My experience at the Fort Bragg baseball game

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

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

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

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

That’s when it started to drizzle.

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

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

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

2_people_on_the_bus

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

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

3_walking_to_the_right_field_gate_entrance

Then we passed through a small opening in the trees:

4_walking_toward_the_stadium

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

Here’s what I saw next:

5_signs_commemorating_hall_of_famers_who_served_in_the_military

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

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

6_merchandise_for_sale

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

7_first_look_at_the_entrance

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

That was it.

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

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

8_center_field_walkway

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

9_view_from_left_center_field_07_03_16

I truly could not believe that there was batting practice.

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

10_jumbotron_showing_batting_practice

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

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

11_zack_with_ball9083_52nd_stadium_with_at_least_one_ball

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

12_tweet_promising_to_donate_money

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

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

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

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

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

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

13_zack_giving_ball_away_07_03_16

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

14_giancarlo_stanton_homer_clearing_the_berm

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

15_area_behind_the_berm

. . . and here’s the berm itself:

16_huge_berm_in_left_center_field

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

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

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

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

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

17_gap_in_front_of_the_bleachers

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

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

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

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

18_shaved_ice_truck

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

19_gap_beside_left_field_bleachers

Here’s the Marlins bullpen beside a merchandise tent:

20_left_field_bullpen_and_foul_pole

The walkway in the left field corner was buzzing:

21_lots_of_people_at_fort_bragg_field

I liked the Guest Services setup — simple but effective:

22_guest_services_at_fort_bragg_field

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

23_grandstand_and_tunnels

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

24_marlins_clubhouse_sign

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

25_fort_bragg_field_map_directory

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

26_puddles_and_mud

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

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

27_tunnel_to_a_handicapped_area

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

28_handicapped_area_and_field

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

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

29_roger_mcdowell_handing_out_braves_caps

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

Here’s what the right field corner looked like:

30_right_field_corner_at_fort_bragg_field

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

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

31_sneak_peek_through_fence_of_soldiers_carrying_huge_american_flag

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

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

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

Here’s something else worth marveling at:

32_patriotic_fans_dressed_in_stars_and_stripes

Outstanding.

Everyone was in such a great, festive mood.

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

33_soldiers_holding_the_huge_flag

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

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

34_adam_conley_warming_up

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

35_huge_flag_at_fort_bragg_field

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

36_helicopter_flyover_fort_bragg_field

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

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

37_impossible_foul_ball_spot_behind_home_plate

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

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

38_view_from_the_3rd_base_side

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

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

<sigh>

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

39_ball9093_fort_bragg_commemorative

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

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

40_panorama_from_the_3rd_base_side_at_fort_bragg_field

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

41_wandering_in_the_6th_inning

. . . and ended up here:

42_concession_stand_and_employee

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

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

43_panorama_from_left_center_at_fort_bragg_field

That’s when I noticed this:

44_prisoner_of_war_missing_in_action_chair_of_honor

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

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

45_final_score_on_jumbotron_at_fort_bragg_field

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

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

46_space_in_front_of_batters_eye

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

47_final_look_at_the_left_center_field_berm

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

48_stadium_nearly_empty

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

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

49_ticket_photo_from_joe

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

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

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

50_donation_made_to_amvets

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

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

51_google_search_for_my_name

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

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

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

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

52_negative_emails_july_2016

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

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

53a_supportive_fort_bragg_email

Here’s another:

54b2_supportive_fort_bragg_email

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

53b3_supportive_fort_bragg_email

And yet another:

55b_supportive_fort_bragg_email

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

56b_random_awesome_email

Dear Nic-

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

-Zack

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

6/3/16 at Camden Yards

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

1_zack_intro_for_video_06_03_16

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

2_tarp_on_the_field_06_03_16

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

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

3_zack_getting_a_toss_up_from_cc_sabathia

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

4_ball8943_rattling_around_the_seats

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

5_zack_picking_up_ball8943

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

6_ball8943_blue_jays_commemorative

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

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

7_zack_with_boogs_barbecue

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

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

8_tarp_removal_06_03_16

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

9_original_1954_foul_pole_from_memorial_stadium

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

10a_tim_anderson

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

Take a look at Grant’s glove:

11_grant_edringtons_old_glove

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

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

12_zack_talking_to_alex_and_tim_and_grant

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

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

13_eddie_fastook_near_the_bullpen

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

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

14_arod_signing_autographs_06_03_16

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

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

15_zack_in_left_field_06_03_16

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

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

16_zack_flag_court_06_03_16

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

17_zack_going_for_foul_balls_06_03_16

There was no action anywhere near me.

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

18_view_from_bridge_to_warehouse_over_eutaw_street

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

19_long_hallway_in_the_warehouse

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

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

20_view_from_warehouse

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

21_catering_area

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

We passed by a receptionist’s area . . .

22_receptionist_area

. . . and then a break room . . .

23_break_room

. . . and past a bunch of cubicles:

24_cubicles

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

25_one_of_many_toss_ups_after_the_game

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

26_zack_getting_ball8944_from_einar_diaz

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

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

27_overzealous_orioles_fan

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 2 baseballs at this game

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

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

1,202 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,944 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

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

• $411.08 raised this season

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

6/2/16 at Marlins Park

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

1_zack_outside_marlins_park_06_02_16

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

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

2_zack_with_joe_scherer_and_drew_gregg

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

For the first hour, only two sections were open:

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

Here’s where I started:

3_zack_in_foul_territory_06_02_16

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

4_view_from_left_field_06_02_16

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

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

5_zack_catching_ball8930

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

6_ball8931_falling_short

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

7_aj_ramos_annoyed

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

8_zack_catching_ball8931

Here are the two baseballs that I had gotten:

9_first_two_baseballs copy

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

10_zack_catching_ball8932

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

11_zack_catching_ball8933

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

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

12_zack_giving_ball_to_kid

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

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

13_zack_using_the_glove_trick_06_02_16

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

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

14_seats_in_the_clevelander_on_my_right

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

15_two_ballhawks_on_my_left

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

16_zack_in_the_clevelander

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

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

17_ball8937_rolling_off_the_canopy

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

18_zack_reaching_for_ball8937

What a beautiful sight, huh?

Here’s some awkwardness for ya:

19_zack_waiting_for_ball8938

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

20_zack_catching_ball8938

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

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

21_zack_snagging_ball8939

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

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

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

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

22_zack_catching_ball8940

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

23_ball8941_in_scoreboard_gap

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

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

24_zack_with_jake_robert_alex

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

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

25_clevelander_pool_and_field

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

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

26_zack_and_curvy_walls

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

27_zack_bobblehead_museum

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

28_elevator_and_windows

Kinda airport-like, huh?

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

29_club_level_ceiling

Kinda gaudy, no?

Here’s a guard outside one of the suites:

30_guard_and_suite

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

This is where Brandon got to take his photo:

31_off_center_view_from_club_level

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

32_view_from_the_back_of_the_clevelander

Here’s something else that I saw from behind:

33_clevelander_bootay

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

34_no_hitter_through_five_innings

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

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

35_zack_with_baseballs_and_body_painted_woman

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

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

36_photo_from_the_upper_deck_by_brandon_sloter

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

37_photo_from_center_field_by_brandon_sloter

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

Final score: Marlins 4, Pirates 3.

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

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

38_zack_catching_ball8942

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

39_ball8942_from_heberto_andrade_postgame

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

40_view_from_stiarcase_06_02_16

(So weird!)

The lights had already been dimmed:

41_last_look_at_the_field_06_02_16

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

42_empty_concourse_06_02_16

Good times in Miami!

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

***UPDATE***
Here’s the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

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

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

1,201 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 307 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

8,942 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

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

• $411.08 raised this season

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

6/1/16 at Turner Field

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

1_zack_in_the_parking_lot

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

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

2_hank_aaron_715th_home_run_landing_spot

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

3_fulton_county_stadium_old_location

Turner Field was way off in the distance:

4_turner_field_from_afar

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

5_zack_alone_in_the_left_field_seats

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

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

6_matt_cain_playing_catch_with_ball8919

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

7_ball8919_falling_short_of_zack

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

8_eddie_perez_hitting_it_back_to_matt_cain

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

9_zack_catching_ball8919

This was a particularly meaningful ball . . .

10_ball8919_1200th_consecutive_game_with_at_least_one_ball

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

Here I am standing next to Chocolate Papa:

11_zack_and_chocolate_papa

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

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

12_zack_giving_ball8920_to_a_kid

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

13_ball8922_flying_into_the_seats

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

14_zack_giving_ball8922_to_a_kid

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

15_zack_catching_ball8923

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

16_ball8924_flying_into_the_seats

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

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

17_jonny_cueto_staring_down_brandon

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

18_brandon_belt_throwing_ball8925

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

19_zack_catching_ball8925

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

20_zack_with_ball8926

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

21_zack_climbing_down_over_yet_another_row_for_ball8927

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

22_zack_jumping_for_ball8927

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

23_zack_giving_ball8927_to_a_kid

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

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

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

24_zack_posing_for_photos_with_fans

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

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

25_fans_doing_the_tomahawk_chop

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

26_zack_wandering

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

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

27_view_from_left_field_upper_deck

Here’s another:

28_view_from_left_field_upper_deck

And another:

29_turner_field_sign

And yes, another:

30_view_from_upper_deck_06_01_16

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

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

31_stairs_and_ramps

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

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

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

32_zack_watching_the_game

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

33_empty_seats_during_game

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

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

34_zack_with_ball8928_mallex_smith_foul_ball

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

35_ball8928_mallex_smith_foul_ball

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

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

36_zack_on_tv_after_catching_ball8928

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

37_kids_with_zack_hample_autographs

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

38_53_home_games_remaining

Can you spot me in the following image?

39_zack_going_for_3rd_out_balls

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

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

40_zack_and_cooper_with_baseballs

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

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

41_zack_and_the_number_one_ballhawk_at_turner_field

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

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

42_zack_giving_a_ball_to_a_fan

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

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

43_view_from_3b_dugout_06_01_16

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

Final score: Braves 5, Giants 4.

Here are the two commemorative balls that I got:

44_ball8928_and_ball8929_turner_field_commemorative

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

45_sun_trust_field_artists_rendition

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

Here are the five balls that I kept:

46_the_five_balls_i_kept_06_01_16

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

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 11 baseballs at this game

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

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

1,200 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 306 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

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

8,929 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

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

• $411.08 raised this season

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

5/31/16 at Turner Field

This was my 17th lifetime game at Turner Field, and for the first time ever, I was there with a videographer for my YouTube channel. Here I am talking to the camera just after the stadium opened at 4:30pm.

1_zack_talking_to_the_camera

I was probably saying something along the lines of, “OMG, I love this place soooooo much!”

In my previous 16 games here, I’d snagged a total of 217 baseballs. That’s an average of more than 13 balls per game, so obviously I was thrilled to be back and hoping to have another big day.

Unfortunately BP got off to a rough start for me. I got completely shut out during the first group of hitters, and things didn’t get much better after that. Here’s a screen shot from the video, which shows me jumping for and missing a home run ball:

2_zack_jumping_reaching_missing

There were several other near misses and unlucky ricochets. And then THIS happened:

3_bryce_congratulating_will_on_his_device

That’s my friend Bryce on the right, congratulating a fellow ballhawk named Will for beating me out for a ball in the gap behind the outfield wall. Turner Field is one of the best places for using a device to retrieve balls that are out of reach; security is totally cool with it, and as a result, there was LOTS of competition. Whenever a ball dropped into the gap, it was like a swarm of vultures dive-bombing a juicy carcass. Fans of all ages would start racing through empty rows, rushing down the steps, and climbing over seats. And get this — Bryce had inspired Will to make a retrieval device several years ago, so he was especially pleased to see him out-snag me.

After about 20 minutes, I finally got my first ball of the day — a home run that I caught after taking a circuitous route up and then down the stairs. Here’s the ball streaking into my glove:

4_zack_catching_ball8908

Not surprisingly, the ball was not commemorative. This is the final season of Turner Field, so the Braves are using special balls during games. I was hoping to get a few during BP, but nope, every ball had the standard MLB logo.

Here’s a good look at the gap between the outfield wall and the seats:

5_seats_gap_outfield

There are also gaps in right-center and straight-away right field. Twenty or thirty balls per day must land in there. There are endless opportunities, but like I said, there’s lots of competition, so if you bring a device, make sure it works well and fast.

When the entire stadium opened at 5pm (only left field and right-center are open for the first half-hour), I still only had one ball. Left field was rather crowded, so I headed to straight-away right. This was my view:

6_view_from_right_field_05_31_16

A few minutes later, a left-handed batter on the Braves (not sure who) hit a long fly ball that was clearly going to sail over my head, so I climbed back over a row to get closer to it:

7_zack_climbing_rows_for_ball8909

I actually climbed over two rows, and when the ball landed, it unexpectedly ricocheted right into my chest:

8_ball8909_ricocheting_back

That was lucky — one foot higher and I might’ve ended up with another black eye. Remember when I got hit in the face with a ball on 7/31/13 at Turner Field? The result was not pretty, but anyway, as for this homer to right field, it deflected back at me so fast that I failed to catch it cleanly. Instead I bobbled it . . .

9_zack_bobbling_ball8909

. . . but managed to hang on.

Then I used my glove trick to snag my third ball of the day:

10_glove_trick_for_ball8910

I handed that one to a girl who was standing nearby:

11_zack_giving_ball_to_girl_05_31_16

That was it for the Braves’ portion of BP. In a word: weak.

When the Giants came out, I headed over to the left field foul line and stayed a dozen rows back. I kinda had to because of the huge nets that are now erected during BP to protect people down in front.

I got Kelby Tomlinson to throw me a ball, and soon after, I got another from Brandon Crawford. Look how far away he was:

12_brandon_crawford_throwing_ball8912

In the screen shot above, do you see the two players on the outfield grass? Brandon Belt is on the right, and Brandon Crawford (in the process of chucking the ball to me) is on the left. His throw fell short, forcing me to climb down over a row and lunge far forward:

13_zack_catching_ball8912

I got one more ball in foul territory, and it was far less exciting:

14_zack_catching_ball8913

It was tossed from 10 feet away by George Kontos, who was already looking elsewhere by the time I gloved it. That was my sixth ball of the day.

When the Giants started hitting, I ran back to right field and promptly got a toss-up from Derek Law. That ball had been bobbled by a man on my right, so I handed it to him for his kid.

Then I caught a pair of Jarrett Parker homers, and unfortunately, this is the best screen shot I can provide of the first one:

15_zack_catching_ball8915_while_cameraman_was_ducking_for_cover

My videographer didn’t see the ball coming, so when he saw me run toward him and then climb back over two rows, he got scared and ducked. As you can kinda see, I was straddling the second row when I caught the ball.

The second Parker homer was less eventful. Here’s the ball streaking down into my glove:

16_zack_catching_ball8916

I gave that one to a kid:

17_zack_giving_ball8916_to_a_kid

That was it for BP. Nine balls. Pretty good considering how slowly things had started for me.

A little while later, I caught up with a young fan named Gehrig who had brought his copy of my latest book, The Baseball. Here we are:

18_zack_and_gehrig_with_the_baseball

Using the ballhawking advice in the book (along with his excellent baseball instincts), he had snagged six balls during BP. I signed the book for him, and we hung out for a bit, and then I rushed off to eat a pre-game meal at . . .

19_waffle_house_dinner

WAFFLE HOUSE!!!

There’s a Waffle House *inside* Turner Field, and I absolutely love it, and no, I’m not joking. There might even be some Waffle House footage in the video, which, by the way, will be up on YouTube soon-ish. The best way to make sure you don’t miss it is to subscribe to my channel. If, for some reason, you can’t deal with that, keep an eye on my Twitter because I’ll post a link when it’s ready, and if you can’t even do THAT, check back on this entry because I’ll add a link to the video at the bottom.

Here’s a photo of the visitors’ bullpen, just because:

20_visitors_bullpen_from_concourse

No, I didn’t snag a ball there. I just want to show you what it looks like because . . . TURNER FIELD, MAN!! It’s not gonna be around much longer, and I already miss it like crazy. If you haven’t ever been to this stadium, do whatever you can to get there. You have three and a half more months. Make it happen.

When the game got underway, my number one goal was to snag a commemorative ball. None of my nine balls from BP had a special logo, so now I needed to make something happen. I spent a little time behind home plate:

21_brief_view_behind_the_plate

I also went for 3rd-out balls behind the Giants’ dugout:

22_zack_going_for_3rd_out_balls

(Stupid me, being here when the Giants were in town. So. Many. Giants. Fans.)

I wasn’t feeling it at either of those spots, so I moved to the 3rd base side and stayed deep, where there were lots of empty seats. Here I am from behind:

23_zack_sitting_on_the_3rd_base_side

How nice that my videographer happened to be filming at that moment because Gregor Blanco sliced a high foul pop-up in my direction. I jumped out of my seat and drifted to my left:

24_zack_tracking_a_foul_pop_up

When I determined that the ball was going to land behind me, I climbed back over a row:

25_zack_climbing_back_over_a_row

And then ANOTHER row:

26_zack_climbing_back_over_another_row

Here’s the ball landing:

27_foul_ball_landing

It ricocheted back up into the air . . .

28_foul_ball_ricocheting_up_in_the_air

. . . and wouldn’t you know it — I had to climb back down:

29_zack_climbing_back_down_over_a_row

At the very last second, I lunged and made a back-handed catch . . .

30_zack_reaching_out_for_the_catch

. . . and then with my momentum taking me back toward the field, I hopped down over another row (to avoid face-planting):

31_zack_jumping_down_over_another_row

Has anyone ever climbed over four rows of seats in the process of snagging a baseball? I think that might be a new world record. Can we get Guinness on the phone?

I was very very very very very happy at that moment:

32_zack_celebrating_ball8917

And look! I even made it onto the Giants’ broadcast:

33_zack_on_tv

I showed the commemorative logo to my cameraman:

34_zack_showing_ball_to_the_camera

Here’s a better look at it:

35_ball8917_gregor_blanco_foul_ball_with_commemorative_turner_field_final_season_logo

Beautiful!

I’m getting bored of circular logos (like this and this and this and this), so I appreciate the Turner Field logo for its unique shape and design. That said, I think it falls short of perfection because of how difficult it is to read the words “Turner Field.” It looks like there are faint X’s through the letters, as if it’s part of the stonework, and I just don’t think that holds up. I do love how the design of the stadium is incorporated into the logo, along with a bold Braves logo and the years. Commemorative logos without years (like this and this and this and this) are tremendously disappointing because they lack essential info.

Speaking of numbers, look what happened when the game became official after five innings:

36_number_of_games_remaining_at_turner_field

That’s how many home games are remaining at Turner Field. See the number “54” on the outfield wall below?

37_outfield_from_3rd_base_side

In the bottom of the 9th inning, I moved closer to the action . . .

38_zack_bottom_of_the_9th_inning

. . . and when the game ended, I worked my way down to the home-plate end of the 3rd base dugout and got my 11th ball of the day from home plate umpire Alan Porter.

Final score: Giants 4, Braves 0.

41_giants_walking_off_the_field

When the Giants cleared the field, I gave away two of my BP balls to kids. Here’s the second recipient, who was absolutely adorable:

39_zack_giving_ball_to_kid

If you look closely, you can see me waving to him (in the middle), and him waving back to me (on the right). D’awww!

Before leaving the stadium, I took a photo of the umpire ball:

40_ball8918_from_umpire_alan_porter

Then I posted this tweet about it. Heh.

There was no teary goodbye on this night in Atlanta because I was planning to be back at Turner Field the next day. Stay tuned for that blog entry. For now, I’ll leave you with a photo of the six balls that I kept:

42_the_six_balls_i_kept_05_31_16

Like I said before, I’ll add a link to the YouTube video as soon as it’s ready. Thanks for reading/watching!

***UPDATE***
Here’s the video. It’s great. You should watch it.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 11 baseballs at this game (six pictured here because I gave five away)

285 balls in 33 games this season= 8.64 balls per game.

 228 balls in 17 lifetime games at Turner Field = 13.41 balls per game.

1,199 consecutive games with at least one ball

 81 different commemorative balls

8,918 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 10 donors for my fundraiser

• $82.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $324.08 raised this season

• $190,834.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/20/16 at PNC Park

This was the final game of a five-day road trip with my friend/videographer Brandon. We started the week in Cleveland, then moved on to Detroit and followed that with a pair of games in Cincinnati. After making the drive to Pittsburgh . . .

1_driving_to_pittsburgh

. . . we stopped for lunch at Primanti Bros. I had heard about their legendary sandwiches from my friend and fellow ballhawk Robbie Sacunas, who just so happens to work there. Here he is behind the bar:

2_robbie_sacunas_behind_the_bar

He recommended a sandwich called the HBK, which he described as follows: “It has four slices of ham, two slices of bacon, and a kielbasa. It’s topped with fries, cole slaw, tomatoes, and provolone cheese. It’s in reference to the Penguins in the Stanley Cup playoffs where we have a line with Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel.”

Get it? HBK = Ham, Bacon, Kielbasa *and* Hagelin, Bonino, Kessel. Very clever. And delicious. Look at this monster!

3_insane_sandwich_at_primanti_bros

THAT is a pre-game meal. There’d be no need to even think about food again for a while.

Brandon and I waddled to the stadium at around 3:30pm. On our way across the Roberto Clemente Bridge, I stopped to take a photo of something . . . random? I’m not sure how to describe it, so just take a look:

4_locks_on_bridge_to_pnc_park

Cute.

One of the highlights of my day was getting to play catch with a few friends/ballhawks on the bridge. Here I am making a throw to Nick Pelescak:

5_playing_catch_on_the_bridge

He was standing next to a guy named Ted. Meanwhile Erik Jabs was on my left, so we all played four-way catch until the gates were about to open.

Look how crowded it was during batting practice:

6_crowded_in_left_field_05_20_16

That’s what I deserved for coming on a Friday night game with a t-shirt giveaway, but at least there WAS batting practice. I got lucky with the weather on this trip — no rain at all and BP every day.

Erik kindly helped me and Brandon get inside early with the season ticket holders. That didn’t stop him from trying to rob me on every possible opportunity, and I was fine with that. What was he supposed to do — welcome me into his house and just sit back and watch me get every ball? Thankfully I was able to edge him out on this home run hit by Jordy Mercer:

7_zack_catching_ball8875

In case you didn’t notice, we were both standing on benches. Erik and Nick are very talented ballhawks. They react quickly, navigate through the bleachers with ease, judge batted balls well, and catch everything within their reach. Between the two of them and several other newer ballhawks, it was super-competitive, so in order to catch that ball, I *had* to elevate.

Here’s something I couldn’t compete with:

8_erik_jabs_using_his_ball_retriever

See what I’m talking about? In the photo above, just to the right of the foul pole, there’s a fan reaching out for a ball on the warning track with a long pole. That was Erik, who, by the way, had changed into a purple Rockies jersey. His pole is collapsible and has some sort of grabber on the end. It truly boggles my mind that stadium security allows that, but hey, good for him! Batting practice at PNC Park is tough, and he has found a way to adapt. I lost count of the number of balls he got with that device over the course of the day — probably around a dozen.

Erik wasn’t the only one wearing a Rockies jersey. I had also changed, and when I first saw him using his ball retriever, this was my reaction:

9_zack_astounded

I was thinking, “Are you kidding me?” It was as shocking as it was impressive.

Did you notice the red object that I was holding in the previous photo? That’s a “cup trick” that my friend Bill Dugan had given to me three days earlier in Detroit. I didn’t show the cup trick in my blog entry from that game at Comerica Park, but it’s in the YouTube video, in case you want a closer look.

Thankfully, when Erik was nowhere near me, I was able to use the cup to snag a ball off the warning track in left-center. You can see me doing it below:

10_zack_cup_trick_for_ball8876

Here I am with the ball and cup:

11_zack_showing_cup_trick_and_ball8876

The cup trick is definitely more efficient than the glove trick, but the glove trick doesn’t require me to carry anything heavy or bulky. Which device is better? Clearly the cup is better in Pittsburgh when Erik is never more than a few seconds away from swooping in. The glove, however, is better for knocking balls closer because it has more surface space.

As you can see in the four-part photo below, I had to fling the cup out to knock my next ball closer:

12_cup_trick_for_ball8877

You can also see Rockies pitcher Carlos Estevez bending down to get a look at the cup, followed by me offering the ball to a timid child. He wouldn’t take it from my hand, so I dropped it into his glove.

A little while later, I headed out to right-center field. Not only was Erik there, but the whole section was packed:

13_crowded_in_right_center_field

I felt like there was nowhere to go.

I did somehow find a little room to run for a Carlos Gonzalez homer. In the photo below, you can see a fan in the front row jumping for the ball as it streaked toward my glove:

14_zack_snagging_ball8878

That guy’s jumping attempt made me flinch, causing the ball to tip off the end of my glove. It probably looked like I flat-out dropped it, but I promise that was the reason I didn’t catch it. Getting hit in the face with a baseball isn’t fun, and deflections are my biggest safety concern. Thankfully the CarGo homer plopped down one row in front of me, and I was able to grab it. That was my fourth ball of the day, and I gave it to a kid during the game.

For the last group of BP, I went to the seats in straight-away right field:

15_zack_in_right_field_05_20_16

It was totally dead, and the Rockies pitchers down below didn’t even acknowledge any of the fans. They should learn a few things about manners from their friendly teammates in left field.

When BP ended, I got a ball tossed to me by some random dude on the field in front of the Rockies’ dugout:

16_zack_getting_ball8879

Less than a minute later, Rene Lachemann tossed me another . . .

17_zack_getting_ball8880

. . . and just like that, my day had gone from lousy to decent.

I had told Erik that I’d buy him dinner as a “thank you” for getting me inside the stadium early. I knew he wasn’t planning to stay for the game, but I didn’t realize he had to bolt right after BP, so I still owe him. And unfortunately we didn’t get a photo together.

I headed to the upper deck briefly with Brandon, mainly just to take in the exquisite view:

18_view_from_upper_deck_after_bp

Then we headed back downstairs and checked out some interesting nooks and crannies:

19_zack_in_cool_sunken_walkway

Just before game time, we got a close look at Pirates starter Gerrit Cole:

20_gerrit_cole_walking_past

PNC Park is a fascinating place. There are so many unique sections, walkways, staircases, fences, ramps, railings, and so on. Some stadiums, it seems, were designed as if the architects were trying to be boring and/or annoy people. PNC is the opposite. It’s a total delight. Look at all this space, for example, in right-center field:

21_view_from_right_center_during_game

Yeah, it takes a blast to reach that walkway, but man, the balls that do reach it are easy to catch.

Do you remember Ted from the four-way game of catch on the bridge? Here I am with him in left field during the middle innings:

22_ted_and_zack

He was cool and made me feel welcomed. I met a bunch of other ballhawks throughout the day, and everyone was really nice. I greatly appreciated that.

Check out this view from high up in left field:

23_view_from_spiral_ramp

I didn’t take that photo. Brandon took it from his perch on the spiral ramp. This was my view of him from below:

24_brandon_filming_from_above

And look! This was his view of me from above:

25_zack_from_above

If anyone had launched a 420-foot homer in my general vicinity, I would’ve had all kinds of room to run for it. Unfortunately, there was only one longball all night — a high fly ball one section to my right hit by Nolan Arenado in the 6th inning. Of course he happened to hit it just as a cotton candy vendor was blocking my path. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get there in time, but it was frustrating not to even have a chance.

Toward the end of the game, I took a half-inning break to eat a new, popular concession item — a hot dog with mac and cheese, cracker jacks, and “caramel drizzle.” Look at this thing:

26_hot_dog_with_mac_and_cheese_and_cracker_jacks_and_caramel_sauce

It cost $11 and was totally worth it. It was disgustingly delicious.

In the top of the 9th inning, I moved near the Rockies’ dugout:

27_view_in_9th_inning_05_20_16

After the final out of the Pirates’ 2-1 win, I got my seventh and final ball from Boone Logan (or “Blogan” as Ben Weil and I like to call him.) Here I am reaching out for the catch:

28_zack_getting_ball8881

Here I am *not* getting to play catch on the field after the game:

29_fans_playing_catch_on_the_field_after_the_game

I’m not sure why those people got to do that — probably a season ticket holder perk, but hey, I once got to take BP on the field there, so whatever.

Brandon and I had initially planned to drive to New York right after the game and hit up Citi Field the following afternoon, but the forecast was bad, and we were tired, so we scrapped it and spent the night in Pittsburgh. Then he flew back home to San Diego and I made the six-hour drive on my own.

As for the video, Brandon is still editing it, so keep an eye on my YouTube channel. I plan to upload it there when it’s ready, and I’ll also add a link to this entry.

***UPDATE***
Click here to see the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

30_the_five_balls_i_kept_05_20_16 7 baseballs at this game (five pictured here because I gave two away)

248 balls in 29 games this season= 8.55 balls per game.

 46 balls in 7 lifetime games at PNC Park = 6.57 balls per game.

1,195 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,881 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 10 donors for my fundraiser

• $82.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $324.08 raised this season

• $190,834.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/19/16 at Great American Ball Park

This was the fourth day of a road trip with my friend/videographer, Brandon Sloter. We started with games in Cleveland and Detroit, and now here we were in Cincinnati for the second straight day. Thankfully, despite the 12-inning game that the Reds and Indians had played the night before, both teams took batting practice before this one.

It didn’t take long for me to get my first ball — a home run that I caught on the fly in the front row. Here’s a screen shot from Brandon’s video that shows me reaching up for the grab:

1_zack_catching_ball8862

I’m not sure who hit that one or any of the homers that I ended up snagging. Sometimes I can recognize players by their bodies, batting stances, or swings. This was not one of those days.

Here I am getting my second ball from Reds pitcher Jumbo Diaz:

2_zack_catching_ball8863

The previous day, my friend Cole Adkins had lent me his GoPro at the start of BP, but there was so little action early on that I gave up on it. Naturally we gave it another shot:

3_cole_zack_rocco_gopro

While introducing Cole and talking about the device that was now strapped to my head, I had no idea that our fellow ballhawk Rocco was videobombing in the background.

Silly Rocco.

A little while later, I got a ball thrown to me by Reds pitcher Jon Moscot. Check out this screen shot from the GoPro video:

4_zack_catching_ball8864_gopro

Pretty cool, huh?

At 5:08pm, I headed up to the nearest tunnel in preparation for the mad dash toward foul territory — the scavenger hunt for “Easter eggs” officially begins at 5:10pm — and look who was already there:

5_zack_heading_out_tunnel

That was Cole, tiptoeing away from me, and when we reached the concourse, we were both surprised to see that another ballhawk named Sean was already leading the charge:

6_running_in_the_concourse

Cole might be a couple of decades younger than me, but I’m still faster — and I nearly caught Sean by the time we reached the right field foul pole:

7_approaching_the_empty_seats

Then the fun part began:

8_zack_grabbing_easter_egg

That was the first of four balls that I found. Can you spot the next two in the following photo?

9_two_more_easter_eggs

There was one more here . . .

10_final_easter_egg

. . . and when I made it back to right field, I showed them all to Brandon’s camera:

11_zack_four_easter_eggs

My eighth ball was thrown by a player on the Reds . . .

12_zack_playing_catch_with_ball8869

. . . and I proceeded to play catch with it. Here I am throwing it back:

13_zack_playing_catch_with_ball8869

It was great to have that documented with two different cameras.

Do you remember when Reds pitcher Caleb Cotham tweeted at me? Well, this was the first time I’d seen him since that happened, so when I called out to him and identified myself, he came over to say hello:

14_zack_talking_to_caleb_cotham

That was really nice of him.

Cotham pitched briefly for the Yankees last year, and he remembered me from the whole A-Rod thing. He even knew about the home runs that I’d caught at Yankee Stadium the previous week, so we talked about that, and I asked him about life in Cincinnati. He’s a really good guy, and I wish him all the best in his (hopefully long) MLB career.

Ready for two different camera angles of my ninth ball? (It was a home run, by the way.) Here’s what it looked like with the GoPro:

15_zack_catching_ball8870_gopro

In the photo above, do you see the little black speck to the left of my glove? That was the glove of a player who had flung it high into the air at the ball. Heh. Good thing he missed.

Meanwhile, here’s what that catch looked like from where Brandon was filming — see the ball streaking into my glove?

16_zack_catching_ball8870

Did you notice that the people behind me barely flinched? Did they not see the ball coming, or did they expect me to catch it? Weird.

My 10th ball was a homer that I chased down deep in the right field seats. Here’s what it looked like with Cole’s GoPro as I barely beat out . . . Cole:

17_zack_snagging_ball8971

Sorry, Cole, but hey, you’re welcome for lunch! But no, really, as I mentioned in my last entry, I always try to be respectful of other people’s space, especially the regulars when I visit other stadiums, and I never feel good about snagging baseballs at the expense of my friends (well, except for Greg Barasch), but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Ultimately the competition is what makes it fun, and sensible people understand that.

My 10th ball was a commemorative Arizona Spring Training ball . . .

18_zack_showing_ball8871

. . . and yeah, I had changed into my Indians gear by that point, which didn’t help at all.

Here’s some GoPro footage of my 11th ball — a home run that I caught on the fly:

19_zack_catching_ball8872_gopro

Did you notice the “AZ” logo on that ball too?

I love the GoPro — don’t get me wrong — but in my opinion, it falls short on showing what’s actually required to make a catch in the stands. Take this homer, for example. Based on the previous image, you’d think it was a routine catch, but as you can see in Brandon’s footage below, I had to jump, and my feet were off the ground:

20_zack_catching_ball8872

It wasn’t a textbook example of a gravity-defying vertical leap. I only needed to elevate a few inches, but still, you can’t see stuff like that with a first person vantage point.

Before heading to left field, I gave two baseballs to a pair of kids in right-center. Look closely at the following screen shot, and you’ll see each kid holding a ball:

21_kids_with_baseballs_from_zack

Can you spot the ball in the following GoPro screen shot?

22_zack_snagging_ball8873_go_pro

In case you missed it, it’s kissing the facade of the 2nd deck. Here it is as seen from Brandon’s camera, deflecting down to me:

23_zack_snagging_ball8873

Even though it landed right at my feet, I didn’t see it at first, but I still managed to grab it just before several other fans approached.

My 13th ball was a high home run that pretty much came right to me. Here it is from the GoPro . . .

24_zack_catching_ball8874_gopro

. . . and here’s the shot that Brandon got:

25_zack_catching_ball8874

Here’s Cole turning off the GoPro at the end of BP:

26_cole_turning_off_gopro

I greatly appreciate his generosity in lending it to me. Other than the one wimpy toss-up that I’d gotten the day before while wearing the GoPro, this was my first time ballhawking with one, and I can’t wait to see what the footage looks like when Brandon edits it all together. He said he might do some side-by-side action along with his own footage. How cool would that be?!

After batting practice, I headed to the upper deck to get a shot with all of my baseballs:

27_zack_with_baseballs_in_upper_deck

Then I gave a ball to the nearest kid and headed down to the right field corner. I hoped to get a ball from the Indians’ bullpen, but look what happened:

28_zack_near_indians_bullpen

When I asked pitching coach Mickey Callaway for a ball, he held up his hands to indicate that he didn’t have one. Fair enough. It was nice of him just to acknowledge me.

During the game, I had some space to work with . . .

29_empty_row_on_my_left_05_19_16

. . . and talked about it, on occasion, to Brandon’s camera:

30_zack_in_left_field_05_19_16

At one point, I noticed a kid sitting one and a half sections to my left, so during the 7th-inning stretch, I walked over and handed him a ball. As you’ll see below, the arrow pointing down is aimed at my head, and the arrow pointing up shows the ball in the kid’s hand:

31_zack_giving_ball_to_kid_05_19_16

There were three homers during the game. Carlos Santana hit two — one to right-center and another to right — and Joey Votto blasted one into the Reds’ bullpen in center. In other words, there was no action for me, but that’s fine. I had caught a Rajai Davis homer the previous night, and I was just glad to have had a fun/solid day during BP.

Final score: Indians 7, Reds 2.

When Brandon finishes editing the video, I’ll post it on my YouTube channel and also add a link to it here, so stay tuned. In the meantime, you can see some of the footage in this video that Cole posted on his channel.

***UPDATE***
Here’s the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

32_the_nine_balls_i_kept_05_19_16 13 baseballs at this game (nine pictured here because I gave four away)

241 balls in 28 games this season = 8.61 balls per game.

 122 balls in 10 lifetime games at Great American Ball Park = 12.2 balls per game.

303 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

1,194 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,874 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 10 donors for my fundraiser

• $82.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $324.08 raised this season

• $190,834.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/18/16 at Great American Ball Park

Rather than starting with a photo of the main gate, here’s a slightly different view outside the stadium:

1_parking_area_outside_stadium

That’s where I parked with my friend/videographer Brandon Sloter, who was with me once again to film me for my YouTube channel. The previous day we were at Comerica Park, and the day before that, we hit up Progressive Field. Now we were going to have two games in Cincinnati followed by one more in Pittsburgh. (Phew!)

I met up with some friends in the Reds Hall Of Fame, including a young ballhawk named Cole Adkins, who lent me his GoPro. I was excited to wear one for the first time . . .

2_zack_wearing_go_pro

. . . and I appreciated his generosity. He normally films every day during BP, so it was an extra-kind gesture on his part to give up his routine for me.

You can see Cole (and a few other ballhawks standing around) in the following photo. He’s wearing a black shirt with long/white sleeves poking out:

3_tour_guide_explaining_the_rules

Cole let me try on the GoPro before we entered the stadium. Then I gave it back before we ran inside, and as you’ll see in a bit, I wore it again briefly once BP got underway.

This was my gorgeous view from right field:

4_view_from_right_field_05_18_16

It was nice and empty at first. This was the view to my left . . .

5_view_to_my_left_05_18_16

. . . and to the right:

6_view_to_my_right_05_18_16

In the previous photo, do you see the guy wearing black pants? Well, a little while later, when I drifted toward him on a deep fly ball, he shouted, “Now now, don’t be like that!” and proceeded to botch the crap out of it. It was a ground-rule double that took a room-service hop, and somehow he didn’t even get a glove on it, so not only was he territorial, but he couldn’t catch. That’s a lousy combination. Don’t be like that guy.

Given the fact that I set my one-game record with 36 balls on 9/14/11 at Great American Ball Park, I was hoping for another huge day, but the regulars had told me not to get too excited. Cole and another ballhawk named Rocco Sinisi went on and on about how lame Reds BP had been lately, and all I could think was, “Yeah, right.”

As it turned out, they *were* right. (Always trust the regulars.) The batters barely hit anything into the seats, and the pitchers shagging in the outfield only tossed up a few balls to kids. I was looking forward to capturing some action-packed footage with Cole’s GoPro, but after 20 minutes, all I got was a toss-up from a ballboy. Here’s the ball in mid-air along with my reaction:

7_zack_getting_ball8851

Weak.

I gave the GoPro back to Cole — no point in wasting his battery — and contemplated my next move. To be fair, there were a bunch of home runs hit to left field, but we were all trapped in right field, so that wasn’t particularly helpful.

At 5:10pm, the seats along the right field foul line opened up, so I raced over with a few other fans to search for “Easter eggs.” In the following screen shot (from Brandon’s video), you can see me on the right, bending down to grab one:

8_zack_finding_easter_eggs

Look how many I found:

9_zack_returning_with_easter_eggs

That’s right — I picked up FOUR baseballs in the empty seats, bringing my total for the day to five. It was such an incredible accomplishment that a local news crew interviewed me about it:

10_zack_being_interviewed

Actually, that’s not quite how it all went down. Those same two TV guys had filmed me during BP on 5/6/13 at Great American Ball Park so when they heard I was going to be back in town, they planned to interview me again.

Toward the end of the Reds’ portion of BP, a ball rolled onto the warning track below me. When Tony Cingrani walked over to get it, I asked if he could leave it there so that I could retrieve it with my glove trick — and he did! Check it out:

11_glove_trick_for_ball8856

A few minutes later, I used the string to snag my 7th ball of the day. It was sitting atop the bullpen roof in the right field corner, and as you can see below, I had to swing my glove out to knock it closer:

12_zack_swinging_glove_for_ball8857

By the way, that wristband was given to me by Joey Votto on 8/18/11 at Nationals Park. I always wear it during Reds BP no matter what stadium I’m at.

My eighth ball was a home run by the Indians. I was in the front row when it was hit, and as you can see, I had to run waaaaaay back to retrieve it:

13_zack_snagging_ball8858

It landed about eight rows back and bounced deep into the section. The other fan racing me for the ball was Cole. Obviously I was glad to snag it but sorry that it happened at his expense. When I travel to other stadiums, I try to respect the locals/regulars and stay out of their way, but sometimes it’s unavoidable and we end up competing for the same balls.

Here I am snagging my ninth ball — another home run that Cole would’ve gotten if not for me:

14_zack_snagging_ball8859

That’s Cole in the fifth row wearing jeans. The guy down in front is named Sean. This was the first time I’d met him. He’s a rookie ballhawk but already has a pretty good idea of what he’s doing.

When the entire stadium finally opened at 5:40pm, I ran over to left field and nearly drooled at the amount of space, but guess what? There was very little action. In fact, I only caught one home run out there — look closely and you’ll see the ball streaking into my glove:

15_zack_catching_ball8860

That was my 10th ball of the day.

After BP, I was approached by a young fan (in Royals gear?!) named Shaan. He had contacted me a few days earlier when he found out that I was going to be there. He wanted to meet up and say hi and get my autograph on a ball. The ball that he handed me, however, was not an official ball, so I surprised him by giving him (and signing) one of mine:

16_zack_giving_ball_to_shaan

He was extra happy because it was an Arizona Spring Training ball — one of three that I had gotten during BP. (If you’re thinking, “Eww, who wants a Spring Training ball,” you have it all wrong. Those are much harder to get than regular balls, so they’re actually kinda cool.)

Then I caught up with a guy named Corey who had recently emailed me. He’d brought his copy of my latest book, The Baseball, so I signed that for him:

17_zack_and_corey_with_the_baseball

The game itself had lots of action, and in the top of the 3rd inning, I sorta/barely missed a home run by Rajai Davis. It landed one and a half sections to my left, but hang on! Let me explain. When the game started, I was sitting near that spot, but after an inning or so, I moved one section to my right. Why? Just based on how the seats were filling in and where I figured I had the best opportunity to catch a ball, so yeah, when that homer landed right where I’d been, I was so bummed that I needed to eat my sorrows away:

18_zack_chili_cheese_dog

Chili cheese hot dogs! Yum.

It didn’t help. I was still bummed.

Here I am with Rocco late in the game:

19_zack_and_rocco_05_18_16

He and I had our differences a few years ago, but it’s all good now. He’s a really nice guy and I was glad to see him.

Heading to the 9th inning, the Reds were clinging to a 7-5 lead. You can kinda see that in the following photo of the scoreboard:

20_scoreboard_in_the_9th_inning_05_18_16

With two outs remaining, I switched into my Reds cap and told Brandon to meet me near the Reds’ bullpen in left-center. I figured I’d try to get a ball from one of the coaches or relievers after the final out, but instead, THIS happened:

21_rajai_davis_home_run_screen_shot

That’s my man Rajai Davis, connecting on a fat off-speed pitch from Tony Cingrani. I knew right away that the ball was going to reach the seats, and it seemed to have just the right distance. Unfortunately there were several guys sitting on my right, pretty much in the exact spot where I figured it was going to land. The row in front of me was clogged by a couple of fans, but the row behind me was empty, so I scooted to my right and climbed back over the seats and lined myself up with the ball. I just needed it to carry enough to clear these guys and/or I needed them to miss it, so at that point, it was really just a matter of luck.

Although you can’t tell that it’s me, here I am circled in red:

22_rajai_davis_home_run_screen_shot

Here’s a cool side angle from another camera:

23_rajai_davis_home_run_screen_shot

Did you notice the white speck against the black sky?

Now take a look at the middle of this screen shot:

24_rajai_davis_home_run_screen_shot

That’s me in the red shirt and black jacket, holding my glove up after making the catch. And then? The celebration was on!

25_rajai_davis_home_run_screen_shot

Brandon had been waiting for me up in the concourse, so I ran up the steps and shouted excitedly at his camera:

26_zack_after_catching_rajai_davis_homer

It would’ve been great to have a video from the stands of myself catching a game home run, but then again, MLB doesn’t allow fans to post game footage online, so in a way, it doesn’t matter that Brandon wasn’t filming. What is he supposed to do — film every single pitch of every game we attend in case I happen to catch a homer? And then what? We couldn’t show it anyway.

Here I am with the ball — my 42nd lifetime game home run:

27_zack_with_rajai_davis_home_run

That total, by the way, does NOT include home runs that were tossed to me, for example when a ball lands in the bullpen and gets flipped into the crowd. Of those 42 homers, this was the 30th that I’d caught on the fly . . . in nine different stadiums. Here’s my complete list of gamers.

Here’s a closeup of the ball:

28_rajai_davis_home_run_ball

When things calmed down, I took a photo of the guys on my right and the empty-ish seats:

29_my_route_to_catching_the_ball

The guy in my row in the red jacket had a great opportunity to catch the home run. It was hit right to him. All he had to do was reach a foot or two over his head. Luckily for me, he didn’t catch or deflect it, so it was all mine.

Brandon is the kinda guy who . . . well, let’s just say that if I caught nine foul balls in one game, he’d make fun of me for an entire week about the 10th one that I misjudged, but even *he* was (mildly) excited about the home run. Here he is photographing it:

30_brandon_photographing_the_ball

Remember Sean from the right field seats during BP? In the photo above, that’s him in the Votto jersey. He hung out with us during the game and seemed genuinely happy for me about the home run.

It should also be noted that by catching that homer, I raised more money for the children’s charity Pitch In For Baseball. People are once again pledging money for my gamers this season. That money will help underprivileged kids play ball, so if you have a few dollars to spare, click this link to learn more and consider making a small contribution. You can just pledge one dollar per ball and end up donating five to ten bucks at the end of the season. It all adds up and makes a difference.

The game went into extra innings . . . and then to the 11th inning . . . and all I could think was, “This stupid home run that I caught is going to cost me batting practice tomorrow.” The fact is, I’d give up batting practice for 10 days in exchange for catching a gamer, but at the time, I wanted it all.

When the game moved to the 12th inning, I knew that BP the following day was already in jeopardy, and if the game kept going to the 13th inning, I’d definitely be screwed. It HAD to end here. And guess what? Francisco Lindor led off the 12th with a solo homer to right-center. Muchas gracias! Final score: Indians 8, Reds 7.

31_final_score_on_a_tv

Did you notice the line about Jay Bruce in the photo above? Cole had kindly informed me that Bruce was sitting on a milestone, but I didn’t bother running over to right field, which was, of course, where he hit it. Right field in this stadium is okay early in BP when it’s empty, but it’s a real pain after that. The stands are steep so it’s hard to move up and down quickly, the railings on the staircases are long and in the way, and you can’t really play THAT deep because the tunnels will block you from running to the side.

I normally give away several baseballs to kids at every game, and I also donate balls directly to Pitch In For Baseball. Because I had only given away one here in Cincinnati (right after BP), I decided to pull three more aside for the charity, so as you’ll see below, I kept seven of the 11 balls that I had snagged.

Stay tuned for the video. Brandon is still editing it. I plan to post it on my YouTube channel soon, and I’ll also add a link here. In the meantime, check out my other ballhawking videos from various stadiums — Brandon filmed/edited them all except for the one at Fenway, and in my opinion, the newer ones are much better. Enjoy!

Fenway Park — June 8, 2012
Dodger Stadium — July 17, 2012
Citizens Bank Park — August 18, 2014
Wrigley Field — September 2, 2014
U.S. Cellular Field — August 11, 2015
Busch Stadium — August 13, 2015
Kauffman Stadium — August 14, 2015
Miller Park — August 15, 2015
Oakland Coliseum — April 11, 2016
Safeco Field — April 12, 2016
Coors Field — April 13, 2016
Globe Life Park — April 14, 2016
Progressive Field — May 16, 2016

***UPDATE***
Here’s the video from Cincinnati.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

32_the_seven_balls_i_kept_05_18_16 11 baseballs at this game (seven pictured here because I gave four away)

228 balls in 27 games this season = 8.44 balls per game.

 109 balls in 9 lifetime games at Great American Ball Park = 12.11 balls per game.

 13 different stadiums with at least 100 balls

302 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

1,193 consecutive games with at least one ball

 42 game home run balls; click here for the full list

 9 different stadiums with a game home run caught on the fly

8,861 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 10 donors for my fundraiser

• $82.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $324.08 raised this season

• $190,834.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/17/16 at Comerica Park

If I could sum up this game in two words, it would go as follows: POOR PLANNING. There was an Ian Kinsler bobblehead giveaway, and for some stupid reason, of all the possible days for me to be here, I picked this one. Look how crowded it was during batting practice:

1_left_field_seats_crowded_05_17_16

One of the regulars told me it was the most crowded he’d seen it all year.

Fabulous.

My friend Brandon Sloter was with me once again. He’s the guy who’s been filming me in various stadiums for my YouTube channel, and look, he got an amazing action shot of me catching a toss-up in the front row:

2_zack_catching_ball8846

Okay, fine, I’ll stop being sarcastic, but seriously, this entire day was a pain in the ass.

My second ball was a toss-up that ended up rattling around in the seats. I handed that one to the nearest kid:

3_zack_giving_ball_away_to_kids

After the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I got my third ball tossed up by a Twins player in right field:

4_zack_snagging_ball8848

I couldn’t identify any of the guys who had hooked me up — lame, I know, but sometimes that’s just how it goes.

Back in left field, I used my glove trick to snag my fourth ball from the bullpen:

5_glove_trick_for_ball8849

I gave that one to a little kid on my right.

That was it for BP. Four balls. Nothing hit. Not much room to move. Lots of frustration. I wanted to put on a good show for the YouTube video — run and jump and catch a few home runs — but it just wasn’t happening, and yes, I realize that most people would do anything to get one ball, and here I am complaining about “only” getting four, but you have to understand that for my standards, this was not a great day.

Here’s the bobblehead:

6_ian_kinsler_bobblehead

Meh.

Before the game started, I hung out near the Twins’ bullpen:

7_phil_hughes_warming_up

When Phil Hughes finished warming up, I got pitching coach Neil Allen (standing on the right in the following screen shot) to toss me the ball:

8_neil_allen_tossing_ball8850

This was my reaction after catching it:

9_zack_with_ball8850

Yay.

During the game, I spent most of my time in the cross-aisle behind home plate, hoping/trying to catch a foul ball. In my nine previous games at Comerica, I’d gotten seven foul balls, so the odds were clearly in my favor. (Seven foul balls in nine games?! Yes. Some stadiums are much easier than others because of the design/layout.)

At one point in the early innings, I noticed Butch Davis, the Twins’ 1st base coach, retrieve a foul ball and stick it in his back pocket. That’s unusual. Foul dribblers almost always get tossed into the crowd right away, so I tried to take advantage. I headed over to the Twins’ dugout with the intention of getting his attention after the 3rd out. This was my view — see the ball in his back/right pocket?

11_ball_in_back_pocket

Davis ended up tossing it to someone else, but let this serve as an important lesson in sniffing out opportunities. Pay close attention. Anything is possible.

I caught up with several friends over the course of the night. Do you remember any of these guys from the two games I attended in Detroit last month on April 25 and April 26?

12_zack_with_bill_and_david_and_dave

In the two-part photo above, the guy on left is named Bill Dugan. He’s the fan who famously snagged five foul balls during one game last month. I should also mention that he’s been tinkering with the design of a slick new cup trip, and he gave one to me. He’s a good dude.

In the photo above on the right, I’m standing next to a young man named David and his father Dave. (For the record, I’m not THAT short; Bill is 6-foot-4, and Dave is 6-foot-7, okay? Thanks.) I’ve known them for years and I always enjoy seeing them at Comerica, and by the way, when I caught my first ball of the day, David was standing right next to me. Had it been thrown one foot to my left, I would’ve backed off and let him catch it, but it WAS, in fact, thrown right to me. Another man told me later that I “should’ve given it to that kid.”

“I’ve known that kid for years,” I replied. “I’m friends with him and his father, and he’s gotten about three hundred balls, so don’t worry about it.”

The man was like, “Oh, well, I guess you have it all under control.”

Yes, sir, I do. And by the way, I randomly gave David a ball the very first time I ever saw him during BP at Camden Yards. That’s actually how I met him and his father and how we became friends.

This was my view for most of the game:

13_view_for_right_handed_batters_05_17_16

There were lots of right-handed batters and very few foul balls. It was disappointing, to say the least. I came close on one that I definitely would’ve caught had the aisle been empty, but there were like ten people standing around waiting for it. It bounced off one guy’s glove, and there was a mini-stampede once it hit the ground. I was on the outskirts of it and didn’t feel like jumping into the middle, and you know what? A 12-year-old kid ended up grabbing that ball, so that was cool.

Final score: Tigers 7, Twins 2.

Brandon is still working on the video, so when it’s done, I’ll post it on YouTube and add a link to it here.

***UPDATE***
Here’s the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

14_the_three_balls_i_kept_05_17_16 5 baseballs at this game (three pictured here because I gave two away)

217 balls in 26 games this season = 8.35 balls per game.

 65 balls in 10 lifetime games at Comerica Park = 6.5 balls per game.

1,192 consecutive games with at least one ball

8,850 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 9 donors for my fundraiser

• $77.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $233.31 raised this season

• $190,736.97 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

5/16/16 at Progressive Field

The last time I went to Cleveland, there was no batting practice because the Indians had played 16 innings the night before — a huge disappointment given the fact that I’d brought my friend Brandon, a professional videographer, to film me for my YouTube channel. This time around, things went much smoother and Brandon got some great shots.

As soon as I ran down to the right field seats, a ballboy shouted, “What’s up, Zack!” and began to pull a baseball out of his back pocket. (That’s how I should be greeted at every game.) He had contacted me earlier on Twitter, so I was expecting to see him at some point, but I had no idea he was going to hook me up with a ball right at the start of BP. Brandon wasn’t quite ready with his camera, so I asked the ballboy to wait. He kindly obliged, and when the moment was right, he tossed it to me. Here I am reaching up for the catch:

1_zack_catching_ball8836

(That’s a screen shot from Brandon’s video — great quality, huh?)

Ten minutes later, the seats in straight-away right field were still mostly empty:

2_empty_seats_on_my_left_05_16_16

The seats in right-center, however, were more crowded:

3_more_crowded_on_the_right

There were only two people standing behind me. One was an usher, and the other was Brandon:

4_brandon_filming_from_behind

Brandon got a great shot of me maneuvering through the seats for my second ball of the day — a home run by a lefty on the Indians. Here I am reaching up for the catch:

5_zack_catching_ball8837

That ball had the Arizona Spring Training logo:

6_ball8837_arizona_spring_training

Since I don’t do Spring Training, I though these balls would be hard to get during the regular season, but I’ve been seeing them all over the place, along with the Florida version.

That was it for the Indians’ portion of BP — just one group of hitters after the gates opened, and they were done. (Laaaaame!)

This was my view for Reds BP:

7_reds_on_the_field_for_bp_05_16_16

I’d gotten a pair of tickets (for $59 apiece) for myself and Brandon in that new-ish section in front of the Indians’ bullpen. Look how gorgeous it is:

8_awesome_section_in_right_center

A little while later, I called out to Billy Hamilton and got him to toss up a ball:

9_zack_and_woman_going_for_ball

There was a woman standing on my right, and look what happened — the ball went right between us, and we both backed off:

10_zack_and_woman_both_backing_off

I was going to let her catch it because it was thrown a bit closer to her than to me, but she was going to let me catch it because I had actually asked for it. Anyway, the ball landed in the folded-up portion of a seat, and we both awkwardly reached for it. I happened to pick it up first, and then I handed it to her:

11_zack_handing_her_the_ball

She refused, but I insisted. And then she insisted that I keep it, so I politely refused. Her male companion also insisted, and then he recognized me, so I when I insisted yet again that they “keep it or give it to a kid,” they finally accepted it.

My fourth ball was thrown by a player that I didn’t recognize:

12_zack_catching_ball8839

A day or two later, when I had a bit more time, I posted that image on Twitter and asked for help identifying him. Look who responded:

caleb_cotham_tweet

It was Caleb Cotham himself! How cool is that? You might recall that he was one of the players involved in the Aroldis Chapman trade last year between the Reds and Yankees.

Of course I got questioned/dissed on Twitter for wearing a wristband, so if you’re wondering, I got it from Joey Votto himself after the game on 8/18/11 at Nationals Park, and I’ve been wearing it during Reds BP ever since. Here’s a closer look at it, and in case you’re interested, here are all the “bonus items” I’ve gotten at games over the years.

My fifth ball was thrown by someone else I couldn’t identify, and unfortunately he was too far away for me (or the camera) to get a good look at his face. That ball, by the way, fell short as I lunged over a railing for it:

13_zack_reaching_for_ball8840

It passed through those metal bars, shot back toward Brandon, and plopped down right in front of him:

14_ball8840_rattling_around

It didn’t take me long to run over and grab it; in the image above, that’s my sneaker on the upper right.

Progressive Field had opened at 5pm (or was it 5:10?) and for the first HOUR, all the fans were confined to the right field seats. When the rest of the stadium finally opened, I raced over to the bleachers in left-center and found a ball — my sixth of the day — tucked under a bench in the front row.

This was my view from that spot . . .

15_view_from_left_field_bleachers_05_16_16

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

16_the_view_to_my_right_05_16_16

What a wonky little setup. I like it.

Moments later, as I was fumbling with my backpack, Brandon Phillips connected and sent a deep fly ball in my direction. I knew I was going to be able to make a play on it. I just had to scoot a few feet to my left, and Brandon was right there to get a great shot. Look closely and you’ll see the ball streaking into my glove:

17_zack_catching_ball8842

Sensing that I had a better chance of getting another ball at the dugout rather than in the outfield, I headed to the 1st base side with a few minutes remaining in BP:

18_bp_from_the_1st_base_side

Did you notice the new protective netting? Not only does it completely cover the seats behind home plate, but it extends halfway down the line toward 1st base:

19_seats_on_the_first_base_side

Don’t get me started again on the netting. If you want to know my thoughts, go to the 6:31 mark in my YouTube video from Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, but in a word: yuck!

When the Reds cleared the field, another unidentifiable player rolled a ball “to” me across the dugout roof. Why didn’t he throw it to me? I don’t know, but because the Indians don’t allow people to stand in the front row behind the dugouts (unless, of course, they actually have front-row tickets), I had to jump over the seats from the second row:

20_zack_jumping_over_seats_for_ball8843

I got scolded by an usher who told me how dangerous it is to do that:

21_zack_scolded_by_an_usher

Then he lectured me about climbing on furniture in people’s homes and said he wouldn’t invite me over to visit. I’m not making this up.

Less than a minute later, I got another ball from the equipment guy. In the following screen shot, you can see him on the left, tossing it to me:

22_ball8844_being_thrown_to_zack

That was my ninth of the day, and I was happy to reach double digits right before the game when Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway tossed me a ball from the bullpen in right-center. Unfortunately Brandon didn’t get a shot of that because he was filming the starting pitcher warming up instead. Hmph.

Ready to hear about some bad luck? During the game, most of the hitters were right-handed, so I stayed on the Home Run Porch down the left field line. This was the view:

23_home_run_porch_during_game

Four different righties (Adam Duvall, Eugenio Suarez, Yan Gomes, and Marlon Byrd) ended up hitting home runs — two into the left field bleachers and two more within 20 feet of my actual seat in right-center. Had I been where I “belonged,” there’s a good chance I would’ve snagged one or both of those balls.

In the previous photo, did you notice all the birds flying around? Well, here’s some more bad luck:

24_fan_with_bird_poop_on_cap

That was some random guy whose fancy stars-n-stripes Indians cap got pooped on. (No, that’s not good luck. If you think it’s lucky to have some flying creature defecate on you, you’re living a lie.)

Remember the ballboy from the start of BP? Well, here he is during the game:

25_friendly_ballboy

His name is Samuel, and he’s super-friendly. That’s where he always hangs out during games, so now you can look for him on TV, and if you ever see him in person, go say hi.

Back on the Home Run Porch, I ran into Pete Rose’s No. 1 fan:

26_pete_rose_fan

A few innings later, I wandered back to right-center and took a photo of the Reds’ bullpen:

27_reds_bullpen_interacting_with_fans

Because of the fan-friendly renovations to Progressive Field, folks can now get much closer to the players. Thumbs-up!

Here’s the jumbotron/scoreboard in the bottom of the 8th inning:

28_scoreboard_late_in_the_game_05_16_16

The Indians were winning, 15-6, and that’s how it ended. I didn’t snag any more baseballs, but I did give three more away. This was the first recipient . . .

29_zack_giving_a_ball_to_a_kid

. . . and then I handed a ball to each of these two little guys:

30_zack_giving_a_ball_to_a_kid

Brandon had met up with two of his friends during the game, and we all went out for a bite after. Here’s what I got:

31_baked_potato_loaded_with_a_whole_lot_of_stuff

That was a football-sized (okay, slight exaggeration) baked potato with a whole lot of cheesy/creamy/bacon-y things on top.

(Lots of people have told me that they like seeing my food photos, so there you go.)

Here are the six balls that I kept:

32_the_six_balls_i_kept_05_16_16

Stay tuned for the video.
It’s coming soon.
Next stop: Detroit . . .

UPDATE: Here’s the video.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

10 baseballs at this game

212 balls in 25 games this season = 8.48 balls per game.

 81 balls in 9 lifetime games at Progressive Field = 9 balls per game.

1,191 consecutive games with at least one ball

301 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

8,845 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• 9 donors for my fundraiser

• $77.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $233.31 raised this season

• $190,736.97 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009