9/10/08 at Shea Stadium

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

I attended this game with my girlfriend Jona, and as soon as we ran inside, I got my first ball the day. The Mets were about to start taking batting practice. There were two balls lying on the field just beyond the first base coach’s box. Carlos Beltran was walking toward them. I bolted down the steps and asked if he could toss me one. He bent down to pick it up with his glove . . .


. . . and did such a lazy job of flipping it to me that it fell short and landed in the photographers’ box. There happened to be one photographer there (whose head you can see just to the right of my black backpack in the photo above), and he got it for me.

Thirty seconds later, Ryan Church started walking past me, and I wasn’t sure if he’d seen me get the ball from Beltran, but he had a ball in his hand and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask him for it. So I did. And he threw it to me.

BP then got underway, and I headed out to the right field foul line. Pedro Feliciano, who was playing catch with Duaner Sanchez, fielded a batted ball and tossed it to a little kid on my right. The ball fell short, tipped off the bare hand of an usher who tried to catch it for the kid, and landed at my feet. I reached down and picked it up and handed it to the kid. (Even though the ball wasn’t intended for me, and even though I only had it in my possession for a couple seconds before giving it away, it still counts.)

Less than two minutes later, a right-handed batter sliced a ball into the second row (of restricted blue seats). It landed about 50 feet to my left, and by some miracle, it hit the seats in such a way that it shot all the way to me through the empty row. In fact, it shot so fast that I wasn’t prepared to catch it, and it hit me on the right shin. Luckily it didn’t bounce anywhere after that so I was able to reach down and grab it.

Less than two minutes after THAT, Sanchez happened to airmail Feliciano. The ball reached the seats on a fly and landed in the front row, right next to a woman who had ducked out of the way when she heard people yell, “Heads up!” The ball sat at her feet for a good two seconds, which gave me time to jump over the chain (that separates the orange seats from that skinny blue section) and snag it. Feliciano then asked me for the ball because he didn’t have another one to finish playing catch with, and he promised to give it back when he was done. Of course, because he’s one of the least fan-friendly players I’ve ever encountered, he broke his promise and disappeared as soon as he was done throwing. Sanchez was left with the ball and didn’t realize that I was the fan who’d returned it, so I basically had to re-snag it. In the four-part pic below, starting on the top left and going clockwise, you can see a) my attempt to convince Sanchez to give it to me, b) Sanchez inspecting the ball, c) the ball in mid-air on its way to me, and d) the ball about to enter my glove.



I’d barely been inside the stadium for 20 minutes, and I’d already snagged five balls. That just DOESN’T happen at Shea, so naturally I was already thinking about reaching double digits.

Sensing I’d used up every natural resource along the right field foul line, I ran around the stadium and tried my luck on the other side. Soon after, when Nick Evans walked over to retrieve a ball, I shouted, “Nick! I’m going deep!” and I started running up the steps like a wide receiver.

nick_evans“Keep going,” he shouted, and I didn’t quite know what to think. He was either messing with me and making me run for no reason, or he was actually planning to throw me the ball.

I made it all the way up to the cross-aisle, which is about 20 rows off the field, then cut toward home plate and looked back at Evans. As soon as I made eye contact, he fired the ball to my right (the home plate side) — and what a throw it was! I kept running, taking care not to run over the few ushers and fans who were standing around, and finally reached over the railing and made the catch.


Then I snagged another ball, which was hit by a lefty on the Mets and took one bounce off the warning track. Everything was going my way. It was insane. And there wasn’t even any competition.

I should probably mention that six of my first seven balls were commemorative. I gave one of them away to that kid. Here are the remaining five (and no, they’re not for sale):


Jona then made her case for “Best Girlfriend Ever” by exiting Shea Stadium, waiting near the entrance to the picnic area (which was about to open), and finding two fans who each had an extra ticket. She got one for free (I don’t want to know how) and bought the other for $10. Then, after I snagged my eighth ball of the day which had somehow plopped into the narrow space between the rolled-up tarp and the stands, she used one of her two picnic area tickets to re-enter the stadium and delivered the other to me.

Sadly, the bleachers turned out to be dead (relatively speaking). The following photo (with me wearing a red Nationals shirt) was taken during BP:


I still managed to snag three more balls out there, all of which were those awful blue training balls (not to be confused with green training balls which were used in 2006). The first was thrown behind-the-back by Joel Hanrahan in left-center field. The other two were home runs to straight-away left. I have no idea who hit them. I caught one on a fly and grabbed the other after it sailed over my head and ricocheted off a metal bench.

And that, my friends, was it.

Jona and I spent the first half of the game in the bleachers (where I came closer than I should’ve to Elijah Dukes’ 2nd-inning homer) and the second half in the Loge Level behind home plate (where I would’ve snagged a foul ball if not for a hot dog vendor who happened to be blocking the narrow aisle at the exact moment that I needed to be running through it).

The game itself was crazy. The Mets batted around in the third inning to take a 7-1 lead, but the Nationals chipped away and tied it in the sixth. The Mets scored four runs in the seventh to go on top, 11-7, but the Nats answered with three in the top of the eighth to make it 11-10. In the bottom of the frame, David Wright (who finished 4-for-4 with four runs and three RBIs) capped the scoring with a two-run homer. Jose Reyes stole two more bases, the first of which (No. 282 in his career) moved him past Mookie Wilson for most in Mets history.

I went to the Mets’ dugout at the end of the game, and the only thing I got was a five-dollar bill that I found crumpled up under a seat. Oh well. No complaints here.



• 11 balls at this game (10 pictured above because I gave one away)

• 453 balls in 59 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 555 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 334 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball

• 92 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 19 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)

• 3,730 total balls

4/23/08 at Champion Stadium

Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one from 2008 when the Rays and Blue Jays played a regular-season series at a Spring Training stadium in Florida. (Remember that? No? Well, it was fun as hell.) Thankfully I had saved all the photos, along with the text from my original entry, so this was easy to recreate. Enjoy!

Day Two of the Tampa Bay Rays’ three-game series at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex was not quite as good. I should’ve had another double-digit performance but ran into some bad luck early on.

Once again, the berm was nice and empty for the first five or ten minutes of batting practice . . .


. . . and then things got insane:


Just like the day before, I didn’t catch any home run balls, and part of the reason was that many other fans were being aggressive, and I wanted no part of it. The pushing and shoving that ensued nearly every time a ball sailed over the wall was downright scary. I’d never seen anything like it. During one scramble in which half a dozen fans were tumbling and rolling down the hill on top of each other, a little kid got kicked in the face by an old man and immediately started shrieking as blood began gushing out of his nose. Paramedics rushed over and took care of him, but it was an ugly scene that left me feeling bad for a while.

On top of that . . . ready for this? Not one, not two, but THREE different players threw balls to me and missed. All three went over my glove. James Shields missed by two inches. Shannon Stewart missed by two feet (and shrugged when he saw someone else get it). A.J. Burnett missed by ten feet. I don’t know what he was doing other than teasing me. I had gotten his attention by running up the hill to the back of the berm. There wasn’t anyone behind me — just some bushes, a fence, and a few trees. Well, he fired the ball into the trees, and that was that.

Thankfully, with the help of my friend Leigh and the string tied to my glove, I was able to swing the glove out and knock a ball back toward me that had landed in the fenced-off gap (which you can kind of the see in the pic above) beside the berm. That was the only ball I got during the Rays’ portion of BP, and I only managed one more, courtesy of Jeremy Accardo, when the Blue Jays were on the field. I wasn’t even able to get any of the players to toss me a warm-up ball when they first came out to throw.


I had exactly two baseballs when BP ended, by which time I was standing in the front row behind the Jays’ dugout on the 3rd base side, and let me tell you, it wasn’t easy to get down there. The staircase leading to the dugout was backed up six rows deep with fans, and the entire front row was full, except for a little one-foot space where I squeezed in. I got a few funny looks from the fans around me, but they didn’t really care; they were all yelling for autographs and taking pictures, and as a result I got two balls tossed to me within a minute. The first ball (which I later gave away to a young mother for her child) came from some random coach-type dude that I couldn’t recognize, and the second came from Alex Andreopoulos, the bullpen catcher. This made me feel a little better.

I grabbed a seat a few rows back and caught up with a 14-year-old baseball collector named Michael who had emailed me last week to say he’d be attending all three of these games at Disney.

He had snagged a few balls earlier in the day during BP, and we were talking about it when another guy who looked to be in his 40’s walked over and asked me if I was Zack. I said I was, and he introduced himself as “Jim from St. Louis” and said he loved my blog and had been reading it for quite some time. He then pulled out a Ziploc bag with a brand new baseball and asked me to sign it on the sweet spot:


Jim said he didn’t know about these games at Disney until he read about it on my blog. He knew almost everything about my collection, and he apologetically asked a bunch of questions and kept saying he didn’t want to bother me. I didn’t feel bothered at all. It was great to meet someone who shared my passion. That’s all there was to it, and we kept running into each other throughout the night.

I still had a little time to spare before the game, so I went to the upper deck and took some pics of the stadium. Here are two of them which I photoshopped together to make a cheap panorama:


I tried to get a ball tossed to me before the game, but had to settle for a little comedy instead. I don’t know, this might be an old joke, but I’d never seen it. Basically, the Rays’ mascot snuck up on Blue Jays catcher/first baseman Rod Barajas and imitated all of his stretches. Just about every fan along the foul line was cracking up during the first minute or so because Barajas (who had been lying on his side) had no idea that the mascot was behind him. Eventually Barajas rolled over and flinched. He wasn’t acting. He literally jerked back in fright, then jumped up and chased the mascot who taunted him from a distance with semi-crude gestures. It was hilarious. And it kept going. When Barajas continued stretching, the mascot lay back down and kept imitating him.


With Roy Halladay pitching for the Blue Jays and the wind blowing from left to right, I figured there’d be a lot of foul balls heading my way on the open concourse along the right field foul line. I know I already shared two pics of this concourse in my last entry, but I need to show another because it was THAT awesome:


With two outs in the bottom of the first inning, B.J. Upton sliced a foul pop-up in my general direction. I ran 20 or 30 feet to my left, never taking my eye off the ball. A few gloveless guys standing behind the last row of benches took a step back and reached up. bj_upton_foul_ballThe ball missed their hands by two feet and landed in the pocket of my glove.

“You made that look easy,” said a voice from behind.

Umm, that’s ’cause it was.

A few innings later, there was another foul ball that I easily would’ve caught on the fly, but some bozo reached up with his hat at the last second and deflected it. Other than that, the only action on the concourse consisted of a father of one of the kids on a little league team recognizing me from YouTube. During one of the inning breaks, I walked over to the kids and had them gather around me while I demonstrated the glove trick. You could say that they loved it.

Matt Stairs hit two home runs — a bomb to right-center in the 2nd inning (which Leigh predicted) and an equally long blast to straight-away right in the sixth — and when he came to bat in the eighth, there was NO mention on the jumbotron of what he’d done earlier in the game:


As you can see, all we got was a mug shot, and that’s how it was for every player all night. Sorry but that’s lame. Disney World or not, the people who run a stadium should keep the fans informed of who’s done what. Some of us, after all, are too busy running around for foul balls to follow all the action.

Despite Stairs’ two dingers and a solid eight-inning performance by Halladay, the Jays were losing, 5-3, when Troy Percival took the mound in the ninth for the Rays. Gregg Zaun led off and ripped a foul line drive into the right field corner. I ran to the back of the concourse, pretty much to the spot where I took the pic of the jumbotron, and when Rays right fielder Nathan Haynes jogged over to retrieve the ball, I got him to toss it up to me. That was my sixth ball of the day and I got one more after the game from home plate umpire Mike Everitt. It was funny — there were a few cheerleader-type girls dancing on the dugout roof and Everitt had to wait for them to dance out of the way so he could toss me the ball. Oh, and I also got a lineup card:



• 7 balls at this game

• 77 balls in 7 games this season = 11 balls per game.

• 503 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 791 lifetime balls outside of New York

• 23 lifetime game balls outside of New York (not counting game-used balls that are thrown into the seats)

• 114 lifetime game balls

• 3,354 total balls

9/16/15 at Citizens Bank Park

The Phillies entered the day with MLB’s worst record: 56 wins and 90 losses — not the most exciting time for fans of the team . . .


. . . but personally I loved the laid-back atmosphere at the stadium. Two days earlier, I’d driven down to Philly for my birthday and snagged a total of 14 baseballs, including a home run that Anthony Rendon hit on the first pitch of the game. I was hoping for another big day, and with school back in session (and the heavy-hitting Nationals in town), I liked my chances.

This was my view during the Phillies’ portion of batting practice:


Nothing special, right? Well, check out all these empty seats on my left:


To be clear, it wasn’t THAT empty for all of BP, but you get the idea. There wasn’t a whole lot of competition, and I did well from the start. I snagged four home runs from the Phillies, and though I’m not sure who hit any of them, I can tell you the basic details. The first homer deflected off the tip of my glove as a ran and lunged back, but I was able to recover it in the seats. The second ball landed three sections to my right, and I raced across and grabbed it. I caught the third one on the fly after climbing down over a row, and I caught the fourth after running a full section to my right.

There weren’t many kids, and over the course of the day, I gave away nearly half my baseballs, so no one was pissed. On the contrary, folks seemed to get a kick out of seeing me in action.

This was the scene when the Nationals took the field:


Basically the pitchers were goofing off in the outfield under the pretense of warming up, and the batters were launching baseballs all over the place.

My fifth ball was a home run to left-center that I scrambled for in the seats — same deal for my sixth except I managed to identify Ian Desmond as the guy who hit it. Ball No. 7 was a homer that I caught on the fly after climbing onto a seat in the front row. That one had some cool markings on it:


Then I caught a pair of Wilson Ramos homers on the fly thanks to some precision maneuvering, but I don’t mean to be cocky; I’ll admit that misjudged a couple and cost myself some opportunities. It happens. Life goes on. My 10th ball was a Dan Uggla homer that I caught after drifting down the steps, and No. 11 was a homer by Wilmer Difo that I caught while jumping as high as possible.

Normally, at Citizens Bank Park, I spend some time in right field, but the Nationals had so many great righties that I stayed in left.

At the very end of BP, I raced over to the 3rd base dugout . . .


. . . but didn’t get anything there. I did, however, get my 12th ball of the day after watching Gio Gonzalez warm up from the right-center field concourse:


That one was tossed by Nationals bullpen coach Matthew LeCroy.

My ticket for the game was in the 4th row in straight-away left field:


This was my view in the top of the 1st inning:


Perhaps you noticed that I wasn’t sitting in the 4th row. It was more crowded down in front, so I stayed back where there was much more room — and would you believe that a crabby usher gave me a hard time about not sitting in my ticketed seat? Her argument went something along the lines of, “If I let you sit anywhere you want, everyone else will want to do it too.” When I explained that I just wanted to have a little extra space because I was hoping to catch a home run, she snapped, “You think it’s all about YOU!”

I admit it. I’m a terrible person. But hey, I convinced her to let me stay, and I took a photo of the space on my right:


I’m not sure if “juicy” is the right word to describe that, but it was the first one that popped in my head.

Fast-forward to the top of the 4th inning. With one out and the Nats leading, 1-0, Jayson Werth unloaded on a pitch from Alec Asher and sent the ball flying in my direction:


Maybe I should’ve listened to the usher. If I’d been sitting in my ticketed seat, I would’ve caught the ball on the fly — not probably but definitely. Instead I had to run down the stairs and hope for a bobble. Here I am after jumping out of “my” seat . . .


. . . and here I am several rows lower, watching helplessly as the ball descended:


Whaddaya know?! I got the necessary bobble, saw the ball rolling on the ground, and bent down to pick it up:


Click here to see the actual video highlight on MLB.com. They never showed me after that, but here’s a screen shot from another camera angle that someone sent:


I’m not sure where that clip aired, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s just nice to have some visual evidence.

After the 3rd out, a friendly beer/water vendor struck up a conversation with me and offered a free beverage. I picked water. That’s how I roll:


In the bottom of the 4th, I was thinking about snagging another home run, and with two outs, BAM!! Darin Ruf delivered:


I knew right away that I had a great chance of catching it. It was just a matter of moving one section toward left-center and getting into position. Here I am starting to take off:


Here I am in the middle of the section:


As the ball was approaching, I climbed back over a row and then reached up for it:


Lots of folks were impressed at the “amazing” catch I had made. I accepted their kind words and thanked them, but it really wasn’t that tough. Experienced ballhawks make plays like that ALL the time during batting practice. I was just lucky to have gotten this opportunity during the game.

After the TV cameras captured me holding up both home run balls . . .


. . . one of the announcers acknowledged me: “Same guy that got the home run off the bat of Jayson Werth just got the home run off the bat of Darin Ruf.”

Then, as the footage of my previous snag was shown . . .


. . . the announcer said, “Here’s Werth’s. That one bounced, and he grabbed it from the floor.”


Then the Ruf homer was shown again, and the announcer said, “This one he actually caught. What a great catch.”

Finally I was shown running and celebrating:


This was the first time I’d ever snagged two home runs in one inning, so I was pretty excited. It was not, however, the first time I’d gotten two in one game. I had done that two other times, first on 5/13/10 at Camden Yards and again on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium. Oh, and here’s the video highlight of the Ruf homer on MLB.com.

Here I am with the two home run balls from this game in Philly:


Here’s a closer look at them:


Until the 6th inning, I had snagged the only two homers of the game. That’s when Jayson Werth crushed a 439-foot blast to left-center. There was absolutely no chance for me to get that ball, and as it turned out, a fellow ballhawk named Dominic was the one who came up with it. Here we are with the only three home runs of the game:


In order to get a group photo of the only four home runs balls of the night, we would’ve had to track down Bryce Harper himself. In the top of the 7th, Harper hit a towering fly ball (with an apex of 133 feet, according to ESPN Home Run Tracker) that barely cleared the wall in right-center. That happened to be his 40th homer of the season, and when he took the field in the bottom of the 7th, he negotiated directly with the fan and got the ball back. That ended up being the subject of a Washington Post article about me titled “Bryce Harper is lucky he hit his 40th home run where he did.” HA HA HA, get it?! Because I was such a jerk about the A-Rod thing, right? And man, the way I dicked over Mike Trout after catching his first career home run — I should really be ashamed of myself. And jeez, no wonder Didi Gregorius hates me!

Anyway, look how empty it was in the later innings:


Despite having snagged two homers earlier in the game, I was cursing my luck for not having a chance to catch another. Is that obnoxious? Yeah/oh well.

Take a look at the scoreboard in the bottom of the 9th inning:


As you can see, the Nationals were winning, 12-2. That’s why the seats were so empty, and as a result, I was able to wait for the final out before heading over to the dugout. After the Nationals relievers walked in from the bullpen . . .


. . . I got a couple of balls tossed to me. The first came from a ballboy, and the second (which happened to be my 400th lifetime ball at Citizens Bank Park) was tossed from under the dugout roof. That raised my total for the day to 16 balls, seven of which I’d given away to little kids.

Here I am with a friendly usher who recognized me and wanted to see the home run balls:


I took one final photo of the balls before heading out and driving back home to New York City:


Here are the nine balls I kept:


What an amazing day. Time to start thinking about moving to Philadelphia — at least for the warmer months.


• 16 baseballs at this game (nine pictured above because I gave seven away)

• 736 balls in 97 games this season = 7.59 balls per game.

 400 balls in 41 lifetime games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.76 balls per game.

 288 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 1,150 consecutive games with at least one ball

 38 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups; click here for the complete list)

8,542 total balls

8/15/15 at Miller Park

This was the fifth and final stadium of my mini-road trip. My friend Brandon — a professional videographer — did the driving, and as you can see in the photo below, we encountered a major storm on the way to Milwaukee:


Here’s another look at the clouds:


Brandon had recently done some filming for several storm-chasing groups in the midwest, so he did something that never would’ve occurred to me. He took the next exit, found a quiet street (beside a cornfield, of course), and pulled over. Look closely at the following photo and you’ll see him in the distance:


He’s kind of crazy. I love it.

Here’s a photo of me with the storm clouds looming:


Here’s another shot taken by Brandon:


Wow. (Right?) He may have played with the contrast a bit on that one, but that really IS what it looked like.

I was getting nervous about getting drenched (if not killed by lightning or a tornado), but he was perfectly calm and enjoyed taking photos right up ’til the last second. Then he was like, “Let’s get back to the car,” and just as we walked across the street, we felt the first few drops.

During the rest of our drive, the heavy rain normally would’ve bothered me, but Miller Park, of course, has a retractable roof, so all I could think was, “Ha ha ha . . . BRING IT.” As it turned out, though, it was sunny when we reached our destination:


Why was there already a long line outside the Friday’s restaurant?!


Oh, right, because I’m an idiot and didn’t realize that the game started at 6:10pm. Good job, me. And then, to make matters worse, the restaurant opened 20 minutes late — time I should’ve been able to spend out on the left-field terrace snagging baseballs. Here’s what the view looked like after we finally made it inside:


Here’s the terrace itself:


As you can see in the photo above, the overhang of the second deck makes it hard for home runs to land on the terrace. They have to be hit perfectly, but it does happen. And guess what? I got my first ball that way, with an unexpected assist from our waitress after the ball bounced up into the restaurant! How’s THAT for a weird way to get on the board? And yes, that counts. I’ve always counted balls that are given to me by stadium employees. Here’s a screen shot from Brandon’s video that shows me with the ball and the waitress, whose name is Brianna:


By the way, you’ll see the video at the end of this entry. Keep reading for now . . .

On game days at Miller Park, the tables on the terrace at Friday’s have a one-hour limit and a $30 minimum. In other words, there was a lot of food but not much time to eat it, so as you can see below, I had to stuff my face quickly between pitches:


Here’s what we got:


I ordered the chicken caesar salad, and Brandon had a bacon cheeseburger with fries, so basically I’m going to live longer, but he’ll enjoy his life a whole lot more.

This is what we shared for dessert:


Oh yeah. To hell with longevity!

A little while later, Brandon got a shot of me being dissed by Phillies pitcher Elvis Araujo:


I was stunned not to get a ball from him because . . .

1) I was the only fan wearing Phillies gear.
2) I was the only fan who knew his name.
3) I asked him for a ball in Spanish
4) There were SO MANY balls sitting near him on the field.

But no. No love from Elvis. And there weren’t any glove trick opportunities either. Remember this video of me using the trick there in 2013? I was hoping for more of that action this time around, but there just weren’t any balls that landed in the gap down below.

When the entire stadium opened, I still only had one ball. Very frustrating. I always want to put on a good show when Brandon is filming.

I headed out to right field . . .


. . . but didn’t like my chances there. Look how crowded it was:


I headed to the second deck with Brandon, and just as I was telling him to stop filming — that the entire day was a disaster and it just wasn’t worth it — I got Domonic Brown to chuck me a ball. Soon after that, I caught a home run (which I gave to the nearest kid). I’m not sure who hit it, but I can tell you that I made a decent play, drifting down several steps to the front row and reaching out for the snag. (You’ll see footage of this in the video.)

I went to the second deck in left field for the last two groups of BP:


As you may have noticed, I had put on my red Phillies shirt to complete my outfit, but it didn’t help. No action whatsoever. I nearly snagged a homer that landed one section to my right, but eh. I just wasn’t feeling it, and once again, I wondered if it was worth completing the video. I was thinking of scrapping it and returning to Milwaukee next year to try again.

After BP, I peeked into the Brewers’ bullpen and got VERY excited:


See all those baseballs sitting around? I wasn’t sure which ones I could reach with my glove trick (without getting ejected), but figured I’d have a good shot at the one in the back left corner. See which one I mean? It’s just beyond home plate near the green padded wall.

Here’s another look at it from above:


As you can see, it was blocked by a mesh awning-like thing, but I knew I could still get it.

Having changed back into my blue shirt and black cap (so as not to draw any extra attention), I carefully leaned out over the railing and worked my magic. Here’s a screen shot from Brandon’s video, which he filmed from the second deck:


Moments later, I raised my glove with the ball tucked firmly inside:



That was my fourth ball of the day, and it felt goooood. And I wasn’t done. Did you notice the camera man watching me in the previous photo? I won’t claim that he gave me permission to enter his special off-limits area. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, so let’s just say that when I asked, he simply shrugged and pretended not to notice (though he did have a faint smile on his face). Here’s a closer look at him:


Here’s what the bullpen looked like from there — note Brandon circled in red up above:


I went back to work, snagging the next ball easily . . .


. . . and handing it to the camera man — a small thank you. Then I struggled for a bit with the ball in the corner because it was kissing the padded wall, and I had to tap it just right in order to move it out. But eventually I got that one too, increasing my total for the day to six.

For the first time ever, the little party deck area in right-center field was not being guarded by security, so I wandered in and hung out for a while before the game. Here’s what it looked like as Jerome Williams warmed up:


This was the view directly behind me:


That’s a great place to run back and forth for home runs. Remember, catching batted balls is all about having lateral mobility, so anytime there’s an aisle in the outfield, that’s pretty much where you want to be.

I resisted the urge to stay there, instead opting for my favorite foul ball spot in the major leagues: the wide/perfect aisle at the back of the second deck. First check out my view for right-handed batters:


Not bad, right?

Now look at all this space I had:


Amazing. I love it there so much. If I attended all 81 home games at Miller Park in a single season, I believe I would snag 100 foul balls. That might sound crazy, but I’m serious. In my six previous games here, I had snagged five foul balls (and would’ve had more if not for some stupid luck).

I was hoping that Brandon would be able to film me catching a foul ball, but I told him not to stress it. The pitching matchup was awful for my purpose (two soft tossers), so the odds seemed slim.

Brandon ended up wandering off in the middle innings and taking lots of photos, including this gem from the upper deck:


As for me, I got into some (playful) trash-talking with an old guy who told me that the next foul ball was his. He even (playfully) threatened me with his cane:


The next foul ball turned out to be the ONLY foul ball that reached the aisle, and of course I caught it:


And of course Brandon was nowhere in sight. Cesar Hernandez hit that ball off Jimmy Nelson with two outs in the top of the 7th. I drifted about 15 feet to my left and caught it on the fly in “light traffic,” which is to say that there were several other folks nearby, but not much competition.

Later on, the old guy returned with a wacky hat and posed for a selfie with me and the ball:


Here I am standing in the aisle late in the game:


That’s pretty much how my night ended. Seven total balls . . . one from a waitress, one toss-up, one BP homer, three with the glove trick, and a foul ball during the game. Given how poorly things had gotten started, I was quite pleased with how it all turned out.

Brandon and I did not stay for the post-game Goo Goo Dolls concert. We headed straight to the car . . .


. . . and made a stop at a place called Kopp’s, which has THE best frozen custard in the known universe. I can’t even describe what I got. Just look at it:


Nice way to end the trip.

Here are the five balls that I kept:


Did you notice that two of them have the old commissioner’s signature? Doesn’t matter to me — just an interesting little detail. And now, as promised, here’s the video:


• 7 baseballs at this game (five pictured above because I gave two away)

• 554 balls in 78 games this season = 7.10 balls per game.

 74 balls in 7 games at Miller Park = 10.57 balls per game.

• 1,131 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,360 total balls

Charity prize winners 2015

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

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

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

Time to donate — 2015

Now that the 2015 World Series is over, it’s time to send your donations to Pitch In For Baseball. I ended up snagging eight game home run balls this season, and I’ve already done the math for you. Click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how much you owe — and get ready to win some prizes. As I mentioned in this blog entry before the season, I’m going to be giving away a bunch of baseball-related collectibles:
 a baseball signed by Willie Mays (pictured on the right)
2) three baseball cards signed by Kent Hrbek, Rick Cerone, and Dave Stieb
3)Mickey Mantle ball with an image of his 1952 Topps rookie card
4) a Bernie Williams ball with his image and the Yankees logo
5)Curtis Granderson bobblehead
6) signed copies of The San Francisco Splash and The Wrigley Riddle
7) a signed copy of Man Versus Ball
8) two Mets prints
9) three Mets t-shirts
10) a Mark McGwire rookie card

Make sure that Pitch In For Baseball receives your money before December 7th — a little more than a month from today. That’s when I’m going to conduct the drawing, and remember that the more you donate, the more chances you’ll have to win something. (For every dollar that you donate per home run ball that I snagged this season, your name will be thrown into the hat, so in other words, if you donate $8.00 to the charity, your name will be in there once. If you donate $40.00 — the equivalent of five dollars per homer — your name will be there five times, so you’ll be five times more likely to be chosen. The first person whose name is drawn will have the first choice of which prize to receive. That person will then be ineligible to win anything else, so there will be ten different winners. The second person whose name is chosen will get to choose one of the remaining nine prizes, and so on.)

There are two ways to pay:

pifb_logo_11_06_13OPTION ONE:

Mail a check, payable to Pitch In For Baseball, to the following address:

Pitch In For Baseball
c/o Zack Hample
1541 Gehman Road
Harleysville, PA 19438

FYI: The reason for writing “c/o Zack Hample” is to inform the folks at Pitch In For Baseball that you’re one of my donors. This will help them keep track of the all the money I’m raising for them.


Pay with your credit card by following these steps:

1) Visiting my fundraising page.
2) Scroll to the bottom.
3) Look for the red banner that says “Make a contribution.”
4) Click the “Other” option at the bottom of the box.
5) Type in the amount of your donation.
6) Click the “Continue” button down below and following the remaining steps.

Thanks so much! I love being able to use my collection to raise money (and awareness) for this charity, and obviously I couldn’t do it without your help.

8/14/15 at Kauffman Stadium

My day started with a live radio interview on 610 AM Sports Radio in Kansas City. Here I am in the studio waiting to get on the air:


I was on a show called “The Day Shift” with Lake and Bink, aka Jay Binkley and Henry Lake. Here I am with them after my segment:


Great guys. They had interviewed me a few seasons ago, and I kept in touch with Jay, so when I told him I was going to be in town, he asked me to drop by the station. Pretty simple. We mostly talked about the highlights from my summer — snagging A-Rod’s 3,000th hit and hanging out with Lisa Ann. What else is there?

On the way out, I couldn’t resist photographing this tornado sign:

Back home in New York City, we don’t have stuff like that.

For lunch, I met up with Brandon Sloter at a BBQ place that was highly recommended by a local friend. It’s called Q39, and as you can see below, I was excited to try it out:


Here’s what I got:


You’re looking/drooling at ribs, chicken, brisket, and baked beans. SO GOOD. Before the meal, we had planned to get ice cream for dessert at a different place, but we ended up being so stuffed that we had to skip it. Thankfully we burned off lots of calories during the long, inconvenient walk toward the stadium:


In the photos above and below, that’s Brandon in the blue shirt and my local friend in the PEREZ jersey. This friend wishes to remain anonymous, so don’t guess his name or identify him, if you know. But anyway, look at this scenic-but-ridiculous route we had to take:


Some places are made for pedestrians; the area surrounding Kauffman Stadium is not one of them.

Question: what happens when a team makes it to the World Series and is in first place the following season and it’s the summer and the weather is perfect and it’s a Friday night with fireworks and Mike Trout is town?

Answer: a huuuuuge crowd.

Look how many people were lined up outside the stadium THREE HOURS before game time:

That wasn’t a line for regular entry. All of those people had purchased additional tickets (on top of their game tickets) for the “Early Bird BP Tour.” I’ve blogged about it in the past. Basically it gets you in the stadium two and a half hours before the first pitch, but for the first 60 or 90 minutes (depending on the day of the week), you’re confined to the seats behind one of the dugouts.

When I had done this in previous seasons, there were very few fans, most of whom chose to hang out behind the Royals’ dugout. Now it was an absolute zoo:


Oh! And perhaps I should mention that just before we entered the stadium, an employee used a megaphone to announce that the Angels would not be taking batting practice. So yeah, that’s why I was so scowly in the previous photo. Forgive me, okay? All I wanted to do was grab a spot behind the Angels’ dugout and have a brief conversation with Mike Trout. Is that so unreasonable? He always waves to me from afar because I can never get close to him in New York. This was supposed to be my chance to finally reconnect with him. Do you think I wanted to attend a sold out game on Fireworks Night? No! But I was willing to suffer through it because of Trout.

Because of the lack of BP, the employee with the megaphone offered everyone a refund. No one stepped out of line to take her up on it, and life went on.

Here’s what it looked like when the “Angels dugout” group headed down into the seats from the Royals Hall of Fame:


In the photo above, the fan with the blue drawstring backpack is named J.T. — more on him in a bit, but for now, look how dead things were behind the dugout:


Did you notice the Royals warming up down the right field line?


After a while, two Angels began playing catch in shallow left field:


I did not get that ball.

I didn’t get anything until the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm. The Royals were already hitting at that point, and I had my eye on a ball that one of their lefties had sliced into the seats:


J.T. had his eye on it too for quite some time, but he didn’t seem to be watching when an usher wandered over and picked up the ball and placed it in a cup holder. I ended up racing over and grabbing it — and then giving it to him. He had gotten in touch with me on Twitter several days earlier and had been looking forward to meeting, so he was pretty psyched to get a ball that I had snagged.

Moments after I grabbed that ball from the cup holder, a righty on the Royals crushed a home run onto the walkway near the left field bullpen. There weren’t any other fans out there yet, so I ran over and got that ball too.

Brandon filmed me throughout the day. The goal was to get lots of footage that he could edit into a short video for YouTube. Here’s a screen shot from the video that shows me catching a home run — my third ball of the day:


I caught another one several minutes later and ran all over the place during BP. Here I am heading behind the batter’s eye toward right field:


Here I am heading back to left field:


Here’s what it looked like on the Pepsi Porch back in right field:


It wasn’t exhausting to run around nonstop for 20 minutes. On the contrary, it was refreshing and extremely fun — a total change of pace from all the games where there’s no good standing room in the outfield and security is crazy-strict.

After BP, I headed here . . .


. . . to say hello to Angels bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio, who ended up tossing me a ball without my asking. That was my fifth of the day.

Then I caught up with my buddy Tang, who’s a talented/regular ballhawk at Kauffman Stadium:


Before the game, I headed to the seats along the left field foul line:


Once again I was hoping to say hey to Mike Trout, and this time it happened . . . quickly. Take a look at the four-part photo below:


In the first photo, he was starting to jog into foul territory.
In the second photo, he spotted me.
In the third photo, he veered toward me and I bent down to shake his hand.
In the fourth photo, I was happy.

I think it’s pretty cool that he came over to me first and then began signing for everyone else. Here’s a photo of him doing his thing:


Look how close I was:


I love him. He’s the best. That’s all there is to it.

Here’s a Mike Trout autograph that someone else got — not exactly the best handwriting:


This was my view from right field during the game:


Look how much space I had on my right:


It probably would’ve taken a 430-foot home run to reach me, but whatever. I was just glad NOT to be trapped in the usual sea of seats and people.

Here’s a look at the left field walkway (and Brandon’s camera/microphone) a little while later:


Here’s a photo that Brandon took from the upper deck:


Here I am in the middle innings with J.T. and two of his friends:


In the photo above, the kid on the left in the light blue shirt is named Dakota. J.T. is standing next to him in the white Jersey (and by the way, you can follow him here on Twitter.) The young man in the dark blue shirt is named Finn. It was fun hanging out with them.

Late in the game, something happened that I’d been warned about. The standing room area in right field had gotten so crowded that the walkway to get over there was blocked by a guard in left-center. Look at this nonsense:


What a cruel man, that monster in the yellow shirt — enjoying his job a bit too much and denying my freedom as an American citizen!

But really, take a closer look at his face:


That’s the definition of smug.

Here’s Trouty on the jumbotron in the 7th inning:


Did you notice how crowded it was in the walkway? That’s what happens when you don’t let anyone walk over to right field. (In case you can’t tell, I HATE BEING CONFINED.)

Here’s Trout schmoozing with his much less talented teammates during an inning break:


It’s very nice of him to treat them as if they’re important.

Brandon took the previous photo, as well as the next one:


A little while later, the Royals wrapped up a 4-1 victory. Brandon and I were already outside the stadium by the time the fireworks started . . .


. . . and we’d made it across the highway before the stadium had cleared out:


As I mentioned in the video, which you can see below, we were gonna have to drive 560 miles overnight to Milwaukee — the last stop on our little five-day/five-stadium road trip. Good times in the midwest!


37_the_three_balls_i_kept_08_14_15• 5 baseballs at this game (three pictured here because I gave two away)

• 547 balls in 77 games this season = 7.10 balls per game.

 121 balls in 12 games at Kauffman Stadium = 10.08 balls per game.

• 1,130 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,353 total balls


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

• 25 donors for my fundraiser

• $187.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,750.16 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,603.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/13/15 at Busch Stadium

This was my third stadium in three days, and once again, things got off to a lousy start. That’s because I found out at the very last minute that Busch Stadium now opens half an hour later on weekdays. Fans used to be able to enter two hours early every day, but since this was a Thursday, the gates opened just 90 minutes before game time. For a team with such a huge and passionate fan base, that’s awful.

This was the scene outside the left-center field gates:


In the previous photo, the building on the right wasn’t there the last time I visited Busch Stadium. It’s part of the new St. Louis Ballpark Village. I would’ve liked to go inside and explore, but there wasn’t time.

Just before heading inside, I switched into my Pirates gear:


I usually dress for the home team when entering a stadium, but because the gates opened so late, the Cardinals had finished taking batting practice, and the Pirates were already on the field.

The previous image is a screen shot from a video that was filmed by my friend Brandon Sloter. I’ll share that video at the end of this entry, but for now, here’s the only “action” shot from BP:


Getting a ball thrown to me in a mostly-empty stadium wouldn’t normally be much of a highlight, but this one was kinda cool. As soon as I caught the ball, Tony Watson, the player who tossed it, pointed at me and shouted my nickname: “Foul Ball Guy!”

“That’s me!” I shouted back, surprised that he recognized me.

“You caught A-Rod’s homer, right?”

Rather than answering him, I asked a question of my own: “Don’t you think I’ve graduated to ‘Home Run Guy’ as a nickname?”

“You caught A-Rod’s homer, right?” he asked again.

“Yeah, man, that’s cool that you saw that,” I said, resisting the urge to explain that I hadn’t actually caught the ball, but rather picked it up off the ground. Then I added, “Thanks for helping me get on the board today.”

“Pirates fan for life now?” asked Watson (who, by the way, was standing next to Gerrit Cole).


I didn’t hear him at first, so he repeated himself.

“I’m more of a baseball fan,” I said. “I don’t want to say it too loud, but between you guys and the Cardinals, it’s you all the way.”

That was the truth. I usually root for the underdog and/or the visiting team, and in addition to that, the Cardinals had just screwed me out of 30 minutes of BP, so I really did want the Pirates to win.

Just as I was settling into a decent spot for BP . . .


. . . it ended! Look at this crap:


I’d been inside the stadium for 10 whole minutes, and BP was done. It’s bad enough when that happens in New York when I’m by myself; the fact that it happened here at my only game at Busch Stadium with a professional videographer that I was paying to get good footage of me . . . GAH!!!

After BP, I got some random guy in the bullpen to toss me a ball:


That was a nice little bonus. Now I had two baseballs . . .


. . . which I realize is two more than most people will ever snag in their entire lives, but I was still tremendously disappointed.

A few minutes later, I caught up with a guy named Steve who’d been following me on Twitter:


Nice guy. We chatted for a while, and I signed a ball for him:


(FYI, when I sign baseballs for people, I sign *their* baseballs. Some folks occasionally ask me to sign and expect ME to provide the ball. That’s not how it works.)

Before the game, I got my third ball of the day in left field. Pirates bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade tossed it to me as he walked into the bullpen:


Here’s where I sat for the entire game:


I usually stay in the outfield, but Busch Stadium is always so crowded, and it’s a bad place to catch home runs, and I was still in a pissy mood from the lack of BP, and I just wanted to sit close to the action and enjoy the game (and maybe get another ball or two).

If the rules at Busch were anything like those at the Texas Rangers’ stadium, I would’ve been sitting beside the grassy berm in center field, and I almost certainly would’ve snagged Pedro Alvarez’s 1st-inning home run that landed there. In Arlington, fans are allowed to run out there for baseballs, even during BP, but here in St. Louis, it’s forbidden (unless, you know, David Freese hits a walk-off shot to end a World Series game, in which case all hell breaks loose, and there’s nothing that stadium security can do about it), so an usher went and retrieved the ball:



As it turned out, that was the only homer of the game, so it’s just as well that I wasn’t sitting in the outfield.

Cardinals starter Lance Lynn didn’t make it out of the 1st inning, though it wasn’t entirely his fault. Thanks in part to a throwing error by 3rd baseman Matt Carpenter, he gave up seven runs (three earned) in two-thirds of an inning. Here he is making an early exit:


Take a look at the scoreboard:



Before the bottom of the 1st got underway, Pirates 3rd base coach Rick Sofield tossed me the infield warm-up ball. Look closely and you’ll see my glove poking out behind Big Red:


I gave that ball to the nearest/smallest kid:


Halfway through the game, Brandon headed to the upper deck and took the following photo:


That doesn’t even begin to show his skills with a camera, but trust me, he’s REALLY good. You should check him out on Instagram, especially in you’re into photos of live music, nature/weather, baseball stadiums, and Crystal Hefner.

Here’s what things looked like from my perspective in the 6th inning:


With one out in the bottom of the 7th, I got my fifth ball in a very unusual way. Here’s how it all went down:

1) Pirates manager Clint Hurdle made a double-switch.
2) Michael Morse entered the game to play 1st base.
3) Home plate umpire Larry Vanover threw him a ball with which to warm up.
4) Morse eventually threw the ball back to the Pirates’ dugout.
5) Someone in the dugout tossed it into the crowd.
6) The ball landed on the dugout roof and was picked up by an usher.
7) I was the first one to ask him for it, so he handed it to me.


I can’t officially call it an “umpire ball” since it didn’t come directly from Vanover, but it came from his pouch, and it’s mud-rubbed, and I still think it’s cool. Here it is:


By the end of the 8th inning, the Cardinals had closed the deficit to 7-5, but the Pirates scored three runs in the top of the 9th — and that was it.

I tried to get a ball at the dugout after the game . . .


. . . but came up empty.

A few minutes later, I took off my Pirates gear and caught up with an old friend named Darron who now works for the Cardinals:


Ready to see something funny/cute? Here we are on 5/22/07 at Busch Stadium (which was my first time there) and here we are again on 9/21/11 at Busch Stadium (when I visited all 30 stadiums in one season). At this rate, we’re due to cross paths again in 2019. Darron will probably be the head of security by then, so we can all look forward to Busch Stadium opening two and a half hours early every day.

On my way out, I took one final photo of the stadium:


And now, as promised, here’s the video that Brandon filmed and edited. I wish there were more action, but I still think it’s interesting. Enjoy!


• 5 baseballs at this game

• 542 balls in 76 games this season = 7.13 balls per game.

 48 lifetime balls in 7 games at Busch Stadium = 6.86 balls per game.

• 1,129 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,348 total balls


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

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $162.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,650.16 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,503.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/12/15 at Progressive Field

If I hadn’t planned to be at this game several weeks in advance, I definitely would’ve skipped it. Not only were the Yankees in town (which meant the attendance would be much higher than usual), but the previous night’s game had lasted 16 innings! Just my luck. Even though the weather was perfect, I was certain that there wouldn’t be batting practice — yet here I was:


This was my second game of a five-day road trip, so there really wasn’t any chance to avoid it. The only thing I could’ve done was listen to my friend Brandon, who had originally tried to convince me to attend the previous game instead of this one, but there was a Bob Feller replica jersey giveaway the day before, and I wanted no part of that.

As Brandon and I walked around the stadium, I noticed a huge change in center field. I knew that the Indians had redone some stuff in the outfield, but wow! Look at all this open space just inside the gates:


I was stunned to see the batting cage set up:


Could it be?! Were the Yankees and/or Indians going to take BP despite having playing past midnight?!

Ha. No. This is what I saw an hour later when we got back from lunch:


No batting cage. No BP. Just bad luck and a lost opportunity.

Brandon is a professional videographer, and I had agreed to pay him to film me at each stadium on this trip, so we were both disappointed to cancel our video plans for the day. Without BP, it just wasn’t worth it.

Shortly before the stadium opened, this was the scene outside the center field gates:


That whole area had also been redone.

Just before entering, I had a nice conversation with a pair of Yankee fans named Bekah and Joe — more on them in a moment, but first, here’s what I saw in right field:


That’s Andrew Miller. He was throwing with one of the Yankees’ bullpen catchers, and I *really* wanted to get the ball from him because I thought it might be my only chance for the day. Joe and Bekah were standing beside me when I called out for it. Because there were so many Yankee fans everywhere, I was surprised when Miller looked over and tossed it in my direction. The ball tailed a bit, so I reached out in front of Joe to catch it, but he didn’t mind. He and Bekah wanted me to keep my streak alive, so if anything, they were glad to see the whole thing play out. I then gave the ball to Joe and told Bekah that if she didn’t snag one, and if I got another, I’d give it to her. Everyone was happy with that arrangement. Here they are:


A few minutes later, Bekah posted this tweet, and I’m glad to report that she did end up getting a ball on her own.

By the way, Joe and Bekah weren’t attending the game together. In fact, they didn’t even know each other until we all started chatting outside the gates.

There was lots of time to spare after that, so I wandered and took photos of the new configuration in right-center field. Not only had the bullpens been redone, but there was a new section of seats out there. First, here are the bullpens:


Here they are from the side:


In the photo above, the gap between bullpens (several steps higher than where that photo was taken) is a great spot to get a toss-up from the Indians, especially pre-game or whenever a pitcher is done throwing. They’ll have to exit the bullpen there in order to head down the steps to the field, so you’ll be right in their line of vision as they finish up and look for a worthy recipient.

Check out the glorious new cross-aisle in the right-center field seats:


The only bad thing about it is that it’s more than 400 feet from home plate, but balls DO land there. Also, just so you know, you can’t get into that section without a ticket for it, even during BP.

Look at all this weird platform-y space at the front of the section:


That’s concrete, so I assume that when balls land there, they bounce pretty far — perhaps all the way over the netting and into the bullpen. I don’t know because the STUPID GAME THE NIGHT BEFORE HAD LASTED 16 INNINGS AND NOW THERE WAS NO BATTING PRACTICE.

Back in the regular seats in right field, I ran into a guy named Nikhil who’d brought his copy of my latest book, The Baseball:


I signed it for him, and we chatted a bit, and then I headed back to my section in right-center. I had figured it would be great for batting practice with all the lefties on the Yankees’ roster, and it seemed like a good spot to hang out during the game, so I’d bought a pair of tickets there, including one for Brandon.

As you can see below, there was some action in the Indians’ bullpen:


A few minutes later, pitching coach Mickey Callaway tossed me my second ball of the day:


At 6pm (one full hour after the stadium opened), fans were finally allowed to leave the holding cell — I mean, the right field seats. As you might expect, everyone hurried toward the Yankees’ dugout for autographs:


I got some food (a grilled cheese, if you must know, with sharp cheddar and chorizo) and then headed over to the newly-renovated right field corner. Look at all this open space for fans to move around:


THAT is how a stadium should be designed. No one wants to be confined to their seat and/or to a covered concourse where they can’t even see the full arc of a fly ball. Open air and standing room is a winning combination.

Here’s something else that’s new and brilliant:


Remember the old bullpen down the right field line? Rather than completely tear it out or fill it in with something overpriced and gimmicky, the Indians built a staircase down to it. They only allow 25 people down there at once, I think, and there might even be a limit for how long you can stay, but that’s reasonable. Here’s what it looked like as I headed closer to the field:


Here’s the space itself:


Small. Cozy. Adorable. And what a nice opportunity for fans to see a unique part of the stadium. Bravo to the Indians for making their great stadium even better.

Here’s the view of the field from the old bullpen:


Here’s a panorama, taken by Brandon, that shows me sitting on the bench:


Back up in the concourse, I was blown away by all of the *quality* standing room that the Indians had installed near the right field corner:


In my expert opinion, a good standing room area must satisfy these two requirements:

1) Not be covered by anything, or at least not have an obstructed view, such as being tucked back underneath the overhang of the second deck. The standing-room areas down the left field line at Target Field, for example, are covered, but they still work because of the smart design. Have a look.

2) Not be more than 400 feet from home plate, or at least not much more. The party deck in deep left-center at Safeco Field, for example, is almost too far away but still within the limit of being acceptable. Have a look. You’re kind of far removed from the action out there, but you’re close to the bullpens, and you’re within shouting distance of the center fielder.

Does your local stadium have a good place to stand? Think about it. The answer is probably no, and that’s a real shame. Busch Stadium (see here) and Comerica Park (see here) both have standing room in the aisles in foul territory. Camden Yards, of course, has a magnificent standing-room area called the “Flag Court” down the right field line. Minute Maid Park has standing room below the arches in left-center. At PETCO Park, fans can stand in the cross-aisle in right field. And don’t even get me started with Kauffman Stadium. There’s standing room all over the place — in foul territory and also in right field. Anyway, you get the point.

Brandon and I headed back to our section before game time. Several players were warming up . . .


. . . including both starting pitchers:


That’s Danny Salazar on the left and CC Sabathia on the right. My, oh my.

As these guys walked off the field . . .


. . . I got a ball from Sandy Alomar Jr. — my third of the day:


Look how many people watched Salazar warm up in the bullpen:


Here’s a photo of him that Brandon took:


Indians security has a weird rule when pitchers are warming up. Basically, if you’re in the new section in right-center field, you’re not allowed to stand in the cross-aisle near the pitcher. There are poles that hold up the netting, and you have to stay on one side of a certain pole. It’s arbitrary and bizarre. Standing beside the pitcher is too distracting, but standing directly behind home plate is okay? Look at this photo I took after Salazar had finished:


There had been a bunch of people standing right there during his warm-ups. Here’s another look at that spot from farther back:


Anyone in the stadium can stand there. You don’t need a special ticket, but you can’t go past that barricade into the seating area.

One day earlier, I had been in touch with the Indians about doing something media-related at the game. As it turned out, they interviewed me live between innings . . .


. . . and it was broadcast on the jumbotron! I was not expecting that. When they said they’d film me in the 2nd inning, I figured the TV sideline reporter would come talk to me for a couple of minutes while the game was taking place. As it turned out, this interview was awkward as hell because (a) the entire Indians and Yankees bullpens were sitting right behind me, and (b) I heard my own voice booming back over the speakers with a slight delay. If I could do it all over again, I would probably undo this interview. That said, I think it turned out alright, and it was certainly nice of the Indians to give me the opportunity.

Every batter in the Indians lineup was right-handed (or at least hitting from the right side against Sabathia), so as the bottom of each inning was about to get underway, I ran over to the left field side. The first part of my route required me to head through the cross-aisle:


After passing through the barricade, I turned to the right, alongside Heritage Park:


Here’s what it looked like at the top of the stairs:


I kept going straight toward that tree in the middle of the previous photo, and when I reached the walkway, I turned left:


Then I headed toward and underneath the bleachers, eventually turning left into a tunnel in straight-away left field:


This was my view as I approached the field:


Here’s what it looked like on my left:


Look at all that space! And I was allowed to hang out there. And there was no competition! And of course there weren’t any home runs hit to left field the entire night. But hey, it was still fun to wander and, for a change, not have anyone yell at me or ask to see my ticket.

I don’t think I ever sat in my ticketed seat, but no one noticed or cared. I sat close enough, and there were a few empty seats, so whatever. Here’s what it looked like in right-center field:


This was the view to my right:



A little while later, I nearly did a double-take when I noticed this on the scoreboard:


See what I’m talking about? Hisashi Iwakuma had thrown a no-hitter against the Orioles.

As the Indians put the finishing touches on their 2-1 win, nearly everyone in the stadium was standing:


Even though the Indians didn’t appear to be heading to the playoffs, it was still a big moment because it knocked the Yankees out of first place.

Finally, as players from both bullpens walked across the field . . .


. . . a 50-something-year-old man in my section, who’d been heckling/disparaging me all night (and threatening not to let me catch any home runs even though he was trapped in the middle of the row in front of me), gave me the finger on his way out. He held the pose just long enough for me to pull out my camera and take a photo, but I’ll refrain from posting it here. Mainly I just wanted to capture the moment to remind myself of home.


44_the_two_balls_i_kept_08_12_15• 3 baseballs at this game (two pictured here because I gave one away)

• 537 balls in 75 games this season = 7.16 balls per game.

 71 lifetime balls in 8 games at Progressive Field = 8.88 balls per game.

• 1,128 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,343 total balls


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

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $162.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,650.16 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,503.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

8/11/15 at U.S. Cellular Field

Let’s begin with a three-part photo — that’s really the best way to explain how the day got started:


Part 1: I flew from New York City to Chicago.
Part 2: I met my friend Brandon Sloter at the airport.
Part 3: We had some harmless fun on the way to U.S. Cellular Field.

This was going to be my first of five games at five stadiums in five days, and it was clearly going to be the most fun. That’s because I’d made plans to meet up with a guy named Dan Katz, aka Big Cat, who runs the Chicago branch of Barstool Sports.

Here we are:


(Best. Shirt. Ever.)

Big Cat really IS big, but not just in terms of his physical size. The dude is a celebrity. There’s no other way to describe it. Never mind his 141K Twitter followers; two nights earlier, he had sung drunken karaoke with Cubs All-Star Anthony Rizzo and General Manager Theo Epstein.

Given the fact that Barstool Sports had dissed me several times in the past, I was prepared for Big Cat to make fun of me, so I was stunned/delighted when I realized that wasn’t his goal. He admitted that at one point, he didn’t think too highly of me, but when he saw me snag A-Rod’s 3,000th hit, he was sold. He kept referring to me as “Foul Ball Guy” — a nickname I’ve heard semi-regularly over the past few years — and told me he was now “Team Foul Ball Guy for life.”

The purpose of this trip was for Brandon to film me at each stadium and make a bunch of videos for my YouTube channel. (He’s a professional videographer, and yeah, I paid him.) The purpose of meeting up with Big Cat was for him to do his own video for Barstool. And also, you know, to have fun. Here we are being filmed by his video guy, whose name was also Dan:


Big Cat was supposed to receive passes to get us inside the stadium early — a tremendous perk because the White Sox only open the gates 90 minutes before game time, so in order to actually see the home team take batting practice, one needs special privileges. How lame is that? Unfortunately Big Cat’s connection fell through, but we were saved at the last minute by one of my fellow ballhawks, pictured below on the right:


His name is Rick Crowe, and it just so happened that he was getting rewarded on this fine day with early access from his season ticket rep. This was only the second time all season that he got to do it, so the timing of my trip was incredibly lucky. It also didn’t hurt that Rick was super-friendly. He could’ve told me, “See ya when you get inside at 5:40pm,” but instead he got permission from his ticket rep to bring us all inside — me, Big Cat, Brandon, and Dan, along with two of his own friends. In the photo above, the guy on the left came in early with us. That’s the legendary and elusive Dave Davison. He would’ve been featured in my latest book, The Baseball, as one of the Top Ten ballhawks of all time had he not declined to be interviewed. Here I am with the other guy that Rick brought inside:


That’s Rich Buhrke, and guess what? He *is* in the Top Ten section of the book (see pages 273-274).

It was great to catch up with him and the other guys, and of course I appreciated their generosity. They knew I’d be running around like a madman and competing with them for baseballs, yet they still welcomed me into their circle and brought me in early. That’s classy.

Just before we headed inside, I was recognized by a group of fans who wandered over and said hello. Here I am chatting with them:


And then?

Here’s a photo of Dave and Rich in left field during the final calm moment of the afternoon:


With the exception of racing a ballhawking legend (Dave) who screamed to distract me at the last second, my first ball of the day was fairly routine. It was a home run that landed in the left field bleachers and rattled around a bit. I don’t know who hit it. All I can tell you is that it was a right-handed batter on the White Sox.

Then something wacky happened. Thankfully both videographers got footage of it because if they hadn’t, no one would’ve believed me. Remember when I posted this tweet? Here are some screen shots to show how it went down. It began as I was using the glove trick to retrieve a ball from the gap behind the outfield wall:


As I was reeling it in . . .


. . . I heard the crack of the bat and looked up. Big Cat and Brandon were standing beside me, and they looked up too:


The ball was pretty much heading right at us! There was nothing I could do because (a) my glove was still dangling on a long piece of string and (b) Brandon was blocking me from attempting to make a bare-handed catch.

I sensed that Dave was circling behind me and assumed that he was going to catch the ball, so as Brandon flinched and ducked out of the way, I had already turned my attention back to the glove trick.


I heard the ball hit something soft and figured it was Dave’s glove. The guy is as good at judging, tracking, and catching home runs as anyone I’ve ever seen, so he had to have caught it, right? That’s when Big Cat shouted, “Ohhh! It’s in the bag!”

Dave reached for the ball . . .


. . . and asked, “Whose bag is this?”

Big Cat said, “Zack’s — it counts as his.”

I was confused.

Dave told me it “went right in the bag,” and I was like, “No way.” By that point he had placed the ball back in the bag, so I reached in to try to figure out what was going on:


I still thought he was kidding, so I tried to give the ball to him . . .


. . . but he wouldn’t take it. He said, “It went right in the bag! That’s your property. I’m not taking it.”

Big Cat was amazed. “Even your bag is catching balls!” he said. Then he walked over and looked at the camera . . .


. . . and added, “That’s just the Foul Ball Guy magic right there. Zack puts his bag down and the bag catches balls for him. Some guys have all the breaks.”

Dave later joked that he was going to Walmart to buy 100 cheap backpacks and place them all over the bleachers.

My fourth ball was another homer that landed in the mostly-empty stands. This time, instead of screaming, Dave threw his glove at me from about 50 feet away as I bent down to pick up the ball. He’s silly.

Then Big Cat got ejected from the stadium . . . temporarily. The White Sox were pissed at him for entering with Rick’s ticket rep after his own request for early access hadn’t been granted, so yeah, toward the end of White Sox BP, security walked over and lectured him and escorted him out. I think I was allowed to stay because I’d talked to Rick about this several days ahead of time, and he’d added my name to the list. I don’t know. Thankfully Big Cat made it back inside with a bit of BP remaining.

Here he is battling the sun:


During the Angels’ portion of BP, I only managed to snag one ball, but it was a good one — a deep home run by Albert Pujols that I caught on the fly. That was my fifth ball of the day. Big Cat still had none, and since he’d never gotten one in his entire life, I wanted to make sure he didn’t go home empty-handed.

We headed over to right-center field for the last group of BP:


Sometimes I feel like I have a great chance of catching a ball, but this was the opposite. It was dead out there. I just knew it wasn’t gonna happen, so we headed into foul territory, and I lent him my Angels shirt:


It looks good on him, right? That’s because it was an XL. Why did I have a shirt that big? Because I used to weigh a lot more, and I used to think it was cool to wear floppy clothes.

Here we are at the dugout just before BP ended:


I was hoping to get someone on the Angels to toss him a ball when everyone cleared the field.

In the following screen shot, you can see my hand pointing at him from the left side:


I had gotten the attention of bullpen coach Steve Soliz, and look! He threw a ball to Big Cat:


Here’s my man reaching out for the easy catch:


Even though it was a warm-up ball, he was pretty excited:


Then Soliz tossed a ball to me too. That was my sixth of the day, two of which I’d given to kids.

After all the players and coaches were gone, Big Cat and I removed our Angels gear and posed for a photo with a fellow ballhawk named Yacov Steinberg:


Then I spent some time with a few other folks:


In the four-part photo above, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, I’m with:

1) a young man named Larry Larson, who had brought copies of all three of my books
2) Larry’s brother, Nick, who had me sign a baseball
3) a Top Ten ballhawk named John Witt; see pages 279-280 of The Baseball
4) 2015 BallhawkFest attendee Gabi Josefson

Big Cat, meanwhile, had been tweeting about our time together, which, not surprisingly, had gotten the haters all worked up. His replies to their negative comments were priceless. Check out this one:


Here’s another:


It was great to have Big Cat on my side.

After the national anthem . . .


. . . I waved and shouted at Mike Trout, who spotted me in the crowd and waved back — pretty cool that he still recognizes me as the guy who caught his first MLB home run.

Here’s where we sat during the game:


As you can see, the first 10 rows were kind of crowded, but the back of the section was nearly empty:


Here I am schmoozing it up with Big Cat:


If someone had launched a ball in our direction, we would’ve had some room to maneuver, but unfortunately there were no home runs in the first half of the game. Perhaps out of boredom and/or self-loathing, Big Cat went and got a full-sized ice cream helmet sundae for $17. Look at this damn thing:


I’m all about dessert and ice cream, and admittedly I suck at moderation, but dude. Seriously? Here he is eating it:


Did you notice the whipped cream that he’d gotten on his glove? I scolded him for that in his video, which you’ll see in just a bit. Also, FYI, I’m glad to report that he was wearing that hat ironically.

After an inning of solid ice cream eating, Big Cat returned to the concession stand and got another spoon for me. I’m not sure if he was being generous or if he was just trying to distract me for the lulz, but he seemed to take pleasure in throwing me off my game. The only home run of the night happened to be the first of Trayce Thompson’s career, and yes, I *was* preoccupied with the ice cream, okay? But the ball landed two sections to our left in the middle of the second row, where it was bobbled back onto the field by a bunch of fans. In other words, there was no chance for me to catch it. Take a look for yourself.

In the 9th inning, we headed to the seats behind home plate:


I was hoping to get a ball from umpire Marcus Pattillo, but he didn’t give any away. (Hmph!) Even if he had, Larry and Nick Larson had already claimed the best spot, so I probably wouldn’t have gotten one.

I was disappointed that Mike Trout went hitless, but that was the case for most of his teammates. The White Sox won the game, 3-0, and limited the Angels to five hits. That said, it was a great day overall. It was nice to reconnect with Brandon (whom I hadn’t seen for months), and of course it was fun hanging out with Big Cat, who was both kind and hilarious.

Now it’s time for a couple of videos. First here’s the one that Brandon made:

Now here’s the video that Big Cat put together for Barstool Sports:

Good times! Thanks for watching and an even bigger thanks to Big Cat for being a part of it all.


34_the_four_balls_i_kept• 6 baseball at this game (four pictured here because I gave two away)

• 534 balls in 74 games this season = 7.22 balls per game.

 75 lifetime balls in 11 games at U.S. Cellular Field = 6.82 balls per game.

• 1,127 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,340 total balls


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

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $162.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $150,650.16 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,503.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009


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