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:

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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 . . .

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. . . and heading into the concourse:

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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 . . .

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. . . 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:

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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:

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Matt and I headed toward the foul pole . . .

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

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

This was the view to my right:

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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:

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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:

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This was our view during the game . . .

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

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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:

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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:

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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?

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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:

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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:

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Niiiiiiiiiiice.

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

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. . . 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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

1_david_rhode_and_zack_outside_stadium

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:

5_brian_smith_talking_to_the_kids

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.

8_zack_hiding_ball_from_jeremy_guthrie

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:

9_twins_playing_catch

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:

19_orioles_invitation

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?

20_stadium_nice_and_empty

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

21_sean_king_of_left_field

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:

22_ball3959_smudge

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

5/1/09 at Rangers Ballpark

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

I’m in Texas! Yeeeee-HAW!

1_zack_outside_rangers_ballpark_05_01_09

I usually announce my trips ahead of time, but every once in a while it’s fun to just GO.

I woke up in New York City at 5:45am, took a quick flight to Philly, took a longer flight to the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, jumped in a cab, avoided getting ripped off by the driver who first neglected to turn on his meter and then made up a ridiculous fare, checked into the cheapest motel in the western hemisphere (I had to sign a waiver saying I won’t have visitors after 10pm), gathered my stuff for the game, raced to the ballpark, and got there 20 minutes before the gates were going to open. But not just any gates…

2_rangers_season_ticket_entrance

Rangers Ballpark, like several other stadiums, opens extra early for season ticket holders. (Season ticket holders even have their own entrance, which you can see in the photo above.) It’s not as simple as some places where you just need the season ticket itself. Oh no. Here in Texas, you also need to present a “season ticket holder ID card,” which I obviously didn’t have. The good news is that every season ticket holder is allowed to bring a guest. The guest still needs to have a ticket for the game, but it can be a generic box office ticket — like the one I had. Therefore, my only challenge was to befriend a season ticket holder and convince that person to escort me inside. Did I approach the hardcore autograph collectors at the front of the line? No. Did I strike up a conversation with the men wearing baseball gloves right behind them? DUH!!! No way. I picked out a couple of old ladies in the middle of the line, one of whom was carrying cookies in a tupperware container.

“Excuse me,” I said, “is there any chance you guys could do a small favor for a New Yorker who hates the Yankees?” They both laughed and one of them pointed out the fact that I was “wearing the right hat.” I was good to go. It was THAT easy. They even fed me a cookie . . . literally. The lady took the cookie out of the container, told me to open my mouth, and then shoved it in. I’m a charmer, what can I say?

Anyway, I now have a new favorite stadium. From now on, whenever someone asks me what the best stadium is for ballhawking, the answer will not be “Camden Yards” or “AT&T Park if there weren’t as much competition.” The answer will forever be “Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.” Period.

No, I didn’t set any records yesterday, but this place has endless opportunities and potential. For starters, season ticket holders get inside two and a half hours early. Look how empty it was after 25 minutes:

3_left_field_early_bp_05_01_09

Check out the gap behind the outfield wall:

4_left_field_gap_05_01_09

It was glove trick heaven! There were gaps everywhere as you’ll see in the following photos, and not only that, but stadium security does not care AT ALL if fans try to retrieve balls that drop down there. The downside to the incredible opportunity to retrieve baseballs is that there were several other guys — all grown men who looked to be at least 40 — with devices of their own. Here’s one of them, going for a ball in the left field bullpen:

5_failed_cup_trick_05_01_09

This guy ended up failing in his attempt to reel it in. His contraption (which included a mini ice cream helmet) was great at picking up balls that were directly below him, but when the balls needed to be knocked closer, he was helpless.

I ended up snagging the ball in the photo above, and it was my second ball of the day. Five minutes earlier, I had grabbed a home run that landed in the empty bleachers in left-center field. I think there was one other fan in that section at the time. He was about 60 and never moved from his spot.

I only managed to get one more ball during the first empty half-hour, and there are two reasons for that:

1) The Rangers didn’t throw any balls into the crowd (and I don’t blame them).

2) The three other guys with devices had every section covered.

As for that third ball that I snagged, it was a slicer hit by a Rangers lefty into the totally empty seats along the left field foul line. The skill in snagging it came from knowing that the lefty was going to aim for the opposite field, but seriously, if I hadn’t been there to grab that ball out of the seats, it probably would’ve sat there for at least 10 seconds. That’s how empty it was. Most of the fans (and there weren’t many at that point) were clustered near the dugouts. Then you had a few in left field, one or two in left-center, and a few more in right. Unbelievable.

For some strange reason, the Rangers stopped hitting at around 5 o’clock — right around the time that the rest of the fans were let inside. That definitely cost me a few balls, but it gave me a chance to wander over to right field and take a photo of the incredible gap:

6_right_field_gap_05_01_09

I’d only been to one other game at this ballpark. It was back in 1999 and I have photographic proof. I snagged nine balls that day, including a Lee Stevens foul ball during the game that I caught on the fly. I remember it well, yet I had no recollection of all the gaps or the general awesomeness of the stadium. Oh, and I should give an example of how laid-back security is. When I was going for that ball in the left field bullpen, an old usher walked by after a few minutes, took a peek at my dangling glove, and said, “Does that thing work?” He wasn’t going to yell at me or confiscate it. He was genuinely interested, and he watched for a minute as I slowly moved the ball closer. Then, after he left, another usher walked by and said, “I don’t think you’re supposed to be doing that.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“They need that ball to warm up with,” he said.

“Well, that ball was just hit into the bullpen,” I told him. “It was a home run. I don’t think the team even knows it’s there.”

“Oh, okay,” he said and walked away.

BEST. BALLPARK. EVAR.

Okay, back to right field . . .

After the Rangers finished hitting, there was a ball sitting in their bullpen:

7_ball3936_in_the_bullpen

In the photo above, Did you notice the gap in center field? Truly incredible. Anyway, the mini-helmet guy was at it again. He ran up to the second deck, which overhangs the bullpen, and began lowering his contraption from there! I can understand security being laid-back about fishing for balls in a gap behind the outfield wall . . . but from the second deck?! And in such a visible spot? Apparently, it’s all good in Arlington, so the guy went for it and failed once again. The ball was a bit too far out for him. I waited patiently until he gave up and raised his unit. (I think “unit” is a healthy alternative to “device” and “contraption.” Gotta expand the ballhawking glossary. Any other suggestions for cool/unique ballhawking words?) Then I flung my glove out, knocked the ball closer on the first try, and reeled it in. Mwahaha!

“I saw some guy doing that on TV!” shouted a nearby fan.

“That was probably me,” I said. The fan didn’t seem to get it.

Now, are you aware of the batter’s eye situation at this ballpark? If you’ve watched enough “Baseball Tonight,” then you’ve probably seen fans running out onto the grassy berm in center field for home run balls. In New York, if you run out onto the batter’s eye, you get tackled, arrested, thrown in jail, banned from the stadium, and fined about $1,500. But here at Rangers Ballpark, it’s perfectly acceptable during batting practice AND games. In the following photo, look at all the fans lined up along the side railings, waiting for a ball to be hit (or thrown) there:

8_batters_eye_during_bp_05_01_09

You can’t hang out there all the time. You can only run out when a ball is on the way, and in case you’re wondering if you get in trouble if you run out for a ball that ends up falling short and not reaching the berm, the answer is no. You basically can’t get in trouble in this stadium. No one checks tickets. It’s the ultimate playground. (The downside, at least for a New Yorker like me, is that I had to listen to country music blasting throughout BP, but for the record, I do actually own a few country songs, just like I do root for a few guys on the Yankees.)

Back on the left field side, one of the “unit” guys was using a glove trick to get another ball from the bullpen. First he swung the glove back and forth, and then he let it fly:

9_rangers_glove_trick_attempt

I have no idea if he ended up getting this ball. It’s not like this was the only ball to be had, so I didn’t stick around to watch.

After the White Sox began hitting, I got Matt Thornton to throw me a ball in straight-away left field. I was in the front row, and despite the fact that he was only 50 feet away, he managed to airmail it about eight feet over my head. It was so high above me that I didn’t even bother jumping. I just started climbing over the seats, and I barely grabbed it before some middle-aged man got there. Less than a minute later, the same man bobbled a home run ball that conveniently plopped down into my empty row, so I grabbed that one too.

I used my glove trick to snag my seventh ball of the day from the gap in left-center. As I was setting up the rubber band and Sharpie, I was planning to give the ball to the kid standing above it, but his mother was so snotty and made such a big fuss about NOT letting me into the front row (and accused me of “stealing the ball from a child”) that I handed it to another kid instead. And then I told her why.

My eighth ball of the day came via the glove trick in left field. Look how badly the word “practice” was stamped onto it:

10_ball3940_screwy_practice_stamp

That was it for batting practice. Nothing at the dugout as the Sox came off the field. Nothing during pre-game throwing. When I asked Josh Fields for his ball, he said, “How many do you need?!” I have no idea how he would’ve seen me get any balls since he’s an infielder and I was snagging all my balls in the outfield, often in gaps that the players couldn’t see.

The funny moment of the day came right before the game started. The last few Sox were stretching in shallow left field, and there were a few Sox fans standing in the front row, shouting for autographs. Several rows back, a man decked out in Rangers gear got annoyed that these fans were still standing and blocking his view, so he shouted, “They’re not comin’ to see you guys! They’re done!” One of the Sox fans — a really fat guy with a beer and a goatee — looked back and yelled, “I’m gonna get me a kiss! You watch!”

Check out this photo I took during the lull before the game:

11_pregame_crowd_05_01_09

Do you see the Samsung ad on the outfield wall? See how that last section of seats is right next to the grassy batter’s eye? Well, that’s where I sat for the entire game. This was my view straight ahead . . .

12_view_during_game_05_01_09

. . . and this was my view to the left:

13_view_during_game_05_01_09

Outstanding!

I was all set to jump over that railing and run out there and catch a home run, but there were no home runs to be caught. The only long ball of the night was hit by Rangers leadoff man Ian Kinsler in the bottom of the first inning. Mark Buehrle (I saw his previous start on 4/25/09 at U.S. Cellular Field) looked shaky early on, falling behind by three runs after three innings, but he didn’t allow another run and ended up improving to 4-0 on the season.

Final score: White Sox 4, Rangers 3.

(Keep reading past the stats for important info about the next two games.)

STATS:

8 balls at this game

120 balls in 15 games this season = 8 balls per game.

584 consecutive games with at least one ball

154 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

3,940 total balls

I’ll be in Arlington for the final two games of this series. I don’t have a ticket next to the batter’s eye for tomorrow’s (May 2nd) game, but I’m going to try really hard to sit there anyway. Look for me. I’ll be wearing my obnoxious/yellow Homer Simpson t-shirtTomorrow night…Sunday, May 3rd…the game will be THE Sunday night game of the week on ESPN, and I *do* already have a ticket next to the batter’s eye, right above the edge of that Samsung ad. Look for me. I’ll be wearing my Waldo shirt.

Are you with me?

Yellow shirt tonight…Saturday, May 2nd.
Waldo shirt tomorrow…Sunday, May 3rd.

The weather is kinda iffy at the moment. I’m hoping for BP. This stadium is too good. I don’t want to be reduced to begging for balls. Not here. There are truly TOO MANY ways to get balls. I was paralyzed by the options when I first ran inside yesterday. You can snag balls everywhere. No area is off limits. Even the protective screen behind the plate is low, in case you’re dumb enough (like I was in ’99) to come here and go for foul balls. This place was built for ballhawking. Wow, wow, wow. Okay . . . gotta go.

9/17/08 at Yankee Stadium

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

On September 16th, I snagged six balls during the first 40 minutes of batting practice and caught a Jason Giambi home run in the 4th inning. At this game, I managed to snag just ONE ball during the first 40 minutes and was so frustrated that I briefly considered going home. It was THAT bad. I was the opposite of a ball magnet; I was a ball repellent.

The first ball, by the way, was commemorative and came from Phil Coke within the first 30 seconds that I was in the bleachers, so I basically got shut out for the entire portion of Yankees BP.

At 6:05pm — more than an hour after the stadium had opened — I still had just one ball. The White Sox were on the field, and it was so crowded in the stands that I didn’t bother wearing my Sox shirt. I just left it in my bag. There was no way to interact with the players or to be seen. I knew that in order to snag another ball, I was either going to have to catch a home run or use my glove trick to pull one out of the gap. Neither option was going to be easy. It was nearly impossible to run in any direction, and there was another fan named Tom who had a cup trick and was playing the gap exclusively. In fact he’d already beaten me to the first ball that landed there.

When Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr. started taking their cuts, I moved back about a dozen rows and positioned myself behind the tunnel in straight-away right field. This was my view:

view_for_thome_homer

A couple of minutes later, Thome crushed a deep fly ball about 30 feet to my right, and since I’d chosen to stand in one of the few places that actually had some empty space on either side, I was able to dart through a narrow row and make a running catch. It wasn’t a brilliant play by any means, but it was nice enough that the bleacher creatures applauded despite the fact that I was wearing a White Sox cap . . . and since this ball wasn’t commemorative, I later gave it away to a random kid (with a glove) who hadn’t already gotten a ball that day.

Fast-forward 15 minutes. Batting practice was about to end. I saw a player toss a ball to some fans who appeared to look down after it reached them. Had it fallen short? Had they dropped it? Had the ball landed in the gap? Was Tom going to beat me to it? The only thing I could do was run over and take a look, and to my surprise/delight, there were TWO commemorative balls. Tom was nowhere in sight, and I had both balls within a minute. I couldn’t figure out how the balls got there or how long they’d been there. When I first ran into the stadium, I had checked the entire gap and didn’t see anything. Could I have possibly missed them? I didn’t think so, but anyway, I was thrilled. Just 20 minutes earlier, I’d been in danger of ending up with one ball, but now I’d salvaged my day and brought it into the realm of respectability.

One of the two balls sitting in the gap must’ve been there for a while because it had a big wet spot. After BP ended, I held out the ball and took a pic of it with the gap in the background:

soaked_ball_gap

Then I headed to the left field bleachers and found Tom who’d brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter. I signed it and had his friend take a photo of us . . .

tom_zack_watching_baseball_smarter

. . . and learned that Tom had been hanging out there for the last round of BP.

The game was really slow in the early innings, at least from a home run-catching standpoint. Obviously I was hoping to catch another ball, but with every passing inning, I kept thinking about the fact that I still had the last home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium. What were the odds that there wouldn’t be any more homers in the remaining four-plus games? Awfully low. But it was still fun to dream.

At the start of the game, I stood in the tunnel in the middle of the right field bleachers, shifting my gaze back and forth between the game and the mostly-full blue benches around me. There was one empty seat that caught my eye, right on the steps at the end of the first row of benches. I didn’t want to slip into that seat in the top of the first inning because its rightful owner was still likely to show up. So I waited. Bottom of the first. Still empty. Top of the second. STILL empty. I decided to look at my own ticket (which I’d bought on StubHub weeks earlier) just to see where I was “supposed” to be sitting. It said Section 41, Row CC, Seat 26. I started looking around, trying to figure out exactly where that was . . . and then discovered that I’d been eying my own seat. Wow.

I sat there for the next five innings, thrilled by the fact that the man sitting in front of me (on a folding chair in the wheelchair aisle) wasn’t even wearing his glove for most of the game:

view_during_game_09_17_08

This guy wore his glove for Orlando Cabrera, but not for Griffey. Go figure. Anyway, he left the game in the seventh inning, and a couple of other fans sitting next to him took off in the top of the eighth. That’s when I pounced on the opportunity and upgraded my seat location. In the following photo, you can see 1) where I had been sitting and 2) my new spot:

seat_upgrade

The upgrade paid off.

Scott Linebrink came it to pitch the bottom of the eighth, and Melky Cabrera greeted him by working the count and lining a solid single to center. Johnny Damon, the next batter, took a called first strike, then watched the next pitch miss the zone to even the count at 1-1. The third pitch? CRACK!!! Deep line drive in my direction, practically coming right at me, and I was thinking it was going to fall short because . . . well, it’s Johnny Damon. Then the ball kept carrying, and my thoughts turned to something along the lines of: “No way, is this really about to happen?!

It was happening. The ball kept coming. I could tell I had a chance to catch it, but that it wasn’t going to reach the seats, so I jumped up on the chest-high railing (just as I’d done the day before to catch that BP ball tossed by Phil Hughes) and balanced on my stomach (cracked rib and all) and reached waaaaaaay out over the wall as the ball came shooting ball3763_johnny_damon_homertoward me, and BAM, just like that, I made the back-handed catch right in the pocket of my Mizuno glove. There was a guy on my left who made more of an effort to grab my legs to prevent me from flipping over the wall than he’d made to grab the ball himself.

It was one of the best catches I’d ever made, but unfortunately, because of the black T-shirt I was wearing, my effort wasn’t all that visible on TV, speaking of which . . . I knew I was going to take some serious heat for doing my stupid/celebratory “Cabbage Patch” dance again, but I figured that a repeat performance was the best way to be spotted and recognized. So yeah, I caught the ball, held it up triumphantly, did the embarrassing dance, and then held up two fingers and shouted “THAT’S TWO!!!” in case any of the cameras were still zoomed in on me.

Let me share a few screen shots of the TV coverage, and then I’ll link to the actual video footage. Here’s Damon making contact:

damon_screen_shot1

Here I am reaching out over the “R” in the “Budweiser” ad to make the catch:

damon_screen_shot2

Yeah, baby:

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Horrendous (but effective) dancing:

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Two!

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Talking once again on the cell phone:

damon_screen_shot6

I want to give another big “thank you” to my friend Michael Fierman for taping the game and then putting together a great clip of the footage.

Click here to watch a quick highlight with horrendous quality on MLB.com.

Before the eighth inning ended, a security guard walked over and told me that someone from the Japanese media wanted to interview me after the game. Here were are:

zack_postgame_interview

Fans were coming up to me and shaking my hand and asking if they could take photographs with me and the ball. It was insane. My life has been insane since last night. I’ve already gotten calls and emails from several TV shows. I’m scheduled to be on the CBS Early Show tomorrow at 7:30am. (I’ve already asked for makeup to hide the bags that’re already forming under my eyes.) A friend in London got in touch to tell me she saw me on CNN International. It’s just nuts. ESPN did a whole 30-second “flashback” to my Giambi catch the night before on both “Baseball Tonight” and “SportsCenter.” And now someone on Yahoo! Sports has written about it:

yahoo_two_homer_story

Click here to see the article. (Eat my heart out? Ha ha ha.)

There’s so much more I could say, but I have to leave soon to go back to Yankee Stadium. I’m meeting someone else from the Japanese media at 4pm — a guy who’s working on a documentary about the final days of Yankee Stadium and got in touch before all this Home Run Hysteria took place. There are some other things in the works as well, but I don’t have time to talk about them. But yeah, look for me on “The Early Show” tomorrow. Oh . . . I just learned that Deadspin wrote about this. Cool. I’ve heard that my friends in the Scrabble world are buzzing about it too because of the shirt I was wearing. This is crazy. And obviously fun. Look for me at tonight’s game. I’ll be wearing my yellow “Homer” shirt (Homer Simpson, that is), at least until security yells at me for running around. Then I’ll wear something else. I’m bringing an extra shirt just for that reason. If only I could find that Groucho mask . . .

STATS:

• 5 balls at this game

• 486 balls in 63 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 559 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 125 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

• 12 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 4 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on the fly at Yankee Stadium)

• 123 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 7 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)

• 21 lifetime game balls at Yankee Stadium

• 3,763 total balls

9/10/08 at Shea Stadium

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

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

zack_about_to_get_ball3720

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

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

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

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

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

zack_getting_ball3724

Wow.

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

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

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

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

FUN!!!

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

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

commemorative_balls_09_10_08

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

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

zack_bleachers_09_10_08

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

And that, my friends, was it.

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

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

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

ten_balls_i_kept_09_10_08

STATS:

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

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

• 555 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 92 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

• 3,730 total balls

4/23/08 at Champion Stadium

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

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

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

berm_not_crowded

. . . and then things got insane:

berm_very_crowded

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

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

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

blue_jays_throwing

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

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

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

jim_from_st_louis

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

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

panorama

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

mascot_imitates_rod_barajas

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

awesome_concourse

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

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

Umm, that’s ’cause it was.

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

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

lame_jumbotron

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

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

04.23.08_lineup_2

STATS:

• 7 balls at this game

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

• 503 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 791 lifetime balls outside of New York

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

• 114 lifetime game balls

• 3,354 total balls

9/16/15 at Citizens Bank Park

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

1_man_lying_in_the_shade

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

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

2_view_from_left_field_during_batting_practice_09_16_15

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

3_empty_seats_on_my_left_09_16_15

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

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

This was the scene when the Nationals took the field:

4_nationals_playing_with_toy_football_thingies

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

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

5_ball_with_cool_marking

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

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

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

6_view_from_dugout_after_batting_practice

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

7_gio_gonzalez_warming_up

That one was tossed by Nationals bullpen coach Matthew LeCroy.

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

8_ticket_09_16_15

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

9_view_during_game_09_16_15

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

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

10_empty_seats_on_my_right_09_16_15

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

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

11_jayson_werth_homer

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

12_jayson_werth_homer

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

13_jayson_werth_homer

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

14_jayson_werth_homer

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

15_screen_shot_of_jayson_werth_homer

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

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

16_formerly_mean_vendor_now_being_nice_and_giving_me_free_water

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

17_darin_ruf_homer

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

18_darin_ruf_homer

Here I am in the middle of the section:

19_darin_ruf_homer

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

20_darin_ruf_homer

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

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

21_darin_ruf_homer

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

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

22_darin_ruf_homer

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

23_darin_ruf_homer

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

Finally I was shown running and celebrating:

24_darin_ruf_homer

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

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

25_zack_with_two_home_run_balls

Here’s a closer look at them:

26_balls8539_and_8540_two_home_runs

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

27_zack_and_dominic_with_his_home_run_ball_from_earlier_in_the_game

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

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

28_empty_seats_on_my_left_09_16_15

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

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

29_scoreboard_in_9th_inning

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

30_nationals_postgame_09_16_15

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

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

31_zack_and_usher_with_home_run_balls

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

32_two_home_run_balls_09_16_15

Here are the nine balls I kept:

33_the_nine_balls_i_kept

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

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

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

 288 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 1,150 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

8,542 total balls

8/15/15 at Miller Park

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

1_driving_toward_a_storm_on_the_way_to_milwaukee

Here’s another look at the clouds:

2_storm_in_the_distance_photographed_by_brandon

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

3_brandon_walking_toward_a_corn_field

He’s kind of crazy. I love it.

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

4_zack_corn_field_and_stormy_sky

Here’s another shot taken by Brandon:

5_corn_field_and_stormy_sky_photographed_by_brandon_sloter

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

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

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

6_approaching_miller_park

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

7_line_outside_fridays

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

8_view_of_bp_from_fridays_08_15_15

Here’s the terrace itself:

9_tables_and_terrace_at_fridays

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

10_zack_with_waitress_who_provided_ball8354

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

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

11_zack_eating_and_paying_attention

Here’s what we got:

12_lunch_at_fridays_08_15_15

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

This is what we shared for dessert:

13_dessert_at_fridays_08_15_15

Oh yeah. To hell with longevity!

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

14_zack_getting_dissed_by_elvis_araujo

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

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

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

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

I headed out to right field . . .

15_view_from_right_field_08_15_15

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

16_view_to_my_right_08_15_15

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

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

17_zack_left_field_2nd_deck_08_15_15

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

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

18_balls_in_bullpen_after_bp_08_15_15

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

Here’s another look at it from above:

19_ball8357_below_me

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

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

20_zack_glove_trick_for_ball8357

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

21_zack_glove_trick_for_ball8357

HA!!

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

22_friendly_cameraman

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

23_brandon_filming_me_from_above

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

24_zack_glove_trick_for_balls8358_and_8359

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

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

25_jerome_williams_warming_up

This was the view directly behind me:

26_walkway_behind_me_08_15_15

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

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

27_foul_ball_spot_for_righties_during_game

Not bad, right?

Now look at all this space I had:

28_brandon_photographing_me_from_the_walkway

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

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

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

29_miller_park_from_the_upper_deck_photographed_by_brandon_sloter

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

30_old_guy_who_playfully_threatened_to_fight_me_for_a_foul_ball

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

31_ball8360_cesar_hernandez_foul_ball_caught_on_the_fly

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

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

32_zack_with_the_old_guy_after_catching_a_foul_ball

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

33_zack_standing_in_the_walkway

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

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

34_outside_miller_park_after_the_game_and_before_the_goo_goo_dolls_concert

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

35_best_custard_of_all_time_at_kopps

Nice way to end the trip.

Here are the five balls that I kept:

36_the_five_balls_i_kept_08_15_15

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

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

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

• 1,131 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,360 total balls

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