6/16/16 at PETCO Park

My day started with good food and great company:

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That’s Heath Bell and his son Reece.

(For those who are new to this blog, I became friendly with Heath in 2005. Now he lives in San Diego, and sometimes we hang out.)

After the meal, we drove to their new house, and they showed me all the massive renovations that are being done. One thing that didn’t need any work was the trampoline in the backyard, so of course I jumped around for a bit:

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After spending half an hour there, we headed to their current/soon-to-be-former house. Here’s Heath with his other son Rhet:

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The highlight of my day was playing catch out in the street:

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I’m always happy to play baseball, but in this case, I was downright excited to throw with a former All-Star closer (who, by the way, still HAS IT). Here he is throwing a wicked knuckleball to me:

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We were just getting loose at that point . . .

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. . . but it wasn’t long before he dialed it up.

Despite being two years removed from his MLB career, he was recently clocked at 94 miles per hour! (He coaches youth baseball and throws/pitches BP all the time, and of course the weather is always good in San Diego, so his arm has stayed strong.) Why doesn’t he attempt a comeback? Because he’d rather be with his family. It’s that simple.

Here I am catching one of Heath’s faster throws, which he estimated at 85 to 90mph:

6_zack_catching_a_very_fast_throw

This was my reaction:

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You might think you throw hard, so let me just say that if you can’t actually HEAR the ball cutting through the air, your arm is crap. (To be fair, my arm is crap.)

I don’t usually worry about my safety when playing catch, but this was indeed one of those rare times. The only other example that comes to mind is when I threw with a 6-foot-6 monster / former minor league pitcher named Leon Feingold in a small gymnasium with baseball-colored walls. There’s almost something non-human about how the ball explodes out of a professional pitcher’s hand.

I was hoping that Heath and Reece would join me at PETCO, but the young man had an All-Star Game to play in, so Heath had the audacity to choose that instead. Here were are together in the street:

8_zack_and_heath_bell

He told me we could catch up again at the MLB All-Star Game if I made it back out to San Diego, but at that point, I wasn’t sure about my plans.

As for PETCO Park, look at this nonsense:

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What’s wrong with that, you ask? Here’s what it used to look like. There used to be a ton of open space. Now it’s a huge two-tiered party deck, the lower portion of which is completely inaccessible to fans with normal tickets. As a result, this was as close as I could get to the field for the first half-hour:

10_zack_on_the_new_crappy_party_deck

Oh look! Someone took my picture from afar:

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Did you notice the barricades in the previous two photos? All they seemed to do was get in people’s way and piss off the usher who had to keep fixing them. Here’s what I’m talking about:

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Just so you know, I was NOT the person who kept knocking them down. The culprit was a drunk, aggressive man who charged forward whenever a player tossed a ball into the crowd, but still, what a dopey setup.

I always used to snag a few baseballs during that half-hour chunk of time in the area formerly known as “The Beach,” but not surprisingly, I got a grand total of ZERO on the party deck. Even though I live on the other side of the country, I’m extremely bummed about this change to the stadium.

Here’s how I got my first ball of the day:

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That’s Nationals bullpen coach Dan Firova throwing it to me, and check it out — I threw it right back:

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We played catch for a solid minute or two, and then he let me keep the ball.

After that, I got miked up for a TV interview on ABC News:

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The guy doing the miking/filming is named Steve Smith. Is it even worth mentioning that he’s extremely friendly and laid-back, or is everyone in San Diego born that way? Steve and I have a mutual friend, and we’ve done several segments together in the past. Here he is getting another shot of me:

16_zack_interviewed_by_steve_smith

A little while later, when the Nationals were playing catch along the left field foul line, one of their throws sailed high and landed in the seats. I retrieved that ball and handed it to a little kid.

Over the years, I had averaged more than 10 balls per game at PETCO, but I didn’t come close to that number on this particular day. The seats were crowded, and there just wasn’t much action. Here’s what it looked like from left field:

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This was the view to my right:

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The last time I visited PETCO, those first two rows weren’t there. See that red thing draped over the dark blue concrete ledge? THAT is where the outfield wall used to be. The extra seats, however, didn’t help me one bit, though I’m sure I’d get some extra baseballs if I spent several days here.

During the middle group of Nationals BP, I headed out to right field and didn’t get anything there. Once again, it was crowded, and there wasn’t much action, so I gave up on that area and hurried to the 2nd deck in left field. I managed to get one ball there during the final group, thrown by coach Nilson Robledo.

Let’s talk about the 2nd deck for a moment, shall we? Click here to see what it USED TO look like. (Did you click that link? I’m not messing around here. You need to do that.) See all that lovely space? Yeah. Here’s what it looks like now:

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Here’s another photo, taken down in front:

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Yikes.

There are so many seats crammed into that spot that it’s impossible to move, not just for baseballs, but like . . . at all. Is it against the rules now to get up and use the bathroom?

After wandering all around the 2nd deck and imagining where balls would land during the Home Run Derby, I said goodbye to Steve and caught up with these guys:

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That’s Leigh Barratt (aka “Padre Leigh”) on the left and Rick Gold on the right — two good friends and talented ballhawks.

Ready to see my dinner?

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YEEEEOW!!! I was good for the rest of the night after eating that.

This was my view from right field during the game:

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There’s standing room built right into the cross-aisle. I love that spot.

Do you remember this guy from my previous visits to San Diego?

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His name is Ismael, and he’s *always* there. He has only missed a handful of games since the stadium opened in 2004.

Here’s an equally diehard fan, who really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really REALLY likes Wil Myers:

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She shrieks (like, for real) whenever Myers steps to the plate, and yes, you can pretty much hear it no matter where you are in the stadium.

As the innings rolled by, I didn’t expect to snag any more baseballs, and you know what? That was fine. I was enjoying hanging out in right field with the PETCO Park regulars — almost taking a “night off” from the normal grind, if you will.

My attitude changed with two outs in the top of the 6th. That’s when Anthony Rendon hit a home run to left-center field, which appeared to ricochet out of the seats and drop down into the gap beside the bullpen. I waited for a moment to figure out what had happened. Several fans were peering down over the wall, so the ball had to be there.

And . . . ?

No one had a ball retriever, and I didn’t see the ball get tossed up. That’s when I decided to run over.

If an usher had asked to see my ticket in left-center field, that would’ve been the end of it for me. There wouldn’t have been any way around that, but this wasn’t New York. The Padres were in last place, and the stadium was half-empty, and no one noticed or cared when I headed down into that section. Here’s what I saw:

26_anthony_rendon_home_run_ball_in_the_gap

Wow.

I asked a father and son sitting near me if that was the Rendon home run ball, and they said yeah. (For my own peace of mind, I just had to make sure.)

My goal was simple: use the glove trick to reel it in.

Some ballhawks count home run balls that are tossed to them, but I don’t. I only count mine if I get them unassisted. That means I either have to catch them on the fly or grab them in the seats or . . . that’s right, use the glove trick. In all my years of doing this, I had successfully used the trick twice for game balls — once for a David Justice ground-rule double at SkyDome in 2000 and another time for a Justin Upton homer at Citi Field in 2014. I also used the trick unsuccessfully on 9/10/11 at Comerica Park. That’s when I accidentally knocked a Joe Mauer homer off a platform into the bullpen; I ended up getting the ball tossed to me by a security guard, which effectively nullified it. Yes, I’m still pissed about it. Yes, this self-imposed rule is completely arbitrary. Yes, I’m going to get on with the story of the Rendon homer.

I set up my device and waited until the moment felt right. That turned out to be when someone started heading over from the Padres’ bullpen. I think it was Griffin Benedict, the bullpen catcher, but anyway, I basically had to get my glove down over the ball before he got there and picked it up, but unfortunately the ball was a bit too far out. Still, he was intrigued enough by the device that he stood there and watched me swing it out in an attempt to move the ball closer. It seemed like he was going to let me get it . . . until he started kicking dirt on it in order to bury it! Thankfully he was only joking, and he did ultimately let me get it. Here I am with the ball in my glove:

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Here’s the ball itself — my 43rd lifetime game home run:

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Stadium security had a brief word with me after that, but it was nothing serious. They didn’t confiscate the ball. They didn’t eject me. They just asked me not to do it again, which was surprising given how many times I had used the trick at this stadium in the past, including this ball in the very same spot while a security guard spectated.

Here’s the father and son who had confirmed that the ball was THE ball:

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Their names are Tom (on the left) and Braden (on the right). Nice guys. And hello, photo-bombers in the back. I see you. You want to be in the photo? How about some closeups so everyone can see just how beautiful you are:

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I should mention that by snagging the Rendon home run ball, I helped raise an additional $123.77 for the charity Pitch In For Baseball. This season, all of my game home run balls are supporting the cause and helping kids play ball. Here’s more info about my fundraiser in case you’d like to get involved.

Back in right field, I caught up with my buddy Franklin:

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He’s one of the friendliest stadium employees I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (and he knows a TON about baseball).

Did you notice the All-Star logo on his shirt? Hmm . . .

With one out remaining in the game, I photographed the new party deck in right-center:

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It looks snazzy, but I can’t help feeling sad about what used to be there.

Here’s what the right field cross-aisle looks like:

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Let’s hope that never gets filled in with additional seating.

Final score: Nationals 8, Padres 5.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

34_the_three_baseballs_i_kept_06_16_16 4 baseballs at this game (three pictured here because I gave one away)

 387 balls in 47 games this season = 8.23 balls per game.

• 146 balls in 14 lifetime games at PETCO Park = 10.43 balls per game.

1,213 consecutive games with at least one ball

 43 lifetime game home run balls (not counting balls that were thrown to me); click here for the complete list

 9,020 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 14 donors for my fundraiser

• $123.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $618.85 raised this season

• $191,122.51 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/15/16 at Angel Stadium

It had been three years since BIGS Sunflower Seeds sent me to Angel Stadium. Now I was back with my videographer, Brandon Sloter, to do a ballhawking video for my YouTube Channel. Here I am doing the opening shot in the parking lot:

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(Guilford College in the houuuse!)

By the time the stadium opened, there was quite a crowd outside the gates:

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Do you recognize that guy in the photo above? (No, I’m not talking about Mike Trout high up on the wall in the background.) That’s my friend and fellow ballhawk Devin Trone. Whenever I attend games in Anaheim or Los Angeles, he’s there — same deal with Home Run Derbies and All-Star Games — so it was nice to catch up with him.

After making a quick stop near the left field foul pole . . .

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. . . I headed out to left-center field.

My indecision cost me a baseball.
This stadium drives me crazy.
Look at this challenging setup:

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Whether trying to catch a baseball or just watch the game, it’s awfully frustrating when the front row is 50 feet away from the field. Dead space in the outfield is the worst, and this stadium has a lot of it.

Thankfully it didn’t take long for me to snag my first baseball of the day. Here’s a four-part photo that shows how it played out:

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Here are some details:

1) I was about eight rows back when I saw the ball get hit in my direction.

2) Judging that it was going to fall short, I ran down to the third row and started moving to my left. Note how the employee in the red shirt is standing there casually and ignoring the ball as it plunked down beside him.

3) The ball took a massive bounce over my head (see it against the sky?) and landed in the row where I’d initially been standing. Duh.

4) No one else was going for it, but I still rushed to get there and pick it up. Then I confirmed with one of the regulars that it had been hit by C.J. Cron.

Here’s the ball — No. 9,012 lifetime:

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I only had one more quasi-chance during the brief remaining portion of Angels BP. Take a look at the following screen shot and see if you can figure out what happened:

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Basically a home run bounced past and barely missed that big blue thing. I was hoping it’d hit the rounded edge and deflect toward me, but no.

When the Twins took the field, I headed over to the 1st base side and got a ball thrown to me:

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I’m not sure who hooked me up, and in fact I struggled throughout BP to identify the players.

Brandon followed me out to the corner spot in right field. He doesn’t like being photographed, so I cropped him out of this shot which was sent to me by Matt Jackson — another friend and fellow ballhawk:

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Here I am lunging for a ground-rule double:

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Cool action shot, right? Well, the ball bounced a foot beyond my reach.

Here I am getting a ball tossed by Ervin Santana:

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I handed that one to this little fella, who had told me earlier that it was his very first Angels game:

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I headed back to left-center field and continued to struggle with bounces. Here I am barely missing one after having drifted down the steps:

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I’m an idiot. All I had to do was NOT MOVE, and it would’ve been an easy chest-high catch.

Here I am getting my 4th ball of the day from the employee in left-center:

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He’d already given baseballs to all the kids down in front, so by the end of BP, he must’ve figured it was time to chuck one to me. I gave that ball to a kid late in the game.

After BP, I met a father/son ballhawking duo named Boog and Jacob:

15_boog_zack_jacob

They are GREAT guys, and I’m not just saying that because they’d brought two of my books for me to sign. I really had a nice time hanging out with them. And by the way, I need to point out the fact that Boog is close to my age and has a son who’s . . . like, an actual grown-up! That’s just weird. I can’t imagine having a kid right now (hopefully someday) let alone one who’s old enough to grow facial hair. WTF. My dad was 51 when I was born. I wonder what it’s like to have a father who’s so young.

Anyway, look what I saw during the lull after BP:

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Obviously I had to walk over and check it out up close:

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That’s* an* impressive* bunch* of* names.*

After a quick peek at the Big A . . .

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. . . it was game time. My seat was behind the Twins’ dugout . . .

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. . . but I didn’t really want to stay there all night. I think it’s dumb to sit in foul territory when Mike Trout and Albert Pujols are in the starting lineup, so I decided to stay there until I got a 3rd-out ball, and then I’d think about heading elsewhere.

Thankfully it didn’t take long. When Trout grounded out to end the 1st inning, I headed down to the front row and got Twins 1st baseman Byung Ho Park to toss me the ball. Here I am (now fully decked out in Twins gear) reaching out for the catch:

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I often have a kid in mind before I catch a ball — someone that I already know I’m gonna give it to. That was the case with the Ervin Santana toss-up in right field, and I did the same thing here at the dugout, so when I walked back up the steps, I handed it to this guy:

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Someone told me later that a game-used ball hit by Mike Trout — even a ball that resulted in an out — is worth hundreds of dollars. I suppose that’s true, but it didn’t occur to me at the time, and I don’t care. Quite simply, it was fun to snag that ball after the 1st inning, and it also felt good to give it away to a young fan.

I headed out to left-center field after that. I was prepared to talk to the usher and show him my dugout ticket and ask nicely if I could sit in his section for a few innings — maybe even offer him a ball to give to the kid of his choice — but guess what? No one ever asked to see my ticket, so I picked this empty spot down in front:

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It didn’t stay empty for long:

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Those guys in the front row ended up recognizing me and admitting that they, too, didn’t have tickets for that section.

People often ask me how I’m able to move around during games, so that’s how. In certain sections in certain stadiums, it’s simply not an issue. The ushers WERE closely guarding the dugout seats (one guy rudely denied me on the 3rd base side when I was hoping to say hello to Mike Trout before the game), but 430 feet from home plate in a section with a lousy view? No one cared, and that’s how it should be.

Late in the game, I headed out to right field and met the famous “TROUTNET” guy:

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His name is Jonathan, and you can check him out on Instagram. He was incredibly friendly, not just to me, but to everyone. He brings three TROUTNETs to every game and lends them to random people every inning so they can try to catch the outfielders’ warm-up balls. Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout take turns throwing balls into the crowd throughout the game, and they always aim for the TROUTNETs. How cool is that? (I also think it’s cool that Angel Stadium security allows Jonathan to bring these inside. I can assure you they would not be allowed in either stadium in New York.)

I gave it a shot for several innings and came really close at one point:

25_zack_using_troutnet

If you look closely at the screen shot above, you can see Jonathan filming himself making the catch. I said that Calhoun and Trout throw the balls to people with those nets, but sometimes their aim is a bit off.

This was my late-inning view from right-center field:

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After the final out of the Angels’ 10-2 win (in which Trout scored three runs — aww yeah!), there was a whole lot of fire:

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Good times!

Here I am watching the flames:

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Just before heading out, a fan named Ivan asked me to sign his baseball with a gold marker:

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I think that looks snazzy.

Here’s the last photo I took inside the stadium:

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From a numbers standpoint, it was kind of a blah day. I’ve been averaging more than eight balls per game this season, so to “only” get five was a bummer, especially when I was being filmed and hoping to put on a good show. Angel Stadium is a difficult place to catch baseballs, but I still could’ve hit my average with a bit more luck and a less stupidity. If I had headed directly to straight-away left field upon entering, I would’ve gotten a home run that landed in the back bullpen and bounced into the seats. If the home run just beyond the outer edge of the seats had clipped the blue/rounded Sherwin Williams ad, it would have deflected to me. Then there was the ground-rule double in right field that eluded my glove by about a foot. There was also the ball that I misplayed back in left-center by drifting down the steps. And finally there were a few close calls with the TROUTNET late in the game. I don’t think I could’ve reached double digits (well, maybe I could’ve if I went for pre-game balls near the bullpens and/or along the right field foul line and then tried to get a ball after the game near the dugouts or bullpens), but I clearly underperformed. By saying all of this, I don’t mean to complain but rather demonstrate how there were a bunch of woulda/coulda/shoulda moments. That’s often the case, but there seemed to be more of them at this particular game. Oh well. It was still a fun day.

The video is still being edited. Subscribe to my YouTube channel and/or check back here for an update. I’ll add a link when it’s ready.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

31_the_two_baseballs_i_kept_06_15_16 5 baseballs at this game (two pictured here because I gave three away)

 383 balls in 46 games this season = 8.33 balls per game.

• 44 balls in 7 lifetime games at Angel Stadium = 6.29 balls per game.

1,212 consecutive games with at least one ball

 9,016 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 13 donors for my fundraiser

• $113.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $455.08 raised this season

• $190,958.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/14/16 at AT&T Park

It had been three years since my last visit to AT&T Park. That’s when BIGS Sunflower Seeds sponsored me and sent me to all 30 major league stadiums. Now I was back for another big reason: to film a ballhawking video for my YouTube channel. Here’s how it all went down . . .

I started by doing the opening shot from a promenade on the other side of McCovey Cove:

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It was cold and windy, and I was severely underdressed, but what the hell was I supposed to wear? I’d been in Phoenix the day before, where it was about 243 degrees, and after this game in San Francisco, I was planning to be in Anaheim, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Should I have lugged my heaviest winter jacket around for five days only to wear it once for a few hours? Nah. I chose to suffer instead.

It was roughly three hours before game time when I headed over to the portwalk:

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Do you remember this guy from my last visit to AT&T Park?

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Here’s a photo to refresh your memory. His name is Joe Dirt, and he has fished a *lot* of home run balls out of the water, both during BP and games. After I caught up with him for a bit, the Giants finally started hitting. Here I am looking at the field through the gates:

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My goal was simple. I wanted to snag a baseball on the portwalk before the stadium officially opened, and look! It happened:

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If you don’t have a water retrieval device, the best way to snag a ball on the portwalk is to get a player or coach to chuck one up/over/out of the stadium. That’s what happened in the four-part photo above. Unfortunately I’m not sure who hooked me up. I didn’t get a good look at his face, and no one else recognized him.

Before heading over to the Marina gate, I met a guy named Rodrigo who had brought his copy of my book The Baseball:

6_zack_and_rodrigo_with_the_baseball

I signed it for him, and we talked for a few minutes. He’s a huge baseball fan and passionate about ballhawking, so it was nice to see him get a baseball later on.

Over at the gate, I caught up with my friend Bill — a regular ballhawk at AT&T Park:

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Bill has been great to me over the years, giving me advice about the stadium and just making me feel welcomed in general.

Then I caught up with these trouble-makers:

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Those are my cousins Sam and Juliana, who might look familiar if you’re a diehard fan of this blog. Remember them from this photo on 8/14/13 at the Oakland Coliseum? Or this photo on 7/17/12 at Dodger Stadium?

Anyway, when I ran inside here in San Francisco, this was my view from left field:

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Now check out what it looked like on my right:

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Is that glorious or what?

Unfortunately that aisle always gets packed within a few minutes of the stadium opening, so as great as it looks in the photo above, it’s actually a waste of time to stay there. That’s part of the reason I headed to right field for the final group of Giants BP:

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In the photo above, did you notice the deep fly ball descending on my right?

It was tough to snag baseballs out there. Here I am explaining why:

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As you can see, there were dozens of fans on the warning track. They all had special tickets. That’s how they got to be there — good for them, but bad for me because it made it nearly impossible to get toss-ups in the seats.

Before the Brewers started hitting, I got a ball thrown to me by Jonathan Villar on the 1st base side:

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Yes, that’s me after changing into Brewers gear. I came prepared with a good outfit because of how tough this stadium is. (Big thanks to my friend Ben Weil for lending me that jersey.)

Look how crowded it got in left field:

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I was all the way out in left-center because that was the only spot where I had a bit of room to work with . . . and it paid off. Here I am reaching up for a home run — my third ball of the day:

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I have no idea who hit it.

Back in straight-away left field, I caught up briefly with a guy named Alex Patino:

16_alex_patino_greeting_zack

If that name is familiar, it’s because I featured him in The Baseball as one of the top ten ballhawks of all time. Turn to pages 283-284 to see the interview I did with him. It’s truly hilarious. Here’s my favorite quote — his answer to my question about the worst ballhawking injury he ever suffered:

“I got taken out by a big fat usher lady. We call her Helga. She checked me, like, I ran into her stomach. She’s about six-three, but to me she’s like six-a-hundred, and I ran into her panza. I went down, bro. I didn’t even move. My knee twisted, and I didn’t want to show it, but I was [in serious pain]. And she knew she did it too. You’ve seen those boxing videos where they get knocked out and the guy’s just looking down at you ’cause you got knocked out? That’s what it looked like.”

I regret not getting him in the video, but things were hectic, and we didn’t have much time together — but hey, that just means I’ll have to go back.

After BP, I got my fourth ball from a ballboy at the 3rd base dugout. Here he is flinging it to me:

17_zack_getting_ball9008

FYI, you can’t get down to the dugouts at AT&T without dugout tickets, even during BP. I knew this ahead of time and splurged on a pair of nice seats.

A few minutes later, a kid asked me to sign his hat:

18_signed_hat_06_14_16

Normally I sigh hats underneath the bill, but this one was black, so obviously I had to sign it elsewhere. Since the gray portion was flimsier than the bill, I signed it while he was wearing it. That was fun.

Then I wandered to a few different spots and took some photos along the way, starting with this:

19_overpriced_baseballs

That’s a lot of money for a baseball, but they ARE “authentic.”

One place I checked out was the garden in center field, which actually provides fresh fruit and vegetables for the two bistros there:

20_center_field_garden

That opened a few years ago, but it was new to me.

Did you notice the batting cage sitting there? I went over and touched it, just because. Whenever I’m in a beautiful, unique spot, I always wonder why the stadiums in New York City don’t look like that, and then a harsh reality sets in: people would destroy it.

After a little trolly action . . .

21_zack_trolley_car_in_center_field

. . . I passed by the Marina gate . . .

22_crowd_entering_marina_gate

. . . and headed to the outer edge of the right field upper deck. Ready for some more beauty?

23_upper_deck_tunnel

Wow.

Just as the Giants were taking the field, I did a quick shot for the video:

24_zack_in_upper_deck_06_14_16

(Hey, because of where the right fielder was standing, it looks like I have an earring.)

As for the game, check out my awesome view:

25_view_during_game_06_14_16

My seat was in the second row next to the stairs. I basically knew I was going to get a 3rd-out ball, so it was just a matter of when.

My cousin Sam was sitting several seats to my right with his father (my first cousin), Howie:

26_howie_and_sam_on_the_right

Juliana was sitting there too, but I guess she’d wandered just out of the frame when I took that photo.

The 2nd inning ended with a Denard Span groundout. First baseman Chris Carter fielded it and tossed to pitcher Matt Garza, who caught it on the run and stepped on the bag. Garza then tossed it to 2nd baseman Scooter Gennett, who’s basically the designated 3rd-out ball tosser. Here’s what happened next:

27_zack_getting_ball9009

As you can see, I was already down in the corner spot beside the dugout, and Gennett tossed me the ball. Here’s a closer look at it:

28_ball9009_from_scooter_gennett

I then gave one of my BP balls to a girl:

29_zack_giving_ball_to_a_kid

After that I signed another BP ball for Silly Sam:

30_signed_baseball_for_sam

Then I signed the gamer for Juliana:

31_signed_baseball_for_juliana

I’ll have you know that the “Peace out, bro!” line was her idea.

There were lots of baseballs to go around. Here’s a double photo that shows the kid in front of me catching a ball and then hiding it behind his back while asking for another:

32_kid_going_for_multiple_baseballs

Don’t be like that kid. Put your first ball away so both of your hands are free. Come on! And of course I encourage everyone to be generous with baseballs. No one ever has the right to peer-pressure you into giving balls away. If you snag 20 in one game and want to keep them all, that’s your choice, but if you have extras, it’s nice to share the love.

While my stupid videographer was taking stupid photos in the upper deck for his stupid Instagram, THIS happened:

33_bat_from_jonathan_villar

Yeah.

I was sitting in my seat and looking at my phone between batters when I heard something hit the short metal fence in front of me. I assumed that a player had tossed up a ball which fell short, so when I looked up, I was shocked to see a baseball bat rolling away from me toward the far edge of the dugout roof. I jumped up and darted down the steps to the corner spot in the front row, just to the right of the dugout. The bat had completely rolled off by that point, and two Brewers players were starting to poke their heads out to decide who to give it to. I waved to get their attention, and they handed it to me. That’s it — simple, random, and awesome.

The trademark portion of the bat was coated with pine tar and *very* sticky, and as you’ll see in just a bit, the handle had a large, splinter-y crack. That didn’t matter to me. I was just excited to be able to add another bat to my collection because they’re pretty hard to come by. I’ve attended more than 1,400 major league games, and this was only my 10th bat. You can see all them here, along with some other “bonus items” I’ve gotten through the years.

Wanna know what else my videographer missed? Another 3rd-out ball, once again tossed by Gennett, but this time I was half a dozen rows back. In case you’re wondering, it was the ball that ended the 4th inning — a Brandon Belt pop-out to Villar.

After that, the Giants’ social media team paid me a visit and photographed me for their Snapchat:

34_zack_on_giants_snapchat

(I had to borrow a ball from my cousins for that photo. Oh! And I should mention that their father, Howie, snagged a toss-up during BP.)

Late in the game, I wandered a bit and ended up here:

35_usher_holding_sign_06_14_16

As A Courtesy To Both My Eyeballs And Grammatical Sensibilities, Please Don’t Begin Every Word With A Capital Letter.

The Giants won the game, 3-2, behind a strong eight-inning performance from Madison Bumgarner. There was only one home run all night — a 5th-inning blast by Jonathan Lucroy that I wouldn’t have caught even if I’d been sitting in the outfield, so whatever. But really, it was a good game.

I didn’t expect much from the Brewers after the final out. Losing teams generally aren’t in much of a ball-tossing mood, but nevertheless I gave it a shot near the home-plate end of the dugout:

36_zack_near_dugout_postgame

Bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel was the last guy in the dugout, and just before he disappeared, he threw me my seventh and final ball of the day.

Here I am doing the closing shot for the video:

37_zack_closing_scene_for_video_06_14_16

Did you notice all the seagulls in the background? You can see them all over the bleachers and outfield in this photo:

38_stadium_empty_after_game_06_14_16

Two final thoughts:

1) AT&T Park is both beautiful and difficult. It’s super-crowded and competitive during BP, but I still love it there.

2) The video is almost ready. I’ll add a link here when it’s done, but in the meantime, you might as well subscribe to my YouTube channel. There’s lots more good content on the way, and you’ll hate yourself if you miss it.

***UPDATE***
Here’s the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

39_the_four_balls_i_kept_06_14_16 7 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave three away)

 378 balls in 45 games this season = 8.4 balls per game.

• 49 balls in 9 lifetime games at AT&T Park = 5.44 balls per game.

1,211 consecutive games with at least one ball

 9,011 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

• $102.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $411.08 raised this season

• $190,914.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/13/16 at Chase Field

This was my first game of a five-day/five-stadium trip, which required even more planning than usual. It wasn’t just dealing with flights and hotels or having to coordinate with my videographer Brandon. The biggest challenge was making sure *not* to snag my 9,000th baseball before I made it out to Arizona. Seriously. I had to skip a couple of games that I normally would’ve attended, and I stayed in the outfield at other games when I would’ve preferred to work the dugouts. See how psycho I am about all of this? (But c’mon, admit it — you love it.)

I began this day with a lifetime total of of 8,994 baseballs. Here I am outside the stadium talking about it in the opening scene for the video:

1_zack_intro_for_youtube_video_06_13_16

FYI, Brandon is still editing the video, but he gave me all the raw footage so I could grab a bunch of screen shots for the blog. Here’s another that shows me entering the terrace of the Friday’s restaurant in deep left field:

2_zack_entering_fridays_terrace

That terrace is open to the public before the rest of the stadium opens. You don’t need a ticket for the game, and you don’t even need to buy any food, but you should show up hungry and spend money anyway to support the Diamondbacks because, in my opinion, they’re the most fan-friendly team in Major League Baseball.

In the following image, do you see the employee in the light blue shirt in left-center field?

3_zack_on_fridays_terrace

He was looking for home run balls that had landed in the bleachers, so naturally I called out to him and tried to get him to toss one up.

It worked!
Sort of.

Here he is tossing a ball . . .

4_employee_tossing_ball_from_below

. . . but unfortunately it fell short:

5_ball_thrown_short

He retrieved the ball and tossed it up again . . . with the same result. And it wasn’t even close. It fell short by at least five feet. Had it been 15 years since he’d thrown a baseball. Or was he afraid to throw it too hard and hurt me?

“I’m coming up there,” he said.

“I wanna see a throw!” I shouted.

I didn’t mean to be picky or demanding. I just thought it’d be more fun (and look better on video) to have him chuck it rather than hand it to me.

He made one more attempt and managed to reach me! After catching the ball and showing it to the camera, I handed it to a man for his daughter:

6_zack_giving_ball8995_to_fans

After that, all I got was the attention of several players and coaches. Here’s Patrick Corbin looking up at me . . .

7_zack_asking_for_a_ball

. . . and here’s Garvin Alston making a windmill gesture with his arm to indicate that he couldn’t throw it that far:

8_coach_garvin_alston_saying_he_cant_throw_it_that_far

Lame.

In the past, I’ve gotten lots of balls on the terrace, but now that I finally had a videographer here and just wanted ONE cool shot of a ball being thrown my way, no one was willing to hook me up.

Fifteen minutes before the gates opened, I exited Friday’s and got in line outside the gates with two of my local friends:

9_kenny_zack_tony

In the photo above, that’s Kenny on the left and Tony on the right. Great guys. It was nice to catch up with them for a bit.

Once I made it back inside the stadium for real, I used my glove trick to snag my second ball of the day from the left field bullpen:

10_zack_glove_trick_for_ball8996

Then I headed to right field and talked about the stadium along the way:

11_zack_left_center_field_concourse

The D’backs finished hitting by the time I made it over there, so I threw on my Dodgers cap and promptly got a toss-up from Scott Kazmir. Here I am reaching up for the grab:

12_zack_getting_ball8997_from_scott_kazmir

A few minutes later, I got Joe Blanton to throw me a ball:

13_zack_getting_ball8998_from_joe_blanton

That was my fourth of the day and No. 8,998 lifetime.

I picked a spot in straight-away right field and said to the camera, “Corey Seager is up right now. It would be really cool get number nine thousand hit from him, but I’m still two away right now, so it’s kind of unlikely.”

And hey, whaddaya know? Seager ended up hitting a home run right to me. Here I am reaching up for the catch. Look closely and you can see the ball streaking toward my glove:

14_zack_catching_ball8999_corey_seager_home_run

That was No. 8,999. The next ball was going to be THE ball, and I wanted to make sure to identify the player who hit or threw it. Of course I was so hyped up about everything else that when the moment arrived, all I could think about was the ball itself. Here’s where I was standing when . . . someone connected and sent a home run flying in my direction:

15_zack_starting_position_for_ball9000

I could tell right away that it was going to fall short, so I scooted down the steps and turned left:

16_zack_midpoint_on_ball9000

Then I drifted through an empty row and reached out for the catch. Once again, you can see the ball streaking down toward me:

17_zack_catching_ball9000

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the kid in front of me made a valiant effort and barely came up short. In fact the ball might have tipped the end of his glove. Normally, whenever I catch a ball near a kid, I’ll hand it right over, even in situations like this when I’m behind the kid and he wouldn’t have caught it anyway, but sorry, I wasn’t about to give away my 9,000th ball. That said, if you know the kid pictured above (you can see more of him in the video), tell him I’m looking for him, or if you ARE that kid, get in touch with me. Send me a photo of yourself from the game wearing that light green shirt — I need proof that it’s really you — and I’ll send you two baseballs.

Anyway, here I am holding up the ball right after catching it:

18_zack_showing_ball9000

A different kid on the staircase gave me a fist-bump:

19_zack_getting_fist_bump_from_kid_after_ball9000

Then I took a moment to admire the ball:

20_zack_looking_at_ball9000

Here’s a closeup:

21_ball9000_bp_homer_by_joc_pederson

I wasn’t sure who had hit it, but I’d gotten a good look at his batting stance. He was holding the bat vertically and had a pronounced leg-kick, and when he came up again (right after Seager), I took a couple of crappy photos:

22_joc_pederson_batting_stance

I asked some Dodgers fans nearby, and they said it was Joc Pederson.

Yes!! Of course!! Duh. That should’ve been obvious, but whatever, I was just glad to have gotten the ball and that Brandon had gotten it on video and that I now knew who had hit it. Mission accomplished.

I headed back to left field for the next group of hitters, but wasn’t satisfied with my location. Here I am looking back at the elevated concourse in left-center:

23_zack_eyeing_left_center_field_concourse

That suddenly felt like the place to be, so I headed up there:

24_zack_left_center_field_concourse

It was dead.

I walked down a few steps onto the balcony and peered over the edge:

25_zack_leaning_out_over_balcony

I wanted to make something happen, but there just weren’t any opportunities. And then, suddenly, as if sent by the planets above, a Diamondbacks employee appeared out of nowhere and handed me a baseball:

26_zack_getting_ball9001_from_diamondbacks_employee

Here’s exactly what’s happening in the four-part photo above:

1) The hand-off, along with a “welcome to Chase Field” greeting. I wasn’t kidding when I said this is the most fan-friendly team.

2) Pointing out the Diamondbacks logo on his shirt to confirm that he really did work there. I don’t accept/count balls that are offered to me by other fans, but I’ve always counted balls that come from stadium employees.

3) Thanks and a hearty handshake.

4) “Hey, I’ll take it.” There’ve been so many employees (mostly at Shea Stadium in the 1990s) who’ve tried to prevent me from getting baseballs that when I’m shown a little love, I gladly accept it. I consider it payback.

Here’s a zoomed-in/blurry screen shot that shows me using the glove trick for my eighth ball:

27_zack_glove_trick_for_ball9002

That happened along the left field foul line, and I handed it to the closest fan.

Then I headed back to straight-away left field. Look how crowded it was:

28_left_field_bleachers_during_bp

Yes, hello, I see you standing there on the benches.

29_left_field_bleachers_during_bp

Congrats for making it onto my blog.

It was nearly impossible to catch home runs out there. Here I am getting robbed by one of the regulars:

30_zack_getting_robbed

Here I am flinching on another home run:

31_zack_flinching_on_deflection

I was fearful of a deflection, and sure enough that’s exactly what happened, but thankfully it went away from me. See the guy wearing the backwards gray and black cap? The ball whizzed right past his face. He’s lucky he didn’t end up with a black eye or a few loose teeth.

Toward the end of BP, I headed back to the left-center field concourse:

32_zack_back_on_the_concourse

I had a hunch that someone might launch a ball up there, and anyway, it was too damn crowded down below.

Several minutes later, it happened. I think it was Kiké Hernandez who connected. Check it out:

33_zack_catching_ball9003

That was my ninth ball of the day, and I handed it to a kid who had just walked past me:

34_zack_giving_ball9003_to_a_kid

People often ask if I get recognized a lot at games. The answer is yes, and for some reason, it happened more than usual here in Arizona. At one point, a group of half a dozen kids approached me while I was rushing from the left field bleachers up to the concourse. I explained that I was busy and asked if they could find me after BP. They said yeah, and I don’t know what happened next — whether they told all their friends or if word somehow spread or if people just spotted me, but when the players finally jogged off the field, I ended up doing an impromptu meet-and-greet with dozens of fans. It sounds ridiculous, but I’m telling you that’s what happened. See for yourself:

35_zack_signing_autographs_after_bp

Somehow every kid already had a baseball, and they all wanted me to sign them. I also signed tickets, hats, a book, and other random objects. And everyone wanted a selfie. And then there were group photo requests. And lots of questions about my baseball collection, my schedule, my next YouTube video, my favorite stadiums, etc. Aside from the fact that I was starving and needed to pee, I was glad to hang out with everyone. I can see how it would be a burden for *actual* celebrities to receive that kind of attention ALL the time, but for me, it only happens at baseball stadiums. Seventeen years ago, it definitely went to my head when people recognized me. Now I’m just glad I can make kids happy by giving them a few moments of my time. It’s a weird but lovely feeling.

Here’s what I had for dinner:

36_chinese_food_and_candy_apple

Can someone estimate the calories for me? I hope it was at least 2,000, but that’s probably pushing it.

I was hoping that Joc Pederson would sign autographs before the game, but no, only Corey Seager did:

37_corey_seager_signing_autographs

As I explained in the video later on, “I don’t really go for autographs much anymore, but I have gotten every thousandth ball signed by the player who hit or threw it.” That said, I need Joc, so if anyone has advice or any connection to him, please let me know.

Also, I should mention that I’ve gotten every thousandth ball at a different stadium. Ready for the complete list? Here goes:

Ball No. 1,000 — thrown by Pedro Borbon Jr. on 6/11/96 at Shea Stadium
Ball No. 2,000 — thrown by Joe Roa on 5/24/03 at Olympic Stadium
Ball No. 3,000 — snagged with the glove trick on 5/7/07 at old Yankee Stadium
Ball No. 4,000 — thrown by Livan Hernandez on 5/18/09 at Dodger Stadium
Ball No. 5,000 — BP homer by Alex Rios on 5/28/11 at Rogers Centre
Ball No. 6,000 — tossed by Brad Lidge on 6/8/12 at Fenway Park
Ball No. 7,000 — BP homer by Anthony Rendon on 8/27/13 at Nationals Park
Ball No. 8,000 — Gerardo Parra game foul ball on 5/15/15 at Citi Field
Ball No. 9,000 — Joc Pederson BP homer on 6/13/16 at Chase Field

If there’s one thing I learned from that list, it’s that I need to scrounge up some photos and screen shots (from a video I filmed on an old palmcorder) and blog about Olympic Stadium.

Before the game started here in Phoenix, the roof opened:

38_roof_open_pregame

Ahh, how pleasant.

I was excited because we had tickets in a GREAT spot:

39_home_run_aisle

Did you notice the guy in the “Marino” jersey on the right? That’s who I gave the ball to on the Friday’s terrace — quite a coincidence.

During the game, I spent a lot of time chatting with this guy:

40_friendly_fan_with_sign

His name is Keith, and he has a season ticket there — and he’s very friendly. Two months earlier, he made the news by catching two Paul Goldschmidt homers in one game. Here’s an article about it.

That row/aisle is meant for disabled fans and their guests, but if there are unsold tickets after a certain point, they get released for sale to the general public.

Check out my view of the field from that spot:

41_view_from_right_field_during_game

There was a boisterous group of fans at the swimming pool:

42_people_in_the_pool

BROSEIDON was overseeing the merriment:

43_broseidon

Lots of the people there were in costumes:

44_people_in_costumes_in_the_pool

Here’s a group photo of them:

45_group_photo_in_the_pool

“Protect this pool.” Heh.

I would have loved to join them, but the pool area is reserved for private parties. Oh, and it costs about $3,500 per game, and it’s sold out for the rest of the season. Who wants to join me out there next year? C’mon! We can pick a date as soon as the 2017 schedule comes out and all chip in and thrash around for home run balls in the water.

Did you know that there’s a locker room with showers next to the pool?

46_tunnel_to_locker_room

Pretty cool spot.

Here I am late in the game, hoping for a home run ball:

47_zack_in_home_run_aisle

All those red chairs are reserved for pool people. I guess the D’backs need to provide actual seats in case those people want to sit down? Of course none of those folks ever left the pool area (except to go to the locker room), so I had all that open space to my right for the entire game.

There were three home runs — two to right-center (by Goldschmidt and Seager) and one to left-center (by Jake Lamb, who is extremely underrated). That was it. No action for me.

Late in the game, a friend and his wife gave me their dugout tickets on their way out, and look where I was able to go:

48_tunnel_to_a_close_up_spot

That tunnel led right up to the Diamondbacks’ on-deck circle:

49_view_from_up_up_close_on_the_3rd_base_side

Here’s what it looked like on my left:

50_jody_jackson_on_my_left

In the photo above, do you see the woman with blonde hair facing away from the camera? Her name is Jody Jackson. She’s a reporter/anchor for FOX Sports Arizona, and I’ve gotten to know her over the past few seasons. Do you remember this photo of her that I took behind the scenes on 8/13/13 at Chase Field? No? Well, clearly you should comb through my archives and read my old entries, but anyway, it was nice to get in a quick hello with her.

It was also nice to have a shot at getting a ball from home plate umpire Carlos Torres after the final out of the Diamondbacks’ 3-2 victory, but let me just mention something first. I don’t wear an umpire hat to get attention from the umpires. I wear it because I think it looks sharp, and since I don’t have a favorite team, it’s a good way to stay neutral while showing my love for the sport. That said, check out Torres’s reaction when he spotted me:

51_funny_look_from_umpire_carlos_torres

Tee-hee!

I don’t think my hat made a difference. He probably would’ve given me a ball regardless. Here I am catching his gentle toss before he disappeared down the steps:

52_ball9004_tossed_by_umpire

That was my 10th ball of the day. I’d given away four of them, so here are the six I still had left:

53_the_six_balls_i_kept

Finally, here’s something I always do but rarely show — my ballhawking notes from the game:

54_notes_06_13_16

I can write much neater when I try. These are just quick scribbles to help me remember all the balls that I snagged.

On a final note, please subscribe to my YouTube channel and stay tuned for the Chase Field video. It’s coming soon, and it’s gonna be amazing.

***UPDATE***
Here’s the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 10 baseballs at this game

 371 balls in 44 games this season = 8.43 balls per game.

• 94 balls in 10 lifetime games at Chase Field = 9.4 balls per game.

1,210 consecutive games with at least one ball

 9,004 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

• $102.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $411.08 raised this season

• $190,914.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/7/16 at Yankee Stadium

Lots of people have asked me to do a ballhawking video at Yankee Stadium, and guess what? The wait is over! Unfortunately, though, as you’re about to see, the Yankees provided very little action. Here’s what it looked like from the left field seats at 5pm:

1_view_from_left_field_during_bp_06_07_16

For some reason, the Yankees finished batting practice much earlier than usual. I forgot to look at the clock when they started jogging off the field, but it couldn’t have been much past 5:03pm. That was a huge bummer.

During the three (or so) minutes that they *were* on the field, I hurried up to the left field bleachers, searching for a home run ball that had landed there:

2_zack_searching_unsuccessfully_for_an_easter_egg

I’m either reeeeeally dumb and somehow missed it or a security guard picked it up while I was en route. Let’s assume it was the latter, but regardless, I had a big ol’ goose egg when the Angels took the field:

3_angels_on_the_field

Whenever I see the Angels, I try to get in a quick “hello” with Mike Trout. Of course that’s damn-near impossible at Yankee Stadium, where you can’t get near the infield unless you have a super-expensive ticket. In fact, the photo above was taken from the closest spot I could get. The solution? Get his attention from afar. Here I am waving my hat . . .

4_zack_waving_at_mike_trout

. . . and here he is saluting me:

5_mike_trout_waving_back

That was nice. And that was it . . . or so I thought.

Ten minutes later, I got Albert Pujols to throw me a ball:

6_albert_pujols_throwing_ball8951

I drifted down the steps to catch it, and then I hurried back up to show the ball to the camera. Just then I heard someone shouting at Mike Trout, so I turned around and saw Trout standing behind 3rd base with a ball in his hand. He didn’t throw it to the guy who had called out. Instead he waited for me to move back over to the staircase, and he chucked it to me instead.

7_zack_catching_ball8952

THAT was nice. And okay, sorry for mentioning this yet again, but for all the people who’ve recently stumbled upon this blog and/or don’t know much about me, the quick backstory with Trout is that I caught his first career home run on 7/24/11 at Camden Yards and gave him the ball after the game, and he’s been really nice to me ever since.

Here are the two baseballs that I’d just gotten from a pair of future Hall of Famers:

8_balls8951_and_8952_pujols_trout

Most of my baseballs at Yankee Stadium are home runs during BP. There are many days when I never even try for toss-ups, so just keep that in mind. It’s not normally like this. What’s the big deal about getting a couple of balls thrown to me? Ha. Check this out — here’s Jered Weaver hooking me up (from well over 100 feet away) with my third ball of the day:

9_jered_weaver_throwing_ball9853

I had to climb down over a row to catch that one:

10_zack_catching_ball9853

Wait! There’s more! Here’s Jhoulys Chacin throwing me my fourth ball of the day:

11_jhoulys_chacin_throwing_ball8954

Moment later, coach Dino Ebel threw me a ball without my even asking. WTF was going on? Here I am catching it:

12_zack_catching_ball9855_thrown_by_dino_ebel

Sometimes I do everything right and it’s a huge struggle; other times it seems that baseballs just find me. That’s the only way I can explain it.

When the Angels started hitting, I headed to right field, and everything went wrong. I had easy opportunities to catch two home runs, but I misjudged them both, just barely, right off the bat, but that’s all it took. Basically I drifted down a couple of steps on each one when all I needed to do was hold my ground.  Stupid, stupid, stupid. Here I am missing one of them:

13_zack_missing_home_run_ball

Was the wind blowing out? Was it hotter than usual? I don’t know, man. All I can tell you is that I felt like an even bigger idiot than usual, given the fact that I was being filmed.

Thankfully things went better for me back in left field. Here I am jumping for and catching an Albert Pujols homer:

14_zack_catching_ball8956

I handed that ball to the nearest kid . . .

15_zack_giving_ball8956_to_a_kid

. . . and caught another home run a little while later. I’m not sure who hit this one, but in the following screen shot, you can clearly see it streaking into my glove:

16_zack_catching_ball8957

I gave that one to a kid too:

17_zack_giving_ball8957_to_a_kid

I didn’t catch any homers after that. It was just too crowded. Check out this screen shot of a cluster of fans going for a ball:

18_cluster_of_fans_going_for_ball

I can’t even count the number of guys — at least eight or nine. Maybe even ten? That’s just crazy. And this was a weeknight without a promotion.

When BP ended, I gave a quick recap for the video:

19_zack_with_five_baseballs_06_07_16

Then I wandered to several different spots to point some stuff out:

20_zack_pointing_stuff_out

In the four-part image above, how many of the places/things can you name or identify? You probably won’t guess what I was talking about in No. 4, but rather than explaining it here, I’ll just let you see it in the video. I predict you will be amused.

Here’s another four-parter for you:

21_tom_gregorio_throwing_ball8958

That happened right before the game. Angels bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio threw me a ball from the bullpen. After catching it, I handed it to a kid and got a handshake from his appreciative father.

My videographer is a friend (who constantly tries to troll me) from San Diego named Brandon. He does great work but sometimes drives me crazy. This was one of those times. As we settled into our seats for the game, I told him that right fielder Carlos Beltran throws his warm-up ball into the crowd before every inning and that he seems to hook me up every other day, usually in the middle innings. The point was: “I know you wanna to go take photos at some point from the upper deck for your precious Instagram, but I’m paying you lots of money to film me, so DON’T MISS IT, BRUH.”

He seemed to be on it. Here’s a shot he got of Beltran tossing a ball before the first pitch:

22_carlos_beltran_throwing_warm_up_ball

Here’s Beltran throwing one closer to me before the 2nd inning:

23_fans_battling_for_a_different_warm_up_ball

Brandon was still with me in the 3rd when I gave a couple of baseballs to some kids in the bleachers:

24_zack_giving_baseballs_away

By the way, the woman up above in the green shirt is named Tina. She’s basically the queen of the bleachers — hardly ever misses a game — and is really cool with me. She knows that whenever she needs a ball for a little kid, she can ask. Normally I hate being asked for baseballs, but I make an exception for her because she’s golden.

Anyway, so far, so good, right? Brandon was with me and getting good shots of various stuff . . . right?!

Ha. Yeah. Not so much. He took off in the 4th inning and returned in the 6th, and guess what happened in between? Yup. Carlos Beltran threw me a warm-up ball, and it was beautiful. I jumped as high as I could and caught it in a thick crowd of grown-ups and promptly handed it to a very little kid and got cheered by the whole section. And Brandon missed it. Fabulous. But oh! Hey! He got a shot of Beltran’s late-inning replacement, Aaron Hicks, throwing HIS warm-up ball into the crowd:

25_aaron_hicks_throwing_warm_up_ball

Unreal.

It’s still a solid video, but I’m bummed not to have gotten the Beltran ball in there, mainly because that’s become such a big part of my Yankee Stadium experience. At very least, it would’ve been nice to have that footage for myself. This was the 35th ball I’ve ever gotten from Beltran — easily more than anyone else has ever thrown to me (although my friend Alex Katz, currently pitching in the White Sox’s minor league system, vows to break that record someday).

I should mention that the Yankees beat the Angels, 6-3, behind a surprisingly solid performance by starter Michael Pineda. There were three home runs in the game hit by Kole Calhoun, Carlos Beltran, and Starlin Castro. I caught none of them. Mike Trout (my favorite player now that Heath Bell has retired) went 0-for-3 with a walk. Bleh.

And now, as promised, here’s the video. Enjoy!

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 9 baseballs at this game

 326 balls in 39 games this season = 8.36 balls per game.

• 1,369 balls in 194 lifetime games at Yankee Stadium = 7.06 balls per game.

1,205 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,959 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

• $102.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $411.08 raised this season

• $190,914.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

You’re still here? Well then. Here’s a bonus photo for you of the grounds crew rolling out the tarp after the game:

26_tarp_coming_out_after_game

On a final note, it was fun but stressful to do a video here. I go to Yankee Stadium so often that I felt comfortable, but I also put a lot of pressure on myself to get everything right. I’m a perfectionist. What can I say?

Thanks for reading (and watching).

6/4/16 at Camden Yards

This was a special day for two reasons. First, my videographer Brandon was with me, and second, I was with a bunch of friends from the website MyGameBalls.com for an annual event called BallhawkFest. Here we are at a baseball field not far from Camden Yards:

1_group_intro_06_04_16

Let me identify everyone, and then I’ll explain what we were doing . . .

1) Ben Weil, aka the guy with more than 1,200 jerseys
2) Bob K, who ended up making the catch of the day
3) Isaac Liberman, showing off his Royals pride
4) Doug Hakey, who helped tremendously with all the logistics
5) me, doing an intro for the video; the image above is a screen shot
6) Tim Anderson, who was more interested in the grass than what I was saying
7) Alan Schuster, the founder of MyGameBalls.com
8) Chris Scheufele, whose long-lost twin is Madison Bumgarner
9) Alex Kopp, last year’s Home Run Derby winner
10) Grant Edrington, ready to rumble
11) Chris’s wife, the classiest of us all, who goes by the name “Jake”
12) Their son, Deven, who’s shaping up to be an excellent ballplayer

Speaking of the Home Run Derby, it’s a game we play every year at BallhawkFest. This time we came up with a new-and-improved scoring system:

* 1 point for a grounder through the infield
* 2 points for a ball that lands on the outfield grass
* 3 points for hitting the outfield fence
* 5 points for a home run

To clarify, an infielder could rob the batter of a point by catching or knocking down a grounder, and an outfielder could prevent two points by catching a fly ball. The game was more fun than ever because it rewarded good hitting *and* good fielding; it was a team effort no matter who was involved. And of course there was lots of trash-talking.

Here’s Ben camped out at shortstop while I pitched to Alan:

2_zack_pitching_alan_batting_ben_fielding

You probably noticed that yellow thing in front of the (non-existent) mound. That was our version of an L-screen — two garbage cans stacked up. Very safe. We all signed waivers. No big deal. Right? Well, here I am reacting to a line drive up the middle that nearly took my head off:

3_zack_reacting_to_comebacker

I forget how many points Alan tallied before he made ten “outs.” I think it was 40-something, and then it was my turn to do some damage. Here I am at the plate . . . or, umm, plastic bag:

4_zack_batting_06_04_16

Here I am taking one to the opposite field:

5_zack_swinging_06_04_16

For a while, everyone was camped out in left field for me, so I trolled them by poking weak grounders through the right side. This led to even more trash-talking.

Here I am running for a deep fly ball:

6_zack_running_for_a_fly_ball

If I’d made that play, it would’ve made SportsCenter’s Top Ten for sure, but alas, it tipped off the end of my glove. Instead, Bob surprised us all with the catch of the day. Check it out:

7_bob_with_the_web_gem

This was an especially difficult play because Chris, as you can see, was charging at him ferociously, and the rest of us were shouting at him to CAAAATCH IT!!!

During a break in the action, I pointed out an unusual injury on Grant’s left shin. I’m not sure if this’ll make the final cut in the video (it’s still being edited), so I’ll share it here:

8_grant_hit_by_a_ground_ball

He was bleeding after being struck by a ground ball. (Lots of bad hops at this field; good thing Alan had us sign those waivers.) That’s no knock on Grant. He literally took one for the team in order to prevent a one-point grounder from dribbling through the infield. (I kid, I kid. It was a rocket. Nice job, Grant.)

There were several rounds in our Home Run Derby. Alan and I were heading toward the final showdown when Brandon — yes, my effin’ videographer — asked if he could jump in. After struggling at first to make solid contact, he found his stroke, ended up hitting bombs, and won the whole damn thing.

A little while later, our group headed to Pickles Pub, located just across the street from Camden Yards:

9_heading_into_pickles_pub

Brandon filmed a quick shot of me inside:

10_zack_talking_ben_clowning

Thanks a lot, Benny.

Then we took a more civilized group photo, and as you can see, I had changed into my official green BallhawkFest shirt:

11_group_photo_at_lunch_06_04_16

We intentionally choose flashy colors (last year it was purple) so that we can spot each other more easily in the stands.

Here what I had for lunch — boneless chicken wings with creamy dipping sauce and cheese fries with different creamy dipping sauce:

12_my_fattening_lunch_06_04_16

If you saw what I eat on a daily basis when I’m home, you wouldn’t be entertained.

We still had some time to spare after lunch, so we headed next door to the Hilton and played cornhole. Here’s Chris in action:

13_playing_cornhole_before_orioles_game

The stadium opened at 5pm and was clearly going to fill up fast. Here I am in left field, just hoping to get one ball so I could relax:

14_zack_in_left_field_06_04_16

Not only was it a Saturday with perfect weather, but the Yankees were in town. Yikes. Normally I avoid seeing the Yankees on the road because it’s always so crowded and crazy, but there was a reason for this odd scheduling decision. Alan had picked this game weeks in advance, thinking we all might have a shot at Alex Rodriguez’s 700th career home run, but as it turned out, the best we could hope for was No. 695.

After the first group of batting practice, I gave up on left field and headed to right-center. Several minutes later I got Ubaldo Jimenez to throw me a ball. Here I am reaching up for the catch:

15_zack_catching_ball8945

Here’s the ball:

16_ball8945_from_ubaldo_jimenez

Nice.

That was it for the Orioles. They finished so early that there was a 20-minute gap before the Yankees started hitting. Here I am with Grant explaining to the camera why that was bad:

17_zack_and_grant_06_04_16

Basically the stadium was going to be much more crowded by the time BP resumed, but hey, that’s just how it goes sometimes.

This next screen shot will give you an idea of how packed it was:

18_zack_not_catching_this_home_run

I had no chance on that home run. I got blocked by the guy in the red jersey and was surrounded by taller fans anyway.

I headed back to left field when A-Rod stepped into the cage, and as you can see below, there was lots of people there too:

19_zack_in_deep_left_field_06_04_16

I stayed deep in the section because A-Rod, even at the age of 40, has tremendous power. My positioning nearly paid off, but I was one row to shallow. Here I am jumping and reaching back helplessly as A-Rod launched one to Alan who was camped out just behind me:

20_alan_catching_arod_homer

That was the story of my day — lots of close calls. And guess what? That was the end of BP.

Here’s a group photo back in right field:

21_group_photo_after_batting_practice

Some of us had already given baseballs to children, so these were the balls that we still had in our possession at that point. Doug had gotten six — easily more than anyone else — mostly by retrieving them from the right-center field gap with a homemade device. Oh, and by the way, there’s one new face in the photo above; Jamie, standing at the back in the Orioles jersey, hadn’t made it to the field earlier in the day.

Just before game time, I tried to get A-Rod’s attention along the left field foul line:

22_alex_rodriguez_pregame

No luck.

He had signed autographs for a bunch of kids the day before, but this time, when he finished warming up, he headed straight to the dugout.

Take another look at the screen shot above. See the girl standing just behind me on the left? Well, after a moment of silence to honor Muhammad Ali . . .

23_muhammad_ali_tribute

. . . I gave her the ball that I’d gotten from Ubaldo. She and her family then asked me to sign it:

24_summer_with_ball8945

Unfortunately it got a bit smudged when I handed it back to her, but I don’t think she noticed or cared. Her name is Summer, and I was especially glad to have given her that ball because she was very appreciative.

As for the game, let me start by saying this . . .

Lots of people ask me how I’m able to move around stadiums all the time.

“Do all the ushers know you?”
“Don’t they check tickets?”
“How do you get away with that?”

The answer is that it all depends on the stadium. When I’m in New York, I pretty much stay in my seat for the entire game, sometimes not even leaving to take a bathroom break. That’s because there are no cross-aisles through the seats or standing-room areas where I have a chance to catch baseballs. Many other stadiums, however, were built to allow more movement, and Camden Yards is the prime example. It has a walkway that wraps around the entire lower seating bowl and opens up into a magnificent standing-room section (aka “The Flag Court”) down the right field line. Anyone with any ticket is allowed to walk around and hang out there, so that’s what I did at this game. (I had to burn off all those calories from lunch.) In the top of the 1st inning, I spent a couple of minutes in a tunnel behind home plate and told the camera why it’s a great spot for foul balls:

25_zack_behind_home_plate_06_04_16

With A-Rod due to lead off the top of the 2nd, I headed out to left field and briefly stood in the walkway at the very back of the section. This was the view:

26_view_from_deep_left_field_06_04_16

There was no 695th home run on this night; A-Rod finished 3-for-5 with three singles.

Then I headed to the Flag Court and stayed there for most of the game. This was my view early on:

27_view_from_flag_court_06_04_16

Here I am an hour and a half later, standing at the back gates for Chris Davis:

28_zack_playing_deep_in_right_field

I couldn’t see the field from there. I was just waiting/hoping for a little white speck to fly up in the air, but that never happened. Well, I mean . . . there *were* three home runs, but none of them came near me.

Here I am late in the game — just a cool screen shot with a blurry background:

29_zack_looking_off_to_the_side

Here I am waving at the camera with my friends:

30_ballhawks_waving_to_the_camera

We all hung out there between innings.

All three home runs, by the way, were hit by the Orioles, but the Yankees unleashed a 16-hit barrage and won the game, 8-6.

Here I am doing a closing shot for the video, talking about the one ball that I had managed to snag:

31_zack_closing_shot_06_04_16

It had been nearly a full calendar year (more than 80 games for me) since I had “only” gotten one ball. I always want to put on a good show in my videos and snag as many balls as possible, but hopefully this one will be entertaining in a different way. Subscribe to my YouTube channel and stay tuned — it’s coming soon.

On a final note, I’d like to say thanks to Alan Schuster and everyone from MyGameBalls.com — not just those who attended this game, but the entire community. It’s been great getting to know so many people through that website who share my passion for baseball, and I’m looking forward to meeting many more of you.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 1 baseball at this game

 312 balls in 37 games this season = 8.43 balls per game.

 547 balls in 61 lifetime games at Camden Yards = 8.97 balls per game.

1,203 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,945 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

• $102.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $411.08 raised this season

• $190,914.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

My experience at the Fort Bragg baseball game

Lots of stuff has been said and written about my presence at this game — the first in MLB history to be played on an active military base. Many media outlets have reported that I acquired my ticket illegally or somehow snuck in. That is simply not true. I have also faced a tremendous backlash for being there, the assumption being that I deprived a Soldier of the opportunity to attend the game. I tried to make sure not to do that, and if you read this entire blog entry, you’ll understand how it all went down. I do not intend to fuel the controversy by writing about Fort Bragg; I simply want to share my experience (with LOTS of photos coming up) because I know that lots of people are interested. Also, for the record, I do NOT get paid to write this blog. MLB gets money from the ads that appear on it. I do it simply because it’s fun to document my baseball adventures . . .

Okay, where to begin? Well, for starters, I had no idea what to expect at the security gate to Fort Bragg — one of 12 gates, I was told, as the base spans 500 square miles! In addition to my driver’s license, I had my passport and social security card. I was expecting a border-crossing level of interrogation, but because I was with an active duty member of the military, it was a simple process. The guard scanned his DoD ID and inspected my license, and that was it. No questions asked. He waved us through, and we were in.

Fort Bragg looked like any normal town with traffic lights, road signs, grass, trees, houses, buildings, banks, gas stations, parking lots, etc. There was even a mall. While the people there are remarkable, the post is remarkably ordinary (I suppose that provides our military heroes with some semblance of a normal life), but I was still excited to be there and look at everything as we drove around.

We had lots of time to spare, so my Soldier buddy — let’s call him Joe — gave me a tour, pointed out where he works, tried to figure out where we were supposed to park for the game, and asked what I wanted to eat for lunch. At one point, he pulled over on a beautiful residential street. He smoked a cigarette. I called my mom. A firetruck and an ambulance rumbled past, sirens blaring, but aside from that, everything was super laid-back.

That’s when it started to drizzle.

The sports-themed restaurant where we chose to eat was closed for the July 4th weekend, so we circled back to the mall. That’s when the drizzle turned into a steady rain. We ran inside, and once again, I was struck by how normal everything looked. We could have been at any mall in America. The only difference was that half the people were Soldiers dressed in uniforms. Part of me was nervous that I would be questioned for being there. The other part of me felt safer than ever and realized I needed to relax.

Joe had heard that there were shuttle buses that would take people from our designated parking lot to the stadium starting at 4pm. That was good because the stadium was going to open at 5pm, and we wanted to get there nice and early.

After a five-minute ride, we were greeted by a stadium employee (volunteer?) who gave us a quick speech about safety at the game. Here he is telling us that if we had any problems, we should look for people wearing the same hat and shirt that he had:

2_people_on_the_bus

As you can see in the photo above, people were dressed in normal/civilian clothes. That’s because it was a weekend. Soldiers were not required to be in their uniforms, and many of the attendees were family members or guests of Soldiers. Like I said, everything was pretty chill.

When we got off the bus, we headed toward the right field gate entrance:

3_walking_to_the_right_field_gate_entrance

Then we passed through a small opening in the trees:

4_walking_toward_the_stadium

I nearly gasped when I saw the stadium in the distance. (See those teeny light towers poking up?) I couldn’t believe that I was really looking at it.

Here’s what I saw next:

5_signs_commemorating_hall_of_famers_who_served_in_the_military

There were dozens of signs/flags along the walkway, honoring members of the Baseball Hall of Fame who had served in the military, many of whom had sacrificed prime years of their careers to do so. Just thinking about that was humbling.

Eventually the walkway led everyone to a merchandise store . . .

6_merchandise_for_sale

. . . and soon after that, I got my first glimpse of the gates/entrance:

7_first_look_at_the_entrance

There were three sets of employees. The first set (see the woman up above in the tan shorts?) simply welcomed everyone, the second set asked for our tickets, and the third set checked our bags and made sure we didn’t cause any beeps when walking through the metal detectors.

That was it.

People have accused me of sneaking in and/or bribing security. That’s beyond ridiculous. Ask anyone who attended the game if they had to show ID or if they got interrogated when entering the stadium. I assure you the answer is “no.” It just wasn’t like that, so don’t believe anything you hear from anyone who wasn’t actually there.

I forgot to mention that it had poured during lunch. I didn’t think there was any chance of the Braves and Marlins taking batting practice, and I was nervous about the game itself being rained out. Two days earlier, there was such a huge threat of rain that MLB announced that because the schedules were so tight, there would, unfortunately, be no chance to make up the game at Fort Bragg. That being said, it was *very* lucky to only have to deal with a bunch of muddy puddles inside the stadium. Check out the walkway behind the batter’s eye in center field:

8_center_field_walkway

That’s pretty much what it looked everywhere behind the seating areas, and no, I’m not complaining. It’s incredible that this stadium got built as quickly as it did. Certain areas were pristine while others suffered a bit because of the elements. No big deal. But enough about that. I’m sure you wanna see the field itself, right? Here you go — a view from the “berm” in left-center:

9_view_from_left_center_field_07_03_16

I truly could not believe that there was batting practice.

Prior to this game, I had been to 51 different major league stadiums and snagged at least one baseball at all of them. Obviously I wanted to keep that streak intact, and I also wanted to be extra generous — more on that in a bit, but for now, check out the jumbotron in deep left field:

10_jumbotron_showing_batting_practice

All it showed was guys taking their cuts in the cage. I liked that because it can be tough to identify players during BP.

After a little while, I got a ball thrown to me by Chase d’Arnaud. (There weren’t any kids standing near me when I caught it, and the grown-ups hadn’t been asking for it either. d’Arnaud threw it to me from about 100 feet away, so if I hadn’t been there, the ball definitely would’ve been tossed back to the bucket in shallow center field.) This made me VERY happy, so even though I was a sweaty mess, I posted a selfie on Twitter:

11_zack_with_ball9083_52nd_stadium_with_at_least_one_ball

As soon as I posted that, I started writing my next tweet to announce something that I had thought of earlier in the day:

12_tweet_promising_to_donate_money

I ended up getting bashed because people assumed I donated money only as a reaction to the negativity on Twitter, so please allow me to point something out . . .

Look at the time stamp on my tweet about snagging that ball. Now look at the time stamp on my tweet about the donation. They were posted two minutes apart, so just to be clear: long before the internet got angry about my presence at this game, I had decided to do this. I had asked Joe what his favorite military charity is. He’s the one who came up with AMVETS.org (I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of them until he mentioned them and I looked them up), so that’s why I picked them.

It would have been great to have someone filming me all day, not just for the sake of posting it on YouTube, but because the footage would have cleared me from another slew of accusations — more specifically that I was pushing kids around to get baseballs.

Let’s talk about this for a minute or two, okay? For starters, that is NOT what I do or who I am as a person. Contrary to the many false accusations that have come my way over the years, I have NEVER knocked down a single person, young or old, in more than 1,400 MLB games. I pride myself on being super-careful and respectful, and I can’t believe that I have to defend myself all over again, but whatever, I’m doing it because there are lots of people hearing about me for the first time. If you’re one of them, hello and thank you for reading my blog! If you’re willing to suspend judgment a bit longer, please check out my YouTube channel. You’ll find lots of videos of me snagging baseballs at various stadiums, and you’ll get a sense of my personality and what I’m all about. I particularly like this video from Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Here’s another one of my favorites from Turner Field in Atlanta, and if you still have more time to spare, watch this short documentary on me that VICE Sports did last season after I snagged Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th career hit. It really explains a lot.

One more thing about knocking kids down . . . do you really think that I would have gotten away with that? ON AN ACTIVE MILITARY BASE?! I would estimate that two-thirds of the crowd were non-military civilians (lots of families, kids, and friends), but still, that means I was surrounded by active duty members of the Army at all times. If I did anything bad to even one child, I would’ve probably gotten my ass kicked by his/her father, and if that type of behavior persisted, I would’ve been hauled out of there by the Military Police. Think about that. You’re basically insulting the military and stadium security by claiming that I got away with doing anything inappropriate or illegal.

And now let’s move on, huh? I did get someone to film me for a minute. Check out this screen shot of me giving a ball to a little kid:

13_zack_giving_ball_away_07_03_16

You may have noticed that I was wearing a different hat than the red one in the photo I tweeted. Quick explanation: I own caps and shirts of all 30 MLB teams and often change outfits at stadiums because it helps me get toss-ups from the players. So yeah, in the screen shot above, I was wearing a Braves cap, and in the screen shot below, in which I was watching helplessly as a Giancarlo Stanton homer sailed completely over the berm and nearly went inside the open passenger window of a semi that was parked back there, I was wearing a Marlins cap:

14_giancarlo_stanton_homer_clearing_the_berm

Here’s what it looked like behind the berm . . .

15_area_behind_the_berm

. . . and here’s the berm itself:

16_huge_berm_in_left_center_field

WOW!!! Right? What an amazing place to move around and try to catch home run balls. (What an amazing place in general, just to chill and watch the game.)

Speaking of balls, I don’t have any action shots of myself, so you’ll have to settle for a quick rundown. After d’Arnaud hooked me up, I got a toss-up from Braves pitcher Ian Krol and then caught a couple of home runs. Jeff Francoeur hit the first one; I’m not sure who hit the second, but I can tell you that I gave away all of my BP balls, mostly to kids, but also to a few grown-ups. At one point, an usher walked over and asked if I might be able to catch a ball for him to give to his brother who wasn’t able to attend the game because he was currently deployed. I told him I’d give him the next one that I got — and I did. And he was thrilled.

Soon after the Marlins took the field, I got A.J. Ramos to hook me up from quite a distance. I was hoping he’d throw it hard — he likes to do that — but he gave me a gentle lob instead. My next two baseballs were both home runs by Giancarlo Stanton. I caught the first one knee-high on the dead run in left-center, and I caught the next one under more routine circumstances in straight-away left. That brought my total for the day to seven baseballs, meaning that at the very least, I was going to make a $700 donation to AMVETS.org. That’s a lot of money, but there was still one more group of BP. And I was glad to contribute.

My 8th ball was tossed by Jose Fernandez, and my 9th ball was a home run by Marcell Ozuna, which I caught on the fly in left-center. That was it for BP.

If I had brought all the materials for my glove trick with me, I probably could’ve retrieved a couple of balls out of this gap behind the outfield wall:

17_gap_in_front_of_the_bleachers

Why didn’t I bring the glove trick? Because I figured I wasn’t going to be allowed to use a device like that. Oh well.

I should mention that there were LOTS of baseballs to go around. The players, not surprisingly, were generous with toss-ups, and there were times when I had to ask three or four children, “Did you get a ball yet?” before I found one who said no. And then, to be clear, I would hand one to them. I always try to make sure that as many different kids as possible receive baseballs.

As you may have noticed, the berm was sloped, so whenever a child at the back dropped a ball, it rolled down and gently hit the back of someone’s foot. This probably happened a dozen times.

After BP I resisted the urge to get some shaved ice:

18_shaved_ice_truck

Instead of eating, I wanted to focus on wandering around the stadium and taking lots of photos. Here’s what it looked like behind the left field bleachers — ESPN’s tent is on the left and the foul pole is just out of view on the right:

19_gap_beside_left_field_bleachers

Here’s the Marlins bullpen beside a merchandise tent:

20_left_field_bullpen_and_foul_pole

The walkway in the left field corner was buzzing:

21_lots_of_people_at_fort_bragg_field

I liked the Guest Services setup — simple but effective:

22_guest_services_at_fort_bragg_field

Here’s what it looked like behind the bleachers along the left field foul line:

23_grandstand_and_tunnels

I kept walking toward home plate and passed the Marlins’ clubhouse:

24_marlins_clubhouse_sign

There was excellent signage. Not even kidding. I notice things like that and appreciate it when it’s done well. That said, here’s a stadium directory:

25_fort_bragg_field_map_directory

The walkway behind the seats on the 1st base side was particularly muddy:

26_puddles_and_mud

The ushers were checking tickets at all the tunnels, but on several occasions, they let me take a quick peek at the field. That was nice of them.

Here’s a tunnel that led to a disabled seating area along the right field foul line:

27_tunnel_to_a_handicapped_area

Here’s what the field looked like from that spot:

28_handicapped_area_and_field

Very nice! I was so excited for the game but there was still another half-hour remaining before the first pitch.

Moments later, Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell walked along the warning track, tossing and handing out Braves caps:

29_roger_mcdowell_handing_out_braves_caps

I got one and gave it to a woman sitting nearby.

Here’s what the right field corner looked like:

30_right_field_corner_at_fort_bragg_field

I was tempted to stay there and try to catch a foul ball, but eh. That didn’t seem like a fun way to experience this game.

After walking all the way around the outfield again to the left field corner, I spotted this through a chain-link fence:

31_sneak_peek_through_fence_of_soldiers_carrying_huge_american_flag

Two seconds after taking that photo, I heard a voice say, “Excuse me, what are you doing?”

I turned around and was surprised to see a Military Police Officer with a walkie-talkie. I explained apologetically that I was just taking a photo of the huge American Flag, and then I showed it to him on my phone. He said it was no problem but that he’d gotten a report of someone potentially tampering with the fence, so he asked me to step away from it.

I was unsettled at first but that quickly changed to feeling safe and appreciative. Although I didn’t feel smothered at any point by security, there was clearly an incredible presence and watchfulness, so let me just say THANK YOU to the Soldiers and volunteers who helped to make this event happen and who kept everything running smoothly. Everyone did a tremendous job, and I found myself marveling at the logistics throughout the night.

Here’s something else worth marveling at:

32_patriotic_fans_dressed_in_stars_and_stripes

Outstanding.

Everyone was in such a great, festive mood.

The Soldiers who’d been carrying the huge American flag had now moved inside the stadium:

33_soldiers_holding_the_huge_flag

The pregame ceremony had not yet begun, so while I was standing around, I got another baseball. In fact, if you scroll back up to my photo of the left field bullpen, you can see it on the grass. I noticed at the last second that Braves catching coach Brian Schneider had walked out and retrieved it. Just before he was about to place it in the ball bag, I called out to him and got him to toss it to me. Normally I don’t congratulate myself for getting baseballs and giving them away, but given the amount of negativity that’s swirling, it should be noted that if I hadn’t been there, NO ONE would have gotten that ball, but because I was there, it ended up in the hands of a child 30 seconds later — and a Veterans charity was due to receive an extra $100.

Fifteen minutes before game time, Marlins starter Adam Conley began warming up in the bullpen:

34_adam_conley_warming_up

In case you can’t tell, he made a few throws by running from the mound and taking a crow hop. I’ve seen pitchers do that before, but it still looks funny. I wanted to continue watching him getting ready for the game, but I wanted to see the on-field ceremony even more. A friendly usher in the left field bleachers let me enter the section for a few minutes so that I could take some photos, like this:

35_huge_flag_at_fort_bragg_field

What a beautiful sight! It made me think of my father, Stuart Hample (1926 – 2010), who served in the Navy on a submarine base in World War II. His service was a great source of pride, not just for him but my entire family. I wished that he had been here with me at Fort Bragg, and in spirit, he was. It was a touching moment for me, punctuated by a flyover featuring four helicopters from the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division:

36_helicopter_flyover_fort_bragg_field

FYI, the two helicopters on the side were UH-60 Black Hawks, the one in front was an AH-64 Apache, the one in the back was a CH-47 Chinook. Check out this amazing video that they filmed and posted on YouTube.

This might sound strange, but at the start of the game, I actually spent a few minutes here:

37_impossible_foul_ball_spot_behind_home_plate

In the photo above, the big structure on the right is the home plate grandstand. You can see the protective screen to the left and down a bit. I was hoping that one of the left-handed batters would send a foul ball flying back in my direction, but I quickly gave up. It wasn’t fun to be missing the action, and it seemed like a lousy spot — set too far back from the field. Same deal on the 1st base side of home plate. There was lots of stuff in my way between the field and walkway, so foul balls seemed possible at best, not likely.

Ultimately I headed to my seat on the 3rd base side. (Joe, meanwhile, had wandered off to catch up with a few friends.) This was my view in the top of the 2nd inning:

38_view_from_the_3rd_base_side

Not bad. And it was a total fluke that I ended up there. I didn’t know where my ticket was going to be until a day before the game. That’s when I saw this seating chart for the first time.

Side note: I’d been so busy all day (and so engaged in the present) that I never spent more than a few seconds on my phone at any given moment. Yeah, I’d been posting some stuff to Twitter, but I didn’t see any of the replies coming in. I figured I’d catch up later, answer people’s questions, etc. It wasn’t until I started getting texts from a few friends that I realized something was amiss, and even then I didn’t realize the full extent of it. As it turned out, my presence at this game was turning into a national media frenzy, and for the most part, I was still oblivious. The more people tried to tell me about what was going on, the more I ignored my phone. As stupid and naive as this may sound, I was just trying to enjoy myself at a baseball game, so I did my best to tune out the distractions.

<sigh>

After each of the first two innings, I noticed that Marlins 3rd baseman Martin Prado had tossed the 3rd-out balls into the crowd. He wasn’t the fielder who had recorded those outs; he was simply the designated 3rd-out-ball tosser-upper. Some teams do that; there’s one guy who gives out all the balls during the game. On the Yankees it’s Didi Gregorius, on the Rangers it’s Elvis Andrus, and so on. I hoped that Prado would toss one to me at some point, and when my old buddy Chase d’Arnaud took a called strike three to end the 3rd inning, I figured I had no shot. Usually, when an inning ends with a strikeout, the catcher tosses the ball into the crowd at the home-plate end of the dugout, but for some reason (perhaps because there was protective netting here at Fort Bragg blocking those seats), J.T. Realmuto fired the ball to Prado, who then walked into foul territory and tossed it right to me. Check it out:

39_ball9093_fort_bragg_commemorative

As excited as I was to have gotten that ball, no one else around me seemed to care. No one said a word about it or even asked to see it. It was actually kind of strange, so I posted that photo on Twitter, which unintentionally fanned the flames.

This was my 11th ball of the day, and I’d given nine of them away. I still had the one from d’Arnaud in my possession — a ball that I really would have loved to keep, as it was my first ball at Fort Bragg Field, but a promise is a promise. I had announced that I was going to give away all of my baseballs except for one, so I figured I’d hang onto the one I’d just gotten. A little while later, I gave the d’Arnaud ball to a very appreciative boy and then headed up the stairs to the last row. Here’s what it looked like from that spot:

40_panorama_from_the_3rd_base_side_at_fort_bragg_field

By the 6th inning, I was starving, so I took a little walk . . .

41_wandering_in_the_6th_inning

. . . and ended up here:

42_concession_stand_and_employee

The concession stands weren’t giving out bottles, so all the drinks were served in paper cups. I got chicken tenders and fries and some ice water for about $13.

Late in the game, I headed out to the berm in left-center field:

43_panorama_from_left_center_at_fort_bragg_field

That’s when I noticed this:

44_prisoner_of_war_missing_in_action_chair_of_honor

That was the “Prisoner of War/Missing in Action chair of honor.” Here’s an article about it. I regret that I missed the official between-inning dedication, but I hadn’t heard when that was going to take place. Thankfully I was at least able to see it and take a photo to share here with everyone.

As for the game itself, Adam Conley’s crow hops must’ve worked because he pitched six scoreless innings. J.T. Realmuto hit the game’s only home run in the top of the 9th. It landed in front of the batter’s eye and got tossed up to the fans standing along the side railing. The Braves didn’t score until the bottom of the 9th, but their rally fell short — final score: Marlins 5, Braves 2. Here’s the final score on the jumbotron:

45_final_score_on_jumbotron_at_fort_bragg_field

Officially, this was a Braves home game — fans did the Tomahawk Chop, and there were other between-inning promotions straight out of Turner Field — but it didn’t feel like a Braves game. It felt like some bizarro/alternate baseball universe, and I mean that in the best of ways.

I took a few more photos before heading out. Here’s what the batter’s eye looked like:

46_space_in_front_of_batters_eye

Here’s the berm after nearly everyone else had left:

47_final_look_at_the_left_center_field_berm

Here’s the last photo I took inside the stadium:

48_stadium_nearly_empty

What a special night and an incredible experience. Many thanks to Major League Baseball for making it happen and to all military service members and their families, past and present. Although I now realize that my presence at this game was a tremendous source of controversy, that doesn’t diminish the fact that it was truly an honor to set foot inside Fort Bragg and attend this historic game.

Are you still with me? Good because I have a few more things to share. Ready to see what the tickets looked like? I forgot to photograph mine at the game, so here’s the photo that Joe sent to get me pumped up after a mutual friend had first put us in touch:

49_ticket_photo_from_joe

It’s hard to tell in that photo, but the places where it says “ADMIT ONE” had shiny gold stamping. Very snazzy. Did you notice that the gate opening time was printed right under the date? I didn’t notice that at first and ended up wasting an embarrassing amount of time trying to find that info on the internet. Duh. And one more thing — there were no barcodes! The ticket takers at the stadium tore off the stubs at the bottom the old-fashioned way.

Now, about that donation to AMVETS.org . . .

I had announced on Twitter that I would write a check, but again: duh. This is 2016. Who writes checks? Instead, when I woke up on July 4th, I made the $1,100 donation through their website, and then I tweeted about it, just to let everyone know that I wasn’t BS’ing:

50_donation_made_to_amvets

As I mentioned earlier, this angered lots of people who missed my earlier tweet and assumed I only donated because things had gotten ugly. Other people were upset because I was supposedly trying to get sympathy by mentioning my dad. (He’s my dad, and I miss him like crazy and still love him, and he served in the Navy, and I think about him a lot. I refuse to apologize for any of that.) Even more people were pissed that I hadn’t picked other military charities.

Why were all these people so mad? Let’s put it this way — the media coverage certainly didn’t help. Look at the headlines that appeared when Googling my name the following day:

51_google_search_for_my_name

What is “illegal” about receiving a ticket from a Soldier? How does receiving a ticket from a Soldier constitute as “crashing” the game? And my goodness, there was a petition to ban me from all stadiums?! I understand now that I showed poor judgment in attending the game — I posted a long apology on Twitter — but I really don’t think I did anything illegal. In fact, according to the many Soldiers who got in touch with me, there was lots of confusion about the tickets at Fort Bragg. Allow me to quote someone whom I met at the game and later emailed:

According to a source at Fort Bragg’s MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) Department, the Fort Bragg agency tasked with providing ticketing and community outreach to the Fort Bragg game, there were major planning and coordination miscues with the distribution of tickets. Hundreds, if not thousands, of tickets went unaccounted for and were not provided to military units for distribution until days before the game; this sadly led to many tickets going unused. For tickets that were distributed by units to Soldiers, many were not properly documented and Soldiers were not provided guidance of restrictions on their use and transferability. These miscues also led to many Soldiers not receiving parking passes for the game and MWR frantically posting Facebook announcements the day of the game to disseminate information. Adding to the confusion, the MWR employees at the post Leisure Travel office were not provided with any information on ticketing. As this office serves as the main customer service point of contact for MWR, Soldiers and family members were not able to receive information concerning the details of the game and the tickets; in some cases, incorrect information was provided.”

I had initially tried to buy a ticket in the weeks leading up to the game, but that didn’t work because no one had tickets. Lots of people made promises, but no one could actually deliver. I realized that the best, safest, and most respectful approach was to try to find someone who knew someone who’d bring me along for free as their guest. That’s when I posted a YouTube video (which I deleted after securing a ticket) asking for help, and THAT is ultimately what worked. Joe’s entire unit had received tickets, or at least all the guys who wanted them. They never had to sign for them or enter the lottery or put their names or guests’ names on a list or vow not to transfer them, so he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong by helping me out. He received a pair of tickets and had no idea what to do with the extra one. He invited his girlfriend, but she wasn’t interested in the game, so when he heard about me from a mutual friend, he thought it’d be fun to bring me along and hang for the day. I’m sorry the story isn’t more exciting, but that’s really all there is to it. And let me stress again (as I did in my YouTube video) that I never ever EVER wanted to deprive a Soldier of the chance to attend this game. I only wanted to go if I could find someone who had a ticket that wasn’t going to be used.

That said, I was still enemy No. 1, and the hatred and negativity reached new heights. Here are a few of the emails I received, including one that compares me to Hitler and another which disrespects my dead father:

52_negative_emails_july_2016

There were many more emails that I deleted without taking screen shots.

On a positive note, I’ve received lots of supportive emails, including a bunch from people in or connected to the military. These mean a LOT to me. Here’s one:

53a_supportive_fort_bragg_email

Here’s another:

54b2_supportive_fort_bragg_email

And another (from someone who sent a follow-up message explaining that he contacted me from his military email account so that when I shared it, people would really know that he was a soldier):

53b3_supportive_fort_bragg_email

And yet another:

55b_supportive_fort_bragg_email

I have also continued to receive a steady flow of emails from kids who think I’m a decent guy. I’ll just share one of these for now, but if you want to read a whole lot more, check out the fan mail page on my website. Here you go:

56b_random_awesome_email

Dear Nic-

Thanks for the kind email and for watching my videos! There’ll be a lot more of them coming this summer, so stay tuned. Also, keep in mind that thirteen-year-olds can be incredibly cruel, though I’ve found that grown-ups can be pretty crappy too. The more people make fun of you, the more insecure they are, so really it just reflects badly on them. You have no idea how much I got made fun of at your age — and still do. Just stay strong and keep doing what you love. Become an expert. Teach others. Perhaps you can even make a living doing it. As long as it’s not hurting anyone, you can hold your head up high — and the last time I checked, loving baseball stadiums is no crime. If anyone gives you a hard time, tell them to talk to me about it. Be well and take care and hopefully we can meet in person someday . . . at a stadium you’ve helped to design.

-Zack

On a final note, I just want to say thanks for reading this blog entry. It was such an amazing and humbling experience to be there with our military heroes. I hope MLB and other sports leagues continue to have events like this to honor these brave servants of our country.

6/3/16 at Camden Yards

This was my first game in Baltimore since Game 1 of the 2014 ALDS, and for the first time ever at this stadium, I was with a personal videographer for my YouTube channel. Here’s the spot we chose for my intro:

1_zack_intro_for_video_06_03_16

Although I didn’t mention it on video, I was concerned about the weather, and sure enough, when I headed inside at 5pm, I was bummed to see the tarp on the field:

2_tarp_on_the_field_06_03_16

This was very very NOT good, mainly because the Yankees were in town. Not only was batting practice wiped out, but there was going to be lots of competition for toss-ups.

Thankfully, after switching into my Yankees gear, I was able to get CC Sabathia’s attention (from about 100 feet away). Here he is throwing me a ball:

3_zack_getting_a_toss_up_from_cc_sabathia

The ball sailed so far over my head and tailed so much to the right that I didn’t even bother moving at first. Here it is rattling around in the seats:

4_ball8943_rattling_around_the_seats

Luckily the ball bounced back toward me, landed in the folded up portion of a seat, and trickled down onto the wet concrete. Here I am picking it up:

5_zack_picking_up_ball8943

That ball turned out to have a commemorative logo for the Blue Jays’ 40th season:

6_ball8943_blue_jays_commemorative

The Yankees had recently played in Toronto and picked up a bunch of those balls. (Home teams always provide BP balls for the visitors.) Back in April, I’d gotten a few Blue Jays balls from the A’s in Detroit — random, but hey, I’ll take it.

There was no action after that, so I got some Boog’s BBQ — a pork sandwich and baked beans, to be specific:

7_zack_with_boogs_barbecue

Then I wandered a bit and pointed out a few things about the stadium for the video.

Did I say there was no action? Sorry, there totally was. Check it out — here’s the ground “removing” the tarp:

8_tarp_removal_06_03_16

There was nothing to do, so I wandered and took a few photos, like this one:

9_original_1954_foul_pole_from_memorial_stadium

Then I caught up with three of my favorite people at Camden Yards:

10a_tim_anderson

That’s Tim Anderson (with a very bruised inner knee) on the left, Alex Kopp (“Customs Broker by day, Ballhawk by night”) in the middle, and Grant Edrington (who appears to have gotten five years younger) on the right.

Take a look at Grant’s glove:

11_grant_edringtons_old_glove

That’s both the best and worst glove I’ve ever seen, but he seems to be doing well with it, so who am I to judge?

There still weren’t any players on the field, so we all hung out and chatted for a while:

12_zack_talking_to_alex_and_tim_and_grant

For the record, Tim is not nearly as thick as the photo above makes him look. That’s just a weird angle. You should all know that he’s a trim and athletic individual.

In the following photo of Nathan Eovaldi warming up, do you see the guy on the cobblestone walkway, wearing all black, and standing casually as if he doesn’t have a care in the world?

13_eddie_fastook_near_the_bullpen

That’s Eddie Fastook, the Executive Director of Team Security for the Yankees. Remember him from this photo last year? I’ve only seen him a few times since then, so it was nice to give him a shout and get a friendly wave in return.

While I hung out there, Brandon got close to Alex Rodriguez:

14_arod_signing_autographs_06_03_16

Too bad I wasn’t there with him. It would’ve been cool to interact with A-Rod on camera.

Here’s where I sat for his first at-bat of the game:

15_zack_in_left_field_06_03_16

There were many more empty seats than I expected, mostly at the back of the section, so I hoped to take advantage whenever A-Rod stepped to the plate. Unfortunately, when he connected in the 4th inning on his 694th career homer, that ball went to right field. GAH!! Tim and Alex told me later that it landed on the Flag Court near the foul pole, bounced/rolled all way out toward the warehouse, and was picked up by some random guy who happened to be walking along Eutaw Street.

I headed out to the Flag Court at various points in the game:

16_zack_flag_court_06_03_16

I also spent a little time behind the plate, hoping for a foul ball:

17_zack_going_for_foul_balls_06_03_16

There was no action anywhere near me.

It’s a good thing I got that toss-up from Sabathia early in the day because (a) I would’ve been freaking out otherwise and (b) I would not have accepted an offer to go up into the warehouse — and look what I would’ve missed out on:

18_view_from_bridge_to_warehouse_over_eutaw_street

How did I get to be there? Pretty simple, really. While standing around in right field, I was spotted/recognized by a guy who works at Camden Yards. He said he had warehouse access and offered to bring me (and my videographer) along. I just had to promise not to show his face or mention his name to anyone. So yeah, check out this hallway on the fourth floor:

19_long_hallway_in_the_warehouse

At 1,016 feet, this warehouse is the longest building on the east coast, so of course the hallways are long too.

And now . . . check out the view of the field:

20_view_from_warehouse

We hung out in the hallway for about 10 minutes, and when we exited at the center-field end of it, I saw this:

21_catering_area

I know you’re wondering, and the answer is no. There was no food.

We passed by a receptionist’s area . . .

22_receptionist_area

. . . and then a break room . . .

23_break_room

. . . and past a bunch of cubicles:

24_cubicles

That concluded my tour of the warehouse. I’m sure there was much more to see, but the game was almost done, and I wanted to make one final attempt at getting another ball. Can you spot me behind the Orioles’ dugout in the following photo?

25_one_of_many_toss_ups_after_the_game

Did you notice the ball flying past me in the upper right corner? That was one of half a dozen that got tossed into the crowd. Here I am getting one of them from coach Einar Diaz:

26_zack_getting_ball8944_from_einar_diaz

That was it. The Orioles had defeated the Yankees, 6-5, and I only got two baseballs — quite a dip below my average of more than eight per game, but sometimes the circumstances are tough. It was still a fun day.

I decided to do the closing scene for the video on Eutaw Street. We had to do several takes in part because of this guy:

27_overzealous_orioles_fan

He was rather exuberant, screaming “GO ORIOLES!!” but wearing a Yankees shirt. Enjoy looking at his face here because he didn’t make the final cut in the video. I’m going to post the video soon and add a link to the end of this entry, but you should still subscribe to my YouTube channel. That way you definitely won’t miss it.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 2 baseballs at this game

 311 balls in 36 games this season = 8.64 balls per game.

 546 balls in 60 lifetime games at Camden Yards = 9.1 balls per game.

1,202 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,944 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

• $102.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $411.08 raised this season

• $190,914.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/2/16 at Marlins Park

This was my fourth game ever at Marlins Park, and for the first time, I was here with my videographer, Brandon Sloter. Check out this screen shot from my “opening speech” outside the stadium:

1_zack_outside_marlins_park_06_02_16

As I said in the video, “It looks like a spaceship on the outside, and the inside is pretty unusual too.”

A little while later, I met up with my two best friends at the stadium:

2_zack_with_joe_scherer_and_drew_gregg

In the photo above, the man on the left is named Joe. He caught Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run on 6/9/08 at Dolphin Stadium — a ball that I nearly got myself. The guy on the right is named Drew, and he keeps me up to date on everything going on at the ballpark. Not only was it great to reconnect with them, but they were kind enough to bring me and Brandon inside when the season ticket holder gate opened at 4:30pm.

For the first hour, only two sections were open:

1) straight-away left field
2) the left field foul line

Here’s where I started:

3_zack_in_foul_territory_06_02_16

Ichiro Suzuki and Christian Yelich were hitting in the first group. I was hoping that they’d slice a few foul balls into the empty seats, but it quickly became clear that I was wasting my time. I moved to straight-away left, and as you can see in the photo below, there wasn’t a whole lot of room to work with:

4_view_from_left_field_06_02_16

No, it wasn’t crowded, but that section is small and set way back, above and behind the visitors’ bullpen.

I didn’t get anything for half an hour. It was a real struggle. And when I did finally get a ball, it was a wimpy toss-up from Cody Hall during the last group of Marlins BP — not terribly exciting, but obviously I felt a huge sense of relief. Here I am catching it:

5_zack_catching_ball8930

A few minutes later, I got A.J. Ramos to hook me up by asking him to throw the ball hard. (He seems to like pegging them at people, John Rocker style, but presumably without the hostility.) Unfortunately his aim was off, and the ball fell short. Here it is bouncing off the wall in front of me:

6_ball8931_falling_short

Here’s a summary of the brief exchange that followed:

7_aj_ramos_annoyed

He was annoyed at me for not reaching over the wall and making the catch, and I was annoyed that he was annoyed when it had clearly been HIS fault, but then I realized that from his perspective, he couldn’t tell that I was in the 2nd row, so it probably seemed like I was being lazy, or that I was afraid of the ball. In any case, he gave me another shot, and I made the grab without incident:

8_zack_catching_ball8931

Here are the two baseballs that I had gotten:

9_first_two_baseballs copy

My third ball was a home run by a right-handed batter on the Marlins. That’s all I know. Here I am catching it — look closely and you can see it streaking into my glove:

10_zack_catching_ball8932

When the Pirates started hitting, the rest of the stadium still hadn’t opened, but whaddaya know? I got one more chance in left field and made the most of it, climbing down over a row of seats to make the catch. Here I am, just a split-second later, trying not to lose my balance:

11_zack_catching_ball8933

(Did you notice the fan ducking on the lower right?)

I handed that ball to the nearest kid — one of four balls that I gave away over the course of the day:

12_zack_giving_ball_to_kid

Then I ran over to right field at 5:30pm.

Now that the Marlins have moved in the fences, there’s a nifty gap between the outfield wall and the seats, and look! I used my glove trick to snag not one . . . not two . . . but three balls that had dropped down in there:

13_zack_using_the_glove_trick_06_02_16

I’ll spare you having to look at a bunch of screen shots here. Instead, just wait and check out all the action in the video (which is still being edited). If you subscribe to my YouTube channel, you’ll be guaranteed not to miss it.

Anyway, with my total for the day now at seven, I headed back to left field, but not to the seats above the bullpen. I headed to an area just behind the outfield wall called the Clevelander. I’ve talked about it before — it’s basically a club that happens to be located inside a Major League Baseball stadium. This was the view on my right . . .

14_seats_in_the_clevelander_on_my_right

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

15_two_ballhawks_on_my_left

Meanwhile, in order to see the batter, I had to duck down a bit:

16_zack_in_the_clevelander

This section is weird and cramped and fun, and the awnings covering the seats make things awkward. There’s truly nothing else like it in the majors.

The awnings, which, by the way, are only used during BP, worked in my favor. Here’s my eighth ball of the day, bouncing down unexpectedly off one of them and barely eluding the guy standing above me:

17_ball8937_rolling_off_the_canopy

That ball dropped into the gap behind the scoreboard. Here I am bending over and grabbing it:

18_zack_reaching_for_ball8937

What a beautiful sight, huh?

Here’s some awkwardness for ya:

19_zack_waiting_for_ball8938

A righty on the Pirates had hit a deep fly ball that bounced from the warning track onto the awning. I was waiting for it to roll off, along with the guy in the yellow hat, so we both had our gloves up the air. The ball ended up rolling faster and farther than we expected, which was bad for him (because he was underneath the awning and therefore had no chance) and tricky for me because it kinda “handcuffed” me:

20_zack_catching_ball8938

Wow, that’s ugly! But I made the catch.

Here’s a six-part image that shows me getting my 10th ball of the day:

21_zack_snagging_ball8939

It was a home run that sailed over my head, ricocheted back toward me, and plopped into the front row.

Toward the end of BP, when Jonathon Niese walked over to retrieve a ball on the warning track, I simply said, “Hey, what’s up?”

His response: “What’re YOU doing here?”

He remembered me from Citi Field from his time with the Mets. I figured there was no chance that he’d give me the ball, so I didn’t bother asking. Instead we chatted briefly, and before he walked away, he tossed it onto the awning so that it would roll off to me. He was so cool about it (recognizing me AND still hooking me up) that when I got back home to New York, I wrote him a letter to say thanks. Anyway, here I am catching that ball:

22_zack_catching_ball8940

That was my 11th of the day, and here’s No. 12:

23_ball8941_in_scoreboard_gap

I used my string/glove to knock the ball closer (I call that the “half-glove trick”) and then reached down and grabbed it. Easy.

After BP, I caught up with a bunch of people:

24_zack_with_jake_robert_alex

The guy on the left is named Jake, and the dude in the orange shirt is Robert. They’re both regular ballhawks at Marlins Park and made me feel welcomed on their home turf. I appreciated how friendly they were. The fan on the right is named Alex, and as you can see, he’d brought his copy of my book The Baseball, which I signed for him.

I wanted to wander for a bit after that, not just to get shots for the video but also because the stadium is a fascinating place. Here’s the pool in the Clevelander:

25_clevelander_pool_and_field

Unlike the pool at Chase Field, no one ever swims in this one. It’s mainly just for show. (I said “mainly” because there have been exceptions.)

Here I am standing above the batter’s eye, admiring the curvature of the left field wall:

26_zack_and_curvy_walls

Shortly before game time, I did a quick segment for the video at the famous bobblehead museum, which is located in the concourse behind home plate:

27_zack_bobblehead_museum

Brandon wanted to take a photo from the upper deck — he does that in every stadium — but here at Marlins Park, the attendance was so low that the upper deck was closed. Therefore he had to talk to Fan Assistance and then plead his case with stadium security. The best they could do was take him up to the suite level, and even though the game was about to begin, I decided to join him. Here’s what it looked like at the top of the escalator:

28_elevator_and_windows

Kinda airport-like, huh?

Take a look at the ceiling near the bar in the suite level:

29_club_level_ceiling

Kinda gaudy, no?

Here’s a guard outside one of the suites:

30_guard_and_suite

I give up. I’m running out of adjectives. Sterile? I don’t mean to completely diss the stadium. It’s certainly designed and decorated in ways that I wouldn’t personally choose in a million years, and yet it works. It’s Miami. Things are supposed to be flashy. And the team’s owner is an art dealer. Of course he’s going to have bizarre taste, and you know what? I actually like it. The whole place is strange, and that’s good. Too many new stadiums all feel the same, so it’s nice to have one that stands out.

This is where Brandon got to take his photo:

31_off_center_view_from_club_level

That was actually a photo from my iPhone. Brandon took a much better shot, but wasn’t happy. He still wanted to get into the upper deck, and when it became clear that he was gonna spend the next hour dealing with stadium security, I decided to head back out to the Clevelander. Here’s what it looked like from the back of the club:

32_view_from_the_back_of_the_clevelander

Here’s something else that I saw from behind:

33_clevelander_bootay

The game, meanwhile, was speeding along, partially due to the fact that Wei-Yin Chen had a no-hitter going. See the scoreboard in the following photo?

34_no_hitter_through_five_innings

No hits through five. Great night to try to catch a home run. And man, if anybody had hit one to left-center, I would’ve had lots of room to run for it.

Things were so slow in the outfield that I sacrificed half an inning to get my photo taken with this lovely lady:

35_zack_with_baseballs_and_body_painted_woman

If there hadn’t been a line of people waiting to take photos with her, I would’ve offered a friendly lesson on how to pose with baseballs. I mean . . . jeez! You can hardly tell that there were two in her hand because one was behind the other, and to make matters worse, she had the “practice” stamp facing out. Details, people!

Brandon somehow talked his way into the upper deck and got this photo:

36_photo_from_the_upper_deck_by_brandon_sloter

He also went to the deepest part of center field and took a photo there too:

37_photo_from_center_field_by_brandon_sloter

Chen lost his no-hitter in the top of the 7th. The game ended up lasting 12 innings, during which there was a grand total of ZERO home runs.

Final score: Marlins 4, Pirates 3.

The highlight was seeing Ichiro collect his 2,964th and 2,965th career hits. I seriously love that guy, but can we please stop talking about him passing Pete Rose on the all-time hits list? It’s not even accurate to talk about the “professional baseball” record because Rose got 427 hits in the minor leagues, so you’d have to add that to his major league total of 4,256. Let’s appreciate Ichiro for being Ichiro and end this nonsense of crowning him as the hit king. Okay? Thanks.

After the game, the Pirates tossed at least a dozen balls into the crowd near their bullpen — maybe even 20. It was a tremendous display of generosity. Here I am getting one from bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade:

38_zack_catching_ball8942

That ball looked nice and used and rubbed up with mud:

39_ball8942_from_heberto_andrade_postgame

Brandon and I were the last two fans to leave the stadium, and I took a few photos on the way out. Look at this one:

40_view_from_stiarcase_06_02_16

(So weird!)

The lights had already been dimmed:

41_last_look_at_the_field_06_02_16

Here’s one final photo of the concourse, taken just as we began descending on the escalator:

42_empty_concourse_06_02_16

Good times in Miami!

I plan to add a video link to this entry, but will you remember to come back and look for it? Uhh, no, you definitely won’t, so if you want to see it, here’s a reminder to subscribe to my YouTube channel. Thanks for reading/watching.

***UPDATE***
Here’s the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

43_the_nine_balls_i_kept copy_06_02_16 13 baseballs at this game (nine pictured here because I gave four away)

 309 balls in 35 games this season = 8.83 balls per game.

 45 balls in 4 lifetime games at Marlins Park = 11.25 balls per game.

1,201 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 307 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

8,942 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

• $102.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $411.08 raised this season

• $190,914.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6/1/16 at Turner Field

Last game ever for me at Turner Field? I wasn’t sure, so I treated it like it was. I started by taking a good long look around the parking lot where the Braves’ former home, Fulton County Stadium, was located:

1_zack_in_the_parking_lot

I made it to Fulton County for one game when I was 15 years old (here’s my blog entry about it), so to be back in this space was extra meaningful.

Here’s the spot where Hank Aaron’s record-breaking home run landed in 1974:

2_hank_aaron_715th_home_run_landing_spot

Here’s another look at the parking lot and its tall walls:

3_fulton_county_stadium_old_location

Turner Field was way off in the distance:

4_turner_field_from_afar

I headed over to the center field gate at around 4pm, and half an hour later, I was the first one in the seats. In the screen shot below, you can see me walking up the stairs toward the batter’s eye, looking for baseballs:

5_zack_alone_in_the_left_field_seats

That screen shot was from a video that was filmed by my friend Brandon. He’s a professional photographer/videographer, and we’ve been traveling to various stadiums to do videos for my YouTube channel.

Before the Braves started hitting, Giants starter Matt Cain began playing catch in left field:

6_matt_cain_playing_catch_with_ball8919

When he finished, I got him to throw me the ball, but it fell short and ricocheted back onto the field. The red arrows below indicate where it went:

7_ball8919_falling_short_of_zack

In the following screen shot, you can see two important things. First, the Braves had started taking BP, and second, coach Eddie Perez had retrieved the ball and was in the process of hitting it back to Cain with his fungo bat. Check it out:

8_eddie_perez_hitting_it_back_to_matt_cain

Cain threw it to me again, and this time his aim was perfect:

9_zack_catching_ball8919

This was a particularly meaningful ball . . .

10_ball8919_1200th_consecutive_game_with_at_least_one_ball

. . . because it extended my consecutive games streak to 1,200. The last time I went to a game and didn’t snag at least one ball was September 2, 1993.

Here I am standing next to Chocolate Papa:

11_zack_and_chocolate_papa

That’s an awesome nickname — not sure how he got it, but hey, even if he made it up himself, he might as well wear it with pride.

I used the glove trick to snag my second ball of the day and then handed it to the nearest/littlest kid:

12_zack_giving_ball8920_to_a_kid

When the entire stadium opened at 5pm, I raced over to right field and found a ball in the front row. Then I snagged this ball . . .

13_ball8922_flying_into_the_seats

. . . which was thrown by Bud Norris. I’m not sure who he was aiming for — probably the kid in the front row, so after I picked it up, I gave it to him:

14_zack_giving_ball8922_to_a_kid

Here I am catching my fifth ball — a toss-up from coach Alan Butts:

15_zack_catching_ball8923

Here’s a screen shot that shows my sixth ball streaking into the seats in left-center field:

16_ball8924_flying_into_the_seats

I’m not sure who hit it. All I can tell you is that it was a right-handed batter on the Braves, but anyway, if you look closely at the image above, you can see me (in the light blue shirt) on the stairs, just before I darted to my left and grabbed it in an empty row.

When the Giants took the field and started playing catch, Brandon got a great shot of Johnny Cueto staring us down:

17_jonny_cueto_staring_down_brandon

Several minutes later, I got Brandon Belt’s attention and got him to chuck a ball to me from about 100 feet away. See him letting it fly?

18_brandon_belt_throwing_ball8925

His throw fell a bit short, so I had to climb down over a row to make the catch:

19_zack_catching_ball8925

When the Giants started hitting, I rushed out to deep left field and played the cross-aisle for Hunter Pence. I ended up chasing down a ball that he hooked inside the foul pole. Unfortunately Brandon didn’t get a shot of it, so all I can do is show myself holding the ball (and grinning like a doofus) after the fact:

20_zack_with_ball8926

I headed to right-center for the final group of BP. I only got one ball out there, but man, lemme tell ya, it felt goooood. It was hit by Brandon Belt, and while the ball was in mid-air, I climbed/jumped down over three rows of seats. I knew that it wasn’t going to reach the stands on the fly, so I prepared to catch it on the bounce. Here I am jumping down over the final row as the ball skipped up off the warning track:

21_zack_climbing_down_over_yet_another_row_for_ball8927

It bounced a bit higher than I expected, so I had to jump in order to catch it:

22_zack_jumping_for_ball8927

Then I climbed back up over a row and handed it to a girl:

23_zack_giving_ball8927_to_a_kid

People often assume that I steal baseballs from kids when in fact I often give baseballs away. By posting these images, I hope to encourage other fans to be generous too, and I also hope it’ll cast a positive light on ballhawking. We’re not monsters, and in fact the most experienced ballhawks are more likely to give away the most balls.

(By the way, the Braves are using special balls for the final season at Turner Field, but none of the ones I got in BP were commemorative. Womp-womp.)

After BP, I posed for photos with a bunch of fans:

24_zack_posing_for_photos_with_fans

It’s been great getting to meet and talk to so many friendly people at games this year.

Brandon got a great shot of some folks doing the Tomahawk Chop:

25_fans_doing_the_tomahawk_chop

Then I wandered all over the place to show and talk about the stadium:

26_zack_wandering

I’m hoping that in 10 or 20 or 100 years, when people want to see what Turner Field was like, they’ll watch this video.

Here’s a photo that I took in the upper deck:

27_view_from_left_field_upper_deck

Here’s another:

28_view_from_left_field_upper_deck

And another:

29_turner_field_sign

And yes, another:

30_view_from_upper_deck_06_01_16

Can you believe that it was almost game time when I took that last photo? The crowd was very very very small, and if the Giants hadn’t been there, it would’ve been even smaller.

Here’s a photo of the stairs and ramps leading downstairs, just because:

31_stairs_and_ramps

Turner Field is bland and cruddy, and love it even more because of that. I don’t want to see baseball games in malls and palaces. I want to feel like I’m AT a baseball game, ya know?

Would you believe that I missed a foul ball in the top of the 1st inning because I was just a bit too slow getting to my seat. If all those people hadn’t stopped me to take photos after BP, or if I’d done my wandering in the upper deck a little quicker, or if I hadn’t stopped right before game time to give a ball to a friendly usher to give to the child of her choice, I would’ve been in position to snag that 1st-inning foul ball, guaranteed.

I wasn’t THAT upset because (a) I’d already gotten two commemorative balls the day before and (b) I figured there’d be more action. This was my view during the game:

32_zack_watching_the_game

Nothing special, right? Well, ha-HAAAA, look at all this empty space on my left:

33_empty_seats_during_game

IS THAT THE MOST DELICIOUS THING YOU’VE EVER SEEN IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE???

In the bottom of the 3rd inning, Mallex Smith sliced a high foul pop-up in my direction. I jumped out of my seat and drifted up the stairs, trying to reach the spot where I figured it would land, but the spin on the ball combined with the wind played all sorts of tricks, and at the last second, I had to rush back down the stairs and lunge out awkwardly. In the process, I got caught up on a railing and nearly busted my ass, but somehow I stayed upright, and the ball found the pocket of my glove. I’m sure it looked impressive to everyone else in the stadium, but all I could think was, “Wow, I’m an idiot and nearly misjudged that.” Here I am holding up the ball for Brandon’s camera:

34_zack_with_ball8928_mallex_smith_foul_ball

In the screen shot above, do you see the kid in the Giants cap? I’ll tell you more about him in a bit, but for now, here’s a closer look at the ball:

35_ball8928_mallex_smith_foul_ball

I didn’t care that the logo was smudged because one of my baseballs from the previous game was nearly perfect.

A little while later, someone sent me a screen shot of myself on TV:

36_zack_on_tv_after_catching_ball8928

An inning after that, these guys named A.J. and John asked me to sign their baseballs:

37_kids_with_zack_hample_autographs

When the game became official after five innings, the number of home games remaining at Turner Field was reduced to 53:

38_53_home_games_remaining

Can you spot me in the following image?

39_zack_going_for_3rd_out_balls

I was going for a 3rd-out ball at the Giants’ dugout — no luck.

Now, about that kid in the Giants cap . . . his name is Cooper, and we hung out for a bit during the middle innings:

40_zack_and_cooper_with_baseballs

In the photo above, I was holding three different balls — one with “practice” stamped on the sweet spot, another with “SF” written there, and the third with a commemorative logo. Oh, and get this . . . after I had caught the foul ball, some bozo in the seats above shouted, “Give it to the kid!” Well, guess what? Cooper had snagged three balls during BP and got a commemorative gamer at the dugout, so he certainly didn’t need one from me. A few innings later, I talked about it in a local TV interview . . . with Cooper sitting beside me. Fun stuff.

Here I am with a local ballhawk named David Welch (aka DeeDubs24 on mygameballs.com):

41_zack_and_the_number_one_ballhawk_at_turner_field

Very nice guy. Very good at putting up huge numbers. It’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to the new stadium next year. There’s no way it’ll be as good/fun/easy for ballhawking as Turner Field.

Late in the game, I gave a ball to a man in wheelchair who was sitting just behind me in the cross-aisle:

42_zack_giving_a_ball_to_a_fan

Brandon rarely films these moments, but he happened to capture a bunch of my giveaways at this game, so I figure I might as well show them.

I moved closer to the action in the bottom of the 9th inning:

43_view_from_3b_dugout_06_01_16

Twenty minutes later, when Julio Teheran, a starting pitcher on the Braves, was called up to the plate to pinch hit, I knew what I had to do. There were two outs in the bottom of the 10th, so I moved toward the home-plate end of the dugout. Sure enough, he ended up striking out, and Giants catcher Buster Posey walked back to the dugout with the ball. When he approached the warning track, he flung it high into the air. I backed up a step, jumped, and made the catch. That was my 11th and final ball of the day; I was back in my original seat when Freddie Freeman launched a walk-off homer in the 11th.

Final score: Braves 5, Giants 4.

Here are the two commemorative balls that I got:

44_ball8928_and_ball8929_turner_field_commemorative

On my way out, I spotted an image of what the Braves’ new stadium (SunTrust Park) is going to look like:

45_sun_trust_field_artists_rendition

I’ll probably hit it up within the first month or two of the 2017 season.

Here are the five balls that I kept:

46_the_five_balls_i_kept_06_01_16

And there you have it — my last game ever at Turner Field . . . maybe. I don’t know. It’ll be tempting to head back in September and see it one last time. In the meantime, stay tuned for my YouTube video from this game.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 11 baseballs at this game

296 balls in 34 games this season = 8.71 balls per game.

 239 balls in 18 lifetime games at Turner Field = 13.28 balls per game.

1,200 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 306 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 169 lifetime foul balls during games (not counting balls that were thrown to me)

8,929 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

• $102.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $411.08 raised this season

• $190,914.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009