Results tagged ‘ dodger stadium ’

2009 NLDS — Game 2

This wasn’t just another game. Not only was it the National League Division Series — Cardinals vs. Dodgers — but there was something extra special about it for me: it was the day before my appearance on “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” and I was going to be filmed by a roving camera crew.

Half an hour before the gates opened, I headed to the Top Deck and picked up my media credential:

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I headed down to the left field pavilion and met up with the crew along the way. Here I am explaining my various T-shirts to the camera:

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Once inside the stadium, my job was simple: snag as many balls as possible so that there’d be some exciting footage for the show.

In the photo below (taken by my girlfriend Jona), I’m the guy wearing the “RAMIREZ 99″ shirt:

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There wasn’t much action early on — I had a couple close calls — so I spent most of my time explaining things to the camera.

Finally, after 15 minutes of nothingness, Manny Ramirez launched a home run over my head and I raced up the steps:

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There was an all-out scramble for the ball as it rattled around underneath the benches, and I managed to come up with it. Huge relief. Up until that point, I felt like I was personally letting down Conan — like I was a ballhawk fraud who’d made preposterous claims and then failed to back them up.

Several minutes later, I caught a ground-rule double behind the left field wall…and that was it for the Dodgers’ portion of BP. Not good. I’d been hoping to pad my numbers early on before it got crowded, but at least both of the balls had a Dodgertown stamp on the sweet spot. (If you want to see my complete collection of stamped/marked balls, click here.)

Because of my media credential, I was able to exit the pavilion and re-enter the main part of the stadium. My plan? To get some balls from the Cardinals on the right field side. First, of course, I changed into my bright red Cardinals gear, and even though my Dodgers shirt was poking out underneath, I was able to convince Ryan Franklin to toss me a ball. If you look closely at the photo below, you can barely see the edge of the ball as it disappeared into the pocket of my glove:

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Soon after, Matt Pagnozzi threw me my fourth ball of the day. Here I am preparing for the easy two-handed catch:

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I headed to the right field pavilion after that and snagged a home run that ricocheted down into the gap behind the wall. (I’m not sure who hit it.) Then, when Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday started taking their cuts, I raced back around to the left field side and positioned myself deep in the cross-aisle, more than 400 feet from home plate. Holiday hit two consecutive bombs that reached the aisle. I bolted to my right for the first one, but it sailed over my head and was promptly snatched by another fan. The second homer came closer to me, and I was able to climb over a few benches and reach out over the bullpen for a back-handed catch. The whole section booed me because of my clothing, so I lifted up my Cardinals shirt and revealed my Dodger Blue underneath. Some people laughed, some people cheered, some people continued booing, and some people were like, “Huh?” It was pretty funny.

I played the staircases for the rest of BP…

…but nothing else came my way.

Right before the game started, I headed back into the main part of the stadium and got Mark DeRosa to toss me his warm-up ball behind the 1st base dugout.

Then Slash performed the national anthem…

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…and I headed back outside the stadium once again. It was time to change into my Waldo shirt:

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In my previous entry I mentioned I was going to wear it, not because it’s sexy but because I knew it’d be easier for people to spot me in the crowd. The only problem was…I was never IN the crowd. I spent the first few innings halfway down a staircase behind the left field wall, and then when security told me I couldn’t stand there, I moved to the very bottom. That really sucked because it meant I couldn’t even see the game. All I could do was look up at the sky and hope that I’d be able to see the baseballs coming toward me. In the bottom of the 4th, I came *really* close to snagging Andre Ethier’s home run, but it took a bad bounce after it cleared the wall and ricocheted right to the ONE other guy who’d raced down a different staircase. That also really sucked, but at least I got to hang out with Manny:

 

The guy in the photo above is named Jose (aka “Mannywood” and “Jose Being Manny” and he told me that he sometimes refers to himself as “The Mexican Zack Hample”). You can see more photos of him on MySpace and MyGameBalls.com. He’s a super-cool guy, and he always hangs out in the left field pavilion.

The game itself was DAMN exciting, but it didn’t end the way I wanted. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th and the Dodgers trailing, 2-1, James Loney hit a line drive right at Holliday in left field. All Holliday had to do was catch it, and the game would’ve been over. The Cardinals would’ve evened up the series at one game apiece. But Holliday failed to make the catch. He said later that he never even saw the ball, and I believe him. As he charged in toward it, it nailed him in the stomach. Casey Blake then drew a nine-pitch walk and Ronnie Belliard followed by ripping the first pitch he saw into center field for a game-tying single. Everyone in the stadium was going nuts, but for different reasons; the other 51,818 fans were simply cheering on their beloved Dodgers. I, however, was ecstatic because it meant the game might go into extra innings, which meant I might get another chance to catch a home run. Russell Martin walked to load the bases, and then Mark Loretta ruined everything with a game-winning single.

Final score: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 2.

After the game, the camera crew got a final shot of me holding up all seven of my baseballs. Once they took off, I gave away two of the balls to kids and then got a friend to take my picture with Jona:

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Good times. Playoff baseball is intense.

SNAGGING STATS:

12_the_five_i_kept_10_08_09.jpg• 7 balls at this game (five pictured here because I gave two away)

• 3 ticket stubs collected at this game (pictured below the balls)

• 532 balls in 59 games this season = 9.02 balls per game.

• 628 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

13_tickets_10_08_09.jpg• 11 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball

• 4,352 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (click here to make a pledge…or just to learn more)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $176.82 raised at this game

• $13,438.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One last thing…

The best article EVER written about me was published yesterday on ESPN.com. Here’s the graphic that was originally up on the site…

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…and here’s the article itself.

Next game for me?
Who knows…

5/18/09 at Dodger Stadium

A couple weeks ago, when I decided to snag my 4,000th ball at Dodger Stadium, I called the Dodgers and suggested that they do a story about it. I told them I was gonna be there on May 18th and that they needed some good press in the wake of Manny being Juiced. The Dodgers didn’t give me an answer right away, of course, but ultimately they decided to go for it.

The day got off to a shaky start when my taxi driver not only revealed he didn’t know where Dodger Stadium was (he was foreign and had only been driving for two weeks), but he unhooked his GPS device from the dashboard and handed it to me. And then there was traffic. Lots and lots of traffic. I was due at the stadium by 4:15pm for an interview before the gates were going to open, and for a while it looked like I was going to be late. Thankfully, though, the snagging gods smiled down upon me and got me there with a few minutes to spare.

I met up with a P.R. guy named Jon and a cameraman named Paul. They conducted the interview right outside the entrance to the Dodgers offices:

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This is what it looked like from my point of view:

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Why the camera? Because the Dodgers decided to do a segment about me for a kids show on their web site.

Jon asked a ton of questions–everything from “How did you get started doing this?” to “Have you ever missed an important event because of going after baseballs?” to “What advice would you give to kids who want to start a collection of balls?” He even gave me a chance to talk about how I’m snagging baseballs for charity this season. (Hopefully that part will make the cut.)

We wrapped up the interview at around 4:45pm, then headed inside for a minute…

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…and finally made our way down toward the left field pavilion:

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(Dodger Stadium sits on top of a hill and is surrounded by parking lots and ramps and roads and tollbooths and staircases. It is BY FAR the most colossal and confusing and difficult stadium in baseball. And by the way, in case you’re wondering, all these pics of me were taken by my mom. She and my dad went early with me.)

The following four photos were taken outside the pavilion. Starting on the top left and going clockwise, I’m a) hanging out with an up-and-coming L.A. ballhawk named Evan (whom you might remember from 8/25/08 at Shea Stadium and 8/26/08 at Yankee Stadium), b) posing with a Manny fan named Jose who asked if he could get a pic with me, c) reconnecting with a legendary ballhawk named John Witt who can be seen giving me a commemorative ball from the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and d) waiting to enter:

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(For the record, I will NOT count the ball that John gave me in my collection, but it’s still nice to have.)

The stadium finally opened at 5:10pm and the camera followed me inside:

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I started the day with a lifetime total of 3,998 balls, so I *had* to snag at least two more. Normally that wouldn’t have been much of a challenge–I’ve been averaging eight balls per game this season–but in this case, I felt a whole lot of pressure. Here’s why:

1) I was going to be trapped all day in the left field pavilion, so once BP ended, that was pretty much it. No pre-game warm-up balls. No foul balls. No third-out balls. No post-game balls.

2) Paul (the cameraman) was going to have to leave at 6pm to do another interview.

3) Jon (the P.R. guy) didn’t want me to be decked out in Mets gear when I snagged ball No. 4,000. This meant I needed to snag two balls during the first half-hour when the Dodgers would be on the field.

4) I was hoping that ball No. 4,000 (and even No. 3,999) would be a home run and NOT a thrown ball.

5) There was no chance to use my glove trick.

6) TWELVE additional family members were going to be showing up later, including three kids (ranging in age from 7 to 11) who had each asked me to catch a ball for them.

You know how many home runs reached the seats during the Dodgers’ portion of batting practice? ONE!!! And it wasn’t hit anywhere near me. I had no choice but to ask the players for balls–but even THAT didn’t work. The highlight of my begging occurred when I asked Hiroki Kuroda for a ball in Japanese and he responded by smiling at me.

The Mets took the field, and I had *zero* baseballs. What the hell was I supposed to do? I only had 20 minutes of camera-time remaining, so I asked Jon if I could put on my Mets gear.

“Do whatever you would normally do,” he said.

So I did:

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In the photo above, you can see a second camera (a palm-corder) pointed at me. It was being operated by a freelance videographer named Angela who was there to get footage for the FLYP segment that I was originally filmed for on 5/12/09 at Citi Field. Now I really *really* had to snag two baseballs. I couldn’t wait around for home runs. I had to use the Mets gear to my advantage, so I headed down toward the front row and camped out on a staircase in left-center field:

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The player closest to me was the ultra-quiet John Maine. I wasn’t expecting much, but I gave a shout anyway when a ball was hit near him, and to my surprise he threw it to me! Then I took a look at the ball and I was even more surprised. In fact, I was downright elated, thrilled, and ecstatic. Check it out:

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Unbelievable. I attended Game 4 of the 2008 World Series and busted my butt all night to try and get a third-out ball, and I came up empty…and I was seriously bummed…so to end up snagging this ball totally unexpectedly seven months later was more than a dream come true, if that’s even possible.

The cameras were all over it…

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…and then came the moment of truth. I was sitting on 3,999 so the next ball was going to be THE ball. David Wright stepped into the cage, and I had visions of a home run ball sailing into my glove, but it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t want to ask for my next ball. I wanted to wait until I caught a home run. Anyone’s home run. Even Ramon Castro. But there weren’t many balls leaving the yard. Six o’clock was approaching. Jon and Paul were each on their cell phones, asking Whoever for a few more minutes. I *had* to snag another ball, and I had to snag it FAST, so I called out to Livan Hernandez, who fielded a ball in center field. Livan scooped it up, looked over at me, and let it fly from more than 100 feet away. I was halfway down the stairs. The ball was falling a bit short. I leaned way out over the side railing of the staircase and reached out and made the back-handed catch. That was it!!!

Then I thought, “That was IT?!”

It didn’t happen the way I envisioned it. Not even close. Not only had I let down the camera crew by wearing my Mets gear, but the ball hadn’t been hit, and most of my family wasn’t even there yet to witness it…BUT…at least I got it. I’d reached my milestone, and that’s what mattered most.

I showed the ball to both cameras:

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Did you notice in the photo above that the ball doesn’t have a standard MLB logo?

Oh yes, that’s right, it was a commemorative ball from the final season of Shea Stadium. Check it out:

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The next thing I did was take a photo from my spot on the staircase. I wanted to show the area between the outfield wall and the seats. There was quite a lot of space down there…

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…and I used it to catch my next ball. I’m not sure who hit it, but basically, it was a home run that barely cleared the left field wall. While the ball was in mid-air, I scurried down the steps and kept my eye on it and made a one-handed catch high over my head when I got to the bottom. Both cameras captured the whole thing, and then Paul and Jon had to take off.

The ball had a weird marking on it:

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Have you ever seen anything like this? It’s like there’d been a round sticker on the ball that had been pulled off and left a papery residue.

Toward the end of BP, I got Brian Stokes to toss up a ball, but instead of facing me and throwing it like a normal human being, he nonchalantly flung it in a sidearm/submarine motion. As a result, the ball sailed high and wide and hit a fat woman, who was eating nachos just above me in the front row. The ball wasn’t thrown that hard, and it only hit her in the arm. She was stunned more than hurt. She truly didn’t even know what had hit her, and obviously she wasn’t there to snag, so I didn’t feel guilty about reaching under her bench and grabbing the ball. Anyway, I was going to be giving that ball away to a kid in my own family, so whatever, I had to go for it. Angela was still there, and she got the whole thing on film.

After BP, I caught up with a guy named Chris (aka “cjpyankee” in the comments section on this blog). He and I had met on 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium, but this time he was more prepared. He had me sign his copy of my first book, and he also had me sign a photo of the two of us from that game in the Bronx. I signed his book: “To Chris, the fan who was closest to me when I snagged ball No. 4,000…” or something like that. He was indeed a mere five feet away when I caught that low throw from Livan. Here I am with Chris:

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That was Chris’s idea to do the 4-0-0-0 in the photo above. Very cool.

This was my view when the game started:

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No disrespect to Juan Pierre, but I was really bummed not to be seeing Manny out there in left field all night.

Angela was still there, and she kept her camera on me, just in case…

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…but aside from a few between-inning-warm-up balls that got tossed near me, there wasn’t any action.

During one inning break, I got a photo with Evan (pictured below on the left) and John (on the right):

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The reason I was wearing this yellow Homer Simpson shirt was just so my people back home in NYC could have an easier time trying to spot me on TV.

As for my family, they’d been trickling into the bleachers at various times. By the end of the second inning, everyone was there. I really wanted to get a group photo, but it was impossible. We had five seats in the front row and ten seats in the fourth row, so we couldn’t even sit together. That said, this is the best I could do:

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I claimed the aisle seat in the front row. This was the view to my right:

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Perfect for running down the steps and catching a home run, but as I mentioned, nothing came anywhere near me.

As for the issue of there being three kids who each wanted a ball, let me just say (without going into the details) that my friend John snagged a ball during BP, and that his ball ended up in my possession, so between that one and the final two standard balls I had snagged from the Mets, I was able to take care of all the kids.

Here’s Armand and Hannah with their baseballs:

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(I taught them how to hold the balls so that the logos face the camera.)

The game itself was devastatingly entertaining, and it all came down to the 11th inning. First, in the top of the frame, Ryan Church scored the apparent go-ahead run on an apparent two-out triple by Angel Pagan…BUT…Church neglected to touch 3rd base on his way to the plate and the run was taken off the scoreboard. Then, in the bottom of the inning, after the Mets’ fourth error of the night placed runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, Brian Stokes intentionally walked Pierre to load the bases. (Half my family was gone by this point. The little ones had to get to sleep. They were worn out from a full day at the Universal Studios theme park. Even I was exhausted, and I hadn’t done anything all day except read the box scores and eat at In-and-Out burger.) Mets manager Jerry Manual waved in center fielder Carlos Beltran and brought him into the infield. Look at the following photo. I challenge you to find more than two outfielders:

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Here’s a closer look at the infield. (My camera is good, but not THAT good, so it’s a little blurry. Sorry about that.) You can see Beltran (wearing No. 15) standing near second base:

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Here are all three right-infielders in ready position:

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I *love* baseball. That’s really all I can say. I mean…seriously, what a great game. This particular game, however, wasn’t great for the Mets. After Rafael Furcal flied out weakly to Pagan, Orlando Hudson hit a one-hopper to Jeremy Reed at first base. (Reed is playing for the injured Carlos Delgado). Reed threw home for what should’ve been an easy force-out. His throw beat the runner by about 30 feet, and in fact there might’ve even been time to turn a rare 3-2-3 double play. Or maybe a 3-2-4 double play? I don’t know, Hudson has some speed, but we’ll never know what would’ve happened–if the game would’ve gone into the 12th inning–because Reed’s throw was 10 feet up the 3rd base line. (Mets error No. 5.) The catcher had no chance to knock it down, let alone catch it, and Mark Loretta scampered home with the winning run. It was an ugly and exhilarating end to a day I’ll never forget.

I wanted to linger in the pavilion and bask in my post-game euphoria and take a bunch of photos, but a swat team of security guards descended upon my family and made us get the hell out. The seven us who remained did manage to get this photo together…

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…and yes, that ball I’m holding is No. 4,000.

Six years ago, when I snagged my 2,000th ball, I decided to start marking the balls with teeny numbers so I’d always be able to remember which ball was which. At the time, some people said it was silly, even pointless, to start marking balls after I’d already snagged so many, and I remember telling them, “It might seem silly now, but some day, when I have 4,000 balls, I’ll be able to say that the first half of my collection is not marked and the second half is. It won’t sound quite so silly then.”

Well, I’ve reached the 4,000 ball plateau, and it feels great on a number of levels. I have no intention of slowing down, and I’m already pretty sure I’m going to snag No. 5,000 at Citi Field. I need to bring the next milestone back to New York City. But for now, my next goal is to pass Pete Rose on the all-time hits list.

4,257.

That’s my next goal. I might even be able to get there this year.

Thank you all for being with me on this journey…

SNAGGING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game

• 182 balls in 23 games this season = 7.9 balls per game.

• 592 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,002 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $23.95 pledged per ball

• $95.80 raised at this game

• $4,358.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/2/08 at Dodger Stadium

There are more idiotic rules at Dodger Stadium than there are baseballs in my collection. I lost count of the exact number, but I can definitely tell you the worst. Ready for this? You might want to get a cold beverage and sit down. Okay, here goes: the parking lot opens at the same time as the stadium itself. Since the colossal parking lot surrounds the stadium on all sides–and since most living creatures aren’t able to be in two places at once–it’s technically impossible to get inside for the start of batting practice.

Of course there’s a way to get around anything, and at Dodger Stadium you can drive into the parking lot at any time if you tell the guard that you’re there to buy advanced tickets. Sometimes, if you’re lucky enough to be there without a car, you can walk right in without dealing with him. The entrances are multi-lane roads with numerous tollbooths, and when you get there early in the day, there’s only one guard at the far right booth. If he’s busy dealing with stadium employees (who have to drive in early) he won’t notice you or have a chance to stop you–or he might just assume you’re an employee–if you walk in on the left side.

That was my situation. No car. I got dropped off by a friend and walked right in, two-and-a-half hours before the parking lot AND the stadium were scheduled to open. I wasn’t breaking any rules, however. I actually did need to buy a ticket–two tickets, in fact, because of Stupid Rule No. 867. At Dodger Stadium, you see, the bleachers (aka “pavilions”) have their own separate entrances. You need a pavilion ticket to enter the pavilion, and once you’re there, you can’t move into the main part of the stadium. This was going to be my final game in L.A. I wanted total access. I wanted to be in the left field pavilion for batting practice and then be able to roam freely for the rest of the night.

I walked past several employees on my way into the parking lot. None of them said a word or even looked at me, so I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures.

In the four-part photograph below, starting on the top left and going clockwise, I’m a) on the outskirts of Dodger Stadium property with the mostly vacant tollbooths in the distance, b) just past the booths and finally able to see the stadium, c) at the edge of one of the many sections of the parking lot, and d) approaching one of the many staircases:

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Dodger Stadium was built into a hill. Not only do the pavilions have their own entrances, but every seating level in the main part of the stadium does as well. Therefore (and here comes Stupid Rule No. 1,644), you can’t enter the Field Level without a Field Level ticket, nor can you even walk around the outside of the stadium without climbing stairs.

I finally made it to the Top Deck. That’s where the ticket office is located. I waited in line for five minutes, then bought a $13 pavilion ticket and a $60 (ouch!) seat on the Field Level.

Then, since the gates were wide open and there were other fans chilling in the seats, I walked inside. In the following four-part pic, you can see a) the beautiful pavement outside the Top Deck as well as one of the open gates, b) the concourse inside the stadium, and c) a shirtless man in right field shagging balls during d) early BP.

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Early BP!!

I knew there was a way to snag baseballs before the gates opened (I described it in my previous entry), so I decided to head all the way down to the bottom. First, though, I had to take a couple pics that I could later combine in Photoshop to make a panorama…

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…and while I was doing that, I noticed that a home run ball landed in the left field pavilion.

Hmm.

I exited the Top Deck and a) headed down yet another staircase toward the Reserve Level, b) saw that all the gates there were wide open as well, c) walked inside for a look at the concourse, and d) and snuck a peek at the field:

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No harm done. No one even saw me, and even if they had, whatever. I didn’t feel like I was breaking any rules. I was a paying customer, and if I wasn’t supposed to keep walking inside, then stadium security should have kept the gates closed.

After that I a) headed down to the Loge Level, b) said hello to an iPhone-sized lizard along the way, c) entered another set of wide-open doors, and d) documented the contrast in light between the concourse and the field:

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I made it down to the area outside the left field pavilion, and all the gates were open:

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I should mention that I was on the phone with a fellow ballhawk at this point–a ballhawk who shall remain nameless. I told him I wanted to walk into the pavilion and look for that home run ball. He told me not to do it.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” I asked.

“It’s too risky,” he said.

I told him I wanted to break double digits and that this was a good way to start.

He told me it would be “the caper of the century.”

I considered taking off my shirt before walking inside. Or removing my hat. Or briefly wearing my dark blue Padres shirt over the white shirt I was currently wearing–anything to change my physical appearance in case someone was watching from afar.

But I didn’t. This was L.A. Everyone’s laid-back. I’m Zack Hample. I deserved to walk into the pavilion and look for that ball.So I did.

And I found it:

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“I see the ball,” I told my friend.

“This is nuts,” he said.

“I’m walking toward it…”

“Oh my God.”

“…and I just picked it up…”

“Caper of the century!”

“…and now I’m going to get the hell out of here.””That’s probably a good move.”

As I exited the pavilion, I noticed a security camera mounted high on one of the walls. Yikes…but at the same time…oh well. There was nothing I could do about it now, and anyway, maybe the guy who’s job it was to look for people like me had been taking a dump.

I headed toward the main part of the stadium. The Field Level gate, like all the others, was wide open…

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…so I walked in, noticed another security camera, and sat down in the last row behind the left field foul pole:

field_level_sneak_peek.jpgTakashi Saito was finishing a bullpen session, and several members of the Japanese media were filming him. A few other Dodgers pitchers briefly came out and played catch while the infielders turned double plays way off in the distance. It occurred to me that I might be able to snag another ball or two, but mainly I was just glad to have a place to sit in the shade. My ribs still hurt like hell (from that accident I’d suffered three days earlier in Anaheim), and the blisters on my right foot were on fire. I still had almost two hours to kill before the stadium officially opened to the public, and I was planning to sit there as long as poss–

“Excuse me,” said a voice from behind, “do you work here?”

I turned around and saw a security guard.

“No sir,” I said.

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh,” I said innocently, “I’m from out of town and I was just walking around and happened to notice that the gate was open so I thought I’d just come in for a minute and take a quick peek at the field.”

“Okay, well the stadium isn’t open yet–“

“It’s not?”

“–no so I’m gonna have to ask to you leave and wait outside until 5:10.”

“Okay, I’m really sorry about that. I had no idea.”

“No problem,” he said as he started leading me back to where I had entered. Then, for good measure, he closed the gate behind me.

It was 3:30pm. I still had lots of time to kill and didn’t know where to go. If my foot hadn’t been in so much pain, I would’ve headed back to the Top Deck and looked at the field for the next 90 minutes, but it almost hurt just to think about that, so I walked back to the left field pavilion and sat in the thin strip of shade just outside the gates which were now closed.

I pulled out my phone and called my friend with an update, and less than a minute later, a security SUV rolled to a stop 40 feet in front of me. The driver lowered the passenger window and shouted something.

“I’m gonna have to call you back,” I told my friend quietly. “I might need you to bail me out.”

I walked over to the SUV and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you before. What was that?”

“Who are you?” demanded the uniformed man.

“Umm, I’m just a fan and–“

“Were you walking around inside the stadium earlier?”

“No sir.”

“Okay, well, we saw someone on our security cameras walk inside here and pick up a ball.”

“I’m just waiting for the stadium to open.”

“Where are you parked?”

“I’m not parked anywhere.”

“How did you get here?”

“I was dropped off earlier by a friend.”

“Who’s your friend?!”

“My friend? He’s…just some guy from San Diego. I’m from New York and I’m out here visiting, and we made the trip together.”

“Do you have a ticket for tonight’s game?”

“Yes,” I said and immediately regretted it. Should I have said no? Should I have pretended to be completely lost? Would I have been in less trouble then? Would he have directed me back to the advanced ticket window? Crap crap crap.

“I’m gonna need you to get inside the vehicle.”

CRAAAAAAP!!!

“You’re not allowed to be on the premises,” he continued, “until the parking lot opens at 5:10pm. I’m going to drive you to the edge of the property, and you are to wait there until that time. Is that clear?”

I got into the back of the SUV, closed the door behind me, and put on my seatbelt. I felt like I was being sent to the principal’s office. I wished my dad were Bud Selig.

The security officer, a middle-aged white man with a gray mustache, drove for about 20 seconds and then slowed down to a rather abrupt stop.

“Do you mind if I search your bag?” he asked.

“That’s fine,” I said, “but I want you to know that I *did* bring a baseball with me to get autographed.”

“Let me see it,” he said, reaching his hand toward me.

I fumbled around in my bag and pulled out the ball. I’d barely gotten a chance to see it myself. I noticed that it was partially scuffed, no doubt from where it had landed on the concrete steps in the pavilion, and I feared that the officer might get suspicious. What autograph collector would try to get a scuffed ball signed?

The officer took the ball and inspected it thoroughly, as if it were an apple that I’d dared him to eat.

And then he handed it back to me. I could tell by the look on his face that he knew he was being lied to, and yet I’d lied too well (which is a rarity) for him to do anything about it.

HA!!!

As he drove me back down the big hill and deposited me at the tollbooths, I resisted the urge to ask for a ride back when the parking lot opened. Instead I just got out (and waited for him to drive away) and unleashed a string of obscenities that would’ve put Blink 182’s “Family Reunion” to shame.

Half an hour later, my friend T.C. (aka “tracycollinsbecky” if you read the comments) showed up–this is not the friend I’d been talking to earlier–and I told him what had happened.

He suggested that we wait a bit and then walk back in.

So we waited.

That’s when I removed my Dodgers cap and put on my Padres shirt–just to be safe and make it look like I really was from out of town. And then, finally, after 15 minutes, we cautiously headed back in, but before we even made it to the top of the hill, the same security officer appeared out of nowhere and made us get into his SUV.

“What are you doing back in the parking lot?!” he yelled. “I thought I told you to stay out!!”

“My friend called and said he needed an extra ticket so I w–“

“Your friend doesn’t mean ANYTHING to me right now!!!”

T.C. and I sat in silence as we were driven to the bottom of the hill, and then the officer issued a threat: “If I see you in here again before 5:10, you won’t be going to the game!”

We walked back in at 4:50.

We knew we were taking a chance by not waiting, but we refused to accept missing the first few minutes of batting practice. Luckily the officer was nowhere to be found, and by the time we made it to the area outside the left field pavilion, there were already a dozen other fans standing around. They must’ve used a different entrance. Some of them were even talking about running inside and looking for easter eggs, but as it turned out there wasn’t a single ball to be found.

I played the staircases for the first 20 minutes of BP (you can see the stairs in my previous entry) and snagged two baseballs during that time. The first was a home run hit by a righty on the Padres that I caught on a fly halfway down the stairs, and the second was a ground-rule double hit by a lefty. After it cleared the outfield wall, it took one bounce in the gap and smacked the back of a beer cart–you know, one of those rolling concession stand thingies–and plopped down into a pile of clutter on a shin-high shelf. The vendor who was setting up the cart had no idea what was happening and probably freaked out a bit when I led the stampede from behind.

I only snagged one more ball during the rest of batting practice, and it was another home run that I caught on a fly. I have no idea who hit. It was a righty. Possibly a September call-up. Doesn’t matter. The staircases had all become crowded by that point so I’d been playing several rows back and had five feet of empty space on all sides when the ball met my glove.

At 6:05pm, I spotted Heath Bell (aka “my new BFF”) in left-center field and asked him if this was the last round of batting practice. He told me it was, so I exited the pavilion, used my Field Level ticket to enter the main part of the stadium, and sprinted around the concourse to the Padres’ dugout on the first base side.

This was my view as I waited for BP to end:

waiting_for_BP_to_end.jpg

My plan was to get one of the Padres to throw me a ball as they left the field, and (Stupid Rule No. 2,108) even though I had to stay behind the concrete partition, I was able to do just that. I’m not sure who threw it. It was a coach. Might’ve been Craig Colbert. I wish I knew, but there was no way to be certain. All that really mattered, though, was that I had the ball–my fifth of the day.

I wandered and explored for the next half-hour. I started by moving to the outfield end of the partition and photographing the bizarre “booth seating” along the foul line:booth_seating.jpg

After that I headed up to the Loge and checked out the seats (including the entire dugout partition) on the right field side:

first_base_foul_line_from_loge.jpg

Then (Stupid Rule No. 3,659) I was forced to show my ticket to get back into the Field Level where I took a pic of the concourse:

field_level_concourse.jpg

What was so special about the concourse? Nothing really. I always photograph concourses because they’re part of the stadium and every stadium is different.

At around 6:45pm, several Padres came out and began stretching and running and throwing in shallow right field. I managed to talk my way down past the regular seats and into the front
padres_warming_up.jpgrow of booths because there was actually a sensible usher who was able to think for himself and use something called judgment. He saw my
Padres cap, Padres shirt, Sharpie, and glove. I wasn’t trying to hide my intentions. I just walked up to him and asked if there was any possible way I could go down to the front row, even for two minutes, to try to get a ball or an autograph or even to take a few pictures. He was like, “Well, you’re not really supposed to be there without a ticket but…I guess it’s okay for a few minutes.””I promise I’ll be gone before the game starts,” I told him, “and you won’t see me again for the rest of the night.”

He appreciated that and let me do my thing, and while I was down at the front, I looked back at him every so often and gave a little “thank you” nod.

Not only did I get two more balls–one from Will Venable and another from Kevin Kouzmanoff less than a minute later–but I got Edgar Gonzalez and Matt Antonelli to sign my tickets:

padres_autographs.jpg

Double digits? Was it possible? Would I be able to get the players to toss me third-out balls over the dugout partitions? It had been easy to get the ball from that Padres coach after BP because there weren’t any other fans in front of me. But during the game? I didn’t know what to expect.

The first inning was a complete waste, but when Juan Pierre ended the second by grounding into a 3-6 fielder’s choice, I waved like a lunatic and caught the eye of shortstop Luis Rodriguez and got him to toss me the ball, right over the heads of all the Dodger fans sitting in front of me. It was beautiful.

The following inning, when Casey Blake made the third out by grounding into a 5-4 fielder’s choice, I got that ball as well from Antonelli. It almost seemed too easy. Before I ran back up the steps to the concourse, I pulled out one of the balls I’d snagged during BP and handed it to the nearest kid.

I couldn’t get anyone to throw me a ball behind the Dodgers’ dugout although I did have several close calls. I needed ONE more more ball to reach double digits and two more to reach 3,700 overall. Could I possibly snag one more third-out ball and then get one from the home plate ump when he walked off the field after the game?Halfway through the game, my toes were in so much pain that I wanted to have them amputated. I wasn’t even using them. Every time I took a step with my right foot, I tried to tilt it back and put all my weight on my heel. I was probably risking another injury by compensating for the pain, but it had to be done. I truly would not have been able to keep going.

The sixth and seventh innings were dead. There was no action behind the dugouts, and I managed to miss the action on the field; Andre Ethier led off the bottom of the sixth with an opposite field homer (that T.C. nearly caught) but I didn’t see it because I was still limping through the concourse back to the first base side.

view_for_third_out_balls.jpg
That was the story of my night, but all my suffering eventually paid off. Russell Martin ended the eighth inning by grounding into a 6-4-3 double play, and I got first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to toss me his infield warm-up ball on his way in. Gonzalez had done the same thing on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park. Apparently he has a thing for switching the game-used ball with his warm-up ball and tossing THAT one into the crowd instead.

Despite all the stupid rules and evil security guards at Dodger Stadium, it IS incredibly easy to enter any section once you’re in the Field Level. I didn’t get stopped once the whole night, even when I was wearing Padres gear and wearing my glove and running down the steps to a seat in the first row behind the partition.

Anyway, I’d reached double digits–a sign that I’d conquered the stadium–and the game was almost over so I made my way to the home-plate end of the Dodgers’ dugout. That’s where the umps walk on and off the field, and when Joe Beimel retired Sean Kazmar for the final out of the Dodgers’ 8-4 win, I kept my eye on Jerry Meals and got him to toss me my final ball of the day. Hoo-HAAAAA!!!

Adios, Dodger Stadium.

STATS:

• 11 balls at this game

• 423 balls in 56 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

• 552 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 138 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

• 90 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 35 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

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

• 17 double-digit games this year (which is a personal record)

• 3,700 total balls

By the way, I forgot to mention this in my earlier entries from this trip, but while I was in San Diego, I visited the Barnes & Noble in Hazzard Center in the Mission Valley area and signed  their only two copies of “Watching Baseball Smarter.”

More soon…

9/1/08 at Dodger Stadium

Did you know that you can snag baseballs at Dodger Stadium even before the
gates open? Just hang out in deep center field, and with a view like
this you might get lucky:

center_field_wide_open.jpg

Did you know that once the gates open, you’re allowed to stand *ON* the
actual warning track during batting practice? And that you can bring
your glove and run around and yell at the players and try to catch
balls? And that you don’t even need a ticket for the game?

That said, don’t be fooled. Dodger Stadium is still the most confusing and annoying stadium I’ve ever been to. By far.

Even though I had a ticket for the left field pavilion (where several
balls landed before the gates opened), I decided to check out the
warning track for the first few minutes. My friend and fellow ballhawk
T.C. (aka “tracycollinsbecky” if you read the comments on this blog)
had told me that it was the place to be early on.

We both ran in together. He headed to the right-center field portion of
the fenced off area, and I went to left-center. Cool. I was standing on
the field. I had to take some photographs, so I started pulling out my
camera, and just then I heard T.C. shout my name. I looked over at him
and he was pointing back at me.

Huh?

He pointed down, so I looked down.

What was I supposed to be looking at? Ants?

He kept pointing so I kept looking, and then I realized that a ball was
sitting against the white plastic barricade! I tried leaning over–I
couldn’t jump up on it and balance on my stomach and reach down because
it was too flimsy–but my arm wasn’t long enough, so I lifted the
barricade a couple inches and slipped the ball underneath it.

Then I took a photo…

dodger_stadium_warning_track.jpg

…and then I watched in horror as several fans stormed into the
pavilion and picked up at least a dozen balls that were scattered throughout
the rows of ugly yellow benches. One guy, I later learned, had grabbed five.

Then I looked at the one I’d just gotten and felt a little better because it was a Nationals commemorative ball.
Why hadn’t T.C. gone for it? Well, he might’ve if he’d known what type
of ball it was, but basically he’s only interested in catching home run
balls (and occasional ground-rule doubles).

The warning track quickly got crowded–the best thing about it, I
realized, is that it keeps people out of the seats–so I headed into the
pavilion.

The following four-part photo (going clockwise from the top left) shows
what it looks like under the stands and behind the left field wall.
There’s a) the concourse, b) the approach to one of the staircases, c) the view behind the outfield wall from the bottom of the stairs, and d) the view from the top of the stairs.

behind_the_left_field_wall.jpg
It’s totally weird. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the major leagues.

I’d only been in the seats for two minutes when my friend Brandon showed up with his fancy camera.

Here’s a photo he took (with me in it) of the view from deep left-center field:

zack_during_BP_09_01_08.jpg

That was my initial spot for all right-handed batters, but after seeing several balls clear the outfield wall and fall
short of the seats, I started playing the staircases exclusively. Here I am, halfway down one of them, with Heath Bell’s cap on my head and a very crowded warning track in the background:

zack_staircase.jpg

I stayed as far down the stairs as possible while still being able to
see the batter. That way, I figured, I’d be able to make it all the way
down if another ball barely cleared the wall or all the way up if someone hit
a bomb. This was my view:

view_from_staircase.jpg

At one point when there was some action closer to the foul pole, I
moved a couple sections to my right and got Chase Headley to throw me
my second ball of the day. (It hit the padding on top of the wall and
bounced to me.) Then I received ball No. 3 from Mike Adams, and Brandon
snapped a pic as it headed toward my glove:

zack_about_to_catch_ball3688.jpg

I only snagged one more ball during BP and Brandon once again captured the action. Cla Meredith tossed it TO ME so I didn’t feel bad about using my Big Hample Butt to box out the fan on my left. I could’ve moved down a few steps and lined myself up with the ball, but that would’ve enabled him to move with me and interfere, so I held my ground with my lower body, knowing that I’d still barely be able to reach the ball and that the other guy wouldn’t. Check it out:

zack_catching_ball3689a.jpg

Here’s another shot that was taken a split-second after the ball entered my glove. I had wisely turned my head to avoid getting elbowed…

zack_catching_ball3689b.jpg

…and by the way, the man wearing the “FAN SINCE 53″
jersey was extremely rude and hostile. That’s all I’m going to say
about him. This is just a little heads-up for anyone who’s planning to visit
Dodger Stadium and snag more than one ball in the LF pavilion.

I found T.C. after BP. He’d only snagged one ball…

TC.jpg

…but it was a home run that he’d caught on a fly, so he was happy. I had witnessed the catch, and I have to say it was pretty sweet. I was standing halfway down a staircase in left-center when a righty launched a ball that was clearly going to sail way over my head. I raced up the steps and started cutting through one of the narrow rows of benches and realized I had no chance of reaching the ball. That’s when I saw T.C. casually jogging to his left ON one of the benches, and at the last second, he flipped his glove down and made an effortless one-handed basket catch at his hip. You want cool? THAT’S cool.

Meanwhile, I was stressing about the fact that I’d only snagged four balls–and that the pain in my ribs (from my accident on 8/30/08 at Angel Stadium) and the blisters on my toes were getting worse. I wanted to wander all around Dodger Stadium and take pics and try to snag more balls, but I just wasn’t feeling up to it.

And then there was the fact that I would’ve had to exit the pavilion and buy a new ticket in order to enter the main part of the stadium.

Screw it. That was my attitude. Brandon had purchased a pavilion ticket (so he could hang out with me during BP) and also had four seats in the Loge for himself and three friends. I decided to stay in the pavilion all night and try to catch a Manny Ramirez home run–and to recover.

Before the game started, I forced myself to explore the pavilion. In the four-part pic below, you can see a) Steve Lyons and Kevin Kennedy and some other guy doing the pre-game show on FSN, b) just how narrow the rows between the benches are, c) the Dodgers’ bullpen, and d) the dingy area outside the bathrooms.

exploring_the_pavilion.jpg

Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, which means it’s now the fourth oldest ballpark in the majors behind Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium. It always looks spacious and pristine on TV, but again…don’t be fooled. Many areas in the stadium are actually cramped and downright gloomy. The same is true for Fenway and Wrigley. Everyone thinks those places are awesome, and in many ways (for those who enjoy living in the past) they are, but they’re not exactly comfortable. Yankee Stadium? Same thing. It holds 55,000 people, but the cross-aisle that cuts through the seats in the upper deck is wide enough for one. Shea Stadium, which opened in 1964, resembles Dodger Stadium in that it’s cavernous and yet still somehow manages to induce claustrophobia.

Anyway, Brandon got a good shot of Greg Maddux warming up…

greg_maddux_warming_up.jpg

…and another shot of me (no longer wearing my Padres shirt) after I failed to get Russell Martin to throw me his warm-up ball. You could say I wasn’t too happy about the way things were going:

zack_not_happy.jpg

At least I had a great view during the game:

manny_being_awesome.jpg

Here’s a photo that Brandon took of me from his seat across the stadium:

zack_from_afar_09_01_08.jpg

I actually did have a decent view, but mainly I liked my spot because I truly had a chance to catch a Manny mash. Alas, he only went 1-for-2 with a single, a walk, and a sac fly, but it was still fun to dream. As for Maddux, he limited the Padres to two runs in 5 2/3 innings for his 354th career win, tying him with Roger Clemens for eighth place all time.

Final score: Dodgers 5, Padres 2.

After the game, I ran into two kids who’d brought copies of my books for me to sign and informed me that it was the one-year anniversary of the day when they first stumbled upon this blog. Here we are:

zack_postgame_autographs.jpg

William, holding How To Snag Major League Baseballs, has left a
few comments as “dealwatcher.” Anthony, holding Watching Baseball Smarter, has commented as “AutographHound.” We all hung out for a few minutes, during which my friend Matt (who you might remember from 7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium) caught up with me and offered some key pointers about how to maximize my snagging the next day in the main part of the stadium.

STATS:

? 4 balls at this game

? 3 beach ball hits at this game

? 412 balls in 55 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 551 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 137 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 3,689 total balls

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