4/8/14 at Citizens Bank Park

This was the Phillies’ home opener, and I drove down from New York City for ONE reason: to snag a commemorative “Opening Day” baseball.

Before the stadium opened, I enjoyed a few moments of solitude — here in the parking lot, for example . . .


. . . and here outside the left field gate . . .


. . . but don’t be fooled. This game was sold out, and it got awfully crowded. This was the scene behind me just before I ran inside:


I headed for the left field seats, and within the first few minutes, I snagged a pair of Phillies home run balls — no idea who hit ‘em. The first was hit one section to my right. The second landed one section to my left. I out-scrambled several other fans and grabbed both baseballs off the ground.

During the next group of hitters, I jumped as high as I could to catch a John Mayberry homer on the fly. Then, moments later, I caught another homer on the fly (possibly off the bat of Carlos Ruiz) by carefully drifting down the steps and reaching a bit higher than everyone else. And then this happened:

1) A big guy standing five rows back scolded me for bumping into another fan.
2) I assured him that I hadn’t bumped anyone, but he insisted that he saw me do it.
3) The fan he accused me of bumping said I hadn’t bumped anyone.
4) The big guy apologized to me.

With two groups of Phillies batters remaining, I headed to right field and picked a spot in the emptiest row:


I ended up catching three home runs on the fly in that section. My left arm got bumped on the first one, I gave the second one to the nearest kid, and I caught the third one (hit by Cesar Hernandez) on my palm. It stung quite a bit, but I held onto it, so whatever. And by the way, the reason I caught it awkwardly is that it was coming in low toward some gloveless fans in front of me. I wasn’t sure if they’d duck or try to catch it (and possibly deflect it into my face), so I half-lunged for the ball and half-flinched from it.

I moved back to left field when the Brewers came out, and I caught two more home runs. The first was hit by Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) and had a magic-marker streak on the sweet spot:


I have no idea who hit the other one, but I can tell you this: it was the ninth BP homer I’d snagged, including seven that I caught on the fly. These were the only nine balls I got before the game started — no Easter eggs, no toss-ups, nothing with the glove trick, and none of them were commemorative.

Here’s a cool thing that the Phillies did before the game:


In case you can’t tell, those are Phillies players and coaches passing through the crowd and heading down the steps toward a long red carpet, which was lined with fans.

Nice job, Phillies!
THAT is how to kick off a season.

Check out my view for the player introductions:


Did you notice the three guys standing on the top edge of the upper deck? I would love to go up there sometime, in Philly or anywhere. I wonder how I’d go about making it happen. Hmm.

Anyway, when the game was about to begin, I headed to the 1st base side. I wanted to maximize my chances of snagging a gamer, so why not take a shot at getting a 3rd-out ball from the Phillies after the top of the 1st inning, right?

Well, with two outs, Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) hit a routine grounder to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who fired it over to 1st baseman Ryan Howard. I was already crouching in the front row by the time Howard caught it, and it’s a good thing because he took one step into foul territory and lobbed the ball in my direction. Everyone around me reached for it, but I reached a little higher, and I caught it! As eager as I was to look at it and take a photo, I decided to wait until I made it back to the concourse, and when that moment arrived, my heart sank. This is what I saw:


What the hell?!

The ball *was* commemorative, but the logo was crap. How was that even possible? This was a gamer! Right? Howard could not have possibly switched balls and thrown me the infield warm-up ball because . . . like I mentioned above, he tossed me this one the moment he started walking off the field. I mean, he basically took his foot off the bag, turned toward the dugout, and let it fly.


I hurried to the 3rd base side and tried to get a 3rd-out ball from the Brewers. I settled into a spot behind the outfield end of the dugout, so basically I needed each inning *not* to end with a strikeout. If Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy ended up with the ball, there was no chance I’d get it.

That said, wanna guess how the first inning ended? Yup, with a strikeout. But there was no need to worry yet. The day was still young.

The 2nd inning ended when Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) made a diving catch in right field, and wouldn’t you know it, he ended up keeping the ball.

The 3rd inning was a different story. Once again, Braun (BOOOOO!!!) caught the final out, but this time it was a routine play, and when he jogged all the way back to the dugout, he tossed me the ball! And the logo was in great shape:



On the way back to my seat, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid — and then there was NO action for the next three innings.

The bottom of the 7th ended with a line-out to Brewers 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez. On his way in, he tossed me the ball, and the logo was perfect.

Then I moved to the home-plate end of the dugout, and in the middle of the 8th inning, I got a commemorative “Opening Day” infield warm-up ball from coach Garth Iorg.

The Brewers won the game, 10-4, thanks to Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) who hit three home runs and had seven RBIs. After the final out, I got another commemorative ball from coach Mike Guerrero — my 14th and final ball of the day.

Here are the 12 that I kept:


Given how badly I was treated on 8/3/13 at Citizens Bank Park, it felt great to have a fun day there and get things back on track.


• 14 baseballs at this game

• 35 baseballs in 4 games this season = 8.75 balls per game.

• 970 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 62 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection

• 7,211 total balls


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

• 14 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.22 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $17.08 raised at this game

• $38,706.70 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009


At around 6am, I checked out of my hotel in Sydney and headed to the airport for a two-hour flight to Cairns. Here’s what the terminal looked like:


Yes, I flew on Qantas, which was pretty nice. Look what was in the pouch of my seat:


Every passenger got one of those to play with during the flight, but I passed the time by working on my blog — what else?

For some reason, the woman sitting next to me was using her iPad to watch a movie . . . with the volume playing aloud! At first I thought she was just checking the volume level to make sure it was working, but nope, she sat back and let it play. After a couple minutes, I asked her politely if she could use earphones.

“Oh, I don’t have the right earphones for it,” she said unapologetically — and then she kept playing it. Thankfully a flight attendant passed by soon after and offered her THE RIGHT earphones. Unbelievable.

Now, I don’t make a habit of pulling out my camera in bathrooms, but there was a funny sign in the Cairns airport that I *had* to photograph:


My first thought was, “Who the hell would possibly use a toilet that way?”
My next thought was, “This is a popular tourist destination, so anything’s possible.”

Anyway, the most stressful part of my entire vacation was about to begin. Based on the itinerary that I’d booked, I was supposed to have two hours from the time the plane landed until I was going to be picked up at my hotel for a rain forest tour. Of course, that’s not how things went. My flight was delayed by about 75 minutes, which meant I only had 45 minutes to get off the plane, get my luggage, find my pre-paid shuttle bus to my hotel, check in, change my clothes, gather up my stuff for the afternoon, and hurry back down to the lobby. Somehow I barely made it, and at the end of the travel frenzy, I found myself in the back of a Land Rover with a tour guide and four other passengers:


The guide was very Australian, and he was cool from the moment he said hello. Unlike the crowded tour of the Blue Mountains that I’d done the day before, this one was personal and cozy. I got to know my fellow tourists during the half-hour drive and had a feeling that the entire afternoon was going to be great.

Here’s what I saw when we got out of the vehicle at our first stop:


It was perfect. There weren’t any other people. There weren’t any gift shops. It was just us surrounded by nature. Look at this beauty:


That’s me at the bottom of a huge waterfall — and the best was yet to come.

Our next stop was a place called Wrights Lookout. As we made the short walk from the vehicle, I noticed one of my fellow tourists photographing something on the ground:


Naturally I went over to see what the fuss was about, and when I was sure that nothing was going to jump or slither out of the bushes and bite me, I took a closer look.

Get ready for it . . .
Be prepared to smile . . .



I don’t know what the hell that is, but it’s my new favorite plant.

Here I am at Wrights Lookout:


After that, we got back in the Land Rover, drove to the next spot, and headed into the forest. Here’s our tour guide, Jason, telling us about the plants along the way:


Here’s what greeted us at the end of the walkway:


I was LOVING this tour, in large part because of Jason who knew everything about nature. On our way to the next stop, he pulled off on the side of the road to talk about this:


That’s a termite mound! Holy crap! I was glad to see it from the safe confines of my ride, but wouldn’t have wanted to get any closer.

The drive, by the way, was gorgeous. Check it out:


Over the course of the afternoon, Jason drove us through seven streams, occasionally stopping to give us a chance to get out. Here I am walking barefoot through one of them:


A minute or two later when I was back in the car, it felt like something was ticking my left foot, so I took a quick glance at it and noticed a small, black speck. I figured it was a piece of a leaf or some other random particle from the stream, and I flicked it off. No big deal, right? Well, a minute after that, my foot was itching so I took another look at it and was surprised to see that I was bleeding:


I thought I must’ve scraped it on something underwater, but no, when I mentioned it to Jason and then described everything in detail, he told me I’d been bitten by a leech.


I fruck out for a moment, convinced that I now had some type of rare blood disease, but Jason assured me that it was no big deal.

“I had three of them on me earlier this morning,” he said. “They just like to drink your blood. No worries, mate!”

(I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea, and yes, Australian people really do use the word “mate” in regular conversation. It always made me smile.)

Here’s something else that made me uneasy:


That’s a spider cocoon, which, according to Jason, was capable of producing 10,000 spiders. When he said that, I was standing about three feet away from it, and before I had a chance to light it on fire, he was like, “Look how sturdy it is!” and he grabbed a pen and tapped it.

Seriously, why?
What is the purpose of doing that?

Of all the stuff I saw over the course of the afternoon, this was my favorite:


It looks fake, right? A prop from “The Princess Bride,” perhaps?

Well, it was real — a “tree system” that’s 800 years old! The original tree was long dead, but vines crawled up it and supported other plants, and new trees grew out of it, and as you can see above, it’s now massive.

Here’s another interesting plant:


Our final/main stop was at a place called Lake Morris. Here’s a group photo (that I took with my tripod and 10-second timer):


I gave contact cards to all the other people and told them to get in touch if they wanted that photo. As it turned out, I never heard from any of them, but hey, it was fun while we were together.

On our way back down the mountain, we stopped here for a peek at Cairns from above:


Jason dropped us all off at our respective hotels.

Then, after changing my clothes yet again, I headed back out to make the most of the final hour of daylight. I walked along the waterfront . . .


. . . and passed lots of stores and restaurants:


I also walked past a huge public swimming pool . . .


. . . and then went looking for a place to eat:


Eventually I picked a Thai restaurant and ordered “takeaway,” as Australians call it. Here’s what I got:


Chicken satay and coconut rice. Yessir! Eating alone while browsing Reddit on my laptop is one of the simplest and greatest pleasures in my life.


This was my final day in Sydney, and it began with a sad goodbye. At around 7am, I headed up to the Burtons’ hotel room to say farewell. Here they all are:


They were soon going to be checking out and driving back to their home in Newcastle.

Meanwhile, I had to rush to this bus terminal . . .


. . . to catch my ride for an all-day tour to the Blue Mountains.

The journey started by crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge . . .


. . . and continued for 45 minutes on various highways. I happened to be sitting in the front passenger seat, and on the way, I noticed this:


In case you can’t tell, that’s the tour guide/driver READING HIS NOTES WHILE DRIVING.

Our first stop was in a town called Leura. It was rainy and dreary and quaint, and I didn’t do much. I wandered into a few stores, collected some business cards, got some food, and eventually made my way back to the bus.

The next stop was better . . . in theory. We went to a place called Scenic World, but the weather kinda wrecked it. Here’s what it looked like as I headed toward a cable car . . .


. . . and this was the view from the cable car itself:



I could tell that it was supposed to be spectacular, so it was annoying not to be able to experience it at its best.

Next up, I waited on this line . . .


. . . for a ride on one of the world’s steepest railways. Once again, it had great potential, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. This was the lame view:


After that, I took a stroll on a walkway in the forest.

What was the weather doing?



But there were still some glimpses of the natural beauty:


Then I rode another cable car back up the mountain . . .


. . . and had a pretty good lunch in the food court:


That’s fish and chips, but more importantly, take a look at the ketchup:


Tomato sauce?!
Ha ha ha.

After Scenic World, I got back on the bus and headed with my tour group to the most scenic lookout spot of all. The next photo, taken in a nearby gift shop, shows what the Blue Mountains are *supposed* to look like:


As you can imagine, I wasn’t too happy when I made it to that exact spot, only to see the valley smothered with fog.

Here’s how I was feeling at that point:


By the time I left, the view had improved a bit . . .


. . . but the whole tour was feeling like a big waste of time.

Here’s where we went next:


Great . . . another effin’ zoo. Just what I needed.

It was raining so hard that even the kangaroos were taking shelter wherever they could find it:


I did enjoy watching some teeny penguins scurry around:


I also enjoyed getting to hold an owl . . .


. . . and bonding with a koala . . .


. . . so the zoo actually turned out to be pretty good.

Back on the bus, I got a quick glimpse of Sydney Olympic Park . . .


. . . on the way to this wharf:


Twenty minutes later, I was on a boat . . .


. . . heading to downtown Sydney.

The boat passed some gorgeous waterfront homes:


I wonder how much those places are worth — several million dollars apiece?

This was the view from the back of the boat:


Eventually we approached the Sydney Harbour Bridge and opera house:


Check out this humongous cruise ship that was docked nearby:


When I got off the boat, my plan was simple: walk and walk and then walk some more. My shoes were soggy, but at least it wasn’t raining, and since this was going to be my last night in Sydney, I wanted to see as much of it as possible. And yes, I know I didn’t really “experience” it any more than tourists who experience New York City by wandering around Times Square for an hour, but whatever. I did what I could.

I had heard that George Street was THE street, so here’s where I started:


I decided to walk toward Sydney University, which was several miles away, because it was near my hotel. I figured I’d walk for a while and then jump in a cab to make it the rest of way.

I saw some pretty architecture, like the Queen Victoria Building:


I also saw (and loved seeing) some mundane stuff, like this subway station:


I liked NOT knowing anyone or anything — being halfway across the world and on my own to do whatever the hell I wanted.

Here’s something I didn’t want:


That pizza might’ve been worse than the crap I’d gotten on 3/23/14 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. What’s with Australia and pizza? There needs to be an intervention.

A little while later, I passed some sort of weapon store:


I guess those were antiques — but good luck getting one on an airplane.

Here’s the coolest thing I saw all day:


That apartment building has the world’s tallest vertical garden, and as for that crazy-looking illuminated square sticking out to the side . . . that’s some sort of art/light installation, which just so happens to create shade during the day.

(But Australia still has bad pizza!)

I kept walking . . .


. . . and eventually found myself here:



I had no idea how far I’d walked, but it must’ve been quite far because I’d been on the move for hours. I finally made it back to my hotel, feeling somewhat disappointed and yet satisfied with how my day had turned out. I had awful luck with the weather, but still managed to have a pretty interesting time.


My day started with Game 2 of MLB’s Opening Series at the Sydney Cricket Ground. I’ve already written a long/separate blog entry about that, which you can read here.

After the game, I joined Ray and his family for a fancy buffet dinner in a revolving restaurant at the top of Sydney Tower. This is what it looked like from street level:


Here’s what the interior of the restaurant looked like . . .


. . . and this was the view:



Sydney Tower is 309 meters (1,014 feet) tall, so it figures that the view would be spectacular. And by the way, in the photo above, you can see the Sydney Cricket Ground. It’s the biggest, brightest spot far off in the distance.

The food was very good, but rather than showing you everything I ate, I’ll just share a few photos of the more unusual items.

Wanna guess what this was?


Here’s the answer:


Yum! Kangaroo rump! My favorite!

This was the second time I ate kangaroo on this trip (Remember the first?) and it was pretty good. Not great. You know . . . whatever.

Here are two other things I ate:


As you can see on the little food signs that I’ve photoshopped in there, the orange stuff is crocodile, and the brown stuff is buffalo.

Here’s some proof that I actually ate these things — a bite of kangaroo on the left and a mouthful of crocodile on the right:


The crocodile tasted like tangy, spicy seafood, and it had the consistency of a sausage. Again, it wasn’t great. It wasn’t bad. It just . . . was.

(The weirdest thing I ever ate was raw shark heart in Japan. THAT was nasty.)

Still, I needed to get rid of all that weird meat flavor, and obviously the best way to do it was with a bunch of desserts:


Yes, I ate all of those. And then I went back for more. (The key to a successful dessert run at a buffet is to grab a dinner-sized plate *before* you reach the dessert area, where there are usually smaller plates.)

Here’s another photo of the view, but since the restaurant was turning (very slowly), it was a different view from before:


Here’s a group photo that was taken during dessert . . .


. . . and here’s one final shot of me in the restaurant:


That’s it for Day 5 — baseball and a buffet with great friends. It doesn’t get much better than that.

3/23/14 at the Sydney Cricket Ground

This was the second and final game of MLB’s Opening Series, and as you can see below, I was joined by a few friends before the stadium opened:


That’s me in the white “opening series” t-shirt. The guy on my right (with his arms folded) is a fellow ballhawk from Seattle named Wayne Peck. The man on his right (in the D’backs shirt) is a native Australian named Ray Burton, and the other four folks are part of his family — his kids Alex, Emily, and Nick along with his wife, Donna.

Because we had a lot of time to kill and because there was a random Australian woman standing nearby who admittedly knew little about baseball, Wayne and I teamed up to teach her some of the basics. Here we are creating a batter/catcher situation:


By the time the gates were about to open, there was a massive crowd filling the street:


I was worried about getting shut out because (a) I was going to be trapped in the outfield all day, and (b) there was a chance that there wouldn’t be batting practice. The D’backs and Dodgers had finished the previous night’s game at 10:49pm, and this one was scheduled to begin shortly after one o’clock.

The good news is that there *was* batting practice. The bad news is that it only lasted 10 minutes. But that was enough for me to snag a few baseballs, all of which were home runs by right-handed batters on the Diamondbacks. For the first one, there was an all-out scramble between me and one other man, who, it turned out, was a volunteer and shouldn’t have been trying to snag baseballs in the first place. (I know he wasn’t allowed because he got scolded by a security guard.)

More bad news: I bashed my knee and was in pain for the rest of the day.
Worse news: the ball was not commemorative:


Two minutes later, another home run came flying in my direction. There was only one other fan near me in the Miller Party Deck area — a lanky teenager with a glove — and he beat me to the spot where it was going to land. I could’ve easily cut in front of him or jumped from behind and cherry-picked it, but I backed off and let him have it. Well, wouldn’t you know it? He misjudged it and back-peddled helplessly at the last second, and the ball deflected off the tip of his glove and rolled right to me. (Decisions . . . decisions.) I took a quick peek at the ball, saw the regular MLB logo, noticed him looking back longingly at me, and flipped it to him. Obviously I didn’t need to do that. He was roughly six feet tall and should’ve made the play, but hell, I was far from home and on vacation and feeling charitable.

My next ball was a loooong home run that I caught on the fly after drifting back about 20 feet. I was near the regular stands when I pulled it out of my glove, and when I noticed that it was another regular ball (as opposed to one of these), I tossed it to the nearest little kid.

Toward the end of BP, another homer came flying my way, and once again, the lanky teenager scrambled back to get in position. I hung back in case it ended up sailing over his head — and that’s exactly what happened. At the last moment, he lunged back and reached awkwardly and missed it by a foot. I had stayed completely out of his way; he had simply misjudged it. Of course he looked at me again, hoping that I’d give it to him.

“Sorry, I’m gonna keep this one,” I said. It wasn’t commemorative, but still, gimme a break.

After BP, I met up with Wayne and unfortunately bought THE worst pizza of my life:


I was starving, and I figured, “How bad can it be?” Granted, it was Domino’s (which, for anyone who know anything about anything, is about as lame as it gets), but it was at least supposed to be edible. Right? The cheese was bad (rubbery and too salty), and the crust was horrendous (stale and burnt). Those two pizzas plus a bottle of water cost more than $20. Can you believe that?

Anyway, Wayne and I had lots more time to spare so we wandered toward right field — an area we hadn’t explored the night before. On the way, I spotted the lanky teenager and his mother in the concourse, and when they saw me, I overheard her say, “Oh, that’s the guy who prevented you from getting that ball.”

“Hi there!” I said, walking right up to them. “Which ball are you talking about, exactly?”

“That one at the end where you reached right in front of him.”

“Ohhh!!” I said, “You mean the one where I was standing behind him that he misjudged and that sailed completely over his glove?”

She didn’t have a response for that.

On my way to the upper deck with Wayne, I took a photo of the area behind the batter’s eye:


I love seeing behind-the-scenes stuff like that — you know, the places that the TV cameras will never show.

Here’s what the field looked like from the upper deck:


That’s when I realized how lucky I was to have a ticket in the Miller Party Deck in left field instead of the ESPN Party Deck in right. Did you notice the tables and chairs in the red and blue areas? For some reason, there were far more of them in right.

Here’s a photo of the most annoying railing in the stadium:


It was blocking the cross-aisle in dead center field. Of course, at cricket matches, there IS no center field, so I can’t really blame the architects of the Sydney Cricket Ground for placing an obstacle there. I’m sure they had a good reason, but for me and Wayne, it was a pain in the ass. Rather than going all the way back downstairs and dealing with a zillion people clogging the escalators and concourses, we climbed over it. We got a few funny looks from fans, but thankfully there weren’t any guards nearby.

Here’s what the right field stands looked like:


From there I headed to the corner spot in foul territory. This was the view to my left . . .


. . . and to my right:


Wayne and I parted ways (for a little while) after that.

Not wanting to spend any extra time in the unforgiving Australian sun, I hung out here until the game was about to begin:


Then I put on a heavy dose of sun block and headed down to my favorite spot — perhaps THE best spot for catching a home run that I was ever going to have:


This was my view for the entire game . . .


. . . and as you can see, I had endless room to run on my left:


Did you notice the guy with the mohawk two photos ago? He was from Los Angeles, and I talked to him for a little while. He was nice enough to let me take a few photos of him. Here’s a closeup:


Here are two more of his baseball tattoos:


Halfway through the game, I noticed that some fans were playing catch nearby between innings:


I was shocked that the security guards didn’t stop them, but I was also excited because it meant I could get away with playing catch too. By that point, I had helped Wayne get down into the party deck area, so when these other guys wrapped it up, he and I took their spot. Check it out — here’s a short video of us throwing:

Meanwhile, Mohawk-Guy and some other fans built a pyramid of empty beer cups . . .


. . . which was promptly blown over by the wind.

As for the game, let’s just say it sucked. The Dodgers won, 7-5, but that’s not the story — not for me, at least. What I will always remember, unfortunately, are the two baseballs that I nearly caught. Here’s a screen shot of the first one, hit by Aaron Hill in the bottom of the 3rd inning:


Left fielder Mike Baxter ended up catching it on the edge of the warning track — a real shame because if it had carried 15 or 20 feet farther, it would’ve been the easiest catch of my life. That’s me in the whit shirt, tracking the flight of the ball and circling in behind it. As you can see, there was NO ONE else back there. It was all mine.

In the screen shot above, did you notice the two guards wearing red with their arms folded? They were totally lax about my playing catch with Wayne, but they weren’t too happy about the fact that I’d ducked under that barricade and run out into that blocked-off area for a ball that didn’t even clear the wall. They gave me a mini-speech about how it was off-limits and how I could really only get away with being out there if a ball landed there and blah blah. I’m not blaming them for anything — just sharing these details to set the stage for what happened with two outs in the bottom of the 9th.

Having just changed into my Dodgers gear (for the purpose of trying to get a ball from the bullpen after the game), I was stunned to see Mark Trumbo hit a towering fly deep down the left field line. He hit it on the fat part of the bat, but barely got under it, sending it way high up in the air. I thought it might end up traveling far enough to clear the outfield wall, but I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to run past the barricades for another false alarm. I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered because if it hadn’t cleared the wall, it probably would’ve been caught by the left fielder, and then the game would’ve been over anyway — or maybe it was going to drift foul and end up in the seats? Regardless, I had a whole bunch of thoughts and didn’t quite process them quickly enough, and even when I did, I didn’t sprint toward the foul pole. I ran, and then I jogged, and then I ran again, by which time it was too late. Look at this nonsense:


In the screen shot above, that’s me on the lower left, mumbling a string of obscenities and heading back to my spot. Trumbo’s ball DID clear the wall, but some guy had tumbled out of the front row of seats and snatched it just before I got there. It was awful.

In retrospect, I don’t feel THAT bad. Those barricades (which I had to duck under before I could even start running for the ball) were set up in straight-away left field, and Trumbo’s homer had landed near the foul pole. Take a look at this diagram from ESPN Home Run Tracker:


(Many thanks to my friend Greg Rybarczyk, the creator of Home Run Tracker, for allowing me to use that image.)

If you’re still convinced that I should’ve snagged the Trumbo homer, take a look at this photo from my Game 1 entry about the Sydney Cricket Ground. I’d been standing near the red-shirted guards, so you can see how far I had to run.

Or maybe I’m full of it. Maybe I’m only trying to trick myself into not being upset. Maybe I should’ve snagged the ball. But whatever. It’s done. I’m moving on with my life.

On my way out of the stadium, I was recognized by an Australian father and son who had brought their copy of my latest book, The Baseball. Here we are:


How awesome is that?!

In the photo above, Andy is holding the book (which I signed), and Isaac is holding a ball (which I signed). They were super-nice, so it was a bummer that I hadn’t met them earlier, but then again, it was lucky that we even crossed paths at all.

Here’s something else that happened on my way out:


In a last-minute attempt to collect a few ticket stubs, I had made a cheap sign — and it worked!



Now, before everyone starts asking me for free stuff (because that’s always what happens, and I don’t blame people for doing it, but it drives me crazy), here’s the deal . . .

I’m going to give away this pair of ticket stubs — one from each game of the Opening Series — as a charity prize at the end of the 2014 season. More specifically, I’m raising money again for a children’s baseball charity called Pitch In For Baseball. Here’s more info about it, and here are the prizes I’ll be giving away to people who donate money this year.

But wait, there’s more! Did you notice the cups I was holding in the photo with the cheap sign? Here’s a three-part photo of one of the cups. I’m also going to give away both cups as one prize, and in case you’re wondering . . . yes, I found them on the way out, and yes, I’ve washed them out with soap. Deal with it.

As for Ray and his family, they endured a ticketing fiasco on their way into the stadium. They had expensive seats near the 3rd base dugout, which WOULD NOT SCAN at the center field gate! As a result, they had to battle the crowd and walk halfway around the stadium to the home plate gate — the only place where their tickets were valid. By the time they made it inside, they had missed batting practice, and they were then trapped near the dugout for the rest of the day. They did manage to get a couple of commemorative balls tossed up by the Dodgers, but still, what an ordeal.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more entries about the rest of my trip.


25_the_two_baseballs_i_kept_03_23_14• 4 baseballs at this game (two pictured here because I gave two away)

• 18 baseballs in two games this season = 9 balls per game.

• 968 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 7,194 total balls


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

• 10 donors for my fundraiser

• $0.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $2.88 raised at this game

• $38,676.96 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009


This was a BIG day for me — my entire reason for traveling halfway across the world. Game 1 of Major League Baseball’s Opening Series at the Sydney Cricket Ground was scheduled to begin at 7:15pm, but of course I wanted to get there much earlier. The stadium was going to open at 5pm, and I decided to arrive by 2:30. I figured I didn’t have enough time to do anything interesting beforehand, but my Australian friend Ray Burton wasn’t about to let me waste a perfectly good morning. He and his family planned a Sydney Harbour Cruise, and it started here in Darling Harbour.


In the photo above, do you see all those flags along the water’s edge? The blue ones featured Dodgers players, and the red ones featured Diamondbacks — and check this out:


No, I’m not talking about the Sydney Convention Centre being demolished in the background. I’m talking about those gigantic baseballs floating in the water! I wasn’t the only one psyched about these games; the whole city seemed to be embracing it.

Here are the Burtons:


In the photo above, Ray is wearing the yellow shirt, and his wife, Donna, is rockin’ the stripes. The other three folks are their children — Nick on the left, Emily in the middle, and Alex on the right.

The cruise tickets weren’t cheap:


They cost $55 apiece, but it was worth it. Look how beautiful it was once we got out on the water:


I was glad to finally see the much-hyped Sydney Harbour Bridge, but I was even more excited to get a good look at the famous opera house:


I’m not a fan of opera, nor am I an architecture aficionado, but c’mon, that’s a pretty cool building.

Our boat was one of those “hop on/hop off” things, so we rode it a nearby harbour called Circular Quay. That’s the closest stop to the opera house. Here’s what it looked like as we walked toward it:


Here’s what I saw as we got closer:


Take another look at the bridge:


Did you notice those little specks on the very top?

Those were people . . .


. . . who had paid hundreds of dollars apiece for an official bridge climb. I would’ve loved to do that, but (a) the timing didn’t work out, and (b) hundreds of dollars? Really?! I went skydiving for hundreds of dollars. I bought an Arkanoid machine for hundreds of dollars. The bridge climb looked cool, but not THAT cool.

Here I am “imitating the opera house” with the Burtons:


(That stupid photo was my idea.)

Everywhere we went, I saw people decked out in Dodgers and Diamondbacks gear. Here’s some photographic evidence from the boat:


Look at this sign on the boat:


I have mixed emotions about what the drinking age should be, but it was interesting to be in a place where it was different from home.

Our boat made several other stops (including Taronga Zoo), but we didn’t get off. Instead we rode it back to Darling Harbor . . .


. . . and got ready for the game. Look what Ray wore:



On our way out of the hotel, I noticed this in the lobby:


Sydney was going baseball-crazy.

That’s the end of my Day 4 blog entry. Click here for a separate entry (with 87 photos) about my experience at the game.


Generally speaking, the first thing I want to see when I wake up is NOT the fourth deadliest snake in the world, but hey, that’s what I get for visiting Australia. Thankfully the snake wasn’t slithering in my bed. It was a pet, stored safely in a glass case, so when my friend Ray Burton offered to show it to me, I figured, “Why the hell not?”

Here he is trying to get the snake’s attention . . .


. . . and here’s the snake itself:


That’s a death adder, and I’d like everyone to know that Ray took that photo with my camera. The lid was off the case, and he reached his hand right in there and . . . just no.

Ray told me he’s been bitten twice by death adders and that he survived because it happened long ago when he was much younger and healthier. The last time it happened was 1989, causing him to “vomit uncontrollably within ten minutes and lapse in and out of consciousness within fifteen.”

After two full days in his home (and just as I was getting ready to leave for good with them), Ray gave me a quick tour of the upstairs area. Here he is with his son Alex on the balcony:


Here’s Alex’s room — note the Phillies comforter:


Here are some trophies . . . with a few snake skins sitting around, just because:


As I’ve mentioned in a couple of recent entries, I met Ray and his family when they hired me in 2012 for two Watch With Zack games at Citizens Bank Park. It was part of a huge baseball trip that they went on, and they enjoyed it so much that they put a book together to commemorate the experience:


Here’s a two-page spread about our first game . . .


. . . and here’s a closer look at what they wrote about the second.


At 1pm, we loaded several days’ worth of stuff into Nick’s car . . .


. . . and headed off to Sydney, which was going to take an hour and a half without traffic. I really really *REALLY* needed the roads to be clear because I was due at the Sydney Cricket Ground at 3:30pm — not for a game, but for a photo shoot with the Sydney Morning Herald.

More on that in a bit, but first, take a look at the meat pie that I ate on the way:



In addition to the beef, this one had cheese, potato, onions, tomatoes, and bacon — and yeah, it was amazing. We all had meat pies. Here’s a photo of Nick eating and driving:


We made it to the stadium by 3pm, struggled to find a place to park, and started walking toward the media gate with just a few minutes to spare:


Finally we made it:


In the photo above, the woman on the right (with the short blonde hair) is named Alexandra Back. She was going to be writing the story about me for the newspaper, and because of a logistical mishap in securing a photographer, she was going to be taking the pictures too.

After waiting for a couple of minutes, we were greeted by a woman named Courtney from Moore Sports. At the time, I hadn’t even heard of that company, but evidently they’re the ones who helped make the whole MLB-in-Australia thing happen.

Courtney led me and Alexandra inside the stadium:


All four Burtons got to join me, and we headed into the seats:


Check out the sign at the bottom of the steps:


Alexandra and I discussed the best places to take photos and decided to start in the second deck. Courtney led the way back up the steps and into a funky old grandstand:


I lagged behind so I could grab a few photos. Here’s what was on my right just after I stepped inside:


This was the staircase to the second deck:


It was wild! Carpet-lined hallways and wooden banisters in a stadium?! Once again, I didn’t know it at the time, but we were in a section called the Members Pavilion, which is the oldest and most exclusive area of the Sydney Cricket Ground. Figuring I’d be back there for the next two days to wander and explore, I snapped these few photos as an afterthought. As it turned out, though, I was never able to get back into this area, so it’s a good thing I used my camera here when I had the chance.

This was my view from the second deck:


While Alexandra and I talked a bit more, Ray took some photos with his own camera. Here’s the Opening Series logo on the jumbotron:


Here are the Diamondbacks pitchers coming out:


(It killed me that Heath Bell wasn’t there. How perfect would that have been?)

Here’s the grounds crew setting up the batting cage:


Here’s the Australian team starting to get loose:


They were going to be playing an exhibition game against the D’backs.

It wasn’t long before the photo shoot got underway:


In case you’re wondering about those six baseballs, I’d brought them from New York as a gift for Ray. It hadn’t occurred to me that they might serve as a prop for the photo shoot, but when the day arrived, it was like, “Duh! I’ll bring the balls just in case!”

Here’s a photo I took before we headed downstairs:


Down on the field level, I clowned around for Alexandra and her camera:


Here’s a photo she took moments later:


Ultimately this was the basic angle/pose that made it into the newspaper:


Here’s the article, in case you’re interested.

Before heading out, Alexandra and I posed for a photo together and got photobombed by Mike Fetters:


Courtney offered to hook me up with tickets (five in total for me and the Burtons) for the evening’s game, but I declined. I was thrilled to have gotten a peek inside the stadium, but I didn’t care AT ALL about watching a contest that meant nothing in the standings, especially when there were so many other things in Sydney I wanted to do . . . such as visiting Bondi Beach.

That’s where we headed next . . .


. . . and even though I wasn’t properly dressed for it, I was glad to be there:


I had heard about a scenic walk from Bondi to a nearby beach called Tamarama, so that’s what we did. Look how beautiful it was:


Once again, the Burtons were *so* patient and generous with their time. I’m not sure if they’d gone on this walk before, and if they hadn’t, who knows if they even really wanted to do it. But they did. And it was great to have them with me. Here they are — Nick in the teal shirt followed by his sister Emily, father Ray, and younger brother Alex:


I forgot to mention that Emily, currently studying at Sydney University, met up with us after the photo shoot. She traded places with her mother, Donna, and joined us for our trip to the beach.

Here’s a look at Tamarama Beach at dusk:


By the time we walked back to Bondi Beach, it was dark:


Our next stop was Chinatown, and all five Burtons were with me. Here’s a photo that Donna took of me with the others:


The streets were packed . . .


. . . and there were all kinds of unusual things to eat:


I passed on the jerky and got some dumplings instead:


I also got a delicious slab of pork . . .


. . . followed by a pancake-sandwich thingy filled with custard:


Extra thanks to Nick who wanted to go sit down at a restaurant and have a proper meal, but kindly indulged my desire to wander aimlessly and eat a little bit of everything. Thanks to the whole family. It’s amazing how much stuff we packed into one day, and I could not have done it (nor would I have had nearly as much fun) without them.


My second day in Australia started with my friend Ray showing me how “real men” eat toast with vegemite:


He gave me a bite.
It was horrendous.
Friendly advice (if you’re not from Australia): don’t eat vegemite.

In the late morning, Ray took me to his local bank so I could get some Australian money. Look how pretty it is:


Did you notice that the bills (or “notes” as the locals call them) are different sizes?

Australian money, by the way, can not be torn. I’m not saying it’s illegal to tear it, but rather that it’s physically impossible. (This is not an April Fool’s prank to get you to ruin your money. I’m serious. Try it sometime — just a little piece on the corner if you don’t believe me.) Also, if the bills get wet, they don’t get soggy. They’re made with some type of plastic that’s water resistant.

For lunch, Ray drove us to a little food store/bakery, where I had a meat pie . . .


. . .followed by a neenish tart:


Both of these items are popular in Australia, and let me tell you . . . they were SO GOOD.

Our next stop was a place called Oakvale Farm and Fauna World:


We saw all kinds of cute, scary, and exotic creatures . . .


. . . but the highlight was probably getting up close and personal with this kangaroo:


Or should I say *two* kangaroos? In case you missed it, that’s a mama kangaroo with a joey in her pouch! I wasn’t planning to go anywhere near them because I’ve learned not to mess with baby animals when the parents are nearby, but Ray assured me it was okay. (He’s a veterinary surgeon, so he KNOWS animals.) And then he proved it by petting the heads of both kangaroos.

Another highlight was getting to pet a koala:


In fact, I got to pet several. It was a weekday afternoon, so the farm wasn’t crowded, and I had more koala time than I needed.

I also got to feed some wallabies:


On the way back to Ray’s place, we stopped at the scenic lookout . . .


. . . and ended up having a lazy evening at home. No complaints. It was exactly what I needed, as I still hadn’t fully adjusted to the time suddenly being 15 hours later than it was back at home in New York City.

The whole family and I ordered Malaysian food and watched the Dodgers’ exhibition game against the Australian team. Here we are lounging in the living room (with Yasiel Puig at the plate):


It was nice to get a look at the Sydney Cricket Ground on TV. I figured out a few things and got a much better idea of what to expect at MLB’s Opening Series, which was now just two days away.

After dinner, Ray asked me if I wanted to see some possums.


Umm, yeah, why not . . . right? But I wondered if there were any zoos open at that hour. Silly me. Ray told me there were possums all over the place right outside his house, so he grabbed some food . . .


. . . and led me to the back yard. He then flung the food onto the lawn five meters away. Within a minute or two, THIS happened:



For a city boy like me from halfway across the world, it was amazing to see all this stuff firsthand. I’m sure it was old news for Ray, so I owe him a big thanks for being my personal tour guide and patiently showing everything to me.


The first trip of my life to Australia began with a pair of 13-hour flights — New York City to Dubai to Sydney. Check out my boarding passes:


Flying through the Middle East wasn’t the quickest route to Australia, but for some reason, when I’d booked the trip six months earlier, it was the cheapest . . . and hey, Emirates! Right? I’d heard it was one of the nicest airlines — and it proved to be true. Not only was every employee polite and helpful, but the plane itself was gorgeous. Here’s the staircase to the First Class area:


More on that in a bit, but first, here’s one of three meals that was served:


According to the menu (yes, an actual menu with various options), it was “Arabic lamb stew.” And it was delicious.

Speaking of Arabic, look at these little items that came with it:


Did you notice the white cable dangling to the left of my meal (two photos up)? That was my laptop’s power cord. Every seat on the flight had its own outlet, so I was plugged in and fully charged for the entire journey. I labeled photos and videos for about five hours and played Nintendo (with a USB controller) for the remaining seven — several games of Tetris followed by every level of both Super Mario Bros. 1 & 2.

One nice thing about the flight was the free/unlimited fruit, candy, juice, and water. This was the setup in one of the galleys:


This was another highlight:


In case you can’t tell, that’s me in both of those Polaroid photos. Evidently that’s a thing on Emirates. They get the cute flight attendants to pose with you and take your picture.

Because I was so excited by the food and photos (and because I was being my polite, chatty self), I got a personal tour of First Class after we landed in Dubai. Here are the fancy seats up there, which can fully recline . . .


. . . and here’s the bathroom:


Did you notice the shower at the end? Hot damn.

The Dubai airport resembled a high-end mall:


Here’s something that caught my eye as I wandered toward the gate for my next flight:



I caught a brief glimpse of the Burj Khalifa in the distance, but unfortunately couldn’t get a decent photo because of the gigantic window coverings. Bleh. It’s probably a ploy to get dumb tourists like me to actually *visit* the city in order to get a proper look at the mammoth structure.

By the time I boarded my second flight . . .


. . . it felt like 3am for me. I don’t even know what time it was in Dubai, but I did know this: when the plane was scheduled to land in Sydney, it was going to be 7am. In other words, if I didn’t sleep A LOT on this flight, I was gonna be screwed.

I played more video games for about three hours, then slept for about three hours, and then got awakened when the old French people next to me had to get up to use the bathroom. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, but thankfully, after their 20-minute out-of-seat excursion, I settled back in and passed out for four more hours.

Here’s what the flight tracker was telling me when I woke up for the second time:


Breakfast was served a little while later:


I felt pretty good when the plane touched down in Sydney, though I suspected my energy wouldn’t last.

Look what I saw in the baggage claim area:


Did you notice the advertisement on that vertical video screen? That’s THE reason why I made this trip: Major League Baseball’s Opening Series between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Two years ago, I traveled to Japan for MLB’s Opening Series at the Tokyo Dome, and now here I was in Australia for a similar experience.

Look who I saw after passing through customs:


Here’s a closeup:


The man holding the “Z” sign is my friend Ray Burton. He and I first met in 2012 when his entire family traveled to America and hired me to join them for two Watch With Zack games in Philadelphia. Remember? Here’s a photo of us which was taken outside Citizens Bank Park. This was my blog entry about the first game we attended together, and this was my entry about the second. We all had such a good time that we kept in close touch, and when MLB announced the Opening Series in Australia, Ray invited me to stay with his family in Newcastle, which is about 100 miles north of Sydney.

Here’s Nick, the older of his two sons, who joined him in waking up at 4:30am in order to meet me at the airport:


Nick drove us out of Sydney . . .


. . . toward Newcastle . . .


. . . and we arrived at their home in the late morning:


One reason I love the Burtons is that they embrace my passion for food. On the way to Newcastle, Ray had asked me what I wanted for dinner — and what I wanted to eat in general.

The following photo shows one of the things I mentioned:



The wonderful woman pictured above is Ray’s wife, Donna. She had to go food shopping anyway, so she picked this up for all of us and planned to make spaghetti with kangaroo meatballs.

Meanwhile, Ray and I headed out for the afternoon with Alex, the younger of his two sons. Here’s the vehicle we rode in:



Prior to this, I’d never been in a Hummer; I’d only made disparaging remarks about them (and their owners) from afar, but I have to say . . . it was quite a nice ride.

Check out Ray’s floor mats:


His friends think he has those because of the similarity to his name, but in fact the Rays are his favorite team.

After just a few minutes of driving, we stopped at a scenic lookout at the end of a street called Banksia Avenue:


From there we went to see some animals at a place called Blackbutt Reserve. Here’s a photo of Alex and Ray entering the first enclosure:


After spotting several creatures from a distance, we got close to a pretty little bird called a rainbow lorikeet. Here I am with it . . .


. . . and here it is on Alex’s shoulder:


The bird was adorable. It started licking Alex’s neck, and it seemed so cute and harmless that I reached out toward it gently with my right hand. Wanna guess what happened next? The little bastard chomped down on my index finger, right in the crease below my middle knuckle, and made me bleed!

(Welcome to Australia.)

Given the fact that rainbow lorikeets are not predatory or aggressive, Ray and Alex thought it was hilarious. In all fairness, if I’d seen it happen to someone else, I would’ve been laughing too.

My pain lessened somewhat when I got a good look at a koala:


Here are a few more animals we encountered (from a safe distance):


In the four-part photo above, you’re looking at:

1) a lace monitor
2) a barking owl
3) the ass of an elusive, spiny anteater known as an echidna
4) a long-necked turtle.

Then I finally got to see some kangaroos for the first time in my life:


Unfortunately they weren’t jumping all over the place, but it was still cool.

Here’s an emu:


On the way back to the Burtons’ home, Ray and Alex and I stopped a nearby park to play catch. Here they are waiting patiently while I pulled out my camera for the zillionth time:


Before dinner, Ray gave me a tour of his Man Cave:


In the photo above, did you notice the display cases of baseballs on the right side? Here’s a closer look:


Not only were there a bunch of commemorative balls that we’d snagged together in Philadelphia, but one of the cases had a ball that I had signed for them:


And by the way, the bat on display is the one signed by Edgardo Alfonzo that Ray had won as a charity prize in 2012 – very nice to see that it now has a prominent spot in a happy home.

The Burtons have four cats. Here’s Alex with three of them:


Here’s a group photo from dinner:


The only person missing was their daughter, Emily, who is studying at Sydney University. We were planning to travel to Sydney in two days, so I was looking forward to seeing her.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for:


Spaghetti and kangaroo meatballs!

Donna’s cooking was fantastic, but kangaroo meat itself isn’t all that great. It’s kind of gamey and chewy, and I’ve since learned that Australians don’t really eat it. It’s mainly served as a touristy thing . . . so in that sense, I did my job.

On a final note, I plan to blog about every day of my trip. Some of the entries will contain baseball stuff (especially Day 3), but others won’t. If my trip bores you, then don’t read about it. For me, personally, blogging about it is a nice way to document everything and (since I’m not on Facebook) share it with my family and non-baseball-loving friends.

3/22/14 at the Sydney Cricket Ground

Do you remember when I attended two games in Philadelphia with an Australian family named the Burtons? Well, I caught up with them last week in Australia. Here we are near the Sydney Harbour Bridge:


From left to right in the photo above, you’re looking at me, Alex (who’s almost 15), Nick (who has gotten jacked), Emily (who’s studying at Sydney University), Donna (who made me eat kangaroo), and Ray (who has posted a comment on nearly all of my blog entries for the last two years).

Although the Burtons were not a big part of my Game 1 experience of the MLB Opening Series in Sydney, they played a massive role on my trip. During my ten full days in Australia, I was with them nonstop for the first five, including two days at their home in Newcastle.

Anyway, this was Day 4 of my trip. I might share more details about it in a separate entry, but for now, I’ll just say that the six of us spent the morning and early afternoon on a Sydney Harbour cruise. Check out this photo of the famous opera house:


One of the many highlights from the early part of the day was seeing myself in the Sydney Morning Herald:


In case you’re interested, here’s the full article, and in case you’re wondering, I had gotten to enter the Sydney Cricket Ground the previous day for a brief photo shoot. I will definitely blog about that — but not now. This entry is already shaping up to be ridiculously long (but admit it, you love it).

As for Game 1 of the Opening Series, the Burtons were nice enough to drop me off at the stadium before they went to deal with parking. Here’s what it looked like when I got out of the car at 2:30pm:


The gates weren’t going to open until 5pm, so I had plenty of time to wander and take photos.

One minute later, I found myself here . . .


. . . and met up with my friend and fellow ballhawk Wayne Peck, who had traveled to Australia from Seattle. He and I seem to cross paths at MLB events in far-off places — remember this photo of us from 3/28/12 at the Tokyo Dome? We decided to wander together around the outside of the Sydney Cricket Ground and recreate that photo.

We started by heading in the opposite direction from which I had come. After a couple of minutes, we walked completely past the stadium and found ourselves here:


Did you notice the big black gate in the previous photo? That was our first opportunity to turn left, and this is what we saw:


It seemed like a weird route to take a lap around the stadium, but where else were we supposed to go? We walked farther . . .


. . . and saw the stadium on our left, way off in the distance:


As you can see, we were blocked by smaller buildings, so we kept walking and found ourselves blocked by a parking lot gate:


By this point, we were already thinking “WTF?!” but the day was young, and the weather was perfect, so we kept going. Here’s what we saw next:


We decided to cut across the field . . .


. . . and ended up so far from the stadium . . .


. . . that we headed back. Evidently the Sydney Cricket Ground is part of a huge complex, so that’s why we weren’t able to take a simple stroll around it.

On the way back, I was recognized by this guy:


His name is Daniel Keane, and despite the fact that he’s a native Australian, he loves baseball more than words can describe. He had tweeted at me several days earlier, so I was glad to run into him and catch up for a bit. Before we said goodbye, he pointed us in the right direction. Sort of. Look what we ended up seeing:


A security guard pocketing baseballs and a fan wearing a “JETER” jersey? Don’t get me wrong — I love Derek Jeter, but ucchh, some things never change.

Wayne and I kept walking for another minute or two, and when we turned right, we saw another stadium:


Did you notice the jumbotron? Here’s a closer look:


We made our way into the “baseball shop” . . .


. . . where commemorative baseballs were being sold for a silly price:


Back outside, Wayne and I made our way to the oldest and most scenic portion of the Sydney Cricket Ground. Here we are rekindling the magic from Japan:


On our way to Gate E, I saw a funny (but important) sign:


Soon after we reached the gate, I did a live radio/phone interview with Jeff Sammut and George Rusic on SportsNet 590 The FAN in Toronto. Then Wayne and I were joined by another American ballhawk named Leigh Barratt, aka “Padre Leigh.” Here we are:


With Wayne and Leigh holding down a spot at the gate, I wandered a bit more. The area surrounding the stadium was now bustling with fans:


In the photo above, that’s a Speed Pitch booth on the left, and did you notice the small blue tent up ahead? That belonged to the Australian Baseball League:


Before I got to Sydney, I was concerned that Australians might not care about Major League Baseball, or worse, be pissed off that Americans had transformed their historic cricket stadium for a stupid sport that made no sense — but that wasn’t the case at all. Most of the people in attendance were Australian, and the whole city was embracing it. Why? Because Australia is so isolated from the rest of the world that the natives are delighted when people come to visit. I got the sense that Australians were honored to host these games and show off their beautiful country, and of course the economic boost didn’t hurt.

Here’s a makeshift Wiffle Ball field that was set up for kids:


Did you notice the solid mechanics of the little girl at bat? Look at that leg-kick and weight-shift!

Not surprisingly, there was a mob of fans surrounding the merchandise trailer:


I waited in line for 20 minutes and bought an “Opening Series” T-shirt:


It cost $40, which is arguably a sillier price than $45 for a commemorative baseball, but hey, we all have our priorities, and whatever, it was Australian money, which isn’t worth quite as much as American money these days, ha ha ha.

Just before the stadium opened, this was the scene outside Gate E:


And then . . . it was showtime!

When the gates opened, I had no idea which way to run or which escalator to take, but eventually I found my way to the left field seats:


Many months earlier, when tickets first went on sale, I paid $189 for a decent seat in foul territory. (FYI: the cheapest seat in the stadium was $69.) Several days before I left for Australia, when I heard about the newly-added party decks in the outfield, I paid $149 for an extra ticket in left field. It was an awful lot of money, but (a) being at the Sydney Cricket Ground was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and (b) I wanted to be in the best possible spot to catch the first Major League home run ever hit in the southern hemisphere.

Anyway, look how much room there was beside the Miller Party Deck in left field:



I knew right away that I was gonna love it, and it didn’t take long for me to get on the board. The Diamondbacks were already taking batting practice, and I got a ball thrown to me by rookie pitcher Zeke Spruill. It was a huge relief, but unfortunately the ball was not commemorative:


At the Opening Series in Japan, many BP balls were commemorative, so I was hoping that things would be the same here in Australia. And then it happened. I snagged a pair of home run balls, and BOTH of them were commemorative! Check it out:


The first of those home runs had cleared the wall in left-center, bounced toward the back of the blue area, and deflected into the scaffolding beneath the actual party deck. Just as I was about to climb in there, an employee who was setting up some cables offered to get it for me.

The second home run had landed in the seats down the line and ricocheted in my direction. I ran quite a distance and scooped it up on the move, but I’ll admit that I was much more lucky than skillful on that one.

A few minutes later, I headed up onto the deck . . .


. . . and got my fourth ball from the player pictured above on the right — rookie pitcher Bo Schultz. It was not commemorative.

Meanwhile, this was the view to my right:



A little while later, this guy walked up to me . . .


. . . and said in a charming Australian accent, “Excuse me, are you Zack Hample?”

I asked him how he knew, and he mentioned something about a documentary — very cool to be recognized so far from home.

Given the fact that he was wearing that beard, I felt bad when I realized that I’d outjumped him for a toss-up from Brian Wilson, but here’s how it happened — you’ll see that it wasn’t my fault:

1) A ball rolled onto the warning track.
2) I ran over to get near it.
3) Wilson walked over.
4) I asked him for it.
5) He lobbed it right to me.
6) I sensed that there was someone behind me who was going to try to snatch it.
7) I drifted forward and jumped as high as I could and gloved it.
8) I turned around, and the dude with the fake beard was standing right behind me.

I told him that if he didn’t get a ball during BP, I’d give him one.

My next eight baseballs were a blur — yes, EIGHT baseballs (none of which were commemorative). One of them was thrown by Josh Collmenter, but I forget which. The rest were home runs, all hit by the Dodgers, I think, and I’m pretty sure I caught them all on the fly. I remember running back and to the right and back-handing one of them near the seats. I also remember running far to my left for another and drifting back for an easy catch while everyone in front of me scrambled helplessly. There was another homer that I caught in the middle of a pack of adult fans; I just happened to pick the right spot and jump higher.

My first game of each season tends to be a struggle. The winter makes me rusty. But here in Sydney, I was truly on fire. Each time I caught another ball, I could hear the entire stadium behind me yelling “OHHHHHHHHHH!!!” and applauding. I ended up giving three baseballs to little kids, snagging an Andre Ethier ground-rule double in left-center, and giving a ball to the guy with the fake beard.

For a while, I lost count of the number of balls I’d snagged. I knew for sure that I’d given away four, so after BP, I discretely counted the remaining balls in my backpack. There were 10, which meant my total for the day was 14. All of left field was buzzing, but a small portion of the attention was negative. Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain:


See the two guys holding $50 bills? They had begged me to sell them each a baseball, and they would NOT take “no” for an answer. Over the course of BP, they had seen me give away several balls and place a bunch more in my backpack, so they couldn’t understand why I was “being like that.” I tried to explain that I only give baseballs to kids (“It’s FOR my kid!”) and that I don’t sell baseballs (“Name your price!”) and that they could buy commemorative balls for less money than they were offering me (“But we want ones that came from the field!”). It was bad. They wouldn’t leave me alone, and by the way, don’t be fooled by their smiles. Wayne told me later that he overheard them talking about stealing my bag and breaking my jaw.

In the photo above, the guy in the Cardinals jersey asked me if I knew how to get Mark McGwire’s autograph, and the girl on the right begged me for a ball by using the line, “How can you say no to a pretty face?”

ANYway . . .

Things calmed down a little bit after that, but there were still a dozen people who wanted to talk, some of whom recognized me from who-knows-where.

Leigh caught up with me and showed a nasty scrape on his elbow:


If I’m remembering correctly, that happened to him on my third snag of the day — the commemorative home run ball that deflected out of the seats and into the open blue area. (Sorry, Leigh. For what it’s worth, I really do feel your pain.)

Then I got an unusual autograph request from a guy named Paul:


He had me sign his copy of Baseball Scorekeeper, for which I had written the introduction.

More and more people kept coming over to talk to me, and I was getting antsy. The time between BP and the game was my only chance to wander and explore the stadium. I finally managed to excuse myself, and to my delight, it began raining. The grounds crew pulled out the tarps. This gave me a little extra time to do my thing.

Wayne and I headed up the steps . . .


. . . and into the cramped concourse:


Here’s a look at the “food” that was available at one of the stands:


The word “food” belongs in quotes because it was TERRIBLE. I’m sure there was good food somewhere, but the lines were stupid-long, so I didn’t bother. You’ll see what I mean in a bit, but for now, let me explain why the Sydney Cricket Ground is weird and fascinating and annoying. In the following photo, do you see the old-fashioned stands across the field with the green roofs?


That area is known as the Members Pavilion. It has its own entrance, and the stands are old and funky and fancy — kinda like Fenway Park combined with a 19-century gentlemen’s club. I got to check out the pavilion the previous day during the photo shoot. The rest of the stadium, however, is a disjointed bundle of crap — kinda like Olympic Stadium minus the roof. Granted, it’s a cricket stadium, and I’m judging it by baseball standards, which isn’t really fair, but still, you get the point.

Another thing about the previous photo — did you notice the fans walking on the lower level? The upper portion of the concourse ended where we were standing, so in order to proceed toward home plate, we had to go down a flight of stairs. That’s not a big deal — it’s just mildly interesting. There are a few major league stadiums with stairs built into the concourses (PETCO Park’s left field foul line comes to mind), but it’s rare.

Take a look at the foul pole:


How’s THAT for weird? Have you ever seen a foul pole set so far back from the outfield wall? No, you haven’t.

Here’s a closer look at the blue surface:


It was made of plastic, and the traction was great. I was concerned, though, that it would get slippery, but thankfully it didn’t rain much.

Check out the left field foul line:


Wayne and I worked our way through the seats until we got here:


In the photo above, do you see the railing one section away, perpendicular to the seats? It blocked us from going any farther because it extended from the front row to the very back of the section. Therefore we had no choice but to head back into the concourse.

More weirdness: there was a small open-air portion . . .


. . . that connected to a sloped, garage-like tunnel. Here it is heading down . . .


. . . and here it is slanting back up:


The folks who run the Sydney Cricket Ground need to make it look less like a construction site and more like a stadium. Paint the walls. Hang some jerseys or pennants. Bring in some memorabilia. Throw in a few concession stands (with decent food). Come on!

In the following photo, do you see the green barricades and blue-shirted security guards in the distance?


That was as far as we were allowed to go. The space beyond that served two purposes:

1) It was the entry point at Gate G for fans with the fanciest tickets near home plate.
2) It was a smoking area.

Naturally I asked one of the guards if we could go out there to smoke. He said yes and handed us each one of these:



Unfortunately it didn’t do us much good. We got to take a photo of Gate G and the outside of the stadium . . .


. . . and that was it. The guard made us hand over the smoking passes on our way back through the barricades.

Gate G, I realized, had its own entrance. The barcodes on tickets for any other part of the stadium would not scan there, and if you had a ticket that said “Gate G” on it, you *had* to enter there, and you couldn’t leave. I felt bad for Ray and his family. He had bought the most expensive seats near the 3rd base dugout, and they weren’t allowed to go to the outfield during BP.

Wayne and I headed to the second deck along the left field foul line, where I happened to run into someone else who was looking for me:


That woman’s name is Marika. She lives in Australia and had gotten in touch months earlier to see if I’d be attending these games — and BAM, here we were, face to face. We chatted for about ten minutes, and then I resumed my journey with Wayne around the stadium.

We walked through the seats toward the outfield . . .


. . . and checked out the concourse:


In order to get to the upper deck, we had to go down to the field level and then head back up a different set of stairs. (See what I mean about the stadium being disjointed?) This was the path from the field-level concourse to the stairs . . .


. . . and this was one portion of the stairs:


This was the scene in the upper deck concourse:


All those people were waiting in line for food. (Terrible, overpriced hot dogs!! Yayyyy!!)

I avoided the crowd and headed through this tunnel . . .


. . . on my way to the last row of the upper deck:


Then I headed toward the bottom of the section to get a photo of the sky:


It looked like it was gonna rain like hell, and apparently every MLB official in Australia thought so too because the tarp remained on the field for a long time.

No rain.
No game.
No announcement.
What was going on?

I would’ve preferred to photograph the stadium without the tarps covering the field, but the delay *did* give me extra time. Here’s a photo of me that Wayne took:


Here’s a side view of the Miller Party Deck:


Here’s something cool that I’d never seen before — a machine that rolled up the smaller of the two tarps:


After a while, I got bored of the upper deck and headed back down to the field level. I photographed the clutter behind the center field wall and planned to head to right field . . .


. . . but when I realized that the player introductions were underway, I hurried back upstairs. Here’s what it looked like from the very last row:


Eventually the first pitch was announced for 8pm, so once again, I headed back downstairs. (I really need to start wearing a pedometer to games. Distance covered in steps and miles — that would be a fun stat to add to the end of my entries, huh?)

At the very start of BP, I was able to access the blue portion beside the party deck by walking down into the regular seats and passing through the little gate at the bottom. At game time, however, this was the only way to get there:


As you can see, there was a staircase to the deck from the center field concourse, and there were two guards there checking tickets. After I got past them, I headed down onto the deck . . .


. . . and took a peek at the Dodgers’ bullpen:


Then I turned to the right . . .


. . . and headed down the last of the steps into blue heaven.

The first thing I saw was a Homer Simpson wannabe dancing badly:


Then I chatted briefly with these Dodgers fans . . .


. . . and settled into a spot deep in straight-away left field.

This was my lousy view for the entire game:


To clarify, it was lousy for watching the game, but had incredible potential for catching a home run. Look how much space there was on my right:


That barricade was the cut-off point. For some reason (which no stadium employee was able to explain), no one was allowed to hang out on the other side of it, but lemme tell ya . . . if a ball ended up landing there, I was gonna go all out for it, and if I ended up getting ejected and/or deported, so be it.

This was the view to my left:


Those guards were extremely friendly and helpful. I explained baseball to them. They watched my backpack for me. And so on.

This was the view directly behind me:


Here’s a photo of me that Wayne took from the front row of the regular seats:


Here I am again, photographed by Ray from the 3rd base side:


Here I am on TV, tracking a deep fly ball that I hoped would *not* clear the fence:


It’s hard to tell from that angle, but I was at least 15 feet behind the wall. The area in front of me was crowded, so if the ball had squeaked over, I wouldn’t have had a chance.

In the top of the 4th inning, Scott Van Slyke dashed my home run fantasy by poking one just over the wall near the right field foul pole.

At one point late in the game, I moved closer to the field for a peek through the chain-link fence:


Look how crowded it was on my left:


Clearly, with heavy right-handed hitters in the game such as Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Scott Van Slyke, Juan Uribe, Paul Goldschmidt, and Mark Trumbo, it made sense to position myself far behind the crowd in case someone really went deep. But no, Van Slyke’s opposite field homer was the only longball of the night, and according to ESPN Home Run Tracker, it traveled a measly 341 feet.

Here’s a photo of the jumbotron:


I was hoping for a blowout, but got somewhat of a pitcher’s duel instead — not surprising with Clayton Kershaw on the mound. He ended up allowing one run in 6 2/3 innings.

By the end of the game, Wayne looked like he was losing his mind:


Overall, though, I think he had fun, and if you have a few extra minutes to spare, check out his blog entry about the Opening Series.

Did you notice Leigh in the previous photo? He was sitting with his wife Dolly. (Did you notice the little kid in the Dodgers cap making a goofy face behind her? Tee-hee.)

Here’s my favorite sign of the day:


That’s classy.

And that’s pretty much it. I didn’t bother going for a post-game ball from the Dodgers’ bullpen because I wanted to save my attempt for the following day’s afternoon game. I wasn’t sure if there’d be BP, and I was going to be trapped in the outfield, and I desperately wanted to avoid getting shut out. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll save all those details for my next entry and end this one with a few more photos of baseballs and the Burtons. Here they are in their hotel room:


Here are the ten balls I’d brought back from the game:


Of those ten, I gave two to the Burtons — one of the commemorative balls, which I had promised (if I got an extra one and they didn’t get any), and one of the regular balls, which I signed with my lifetime total:


Stay tuned for a whole lot more from Australia . . .


• 14 baseballs at this game

• 25 consecutive seasons with at least one ball

• 967 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 51 different major league stadiums with at least one ball; click here for the complete list.

• 61 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection.

• 4 different countries with at least one ball: America, Canada, Japan, and Australia

• 7,190 total balls


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

• 10 donors for my fundraiser

• $0.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $10.08 raised at this game

• $38,674.08 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009


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