Results tagged ‘ club level ’

5/6/10 at Target Field

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Game time: 7:10pm

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

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

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

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…and so were the the seats:

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Kirby took us inside Hrbek’s bar…

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

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

This is the reception/entrance area:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Not bad.

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

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

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

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Here’s another look at it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…and here’s another:

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

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

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…and from the outside:

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Check out this lovely view of the standing room area:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TOP LEFT: a fancy-schmancy hallway

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

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

BOTTOM RIGHT: a deli, located in the concourse

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Ahem, excuse me?!)

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

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

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(Six figures? Seriously?)

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

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

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

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

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Here I am with Jona:

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

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

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

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

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Ten minutes after that…

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

Outstanding.

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

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…and here are some of the photos she took:

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(Sigh.)

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

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

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

“Hey, what’s up, Zack?” he asked.

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

Here I am talking to him:

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

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

He’s awesome. Case closed.

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

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

Great success!!

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

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

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

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

This was my view from that spot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

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

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

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

• 637 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,440 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

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

• $34.65 raised at this game

• $315.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/5/10 at Target Field

I was convinced that there wouldn’t be batting practice. The weather was iffy, and the game had an extra early start time (12:10pm). I mean, if ever there was a day for the players to sleep in, this was it. Right?

Well, when I ran inside the stadium, the cage and screens were all set up, and players from both teams were throwing in the outfield:

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I hurried down to the left field foul line and quickly identified the two Tigers as Brad Thomas and Phil Coke. I was hoping that Thomas wouldn’t end up with the ball because he had thrown one to me the day before. I assumed he’d recognize me, so I was glad when Coke ended up with it instead — and when he did, I asked him for it.

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He walked over to me and said, “You’re the guy with the running count, right?”

(Crap, I was busted. I had to come up with a good answer.)

“Yeah,” I told him, “and you know I’m doing this for charity, right?”

(I wasn’t only doing it for charity. I was doing it for fun, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to mention that.)

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I saw the thing about you on TV yesterday.”

(Cool! Now I just had to convince him to give me the ball. Think! Say something! Anything!)

“Well, it would be an honor to get a ball from you,” I said.

D’oh! As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt like an idiot. It was actually true — why wouldn’t I want a ball from a major leaguer who recognized me? — but felt kinda phony. Evidently, however, it wasn’t too phony for Coke because he walked even closer and placed the ball into my open glove.

I raced around the stadium to the right field side…

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…and got Carl Pavano to throw me a ball five minutes later. It was commemorative and worn out and beautiful. Have a look:

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Once the Tigers started taking BP, I ran back to the left field side and grabbed the corner spot along the foul line. This was the view:

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I had decided to go for grounders instead of homers because the left field bleachers were crowded:

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I caught two baseballs during BP (bringing my total on the day to four). The first was tossed by Johnny Damon, and the second was a grounder that a right-handed batter yanked down the line. In between these two snags, some random guy approached me in the stands and introduced himself. He said he’d been reading my blog, and that he enjoyed keeping up with my baseball travels, and that he was a big baseball geek, too, and that he appreciated how much I enjoyed the game. I appreciated his kind words, but didn’t think much of it until he handed me his business card:

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He told me that if I was free the next day, he’d give me a tour of Target Field before it opened. (Stuff like this never happens to me in New York.) He even said I could take photos and blog about it — Twins management gave its stamp of approval — as long as I didn’t use his name. I thanked him profusely, told him I’d give him a call, and then began my own tour.

The previous day, I’d wandered all around the outside of the stadium. Now it was time to explore the inside, and I started behind the 3rd base dugout. Check out the cross-aisle that runs through the stands:

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Some people have been referring to this as “the moat,” but I don’t think it should be called that. Moats keep people out. Yankee Stadium has a MOAT. Dodger Stadium has a MOAT. But here in Minnesota, fans are allowed to go down to the dugouts until the end of batting practice. Once BP ends, the ushers start checking tickets, but after a few innings, you can pretty much wander wherever you want.

I headed up the steps and into the field level concourse. Naturally it was packed…

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…so it took me a few minutes to make it out to the left field foul pole:

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In the photo above, the glassy area on the right is a New Era cap store. The balcony around it is open to everyone. If you want to stand there for the entire game, no one’s gonna stop you.

I kept walking around the field level. Here’s what it looked like at the back of the bleachers in left-center field:

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You see those low-hanging lights in the photo above? Know what those are? Heat lamps. Great idea. The Twins/architects paid close attention to detail when designing this ballpark. It was truly a pleasure to walk around and take it all in.

Fans were streaming into Gate 3 — the Harmon Killebrew gate:

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Here’s a look at the bullpens and bleachers:

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There’s absolutely no chance to use the glove trick behind the ‘pens because the video board juts out too far. (You can see it better two photos above.) In fact, there’s no chance to use the trick in most outfield sections.

Here are the seats in right-center field. Note the flower bed in front and overhang up above:

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As you can see, it’s impossible to use the glove trick here, too, and if you’re hoping to catch a home run, your only chance is in the front row. I don’t care if the seats are made of real wood; there’s basically no reason to ever set foot in that section.

Here’s what the batter’s eye looks like from there:

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I decided to walk to the end of the front row and peek over the edge — you know, just to see what the trees looked like from above. This is what I saw:

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Well, how about that? There was a ball sitting 15 feet below me. I looked around. There were no ushers or security guards in sight, so I pulled out my glove, set up the rubber band and Sharpie, and went in for the kill. It took a minute to knock the ball closer, and then I successfully reeled it in…so I take back what I said a minute ago. There IS a reason to set foot in that section, and you just read about it.

I headed out to the standing room area behind the right field foul pole:

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Want to guess who was outside the gate?

Waldo, of course:

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(I wrote about him in my previous entry.)

The Twins had won the first two games of the series, so he was rooting for a sweep.

There was still a lot more for me to see. I knew I wasn’t going to finish wandering before the game started — and I was okay with that. I decided to take my time and walk all around Target Field, and if I missed a few innings, so be it.

I rode an escalator to the upper deck and took a photo of the standing room area from above. Check it out:

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See that big brown-ish building on the other side of the standing room area? (It’s a garage.) See the gray-ish translucent thing with random white blotches in front of it? I don’t know what to call it — it probably has an official name — so all I can tell you is that it’s a gigantic piece of art. It’s made out of thousands of shingle-sized metal flaps that wiggle back and forth in the breeze. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and no, that’s not an exaggeration. The flaps move in unison, like a massive school of fish, creating a hypnotic illusion which, from afar, looks like steam rising and swirling. You have to see it in person. It’s freaky and amazing, and you’ll never forget it.

As the umpires walked out onto the field, I wandered from the right field corner toward the plate and discovered a narrow walkway in front of some windows:

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Here’s another look at the walkway from the other end:

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See the guy holding a clipboard on the right? That was the public address announcer! There was a big microphone hanging down near the upper right corner of the window, and as he spoke into it, his voice boomed out across the stadium. HOW COOL that the Twins designed Target Field to give fans such incredible access. They actually made it worthwhile to be in the upper deck. And wait, there’s more…

Directly behind home plate, there was another/longer enclosed area with windows overlooking the field:

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As you can see in the photo above, there wasn’t a walkway in front, so I had to head around the back of it in the concourse. Here’s a photo of it:

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It’s called Twins Pub. You don’t need a special ticket to get inside. Anyone can go hang out there to enjoy a beverage and/or escape the cold. Here’s what it looks like on the inside:

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Ready for the coolest thing of all? This might be my favorite photo from the whole trip. Inside the pub…well, here, take a look:

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Yes, the Target Field organist was sitting right there for everyone to see.

Wow.

Just wow.

Behind the pub, there was an unusual, elevated walkway that the people sitting high up above the plate had to use to get to their seats:

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I headed up there to take a few pics that I later combined to make a panorama:

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I love how the lights are actually tucked into the roof of the upper deck. I’m telling you, every inch of this stadium is glorious.

Here’s what it looked like at the very back of the upper deck:

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(Okay, so maybe THAT shouldn’t be classified as “glorious,” but there’s certainly nothing wrong with it.)

Here’s a look at the field from the 3rd base side…

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…and here’s some more upper deck weirdness:

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I’m talking about that last elevated row of seats.

Funky, don’t you think?

As I approached the left field corner, I got a nice view of the party decks:

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I was looking forward to seeing the Budweiser deck at the very top of the building. There was a staircase at the end of the concourse that appeared to lead up there:

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Unfortunately, it just led to the regular portion of the upper deck, so I had to settle for checking it out from here:

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I headed down to the club level…

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…but couldn’t get past these doors:

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The left field corner of the club level was open to everyone, so I headed in that direction:

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The “Captain Morgan deck” was situated at the very end (directly above the New Era store):

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(There should be an “Alcoholics Anonymous lounge” to go with it.)

This was where the people who didn’t care about the game seemed to congregate. As you can see in the photo above, only one guy was even bothering to watch the nearest TV, and if you look closely, you can see that he was really just taking a quick break from playing with his phone. Sad. But hey, all these people paid to be in the stadium, so whether or not they were watching the game, they were at least supporting it.

Here’s the view from the deck — no, not of the field, but more importantly, of the stands and beams and concourses behind it:

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Here’s the view from the top corner of the left field upper deck:

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(I really did wander everywhere.)

I loved the combination of metal, concrete, and glass. I loved the angles. I loved the sleek design. But I didn’t love the wind. It was so gusty up there that I was nearly blown off my feet. It was freezing and a bit scary, so I made sure to hold onto the railing whenever I got near the edge. (For once, I was glad to have gained 11 pounds this past off-season.)

This was the view to the left:

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Here I am with my five baseballs:

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Three of the balls had black magic marker streaks across the logo like this. That’s how the Tigers are marking their balls. (If you want to see all the different types of marked balls that I’ve snagged over the years, click here.)

Here’s what it looked like from the deepest part of the ballpark in left-center:

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There’s a standing room area directly behind the batter’s eye…

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…but because the wall is so high (shoulder-high if you’re six feet tall) and has a metal drink shelf jutting out, it’s nearly impossible to peer over for balls that might be hiding in the trees below.

The stands in deep right-center were strangely configured. There was some weird railing/platform/standing-room action at the very back:

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I headed down toward the main standing room section in right field…

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…and then went back up to the club level on the right field side. There was a sizable area that was open to all fans, which included a model of Target Field and a long hallway with photos of every current major league stadium:

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Finally, at some point more than halfway through the game, I finished wandering and caught up with my friend “Big Glove Bob”:

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I spent the next few innings hanging out in the standing room area, and then I grabbed a seat behind the 3rd base dugout. Orlando Hudson flied out to Tigers right fielded Ryan Raburn to end the eighth inning, and when Raburn jogged in, he flipped me the ball. That was my sixth of the day, and since there was a little kid standing nearby with a glove, I handed him my lone unmarked/non-commemorative ball from BP. (Yeah, I kept the game-used ball with the Target Field logo and gave him a regular practice ball. So? He didn’t know the difference, and he was thrilled to no end.) Then, with one out remaining in the game, I moved over to the staircase behind the umpires’ exit…

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…and got my seventh and final ball of the day from Derryl Cousins as he hurried off the field.

My last two baseballs were perfect, game-rubbed, commemorative balls:

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Final score: Zack 7, Twins 5, Tigers 4. (This improved my Ballhawk Winning Percentage to .786 — 5.5 wins and 1.5 losses.)

I had no idea what happened in the game until I looked at the box score, and you know what? It doesn’t even matter.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 7 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 73 balls in 7 games this season = 10.4 balls per game.

• 636 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,431 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 29 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)

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

• $26.95 raised at this game

• $281.05 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

After the game, I met Jona at Smalley’s 87 Club. We both had our laptops and used the free WiFi. She had a Boca burger. (Yeesh.) I had the boneless BBQ chicken wings and a side of onion rings. (She’d say “yeesh” to that, so we’re even.) Roy Smalley made a post-game appearance (as he often does) and signed a ticket stub for me:

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(Are they still called “stubs” even though they no longer get torn?)

5/2/10 at Progressive Field

Sunny days without batting practice are the worst. This is what I saw when I arrived at the stadium and peeked through the left field gate:

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I took my time walking over to Gate C (on the right field side). There were a couple dozen fans when I got there. Normally, I try to make sure that I’m the first one to enter, but in this case it didn’t matter, so I waited patiently as everyone filed into the stadium ahead of me:

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This was my first look at the field:

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Yawn.

Moments after I made it down to the front row, I heard a voice from behind say my name. I turned around and saw a familiar face. It was a guy from Akron, Ohio named Dan Cox. He and I had met once before on 6/17/08 at Coors Field. (That was the day that a reporter and photographer from the Associated Press were following me around, and Dan actually ended up with his picture in the article. If you click here, you can see him in the top photo standing just over my left shoulder with a red shirt.) We kept in touch, and he recently told me that he was going to attend this game. Here we are:

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Oh yeah, I should probably mention that I snagged two baseballs. Several Twins pitchers had come out to play catch, and when they were finishing, I convinced Jesse Crain to hook me up by telling him that I had a good knuckleball and wanted to show him. He threw me

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a mediocre knuckler and then waved toward himself with his glove as if to say, “C’mon, let’s see what you got.” I threw him my best knuckler, which turned out to be as bad as his (oops), and it kept going from there. We played catch for about 30 seconds, throwing nothing but so-so knuckleballs. Unfortunately, it all happened so fast that by the time I thought about handing my camera to Dan, it was too late. Then, two minutes later, Crain saw one of his teammates — I’m not sure who — toss me another ball. Before Crain could protest, I told him that I would give it to a kid, and I kept my promise.

Gate C had opened at 11:30am. The rest of the stadium opened at noon, and when it did, Dan and I moved to the left field foul line. I positioned myself in the front row while Kevin Slowey (pictured below with his leg up) played catch with Scott Baker:

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Dan stayed a couple rows back, and at one point, I turned around to look at him. This is what I saw:

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Yeah, there was a ball just sitting there. There were even a few other fans nearby, but no one saw it. I moved toward it slowly and picked it up. No one noticed. I showed Dan, and we both shrugged.

Once the players cleared the field, it was time to wander and take pics. I started by walking through the cross-aisle toward the left field corner:

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The aisle isn’t great for foul balls because, as you can see, it’s tucked slightly under the overhang of the second deck. That said, foul balls do shoot back there behind the plate.

I headed to the upper deck…

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…and walked through the concourse…

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…and then went down to the front row. Check out the third base dugout:

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See that red area right behind it? No, it’s not a carpet. It’s just painted concrete, but it’s still pretty cool and functions like a cross-aisle. The seats behind it are very exclusive. It’s the “Mercedes Benz Front Row,” and you can’t go there without a ticket.

I walked up to the last row directly behind home plate…

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…and then took a couple photos, which I later combined to make a panorama:

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On my way back down to the Home Run Porch in left field, I poked my head into the suite level. Check it out:

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There was so much room to run during the game. I was in heaven. For left-handed batters, I alternated between the seats on the third base side…

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…and in right-center:

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For all righties, I stood toward the back of the Home Run Porch. This was my view:

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(That’s Dan standing in front of me with the glove.)

The view was not as bad as you might think. I could actually see the batters in between the people standing at the front. Here’s a close-up of the previous photo. It’ll show you what I mean:

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In the top of the 5th inning, Jim Thome connected on his 569th career home run, tying him with Rafael Palmeiro (BOO!!!) for 11th place all time. The ball landed in a gap directly behind the wall in dead center. Here’s a photo of that area from above:

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If the ball had traveled five feet farther, it would have landed in the trees, and I might have been able to reach under the fence for it on the lower level of Heritage Park. But no, Chris Perez walked over from the Indians’ bullpen and picked it up, and that was the end of it.

Here’s a photo of the Home Run Porch from above:

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Is that beautiful or what? It doesn’t matter if your ticketed seat is in the last row of the upper deck. If you want to hang out on the Porch, you’re welcome to do so. Bravo, Indians, for making the fan experience so laid-back and positive. (As for the quality of the team, that’s another story.)

Have you heard about the Indians fan who sits in the last row of the bleachers and bangs a drum? (That sounds like the opening line of a joke, but I’m being serious.) He’s been going to games forever, and he’s done lots of interviews of the years. The reason why I’m mentioning him is that I went up there to say hello. Here he is focusing on the game…

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…and here I am with him:

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His name is John Adams, and he’s a legend. This was his 2,917th game. He has missed just 37 games in 36 years. I asked if the Indians still make him buy an extra seat for his drum. He said it’s not an issue because he has four season tickets. I asked if the Indians ever told him not to bang the drum when the ball is in play or if that’s his own decision. He said he decided on his own out of respect for the game. I asked if he ever snagged a home run ball that landed on a staircase and bounced all the way to the back row. The answer is no. Anyway, go say hi to him if you’re ever at Progressive Field. He’s incredibly friendly and chatty, and he told me that he enjoys the opportunity to talk to so many people.

I was back on the Porch in the bottom of the 7th, when Asdrubal Cabrera lifted a deep fly ball down the line. I drifted forward to the railing at the front. The ball was coming…coming…and I had it lined up perfectly. It was going to be the easiest catch ever, but dammit, it ended up falling about ten feet short and bouncing high off the wall for a double. Here’s a screen shot that shows the action:

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The UP arrow is pointing at me, the LEFT arrow is pointing at Dan, and the DOWN arrow is pointing to a fan who’s really, really, really into the game. I love it. It’s like a full-body maneuver to peek around the wall from that little nook.

The Twins won the game, 8-3, behind a solid, seven-inning performance by Francisco Liriano. Catcher Wilson Ramos, filling in for the injured Joe Mauer, went 4-for-5 in his major league debut. Delmon Young also went 4-for-5 (with a homer) as Minnesota combined for 20 hits.

I ended up getting one more ball after the game behind the Twins’ dugout. I don’t know who provided it. It was flipped up randomly from under the roof. So…I ended the day with four balls — fewer balls than the winning team had runs — which means I took my first “loss” of the season. At 3-1, my Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .750.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 4 balls at this game (3 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 38 balls in 4 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 633 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,396 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 25 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)

• $2.91 pledged per ball (if you add up all 25 pledges)

• $11.64 raised at this game

• $110.58 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/8/09 at Citi Field

This was a very special day…

Not only was it my parents’ 35th anniversary, but it was the first time that I walked all the way around the outside of Citi Field since that snowy day in February of 2008.

Naturally, I took photos of everything, starting with the view from the subway exit:

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I headed past the Brooklyn Dodgers Rotunda…

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…and walked the length of the stadium toward the left field gate:

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Kinda nice. Kinda whatever. I think the weeds should be replaced with flowers (maybe even of the orange and blue variety), but hey, I’m no landscaper.

I rounded the corner and walked to the outermost edge of the parking lot. Here’s what the stadium looked like from afar — from about a quarter of a mile from home plate in straight-away left field:

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I didn’t like what I saw. It didn’t look like a baseball stadium. It looked like a jumbled mess of generic modern architecture.

I walked closer…

On the right side of this edge of the stadium, there was some type of employee entrance:

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In the middle, there was a chain-link fence blocking off a huge area of loading docks:

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On the left side, there was a security guard and a “DO NOT ENTER” sign:

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Do you see all those cork-shaped objects poking out of the ground every four feet? Do you know what those are for? Here in New York City, they’ve been popping up on sidewalks outside of new and important buildings. They’re there to prevent extremists (i.e. Al-Qaeda, Hamas, disgruntled Mets fans, etc.) from driving too close with explosive-laden vehicles.

Several policemen eyed me suspiciously as I walked around taking photos. I eyed them right back and rounded another corner…

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…and peeked through one of Citi Field’s many glass doors. This is what I saw:

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In case it’s not clear, this construction zone is inside Citi Field — basically at the deepest part of center field. Can anyone explain why the stadium is still under construction six months after it opened? Do we have Bernie Madoff to thank for this? What was/is this area supposed to end up being? I thought this new stadium was supposed to be “intimate.”

I approached the bullpen gate in right-center field:

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In the photo above, did you notice all the cars and signs on the left side of the road? You know what’s over there, RIGHT across from the stadium? If you were to stand with your back facing the bullpen gate and walk across the street, this is what you’d see:

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Lovely.

Instead of paying Oliver Perez $36 million to “pitch” for three years, the Mets should’ve bought out all the auto repair centers and replaced them with a public park…with some orange and blue flowers…and a few restaurants…and fountains…and a small baseball field where people could play catch…and statues of players who actually played for the Mets.

I rounded yet another corner and headed past the right field gate:

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The following photo shows where the Mets players walk in from their parking lot:

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Normally (as you might recall from my entry on 8/4/09 when I got Livan Hernandez to sign my 4,000th ball), this area is gated off in order to keep the fans as far away from the players as possible. The reason why it wasn’t blocked when I passed by is that it was already 4:15pm. All the Mets players were safely inside.

I made it all the way back around to the Rotunda:

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(GOSH I love barricades!)

As I was looking for the best spot to wait in line, I ran into a new-ish friend (and aspiring ballhawk) named Ryan. He was there with his friend Keith. You’ll see a photo of them at the end of this entry.

Citi Field opened at 4:40pm, and I raced out to the left field seats. For a few minutes, I pretty much had the place to myself…

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…but of course almost every batter was swinging from the left side of the plate. As a result, a ball ended up rolling onto the warning track in right-center field, so I ran over there. Ryan and Keith were standing nearby in the seats. They knew that I was there to snag that ball with my glove trick, but they didn’t mind. In fact, they even strategized with me about how I could get it without being seen by security. It was then that another ball rolled onto the track. Josh Thole jogged over to retrieve it, then tossed it to me (after I asked him politely for it) and left the other ball sitting there. Very strange. Moments later, a home run landed on the slanted area in front of the batter’s eye. Perfect! The security supervisor standing at the back of our section walked down a few rows and then climbed over the side railing to go get it. Ryan pulled out his camera and took a few photos while Keith stood next to me and used his tall frame as a shield. Here’s a pic of me getting the ball to stick inside the glove…

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…and here’s another shot of the glove trick in action. You can see that I’m lifting up the ball while the yellow-shirted supervisor is wandering off in the background:

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Some people consider this to be theft. My response: It’s not 1915 anymore. Fans are allowed to keep baseballs nowadays. Players and coaches (and ballboys and groundskeepers and ushers and photographers and announcers and mascots and vendors and security guards and other stadium personnel) actually GIVE balls to fans. Welcome to 2009.

And by the way, the ball that I snagged with my glove trick was a 2008 Yankee Stadium commemorative ball. The Mets are cool like that. They often use old/random commemorative balls during BP.

I headed back to left field, and once again, there was very little action. Brian Stokes walked by. He didn’t have a ball in his hand, and even if he did, I wouldn’t have asked him for it. Two days earlier, he had recognized me as That Guy who snags lots of baseballs. Normally, when players recognize me, it’s a bad thing. It means they’re not going to give me any more balls…ever. There’ve been exceptions — Josias Manzanillo, Pedro Martinez, and Heath Bell to name a few — but it’s rare. Anyway, when Stokes walked by, I shouted, “Hey, Brian, what’s brian_stokes_2009.jpgup?!” He looked over and spotted me and waved, and it sounded like he yelled, “Hey, Zack!” I could be wrong. There’s a chance that he didn’t actually say my name. I might just have been hearing what I wanted to hear, but in any case, it was nice that he remembered me.

Thirty seconds later, while I was standing in the middle of the left field seats, minding my own business, watching the batter and hoping for a home run, I heard/saw someone trying to get my attention down below on the field. It was Stokes! He now had a ball in his hand, and he was making a gesture to indicate that he was going to throw it to me. I held up my glove…and…whooooosh!!! He fired a strike right to me.

“Thanks!” I shouted. “Is that for the charity?”

“I haven’t checked out your site yet!” he shouted back.

“But you still have my card?!”

“Yeah I got it!”

“Cool!” I said. “Thanks again!”

Then he waved and headed toward the foul pole, and I took a photo of the ball he’d thrown to me:

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Yup, another Yankee Stadium commemorative. Brian Stokes is my new favorite player. With my luck, the Mets will trade him next year, and with the Mets’ luck (as was the case with Heath Bell), he’ll develop into an All-Star closer.

Halfway though the Mets’ portion of BP, a ball rolled onto the warning track down the left field foul line:

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I waited for a minute to see if a player or security guard noticed that it was there, and when nobody went for it, I made my move. I raced over to the seats in foul territory and got as close as possible to the ball. Then I used my “half-glove trick.” That’s what I call it when I don’t actually use the rubber band or Sharpie, when all I do is fling the glove out and then yank it back in order to knock the ball closer. That’s all I had to do here because the wall was so low. Once I had the ball in my hand, I was thrilled to discover that it was a 2008 All-Star Game ball.

I headed back to left field and caught three home runs on the fly. The first — another Yankee Stadium commemorative — was hit by Jeff Francoeur, and I gloved it after running a section and a half to my left. The second was hit by Cody Ross (the Marlins had taken the field by this point) and it came right to me. The third homer? I have no idea who hit it because I was looking somewhere else and didn’t even see the ball coming until the very last second, at which point I darted to my right and made a lunging, back-handed catch.

The three homers gave me seven balls on the day. That might sound great, but I was pissed that I didn’t have a dozen. I misjudged one homer that ended up sailing five feet over my head. (I was in the middle of a section — in other words, NOT on a staircase — so I would’ve had to climb over two rows of seats while the ball was descending. It was a tough chance, but I feel like I should’ve had it.) Another home run tipped off the very end of my glove after another running/lunging attempt. Two more home runs were heading RIGHT toward me but fell five feet short. The Marlins players didn’t toss me a single ball despite the fact that I was decked out in zack_is_a_crybaby.jpg
hideously ugly aqua-colored Marlins gear. Another home run sailed ten feet over my head and landed in a totally empty patch of seats. All it had to do was stay there and I would’ve been able to walk over and pick it up, but it ricocheted about a mile away. It was just one of those days when very little seemed to be going my way. The fact that I *did* have seven balls at that point was amazing and lucky. It shows how good Citi Field can potentially be (even though it’s nearly impossible to catch batted balls in right field). Someday…SOME day…mark my words: I’m going to snag 20 balls in a single game there. It might take a few more years of the Mets winning 45 percent of their games in order for the crowds to shrink sufficiently, but it *will* happen.

Another lame thing that happened during batting practice was that I had to deal with a hater. I was standing in the front row, getting ready to call out to a Marlins player, when I heard a man’s voice coming from the right, saying something about “running around like an idiot.” The voice was rather faint, and there wasn’t anyone standing nearby, so it didn’t occur to me that the words were aimed my way. Still I wanted to see who was talking so I looked over and saw an averaged-sized, 40-something-year-old man, sitting 15 feet to my right. He was wearing a glove and glaring at me.

“Are you talking to ME?” I asked. I wasn’t trying to start a fight. (Remember, I went to Quaker schools for eight years.) I was just taken by surprise by the whole situation, which seemed to be arising from nothing, and I genuinely wanted to know if, in fact, he WAS talking to me. It didn’t make any sense.

“Yeah, I’m talking to you!” he snapped.

I was already so annoyed by all the balls I’d missed that I was ready to explode, but I thought better of it and just shrugged it off and went about my business. Ten minutes later, when there was a lull between rounds of BP, I was still bothered by the whole thing. Why did the guy have a problem with me? I didn’t know him. I’d never talked to him. He obviously didn’t know me, so what the hell was his problem? I decided to confront him — but in a nice way. I walked over to his section. He was facing the field. I approached him from behind (since the front of the section was packed) and climbed over several rows of seats. As I sat down right behind him, he turned around quickly and noticed me and flinched, ever so slightly. That amused me. He obviously wasn’t expecting to see me again, and I swear, I just wanted to have a conversation with him and get to the bottom of his mysterious hostility.

“How’re you doing,” I said warmly but firmly. (This wasn’t a question. It was a statement.) “I was just wondering what exactly it is about me that you find idiotic.”

The guy was reasonably nice — as nice as he could be while telling me why he thought I sucked. He gave two reasons. First, he accused me of bumping into a kid, but then he admitted that he hadn’t really seen it, and that he HAD seen me pat the kid on the back after the kid got a ball. (In truth, the kid was a bit out of control and had bumped into me, but having once been an out-of-control kid myself, I let it slide.) Second, the guy accused me catching too many balls and therefore preventing other kids from getting them.

“Did you know,” I asked him, “that I give away balls to kids every time I go to a game?”

“I’ve never seen you give one away here,” he said.

“That’s because I usually wait until after the game to give balls away.”

“Well, that’s nice of you,” admitted the guy.

“And did you know,” I continued, “that I’ve been raising money for a kids’ charity this season with all the balls I catch at games?”

“I did not know that,” he said, now softening up.

I proceeded to tell him all about Pitch In For Baseball, and how I’ve gotten 123 people to make pledges for each ball that I snag, and how I’ve raised over $10,000 which will be used to ship baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world.

By the time we were done talking, the guy apologized to me and shook my hand. I also apologized to him for doing anything that might have given him the wrong impression. And that was that.

Right before the game started, several Marlins played catch in front of the 3rd base dugout:

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In the photo above, the player on the left is Hanley Ramirez, and the player on the right (wearing No. 12) is Cody Ross. Ramirez finished first and tossed his ball to another fan one section to my left. Ross wrapped it up soon after, walked toward the dugout, scanned the seats for a cute little kid, and when he couldn’t find one (school is back in session, heh heh) he settled for tossing his ball to me.

I had a GREAT time during the game because I’d gone on StubHub earlier in the day and splurged for a ticket in the fancy “Sterling Level” seats behind home plate. At the beginning of the season, those seats were selling for hundreds of dollars apiece, but now, with the Mets embarrassing themselves, I was able to find one in the $70 range. That’s much more than I usually spend on tickets, but every now and then, I like to treat myself, and besides, I’d never been to that part of Citi Field, so I figured it was worth it to experience it once.

I headed out through a door on the field level concourse and then walked down a set of stairs. I don’t often get to go below field level, so this was quite a treat. This is what it looked like as I headed down. The red arrow is pointing to the Sterling Level entrance:

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(Can we get some artwork on the walls? Maybe a big Mets mural? Or some old photographs? Maybe a trophy case? Something? ANYthing? Who the hell designed this place, and why wasn’t I consulted?)

Once I got through the doors, I felt incredibly out of place. I was wearing sneakers, cargo shorts, a T-shirt, a Mets cap, and a baseball glove. (And socks and underwear, in case you were wondering.) Everyone else there looked like…wait…was I even in a baseball stadium? This was the view to my right…

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…and this was the view to my left:

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What?!

A well-dressed employee approached me and said, “You look lost.”

It took an effort to explain (without losing my patience) that I was intentionally lost…that it was all part of my plan…that it was my first time down there…that I just wanted to be left the hell alone to wander and take photos and soak it all in.

I got some funny looks as I hurried through the club toward the seats. The game (there WAS a game, right?) was about to start…and…what? There were people sitting at a bar:

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I was excited to be in the fancy club, but I didn’t like it at all. “Sterling Club” should be renamed “Sterile Club.” It was clean and spacious and luxurious, I suppose, if that’s your idea of luxury, but there was no charm or character or purpose. Not to me, at least. Why would anyone want to go to a baseball game and then sit at an air-conditioned bar watching it on TV? Am I missing something? Were all these other people there for the first time, too? It was like an airport lounge.

I was about to lose my mind. I had to get to the seats. This is how I got there:

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My view for the game — or rather “for left-handed batters” — was outstanding. Check it out:

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My actual seat was in the middle of a row somewhere, but since the section was half-empty, the friendly usher told me I could grab a seat at the end of a row.

After the top of the first inning, I recognized a security guard at the bottom of the section — a guy who was always really nice to me at Shea Stadium — so I got permission to go down there and talk to him. I couldn’t go ALL the way down to the protective screen. The seats there are separated by a “moat” (which you’ll see a bit later) and are reserved for people like Mrs. Beltran (yes, she was actually there). So, I went down to the first row behind the moat. I talked to the guard. We were glad to see each other. Last year at Shea, he had told me that Citi Field was going to be “a separation of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.'” I didn’t believe him at the time, or at least I didn’t think that the separation was going to be all that noticeable, but he was absolutely right. Citi Field is an elitist club that was built for millionaires (as opposed to the new Yankee Stadium, which was built for multi-millionaires); the average die-hard fan is an afterthought. This night confirmed it. Once the bottom of the first got underway, I sat down and kept talking to the guard. Angel Pagan, batting leadoff for the Mets, lifted a high foul pop-up that was heading 10 rows back and a full section to my left. I jumped out of my padded seat angel_pagan.jpg
and raced up the steps and cut through an empty row and came much closer to snagging the ball than I should’ve. There weren’t ANY other fans wearing gloves. I settled back down near the guard at the bottom of the section just as Pagan hit another foul ball. This time, it was heading into my section. I raced up the stairs and came within five feet of it as it landed. The ball then bounced back toward me and sailed one foot over my glove as I jumped and reached for it. I turned around and noticed that the ball had come to a rest against the bottom of a seat several rows below me. Normally, I wouldn’t have had a shot at it, but here in Moneyville, everyone else reacted in slow-motion. I bolted back down the steps, squeezed past an old man wearing moccasins, and dove on top of the ball. I was very careful not to bump into anyone; the only person who got banged up was me. I scraped my knuckles and slammed my right knee on the ground. There was a little blood. Nothing serious. But most importantly, and as I already said, NO ONE was hurt except me. I can’t stress that enough. It was a controlled dive on my part, if that makes sense. There was another fan approaching from the opposite direction, and I knew that he was going to reach the ball first unless I laid out. So I did. And I got it. And then he dove on top of me! I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t know what he was thinking. He actually tried to grab the ball out of my hand after I clearly had sole possession of it. I mean, it wasn’t even close. It wasn’t like a “held ball” in basketball where two guys grab it at the same time. No way. I had the ball in my bare hand when his hand was at least six inches away. I used all my strength (as I lay sprawled out on the concrete) to grip the ball and prevent him from prying it out of my hand. This was my first foul ball at Citi Field, so there was no way I was going to have it taken from me. I won the battle and finally got up — my camera had gotten banged up too — and returned to my aisle seat at the back of the section. I made eye contact with the guard at the bottom. He didn’t know whether or not I’d gotten the ball, so I held it up and he shook his head in disbelief. Moments later, my phone rang. It was Clif (a former Watch With Zack apprentice; aka “goislanders4″ in the comments section) who was sitting behind the Marlins’ dugout. He’d seen the whole thing.

I caught my breath, tested my camera (it still loved me!), and inspected the ball. It had a beautiful patterned marking on one part of the cowhide. I can’t describe it or explain it. I can only show it:

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The area with the marking was slightly — almost negligibly — rougher than the rest. How could this have happened? Is it possible that the pattern was imprinted when the ball first landed on the concrete steps in the stands? That’s my best guess. One thing I learned last month in Philadelphia when I got a lesson on how to rub mud on game balls is that the subtle patterns and abnormalities in the cowhide will be accentuated when the mud is rubbed on. Still, I can’t imagine that this pattern could’ve found its way onto the ball through mere rubbing alone. (BTW, if you want to see photos of other weird markings and defects, click here.)

When right-handed batters came up after that, I moved to the other side of home plate. There was lots of room to run…

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…but nothing came my way.

During inning breaks and pitching changes, I explored the rest of the club. Here’s what the concession area looks like. I took this photo from the edge of the concourse that runs between the Rotunda and home plate…

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…and here’s the concourse itself, if it can even be called that:

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It’s really more of an entrance, although it DOES connect the left and right sides of the Sterling Level clubs.

At some random point in the middle innings, I felt a stinging sensation on the outer edge of my right wrist. I took a look at it. There was a small scrape. It took me a moment to realize that it must’ve happened while I was scrambling for that foul ball. This made me happy. It was the sign of a good injury; I was having so much fun and the adrenaline had been so high that I didn’t even know where I’d been hurt. Two days have passed since this game, and I *just* noticed that I have a larger scrape on my left shin. After careful review and analysis, I have determined that it’s the result of having lunged across the concrete ledge for the half-glove trick.

Anyway, on with the tour…

Here’s the Sterling Level patio seating:

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That’s a good foul ball spot for righties, although there’s very little room to run.

Are you wondering about the bathrooms? I sure was, and since there weren’t any signs pointing to them, I had to ask a restaurant staff member to point me to them. I didn’t whip out my camera in the men’s room. (I was tempted to photograph all the marble and fancy appliances, but that just would’ve been creepy.) Instead, I took a photo just outside the men’s room, which shows where I had to walk to get there:

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(WHY ISN’T THERE ANY METS STUFF ON THE WALLS?!?!)

Speaking of the restaurant, here it is:

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At the far end, there were a couple tables near a window:

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Those tables overlook the visiting team’s batting cage…

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…but don’t get too excited. This type of “sneak peek” exists in a number of other new stadiums, including Citizens Bank Park, which is better than Citi Field in every conceivable way (except for all the Phillies fans) and opened five years earlier.

Way way WAY over, on the far end of the Sterling Level (on the 1st base side of home plate), there’s a window overlooking the Mets’ batting cage:

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That crazy pitching machine was filled with tennis balls, each with small colored numbers 37_numbers_on_tennis_balls.jpgprinted in several places. The Mets (and perhaps other teams as well) run a hitting drill in which these balls are fired at the batters, who try to identify the numbers on them. I tried to take a close-up photo of the balls, but my camera wasn’t good enough. (Or maybe *I* wasn’t good enough.) You can see the photo here on the right. I apologize for the blurriness, but it’s the best I could do. And let me further explain something about the balls, since it might be impossible to see it for yourself: there aren’t different numbers on each ball. Instead, each ball has the same number in several places. Does that make sense? Good. Here’s a photo of another bar, taken from the corner near the batting cage window:

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The TVs over the bar were showing both the Mets and Yankee games as well as a live match from the U.S. Open.

Here’s a photo that shows the enormity of the club. This is only about one-fifth of it:

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I went back to the seats and stayed there. Here’s that moat I was talking about:

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Late in the game, I ran into SportsNet New York reporter Kevin Burkhardt. He and I had met briefly last season, and he already knew about me then. This time, we got to talk for a full inning. I told him some details about my baseball collection, filled him in on the charity, and gave him a glove trick demo. While we were talking, I had chances to snag two more foul balls, but I came up short. I took a bad route on one and misjudged another because of the crazy backspin (long story) but Kevin was impressed just by the way I raced after them. He gave me his email address and told me to drop him a line next time I’m going to be at Citi Field, and he said he’d interview me during the game and plug my web site and mention the charity. The Mets only have 10 more home games, and I’ll only be free/motivated to attend a couple of them, so we’ll see…

After the game (which the Mets lost), I got a ball from Scott Barry, the home plate umpire, and then I raced over to the Marlins’ dugout where I got Fredi Gonzalez to give me his lineup cards. Unfortunately, when he tossed them to me, the wind separated them, so I was only able to grab one of the two. BUT…I’m happy to report that the one I grabbed happened to be the Mets’ card.

A few minutes later, I met up with Ryan and Keith:

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Ryan (wearing the Marlins gear) had snagged four balls, which was quite an accomplishment considering that his lifetime total entering the day was just two! (Hey, you have to start somewhere. I remember when I only had two baseballs. It was 1990. I was in 7th grade. I hated it. That was probably the worst year of my life. But I digress.)

Here’s a look at the lineup card:

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Notice how the switch-hitters have an “S” drawn next to their names? And how the lefties have an “L”? And how there’s a pitcher on the Mets named “Stoner”?

(If you want to see my complete collection of lineup cards, click here.)

Just before I headed up the steps, I pulled a ball out of a special compartment of my backpack. It was the ball that had been tossed to me by Josh Thole. I’d decided when it first came into my possession that it was going to be my give-away ball. Now the time had come for me to find a worthy recipient. I noticed a young kid with a glove heading up the steps with his dad. I caught up with them. The kid’s glove was empty. I handed the ball to him and told him how I’d gotten it. He was thrilled. His father shook my hand. They both thanked me and then disappeared into the night.

SNAGGING STATS:

43_the_nine_i_kept_09.08.09.jpg• 10 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave one away)

• 418 balls in 50 games this season = 8.36 balls per game.

• 619 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 348 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 133 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 18 different stadiums with at least one game ball

• 4,238 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.03 pledged per ball

• $250.30 raised at this game

• $10,462.54 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/2/09 at Rangers Ballpark

I’m so optimistic.

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

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

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

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

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

This is as close as I got:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…and then headed down and took this one:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game

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

• 585 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,943 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.38 pledged per ball

• $61.14 raised at this game

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

4/7/09 at Rogers Centre

The day got off to a great start.

Thanks to the location of my hotel room and the impressive right arm of a Blue Jays pitcher, I was able to snag a ball 15 minutes before Rogers Centre opened. This is where it all went down:

zack_snagging_in_hotel_room.jpg

I’m not sure who threw it–it’s kinda hard to recognize faces from three kilometers up–but I think it was Jesse Litsch. I’d gotten his attention as soon as the Jays started taking BP, and when I asked for a ball, he grabbed his shoulder and rotated his arm as if to indicate that it was sore.

“I can’t throw that far!” he shouted.

“Gimme a break!” I yelled. “I played D-3 ball, and *I* can throw that far!”

That convinced him to give it a shot, but his first throw fell short and the ball bounced out of the 500 Level. Then, before he tried again, he told me that this was going to be his last try. The ball barely sailed wide and again bounced out of the seats.

“C’mon!” I yelled.

He ignored me.

I thought that was it, but then he surprised me by making one final attempt about 20 minutes later, and it was right on the money. That is one impressive throw, and of course it felt incredible to head outside and get on line and already have a “1” in the ball tally. FYI, there’s no way to enter the stadium from the hotel. I had to go outside and wait at the gate like everyone else, and when I got outside, I discovered that it was snowing. Then, according to the plan,
I headed to Gate 13 and met a fellow ballhawk named Nick Yohanek (aka “Happy Youngster“) for the very first time. Here we are…Nick on the left and his father Jack on the right:

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Nick and I had known each other through email and blog comments for a few years. Like me, he had planned to go to Toronto to make an attempt at catching Gary Sheffield’s 500th career home run. Even though Sheff got released by the Tigers during the final week of Spring Training, we were still here. Nick and his father had made the 650-mile drive from Milwaukee.

My only concern about meeting fellow ballhawks is that we’ll end up getting in each other’s way and competing for the same balls, but that didn’t happen here. Rogers Centre is big enough (and the crowd was so small) that everyone was able to spread out. As soon as the gates opened, Nick made a beeline for the 200 Level and found an easter egg. I raced to the 100 Level and got one of the Tigers (no idea who) to toss me a ball in right-center field. The first thing I thought of was the charity; snagging baseballs, as fun as it has always been for me, now feels even better because of this new added meaning.

A few minutes later, a ball rolled onto the warning track in right-center:

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I used my glove trick to reel it in and heard some fans cheering for me in left-center. The day before, I’d stayed in the 200 Level and didn’t get recognized by anybody. On this fine day, however, I stayed downstairs and had a bunch of people coming up to me and recognizing me from this blog and from YouTube.

Eddie Bonine walked over and asked how I got the ball to stick inside my glove.

“Put another ball down,” I said, “and I’ll show you how it’s done.”

He was so intrigued by my contraption that I think he was considering it, but then another ball rolled onto the warning track.

“There you go,” he said, pointing at it.

The ball was halfway out on the track and my attempt began with a struggle to knock it closer, only because I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself by flinging the glove way out. I was trying to be subtle and gentle with all my movements, and it just wasn’t happening.

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Bonine moved the ball closer to the wall, then stepped back and watched with Nate Robertson as I reeled it in. Once I had the ball in my hand, he told me to give it to him.

“I’ll give it back,” he said. “I want to see you do it again.”

I tossed him the ball and worried that a) security was going to raise hell and that b) I was missing other snagging opportunities, but I had to go with it. When a major leaguer is talking to you, you can’t just walk away.

Sure enough, as I was reeling in the ball for the second time, a young female security guard (wearing a menacing bright yellow jacket) approached me from behind and told me I had to stop. Bonine jumped to my defense, saying I wasn’t causing any trouble and that he wanted to see what I was doing.

“In that case keep right on going,” the guard told me. “I have to say I’m impressed.”

I got the ball to stick inside my glove and then as soon as I began lifting it up, Bonine kicked the glove and made both the ball and Sharpie fall out. I wasn’t mad. I knew he was just being playful, and I thought it was funny. Then he grabbed the Sharpie and wedged it in my glove and tossed the ball up to me. Mission accomplished.

I ran to left-center because a bunch of righties were taking turns in the cage. Of course there wasn’t a single ball that landed anywhere near me, but I did get Carlos Guillen to toss one my way–ball No. 5 on the day.

Three of the last four balls I’d snagged were from the International League. (Booooo!!!) They felt cheap and plasticky, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re made in China:

international_league_balls.jpg

Real balls, of course, are made in…let’s say it all together: COSTA RICA!!! And let me just point out that the Tigers are now 0-3 in games I’ve seen them play since last year, so I’ll say it again: If you practice with minor league balls, you’re gonna play like a bunch of minor leaguers. I’m telling you, the Tigers are done. They’re not going anywhere this year. It’s just like the Nationals and their God-awful training balls.

Right after BP, I got Curtis Granderson (he’s nice) to sign my ticket…

curtis_granderson_autograph.jpg

…and then I met two of Toronto’s best ballhawks. They knew I was going to be at this game, and they’d said a quick hello during BP in left-center. Once all the players were off the field, we had a good chunk of time to catch up. Here were are in the photo below. The guy on the left is named Ryan, and he’s snagged a grand total of 696 balls. His friend on the right is Tyler, and he’s gotten around 630:

ryan_tyler_zack.jpg

“We’re like the you of this stadium,” said Ryan.

He and Tyler each had me sign a ball. Then we took some photos, and they had me leave a voice-mail for their friend who’s away in college right now–another ballhawk whose claim to fame is that when Carlos Delgado was on the Jays and hit four homers in a game, he snagged the third one. So there ARE some experienced ballhawks here. I hadn’t met any when I was in Toronto in 2000, but of course I didn’t have this blog then, so I wasn’t coming into contact with nearly as many people. Oh, and one more thing about Ryan and Tyler…they each have a full season ticket plan. All 81 home games. When I tell you how much they pay, you’re going to cry and/or move to Toronto. Ready? They pay just $81. Not per ticket, but for the entire season! One dollar per game. That’s one of the deals up here. Of course their seats are in the 500 Level, but it doesn’t matter because they never go up there. Can you believe that? It makes me loathe New York City. But let’s move away from hateful thoughts. Here’s something funny and sooooooo Canadian…

Twenty minutes before game time, as I was walking through the seats, I saw a kid with a hockey goalie glove, and yes, he said he’d brought it to try to catch a foul ball:

hockey_goalie_glove.jpg

I was tempted to give him one of my baseballs, but since he was sitting with three other kids, I didn’t want to do anything that would make the rest of them jealous, so I kept walking around and looking for a worthy recipient. After a few minutes I saw a little boy, probably about five years old, sitting between his parents, wearing a glove and Tigers gear. I walked up and asked him if he’d gotten a ball yet, and when he said no, I handed him the ball that Eddie Bonine had flipped up to me. It was the only ball I had in my possession with an MLB logo. All the others were International League balls. (The ball I’d caught in my hotel room was a real ball, but I didn’t take it with me.)

Right before the game, I got my sixth ball of the day tossed at the Tigers’ dugout by guess who? Mister Carlos Guillen. God forbid he ever has to pick out the perp in a police lineup.

On Opening Day, the attendance was 48,027. At the second game of the season, the crowd shrunk to 16,790, and that was the “paid” attendance. There’s no way there were that many people in the ballpark. Maybe the fact that there was no alcohol had something to do with it? Whatever the reason, it was great for me. I had endless room to run for foul balls, as you can see in the photo below (along with an arrow pointing to my hotel room):

empty_seats_during_game_04_07_09.jpg

The seats got a little more crowded during the middle innings, so I wandered up to the 500 Level. Can you spell D-E-S-O-L-A-T-E? Here’s the concourse behind the right field foul pole…

500_level_concourse.jpg

…and here are the empty seats. Note all the railings. Awful:

500_level_empty_seats.jpg

Here’s the view from the last row behind the plate:

rogers_centre_panorama.jpg

I wish I’d taken photos of what happened next. There wasn’t an actual event, but rather just some good ol’ fashioned exploring. Let me try to describe it. As I was walking down one of the ramps from the 500 Level, I noticed a little alcove at one end, with some steps leading up to an
unmarked metal door. I looked around. No fans. No guards. No security camera. No sign saying “keep out” or “authorized personnel only.” Nothing like that. So, I walked up the steps (slice of pizza in hand) and peeked under the door. All I could see was that the area behind it was well lit. I had no idea what was there. Security? Media? Garbage? Storage? I didn’t even know if the door was locked, so I slowly pulled down on the latch handle, and it moved. I opened the door very slowly…then a little more…and a little more…and found myself in a short hallway, maybe 20 feet long, with another unmarked door at the other end. Weird!! I walked up to that door, and it was also unlocked. Surely there HAD to be a guard on the other side. But no. I opened it all the way and walked right through, and there wasn’t another human being in sight. Turned out I was in the exclusive 300 Level:

300_level_concourse.jpg

I walked through the narrow hallway, passed a few security cameras, and expected to be approached by stadium personnel within 60 seconds. But no. I passed a few employees (including a chef with a huge white hat) and no one said a word. Very strange. Easily one of my strangest stadium experiences ever. I wandered some more, took a few pics, and then found an elevator that deposited me in the 100 Level. Even if I had been caught, it’s not like I would’ve gotten in trouble, right? I wasn’t breaking any rules. I was just wandering. (That’s what I would’ve told the judge.) If they don’t want people to wander, then they should lock the doors and put up signs. Simple as that.

Anyway, I picked out a seat in the ultimate foul ball location…

foul_ball3833_seat.jpg

…and it paid off in the bottom of the 8th inning. Marco Scutaro fouled off a 2-1 pitch from Brandon Lyon. The ball sailed 20 feet over my head, landed in the 200 Level, and bounced down into an empty row. Easy. And lucky. I won’t deny that. I pulled it right out of a folded seat.

After the game, which the Jays won, 5-4, on a walk-off sac fly by Rod Barajas, I caught up with Happy Youngster and invited him (and his dad) to check out my hotel room:

nick_zack_hotel_room.jpg

Did you notice the shirt he’s wearing? Last week it became a rather famous design. If you have 1 minute and 50 seconds to spare, check out this YouTube video, and note how many views it’s gotten.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game

marco_scutaro_foul_ball.jpg

• 13 balls in 2 games this season = 6.5 balls per game.

• 571 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 1,100 lifetime balls outside of New York (No. 1,100, pictured here on the right, was the Scutaro foul ball; much better than No. 1,000 which was the product of a cracked rib on 8/30/08 at Angel Stadium)

• 125 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 26 lifetime game balls outside NYC

• 3,833 total balls


CHARITY STATS:

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

• $14.04 pledged per ball (and counting)

• $98.28 raised at this game

• $182.52 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Finally, in case you’re interested, I taped a radio interview yesterday which is going to air this afternoon (April 8th) at around 4:15pm ET (but you might want to tune in at 4pm to be safe). The network is called Mile High Sports Online. Just visit the site and click the “listen now” button on the upper right, and you should be good to go. In case you miss it today (apologies for the short notice), my segment is supposed to re-air on Saturday, April 11th, at 10am ET.

4/6/09 at Rogers Centre

The story begins on April 5th…

I flew from NYC to Toronto, got picked up at the airport by my friend Joy, and checked into the Renaissance Hotel:

1_approaching_hotel.jpg

This hotel is connected to the stadium, and as I mentioned in my previous entry,
I got one of the rooms that overlooks the field. Joy and I had been planning to go out to dinner, but when we saw what was happening on the field, even SHE wanted to stay (and that’s saying a lot, considering she doesn’t follow baseball and hasn’t even heard of Barry Bonds). Check it out:

2_hotel_room_first_look.jpg

Yup. Batting Practice. Here’s another look:

3_hotel_room_open_window.jpg

My mind started racing when I discovered that the window could open, so you can imagine what started going through my head when I looked down at the seats and saw this:

4_easter_egg.jpg

Was it possible to get the players to throw balls up to me? Yes, but their aim was off. One guy (I think it was Fernando Rodney) tossed up two balls and missed both times. The first one sailed five feet to my left, and the second was right on line but fell about five feet short. One of the balls ended up bouncing out of the seats, but look where the other one ended up:

6_easter_eggs.jpg

After another 15 minutes or so, I got Gerald Laird’s attention (simply by waving, not by shouting) and got him to toss one my way. The ball sailed five feet to my right, smacked off a sturdy window and disappeared into the seats right below me. Hmm. Laird tried once more to throw me a ball. His aim was better, but still off. I had to reach as high as possible and far to my left, and I missed it by mere inches. He flailed his arms in disgust, but there really wasn’t anything I could’ve done, except maybe been born 6-foot-5. Anyway, the ball once again disappeared into the seats below my window. What was going to happen to those balls? Would they go unnoticed by the rest of the world for another 24 hours? (That’s why I didn’t blog about this in my last entry.) Would I be able to enter the stadium the next day and race up to the 500 Level and grab all four of them? I’m not joking when I say this kept me up that night.

Joy and I ordered Indian food (chana masala for her, chicken tikka masala for me, and garlic naan for us both) and I took a ton of photos of the stadium. Here’s one that really shows the open window:

5_hotel_room_view.jpg

Eventually the lights inside the stadium were dimmed…

8_getting_darker.jpg

…and then it got really dark so the Blue Jays’ staff could practice using spotlights to highlight the baselines for the following day’s player introductions:

9_spotlight.jpg

I was thinking about the four balls that were sitting in the seats below me. I could still only see two of them, so I reached out of my window as far as possible, aimed my camera straight down, and took a photo. Maybe I’d see a ball hiding in the folded up portion of a seat?

7_looking_for_other_eggs.jpg

Nope. I figured the other two balls had to be somewhere within the first four rows, so I started making a plan for how I’d comb through the seats as quickly as possible, once I was there. I’d race out the tunnel, take six steps down, and then turn right. They had to be there. But again, would they STAY there overnight and throughout the following
afternoon?

Here’s a photo of the stadium at its darkest. It was only like this for a few minutes:

10_restaurant_in_darkness.jpg

The lights came back on and stayed on all night. (No big deal. My room DOES have curtains, after all.) I kept looking out at the stadium and then at the seats below from different angles, hoping to spot the other two balls. I moved all the way to the left, then to the right, and I spotted a third ball! Can you see it in the photo below?

11_third_egg_spotted.jpg

That made me feel better, and the balls were still there in the morning. That brings us to April 6th…Opening Day. Good thing the Jays have a dome because it was COLD. I checked weather.com, and it was 17 degrees (Fahrenheit) with the wind chill. And damp. But I still went outside and walked all around the stadium. The four-part photo below
(starting on the top left and going clockwise) shows what it looked like when I first stepped out of the hotel and then started exploring:

12_outside.jpg

Here I am, trying not to freeze…

13_zack_outside.jpg

…and here are a few more photos outside the stadium:

14_outside.jpg

Just to give you a quick tour of the hotel, here’s the view to the left as soon as you get out of the elevator:

15_hotel_lobby_left.jpg

Here’s the view to the right. Note the restaurant, past the orange beams, called Arriba:

16_hotel_lobby_right.jpg

Here’s the view from the restaurant–not as good a setup as I have in my room because it’s enclosed and therefore impossible to snag baseballs. Ha:

<a href=”http://mlblogssnaggingbaseballs.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/17_restaurant_view.jpg&#8221; target=”_blank”17_restaurant_view.jpg

Okay, so it’s a well known fact that I’m a huge nerd and love numbers, right? Well, just to show how big this hotel is, I timed myself jogging (at a pretty good pace) from the elevator through the halls and to my room. You know how long it takes? Forty-five seconds! Crazy.

Speaking of my room, here’s what it looks like from just inside the door:

18_hotel_room.jpg

I got to the window just in time to see the outer edge of the infield (the pseudo “lip”) being painted:

19_lines_painted.jpg

Then I sat in front of the window and ate lunch:

20_lunch_in_room copy.jpg

That would be pulled pork for those keeping score at home, and yes, the baseballs were still in place:

21_eggs_still_there.jpg

Only three hours until I’d be able to run inside and claim them. I finished lunch, moved away from the window, fired up the laptop, and did some work on my book.
Half an hour later, I heard some rustling coming from the seats below, and I nearly had a heart attack when I realized what it was. Some teen-aged kid was combing through the seats with a broom and a trash bag. He was coming from the right, so he hadn’t yet seen the balls, so I waited until he got a little closer and then got his attention by shouting a firm “Excuse me!” As soon as he looked up, I told him that there were a few balls in the seats. I explained how they got there and asked if I could have them.

“You can have ONE,” he said.

One?!

What could I say to that? I wanted them all, or at least two of them, but I knew that he didn’t have to give me anything. He could’ve easily taken them all and there wouldn’t have been anything I could do to stop him. I was at his mercy, and I was mainly just thankful that he was going to give me anything at all.

“I don’t want to break a window,” he said, looking up at me, ball in hand.

“Don’t worry,” I said, smacking the outside of my window with my knuckles. “These
things are solid. One of the balls yesterday hit the window pretty hard, and it didn’t do a thing.”

That convinced him, so he came closer and lobbed the ball up to me. Perfect aim. Right to my glove. I caught it, and my season of snagging was underway. The first thing that crossed my mind was that I had just raised some money for charity, and it felt great. I blogged about this during the off-season, so in case you missed it, I’m getting people to pledge a little bit of money for every ball I snag this season. The money will go to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball, which provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Click here to read more about this.

As for the young employee in the seats below, he kept two of the balls for himself and then started heading off…

22_seat_cleaner.jpg

“Wait!” I shouted. “There’s still another ball in the seats.”

“There is?” he asked.

“Yeah, I think it’s in the folded up part of a seat, like maybe in the first or second row. Can you take a look? Any chance I could get it?”

He went back and poked around, and sure enough he found the final ball. Then he tossed it to me. Cha-ching! More money for Pitch In For Baseball, and as for me? I had two baseballs and the season hadn’t even officially begun. Well, at least not in Canada.

Two hours later, at about 4:30pm, the Blue Jays came out and started throwing:

23_blue_jays_throwing.jpg

The stadium was going to open at 5pm. Even though I was tempted to stay up in my room and try to snag more balls, I knew I had to head outside and get on line.

Well, I thought I did. Ten minutes before the stadium was set to open, this was scene outside one of the left field gates:

24_crowd_outside_stadium.jpg

That’s right. There were THREE people waiting to get in, and none of
them had gloves. At that point, my only concern was whether my stupid
print-at-home ticket would actually work:

25_print_at_home_ticket.jpg

I never trust those things, but anyway, it DID work and I raced inside.

Now, one thing to know about Rogers Centre is that there are five levels of seating. The field level seats are called the “100 Level” and the upper deck (where the dude picked up those balls and tossed them to me) is called the “500 Level.” The 300 and 400 Levels are all suites, so they’re basically off limits, and of course there aren’t too many balls that reach the top deck, so really, I was only dealing with the two lowest levels. Of course, as soon as I ran into the 200 Level, a ball was hit into the 100 Level, which was still empty, so I ran down there but couldn’t find the ball, and then once I was down there, a ball was hit over my head, into the 200 Level, not too far from where I’d been two minutes earlier. It was THAT kind of day. And then, once I went back upstairs and pretty much had the place to myself, not a single ball came anywhere near me. It truly sucked. This is what it looked like from the 200 Level after about 10 minutes:

26_BP_from_200_level1.jpg

The problem with this stadium, from a home-run catching perspective, is that half the balls get swallowed up by the bullpens (which are covered with netting so the glove trick is useless). Of the remaining 50 percent of home runs, probably three quarters of those land in the 100 Level, but it gets pretty crowded down there, especially considering that you have to be positioned within the first few rows to catch a ball because of the overhang of the 200 Level. That leaves a few home runs for the second deck, which of course is empty for a reason. There’s just not that much action up there, or at least there wasn’t yesterday.

Thankfully I got Jason Frasor to toss me a ball in the 100 Level before I headed back upstairs. Then, as soon I reached the 200 Level (now for the second time) an old usher stopped me from going down the steps and insisted on knowing what I was doing there.

“Trying to get home run balls?” he asked, as if that was the only acceptable answer.

“You know it,” I said, pretending to be friendly.

“Well if you get more than one,” he said, “you have to give ‘em to me.”

I wasn’t sure if he was joking. I suspected he wasn’t but treated him like he was and faked a chuckle.

“I give ‘em kids,” he said.

“Yeah, I give away some of my baseballs too,” I said, “but I do it on my own terms.”

“Well,” he replied, “you only get one up here.”

Five minutes later, Scott Downs threw a ball to some gloveless fans in the front row, but his throw said high and landed in the fourth row, and I ran over and grabbed the ball. The old usher saw THAT but he wasn’t watching 30 seconds later when Downs successfully threw another ball to the same group of fans.

The usher walked over and told me that the ball I got wasn’t intended for me, and he demanded that I give it to the other people. Thankfully they turned around and told him that they’d already gotten one.

“Just…relax,” I told the usher, making a ‘calm-down’ gesture with my hands. “It’s gonna be all right. Things have a way of working themselves out.” I wanted to throw him off the ledge. That’s probably why there’s a net.

Twenty minutes later, after the Tigers had taken the field, I got one of the players to toss me my fifth ball of the day. I’m not sure who it was. I think it might’ve been Eddie Bonine, but I’ll never know. Doesn’t really matter. What DOES matter is that the usher was several sections away and either didn’t see me catch it or wisely decided not to walk over. I seriously would’ve lost it, which is never a good thing to do during the first game of a series. I’ve learned that it’s best to make a scene on the final day, especially when you’re in another country and not planning to return anytime soon.

The area to the center-field side of the bullpen would’ve been great for the glove trick, but it was constantly being patrolled by security guards:

27_BP_from_200_level2.jpg

The place was a snagging nightmare. I pretty much had the entire 200 Level to myself, and NOTHING came up there. On two separate occasions, a home run ball was hit exactly in my direction but fell about five feet short of the front row. So yeah, I still had five balls when BP ended.

Then it was time for the pregame ceremonies:

28_opening_night_festivities.jpg

Right before the game started, I managed to get down to the seats behind the Tigers’ dugout (on the first base side) and get Adam Everett to toss me his warm-up ball. Let me tell you, it was NOT easy getting down there. There were one or two security guards at every staircase, and they were checking everyone’s tickets. Even in the outfield sections, it was impossible to get down into the seats as soon as BP ended. I tried playing for third-out balls for a couple innings, but it was too crowded. This WAS Opening Day, after all, and the place was pretty much packed, so I decided to wander and explore the stadium a bit.

I realize that the concourses are not necessarily the most interesting feature in a ballpark, but that’s one thing I look for. It’s sort of like my personal benchmark. If you want to judge a company’s ice cream, you start with the vanilla. Pizza? You begin with a plain slice. You know? Same logic. (And just to warn you, the pizza crust at Rogers Center is like cardboard, except not as flavorful.) So anyway, here’s the concourse in the 100 Level:

29_concourse_100_level.jpg

Nice. Spacious. Cheerful. But right above it, in the 200 Level, it just got weird:

30_concourse_200_level.jpg

And by the way, I actually had to show my ticket to LEAVE the 100 Level. There was a security guard, fiercely protecting the entrance to the ramps, who actually wouldn’t let me go up until I showed him. If I’d had a 100 Level ticket and wanted to go to the 500 Level to simply have a look and take pics, he wouldn’t have let me. This place is so badly run. It’s a complete joke. I hope it won’t be like this every day.

Speaking of jokes, check out the faux curtains hanging in the club level tunnels:

31_tunnel_200_level.jpg

They looked okay from afar, but upon closer inspection, I realized that they were made of some cheapo synthetic rubberized substance. (Just like the surface of the playing field. Hey!)

For some strange reason, no one said a word as I walked right down into the fanciest seats in the stadium, just behind home plate in the perfect foul ball location. (Of course nothing landed there until I had left.) This was my view:

32_view_from_200_level.jpg

Look how the people were dressed there:

33_mister_fancypants.jpg

I was sure I was gonna get kicked out. I was wearing cargo pants and sneakers and a hoodie, and of course I was the only fan with a glove. Talk about not fitting in. But no one said a word.

I headed back to the 100 Level (don’t ask me how I got back in) after the 7th inning stretch and worked my way down to the seats behind the 3rd base dugout. The Jays were winning, 9-5, at that point, and some of the “fans” had left so I figured I’d watch the rest of the game up close.

Now…if you look at the box score from this game and scroll to the bottom, you’ll notice that there was a brief delay–rather unusual for a game played indoors. In case you haven’t seen the highlights or read the story of what happened, the Tigers were pulled off the field after two baseballs were thrown at left fielder Josh Anderson from the 500 Level. This happened after a dozen paper airplanes had been thrown onto the field from all points of the stadium AND after a full/uncapped bottle of water crashed down and splattered on the warning track near the right field foul pole. Don’t you love how every team has an announcement thanking their fans and praising them for being “the best fans in baseball” and yet it’s so NOT true in some cases? This was one of those cases. It was Opening Day, and not only wasn’t the game sold out, but it was interrupted with an announcement about a possible forfeit if anything else was thrown onto the field. Most fans around me didn’t even know what was going on. They were booing the Tigers (now losing 12-5) for leaving the field, and they were yelling stuff like “Mercy rule!” and “Where ya going?!” and “Get back out there, you little girls!” Outside of Yankee Stadium, which is the black hole of obnoxiousness, this was the worst fan behavior I can remember seeing in over 750 games.

Here’s a photo of home plate umpire Ed Montague discussing the situation with managers Cito Gaston and Jim Leyland while the other three umps look on:

35_tigers_pulled_off_the_field2.jpg

I did not snag another ball after the game. I did, however, linger in the concourse for 15 minutes to try to find a kid with a glove so I could give away one of mine. There were a few kids without gloves (forget them), and there were a few kids with gloves who already had baseballs (they didn’t need my help), but it was amazing. There was no one worthy of receiving a ball. I had one in my hand, ready to give away, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Remember when I went to the Red Sox home opener last year? The Tigers were at Fenway that day, I snagged a few of their baseballs during BP, and they were all from the Pacific Coast League. Well, the ball I got yesterday from the Tigers pitcher was from the International League. Check it out:

36_international_league_ball.jpg

No wonder those BP home runs had fallen short of the 200 Level; the Tigers were using inferior balls. Look at the size of the seams on that thing. Yeesh.

One last photo…

At around 1am, the lengthy process of cleaning the seats was in full swing. Here are the seats in the 100 Level along the left field foul line. Look at the bags of garbage stacked up on the steps, as well as all the un-bagged trash at the bottom of the steps:

37_seat_cleaners.jpg

That’s it. Now I just have to survive three more Sheffield-less games here…

SNAGGING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game

• 570 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 3,504 balls during the streak (the second ball from the seat cleaner was No. 3,500)

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

• 3,826 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $13.22 pledged per ball (at this point)

• $79.32 raised for Pitch In For Baseball (so far)

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