Results tagged ‘ cross-aisle ’

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.

6/28/10 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium

Major League Baseball in Puerto Rico?

Oh yes.

The Mets and Marlins moved a three-game series to Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, and I made the trip from New York City to be there:

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Yeah, I was a bit excited. It was my first time at this stadium, and as you might expect, I took a ton of photos. (For some reason, when the Expos played a bunch of games here in 2003 and 2004, I neglected to take advantage.)

Let’s start with the Hiram Bithorn statue:

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Did you know that there was a guy named Hiram Bithorn? I wasn’t aware of that until I booked this trip and did a little research. Bithorn, born in 1916, was the first Puerto Rican to play in the Major Leagues. Check out all the info about him on the statue’s plaque:

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In 1943, the dude went 18-12 with seven shutouts and a 2.60 ERA. That’s pretty impressive, and THAT is how you get a stadium named after you.

It was only 3pm. The gates weren’t going to open for another two hours, so I had plenty of time to wander.

Here’s the area with all the media/TV trucks:

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Look at the slanted light towers:

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Here’s a close-up of the trucks:

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Here’s my first glimpse of the scoreboard inside the stadium:

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In the four-part photo below (starting on the top left and then going clockwise), you can see 1) the area beyond the right field corner of the stadium, 2) lawnmowers parked in the parking lot and Roberto Clemente Stadium in the distance, 3) the edge of the grandstand on the first base side, and 4) the road that curves around from right field to left field:

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While walking along that road, I saw an open gate:

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It was some sort of employee entrance. This is what I saw through the bars:

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It was the back of the right field bleachers. I had a bleacher ticket. I didn’t know if I’d be allowed to move back and forth from right to left field, but it looked promising. I also didn’t know if there’d be batting practice. It had just been pouring for 20 minutes, and there was still thunder and lightning in the area.

Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) the road behind the right field edge of the stadium, 2) a Puerto Rican stop sign, 3) a view of the stadium from deeeeeeep center field, and 4) another gate of some sort:

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I was so confused.

Nothing was marked, few people spoke English, and let me tell you, I was in heaven. It’s like I was discovering a new way to watch baseball.

Hiram Bithorn Stadium is the largest baseball stadium in Puerto Rico, and it only holds about 20,000 fans. There’s no upper deck. No club level. No standing-room sections. No cup holders. No flat-screen TVs. No waiter service. It’s incredibly simple, and yes, also dumpy and run-down, but that’s what makes it nice. It’s the opposite of the new Yankee Stadium. It’s unrefined, and I don’t mean that as an insult. I like unrefined. I like it when puddles don’t drain. I like it when garbage cans overflow. That’s real life. You know what I mean? Take Target Field, for example. That stadium is an architectural marvel, but it’s almost too perfect. When I was there last month, it kinda felt like I was in a modern art museum.

But let’s get back to Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Look at all this clutter sitting around just inside the random gate:

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Is that a beautiful sight or what? I’m totally serious. It was great to experience Major League Baseball in a facility where every inch of space wasn’t being micromanaged.

Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) the area outside the left field corner of the stadium, 2) police guarding an employee entrance along the left field foul line, 3) the view as I cut across toward the 3rd base line, and 4) the walkway that leads to the main entrance.

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This is what the gates look like…

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…and here’s a sneak-peek at the concourse inside:

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The sun finally came out. I ran across the street to use a bathroom inside a gigantic mall and took this photo of the stadium on the way back:

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The stadium was jumping at that point. There were food tents and vendors and DJ booths and promoters aggressively handing out thunder sticks. The whole place had a carnival-like atmosphere. Look how crowded it was:

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Luckily, there was a special someone holding a spot for me near the front of the line:

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I’m talking about my girlfriend Jona, pictured above in the white shirt and torn jeans. Unfortunately, we were in line at the wrong spot. We couldn’t enter the main part of the stadium with bleacher tickets, so at the last second, we had to get out of line and head halfway around the stadium, and by the time we got inside, we’d missed a few minutes of batting practice. But hey, at least there WAS batting practice. The Mets were on the field, and before I had a chance to blink, a right-handed batter crushed a home run to the back of the bleachers. I raced up the steps and grabbed the ball after lunging over a railing.

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Mission accomplished! It was the 48th “major league” stadium at which I’d snagged at least one ball. I wouldn’t have counted Hiram Bithorn on my list if I’d snagged baseballs at a Puerto Rico Baseball League game or even at the World Baseball Classic, but this was different. I was here for an actual regular-season major league game. If the wins and losses and stats were gonna count for the teams and players, then it was only fair that the balls would count in my collection.

After getting that first ball, I took a few photos of the glorious bleacher configuration. Look at the cross-aisle in front…

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…and check out the gap behind the outfield wall:

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Oh.

My.

God.

I got one of the Mets’ strength/conditioning coaches to toss me a ball near the left field foul pole, and then things slowed way down. The bleachers were general admission, so everyone showed up early to claim a good spot, and as a result, the whole section got crowded fast. There just wasn’t much room to run. Batting practice was a major struggle. The expression on my face tells the whole story:

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(That’s me in the Mets gear.) Here’s a closer look:

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Finally, after 20 minutes of frustration, I got my third ball of the day from Bobby Parnell. The fact that I spoke perfect, accent-free English probably helped convince him to hook me up. There were very few people from the States. I’d say 99 percent of the fans were Latino/Puerto Rican. Although there’s no telling what kind of effect that had on my ability to snag baseballs, it’s an interesting factor to consider.

Left field was dead, so I decided to see if I could move to the right field side. Naturally, I took some photos along the way.

First, here’s the staircase that leads up into the left field bleachers:

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Here’s the view to the left:

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See all those people walking toward the batter’s eye in center field?

(Oh yeah, baby…)

Not only was I free to roam between left and right field, but there was a TON of open space in between. Check it out:

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Here’s one more photo to show you what I’m talking about. I took it behind the wall in center field.

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Wow.

Wow.

Wow.

I couldn’t decide where to go. The opportunities — the ball-snagging potential — was truly mind-boggling.

All of a sudden, I saw a ball fly over the wall in right-center and drop down into the gap in front of the bleachers. Was I allowed to chase after it? I had no idea what the rules were, so I raced over…and this is what I saw:

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The photo above is blurry because I was running full speed when I took it, but anyway, yeah, I was totally allowed to run under the bleachers. The ball was just sitting there, waiting for me. My first three balls of the day were regular MLB balls; this one was a training ball. It was all muddy, so I kept it in my hand as I headed back into the left field bleachers. When I got there, a female security supervisor (who’d seen me get a ball earlier) asked me if I could spare the ball. She told me there was a kid who was crying because someone else had taken a ball from him.

“Where’s the kid?” I asked, expecting to see a five-year-old.

“Over there,” she said, pointing to a teenaged boy curled up with his face in his mother’s lap.

“Are you serious?” I asked. “He’s too big to be crying.” I was going to tell her that there’s no crying in baseball, but I didn’t know if she’d get it. Anyway, it was no laughing matter, so I handed her the ball so that she could be the one to give it to the boy.

Well, the kid was thrilled, his entire family was thrilled, and the supervisor loved me after that and took good care of me for the rest of the series.

That was it for batting practice. The Mets finished hitting at 5:50pm — half an hour earlier than I expected — and I was stuck in the bleachers. There wasn’t anything to do. There wasn’t anything to photograph. So I just sat there with Jona and waited for the game to start.

This was our terrible view…

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…but it was worth it because I had lots of room to run through the aisle on either side.

TIME OUT…

Do you remember my previous blog entry? I said I was going to be wearing my “Where’s Waldo” shirt in order to make it easier for people to spot me on TV. (I brought four shirts to this game.) That’s all. just wanted to remind you of that fact.

TIME IN…

Before the top of the 2nd inning got underway, Marlins left fielder Chris Coghlan threw his warm-up ball into the bleachers. He hadn’t aimed for anyone in particular. It was just a random toss. It happened to come right to me, but it was several feet over my head, so I jumped as high as I could…

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…and came down with it. (Jona’s camera could not contain me!)

With no outs in the top of the 5th inning, Jason Bay smoked a 1-1 pitch from Ricky Nolasco down the left field line. The ball hooked foul and rattled around in the corner, and by the time Coghlan jogged over to retrieve it, I had already bolted through the aisle so that I was standing right behind him. Once again, he randomly flipped the ball up into the crowd, and wouldn’t you know it, I was able to grab this one as well. But this wasn’t any ordinary ball. Have a look:

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Oh yes, my friends, that’s right. MLB and Rawlings International had designed a special commemorative logo for this series. Here’s a closer look:

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I had heard from one of my contacts at MLB that these special balls were only going to be used during games — not during BP. He actually offered to send one to me before I went on this trip, but I didn’t take him up on it.

“Let me see if I can snag one on my own first,” I said.

And…voila! Another mission had been accomplished. At that point, the only thing left for me to achieve was catching a game home run, and if ever there was a time to do it, this was it.

Of the 18 players in the game, 14 were batting from the right side, and yet the first four home runs of the night went to right field. It was tempting to run over there, but I decided to hold my ground in straight-away left.

With two outs in the bottom of the 8th, I pulled out my camera and took the following photo:

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There were two runners on base, and Mike Stanton was batting, but I wasn’t thinking about that. Mainly, I just wanted a photo that captured the simplicity of the scoreboard. There was no pitch count. There were no stats other than his .203 batting average. It didn’t even say what he’d done earlier in the game.

The count was 1-1, and the next pitch was a strike.

No big deal.

I took another photo to capture all the room I had on my left:

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 “What a waste,” I thought, “that there haven’t been any homers hit to left field.”

On the very next pitch, Stanton cranked a deep fly ball in my direction.

“HOLD THIS!!! HOLD THIS!!! HOLD THIS!!!” I yelled at Jona, reaching to my right to hand the camera to her.

From the second the ball left Stanton’s bat, I knew it was coming to me. I mean right to me. I don’t know how I knew. I just knew. And I also knew I was going to catch it. It was as simple as that.

Here are a few screen shots from the TV broadcast to show you how it played out. First, you can see Jason Bay running back toward the wall. Note the “Waldo” stripes directly behind him:

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In the screen shot above, approximately five feet to the left of where I was standing, you can see a fan wearing a white shirt with red sleeves. He ended up drifting over, and he nearly cost me the ball. Look how close he was when I reached up for it:

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Like I said, the ball was coming RIGHT toward me. I wasn’t going to have to jump or lean out over the railing. All I had to do was reach up for it, but this other guy (who was not wearing a glove) was reaching up, too. His hands were right in front of my face, and I knew that it was gonna be a battle to see who could reach the furthest.

Here’s a closer look at the screen shot above. I’ve drawn two little red dots over his hands, and I’ve drawn an arrow to show you the ball going into my glove:

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That should illustrate just how close he came to getting a piece of the ball. I had tried to box him out (simply by holding my ground), but he managed to reach in front of me at the last second. Still, I think my effort to block him made a slight difference, and as a result, the ball cleared his left hand by about four inches.

BAM!!!

I had the ball!!!

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Here’s a closer look at my reaction:

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(Unfortunately, you can’t see Jona in any of these screen shots, but she saw me. In fact, it was the first game home run that she’d ever seen me catch on the fly.)

Half the fans were really happy for me, and I got a few high fives:

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The other half were p*ssed because it was the third ball I’d snagged during the game, and get this: three minutes later, before the top of the 9th started, I got another. Coghlan threw another warm-up ball into the crowd. It sailed about five feet over my head, but because all the fans reached for it at once, they all booted it, and the ball dropped right down to me. There was a huge crowd in the aisle, going for the rebound, but I managed to stick out my glove and catch it before it hit the ground.

I immediately handed the ball to the smallest kid with a glove, and then I reached into my backpack and pulled out another ball and gave that one away, too. Everyone started cheering and shaking my hand. A bunch of parents asked if they could take photos of me with their kids. It was  nuts, Here I am with the two kids that received baseballs:

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After the game (which the Marlins won, 10-3), I got more high-fives and handshakes. Several people asked me to sign autographs:

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Did I mention that it was nuts? Everyone wanted to stop and talk. (One man said, “Everybody is famous for one day. Today is your day.”) It’s like I was their good luck charm — as if touching me or connecting with me was going to bring them fortune. I’ve never experienced fans reacting like that before. iViva Puerto Rico!

Everyone was energized, it seemed. Outside the stadium, the vendors were still selling food, the DJs were still blasting music, and people were dancing just about everywhere:

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This was probably the most unusual major league game I’ve ever attended, and I’m not talking about the action on the field. There had been fans with air horns and vuvuzelas inside the stadium. There’d been people playing drums and singing and chanting. It was so happy and festive and joyous and just…I don’t know…raw…and stadium security didn’t really give a damn about anything.

Before Jona and I headed back to the hotel, I met up with two guys who’d been reading this blog and got in touch to tell me they’d be here. These guys didn’t know each other. One was from San Juan. The other was from Michigan. Here I am with them:

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The guy on the left is named Gustavo. (Unlike this Gustavo, he’s incredibly friendly.) He had actually gotten in touch two years ago and sent me one of the longest/nicest emails I’ve ever received. You can read that email on this page on my web site. Just search for “Gustavo” or scroll down to September 14, 2008, and you’ll see it. The guy on the right is named Mike. He had contacted me a few weeks earlier, and he was really cool, too. He’s been to 46 major league stadiums.

One last thing…

There are lots of highlights of the Mike Stanton homer, but thanks to a friend in New York who taped the game, I got a hold of the best footage of all. It’s a one-minute clip from SNY, the Mets’ cable network. The file (.mov format) is 15MB, so you might need to give it a minute to load. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Mets’ announcers, the two guys talking about me at the end are Gary Cohen and former major leaguer Ron Darling. Enjoy…

SNAGGING STATS:

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

• 176 balls in 17 games this season = 10.4 balls per game.

• 646 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 48 different major league stadiums with at least one ball

• 13 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups); click here for the complete list.

• 6 different stadiums with a game home run (Old Yankee, PETCO, Shea, Camden, New Yankee, and Hiram Bithorn)

• 4,534 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 37 donors (click hereto learn more)

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

• $43.28 raised at this game

• $952.16 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

————

UPDATE: My home run catch was written up on MyGameBalls.com. Click here to read the story.

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

8/11/09 at Camden Yards

“T-Shirt Tuesday” always draws a big crowd at Camden Yards:

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Thankfully I had a spot at the front of the line, and it paid off. As soon as the stadium opened at 5pm, I raced out toward the left field seats and found a ball sitting in the front row along the foul line. The ball was VERY scuffed and even had a tiny piece of concrete embedded in its cowhide cover. Check it out:

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I would’ve taken a photo of the ball sitting in the seats, but Jona had my camera, and since she didn’t have a season ticket, she was trapped in right field for the first half-hour. The good news is that she took a bunch of photos of me from afar. In the photo below, I’m the guy in the white T-shirt:

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Within the first few minutes, I lost a three-person race for a loose ball in the seats…

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…but quickly made up for it by making a nice running catch on a home run hit by Melvin Mora. The following four-part photo (starting on the top left and then going clockwise) shows me 1) running through an empty row, 2) crossing the staircase, 3) pausing for a moment to look up, and 4) lunging far to my glove side to make the catch:

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That first section was 22 seats wide. I love having room to run. Baltimore is the best.

Unfortunately I had some bad luck after that. Three different balls tipped off the very end of my glove — two of which ricocheted back onto the field — and then I got robbed on a deep fly ball by Chris Tillman:

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Cool photo, huh? Here’s a closer look:

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It might look like the ball is falling short of my glove, but I guarantee that I would’ve caught it.

I’m happy to say that my luck improved soon after. Robert Andino launched a deep home run to my right and I took off through an empty row. As I reached the staircase on the far side of the section, I looked up just in time to see the ball fly 20 feet over my head. It landed on the staircase and took a gigantic bounce deeper into the section. It bounced all the way into the seats above/behind the cross-aisle (which is about 25 rows back). I sprinted up the steps as a fellow ballhawk trailed close behind…

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…and I cut through the aisle and managed to grab the ball as it began to trickle down the steps of the elevated section. Fun!

That was my third ball of the day, and I snagged another soon after. I’m not sure who hit it. All I know is that it was a home run by a right-handed batter on the Orioles. It landed in a mostly-empty patch of seats in left-center field, and I ran over and grabbed it. There was nothing special about it until I took a peek at the ball itself. Here are two photos of it:

Have you ever seen anything like that?! Forget the small gash on the right. I’m talking about the bas-relief-like impression on the left. It looks like there are letters, perhaps the first three of the word BASEBALL? But if so, what would have created that mark on the ball? Could it have been a bat? And if it was, why aren’t the letters reversed like a mirror image? I’ve snagged my share of bat-imprinted balls, and the markings always look two-dimensional like this, so I’m completely stumped here.

At 5:30pm, I changed into my dark green A’s gear, and Jona headed over to left field. She took a photo of me standing around…

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…and got another photo of me climbing over some seats:

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I didn’t end up getting that ball. I wasn’t getting anything. I kept having close calls, and Jona captured me with a look of dismay after one of them:

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Somehow, I ended up snagging a bunch of balls after that. I don’t know why. I guess my luck just improved. It started when I positioned myself deep in the section for Tommy Everidge. I caught one of his home runs on the fly, and then ten seconds later, I grabbed another one of his home run balls that whacked a seat and bounce right up to me. It was beautiful. I was running through the row, and the ball popped up waist-high, and I kind of swatted at it with my andrew_bailey_2009.jpgglove and scooped it up in one motion. (I later gave that one away to a kid. I should probably keep the home run balls and give away the ones that are tossed to me, but whatever.) Then, a few minutes later, I started using my glove trick to knock a ball closer on the warning track, and a player came over and picked up the ball and tucked it into my glove. I’m not sure who it was, but the same thing happened AGAIN five minutes later with Andrew Bailey (whom I now realize was the guy who bounced the ball to me off the warning track the day before). Anyway, poof, just like that, I’d snagged four balls within a 10-minute span to salvage my day, and then I snagged another home run ball — my ninth ball overall. It was absurdly lucky. The ball fell five feet short and headed right toward two guys with gloves who were standing two rows in front of me. Incredibly, they not only dropped it, but they somehow managed to bobble it two rows back. It kind of skipped off their wrists and blooped right into my row where I bent down and grabbed it without any competition. I mean, the seats were fairly crowded at that point, but there wasn’t anyone else in my row at that moment (which is why I was IN that row). You get the point. It was as lucky as it gets.

Meanwhile, when BP ended a few minutes later, I was as sweaty as it gets:

11_zack_sweaty_08_11_09.jpg

I don’t know what it is with me and butt sweat. I’m not sure if that’s a perfectly normal bodily reaction to running around nonstop for 70 minutes when it’s 90 degrees and humid…or if I should see a doctor about it. As for my upper body, my white T-shirt was completely soaked, and the A’s shirt was absorbing the moisture. I didn’t even care. That’s what showers are for. Someone once suggested that I get one of those under-armor shirts, but I haven’t gotten around to it.

I headed to the left field foul line when the A’s came back out to stretch and run and throw…

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…and I got Mark Ellis to sign a ticket:

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(Nice handwriting, pal. You’re fired.)

Then I got Adam Kennedy to toss me his warm-up ball after he finished throwing. I was surprised he gave it to me. He’d thrown me one the day before at the same time in the same spot when I was wearing the exact same thing.

During the game, I stayed in the right field standing-room-only section whenever there was a left-handed batter, and I moved to the seats on the right side of home plate for most of the righties. I was constantly on the move…

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…and Jona was kind enough to carry my backpack for me.

(By the way, that alien shirt is THE shirt I was wearing as an 18-year-old in 1996 when I snagged my 1,000th ball. Check it out. On the front it says, “Baseball: a higher form of intelligence.”)

There weren’t any home runs that came anywhere near me, but there was some action behind the plate. In the top of the fifth inning, Mark Ellis hit a foul ball that shot straight back over the protective screen. It was heading about 40 feet to my left. The photo below was taken from the tunnel where I was standing, and the arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball ended up:

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Naturally, I bolted through the aisle (is it too late to have an aisle installed at Citi Field?) and watched with great pleasure as a gloveless man sitting in the elevated section behind the aisle bobbled the ball and dropped it over the railing. There was another fan standing nearby in the aisle, but he didn’t even know what was happening, so I was able to swoop in and grab the ball after it took one bounce. It was embarrassingly lucky and easy, and I won’t lie — I love it.

I got even luckier after that (although in this case there was some skill involved too). One inning later, as I was hurrying through the aisle from the outfield to my normal spot behind the plate, Scott Hairston happened to slice a high foul pop-up in my direction.

Take a look at the photo below. It shows the aisle where I was walking, but even more importantly, it shows a platform that extends out from underneath the second deck. (There are TV cameras up there.) Here it is:

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The ball went HIGH up in the air, and I really didn’t think I was going to have a play on it. I couldn’t be certain where exactly it was going to land, but I knew it was going to come close, so I got myself into position to give myself a chance. I weaved in and out of a few people, then did the same thing with those vertical/folding chairs. It felt like there were a million obstacles, and as the ball started to descend, I thought, “No way…” If the ball carried far enough back into the stands to reach the aisle, it was going to land on that platform. At least that’s what I thought…and I was pretty sure that if it missed the platform, it wasn’t going to reach me. Still, I kept drifting and looking up and tracking the ball as it came closer and closer, and then before I knew it, I was surrounded by grown men who were all jostling for position and reaching up. It was coming right to us…to ME. I had picked THE perfect spot, so I reached up as high as I could with both hands and squeezed my glove around the ball when it landed. Ha-HAAA!!! It was a totally unexpected foul ball. I hadn’t even been in a “good” spot. I was merely passing through. The whole section erupted with cheers, and I got high fives and fist bumps from half a dozen fans. Best of all, I got a kiss from Jona who’d been standing 20 feet away and saw the whole thing.

I went ALL OUT to get more foul balls after that — my one-game record is three — but I didn’t have any other chances.

The game itself was great. The Orioles won, 3-2, and the whole thing was done in 2 hours and 23 minutes. (I later learned that I witnessed a bit of history: Rajai Davis hit the 10,000th double in A’s history.)

After the game, I got a ball at Oakland’s dugout. A bunch of relievers walked in from the bullpen, and when they all disappeared from sight under the dugout roof, a ball came sailing up and bounced right to me. It was rubbed with mud, which means it was either used in a game or intended for game use, so that’s cool.

On my way out, a large middle-aged man struck up a conversation with me. He recognized me from the day before as That Guy who had gotten a foul ball from the press box and handed it to a little kid sitting nearby. It just so happened that this man was Landon Powell’s father, and the little boy (who was at his first game ever) was one of Landon’s nephews. Landon ended up signing that ball for him.

The End.

SNAGGING STATS:

17_the_two_foul_balls_08_11_09.jpg• 13 balls at this game (the two foul balls pictured here on the right)

• 369 balls in 42 games this season = 8.79 balls per game.

• 611 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 113 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

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

• 10 lifetime game balls at Camden Yards

• 15th time snagging two or more game balls in one game

• 4,189 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.75 pledged per ball

• $321.75 raised at this game

• $9,132.75 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

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:

15_rangers_upper_deck.jpg

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:

12_rain_club_level.jpg

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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game

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

• 585 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,943 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.38 pledged per ball

• $61.14 raised at this game

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

4/28/09 at Miller Park

This was the final game of my trip, and I started off by using the glove trick to snag two balls from the gap in left field. The first was easy because it was sitting right below me, but the second ball was way off to the side and it took me TWENTY minutes to reel it in! (It was worth it; there was nothing else going on at the time.)

The following photo (taken by my friend Kelly) will give you an idea of the challenge I faced. I’ve drawn a red “X” to indicate where the ball was initially sitting, and as you can see below, I moved the ball a bit, but it was now trapped against a wall:

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One thing that made this so tough was that the area in the gap was slightly sloped. I had to swing my glove back and forth to try to knock the ball closer, and every time I managed to do that, it kept rolling back to where it had been.

Here’s a photo that shows me swinging the glove:

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As you can see, there were a couple bars/pipes that were perpendicular to the wall. This meant that I couldn’t swing my glove as hard or far as I wanted in either direction.

Eventually I managed to knock the ball away from the wall, and then once it was out in the open, I managed to knock it closer. Finally, when I’d moved it right below me, I was able to lower my glove gently and snag it. Here’s a shot of my glove dangling just above the ball…

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…and here I am, reaching out for it after carefully lifting the glove back up:

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I must not have put the rubber band on tight enough because as you can see, the ball was barely being held in place. Anyway, the trick worked. That’s all that mattered. I don’t need style points. I just need baseballs. (And yes, I really do “need” them. Some people need air. I need baseballs. Don’t question me. Well, I also need air.)

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the edges of my glove got VERY scuffed because of my antics. Every time I had swung the glove to my left, I tried to drop it on the ball and tug it back in one motion. (This took far more athleticism and hand-eye coordination than almost any ball I’ve ever caught on the fly.) But I kept missing 9 out of 10 times, and as a result the glove kept hitting/skimming the concrete. My glove now looks like absolute crap, and I’d have to say it was worth it.

5_ball3923_got_game.jpg There was a third ball that landed in the gap, and as I was in the process of trying to knock it closer, a stadium employee retrieved it and (much to my surprise) tossed it up. That was my third ball of the day, and the words “GOT GAME” were already written on the sweet spot.

Over the years, many teams have marked their balls in various ways, but the Brewers (as I discovered firsthand the day before) have recently been scribbling random words and phrases. I’m not sure if this is their attempt to deter employees from stealing the balls, or if the players and coaches are just being silly. Either way, it doesn’t bother me. As far as I’m concerned, it’s nice to snag a ball that’s different from all the others, but I’d be pretty disappointed if I’d never gotten a single ball and then ended up catching one that had been defaced.

When the Pirates took the field, I got Jesse Chavez to toss me my fourth ball of the day. Then I ran over to the seats along the left field foul line because there was a ball sitting on the warning track, about a foot out from the wall. By the time I got there, a fellow ballhawk named Shawn was already standing above the ball. I was pretty sure he had a glove trick of his own, yet he wasn’t setting it up, so I asked him if I could go for it. At first it seemed like he wanted the ball for himself, but then I realized he was cool with it. He was there with his mom, and they were both focusing on Pirates bullpen coach Luis Dorante (who was playing catch and had two balls in his back pocket) so we each had our own agenda. Anyway, I set up my trick, waited for the nearby on-field security guy to look the other way, and then plucked it.

Even though the Pirates had taken the field, they hadn’t started hitting. The Brewers were still taking their final cuts, so I raced to their dugout…

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…and got two balls tossed to me within a 30-second span when everyone came off the field. The first was given to me by a ballboy and the second was flipped by bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel. At first, it didn’t seem like he was going to hook me up, so I modified my request and asked for a dirty ball. That convinced him, and this is the ball he gave me:

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Now let’s get something straight, once and for all…

Over the years, I’ve taken some heat from fellow ballhawks–especially the old-school guys–because I “beg” for balls and use my glove trick so often. My only response is: “Why is that a bad thing?” Some ballhawks are only interested in catching home runs, and I’ll be the first to say that they deserve a TON of credit. It’s not easy, and some of their numbers are mind-boggling. There are, however, other ways to snag baseballs, and I think that those ways should be respected. If you look at how my stats break down in Erik Jabs’ ballhawk league, you’ll see that only a small portion of my baseballs were batted. It’s not that I’m bad at judging fly balls, or that I can’t catch them when they start flying at me…it’s that I just don’t spend that much time in the outfield seats. For me, it’s all about maximizing my numbers so I like to roam and get baseballs in all sorts of ways. If it somehow became illegal to ask players for balls, or if fans received the death penalty for using glove tricks, then yeah, I’d focus on catching home runs, and I’m sure my numbers would be pretty good. But for now, I’m content snagging baseballs any way I can get ‘em. Thank you.

I had seven balls in my backpack when I decided to head up to the 2nd deck in left field. Rather than using the concourse to get from the dugout to the left field side, I cut through the seats and ended up getting Craig Monroe to throw me a ball along the left field foul line. I was about ten rows back and he fired it over everyone’s heads in front of me. *Then* I headed upstairs and got three more balls thrown to me during the next half-hour. Nothing fancy. The first came from Ian Snell, the second (which I later gave away to a kid) came from Brandon Moss, and the third came from Mister Jesse Chavez out in left-center. He must’ve thrown a dozen balls into the crowd, and he wasn’t being too selective.

By the end of BP, the 2nd deck was officially crowded, but get this…almost everyone was sitting down:

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People in the Midwest pride themselves on being laid-back, but this was ridiculous. There were very few kids (perhaps because it was a weekday in April), and only a handful of adults had gloves, so there wasn’t really direct competition. Instead, people were just in the way. My friend Nick (aka “The Happy Youngster”) had warned me about that. He was at this game too–I had stayed at his place the night before–and he snagged a bunch of balls as well. Miller Park is heavenly. That’s the official Zack Hample assessment.

I had 11 balls at the point. Five of them had the word “PRACTICE” stamped onto the sweet spot, and another ball had a big “P” drawn on by the Pittsburgh Pirates:

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You can see the little numbers that I wrote. The ball on the upper left, for example, says “3921″ because that was the 3,921st ball I ever snagged, and if you’re wondering why the numbers are above the sweet spot on some balls and below it on others, the answer is that I always mark the balls on the same spot. Evidently, the person who stamps “PRACTICE” on them isn’t too concerned with which way the balls are facing. (By the way, I photographed the “GOT GAME” ball before I marked it. That’s why there’s no number on it.)

I snagged my 12th ball of the day at the Pirates’ dugout after BP. Some random equipment guy rolled it to me across the dugout roof. Thrilling, yes.

After that, I rushed to the upper deck and crammed all my wandering and photo-taking into the 40 minutes before game time. (Miller Park is so great for foul balls during games that I didn’t want to miss a single pitch.) This is what I saw as the escalator was approaching the upper deck:

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Here’s a look at the retractable roof…

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…and this is what I saw when I peered over the side edge of the upper deck:

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The word “beautiful” might not come to mind when you first see these pics, but that’s actually how I would describe this stadium. The angles are really interesting, and I love how the roof narrows/hinges into one spot. The glass panels above the last row of seats are tasteful; I like how there are beams AND how the light comes streaming in. Domed stadiums, to some extent, always look like spaceships and are often ugly. I’d say Tropicana Field is the worst and Minute Maid Park is the best, but Miller Park might be a close second. I don’t know…Chase Field is also pretty nice.

The concourse behind the left field foul pole was empty…

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…and didn’t look like like it was ever meant to be seen by fans. I love finding quiet areas inside major league stadiums. It keeps getting harder, with all these new facilities that are built without nooks and crannies, so I was glad to see that anything’s still possible in Milwaukee.

Here’s my panorama from the last row behind the plate:

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I ran into my friends Scott and Chad (you might remember them from 4/25/09 at U.S. Cellular Field) on the way to my seat on Loge level, and I met up with Kelly in the concourse.

I don’t want to discuss or even think about the game because it’s too frustrating. I’ll just say very quickly that was only ONE foul ball that flew back the entire night. It basically came right to me, right to the spot in a gloriously wide and empty aisle where I’d been campingout throughout the game, but at the exact moment that this ball was hit, I got blocked by two guys who were standing around with their beers, and they pretty much knocked the ball out of my glove. What should have been THE easiest catch of all-time turned into a frantic scramble that I lost. I can’t even begin to describe how pissed I was, so let’s just leave it at that.

Here’s a photo (taken by the lovely Kelly) that shows me in the aisle…white shirt, arms folded in disgust, leaning against the back wall:

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(I’m still pissed. I don’t want to think about it. And yet I’m still thinking about it. Leave me alone, brain! Think about something else. AAAHHH!!! Help.)

The Brewers won, 6-5, and Trevor Hoffman recorded his first non-Padre save since 1993. I love the guy, and I’m rooting for him all the way, but I don’t think he’s going to be an effective closer this season. The velocity just isn’t there. His fastball topped out at 86mph and was clocked several times between 82 and 84. Sure, Jamie Moyer is barely cracking 80 these days, but he’s a starter, and he’s also the exception to the rule. When I think of what a closer should be, I think of the words “dominating” and “intimidating.” Maybe that still applies to Hoffman because of his reputation. All I’m saying is…it makes me nervous to watch him pitch. It’s like when amateurs sing the national anthem. Do you ever feel like this? I find myself rooting for them simply NOT to mess up, rather than rooting for them to succeed. It’s the same whenever I watch Olympic figure skating (which is not often). Even though the competitors aren’t amateurs, I still cringe whenever they do a jump because I’m afraid something bad is gonna happen. That’s how it was for me at this game whenever Hoffman threw a pitch. Not a good sign.

Okay…

Just because I’m about to list my stats doesn’t mean you should stop scrolling down the page. There are some very important (and perhaps disturbing) photos coming up at the end…

SNAGGING STATS:

• 12 balls at this game

• 112 balls in 14 games this season = 8 balls per game.

• 41 balls in 3 lifetime games at Miller Park = 13.7 balls per game

• 583 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,932 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $18.27 pledged per ball

• $219.24 raised at this game

• $2,046.24 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Okay, it’s time for a few more photos, but first I have to ask if you remember the part in my previous entry where I showed Nick’s sports memorabilia. Does that ring a bell? Remember when I mentioned that he’s a police officer and that he has an effective way of protecting his collection? Good. Check it out:

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That’s Nick in the photo above (and no, he’s not really a Pirate fan). When he first told me that he had guns in the house, I nearly threw up a little bit in my mouth, and when he first showed them to me, I thought they were fake. I know NOTHING about guns. Guns make me nervous. I’m a nerdy Jew from the Upper West Side. I play Scrabble and I like bagels. I went to a Quaker college. GUNS?! For real?!?! I’m friends with someone who owns guns?! How did this happen? Where did I go wrong?

The photo below shows the handguns. The one on the left (with the wooden handle) is a Ruger .357 magnum, and the one on the right is a Glock .40 caliber:

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At least that’s what Nick claimed. He might’ve been lying, but I wasn’t about to argue.

Then he showed me the bullets:

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I’m going to assume that the red stuff on the upper right is paint and not blood. That’s a good assumption, right? I actually didn’t notice the red until I got back to NYC and started going through the pics. (Nick…if you’re reading this, what IS the red stuff? Did you drop your bullet in a glass of cherry cola?)

Being close to Nick’s guns was so far beyond my realm of reality that I kinda got into it. It’s like I was in a foreign land with an expert tour guide. On one hand, I felt totally helpless when it occurred to me that if Nick wanted to kill me and steal all my baseballs, he could’ve done so in approximately seven-tenths of a second, but on the other hand, I felt very comforted by the fact that he knew what he was doing and probably didn’t want to cause me any harm. Like I said, he’s a cop. He’s been trained extensively with firearms. In addition, these guns were licensed, and he went though numerous safety checks to make sure they weren’t loaded. Then he assured me that there was nothing illegal about me touching them and taking photos with them and sharing it on my blog.

And so…here I am:

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Wow, did that really happen? What have I done?! Quick!!! Let’s all think happy thoughts…

Rainbows! Kittens! Lollipops! Flowers!

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Ahh, I feel so much better.

4/27/09 at Miller Park

I woke up in Chicago, took a 90-minute train ride to Milwaukee, and found my friend Nick Yohanek waiting for me outside the station:

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Nick is an extremely skilled ballhawk who’s known as “The Happy Youngster.” He has his own website and blog, and although we’d been emailing back and forth for a couple years, the first time we met in person was 20 days earlier in Toronto. (One great thing about being a ballhawk is that friendships often develop fast with other ballhawks. Three weeks ago, I barely knew Nick…and now here he was, picking me up at a train station and letting me crash at his place for a night.)

Nick gave me a scenic tour of Milwaukee (which even HE would admit is an oxymoron) on the way to his place. We drove past Miller Park…

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…and pulled into his driveway less than 10 minutes later:

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As much as Nick loves the Brewers, he loves the Green Bay Packers even more. His basement is basically a memorabilia shrine for the two teams. Check it out below. Here’s one wall of stuff…

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…and here’s another:

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In the photo above, the home plate-shaped display case holds all 48 game home run balls that Nick has snagged. Truly remarkable. On the lower left, you can see his trademark t-shirt: Glove + Ball = Happy. (Nick is a police officer and has a very effective way of protecting his memorabilia collection. I’ll explain in my next entry.)

We headed to the stadium at around 3pm–plenty of time for me to wander all the way around the outside of it and take some pics. But first, here’s one that Nick took of me:

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Nick then walked me out to a nearby spot in the parking lot and showed me this:

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It says: “This marks the landing location of the final home run of Hank Aaron’s career, #755, hit at County Stadium on July 20, 1976.”

That final home run ball, by the way, caused a LOT of controversy. It was retrieved by a groundskeeper, and when the team asked the guy for the ball, he said he wanted to hand it over himself to Aaron. The team refused, so he was like, “Fine, then I’ll just keep the ball.” What did the team do? They fired him AND they docked him five dollars from his final paycheck for the cost of the ball. True story. (Shame on the Brewers.) I’ll be writing more about this in my next book, along with a bunch of other ball-related controversies. The last thing I’ll say about it for now is that the groundskeeper eventually got the last laugh.

Nick followed me as I kept wandering and taking pics. Miller Park is very nice, but the surrounding area is, in a word, nondescript:

8_outside_miller_park.jpg
There’s no real atmosphere outside the ballpark. There are just a bunch of parking lots, but at least everything was clean and well-built and non-sketchy.The temperature was in the 70s, and the retractable roof was barely open:

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The roof ended up staying closed for the game, but it was cool to get there early enough to see a sliver of sky peeking through.Here’s another look at the outside of the stadium. There’s nothing WRONG with it. It’s just not sexy:

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Two edges of the stadium are slightly elevated above the surrounding land, so there’s a railing around the perimeter:

Now…I know that the people in Milwaukee are passionate about their bratwurst, so as I made my way around the stadium with Nick, it saddened me greatly to see the following:

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I can’t explain it. It was just…there.

Here’s one final look at the outside of Miller Park. This is the home plate entrance (and you can see Nick in the yellow shirt):

13_outside_miller_park.jpg

As for the inside of Miller Park…

I met a fellow ballhawk named Shawn and his mother Sue (who also snags her fair share of baseballs). Shawn had a copy of my first book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs, and Sue had the new one, Watching Baseball Smarter:

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I signed the books for them and then got my snagging underway.

Ball No. 1 was tossed by Brewers coach Joe Crawford, and it had something strange written on it. Check it out:

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I’ve snagged a lot of marked balls over the years, including this one from the Brewers back in the 1990s, but I’d never seen anything like this. Within the last year or two, I’d been hearing stories about how the Brewers were writing random stuff on their practice balls, so it was great to finally get one.

When the Pirates took the field, there were still a few of the Brewers’ balls laying around on the warning track, and I got Zach Duke to toss one to me. (The line I used was, “How ’bout a ball for a fellow Zack?” First time I ever used that line successfully. I even offered to show him ID, but he took my word for it. Zacks are just cool like that, as are Zachs.) This second ball also had something written on the sweet spot, and when I ran over the right field bullpen and used my glove trick to reel in the following ball…

16_ball3911_bullpen.jpg…there was yet another random thing written on it.

Here are those first three balls I snagged, logos up:

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Now, here they are with the sweet spots up…

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…and let me just stress again that I did NOT write this stuff on the balls. They were like this when I caught them.

I managed to glove-trick another ball from the bullpen before security shut me down. There was just one usher who seemed to have a problem with my device, and when he told me I might get ejected if I used it again, I decided to move my operation to the second deck in left field.

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I didn’t expect to catch much up there, but it turned out to be a great spot. First, Brandon Moss threw me a ball, and then I snagged a home run that flew 10 feet over my head and landed in the mostly empty benches. Several minutes later, John Grabow tossed me my seventh ball of the day, and soon after I snagged another home run off the steps.

That wasn’t it.

While I was labeling the balls and scribbling down some notes about how I’d gotten them, I noticed that Craig Monroe was getting ready to throw a ball to some fans in the front row about 30 feet to my left. As he fired it up, I bolted to my left and cut through my row. The ball sailed over the fans’ heads, landed several rows behind me, hit the back of a bench, and bounced right back to me as I was cutting across. It was beautiful. I ended up giving that ball away, but it was still fun to catch it, and of course it counts in my stats and for the charity.

Nyjer Morgan then threw me another ball. I hadn’t even asked him. He just looked up into the seats and spotted me, so I pointed at him to acknowledge that I was ready. He fielded a ball moments later and immediately turned and fired it up at me. Perfect aim. Embarrassingly easy. And just like that, I had reached double digits.

I made it to the Pirates’ dugout just before the end of BP and a got my 11th ball tossed to me by coach Luis Dorante as everyone was coming off the field. It was a real beauty:

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Nick and Shawn were also down by the dugout, and since security is so laid-back and awesome in Milwaukee (with the exception of that one guy who’s anti-glove trick), we sat down and hung out for about 20 minutes. Turns out we were captured by the Pittsburgh TV cameras. Thanks to Erik Jabs for passing along the following screen shot. You can see Nick on the left, Shawn in the middle, and me on the right:

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My plan for the game was simple: Go to the second deck behind the plate, stay there all night, and catch a foul ball. Miller Park has THE best spot for foul balls in the Major Leagues. By far. The only other time I’d ever been to this stadium was on June 11, 2003. I snagged 17 balls that day including two foul balls during the game in that section.

What’s so good about it?

This was my view of the field (I was hearing Bob Uecker’s voice all night)…

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…and this was my view to the left:

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Is that not THE most glorious cross-aisle you’ve EVER seen?

The height and distance of the section is perfect. The protective screen at the backstop is not too tall. Heaven, I tell you! If I were going to custom-build a stadium, just for myself in order to have the best possible chance of catching a foul ball, this is what I would’ve come up with.

Surprisingly, there wasn’t any action during the first third of the game, but I got my chance in the top of the 4th. Brian Bixler fouled one back and to my left. It was heading toward the “family section” portion of the “KOHL’S” sign in the photo above, so I took off running. I couldn’t reach the ball in time to catch it on the fly, but because the aisle was completely empty, the ball smacked off the blue wall, ricocheted back and hit a seat back, then rolled back toward the wall…and that’s when I swooped in and scooped it up.

Check out the mark on the wall/ball:

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Sadly, that was the only ball that came back there all night, but I was satisfied. I mean, what kind of jerk would complain about “only” snagging one foul ball during a game? (Don’t answer that.)

The Brewers had a 10-5 lead heading into the 9th inning, so who did they bring in? All-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. He’d been hurt. This was his Brewers debut. The crowd went nuts, and I ran down to the dugout…

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…just in time to see him record the final out.

Five minutes later I realized that the foul ball I’d snagged was my 100th ball of the season. (I’d started the day with 88 and the modest of goal of snagging 12 balls combined in the two days I’d be at Miller Park.) Here I am with the ball at the Pirates’ dugout:

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You can see a closeup of the ball in the photo down below on the right. I’m pretty sure that the smudge (on the seams to the right of the MLB logo) came from the bat. The blue mark on the sweet spot (shown three photos above) obviously came from the wall. But what’s with the smeared logos in two different places? You can see that “Rawlings” is smeared on the top of the ball, and so is the word “baseball.” Very strange. I’ve never gotten a game-used ball with that many markings.

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SNAGGING STATS:

• 12 balls at this game

• 100 balls in 13 games this season = 7.69 balls per game.

• 12 consecutive seasons with at least 100 balls

• 582 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

• 3,920 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $18.17 pledged per ball

• $218.04 raised at this game

• $1,817.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

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