Author Archive

9/7/91 at Fenway Park

Let me start with a photo and then give you a little context:

1_zack_batting_practice

See that dweeb in the yellow shirt? That’s me at the age of 13. I don’t remember what my lifetime baseball total was at the start of the day, but I can tell you this: one month later I snagged my 18th ball at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, so I was still VERY new to this whole ballhawking thing.

Here’s another fun fact: prior to this game at Fenway, I’d only been to Shea and Yankee, so this was my first time visiting a major league stadium outside of New York City.

I managed to snag three baseballs during batting practice, mainly due to the fact that I got to enter the stadium extra early . . . thanks to these guys:

2_stu_and_harry_dickson

In the photo above, that’s my dad on the left. The gentleman on the right — his longtime friend Harry Dickson — was super-connected in Massachusetts and knew everyone at the stadium. The fact that he was Michael Dukakis‘s father-in-law might’ve had something to do with that, but enough about politics. Harry got us inside early, arranged for us to hang out in a suite for the entire game, and even took me up to the press level.

Here I am getting to operate the electric portion of the Green Monster scoreboard DURING THE GAME:

3_zack_operating_the_scoreboard

In the photo above, do you see the small boxlike thing at the bottom with square buttons on it? (It’s just to the left of my elbow.) That was the machine that controlled the scoreboard. When I saw the ump call a strike, I pushed a little “strike” button — and so on. No pressure. There were only 33,000 people in attendance.

Obviously I was excited to get to do that, but I hadn’t been to enough stadiums to fully grasp how excited I should’ve been. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but stupid 13-year-old me was like, “Cool, so this is what fans sometimes get to do at baseball games.”

I wish I’d taken a photo of the scoreboard-operating machine. I wish I’d photographed the inside of the suite or at least my view from it. (It was on the first base side.) Or any of the free/unlimited hot dogs I ate. Or my mom. Or the baseballs that I snagged. But I don’t think I owned a camera back then. Documenting things was a foreign concept. I was still four years away from starting a journal, 14 years away from blogging, and 17 years away from creating my YouTube channel. Therefore the only photos I have from the stadium are the ones my parents happened to take. Thankfully this was one of them:

4_zack_fenway_sherm_feller

That’s me with Sherm Feller, the longtime public address announcer for the Red Sox. (I was all about the Mets back then and wore that cap everywhere.) He was nice enough to let me pose at the microphone:

5_zack_fenway_microphone

The game itself was WILD. It set a new record for the longest nine-inning game in history: four hours and six minutes, which was unheard of in the early 1990s. There was a ton of scoring, multiple lead changes, and the Red Sox ended up beating the Mariners 11-10.

Remember Mike Greenwell? Red Sox outfielder? No? Well, he went 3-for-5 with two doubles, a homer, and six RBIs. Wade Boggs, Jody Reed, Carlos Quintana, and Ellis Burks all had two hits apiece for Boston.

For the Mariners, catcher Dave Valle went 4-for-5 with a double and four RBIs. Ken Griffey Jr. only had one hit, but it was his 40th double of the season, and he knocked in a pair of runs. Jay Buhner and Alvin Davis each had two hits; Edgar Martinez, Harold Reynolds, and Tino Martinez each picked up one hit. Omar Vizquel went hitless and some tall, lanky scrub named Randy Johnson allowed seven runs in the first two innings. I wonder what became of him. He threw really hard and was supposed to be great.

My dad’s friend really hooked it up for us. Even our exit was memorable and photo-worthy:

6_zack_fenway_parking_lot

Either I *always* wore that shirt (quite possible) or my parents drove us directly to Shelter Island after the game. I say that because of this photo, taken on the ferry to the Island:

7_zack_ball_shelter_island_ferry

But then . . . where was my Mets cap? And why wasn’t it closer to dusk? And why was I only holding one ball instead of all three? Maybe that photo doesn’t belong here, but I like it.

I’m proud to say that 25 years later, I still have my ticket stub from this game, paper clipped to an index card with a few notes:

8_fenway_ticket_and_notes_09_07_91

That’s what I used to do with my tickets back in the day, at least for the games at which something special happened.

BTW, Mike Trout was one month old when this game was played. Thanks to Twitter user @BravesStats for pointing that out.

I might post more “Turn Back The Clock” entries this winter, but for now, check out the ones I’ve already done:

1) October 4, 1992 at Fulton County Stadium
2)
 June 11, 1993 at Candlestick Park
3) Game 5 of the 1993 World Series at Veterans Stadium
4)
August 24-25, 1995 at Anaheim Stadium
5)
 June 11, 1996 at Shea Stadium
6) July 1, 1998 at Three Rivers Stadium
7)
 July 2, 1998 at Cinergy Field
8) July 10, 1998 at Tiger Stadium
9) July 13, 1998 at County Stadium
10) July 14, 1998 at Busch Stadium
11) May 29, 1999 at the Kingdome
12) July 18, 1999 at the Astrodome
13) September 24-25, 1999 at the Metrodome
14) May 9-10, 2000 at Olympic Stadium
15)
 July 17-18, 2000 at Qualcomm Stadium

And hey, don’t miss the old stadium videos that I’ve recently posted on YouTube. I only have two there for now (Fulton County and Veterans), but I have four more on the way . . .

Zack Hample bobbleheads

Ten months ago, I received an email from someone at the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum who asked if I’d be interested in having a bobblehead done of myself.
Long story short: I was skeptical at first but ended up going for it, and now it actually exists! Check it out:

1_zack_hample_bobblehead_and_baseballs

How cool/ridiculous is that?!

Here are two more photos of it — front and back:

2a_bobblehead_front_on_window_seat

Five hundred of these bobbleheads were made, and I received a dozen:

3_bobblehead_and_boxes

My mom claimed one of them, and now I’m thinking about what to do with the rest. I’ll probably give some away in contests and keep a few for myself — but what about the other 488 that were made? They’re on sale at bobbleheadhall.com.

Here are more photos for you, starting with the front and back of the box:

4_bobblehead_box_front_and_back

Here’s what each side panel looks like:

5_bobblehead_box_sides

In case you’re curious about the packaging, here you go:

6_bobblehead_packaging

Want to see what the manufacturing/development process looked like? Here are some images I received of the first mold:

7_bobblehead_early_mold

Did you notice the error? Take a closer look at my glove, and you’ll see that it’s wrong-handed. (Is that actually a term?) In the mold above, that glove would fit properly on a right hand, but as you can see, it’s on the left hand. ¡¡NO BUENO!! Thankfully, though, everything at that point was still able to be tweaked.

Meanwhile check out the amazing facial detail:

8_bobblehead_mold_face_closeup

When the next round of images came my way, I was glad to see that the glove had been fixed:

9_bobblehead_mold_glove_fixed

Here’s a closeup of the corrected glove:

10_bobblehead_mold_glove_fixed_closeup

Eventually I saw what the bobblehead would look like with color:

11_bobblehead_color_added

That’s when I noticed the stubble on its face:

12_bobblehead_stubble

The stubble was good in theory — a nice, realistic detail as I’m often in need of a shave — but I didn’t love how it looked on the bobblehead. It just seemed dirty, so I asked if that could be removed.

The answer was yes. Take a look a the new smoother/sexier version:

13_bobblehead_stubble_removed

Here’s one more image for you — a screen shot during the design process, sent by the folks who were working on it:

14_bobblehead_development

Many thanks to the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. Several friends have joked, “NOW you’ve made it!” but in all seriousness, it’s truly an honor to have had this done.

This is actually not the first bobblehead that’s been made of me, but the first one was totally bizarre, and I wouldn’t have even known about it if not for my friends Ben and Jen. If you have a few minutes to spare, watch this hilarious/overly-dramatic YouTube video that they filmed a few years ago in Australia.

9/2/16 at Kauffman Stadium

As I mentioned in my last entry, I’ve been focusing more on YouTube lately. This season I got a ton of comments on my videos about how I should go back to Kauffman Stadium, and guess what?! I wasn’t filmed at this game. Sorry, everyone.

The reason I went to Kansas City is that I was hired to do a Watch With Zack game, and my client — a guy in his 40s named James — didn’t want to be filmed. What *did* he want? He told me just wanted to hang out and snag some baseballs with me and watch the game.

Here’s what it looked like on the drive to the stadium:

1_kauffman_stadium_from_the_highway

We’d picked this date weeks in advance, so it was lucky that the weather turned out to be perfect.

This was our view as we sat around and waited for the stadium to open:

2_waiting_to_enter_the_stadium

In the photo above, do you see the fan with his glove on the ground? He was in the process of “stealthily” photographing me. People never think I’ll notice, but it’s actually quite obvious.

James had taken care of our tickets, including a bonus pair for the “Early Bird BP Tour.” That got us an extra hour inside the stadium, but we were confined to the seats behind the dugout. Here’s what it looked like:

4_netting_blocking_the_dugout

Words can not describe how much I hate that netting. (Actually, wait, I’m a writer. I can describe anything, but you get the point.)

Here’s what it looked like on our left:

5_seats_blocked_by_stupid_flags

What a waste of space! Stadium security could easily move those cruddy little flags one section over or, ya know, have their ushers spread out a bit and just let fans have the entire foul line.

At one point, a left-handed batter on the Royals sliced a foul ball into those seats. I vividly remembered, on previous visits, being allowed to chase after baseballs once they landed, so I hopped the flags and went over to retrieve it:

3_zack_with_ball9261

Then I was informed by an usher that I’m not supposed to do that.

With James hanging out nearby, I was able to snag two more baseballs, both of which were tossed to other people. The first one from Cheslor Cuthbert sailed just above a girl’s head and rattled around in the seats, so I picked it up and handed it to her. The second ball was thrown by Jarrod Dyson to a grown man who dropped it. Given the fact that he dropped it because (a) he didn’t have a glove and (b) was already holding a ball in his hands that Dyson had *just* thrown to him, I kept it. Well, I offered it to James, and when he declined, then I kept it. And by the way, Dyson had chucked several balls into the seats in a matter of seconds. They weren’t intended for anyone in particular, so that’s why two of them sailed right to the same guy. He didn’t care. Everyone was cool with it.

When the entire stadium finally opened, James and I headed out to left field. Tigers BP was already underway, and it didn’t take us long to get more baseballs. James got a toss-up from John Hicks, and I snagged a pair of home run balls. I’m not sure who hit them, so all I can tell you is that I grabbed the first one off the ground and caught the second one on the fly. James didn’t mind that I was snagging most of the baseballs, but I wanted to see him get a few more on his own.

For the next group, we headed out to right-center field. Here he is in the orange shirt:

6_james_in_right_center_field

For a few more minutes, there was lots of room behind us on the Pepsi Porch:

7_pepsi_porch_09_02_16

I helped James snag a toss-up from Tyler Collins, and then we split up for a bit. He stayed in right-center . . .

8_james_in_right_field_from_afar

. . . and got Justin Verlander to throw him a ball, which he gave to a girl. I camped out in left field and didn’t get anything, which was no surprise. As you can see in the photo above, it was crowded.

Do you remember this photo from my previous trip to The K in 2015? I caught up with one of those kids . . . named J.T. And check it out — he’d brought his copies of all three of my books for me to sign:

9_zack_and_jt_with_three_books

It was nice seeing him again, and I’m glad to report that he snagged a bunch of baseballs.

After batting practice, James and I wandered around in search of something to eat. We decided to try some specialty hot dogs (his treat — very generous), so here’s what I got:

10_fancy_schmancy_hot_dogs

I can’t even remember everything that was piled on top — blue cheese, bacon, clogged arteries, onions, pulled pork, a heart attack, more bacon, etc. (In case you’re wondering, I gained five pounds in the second half of the season. I truly ate like a maniac, and now I’m undoing the damage. #NoRegrets)

This was our view for the game:

12_view_during_game_09_02_16

It was a great spot except for that STUPID NETTING. I actually suggested that we sit there, knowing that we’d have to deal with it.

Look who found me and hung out for an inning:

13_garrett_meyer_sitting_with_me

That’s my good friend Garrett Meyer.

Oh, and I wasn’t done eating. Look what else I got:

14_chocolate_strawberries_and_brownies

See what I mean? Maniac. And by the way, those are brownies in between the strawberries.

James came through in a big way after the 3rd inning, and I was really happy for him. He got a game-used ball (the ball that ended the inning) tossed by Jose Iglesias, so the numbers had evened out after all. He had snagged four baseballs at that point, and I had gotten five. Meanwhile, look how crowded it was as the 4th inning got underway:

15_very_crowded_in_foul_territory

That’s what two consecutive World Series appearances will do.

In the photo above, did you notice what it says on the jumbotron? Now look at it down below:

16_too_many_noisemaking_prompts

I was appalled by the all the “GET LOUD” instructions that kept playing/blasting. There were no fewer than *ten* in that half-inning! It was so gimmicky and intrusive, often happening between every pitch. The only other stadium where my eardrums get assaulted that frequently is Citi Field.

In the 5th inning, James and I headed out to left field. I’m always happy to be in the outfield, and he was glad to walk around and check out the view from a different angle:

17_view_from_left_field_09_02_16

While we were out there, an autograph collector named Jason found me and had me inscribe a photo of us that had been taken last year:

18_jason_with_signed_photo_of_me

He requested that I write “I caught Mike Trout’s 1st career home run.” Just wanna be clear about that. I don’t make a habit of signing things in a braggy way.

James and I stayed in the outfield for the rest of the game and talked baseball and hung out with various people who came over to say hello to me. I was concerned that he’d get annoyed by all the distractions (I wanted to focus on him), but he was delighted to see me do my thing. He had such a pleasant, laid-back demeanor. You know how some people make you feel that no matter what you do, it’s not good enough? James was the opposite, and I really enjoyed being in *his* world for a day.

Check out this panorama I took late in the game from deeeeeeeep right field:

19_panorama_behind_fountain

Did you know that the upper fountains at Kauffman Stadium are THAT wide? Now you do.

Here’s the scoreboard with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning:

20_scoreboard_in_9th_inning_09_02_16

Crazy game. Lots of scoring. Two lead changes right at the end. Good stuff.

Earlier in the evening, James and I noticed that the players all had yellow/ribbons on their uniforms. That was done for childhood cancer awareness. The umpires were also wearing stuff to support the cause, and Garrett, that lucky son of a bee, got a wristband from one of them:

21_garrett_with_yellow_wristband_from_the_umpire

After the game, James spotted a ball here in the bullpen:

22_ball9266_location

(I took that photo a few minutes after the fact, so the ball was no longer there.)

He didn’t feel the need to snag it, so he let me call out to the groundskeepers and make the play.

Final score: Tigers 7, Zack 6, Royals 6, James 4. Hooray for crooked numbers!

Here’s one more photo of the fountains before we headed out:

23_fountains_after_game

Here’s something that caught my eye as we approached the exit:

24_spilled_water_in_the_shape_of_a_weird_animal_footprint

That looks like some freaky animal footprint, no?

Here’s the stadium as seen from the parking lot:

25_kauffman_stadium_from_parking_lot_after_game

I gave away two of my baseballs over the course of the day. (I would’ve given them all to James, but he was content with the ones he’d snagged, and by the way, he gave away two of his own.)

Here are the four balls I kept (logos on the left; sweet spots on the right):

27_the_four_balls_i_kept_09_02_16

The Tigers have marked their baseballs for years. They used to draw a streak over the logo, but now they mark the sweet spot instead. (If you want to see my entire collection of marked balls, click here.)

Early the next morning, I was awakened by some serious . . . shaking. The entire building felt like it was rocking back and forth. My first thought was that the upstairs neighbors were being rude and should control their kids, but then it occurred to me that I was on the top floor. Was their some major construction outside? It was very strange and ended within a minute, so I went back to sleep. Turns out it was an earthquake that could be felt all the way from Oklahoma!! That’s the first one I’ve ever experienced.

Several hours later, I saw this in an airport vending machine:

26_deez_nuts

Way to keep it classy, Kay-Cee! (I kid, I kid. Classiness is overrated.)

Overall I had a great time. MANY thanks to James for bringing me out and also for sending this incredibly kind email three days later:

28_email_from_james

James and I are still in touch, and he’s considering being in a video next year. Who else wants that to happen? Leave a comment and let him know.

Oh, and finally, click here to see my Watch With Zack stats — kinda cool to see how the numbers have stacked up over the years.

The future of my blog . . .

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on here, and I want to say that it’s YouTube’s fault. Sort of. I started my YouTube channel in 2008, but never took it seriously until this season. Now it’s consuming me, just like this blog did when I started THAT in 2005.

This season I’ve attended 111 Major League Baseball games and blogged about 33 of them. Many of those entries have covered games at which I was filmed for YouTube, and most of the images I posted were screen shots from the videos. See where I’m going with this? Back in 2005, the blog was my only outlet for chronicling my baseball adventures. Now it suddenly feels redundant, and I’m not nearly as motivated to work on it.

It’s also a numbers game. At this point, when I post a new entry, it gets a few hundred clicks on the first day. My videos, meanwhile, are consistently getting 20,000 to 50,000 views on the first day — and I don’t get paid for blogging.

Given how long it takes to produce a blog entry (sometimes more than five hours just to select/edit/label/upload all the images), it doesn’t make sense to keep blogging with the same intensity as before. I could spend this entire offseason catching up on the blog, but there are so many other things I’d rather do with my free time. I need to overhaul my horrendously ugly website. I want to learn how to edit video. I’ve been told that I should have a public page on Facebook and that I should get on Snapchat, so those are things that deserve my attention. I want to get back to exercising regularly and doing my weird music thing (maybe I’ll blog about THAT) and spend more time with my friends and family — not sit alone in my apartment and grab screen shots from a three-month-old video so that I can piece together a blog entry.

I do still plan to blog about some games, but chances are they won’t be games that I was filmed at. The point is, don’t give up on this blog because I’m not giving up on it. I just won’t be blogging as often, and my focus will shift a bit.

Let me leave you with two links for now. First, here’s a collection of hundreds of blog entries from all 52 of the MLB stadiums that I’ve visited. There’s gotta be stuff here that you’ve never seen, so while you’re waiting for me to post my next entry, check out some old ones. Second, here’s my YouTube channel. I’m guessing you’re already familiar with my videos, but now there’s no excuse. Watch them. They’re good. And I promise I’ll blog again soon(ish).

8/18/16 at Camden Yards

Let me start by pointing out the lump just below the neck of my shirt:

1_zack_opening_shot_for_video_08_18_16

This day was special because I was being filmed for my YouTube channel, and for the first time ever, it was done with microphone that I wore. There was a wire running up my shirt, and the mic itself was taped inside my shirt. That’s the lump.

As soon as I rushed inside the stadium, I headed down to the front row in left field. Just before I got there, some other guy picked up a ball in the front row, but as it turned out, he was an employee, so he tossed it to me, and yes, that counts. A few minutes later, I drifted to my right, jumped, and caught a J.J. Hardy homer near another fan. You can see how this played out in the video, but basically, it was someone I knew, so he congratulated me before I tossed the ball to the nearest kid.

Here’s what it looked like in left field:

2_zack_in_left_field_08_18_16

When the Astros started hitting, I switched caps . . .

3_zack_heading_to_right_field

. . . and headed to the Flag Court in right field. Soon after I got there, someone (maybe Colby Rasmus) launched a deep fly ball to my left. Here’s a screen shot of me running for it:

4_zack_running_for_ball9192

As you can see, I ran toward the back gate and out onto Eutaw Street. (That’s the open-air concourse beside the warehouse.) Once I reached the spot where I predicted the ball would land, I looked up and lost it briefly in the sun. By the time I spotted it, I realized it was falling a bit short so I lunged forward and tried to make a shoe-string catch. (My camera man didn’t make it out onto Eutaw Street quick enough to get a shot of this, so that’s why I’m describing it in great detail.) The ball tipped off the end of my glove and thankfully didn’t bounce too far away, though it hardly mattered because there wasn’t anyone else nearby going for it. When I picked up the ball, I was happy to discover that it had the Blue Jays’ “40th Season” commemorative logo on it. (The Astros had recently played in Toronto and gotten a bunch of those balls.) I’d already snagged a few over the course of the season, but hey, why not have another?

When right-handed batters took their cuts, I moved down into the seats in right-center field. That paid off as I got my hands on two more home run balls. Here I am catching the first one on the fly . . .

5_zack_catching_ball9193

. . . and here I am retrieving the second — another Blue Jays ball — in the seats:

6_zack_snagging_ball9194

That brought my total number of balls to five.

Back on the Flag Court, I caught two more home runs back to back. Here’s the second one streaking down toward me:

7_ball9196_in_mid_air

Here I am with those two baseballs:

8_zack_with_two_bp_home_run_balls

Here I am simultaneously flinching and catching my eighth ball of the day:

9_zack_flinching_and_catching_ball9197

Did you notice the guys at the table covering their heads? It’s kinda scary out there, even if you ARE paying attention — lots of bodies, hands, ricochets, deflections. That whole area seems like an injury waiting to happen, but it IS fun.

Over the course of the day, I gave away five baseballs. Here are screen shots of three of three of them:

10_zack_giving_ball9197_to_a_kid

That was it for BP.
Eight balls.
Solid.

Here I am showing my two Blue Jays balls:

11_zack_with_two_blue_jays_balls

Commemorative balls are keepers. Sorry not sorry!

In the video, you can see how sweaty I was. (At one point, I sweated off the microphone, and it had to be clipped to my shirt for the rest of the day.) Here’s a photo to provide further evidence:

12_sweaty_zack_with_caitlin

That’s Caitlin. She’s special.

I chugged two 20-ounce bottles of water and didn’t need to use the bathroom — that’s how dehydrated I’d gotten from running around for 75 minutes. My body absorbed all that liquid like it was nothing.

Shortly before game time, two Astros signed autographs along the foul line. First I missed out on Carlos Correa, and then I failed to get George Springer, pictured below:

13_zack_not_getting_george_springers_autograph

Oh well. It was cool just to be near them for a few moments.

Then I headed out to deep left-center field and said a quick hello to the Astros’ friendly bullpen catchers — Javier Bracamonte and Carlos Munoz. Here’s the latter waving at me:

14_carlos_munoz_waving

Then I turned my attention to (hopefully) catching a home run. Here I am on the Flag Court in the 1st inning:

15_zack_on_the_flag_court

For the first half of the game, I never left that spot, not even for right-handed batters. In the past, I would’ve wandered toward the 1st base side and attempted to snag a foul ball, but not this time. Why? Because three of the top ballhawks at Camden Yards — Alex Kopp, Grant Edrington, and Tim Anderson — all happened to be unable to attend this game. They normally hang out on the Flag Court during games, so I was determined to take advantage of their absence. That said, I did take a quick break at one point to grab a hot dog with a whole lot of delicious stuff on it, including chili, cheese sauce, and bacon:

16_bacon_cheese_hot_dog

(I might have to go vegan for the entire off-season.)

In the top of the 6th inning, hot dog still in hand, I headed back to left-center:

17_zack_heading_toward_the_astros_bullpen

Alex Bregman had hit a home run ball that ended up in the Astros’ bullpen. I was hoping to get it tossed up by one of the bullpen catchers. Here I am asking Bracamonte for it when he returned from playing catch with the outfielder between innings:

18_zack_asking_javier_bracamonte_for_the_alex_bregman_home_run_ball

“They want it,” he said, meaning I couldn’t have it.

Then I was recognized by a bunch of young fans who all wanted my autograph:

19_zack_signing_a_t_shirt

Here I am signing a glove . . .

20_zack_signing_a_glove

. . . and check this out — one kid asked me to sigh his cap near Cal Ripken Jr.’s autograph:

21_zack_hample_autograph_beside_cal_ripken_jr

While this was taking place, J.J. Hardy homered, and three batters later, Manny Machado followed with a blast of his own. The whole time, I was getting more and more antsy about not being on the Flag Court, but kids kept asking me to sign stuff and take selfies, and it was hard to break free. Realizing that Chris Davis was due to bat next, I finally insisted that I had to go, and AS I WAS HEADING BACK TO THE FLAG COURT, Davis hit a home run that landed right near the spot where I’d been standing all night. He hit it on the second pitch of the at-bat. Look how close I was (and look at my dismayed reaction — hands on head):

22_zack_horrified_after_missing_a_chris_davis_home_run

If I had walked away from the bullpen 15 seconds sooner, or if Davis had waited until the third pitch of the at-bat, rather than the second, to unleash that blast, I would’ve caught it. Here’s my buddy Doug Hakey explaining where it landed and how it ricocheted up against the warehouse:

23_doug_hakey_describing_where_the_ball_landed_and_bounced

It was a line drive that touched down roughly 20 feet behind the spot where I’d been standing all night, meaning I only would’ve had to back up about 10 feet in order to reach and/or jump and catch it.

I felt like absolute crap. You can see it below on my face. I wasn’t acting. It was like I’d gotten kicked in the gut:

24_zack_shocked_and_upset

In the video, I went off on a rant about how pissed I was. I thought about editing it out and pretending like it was no big deal, but that’s stupid. It might not be a big deal to 99.9999999999 percent of the people on this planet, but it was a big deal to me (in part because of this), and I decided to share the true emotional aspect of the moment.

Adding to my frustration, a crowd formed as an Orioles employee marked the spot on the pavement where the ball had landed:

25_marking_the_pavement_for_chris_davis_home_run_landing_spot

Here’s what it looked like:

26_marked_pavement_for_chris_davis_homer

I felt absolutely deflated, but what was I supposed to do? Go cry in the bathroom? Leave the game three innings early and drive back home to New York? Hell no! I’ve found that the best remedy for ballhawking heartbreak is to get back out there and keep doing it. So that’s what I did. And amazingly, I got another chance. With no outs in the top of the 7th inning, Astros rookie 1st baseman A.J. Reed crushed a home run in my direction, and best of all, my camera man managed to capture the tail end of it. Here’s a screen shot of the ball in mid-air:

27_ball_in_mid_air_aj_reed_home_run

As I drifted back and tracked the ball . . .

28_zack_tracking_aj_reed_homer

. . . I didn’t merely hope or think that I was going to catch it. I *knew* I was going to catch it — and voila! Here’s the ball streaking into my glove:

29_zack_catching_ball9198

This was my reaction:

30_zack_after_catching_ball9198 copy

That’s Doug on the left, graciously congratulating me with a high-five. (No, I didn’t leave him hanging.)

I didn’t celebrate or go crazy, but let me tell you, it felt gooooooood.

Here’s a closer look at the ball — my eighth game home run ball of the season:

31_ball9198_aj_reed_home_run

Whenever I catch a homer, I think it’s fun to get a photo of the jumbotron, listing the homer when that player comes back up to bat . . . like this:

32_aj_reed_home_run_on_jumbotron

The Orioles won 13-5 and slugged six home runs.

33_orioles_players_on_field_after_game

The Astros also went yard twice, so it was great night to be in the outfield. Here I am doing the closing shot for the video before driving back to New York:

34_zack_closing_shot_on_flag_court

Normally I post my blog entries before the videos, but this time I did things backwards, so in case you still haven’t seen the video, click here.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

35_the_four_balls_i_kept_08_18_16 9 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave five away)

 565 balls in 75 games this season = 7.53 balls per game.

 1,241 consecutive games with at least one ball

 46 lifetime game home run balls (not counting toss-ups)

 9,198 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 16 donors for my fundraiser

• $135.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $1,086,16 raised this season

• $191,589.82 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/17/16 at Citizens Bank Park

Lots of people on YouTube have asked me for a “cameraman face reveal,” so here you go — sort of:

1_caitlin_and_jeff_walking_to_stadium

The guy in the photo above is not my main videographer. The main dude, Brandon, lives in San Diego and wasn’t available to join me here in Philadelphia, so I brought my friend Jeff instead. (He’s the one who filmed me last month at the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game in San Diego.)

The other person in that photo is my girlfriend, Caitlin. I was hoping to include her in the video, but she didn’t feel like being on camera, so unfortunately that’s all you’ll get to see of her. We didn’t even sit together during the game. As planned, she ended up meeting a couple of friends (shout-out to Danielle from L.A.) and hanging with them while I did my video stuff.

By the time the stadium opened at 5:05pm, there was a loooooong line of fans waiting to enter:

2_line_wrapping_around_the_stadium

Why such a long line? Because this was the only open gate until 5:35pm, and only two of the many metal detectors were being used. (Dear Phillies: what’s up with that?) It was also crowded because the Dodgers were in town. And because it was summer. And the weather was perfect. Oh, and because Chase Utley was back for a few days. And because baseball is awesome.

Within the first few minutes of BP, I chased down a home run ball that landed in left-center field. Jeff got a shot of me retrieving it in the seats, so you’ll see that in the video. A minute or two after that, I climbed up onto a seat to catch another home run. Here’s a screen shot:

3_zack_catching_ball9185

As it turned out, the climbing was unnecessary, but at the time, I anticipated one or more fans converging on that spot. Therefore, as soon as the ball was hit, I decided to elevate (if possible), so even though I had plenty of space as the ball descended, I just went with it.

Look how crowded it got in left field:

4_left_field_crowded_07_17_16

I only got to see one group of Phillies BP (because they started hitting half an hour before the stadium opened). Then the Dodgers only had two groups (most teams have three), and to make matters worse, while their mostly-left-handed first group hit bombs to right field, everyone was still trapped in left. That’s just how things work at Citizens Bank Park. On weekdays, the left field gate opens two hours early, and the rest of the stadium opens 30 minutes after that. As a result of all of this, I finished BP with just two baseballs — way below average. That was a huge bummer. I always want to put on a good show in my videos, and with this one in particular, I had extra motivation because SeatGeek was sponsoring this video. Basically they had hooked me up with a pair of Diamond Club tickets behind home plate in exchange for my doing a little promo for them.

After BP, I gave a tour of the Diamond Club for the video. Then, shortly before game time, I headed out to the concourse in deep right-center to try to get a ball from the Dodgers’ bullpen. That failed. Here’s a screen shot of starting pitcher Scott Kazmir dropping the ball back in the bag:

5_scott_kazmir_dissing_everyone

Even though 9 out of 10 pitchers toss their pre-game warm-up balls into the crowd (or hand them to coaches who tosses ’em up), I can’t be annoyed at Kazmir. He’s thrown me three baseballs over the years, most recently on 6/13/16 at Chase Field, so I guess he was just super-focused here in Philly.

I’ve shown the Diamond Club in previous blog entries, and you’ll get a good look at the layout in my video, so for now, I’ll just show you the view that I had for left-handed batters:

6_view_behind_home_plate_08_17_16

That’s not an ideal spot/angle for foul balls, but it’s pretty damn good, and wouldn’t you know it — Jeff was filming me when I got my first chance at one in the bottom of the 1st inning. Kazmir was pitching, and Tommy Joseph was at bat. The ball sailed 10 feet over my head, struck a railing, and deflected down toward me. Here I am awkwardly attempting to catch it:

7_ball9188_ricocheting_at_me

The good news is that it didn’t hit me in the face. The bad news is that I completely missed it, and as it bounced past me, I had to deal with several obstacles:

8_zack_chasing_ball9186

When you watch the video (which I will link to at the end of this entry), pay close to attention to how I expertly avoided bumping into the woman in the light blue shirt. (She worked there, so she was simply trying not to get hit by the ball.) This is a prime example of how I *don’t* knock people over, even when it’s crowded and they get right in my way and I really want the ball.

The ball bounced off the back of the seats. The guys sitting there attempted to snag it, but they missed it, and I was right there to scoop it up:

9_zack_about_to_scoop_up_ball9186

That felt great. Even though it was a low-numbers day, I got a gamer in the section where SeatGeek had hooked it up for me.

Take a look at the ball — there were some patchy pine tar stains on the logo:

10_ball9188_tommy_joseph_foul_ball_with_pine_tar_stains

Here’s a panorama photo that I took behind the plate:

11_panorama_behind_home_plate_07_17_16

Did you notice the girl standing on the left wearing the white jersey? Several innings later, she caught a foul ball that deflected down from high above, outreaching a grown man in the process:

12_fans_reaching_for_a_foul_ball_07_17_16

It was a sweet grab, and I congratulated her on it. She told me that she plays softball and that it was no big deal. Her name is Lexi, and she actually recognized me from YouTube.

Ready to see what I ate? The food in the Diamond Club is not free, but it’s good!

13_my_dinner_08_17_16

That’s a bacon cheeseburger with grilled onions, potato chips, potato salad, and pasta salad. For dessert, I had vanilla and chocolate ice cream with chocolate sprinkles and caramel sauce:

14_ice_cream_with_caramel_sauce_and_sprinkles

Fast-forward to the bottom of the 8th inning. The Dodgers were winning, 7-2, but more importantly for my game-within-the-game purposes, I got another chance to snag a foul ball. Jesse Chavez pitched it. Carlos Ruiz hit it. Here’s how it went down . . .

Once again, this ball sailed over my head and ricocheted down from above. Can you spot the ball in the following screen shot?

16_zack_snagging_ball9187

In case you missed it, look just below the top/flat portion of the railing. There’s a guy in a black t-shirt who barely reacted when the ball headed toward him. It bounced gently off his hand, plopped onto his back, and ended up behind him on his seat. Neither of us knew exactly where it was at that moment:

17_zack_snagging_ball9187

He might have felt it and assumed it was on his chair. I couldn’t see it anywhere else, so I figured it had to be there and ran over:

18_zack_snagging_ball9187

We both spotted it simultaneously and reached for it as it was rolling toward the edge:

19_zack_snagging_ball9187

The ball dropped to the ground, and we both bent down for it:

20_zack_snagging_ball9187

I was a teeny bit quicker, and as he reached for it, I was able to grab it:

21_zack_snagging_ball9187

Somehow this guy found me later on Twitter and accused me of “stealing” the ball from him. Maybe he got pissed when I celebrated?

22_zack_excited_to_get_the_ball

Seriously, though, he didn’t seem the least bit bothered at the time, and anyway, there’s no rule that grants ownership just because a ball happens to land on your seat. Fans regularly scramble for baseballs, sometimes to the point of engaging in aggressive Tug Of War matches. I never get involved with crap like that, and as you can see, there’s video evidence to prove that I didn’t “steal” this one. (I should travel with a videographer all the time, huh? It would certainly help disprove false accusations.)

Here are the two foul balls that I snagged — my 18th lifetime game at which I’d gotten two or more:

23_two_foul_balls_during_game_07_17_16

Soon after that, I spotted a pair of little kids with gloves sitting nearby, so I gave them my batting practice balls. Here I am handing one over:

24_zack_giving_balls_away_07_17_16

With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, I moved here:

25_view_from_3rd_base_dugout_07_17_16

When the game ended, I got my fifth ball of the day from home plate umpire Chris Conroy. Here he is flinging it to me:

26_chris_conroy_tossing_ball9188

One minute later, Josh Fields, who had pitched the 9th inning, tossed me the game-ending ball — an Aaron Altherr strikeout. Fields is wearing No. 46 in the following screen shot:

27_zack_catching_ball9189

See the kid catching a baseball below?

28_kid_catching_toss_up_from_zack_hample

That ball was thrown by . . . me! It was the ball I’d just gotten from the umpire.

What started as a lame day with only two baseballs in the first few minutes of BP turned out to be a really fun night. Many thanks once again to SeatGeek. (If you use this link to sign up and use the promo code ZACK, you’ll get $20 back on your first order.) Now check out my video to see the full promo I did for them along with various shots inside the Diamond Club and footage of all six baseballs I snagged. Thanks for reading/watching!

BALLHAWKING STATS:

29_the_three_balls_i_kept_08_17_16 6 baseballs at this game (three pictured here because I gave three away)

 556 balls in 74 games this season = 7.51 balls per game.

 1,240 consecutive games with at least one ball

 171 lifetime foul balls during games (not counting toss-ups)

 18 lifetime games with two or more foul balls during the game (not counting toss-ups)

 9,189 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 15 donors for my fundraiser

• $133.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $936.39 raised this season

• $191,440.05 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/5/16 at Yankee Stadium

Let me start with three panorama photos. First, here’s what it looked like on the 3rd base side before the Indians started taking batting practice:

1_panorama_from_3rd_base_dugout

This was my view from the 2nd deck in right field during BP:

2_panorama_from_2nd_deck

Here’s what BP looked like from the 100 Level seats:

3_panorama_from_right_field

Pretty cool, huh?

Anyway, my first ball of the day was a homer by a left-handed batter on the Yankees. Not sure who. My second ball was a homer by Starlin Castro that I caught on the fly, and my third was thrown by Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer after we briefly played catch. That was it! Tough day. It was crowded, and there just weren’t many opportunities.

I did, however, get to see R2-D2 rolling past on the warning track before the game:

4_star_wars_night_r2d2

There were also a bunch of Stormtroopers lined up on the 3rd base side:

5_star_wars_night_stormtroopers

Yup, it was Star Wars Night at Yankee Stadium. I had received an R2-D2 hat on the way in, and I decided to give it away in a Twitter contest along with one of my BP balls:

6_ball_and_hat_giveaway_for_twitter

Fast-forward to the bottom of the 3rd inning. Josh Tomlin was pitching, Starlin Castro was hitting, the bases were loaded, and BAM!!! Watch this video and then take a look at these screen shots.

7_starlin_castro_connecting

Castro sent a deep fly ball heading toward me out in right field. I knew right away that it was going to be a home run. I just wasn’t sure if it would have enough distance to reach my spot several rows back.

As it turned out, the ball did reach me . . . sort of. If the row in front of me had been empty, I would’ve been able to make an easy chest-high catch, but as you can see in the screen shot below, it was fairly crowded:

8_grand_slam_in_the_air_above_me

The fans in front of me reached up for the ball, and as I reached for it too, someone deflected it while simultaneously bumping my glove. Somehow this caused the ball to be bobbled straight up into the air above me. Here’s a blurry closeup from the previous screen shot — note the ball circled in red:

9_grand_slam_in_the_air_above_me_closeup

That’s me in the red shirt with the white circle on my chest — more on that shirt in a bit, but for now, look what happened next:

10_securing_the_ball

I know it’s hard to tell what was happening, so here’s another blurry closeup:

11_securing_the_ball_closeup

As you can see, the other red-shirted fan tried to snatch the ball away from me, but I don’t blame him. He only went for the ball until he realized that I had secured possession of it, at which point I twisted away from him and he backed off. (This all happened very fast.) Also, I should mention that I did briefly juggle the ball at first, in part because I was holding a mini-bag of Cracker Jacks in my right hand. Duh!

It should be clear to anyone with half a brain that this was a clean play all around, especially on my part. Therefore it *really* pissed me off to see negative garbage like this.

Anyway, here’s Starlin Castro being greeted at home plate by his teammates:

12_starlin_castro_about_to_step_on_home_plate

Remember that red shit I was wearing? I proudly “popped” it for the cameras:

13_zack_shirt_pop

Here’s a better look at it:

14_zack_with_starlin_castro_grand_slam

BARSTOOL SPORTS, BABY!!! They’ve been great to me over the past two seasons, so this was my way of paying them back. I had recently bought that shirt and decided to wear it semi-regularly until I caught a home run.

Here’s a closer look at the ball:

15_ball9166_starlin_castro_grand_slam

Here’s Castro on the jumbotron later in the game:

16_starlin_castro_grand_slam_on_jumbotron

This was his first career grand slam, so I figured he might want the ball back . . . but nope! No one from the Yankees approached me about it, and I’m glad. This was the third lifetime grand slam that I had snagged, and I still had the other two baseballs at home, so my “granny collection,” if you will, would remain complete.

Here are two of my newer friends photographing/admiring the ball:

17_martin_and_chris_admiring_the_ball

In the photo above, that’s Chris holding it. The young man with his mouth agape is named Martin.

After the game (which the Yankees won, 13-7), several other fans took photos of/with the ball, including the guy who had nearly snagged it himself:

18_fan_posing_with_grand_slam_ball

Here are my three gland slam baseballs, by the way:

three_grand_slams_cano_beltran_castro

The ball on the left was hit by Robinson Cano on 9/28/09 at Yankee Stadium. The ball in the middle was hit by Carlos Beltran on 8/8/14 at Yankee Stadium. Someday I will catch a grand slam somewhere else. Mark my words.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 4 baseballs at this game

 533 balls in 69 games this season = 7.72 balls per game.

 1,235 consecutive games with at least one ball

 45 lifetime game home runs; click here for the complete list

 9,166 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 15 donors for my fundraiser

• $133.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $936.39 raised this season

• $191,440.05 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/30/16 at Citi Field

It was a soggy but festive day in Queens:

1_zack_and_fans_outside_07_30_16

In the image above, that’s my friend Ben Weil holding the Mike Piazza cutout. (Shout-out to Andrew in the black shirt and Ryan peeking over the back of my neck.) This was the day that Piazza, recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, was going to have his uniform number retired by the Mets during a big pre-game ceremony. That’s the only reason I was here. I normally avoid Citi Field when it rains, but I wanted to pay my respects to one of the greatest catchers in MLB history, and I also hoped to snag a game-used commemorative baseball.

First, though, my challenge was simply to get *a* baseball and keep my streak alive. I knew it would be tough when I ran inside and saw the tarp on the field:

2_tarp_on_the_field_07_30_16

Rockies pitcher Jon Gray was throwing an early bullpen session, so I headed over to right-center. I would’ve gotten a ball there if not for my “friend” Greg Barasch who flat-out robbed me, but whatever, I’m over it (or at least I want him to think I am).

A little while later, Greg pointed out a ball sitting in a weird place. Can you spot it in the following photo?

3_ball_on_pipe

There was no chance to snag it, but it was fun to think about. I wonder how long it had been there.

Meanwhile it had started to rain again, and these guys didn’t seem to care:

4_fans_sitting_in_the_rain

That’s dedication. (Dedication? Is that the word? Sure, let’s go with that.)

Roughly 90 minutes before game time, I had a chance to snag a ball when several Rockies came out and played catch in shallow left field. I was dressed for success . . .

5_zack_left_field_side_rockies_gear

. . . but that didn’t help. No luck. No action. Nada. Zilch.

As it turned out, there were NO other opportunities to get a baseball before the ceremony. I tried my best to enjoy all the hoopla despite being stressed and paranoid. (FYI, it had been 23 years since I’d gotten shut out at a major league game.)

Here’s Piazza on the jumbotron:

6_mike_piazza_on_the_jumbotron

Here he is standing at (or near) home plate:

7_mike_piazza_on_the_field

Here’s his uniform number (31) being unveiled:

8_piazza_number_31_unveiled

Sorry for the poor quality of that image, but it’s a zoomed-in screen shot from my iPhone. In other words, I did a little filming, and yes, there’s a selfie-style video on my YouTube channel! Keep reading and you’ll find a link near the bottom.

After the ceremony (which really was amazing), I photographed Ben with his wife Jen, holding up their Piazza signs:

9_jen_and_ben_with_piazza_signs

Ben loves Piazza so much (and Jen is so chill and loves Ben so much) that at their wedding two years ago, all the groomsmen wore Piazza jerseys. Ben also has a new “31” tattoo, which you can see on his right shoulder in this photo. THAT is dedication.

Despite the bleak forecast, the rain held off enough for the grounds crew to take the tarp off the field. The game was delayed 38 minutes, but no one cared. Everyone was just thrilled that it was going to played at all. I was also glad to have one final opportunity before the game to get a toss-up in the right field corner. Here’s what it looked like out there:

10_pregame_throwing_in_right_field

It was an odd time for several pairs of Mets pitchers to be playing catch. Somehow I got Logan Verrett to throw me his ball when he finished. He nearly airmailed me, though, so I had to jump as high as possible in order to catch it. Then I handed it to the nearest/littlest kid.

It was 7:18pm.
Translation: Phew!

On the way to my seat, I saw some fans posing for photos with a life-size Mike Piazza cardboard cutout:

11_fans_posing_with_mike_piazza_cardboard_cutout

Speaking of my seat, check out the view:

12_view_from_3rd_base_dugout_07_30_16

I’m pretty sure this was the most expensive regular-season ticket I’ve ever bought. Don’t ask me how much it cost. I’m kind of ashamed, but it was nice to sit so close to the field for a change.

Look who was with me:

13_jen_and_zack_dugout

That’s Jen.

Ben, of course, was DYING to get a Piazza ball, but he didn’t care how he got it. He didn’t need to snag it himself. He just wanted to end up with one, so I told him that if I got two, he could have one. Therefore he decided to sit on his own near the Rockies’ on-deck circle (ballboys often toss balls there) and have Jen sit with me and try to help. It’s amazing how much attention a young, attractive woman will receive from the players. Seriously. It’s actually kind of scary, but in this case (because she’s so chill and loves Benny so much), she was willing to be used. How sweet.

Things didn’t go as planned. In the first three innings, DJ LeMahieu ended up with two of the 3rd-out balls and seemed to taunt me as he threw them to other fans, and Greg, that lucky son-of-a-bee, managed to get a Piazza ball from Mark Reynolds.

In the 4th inning, rookie phenom Trevor Story hurt himself diving for a ball. It looked awkward, and I felt bad to see him leave the game:

14_trevor_story_injured

At the time, I had no idea that it would turn out to be a season-ending injury — a huge loss for the Rockies, their fans, and all of Major League Baseball. Hopefully he’ll come back strong next year.

The 4th inning ended with a strikeout, which got tossed right over my head. I had no luck in the 5th inning either and was really starting to worry that I wouldn’t get one of the special balls. There was, however, one thing that gave me hope. Early in the game, I noticed that Rockies 1st base coach Eric Young was inspecting the infield warm-up ball each inning. He threw most of these balls into the crowd, but before he did, he let people know whether or not there was a special logo. Most of these balls were regular, so I didn’t ask for one. I figured I’d save my request in case he actually indicated that he had what I was hoping for. During the 6th inning, when he walked past me down below in the dugout, I called out and said, “E.Y., I’m dying to get one of those special balls.” I didn’t think he had one at that moment; I just wanted him to be on the lookout for me, so you can imagine how stunned I was when he pulled a ball out of his back pocket and flipped it up onto the dugout roof. Was it commemorative? Take a look for yourself:

15_mike_piazza_commemorative_ball

That.
Felt.
Incredible.

Obviously I don’t love Mike Piazza as much as Ben does (I don’t think Mrs. Piazza even loves him like that), but I’ve been a huge fan since meeting him at Bucky Dent’s Baseball School in the early 1990s. I was also excited to snag this ball because it would complement the one I’d gotten on 9/29/13 at Citi Field when the Mets inducted Piazza into their own Hall of Fame. Check it out:

15b_mike_piazza_commemorative_balls

By the 7th inning, there were lots of empty seats, as you can see in the background of this photo:

16_zack_borrowing_hair_from_jen_buffa

It had been raining the whole night, and the Mets were losing, and of course all the Mike Piazza stuff was done. Many people had actually left right after the pre-game ceremony.

Ben’s enthusiasm never wavered, and at one point, Jen and I spotted him on the jumbotron:

17_ben_on_jumbotron

She reacted by excitedly yelling, “THAT’S MY HUSBAND!!! THAT’S MY HUSBAND!!!” That probably confused everyone sitting around us. Heh.

Here’s a panorama from my seat behind the dugout:

18_panorama_behind_3rd_base_dugout

Toward the end of the game, DJ LeMahieu looked up at me from the dugout and said, “How many baseballs today?”

I was like, “Wait, what? You know who I am?”

“Yeah, how many?” he asked without even a hint of a smile.

Some players who recognize me think my collection is cool, and they’re glad to add to it. Other guys just seem put off by the whole thing. That was the vibe I got from LeMahieu, which would explain why he’d taunted me earlier. Guess I won’t be rooting for him anymore.

After the game, which the Rockies won by the score of 7-2, I filmed a closing scene by the dugout:

19_zack_closing_scene_07_30_16

I had failed to get an extra Piazza ball for Ben, but that didn’t end up mattering because Greg came through!

20_greg_and_balls

Check out Ben’s reaction after receiving one of these baseballs from Greg:

21_ben_weil_loving_his_mike_piazza_ball_that_he_got_from_greg

He wasn’t acting or posing. He was truly overjoyed, and I was glad to share this special night with him.

Here’s the last photo I took before heading home:

22_citi_field_from_afar_at_night

That feels super-lonely, no? Anyway, thanks for reading, and if you still want more, here’s the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 2 baseballs at this game

 517 balls in 66 games this season = 7.83 balls per game.

1,315 balls in 180 lifetime games at PETCO Park = 7.31 balls per game.

1,232 consecutive games with at least one ball

 86 different commemorative balls

 9,150 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 14 donors for my fundraiser

• $133.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $668.85 raised this season

• $191,172.51 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/21/16 at FirstEnergy Park

Let me start by saying this:

0_most_interesting_man_likes_alex_katz10

Who’s Alex Katz? He’s a guy I met several years ago at Citi Field. We were both trying to catch baseballs in the left field seats, and after crossing paths at several other games, we became friendly. It turns out that he’s an amazing baseball player — a left-handed pitcher, to be specific, who was drafted last year out of St. John’s by the Chicago White Sox. Three months and two rookie ball teams later, he wrapped up his first pro season with a 2.20 ERA and solid numbers across the board. He began this season with a Class A team called the Kannapolis Intimidators, which, in case you don’t know or are too lazy to look it up, is based in North Carolina. That’s quite a distance from my home in New York City, so when Alex told me that he’d be playing in Lakewood, New Jersey for a few days, I made a point of going to see him.

The drive took about an hour and a half:

1_driving_to_lakewood_nj

Parking was cheap . . .

2_cheap_parking

. . . and the stadium was teeny:

3_firstenergy_park_ticket_windows

It had been several years since I’d attended a minor league game, and I’d forgotten just how laid-back and fun the atmosphere is. Before the stadium officially opened, I asked one of the ticket people if there was a bathroom I could use. Two minutes later, I was standing inside the team’s front office/reception area:

4_inside_the_blueclaws_front_office

It was, indeed, THAT easy. No attitude. Just friendly people who genuinely wanted me to have a good time.

I should mention that I’d driven down from New York with a videographer — not Brandon (who normally films me) or Jeff (who had joined me in San Diego for the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game), but a new guy named Josh. Here he is setting up his camera:

5_josh_setting_up_the_camera

We moved closer to the stadium for the opening shot. Then I picked up our comp (and rather large) tickets, courtesy of Alex:

6_comp_ticket_and_alex_katz_parents

In the photo above, those are Alex’s parents, Adrian and Gary. I can’t even begin to imagine how proud they must be of their son.

FirstEnergy Park doesn’t open to the general public until one hour before game time, but because I was hanging with a player’s family, I received VIP treatment and got inside an extra half-hour early. This was the result:

7_ball_tossed_by_alex_katz

That ball was thrown to me by The Man himself — Alex Katz. Here he is waving to me:

8_alex_katz_waving_from_left_field

I had lots of room to run on a grassy berm. This was my view to the left . . .

8_berm_on_my_left_07_21_16

. . . and to the right:

10_berm_on_my_right_07_21_16

Unfortunately, though, no one could hit worth a damn, and BP ended five minutes later, so the ball from Alex was the only one I got. (I don’t count minor league games/balls in my stats, so whatever.)

After BP, I wandered over to the 3rd base dugout and caught up with these guys:

11_friendly_fans_07_21_16

The man on the left is named Scott, and he was super-friendly. He had recognized me outside the stadium and actually given me a brand-new South Atlantic League ball, just to be nice and make me feel welcome. He and I ran into each other throughout the day, and I truly appreciated his kindness.

While the BlueClaws took infield/outfield practice, I got some waves and hellos from a bunch of kids on the warning track:

12_kids_on_the_field_07_21_16

Some of them recognized me from YouTube and were excited to see me here with a cameraman, so that felt good.

A little while later, I caught up with Alex outside the clubhouse:

13_zack_ande_alex_katz_outside_the_clubhouse

He had actually poked his head out to have a quick word with his family, so I seized the moment and grabbed a photo with him.

I’m only going to post three screen shots from the video in this blog entry. Here’s the first:

14_chicken_teriyaki

That’s what I had for dinner — chicken teriyaki. It was VERY good, so if you ever find yourself at this stadium, look for it. There’s a little stand on the 1st base side.

Here’s what I had for dessert — Oreo churros:

15_oreo_churros

Ohhhh yes. I stayed nice and full after that for the rest of the game.

Here’s what the right field berm looks like:

16_right_field_berm_07_21_16

Everything was calm and relaxing out there, as you can see:

17_fans_at_picnic_tables

Here’s the batter’s eye:

18_walkway_behind_batters_eye

If there had been more than a few minutes of batting practice (and if anyone had any power), that walkway would’ve been useful because I could’ve used it to run back and forth from left field to right field.

This was my view for the first half of the game:

19_view_from_3rd_base_side_07_21_16

I was sitting right in front of Alex’s parents. (There’s a shot of them in the video.) At that point I was wearing my glove more for protection than because I actually expected to snag any baseballs, but look, it happened!

20_ball_from_the_ballboy_named_paul

Did you notice the ballboy giving me a thumbs-up in the background? He tossed me that ball because he recognized me. I think his name is Paul. (I hope I’m remembering that correctly. I sometimes suck with names.)

Here’s a selfie with Alex’s parents and two of Alex’s friends:

21_randy_steve_zack_adrian_gary

In the photo above, the guy with the sunglasses on his head is named Randy. The guy wearing the light blue cap is named Steve, and if he looks familiar, that’s because he’s been working for the Mets forever.

Here’s the second screen shot:

22_zack_giving_baseballs_to_kids

I think that’s self-explanatory.

In the middle innings, I moved near the Intimidators’ bullpen down the left field line:

23_alex_katz_playing_catch_between_innings

Did you notice Alex (No. 10) warming up the left fielder? He’s a reliever, so I kept waiting and hoping that he’d get in the game.

This was my view with an inning or two remaining:

24_view_from_left_field_foul_line_07_21_16

Alex didn’t get to pitch, and to make matters worse, his team lost. On the positive side, there was an on-field Pokémon GO promotion after the game, so I got to hang out with him on the warning track:

25_alex_katz_and_zack_postgame

We decided to do a little interview for the video. Here’s the final screen shot as proof:

26_zack_interviewing_alex

After saying goodbye to him, I wandered into center field:

27_people_playing_pokemon_go_on_the_field_after_the_game

That’s where I did the closing shot for the video, and on the way out, I took a panorama in the concourse behind home plate:

28_panorama_behind_home_plate

Do you remember Scott from the photo after BP near the 3rd base dugout? Here’s a photo of the trunk of his car:

29_trunk_of_autograph_collectors_car

He’s a photographer and yeah . . . also an autograph collector.

As for the video, CLICK HERE to watch it. Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten a ton of comments from people asking/telling me to attend minor league games in various places. I appreciate that, and while I *did* have fun at this game, I just want you to keep this in mind. Perhaps I’ll go watch Alex play somewhere else next year. In the meantime, I’m happy to report that he was recently promoted to the Winston-Salem Dash and made history in his first appearance, ending Francisco Mejia’s 50-game hitting streak. I’m rooting like crazy for Alex, and I hope you do too. If you see him, tell him that Zack in New York says hi.

2016 All-Star Game

It was a beautiful day in San Diego, and thanks to this sign on the sidewalk, I knew I was heading in the right direction:

1_sign_pointing_to_all_star_game

There were actually lots of signs advertising/pointing to different events:

2_other_all_star_signs

I decided to start by checking out FanFest, but before I got there, I was distracted by this:

3_red_carpeting_for_parade

I knew that in just a few hours, there’d be thousands of fans crammed against the barricades, cheering all the players rolling past in the parade. For now, though, things were calm, so I took advantage by doing something silly — and you can see it in my YouTube video. That’s right! Deal with it — a little teaser to leave you hungry and wanting more. The same videographer who captured all the action the day before at the Home Run Derby was with me again.

FanFest took place at a huge convention center located several blocks from the stadium. Here’s what it looked like outside:

4_convention_center_07_12_16

Here I am inside posing near a huge baseball:

5_zack_and_big_baseball_07_12_16

Did you notice my snazzy new shirt? I mentioned it in my last entry about the Derby — a new purchase that nearly put me in debt.

FanFest had countless things to see and do. Here I am talking about it:

6_zack_inside_fanfest_07_12_16

One of those things was a baseball talk led by John Smoltz:

7_john_smoltz_baseball_talk

The topic was preventing pitching injuries. I would have loved to stay and hear the rest of it, but time was limited.

By the way, a funny thing happened in the video during the talk. After I commented about how a Hall of Famer was sitting just 30 feet away, a kid recognized me (“Are you Zack Hample?”) and asked for an autograph and selfie. The timing was so perfect that you might be tempted to accuse me of staging it, but that’s truly how it happened. I’ve been getting recognized a lot lately; I usually choose not to include footage of it in the videos, but every now and then I’ll make an exception.

Let’s get one thing straight, though — this is who everyone *really* wanted to see:

8_wil_myers_posing_for_photos

That’s Padres 1st baseman Wil Myers. He had participated in the Home Run Derby the day before, and in just a few hours, he’d be the starting cleanup hitter for the National League. Of course the line to meet him had already been cut off at that point, so I wasn’t able to get a photo with him. That’s when I knew it was time to leave.

As I approached the stadium, I walked along a street that was set up with all kinds of fun stuff:

9_big_balloons_outside_with_emojis

It was nearly empty because everyone in downtown San Diego was camped out along the parade route. Here’s what it looked like right across from the stadium:

10_red_carpet_parade_in_full_swing

Several players were about to roll up in their trucks:

11_players_arriving_in_pickup_trucks

Here’s Jose Altuve waving to the crowd:

12_jose_altuve_red_carpet_parade

Here’s Ian Desmond looking dapper as hell:

13_ian_desmond_red_carpet_parade

Here’s Manny Machado before getting out:

14_manny_machado_red_carpet_parade

Many more players were still due to arrive, but after 10 minutes there, I’d had enough. Some people make a whole day of the red carpet parade, arriving early to claim the best spots and then sticking around for the whole thing. I can’t deal with that. I don’t like being trapped with big crowds, and my attention span is limited.

As I walked away from the parade route, I found myself crossing the street behind the truck that had transported Mookie Betts:

15_mookie_betts_truck_driving_off

FYI, you’ll find a link to the video toward the end of this entry, so keep scrolling/reading. Right now I’m just providing a few extra details and photos.

The stadium opened half an hour earlier than it had the day before, and the employees in left field were, to put it lightly, unprepared. One woman demanded to know what I was doing inside the stadium, and less than a minute later, a male guard stopped my cameraman and insisted that the gates hadn’t yet opened.

“Then how could we be here?!” I asked. It was the dumbest situation, and as other fans started trickling in, the employees realized what was up.

Once again, I decided to hang out in left-center field for BP. This was my view:

16_american_league_batting_practice_07_12_16

That spot had worked well for me the day before, but for whatever reason, it was DEAD at the All-Star Game. Look how crowded it got:

17_left_field_seats_crowded_07_12_16

Dozens of fans all around me got baseballs — a combination of home runs and toss-ups — but I just couldn’t make anything happen.

Finally I got a toss-up from this random kid in center field:

18_ball9111_being_thrown

Do you remember the commemorative baseballs I had snagged the day before? I got a bunch of Futures Game balls and All-Star Game balls, but no Home Run Derby balls. Therefore I was *extremely* happy to get this from the kid in center field:

19_ball9111_home_run_derby_ball

That was the only ball I got during the American League’s portion of BP. Then both leagues took turns posing for team photos:

20_american_league_team_photo_07_12_16

My cameraman (not Brandon but a different friend named Jeff) went up to the 2nd deck to get some shots from above. Here he is waving at me:

21_jeff_in_the_second_deck

He succeeded in getting the shots. I, however, failed to snag any more baseballs, so in case you’ve somehow lost count, I finished BP with one.

I grabbed some food (a fried chicken sandwich, if you must know) and then headed off on a mission: to find my buddy Heath Bell. He had texted to say that he was in Suite 33, but evidently there were two levels of suites, and neither of us knew exactly where I needed to go.

While wandering around and trying to figure it out, I stopped to pose for a photo with more oversized baseballs:

22_zack_with_big_baseballs_wall_decoration

I just can’t resist. I have a history of doing that. See? Oh look, here’s more evidence from the past.

After asking twice for help/directions, I finally made it up to the terrace level. Here I am discussing the beautiful stadium design:

23_zack_petco_park_suite_level

Most stadiums, by the way, require fans to have suite-level tickets just to get anywhere near the suites, but here at PETCO, there was enough other stuff on this level that it was open to everyone.

When I found Suite 33, Heath welcomed me inside. Here’s what it looked like:

24_inside_heath_bells_suite

Here I am with the man himself:

25_zack_and_heath_bell_in_suite

During that particular portion of the conversation, he was telling the camera that if I ran out onto the field, he would throw me a ball from the suite. What a guy! (How do I know him? Watch the video. You’ll get an explanation.)

Here I am with his son Reece:

26_zack_and_reece_bell

I only stayed for a few minutes and then headed upstairs for the pre-game ceremony. Click the following photo (a high-res panorama) to enjoy the true splendor:

27_pregame_ceremony_panorama_07_12_16

Did you notice all the people on the balconies of the building behind the light tower? Here’s a closer look:

28_people_on_building_balconies

Just after the national anthem concluded, six U.S. Thunderbirds performed an incredible flyover at 600 miles per hour! I knew it was coming, but still wasn’t prepared and was actually startled. Thankfully Jeff was ready with his camera and got a really cool shot:

29_all_star_game_flyover_07_12_16

Here’s where I hung out during the game:

30_view_from_right_field_07_12_16

PETCO Park has standing room build into the cross-aisle in right field; somehow, despite waiting until game time to head down there, I found a spot.

Here’s Mike Trout on the jumbotron in the bottom (yes, the BOTTOM) of the 1st inning:

31_mike_trout_jumbotron_1st_inning_07_12_16

Why was the American League batting in the bottom of the inning at a National League stadium? I was confused until my friend Brent explained it. Basically the All-Star Game took place in Cincinnati last season. Next year it’ll be played in Miami, and in 2018 it’ll happen in Washington D.C. — all National League ballparks. To compensate for that, the American League was the “home” team here at PETCO. Very strange.

Did you notice the “fun fact” about Trout below his photo on the jumbotron? He’s the first player ever to win consecutive All-Star Game MVP honors. #GOAT

Here’s what the cross-aisle looked like on my right:

32_cross_aisle_on_my_right_07_12_16

I was hoping to catch a home run, and man, let me tell ya, if anyone had hit a ball near me, I would’ve had a great shot.

Here’s who I spent most of the game with:

33_padres_fans_07_12_16

That’s Brent on the left. Remember him from this photo on 9/24/14 at PETCO Park? That’s when we first met. He’s a great guy and super knowledgeable about baseball. The man in the red hat is an even older friend. His name is Ismael, and if you’ve been reading this blog for a very long time, you might remember this photo of him from when he put me on the phone with Heath Bell on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park.

There were three home runs during the game, but unfortunately they all went to left field. Therefore my only chances came on warm-up balls thrown by outfielders. Here I am reaching for one:

34_fans_going_for_warm_up_ball

I didn’t snag it.

Here I am late in the game — just a random candid moment:

35_zack_looking_up_and_back

Here are the fireworks that went off after the home team won, 4-2:

36_fireworks_after_the_game_07_12_16

Eric Hosmer won the MVP. (He went 2-for-3 with a homer and 2 RBIs.) Here’s the award ceremony from afar:

37_mvp_ceremony_07_12_16

Here’s Hoz on the jumbotron:

38_eric_hosmer_mvp

I like Rob Manfred’s face — not specifically in the photo above, but in general. Is that a weird thing to say? I just think he looks friendly.

And now, finally, here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: the video! Click here to watch it, and don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel. I have lots more stuff on the way.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

39_2016_home_run_derby 1 baseball at this game (pictured here)

 478 balls in 59 games this season = 8.10 balls per game.

157 balls in 16 lifetime games at PETCO Park = 9.81 balls per game.

 25 balls in 5 lifetime Home Run Derbies = 5 balls per game.

1,225 consecutive games with at least one ball

 85 different commemorative balls

 9,111 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 14 donors for my fundraiser

• $123.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $618.85 raised this season

• $191,122.51 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009