May 2014

5/27/14 at Citi Field

A funny thing happened after the Mets game last night. As I made my way through the concourse behind the visitors’ dugout, I heard someone yelling “Hey!!” from behind, and when I turned around, I saw a 6-foot-5 police officer walking toward me.

“Uh . . . hey,” I said as he approached.

“You’re the guy who catches all the baseballs, right?”

“Ha! Yeah, that’s me.”

“I knew it! I’ve seen all your videos — you caught a ball dropped from a helicopter.”

“Wow, you really *have* seen a lot of my stuff.”

“Hey, would you mind if I get a quick photo with you?”

“I don’t mind at all, but even if I did, there’s no way I’d say no to a police officer.”

This was the result . . .

zack_and_cops

. . . and yes, I got permission to post that photo on the internet.

A minute later, the cop asked if I get recognized often at games. I wanted him to feel special, so I was like, “Well, you know, it happens from time to time,” prompting my friend Ben Weil (who was standing nearby) to shout, “YES!! ALL THE TIME!! IT HAPPENS **ALL** THE TIME!!”

Ahh, Benny.

The other cop asked to pose with me for a photo, and we all chatted for a bit.

It was already past 11pm at that point — not because of a rain delay or extra innings. It was late because the Mets and Pirates took 3 hours and 43 minutes to play a nine-inning game with a modest total of six runs.

That’s awful.

Major League Baseball — especially at Citi Field where nothing interesting ever seems to happen — is becoming borderline interminable, and the new commissioner better do something about it. There’s no need to limit the number of pickoff throws or speed up intentional walks or shorten commercial breaks. (You want your advertising money? Fine. Take it.) There needs to be rule that actually gets enforced that limits the time that pitchers can take between pitches. Same for the hitters. Keep your ass in the batter’s box, stop adjusting your batting gloves, and hit.

Speaking of hitting (or lack thereof), the Mets finished batting practice at 5:15pm, which means that by the time the gates opened at 5:10 and I ran all the way out to the left field seats, there were about about three or four minutes of BP remaining.

During the 20 minutes of virtual dead time that followed, I managed to get a Pedro Alvarez toss-up in foul territory. I ended up getting six more balls before the game, including the 7,000th ball of my consecutive games streak (which began on September 10, 1993). Unfortunately I gave that one to a little kid standing nearby before I realized the personal significance.

Several minutes later, I got falsely accused by a woman of “taking” a ball from her son.

“Oh really,” I said, “exactly which ball did I take from him?”

She didn’t have an answer for that, and after being pressed further, she finally admitted that I hadn’t actually taken one and that her son was just upset because he hadn’t gotten a ball. While I was defending myself against her verbal assault, her son got a ball tossed to him by a groundskeeper — but the woman still didn’t leave me alone and ultimately insulted the way I was brought up. (I was brought up not to take crap from idiots. Thanks.)

Finally, adding to the randomness of this blog entry, I’d like to point out that (a) my girlfriend, Hayley, was with me and was understandably bored to death and (b) this would’ve been my Grandma Helen‘s 117th birthday and I miss her.

5/17/14 at Citizens Bank Park

I attended this game for two reasons:

1) I was visiting family 25 miles away in Ambler, Pennsylvania.
2) My mom was with me and wanted to go.

And look, here she is in the right field seats:

1_naomi_in_right_field

Before I complain about how lame batting practice was, I need to complain about how stressful it was to even get to the stadium in the first place. Basically, we didn’t wrap things up with the fam until about 4pm, at which point I told my mom that we should forget the game and just head back home to New York. I had all my stuff with me for the game, but we hadn’t bought tickets, so it really wouldn’t have been much of a loss to bail. Also, Google Maps was telling me that the drive was going to take 45 minutes, which meant we were gonna have 20 minutes to park, buy tickets, and get on line at the gates — insanity, right? Well, my mom convinced me to go for it. We arrived at 4:48pm, and while she parked, I ran ahead and bought myself a $20 ticket (which was the cheapest available) and then rushed off to the nearest gate. My mom then took her time and found the ticket office and eventually caught up with me in right field.

By that point, I’d snagged one baseball — a toss-up from A.J. Burnett in left-center field. Meanwhile, everything else went wrong. I had missed a ball or two when the gates first opened because I wasn’t the first one to race out to the left field seats. Then I managed to maneuver myself out of position twice . . . as in, I was in a perfectly good spot, but decided that it wasn’t good enough, and as soon as I moved, batters ended up hitting home runs to the exact spots where I had been. Then, over in right field, there were hardly any home runs. (Ryan Howard, by the way, is about as useful in BP as Ruben Tejada.)

Here’s what it looked like in left-center when the Reds were hitting:
2_view_from_left_field

A little while later, I tracked two home runs perfectly, picking the exact spots where they were going to land and climbing up steps and over seats to get there. And both times, other fans reached up and caught/deflected these balls at the last second. Then I had a perfect opportunity to use my glove trick for a ball that rolled to the wall nearby . . .

3_ball_that_i_did_not_snag

. . . but a coach ran over and grabbed it, moments before I was about to unleash my magic.

There are days when everything seems to go right and I end up with 15 or 20 balls. This was the opposite. Yeah, the toss-up from Burnett was nice, as was the homer I caught at the end of BP in left field that would’ve drilled my mom, but overall it was a pathetic and unlucky afternoon.

I wandered for a bit after that and caught up with my mom, who had grabbed a spot in the last row behind the Reds’ dugout:

4_naomi_reading_in_the_last_row

Before the national anthem, I snagged EVERY ball that the Reds used during pre-game throwing. That is . . . zero.

Nice day, huh?

Actually, is *was* a nice day because I was with my mom. This was our view during the 1st inning:

5_view_during_game

(Yes, that’s a TV monitor dangling off the overhang.)

In the 2nd inning, we moved a bit closer and took a selfie:

6_naomi_and_zack_selfie

As you can see, I was wearing my Reds gear, but it didn’t help.

Here’s something that made me smile — take a look at the photo and then I’ll explain what I’m talking about:

7_billy_hamilton_many_batting_gloves

That’s Billy Hamilton, who always makes me smile, but more specifically, I liked the fact that he had FOUR batting gloves. What’s the deal — two for hitting and two for running/sliding?

In the 3rd inning, my mom and I moved even closer to the field . . .

8_view_from_closer_up

. . . and in the 4th inning, we left:

9_leaving_in_the_4th_inning

When we got back to New York, I learned that the Phillies had won, 12-1, and that Cole Hamels won his 100th career game. I was glad to have missed it. I used to like him, but ever since he intentionally plunked Bryce Harper in 2012, I have lost all respect for him.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 2 baseballs at this game

• 122 balls in 18 games this season = 6.78 balls per game.

• 308 balls in 34 lifetime games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.06 balls per game.

• 984 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 7,298 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.)

• 19 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.47 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $2.94 raised at this game

• $179.34 raised this season

• $38,843.34 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

“You’re over baseball?”

Earlier today, I received the following email from my friend Brandon:

email_from_brandon

First of all, what’s the deal with sending an email with no subject? That’s super-annoying. But okay, fine . . . you want to know what I’ve been up to lately? Last week the Mets and Yankees were both on the road, so there weren’t any games in New York City. This week they’ve been playing each other, and I want no part of it. I was planning to go to Philadelphia on Tuesday to see my new BFF Mike Trout — until I heard that 8,000 folks from his hometown in Millville, New Jersey, were also planning to make the trip. I was also been planning to go to Yankee Stadium tomorrow, but the weather’s gonna be miserable, so to hell with it.

As for the bigger picture, I’ve been to 17 games this season, which puts me on pace to attend about 70, so no, I’m not “over baseball.” That said, I’ve only blogged about five of the games I’ve been to — all my games outside of New York plus one brief entry about a cool moment with Heath Bell at Yankee Stadium.

You see, I’ve decided to stop blogging about games in New York because (a) blogging is a pain in the ass, and (b) Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are terrible for ballhawking. They’re my two least favorite venues in the major leagues. I don’t have much fun there, so when I get home from games, the last thing I want to do is relive the experience by writing about it. Kinda sad, huh?

Meanwhile, it just so happens that I haven’t been traveling much because I’ve already been to every current stadium multiple times; it’s hard to justify taking an entire day off from work to go and snag a bunch of BP balls. Camden Yards used to be a place where I’d average 10 balls per game, but now it’s crowded and competitive. Citizens Bank Park was also a venue where I routinely put up double digits, but now the gates are opening half an hour later. Nationals Park is great, but it takes four hours to drive there. Fenway Park is cramped and expensive. At this point, I’ll probably only travel to another city if there’s a damn good reason, such as (a) trying to snag a particular commemorative ball, (b) trying to catch a milestone home run, (c) catching up with a player that I know, (d) being filmed by the media, or (e) being with my girlfriend if she’s ever free and wants to join me.

So there you have it. I still love baseball as much as ever, and I actually have something big in the works to help me enjoy it even more . . .

5/2/14 at Yankee Stadium

This will be brief. I want to share a quick story from yesterday’s Yankee game (as well as a photo that’s guaranteed to make you cringe) . . .

When the Rays first took the field for BP, I got Heath Bell’s attention near the 3rd base dugout.

heath_bell_2014“Where are you going to be after BP?” he asked me.

“Out in left field near the bullpen,” I told him.

“Meet me here,” he said, pointing to the seats in foul territory.

“I can’t. Security won’t let me down here after 5:45pm. Why, what’s up?”

“I have a ball for you,” he replied.

Fast-forward 20 minutes. I saw Heath jogging out toward me in straight-away left field, so I hurried down to meet him in the front row. Before he reached the warning track, he pulled a ball out of his back pocket and tossed it to me. Some teenaged kid on my right tried to reach in front of me and snatch it, so I lunged *far* forward and outreached him. (Phew!) Several minutes later, when there was a quick break in the action, I photographed the ball:

1_ball7280_opening_day_ball_from_heath_bell

How cool is that? And would you believe this wasn’t the first Opening Day ball that Heath has given me? Check out my blog entry from 8/31/08 at PETCO Park to read about the other time it happened.

Anyway, the ball he gave me at Yankee Stadium was one of 11 that I snagged on the day, bringing my season total to 109. This is the 17th consecutive season in which I’ve snagged 100 or more balls — but enough about that. I just want to share one more photo from this game, and I suppose I should warn you that it’s not pretty. Here goes:

2_accurate_critique_of_yankee_stadium

Nice, huh?

The fan (not pictured above) who threw up was VERY drunk. Was he ejected from the stadium? No, of course not, but hey, whatever. No big deal. Yankee Stadium security has its priorities.

The game itself was one of the best I’ve ever attended, puke notwithstanding. It lasted 14 innings, the Rays won, 10-5, and Heath got the win in relief — can’t ask for much more than that.

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