ST. MARTIN — Day 5

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

209_view_of_the_ocean

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

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

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Here are three more couples:

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

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So awesome.

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

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

Here I am with Alex, my flyboard instructor:

225_zack_and_flyboard_instructor

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

Here I am putting on a helmet:

226_zack_putting_on_helmet

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

Got it?

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

228_zack_rising_out_of_the_water

Here I am going a bit higher . . .

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

230_zack_losing_balance_and_falling

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

This pretty much sums up my flyboard experience:

238_zack_flyboarding

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

240_zack_flyboarding

This was as high as I got:

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

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

251_zack_flyboarding_photographed_by_amy_from_the_beach

Of course she also got a photo of me falling:

252_zack_flyboarding_photographed_by_amy_from_the_beach

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

260_lunch_is_served

I had a filet of red snapper with caesar salad:

261_red_snapper_filet_with_caesar_salad

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

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

262_martha_taking_off_on_a_jet_ski_for_an_hourlong_snorkeling_expedition

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

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

266_man_with_weird_gadgets

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

Here are some other folks that caught my eye:

253_people_walking_past

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

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

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

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

268_naomi_posing_before_entering_the_nude_area

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

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

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

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

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

Heh.

Anyway, when we returned to our beach chairs, Martha was gone and Amy was asleep:
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Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

270_amy_sleeping_closeup

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

271_naomi_reacting_to_cold_water

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

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

272_view_to_my_right

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

276_zack_naomi_martha_amy_outside_mall_where_we_ate_dinner

We ate outdoors in a pretty courtyard:

277_piazza_pascal_ristorante

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

278_toasted_bread_topped_with_goat_cheese_fresh_roasted_pepper_olives_and_artichoke_hearts_with_balsamic_vinaigrette

For my main course, I ordered this . . .

279_sauteed_gnocchi_in_pomodore_sauce_with_italian_sausage_onions_and_peppers

. . . and Amy ordered this . . .

280_spaghetti_with_sauteed_pancetta)garlic_egg_and_creamy_parmesan_cheese_sauce

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

281_half_and_half_portion_with_amy

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

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

282_tiramisu_shared_with_martha

Calories? Bwahaha!

ST. MARTIN — Day 4

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

171_view_from_the_deck

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

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

175_the_beach

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

179_miami_heat_boat

. . . and this 8-ball buoy:

183_8_ball_buoy

Here’s a man and his dog:

184_man_and_his_dog

Here’s my mom:

186_naomi_walking_on_the_beach

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

187_amy_and_martha_with_their_kayak_snorkeling_guide

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

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

189_lunch_with_naomi

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

191_scrabble_with_martha

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

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

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

192_naomi_posing_on_the_way_to_dinner

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

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

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

198_cole_slaw_on_the_floor

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

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

199_martha_and_naomi_with_our_waitress_lolipop

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

201_shopping_at_sexy_fruits

Whaddaya know?! There was something baseball-related:

202_baseball_at_sexy_fruit

Look what was inside the baseball:

203_naughty_interior_of_baseball

Tee-hee!

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

Here I am with my mom and Martha:

204_zack_wearing_pink_cowboy_hat

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

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

205_chubby_soda_and_chubby_martha

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

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

ST. MARTIN — Day 3

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

113_view_from_the_beach

. . . and relaxing:

114_dog_sleeping_in_the_sand

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

116_martha_and_amy_on_the_beach

. . . and played Scrabble with my mom:

122_playing_scrabble_with_naomi

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

124_sea_urchin_shells_found_by_martha

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

125_people_crowded_around_looking_at_something

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

127_iguanas_eating_french_fries

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

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

130_crab_salad_with_guacamole

In other news, Martha and Amy like beer:

133_martha_and_amy_beers_in_the_ocean

Here’s how the Scrabble game ended:

134_scrabble_final_board_and_score

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

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

135_lining_up_for_the_ferry

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

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Our next stop was Orient Bay Beach . . .

137_driving_to_orient_bay_beach

. . . which looked like this:

139_orient_bay_beach

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

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

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

143_zack_on_the_trampoline

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

After checking in with my family . . .

146_naomi_martha_amy

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

152_nudity_is_prohibited

Did you notice the sign on the left? Womp.

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

155_driving_back_to_the_condo

Here’s a group selfie in the elevator:

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Here I am blogging on the terrace:

158_zack_blogging_on_the_balcony

Here’s what we had for dinner:

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More soon . . .

ST. MARTIN — Day 2

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

55_laptop_use

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

While my mom and Martha discussed the plan . . .

57_naomi_and_martha_discussing_the_plan

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

59_prune_yogurt

Prune yogurt! Yum! (Seriously.)

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

63_naomi_walking_on_the_beach

Here are Amy and Martha:

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Here’s me:

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One of the highlights of the day was drinking this:

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

Here I am at lunch:

77_zack_at_lunch

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

78_tuna_curry_with_coconut_sauce

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

80_view_from_our_balcony

Here’s something else I saw from the balcony:

87_jet_ski_fly_board_thingie

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

This was the view at sunset:

89_beach_at_dusk

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

92_lobster_soup_with_lobster_dices_and_vegetable_julienne

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

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

ST. MARTIN — Day 1

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

3_weather_in_new_york_haha

Ew.

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

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

6_landing_in_st_martin

Of course, being outside was even better:

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

15_driving_to_our_condo

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

17_view_from_the_car

. . . and enjoyed some scenery like this:

19_view_from_the_car

Here’s my mom in the condo:

25_condo_interior_naomi

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

29_zack_on_the_terrace

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

33_shopping_for_a_weeks_worth_of_food

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

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

36_3d_printer

Look at the Yoda bust that it had produced:

37_yoda_head_made_by_3d_printer

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

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

42_walking_to_dinner

. . . and picked a random restaurant for dinner.

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

46_lobster_ravioli_coconut_milk_sauce_with_curry_and_citronella

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

47_roasted_chilean_sea_bass_cabbage_fondue_with_bacon_and_chorizo_butter_sauce

(Yes, it was good.)

Here are the four of us:

48_naomi_zack_amy_martha_at_dinner

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

We all shared two desserts:

49_chocolate_cake_with_nutella_ice_cream_and_a_banana_tart_with_vanilla_ice_cream

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

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

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

9/29/05 at Shea Stadium

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

What a day . . .

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

No BP. Just the Japanese media:

1_japanese_media_09_29_05

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

2_heath_bell_throwing_09_29_05

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

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

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

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

“Tuck in your shirt!” he snapped.

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

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

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

He shook his head.

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

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

“Alright alright, here goes . . . ”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The set . . .

3_zack_playing_catch_with_heath_bell

The wind-up . . .

4_zack_playing_catch_with_heath_bell

The pitch . . .

5_zack_playing_catch_with_heath_bell

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

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

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

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

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

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

6_heath_bell_stealing_my_money

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

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

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

7_sean_heffron_holding_a_baseball

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

8_ball2730_strange_writing

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

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

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

A minute later, I was still in shock:

10_zack_gets_glove

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

11_ryan_speier_glove

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

12_ryan_speier_glove

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

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

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

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

13_sean_heffron_loge_level

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16_signed_ticket_09_29_05

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

“I have like three others,” he said.

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

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

17_view_during_game_09_29_05

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

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

I was wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

Final score: Mets 11, Rockies 0.

STATS:

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

• 425 consecutive games with at least one ball

18_perez_goslin• 51 consecutive games with at least three balls

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

Zack Hample bobblehead

Here’s some more off-season randomness for you — a video filmed by my friends Ben Weil and Jen Buffa, who are currently on their honeymoon in Australia. (In case you missed it, my last entry was all about their wedding.) The whole video is four minutes, and you should start watching at the 1:33 mark. It’s so bizarre and awesome and creepy that when I first watched it, I was speechless. Check it out:

Ben and Jen told me that they when saw the Bobblehead, they wondered, ever so briefly, if I had something to do with it being manufactured or being on display in that store. The answer is no, and when I asked if *they* had planted it there or pulled some other trick, they assured me they hadn’t.

WHAT THE HECK?!

Ben asked an employee in the store how it got there. Evidently it was made in South Korea. But why? And how? During the 2011 season, there was a full-length documentary about me in South Korea, so am I secretly famous there? Did some random South Korean businessman Google me and find that dweeby graduation photo on my website and decide that it would be a good idea to use THAT, out of all the photographs in the world, to produce a sample Bobblehead doll . . . for a display case in a store in a mall in Chinatown in Sydney, Australia? How many other Bobbleheads are there of me floating around? This is so damn weird! But it’s also kind of the best thing ever. And I just had to share it.

Ben and Jen sent the link to the video on Skype and watched me while I was watching it, but little did they know, I grabbed a few screen shots of them, ha-HAAA!! Here’s one . . .

ben_weil_and_jen_buffa_in_sydney2

. . . and here’s another, which cracks me up:

ben_weil_and_jen_buffa_in_sydney3

See them double-face-palming in the upper right corner? NOW do you see why I love them so much? Is three-way marriage legal?

Ben Weil & Jen Buffa’s wedding

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

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

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

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

Anyway, let’s get to it . . .

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

1_building_exterior

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

As for me . . . here’s a selfie:

10_zack_selfie

Where was my tie?
Good question.

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

15_funny_socks_as_requested_by_ben

Meanwhile, take a look at Ben:

21_ben_greeting_some_family

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

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

25_ben_giving_out_gift_bags

Each bag contained peanuts and cracker jacks . . .

27_peanuts_and_cracker_jacks

. . . along with a very special card:

28_gift_card_for_the_event_of_my_choice

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

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

“That’s fine,” he said jovially.

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

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

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

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

32_tom_and_his_garfield_tie

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

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

33_ben_leading_a_round_of_shots

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

35_zack_official_photo_with_ben

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

40_the_view

Then there was a group photo:

43_groomsmen_group_photo

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

44_garfield_ties_closeup

Then I was instructed to wear this:

46_zack_with_mike_piazza_jersey

Each groomsman received one.

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

53_people_starting_to_sit_down

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

56_groomsmen_standing_around

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

Here’s Jen looking glorious:

60_jen_looking_glorious2

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

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

62_bridal_party_waiting_off_to_the_side

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

69_bridesmaids_during_the_wedding

Here are the groomsmen, photographed by Greg Barasch:

70_zack_standing_with_groomsmen

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

72_little_kid_with_baseball

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

73_jen_walking_ben_crying

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

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

80_my_view_during_the_ceremony

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

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

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

88_ben_surrounded_by_ladies

Here’s my second-favorite:

89_zack_jen_ben_selfie

I love them. I really do.

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

91_tables_set_up_for_dinner

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

92_zack_looking_snazzy_thanks_to_a_black_tie_that_hayley_brought

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

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

97_jen_and_ben_dancing

D’awww!!

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

110_zack_and_greg_barasch

Then he took one of me and Hayley:

114_zack_and_hayley

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

119_guests_in_photo_booth

Hayley and I took a more conventional approach:

121_zack_and_hayley_photo_booth

Isn’t that a great date for a wedding?

12-13-14

(Hayley is also a great date.)

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

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

132_ben_greg_penguin_suit

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

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

133_hope_you_had_a_ball

Each of those boxes contained a baseball and a card:

134_peeking_inside_a_box

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

135_the_card

It also had a baseball with heart-shaped stitches:

136_baseball_with_heart_stitches

Here’s what the inside of the card said:

137_writing_on_the_card

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

Wow.

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

139_ben_and_jen_cutting_the_cake

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

142_dessert_hors_doeuvres

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

Finally, there was also a Taylor Swift cake:

146_taylor_swift_cake

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

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

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

piazza_tweet1

And guess what?! Piazza answered him!

piazza_tweet2

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

Ballhawking video from PETCO Park

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

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

Charity prize winners 2014

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

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

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

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