5/27/14 at Citi Field

A funny thing happened after the Mets game last night. As I made my way through the concourse behind the visitors’ dugout, I heard someone yelling “Hey!!” from behind, and when I turned around, I saw a 6-foot-5 police officer walking toward me.

“Uh . . . hey,” I said as he approached.

“You’re the guy who catches all the baseballs, right?”

“Ha! Yeah, that’s me.”

“I knew it! I’ve seen all your videos — you caught a ball dropped from a helicopter.”

“Wow, you really *have* seen a lot of my stuff.”

“Hey, would you mind if I get a quick photo with you?”

“I don’t mind at all, but even if I did, there’s no way I’d say no to a police officer.”

This was the result . . .

zack_and_cops

. . . and yes, I got permission to post that photo on the internet.

A minute later, the cop asked if I get recognized often at games. I wanted him to feel special, so I was like, “Well, you know, it happens from time to time,” prompting my friend Ben Weil (who was standing nearby) to shout, “YES!! ALL THE TIME!! IT HAPPENS **ALL** THE TIME!!”

Ahh, Benny.

The other cop asked to pose with me for a photo, and we all chatted for a bit.

It was already past 11pm at that point — not because of a rain delay or extra innings. It was late because the Mets and Pirates took 3 hours and 43 minutes to play a nine-inning game with a modest total of six runs.

That’s awful.

Major League Baseball — especially at Citi Field where nothing interesting ever seems to happen — is becoming borderline interminable, and the new commissioner better do something about it. There’s no need to limit the number of pickoff throws or speed up intentional walks or shorten commercial breaks. (You want your advertising money? Fine. Take it.) There needs to be rule that actually gets enforced that limits the time that pitchers can take between pitches. Same for the hitters. Keep your ass in the batter’s box, stop adjusting your batting gloves, and hit.

Speaking of hitting (or lack thereof), the Mets finished batting practice at 5:15pm, which means that by the time the gates opened at 5:10 and I ran all the way out to the left field seats, there were about about three or four minutes of BP remaining.

During the 20 minutes of virtual dead time that followed, I managed to get a Pedro Alvarez toss-up in foul territory. I ended up getting six more balls before the game, including the 7,000th ball of my consecutive games streak (which began on September 10, 1993). Unfortunately I gave that one to a little kid standing nearby before I realized the personal significance.

Several minutes later, I got falsely accused by a woman of “taking” a ball from her son.

“Oh really,” I said, “exactly which ball did I take from him?”

She didn’t have an answer for that, and after being pressed further, she finally admitted that I hadn’t actually taken one and that her son was just upset because he hadn’t gotten a ball. While I was defending myself against her verbal assault, her son got a ball tossed to him by a groundskeeper — but the woman still didn’t leave me alone and ultimately insulted the way I was brought up. (I was brought up not to take crap from idiots. Thanks.)

Finally, adding to the randomness of this blog entry, I’d like to point out that (a) my girlfriend, Hayley, was with me and was understandably bored to death and (b) this would’ve been my Grandma Helen‘s 117th birthday and I miss her.

5/17/14 at Citizens Bank Park

I attended this game for two reasons:

1) I was visiting family 25 miles away in Ambler, Pennsylvania.
2) My mom was with me and wanted to go.

And look, here she is in the right field seats:

1_naomi_in_right_field

Before I complain about how lame batting practice was, I need to complain about how stressful it was to even get to the stadium in the first place. Basically, we didn’t wrap things up with the fam until about 4pm, at which point I told my mom that we should forget the game and just head back home to New York. I had all my stuff with me for the game, but we hadn’t bought tickets, so it really wouldn’t have been much of a loss to bail. Also, Google Maps was telling me that the drive was going to take 45 minutes, which meant we were gonna have 20 minutes to park, buy tickets, and get on line at the gates — insanity, right? Well, my mom convinced me to go for it. We arrived at 4:48pm, and while she parked, I ran ahead and bought myself a $20 ticket (which was the cheapest available) and then rushed off to the nearest gate. My mom then took her time and found the ticket office and eventually caught up with me in right field.

By that point, I’d snagged one baseball — a toss-up from A.J. Burnett in left-center field. Meanwhile, everything else went wrong. I had missed a ball or two when the gates first opened because I wasn’t the first one to race out to the left field seats. Then I managed to maneuver myself out of position twice . . . as in, I was in a perfectly good spot, but decided that it wasn’t good enough, and as soon as I moved, batters ended up hitting home runs to the exact spots where I had been. Then, over in right field, there were hardly any home runs. (Ryan Howard, by the way, is about as useful in BP as Ruben Tejada.)

Here’s what it looked like in left-center when the Reds were hitting:
2_view_from_left_field

A little while later, I tracked two home runs perfectly, picking the exact spots where they were going to land and climbing up steps and over seats to get there. And both times, other fans reached up and caught/deflected these balls at the last second. Then I had a perfect opportunity to use my glove trick for a ball that rolled to the wall nearby . . .

3_ball_that_i_did_not_snag

. . . but a coach ran over and grabbed it, moments before I was about to unleash my magic.

There are days when everything seems to go right and I end up with 15 or 20 balls. This was the opposite. Yeah, the toss-up from Burnett was nice, as was the homer I caught at the end of BP in left field that would’ve drilled my mom, but overall it was a pathetic and unlucky afternoon.

I wandered for a bit after that and caught up with my mom, who had grabbed a spot in the last row behind the Reds’ dugout:

4_naomi_reading_in_the_last_row

Before the national anthem, I snagged EVERY ball that the Reds used during pre-game throwing. That is . . . zero.

Nice day, huh?

Actually, is *was* a nice day because I was with my mom. This was our view during the 1st inning:

5_view_during_game

(Yes, that’s a TV monitor dangling off the overhang.)

In the 2nd inning, we moved a bit closer and took a selfie:

6_naomi_and_zack_selfie

As you can see, I was wearing my Reds gear, but it didn’t help.

Here’s something that made me smile — take a look at the photo and then I’ll explain what I’m talking about:

7_billy_hamilton_many_batting_gloves

That’s Billy Hamilton, who always makes me smile, but more specifically, I liked the fact that he had FOUR batting gloves. What’s the deal — two for hitting and two for running/sliding?

In the 3rd inning, my mom and I moved even closer to the field . . .

8_view_from_closer_up

. . . and in the 4th inning, we left:

9_leaving_in_the_4th_inning

When we got back to New York, I learned that the Phillies had won, 12-1, and that Cole Hamels won his 100th career game. I was glad to have missed it. I used to like him, but ever since he intentionally plunked Bryce Harper in 2012, I have lost all respect for him.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 2 baseballs at this game

• 122 balls in 18 games this season = 6.78 balls per game.

• 308 balls in 34 lifetime games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.06 balls per game.

• 984 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 7,298 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 19 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.47 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $2.94 raised at this game

• $179.34 raised this season

• $38,843.34 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

“You’re over baseball?”

Earlier today, I received the following email from my friend Brandon:

email_from_brandon

First of all, what’s the deal with sending an email with no subject? That’s super-annoying. But okay, fine . . . you want to know what I’ve been up to lately? Last week the Mets and Yankees were both on the road, so there weren’t any games in New York City. This week they’ve been playing each other, and I want no part of it. I was planning to go to Philadelphia on Tuesday to see my new BFF Mike Trout — until I heard that 8,000 folks from his hometown in Millville, New Jersey, were also planning to make the trip. I was also been planning to go to Yankee Stadium tomorrow, but the weather’s gonna be miserable, so to hell with it.

As for the bigger picture, I’ve been to 17 games this season, which puts me on pace to attend about 70, so no, I’m not “over baseball.” That said, I’ve only blogged about five of the games I’ve been to — all my games outside of New York plus one brief entry about a cool moment with Heath Bell at Yankee Stadium.

You see, I’ve decided to stop blogging about games in New York because (a) blogging is a pain in the ass, and (b) Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are terrible for ballhawking. They’re my two least favorite venues in the major leagues. I don’t have much fun there, so when I get home from games, the last thing I want to do is relive the experience by writing about it. Kinda sad, huh?

Meanwhile, it just so happens that I haven’t been traveling much because I’ve already been to every current stadium multiple times; it’s hard to justify taking an entire day off from work to go and snag a bunch of BP balls. Camden Yards used to be a place where I’d average 10 balls per game, but now it’s crowded and competitive. Citizens Bank Park was also a venue where I routinely put up double digits, but now the gates are opening half an hour later. Nationals Park is great, but it takes four hours to drive there. Fenway Park is cramped and expensive. At this point, I’ll probably only travel to another city if there’s a damn good reason, such as (a) trying to snag a particular commemorative ball, (b) trying to catch a milestone home run, (c) catching up with a player that I know, (d) being filmed by the media, or (e) being with my girlfriend if she’s ever free and wants to join me.

So there you have it. I still love baseball as much as ever, and I actually have something big in the works to help me enjoy it even more . . .

5/2/14 at Yankee Stadium

This will be brief. I want to share a quick story from yesterday’s Yankee game (as well as a photo that’s guaranteed to make you cringe) . . .

When the Rays first took the field for BP, I got Heath Bell’s attention near the 3rd base dugout.

heath_bell_2014“Where are you going to be after BP?” he asked me.

“Out in left field near the bullpen,” I told him.

“Meet me here,” he said, pointing to the seats in foul territory.

“I can’t. Security won’t let me down here after 5:45pm. Why, what’s up?”

“I have a ball for you,” he replied.

Fast-forward 20 minutes. I saw Heath jogging out toward me in straight-away left field, so I hurried down to meet him in the front row. Before he reached the warning track, he pulled a ball out of his back pocket and tossed it to me. Some teenaged kid on my right tried to reach in front of me and snatch it, so I lunged *far* forward and outreached him. (Phew!) Several minutes later, when there was a quick break in the action, I photographed the ball:

1_ball7280_opening_day_ball_from_heath_bell

How cool is that? And would you believe this wasn’t the first Opening Day ball that Heath has given me? Check out my blog entry from 8/31/08 at PETCO Park to read about the other time it happened.

Anyway, the ball he gave me at Yankee Stadium was one of 11 that I snagged on the day, bringing my season total to 109. This is the 17th consecutive season in which I’ve snagged 100 or more balls — but enough about that. I just want to share one more photo from this game, and I suppose I should warn you that it’s not pretty. Here goes:

2_accurate_critique_of_yankee_stadium

Nice, huh?

The fan (not pictured above) who threw up was VERY drunk. Was he ejected from the stadium? No, of course not, but hey, whatever. No big deal. Yankee Stadium security has its priorities.

The game itself was one of the best I’ve ever attended, puke notwithstanding. It lasted 14 innings, the Rays won, 10-5, and Heath got the win in relief — can’t ask for much more than that.

Yankee fan running on the field

A funny thing happened after the final out of the Yankee game on April 27, 2014. (This was the ESPN Sunday night game, but I’m certain this wasn’t shown on TV.) As you can see below, a fan ran out onto the field and was quickly apprehended by stadium security:

1_fan_running_on_the_field_04_27_14

As security led this idiot off the field, the fans in the bleachers cheered him like crazy, prompting him to bob his head up and down like a wannabe rockstar.

The cop responded by yanking the guy’s hood down over his face:

2_fan_running_on_the_field_04_27_14

Moments later, the guy decided to stop walking and intentionally collapsed on the grass:

3_fan_running_on_the_field_04_27_14

Here’s what happened next:

4_fan_running_on_the_field_04_27_14

As you can see, he was carried off the field, right in front of the Angels’ relievers who were just starting to walk across the field from the bullpen. HA!!

Somehow, right after that, the fan ended up on his head:

5_fan_running_on_the_field_04_27_14

Police brutality? Nah, just a typical day at Yankee Stadium.

By the way, I snagged seven balls (six before the game and an 8th-inning toss-up from the bullpen), bringing my season total to 90, but I don’t plan to blog about that. You may have noticed that I haven’t written anything about the games I’ve attended this season in New York, and I don’t think that’ll change anytime soon. Quite simply, from my perspective, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium are the two worst stadiums in the Major Leagues; I have nothing nice to say about either venue, so I’d rather say nothing at all. I’m not quitting the blog, though. I still plan to write about my games on the road, and in addition to that, I’m sure I’ll find some other things to discuss . . .

Mike Trout & Twitter

Just got a BIG surprise in my email inbox:

mike_trout_twitter1

That’s right . . . Mike Trout is now following me on Twitter! And look! Moments later, I got another email notification:

mike_trout_twitter2

I had to make sure that my eyes were not deceiving me, so I clicked on his profile, and sure enough, it’s legit:

mike_trout_twitter3

Wow. Right?

When I caught Trout’s first career home run on 7/24/11 at Camden Yards, I knew it was a big deal, but I had no idea how big. He was 19 years old at the time, hovering around the Mendoza line, and okay, yeah, he was the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball — rated even higher than Bryce Harper — but so what? There’ve been countless “can’t miss” prospects who have failed in spectacular fashion.

Anyway, after that game, I gave the ball back to Trout, no questions asked. All I wanted to do was hand it to him myself and get a photo and maybe get to chat for a minute or two. All of that stuff happened. And it was pretty damn cool.

Do I have any regrets about not keeping that ball? Umm, yeah. Duh! I’m human. I’ll always wonder “what if” and torment myself about how much it would now be worth, but hey, whatever. At the time, I was just excited to have caught the ball, and giving it back felt right. It feels even better now that Trout still recognizes me and appreciates my gesture. If I were to sell the ball for $1 million, it still wouldn’t be worth as much as having a unique, personal connection to a good dude who happens to be the best baseball player on the planet.

I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back

Do you remember when I was reading this book on Day 3 of my recent trip to Saint Lucia? It was an advanced copy. The publisher needed quotes for the back cover. And look! Three months later, my name is now on it:

i_dont_care_if_we_never_get_back copy

The book is called I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever, and I have to say that that’s an accurate title. Here’s the link on Amazon in case you want to check it out. I recommend it. It’s highly entertaining.

4/14/14 at Camden Yards

Camden Yards is 194 miles from my home in New York City, but in this case, the distance meant nothing. I had three big reasons for skipping work and driving down for the day. First, I’d heard that the Orioles were using special baseballs to commemorate their 60th anniversary, and I *really* wanted to snag one. Second, the Tampa Bay Rays were going to be there, and I wanted to catch up with Heath Bell. And third, my girlfriend, Hayley, had a rare day off and was willing to tag along because she’d never been to Maryland. We made it to Baltimore more than four hours before the stadium was going to open, but I’ll spare you the details of how we spent it. Instead I’ll cut to the chase — here we are outside the gates:

1_zack_hayley_outside_gates

That photo was taken by my friend and fellow ballhawk Tim Anderson. In the following photo, Tim is wearing the white t-shirt, and you can see Hayley waving in the background:

2_ball7229_and_hayley_waving

You can also see my first baseball of the day, which, disappointingly, was not commemorative. It was a batting practice homer by J.J. Hardy, which landed in the seats, took a series of wild ricochets, narrowly eluded Tim, and eventually trickled to me.

Meanwhile this was Hayley’s view:

3_hayleys_view_from_deep_left_field

I had told her to sit all the way back there so that she wouldn’t get drilled by any baseballs. I had also asked her to try to get a few action shots of me.

This is not what I had in mind:

4_zack_derpy

I don’t know why I was making that horrified face (on the left) or prancing around like a complete tool (on the right), but hey, anyone can look stupid for an instant, right?

Thankfully there were moments when I looked a bit better, and Hayley captured those too. Although the following photo is blurry, it’s my favorite because it shows me jumping high for my second ball of the day — a J.J. Hardy homer that I caught on the fly. Check it out:

5_zack_catching_ball7230

The left field seats were crowded. Look how much competition there was just on my staircase:

6_zack_on_crowded_staircase

When the Rays started warming up, I was glad to see Heath Bell:

7_rays_beginning_to_warm_up

After a few minutes, I changed into my Rays gear and headed to the seats along the left field foul line:

8_zack_wearing_rays_gear_in_foul_territory

That’s where I got my third ball — a softly-thrown one-hop knuckler from Jake McGee that I trapped against the wall after lunging out of the stands.

Eventually Heath came over to say hello, and we chatted for a few minutes:

9_zack_talking_to_heath_bell

He noticed Hayley taking photos nearby and asked, “Is that your girl?”

I waved her down and introduced them. (It felt weird to say, “Hayley, this is Heath. Heath, this is Hayley.”) He asked how we met (heh), and we all chatted briefly.

Toward the end of BP, I got a toss-up from Grant Balfour in straight-away left field. Then, at the end of BP, I hurried to this spot behind the 3rd base dugout . . .

10_rays_after_finishing_bp

. . . and got my fifth ball of the day from Rays coach Tom Foley. He’s always been generous.

In the 1st inning, I led Hayley out to the Flag Court:

11_hayley_flag_court_during_game

My plan was to hang out there for all left-handed batters and to go for foul balls from righties behind the plate.

So much for that.

The stadium was too crowded for me to run back and forth through the cross-aisle, and on top of that, I wanted a commemorative ball more than I wanted a home run. All five of my pre-game balls had the regular MLB logo, so I pretty much *had* to snag one during the game. Therefore I went for foul balls all night. Whenever a righty was at bat, I stood in a tunnel on the 1st base side of home plate, and whenever a lefty was hitting, I hung out here:

12_view_for_most_lefties

The only exception was when the Rays were in the field with two outs. That’s when I tried to work my way down behind their dugout in the hopes of getting a 3rd-out ball.

Long story short: TOTAL FAILURE. There was a shocking lack of foul balls, and I kept having bad luck at the dugout.

As the Orioles were about to wrap up their 7-1 win, I knew that my only remaining chance was to get a ball from the home plate umpire after the final out. I looked up the box score to find out who it was, and when I saw the name, I was like, “Huh?”

Adam Hamari.

I’d never heard of him before, so obviously he was a rookie. Was he cool? Was he a jerk? I had no idea what to expect, but my strategy remained the same.

As he walked quickly off the field and out through the tunnel, he only gave away one ball. Somehow I was the lucky recipient and . . . just LOOK at this thing of beauty:

13_ball7234_orioles_60th_anniversary

THAT is a gorgeous logo.

Moments later, I noticed three guys walking across the field from the Rays’ bullpen:

14_heath_bell_walking_in_from_the_bullpen

It just so happened that Heath Bell was in the middle. I waved him over as he approached the dugout, and we chatted for a minute. Before we said goodbye, I showed him the commemorative ball, figuring he might be mildly interested, but as it turned out, he liked it so much that he said he was gonna try to get one for himself. I’m calling it now: after he retires, we’re going to attend a game and ballhawk together.

On the way out, I gave away two BP balls to random kids, and I got someone to take my photo with Hayley:

15_hayley_and_zack_after_the_game

Even though the paid attendance was only 15,799 at this game, the stadium felt MUCH more crowded than it used to be. Not too many years ago, I would expect to snag 10 to 15 balls per game here. On September 14, 2009, I snagged 22 balls, and the next day I got 25. Those days are loooooong gone, but it’s still an amazing ballpark, and I’m always glad to make the trip.

Here are the four balls that I kept . . .

16_the_four_balls_i_kept_04_14_14

. . . and here are some numbers for ya:

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 baseballs at this game

• 58 baseballs in 7 games this season = 8.29 balls per game.

• 973 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 63 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection

• 7,234 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 16 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.37 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $8.22 raised at this game

• $79.46 raised this season

• $38,743.46 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

SPECIAL BONUS SECTION — some words from Hayley herself:
Baltimore’s a cute town. I’ve been to four different stadiums now, so, in my highly expert opinion, I thought Camden Yards was pretty nice. It was cool being able to walk around the whole place easily via the cross-aisle without having my view obstructed, or feeling like an usher was going to demand my ticket at any second. I ended up just sitting in my seat and letting Zack do his thing for the final third of the game, but it was a good time nonetheless. Also, the crowds were bigger than I expected — who are all these people staying out at a baseball game until 10pm on a Monday night?

AUSTRALIA — Day 11

Normally I wouldn’t post a separate entry about my trip back home, but this one took FORTY-THREE hours! Here’s a quick rundown, and then I’ll share some photos:

1) Getting to the Alice Springs airport and sitting around (1.5 hours)
2) Flight from Alice Springs to Sydney (3 hours)
3) Layover in the Sydney airport (5 hours)
4) Flight from Sydney to Dubai (14 hours)
5) Layover in the Dubai airport (3 hours)
6) Flight from Dubai to New York (13.5 hours)
7) Baggage, customs, long taxi line, insane traffic from JFK Airport (3 hours)

Now that you know that, here I am on a bus to the airport in Alice Springs:

883_zack_sad_to_leave_australia

Boo-hoo. It was time to go back home.

On the way to the airport, the bus stopped at a golf resort/casino to pick up two dozen passengers. This is what I saw out the window:

884_brief_stop_at_a_golf_resort_and_casino

In the photo above, did you notice the birds perched under the corner of the awning?

Here’s a closer look at them:

885_pretty_birds_under_the_awning

I’m not a bird connoisseur, but c’mon, those little guys are beautiful.

Wanna see something that wasn’t beautiful? Here you go:

886_zack_walking_to_plane_with_fly_on_face

Why was I making that stupid face? Here’s a closeup with the answer:

887_zack_walking_to_plane_with_fly_on_face

As you can see, there was a fly on my face. (Do you remember all the flies that prompted me to wear a net over my face on Day 10?) No matter how many times I shooed it away, it came back and crawled on me, often with several of its friends. Yuck.

This was my skimpy meal on the Qantas flight to Sydney:

888_shitty_ham_sandwich

After the flight landed, I made sure to buy some Tim Tams:

891_tim_tam_purchase_at_the_sydney_airport

Here’s where I sat for the entire five-hour layover:

894_zack_enjoying_a_five_hour_layover

I spent most of that time working on a blog entry about the first game of the Opening Series at the Sydney Cricket Ground. I also spent a little time eating this:

895_fried_chicken_sandwich

That was my second of what felt like eight thousand meals on the way home. Here are the two main courses I ate on the 14-hour Emirates flight to Dubai:

896_two_meals_from_sydney_to_dubai

The flight was awful because there was an infant sitting two rows behind me, who wasn’t just crying. It was WAILING. And. It. Kept. Doing. It. For. Fourteen. Hours. The baby made it hard for me to sleep, and when I decided to stay awake, it made it hard for me to enjoy my music or focus on my writing or do anything worth a damn.

I took a photo of the flight tracker as the plane approached Dubai:

898_flight_tracker

Here’s what I ate at the Dubai airport:

899_hummus_and_falafel_wrap

That was a hummus and falafel wrap, and it sucked. The airport was super clean and fancy, but the food options were crap.

You can imagine how tired I was by the time I got on my next flight — a nice little 13-and-a-half-hour jaunt. And guess what? There were crying babies EVERYWHERE. I’m not kidding. There was one in the row in front of me, another close behind, and another on my left. I was surrounded! Here’s how I was feeling:

902_zack_on_the_13_and_a_half_hour_flight_to_jfk

I suppose I shouldn’t go on the record publicly as wanting to punch a baby, so let’s pretend I didn’t say that. Let’s just say that I was very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very VERY annoyed. And that I now officially hate babies.

Here are two more meals that I ate on the flight:

903_two_more_airplane_meals

Now, obviously I couldn’t take a selfie while I was sleeping, so here’s my attempt at staging the scene:

904_zack_attempting_to_sleep_despite_being_surrounded_by_crying_babies

Did I sleep?
Yes.

Did I sleep well?
Yes . . . briefly.

I had an aisle seat, so before I planned to attempt to fall asleep, I made a point of getting up and walking around for about 20 minutes. (This was a huge plane with more than 500 people, so there was lots of space.) I figured that the folks on the inside of my row would take advantage of my not being there by getting up and using the bathroom and stretching their own legs for a bit. I had it all planned out perfectly. I was going to sleep for the final six hours of the flight, and when the plane landed in the early afternoon in New York, I would magically be back on track with my sleep schedule. Jet-lag is for babies, I thought. And speaking of babies, I was so damn tired that the whole plane could’ve been filled with them, and I still would’ve fallen asleep.

I managed to fall asleep fairly easily, and let me tell you, I was OUT. I normally can’t sleep on planes (or anywhere that isn’t a very comfortable bed), yet somehow I fell into a *deep* sleep with full-on dreams and no tossing or turning. And then I felt someone tap my shoulder. I was so out of it that it took me a while to wake up and realize what was happening. The woman on my right, evidently, hadn’t used the bathroom earlier, and NOW she had to go. Unreal. I looked at the flight tracker. I’d only been sleeping for two hours. There were still four more hours to go, and I was never able to fall back asleep.

But you know what? It was worth it. Being inconvenienced on a luxurious plane is not so bad in the grand scheme of things. And this really *was* the trip of a lifetime.

AUSTRALIA — Day 10

This was the final full day of my trip, and I went on a guided tour of the MacDonnell Ranges — a famous mountainous region of the outback in the Northern Territory of Central Australia. Look how gorgeous the scenery was on the way to the first stop:

800_bus_ride_to_the_macdonnell_ranges

The view out the back window was also spectacular:

802_view_out_the_back

The first stop was a place called Standley Chasm. Here are some of the other people on the tour, following the guide along a path to get there:

807_walking_with_my_tour_group

Take another look at the photo above. Do you see the guy wearing a bug net over his head? Don’t laugh at him for looking silly. It was a genius move. See the guy whose back is facing the camera? Do you see anything *on* his back?

Here’s a closeup:

808_sooooo_many_flies

All those little specks are bugs! They were EVERYWHERE. Thankfully they didn’t bite, but they were incredibly annoying. Every few seconds, one of them would land on some portion of my body, often my face and crawl/buzz around my nose and eyes and ears. I seriously thought I was going to lose my mind, but what could I do? We were in the middle of nowhere, so I just dealt with it and tried to enjoy the day.

Here’s a photo of me at the chasm:

809_zack_at_standley_chasm

On the way back to the bus, I wandered inside a gift shop for no other purpose than to escape the bugs for a couple of minutes. I didn’t plan to buy anything until I saw this:

814_fly_net_for_nine_bucks

It was $9, but for all I cared, it could’ve cost $99. I handed over the money, tore open the package, threw that damn fly-net over my head, and stepped back outside:

815_zack_wearing_the_fly_net

Ha-HAAAAAAA!!
Suck it, flies!

I was brand new man.

Meanwhile, my tour guide, Clive, didn’t seem to be the least bit bothered by the flies. Here he is setting up some tea for us near the bus:

816_tour_guide_clive_preparing_tea

Eventually we got back in the bus and headed to our next stop. When we got out, I took a photo of the license plate, just because I thought it was cool:

818_outback_license_plate

Our next stop was at a place called the ochre pits. Here I am posing there:

824_zack_in_the_ochre_pits

Umm, yeah.

The fly-net, I realized, was great for keeping the flies away, but lousy for being photographed.

Clive set up a nice little lunch for us at our next stop . . .

828_lunch_near_ormiston_gorge

. . . and then we wandered off yet again to another scenic spot — easily one of THE most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Have a look for yourself:

836_zack_at_ormiston_gorge

Yes, the flies were just as bad in this spot (which was called Ormiston Gorge), but whatever. I couldn’t bear the thought of being photographed anymore wearing the net.

We had to walk a bit at our next stop . . .

841_walking_to_glen_helen_gorge

. . . but it was worth it:

844_glen_helen_gorge

The place pictured above is called Glen Helen Gorge.

All of the stops featured signs like this:

852_ellery_creek_signs

I didn’t bother reading the signs while I was there; I simply photographed them all so I could educate myself later.

Here I am at Ellery Creek . . .

855_zack_at_ellery_creek

. . . and here’s a cute tree I noticed atop the rocks:

857_one_tree_on_the_rocks

On the way to our next and final stop, we passed a cattle crossing:

859_cattle_crossing

We were heading to a place called Simpsons Gap, and from the moment we stepped out of the bus in the parking lot, I knew it was going to be magnificent:

860_parking_lot_at_simpsons_gap

Here I am jumping off a small rock:

865_zack_jumping_at_simpsons_gap

Here I am crouching beneath some huge rocks:

868_zack_crouching_near_rocks

Here’s one more photo of me at Simpsons Gap:

869_zack_at_simpsons_gap

In case you’re wondering, I had a tripod with me and took all these photos of myself with a 10-second timer.

All the rocks were pretty much the same color, but the sunlight and shadows created a heavy contrast:

871_dark_and_light_rocks

And finally, here’s something I’m sure you want to see:

872_wallaby_turds

Those are wallaby turds. Yummy.

Now . . . as I said at the top, this was my final full day in Australia, but I still have one more entry coming about my 43-hour trip back home. Then I’ll get back to more baseball-y things.

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