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5/17/16 at Comerica Park

If I could sum up this game in two words, it would go as follows: POOR PLANNING. There was an Ian Kinsler bobblehead giveaway, and for some stupid reason, of all the possible days for me to be here, I picked this one. Look how crowded it was during batting practice:

1_left_field_seats_crowded_05_17_16

One of the regulars told me it was the most crowded he’d seen it all year.

Fabulous.

My friend Brandon Sloter was with me once again. He’s the guy who’s been filming me in various stadiums for my YouTube channel, and look, he got an amazing action shot of me catching a toss-up in the front row:

2_zack_catching_ball8846

Okay, fine, I’ll stop being sarcastic, but seriously, this entire day was a pain in the ass.

My second ball was a toss-up that ended up rattling around in the seats. I handed that one to the nearest kid:

3_zack_giving_ball_away_to_kids

After the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I got my third ball tossed up by a Twins player in right field:

4_zack_snagging_ball8848

I couldn’t identify any of the guys who had hooked me up — lame, I know, but sometimes that’s just how it goes.

Back in left field, I used my glove trick to snag my fourth ball from the bullpen:

5_glove_trick_for_ball8849

I gave that one to a little kid on my right.

That was it for BP. Four balls. Nothing hit. Not much room to move. Lots of frustration. I wanted to put on a good show for the YouTube video — run and jump and catch a few home runs — but it just wasn’t happening, and yes, I realize that most people would do anything to get one ball, and here I am complaining about “only” getting four, but you have to understand that for my standards, this was not a great day.

Here’s the bobblehead:

6_ian_kinsler_bobblehead

Meh.

Before the game started, I hung out near the Twins’ bullpen:

7_phil_hughes_warming_up

When Phil Hughes finished warming up, I got pitching coach Neil Allen (standing on the right in the following screen shot) to toss me the ball:

8_neil_allen_tossing_ball8850

This was my reaction after catching it:

9_zack_with_ball8850

Yay.

During the game, I spent most of my time in the cross-aisle behind home plate, hoping/trying to catch a foul ball. In my nine previous games at Comerica, I’d gotten seven foul balls, so the odds were clearly in my favor. (Seven foul balls in nine games?! Yes. Some stadiums are much easier than others because of the design/layout.)

At one point in the early innings, I noticed Butch Davis, the Twins’ 1st base coach, retrieve a foul ball and stick it in his back pocket. That’s unusual. Foul dribblers almost always get tossed into the crowd right away, so I tried to take advantage. I headed over to the Twins’ dugout with the intention of getting his attention after the 3rd out. This was my view — see the ball in his back/right pocket?

11_ball_in_back_pocket

Davis ended up tossing it to someone else, but let this serve as an important lesson in sniffing out opportunities. Pay close attention. Anything is possible.

I caught up with several friends over the course of the night. Do you remember any of these guys from the two games I attended in Detroit last month on April 25 and April 26?

12_zack_with_bill_and_david_and_dave

In the two-part photo above, the guy on left is named Bill Dugan. He’s the fan who famously snagged five foul balls during one game last month. I should also mention that he’s been tinkering with the design of a slick new cup trip, and he gave one to me. He’s a good dude.

In the photo above on the right, I’m standing next to a young man named David and his father Dave. (For the record, I’m not THAT short; Bill is 6-foot-4, and Dave is 6-foot-7, okay? Thanks.) I’ve known them for years and I always enjoy seeing them at Comerica, and by the way, when I caught my first ball of the day, David was standing right next to me. Had it been thrown one foot to my left, I would’ve backed off and let him catch it, but it WAS, in fact, thrown right to me. Another man told me later that I “should’ve given it to that kid.”

“I’ve known that kid for years,” I replied. “I’m friends with him and his father, and he’s gotten about three hundred balls, so don’t worry about it.”

The man was like, “Oh, well, I guess you have it all under control.”

Yes, sir, I do. And by the way, I randomly gave David a ball the very first time I ever saw him during BP at Camden Yards. That’s actually how I met him and his father and how we became friends.

This was my view for most of the game:

13_view_for_right_handed_batters_05_17_16

There were lots of right-handed batters and very few foul balls. It was disappointing, to say the least. I came close on one that I definitely would’ve caught had the aisle been empty, but there were like ten people standing around waiting for it. It bounced off one guy’s glove, and there was a mini-stampede once it hit the ground. I was on the outskirts of it and didn’t feel like jumping into the middle, and you know what? A 12-year-old kid ended up grabbing that ball, so that was cool.

Final score: Tigers 7, Twins 2.

Brandon is still working on the video, so when it’s done, I’ll post it on YouTube and add a link to it here.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

14_the_three_balls_i_kept_05_17_16 5 baseballs at this game (three pictured here because I gave two away)

217 balls in 26 games this season = 8.35 balls per game.

 65 balls in 10 lifetime games at Comerica Park = 6.5 balls per game.

1,192 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,850 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.

• 9 donors for my fundraiser

• $77.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $233.31 raised this season

• $190,736.97 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/16/16 at Progressive Field

The last time I went to Cleveland, there was no batting practice because the Indians had played 16 innings the night before — a huge disappointment given the fact that I’d brought my friend Brandon, a professional videographer, to film me for my YouTube channel. This time around, things went much smoother and Brandon got some great shots.

As soon as I ran down to the right field seats, a ballboy shouted, “What’s up, Zack!” and began to pull a baseball out of his back pocket. (That’s how I should be greeted at every game.) He had contacted me earlier on Twitter, so I was expecting to see him at some point, but I had no idea he was going to hook me up with a ball right at the start of BP. Brandon wasn’t quite ready with his camera, so I asked the ballboy to wait. He kindly obliged, and when the moment was right, he tossed it to me. Here I am reaching up for the catch:

1_zack_catching_ball8836

(That’s a screen shot from Brandon’s video — great quality, huh?)

Ten minutes later, the seats in straight-away right field were still mostly empty:

2_empty_seats_on_my_left_05_16_16

The seats in right-center, however, were more crowded:

3_more_crowded_on_the_right

There were only two people standing behind me. One was an usher, and the other was Brandon:

4_brandon_filming_from_behind

Brandon got a great shot of me maneuvering through the seats for my second ball of the day — a home run by a lefty on the Indians. Here I am reaching up for the catch:

5_zack_catching_ball8837

That ball had the Arizona Spring Training logo:

6_ball8837_arizona_spring_training

Since I don’t do Spring Training, I though these balls would be hard to get during the regular season, but I’ve been seeing them all over the place, along with the Florida version.

That was it for the Indians’ portion of BP — just one group of hitters after the gates opened, and they were done. (Laaaaame!)

This was my view for Reds BP:

7_reds_on_the_field_for_bp_05_16_16

I’d gotten a pair of tickets (for $59 apiece) for myself and Brandon in that new-ish section in front of the Indians’ bullpen. Look how gorgeous it is:

8_awesome_section_in_right_center

A little while later, I called out to Billy Hamilton and got him to toss up a ball:

9_zack_and_woman_going_for_ball

There was a woman standing on my right, and look what happened — the ball went right between us, and we both backed off:

10_zack_and_woman_both_backing_off

I was going to let her catch it because it was thrown a bit closer to her than to me, but she was going to let me catch it because I had actually asked for it. Anyway, the ball landed in the folded-up portion of a seat, and we both awkwardly reached for it. I happened to pick it up first, and then I handed it to her:

11_zack_handing_her_the_ball

She refused, but I insisted. And then she insisted that I keep it, so I politely refused. Her male companion also insisted, and then he recognized me, so I when I insisted yet again that they “keep it or give it to a kid,” they finally accepted it.

My fourth ball was thrown by a player that I didn’t recognize:

12_zack_catching_ball8839

A day or two later, when I had a bit more time, I posted that image on Twitter and asked for help identifying him. Look who responded:

caleb_cotham_tweet

It was Caleb Cotham himself! How cool is that? You might recall that he was one of the players involved in the Aroldis Chapman trade last year between the Reds and Yankees.

Of course I got questioned/dissed on Twitter for wearing a wristband, so if you’re wondering, I got it from Joey Votto himself after the game on 8/18/11 at Nationals Park, and I’ve been wearing it during Reds BP ever since. Here’s a closer look at it, and in case you’re interested, here are all the “bonus items” I’ve gotten at games over the years.

My fifth ball was thrown by someone else I couldn’t identify, and unfortunately he was too far away for me (or the camera) to get a good look at his face. That ball, by the way, fell short as I lunged over a railing for it:

13_zack_reaching_for_ball8840

It passed through those metal bars, shot back toward Brandon, and plopped down right in front of him:

14_ball8840_rattling_around

It didn’t take me long to run over and grab it; in the image above, that’s my sneaker on the upper right.

Progressive Field had opened at 5pm (or was it 5:10?) and for the first HOUR, all the fans were confined to the right field seats. When the rest of the stadium finally opened, I raced over to the bleachers in left-center and found a ball — my sixth of the day — tucked under a bench in the front row.

This was my view from that spot . . .

15_view_from_left_field_bleachers_05_16_16

. . . and here’s what it looked like on my right:

16_the_view_to_my_right_05_16_16

What a wonky little setup. I like it.

Moments later, as I was fumbling with my backpack, Brandon Phillips connected and sent a deep fly ball in my direction. I knew I was going to be able to make a play on it. I just had to scoot a few feet to my left, and Brandon was right there to get a great shot. Look closely and you’ll see the ball streaking into my glove:

17_zack_catching_ball8842

Sensing that I had a better chance of getting another ball at the dugout rather than in the outfield, I headed to the 1st base side with a few minutes remaining in BP:

18_bp_from_the_1st_base_side

Did you notice the new protective netting? Not only does it completely cover the seats behind home plate, but it extends halfway down the line toward 1st base:

19_seats_on_the_first_base_side

Don’t get me started again on the netting. If you want to know my thoughts, go to the 6:31 mark in my YouTube video from Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, but in a word: yuck!

When the Reds cleared the field, another unidentifiable player rolled a ball “to” me across the dugout roof. Why didn’t he throw it to me? I don’t know, but because the Indians don’t allow people to stand in the front row behind the dugouts (unless, of course, they actually have front-row tickets), I had to jump over the seats from the second row:

20_zack_jumping_over_seats_for_ball8843

I got scolded by an usher who told me how dangerous it is to do that:

21_zack_scolded_by_an_usher

Then he lectured me about climbing on furniture in people’s homes and said he wouldn’t invite me over to visit. I’m not making this up.

Less than a minute later, I got another ball from the equipment guy. In the following screen shot, you can see him on the left, tossing it to me:

22_ball8844_being_thrown_to_zack

That was my ninth of the day, and I was happy to reach double digits right before the game when Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway tossed me a ball from the bullpen in right-center. Unfortunately Brandon didn’t get a shot of that because he was filming the starting pitcher warming up instead. Hmph.

Ready to hear about some bad luck? During the game, most of the hitters were right-handed, so I stayed on the Home Run Porch down the left field line. This was the view:

23_home_run_porch_during_game

Four different righties (Adam Duvall, Eugenio Suarez, Yan Gomes, and Marlon Byrd) ended up hitting home runs — two into the left field bleachers and two more within 20 feet of my actual seat in right-center. Had I been where I “belonged,” there’s a good chance I would’ve snagged one or both of those balls.

In the previous photo, did you notice all the birds flying around? Well, here’s some more bad luck:

24_fan_with_bird_poop_on_cap

That was some random guy whose fancy stars-n-stripes Indians cap got pooped on. (No, that’s not good luck. If you think it’s lucky to have some flying creature defecate on you, you’re living a lie.)

Remember the ballboy from the start of BP? Well, here he is during the game:

25_friendly_ballboy

His name is Samuel, and he’s super-friendly. That’s where he always hangs out during games, so now you can look for him on TV, and if you ever see him in person, go say hi.

Back on the Home Run Porch, I ran into Pete Rose’s No. 1 fan:

26_pete_rose_fan

A few innings later, I wandered back to right-center and took a photo of the Reds’ bullpen:

27_reds_bullpen_interacting_with_fans

Because of the fan-friendly renovations to Progressive Field, folks can now get much closer to the players. Thumbs-up!

Here’s the jumbotron/scoreboard in the bottom of the 8th inning:

28_scoreboard_late_in_the_game_05_16_16

The Indians were winning, 15-6, and that’s how it ended. I didn’t snag any more baseballs, but I did give three more away. This was the first recipient . . .

29_zack_giving_a_ball_to_a_kid

. . . and then I handed a ball to each of these two little guys:

30_zack_giving_a_ball_to_a_kid

Brandon had met up with two of his friends during the game, and we all went out for a bite after. Here’s what I got:

31_baked_potato_loaded_with_a_whole_lot_of_stuff

That was a football-sized (okay, slight exaggeration) baked potato with a whole lot of cheesy/creamy/bacon-y things on top.

(Lots of people have told me that they like seeing my food photos, so there you go.)

Here are the six balls that I kept:

32_the_six_balls_i_kept_05_16_16

Stay tuned for the video.
It’s coming soon.
Next stop: Detroit . . .

UPDATE: Here’s the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

10 baseballs at this game

212 balls in 25 games this season = 8.48 balls per game.

 81 balls in 9 lifetime games at Progressive Field = 9 balls per game.

1,191 consecutive games with at least one ball

301 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

8,845 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.

• 9 donors for my fundraiser

• $77.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $233.31 raised this season

• $190,736.97 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/12/16 at Yankee Stadium

My first ball of the day was a batting practice homer by Chase Headley that I caught on the fly in right field. My second ball, hit by a lefty that I couldn’t identify, whacked a seat so hard that it shot up in the air and deflected off the bottom of the second deck . . . kinda like this:

1_ball8821_crazy_richochet

My third ball was another homer hit by the same guy, and I made a nice play on it. I ran 20 feet to my left, climbed back over a row, and with the sun in my eyes, I jumped 2_orlando_dysonand caught it with full extension. I handed my fourth ball to the nearest kid. That was a high-arcing ground-rule double hit by Dustin Ackley, and when the Royals took the field, I promptly got a pair of toss-ups from Paulo Orlando (I gave that one away too) and Jarrod Dyson. Neither of those balls was thrown to anyone in particular, and in fact the one from Dyson was a no-look flip. 3_perez_moralesThe Royals were noticeably generous throughout this four-game series. I can’t remember seeing any team consistently throw so many balls into the crowd. The Royals also hit a ton of balls into the seats, and I caught a couple of homers by Salvador Perez and Kendrys Morales. For the first one, I drifted to my right and climbed down over a row of seats, and for the second, I ran half a section to my right. That brought my total for the day to eight, and when I snagged a ground-rule double during the final group, I had tripled my effort from BP the previous day.

Before the game, I headed over to the left field bullpen to watch Ian Kennedy warm up:

4_ian_kennedy_warming_up

He looked good.
He was hitting his spots.
There was no indication that he was about to get shellacked.

I never expected Starlin Castro to hit an opposite-field homer, but in the bottom of the 1st inning, he connected on a mediocre fastball:

5_starlin_castro_home_run_screen_shot

Let me clarify: I didn’t expect it, but I was ready, and when the ball started flying in my direction, I knew what I had to do. Basically I darted 10 feet to my right and, taking my eye off the ball briefly, climbed back over a row through a narrow gap between two people. Here I am (in the pink-ish shirt) making my move:

6_starlin_castro_home_run_screen_shot

The ball ended up tailing more than I expected, so I had to drift a few feet back, and then I disappeared from view:

7_starlin_castro_home_run_screen_shot

Here’s another angle that shows me reaching up between two people — look closely and you’ll see the ball streaking into my glove:

8_starlin_castro_home_run_screen_shot

The highlight on MLB.com doesn’t show me at all, but my celebration was captured by another network:

9_zack_after_starlin_castro_homer

I was particularly excited about catching a home run for the second day in a row and also about raising more money for the charity Pitch In For Baseball. People are pledging money for each of my game home runs this season, so the more of them I snag, the more underprivileged kids will get to play baseball. For more info about my fundraiser, click here.

Here’s the ball (with a vendor photobombing):

10_starlin_castro_home_run_ball_photobombed_by_vendor

An hour later, the section had gotten even more crowded, so I moved to the back row, where there was some open space. Once again, I didn’t expect anyone to launch a ball back there, but I was ready when Didi Gregorius connected in the bottom of the 4th. In the following screen shot, the arrow is pointing to the ball streaking up in the air:

11_didi_gregorius_home_run_screen_shot

Here I am running through the row . . .

12_didi_gregorius_home_run_screen_shot

. . . and reaching up for the catch:

13_didi_gregorius_home_run_screen_shot

Even though I had to move about 25 feet for that one, it was very easy. As I’ve said before, judging the distance of a ball right off the bat is *much* harder than judging the direction. In other words, it was obvious from the start that this ball was heading to my left, so I simply took off in that direction. Luckily for me, it was hit with the just the right distance for me to catch it in my row, and not only that, but if Didi had pulled it three feet closer to the foul pole, I wouldn’t have been able to catch it. I could not have taken one additional step because there was someone sitting/ducking/blocking me from moving any farther.

Once again, the MLB.com highlight didn’t show me. Instead, it was all about former tennis star John McEnroe:

14_didi_gregorius_home_run_screen_shot_john_mcenroe_wtf

Hmph.

I was glad to discover later (when someone tweeted a screen shot) that the YES Network showed me holding up both home run balls:

15_zack_holding_two_home_run_balls

Here’s another shot of me photographing them — super attractive, right?

16_zack_photographing_baseballs

A little while later, I tweeted my photo of the baseballs:

17_tweet_about_two_home_runs

In case you’re wondering, here are the other three games at which I’ve snagged two home runs:

May 13, 2010 at Camden Yards
April 18, 2013 at Yankee Stadium
September 16, 2015 at Citizens Bank Park

Not surprisingly, lots of people tweeted at me after the Didi Gregorius homer:

16b_nice_tweets_from_nice_people

Of course there were some haters too:

18_haters_gonna_hate

Someone else tweeted a photo of me looking at my phone, told me to pay attention to the game, and called me a derogatory term for the female genitalia. #StayClassy

Anyway, here I am with the two home runs balls:

19_zack_with_two_home_runs

When things settled down for me after the second home run, I gave away five BP balls to kids, both in my section and up above in the bleachers.

After the game, which the Yankees won, 7-3, I noticed that the highlights were being played on the jumbotron. Here I am after the Didi Gregorius homer:

20_zack_on_the_jumbotron_after_didi_gregorius_homer

Just before I left the stadium, I caught up with a security guard who had gotten drilled on the shoulder by a BP homer several days earlier. Check out this gnarly bruise:

21_security_guard_with_bruise

Of the 11 balls that I had gotten, here are the four that I kept:

22_the_four_balls_i_kept_05_12_16

In the photo above, the Starlin homer is on the lower left, and Didi homer is on the lower right. (The Yankees have some cool first names, huh? Starlin, Didi, Dellin, Aroldis, Chasen, Masahiro, and Kirby.)

Later that night, I was excited to see myself featured on SportsCenter . . . for the second night in a row. Look how they put my name on the screen to show me in the crowd on the Starlin homer:

23_zack_on_sportscenter

For Didi’s shot, they circled me in color and changed everything else to black and white:

24_zack_on_sportscenter

They also showed my tweet for quite a while:

25_zack_on_sportscenter

I timed how long it stayed on the screen: 19 seconds!

Someone else sent me a minute-long clip of some other show (in Canada?) that featured me and did a little “flashback.” Here are six screen shots:

26_six_screen_shots_in_one

1) It started with the flashback.
2) Me after snagging A-Rod’s 3,000th hit on June 19, 2015.
3) Me after catching Carlos Beltran’s homer the previous night.
4) Celebrating after the Starlin homer.
5) Holding both balls up after catching Didi’s dinger.
6) Not giving baseballs to kids because I’m a monster.

That’s actually how some people interpreted it. The fact is . . . those kids had recognized me earlier in the day and weren’t asking for the balls. They were simply happy for me and came over to share the moment and say congrats.

Oh, and get this . . . when that show played the highlight of the Starlin homer, the woman doing the highlights said, “Starlin Castro drives one deep opposite field off Ian Kennedy, and ya know who’s gonna catch it? A man who acts like he’s never caught a ball in his life. Act like you’ve been there before.”

Oh, okay, no problem. From now on I’ll pretend that I don’t like baseball and that it’s boring to catch home runs. I’m terribly sorry for being happy. Raising more money for a children’s baseball is also no cause for celebration.

The following day, a friend in Kansas City sent me a photo of his local newspaper:

27_zack_in_kansas_city_newspaper

The more I look at photos and videos of that home run, the more surprised I am that the tall guy in the light gray shirt didn’t deflect it.

Remember the vendor who photobombed me? He’s a good friend and texted me with his assessment of my effort on the Starlin homer:

28_texts_with_vendor

As you may have noticed, I didn’t take many photos at this game. I’ve mostly pieced this whole story together with screen shots, so let me show you four more:

29_screen_shots_from_all_my_games_with_two_home_runs

Those are the four times that I’ve snagged two home runs in one game.

Lots of people have been asking something to effect of, “How do you do it?” so here’s a very specific answer. I constantly look around at the shifting layout of the crowd. I also imagine home runs landing in various places and envision the route that I’d take to get there. If there’s a railing blocking me and/or fans, guards, and vendors, I’m hyperaware of that. If I have 10 feet of open space to work with but the ball is hit 15 feet away, I’m already planning to run those 10 feet and then climb up or down over a row so that I can keep moving. Most people don’t plan ahead like that, so when the ball goes up in the air, they have no chance unless it’s hit right at them — and even then, most people don’t have gloves and/0r can’t catch. Yeah, I was lucky to have two home runs hit in my vicinity when I had a little room to maneuver, but I often have much more space and far less luck. If I keep sitting in good spots, balls will eventually find me. That’s how I see it.

Someday I’m going to snag three home runs in one game. Mark my words . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 baseballs at this game

• 197 balls in 22 games this season = 8.95 balls per game.

 1,324 balls in 187 lifetime games at the new Yankee Stadium = 7.08 balls per game.

• 1,188 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 41 lifetime game home run balls (not counting toss-ups; click here for the complete list)

8,830 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.

• 9 donors for my fundraiser

• $77.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $233.31 raised this season

• $190,736.97 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/11/16 at Yankee Stadium

This was a night game with perfect weather, but for some reason the Yankees didn’t take batting practice. Thankfully the Royals hit, but everything got off to a slow start:

1_no_yankees_bp_royals_getting_loose

That was the only photo I took before the game. Why? Because BP was lame, and I didn’t feel like documenting it. Before the Royals started hitting, I got Mike Moustakas to throw me a ball along the left field foul line, and after that, I only managed to get two more, both of which were tossed randomly into the right field seats. One landed on the stairs and bounced back to me in the last row. The other was flipped high in the air by a player on the warning track. I didn’t manage to snag any batted balls, which is unusual for me during BP at Yankee Stadium. Why didn’t I snag any batted balls? Bad luck, bad strategy, and bad skills. There were three home runs that landed closer to me than anyone else, but they all ricocheted far away. I also misjudged a couple of balls, drifting back for one when it ended up barely clearing the wall (I still would’ve caught it had another fan not been standing there) and holding my ground on another that ended up zipping five feet over my 1b_thumbs_down_for_my_lameness_and_stupidityhead (hit by the diminutive Jarrod Dyson, of all people). It was THAT kind of day. I just seemed to be a step behind on everything. I considered moving to the back row for one group, but didn’t, and then two home runs ended up landing there. I raced up to the bleachers for another group, only to watch helplessly as a ball landed right where I’d been standing down below, so ten minutes later I went back down, and of course four home runs were then hit into the bleachers. You get the point. It was basically 45 solid minutes of that, and to make matters worse, my right thumb was hurting like hell. Someone had kicked it two days earlier while I was reaching for a ball on the ground during BP. It was so bad that I went for x-rays, which were negative, but it was still swollen and starting to show discoloration. Part of me wanted the game to end as quickly as possible so I could go home and ice it and go to sleep, but another part of my brain was like, “Watch me catch a home run tonight to make up for it.” I hadn’t felt so yin/yang-y since I got assaulted last year, and sure enough, I ended up catching a home run that night.

After BP, I met up with a few friends, dropped by the first aid room for yet another bag of ice, grabbed a seat in the shade, and played with my phone.

When the game began, there were a decent number of empty seats in the first two rows in right field, but I didn’t think much of it. I figured they’d fill up within 10 or 20 minutes. That’s usually how it goes, but for some reason, there was still quite a bit of room (for Yankee Stadium standards) when the second inning got underway. Meanwhile, the weather was good, and the pitching matchup was whatever. Everything just seemed pleasant and relaxing, and what can I say? I still had a good feeling about things, so I posted the following tweet:

2_feeling_good_about_my_chances

Based on the number of retweets, you can probably guess what happened (if you haven’t already heard). Just a few minutes later, Carlos Beltran connected on a poorly-located fastball from Yordano Ventura . . .

3_carlos_beltran_connecting_on_399

. . . and lifted a deep fly ball in my direction. In the following screen shot, I’m easy to spot because I was the only fan wearing yellow:

4_399_sailing_toward_right_field

From the moment this ball was hit, I knew I was going to catch it. Sometimes I’m not quite sure where the ball is going (like all of batting practice), but sometimes everything clicks. This was one of those times. I drifted down to the front row (all the way from the second row — such talent!) and moved a few feet to my right. My only concern was the big/young/athletic guy on my right with a glove, but thankfully he didn’t really go for it until the very last second. I’m not sure if he hadn’t been paying attention or if he lost sight of it or if he was just being nice, but whatever the reason, I was glad to be able to make a play on it. Here’s a side view of me reaching up for the catch:

4b_side_view_of_zack_making_the_catch

Here’s another angle — look closely and you’ll see the ball streaking into my glove:

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It was such an easy catch that I didn’t feel like I deserved to jump around and celebrate like a maniac. All I did was hold up the ball and salute Beltran:

6_zack_celebrating

This was his third home run that I had caught (more than anyone else), and he has also thrown 32 balls to me over the years (also more than anyone).

As he rounded the bases, I was still holding up the ball in the background:

7_zack_celebrating_in_the_background

A nice lady nearby happened to take a photo of me high-fiving someone soon after:

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Did you notice the time-stamp on my previous tweet? Go take another look. I had posted it at 7:41pm. Look at the time-stamp on this one:

10_did_i_call_that_or_what

I would love to know exactly how much time passed between my first tweet and Beltran’s home run. I know it was less than nine minutes because I didn’t get around to tweeting a follow-up right away.

Fun stuff.

Here’s another tweet I posted four minutes later:

10b_charity_tweet

That’s just a screen shot, so if you want to check out my fundraising page, click here. (And if you want to make a donation, even better.) Basically, people are pledging money for every game home run I snag this season. The money will go to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. This is the charity that received all the money for A-Rod’s 3,000th career hit.

Oh, and yeah, it was Beltran’s 399th career home run. AARRGHH!! I was so close to snagging yet another milestone, but hey, maybe it’ll still happen. Here’s a photo of the ball:

11_home_run_ball_05_11_16

You’d think that a game-used ball that gets caught on the fly would have a pristine logo, but I know from first-hand experience that the mud-rubbing process can actually remove some of the ink.

Several innings later (after the seats had indeed filled up), I took a photo of the guy who had tried to reach for the home run ball:

12_fans_on_my_right

He and his friend were from Canada. This was their first day ever in New York, so I bought them each a beer as a partial welcome and also as a thank-you for not being aggressive. They were really cool about the whole thing.

Evidently my tweet about “predicting” catching a home run was a big deal because ESPN featured me late in the game. Here’s a screen shot that was tweeted at me by someone who needed to charge his phone:

13_zack_on_the_espn_app

Here’s the link in case you want to see the video.

I was also featured on SportsCenter, and I wouldn’t have even known about it if not for my friend Alex Katz, who tweeted me a short clip. Alex, by the way, is a former ballhawk and future major leaguer. He’s currently a pitcher in the White Sox minor league system, and when he makes it, he’s going to break Carlos Beltran’s record for most baseballs thrown to me. Give him a follow on Twitter (@kittyelgato12) — he’s a really good guy (with a wipeout slider).

If anyone has the full segment from SportsCenter, please let me know. I still haven’t seen it. I’ve been so busy going to games and planning road trips and answering emails/comments that I’ve barely had time for anything else, such as looking for myself on TV.

On a final note, it feels good to have finally caught a home run this season. To most people, it might seem like I catch ’em all the time, but for me, going five weeks without one is rather frustrating.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 baseballs at this game

• 186 balls in 21 games this season = 8.86 balls per game.

 1,313 balls in 186 lifetime games at the new Yankee Stadium = 7.06 balls per game.

• 1,187 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 39 lifetime game home run balls (not counting toss-ups; click here for the complete list)

8,819 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.

• 9 donors for my fundraiser

• $77.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $77.77 raised this season

• $190,581.43 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

4/26/16 at Comerica Park

Given the fact that I try to eat as much as possible before games, this late lunch on the way to Comerica Park was one of my finest efforts:

1_my_lunch_mac_n_cheese_and_a_chicken_waffle_sandwich_with_bacon_and_melted_cheddar_hells_yeah_calories_are_delicious

In addition to the mac-n-cheese, I had a fried chicken waffle sandwich with bacon and melted cheddar.

HELL.
YES.

My friend Muneesh, who was with me once again, insisted my meal was at least 3,000 calories. I’m not sure about that, but I hope so. I can tell you, though, that it kept me full for the next eight hours, so I didn’t need to worry about eating during the game.

At around 4pm, I headed over to the stadium and ran into a couple of the regulars that I’d met the day before:

2_zack_and_the_regulars

It was very cold, but you know who wasn’t concerned?

This guy:

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Half an hour later, this was the scene outside the left field gate:

4_free_pretzel_samples

Meanwhile, look where my friend Muneesh was:

5_view_of_batting_practice_from_the_field_photo_by_muneesh_jain

That’s a photo that he took from the field during batting practice, before the stadium was officially open. As I mentioned in my last entry, he used to run a sports magazine in Detroit, and once again, he had a credential for this game.

Here’s another photo he took of Miguel Cabrera in the cage:

6_miguel_cabrera_taking_batting_practice_photo_by_muneesh_jain

I’m going to share three more of his photos . . . just because. Here’s a bat in the dugout:

7_bat_on_dugout_bench_photo_by_muneesh_jain

Here’s Tigers manager Brad Ausmus hitting a fungo:

8_brad_ausmus_hitting_fungos_photo_by_muneesh_jain

Here’s Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick talking to a member of the media:

9_josh_reddick_talking_photo_by_muneesh_jain

Cool stuff. Many thanks to Muneesh for letting me post those photos.

When I got inside the stadium at 5pm, it didn’t take long to snag my first ball of the day. See it in the bullpen in the following photo?

10_ball8752_before_glove_trick

I used my glove trick to knock it closer and then reeled it in.

The Tigers have been marking their BP balls for years, and this one was no exception:

11_ball8752_logo_and_marking

(For a little while, they used to mark them like this. Yuck!) Some teams do that to prevent their own players and employees from stealing balls and getting them signed.

Several minutes later, Muneesh made it out to the left field seats and began taking photos of me. Here I am trying to stay warm:

12_zack_in_left_field_04_26_16

In the previous photo, did you notice the other guy in the black jacket? That’s Bill Dugan, the fan who had recently snagged five foul balls in one game. The whole purpose of my trip to Detroit was to meet him and have a ballhawking competition, but that was done. Now we were just hanging out without worrying about the numbers.

Here I am snagging my second ball:

13_zack_swinging_glove_for_ball8753

As you can see, it was on the bullpen roof, so I swung my glove out and knocked it closer.

Just after posing for this photo . . .

14_zack_with_ball8753

. . . I handed the ball to the nearest fan.

During the lull before the A’s started hitting, I wandered to the back of the left field seats:

15_view_from_deep_left_field

Comerica Park has some quirky features and angles:

16_brick_wall_and_staircase

When the A’s finally came out, I got my third ball thrown by a player that I couldn’t identify, and look! It was a Florida Spring Training ball:

17_ball8754_tossed_by_an_athletics_player

As it turned out, every ball I got during the Athletics’ portion of BP had that logo.

Before the rest of the stadium opened to the public, Muneesh headed over to right field and took the following photo:

18_view_from_right_field_photo_by_muneesh_jain

Here I am a little while later:

19_zack_in_right_field_wearing_athletics_gear

In the previous photo, the guy wearing the blue drawstring backpack is named David. His son, standing on the right, is named Zach. David had attended the previous game, and I’d met him once before that. They were both really nice, and you’ll see more of Zach in just a bit.

My fourth ball was a home run to straight-away right field that I grabbed in the seats, and my fifth was a homer that another fan conveniently bobbled right to me.

Check out this amazing photo that Muneesh took of a hand reaching for a ball:

20_hand_reaching_for_ball

That was actually my hand! Here’s the un-zoomed version of that photo:

21_zack_going_for_ball8757

I ended up snagging that ball.

(See Zach in the background? I think he got more than half a dozen balls of his own.)

Back in left field, I caught two homers on the fly. For the first one, I reached far over the wall in the front row, and for the second, I climbed down over a row to get in position. I don’t know who hit any of these balls, BTW.

After BP, I caught up with Zach in right field and signed one of his baseballs:

22_zack_signing_a_baseball_for_zach

Here are the six Spring Training balls that I’d gotten:

23_hands_holding_six_florida_spring_training_baseballs

Okay, time to take a little trip down memory lane . . .

Do you happen to remember this photo of me with a guy named Dave, taken on 9/10/11 at Comerica Park? No? Well, how about this photo of me with him and his son, David, on 5/23/13 at Comerica Park? They’ve become a fixture of my visits to Detroit, and I always look forward to catching up with them. Here we are again:

24_zack_with_dave_lally_and_boys

In the photo above, I’m resting my arm on David, who’s standing next to his friend Jack. Great kids. And I absolutely adore Dave, pictured behind them. I was glad to see the boys snag a bunch of baseballs during BP.

At around 6:45pm, I caught up with a friendly usher named Jared and then headed down into the seats to try to get a toss-up:

25_right_field_foul_line_pregame

Marcus Semien ended up with the ball and started walking toward the dugout, so I headed over there too and got him to hook me up. This, too, was a commemorative Spring Training ball. I gave that one to Muneesh, and I gave one of the regular balls to a kid later on.

Here’s what it looked like behind the dugout:

26_athletics_in_dugout_pregame

Stadium security never stopped me from going down there, and you know what? That’s how it oughta be in more places. There’s nothing I hate more inside a stadium than having my access restricted.

During the game, whenever left-handed batters were up, I hung out here in the cross-aisle:

27_view_for_left_handed_batters_04_26_16

The ball from Semien was my ninth of the day. I really wanted to reach double digits, and I hoped that I’d do it on a foul ball.

First, though, I signed a copy of my book The Baseball for this guy named Josh:

28_zack_and_josh_with_the_baseball

And *then* I snagged a foul ball:

29_ball8761_jarrod_saltalamacchia_foul_ball

Yep.

It was a towering pop-up hit by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, which actually landed in the seats above/behind the cross-aisle. Inspired by Bill Dugan’s acrobatic maneuver for a Mark Canha foul ball the previous night, I hoisted myself up on the concrete ledge, jumped over the railing, and grabbed the ball underneath a chair. I did all of that while an obese man two seats away barely moved for it. He had his feet up on a chair and only went for the ball at the very last second as an afterthought.

Speaking of Bill, here’s a photo of him standing near me in the aisle:

30_bill_dugan_on_my_right

On the other side, David and his friend Jack were camped out waiting for a foul ball:

31_david_lally_and_his_friend_on_my_left

And guess what? Jack ended up getting one later in the game.

Muneesh spent most of the night in the press box. Here’s a photo of the field that he took during the middle innings:

32_photo_by_muneesh_from_the_upper_deck

The heartbreaking moment of the night came on a foul ball that woulda/shoulda been a routine catch for me if not for the fact that I got blocked by the Tigers’ roving TV reporter, who happened to be doing a live interview in the aisle. I got caught up on the wrong side of him and tried to reach for it, but he flinched and kinda backed up into me and prevented me from catching it. How awesome would it have been to get that ball live on TV during that interview? Damn, damn, and more damn!

Here I am with Bill late in the game:

33_zack_and_bill_dugan

This was my view for righties:

34_view_for_righties_late_in_the_game

This was my ninth lifetime game at Comerica, and I now had seven foul balls during games, so yeah, I wanted to snag another . . . and another . . . to bring my per-game foul ball average to one. (Or would that be 1.000 if we’re calculating it like a batting average?)

Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. The A’s won the game, 5-1, behind a strong pitching performance by Rich Hill, and that was it:

35_athletics_walking_off_the_field

Of the ten balls that I’d snagged, here are the seven that I kept:

36_the_seven_balls_i_kept_04_26_16

Do you remember when I looked at a bunch of baseballs under black light? Well, one of the Spring Training balls had a beautiful invisible ink stamp:

37_black_light_04_26_16

Now I need to find my way back to Detroit so I can do a video there for my YouTube channel. It might happen sooner than you think . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 baseballs at this game

• 128 balls in 14 games this season = 9.14 balls per game.

 60 balls in 9 lifetime games at Comerica Park = 6.67 balls per game.

• 1,180 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,761 total balls

On a final note, 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.

4/25/16 at Comerica Park

Do you remember hearing about a guy in Detroit who snagged FIVE foul balls during one game? It happened on April 11th — the day I was in Oakland — and as you might expect, my phone blew up. Dozens of folks sent me articles about him, and one person suggested that I travel to Comerica Park for a ballhawking showdown. So I did. That was the purpose of this trip, and it was supposed to be huge. Big Cat from Barstool Sports was planning to show up with two camera men, and my friend Muneesh Jain was going to be there to take professional photos.

double_facepalm_for_my_stupidity_and_bad_luckUnfortunately the weather forecast (combined with my stupidity) derailed everything. For days leading up to this game, the internet said it was going to rain. Muneesh, who lives in New York but grew up in Michigan, told me not to worry about it. “I’m telling you,” he texted two days in advance, “the weather in Michigan can change on a dime.” I appreciated his optimism, but didn’t believe him, so with the forecast still looking bleak, I told Big Cat that he shouldn’t bother making the four-hour drive from Chicago. If there wasn’t going to be batting practice and the only action would consist of me begging for a few toss-ups, what was the point?

My trip to Detroit was booked, so I was planning to be there regardless, and guess what? The weather turned out to be gorgeous. Never in my life have I been so disappointed to see the sun.

Muneesh had flown into Detroit two days early to catch up with friends, so he picked me up at the airport, drove us to the stadium, and treated me to lunch at a famous sports-themed restaurant called Hockeytown:

1_muneesh_in_detroit

Did you notice what he was wearing? It looks like a standard Tigers shirt, but actually says “Detroit Beisbolcats.” Pretty cool.

We arrived at the stadium early enough to do a mini-photo shoot with a different “big cat.” Here I am standing on its giant paw:

2_zack_posing_with_the_big_cat

Look what I saw as we walked around the stadium toward the left field gate:

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Not only was the batting cage set up, but the grounds crew was watering the infield! Thanks a lot, accuweather.com.

At around 4:30pm, I met up with the guy who’d snagged all those foul balls. Here we are:

4_bill_dugan_and_zack

His name is Bill Dugan, and as you can see, he’s rather large — 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds, in case you were wondering. I joked with him that if a ball ended up landing between us, I wouldn’t even bother going for it. As it turned out, though, he was super-friendly, and we got along great with each other.

Muneesh seized the moment by whipping out a fancy voice recorder and interviewing us for his podcast:

5_muneesh_interviewing_us_for_his_podcast

It’s called “The Clubhouse Podcast,” and it’s actually a pretty big deal. He co-hosts weekly episodes with Broadway star Anthony Rapp, and they’ve had some big-time guests, including Emmy-winning actor Jon Hamm, comedian Jimmy Pardo, and “Jurassic World” star Ty Simpkins. Oh, and do you remember when Muneesh interviewed me at the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati? Here’s the direct link to that episode. Muneesh is going to release the Detroit interview very soon. The best way to catch it is to subscribe for free to his podcast on iTunes. And hey, since there clearly aren’t enough links in this paragraph, here’s the website for the podcast. Check it out. It’s damn good.

I should also mention that Muneesh used to run a sports magazine in Detroit and had a media credential for this game, so while Bill and I continued schmoozing outside the stadium, Muneesh headed inside and took photos like this:

6_miguel_cabrera_taking_bp_photo_by_muneesh_from_the_field

And this:

7_victor_martinez_and_justin_upton_photo_by_muneesh_from_the_field

Bill and I discussed how to handle/quantify our ballhawking competition. Big Cat, had he been there, would have served as the announcer and referee, but now that it was just us, we had to come up with our own rules. We considered a point system whereby a thrown ball would have been worth one point, a BP homer picked up off the ground would’ve been worth two points, a BP homer caught on the fly would’ve been worth three points, and so on, all the way up to catching a game home run on the fly, but we scrapped all of that. It was too complicated, and ultimately we just wanted to have fun with it and not stress ourselves out. We decided that the person with the most balls at the end of the day would “win,” but that there was something to be said for game-used balls.

I got inside early with some season ticket holders at 5pm, but unfortunately we were all confined to the left field seats. This was the view from my lousy spot:

8_view_from_left_field_during_bp_04_25_16

What made it lousy? Oh, you know, having a damn bullpen between me and the field. Basically, if guys hit home runs that barely clear an outfield wall, I want to be able to catch them. It sucks to be trapped in an area where home runs have to be hit extra far to reach me.

Here’s what the seats looked like on my left:

9_left_field_seats_during_bp_04_25_16

In the photo above, that’s Bill on the next staircase over. We agreed to try to stay out of each other’s way, but sometimes, when there was clearly a “best” spot, we ended up near each other.

Bill snagged the first ball of the day — a home run that landed near him in the seats — but I kept pace by grabbing one of my own soon after, thanks to a lucky ricochet.

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Several minutes later, another guy wandered down the stairs and stood right in front of me:

11_fan_wearing_snow_gloves_for_the_purpose_of_catching_a_ball

Did you notice his ski gloves? It wasn’t THAT cold, so I asked him if he was wearing them for the purpose of catching a ball. The answer was yes.

During the next group of BP, I moved back half a dozen rows for one batter in particular. I didn’t know who it was, but he clearly had more power than everyone else, and sure enough, he ended up blasting a home run right to me. Muneesh had just made it out to the seats at that point and got the following photo of me peeking at my roster:

12_zack_trying_to_figure_out_who_hit_ball8743

I still had no idea who had hit it, but thankfully a couple of the regulars told me it was James McCann.

As the Tigers finished BP and began jogging off the field, I got Anthony Gose’s attention and got him to throw me a ball from about 150 feet away. Here I am just after catching it — look closely and you’ll see the ball in the pocket of my glove:

13_zack_catching_ball8744_long_throw_from_anthony_gose

Did you notice Bill in the background smiling and pointing at me? I know it would make a more compelling story if we were bitter rivals, so I’m sorry to report that it really *was* a friendly competition.

At the end of Tigers BP, we posed for a photo with our baseballs:

14_zack_with_three_balls_and_bill_with_one

(Guilford College in the hooouuuuse!)

Every so often, Muneesh recorded a bit more for his podcast:

15_muneesh_recording_more_for_his_podcast

Here I am with him (after changing into my A’s gear):

16_zack_and_muneesh_in_left_field

When the rest of the stadium opened, I headed to right field:

17_view_from_right_field_during_bp_04_25_16

Look who also headed out that way:

18_bill_dugan_in_right_field

That’s right. Bill also knew that it was the place to be, and once again, we made a point of staying one section away from each other.

Here I am running for a ball:

19_zack_running_for_a_ball

I didn’t snag that one.

Check out the following photo, taken moments before I got my fourth ball of the day:

20_zack_catching_ball8745_from_sean_doolittle

The ball that I was preparing to catch was thrown by Sean Doolittle. One minute earlier, he had tossed one to that woman, and now here she was trying to reach in front of me. But hey, no big deal. I made the catch without incident, and it’s a good thing because . . . look!

21_ball8745_blue_jays_commemorative

I was stunned. And thrilled. And delighted. And excited. The Blue Jays are one of three teams using commemorative balls this season. The other two are the Braves and Cubs, and I’m hoping/planning to add all three to my collection. I was prepared to travel to Toronto, but now I don’t have to (and no, that’s not meant as a diss to Canada — it’s just that traveling takes a lot of time and money).

Here I am talking to a young fan named Billy, who recognized me:

22_zack_talking_to_a_young_fan_named_billy

Here I am snagging my fifth ball of the day — a home run that landed in the seats:

23_zack_snagging_ball8746

I’m not sure who hit it, but I can tell you that it was another Blue Jays commemorative ball. (The A’s had just been to Toronto and obviously left with extras. What a nice little coincidence.)

In the photo above, did you notice the ball that Billy was holding? It’s a cleaner version of this — a Florida Spring Training ball. For some reason, the A’s were also using those in BP. My sixth ball was a line-drive homer that I caught on the fly after drifting down the steps. Here I am admiring it, along with the other commemorative ball that I’d just snagged:

24_zack_after_snagging_ball8747

It was nice to have gotten a variety of baseballs:

25_nice_variety_of_baseballs

Bill, meanwhile, was doing pretty well. He got a couple more balls in right field to bring his total to three.

He and I headed back to left field for the final group of BP, and soon after I arrived, I botched an opportunity, albeit a difficult one, to snag No. 7. It was a home run that landed on the bullpen roof and in-between-hopped me in the front row. If I’d been standing there by myself, I would have leaned back to lengthen the bounce and probably caught it, but because there was another man on my left, I was forced to lunge for it, and it bounced off my glove and rolled back toward the field. Muneesh snapped a photo just before it dropped off the far edge of the roof:

26_ball_that_zack_missed_rolling_off_the_edge_of_the_bullpen_canopy

So sad.

Here I am climbing over a row of seats:

27_zack_climbing_over_seats

I didn’t get that ball either.

Toward the end of BP, I caught a home run while climbing down over a row. Moments later, I was camped out under another one, but got bumped at the last second and was dismayed to have the ball deflect off my glove. Wanna guess who got that one? That’s right — Bill.

Here we are after BP, holding up our baseballs:

28_zack_and_bill_and_muneesh_with_balls_after_bp

Poor Muneesh.

Bill and I both ended up giving away some of our baseballs to kids, but for the sake of getting a good photo, we had decided to hang onto all of them during BP.

Look what Bill gave me when we finally had a moment to relax:

29_signed_headshot_of_bill_dugan

He’s an actor. I was honored to receive an inscribed head shot.

Here I am taking a selfie with someone after BP . . .

30_zack_taking_selfie_with_fan

. . . and here I am using the glove trick for a ball in the visitors bullpen:

31_zack_glove_trick_04_25_16

In the previous photo, did you notice the person in the upper right corner? That was a guard who didn’t notice me (because of the perfect placement of the flag pole) until Bill walked over and pretended to whack me with his umbrella. He was just goofing around for the camera, but unfortunately it cost me because the guard walked over and picked up the ball and handed it to someone else. Womp-womp. Bill was very apologetic, and I forgive him. I knew he wasn’t trying to screw me over.

While watching Kendall Graveman warming up . . .

32_kendall_graveman_warming_up

. . . I signed two copies of my books for this guy named Ben:

33_zack_and_ben_with_the_baseball_and_with_watching_baseball_smarter

He ended up getting a ball tossed from the bullpen, as did another fan named Brandon. I didn’t think the A’s would give away another until I spotted one on the ground:

34_ball8749_on_the_ground

Pitching coach Curt Young ended up tossing it to me, and we all posed with our baseballs:

35_ben_brandon_zack_with_baseballs

Congrats to Brandon — that was his first ball ever!

By the time the game started, I had snagged eight balls, and Bill had gotten four. Here’s where I hung out for left-handed batters:

36_view_for_left_handed_batters

Look who was lurking near me in the cross-aisle:

37_bill_dugan_on_my_right

It was Bill. See him leaning casually against the wall? (Note how high the railing is behind his head. There’ll be a story about that later.) The guards love him. He’d told them about me and our little competition, and they fully supported it. They allowed us to hang out in the aisle as long as we promised to be careful and not run around like crazy.

Bill ended up snagging a foul ball early in the game. This was my “Can you believe this effin’ guy?” reaction:

38_bill_dugan_with_the_first_foul_ball_of_the_night

I forget who hit it, but I vividly recall seeing the ball sail back toward us. It was hit closer to Bill and landed on a folding chair toward the front of the aisle. I was hoping that it’d squirt past him, which would’ve enabled me to scoop it up from behind, but he got a lucky bounce and played it well.

There wasn’t much action for the next few innings, so I decided to be proactive and go for a third-out ball. In the bottom of the 6th, I headed to the seats behind the A’s dugout . . .

39_view_from_1st_base_dugout

. . . and ended up getting the inning-ending ball tossed to me by Coco Crisp. It was, indeed, THAT easy. I gave a ball to the nearest kid (who hadn’t even been paying attention) and hurried back to my spot in the aisle behind home plate.

With two outs in the top of the 7th, Billy Burns swung a bit too late/low on a pitch from Jordan Zimmermann and sent a foul ball flying back in my direction, roughly 20 feet to my left. I could tell that it was going to fall a bit short, so I maneuvered in front of a 60-something-year-old man, reached out over the railing (above the last row of seats down below), and caught it. That man was not the least bit upset. He was excited for me and also *very* appreciative of my effort.

“You saved my balls!!” he shouted gleefully.

“Yeah, man, he sho’ did!” said his friend, and the three of us laughed about it.

The first guy kept talking about his balls and how I saved them. I’m not kidding. He must have repeated that line half a dozen times. He didn’t want the ball. He just wanted to take a photo with it and ask me if I played ball . . . and talk about how I saved HIS balls. It was hilarious.

Here are the two gamers that I had gotten:

40_ball8750_and_ball8751

That brought my total for the day to ten, and in case you’ve lost track, Bill had five.

The highlight of the day was not catching the foul ball, nor was it meeting Bill or connecting with Muneesh. Nope. Sorry. The highlight was running into this guy:

41_guy_named_gordy_who_is_awesome

His name is Gordy, and he works at Comerica Park. This was his day off, so he spent it bringing smiles to thousands of people. The Tigers should give him a raise and ask him to dress like that full-time (including the pink glitter that was clinging to his chest hair — take my word for it).

Remember Billy with the green shirt from BP? He caught up with me late in the game (see the shirt peeking out?) and asked me to sign his copy of my latest book, The Baseball:

42_zack_and_billy_with_the_baseball

Here I am with a little kid that I gave a ball to:

43_zack_and_little_girl_with_a_giveaway_ball

(Once again, do you see the height of the railing behind me? Good.)

With the Tigers leading, 7-3, I headed down to their dugout with two outs in the 9th inning:

44_view_behind_3rd_base_dugout_in_the_9th_inning

“What’re the odds,” I thought, “that the last batter of the game is gonna hit a foul ball right to the spot where I’d been standing all night?”

Those odds, it turned out, were painfully good. The final batter was Mark Canha, and wouldn’t you know it — the son-of-a-gun sent one shooting back over the protective screen *right* in Bill’s direction. It sailed too high above the aisle for him to reach it, but the seats behind the aisle were so empty that he hoisted himself up on the concrete ledge and jumped over the railing and scampered up a few rows and grabbed the ball before anyone else could get there. (Some stadiums are great for foul balls; Comerica Park is one of them.) And then Canha grounded out to 2nd base.

After the game, while he and I took a photo with our baseballs . . .

45_zack_and_bill_with_baseballs

. . . Muneesh was in the clubhouse taking photos of Tigers manager Brad Ausmus:

46_brad_ausmus_photographed_by_muneesh_in_the_clubhouse

Yeah.

But back to the baseballs . . .

I had snagged ten but was only holding eight because I’d given two away. An hour later, I gave away two more to Muneesh’s friends, who let us crash at their place and who have two young children. As for Bill, he had snagged six balls and still had them all for the final photo, but brought a few back the next day to give away.

Who won the competition? I suppose I did because I ended up with more baseballs. I also caught three BP homers on the fly, and Bill didn’t catch any, but hang on a second. He snagged *two* foul balls during the game, and I only got one. But I caught my foul ball on the fly. It should also be noted that he didn’t have A’s gear and therefore didn’t go for any toss-ups from them. Is that his fault? Or should it be taken into account when determining the winner? It’s hard to say, but the fact is that he *was* competition, and it was great to meet him and step inside his world for a few hours. He’s a talented ballhawk, very generous with his baseballs, and everyone at the stadium loves him. He’s like the BFG, and I’m glad to now be able to call him a friend.

When Muneesh finally made it outside, he interviewed us one final time for his podcast:

47_muneesh_final_recording_for_podcast

Once again, here’s the link where you can subscribe for free.

Muneesh is one of those people who, at the tender age of 30-something, has lived multiple lives with countless highs and lows (including six near-death experiences). Several years ago, he drove 17,000 miles in 95 days to catch a game at all 30 MLB stadiums. He has a website dedicated to that trip called Rounding Third with photos and write-ups from each place. Truly amazing. I only met him last year, but it feels like I’ve known him forever. <3

Here’s one final photo outside the stadium of me and Bill:

48_bill_and_zack_outside_stadium

He was pointing at me as if to say, “He’s the man,” and I returned the gesture because HE’S the man.

This wasn’t a tearful goodbye. We were both going to be at the game the next day . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

49_the_six_balls_i_kept_04_25_16• 10 baseballs at this game (six pictured here because I gave four away)

• 118 balls in 13 games this season = 9.08 balls per game.

 50 balls in 8 lifetime games at Comerica Park = 6.25 balls per game.

• 1,179 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,751 total balls

On a final note, 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.

4/14/16 at Globe Life Park

The good news is that my flight from Denver to Dallas only cost $44. The bad news is that I had to wake up at 4:15am and felt like garbage. Why didn’t I go to bed early since I was gonna have to wake up early? Because I’m not a robot and my brain doesn’t work like that. I was with my friend Brandon Sloter, a professional videographer, who’s been filming me in various stadiums for YouTube. He managed to fall asleep around 1am. I went to bed after 2am, which meant I got two hours of sleep.

We arrived at the stadium with plenty of time for him to film me doing an opening intro outside:

1_zack_outside_stadium_04_14_16

There was also enough time for me to visit the team store . . .

2_zack_with_foam_finger_and_large_ball

. . . and buy a new Rangers cap. My old one, which you can kinda see in the first photo, was weathered, and I wanted to upgrade.

After that, it was still so early that Brandon and I had to wait for the parking lot to open:

3_waiting_to_enter_parking_lot

Then I met up with a friendly season ticket holder . . .

4_fans_waiting_to_enter_globe_life_park

. . . who brought us inside early as her guests. I thanked her by giving her the newest baseball that I ended up snagging during batting practice.

When the gates opened, I raced out to the left field seats and got my first ball almost immediately:

5_ball8675_thrown_by_ian_desmond

It was thrown from about 100 feet away by Ian Desmond, who then recognized me and yelled, “I think you have enough!” I had never talked to him before, so that was totally unexpected. Then he got on my case about missing Bryce Harper’s 100th career home run, which, evidently, had just been hit. I yelled back that I couldn’t be in two places at once, and that was pretty much it. He mentioned that it was a grand slam, and I got the sense that we would’ve kept talking if it had been easier to hear.

I used my glove trick to snag my second ball of the day from the gap behind the left field wall:

6_glove_trick_for_ball8676

The image above is a screen shot from Brandon’s video. Here’s another which shows me catching my third ball — a toss-up from Rangers pitcher Jake Diekman:

7_zack_catching_ball8677

One of my goals for the day was to hit double digits, and I was off to a good start.

I headed over to the seats in left-center and used the glove trick to retrieve this ball from the visitors bullpen:

8_ball8678_in_the_visitors_bullpen

Here’s an action shot (which you’ll see in its entirety in the video):

9_glove_trick_for_ball8678

Then I used the glove trick again for this ball in the center field gap:

10_glove_trick_for_ball_8679

That brought my total for the day to five.

When the Orioles started throwing, I headed into foul territory:

11_orioles_playing_catch_04_14_16

That was a waste of time.

When they started hitting several minutes later, I hurried back to center field, and . . . how can I say this? It was the opposite of a waste of time. First, check out my view of the field:

12_view_from_center_field_04_14_16

Nothing special, right? Well, look at all this open space I had on my left:

13_berm_on_my_left_04_14_16

Here in Arlington, when balls are flying toward that huge grassy hill, fans are actually allowed to jump over the side railings and chase ’em down.

Check out the following screen shot. It shows me holding a ball in my bare hand and reaching up with my glove to catch another:

14_zack_catching_ball_8681

Those were both hit by Mark Trumbo. That guy is a monster. I love him. And look! Here I am just before he connected again:

15_zack_catching_ball8682

This next home run was hit to my right, but rather than drifting slowly while looking up at the ball, I put my head down and rushed to the spot where I thought it was going to land. Here I am running through the row and heading up the stairs:

16_zack_catching_ball8682

As it turned out, my prediction was good but not perfect. I ended up on the wrong side of a railing and had to do some fancy footwork at the last second to make the catch. Here’s the ball streaking down toward my glove:

17_zack_catching_ball8682

Sometimes, when I take my eye off the ball and run to the spot where I think it’ll land, I guess right and feel like a superstar — but occasionally I guess wrong and maneuver myself out of position and end up feeling like the world’s biggest jackass.

A few minutes later, Trumbo hit me a fourth home run! As you can see below, it was the easiest catch of them all:

18_zack_catching_ball8683

I handed that ball to a little kid:

19_zack_handing_ball8683_to_a_kid

Then I got a ball thrown to me by Orioles bullpen catcher Jett Ruiz:

20_zack_catching_ball8684

Have you lost track? That was my 10th ball of the day, and I tossed it to a kid farther down on the staircase:

21_zack_tossing_ball8684_to_a_kid

My 11th ball was a home run by Chris Davis. I ran a long way for that one, caught it on the fly, and once again tossed it to a young fan:

22_zack_tossing_ball8685_to_a_kid

Over the course of the day, I gave away seven balls.

Can you spot my 12th ball in the following photo?

23_ball8686_hiding_in_the_seats

How’s that for a random, unusual hiding place? I didn’t see it until an employee pointed it out to me after BP.

My 13th ball was sitting more than halfway out in the visitors’ bullpen, so I flung my glove out and then tugged it back to knock the ball closer:

24_glove_trick_for_ball_8687

A guard in the bullpen walked over and had a word with me after that one, but not for the reason that you’d assume. Stadium security has no problem with fans fishing baseballs out of the gaps and bullpens. (Thumbs-up to them. What an awesome, friendly policy!) What they DO have an issue with is the glove trick in particular when it’s used in the bullpens. Why? Get this: according to the guard, it might appear from afar that I’m stealing a player’s glove. (Ha!! OMG.) So now what? I guess I’ll have to make a cup trick and bring it next time I go to Arlington.

When there was finally a break in the action, I signed a ball for this young man named Zach:

25_zach_with_signed_baseball

(To clarify, when I sign balls for people, THEY provide the balls. When some folks ask me to sign, they don’t actually have one, and I’m like, “Uhh . . . that’s not how this works.”)

In the photo below, I’m with a fan named Max, who had me sign a ball along with his copy of my book, The Baseball. His friend Ben, standing on the right, is holding a ball that I had given him after BP:

26_zack_with_kids_books_autographs

Here I am with the employee who’d pointed out the ball hiding in the seats:

27_zack_with_rangers_season_ticket_rep

His name is Mike, and he works in ticketing, and when he heard that I was going to be at this game, he made a point of finding me and saying hey. Very nice guy. (Mike, in case you’re reading this, I tried emailing you, and it bounced back, so leave a comment or tweet at me or send an email. Hopefully we can keep in touch.)

Just before game time, I headed down to the 3rd base dugout (a friendly usher allowed me to go there because I asked nicely — imagine THAT) so that I could take a close look at the new protective netting. Check it out:

28_new_netting_behind_the_dugout

How do I feel about the netting? Allow me to quote myself from the video:

“I just wanted to come down to the dugout for a few minutes to get a close-up look at, in my opinion, this awful protective netting. Look, I think fan safety is important, but this is where I’m gonna sound like an old fart. Way back when I was a kid, the world used to be fun, and there weren’t a million rules and regulations . . . you went to the playground, and there was fun stuff to climb on, and you could fall off and break your head if you weren’t careful, and I just feel like everything has become soft and, man, I would hate to have this seat and pay this much money and be looking through a net . . . even if I’m not trying to catch a baseball, I just don’t want this to be my view for a game . . . it’s important for Major League Baseball to do it. I happen to know from research and writing a book that only one fan in the history of Major League Baseball has been killed by a foul ball, but that’s still one too many, I guess, and, uhh, it’s good that they’re doing this, but personally I don’t like it.”

What do you think about this new protective netting that’s appearing in more and more stadiums? Do you like it? Hate it? Don’t care either way? Has it cost you any baseballs? Has it saved your best friend’s life (because he was texting rather than paying attention to the action on the field)? I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

Here’s another photo of the netting from the back of the section:

29_dugout_netting_from_afar

It doesn’t look as bad from there, but it’s still annoying to have a small portion of it messing up the view of 3rd base. See how the top of the netting creates a dark line on the infield dirt? That would drive me crazy, and no I wouldn’t GET USED TO IT. I’ve been dealing with mosquitos and second-hand cigarette smoke my whole life, and I’m still not used to that.

This was my view during the game:

30_view_during_game_from_center_field

Yes, that was my actual ticketed seat, so you see? I’m capable of following rules. Sometimes.

Here’s a panorama from that spot:

31_panorama_from_center_field

I would’ve given up 1,000 baseballs to have a game home run hit to dead center, but of course that didn’t happen. There was only one homer all night, and it was hit by — who else?! — Mark Trumbo. It landed in the bullpen in right-center. Bleh.

This was the view on my right:

32_view_on_my_right_04_14_16

The cheerleaders were busy in the 6th inning:

33_cheerleaders_running_on_the_berm

That’s when the Rangers put up a five-spot off Chris Tillman to take a 6-3 lead.

In the 9th inning, I noticed several balls on the ground in the Orioles’ bullpen:

34_balls_in_orioles_bullpen

I didn’t get any of them (poor me — yeah, I know), and I finished with a total of 13.

On the way out, I was amused to see two employees struggling with a jammed gate at one of the concession stands:

35_concession_gate_stuck_after_game

Here’s a photo of the empty right field seats . . .

36_empty_right_field_seats_after_game

. . . and here’s a look at the field from the concourse behind the foul pole:

37_right_field_foul_pole

What a glorious stadium! I wish I could attend games there regularly, but living in New York kinda makes that difficult.

Speaking of regulars, look who I caught up with later that night:

38_trent_and_zack_at_waffle_house

That’s my friend and fellow ballhawk, Trent Williams. He has a season ticket beside the grassy hill; you’ve probably seen highlights of him running out there and catching home runs (and emphatically throwing back all the ones hit by visiting teams). Trent had to coach hockey and wasn’t able to make it to the Rangers game, so it was great to catch up with him, and it was even greater that we could do it at Waffle House. No joke. I truly love it there.

Aside from the lack of sleep, it was a great day from start to finish, and the video is outstanding — my favorite one yet. It still needs a couple of tweaks, but it’s 99 percent done, and I’ll be posting it soon on my YouTube channel. In the meantime, here are other stadium videos that I’ve done (in chronological order):

Fenway Park — June 8, 2012 (the one video that Brandon didn’t film)
Dodger Stadium — July 17, 2012
Citizens Bank Park — August 18, 2014
Wrigley Field — September 2, 2014
PETCO PARK — September 24, 2014
U.S. Cellular Field –August 11, 2015 (133,520 views — hot damn!)
Busch Stadium — August 13, 2015
Kauffman Stadium — August 14, 2015
Miller Park — August 15, 2015
Oakland Coliseum — April 11, 2016
Safeco Field — April 12, 2016
Coors Field — April 13, 2016
Globe Life Park –April 14, 2016 (coming soon)

BALLHAWKING STATS:

39_the_six_balls_i_kept_04_14_16• 13 baseballs at this game (six pictured here because I gave seven away)

• 54 balls in 6 games this season = 9 balls per game.

 122 balls in 12 lifetime games at Globe Life Park = 10.17 balls per game.

• 1,172 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,687 total balls

On a final note, 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.

9/19/07 at Chase Field

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

The story of this game began 14 hours early, in the middle of the night . . .

I was in my room at the Super 8 Motel, hanging out with my friends Brad and Kevin, reading the latest box scores, watching “SportsCenter,” checking my email, eating junk food from Circle K, and showing them the photographs I’d taken on September 17th. I forget which one of us spotted it, but in one of the pics from the the upper deck, it appeared that there was a loose baseball sitting in a place that no one could see or reach — no one but us, that is.

Here’s the pic. See if you can find the ball:

1_hidden_ball

In case you’re wondering, the random white speck on the warning track is not the ball; that’s just a piece of trash that had fallen out of the bleachers. THIS, we believed, was the ball . . .

2_hidden_ball_closeup

. . . and we instantly started scheming about how to snag it.

The platform was below the air conditioning vents. The vents were below the terrace at Friday’s Front Row Sports Grill. Friday’s was open all day to the public, so at the very least, we knew we’d have time to make an attempt before the stadium officially opened. The challenge was that the platform didn’t jut out beyond the terrace. Instead, it was tucked directly underneath so we had to come up with a way to see it.

After eating a huge lunch at Bill Johnson’s Big Apple . . .

3_bill_johnsons_big_apple

. . . and taking a quick drive to the outskirts of Phoenix to check out the Oakland Athletics’ Spring Training practice fields . . .

4_spring_training_field

. . . we still didn’t have a plan. I suggested reaching over the terrace railing with my digital camera and taking some pics of the platform. Kevin told me that the platform was too far down, and that we still wouldn’t be able to see the ball.

Hmm.

I suggested lowering my camera on a string. Kevin talked me out of it. I suggested buying a small mirror and lowering THAT on a string. Kevin and Brad and I all looked at each other. We were getting somewhere, but still, even if we lowered a mirror ten feet down to the edge of the platform, then what? The mirror would be dangling straight down, and we’d be looking straight down at it. We still wouldn’t be able to see anything. We needed the mirror to be lowered so that it would be tilted on a 45-degree angle.

On the way to Chase Field . . .

5_chase_field_from_afar

. . . we went into an auto parts store and got ourselves a “blind spot mirror.” Didn’t weigh more than a few ounces. Only cost about three bucks. And best of all, it was curved.

We continued to the ballpark, headed up to the Friday’s terrace, and got to work. I had some extra string in my backpack, and Kevin conveniently found a piece of duct tape on the ground. We left the mirror in its packaging and used a pen to poke two holes on the bottom corners. Then we ran the string through all three holes — the third hole at the top was already there — and pulled it tight at just the right length so that the mirror would drop down at an angle. Then we taped all three parts of the string together and hooked the pen onto the back to give it a little extra weight. (We needed the weight because the air from the vents was causing the contraption to spin and sway. Check out the device:

6_ball_spotting_mirror_device

We were all set to make our big attempt. Brad grabbed my camera. I grabbed the string and the mirror and began to lower it:

7_zack_going_for_the_ball

Brad, not too keen on heights, wanted no part of the operation from this point on, but Kevin had no problem standing next to me and helping me look for the ball.

Long story short: We got a great view of the platform, but for some reason, we were never able to see the ball. Later in the day, we heard from Tony Dobson, a fellow ballhawk and Chase Field regular, that indeed it WAS a ball that we were going for and that it had been there for months.

Alas, our MacGyver-esque attempt fell short, but we had a helluva good time trying, and really, that’s a big part of what ballhawking is all about — having fun and being creative.

At about 3:25pm, I hurried out of Friday’s and ran to the ticket windows . . .

8_ticket_windows_outside_chase_field

. . . and once again overpaid for a seat on the first-base side of home plate (which I never ended up sitting in). By the time I made it back to the terrace, the entire Diamondbacks team had formed a loose circle in left-center field for a lame attempt at stretching:

9_diamondbacks_on_the_field

Soon after, batting practice was underway.

Two days earlier, there weren’t any other fans on the terrace. Now there were half a dozen (maybe they’d been reading this blog?) with gloves, but it didn’t stop me from getting off to my best start of the trip.

Diamondbacks pitching coach Bryan Price started off by tossing me a ball that fell short and hit the terrace facade and plopped into the bleachers down below. For a couple of minutes, it seemed that he wasn’t going to give me another shot, but eventually he did and I moved up a few rows before he threw it. His second throw fell short as well, but since I’d moved back, it fell short into the empty seats just below me, and I had ball #1.

10_bob_wickman_head_shotNow that I think about it, the story of this game actually began about 16 hours early. Remember when I saw Bob Wickman after the game on September 18th in the players’ parking lot and asked him if he’d throw me a ball the next day if I called out to him from the Friday’s terrace? Well, I called out, and Wickman handed ball #2 to bullpen catcher Jeff Motuzas and had HIM throw it to me.

Over the next 10 minutes, several home run balls landed in the bleachers, and at one point, some random high-school-aged kid with an iPod and a red hooded sweatshirt scurried through the rows of benches and grabbed a few.

“Hey!” I yelled down at him from the center field end of the terrace. “Can you please toss one of those balls up here?!”

“Just come on down!” he yelled nervously.

“I can’t!” I said. “I’m not an employee!”

He looked over his shoulder, then looked back up at me and shouted, “Take the elevator!”

“Can’t you just toss up ONE ball? There’s one over there that you missed.”

The kid saw where I was pointing and quickly found the ball, then walked it over to the area directly below me and made a perfect throw. That was ball #3.

Ball #4 was thrown by Livan Hernandez. (Livan gave me a ball each of the three days I was in Phoenix.) The ball fell a couple of feet short, and I leaned over the railing to save it from dropping into the bleachers.

“You’re good!” yelled a kid on my right who’d been shrieking at the players from the moment he’d barged onto the terrace — and was old enough to know better.

“Thanks,” I said, “but the only good thing about it was that I held onto the ball while you crashed into me.”

Ball #5 was a perfect throw from Eric Byrnes, pictured below on the far left:

11_eric_byrnes_red_socks

Ball #6 came from Brandon Medders. This one had been intended for the kid, but it was thrown over his head and I ended up with it. I handed it to him, hoping he’d calm down 12_brandon_medders_screen_shotand give me some space. Didn’t work. But the move still paid off. Medders saw me hand it over, and he fired up ball #7 as a reward. His throw sailed over my head, skipped off an empty table, hit the back wall of the terrace, and bounced back over my head. I had to jump and reach up and make a bare-handed grab to prevent it from flying back over the railing.

It was 4:15pm. The gates were going to open in another 15 minutes, so I left the terrace and got on line at the left field gate. I wasn’t thinking about breaking any records. I was just hoping to reach double digits, and I was glad to be just three balls away.

I ran inside and headed to the left field foul line and found ball #8 in the seats. Another fan, who must’ve entered from a different gate, made it down to the front row at around the same time and found a second ball one section over, and of course I was pissed that I hadn’t been running faster.

My next destination was the bleachers in straight-away left field, and I promptly plucked ball #9 off the warning track with my glove trick. I raced to the Diamondbacks’ dugout as their portion of BP ended but didn’t get anything. Then I hurried back out to the bleachers as the Giants took the field. Ball #10 was a home run that I caught on the fly. Ball #11 was thrown by Dan Giese. (Who?! Exactly.) Ball #12 was tossed by Daniel Ortmeier. Ball #13 was flipped up by Scott Atchison after I got scolded by an usher for trying to get it with the glove trick. Ball #14 was a homer by Omar Vizquel that I caught on the fly after reaching far down over left field wall. Here’s what it looked like out in left field:

13_left_field_during_batting_practice_09_19_07

I snagged so many balls in such a small amount of time that I lost track for a few minutes and forgot how many I had. Baseballs were bulging out of every pocket. I didn’t have time to label them. I was falling behind on my notes. I struggled to remember how I got them all, and when I realized how many I had, it occurred to me that I might have a shot at my one-day record of 19 balls.

Several lefties were now taking turns in the cage, so I sprinted through the concourse behind the batter’s eye and ran down the steps behind the pool in right-center. After about five minutes, someone on the Giants — possibly Ryan Klesko — launched a deep fly ball in my direction, which hit the stone deck surrounding the pool, bounced five feet over my head, ricocheted off the dark green wall behind me, flew back over my outstretched glove, and landed on the small gravel-filled ledge in the front row. I felt like I was trapped in a pinball game and got completely twisted around, but I managed to grab ball #15 with my glove as the nearest fan’s bare hand was inches away. Here’s a photo that shows where the ball landed and bounced:

14_ball3237_location

I was hoping to snag more than one ball in right field, but it wasn’t meant to be. The competition was pretty tough, and the batters weren’t hitting much.

There was one more round of BP. Three of the four hitters were right-handed, so I hurried back to left field. No luck whatsoever, but during the last few minutes, I saw a line drive skip over the outfield wall and disappear into the bullpen. Naturally I ran over, and when I got there, I saw THREE balls sitting on the grass. Ball #16 was two inches out from the back wall, and I snagged it easily with the glove trick. The other two balls? Not an easy task. They were both about 10 feet away from the wall, so I was going to have to fling my glove out and knock the balls closer. I knew I could do it, but I was concerned about pissing off stadium security. If I hadn’t been going for a record, there’s no way I would’ve tried to get those balls, but GAH! I just couldn’t resist. The way I saw it, my glove was old, so if security confiscated it, they would’ve been doing me a favor. And if they ejected me, I would’ve bought another ticket and gone right back in (and stayed on the right field side). I had to go for it. I didn’t want to have to snag four balls during the game to break the record. That would’ve been nearly impossible here at Chase Field where it’s tough as hell to sneak down to the dugouts.

I managed to knock the first ball a few feet closer, and that’s as far as I got. The on-field security guard (wearing the tan shirt in the photo below) immediately started walking toward me, and another guard began marching down the steps behind me. The guard down below tossed the first ball to some fans near the foul pole and then, surprisingly, he flipped up the second one — ball #17 — to me. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was about to be arrested and instead I took another step toward the record.

15_guard_who_gave_me_ball3239

When the other guard made it all the way down the steps, he told me that my “gadget” was “very innovative” but that he was “going to have to take the string.” (Oh noooo!! Not the string!! I only have two other extremely long pieces of it in my backpack!!)

I gave him the most sincere insincere apology I could muster and assured him it wouldn’t happen again. Then he asked for my glove and began trying to untie the string. (Yeah, good luck with that, pal.) He had no chance. I’d made about a dozen tight knots to make sure the string would withstand all kinds of tugs and jerks.

“Here,” I said, pulling out a nail clipper, “let me help you with that.”

“Thanks,” he said.

“You’re not gonna confiscate this too,” I said, “are you?” and we both forced a laugh. To break the awkward silence that followed, I told him that security in some ballparks has no problem with fans bringing in all sorts of ball-retrieving devices.

“Really?” he asked.

“Really. But again, I apologize. I’m from out of town, and I didn’t know that the rules here were so strict.”

“No problem,” he said. “Enjoy the game.”

I had half an hour to kill . . .

16_zack_standing_around

. . . so I knocked the last two items off my “to-do” list. First I bought a couple of Chase Field postcards at the team store, and then I took some pics of the rotunda on the left field side:

17_chase_field_rotunda

It was beautiful — unlike anything I’d ever seen at Shea and Yankee Stadium, my two home ballparks.

By the time I finished wandering around, two pairs of Diamondbacks were playing catch in the left field corner, and I needed another ball. The difference between starting the game with 18 instead of 17 would be huge. Motuzas, the bullpen catcher, finished throwing first, and when I asked him for the ball, he said, “I already gave you one today. In fact, I saw you get two!” I had no comeback. I was busted. I just hoped that the other two guys hadn’t heard him. Those other two guys were starting catcher Chris Snyder and bullpen coach Glenn Sherlock.

18_ball3240_being_used

I waited until the instant that they finished throwing — I could tell by their body language when that was about to take place — and then I asked Sherlock for the ball. He turned right around and made eye contact with me and lobbed it gently to me. There were a few other fans with gloves in the front row. Being in laid-back Phoenix, I didn’t expect any of them to reach in front of me and snatch the ball, but just to be sure, I jumped up and reached up for ball #18 at the last second in case anyone tried to interfere.

Just two more balls to go, and I’d have a new one-game record. Being so close brought an extra layer of excitement and urgency to the game that I’d never felt.

I got Chris Snyder’s autograph on my ticket . . .

19_chris_snyder_autograph

. . . and then established my plan for the game. If I hadn’t been going for the record, I would’ve actually sat near my assigned seat and gone for foul balls, but foul balls are much harder to predict than third-out balls that get tossed over the dugouts every half-inning. Security at Chase Field was too tight for me to run back and forth from one side of the ballpark to the other and play both dugouts, so I had to pick one. Clearly, it had to be the visiting team’s side — the 1st base side, which was near my ticketed seat — so I embarked on a 20-minute maneuver that I hoped would get me down to the Giants’ dugout.

Two entries ago, I tried explaining how the seats and ushers are set up, but I realize that it’ll make no sense here, so I drew a cheap diagram to show you what I did:

20_crappy_seating_diagram

Just after the national anthem, I used my overpriced ticket to get past the first set of ushers in the concourse. (The first set of ushers are represented by the red exes at the bottom of the diagram, and as you can see, there was an usher at every staircase.) Then I cut to the right and headed through the empty seats past the end of the dugout, just beyond the spot where the aisle ends. It was essential to go past the aisle because there was a second set of ushers there as well. Once I got past it, I turned left and headed down the steps and tiptoed into one of the first few rows. There were also a few guards standing on the warning track in front of the dugout, looking up into the seats to catch people like me, so I had to move really slowly and calmly. I often moved one seat or one row at a time, waiting for the right moment when all three of the nearest ushers and guards were simultaneously looking the other way. But I couldn’t let them see that I was looking at them. Other times, I’d wait for a group of fans to walk down my staircase, and when they squeezed into a row behind me and were all briefly standing up, I used them as a shield and inched a little closer to where I wanted to be. One false move and I was done. I was totally stressed, but in a good way, if that’s possible, and my systematic movements continued through the first inning.

Eventually, after climbing over a few more seats and creeping though partially empty rows, I reached the staircase behind the outfield end of the dugout — the perfect place to be for third-out balls at Chase Field. Nice view, eh?

21_view_behind_1b_dugout_09_19_07

The first two-thirds of the game didn’t help my cause. Mark Reynolds struck out to end the first inning, and catcher Bengie Molina tossed the ball over the home-plate end of the dugout. Doug Davis grounded out to end the second, and first baseman Scott McClain kept the ball. Augie Ojeda grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the third, and second baseman Kevin Frandsen rolled the ball back to the mound. Justin Upton flied out to end the fourth, and center fielder Rajai Davis tossed the ball to the kid on my left. Miguel Montero grounded out to end the fifth, and McClain gave the ball to the kid on my right. AAHH!! I was so close to tying my record, but it just wasn’t happening. I figured I’d at least have a shot at tying it by getting a ball from the ump after the game, but I didn’t want a tie. What good would THAT do other than add one more ball to my lifetime total? I needed ONE third-out ball, and then ONE ball from the ump, and that was it. Why was it so difficult?! Chris Young grounded out to end the sixth, and McClain tossed the ball to another kid. Good for the kids. That’s how it should be. But it was still frustrating.

Then I found a ticket stub on the ground. This wasn’t just good — it was great. It was incredible. It meant I could leave that section and try to play the other dugout and then come back. It meant that my chances of getting a third-out ball had just doubled.

22_game_ticket_09_19_07I raced over to the third base side and waltzed past the usher in the concourse while he was looking the other way. Then I moved down a few rows, waited for the first out, and walked confidently toward the usher in the aisle. When she looked at me suspiciously, I looked her right in the eye and gave a slight smile and a nod as if I owned the place, and she didn’t say a word as I kept walking down the steps behind the middle of the dugout. WOW! Molina grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the top of the seventh, and shortstop Stephen Drew tossed the ball one section to my left, gosh-durnit. But guess what happened right after that? I found a ticket stub in that section as well! I now had complete access to both dugouts.

I ran back to the Giants’ side and strutted back down to my original spot. Snyder and Drew led off with back-to-back singles. Ojeda bunted into a force out. Pinch hitter Jeff Cirillo grounded into a fielder’s choice. Byrnes lifted a routine fly ball to center field, and I took off down the steps with the crack of the bat. I was crouching in the front row by the time Davis caught it, then kept my eye on him as he threw the ball toward the infield. Omar Vizquel caught it on a bounce, and kept it in his glove as he jogged in. Everyone else in the section thought Davis had the ball and waited in anticipation for him to approach. I yelled “Omar!” and flapped my glove a couple times, and the future Hall of Famer flipped ball #19 directly from his glove to mine.

My heart was racing. I’d tied my record — a record that had taken 15 years to establish, and which had stood since 2004.

I only had nine more outs to work with, and I realized that my next trip to the Diamondbacks’ dugout would be my last. One more inning, and there wouldn’t be a third-out ball. There’d only be a game-ending ball, and I’d already made up my mind to stay on the Giants’ side and go for an umpire ball.

McClain singled to start the eighth, and Klesko followed by flying out to Byrnes. Pedro Feliz then flied out to Justin Upton, and Ray Durham stepped up the plate. I needed him to make contact. If he struck out, Snyder was going to end up with the ball and toss it over the wrong end of the dugout. And I needed Durham to make an out in the middle of the field. I couldn’t have him fly out near the foul lines because the outfielder who made the catch would toss the ball to the nearest section. What I needed was a . . . GROUND BALL!!! Ojeda fielded it at second base and fired it to Tony Clark who’d just replaced Conor Jackson at first base. Clark started jogging in with the ball, and I thought back to his days with the 23_tony_clark_head_shotTigers in the 90s. Somehow, somewhere, I’d once heard that he liked being called by his initials, so I started shouting “Tee-Cee!!!” before he even crossed the foul line. I kept shouting and started waving. I’m sure everyone in the section thought I was a complete nutjob, and I didn’t care. Clark approached the dugout and flipped the ball . . . to me . . . and I reached out and caught it!

BALL #20!!!
A new record!!!
Holy Mother of God!!!

I don’t even remember running back to the Giants’ side, and for all I know, I might have actually been flying. All I can say is that Reynolds struck out to end the eighth inning, and Molina took the ball back to the other end of the dugout.

The Diamondbacks were winning, 6-4. I was hoping the Giants would tie it up and send the game into extra innings, but Jose Valverde nailed down his 46th save of the season. By the time Molina flied out to end the game, I hadn’t yet made it to the home plate end of the dugout. That’s where the umps enter and exit the field in Phoenix. I didn’t think this would be a problem because the home plate ump — on this night it was Ted Barrett — usually waits at the plate for the other umps to walk over, and then they all exit the field 24_ted_barrett_head_shottogether. But for whatever reason, Barrett immediately rushed toward the dugout. I started hurdling seats — no, I didn’t bump into anyone — and barely reached the end of the dugout as he stepped onto the warning track.

“Mister Barrett!! Mister Barrett!! By any chance could you please spare an extra baseball? Please?!”

He didn’t even look up at me. He just kept walking, and at the last second, he reached into the pouch on his hip and rolled ball #21 to me across the dugout roof.

25_zack_21st_ball_of_day

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 282 balls in 35 games this season = 8.06 balls per game.

• 490 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 733 lifetime balls outside of New York

• 56 balls in 5 lifetimes games at Chase Field = 11.2 balls per game.

• 72 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 8th time snagging 10 or more balls in three consecutive games

Competition Factor of 899,955 = new record.

• 21 balls at one game = new record.

• 35 balls in two consecutive games = new record.

• 47 balls in three consecutive games = new record.

• 4,502 words in this blog entry = new record.

• 3,243 total balls

4/13/16 at Coors Field

Let me start with a photo of my ride to the stadium:

1_my_ride_to_coors_field

Best.
Car.
Ever.

It belongs to a friend and fellow ballhawk named Dan Sauvageau. You’ll see some photos of him in a bit, so for now, I’ll just say that he kindly picked me up at the airport. He was with his 12-year-old daughter, Emily, and I was with my friend/videographer, Brandon Sloter. Brandon had filmed me the day before at Safeco Field and in Oakland the day before that. I’m hoping to do videos for my YouTube channel in all 30 stadiums, and this game in Denver was Day 3 of a four-stadium trip.

We hit some traffic on the way to (and right outside the) stadium . . .

2_traffic_outside_coors_field

. . . but we still arrived with a little time to spare. Here’s what it looked like just before everyone headed inside:

3_lines_outside_coors_field_04_13_16

There must’ve been two dozen people there — how adorable.

As soon as I ran in, a left-handed batter on the Rockies hit a ground-rule double that bounced into the wide aisle behind the outfield wall in left-center. I raced over and grabbed that ball, and less than a minute later, I chased down a home run that landed in nearly the same spot, barely beating out a guy with a fluffy gray beard. Here’s a photo of him glaring at me:

4_robert_harmon_during_bp_04_13_16

He wasn’t actually glaring. His name is Robert Harmon, and we’ve been friends for years. Remember the story I wrote for Yahoo! about Barry Bonds’ final home run? Robert was featured in it because he was one of three fans who ended up scrambling for that historic ball.

Anyway, here’s a photo of me from behind, taken just after the Giants started hitting:

5_zack_standing_around_during_bp_04_13_16

There was no action at first, but when I saw Hunter Pence step into the cage, it was time to get serious. To put it simply, THE MAN HITS BOMBS in batting practice — I’ve seen him play enough to know that — so I moved all the way back to the concourse behind the left field bleachers. Look how far I was from home plate:

6_zack_in_left_field_concourse

That might seem like an absurd spot to stand and wait for a home run, but keep in mind that this was all taking place one mile above sea level, where, because of the thinner air, baseballs travel 8 to 10 percent farther.

Pence didn’t come close to reaching the concourse at first, but I didn’t give up on him. I knew it was only a matter of time before he launched one, and sure enough, it finally happened. Here’s a screen shot from Brandon’s video that shows another fan tracking the ball and running toward the back of the concourse:

7_other_ran_running_back

Yeah, THAT’S how far it went.

The other fan judged it perfectly, but unfortunately for him, I was already in the spot where it landed. Here I am reaching up for the catch:

8_zack_catching_hunter_pence_homer

I’ll admit that I look awkward in the screen shot above, but hold your judgment until you actually watch the video. It’s only 31 seconds, so no excuses. Here it is.

As you may have noticed, the title of the video describes this as a “490-foot home run.” I didn’t make that up. Greg Rybarczyk, the founder of ESPN Home Run Tracker, estimated the distance, so don’t bother arguing. I’ve known Greg for a while, so before I posted the video on YouTube, I sent it to him. He said it “had a true distance of about 490 feet, plus or minus maybe 2 or 3 feet since I don’t have the precise time of flight.” This is definitely the longest home run I’ve ever caught, the runner-up being Robinson Cano’s 479-foot blast during the 2011 Home Run Derby in Phoenix.

For the next group of BP, I headed over to right field:

9_right_field_seats_04_13_16

Despite the lack of competition, it was so dead that I only managed to get one ball out there — a toss-up from Mister Pence, which I gave to the nearest/smallest kid.

Back in left-center field, I got a ball thrown to me by Giants pitcher Cory Gearrin. That was my fifth of the day, and I followed that up with a pretty slick catch on a home run. (I think it was hit by Buster Posey). Brandon filmed this one as well, but it’s not on YouTube yet, so for now, you’ll have to settle for two screen shots. Here’s the first . . .

10_zack_tracking_giants_homer

. . . and here’s the second:

11_zack_elevating_for_the_catch

Basically, when I realized that the ball was going to sail too high for me to jump and reach, I used a neck-high railing to hoist myself up onto the concrete ledge at the front of the bleachers. Robert jumped in front of me, and two other fans reached out from behind, but the ball ended up in the right spot for me to glove it.

That one felt good.

I caught one more homer at the end of BP — fairly routine and non-acrobatic. That one might’ve been hit by Buster Posey too. (He wasn’t in the starting lineup; that’s why he hit at the end of BP.) Kelby Tomlinson was hitting in that group, as was Madison Bumgarner. If I had to bet, I’d guess Posey, but who knows? I ended up giving away that ball to a father for his little kid.

After BP, I was approached by a fan named Caroline, who asked me to sign a couple of 8 x 10-inch photos of myself:

12_zack_and_caroline

We had met several years earlier — nice to see that she’s still at it.

I got to spend a little time (albeit rushed and semi-distracted) with a gentleman named Jesse Trujillo, who had set up an interview for me last summer at the height of all the craziness. This was our first in-person meeting, and like an idiot, I neglected to get a photo with him. He and a Coors Field regular named Mike (whom I’d met several times in the past) joined me for a brisk walk to the team store, where I purchased a new Rockies cap. After years of getting crushed in my backpack, my old one looked like crap, so I was glad to upgrade. When it was time to pay, Mike generously lent me his season ticket holder ID card so that I could get a discount — 20 percent, if I’m remembering correctly. Then Jesse took off, and I headed to the right field upper deck with Mike. Until a few years ago, there was nothing but regular seating up there. Now there’s a huge bar/restaurant/lounge/party/standing-room area called The Rooftop. I’d never been up there, so I was glad to finally check it out. Here’s Mike standing beside the loungy spot:

13_rooftop_lounge_area

Look how much open space there is:

14_rooftop_standing_room

As planned, I met up with Dan and Robert — here they are with Mike in between:

15_dan_mike_robert

Forgetting that I live in New York City, where there are famously awesome burger places like Shake Shack, Five Guys, Jackson Hole, and countless other non-franchised restaurants that you haven’t heard of, Robert went on and on about how THIS particular concession stand had THE best burgers . . . so I got a double-cheeseburger. My critique: it was good but not life-changing.

Here’s another photo of the space where fans can walk and hang out on The Rooftop:

16_rooftop_pergola

It’d be nice to see a thick mess of vines covering that pergola, no?

Brandon was also up there with us. Here’s a photo he took of the field:

17_view_from_the_rooftop

That’s a gorgeous view, but I would hate to watch the game from that spot.

Here’s one of The Rooftop’s bars:

18_rooftop_bar

Here’s what it looks like from the center-field end of the upper deck:

19_view_from_the_rooftop

Given the fact that the Rockies aren’t coming close to filling up Coors Field anymore, I think the new upper deck configuration is a great use of space. But enough of that. Let’s return to Earth, huh?

This was my view during the game:

20_view_during_game_04_13_16

Speaking of space, look at this glorious aisle:

21_view_to_my_left_04_13_16

I want to live there — like, actually set up a legal residence right there in the aisle. There are already outlets in that area, and there are bathrooms and concession stands within a 30-second walk. I suppose it would be awfully cold at the beginning and end of each season, and summer/day games could be unpleasantly hot, but whatever. Sign me up!

Brandon (who’s on Instagram — give him a follow) wandered to the top of the upper deck behind home plate. Here’s what it looked like from up there:

22_view_from_coors_field_upper_deck_photo_by_brandon_sloter

Meanwhile, here’s what I looked like after losing a chance to catch the easiest home run ever:

23_zack_after_missing_nolan_arenado_homer

See the guy in the red shirt directly behind me? In the bottom of the 3rd inning, Nolan Arenado smoked a deep line drive off Jake Peavy that clanked off that guy’s hands and plopped right down into the aisle behind my chair. Why didn’t I get that ball? Because I was sitting with Robert in left-center. I figured his spot was as good as mine — I’ve seen him catch lots of homers on TV — but no, the universe gave me the finger instead. I’m telling you, all I would’ve had to do was stand up and then reach up, and I would’ve caught the ball. I might’ve taken one step back to make it ever easier.

UNREAL.

I’ve still never gotten a truly easy home run during a game. I’ve always had to run and/or scramble, climb up or down over a row of seats, reach, lunge, jump, sneak past security, drift/run up or down a staircase, stretch across railings, deal with other people’s hands and gloves in my face, etc. This would’ve been like Ted Williams playing in a slow-pitch softball game. (Umm, wait, I didn’t mean to obnoxiously compare myself to Ted Williams. That was just the first comparison that came to mind. You get my point.)

As bummed as I was about not catching that ball, I was glad that my buddy Bob — another Coors Field regular — ended up with it. He even thanked me, knowing he would’ve had no chance if I’d been sitting in my seat.

<sigh>

Here’s a famous beer vendor at Coors Field known as “Earthman”:

24_earthman_the_beer_vendor

Here I am with Dan and Emily:

25_dan_emily_zack_04_13_16

Do you like my new Rockies cap? Purple IS my favorite color. For real.

If you’ve read my book, The Baseball, you might recognize Dan as one of the top ten ballhawks of all time — check out pages 287-288 and you’ll see Emily’s photo too. Dan has now snagged 93 home runs during games, and Emily has attended 584 Rockies home games. (Wow! Right?) Next time you’re at Coors Field, go say hi if you see them.

Having learned nothing from my not-sitting-in-my-ticketed-seat blunder, I wandered out to left-center field late in the game. This was the view:

26_view_from_left_center_field_04_13_16

I just couldn’t help myself. LOOK AT ALL THIS SPACE!!!

27_cross_aisle_in_left_center_field

Oh, and here’s even more space:

28_cross_aisle_and_new_outfield_wall

Pardon me while I sob uncontrollably for five minutes.

(Okay, I feel better now. Kidding. No I don’t.)

In the previous photo, did you notice the outfield wall in right-center field? See how tall it is? That’s new as of this season. During this game, Rockies shortstop Trevor Story hit two triples high off that wall — balls that would’ve cleared the fence in previous seasons.

Here’s the scoreboard with two outs remaining in the game:

29_scoreboard_04_13_16

Compared to all the pitcher’s duels I’ve sat through in recent seasons at Citi Field, this was a gosh-darned slugfest. And I loved it. But on a personal level, it did me no good. My night ended with seven baseballs, including zero during the game.

Dan, Emily, Brandon, and I used this special route to exit after the final out:

30_exiting_through_the_special_concourse

I got one last peek at the field:

31_final_sneak_peek_at_the_field

There was no time for a lengthy goodbye. Brandon and I had to hurry back to our hotel because we were going to have to wake up at 4:15am the next morning for a flight to Dallas. And Emily was going to have to wake up early for school.

Stay tuned for the video. When Brandon completes the editing process and sends it to me, I’ll post it on YouTube.

UPDATE: Here’s the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

32_the_five_balls_i_kept_04_13_16• 7 baseballs at this game (five pictured here because I gave two away)

• 41 balls in 5 games this season = 8.2 balls per game.

 109 balls in 19 lifetime games at Coors Field = 5.74 balls per game.

• 1,171 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,674 total balls

On a final note, 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.

4/12/16 at Safeco Field

On Tuesdays and Saturdays, season ticket holders at Safeco Field can enter the stadium three hours before game time. I wasn’t aware of that when I booked my trip, but lucky me — my one game in Seattle happened to fall on a Tuesday, and when I announced on Twitter that I was going to be there, I received an email from some random guy who offered to bring me in early as his guest.

Here’s what it looked like outside the early gate:

1_fans_outside_safeco_field_right_field_gate

Yeah, it was cold and rainy, but so what? That’s what heavy winter jackets and domed stadiums are for.

Here’s the “random” guy who had emailed me. His name is Rex, and he was with his 10-year-old son, Tyler:

2_rex_and_his_son_tyler

Thankfully they were willing/able to help my friend Brandon get in early too. Brandon is a professional videographer, and he was there to film me for my YouTube channel. As I mentioned in my previous entry from Oakland, my new goal is to do a video at every major league stadium; Safeco was going to be No. 10.

I had high hopes for this day. Given the fact that I’d be getting inside so early, I expected to hit double digits and was thinking about breaking the one-game Safeco Field record of 16 baseballs, set by my friend Greg Barasch on September 18, 2012.

When I first ran in, I was bummed (though not surprised) to see that the Mariners had not yet started batting practice. In fact, there were hardly any players on the field:

3_batting_practice_not_yet_underway

If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll notice two guys in fair territory. Dae-ho Lee was at 1st base, and get this — he was fielding fungos that were being hit by a coach from the left side of the infield. (Huh?! Yeah.) I have no idea why there were doing that, but it worked to my advantage. Just after I made it down to the front row, Lee missed one of the fungos. That’s exactly what I was hoping for, so I lunged over the short, padded railing and scooped up the ball. It was a beauty!

4_ball8648_fungo_past_dae_ho_lee

It happened so quickly that Brandon wasn’t there to film it, but he got footage of my next seven balls. In the following screen shot, look closely at the edge of the infield dirt behind 1st base. See the player chucking a ball in my direction?

5_ball8649_from_robinson_cano

That was Robinson Cano. His throw fell a bit short, so I had to dart down a few rows to make the catch.

When I first heard about early entry for season ticket holders, I assumed all the fans would be confined to the right field seats, or at least the right side of the lower level. But guess what? The entire stadium was open. Therefore, when the Mariners started hitting and most people posted up in the right field seats, I headed to the party deck in deep left-center. Look how empty it was:

6_empty_party_deck

Mike Montgomery threw me my 3rd ball of the day . . .

7_ball8650_from_mike_montgomery

. . . and it had a commemorative “AZ” Spring Training logo:

8_ball8650_commemorative_spring_training

I’d gotten one of those balls the day before in Oakland, but I was glad to snag another.

Here’s a screen shot that shows me catching my 4th ball of the day — a toss-up from Vidal Nuno on the warning track:

9_ball8651_from_vidal_nuno

Yes, it was ridiculously easy, and I loved it. Games at both New York Stadiums are always a grind, so it felt great to be 2,858 miles from home where things were more laid-back.

In between groups, when there was a brief lull in the action, I caught up with someone I’d been hoping to meet for years — a man named Jay Didion whom I had featured in my book, The Baseball, as one of the top ten greatest ballhawks of all time. Check out pages 275-276. That’s his spread. He’s the only one of the ten that I didn’t have a photo of, so now, for the first time ever, I can show you what he looks like:

10_jay_didion_and_zack

What an amazing man! And very friendly too. As I mentioned in the book, he has snagged 112 home runs *during* major league games, including three on the fly during Game 3 of the 1988 ALCS in Oakland. That’s just absurd. My friend Rick Gold had initially told me about Jay and put me in touch with him in 2009, and now, finally, all these years later, here we were.

I used the glove trick to snag my 5th ball of the day from the Mariners’ bullpen. Here I am lowering my contraption over the railing:

11_ball8652_glove_trick

After that, I raced out to right-center field and got Hisashi Iwakuma to throw me a ball by asking for it in Japanese. Here’s a blurry screen shot of him flinging it to me:

12_ball8653_from_hisashi_iwakuma

Here’s another low-quality (zoomed-in) screen shot of me getting my 7th ball:

13_ball8654_robinson_cano_homer

I promise this’ll all look better in the actual video, but anyway, did you see me bending down over the railing? There’s netting in the gap between the outfield wall and the stands. Robinson Cano had hit a home run that landed there, and I was barely able to reach it.

Here’s a four-part photo that shows me getting my 8th ball:

14_ball8655_from_joel_peralta

In case it’s not clear what was happening:

1) I asked Joel Peralta for a ball, and he motioned for me to go deep.
2) I ran up the stairs toward the back of the section.
3) Peralta let it fly.
4) His throw was right on the money — easy catch.

Just before the Mariners finished hitting, I hurried to the seats behind their dugout and got a toss-up from a coach I didn’t recognize. Brandon didn’t make it there in time to get it on video, but whatever. I was just glad to have nine balls; my chances of breaking the single-game Safeco record were looking pretty good. I just needed to have a solid performance during the Rangers’ portion of BP.

Here’s where I started:

15_zack_party_deck_from_above

No, not in the 2nd deck 500 feet from home plate. In the photo above, do you see the fan in the red cap on the left? That’s me. Here’s a slightly closer look at that area as Delino DeShields Jr. threw me my 10th ball of the day:

16_ball8657_tossup_in_center_field

I used the glove trick again to get my 11th ball from this gap behind the outfield wall:

17_gap_in_front_of_the_party_deck

I was disappointed not to be catching any home runs on the fly, but what the hell was I supposed to do? Left field at Safeco is worthless for catching homers, right field was awfully crowded, and there wasn’t any action in deep-left center. All I could do was keep going for toss-ups. Here I am getting my 12th ball from Cole Hamels — the first of many that I ended up giving to kids:

18_ball8659_from_cole_hamels

People often assume that every time I catch a ball, I’m depriving some poor little kid of the opportunity to have caught it himself, but if you look at all these screen shots, it’s clear that there weren’t any kids near me. Think of it this way: if I hadn’t been at this game, most of the balls I got would not have even ended up in the seats. The players who retrieved them would’ve tossed them back to the bucket in shallow center field.

Here I am getting my 13th ball from a player I didn’t recognize:

19_ball8660_from_tony_barnette

Did you notice the logo on that ball? Yes, it’s blurry in that screen shot, but you can kinda tell that it’s bigger and rounder than the standard MLB logo. In other words, it was an “AZ” ball.

The player who tossed it had long hair and a beard. A few minutes later, I photographed him standing around with his teammates. He’s pictured below with his hands on his hips:

20_rangers_pitchers_in_center_field

I figured out later that it was Tony Barnette.

With only a few minutes remaining in BP, I ran back to the seats in right-center. Just before Brandon caught up with me, I got my 14th ball tossed by Keone Kela. Then I ran all the way to the 3rd base side, arriving just as the Rangers were clearing the field. Moments later, I got my 15th ball tossed by a ballboy in front of the dugout:

21_ball8662_from_a_ballboy

Phew!!

Here’s a better photo of the ballboy and what it looked like from there:

22_ballboy_pakcing_up_balls

I was soooooo sweaty and exhausted (and still feeling slightly under the weather). But I was happy. I was just one ball short of tying the Safeco Field record. I figured I’d find a way to get one more before the game and then perhaps snag another during the game — a 3rd-out ball or maybe even a foul ball?

After BP, I caught up with my old Safeco Field friends — the Van Hollebeke siblings. Here I am with them:

23_max_luke_zack_hannah

In the photo above, that’s Max on the left, Luke with the backwards baseball cap, and Hannah on the right. Remember when Luke and I were both on crutches when I first met them five years ago? Here’s a photo I took with them (and a few other folks) on June 15, 2011. Two years later, I hung out with them again on April 25, 2013, so yeah, I go way back with these guys, and it was great to see them again. I only wish we could’ve chatted longer. That’s the worst thing about visiting a stadium for just one day. Everything is so rushed. And because I was on the verge of setting a record, I was kind of on edge and eager to head to the Rangers’ bullpen. First I caught up again with Jay. Then, before taking off, I photographed a few of my “AZ” balls . . .

24_three_commemorative_spring_training_balls

. . . and after that I caught up with a young lady named Maxine:

24b_zack_and_maxine

Does she look familiar? Check out this photo of us from 8/22/11 at Progressive Field. That was actually a Watch With Zack game that I did with her brother Maple and their father, David. The following day, the four of us went to games at both Progressive Field *and* PNC Park, and the day after that, we stayed for another game in Pittsburgh. Anyway, I was hoping to get a group shot with the whole family here at Safeco, but there just wasn’t time, and we weren’t able to connect after the game.

Okay, so, let’s talk about Derek Holland, shall we? Check out this photo of him warming up in the bullpen:

25_derek_holland_warming_up

Brandon took that photo, and then I zoomed way in to give you a better look at the ball. It had a commemorative Spring Training logo, and bullpen coach Brad Holman ended up tossing it to me:

26_ball8663_derek_holland_warmup_ball_tossed_by_brad_holman

That was my 16th ball of the day. I was now tied with Greg and needed just one more to break his record.

Having seen the Rangers play on the Road multiple times over the past few seasons, I was aware that most of the 3rd-out balls get tossed to shortstop Elvis Andrus and that he likes to chuck ’em deep into the crowd. Therefore, when Robinson Cano flied out to center fielder Delino DeShields Jr., I hung back and waited. This was the result:

27_ball8664_in_mid_air_thrown_by_elvis_andrus

Andrus threw me the ball — my 17th of the day. (Suck it, Gregory.) Here I am with it:

28_zack_with_ball8664

While posing for that photo, I spotted a little kid with a glove half a dozen rows behind me. I pulled the cleanest/non-commemorative ball out of my backpack and went over and handed it to him.

Of the 17 balls that I’d snagged at that point, I still had 15 in my possession:

29_fifteen_baseballs

I thought about what it would take to snag three more and reach 20. Another 3rd-out ball? Then an umpire ball and a bullpen ball? Or maybe an infield warm-up ball and then . . . hmm. The section behind the Rangers’ dugout turned out to be tougher than I expected, so Brandon and I both wandered elsewhere. He went to the upper deck . . .

30_upper_deck_photo_taken_by_brandon_sloter

. . . and I sat here after counting the number of righties and lefties in the starting lineups:

31_view_during_game_04_12_16

With two outs in the bottom of the 4th inning, Franklin Gutierrez fouled an 0-1 pitch from Derek Holland 30 feet to my left. I took off running through an empty row and figured I was out of luck as the ball sailed toward a guy with a glove — but he dropped it! And the ball bounced down a couple of steps right to me.

Just like that, I had my 18th ball of the day. A friendly usher (who didn’t seem to notice or care that I didn’t belong in his section) walked over and handed me a “Mariners Foul Ball Club” card:

32_ball8665_franklin_gutierrez_foul_ball

Lots of people tweeted at me throughout the day, and when I mentioned the foul ball, things got pretty crazy. Most of the comments were positive, but as they say, haters gonna hate. If you can handle crude/adult language, click here to see what I’m talking about.

Look who caught a foul ball the following inning:

33_rex_and_a_foul_ball_he_caught

That’s Rex! And it was his first foul ball ever. Very nicely done.

Roughly half an hour later, I botched my chance to get another foul ball. I don’t even want to talk about it — I really felt like a dumb-ass — so let me say this instead: in the top of the 8th inning, I made up for it by snagging a Ryan Rua foul ball. It was a towering pop-up behind the plate, hit off the hard-throwing Tony Zych. I sprinted two full sections to my left and reached forward at the last second, but the ball barely fell short of my glove. Thankfully, when it hit the pavement, it bounced up against my chest and was deadened by my puffy jacket, enabling me to smother/scoop it up. That felt so good! And I got another card from the same friendly usher:

34_ball8666_another_foul_ball

Brandon was there for that one, and he took a photo of me with the two foul balls:

35_zack_with_two_foul_balls

Fun fact: this was the 23rd time I had ever snagged two game-used balls during one game, not counting toss-ups — 19 games with two or more foul balls, three games with two home runs (most recently on 9/16/15 at Citizens Bank Park), and one game with a home run *and* a foul ball (on 4/6/11 at Camden Yards).

As for this game at Safeco, I now had 19 balls and really wanted one more. The Rangers ended up winning, 8-0, so I figured my best chance would be at their dugout. Sure enough, as the cluster of guys walked off the field, I got a toss-up from pitching coach Doug Brocail. Here I am reaching out for it with my glove:

36_ball8667_in_mid_air_thrown_by_doug_brocail

I celebrated by giving away eight balls to various kids scattered across the 3rd base side. I’m not sure if Brandon got any of that on video, and it doesn’t really matter. I would’ve given away those balls even if he weren’t there. He’s still working on the video, BTW, and I haven’t seen all the footage. I just grabbed the clips that showed me getting baseballs so that I could take screen shots for this entry. When the video IS ready, I’ll post it on YouTube (so you oughta subscribe to my channel) and perhaps also embed it here.

Here’s my 20th ball of the day:

37_ball8667_20th_of_the_day

As if Rex hadn’t already done enough for me, he offered to give me and Brandon a ride to our hotel near the airport. He said it was on his way home, but still, that was a huge favor, and we greatly appreciated it.

On our way out, he showed me his very cool baseball stitches tattoo:

38_rex_flexing_baseball_tattoo

Rex looks like Matt Holliday, right? With a touch of Roy Halladay mixed in?

Tyler had snagged a 3rd-out ball during the game, so we all had a special ball to pose with:

39_zack_tyler_rex_with_baseballs

I was holding my 20th ball in that photo, and Rex was holding his very first foul ball. (It should be noted that he made a helluva play on it, jumping and reaching high over his head and back-handing it on the fly. I’m proud to be associated with people who are friendly and have good hand-eye coordination. That’s a winning combo.)

Here are the 10 balls that I ended up keeping:

40_the_ten_balls_i_kept_04_12_16

What a night! For a change, I won’t dwell on the coulda/shoulda. Instead I’ll think happy thoughts and focus on everything that worked out right. Huge thanks to Rex and Tyler for helping me and Brandon get inside early. Without them, this whole day would’ve been less fun, less convenient, and not nearly as epic.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 20 baseballs at this game (10 pictured above because I gave 10 away)

• 34 balls in 4 games this season = 8.5 balls per game.

 76 balls in 7 lifetime games at Safeco Field = 10.86 balls per game.

• 1,170 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

 290 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

 18 lifetime games with 20 or more balls

 23 lifetime games with two or more game-used balls (not counting toss-ups)

8,667 total balls

On a final note, 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.

Thanks for reading! More soon . . .

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