Results tagged ‘ chicago white sox ’

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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…

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…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:

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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:

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• 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

5/2/09 at Rangers Ballpark

I’m so optimistic.

I knew there was rain in the forecast, and I could see how gray the sky was, but I was still hoping there’d be batting practice.

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I took a cab from my motel to the ballpark at around 2:45pm and started wandering around with my camera:

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It’s a beautiful stadium, inside and out. Easy to get to. Nice area. Not too desolate. Not too crazy. Just perfect, really.

As I approached the first base entrance, I saw the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium way off in the distance:

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I don’t know anything about football. I don’t care about football. But I *am* intrigued by stadiums in general, and I figured there’d be some people reading this blog entry who’d enjoy getting a look at this impressive new facility, and I had lots of time to spare, so I decided to take a little stroll and get a few closeups.

This is as close as I got:

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(I’m telling you…all domed stadiums look like spaceships. In fact, I think they secretly ARE spaceships. When aliens finally get around to invading/destroying our planet, they will use our domes as escape vessels. And they’re gonna start with Olympic Stadium. Just you wait-n-see.)

The sky got darker. I felt a raindrop. It seemed like a good idea to head back toward the Rangers’ ballpark.

The following photo shows how deep into the parking lot I had walked; the red arrow is pointing to a tree under which I foolishly took cover for the next few minutes:

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By the time I reached that tree, it had started raining. Not too hard. Probably not even hard enough to have delayed a baseball game, had one been taking place at that moment. It was just an annoying rain, and I didn’t feel like walking around in it, and the tree was providing excellent shelter. So I stayed there.

Then it started raining a little harder, and I started getting ever-so-slightly wetter. I thought about running across the street and looking for a dryer spot inside (or along the outer edge of) the stadium, but there wasn’t an obvious place to go.

Then it started raining a little harder. Crap. And a little harder. Double crap. My sneakers and shorts and baseball cap were all getting wet, but I decided to stay under the tree, hoping that the rain would let up…and *then* I would make a run for it. Then it started raining harder. Then there was thunder. Then it started raining EVEN harder. My feet were now soaked, and the wind picked up. My backpack was getting drenched. I covered my camera with my wet shirt. Then there was lightning, followed immediately by the loudest crack of thunder I had ever heard. Holy hell. Then there was a gust of wind that blew a huge/portable construction sign 50 feet down the street RIGHT in front of me. I held onto the tree, afraid that I might get blown away from it, and then remembered that standing under a tree when there’s lightning isn’t the best idea. And…then the sky opened up. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen rain that hard, let alone been caught
25_rosters.jpgout in it. I had no choice but to dash across the street (while trying not to get hit by cars or blown over the by the wind or slip on the pavement) and race alongside the edge of the stadium until I reached an alcove with some ticket windows. I was so wet and uncomfortable…it was as if I’d been standing in a cold shower fully clothed. I started going through a mental checklist of all the items in my backpack and thinking about what might’ve gotten ruined by the rain. My wallet was soaked. My contact cards were mush. Oh man…my rosters. They were toast. The paper was so soggy that it started to tear as I gently unfolded it, and as you can see in the photo on the right, the ink had bled all over the place.

It was 3:15pm. The stadium wasn’t going to open for another 75 minutes, and even then, there obviously wasn’t going to be batting practice. What the hell was I supposed to do? Just keeping hanging out and be cold and wet for the next seven hours?

As a general rule, I spend my money carefully and avoid all unnecessary costs, not just when I’m traveling, but in life. This, however, qualified as an emergency. I didn’t want to get pneumonia and die, so I called a cab, went back to my motel, cranked up the heater in my room all the way, put my shoes on it (as well as my soaked “Homer” shirt which I said I’d be wearing in my previous entry), changed my socks and underwear, replaced my wet cargo shorts with dry (Ahh, dry!!!) cargo pants, and entertained myself with FARK.com for most of the next hour.

I called another cab, and when I got back to the ballpark at 4:30pm, there was a HUGE line of fans, waiting (in the rain) to get in. Why? Because there was some Nolan Ryan statue giveaway. Oh my Lord. Well, it didn’t even matter. It was still raining. I knew there wasn’t going to be anything happening on the field…and it was then, while I was standing in line, that I heard about the building collapse at the Cowboys’ training facility just 15 (or so) miles away in Irving, TX. Scary stuff.

The stadium seemed eerily calm when I headed inside, and of course the field was covered:

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I thought about wandering up to the upper deck and taking photos, but then an announcement was made over the stadium’s PA system. It said that there was a severe thunderstorm in the area with powerful wind (really?!) and dangerous hail (Christ!). The announcement continued. All fans were told to stay on the field level concourse.

I quickly headed to the weird/interesting/quirky concourse at the back of the seats and took the following photo…

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…and then headed down and took this one:

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For the record, the arches in the outer wall of the New Yankee Stadium’s Great Hall are not unique. Arlington had ‘em 15 years earlier.

As I made my way around toward the left field side, I met up with a man named Brian (who was there with his 10-year-old daughter Sarah) who’s been reading this blog for a while and leaving comments as “bmpowell74.”

We ended up wandering around together for more than an hour, during which I signed his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter and took dozens of photos of the stadium.

Check out this amazing cross-aisle at the back of the left field seats:

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It’s kinda far from home plate, but balls DO land there.

The rain had stopped briefly (as you can see in the photo above) but then it started pouring again.

We took cover under the narrow overhang of the center field offices…

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…and then headed to the second deck behind the right field foul pole. The following photo really shows how much rain had fallen:

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Brian led me up to the club level. Check out the stream of water pouring off the roof:

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Here’s what it looked like through one of the tunnels. You can see the rain streaking behind the seat on the left:

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Now…for all you people out there who called Shea Stadium home…remember how nasty the field level tunnels used to get when it rained? You know how there was always a huge scummy puddle at the bottom because the drains were small and clogged and poorly placed? (I actually miss that.) Behold the stupendous tunnel drainage at Rangers Ballpark:

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This stadium is awesome. I know that sounds silly when I’m talking about something as specific as this, but seriously, it’s an outstanding facility.

Look at this classy (yet understated, unlike the new Yankee Stadium) club level:

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I mean, c’mon. That is just outstanding.

We headed downstairs and I took some more photos along the way. I love this next one, which shows all the beams and railings and platforms and open-air concourses:

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The rain finally stopped and two White Sox pitchers (John Danks and Scott Linebrink) came out and started playing catch along the left field foul line. When they finished, they tossed the ball to a little kid in White Sox gear–hard to argue or compete with that. It was around 6:30pm at that point, and I still didn’t have a ball. I wasn’t worried about being shut out because at the very least, I figured I’d be able to play the dugouts during the game and get a third-out ball…but I didn’t WANT to play the dugouts. I wanted to hang out next to the batter’s eye and go for a home run. I could’ve padded my stats and stayed near home plate all night, but this is a special ballpark and I wanted to do something spectacular.

After the start of the game was pushed back to 7:45pm, Octavio Dotel and Bartolo Colon began playing catch. I went down to the front row, lined myself up with them, and waited patiently. The following photo, taken by Brian, shows me standing there with some White Sox gear of my
own:

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By the way, that “HAMILTON” jersey in the photo above just reminded me that in one of the team stores out in center field, there’s a ball signed by Hamilton (on the sweet spot) that’s “selling” for $249. Shame on the Rangers’ ownership. They get their one and only demerit for that.

Dotel airmailed Colon several times. It might’ve been because the ball was slick, or maybe it was just due to the fact that he’s not THAT good, but regardless, on one of these occasions, the errant throw sailed so far above Colon that I was able to reach over the railing and catch it. Ha-HAAAAA!!! No shutout!!!

Colon and Dotel had brought an extra ball out with them, but Colon had airmailed Dotel a few minutes earlier, and the ball rolled all the way to the warning track in center field. Dotel didn’t bother retrieving it, so I had essentially caught their only ball. Colon looked up at me and waved his glove as if to say, “Throw it to me.”

“Are you gonna give it back when you’re done?” I asked.

I had no idea if he spoke enough English to understand me (he probably does–he’s been in the major leagues for a while) but he nodded, and I figured he wasn’t going to screw me over, so I tossed the ball to him (as a mediocre knuckleball) and watched contentedly as the two pitchers finished playing catch with it.

At one point, their throwing was interrupted by a procession of flag-toting Boy Scouts:

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I found this to be rather amusing, and I loved the fact that Colon was holding MY ball with his multi-million dollar right hand. (If you look very closely at the photo above, you can see the other ball sitting on the field just to the left of the yellow “STANLEY” ad…right above the blueish flag, third from the right.)

It was such a slow day that THIS is the best action shot I can provide. It’s a photo of me taking a photo. Wow…

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Colon eventually tossed me the ball, and then (after changing out of my White Sox costume) I got a photo with Brian:

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The game started and I found a seat in the third row next to the batter’s eye…

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…and then there were a bunch of rain delays. Four different delays? I don’t know. I lost count. The game itself lasted 2 hours and 37 minutes, and all the delays lasted a combined 2 hours and 27 minutes. It was a looooooong night. There wasn’t any action on the batter’s eye, but the delays did allow me to snag a couple extra balls.

At one point, I saw a glove with four balls sitting on a ledge in the White Sox bullpen…

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…so I waited there for about 10 minutes until bullpen coach Juan Nieves came out.

“Any chance you could spare a baseball, please?”

He looked up at me, saw all the White Sox stuff, picked out the dirtiest ball (dirty because it had been rubbed up for a game), and tossed it up.

A bit later on, after the longest of the delays, the Sox ran and stretched and threw in shallow left field, as if they were warming up at the start of a normal game. Chris Getz (who has failed in the first two games of this series to hit his first career home run to me) tossed me a ball after he finished throwing, and that was that.

I was forced to snag Wiffle Balls from the mini-field in deep center:

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That’s when you KNOW you’ve reached an all-time low as a ballhawk.

The stadium was pretty empty when the grounds crew removed the tarp for the final time…

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…and I considered playing for foul balls behind the plate, but the thought of a home run landing on that batter’s eye drew me back to the bleachers.

In the final inning, there was a foul ball that flew back and hit the facade of the second deck and dropped RIGHT down to the exact spot where I would’ve been sitting (which didn’t have another fan within 20 feet), so that hurt, especially when nothing came my way in center field, but I still feel like I made the right decision. After two decades of chasing insignificant foul balls, I’m trying to be more home-run conscious, at least when I’m at a stadium that’s set up in such a way to increase the odds.

I have one more game here tonight. It’s gonna be on ESPN at 8pm ET, so you have NO excuse not to watch it and look for me. I’ll be sitting next to the batter’s eye in the ninth row (over the right edge of the Samsung ad in the photo above), and I’ll be wearing my ridiculous Waldo shirt, possibly over my gray hoodie if it’s cold. (Oy. The fashion police are going to arrest me.) Even if there’s a just a harmless fly ball hit in my direction, I’ll stand up so you can see me.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game

• 123 balls in 16 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 585 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,943 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.38 pledged per ball

• $61.14 raised at this game

• $2,506.74 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/25/09 at U.S. Cellular Field

Screwed by the weather!

No batting practice.

Miserable day all around.

Game time temperature: 39 degrees.

Don’t go to Chicago in April.

This is what I saw when I ran into the stadium:

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Thankfully (and for some strange reason) there was a ball waiting for me in the right field bullpen:

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I might not have noticed this ball if not for my new friend Scott and his friend Chad. (In the photo above, Scott is the guy wearing jeans and a black jacket, and Chad is in a maroon shirt just beyond/above the red tarp.) I was staying back under the overhang of the second deck because it was pouring. These two gentlemen, however, were down in the seats and looking for easter eggs when they discovered the ball in the bullpen. Scott doesn’t have a ball-retrieving device and Chad had left his at home, so they waved me down and let me go for it.

In the following photo (which was taken by Scott), you can see me trying to knock the ball closer:

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The bad news is that my string got horribly tangled (I blame the wetness) and I failed to reel in the ball. The good news is that a couple of groundskeepers eventually walked into the bullpen and one of them tossed it to me. Although there’s no official “assist” category for ballhawks, Scott and Chad definitely deserve one. Not only had they pointed out the ball, but they didn’t even ask for it when the groundskeepers made an appearance. So…BIG thanks to them.

The ball was soaked, and it weighed about half a pound. My glove was also soaked. My string was soaked. My backpack was soaked. My feet were clammy. The ink on my rosters had bled all over the place. My whole body was freezing. It was just a day of suck. And to make matters worse, when it stopped raining, the Blue Jays never came out. Normally, when there’s no BP, the teams will still take the field and play catch. But no. Not this time. There was nothing happening on the field. There was no way to snag baseballs…so I wandered and took photos, starting with the open-air concourse in center field:

4_wet_concourse.jpg

I headed to the left field corner of the upper deck…

5_cell_upper_deck.jpg

…and then made my way toward home plate:

I’m not sure what to make of the support beams. Are they really necessary? I mean, are the really
holding up the top edge of the upper deck? Or are they just there to make The Cell look charming and old? I’m pretty sure–and correct me if I’m wrong–that when construction began on this stadium in 1989, technology had advanced to the point where view-blocking beams would’ve been unnecessary. This upper deck is rather high and far and steep; if I were trapped in the last few rows and THEN had to sit behind one of those beams, I wouldn’t be happy. But then again, security is so laid-back at this stadium that unless it’s sold out, there’s no reason why anyone would ever have to sit there.

Here’s my panorama attempt from behind the plate:

7_cell_panorama.jpg

This is what the upper deck concourse looks like. Pretty nice, pretty standard:

8_cell_upper_deck_concourse.jpg

I noticed some lousy stadium design as I cut through the seats toward the right field side. In the following photo, look how far the steps extend toward the front of the upper deck:

9_cell_funny_steps.jpg

What’s the big deal?

Let’s say you’re sitting in the front row and you want to get to the concourse. When you reach the steps, you’d either have to climb over them or scoot carefully between the bottom step and the railing. It took somewhat of an effort for ME to reach the tunnel in an empty stadium, so I can only imagine how tough it would be for old/fat people when it’s packed.

Here’s another oddity. Not a mess-up. Just something cute and quirky. Look at the little segment of railing attached to the side of the beam:

10_cell_funny_railing.jpg

Here’s another panorama:

11_cell_panorama.jpg

I wasn’t kidding when I said security is laid-back. I *did* have to pay $34 for a field level ticket in order to get into the field level seats, but once I was in, I was free to go everywhere, including here:

12_cell_dugout_access.jpg

Can someone please tell me why it’s okay for autograph collectors to cluster at the dugout at U.S. Cellular Field, but not at Wrigley Field? Or Citi Field? Or the new Yankee Stadium? I hate that certain teams (read: owners) have the right to enforce all kinds of strict rules. There should be a league-wide policy that gives every fan permission to get as close to the field as they want, in any section, at any time of the day until the game begins. Then, if certain anti-fun owners feel the need to instruct their security guards to check tickets, so be it. I wish I were the commissioner of Major League Baseball and/or an owner. (Evidently you can be both at once.) I’m telling you, the world would be a better place.

Here’s another look from the front row next to the dugout:

13_cell_on_deck_circle.jpg

Half an hour before game time, two White Sox players started throwing in shallow left field. I figured there’d be a mob of fans trying to get the ball (at least there would’ve been in New York) but the only mob was passing by on the warning track:

14_ball3907_being_used.jpg

The White Sox had invited 2,200 Girl Scouts (and their parents/siblings/etc.) to take a lap around the field. I was concerned that one of the kids might get hit by an errant throw, but the two players–John Danks and Gavin Floyd–were very careful. (One little girl walked right up to Danks with a ball and pen in her hand and was quickly stopped by security.) Meanwhile, I was the only fan in the seats who had a glove, and when the guys finished throwing, Danks had no choice but to toss me the ball.

Then I got Floyd to sign my ticket:

15_gavin_floyd_autograph.jpg

The game was delayed 14 minutes at the start, and it rained on and off throughout the night. (I’m surprised it was rain and not snow.)

I decided to stay behind home plate and go for foul balls. This was my view late in the game:

16_cell_umbrellas.jpg

Why was I there and not in the outfield? Because Jim “Future Hall of Famer” Thome and A.J. “99 Career Homers” Pierzynski weren’t playing. It was so miserable and cold that I decided I deserved the pleasure of sitting close to the action.

Scott and Chad had the same idea. They were sitting one section to my right. There were a few foul balls that came close enough for us to get up and run, but we didn’t snag any of them. I got a third-out ball from Jose Bautista after the second inning, and Chad kept his mini-streak alive by getting a ball from the ump after the game, but that was it. Hardly any action. Super-lame. The White Sox won, 10-2, and then there were fireworks. Whoop-Dee-Doo!

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One final thing…

At some point during the game–I think it was the top of the 5th inning–I felt my phone vibrate in the upper right pocket of my cargo pants.

“Who the HELL is texting me?” I thought as I reached for it. (I don’t text. I have T-Mobile. I didn’t sign up for texting, but I still get charged 20 cents every time I send or receive a text. It’s complete B.S., and as a result, whenever I give my cell phone number to someone, I have to insist that they never text me. But they still do. And my phone bill get inflated several dollars every month. The cheapest texting plan from T-Mobile is $5 per month, so I’m still saving money, but it’s still a ripoff, and I can’t wait to dump them and get an iPhone. Anyway, there IS a point to this story…)

I pulled out the phone and flipped it open, and this is what it said:

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Yes, that would be THE Heath Bell who pitches for the San Diego Padres–he’s the only one who has permission to text me–and he was talking about my charity. I had told him about it when I saw him on 4/15/09 at Citi Field, and he told me to email him the link. (Very quickly, for those who don’t know, I’m getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag during the 2009 season. That money will go to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball, which provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. The largest pledge so far is one dollar per ball. The smallest pledge is a penny, and it’s all adding up in a big way. If you want to see the complete list of donors and learn more about it, click here.) I was surprised that Heath signed up so quickly. Ten days? I would’ve been glad to have him sign up after ten weeks, for even a nickel per ball, but he came through. He is truly The Man. I can’t say it enough.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 soggy balls at this game

• 88 balls in 12 games this season = 7.3 balls per game.

• 581 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,908 total balls


CHARITY STATS:

• 95 donors

• $18.16 pledged per ball

• $54.48 raised at this game

• $1,598.08 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/24/09 at U.S. Cellular Field

The last time I visited this stadium, it was called Comiskey Park and my one-game record was just 14 balls. Now, a decade later, my simple goal for the day was to snag half that many and bring my lifetime total to 3,900.

I took the subway (or whatever it’s called here in Chicago) to the stadium. Four stops from my friends’ place. Fifteen minutes. Easy. This was the view from the platform after I got off the train:

1_cell_from_train_platform.jpg

The inside of U.S. Cellular Field (aka “The Cell”) had changed a bit in the last decade, but the outside is the same: UGLY. Still, I had a great time walking all the way around it and taking photos.

Down below, I’ve combined four photos into one image. Starting on the upper left and then going clockwise, you can see 1) the walk from the subway to the ticket windows, 2) the ticket windows, 3) me with the home plate gate in the background, and 4) the 1,450-foot Sears Tower way off in the distance.

2_outside_the_cell.jpg

What’s so ugly, you ask? Bland design, mainly. The stadium thinks it’s pretty and classy–like a woman who’s wearing too much makeup and carrying a (fake) designer handbag–but there’s really nothing to it. And to make matters worse, the surrounding area is desolate and boring.

Here’s another four-part pic. It shows 1) the fenced-off area past the right field gate, 2) the walk around the fence, 3) an empty area beyond that, and 4) a dead end:

3_outside_the_cell.jpg

Lameness!

I had to walk back in the direction I came from and then make a WIDE berth in order to keep going. Here’s the last four-part pic I’ll make you look at. It shows 1) a beautiful plastic bag stuck in a beautiful tree, 2) a sketchy stretch of road that turned into a sketchy alley, 3) the projects, and 4) another random stretch of required walking:

4_outside_the_cell.jpg

Am I the only baseball fan in North America that likes to walk all the way around stadiums and take photos? I mean, is it that strange to want to get a sense of the architecture and surrounding areas? I must be the only one who does this on the south side of Chicago because a police officer, sitting in his parked car, actually waved me over and demanded to know what I was doing.

I finally made it past the projects…

5_outside_the_cell.jpg

…and walked along the final edge the stadium. It looked like a boarded up construction zone:

6_outside_the_cell.jpg

Okay, enough with the outside of the stadium. I don’t want you to get depressed.

The right field gate opened at 5:40pm–just 90 minutes before game time. (Actually, game time was officially 7:11pm because the White Sox have a partnership with the 7-11 chain. Lovely.) That wasn’t going to give me much time to snag…maybe 45 minutes at the most. At a decent stadium with a not-too-large crowd, I’ll average about one ball for every ten minutes of batting practice. At a lousy stadium, I’ll snag a ball every 15 to 20 minutes, and at a great stadium, I might be able to get a ball every five minutes. Keep those numbers in mind.

As soon as I got inside, I sprinted up four ramps, showed my field level ticket to get past a security guard, bolted across the open-air concourse, and scurried down the steps toward the bullpen. JACKPOT!! There were two balls sitting there, waiting for me and my glove trick. My friend Kelly had told me that security at the Cell is extremely lax, and she was right. I reeled in the first ball with ease, and then I flung my glove out a few times to knock the second ball closer. While I was in the process of doing this, a security guard in the party deck down below saw what I was doing and gave me a strange look that could’ve been interpreted in any number of ways.

“Do you mind?” I asked innocently.

He shrugged and simply said, “Go for it.”

THAT is how a major league baseball stadium should be run. I’m not saying people should be allowed to dangle gloves there (or onto the field) during games, but jeez, what’s the big deal about doing it so early in the day when no one is around? I’m SO pleased to say that White Sox management has the right idea, and as a result, I’ll be rooting for the team (once I leave Chicago) and encouraging people to go to this stadium.

Here’s a look at the bullpen. I took this photo after I’d snagged the two balls, but you can see how awesome it is:

7_right_field_bullpen.jpg

The bullpen in left field is even better because the seats behind it aren’t as high up. Check it out:

8_ball_3896_LF_bullpen.jpg

Did you notice that there are two balls in the photo above? The ball on the left was too far out, but the one on the right (just next to that coiled green hose) was all mine. Too easy.

Now, just to prove that I actually CAN catch batted balls, I made a nice play on a home run that was hit by a Blue Jays righty. The ball was heading about 20 feet to my left, so I cut through an empty row, and then as it was about to land in a small cluster of semi-clueless fans, I jumped and reached out to my left and plucked the ball out of the air, just above their outstretched arms. They weren’t pissed. If anything, they were impressed, and I heard one guy mumble something like, “He must’ve played high school ball.”

“College,” I said.

“Oh yeah?” he replied.

“Well, a little bit.”

“It shows,” he said, and I thanked him.

The White Sox fans were so nice, even though I was decked out in Blue Jays gear:

zack_blue_jays_gear.jpg

Throughout the entire course of the day, I only heard one “Blue Jays suck” directed at me, and the guy who said it was smirking in a friendly way. I explained that I’m not even a Jays fan, and he got a kick out of that. The photo above was taken by a guy whose name is also Zack. I got recognized by a few people during BP, so I can’t remember if he was the one who asked this, but at one point, when people saw me snagging balls left and right, someone was like, “Wait, are you THAT GUY?”

The person who asked this knew the deal, and I knew that he knew, so all I said was, “Yeah, I’m that guy.” He recognized me from the two home runs I caught on back-to-back nights last September at Yankee Stadium. Why? Because those homers were hit off White Sox pitching.

Anyway, I was in glove trick heaven. Look at this glorious gap behind the left field wall:

9_left_field_gap.jpg

Several balls landed there, including this one which I reeled in for No. 5 on the day:

10_ball3898_gap.jpg

I used the trick to snag No. 6 from the bullpen, and I immediately noticed that it had a faint bat imprint. Check it out below. I wrote the “3899″ because it was the 3,899th ball I’d ever snagged, but right below that, in the very middle of the ball, you can see the first two letters of a reversed TPX logo:

11_ball3899_tpx_imprint.jpg

I love stuff like that.

Batting practice was still in full swing, so I knew I was going to reach 3,900. The only question was…how was I going to get it?

Five minutes later, someone on the Jays hit a home run that barely cleared the outfield fence. The gloveless fans in the front row reached out for it, and this was the result:

12_ball3900_gap.jpg

(Can you see why I was in heaven?)

No one else in the stadium had a ball-retrieving device (how is that possible?), but I still rushed over. The rubber band was already on my glove, so I stretched it into place and propped the glove open with my Sharpie and went in for the kill.

Whenever I snag a ball, I take a quick peek at it right away. Is it marked? Smudged? Stained? Mis-stamped? Lopsided? Is it a minor league ball? A commemorative ball? A training ball? Is there a weird pattern on it? Is there a gash? A bat imprint? I might not have a chance to label it for a few minutes, but at the very least, I take a moment to inspect it.

Well…

This is what I had just pulled out of the gap:

13_ball3900.jpg
Hell YES!!!

The Twins are using these balls in ’09 to commemorate the final season of the Metrodome. I’ve already booked a two-day trip to Baltimore next month for when the Twins will be there, and I was (emphasis on past tense) also planning on going to Yankee Stadium on May 15th when the Twins will be THERE. If I didn’t snag one of these balls at any of those games, I would’ve seriously had to consider going to Minnesota and buying a ticket in the front row behind the visitors’ dugout and snagging an effin’ third-out ball. Now I don’t have to, and it’s SUCH a relief.

Let me not overlook the fact that it really IS a nice logo. Compare it to the blandness of the Citi Field balls. See what I mean? The Twins ball has the name of the stadium. It has the “TC” logo (which stands for “Twin Cities,” in case you didn’t know.) It shows the whole stadium as opposed to a random little sliver of it. Bravo, Twins. Excellent design.

It didn’t occur to me when I booked this trip…and I just realized now…that the Blue Jays were IN Minnesota for four games last week. That explains it. DAMN I’m happy.

It was getting crowded toward the end of BP…

14_left_field_crowded.jpg

…but that didn’t stop me. Double digits, you ask? Read on…

Another ball landed in the gap, and as I was about to go for it, Brandon League jogged over to field a ball that had rolled nearby. I got him to toss me that one and then began what should have been the easy process of using the glove trick.

The ball was kinda underneath the overhang of the gap, so it took me about 30 seconds to knock it into plain view. Once I moved it a bit, I saw that it had the Twins commemorative logo! Ohmygod, I *had* to get it.

I got the ball to stick inside my glove, and as I was gently lifting it up, a hand reached out of nowhere from down in the gap and yanked my string, causing both the ball AND the Sharpie to fall out. What the–?!

I figured someone was just messing with me. Maybe a player had gone in there to get the ball? And maybe he was about to emerge and laugh at me and then toss me the ball and my marker? Nope…nothing. I yanked the glove back up, readjusted the band, pulled out another Sharpie (preparation, baby) and lowered the glove for a second attempt. Then…way off in the distance…far to the right, all the way at the end of the gap, a security guard started walking toward me, and when he saw what I was doing, he started walking faster. Come on, ball!! Go into the glove!! The guard was getting closer. Luckily for me, he was, shall we say, rather hefty and elderly. (He looked like Santa Claus, except he had a white mustache instead of a full beard.) He wasn’t moving fast, but he was gaining ground. I got the ball to go into the glove and started lifting it, and just then the guard made his best attempt to run toward me. He was like 50 feet away, and the glove was only a few feet off the ground. I only had a few seconds, and I was panicking. If I didn’t raise it fast enough, not only would he take the ball but he might cut my string and confiscate my glove. I had no idea. And if I raised the glove too fast, the ball would probably slip out. I kept raising it as fast as I could while keeping the whole operation
under control, and when the guard got very close, I started walking away from him along the front row. I was lifting the glove and keeping my distance at the same time. It was beautiful, but I wasn’t moving fast enough, and he swooped it and made a lunge for my glove, so I had no choice but to yank it up, and the ball stayed inside!!!

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!

The guard was so pissed. I got far away from the front row, and I heard from the fans that he was still down there for the next 10 minutes, looking for me and asking everyone where I was.

I only managed to snag one more ball during BP. That gave me double digits. I got it with my glove trick in the left field corner, and I gave it to the nearest kid.

As for the game itself, there were two players whose potential home run balls I wanted to catch: Jim Thome because he’s a future Hall of Famer who’s already in the 500 Home Run Club and A.J. Pierzynski because he was sitting on 99 career homers. (Thanks to Happy Youngster for reminding me of that fact earlier in the day.) Unfortunately, neither of those guys went deep, and I wandered throughout the night.

This was my view in the top of the first inning:

15_cell_view_in_1st_inning.jpg

Then I made my way out past center field…

16_center_field_cameras.jpg

…and picked a spot in a very crowded right field:

17_crowded_in_right_field.jpg

I tried playing for third-out balls behind the Jays’ dugout…

18_view_behind_jays_dugout.jpg

…but I kept having to leave and run back out to right field whenever Thome (batting cleanup) and Pierzynski (batting 7th) came up. It didn’t give me much of a chance to just sit and relax and watch the game, but that’s life.

By the middle of the 6th inning, the White Sox were losing, 12-0. I felt sorry for the fans, but it was great for me because the stadium cleared out.

After the 7th inning, when the Sox outfielders were warming up, right fielder Brian Anderson looked up into the crowd as if he were going to throw his ball to someone. I jumped up, moved through my (now) empty row, and waved my arms. He threw the ball right to me. Perfect aim. I was in the third row, and it barely cleared the people sitting in front of me. It was totally unexpected. I was just sitting out there in case someone (even Lyle Overbay or Travis Snider) happened to go yard, and I actually felt bad that I was missing opportunities for third-out balls at the dugouts…so this was great.

Despite the lopsided score, some Sox fans were still into the game:

19_topless_sox_fans.jpg

The Blue Jays scored two more runs in the final three innings:

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I’m definitely rooting for the Jays this year in the AL East. I obviously don’t want the Yankees to win it, and I’m getting pretty sick of the whole Red Sox Cult Bandwagon Nation. Now that Manny Ramirez isn’t in Boston, the only reason why I root for that team is because I don’t want the Yanks to finish in first place.

After the final out, I went down to the seats behind the Jays’ dugout and snagged a ball that was rolled to me across the roof. I have no idea who it came from. There was a cluster of players that disappeared from sight, and the ball came from one of them who had obviously seen me standing there with my my Jays gear. That ball–number 12 on the day–was rubbed up and had a big smudge:

21_ball3905_smudge.jpg

I’ve caught dozens of foul balls like this during games, so I assume this one was game-used. I won’t count it as a gamer, of course, but it’s still cool to think about when/how it was used.

By the way, you do need a field level ticket to get into the field level at the Cell, but once you’re in, you’re totally free to go anywhere. I was able to walk down any staircase at any point in the day. Most staircases weren’t even guarded, and the few guards who were scattered around didn’t ask for my ticket. What a great stadium. Except for that one guard in the left field gap, I wouldn’t change a thing.

SNAGGING STATS:

22_the_11_balls_i_kept.jpg

• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 85 balls in 11 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 580 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,905 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $17.27 pledged per ball

• $207.24 raised at this game

• $1,467.95 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/18/08 at Yankee Stadium

I don’t even know where to begin…

Yesterday I woke up way too early with way too little sleep and spent the entire morning and afternoon attempting to blog. It was impossible to write more than a couple sentences at a time because I was on the phone nonstop, mostly with people from the media asking me when I was free, and I was also trying to keep up with the steady flow of emails. Here’s a (partial) screen shot of my inbox from earlier this morning. Keep in mind that these are just the messages that I haven’t yet had a chance to answer…

inbox.jpg

I spent most of my time talking to a producer at CBS, who told me that “The Early Show” wanted me the next day at 7:30am. (Damn, that IS early.) I talked to other TV people, a few radio producers, and some newspaper reporters. I can’t even list them all.

I was supposed to meet a member of the Japanese media at Yankee Stadium between 4pm and 4:15, but I ended up running late and calling him and pushing things back to 4:30. I was trying to finish my blog while shaving and gathering my stuff for the game while getting calls from CBS and the YES Network (and a few other places) while updating my publicist while checking my email. I truly can’t convey how crazy it was.

I left my apartment at around 3:45pm and RAN seven blocks to the subway at 72nd and Broadway. Just before I was about to head underground, I remembered I had to return a call from a guy at Newsday…so I called him and got him on the phone, and he immediately started interviewing me. Then I got a call on the other line from a guy with the local NBC news. He wanted to meet me at the stadium, and we made a plan to do the interview at 4:45pm outside the bleacher entrance. (Batting practice was going to start at 5pm and I didn’t want to miss any of it.) I switched back to the Newsday guy and said I had to get taxi_to_stadium.jpg
to Yankee Stadium ASAP and asked if we could talk after BP…but no, he was on a strict deadline, so it was now or never. I put my MetroCard away and ran over to Amsterdam to hail a cab. That was the only way to get to the stadium AND have cell phone reception at the same time. It took a few minutes to find a cab, and then I was off. We talked nearly the whole way up. Twenty-five dollars later, I was dropped off near the players’ entrance and RAN halfway around the stadium, where there was already a line of fans waiting to get into the bleachers. Luckily I knew a guy (from Shea) at the front, and he let me stand with him.

PHEW!!!

I had a couple minutes to spare, so I ate my chicken sandwich (with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and provolone). Dozens of people recognized me as THAT GUY who caught the two home runs, and lots of them asked to take pictures with me. One guy even asked me to autograph a mini-bat for his kid. I did all this with mouthfuls of food. (Charming.) Then the NBC crew showed up, and I handed my camera to the nearest fan and asked him to take a few pics while I was being interviewed. Here’s one of ‘em:

interview1_NBC.jpg

Oh, I forgot to mention that the Japanese guy (whose name is Hideo) was late, and he showed up AS this other interview with NBC was getting underway. I thought this was going to be a problem, but it wasn’t. Hideo (who’s filming a documentary about the final days of Yankee Stadium for a public TV station called NHK) was glad to get some footage of me talking to the other TV crew…and when I wrapped it up with NBC, he came over and asked his own round of questions. I didn’t get anyone to take a pic of me during the NHK interview so as soon as it was done, I asked Hideo if he could hold up his video camera and point it at me (you know, to recreate the interview from my perspective)…which he did…while cracking up…and this is the pic I got:

interview2_NHK.jpg

The stadium opened at 5pm, and when I ran inside, I got a ball almost immediately. It was a home run by Hideki Matsui. (Yay, Japanese people!!) It landed in the empty benches behind me and took a nice ricochet back into my waiting glove. Thank God. I was relieved to get that first ball out of the way.

My cell phone rang. It was a photographer from Newsday who asked me where I was and then headed out to the RF bleachers. He found me easily because of the bright yellow “Homer” shirt I was wearing. Just as he was getting ready to start shooting, I got a call from a high-ranking official (who’s also a friend) at the National Scrabble Association who’d seen my Scrabble T-shirt all over the news and just wanted to say “hey” and “thanks.” (I was wearing the shirt when I caught the Johnny Damon homer. Here’s the footage again, in case you missed it the first 79,000 times.)

Back to the Newsday photographer…

interview3_newsday.jpg

He had me pose this way and that, and at one point I had to take a one-minute break to reel a ball out of the gap with my glove trick.

The photographer finished up a few minutes later. Then I caught an A-Rod home run on a fly. Then a three-member crew from the YES (Yankees Entertainment & Sports) Network showed up and took me to the back of the bleachers for a five-or-so-minute interview, which aired a short while later on the Yankees pre-game show. Here they are:

interview4_YES.jpg

In case you’re wondering, Kimberly Jones (holding the microphone) was very nice. After the interview, I handed her a card and told her to give my love to Michael Kay.

I probably missed a ball or two because of the interview (and photo shoot), but whatever. It was obviously worth it.

My first three balls were all commemorative:

three_commemorative_balls_09_18_08.jpg

My fourth ball, which came via the glove trick, was just a regular ball, so as soon as I got it, I handed it to a little girl who was standing on my left…and I’d just like to point out that yes, she was wearing a glove. (Bring your gloves, people!)

The bleachers were very crowded by the end of BP…

bleachers_during_BP.jpg

…and I didn’t snag any more balls.

After BP, I managed to find a few f
ree minutes (when I didn’t have to be on the phone) and took a picture of the Jumbotron as it showed highlights from the previous game…including my celebratory dance:

zack_jumbotron_09_18_08.jpg

After the highlights were done, half the people in sections 41 and 43 were staring at me, so I recreated the dance and got a bunch of laughs and cheers. Throughout the night, people asked to take pictures with me. It never got old.

As for the game…
There was only one home run that landed in the bleachers. It was Bobby Abreu’s second homer of the night–the first one went into the upper deck–and it sailed 10 feet directly over my head. Wow. If he’d swung a millimeter (or something like that) higher, he would’ve hit the ball a little bit more on a line…and it wouldn’t have traveled as far…and I have no doubt that I would’ve caught it. Can you imagine THAT?!

Worse than not catching the ball was the fact that I dropped my five-dollar-and-twenty-five-cent hot dog during the scuffle. And then, for good measure, someone stepped on it:

zack_loses_hot_dog1.jpg

It was a very sad moment indeed. I *had* managed to take a bite before gravity got the best of it, but I was still hungry so I bought another. I gave the vendor a 75-cent tip each time–one rule of ballpark etiquette is never to ask for coins back from a vendor–so in effect I paid $12 for a hot dog, or two dollars per bite.

The Yankees, as they’ve been doing all week, flashed a message on the Jumbotron that urged fans not to dismantle the Stadium. I just thought it was cool, so naturally I took a picture of this as well:

dont_damage_the_stadium.jpg

Once the game became official in the middle of the 5th inning and the “MetLife regular season countdown” changed from 4 to 3, I got a picture of that as well:

three_games_remaining.jpg

By the late innings, my ex-hot dog wasn’t looking too good…

zack_loses_hot_dog2.jpg

…and by the time Chris Britton retired Juan Uribe for the final out, my two-game home run streak had ended.

Final score: Yankees 9, White Sox 2.

I stopped in the bathroom on the way out and heard a guy in a stall behind me say, “Final piss at Yankee Stadium.”

His friend said (with a heavy New York accent), “Ya want me t’get my video camera?”

“Whoa!” I shouted. “I didn’t know it was gonna be THAT kinda party!”

“It’ll be a very short story,” said another man.

“OHHHH!!!” we all shouted, and that was that. (Thankfully.)

I met up with Hideo outside the bleacher entrance, and we discussed dates/times for a follow-up interview. Thousands of fans were filing past us toward the subway, and many of them recognized me. A bunch of people came over and asked to take pics with me, so I got Hideo to get some shots with my camera as well.

Here’s one of the photos:

zack_and_random_fans1.jpg

Not great. Not bad. Right?

Well, it got better…

zack_and_random_fans2.jpg

Eventually I made it to the subway, and before I got on the No. 4 train, I took one final pic of the New Yankee Stadium:

new_yankee_stadium_09_18_08.jpg

I’ll be back at the old one tonight with my girlfriend. Look for me/us in the right field bleachers.

STATS:

? 4 balls at this game

? 490 balls in 64 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

? 560 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 126 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 3,767 total balls

…oh, and one more thing. The Newsday article is out. It’s in the actual paper today (Sept. 19), on page A69 in the sports section, and it’s probably online as well. I got a hard copy, and I’ll scan it and share the link as soon as I get a chance.

OH! And I was on “The Early Show” today, and I’m meeting a TV crew from FOX at 2:30pm. I’ll share all the details (and photos) in my next entry.

9/16/08 at Yankee Stadium

I attended this game with my friend Jordan (aka “hockeyguy1011″ if you read the comments) and his friend Josh. They’d flown in from Florida just to see Yankee Stadium, and of course they were each hoping to catch a commemorative ball. They had tickets for the main part of the stadium so I sent them to the corner spot at the end of the short porch. I had a seat in the right field bleachers and my day of snagging got off to a fast start.

phil_hughes.jpgLess than a minute after I entered the stadium, Phil Hughes tossed me ball number one. Even though his aim was perfect, I jumped up on the chest-high railing so that I was briefly balancing on my stomach…so that I could reach out as far as possible and prevent anyone else from interfering.

bleachers_during_BP_09_16_08.jpgFive minutes later, I caught a Robinson Cano homer in the crowded aisle, and five minutes after THAT, I got another ball from Hughes. He didn’t intend to throw this one to anyone in particular. He just flipped it up randomly–one section to the right of where he’d tossed the first ball–and I happened to be standing there so I jumped and made the catch.

I was checking in on Jordan every now and then–his corner spot was only 30 feet from the left edge of the bleachers–and at one point, when I was more than 100 feet away, I saw a player toss him a ball. I ran over and yelled his name and got him to hold it up…

jordan_ball_corner_spot.jpg

…and learned later that a) the ball was tossed by Alfredo Aceves who b) also tossed one to Josh, and that c) both balls were commemorative. Not bad.

I ended up snagging three more balls with my glove trick during the Yankees’ portion of BP. The first two landed in the narrow gap behind the outfield wall in right-center field, and I had to pounce on them because Greg (aka “gregb123″) was there with his cup trick, and another man (who told me he was inspired by this blog) was there with his own makeshift ball-retrieving device. Those two guys each pulled a ball out of the gap, and Greg ended up getting a couple other balls as well. Anyway, my third glove-trick ball came in left field. I saw a player throw a ball to some fans in the bleachers. Naturally they dropped it, and I ran over, and to my surprise Greg was already on the scene.

“You can have it,” he said. “It’s too far out.”

ball3757_too_far_out_for_greg.jpg
Indeed, the ball WAS nearly ten feet out from the wall (check out the lame photograph on the right), and Greg’s cup wasn’t going to cut it.

Cup tricks are better than glove tricks in certain situations (like when a ball is sitting on thick grass or surrounded by garbage, as is often the case in the various gaps at Shea Stadium), but here, when the ball needed to be knocked closer, I was all over it.

Fortunately, stadium security was nowhere in sight, so I was able to spend several minutes flinging my glove out past the ball and then dragging it back by pulling the string. Once I’d moved the ball off the grass, it took an extra effort to bring it closer because the dirt area was slightly sloped and the ball kept trickling away from me. Finally, though, I had the ball where I needed it and went in for the kill.

The man on my right was skeptical, as people often are.

“What you need is a secondary string,” he said.

A secondary…WHAT?!?!

I didn’t respond at first. I just went about my business, and ten seconds later I was holding the ball.

“What was that you mentioned about extra string?” I asked.

I ran back to right field with six commemorative balls in my drawstring backpack. It’d taken me 40 minutes to snag them, so I figured I’d be able to get four more over the next 45 minutes with the White Sox hitting. It always makes me happy to reach double digits, especially in a tough ballpark like Yankee Stadium, but guess what happened…

I
didn’t
snag
another
ball
for
the
rest
of
BP.

The Sox hardly tossed any balls into the crowd. Most of their hitters were right-handed. Their few lefties were either too wimpy to reach the bleachers or, in the case of Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr., having too much fun taking aim at the right field upper deck. It was totally dead and my once-promising day quickly turned into a slightly-below-average performance.

I caught up with Greg after BP, and he (expertly) took the following photo:

zack_six_commemorative_balls_09_16_08.jpg

I only had the baseballs out of my bag for a minute, during which time two people approached me separately and wanted to buy one.

“How much do you want?” asked one guy.

I didn’t even bother asking how much he was willing to pay or making up a number, but it obviously would’ve been a lot more than $30. That’s how much these balls cost in the stadium souvenir stores–and mine were actually USED by the Yankees.

All I said was, “I’m sorry, they’re not for sale.”

I played the tunnels in right field for the first couple innings of the game and had a decent view of Jeter’s fake hit–the one that moved him past Lou Gehrig for “most hits all time at Yankee Stadium.” Seriously, I can’t believe it was ruled a hit. I don’t care what kind of pressure Bill Shannon, the official scorer, was feeling in terms of making a hometown call. He was wrong and his poor decision jeter_passes_gehrig.jpgcheated Jeter and every Yankee fan. He ruined a historic moment. The ball was hit hard–I won’t deny that–but third baseman Juan Uribe should’ve caught it. He’s a major leaguer. Make the play. Get in front of the ball. Move your feet. Knock it down. I used to play shortstop and third base, and I was charged with errors on much harder plays than that. You know when there’s a line drive hit right at an infielder and it in-between hops him and deflects off his glove? In my summer ball leagues (where the fields were crappy and you were lucky if the ball didn’t take a bad hop), those were ruled errors. In the major leagues, why are these plays ruled hits more often than not? It makes me sick. Jeter’s routine ground ball three feet to the right of Uribe should have been caught, and since it wasn’t, it should’ve been an error. Everyone in the stadium kind of cheered as soon as the ball got through, but we were all holding our breaths and looking at the scoreboard. After five to ten seconds, when it was ruled a hit, THEN everyone cheered. It was terrible. And it’s not even like this was the last game at Yankee Stadium. There were still five games and eight innings remaining at that point, so the Captain was clearly going to have plenty of chances. What the hell.

In the second inning, one of my vendor friends walked out of the tunnel where I was standing and said, “No seat again tonight, Zack?”

I actually *did* have a seat in section 41–the second section over from the batter’s eye–but it was in Row M, and there was no way I was gonna sit there.

To make a long story short (and to protect the people who made it happen), I got to sit on an extra folding chair IN the actual aisle directly behind the wall. That aisle is normally reserved for wheelchair seating (just like at Coors Field), but not everyone there is necessarily disabled because those seats often end up getting released to the public shortly before game time.

My view of the game itself wasn’t great because I had to watch the action through the railings…

view1_during_game_09_16_08.jpg

…but the space on either side of me (and the lack of competition) was to die for. Was this really happening at Yankee effin’ Stadium? This was the view to my left…

view2_during_game_09_16_08.jpg

…and this was the view to my right:

view3_during_game_09_16_08.jpg

Wow. If ever there was a night to catch a home run, this was it.

The bottom of the third inning was thoroughly entertaining, not in a snagging sense, but because of the idiot fans sitting directly behind me. Bobby Abreu had committed the horrible crime of grounding out to the pitcher with one out and runner on third, so the fans were already angry when A-Rod stepped into the batter’s box. One guy started screaming, “LOSER!!! LOSER!!!” which prompted his friend to shout, “Pop up to the infield and then pretend you care! I love it!”

(Clearly, A-Rod wants to fail and is more talented as an actor than as an athlete.)

After A-Rod ended the inning with a towering fly out to right field (which would’ve been a 430-foot homer had he swung half an inch higher), the first fan yelled, “YOU BUM!!! YOU BUM!!! YOU PIECE OF SH*T!!!” Then his buddy yelled, “Cheat on your wife!!”

When Abreu took his position in right field in the top of the fourth, another fan screamed, “Way to get the run in, Bobby!! Welcome to free agency!! The Yankees hate you!!”

(Let it be known that Abreu is batting .298 with 91 runs, 17 homers, 19 stolen bases, 38 doubles, and a .372 on-base percentage. Not exactly a terrible season.)

Then the fans started talking about how A-Rod should be dropped to the 8th slot in the lineup, and that the only reason why manager Joe Girardi won’t do it is because it “goes against the book.”

Duh.

Anyway…
When Jason Giambi led off the bottom of the fourth inning, I was thinking that he had a better chance than anyone on either team to hit a home run to me. That said, I wasn’t rooting for this to happen. I don’t like the guy. To me, he’s a villain who deserves to fail.

Gavin Floyd quickly fell behind in the count 3-0, and all I could think was something along the lines of: “I don’t even want Giambi to enjoy the pleasure of getting a base on balls.”

Giambi predictably took the next pitch–a strike–and fouled off the next one to bring the count to 3-2. I was sitting on the edge of my seat, as I always do, hoping but not necessarily expecting anything to come my way.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, Floyd grooved a 91mph fastball, and Giambi launched it about 20 feet to my right. From the moment it left the bat, I knew it was gone, but at first I thought it was going to sail over the aisle and land out of reach in the packed section behind me. Still, I jumped up and drifted through the wide aisle and got in line with the ball. Somehow, either because it was a cool night or because the wind was blowing in (or maybe because I flat-out misjudged it initially), the ball didn’t travel as far as I thought it would, and it began descending toward me in the aisle. I stayed near the back railing, still preparing for the ball to carry (and of course because it’s easier to move forward than backward at the last second), and then determined that the ball was going to land right in the middle of the aisle. Rather than taking ball3758_giambi_home_run.jpg
one step forward and preparing to make a face-high catch, I took two steps forward, thereby forcing myself to jump for the ball so that I could catch it as high as possible–and in front of anyone else who might’ve been hoping to make their own attempt.

And that’s exactly what I did.

I jumped. I caught it. The place went nuts (not for me but rather for Giambi) and I held up the ball triumphantly. Then, since I knew I was sitting in a spot where I “belonged” and that I wasn’t going to get kicked out of the section by security (as was the case after my other two home run catches this season), I quickly decided to do a little dorky/celebratory dance…nothing fancy, and certainly nothing GOOD. Just a few silly moves so that that cameras might stay on me for a couple seconds…just to have fun with it and entertain my friends and family and all you blog readers (and the millions of baseball fans) who would end up seeing the highlights later that night.

As it turned out, the cameras captured the whole thing quite well.

The swing:

giambi_screen_shot1.jpg

My catch (leaping and reaching just behind the “G” in “AIG):

giambi_screen_shot2.jpg

Holding up the ball:

giambi_screen_shot3.jpg

Dancing (badly):

giambi_screen_shot4.jpg

Talking on my cell phone (to Jordan who saw me from the upper deck and called immediately):

giambi_screen_shot5.jpg

I want to give a BIG thanks to my friend Michael Fierman (formerly “tswechtenberg” and now “pinched”) for taping the game and making a compilation of all the footage.

CLICK HERE to watch it, but be warned that it’s about 16 MB and might take a little while to load if you have a slow internet connection.

I was dying to catch another home run–two in one game is a very rare feat–but it wasn’t meant to be.

zack_with_giambi_home_run_ball.jpgI am proud to say, though, that as of this moment, I am the proud owner of the last home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium. There are five more games remaining there, and I’ll be at three of them. What are the odds that a) there won’t be any more homers or b) there will be another and I’ll catch it?

Hmm…

Final score: Zack 7, White Sox 6, Yankees 2.

STATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 481 balls in 62 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 558 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 124 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

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

? 3 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly at Yankee Stadium)

? 122 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 6 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)

? 20 lifetime game balls at Yankee Stadium

? 3,758 total balls

When I got home, the following email was waiting for me. The subject was “I see 3′s and 1′s.” It was from my friend Brad. Here goes:

Zack,
 
There has been a streak of HR catches by some notorious ballhawks over the last six (3 + 3) days. Wanna see how the numbers “3″ and “1″ occur prominently for each of these?
 
On Thursday in San Diego, T.C. got Drew Macias’s first (1) MLB homer. Macias’s jersey number is 11 (1) (1). And Leigh got Adrian Gonzalez’s’ 31st (3) (1) homer of the season.
 
On Friday in San Diego, T.C. got Pedro Sandoval’s third (3) homer of the season,
 
On Friday in Oakland, Tyler got Hank Blalock’s HR. Blalock went 1-3 that game and wears number nine (3) X (3).
 
On Saturday at PETCO, Leigh got Bengie Molina’s 13th (1) (3) homer of the year. That’s also 31 backwards from the Gonzalez homer (3) (1) and Molina’s jersey number is one (1).
 
Monday night at Coors Field, Danny got Matt Antonelli’s first (1) MLB HR. Antonelli is #9 (3) X (3). That catch also makes a total of (3) ballhawks that we know of who got a player’s first (1) major league home run this season; Tyler’s brother Tom in Oakland got Carlos Gonzalez’s first (1)
 
With all these one’s and three’s flyin’ around, we should have been able to predict that you would catch Giambi’s 31st (3) (1) on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. That also made you the first (1) person to catch three (3) homers at Yankee Stadium in it’s final season. It also happened in the 4th inning (3) + (1). And Giambi ended up going 1-3
for the game.
 
Also on Tuesday night: Prince Fielder hit his 31st (3) (1) homer of the season onto Sheffield Avenue at Wrigley, and the probability is high that one of the regular ballhawks out there got it. So it is possible that You and Leigh and one of the Wrigley guys have someone’s 31st (3) (1) homer of the 2008 season.
 
And for the most bizarre stat of the night– the attendance at Yankee Stadium was 52,558.
5 + 2+ 5 + 5 + 8 = 25 (Giambi’s number.)

As awesome as that email was, the response of the night went to my girlfriend (a former professional dancer) who watched the footage and said, “So you were churning butter and then you started doing aerobics.”

Yup. And it worked.

9/15/08 at Yankee Stadium

What a stupid day. The White Sox didn’t take batting practice, and the game ended with Ken Griffey Jr. in the on-deck circle. But don’t worry. I still snagged five balls.

I used my glove trick to pluck two of the balls from the gap behind the outfield wall, and I had to work fast because there was another guy who had a ball-retrieving device of his own. His name is Tom (aka “runshouse” if you read the comments on this blog) and his device was a cup trick, which you can see on the ground in front of his right shoe in the following photo:

cup_trick_09_15_08.jpg

I also got a ball tossed by Phil Hughes and caught a home run on a fly. I think it was hit by Wilson Betemit. I’m not sure, but I can tell you that I made a pretty nice play on it. I was standing about 10 rows back in straight-away right field when the batter lifted a high/deep fly ball a bit to my right. I quickly determined that it was going to reach the stands but fall short of my row, so I climbed onto the bench in front of me and then cut diagonally–down and to my right–by stepping directly from one bench to the next. As the ball was in mid-air, I shifted my gaze between the benches (so I wouldn’t break my face) and the ball (so I wouldn’t lose it against the bright sky) and reached the spot where it landed at the last second. Several people without gloves reached up for it. I kinda reached through them (without bumping into anyone) and made a back-handed catch that drew applause from everyone in the section. It wasn’t a dazzling play by any means, but it still felt good.

You know what else felt good? All four of my balls to that point were commemorative:

commemorative_balls_09_15_08.jpg

Sadly, though, when the Yankees jogged off the field at 5:40pm, the White Sox were nowhere in sight:

no_white_sox_bp1.jpg

Eventually some Sox pitchers came out and played catch along the left field foul line, but because there’s no access between the bleachers and the main part of the stadium, this was as close as I could get:

no_white_sox_bp2.jpg

Nice view…sort of…but not ideal for getting another ball…at least not at first. After about 10 minutes, two of the pitchers–Ehren Wassermann and Mike MacDougal–walked all the way out to the bullpen to do some more throwing. Wassermann started off on the mound with MacDougal crouching for him behind the plate. When they switched and MacDougal walked past me, I asked if he’d be able to spare the ball when he was done. (I put in my request early because there was another fan with a glove and a White Sox cap.) He looked up and nodded, then pitched to Wassermann for another five minutes or so, and finally hooked me up with the ball.

That was it.

I spent the whole game in the right field bleachers, standing in various tunnels…

view_during_game_09_15_08.jpg

…and hoping to catch a home run off the bat of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jim Thome, and/or Griffey, but the Fantastic Four went a combined 0-for-15 with six strikeouts.

Bobby Abreu tossed his 9th inning warm-up ball directly over my head–30 feet over–and Mariano Rivera mowed down Chicago on seven pitches to earn his 36th save of the season and preserve reliever Phil Coke’s first major league win.

Final score: Zack 5, Yankees 4, White Sox 2.

I’m thinking the Sox skipped BP because they’d swept a doubleheader the night before and probably didn’t arrive in New York City until the wee hours. The question is…did they score a measly two runs because they were tired or because they neglected to take BP? I already know the answer. I hope Ozzie Guillen knows it too and makes his team hit every day for the rest of this four-game series.

STATS:

? 5 balls at this game

? 474 balls in 61 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 557 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 123 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 3,751 total balls

8/27/08 at Camden Yards

I bought two tickets to this game the day Ken Griffey Jr. was traded to the White Sox, and it just so happened that he entered this game with 609 career home runs–tied with Sammy Sosa for fifth all time. Jim Thome, meanwhile, with 535 career jacks of his own, also happened to be on the verge of home run history; his next blast would tie him with Mickey Mantle.

When I first bought the tickets, I didn’t know who, if anyone, I would take to this game. I’d paid less than their $13 face value on StubHub, so if one of them ended up being unused, it wasn’t going to break my heart.

The first person I invited was my dad. We hadn’t been to a game together since he saw me snag my 3,000th ball on 5/7/07 at Yankee Stadium, but he couldn’t go. He and my mom were planning to be upstate with their car…so I invited my girlfriend Jona, and we rented a Mini Cooper:

zack_jona_mini_cooper.jpg

If there weren’t so many people from New Jersey who read this blog, I might be tempted to make a wise-crack about the license plate, but instead I’ll just say that the car was great and added an extra dimension of goodness to the trip.

Jona and I were the fifth and sixth people, respectively, on line outside the Eutaw Street gate. The seventh was a fellow baseball-snagger named Gary (aka “gjk2212″ if you read the comments) who’d told me he was going to be there.

Gary and his family didn’t have season tickets for this game, so he was trapped in right field for the first half-hour of batting practice. Jona and I *did* have season tickets, and since I was the only fan who ran out to the left field seats, I pretty much had the place to myself for the first three minutes.

I should mention that I didn’t take a single photograph during BP. Jona had her camera and did all the documenting for me, starting with the following shot that shows me (in a black T-shirt and tan shorts) standing all by myself, way off in the distance, in the seats in straight-away left field:

zack_alone_in_left_field.jpg

Of course there weren’t any home runs until half a dozen other grown men had made their way out there, but that didn’t stop me from getting off to a good start.

As soon as Jona settled into a seat several rows behind me, she saw me make a leaping catch on a Melvin Mora home run, then grab another Mora homer off the ground soon after.

Several minutes later, I raced down to the wall and leaned way over…

zack_leaning_over_the_wall.jpg

…for a ball that didn’t bounce up high enough. Chris Waters, the player in the photo above who’s running toward me, retrieved the ball, walked over to the wall, and held it out for me. I thought he was messing around. Hadn’t he seen me snag those first two balls? Was he planning to pull his hand back as soon as I reached for this one?

“Are you serious?” I asked, and when he kept standing there without saying a word, I reached out slowly, as if the ball were going to bite me, and lifted it out of his hand.

“Thanks!” I shouted, and he jogged back into shallow left field, again without saying a word.

The good thing about letting my girlfriend take all the photos is that I ended up with some cool shots of myself. The bad thing is that she occasionally pointed her camera elsewhere:

jona_took_this_photograph.jpg

My fourth ball was another home run that I caught on a fly after drifting through my row and jumping. My fifth was a home run that nearly killed Jona and landed on her purse in the seat next to her. (Thankfully, she had the presence of mind not to grab the ball, thus enabling ME to scurry over and grab it and count it in my collection.) My sixth ball was yet another home run (I have no idea who hit these balls). Jona took the following photo just before I caught it:

zack_about_to_catch_ball3636.jpg

See the guy wearing the backpack? More on him in a bit…

Just as the White Sox were taking the field at 5:30pm, I changed into my White Sox cap and shirt, and dozens of fans (including Gary) flowed into the left field seats. That’s when things slowed way down for me. There were just as many balls being hit and thrown into the stands, but I wasn’t on my game, and I wasn’t getting any lucky bounces. I kept being one or two steps too late, if not out of position altogether. It was really frustrating because I easily could’ve ended up with 15 or 20 balls if luck had gone the other way. I still did okay, though. My goal, aside from catching home runs during the game from both Griffey and Thome, was to reach double digits, and it appeared I was on my way.

I used my glove trick to pluck ball No. 7 off the rubberized warning track in left-center and then got another from Octavio Dotel after
he finished playing catch near the foul pole. Gary was ten feet to my left and probably would’ve gotten it if not for me, but I out-wardrobed him. All he had was a cheap, light gray White Sox cap, whereas I had a black cap along with an eye-catching shirt (that you’ll see in the next full-screen photo).

nick_swisher.jpgAt one point, Nick Swisher walked over toward the wall to retrieve a ball, and when I asked him for it, he shouted, “You’re a grown MAN!!! You can get balls on your OWN!!!”

Then he tossed it to a little kid. Good for the kid. Bad for me. I knew I had to be creative, so when he chased down another ball five minutes later, I ran down to the wall and yelled, “Nick, I know I’m big and mean and old, but it would mean a lot to get a ball from YOU specifically.”

I actually meant it. I’d read all about him in Moneyball and admired him ever since. (Also, it’s hard not to like a guy who, as the story goes, was once particularly taken with a hot girl he saw while flipping through the pages of Maxim–or was it FHM?–and told his agent to track her down and then ended up dating her.) Swisher must’ve appreciated my attempt at being funny and/or sensed my sincerity (or maybe he just felt sorry for me), but whatever it was, what I said to him worked because he flipped me the ball.

“Thanks!” I shouted, “I really appreciate it!”

He turned back, pointed his glove at me, and gave a friendly wink before jogging off.

I must admit that I did experience SOME good luck. Right before the end of BP, I began jogging from my spot in left field toward the 3rd base dugout. I wanted to get there before the White Sox came off the field because I was pretty sure I’d be able to get one more ball there and break double digits. Well, as I was cutting through the seats about 10 rows back along the left field foul line, a right-handed batter swung too soon and hooked a line drive right–and I mean RIGHT–to me. I had to bend down a little and make a thigh-high back-handed catch over the row below me, but still. Wow. And that was it…my 10th ball of the day. Then, as it turned out, I didn’t get anything at the dugout.

Remember the guy with the backpack from one of the photos up above? His name is Tobey Rowland, and not only is he a fellow member of the National Scrabble Association–it was my Scrabble shirt that initially caught his eye–but he’s a fellow baseball snagger (from the Bay Area) who had tracked me down in 2006 after catching two foul balls on two consecutive pitches. At the time, he wanted to know if that had ever been done and who he could contact to get his story out. I put him in touch with my friend Mark Newman at MLB.com, and this was the result. Anyway, the funny thing is that when Tobey first approached me during BP and started talking about Scrabble, neither of us knew who the other person was.

After BP, Tobey caught up with me behind the 3rd base dugout, and we talked while I labeled my last few baseballs and scribbled down some notes. Here we are (with Gary wearing the yellow shirt in the background):

tobey_gary_zack.jpg

Four of my 10 balls had distinctive markings and smudges. Check it out:

four_distinct_markings.jpg

During the game, there wasn’t exactly a whole lot of competition for Griffey:

competition_for_griffey_08_27_08.jpg

Only 15,736 tickets had been sold. Among those who bought them and then actually bothered to show up, there was only one person who appeared in the right field standing-room-only section for all of Griffey’s (and Thome’s) plate appearances. It wasn’t Gary, and it wasn’t Tobey. It wasn’t Jona, nor was it Mrs. Griffey. It was me:

zack_standing_room_only_08_27_08.jpg

The conditions were perfect for catching a home run, and there WERE five homers in the game, but unfortunately four of them were hit to left field field by righties, and the other was hit to right-center by Aubrey Huff. Griffey ended up going 0-for-1 with three walks, while Thome finished 1-for-4 with two strikeouts. His one hit, however, did get my heart racing. It was a deep line drive EXACTLY in my direction that hit the outfield wall; Thome foolishly tried to stretch it into a double, and future Hall of Famer Nick Markakis (who already had 14 outfield assists before the play) gunned him down at second base.

The Orioles scored in every inning except the third (and the ninth, which they didn’t need) and cruised to an 11-3 victory. Two minutes after the final out, when the relief pitchers were walking across the field from the bullpen, I got Dennis Sarfate to toss me a ball at the dugout. It looked like the ball had been rubbed up for a game, so I kept that one and gave a different/cleaner ball to a kid just before Jona and I made our exit.
STATS:

? 11 balls at this game

? 364 balls in 51 games this season = 7.14 balls per game.

? 547 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 133 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball


? 86 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

? 31 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls

? 3,641 total balls

Remember when I started comparing my baseball total to players’ career hit totals? Well, I’ve now moved past Stan Musial (3,630) and into fourth place all time. Next up is Hank Aaron [3,771].

And by the way, I wrote the first half of this entry on an airplane and the second half at a friend’s place in San Diego. I’ll be at PETCO Park later today…

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