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9/16/15 at Citizens Bank Park

The Phillies entered the day with MLB’s worst record: 56 wins and 90 losses — not the most exciting time for fans of the team . . .

1_man_lying_in_the_shade

. . . but personally I loved the laid-back atmosphere at the stadium. Two days earlier, I’d driven down to Philly for my birthday and snagged a total of 14 baseballs, including a home run that Anthony Rendon hit on the first pitch of the game. I was hoping for another big day, and with school back in session (and the heavy-hitting Nationals in town), I liked my chances.

This was my view during the Phillies’ portion of batting practice:

2_view_from_left_field_during_batting_practice_09_16_15

Nothing special, right? Well, check out all these empty seats on my left:

3_empty_seats_on_my_left_09_16_15

To be clear, it wasn’t THAT empty for all of BP, but you get the idea. There wasn’t a whole lot of competition, and I did well from the start. I snagged four home runs from the Phillies, and though I’m not sure who hit any of them, I can tell you the basic details. The first homer deflected off the tip of my glove as a ran and lunged back, but I was able to recover it in the seats. The second ball landed three sections to my right, and I raced across and grabbed it. I caught the third one on the fly after climbing down over a row, and I caught the fourth after running a full section to my right.

There weren’t many kids, and over the course of the day, I gave away nearly half my baseballs, so no one was pissed. On the contrary, folks seemed to get a kick out of seeing me in action.

This was the scene when the Nationals took the field:

4_nationals_playing_with_toy_football_thingies

Basically the pitchers were goofing off in the outfield under the pretense of warming up, and the batters were launching baseballs all over the place.

My fifth ball was a home run to left-center that I scrambled for in the seats — same deal for my sixth except I managed to identify Ian Desmond as the guy who hit it. Ball No. 7 was a homer that I caught on the fly after climbing onto a seat in the front row. That one had some cool markings on it:

5_ball_with_cool_marking

Then I caught a pair of Wilson Ramos homers on the fly thanks to some precision maneuvering, but I don’t mean to be cocky; I’ll admit that misjudged a couple and cost myself some opportunities. It happens. Life goes on. My 10th ball was a Dan Uggla homer that I caught after drifting down the steps, and No. 11 was a homer by Wilmer Difo that I caught while jumping as high as possible.

Normally, at Citizens Bank Park, I spend some time in right field, but the Nationals had so many great righties that I stayed in left.

At the very end of BP, I raced over to the 3rd base dugout . . .

6_view_from_dugout_after_batting_practice

. . . but didn’t get anything there. I did, however, get my 12th ball of the day after watching Gio Gonzalez warm up from the right-center field concourse:

7_gio_gonzalez_warming_up

That one was tossed by Nationals bullpen coach Matthew LeCroy.

My ticket for the game was in the 4th row in straight-away left field:

8_ticket_09_16_15

This was my view in the top of the 1st inning:

9_view_during_game_09_16_15

Perhaps you noticed that I wasn’t sitting in the 4th row. It was more crowded down in front, so I stayed back where there was much more room — and would you believe that a crabby usher gave me a hard time about not sitting in my ticketed seat? Her argument went something along the lines of, “If I let you sit anywhere you want, everyone else will want to do it too.” When I explained that I just wanted to have a little extra space because I was hoping to catch a home run, she snapped, “You think it’s all about YOU!”

I admit it. I’m a terrible person. But hey, I convinced her to let me stay, and I took a photo of the space on my right:

10_empty_seats_on_my_right_09_16_15

I’m not sure if “juicy” is the right word to describe that, but it was the first one that popped in my head.

Fast-forward to the top of the 4th inning. With one out and the Nats leading, 1-0, Jayson Werth unloaded on a pitch from Alec Asher and sent the ball flying in my direction:

11_jayson_werth_homer

Maybe I should’ve listened to the usher. If I’d been sitting in my ticketed seat, I would’ve caught the ball on the fly — not probably but definitely. Instead I had to run down the stairs and hope for a bobble. Here I am after jumping out of “my” seat . . .

12_jayson_werth_homer

. . . and here I am several rows lower, watching helplessly as the ball descended:

13_jayson_werth_homer

Whaddaya know?! I got the necessary bobble, saw the ball rolling on the ground, and bent down to pick it up:

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Click here to see the actual video highlight on MLB.com. They never showed me after that, but here’s a screen shot from another camera angle that someone sent:

15_screen_shot_of_jayson_werth_homer

I’m not sure where that clip aired, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s just nice to have some visual evidence.

After the 3rd out, a friendly beer/water vendor struck up a conversation with me and offered a free beverage. I picked water. That’s how I roll:

16_formerly_mean_vendor_now_being_nice_and_giving_me_free_water

In the bottom of the 4th, I was thinking about snagging another home run, and with two outs, BAM!! Darin Ruf delivered:

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I knew right away that I had a great chance of catching it. It was just a matter of moving one section toward left-center and getting into position. Here I am starting to take off:

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Here I am in the middle of the section:

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As the ball was approaching, I climbed back over a row and then reached up for it:

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Lots of folks were impressed at the “amazing” catch I had made. I accepted their kind words and thanked them, but it really wasn’t that tough. Experienced ballhawks make plays like that ALL the time during batting practice. I was just lucky to have gotten this opportunity during the game.

After the TV cameras captured me holding up both home run balls . . .

21_darin_ruf_homer

. . . one of the announcers acknowledged me: “Same guy that got the home run off the bat of Jayson Werth just got the home run off the bat of Darin Ruf.”

Then, as the footage of my previous snag was shown . . .

22_darin_ruf_homer

. . . the announcer said, “Here’s Werth’s. That one bounced, and he grabbed it from the floor.”

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Then the Ruf homer was shown again, and the announcer said, “This one he actually caught. What a great catch.”

Finally I was shown running and celebrating:

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This was the first time I’d ever snagged two home runs in one inning, so I was pretty excited. It was not, however, the first time I’d gotten two in one game. I had done that two other times, first on 5/13/10 at Camden Yards and again on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium. Oh, and here’s the video highlight of the Ruf homer on MLB.com.

Here I am with the two home run balls from this game in Philly:

25_zack_with_two_home_run_balls

Here’s a closer look at them:

26_balls8539_and_8540_two_home_runs

Until the 6th inning, I had snagged the only two homers of the game. That’s when Jayson Werth crushed a 439-foot blast to left-center. There was absolutely no chance for me to get that ball, and as it turned out, a fellow ballhawk named Dominic was the one who came up with it. Here we are with the only three home runs of the game:

27_zack_and_dominic_with_his_home_run_ball_from_earlier_in_the_game

In order to get a group photo of the only four home runs balls of the night, we would’ve had to track down Bryce Harper himself. In the top of the 7th, Harper hit a towering fly ball (with an apex of 133 feet, according to ESPN Home Run Tracker) that barely cleared the wall in right-center. That happened to be his 40th homer of the season, and when he took the field in the bottom of the 7th, he negotiated directly with the fan and got the ball back. That ended up being the subject of a Washington Post article about me titled “Bryce Harper is lucky he hit his 40th home run where he did.” HA HA HA, get it?! Because I was such a jerk about the A-Rod thing, right? And man, the way I dicked over Mike Trout after catching his first career home run — I should really be ashamed of myself. And jeez, no wonder Didi Gregorius hates me!

Anyway, look how empty it was in the later innings:

28_empty_seats_on_my_left_09_16_15

Despite having snagged two homers earlier in the game, I was cursing my luck for not having a chance to catch another. Is that obnoxious? Yeah/oh well.

Take a look at the scoreboard in the bottom of the 9th inning:

29_scoreboard_in_9th_inning

As you can see, the Nationals were winning, 12-2. That’s why the seats were so empty, and as a result, I was able to wait for the final out before heading over to the dugout. After the Nationals relievers walked in from the bullpen . . .

30_nationals_postgame_09_16_15

. . . I got a couple of balls tossed to me. The first came from a ballboy, and the second (which happened to be my 400th lifetime ball at Citizens Bank Park) was tossed from under the dugout roof. That raised my total for the day to 16 balls, seven of which I’d given away to little kids.

Here I am with a friendly usher who recognized me and wanted to see the home run balls:

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I took one final photo of the balls before heading out and driving back home to New York City:

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Here are the nine balls I kept:

33_the_nine_balls_i_kept

What an amazing day. Time to start thinking about moving to Philadelphia — at least for the warmer months.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 16 baseballs at this game (nine pictured above because I gave seven away)

• 736 balls in 97 games this season = 7.59 balls per game.

 400 balls in 41 lifetime games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.76 balls per game.

 288 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 1,150 consecutive games with at least one ball

 38 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups; click here for the complete list)

8,542 total balls

8/15/15 at Miller Park

This was the fifth and final stadium of my mini-road trip. My friend Brandon — a professional videographer — did the driving, and as you can see in the photo below, we encountered a major storm on the way to Milwaukee:

1_driving_toward_a_storm_on_the_way_to_milwaukee

Here’s another look at the clouds:

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Brandon had recently done some filming for several storm-chasing groups in the midwest, so he did something that never would’ve occurred to me. He took the next exit, found a quiet street (beside a cornfield, of course), and pulled over. Look closely at the following photo and you’ll see him in the distance:

3_brandon_walking_toward_a_corn_field

He’s kind of crazy. I love it.

Here’s a photo of me with the storm clouds looming:

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Here’s another shot taken by Brandon:

5_corn_field_and_stormy_sky_photographed_by_brandon_sloter

Wow. (Right?) He may have played with the contrast a bit on that one, but that really IS what it looked like.

I was getting nervous about getting drenched (if not killed by lightning or a tornado), but he was perfectly calm and enjoyed taking photos right up ’til the last second. Then he was like, “Let’s get back to the car,” and just as we walked across the street, we felt the first few drops.

During the rest of our drive, the heavy rain normally would’ve bothered me, but Miller Park, of course, has a retractable roof, so all I could think was, “Ha ha ha . . . BRING IT.” As it turned out, though, it was sunny when we reached our destination:

6_approaching_miller_park

Why was there already a long line outside the Friday’s restaurant?!

7_line_outside_fridays

Oh, right, because I’m an idiot and didn’t realize that the game started at 6:10pm. Good job, me. And then, to make matters worse, the restaurant opened 20 minutes late — time I should’ve been able to spend out on the left-field terrace snagging baseballs. Here’s what the view looked like after we finally made it inside:

8_view_of_bp_from_fridays_08_15_15

Here’s the terrace itself:

9_tables_and_terrace_at_fridays

As you can see in the photo above, the overhang of the second deck makes it hard for home runs to land on the terrace. They have to be hit perfectly, but it does happen. And guess what? I got my first ball that way, with an unexpected assist from our waitress after the ball bounced up into the restaurant! How’s THAT for a weird way to get on the board? And yes, that counts. I’ve always counted balls that are given to me by stadium employees. Here’s a screen shot from Brandon’s video that shows me with the ball and the waitress, whose name is Brianna:

10_zack_with_waitress_who_provided_ball8354

By the way, you’ll see the video at the end of this entry. Keep reading for now . . .

On game days at Miller Park, the tables on the terrace at Friday’s have a one-hour limit and a $30 minimum. In other words, there was a lot of food but not much time to eat it, so as you can see below, I had to stuff my face quickly between pitches:

11_zack_eating_and_paying_attention

Here’s what we got:

12_lunch_at_fridays_08_15_15

I ordered the chicken caesar salad, and Brandon had a bacon cheeseburger with fries, so basically I’m going to live longer, but he’ll enjoy his life a whole lot more.

This is what we shared for dessert:

13_dessert_at_fridays_08_15_15

Oh yeah. To hell with longevity!

A little while later, Brandon got a shot of me being dissed by Phillies pitcher Elvis Araujo:

14_zack_getting_dissed_by_elvis_araujo

I was stunned not to get a ball from him because . . .

1) I was the only fan wearing Phillies gear.
2) I was the only fan who knew his name.
3) I asked him for a ball in Spanish
4) There were SO MANY balls sitting near him on the field.

But no. No love from Elvis. And there weren’t any glove trick opportunities either. Remember this video of me using the trick there in 2013? I was hoping for more of that action this time around, but there just weren’t any balls that landed in the gap down below.

When the entire stadium opened, I still only had one ball. Very frustrating. I always want to put on a good show when Brandon is filming.

I headed out to right field . . .

15_view_from_right_field_08_15_15

. . . but didn’t like my chances there. Look how crowded it was:

16_view_to_my_right_08_15_15

I headed to the second deck with Brandon, and just as I was telling him to stop filming — that the entire day was a disaster and it just wasn’t worth it — I got Domonic Brown to chuck me a ball. Soon after that, I caught a home run (which I gave to the nearest kid). I’m not sure who hit it, but I can tell you that I made a decent play, drifting down several steps to the front row and reaching out for the snag. (You’ll see footage of this in the video.)

I went to the second deck in left field for the last two groups of BP:

17_zack_left_field_2nd_deck_08_15_15

As you may have noticed, I had put on my red Phillies shirt to complete my outfit, but it didn’t help. No action whatsoever. I nearly snagged a homer that landed one section to my right, but eh. I just wasn’t feeling it, and once again, I wondered if it was worth completing the video. I was thinking of scrapping it and returning to Milwaukee next year to try again.

After BP, I peeked into the Brewers’ bullpen and got VERY excited:

18_balls_in_bullpen_after_bp_08_15_15

See all those baseballs sitting around? I wasn’t sure which ones I could reach with my glove trick (without getting ejected), but figured I’d have a good shot at the one in the back left corner. See which one I mean? It’s just beyond home plate near the green padded wall.

Here’s another look at it from above:

19_ball8357_below_me

As you can see, it was blocked by a mesh awning-like thing, but I knew I could still get it.

Having changed back into my blue shirt and black cap (so as not to draw any extra attention), I carefully leaned out over the railing and worked my magic. Here’s a screen shot from Brandon’s video, which he filmed from the second deck:

20_zack_glove_trick_for_ball8357

Moments later, I raised my glove with the ball tucked firmly inside:

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HA!!

That was my fourth ball of the day, and it felt goooood. And I wasn’t done. Did you notice the camera man watching me in the previous photo? I won’t claim that he gave me permission to enter his special off-limits area. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, so let’s just say that when I asked, he simply shrugged and pretended not to notice (though he did have a faint smile on his face). Here’s a closer look at him:

22_friendly_cameraman

Here’s what the bullpen looked like from there — note Brandon circled in red up above:

23_brandon_filming_me_from_above

I went back to work, snagging the next ball easily . . .

24_zack_glove_trick_for_balls8358_and_8359

. . . and handing it to the camera man — a small thank you. Then I struggled for a bit with the ball in the corner because it was kissing the padded wall, and I had to tap it just right in order to move it out. But eventually I got that one too, increasing my total for the day to six.

For the first time ever, the little party deck area in right-center field was not being guarded by security, so I wandered in and hung out for a while before the game. Here’s what it looked like as Jerome Williams warmed up:

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This was the view directly behind me:

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That’s a great place to run back and forth for home runs. Remember, catching batted balls is all about having lateral mobility, so anytime there’s an aisle in the outfield, that’s pretty much where you want to be.

I resisted the urge to stay there, instead opting for my favorite foul ball spot in the major leagues: the wide/perfect aisle at the back of the second deck. First check out my view for right-handed batters:

27_foul_ball_spot_for_righties_during_game

Not bad, right?

Now look at all this space I had:

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Amazing. I love it there so much. If I attended all 81 home games at Miller Park in a single season, I believe I would snag 100 foul balls. That might sound crazy, but I’m serious. In my six previous games here, I had snagged five foul balls (and would’ve had more if not for some stupid luck).

I was hoping that Brandon would be able to film me catching a foul ball, but I told him not to stress it. The pitching matchup was awful for my purpose (two soft tossers), so the odds seemed slim.

Brandon ended up wandering off in the middle innings and taking lots of photos, including this gem from the upper deck:

29_miller_park_from_the_upper_deck_photographed_by_brandon_sloter

As for me, I got into some (playful) trash-talking with an old guy who told me that the next foul ball was his. He even (playfully) threatened me with his cane:

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The next foul ball turned out to be the ONLY foul ball that reached the aisle, and of course I caught it:

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And of course Brandon was nowhere in sight. Cesar Hernandez hit that ball off Jimmy Nelson with two outs in the top of the 7th. I drifted about 15 feet to my left and caught it on the fly in “light traffic,” which is to say that there were several other folks nearby, but not much competition.

Later on, the old guy returned with a wacky hat and posed for a selfie with me and the ball:

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Here I am standing in the aisle late in the game:

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That’s pretty much how my night ended. Seven total balls . . . one from a waitress, one toss-up, one BP homer, three with the glove trick, and a foul ball during the game. Given how poorly things had gotten started, I was quite pleased with how it all turned out.

Brandon and I did not stay for the post-game Goo Goo Dolls concert. We headed straight to the car . . .

34_outside_miller_park_after_the_game_and_before_the_goo_goo_dolls_concert

. . . and made a stop at a place called Kopp’s, which has THE best frozen custard in the known universe. I can’t even describe what I got. Just look at it:

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Nice way to end the trip.

Here are the five balls that I kept:

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Did you notice that two of them have the old commissioner’s signature? Doesn’t matter to me — just an interesting little detail. And now, as promised, here’s the video:

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 7 baseballs at this game (five pictured above because I gave two away)

• 554 balls in 78 games this season = 7.10 balls per game.

 74 balls in 7 games at Miller Park = 10.57 balls per game.

• 1,131 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,360 total balls

Charity prize winners 2015

I just picked the prize winners for this season’s fundraiser for the charity Pitch In For Baseball. Here’s the video that shows how it all went down:

If your name was picked, tell me what prize you want. (If your name was picked third, for example, give me your top three choices.) Then email me your address and any other info I’ll need to mail it to you.

On behalf of Pitch In For Baseball, thanks for your support! Here’s their website in case you want to learn more about them.

Time to donate — 2015

Now that the 2015 World Series is over, it’s time to send your donations to Pitch In For Baseball. I ended up snagging eight game home run balls this season, and I’ve already done the math for you. Click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how much you owe — and get ready to win some prizes. As I mentioned in this blog entry before the season, I’m going to be giving away a bunch of baseball-related collectibles:
willie_mays_ball
1)
 a baseball signed by Willie Mays (pictured on the right)
2) three baseball cards signed by Kent Hrbek, Rick Cerone, and Dave Stieb
3)Mickey Mantle ball with an image of his 1952 Topps rookie card
4) a Bernie Williams ball with his image and the Yankees logo
5)Curtis Granderson bobblehead
6) signed copies of The San Francisco Splash and The Wrigley Riddle
7) a signed copy of Man Versus Ball
8) two Mets prints
9) three Mets t-shirts
10) a Mark McGwire rookie card

Make sure that Pitch In For Baseball receives your money before December 7th — a little more than a month from today. That’s when I’m going to conduct the drawing, and remember that the more you donate, the more chances you’ll have to win something. (For every dollar that you donate per home run ball that I snagged this season, your name will be thrown into the hat, so in other words, if you donate $8.00 to the charity, your name will be in there once. If you donate $40.00 — the equivalent of five dollars per homer — your name will be there five times, so you’ll be five times more likely to be chosen. The first person whose name is drawn will have the first choice of which prize to receive. That person will then be ineligible to win anything else, so there will be ten different winners. The second person whose name is chosen will get to choose one of the remaining nine prizes, and so on.)

There are two ways to pay:

pifb_logo_11_06_13OPTION ONE:

Mail a check, payable to Pitch In For Baseball, to the following address:

Pitch In For Baseball
c/o Zack Hample
1541 Gehman Road
Harleysville, PA 19438

FYI: The reason for writing “c/o Zack Hample” is to inform the folks at Pitch In For Baseball that you’re one of my donors. This will help them keep track of the all the money I’m raising for them.

OPTION TWO:

Pay with your credit card by following these steps:

1) Visiting my fundraising page.
2) Scroll to the bottom.
3) Look for the red banner that says “Make a contribution.”
4) Click the “Other” option at the bottom of the box.
5) Type in the amount of your donation.
6) Click the “Continue” button down below and following the remaining steps.

Thanks so much! I love being able to use my collection to raise money (and awareness) for this charity, and obviously I couldn’t do it without your help.

8/14/15 at Kauffman Stadium

My day started with a live radio interview on 610 AM Sports Radio in Kansas City. Here I am in the studio waiting to get on the air:

1_zack_in_the_radio_studio

I was on a show called “The Day Shift” with Lake and Bink, aka Jay Binkley and Henry Lake. Here I am with them after my segment:

2_zack_after_interview_with_jay_binkley_and_henry_lake

Great guys. They had interviewed me a few seasons ago, and I kept in touch with Jay, so when I told him I was going to be in town, he asked me to drop by the station. Pretty simple. We mostly talked about the highlights from my summer — snagging A-Rod’s 3,000th hit and hanging out with Lisa Ann. What else is there?

On the way out, I couldn’t resist photographing this tornado sign:
3_sign_for_tornado_warning

Back home in New York City, we don’t have stuff like that.

For lunch, I met up with Brandon Sloter at a BBQ place that was highly recommended by a local friend. It’s called Q39, and as you can see below, I was excited to try it out:

4_zack_outside_bbq_restaurant_called_q39

Here’s what I got:

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You’re looking/drooling at ribs, chicken, brisket, and baked beans. SO GOOD. Before the meal, we had planned to get ice cream for dessert at a different place, but we ended up being so stuffed that we had to skip it. Thankfully we burned off lots of calories during the long, inconvenient walk toward the stadium:

6_walking_to_kauffman_stadium

In the photos above and below, that’s Brandon in the blue shirt and my local friend in the PEREZ jersey. This friend wishes to remain anonymous, so don’t guess his name or identify him, if you know. But anyway, look at this scenic-but-ridiculous route we had to take:

7_walking_around_kauffman_stadium

Some places are made for pedestrians; the area surrounding Kauffman Stadium is not one of them.

Question: what happens when a team makes it to the World Series and is in first place the following season and it’s the summer and the weather is perfect and it’s a Friday night with fireworks and Mike Trout is town?

Answer: a huuuuuge crowd.

Look how many people were lined up outside the stadium THREE HOURS before game time:
8_long_line_for_the_early_bird_bp_tour

That wasn’t a line for regular entry. All of those people had purchased additional tickets (on top of their game tickets) for the “Early Bird BP Tour.” I’ve blogged about it in the past. Basically it gets you in the stadium two and a half hours before the first pitch, but for the first 60 or 90 minutes (depending on the day of the week), you’re confined to the seats behind one of the dugouts.

When I had done this in previous seasons, there were very few fans, most of whom chose to hang out behind the Royals’ dugout. Now it was an absolute zoo:

9_zack_miserable

Oh! And perhaps I should mention that just before we entered the stadium, an employee used a megaphone to announce that the Angels would not be taking batting practice. So yeah, that’s why I was so scowly in the previous photo. Forgive me, okay? All I wanted to do was grab a spot behind the Angels’ dugout and have a brief conversation with Mike Trout. Is that so unreasonable? He always waves to me from afar because I can never get close to him in New York. This was supposed to be my chance to finally reconnect with him. Do you think I wanted to attend a sold out game on Fireworks Night? No! But I was willing to suffer through it because of Trout.

Because of the lack of BP, the employee with the megaphone offered everyone a refund. No one stepped out of line to take her up on it, and life went on.

Here’s what it looked like when the “Angels dugout” group headed down into the seats from the Royals Hall of Fame:

10_heading_down_into_the_seats

In the photo above, the fan with the blue drawstring backpack is named J.T. — more on him in a bit, but for now, look how dead things were behind the dugout:

11_no_action_early_on

Did you notice the Royals warming up down the right field line?

Snore.

After a while, two Angels began playing catch in shallow left field:

12_angels_playing_catch

I did not get that ball.

I didn’t get anything until the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm. The Royals were already hitting at that point, and I had my eye on a ball that one of their lefties had sliced into the seats:

13_ball8349_in_the_empty_seats

J.T. had his eye on it too for quite some time, but he didn’t seem to be watching when an usher wandered over and picked up the ball and placed it in a cup holder. I ended up racing over and grabbing it — and then giving it to him. He had gotten in touch with me on Twitter several days earlier and had been looking forward to meeting, so he was pretty psyched to get a ball that I had snagged.

Moments after I grabbed that ball from the cup holder, a righty on the Royals crushed a home run onto the walkway near the left field bullpen. There weren’t any other fans out there yet, so I ran over and got that ball too.

Brandon filmed me throughout the day. The goal was to get lots of footage that he could edit into a short video for YouTube. Here’s a screen shot from the video that shows me catching a home run — my third ball of the day:

14_zack_catching_ball8351

I caught another one several minutes later and ran all over the place during BP. Here I am heading behind the batter’s eye toward right field:

15_zack_running_to_right_field

Here I am heading back to left field:

16_zack_running_to_left_field

Here’s what it looked like on the Pepsi Porch back in right field:

17_pepsi_porch

It wasn’t exhausting to run around nonstop for 20 minutes. On the contrary, it was refreshing and extremely fun — a total change of pace from all the games where there’s no good standing room in the outfield and security is crazy-strict.

After BP, I headed here . . .

18_angels_bullpen_from_above

. . . to say hello to Angels bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio, who ended up tossing me a ball without my asking. That was my fifth of the day.

Then I caught up with my buddy Tang, who’s a talented/regular ballhawk at Kauffman Stadium:

19_zack_and_tang

Before the game, I headed to the seats along the left field foul line:

20_angels_warming_up_before_the_game

Once again I was hoping to say hey to Mike Trout, and this time it happened . . . quickly. Take a look at the four-part photo below:

21_mike_trout_spotting_zack_and_jogging_over_to_shake_hands

In the first photo, he was starting to jog into foul territory.
In the second photo, he spotted me.
In the third photo, he veered toward me and I bent down to shake his hand.
In the fourth photo, I was happy.

I think it’s pretty cool that he came over to me first and then began signing for everyone else. Here’s a photo of him doing his thing:

22_mike_trout_signing_autographs

Look how close I was:

23_mike_trout_signing_autographs

I love him. He’s the best. That’s all there is to it.

Here’s a Mike Trout autograph that someone else got — not exactly the best handwriting:

24_fan_with_a_mike_trout_autograph

This was my view from right field during the game:

25_view_from_right_field_08_14_15

Look how much space I had on my right:

26_walkway_on_my_right

It probably would’ve taken a 430-foot home run to reach me, but whatever. I was just glad NOT to be trapped in the usual sea of seats and people.

Here’s a look at the left field walkway (and Brandon’s camera/microphone) a little while later:

27b_brandon_and_walkway_on_my_right

Here’s a photo that Brandon took from the upper deck:

28_photo_from_the_upper_deck_taken_by_brandon

Here I am in the middle innings with J.T. and two of his friends:

29_zack_with_dakota_jt_finn

In the photo above, the kid on the left in the light blue shirt is named Dakota. J.T. is standing next to him in the white Jersey (and by the way, you can follow him here on Twitter.) The young man in the dark blue shirt is named Finn. It was fun hanging out with them.

Late in the game, something happened that I’d been warned about. The standing room area in right field had gotten so crowded that the walkway to get over there was blocked by a guard in left-center. Look at this nonsense:

30_evil_usher_blocking_the_walkway

What a cruel man, that monster in the yellow shirt — enjoying his job a bit too much and denying my freedom as an American citizen!

But really, take a closer look at his face:

31_evil_usher_blocking_the_walkway

That’s the definition of smug.

Here’s Trouty on the jumbotron in the 7th inning:

32_scoreboard_in_the_7th_inning_with_with_mike_trout_at_bat

Did you notice how crowded it was in the walkway? That’s what happens when you don’t let anyone walk over to right field. (In case you can’t tell, I HATE BEING CONFINED.)

Here’s Trout schmoozing with his much less talented teammates during an inning break:

33_angels_outfielders_talking

It’s very nice of him to treat them as if they’re important.

Brandon took the previous photo, as well as the next one:

34_zack_on_staircase_in_deep_left_field

A little while later, the Royals wrapped up a 4-1 victory. Brandon and I were already outside the stadium by the time the fireworks started . . .

35_postgame_fireworks_08_14_15

. . . and we’d made it across the highway before the stadium had cleared out:

36_kauffman_stadium_from_afar_at_night_with_a_truck_streaking_past

As I mentioned in the video, which you can see below, we were gonna have to drive 560 miles overnight to Milwaukee — the last stop on our little five-day/five-stadium road trip. Good times in the midwest!

BALLHAWKING STATS:

37_the_three_balls_i_kept_08_14_15• 5 baseballs at this game (three pictured here because I gave two away)

• 547 balls in 77 games this season = 7.10 balls per game.

 121 balls in 12 games at Kauffman Stadium = 10.08 balls per game.

• 1,130 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,353 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

pitch_in_for_baseball(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.)

• 25 donors for my fundraiser

• $187.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,750.16 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,603.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/13/15 at Busch Stadium

This was my third stadium in three days, and once again, things got off to a lousy start. That’s because I found out at the very last minute that Busch Stadium now opens half an hour later on weekdays. Fans used to be able to enter two hours early every day, but since this was a Thursday, the gates opened just 90 minutes before game time. For a team with such a huge and passionate fan base, that’s awful.

This was the scene outside the left-center field gates:

1_crowd_outside_busch_stadium_08_13_15

In the previous photo, the building on the right wasn’t there the last time I visited Busch Stadium. It’s part of the new St. Louis Ballpark Village. I would’ve liked to go inside and explore, but there wasn’t time.

Just before heading inside, I switched into my Pirates gear:

2_zack_ready_to_enter_08_13_15

I usually dress for the home team when entering a stadium, but because the gates opened so late, the Cardinals had finished taking batting practice, and the Pirates were already on the field.

The previous image is a screen shot from a video that was filmed by my friend Brandon Sloter. I’ll share that video at the end of this entry, but for now, here’s the only “action” shot from BP:

3_ball8344_in_midair

Getting a ball thrown to me in a mostly-empty stadium wouldn’t normally be much of a highlight, but this one was kinda cool. As soon as I caught the ball, Tony Watson, the player who tossed it, pointed at me and shouted my nickname: “Foul Ball Guy!”

“That’s me!” I shouted back, surprised that he recognized me.

“You caught A-Rod’s homer, right?”

Rather than answering him, I asked a question of my own: “Don’t you think I’ve graduated to ‘Home Run Guy’ as a nickname?”

“You caught A-Rod’s homer, right?” he asked again.

“Yeah, man, that’s cool that you saw that,” I said, resisting the urge to explain that I hadn’t actually caught the ball, but rather picked it up off the ground. Then I added, “Thanks for helping me get on the board today.”

“Pirates fan for life now?” asked Watson (who, by the way, was standing next to Gerrit Cole).

4_zack_talking_to_pirates

I didn’t hear him at first, so he repeated himself.

“I’m more of a baseball fan,” I said. “I don’t want to say it too loud, but between you guys and the Cardinals, it’s you all the way.”

That was the truth. I usually root for the underdog and/or the visiting team, and in addition to that, the Cardinals had just screwed me out of 30 minutes of BP, so I really did want the Pirates to win.

Just as I was settling into a decent spot for BP . . .

5_view_from_the_bleachers_during_the_only_group_of_bp

. . . it ended! Look at this crap:

6_groundkeepers_removing_screen_and_batting_cage

I’d been inside the stadium for 10 whole minutes, and BP was done. It’s bad enough when that happens in New York when I’m by myself; the fact that it happened here at my only game at Busch Stadium with a professional videographer that I was paying to get good footage of me . . . GAH!!!

After BP, I got some random guy in the bullpen to toss me a ball:

7_ball8345_in_midair

That was a nice little bonus. Now I had two baseballs . . .

8_balls8344_and8345

. . . which I realize is two more than most people will ever snag in their entire lives, but I was still tremendously disappointed.

A few minutes later, I caught up with a guy named Steve who’d been following me on Twitter:

9_zack_and_steve_08_13_15

Nice guy. We chatted for a while, and I signed a ball for him:

10_steve_with_a_perfect_zack_hample_autograph

(FYI, when I sign baseballs for people, I sign *their* baseballs. Some folks occasionally ask me to sign and expect ME to provide the ball. That’s not how it works.)

Before the game, I got my third ball of the day in left field. Pirates bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade tossed it to me as he walked into the bullpen:

11_ball8346_in_midair

Here’s where I sat for the entire game:

12_view_during_1st_inning_08_13_15

I usually stay in the outfield, but Busch Stadium is always so crowded, and it’s a bad place to catch home runs, and I was still in a pissy mood from the lack of BP, and I just wanted to sit close to the action and enjoy the game (and maybe get another ball or two).

If the rules at Busch were anything like those at the Texas Rangers’ stadium, I would’ve been sitting beside the grassy berm in center field, and I almost certainly would’ve snagged Pedro Alvarez’s 1st-inning home run that landed there. In Arlington, fans are allowed to run out there for baseballs, even during BP, but here in St. Louis, it’s forbidden (unless, you know, David Freese hits a walk-off shot to end a World Series game, in which case all hell breaks loose, and there’s nothing that stadium security can do about it), so an usher went and retrieved the ball:

13_usher_retrieving_home_run_ball

BORING!!

As it turned out, that was the only homer of the game, so it’s just as well that I wasn’t sitting in the outfield.

Cardinals starter Lance Lynn didn’t make it out of the 1st inning, though it wasn’t entirely his fault. Thanks in part to a throwing error by 3rd baseman Matt Carpenter, he gave up seven runs (three earned) in two-thirds of an inning. Here he is making an early exit:

14_lance_lynn_early_exit

Take a look at the scoreboard:

15_pirates_with_seven_runs_in_the_top_of_the_1st_inning

Ouch!

Before the bottom of the 1st got underway, Pirates 3rd base coach Rick Sofield tossed me the infield warm-up ball. Look closely and you’ll see my glove poking out behind Big Red:

16_ball8347_in_midair

I gave that ball to the nearest/smallest kid:

17_zack_giving_the_ball_to_a_kid_08_13_15

Halfway through the game, Brandon headed to the upper deck and took the following photo:

18_photo_from_the_upper_deck_taken_by_brandon_sloter

That doesn’t even begin to show his skills with a camera, but trust me, he’s REALLY good. You should check him out on Instagram, especially in you’re into photos of live music, nature/weather, baseball stadiums, and Crystal Hefner.

Here’s what things looked like from my perspective in the 6th inning:

19_stadium_skyline_arch_at_dusk

With one out in the bottom of the 7th, I got my fifth ball in a very unusual way. Here’s how it all went down:

1) Pirates manager Clint Hurdle made a double-switch.
2) Michael Morse entered the game to play 1st base.
3) Home plate umpire Larry Vanover threw him a ball with which to warm up.
4) Morse eventually threw the ball back to the Pirates’ dugout.
5) Someone in the dugout tossed it into the crowd.
6) The ball landed on the dugout roof and was picked up by an usher.
7) I was the first one to ask him for it, so he handed it to me.

Ta-DAAA!!

I can’t officially call it an “umpire ball” since it didn’t come directly from Vanover, but it came from his pouch, and it’s mud-rubbed, and I still think it’s cool. Here it is:

20_ball8348

By the end of the 8th inning, the Cardinals had closed the deficit to 7-5, but the Pirates scored three runs in the top of the 9th — and that was it.

I tried to get a ball at the dugout after the game . . .

21_zack_at_the_dugout_after_the_game_08_13_15

. . . but came up empty.

A few minutes later, I took off my Pirates gear and caught up with an old friend named Darron who now works for the Cardinals:

22_zack_and_darron_the_usher

Ready to see something funny/cute? Here we are on 5/22/07 at Busch Stadium (which was my first time there) and here we are again on 9/21/11 at Busch Stadium (when I visited all 30 stadiums in one season). At this rate, we’re due to cross paths again in 2019. Darron will probably be the head of security by then, so we can all look forward to Busch Stadium opening two and a half hours early every day.

On my way out, I took one final photo of the stadium:

23_empty_seats_after_the_game_08_13_15

And now, as promised, here’s the video that Brandon filmed and edited. I wish there were more action, but I still think it’s interesting. Enjoy!

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 baseballs at this game

• 542 balls in 76 games this season = 7.13 balls per game.

 48 lifetime balls in 7 games at Busch Stadium = 6.86 balls per game.

• 1,129 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,348 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

pitch_in_for_baseball(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.)

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $162.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,650.16 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,503.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/12/15 at Progressive Field

If I hadn’t planned to be at this game several weeks in advance, I definitely would’ve skipped it. Not only were the Yankees in town (which meant the attendance would be much higher than usual), but the previous night’s game had lasted 16 innings! Just my luck. Even though the weather was perfect, I was certain that there wouldn’t be batting practice — yet here I was:

1_zack_outside_progressive_field

This was my second game of a five-day road trip, so there really wasn’t any chance to avoid it. The only thing I could’ve done was listen to my friend Brandon, who had originally tried to convince me to attend the previous game instead of this one, but there was a Bob Feller replica jersey giveaway the day before, and I wanted no part of that.

As Brandon and I walked around the stadium, I noticed a huge change in center field. I knew that the Indians had redone some stuff in the outfield, but wow! Look at all this open space just inside the gates:

2_peeking_in_progressive_field_so_much_open_space

I was stunned to see the batting cage set up:

3_batting_cage_set_up_despite_16_inning_game_the_night_before

Could it be?! Were the Yankees and/or Indians going to take BP despite having playing past midnight?!

Ha. No. This is what I saw an hour later when we got back from lunch:

4_no_batting_practice_of_course

No batting cage. No BP. Just bad luck and a lost opportunity.

Brandon is a professional videographer, and I had agreed to pay him to film me at each stadium on this trip, so we were both disappointed to cancel our video plans for the day. Without BP, it just wasn’t worth it.

Shortly before the stadium opened, this was the scene outside the center field gates:

5_new_center_field_gates_setup

That whole area had also been redone.

Just before entering, I had a nice conversation with a pair of Yankee fans named Bekah and Joe — more on them in a moment, but first, here’s what I saw in right field:

6_andrew_miller_playing_catch

That’s Andrew Miller. He was throwing with one of the Yankees’ bullpen catchers, and I *really* wanted to get the ball from him because I thought it might be my only chance for the day. Joe and Bekah were standing beside me when I called out for it. Because there were so many Yankee fans everywhere, I was surprised when Miller looked over and tossed it in my direction. The ball tailed a bit, so I reached out in front of Joe to catch it, but he didn’t mind. He and Bekah wanted me to keep my streak alive, so if anything, they were glad to see the whole thing play out. I then gave the ball to Joe and told Bekah that if she didn’t snag one, and if I got another, I’d give it to her. Everyone was happy with that arrangement. Here they are:

7_ball8341_for_this_guy

A few minutes later, Bekah posted this tweet, and I’m glad to report that she did end up getting a ball on her own.

By the way, Joe and Bekah weren’t attending the game together. In fact, they didn’t even know each other until we all started chatting outside the gates.

There was lots of time to spare after that, so I wandered and took photos of the new configuration in right-center field. Not only had the bullpens been redone, but there was a new section of seats out there. First, here are the bullpens:

8_new_bullpen_setup_at_progressive_field

Here they are from the side:

9_new_bullpen_setup_at_progressive_field

In the photo above, the gap between bullpens (several steps higher than where that photo was taken) is a great spot to get a toss-up from the Indians, especially pre-game or whenever a pitcher is done throwing. They’ll have to exit the bullpen there in order to head down the steps to the field, so you’ll be right in their line of vision as they finish up and look for a worthy recipient.

Check out the glorious new cross-aisle in the right-center field seats:

10_cross_aisle_in_new_section_in_right_center_field

The only bad thing about it is that it’s more than 400 feet from home plate, but balls DO land there. Also, just so you know, you can’t get into that section without a ticket for it, even during BP.

Look at all this weird platform-y space at the front of the section:

11_seats_and_weird_platform

That’s concrete, so I assume that when balls land there, they bounce pretty far — perhaps all the way over the netting and into the bullpen. I don’t know because the STUPID GAME THE NIGHT BEFORE HAD LASTED 16 INNINGS AND NOW THERE WAS NO BATTING PRACTICE.

Back in the regular seats in right field, I ran into a guy named Nikhil who’d brought his copy of my latest book, The Baseball:

12_zack_and_nikhil_with_the_baseball

I signed it for him, and we chatted a bit, and then I headed back to my section in right-center. I had figured it would be great for batting practice with all the lefties on the Yankees’ roster, and it seemed like a good spot to hang out during the game, so I’d bought a pair of tickets there, including one for Brandon.

As you can see below, there was some action in the Indians’ bullpen:

13_indians_early_bullpen_session

A few minutes later, pitching coach Mickey Callaway tossed me my second ball of the day:

14_ball8342_from_mickey_callaway

At 6pm (one full hour after the stadium opened), fans were finally allowed to leave the holding cell — I mean, the right field seats. As you might expect, everyone hurried toward the Yankees’ dugout for autographs:

15_fans_entering_foul_territory

I got some food (a grilled cheese, if you must know, with sharp cheddar and chorizo) and then headed over to the newly-renovated right field corner. Look at all this open space for fans to move around:

16_new_open_right_field_corner

THAT is how a stadium should be designed. No one wants to be confined to their seat and/or to a covered concourse where they can’t even see the full arc of a fly ball. Open air and standing room is a winning combination.

Here’s something else that’s new and brilliant:

17_staircase_down_to_the_old_bullpen

Remember the old bullpen down the right field line? Rather than completely tear it out or fill it in with something overpriced and gimmicky, the Indians built a staircase down to it. They only allow 25 people down there at once, I think, and there might even be a limit for how long you can stay, but that’s reasonable. Here’s what it looked like as I headed closer to the field:

18_approaching_the_old_bullpen

Here’s the space itself:

19_people_in_the_old_bullpen

Small. Cozy. Adorable. And what a nice opportunity for fans to see a unique part of the stadium. Bravo to the Indians for making their great stadium even better.

Here’s the view of the field from the old bullpen:

20_view_from_the_old_bullpen

Here’s a panorama, taken by Brandon, that shows me sitting on the bench:

21_zack_in_the_old_bullpen

Back up in the concourse, I was blown away by all of the *quality* standing room that the Indians had installed near the right field corner:

22_new_standing_room_near_the_right_field_corner

In my expert opinion, a good standing room area must satisfy these two requirements:

1) Not be covered by anything, or at least not have an obstructed view, such as being tucked back underneath the overhang of the second deck. The standing-room areas down the left field line at Target Field, for example, are covered, but they still work because of the smart design. Have a look.

2) Not be more than 400 feet from home plate, or at least not much more. The party deck in deep left-center at Safeco Field, for example, is almost too far away but still within the limit of being acceptable. Have a look. You’re kind of far removed from the action out there, but you’re close to the bullpens, and you’re within shouting distance of the center fielder.

Does your local stadium have a good place to stand? Think about it. The answer is probably no, and that’s a real shame. Busch Stadium (see here) and Comerica Park (see here) both have standing room in the aisles in foul territory. Camden Yards, of course, has a magnificent standing-room area called the “Flag Court” down the right field line. Minute Maid Park has standing room below the arches in left-center. At PETCO Park, fans can stand in the cross-aisle in right field. And don’t even get me started with Kauffman Stadium. There’s standing room all over the place — in foul territory and also in right field. Anyway, you get the point.

Brandon and I headed back to our section before game time. Several players were warming up . . .

23_pregame_throwing_in_the_outfield

. . . including both starting pitchers:

24_danny_salazar_and_cc_sabathia_warming_up_photographed_by_brandon_sloter

That’s Danny Salazar on the left and CC Sabathia on the right. My, oh my.

As these guys walked off the field . . .

25_roberto_perez_and_sandy_alomar_jr_photographed_by_brandon_sloter

. . . I got a ball from Sandy Alomar Jr. — my third of the day:

26_ball8343_from_sandy_alomar_jr

Look how many people watched Salazar warm up in the bullpen:

27_fans_watching_danny_salazar_wraming_up

Here’s a photo of him that Brandon took:

28_danny_salazar_warming_up_photographed_by_brandon_sloter

Indians security has a weird rule when pitchers are warming up. Basically, if you’re in the new section in right-center field, you’re not allowed to stand in the cross-aisle near the pitcher. There are poles that hold up the netting, and you have to stay on one side of a certain pole. It’s arbitrary and bizarre. Standing beside the pitcher is too distracting, but standing directly behind home plate is okay? Look at this photo I took after Salazar had finished:

29_behind_home_plate_in_the_indians_bullpen

There had been a bunch of people standing right there during his warm-ups. Here’s another look at that spot from farther back:

30_entrance_to_the_right_center_field_seats

Anyone in the stadium can stand there. You don’t need a special ticket, but you can’t go past that barricade into the seating area.

One day earlier, I had been in touch with the Indians about doing something media-related at the game. As it turned out, they interviewed me live between innings . . .

31_zack_interviewed_between_innings_live_for_the_jumbotron

. . . and it was broadcast on the jumbotron! I was not expecting that. When they said they’d film me in the 2nd inning, I figured the TV sideline reporter would come talk to me for a couple of minutes while the game was taking place. As it turned out, this interview was awkward as hell because (a) the entire Indians and Yankees bullpens were sitting right behind me, and (b) I heard my own voice booming back over the speakers with a slight delay. If I could do it all over again, I would probably undo this interview. That said, I think it turned out alright, and it was certainly nice of the Indians to give me the opportunity.

Every batter in the Indians lineup was right-handed (or at least hitting from the right side against Sabathia), so as the bottom of each inning was about to get underway, I ran over to the left field side. The first part of my route required me to head through the cross-aisle:

32_leaving_right_center_field

After passing through the barricade, I turned to the right, alongside Heritage Park:

33_route_to_the_bleachers

Here’s what it looked like at the top of the stairs:

34_route_to_the_bleachers

I kept going straight toward that tree in the middle of the previous photo, and when I reached the walkway, I turned left:

35_route_to_the_bleachers

Then I headed toward and underneath the bleachers, eventually turning left into a tunnel in straight-away left field:

36_tunnel_to_the_bleachers

This was my view as I approached the field:

37_view_from_the_bleachers_08_12_15

Here’s what it looked like on my left:

38_bleacher_cross_aisle_on_my_left

Look at all that space! And I was allowed to hang out there. And there was no competition! And of course there weren’t any home runs hit to left field the entire night. But hey, it was still fun to wander and, for a change, not have anyone yell at me or ask to see my ticket.

I don’t think I ever sat in my ticketed seat, but no one noticed or cared. I sat close enough, and there were a few empty seats, so whatever. Here’s what it looked like in right-center field:

39_view_from_right_center_field_08_12_15

This was the view to my right:

40_view_to_my_right_08_12_15

Gorgeous!

A little while later, I nearly did a double-take when I noticed this on the scoreboard:

41_no_hitter_on_the_scoreboard

See what I’m talking about? Hisashi Iwakuma had thrown a no-hitter against the Orioles.

As the Indians put the finishing touches on their 2-1 win, nearly everyone in the stadium was standing:

42_everyone_standing_in_the_9th_inning

Even though the Indians didn’t appear to be heading to the playoffs, it was still a big moment because it knocked the Yankees out of first place.

Finally, as players from both bullpens walked across the field . . .

43_players_walking_across_the_field_after_the_game

. . . a 50-something-year-old man in my section, who’d been heckling/disparaging me all night (and threatening not to let me catch any home runs even though he was trapped in the middle of the row in front of me), gave me the finger on his way out. He held the pose just long enough for me to pull out my camera and take a photo, but I’ll refrain from posting it here. Mainly I just wanted to capture the moment to remind myself of home.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

44_the_two_balls_i_kept_08_12_15• 3 baseballs at this game (two pictured here because I gave one away)

• 537 balls in 75 games this season = 7.16 balls per game.

 71 lifetime balls in 8 games at Progressive Field = 8.88 balls per game.

• 1,128 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,343 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

pitch_in_for_baseball(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.)

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $162.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,650.16 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,503.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/11/15 at U.S. Cellular Field

Let’s begin with a three-part photo — that’s really the best way to explain how the day got started:

1_flying_into_chicago_meeting_brandon_at_the_airport_and_goofing_around_at_target

Part 1: I flew from New York City to Chicago.
Part 2: I met my friend Brandon Sloter at the airport.
Part 3: We had some harmless fun on the way to U.S. Cellular Field.

This was going to be my first of five games at five stadiums in five days, and it was clearly going to be the most fun. That’s because I’d made plans to meet up with a guy named Dan Katz, aka Big Cat, who runs the Chicago branch of Barstool Sports.

Here we are:

2_zack_and_dan_katz_aka_big_cat

(Best. Shirt. Ever.)

Big Cat really IS big, but not just in terms of his physical size. The dude is a celebrity. There’s no other way to describe it. Never mind his 141K Twitter followers; two nights earlier, he had sung drunken karaoke with Cubs All-Star Anthony Rizzo and General Manager Theo Epstein.

Given the fact that Barstool Sports had dissed me several times in the past, I was prepared for Big Cat to make fun of me, so I was stunned/delighted when I realized that wasn’t his goal. He admitted that at one point, he didn’t think too highly of me, but when he saw me snag A-Rod’s 3,000th hit, he was sold. He kept referring to me as “Foul Ball Guy” — a nickname I’ve heard semi-regularly over the past few years — and told me he was now “Team Foul Ball Guy for life.”

The purpose of this trip was for Brandon to film me at each stadium and make a bunch of videos for my YouTube channel. (He’s a professional videographer, and yeah, I paid him.) The purpose of meeting up with Big Cat was for him to do his own video for Barstool. And also, you know, to have fun. Here we are being filmed by his video guy, whose name was also Dan:

3_big_cat_and_zack_filming_opener_for_barstool_video

Big Cat was supposed to receive passes to get us inside the stadium early — a tremendous perk because the White Sox only open the gates 90 minutes before game time, so in order to actually see the home team take batting practice, one needs special privileges. How lame is that? Unfortunately Big Cat’s connection fell through, but we were saved at the last minute by one of my fellow ballhawks, pictured below on the right:

4_zack_with_dave_davison_and_rick_crowe

His name is Rick Crowe, and it just so happened that he was getting rewarded on this fine day with early access from his season ticket rep. This was only the second time all season that he got to do it, so the timing of my trip was incredibly lucky. It also didn’t hurt that Rick was super-friendly. He could’ve told me, “See ya when you get inside at 5:40pm,” but instead he got permission from his ticket rep to bring us all inside — me, Big Cat, Brandon, and Dan, along with two of his own friends. In the photo above, the guy on the left came in early with us. That’s the legendary and elusive Dave Davison. He would’ve been featured in my latest book, The Baseball, as one of the Top Ten ballhawks of all time had he not declined to be interviewed. Here I am with the other guy that Rick brought inside:

5_zack_and_rich_buhrke_08_11_15

That’s Rich Buhrke, and guess what? He *is* in the Top Ten section of the book (see pages 273-274).

It was great to catch up with him and the other guys, and of course I appreciated their generosity. They knew I’d be running around like a madman and competing with them for baseballs, yet they still welcomed me into their circle and brought me in early. That’s classy.

Just before we headed inside, I was recognized by a group of fans who wandered over and said hello. Here I am chatting with them:

6_zack_talking_to_fans_08_11_15

And then?
IT WAS ON.

Here’s a photo of Dave and Rich in left field during the final calm moment of the afternoon:

7_dave_davison_and_rich_buhrke_in_left_field

With the exception of racing a ballhawking legend (Dave) who screamed to distract me at the last second, my first ball of the day was fairly routine. It was a home run that landed in the left field bleachers and rattled around a bit. I don’t know who hit it. All I can tell you is that it was a right-handed batter on the White Sox.

Then something wacky happened. Thankfully both videographers got footage of it because if they hadn’t, no one would’ve believed me. Remember when I posted this tweet? Here are some screen shots to show how it went down. It began as I was using the glove trick to retrieve a ball from the gap behind the outfield wall:

8_zack_glove_trick_for_ball8337

As I was reeling it in . . .

9_ball8337_in_my_glove

. . . I heard the crack of the bat and looked up. Big Cat and Brandon were standing beside me, and they looked up too:

10_dan_zack_brandon_reacting_to_deep_fly_ball

The ball was pretty much heading right at us! There was nothing I could do because (a) my glove was still dangling on a long piece of string and (b) Brandon was blocking me from attempting to make a bare-handed catch.

I sensed that Dave was circling behind me and assumed that he was going to catch the ball, so as Brandon flinched and ducked out of the way, I had already turned my attention back to the glove trick.

THUMP!!!

I heard the ball hit something soft and figured it was Dave’s glove. The guy is as good at judging, tracking, and catching home runs as anyone I’ve ever seen, so he had to have caught it, right? That’s when Big Cat shouted, “Ohhh! It’s in the bag!”

Dave reached for the ball . . .

11_dave_davison_reacing_into_my_backpack

. . . and asked, “Whose bag is this?”

Big Cat said, “Zack’s — it counts as his.”

I was confused.

Dave told me it “went right in the bag,” and I was like, “No way.” By that point he had placed the ball back in the bag, so I reached in to try to figure out what was going on:

12_zack_reaching_into_backpack

I still thought he was kidding, so I tried to give the ball to him . . .

13_zack_offering_ball_to_dave

. . . but he wouldn’t take it. He said, “It went right in the bag! That’s your property. I’m not taking it.”

Big Cat was amazed. “Even your bag is catching balls!” he said. Then he walked over and looked at the camera . . .

14_big_cat_assessing_the_situation

. . . and added, “That’s just the Foul Ball Guy magic right there. Zack puts his bag down and the bag catches balls for him. Some guys have all the breaks.”

Dave later joked that he was going to Walmart to buy 100 cheap backpacks and place them all over the bleachers.

My fourth ball was another homer that landed in the mostly-empty stands. This time, instead of screaming, Dave threw his glove at me from about 50 feet away as I bent down to pick up the ball. He’s silly.

Then Big Cat got ejected from the stadium . . . temporarily. The White Sox were pissed at him for entering with Rick’s ticket rep after his own request for early access hadn’t been granted, so yeah, toward the end of White Sox BP, security walked over and lectured him and escorted him out. I think I was allowed to stay because I’d talked to Rick about this several days ahead of time, and he’d added my name to the list. I don’t know. Thankfully Big Cat made it back inside with a bit of BP remaining.

Here he is battling the sun:

15_big_cat_in_left_field

During the Angels’ portion of BP, I only managed to snag one ball, but it was a good one — a deep home run by Albert Pujols that I caught on the fly. That was my fifth ball of the day. Big Cat still had none, and since he’d never gotten one in his entire life, I wanted to make sure he didn’t go home empty-handed.

We headed over to right-center field for the last group of BP:

16_yacov_and_zack_in_right_field

Sometimes I feel like I have a great chance of catching a ball, but this was the opposite. It was dead out there. I just knew it wasn’t gonna happen, so we headed into foul territory, and I lent him my Angels shirt:

17_big_cat_borrowing_angels_gear

It looks good on him, right? That’s because it was an XL. Why did I have a shirt that big? Because I used to weigh a lot more, and I used to think it was cool to wear floppy clothes.

Here we are at the dugout just before BP ended:

18_zack_and_big_cat_wearing_angels_gear

I was hoping to get someone on the Angels to toss him a ball when everyone cleared the field.

In the following screen shot, you can see my hand pointing at him from the left side:

19_zack_trying_to_get_steve_soliz_to_throw_big_cat_a_ball

I had gotten the attention of bullpen coach Steve Soliz, and look! He threw a ball to Big Cat:

20_steve_soliz_throwing_the_ball

Here’s my man reaching out for the easy catch:

21_big_cat_reaching_out_for_the_catch

Even though it was a warm-up ball, he was pretty excited:

22_big_cat_happy

Then Soliz tossed a ball to me too. That was my sixth of the day, two of which I’d given to kids.

After all the players and coaches were gone, Big Cat and I removed our Angels gear and posed for a photo with a fellow ballhawk named Yacov Steinberg:

23_zack_with_big_cat_and_yacov

Then I spent some time with a few other folks:

24_zack_with_larry_nick_gabi_john

In the four-part photo above, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, I’m with:

1) a young man named Larry Larson, who had brought copies of all three of my books
2) Larry’s brother, Nick, who had me sign a baseball
3) a Top Ten ballhawk named John Witt; see pages 279-280 of The Baseball
4) 2015 BallhawkFest attendee Gabi Josefson

Big Cat, meanwhile, had been tweeting about our time together, which, not surprisingly, had gotten the haters all worked up. His replies to their negative comments were priceless. Check out this one:

25_big_cat_defending_me_on_twitter

Here’s another:

26_big_cat_defending_me_on_twitter

It was great to have Big Cat on my side.

After the national anthem . . .

27_aybar_trout_pujols_during_national_anthem

. . . I waved and shouted at Mike Trout, who spotted me in the crowd and waved back — pretty cool that he still recognizes me as the guy who caught his first MLB home run.

Here’s where we sat during the game:

28_view_from_left_field_during_the_game_08_11_15

As you can see, the first 10 rows were kind of crowded, but the back of the section was nearly empty:

29_big_cat_and_brandon_sitting_behind_me

Here I am schmoozing it up with Big Cat:

30_zack_and_big_cat_during_the_game

If someone had launched a ball in our direction, we would’ve had some room to maneuver, but unfortunately there were no home runs in the first half of the game. Perhaps out of boredom and/or self-loathing, Big Cat went and got a full-sized ice cream helmet sundae for $17. Look at this damn thing:

31_lots_and_lots_and_lots_of_ice_cream

I’m all about dessert and ice cream, and admittedly I suck at moderation, but dude. Seriously? Here he is eating it:

32_big_cat_full_size_ice_cream_helmet

Did you notice the whipped cream that he’d gotten on his glove? I scolded him for that in his video, which you’ll see in just a bit. Also, FYI, I’m glad to report that he was wearing that hat ironically.

After an inning of solid ice cream eating, Big Cat returned to the concession stand and got another spoon for me. I’m not sure if he was being generous or if he was just trying to distract me for the lulz, but he seemed to take pleasure in throwing me off my game. The only home run of the night happened to be the first of Trayce Thompson’s career, and yes, I *was* preoccupied with the ice cream, okay? But the ball landed two sections to our left in the middle of the second row, where it was bobbled back onto the field by a bunch of fans. In other words, there was no chance for me to catch it. Take a look for yourself.

In the 9th inning, we headed to the seats behind home plate:

33_view_behind_home_plate_in_the_9th_inning_08_11_15

I was hoping to get a ball from umpire Marcus Pattillo, but he didn’t give any away. (Hmph!) Even if he had, Larry and Nick Larson had already claimed the best spot, so I probably wouldn’t have gotten one.

I was disappointed that Mike Trout went hitless, but that was the case for most of his teammates. The White Sox won the game, 3-0, and limited the Angels to five hits. That said, it was a great day overall. It was nice to reconnect with Brandon (whom I hadn’t seen for months), and of course it was fun hanging out with Big Cat, who was both kind and hilarious.

Now it’s time for a couple of videos. First here’s the one that Brandon made:

Now here’s the video that Big Cat put together for Barstool Sports:

Good times! Thanks for watching and an even bigger thanks to Big Cat for being a part of it all.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

34_the_four_balls_i_kept• 6 baseball at this game (four pictured here because I gave two away)

• 534 balls in 74 games this season = 7.22 balls per game.

 75 lifetime balls in 11 games at U.S. Cellular Field = 6.82 balls per game.

• 1,127 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,340 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

pitch_in_for_baseball(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.)

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $162.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,650.16 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,503.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/4/15 at Citizens Bank Park

I drove down from New York City for the day with a few friends. This young man was not one of them . . .

1_zack_and_harrison

. . . although I do consider him a friend and was glad to run into him outside the gates. His name is Harrison Tishler, and he’s a fellow ballhawk.

Here are the guys who made the 100-mile drive with me:

2_john_zack_andrew_jeff

In the photo above, the man on the left is a writer named John Proctor. He was working on a long “philosophical” story about me and wanted to see me in action at a stadium. The dude wearing sunglasses is named Andrew Gonsalves. He’s from Los Angeles, loves the Dodgers, and is one of my closest friends. (He’s the guy who filmed me snagging a baseball in my hotel room at the Rogers Centre in 2011.) The gentleman on the right is named Jeff Rose. He’s actually a Reds fan, but was wearing a Phillies hat for some reason.

The line to get in was very long . . .

3_line_at_the_left_field_gate

. . . and there was no reason for that. The Phillies only open one gate at 5pm, and at that gate, they only use two (out of eight) metal detectors. What’s the point of that? If a few hundred people are waiting to get in, why make it difficult for them?

You can see the line wrapping around the stadium in the following photo:

4_meredith_kim_from_pitch_in_for_baseball

More importantly, the woman waving at the camera is named Meredith Kim. She works for my favorite charity, Pitch In For Baseball, which was having an event/gathering at the stadium. That was my main reason for attending this game. I thought I was going to be doing an unofficial Watch With Zack experience with some local kids, but that didn’t happen — not sure why, but hey, whatever. I was just glad to be there, and it didn’t take long to get my first ball:

6_ball_from_luis_garcia

It was thrown by Phillies pitcher Luis Garcia after I asked him for it in Spanish.

You know who else snagged a ball? This guy:

7_jeff_rose_with_his_first_ball_ever_maikel_franco_homer_deep_in_the_seats

That was the very first ball that my friend Jeff had ever gotten, and it was a good one — a BP homer by Maikel Franco that landed deep in the seats. He offered it to the nearest kid, who gave him a funny look and rejected it. I wasn’t there when this interaction occurred, but according to Jeff, the kid was like, “That’s really special — YOU need to keep it!”

Speaking of kids, look at this one:

8_rowan_with_improvised_dodgers_shirt

That’s quite an interesting Dodgers shirt, huh? His name is Rowan, by the way, and we chatted a bit during batting practice.

My second ball of the day was tossed by Cody Asche in left field, and then I used my glove trick to snag my third ball off the warning track in left-center.

During the Dodgers’ portion of BP, I got two home runs in right field. The first was hit by Andre Ethier, and I scrambled for it in the seats. The second was hit by a lefty that I couldn’t identify, and I caught it on the fly after backing up on the stairs and jumping.

My sixth ball was another homer that required a leaping catch, this time in left field, and I happened to glove it right in front of a very tall man. For a split-second, I thought he was gonna be pissed, but as it turned out, he was excited to have been “robbed” by me of all people. He’s on the right in the following photo:

9_zack_with_jeremy_and_rich

(Uhh, yeah, I was just a bit sweaty.)

His name is Rich. He has season tickets in left-center field and had actually gotten in touch six weeks earlier to offer them to me for a handful of games — for free! How incredibly generous. I was glad to finally meet him in person and get to know him better.

In the photo above, the guy on the left is a fellow ballhawk named Jeremy Evans. He looks like a real grown-up now compared to this photo of us which was taken four years earlier on 7/23/11 at Camden Yards. It seems we only run into each other every two years, so it was great to catch up.

Before the game, I tried to get a ball from the Dodgers’ bullpen, but instead, all I got was a photo of Alex Wood’s wonky pitching motion:

10_alex_wood_warming_up

This was his first game with the Dodgers after having been traded from the Braves.

Here’s where I sat during the game — or, in this case, stood along with everyone else when Jimmy Rollins stepped to the plate:

11_standing_ovation_for_jimmy_rollins_in_his_return_to_philadelphia

After spending 15 years with the Phillies, this was his first at-bat with the Dodgers. And he struck out.

Here I am with Meredith during an inning break:

12_zack_and_meredith_kim

I gave her two of my baseballs for her young daughters.

Here’s David Rhode, the executive director of Pitch In For Baseball:

13_david_rhode_hanging_out_in_left_field

Later in the evening, I caught a hot dog during the “Hot Dog Launch” — the first time I’d ever achieved success in that event. Check it out:

14_hot_dog_launch_wrapped_in_duct_tape

Going strictly by numbers, my accomplishment was as impressive as catching a home run. There was only one longball hit the entire night — a grand slam by Maikel Franco in the 7th inning — and this was the only hot dog that the Phillie Phanatic shot into fair territory. John (the writer) seemed to be impressed, which is good. He should’ve been. It really WAS incredible. I don’t care what else he writes about me as long as the hot dog makes it into his story.

Here’s how the hot dog was packaged:

15_hot_dog_launch_unwrapping

Paper and tin foil. Okay.

The hot dog itself was nasty. (I’ve come to realize that ALL hot dogs are nasty, but this one was particularly bad.) The meat itself was low quality, and the temperature was barely warm, but worst of all was the soggy/mushy bun. Have a look, if you dare:

17_hot_dog_launch_soggy_bun

Out of morbid curiosity (and to avoid the guilt of being wasteful), I took a big bite.

Yeah. Not good.
NOT GOOD AT ALL.

I had already eaten this and gotten two scoops of ice cream, so don’t worry — I wasn’t hungry.

This was my view late in the game:

18_view_from_left_field_08_04_15

Throughout the night, I met various people who were connected to Pitch In For Baseball in various ways. There were more than 100 folks in our group, spread out in the left field seats. Although there wasn’t a defining moment or unifying event, it was still nice to be there with so many other people who shared a common interest: helping kids play baseball and softball.

Here’s a selfie with my friends in the background:

19_zack_selfie_with_andrew_and_jeff_and_john_in_the_background

Andrew had his glove and kept threatening to cut me off if a home run came near us. That was cute — reminded me of a chihuahua barking at a great dane.

The Franco grand slam did land in our vicinity — roughly 10 rows down and half a section to the right. There was a split-second after he connected when I jumped up excitedly, but quickly realized I had no chance.

Here are the four of us after the game:

20_andrew_john_zack_jeff_postgame

Final score: Phillies 6, Dodgers 2. And by the way, Jimmy Rollins went 2-for-5 with a double.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 baseball at this game

• 500 balls in 70 games this season = 7.14 balls per game.

 370 lifetime balls in 39 games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.49 balls per game.

• 1,123 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,306 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

pitch_in_for_baseball(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.)

• 22 donors for my fundraiser

• $156.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,626.16 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,479.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/1/15 at Citi Field

Do you remember an event called BallhawkFest that took place for the first time on 7/23/11 at Camden Yards? Two years later, I attended BallhawkFest on 8/3/13 at Citizens Bank Park and had quite an eventful day. That’s when I had a black eye at the start, caught a John Mayberry homer in the 2nd inning, and later got hassled/ejected by stadium security.) Thankfully there was no drama at BallhawkFest in 2015. Take a look at the following photo and you’ll see what I mean:

1_ballhawks_huddling_on_the_field

See? No drama whatsoever.

All of the guys pictured above are members of a ballhawking website called MyGameBalls.com. The man in the white t-shirt is named Alan Schuster. He created that site and organized BallhawkFest. In the photo above, he was going over the procedures for our own Home Run Derby.

I spent most of my time at shortstop and in left field, but here’s a brief look I got from the area behind home plate:

2_leon_feingold_pitching_to_fukumi_kashiwagi

In the photo above, the pitcher (former minor leaguer Leon Feingold) and batter (his girlfriend Fukumi) are not members of MyGameBalls.com, but they’re two of my favorite people in New York City, so I invited them.

Here I am taking some swings:

3_zack_hitting_with_a_painful_ribcage_injury

My excuse for looking stiff at the plate and not hitting for much power is that I had a “strained intercostal muscle” on my right side. (No, really. You have to believe me.) It hurt when I laughed. It hurt when I sneezed. It even hurt when I took a deep breath or rolled over in bed. One week earlier, my ribcage was so painful that I’d gotten X-rays, and ever since then, I’d been icing it several times per day. And now here I was swinging a baseball bat because I’m an idiot. What can I say? I couldn’t resist.

The final round of the Derby featured the massive Mark McConville of Suffern, New York, versus the scrawny-by-comparison Alex Kopp of Baltimore, Maryland — and guess who won? That’s right . . . Alex. And he did it in dramatic, tie-breaking fashion. Mark had tremendous home run power, but given the fact that one point was awarded for each batted ball to reach the “outfield grass” on the fly, Alex managed to poke and slash his way to the top.

Here’s a group photo that we took after the Derby (with everyone’s names and MyGameBalls.com profiles below):

4_group_photo_at_the_field2

1) Leon Feingold (holding a big bag of popcorn; that’s how former competitive eaters roll)
2) Tim Anderson (wearing some super-stylish shades)
3) Ryan Feuerstein (wearing flip flops for some reason)
4) Alex Kopp (who deserved to be standing in front after his historic performance)
5) Rick Sporcic  (who generously provided all the baseballs)
6) Greg Barasch (who doesn’t look all that athletic but is dazzlingly smooth)
7) Emilio (the youngest participant without parental supervision)
8) Leon’s friend (whose name I forget, but I do remember that he played in the IBL)
9) Zack Hample (the first person to wear the official BallhawkFest shirt)
10) Alan Schuster (without whom none of this would’ve happened)
11) Mateo Fischer (who now ballhawks at Target Field since going to college in Minnesota)
12) Ben Weil’s friend Sonny (who displayed some good power during an early round of BP)
13) Ben Weil (aka the one and only “Benny Bang Bang”)
14) Mark McConville (whose longballs nearly smashed a few windshields on 11th Avenue)
15) Gabi Josefson (who traveled here with his father, Avi, all the way from Chicago)

Somehow Jacob Resnick (who helped Alan with some organizational stuff) wasn’t in that photo, but you’ll see him in the next group shot, which was taken at a baseball-themed bar/restaurant in Midtown called Foley’s. Here’s what the place looked like on the outside:

5_outside_foleys

We all felt very welcomed . . .

6_ballhawk_sign_at_foleys

. . . thanks to Rick Gold, who knows the owner and met us there for lunch. Here’s our group at a long table in the back:

7_people_seated_inside_foleys

Alan was in the process of organizing a drawing for some baseball-related prizes, which had been donated by a Chicago ballhawk named Rick Crowe.

In the photo above, look for the green shirt hanging at the top. See the portion of the wall directly below it? Those are all signed baseballs in that case. There are thousands more displayed elsewhere at Foley’s. It’s pretty damn cool.

We hung out there until about 3pm and then took another group photo:

8_group_photo_at_foleys

That’s Jacob Resnick on the left. Rick Gold is standing behind Ryan, just to the right of Emilio.

After lunch, we walked to the subway at Times Square:

9_walking_to_the_subway

Here are a bunch of us on the No. 7 train:

10_ballhawks_on_the_7_train

Then we stood around outside Citi Field and waited:

11_ballhawks_outside_citi_field

Some of us had to wait a bit longer than others. That’s because the Mets offer early entry on the weekends to season ticket holders.

Before I headed inside, I got a photo with Gabi who’d brought his copy of my latest book, The Baseball:

12_zack_and_gabi_with_the_baseball

You’d think that being inside a stadium half an hour earlier than most other fans would result in a huge day, but (a) I had to compete with Ben, Greg, Rick Gold, Ryan, and a few other folks and (b) Citi Field is a tough place. My first ball of the day was a homer by a Mets righty that I caught on the fly in left field:

13_ball8286_bp_homer_by_the_mets

Then I headed over to right field, which, at Citi Field, to put it lightly, is not a great place to snag baseballs, but hey, every batter in the Mets’ next group was left-handed, so where the hell else was I supposed to go?

Ben was positioned one section to my left . . .

14_ben_on_my_left_in_right_field

. . . and his wife, Jen, was standing one section to my right:

15_jen_on_my_right_in_right_field

See her there above the Honda logo? If you look very closely at that photo, you’ll notice a ball sitting on the grass below her in the gap behind the outfield wall.

Here’s a photo that she took as I attempted to snag it with my glove trick:

16_glove_trick_for_ball8287

That was my second ball of the day.

People often ask me if the glove trick is allowed at Citi Field. The answer is murky. It depends on who’s watching. Some guards tell me it’s not allowed while others don’t seem to notice or care — that is, if their bosses haven’t issued an order THAT DAY over their walkie-talkies telling them to stop me. I’m not joking.

My third ball was tossed up from the left field party deck by a guard, and my fourth ball was thrown by Juan Lagares in left field. Then the Nationals came out:

17_nationals_warming_up_08_01_15

The following photo doesn’t begin to show how crowded it got:

18_crowd_on_my_right_during_bp_08_01_15

I wish I had photos of the packed left field seats at the end of BP, but oops, I forgot. I did manage to snag a couple of home runs out there before it got totally insane — one on a bounce and another off the facade of the second deck. I gave two of my six baseballs to kids.

This was my view during the game:

19_view_from_left_field_during_the_game_08_01_15

Look how crowded it was:

20_left_field_crowded_during_the_game_08_01_15

This game had the second-highest attendance (42,996) in the history of Citi Field!

Good for the Mets.
Good for New York City.
Bad if you’re trying to catch a baseball.

Why was the crowd so huge? Because it was a summer Saturday with perfect weather and there was a fireworks show scheduled after the game. Also, the Mets and Nationals were battling it out for 1st place in the NL East, and Jacob deGrom was pitching.

This was the scoreboard in the 4th inning:

21_scoreboard_in_the_4th_inning_08_01_15

A pitcher’s duel? UGH!! I was antsy and had too much energy, so I headed to the upper deck. I hadn’t been there for six years, so it was all pretty much new to me. Check out the huge baseball stitches painted onto the open-air concourse behind home plate:

22_upper_deck_concourse_08_01_15

This was my view from the last row:

23_view_from_the_upper_deck_08_01_15

I wandered all over the place for the next hour. I wanted ice cream but didn’t bother because the line was too long. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and then something wonderful happened. I found a ticket for Section 126, so I watched the final inning of the game from a decent spot:

24_closer_view_in_the_8th_inning

The Mets had come back to take a one-run lead, and the crowd was *really* into it:

25_very_crowded_everyone_excited

Mets closer Jeurys Familia retired the side in order in the top of the 9th.

Final score: Mets 3, Nationals 2.

I tried to get a ball from the players walking in from the bullpen . . .

26_game_over_mets_win

. . . but it was no use. Losing teams usually aren’t generous.

Ten minutes later, I took a photo of — could it be?!?!

27_citi_field_getting_blown_up

Oh no, wait . . . it was just fireworks:

28_oh_it_was_only_fireworks

While that was taking place, I rounded up my fellow ballhawks for a group photo:

29_ballhawks_postgame_group_photo

Here’s the final “box score” from BallhawkFest, which shows who snagged baseballs and how/when/where they got ’em. Props to Gabi for catching the only game-used ball of the night.

On our way out of the stadium, I tried to pose for a photo that would show the four-digit number on the back of my shirt:

30_zack_four_digits_on_ballhawkfest_shirt

That number represents my lifetime total of baseballs, or at least what the total was when the t-shirt orders were placed. Do you remember this group photo of everyone’s shirts/numbers from 2011? Or this one from 2013? I wish we’d gotten a similar photo this time, but we just didn’t get around to it.

This next photo should be called “Straight Outta Flushing”:

31_walking_to_ben_weils_car

That was taken just a half-mile from Citi Field on a cruddy back road near the chop shops. Stupid Alex had left something in Ben’s car (which was parked near that gloomy spot), but rather than meeting him at the subway after he’d retrieved it, the rest of us decided to walk with him. So there we were, hoping not to get lost or die.

On the way, Greg made a snide remark (containing an expletive, of course) about all the stray cats running around, and just then, out of nowhere, a crazy cat lady appeared and defended her furry friends, screaming at us about how they’re homeless and hungry and how we should be helpful and more sensitive. (Greg’s comment, by the way, wasn’t particularly insensitive. He merely asked, “What’s with all these [bleeping] cats?” I thought it was a good, reasonable question, and in fact I had been wondering the same thing.) Her outrage didn’t frighten us or motivate us to join the ASPCA. Instead it made us hysterical — but the funniest moment of the night was yet to come. That took place when all seven of us crammed into Ben’s small-ish car for a ride to the subway. Check it out:

32_seven_people_in_the_car

Here are some of the highlights from the short ride:

TIM: “For the record, this is a hundred percent Alex’s fault.”

GREG: “You and your [bleeping] Bobblehead.”

ZACK: “Mateo, your hair is very soft on my thighs.”

MATEO: “I’m glad.”

ZACK: “This is gonna be funny when we all get out. It’s gonna look like a [clown] car.”

GREG: “How many points [on your license] do you have, Benny? Are you up over a hundred yet?”

TIM: “So basically, he’s gonna go to prison if we get caught.”

ZACK: “Benny, are you the one that told me that you once ate pancakes while you were driving?”

BEN: “I ate soup while I was driving.”

TIM: “Can we not coast next to the cop car?”

ZACK: “We’re about to get rear-ended.”

ALEX: “Mateo’s about to get rear-ended, lemme tell you!”

And so on. I have a four-minute audio recording, and it’s basically the funniest thing ever.

The Citi Field portion of the day was difficult for a number of reasons, but I’m glad we finally did BallhawkFest in New York City. The rest of the day sure was fun.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

33_the_four_balls_i_kept_08_01_15• 6 baseball at this game (four pictured here because I gave two away)

• 485 balls in 68 games this season = 7.13 balls per game.

 1,231 lifetime balls in 166 games at Citi Field = 7.42 balls per game.

• 1,121 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 503 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

8,291 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

pitch_in_for_baseball(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.)

• 22 donors for my fundraiser

• $156.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,626.16 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,479.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

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