Results tagged ‘ chicago cubs ’

9/6/09 at Citi Field

This was a Watch With Zack game, and my client was a 13-year-old Mets fan named Ross. (I need to come up with a better word for “client.” It sounds impersonal. Any suggestions?) Here we are outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, waiting for the gates to open:

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Ross’s parents and 18-year-old brother also attended this game, but the day was all about him; it was a present for both his birthday (which was in August) and Bar Mitzvah (which he had celebrated the day before).

Earlier in the week, Ross had told me that his goal for this game was to snag 10 balls — a rather lofty goal given the fact that a) his lifetime total entering the game was 10 balls and b) his single-game record was 3 balls. I told him I’d help him snag as many balls as possible, but I warned him that it’d be really tough to reach double digits. First of all, I explained, we’d be attending a weekend game which meant there’d be a zillion little kids competing with him for balls. Secondly, it was going to be a day game which meant that there might not be batting practice. And third, the Mets were going to be facing the Cubs, a team with a HUGE fan base, which meant that our Cubs gear wouldn’t exactly make us stand out.

Ross changed his goal to six balls after that — still a significant challenge, but certainly more reasonable.

When we ran inside the stadium and got our first glimpse of the field, this is what we saw:

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This was good news and bad news…

BAD: There wasn’t a player in sight.
GOOD: At least the batting cage was set up.

Pat Misch began playing catch with Josh Thole in deep right-center field. Ross and I ran out to the nearest section of seats, and I set him up in the corner spot near the entrance to the Mets’ bullpen:

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Just as Misch appeared to be finishing, I helped Ross come up with the politest possible request for the ball — when you’re all alone in the seats, the way you ask for a ball is going to be much different from when you’re buried in the crowd — but Misch held onto the ball and took it with him into the bullpen. He had to do some more throwing, and I had a good feeling that if Ross waited patiently in the corner spot, he’d get rewarded at the end. Meanwhile, the rest of Ross’s family caught up with us, and we all posed for a photo. Pictured below from left to right, you’re looking at: me, Ross, father Steve, mother Cindy, and brother Ethan:

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See the box that Ethan is holding? It was Frankie Rodriguez bobblehead day. I gave them my bobblehead.

Anyway, as I predicted, Misch finished his bullpen session and then threw his ball to Ross. In the following photo, you can see the ball sailing toward him:

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Ross reached up and made a nice one-handed catch and then posed with his souvenir:

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Did you notice the logo? It was a Citi Field commemorative ball. Nice.

A few minutes later, another fan (who recognized me and knew about my glove trick) pointed out a ball that he thought I might be able to snag. Do you see it in the following photo?

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Here’s a closer look:

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Finally, there was a tangible reason for the existence of those fugly white canopies over the bullpen. The most difficult part of snagging the ball wasn’t the use of the glove trick itself. Oh no no. The challenge was waiting for all the security guards to look the other way simultaneously. They were swarming all over the place, and you can even see three of them two photos above, standing behind the railing at the top of the section. For some asinine reason (which I would SO love to discuss with the Wilpons), the security guards at Citi Field have been instructed not to let fans use ball-retrieving devices, even for balls that are trapped in random/harmless places far away from the field itself. It truly makes no sense. The way I saw it…I was going to do a service for the Mets by snagging that baseball. If not for me, one of the guards (or hapless maintenance workers) was going to have to climb down there or set up a ladder in the bullpen or find a long 9_ball4227.jpg
pole to poke the ball out. It seems like such a hassle, and you know, the Mets have already endured enough stress this season, so yes, I was going to help out, rules or no rules, by snagging the ball. I slowly made my way up the steps and headed to the side railing and peered over at the ball down below. It was nice and rubbed up with mud, and I could see that it had a Citi Field commemorative logo. My back was turned to the guards, so I waited until I got a signal that the coast was clear — or at least as clear as it was going to be. Then I lowered the glove down over the ball. Boom! It only took five seconds, and as soon as my glove touched the canopy, I heard one of the guards yelling at me from behind. He was demanding that I bring my glove back up, so I did…slowly…with the ball nestled snugly inside. He didn’t even know that I had the ball, and with all the other guards now heading over to deal with the situation, I managed to secretly slip the ball out of the glove and hide it underneath my cupped palm and stick it in my back pocket. The security supervisor then gave me a whole speech about how I’d been warned before and blah-blah-blah and this-and-that and you-should-know-better. Then he cut the string off my glove – Oh no, not my precious string! – and sent me on my way. Another fine job by Mets personnel.

The Mets pitchers were already throwing along the right field foul line, so Ross and I ran over there and I helped get Brian Stokes to throw him his 2nd ball of the day. We were standing about 10 rows back because the front row was so crowded. I had shouted at Stokes and waved my arms to get his attention, at which point he lobbed the ball right to Ross over all the fans standing in front of us. It was beautiful.

When the Mets finally started hitting, Ross and I headed back to left field. I set him up in an empty row and then moved a section over so we wouldn’t get in each other’s way. In the following photo, you can see him at the end of my row in the orange shirt:

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I think the Mets managed to hit two home runs into the seats during their entire portion of BP. Okay, fine, the wind was blowing in, but it was truly pathetic. There just wasn’t any longball action, so Ross squeezed into the front row…

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…and focused on getting balls tossed by the players, but he didn’t snag anything there. It was a tough day to be a ballhawk.

Ten minutes later, I noticed that Stokes was tossing a ball up and down near the wall in left field to tease the fans. I ran over near the spot where he was tossing it, and I ended up catching it when he threw it a little too close to the stands. He immediately recognized me as THAT GUY who gets all the balls, so he told me to give the ball to the kid on my right…which I did. (Yes, that ball counts in my collection.) Then he asked me why I need so many baseballs. brian_stokes_2009.jpgHe was very friendly — genuinely interested in the answer — so I told him that I’m raising money for charity by catching balls at games.

“Which charity?” he asked.

Pitch In For Baseball,” I told him. “They provide baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world.” He kept looking up at me so I kept talking. “I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag this year at major league games. So far, I’ve raised over ten thousand bucks.”

He asked me if I had any info about the charity. I told him I could give him a card that would direct him to my web site where there was a link on the home page. He waved at me to indicate that I should toss one down to him, so I did, and as soon as he caught it, he looked at it and asked, “Are YOU Zack?”

“That’s me,” I told him, and then I mentioned that Heath Bell had made a pledge.

“Cool,” he said, “I’ll check it out.”

The Mets finished batting practice soon after. Unfortunately, the Cubs did not hit, but Ross and I still changed into our Cubs gear:

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All the Cubs pitchers were hanging out along the left field foul line, and I *do* mean hanging out. They seemed to be doing more talking than throwing. It was strange:

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That’s Ross on the lower right of the photo, looking out at the field. It was painfully crowded (as you can see). There was nowhere to go, and we didn’t get anything from the pitchers.

During the half-hour lull before the game, Ross and I caught up with his brother and parents. It was then that I learned more about his Bar Mitzvah. Inspired by my work with Pitch In For Baseball, Ross decided to snag baseballs to raise money for Project A.L.S. (A.L.S. stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, aka “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”) But instead of making it a season-long project, he was raising money at this game only. During the speech at his Bar Mitzvah, he announced his plan and solicited pledges from his guests. Then, during the party, he had a
project_als.jpgposter on the wall that featured pictures of me, 2) info about ballhawking in general, and 3) additional info about his charity plan. He also had slips of paper on which people could fill out their pledges. (Wow!) He told me that he’d gotten 20 pledges, ranging from $1 per ball all the way up to $25 dollar per ball, and that when all the pledges were combined, it added up to $102 per ball. He also told me that the pledges applied for my baseballs! That meant he had already raised $408. I was more determined than ever to help him pad his totals…

Shortly before the game started, I positioned Ross in the corner spot behind the tarp and helped shout at the players for their warm-up balls. Ross did end up getting a ball thrown to him, but it didn’t come from a player. It was thrown by some trainer-type-guy — possibly the team’s “Strength and Conditioning Coordinator.” It’s hard to say. All I can tell you is that Ross made another nice catch as the kid next to him made his own attempt to snag it. Here’s an action shot, which I took just after Ross squeezed his glove around the ball:

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It was Ross’s third ball of the day, and he wasn’t finished. When Anderson Hernandez flied out to center fielder Sam Fuld to end the second inning, Ross bolted down the steps toward the Cubs’ dugout where the ball was tossed to him. There were so many other fans reaching for it, however, that it deflected off his glove and bounced back into the dugout. Ross turned around and looked at me and threw his arms up in disgust. I made a “V” shape with my middle and index fingers and pointed at my eyes, then pointed the “V” back at the field as if to say, “Turn around and be on the lookout.” I knew there was a chance that the ball could get tossed back into the crowd for a second time, and sure enough, five seconds later, it was. Guess who snagged it: my man Ross. Here’s a photo that shows the ball heading toward his open glove:

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Ross had broken his single-game record, and he managed to do it at a game when one of the teams hadn’t even taken BP. Not too shabby.

By the end of the game, there were some empty seats farther down, so we moved even closer to the dugout. This was our view:

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Ross had a chance to snag another third-out ball. He managed to squeeze into the front row and he got Derrek Lee to toss it right to him, but he got robbed by a grown man who claimed he was going to give the ball to his son. That really sucked.

After the final out, Ross and I worked our way down to the tunnel where the umpires walk off the field. I gave him a few pointers on how to ask Fieldin Culbreth, the home plate ump, for a ball. The following photo shows Culbreth pulling a ball out of his pouch, half a second before placing it in Ross’s outstretched glove:

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This ball (along with Ross’s first ball from Misch and the third-out ball from Fuld) had the Citi Field commemorative logo. It also gave Ross FIVE balls on the day.

Could he reach his goal of six? There was one final chance.

Ross and I raced back to the Cubs’ dugout, just as the relievers were walking across the field from the bullpen. At the last second, John Grabow threw a ball right to him, but Ross was robbed again, this time by a middle-aged woman who didn’t have a glove or a kid! What the hell?! It was a frustrating end to an otherwise great day. Overall, Ross was pretty happy with his total of five balls — so happy that he didn’t bother to change out of his Cubs gear for our post-game photo:

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(No, that’s not a man-boob on me, I swear. It’s just the shirt. Really. And also, not that it matters, but the Mets beat the Cubs, 4-2.)

SNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 408 balls in 49 games this season = 8.33 balls per game.

• 618 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 347 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 19 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 4,228 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 123 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a pledge)

• $25.03 pledged per ball

• $50.06 raised at this game

• $10,212.24 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Ross finally changed out of this Cubs gear. Then he and I played catch in the parking lot:

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His parents drove me back to the Upper West Side, and the five of us had dinner at one of my all-time favorite restaurants: a pizza/burger joint called Big Nick’s, where the menu is 27 pages. Good times…

4/23/09 at Wrigley Field

Two days ago I met a legendary ballhawk named Moe Mullins. Yesterday I met another named Rich Buhrke. Moe, as I mentioned in my previous entry, has snagged 5,274 balls including 238 game home runs. Rich has snagged 3,404 balls including 178 game homers.  Both of these guys have caught five grand slams, and as you can imagine, they dominated Wrigley Field for many years. Here we are (Moe on the left, Rich on the right) on Sheffield Avenue about an hour before the ballpark opened:

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Way back in the day, Rich was known as “Mr. Outside” because he caught everything that reached the street, and Moe was known as “Mr. Inside” because he cleaned up in the bleachers. Even though these guys are both around 60 years old, and even though Rich has been slowed by a bad back, they still give the younger ballhawks a serious run for their money.

My new friend Scott (who leaves comments on this blog as “ssweene1″) held a spot for me at the right field gate and pointed out the old fashioned crank that is still used to open it. In the following photo, you can see four employees just inside the gate. The guy on the left is holding/turning the crank with both hands:

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The “MasterCard” logo taints the old world charm, but still…pretty nifty.

Although this was a day game following a night game, the field WAS set up for batting practice. Unfortunately, when I ran inside, the only action was an old usher bending over and wiping off the seats:

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(“Action” is probably not the best word in this case.)

Bronson Arroyo finished his bullpen session and then talked to pitching coach Dick Pole. See the ball in the photo below?

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Dick tossed it to me a few minutes later.

I didn’t have a bleacher ticket, so I was trapped in foul territory for BP. Although I didn’t catch any batted balls, I can still say pretty confidently that I discovered the best spot. Here it is:

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The biggest advantage in this spot is that there’s room to run through the cross-aisle. It’s not too far from home plate. Both righties and lefties can hit balls there. And it’s right near where the visiting team’s pitchers play catch. In the photo above, the guy sitting down with the backwards white cap and striped black jacket is Scott. You’ll see what he actually looks like in a bit…

My second ball of the day was tossed up by someone on the Reds that I couldn’t identify.

My third ball was an accidental overthrow that flew into the seats, hit another fan in the nuts, and dropped right down at my feet. I would’ve given it to the guy if several Reds players daniel_ray_herrera.jpghadn’t immediately offered him a signed ball. The guy, it turned out, was fine (though a bit shaken) and in case you’re wondering who was responsible for the overthrow, that would be Nick Masset. And wouldn’t you know it, the player who failed to catch the high throw was none other than the 5-foot-6 Daniel Ray Herrera (who looks like a 14-year-old ballboy but IS in fact on the 25-man roster).

My fourth ball was thrown to me near the dugout by Brandon Phillips. I saw him walking off the field with a ball in his hand so I raced through the aisle and then, since I wasn’t allowed to go down to the seats behind the dugout, I got him to throw it to me while I was still standing in the aisle. As far as thrown balls go, that one felt good.

My fifth ball was tossed by Micah Owings near the right field corner. He was running poles. There were two balls lying on the grass, just beyond the warning track in foul territory. When he finished, he walked over and flung one in my direction.

My sixth and final ball of the day was thrown by Darnell McDonald at the dugout toward the end of BP.

Adam (aka “cubs0110″) and Scott had each snagged one ball during BP. Here we are:

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I managed to sneak down to the Reds’ dugout 20 minutes before the game. This was my awesome view for the first pitch…

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…but I was kicked out two innings later when the people whose seats I was enjoying had the nerve to show up.

I sat about 15 rows behind first base for the next four innings and then wandered upstairs. Here’s the view of Waveland Avenue from the top left field corner of the upper deck:

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This is what the seats and roof look like up there:

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Here’s my panorama attempt from the right field corner of the upper deck:

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Back on the field level concourse, I took the obligatory photo of the foul ball sign…

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…and then walked down the tunnel that leads to the inner cross aisle:

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I only averaged five balls per game at Wrigley on this trip (I snagged 13 balls here in two games in ’98) but still had a great time. Look how awesome this ballpark is…in the photo below, you can see people sitting/standing on some giant dark green concrete step-things, just inside the back fence of the center field bleachers:

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Can you imagine a) something so useless and funky even existing in a new ballpark and b) stadium employees actually allowing fans to chill out there? Only at Wrigley Field. If you’re a serious baseball fan (and hate the fact that everything in the world is becoming newer and more regulated), you simply must visit this ballpark.

Final score: Reds 7, Zack 6, Cubs 1

SNAGGING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game

• 73 balls in 10 games this season = 7.3 balls per game.

• 579 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,893 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $17.12 pledged per ball

• $102.72 raised at this game

• $1,249.76 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/22/09 at Wrigley Field

I started the day by bowing down to a legend.

Moe Mullins, perhaps the most successful ballhawk of all time, made his way out to Sheffield Avenue nearly two hours before the stadium was going to open. The man has snagged 238 game home runs from major league games, including five grand slams. His lifetime ball total, including everything he’s caught at batting practice and Spring Training, is 5,274. Truly incredible.

Here were are:

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Two other very successful ballhawks made their way out to Sheffield as well. There was Ken Vangeloff (first time I’d met him) and Dave Davison (a friend for the last decade). I truly felt like I was in the presence of greatness.

The Cubs started taking BP…

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…and I got the attention of one of the players…and got him to toss a ball over the bleachers and onto the street…but he airmailed me…and since there was a car speeding past at that exact moment, I wasn’t able to cut across and race after it.

“Chicago ballhawks don’t beg,” said Dave. (It’s true that he and Moe and the other guys rarely ask the players for balls.)

“I’m a roving ambassador,” I replied, “so doesn’t that give me permission?”

Dave said he was just messing with me, then added, “We’re in mid-season form. It’s either rip or BE ripped.”

Remember when I mentioned last month that I’m working on a new book? One thing I’m in the process of doing for the book is interviewing the all-time greatest ballhawks. Moe is obviously one of them, and he told me he doesn’t really like talking on the phone, so I put away my glove and pulled out my digital voice recorder (yes, I came prepared) and interviewed him, right there on the street, for an hour and two minutes. During that time, three more balls got tossed out onto Sheffield, and I’m pretty sure I would’ve snagged at least one or two of them had I been trying. It was pretty frustrating (and I felt guilty about the charity) but I simply HAD to talk to Moe. That’s actually one of the main reasons I made this trip: doing research for the book.

Because the wind was blowing in from left field, the ballhawks didn’t bother running over to Waveland Avenue (which runs behind the left field edge of the ballpark) when righties were at bat. They just stayed on Sheffield, and Moe didn’t even bother wearing his glove:

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Pretty soon it was time for me to go inside so I said goodbye to the ballhawks and headed to the VIP entrance near the right field foul pole. I’d splurged and bought a “bleacher box” ticket for sixty-two dollars. Ouch! (Research for the book. Yes, that’s my excuse.) At Wrigley, you can’t get into the bleachers with a regular ticket, and if you’re in the bleachers, you can’t get into the main part of the stadium. BUT…if you have a bleacher box ticket, you can go everywhere. I figured it was worth doing once. This was the first time I’d ever been in the bleachers at Wrigley, and I wanted to make sure I could explore fully.

I started off by running to left-center because there were a few righties taking turns in the cage. This is what it looked like out there:

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Then I ran a couple sections toward the foul pole and noticed that the ballhawks had moved to Waveland:

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The bleachers were filling up fast. That’s because it’s general admission out there; everyone arrives early to claim a good seat. In addition to that fact, batting practice was dead. I kept moving back and forth for lefties and righties, but no one hit a ball within 100 feet of me.

When the Reds took the field, I moved over to my exclusive section down the right field foul line:

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People with regular bleacher tickets couldn’t get in there, so there was truly NO competition:

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By the way, that’s me in the photo above, leaning on the railing and wearing a Reds cap. See those two ladies sitting to my left? I overheard one of them asking the other, “So wait, where’s home plate?” My friend Kelly was right when she said that most of the people in the bleachers don’t know that much about baseball and are really only there to hang out and get drunk.

My first ball of the day was tossed up by Arthur Rhodes (and let me just say that neither team hit a SINGLE ball into the bleacher box section). It rolled onto the grass in front of me while he was still playing catch. I didn’t bother asking for it until he finished throwing and walked over to pick it up. Too easy.

There were still a few Reds playing catch at that point, so I moved into foul territory and got two more balls within the next five minutes. The first was tossed by some guy that I couldn’t recognize–he recognized the fact that I was decked out in Reds gear–and the second was a glove trick masterpiece.

There was a security guard on the field, about 10 feet out from the wall and maybe 15 feet to my left. His job? To stare up into the seats and make sure that people were behaving. I’d heard that the guards at Wrigley did NOT allow fans to use ball-retrieving devices, so I was glad that this ball was right below me. Now…you know how a successful base stealer will study a pitcher’s pick-off move and look for tendencies? How long will he hold the ball? How quick is his move? Will he throw over three times in a row? Stuff like that. Well, I studied the guard in just the same way, and after a couple minutes I discovered his pattern of crowd surveillance. He would look at the batter for a moment (to make sure no one was hitting a line drive at him) and then he’d quickly look back and scan the crowd. Then he’d look back at the batter for about five to ten seconds…and then look back at the crowd. He did this again and again. The first look away was short. The second look away was long. I prepared the rubber band and magic marker and made sure my string wasn’t tangled. I knew I only had one shot, and even then, there was a good chance that the guy would stop me. Quick look at the batter. Quick look back. Long look at the batter…and then BAM…I went for it. Down went the glove. It dropped over the ball. The guard was still staring at the batter. If my band was on too tight or too loose, I was screwed. No second chances. The glove dropped over the ball, and I heard the crowd get excited. I slowly lifted it up, and the ball was inside. I looked at the guard…and then he looked over at me. CRAP!!! My glove was only about five feet off the ground at that point, and the guard immediately ran over to try to grab it. I kept lifting it…six feet…seven feet…and just as he made it over to me, I’d lifted the glove beyond his reach. HAHA!!! He immediately started yelling at me, and I disappeared into the crowd, took off my hat, and returned to the safety of my bleacher box section. I was so happy. I love sticking it to security when they make stupid rules that prevent true fans from taking home an extra baseball or two, especially when it’s for charity!

Late in BP, I got Jay Bruce to toss me my fourth ball of the day. Look how crowded the left field bleachers were at that point:

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I moved back into the main part of the stadium at the very end of BP and nearly got Reds bench coach Chris Speier to toss me a ball. His aim was off, and it sailed two feet over my glove. (If I’d been allowed to go right down to the dugout, it would’ve been easy. He would’ve tossed it right to me. But no, thanks to Wrigley’s way-too-strict rules, I had to stay back in the cross-aisle, and since there were other fans crowding around me, Speier didn’t have an easy throw.)

I had about 40 minutes ’til the game was going to begin so I decided to head back to the bleachers and take a bunch of photos. I started by going down this staircase in the grandstand:

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(Did you notice my shadow waving at you?)

The next photo was taken from that first staircase. See the ushers (wearing blue) in the distance? They had to re-scan my ticket in order for me to leave or re-enter the bleachers, and then I walked up that staircase near them:

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At the top of the staircase, this was the view behind the bleacher box section:

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Not a bad spot to run for home run balls, eh?

Down on Sheffield Avenue, people were lining up for one of the rooftops:

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Look how much space there is (for home run chasing) behind the bleachers in straight-away right field:

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I walked up the steps to the center field bleachers, then turned around and faced the right field foul pole and took the following photo:

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Here’s the area in the deepest part of center field, directly under the big scoreboard:

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Here’s the view from behind the left field bleachers…

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…and here’s the narrow walkway that runs behind it:

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I don’t think that walkway would be good for catching home runs. It looks like the people sitting in the last row could easily catch (or deflect) all the balls before they’d reach it.

The area under the bleachers was, in typical Wrigley fashion, a maze of concourses and ramps and beams and chain-link fences.

If you’re standing below the right field bleachers, this is the view to the right…

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…and this is the view to the left:

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Funky stuff, I tell ya:

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Back up in the seats, I noticed that the rooftops were packed:

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The entire bleacher area felt like one giant frat party. I’ve never seen so many 20-somethings drinking beer at a baseball game. People were standing everywhere, blocking aisles and ramps…wherever it was possible to see the field, people were there. It was actually kinda nice that security wasn’t policing it and just letting people hang out.

This was my view during the game:

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Was it a high-scoring affair with a bunch of homers to my empty section?!

Umm, no, the Cubs got shut out, 3-0, and the only longball was an opposite field shot by the left-handed hitting Jay Bruce in the top of the ninth, by which time I was already sitting here:

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What a waste of a great ballhawking opportunity.

At least Ryan Hanigan tossed me a ball down by the dugout after the game.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 5 balls at this game

24_ticket_04_22_09.jpg

• 67 balls in 9 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.

• 578 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,887 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $17.07 pledged per ball

• $85.35 raised at this game

• $1,143.69 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/21/09 at Wrigley Field

Freezing, rainy, night game in April without batting practice? Not exactly ideal, but hey, this was my first trip to Wrigley Field in 11 years, and I was thrilled to be here:

1_zack_outside_wrigley.jpg

My goal for the day was pretty simple: I wanted to snag at least four baseballs. You know how I’m doing the whole charity thing and getting people to pledge money for every ball? Well, at the start of the day, the total amount that I’d raised so far this season was $949.46. I had 84 pledges (ranging from one penny to one dollar) that added up $16.37 per ball. Basically, I calculated that I needed four more balls to pass the $1,000 mark; three balls would’ve left me a little more than a dollar short.

I had about two hours to kill before the ballpark was going to open–it really IS a “ballpark” as opposed to a “stadium”–so I walked all the way around it and took a ton of photos. This is what it looked like as my journey began:

2_outside_wrigley.jpg

It was great to be here after having checked out the new Yankee Stadium three days earlier. Talk about a contrast! The new stadium is the pinnacle of luxury, corporate greed, and architectural wizardry. Wrigley Field, on the other hand, is old and dumpy and simple–and therefore even more beautiful.

Here’s the players’ parking lot:

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Here’s a look down Waveland Avenue…

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…and this is the view from baseball’s most famous intersection:

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When I reached the bleacher entrance in center field, I backed up just enough to be able to get a shot with both foul poles (which you can see through the trees):

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This is what it looks like on Sheffield Avenue, which runs behind the right field bleachers:

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See the gate below the foul pole?

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It provides a peek into the stadium:

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So nice! (The grounds crew was readjusting the tarp. I got excited for a second when I first looked in and saw infield dirt.) AT&T Park has a similar feature. (This might surprise you, but the new Yankee Stadium does NOT provide a free glimpse onto the field.)

Here’s the outside of Wrigley near the right field corner:

10_outside_wrigley.jpg

It was painfully cold. I saw my breath all day. The temperature was in the low 40s and felt like the 20s. My face got so cold at one point that I was slurring my words. (Has this ever happened to anyone?) So…I stopped talking.

This was the view as I headed toward the home plate entrance:

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Just a little further…

12_outside_wrigley.jpg

…until I’d made it full circle:

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I still had an hour to kill. The rain picked up. Thankfully there was an overhang at the gate. People were talking about how the game might get canceled.

All of a sudden, I heard a familiar voice from behind. It was Nick Yohanek, aka The Happy Youngster:

14_nick_zack_outside_wrigley.jpg

I had NO idea he was gonna be there, and in fact he didn’t have any idea either until the last second when his (very understanding) wife told him she didn’t mind if he made the trip from Milwaukee. That’s where he’s from. It’s only about an hour and a half from Chicago.

I’d met Nick for the very first time two weeks earlier in Toronto. Super cool guy. It was good to see him again, but of course it meant we’d have to make an effort to stay out of each other’s way.

Look how big the crowd was as the gates were going up:

15_crowd_outside_wrigley.jpg

I think the large crowd might’ve had something to do with the limited giveaway: a Carlos Zambrano “no-hitter statue.” (THAT’S really why I went to this game.)

This was my view as I ran inside:

16_first_look_at_wrigley.jpg

As you can see in the distance in the photo above, there were a couple Cubs playing catch in shallow left field. I didn’t end up getting the ball from them, but I’m glad to say that someone who reads this blog did. The ball went to a guy named Adam (aka “cubs0110″) who had emailed me some Wrigley tips in the days leading up to this trip, so it was well-deserved.

Nick made his way to the right field side as a few Reds took the field. I decided to hold my ground for another minute or two, and as a result I ended up getting a ball in an incredibly random and unexpected way. Someone on the Reds, for some unknown reason, skimmed a ball across the field/tarp right in my direction. Luckily I saw it coming once it got halfway to me, so I lunged over the wall in the front row and scooped it up. The ball was absolutely soaked. The arrow in the following photo shows the direction that it had been rolled:

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Is that weird or what?

I figured I wasn’t going to get any luckier than that on the left field side, so I headed back toward the seats behind the plate and walked out to the right field foul line. I stopped along the way to take a photo of the beautiful cross aisle (and the random row of seats right in the middle):

18_wrigley_cross_aisle.jpg

I got two balls tossed to me within the next 15 minutes. The first came from Nick Masset, and the second was from from Bronson Arroyo. Nothing fancy about it. There weren’t too many other Reds fans so it was easy. This left me one ball short of my goal.

Time out for a second…

Do you remember the Watch With Zack game I did on 9/24/07 at Shea Stadium? My clients that day were a couple of ladies from Chicago named Kelly and Jen. Kelly (the bigger baseball fan of the two) and I have kept in touch ever since, and we’ve become friendly enough that I’m now sitting in her living room as I type this. She gave me a ticket to this game at Wrigley in exchange for my Zambrano statue. You can see her and Nick in the following photo.

Time in…

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Here I am with Kelly:

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It was only 6pm. There was an hour ’til game time, and there wasn’t any action on the field, so I explored the street level concourse. THIS, my friends, is what a real ballpark looks like:

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Gotta love the cute little concession stand with a support beam in the middle:

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There were two ways to get to the field level seats:

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Very interesting stadium design. Fenway Park (which is just a few years older than Wrigley) is similar. We’ll never ever see anything like this built again.

There was a band playing in the concourse as people passed by:

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Despite the loathsome weather, the atmosphere was festive and jolly. I loved the imperfections in the design and condition of Wrigley Field. Check out the dents and pipes and ducts and chipped paint in the photo below:

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The path to the upper deck was interesting as well. This was the first ramp, and I actually had to show my upper deck ticket to go up it:

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I turned right at the top of the ramp and found myself in a web of metal beams above the seats:

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RFK Stadium (I only went there once on 7/5/05) was similar, and again, you’ll never see anything like this.

Two more ramps…

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…and then a final push to the top:

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Chain-link fences are not pretty, but they make you feel like you’re in a ballpark as opposed to a mall.

The upper deck has a great cross aisle…

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…but unfortunately there weren’t any foul balls that landed there. The balls either went to the first few rows of the upper deck or flew onto the roof.

I sat with Kelly and Adam for a bit, then sat on my own, then snuck down to the field level (where I came five feet from a foul ball), and finally made my way down to the Cubs’ dugout in the top of the ninth:

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It wasn’t hard to get down there. There are ushers at every staircase, and they try to be strict and keep people out, but they’re old and slow and unprepared for brazen New Yorkers. I have nothing against old people. I plan to live until I’m at least 105, and I’ll be snagging baseballs and demanding respect right up until the end. I’m just sayin’…there are lots of employees trying to enforce lots of rules, but it’s all pretty haphazard.

I won’t tell you how many balls Nick ended up with, or where he ended up sitting during the game. You’ll have to read his blog to find out, but I will say that he totally beat the system.

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As for me? I got home plate umpire Randy Marsh to toss me a ball on his way in–my fourth ball of the day–and it was rubbed up beautifully.

Final score: Cubs 7, Reds 2.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game

• 62 balls in 8 games this season = 7.75 balls per game.

• 577 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,882 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $16.62 pledged per ball

• $66.48 raised at this game

• $1,030.44 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

At tonight’s Cubs game, I’ll be sitting in a “bleacher box” seat in fair territory near the right field foul pole. I might wander to left field when righties come to bat, but definitely look for me if/when a lefty yanks one down the line.

9/25/08 at Shea Stadium

The game was thrilling; the snagging was not.

I arrived at Shea at 4:43pm–three minutes after the stadium opened–and bought a $10 ticket and raced inside to the left field foul line.

I managed to get ONE ball during the entire Mets’ portion of batting practice, and it was thrown by Nick Evans from more than 100 feet away:

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Earlier this season, I’d gotten Evans to throw me a ball by announcing that I was “going deep” and then bolting up the steps. I didn’t think it’d work a second time, but I tried it anyway, and to my surprise he threw the ball in my direction. The first time he did this, he’d waited for me to reach the cross-aisle and then made a perfect throw that hit me on the run. This time, however, he launched the ball 10 feet over my head before I’d made it up half a dozen rows. Luckily, there were only a handful of fans scattered along the front row and none of them bothered to run for the ball after it landed. The ball was commemorative, and the logo was so scuffed and worn that I couldn’t read any of it:

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If this had been my first Mets commemorative ball, I would’ve been pissed, but I’ve gotten enough that I actually thought this one was kinda cool.

At around 5:25pm, I exited the stadium and headed to the bleacher entrance and was lucky enough to run into my friend Gail (aka “Clif’s mom”) who introduced me to a woman who happened to have an extra ticket. This other woman wouldn’t let me pay her for it. She gave it to me for free, and in exchange I had to catch a ball for her.

I didn’t give her the next ball I snagged because it was commemorative AND brand new. For some reason, the Cubs were using it, and I got Michael Wuertz to toss it to me. Check it out:

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The bleachers were still gloriously empty five minutes later…

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…and they remained fairly empty throughout BP.

With powerful righties like Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Mark DeRosa all taking cuts, you’d think that I would’ve snagged about 40 balls. But no. I only got ONE more ball–a regular ball–and it was tossed to me by Jeff Samardzija. I know he’s supposed to be the future stud of the world, but still…what a disappointment. I can’t explain it. Batting practice was just dead.

I gave the regular ball to the lady who’d given me the ticket and then (since the bleachers are general admission) claimed a spot in the front row out in left-center.

This was the view to my left in the top of the first inning…

view_to_my_left_09_25_08.jpg

…and this was the view straight ahead about an hour later:

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Yeah…it rained.

A lot.

And I sat through it with Gail and Clif because a) I really wanted to catch a home run and b) the game was THAT important/good.

Unfortunately, the only two home runs were hit by Micah Hoffpauir, who bats left-handed and pulled them both to right field. These two home runs (which were part of his 5-for-5 performance) happened to be his first longballs in the major leagues, and thanks to Shea Stadium’s lack of outfield seating, I wasn’t able to get near either one.

Enough about me. Let’s talk about the game…

The Mets basically HAD to win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive, and they DID win after coming back from a three-run, seventh-inning deficit. Pedro Martinez pitched for the last time at Shea and struck out a season-high nine batters. Jose Reyes scored a pair of runs and stole three bases. And then there was that game-tying, Houdini-like slide by Ryan Church with two outs in the bottom of the eighth. I didn’t get a great view of it from my spot nearly 400 feet from the plate. All I could tell was that the ball beat him by like 10 feet and yet he somehow managed to elude the catcher and reach back with his hand…and that the ump called him safe. It was unreal.

There weren’t many fans left at that point…

bleachers_late_in_game_09_25_08.jpg

…but that just made the whole thing more special. It was OUR little private game. OUR Amazin’ Mets. OUR soggy/dumpy stadium. OUR walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth.

Final score: Mets 7, Cubs 6.

(Hooray for meaningful baseball games in late-September.)

STATS:

? 3 balls at this game

? 531 balls in 70 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 566 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,808 total balls

9/23/08 at Shea Stadium

My trip to Shea Stadium started with a live 20-minute interview on the Covino & Rich Show on Sirius Satellite Radio. I actually had to go to the studio for this one, and while I was waiting (on the 36th floor of the McGraw-Hill building on 49th Street & 6th Avenue) for the producer to come and get me, I got permission to take photographs. Here’s the lobby area:

sirius_radio_headquarters1_lobby.jpg

See the blue screen on the upper right? See the black panels with orange text just below it on either side? They were like little scoreboards that kept listing different song titles and artists. I think they indicated what was being played on the various Sirius music channels.

I took a pic of the view of Radio City Music Hall…

sirius_radio_headquarters2_view.jpg

…and was led into the studio soon after.

Covino and Rich were great. I expected them to diss me nonstop–this WAS Maxim-affiliated after all and Maxim had dissed me in the past–but instead they treated me with unprecedented respect. I really couldn’t believe it, and they even gave my new book (“Watching Baseball Smarter”) several plugs. If anything, I thought they’d only mention my first book (“How to Snag Major League Baseballs”) because this entire interview came about as a direct result of the two home runs I caught on back-to-back nights last week at Yankee Stadium.

After the interview ended at 3:55pm, Jessica the call-screener took a photo of me and Covino (Rich was still sitting across from us)…

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…and then I got a shot with both of the guys:

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It was 4:04pm when I made it back out to the street. I ran over to 7th Avenue and then ran seven blocks south (right through Times Square) and ran down the steps into the subway and kept running until I was on an express No. 7 train…which then sat in the station for about 10 minutes.

By the time I made it to Shea, Gate C was already open and hundreds of fans were in the process of filing in.

No problem.

My plan was to wait outside until I found someone with an extra bleacher ticket–and the bleachers weren’t even going to open for another 50 minutes.

It took 40 (of the longest) minutes (ever) to get myself the ticket I needed, at which point I raced back to Gate C (you can enter the main part of the stadium with a bleacher ticket) and ran up the ramps to the Field Level concourse and headed around to the first base side and darted down the steps to the front row behind the Mets’ dugout. The Mets were still taking BP. This is what it looked like:

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See the guy standing on the warning track with the tan pants and dark green jacket? That’s Marty Noble, the Mets’ beat reporter for MLB.com (in case you’ve seen his name a thousand times and always wondered what he looked like).

When the Mets finished their portion of BP and came off the field five minutes later, I spotted bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello (who has recognized me for years) and yelled, “Hey, Dave, did you see me on SportsCenter?!”

dave_racaniello.jpg“No,” he said, walking over toward the basket of balls.

“You didn’t see the thing about the guy who caught home runs on back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium?”

“I saw that,” he said.

“Well that was ME,” I said.

“That was YOU?! No way.”

I then tried to convince him that it WAS me while he transferred the balls from the basket to the equipment bags. I’m not sure if I succeeded, and it didn’t matter. The only reason I was at the dugout was to try to get a ball, and before I even had a chance to ask for one, Dave looked up and said, “I suppose you want a ball.”

“Well,” I said, “if you happen to have a really dirty one that you were planning to throw out anyway…”

Dave then started fumbling through all the balls and he quickly pulled out a dirty one and tossed it to me. It was commemorative. Here it is:

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“Thanks so much,” I said. “I really appreciate it.”

“I know,” he replied with the hint of a smile and disappeared underneath the dugout roof.

The bleachers opened five minutes later, and as I was running up the steps, I heard the unmistakable sound of a ball clanging off the metal benches. I was at the top of the steps three seconds later and saw a security guard walking…somewhere.

“Where is it?!” I asked frantically.

“Over there,” he said, pointing toward the front row in the middle of the bleachers.

I ran over and saw the ball sitting right where the guard had been pointing, and I took a photo before I grabbed it:

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The Cubs were already on the field by this point, and I quickly got my third ball of the day from Carlos Zambrano. Then, because the section were still basically empty, I had ZERO competition when a home run ball landed in the center field end of the bleachers. I was like 40 feet away, and there wasn’t anyone else over there or even near me–not even security–so

I was able to take my time (relatively speaking) and jog over there and pick up the ball as it slowly started trickling down the steps.

A few minutes later, a man turned around and said, “Hey, aren’t you the guy who was on the FAN?” (He was referring to my recent radio interview on the “Boomer & Carton” Show on 660 WFAN here in New York City.)

ball3788.jpg“Yup, that’s me,” I said as another home run ball headed our way, landed on a metal bench two rows in front of us, bounced up and hit me on the wrist, and settled at my feet where I picked it up. (This ball, pictured on the right, had a VERY cool smudge on the logo.)

“How many balls is that now?” asked the man.

“Lemme think for a second,” I said, trying to remember how many balls I’d finished the previous day with. “Um…this one makes it three thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight.”

The man didn’t seem jealous or pissed off or anything about the fact that I’d just snagged this one right next to him. He seemed happy for me. I love Mets fans.

My sixth ball of the day was thrown by Reed Johnson–the 10th “Johnson” (along with Ben, Brian, Howard, Jason, Jonathan, Kelly, Mark P., Nick, and Russ) to have thrown me a ball–and my seventh was tossed by a player that I couldn’t identify.

I’d snagged the last six balls in such a short time frame that I didn’t have a chance to label any of them or put them away. Good thing I was wearing cargo pants with lots of pockets…and good thing there weren’t more people out there because I’m sure I would’ve gotten some strange looks. There were balls bulging out everywhere (sorry if that sounds gross), and it was hard to walk. I couldn’t even sit down because I had two of the balls in my back pockets. Thankfully, I soon had a minute to spare when the Cubs started a new round of BP so I quickly wrote the numbers on the balls and put them in my backpack.

My friend Greg (aka “gregb123″ if you read the comments on this blog) was watching all of this from the corner spot in the left field Loge, and when I happened to move closer to him at one point, he got my attention and told me that a ball had dropped into the gap at the far end of the bleachers, all the way out in left-center field. Naturally, I ran over there and took a look, and this is what I saw:

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Sweet!! (Thanks, Greg.) I set up my glove trick and reeled in the ball with ease.

Eww.

There were two clumps of G.S.M. (Grody Shea Muck) caked to the sweet spot:

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Still, I was glad to have the ball and made my best attempt to clean it off (by scraping it on the edge of a bench) before dropping it into my bag.

My ninth ball of the day was thrown by Kerry Wood, and my 10th was a home run that I caught on a fly in the wide cross-aisle. That one (I have no idea who hit it) had a big dirt/scuff pattern on it:

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I managed to get one more ball, and I wouldn’t have had this one either if not for Greg. It was a ball that he’d pointed out at the start of the Cubs’ BP. It was in the gap behind the wall on the foul-pole end of the bleachers, and I hadn’t seen it because it was half-buried under weeds and trash. You can see the ball clearly in the photo below, but when I’d originally peeked into the gap from a spot to the left, it was completely hidden. Check it out:

ball3794_gap.jpg

It took me quite a while to fish this one out of the gap. At one point, I had it in the glove and started to lift it up when it slipped up. I nearly had a fit when that happened, but I kept trying (starting with swinging my glove from side to side in order to knock the ball a few inches to the side where I thought I’d have fewer leaves getting in my way) and eventually got it.

This ball, like several others I’d snagged throughout the day, was worth photographing:

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I ended up giving three balls away to little kids; the security guards had been so nice to me during BP–first by pointing out the ball when I ran into the bleachers and then by letting me use the glove trick–that I decided to “share the wealth” a little more than usual with the fans in their section. I don’t normally take pics of the kids that I give balls to, but I made an exception because one of them was just sooooo damn cute:

kid_i_gave_ball_to.jpg

The game itself was boring from a ball-snagging standpoint but exhilarating from a Mets-supporting standpoint. The Mets fell behind, 2-0, early on but tied the game in the fifth inning and took the lead for good in the sixth on Jose Reyes’ 200th hit of the season, which just so happened to be his 19th triple, which just so happened to come with the bases loaded. I was very excited. Shea was rockin’. It was fun.

Meanwhile, Johan Santana struck out 10 batters in eight solid innings to pick up his 15th win.

Final score: Mets 6, Cubs 2.

STATS:

? 11 balls at this game

? 517 balls in 68 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 564 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 95 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

? 3,794 total balls

AND IN OTHER (media) NEWS…

1) Someone at CBS recently uploaded my “Early Show” segment onto YouTube. In case you haven’t seen it, here it is.

2) Do you remember when I mentioned in my last entry that I had to pull over while driving to Philadelphia to do an interview with a reporter at the Wall Street Journal? Well, that story is now up, and you can read it here. Because it’s a blog-type piece, there are comments at the bottom, and as a rule, I never read comments about myself on other people’s blogs. They’re always so negative, and they’re always from people who don’t know a single thing about me (or might have seen me snag 11 balls but didn’t notice when I quietly gave three of them away), so please, if you’re going to read that piece, don’t leave a comment here and tell me how badly I’m getting bashed. I’m not interested.

3) I got quoted today in the New York Times about something only slightly related to snagging baseballs. Here’s the article. You’ll find my name about halfway down…

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