Results tagged ‘ cincinnati reds ’

2010 NLDS — Game 2

Reds versus Phillies? Whatever. I was just excited to get out of New York City for a day and see some playoff baseball.

This was the scene outside the 3rd base gate at Citizens Bank Park:

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The whole street was blocked to traffic, and there was all kinds of stuff that you don’t see during the regular season. Check out the four-part photo below. Starting on the top left and going clockwise, you’re looking at a) a stage for a band, b) a live broadcast by a classic rock radio station, c) inflatable goodness, and d) various TV trucks:

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Want to see what else there was?

Free/unlimited ice cream samples courtesy of Turkey Hill:

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Given the sad fact that I’m allergic to sugar, I only had two. (But given the fact that I seem to be immune to calories, I still consider myself lucky.)

By the time the gates opened at 3:35pm, this was the crowd waiting to get in:

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(Don’t get excited about the early opening time; the first pitch was scheduled for a little after six o’clock.)

Less than a minute after I reached the seats in left-center field, I got Phillies pitcher Jose Contreras to throw me a ball:

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Two minutes later, it occurred to me that that was my 300th ball of the season.

This was the view to my right soon after:

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The front row was already packed, and the left field seats ended up getting seriously crowded.

I headed over to right field. There was more room to run over there:

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The main challenge was battling the sun. You can get an idea of the intense glare in the following panorama photo, taken by a friend and fellow ballhawk named Ryan. The red arrow is pointing to me:

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Forty-five minutes into BP, I made a nice play in order to come up with my second ball. I’m not sure who was hitting. It was one of the Reds’ lefties. It was probably Jay Bruce or Joey Votto, but might’ve been Laynce Nix. Anyway, the batter ripped a line-drive homer that was heading one full section to my left, so I bolted in that direction, and as I reached the next staircase, I jumped and lunged and caught it on the fly — all this with the sun in my eyes and another guy reaching for the ball from behind. It probably didn’t look all that special from afar, but trust me, there was a lot that went into it.

My third ball was as unexciting as it gets: Aaron Harang retrieved a ball from the warning track in right-center and tossed it up to me. (I ended up giving it away to a kid after the game.)

I headed back to left field when a bunch of righties started hitting. Look how crowded it was:

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There wasn’t an empty row anywhere, except at the very back of the section in left-center.

Toward the end of BP, I got the attention of Reds 1st base coach Billy Hatcher. He was roaming the outfield with his fungo bat, and I convinced him to hit me a fungo. I stood on the armrests of a seat in order to elevate above the crowd and give him a better target. He was only about 75 feet away, and I was probably in the sixth row. His fungo was right on the money, but it fell a few feet short of where I wanted it. I wanted to be able to reach up and catch the ball over my head. That would’ve prevented anyone else from interfering, but the ball ended up waist-high, so another fan in front of me got his glove on it. Conveniently, after we both bobbled it, the ball dropped straight down and bounced straight up off the concrete in my row, and I was able to grab it.

After BP, I raced to the 3rd base dugout and got my fifth ball of the day from the Reds’ equipment guy. Here he is just before he tossed it to me…

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…and here are two photos of the ball itself:

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Is that beautiful or what?

Here’s another beautiful thing — the military jet flyover after the national anthem:

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The fans were pumped…

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…and so was I because I had a ticket for the fancy-schmancy Diamond Club area behind home plate. (I won’t get into all the details of the club here. If you want to know more about it, check out my entry from April 25, 2007. That was my first time there.) This was my view during the bottom of the 1st inning. Note Bronson Arroyo’s fantastic leg kick, in addition to all the standing room behind the seats:

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Did I mention that the fans were pumped?

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Here’s another photo, pretty much taken from the same spot as the one above. The difference here is that Aroldis Chapman was on the hill:

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It was my first time seeing him pitch in person, and MAN-ALIVE can that young fella throw a baseball!!! Look at the radar gun reading in the following photo:

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That wasn’t even his fastest pitch.

I don’t know how to describe the movement on his fastball. In fact, there appears to be very little movement. When Chapman releases the ball, it just stays straight, like there’s no gravity or air resistance. It doesn’t even seem that much faster than, say, a 95mph fastball. It just seems sturdier, if that makes sense. Everyone in the aisle was frozen in place…just standing around and watching him pitch:

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It was truly awesome, and I was glad to be so close to the action.

Despite Chapman’s velocity, the Phillies managed to score three runs off him, all of which were unearned. The Reds’ defense fell apart. Look how many errors they made:

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Despite all the standing room I had, I didn’t come close to a foul ball, but you know what? That hardly even mattered. MLB used to have commemorative balls (like this and this) during the first two rounds of the postseason, but not anymore.

With Brad Lidge in the process of nailing down the save, I worked my way to the seats behind the Reds’ dugout…

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…but didn’t get anything there after the final out.

Final score: Phillies 7, Reds 4.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 5 balls at this game (4 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 304 balls in 32 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 661 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 13 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball

• 4 consecutive seasons with at least 300 balls

• 4,662 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 48 donors (click here to learn more)

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

• $37.65 raised at this game

• $2,289.12 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/19/10 at Turner Field

The day got off to a great start, and it had nothing to do with baseball: I saw my very first girlfriend for the first time in 14 years, and it wasn’t awkward at all. We met in the lobby of my hotel, went out for a three-hour lunch, and pretty much just caught up and laughed about the past. I was in such a good mood after seeing her that nothing else mattered. Batting practice at Turner Field? Whatever. Baseball was the last thing on my mind — that is, until I walked over to the stadium and met up with my friend Matt Winters:

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(In case you’re new to this blog, I’m the guy on the left.)

That helped get me back into snagging mode. My goal for the day was to get at least six baseballs. That’s what I needed to reach 4,500, and thanks to the dreamlike configuration of the left field stands…

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…I knew it wouldn’t be hard. It was more a question of how than if.

My first two balls of the day were home runs hit by right-handed batters on the Braves. I’m not sure who. All I can tell you is that the first one landed near me in the seats, and I caught the second one on the fly.

That’s when I encountered my first challenge of the day. Another batter hit a homer that happened to land in the gap behind the outfield wall. I figured I’d be able to snag it with my glove trick, but before I could get there, some old guy snagged it with his own funky-looking device. Here he is holding it up:

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It’s a gigantic roll of duct tape — with additional tape inside the center hole to make the ball stick. On the other side (where the guy is holding it), there was a big/clunky object attached to it, presumably to help weigh the whole thing down.

As it turned out, this guy was one of a dozen fans who’d brought devices into the stadium. There were devices everywhere. It was nuts. Some people even dangled them over the wall in anticipation.

Somehow, I managed to beat the competition and use my glove trick to snag my third ball of the day. I handed that one to the nearest kid, and two minutes later, I sprung into glove-trick action once again.

That’s when I encountered (or rather created) another challenge. In my haste to get down to the front row, I rolled my left ankle on the edge of a step, and let me tell you, it hurt like HELL. I felt a sharp twinge on the outside of my foot, and for a moment, I thought I wasn’t gonna be able to walk for the next two weeks. It was one of those “what did I just do to myself” injuries; I knew it was bad, but I wasn’t sure just how bad, so I decided that as long as I could still stand, I might as well proceed down to the front row and try to snag the ball — and yes, I did end up getting it.

My ankle really hurt after that…

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…but the pain was bearable as long as I ran in straight lines and changed direction slowly.

My fifth ball of the day was another home run (not sure who hit it), and the catch itself was anything but routine. I was cutting through the second row to my right. The ball was heading toward a teenaged kid in the front row. It was going to be an easy chest-high catch for him, so I didn’t expect to have a chance. That said, I still stuck my glove out for a potential catch in case he missed it, and at the last second, I jerked my head to the side so that I wouldn’t get drilled in the face by a potential deflection. Well, wouldn’t you know it? The kid somehow managed to miss the ball. I mean, he completely whiffed — didn’t even get any leather on it — and I ended up making a no-look, thigh-high catch while running through the seats on a sprained ankle.

That was the 4,499th ball of my life. The next one was going to be a fairly significant milestone, so I wanted it to be special.

Another home run was hit toward the same kid. I was standing right behind him at the time, and while the ball was in mid-air, I could have easily climbed down into the front row and reached in front of him — but I didn’t want to interfere with his chance at redemption, so I hung back in the second row. This is how it played out:

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The ball smacked the pocket of his glove and jerked his wrist back, but he hung onto it, and everyone cheered and congratulated him.

Toward the end of the Braves’ portion of BP, a ball cleared the wall and landed in front of the visitors’ bullpen down the left field line. It sat there for a minute, so I ran over to the seats in foul territory, thinking that I might be able to snag it with my glove trick. Once I got there, I realized that the ball was trapped underneath a bench. There was no way for me to reach it, and even if it had been sitting right below me, there wouldn’t have been time. A security guard was about to retrieve it. Here he is with the ball in his hand:

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There were several other fans asking for it, so he decided to give it away in the fairest way possible: he asked when everyone’s birthday was. As soon as I said “September fourteenth,” he tossed me the ball.

“When’s your birthday?” I asked.

“September twelfth,” he replied.

“Cool, thanks so much,” I said, and then I asked, “Can I take a picture of the ball with you in the background?”

Either he didn’t hear me or he simply ignored me because he promptly exited the bullpen and began walking toward the infield. Meanwhile, I wanted to fully document my 4,500th ball, so I “chased” after him:


(It wasn’t exactly a high-speed chase.)

In the photo above, he had stopped walking for a moment to shout something to another guard in the bullpen, and then moments later, he continued marching ahead. I pulled out my camera, and this was the only photo I got:

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Meh. A little blurry. But at least it captured the “excitement” of the moment. (It’s fun to put “random” words in quotes. I should “do” this more often.)

Here’s a better photo of the ball itself:

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Now that my milestone was out of the way, my goal was to snag four more balls and reach double digits.

When the Braves cleared the field, I headed over toward their dugout on the first base side, and I wasn’t allowed past this point:

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If you look closely at the photo above, you can kinda see that the arrow is pointing to an extra chair in the front row — a little folding chair with slats on the back. That’s how stadium security marks its arbitrary cut-off line; if you don’t have a ticket for the seats beyond that point, you can’t go there, even during batting practice. Matt and I had tickets in the 3rd row behind the 3rd base dugout, and yet we weren’t allowed anywhere near the 1st base dugout. It’s such a bad policy — so thoroughly asinine and misguided and anti-fan — but what could I do? I had to stay there and SHOUT REALLY LOUD to get Terry Pendleton’s attention. He was standing all the way over near the home-plate end of the dugout. I didn’t think he’d even look up, but to my surprise, he finally turned and threw a ball all the way to me. (Take THAT, stadium security!!)

I headed over to the left field foul line when the Reds started throwing…

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…and didn’t get a single ball there. What’s up with that? I was decked out in Reds gear and still got ignored by all the players. Good thing there were a few batters hitting bombs to left-center field — and get this, they were left-handed. Although I’m not sure who was in the cage, I’m pretty certain it was Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. (Maybe Laynce Nix, too?) My eighth and ninth balls of the day were homers that landed in the seats. Here I am scrambling for one of them:

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This was my view straight ahead:

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See that kid in the front row with the arrow pointing to him? He was standing there because I told him to. Two minutes earlier, he had asked me a for a ball, and I said, “Don’t ask ME. Ask the players. Stand in the front row, and when a ball rolls near you, ask them politely for it.”

This was the view to my right:

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See the man with the arrow pointing to him? He overheard my exchange with the kid and asked me, “How many balls do you have?”

He seemed friendly — I’m usually pretty good at determining when someone is asking me just for the purpose of starting an argument — so I told him.

“Nine?!” he asked. “Do you think that’s fair?!”

“Well,” I said calmly, “considering that I give away a lot of balls to kids and also do this to raise money for charity, yeah, actually I do think it’s fair.”

The guy was speechless. He just nodded and walked back over to his spot…however…when I caught my 10th ball of the day less than a minute later — another homer by one of the Reds’ lefties — he was not too happy about it.

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The kid in the front row turned around and started begging me all over again for a ball. I pointed at the field and told him, “You should be focusing on the players, not on me.” And guess what happened soon after? Arthur Rhodes tossed a ball to the kid, who was so excited that he ran back and showed me.

“Now see?” I asked. “Wasn’t that better than getting a ball from me?”

“YES!!!” he shouted with a huge smile on his face.

I looked over at the man who’d been giving me a hard time, and I shrugged. He was still stewing. And then, five minutes later, I used my glove trick to snag a ball from the gap and gave that one away to another kid. I don’t even think the man saw that, and I don’t care.

That was my 11th ball of the day, and batting practice was almost done, so I ran (gingerly) to the 3rd base dugout. None of the players or coaches gave me a ball, but some random equipment-manager-type-guy was dumping all the balls from the bucket into a zippered bag. I got his attention and convinced him to toss one to me, and man, it was a beauty. Here are two different photos of it:

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Not only was there a big/diagonal/striped/green mark on it, and not only was the word “practice” stamped in a bizarre spot, but the logo was stamped too low. See how the word “commissioner” overlaps the stitch holes? I once snagged a ball with the logo stamped too high, and I also once snagged one with the logo stamped crookedly, but these are just a few examples out of thousands of balls, so you can see how rare it is.

I wandered for a bit after BP…

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…and made it back to the dugout just in time for the national anthem:

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Is that an amazing sight or what? I’ve never seen groundskeepers keep the hose on their shoulders during the playing of the song.

Reds third base coach Mark Berry tossed me a ball after the second inning, and in the bottom of the third, I headed up the steps to meet a 13-year-old kid from Atlanta named Evan. He’d been reading this blog for years, but we’d never met in person, and now finally, for the first time, we were at the same game together. I was planning to head over to the tunnels behind the plate and play for foul balls, but because he and his dad met me in the cross-aisle behind the dugout, I lingered there for a couple minutes to chat. Well, as luck would have it, while were were all standing around, Brian McCann fouled off a pitch from Aaron Harang and sent the ball flying 20 feet to my left. I took off after it (what sprained ankle?) and watched helplessly as it landed in a staircase just behind me. Thankfully, there was no one there, and the ball didn’t take a crazy bounce. Instead, it trickled down into the aisle, where I was able to grab it. Ha-HAAAA!!! The whole thing never would’ve happened if not for Evan, so he gets the unofficial assist. Here we are together:


Evan has snagged approximately 300 balls. (He doesn’t have an exact count, but he owns 295 and has given a few away.) That’s an impressive number at any age, let alone 13. When I turned 13, I had a lifetime total of four baseballs. He and I hung out after that, first behind the plate, then with Matt behind the dugout, but there were no more balls to be snagged.

The game itself was very entertaining. Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami, who began the night with an 0-6 record and a 5.79 ERA, pitched six scoreless innings and left with a 4-0 lead. Unfortunately for him, his countryman, Takashi Saito, gave up three runs in the top of the eighth, and then Billy Wagner surrendered a solo shot in the ninth to pinch hitter Chris Heisey. With the score tied, 4-4, in the the bottom of the ninth, Martin Prado hit a two-out single, and Jason Heyward plated him with a line-drive double into the right-field corner.

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Game over. Final score: Braves 5, Reds 4.

Heyward finished 3-for-5 with two doubles, a triple, and two runs scored. This guy is the real deal. He has unbelievably quick bat speed and a beautiful swing. He’s 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, and he’s 20 years old! He has blazing speed, too, and he seems pretty solid in the field. I won’t pronounce him a future Hall of Famer just yet, but I’d be shocked if he doesn’t end up having a very good/long major league career. Wagner, by the way, two months shy of his 39th birthday, was consistently hitting 98mph on the gun. (I’ve never felt so athletically inadequate, but damn, these guys were fun to watch.)

After the game, I said goodbye to Evan (who got the lineup cards), then met a guy named Glenn Dunlap (who runs a company called Big League Tours), and caught up with another friend named Matt (who you might remember from 5/17/10 at Turner Field).

On my way out of the stadium, I took a photo of the empty seats…

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…and walked past the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame…

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…which was now closed.

Oh well.

I’m not a museum person anyway. (I’m more of a doer than a looker.)

Five minutes later, this is what I was doing just outside Turner Field:

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No, I wasn’t bowing down to my baseballs as part of a religious ritual; I had my camera in my hands, and I was trying to angle it just right in order to take one last photo. Keep reading past the stats to see how it turned out…

SNAGGING STATS:

• 14 balls at this game (12 pictured below because I gave two away)

• 150 balls in 14 games this season = 10.7 balls per game.

• 643 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 138 lifetime game balls (125 foul balls, 12 home runs, and one ground-rule double; this does NOT include game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 126 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 60 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls

• 4,508 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 34 donors (click here and scroll down to see the complete list)

• $5.20 pledged per ball (if you add up all 34 pledges)

• $72.80 raised at this game

• $780.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Bye, Turner Field. Thanks for being so awesome. I’m gonna miss you…

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7/6/09 at Citizens Bank Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…and had time for cheesesteaks at McFadden’s:

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

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

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

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

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

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The seats started filling up fast.

Scott photographed my every move:

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

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

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

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

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

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

(A coil?!?!)

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

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

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

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…but there was no action there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the game itself…wow.

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

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

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

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

Two minutes later, this is what happened:

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

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

Final score? See below:

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

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

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

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

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

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

• 602 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

• 4,109 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.37 pledged per ball

• $146.22 raised at this game

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

4/23/09 at Wrigley Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dick tossed it to me a few minutes later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final score: Reds 7, Zack 6, Cubs 1

SNAGGING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game

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

• 579 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,893 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $17.12 pledged per ball

• $102.72 raised at this game

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

4/22/09 at Wrigley Field

I started the day by bowing down to a legend.

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

Here were are:

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

The Cubs started taking BP…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Did you notice my shadow waving at you?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…and this is the view to the left:

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Funky stuff, I tell ya:

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

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

This was my view during the game:

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

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

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What a waste of a great ballhawking opportunity.

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

SNAGGING STATS:

• 5 balls at this game

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

• 578 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,887 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $17.07 pledged per ball

• $85.35 raised at this game

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

4/21/09 at Wrigley Field

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

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

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

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

Here’s the players’ parking lot:

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Here’s a look down Waveland Avenue…

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

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

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

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See the gate below the foul pole?

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It provides a peek into the stadium:

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

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

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

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

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Just a little further…

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…until I’d made it full circle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was my view as I ran inside:

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

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

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Is that weird or what?

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

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

Time out for a second…

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

Time in…

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Here I am with Kelly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two more ramps…

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…and then a final push to the top:

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

The upper deck has a great cross aisle…

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

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

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

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

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

Final score: Cubs 7, Reds 2.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game

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

• 577 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,882 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $16.62 pledged per ball

• $66.48 raised at this game

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

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

8/13/08 at PNC Park

My girlfriend Jona attended this game…

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…and wandered around the stadium with me before the gates opened.
There was a lot to see. Check out the four-part pic below. Starting on
the top left and going clockwise, you can see 1) the view of PNC Park from the middle of the bridge, 2) the steps leading down to the water, 3) kayaks for rent, and 4) the promenade behind the right field edge of the stadium (where balls hardly ever land):

outside_PNC_park2_bridge_and_water.jpg

Jona and I had lots of time to kill (which was the point), so we had to
find various ways to spend it. In the four-part pic below…1) we’re posing with the home plate gate in the background, 2) I’m trying to look mean after Jona tied a bandana around my head in the team store, 3) I’m being overwhelmed by gravitational force, and 4) Jona is inspecting the Willie Stargell statue (no disrespect intended):

outside_PNC_park3_jona_zack.jpg

Speaking of the home plate gate, here’s a closer look:

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Nothing special, right? Well, here’s an even closer look:

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I know the Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 1992, and I know attendance is sagging to the point that PNC Park resembles a ghost town, but c’mon, this is ridiculous. I’ve only seen spider webs in one other major league stadium. Anyone want to guess where?

By the time the center field gate opened at 5pm, there were dozens of people waiting on line. I raced inside ahead of all of them and snapped a quick photograph of the bleachers while I still had the place to myself…

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…and then handed the camera to Jona. Check out this cool shot she took of me at the start of BP:

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I only snagged one ball during the 13 minutes that the Pirates were on the field. It rolled to the wall in straight-away left field, and I got it with the glove trick as Jeff Karstens was walking jeff_karstens.jpgover to pick it up. He easily could’ve snatched it, but instead he walked back to his spot in the outfield and watched with several of his teammates. Then, at the last second, as I was lifting my glove with the ball tucked firmly inside, another ball came flying out of nowhere and thumped off the padded wall below. It had missed my glove by inches and made me flinch. I looked up and Karstens was grinning.

“Nice try!” I yelled. I got the sense that he was just being playful–that even if he’d knocked the ball out of my glove he would’ve given it to me–so I added, “Thanks for letting me get it!”

Karstens responded with a subtle wave, and that was that.

Chris Dickerson (who picked up his first major league hit the night before) was the first player to take the field for the Reds. As he was back-peddling to his spot in left field, a left-handed batter sliced a line drive right at him. Dickerson half-heartedly reached for it and somehow missed it, allowing the ball to tip off the side of his glove and roll all the way to the warning track. I used the glove trick to snag this one as well, and Jona snapped a few quick pics of me in action:

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In the pic on the left, I was making sure the rubber band wasn’t too tight or too loose. In the middle pic, I had just knocked the ball closer, and in the pic on the right, I had just gotten the ball to stick inside the glove.

I forgot to mention that as soon as the Reds took the field, I’d changed into my Reds outfit. Pretty convincing, eh?

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I snagged three more balls during the remaining 45 minutes of BP. The first was thrown (right to me over several rows of Pirates fans) by Jerry Hairston in left-center field. The second was a fungo hit by coach Billy Hatcher, and I made a web-gem-type catch. I immediately judged that the ball was going to sail five to ten feet over my head so I climbed up on a bench, took my eye off the ball briefly as I stepped onto the bench in the next row, then turned back toward the field and spotted the ball flying toward me…and jumped and lunged and made an over-the-shoulder catch high above my head the in the tip of my glove…with the sun in my eyes. It felt great. And as for the last BP ball I snagged…I got it with the glove trick and immediately handed it to the kid on my left.

I made it to the Reds’ dugout one minute before BP ended and got my sixth ball of the day tossed by the equipment manager. Then, with nearly an hour to spare before the first pitch, Jona and I headed to the upper deck:

upper_deck_jona_zack<br />
.jpg” class=”mt-image-left” style=”float:left;margin:0 20px 20px 0;” height=”412″ width=”550″ /></a></span></p>
<p>We wandered and I took photos from every possible angle…</p>
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…and ended up behind home plate where I took some pics for my traditional/cheap panorama:

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As much as I was complaining in my previous entry about PNC Park not being all that exciting, I have to say that it really is a gorgeous stadium. When Jona and I made it back down to the field level, even the concourse behind/below the left field seats caught my eye:

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Concourses aren’t the most exciting things in the world–I will acknowledge that–but having suffered for the last 20 years inside the cramped and dingy concourses of the New York City stadiums, I had to take a moment to appreciate the spaciousness and cleanliness and architectural design of this one in Pittsburgh.

Before the game started, I got autographs from Adam Rosales and Steve Pearce…

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…and then got Luis Rivas to toss me a ball–my seventh of the day–after he finished playing catch along the right field foul line. When I caught that ball, the entire front row was packed with kids, but none of them had gloves. They were ALL there for autographs, so no one protested when I reached out and made the easy catch.

marked_balls_08_13_08.jpgSix of the seven balls I’d snagged at that point were either marked (with a “C” by Cincinnati) or stamped (with “practice”) on the sweet spot. As for the small four-digit numbers that appear on the balls, I wrote them as I snagged each one. They indicate how many balls I have. The ball in the middle of the lower row, for example, was the 3,588th ball of my collection, and if you’re wondering why some of the numbers are upside-down…it’s not my fault. It’s the Reds’ and Pirates’ fault. I mark every ball in the same spot: to the left of the main portion of the stamp, all the way over near the sweet spot. The Reds and Pirates were obviously not concerned with making each mark or stamp face the same way. As far as I’m concerned, THEY marked and stamped some of the balls upside-down; I merely turned them all so they’d face the same way in this photograph.

Jona and I wandered throughout the game after getting kicked out of a great foul ball spot in the third inning. (Good job, Pirates management. Not only have you assembled an unwatchable team, but you have more empty seats than fans, and you’re instructing your ushers to act like bullies. Bravo. Enjoy another 15 years in the cellar. And while we’re at it, your dollar hot dogs sucked.) We checked out the view from deep left-center field and poked our heads inside the restaurant:

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We wandered back toward the field and got a good look at the open space behind the bleachers where I’d caught a BP homer the day before (I highly recommend this spot whenever a power-hitting righty comes up):

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I was filmed juggling three balls late in the game (sorry for the poor quality but this is a screen shot from a low-quality video)…

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…and shown on the Jumbotron for at l
east 20 seconds:

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As you can see in the photo above, the Pirates had a 4-1 lead after six innings. Each team added a run after that…and that was it. There were four home runs hit in the game, and I didn’t come close to any of them. Paul Maholm worked eight solid innings to earn the win. The game lasted just two hours and 14 minutes. The attendance was a minuscule 15,787. After the final out, I got a ball tossed to me by home plate umpire Kevin Causey as he walked off the field (on the outfield end of the third base dugout) and then got another ball from an unidentifiable Pirate one minute later at the dugout. (It had to be a pitcher because he walked across the field from the bullpen. He was tall and had a beard, and I think he was right-handed. Any ideas who it might’ve been?) I gave this ball to a girl on my right, collected a few extra ticket stubs, and went out to dinner with Jona.

Goodbye, PNC Park.

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STATS:

? 9 balls at this game

? 317 balls in 44 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 540 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 131 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

? 3,594 total balls

Several other things…

1) I’m five balls away from breaking my single-season record.

2) I’ve decided to go for 400 balls this season, and since I have about 20 more games planned, I should be able to do it.

3) It looks like I’m going to be in Philadelphia with Clif (aka “goislanders4″) on Tuesday.

4) I haven’t had ANY time lately to answer emails or comments (I’ve barely had time to blog and eat and sleep), but I’m hoping to catch up at some point this weekend…

8/12/08 at PNC Park

This was the second game I’d ever attended at PNC Park. The first was seven years ago, and I don’t remember much. I know I snagged seven balls that day, but I didn’t have a blog or a digital camera back then so it’s almost like it never happened.

Anyway, THIS day started with four crappy hours of sleep and continued with a seven-hour drive from New York City, a confusing check-in at the Holiday Inn Not-Express, and an interminable wait for a taxi to the stadium. By the time I made it there, half a dozen people were already waiting on line at the center field gate so my picture-taking was going to have to wait one more day.

PNC Park opens two hours early for season ticket holders and 90 minutes early for everyone else. Long story short: I was stressed out of my skull but ended up getting inside two hours early. This is what it looked like in the left field bleachers:

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I used the glove trick to snag my first ball of the day in straight-away left field as Ian Snell was coming over to retrieve it. He was amused.

My second ball was a home run that I caught on a fly after ranging 30 feet to my left through a long, narrow row between the benches. If my friend Brian (aka “puckcollector” in the comments section) hadn’t told me to bring sunglasses, there’s no way I would’ve caught this ball. The sun was absolutely brutal. I had to look right at it whenever a ball was hit in the air, so I’m officially passing along Brian’s advice to all of you: BRING SUNGLASSES if you’re going to PNC Park. Trust me.

Due to a combination of stupidity, bad luck, and quirky architectural design, I still only had those two baseballs when the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm. (An example of the bad luck: I was BP_from_RF_08_12_08.jpgscooting through the second row, about to make an easy basket catch on a line drive home run, when a man in the front row who had lost the ball in the sun darted to the side in a last-second attempt to duck out of the way, but he ended up ducking right into it and getting in my way as the ball slammed off his shoulder and plopped back onto the field.) I ran out to the right field seats, thinking it might be better there…but no, it was a total waste of time. The wall was too high. It would’ve been tough to use the glove trick, only because the ushers and security guards would’ve had a chance to stop me. The section was too steep. There were too many tunnels and railings. There was no room to run. And it started getting crowded.

C_balls.jpgI went back to left field, changed into my Reds shirt and Reds cap, and snagged three more balls during the remaining half of BP (all of which were marked with a “C” on the sweet spot). The first was tossed by a player that I couldn’t identify, the second was a deep home run that I caught on a fly in that open area behind the benches, and the third came via the glove trick near the foul pole. Not bad, not great. It could’ve been worse, but I also could’ve hit double digits by this point if I’d REALLY been on my game.

As for that open area behind the bleachers…here I am standing there:

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It was a great spot except for one thing: it was well over 400 feet from home plate so there weren’t too many guys who could reach me.

One problem with the bleachers at PNC is that the wall measures 383 feet from home plate in straight-away left field. That’s kinda far. Another problem stems from the fact that fans in any stadium always cram into the first few rows; the bleachers here only HAVE a few rows–a mere half-dozen in one spot–so despite the low attendance at this game, that whole section still got uncomfortably crowded toward the end of BP:

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Batting practice ended at 6pm–about 20 minutes earlier than usual–so I lost a few more snagging opportunities. It just wasn’t a good day, and I was kicking myself for not going to see the Mets in D.C. instead.

Just before the game started, I snuck down to the Reds’ dugout (which is on the first base side at PNC) and got my sixth ball of the day tossed by some guy I’d never heard of. Adam Rosales? I hadn’t even noticed his name when I printed the team’s roster the night before. Seriously, who is he? Who were half the players in the game? I thought I was watching minor league baseball.

I moved to the seats behind the third base dugout and ran down to the front row when Javier Valentin lined out to end the top of the first inning. Doug Mientkiewicz caught the ball and flipped it to me on his way in. Check out the bat imprint on it:

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crabby usher, which was especially frustrating because the Reds must’ve tossed 20 balls to the people in the front row throughout the game. No joke. Not only did every third-out ball get tossed into the crowd, but 1st base coach Billy Hatcher gave away the infield warm-up ball every inning as well. And there were other balls that got tossed up…foul balls from the ball boy, random balls from the players and coaches. It was crazy. And yeah…I had to stay 10 to 15 rows back and watch helplessly as all of this was taking place.

As for the game itself…whatever. I mean, it WAS Major League Baseball (at least that’s what I was told), but there really wasn’t much to get excited about. Two lousy teams. No superstars. Unenthusiastic fans. Terrible cheese steak (with no cheese). What is there to say? I actually missed Shea and Yankee Stadium. (Did I really just say that?) Edinson Volquez pitched well and earned his 14th win. Mike Lincoln also pitched well and earned his ninth hold. Valentin and Brandon Phillips hit home runs. Rosales and Chris Dickerson picked up their first major league hits. Corey Patterson went 2-for-4 to raise his batting average to .194. Home plate umpire Jerry Meals called a great game.

???

I’m at a loss.

STATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 308 balls in 43 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 539 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 130 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

? 3,585 total balls

6/9/08 at Dolphin Stadium

The story of the day was Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run. He hit it. I didn’t catch it. I was five feet away from it. It hurts. A lot.

After missing out on SUCH an important ball, I literally didn’t know what to do with myself. It felt pointless to go back to chasing foul balls, and right now I’d rather not be spending any mental energy writing about it, but life goes on and I suppose the story ought to be told so I guess I’ll start from the beginning…

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I arrived at Gate H at 4:40pm, nearly an hour before Dolphin Stadium was scheduled to open, and I wasn’t the first person there. There was one other guy, and it turned out to be someone andy_zack.jpgwho reads this blog. His name is Andy (aka “munkittr” for those of you who read the comments). He lives in Tampa, has season tickets at Tropicana Field, and when he found out I was going to be at this game, he hopped in his car and made the four-hour drive. (Perhaps the fact that Griffey was still at 599 had something to do with his decision to come.)

This was the first time we’d met in person, and we talked nonstop for the next 50 minutes. At one point when Andy was discussing all the games he attends, another man who had joined our conversation said, “I bet you’re single.”

“Actually I’m married,” said Andy. “Very happily married.”

I was happy to see The Stereotype shot down once again–and even happier when I ran inside the stadium and saw that batting practice was already in progress. I headed to the tarp_security_guard.jpgfurthest section in right-center field where the orange seats meet the blue tarp. The security guard who was stationed there had seen me snag eight balls over the previous three days, but that didn’t stop him from tossing me another.

“You weren’t saving this for a little kid?” I asked.

“You were the first one here,” he said.

Do balls from security guards count in my collection? Absolutely. Over the years, countless guards at Shea and Yankee Stadium have gone out of their way to prevent me from getting balls. I’ve been ejected from games for breaking rules that security supervisors made up on the spot, just for me, just because I was “catching too many balls,” so on the rare occasions that a guard actually shows me some love…yeah, you bet it counts. As for this guard at Dolphin Stadium, several other balls landed on the tarp and he gave them to whoever was smart (or lucky) enough to be standing nearby. Simple as that. Sometimes it was a kid. Sometimes it was an adult. There was no favoritism or attitude, and I appreciated it.

My second ball of the day was tossed by Marlins pitcher Logan Kensing. He had thrown one to me the day before and I thought for sure that he’d recognize me and give this one to someone else. Luckily, though, when it had rolled to the wall, I was the first one to ask him for it and he flipped it up without hesitating.

Ten minutes later, the Reds replaced the Marlins and I caught a Jay Bruce home run. Totally easy. I was on the stairs and had empty seats on both sides. Bruce lifted a deep drive to my left, and I drifted through the seats and reached up for an uncontested one-handed catch.

Ball No. 4 was a ground-rule double that was hit by a righty. It might’ve been Brandon Phillips. I’m not sure, and it doesn’t matter. The ball bounced off the rubberized warning track, barely cleared the outfield wall, skimmed over half a dozen empty rows, and nestled into my waiting glove.

Ball No. 5 was tossed by pitcher Gary Majewski toward a couple little kids, but his aim was off and the ball sailed three inches over their helplessly outstretched gloves. The ball rolled right to me through the empty second row, and I immediately handed it over to one of the kids (whose father thanked me profusely).

Ball No. 6 was thrown by outfielder Corey Patterson, and then with about 10 minutes remaining in BP, I ran around the stadium to the left field side. Look how empty it was:

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Of course I didn’t get a ball out there because every Reds player ignored me, and then when I ran to the dugout at the very end of BP, Billy Hatcher tossed me a ball and missed.

Andy and I met up five minutes later (he snagged a few balls in straight-away right field and I’ll let him share the details) and headed to the right field foul line. After we failed to get Mike Rabelo to throw us his warm-up ball, we decided to get someone to take our picture, and THAT, my friends, is when my camera died. I’m not talking about a dead battery. I’m talking about a message on the LCD screen that said, “Lens error, restart camera.” I knew the camera wasn’t going to last much longer. It was missing a few teeny screws, and the whole frame was a bit loose. The screen had a tiny crack in it. The “zoom” lever was slightly jammed…and the fact that I wasn’t allowed to bring my backpack into the stadium didn’t help. crappy_marlins_drawstring_backpack.jpgIt meant I had to keep my camera in that flimsy (and overpriced) drawstring bag that I was forced to buy on the first day. It meant that the camera was in the same pouch as all my baseballs, my markers, pens, cell phone, wallet, glove, and hats. It got smacked around much more than it should’ve, and it died as a result. No doubt about it.

“Watch what’s gonna happen,” I told Andy. “I’m gonna catch Griffey’s 600th homer and get to meet him in the clubhouse after the game, and I won’t be able to have my picture taken.”

I just KNEW something big was going to happen. I felt it. I was sure of it. That’s my luck. That’s my life.

Andy and I parted ways. He headed to the right field seats to get in position for Griffey, and I went to the Marlins’ dugout. Hanley Ramirez finished his pre-game throwing by flipping the ball to a little kid in the front row. One minute later, Dan Uggla finished playing catch with Cody Ross and tossed the ball toward two gloveless, middle-aged men who were sitting 10 feet to my left in the row behind me. They both stood up and reached for it and bobbled it–no wait…that’s too kind…they butchered it–and it dropped into the row in front of them…MY row, which just so happened to be empty. Before they had a chance to lean over their fancy seats, I darted through the row and gloved the ball.

It was 7:08pm. The game was going to be starting in two minutes, so I raced up the steps and sprinted through the concourse (apologies to the beer vendor I nearly took out) and made it to the right field seats with less than a minute to spare. I’d purchased a ticket in (what I felt was) the perfect spot–the same spot I’d picked for each of the previous three days, and on each of those days, there’d been at least one security guard checking tickets in every tunnel. But on THIS day? No security in sight. I can’t explain it, but perhaps if the penny-pinching Marlins had hired a little extra security, they wouldn’t be facing this mess. Meanwhile, the seats were still pretty empty, but I was concerned that there might be a few extra opportunists in my way.

Jerry Hairston led off the game with an infield single.

Most of the fans in the section were crammed into the first 10 or 12 rows. The half dozen rows behind them were partially empty, but I need more than “partial” room to maneuver. I picked a seat in the 21st row–kind of far back, yes, but still within range (as I showed in my previous entry with diagrams from Hit Tracker).

A few fans moved into the row on my left, so I moved down two rows as Jay Bruce stepped into the box. I needed a whole row to myself. The odds that The Ball would be hit with the proper distance were far greater than the odds that it would be hit in the perfect direction. In other words, I was on the end of my row so I could run up or (more likely) down the steps, but that option was soon ruined when two fat men with gloves stood up and moved RIGHT into the middle of the steps five feet in front of me.

Jay Bruce took a called strike three, and Griffey walked toward the plate.

That’s when I noticed that a tallish man with a glove had moved into the far end of the row on my left. All the seats between us were empty, and I remember thinking, “If the ball is hit to my left, that guy is gonna get in my way.”

Mark Hendrickson, the Marlins’ starter, quickly fell behind Griffey 3-0. Everyone in the section was booing. No one wanted to see Griffey walk again, and I was more relieved than anyone when he swung and missed at the next pitch.

The count was 3-1, and I was thinking that he was going to get a great pitch to hit, and that THIS might be it…and then…WHOOSH!!! Griffey unleashed a beautiful, effortless swing and sent the ball flying EXACTLY in my direction. At least that’s how it appeared at the instant it left the bat. But line drives tend to hook, and this was certainly more of a line drive than a fly ball. I paused for a split second, half-expecting that this was going to happen, but  also half-disbelieving it. COULD IT REALLY BE THIS EASY?!?! I drifted through the empty row and never took my eye off the ball. I moved with it, just I had moved with hundreds of BP home runs in the past, and as the ball began its final descent, I realized that I was blocked by a couple fans who had somehow slipped into my row. NOOOOO!!!!! I knew I was boxed out as the ball kept hooking, and at the last second, when it was about 30 feet above the seats, it barely nicked the bottom of a support cable, causing its trajectory to fall off slightly. I was too stunned to react, and like I said, I somehow got boxed out and beat to the spot, and the ball disappeared into a pile of people at my feet…or so it seemed. I heard one guy at the bottom of the pile screaming, “I GOT IT!!! I GOT IT!!! I GOT IT!!!” and security surrounded us. Then another guy–THE guy with the glove who’d been standing at the end of my row–said calmly, “I have the ball. I have it…I have the ball,” and a whole new group of security guards surrounded HIM. He was clutching his glove against his chest. I assumed he had The Ball tucked inside, but I never saw it. He was also saying that his bag had gotten caught on a seat and was buried at the bottom of the pile. Security told him to stay put, and while several of the guards stayed with him, a few others worked slowly to get people off of each other, at which point, I just wanted to get the hell out of there, so I climbed over the middle of the rows and got myself out of the section as quickly as possible. I was still stunned and at this point too devastated to even think, and for most of the next hour, I didn’t know how I could even go on living. I’m telling you, it was THAT bad.

Andy had been sitting a couple sections over and caught up with me in the concourse. He bought me a chocolate ice cream cone and walked me toward the seats behind home plate before he headed back to the outfield. I ate the cone and made some phone calls and didn’t bother putting on my glove. I was a mess (and for the record, no, I wasn’t crying). I just wanted to go back to New York City, but my flight wasn’t until the following afternoon. There really wasn’t anything else to do but sit there and sulk. It was better, I figured, to sulk at a major league baseball game than to sulk in my hotel room. So I sat there. And finished the ice cream. And cursed way too loud when Griffey came up again and hit a foul ball RIGHT to the spot where I’d been standing for lefties the day before. They say luck has a way of evening things out, but it didn’t work like that yesterday. It felt like the universe was against me.

I suppose I could feel proud to have picked the spot where the home run would land, and to have been so close to it, but I don’t feel that way. That just makes it hurt even more. I wish Griffey had just hit the damn thing to right-center field instead (or better yet onto the tarp where security could’ve retrieved it and given it back to him). If it had landed four sections away, I wouldn’t have anything to be upset about. All I could say would be, “Oh well, there was nothing I could do. At least I was in the building and got to witness it.” But as things stand, I keep replaying the scene in my mind and thinking about what I could’ve done differently. What if I raced to the spot where the ball was going to land as SOON as it left the bat? Would I have been able to box out the other fans? I just didn’t react with enough urgency. I drifted with the ball too slowly. Or did I? Maybe I really did move fast, and it only feels slow because I didn’t get it, or because I’m a perfectionist and always feel like I could do better. I don’t know. I felt awful, and I still feel awful, and I will always feel awful. That’s just how it is. Unless you’re from the future and know for certain that I’m going to catch A-Rod’s 800th homer, there’s nothing anyone can say to make me feel better. I have to live with this for the rest of my life. It could be worse, though. It’s not like I let the ball clang off the heel of my glove. THAT would be awful. But still, I don’t feel like I took full advantage of the situation. I wonder what would happen if I could relive that moment dozens of times, like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” and take different routes to the ball. I guess that’d be too easy, but I can’t help thinking like that.

<sigh>

jay_bruce_foul_ball.jpgWell, I finally started going for foul balls again around the third inning, and it paid off (big whoop) because I got one that Bruce hit in the top of the fifth. It was a high pop-up that the fans in the first row of the club level dropped into my tunnel. Another guy standing next to me was closer to the ball when it fell, but somehow he failed to snatch it and he kicked it around, and the second it rolled toward me, I grabbed it. Why couldn’t that have happened with No. 600? Why couldn’t Griffey have swung a tenth of a second later? There are 600 ‘why’s, and they’re all eating at me right now.

Paul Bako hit two homers and knocked in five runs. Brandon Phillips also went deep for the Reds who cruised to a 9-4 victory. Oh, and I got an autograph during the game. There was a former player sitting in my section, and he signed a day-old ticket for me on his way out. That’s your only clue. Take a look and try to guess who it is:

mystery_autograph2.jpg

The first person who leaves a comment (not an email) with the correct answer will get a prize: a ticket from the “Griffey 600″ game.

After the final out, I made it down to the front row behind the Reds’ dugout and got two balls tossed to me within 30 seconds. The first came from Mark Berry, the third base coach, as a direct result of my wearing a Reds cap (he said so) and the second came from Hatcher after I told him that he’d missed me before. Then, as I walked up the steps to head to the concourse, a friendly security guard who’d seen me chasing foul balls throughout the series (and apparently hadn’t seen me get the one from Bruce) pulled a “practice” ball out of his pocket and handed it to me. Does it count in my collection? I guess so. Is it cheap? Definitely. But whatever. I was entitled to a little charity after what I’d just gone through.

tickets1.jpg
STATS:

• 11 balls at this game

• 172 balls in 22 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

• 82 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 27 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls

• 17 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls

• 518 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 121 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

• 867 lifetime balls outside NYC

tickets2a.jpg• 116 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 24 lifetime game balls outside NYC

• 3,449 total balls

• 32 ticket stubs collected at this game (one of which will be mailed to the winner of the Mystery Autograph Contest)

6/8/08 at Dolphin Stadium

I didn’t think there’d be batting practice. This was a dreaded “day game after a night game,” and on top of that the night game hadn’t ended until 10:41pm, so I was overjoyed when I ran into the stadium and saw this:

field_set_up_for_batting_practice.jpg

A few Marlins pitchers were playing catch in the right field corner, and when they finished several others came out. It was perfect. There was a steady flow of snagging opportunities. If the entire pitching staff had been throwing at the same time, I probably would’ve only gotten one ball because all the guys would’ve seen me catch it. Instead, I got one tossed by Mark marlins_throwing.jpg
Hendrickson, then another five minutes later by Logan Kensing, then another five minutes after that by Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco’s throw sailed to the left and fell two feet wide of my glove as I leaned over the railing. Fortunately, the ball landed in a folded up seat in the wheelchair aisle in front of the railing, and I was able to reach down with my bare hand and grab it.

I would’ve had five balls by that point if not for another baseball collector named Jordan–a college kid who lives in Florida, reads this blog regularly, and has been leaving sporadic comments since 2005 under the name “hockeyguy1011.” Jordan (who recently caught 10 balls in one game at Dolphin Stadium) had already snagged two, and if not for me, HE would’ve had five. He let me get the first one from Hendrickson, so I let him get the next ball from Matt Lindstrom. Then I got the ball from Kensing and let him go to the dugout where he had no competition and got one tossed by hitting coach Jim Presley.

Once BP started, Jordan went to straight-away right field, and I camped out in right-center. He was on one side of the tunnel, and I was on the other. We each had our space, and we both did well. I used the glove trick to snag my fourth ball and got scolded/threatened by security. Nice job, ownership. Open your ugly stadium later than almost every other stadium, prohibit all 17 of your fans from bringing backpacks and food inside, and then institute a stupid, arbitrary rule during batting practice to prevent people from snagging a few extra baseballs so you can sell them for $25 apiece at the souvenir stands. Really…nice job.

andy_fox.jpg
At least Andy Fox was nice. I got him to hit me a fungo from about 150 feet away, and it was basically right on the money. The ball was heading right at me but fell a couple rows short. Rather than diving or lunging for it and risking an injury, I held back because I was 20 rows from the field, and with the exception of a couple fans in the first two rows, the seats all around me were TOTALLY empty. Well, wouldn’t you know it…the ball hit the back of a seat and ricocheted back toward the field and kept bouncing and bouncing further away from me, first off the seats, then off the steps, until it had traveled all the way back down to the front row where some lucky kid gloved it. I asked for another try and Fox threw his arms up in disgust. I really thought I was out of luck, but he ended up tossing me another ball after I’d moved back down to the front row. I got my sixth ball thrown by Pierre Arsenault, the Marlins “bullpen coordinator,” after another fan mistook him for Steve Foster, the “bullpen coach.”

That was it for BP. It started late and ended early, but I was glad that it even happened at all. It’s interesting that the Marlins were the ones taking BP. Normally the home team bats first and finishes about an hour and a half before game time. The Reds must’ve told the Marlins well ahead of time that they weren’t going to hit so that the Marlins would be able to sleep late and still get their cuts.

As for the Reds, their entire pitching staff had been warming up in the left field corner, but by the time I ran over…

bill_bray_playing_catch.jpg

…only two guys were still throwing. Bill Bray, the lefty, tossed me the ball when he was done, perhaps because I was wearing a generic red T-shirt to go with my Reds cap.

jordan_zack.jpgI crossed paths with Jordan. He’d snagged five balls. His younger brother Jake hadn’t snagged any and didn’t seem to care…and took our picture.

My eighth ball of the day was tossed by Marlins catcher Matt Treanor along the right field foul line about 15 minutes before game time. There were a few other fans nearby. None of them had gloves or even bothered asking for the ball. It was one of the easiest snags of my life. Treanor had looked around briefly before tossing it to me, presumably to spot someone younger and/or cuter, but there just weren’t any options.

About ten minutes before game time, I moved behind the 3rd base dugout so I could take a pic of the right field seats:

look_at_those_juicy_seats.jpg

That’s where I’d soon be heading because Ken Griffey Jr., still stuck on 599 career home runs, was going to be batting third in the top of the top of the 1st inning.

Before I headed out there, I stopped at the Marlins’ dugout to try to get a ball from Hanley Ramirez who had started throwing with Jorge Cantu. I wasn’t allowed to enter the first eight rows of blue seats, so I had to hang back, and when Ramirez finished, I asked him in Spanish and waved my arms. Perfect strategy. I got his attention. He crouched down low and made eye contact with me and fired the ball sidearm in my direction, and then, out of nowhere, another fan who was sitting in the third row stuck his glove in the air and intercepted the ball. Props to that guy for having such quick reflexes, but DAMN!!!

Anyway, there was a more important ball to be snagged, and when I settled into my seat for the first pitch of the game, this was my view:

view_for_first_pitch.jpg

Ryan Tucker, the Marlins starter, was making his major league debut, and Jerry Hairston greeted him by hitting the second pitch down the right field line for a double. Jay Bruce, who entered the game batting .457, struck out on five pitches, and before I knew it, Mister Griffey was pacing toward the batters box.

Now, if you think I was sitting too far back, take a look at the image below. It’s a “scatter plot” from Hit Tracker that shows where all the home runs this season at Dolphin Stadium have landed:

hit_tracker_dolphin_stadium.jpg

Now take a look at Griffey’s scatter plot from 2008:

hit_tracker_griffey_2008.jpg

And his scatter plot from 2007:

hit_tracker_griffey_2007.jpg

I’d been studying these scatter plots extensively on my flight from New York City and determined that a) Griffey still has 400-foot power and b) if I stayed relatively close to the foul line, I could sit 15 or even 20 rows back and still be well within his range.

In addition, most fans were crowding the first few rows behind the outfield wall. It’s human nature to sit as close to the action as possible, but when it comes to snagging baseballs, that’s usually not the best place to be. I stayed far back because of the empty seats on both sides. When Griffey stepped into the batters box, this was the view to my right:

view_for_griffey_first_inning1.jpg

And this was the view to my left:

view_for_griffey_first_inning2.jpg

I wasn’t thrilled about the railing, but it was the best I could do, and I was so determined to catch The Ball that I might just’ve run right through it.

Anyway, as easy as it would’ve been to catch The Ball, I still needed Griffey to actually hit it. He took the first pitch for ball one and fouled off the second offering. Two more balls sent the count to 3-1, and then the Marlins chickened out and had the rookie pitcher intentionally walk him. I wanted to cry.

The right field seats grew slightly more crowded as the game progressed, but it still would’ve been pretty easy to catch The Ball. Unfortunately, Griffey drew a four-pitch walk in the third and grounded into a fielder’s choice in the fifth. He was removed for a pinch hitter in the eighth, and guess what? That hitter, Corey Patterson, launched a home run to right field.

marlins_baseball.jpgWhen Griffey wasn’t batting, I hung out behind home plate. The seats were embarrassingly empty. I almost felt guilty about all the foul balls I was going to snag.

But nothing came my way.

Unbelievable.

As for the game, the Reds took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a two-out RBI single by Aaron Harang. The Marlins answered with a run in the third, a run in the fourth, four runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth. Ramirez hit two homers to left field, and Patterson capped the scoring with his solo homer in the eighth. Final score: Marlins 9, Reds 2.

Look how empty the stadium was in the ninth inning:

empty_seats_ninth_inning.jpg

The attendance was listed at 12,444. That number, for those who don’t know, represents the number of tickets sold, not the number of fans who actually pass through the turnstiles. How many fans were actually IN the stadium? I’m not good at estimating, but I doubt there were more than 3,000.

I’m hoping for an even smaller crowd tonight. It’ll be my last game here. There’s a 50 percent chance of rain (as there probably always is in Miami), but it’s sunny right now (at 1:48pm). Wherever you are, do a little BP dance for me, and if you believe in God, say a Griffey prayer while you’re at it.

STATS:

mystery_autograph.jpg? 1 autograph at this game (Can anyone guess who?)

? 8 balls at this game

? 161 balls in 21 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

? 517 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 120 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 856 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,438 total balls

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