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Behind the scenes at “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno”

Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one — a 5,400-word account of my first appearance on “The Tonight Show.” Thankfully I had saved all the photos, and the text was still archived on a third-party website, so this was fairly easy to recreate. Enjoy!

1_greeted_by_limo_driverMy two-day trip to California got off to a dubious start. Not only was the “limo” driver outside the airport in Burbank holding a sign on which my last name was misspelled, but there wasn’t even a limo. I had to ride to the hotel in an SUV.

I probably shouldn’t be complaining. After all, “The Tonight Show” paid for both me and my girlfriend, Jona, to fly out, put us up at the Universal Sheraton, provided the car service, gave me a $60 per diem, and also told me I’d be getting a small honorarium. Not a bad deal.

I had two contacts at the show. One of them — a “talent coordinator” named Bryan — called me while I was en route to the hotel. He asked how the flight was and told me that he and my other contact — a producer named Steve — would be meeting me for breakfast the next morning in the hotel lobby at 8:30. He almost said it with an ominous tone, and I thought I was in trouble or that I was going to be told that my segment had been canceled. I was so paranoid at that point. I’d almost gotten on Letterman a few years earlier, and when that fell through, I figured I’d never get an opportunity like that again. Now here I was 24 hours from being taped for “The Tonight Show,” and I just wanted things to go smoothly. I wasn’t THAT worried about my own performance. I was mainly concerned about all the factors I couldn’t control. What if Obama decided to drop by the studio and say hello to Leno? What if there was an earthquake? When my dad was on Oprah about a decade ago, his segment was interrupted by a breaking-news story about a plane crash.

Speaking of Obama, Jona and I watched the presidential debate in our room, then met up with my half-brother Joe and his fiancé for dinner. We went to CityWalk. It was tacky and fun. We picked a restaurant called the Daily Grill, and I ate a surprisingly good Cobb salad. I really wanted the fried chicken but didn’t want to get bloated right before being on national television. Whenever my weight fluctuates and I gain a couple of pounds, it goes straight to my face. What’s up with that? Why can’t it go to my left calf or some other worthless body part?

Jona and I went to bed at around 11pm (which felt like 2am) and woke up a little over seven hours later. Don’t you hate waking up before the alarm goes off? That’s what happened. I was so worried about sleeping through breakfast that I sprung awake before it was fully light outside. Not good. This was THE day, and I’d been hoping to get as much sleep as possible.

I went downstairs at 8:27am. There were a few people milling about the lobby, but they looked more like tourists than NBC bigwigs. I wandered outside and saw a big guy standing around who looked a bit like Lenny Kravitz. Was THAT one of the guys I was supposed to be meeting? Nah. He looked like he should be on camera, not behind it, but sure enough, he looked over and said, “Zack?”

It was Bryan.

Steve showed up a few minutes later, and we all walked inside the lobby and headed down a curved, carpeted staircase to a fancy restaurant. We each got the $20 buffet — their treat, of course. I didn’t get to eat as much as I wanted (which was a good thing) because Steve and Bryan only had an hour, and they had me talking nonstop. I told them about my involvement with Scrabble and Arkanoid, and I mentioned my other dorky pursuits, but they wanted to stick to baseball. That’s what the segment was going to be about, so that’s what we discussed. Steve asked me a bunch of questions, and I told a bunch of stories, and he gave me an idea of some of the things that “Jay” would probably be asking me. I suggested demonstrating the glove trick on-air, then pulled it out of my backpack and actually showed them how it worked, right there in the restaurant.

“Sorry,” I said, “hope I’m not making a scene.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Steve. “This is L.A. No one cares.”

The trick worked on the first try (which it usually does), and they loved it. Steve started thinking about how to incorporate it into my seven-minute segment, and we talked about how he might have me climb up on Jay’s desk and do the trick from there.

2_jona_zack_fountainThat was pretty much it for breakfast. It was 9:30am. I had five hours to kill before a car would be taking me and Jona to the studio, so we went to a place called The Grove, which is basically an outdoor mall. The highlight for Jona was going to a natural food market called Erewhon and getting raw milk. Jona is a health freak, and I mean that in a good way, but sometimes she makes dietary choices that I just can’t be a part of. This was one of them. Raw milk is supposedly much healthier than regular/pasteurized milk, but there IS a chance that there could be bacteria in it — but if you eat lots of organic food (as Jona does), you’ll be so healthy and have such a strong immune system that you’ll be able to fight off these natural forms of bacteria. (Isn’t this interesting?) Raw milk, you see, is illegal in New York. It’s illegal in most places, in fact, but in California, if you know where to look, you can find it. So here we were. And THIS is how I spent my time getting ready for my appearance on “The Tonight Show.” It would’ve been the perfect distraction if Jona hadn’t been asking me every eight minutes if I was nervous.

I really wasn’t that nervous. I’d been interviewed about my baseball collection hundreds of times, so what was the big deal now? The only pressure I felt was due to the fact that if my segment sucked, it would be archived online forever for the whole world to see, so I was thinking more longterm about it all.

After Jona got her milk, we visited the gigantic Barnes & Noble so I could sign all their copies of Watching Baseball Smarter. How many copies did they have?

One.

3_watching_baseball_smarter_updated_coverAnd it was all the way upstairs in the sports section on the bottom shelf with the spine facing out. I was not too happy about that. Seriously, how is it possible that a book that was about to be shown on the goddamn Tonight Show — the eighth best selling sports book in America the year before — could be so buried and forgotten by such a major bookseller? It is HARD to be a writer. Think about all the authors who don’t get to be on TV with their books. I’m lucky because I have a hobby that people in the media like to talk about, so I keep getting free plugs, and yet I still struggle to have my book seen. It would’ve been nice to walk into the store and see a few stacks of the book sitting on a table with a big sign that said, “As seen on ‘The Tonight Show’ on October 8, 2008″ or something along those lines. Really, is that asking too much? I know there are a lot of books out there, and that every author thinks that his/her book deserves to be on a table in the front of every store, but c’mon.

Jona and I made it back to the hotel by 1pm. I made a few phone calls, answered some emails, and changed into my outfit. THE outfit. I’d picked out the top half — my black baseball cap and gray MLB shirt — and Jona had picked out the bottom: gray acid-wash jeans and a cute pair of shoes from Sketchers. I never would’ve considered wearing those shoes. In fact, I didn’t even own them until Jona took me shopping and bought them for me two days earlier. I thought they were hideous when I first saw them on the shelf, but she made me try them on, and I actually liked them. They were sporty but not too sporty. Not too colorful. Not too big or too plain. I felt good about the outfit. That had been one of the biggest sources of stress for a few days, during which time I received numerous requests and offers from people who wanted me to wear their companies’ stuff on the show. Yeah right. I didn’t want to turn my segment into a commercial, and I wouldn’t even have been allowed to do so. Steve had told me that I couldn’t wear ANYthing with a logo on it. When I mentioned the MLB logo I was hoping to wear, he said that would be okay since it fell in line with the subject matter.

The “limo” was there right on time, and off we went. Jona had made her own interesting fashion choice: a turquoise button-down shirt with a blue and white polka dot tie. I thought she was joking when she first described it. Was she going for the clown look? (Some people ARE into that, you know.) I really thought she’d lost it, but she insisted it’d be cute. (It was.) This was L.A., she reminded me (well, technically Burbank), and she wanted to look nice for Jay. I was told that we’d get to meet him before the taping of the show, and that surprised me. When I was on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” in 1999, I didn’t get to see Rosie until the cameras were rolling; when I complained about it to my dad after the fact, he told me that that’s nothing unusual — that hosts rarely interact with their guests beforehand because it diminishes the spontaneity on the air.

Ten minutes later we were at the edge of the NBC complex:

4_arriving_at_nbc

We passed through the security tollbooth, then rounded a few corners, and eventually saw this:

5_arriving_at_building

See the blue car in the photo above? That was Jay’s car. Here’s a closer look . . .

6_jay_lenos_car

. . . and let me say now that I got permission to use all these photos on my blog.

A security guard greeted us and led us to Bryan, who led us to another security guard, who gave a backstage pass to Jona, who was SOOOO excited as we were led to the green room. I was excited too — being on TV hasn’t gotten old yet — but I’d been through it before so it was cool to see her reacting to everything. It’s like when you show your favorite movie to a friend who’s never seen it; you kind of get to experience it yourself from scratch because you imagine how they’re experiencing it. You know? Same thing here.

We walked through a generic-looking hallway and reached the green room. MY green room. This was the sign on the door:

7_zack_hample_name_on_door

They’d spelled my name right! Woo-hoo!!

Here I am (slightly blurry) standing at the door:

8_zack_green_room_door

In the photo above, you can kinda see the food and drinks that were provided. There were two trays, one with fruit and another with veggies. There was also tea and coffee, as well as a fridge with bottles of juice and water. I could’ve requested a beer, I was later told, but I avoided all this stuff and just ate a chicken salad sandwich I’d brought. I didn’t want to ingest caffeine and/or sugar and get all jittery. My energy was fine. My mental state was fine. I didn’t want to throw it off in any way.

Here’s a look at the green room:

9_jay_leno_green_room

Do you see the little white thing sitting on the end of the shiny counter? That was a gift bag. Here’s a closer look:

10_gift_bag

There was a box inside, and yes, the logo on it was upside down:

11_box_that_was_inside_the_gift_bag

When I took the top off, this is what I saw:

12_gift_box_open

Here’s a closer look:

13_jay_leno_watch_closeup

Even better than the watch was the envelope taped to the side of the bag. It contained the following card:

14_card_from_jay_leno

It was great to have a personalized note from Jay, and I got to return the favor when one of his many assistants poked his head into my room and asked me to sign his guest book. So I did. Right across from James Taylor:

15_jay_leno_guest_book

Bryan had left me and Jona alone in the green room for a few minutes. Then Steve showed up to talk about the segment. He had a list of questions that Jay was going to ask–

“Oh, and here’s Jay right now,” he said.

“OH!!” blurted Jona as I looked up, and Jay Leno was indeed standing right in front of me. He was wearing an all-blue denim outfit and LOTS of makeup. He said a quick hello, shook our hands, said he’d see us later, and was gone in five seconds. It would’ve been nice if he’d hung out a bit longer, but I still appreciated the fact that he’d even stopped by.

Steve went over the segment with me. I asked questions about what I should say, not because I wanted him to put words in my mouth, but to get an idea of how long he wanted my answers to be. I expected every second of the segment to be scripted (as was the case on “Rosie” and “The Early Show“), but Steve just told me to have fun with it and say whatever I wanted, and he encouraged me to just be myself. I didn’t need to be told that, but it was still nice to hear.

You know what wasn’t nice to hear, at least at first? That the glove trick had been scrapped from my segment. There simply wasn’t time, or at least the producers felt it wasn’t worth making time for. But then again, maybe this was a good thing. By not showing the glove trick, I was protecting it as a secret. (Of course, I’ve explained how to use the trick here on my blog, and I also gave a tutorial on it in my first book, but you know what I mean.)

Steve led me and Jona out onto the set and gave me brief instructions as we went, such as where to enter and where to walk. He reminded me to shake hands with Dana Carvey (who would remain on the stage during my segment) and had me sit down IN the actual seat next to Jay’s desk. He told me NOT to belt out my words as if I were on Broadway, but rather just to talk like I normally would because I’d be miked up and everyone would be able to hear me just fine.

I noticed that Jona wasn’t even looking at me. Her eyes were wandering all over the room, trying to take it all in.

Steve led us back to the green room and left us alone for a few minutes.

Carvey walked by and disappeared into the next room. Gilbert Godfried walked by wearing full (and cartoonishly ugly) drag. Ho hum, just another day in Hollywood.

Bryan dropped by and asked Jona if she wanted to stay in the green room during the show or sit in the studio audience. She wisely picked the audience, and he led her off.

I was all alone with about 25 minutes until the taping would begin. My segment wasn’t going to start for another 45 minutes after that, so I had quite a bit of time to ponder my life and the state of the universe.

Jay walked in. He was wearing a suit and tie. He LOOKED like Jay Leno. Very cool. Just the two of us. He asked me if I was ready and told me we were gonna have fun and said it was a great story. He had a clipboard with a list of questions that he was planning to ask — the same list that Steve had been carrying 10 minutes earlier — and he looked at it and told me how he was going to start.

“Mind if I take a look at it?” I asked.

He didn’t mind at all, so I stood right next to him and peeked at it and we talked a bit longer about how the segment was going to play out.

I told him I’d heard that he was going to hold up both of my books during the intro, and he assured me that he would. I said that if there was ONE thing that I wanted to get into the segment, it would be my new book — Watching Baseball Smarter.

“We’ll get it in there,” he said. “Don’t worry.”

That made me feel great, and it took all the pressure off. I didn’t care if he mentioned How to Snag Major League Baseballs. I didn’t care about plugging Watch With Zack or the Argosy Book Store. I just wanted him to SAY the words “Watching Baseball Smarter” on the air and hold up the copy that my publicist had FedExed to Steve several days earlier. Like I said before, I didn’t want to turn my segment into a commercial; the only way I intended to sell myself was by being fun.

Jay left my room, and I was left alone once again.

I ate a cool, thin piece of pineapple.

Kevin Eubanks walked by, saw me standing in the doorway with a few baseballs in my hand, and shouted, “Go Phillies!”

“Phillies?!” I said with a hint of amusement. “I grew up as a Mets fan. Get out of my face!”

He walked all the way down the hall and shouted “Go Phillies!” again.

“Yeah, keep walking!” I yelled, and he looked back and smiled.

I always assumed Eubanks was tall. He has a tall personality, doesn’t he? But he’s not tall. He’s a few inches shorter than me, and I’m 5-foot-11.

I got some makeup — just a little powder so I wouldn’t be shiny — and went back to my room for the start of the show. Steve walked in and adjusted the volume on the TV. We watched Jay’s opening routine while talking more about my segment. It was weird to hear the audience’s laughter coming from just down the hall AND to hear it on TV at the same time.

Steve left me alone again, and I started sweating — not a lot, but just enough that I worried I might end up with sweaty armpits if I didn’t do something about it, so I grabbed a towel and started dabbing myself. I wasn’t really nervous, just amped up.

16_dana_carvey_on_the_airJay did a hilarious segment that mocked the presidential debate, then did another segment with Godfried (who was pretending to be the wife of the world’s fattest man), and then Carvey was on. He was funny. VERY high-energy. Tough act to follow. My armpits were still sweaty, though thankfully my shirt wasn’t sweat-stained. It was pretty crazy to think that in just a few minutes, I’d be sitting right where Carvey was — that *I* was going to be part of a show that I’d been watching on and off for years.

Steve came back, saw me holding the towel under my shirt, and told me that the first time Dara Torres was on the show, she was “pittin’ out” in the green room as well. He then left me on my own and told me he’d come back for me during the commercial break just before my segment. Carvey stayed on for a second segment, and when I heard the band start playing, I knew it was my time.

Steve came and got me and asked if I was ready.

“No,” I said. “I’ve actually changed my mind about being on the show.”

He led me down the hallway, reminded me to be myself, and told me there was now an extra minute for my segment, so instead of seven minutes, I was gonna be on for eight. Cool.

He left me with the stage manager. She was going to tell me when to walk out. The band was still playing. I knew I had a minute or so before I’d be out there. I could see a sliver of the audience and looked for Jona. I had no idea where she was sitting, and I didn’t see her.

I wasn’t nervous. My heart wasn’t beating any faster than if I’d been watching the show on TV. I know that might sound crazy, but it’s true. It almost creeped me out. I was aware of how UN-nervous I was and wondered if there was something wrong with me — if I was trying to trick myself into thinking I wasn’t nervous — but no, I truly wasn’t nervous. Five minutes earlier, when I’d been watching Carvey on that little monitor in the green room, I’d told myself that there was nothing to be nervous about . . . that this segment wasn’t even being aired live . . . that I wasn’t being seen by millions of people . . . that I was only being seen by the few hundred people in the studio audience . . . and that I wasn’t talking to them . . . that I only had to think about having a conversation with one man . . . and that it was a conversation I’d had countless times in the past . . . so really, what was the big deal?

The band stopped playing, and I heard Jay start introducing me. He mentioned Watching Baseball Smarter, and out I went. I just tried to have fun at that point.

Here’s a screen shot from the segment:

17_zack_tonight_show

Is the segment archived anywhere online? I have no idea, so let me know if you can find it, and I’ll add a link. For those who did manage to watch it, you might be interested to know that the four balls I brought out were:

1) Barry Bonds’ 724th career home run
2) My 1,000th ball
3) My 28th and final ball of 4/10/08 at Nationals Park
4) The last Mets homer at Shea Stadium (which was hit by Carlos Beltran)

I got to show the first two, and I would’ve shown the others but we ran out of time. What can I say? I tend to be rather verbose when people get me talking about catching baseballs.

Two other things of note:

1) I’d been trying to figure out how to sit in the chair. It seems like celebrities are always crossing their legs when they’re interviewed on talk shows, but that’s not my style. BUT . . . I didn’t want to sit there awkwardly as if I didn’t know what to do with my limbs. So I decided to rest one arm on the chair and sit slightly tilted toward Jay. The tilt also worked well to hide the baseballs early in the segment, so yeah, although I might’ve looked all loose and casual, which I suppose I was, it was all carefully planned. Ha!

2) You might’ve noticed that I left a comment on my previous entry in which I said I was going to give everyone on the blog a collective/secret shout-out by taking a sip of water as my segment went to a commercial break. Well, I *did* take a sip, but it never made it onto TV because instead of fading out, the producers slipped in the Beltran footage, which was great, but it bumped the shout-out.

Speaking of the commercial break, I spent it sitting on the stage and talking to the guys. Carvey started by asking me, “So where DO you position yourself to catch all these balls? Over HERE for righties and over THERE for lefties?” I answered him briefly and then Jay told me I was great. I told him he made it easy for me by being so nice. Carvey agreed I was great (“very smooth,” I think he said) and asked me if it was my first time on the show. I said it was and asked him how many times he’d been on. “Forty or fifty,” he said, and we talked more about nervousness. He said it’s tough doing comedy because he feels like he HAS to be funny, and with that feeling comes a lot of pressure. Jay asked me about my family’s book store. I told him it was called “Argosy” and said it was right near Bloomingdales. He said he knew about it, and I believed him, given the fact that lots of A-list celebrities have been there over the years. That’s when Steve walked up onto the stage and told me that during the following musical performance by Marc Broussard, Jay was going to get up and walk over near the band and I was supposed to walk over with him and Carvey.

After the performance, Jay walked right down in front of the band, and Carvey started heading that way as well. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to walk all the way down there, and apparently I was, so Carvey waved me over, which was cool, but I knew it probably looked like I was a total amateur. Then the two of them teamed up to film a few teasers for the show. We were all standing around and shaking hands for half a minute after that. I heard Broussard tell Carvey that he was a huge fan. I told Carvey that I have a friend who looks so much like him that people mention it at least once a week. “I’m sorry,” he said. Jay thanked me for coming on the show, and I thanked him for having me.

Then I was led over to Jay’s desk and had my picture taken with him by a professional photographer. Steve had told me early in the day that that would happen after the show, probably so I wouldn’t feel the need to harass Jay to take a photo with me in the green room. Jona made it down to the stage, and she jumped in with us for another photo.

It was then that I noticed a fellow ballhawk named John Witt in the audience. He was being led out of the building, and I was being ushered back to the green room, so we quickly shouted at each other and planned to meet outside.

Just before I was about to leave, I had Jona take a pic of me with Steve and Bryan. Here we are:

18_steve_zack_bryan

Steve then walked me back into the studio and grabbed a sign for me off one of the low-hanging rafters — a bonus/parting souvenir. Here it is (next to the watch to give you perspective):

19_tonight_show_guest_names

Jona’s cousin Joey was in the audience, but he hadn’t gotten to sit with her. We didn’t even know whether or not he’d made it in until after the show. I was also looking for my friend Leigh Barratt (aka “padreleigh”) but didn’t see him and didn’t know whether he’d made it. It was all very rushed and chaotic. I wanted to linger and take it all in, but I was led outside and the “limo” was waiting for me. I told the driver that I wanted to catch up with a few friends before he took me back to the hotel, and he was fine with that. I called John. Jona called Joey. We found out where they were, and John suggested that we all meet across the street at a gas station.

I’d never met John before — not in person, that is. We’d talked on the phone for 40 minutes before I left for Burbank, and we’d emailed on and off for years, but this was it. Finally:

20_zack_and_john_witt

We’ve snagged over 7,000 balls combined. You’d never know it by looking at us, right?

John had grabbed a stack of tickets for the show. He had me sign about half a dozen of them (so he could try selling them on eBay) and gave a few to me. I wonder if Carvey saved stuff like that after his first appearance on the show.

Jona caught up with Joey . . .

21_jona_and_joey

. . . and the three of us went out to dinner. They wanted to go to a nice place on Melrose (I forget the name) but I really wanted to get back to the hotel by 8:35pm — that’s when the show would be airing on the east coast — so we went to CityWalk, which was right next to the hotel, and suffered through a lousy meal at an Italian place called Buca di Beppo. Joey suggested that we go there, but since I’d insisted on CityWalk in the first place, I’ll take half the blame.

By the way, in case you’re wondering how I transported my precious baseballs, I wrapped each one separately with paper towels and rubber bands . . .

22_precious_baseballs_wrapped

. . . and put them all in a plastic shopping bag . . . which I carried in my backpack . . . which NEVER left my side except when I had to put it through the X-ray machine at the airport, at which point Jona strategically kept an eye on it.

After dinner, Jona and I went to our room and watched some lame shows on NBC, hoping to see one of the teasers for “The Tonight Show,” but they never came on. Meanwhile I talked to my parents during Carvey’s segment and told them to call me after I was on, which they did, and they both said I was great, which was nice to hear because I hadn’t yet seen myself, and I had NO idea how I came off. I started getting a bunch of emails and phone calls and blog comments and friend-requests on MySpace. Crazy. Really . . . crazy. The nicest email I got from a stranger went as follows (and was typed in big blue letters):

Just wanted to say I saw you on Leno last night and you gave me a laugh and a smile which I really needed.   You are so cute and just a pleasure to watch … I wish you had been on longer.  Keep making people happy.

Sandy (61) in Lockport, Illinois

It was so weird to think that my appearance on TV was sweeping across the country as the show aired in different time zones — that millions of people would be seeing me before the night was through — and it got me thinking about fame. I realized (if this makes any sense) that I’m the most famous person that most people who know me know, and yet 99.9 percent of the people watching Leno that night probably thought “Who the f*ck is Zack Hample?!” when they saw my name at the start of the show. Oh well.

I was exhausted. I wanted to go to sleep. I truly didn’t care about seeing myself on TV, and I actually did fall asleep for a while. Jona woke me up just in time to see Jay holding up my books. And then I was on. I thought I did okay. I wish I’d spoken a bit slower, and of course I hated my voice (does ANYone other than Morgan Freeman enjoy hearing their own voice?), and I wished I’d talked less about batting practice and more about snagging balls during games, and I thought of a few extra jokes I could’ve made . . . but what can you do? At least it wasn’t a disaster, and eventually I fell back asleep.

The next morning, I took Jona to the buffet — eggs, cheese, bacon, sausage, potatoes, bagels, cream cheese, lox, donuts, croissants, danishes, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, pineapple, granola, oatmeal . . . and that’s only what I had time to eat before we had to head back upstairs and pack and check out and leave for the airport.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve already done a few radio interviews (including one that will be a podcast on NPR) and been written about on a blog on the USA Today web site and spoken to someone at ESPN. It’s been crazy. It’s been a great ride. I don’t know what else to say. I don’t even know if anyone is actually reading this. I can’t believe how much I’ve written, but I wanted to get this all down to document it for myself, if nothing else. Hopefully, if you HAVE read all the way to this point, you’ve enjoyed it.

2007 World Series — Game 2

Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one. Thankfully I had saved all the photos, along with the text from my original entry, so this was fairly easy to recreate. Enjoy!

I started the day by giving a 30-minute speech about my baseball collection to 51 middle schoolers at the Lexington Montessori School. I demonstrated the glove trick, showed the USA Today article, passed around the three balls I’d snagged the night before, talked at length (upon request from the teachers) about the writing/editing process, gave a quick tour of my website (which was projected from a laptop onto the big white screen), and answered lots of questions:

1_zack_school_speech

Most of the questions were typical and innocent. Where do you keep all the balls? Did you ever get into a fight for a ball? Is Manny Ramirez your favorite player? And so on. But one of the questions took me by surprise. When I told the kids that I wear clothes that make me look young so the players will be more likely to throw balls to me, one of the boys blurted out, “What if you wore a dress?”

“Stay after school,” I told him. “We need to talk.”

At the very end of my presentation, one of the kids asked, “Can I have a baseball?”

I knew that if I gave him one, there would’ve been 50 other jealous kids and half a dozen frazzled teachers, so I politely turned down his request.

“Can I have your autograph?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, prompting every kid in the room to ask if THEY could have my autograph too. I said yes, they all ran and got scraps of paper, and the teachers ended up being frazzled after all because it was the end of the school day and the kids were supposed to be outside to meet their parents. The teachers cut me off after five minutes and made the kids leave. I followed them out and signed a few more autographs, including two on baseball gloves, one on a warm-up jacket, and another on a soccer ball:

2_kids_with_zack_hample_autographs

THAT was a first.

There were still a bunch of kids who had to take off without my autograph, so my friend Ben (who teaches there) quickly wrote down their names and told them that I’d sign something for them before I left.

“Do you mind?” he asked.

“Not at all,” I said. I still had three hours before I needed to leave for Fenway Park, and I loved the fact that I could make a bunch of kids happy by doing something as simple as writing my name.

3_bathtub_photo_schoolBen and I went back upstairs and printed a dozen copies of the bathtub photo off my website, and I started signing them for the kids whose names he’d just written down. Then it occurred to us that the first bunch of kids who’d gotten me to sign would be jealous of the second bunch who got bathtub photos, so we went back to the computer and printed 39 more copies, and I signed them all, personalizing them to each kid as Ben checked their names off a master list to make sure we weren’t missing anyone.

At 4:30pm, Ben dropped me off at the ALEWIFE subway station. From there I took the red line to PARK STREET and transferred to the green line which took me to KENMORE. The conductor made some announcement about where to exit for “Fenway Pahhhk,” and I nearly laughed out loud. I looked around to see if anyone else had the same reaction. Nope. No giggles. No smirks. No eye contact, and I wondered if everyone in Boston talks like that.

I reached Fenway at around 5:20pm and worried that batting practice was already underway. I don’t think it was, of at least IF it was, no one was hitting sizable home runs to left field.

Once again, the mean garage guy was yelling and cursing at everyone who tried to go up on his precious roof, so I was forced to stay on the sidewalk. After half an hour of staring into the quickly darkening sky at an uncomfortably sharp angle . . .

4_view_from_lansdowne_street

. . . a ball bounced over the Green Monster and dropped straight down into the middle of Lansdowne Street. I ran forward to try to catch it before it smacked the pavement (while simultaneously trying not to get run over by any cars), but I was a second too late and the ball bounced directly over my head and into the bare hand of a guy who’d been standing directly behind me. I was beyond pissed, but I got a chance to redeem myself five minutes later when a home run clanged off the back railing behind the Monster Seats and skipped high in the air and sailed over my head into the fenced off alley. (Check out my Game 1 entry for pics of the alley.) Several fans hurried over to the seven-foot fence, and by the time they got there, I was already on the other side, racing down the hill, and when I got to the bottom, I had my first ball of the day. (No, it didn’t have a World Series logo.)

During the next half hour, there wasn’t a single ball that landed in the street or alley. Meanwhile several homers flew onto the garage roof, and eventually I noticed that there were a few fans up there hiding at the back, including one guy with a glove. I crept closer to the ramp that led to the roof and waited for the mean guy to look the other way, and as soon as he did, I made my move and raced up it. Before he had a chance to turn around, I was hiding in between the cars in the middle of the roof, using a black SUV as a shield. I turned around and looked at the fans behind me. There were six of them as well as two other garage employees who obviously didn’t care. Damn! It was just that one jerk at the bottom who’d prevented me from snagging several baseballs. PLUNK!!! A ball smacked the roof of a nearby car and bounced to one of the other guys.

“If a ball breaks a windshield,” he said, “we leave it in the car. That’s only fair.”

I had to figure everything out really fast. How far would the home runs travel? How would they bounce off the cars? How would I be able to chase the balls without being seen by the jerk down below? Should I stay back with everyone in the open area? Should I move forward and risk getting trapped between rows of cars? Some cars were parked very close to each other, leaving VERY little room to run in between. There were also big vans, SUVs, and trucks, all with mirrors and bumpers sticking out. It was an obstacle course like nothing I’d ever encountered, and I made some rookie mistakes as a result. Two minutes later, another home run started flying toward me, a bit short and to the left. I hung back like a nervous idiot, waiting for the ricochet, while another guy squeezed past me and snatched the ball as soon as it landed. I just wanted to get ONE ball on that roof, and luckily the home runs kept coming. Another ball clapped off the pavement, one row of cars to my left, and I couldn’t get there in time. Another ball landed on the ramp itself, and several landed in the alley, but I was too far over toward left-center. Finally, there was one that hit the roof of a car directly in front of me and disappeared from sight before I could get there. I ran to the spot, fully aware that half a dozen guys 5_underneath_carswould soon be closing in from all sides, and I dropped down onto my stomach and looked to my left. Nothing. Crap! I looked to my right, and there it was, trickling away from me underneath an SUV. I stuck out my right arm but couldn’t quite reach it. The ball was six inches beyond the tips of my fingers as it stopped rolling, so I grabbed my glove and reached back under and barely managed to touch it. I reached farther with all my might, my right shoulder wedged underneath the edge of the vehicle, and I moved the ball closer. And closer. And finally, I was able to grab it with my bare hand. It probably only took a couple of seconds, but it felt like a fall semester. (No, this ball didn’t have a World Series logo either.)

For the rest of BP, I tried using the fans’ reactions at the back of the Monster Seats to figure out where the balls were heading. There were a few guys up there who seemed pretty alert. Generally, they’d start running for balls before the balls were in sight for me, so if they ran left, I’d do the same thing. It seemed like a good idea at first, but it ended up making me focus more on a smaller area rather than letting my eyes scan back and forth at the entire sky above the giant wall. Anyway, as it turned out, BP was almost done, and my rooftop adventure ended just as I was starting to get the hang of it.

I got food. I found a bathroom. I checked out Yawkey Way. Hundreds of fans were streaming past me into the stadium, and I was only a little bit jealous. Did THEY have a chance of catching a World Series home run? No, probably not. Did I? Oh yes, and just the thought of that made me giddy. At 8:20pm, I pulled out my walkman, tuned in to the local broadcast just in time to hear the starting lineups, and made my way back to Lansdowne. The street was packed . . .

6_lansdowne_street_pregame

. . . but the garage roof was not. In fact, there was only one other fan up there — the man with the glove who was there during BP. The mean garage guy was gone, and the coast was clear. I walked up the ramp to get into position and was immediately stopped by another employee.

“You can’t stay here,” he said.

“How come that other guy can stay here?” I asked.

“He paid to park.”

“How about if *I* pay to park?”

“Where’s your car?” he asked.

“I forgot it,” I said.

He gave me a strange look, and I explained that yes, I was willing to pay $35 dollars for the right to stand on his garage roof for the next three and a half hours.

I handed him a twenty and three fives, and he started walking off.

“Excuse me,” I said, “don’t I get some sort of ticket?”

“You don’t need a ticket,” he snapped. “I’ll remember you.”

“Yeah, but what if you’re not here? I’d really like a ticket just in case.”

He didn’t want to give me a ticket. It meant that he couldn’t pocket the money because there’d be a record of the transaction. But I insisted. And it’s a good thing I did because he ended up stepping away for a little while and his manager showed up and tried to kick me out.

I told the manager I’d paid to park.

“Where’s your ticket?” he asked.

“Right here,” I said, pulling it out of my wallet.

He walked off and didn’t say another word for the rest of the night.

A few other fans walked up the ramp in the early innings and were quickly turned away. Were THEY willing to pay to compete with me for balls? No way. The employees closed the gate at the bottom of the ramp, and I was overjoyed:

7_view_from_garage_ramp

As for the other guy with the glove . . .

He started out as a bitter rival — at least in my mind — and ended up turning into a friend. He’d flown in from Texas and rented a car and parked at the back corner of the garage. He set up a small TV on the hood so he could watch the game, and he had a laptop with a wireless connection so he could follow college football:

8_world_series_tailgater

He offered me drinks and snacks and a chair. We played catch and talked about the Red Sox and baseball and life. “It doesn’t get any more fun than this,” he said at one point. It was a mini-tailgate party, and several garage employees joined us. As tempting as it was to hang out with him all night, I kept my distance . . .

9_world_series_tailgater

. . . and only wandered over during commercial breaks. I was there on a mission, and I wasn’t going to be distracted. HIS mission was simple. He was only interested in one player, and when that player wasn’t batting, he stayed seated with his back to the Monster and his laptop . . . on his lap. Incredible. Even my competition wasn’t competition.

10_cbs_denver_at_world_seriesHalfway through the game, the CBS news crew from Denver waved to me from the street, so I walked down the ramp and did another interview. What are you doing? Did you catch any balls today? Could you show us the balls? Are you having fun? How do you spell your name again? Did you really pay $35 to stand on the roof of a garage? Are you surprised that there aren’t more people trying to catch home runs?

“I can’t believe there’s no competition out here,” I told the camera. “There’s only one other guy with a glove–”

“–Just cuz I don’t have a glove doesn’t mean I’m not competition!” shouted a college-aged kid who was eavesdropping on the interview with a few buddies. “You better watch out!!”

He wasn’t kidding, and just like the “Fenway Pahhhk” incident on the train, it took a serious effort on my part not to laugh out loud.

After the interview (which lasted all of three minutes), some other guy standing nearby said enthusiastically, “Hey, now you’re famous!”

The game slowed down drastically once Schilling was taken out in the top of the 6th, and I had time to take a few pics (using my 10-second timer). During left-handed hitters’ at-bats, when I knew nothing was coming over the Monster, I got as comfortable as possible:

11_zack_sitting_garage

When light-hitting righties were at bat, I played closer to the foul pole and stood on the ramp:

12_zack_looking_up_at_the_green_monster

At various other times, I wandered all over the roof and took random pics of the cars and stadium:

13_view_from_back_of_garage_roof

The game-time temperature was 48 degrees. By the seventh-inning stretch, it must’ve dropped to the low 40s or high 30s because I could see my breath, and my face was stinging. I jogged in place. I jumped up and down. I kept moving. Staying warm was just part of the challenge.

The game itself, unfortunately, was a low-scoring affair. The Rockies scored in the 1st. The Red Sox scored in the 4th and 5th, and that was it. Eleven total hits. One extra-base hit. No homers. Blah. Once again, my glorious opportunity to catch a World Series home run went down the drain, but I still had lots of fun, and I’m glad I made the trip. Final score: Red Sox 2, Rockies 1.

Were the Rockies going to win two of three in Denver and force a sixth game back in Boston? I knew it wasn’t likely, and I knew my season was likely done.

As Red Sox fans flooded the streets, I shouted, “Anyone wanna sell their ticket stub?!”

Everyone ignored me.

I shouted again and again and got the same result.

I decided to shout one more time, and some guy asked me how much I was willing to pay.

“Ten bucks?” I asked.

He kept walking.

I entered the KENMORE subway station and shouted again to the mob of people waiting to pass through the turnstiles (or whatever those weird things are). ONE guy offered me his ticket for five bucks. I got all excited, but of course but it wasn’t the fancy kind. It was one of those small/colorless box office stubs — and it was crinkled into oblivion.

“Thanks but no thanks,” I said.

He was annoyed.

I headed downstairs.

The first train that pulled in was insanely crowded. I was exhausted and had no business trying to squeeze aboard, but I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting for another train. I walked up to the wall of passengers at the open doors and shouted, “Can you people make room for a New Yorker who hates the Yankees?!”

Everyone laughed and pushed a bit farther inside, and I was in:

14_boston_subway_postgame

“Anyone wanna sell their ticket stub for twenty bucks?!” I asked.

“Right here!” shouted a guy buried in the crowd. “I’ll sell you mine!”

I reached for my wallet and another guy yelled, “I’ll sell mine for fifteen!”

“Fourteen!” shouted the first guy.

“Fourteen!” I repeated. “Anyone want to beat that?”

No one said a word, so I pulled out the money and passed it through the crowd. Five seconds later, someone passed a teeny strip of the ticket to me.

“What the HELL is THIS?!” I shouted.

“It’s the stub!” yelled the guy.

“Noooo!!! That’s just a saying!!! I want the whole ticket!!! I can’t believe you tore it!!!”

“You said you wanted the ticket STUB!”

“I want my money back!” I said, passing the ‘stub’ back to him.

“A deal’s a deal!” he yelled and passed the rest of the ticket toward me.

“This ticket is creased!!” I shouted. “You sold me a torn creased ticket!! What the f*ck?!”

“You wanted a ticket!” he yelled unapologetically and got off at the next stop.

I got off at PARK STREET ten minutes later, still shaking my head and debating what type of jinx to put on Red Sox Nation, when an older man tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a beautiful ticket.

“Here you go,” he said. “We got a couple of ‘em last night.”

Not a bad way for my season to end.

15_2007_world_series_tickets

STATS:

• 316 balls in 41 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 496 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 3 consecutive World Series games with at least one ball

• 3,277 total balls

ST. MARTIN — Day 7

This was the final day of the trip. Our flight back to New York was scheduled to take off at 4pm, leaving time for a final jaunt on the beach.

Here I am with my half-sister Martha:

368_zack_and_martha_on_the_beach

I took that photo with a ten-second timer. Not bad, huh?

As we walked, I took a bunch of photos like this . . .

369_yet_another_beach_photo

. . . and this . . .

371_chairs_in_the_water

. . . and this . . .

372_watersports_shack

. . . and this:

373_pretty_terrace_on_the_waterfront

Before I knew it, we had to pack up and jump in the car . . .

377_driving_to_the_airport

. . . and head to Princess Juliana International Airport:

378_princess_juliana_international_airport

Amy had a flight to Memphis on her own, so we said goodbye to her:

379_goodbye_to_amy

Our flight was an hour later, so I had lots of time to work on my blog:

382_lots_of_time_to_blog

Eventually my time in St. Martin was over:

385_zack_boarding_the_plane

Hopefully we can all travel someplace together next year. India is currently being discussed as a possibility, but I’m not sure if it’ll happen. Alternatively, I would love to visit Thailand, but Martha has already been there. Of course. Maybe Vietnam? Or maybe Key West? Or a cruise?

Whatever. All I can think about now is enjoying two more full months of relaxing bliss before Opening Day . . .

ST. MARTIN — DAY 6

According to a sign at the restaurant where we ate breakfast, we were only 2,270 kilometers from home:

276_view_during_breakfast

Of course, as a stupid American, I have no idea what a kilometer is, and I don’t really care.

I began my meal with a plate of scrambled eggs . . .

278_scrambled_eggs_with_pepper

. . . and finished with the largest crepe of all time, filled with Nutella, banana, and coconut:

279_massive_crepe_with_banana_coconut_and_nutella

I needed all those calories to get me through our morning hike at Loterie Farm. Here’s what it looked like as we drove onto the grounds:

282_loterie_farm_out_the_window

The hike began as more of a walk . . .

286_beginning_the_hike_to_paradise_peak

. . . but took us up into the hills . . .

289_martha_amy_zack

. . . where the path became quite steep:

291_hiking_up_a_steep_path

In the photo above, that’s my mom in the black hat. I can’t reveal her age because she’ll disown me, so let’s just say she gets on the bus for half-price. I’m pointing this out so you’ll appreciate how impressive it is that she plowed her way up the mountain. You know how some middle-aged folks act like senior citizens? My mom is the opposite. It’s beautiful.

Our hike took us to Paradise Peak (or, as the French call it, Pic Paradis). It’s the highest point on St. Martin, and the view is exquisite:

295_zack_on_rock_at_paradise_peak

In the photo above, that’s me on the rock in the lower right corner. And guess what? That wasn’t even the highest point. After reaching that spot and spending too much time (according to my half-sister, Martha) having my picture taken, we still had to climb up the most challenging part of the trail:

296_naomi_and_zack_climbing_up_rocky_path

It was like hiking up a staircase made of boulders, some of which were slightly loose. Thankfully we found a gentler path on the way back down, and when we made it to the bottom, we chugged ice-cold bottled waters in a relaxing open-air lounge:

304_bottled_waters_in_the_nice_lounge

Our next stop was on the Dutch side of the island. (FYI: the Dutch side is basically the party side. It’s crowded and touristy and tacky — the spot were people get off their cruise ships and lose money in casinos. The French side, where we stayed, is extremely mellow and charming.) Thanks to several folks who suggested it on Twitter and here on my blog, we went to Maho Beach, which is located right next to the airport:

308_maho_beach

Why would anyone want to go to a beach in a spot like that and risk their lives?

309_warning_sign_about_airplanes

To check out the airplanes, of course:

310_people_photographing_airplane_at_princess_juliana_international_airport

In the photo above, that plane was turning around to face away from the beach in preparation for takeoff, and when it DID start revving up, the continued blast of air was so intense that it felt like a hurricane. Thankfully I turned away from the plane just in time to prevent my eyeballs from getting impaled with sand. Several people’s hats and various other beach items blew 100 feet away into the ocean, but no one got hurt.

Amy, Martha, and my mom enjoyed the spectacle:

312_amy_martha_naomi_at_maho_beach

We didn’t plan to stay long — just for 20 or 30 minutes to see a few planes taking off and landing.

There was a huge crowd at the restaurant at the end of the beach:

313_crowded_restaurant_at_maho_beach

And then it happened. A plane started making its approach . . .

314_plane_coming_in_for_a_landing

. . . and buzzed the beach:

315_airplane_flaying_low_over_maho_beach

Hot damn! I don’t consider myself a plane enthusiast, but it *was* pretty cool.

After watching a few more planes, we headed back to the beach near our condo. Martha, Amy, and my mom lay down and read:

321_naomi_martha_amy_beach_chairs_back_near_our_condo

I wandered toward one end of the beach . . .

324_heading_to_the_end_of_the_beach

. . . where something odd was poking up out of the sand:

326_half_sunken_boat_on_the_beach

At first I thought it was a tent, but it turned out to be a boat, tipped on its side and covered with graffiti. Here’s a closer look:

328_other_side_of_the_boat

I walked past the boat and headed out onto the rocks:

330_rocks_and_water

It was *so* nice to be alone there. I enjoyed looking out at the water, letting my mind wander, and taking the occasional photo. Here’s the crevice filled with smaller stones:

331_little_rocks_in_the_crevice

Here’s a tree atop the hill:

332_tree_silhouette_atop_hill

On my way back, I played with the sand:

336_hand_and_sand

Eventually I handed off my camera to Amy and jumped in the water:

341_zack_in_the_water

This was the scene at sunset:

343_naomi_and_martha_on_the_balcony

It was our final night of the trip, so we splurged on a fancy dinner in perhaps the nicest restaurant I’ve ever been to. Here’s what it looked like inside:

346_nicest_restaurant_ever_for_dinner

Take a look at my appetizer and try to guess what it is:

348_cubic_of_fresh_tuna_crispy_bacon_creamy_corn_toasted_bread_with_sesame_And_teriyaki_whipped_cream

It was seared tuna wrapped in bacon with “teriyaki whipped cream” and other oddities, and IT WAS GOOOOOOD. Everything at the restaurant was bizarre and delicious; Martha had an appetizer that contained goat cheese ice cream. I tried some, and it was great. Sometimes I eat total crap like this, but other times (especially when other people are paying), I enjoy pretentious high-end food.

This was my main course:

353_pasta_with_shrimp_candied_garlic_and_crispy_chorizo

To quote the menu, it was “pasta with shrimp, candied garlic, and crispy chorizo,” and by the way, the orange swirl was a carrot puree.

At some point late in the meal, Martha started acting like a six-year-old, which brought out my inner five-year-old, which made us both hysterical. Here I am laughing so hard that I was crying:

356_zack_laughing_hysterically

I can’t blame our antics on sugar because we hadn’t yet ordered dessert. We ended up sharing a chocolate sampler plate:

357_chocolate_sampler_plate_for_dessert_including_frozen_lychees_coated_with_chocolate_and_mousse_with_a_coating_of_pop_rocks

I won’t bother listing every item in the photo above. Instead I’ll just tell you about the most unusual one. See the two spoons? Those contained chocolate mousse topped with Pop Rocks. Who the hell thinks of that?!

Finally, we each received a complimentary “tiramisu shot,” which had Kahlua and some other creamy thing and cocoa powder sprinkled on top:

358_tiramisu_shot

Despite eating like a madman for the final two days of the trip, I lost a couple of pounds. How often does THAT happen on a vacation? It had never happened to me before. Back in 2005, I gained 10 pounds on a two-week trip to Paris and Israel, which, looking back, is disgusting. That was the old me. The new me is trying to exercise more and eat sensibly.

ST. MARTIN — Day 5

We spent the day at Bikini Beach, and this was my view for most of it:

209_view_of_the_ocean

One of the best things about being there was watching people walk past, starting with Martha (my half-sister) and Amy (her girlfriend):

211_martha_and_amy

Here’s a random couple making their way down the beach:

212_people_walking_past

Here are three more couples:

213_people_walking_past

Here’s a contender for the “Best Outfit Of The Day” award — and the best attitude too:

214_fat_guy_in_the_water

So awesome.

Here’s Amy getting a 20-minute aloe massage:

222_amy_getting_a_massage

Martha got one too, and so did my mom. Later in the day, Martha and Amy were each massaged for an hour. I would’ve loved to get in on that action, but thought the money was better spent on flyboarding. Remember this photo I took on Day 2 of the trip? I *really* wanted to try it myself — and now the time had finally arrived.

Here I am with Alex, my flyboard instructor:

225_zack_and_flyboard_instructor

Amy had kindly offered to take photos of me flyboarding from the beach, but I wanted this experience to be as well documented as possible, so for an extra $20, Alex used a fancy camera to get some pics of me from the jet ski.

Here I am putting on a helmet:

226_zack_putting_on_helmet

The helmet was required so that I’d be less likely to die if I fell off the flyboard and landed headfirst on the jet ski. Alex made sure that didn’t happen by keeping his distance and giving me a limited thrust. I had assumed that I’d somehow control the power, but that was done from the jet ski. The power itself came from water pressure that was supplied through a long tube connected to the flyboard.

Got it?

After receiving a zillion pointers about how to shift my weight, point my toes, and push down on the flyboard, I was ready to give it a shot. Here I am rising out of the water:

228_zack_rising_out_of_the_water

Here I am going a bit higher . . .

229_zack_flyboarding

. . . before losing my balance and plunging into the ocean:

230_zack_losing_balance_and_falling

I figured I’d need a few minutes to get the hang of it and that I’d end up flying all over the place, but it was MUCH harder than I expected. Balancing was counterintuitive, and I can explain it. Try standing up (right now, on the floor) and keeping your body straight and leaning back an inch or two at a time. When you get to the point where you’re about to lose your balance, what happens? You instinctively puff your chest out a bit and arch your back, right? And you flex your toes up so they come off the floor . . . right? Well, on a flyboard, that’s all wrong and it’ll make you fall over backward even faster. What I was supposed to do was push down with my toes in order to tilt the board forward; whichever way the board is leaning will determine which way it goes. That might sound easy, but hell, try pushing down with your toes when you’re falling backward on the ground, and you’ll be on your ass before you know it. So yeah, basically, everything I’d learned from a lifetime of balancing was wrong.

This pretty much sums up my flyboard experience:

238_zack_flyboarding

Here’s a decent photo of me back up in the air:

240_zack_flyboarding

This was as high as I got:

247_zack_flyboarding

By the time I finally started getting the hang of it, my session was done. It cost $70 for 15 minutes plus $20 for the photography — VERY expensive and rather frustrating overall but totally worth it.

Here’s a photo that Amy took at some point from the beach:

251_zack_flyboarding_photographed_by_amy_from_the_beach

Of course she also got a photo of me falling:

252_zack_flyboarding_photographed_by_amy_from_the_beach

In the early afternoon, we ordered lunch at our beach chairs:

260_lunch_is_served

I had a filet of red snapper with caesar salad:

261_red_snapper_filet_with_caesar_salad

Normally, the closer a restaurant is to the water, the worse the food is, but our meal was quite good.

After lunch, Martha took off on a jet ski . . .

262_martha_taking_off_on_a_jet_ski_for_an_hourlong_snorkeling_expedition

. . . for an hourlong snorkeling excursion. She told me later that she came face to face with a three-foot barracuda, and she was excited about it! What a maniac.

Here’s an interesting character I saw in the mid-afternoon:

266_man_with_weird_gadgets

If I had to guess, I’d say he was using a metal detector. But really, what the hell is going on there?

Here are some other folks that caught my eye:

253_people_walking_past

I’m not sure what to say about them other than . . . there really *is* someone for everyone.

Over the course of the day, I probably saw two dozen topless women, including Martha and Amy. When they first showed up topless at our beach chairs, I wasn’t there. (I had gone for a run, if you must know.) They were bummed because they’d been looking forward to surprising me, and get this — as they started getting dressed, my mom encouraged them to stay topless and go find me. Ha!

Yes, there are photos.
No, I’m not going to post them.

I don’t have any photos of what happened next, other than this:

268_naomi_posing_before_entering_the_nude_area

In the photo above, my mom was giving me a funny look because we were about to take a leisurely stroll through the nude portion of the beach — my suggestion, of course. She’d never been to a nude beach before, so I thought it’d be a nice, educational experience. And by the way, in case you’re concerned that my family is weird . . . well, we ARE weird, but you should know that we kept our clothes/bathing suits on.

Overall my mom was *not* impressed. She called it “anti-sexual,” which I tried to explain is kind of the point, but she said she was actually repulsed by the whole thing and didn’t understand the appeal. That said, we did have a few laughs, the best of which came when I pointed out a bronzed, naked old man standing 50 feet in front of us. As we approached, I said, “Why don’t you go introduce yourself? He looks lovely, and you might make a nice connection.”

“I don’t think so,” she said with exaggerated disgust.

“Just walk up to him and say, ‘Excuse me, sir, do you know where the hot dog stand is?'”

“You’re looking at it,” joked my mom, imagining the man’s response.

Heh.

Anyway, when we returned to our beach chairs, Martha was gone and Amy was asleep:
269_amy_sleeping

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

270_amy_sleeping_closeup

Since everyone is subject to ridicule on my blog, here’s a photo of my mom reacting to the coldness of the water:

271_naomi_reacting_to_cold_water

Not that I’m a tough guy or anything, but I really didn’t think it was that cold.

Here’s one final look at the beach before we packed up and left in the late afternoon:

272_view_to_my_right

After spending some time back at the condo, the four of us headed out for an Italian dinner at a tiny nearby mall. Here we are:

276_zack_naomi_martha_amy_outside_mall_where_we_ate_dinner

We ate outdoors in a pretty courtyard:

277_piazza_pascal_ristorante

For my appetizer, I had toasted bread topped with goat cheese, fresh roasted pepper, olives, and artichoke hearts with balsamic vinaigrette:

278_toasted_bread_topped_with_goat_cheese_fresh_roasted_pepper_olives_and_artichoke_hearts_with_balsamic_vinaigrette

For my main course, I ordered this . . .

279_sauteed_gnocchi_in_pomodore_sauce_with_italian_sausage_onions_and_peppers

. . . and Amy ordered this . . .

280_spaghetti_with_sauteed_pancetta)garlic_egg_and_creamy_parmesan_cheese_sauce

. . . and I ended up with a perfect half-and-half portion of each:

281_half_and_half_portion_with_amy

In the photo above, the item on the left is sauteed gnocchi in pomodore sauce with Italian sausage, onions, and peppers. The item on the right is spaghetti with sauteed pancetta, garlic, egg, and creamy parmesan cheese sauce.

Wooooo, mama! It was VERY good. And for dessert, I had some tiramisu:

282_tiramisu_shared_with_martha

Calories? Bwahaha!

ST. MARTIN — Day 4

It was another super-relaxing day at the local beach:

171_view_from_the_deck

After lounging around and doing absolutely nothing for an hour or two, I went for 20-minute jog from one end of the beach to the other. Amy had lent me some type of fancy smartphone watch, which told me the distance (1.65 miles) and my pace (slow, but whatever — YOU try jogging barefoot on a slanted beach with thick sand and waves rolling in up to your ankles).

A bit later, I took a half-mile walk with my mom. Here’s what it looked like at one point:

175_the_beach

I was amused by this “Miami Heat” boat . . .

179_miami_heat_boat

. . . and this 8-ball buoy:

183_8_ball_buoy

Here’s a man and his dog:

184_man_and_his_dog

Here’s my mom:

186_naomi_walking_on_the_beach

Here are Amy and Martha with their kayaking/snorkeling guide:

187_amy_and_martha_with_their_kayak_snorkeling_guide

The guide told us that he grew up on the northern coast of France, where the weather is awful. He moved to St. Martin five years ago, works here full-time on the beach, and now has a wife and a little kid on the island — not a bad life.

While Amy and Martha did their thing, my mom and I escaped the mid-day sun inside the condo:

189_lunch_with_naomi

In the late afternoon, Martha challenged me to a game of Scrabble . . .

191_scrabble_with_martha

. . . which we never finished. I *hate* that. I’d rather lose by 200 points than end prematurely.

As the sun began to set, I went for another jog on the beach and did a few sprints because why not? Also, it’s never too early to start getting in shape for baseball season.

At 7pm we all walked down the main street . . .

192_naomi_posing_on_the_way_to_dinner

. . . to a BBQ place called Sky’s The Limit, which came highly recommended from the locals. Here’s what I ate:

197_chicken_and_rib_combo

That’s a chicken and rib combo with cole slaw, spaghetti, potato salad, rice and beans, mac and cheese, and salad.

Speaking of cole slaw, here’s a whole lot of it on the floor:

198_cole_slaw_on_the_floor

Our waitress dropped a huge container of it, and before it was fully cleaned up (and the floor was still slick with mayonnaise residue), a customer slipped in it. One of the employees grabbed his arm and caught him just before he crashed to the floor. It was hilarious in a glad-that-wasn’t-me kinda way.

Martha requested that I get a photo of our waitress, whose name tag said “Lolipop”:

199_martha_and_naomi_with_our_waitress_lolipop

On our way back from dinner, we stopped in a little store called Sexy Fruits:

201_shopping_at_sexy_fruits

Whaddaya know?! There was something baseball-related:

202_baseball_at_sexy_fruit

Look what was inside the baseball:

203_naughty_interior_of_baseball

Tee-hee!

I was tempted to buy it because, as Martha said, “That’s soooo YOU.” But eh. I have no place in my life for useless trinkets.

Here I am with my mom and Martha:

204_zack_wearing_pink_cowboy_hat

I didn’t buy the pink cowboy hat either, but it does look good on me, no?

The one thing I did buy (at a teeny grocery store down the street) was a “Chubby” bubble gum-flavored soda:

205_chubby_soda_and_chubby_martha

How can you NOT buy something like that? And by the way, did you notice Martha pointing at her chubby stomach in the background? And did you notice her St. Louis Cardinals t-shirt? She’s swell.

As for the soda, it was extremely sweet and artificial and bubble-gummy, and I loved it — but only enough to have two sips. Martha tried it and said, “It tastes like frosting,” and she was absolutely right.

ST. MARTIN — Day 3

The day started with a short drive and an even shorter boat ride to a place called Yellow Beach. It was beautiful . . .

113_view_from_the_beach

. . . and relaxing:

114_dog_sleeping_in_the_sand

I took a walk down the beach with Martha and Amy . . .

116_martha_and_amy_on_the_beach

. . . and played Scrabble with my mom:

122_playing_scrabble_with_naomi

We had several happy interruptions during the game. First, Martha showed us a couple of sea urchin shells that she found while snorkeling:

124_sea_urchin_shells_found_by_martha

A little while later, she led us here . . .

125_people_crowded_around_looking_at_something

. . . to see a bunch of large iguanas fighting over french fries:

127_iguanas_eating_french_fries

(Thanks, jackass tourists, for doing your part to ruin the ecosystem.)

Scrabble was interrupted yet again for lunch, which was brought to our beach chairs. I had the “exotic crab salad” with chips, guacamole, watermelon, and pineapple:

130_crab_salad_with_guacamole

In other news, Martha and Amy like beer:

133_martha_and_amy_beers_in_the_ocean

Here’s how the Scrabble game ended:

134_scrabble_final_board_and_score

See the word REPULSES along the bottom? My mom got 149 points for it because it was a “triple-triple.” (At the time, we miscounted and determined that it was worth 160 points, but hey, it’s still impressive.) That’s what you call it when you hit two triple word scores on one move; the score gets tripled and then re-tripled, and then of course you get the 50-point bonus for using all seven tiles.

At around 2:30pm, we lined up on this dock for the boat ride back to the mainland:

135_lining_up_for_the_ferry

Here are the four of us on the boat — Martha, Amy, my mom, and me:

136_martha_amy_naomi_zack_ferry

Our next stop was Orient Bay Beach . . .

137_driving_to_orient_bay_beach

. . . which looked like this:

139_orient_bay_beach

According to Martha, this was THE beach in terms of the number of people and variety of activities.

For $10, I got a “watersports” wristband . . .

142_wristboand_for_trampoline

. . . which gave me all-day access to this trampoline:

143_zack_on_the_trampoline

That’s me in the photo above, and I’m sorry to report that that’s as high as I managed to jump — not because I’m lame but because of physics. I grew up with a large trampoline on Shelter Island, so believe me, I can get plenty of air under normal circumstances, but out in the ocean? Not so much. You see, when I pushed down in an attempt to jump, the whole damn thing sunk a few inches into the water, so in effect, there was nothing to push off of. It really sucked.

After checking in with my family . . .

146_naomi_martha_amy

. . . I wandered to the far end of the beach, where there just happened to be a “clothing optional” area. I don’t have any pics for you because (a) photographing other people was against the rules and (b) you squeamish homophobes couldn’t handle it. Several hours after returning from the beach, I offered to tweet a naked photo of myself, and the responses were disappointing — see here and here. That said, here’s a photo I took from the nude beach, looking back into the normal/boring area:

152_nudity_is_prohibited

Did you notice the sign on the left? Womp.

At around 5pm, we drove back through Grand Case (which is adorable) to our condo:

155_driving_back_to_the_condo

Here’s a group selfie in the elevator:

157_group_selfie_in_elevator

Here I am blogging on the terrace:

158_zack_blogging_on_the_balcony

Here’s what we had for dinner:

161_martha_amy_naomi_at_dinner

More soon . . .

ST. MARTIN — Day 2

As the photo below indicates, our first full day in St. Martin was rather uneventful:

55_laptop_use

That’s not a complaint. It’s exactly what we all needed. We enjoyed getting a slow start and fiddling on our laptops for a bit.

While my mom and Martha discussed the plan . . .

57_naomi_and_martha_discussing_the_plan

. . . I scrounged up a few small items for breakfast, including this:

59_prune_yogurt

Prune yogurt! Yum! (Seriously.)

What did we do all day? We hung out on the beach near our condo. Here’s my mom:

63_naomi_walking_on_the_beach

Here are Amy and Martha:

67_amy_and_martha_on_the_beach

Here’s me:

69_zack_on_the_beach

One of the highlights of the day was drinking this:

75_banana_baileys_coconut

See what I mean about things being uneventful? That drink — my first with alcohol since Ben & Jen’s wedding 32 days ago — contained banana, coconut, and Baileys.

Here I am at lunch:

77_zack_at_lunch

Here’s what I ate for lunch — tuna curry with coconut sauce:

78_tuna_curry_with_coconut_sauce

In the late afternoon, I escaped the sun by heading up into the condo. This was the scene down below:

80_view_from_our_balcony

Here’s something else I saw from the balcony:

87_jet_ski_fly_board_thingie

I’d seen those things on TV, but never in person. They’re called flyboards, and I’m hoping to try one before the week is through.

This was the view at sunset:

89_beach_at_dusk

For dinner, we went to a nice-ish restaurant down the street. Here’s what I ate:

92_lobster_soup_with_lobster_dices_and_vegetable_julienne

On the left is “lobster soup with lobster dices and vegetable julienne.” On the right is “pork tenderloin, honey orange sauce, glazed shallots with tonka bean, and potatoes au gratin.”

The end.
That was my day.
Sometimes it’s fun to do nothing.

ST. MARTIN — Day 1

Over the past few years, I’ve gone on several trips with my mom (Naomi) and half-sister (Martha). In 2011 we went to Barbados. In 2012 we went to Japan. In 2013 our destination was Hawaii. Last year we checked out Saint Lucia. And now we’re in St. Martin. Good timing, too. Look how cold it was in New York City:

3_weather_in_new_york_haha

Ew.

During the four-hour flight, we witnessed some bizarre behavior. There was a 70-ish-year-old woman “seated” two rows in front of me, who must’ve gotten out of her seat 30 times and walked up and down the aisle. At first she appeared to be lost and confused, and indeed, on several occasions she needed help finding her seat. Sometimes she started talking/interacting with whatever random person she happened to be standing closest to. The worst of it was when she calmly bent down toward a man who was watching a movie — a total stranger — and pulled his glasses right off his face! As you might expect, he was shocked, as was everyone else who witnessed it. She wasn’t malicious. It was probably just a case of Alzheimer’s or dementia, so mainly it was just sad. And her lips were cartoonishly puffy from a collagen injection.

Anyway, enough about that. After having worn two pairs of long underwear nearly every day for the past two weeks, it was SO NICE to look out the window at the end of the flight and see this:

6_landing_in_st_martin

Of course, being outside was even better:

11_walking_outside_to_rental_car_shuttle

There was a fourth person on our trip: Martha’s girlfriend, Amy — pictured below, driving to the condo we’d rented for the week:

15_driving_to_our_condo

On the way, we passed funky little buildings like this . . .

17_view_from_the_car

. . . and enjoyed some scenery like this:

19_view_from_the_car

Here’s my mom in the condo:

25_condo_interior_naomi

The set-up is pretty cool. We have the top two floors of a three-story building, and the elevator opens up right into our living room. Meanwhile, the view on the back terrace is spectacular:

29_zack_on_the_terrace

It wasn’t long before we headed back out to do a couple of mundane tasks, one of which was grocery shopping:

33_shopping_for_a_weeks_worth_of_food

We also found an electronics store and bought some European plug adapters for our laptops; we’re staying on the French side of the island (in a town called Grand Case).

Have you ever seen a 3D printer? I hadn’t until Martha pointed one out in the store:

36_3d_printer

Look at the Yoda bust that it had produced:

37_yoda_head_made_by_3d_printer

I don’t see the purpose of that technology in my life, but I’m damn impressed.

At around 7pm, we took a little stroll . . .

42_walking_to_dinner

. . . and picked a random restaurant for dinner.

Now, it seems that whenever I visit someplace special and *don’t* post food pics, several people complain. Thus, I’m delighted to inform you that I started with lobster ravioli with coconut milk sauce, curry, and citronella:

46_lobster_ravioli_coconut_milk_sauce_with_curry_and_citronella

For my main course, I had roasted Chilean sea bass, cabbage fondue with bacon and chorizo, and butter sauce:

47_roasted_chilean_sea_bass_cabbage_fondue_with_bacon_and_chorizo_butter_sauce

(Yes, it was good.)

Here are the four of us:

48_naomi_zack_amy_martha_at_dinner

For those who don’t know, Martha is wearing the gray shirt, and Amy is dressed in pink.

We all shared two desserts:

49_chocolate_cake_with_nutella_ice_cream_and_a_banana_tart_with_vanilla_ice_cream

On the left is a chocolate cake with nutella ice cream. On the right is a banana tart, vanilla ice cream, chocolate and caramel sauce, and malted milk balls. Phew!

For weeks leading up to this trip, I’ve been eating carefully and exercising more . . . and on the very first night, before any of us had even gone to the beach, it all fell apart.

Oh well.
I’m on vacation.
I can do whatever the hell I want.

9/29/05 at Shea Stadium

Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one. Thankfully I had saved all the photos, along with the text from my original entry, so this was fairly easy to recreate. Enjoy!

What a day . . .

It rained all morning and continued into the early afternoon. Then the sun came out at 3pm, so my friend Sean and I decided to go. (He’s the guy from 9/6/05 at Camden Yards and 9/22/05 at Shea Stadium.) We got to Shea and saw from the subway platform that the field was set up for BP. We bought our tickets, waited in line outside Gate C, and ran insude when the stadium opened at 4:40pm.

No BP. Just the Japanese media:

1_japanese_media_09_29_05

Half an hour later, I saw a Mets player walk out of the bullpen and start playing catch with someone in the right field corner:

2_heath_bell_throwing_09_29_05

It was Heath Bell. He waved to me. I waved back. It was nice to be recognized, but I usually don’t get baseballs from guys who know me. Therefore my first thought was something along the lines of, “Dammit, why couldn’t it have been anyone else?”

Sean gave me my space and went to left field. (What a nice friend.) I waited a minute and then yelled, “Heath! You and I should be throwing instead!”

“You don’t have a glove!” he called back.

I unzipped my backpack and pulled out my glove and shouted, “Ohhhhhh!” as if to say, “You feel busted.”

“Tuck in your shirt!” he snapped.

Okay, fine, he wanted me to look like a ballplayer, so I scrambled to tuck in my big, floppy, long-sleeved shirt. I put my glove back on, and he threw the next one right to me. I wasn’t expecting it – not that quickly, anyway. He was about 75 feet away, and I threw it back. Perfect throw. Not much velocity, though. My arm wasn’t warmed up. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t bounce it or launch it over his head. He threw the next one back to his partner on the field. The other guy wasn’t a player or even a trainer. I think he was the Mets’ Japanese translator.

Heath moved back farther and farther until he was long-tossing. Then, after a few minutes, he began moving closer and eventually finished with a few short throws. Finally he tossed me the ball again. I threw it back. He threw it back. I threw it back, and so on. I tried to show off my knuckleball, but he put me to shame with his. He threw one that danced so much that I dropped it, causing him to fling up his arms in disgust because the ball had fallen onto that hard-to-reach, sloped, grassy area between the seats and the field.

“Don’t worry,” I said when he walked over. “I can get it. You’ve seen the trick with my glove, right?”

He shook his head.

“Oh, man,” I said, pulling out my rubber band and sharpie, “check it out.” I stretched the band over the glove and propped it open with the marker, and then I paused to give an explanation.

“I can see what you’re doing,” he said.

“Alright alright, here goes . . . ”

I lowered the glove over the ball and jiggled it around for a few seconds. The grass was thick, and I wanted to make sure that the band had stretched all the way over the ball. I raised the glove slowly for dramatic effect, and the ball was stuck inside. He loved it! He turned to the few other fans, who had made their way out to the right field corner, and said, “This guy is a professional.”

I thought he was going to let me keep the ball at that point, but instead he backed up onto the outfield grass and held up his glove, so I threw it back.

It was tough to play catch from the stands. Not only was I eight feet above the field and throwing downward at an awkward angle, but there were steps and railings and seats all around me.

I moved a few sections over where the wall wasn’t as high, and we continued to play catch. One of Heath’s throws was too low and clipped the back of the seat. The ball ricocheted far to my left, and I had to climb over several railings to get there. He waited patiently.

“Give me your camera,” said a voice from behind.

It was Sean! He saw me playing catch from the other side of the stadium and ran over (I love having athletic friends) to take pictures. I pointed at my backpack, which was sitting on an orange seat 30 feet away. He went over and found the camera and came back.

“Get behind me!” I said. “Then you can get me with Heath in the background!”

Sean rolled his eyes. He already had it all figured out — and he went to work.

The set . . .

3_zack_playing_catch_with_heath_bell

The wind-up . . .

4_zack_playing_catch_with_heath_bell

The pitch . . .

5_zack_playing_catch_with_heath_bell

Heath was calling balls and strikes from his crouch. I ran the count to 3-2 (on some questionable calls) and ended up bouncing a curveball. Bah!

Several fans crowded around and asked me how I got to play catch with him. Meanwhile, a pack of security guards marched out of the bullpen to see what was going on and realized there wasn’t anything they could get mad about, so they left. It was great. Heath and I played catch for about 10 minutes, and at the end of it, he let me keep the ball.

When he came over to sign autographs for everyone, I asked if he’d ever seen the photo of me buried in baseballs in a bathtub. He shook his head, so I pulled out my wallet (where I keep a copy) and handed it over.

“That’s less than one-third of my collection,” I told him.

He had lots of questions.
“What do you do with them?”
“Where do you keep them?”
“Do you live with your parents?”
“Do you work?”

He must not have believed me because he started looking at my credit cards and counting my money:

6_heath_bell_stealing_my_money

“Take whatever you need,” I said, but he left it all there and handed it back. And that was it. I shook his hand and thanked him, and he headed off to the bullpen.

I was so happy that I didn’t even care what happened for the rest of the day, but of course I still headed out to left field when the Rockies started BP at 5:25pm.

Sean was out there. He’d already gotten a ball:

7_sean_heffron_holding_a_baseball

Before long, I got one from a Rockies pitcher who was hiding his jersey under his warm-up jacket. I’m pretty sure it was Scott Dohmann, but it was hard to tell. With the exception of a handful of guys, the Rockies are seriously a bunch of no-names. Anyway, the ball had some bizarre writing on the sweet spot, and I still have no idea what it means.

8_ball2730_strange_writing

FYI, I wrote the “2730” on it because it was the 2,730th ball of my collection, but all the other writing was there when I snagged it.

My next goal was to get *one* more ball to keep a certain streak alive; I’d been to 50 consecutive games at which I’d snagged at least three.

A few minutes later, a very tall player wearing No. 23 began playing catch in left field. I pulled out my roster and did a quick search. It was Ryan Speier. I
wasn’t sure if I’d even heard of him, but he didn’t need to know that. I waited 9_ryan_speier_head_shot_2005until he finished throwing and then yelled his name. He turned around, spotted my Rockies cap, and flung his GLOVE to me from 40 feet away. I could not believe my eyes. The whole situation unfolded in slow-motion. I’d seen him take off the glove . . . and swing his right arm back . . . and under-hand this bundle of leather toward me in a high arc over several fans and half a dozen rows of seats. Was this a joke?! Was I dreaming? Was he going to walk over and tell me to give it back? I’ve attended more than 600 major league games, and I had never gotten a glove. I’d never even considered the possibility of getting one.

A minute later, I was still in shock:

10_zack_gets_glove

The other fans were pretty stunned too, and several folks came over to have a look. It was gorgeous. Rawlings. Gold Glove Series. Black leather with red labels and a red “Speier” stitched onto the outside of the thumb:

11_ryan_speier_glove

Then I realized why he’d given it away. A few of the leather laces had torn, leaving a large hole in the pocket:

12_ryan_speier_glove

“You could get it re-strung!” Someone shouted.

Re-strung?! Why would I want to do that? I want to leave it exactly as I got it. It’s perfect.

At that point, I *really* didn’t care what happened for the rest of the day.

Sean decided (and I agreed) that it was stupid for us to be competing with each other in the same section, so he headed upstairs to the Loge Level:

13_sean_heffron_loge_level

He ended up getting two more baseballs up there. One was thrown by Todd Greene, and the other was a homer that rattled around in the mostly-empty seats.

As for me, I got my third ball from Garrett Atkins. He was taking fungos at shortstop. I was 10 rows back along the 3rd base line. He probably threw it from 120 feet away. It was my record-tying 300th ball of the season, and it kept my streak alive.

14_ball2732_301st_of_2005Two minutes after returning to the left field corner, I spotted a ball sitting on the infield dirt between 3rd base and shortstop. I knew that someone would eventually walk over and pick it up and toss it into the crowd, so I ran over, hoping it would happen sooner than later. It did. Clint Barmes approached the ball and gave me a sidearm flip as soon as I shouted his name. There it was. Ball No. 301 of the season — a new record. (It’s an ugly ball, pictured here on the right, scuffed and beat up and discolored, which makes me love it even more.)

I went back to the left field corner and got my fifth ball of the day from . . . someone. I think it was an outfielder, and I think it was Brad Hawpe, but there was no way to tell. That’s a shame, but at least it wasn’t the record-breaker. Whenever I catch an important ball, I try to make sure that I know the source.

Todd Helton was walking from left field to the dugout. I really wanted a ball from him, so I kept pace by climbing over railings and running through the aisle. There were two baseballs sitting near the protective screen behind 3rd base, so I cut down the stairs to get there before he did. As he approached, I called out and asked him as politely as I’ve ever asked for a ball. He paused just long enough to say, “It’s not free ball day,” and then he kept walking. Nice.

15_mr_mccarthyI didn’t get anything at the Rockies’ dugout after BP, but that was okay because another good thing happened there instead. I ran into a woman named Diane Firstman, who not only is a friend of mine from the Scrabble world, but she’s the one who’d recently mentioned me on her “Diamonds Are For Humor” MLBlog. She was there with her friend Kevin McCarthy — the guy she’d written about whose company has season tickets in the front row. They invited me to sit with them during the game. I said I was there with a friend. They told me to get him, and they lent me their tickets so I could sneak him back into the field level. (Once BP ends, security starts checking tickets; poor Sean had gotten stuck in the Loge when BP abruptly ended five minutes early.)

Sean and I ended up sitting there all night, but before the game started, I ran out to the left field foul line and got my sixth ball from Rockies second baseman Luis Gonzalez (not to be confused with the Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder with the same name). I also got three players to sign my ticket:

16_signed_ticket_09_29_05

From left to right, those are the autographs of Clint Barmes (who oughta be ashamed of himself for writing like that), Ryan Shealy (who’s enormous), and Ryan Speier (my new favorite player of all time). I got to talk to Speier for a minute, during which I thanked him for the glove and asked why he didn’t re-string it.

“I have like three others,” he said.

I got my picture taken with him (which came out horribly) and ended the conversation with my second major league handshake of the day. I think that might be a new record for me as well.

When the game started, I was in the perfect spot to get a ball tossed to me by the Rockies as they jogged off the field every inning. Of course the view wasn’t bad either:

17_view_during_game_09_29_05

Sure enough, after Cliff Floyd grounded out to Gonzalez to end the bottom of the 1st, Shealy (playing 1st base) tossed me the ball on his way in. That was my seventh of the day.

Several innings later, Diane got a ball from Barmes. Little kids were getting balls left and right. It was amazing how many balls were being tossed into the crowd. I rarely sit behind the dugout and always forget that there’s constant action there. Still, I didn’t think I’d get anything else for the rest of the night because the munchkins had taken over.

I was wrong.

Before the bottom of the 8th inning got underway, 1st base coach Dave Collins (who stole 395 bases during his major league career) tossed me the infield warm-up ball. Then, when the Rockies came off the field three outs later, Shealy tossed me another. Tom Glavine had chopped it off the plate to my favorite player.

Unlike the nonsense I had to endure three days earlier in Philadelphia, no one at Shea got mad at me for getting three balls during the game . . . except Kevin . . . although I think he was joking. What did Sean think? Nothing. He had to leave early and missed out.

Two other fans got into a heated debate over a ball. Two fathers. Father #1 (who had front row seats) had gotten two balls. Father #2 (who was sitting six rows back and kept running down to the front) had barely missed out on the second. Father #2 was yelling and cursing until father #1 handed him one of the balls. Father #2 then apologized for all the mean things he’d said and marched off triumphantly to present the ball (which he didn’t deserve) to his young son. I told father #1 he should’ve kept them both. He shrugged. We agreed that father #2 was an idiot who should’ve just gone to the souvenir stand instead.

Meanwhile, a lucky fan in the Mezzanine (third deck) caught TWO foul balls during the game, and everyone cheered their heads off. Is one ball enough? Is two balls too many? What about nine? Everyone’s got an opinion, and that’s fine. I just don’t like it when that opinion is forced upon anyone else.

Glavine ended up winning his 275th career game with a brilliant 2-hit, 11-strikeout performance. Mike Piazza blasted his 397th career home run. David Wright went deep twice and picked up his 100th RBI of the season. Jose Reyes set a Mets record for most at-bats in a season. He’s now up to 684.

Final score: Mets 11, Rockies 0.

STATS:

• 306 balls in 41 games this season = 7.5 balls per game

• 425 consecutive games with at least one ball

18_perez_goslin• 51 consecutive games with at least three balls

• 2,737 total balls . . . moves me into 49th place on the all-time hits list ahead of Tony Perez (2,732) and Goose Goslin (2,735). Next up is Barry Bonds (2,742).

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