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

36 Comments

Awesome Piazza commereratives! You planning on any postseason games?

Joe

wish i was there, it woulda been the best time to grab a handful of souvenirs before the off season

LEEEEE TTTTUUUUUNNNNNNNEEEEEEEELLLLLLLL

JOE-
I came *this* close to being at Fenway today. I’d love to attend a postseason game, but I don’t know when/where, and I don’t want to spend TOO much money.

NAVI-
Yup, but the rest of the day was a struggle.

DEMETRIUS-
Ooh yeah.

Colette will drop off the shirt off next week

Wow, the handwriting on that lineup card. And Aoki written in Japanese. Ever seen that before? I sure haven’t.

Edgardo Alfonzo , my favourite player since I won his autographed game bat at last years charity auction -thanks to Zack. Also just heard Matt Harvey going to have Tommy John surgery– more good news for the Mets.

DEMETRIUS-
Thanks.

KENNY-
Yeah, I actually got one from the Brewers at PETCO on April 22nd. Check it out:
http://www.zackhample.com/baseball_collection/photos/bonus_items/lineup_cards/04.22.13_lineup_2.jpg

RAY BURTON-
That’s right . . . the bat. Glad you’re enjoying that. As for Matt Harvey and the Mets, ouch.

Wow. What a last game of the season. I had no luck like yours ( the Royals don’t like to give away stuff I guess…. ). On another note, If you don’t want the Mike Piazza ball you bought at the store you should put it in the charity auction.

That ball from the store is now in Ben’s possession.

Nice of you to give Ben a Piazza ball. Luckily both balls’ logo are nice, so you didn’t have to decide who would get the nicer one…

Lee Tunnell is one of the friendliest coaches I’ve come across.

Love the Brewers’ retro logo, and it goes well with Yount’s jersey. I wonder if it had any part on Tunnell giving you his hat?

The Mets really are great with Commemoratives. Makes me feel cheated for Griff (not for myself). Griff deserved a commemorative baseball for getting into the Mariners Hall of Fame earlier this season. Anyway, that’s pretty sweet that you got the line-up card from the Piazza HOF day.

JAMES LEE-
Yeah, that *is* lucky, although I’m sure Ben would’ve been glad to have one regardless of the condition. Lee Tunnell was being cool with everyone throughout the series, so I doubt that I got special treatment because of the retro logos on my gear. I suspect that he would’ve hooked me up no matter what type of Brewers logos I had.

COOK & SON BATS-
How do you know that there *wasn’t* a commemorative ball for Griffey? Assuming you’re right, that sucks. There aren’t many baseball people who deserve anything more than him.

I thought Ol Benny Bang Bang was thinning out the jersey collection? Good job on the commemoratives, both nice examples. I am hoping to get to something here in the postseason. I would hate to think that I have seen my last ball game of the year,

Big Glove Bob AKA Long Relief

Yay Commemoratives! That was nice of you to give a ball to Ben. I saw your tweet about cheap Braves postseason tickets. Well did you know that tickets to the NLDS Game 1 in STL were as cheap as $19? What’s up with that? Those Cardinals fans are used to being in the postseason now. NBD right? I had to go after seeing that. I don’t know if you agree, but Busch Stadium is one of the best stadiums in baseball for third out balls.That’s why I routinely make the trip from KC for commemoratives.

So glad you were there for Mike’s Big Day. It was a very moving ceremony. And the line-up card!!! Awesome. I asked Dan Warthen for a Mets line-up card at AT&T Park after a game this year, and he said, with his usual joviality (not), “I can’t do that.” I asked a few others with no reaction. There were two cards, one at each end of the dugout. After most of the players and staff had gone into the clubhouse, a young man gingerly peeled the tape and carefully removed the cards and carried them into the clubhouse like they were the frickin’ Mona Lisa. Another Mets fan told me the Mets actually SELL their line-up cards. Shocking but totally believable. Do you know if that’s true?

LONG RELIEF-
Benny *is* selling lots of stuff, but he still has SO MUCH remaining. What cities are you thinking of hitting up for the postseason?

GARRETT MEYER-
Daaaaamn, I had no idea that tickets were so cheap in St. Louis. Did you end up snagging one of those 2013 postseason balls? We’ll have to compare notes on Busch. I’ve done okay there at the dugouts, but it has always felt like a struggle.

LIZ MERRY-
It’s true: http://bit.ly/192AWeO
This photo is from my blog on May 3, 2011.

Awesome!

Good for Mike Piazza. Looks like it was a great ceremony for one of the greatest hitters in the game. The commemorative logo balls look sweet too. The ones you snagged look like their in perfect condition. I bet Ben is still jacked about getting one too!

That was very kind you to give a baseball away like that. I remember when I first started reading in 2006 and you have become very generous with your collection.

We got an umpire ball at his Mariners HOF day and it was a regular ROMLB. :-(

Zack – I’m willing to bet that I’m one of the few people to read religiously both your blog and the New Yorker (though sometimes on a bit of a delayed basis). What a great profile of you in this week’s New Yorker! You definitely are the Talk of the Town!

MIKE-
Thanks.

TOMMY M.-
It was a really nice ceremony, and yeah, both of those balls were basically perfect.

MIKEU-
I don’t think I gave any balls away when I first started blogging in 2005. Thanks for noticing. :-)

COOK & SON-
Oish.

NOMASESQ-
Thanks, but I was actually disappointed with that article.

Since the Dinner Portion doesn’t fly, I would be looking at places within semi sensible driving distance. The best case scenario would probably be Comerica in Detroit for a World Series game. Garrett and I had tickets to game 5 at Comerica last year only to have the Tigers get swept. With Detroit being such an effed up violent city, if we go I will probaby have Garrett drive while I literally ride shotgun.

Big Glove Bob

See, what a kind, wonderful, good-hearted person! WOOOOOOO PIAZZA BALLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BIG GLOVE BOB-
I’d love to join you guys, but we all know that the Red Sox are going to beat the Dodgers in the World Series.

BEN WEIL-
Or as Frank would say . . .

I’ve had a blog for about a year, but I just finished my entry about the game at Citi Field on September 26th, and I think it’s the best entry I’ve ever posted. Please check it out and offer me any criticism. I’d actually love to hear criticism so that I know how to improve as a writer. Thanks. Here’s the entry: http://juniorballhawk.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/92613-at-citi-field/

It’s a very good entry. I just left you a comment there, and I’ll follow up there with a few suggestions. First, don’t post so many photos of yourself. If your mom takes four photos of you posing in the same spot, just show one . . . or none . . . if you already have a bunch of photos of yourself. Second, some of your pics are a bit crooked and need to be rotated a few degrees. Third, if you’re going to photograph a ball that you snag (and I realize it was your mom who did this and not you), you should do so in a way that shows the stadium in the background. That way we know you’re actually at a game and not at a sporting goods store. Fourth, don’t post blurry photos unless you happen to end up with one that’s SO amazing that it’s worth it. Now that I’ve said all of that, I want you to know that I think your writing is really good — much better than I wrote at your age and much better than lots of adults write. You clearly have a grasp of how the language works, so keep it up. I’d say you definitely have a future as a professional writer if you choose to pursue that.

Thank you very much for the advice. I figured since I barely take any photos, I’d post as many as I could, and as for the blurriness, my camera and my mom’s phone aren’t too great, so I did what I could. Thanks, and I’ll try incorporating that into my entries next season because the last entry from this season won’t be too eventful.

You’re welcome. Glad to help.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! Makes me laugh, every time!

Hey Zack i have a question for ya? Do you know how to get baseballs authenticated? I have a baseball that i caught during BP of the 2009 Game 6 WS game?

NICK-
Unfortunately you can’t. MLB used to authenticate game-used balls that went into the crowd. Now they don’t. Plus, they only did it on the spot — not days (or years!) after the fact. Sorry.

Thanks for letting me know Zack.

Zack,
I just wanted to thank you for all the helpful advice you share with everyone. For the longest time I could never get a ball at a game, but never knew how to get one other than pure luck. I stumbled across your blog last spring, immediately went out and bought your book, and it’s made all the difference in the world. I went from never getting a ball collecting over 30 from major and minor league parks in the Midwest. So thank you again for all you do. Next time you’re at Wrigley or Comerica I’ll try to find you to thank you in person. Do you ever go to minor league games as well?

NICK-
You’re welcome.

RYAN C-
You are *very* welcome. Really glad to help. Not sure when I’ll be back in Chicago or Detroit, but hopefully we can connect.

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