Results tagged ‘ bonus items ’

10/3/10 at Camden Yards

The last day of the regular season always starts slowly, and this was no exception. When I ran inside the stadium, this was my first look at the field:

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No batting practice.

Yawn.

But that was to be expected.

Five minutes later, there was at least a sign of life…

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…and 15 minutes after that, several Tigers began playing catch in left field:

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In the photo above, there’s an arrow pointing to Robbie Weinhardt because he ended up throwing me his ball when he finished.

Then I got his autograph. Here he is signing for another fan…

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…and here he is posing for a photo:

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It was THAT kind of a day — very slow and laid-back.

Lots of Tigers signed autographs. I got six on my ticket:

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Since their handwriting is even worse than their won-lost record, I’ll tell you their names: Alfredo Figaro, Brad Thomas, Ryan Perry, Daniel Schlereth, Max St. Pierre, and of course Mister Weinhardt.

Not only did I collect a bunch of autographs, but I also signed one for a young fan named Xavier. Here he is holding it up for the camera:

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The Orioles eventually came out and played catch:

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I didn’t snag any baseballs from them, but I did get a couple of autographs. Here’s a photo of Matt Albers signing:

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I got him on the back of my ticket, along with Mike Gonzalez’s signature:

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Just before the singing of the national anthem, I got my second ball of the day (and 299th of the season) from Tigers infielder Scott Sizemore.

Here’s the ball:

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As I mentioned in my last entry, the Tigers mark their balls on the sweet spot.

My friends Roger and Bassey and my girlfriend Jona showed up at game time. Here they are, chillin’ on the first base side:

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(That’s Roger on the left and Bassey on the right.)

I really wanted to snag my 300th ball of the season, but rather than go for a 3rd-out ball (which would’ve been fairly easy), I stayed in the outfield and tried to catch a home run instead.

No luck.

Given the fact that this was the final game of the season, and given the fact that the players were likely going to give away some of their equipment after the final out, I made my way to the Tigers’ dugout at the start of the 9th inning.

This was my view:

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As soon as the Tigers put the finishing touches on their 4-2 victory, I moved down into the front row:

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Here’s what happened next:

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It was only the fifth bat I’d ever gotten, and it belonged to Austin Jackson! Are you aware of how awesome Jackson is? This was his first season in the Major Leagues, and he finished with a .293 batting average, 181 hits, 34 doubles, 10 triples, 27 stolen bases, and 103 runs scored. Okay, so he struck out 170 times. Whatever. Austin Jackson is The Man — and the potential rookie of the year. The way I got his bat was simple and unexpected. As the players were filing into the dugout, some guys flung their caps into the crowd, and a few others tossed their batting gloves. During all the chaos, I happened to see a bat get lifted up from below the dugout roof, and I lunged for it. That was it. I grabbed it a split-second before anyone else realized what was going on. As for those batting gloves, I got one of those, too:

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This one belonged to Will Rhymes — not exactly a household name, but give the guy some credit. This was his rookie season, and he batted .304 in 54 games.

After all the Tigers were gone, there was still some action on the Orioles’ side, so I hurried over to their dugout:

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It was painfully crowded. I couldn’t get any closer than the 3rd row.

In the photo above, those are fans standing on the field. They were picked through some sort of random drawing to receive “game-worn” jerseys from the players. Why is “game-worn” in quotes? Let’s just say that the jerseys were definitely NOT worn during the game that had just been played on the field. Right after the final out, the players disappeared into the clubhouse, where they obviously changed into alternate uniforms before returning 10 minutes later. How do I know this? Because…during the game, several Orioles dove for balls and slid into bases. Their uniforms were D-I-R-T-Y when the game ended and perfectly clean when they returned for the give-away. (Maybe, after changing, the players spent a few minutes in the clubhouse playing backgammon, in which case their clean uniforms would have actually been “game-worn.”) I’m just bitter because I’ve never gotten a jersey. That’s probably what I’ll ask for when I finally catch an important home run that a player wants back. But anyway…

Here’s a closer look at the bat:

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Adam Jones started signing autographs along the foul line…

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…so I ran over and got him on an extra ticket I had from the previous day:

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I thought about getting him on the back of my October 3rd ticket — I liked the idea of getting all my autographs for the day on one ticket — but because he’s so good and has the potential to become a superstar, I had him sign a separate item.

Just as I was getting set to leave the stadium, the groundskeepers appeared in the right field corner and started playing catch:

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I was still stuck at 299 balls for the season, and the playoffs were (and still are) a big question mark, so I thought, “This is my chance.”

(In the photo above, that’s me in the white shirt.)

I asked one of the groundskeepers if I could have a ball when he was finished throwing. He said, “Probably not because this is all we have to play with.”

Ahh. So they were going to play a game on the field. Lucky them…

Well, it just so happened that one of the groundskeepers airmailed his throwing partner. The ball landed in the seats. I ran over and grabbed it. And when the guy started flapping his glove at me, I tossed it back to him, figuring he’d give it to me when he was done. I mean, now he had a reason to give it to me. I had just done him a favor. He owed it to me, in fact. But guess what? He never gave it back. And it gets worse. After he jogged off, one of his buddies taunted me by pretending to throw one to me. Nice. Really nice. (I’m considering placing the Hample Jinx on the entire Orioles grounds crew, but I’m not sure how that would work. I can tell you, though, that I *will* find some way to get revenge.)

I had a long internal debate over whether or not to count that final ball. I mean, I *did* snag it. But then I gave it away. But I normally count balls that I give away. But I give those away voluntarily. GAH!!! Ultimately I decided not to count it. It just seemed cheap. And for what it’s worth, my friend Bassey said, “It’s more poetic to end the season with 299 balls than 300.” But then again, who knows? I might just end up making my way to a playoff game or two.

Here I am with Roger, Jona, and Bassey after the game on Eutaw Street:

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If you look at the pavement in the photo above, you can see that it had just started to rain. Ha-haaa!!! It actually rained pretty hard after that. Take THAT, grounds crew!!! And get ready for more misery in 2011…

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 2 balls at this game (pictured on the right)

• 299 balls in 31 games this season = 9.65 balls per game.

• 660 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 203 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 4,657 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 48 donors (click here to learn more)

• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $15.06 raised at this game

• $2,251.47 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Hold on! This entry isn’t done. I want to show you a few more photos of the bat. First, here it is in its entirety:

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Austin Jackson wears uniform No. 14, so check out the end and knob of the bat:

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Here’s the trademark…

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…and here are some marks/smudges on the barrel that were caused by balls:

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If you want to see all my “bonus items,” click here. You’ll see that I have them organized into three categories: lineup cards, batting gloves, and other equipment.

The End.

(For now…)

5/6/10 at Target Field

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Game time: 7:10pm

Arrival-at-the-stadium time: 1:00pm

Yeah, it was another monster day at Target Field, this time thanks to a certain Twins employee, who gave me (and my girlfriend Jona) a private tour of the stadium. (As I mentioned in my previous entry, this employee wishes to remain anonymous, so let’s just call him Kirby.)

Because the tour began more than four hours before the stadium opened, the concourse was empty…

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…and so were the the seats:

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Kirby took us inside Hrbek’s bar…

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…and pointed out that the ceiling is decorated with every different Twins logo in team history. Then he led us into the uber-fancy Champion’s Club, which is located directly behind home plate. Here it is from the outside:

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(That’s Jona in the green jacket and Kirby in the blue shirt.)

This is the reception/entrance area:

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(That’s me sitting at the desk-like podium thing.)

Note the “TC” logos all over the place, including the huge one on the floor and the smaller ones on the logs.

This is what I saw when we headed through the back door of the reception area:

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Normally, when fans enter the club, an auxiliary wall blocks the service tunnel from view, but in this case, since we were there so early, everything was open.

As we wandered through the tunnel, I saw the Twins Family Lounge…

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…and then found myself standing right outside the Twins’ clubhouse:

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Tony Oliva walked by. I said hello and shook his hand. Ho-hum. Just your typical three-time batting champion.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go inside the clubhouse, but hey, no biggie, at least I got to explore the Champion’s Club. Here’s the first thing I saw when I opened the door:

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See those wooden cabinets on the left? This is what was in them:

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Yep, the two Twins World Series trophies from 1987 and 1991.

Here’s a four-part photo that shows more of the Champion’s club:

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All the food is free there — that is, after you’ve spent your life savings on the tickets — including the candy.

This is how you get from the club to the seats…

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…and once you reach the top of the ramp, this is the view of the field:

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Not bad.

From that spot, you’re closer to home plate than the pitcher is.

Justin Morneau was doing some sort of TV shoot just to my left. Meanwhile, out in right field, another Twins player (I think it was Kevin Slowey) was working out with a weighted ball:

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Kirby took us up to the club level and showed us one of the suites:

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Here’s another look at it:

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Reminds me of IKEA. Still pretty nice, though. But it’s not how *I* would ever want to watch a baseball game.

One seriously cool thing about the suites is that they’re all connected, you know, sort of like hotel rooms that have conjoining doors. Check it out:

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If you rent out one suite, there’s a door that shuts and seals it off from the next one, but if you rent two (or all ten), you can open them up.

(In case you didn’t notice, the suites alternate colors — blue and red, the Twins’ colors.)

Here’s what it looked like when I walked out the back door of the suite:

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The next stop on the tour was the Metropolitan Club down the right field line:

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(The previous day, I had wandered all over the stadium on my own, but because of my limited access, there was only so much I could see. This tour completely made up for it and filled in all the missing pieces.)

Here’s one photo that I took inside the Metropolitan Club…

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…and here’s another:

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The club is named after Metropolitan Stadium, the Twins’ home from 1961-1981.

Check out the view of the field from inside the club…

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…and from the outside:

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Check out this lovely view of the standing room area:

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Back inside the club, I took a good look at a display case with some old Metropolitan Stadium memorabilia…

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…and then followed Kirby to the nearby (and equally exclusive) Delta Club (aka the “Legends Club”). Here’s the entrance…

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…and this is what it looked like on the inside:

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The club has a whole area dedicated to Kirby Puckett (not to be confused with Kirby the tour guide):

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See the balcony? That’s the suite level. (There’s a difference between the suite level and the club level, although both levels have suites. Don’t ask.) More on that in a bit…

Here’s a four-part photo that shows some different stuff in the Delta club:

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TOP LEFT: a fancy-schmancy hallway

TOP RIGHT: a wall with famous Twins play-by-play quotes

BOTTOM LEFT: a bar/lounge with a staircase that leads to the suite level

BOTTOM RIGHT: a deli, located in the concourse

Before we went upstairs, I checked out the seats in front of the press box:

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(That cross-aisle, if you can ever get there, is great for game foul balls.)

Here’s the hallway and balcony on the suite level:

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The area down below, dedicated to Rod Carew, is part of the Delta/Legends club.

Here’s what the truly fancy suite-level suites look like (as opposed to the slightly-less-fancy club-level suites, which you saw earlier):

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Kirby told me that these suites go for “six figures” per season, and that there’s a “five-year commitment” required.

(Ahem, excuse me?!)

Here’s the suite’s outdoor seating area. I’ve drawn arrows pointing to a) a heat lamp and b) a flat-screen TV:

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Here’s another section of the suite-level hallway:

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(Six figures? Seriously?)

Kirby led us up to the upper deck, and then we headed toward the Budweiser Party deck:

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Here’s what it looks like up there. The big rectangular thing in the middle of the photo is a fire pit:

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(Can you imagine if they had one of these at Yankee Stadium? Red Sox games would be so much more entertaining.)

Here’s the partial view of the field from the third row of seating:

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Here I am with Jona:

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That was pretty much the end of the tour, but even on the way out, there was interesting stuff to see:

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(To the anonymous Twins employee who gave me the tour, thank you SO much. It was one of the most special things I’ve ever done inside a major league stadium.)

It was 3pm. Jona was starving (and bein’ all vegan), so we found a Mexican restaurant where she ordered beans and rice (which somehow had a piece of beef buried in it).

At around 4pm — 90 minutes before the stadium was going to open — we headed over to Gate 34. I could see that the batting cage was set up, and half an hour later, the Twins started hitting:

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Ten minutes after that…

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…I managed to snag a ball outside the stadium. A left-handed batter on the Twins crushed a home run down the line. The ball cleared the bleachers and was bouncing right toward me across the standing room area. As I reached through the gate to prepare for the easy snag, a young usher hustled over and scooped up the ball. I made such a big fuss about it (in a friendly way) that he ended up tossing it to me — but his throw was off the mark, and the ball clanked off one of the bars and started rolling to my left. He chased after it, then returned and apologized for the bad throw and handed the ball to me.

Outstanding.

Once the stadium opened, I went to the corner spot down the left field foul line. Jona hung back in the bleachers so she’d be in a good spot to take photos with her own camera. Here she is…

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…and here are some of the photos she took:

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(Sigh.)

I got Jason Berken to toss me my second ball of the day, and then I promptly booted a grounder that was yanked down the line. In my own defense, let me say this: it was a three-hopper, hit hard with a ton of topspin. Not only did I get an in-between hop, but the ball came up on me and deflected off my wrist. (It came up so much that it completely missed my glove.) It was the kind of bad hop that the casual fan wouldn’t notice, but anyone who’s ever played infield knows how tough these balls can be. After I booted it, Will Ohman (who was shagging balls in left field) started making fun of me. I got the last laugh, however, by snagging three ground balls in the next 20 minutes. Here’s a photo that shows me leaning out of the stands for one of them:

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On this particular grounder, I leaned WAY out of the stands as soon as the ball was hit. Then, when it ended up hooking back toward me, I didn’t need to reach out with full extension. The day before, I had actually reached past the foul line for a grounder, but Jona wasn’t there to document it.

I ran over to the Orioles’ dugout at the end of BP and called out to Jeremy Guthrie.

“Hey, what’s up, Zack?” he asked.

Very cool. I knew he’d remember me (from all the Orioles games I’d attended last year), but this was the first time he’d actually said my name.

Here I am talking to him:

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We chatted for a couple minutes, during which time he asked me if I’d gotten a ball yet.

“Yeah,” I’m all set, I told him, “but thanks for asking.”

He’s awesome. Case closed.

After BP, I posed with my Target Field commemorative balls…

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…and met a season ticket holder named Richard (aka “twibnotes”) who’s been reading this blog for quite some time. He and I hung out for half an hour — and then I had to take off and try to snag a pre-game warm-up ball.

Great success!!

Cesar Izturis tossed one to me at the dugout. The following photo shows the ball in mid-air:

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As you can see, the stands were packed, but there wasn’t any competition. Everyone else was pretty much sitting down, patiently waiting for the game to start.

It rained during the game for the third straight day, but that didn’t affect my plan. I just stayed out in the standing room area, hoping that a lefty would get a hold of one and pull it down the line. The following photo shows where I was standing:

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(I was still wearing my bright orange Ripken shirt.)

This was my view from that spot:

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My friend Bob (aka “Big Glove Bob”) came out and found me in the standing room area, and we chatted on and off throughout the game. Another guy who’s been reading this blog also found me. His name is Pete Gasperlin (aka “pgasperlin”), and he’s the founder of the Denard Span fan club on Facebook.

Here’s a photo of Jona with a ball that she’d snagged earlier in the day:

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Yes, that’s the right, the young lady grabbed her fourth lifetime baseball during BP when a home run landed in the camera well down the left field line. The Tigers, it should be noted, were using a combination of regular and commemorative balls. Also, in case you’re wondering, in the five Twins games that I’ve attended this season, I have not seen a single Metrodome ball.

As the game reached the middle innings, Jona got really cold (because it was really cold). Pete came to the rescue. He had season tickets that gave him access to the Metropolitan Club, so he took her up there. He and I hung out for a bit after that. Turns out that we’ll both be at Turner Field on May 17th. Weird.

With three outs remaining in the Orioles’ 2-0 victory, I got tired of the standing room area and headed here:

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The move paid off. Look what I ended up getting:

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Home plate umpire Tony Randazzo tossed me a rubbed-up commemorative ball as he headed off the field, and then Orioles manager Dave Trembley gave me his Twins lineup card. Here’s a better look at it.

Of all the lineup cards I’ve gotten over the years, this is one of my favorites because of Trembley’s notations. Did you notice what he wrote next to Nick Punto’s name? It says, “NOT GOOD RHH .083,” which obviously means that Punto, a switch-hitter, is terrible from the right side. Directly above that, Trembley noted that Alexi Casilla is better against left-handed pitching. And who knew that Jim Thome was 0-for-3 against Will Ohman?

My day of snagging wasn’t done. Orioles reliever Matt Albers threw me my eighth ball of the day when he walked in from the bullpen, and then Alan Dunn, the bullpen coach, tossed me another less than 60 seconds later. (If I hadn’t dropped that stupid grounder during BP, I would’ve hit double digits — something Bob had said would be impossible at this stadium.)

Before heading back to our hotel, Jona and I stopped by Smalley’s 87 Club for one final meal, this time with a gentleman named Albert (and his kids), who had helped two days earlier with the media.

Aside from the lack of game home runs, my time in Minnesota could not have been any better.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 9 balls at this game (seven pictured on the right because I gave two away)

• 82 balls in 8 games this season = 10.25 balls per game.

• .813 Ballhawk Winning Percentage this season (6.5 wins, 1.5 losses)

• 637 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,440 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 29 donors (click here to learn more and get involved)

• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $34.65 raised at this game

• $315.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

10/4/09 at Citi Field

This was the final game of the regular season, and I was there for one reason only: to snag a piece of equipment after the game at the winning team’s dugout. There was no guarantee that this would happen, but since it WAS the last day, I knew that the players would be extra generous.

Unfortunately, since it was a day game and both teams were mailing it in, there was no batting practice…BUT…the lack of action did give me a chance to hang out with half a dozen of my fellow ballhawks:

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Pictured from left to right: Conner (whom I met on 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium), Joe (a former Watch With Zack client who combined to snag 22 balls with me on 5/8/09 at Citi Field), Alex (whom I met at Game 4 of the 2008 World Series), me, another Alex (who you might remember from 8/17/09 at Citi Field), Ross (another Watch With Zack client who snagged four different types of balls on 9/23/09 at Citi Field), and Clif (who first attended a game with me on 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium). I knew all these guys pretty well, so it was good to catch up with them.

We were all so frustrated at the lack of BP that we posed for a second photo in which we pretended to punch each other…

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…except for Clif (in the red hat). Somehow he escaped unscathed.

There was NO action on the field for the first hour, so we all wandered into the area behind the center field scoreboard and took some swings in the batting cage. Here’s a two-part photo of me in which I’m a) settling into my stance and b) unleashing a furious swing (at a 30mph pitch):

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I hadn’t swung a bat for quite some time, and since I had plans to take BP on the field at PNC Park two days later, this was a valuable tune-up.

Yes, you read that right: I’m going to be taking BP on a major league field on Tuesday, October 6th, and I owe it all to Erik Jabs. I’ll be sharing the details/photos after it happens. I think that’ll be my next blog entry, but there’s so much stuff going on right now that I’m not even sure what to write about next. But anyway…

A few Mets pitchers finally came out and started playing catch in right field. The front row along the foul line got so crowded that I headed up to the second deck…

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…but no one tossed any balls to me.

Half an hour later, ONE Astros player came out to play catch (with some random strength coach guy) on the left field side. It was a relief pitcher named Samuel Gervacio, and as soon as he finished, he began walking toward me with the ball in his hand:

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At that point, I was concerned about getting shut out, and there weren’t any other players in sight, so my heart sank when he ended up tossing the ball to someone else.

BUT…

He then pulled another ball out of his back pocket and kept walking toward the stands and eventually tossed it right to me.

Here are two photos of the ball:

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Some teams have tried marking their baseballs so their employees won’t steal them and get them signed; the Astros have been marking their balls with an “H” for as long as I can remember.

I was already wearing my Astros gear by the time I got the ball from Gervacio, and so were most of my snagging companions. In the photo below, not one person is an actual Astros fan:

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Sorry, Houston.
Nothing personal.

A few minutes later, someone asked me how many balls I’d snagged this season, and when I said, “Five hundred and twenty-four,” Brandon took a photo that captured a nearby woman’s reaction.

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Right before the game started, Chris Johnson (wearing No. 23 in the photo below) and several other Astros played catch in shallow left field:

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I got Johnson to throw me the ball when they were done.

Ready for a totally random/worthless statistic? This was the 11th guy named Johnson to have thrown me a ball. The other 10 are: Ben, Brian, Howard, Jason, Jonathan, Kelly, Mark P., Nick, Reed, and Russ. What’s YOUR record for the most players/coaches with the same last name to have given you a ball? (For the complete list of everyone who’s ever thrown me a ball, click here.)

For the first few innings, while I was making unsuccessful attempts to snag a 3rd-out ball behind the Astros’ dugout, Brandon was taking action shots (like the one below) of the game itself:

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The batter in the photo above is Mets rookie catcher Josh Thole. He entered the game batting .286 (14-for-49) and went 3-for-4 to finish the season at .321. Nicely done.

Mets left fielder Angel Pagan had an even better day, going 4-for-4 with two doubles and a triple, but the best performance belonged to starting pitcher (and super-nice guy) Nelson Figueroa. Entering the final day with a hard-luck record of 2-8 and an ERA of 4.70, he pitched the first complete game of his career — a four-hit shutout with no walks — as the Mets beat the Astros, 4-0.

Lots of fans had homemade signs. This was the best one:

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As for me…

It took a major effort just to make it down into the front row behind the Mets’ dugout, and once I got there, I wasn’t too hopeful. I was trapped in the middle of the section, in between the two entrances to the dugout, which meant I wasn’t going to be standing directly in front of the players as they walked off the field. Still, I stayed alert and kept looking out in front of me to pick up on any possible opportunity. Several players flung their caps into the crowd 20 feet to my right. Then I saw a few balls get tossed as well as some batting gloves, but I wasn’t close to any of it, and it was killing me. Ten seconds later, I noticed that Angel Pagan was veering toward my end of the dugout and looking up into the crowd, so I took off my cap and made a frisbee-throwing gesture with it. I was trying to indicate that I wanted him to throw HIS cap to me…and it worked! But he flung it way over my head. When the cap first left his hand, it looked like it was going to reach the sixth row, but then, somehow, thankfully, just like a frisbee that gets thrown up at an angle, it started slicing back down toward me, and I jumped for it:

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It’s easy to spot me in the photo above because I’m the only person who appears blurry. While everyone else was simply reaching (and pushing) for the cap, I was the only person who actually jumped for it. (What a concept!) As you can see, I was wearing my glove on my left hand and holding my own cap in my right hand. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to catch Pagan’s twirling cap in my glove and then be able to hold onto it, but I had no other choice. I *had* to try to catch it that way…and it worked! I caught the damn cap IN my glove and then immediately brought it down to my chest and hugged it tightly. One second later, after I had transferred Pagan’s cap to my right hand, the guy standing next to me tried to snatch it, but I had a death-grip on it. There was no way anyone was going to steal it, and I offered the guy a few choice words.

Here’s a look at the cap:

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As you can see, the Citi Field commemorative logo is on the outside, and Pagan’s uniform number is written on the inside. Coolness. It was the fourth cap I’d ever gotten and the first with a commemorative logo. You can see the other caps here.

Here’s one final photo that shows me with everything I snagged at this game:

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Ooh yeah, that’s right, I also got a little sumpin’-sumpin’ during the 5th-inning T-shirt launch. I haven’t kept track of all the T-shirts I’ve snagged, but I’m pretty sure that number is in the double digits.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 525 balls in 58 games this season = 9.05 balls per game.

• 627 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 487 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 351 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 4,345 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $50.52 raised at this game

• $13,261.50 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One thing about the charity (since people have been asking)…

It’s not too late to make a pledge. There’s a good chance that I’ll be snagging a few more balls this post-season, so hold onto your donations until the end of the World Series, and then I’ll email you with some very easy instructions about how to pay. You’ll have the option of using a credit card on the Pitch In For Baseball web site OR mailing them a check. Either way, your money will never be in my possession.

Stay tuned for some BIG stuff over the next week. PNC Park is just the beginning…

7/6/09 at Citizens Bank Park

On 5/8/09 at Citi Field, I had a Watch With Zack client named Joe, and we combined for 22 balls…remember? Yesterday Joe joined me for another Watch With Zack game, and it turned out to be an all-day adventure.

Everything got started at around 9:15am when Joe was dropped off at my place in New York City. I wasn’t expecting him to arrive until 10am, so while I got ready and gathered all my stuff for the game, he played some Arkanoid, checked out my 213-pound rubber band ball, and took a peek at my business card wallpaper. Here’s a shot of Joe with the Arkanoid machine and the rubber band ball in the background. Note his homemade “Cincinnati Reds” T-shirt:

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Just after 10am, we made the six-block walk to my parents’ place. That’s where I keep most of my baseballs, and Joe wanted to see them. We spent about 20 minutes inspecting and discussing various balls with gashes and smudges and bat imprints and commemorative logos, and before we headed out, we recreated the New York Times photo:

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We walked another seven blocks to the garage where my family’s car was parked, then drove two hours to Harleysville, PA and blasted music and talked baseball the whole way down.

QUESTION: What’s in Harleysville, PA?
ANSWER: Pitch In For Baseball’s new warehouse.

(I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag in 2009. That money is going to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball which provides “new and gently used” baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Click here to learn more about my involvement with the charity.)

I hadn’t yet been to the warehouse. David Rhode, the director of Pitch In For Baseball, had recently taken over the space and offered to give me a tour, and now that I was finally making my first trip of the season to a game in Pennsylvania, I was taking him up on it.

Okay, so, here’s a look at the warehouse:

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I really had no idea what to expect. I assumed it would be bigger, but the fact is…it’s just a 4,000-square-foot room with high ceilings and cinder block walls. The charity has only been around for a couple years, so it makes sense that it’s not a huge operation yet, and on a personal level, it’s kind of nice that it’s not huge because I know that my efforts are actually making a difference. I’ve already raised over $7,000 for Pitch In For Baseball this season (thanks to many of you who read this blog), and that’s a lot of money for them. But if I’d raised that money for a gigantic charity such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has an annual budget of tens of millions of dollars, that would only be a drop in the bucket, and I doubt I’d get to hang out with the head of the charity and get a behind-the-scenes tour, so really, this was all ideal.

The photo above might make it look like a warehouse that specializes in cardboard, but all those boxes and barrels were filled with baseball equipment…stuff that gets sorted and then stored before being shipped back out to kids. Check out the four-part photo below. You can see the boxes and barrels filled with bats and balls and helmets and gloves and catchers’ gear:

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I had such a great time looking at all the equipment, and I know Joe did too. There’s something about baseball, whether it’s a major league game or a small pink batting helmet, that just makes me HAPPY.

David told me all about the various places that the equipment is about to be shipped (there was a big box right in the middle of the room with “Nigeria” written on it), and he told me about some different programs and partnerships that are in the works.

Meanwhile, I kept taking photos. Here are some equipment bags, shoes, base sets, and caps:

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It’s amazing how much equipment is needed. Pitch In For Baseball can’t simply send bats and balls and gloves; in some cases (like when the hurricane in Galveston, TX wiped out an entire Little League’s storage facility), David has to make sure to replace everything. Of course, some things never get donated, so that’s why the charity needs money. (Who has a random base set lying around in their attic? I don’t even have an attic.)

I loved seeing random boxes lying around with the word “baseball” on them…

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…and even when the word “baseball” was nowhere to be found, I knew that there was still baseball (or softball) stuff inside.

David (pictured below in the blue shirt) told Joe about the charity…

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…while I poked around and took more photos. (For the record, Joe has already made a 10-cent-per-ball pledge, and yesterday he even brought two pieces of equipment to donate directly: a bat and a glove, both of which were in excellent shape.)

I inspected the baseballs and softballs. Look what I found sitting in one of the barrels:

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Oh my GOD. I’d seen photos of that special “Ripken” ball, but I’d never held one. Old American League balls were always stamped with blue ink (here’s proof) so I’m not sure why this one was black. In the photo above, it’s funny how the people in the background have their arms folded as if to say, “We see you, Zack, and you’re not getting out of here alive with that ball.” I got the impression that David might have given me the ball if I’d asked him for it, you know, as a “thank you” for all my work for him, but I wouldn’t have taken it. I have absolutely NO interest in owning any baseball that I didn’t snag at a major league game. People are always emailing me and asking me if I’ll trade baseballs with them, and some people even try to sell or give me balls, but I’m just not interested. So yeah, the Ripken ball was cool to see, but as far as I was concerned, it was about as valuable as a rock that I might’ve found in the parking lot.

Once the tour was finished, it was time to play:

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The pink helmet had a chin strap that nearly cut off my oxygen flow. The bat, in case you can’t tell, was only slightly bigger than a toothpick. Joe was wearing a light pink glove and a hockey-style catcher’s mask with a flame pattern on top.

David suggested that I climb onto the pile of helmets. I was afraid that they’d crack under the weight of my big Hample butt, but he assured me they’d hold up just fine…and he was right:

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At around 2pm, it was time for a final group photo before hitting the road. Down below, from left to right, you’re looking at me, Joe, Mark (a board member for Pitch In For Baseball), Angela (another board member), and David:

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In case you’re wondering, the T-shirt I’m wearing (with “Columbia Prep” on it) is from high school. Here’s my 12th grade class photo. Can you find me?

Thanks to Joe’s GPS device, we made it to Citizens Bank Park just after 3pm…

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…and had time for cheesesteaks at McFadden’s:

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The two photos above were taken by a fellow ballhawk named Gary (aka “gjk2212″ in the comments section). Joe and Gary and I ran into another ballhawk at around 4pm outside the Ashburn Alley gate–but not just any ballhawk. It was Erik Jabs, founder of the ballhawk league, who’d made the four-hour drive from Pittsburgh. I foolishly neglected to take a photo of him, but damn, there was so much other stuff going on that it was hard to think logically.

The four of us played catch for about 15 minutes and then got on line when other fans started showing up.

Right before the gates opened, a freelance photographer named Scott Lewis appeared on the other side of the turnstiles:

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Scott was there to take photos of me for a big ballhawk-related article that’s now supposed to come out within the next 12 hours. Beyond that…I’ve been asked not to say anything else about it.

The stadium opened at 4:35pm, and we all ran to the left field seats. Here’s Joe, wearing the Phillies cap and shirt that I lent him:

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The seats started filling up fast.

Scott photographed my every move:

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Joe and I spread out so we could cover twice as much ground. (As I mentioned the last time I went to a game with him, he’s 14 years old and doesn’t need me to stay by his side at all times. If he were a few years younger, or if he or his father had asked me to stay with him, then of course I would have.) At one point, I noticed that he was standing in a place where he was blocked on one side by some fans, so I ran over and told him to make sure he had empty seats on both sides. Here’s a photo that shows his improved positioning:

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It got REALLY crowded during the Phillies’ portion of BP…

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…and to make matters worse, most of the batters were left-handed, so there wasn’t much action. (At Citizens Bank Park, fans are confined to the left field seats for the first hour.) Still, I john_mayberry_2009.jpgmanaged to snag a few balls. The first was a home run hit by John Mayberry Jr. It pretty much came right to me, but it was so crowded that it still took a decent amount of skill to make the catch. There were half a dozen other fans jostling for position and reaching up in front of my face.

My second ball was initially tossed by Mayberry, but it fell short, hit the top of the left field wall, bounced back onto the outfield grass, and was retrieved by Eric Bruntlett. I hadn’t been the intended recipient of the first throw. It was so eric_bruntlett_2009.jpgcrowded that I was trapped in the third row, but luckily, when Bruntlett sent the ball back into the seats, he flung it sidearm without picking anyone out, and the ball sailed right over the outstretched arms of the people in the first two rows. I jumped and reached up and made the one-handed catch.

Then I used my glove trick for a ball that was sitting halfway out on the warning track, just to the left of the batter’s eye. I had to swing the glove out and knock the ball closer, and while I was doing it, I noticed two things. First, Scott was standing nearby with his camera pointed at me, and second, every single fan around me was doubting my ability to get the ball. They had no idea how I was going to get it to stick inside my glove, so they assumed *I* didn’t have any idea either. Not one person bothered to ask me how I was planning to do it, or if I’d ever done it before. Instead they all trash-talked until I actually snagged it, and then they erupted with a combination of applause and disbelief. One guy patted me on the back and shouted, “I knew you could do it!”

coils.jpg
“No you didn’t,” I told him. “I heard you talking the whole time about how I needed a coil in my glove.”

(A coil?!?!)

He didn’t say anything after that, and I took off for the left field foul pole. There were two balls lying nearby on the warning track, and I managed to reel in the first one with the trick. Just as I was getting close to snagging the second, Arthur Rhodes walked over and picked it up and flipped it to a kid. (Can’t argue with that.)

It was nearly 5:30pm when Joe snagged his first ball of the day. The Reds’ pitchers were playing catch along the left field foul line, and it was tossed by one of them. Joe isn’t sure who, and I didn’t see it because I was busy dealing with the photographer (who later took some photos of me and Joe) in straight-away left field.

Once the rest of the stadium opened, I ran back and forth between right field and left field, trying to give myself an advantage based on who was hitting. Joe eventually came with me to right field, but we didn’t snag anything for the next half-hour because it was so crowded. I suggested to Joe at one point that he should move to the corner spot near the bullpens in right-center. I had a feeling that he’d get a ball over there, but he stayed in straight-away right field, hoping to get a ball from Carlos Fisher. Less than two minutes later, another kid took the corner spot and immediately got a ball tossed to him. (D’oh!) Joe listened to me after that and then tried his luck in the corner spot for a bit…

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…but there was no action there.

Joe wasn’t doing too well in the outfield, so he told me was gonna head over to the Reds’ dugout for the end of BP. I decided to give him his space, so I moved to left field and caught another home run on the fly. I judged the ball perfectly, crept down the steps as it was descending, and intentionally positioned myself a bit too far forward so that I’d be forced to jump for it at the last second. There were SO many people around me that I didn’t want to camp under the ball nonchalantly and risk getting robbed by someone with long arms–or worse, having someone deflect the ball into my face. My plan worked perfectly, except for when some guy’s elbow whacked the top of my head as I went up for the ball.

“Hey! He’s got two!” shouted someone who must’ve seen me catch Mayberry’s homer in that section an hour earlier.

I moved to right-center for the last round of BP and made a catch that truly would’ve been a Web Gem had there been a TV camera documenting it. The ball was hit on a line to my right, and I took off running through an empty row. As the ball was about to land, I could tell that it was a bit too high and just out of reach–that is, if I’d merely kept running and made a simple reaching attempt…so I jumped up and out and coasted through the air with (what felt like) some major hang time, and I made the back-handed catch at top of my leap. This was done while I was running full-speed, mind you, and at the very last second, some HUGE guy (who must have weighed about 275 pounds) stepped down into my row and deflected me (for lack of a better term) onto the row of seats behind me. I went flying and landed on my right hip. The guy knew it was his fault, so he quickly helped me up and asked me if I was okay (I was) and he shook my hand and told me it was a hell of a catch. Even though I was decked out in Reds gear, the entire section responded with thunderous applause. I even had a guy recognize me ten minutes later in the bathroom as “that guy who made the incredible catch.”

When I made it to the Reds’ dugout, Joe had a little surprise for me:

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Not only had he gotten a second ball (from Paul Janish), and not only had he gotten two autographs on his Reds cap (from Micah Owings and Jay Bruce), but he’d also gotten a batting glove! He thinks it came from Jerry Hairston Jr., but there were so many distractions at the dugout that it was hard to see who’d actually tossed it.

Here’s a closer look at the front and back of the batting glove:

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It was the first “bonus item” that Joe had ever gotten at a game. Very cool. We joked about the fact that I couldn’t take credit that he got it, but he admitted that it was my blog that inspired him to start going early to batting practice in the first place. I guess that counts as a team effort.

As for the game itself…wow.

Reds starter Johnny Cueto allowed SEVEN runs in the top of the first inning and promptly left for an early shower:

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But wait…
When he was taken out of the game, he was still responsible for runners on first and second. Daniel Ray Herrera was brought in to face Chase Utley, and I told Joe, “If Utley goes deep here, it’s going to be a ten-run inning.”

Well, guess what happened next.
Just take a look at the scoreboard:

Cueto, who had entered the game with a 2.69 ERA, ended up being charged with nine earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. According to Eric Karabell of ESPN.com, Cueto “became the first Reds pitcher since 1912 to allow nine or more earned runs in less than an inning pitched.”

Ouch.

Joe played the dugouts for third-out balls throughout the game, and I followed him everywhere. Even though he was getting himself into a great position most innings, he wasn’t having any success.

Here he is trying to get a ball as the Reds came off the field after the fourth inning:

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The ball got tossed to someone else. Joe was ready to race back over to the Phillies’ side, but I told him to stay put–that Reds coach Billy Hatcher often tosses the infield warm-up ball into the crowd, and that he (Joe) would have a better shot of getting that ball than a third-out ball on the home team’s side. I also helped Joe by lending him my Reds shirt. That way he’d stand out even more.

Two minutes later, this is what happened:

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That’s Joe standing all by himself at the bottom of the steps as Hatcher is tossing him a ball.

Neither Joe nor I snagged anything else for the rest of the night, but we sat right behind the dugout and saw an interesting (or perhaps “unusual” is a better word) game.

Final score? See below:

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I’ve been to two games this season in which a team has scored exactly 22 runs. The other was 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium.

By the way, did you notice the Reds lineup on the scoreboard in the photo above? Did you see who’s listed as the pitcher? That’s right: Paul Janish, who’s normally an infielder, and it wasn’t pretty. He surrendered all six of those runs in the bottom of the 8th, including a grand slam by Jason Werth. Luckily, Janish is a solid .208 career hitter so at least he has THAT to fall back on.

Gary ended up with three balls, and I know Erik snagged at least two, but he disappeared late in BP, so I’m not sure how his day turned out. As for me and Joe, I might’ve outsnagged him, 6-3, but if you add his two autographs and the batting glove, he got six total “items” as well. Not bad.

After the game, we got to hang out in the car for another hour and a half while I drove him to his grandmother’s place in Brooklyn.

(Check out Joe’s blog if you get a chance.)

SNAGGING STATS:

the_five_balls_i_kept_07_06_09.jpg? 6 balls at this game (Five pictured here because I gave one to a kid on my way out of the stadium. The kid, who looked to be about eight years old, was with his whole family, and he was like, “Are you sure?!” I told him I’d gotten a few during batting practice and that I had one to spare, so then his dad started asking me how I managed to catch all those balls. I gave the family a two-minute lesson on Snagging 101 and wanted to hand them a card so they could go to my website and perhaps appreciate knowing more about the source of their ball, but ultimately I decided to part ways without identifying myself–just a small, anonymous gift from a stranger. I would have given one or more of my baseballs to Joe, but he didn’t want them, just as I hasn’t wanted the Ripken ball at the warehouse.)

• 289 balls in 33 games this season = 8.76 balls per game.

• 602 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 16 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least one ball

• 4,109 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 112 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)

• $24.37 pledged per ball

• $146.22 raised at this game

• $7,042.93 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/3/09 at Rangers Ballpark

Remember that Nolan Ryan statue giveaway that I complained about in my previous entry? Well, I ended up using it to my advantage. I brought the statue with me to this game…

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…and gave it to one of the season ticket holders. In exchange, he brought me into the stadium as his guest when the special “season ticket holders” entrance opened two and a half hours early. I was pumped! The rain had held off. I was gonna have a huge head start on the competition. Double digits would finally be mine. I could FEEL it.

But then I ran inside and saw this:

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The cage was set up for batting practice, but the Rangers weren’t hitting. I don’t think I need to describe how frustrating that was.

I used the downtime to photograph the amazingly wide tunnel on the right field foul line:

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Here’s another look at it from the seats:

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Best.
Stadium.
Ever.

Just before the gates had opened, I met a guy named Dan (aka “drosenda” in the comments) who’s been reading this blog since 2005. He and I ended up hanging out for most of the first hour, and he kindly alerted me when a certain Rangers player began signing autographs along the foul line in shallow right field. I ran over and got the player to sign my ticket. (Note the price.) Can you identify the signature? Apparently this guy hardly ever signs. Here, check it out:

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I got another autograph soon after on my ticket from May 1st:

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That ticket had gotten soaked on May 2nd, but you can hardly tell, right? (Note the price.) Can you identify this autograph?

(The reason why this one was signed in black is that I lost my blue sharpie on 4/24/09 at U.S. Cellular Field, and I haven’t yet had a chance to buy a new one; I’ve been at the mercy of other people’s markers, which often suck.)

The pitchers had already begun playing catch at this point, and when they finished several minutes later, I got Eddie Guardado to toss me a ball near the foul pole where the wall slants up really high.

The White Sox finally took the field. The following photo might suggest that they were defending themselves against a swarm of killer gnats…

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…but in fact they were just stretching.

Batting practice got underway about an hour after the stadium opened…

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…and it ended 25 minutes early! It was a snagging nightmare. The seats were crowded. There were kids everywhere. The White Sox weren’t hitting or throwing much into the stands. And I had to deal with a real jerk. There was a guy (who was about the same age and size as me) who thought it would be a good idea to block/grab me as I tried to run past him up the steps to get in position for a long home run. But that’s not all. When I told him to get his ******* hands off me, he accused me of running into him. It was one of the worst BP’s of my life. I only managed to get one ball. Gavin Floyd tossed it to me in left-center field. Meh.

The highlight for me was simply watching the kids run out onto the batter’s eye for balls:

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That was the one spot that had a decent amount of action, so I was tempted to head over there and claim a spot along the side railing. What kept me from doing that, however, was the fact that I would’ve been twice as old as everyone else. There wasn’t an official “kids only” rule, but that’s how it felt. Also, I noticed that whenever a ball landed there, the kids would dive and slip and pile on top of each other. It was an injury (and a grass stain) waiting to happen. I didn’t want any part of it.

Before BP started, I had gotten a photo with Dan (pictured below in the “W” cap), and after BP ended, I got a photo with another blog reader named Frank (aka “texas4″) who had brought his copy of my book for me to sign:

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It was time to do one final round of wandering. I started by taking a photo of another unique tunnel on the field level…

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…and then headed up to the upper deck. Check out this huge open-air concourse:

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I need to show one more photo of the concourse so you can see how wide it was in one spot. I took the following shot with my back against a closed concession stand. You can see a Six Flags roller coaster poking up in the distance:

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Once again…outstanding design. Why doesn’t every stadium have a concourse this wide? If you’re going to try to cram roughly 50,000 people into one building, especially in Texas where people tend to be rather large, you might as well give them room to walk around.

Here’s a photo from the edge of the upper deck all the way out in left field:

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Here’s my panorama attempt:

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Here’s a look from the very top corner of the upper deck in right field:

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In many stadiums, when the upper deck is empty, security does not allow fans to wander all over the place, but here in Awesome Arlington, the only reason why security stopped me was to ask where I was from. (Screw New York. God Bless Texas.)

Rangers Ballpark, as great as it is, DOES have a few ugly signs of disrepair:

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This surprised me because the stadium is only 15 years old, and really, how hard can it be to fix something like that? Get a little concrete mix. (Or some gray Play-Doh.) I’m pretty sure the upper deck didn’t start falling apart last month, so the question is: why wasn’t it fixed during the off-season?

Here’s a part of the stadium that needs no fixing:

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It’s like the Great Hall at the new Yankee Stadium–minus the ego.

Back in the seating bowl, this was the scene shortly before the game started:

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(Gotta love Carlos Quentin practicing his swing. Has anyone ever had a positive interaction with him? From what I saw, he ignored everyone for three straight days.)

When the players finished throwing, I got Jayson Nix to toss me the ball. That was No. 3 on the day for me–still lousy but at least respectable, given the circumstances.

During the game I sat in center field, right next to the batter’s eye as I had done the previous two nights. This was my view:

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At this stadium, there’s a promotion (I’m still not sure exactly how it works) where if the Rangers score a certain number of runs in a certain inning (or something like that), every fan wins a free taco. Well, it happened last night, and when the usher walked down the stairs and handed me a coupon, this was my reaction:

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Okay, so it happens to be incredibly easy to catch a foul ball at Rangers Ballpark (there’s a great cross-aisle in the second deck, just in front of the press box…just like Miller Park), but so what? This type of fraudulent marketing is not only uncalled for, but it’s downright insulting to ballhawks across North America. I think we should all boycott Taco Bueno.

As for my ridiculous shirt, there might have been a time when I actually thought it looked good, but now I only wear it to make it easier for people to spot me on TV…and hey, it worked! Check it out:

21_espn_screen_shot.jpg

It happened in the bottom of the 8th inning (and thanks, BTW, to everyone who sent me screen shots). Nelson Cruz launched a deep fly ball in my direction, so I got up, scooted down the steps, weaved around a couple fans (without running into them, thank you), and made it to the corner spot at the bottom just as the ball was approaching. I knew it was going to fall short. I knew I didn’t have a chance. Certain camera angles might have made it look like I missed it by six inches, but in fact it was at least four feet away from my outstretched glove. The only reason why I even bothered reaching for it is that I figured I was on TV, and I wanted to look more like a participant than a spectator. But yeah…no chance in the world to catch it. If the ball had been hit a few feet father, I would’ve caught it on the fly, and if it had just gone a few inches father, it probably would’ve landed in the gap and I would’ve been able to retrieve it with my glove trick. But instead, the ball hit the very top edge of the outfield wall and bounced back onto the field.

An inning before the near miss, I got my fourth ball of the day from White Sox center fielder Brent Lillibridge (not to be confused with Derek Lilliquist). It was his between-inning warm-up ball. I didn’t expect a visiting team’s player to toss one into the crowd, but when he looked up toward my section, I suspected that he was gonna let it fly, so I ran down to the front row and waved my arms. I quickly looked around to see if there were any White Sox fans. Maybe he was planning to aim for someone specific? Nope…just a sea of Rangers gear…so when he tossed it a bit over my head and five feet to my right, I didn’t feel guilty about moving back to the second row and making a controlled lunge for it at the last second. Other people had reached for it too. It WAS just intended for the crowd in general, so I went for it and made the catch.

“Give it to the kid!” yelled someone in the third row.

“Yeah! Give it to the kid!” yelled another fan sitting nearby.

What kid? The kid who wasn’t wearing a glove and hadn’t even stood up to make an attempt to catch the ball?

Not.

There was another kid I was thinking about–a little boy who looked to be about seven years old–who’d been sitting between me and his dad in the 9th row. They were both wearing gloves, and his dad had been teaching him about baseball throughout the game. It was such a sweet scene, so when I got back to my seat, I held out the ball for the kid and said, “Here, I think you should have this. I got a few others today.”

The kid’s face LIT UP, and his jaw dropped in such an exaggerated way that he could’ve been a cartoon character.

“What do you say?” prompted his father.

“Thank you,” mumbled the kid without taking his eyes off the ball. Turns out it was the first ball he’d ever gotten, so I pointed out a few things about the logo and explained the “practice” stamp on the sweet spot. That was definitely one of the highlights of my day.

Another highlight? Seeing a vendor eating ice cream while selling ice cream:

22_ice_cream_vendor.jpg

The game itself was fine. Nothing special. The Rangers won, 5-1, and as soon as the final out was recorded, I threw on my White Sox cap and rushed over to the bullpen and got coach Juan Nieves to throw me a ball. But he missed. Of course. He flung it carelessly and it sailed ten feet to my left. Thankfully he had another ball and was nice enough to under-hand it right to me.

As the last member of the Sox was packing up, I noticed that there was a lineup card taped to the wall:

23_bullpen_after_game.jpg

I started to ask the guy for it, but he hurried out of the bullpen before I had a chance to finish my request.

Hmm…

There were still a few fans milling about. Three groundskeepers entered the bullpen and began working on the mound. I walked down to the front row and asked them if they could give me the lineup card. They ignored me. An old usher walked over and told me it was time to leave. I explained why I was still there, so he encouraged me to ask them again, but insisted (very politely) that I’d have to leave after that.

“Excuse me, guys–” I began.

“Can’t do it,” one of them snapped without looking up.

I headed up the steps with the usher…who then walked off and left me there. There were a few other employees walking around, but none of them approached me, so I took off my Waldo shirt (I had the plain white t-shirt on underneath) and put on my Rangers cap. I figured that’d make me blend in more. The groundskeepers kept working on the mound, so I took a seat in the last row and watched them. There was nothing else to do. My flight back to NYC was still 17 hours away, so as long as I wasn’t getting kicked out, there was no reason to leave. I was hoping that the three guys would eventually finish up with the mound and then disappear…and that perhaps a different member of the grounds crew would wander into the ‘pen. Sure enough, about 15 minutes later, the three guys covered the mound and took off. The bullpen was empty. This is what it looked like from where I was sitting:

24_waiting_for_lineup_card.jpg

I couldn’t believe that I was allowed to just sit there, but this wasn’t New York, so anything was possible.

Five minutes later, the sprinklers came on…

25_sprinklers.jpg

…and five minutes after that, a few other groundskeepers exited the bullpen in right-center and started walking along the warning track toward my side of the field. This was my chance! I waited at the back of the section until they got closer, then rushed down the steps and caught their attention at the bottom.

“Excuse me,” I began, “I believe there’s a lineup card taped to the wall in the bullpen, and if you guys aren’t planning to save it, it would mean a lot to me if I could possibly have it.”

They looked at each other like I was crazy, then flagged down another groundskeeper (who must’ve been their boss) and explained what I wanted and asked if it was okay.

“I don’t give two *****,” said the guy who then walked briskly into the bullpen, headed over to the lineup card, yanked it off the wall (which made me cringe, but thankfully it didn’t tear), and handed it to me.

SWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was barely filled out, but that’s to be expected from a bullpen lineup card. All that mattered was that it was official. It had a nice big “Sox” logo on the upper right. It had “5/3 @ Texas” written on the upper left in blue marker, and the Rangers’ lineup had been written in as well, along with a few bench players’ names at the bottom.

Moments after I got it, a couple other fans conveniently wandered down into the section, and I got them to take the following photo. I think you can tell how happy I was:

26_zack_lineup_card.jpg

So yes, even though I lost more than an hour of batting practice, and even though I had a frustrating near miss during the game, it ended up being a great day. I can’t wait to go back to this ballpark. Hugs and kisses to Texas.

SNAGGING STATS:

27_sox_lineup_card.jpg
• 5 balls at this game

• 128 balls in 17 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

• 586 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,948 total balls

• 15 lifetime lineup cards (click here for the complete collection, including the full-sized version of the one pictured here)

CHARITY STATS:

• 103 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)

• $20.38 pledged per ball

• $101.90 raised at this game

• $2,608.64 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/28/08 at Shea Stadium

Last game EVER at Shea Stadium?

When I got off the No. 7 train and saw the tarp covering the infield…

final_day1_no_BP.jpg

…I had no idea if I’d ever be back at this ballpark.

The Mets entered this day–the last day of the regular season–tied for
the Wild Card with the Brewers, who were scheduled to play the
first-place Cubs at 2:05pm at Miller Park. If both the Mets and Brewers
won, or if they both
lost, they’d face each other the next day in a one-game playoff at Shea
to determine
who’d be moving on to the post-season.

I’d never been to a game with more history and uncertainty, and yet because of the gray sky and thick damp
air, there was an eerie calmness surrounding Shea as I made my way
toward Gate C:

final_day2_marquee.jpg

It was only 9:30am–more than three-and-a-half-hours until game
time–when I passed the ticket windows and saw a small line of hopeful
fans:

final_day3_line_for_tickets.jpg

I already had a ticket–not a very good one, but at least I was
guaranteed to get inside the ballpark. The seat was way up in the top
corner of the upper deck. I’d bought it on StubHub
two weeks earlier (for $100 plus shipping and handling) when my plans
to spend the last weekend of the season at Camden Yards fell through.
At that time, the Mets were cruising toward a first-place finish. I
didn’t expect this game to be THE final game, so I wasn’t too concerned
about my seat location.

I was, however, deeply concerned about the snagging situation. I wasn’t
thinking about catching 10 balls. I just wanted one. One lousy ball.
Even a training ball.
Anything. I was desperate. I just wanted to keep my streak alive. I
didn’t think there was going to be batting practice, and I figured
there’d be a ton of fans showing up early, and I assumed that security
would be extra strict. Would I even be able to get into the Field Level
to try to get a player to toss me a ball? I had no idea.

scott_olsen.jpg
oliver_perez_.jpg

Then there was the issue of the final home run at Shea. The two
starting pitchers were left-handed–Scott Olsen for the Marlins and
Oliver Perez for the Mets–which meant there’d be more right-handed
batters, which meant that if anyone DID hit a home run, it would likely
be pulled to left field, which meant it would likely land in the
bleachers. But how the hell was I possibly going to get in there? The
bleachers at Shea, as I’ve mentioned before, are part of the larger
“picnic area.” To get in there you specifically need a “picnic” ticket, and
those are normally only sold to groups of 100 or more.

I had a trick up my sleeve, but it was risky, so I was pretty
nervous
about the whole thing…and yet I *had* to get in there. The LAST home
run at Shea was at stake. I couldn’t bear the thought of being
trapped in the main part of the stadium and not even giving myself a
chance to catch it.

Well, as fate would have it, I was waiting outside Gate C (which was about to
open) when my friend Eric walked over. He’d been standing in line at
the ticket windows and was finally rewarded when the Mets released a few seats. He’d bought
one for $47. I asked him where it was. He said it was in the picnic
area. My jaw dropped and I asked him if he would be willing to trade.

“You want to sit out THERE?!” he asked. (Not everyone collects baseballs.)

“Umm, YEAH!!!” I said.

So we traded. I was in shock. This was my new ticket…

final_day4_ticket.jpg
…and I used it to get into the bleachers at the start of
batting practice. Yes, the Mets were actually hitting. I couldn’t
believe it. It wasn’t just drizzling–it
was raining. Look how wet the railings were
at the front of the bleachers:

final_day5_wet_railing.jpg

Everything was wet. Mike Pelfrey threw me a wet ball within the
first five minutes, and Brandon Knight tossed me another soon after.
The ball from Knight was commemorative. Here it is:

final_day6_ball3812.jpg

These were the only two balls I snagged during the Mets’ portion of
BP. I should’ve had a third but I misjudged a home run that ended up
sailing a few feet over my glove. I’d misjudged one the day before
as well. That one fell short. I blamed the weather. The air was heavy
and damp, and the ball just didn’t carry. Why, then, under identical
circumstances one day later, did this one sail too far? I couldn’t
figure it out. Maybe it was me and not the weather. Maybe I was losing
my touch. It wasn’t a good sign.

The Mets finished BP early, and the Marlins were nowhere in sight, so I
headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I saw as I approached the 3rd base dugout. Very frustrating:

final_day6a_waiting_for_marlins_BP.jpg

Eventually a few Marlins came out and started playing catch, and when
they finished, I called out to coach Bo Porter and got him to throw me
the following ball:

final_day7_ball3813.jpg

I didn’t know it at the time, but the Marlins had just played a
series in Washington, D.C. That’s why they had one (and probably more)
of the Nationals’ baseballs.

The Marlins started hitting, so I raced back out to the bleachers. My
fourth ball of the day was tossed by a pitcher that I couldn’t
identify, and my fifth was a ground-rule double that bounced right to
me off the warning track in left-center.

I would’ve had a sixth ball if Matt Treanor were as athletic as his wife.
I got him to throw one to me from a couple hundred feet away, but his
aim was off and he didn’t put quite enough velocity on it, and it
never reached me. Then the rain got more intense, and the grounds crew quickly covered the field:

final_day8_BP_ends_early.jpg

I gave one of my balls to a security guard who wanted one for his nephew
and then I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I
unexpectedly saw when I entered the street-level concourse:

final_day9_mets_legends_arrive.jpg

I had no idea what was going on, and of course I couldn’t see a
damn thing, so I asked around and learned that a few dozen former Mets
were entering the stadium.

I headed up the ramps and emerged in the Field Level seats. The tarp was on the field, and all the players were gone…

final_day10_tarp_field_level.jpg

…so I headed up to the right field corner of the upper deck and
took a few photos of Citi Field. Here’s a look at the whole stadium:

final_day11_citi_field.jpg

This was the view slightly to the left:

final_day12_citi_field.jpg

The following photo shows some of the construction clutter on the open-air concourse of the upper deck…

final_day13_citi_field.jpg

…and this last shot provides a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Notice how the escalators are covered in plastic:

final_day14_citi_field.jpg

I headed back down to the Field Level and got a final reminder of
why Shea is such a dump. As you can see below, there was a huge puddle
in one of the tunnels that wouldn’t drain:

final_day15_flooded_tunnel.jpg

The rain finally stopped. The grounds crew started getting the
field ready. The first pitch was pushed back to 2pm. I used the extra
time to wander and take photos of some of the many signs that fans had brought. I’m not sure
what all the names on the sign below have in common (other than all
being former Mets) but it was still cool:

final_day16_sign.jpg

These guys were intense:

final_day17_sign.jpg

This dude hit the nail on the head:

final_day18_sign.jpg

This was one of several signs that made a play on the word “Shea”:

final_day19_sign.jpg

This fan needed a thicker marker and some extra glue:

final_day20_sign.jpg

This woman (for those unfamiliar with Mets history) was talking
about Mike Piazza. Notice how the actual retired numbers can be seen in
the background:

final_day21_sign.jpg

Marc Anthony sang the national anthem, and the bleachers looked more crowded than ever:

final_day22_national_anthem.jpg

Several Marlins started playing catch in front of the
dugout, and I was tempted to run over because I *knew* I would’ve
gotten at least one ball. I was one of the only fans in the stadium
with Marlins gear (and believe me, I felt icky and embarrassed whenever
I wore it), but I decided to forget the Fish and head to the bleachers
instead. That section is normally general admission, but during this
final weekend of the regular season, Mets management decided that
assigned seating was the way to go. My actual seat was in the second
row behind the yellow “WISE” advertisement, but there was no way I was
gonna sit there. Second row?! Are you kidding me?! That’s no way to
catch a home run ball, and anyway, I didn’t want to sit all the way out
in left-center. I didn’t know where I was going to sit, but I figured
it was best to head out there ASAP and start looking for a spot. On the
way, I took a photo (from behind) of some fans holding up big
orange-and-blue letters that spelled “GOODBYE SHEA”:

final_day23_sign.jpg

Then I ran into Elvis…

final_day24_elvis.jpg

…and made my way to the bleachers. Amazingly, I found ONE empty space on a two-person bench at the front of the cross-aisle.

final_day24a_my_seat.jpg

If I’d had a choice, I would’ve picked a spot in straight-away left
field. This empty seat was closer to left-center than I wanted to be,
but hey, it was still great compared to where I was supposed to be
sitting. Anyway, once I was there, I realized that I probably wasn’t
going to have to move. As you can see in the photo above, there were
little wheelchair logos embedded into the metal flooring next to the
small benches–but there weren’t any fans in wheelchairs. If there had
been, they obviously would’ve had the right to sit there, but as things
stood, those little benches were up for grabs so I sat there guilt-free.

Everyone kept their eyes on the out-of-town scores throughout the day,
and because of the rain delay, our game basically started at the same
time as the Brewers game. This was my view of the giant
scoreboard…

final_day25_scoreboard_watching.jpg

…and here’s a closer look at the Cubs-Brewers game:

final_day26_scoreboard_watching.jpg

I hadn’t been looking when the Cubs’ score changed from “0” to “1”
so
when the whole stadium cheered wildly for no apparent reason, I took a
quick peek at the scoreboard and then joined the celebration.

This was my view straight ahead…

final_day27_view_during_game.jpg

…and this was the view to my right:

final_day28_view_to_my_right.jpg

I knew I was in a good spot to jump up and run for any ball that
might fly my way, but at the same time I knew it was going to be a mob
scene, and I wasn’t THAT optimistic.

Meanwhile, there was quite a pitchers’ duel in progress:

final_day29_pitchers_duel.jpg

The Mets went down one-two-three in the bottom of the fifth, and
the Marlins quickly got on the board in the sixth. Cameron Maybin led
off with a ground-rule double and scored on a single by John Baker.
Jorge Cantu followed with a single of his own, and then both runners
tagged up and moved into scoring position on a deep fly out to
left-center by Mike Jacobs. Perez intentionally walked Dan Uggla to
load the bases and was promptly taken out of the game. What did
reliever Joe Smith do? He walked Josh Willingham to force in a run.
Cody Ross then popped up to third and Alfredo Amezaga ended the inning
with a soft come-backer, but the damage had been done. The Marlins were
ahead, 2-0.

carlos_beltran.jpg
In the bottom of the sixth, pinch hitter Robinson Cancel got things
started with a leadoff walk, and Jose Reyes followed with a routine fly
out to right. That brought up Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter who was
batting from the right side. The first pitch missed the zone. The
second pitch was an 88-mph fastball, belt-high over the outside corner,
and Beltran crushed it in my direction.

It was clearly going to travel a long way, but at the instant that it
left the bat, I wasn’t sure if it would be a fly out to the warning
track or a home run that traveled 50 feet over my head. The only thing
I could do was jump up and start moving. The ball was heading about 20
feet to my right, so I darted through the aisle in that direction. No
one else reacted as quickly as I had so the aisle was still fairly
empty for the first 10 feet. Then, as I realized that the ball WAS
going to leave the yard and that it WAS at least going to land
somewhere near the aisle, I had to weave in and out of a few fans. The
ball was coming. I kept moving. I kept my eye on it and sensed all the
moving bodies around me. The aisle got extremely crowded. Everyone was
standing. There were no kids. Everyone was tall. I was in a forest. I
had to elevate above the tallest trees, and I had to pick the right
spot and time it perfectly. The ball kept
coming…coming…coming…and I couldn’t believe I was even going to
be close enough to be able to make an attempt to catch it, but it
descended right toward me, and I jumped up at the last second and
WILLED myself through the sea of hands and bodies that were fighting to
invade my air space. The ball came all the way down, and I went up and
caught it. Bam. Just like that. There was such a frenzy in the
bleachers at that point that my hat got knocked off. I was as stunned
and excited as ever. You know that Barry Bonds home run I caught a few
years ago? That was nothing in comparison. Check out this screen shot
of my initial reaction. It was a moment of utter
disbelief before I really started celebrating:

final_day30_zack_celebrating1.jpg

Then I moved on to the “Oh my God” phase:

final_day31_zack_celebrating2a.jpg

Then there was a bit of “I think I’m the Man but this might not really be happening so I’ll just keep my arms up in case”:

final_day32_zack_celebrating3a.jpg

Then people started mobbing me, not to try to steal the ball (which
I probably shouldn’t have even taken out of my glove in the first place
except I had to see it to believe it) but just to celebrate with me.
It’s like I was part of the play. Everyone had to touch me. I felt
someone bear-hugging me from behind while another hand started rubbing
my shaved head:

final_day33_zack_celebrating4.jpg

The celebration just wouldn’t end:

final_day34_zack_celebrating5.jpg

Then, after I tucked the ball back inside my glove, there were some high-fives…

final_day35_zack_celebrating6.jpg

…followed by more hugging and head-rubbing:

final_day36_zack_celebrating7.jpg

And some more high-fives. Check it out…two at once:

final_day37_zack_celebrating8.jpg

It was THE…CRAZIEST…HAPPIEST…MOMENT…EVER. I’m not sure if anything will ever top it.

(Click here
to watch the actual video footage. If there’s anyone reading this
who taped the game on SNY and can get me the full clip, please get in touch…)

As soon as the minute-long love-fest concluded, the potential magnitude
of the situation sunk in even more: I was holding, at least at that
point, the LAST home run hit at Shea Stadium.

“I need an authenticator!!!” I started shouting at every security guard in sight.

They were all like…huh? So I kept shouting and rambling about how
Major League Baseball has authenticators at every game and that I needed to see one right away.

One of the guards told me to talk to the supervisor–a very friendly
woman named Kim–who knew what I was talking about (thank God) and had
me wait in my seat for a few minutes. So I did…and I kept getting
mobbed (in a good way) by people who wanted to take pictures of/with me
and the ball, which I never let out of my hands. One guy was like,
“C’mon, what’m I gonna do with it?”

“I don’t know,” I told him, “and that’s why it’s not leaving my hand. You can hold the ball WITH me if you want.”

He was willing to accept that…so while I had my death-grip on 90
percent of the ball, he touched as much of the remaining part of the
ball as he could and his friend took a pic.

I made an exception about letting go of the ball for the
authenticator. I figured he wasn’t going to try to steal it. Kim came
and got me and led me down the steps to the area behind the bleachers.
The authenticator, pictured below…

final_day38_authenticator.jpg

…emerged from the gated area behind the batter’s eye. I’m not
even sure what he said. The whole thing was a blur. I think he
congratulated me, or maybe I’m just hoping he did. I wanted to ask a
million questions, but he clearly didn’t have too much time to spare. I
asked what his name was, and two seconds after he told me, I’d already
forgotten. All I know is that he had a pad-like clipboard thing and a
roll of stickers, each with a different serial number. He peeled one
off and stuck it on the ball and then made some notations. I’m not even
sure if he had a corresponding sticker. Like I said, it was all a blur.
This was the first ball I’d ever gotten authenticated, and my mind was
racing like you wouldn’t believe.

He was very calm about the whole thing. I was kinda happy…

final_day39_authenticator_and_zack.jpg

…and when I got back to the seats, the death-grip returned:

final_day40_zack_with_ball.jpg

Here’s a look at the sticker:

final_day41_the_ball_closeup_at_shea.jpg

Here’s another look at it. I took this pic when I got home to show how it changes colors in the light:

final_day42_authentication_sticker.jpg

Here’s the commemorative logo:

final_day43_commemorative_logo.jpg

Here’s the whole thing:

final_day44_one_more_look_at_the_ball.jpg

People kept coming up to me for the rest of the game. They wanted to
see the ball, touch the ball, shake my hand, ask me questions, etc.
Several people recognized me as THAT GUY who’d recently caught the home runs on
back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium, and a few others recognized me
from various articles and interviews. One guy came over to talk to me
and blocked everyone’s view behind him, so security told him he had to
return to his seat. What did he do next? He crouched down next to me on
my right, which meant he was completely blocking my path into the
aisle. When I told him not to block me, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get
out of the way if one comes.”

“Sir,” I wanted to say, “in the time it would take you to turn your big
head 45 degrees to watch the initial flight of the ball, I’d be 10
steps down the aisle. Now please, get the **** out of my way.”

But instead I asked him nicely to move, and he did.

A woman returned to her seat with a mini-helmet filled with cookies-n-cream Dippin’ Dots.

“Can I buy that from you?” I asked.

“I’ll give it to you,” she said, “in exchange for that ball you caught.”

I had nine new voice-mails on my cell phone by that point. I hadn’t heard my
phone ring, and I couldn’t listen to the messages, because there was no
reception. (Thanks, T-Mobile.)

Who was I supposed to root for at that point? It was hard for me to
root against the Mets, but I realized that if they lost and the Brewers
(who were now leading the Cubs, 3-1, in the eighth) held on and won, there
wouldn’t be another game at Shea…ever…and I might end up being the
fan who got the last home run there. I just needed the Mets and Marlins
NOT to hit another longball…and they obliged in the seventh inning.

Wow, 12 more outs to go…

In the top of the eighth, with the score still tied at 2-2, Jerry
Manuel brought in the left-handed Scott Schoeneweis to face the
left-handed hitting Jacobs. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez answered by
pinch hitting with the right-handed Wes Helms. Three pitches into the
at-bat, Helms crushed a line drive into the bleachers.
Noooooooooooooo!!! I almost caught it and surely would have if it’d
just traveled an additional 10 feet.

“Your ball is now worthless,” said an annoying fan behind me.

“Not really,” I said. “It’s still the last METS homer at Shea.”

Uggla, a righty, was due to bat next, so Manuel replaced Blow-eneweis
with the right-handed Luis Ayala. Uggla worked a full count, and then
BOOM!!! Another home run…again into the bleachers but too far over
toward straight-away left field for me to even get near it.

“Your ball is now REALLY worthless,” said Mr. Annoying.

“Okay,” I told him, “then don’t buy it.”

I didn’t have any intention of selling it–I’ve never sold a ball–but it
was still fun to think about how much it would potentially be worth.

Ayala retired the next three batters.

The Mets got the tying runs on base with two outs in the bottom of the
eighth, but couldn’t bring them home. The Brewers game went final. They
beat the Cubs, 3-1. The Mets HAD to score at least two runs in the
bottom of the ninth or their season was done.

The Marlins didn’t score in the top of the ninth. I looked at the
batters that the Mets would be sending up in the bottom of the inning:
David Wright followed by 1) a lefty, 2) a pinch hitter who was probably
going to be a lefty since the right-handed Matt Lindstrom was coming
into the game, and 3) more lefties. I decided to stay in the bleachers
for Wright and then bolt toward the Marlins’ dugout.

Wright worked a full count and forced Lindstrom to throw eight pitches,
but on that final pitch, he popped up to Uggla at second base.

I took off for the main part of the stadium and used one final trick
(which I can not reveal) to get myself back into the Field Level.
Before I made it to the seats behind the dugout, Endy Chavez hit a come-backer. Two
outs. Time for a pinch hitter. Who would it be? Damion Easley?! A
righty?! Crap. Well, it was too late now. All I could do was wander on
down toward the dugout and wait. The count went full…

final_day46_game_almost_over.jpg

…and then he walked. Tying run to the plate. Ryan Church. I put
on my Marlins cap and Marlins shirt and got some mean looks from
everyone around me, which I definitely deserved, but hey, business is
business.

Church took the first pitch for a ball and then launched the next one
380 feet. Unfortunately for the Mets, he happened to hit it to the
deepest part of the ballpark. Maybin caught the ball just shy of the
warning track in right-center, and just like that, Shea Stadium was
history.

The Marlins players and coaches formed a line near the mound and
started shaking hands and patting each other on the butts. Nothing
unusual about that, right? Well, just about every fan in the stadium
started chanting, “OFF THE FIELD!!! OFF THE FIELD!!!”

It was really sad and embarrassing. I was sorry not only that this
would be one of my lasting memories of Shea, but that I was even there
to be a part of it. I wasn’t participating in the chant, but still, I
was part of the crowd, and it hurt. That said, I couldn’t blame the fans who were
chanting. Everyone was so upset about the Mets’ second straight
collapse, and everyone had to find some way to express themselves. As
for me? I capitalized on the loss by turning it into an additional
collecting opportunity. If the Marlins had lost, they might’ve all
disappeared into the clubhouse and gotten right on their bus, but since
they won and spilled out onto the field, I knew there was a chance to
get stuff from them…and sure enough, that’s exactly
what happened.

I got a batting glove from Helms as soon as he popped out of the dugout
(he tossed his other glove to a fan 10 feet away) and got Cantu’s cap
as everyone headed back in.

Not bad.

I quickly got the hell away from the dugout and ran into my friend Clif
(aka “goislanders4″ if you read the comments on this blog) and changed
out of my Marlins gear. The “bonus items” I’d received were nice, but
still…Marlins…yuck:

final_day47_zack_bonus_items.jpg

Here’s a look at the (smelly) cap…

final_day48_jorge_cantu_cap.jpg

…and here’s the batting glove which, as you can see below, has Helms’ uniform number stitched onto the wrist:

final_day49_wes_helms_batting_glove.jpg

THAT was cool. I’ve gotten a bunch of batting gloves over the years, and I’ve never seen a player’s number on any of them.

Clif’s mom Gail caught up with us, and we all headed up to the
Mezzanine (third deck) to watch the closing ceremony. What did we see
on our way up the ramps? Another example of Mets fans having expressed themselves:

final_day50_vomit.jpg

The ceremony was fine, I guess, but I had NO interest in being
there. I’d experienced my best day ever as a collector. What more did I
need? I mean, it was nice, I suppose, to see Dwight Gooden and Darryl
Strawberry and other Mets heroes from my childhood walk back out onto
the field one last time…

final_day51_ceremony.jpg

….but it was as bittersweet as it gets. Everyone in
the stadium was upset. I just didn’t want to be there. Neither did
Gail. Clif kinda wanted to stay–he commemorated his final minutes
inside the stadium by photographing the inside of his favorite
bathroom–but even he knew it was time.

I took a final pic of the Beltran ball as I walked through the parking lot…

final_day52_parking_lot.jpg

…and was sent on my way with a few fireworks:

final_day53_parking_lot.jpg

“Oh look,” said Gail, “they’re already blowing up the stadium.”

When I got home, I was finally able to listen to my voice-mails. Here are the top three:

1) From my friend Justen: “Zack, did you just do it again? Did
you catch Beltran’s ball? I got friends callin’ me talking about you
because they just saw you at the Mets game…dude, you are a f*ckin’
superstar.”

2) From Clif: “You’re ridiculously amazing. I seriously
can’t believe it. I didn’t even see you catch it, but like, I looked up
on the JumboTron and I saw you and your hat fall off and whatever…and
you jumped up and down and you held your three fingers up. That was
ridiculous, and like, Marco called me and he was like, ‘Oh did you see
Zack Hample catch Carlos Beltran’s home run?’ That was ridiculolus.
This is Clif by the way, but um, yeah, okay, bye. Oh, and I saw you
getting escorted or whatever, like, they took you out of the picnic
area. They took someone off. But you probably caught the last home run
at Shea, so congratulations. Bye.”

3) From my friend Mike: “Zack Hample, it is Mike Marshall,
former vendor at Shea and the old Yankee Stadium. Alright, so I had a
really emotional day and I’m pretty upset in the general scheme of
things and extremely exhausted, and I’m sitting on my computer chair,
looking at my plasma TV, and I swear to God I saw you catch Carlos
Beltran’s homer, and if that’s true, holy sh*t, man, you are the
American Dream. You’re my hero. F*ck the bleacher creatures and all the
people who don’t get it. But uh, I think that was you. I haven’t had
time to check your blog, and they didn’t, uh, feature you on ESPN, but
tell me that was you. Gimme a call. On a very miserable, long
homestand, I jumped out of my chair and went, ‘No waaay, that can’t
be!!!’ and my woman doesn’t understand, but you might’ve made my night
if you caught that ball. Take it easy. About a hundred and fifty days
until pitchers and catchers report. Later. Happy New Year! Shanah
Tovah.”

Anyway, yeah. That pretty much sums it up.

It took a few days for me to find the time to write this monster blog
entry, and it took the same amount of time for the media to realize
that I, Zack Hample, am the guy who caught the Beltran homer. Carl
Bialik, who writes a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s web site, posted
this entry
about it, and the story has been taking off ever since. It’s now
12:32am ET on Wednesday, October 1st. Just a few hours ago, I started
getting blog comments and emails from people telling me I was on the
front page of Yahoo…and they weren’t joking. Here’s a screen shot…

yahoo_09_30_08.jpg

…and here’s the story.

This game at Shea might end up being my final game of 2008. I have no idea, but regardless, here are the stats…

? 6 balls at this game

? 539 balls in 72 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 568 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 338 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball

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

? 5 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly
at games in New York at which the attendance was at least 52,000)

? 124 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 8 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)

? 99 lifetime game balls in New York

? 78 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium

? 3,816 total balls

9/24/08 at Citizens Bank Park

I knew this was going to be a good day when I bought a bottle of water at a 7-Eleven on the way to Philadelphia and got a 1917 penny in my change:

1917_penny.jpg

It also didn’t hurt that my girlfriend Jona was with me; good things tend to happen when she’s around.

When the stadium opened at 4:35pm, I raced inside and briefly had the left field seats to myself:

zack_left_field_seats_09_24_08.jpg

There weren’t any balls hiding in the flower bed, nor were there any home runs that flew my way, but I did have a chance to use my glove trick when a ball rolled to the wall in left-center field. In the following photo, you can see me way off in the distance, leaning over the railing as I was getting the glove to lower onto the ball:

zack_glove_trick_09_24_08.jpg

Ten minutes later, I snagged my second ball of the day–a home run hit by a righty on the Phillies that landed several rows in front of me and began rolling sideways through the seats. Several other fans quickly closed in on it, and I thought I was out of luck, but then the ball kicked back my way just enough for me to lunge and grab it underneath a seat. As I reached for it, my right shoulder happened to bump the back of the seat where a woman, who was also scrambling for the ball, happened to be bracing herself. As a result, one of her fingers happened to get pinched between my shoulder and the seat, and she reacted as if I’d killed her firstborn.

“I’m terribly sorry,” I said but she wouldn’t accept my apology. Instead, she proceeded to shake her hand (to exaggerate the pain) for a good 30 seconds while looking around for support from her fellow fans. No one noticed or cared. There was nothing TO notice. It was the most minor incident (if it could even be called that) in the history of baseball-snagging. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and she finally realized this and let it go.

Drama aside, things were going well. I’d been in the stadium for about 20 minutes, and I’d snagged two baseballs–a decent pace for reaching double digits, but then my snagging suffered a disastrous interruption. Several stadium employees (one of whom has an arrow pointing to him in the photo below) started combing through the seats and telling all the fans to head back up to the concourse and exit the stadium through the left field gate:

evacuation1_begins.jpg

In the 750 (or so) games I’ve attended in my life, I’ve been denied batting practice for a variety of reasons–bad weather, subway delays, fan photo events, policemen vs. firemen softball games, etc.–but what kind of sick joke was this?!

Apparently it wasn’t a joke. I heard rumors of a “bomb scare” as I walked through the concourse and headed toward the gate:

evacuation2_exiting.jpg

Once all the fans AND employees had been evacuated, the gate was closed behind us.

And then we waited…

evacuation3_crowd_outside.jpg

…and waited.

And waited.

So much for this being a good day, I thought.

I stayed close to the gate and kept trying not to look at the clock inside the stadium. I couldn’t help it. It was 5:15pm. Then 5:20. Then 5:30, at which point I knew the Phillies were off the field so I changed into my Braves gear.

“We’ll be opening back up any minute,” said a Phillies official who was brave enough to remain on the inside of the stadium.

Meanwhile, the rumors about the bomb scare were taking shape. Just about everyone, it seemed, was on a cell phone, talking to someone they knew who lived nearby and was watching the live coverage on the news.

I overheard someone talking about “suspicious packages.”

evacuation4_zack.jpgIt was 5:45pm. I wasn’t happy.

There was half an hour of batting practice remaining. I thought about stepping out of line and walking b
ack to the ticket office and demanding a refund and driving back to New York City…but I decided to wait a little longer, at least until batting practice would be ending. If I wasn’t back inside by then…then screw it.

I overheard someone talking about the suspicious packages being a shipment of hot dogs.

?!?!?!?!

It was 5:50pm.

The Phillies official approached the gate and made an announcement (that only 38 people heard) that all fans who had already been inside the stadium would have to get their tickets re-scanned.

I wondered if that would even work with those stupid scanners, and the official was probably wondering the same thing because he then borrowed a woman’s ticket (without asking her if she’d already been inside) and tested it. Whaddaya know, it worked.

It was 5:55pm when the stadium reopened. I’d missed over an hour of batting practice. I raced back to the left field seats to look for easter eggs–there weren’t any because the employees had already reentered through another gate–and then sprinted around to the right field side, hoping to salvage my day:

zack_right_field_09_24_08.jpg

I quickly caught a home run on a fly that was hit by a righty on the Braves. Nothing special. It was an uncontested, chest-high, one-handed catch that I made while drifting to my right through the front row in right-center field. When I looked down at the warning track, I saw Jeff Bennett looking back up at me.

“You like that?!” I shouted.

He didn’t respond.

Five minutes later, I got a ball tossed to me by Braves “Baseball Systems Operator” Alan Butts. It was totally lucky. I was in the fourth row. Several fans were in the front row. I saw them yelling for a ball and didn’t even know who they were yelling at. All of a sudden, a ball sailed up and flew five feet over their heads and came RIGHT to me. It almost made up for the home run I misjudged and didn’t snag soon after.

That was it for BP. Four balls. It was pretty sad.

I ran over to the Braves’ dugout just before the players and coaches came off the field. I positioned myself behind the home-plate end and waved my arms in the hopes that SOMEone would see me and flip me a ball:

zack_dugout_after_BP1.jpg

Not only did I get a crappy (though interestingly streaked) training ball from hitting coach Terry Pendleton…

ball3799_training_streaks.jpg

…but I also got a bat from Greg Norton:

zack_dugout_after_BP2.jpg

Mama mia! This instantly made the whole day worthwhile. The bat wasn’t even cracked, and I hadn’t even asked for it. Norton had just slid it to me across the dugout roof without warning. That’s how I’ve gotten all four of my bats–just dumb luck–and you can see them all (along with some other “bonus items”) on this page on my web site.

I was afraid that stadium security would make me leave the bat with Fan Assistance until after the game (that’s what happened on 9/22/06 at Camden Yards), but no one said a word and I was left in peace to enjoy the delightful essence of pine tar.

I had 3,799 lifetime balls when several Braves began their pre-game throwing along the left field foul line. The seats were practically full by that point (damn the Phillies for being in first place) so I wasn’t able to position myself in a good spot. I had to squeeze against a railing next to two women (who were there for some unknown reason), and when Martin Prado ended up with the ball, my view of him was partially blocked by an usher and a cop who were standing on the warning track. Well, Prado ended up spotting me anyway, and you can see how the whole thing played out in the four-part pic below. Starting on the top left and then going clockwise, I’m a) waving to get Prado’s attention, b) watching and waiting and determining if I’m going to need to jump as his throw sails toward me, c) reaching up as high as I can and making the catch without jumping, and d) holding up the ball and feeling great about life:

zack_snagging_3800th_ball.jpg

Here’s it is–ball No. 3,800:

ball3800_martin_prado.jpg

I can’t really say that Jona and I “snuck” down to the Phillies’ dugout in the top of the 1st inning because that would imply that the ushers were trying to keep us out. Ins
tead, we waltzed down to the dugout and grabbed a couple seats on the end of a row, about eight rows back. Conveniently, Ryan Howard ended up with the ball at the howard_kotchman.jpg
end of the inning courtesy of Brett Myers, who induced a 1-6-3 double-play groundout from Omar Infante. I was down in the front row before Howard even caught the throw from Jimmy Rollins (and of course I crouched down as I crept there so I wouldn’t block anyone’s view), and I had exactly NO competition as he jogged off the field and tossed me the ball.

Fast-forward seven outs. It was the bottom of the second inning. I was sitting with Jona in a similar spot on the Braves’ side. Jo-Jo Reyes got Chris Coste to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play. Casey Kotchman took the throw at first base and began jogging toward me. I was wearing my Braves hat and Braves shirt. There were no kids in sight. None of the grown-ups were aware of the snagging opportunity that was about to unfold. It was going to be so easy that I was almost embarrassed. It’s like the ball was guaranteed, and sure enough, Kotchman flipped it right to me.

That was my 8th ball of the day. Not bad.

Believe it or not, I was prepared at that point to call it quits on the snagging and just sit and watch the game with Jona (and root for the Braves). So that’s what we did…until the top of the fourth inning when the guy whose seats we were in decided to show up.

The field level seats were as crowded as I’d ever seen them, and since our actual seats were way up at the top of the upper deck, there was no place to go. Therefore, we wandered and ate and checked out the view from the party deck (or whatever it’s called) in the deepest part of center field. I’d never been up there, and this is why:

worst_view_ever.jpg

Awful! You can’t even see two of the outfielders, but I guess if you like to drink and you’re willing to think of the deck as a bar with a $10 cover charge where you can kinda see some baseball way off in the distance, then it’s probably a great place to be. Needless to say, Jona and I didn’t stay long. We didn’t need to. The Braves scored six runs in the top of the fifth to take a 9-3 lead, and by the end of the sixth, thousands of fans had left.

I love it when fans leave early. I love it so much. I love empty seats. I love having space to maneuver. I wish the home team would always get blown out when I’m at a game (with rare exceptions, like if I have a son someday who ends up playing in The Show and I go to watch him at his home ballpark).

Anyway, Jona and I went back to the Braves’ dugout, but this time I picked a different staircase–one section closer to home plate. I figured that if the bottom half of any of the remaining innings ended with a strikeout, I might be able to get the ball from catcher Brian McCann.

Jayson Werth did indeed end the bottom of the seventh with a strikeout, but McCann held onto the ball and took it into the dugout. While I was down in the front row, however, first base coach Glenn Hubbard wanted to toss a ball to the woman directly on my right but before he let it fly, he tried to fake me out by pointing to the left so I’d lunge that way and be unable to interfere. It didn’t work. I kept my eyes on him the whole time and was perfectly aware of the situation. He had no choice but to toss the ball, and when he did, I stepped aside and let the woman catch it. Five seconds later, Hubbard poked his head back out of the dugout and rewarded me with a ball of my own.

shane_victorino.jpgjulian_tavarez.jpgSomething funny happened in the bottom of the eighth–something I’d never seen at any baseball game. Not on TV. Not in person. Not in Little League. Not in the Major Leagues. Shane Victorino (aka Mr. Feisty) was leading far off third base and, for a moment, not paying attention so Julian Tavarez (aka Mr. Hothead) sprinted off the mound in an attempt to tag him. Victorino made it back to third base safely but must’ve gotten quite a scare because he didn’t notice what was happening until Tavarez was halfway there.

Now, I have no idea who started it…all I can tell you is that Victorino and Tavarez started jawing at each other.

“Gimme the camera!!! Gimme the camera!!!” I yelled at Jona as both dugouts and bullpens emptied onto the field:

benches_clear_09_24_08.jpg

It was never a “brawl.” No one threw punches. No one was ejected. But home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg did issue a warning to both teams. Tavarez then proceeded to strike out pinch hitters Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs to end the inning. This time, McCann tossed me the ball, and as I was reaching up casually to glove it, I sensed that someone was invading my personal space from behind, so I lunged for the ball at the last second, and as I closed my glove around it, a 40-something-year-old fat man lunged at my glove and clawed for the ball and yanked my arm down as he stumbled forward. My shoulder was actually a bit sore after that–luckily Jona is a professional massage therapist–but I held onto the ball and returned to my seat. I realized later that this was a milestone ball; it was Tavarez’s 50th strikeout of the season.

Other highlights from the night included seeing a fan with a pierced neck…

pierced_neck.jpg

and getting a ball from Kellogg shortly after the Phillies (and Myers, ha-HAAA!!!) lost 10-4.

Oh, and I also got the lineup cards:

zack_bonus_items.jpg
Here’s a closer look at them:

lineup_cards_09_24_08.jpg

…and here are a few photographs of the bat, starting with a shot of Norton’s uniform number written on the end:

greg_norton_bat1.jpg

Here’s a close-up of his name:

greg_norton_bat2.jpg

Here’s the pine tar-coated trademark…

greg_norton_bat3.jpg

…and here’s his name and number on the knob:

greg_norton_bat4.jpg

As for the bomb scare, THIS is what really happened.

What a day.

STATS:

? 11 balls at this game

? 528 balls in 69 games this season = 7.6521739 balls per game.

? 565 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 142 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 96 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 39 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

? 23 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)

? 3,805 total balls

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