4/8/14 at Citizens Bank Park

This was the Phillies’ home opener, and I drove down from New York City for ONE reason: to snag a commemorative “Opening Day” baseball.

Before the stadium opened, I enjoyed a few moments of solitude — here in the parking lot, for example . . .

1_stadium_from_afar_04_08_14

. . . and here outside the left field gate . . .

2_turnstiles_before_gates_opened

. . . but don’t be fooled. This game was sold out, and it got awfully crowded. This was the scene behind me just before I ran inside:

3_crowd_behind_me_04_08_14

I headed for the left field seats, and within the first few minutes, I snagged a pair of Phillies home run balls — no idea who hit ‘em. The first was hit one section to my right. The second landed one section to my left. I out-scrambled several other fans and grabbed both baseballs off the ground.

During the next group of hitters, I jumped as high as I could to catch a John Mayberry homer on the fly. Then, moments later, I caught another homer on the fly (possibly off the bat of Carlos Ruiz) by carefully drifting down the steps and reaching a bit higher than everyone else. And then this happened:

1) A big guy standing five rows back scolded me for bumping into another fan.
2) I assured him that I hadn’t bumped anyone, but he insisted that he saw me do it.
3) The fan he accused me of bumping said I hadn’t bumped anyone.
4) The big guy apologized to me.

With two groups of Phillies batters remaining, I headed to right field and picked a spot in the emptiest row:

4_empty_row_in_right_field_04_08_14

I ended up catching three home runs on the fly in that section. My left arm got bumped on the first one, I gave the second one to the nearest kid, and I caught the third one (hit by Cesar Hernandez) on my palm. It stung quite a bit, but I held onto it, so whatever. And by the way, the reason I caught it awkwardly is that it was coming in low toward some gloveless fans in front of me. I wasn’t sure if they’d duck or try to catch it (and possibly deflect it into my face), so I half-lunged for the ball and half-flinched from it.

I moved back to left field when the Brewers came out, and I caught two more home runs. The first was hit by Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) and had a magic-marker streak on the sweet spot:

5_ball7205_streak_on_sweet_spot

I have no idea who hit the other one, but I can tell you this: it was the ninth BP homer I’d snagged, including seven that I caught on the fly. These were the only nine balls I got before the game started — no Easter eggs, no toss-ups, nothing with the glove trick, and none of them were commemorative.

Here’s a cool thing that the Phillies did before the game:

6_players_heading_down_the_steps

In case you can’t tell, those are Phillies players and coaches passing through the crowd and heading down the steps toward a long red carpet, which was lined with fans.

Nice job, Phillies!
THAT is how to kick off a season.

Check out my view for the player introductions:

7_guys_on_the_roof

Did you notice the three guys standing on the top edge of the upper deck? I would love to go up there sometime, in Philly or anywhere. I wonder how I’d go about making it happen. Hmm.

Anyway, when the game was about to begin, I headed to the 1st base side. I wanted to maximize my chances of snagging a gamer, so why not take a shot at getting a 3rd-out ball from the Phillies after the top of the 1st inning, right?

Well, with two outs, Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) hit a routine grounder to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who fired it over to 1st baseman Ryan Howard. I was already crouching in the front row by the time Howard caught it, and it’s a good thing because he took one step into foul territory and lobbed the ball in my direction. Everyone around me reached for it, but I reached a little higher, and I caught it! As eager as I was to look at it and take a photo, I decided to wait until I made it back to the concourse, and when that moment arrived, my heart sank. This is what I saw:

8_ball7207_worn_out_opening_day_logo

What the hell?!

The ball *was* commemorative, but the logo was crap. How was that even possible? This was a gamer! Right? Howard could not have possibly switched balls and thrown me the infield warm-up ball because . . . like I mentioned above, he tossed me this one the moment he started walking off the field. I mean, he basically took his foot off the bag, turned toward the dugout, and let it fly.

Ugh.

I hurried to the 3rd base side and tried to get a 3rd-out ball from the Brewers. I settled into a spot behind the outfield end of the dugout, so basically I needed each inning *not* to end with a strikeout. If Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy ended up with the ball, there was no chance I’d get it.

That said, wanna guess how the first inning ended? Yup, with a strikeout. But there was no need to worry yet. The day was still young.

The 2nd inning ended when Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) made a diving catch in right field, and wouldn’t you know it, he ended up keeping the ball.

The 3rd inning was a different story. Once again, Braun (BOOOOO!!!) caught the final out, but this time it was a routine play, and when he jogged all the way back to the dugout, he tossed me the ball! And the logo was in great shape:

9_ball7208_better_opening_day_logo

WOOO!!!

On the way back to my seat, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid — and then there was NO action for the next three innings.

The bottom of the 7th ended with a line-out to Brewers 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez. On his way in, he tossed me the ball, and the logo was perfect.

Then I moved to the home-plate end of the dugout, and in the middle of the 8th inning, I got a commemorative “Opening Day” infield warm-up ball from coach Garth Iorg.

The Brewers won the game, 10-4, thanks to Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) who hit three home runs and had seven RBIs. After the final out, I got another commemorative ball from coach Mike Guerrero — my 14th and final ball of the day.

Here are the 12 that I kept:

10_the_twelve_balls_i_kept_04_08_14

Given how badly I was treated on 8/3/13 at Citizens Bank Park, it felt great to have a fun day there and get things back on track.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 14 baseballs at this game

• 35 baseballs in 4 games this season = 8.75 balls per game.

• 970 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 62 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection

• 7,211 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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.)

• 14 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.22 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $17.08 raised at this game

• $38,706.70 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

27 Comments

Citizens Bank Park [ what an unfortunate name ] brings back such great baseball memories. Except the one where we nearly got killed when Ryan Howard let go of his bat and it ended up in the crowd. Good to see you back in the game Zack. Best of luck in 2014. it certainly has started well.

The O’s did a similar player-entrance this year (with an orange carpet), though they didn’t come directly through the stands. I was psyched when the Red Sox players entered through the stands on Opening Day 2009, but I guess a lot of the players didn’t like it* so they didn’t make it a regular tradition.

*It’s hard enough to walk down the 1912-built uneven grandstand steps at Fenway withOUT wearing spikes and being mobbed by people, so I can’t blame them, still, I wish we had this every year.

Zack,

Why don’t you like Ryan Braun? Have you blogged about it? If so can you post a link? Good luck this year

Stay in Philly, Zack. Your trips to Yankee Stadium and Citi Field appear to raise your blood pressure.

Do you know how many hours the gates open prior to the start of the game at CBP?

It’s an eerie sight seeing an empty parking lot before a game. Did you throw the Braun ball back?
http://mlblogscubden.wordpress.com/

Russell, Braun has admitted to and been suspended for doping. What an awesome thing to have the players enter through the stands! So simple, really, yet what a thrill for those fans!

Great way to start the season! Other than Ryan ‘Roid head’ Braun (BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO). Unfortunately all the Brewers fans still cheer for him. Its really annoying. I mean come on, he lied to everyone, then he gets suspended, and he really never admits it other than releasing a statement. He’s a shady dude……..

Thanks Liz and Larry i knew about the drug thing i just didn’t know thats why Zack doesn’t like him.

Zack,
How have you gotten so good at dodging security for those 3rd out balls? I was just at Wrigley trying to snag one of the 100th anniversary balls and the ushers were absolutely militant about not letting anyone without a ticket into those sections by the dugouts. I give you props for being a ninja about it and being so successful, just wondering how you manage without getting collared.

To that end, I still snagged three balls that day during BP following your advice, so again thanks for passing on your wisdom.

RAY BURTON-
Thanks. It feels nice to be back at some games (that aren’t in New York).

JERE80-
Interesting. Yeah, Fenway isn’t the easiest place to navigate.

RUSSELL-
Roids.

SAM BROWN-
I wish.

BOSTON BALLHAWK-
I’m not sure. I’ve heard it’s changing from 2.5 to 2 hours this season, but Opening Day often has its own set of rules. If you find out, let me know.

THE CUB DEN-
Hell no, I kept it.

LIZ MERRY-
Yes and yes.

LARRY-
He’s the worst. I wish he (and all the other steroid guys) would be banned for life.

RYAN C-
It all depends on the stadium. It’s incredibly easy to get past security in most areas in Philly, but I hear ya about Wrigley. Those old ushers there are impossible.

Me too! Lol that would be classic if you threw the Braun ball back. But, it would most likely result in another (unnecessary) ejection from CBP………

Zack, I’m currently at the Phillies game. The gates opened two hours prior to the start of the game.
- Maddie

Zack, here’s what I was told
Ashburn Alley opens 2 hours prior to the game for every day.
The rest of the stadium opens 2 hours early on weekends and 1 1/2 hours early on weekdays.
It sucks.

LARRY-
No doubt.

MADDIE-
Bah! Well, thanks for letting me know.

PHIBALLHAWK-
Dang . . . but thanks for the info.

Hey Zack. So I was at a game earlier today, and something odd happened. I had caught a foul ball in my glove, and then some other grown man who was also chasing it pushed me down, causing me to drop it. The ball rolled away from me, and somebody else got it. Should this ball count in my stats or not?

That really sucks, but unfortunately, I don’t think it should count. I think that in order to count it, you need to maintain possession of it unless you *voluntarily* give it away.

It’s great to see u back at a ballpark in America! U keep me occupied for a good 15 min. while i just sit here rotting in school. Can’t wait for more posts!

Thanks for the decision, and sadly I had a feeling it would go that way. Good luck this year!

Hey Zack, will you chase the Jackie Robinson balls?

Also, will you chase the Cubs’ “Wrigley Field 100 Years”, Orioles’ “60th Anniversary”, and “Civil Rights Game” balls?

Are you going to Citi Field this Friday?

NICK-
Ha! Thanks. Glad to hear that. School is the worst.

SAM UNGER-
Thanks.

STEPHEN-
I don’t think there are commemorative balls for Jackie Robinson. Yes to the Cubs. No to the Civil Rights (because I got some in the past). Yes to the Orioles (got one tonight in Baltimore).

CBELTRAN15-
If the weather’s nice, I’ll probably be there.

Can’t wait for Todd Helton’s retirement day: August 17! Will you be there? Is there BP on these days b/c of the retirement ceremony?

STEPHEN-
Hadn’t even heard about it ’til now. I probably won’t be there. There should be BP. Those ceremonies usually take place half an hour before the game.

I think it’s funny that you are SOOOO upset with Braun but then call the Bonds home run ball one of your favorites. Haha. Gotta love picking and choosing. As a Brewers fan I’m still pissed about how everything happened, but I root for what’s on the front of the jersey. I kind of feel like I have no choice but to hope he plays well (considering they have him signed through at least the 2020 season). If he doesn’t play well the Brewers won’t have much of a shot, so that’s where I stand. I also thought it was hilarious that Cardinals fans at Miller Park the other night were booing Braun when their own team knowingly signed a guy who had just gotten popped.

That’s a valid point, but the fact is . . . it was still a BIG DEAL whenever Bonds hit a home run at that point in his career. It’s one of my favorite balls because of the magnitude of the situation. I still hate Bonds and don’t cherish the ball nearly as much as I would if he were known to be clean. Braun seems worse than most other cheaters because of how he took down other people in the process, but okay, fair enough, I can see why you’d still root for him because you want your team to succeed.

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