4/26/16 at Comerica Park

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

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

HELL.
YES.

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

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

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

This guy:

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

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Meanwhile, look where my friend Muneesh was:

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

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

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

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Here’s Tigers manager Brad Ausmus hitting a fungo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here I am snagging my second ball:

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

Just after posing for this photo . . .

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

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

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Comerica Park has some quirky features and angles:

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

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

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

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Here I am a little while later:

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

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

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

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

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I ended up snagging that ball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what it looked like behind the dugout:

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

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

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

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

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And *then* I snagged a foul ball:

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Yep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here I am with Bill late in the game:

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This was my view for righties:

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

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

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

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

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 baseballs at this game

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

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

• 1,180 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,761 total balls

On a final note, my fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

4/25/16 at Comerica Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5_muneesh_interviewing_us_for_his_podcast

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

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

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And this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Guilford College in the hooouuuuse!)

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

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

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

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Look who also headed out that way:

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

Here I am running for a ball:

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I didn’t snag that one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It was nice to have gotten a variety of baseballs:

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

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

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So sad.

Here I am climbing over a row of seats:

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I didn’t get that ball either.

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

Here we are after BP, holding up our baseballs:

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Poor Muneesh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

While watching Kendall Graveman warming up . . .

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

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

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

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Congrats to Brandon — that was his first ball ever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the two gamers that I had gotten:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yeah.

But back to the baseballs . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

48_bill_and_zack_outside_stadium

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

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

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

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

• 1,179 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,751 total balls

On a final note, my fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

4/14/16 at Globe Life Park

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

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

1_zack_outside_stadium_04_14_16

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

2_zack_with_foam_finger_and_large_ball

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

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

3_waiting_to_enter_parking_lot

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

4_fans_waiting_to_enter_globe_life_park

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

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

5_ball8675_thrown_by_ian_desmond

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

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

6_glove_trick_for_ball8676

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

7_zack_catching_ball8677

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

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

8_ball8678_in_the_visitors_bullpen

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

9_glove_trick_for_ball8678

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

10_glove_trick_for_ball_8679

That brought my total for the day to five.

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

11_orioles_playing_catch_04_14_16

That was a waste of time.

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

12_view_from_center_field_04_14_16

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

13_berm_on_my_left_04_14_16

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

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

14_zack_catching_ball_8681

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

15_zack_catching_ball8682

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

16_zack_catching_ball8682

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

17_zack_catching_ball8682

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

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

18_zack_catching_ball8683

I handed that ball to a little kid:

19_zack_handing_ball8683_to_a_kid

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

20_zack_catching_ball8684

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

21_zack_tossing_ball8684_to_a_kid

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

22_zack_tossing_ball8685_to_a_kid

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

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

23_ball8686_hiding_in_the_seats

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

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

24_glove_trick_for_ball_8687

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

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

25_zach_with_signed_baseball

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

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

26_zack_with_kids_books_autographs

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

27_zack_with_rangers_season_ticket_rep

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

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

28_new_netting_behind_the_dugout

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

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

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

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

29_dugout_netting_from_afar

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

This was my view during the game:

30_view_during_game_from_center_field

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

Here’s a panorama from that spot:

31_panorama_from_center_field

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

This was the view on my right:

32_view_on_my_right_04_14_16

The cheerleaders were busy in the 6th inning:

33_cheerleaders_running_on_the_berm

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

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

34_balls_in_orioles_bullpen

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

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

35_concession_gate_stuck_after_game

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

36_empty_right_field_seats_after_game

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

37_right_field_foul_pole

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

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

38_trent_and_zack_at_waffle_house

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

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

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

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

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

• 1,172 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,687 total balls

On a final note, my fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

9/19/07 at Chase Field

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

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

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

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

1_hidden_ball

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

2_hidden_ball_closeup

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

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

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

3_bill_johnsons_big_apple

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

4_spring_training_field

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

Hmm.

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

On the way to Chase Field . . .

5_chase_field_from_afar

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

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

6_ball_spotting_mirror_device

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

7_zack_going_for_the_ball

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

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

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

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

8_ticket_windows_outside_chase_field

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

9_diamondbacks_on_the_field

Soon after, batting practice was underway.

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

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

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

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

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

“Just come on down!” he yelled nervously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11_eric_byrnes_red_socks

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

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

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

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

13_left_field_during_batting_practice_09_19_07

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

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

14_ball3237_location

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

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

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

15_guard_who_gave_me_ball3239

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

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

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

“Thanks,” he said.

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

“Really?” he asked.

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

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

I had half an hour to kill . . .

16_zack_standing_around

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

17_chase_field_rotunda

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

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

18_ball3240_being_used

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

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

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

19_chris_snyder_autograph

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

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

20_crappy_seating_diagram

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

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

21_view_behind_1b_dugout_09_19_07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25_zack_21st_ball_of_day

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 490 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 733 lifetime balls outside of New York

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

• 72 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

Competition Factor of 899,955 = new record.

• 21 balls at one game = new record.

• 35 balls in two consecutive games = new record.

• 47 balls in three consecutive games = new record.

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

• 3,243 total balls

4/13/16 at Coors Field

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

1_my_ride_to_coors_field

Best.
Car.
Ever.

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

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

2_traffic_outside_coors_field

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

3_lines_outside_coors_field_04_13_16

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

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

4_robert_harmon_during_bp_04_13_16

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

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

5_zack_standing_around_during_bp_04_13_16

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

6_zack_in_left_field_concourse

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

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

7_other_ran_running_back

Yeah, THAT’S how far it went.

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

8_zack_catching_hunter_pence_homer

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

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

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

9_right_field_seats_04_13_16

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

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

10_zack_tracking_giants_homer

. . . and here’s the second:

11_zack_elevating_for_the_catch

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

That one felt good.

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

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

12_zack_and_caroline

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

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

13_rooftop_lounge_area

Look how much open space there is:

14_rooftop_standing_room

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

15_dan_mike_robert

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

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

16_rooftop_pergola

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

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

17_view_from_the_rooftop

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

Here’s one of The Rooftop’s bars:

18_rooftop_bar

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

19_view_from_the_rooftop

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

This was my view during the game:

20_view_during_game_04_13_16

Speaking of space, look at this glorious aisle:

21_view_to_my_left_04_13_16

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

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

22_view_from_coors_field_upper_deck_photo_by_brandon_sloter

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

23_zack_after_missing_nolan_arenado_homer

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

UNREAL.

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

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

<sigh>

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

24_earthman_the_beer_vendor

Here I am with Dan and Emily:

25_dan_emily_zack_04_13_16

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

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

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

26_view_from_left_center_field_04_13_16

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

27_cross_aisle_in_left_center_field

Oh, and here’s even more space:

28_cross_aisle_and_new_outfield_wall

Pardon me while I sob uncontrollably for five minutes.

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

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

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

29_scoreboard_04_13_16

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

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

30_exiting_through_the_special_concourse

I got one last peek at the field:

31_final_sneak_peek_at_the_field

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

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

UPDATE: Here’s the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

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

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

• 1,171 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,674 total balls

On a final note, my fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

4/12/16 at Safeco Field

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

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

1_fans_outside_safeco_field_right_field_gate

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

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

2_rex_and_his_son_tyler

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

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

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

3_batting_practice_not_yet_underway

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

4_ball8648_fungo_past_dae_ho_lee

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

5_ball8649_from_robinson_cano

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

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

6_empty_party_deck

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

7_ball8650_from_mike_montgomery

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

8_ball8650_commemorative_spring_training

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

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

9_ball8651_from_vidal_nuno

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

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

10_jay_didion_and_zack

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

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

11_ball8652_glove_trick

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

12_ball8653_from_hisashi_iwakuma

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

13_ball8654_robinson_cano_homer

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

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

14_ball8655_from_joel_peralta

In case it’s not clear what was happening:

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

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

Here’s where I started:

15_zack_party_deck_from_above

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

16_ball8657_tossup_in_center_field

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

17_gap_in_front_of_the_party_deck

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

18_ball8659_from_cole_hamels

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

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

19_ball8660_from_tony_barnette

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

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

20_rangers_pitchers_in_center_field

I figured out later that it was Tony Barnette.

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

21_ball8662_from_a_ballboy

Phew!!

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

22_ballboy_pakcing_up_balls

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

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

23_max_luke_zack_hannah

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

24_three_commemorative_spring_training_balls

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

24b_zack_and_maxine

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

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

25_derek_holland_warming_up

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

26_ball8663_derek_holland_warmup_ball_tossed_by_brad_holman

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

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

27_ball8664_in_mid_air_thrown_by_elvis_andrus

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

28_zack_with_ball8664

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

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

29_fifteen_baseballs

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

30_upper_deck_photo_taken_by_brandon_sloter

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

31_view_during_game_04_12_16

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

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

32_ball8665_franklin_gutierrez_foul_ball

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

Look who caught a foul ball the following inning:

33_rex_and_a_foul_ball_he_caught

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

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

34_ball8666_another_foul_ball

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

35_zack_with_two_foul_balls

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

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

36_ball8667_in_mid_air_thrown_by_doug_brocail

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

Here’s my 20th ball of the day:

37_ball8667_20th_of_the_day

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

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

38_rex_flexing_baseball_tattoo

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

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

39_zack_tyler_rex_with_baseballs

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

Here are the 10 balls that I ended up keeping:

40_the_ten_balls_i_kept_04_12_16

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

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

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

• 1,170 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

 290 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

 18 lifetime games with 20 or more balls

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

8,667 total balls

On a final note, my fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

Thanks for reading! More soon . . .

4/11/16 at the Oakland Coliseum

This was my first trip to Raider Stadium since 2013, and it was just as beautiful as I remembered:

1_outside_the_oakland_coliseum

That might be a joke. Or maybe not. I happen to enjoy old/funky stadiums that’re designed badly, but I also recognize the shortcomings.

My friend Brandon Sloter — a professional videographer — was with me to get footage for my YouTube channel. That’s my new project: to do a ballhawking video in every major league stadium. Last year he filmed me at Miller Park, Kauffman StadiumBusch Stadium, and U.S. Cellular Field. In 2014 we did videos at PETCO Park and Wrigley Field. In 2012 he filmed me at Dodger Stadium, and I did a video with someone else at Fenway Park. This game at the Oakland Coliseum was going to be my 9th stadium on video. It was also the first of four cities that we’d be visiting in four days, followed by Seattle, Denver, and Arlington.

Phew!

Here I am standing outside Gate MM with a few other fans . . .

2_zack_standing_outside_the_coliseum_photo_by_brandon_sloter

. . . and here’s a group photo:

3_zack_posing_with_fans_outside_photo_by_brandon_sloter

In the photo above, the guy wearing shorts is my best friend in Oakland — a fellow ballhawk named Nick Badders, who has snagged more than 200 balls. (Check out his MyGameBalls.com profile.) The guy in the gray jersey is named Taylor, the gentleman wearing blue sleeves is Koji, and the fan in Angels gear is Warren. They were all really cool and made me feel welcomed.

Batting practice was a disaster. I spent most of my time in left field . . .

4_view_from_left_field_during_bp_04_11_16

. . . and there wasn’t much action. It didn’t help that the stadium opened just 90 minutes before game time. The A’s had already finished hitting by the time I ran inside, and the Angels didn’t hit many balls into the seats.

Here’s a screen shot from Brandon’s video that shows me catching my ONLY ball during batting practice:

5_zack_catching_ball8643

Here’s a closeup of the ball:

6_ball8643

I was hoping to snag a commemorative “AZ” Spring Training ball, but I didn’t see any in use. You may recall that I got the “FL” version on 4/6/16 at Yankee Stadium. That’s actually a big reason that I booked this west coast trip so early in the season. I *really* wanted one of the “AZ” balls and figured there might still be a few floating around.

By the way, my lone BP ball here in Oakland was thrown by Joe Smith. After I caught it, I turned to the camera and said, “It should not have taken me twenty-seven minutes to get a baseball, but I’m gonna blame the stadium and not myself. This is a tough place. Much respect to the ballhawks who are here regularly because these are some tough conditions.”

Being filmed for YouTube is stressful, especially when I’m only at a stadium for one day. Finishing BP with just one lousy toss-up was not what I envisioned, but oh well. The videos are meant to show what it’s like to ballhawk at various stadiums, so if a particular venue turns out to be crap, the world might as well know about it.

After BP, I caught up with a guy named George who seriously might be my No. 1 fan. Here we are:

7_zack_and_george_photo_by_brandon_sloter

Quite simply, he was VERY happy to meet me. He knew all about my collection and blog and videos and even asked for personal advice based on some non-baseball stuff he had seen on my website. He also asked me to sign a ball which he had gotten during BP. Really nice guy. I’m glad to have crossed paths with him. And check out that slick/red A’s cap! I’d never seen one like that — perfect for blending in with the Angels in town.

A little while later, Nick (pictured below in the Cody Ross jersey) led me down to the right field foul line:

8_nick_leading_us_down_to_the_field

Back in 2013, I’d met the super-friendly bullpen security guard, and now I was looking forward to catching up with him. According to Nick, there was an extra reason for me to go see this guy. Supposedly he had something for me — “a surprise” of some sort.

I followed Nick all the way down to the front row, and sure enough, the guard, whose name is Mark, greeted me warmly and handed me a little paper gift bag. I was overjoyed when I peeked inside and pulled this out:

10_arizona_spring_training_commemorative_ball

WOW!!!

From reading my blog and following me on Twitter, Nick knew how much I wanted one of those balls, so what did he do? He asked Mark to save one for me and told him when I’d be there. Amazing. Nick also knew that he couldn’t personally give me a ball because it wouldn’t count in my collection. The rule that I’ve always followed is that I can only count a ball if it comes from someone who plays or works for the team or at the stadium — basically, anyone who’s paid to be there. Therefore, fans can’t give me baseballs for my collection (a young fan had actually offered me a brand-new “AZ” ball during BP, and I politely declined), but balls that come from stadium employees *do* count. So there you have it. HUGE thanks to both Nick and Mark. Here I am with them:

9_nick_mark_zack_with_ball8644_photo_by_brandon_sloter

In addition to the ball, Mark also gave me an autographed baseball card . . . of himself! Check it out:

11_baseball_card_of_mark_the_security_guard

I love it.

My third ball of the day was given to me unexpectedly by Angels starter Nick Tropeano. In fact, I wasn’t even paying attention to him when he walked toward the bullpen after playing catch in the outfield. Keep in mind that the bullpens here in Oakland are actually on the field. See the slanted bullpen roof in the photo above? Well, Tropeano dropped/placed the ball in front of me, and it rolled right down, practically into my arms. At that instant, I didn’t fully realize what had happened because I was talking to someone. The fan next to me could have reached over and snatched the ball, but instead he resisted the urge, and he let me have it. That was very kind of him, and the only reason he backed off is that he recognized me. His name is Ryan, and you’ll see photos of him later in the entry.

Somehow I’d stumbled my way into snagging three baseballs, two of which had entered my possession simply because of other people’s generosity.

Only two pairs of Angels played catch before the game:

12_angels_pregame_throwing_04_11_16

With no one else’s help, I got Yunel Escobar to throw me a ball as he jogged toward the dugout. In the following screen shot, the ball appears as a blurred streak, but you can still see it:

13_zack_catching_ball8646

That was my fourth ball of the day.

This will probably sound crazy, but I don’t care: I’d purchased two tickets for myself — one on either side of home plate — so that I could move back and forth for righties and lefties and maximize my chances of snagging a foul ball. (I’ll have you know that those two tickets combined cost much less than my single ticket at Yankee Stadium, so whatever. I hadn’t been to Oakland in three years, and there was no telling when I’d be back, so why not splurge a little, right?)

This was my view for left-handed batters:

14_foul_ball_view_for_lefties

At one point, when I was on the 1st-base side of home plate and getting ready to run back over to the 3rd-base side, Ryan (who was also positioned in the 2nd deck with his glove) asked me to sign one of his baseballs. Want to guess what happened next? Another fan asked me to sign his hat, and then a girl asked me to sign her ticket, and while that was happening, a left-handed batter hit a foul ball RIGHT to the spot where I would’ve been. I don’t blame these other people, though. I blame myself, and I blame the universe. Anyway, here they are — Ryan on the left, Max in the middle, and Lacey on the right:

15_generous_fan_named_ryan_with_zack_hample_autograph

They were all very friendly, and I was glad to spend a few minutes with them.

Brandon, meanwhile, was wandering around in the upper deck taking photos. Check out this one:

16_view_from_upper_deck_photo_by_brandon_sloter

Huge crowd, huh?

Brandon posts lots of baseball photos on his Instagram. You should follow him. And while you’re at it, you should follow me on there too. I haven’t posted anything yet, but who knows? Maybe I will, and you’ll be sad if you miss it.

In the top of the 4th inning, with Sonny Gray on the mound, I grabbed a Daniel Nava foul ball that whizzed 10 feet over my head and deflected down to me off an empty seat.

17_ball8647_daniel_nava_foul_ball_off_sonny_gray

This was my 163rd lifetime foul ball during a major league game, not counting toss-ups. I guess I can’t be pissed at the universe after all.

An inning later, I found myself sitting with the A’s roving TV reporter:

18_zack_and_sideline_reporter_kara_tsuboi

Ryan had told her to interview me. And she did . . . between innings. (Sometimes it IS, in fact, that easy.) Here’s a screen shot from a video that Nick sent me. It shows me mid-interview on the jumbotron:

19_zack_and_sideline_reporter_kara_tsuboi

Here’s one final photo of me with the reporter, whose name is Kara Tsuboi:

20_zack_and_sideline_reporter_kara_tsuboi

She was very nice and let me give a couple of plugs to Pitch In For Baseball, the charity I’ve been supporting since 2009. Off air, she happened to mention that my segment bumped a kid from being interviewed (I’m such a jerk, right?), so I gave her a ball to bring to the kid. She caught up with me later and said it made his night.

Other than snagging the foul ball, the highlight of the game was seeing Mike Trout BLAST his first homer of the season off Sonny Gray. Here he is touching home plate:

21_mike_trout_scoring_after_hitting_a_home_run_photo_by_brandon_sloter

Click here to see the video of this homer. According to ESPN Home Run Tracker, the ball jumped off the bat at a speed of 111.1 miles per hour and traveled 436 feet.

Here’s a photo of an empty tunnel in the 2nd deck behind home plate:

22_empty_tunnel_in_the_second_deck

Here’s Nick with another ballhawk I had just met for the first time named Sean Cheng:

23_nick_badders_and_sean_cheng

Sean is a great guy. If you have a few minutes, watch this news segment on him. He gets of a ton of foul balls and has an unbelievably positive attitude. (Bonus fact: he works as a groundskeeper for the Giants.)

In the 9th inning, I headed down to the lower level with Nick:

24_zack_and_nick_9th_inning

No one stopped us or asked to see our tickets, and really, why should they have? Look how blissfully empty it was:

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The paid attendance was announced at 13,371, but c’mon, there couldn’t have been more than . . . what, 3,000 fans in the stadium?

Nick and I tried for an umpire ball, but it wasn’t meant to be. All I got after the game was a photo of Mike Trout being interviewed.

26_mike_trout_postgame_interview

<3

Before heading out, I hurried over to the right field bullpen to say goodbye (and another “thank you”) to Mark, the security guard. Nick wandered over there too, as did Ryan and several other young fans who recognized me. Here we are posing for a final group photo:

27_zack_and_fans_after_the_game_photo_by_brandon_sloter

The Angels won the game, 4-1.

Other/final thoughts: (1) The Oakland Coliseum is a tremendous pain in the ass for batting practice, but it’s fun during games. It’s empty and laid-back, the people are friendly, and it’s *great* for snagging foul balls. (2) Brandon is still working on editing the video footage. I decided to blog about the game now rather than wait for him to finish. (3) I love Mike Trout. (4) My entire dinner during the game consisted of two Quest bars. I wish they would sponsor me. (5) Shout-out to Nick’s mom. I met her for the first time, and let’s just say that she’d win most “best mom” competitions. (6) I met Tyler Snyder for the first time at this game. He’s the guy who caught Barry Bonds’ 714th career home run. I enjoyed seeing him in action during BP. (7) Two days before I left for this trip, I had a sore throat and a hint of fever. I was exhausted and felt like crap all day at the Coliseum, but held it together. (8) I think that’s it.

UPDATE: Here’s the YouTube video. Wish I knew how to embed it, but WordPress likes to make everything difficult.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

28_the_four_balls_i_kept_04_11_16• 5 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 14 balls in 3 games this season = 4.67 balls per game.

 59 balls in 9 lifetime games at the Oakland Coliseum = 6.56 balls per game.

• 1,169 consecutive games with at least one ball

 79 different commemorative balls (click here to see my full collection)

8,647 total balls

4/6/16 at Yankee Stadium

My season got underway with a grungy subway ride to Yankee Stadium:

1_approaching_yankee_stadium

There wasn’t a huge crowd outside Gate 6 . . .

2_lines_outside_gate_6

. . . but as luck would have it, my line got held up for five minutes because there were no baskets.

That’s right — baskets! See those little white things on the tables in the photo above? The guards hadn’t yet brought them out to the tables where I was waiting. For some reason, fans are required to place their items *in* the baskets before proceeding through the metal detectors, and since the baskets weren’t there, I had to stand around and watch helplessly as hundreds of people at other lines filed into the stadium.

Here’s what it looked like when I finally made it out to the right field seats:

3_fans_already_in_the_seats

Several minutes later, I got my first ball tossed by Dellin Betances:

4_ball8634_first_of_the_2016_season

I was hoping that the Yankees and/or Astros would be using their leftover Spring Training balls during batting practice. This year, for a change, there were special balls with commemorative logos — one for the Grapefruit League that said “FL” and another from the Cactus League that said “AZ.” I’d seen photos of these balls and really wanted one, and while I certainly could’ve traveled to Florida and Arizona and snagged a whole bunch of them, that wouldn’t have counted toward my collection. I don’t do Spring Training, but if I happen to snag a Spring Training ball at a regular-season game . . . well, that’s a whole nother story. Remember when Heath Bell saved a ball for me from the 2009 World Baseball Classic and tossed it to me on 7/23/09 at Citizens Bank Park? Same deal. I wouldn’t have counted that ball if I’d snagged it at the WBC, but since I got it at a major league stadium during the regular season, it totally counted.

Anyway, I caught a couple of homers during the Astros’ portion of BP, but those were regular balls. The first was hit by Colby Rasmus, and I caught it while climbing down over a row at the back of the section. The other was hit by a righty (no idea who), and I grabbed it “in traffic” as I like to say, meaning there were folks all around me. I handed that ball to the nearest kid and ended up giving away another ball later.

Getting three balls including two homers on the fly might sound good, but I was disappointed. I just wasn’t on my game and missed several other opportunities for various reasons. At one point, for example, I ran to the back of the section for a deep home run, which ended up ricocheting down from the bleachers right to the spot where I’d been standing. A few minutes later, I raced toward the bullpen for a ground-rule double, which I barely missed, and while I was there . . . yup, you guessed it — another one bounced right to my regular spot. I barely missed a third ball by not jumping high enough for yet another ground-rule double. That was particularly frustrating because I could’ve jumped higher. I just didn’t expect it to sail as high as it did, and I only whiffed by a few inches. The most infuriating moment came when I scurried for a home run that landed in an empty row, cupped it against the folded-up portion of a seat, and had it yanked out of my hand by a fellow who, let’s say, could probably have a decent career as a sumo wrestler. No chance to compete with that. But whatever. I was still in a good mood overall. It was nice just to be at a baseball game after a five-month hiatus.

Here I am posing with a couple of guys who recognized me from Barstool Sports:

5_zack_selfie_with_barstool_fans

The guy on the right had handed me his phone and asked me to take a selfie with them in the background. It seemed like a fun idea, so I took a similar photo with my camera.

These guys also recognized me:

6_nice_guys_who_recognized_me

They were really nice and asked a zillion questions.

Not everyone was friendly, however. Later in the evening, one guy shouted, “Your sports blog sucks!” as he walked past me, and another guy, who must have boycotted the news starting last June, yelled, “Boooo!! You stole money from A-Rod!!”

Umm, okayyyy.

Before the game started, security wouldn’t let me hang out next to the visitors’ bullpen, so in order to say hello to the Astros’ friendly bullpen catchers, Javier Bracamonte and Carlos Munoz, I had to head up to the bleachers. Look who I ran into there:

7_chris_hernandez_miserable

That’s my friend and fellow ballhawk Chris Hernandez, and if you think he looks miserable, you’re right! Not only was it stupid-cold, but he’s never too thrilled, it seems, about being at this stadium.

Guess what he showed me? A Spring Training baseball that he’d gotten from a coach. A few minutes later, I asked Bracamonte if he had another, and he hooked me up! Check it out:

8_2016_spring_training_ball

That made my day.

Officially, the game-time temperature was 43 degrees, but according to AccuWeather.com, the “Real Feel” temperature was only 31 degrees. Now that you know that, look at this guy:

9_you_gonna_be_cold

Was he dumb or showing off? Or both? Look at the person sitting on his left. Look at everyone else in that photo. Nearly everyone was bundled up and wearing a hat or a hood, and he was in shorts and a t-shirt. (And eating sushi. At a stadium. So yeah, dumb. I’m gonna be all snooty for a moment and say that I’ve eaten fresh sushi in Japan, and yes, there’s a huuuuge difference in quality.)

This was my view during the game:

10_view_during_game

Soon after I took that photo, some creeper took a lousy pic of me and tweeted it:

10b_creeper_photo_04_06_16

You know what wasn’t sited/sighted? Quality pitching. It took an hour and 45 minutes to play the first three innings, and here’s why:

11_slugfest_17_runs_in_3_innings

In case you’re bad at math, that’s a total of 17 runs. The game was moving so slowly that I had time to photograph random mystery objects:

14_mystery_object_on_railing

Seriously, what is that thing on the railing? There was another one near the front row, and I spotted them on the railings in other staircases too. I tweeted about it during the game. Most people guessed that those things have something to do with WiFi, but I’m not convinced.

Thankfully the pace picked up in the later innings, but because of the weather and lopsided score, the seats had pretty much cleared out:

12_empty_seats_late_in_the_game

All that room didn’t help me. Over the course of the game, there were six home runs, and none of them came within 100 feet of me. Two of those dingers were hit by the 21-year-old Carlos Correa, who seriously looked like Superman:

13_carlos_correa_for_president

Gotta love his 2.375 OPS. See it posted to the left of the jumbotron? Unfortunately for him, six of his teammates were hitless on the season. See all those goose eggs in the lineup? That’s losing baseball right there. Final score: Yankees 16, Astros 6.

Look what I saw on the subway platform on my way home:

15_rat_on_subway_platform

Shall I zoom in for you?

16_rat_on_subway_platform_closeup

Oh, New York City — what am I gonna do with you?

STATS:

17_the_two_i_kept_04_06_16• 4 baseballs at this game (two pictured here because I gave two away)

 1,209 balls in 174 lifetime games at Yankee Stadium = 6.95 balls per game.

• 1,167 consecutive games with at least one ball

 78 different commemorative balls (click here to see my full collection)

8,637 total balls

Charity prizes — 2016

For the last seven years, I’ve been raising money for a children’s baseball charity called Pitch In For Baseball, and for the last four seasons, I’ve given away a bunch of prizes to the people who’ve donated. I’ve decided to do it again in 2016. Let me start with a quick list of the stuff you can win. Then I’ll show you photos of everything and explain how this is going to work:

1) a commemorative envelope signed by Ernie Banks
2) three baseball cards signed by Chris Chambliss, Doug Drabek, and Mike Greenwell
3) two (unsigned) Larry Doby cards
4) a Jacoby Ellsbury bobblehead
5) a Juan Lagares bobblehead
6) a game-used Target Field commemorative ball
7) a signed copy of Man Versus Ball
8) two Mets rally towels from the 2015 playoffs and World Series
9) six Mets t-shirts
10) two Yankees caps and a commemorative “10,000 wins” patch

Here’s a photo of the Ernie Banks autograph:

ernie_banks_autograph

This special type of commemorative envelope is known in the autograph world as a First Day Cover. Why am I giving it away? Because my family owns an old book store with a large autograph department, and sometimes they give me cool stuff.

These three signed cards also came from the store, and FYI, they’ll be given away as one prize:

three_signed_cards

Here are the Larry Doby cards:

larry_doby_cards

These two cards will be awarded as a single prize.

Here’s the Jacoby Ellsbury bobblehead:

jacoby_ellsbury_bobblehead

That was a giveaway at Yankee Stadium during the 2015 season, and yes, I’ll send it to you in the box with all the packaging. (I think the bobblehead should’ve had him making the same dopey face as his photo on the box, but oh well.)

Here’s the Juan Lagares bobblehead:

juan_lagaras_bobblehead

Here’s the Target Field ball:

target_field_commemorative_ball

This ball was used during a game in 2010. Someone else snagged it and gave it to me for some silly reason — presumably to be nice.

Here’s the copy of Man Versus Ball:

man_versus_ball_signed_copy

I’m friends with the author, Jon Hart. Remember this article he wrote about me two years ago? Anyway, this book isn’t signed yet, but it will be. Jon will personalize it for the winner, so when the time comes, let me know and I’ll pass along your autograph request.

Here are the Mets rally towels:

mets_rally_towel1

The one on the left came from Game 3 of the 2015 NLDS at Citi Field. The one on the right was a giveaway at the World Series. These will be given together as one prize.

Here are the six Mets t-shirts:

mets_t_shirts

These were all given away during “Free Shirt Fridays” at Citi Field in 2015, and they’ve never been worn. All six will be grouped as one prize.

Here are the Yankee caps and commemorative patch:

yankee_caps_and_patch

All three of those items were giveaways last year and will be grouped as one prize.

People who donate money to Pitch In For Baseball through my fundraiser will be eligible to win these prizes — and it’s all based on how many home run balls I snag DURING pifb_logo_04_02_16games over the course of the MLB season. For every dollar per home run ball that you donate, your name will be entered into the drawing; in other words, someone who donates $25 per ball will have five times the odds of winning over someone who donates $5 per ball. The person whose name is picked first will get to pick which prize they want; the person whose name is picked second will get the next choice, and so on. If I had to guess, I’d predict snagging about five game home run balls this season, so if you pledge $1 per ball, that will end up being about a $5 donation. This is not an exact formula, of course, and that’s what makes it fun. It’s highly unlikely that I won’t snag any home runs, but there’s a chance I might only get one or two. There’s also a chance that luck will be on my side and I’ll end up snagging half a dozen or more.

For those who don’t know, Pitch In For Baseball is a non-profit charity that provides baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Check out their website and follow them on Twitter. They’re the ones who received $150,000 from the Yankees last year after I snagged and returned A-Rod’s 3,000th career hit . . . remember?

Finally, if you’d like to make a pledge, click here to get started. You’ll see that it looks different now; Pitch In For Baseball has partnered with an organization called PLEDGE IT, so that’s who will be handling your donations. Thanks very much for your consideration!

2015 World Series — Game 5

I arrived at the stadium more than four hours before game time, and there were already lots of people milling about:

1_arriving_at_citi_field_11_01_15

The Royals were leading the series three games to one, so it was do-or-die for the Mets. Many fans, of course, seemed nervous, though they wouldn’t admit it. I was just excited for one final baseball hurrah in 2015; this was my 113th game of the season, and regardless of the outcome, it was definitely going to be my last.

My friend Jere (pictured below on the left) was already standing outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda:

2_jere_and_zack_11_01_15

He lives in Rhode Island, so it was great to see him and catch up.

A little while later, he took the following photo of me talking to some friends at the front of the line:

3_zack_talking_to_jeremy_guthrie_11_01_15

Do you recognize the guy on the right with the short hair and striped shirt? That’s Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. Let me explain . . .

In the photo above, the guy wearing the backpack is my friend Tang from Kansas City. He’s a DIEHARD Royals fan and knows a bunch of the players, including Guthrie, whom he happened to see getting off the subway at Citi Field. Tang knew where I’d be, and he knew that I’m friendly with Guthrie and that I wanted to talk to him, so Tang led him to me.

4_zack_and_jeremy_guthrie_11_01_15

I told Guthrie that his teammate Alex Rios had hit me my 5,000th baseball — a BP homer at Rogers Centre back in 2011 when Rios was with the White Sox — and that I’d never been able to get him to autograph it. (Rios is notoriously un-fan-friendly.) Of course I had the ball with me here at Citi Field, just in case, so I asked Guthrie if he could possibly get Rios to sign it for me. He said yes and told me to meet him in right field when the Royals came out for BP; in exchange for this favor, he asked me to bring him a burger and a shake from Shake Shack.

(Yes, really.)

I was overjoyed to have a plan in place, but nervous about missing BP in order to get him food. Thankfully my man Tang offered to hit up Shake Shack so that I’d be free to run around and attempt to snag a few baseballs.

As dusk set in and Guthrie headed off, several fans approached him to say hello and take selfies. Here he is posing for one:

5_fan_taking_selfie_with_jeremy_guthrie

How often do you see people lined up outside a stadium at night? Not very often, which makes this next photo so cool:

6_nighttime_lines_outside_citi_field_11_01_15

When the gates finally opened, I bolted out to the left field seats and quickly got a ball thrown to me by Mets coach Tom Goodwin:

7_ball8631_thrown_by_tom_goodwin

That was a huge relief, and guess what? It was the only ball I got during the Mets’ portion of BP. (Few homers + huge crowd = lousy ballhawking.)

I headed over to right field and caught up with Tang:

8_tang_in_right_field

He’d gotten the food from Shake Shack (which I had paid for), so we were all set.

As for my 5,000th ball, I had traveled to the stadium with it protected by two Ziploc bags:

9_ball5000_in_a_ziploc_bag

Guthrie spotted me from afar and pointed me out to Rios:

10_jeremy_guthrie_telling_alex_rios_about_me

Awesome.

Then he walked over to get the ball from me and also to take a swig of his milkshake, which Tang handed to him from the front row:

11_tang_giving_shake_shack_to_jeremy_guthrie

Two minutes later, this happened:

12_jeremy_guthrie_giving_ball5000_to_alex_rios

On his way back . . .

13_jeremy_guthrie_bringing_ball5000_back_to_me

. . . Guthrie fielded a batted ball and pretended to get mixed up and throw the wrong one back to the bucket. (Hardy-har, Jeremiah!) But of course he brought back the proper ball, and then he posed with it:

14_jeremy_guthrie_holding_ball5000

Here’s a closer look at the signature:

15_ball5000_signed_with_jeremy_guthrie_giving_a_thumb_up_in_the_background

GORGEOUS!!

I love that Guthrie had him write the number “5,000.” Huge thanks to him and to Rios as well. And to Tang! This was a real team effort.

16_jeremy_guthrie_and_tang_posing_with_burgers

When the Royals started hitting, I headed back to the left field seats. Look how crowded it was:

17_left_field_crowded_for_royals_bp_11_01_15

I only managed to get one more ball — a home run by a right-handed batter (no idea who) that I grabbed out of mid-air after it deflected off someone else’s glove.

After BP, I noticed Frank Thomas getting miked up at the FOX Sports booth.

18_frank_thomas_getting_miked

He’s one of my favorite players of all time, so I was glad to see him up close.

Then I got even closer to this guy:

19_alex_rodriguez_signing_from_below

I hadn’t seen A-Rod since our press conference on 7/3/15 at Yankee Stadium, but he still remembered me. He asked how I’d been, and I told him that that ball had changed my life. “For a good cause,” he said. It was hard to hear with so many people screaming for his attention, but it was still nice to have a brief, personal encounter with him.

Speaking of personal encounters . . .

20_woman_in_skimpy_mets_costume

When I first spotted that woman, I assumed she worked for the Mets or perhaps was there as part of some promotion, so I unapologetically asked to take her picture. She happily obliged and then informed me that she was just a fan. Fun stuff.

Look how crowded it was in the left field concourse:

21_crowded_concourse_in_left_field_11_01_15

It took 15 minutes to get from one end to the other.

Tony Bennett sang the national anthem . . .

22_tony_bennett_singing_national_anthem

. . . and before I knew it, Game 5 of the World Series was underway. Edinson Volquez got the start for the Royals, and for the Mets, it was Matt Harvey.

This was my view for most of the night:

23_view_during_game_11_01_15

At various points, everyone was standing:

24_everyone_standing

Well, almost everyone:

25_guy_who_did_not_care

In the bottom of the 1st inning, the Mets jumped out to a 1-0 lead courtesy of a leadoff homer by Curtis Granderson. After that, no one scored until the 6th inning when Lucas Duda brought home Granderson with a sac fly.

Harvey was absolutely dominant. He struck out two batters in the 1st inning and then struck out the side in the 4th and 5th. After eight innings, the Mets were still winning, 2-0, and Harvey had allowed just four hits and a walk on 102 pitches.

The stadium was ready to erupt:

26_security_on_field_late_in_game

What would you have done if you were Mets manager Terry Collins? Stick with Harvey for the 9th inning or bring in All-Star closer Jeurys Familia? Keep in mind that Familia had thrown nine pitches the day before and 11 the day before that.

As a fan of neither the Mets nor Royals, I didn’t need to worry about making the best baseball decision. I just wanted to see a great game and a legendary performance, so of course I hoped to see Harvey come back out for the 9th inning . . . and he did . . . and he sucked. He started by walking Lorenzo Cain on seven pitches. Moments later, Cain stole second and came home on an RBI double by Eric Hosmer.

WHOA!!

At the start of the 9th inning, the Mets were three outs away from forcing the series back to Kansas City, where they’d have Jacob deGrom pitching Game 6 and Noah Syndergaard available for a potential Game 7. In order to have that opportunity, all they had to do now was get three outs without giving up two runs, but thanks to Collins’ decision and Harvey’s pitching, the Royals scored one run and had a runner on 2nd base with no outs!

That’s when Familia entered the game. The first batter he faced, Mike Moustakas, grounded out to the right side of the infield, advancing Hosmer to 3rd. Salvador Perez followed with a weak groundout to 3rd, but that’s all it took to tie the game.

27_scoreboard_9th_inning_blown_save_by_jeurys_familia

Blown save. Harvey’s epic performance wasted. Yet another meltdown by the Mets — and I just knew that the worst was yet to come. I could’ve easily seen Harvey mowing down the Royals in the 9th, but now that they’d tied the game, they were simply NOT going to lose.

There wasn’t a mass exodus of fans at that point, but there was enough shuffling of bodies that I managed to move a few sections over behind the Royals’ dugout. I didn’t head there for the view. I went for one reason only: to try to snag a commemorative, game-used World Series ball.

In the 1st inning of Game 3, I was five feet away from David Wright’s home run ball (which he ended up wanting back), but I didn’t come close to any gamers after that — not during the rest of Game 3 or at any point in Game 4 or during the first nine inning of Game 5. And just to be clear, I reeeeeally wanted one. Not only do I love trying to snag commemorative balls in general, but World Series balls in particular are beautiful (gold stamping) and rare (because they’re not used during BP), and on top of that, this was the first World Series ever played at the new stadium of my childhood favorite team. I was feeling all kinds of feelings, okay? Can we leave it at that?

I’ll cut to the chase. Kelly Johnson popped out to Hosmer to end the 10th inning. Hosmer then chucked the ball to shortstop Alcides Escobar as all the players jogged in, and Escobar ended up tossing it to me!

Check it out:

28_ball8633_thrown_by_alcides_escobar

I love that ball sooooooo much! The word “thrilled” doesn’t even begin to convey how happy I was at that point, so naturally I didn’t want anyone to score after that. I just wanted the game to last forever. I think every baseball fan has felt that way at least once, if not 1,000 times.

I got my wish in the 11th inning. Jon Niese somehow prevented the Royals from scoring in the top of the frame, and all the Mets could muster in the bottom half was a two-out walk by Daniel Murphy (who’s really not that good).

With the score still tied, 2-2, Addison Reed came in to pitch the top of the 12th for the Mets. Salvador Perez greeted him with a leadoff single and was promptly replaced (bold move by Royals manager Ned Yost) by pinch runner Jarrod Dyson, who stole 2nd base.

The next batter, Alex Gordon, worked the count full. That’s when I took the following photo:

29_top_of_the_12th_inning

Gordon, as Moustakas had done three innings earlier, hit a ground ball to the right side in order to advance the runner to 3rd base. THAT’S GOOD FUNDAMENTAL BASEBALL, FOLKS. Pinch hitter Christian Colon followed with a line-drive single to left field to plate Dyson with the go-ahead run.

Hoo-boy.

Paulo Orlando then reached on a fielding error by Murphy (See? I told you. Not that good.) Alcides Escobar kept things moving with an RBI double, and after that, Ben Zobrist was intentionally walked to load the bases. That’s when Bartolo* Colon* entered the game. The next batter, Lorenzo Cain, crushed a three-run double to put the Royals on top, 7-2.

THAT’S when the mass exodus occurred.

I didn’t have any agenda for the end of the game. I didn’t feel the need to try to get another ball, so mainly I just wanted to be close to the action and see it all unfold.

This was the scene in the middle of the 12th inning:

30_security_ready_to_go

Buster Olney was hanging out down below:

31_buster_olney_standing_below

In the bottom of the 12th, the crowd behind the 3rd base dugout was 99 percent Royals fans:

32_royals_rans_ready

Here’s what their celebration looked like:

33_celebration_after_world_series

This was only the second time that I’d seen a World Series end. The other was Game 6 in 2013 at Fenway Park. Very very exciting.

Look who I ran into behind the dugout:

34_zack_and_robin_11_01_15

That’s my ex-girlfriend Robin, who’s actually from Kansas City, so this was a BIG moment for her. Of course she never gave a damn about baseball when we dated, so now that the Royals are good, she’s really into it. Life is dumb.

For the first time ever, Citi Field security wasn’t micromanaging everything. Fans stood on chairs, and the guards let it happen:

35_fans_standing_on_seats

Jarrod Dyson eventually poked his head out of the dugout with the World Series trophy:

36_jarrod_dyson_holding_world_series_trophy

Then he climbed up onto the dugout and high-fived everyone:

37_jarrod_dyson_giving_high_fives_on_the_dugout_roof

Here he is high-fiving my friend Garrett Meyer:

38_garrett_meyer_high_fiving_jarrod_dyson

Garrett currently lives near Kansas City, so I asked him later how far in advance he’d planned his trip. He said, “After the Royals won on Saturday night to go up 3-1 in the series, I was lying down in bed thinking, ‘Man, I can not just stay here while my team wins the World Series,’ so at about midnight, I noticed StubHub prices were tanking and last-minute airfare was reasonable. Seven hours later I was on a plane to New York City, and the rest is history. Believe it or not, the last-minute airfare and tickets at Citi Field still would have been cheaper than StubHub prices for Game 6 and 7 at Kauffman. I met a couple people on the flight that did the same thing. It was pretty cool.”

Here’s another photo of Garrett, this time with Robin and Tang:

39_garrett_robin_tang

A little while later, a pretty cute scene unfolded nearby in the seats:

40_little_kid_interviewed_on_tv

After security finally kicked everyone out, Tang ended up getting interviewed in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda:

41_tang_interviewed_on_tv

Garrett got interviewed too:

42_garrett_interviewed_on_tv

Garrett, if you’re reading this, what did you say that was so funny?

I followed my Royal-loving friends to McFadden’s:

43_robin_garrett_tang_in_mcfaddens

Outside on the street, there was a VERY drunk fan being confrontational with a bunch of cops:

44_drunk_royals_fan_outside_mcfaddens

It went from bad . . .

45_drunk_royals_fan_arrested

. . . to worse for that guy:

46_drunk_royals_restrained_on_a_stretcher

He had lost his hat during the ruckus, and a bunch of Mets fans responded by stomping on it and kicking it around and cursing. That’s why I generally avoid bars. Alcohol turns everyone into a dick, but hey, enough with the negativity. It was a great night.

47_pumpkin_carved_with_baseball_stitches

Garrett took a final photo of us before we headed to the subway:

48_garrett_robin_tang_zack_final_photo_outside_the_stadium

Did you notice that our group had gained a member? The gentleman at the back wearing the visor is a Royals superfan named Chris Coats. He and Tang are friends. Google him. Interesting stuff.

Here are the three baseballs that I snagged at this game:

49_the_three_balls_i_snagged_11_01_15

It’s hard to believe that the Royals are now the team to beat. Seriously, how did that happen?

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 3 baseballs at this game

• 827 balls in 113 games this season = 7.32 balls per game.

 1,289 balls in 175 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.37 balls per game.

 154 balls in 30 lifetime postseason games = 5.13 balls per game.

 50 balls in 12 lifetime World Series games = 4.17 balls per game.

• 1,166 consecutive games with at least one ball

 77 different commemorative balls (click here to see my full collection)

8,633 total balls

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