

11_bruce_ely_and_zack

The dude looks an awful lot like Roy Halladay, no? Check this out:

11b_bruce_versus_roy

By the way, Bruce doesn’t usually work for MLB. He mainly covers basketball and other sports, but he photographs just about everything. Here’s his website in case you want to take a look at his work, and here he is on Twitter.

Oh, and speaking of look-alikes, my girlfriend just told me that I “look like a white Torii Hunter.” What do you think? Any truth to that? I hope so because Torii is a handsome man.

Anyway, here I am with some of my baseballs after BP:

12_zack_six_baseballs_10_19_13

Before the game, I wandered around in the concourse under the seats, used the bathroom, got some pizza, and photographed a woman getting a beard painted on her face:

13_lady_getting_beard_painted_on

As I’d tweeted earlier in the day, I’d been planning to shave my beard before this game, but my girlfriend talked me out of it.

Back in the seats, I saw the Dropkick Murphys perform the national anthem:

14_dropkick_murphys

Then I wandered over to the outfield end of the Tigers’ dugout and witnessed something touching. There was a young man with special needs, standing in the front row with his father, and wearing a “CABRERA” t-shirt. When Miguel Cabrera headed in toward the dugout, the father waved him down and had his son turn around to show the back of the shirt:

15_fan_showing_his_cabrera_shirt_to_miguel_cabrera

Cabrera stopped and signed a baseball and tossed it to the father. Then Justin Verlander saw what was happening, and he told the father to toss it back. After signing it, Verlander got as close to the dugout as possible and gently rolled the ball to the young man so that he could catch it himself. That was pretty damn cool.

This was my view in the top of the 1st inning:

16_view_in_top_of_the_1st_inning

Everyone was standing, and as you can see, even the vendor was watching. This was a BIG GAME. The Sox were leading the series, three games to two. A win would send them to the World Series and end the Tigers’ season; a loss would force a Game 7 the following night in which they’d be facing Verlander.

It wasn’t long before the people came for their seats. I looked around for another spot, but didn’t see anything, so I headed up the steps . . .

17_heading_upstairs_10_19_13

. . . and went to the top deck on the 1st-base side:

18_view_from_the_very_top

I enjoyed seeing the field from way high up . . . for about 11 seconds, and then I seriously couldn’t take it anymore.

I wandered to the outer edge of the ballpark and looked out at Boston:

19_view_outside_of_fenway_park

No, I wasn’t planning to jump. I just needed a two-minute break, and after that, I snapped back to reality. There was playoff baseball to be watched!

I headed down this ramp . . .

20_ramps_to_lower_levels

. . . to the next level and stood here for an inning or two:

21_partially_obstructed_view

There were lots of righties in the lineups, so it seemed like a decent spot to maybe/possibly get a foul ball.

I didn’t get a foul ball. Nothing came close, and eventually I got antsy, so I moved here:

22_view_behind_on_deck_circle

Ha-HAAAA!!! Now THAT’S more like it.

Of course, I only got to sit there for half an inning, but man, what a half-inning it was.

My next seat was nearly as good . . .

23_view_behind_tigers_dugout

. . . and I got to stay there for most of the rest of the game. (By the way, can you spot Dave Dombrowski in the previous photo?) I can’t explain why the rightful owners of those seats weren’t there much. At one point, they came back and made a fuss over kicking me out, so I walked around for 10 minutes, and when I went back, they were gone . . . for good. The other people sitting around me were really cool. Obviously they knew I didn’t belong there, but they didn’t care, and in fact, they encouraged me to take advantage of the open seat. Check out my view of Max Scherzer leaving the game and getting a high-five from Verlander:

24_max_scherzer_coming_out_of_the_game

The game was incredible. The highlight (or, depending on your perspective, the lowlight) was Shane Victorino’s grand slam in the bottom of the 7th inning, which put the Red Sox on top, 5-2. But that was just one of many memorable moments. There was a questionable pitching change (John Farrell bringing in Franklin Morales), a run-saving defensive gem (Stephen Drew making up for his .050 batting average this series), a baserunning blunder (Prince Fielder lolol), and so on. I absolutely *loved* being there. It was baseball at its best.

The fans were PUMPED . . .

25_everybody_standing_10_19_13

. . . and so was I when I got this after the 8th inning:

26_ball7168_3rd_out_from_alex_avila

Al Albuquerque had struck out Jonny Gomes, and Tigers catcher Alex Avila tossed me the ball on his way in. That was my 11th and final ball of the day.

Koji Uehara came in to pitch the top of the 9th . . .

27_koji_uehara_bottom_of_the_9th

. . . and I’m telling you, there wasn’t one person sitting in the entire stadium.

The whole night, I was torn over who to root for. Part of me wanted to witness the home team getting into the World Series — something I’d never seen before. Another part of me wanted the Sox to get blown out so that lots of fans would leave early and I’d have more room to maneuver. That same part of me wanted the Tigers to win so there’d be a Game 7. And yet another part of me simply wanted the Red Sox to win because it would piss off all the Yankee fans in my life who constantly talk trash.

That said, upon taking the following selfie, I made a facial expression that went with the clothing I was wearing:

28_sad_tigers_fan_is_sad

Poor Tigers. As the clock struck midnight, their season was about to end:

29_scoreboard_for_final_batter

This was my view just before Jose Iglesias struck out to end the game:

30_game_about_to_end_10_19_13

I tried to film a video of the Red Sox’s celebration, but somehow, amidst the commotion, I failed. I guess I hit the wrong button on my camera, or maybe I pressed it twice by accident? Bummer.

I did get a photo of Dombrowski walking off the field . . .

31_dave_dombrowski_walking_off

. . . and look what else I got:

32_batting_gloves

I have no idea whose batting gloves those are. Someone inside the dugout tossed them up onto the roof, and get this: no one else in the seats noticed or cared. One of the gloves landed right in front of me, so of course I grabbed it. The other glove landed on the far edge of the roof (closer to the field) several feet to the right. No one asked for it. No one tried to reach it. I should’ve taken a photo of it sitting there, but instead I tried to get the attention of a security guard standing on the roof 20 feet to my left. He didn’t see me, so eventually I lunged/crawled out onto the roof and barely managed to snag it with the tip of my Rawlings glove. Of course, the security guard saw THAT and rushed over, but hey, no big deal. This was Boston. People are cool, and everyone was in a good mood. The batting gloves must belong to someone tall, like Miguel Cabrera, Torii Hunter, Don Kelly, or Victor Martinez because they’re way too big for my hands. Any theories?

I stood behind the dugout for at least 10 minutes and watched the action on the field. This was the best part:

33_kids_playing_on_the_infield

I would’ve loved to be the last fan to leave the stadium, but there was one tiny issue: I had to drive back to New York City, so I didn’t want to linger too long. (Actually, I had an offer to stay with a friend 30 miles south of Boston, but I had plans early the next day in Brooklyn, and I wanted to get home and sleep in my own bed.) Therefore, I started making my way to the other side of the stadium.

Check out the huge cluster of people on the infield:

34_huge_cluster_at_2nd_base

Here’s my favorite photo of the night:

35_fans_standing_on_seats

I hated leaving as the players were being presented with various awards, but I *had* to go.

As it turned out, I should’ve stayed. I wasn’t able to leave the garage because the exit was being blocked by police officers. Ten minutes passed. Then 20. And 30. I have no idea what the hold-up was all about — too many drunk pedestrians in the streets? It ended up taking nearly an hour before I was allowed to drive out of the garage. Then I was stuck in traffic for 20 more minutes just to go several blocks and get on the Mass Pike. I made it home at around 4:45am and was a complete mess the next day.

WORTH IT.

Here are the eight balls that I kept . . .

36_the_eight_balls_i_kept_10_19_13

. . . and here are three postseason balls with invisible ink stamps:

37b_black_light_10_19_13

That’s pretty much it, although I’m hoping my season isn’t quite done . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 baseballs at this game

• 709 balls in 92 games this season = 7.71 balls per game.

• 76 balls in 12 lifetime games at Fenway Park = 6.33 balls per game.

• 119 balls in 22 lifetime postseason games = 5.41 balls per game.

• 964 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 489 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 237 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

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

• 20 lifetime batting gloves (seven pairs and six individual gloves; click here to see them all)

• 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.

• 7,168 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.)

• 42 donors for my fundraiser

• $4.24 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $46.64 raised at this game

• $3,006.16 raised this season through my fundraiser

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

• $39,412.16 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Postseason/charity update

If you’ve made a pledge through my charity fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball, don’t do anything yet. I’m still hoping to attend a game or two this month (most likely at Fenway), so hang onto your money for now, and after the World Series, I’ll let you know how to actually make the donation.

As a reminder, everyone who donates money will be eligible to win one of these prizes:

1) a towel and bracelet that were given out at the 2013 All-Star Game
2) a copy of Baseball Scorekeeper
3) eight packages of BIGS Sunflower Seeds
4) a New York Mets media credential that I used on June 18, 2013
5) an autographed copy of The Wrigley Riddle
6) an autographed copy of Miracle Mud
7) a whole bunch of Panini baseball cards
8) an autographed copy of The Baseball
9) a Tokyo Yakult Swallows baseball
10) a Lowell Spinners baseball signed by pitching prospect Ty Buttrey
11) an autographed copy of Man Versus Ball
12) a ball signed by three Dodgers that I acquired on 8/9/13 at Dodger Stadium

Yes, that’s right, there are now TWELVE prizes because I just added two more. Here’s the cover of Man Versus Ball:

man_versus_ball1

. . . and here’s the baseball signed by the Dodgers:

22_ryu_nolasto_van_slyke_autographs

From left to right, you’re looking at the signatures of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ricky Nolasco, and Scott Van Slyke.

Want to see photos of all the prizes and learn more about how the giveaway will work? Yes, of course you do, so click here.

Finally, for now, I’d love to hear from anyone who has attended a playoff game in 2013. How was it? Did you snag any baseballs or get any autographs? Was stadium security insane? Any other details you feel like sharing?

9/29/13 at Citi Field

This was the final game of the regular season, and there was a huge crowd waiting to get in:

1_crowd_outside_citi_field_09_29_13

Why so many people?

Because there was going to be a pre-game ceremony to honor Mike Piazza, who was being inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.

Not surprisingly, there was no batting practice . . .

2_no_batting_practice_09_29_13

. . . and I was fine with that. I simply *had* to attend this game, and here’s why:

3_jim_henderson_throwing

No, not to watch Brewers closer Jim Henderson warm-up. Did you notice the jumbotron in the previous photo? Here’s a closer look at it:

4_mike_piazza_hall_of_fame_induction_logo_on_jumbotron

How big of a deal *was* this whole induction ceremony? Big enough for the Mets to have gotten permission from MLB to use commemorative balls during the game? I’d heard a rumor that special balls were going to be used, but given the Mariano Rivera commemorative ball fiasco that had taken place four days earlier at Yankee Stadium, I had my doubts.

But hang on a second. Let’s not forget about Jim Henderson. When he finished playing catch, he tossed me the ball. Here’s a screen shot (from a crappy video I filmed) that shows it sailing toward me:

5_ball7154_in_mid_air

Look what I was wearing:

6_zack_with_ball7154

Is that the best Brewers outfit you’ve ever seen? Yes, of course it is, and all the credit goes to my friend Ben Weil. As I’ve mentioned many times, Ben owns thousands (yes, thousands) of jerseys and fitted caps. In a strange twist of fate, it just so happened that (a) I had “lost” my Brewers shirt three days earlier and (b) Ben is **OBSESSED** with Mike Piazza but couldn’t make it to this game. Therefore, he lent me his best Brewers jersey and cap in exchange for my getting him as much Piazza stuff as possible.

At that point in the day, I’d already secured one item: a black Mike Piazza t-shirt with the Hall of Fame logo. Every fan had received one on the way in, and I had no interest in keeping it for myself, so whatever.

Unfortunately, I only snagged one ball from the Brewers’ pitchers, but I did get two autographs on tickets that I’d found earlier in the series. Here’s Michael Blazek’s signature . . .

7_michael_blazek_autograph

. . . and here’s Rob Wooten’s . . .

8_rob_wooten_autograph

. . . which is so ugly that he should be sent down to the minors. I could take a dump on a ticket and make it look better than that. Seriously, shame on him.

Once the Brewers were gone, I quickly changed out of their gear and planned to hurry to the right field side. The Mets had started playing catch over there, and just as I was about to take off, I was approached by a young fan who’d brought his copy of How to Snag Major League Baseballs. Here we are:

9_how_to_snag_09_29_13

I quickly signed it for him and apologized for running off, but he understood. I think he told me that his name is Josh, but I was so distracted at the time (and it’s now five days later as I sit here typing this) that I might be wrong.

As it turned out, going to right field was a complete waste of time. There were a zillion little kids, and the seats were as crowded as I’d ever seen them:

10_right_field_foul_line_09_29_13

The only other time I’d seen *that* many people packed into the first few rows at Citi Field was at the 2013 All-Star Game.

Ben had told me that he really really REALLY wanted a Mike Piazza commemorative ball. His first choice was to get one that was game-used, but of course we didn’t know if they were even going to BE used. His second choice was to get one that was brand-new from the team store, but evidently they sold out within minutes of the stadium opening. His third choice was to get any ball with any Mike Piazza logo, so I picked up this souvenir for him:

11_mike_piazza_souvenir_ball_for_ben_weil

It was cheap, but I figured it was better than nothing.

All of a sudden, I heard the crowd start to cheer, so I hurried to a spot where I could see the field. Was the ceremony starting?! Had I missed Piazza’s entrance?

No and no.

Mets manager Terry Collins was taking a partial lap around the warning track and waving to the fans:

12_terry_collins_waving_to_fans

He even stopped to sign a few autographs:

13_terry_collins_signing_autographs

That was nice, but of course Collins and the rest of the Mets hadn’t behaved like that during the first 80 home games of the season. Now that it was “Fan Appreciation Day” (and an official team photographer was there to document everything), they were attempting to be friendly.

Anyway, I headed to my ticketed section for the start of the ceremony and got there just as some former Mets players began walking out onto the field:

14_former_players_walking_out_for_ceremony

Mike Piazza’s family and friends were already seated in front of the Mets’ dugout . . .

15_mike_piazza_family_and_friends

. . . and there were lots of media people behind home plate:

16_media_behind_home_plate

This really WAS a big deal.

Here’s a photo of the former players sitting down:

17_former_players_seated

Mets radio announcer Howie Rose was at the podium, and as he introduced them one by one, they stood up and waved to the crowd:

18_alfonzo_franco_gooden_hernandez_staub_wilson

The six players pictured above are:

1) Edgardo Alfonzo
2) John Franco
3) Dwight Gooden
4) Keith Hernandez
5) Rusty Staub
6) Mookie Wilson

Even though I’m not a Mets fan anymore, it was really cool to see all these guys, and it was even better when Piazza walked out:

19_mike_piazza_walking_out

The thing I enjoyed most about the ceremony was the crowd’s reaction. Everyone was SO into it. There was so much excitement and love that I couldn’t help but get swept up in it too. Mets fans really *are* passionate. They just haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years.

At this game, there was one section (well, technically three sections) where the fans were going absolutely insane. Check it out:

20_brewers_warming_up_in_front_of_packed_section_with_7_line_army_fans

That area is called the Big Apple Seats, and it was filled with a dedicated group of fans who’ve come to be known as The 7 Line Army.

In the photo above, did you notice the Brewers playing catch in the outfield? I’d been thinking about going for a pre-game toss-up out there, but even if I’d managed to elude stadium security and sneak down into that section, there would’ve been nowhere for me to go. There was a wall of people in the front row, and every seat was full — a true army, indeed.

Therefore, all I could do was hold my ground on the 3rd base side and watch the rest of the ceremony.

Piazza finally stepped up to the podium . . .

21_mike_piazza_at_the_podium

. . . and gave a pretty good speech. My favorite line came when he was talking about his family. He thanked his wife and two young daughters for being there and excused his infant son’s absence. In talking about his son, Piazza said, “I’m gonna teach him to hit, and the rest is up to him.”

That got a huge cheer from the crowd.

After the speech, Piazza threw the ceremonial first pitch to David Wright:

22_mike_piazza_ceremonial_first_pitch_to_david_wright

Here’s where I was sitting when the game got underway:

23_view_in_1st_inning_09_29_13

Approximately one minute after I took that photo, the batter — Jeff Bianchi — yanked a foul grounder that ricocheted off the dugout railing and rolled back out onto the field near Brewers 3rd base coach Ed Sedar. By the time Sedar picked up the ball, I was already calling out to him from the front row, and he tossed it to me.

Take a look at the ball:

24_ball7155_mike_piazza_commemorative

OH.
MY.
GAWD.

It was a thing of beauty, and I managed to snag one more — a 3rd-out ball tossed by Yuniesky Betancourt after the 6th inning.

Commemorative balls aside, the game was very exciting. Neither team had an extra-base hit, but there was plenty of action on the base paths. Eric Young Jr. swiped two bags — No. 45 and 46 — to break a tie for the National League lead with Jean Segura; Young and Juan Lagares each threw out a runner at home plate, which pretty much saved the game. Final score: Mets 3, Brewers 2.

After the final out, just about everyone on the Mets flung their caps into the crowd. Of course, that took place behind the 1st-base dugout so all I could do was watch helplessly:

25_mets_after_winning_09_29_13

Meanwhile, this was the scene on the 3rd-base side:

26_brewers_after_losing_09_29_13

What a letdown, huh?

Actually, it wasn’t a letdown at all. Look what I ended up getting:

27_zack_with_cap_and_ball_and_lineup_card

Basically, one of the coaches gave me the lineup card as soon as the game ended, and then several minutes later, when bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel and bullpen coach Lee Tunnell walked across the field, I got a ball from Tunnel and a cap from . . . someone. After both of those guys had disappeared from sight, a hand poked up beyond the far edge of the dugout roof and flung the cap at me. I was so surprised that I didn’t catch it cleanly or even see it coming. The cap hit me in the stomach, so after flinching for a split-second, I extended my arms and awkwardly grabbed it. Wow!! I didn’t know whose cap it was until I looked inside and saw the number 43 written there:

27b_lee_tunnell_cap

I took a peek at my roster, and whaddaya know . . . Lee Tunnell.

On my way out of the stadium, I photographed the lineup card:

28_lineup_card_09_29_13

On my way to the subway, some random guy saw it and said, “They didn’t give you a protective sleeve for that?!”

I explained that I hadn’t bought it at the team store.

When I got home, I scanned the lineup card and photographed the four baseballs that I’d snagged:

29_the_four_balls_i_snagged_09_29_13

Game-used Piazza balls were selling at the stadium for $125 by the end of the day. I ended up giving one of mine to Ben.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 baseballs at this game

• 698 balls in 91 games this season = 7.67 balls per game.

• 765 balls in 98 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.81 balls per game.

• 963 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 488 consecutive games with at least two balls

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

• 434 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

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

• 35 lifetime lineup cards (or pairs of lineup cards; click here to see them all)

• 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.

• 7,157 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)

• $13.92 raised at this game

• $2,429.04 raised this season through my fundraiser

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

• $38,935.04 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/28/13 at Citi Field

There wasn’t much competition at the start of batting practice. It was just me and my friend Rick Gold out in left field . . .

1_rick_gold_in_left_field_09_28_13

. . . but the Mets didn’t hit many balls our way. Most of the batters were left-handed, and BP ended 15 minutes early, but we each managed to snag a few. I got toss-ups from coach Tom Goodwin, Matt den Dekker, and (way out in left-center) Travis d’Arnaud — and that was it.

At one point, a batter crushed a home run way over our heads into the second deck. When I ran up there to look for the ball, not only did I *not* find it, but Rick snagged three homers while I was gone.

He and I had agreed to take turns running down onto the not-yet-guarded Party Deck for any home runs that landed there. I told him he could have the first one, and as it turned out, there was ONLY one, so he kinda owed me. When the Mets finished hitting, he paid me back, so to speak, by wandering back up to the 2nd deck with me and helping me look for the ball. I *knew* it was there — perhaps hiding in a cup holder or some other unlikely spot? Rick and I scoured the seats for several minutes. We walked up and down the stairs in several sections, even in left-center field where the ball hadn’t landed. Perhaps the ball had deflected off an armrest or a railing? We kept looking and looking, and eventually I gave up.

“[Bleep] it,” I said. “I’m outta here.”

While I was heading up the stairs toward the concourse, Rick took one last peek and then called out to me. He waved me over calmly, and when I got close, he leaned in and whispered that he had spotted the ball.

“That guy is standing right next to it,” he said.

Indeed, there was a group of fans who had made their way into the seats, and sure enough, the ball was sitting against the back of a seat RIGHT next to a man. He was probably standing three or four feet to the right of it and somehow didn’t see it . . . so I waited . . . and waited . . . and thought about the best way to walk over there without tipping him off. Thankfully it wasn’t long before the man moved one row down and began to take off his sweatshirt. That’s when I took this photo . . .

2_ball7150_hiding_in_second_deck

. . . and then I made my move.

Success!!

Were you able to spot the ball in the previous photo? If not, click the photo for a closer look. I assure you it’s there.

Big “thanks” to Rick for spotting that ball and then letting me have it. Like I said before, he kinda owed me for the homer that had landed on the Party Deck, but still, it was really nice of him to help me out like that.

Moments later, we saw this . . .

3_here_come_the_balls

. . . and headed back down to the 100 Level.

I got three more balls during the Brewers’ portion of BP. The first was thrown by coach Garth Iorg. The second was a Sean Halton homer that I caught on the fly after reaching two rows forward. (I handed that ball to the nearest kid.) The third was a Martin Maldonado homer that I also caught on the fly. (That one was easy because it came right to me.)

My total for the day was seven. Rick’s total was eight, which was impressive because he hadn’t asked for any toss-ups. Of course, he did “accidentally” snag a few which randomly landed near him (including one at the very end of BP that Wily Peralta threw to me from 150 feet away and which tipped off my glove at the very top of my leap), but still, he deserves a fist-bump for only trying to snag batted balls. That’s old-school, and it requires lots of patience.

Before the stadium had opened, I ran into an old friend, and after BP, I got a photo with him:

4_adam_and_zack_09_28_13

In the photo above, the young man on the left is named Adam. He’s 18 now, and even though I hadn’t seen him for five years, I immediately recognized him as a former Watch With Zack client. I’d done two games with him (and his older brother Scott), first on 9/29/07 at Camden Yards and then the following season at the final game ever at the old Yankee Stadium. Here’s a photo of us from 2007, and here’s Adam in 2008. (Where DOES the time go?) It was great catching up with him.

Before the game, there were a zillion cheerleaders on the field . . .

5_cheerleaders_09_28_13

. . . and during the game, they were driving everyone crazy:

6_cheerleaders_being_annoying

They were everywhere. It was maddening. They were performing gymnastics on those staircase railings, blocking people’s view, running all over the place, screaming and shrieking, and so on. (That’s what I get for attending a 4:10pm game on a Saturday.)

Not all the kids in my section were were annoying. Check out this little guy in the orange cap in the front row:

7_little_kid_in_front_row_09_28_13

He was wearing a glove, and he was extremely quiet and well-behaved, so I rewarded him by giving him a baseball.

Despite the fact that there was only one home run which landed nowhere near me, the game itself was pretty good. The Mets scored a run in the bottom of the 9th to tie it at 2-2, and for a couple of minutes, it looked like they were going to win. They had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out, and when Lucas Duda came to bat, the Brewers used an unconventional defensive alignment:

8_two_outfielders_09_28_13

Did you notice that there were only two outfielders?

Here’s what the right side of the infield looked like:

9_three_infielders_on_right_side

As you can see, there were three infielders between 1st and 2nd base, but that didn’t matter. Duda was hit by a pitch, and David Wright followed by hitting a weak grounder up the middle, which turned into a 6-3 double play.

The Brewers answered with two runs in the top of the 10th, and that was it.

Final score: Brewers 4, Mets 2.

After the final out, I made it down to the Brewers’ dugout, but didn’t get any more baseballs. Instead I gave one of mine to a little kid who hadn’t gotten one.

“Now we can go home,” said his excited father to both of us. “Our day is complete.”

BALLHAWKING STATS:

10_the_four_balls_i_kept_09_28_13• 7 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave three away)

• 694 balls in 90 games this season = 7.71 balls per game.

• 761 balls in 97 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.85 balls per game.

• 962 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.

• 7,153 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

• $2,415.12 raised this season through my fundraiser

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

• $38,921.12 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/27/13 at Citi Field

My first ball of the day was thrown by Vic Black in left field. My second ball was a BP homer that I caught on the fly in the front row. My third ball was a line-drive homer that I caught on the fly, barely edging out my friend Rick Gold in the process, and when I saw the logo on it, I was pleasantly surprised. Check it out:

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The Mets used those “50th anniversary” balls during every home game last season, and evidently they still have some extras.

Here’s a photo of the next two balls that I caught:

2_balls7141_and_7142

As I mentioned in my previous entry, that’s how the Brewers mark their baseballs.

Both of those marked balls were home runs, and I have no idea who hit them. I made a clean catch on the first one despite getting tangled up on a railing, and I caught the second ball on the fly . . . sort of. It was a towering fly ball that came right to me and would’ve been easy to catch had a nearby fan not lunged helplessly for it at the last second and bumped into me. As a result, the ball went in and out of my glove, but I was able to grab it with my bare hand before it fell to the ground. (That counts as being caught “on the fly,” right?)

My sixth ball was thrown by Marco Estrada, and as soon as I caught it, I handed it to the nearest kid.

A little while later, this was the view on my right:

3_view_to_my_right_in_bp_09_27_13

In the photo above, do you see the gray-haired man with the baseball glove? He’s wearing a light gray long-sleeved shirt and standing in the third row. Well, toward the end of BP, one of the Brewers hit a home run *right* to him, but he happened to be bending over at that moment. I don’t know if he was tying his shoes or getting something out of his bag or what, but the timing was perfect. It enabled me to reach right over him and catch the ball several inches above his back. If he’d been paying attention (and assuming he had even a tiny bit of athletic ability), he would’ve had an easy chest-high catch. Even after *I* caught it, he still had no idea what happened.

Before the game, I headed to right-center field . . .

4_brewers_pregame_throwing_09_27_13

. . . and ended up getting two more baseballs. The first was tossed by coach Lee Tunnell after doing a catching drill in the bullpen with Martin Maldonado.

Here’s a photo of the other ball . . .

5_ball7146_in_brewers_bullpen

. . . which ended up getting tossed by bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel. I handed that one to the nearest kid and eventually made my way to left field. This was my view during the game:

6_view_from_left_field_09_27_13

In the photo above, did you notice the two kids standing in the front row? The kid on the left was adorable but annoying. He kept running up and down the stairs, so eventually I gave him a ball, hoping that it would get him to sit down.

It didn’t. (What was I thinking? Duh!) The ball made him even more hyper. He kept running all over the place with it . . .

7_kid_with_ball_09_27_13

. . . and to make matters worse, I never got a “thank you” from him or his father, who was sitting two rows behind me. The kid was obviously glad to have the ball, but the whole thing bothered me, perhaps more than it should’ve.

Maybe I was just in a pissy mood because I misplayed a Maldonado homer in the 7th inning. Basically, the ball was hit in my direction, and I knew that it was going to sail well over my head, so I backed up a few rows. That seemed like a good/logical maneuver until the ball clipped the facade of the 2nd deck and bounced down into the front row, where it was promptly snatched by a middle-aged man without a glove. GAH!!!

If there was one good thing about the game, it’s that the Mets lost, 4-2. After the final out, I gave away another ball and lingered in the stadium for about 15 minutes. I would’ve stayed longer because I was killing time before meeting a friend, but a guard finally approached me and told me to leave. Here’s the final photo I took on my way out:

8_empty_stadium_after_game_09_27_13

BALLHAWKING STATS:

9_the_five_balls_i_kept_09_27_13• 9 baseballs at this game (five pictured here because I gave four away)

• 687 balls in 89 games this season = 7.72 balls per game.

• 754 balls in 96 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.85 balls per game.

• 961 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.

• 7,146 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)

• $31.32 raised at this game

• $2,390.76 raised this season through my fundraiser

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

• $38,896.76 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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