3/22/14 at the Sydney Cricket Ground
From left to right in the photo above, you’re looking at me, Alex (who’s almost 15), Nick (who has gotten jacked), Emily (who’s studying at Sydney University), Donna (who made me eat kangaroo), and Ray (who has posted a comment on nearly all of my blog entries for the last two years).
Although the Burtons were not a big part of my Game 1 experience of the MLB Opening Series in Sydney, they played a massive role on my trip. During my ten full days in Australia, I was with them nonstop for the first five, including two days at their home in Newcastle.
Anyway, this was Day 4 of my trip. I might share more details about it in a separate entry, but for now, I’ll just say that the six of us spent the morning and early afternoon on a Sydney Harbour cruise. Check out this photo of the famous opera house:
One of the many highlights from the early part of the day was seeing myself in the Sydney Morning Herald:
In case you’re interested, here’s the full article, and in case you’re wondering, I had gotten to enter the Sydney Cricket Ground the previous day for a brief photo shoot. I will definitely blog about that — but not now. This entry is already shaping up to be ridiculously long (but admit it, you love it).
As for Game 1 of the Opening Series, the Burtons were nice enough to drop me off at the stadium before they went to deal with parking. Here’s what it looked like when I got out of the car at 2:30pm:
The gates weren’t going to open until 5pm, so I had plenty of time to wander and take photos.
One minute later, I found myself here . . .
. . . and met up with my friend and fellow ballhawk Wayne Peck, who had traveled to Australia from Seattle. He and I seem to cross paths at MLB events in far-off places – remember this photo of us from 3/28/12 at the Tokyo Dome? We decided to wander together around the outside of the Sydney Cricket Ground and recreate that photo.
We started by heading in the opposite direction from which I had come. After a couple of minutes, we walked completely past the stadium and found ourselves here:
Did you notice the big black gate in the previous photo? That was our first opportunity to turn left, and this is what we saw:
It seemed like a weird route to take a lap around the stadium, but where else were we supposed to go? We walked farther . . .
. . . and saw the stadium on our left, way off in the distance:
As you can see, we were blocked by smaller buildings, so we kept walking and found ourselves blocked by a parking lot gate:
By this point, we were already thinking “WTF?!” but the day was young, and the weather was perfect, so we kept going. Here’s what we saw next:
We decided to cut across the field . . .
. . . and ended up so far from the stadium . . .
. . . that we headed back. Evidently the Sydney Cricket Ground is part of a huge complex, so that’s why we weren’t able to take a simple stroll around it.
On the way back, I was recognized by this guy:
His name is Daniel Keane, and despite the fact that he’s a native Australian, he loves baseball more than words can describe. He had tweeted at me several days earlier, so I was glad to run into him and catch up for a bit. Before we said goodbye, he pointed us in the right direction. Sort of. Look what we ended up seeing:
A security guard pocketing baseballs and a fan wearing a “JETER” jersey? Don’t get me wrong — I love Derek Jeter, but ucchh, some things never change.
Wayne and I kept walking for another minute or two, and when we turned right, we saw another stadium:
Did you notice the jumbotron? Here’s a closer look:
We made our way into the “baseball shop” . . .
. . . where commemorative baseballs were being sold for a silly price:
Back outside, Wayne and I made our way to the oldest and most scenic portion of the Sydney Cricket Ground. Here we are rekindling the magic from Japan:
On our way to Gate E, I saw a funny (but important) sign:
Soon after we reached the gate, I did a live radio/phone interview with Jeff Sammut and George Rusic on SportsNet 590 The FAN in Toronto. Then Wayne and I were joined by another American ballhawk named Leigh Barratt, aka “Padre Leigh.” Here we are:
With Wayne and Leigh holding down a spot at the gate, I wandered a bit more. The area surrounding the stadium was now bustling with fans:
In the photo above, that’s a Speed Pitch booth on the left, and did you notice the small blue tent up ahead? That belonged to the Australian Baseball League:
Before I got to Sydney, I was concerned that Australians might not care about Major League Baseball, or worse, be pissed off that Americans had transformed their historic cricket stadium for a stupid sport that made no sense — but that wasn’t the case at all. Most of the people in attendance were Australian, and the whole city was embracing it. Why? Because Australia is so isolated from the rest of the world that the natives are delighted when people come to visit. I got the sense that Australians were honored to host these games and show off their beautiful country, and of course the economic boost didn’t hurt.
Here’s a makeshift Wiffle Ball field that was set up for kids:
Did you notice the solid mechanics of the little girl at bat? Look at that leg-kick and weight-shift!
Not surprisingly, there was a mob of fans surrounding the merchandise trailer:
I waited in line for 20 minutes and bought an “Opening Series” T-shirt:
It cost $40, which is arguably a sillier price than $45 for a commemorative baseball, but hey, we all have our priorities, and whatever, it was Australian money, which isn’t worth quite as much as American money these days, ha ha ha.
Just before the stadium opened, this was the scene outside Gate E:
And then . . . it was showtime!
When the gates opened, I had no idea which way to run or which escalator to take, but eventually I found my way to the left field seats:
Many months earlier, when tickets first went on sale, I paid $189 for a decent seat in foul territory. (FYI: the cheapest seat in the stadium was $69.) Several days before I left for Australia, when I heard about the newly-added party decks in the outfield, I paid $149 for an extra ticket in left field. It was an awful lot of money, but (a) being at the Sydney Cricket Ground was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and (b) I wanted to be in the best possible spot to catch the first Major League home run ever hit in the southern hemisphere.
Anyway, look how much room there was beside the Miller Party Deck in left field:
I knew right away that I was gonna love it, and it didn’t take long for me to get on the board. The Diamondbacks were already taking batting practice, and I got a ball thrown to me by rookie pitcher Zeke Spruill. It was a huge relief, but unfortunately the ball was not commemorative:
At the Opening Series in Japan, many BP balls were commemorative, so I was hoping that things would be the same here in Australia. And then it happened. I snagged a pair of home run balls, and BOTH of them were commemorative! Check it out:
The first of those home runs had cleared the wall in left-center, bounced toward the back of the blue area, and deflected into the scaffolding beneath the actual party deck. Just as I was about to climb in there, an employee who was setting up some cables offered to get it for me.
The second home run had landed in the seats down the line and ricocheted in my direction. I ran quite a distance and scooped it up on the move, but I’ll admit that I was much more lucky than skillful on that one.
A few minutes later, I headed up onto the deck . . .
. . . and got my fourth ball from the player pictured above on the right — rookie pitcher Bo Schultz. It was not commemorative.
Meanwhile, this was the view to my right:
A little while later, this guy walked up to me . . .
. . . and said in a charming Australian accent, “Excuse me, are you Zack Hample?”
I asked him how he knew, and he mentioned something about a documentary — very cool to be recognized so far from home.
Given the fact that he was wearing that beard, I felt bad when I realized that I’d outjumped him for a toss-up from Brian Wilson, but here’s how it happened — you’ll see that it wasn’t my fault:
1) A ball rolled onto the warning track.
2) I ran over to get near it.
3) Wilson walked over.
4) I asked him for it.
5) He lobbed it right to me.
6) I sensed that there was someone behind me who was going to try to snatch it.
7) I drifted forward and jumped as high as I could and gloved it.
8) I turned around, and the dude with the fake beard was standing right behind me.
I told him that if he didn’t get a ball during BP, I’d give him one.
My next eight baseballs were a blur — yes, EIGHT baseballs (none of which were commemorative). One of them was thrown by Josh Collmenter, but I forget which. The rest were home runs, all hit by the Dodgers, I think, and I’m pretty sure I caught them all on the fly. I remember running back and to the right and back-handing one of them near the seats. I also remember running far to my left for another and drifting back for an easy catch while everyone in front of me scrambled helplessly. There was another homer that I caught in the middle of a pack of adult fans; I just happened to pick the right spot and jump higher.
My first game of each season tends to be a struggle. The winter makes me rusty. But here in Sydney, I was truly on fire. Each time I caught another ball, I could hear the entire stadium behind me yelling “OHHHHHHHHHH!!!” and applauding. I ended up giving three baseballs to little kids, snagging an Andre Ethier ground-rule double in left-center, and giving a ball to the guy with the fake beard.
For a while, I lost count of the number of balls I’d snagged. I knew for sure that I’d given away four, so after BP, I discretely counted the remaining balls in my backpack. There were 10, which meant my total for the day was 14. All of left field was buzzing, but a small portion of the attention was negative. Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain:
See the two guys holding $50 bills? They had begged me to sell them each a baseball, and they would NOT take “no” for an answer. Over the course of BP, they had seen me give away several balls and place a bunch more in my backpack, so they couldn’t understand why I was “being like that.” I tried to explain that I only give baseballs to kids (“It’s FOR my kid!”) and that I don’t sell baseballs (“Name your price!”) and that they could buy commemorative balls for less money than they were offering me (“But we want ones that came from the field!”). It was bad. They wouldn’t leave me alone, and by the way, don’t be fooled by their smiles. Wayne told me later that he overheard them talking about stealing my bag and breaking my jaw.
In the photo above, the guy in the Cardinals jersey asked me if I knew how to get Mark McGwire’s autograph, and the girl on the right begged me for a ball by using the line, “How can you say no to a pretty face?”
ANYway . . .
Things calmed down a little bit after that, but there were still a dozen people who wanted to talk, some of whom recognized me from who-knows-where.
Leigh caught up with me and showed a nasty scrape on his elbow:
If I’m remembering correctly, that happened to him on my third snag of the day — the commemorative home run ball that deflected out of the seats and into the open blue area. (Sorry, Leigh. For what it’s worth, I really do feel your pain.)
Then I got an unusual autograph request from a guy named Paul:
He had me sign his copy of Baseball Scorekeeper, for which I had written the introduction.
More and more people kept coming over to talk to me, and I was getting antsy. The time between BP and the game was my only chance to wander and explore the stadium. I finally managed to excuse myself, and to my delight, it began raining. The grounds crew pulled out the tarps. This gave me a little extra time to do my thing.
Wayne and I headed up the steps . . .
. . . and into the cramped concourse:
Here’s a look at the “food” that was available at one of the stands:
The word “food” belongs in quotes because it was TERRIBLE. I’m sure there was good food somewhere, but the lines were stupid-long, so I didn’t bother. You’ll see what I mean in a bit, but for now, let me explain why the Sydney Cricket Ground is weird and fascinating and annoying. In the following photo, do you see the old-fashioned stands across the field with the green roofs?
That area is known as the Members Pavilion. It has its own entrance, and the stands are old and funky and fancy — kinda like Fenway Park combined with a 19-century gentlemen’s club. I got to check out the pavilion the previous day during the photo shoot. The rest of the stadium, however, is a disjointed bundle of crap — kinda like Olympic Stadium minus the roof. Granted, it’s a cricket stadium, and I’m judging it by baseball standards, which isn’t really fair, but still, you get the point.
Another thing about the previous photo — did you notice the fans walking on the lower level? The upper portion of the concourse ended where we were standing, so in order to proceed toward home plate, we had to go down a flight of stairs. That’s not a big deal — it’s just mildly interesting. There are a few major league stadiums with stairs built into the concourses (PETCO Park’s left field foul line comes to mind), but it’s rare.
Take a look at the foul pole:
How’s THAT for weird? Have you ever seen a foul pole set so far back from the outfield wall? No, you haven’t.
Here’s a closer look at the blue surface:
It was made of plastic, and the traction was great. I was concerned, though, that it would get slippery, but thankfully it didn’t rain much.
Check out the left field foul line:
Wayne and I worked our way through the seats until we got here:
In the photo above, do you see the railing one section away, perpendicular to the seats? It blocked us from going any farther because it extended from the front row to the very back of the section. Therefore we had no choice but to head back into the concourse.
More weirdness: there was a small open-air portion . . .
. . . that connected to a sloped, garage-like tunnel. Here it is heading down . . .
. . . and here it is slanting back up:
The folks who run the Sydney Cricket Ground need to make it look less like a construction site and more like a stadium. Paint the walls. Hang some jerseys or pennants. Bring in some memorabilia. Throw in a few concession stands (with decent food). Come on!
In the following photo, do you see the green barricades and blue-shirted security guards in the distance?
That was as far as we were allowed to go. The space beyond that served two purposes:
1) It was the entry point at Gate G for fans with the fanciest tickets near home plate.
2) It was a smoking area.
Naturally I asked one of the guards if we could go out there to smoke. He said yes and handed us each one of these:
Unfortunately it didn’t do us much good. We got to take a photo of Gate G and the outside of the stadium . . .
. . . and that was it. The guard made us hand over the smoking passes on our way back through the barricades.
Gate G, I realized, had its own entrance. The barcodes on tickets for any other part of the stadium would not scan there, and if you had a ticket that said “Gate G” on it, you *had* to enter there, and you couldn’t leave. I felt bad for Ray and his family. He had bought the most expensive seats near the 3rd base dugout, and they weren’t allowed to go to the outfield during BP.
Wayne and I headed to the second deck along the left field foul line, where I happened to run into someone else who was looking for me:
That woman’s name is Marika. She lives in Australia and had gotten in touch months earlier to see if I’d be attending these games — and BAM, here we were, face to face. We chatted for about ten minutes, and then I resumed my journey with Wayne around the stadium.
We walked through the seats toward the outfield . . .
. . . and checked out the concourse:
In order to get to the upper deck, we had to go down to the field level and then head back up a different set of stairs. (See what I mean about the stadium being disjointed?) This was the path from the field-level concourse to the stairs . . .
. . . and this was one portion of the stairs:
This was the scene in the upper deck concourse:
All those people were waiting in line for food. (Terrible, overpriced hot dogs!! Yayyyy!!)
I avoided the crowd and headed through this tunnel . . .
. . . on my way to the last row of the upper deck:
Then I headed toward the bottom of the section to get a photo of the sky:
It looked like it was gonna rain like hell, and apparently every MLB official in Australia thought so too because the tarp remained on the field for a long time.
What was going on?
I would’ve preferred to photograph the stadium without the tarps covering the field, but the delay *did* give me extra time. Here’s a photo of me that Wayne took:
Here’s a side view of the Miller Party Deck:
Here’s something cool that I’d never seen before — a machine that rolled up the smaller of the two tarps:
After a while, I got bored of the upper deck and headed back down to the field level. I photographed the clutter behind the center field wall and planned to head to right field . . .
. . . but when I realized that the player introductions were underway, I hurried back upstairs. Here’s what it looked like from the very last row:
Eventually the first pitch was announced for 8pm, so once again, I headed back downstairs. (I really need to start wearing a pedometer to games. Distance covered in steps and miles — that would be a fun stat to add to the end of my entries, huh?)
At the very start of BP, I was able to access the blue portion beside the party deck by walking down into the regular seats and passing through the little gate at the bottom. At game time, however, this was the only way to get there:
As you can see, there was a staircase to the deck from the center field concourse, and there were two guards there checking tickets. After I got past them, I headed down onto the deck . . .
. . . and took a peek at the Dodgers’ bullpen:
Then I turned to the right . . .
. . . and headed down the last of the steps into blue heaven.
The first thing I saw was a Homer Simpson wannabe dancing badly:
Then I chatted briefly with these Dodgers fans . . .
. . . and settled into a spot deep in straight-away left field.
This was my lousy view for the entire game:
To clarify, it was lousy for watching the game, but had incredible potential for catching a home run. Look how much space there was on my right:
That barricade was the cut-off point. For some reason (which no stadium employee was able to explain), no one was allowed to hang out on the other side of it, but lemme tell ya . . . if a ball ended up landing there, I was gonna go all out for it, and if I ended up getting ejected and/or deported, so be it.
This was the view to my left:
Those guards were extremely friendly and helpful. I explained baseball to them. They watched my backpack for me. And so on.
This was the view directly behind me:
Here’s a photo of me that Wayne took from the front row of the regular seats:
Here I am again, photographed by Ray from the 3rd base side:
Here I am on TV, tracking a deep fly ball that I hoped would *not* clear the fence:
It’s hard to tell from that angle, but I was at least 15 feet behind the wall. The area in front of me was crowded, so if the ball had squeaked over, I wouldn’t have had a chance.
In the top of the 4th inning, Scott Van Slyke dashed my home run fantasy by poking one just over the wall near the right field foul pole.
At one point late in the game, I moved closer to the field for a peek through the chain-link fence:
Look how crowded it was on my left:
Clearly, with heavy right-handed hitters in the game such as Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Scott Van Slyke, Juan Uribe, Paul Goldschmidt, and Mark Trumbo, it made sense to position myself far behind the crowd in case someone really went deep. But no, Van Slyke’s opposite field homer was the only longball of the night, and according to ESPN Home Run Tracker, it traveled a measly 341 feet.
Here’s a photo of the jumbotron:
I was hoping for a blowout, but got somewhat of a pitcher’s duel instead — not surprising with Clayton Kershaw on the mound. He ended up allowing one run in 6 2/3 innings.
By the end of the game, Wayne looked like he was losing his mind:
Overall, though, I think he had fun, and if you have a few extra minutes to spare, check out his blog entry about the Opening Series.
Did you notice Leigh in the previous photo? He was sitting with his wife Dolly. (Did you notice the little kid in the Dodgers cap making a goofy face behind her? Tee-hee.)
Here’s my favorite sign of the day:
And that’s pretty much it. I didn’t bother going for a post-game ball from the Dodgers’ bullpen because I wanted to save my attempt for the following day’s afternoon game. I wasn’t sure if there’d be BP, and I was going to be trapped in the outfield, and I desperately wanted to avoid getting shut out. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll save all those details for my next entry and end this one with a few more photos of baseballs and the Burtons. Here they are in their hotel room:
Here are the ten balls I’d brought back from the game:
Of those ten, I gave two to the Burtons — one of the commemorative balls, which I had promised (if I got an extra one and they didn’t get any), and one of the regular balls, which I signed with my lifetime total:
Stay tuned for a whole lot more from Australia . . .
• 14 baseballs at this game
• 25 consecutive seasons with at least one ball
• 967 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 51 different major league stadiums with at least one ball; click here for the complete list.
• 61 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection.
• 4 different countries with at least one ball: America, Canada, Japan, and Australia
• 7,190 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 10 donors for my fundraiser
• $0.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $10.08 raised at this game
• $38,674.08 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009