Author Archive

Ben Weil & Jen Buffa’s wedding

This entry falls squarely into the “random/offseason” category, but bear with me. I think you’ll enjoy it for several reasons:

1) Ben Weil is The Man. If you don’t already know who he is, you should. He’s one of my best friends, and he’s also a talented ballhawk. Here’s a huge blog entry I wrote about him several years ago.

2) There were some baseball-y elements in the wedding. It wasn’t officially “baseball-themed” per se, but whatever. You’ll see.

3) When else will you get to see photos of me in a suit and tie?

Anyway, let’s get to it . . .

The wedding took place in Long Island City (which, for those who don’t know, is in Queens). The neighborhood was filled with warehouses and industrial-type businesses — not an ideal place, you might think, for such a monumental event — but tucked in the middle of it all was a glorious venue with a cute sign on the outside:

1_building_exterior

I should mention that Ben was marrying his girlfriend, Jen Buffa, whom I also adore. They’re both so warm and fun and loving — not just to each other, but to everyone.

As for me . . . here’s a selfie:

10_zack_selfie

Where was my tie?
Good question.

That photo was taken early in the afternoon, long before the ceremony got underway. Ben had asked me to be a groomsman and said that he was going to provide the ties. He had also asked all the groomsmen to wear funny socks, in honor of a friend who couldn’t be there. Check it out:

15_funny_socks_as_requested_by_ben

Meanwhile, take a look at Ben:

21_ben_greeting_some_family

That’s him in the orange shirt, greeting some family members. But don’t judge him yet. It was HIS day. If he wanted to show up looking like a bum, then whatever.

Here he is, 20 minutes later, partially dressed for the wedding, handing out gift bags to all the groomsmen:

25_ben_giving_out_gift_bags

Each bag contained peanuts and cracker jacks . . .

27_peanuts_and_cracker_jacks

. . . along with a very special card:

28_gift_card_for_the_event_of_my_choice

In case you can’t read it, it says: “I’m taking you to the event of your choice! A game, a show, a concert . . . you pick the date! Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”

The first thing I said to him was: “2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati — oooh yeah!!”

“That’s fine,” he said jovially.

“No, no,” I assured him. “I won’t make you take me to THAT.”

“If that’s what game you want,” he said with absolute sincerity, “I’ll make it happen.”

It might be too early to make such a bold prediction, but I do think that Ben and I will end up at the All-Star Game next season.

Now, about those ties — here’s one of them on a groomsman named Tom:

32_tom_and_his_garfield_tie

Do you recall Ben’s obsession with Garfield from the original entry I wrote about him? Well, this was the latest manifestation. Ben gave each of the groomsmen a different Garfield tie — and Jen was okay with it. THAT is true love.

Ben didn’t wear anything Garfield-related (although he does have a Garfield tattoo on his left shoulder), and he looked sharp. Here he is leading a round of shots:

33_ben_leading_a_round_of_shots

After that, each of the groomsmen posed individually with Ben for the official photographer. Here I am with him:

35_zack_official_photo_with_ben

While the other groomsmen had their photos taken, I admired the view of Manhattan:

40_the_view

Then there was a group photo:

43_groomsmen_group_photo

Here’s a closeup of several of the Garfield ties — mine (which featured little Garfield baseball cards) is on the left:

44_garfield_ties_closeup

Then I was instructed to wear this:

46_zack_with_mike_piazza_jersey

Each groomsman received one.

Yes, that’s right. At this classy wedding which was about to begin . . .

53_people_starting_to_sit_down

. . . Ben had all the groomsmen wear matching Mike Piazza jerseys. Here we are standing around in them, waiting for our moment to shine:

56_groomsmen_standing_around

Ben is such a nutjob, and Jen is so wonderful for embracing it. I’ve always felt that if you have to give up something meaningful in a relationship, then it’s not an ideal relationship. People often ask me if I’ll stop going to so many baseball games when I’m married, and I’m like . . . WHAT?! Why the hell would I marry someone who makes me give up what I love? It’s such a preposterous, widely-accepted concept, so it was great to be at this wedding. Tradition calls for the groomsmen to wear tuxedos? No woman would allow sports jerseys to taint her wedding day? Umm, how about screw you. So awesome.

Here’s Jen looking glorious:

60_jen_looking_glorious2

Sorry for the blurriness of that photo, but dammit, the woman wouldn’t stand still.

Here’s a photo of the groomsmen and bridesmaids waiting in the wings, just before the ceremony got underway:

62_bridal_party_waiting_off_to_the_side

Here are the bridesmaids during the wedding, photographed by my girlfriend, Hayley:

69_bridesmaids_during_the_wedding

Here are the groomsmen, photographed by Greg Barasch:

70_zack_standing_with_groomsmen

And from the Why-The-Heck-Not Department, here’s a little kid holding a baseball:

72_little_kid_with_baseball

When Jen’s father walked her down the aisle, Ben got rather emotional:

73_jen_walking_ben_crying

In fact, he sobbed so hard that it made just about everyone else in the room cry too — myself included.

Here’s what my view looked like during the ceremony:

80_my_view_during_the_ceremony

It might have been inappropriate for me to pull out my camera, but whatever, I’m sure that only a few dozen people noticed. And c’mon, is ANYthing inappropriate when you’re wearing a Mike Piazza jersey?

One of my favorite parts of the ceremony took place after Ben and Jen exchanged their vows. Unbeknownst to him, she had emailed *all* of the guests weeks in advance with detailed instructions for a “Seasons Of Love” flash-mob/sing-along. That’s one of his favorite songs (from the Broadway musical “Rent“), and she went so far as to hire male and female soloists for two of the verses. Ben was fist-pumpingly overjoyed.

After the ceremony, the bridal party retreated to a special room for a bunch of group photos. Here’s my favorite:

88_ben_surrounded_by_ladies

Here’s my second-favorite:

89_zack_jen_ben_selfie

I love them. I really do.

By the time we all returned to the main area, the dinner tables were set up beautifully:

91_tables_set_up_for_dinner

At that point, my commitment to Garfield and Mike Piazza seemed to be over, prompting Hayley to commandeer the fashion show. She had brought a black tie for me to change into. This was the result:

92_zack_looking_snazzy_thanks_to_a_black_tie_that_hayley_brought

Snazzy! And weird. I’m not used to seeing myself in a suit and tie. I can’t even remember the last time I dressed like that, although there IS photographic evidence of it happening at least once . . . way back in 2001. Check it out. How cringe-y is THAT?

Before dinner started, Jen and Ben enjoyed their first dance as a married couple:

97_jen_and_ben_dancing

D’awww!!

Later in the evening, I got a photo with Ballhawk of the Year Greg Barasch:

110_zack_and_greg_barasch

Then he took one of me and Hayley:

114_zack_and_hayley

One of the main attractions at the wedding was a photo booth. Here are some guests getting silly with props:

119_guests_in_photo_booth

Hayley and I took a more conventional approach:

121_zack_and_hayley_photo_booth

Isn’t that a great date for a wedding?

12-13-14

(Hayley is also a great date.)

It also happened to be Taylor Swift’s birthday — no coincidence there, as Ben and Jen both love her.

You know what else was happening that weekend? SantaCon. Look what Greg changed into before heading off to get rowdy:

132_ben_greg_penguin_suit

If you can’t tell, that’s a penguin suit.

Let’s talk about party favors for a minute, shall we? First have a look, and then I’ll explain:

133_hope_you_had_a_ball

Each of those boxes contained a baseball and a card:

134_peeking_inside_a_box

The card featured a photo of Ben and Jen that I had taken two years ago at Citi Field:

135_the_card

It also had a baseball with heart-shaped stitches:

136_baseball_with_heart_stitches

Here’s what the inside of the card said:

137_writing_on_the_card

As you can see, Ben had snagged all of those baseballs at major league games, and he’d written the details about each one on the cards.

Wow.

Here’s a photo of Ben and Jen cutting the cake (which had Garfield figurines on top):

139_ben_and_jen_cutting_the_cake

While that was being prepared for all the guests, I was delighted to see dessert hors d’oeuvres being passed around:

142_dessert_hors_doeuvres

Those were “hot chocolate shots” with chocolate chip cookies — such a great idea and so delicious. All the food throughout the day was outstanding.

Finally, there was also a Taylor Swift cake:

146_taylor_swift_cake

It really WAS her birthday. December 13th. Go look at her Wikipedia page if you don’t believe me.

What a great event.
So glad to be a part of it.
Congrats to Ben and Jen.

***UPDATE***
Several days after the wedding, Ben tweeted a photo of the groomsmen at Mike Piazza:

piazza_tweet1

And guess what?! Piazza answered him!

piazza_tweet2

Now, if only we could get Taylor Swift to tweet at Ben . . .

Ballhawking video from PETCO Park

Remember when I visited PETCO Park in late September? My friend Brandon shot some video on my final day, and it’s finally ready. Check it out:

Even though I pay Brandon to film and edit these videos, he doesn’t really want to do them anymore (because I don’t pay him enough), which is a shame, don’t you think? He’s trying to convince me to visit both Florida stadiums with him next season — places that I have little desire to go back to — so I’m trying to convince him to film me there. I would love to have ballhawking videos of myself at every MLB stadium, but that could take a while, especially if I have to find a new videographer.

Charity prize winners 2014

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.

Yankee Stadium in November

Last weekend I attended a season ticket holder event at Yankee Stadium, and I got to bring three guests. Here they are:

1_natalie_chris_hayley_outside_yankee_stadium

In the photo above, from right to left, you’re looking at:

1) my girlfriend, Hayley
2) my friend and fellow ballhawk Chris Hernandez
3) Chris’s fiancée, Natalie

The official name of this event was the “Legacy Club Open House,” and as you can see below, we entered the stadium through the Legends Club:

2_legacy_club_open_house_brochure_and_legends_entrance

Chris had never been inside the Legends area, so it was quite a thrill for him.

Upon entering, we saw some tables with brochures about various season ticket plans . . .

3_balloons_and_brochures

. . . but everyone’s attention shifted here instead:

4_line_for_food

That was a line for free food, and while it wasn’t nearly as fancy as the standard, in-season selections in the Legends area, I must say that it was quite good. There were salads and wraps . . .

5_wraps_and_salad

. . . along with burgers, fries, chicken tenders, and pizza:

6_hot_dogs_burgers_chicken_tenders_fries

Here’s what I got. If you look VERY closely, you can see a bit of salad hiding under the fries and pizza:

7_my_plate

Hayley, Chris, and Natalie loaded up their plates as well, and eventually we found an empty table beside the 100 Level concourse.

After the meal, I saw some fans getting their pictures taken with a World Series trophy:

8_kids_posing_with_world_series_trophy

Cool stuff. But that’s not what we were interested in. For us the main attraction was the opportunity to be ON the field, which, unfortunately, was set up for football (snore), but hell, this was still a major league stadium, so why pass up the chance?

Here I am walking down into the 100 Level seats:

9_zack_heading_down_into_the_seats

Here’s what it looked like in the front row behind the area occasionally known as home plate:

10_fancy_seats_available_in_the_front_row

In the photo above, did you notice that the protective netting was down. That was weird. Also, do you see the two yellow signs? Here’s a closer look:

11_only_1300_dollars_per_game

That’s right — for the bargain price of $1,300 PER GAME, that seat could be yours for the entire 2015 season. Let’s do a little math, shall we?

$1,300 x 81 home games = $105,300.

But of course you can’t just buy one of those two seats because the Yankees won’t break up a perfectly good pair, so if you want to sit there every day next season, they’ll cost $210,600, or roughly speaking, a little bit more than Alex Rodriguez will earn per game.

For some reason, even though everyone was allowed to go on the field, we all needed wristbands. Here’s a guard putting them on people . . .

12_wristbands_for_field_access

. . . and here I am with mine:

13_zack_showing_wristband

Hayley, admittedly, isn’t much of a baseball fan, but she was still excited to step out onto the field. Here’s a photo she took of her feet touching grass and dirt:

14_hayley_feet_on_field

Here’s an odd sight:

15_yankees_dugout_enclosed

That’s the Yankee dugout. As you can see, it was enclosed by an auxiliary padded wall, and the steps that normally lead to it were covered by a platform with grass on top.

Here’s the field goal:

16_fieldgoal_on_the_field

Chris and I photographed 1st base . . .

17_zack_and_chris_photographing_first_base

. . . and then played catch in an area that normally would’ve been shallow right-center field:

18_zack_and_chris_playing_catch

In the middle of the field, dozens of fans were running all over the place, throwing and kicking footballs, which had been provided by the Yankees, so what was the harm in carefully tossing a baseball off to the side? Right?

WRONG!!

Less than a minute later, a security guard approached Chris:

19_security_guard_telling_chris_that_playing_catch_with_a_baseball_is_not_allowed

He told us we weren’t allowed to play catch with a baseball, which was especially frustrating because several other fans did the same thing without incident.

After our aborted throwing session, we wandered out to the right field wall:

20_right_field_wall_and_warning_track

Then THIS happened:

21_zack_leaping_catch

The red arrow is there to draw your attention to my amazing snow-cone (fake) catch. It’s hard to see the ball against the white lettering of the Modell’s ad in the background, but look closely. It’s there.

Chris and I posed near the “408” marker in dead center . . .

22_chris_and_zack_center_field_wall

. . . and then took a moment to fondle it:

23_chris_and_zack_center_field_wall

We’re such dweebs. But seriously, in the future, whenever I see the “408” on TV, it’ll make me happy to think about the time when I stood on the field and touched it.

Next up, we got to check out the visitors’ bullpen. Here we are walking inside:

24_chris_and_zack_heading_into_the_bullpen

Here’s something you’ll never see on TV:

25_poorly_designed_steps_to_visitors_bullpen

I’m talking about the huge chunk missing from the bottom step — and guess what? That was done intentionally so that the door can swing all the way open. Here’s another look at it:

26_poorly_designed_steps_to_visitors_bullpen

Let’s not forget that Yankee Stadium cost $1.5 billion. For that much money, you’d think they could’ve afforded a better architect.

Here I am with Chris in the bullpen:

27_zack_and_chris_in_the_bullpen

Here we are on the elevated platform overlooking the field:

28_zack_and_chris_on_the_platform

Here’s Chris showing off his dazzling pitching mechanics . . .

29_chris_winding_up_on_bullpen_mound

. . . and here I am posing:

30_zack_posing_on_bullpen_mound

Don’t get me wrong — it was really cool to be on the field and in the bullpen. It was nice of the Yankees to invite me and provide that access. I *do* appreciate it. But it was nothing compared to the time I got to take batting practice on the field at PNC Park. In order to get to take BP at Yankee Stadium, you need to be a season ticket holder for 15 years.

Anyway, here’s Hayley on the warning track:

31_hayley_on_the_warning_track

Here are a few fans lining up for their chance to attempt to kick a field goal:

32_people_lining_up_to_kick_fieldgoals

I gave it a shot — my first lifetime attempt at kicking one — and yanked it far wide. My first thought was, “Screw everything about football,” but then I decided to try again. Here’s a short video that shows how it played out:

Feeling great about my newfound athletic prowess, I grabbed the nearest football and told Chris to go long:

33_zack_throwing_a_football

The result was disappointing. I think I could’ve thrown my Legacy Club brochure farther and better than that stupidly-shaped faux pigskin “ball,” but whatever. I had a plan to redeem myself. I headed through the Legends section . . .

34_zack_walking_through_the_legends

. . . and when I reached the left-field foul line, I got Chris to throw me a baseball, as if he were a player and I were a fan. Here he is before chucking it . . .

35_chris_throwing_zack_a_ball

. . . and here I am after catching it:

36_zack_with_snagged_ball

What do you think? Should I count this ball in my collection? I snagged it in the stands of a major league stadium, so why not?!

Kidding.

Chris and Natalie eventually caught up with us, and then we all walked through this desolate concourse . . .

37_desolate_center_field_concourse

. . . to the right field seats. Here I am getting photo-bombed by Hayley:

38_zack_in_right_field_seats

While roaming through the seats, I caught up with two Yankees ticket reps who’ve been extremely kind and helpful — George Stone, pictured below on the left, and Josh Giffin on the right:

38b_zack_with_george_and_josh

Chris, Natalie, Hayley, and I found our way inside something called the MVP Club. I’d never even heard of it, let alone seen it. Here’s the entrance . . .

39_indoor_area_with_fans_and_stuff

. . . and here’s what the bar looked like on the left:

40_bar_in_inside_area

Around the corner, I was delighted to find this:

41_ice_cream_is_served

Free ice cream! Here’s what I got:

42_my_ice_cream

There was a small scoop of chocolate buried in there.

After dessert, Chris and I checked out some baseball memorabilia that was on display. Here he is photographing a home run ball that was supposedly hit 700 feet by Mickey Mantle:

43_chris_photographing_supposed_700_foot_home_run_ball_hit_by_mickey_mantle

That’s what the nice, young, floppy-haired man behind the table told us, but I was skeptical because (a) the ball inexplicably lacked any trace of stamping or a logo, and (b) 700-foot home runs don’t exist on this planet. Sorry to be a party pooper, but wouldn’t you rather hear the harsh truth than live your life under the pretense of a feel-good fairytale?

As someone who works with autographs full-time and used to be obsessed with collecting ticket stubs, I really loved this item:

44_babe_ruth_autograph_and_world_series_ticket_stubs_from_all_the_games_in_which_he_homered

Inside the frame pictured above, there was a Babe Ruth autograph and tickets from all the World Series games in which he homered.

Here’s a closeup of a ticket from the game in which The Babe famously called his shot:

45_world_series_ticket_stub_from_the_game_when_babe_ruth_called_his_home_run

Other pieces of memorabilia on display included a prototype for one of the Yankees World Series rings, a cap that Andy Pettitte wore in the World Series, and the bat that Reggie Jackson used when he hit one of the last home runs of his career.

The Yankees were having a sale in the team store, so on our way out, we stopped by to take a look:

46_chris_browsing_one_dollar_shirts_in_the_team_store

In the photo above, Chris was checking out a selection of one-dollar T-shirts, which featured memorable players and events in recent Yankees history such as Yangervis Solarte and the 2012 ALCS. But you know what? Even though the shirts were dopey, it’s still pretty cool that they were being sold so cheap. Buying anything at Yankee stadium for a dollar is unheard of.

At around 4pm, we all headed back to the subway in the glow of the late afternoon light:
48_heading_to_the_subway

Chris and Natalie went to Madison Square Garden for the Rangers game. (That’s hockey, by the way. I don’t know anything about it, but evidently some people are quite fond of it.) Hayley and I went home and got on with our otherwise sports-less off-season.

Time to donate — 2014

Now that the 2014 World Series is over, it’s time to send your donations to Pitch In For Baseball. I ended up snagging 630 balls in 87 games, so the math is a bit tricky, but don’t worry . . . I’ve already done it 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:

doc_gooden_uniform_pants21) game-worn uniform pants autographed by Dwight Gooden
2) a special-edition 2001 World Series ball
3) a 2007 Home Run Derby “gold ball”
4) an inscribed copy of The Baseball
5) a signed copy of Miracle Mud
6) signed copies of The San Francisco Splash and The Wrigley Riddle
7) baseball cards from the 1987 and 1988 Topps Traded sets
8) ticket stubs from the Opening Series in Sydney, Australia
9) souvenir cups from the Opening Series

Make sure that Pitch In For Baseball receives your money before December 3rd — 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 penny that you donate per ball that I snagged this season, your name will be thrown into the hat, so in other words, if you donate $6.30 to the charity, your name will be in there once. If you donate $31.50 — the equivalent of five cents per ball — 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 nine different winners. The second person whose name is chosen will get to choose one of the remaining eight 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.

64 commemorative baseballs

I’ve snagged a bunch of different commemorative baseballs over the years, and it just occurred to me that this would pretty cool:

64_commemorative_baseballs

All of those balls are photoshopped together into one gigantic image, so if you haven’t done so already, you can click it for a much closer look.

There are three balls in my collection that didn’t make the cut: Enron Field (because the silver stamping is awfully pale), the 2001 Opening Series in Puerto Rico (because the logo is heavily worn), and Miller Park (which is also worn).

Give me a few more years, and hopefully I’ll be able to make a 10-by-10 collage . . .

2014 ALDS — Game 1

Playoff baseball with a bunch of friends at my favorite stadium — does it get any better than that?

1_avi_tim_zack_rick_zevi_ben

In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at:

1) Avi Miller
2) Tim Anderson
3) me
4) Rick Gold
5) Zevi L.
6) Ben Weil

This was my 59th lifetime game at Camden Yards, but only my second time here in the playoffs. During all my regular season trips to this stadium, I had averaged more than 9.4 balls per game, but at my one postseason contest — Game 2 of the 2012 ALDS — I had only snagged four. Now that I was back, I knew it was going to be VERY tough. My main goal was simply to avoid getting shut out, and if possible, I wanted to get my hands on a commemorative postseason ball.

Not surprisingly, within a few minutes of the stadium opening, the left field seats started filling up fast. It seemed that before I even had a chance to blink, the whole front row was packed, and there wasn’t much room to move behind it:

2_view_from_left_field_during_bp_10_02_14

Fast-forward 15 minutes.
The Tigers were already playing catch in left field.
The Orioles were almost done hitting.
I still hadn’t snagged ball, and I was starting to freak out.

That’s when I noticed a ball sitting on the warning track . . .

3_ball7804_on_the_warning_track

. . . and broke out my secret weapon. Okay, fine, it’s not much of a secret anymore, but whatever. I’m talking about the glove trick. In the photo above, do you see the security guard standing about 40 feet away? Well, by the time he saw me dangling my glove on the field and began walking over, it was too late. I had the ball! Check it out:

4_ball7804

That wasn’t the commemorative ball I was hoping for, but it was still pretty cool.

By the time the Tigers started hitting, there was almost no room to move. In fact, the seats were so packed that when Miguel Cabrera took his cuts, I moved all the way back to the cross-aisle, roughly 425 feet from home plate. It was almost impossible to move there too, but it didn’t matter. Miggy hit two mammoth shots in my direction, both of which hit the facade of the second deck!

Somehow I managed to find a small patch of empty-ish seats all the way out near the bullpens in left-center. When lefties were hitting, I moved down to the front row and tried to get a toss-up, and when righties stepped into the cage, I moved a few rows back and tried to catch a home run. The latter strategy eventually paid off. I’m not sure who hit the ball — my guess would be Torii Hunter — but I can tell you that the biggest challenge was simply zigging and zagging through the crowd to the spot where I knew it was going to land. At the last second, I stepped up onto a seat and reached high above everyone else for the catch.

Take a look at the ball:

5_ball7805

Hell. Yes.

My day was already complete, and it was still more than an hour until game time.

A little while later, I spotted Ben in the front row in Tigers gear:

6_ben_weil_in_the_front_row

After seeing him struggle for the first half-hour of BP, I was glad when he got a toss-up from Joakim Soria. He got another ball after that, but I forget how. Rick, meanwhile, caught a couple of homers in right-center field.

I headed to the Tigers’ dugout at the end of BP . . .

7_waiting_for_bp_to_end_at_the_dugout

. . . but didn’t get anything there.

During the lull between BP and the game, I caught up with Ben, and we grabbed a couple of random empty seats here:

8_looking_at_the_field_from_a_random_empty_seat

Perhaps “lull” is the wrong word:

8b_orioles_fan_with_face_paint

One great thing about playoff baseball in stadiums where fans aren’t used to winning is that they’re really into it. I mean . . . really REALLY into it. The atmosphere is truly joyous, whereas venues that are home to perennial winners have a sinister business-as-usual vibe.

When the player introductions got underway, I waltzed right down to the seats behind the Tigers’ dugout — no questions asked. Here’s a photo of Joba Chamberlain’s phenomenal beard and of Miguel Cabrera high-fiving his teammates:

9_tigers_player_introductions

Here’s what it looked like as the Orioles lined up on the field:

10_orioles_player_introductions

After the introductions, I shifted over to the front row in very shallow left field. Several players were throwing . . .

11_tigers_pregame_throwing_10_02_14

. . . and I ended up getting a ball from Rajai Davis:

12_ball7806

Outstanding!

A minute or two later, Cabrera came over to sign a few autographs:

13_fan_taking_selfie_with_miguel_cabrera

I didn’t get him to sign anything, but he did give me a fist-bump before jogging off.

Here’s what the stands looked like behind me:

14_orioles_fans_excited_pregame

This was my view when Ian Kinsler led off the game against Chris Tillman:

15_first_pitch_of_the_game_chris_tillman_to_ian_kinsler

I was able to lurk for a bit in the aisle and tunnels, but I couldn’t stay in one place for long.

When Victor Martinez led off the top of the 2nd inning, I was standing at the back of the Flag Court in right field — and I nearly snagged the home run that he hit five pitches later. Basically, because of the huge crowd camped out underneath it, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to catch it on the fly, so I ran right up behind the spot where it was going to land, hoping that everyone would collectively bobble it back in my direction. That’s exactly what ended up happening! It was too good to be true! As I stepped forward and reached out to snag what was about to be my first game home run in the postseason, some random schmuck with a beer in one hand stepped in front of me, knocked the ball down with his bare hand and collapsed on it. If not for that ONE guy, I would have gotten it — no doubt about it. And then, to make matters worse, I wasn’t even paying attention when the next batter, J.D. Martinez, hit an opposite-field homer onto the Flag Court. It ended up barely clearing the wall and getting swallowed up by the throng of fans at the front, but it would’ve been nice to at least make an attempt at snagging it.

Look how crowded it was out there:

16_huge_standing_room_crowd

Here’s a look from the back of the section — gotta love the guy wearing a full Orioles jumpsuit:

17_fan_wearing_orioles_jumpsuit

Look how crowded it WASN’T in the right field seats:

18_empty_seats_in_right_field_10_02_14

All those tickets were donated by the Orioles to a huge group of underprivileged kids — a nice P.R. move, in theory, but why do it in the playoffs if all those seats were going to end up being empty? Am I missing something? Am I being too negative? Were the kids too underprivileged to even make it to the game, or did they simply not care enough to show up? I’m all for helping kids connect to America’s pastime, but this didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Back behind home plate, the crowd was much rowdier in the middle innings:

19_back_on_the_1st_base_side

In the top of the 7th, the Orioles were clinging to a 3-2 lead:

20_scoreboard_top_of_the_7th_inning_10_02_14

Here’s what the stands behind me looked like in the late innings:

21_crowd_behind_home_plate

That seems like a boring/innocent photograph, right? Here . . . let me zoom in on it and show you what was *really* taking place:

22_kate_upton_and_her_bodyguard

So yeah. Kate Upton (who’s currently dating Justin Verlander) was there. I only found out because everyone around me seemed to be talking about her, and given the fact that she was sitting in the second row above the cross-aisle, some folks walked past and held up their cameras and took photos right in her face, prompting angry responses from the handful of security personnel who were standing nearby. I, meanwhile, had the decency to move 30 feet away before attempting to take her picture, and what did I get out of it? A great shot of the side of her head and a death stare from the woman sitting beside her.

The Orioles scored EIGHT runs in the bottom of the 8th inning to take a 12-3 lead. I came close to a couple of foul balls on the 3rd base side and eventually gave up. It was too crowded, and my luck was too crappy.

In the top of the 9th inning, I moved here:

23_view_behind_home_plate_in_the_top_of_the_9th_10_02_14

I was hoping to a get ball from home plate umpire Paul Schrieber, but after the final out, he blew past me and ignored everyone.

At that point, since there was nothing better to do, I wandered over to the Orioles’ dugout:

24_postgame_activity_on_the_field

That’s when I noticed a “famous fan” on my right:

25_recognizable_fans_with_sunglasses_and_a_tie

I’m talking about the dude in the sunglasses and tie. I’d recently seen him a bunch of times on TV, wearing the same outfit and sitting in the front row. It’s hard to miss someone like that. Does anyone know him? What’s his deal? I’m curious.

Here’s a final look at the scoreboard:

26_scoreboard_postgame_10_02_14

Here are the three balls I’d snagged:

27_my_three_baseballs_10_02_14

Here are Rick and Ben with their baseballs:

28_rick_and_ben_with_their_baseballs

Here’s Avi with a ridiculous sign:

29_avi_miller_enjoys_baseball

If you don’t get the joke (and if you feel like spending a couple of minutes learning about it), click here.

On the way back to New York, Rick and Ben and I stopped at one of my favorite restaurants — Waffle House:

30_rick_ben_zack_waffle_house

I’m being serious. I love Waffle House so much. I wish *they* would sponsor me for a season.

When I got home (at like 3am), I examined my three baseballs in black light and discovered a beautiful invisible ink stamp on the BP homer. Check it out:

31_ball7805_regular_light

This game took place on October 2nd. I’m now blogging about it on October 16th. The three playoff teams remaining are the Royals, Cardinals, and Giants, which means my season is probably done . . . which is good. This year there was much more frustration than triumph; I can’t wait to put it behind me and come back stronger in 2015.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 3 baseballs at this game

• 630 balls in 87 games this season = 7.24 balls per game.

• 544 lifetime balls in 59 games at Camden Yards = 9.22 balls per game.

• 130 lifetime balls in 25 postseason games = 5.20 balls per game.

• 1,053 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 67 different commemorative balls

• 7,806 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $2.05 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $6.15 raised at this game

• $1,291.50 raised this season

• $39,955.50 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/27/14 at Citi Field

My final Mets game of the season was a day of unbridled excess. Take a look at the photo below and then I’ll (start to) explain:

1_zack_with_jeff_and_ben

As you can see, I was holding two tickets. One of them — an e-ticket for the all-you-can-eat Hyundai Club — was given to me by my friend Jeff, pictured above on the left. The other one — a hard/season ticket granting early access — was sold to me at a reasonable price by friend Ben, pictured above in the middle. And guess what? There was the promise of a third ticket coming my way later for a different all-you-can-eat section.

Before the gluttony got underway, there were baseballs to be snagged. Unfortunately, though, when I ran inside the stadium, the Mets hadn’t yet started taking BP. Instead they were playing catch in right field:

2_mets_warming_up_09_27_14

Do you remember when I ran into Vic Black on the subway in mid-August? I followed him on Twitter after that and was delighted when he followed me back and then recognized me at subsequent games. I’m mentioning this because I saw him again here along the right field foul line. He came over and shook my hand, and we chatted for a bit, and then he said, “Hey, congrats on the Jeter ball.”

vic_black_2014“Wait, what? How did know about that?!”

“I follow you on Twitter!” he said, sounding shocked that I would ask such a dumb question.

Meanwhile, I was shocked that he’d seen my Tweet about it.

“I follow you too,” I replied, “but I don’t necessarily see everything you say on there.”

“Oh, well, I try to catch up on everything baseball related,” he said.

Wow.

Vic Black is truly one of the friendliest players I’ve ever met — right up there with Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Grilli, Josias Manzanillo, Brian Stokes, and maybe even Heath Bell.

A few minutes later, Lucas Duda threw me my first ball of the day, and soon after that, with Mets BP finally underway, I got another tossed by Jacob deGrom:

3_ball7799_from_jacob_degrom

My next ball was No. 7,800 lifetime, and I got it rather unexpectedly. It was a Curtis Granderson homer that I caught on the fly in straight-away right field — no big deal, right? Well, if you’ve never been to Citi Field, you need to know that right field is a disaster. Not only is there a huge area without seats (because of a netting-covered section behind the outfield wall), but the overhang of the second deck prevents most home runs from reaching the stands. The Granderson homer missed the facade of the second deck by about a foot, and it was hit so hard (and with such a low trajectory) that it was able to reach me in the front row. Is this making any sense? Do you understand why right field is so bad? The front row in any outfield section *should* be a spot where home runs frequently land, but here at Citi, everything had to fall exactly into place for the ball to reach me.

My next stop was right-center field:

4_view_from_right_center_09_27_14

That’s another awful section, mainly because it’s two miles from home plate, but because there weren’t many fans yet in the stadium, I did okay out there. Travis d’Arnaud threw me my fourth ball of the day, leaving me one short of a milestone. My next ball was going to be my 1,000th lifetime at Citi Field. Here’s a crappy photo that shows how I got it:

5_ball7802_1000th_lifetime_at_citi_field

More specifically, it was a home run that landed in the bullpen and rolled to the back of the mound. The employee pictured above (who might have been a groundskeeper) retrieved it and tossed it to me.

Two minutes later, I got my sixth ball tossed by Bartolo Colon. Things were looking good. It was still early. Double digits seemed like a guarantee . . . until I ran back to left field and saw this:

6_astros_not_taking_bp_09_27_14

With the exception of those two players (and a coach) in left field, the Astros were nowhere in sight. And did you notice the groundskeepers in the photo above? See them in shallow center field? They were removing the screens. Batting practice was done. POOF!! Just like that.

Fabulous.

I thought about heading to the Hyundai Club and eating my sorrows away, but decided to wander into foul territory instead. This turned out to be a good move, as Vic Black and Josh Edgin randomly appeared and started posing for photos with fans:

7_vic_black_and_josh_edgin_posing_for_photos_with_fans

Of course, not everyone was excited about it . . .

8_young_fan_not_impressed

. . . but I was certainly glad to see Vic again. Here he is giving me a thumbs-up:

9_vic_black_giving_me_a_thumbs_up

I got him to sign a ticket “To Zack” from the previous night’s game:

10_vic_black_autograph

He and Edgin were being *so* friendly. They were shaking people’s hands and making conversation, so when Edgin made his way over to me, I said, “Hey, Josh, whats up!”

He responded by reaching out with both hands, playfully squeezing my backpack, and saying, “How many today?”

“Wait a minute . . . you know about my baseball collection?”

josh_edgin_2014“Yeah, of course,” he replied matter-of-factly. “Now how many?”

“I got six today. Would’ve been more if the Astros had hit. But seriously, how did you know?”

“I saw it on YouTube.”

“Was that just random internet browsing or did someone tell you about it?”

“I think I heard about it from him,” he said, pointing at Vic.

“Wow. And you’ve continued to throw baseballs to me anyway?”

“Well, I heard about your charity and that you give lots of balls to kids, so that’s pretty cool.”

I was in shock. Prior to this, I had no idea that Edgin recognized me, and in fact I assumed he wasn’t too friendly. Other than having shouted at him from afar for the occasional baseball, I’d never interacted with him. I had only seen him on TV, lookin’ all pissed off with his tough-guy beard, so if anything I figured he was someone to avoid. Now I must humbly admit that I was wrong.

Here’s a ticket that he signed for me:

11_josh_edgin_autograph

After saying thanks and goodbye to my new Mets friends, I was ready for the Hyundai Club. Rather than eating my sorrows away, I would eat in celebration!

Here’s what the club looks like:

12_inside_the_hyundai_club

Jeff was there, ready to join me for an early dinner:

13_jeff_in_the_hyundai_club

I considered the various food options, starting with this carving station . . .

14_carving_station

. . . and these semi-fancy items:

15_wannabe_fancy_hot_food

Here’s what I got:

16_my_plate_pork_tenderloin_herb_crusted_filet_of_perch_rigatoni_with_pesto_cream_sauce_seared_chicken_with_baby_arugula_salad

The plate above contains:

1) braised brisket
2) herb crusted filet of perch
3) rigatoni with pesto cream sauce
4) seared chicken with baby arugula salad

Here’s what I got next:

17_chips_with_chili_and_toppings

In case you can’t tell, those chips are loaded with chili, cheese sauce, tomatoes, onions, and guacamole.

The quality of all this food ranged from “good” to “forgettable.” Certainly the best thing about it was that it was free, but to be fair, I had been spoiled recently by two games in the Legends area of Yankee Stadium, where the tickets are insanely expensive and the food is incomparably better.

Here’s the Hyundai Club bar:

18_hyundai_club_bar

Alcohol was not included in the price of the ticket — a non-issue for me since I rarely drink.

Here’s one of several tunnels that lead to the seats . . .

19_tunnel_to_seats

. . . and here’s the only “dessert” that was available before game time:

20_cotton_candy_and_cheerleaders

In the Legends area, there’s an endless assortment of candy and desserts that are available from the time the stadium opens, but here at the Hyundai Club, there was one tiny freezer of ice cream bars, which was locked until the 5th inning. In a nutshell, that’s the difference between the Mets and Yankees.

Do you remember the netting-covered section that I was complaining about during BP? Well, here’s a photo of it:

21_ben_behind_the_right_field_fence

See the fan in the orange jersey standing behind the outfield fence? That was Ben! Somehow he’d gotten four free tickets to that area from the Mets, and he was saving one for me. (That area used to be sponsored by Modell’s Sporting Goods and was known as the Mo’s Zone. Now it lacks a sponsor and is called The Clubhouse.) All I had to do was show up there, and he’d escort me inside. But what about Jeff and Hyundai Club? I didn’t want to be rude and abandon him. But The Clubhouse was special. I’d never been there during a game and really wanted to check it out.

Jeff was very understanding. He knew what he was getting into when he offered me a ticket and wasn’t concerned with my whereabouts, so this was the compromise: I would sit with him for the first few innings, then go find Ben for the middle innings, and rejoin Jeff for the remainder of the game. It was a perfect plan, except for one thing, namely my inability to sit still. This was our view in the top of the 1st inning . . .

22_jose_altuve_at_bat_in_the_top_of_the_1st_inning

. . . and here’s where I went in the bottom of the 1st:

23_brief_view_for_lefties

You see, the first five batters for the Mets were left-handed, and I couldn’t bear the thought of being trapped on the 1st base side of home plate, where there was *no* chance of getting a foul ball. Of course, as it turned out, Astros starter Samuel Deduno was an extreme ground-ball pitcher, so the Mets hardly hit any foul balls back into the seats on either side.

After the 1st inning, I grabbed a pulled pork sandwich on the way back to the 1st base side:

24_pulled_pork_sandwich_09_27_14

It was almost as good as this one I got at PETCO Park three days earlier.

After the 3rd inning, as planned, I walked out of the Hyundai Club and headed through the concourse until I reached the Shea Bridge:

25_heading_to_the_clubhouse

In the photo above, did you notice the sign for The Clubhouse on the far right? Here’s where I went to get there:

26_heading_to_the_clubhouse

At the bottom of those stairs, I turned to the left and saw this:

27_weird_desolate_picnic_area_behind_the_bullpens

In the six-year history of Citi Field, I’ve only passed through there a few times, and it’s always deserted.

Yuck.

I didn’t know where to go when I reached the very bottom . . . until I looked around and saw this:

28_doors_to_the_clubhouse

Here’s what it looked like inside the doors:

29_inside_the_doors

Where were the security guards? Where was . . . anyone? What the hell was going on? Was I at a major league baseball stadium or in an abandoned nuclear power plant?

After taking a few steps, I looked to the left and saw this:

30_where_the_fuck_am_i

Seriously, Mets, WTF?!

I kept going and eventually saw another human being:

31_service_level_concourse_on_the_left

And then I saw a few more:

32_finally_a_sign_of_life

Hooray! I reached my destination without getting lost or being arrested for trespassing!

Then I called Ben, who came out with a ticket for me:

33_ben_emerging_with_a_ticket_for_me

Now I had three tickets and two wristbands:

34_three_different_tickets_09_27_14

The Clubhouse was an all-you-can-eat area, though not nearly as good as the Hyundai Club. There were hot dogs . . .

35_yucky_hot_dogs

. . . and cheeseburgers:

36_pathetic_cheeseburgers

There was an open bar . . .

37_open_bar_09_27_14

. . . but rather than loading up on free beer, I got my 4th bottled water of the day.

Then I stumbled upon a sorry display of chips, salsa, and cookies:

38_chips_salsa_cookies

I ate a cookie. Oatmeal raisin. Not bad, surprisingly.

Here’s what the outdoor seating area of The Clubhouse looks like:

39_clubhouse_from_the_corner

Look who else was with Ben:

40_zack_jen_ben_chris

That’s his fiancée Jen and our friend Chris Hernandez.

It was fun hanging out with them, but our view of the game was lousy:

41_shitty_view_behind_the_fence

It didn’t really matter. Heading into the 5th inning, there was no score, so it’s not like I was missing much.

Poking the lens of my camera through the chain-link fence made the view appear better . . .

42_better_view_through_the_fence

. . . but I still felt terribly removed from the action.

Moments later I felt even worse when I looked straight up at the overhang of the second deck and saw this:

43_view_directly_above_me

What exactly was I seeing?

Here, have a closer look:

44_pigeons_closeup

There was a time in my life — 19 years ago, to be specific — when I actually thought pigeons were worth getting to know. But now? Not so much. And to make matters worse, I had this image in my head of bird poop coating the top of the outfield wall, right in that very spot. I’d seen it several weeks earlier and ew-ew-ew!! What is wrong with the Mets? Haven’t they heard of pigeon spikes? I realize that the overhang of the second deck is kinda high up and hard to reach, but umm, perhaps they should’ve thought of that when they built it. It’s not like it’s too late. They should hire a team of contractors or bring in a crane or do something!! METS FANS HAVE TO DEAL WITH ENOUGH CRAP AS IT IS!! THEY DON’T NEED ANY MORE RAINING DOWN ON THEM FROM THE SKY!!

I got the hell out of there after that and wandered toward the far end The Clubhouse:

45_weird_employee_area_beyond_the_ritht_edge_of_the_clubhouse

Upon closer inspection, I realized that I could see into the indoor portion of the Mets’ bullpen:

46_employee_area_up_close_and_peek_into_bullpen_indoor_area

Here’s an even closer look:

47_ricky_bones_looking_at_me

Yikes! Bullpen coach Ricky Bones caught me photographing him and was not amused. Perhaps the Mets should’ve thought of that too when they built that room with a gigantic window facing the fans.

I wish I had a better camera because if I did, I’d be able to read the small text on that “pace of game procedures” sign on the wall. See it there above the phone? Click the photo above to zoom in on it.

Before leaving The Clubhouse, two significant things happened. First, the Astros took a 1-0 lead, and second, I got a cheeseburger:

48_cheeseburger_that_i_ate_most_of

I said goodbye to Ben, Jen, and Chris and raced back to the Hyundai Club, worried that I might’ve missed dessert. Thankfully I still had some options for getting sugared up. There were cupcakes and cookies . . .

49_cupcakes_and_cookies_back_in_the_hyundai_club

. . . and the previously-locked ice cream freezer was now open:

50_ice_cream_09_27_14

I started with this . . .

51_cupcake_and_cookies_that_i_ate

. . . and then ate these:

52_ice_cream_that_i_ate

And then I ate another ice cream bar. Yeah, three ice creams. What’re you gonna do about it?!

Here’s what the scoreboard looked like as the game headed to the bottom of the 9th inning:

53_scoreboard_heading_to_the_bottom_of_the_9th_inning

Pinch-hitter Eric Campbell, desperately needing to get on base but lacking guidance, swung at the very first pitch of the inning and hit a flyout to center field. That’s bad baseball. Eric Young Jr. followed with a triple, giving the fans some hope and bringing up the Mets’ best hitter — Daniel Murphy. The result? A weak fly ball to left field, failing to tie the game. There was still a chance with Lucas Duda stepping to the plate, but the lefty-lefty matchup against reliever Tony Sipp was unfavorable. Duda took the first pitch for a ball. Then I pulled out my camera and took the following photo as Sipp delivered the next pitch:

54_tony_sipp_pitching_to_lucas_duda

To the surprise of absolutely everyone, Duda ripped a deep line drive down the right field line that hit the foul pole! Game over!

I kept taking photos as the Mets spilled out onto the field:

55_walkoff_home_run_off_the_right_field_foul_pole

Having learned nothing from Kendrys Morales, Duda look a flying leap as he approached home plate:

56_lucas_duda_jumping_on_home_plate

Here’s a closer look:

57_lucas_duda_jumping_closeup

Thankfully he was not injured.

Jeff and I got an usher to take a photo of us . . .

58_jeff_and_zack

. . . and just as my camera was being handed back to me, I noticed someone on the Mets creeping up on Duda with a Gatorade cooler. I thought I was going to miss it, but somehow hit the button in time:

59_lucas_duda_getting_doused

BAM!!

Anthony Recker, the player with the cooler, sure seemed to be proud of himself:

60_anthony_recker_running_off_with_the_gatorade_cooler

Am I the only one who thinks that dumping a large quantity of an ice-cold beverage on a heroic teammate is the stupidest thing ever? Does anyone else think that slamming a shaving cream “pie” in someone’s face is a terrible way to celebrate? To me it seems like something that oughta be done as a punishment for someone who blows the game, not to someone who wins it.

Speaking of punishments, check out the Jumbotron:

61_austin_mahone_concert_coming_up

I’d never heard of Austin Mahone until the Mets started promoting his concert several months ago, and I knew I wanted no part of it. Therefore, when the field started taking shape for his performance . . .

62_concert_set_up_in_the_infield

. . . I made my exit and got a ride home from Chris.

Goodbye Citi Field.

63_goodbye_citi_field_09_27_14

See you next year.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

64_the_five_baseballs_i_kept_09_27_14• 6 baseballs at this game (five pictured here because I gave one away)

• 627 balls in 86 games this season = 7.29 balls per game.

• 1,001 lifetime balls in 133 games at Citi Field = 7.53 balls per game.

• 1,052 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 14,367 (or so) calories consumed at this game

• 7,803 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $2.05 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $12.30 raised at this game

• $1,285.35 raised this season

• $39,949.35 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/24/14 at PETCO Park

This was my third and final game in San Diego, and it started with batting practice in deep right-center field:

1_view_from_deep_right_center_field_09_24_14

Once again, my friend Brandon Sloter was with me, but this time, instead of taking photos, he shot video. He’s still working on editing the footage, so for now I’ll share a bunch of screen shots. The image below shows my first ball of the day getting flipped over the outfield fence by Odrisamer Despaigne. It’s kind of blurry, so I’ve circled the streaking ball in red:

2_odrisamer_despaigne_tossing_ball7781

That’s me in the tan shorts, and as you can see in the following screen shot, I had to outjump another fan to snag it:

3_zack_catching_ball7781

Here I am admiring the ball:

4_zack_showing_ball7781

It was commemorative. I was quite happy.

After taking a quick break to get the sand out of my shoes . . .

5_zack_getting_sand_out_of_shoes

. . . I caught up with my friend Devin Trone:

6_devin_trone_and_zack

He and I had been competing for baseballs and getting in each other’s way for the past two days, and this game was no different. Here I am robbing him on a ground-rule double . . .

7_zack_snagging_ball7782

. . . and here he is getting revenge on another double moments later:

8_devin_robbing_zack

That was a phenomenal catch. While keeping his eyes mostly on the ball, he climbed up from the sand onto the first step and then jumped and flailed and somehow snatched the ball just in front of my glove as I was reaching out for it.

We shared a high-five after that:

9_devin_and_zack_high_fiving

Because of the limited space on the Beach, we knew we’d end up scampering after the same baseballs, but we made it work.

Here’s something that didn’t turn out well:

10_brandon_getting_denied_for_early_entry

The photo above shows Brandon outside the stadium, being denied for early access at the season ticket holder entrance. I had gotten in by borrowing someone’s season ticket holder ID card. I was hoping that the guards would let me bring him in as my guest, but nope. On the Padres’ final home game of the season, which was supposedly a time of “fan appreciation,” security wouldn’t allow it. Two days earlier, a different guard had let both me and Brandon enter as someone else’s guest, but this time, we encountered a real stiff-ass who gave us the whole, “I’m just doing my job” speech.

It really sucked that Brandon couldn’t get in with me because he missed everything that happened along the left field foul line:

11_view_from_left_field_foul_line_09_24_14

First I got a ball thrown to me by Tommy Kahnle. Then I got another tossed near the foul pole by some trainer-type guy. And finally, I ended up playing catch with Charlie Culberson for two or
three minutes (which is a very long time to engage like that with a player on the field). At one point, some random 20-something-year-old guy approached me in the stands and askedcharlie_culberson_2014 if he could throw one. Reluctantly, I handed him the ball, and he chucked it at Culberson. Before it was thrown back, the guy asked to borrow my glove. I was feeling charitable, and we were the only two people in the section, so I let him use it. They ended up throwing the ball back and forth for about 30 seconds before I reclaimed my glove. Culberson and I threw a bit more after that, including a brief knuckleball session, and then he let me keep the ball, which was my fifth of the day. It was so much fun, but UGH!!! I can’t believe that on this rare day that Brandon was filming me, he wasn’t able to be there to capture any of this.

When the whole stadium opened at 5:30pm, I ran to the seats in left-center field, and Brandon met me there. That’s where I caught my sixth ball of the day — a home run that I caught in the front row. I don’t know who hit that one (or any of the others that I’m going to tell you about), but here’s a screen shot of it streaking into my glove:

12_zack_catching_ball7786

I forgot to mention that I had changed into my Rockies jersey.

A few minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and when I turned around, I was surprised to see that it was a Padres employee, dressed in a button-down shirt with an official lanyard around his neck. My first thought was, “Oh god, what am I in trouble for NOW?” but as it turned out, this guy knew who I was and wanted to introduce himself. His name is Russell Wuerffel, and he explained how he played a role in getting the commemorative logo (for the 10th anniversary of PETCO Park) approved by Major League Baseball and *on* the actual baseballs. Here we are:

13_zack_and_russell_wuerffel

I told him what I mentioned in my entry from 9/22/14 at PETCO Park — that it might be my favorite commemorative logo ever. He was glad that I liked it so much, and of course I was glad to have met the guy who helped make it happen.

My best catch of the day (if not the entire month) came on my next ball — a home hun hit one section to my right. Here I am running through the empty second row:

14_zack_running_for_ball7787

Here I am jumping as high as possible:

15_zack_catching_ball7787

Here I am looking at the ball snow-coning out of my glove and thinking, “Whoa, I actually caught that?”

16_zack_amazed_at_ball7787

And here I am getting a random-high five from a kid on the way back to my spot:

17_zack_high_fived_by_random_kid

Here’s a short video of that catch:

I gave away three balls to kids in left field (and offered several others to kids who politely declined because they’d already gotten one), so no one was pissed that I snagged so many.

My eighth ball was a homer that smacked off the facade of the second deck and conveniently landed on the staircase behind me. Here I am grabbing it:

18_zack_snagging_ball7788

My ninth ball was a homer that I caught on the fly, half a section to my right. That might sound simple, but there was a bit of a fancy maneuver required. Look closely at the following screen shot, and you’ll see me climbing forward over a row of seats:

19_zack_catching_ball7789

I was actually stepping onto a seat in order to get higher than the people around me. Here I am reaching up for the ball:

20_zack_catching_ball7789

After that catch, I noticed Eddie Butler watching me from about 30 feet away, so I called him over and said, “Have you ever seen one fan catch as many baseballs as I’ve caught?”

I forget exactly what he said (and it’s too faint to hear in Brandon’s video), but it was something like, “You mean, have I ever seen anyone knock that many kids over?” He made an exaggerated elbowing gesture and had a big grin on his face . . .

21_eddie_butler_joking_with_zack

. . . so I played along and shouted at the camera, “Did you hear that?! A major league baseball player just falsely accused me of pushing kids out of the way! Take it back! TAKE IT BACK!!”

“You’re saving their lives, right?” he said.

“Saving lives,” I joked. “That’s what I’m doing out here.”

Fun stuff.

My 10th ball was a homer that I caught on the fly, several feet to my left. It was heading *right* toward a man who was wearing a glove and had been standing next to me for half an hour. Somehow this happened to be the only moment that he wasn’t paying attention, so I calmly shifted over and reached right above his head for an easy catch.

Brandon followed me to right field for the final group of hitters. I didn’t catch any batted balls out there (because I’m an idiot and misjudged one), but I did get a couple of toss-ups. Here’s the first one being thrown to me from the warning track by a coach I didn’t recognize:

22_ball7791_thrown_to_zack

Here’s the second one sailing toward me:

23_zack_catching_ball7792

That was thrown by Tyler Matzek, and did you notice that I was straddling a row of seats? I thought it was going to fall short, so I half-climbed over, but that turned out to be unnecessary.

After BP, I met a young fan named Brent who asked me to autograph a ball that he’d snagged. Here he is with it:

24_brent_with_my_autograph

Before the game, I hung out on the landing of a staircase overlooking the bullpens:

25_zack_overlooking_the_bullpens

Here’s some advice for anyone seeing the Rockies on the road: don’t expect to get anything from bullpen catcher Pat Burgess. He’s one of the least generous players/coaches I’ve encountered in a while, and I’m making this claim based on one specific interaction. In the photo above, do you see the big/tan/round flowerpot that has some green crap growing out of it? More specifically, I’m talking about the one at the very bottom of the image. Brandon pointed out to me that there was a baseball tucked behind it — obviously a ball that had gotten loose and was otherwise forgotten. In situations like this, when I point out a hidden ball to someone on the field (or in this case, the bullpen), it gets tossed to me 49 out of 50 times. See where I’m going with this? I pointed it out to Burgess, and the son-of-a-gun completely ignored me. First he walked past it and didn’t touch it. Then, two minutes later, he retrieved it and placed it in the ball bag. That’s lame.

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

26_view_in_the_1st_inning_09_24_14

I thought I’d hang out there for an inning or two and get an easy 3rd-out ball, but there were a zillion kids, so I quickly gave up and wandered to right field:

27_view_from_right_field_09_24_14

Look what kind of trouble I got into out there:

28_zack_and_the_friars

Do you remember Brent, who’d gotten me to sign his baseball? That’s him in the photo above.

A little while later, I noticed a woman with a FOX microphone nearby. She didn’t seem to be rushing anywhere (as sideline reporters tend to do), so I struck up a conversation, and whaddaya know? Half an inning later, she interviewed me live on the Padres’ telecast:

29_interview_screen_shot_09_24_14

Her name is Kris Budden, and the interview, not surprisingly, was brief. Here’s what was said:

KRIS: Welcome back. Well, you never know who you’re gonna run into at a baseball game, and I found superfan over here, Zack, who’s really just a fan of every baseball team and a fan of snagging foul balls, batting practice balls, home run balls. How many in your career have you collected?

ZACK: Seven thousand seven hundred and ninety-two.

KRIS: Can you even fit those in your house? What do you do with that many balls?

ZACK: I’ve given away a ton of baseballs to kids at games, I donated some to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball last year, and I just keep the rest. It was a dorky childhood hobby that’s turned into a dorky adult hobby, and I just have fun with it.

KRIS: He has a whole backpack that he’s been carrying with him. Favorite home run ball that you’ve ever caught?

ZACK: Well, I caught Mike Trout’s first, which was pretty sweet. I got Barry Bonds’ 724th in right field here at PETCO in ’06. I also caught the last home run that the Mets ever hit at Shea Stadium, so those are probably the top three.

KRIS: I like it! Well, that is a pretty great hobby, Zack. Thanks so much for joining us. I know you got work to do — you gotta catch a few more.

ZACK: Yeah, I gotta get back into action here.

And that was it. Sixty-two seconds and out. My last name wasn’t mentioned. No website. No Twitter handle. No book titles. No sponsors. The only thing I made sure to mention was the charity. Once again, it’s called Pitch In For Baseball, and it provides equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. I’ve been raising money for them every season since 2009, and I’m doing it again this year. If you donate before the conclusion of the World Series, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

After the interview, I caught up with a legendary ballhawk named T.C., who was sitting nearby:

30_zack_and_tc_09_24_14

The first thing I asked him about was the home run he’d caught in the top of the 1st inning. I was sitting behind the dugout at the time and could not be-LIEVE my eyes when Charlie Blackmon launched one right in T.C.’s direction. He appeared to lean over a railing, make the catch, and hold up the ball. Pretty simple (and lucky and awesome), right? Well, T.C. nonchalantly admitted that he hadn’t caught it — that it had fallen several feet short and that he’d faked the whole thing by holding up a different ball.

WTF?!

Take a look for yourself at the highlight:

Mind = blown.

Part of me is like, “That’s a clown ballhawking move, bro,” but the other part is like, “The legend of T.C. grows!” This is a man who caught Chad Curtis’s 1st career home run, Terry Pendleton’s 100th, and Adam Dunn’s 250th. He has caught a walk-off grand slam (Bip Roberts on May 20, 1995), and he once caught two Ken Caminiti homers in one game, each hit from a different side of the plate, so why the hell was he fake-catching a Charlie Blackmon homer? Some questions are better left unanswered.

As I’ve mentioned before, I featured T.C. as one of the top ten ballhawks of all time in my latest book, The Baseball. Check it out. You’ll find the section about him on pages 281-282.

I didn’t really know where to go after that. The stadium was surprisingly crowded (attendance: 38,589), and I’d already reached double digits, and I’d snagged plenty of commemorative balls, so whatever. It would’ve been nice to catch a home run, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I was restless and kinda wanted to keep wandering.

I walked along this open-air concourse in deep center field . . .

31_center_field_concourse_09_24_14

. . . and made my way to left field:

32_deep_left_field_09_24_14

I was hoping to catch up with my friend Leigh Barratt, who has season tickets out there, but he wasn’t in his seat, and the section was packed, so I kept moving.

I caught up with Brandon, and we headed to the Beach:

33_heading_to_the_beach

I’d never been out there during a game, and that’s probably a good thing. Look at the madness that was taking place in the sand:

34_kids_playing_in_the_sand

After five minutes, I needed to get out of there. All those kids were driving me crazy, and there were a bunch of right-handed hitters due to bat, who clearly weren’t going to hit the ball 410 feet to right-center, so why stick around. Right?

WRONG!!
Sort of.

Two minutes after we left, Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin caught a deep fly ball for the third out and tossed it to no one in particular, right where we’d been. Oh, the agony.

Here’s something that cheered me up:

35_friar_photobombing_my_pulled_pork_sandwich

The photo above is fairly self-explanatory. It’s a friar photo-bombing my pulled pork sandwich from Phil’s BBQ. I got some vanilla ice cream after that and headed into foul territory on the right field side. This was my view:

36_view_from_the_right_field_foul_line_09_24_14

I sat there for an inning with Brandon because one of his friends (whom I’ve gotten to know during various road trips to the west coast) was there.

Here’s what was happening in the game:

37_scoreboard_09_24_14

I was hoping for the Padres to win because I was planning to go to their dugout after the final out, and I figured there’d be a better chance of getting something if they came out on top.

Well, the Padres *did* win, and it was quite a scene in the stands:

38_the_crowd_behind_me

Here’s the crowd from behind:

39_zack_at_the_dugout_from_behind

In the photo above, that’s me in the Padres/Jones jersey. It belongs to Brandon, or maybe “belonged” is better word. He gave it to me because he knows I’ll get more use out of it than he will, but he might ask for it back someday. I guess that’s fair.

After five minutes or so, Tyson Ross poked his head out of the dugout and threw a few pairs of Padres gym shorts into the crowd. I caught one in the tip of my glove, only to have someone yank it out and claim it as his own. Whatever. Who the hell wants Padres gym shorts anyway? Then Ross threw handfuls of bubble gum into the crowd, and look! I got some!

40_this_was_all_i_got

Whoop-dee-doo.

Before heading out, I caught up with a guy named Andy who had recognized me and said hello during BP:

41_zack_and_andy_recognizer_who_wanted_a_photo

Leigh had made his way to the seats behind the Padres’ dugout, so on my way out, I got to see him and say a proper goodbye. Here we are outside the stadium:

42_zack_and_leigh_outside_petco_park

Good times in San Diego. PETCO Park is one of my favorites, so hopefully I’ll make it back there soon.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

43_the_nine_balls_i_kept_09_24_14• 12 baseballs at this game (nine pictured here because I gave three away)

• 616 balls in 84 games this season = 7.33 balls per game.

• 142 lifetime balls in 13 games at PETCO Park = 10.92 balls per game.

• 1,050 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 261 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 7,792 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $2.05 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $24.60 raised at this game

• $1,262.80 raised this season

• $39,926.80 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/23/14 at PETCO Park

During a lull in batting practice on 9/22/14 at PETCO Park, a local friend asked if I had any pre-game plans the following day. “Yeah,” I said matter-of-factly, “I’m gonna go hang out at Heath Bell’s house.” That seemed to amuse him, so I played along as if it were a joke, but that WAS, in fact, my plan. Fast-forward to the morning of September 23rd. Here I am with Heath and his wife Nicole:

1_zack_nicole_heath

That photo was taken by their four-year-old son, Rhett, who had been placed by Heath on the dining room counter for that purpose. (I had to rotate it slightly and then crop it, but wow! Nice job, young man!)

I was really glad to be there. Not only was it my first visit to their home, but it was the first time that I got to have an actual conversation with Nicole, who’s super-friendly. She and I had crossed paths once or twice before, but only in the context of post-game mayhem at stadiums. Of course it was also great to catch up with Heath. We had hung out several times last year (lunch in St. Louis followed by a tour of the Argosy Book Store in New York City and a post-game trip to the MLB Fan Cave), but I’d barely seen him this season.

You know how some athletes are totally guarded and boring? Heath is the opposite. As always, he shared lots of personal stuff and told me interesting things about the baseball world. He also said I could take some photos of his memorabilia collection and post them on my blog, so here you go:

2_heath_bell_bats_and_balls

I’m not sure if that space qualifies as a living room or simply a den, but whatever you want to call it, it’s amazing. All the bats on the right side were autographed and given to him by various players, including an Ichiro Suzuki bat that Heath broke with one of his pitches. How cool is that?! Heath told me that players ask each other for autographs all the time, but there’s a certain way of going about it. With superstars on other teams, you often have to tiptoe around them and put in the request through a clubhouse attendant, but with most guys, you can ask them directly. Not surprisingly, Barry Bonds was the toughest. According to Heath, the Yankees run a profitable side business of selling brand-new Derek Jeter jerseys to visiting players, nearly all of whom send them over to the home clubhouse to get signed.

In the photo above, did you notice the extensive collection of Bobbleheads above the TV, the Heath Bell jerseys hanging on either side, and the four-foot-tall popcorn maker in the corner? All that stuff was cool, but my favorite thing in the room was probably the double-rack of balls along the ceiling. Those are the final outs of all of his career saves, except for one, which he gave to a friend. I forgot to ask him what happens if he saves a milestone win for a starting pitcher. Presumably both guys would want the ball, but how would they decide who gets to keep it?

Here’s a closeup of some baseball bats:

3_bats_closeup

I spotted several that Heath himself had signed, and I made fun of him for having his own autograph. His reason is a good one: all the bats are signed, and if he leaves the collection to his kids someday, he wants them to have their own father’s autograph.

In the photo above, most of the balls in the protective cases are signed, but some are just flat-out awesome and rare, like this one:

4_marlins_park_opening_night_ball

Here’s another special ball I found nearby:

5_gold_home_run_derby_ball

In the photo above, did you notice the lineup card? He had several of those displayed on various shelves, all from his milestone wins and saves.

Check out his All-Star Game shoes:

6_all_star_shoes

It might be tough for the haters out there to remember that from 2009 through 2011, he was one of the best relievers in Major League Baseball, averaged 44 saves per season, and was selected to three consecutive All-Star teams. Even with his recent struggles, he still has a solid lifetime ERA of 3.49 and has averaged more than a strikeout per inning for his career. That’s legit.

Everything in Heath’s place was special — even the pillows:

7_heath_bell_jersey_pillows

Those were made out of his jerseys, and as a pillow lover myself, I truly appreciated them.

After a couple of hours at the house, I joined Heath for a short ride in his truck. He told me about his time with the Rays this season and what it was like playing for Joe Maddon. He also mentioned some things about pitching in the minors for both the Orioles and Yankees. He said he’s been working out and throwing and that he’s hoping to make a comeback next year.

We went to the drive-through window of a restaurant I’m too embarrassed to name, brought the food back to the house, and ate with Nicole and Rhett.

And then?
Ping pong!

As I mentioned on Twitter, here I am getting my ass kicked:

8_zack_and_heath_playing_ping_pong

In my own defense, I used to be *really* good at ping pong — so good that I won my 4th-grade ping pong tournament (at an obnoxious all-boys school that was generally ultra-competitive). But now my skills are rusty as hell. Before losing 21-9 to Heath (who seemed to be taking it easy on me), I hadn’t played in years — maybe in decades. I won’t claim that the nine-year-old me could’ve beaten the 36-year-old Heath, but at the very least, it would’ve been close.

I should mention that my friend Brandon Sloter played a huge role in making this visit happen. When he picked me up at the airport the day before, he half-jokingly suggested that I contact Heath to see if he was free to hang out. In the back of my mind, I knew that Heath lived near San Diego, but it just hadn’t occurred to me to set something up ahead of time. I was here to attend three Padres games and snag some commemorative baseballs. I hadn’t thought about anything else. When Heath texted me back and invited me over, Brandon offered to drop me off at his place and pick me up at the end, so it all worked out perfectly.

I’m not sure when I’ll see Heath again — hopefully next season in various major league cities, especially New York so I can invite him over to see *my* baseball collection (and play Arkanoid, so I have a chance to beat him at something). But if nothing else, I’m just glad to have gotten to spend some time with him in San Diego. Obviously it’s cool to hang out with a major leaguer, but I don’t really think about that anymore with him. He’s just a cool dude who loves talking baseball and is fun to be around. I invited him to join me for the Padres game, but he said he had other stuff to do, and I believe him. The man has four kids and is currently enjoying his first “free” summer in 18 years.

Brandon and I took off and headed to the stadium together. On the way, we stopped here and played catch for about 15 minutes:

9_playing_catch_on_the_beach

Whenever I visit Brandon, his favorite thing to say is, “Yeah, San Diego sucks. You should stay in New York.”

It actually *did* suck when we got stuck in traffic for half an hour, forcing me to contact my friend Leigh Barratt and ask him to hold a spot for me in line.

We reached the stadium 10 minutes before it opened. Here’s Leigh (in the tan shorts) fighting off the crowd:

10_leigh_barratt_needlessly_holding_a_spot_for_me_in_line_outside_the_gates

He was the ONLY person waiting at that gate. Can you believe that?! Maybe San Diego doesn’t suck so much after all.

Other fans, of course, were waiting elsewhere, so when the stadium opened, there was actually somewhat of a crowd. Here I am on “the Beach,” watching helplessly as a ball was tossed to some little kids nearby:

12_ball_tossed_to_a_kid_09_23_14

Here I am watching another ball get tossed to a little girl:

13_ball_tossed_to_a_little_girl

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t get baseballs. In most cases, they absolutely should. It’s just frustrating to be stuck in a section 400 feet from home plate, watching a team that can’t hit, depending on toss-ups, and being 28 years too old.

Thankfully, after all the kids had gotten their share of baseballs, it was the grown-ups’ turn. Here I am catching a toss-up from Odrisamer Despaigne:

14_zack_catching_ball7773

That ball was commemorative:

15_zack_with_ball7773

Here’s an action shot that shows me out-jumping my friend Devin Trone for my second ball of the day:

16_zack_catching_ball7774

That one also happened to be tossed by Despaigne, and by the way, don’t feel bad for Devin. He robbed me several times over the course of this series and ended up with a bunch of balls at this game.

Here are my first two baseballs — the only ones I got during the Padres’ portion of BP:

17_balls7773_and_7774

Beautiful.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to sneak into the main part of the stadium with the season ticket holders, so I was trapped at the Beach for the first hour. And yes, it was awful. First I had to suffer through 20 minutes of dead time when the Padres cleared the field, and when the Rockies finally started hitting, I only got one more ball. It was a homer by a right-handed batter that barely cleared the wall, smacked off a tiny area of pavement, and bounced way up into the bleachers. Here I am running up the steps for it (after having thrown on a dark Rockies shirt):

18_zack_running_for_ball7775

As soon as I grabbed the ball, I looked at Brandon:

19_zack_holding_ball7775

Let me translate that facial expression: “If you didn’t get any photos of that, I’m going to kill you.”

I’m kind of joking. Brandon is one of my closest friends, but I’ve come to expect camera wizardry whenever we go to games. Not only is he a professional photographer/videographer, but that’s why we first met on 4/24/08 at Champion Stadium; he had gotten in touch before that series and offered to take some shots of me for my blog.

Anyway, here at PETCO, when the whole stadium opened at 5:30pm, I headed to left field:

20_zack_in_left_field_09_23_14

It was dead. I didn’t come close to any homers, and I couldn’t get anyone to throw me a ball. When I told Brandon that I was giving up on left field, he tried to convince me to go here with him . . .

21_padres_greeting_fans

. . . but I had no interest. If BP weren’t taking place, I would’ve joined him, but there were still baseballs to be caught!

This was my view for the next group of hitters:

23_my_view_in_right_field_09_23_14

At the time, I had no idea that Brandon was already back in the left field seats. Here’s a photo he took of Charlie Blackmon in the cage . . .

22_charlie_blackmon_taking_bp

. . . and here’s a shot of me reaching up for a Corey Dickerson homer:

24_zack_getting_ready_to_catch_ball7776

In case you can’t tell, in the photo above, I’m standing in the cross-aisle, casting a shadow on the wall behind me. And yeah, that’s the legendary T.C. covering his head 20 feet to the right. Ha!

That was one of the easiest home runs I’ve ever caught. There was no competition whatsoever, and the ball came right to me. The only skillful thing about it was having decided to stand there in the first place.

That was it for BP — only four baseballs — but my day was far from done. Back in left field, I noticed a ball sitting on the warning track near the foul pole:

25_ball7777_sitting_on_the_field

Did you notice me in the photo above? See the groundskeeper rolling the screen along the nonexistent foul line? I’m standing directly above him in the front row. Did you notice the person standing just to the right of the ball? You can barely see her poking out behind the foul pole. I thought she was a ballgirl, but found out later that she was part of the Pad Squad. When the groundskeeper approached the ball, she picked it up and handed it him, but he wanted no part of it and tossed it back to her, prompting several fans to ask for it. She clearly had no idea what to do, so she thought about it briefly and then started walking toward the infield. That’s what’s happening in the following photo:

26_ballgirl_with_ball7777

Here I am asking for the ball:

27_zack_asking_for_ball7777

Moments later, some other guy asked for it too. She responded by saying that she was going to put it over “there” and that he could try to reach it or wait and see what happened. The spot she chose was on the warning track, one foot out from the wall next to a little equipment bag where the wall started to slant up. As soon as she placed it there and walked away, the other guy started heading toward it, but I was closer, so I leaned over to grab it:

28_zack_reaching_for_ball7777_after_it_was_placed_on_the_field

Somehow, according to a friend of mine, I ended up getting bashed on Facebook for stealing a ball from the ballgirl’s bag, but obviously that’s not what happened.

That was my 7,777th lifetime baseball. I celebrated by devouring a slice of pizza:

29_zack_eating_pizza

Twenty minutes before game time, I noticed one of the groundskeepers sprinkling a mystery substance on the edge of the infield grass:

30_groundskeeper_sprinkling_mystery_substance

It just so happens that I’m friends with a guy who used to work as a minor league groundskeeper. (His name is Joe Kelly. Remember him? We worked together for the Boise Hawks in 1995 and saw each other most recently on 4/26/13 at Safeco Field.) I sent him that photo and asked what the deal was. He said it was “probably a divot repair mixture of sand and seed, likely pre-germinated seed, maybe dyed green.” Okay then.

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

31_view_in_the_1st_inning_09_23_14

Rather than playing both dugouts, which had gotten me into trouble with stadium security the night before, I decided to stay on the Rockies’ side until I got a 3rd-out ball.

Look who else was there:

32_zack_and_devin

That’s Devin, who was also dressed for the occasion. The night before, he had a front-row seat and snagged two game-used balls, so he was willing to let me take a shot at getting one now. He understood that even though I’d gotten six commemorative balls in two days, I wanted another. All the ones I’d snagged were practice balls; I wanted a gamer that had been rubbed with mud.

It didn’t take long. I ended up getting one after the 1st inning — a Rene Rivera groundout off Jorge De La Rosa, fielded by Rafael Ynoa at 3rd base and fired across the diamond to Justin Morneau . . . who tossed it to me on his way in. The ball was in great-but-not-perfect condition:

33_ball7778_from_justin_morneau

As you can see, the commemorative logo was flawless, but the “Official Major League Baseball” portion was partially worn. (Poor me. I know.)

Moments after I took that photo, the same usher who’d hassled me the day before appeared out of nowhere and asked to see my ticket. I showed him, and he was satisfied, but before heading back up the steps, he pointed toward the command center inside the batter’s eye and said, “They’re still watching you with their cameras, right above those hedges. You might as well smile.”

I’ll tell you what I did instead: I got the hell out of there, changed my outfit, and went to left field. I was planning to camp out in a tunnel in the second deck . . .

34_tc_in_the_second_deck_in_left_field

. . . until I noticed T.C. sitting right in front of me. In the photo above, that’s him in the white mesh cap. (As I mentioned in my previous entry, he’s one of the top ten ballhawks of all time according to a book called The Baseball.)

On my way down to the 100 Level, I paused for a moment to admire the glorious bullpen configuration:

35_bullpens_from_above

That’s just a bit nicer than the bullpens at Citi Field, don’tcha think?

For the next two hours, this was my view:

36_view_from_left_field_09_23_14

I wasn’t really trying to get another ball. I just wanted to watch the game and not be bothered. Leigh came and found me at one point, which was nice. After he moved back to his seat, Brandon caught up with me, which was also nice. I was glad to have company. I just didn’t feel like dealing with snarky ushers or exerting myself.

That changed fast when THIS happened:

Did you see me get robbed by Brandon Barnes? Here’s a screen shot of the most action-packed moment:

37_zack_nearly_catching_a_home_run

That’s me in the white shirt, reaching for the ball. If it had been hit one foot higher, I would’ve caught it, and for the record, no, this wasn’t an egregious case of (potential) fan interference. I’ll admit that my glove was several inches in front of the outfield wall, and for that I apologize, but I wasn’t reaching nearly as far into play as you might think. Check out this photo of me using the glove trick in 2008. See how wide the space between the stands and the outfield wall is? It’s about four feet, so I’m telling you — I really wasn’t doing anything terrible.

Here’s a photo of Barnes taken soon after his amazing catch:

38_brandon_barnes_in_left_field

In the 9th inning, I decided to head back to the 3rd base dugout and try to get a ball from the home plate umpire after the game. That seemed like the most reliable way to snag a mud-rubbed ball with a pristine commemorative logo.

This was my view in the top of the 9th:

39_third_base_side_09_23_14

Here’s a look at the scoreboard:

40_scoreboard_09_23_14

In the bottom of the 9th, Brandon took a photo from left field that captured me and Devin in the seats behind the Rockies’ dugout:

41_devin_corner_spot_zack_climbing_over_seats

In the photo above, the arrow on the left is pointing at Devin, who was in the perfect seat near the umps’ tunnel. The arrow on the right is pointing at me, climbing back over a row of seats in order to work my way down. Whenever I move around, I make sure not to block anyone’s view, and I try not to make people stand up.

After the final out of the Rockies’ 3-2 victory, Devin got a ball from umpire Hal Gibson III, and then I got one right after, which was in perfect condition! Then, less than a minute later, I got a ball tossed by someone on the Rockies. I’m not sure who. It might’ve been coach Eric Young, but anyway, here’s a photo of me lunging for it:

42_zack_snagging_ball7780

That was my eighth and final ball of the day. Here’s a photo of the two I’d just gotten:

43_balls7779_and_7780

In the photo above, did you notice all the people standing around on the infield? Those were fans and players putting the finishing touches on a “Shirts Off Their Backs” promotion.

Brandon had told me several innings earlier that his phone was about to die, so we made a plan to meet behind the Rockies’ dugout after the game. Easy, right? Well, five minutes later, there was no sign of him, so I started wandering around the seats on the 3rd base side. Mainly I was looking for him, but I was also scavenging for ticket stubs and keeping an eye out for kids to give baseballs to. Here’s a photo of the only kid I saw with a baseball glove:

44_wandering_postgame

Why were there so few kids? Because this was a weeknight game in September that hadn’t ended until 10:30pm — and now it was considerably later than that.

Brandon was nowhere to be found, and I was getting nervous. I didn’t have a car, and without him, I didn’t have a place to stay. We were crashing at his friend’s place, and I didn’t know the address, so if I couldn’t find him inside the stadium . . . then what?

Security started clearing out the seats, so I had no choice but to head up the steps toward the concourse. Then I began walking slowly toward an exit in the left field corner. Just as I was about to leave, I happened to see this:

45_padres_postgame_show

Security allowed me to stand there and watch. That’s when it occurred to me that I wasn’t facing such a dire situation after all. Brandon had a charger in his car, so if I had to exit the stadium, I could just wander around the neighborhood and wait for him to power up enough to call me.

Then I felt someone tap my shoulder. It was Brandon. OF COURSE. He has a tendency to drive me absolutely crazy and then somehow undo the damage in the most unexpected of ways. In this case, he made up for it by taking me to In-N-Out Burger (and hooking me up with a free place to stay for all three nights of the trip).

Finally, here are the seven balls I kept:

46_the_seven_balls_i_kept_09_23_14

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 8 baseballs at this game

• 604 balls in 83 games this season = 7.28 balls per game.

• 130 lifetime balls in 12 games at PETCO Park = 10.83 balls per game.

• 1,049 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 7,780 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $2.05 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.40 raised at this game

• $1,238.20 raised this season

• $39,902.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 314 other followers