June 2014

6/24/14 at Citi Field

This was a BIG day, and of all places, it started at a cable TV studio in White Plains, NY:

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Way back in February, a man named John Vorperian, who hosts a show called Beyond The Game (and is a member of SABR), had gotten in touch and asked if he could interview me. It took a while to nail down a date, and now, finally, four months later, the moment had arrived.

Here’s what the studio looked like . . .

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. . . and here’s a photo of John (on the right) in the control room with a guy named Keith:

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The interview lasted 27 minutes, and in a couple of weeks, it’ll air commercial-free in its entirety. John was a great host, and we discussed lots of stuff, starting with my baseball collection and eventually branching off into my books, the helicopter stunt, my video game records, my rubber band ball, and even my SAT score (which I guarantee is lower than yours). I love long interviews because there’s time to get into some real oddball stuff.

Here I am with John after the interview:

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On my way out, he signed a historical book about White Plains for me, and I signed a baseball for him. He’s a really nice guy, and I wouldn’t have met him if not for Jon Hart, the author of Man Versus Ball.

I would’ve liked to stick around the TV studio for a while and talk more baseball with John, but (a) he had to get back to his regular job two blocks away as an attorney, and (b) I had to get my ass to Citi Field. That involved driving back to Manhattan, scarfing down two slices of pizza as I walked from the garage to my place, changing my clothes, gathering my stuff for the game, and running back out to meet up with David Rhode, the director of my favorite charity — Pitch In For Baseball.

David and I met near the subway and had lots to discuss as we rode the 7 train out to Queens. He was going to be my official “caddy” at the game — something I desperately needed because of a HUGE personal milestone that I was likely to achieve. You know about my consecutive games streak, right? The last time I went to a major league game and didn’t snag a baseball was on September 2, 1993 (at Yankee Stadium, of course). My next game after that was on September 10, 1993, at Shea Stadium. I snagged five balls that day, and ever since then, I have *always* managed to get at least one ball at every game I’ve attended. Fast-forward to the present. At the start of this day, my streak was at 999 games, which meant that my first ball of the day was going to extend it to 1,000. That’s why David was with me — to film me snagging the first ball and take a bunch of photos of whatever happened next.

Here’s David (on the left) and a fellow ballhawk named Rick Gold (on the right) outside the gates:

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Here I am feeling rather excited:

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That emotion quickly faded when I ran inside at 5:10pm. This is not an exaggeration: ONE MINUTE LATER, the Mets wrapped up batting practice and jogged off the field. They truly suck in more ways than I can possible describe. David and I joked that it was all part of a conspiracy to prevent me from getting to 1,000 consecutive games.

After switching into my A’s gear, I met up with Andrew Harts from MLB.com’s Cut4:

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He was planning to do a little story on me and my streak, but first he had to go cover something else, so we briefly parted ways.

When the A’s finally came out and started throwing, I headed into foul territory in very shallow left field. They seemed to keep throwing and throwing and throwing, but eventually I sensed an opportunity. Here’s a 46-second video that shows how it played out:

Okay, fine, so it was an ordinary pre-game toss-up in a mostly-empty stadium, but hey, it counts just like all the others. The streak was alive and had reached 1,000 games!

Now let me point out several things in the video:

1) When I began yelling at “Brandon” at the five-second mark, that was Brandon Moss. He had been throwing in front of the dugout, so I really had to shout to get his attention. The dugout seats are totally inaccessible during BP, except to fans who have tickets there. The guards check tickets, even at 5:10pm when there’s just a handful of fans in the entire stadium. It blows.

2) At the 12-second mark, when the ball reached its apex, I lost it in the lights. It might look like I made an easy snag, but it was much more challenging than most of the BP homers I’ve caught.

3) David did an amazing job with my camera. At the 15-second mark, you can hear him shout, “And there it is!”

4) Way back in the day, I was treated like absolute crap by security personnel at Shea Stadium. They invented all sorts of rules just for me to prevent me from getting baseballs, and when I refused to obey their asinine commands, they ejected me — FOUR TIMES. They were truly out to get me and often made me cry. The worst of the worst employees personally ejected me twice and threatened to have me “arrested for trespassing” if I ever set foot in the stadium again. He still works for the Mets, and at the 19-second mark, you can see him in a yellow shirt walking out of the tunnel. He’s the first of two supervisors who walked out.

5) When I get excited, my voice goes up about three octaves. Proof lies at the 21-second mark when I start talking about the significance of the ball.

6) The fan who gave me the high-five at the 43-second mark is named Jacob Resnick. Look how much he’s grown since we ran into each other two years earlier. He and I have crossed paths at numerous games; his biggest claim to fame is that he won a contest in 2011 to be the SNY “kidcaster” for an inning, during which he made a memorable call on a Jose Reyes home run.

Once everything calmed down, I posed with the baseball:

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Then I headed toward the left field corner, where I tried unsuccessfully for nearly 10 minutes to get another toss-up:

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While I was there, I saw a ball land on the batter’s eye. I figured that someone would climb over and grab it, so I waited and watched. And watched. And watched. And couldn’t believe that it went untouched. Eventually I ran over and grabbed it myself. Here I am climbing over the railing . . .

10_zack_climbing_onto_batters_eye_for_ball7416

. . . and here I am being nagged by a security guard:

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Dear Mets, if fans are allowed to climb over that railing for baseballs, then shut up about it. Tell your guards not to hassle me after I do it. Thanks.

As it turned out, the guard had given me a hard time because he had started to climb over the railing just as I was going for the ball. I ignored him as he shouted at me, and when he walked over, I was like, “What’s the problem? I didn’t do anything against the rules.”

“How did you know that?” he asked. “You’re from Oakland.”

Ahh, I see, so after all these years, the Mets’ security guards STILL invent special rules when it suits their needs. Unbelievable.

Then the guard said, “There’s a one-ball-per-person limit. Don’t climb over again.”

I offered him the ball (something I never would’ve done at Shea Stadium), and even though he didn’t take it, it made him relax and leave me alone.

A few minutes later, I was recognized by a “kid” named Justin who told me that he owns a copy of my first book — How To Snag Major League Baseballs. I put the word kid in quotes because even though he seemed to be less than half my age, he’s about two inches taller. Here we are being photographed together . . .

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. . . and here’s another shot that actually shows our faces:

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I usually get recognized several times per game, but for some reason, more than a dozen people approached me throughout the day.

The following photo shows my third ball sailing toward me. It was thrown by A’s bullpen catcher Casey Chavez, and I’ve circled it in red:

14_ball7417_in_mid_air_thrown_by_casey_chavez

I immediately offered the ball to the girl in the corner spot, whose father politely declined and informed me that they’d already gotten one.

Moments later, I hurried back over toward the batter’s eye and got my fourth ball of the day from Jim Johnson:

15_ball7418_in_mid_air_thrown_by_jim_johnson

Random side note: I’ve now gotten balls thrown to me by 12 different Johnsons — Ben, Brian, Chris, Howard, Jason, Jim, Jonathan, Kelly, Mark P., Nick, Reed, and Russ.

Meanwhile, how great are these photos? Thanks again to David Rhode from Pitch In For Baseball. For those who don’t know, his charity provides baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. I’ve been raising money for them since 2009, and if you have a few extra minutes to spare . . .

1) Click here to read more about my fundraiser.
2) Visit the official Pitch In For Baseball website.
3) Follow Pitch In For Baseball on Twitter.

Also, for those of you who are going to the All-Star Fan Fest this year in Minneapolis, look for Pitch In For Baseball. They’re going to have a booth there, and they’ll be collecting donations of baseball and softball equipment.

My fifth ball of the day was an accident. Dan Otero chucked it to the girl in the corner spot — but he airmailed her, and it ended up ricocheting toward me. I scampered after it to prevent anyone else from snatching it, and as soon as I picked it up, I tossed it to her. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Otero had seen the whole thing play out. I figured it out a minute later when he waved to get my attention so that he could throw another ball to me. There were some folks in the front row, so I moved back to give myself some space, and wouldn’t you know it — he airmailed me too! Here’s a six-part photo that shows what happened:

16_dan_otero_about_to_throw_ball7420

Did you spot the ball in Part 6 of the photo? Look closely and you’ll see it trickling under a seat near my right knee.

My seventh and final ball of BP was thrown near the batter’s eye by A’s coach Ariel Prieto.

Do you remember the kidcaster named Jacob who had given me the high-five in the video? Well, here we are together after BP:

17_jacob_resnick_and_zack

In the photo above, I was holding my first ball of the day — the one that pushed my consecutive games streak to 1,000. Jacob, meanwhile, had reached his own milestone; he was holding his 100th lifetime ball.

Half an hour before game time, David took this photo of me with all my baseballs:

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(I had snagged seven at that point and given one away.)

Here’s where David and I got dinner:

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For those who don’t know, that concession stand is named after Keith Hernandez — a former Mets player and current Mets TV announcer. I had walked past it on hundreds of occasions, and now, finally, the time had come for me to see what it was all about. David and I both ordered the same thing: The Mex Burger. Let me quote the menu: “Created by Keith & the Citi Field culinary team, a 6oz. LaFrieda burger on a toasted sesame bun with cheddar & jack cheese, topped with bacon, guacamole, chipotle aioli & jalapenos.” We both got it without the jalapenos, and WOW, it was daaaaaamn good! Take a look:

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Yes, that’s a Tootsie Pop. It also came with a tiny bag of potato chips (which I didn’t eat). The burger cost $12, which is pricy for a ballpark meal, but given the ingredients and how good it was, I will officially recommend it.

David and I ate fast and barely made it down into our section by the start of the game. This was my view in the top of the 1st inning:

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We were in the second row, and as you can see below, David was sitting on my right, and there were about eight empty seats to his right — not a whole lot of room to work with:

22_david_and_empty_seats_on_my_right

While the seats surrounding the foul pole were practically empty, the seats in our area were packed. I told David that I didn’t expect much to come out of sitting in left field, and that as crowded as it was, my biggest concern was simply climbing over him in case a ball happened to be hit to my right.

In the bottom of the 1st, Andrew Harts found me and interviewed me for a couple of minutes:

23_andrew_back_for_a_quick_interview

The photo above was staged after we finished, but that’s basically what it looked like for me. Andrew was crouching on the stairs, and as we kept talking, more and more people overheard the conversation and got curious. Before Andrew left, I joked to him about what would happen if I’d caught a home run during the interview.

“I think we’d break the internet,” he said.

With Andrew long gone and other fans asking me questions about my baseball collection, Eric Campbell led off the bottom of the 2nd with a double. Two pitches later, Curtis Granderson ripped a two-run homer to right field, and just like that, the Mets jumped out to a 2-1 lead. That brought Chris Young and his .597 OPS to the plate.

During the first few pitches of the at-bat, I told David how worthless Young was and that the Mets were supposedly going to release him this week.

Then THIS happened:

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Scott Kazmir hung an off-speed pitch, and Young crushed it in our direction. From the moment he connected, I knew that it was going to be a home run, and that it was going to land somewhere near me, off to the right — but just how near? I wasn’t sure, so I did the only thing I could. I jumped up and yelled “Look out!” at David and climbed over him. The arrow in the following screen shot shows where I started:

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Did you notice how crowded it was out there? Mama mia!

I drifted 10 feet to my right, and quite simply, as the ball began descending, I knew I was going to catch it.

That’s exactly what happened. And it was extremely easy. The ball was hit to the only spot where I possibly could’ve gone, so there was no guesswork required. Then, conveniently, it came in high enough that the people in front of me couldn’t reach it, but low enough so that I could reach all the way up for a one-handed catch. Here I am at the moment it entered the pocket of my glove:

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Here’s another screen shot with two red circles — me on the left and David on the right:

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Unfortunately, because Chris Young is so bad, the folks at SNY decided to show his teammates celebrating in the dugout rather than, you know, showing a closeup of the fan who caught the ball, but whatever. I can’t actually blame them for that. Here’s the actual video clip on MLB.com.

The people around me could hardly believe that the guy who had JUST been interviewed about catching baseballs had JUST caught a home run. I got lots of high-fives and photo requests. It was so much fun, and wow . . . to have this happen on the day of my 1,000th consecutive game?! I could hardly believe it myself.

A few minutes later, I tweeted this photo of myself with the ball:

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Ballhawking is a funny hobby. This was my 34th game of the season in five different stadiums, and it was the first home run I’d caught on the fly. Back in Australia, I had more room than ever during the game and came up empty. I’ve been to games in both New York stadiums when it rained, and the home team was getting blown out, and there were just a handful of fans in the outfield. No home runs. And yet here at Citi Field on a gorgeous summer night when it seemed that 8 million people were crammed into my section, I caught a home run. Go figure.

Later in the game, I photographed the jumbotron when Young came to bat:

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It’s such a cool feeling to see a home run listed there and actually have the ball.

By the way, here IS the ball:

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The funniest thing that happened all night was the heckling that one fan unleashed on A’s left fielder Brandon Moss. The first thing he screamed was, “BOOOO!!! MOSS DOESN’T LIKE MILK!!! HE’S LACTOSE INTOLERANT!!! BOOOO!!!” Of all the heckles I’ve heard over the years, that might be the most randomly hilarious — and the guy wasn’t finished. A minute later, he shouted, “BOOOO!!! MOSS HATES KIDS!!! HE STEALS TOYS OUT OF HAPPY MEALS!!! BOOOO!!!” By this point, the whole section was laughing, but the guy was just getting started. “BOOOO!!!” he shouted yet again. “MOSS OPENS HIS PRESENTS ON CHRISTMAS EVE!!! BOOOO!!! HAVE A LITTLE PATIENCE, MOSS!!!” I can only remember one more thing that this marvelous man shouted: “BOOO!!! MOSS GIVES NICKELS TO THE MARCH OF DIMES!!! BOOOO!!!” It was *so* funny.

The Mets hit a total of four home runs and beat the A’s, 10-1. After the final out, I got my ninth ball from home plate umpire Jerry Layne as he walked off the field. He’s very nice — probably the nicest ump, in my experience. It was the fifth ball I’d ever gotten from him, and on this particular night, he gave away half a dozen to various fans. He actually stopped and emptied his pouches and didn’t seem fazed when he dropped one and had to bend down to pick it up. That was the one he ended up placing into my glove.

Then I shifted over to the dugout and waited for the relievers to walk in from the bullpen:

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They didn’t toss anything into the crowd, which is usually the case when a team loses.

Before leaving the section, I handed a baseball to the littlest kid with a glove. Then I found Rick in the concourse and we headed to the 7 train. Here’s a photo I took on the train of Rick holding *his* Chris Young homer (which he’d snagged earlier this season in Philadelphia) next to my Chris Young homer:

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Here are the seven balls I kept:

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Three of those balls have invisible ink stamps from the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of them in black light versus regular light:

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Click here for more info about baseballs and black light.

And that’s, like, it.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 9 baseballs at this game

• 247 balls in 34 games this season = 7.26 balls per game.

• 1,000 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 448 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 112 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls

• 28 game home run balls (not counting the six that have been tossed to me); click here for the complete list.

• 7,423 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.)

• 20 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.62 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $14.58 raised at this game

• $400.14 raised this season

• $39,064.14 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/12/14 at Citi Field

Have you ever heard of a three-minute rain delay? It happened in the 11th inning at Citi Field on Thursday night. When it started pouring, the players were waved off the field by home plate umpire Angel Hernandez, who never gets anything right, it seems. A minute later, several groundskeepers walked out and huddled with the umps in foul territory behind 3rd base. Check it out:

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The groundskeepers told the umps that it wasn’t going to rain much longer, so the players were then waved back onto the field. The game resumed while it was still raining hard, but sure enough, within a few minutes, the precipitation tapered off.

In the top of the 13th inning, the Brewers batted around and took a 5-1 lead. In the middle of the 13th inning, Brewers left fielder Khris Davis threw me his warm-up ball, which was my 4th ball of the day. After the game, I worked my way to the Brewers’ dugout, where I got a toss-up from coach Mike Guerrero, and then, moments later, I got this:

lineup_card_06_12_14 copy

Gorgeous! (Right?) Here’s a better look at it, and here’s my entire collection of lineup cards.

By the way, my first ball of the day was my 200th of the season, and it was a weird one. As the Brewers started taking BP, I was heading from the left-field foul line to straight-away left field when I heard a ball land in the seats near the foul pole. I was the only fan near it, so when the guards in the concourse saw me looking around aimlessly, they tried directing me toward it. It didn’t really help, but thankfully my friend Ben Weil had a perfect view of it from the 2nd deck. Evidently the ball had been thrown by someone on the Brewers (a left-handed white guy) and landed in the last row. By the time Ben definitively pointed it out, it had rolled down to the front row. See what I mean? Weird!

A little while later, I caught a Ryan Braun homer on the fly, and toward the end of BP, I got a toss-up from coach Ed Sedar.

Finally, since it’s been a while, here are some numbers for you . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 baseballs at this game

• 204 balls in 29 games this season = 7.03 balls per game.

• 11 consecutive seasons with 200 or more balls

• 995 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 447 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 111 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls

• 7,380 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.)

• 20 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.62 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $8.10 raised at this game

• $330.48 raised this season

• $38,994.48 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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