9/3/14 at Wrigley Field

My day at Wrigley Field began in the presence of greatness. Here I am on Waveland Avenue with three of the greatest ballhawks of all time:

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In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at Moe Mullins, Dave Davison, me, and Rich Buhrke. Moe and Rich were both featured in The Baseball (see pages 271-274), and Dave would’ve been in the book had he been willing to be interviewed. The four of us have combined to snag well over 20,000 baseballs.

After we finished posing, Rich pointed out a ball that was stuck in a VERY hard-to-reach spot:

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More specifically, it was skewered on the pigeon prongs of the Toyota ad 20 feet above the bleachers:

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Rich said it was a BP homer that landed there during the 2012 season, which means it has survived two brutal Chicago winters. How fun (and impossible) would it be to get that ball and examine its condition?

Anyway, when the Cubs started hitting, everyone dispersed to their various spots and looked skyward. Rich sat on a bucket on the sidewalk:

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Moe sat in a folding chair in the shade:

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And as for me? I’m a rookie out there, so I just stood in the street:

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There was NO action while I was out there — the Cubs pitchers, I learned, had hit five homers onto Waveland before I arrived — but it was still fun to hang out and give it a shot.

Inside the stadium, things went much better. I started by scrambling for a Junior Lake home run in left-center field — coulda/shoulda caught it on the fly, but whatever. I got the ball, and that’s all that really matters . . . and it was commemorative. I’d snagged six commemorative balls the day before, but I was still excited to get another.

A couple of minutes later, an unidentifiable Cubs player flipped up a ball from the warning track. Here I am snagging it, and if you look VERY closely, you can tell that the logo is commemorative:

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That photo (along with many others in this entry) was taken by my friend Brandon Sloter. He’s the professional photographer/videographer who had filmed me the day before, and that video is now done! Check it out if you have a few extra minutes to spare — here it is on YouTube.

Here I am showing the ball I’d just snagged (and getting photo-bombed by Dave):

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That was it for the Cubs’ portion of BP. One group. Two commemorative baseballs. Not bad.

When the Cubs jogged off the field, I noticed that they left a ball sitting near the right field foul line, and since it was going to take a few minutes for the Brewers to start hitting, I ran over there. Here I am asking for the ball:

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Despite the fact that I was now decked out in Brewers gear, coach Lee Tunnel tossed it to the guy standing above the “people who get it” sign. How fitting.

As I hurried back to the bleachers, the Brewers starting taking BP:

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Brandon took the previous photo, and he took this one too:

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Beautiful.

I swung by the right-center field bleachers and ran into my friend Kelly and her four-year-old son P.J. Here they are:

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Kelly and I did a Watch With Zack game on 9/24/07 at Shea Stadium, and we’ve been friends ever since — such good friends, in fact, that I stayed at her place on this trip. As you can see in the photo above, Kelly and P.J. were wearing Brewers gear and had a sign asking for a ball. Guess how many they got? Go ahead. Pick a number. I’ll share their total at the end.

I got my third ball of the day tossed up in left-center by Brewers coach Mike Guerrero. Here I am reaching for it:

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Where did my hat go? Look closely and you’ll see that I was holding it in my right hand. The previous day, Guerrero had seen me snag a couple of baseballs, so before I asked him for this one, I removed my hat to change my appearance.

The Brewers, by the way, are *great* in batting practice. If you have a choice of games to attend and visiting teams to see, pick the Brewers. Rosters change from year to year, of course, but right now the Brewers are incredible. They have a bunch of right-handed sluggers (Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, Aramis Ramirez, Rickie Weeks, Jonathan Lucroy, and Mark Reynolds) who put on a show! Not surprisingly, here at Wrigley, these guys were blasting balls to the deepest parts of the left-field bleachers and often completely out of the stadium and onto Waveland Avenue. I was tempted to play deep, but there was lots of competition, as you can see in the following photo:

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Therefore I played shallow, where I knew there’d be less action, but also far fewer bodies in my way. Here’s a three-part photo that shows my strategy paying off:

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In case you can’t tell, that ball (circled in red in all three images) was a home run that was dropped by the fan in plaid shorts. The ball plopped down and landed on a bag and conveniently/alarmingly bounced right up at my face. In the process of flinching, I managed to cradle the ball against my neck with my bare hand.

Moments later, I caught a home run on the fly. Here I am reaching out and squeezing my glove around it:

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I don’t know who hit either of those homers.

After BP, I took a photo of the two commemorative balls I’d snagged from the Cubs:

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Half an hour later, as I’d done the previous day, I headed deep into the left-field bleachers for the Chris Bosio Show:

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Every day at around 6:45pm, Bosio, the Cubs’ pitching coach, throws half a dozen balls into the crowd. The previous day I’d gotten lucky and snagged an errant throw that had been intended for someone else. This time I positioned myself in a better spot in the hope of getting one thrown directly to me. I stood on a bench at the very top/back of the bleachers — and it worked! Here I am reaching out for the catch:

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That was my sixth ball of the day. And it was commemorative:

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Look who else was trying to get a ball in left field:

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That’s P.J. and Kelly in the front row, now wearing Cubs gear.

Throughout the day, I’d been running into an 18-year-old fan named Yacov, who’s been reading this blog for a while. We had chatted for a bit on Waveland Avenue before the stadium opened. I had also seen him briefly along the right-field foul line when I ran over to try to get the ball that the Cubs had left behind. Shortly before game time, when I moved from the bleachers to the main part of the stadium, he caught up with me again and posed with the baseball that I’d signed for him earlier. Here he is with it:

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Soon after, when several Cubs were finishing their pre-game throwing, I stood up and tried hard to get their attention:

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I would’ve preferred to be in the front row, but the strict ushers wouldn’t let me get any closer. As it turned out, it didn’t matter because Chris Valaika saw me waving and called me down toward the front. The nearest usher had no choice but to let me wander down the steps, and when I got a bit closer to the field, Valaika threw me the ball. Here it is flying into my glove:

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Yes, it was commemorative. Outstanding!

Brandon and I spend the first few innings in the second deck:

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It was a decent place to catch a foul ball, but I wasn’t hopeful of getting anything up there. Mainly, I just wanted to relax and watch the game.

That got old fast, and I headed back down to the field level. Here’s where Brandon and I sat for the next inning . . .

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. . . and eventually we moved closer. We didn’t bother trying to sneak down behind the Brewers’ dugout. Instead we stealthily grabbed a pair of empty seats in the front row behind the cross-aisle.

Brandon kept taking photos. Here’s Kyle Hendricks throwing a change-up:

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Here’s Jorge Soler following through after fighting off an inside pitch for a double down the left-field line:

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He’s truly amazing. I think he’s going to be a superstar for the next decade.

Here’s the scoreboard . . .

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. . . and here’s Jonathan Lucroy handing a 3rd-out ball to a young fan in the front row:

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With no outs in the top of the 6th inning, Aramis Ramirez swung at a 2-0 pitch from Hendricks and hit a towering foul pop-up in my direction. At first I thought it was going to land 20 feet behind me, but I resisted the urge to bolt up the steps. I remembered that high foul pop-ups are impossible to judge and usually end up drifting back toward the field, and since I was already standing in the aisle, I figured I might as well stay there. As the ball started to descend, it seemed to be heading straight at me, and I couldn’t believe my luck. Was I seriously about to catch it? I kept watching it and standing there . . . and watching it . . . and waiting. It seemed to hang up in the air forever, and at the very last second, it began veering to my right. I don’t know if it hit a wind current or if the spin affected it, but for an instant, I thought I *wasn’t* going to catch it. All I could do was take a step or two to my right and lunge across my body for a wild attempt at a back-handed catch. Here’s a photo that Brandon took at that moment:

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Did you notice the two fans on the right? Here’s a closer look:

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It must have sucked for them to think that they were about to die.

I’m happy to report that I caught the ball in the tip of my glove, and no one got hurt. The women actually/sincerely thanked me for saving their lives, which amused me because I was at least five feet away from them when I caught the ball.

Here’s a photo of the ball that I took soon after . . .

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. . . and here’s a much better photo of it on my website.

The 6th inning was good to me. It started with that foul ball and ended with a 3rd-out ball, tossed perfectly to me over everyone down in front by Brewers 1st baseman Mark Reynolds. Here’s the ball flying toward me.

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If you must know, that ball was a grounder hit by Luis Valbuena on a 2-0 pitch from Will Smith. My man Aramis Ramirez fielded it at 3rd base and fired across the diamond to complete the play.

That was my ninth ball of the day. When BP had ended, I only had five and wasn’t even considering double digits, but now it was within reach.

Here’s a photo that Brandon took of . . . someone mildly important singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”:

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Here’s another Brandon photo of the Cubs infielders warming up between innings:

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The Cubs won the game, 6-2, sending the Brewers to their eighth straight loss. After the final out, I scurried down to the 1st base dugout . . .

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. . . and got a ball from home plate umpire Mark Carlson — the only ball he gave away.

Here I am with the seven commemorative balls I snagged:

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Here’s a closer look at those balls:

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Back at Kelly’s place, I photographed P.J. with the balls he’d gotten with her:

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WOW!!

I had no idea how many balls they were getting at the time. I only saw them get a few, but when Kelly told me how they’d done it, it made perfect sense. You know how players stand in clusters during BP? Well, she and P.J. would hang out behind one cluster and inevitably get a ball from them within a few minutes . . . then move one or two sections over and get a ball from the next group of guys. And so on. At least one fan handed P.J. a ball, and I think there were one or two other cases when players or coaches went out of their way to get P.J.’s attention and hook him up.

Four-year-olds have it rough in a lot of ways, but to be that age at a Major League Baseball game has got to be one of the greatest things in the world.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 baseballs at this game

• 477 balls in 69 games this season = 6.91 balls per game.

• 68 lifetime balls in 9 games at Wrigley Field = 7.56 balls per game.

• 1,035 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 254 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 7,653 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.)

• 21 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.71 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $17.10 raised at this game

• $815.67 raised this season

• $39,479.67 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/2/14 at Wrigley Field

According to the Cubs, the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field was the “PARTY OF THE CENTURY,” but as far as I was concerned, it was an opportunity to snag commemorative baseballs. In fact, that’s the only reason that I flew to Chicago. I needed one of these balls, and it had to be a good one with perfect logo.

Here I am outside the stadium:

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That photo was taken by my friend Brandon Sloter. He’s the photographer/videographer who filmed me on 8/18/14 at Citizens Bank Park — and he filmed me again here at Wrigley. He’s still editing all the footage, so stay tuned. I’ll post it as soon as it’s done. In the meantime, here are a bunch of photos, starting with a few (taken by me) on Sheffield Avenue:

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That’s the street that runs behind the right-field edge of the stadium.

I enjoyed a sneak-peek inside through this gate . . .

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. . . on my way toward center field and around to Waveland Avenue. Here’s what it looked like over there:

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In the photo above, did you notice the guy standing in the shade on the sidewalk? That’s Rich Buhrke, one of the top ten ballhawks of all time that I featured in my latest book, The Baseball. (See pages 273-274.) It was great to see him, and while I was there, I also ran into Moe Mullins (pages 271-272) and another very accomplished ballhawk named Dave Davison, plus a newer ballhawk buddy named Kenny Kasta, whom I’d met last year in Milwaukee.

I joined them in waiting for home runs to come flying out of the stadium. This was my view:

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Unfortunately I’d gotten there a bit too late and had missed the few balls that reached the street, but it was still great to catch up with these guys.

Did you notice the concrete barricades in the previous two photos? Supposedly, when the bleachers are expanded yet again this offseason, that’s how far out into the street the stands will extend, and to make matters worse, there’s going to be a HUGE video screen with a ton of advertisements erected at the top of the bleachers. What a disaster.

When the stadium opened at 5:05pm, I raced to the bleachers, hopeful of getting a head start on the competition. I’d heard that *all* of the Cubs’ BP balls were commemorative, so I really wanted to get my first one quickly.

So much for that. Not only did I fail to snag a ball within the first 10 minutes, but Brandon got one without even trying. He was filming me from the back of the bleachers when one of the Cubs crushed a deep home run that landed near him. He scurried over and picked it up, and when I asked him if the ball was commemorative, he shrugged. GAH!!

Toward the end of the first group of hitters, Junior Lake smoked a line drive to my right. It took me a moment to realize that the ball was going to clear the wall, at which point I started running full speed. When I reached the far end of my row, three things happened:

1) Two other fans were converging on the spot where the ball was going to land.
2) A woman who was sitting there ducked and leaned to the side.
3) I made a lunging back-handed catch and nearly tumbled onto her.

She was probably completely freaked out, but I didn’t make contact with her and might have actually saved her from getting drilled. I got a high-five from one of my fellow ballhawks, and when I looked at the ball itself, I wanted to give the universe a high-five. Check it out:

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Yes!!

I’d been hoping and trying all season to snag one of these balls, and now I’d finally done it. When the Cubs had visited Yankee Stadium in April for a two-game series, the first game got rained out, and I skipped the day/night doubleheader the following day. When the Cubs went to Philadelphia in June, the weather was terrible on my one free day, so I skipped that as well. When the Cubs played a four-game series last month at Citi Field and *didn’t* bring a single commemorative ball with them, I had no choice but to book a trip to Wrigley if I wanted to catch one . . . so you can see why I was so excited.

Soon after I caught that ball, I tweeted a photo of it and declared that my mission had been accomplished, prompting my friend Todd Cook to call me out. “That’s not perfect,” he tweeted back at me. “Mission continues, Mr. Hample.”

He was partially right. Although I had snagged a commemorative ball, the logo *was* slightly messed up — and what I really wanted was a game-used/mud-rubbed ball with a pristine logo.

From a numbers standpoint, the Brewers’ portion of BP was better, but none of the balls were commemorative. Here’s what it looked like in the bleachers . . .

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. . . and here’s what all the Brewers’ baseballs looked like:

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The ball pictured above — my 2nd of the day — was tossed by a player that I didn’t recognize. My next three baseballs were home runs to left field, starting with a line-drive shot that I caught on the fly in the 2nd row. I had to drift down a couple of steps for that one, and it didn’t get any easier from there. My next ball was a deeper line drive by Mark Reynolds that tipped off the end of my glove as I lunged all the way down for a back-handed catch. Thankfully it stayed at my feet and I was able to grab it. My final home run landed several rows deep in left-center and resulted in an all-out scramble.

That was it for BP. Here I am with my baseballs:

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By the way, Brandon filmed all of my catches, so there should be some good, action-packed footage in the video.

Do you remember the guy named Kenny who’d been out on Waveland Avenue? Well, he was inside the stadium for BP and gave me a valuable piece of info. He told me that everyday at around 6:45pm, Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio throws half a dozen baseballs into the left-field bleachers. Kenny added that several of the balls usually get thrown to the regulars, but the rest are up for grabs. I promised that I’d keep my distance from him, and when the time came, I picked a random spot in straight-away left, roughly two-thirds of the way toward the top. Sure enough, Bosio strolled out with three balls in each pocket and soon began chucking them all over the place. After the first few balls went to fans who were nowhere near me, Bosio threw one 30 feet to my right. Naturally I started running in that direction in case there was a bobble, and here’s what happened: the ball sailed *way* over the head of the intended recipient, nearly hit an oblivious fan who was sitting in the last row, and smacked off the back fence. As it started bouncing down the steps, I cut across and swiped at it with my glove, scooping it up like a 1st baseman handling a short hop. It was beautiful . . . and the ball was commemorative! But the logo wasn’t perfect, so my mission continued.

At that point, the Cubs’ position players were already playing catch in shallow left field, so I ran over to the seats in foul territory. (If you have a bleacher ticket, you can go into the main part of the stadium, but if you have a ticket for the main part of the stadium, you can’t enter the bleachers.) Unfortunately, because of the strict ushers, I wasn’t allowed to go down into the first 10 rows, so I stayed in the cross-aisle and tried my best to get the players’ attention. Somehow, less than a minute later, Matt Szczur (pronounced “see-zer”) spotted me and lobbed his warm-up ball right to me, over everyone down in front. When I made the catch, I looked back at Brandon, who was still in the bleachers, and noticed that his camera was pointing at me. I thought he was filming, but it turned out that he was taking photos. Here I am holding up the ball:

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Here I am pointing to the logo:

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I didn’t expect the camera to pick it up. I just wanted him to know that it was commemorative, but look! The camera DID pick it up. Here’s a much closer look at the photo above:

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Pretty cool, huh?

Here’s the baseball itself:

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The logo was perfect, so I tweeted a photo of it to Todd Cook and said, “Is my mission accomplished NOW?”

“Yeah, I think that’ll do,” he replied and then added, “Save some for us! PS- You know you weren’t happy with that first one! #DontTryToFoolUs!”

Despite Todd’s blessing, my mission still wasn’t fully accomplished. Yeah, the ball from Szczur was flawless, but it wasn’t mud-rubbed. (Poor me, right?)

Several minutes later, I shifted over to the cross-aisle behind the dugout and got Starlin Castro to throw me a ball, and moments after that, in nearly the same spot, I got the attention of Javier Baez and got him to lob one to me. Both of these balls were commemorative, and my total for the day had reached nine.

Brandon stayed in the bleachers for the start of the game and took a bunch of photos, including this . . .

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. . . and this . . .

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. . . and this:

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Meanwhile, this was my view when Scooter Gennett led off the game:

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I didn’t know it at the time, but Brandon wandered from the bleachers into the main part of the stadium. Here’s a photo he took of the Chicago skyline . . .

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. . . and here’s another one of his pics from the second deck:

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Gorgeous. That’s really all there is to say.

After a couple of innings, I made my way to the 1st base side . . .

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. . . and ended up moving a bit closer. The ushers were super-protective of the seats between the dugout and cross-aisle, but they didn’t seem to care about anything past that, so I sat directly behind the aisle.

In the bottom of the 4th inning, Chris Valaika hit a sinking line drive at Brewers shortstop Elian Herrera, who caught it . . . or did he trap it? Even he didn’t know, so he fired the ball to 1st baseman Lyle Overbay, who scooped the short hop. It was a bang-bang play. The runner looked out, but the ump called him safe, and the Cubs challenged. At that point, Overbay looked toward the stands, and I knew right away that he was looking for someone to throw the ball to, so I jumped up and waved my arms and shouted his name, and he threw it right to me! His aim was perfect! It barely cleared the outstretched arms of the folks in front of the aisle. The ball had a huge, infield-dirt scuff, but it was nowhere near the logo, so now my mission had truly been accomplished.

Fast-forward four innings. A rookie named Matt Clark had replaced Overbay, and when the 8th inning ended with a routine groundout, I drifted down several steps from the cross-aisle and got that ball too . . . except not really. As some 1st basemen do, Clark switched balls on his way to the dugout and tossed me a non-commemorative infield warm-up ball instead. BAH!! But hey, it was better than nothing.

In the 9th inning, I met up with Brandon and headed over to the cross-aisle behind the home-plate end of the 3rd-base dugout. On a previous visit to Wrigley, that’s where the umps had exited, so it was the obvious place to try to snag one more ball.

Before I tell you what happened next, here’s a photo that Brandon took of pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa:

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Okay, so . . . when Rickie Weeks went down swinging to end the game, I hurried down to the dugout, only to see the umps walking the wrong way! WTF?! They were all heading to the 1st base dugout! Obviously there was no chance to run over there and catch them on the way in, so I held my ground and ended up with something even better. Behold!

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That’s right. One of the Cubs’ coaches gave me the lineup card. Initially, on his way in, when I asked him for it, he said no and disappeared from sight, but 10 seconds later, perhaps after asking the manager and/or winning pitcher if they wanted to keep it, he poked his head back out and slid it to me across the dugout roof.

Here’s a closer look at the front of the lineup card:

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In my opinion, the stuff on the back was even better:

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I’ve gotten dozens of lineup cards over the years, some of which have included various bits of info on the back — stuff like the ground rules and pitcher usage charts and biblical references — but this was a first. And I don’t fully get it. Take the “PITCHOUTS” section, for example. Are those the pitchouts that the Brewers have thrown against the Cubs this season? It’s fascinating to get a glimpse of the inner/strategic workings of a Major League Baseball team.

I gave away two (non-commemorative) baseballs on my way out of the stadium, so here are the nine that I kept:

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You know what? It’s just as well that the Cubs didn’t bring their precious balls to Citi Field last month because if they had, I wouldn’t have gone to Chicago, and I would’ve missed out on this incredibly fun day at Wrigley Field.

***UPDATE***
After nine days, the video is finally done! Check it out:


BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 baseballs at this game

• 467 balls in 68 games this season = 6.87 balls per game.

• 58 lifetime balls in 8 games at Wrigley Field = 7.25 balls per game.

• 1,034 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 253 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

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

• 37 lifetime lineup cards (or pairs of lineup cards); click here to see them all.

• 7,643 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.)

• 20 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.62 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $17.82 raised at this game

• $756.54 raised this season

• $39,420.54 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/27/14 at Citi Field

This was my 40th lifetime Watch With Zack game, and for a change, my clients asked to remain anonymous. I can tell you that I was with two people — a woman named Janet and her 13-year-old daughter named Zan — but you won’t see photos of their faces. Instead I’ll start with a photo of something extremely frustrating:

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That was our first look at the field.

In case you can’t tell, the cage and screens were set up for batting practice, but no one was hitting. For the last couple of months, that’s how it’s been nearly every time I’ve run inside Citi Field; the Mets have been starting BP so early that by the time the stadium opens at 5:10pm, they’re already gone. What’s the point of that? To prevent the public from seeing how pathetic they are?

Anyway, shortly before the Braves started hitting 15 minutes later, I noticed that one of the pitchers in left field was already holding a ball. I hurried down toward the front row with Zan, recognized the player as Anthony Varvaro, and got him to throw it toward us. I made the catch, and when I tried to hand it to her, she said something like, “You keep it — that’s your ball.”

Here’s what the ball looked like:

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It was a perfectly nice ball, but she didn’t want it because she hadn’t snagged it herself — a very mature attitude for a young fan who had never gotten one.

A little while later, with BP finally underway, I convinced Chris Johnson to throw one to her, or at least I tried. At the time, Zan and I were standing side-by-side in the front row, and Johnson ended up throwing it to me. As the ball sailed toward us, I leaned back so that Zan could shift over, and just in case she couldn’t reach it, I had my glove waiting in the right spot. Unfortunately she came up short by several inches, and I ended up making the catch.

Here’s where we hung out for most of BP:

3_left_field_during_bp_08_27_14

In the photo above, Zan is wearing the light green shirt, and Janet is standing on her right. I stood in front of them, not just to offer protection in case someone cranked a ball into our section, but also so we could talk.

At one point during the first group of hitters, Evan Gattis smoked a deep line drive 30 feet to our left. Based on the low trajectory, I knew it wasn’t going to reach the seats by much, so I bolted down to the second row and then began cutting across. The ball slammed into the seats, deflected off my left ankle, and trickled away from me toward the spot where I had just come from. I chased after it, and just before I was about to bend down and pick it up, Zan scurried toward me from the opposite direction and grabbed it. What an awesome way for her to snag the very first ball of her life!

With several minutes remaining in BP, we hurried to the seats behind the Braves’ dugout, and when all the players and coaches cleared the field, I saw an opportunity. There was a ball sitting near the 3rd base coach’s box, and as Gerald Laird approached it, I shouted his name and pointed at Zan . . . and then I moved five feet away from her. To my delight, he tossed her the ball, and she made a clean catch! Outstanding!

Moments later, I got Terry Pendleton to throw me a ball, which gave us five combined — three for me and two for her.

This was our view when several players came out to throw before the game:

4_braves_pregame_throwing_08_27_14

I had encouraged Zan to borrow my Braves gear, but she wanted NO part of it. She and her mother are such huge Mets fans that they didn’t even want *me* to wear it, but I convinced them that it had to be done. That said, if Zan had been wearing my hat and/or shirt and standing in the front row, there’s a 99 percent chance that one of the players would’ve have thrown her a ball. Instead, when I asked for one and pointed at her, Andrelton Simmons shook his head with a taunting/sarcastic expression. Then he pointed at me and said something to his teammates, and when he jogged off the field, he shouted, “You have millions of ‘em!” Zan thought it was cool that a player recognized me. I simply thought it was annoying.

This was our view for the first half-hour of the game:

5_view_during_game_08_27_14

A little while later, we stealthily moved down to the sixth row.

After each inning, Zan and I scurried down to the bottom of the stairs, hoping to get a 3rd-out ball. Our first few attempts were unsuccessful, and as the game wore on, more and more kids got in on the act. By the middle of the game, there was so much competition that I worried Zan freddie_freeman_2014might get edged out — that one of the bigger kids would push her out of the way or reach in front of her. Luckily for her, though, she had the biggest kid in the stadium on her side. When Zack Wheeler grounded out to end the 5th inning, we bolted down the stairs before Braves 1st baseman Freddie Freeman had even caught the throw, so we were in the perfect spot. He ended up jogging right toward us with the ball, and I just *knew* that he was going to toss it in our direction. I really wanted her to catch it, but we were surrounded by overzealous fans, so the slightest bobble would become a lost opportunity. As Freeman approached, he lobbed the ball right at me, but it was clearly going to fall short. I had to make a split-second decision. Rather than standing back and letting it bounce off the dugout roof (likely resulting in mayhem), I reached all the way out and made a back-handed catch. And handed the ball to Zan.

Once again, she didn’t want it because I had caught it, but I insisted, and Janet ended up accepting it. Here’s what the ball looked like:

6_ball7619

As you can see, it’s kinda beat up, so Freeman might have pulled a switcheroo and tossed the infield warm-up ball from the previous inning. But hey . . . whatever. It was still nice to have snagged a ball during the game and, more importantly, shown Zan how to do it so she can try it on her own next time she visits Citi Field.

The Braves won the game, 3-2, which obviously wasn’t the outcome that Zan and Janet wanted, but hopefully, deep down, on some level, they were able to appreciate the defensive wizardry of Andrelton Simmons. With two outs in the bottom of the 8th and the tying run on 3rd base, Travis d’Arnaud hit a grounder deep into the 5.5 hole. It had “base hit” and “tie game” written all over it — but then THIS happened. Unreal. I kind of hate Simmons for always messing with me, but I respect him so much as a player.

After the game, Zan and I posed with the baseballs that we’d snagged. Here’s as much of that photo as I can show:

7_six_balls_snagged_08_27_14

Finally, in case you’re interested, here’s a whole page of Watch With Zack stats on my website. As for my own personal ballhawking stats, I’ll post those in my next blog entry from Wrigley Field . . .

8/18/14 at Citizens Bank Park

Do you remember when my friend Brandon photographed me on 7/31/14 at Camden Yards? Well, he joined me for this game in Philadelphia, and I convinced him to film me instead. Here’s the video that he put together — check it out and then I’ll share a few photos and explain everything in detail:

Wow . . . right? Brandon has some *serious* skills as a videographer/editor, so before I say anything else, I want to thank him for doing such great work.

Anyway, when he and I approached the Ashburn Alley gate, I saw two familiar faces — Grant Edrington (who’s going to college in Pennsylvania) and Rick Gold (who made the trip with me from New York and had held a spot at the front of the line while I bought a ticket). They’re both ballhawks, and you can briefly see them in the video. At the 0:24 mark, Grant is on the right side, wearing a yellow shirt, and bending down to pick up a home run ball. You can also see him from 0:25 to 0:31 as we both chase another longball that ends up ricocheting far away. Rick, meanwhile, wearing a gray shirt, dashes into view from the left side at 0:45 and proceeds to cut across the seats until 0:48.

My first ball of the day was so uneventful that Brandon didn’t bother including it in the video. I was standing near the front row in left-center field when a Phillies player tossed a ball to a kid. The kid dropped it in the flowerbed at the very front of the section, so I picked it up and handed it to him.
antonio_bastardo_2014
At the 0:59 mark, you can hear me say, “Wanna play catch?” to Antonio Bastardo, and to my surprise, he briefly took me up on it. At the end, he told me to “keep it.” That was my second ball, and it was all I got until the entire stadium opened at 5:35pm. Why? Because left field was dead. Except for the first few minutes when Marlon Byrd was cranking balls out, most of the batters were left-handed and/or just plain bad.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the glove trick, that’s what I was attempting to do (and also discussing) from 1:57 to 2:23.

At 2:36, you can see me snagging my third ball. At the time, I didn’t know who tossed it, but later figured out that it was Brandon Maurer. I got another toss-up soon after from Logan Morrison, and then, after complaining about how bad my luck had been, I started to get really lucky.

At 3:05, I said, “Oh, here we go,” upon seeing the batter hit a deep fly ball in my direction. Then I paused for a moment to gauge the distance and eventually wiggled down the stairs for the catch. That was my fifth ball, and I have no idea who hit it.

I don’t know who hit the next one either, but it was my favorite catch of the day. (See 3:48 to 3:55.) That’s because I had to run to the left and climb back over two rows of seats to get into position. Every so often, I’ll climb over one row to make a catch, but maneuvering over two is pretty tough. Unfortunately it got me in trouble with a security supervisor who marched down the steps, told me I wasn’t allowed to run for baseballs, and basically threatened to eject me if I did it again. (“This is your only warning,” he said.) More on that in a bit, but first, here’s what my view looked like from that section:

1_view_from_right_field_08_18_14

My seventh ball — a deep line-drive homer by Robinson Cano — was extremely lucky. I made the catch at 4:14, but to get the whole story, you need to watch everything from 3:59 to 4:35. This was the one where I ran into the next section to chase a ball, and while I was there, Cano hit me another in the 2nd-to-last row.

At 4:38, there’s a quick clip of me snagging my eighth ball. Once again, at the time, I didn’t know who tossed it, but later figured out that it was 3rd base coach Rich Donnelly.

From 4:44 to 4:51, you can see me drifting to the right to catch my ninth ball, and from 5:12 to 5:20, you can see me climbing down over two rows to catch number ten. I don’t know who hit either of those home runs, but I can tell you this: the supervisor was pissed about the last one. He hurried back down the stairs and said, “What did I tell you before?!”

I truly thought I was about to be ejected, so I apologized hardcore and told him that I’d been trying to obey his rule about not running for balls and that I hadn’t run for the last one, but had instead carefully stepped down over some seats. It soon became clear that he wasn’t going to eject me, but that he *was* going to lecture me about being a menace to society. Batting practice was basically done, so I didn’t mind when he led me up to the concourse. The main thing he told me was that I have to be careful around other fans. He was concerned that I might plow into someone and cause an injury.

“I totally understand where you’re coming from,” I said, “and of course you have no way of knowing who I am or what I’m all about, but for what it’s worth, I’ve attended more than 1,200 games in 51 major league stadiums, and I’ve never knocked anyone down while running for a ball. NEVER. Not even once.”

“Yeah, but with my luck,” he replied, “the first time you do it will be here today in Philadelphia.”

While I was getting scolded, several fans came over and defended me.

“Leave him alone!” one woman shouted. “He didn’t do anything wrong! He was giving away baseballs to people!”

“I understand that, ma’am,” said the supervisor, “but that’s not the issue.”

Moments later, a man interrupted the supervisor to shake my hand and say, “Thank you so much for giving a ball to my son. This is his first game.”

It must’ve been tough for the supervisor to stay mad, and all things considered, he turned out to be quite friendly and reasonable. I appreciated that he was willing to have a discussion, and I actually made him laugh later when he saw me changing back into my Phillies gear.

After the supervisor took off, several ushers approached me and apologized. One of them said, “Don’t judge us all based on the actions of one individual.” A different usher told me that they had no problem with my running around. “Everyone was running for balls,” he said. “They’re just not as good at it, but we thought you were very respectful.”

At that point, there were several balls in the Phillies’ bullpen — home runs that had landed there during BP — and the ushers were nice enough to let me hang around and try to get one. That’s what I was doing in the video starting at 5:29. It would’ve been easy to snag two or three with my glove trick, but given my recent run-in with the supervisor, I decided to play it safe and wait for a toss-up. Eventually it happened at the 5:38 mark, courtesy of Phillies bullpen catcher Jesus Tiamo. That was my 11th ball of the day.

Brandon didn’t sit with me during the game, so there’s no video evidence of what happened next. First let me show you my view during the top of the 1st inning:

2_view_during_game_08_18_14

In the bottom of the 1st, I moved half a dozen rows closer and it quickly paid off. With two outs, Ryan Howard hit a foul squibber that trickled into the Mariners’ dugout. Chris Woodward, the team’s infield coach, retrieved the ball, climbed to the top step, scanned the crowd for a worthy recipient, and ended up tossing it to me.

Here’s what my ballhawking notes looked like after that:

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For the record, I can write *much* neater than that, but whatever, these were just meant to be my private scribbles.

Some time around the 5th inning, I received the following photo in a text from Brandon:

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I wondered if he was still in the upper deck, so I looked up there, and sure enough, I spotted him:

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I managed to make one more snag before the night was through: a 2nd/3rd-out ball tossed by Robinson Cano after the 7th inning, which is to say that it was the product of a double play. Andres Blanco had grounded into it off Tom Wilhelmsen.

After the final out of the Phillies’ 4-1 victory, Brandon caught up with me for a quick video recap. He then took off with some friends, leaving me and Rick to drive back to New York and talk about our favorite hobby for two solid hours.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

6_the_nine_balls_i_kept_08_18_14• 13 baseballs at this game (nine pictured here because I gave four away)

• 421 balls in 60 games this season = 7.02 balls per game.

• 321 lifetime balls in 35 games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.17 balls per game.

• 1,026 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 252 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 7,597 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.)

• 20 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.62 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $21.06 raised at this game

• $682.02 raised this season

• $39,346.02 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

New video about my collection

This was filmed last week by a guy named Ruaridh Connellan, who works for Barcroft Media. Given the fact that he didn’t attend a game with me to get any footage, I wasn’t sure how it’d turn out, but he grabbed some clips from my YouTube channel and put together a really fun segment. Take a look for yourself:

In case you’re wondering, the scene in which I was half-buried on the floor required approximately 1,500 baseballs. Also, for the record, my girlfriend doesn’t hate me or baseball as much as her short interview would lead you believe. Before we started dating, she discovered my last name . . . and Googled me . . . and still decided to throw herself at me, so even if she did hate baseball, this would all be her fault.

Carlos Beltran grand slam

Although you can’t really tell from the following highlight, I caught Carlos Beltran’s grand slam on August 8, 2014 at Yankee Stadium. Take a look and then I’ll explain how it all went down:

Here are a few screen shots from that video, starting with the moment of contact:

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Here’s the ball descending toward my section:

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Did you notice how crowded it was?! Look how many people lunged for the ball:

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Here’s a close-up that shows me buried in the crowd. The arrow on the left is pointing at my head; the arrow on the right is pointing at my glove:

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How did I manage to catch the ball?
It was actually quite easy. And lucky.

Yes, the section was pretty much packed, but I had a tiny bit of room to work with. I was sitting in the end seat in the 3rd row (with the stairs on my left), and for some reason, the 2nd row had seven empty seats right in front of me. Those seats had been empty all night, so I’d been planning to use that space in case a home run ended up getting hit to my right. And that’s exactly what happened. As soon as Beltran connected, I jumped up and moved down one step and then drifted to the right through the 2nd row. The ball was heading about 10 feet to my right, so I got in line with it, and as it began descending, I knew that it was going to be a home run — but not by much. Thankfully it sailed *just* above everyone’s hands in the front row, and I reached up for the catch.

Here’s a photo of the ball that I took the following inning:

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Meanwhile, the whole section was buzzing. Lots of people congratulated me, and one guy even thanked me. “You saved my face,” he said. At least a dozen fans asked to take photos with me and the ball.

Then, somehow, word spread about who I was. Someone who recognized me must’ve said something to the people sitting near them because a bunch of folks started shouting my name and holding up their phones with various pictures of me. One guy approached me with this image on his phone and said, “Is this you?!” Another guy asked me later, “How did you know to sit there?” Another man crouched next to me on the stairs, asked if I was the guy with 8,000 balls, and asked how much money I wanted for this one.

“Thanks for asking,” I said, “but it’s not for sale.”

“Come ONNNN,” he replied. “I gotta have that ball. I’m the biggest Carlos Beltran fan!”

“I appreciate that,” I said, “but I’ve been to 1,200 major league baseball games, and this is the first grand slam I’ve ever caught on the fly. Therefore *I* gotta have this ball. Plus, I’ve never sold a ball in my entire life, and I’m not about to start now.”

Someone else offered me $1,000 for it on Twitter, and my answer was no. He could’ve added a zero to the offer, and it wouldn’t have changed anything.

I was SO happy to simply hold/own the ball, as you can see by this photo taken shortly after the game ended:

6_ball7553_carlos_beltran_grand_slam5_zack_reenacting_first_grand_slam

By the way, the photo above was a re-creation of this pose with my only other grand slam baseball, hit by Robinson Cano on 9/28/09 at Yankee Stadium.

Here’s one final photo of the ball at the stadium:

7_ball7553_carlos_beltran_grand_slam7_ball_and_jersey

The man pictured above in the Beltran jersey insisted that he had brought me luck. There’s no doubt I’d gotten lucky on this particular ball, but I think my home run luck overall this season has been dreadful. This was my first longball in 27 games at Yankee Stadium. Does that sound lucky to you? What about the other 26 games filled with bad deflections, bad decisions, and nothingness?

I’ve recently come up with a statistical formula/comparison to judge how well I’m doing with game home run balls in an individual season. I like to imagine that I’m a starting pitcher; the number of homers I’ve snagged represents my innings pitched, and the number of games I’ve attended represents my pitch count. This season, I’ve snagged three home runs in 55 games, so if I were a pitcher, my pitch count would be 55 through three innings — not great but not a total disaster.

Anyway, this was my 29th lifetime game home run ball (plus six others that I don’t really count because they were tossed to me). Here’s the complete list.

Also, this wasn’t my first Carlos Beltran homer — and the other one was MUCH more meaningful. The other one is probably my favorite ball ever. It was the last home run that the Mets ever hit at Shea Stadium. Here’s a huge blog entry I wrote about it.

I guess that’s about it for now. I’m taking this weekend off, running my writing group on Monday, and planning to be at Citi Field on Tuesday.

***UPDATE***

Thanks to a friend who recorded the game, I’ve now seen some additional footage, and look — I *did* appear on TV:

8_another_carlos_beltran_screen_shot

Playing catch in the subway

Several nights ago, while heading home from Yankee Stadium, there was a very long wait for the train at 149th Street. My friend Greg Barasch was with me, and this is how we passed the time:

I hope this isn’t illegal, or if it is, I hope it’s only slightly illegal. For the record, no trains, people, or baseballs were harmed during the making of this video.

7/31/14 at Camden Yards

As much as I love Camden Yards, I hadn’t considered making this trip until my friend Brandon suggested it earlier in the week. Not only is he a professional photographer/videographer, but the Angels were going be in town, and my girlfriend Hayley was free; I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring her to a game and see Mike Trout in person and end up with a bunch of cool photos of myself.

Why do I love this stadium so much? There are lots of reasons, starting with the fact that it opens before it opens . . . sort of. On game days, the Eutaw Street gates (which can be found at either end of the warehouse) are wide open to the general public until 4pm. Then the stadium shuts down for an hour and re-opens to ticketed fans at 5pm. We arrived shortly after three o’clock, which is when Brandon took this photo of me:

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As you can see above, the groundskeepers were watering the infield, and the batting cage was set up — and before long, several players began taking early BP:

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At around 3:50pm, I noticed two fans poking their heads out of a tunnel in deep right-center field. That surprised me because I’d always assumed that the seating bowl was closed at this time. I wandered over to take a peek for myself, and sure enough, there were no employees or gates keeping me out. Here’s what it looked like as I headed into the tunnel:

3_view_behind_tunnel

I got the sense that I wasn’t really supposed to be there — that stadium security had somehow made a mistake by leaving this area open — so I stayed in the tunnel and took a few photos. The right-center field seats were totally empty . . .

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. . . and after a little while, the Orioles started playing catch along the right field foul line:

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Hmm.

I didn’t want to get in trouble, but was I breaking the rules? I mean, if no one told me to leave, then in a roundabout way, wasn’t that an invitation to stay? All I wanted to do was hang out there for the first group of BP and snag a ball (or two . . . or ten) in the empty seats. I had already decided to exit the stadium before 5pm so that I could buy tickets and meet up with Brandon (who was now waiting outside the gates) and Hayley (who was wandering the neighborhood in search of food).

“Excuse me,” said a voice from behind, causing my heart to beat a bit faster. “Are you waiting for someone?”

When I turned around, I was relieved to see that it was a concession worker, who was probably half my age.

“Uhh . . . no,” I stammered. “I just wandered in when the Eutaw Street gates were open, and somehow I ended up over here.”

“The gates are closed now,” he said. “You’re not even supposed to be here.”

“Oh, seriously? Well, how can I get out?”

“Come with me,” he said politely, leading me toward the open-air concourse. “You need to find a security supervisor and tell him why you’re here and ask him to let you out.”

Yeah, THAT wasn’t gonna happen. No one needed to know why I was inside the stadium.

The concession worker pointed me toward a supervisor and thankfully headed back to his stand. Then, before the supervisor had a chance to say anything, I pointed confidently at a glass door (which I knew led into an office that had another set of doors on the far side that led to the street) and said, “Can I exit that way?”

He said yes, and that was it.

When I finally made it outside, I was 10 percent relieved to have escaped the mini-ordeal and 90 percent annoyed not to have gotten any baseballs for my trouble.

One of the first people I ran into outside the gates was a guy named Stuart, who knew I was going to be here and brought his copy of The Baseball for me to sign. Here we are:

6_stuart_and_zack_with_the_baseball

Before the stadium opened, I met a fellow ballhawk named Grant Edrington (pictured below in the middle) and caught up with my friend Alex Kopp (pictured below on the right):

7_zack_with_grant_and_alex

Those two guys could not possibly be any friendlier.

When the stadium opened for real at 5pm, I ran like hell to the left field seats and *barely* missed out on a pair of baseballs that were sitting in the front row. Just as I was cutting across from left-center field, an older fan charged down the steps in straight-away left and beat me to them by about two seconds. It was painful, but I did get some revenge several minutes later — more on that in a bit, but first, here I am just before snagging my first ball of the day:

8_zack_catching_ball7517_ground_rule_double_thanks_to_tj_mcfarland_who_let_it_bounce

If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see me (wearing the black T-shirt) in the front row. The player closest to me was T.J. McFarland. See him reaching up to catch a fly ball? That’s probably what appears to be happening, when in fact he was in the process of moving his glove out of the way. You see, moments before the ball landed, I shouted, “LET IT BOUNCE!!” and to my surprise, he did. The ball then landed on the warning track and bounced right to me:

9_zack_catching_ball7517

Moments later, while still holding that ball in my right hand, I climbed back over a row for a home run:

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Here I am jumping and reaching back; look closely and you’ll see the ball circled in red at the top of the photo:

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I’m not sure who hit it, but I can tell you that I caught it. Here it is poking out of my glove . . .

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. . . and look! It had a commemorative logo:

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I didn’t really care that the logo was messed up because I’d snagged a much better one earlier in the season. In fact, I kinda liked that this ball wasn’t perfect.

Meanwhile, there was lots of competition from my fellow ballhawks — something that never used to happen here as recently as five to ten years ago. Back then, I probably made several uncontested catches per day, but now that’s pretty much unheard of. Now there are far more fans and ballhawks, even during the first half-hour when only people with season tickets can get into to the left field seats, so unless a home run gets hit VERY far or lands in an unlikely spot, there’s almost always someone camped underneath it. Here’s some photographic evidence:

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As you can see above, I was one of three guys who converged at the landing spot. All of our gloves ended up in exactly the same place . . .

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. . . and no, I didn’t catch that one.

(Did you notice the two baseballs in my right hand? Did you notice the players looking back at us?)

Remember when I mentioned getting revenge? Here’s how it played out:

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In the photo above, the man who’d snatched the two Easter eggs is wearing a backpack (rookie mistake) and has a glove on his right hand. Fortunately for me on this home run, he was in the row behind me, so I was able to jump . . .

17_zack_catching_ball7519

. . . and catch the ball right in front of his glove. He was a good sport about it, and he should’ve been. He had beaten me fair-n-square for the two baseballs when we first ran in, and now I’d gotten him back with a well-timed leap. This was ballhawking at its best. There were plenty of balls/opportunities for everyone, and there was no pushing or shoving — just a lot of running and jumping and, from what I gathered, mutual respect.

Here I am with my first three balls of the day:

18_zack_three_baseballs_early

I’m pretty sure that J.J. Hardy hit at least one or two of them, but things were moving so fast that I lost track of which ball was which. If Brandon hadn’t been there taking photos, I might not have remembered the details about every ball — which direction I ran, when I jumped or climbed over a row of seats, etc.

A minute or two later, everyone turned their backs on the field in pursuit of a deep home run:

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It ended up landing on a staircase and bouncing into the seats above the cross-aisle, and look who snagged it:

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THAT’S MY GIRLFRIEND!!!!!!!

And that was her first ball ever!
And it had a pristine commemorative logo!

Part of me felt bad for all the other guys who would’ve loved to snag it, but the other part of me was like, ha-HAAAAAA!!! Suck it!! In your FACE!! You got beaten by someone who doesn’t even like baseball and didn’t even have a glove and wasn’t even trying!!

And now for the play-by-play: when the ball had first bounced into her section, Hayley was slow to react, so when she started moving, I offered some words of encouragement, which went something like this: “GET IT, HAYLEY!!! GET IT, HAYLEY!!!” The ball landed in the middle of the section, roughly four rows back. Rather than climbing over the seats toward it (as I would’ve done in anticipation of the ball trickling down), she ran up the steps and cut across. Luckily for her, the ball was still resting in the folded-up portion of the seat, and she grabbed it. It was a beautiful moment.

As for me, here I am catching my fourth ball of the day:

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I was standing on a seat, which *barely* allowed me to reach above the glove of the guy who was jumping in front of me.

Then I had a little chat with Chris Tillman (who asked what my lifetime ball total was up to) and Miguel Gonzalez:

22_zack_talking_to_chris_tillman

Here I am jumping yet again for my fifth ball:

23_zack_catching_ball7521

I had to make a tough decision when the next group of Orioles started hitting: stay in left field or head to the Flag Court in right field. It was only about 5:15pm, so left field was going to remain empty-ish for another 15 minutes, but (if I’m remembering correctly) three of the four batters were left-handed. It was a classic dilemma. Should I pick the less-crowded spot where there would be fewer opportunities or the more crowded spot where there’d be more action?

I decided to run to the Flag Court, and Brandon came with me. Here I am standing near the back:

24_zack_flag_court

The only reason I wasn’t wearing my glove is that I was drenched in sweat. I was trying to let my left hand dry out, but I was ready to spring into action. And then I had my chance. One of the lefties cranked a ball toward the edge of the Flag Court. I knew exactly where it was going to land; the only challenge was weaving in and out of people and getting there in time. As the ball descended, I made it to the side railing . . .

25_zack_catching_ball7522

. . . and reached over it . . .

26_zack_catching_ball7522

. . . and made a back-handed catch:

27_zack_catching_ball7522

Here I am with the ball moments later:

28_zack_holding_ball7522

While everyone around me was cheering and smiling, I was just thinking, “Hmph, getting around all you people made that a lot harder than it should’ve been,” but really, it felt great, mainly because I don’t get to make plays like that in New York.

A few minutes later, I had another opportunity on a very deep home run — see me at the back of the Flag Court?

29_zack_snagging_ball7523

At first I didn’t think the ball would reach the cross-aisle behind the seats, and when it occurred to me that it *would* sail that far, I didn’t think I had any chance of snagging it because the aisle was so crowded. But hey, why not move toward it and give myself a chance, right? Here’s the ball just before it landed:

30_zack_snagging_ball7523

Did you notice that the two guys reaching up for it were not wearing gloves? Did you notice me inching closer? (See the brick column on the right? See the orange sign just to the left of it? My head is in front of that.) The ball ended up clanging off their hands and landing at my feet for an easy snag — my seventh of the day. I found out later from Grant and Alex, who had seen me from afar, that the first ball I caught on the Flag Court was hit by David Lough, and the second one was hit by Chris Davis. And by the way, three of my seven balls were commemorative.

When the Angels took the field, I threw on my bright red Angels cap and headed toward the left field foul line, but didn’t quite get there quickly enough to say hello to Mike Trout. As I was racing through the empty seats, he was completing his final warm-up throws and jogged off five seconds before I got there. That was a bummer. I’ve only seen him once this year, and though he remembered me, I’m concerned that I’m not making my presence known enough. I don’t really know what I want from him at this point. I guess it’s just cool to be acknowledged by one of the best baseball players in the world.

Anyway, when Trout headed toward the batting cage, I spent a few minutes here:

31_zack_left_field_foul_line

The only good thing that happened in foul territory was that I got to say hello to Tom Gregorio, the Angels’ bullpen catcher, who recognizes me and is VERY nice. We didn’t talk long, but it was good to see him.

A minute later, I thought I was going to get a ball from John McDonald . . .

32_zack_asking_john_mcdonald_for_a_ball

. . . but he rejected me . . .

33_zack_rejected_by_john_mcdonald

. . . in favor of a little kid. Can’t argue with that.

Then I put on my red Angels shirt, raced out to the seats in right-center, and got rejected by C.J. Wilson:

34_zack_asking_cj_wilson_for_a_ball

I won’t claim this was a day of highs and lows. It was mostly highs, and I got awfully lucky on a bunch of home runs during BP. The point is . . . for every ball I snagged, there were two or three others that eluded me for various reasons.

Here I am peering over the side railing in right-center field:

35_zack_right_center_field

That’s not a terribly interesting photo, but I’ve shared it so you can visualize what I’m about to tell you — the story of the only ball I snagged that Brandon *didn’t* photograph. While I was standing in that approximate spot, Trout launched a deep fly ball in my direction. I shuffled over a bit in order to line myself up with it and quickly realized that it was going to fall several feet short of the seats. Still, I knew it had a chance to be a home run, and I was hoping it’d land in the narrow gap behind the outfield wall. If that happened, I’d have an easy opportunity to snag it with my glove trick. As it turned out, the ball hit the very top of the wall and deflected high above me — an unbelievably lucky bounce nearly straight up in the air. That said, the catch itself was a challenge because a man in the row below jumped for it, and another man in the row above me reached for it, but I jumped and reached the highest and came down with it.

Josh Hamilton was also hitting in that group. Whenever he stepped into the cage, I moved a few sections to my left (closer to straight-away right field). Here I am *not* catching one of his bombs:

36_zack_not_catching_this_ball

Here’s a closer look at the photo above:

36b_zack_not_catching_this_ball

Personally, I prefer to use lotion to protect myself against the sun, but hey, whatever works for you.

I was moving all over the place during that group of hitters and eventually positioned myself much deeper for Hamilton. Moments later, as if on cue, he crushed the ball well over my head. Rather than standing still and gawking (as everyone else near me seemed to do), I started running toward the spot where I thought it was going to land:

37_zack_snagging_ball7525

Luck, once again, was on my side. No one else made any effort to chase the ball, and conveniently it didn’t ricochet too far away, enabling me to swoop in and grab it:

38_zack_snagging_ball7525

That was my ninth ball of the day, and there was one group of BP remaining. Here’s where I went:

39_zack_in_left_field_with_no_room_to_run

Did you spot me in the photo above? I was standing toward the bottom of the staircase, and it was a total waste of time. The only opportunity I got was when Jered Weaver walked over to retrieve this ball on the warning track:

40_jered_weaver_walking_over

I had already set up the glove trick, and just as he approached the ball, I dangled my contraption halfway down the outfield wall. That’s all it took to get his attention, at which point I yelled, “Kick the ball a little closer and I’ll show you a magic trick!”

Weaver complied and then stood back to watch:

41_jered_weaver_waiting_to_see_the_glove_trick_after_kicking_the_ball_closer

As I adjusted the rubber band around my glove, I yelled, “Hey, Jered, if security gives me a hard time, you got my back, right?”

“I don’t know about that,” he replied.

I had heard that security had cracked down on ball-retrieving devices, but figured I’d give it a shot. If the guard on the field told me to stop, then I would, and if he didn’t say anything, then I’d have double digits.

Here I am lowering my glove over the ball . . .

42_glove_trick_for_ball7526

. . . and here I am raising my glove with the ball tucked inside:

43_glove_trick_for_ball7526

Security never said a word.

Weaver said, “That’s pretty impressive.”

That was my 10th ball (including eight home runs), and I was in a great mood. I’d gotten lucky on a bunch of balls and made some good plays on others. I was with Hayley. Brandon had taken lots of photos. The weather was great. I was really looking forward to the game. And everyone I ran into was super-friendly. Over the course of the day, a bunch of people recognized me and said hello. During BP, a young man named Johnathan had some nice things to say and snapped a selfie with me, which he later tweeted. After BP, I was approached by a young/tall fan named Nick whose mother grabbed a photo of us . . .

44_zack_and_nick

. . . and later in the day, a man named Aaron stopped to tell me that he enjoys my blog. I really appreciated all of that, and it’s part of the reason I’ve written such a long entry about this game. It’s nice to know that there are actually lots of people out there who will read this and enjoy it and perhaps pick up a few tips to snag baseballs for themselves.

Roughly twenty minutes before game time, when Angels starter Tyler Skaggs was getting loose in the outfield, I wandered down to the front row in left-center and asked bullpen coach Steve Soliz for a ball. When he looked up at me, he smiled and said two words: “YOU again!”

Brandon is convinced that every major leaguer knows who I am. That seems unlikely, but I suppose more of them recognize me than I realize. It’s nice being recognized except when it costs me a baseball, which is pretty much EVERY time I’m recognized, so therefore it sucks to be recognized.

When Skaggs moved to the bullpen, I got as close to him as possible. Brandon came with me and continued to document the action:

45_tyler_skaggs_warming_up

I would’ve liked to make one final attempt to catch up with Mike Trout along the left field foul line, but it was a zoo over there so I didn’t bother. Trout-mania was in full effect:

46_mike_trout_jerseys

Brandon made that collage with photos that he’d taken over the course of the day.

Of the 18 batters in the starting lineups, 13 were right-handed — and left field was packed. Therefore I spent most of the game lurking in the tunnels and going for foul balls. Here I am on the 1st base side of home plate . . .

47_zack_tunnel_1st_base_side

. . . and here I am on the 3rd base side:

48_zack_tunnel_3rd_base_side

I’m sorry to say that stadium security has gotten much stricter about not allowing people to stand in the tunnels, so if you’re planning to do it, be careful and keep moving and don’t stand at the very front, where the tunnels connect to the cross-aisle.

Brandon hung out with me for the 1st inning, and then we went our separate ways. He ended up taking photos like this . . .

49_shirtless_fan

. . . and this:

50_cruddy_foul_ball_sign

I ended up hanging out with Grant and Alex on the Flag Court . . .

51_grant_and_alex

. . . but only for a few minutes at a time. They stayed there all night, but I couldn’t deal with it. It became much more crowded, and there were only five lefties, so I kept moving back into foul territory.

Here’s a photo that Brandon took of Mike Trout at bat:

52_mike_trout_at_bat

Here’s a photo I took of the scoreboard and jumbrotron with two outs in the bottom of the 5th inning:

53_no_hitter_in_the_5th_inning

It was a big/disappointing moment. Skaggs was pitching a no-hitter, but had to be taken out of the game because of an injury, which turned out to be a partially torn UCL. Yikes! (A week and a half later, Skaggs opted to have Tommy John Surgery which would keep him out of action until 2016.)

Here’s what it looked like on the Flag Court late in the game:

54_view_from_the_flag_court

Here’s a funky side-view around the edge of the Flag Court:

55_view_from_the_side_of_the_flag_court

Can you spot me in the following photo?

56_zack_going_for_lefty_foul_balls

I had one VERY close call on a foul ball. Basically I had to move 10 feet to my right to get in line with it, and it ended up sailing five feet over my head. If it had been one foot lower, I would’ve jumped, but instead I held my ground and prepared for a bobble or ricochet. No such luck.

The game was still scoreless in the 11th inning:

57_scoreboard_top_of_the_11th_inning

Even though I had to drive back to New York City that night, I really wanted to stay — but let’s just say it wasn’t meant to be. Brandon, Hayley, and I left the stadium in the bottom of the 11th . . .

58_bye_bye_camden_yards

. . . and listened to the rest of the game on the radio. The Angels ended up winning, 1-0, in 13 innings, which was good. The longest game I’ve ever been to was 17 innings, so if this one had lasted longer, I would’ve been pissed to miss it.

Here are the 10 balls that I snagged:

59_ten_baseballs_07_31_14

I feel kinda bad about not giving any of them away to kids. That’s something I do at nearly every game I attend, but hey . . . two days earlier at Citi Field, I gave away four, and the day after this game, I gave away two, so I think I’m doing pretty well overall.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 baseballs at this game

• 350 balls in 50 games this season = 7 balls per game.

• 541 lifetime balls in 58 games at Camden Yards = 9.33 balls per game.

• 1,016 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 249 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 7,526 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.)

• 20 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.62 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.20 raised at this game

• $567.00 raised this season

• $39,231.00 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

7/23/14 at Yankee Stadium

The highlight of the day was snagging my 7,500th baseball — a toss-up from some random trainer-lookin’ guy on the Rangers. Here I am with it after batting practice:

zack_with_ball7500

That was my sixth of seven balls. My first of the day had been thrown by Adrian Beltre, the last was tossed by Rougned Odor, and the other four were BP homers by the Rangers, three of which I caught on the fly.

The lowlight of the day (other than getting into a shouting match with an old guy during BP who yanked my arm down to prevent me from reaching for a ball) was misjudging Brett Gardner’s home run in the 3rd inning. I should’ve caught it, but instead managed to maneuver myself out of position. It was horrendously dumb . . . but the Yankees’ grounds crew seemed to be even dumber. Check out the following photo:

lots_of_rain_07_23_14

When it started raining in the bottom of the 5th inning, I got caught in traffic on the stairs, and before I made it into the tunnel, I took a quick peek back at the field. It appeared that the crew was pulling the tarp *off* the infield and moving it into the outfield.

WTF?!

A minute or two later, it was raining so hard that they couldn’t move it back onto the infield. As a result (and as you can see in the photo above), the dirt turned into a muddy lake.

It wasn’t supposed to rain for long, but I took off. I figured the field was so messed up that it would take the crew an hour to fix it — if it could even be played on at all. And I was right. As it turned out, the game was going to resume at around 10pm, but then the managers came out and inspected the field and were like, “Nope, not gonna happen.” Here’s an article and video about the tarp incident on MLB.com.

As for me, I’ve now been to 46 games this season and snagged 325 balls. That’s a decent total, but I’m not too happy about my lack of game home runs. I’ve only gotten two, which is pretty lame. I’m thinking about traveling to Chicago and/or San Diego to snag some commemorative balls, but I’m not sure if it’ll happen.

Amazing article in “The New Yorker”

new_yorker_06_23_14aThere’ve been lots of articles written about me over the years, none worse than last season’s profile in The New Yorker. The guy who wrote it went out of his way to make me look bad, so when my family learned six months ago that the magazine was planning to publish a much bigger story about us and our book store, we were all a bit nervous. Fast-forward to the present. The new story is out, and let’s just say the magazine redeemed itself (and then some). I hope you’ll read the entire article, but if your time is limited and you just want to check out the part about me, scroll all the way to the bottom and look for the portion highlighted in pink. Here are the first two of 12 pages:

new_yorker_06_23_14b

In the photo above (which, as the caption says, was taken in the 1980s), that’s my mom on the left of the center fold. The other four people are my aunts and grandparents.

Here are pages 3-4:

new_yorker_06_23_14c

Here are pages 5-6:

new_yorker_06_23_14d

Here are pages 7-8:

new_yorker_06_23_14e

Here are pages 9-10:

new_yorker_06_23_14f

Here’s the part about me on pages 11-12:

new_yorker_06_23_14g

The end!

Huge thanks to The New Yorker and to writer Janet Malcolm for the positive coverage.

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