August 2014

8/27/14 at Citi Field

This was my 40th lifetime Watch With Zack game, and for a change, my clients asked to remain anonymous. I can tell you that I was with two people — a woman named Janet and her 13-year-old daughter named Zan — but you won’t see photos of their faces. Instead I’ll start with a photo of something extremely frustrating:

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That was our first look at the field.

In case you can’t tell, the cage and screens were set up for batting practice, but no one was hitting. For the last couple of months, that’s how it’s been nearly every time I’ve run inside Citi Field; the Mets have been starting BP so early that by the time the stadium opens at 5:10pm, they’re already gone. What’s the point of that? To prevent the public from seeing how pathetic they are?

Anyway, shortly before the Braves started hitting 15 minutes later, I noticed that one of the pitchers in left field was already holding a ball. I hurried down toward the front row with Zan, recognized the player as Anthony Varvaro, and got him to throw it toward us. I made the catch, and when I tried to hand it to her, she said something like, “You keep it — that’s your ball.”

Here’s what the ball looked like:

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It was a perfectly nice ball, but she didn’t want it because she hadn’t snagged it herself — a very mature attitude for a young fan who had never gotten one.

A little while later, with BP finally underway, I convinced Chris Johnson to throw one to her, or at least I tried. At the time, Zan and I were standing side-by-side in the front row, and Johnson ended up throwing it to me. As the ball sailed toward us, I leaned back so that Zan could shift over, and just in case she couldn’t reach it, I had my glove waiting in the right spot. Unfortunately she came up short by several inches, and I ended up making the catch.

Here’s where we hung out for most of BP:

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In the photo above, Zan is wearing the light green shirt, and Janet is standing on her right. I stood in front of them, not just to offer protection in case someone cranked a ball into our section, but also so we could talk.

At one point during the first group of hitters, Evan Gattis smoked a deep line drive 30 feet to our left. Based on the low trajectory, I knew it wasn’t going to reach the seats by much, so I bolted down to the second row and then began cutting across. The ball slammed into the seats, deflected off my left ankle, and trickled away from me toward the spot where I had just come from. I chased after it, and just before I was about to bend down and pick it up, Zan scurried toward me from the opposite direction and grabbed it. What an awesome way for her to snag the very first ball of her life!

With several minutes remaining in BP, we hurried to the seats behind the Braves’ dugout, and when all the players and coaches cleared the field, I saw an opportunity. There was a ball sitting near the 3rd base coach’s box, and as Gerald Laird approached it, I shouted his name and pointed at Zan . . . and then I moved five feet away from her. To my delight, he tossed her the ball, and she made a clean catch! Outstanding!

Moments later, I got Terry Pendleton to throw me a ball, which gave us five combined — three for me and two for her.

This was our view when several players came out to throw before the game:

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I had encouraged Zan to borrow my Braves gear, but she wanted NO part of it. She and her mother are such huge Mets fans that they didn’t even want *me* to wear it, but I convinced them that it had to be done. That said, if Zan had been wearing my hat and/or shirt and standing in the front row, there’s a 99 percent chance that one of the players would’ve have thrown her a ball. Instead, when I asked for one and pointed at her, Andrelton Simmons shook his head with a taunting/sarcastic expression. Then he pointed at me and said something to his teammates, and when he jogged off the field, he shouted, “You have millions of ‘em!” Zan thought it was cool that a player recognized me. I simply thought it was annoying.

This was our view for the first half-hour of the game:

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A little while later, we stealthily moved down to the sixth row.

After each inning, Zan and I scurried down to the bottom of the stairs, hoping to get a 3rd-out ball. Our first few attempts were unsuccessful, and as the game wore on, more and more kids got in on the act. By the middle of the game, there was so much competition that I worried Zan freddie_freeman_2014might get edged out — that one of the bigger kids would push her out of the way or reach in front of her. Luckily for her, though, she had the biggest kid in the stadium on her side. When Zack Wheeler grounded out to end the 5th inning, we bolted down the stairs before Braves 1st baseman Freddie Freeman had even caught the throw, so we were in the perfect spot. He ended up jogging right toward us with the ball, and I just *knew* that he was going to toss it in our direction. I really wanted her to catch it, but we were surrounded by overzealous fans, so the slightest bobble would become a lost opportunity. As Freeman approached, he lobbed the ball right at me, but it was clearly going to fall short. I had to make a split-second decision. Rather than standing back and letting it bounce off the dugout roof (likely resulting in mayhem), I reached all the way out and made a back-handed catch. And handed the ball to Zan.

Once again, she didn’t want it because I had caught it, but I insisted, and Janet ended up accepting it. Here’s what the ball looked like:

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As you can see, it’s kinda beat up, so Freeman might have pulled a switcheroo and tossed the infield warm-up ball from the previous inning. But hey . . . whatever. It was still nice to have snagged a ball during the game and, more importantly, shown Zan how to do it so she can try it on her own next time she visits Citi Field.

The Braves won the game, 3-2, which obviously wasn’t the outcome that Zan and Janet wanted, but hopefully, deep down, on some level, they were able to appreciate the defensive wizardry of Andrelton Simmons. With two outs in the bottom of the 8th and the tying run on 3rd base, Travis d’Arnaud hit a grounder deep into the 5.5 hole. It had “base hit” and “tie game” written all over it — but then THIS happened. Unreal. I kind of hate Simmons for always messing with me, but I respect him so much as a player.

After the game, Zan and I posed with the baseballs that we’d snagged. Here’s as much of that photo as I can show:

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Finally, in case you’re interested, here’s a whole page of Watch With Zack stats on my website. As for my own personal ballhawking stats, I’ll post those in my next blog entry from Wrigley Field . . .

8/18/14 at Citizens Bank Park

Do you remember when my friend Brandon photographed me on 7/31/14 at Camden Yards? Well, he joined me for this game in Philadelphia, and I convinced him to film me instead. Here’s the video that he put together — check it out and then I’ll share a few photos and explain everything in detail:

Wow . . . right? Brandon has some *serious* skills as a videographer/editor, so before I say anything else, I want to thank him for doing such great work.

Anyway, when he and I approached the Ashburn Alley gate, I saw two familiar faces — Grant Edrington (who’s going to college in Pennsylvania) and Rick Gold (who made the trip with me from New York and had held a spot at the front of the line while I bought a ticket). They’re both ballhawks, and you can briefly see them in the video. At the 0:24 mark, Grant is on the right side, wearing a yellow shirt, and bending down to pick up a home run ball. You can also see him from 0:25 to 0:31 as we both chase another longball that ends up ricocheting far away. Rick, meanwhile, wearing a gray shirt, dashes into view from the left side at 0:45 and proceeds to cut across the seats until 0:48.

My first ball of the day was so uneventful that Brandon didn’t bother including it in the video. I was standing near the front row in left-center field when a Phillies player tossed a ball to a kid. The kid dropped it in the flowerbed at the very front of the section, so I picked it up and handed it to him.
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At the 0:59 mark, you can hear me say, “Wanna play catch?” to Antonio Bastardo, and to my surprise, he briefly took me up on it. At the end, he told me to “keep it.” That was my second ball, and it was all I got until the entire stadium opened at 5:35pm. Why? Because left field was dead. Except for the first few minutes when Marlon Byrd was cranking balls out, most of the batters were left-handed and/or just plain bad.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the glove trick, that’s what I was attempting to do (and also discussing) from 1:57 to 2:23.

At 2:36, you can see me snagging my third ball. At the time, I didn’t know who tossed it, but later figured out that it was Brandon Maurer. I got another toss-up soon after from Logan Morrison, and then, after complaining about how bad my luck had been, I started to get really lucky.

At 3:05, I said, “Oh, here we go,” upon seeing the batter hit a deep fly ball in my direction. Then I paused for a moment to gauge the distance and eventually wiggled down the stairs for the catch. That was my fifth ball, and I have no idea who hit it.

I don’t know who hit the next one either, but it was my favorite catch of the day. (See 3:48 to 3:55.) That’s because I had to run to the left and climb back over two rows of seats to get into position. Every so often, I’ll climb over one row to make a catch, but maneuvering over two is pretty tough. Unfortunately it got me in trouble with a security supervisor who marched down the steps, told me I wasn’t allowed to run for baseballs, and basically threatened to eject me if I did it again. (“This is your only warning,” he said.) More on that in a bit, but first, here’s what my view looked like from that section:

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My seventh ball — a deep line-drive homer by Robinson Cano — was extremely lucky. I made the catch at 4:14, but to get the whole story, you need to watch everything from 3:59 to 4:35. This was the one where I ran into the next section to chase a ball, and while I was there, Cano hit me another in the 2nd-to-last row.

At 4:38, there’s a quick clip of me snagging my eighth ball. Once again, at the time, I didn’t know who tossed it, but later figured out that it was 3rd base coach Rich Donnelly.

From 4:44 to 4:51, you can see me drifting to the right to catch my ninth ball, and from 5:12 to 5:20, you can see me climbing down over two rows to catch number ten. I don’t know who hit either of those home runs, but I can tell you this: the supervisor was pissed about the last one. He hurried back down the stairs and said, “What did I tell you before?!”

I truly thought I was about to be ejected, so I apologized hardcore and told him that I’d been trying to obey his rule about not running for balls and that I hadn’t run for the last one, but had instead carefully stepped down over some seats. It soon became clear that he wasn’t going to eject me, but that he *was* going to lecture me about being a menace to society. Batting practice was basically done, so I didn’t mind when he led me up to the concourse. The main thing he told me was that I have to be careful around other fans. He was concerned that I might plow into someone and cause an injury.

“I totally understand where you’re coming from,” I said, “and of course you have no way of knowing who I am or what I’m all about, but for what it’s worth, I’ve attended more than 1,200 games in 51 major league stadiums, and I’ve never knocked anyone down while running for a ball. NEVER. Not even once.”

“Yeah, but with my luck,” he replied, “the first time you do it will be here today in Philadelphia.”

While I was getting scolded, several fans came over and defended me.

“Leave him alone!” one woman shouted. “He didn’t do anything wrong! He was giving away baseballs to people!”

“I understand that, ma’am,” said the supervisor, “but that’s not the issue.”

Moments later, a man interrupted the supervisor to shake my hand and say, “Thank you so much for giving a ball to my son. This is his first game.”

It must’ve been tough for the supervisor to stay mad, and all things considered, he turned out to be quite friendly and reasonable. I appreciated that he was willing to have a discussion, and I actually made him laugh later when he saw me changing back into my Phillies gear.

After the supervisor took off, several ushers approached me and apologized. One of them said, “Don’t judge us all based on the actions of one individual.” A different usher told me that they had no problem with my running around. “Everyone was running for balls,” he said. “They’re just not as good at it, but we thought you were very respectful.”

At that point, there were several balls in the Phillies’ bullpen — home runs that had landed there during BP — and the ushers were nice enough to let me hang around and try to get one. That’s what I was doing in the video starting at 5:29. It would’ve been easy to snag two or three with my glove trick, but given my recent run-in with the supervisor, I decided to play it safe and wait for a toss-up. Eventually it happened at the 5:38 mark, courtesy of Phillies bullpen catcher Jesus Tiamo. That was my 11th ball of the day.

Brandon didn’t sit with me during the game, so there’s no video evidence of what happened next. First let me show you my view during the top of the 1st inning:

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In the bottom of the 1st, I moved half a dozen rows closer and it quickly paid off. With two outs, Ryan Howard hit a foul squibber that trickled into the Mariners’ dugout. Chris Woodward, the team’s infield coach, retrieved the ball, climbed to the top step, scanned the crowd for a worthy recipient, and ended up tossing it to me.

Here’s what my ballhawking notes looked like after that:

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For the record, I can write *much* neater than that, but whatever, these were just meant to be my private scribbles.

Some time around the 5th inning, I received the following photo in a text from Brandon:

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I wondered if he was still in the upper deck, so I looked up there, and sure enough, I spotted him:

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I managed to make one more snag before the night was through: a 2nd/3rd-out ball tossed by Robinson Cano after the 7th inning, which is to say that it was the product of a double play. Andres Blanco had grounded into it off Tom Wilhelmsen.

After the final out of the Phillies’ 4-1 victory, Brandon caught up with me for a quick video recap. He then took off with some friends, leaving me and Rick to drive back to New York and talk about our favorite hobby for two solid hours.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

6_the_nine_balls_i_kept_08_18_14• 13 baseballs at this game (nine pictured here because I gave four away)

• 421 balls in 60 games this season = 7.02 balls per game.

• 321 lifetime balls in 35 games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.17 balls per game.

• 1,026 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 367 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 252 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 7,597 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)

• $21.06 raised at this game

• $682.02 raised this season

• $39,346.02 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

New video about my collection

This was filmed last week by a guy named Ruaridh Connellan, who works for Barcroft Media. Given the fact that he didn’t attend a game with me to get any footage, I wasn’t sure how it’d turn out, but he grabbed some clips from my YouTube channel and put together a really fun segment. Take a look for yourself:

In case you’re wondering, the scene in which I was half-buried on the floor required approximately 1,500 baseballs. Also, for the record, my girlfriend doesn’t hate me or baseball as much as her short interview would lead you believe. Before we started dating, she discovered my last name . . . and Googled me . . . and still decided to throw herself at me, so even if she did hate baseball, this would all be her fault.

Carlos Beltran grand slam

Although you can’t really tell from the following highlight, I caught Carlos Beltran’s grand slam on August 8, 2014 at Yankee Stadium. Take a look and then I’ll explain how it all went down:

Here are a few screen shots from that video, starting with the moment of contact:

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Here’s the ball descending toward my section:

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Did you notice how crowded it was?! Look how many people lunged for the ball:

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Here’s a close-up that shows me buried in the crowd. The arrow on the left is pointing at my head; the arrow on the right is pointing at my glove:

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How did I manage to catch the ball?
It was actually quite easy. And lucky.

Yes, the section was pretty much packed, but I had a tiny bit of room to work with. I was sitting in the end seat in the 3rd row (with the stairs on my left), and for some reason, the 2nd row had seven empty seats right in front of me. Those seats had been empty all night, so I’d been planning to use that space in case a home run ended up getting hit to my right. And that’s exactly what happened. As soon as Beltran connected, I jumped up and moved down one step and then drifted to the right through the 2nd row. The ball was heading about 10 feet to my right, so I got in line with it, and as it began descending, I knew that it was going to be a home run — but not by much. Thankfully it sailed *just* above everyone’s hands in the front row, and I reached up for the catch.

Here’s a photo of the ball that I took the following inning:

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Meanwhile, the whole section was buzzing. Lots of people congratulated me, and one guy even thanked me. “You saved my face,” he said. At least a dozen fans asked to take photos with me and the ball.

Then, somehow, word spread about who I was. Someone who recognized me must’ve said something to the people sitting near them because a bunch of folks started shouting my name and holding up their phones with various pictures of me. One guy approached me with this image on his phone and said, “Is this you?!” Another guy asked me later, “How did you know to sit there?” Another man crouched next to me on the stairs, asked if I was the guy with 8,000 balls, and asked how much money I wanted for this one.

“Thanks for asking,” I said, “but it’s not for sale.”

“Come ONNNN,” he replied. “I gotta have that ball. I’m the biggest Carlos Beltran fan!”

“I appreciate that,” I said, “but I’ve been to 1,200 major league baseball games, and this is the first grand slam I’ve ever caught on the fly. Therefore *I* gotta have this ball. Plus, I’ve never sold a ball in my entire life, and I’m not about to start now.”

Someone else offered me $1,000 for it on Twitter, and my answer was no. He could’ve added a zero to the offer, and it wouldn’t have changed anything.

I was SO happy to simply hold/own the ball, as you can see by this photo taken shortly after the game ended:

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By the way, the photo above was a re-creation of this pose with my only other grand slam baseball, hit by Robinson Cano on 9/28/09 at Yankee Stadium.

Here’s one final photo of the ball at the stadium:

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The man pictured above in the Beltran jersey insisted that he had brought me luck. There’s no doubt I’d gotten lucky on this particular ball, but I think my home run luck overall this season has been dreadful. This was my first longball in 27 games at Yankee Stadium. Does that sound lucky to you? What about the other 26 games filled with bad deflections, bad decisions, and nothingness?

I’ve recently come up with a statistical formula/comparison to judge how well I’m doing with game home run balls in an individual season. I like to imagine that I’m a starting pitcher; the number of homers I’ve snagged represents my innings pitched, and the number of games I’ve attended represents my pitch count. This season, I’ve snagged three home runs in 55 games, so if I were a pitcher, my pitch count would be 55 through three innings — not great but not a total disaster.

Anyway, this was my 29th lifetime game home run ball (plus six others that I don’t really count because they were tossed to me). Here’s the complete list.

Also, this wasn’t my first Carlos Beltran homer — and the other one was MUCH more meaningful. The other one is probably my favorite ball ever. It was the last home run that the Mets ever hit at Shea Stadium. Here’s a huge blog entry I wrote about it.

I guess that’s about it for now. I’m taking this weekend off, running my writing group on Monday, and planning to be at Citi Field on Tuesday.

***UPDATE***

Thanks to a friend who recorded the game, I’ve now seen some additional footage, and look — I *did* appear on TV:

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Playing catch in the subway

Several nights ago, while heading home from Yankee Stadium, there was a very long wait for the train at 149th Street. My friend Greg Barasch was with me, and this is how we passed the time:

I hope this isn’t illegal, or if it is, I hope it’s only slightly illegal. For the record, no trains, people, or baseballs were harmed during the making of this video.

7/31/14 at Camden Yards

As much as I love Camden Yards, I hadn’t considered making this trip until my friend Brandon suggested it earlier in the week. Not only is he a professional photographer/videographer, but the Angels were going be in town, and my girlfriend Hayley was free; I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring her to a game and see Mike Trout in person and end up with a bunch of cool photos of myself.

Why do I love this stadium so much? There are lots of reasons, starting with the fact that it opens before it opens . . . sort of. On game days, the Eutaw Street gates (which can be found at either end of the warehouse) are wide open to the general public until 4pm. Then the stadium shuts down for an hour and re-opens to ticketed fans at 5pm. We arrived shortly after three o’clock, which is when Brandon took this photo of me:

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As you can see above, the groundskeepers were watering the infield, and the batting cage was set up — and before long, several players began taking early BP:

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At around 3:50pm, I noticed two fans poking their heads out of a tunnel in deep right-center field. That surprised me because I’d always assumed that the seating bowl was closed at this time. I wandered over to take a peek for myself, and sure enough, there were no employees or gates keeping me out. Here’s what it looked like as I headed into the tunnel:

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I got the sense that I wasn’t really supposed to be there — that stadium security had somehow made a mistake by leaving this area open — so I stayed in the tunnel and took a few photos. The right-center field seats were totally empty . . .

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. . . and after a little while, the Orioles started playing catch along the right field foul line:

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Hmm.

I didn’t want to get in trouble, but was I breaking the rules? I mean, if no one told me to leave, then in a roundabout way, wasn’t that an invitation to stay? All I wanted to do was hang out there for the first group of BP and snag a ball (or two . . . or ten) in the empty seats. I had already decided to exit the stadium before 5pm so that I could buy tickets and meet up with Brandon (who was now waiting outside the gates) and Hayley (who was wandering the neighborhood in search of food).

“Excuse me,” said a voice from behind, causing my heart to beat a bit faster. “Are you waiting for someone?”

When I turned around, I was relieved to see that it was a concession worker, who was probably half my age.

“Uhh . . . no,” I stammered. “I just wandered in when the Eutaw Street gates were open, and somehow I ended up over here.”

“The gates are closed now,” he said. “You’re not even supposed to be here.”

“Oh, seriously? Well, how can I get out?”

“Come with me,” he said politely, leading me toward the open-air concourse. “You need to find a security supervisor and tell him why you’re here and ask him to let you out.”

Yeah, THAT wasn’t gonna happen. No one needed to know why I was inside the stadium.

The concession worker pointed me toward a supervisor and thankfully headed back to his stand. Then, before the supervisor had a chance to say anything, I pointed confidently at a glass door (which I knew led into an office that had another set of doors on the far side that led to the street) and said, “Can I exit that way?”

He said yes, and that was it.

When I finally made it outside, I was 10 percent relieved to have escaped the mini-ordeal and 90 percent annoyed not to have gotten any baseballs for my trouble.

One of the first people I ran into outside the gates was a guy named Stuart, who knew I was going to be here and brought his copy of The Baseball for me to sign. Here we are:

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Before the stadium opened, I met a fellow ballhawk named Grant Edrington (pictured below in the middle) and caught up with my friend Alex Kopp (pictured below on the right):

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Those two guys could not possibly be any friendlier.

When the stadium opened for real at 5pm, I ran like hell to the left field seats and *barely* missed out on a pair of baseballs that were sitting in the front row. Just as I was cutting across from left-center field, an older fan charged down the steps in straight-away left and beat me to them by about two seconds. It was painful, but I did get some revenge several minutes later — more on that in a bit, but first, here I am just before snagging my first ball of the day:

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If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see me (wearing the black T-shirt) in the front row. The player closest to me was T.J. McFarland. See him reaching up to catch a fly ball? That’s probably what appears to be happening, when in fact he was in the process of moving his glove out of the way. You see, moments before the ball landed, I shouted, “LET IT BOUNCE!!” and to my surprise, he did. The ball then landed on the warning track and bounced right to me:

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Moments later, while still holding that ball in my right hand, I climbed back over a row for a home run:

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Here I am jumping and reaching back; look closely and you’ll see the ball circled in red at the top of the photo:

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I’m not sure who hit it, but I can tell you that I caught it. Here it is poking out of my glove . . .

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. . . and look! It had a commemorative logo:

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I didn’t really care that the logo was messed up because I’d snagged a much better one earlier in the season. In fact, I kinda liked that this ball wasn’t perfect.

Meanwhile, there was lots of competition from my fellow ballhawks — something that never used to happen here as recently as five to ten years ago. Back then, I probably made several uncontested catches per day, but now that’s pretty much unheard of. Now there are far more fans and ballhawks, even during the first half-hour when only people with season tickets can get into to the left field seats, so unless a home run gets hit VERY far or lands in an unlikely spot, there’s almost always someone camped underneath it. Here’s some photographic evidence:

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As you can see above, I was one of three guys who converged at the landing spot. All of our gloves ended up in exactly the same place . . .

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. . . and no, I didn’t catch that one.

(Did you notice the two baseballs in my right hand? Did you notice the players looking back at us?)

Remember when I mentioned getting revenge? Here’s how it played out:

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In the photo above, the man who’d snatched the two Easter eggs is wearing a backpack (rookie mistake) and has a glove on his right hand. Fortunately for me on this home run, he was in the row behind me, so I was able to jump . . .

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. . . and catch the ball right in front of his glove. He was a good sport about it, and he should’ve been. He had beaten me fair-n-square for the two baseballs when we first ran in, and now I’d gotten him back with a well-timed leap. This was ballhawking at its best. There were plenty of balls/opportunities for everyone, and there was no pushing or shoving — just a lot of running and jumping and, from what I gathered, mutual respect.

Here I am with my first three balls of the day:

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I’m pretty sure that J.J. Hardy hit at least one or two of them, but things were moving so fast that I lost track of which ball was which. If Brandon hadn’t been there taking photos, I might not have remembered the details about every ball — which direction I ran, when I jumped or climbed over a row of seats, etc.

A minute or two later, everyone turned their backs on the field in pursuit of a deep home run:

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It ended up landing on a staircase and bouncing into the seats above the cross-aisle, and look who snagged it:

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THAT’S MY GIRLFRIEND!!!!!!!

And that was her first ball ever!
And it had a pristine commemorative logo!

Part of me felt bad for all the other guys who would’ve loved to snag it, but the other part of me was like, ha-HAAAAAA!!! Suck it!! In your FACE!! You got beaten by someone who doesn’t even like baseball and didn’t even have a glove and wasn’t even trying!!

And now for the play-by-play: when the ball had first bounced into her section, Hayley was slow to react, so when she started moving, I offered some words of encouragement, which went something like this: “GET IT, HAYLEY!!! GET IT, HAYLEY!!!” The ball landed in the middle of the section, roughly four rows back. Rather than climbing over the seats toward it (as I would’ve done in anticipation of the ball trickling down), she ran up the steps and cut across. Luckily for her, the ball was still resting in the folded-up portion of the seat, and she grabbed it. It was a beautiful moment.

As for me, here I am catching my fourth ball of the day:

21_zack_catching_ball7520

I was standing on a seat, which *barely* allowed me to reach above the glove of the guy who was jumping in front of me.

Then I had a little chat with Chris Tillman (who asked what my lifetime ball total was up to) and Miguel Gonzalez:

22_zack_talking_to_chris_tillman

Here I am jumping yet again for my fifth ball:

23_zack_catching_ball7521

I had to make a tough decision when the next group of Orioles started hitting: stay in left field or head to the Flag Court in right field. It was only about 5:15pm, so left field was going to remain empty-ish for another 15 minutes, but (if I’m remembering correctly) three of the four batters were left-handed. It was a classic dilemma. Should I pick the less-crowded spot where there would be fewer opportunities or the more crowded spot where there’d be more action?

I decided to run to the Flag Court, and Brandon came with me. Here I am standing near the back:

24_zack_flag_court

The only reason I wasn’t wearing my glove is that I was drenched in sweat. I was trying to let my left hand dry out, but I was ready to spring into action. And then I had my chance. One of the lefties cranked a ball toward the edge of the Flag Court. I knew exactly where it was going to land; the only challenge was weaving in and out of people and getting there in time. As the ball descended, I made it to the side railing . . .

25_zack_catching_ball7522

. . . and reached over it . . .

26_zack_catching_ball7522

. . . and made a back-handed catch:

27_zack_catching_ball7522

Here I am with the ball moments later:

28_zack_holding_ball7522

While everyone around me was cheering and smiling, I was just thinking, “Hmph, getting around all you people made that a lot harder than it should’ve been,” but really, it felt great, mainly because I don’t get to make plays like that in New York.

A few minutes later, I had another opportunity on a very deep home run — see me at the back of the Flag Court?

29_zack_snagging_ball7523

At first I didn’t think the ball would reach the cross-aisle behind the seats, and when it occurred to me that it *would* sail that far, I didn’t think I had any chance of snagging it because the aisle was so crowded. But hey, why not move toward it and give myself a chance, right? Here’s the ball just before it landed:

30_zack_snagging_ball7523

Did you notice that the two guys reaching up for it were not wearing gloves? Did you notice me inching closer? (See the brick column on the right? See the orange sign just to the left of it? My head is in front of that.) The ball ended up clanging off their hands and landing at my feet for an easy snag — my seventh of the day. I found out later from Grant and Alex, who had seen me from afar, that the first ball I caught on the Flag Court was hit by David Lough, and the second one was hit by Chris Davis. And by the way, three of my seven balls were commemorative.

When the Angels took the field, I threw on my bright red Angels cap and headed toward the left field foul line, but didn’t quite get there quickly enough to say hello to Mike Trout. As I was racing through the empty seats, he was completing his final warm-up throws and jogged off five seconds before I got there. That was a bummer. I’ve only seen him once this year, and though he remembered me, I’m concerned that I’m not making my presence known enough. I don’t really know what I want from him at this point. I guess it’s just cool to be acknowledged by one of the best baseball players in the world.

Anyway, when Trout headed toward the batting cage, I spent a few minutes here:

31_zack_left_field_foul_line

The only good thing that happened in foul territory was that I got to say hello to Tom Gregorio, the Angels’ bullpen catcher, who recognizes me and is VERY nice. We didn’t talk long, but it was good to see him.

A minute later, I thought I was going to get a ball from John McDonald . . .

32_zack_asking_john_mcdonald_for_a_ball

. . . but he rejected me . . .

33_zack_rejected_by_john_mcdonald

. . . in favor of a little kid. Can’t argue with that.

Then I put on my red Angels shirt, raced out to the seats in right-center, and got rejected by C.J. Wilson:

34_zack_asking_cj_wilson_for_a_ball

I won’t claim this was a day of highs and lows. It was mostly highs, and I got awfully lucky on a bunch of home runs during BP. The point is . . . for every ball I snagged, there were two or three others that eluded me for various reasons.

Here I am peering over the side railing in right-center field:

35_zack_right_center_field

That’s not a terribly interesting photo, but I’ve shared it so you can visualize what I’m about to tell you — the story of the only ball I snagged that Brandon *didn’t* photograph. While I was standing in that approximate spot, Trout launched a deep fly ball in my direction. I shuffled over a bit in order to line myself up with it and quickly realized that it was going to fall several feet short of the seats. Still, I knew it had a chance to be a home run, and I was hoping it’d land in the narrow gap behind the outfield wall. If that happened, I’d have an easy opportunity to snag it with my glove trick. As it turned out, the ball hit the very top of the wall and deflected high above me — an unbelievably lucky bounce nearly straight up in the air. That said, the catch itself was a challenge because a man in the row below jumped for it, and another man in the row above me reached for it, but I jumped and reached the highest and came down with it.

Josh Hamilton was also hitting in that group. Whenever he stepped into the cage, I moved a few sections to my left (closer to straight-away right field). Here I am *not* catching one of his bombs:

36_zack_not_catching_this_ball

Here’s a closer look at the photo above:

36b_zack_not_catching_this_ball

Personally, I prefer to use lotion to protect myself against the sun, but hey, whatever works for you.

I was moving all over the place during that group of hitters and eventually positioned myself much deeper for Hamilton. Moments later, as if on cue, he crushed the ball well over my head. Rather than standing still and gawking (as everyone else near me seemed to do), I started running toward the spot where I thought it was going to land:

37_zack_snagging_ball7525

Luck, once again, was on my side. No one else made any effort to chase the ball, and conveniently it didn’t ricochet too far away, enabling me to swoop in and grab it:

38_zack_snagging_ball7525

That was my ninth ball of the day, and there was one group of BP remaining. Here’s where I went:

39_zack_in_left_field_with_no_room_to_run

Did you spot me in the photo above? I was standing toward the bottom of the staircase, and it was a total waste of time. The only opportunity I got was when Jered Weaver walked over to retrieve this ball on the warning track:

40_jered_weaver_walking_over

I had already set up the glove trick, and just as he approached the ball, I dangled my contraption halfway down the outfield wall. That’s all it took to get his attention, at which point I yelled, “Kick the ball a little closer and I’ll show you a magic trick!”

Weaver complied and then stood back to watch:

41_jered_weaver_waiting_to_see_the_glove_trick_after_kicking_the_ball_closer

As I adjusted the rubber band around my glove, I yelled, “Hey, Jered, if security gives me a hard time, you got my back, right?”

“I don’t know about that,” he replied.

I had heard that security had cracked down on ball-retrieving devices, but figured I’d give it a shot. If the guard on the field told me to stop, then I would, and if he didn’t say anything, then I’d have double digits.

Here I am lowering my glove over the ball . . .

42_glove_trick_for_ball7526

. . . and here I am raising my glove with the ball tucked inside:

43_glove_trick_for_ball7526

Security never said a word.

Weaver said, “That’s pretty impressive.”

That was my 10th ball (including eight home runs), and I was in a great mood. I’d gotten lucky on a bunch of balls and made some good plays on others. I was with Hayley. Brandon had taken lots of photos. The weather was great. I was really looking forward to the game. And everyone I ran into was super-friendly. Over the course of the day, a bunch of people recognized me and said hello. During BP, a young man named Johnathan had some nice things to say and snapped a selfie with me, which he later tweeted. After BP, I was approached by a young/tall fan named Nick whose mother grabbed a photo of us . . .

44_zack_and_nick

. . . and later in the day, a man named Aaron stopped to tell me that he enjoys my blog. I really appreciated all of that, and it’s part of the reason I’ve written such a long entry about this game. It’s nice to know that there are actually lots of people out there who will read this and enjoy it and perhaps pick up a few tips to snag baseballs for themselves.

Roughly twenty minutes before game time, when Angels starter Tyler Skaggs was getting loose in the outfield, I wandered down to the front row in left-center and asked bullpen coach Steve Soliz for a ball. When he looked up at me, he smiled and said two words: “YOU again!”

Brandon is convinced that every major leaguer knows who I am. That seems unlikely, but I suppose more of them recognize me than I realize. It’s nice being recognized except when it costs me a baseball, which is pretty much EVERY time I’m recognized, so therefore it sucks to be recognized.

When Skaggs moved to the bullpen, I got as close to him as possible. Brandon came with me and continued to document the action:

45_tyler_skaggs_warming_up

I would’ve liked to make one final attempt to catch up with Mike Trout along the left field foul line, but it was a zoo over there so I didn’t bother. Trout-mania was in full effect:

46_mike_trout_jerseys

Brandon made that collage with photos that he’d taken over the course of the day.

Of the 18 batters in the starting lineups, 13 were right-handed — and left field was packed. Therefore I spent most of the game lurking in the tunnels and going for foul balls. Here I am on the 1st base side of home plate . . .

47_zack_tunnel_1st_base_side

. . . and here I am on the 3rd base side:

48_zack_tunnel_3rd_base_side

I’m sorry to say that stadium security has gotten much stricter about not allowing people to stand in the tunnels, so if you’re planning to do it, be careful and keep moving and don’t stand at the very front, where the tunnels connect to the cross-aisle.

Brandon hung out with me for the 1st inning, and then we went our separate ways. He ended up taking photos like this . . .

49_shirtless_fan

. . . and this:

50_cruddy_foul_ball_sign

I ended up hanging out with Grant and Alex on the Flag Court . . .

51_grant_and_alex

. . . but only for a few minutes at a time. They stayed there all night, but I couldn’t deal with it. It became much more crowded, and there were only five lefties, so I kept moving back into foul territory.

Here’s a photo that Brandon took of Mike Trout at bat:

52_mike_trout_at_bat

Here’s a photo I took of the scoreboard and jumbrotron with two outs in the bottom of the 5th inning:

53_no_hitter_in_the_5th_inning

It was a big/disappointing moment. Skaggs was pitching a no-hitter, but had to be taken out of the game because of an injury, which turned out to be a partially torn UCL. Yikes! (A week and a half later, Skaggs opted to have Tommy John Surgery which would keep him out of action until 2016.)

Here’s what it looked like on the Flag Court late in the game:

54_view_from_the_flag_court

Here’s a funky side-view around the edge of the Flag Court:

55_view_from_the_side_of_the_flag_court

Can you spot me in the following photo?

56_zack_going_for_lefty_foul_balls

I had one VERY close call on a foul ball. Basically I had to move 10 feet to my right to get in line with it, and it ended up sailing five feet over my head. If it had been one foot lower, I would’ve jumped, but instead I held my ground and prepared for a bobble or ricochet. No such luck.

The game was still scoreless in the 11th inning:

57_scoreboard_top_of_the_11th_inning

Even though I had to drive back to New York City that night, I really wanted to stay — but let’s just say it wasn’t meant to be. Brandon, Hayley, and I left the stadium in the bottom of the 11th . . .

58_bye_bye_camden_yards

. . . and listened to the rest of the game on the radio. The Angels ended up winning, 1-0, in 13 innings, which was good. The longest game I’ve ever been to was 17 innings, so if this one had lasted longer, I would’ve been pissed to miss it.

Here are the 10 balls that I snagged:

59_ten_baseballs_07_31_14

I feel kinda bad about not giving any of them away to kids. That’s something I do at nearly every game I attend, but hey . . . two days earlier at Citi Field, I gave away four, and the day after this game, I gave away two, so I think I’m doing pretty well overall.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 baseballs at this game

• 350 balls in 50 games this season = 7 balls per game.

• 541 lifetime balls in 58 games at Camden Yards = 9.33 balls per game.

• 1,016 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 366 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 249 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 7,526 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)

• $16.20 raised at this game

• $567.00 raised this season

• $39,231.00 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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