Results tagged ‘ concourse ’

6/29/10 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium

Day 2 of the San Juan Series started with another long line outside the bleacher entrance:

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See the guy in the gray All-Star Game shirt? His name is Mike. We’d met the day before, and we ended up sitting together at this game.

One minute after the gates opened, this was the scene:

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In case you can’t tell, it’s a photo of the Marlins jogging off the field.

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During that lone minute of batting practice, Anibal Sanchez threw two baseballs to me. I was the only one wearing Marlins gear, and at that point, I was the only fan wearing a glove and calling out to him, so he didn’t have many other options. He probably figured that I’d give away the second ball, and I did. In fact, I gave them both away to a pair of extremely friendly security guards.

Soon after the Mets started hitting, the bleachers got insanely crowded:

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There wasn’t any room to run, so I headed underneath the bleachers and played the gap behind the outfield wall. Here’s what it looked like down there:

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Several minutes later, a different security guard kicked me out (along with the few other fans who’d ventured down), so I had to find another spot.

Hmm, where to go…

I decided to stand behind the outfield wall in right-center. Surely, there’d be a few bombs hit that way, right?

This was my view straight head:

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This was my view to the right…

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…and to the left:

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I had a ton of open space all around me, and there wasn’t anyone else who was even thinking of snagging a baseball.

How many balls do you think I got during the next half hour? Go ahead, take a guess. Three? Five? Ten? Twenty? Think big. It was warm. Fly balls were carrying. The players, undoubtedly, were pumped to be playing in Puerto Rico. Home runs galore, right?

Ready for the answer?

None.

The Mets didn’t hit a single home run to center field — or anywhere near center field. They didn’t hit any ground-rule doubles either. It was so dead that for a moment I wondered if BP was still taking place. I peeked through a narrow gap in the center field wall:

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Yup, the Mets were still hitting.

Unbelievable.

Meanwhile, half a dozen balls dropped into the gap behind the left field wall. I would’ve snagged all or most of them if I’d been allowed to stay there. It was just one of those days. And that was it for BP.

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Now get this: I had three tickets for this game. Let me explain…

When tickets first went on sale, I wasn’t able to just buy one ticket for one game. I had to buy one ticket for all three. Does that make sense? It’s like they were being sold as a strip, or as a package, or whatever you want to call it. I knew that my girlfriend wasn’t going to attend all three games, but since she was going to attend at least one, I had to buy two tickets for each game. Anyway, this was the game that she chose to skip. (She decided she’d have more fun at the hotel, working out in the fitness room, getting woozy in the steam room, and lounging at the pool.) So, in addition to my own bleacher ticket, I also had hers.

What about the third ticket, you ask?

Well, once individual seats finally went on sale, I splurged and bought an extra, fancy-ish ticket on the first base side. Why? Because I’d learned that the bleachers were completely separate from the rest of the stadium. Buying that extra ticket was the only way I’d be able to wander all around and get the full experience.

This was the first thing I saw when I entered the main concourse behind home plate:

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There was a band blasting music just outside the gates, and as you can see, there were people walking on stilts and dancing in crazy mascot costumes. It was a truly wild/festive scene, and the best thing about it (unlike all the hoopla I experienced at the 2007 All-Star Game) is that none of it felt contrived. There was a genuine vibe of joy and exuberance. People were just excited to be at a baseball game, plain and simple.

I walked through the concourse to the 3rd base side, then headed through a tunnel and into the seats. Check out this cross-aisle — a perfect place for chasing foul balls:

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I walked up the steps toward the upper/outermost corner…

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…and discovered that there was a secondary concourse at the very back:

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Behold the puddles:

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What’s up with that? Was the ice machine leaking?

Drainage?

Hello?

This was the view of the field from that back corner of the ballpark:

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I walked down the steps, and when I looked to my left, this is what I saw:

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Gotta love the Roberto Clemente truck. It was parked in an employees-only area between the grandstand and the bleachers. See that thing with the black fence and tan roof? That was the Mets’ batting cage. Here’s a closer look at it:

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This was as close as I could get to the field:

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As you can see in the photo above, the four rows down in front were roped off.

There was no way to sneak down there; every single staircase around the entire stadium was guarded by an usher. Here’s one of the ushers behind the 1st base dugout:

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See the shirt that he’s wearing? I really wanted one, but obviously they weren’t being sold. The ushers wore those shirts every day. If the fans had been able to buy and wear them, too, it would’ve caused all kinds of security issues. There were some “San Juan Series” shirts for sale at the main souvenir stand, but they weren’t nearly as nice.

Normally, when I visit a stadium for the first time, I make a point of going to the last row of the upper deck and taking a couple photos that I can later combine into a panorama. Hiram Bithorn Stadium has no upper deck, so here’s what I ended up with:

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Here’s a look at the stadium from the back of the seats on the 1st base side:

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Here’s one of two ramps that lead to the press box:

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I suspect this would be a good place to get autographs, but I didn’t stick around. It was only 20 minutes ’til game time, so I made my way back down the steps and took a couple pics of the multi-colored seats:

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Then I headed into the lower concourse and saw the best concession stand of all time:

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That concluded my tour of the main part of the stadium.

I headed out through the gate…

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…and stopped for a minute to watch the band:

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It might not look like they were playing, but they were. The blurry guy right in front was jumping all over the place while performing a drum solo.

When I made it back to the bleachers, there happened to be a TV crew from some local station called El Nuevo Dia getting shots of the crowd. The host recognized me as the guy who’d caught Mike Stanton’s home run the day before, and he asked if he could interview me. (He was bilingual.) While he was introducing me, Mike grabbed my camera and took the following photo:

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It was a quick interview. Probably less than 60 seconds. Standard stuff. The guy basically asked me where I’m from and what I was doing in Puerto Rico, and we talked baseball.

The highlight for me during the game was that I snagged another San Juan Series commemorative ball (I’d gotten two the day before), and it was embarrassingly easy. With one out in the bottom of the 2nd, Dan Uggla ripped a line drive down the left field line. The ball hooked foul. I raced to my right through the cross-aisle. Mets left fielder Jason Bay jogged over and retrieved it. I was the only person in the aisle, so when I shouted at him, he tossed it right to me.

This was my view of the field, at least for a few moments here and there:

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(FYI: the woman in the photo above is a vendor.)

In the bottom of the 5th, Uggla smoked a line drive home run right at me. I was lined up with it. There wasn’t any competition in the stands. It was going to be the easiest catch ever, but the ball fell five feet short and dropped into the gap and trickled under the bleachers. Here’s a screen shot that shows me looking down at it:

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If I could do it all over again, I would have climbed over the railing and jumped down into the gap. At the time, I was one-third concerned about getting in trouble, one-third worried about getting hurt, and one-third convinced that there was already someone down there (a cameraman or security guard or fan) who must’ve grabbed the ball, so I stood there like an idiot and watched and waited…and waited…and waited, and 15 seconds later, some little kid appeared out of nowhere and ran under the bleachers and grabbed the ball and ran back out holding it up triumphantly. Good for the kid. Bad for me. It really would’ve been great to get that ball, and as it turned out, someone else jumped over the fence later on — without any negative consequences — for a warm-up that dropped into the gap. I really feel like I wasted an opportunity. It was one of only two homers in the game. The other was a grand slam by Hanley Ramirez that barely cleared the wall in left-center, bounced back onto the field, and immediately got tossed back into the crowd by Mets center fielder Angel Pagan. I tried running over, but didn’t even come close.

Bleh.

Final score: Marlins 7, Mets 6.

As for that Uggla foul ball that got tossed up to me, I took a bunch of photos of it and ended up with two that I simply have to share. I’ll post one now and the other after the stats:

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SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game (1 pictured above/below because I gave the other two away)

• 179 balls in 18 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.

• 647 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,537 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 37 donors (click hereto learn more)

• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.23 raised at this game

• $968.39 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

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As I mentioned and later showed on Twitter, my girlfriend worked her magic and got us moved to a room with an ocean view. Just thought I’d share a glimpse of it here in case you missed it.

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

8/26/09 at Coors Field

Talk about bad timing…

There was only half an hour of rain all day, and it came right around the time that the grounds crew would’ve been setting up the field for batting practice. When the gates opened, I was hoping to see various screens out on the field, but instead, THIS is what greeted me:

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See that yellow chain?

Not only was the infield covered, but I wasn’t even allowed to run down into the seats along the foul line; whether or not there’s BP at Coors Field, fans have to stay in the left/center field bleachers for the first half-hour.

There was, however, something good that happened as a result of the limited access and lack of baseball-snagging opportunities: I ran into a guy named David — a friend of a friend — who works inside the manual scoreboard and invited me back to check it out. Remember when I first visited the scoreboard on 6/20/08 at Coors Field? Well, this second visit was special because I was with my friend (and personal photographer) Brandon and got to share the experience with him.

Here I am inside the scoreboard:

Here’s a photo of David, monitoring the scores on a laptop:

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The TV in the background is new. It gets a special feed from the MLB Network and can display eight games at once.

I helped out a little by removing the previous day’s scores and placing the wooden panels back on their hooks…

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…but mainly I was just there to goof around:

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The lovely Ladies of the Scoreboard welcomed me and Brandon into their work space and seemed to appreciate our enthusiasm:

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That’s Nora on the left and Liz on the right. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see that Nora has a small bandage on her right shin. Several days earlier, while working inside the scoreboard, she got nailed by a BP homer that sailed through one of the small openings.

Here’s a photo that shows how long and narrow the space is back there…

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…and here’s a shot I took of some cobwebs:

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Normally I get freaked out by cobwebs (I’m a city boy so I’m allowed to get freaked out by anything that even resembles nature or the wilderness; you get freaked out by riding the subway to the Bronx so we’re even), but it was oddly comforting to see them here. It showed that there can be neglected nooks and crannies even in a relatively new stadium.

I removed another panel and took a peek through the open space…

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…and noticed that there was a ball sitting on the field:

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Brandon and I left after that. I had to get back into the stands and make an attempt to snag it.

We headed down the steep steps…

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…and walked with Dave back through the employees’ concourse:

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He led us to the tunnel that connects to the center field bleachers, and we said our goodbyes.

It was several minutes past 5pm. The whole stadium was now open, which meant I was finally free to go to the right field seats. On my way out there, I ran into a friend and fellow ballhawk name Don (aka “Rockpile Ranter“), who was there with his son Hunter. The three of us barely had a chance to talk. I had to rush out to right field, and then I ended up getting pulled in a bunch of different directions, and they ended up leaving the game early because Don had to wake up for work the next day at 2:30am. Yeesh!

Anyway, right field…

I raced out there and grabbed the corner spot near the Rockies’ bullpen:

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Juan Rincon had started playing catch, and as he backed up, he kept getting closer and closer to the ball:

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Moments later, he was standing (and throwing) right behind it:

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I called his name, and he looked up.

I pointed at the ball and flapped my glove.

He picked it up and paused to look at it:

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(Was there something unusual that caught his attention?)

Then he turned to throw it to me, and I gave him a target:

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His throw (probably in the neighborhood of 50mph) was right on the money. I caught the ball one-handed in front of my right shoulder and felt incredibly relieved; my consecutive games streak had survived a BP-less day.

As for the ball, there WAS something unusual about it:

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Here’s a closer look at both the logo and the Dodgers’ stamp on the sweet spot.

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I’d snagged two of these balls the day before, and as I mentioned then, “WIN” stands for a charity called “Women’s Initiatives Network.”

A few more players came out and started throwing. Check out this magazine-quality photo that Brandon took of Rafael Betancourt:

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I was busy at that point, taking my own photos and stewing over the fact that it was sunny AND the tarp was still on the field:

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One of the Rockies’ pitchers made a bad throw that rolled all the way out to the grass in front of the warning track in straight-away center field. His throwing partner didn’t bother to retrieve the ball. As soon as I saw that (and because there were so many other fans along the foul line), I headed toward the left field bleachers. My simple plan was to position myself as close to the ball as possible — all the way out in the corner spot of the front row in left-center. There were several Dodgers in the bullpen. I was thinking that when they finished their throwing session and headed out of the ‘pen, I might be able to convince one of them to take a slight detour and walk over to the ball and toss it to me. My plan, however, was foiled as I headed toward the bleachers. I was running through the open-air concourse at the back of the bleachers when I noticed that a groundskeeper was driving a lawnmower on the grass at the edge of the warning track. He was heading right for the ball, and when he got close to it, he stopped the mower, climbed down, picked up the ball, stuck it in his pocket, and then kept mowing. By the time I made it down to the front row, he was driving past me. It was too loud for me to shout at him. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there and watched him mow a few more lanes into the outfield grass. Then, rather abruptly, he drove off into a wide ramp near the foul pole — a ramp that evidently leads to a concourse where the groundskeepers store their equipment. I rushed over to the edge of the ramp and waited for a minute. All of a sudden, the groundskeeper reappeared without the lawnmower and ran past me out onto the field. I don’t know what he did out there. Maybe he was on his way somewhere and forgot something because he then ran back to the ramp and disappeared into the concourse. Then he reappeared, and as he began to run past me for a second time, I yelled, “Hey, did you happen to pick up that baseball in center field?” He looked up and nodded, so I shouted, “Any chance I could have it, please?” He never said a word. Instead, he held up his right index finger as if to say, “Hold on.” Then he ran back into the concourse. Ten seconds later, he came running back with the ball and tossed it to me. Then he disappeared once again. How random is THAT?

Brandon, unfortunately, was on the phone while this whole thing played out, so he wasn’t able to get an action shot. Here’s a photo of me posing with the ball next to the ramp:

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Here’s a photo of the ball itself:

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As you can see, it’s rubbed with mud, which means it was either used during a game or was intended for game use. I love how the mud is caked into the stitch holes above the logo.

Here I am with Brandon:

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In case you’re wondering, Brandon was wearing a Padres cap because he’s from San Diego. (He hadn’t been home for 70 days because he’d been on the road with Warped Tour.) He WAS planning to sit with me during the game, but his family decided at the last minute to show up (they live 50 miles from Denver), so he spent the game with them on the 3rd base side.

Too bad for him. He missed the next round of action out in the bleachers…

My friends Robert Harmon (the bearded guy who nearly snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball) and Dan Sauvageau (the clean-shaven guy who has caught 41 game home runs on the fly) were engaged in a secret mission in one of the tunnels:

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What were they doing?

Umm…blowing up a huge, inflatable baseball glove.

Here are a couple photos of the finished product:

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As soon as Dan took those photos, I raced over to the seats along the left field foul line. I was hoping to get one of the Dodgers to throw me a pre-game warm-up ball, but instead I had to settle for getting Andre Ethier’s autograph on a ticket from the previous day:

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Do you see that nice little smudge? Ethier did that. After he “wrote” his name (if that’s even what he “wrote”), he carelessly touched it while handing the ticket back to me.

Once the game started, Brandon took a photo of me from afar. I’m sitting right behind the last “R” in the “Frontier Airlines” advertisement:

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If you look to the left of me, there’s a guy wearing a maroon baseball cap. That’s Dan. He always sits near the Frontier ad, and he always wears that cap, so you can look for him on future home run highlights. His five-year-old daughter Emily (blonde hair) is sitting beside him. I’m not sure who the two guys are to the left of Emily, but the two people next to them are Nettie (platinum blonde) and her husband Danny (black cap), my “host parents” for the week.

Speaking of hair, this was my view of Manny Ramirez, who was unable to stand still for more than two seconds at a time:

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This was the best anti-Manny sign of the night:

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Once again, the fans were really letting Manny have it. My favorite heckles included:

• “Hey, Manny! We’re having a pool: who’s gonna have kids first, you or your wife?!”

• “Manny, it’s okay, I like boobs on a guy!”

• “Did you and Big Papi share a needle?”

• “Back to ‘The View,’ Sister Act!”

• “I didn’t know ‘HGH’ stands for Hair Growth Hormone!”

• “Girl, you know it’s true: you suck!”

I used to be a HUGE Manny fan, and even *I* will admit that he sucks. He’s a lazy, arrogant, one-dimensional player (who cheats, no less), and I feel that he deserves everything negative that comes his way as a result.

But enough of that…

If you’ve been reading this blog consistently since the beginning of this season, take a good look at the following photograph and see if you spot a familiar face somewhere in the crowd:

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Here’s a close-up of the photo above. Any thoughts? Here’s a hint: it’s a legendary ballhawk who doesn’t normally attend games at Coors Field:

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Okay, here’s one last chance to identify the mystery fan before I tell you the answer. He’s sitting halfway up the section just to the right of the steps. He’s wearing a black Rockies cap, a gray T-shirt, and black pants. He’s touching the right side of his face with his hand, and his elbow is resting on his right knee.

Come on!

If you’re going to call yourself a ballhawk (or even a fan of ballhawks), you have to know the all-time greats.

Here I am with him:

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It’s Rich Buhrke (pronounced “BRR-kee”) from Chicago. This man has snagged 178 game home runs (including five grand slams!) and more than 3,400 balls overall. Although Rich does count balls from Spring Training, it should be noted that more than 97 percent of his home runs are from actual regular-season or post-season major league games.

Halfway through the game, Robert was miked up for a segment on FSN that was going to air the next day. In the following photo, you can see the microphone’s battery pack sticking out of his pocket:

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Robert attends EVERY game and always sits in the front row in left-center. If you ever visit Coors Field, go find him and buy him a beer, or at least tell him that Zack from New York says hello. Anyway, Robert told the FSN producer about me, so the producer came over and told me that he was gonna have Robert sit with me for half an inning and ask me some questions, and that we should just have a normal conversation about baseball. The producer also mentioned that everything I said would get picked up by Robert’s microphone and might end up getting used on the air. Robert came over after that, and we did our thing, which was kind of silly because we just ended up talking about stuff that we’d discussed a hundred times in the past (how many balls have you snagged, what do you think about the new stadiums in New York, etc.), but it was still fun. Just about all TV is staged theater. Even when things look like they’re random and spontaneous, they’re not.

During an inning break late in the game, the Rockies’ mascot came running out onto the field for the “jersey launch.” Yes, jerseys. The Rockies don’t give away cheap T-shirts with fugly corporate logos (ahem, Citi Field, cough, cough). You see, at Coors Field, they do things right and give away real, authentic, high-quality, Majestic jerseys that fans are proud to wear — jerseys that would normally cost about $100 in the team store. Why am I telling you this? Because the mascot came running out on the warning track in front of my section. He (She? It?) had one of these jerseys in his hand, and as he started running out toward left-center, I followed him by running through the not-too-crowded aisle. It seemed like an obvious move, and eventually, as I predicted, the mascot flung the jersey into the crowd, and whaddaya know? It came right to me, and I made a leaping grab. Apparently this was a **BIG** deal, but I didn’t know it until Robert ran over and basically tried to mug me for the jersey (in a friendly way). Indeed, when I thought about it, it occurred to me that the jerseys had not been launched anywhere near the bleachers over the previous two days. They got shot (and in some cases tossed) into the crowd sparingly, and always in different spots.

Cool, huh?

Here I am wearing the jersey:

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Whose fingers are those behind my head? Robert’s, of course.

(See my glove sitting on the chair on the lower right? Thanks to Dan, my seat was a folding chair. I turned it around so that I’d be able to jump up and immediately start running for balls without having to maneuver around it.)

Here I am with Nettie and Danny:

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(Danny forgot to take his earphones out for the photo. He and Nettie both listen to the radio broadcasts of the games.)

And finally, here I am with Emily and Dan. As you can see, I borrowed some of Emily’s hair for the photo:

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I came really close to snagging Ryan Spilborghs’ solo homer in the bottom of the third inning. It sailed 10 feet over my head, landed on the staircase, and then ricocheted back toward me. Dan had raced up the steps ahead of me. I was right behind him. He got close enough to the ball that he ended up scrambling for it underneath a bench, but some lady (without a glove, of course) managed to reach down and grab it.

Andre Ethier hit two homers for the Dodgers, both of which landed in the bullpens in right-center field.

What a waste.
Still a fun day.

Final score: Dodgers 6, Rockies 1.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 395 balls in 46 games this season = 8.59 balls per game.

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• 615 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,215 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 120 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a donation)

• $24.86 pledged per ball

• $49.72 raised at this game

• $9,819.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/17/09 at Yankee Stadium

When Yankee Stadium was getting ready to open yesterday at 4pm, there were at least 1,000 fans waiting to get in at Gate 6 alone. The fans (myself and Jona included) had formed mini-lines in front of the dozens of guards and doors. For some reason, however, only TWO of these doors were opened, causing 10 minutes’ worth of congestion while everyone was forced to head to that one spot from various directions. Look at this mess:

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I truly don’t understand it.

To make matters worse, I felt a few raindrops as soon as I forced my way inside, but thankfully the grounds crew left the batting cage in place. Batting practice hadn’t yet started so I headed toward the Yankees’ dugout, picked a spot behind that horrendous partition, got the attention of hitting coach Kevin Long, and got him to throw me a ball. Here I am reaching for it (with a red arrow pointing to the ball):

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I was hoping that the ball would have a commemorative logo…and it did…but it wasn’t the one I wanted.

Check it out:

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I’d already gotten a bunch of these Metrodome balls earlier in the season. (Here’s a better one.) What I really wanted was a ball with the new Yankee Stadium logo. I’d only snagged one of those all season (on May 21st) and it ended up getting water-stained because of a terrible mishap. Quite simply, I needed another.

Nevertheless, I was still glad to have the Metrodome ball because a) any commemorative ball is cool and b) it was my 300th ball of the season. Here I am posing with it:

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Finally, at around 4:25pm, the Yankees started taking BP. I headed to right field and briefly had the last few rows to myself:

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Five minutes later, the whole section was packed and I had to fight (not literally, although that wouldn’t be a stretch at Yankee Stadium) for both of the balls I caught out there. The first was a home run by Hideki Matsui with another Metrodome logo, and the second was a regular ball hit by Nick Swisher. Here I am catching one of the balls:

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The photo above might make it look like I’m trampling that poor woman, but that wasn’t the case at all. At Yankee Stadium, there’s a good amount of space between rows, so I was able to step carefully in front of her and reach up at the last second. She’s not flinching because of me; she’s flinching because she was scared of the ball and didn’t see it coming. Even though it wouldn’t have hit her, she thanked me on three separate occasions for saving her life. You 5b_zack_signing_ball.jpg
know whose life I *did* save? Jona’s. As you can kinda tell based on the photo above, she was sitting two rows directly behind the spot where I reached up.

After the catches, several fans recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs and to pose in photos with them. I obliged their requests only when right-handed batters were in the cage.

I moved to left field when the Tigers started hitting, and it was nearly a total waste. The only ball I snagged during their entire portion of BP was a fungo that sailed over an outfielder’s head and landed in the third row. And, of course, since the Tigers are too cheap to use real major league balls, this is what I found myself holding:

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YUCK!!!

(In case you’re wondering, this ball counts in my collection because it was used by major league players in a major league stadium.)

Last season, at the Red Sox home opener, the Tigers were using Pacific Coast League balls. What kind of garbage balls will they be using next year?

At the end of BP, I noticed that there was a ball sitting in the corner of the left field bullpen:

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I’d been planning to take Jona for a scenic tour of the stadium, but once I saw that ball, I had to stay and wait until someone came and got it. While I was standing around, I saw a teenaged kid hurdling seats and running toward me.

“OH MY GOD!!!” he shouted. “ZACK HAMPLE!!! ZACK HAMPLE!!!!!!!!!!!

At first I thought he was making fun of me with sarcastic enthusiasm, but he turned out to be totally serious. He was just…excited to see me, apparently. His name is Jon Herbstman. (We’d met once before on 7/8/08 at Yankee Stadium.) Here we are:

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Fifteen minutes later, a groundskeeper wandered into the bullpen, and Jona got a real action shot of him handing me the ball:

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It was another International League ball, and yes, it counts. As long as another fan doesn’t give me a ball, it counts, and would you believe that that actually happened yesterday? One of the guys who’d been waiting for my autograph snagged a home run ball that I would’ve gotten had he not been standing there. He obviously felt guilty about getting in my way (it was my own stupid fault for having misjudged it) so he scooped it up and flung it to me in one motion.

“I don’t want this,” I said as I tossed it back to him, “but thanks.”

I’ve probably had 10 to 20 fans randomly try to give me balls over the years. I’ve never accepted a single one, although I now realize I should’ve taken them, NOT counted them in my collection, and used them for my own BP in Central Park.

Shortly before the game started, I got Adam Everett to toss his warm-up ball to me over the partition. (That was my sixth ball of the day.) The four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, shows how it all played out. The arrows in the final three photos are pointing to the ball in mid-air:

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This ball had the regular MLB logo.

My goal during the game was simple: Hang out behind the Tigers’ dugout and try to get a 3rd-out ball tossed to me over the partition. Having seen the Tigers for four games in April, I remembered that their first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, had a habit of tossing balls deep into the crowd. I felt good about my chances. All I needed was a third out to be a ground out.

It didn’t take long. With two outs in the bottom of the first, Tigers starter Lucas French induced Jorge Posada to roll one over to 3rd baseman Brandon Inge. I crept down the steps as Inge fired the ball to first base and waited for Cabrera to jog in.

He tossed me the ball!!!

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But it turned out to be a regular ball. GAH!!! Cabrera, as some first basemen have started doing, pulled a little switcheroo and threw me the infield warm-up ball.

It was a major letdown.

But at least the game itself was entertaining. The highlight was the 57-minute rain delay in the bottom of the eighth because it chased away 90 percent of the “fans.”

Here’s a photo I took during the delay when everyone was hiding under the overhangs and in the main part of the concourse:

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The way-too-narrow center field concourse was eerily quiet:

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I love having a stadium to myself, or at least feeling like I do, especially when that stadium is typically packed beyond belief.

I was in left field when A-Rod came up in the bottom of the 8th. If EVER there was a time when he should’ve hit a home run in my general vicinity, this was it. I had empty rows on both sides of me. No one else was wearing a glove. Blah blah. But of course he struck out to cap his 0-for-5 performance.

Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth:

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He allowed a one-out double to Placido Polanco, then retired the next two batters on two pitches. He’s so good. And classy. It pains me that he’s on the Yankees because I’m forced to root for them whenever he’s in the game.

Final score: Yankees 5, Tigers 3.

During the game, I had used Jona’s iPhone to look up the box score. I learned that Tim Tschida was the home plate umpire. After the final out, I moved one section to my left, to the approximate spot where he’d be exiting the field. I was still trapped behind the partition, so I shouted “MISTER TSCHIDA!!!” as loud as I possibly could. To my surprise, he actually looked up, at which point I took off my black, MLB umpires’ cap (thank you very much) and 13a_i_heart_tim_tschida.jpgwaved it at him. Was I going to be able to get him to pull one of the Yankee Stadium commemorative balls out of his pouch and chuck it to me over half a dozen rows of fans from more than 50 feet away? It seemed unlikely, but I went for it and continued shouting my request. While walking toward the exit, he pulled one out and under-handed it to me (!!!) but it drifted to the right, and I leaned way out over a side railing to try to make the back-handed catch, and I watched helplessly as it sailed less than a foot past my outstretched glove. NO!!! I looked back at the field, figuring he’d be gone, but he was still there…and he was watching! He had seen some other fan get the ball, so he pulled out another. At this point all the other fans realized what was going on, and they all crowded toward me, so I climbed up on a little concrete ledge just behind the partition and waved my arms. Tschida flung the second ball toward me. It was heading in the right direction, but it was sailing too high, so I waited until the last second and then jumped up off the ledge and made the catch and landed right in the middle of a big puddle in the drainage-challenged front row. Water splashed everywhere, mostly on me, and I was over-JOYED. I was holding a game-rubbed commemorative ball:

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As soon as I caught it, a little kid three rows back started chanting, “Give it to the kid! Give it to the kid.”

“I don’t think so,” I told him, then headed up the steps and handed one of my regular baseballs to a different kid who happened to be walking past with his dad (and with an empty glove on his left hand) at that exact moment.

SNAGGING STATS:

15_the_seven_i_kept_07_17_09.jpg• 8 balls at this game (7 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 4 different types of balls at this game (might be a world record)

• 307 balls in 35 games this season = 8.77 balls per game.

• 604 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 133 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 4 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least four balls

• 4,127 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $196.72 raised at this game

• $7,549.13 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Newark Bears — June 30, 2009

As I mentioned at the end of my previous entry, my good friend Leon Feingold was invited to try out for the Newark Bears, and he invited me to tag along. It was a tough decision at first because I’d been planning to go to Yankee Stadium (and really looking forward to it) but I realized quickly that the potential for once-in-a-lifetime baseball awesomeness was much greater with him. Remember when I got to sneak into Citi Field with him on April 15, 2009? Yeah, good things happen when Leon is around so I scrapped my Yankee plans and took New Jersey Transit with him to the stadium in Newark. (The photo on the right shows us on the train, and in case you’re new to this blog, Leon is the one wearing black.) It was an easy ride. Seven bucks for a round trip from Penn Station. Two stops. Twenty-five minutes. Short walk from the station to the stadium.

A little background on Leon…

He’s 36 years old, 6-foot-6 (if you round up), and 240 pounds.
He pitched in the minor leagues (in the Indians organization) in the 1990s.
He recently pitched professionally in the Israel Baseball League.
He once ranked 12th in the world in competitive eating.
He’s the vice-president of the New York chapter of Mensa.

…and I love him. As a friend, thank you. Perhaps even like a brother.

The Bears were scheduled to play a game at 6:05pm. We arrived at the stadium about five hours early and walked right inside the front gate:

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There was no security. No one ever hassled us. It was the most laid-back atmosphere you could imagine–minor league baseball (or in this case independent league baseball) at its best.

This was the view to the right as we crossed the concourse behind the plate:

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We headed to the left, and of course I took a photo of the incredible open-air concourse down the foul line:

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I don’t count minor league (or independent league) balls in my collection, but still, I appreciated the heavenly set-up for foul-ball catching.

This was my first time at the ballpark, officially known as “Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium.” Leon had been here before and knew his way around so he led me inside though an official-looking reception area and into the media room:

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Did you notice the backdrop on the right? We still had lots of time to kill, so Leon posed for a few pics against it:

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That’s not trick photography. He’s not holding a miniature ball. Leon’s hands really ARE that big, and as a result, he can throw a nasty split-finger fastball which basically moves like an 82-mph knuckleball. Every time we play catch and he throws it, I fear for my teeth, nuts, and life.

We wandered down some stairs and ended up here:

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Down the hall to our left, there were Gatorade coolers and BP screens and other random pieces of equipment lying around:

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Even though it wasn’t a major league stadium, I was still thrilled to be there and just soaking it all in. In fact, I think it’s better that it wasn’t a major league stadium because if it were, there would’ve been security guards crawling all over the place. Instead, I was treated to a pure, uninterrupted, behind-the-scenes look.

Leon needed to change into his uniform, and since he didn’t have a locker in the clubhouse, he changed in a storage room down the hall:

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Look what was in that storage room:

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There weren’t any security cameras in there. I could’ve stuffed 20 balls into my backpack and no one would’ve known the difference. But I didn’t do that. I had opportunities throughout the day to take balls, but I didn’t pocket a single one. I just wanted to inspect them and photograph them.

I was surprised to find three different types of balls in the basket, one of which appeared to be autographed:

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Any theories about whose signature that might be?

Leon and I were both invited into the clubhouse. Here’s what it looked like:

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At one point, there were about 15 players milling about, blasting salsa and later rap, playing cards, eating, swinging bats, and getting dressed. Armando Benitez walked by. Then Tim Raines, the manager. Then Shane Komine. And Willie Banks. And Keith Foulke. And Ryan Bukvich. And Alberto Castillo. And Tike Redman. These were ALL guys who had played in the major leagues. Some (like Komine) only had a cup of coffee while others (like Foulke) were World Series heroes. One guy (Leon thinks it was Charlton Jimerson) started changing right in front of us, without warning, and when he took off his shirt, I thought I was at a bodybuilding competition. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such big arms up close, and it made me realize how tough it is to make it in baseball. You have to compete against guys like that just to REACH the major leagues. I suddenly felt a strong connection to David Eckstein.

I went and used the bathroom, not so much because I was dying to pee, but mainly just to check out the facilities. Pretty simple. Looked like a college gymnasium bathroom. There was half a sunflower seed shell atop my urinal. On my way back to the main room (where Leon was waiting for me), I passed the training room (where several players were sprawled out on tables) and a modest assortment of snacks: peanut butter crackers, Hostess cake-type sweets, etc. There were a few dozen boxes of balls that several players had already signed. The whole place was noisy and cluttered and somewhat shabby in spots–nothing as glamorous as the few major league clubhouses I’ve been lucky enough to set foot in, but far better than any locker room I ever got to use as an aspiring college player a decade earlier.

At around 2:30pm, half an hour after Leon had been told to arrive, no one had come for him. The clubhouse was clearing out, so we headed out too. We walked down the carpeted hallway, out through a tunnel behind home plate, and onto the warning track:

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(Leon, if you’re reading this, do us all a favor and get a haircut. I know I shouldn’t be talking smack about your [or anyone's] hair, given the fact that I’m losing mine, but seriously, that bushy mess is starting to look like a mullet.)

There were a few guys playing catch in right field. I had my glove with me, just in case, and Leon asked if I wanted to throw. I was about to say yes when I noticed a couple batters starting to take early BP:

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There was only ONE person shagging balls in the entire outfield, and it was a teenaged kid–one of the players’ sons, I think–so I asked a few people if it’d be okay if I went out there and “helped” by shagging. They were delighted that I offered (less running for them) and of course I couldn’t have been happier to be out there.

Leon surprised me by going in my bag and grabbing my camera and taking a few pics. Here I am out there:

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After 20 minutes or so, the hitting stopped and the throwing started, so I headed back to the foul line and took some photos. Here’s one that shows three former major leaguers (plus Leon):

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Here’s another shot from high up in the stands, just short of the foul pole…

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…and here’s one that shows Bukvich pitching to Castillo, with someone (not sure who) standing in like a batter:

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Benitez wore headphones onto the field:

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I guess you can do whatever you want in Newark when you have 289 big league saves.

After the throwing ended, several of the pitchers gathered near the foul line. You can see Leon on the right, and do you know who’s standing with his hands on his hips?

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Keith Foulke.

I shagged some more during regular BP (that must’ve lasted an hour) and I really felt like I was a player. I mean, I was standing in the outfield, surrounded by players, doing what all the players were doing: catching fly balls and scooping up grounders and firing them back in toward the bucket. At one point, I made a really nice running/leaping/over-the-shoulder catch and immediately looked around to make eye contact with everyone. I was all like, “Yeah! Who saw that?! Who saw that?!” but the answer was: nobody. In my world, it was a great catch. In their world, it’s just…a catch.

This was the view from deep right field:

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Did you notice those clouds? The visiting team (the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs) had started taking BP, but the sky got darker and the grounds crew began removing equipment from the field, and that was the end of that. I’m totally jinxed by the weather. I can’t even get a full BP in the Atlantic League. (I should mention that when the visitors were taking BP, I didn’t feel right about running all over the field with them, so I grabbed a seat in the front row down the right field foul line. During the next 10 minutes or so, three balls landed in the seats near me — all of which were sliced by righties — and I tossed them all back onto the field. I’m telling you, I didn’t keep a single ball. Leon even walked over at one point and tried to hand one to me, but I wouldn’t take it.)

Leon had disappeared for a while toward the end of BP, and I figured he was pitching in the bullpen. I could’ve walked out there (the ‘pens are located behind the left field wall) and watched him, but I didn’t want to intrude on his big moment. I’d brought a book. I was happy to just sit and read and look at the field. There’s something about baseball fields — any baseball fields — that make me feel like I’m meant to be there. I’m most at peace with myself and with the world when I’m standing on a baseball field. I feel like I’m home, like I’ve reached the promised land, like I’m in a place that I’ve always dreamed of being. In my mind I’ve always been and always will be a major leaguer. There’s no other way to describe it.

Eventually I caught up with Leon and a few older gentlemen near the 1st base dugout:

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See that guy in the light gray T-shirt? That’s Butch Hobson, who once hit 30 homers in a season in the major leagues. And the guy in the tan pants? Art Shamsky, who batted .300 for the ’69 Mets.

It was right around that time that fans were being let into the ballpark. Any autograph collectors reading this? If so, I would suggest that you invest in a $7 train ride, go see the Newark Bears, and make yourself happy. All the Bears players seem to file out onto the field through that tunnel right behind the plate, and of course there’s no security to stop anyone from going down into the seats alongside that tunnel. Seriously, go get some autographs. Carl Everett is even on the team. Who doesn’t want Carl Everett’s autograph? (Yesterday I never saw him up close, although I think I caught one of his fly balls during BP.)

While Leon was schmoozing it up, I wandered down into the dugout and inspected every inch of it. I peeked into the bat rack and noticed a pink slip of paper at the bottom of one of the vertical cubby holes. I bent down and grabbed it and had a look:

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Yeah, I took it. Whatever. It had the previous day’s date on it. It wasn’t even the original–just a carbon copy. If the Bears wanted it, they would’ve kept it. I figured it would have a happier home with me than in some random landfill.

Then it started raining, and as I ducked inside the tunnel with Leon, I could see the grounds crew racing to cover the field:

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What happened next?

A rain delay.

Ryan Bukvich passed the time by trying to putt golf balls into a plastic cup in the hallway outside the clubhouse:

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Leon and I got to talk to him for quite a while, and what can I say? The guy is supercool. I told him about my baseball collection, and he told me that when he makes it back to the major leagues, he’s going to look for me and hook me up with a ball. I told him about the list of players and coaches who’ve thrown me balls. Leon even pulled it up on his phone, and we all looked at it together for a minute. I gave Bukvich my card, and he gave me his email address, so hopefully we’ll stay in touch.

Tim Raines walked by while we were out in the hallway. So did Ron Karkovice, who’s also a coach on the team. There were players and coaches all over the place, and there I was, just hanging out with them and shootin’ the sh*t like it was no big deal. In a way it wasn’t a big deal. They’re just guys. Most of them are in their 30s, just like me, and they all love baseball, just like me, so why should it be a big deal to hang out with them? I don’t know, it just IS. I’ve been a huge baseball fan for such a long time, and as a fan, you’re always kept on the outside. When there’s a rain delay, you’re either hiding in the concourse at the stadium or watching reruns of “Seinfeld” at home. You’re never killing time WITH the actual players, so yeah, it was a big deal. Some of the players even recognized me after Bukvich told them that I was the guy who’d caught those home runs last year at Yankee Stadium and been on Leno, so in a way, I was famous to them, which was cool as hell, but mainly, *I* was the one who was honored to be in their presence.

Leon had to get back to New York City. I suppose I could’ve stayed and kept hanging out at the ballpark, but he was really my link to all the behind-the-scenes stuff, so I left with him and got one last look at the field on the way out:

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I could’ve stayed and just sat in the stands and watched the game and tried to catch foul balls, but that would’ve felt like a major letdown after everything I’d experienced. I just wanted to go home, and of course I wanted to ask Leon all about his tryout.

As we rode NJ Transit back to the city, he told me that Alberto Castillo had caught for him with Tim Raines and pitching coach Mike Torrez looking on. (No pressure.) They didn’t have a radar gun on him, but Leon thinks he was throwing in the mid-80s and *could* get back up to 90 with the right workouts and guidance. Speaking of guidance…the Bears did not offer him a contract, but they DID tell him that he can come back and work out with the team anytime, and that they’ll continue to work with him and get him back into shape…which means they saw his potential, but he’s not yet ready for game action. That was no surprise to Leon. He knew he wasn’t ready. His pitches had sick movement, but his velocity was a bit down and he had no command.

That’s pretty much it. Leon had some meeting to go to at 6pm, so as soon as our train pulled into Penn Station, we went our separate ways. I headed home and heated up some day-old General Tso’s chicken (and pork fried rice) and watched the Yankee game. (There’s really no point in watching the Mets anymore.) Good thing I didn’t go. I heard that it had rained in the Bronx, too, and that BP was canceled early on.

6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium

Another day with Jona at my new favorite stadium…

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The weather was perfect–no complaints there–but I wanted to kick someone when I ran inside and saw this:

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The Royals weren’t taking batting practice, and they clearly weren’t in any rush to start:

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It really killed me. I pretty much had the whole stadium to myself, and I could feel my opportunities slipping away.

Finally at about 4:45pm–fifteen excruciating minutes after the gates had opened–the first batter stepped into the cage, and it didn’t take long before I got on the board. Kyle Farnsworth was shagging in right-center, and as soon as he fielded a ball, I shouted for it.

The following four-part photo (starting on the top left and going clockwise) shows what happened next. The three vertical arrows are pointing to the ball in mid-air:

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Yeah, that’s right. The damn thing sailed over my head, and since I was trapped against that railing in the middle of the walkway, I couldn’t move. If I’d been able to run to the back of the walkway, I probably would’ve been able to make a leaping catch, like an outfielder robbing a home run, but instead I could only watch the ball splash into the fountain.

No problem.

I whipped out my trusty water-retrieval-device…

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…and fished out the ball before it had a chance to sink. (The photo above is blurry because it’s a screen shot from a low-quality video. The video itself isn’t worth sharing because the ball was never in view. It floated right below me and hugged the concrete wall, and Jona wasn’t able to see it from her angle. The fan in the background is named Garrett. I wrote about him in my previous entry, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about him in this one. Also, FYI, the water is a bit murky, but since it’s only a few feet deep, you *can* see balls that sink to the bottom, but those balls seemed to be cleared out daily.)

I was in such a rush at this point to run over toward the bullpen and try to get Roman Colon to throw me another ball that I neglected to pose with the one I’d just snagged. Why is that a big deal? Because that first ball had extended my consecutive games streak to 600–a streak dating back to September 10, 1993, during which I’ve snagged at least one ball at every single game I’ve attended.

Oh well. I got caught up in the moment. What can I say? At least I got Colon to show me some love. Here’s a photo that shows the ball in mid-air:

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Perhaps I should’ve drawn a red arrow pointing to myself. In case it’s not clear, I’m standing just to the right of the fan in the red shirt.

It’s obvious why the Royals are struggling: their pitchers suck. Farnsworth had airmailed me and Colon’s throw fell three feet short. Luckily it traveled just far enough that I was able to reach over the railing and make a back-handed catch:

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I used the glove trick to snag my third ball of the day off the warning track in left field. Yeah, security had told me twice the previous day not to do it anymore, but this was a brand new day. Maybe the rules had changed overnight, and even if they hadn’t, I didn’t have anything to lose. This was my last game at Kauffman Stadium. I was done with all my TV interviews. I was going to be flying back home to New York City the next day. If I got ejected, so be it.

In the following photo, you can see me going for the ball. The vertical arrow on the left is pointing to a man who was leaning over the wall to see the balls below because he, too, had a device. The other arrow is pointing to the kid who caught that random ball flying through the air:

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Even while I was doing my thing, there were still lots of other balls to go around. Keep that in mind as you continue reading. I don’t want you to think that my snagging prevented other people from getting balls. That wasn’t the case at all. I missed out on countless balls because they were tossed to kids, and that’s how it should be.

Coco Crisp hooked me up with my fourth ball of the day in left-center field, and then I used the glove trick to pull two balls out of the gap behind the center field wall. Here’s a close-up photo of the first ball in my glove…

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…and here’s a shot of the second one, taken by Jona from the other end of the gap:

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Both of those balls were BP homers by Billy Butler, but whatever. Do you see all the other balls that were sitting down in that gap? GAHHH!!! It was maddening to see them and not be able to reach them. The photo above doesn’t even show all the balls that were down there. There were like…twice as many. It was insane. They’d been there for two days, and I’d asked several different ushers about them.

How often do the balls get cleared out?
Who actually goes and retrieves them?
What would happen if I jumped down in there?

No one had a definitive answer. One usher said that the groundskeepers probably retrieve the balls, but he wasn’t sure. It was strange, and it had me thinking, although I didn’t really know what to think. There was still one more ball down in there that I could reach with my glove trick, so I started going for it, and that’s when security shut me down. The guard didn’t threaten me or confiscate my glove or eject me. He simply made a polite request that I stop. He even apologized and insisted that the order had come from his supervisor. How could I argue with that? It was frustrating, of course, but at least I’d gotten to use the trick three times on this final day.

As I began untangling the string, the kid standing next to me inspected my glove…

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…and then asked me for a ball. That annoyed me. First of all, he didn’t even have a glove (which indicated that he wasn’t serious about snagging), and secondly, as a general rule, I never give balls to people who ask. The way I see it, other fans should focus on getting balls from the players and not from…other fans, especially during BP when there are tons of opportunities. Therefore, I politely told the kid that I was not going to give him a ball. Instead I gave him a few pointers to help him snag one on his own, and wouldn’t you know it, less than two minutes later he grabbed a home run ball that landed near him in the seats. I congratulated him and then saw him snag FOUR more balls after that!

Once the Diamondbacks started hitting, I changed into my red D’backs shirt and got Eric Byrnes to toss me my seventh ball of the day in center field. In the following photo, you can see the ball in mid-air against the dark green batter’s eye:

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A minute after I got the ball from Byrnes, I saw Tom Gordon walking toward a couple balls on the warning track in right field, so I sprinted around behind the batter’s eye and hurried down to the lower level of the Pepsi Party Porch, and I got him to toss one of the balls to me. Then, back in left field, a home run landed in the fountain. It was time once again for the water device. The four-part photo below shows me getting it ready and swinging it out…

…and here I am reeling it in:

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That gave me nine balls on the day, and it didn’t take long for me to reach double digits. Some righty on the D’backs (no idea who) launched a deep line drive toward the seats in left-center. 13a_ledge_that_ball4077_bounced_on.jpgI
bolted through the empty walkway behind the four rows of seats and watched the ball take a series of unlikely bounces. It’s hard to describe exactly what happened so I took a photo later on (which you can see here on the right) to help illustrate this story. Do you see the concrete ridge that extends perpendicular from behind the walkway into the fountain? Somehow, this home run ball ricocheted out of the seats, landed on the ridge (which is only about a foot wide), caromed off the back wall of the fountain, landed back on the ridge, took a couple small bounces, and squeezed back through the railing into the walkway. It wouldn’t have mattered if the ball had fallen into the water because I still would’ve snagged it. In fact, I was kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to use the water device, but it’s probably just as well that the ball stayed dry. Anyway, yeah, crazy bounces, and I grabbed it.

It was a challenge to keep up with my notes…

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…but I had to find moments here and there to keep a list of how I was snagging all my baseballs. Otherwise, I never would’ve remembered. (In the photo above, the guy wearing the long black pants is the one who gave me a hard time about the glove trick the day before. Watch out for him if you plan on using a device at Kauffman Stadium.)

About 10 minutes later, I caught two homers on the fly in the walkway behind the “102″ sign in straight-away left field. I’m not sure who hit the first one, but I know that Byrnes hit the second. I caught them back-to-back within a 30-second span, and it had the whole section buzzing, but really there was nothing to it. Both balls came RIGHT to me, and okay, the seats were a bit crowded by that point, but so what? It really doesn’t get any easier than that.

14a_clay_zavada.jpgAt the end of my previous entry, I mentioned that I saw Diamondbacks pitcher Clay Zavada in Denny’s after the game. Remember? Well, I’d been hoping to get a ball from him for three reasons. First, his last name begins with a zee, which we all know is the best letter. Second, he has an awesome moustache. And third, after reading that New York Times article about him, I became an instant fan. The only trouble is, he’s not the most outgoing person. Over the previous two days, my few ball requests directed his way went ignored, but on this third day, I had an angle. I waited until he was about to pick up a ball in left field, then raced down to the front row and yelled, “Clay!! I saw you in Denny’s last night but didn’t want to bother you!! Any chance you could hook me up with a ball, please?!”

He ignored me, so I waited for him to chase down another ball and then I shouted something similar. It worked. He turned right around and spotted me and flipped it up, and let me tell you, it felt great to have gotten inside his head for a moment.

Toward the end of BP, I had another noteworthy interaction with a Diamondbacks pitcher. This time it was Esmerling Vasquez. At one point, a bit earlier in the day, I’d asked him for a ball in Spanish. He turned around and smiled but didn’t throw me the ball, so I responded with a crude but common curse in Spanish. As soon as he heard that, he whirled back around and looked at me and dropped his jaw in an exaggerated manner as if to say, “I can’t believe you just said that, and I hope you’re joking.” I immediately smiled and made a gesture to indicate that I was only messing around, and he seemed to appreciate my playful attitude. Later on, when 15_esmerling_vasquez.jpgthe D’backs were close to wrapping up BP, Vasquez jogged over to the warning track in left-center to retrieve a ball. I walked down the steps and got his attention and asked him for it in English.

“In Spanish,” he said so softly that I had to make sure I understood.

“You want me to ask you for the ball in Spanish?”

He nodded, so I made a dramatic request with lots of prayer-like gestures and a few English words sprinkled in. It went something along the lines of: “Por favor, senor, da me la pelota. Solamente una pelota and then I will callate.” The English translation of that ridiculousness is: “Please, Sir, give me the ball. Only one ball and then I will shut up.” That’s pretty much all I know how to say in Spanish. (Well, that and a lot of bad words, courtesy of an all-Dominican baseball camp staff that coached me for three full summers in the early 1990s.) But it worked. Vasquez smiled big and tossed me the ball–my 14th of the day–and that was it for batting practice.

Just before the D’backs left the field, I gave my heavy backpack to Jona and raced to the 3rd base dugout and got some equipment guy to toss me a ball as he was dumping all the balls from the basket to the ball bag. Hot damn. I’d snagged 13 balls at my first game of the series, 14 balls at my second game, and now 15 balls at my last game. BEST. STADIUM. EVER. And finally, it was time to explore it. I’d heard all about the $250 million renovation. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Just as my stadium tour was about to get underway, I ran into Garrett and asked him if he wanted to wander with me. It was 40 minutes ’til game time. There wasn’t anything else to do, so he came along. We started by walking into the spacious tunnel that leads to the dugout concourse…

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…and I was very impressed with what I saw at the other end:

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I just felt bad that such a nice stadium was so poorly attended, but hey, from a ballhawking perspective, the low attendance was great.

Garrett and I walked through the main concourse behind home plate…

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…and headed up to the upper deck. Gorgeous! Look at the concourse:

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The whole stadium was clean and spacious, and there was lots of natural light, and best of all it was understated, unlike a certain new ballpark–ahem, in the Bronx–that’s sickeningly grandiose.

We climbed up the steps to the top row of the upper deck, and I took a few photos to make a panorama:

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Below are four more photos of the upper deck…

TOP LEFT: The huge “tunnel” that leads from the concourse to the seats. Brilliant stadium design. That’s all I can say about that. No other upper deck, as far as I know, has anything like it. People tend to appreciate light and air and space to move around. Kauffman Stadium delivers it. TOP RIGHT: The open-air portion of the concourse along the RF foul line. There’s nothing wrong with simplicity. BOTTOM RIGHT: The front row. Nice. More simplicity. There’s no reason for an upper deck to have two or three different tiers of seating. BOTTOM LEFT: A chain-link fence at the back of the seats. One word: quaint. All the architects out there can take their fancy facades and shove ‘em. I prefer watching baseball in ballparks, not palaces or malls or museums:

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I couldn’t stop raving about Kauffman Stadium. Garrett got a kick out of that.

We headed down to the main concourse…

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…and made our way around the outfield. Here’s the view from the top of the fountains in right field:

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The outfield concourse has an inner and an outer area. (Another great use of space.) The following photo was taken between the two…

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…and when I walked into the outer area, I couldn’t believe how much stuff was back there. The following SIX-part photo shows it all, starting on the top left and then going clockwise: 1) A concert stage. 2) Miniature golf. 3) A playground and carousel. 4) Batting cages. 5) A baserunning challenge. 6) A small baseball field.

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I loved these kid-friendly attractions because they weren’t in the way. You know what I mean? They were essentially hidden at a far edge of the stadium. I’d been at The New K for two days and didn’t even know that any of that stuff was there, so my point is: it doesn’t interfere with the baseball experience. It’s just there in case people want to go and check it out, but if you’re a true baseball fan and you’re glued to the game and you don’t want to be bothered with anything else, it’s not in your face. Most of the games back there cost a bit of money to play. You have to buy tokens. I’m not even sure where you’d buy them or how much they cost. I didn’t have time to investigate. The game was almost set to begin, so I hurried over to the 3rd base dugout and stopped along the way to take a photo of the cross-aisle that runs through the field level seats:

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Anyone can walk through this aisle at any time. It doesn’t matter where your ticketed seat is.

The stadium is so pretty and simple and laid-back. I was in heaven.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a ball tossed to me after the pre-game throwing (I picked the wrong end of the dugout), so I headed to the outfield just in time for the first pitch. I was dying to catch a game home run, and it seemed that my chances here were as good as they’d ever be at any game in any stadium. Look how much room I had out in left field in the top of the first inning:

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(Normally the ushers don’t let people stand in that walkway during the game, but they made an exception for me.)

Look how much room I had in right field in the bottom of the first:

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OH MY GOD!!! This stadium was built for ballhawks. The only problem was that there was SO much room to run that I ended up running nonstop and got completely sweaty. Embarrassingly sweaty. Just like the day before. Check it out:

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I didn’t realize until I saw the photo above that I was still wearing my D’backs cap. I didn’t want to offend the locals (not that anyone cared what I was wearing) so I gave it to Jona and got my Royals cap back from her. Here she is after we switched caps–this is where she sat during the game:

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Did you notice all the balls sitting in the gap behind her? Here, have a closer look:

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AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!

What in the world was going to happen to all those balls?

In the top of the sixth inning, I was hanging out on the RF porch with my new friend, Bob Buck, when Gerardo Parra lined a home run into the bullpen. Naturally I ran over to see what was going to happen to that ball, and to my surprise, no one bothered to pick it up. It just sat on the ground, right in the middle of the bullpen, as various players and employees walked back and forth:

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It’s like they were all trying to tease me. The ball sat there for a full inning! I couldn’t leave, and I was worried about missing other opportunities elsewhere.

Finally I shouted at the Royals’ bullpen catcher and got him to toss it up, but he flung it lazily and didn’t really AIM for me, and as a result, the ball sailed five feet to my left. Bob was standing to my left at the time, and he managed to get a hand on it, but there were a bunch of other people also reaching for it, and they all bobbled it, and the ball dropped right down into the aisle at our feet, but I WAS BLOCKED and couldn’t reach it. I’m sure there are some people who would’ve just plowed everyone over in order to grab that ball, but that’s not my style. All I could do was stand there helplessly and watch some gloveless fan snatch it. That really hurt.

In between innings, Bob asked me to sign a ball, and then his wife Kathi took a photo of us:

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(Two questions: Do you like my farmer’s tan? And…on a scale of 1 to 10, how much does Bob look like Alec Baldwin?)

In the top of the eighth inning, Eric Byrnes hit a home run into the D’backs bullpen down the LF line. When I ran over to see where it went, an usher told me it had rolled right into the bathroom. Another fan started shouting at Jon Rauch for the ball. Rauch was the closest one to the bathroom, so what did he do? He got up and closed the bathroom door and sat back down. What a guy.

My frustration was mounting. I’d been putting up huge numbers in BP, and I was doing EVERYthing it took to put myself in the perfect position to catch a game home run, but it just wasn’t happening. There was a grand total of three homers hit during this series: none the first day, one the second day (which I nearly snagged even though it landed a full section over from where I’d been standing), and two on this third day, both of which landed in the bullpens. Unreal.

In the middle of the ninth inning, just after I’d changed back into my D’backs gear, an usher came running over and told me that a ball had just landed in the fountain. WHAT?! I hadn’t seen a ball land there. Was he messing with me? I knew that the ball wouldn’t float long, so I didn’t question him. I just ran over and took a look…and sure enough, there was a ball bobbing in the water. I pulled out my device, flung it out, and reeled in the ball on the first shot. Here I am with it:

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It was my 16th ball of the day, and I learned later that it was Parra’s warm-up ball. He had thrown it to some fans but his aim was way off and the ball sailed all the way over the section and landed in the water. Bad for the other fans. Good for me. At that point, I was thinking that I still had a chance to get few more balls. Maybe three more? Maybe even FOUR more? Whoa…it occurred to me that I had an outside shot at reaching 20. I’d only snagged that many three times before, so this was a big deal. I wasn’t sure if it was possible, though. Since the D’backs were going to win the game, and since the umpires exit the field on the third base side of the dugout, I figured I could get a ball from the home plate umpire (that would be No. 17), then race back to the home plate end of the dugout and get a ball from one of the players or coaches (that would be No. 18). Maybe I could get one a couple minutes later from the guys coming in from the bullpen? That would be 19. And then…get this…out in that center field gap, there were two balls that were reachable with the glove trick–one on the left side of the gap and another on the right side. I wasn’t sure if I could get away with using the trick after the game ended, but it was something I’d been considering all night. I figured I’d have to wait until security was gone, or wait ’til they weren’t looking…but this was a major league stadium. Someone is ALWAYS looking. (I learned that the hard way on 9/2/08 at Dodger Stadium.) I was getting ahead of myself. First things first. I got into position near the dugout and waited impatiently for the game to end. Final score: Diamondbacks 12, Royals 5. (The Royals are
35_dale_scott.jpgabsolutely terrible, BTW. They have a glorious stadium, but most of their starters wouldn’t even be on the Yankees roster. I don’t like the Yankees. I’m just sayin’. It was like watching college baseball. The defense was indecisive and clumsy. But I digress.) I wasn’t sure who the home plate umpire was. (I learned later it was Dale Scott.) Jona had my bag, and she was waiting for me in the outfield…and in my bag was a complete MLB umpire roster. Damn! And then, to make matters worse, three kids ran down to the spot where the umps were going to walk off the field. I watched as the ump handed balls to all the kids, and then I said, “Hey, Blue, how about a ball for a big kid?” He looked up at me, took one last ball out of his pouch, and flipped it into my glove. Yes!

I raced to the other end of the dugout, just as I had planned, and right after I got there, someone on the team (I think it was Rauch) flung a ball well over my head and deep into the section. Crap. I turned around to see who it had been thrown to, only to realize that the seats were empty! I was trapped in the middle of a row, so I had to climb over the seats. There was one other guy on the aisle who was also running for the ball, and he beat me there easily. That deflated me. Now, even if I somehow managed to get both of those balls out of the gap (which seemed highly unlikely), I’d still fall short of 20.

Hmm…

I headed back through the cross-aisle toward the outfield. A security guard stopped me and told me I had to leave. I told him that I need to meet up with my friends in left-center field, and it was true. Jona, of course, had my backpack, and Garrett was out there too, along with Bob and Kathi. They all wanted to see how this was gonna play out.

My eyes lit up when I approached the left field bullpen. For some reason, the Diamondbacks had left TWO balls sitting on the mound, right below the overhang of the front row of the seats, but how was I going to use the glove trick and not get caught? A groundskeeper appeared out of nowhere and started walking toward the balls. There were a few little kids standing right near me, so I was pretty sure I was screwed. No way the guy was gonna toss one to me. I just knew it, and sure enough, the first ball was tossed up to the kid on my right. Somehow…miraculously…the ball fell short and bounced off a railing and trickled along a little concrete ledge, right toward me, on the center field side of the bullpen. That’s where I was standing. It’s kind of hard to describe, but anyway, I lunged over the railing, and scooped up the ball in the tip of my glove and immediately handed it to the kid. I don’t think I even took it out of my glove. I just reached over and opened the glove and let the kid reach into the pocket and grab it. Even though the ball wasn’t intended for me, and even though I didn’t end up keeping it, it still counted. It was my 18th ball of the day. After that happy twist of fate, I really felt like I had a chance, and then another miracle happened: the groundskeeper left the second ball sitting there. The other fans had asked him for it, but he said he couldn’t give it away (sure), so most of them left. It was just me and Jona and Bob and Garrett and Kathi and a couple other people who were still lingering. I moved over to the front row of the overhang and quickly unleashed my glove trick. Way off in center field, I could see a yellow-shirted security guard walking toward me.

“Form a wall!” I yelled at my friends as my glove dangled 15 feet below. “Form a wall and block his view!”

Jona and Bob both moved to the side edge of the bullpen, and they both took photos of me as I went for the ball. In both of the photos below, you can see that I wasn’t even looking down at the ball. Instead I was looking off to the side to keep an eye on the security guard…

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…and I managed to pull up the ball when he was less than 50 feet away. Phew! I had my 19th ball of the day. Just one more! I quickly coiled up the string and used my body to shield the glove so the guard wouldn’t even see it, and then he walked us all up the steps to the main concourse in deep left field. Once we all reached the top, the guard just walked off. He didn’t tell us we had to leave. (He just assumed that we would, I suppose.) So we found a bench and sat down and contemplated the next move.

There were still a FEW other fans milling about at that point. Mostly, though, there were just concession workers and seat cleaners passing back and forth. No one stopped to ask us who we were or what we were still doing in the stadium. No one told us to leave. At one point, we noticed a security camera mounted high across the concourse. That made us a bit nervous, but no one ever came out to confront us.

Deep breath…

I grabbed an extra Sharpie from my backpack just in case, then left my bag with my friends in the concourse and began my solo mission. I had to go alone. One person was less likely to be seen/caught than five, so they waited, out of sight, as I walked briskly down the steps, proceeded through the walkway behind the seats and headed to the edge of the gap on the left field side of the batter’s eye. I was there. No security in sight. So far, so good. It was showtime…like playing golf. No competition. Just me versus the course. I struggled for a couple minutes with the first ball. Not good. It was a few feet too far out for me to have a straight shot down, and it was also trapped up against a small rock. Still, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to get the ball to stick inside the glove. This was the absolute WORST time for a malfunction. I’d used the trick hundreds of times. Why was it giving me a problem now? I had no choice but to raise the glove back up and readjust the rubber band. Maybe it was too loose? That had to be it, so I took a look, and nearly had a panic attack. The rubber band had broken and was dangling off the glove! It’s a good thing it hadn’t fallen into the gap because I stupidly hadn’t brought an extra one with me down into the seats. I had half a dozen bands in my backpack, but as I mentioned, the bag was
36a_rubber_band_fixed.jpgwith my friends in the concourse. I thought about hurrying back up there, getting a new band, then going back down into the seats, but that seemed insane. It’s like I would’ve been ASKING to get caught, so I took the band and tied the broken ends together. It was my only shot. And then I lowered the glove back down into the gap. Well, it took another minute or so, but then I got the ball to stick inside my glove! Twenty balls (with twenty exclamation points)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I thought about just getting the hell out of there at that point, but that one last ball was too tempting, so I headed up the few steps, walked quickly behind the batter’s eye, and headed down beside the right field edge of the gap. There it was, my potential 21st ball of the day, sitting there, looking up at me, waiting to be rescued. I hoped that the rubber band would hold…and it did…but once again, the ball was a few feet too far out from the wall, and in my attempt to knock it closer, the Sharpie fell out of my glove. Extra Sharpie! Thank God I’d brought it.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Bob had crept out of the upper concourse, just far enough that he could see me way off in the distance, going for this ball. This was his view:

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Did you see me in the photo above? Here’s a closer look:

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After another minute (during which I must’ve cursed about 20 times), I managed to snag the ball. Woo! Twenty-one!

Upon my return to the concourse, I posed with balls No. 20 and 21 and felt invincible:

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I needed a moment to recover…to just sit there and label my last two balls…to add to my long list of notes…to think about what I wanted to do next. There weren’t any other fans in the ballpark, but there were still a few employees walking around. After a few minutes, we saw an entire group of people in yellow shirts walking out the gate in right field. It was the security guards! They were all leaving!

What to do…

I was thinking about those balls in the gap. There were still ELEVEN balls down in there, and it occurred to me that I might be able to get away with climbing down in there and grabbing them and then running like hell. Meanwhile, it was getting late. Bob and Kathi had to take off, so we said our goodbyes, and then it was just three of us: me, Jona, and the 17-year-old Garrett.

For the past two days, I’d been talking about climbing down into the gap, but it was more of a fantasy than a reality. I had to do TV interviews, and I didn’t want to jeopardize that by getting in trouble, but like I said before, this was my last day. My last night. There was nothing to lose. Well…if I got arrested and thrown in jail, that wouldn’t have been good, but it’s not like I’d be running out onto the field or vandalizing any property. It was just about the balls. And about the charity. And about doing something daring. And about breaking my one-game record! I had managed to snag 28 balls in one day on 4/10/08 at Nationals Park. I didn’t think that record would ever be broken, but now I actually had a chance to do it…and not just squeeze past it by a hair, but actually surpass the 30-ball plateau. If I climbed down into the gap and grabbed all the balls and managed to get away with it, would my record be tainted? Would it have an asterisk? I wasn’t sure, but I knew for a fact that several legendary ballhawks on the west coast, like T.C. and Lee Wilson, had snuck down after games into the gaps behind the outfield walls and grabbed actual game home run balls that they counted in their totals. And I know that some of the all-time great ballhawks in Chicago, especially Moe Mullins, used to climb down into restricted areas of Wrigley Field to do the same thing. I thought about all the balls I’d snagged that I didn’t count for various reasons, and I thought about all the balls that security had prevented me from snagging over the years. I thought about the guard at Shea Stadium, back in the mid-1990s, who would stand on the field, right in front of me in foul territory during BP, and kick the foul grounders away before I had a chance to reach over and scoop them up. I thought about the on-field guard at Yankee Stadium who once jumped up and swatted a ball out of mid-air that a player had thrown to me, simply because he didn’t like me and didn’t want me to catch it. I thought about every single injustice that I had ever experienced inside a major league stadium, and I thought, “Here’s my chance to make up for it.”

But wait, how was I actually going to pull it off? Would I go alone? Would Jona and/or Garrett come with me? Would I need help climbing back out of the gap? How would I carry all the balls? Would I take my backpack? Would I have to climb out with that heavy thing on my back? What about labeling the balls? Would I actually stop and mark each one as I grabbed them? Or would I put them into different pockets and pouches and try to remember which one was which? If I actually managed to climb down there and grab the balls and escape without getting caught, would I then talk about it on my blog? Could I get in trouble after the fact? I had reasons to go for it. I had reasons to chicken out. I had an endless array of questions and–

“I really wish you would just do it already,” said Jona.

Okay.

I was GOING to do it. I made up my mind. Now I just had to make some quick decisions about how it would all go down. First of all, I decided to turn my shirt inside out. That Mario logo was way too eye-catching. Secondly, we all decided that the three of us would go back down into the seats together. Garrett would toss my backpack down to me after I climbed into the gap and then he’d meet me on the other end and I’d toss it back up. Jona would follow us and film the whole thing. I didn’t know what I would ever do with the footage, but I knew it had to be documented. As for the issue of labeling the balls, I decided that I had to sacrifice that part of my process–that I just had to throw the balls in my bag as quickly as possible and get the hell out, but I knew I had to keep the last ball separate. I needed to know which ball was THE final ball…the record-establishing ball.

And just like that, we were off.

The following images are all screen shots from Jona’s video.

Here I am with Garrett, heading through the walkway at the back of the LF seats. The ground was wet because the fountains were overflowing, presumably on purpose as a way to clean the section:

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Here we are heading down the steps next to the gap:

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Then I climbed down into the gap:

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Garrett tossed me my backpack, and I reached up to catch it:

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I hurried to the middle of the gap and picked up the first ball:

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Fist pump:

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Every time I grabbed a ball, I kept counting: twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine! Then thirty. I decided to stick that one in my right front pocket. Then thirty-one. That went in my left front pocket. And finally thirty-two. That went in my back right pocket. If I’d remembered, I could’ve grabbed the Sharpie that had fallen out of my glove 20 minutes earlier, but my mind was elsewhere.

Here I am climbing out of the gap:

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There were metal beams on back of the outfield wall, so I stepped on those and hoisted myself up without Garrett’s help. Ahh, to be young and fit! I normally take it for granted, but now I finally appreciated it and realized that when I’m 90 years old, similar shenanigans will be much more difficult.

Jona headed up the steps and hurried behind the batter’s eye to catch up with us…

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…and then we walked through the upper porch in right field…

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…and headed up the steps…

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…and ran like hell through the concourse…

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…and made our way out the open gate…

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…and walked around to the back of the stadium:

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We did it!

I had snagged THIRTY-TWO baseballs!

This was my reaction:

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Here I am with Garrett and the 32nd ball:

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My God.

I hope I don’t get busted for blogging about this after the fact. In my defense, I was doing it for charity, and also, the way I see it, I did the Royals a service. Not only did I risk my own life, free of charge, to climb down in there and clean out the balls so that one of their employees wouldn’t have to do it, but I’ve simultaneously encouraged baseball fans all over the world to visit Kauffman Stadium. No joke. I’ve gotten at least a dozen emails this week from people who’ve told me that after reading my blog entries and seeing my photos of the place, they’re dying to go there.

Don’t you love my logic?

Two of the balls from the gap caught my eye. First (pictured below on the left), there was my 30th ball of the day, which had a really cool series of streak-like markings on it, and second, there was a ball (one of the eight that I didn’t label, pictured below on the right) that was rubbed up and un-scuffed, just as a game-used ball would be:

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So the question is: Is it possible that I grabbed a game home run ball and don’t even know it? When I first entered Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, June 16th, there were already half a dozen balls in the gap. Who knows how long they’d been there? Why couldn’t a game home run have landed there? Does anyone know if any players hit homers to dead center field in the days before June 16th? It would be interesting to know, and if the answer is yes, I might need to recruit a forensic scientist to determine if there are woody fibers on the ball that match the fibers on that player’s bat.

My 32nd and final ball of the day was not interesting in comparison to the two pictured above, but obviously it was the most meaningful, and I had to find a special way to photograph it. At first, this was the best I could come up with…

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…but then Garrett had an idea. He told me and Jona to get in his car, and he drove around to the other side of the stadium. It was well past midnight by this point. He had to be at work at 6am. Jona and I were exhausted and starving. I was tempted to take a few quick pics of the ball and go back to the hotel, but when I mentioned the option of using the balls to actually spell out the number 32 (aka “balligraphy”), Garrett convinced me to do it.

Here I am, setting them all up in the middle of the road…

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…and here’s the fruit of my labor (and of Jona’s patience):

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Cool.

In case you’re wondering, the three balls on the right are in Ziploc bags because those were the balls I fished out of the fountain. They were soaked to the core, so I kept them sealed until I could properly dry them out. And of course there are only 31 balls in the photo because I gave one away.

Thursday, June 18, 2009: wow…

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SNAGGING STATS:

• 32 balls at this game

58_kauffman_stadium_snagging_notes.jpg• 59 balls in three games this week at Kauffman Stadium = 19.67 balls per game. (My notes for all these balls are pictured on the right.)

• 279 balls in 31 games this season = 9 balls per game.

• 600 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 107 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

• 4 lifetime games with at least 20 balls (all of which, surprise-surprise, were outside of New York)

• 4,099 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.16 pledged per ball

• $773.12 raised at this game!

• $6,740.64 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

A few final thoughts…

1) It occurred to me that I probably would’ve snagged more than 35 balls if I’d been going for foul balls and third-out balls all night, but I did what I had to do. I was in a home run haven, and I stuck to my game plan, never even contemplating my one-game record until the very end.

2) It also occurred to me that this is the first time I’ve ever out-snagged my age. You follow? I’m thirty-one years old, and I managed to snag thirty-two balls. I’d have to say it’s pretty rare for anyone to out-snag their age. Think about it. How likely is it that a five-year-old could snag six balls? Not very. How likely is it for anyone to snag 15 or 20 balls? Or 30? Again, not likely. I’d say the only people who have a real shot at out-snagging their age are probably young teenagers. By the time someone is 13 years old, he (or she) is just getting big enough and athletic enough and strategic enough to be able to make some good plays and outsmart the competition. Have YOU ever out-snagged your age? I think we might have a new category here–something ultra-rare, like hitting for the cycle. I wonder if I’ll ever do it again.

3) This blog entry, for those keeping score at home, is 7,714 words and has 83 photographs (if you count the collage pics separately). These too, are records.

The End.

5/3/09 at Rangers Ballpark

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

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

But then I ran inside and saw this:

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

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

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Here’s another look at it from the seats:

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Best.
Stadium.
Ever.

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

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

5b_rangers_mystery_autograph.jpg

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

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

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

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

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…but in fact they were just stretching.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13_rangers_upper_deck.jpg

Here’s my panorama attempt:

14_rangers_ballpark_panorama.jpg

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

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

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

16_rangers_upper_deck.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19_view_during_game.jpg

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

20_zack_coupon.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not.

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

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

“What do you say?” prompted his father.

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

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

22_ice_cream_vendor.jpg

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

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

23_bullpen_after_game.jpg

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

Hmm…

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

“Excuse me, guys–” I began.

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

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

24_waiting_for_lineup_card.jpg

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

Five minutes later, the sprinklers came on…

25_sprinklers.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26_zack_lineup_card.jpg

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

SNAGGING STATS:

27_sox_lineup_card.jpg
• 5 balls at this game

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

• 586 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,948 total balls

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

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.38 pledged per ball

• $101.90 raised at this game

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

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:

3_outside_rangers_ballpark.jpg

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:

4_outside_rangers_ballpark.jpg

(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:

5_outside_rangers_ballpark2.jpg

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…

7_weird_concourse_rangers.jpg

…and then headed down and took this one:

8_field_concourse_rangers.jpg

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:

9_left_field_cross_aisle.jpg

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…

10_rain_deep_center_field.jpg

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

11_rain_RF_foul_pole.jpg

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:

14_rain_tunnel_drainage.jpg

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:

15_rangers_club_level.jpg

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:

16_beams_and_concourses.jpg

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…

22_ball3942_juan_nieves.jpg

…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:

23_wiffle_ball_snagging.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game

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

• 585 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,943 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.38 pledged per ball

• $61.14 raised at this game

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

4/25/09 at U.S. Cellular Field

Screwed by the weather!

No batting practice.

Miserable day all around.

Game time temperature: 39 degrees.

Don’t go to Chicago in April.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…and then made my way toward home plate:

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

Here’s my panorama attempt from behind the plate:

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

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

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What’s the big deal?

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

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

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Here’s another panorama:

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

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

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

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

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

Then I got Floyd to sign my ticket:

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

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

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

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

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One final thing…

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

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

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 soggy balls at this game

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

• 581 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,908 total balls


CHARITY STATS:

• 95 donors

• $18.16 pledged per ball

• $54.48 raised at this game

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

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