4/13/16 at Coors Field

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

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Best.
Car.
Ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yeah, THAT’S how far it went.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. . . and here’s the second:

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

That one felt good.

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

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

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

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

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Look how much open space there is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s one of The Rooftop’s bars:

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

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

This was my view during the game:

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Speaking of space, look at this glorious aisle:

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

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

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

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

UNREAL.

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

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

<sigh>

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

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Here I am with Dan and Emily:

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

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

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

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

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Oh, and here’s even more space:

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Pardon me while I sob uncontrollably for five minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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I got one last peek at the field:

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

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

UPDATE: Here’s the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

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

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

• 1,171 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,674 total balls

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

4/12/16 at Safeco Field

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

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

1_fans_outside_safeco_field_right_field_gate

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

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

2_rex_and_his_son_tyler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10_jay_didion_and_zack

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

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

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

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

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

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

14_ball8655_from_joel_peralta

In case it’s not clear what was happening:

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

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

Here’s where I started:

15_zack_party_deck_from_above

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20_rangers_pitchers_in_center_field

I figured out later that it was Tony Barnette.

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

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Phew!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look who caught a foul ball the following inning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my 20th ball of the day:

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the 10 balls that I ended up keeping:

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

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

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

• 1,170 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

 290 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

 18 lifetime games with 20 or more balls

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

8,667 total balls

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

Thanks for reading! More soon . . .

4/11/16 at the Oakland Coliseum

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

1_outside_the_oakland_coliseum

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

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

Phew!

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

2_zack_standing_outside_the_coliseum_photo_by_brandon_sloter

. . . and here’s a group photo:

3_zack_posing_with_fans_outside_photo_by_brandon_sloter

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

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

4_view_from_left_field_during_bp_04_11_16

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

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

5_zack_catching_ball8643

Here’s a closeup of the ball:

6_ball8643

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

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

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

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

7_zack_and_george_photo_by_brandon_sloter

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

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

8_nick_leading_us_down_to_the_field

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

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

10_arizona_spring_training_commemorative_ball

WOW!!!

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

9_nick_mark_zack_with_ball8644_photo_by_brandon_sloter

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

11_baseball_card_of_mark_the_security_guard

I love it.

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

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

Only two pairs of Angels played catch before the game:

12_angels_pregame_throwing_04_11_16

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

13_zack_catching_ball8646

That was my fourth ball of the day.

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

This was my view for left-handed batters:

14_foul_ball_view_for_lefties

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

15_generous_fan_named_ryan_with_zack_hample_autograph

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

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

16_view_from_upper_deck_photo_by_brandon_sloter

Huge crowd, huh?

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

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

17_ball8647_daniel_nava_foul_ball_off_sonny_gray

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

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

18_zack_and_sideline_reporter_kara_tsuboi

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

19_zack_and_sideline_reporter_kara_tsuboi

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

20_zack_and_sideline_reporter_kara_tsuboi

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

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

21_mike_trout_scoring_after_hitting_a_home_run_photo_by_brandon_sloter

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

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

22_empty_tunnel_in_the_second_deck

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

23_nick_badders_and_sean_cheng

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

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

24_zack_and_nick_9th_inning

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

25_attenendance_only_13371

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

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

26_mike_trout_postgame_interview

<3

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

27_zack_and_fans_after_the_game_photo_by_brandon_sloter

The Angels won the game, 4-1.

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

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

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

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

• 1,169 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

8,647 total balls

4/6/16 at Yankee Stadium

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

1_approaching_yankee_stadium

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

2_lines_outside_gate_6

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

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

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

3_fans_already_in_the_seats

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

4_ball8634_first_of_the_2016_season

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

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

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

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

5_zack_selfie_with_barstool_fans

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

These guys also recognized me:

6_nice_guys_who_recognized_me

They were really nice and asked a zillion questions.

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

Umm, okayyyy.

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

7_chris_hernandez_miserable

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

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

8_2016_spring_training_ball

That made my day.

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

9_you_gonna_be_cold

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

This was my view during the game:

10_view_during_game

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

10b_creeper_photo_04_06_16

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

11_slugfest_17_runs_in_3_innings

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

14_mystery_object_on_railing

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

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

12_empty_seats_late_in_the_game

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

13_carlos_correa_for_president

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

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

15_rat_on_subway_platform

Shall I zoom in for you?

16_rat_on_subway_platform_closeup

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

STATS:

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

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

• 1,167 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

8,637 total balls

Charity prizes — 2016

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

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

Here’s a photo of the Ernie Banks autograph:

ernie_banks_autograph

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

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

three_signed_cards

Here are the Larry Doby cards:

larry_doby_cards

These two cards will be awarded as a single prize.

Here’s the Jacoby Ellsbury bobblehead:

jacoby_ellsbury_bobblehead

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

Here’s the Juan Lagares bobblehead:

juan_lagaras_bobblehead

Here’s the Target Field ball:

target_field_commemorative_ball

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

Here’s the copy of Man Versus Ball:

man_versus_ball_signed_copy

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

Here are the Mets rally towels:

mets_rally_towel1

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

Here are the six Mets t-shirts:

mets_t_shirts

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

Here are the Yankee caps and commemorative patch:

yankee_caps_and_patch

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

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

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

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

2015 World Series — Game 5

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

1_arriving_at_citi_field_11_01_15

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

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

2_jere_and_zack_11_01_15

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

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

3_zack_talking_to_jeremy_guthrie_11_01_15

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

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

4_zack_and_jeremy_guthrie_11_01_15

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

(Yes, really.)

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

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

5_fan_taking_selfie_with_jeremy_guthrie

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

6_nighttime_lines_outside_citi_field_11_01_15

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

7_ball8631_thrown_by_tom_goodwin

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

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

8_tang_in_right_field

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

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

9_ball5000_in_a_ziploc_bag

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

10_jeremy_guthrie_telling_alex_rios_about_me

Awesome.

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

11_tang_giving_shake_shack_to_jeremy_guthrie

Two minutes later, this happened:

12_jeremy_guthrie_giving_ball5000_to_alex_rios

On his way back . . .

13_jeremy_guthrie_bringing_ball5000_back_to_me

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

14_jeremy_guthrie_holding_ball5000

Here’s a closer look at the signature:

15_ball5000_signed_with_jeremy_guthrie_giving_a_thumb_up_in_the_background

GORGEOUS!!

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

16_jeremy_guthrie_and_tang_posing_with_burgers

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

17_left_field_crowded_for_royals_bp_11_01_15

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

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

18_frank_thomas_getting_miked

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

Then I got even closer to this guy:

19_alex_rodriguez_signing_from_below

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

Speaking of personal encounters . . .

20_woman_in_skimpy_mets_costume

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

Look how crowded it was in the left field concourse:

21_crowded_concourse_in_left_field_11_01_15

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

Tony Bennett sang the national anthem . . .

22_tony_bennett_singing_national_anthem

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

This was my view for most of the night:

23_view_during_game_11_01_15

At various points, everyone was standing:

24_everyone_standing

Well, almost everyone:

25_guy_who_did_not_care

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

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

The stadium was ready to erupt:

26_security_on_field_late_in_game

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

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

WHOA!!

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

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

27_scoreboard_9th_inning_blown_save_by_jeurys_familia

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

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

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

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

Check it out:

28_ball8633_thrown_by_alcides_escobar

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

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

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

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

29_top_of_the_12th_inning

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

Hoo-boy.

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

THAT’S when the mass exodus occurred.

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

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

30_security_ready_to_go

Buster Olney was hanging out down below:

31_buster_olney_standing_below

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

32_royals_rans_ready

Here’s what their celebration looked like:

33_celebration_after_world_series

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

Look who I ran into behind the dugout:

34_zack_and_robin_11_01_15

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

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

35_fans_standing_on_seats

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

36_jarrod_dyson_holding_world_series_trophy

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

37_jarrod_dyson_giving_high_fives_on_the_dugout_roof

Here he is high-fiving my friend Garrett Meyer:

38_garrett_meyer_high_fiving_jarrod_dyson

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

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

39_garrett_robin_tang

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

40_little_kid_interviewed_on_tv

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

41_tang_interviewed_on_tv

Garrett got interviewed too:

42_garrett_interviewed_on_tv

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

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

43_robin_garrett_tang_in_mcfaddens

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

44_drunk_royals_fan_outside_mcfaddens

It went from bad . . .

45_drunk_royals_fan_arrested

. . . to worse for that guy:

46_drunk_royals_restrained_on_a_stretcher

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

47_pumpkin_carved_with_baseball_stitches

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

48_garrett_robin_tang_zack_final_photo_outside_the_stadium

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

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

49_the_three_balls_i_snagged_11_01_15

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 3 baseballs at this game

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

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

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

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

• 1,166 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

8,633 total balls

5/18/10 at Turner Field

Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one from Atlanta, when I wandered all over the stadium and went nuts with my camera. Thankfully I had saved all the photos, along with the text from my original entry, so this was easy to recreate. Enjoy!

I began my three-day trip to Atlanta with a lifetime total of 4,458 baseballs — and with the lofty goal of averaging 14 balls per game. That’s what it was gonna take to reach 4,500. Things were looking good after my 19-ball performance on May 17th, but I still needed to put up big numbers on Day Two.

It started with a ground-rule double that skipped off the top of the outfield wall and landed near me in the left field seats. As two other guys closed in on it, the ball took a lucky bounce and rolled right to me.

Five minutes later, a ball landed in the gap near the foul pole:

1_ball4479_in_the_gap

Just as I was getting ready to knock it closer with my glove trick, a security guard appeared out of nowhere and tossed it to me.

My friend Matt Winters (who you might remember from 7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium) was at this game, and he snapped a few photos of me during BP. Here’s one that shows me using the glove trick to snag my third ball of the day in right-center field:

2_zack_snagging_ball4480

As usual, I ran all over the place during BP, but it didn’t pay off. I kept finding myself out of position. At one point, for example, I sprinted to left field when three of the four hitters in a certain group were batting right-handed. Then, as soon as I got there, one of the righties turned out to be a switch-hitter and mashed a home run to the exact spot where I’d been standing in right field. Crap like that. It was relentless.

At around 5:15pm, I hurried from straight-away right to right-center and reeled in a ground-rule double that had dropped into the gap.

This guy was not impressed . . .

3_indian_during_batting_practice

. . . and you know what? Neither was I. The Braves’ portion of BP ended ten minutes later, and I was still stuck at four — not a disaster, but not a blistering pace by any means.

When the Braves cleared the field, I got coach Glenn Hubbard to throw me a ball near the 1st base dugout.

Then, when the Mets took the field . . .

4_behind_the_batting_cage

. . . I changed into my Mets gear and headed around to the left field side.

I continued running all over the place:

5_zack_running_up_steps

Other than the free exercise I was getting, it didn’t really help.

Gary Matthews Jr. tossed me a ball in right-center, and at various points during the following half-hour, I got a couple more balls tossed to me (in nearly the same spot) by coach Razor Shines and reliever Hisanori Takahashi.

Somehow I was up to eight balls, which, on the grand scheme of things, is pretty good, but I wasn’t happy. It was a “soft” eight if that makes sense. Weak. Lame. Boring. Glove tricks. Toss-ups. There was no action. No excitement. No home runs on the fly. The whole day was a struggle. Every ball was spaced 10 or 20 minutes apart. I never got hot. Never hit my stride. Never went on a ball-snagging rampage.

6_left_field_from_right_fieldThere were a bunch of lefties up, so I moved to the seats in straight-away right. It was dead. None of them could even reach the warning track, so I focused on the players in the outfield. Maybe I could get someone else to throw one my way? Suddenly I heard the other fans shouting and noticed that they were all looking up and shuffling around as if they were jockeying for position. It could only mean one thing: there was a ball heading toward my section. I looked up and spotted it high in the air. It was already descending. Coming right toward me. I darted five feet to my left, then climbed back over a row and reached far out to my glove side — away from the field — and made a lunging, over-the-shoulder catch.

Jeez.

The way things had been going, it figured that at the ONE moment when I wasn’t looking at the batter, there’d be a home run hit near me. Actually, there were a few more homers hit into my section after that (all by Chris Carter), but I wasn’t able to catch any on the fly, and they all took ridiculously bad bounces toward other fans.

Some random guy on the Mets with “ARROYO 58” on his jersey tossed me my 10th ball of the day. He was young, and he was wearing a catcher’s mitt, and he wasn’t on the roster that I’d printed, and I have no idea who he is. (Can anyone help me identify him?)

Somehow I’d stumbled into double digits.

It was about 6:10pm. The Mets were beginning their final round of BP, and since most of the remaining batters were right-handed, I headed back to left field. This was when the rampage took place. Jenrry (pronounced “Henry”) Mejia tossed a ball to some fans, who dropped it into the gap. BAM! I was all over it with my glove trick. Then, over the next few minutes, two more balls were tossed and dropped into the gap. I snagged both of those and gave them to the nearest kids. Finally, on my way out of the section, a fan pointed out yet another ball that was sitting in the gap, so I reeled in in and handed it to him.

How the hell?!

I had snagged 14 balls — and check this out. Two of them looked pretty weird:

7_weird_balls_05_18_10

As you can see, the ball on the left is dirty on the top part and clean in the middle. (It almost looks like one of those gold balls from the Home Run Derby.) The ball on the right, meanwhile, looks like someone touched the Rawlings logo when the ink was still wet and then left a fingerprint one inch above it. Although I’ve snagged my share of weird baseballs over the years, I’ve never seen anything like these.

Batting practice was done. It was time to wander and explore the stadium. Matt and I started by cutting through the field level cross-aisle . . .

8_turner_cross_aisle

. . . and heading into the concourse:

9_turner_field_level_concourse

Yuck.

Turner Field was built just before open concourses became a thing, so in other words, when you’re heading for the bathroom or one of the concession stands, you can’t see the field.

Not the end of the world, right?

Well, on top of that, this particular concourse was narrow and gloomy. Turner Field was built in the mid-90s, but parts of it look much older than that. Although there’s nothing technically wrong with it, I can actually see the stadium being demolished and replaced within the next 30 or 40 years — that is, if the economy ever recovers. I’m not saying that it needs to be replaced. I just think that Braves ownership will ultimately decide that they need a glitzier stadium with more clubs and suites.

Matt and I headed to the upper deck . . .

10_turner_steps_and_skyline

. . . where there IS an open concourse:

11_turner_upper_deck_concourse

Much better.

Or . . . perhaps not.

There’s a picnic-type area up there, where the ground was covered with patches of peeling paint:

12_turner_peeling_paint

On one hand, I felt like I should’ve been bothered by the neglect and decay, but on the other hand, I kinda liked it; in this new era of way-too-fancy stadiums, I enjoy being in a ballpark with flaws. Turner Field, as cavernous and nondescript as it is, still felt somewhat cozy and welcoming.

Here’s a look at the picnic-type area from above:

13_peeling_paint_from_above

Here’s what the field looked like from the top left corner of the upper deck:

14_turner_view_from_upper_left_corner

See what I mean? The stadium is big and plain. Nothing about it stands out — nothing memorable or unique. Fenway has the Green Monster. Rogers Centre has the hotel. Kauffman Stadium has the fountains. Even Citi Field has the Home Run Apple. But what does Turner Field have?

At the very top of the upper deck, I discovered a cross-aisle with sporadic rows of elevated seats:

15_turner_last_row_of_upper_deck

(Perhaps that’s Turner Field’s contribution to the baseball world?)

Check out my cheap panorama from the last row behind the plate:

16_turner_field_panorama

Matt and I headed toward the foul pole . . .

17_turner_right_field_from_above

. . . and trekked to to the top right corner of the stadium:

18_always_bring_your_glove

(Always bring your glove because hey, you never know.)

This was the view to my right:

19_turner_view_from_upper_right_corner

Turner Field wins the Plain Award.

We went back down to the field level . . .

20_turner_right_field_cross_aisle

. . . and Matt took my picture with a gigantic baseball:

21_turner_zack_big_ball

Several Braves infielders were wrapping up their pre-game throwing, so I raced down to the front row along the foul line and got Yunel Escobar to hook me up with my 15th ball of the day. He flung it behind his back as he jogged off the field. Fortunately, his aim was perfect, although I had to reach up to make the catch. Here’s a photo that Matt took as the ball hit the pocket my glove:

22_zack_catching_ball4492

This was our view during the game . . .

23_view_during_game_05_18_10

. . . and this is the ball that Johan Santana used to record his 1,774th career strikeout:

24_ball4493_johan_strikeout

It was pretty simple:

1) Brian McCann struck out to end the first inning.

2) Mets catcher Henry Blanco brought the ball back toward the dugout.

3) I scooted through an empty row and got him to toss it to me.

With two outs in the top of the 5th, Santana was at bat and fell behind in the count 0-2 against Kris Medlen. Santana fouled off the next pitch — a little squibber off the end of the bat that trickled along the fence in front of the dugout. Fernando Tatis, sitting on the steps at the outfield end of the dugout, scooped up the ball. I moved down to the front row and asked him for it, and he threw it to me. Too easy. Almost embarrassingly easy.

I knew I wasn’t going to get another ball at the dugout, so I wandered around during the second half of the game. First I checked out the Mets bullpen:

25_mets_bullpen_05_18_10

(Who is Arroyo?!?!)

Then I played for foul balls behind the plate (no luck there) and ended up behind the Braves dugout in the bottom of the 9th:

26_last_pitch_of_the_game

With the score tied, 2-2, Brian McCann led off with a line-drive single to right. Brent Clevlen (whose name always makes me think of Bert Blyleven) came in to pinch run and moved to second on a walk to Yunel Escobar. Melky Cabrera followed with a short chopper to third baseman David Wright. Wright charged in and caught the ball on the run and fired across his body toward first base. Unfortunately for the Mets, the throw sailed wide of first base, and the ball rolled into foul territory down the right field line. Clevlen raced around third and scored the winning run. Final score: Braves 3, Mets 2.

(My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .808 — 10.5 wins and 2.5 losses — and by the way, the photo above was taken as the final pitch of the game was being delivered.)

I didn’t snag any more baseballs at the dugout. The only thing I got was a photo with Matt:

27_matt_and_zack_postgame

Matt is not actually a Mets fan, and I have no idea why he looks so mad. (If he were a Mets fan, that would explain it.) He snagged eight balls, so he should’ve been smiling.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

28_the_14_i_kept copy• 17 balls at this game (14 pictured on the right because I gave three away)

• 136 balls in 13 games this season = 10.46 balls per game.

• 642 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 125 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,494 total balls

5/11/10 at Camden Yards

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

I should’ve been working on my book, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to catch Ken Griffey Jr.’s final major league home run.

Yes, final home run — the “Kid” might not be playing much longer.

In any case, the weather was miserable — temperatures in the 40s and rainy — so this was the scene when Camden Yards opened at 5pm:

1_mariners_warming_up_05_11_10

The Mariners were just starting to loosen up, and the tarp was on the field. (The reason it was in the outfield is that the grounds crew had pulled it out there to get the water off.)

After 15 minutes, Jason Vargas tossed me my first ball of the day. Pretty simple. Nothing special about it. But my second ball was rather unexpected. I was standing near the Mariners’ bullpen in left-center, minding my own business, and keeping my mouth shut. Felix Hernandez was pitching. Bullpen coach John Wetteland was looking on. I didn’t want to interrupt them, so I stood there quietly (with my glove and Mariners gear) and simply watched. This was my view:

2_john_wetteland_after_ball4442

All of a sudden, Wetteland looked over at me, pulled a ball out of his pocket, and held it up — but I wasn’t ready to receive it. My camera was on, and I wasn’t wearing my glove, so while I fumbled for a few seconds with my stuff, he waited patiently and then made a perfect throw.

Then things went dead (from a ballhawking perspective). I watched Ichiro do some running on the warning track . . .

3_ichiro_running_05_11_10

. . . and headed to the upper deck. Ready to see the definition of beauty?

4_upper_deck_05_11_10

I was wandering through the upper deck with one of my newer baseball friends — a college-aged kid named Avi. When we made it back down to the field level, we ran into fellow ballhawk named Matt, who mentioned something about getting into the club inside the warehouse. I’d never been in there — at least not on the upper floors — so Matt led me and Avi to the entrance. It’s called the “Camden Club,” and you can see the doors on the lower right in the following photo:

5_camden_club_entrance

When we headed inside, a security guard checked our tickets (any ticket will do) and drew little squiggly lines on them with a magic marker. Then he handed us each a ticket-like coupon (which no one ever asked for) and directed us to the elevators. The whole security process seemed pointless, but anyway, here’s what it looks like on the eighth floor of the warehouse:

6_camden_club_8th_floor

See that window on the right? In the photo above, it’s all washed out, so let me take you closer for a look through it:

7_camden_club_8th_floor_view1

Niiiiiiiiiiice.

The club has a staircase leading down to the seventh floor . . .

8_camden_club_8th_floor

. . . which pretty much looks the same, so I won’t bore you with any more photos of it, but you have to see the bathroom:

9_camden_club_bathroom

(Good thing the security guard didn’t walk in there while I had my camera out.)

Avi and I hurried down to the left field foul line when the Mariners came back out for pre-game throwing. Jack Wilson tossed me my third ball of the day, and Michael Saunders hooked me up with No. 4.

Here’s a photo that I took right after I got the ball from Saunders; the upper arrow is pointing to the window on the eighth floor of the warehouse that I’d been looking out of 15 minutes earlier:

10_pregame_throwing_05_11_10

My friend Brandon had told me that he was going to show up at this game at some point. Little did I know that when Saunders threw me the ball, he was already there, taking pics of me from across the field. Check this out:

11_zack_getting_ball4444

In the photo above, the RIGHT arrow is pointing at Saunders, the UP arrow is pointing at me, and the DOWN arrow is pointing at the ball.

Cool, no?

Here’s another photo, taken roughly one second later, that shows the ball inches from my glove. The double arrow on the upper right is pointing to my friend Todd Cook and his four-year-old son Tim:

12_zack_getting_ball4444

FYI, Brandon is a professional videographer. He recently finished working on the Alternative Press Tour. The reason he showed up late is that he had to finish some editing.

Here’s a photo of me and Avi:

13_avi_and_zack

Avi is a season ticket holder at Camden, and he’s been reading this blog for quite some time. He doesn’t have an exact count of the number of balls he has snagged, but he figures it’s about 120, including two game home runs.

I spent most of the game in the standing room only area (aka the “Flag Court”) down the right field line. Here I am, bundled up in four layers of clothing:

14_zack_flag_court

Griffey went 0-for-3 with a walk. The game’s only home run — a solo shot in the fifth inning by Ryan Langerhans — landed nowhere near me. Very frustrating. The Mariners won, 5-1, behind a sharp outing by Cliff Lee.

After the game, I positioned myself next to the umpire tunnel behind the plate:

15_rob_drake_exiting_field

Home plate ump Rob Drake handed me a ball on his way out. Here I am (in the gray hoodie and black cap) reaching over the wall for it:

16_zack_snagging_ball4445

Three minutes later, when the Mariners relievers walked in from the bullpen, I was in the perfect spot to get a ball tossed to me by Jesus Colome. Here’s a photo that shows the ball in his hand:

17_zack_about_to_get_ball4446

Todd and Tim snagged their own share of baseballs. Here I am with them, recreating (a mirror image of) this fist bump from 6/3/09 at Nationals Park:

18_zack_todd_tim

Todd also blogs about his games and has lots of great photos.

That’s pretty much it. I’ll be here for two more days. Think happy thoughts about Griffey and wish me luck . . .

STATS:

19_the_six_i_snagged• 6 balls at this game (pictured on the right)

• 88 balls in 9 games this season = 9.8 balls per game.

• 638 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,446 total balls

Pitch In For Baseball donating equipment at Yankee Stadium

Several days ago, I joined David Rhode, the director of Pitch In For Baseball, for an equipment donation event at Yankee Stadium. Here we are after getting off the subway:

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The event took place inside Gate 2 . . .

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. . . and after figuring out a few logistics, a bunch of us helped set up these boxes:

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Here’s David with all the boxes in place:

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These boxes were filled with baseball and softball equipment for local youth teams. As you can see in the photo above, one cluster of boxes was designated for Health Opportunities High School, located nearby in the Bronx.

Here’s where all that equipment came from. (Did you click that link? It’s important, so do it!) That’s David on the left, receiving an oversize check from the Yankees, presented by Brian Smith, the team’s Senior Vice President of Corporate and Community Relations. Pitch In For Baseball got that money last summer when I gave Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit . . . and part of that money was used to purchase this equipment.

After all the kids and coaches arrived, Brian gave a short welcome speech:

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He then introduced David and, to my surprise, looked over at me and shouted my name and told me to get out there with them. David and I each said a few words, and while it felt great to be acknowledged, it felt even better just to witness the kids and coaches excitedly opening the boxes and inspecting their new equipment. Check it out:

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Here’s one of the coaches opening a box of catcher’s gear:

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I overheard him talking about how much his guys were going to appreciate it. Keep in mind that these are schools in low-income communities where many people simply can’t afford this kind of stuff. The schools themselves don’t even have money in their budget for it either, so without the Yankees and Pitch In For Baseball, these teams would’ve continued to scrape by with old/crappy equipment, often with some items missing altogether.

In the photo above, did you notice the “Wilson” logo on the chest protector? Wilson Sporting Goods has partnered with Pitch In For Baseball and helped tremendously. They even made a special batch of gloves that are branded with the charity’s logo and website:

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Here are some guys displaying their new warm-up shirts, complete with numbers on the back:

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Here I am with a coach and a few of his softball players:

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They were thrilled to have received new helmets, gloves, bats, and so much more. The coach was extremely thankful. We didn’t orchestrate that photo op. He flagged us down because he wanted to capture the moment and express how appreciative he was.

Same deal with this team:

11_zack_posing_with_another_team

(Gotta love the A-Rod stunt double.)

Several other coaches approached me and shook my hand and thanked me. One of them even gave me a tote bag from his school with a branded thermos and umbrella.

Here’s a huge group photo with everyone:

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Usually, when people donate money to charity, they’re happy to know that it’ll ultimately be used for a good cause, so to actually be here at Yankee Stadium and witness the impact of this equipment donation was extra-special. Remember when Pitch In For Baseball helped the victims of Hurricane Sandy? I was there for one of those events too, and I’ll never forget it.

After everything wrapped up with the kids and coaches, I got to take a quick peek at the field. Here’s the concourse (with lots of dumpsters) on the way there . . .

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. . . and here’s the field itself:

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It felt weird to be there in February when it was like 25 degrees, but everything looked beautiful.

On the way out, I took a photo of David with two other employees from Pitch In For Baseball:

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In the photo above, that’s Meredith in the middle (you might remember her from 8/4/15 at Citizens Bank Park) and Bri on the right. Great people. Great charity. I plan to fundraise for them again in 2016, so I hope you’ll consider making a pledge. Stay tuned for an official announcement.

5/6/09 at Camden Yards

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

QUESTION: What do you get when you start with a “crowd” of 10,566 fans and then throw in 3 hours and 47 minutes’ worth of rain delays?

ANSWER: Ballhawking bliss.

One great thing about this day was that I was with my friend Sean:

1_sean_zack_outside_camden

We hadn’t seen each other since 2007, so it was kind of a big deal, but an even better thing about this day was that there was batting practice. Even though the forecast was crappy, and even though the clouds threatened more and more as five o’clock approached, we could see that the cage was set up through a gate in deep center field:

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As soon as the stadium opened, I ran around to the left field seats and was spotted by Jeremy Guthrie. (If you’ve been reading this blog since last season, you might recall that Guthrie recognized me on 9/19/08 at Yankee Stadium.)

“What are you doing here?!” he shouted.

“I drove down from New York City with a friend,” I yelled back, “because this stadium is so awesome!”

jeremy_guthrie_2008aI jogged down the steps to the front row and shook his hand.

“What do you do for a job?” he asked.

“I’m a baseball writer,” I said, “and I do a couple other things as well.” While I was in the middle of telling him about these things (including a detailed explanation of how I’m now snagging baseballs for charity), an Orioles righty launched a deep drive to my left, so I took off running through an empty row and grabbed the ball off the steps just before another fan got there.

“What do you DO with all the balls?” asked Guthrie.

“I give some away to kids, and I keep the rest,” I said. Then I asked him who hit the ball that I’d just gotten.

“Jones,” he said.

Guthrie turned back toward the field to do some shagging . . .

3_jeremy_guthrie

. . . and after a couple minutes, I asked him if he wanted to play catch. He responded by motioning toward himself with his glove.

“Oh, with MY ball?” I asked.

He nodded.

I unzipped my backpack, took out the ball, and fired a chest-high strike to him from about 70 feet away. We tossed it back and forth for two or three minutes, pausing intermittently to make sure the batter wasn’t hitting another ball our way. Guthrie threw me a few curveballs, and I threw him several knuckleballs, two of which were perfect and had no spin at all. He gave me a nod of approval after each one.

Sean, who successfully documented my throwing session with Heath Bell on 9/29/05 at Shea Stadium, was back at it again, this time with a fancy Flip camera. Below are a few screen shots from the short HD video he filmed. Here’s Guthrie making one of many throws to me . . .

4_playing_catch_with_jeremy_guthrie

. . . and here I am firing it back:

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In the following photo, note the large gentleman standing in the front row. I’m pointing him out because . . .

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. . . five seconds later, a home run was hit directly to him. He ducked out of the way, let the ball hit the seats, and when it skipped up in the air, I swooped in and nabbed it:

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Glove 1, Hat 0.

Guthrie seemed to be enjoying the brief role reversal: watching the action in the stands from the field. Of course, I was concerned that since he’d just seen me snag my second home run of the day, he might not return the ball that we’d been using to play catch. The following screen shot shows me hiding the ball (as if that were going to help) and asking if he’d still give me back the original ball.

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He said yes, and we continued playing catch a bit longer.

I had already marked the ball we were using with a “3949” (because it was the 3,949th ball I’d ever snagged) and get this…he ended up throwing that one back to the bucket and giving me a different ball when we were done. I wasn’t quite sure how to document it, so I just wrote a new “3949” on it. (What would happen if I snag the original “3949” later today?)

At one point, a home run landed half a dozen rows behind me, and as I raced up the steps for it, a woman was standing right near it reached down and grabbed it.

Guthrie started getting on me about it.

“She’s got more heart,” he said.

I just shrugged.

I ended up snagging two more balls during the Orioles’ portion of BP. The first was a ground-rule double that landed on the rubberized warning track and bounced over my head into the mostly empty seats. The other was tossed up by a ballboy at the very end.

The Twins came out and started throwing:

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Were they using Metrodome commemorative balls? Obviously I was hoping so, but I wasn’t sure, so I moved into foul territory and got a look at two balls that were sitting on the field:

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Ooh yeah! Just what I expected: a mixture of regular and commemorative balls. My strategy? Snag as many balls as possible and hope that at least a few would turn out to be commemorative. I’d actually snagged a couple of these balls on 4/24/09 at U.S. Cellular Field, but the logos were a bit worn, so now instead of simply trying to snag one, I was hoping to snag a GOOD one.

A ball rolled onto the warning track. It had a commemorative logo! I used my glove trick to reel it in . . .

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. . . and it turned out that the logo was semi-worn.

Then things slowed way down for me. The left field seats never got too crowded . . .

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. . . but there just wasn’t much action. I only snagged one more ball during BP. It was thrown by Matt Guerrier, and it was commemorative, but again, it was kinda worn:

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Then it started drizzling, and the grounds crew rushed to cover the field:

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The start of the game was delayed about 40 minutes. When the Twins came out and began getting loose . . .

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. . . I got my seventh ball of the day from Matt Tolbert. Not commemorative.

The O’s and Twins played a couple of innings before the rain picked up and caused another delay. Initially, the Mets-Phillies game was broadcast on the Jumbotron, but after a while, the fans were given the choice of watching that or some hockey playoff game. An announcement was made, and basically there was going to be a vote determined by noise/applause.

“Let’s hear it if you want to watch the [whatever two NHL teams were playing] game!” said the P.A. announcer, and the crowd went wild.

“Now let’s hear it if you want to watch the Mets and Phillies!”

I was the only person who cheered for that, so naturally I began screaming at the few fans sitting around me: “What’s the MATTER with you people! This is a baseball game! Why don’t you want to watch BASEBALL?!” I wasn’t joking, and sure enough, within five seconds, the Jumbotron switched over to hockey:

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So lame. (Does anyone else feel my pain or are you all gonna start bashing me?)

The rain eventually stopped, and when the players came back out to warm up, Camden Yards was officially a ghost town:

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Michael Cuddyer tossed me my eighth ball of the day in shallow left field, and three minutes later, I got another ball from Tolbert at the dugout. Both balls were commemorative, and both were beautiful:

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Yay! No offense to Minnesota, but I’m so glad I now don’t have to go there this season. (I’ll probably be there early next season to see the new ballpark.)

How great is Camden Yards? How awesome is Orioles management? Look at the announcement on the Jumbotron:

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In case you can’t read it in the photo, it says: “We invite all fans to have a seat in the lower level.” Is that great or what? (Can you imagine that happening in New York? Ha!!) At that point, any fan could sit anywhere. First row behind the dugout? Go for it. All by yourself out in left field? Have fun. That’s what Sean did. Can you see him in the following photo?

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Here, let me zoom in a bit for you and point him out:

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It was SO MUCH FUN. I didn’t even know where to go. Left field for righty homers? Right field for lefty homers? Foul balls? Third-out balls? Foul lines? Behind the plate? AAAHHH!!! I needed some Zack Hample clones. There was too much ground to cover. My brain couldn’t handle it. When the game had originally started, I’d been playing for homers, but once the attendance shrunk to about 150, I decided I had to go for foul balls. It was just too amazing to be able to run around and stand anywhere and not get hassled — and it paid off.

Top of the fourth. Third-base side of home plate. Brian Bass on the hill, throwing 93mph. Foul ball hit by Justin Morneau. Twenty feet to my right. I ran through the aisle. Back-handed catch on the fly. BOO-yah!!! Huge cheer from the crowd. Double digits. Tenth ball overall on the day.

Top of the fifth. Same spot. Bass still throwing smoke. Foul ball hit by Denard Span, shooting straight back at me, a few feet over my head. I jumped and reached up for the back-handed catch. The ball tipped off my glove (shoulda caught it, even though it probably wouldn’t have been ruled an error by the official scorekeeper) and plopped down into the empty aisle. Another foul ball. This one had a gorgeous smudge:

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The game was only halfway through, and I was already thinking about snagging two MORE foul balls. I’d gotten three in a game on three different occasions, but never four. The seats were crazy-empty. There were a few other guys with gloves, smelling opportunity, but they were a couple sections over down the foul lines. They just didn’t get it. There was no competition. I was the king of Camden. And Sean? He still had left field to himself. I was hoping there’d be a home run hit out his way, but no, nothing. It was the most fun I’d *ever* had running around for foul balls, and then of course the rain picked up in the sixth and delayed the game once again. As soon as the crew chief waved out the grounds crew, I bolted down the steps to the tunnel right behind the plate and got a ball from home plate ump Brian Knight as he walked off the field. I was proud of myself for that one. I hadn’t planned it. It just occurred to me, as it was happening, that I had a chance.

The game never did resume. There was lightning and thunder, and it poured nonstop for the next hour or so. Such a shame. I really think I would’ve set a personal record.

I did manage to snag one more ball, and I wish I’d taken a photo of it before I got it. For some reason, the ball was just sitting on the field throughout the final rain delay, on the grass behind home plate. (I think a player from one of the dugouts must’ve tossed it out.) Sean and I had our eyes on it, but we weren’t allowed down into the seats during the storm, and then when the game was finally called (Final score: Orioles 4, Twins 1), we were immediately told to leave by the few remaining ushers. Did we leave? Hell no. We hid in a tunnel for a few minutes until some random guy in a suit and tie walked briskly out onto the field to retrieve the ball. We both ran down into the seats and yelled for it, at which point he turned and threw it awkwardly/left-handed in our direction. It landed near Sean but took an unlucky (for him) bounce and rolled through a row right to me. The ball was totally soaked and waterlogged. (It was still wet and heavy when I woke up the next day.)

Don’t feel bad for Sean. During one of the delays, he got Denard Span to toss him a perfect commemorative ball, which he plans to give to his 15-month-old son (named Owen, the “O” being for the Orioles) when he gets back home to Connecticut.

Oh, and by the way, I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll mention it again: Sean is also a writer and has a new-ish novel out called Seams. It’s baseball-related. Very intriguing and compelling and funny and mysterious. Kinda R-rated at times. Definitely worth a read. Here’s the link, in case anyone wants to check it out.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

23_lucky_thirteen• 13 balls at this game (pictured here on the right, top to bottom, from left to right, in the order that I snagged them)

• 141 balls in 18 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

• 587 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 1,201 lifetime balls outside of New York (the ball from the ump was No. 1,200)

• 14 lifetime games with at least two game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 101 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 43 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls

• 3,961 total balls

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