Results tagged ‘ easter egg ’

9/15/10 at Camden Yards

The good thing about going to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet in Baltimore…

1_indian_buffet_first_of_several_plates.JPG

…is that there’s plenty of room to run around at Camden Yards and burn off the calories:

2_zack_burning_the_calories.JPG

Within the first few minutes of BP, a right-handed batter on the Orioles smoked a line-drive homer that landed in the empty front row. I ran down and grabbed the ball:

3_zack_snagging_ball4590.JPG

“Who hit that?!” I shouted at my friend Rick Gold, who was camped out ten rows back.

“Fox,” said a voice that came from the warning track.

As it turned out, Kevin Millwood was standing just short of the wall and answered the question for me. How about that? Jake Fox. Yes, of course.

4_kevin_millwood_2010.jpg

One minute later, I caught a home run on the fly, and once again I was unable to identify the batter.

“Who was THAT?” I asked Millwood.

“Tatum,” he said.

Ha! Awesome. Craig Tatum. I never would’ve known. And then I caught another Jake Fox homer on the fly.

At around 5:10pm, I snagged my fourth home run ball of the day. It wasn’t Fox. It wasn’t Tatum. Damn. I had no idea who hit it, and Millwood was gone. But whatever. I got the ball — that’s what matters — and (my girlfriend) Jona took a series of photos of me chasing it down. Here’s the first one. It shows me tracking the ball as I drifted to my left:

5_anatomy_of_a_snag.JPG

As soon as I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, I took my eyes off it and focused on climbing over a few rows of seats:

6_anatomy_of_a_snag.JPG

Then I looked back up as the ball was descending; note the red arrow pointing to it:

7_anatomy_of_a_snag.JPG

The ball landed, prompting a scramble with the fan in the gray jersey:

8_anatomy_of_a_snag.JPG

Finally, I beat him to it and grabbed the ball just as he was lunging for it:

9_zack_snagging_ball4593.JPG

Don’t feel bad for the other guy. He’s there every day and always snags at least a few balls.

Before the Orioles finished their portion of BP, I played catch for a minute with Jeremy Guthrie. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows me catching one of his throws…

10_zack_playing_catch_09_15_10.jpg

…and here’s another screen shot that shows me tossing it back:

11_zack_playing_catch_09_15_10.jpg

(Whenever I try to embed a YouTube video on my blog, the format gets messed up, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to click here to watch it.)

In case you’re wondering how I got to play catch with Guthrie, it’s pretty simple: I asked. It also helped that I’ve gotten to know him over the years, but I’ve played catch with lots of players that I’d never met before…like Kyle Farnsworth. Now THAT was fun.

When the Orioles finished hitting, Rick and I each had four baseballs. I asked if we could get a photo together, and as we walked over to a sunny spot, he found a fifth ball hiding in the folded-up portion of a seat. Unbelievable. Here we are moments later:

12_rick_gold_and_zack_09_15_10.JPG

The Blue Jays started warming up on the 3rd base side, so I changed into my Jays gear and headed to their dugout. Aaron Hill threw me my fifth ball of the day, and less than a minute later, I got another from Vernon Wells. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to Wells, and the vertical arrow is pointing to the ball in mid-air:

13_zack_snagging_ball4595.JPG

Once the Jays started hitting, I raced back out to the left field seats. Look how empty it was; the arrow is pointing to me:

14_camden_yards_is_heaven_on_earth.JPG

Then an amazing thing happened: I got three more balls in a 20-second span. The first two were home runs that I caught on the fly on back-to-back pitches. The third was another homer that landed in the seats…two pitches later, I think. I wasn’t sure who had hit them. Rick (who works for MLB.com) was almost certain that it was Edwin Encarnacion, so I’m gonna assume that that’s who it was.

A few minutes later, Jona called out to me from her spot 15 rows back.

“Can you come here for a minute?” she asked.

I couldn’t imagine what was so important that she’d be pulling me away from my normal spot.

“What is it?” I called back.

She didn’t say anything. She just gave me a look as if to say, “I can’t explain it, so you need to come over here,” and as soon as I started running up the steps, she very subtly pointed at the ground in the middle of a row.

I should know by now not to question her. This is why she called me over:

15_easter_egg_ball4599.jpg

Jona knows that I will NOT count a baseball in my collection if another fan gains possession of it first, so instead of picking it up and handing it to me, she called me over so I could grab it myself. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.

That was my 10th ball of the day and No. 4,599 overall. The next ball was going to be a milestone, and in case it ended up being a home run, I wanted to know who was batting.

Well, it WAS a home run. Here I am catching it:

16_zack_catching_ball4600.JPG

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify the batter, and when I asked the players who was hitting, they all ignored me except for Fred Lewis, who saw my Jays gear and said, “You’re a fan. You should know.”

All I know is that it was a right-handed batter with a very open stance. His left side was practically facing third base before he squared up and stepped straight into the pitch. Any ideas?

Here I am posing with No. 4,600 soon after:

17_zack_holding_ball4600.JPG

Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos to toss me a ball near the foul pole, and then I headed to the 3rd base dugout. Brian Butterfield, the team’s 3rd base coach, ended up walking in with a spare ball in his hand:

18_brian_butterfield_holding_a_ball.JPG

He tossed it to me. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

19_zack_about_to_catch_ball4602.JPG

That was my 13th ball of the day, and I got another from Yunel Escobar just before the game (no arrow necessary):

20_yunel_escobar_tossing_ball4603.JPG

You may have noticed that in the photo above, I wasn’t wearing my Blue Jays shirt. That was intentional. I figured that everyone on the team recognized me by that point, so I changed my appearance and just went with the hat.

The game itself was incredible — not because I caught anything, but because it only lasted an hour and 55 minutes! I don’t think I’d ever attended a game that finished so fast. The Orioles won, 3-1, behind a 95-pitch, complete-game effort from Brad Bergesen. For the Jays, Kyle Drabek made his major league debut and did pretty well. He allowed three runs in six innings…gave up nine hits, walked three, and struck out five, but the most impressive thing is that he hit 99mph on the radar gun, and I wasn’t even paying attention to the velocity for most of the night, so who knows? He might have even touched triple digits when I wasn’t looking. By the way, Drabek threw 88 pitches, and then two relievers — Shawn Camp and Scott Downs — combined to work the last two innings with thirteen pitches. The Jays and O’s threw a total of 196 pitches. THAT is how to play a game in under two hours. Normally, I love it when games last long, but not when I have a 200-mile drive waiting for me after the final out. Of course, Jona and I didn’t rush toward the garage right away. First I headed to the 3rd base line as the Jays relievers walked in from the bullpen. This was my view as they headed toward me:

21_blue_jays_walking_in_from_bullpen.JPG

Jesse Carlson tossed me a ball — my 15th of the day — and then Kevin Gregg threw me another 30 seconds later.

After that, I gave away two of my baseballs to kids and headed toward the Eutaw Street exit. Here are the 14 balls I kept:

22_the_14_i_kept_09_15_10.JPG

The End.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 16 balls at this game

• 247 balls in 26 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 655 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 129 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,605 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $103.84 raised at this game

• $1,603.03 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/3/10 at Progressive Field

On May 1st, I took lots of photos outside Progressive Field, and on May 2nd, I went nuts with my camera inside the stadium. May 3rd — my final game in Cleveland — was simply the day for me to snag an obscene number of baseballs.

It started like this…

1_ball4397_easter_egg.jpg

…and continued with this…

2_ball4398_easter_egg.JPG

…and this:

3_ball4399_easter_egg.JPG

For some reason, the ushers at this stadium rarely collect the home runs that land in the seats before Gate C opens.

Soon after I grabbed those three Easter eggs, I got David Huff to toss me my fourth ball of the day near the bullpen in right-center. Nothing special, right? At least that’s what I thought until I started scribbling some notes and numbers, and then it hit me: I had just snagged my 4,400th lifetime ball. Here I am with it:

4_zack_ball4400.jpg

Moments later, Grady Sizemore flipped a ball to me in right center. Even though he’s struggling this season, I’ve always liked him and wanted a ball from him, so it felt great to finally get one.

This was my view of the field:

5_huff_and_sizemore.jpg

My sixth ball of the day was a total fluke. David Huff tossed it into the front row roughly 50 feet to my left — and there wasn’t anybody there. I don’t understand it, but whatever. All that matters is that I was able to run over and pick it up.

My seventh ball was thrown by Chris Perez near the visitors’ bullpen down the right field line. My eighth and ninth balls were home runs that I caught on the fly; the first was hit by an Indians righty (no idea who), and the second was a line drive off the bat of Mister Sizemore.

It was 5:01pm. The stadium had barely been open for half an hour. I was thinking BIG, but then I hit a bit of a dry spell.

Twenty minutes later, when the Blue Jays took the field, things picked back up. Shaun Marcum tossed me my 10th ball of the day, and then I got another from Brandon Morrow. Here’s a photo that I took a few minutes later. It shows those two guys standing around with their teammates:

6_morrow_and_marcum.JPG

Now get this…

Five minutes later, Marcum walked back onto the warning track to retrieve a ball. I wasn’t even going to bother asking him for it, but then at the last second, right before he was about to fire it back toward the bucket, I said, “Hey, Shaun, let’s play catch.” He responded by turning around, tossing me the ball, and then walking away before I had a chance to throw it back.

Weird, no?

You know what else was weird? Two players (Huff and Marcum) had each thrown me two baseballs in the same day. (Okay, fine, Huff didn’t exactly throw the second one *to* me, but it still counts.)

Look how empty the stands were, one hour after the stadium had opened:

7_right_field_seats_05_03_10.JPG

In the photo above, do you see the fan in the pink shirt? He’s right in the center of it, standing in the fourth row. Well, after I caught two more home runs on the fly, I ended up beating him out for another ball that landed in the seats. He was pretty bummed about it, so I asked him if he’d snagged a ball yet.

“Yeah,” he replied, “I’ve actually gotten a couple.”

“Oh, cool,” I said, “because if you hadn’t, I was gonna offer you this one.”

He thanked me, and then he asked if I was Zack.

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

“I’m Jimmy,” he said. “I the guy that emailed you and told you I was going to be here.”

We talked for few minutes and then parted ways temporarily.

Now, in case you’ve lost count, I had 15 balls by this point, and yeah, I was thinking about reaching 20. There wasn’t a whole lot of time remaining in BP, but I had a secret plan. During the previous 90 minutes, there were FIVE home runs that landed in the second deck in right field; when the rest of the stadium opened at 6pm, I raced up there. Here’s a summary of what happened:

1) There was one other guy who also ran up to the second deck.

2) All five balls were scattered in the front row (some in puddles).

3) The other guy took a bad route, and I got a slight head start.

4) I grabbed four of the five balls.

5) I missed one because he shoved me from behind, forcing me to overrun it.

6) I offered him a few choice words.

Naturally, I didn’t have time to pull out my camera and photographs the baseballs sitting in the stands, so please, take my word for it. I’m not making this stuff up. Just smile and nod and accept the fact that I had 19 balls in my backpack by the time I ran over to the left field bleachers. (By the way, I have no idea who hit the three homers that I’d snagged a bit earlier — balls No. 13, 14, and 15 on the day. All I can tell you is that they were hit by lefties on the Jays, and that the 14th ball was the 1,500th I’d ever snagged outside of New York City.)

Jimmy was in left field. There were a few other fans nearby. Someone on the Jays — a right-handed batter — launched a deep home run that landed halfway up the bleachers. I sprinted up the steps and hurdled a few benches and grabbed the ball half a second before Jimmy got there. (He was a good sport about it.) That was my 20th ball of the day (!!) and then, while I was up there, the same batter hit another ball that clanked off a nearby bench. I didn’t even see it coming. I only heard it, and I was able to jog over and pick that one up, too. (Sorry for the lack of photos, but seriously, there was never a break in the action.)

Two minutes before the end of BP, I tried unsuccessfully to get a Jays pitcher to throw a ball up to me.

“You got like 30 balls already!” he shouted.

“Not quite that many!” I yelled.

“Why don’t you dump all the balls out of your backpack and I’ll throw one to you?” he joked.

I think it was Josh Roenicke, but I’m not sure. He was wearing warm-up gear over his uniform, and I was 20 feet high, but anyway, while he was jawing at me, another home run ball clanked off a nearby bench. Once again, I hadn’t seen it coming. In fact, it nearly hit me, and it ended up AT MY FEET in left-center. Roenicke (or whoever it was) threw his arms up in disgust. Too funny. And that was it for BP.

Finally, there was a moment to relax/breathe.

Jimmy and I got a photo together:

8_zack_and_jimmy.jpg

In case you’re wondering, that thing in front of my right ear is a pen. I’d been scribbling notes about all the balls I snagged, and I tucked it into my cap.

I gave away one of the balls to a kid, then changed out of my Blue Jays costume, and went to the back of the bleachers with Jimmy:

9_zack_with_many_many_balls.jpg

In the photo above, I’m holding my 20th ball of the day. Jimmy (who took the photo) lent me his glove to use as a barricade so the balls wouldn’t roll down the steps.

Remember those puddles in the 2nd deck that I was talking about? One of the balls had evidently been laying face down in the water:

10_waterlogged_easter_egg.jpg

Balls No. 21 and 22 both looked pretty cool:

11_balls_4417_and_4418.jpg

I suspect that the ball on the left hit the edge of a bench. That’s gotta be how the gash got there.

Before Jimmy left to go watch the Cavs’ playoff game, he asked me to sign one of his baseballs. Then I wandered down to the Home Run Porch and caught up with a fellow ballhawk named Sean Malafronte. Here we are together:

12_sean_malafronte_and_zack.jpg

I had met him for the very first time earlier in the day when we were waiting in line outside Gate C — but I had already heard about him because he was involved in this home run controversy last season. Crazy stuff. It turned out that he had heard about me, too, and we kept running into each other throughout the day. I believe he ended up snagging eight balls.

Several minutes before game time, I made it down to the Indians’ dugout just before Shin-Soo Choo finished playing catch. Here he is, about to make one of his final throws:

13_shin_soo_choo_pregame.JPG

I got him to toss me the ball by asking for it in Korean. Then, on my way out to the left field bleachers, I gave away another ball and took the following photo of the empty stands:

14_empty_seats_during_game.JPG

Oof. Make me wish I lived in Cleveland. (No offense, Cleveland, but I really love New York.)

This was my view during the game…

15_view_during_game.JPG

…and this is a screen shot that shows me missing Jose Bautista’s 2nd-inning homer by five feet:

16_jose_bautista_homer_screen_shot.jpg

The HORIZONTAL arrow is pointing to the spot where I was sitting, the VERTICAL arrow is pointing to me, and the DIAGONAL arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball landed.

If you watch the replay, it doesn’t look like I was running particularly fast, and it’s true. I wasn’t. But here’s why. The following photo shows the route that I had to take:

17_view_to_my_left.JPG

Let me explain the numbers (and symbol)…

1) I was sitting in the second row.

2) As soon as the ball was hit, I had to climb over the bench…

3) …and jump down to the front row.

4) I had to cut left in order to avoid the people and benches.

$) The money spot — it’s where the ball landed.

If the ball had stayed in the stands, I would’ve been able to count to three and then pick it up. The other fans had NO idea what was happening. But no, of course, because I’m jinxed when it comes to game home runs, the ball smacked off the Road Runner ad, landed in the aisle, and bounced back onto the field. Un-effing-believable.

At least the game itself was exciting. Blue Jays starter Brett Cecil took a perfect game into the seventh inning. He then got Asdrubal Cabrera to hit a weak come-backer, walked the next two batters, and struck out Austin Kearns for the 2nd out. That’s when I took the following photo to document the fact that his no-hitter was still intact:

18_perfect game_7th_inning.JPG

Moments later, Jhonny Peralta hit a clean, line-drive single to left field, and that was that. (Was it MY fault? Did *I* somehow jinx him my taking a photo? I made sure not to talk about the no-hitter while it was still in progress. Damn. Would’ve been nice to witness history.)

During the break before the start of the ninth inning, I moved to the center field end of the bleachers and tried to get Grady Sizemore to throw me his warm-up ball. He ended up throwing back to Chris Perez, the reliever who was playing catch with him, and Perez threw it to me instead. HA!!! It was my 24th ball of the day — my fourth highest single-game total ever — and Perez was the third player to throw me a pair. Are you hearing me? Three different players each threw me two balls in one day. I know it’s a random/meaningless “accomplishment,” but I’d bet that no one else has ever done it.

I took the following photo from the spot where I caught the throw. (I had to jump for it while I was standing on the steps. One of the cameramen yelled, “Nice catch.”) The arrow is pointing to the spot where Perez was standing when he threw it.

19_ball4420_location.JPG

Since the Jays had the lead, I headed to their dugout in the bottom of the ninth, and I took this photo along the way:

20_view_from_behind_home_plate.JPG

After the final out, I got robbed by another fan on what would’ve been ball No. 25. Rommie Lewis tossed it to me from the side; the awkward angle enabled some other guy to reach out in front of me, and he apologized profusely.

“Hey, it’s all good,” I told him. “Get whatever you can get.”

Final score: Zack 24, Blue Jays 5, Indians 1. My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .800 (4 wins, 1 loss.), which means I’d be in first place in any division in the majors.

I gave away one more ball as I headed toward the right field exit, and before I left the stadium, I took a few final photos. Here’s one…

21_empty_stadium_after_the_game.JPG

…and here’s another:

22_empty_stadium_after_the_game.JPG

I just LOVE empty stadiums. I mean…I love stadiums, period, but there’s something extra special about being inside one when there aren’t any other fans. (The whole game practically felt like that.)

23_progressive_field_sign.JPG

That was it for the Cleveland portion of my trip. I knew that my next stop — Target Field — was going to be a bit more crowded.

SNAGGING STATS:

24_the_21_i_kept_05_03_10.JPG

• 24 balls at this game (21 pictured on the right because I gave three away)

• 62 balls in 5 games this season = 12.4 balls per game.

• 634 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 123 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 7 lifetime games with at least 20 balls

• 4 consecutive seasons with at least one game at which I snagged 20 balls

• 4,420 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)

• $92.40 raised at this game

• $238.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

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:

1_no_batting_practice_05_02_10.jpg

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:

2_entering_gate_c.JPG

This was my first look at the field:

3_deep_in_right_field_05_02_10.JPG

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:

4_dan_cox_and_zack.JPG

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

4a_jesse_crain_2010.jpg

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:

5_kevin_slowey_throwing.JPG

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

6_ball4395_easter_egg.JPG

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:

7_progressive_cross_aisle.JPG

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…

8_view_from_progressive_upper_deck.JPG

…and walked through the concourse…

9_progressive_upper_deck_concourse.JPG

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

10_progressive_dugout_from_above.JPG

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…

11_progressive_upper_deck_last_row.JPG

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

12_progressive_panorama.jpg

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

13_progressive_club_level_concourse.JPG

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…

14_third_base_side_05_02_10.JPG

…and in right-center:

15_right_field_during_game_05_02_10.JPG

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

16a_view_from_home_run_porch.JPG

(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:

16b_view_from_home_run_porch.jpg

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:

17_heritage_park_from_above.JPG

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:

18_home_run_porch_from_above.JPG

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…

19_john_adams_watching_the_game.JPG

…and here I am with him:

20_zack_and_john_adams.JPG

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:

21_screen_shot_05_02_10.jpg

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:

22_the_3_i_kept_05_02_10.JPG

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

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

• 633 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,396 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

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

• $11.64 raised at this game

• $110.58 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/15/09 at Camden Yards

The day got off to a GREAT start…

Camden Yards opened at 5pm. I was the first one in, of course, and when I ran out to the left field seats, I found a ball sitting in the front row in foul territory:

1_easter_egg_09_15_09.jpg

As soon as I reached the foul pole and looked to my right, I discovered another ball…

2_another_easter_egg.jpg

…and when I headed out toward left-center field, I saw this:

3_holy_crap_more_easter_eggs.jpg

Amazing. And then things got better.

During the next ten minutes (or so), I caught four home runs on the fly. I don’t know who hit any of them, but I can tell you that the last one impressed Jeremy Guthrie. He was shagging out in left field, just shy of the warning track, and had a perfect view.

Here’s how it played out (and FYI, all the photos of me were taken by my girlfriend Jona)…

As the home run was approaching, I drifted into the middle of a row to get in line with it, and then I realized that it was going to carry a few feet too far, so I stepped up onto a seat:

4_zack_about_to_catch_ball4268.jpg

At the very last second, I jumped up FROM the seat and made the catch high over my head, reaching back all the way. The following photo shows me at the peak of my jump with the ball already in my glove:

5_zack_catching_ball4268.jpg

Do you see the guy right in front of me with the dark blue shirt? He’s always out in the left field seats at Camden Yards, and Guthrie got all over him.

“Dude, you got posterized!!!” shouted Guthrie, who then reenacted the fan’s failed attempt to catch the ball:

6_jeremy_guthrie_reenacts_posterization.jpg

That other fan happens to be a nice guy and a talented ballhawk. I forget his name (because I just suck with names sometimes) but we’ve snagged together a bunch of times. He robbed me of a few homers earlier in the season, and this time I got the better of him. It happens.

Guthrie and I talked for a few minutes after that. He asked me how things were going with the charity, and I told him that this was probably the last Orioles game I’d be attending this season.

I ended up catching so many home runs during BP that I now can’t remember any of the details. It was truly insane. The following four-part photo shows me catching (or rather, ABOUT to catch) four different homers. In the bottom two photos, I’m wearing a dark blue Rays shirt:

7_zack_catching_homers_09_15_09.jpg

Everything was going my way. I happened to be in the right spot almost every time. Was it luck? Or skill? I suppose it was a combination of the two, but I really can’t explain it beyond that. I’d never experienced a batting practice like this in my life. Even the previous game (at which I finished BP with 17 balls and ended up with 22 by the end of the night) wasn’t this good.

Naturally, over the course of BP, there were some highs and lows and lulls.

There was running:

9_zack_running_09_15_09.jpg

There was pain:

10_ow_ow_ow_ow_ow.jpg

(The running needed work.)

And there was friendship:

8_adam_and_zack_09_15_09.jpg

You know how you’ll run into a person several times over the course of a few months or years, and you never really connect or get to know them, but you can tell that it’s someone you could potentially be great friends with, and then eventually it all clicks into place and you finally have a solid conversation with them? Well, last night was THAT night for me and the guy pictured above in the orange shirt. His name is Adam. He’s a regular at Camden Yards, and he reads this blog.

Back to snagging…

For those keeping score at home (including Alan Schuster, who is kind enough to update my MyGameBalls.com profile for me), here’s a rundown of all the balls I got during the first 45 minutes:

1) easter egg
2) easter egg
3) easter egg
4) easter egg
5) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
6) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
7) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
8) Orioles homer; caught on the fly (“posterized”)
9) Orioles homer; grabbed it after it bounced
10) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
11) thrown by an unknown lefty pitcher on the Rays
12) B.J. Upton homer; caught on the fly
13) Rays homer; caught on the fly
14) Pat Burrell homer; caught on the fly

It was around this time that I realized I had a chance to snag 20 balls for a second consecutive game. Could it be done?!

Matt Garza threw me a ball from about 120 feet away. The ball was falling short, so I leaned waaaaay out and down below the left field wall to try to catch it…

11_zack_leaning_over_wall_09_15_09.jpg

…but it tipped off the end of the my glove and settled on the warning track. Grant Balfour walked over and picked it up. I was afraid he’d recognize me from the previous day (when he gave me a ball during BP), and perhaps he did, but either way, I convinced him to toss it up.

Then I caught another home run on the fly in heavy traffic. One guy’s glove was RIGHT in my face, but I managed to hold on.

tom_foley_2009.jpgThen Tom Foley, the Rays’ third base coach, was walking through the outfield with a ball in one hand a fungo bat in the other.

“Coach!” I yelled, “Hit me a fungo!”

He looked up and threw me the ball instead. I was about five rows back, and the ball was falling short, so I climbed over a row while the ball was in mid-air and then reached way down over the next row to make a lunging catch.

Then a young kid behind me bobbled a home run ball, which I was able to snatch on one bounce. I immediately turned around and handed it to him. It was my 18th ball of the day.

Without warning, a ball smacked down into the seats one section to my right. I couldn’t tell where it had come from. I’d been watching the batter the whole time, and he hadn’t hit anything that reached the seats. Then I realized that Foley was standing on the foul line just behind 3rd base. He was hitting deep fungos toward left field so that the pitchers (who had nothing better to do) could try to rob home runs. The next fungo fell several feet short of the wall, and I lunged way out for it…

12_zack_getting_robbed_by_player.jpg

…but I got robbed by Brian Shouse. In the photo above, you can see the ball streaking into his black glove. You can also see Lance Cormier’s glove flying 30 feet in the air. He had thrown it up to try to hit the ball. (If I were a manager, I wouldn’t let my players goof around like that unless we had already clinched a playoff berth.)

Then I got my revenge. I think it was Balfour who tried to catch the next fungo, but the ball cleared the wall by three feet, and I was all over it:

13_zack_catching_ball4279.jpg

That was my 19th ball of the day!

And then I had my chance to snag No. 20. There was a home run hit half a section to my left, so I drifted over and made a leaping catch at the last second, right next to a man who’d been whining about all the balls I was catching (even though he’d already snagged quite a few balls himself). He also accused me of never giving balls to kids (even though I’d just given one to a kid two minutes earlier). In the following photo, you can see this clown standing behind me in the light blue shirt. As for me, this was my reaction after catching the ball and reaching TWENTY for the second straight day:

14_zack_20th_ball_of_day.jpg

Foley was still hitting fungos. One more of them reached the seats, and I caught it.

(?!?!?!?!?!)

There was one final home run ball hit to me during BP. Here I am tracking it:

15_zack_tracking_ball4282.jpg

Here I am reaching up to make the catch:

16_zack_about_to_catch_ball4282.jpg

See the guy with the long hair and goatee? He must’ve weighed about 250 pounds, and then…

BAM!!!

17_zack_catching_ball4282.jpg

He slammed into me and nearly sent me tumbling headfirst over the railing, but guess what? I held onto the ball.

“AND ONE!!!” I yelled with a smile, indicating that he had fouled me.

Everyone else in the section laughed.

I had snagged 22 balls, including 11 home runs on the fly. Both of those totals were BP records for me.

Six of the 22 balls had interesting markings, smudges, scuffs, and grass stains:

18_six_cool_balls.jpg

In the six-part photo above, the ball on the top left has a small bat imprint on it. I’m pretty sure the imprinted word (which appears here in reverse) is “SELECT.” This is the ball that Balfour tossed to me after Garza’s throw fell short. The ball on the lower right was my 20th of the day.

After batting practice, I raced to the 3rd base dugout and got my 23rd ball of the day tossed by Rays bullpen coach Bobby Ramos. (This ball broke my single-game Camden Yards record of 22, which I had set the day before.) Then, right before the game started, I got No. 24 from Evan Longoria. He was using the ball to play catch with Willy Aybar, and when they finished, he threw it to me as a knuckleball. It was such a great day that even Jona got a ball after BP. I was in the front row behind the Rays’ dugout, and she was half a dozen rows back with my camera. I asked George Hendrick, the Rays’ first base coach, for the ball, but he scanned the seats and spotted her and tossed it her way instead. D’oh! (I need an uglier girlfriend.)

I spent the game in the standing-room-only section in right field. Here’s a photo of me walking toward Jona during an inning break:

19_zack_flag_court_09_15_09.jpg

I stayed out there for all the left-handed batters.

This is where I positioned myself for the righties:

20_zack_righty_foul_ball_spot.jpg

I did lots of running all night, even with my battered right ankle which by this point was stinging and badly bruised. But it was worth it. This was a good foul ball spot. I had empty rows on both sides. But, unfortunately, nothing came close.

Back in right field, there was some action in the bottom of the 7th inning. Luke Scott led off and smoked a 2-0 pitch deep and to my right. The ball was clearly going to land in the seats and NOT in the standing-room-only section, but I took off and ran for it anyway. There were so many empty seats that anything seemed possible.

The following photo is a screen shot that I took from MLB.com. The red arrow is pointing to me:

21a_zack_running_for_luke_scott_homer.jpg

Miraculously, the ball bounced all the way into the narrow walkway at the back of the section. As it began rattling around, there were two other guys closing in on it from the opposite direction, and I was sure, for an instant, that they were going to get there first…but then the ball hit the edge of one of those brick pillars and ricocheted in MY direction. The ball was heading right for my knee, and it nearly got past me. I barely had time to react as I bent down to simply try to stop it from getting away:

21b_zack_snagging_luke_scott_homer.jpg

And then, suddenly, I felt the ball in my right hand. Just like that! It bounced RIGHT into my hand. I kind of trapped it up against the wall and against my leg. I couldn’t believe it, but I *did* in fact have sole possession of the ball.

This was my reaction:

21c_zack_celebrating_like_a_madman.jpg

It was my 9th career game home run ball (toss-ups excluded). I feel like that’s an embarrassingly low number, but in my own defense, I *have* snagged 124 foul balls and one ground-rule double.

It’s tough to catch balls in the standing-room-only section. The view from the back looks like this…

22_view_during_game_09_15_09.jpg

…so you can’t even see the ball until it’s a third of the way to you.

The following photo shows where I ran to grab the Luke Scott home run ball:

23_ball4285_cross_aisle.jpg

See what I mean? There’s not that much space back there.

Here’s the home run ball itself…

24_ball4285_luke_scott_homer.jpg

…and here’s the video highlight on MLB.com. I hope it works. I always have trouble with streaming video on my laptop. If there’s anyone reading this who either taped the game or can somehow pull this clip off the internet and convert it into an .AVI or .MOV format, please let me know. I’d love to upload the clip to this page on my web site, which lists all of my game home runs.

Okay, so this seems like the best day ever, right? Well, unfortunately, I pissed it all away with one inexcusable error. In the bottom of the 8th, Matt Wieters hit a deep home run that was heading toward the center-field side of the standing-room-only section. I bolted about 40 feet to my right and, to put it simply (because it’s too painful to relive the details), I should’ve caught the ball and didn’t. Epic fail. No excuses. I was (and still am) stunned and humiliated, and I just hope that I get the chance to redeem myself someday. The few people who witnessed (or heard about) my meltdown tried to comfort me with words of wisdom. The worst thing that anyone said was, “Think how boring life would be if you were perfect.” (That asinine gem came from a female usher who then hugged me.) The best thing anyone said was, “Hey, it happened to Luis Castillo.” (That came from my friend Leon Feingold.) Ultimately, nothing will cheer me up. I’ll just have to get over it, in my own way, at my own pace, and focus better from this moment on…

SNAGGING STATS:

25_the_24_i_kept.jpg• 25 balls at this game (24 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 465 balls in 52 games this season = 8.94 balls per game.

• 621 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 117 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 6 lifetime games with at least 20 balls

• 9 lifetime game home runs

• 4 different stadiums with at least one game home run (Old Yankee, Shea, PETCO, and Camden)

• 4,285 total balls

• 1 gut-wrenching mistake

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (it’s not too late to make a pledge)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $631.50 raised at this game

• $11,745.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/27/09 at Camden Yards

Earlier this season, I had two Watch With Zack games with a 14-year-old Yankee fan named Joe. He and I combined for 22 balls on 5/8/09 at Citi Field, and then we visited the Pitch In For Baseball warehouse on our way to Citizens Bank Park on 7/6/09. Remember?

Well, Joe is incredibly generous. He had an extra season ticket for this game at Camden Yards, and he offered it to me. (A season ticket at Camden gets you into the left field seats half an hour early.) He didn’t care that I’d be competing with him for baseballs. He just wanted to see me in action and hang out and help me add to my collection. Truly amazing. And of course I took him up on it.

I made the drive from New York City with Jona, and we arrived at the stadium at around 4pm. Here we are with Joe outside the Eutaw Street gate:

1_joe_zack_jona.jpg

See that ball I’m holding? It was a cheap, six-dollar “Babe Ruth” ball that Joe bought from the team store so that we could play catch:

2_zack_joe_playing_catch.jpg

He had just gotten a new glove and needed some help breaking it in.

The stadium opened at 5pm, and we hurried out to the left field seats. (Jona, unfortunately, was trapped in right field for the first half hour because she didn’t have a season ticket.)

jeremy_guthrie_2008a.jpgJeremy Guthrie was shagging in left field, so I shouted his name, and when he looked up, the first thing he shouted back was, “Hey! How’s the baseball collection coming along?!”

Then he walked a little closer and told me that he’d heard I was at Yankee Stadium the previous week.

“Yeah,” I said, “on July 20th. I was looking for you.”

And that was pretty much the end of our conversation.

Two minutes later, Joe and I each found a ball sitting in the second row. Here’s the one that I grabbed (which I later gave to an usher to give to the kid of his choice):

3_ball4143_easter_egg.jpg

Then I went on a snagging rampage. I started by picking up a ball that bounced into the first row in left-center field. Then I caught FOUR home runs on the fly, all pretty much in straight-away left. (I think Ty Wigginton hit one of them and Adam Jones hit another, but whatever.) Then I won a two-person race and grabbed another home run ball that had
landed in the folded up portion of a seat, and I finished the first half-hour by catching another
ball4150.jpghomer on the fly (pictured here on the right). Some guy in the row in front of me had jumped for it at the last second, and it cleared his glove by six inches. That gave me eight balls on the day. It was nuts. At one point I had six balls bulging out of my pockets because I didn’t have a chance to label them and put them in my backpack. I should admit that I missed out on three balls that I should’ve (or at least could’ve) had. Two were home runs that basically came right to me, but I wasn’t aggressive enough in boxing out this one other guy. Then there was a ground-rule double that tipped off the very end of my glove when I jumped for it. AARRGHH!!! I wasn’t making flat-out errors, but I still wasn’t happy with my performance.

This was the scene shortly after 5:30pm when the left field seats opened to everyone:

4_kid_sleeping_during_BP.jpg

Do you see anything disturbing in the photo above?

No?

Let me zoom in a little for you:

5_kid_sleeping_during_BP_closeup.jpg

What kind of IDIOT leaves a little kid alone in a section where baseballs go flying into the crowd, not to mention a little kid who’s sleeping?!?! (These are no doubt the the same type of parents who leave their kids in the car with the windows rolled up when they go shopping at Walmart, or better yet, who use their kids as drug mules.)

Halfway through the Royals’ portion of batting practice, I tried using my glove trick to pluck a ball off the warning track–and I would’ve gotten it if Roman Colon hadn’t walked over and moved the ball further out. Here’s a photo that Jona took from about 50 feet away. You can see my glove dangling on the field:

6_zack_glove_trick_roman_colon.jpg

I could tell that Colon was just having fun and messing with me in a good-natured way (unlike our friend Gustavo Chacin), and sure enough, after teasing me for a solid minute, he picked up the ball and flipped it to me.

A few minutes later, I made my best play of the day. There was a deep fly ball hit in my direction, and I immediately judged that it was going to sail over my head, so I drifted back a couple steps, then looked down and scooted further up the stairs. It was kinda like I was an outfielder who takes his eye off the ball and runs to the spot where he thinks it will land. I looked back up and spotted the ball as it was descending…

7_zack_about_to_catch_ball4152.jpg

…and then reached way up over my head at the last second and made the catch. See the guy wearing the yellow shirt? If this had been a basketball game, he would’ve been charged with a foul–possibly even a flagrant foul. At the instant that the ball smacked into my glove, his left arm was wrapped tightly around my neck. I think it was an accident, but still there’s no excuse for that.

Here’s my favorite photo of the day. It shows me taking notes while Joe is looking out at the field:

8_joe_zack_taking_notes.jpg

See that pinkish ring on the inside of my right knee? Yeah, ouch. Twenty minutes earlier, I banged into a seat while scrambling for a loose home run ball, and no, I didn’t get it.

Orioles manager Dave Trembley signed autographs after batting practice:

9_dave_trembley_signing.jpg

I got him on Jona’s ticket:

9a_dave_trembley_autograph.jpg

Here I am with Joe a few minutes later:

10_joe_zack_after_BP.jpg

If you want to know how many balls Joe ended up snagging, you’ll have to check out his blog.

I headed over to the 3rd base side. Billy Butler and Zack Greinke started signing:

11_zack_getting_autographs.jpg

That’s me in the blue shirt, patiently waiting for my turn. I’d brought a ticket from Kauffman Stadium and got them both to sign it:

11a_greinke_butler_autographs.jpg

Greinke signed in black ON the black portion of the ticket with someone else’s Sharpie. Brilliant. And when I told him that my name is “Z-A-C-K as well,” he didn’t even look up or respond. What a doofus. Has anyone ever had a positive interaction with him? When I saw him last month in Kansas City, he was similarly quite/cold/rude. Is it the social anxiety disorder? Is that a legitimate excuse for not even responding when someone speaks politely to you from three feet away? I was the only fan who bothered to thank him for signing, and he didn’t say “You’re welcome.” I don’t care who you are or what kind of “disorder” you’re diagnosed with. How hard is it to say “You’re welcome”? Am I being too critical? I’ve met parrots who can say it.

Maybe I’m just writing this blog entry out of frustration…

Right before the game started, I positioned myself along the foul line in shallow left field to try to get a ball tossed my way. I was the ONLY fan with a glove, and I was the ONLY fan wearing Royals gear. If ever there was a guaranteed ball, this was it. What happened next? Alex Gordon threw me a ball…and missed…by ten feet! Here I am, climbing up onto the brick ledge, reaching out helplessly with an extreme look of dismay:

12_zack_dismayed_over_bad_throw.jpg

Here’s a closeup of my reaction (with Gordon trying to use body English on the upper right to direct his crappy throw my way):

13_zack_dismayed_over_bad_throw_closeup.jpg

Five words, Mister Gordon: That’s why you’re the Royals.

During the game, I stayed in the right field standing-room-only section for all the lefties, and of course there was no action. As for the righties, whenever there were at least two of them hitting back-to-back, I moved to a tunnel behind home plate. Perfect foul ball spot. At one point late in the game, I stopped to talk to a friendly usher on the way to my spot, and wouldn’t you know it, a high-arcing foul ball landed EXACTLY where I would’ve been standing–where I *had* been standing throughout the night. The ball clapped off the pavement in the middle of the empty cross-aisle. It was painful, so please, forgive me for being annoyed after having snagged 10 balls. The day was filled with more frustration than success.

Let me end on a positive note. Here are two nice things about the day:

1) I met a bunch of different people who read this blog, as well as a few folks who recognized me from YouTube and various other places.

2) Billy Butler was my Beat The Streak hitter, and he went 5-for-5, mwahaha! I now have a 10-game streak for the first time since I started playing last month. (I have Prince Fielder going tonight against Collin Balester.) Of course, now that I’ve bragged about it, it’s surely going to end. I’d just like to say, though, that if I somehow win the $1.5 million prize, I’m going to use the money to attend 150 (or more) baseball games in one season at all 30 major league stadiums, and I will attempt to snag 1,000 balls. (And, since I promised, I’m also going to buy Jona a Mini Cooper.)

Anyway, that was it. No homers near me during the game. No foul balls. No umpire ball. No dugout ball. No bullpen ball. Nothing. All of my snagging was confined to the first 50 minutes of the day. What a waste of a potentially monstrous performance. (So much for ending on a positive note. Oops.)

SNAGGING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game (including 6 home runs that I caught on the fly)

• 332 balls in 39 games this season = 8.51 balls per game.

• 608 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 110 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

• 4,152 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.69 pledged per ball

• $246.90 raised at this game

• $8,197.08 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

(Wait, THAT’S a positive note. I passed the $8,000 plateau…)

6/17/09 at Kauffman Stadium

I expect to snag at least 10 balls at every game. I talked about that in my previous entry, remember? I also said that something has to go wrong in order for me not to snag that many.

Well, yesterday, something nearly went horribly wrong at the start of the day, and then I had to deal with two unexpected challenges soon after.

Speaking of the start of the day, here I am outside the left field gate:

1_zack_nerd.jpg

The stadium opened at 4:30pm–two hours and 40 minutes before game time–and soon after I ran inside, I nearly sprained/broke my ankle. What happened was…I stepped onto a little concrete ridge on the upper concourse, not realizing that it WAS a ridge. I thought it was a platform that extended out at that height, so when I took a step forward, my right foot rolled off the edge, and as a matter of instinct, I gave with it and nearly fell down in the process. The right side of my ankle hurt a little bit right after, and I was scared out of my mind. It seemed to be okay, but I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a delayed reaction of pain, or if it was going to get worse as I kept running around.

Jona was with me (she’s the one who took all these photos) and she told me to “be careful” and “take it easy,” but those are phrases that mean nothing to me when I’m inside a major league stadium–especially one as awesome as the New K–so I just started doing my thing and running all over the place as if nothing was wrong. Somehow, thankfully, the slight pain in my ankle actually went away.

I started off by running out to left-center and peeking over the outfield wall to see if there were any balls on the warning track:

2_zack_looking_for_balls.jpg

Nope. Nothing. And I should probably mention the first of my two challenges: the Royals hadn’t started hitting yet. The previous day, when I ran inside, batting practice was already in progress, but this time the place was dead.

That turned out to be a good thing.

I headed over to the lower level of the Pepsi Party Porch in right field…

3_zack_party_porch.jpg

…and ended up playing catch with Kyle Farnsworth for more than five minutes! I’m not exaggerating. I just asked him straight-up if he wanted to play catch, and he tossed me the ball he was holding. Then, after I caught it, he held up his glove to indicate that he wanted me to throw it back. (Normally, when I ask guys to play catch, they’ll toss me the ball and then just let me keep it right away.)

Here’s a photo of Farnsworth throwing the ball to me…

4_playing_catch_with_kyle.jpg

…and here I am firing it back:

5_playing_catch_with_kyle.jpg

I didn’t have much room to work with; after every throw I had to make sure not to follow through all the way so that my hand wouldn’t whack the metal railing.

I managed to avoid getting hurt, and all I can say about the whole thing is…it was amazing. Jona switched her camera to movie mode and got several minutes’ worth of video. When I have more time (perhaps this coming weekend), I might put it on YouTube. I don’t know yet, but anyway, I’ve played catch from the stands on many occasions, and the only time that rivals this one was the Heath Bell Experience on 9/29/05 at Shea Stadium. THAT was awesome because Bell was shouting playfully at me and crouching down and calling balls and strikes, and there was a small audience of fans that gathered near me in the seats…but this throwing session with Farnsworth was great because it was calm. Once we started, he and I never talked. We were just two guys throwing the ball back and forth. Nothing needed to be said. Baseball was our common, silent language.

As I expected, we stopped throwing as soon as BP started and of course he let me keep the ball.

I headed to the upper level of the Porch and got Luke Hochevar to throw me a ball:

6_hochevar_about_to_throw_ball4055.jpg

His aim, however, was off and the ball sailed over my head and landed in the fountains. No big deal. I just pulled out my little water-retrieval-device and reeled it in.

The four-part photo below (starting on the top left and then going clockwise) shows how it all went down:

7_zack_fishing_out_ball4055.jpg

Someone left a comment on my previous entry and asked if it’s possible to reach over the railing and grab baseballs out of the water. As you can see in the photos above, the answer is no…although at one point, over in left field, a fan climbed over the railing and sprawled out on that green/gray concrete ledge, and he grabbed a couple balls out of the water before I had a chance to snag them with my device. Security wasn’t around when he did that. That’s how he got away with it. I don’t recommend climbing over. I talked to a few different ushers who said that fans who go in the water are punished just like fans who run on the field: a night in jail and a $1,500 fine. It’s not worth it for a BP ball, but for a walk-off grand slam? I’d consider it.

Back to the Hochevar ball…

After I reeled it in, I put it in a Ziploc bag so it wouldn’t soak everything else in my backpack:

8_ball4055_ziploc_bag.jpg

See the plastic shopping bag in the photo above? First of all, it’s a Fairway bag. Best food market ever. There’s one right near me in NYC on Broadway and 74th Street. Secondly, I brought it with me to the stadium so that I could keep the device from leaking all over my backpack as well. Water management is key.

My ankle was totally fine, and I ran nonstop all over the place:

9_zack_running.jpg

Back in left field, I got Coco Crisp to toss me my third ball of the day. You can see it in mid-air in the following photo:

10_ball4056_in_mid_air.jpg

Just a few minutes later, Ron Mahay tossed me Ball No. 4, and then I headed back to right field to use my glove trick.

Remember those two challenges I talked about earlier in this entry? The second challenge was security. There was one guard in particular who wasn’t too fond of the trick, and he hurried out to the Porch while my glove was dangling:

11_glove_trick_about_to_get_shut_down.jpg

At some stadiums, like AT&T Park, fans are allowed to bring all kinds of crazy contraptions inside, and security doesn’t care AT ALL if people pluck balls right off the field. I realize, however, that not every owner/stadium/city is as cool as San Francisco. If security doesn’t want fans to take balls off the field, fine. I still don’t think it’s “stealing” but whatever. They have a right to draw the line somewhere, so I wasn’t too upset (or surprised) when the guard came over and made me stop. What DID make me mad was when he stopped me from using the trick five minutes later for a ball in the gap in dead center field. There’s nothing in that gap. You know those seven balls that were there the day before? They were STILL there. No one goes back there. There’s no camera. No equipment. Nothing. I strongly feel that fans should at least be allowed to retrieve balls from gaps like this. The guard’s explanation? He didn’t want ME to lower my glove on a string because it would encourage other fans to do it too.

Well, guess what. I have news for that guard: his job is about to get way more stressful. Not only did FSN film me using the glove trick the previous day, and not only did they broadcast that footage for the whole world (okay, maybe just Missouri) to see, but there’s also this wonderful invention called the internet. And then there’s this blog. And then there’s a whole blog entry I wrote a few years ago that shows people exactly how to use the glove trick. Want to see how to do it? Click here. Then take your glove trick to Kauffman Stadium and wreak havoc and tell ‘em Zack sent you. (You might need to specify that it was Zack Hample and not Zack Greinke. He’s still the more famous Zack, but I’m working on it.)

The outfield seemed worthless to me at that point, and I seriously thought my day was going to end with a grand total of six balls, so once the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I headed to the Royals’ dugout on the 1st base side:

12_zack_heading_to_dugout.jpg

The Royals were about to finish their portion of BP. I thought I might be able to get someone to toss me a ball on the way in. (In the photo above, do you see the other fan walking through the seats with the white Greinke jersey and the blue backpack? His name is Garrett. More on him in a bit.) What I didn’t consider was finding a ball in the seats:

13_zack_finds_ball4058.jpg

Did you notice how sweaty I was?

I felt great after finding that ball and then I got Roman Colon to toss me my 6th of the day a couple minutes later:

14_ball4059_in_mid_air.jpg

After that, I changed into my Diamondbacks gear, headed out to left field, and snagged two more balls within the next ten minutes or so. The first was tossed by Chad Qualls near the foul pole, and the second was a Mark Reynolds homer that landed in the last row in straight-away left field and then conveniently plopped right down at my feet. There were a bunch of other fans out there at that point, so it’s a good thing the ball didn’t ricochet elsewhere.

Then I heard Jona shouting frantically to get my attention. I was way over near the batter’s eye, and there was a ball that had landed in the fountain. I don’t know how I missed it. It must’ve been thrown because I was paying close attention to the hitters.

I ran over to the ball, knowing that it might sink at any second…

15_ball4062_in_fountain.jpg

…and then I lowered my device into the water…

16_ball4062_in_fountain.jpg

…and got it!

Moments later, another ball landed in the water (it was a home run and I don’t know who hit it), and I fished that one out as well.

Hoo-haaaa!!! Just like that, I had reached double digits.

Toward the end of BP, Blaine Boyer tossed me a ball in left-center…

17_ball4064_in_mid_air.jpg

…and then I used my water gadget to fish another ball out of the fountain. It was a home run that I absolutely would’ve caught on the fly, but some guy (who had no business even thinking about catching it) bumped into me at the last second, and the ball deflected off my glove as a result.

That gave me 12 balls.

Garrett, who had recognized me the day before from YouTube, asked me to sign his scorebook, and then we took a photo together:

18_garrett_and_zack.jpg

Cool guy.

As soon as BP ended, I hurried to the restaurant at the upper concourse in right field and met up with a few guys from the FSN crew. It was time for my pre-game interview. I was drenched in sweat, so I changed into my Royals shirt and hoped that the camera wouldn’t see the embarrassing sweat stain on my butt:

19_zack_ass_sweat.jpg

The sweat stain actually went all the way around my waist, several inches below my belt, but the shirt was just long enough to cover it. You have no idea how hot and humid it was, and how much running I’d been doing during BP. I think I drank three 20-ounce bottles of water during BP, and I never had to use the bathroom. My body just absorbed all that water and sweated out the rest.

The photo above, by the way, was taken as I was being led to the interview location on the left field side. The guy walking next to me (in the black shirt and light tan pants) is named Nate Bukaty. He’s the one who interviewed me. Here we are, right before we went live, down in the camera well next to the bullpen:

20_zack_pregame_interview.jpg

Here’s a photo that Jona took during the brief interview itself:

21_zack_pregame_interview.jpg

I was so amped up at that point (from running around for two hours and snagging a dozen balls and playing catch with a major leaguer and being reprimanded by stadium security) that I ended up being all jittery in the interview. It also didn’t help that I was told right beforehand that the whole interview was only going to last 90 seconds. There was so much I wanted to cover. I wanted to talk about how I’m snagging baseballs for charity, and I wanted to mention my books, especially Watching Baseball Smarter. At the time, I just thought I was being all energetic and fun, but now that I’ve had a chance to watch the tape, I really don’t like how I came off. In fact, I’m downright embarrassed by my performance. I just needed to stand still and slow the HELL down, and I’ve been interviewed enough by now that I should’ve had the presence of mind to take a deep breath and step back from it all for a moment and just…collect myself.

Oh well. The other interview I did during the third inning went better. But before that one took place, I signed a few more autographs…

22_zack_has_new_fans.jpg

…and got Diamondbacks coach Glenn Sherlock to toss me a ball along the left field foul line:

23_ball4066_in_mid_air.jpg

(No red arrows in the photo above. You can figure out what’s happening.)

I ran back and forth from right field to left during the first two innings, and of course there weren’t any home runs hit.

Then it was time to make my way over for my in-game interview. For some reason, the TV announcers (Ryan Lefebvre and Frank White…yes, THE Frank White) weren’t doing the game from up in the booth. Instead, they were set up on the Pepsi Party Porch near the right field bullpen:

24_announcers_on_porch.jpg

It’s really a shame. I was looking forward to getting a media credential and then wandering all over the stadium as soon as my interview was done, but because all of my interviews took place in the stands, there were no credentials to be had. Still, it was a total thrill to get to be interviewed during the game. I can’t count the number of in-game interviews I’ve seen where some lucky stiff gets to put on a headset and stand between the announcers and talk about his charity or whatever. Now, for the first time in my life, *I* was going to be that stiff. HA! And unlike all the other stiffs, I was actually going to be fun. I just knew it.

Here’s a look at the announcers from above…

25_announcers_on_porch.jpg

…and here’s a view from the side:

26_announcers_on_porch.jpg

That’s Frank White shielding his eyes from the sun. He won eight Gold Glove Awards. Wow.

Here’s a shot that Jona took of me from above, right before I went on the air…

27_zack_in_game_interview.jpg

…and here I am, being interviewed during the actual game. DAMN it was fun:

28_zack_in_game_interview.jpg

I was told that I was only gonna be interviewed during the top of the third inning, and of course, just my luck, the invincible Zack Greinke was pitching. I was sure he was gonna mow down the D’backs one-two-three, and that I’d be told to take a hike as soon as FSN went to a commercial break.

My prediction was half-right: Greinke DID retire the side in order…BUT…two good things happened:

1) Felipe Lopez had an eight-pitch at-bat to lead off, and Justin Upton worked a full count two batters later. So…the three outs took a bit longer than usual.

2) As the third out was being recorded, and as my heart was sinking faster than a baseball in the fountain, Lefebvre said ON THE AIR that I would be sticking around for another half-inning. That came as a total surprise, and I was ecstatic.

It gave me a chance to be a human being and discuss ballhawking without having to rush through my talking points. During the interview, I could hear some producer’s voice in my ear. He was making occasional comments and suggestions to all of us. At one point, he told Lefebvre what to ask me, and another time, he pointed out the fact that I’d been turning my back to Mister Frank White. We were in a commercial break at that point, so I turned and faced White and put my arm around him and offered a sincere apology and told him that since his partner was asking all the questions, I had just been facing him out of instinct. White wasn’t offended, and we laughed about it, and then during the bottom of the inning, I made sure to look at both guys as I told my various stories. Another thing that I did during my interview was…whenever the ball was put into play (or when someone struck out), I had to stop talking and give Lefebvre a chance to do the play-by-play. No one told me to do this. I wasn’t coached at all for this interview. I just did that because I’ve seen enough interviews to know that’s how it’s done.

Here’s another photo taken during the interview:

29_zack_in_game_interview.jpg

Lefebvre and I were both wearing our gloves. White didn’t need one.

“Mine are all made out of gold anyway,” he said. (Awesome.)

The bottom of the third saw five men come to the plate (yay) but two of them hit the first pitch (boo). So…it wasn’t THAT long of an inning, but at least I had a little extra time to do my thing.

Here I am with Lefebvre and White after the interview:

30_zack_with_announcers.jpg

No, I didn’t ask for White’s autograph. I probably could’ve had him sign all 12 of my balls during the commercial break, but I just didn’t care. I’ve become less and less interested in autographs. It was the experience the mattered. I got to shake his hand three times. Yes, I counted. Yes, I have since washed my hand. And yes, I meant to say “12 of my balls” and not 13; I forgot to mention that after the pre-game interview, I gave away one of the balls to a man in a wheelchair. Normally I only give balls to kids, but this guy was wearing a glove, and he had a leg missing. I couldn’t NOT give him a ball.

For the rest of the game, I kept running back and forth for potential home run balls. Jona sat next to the batter’s eye and held my backpack:

31_jona_area_behind_batters_eye.jpg

Mark Reynolds was the only guy who went deep. I should’ve gotten the ball but I was playing him too far toward left-center and he hit it to straight-away left. The ball didn’t reach the walkway. It landed in the second row, so it would’ve been tough, but I still feel like I should’ve had it. And that was the only action for me during the game.

Greinke was very hittable. He struck out nine guys in 6 2/3 innings, but he allowed six runs–four earned–on eight hits and two walks. Not great, but his ERA is still dazzling at 1.96.

Final score: Diamondbacks 12, Royals 5.

I raced to the D’backs dugout with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and:

1) Got coach Jeff Motuzas to toss me my 14th ball of the day

and…

2) Found a crumpled up dollar on the ground as I headed up the steps.

An hour after the game ended, I was in a Denny’s restaurant near the stadium with Jona, and who walked in? Clay Zavada.


32_zackkkkkkkkk.jpg
The end. Gotta run back to Kauffman for my third and final game. I’ll get those interviews up on my site at some point soon so everyone can see them. (I’d put them on YouTube, but MLB would take them down for copyright infringement. Duh. I need to have a word with Mister Selig about that…)

SNAGGING STATS:

• 14 balls at this game

• 247 balls in 30 games this season = 8.23 balls per game.

• 599 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 106 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

• 4,067 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.16 pledged per ball

• $338.24 raised at this game

• $5,967.52 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

6/10/09 at Camden Yards

QUESTION: Who took all the photos in my previous entry?

ANSWER: Jona.

Here we are outside the stadium, waiting for the gates to open:

1_jona_zack_outside_gates.jpg

You remember Jona, right? Just last year, there was Pittsburgh and Ireland and the pyramid of baseballs (which she helped build) and so much more.

Are we still together? What’s our official status? Don’t ask. All you need to know (or rather all I’m gonna say) is that we’ve been spending time together. I’m so bad at being vague. This is good practice.

Anyway…baseball…yes, finally, for the first time in three weeks, I was at a game with batting practice. I’d been having THE worst luck with weather, so it felt great to finally have a chance to put up some big numbers.

On my way out to the seats in straight-away left field (during which time three different ushers told me to stop running), I found a ball sitting in the front row:

2_easter_egg_ball4018.jpg

Is that a beautiful sight or what?

A minute later, Jona made her way out there and started taking photos:

3_zack_LF_seats.jpg

You might think my pink shirt is dumb (okay, it is), but you have to admit that it makes it easy to spot me.

Here’s a cool shot that shows me and several Orioles running for a ball:

4_zack_running_for_ball.jpg

I didn’t get that one, but several minutes later, Jona took a photo of me hurdling the seats for a home run ball that I *did* end up snagging:

5_zack_hurdling_seats.jpg

I beat out one other guy for the ball. Here we are lunging for it:

6_zack_lunging_for_ball4019.jpg

I have no idea who hit that ball, and I don’t know who hit the next one either. I do know that it was my 200th ball of the season, and of course I remember having caught it on the fly. Here’s a photo that shows me tracking it:

7_zack_about_to_catch_ball4020.jpg

Did you notice the Orioles player watching me in the background?

The left-handed hitting Felix Pie (pronounced “pee-AY”) stepped into the cage, and I figured he was going to start by trying to hit some balls to the opposite field…and I figured there was a chance that he’d slice a few into foul territory, or at least down the line…and I was right.

In the four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, you can see a red arrow pointing to a ball bouncing toward me. The fourth photo (on the lower left) shows me reaching all the way down and grabbing it off the rubberized warning track:

8_zack_ball4021.jpg

(Don’t forget…you can click all these photos for a closer look.)

As I was returning to the seats in fair territory, I snagged two more home run balls within a 20-second span. The first ball landed in some empty seats and skipped up high enough in the air that I was able to run over and catch it before it took another crazy bounce. (I found out later, while updating my stats, that this was the 3,700th ball I’ve snagged since my consecutive games streak began in 1993.) The second ball landed in the middle of an empty row, and I ran over and grabbed it about 10 feet away from the nearest fan.

That gave me six balls on the day, and I snagged No. 7 by cutting through a row in left-center and catching a ground-rule double.

After that, Seattle took the field so I changed into my Mariners gear and convinced Bruce Hines, the team’s 3rd base coach, to throw me a ball. In the following photo, I’m wearing the “ICHIRO 51″ shirt, and you can see Hines just behind my right hand, getting ready to toss the ball:

9_zack_about_to_get_ball4025.jpg

I ran back into foul territory and grabbed ball No. 9 off the warning track. It had trickled to Miguel Batista, who was playing catch, and instead of picking it up and firing it toward the bucket, he had gently kicked it behind him. (I wonder if he would’ve done that if he knew I was at this game.)

Ichiro and Russell Branyan and Ken Griffey Jr. all started hitting, so I raced over to the standing-room-only section in right field. It was surprisingly crowded, and since I’d actually missed the first round of swings (for a reason I won’t mention), I only ended up catching two homers out there…BUT…I made a nice play on both of them, especially the first. I’m pretty sure Ichiro hit it. The ball was heading right toward me, and as it was about to land, there were a few other guys drifting to camp under it. I stayed about five feet behind the spot where I knew it was going to land, then crept up at the last second and timed my leap perfectly. I was like an outfielder robbing a home run, except I was moving forward instead of backward…and for a moment, while I was in mid-air, it felt like I was flying above the competition…and I reached up and made the catch above several other hands and gloves. It felt sooooo good. Then, less than a minute later, I caught another one that almost hit one of the flag poles on the way down. The nicest thing about that play is that I judged it perfectly. At least a dozen other guys were running around cluelessly, thinking the ball was going to land at the front of the section as it began descending toward us. I, however, hung back and picked the spot where it was going to land, and I reached up for the easy catch at the last second as everyone was just starting to run back toward me. Heh.

In all fairness, I should admit that I misjudged one ball horribly a bit earlier in the day, and then of course I got a bunch of unlucky ricochets on others, so even though it might seem (from what I’m writing) like I’m the luckiest and most athletic human being of all-time, that’s not exactly the case.

Back in left field, I used my glove trick to snag my 12th ball of the day (I gave that one away to a kid after BP) and soon caught another homer on the fly in a highly congested patch of seats.

Jason Vargas tossed me my 14th ball, and it was a good snag for two reasons:

10_ball4031_cool_marking.jpg

1) The ball had an interesting streak-like marking on the logo. You can see a photo of it on the right. Any theories on how the ball would’ve ended up looking like this?

2) I had to make a nice play on it. I was standing in the front row. Vargas kind of flipped/side-armed the ball in my direction, and I could tell from the moment it left his hand that it was going to sail over my head. Keep in mind that this was a simple toss that never went more than 20 feet in the air. It wasn’t like a home run, where I have several seconds to take my eye off the ball, move to a different spot in the seats, and then look back up and make the catch. No no. This was all split-second. I looked down VERY quickly, hopped over the front row of seats, looked back up, found the ball in mid-air as it was about five feet away from landing, and lunged far back behind the 2nd row to make a back-handed catch.

At the very end of BP, I raced over to the Mariners’ dugout and got my 15th ball tossed by hitting coach Alan Cockrell. Not bad.

Guess who I ran into after that. (Okay, yes, I’d been running into him all day.)

Nick Yohanek, aka “The Happy Youngster.”

Here we are at the dugout. I don’t blame him for not putting his arm around me. Never mind the pink shirt I was wearing earlier. Look how sweaty I was at this point:

11_nick_zack_after_BP.jpg

Just before the game started, Jose Lopez (pictured below) played catch with Adrian Beltre in front of the dugout:

12_jose_lopez_using_ball4033.jpg

Beltre ended up throwing me the ball. That gave me SIXTEEN balls for the day, and I was really tempted to keep playing the dugouts and trying to get foul balls. It would’ve been awesome to have a 20-ball performance, but the standing-room-only section in right field was too
great to ignore. Not only was I hoping to catch a Griffey home run (that’s basically why I decided to make this trip) but I also wanted to catch Matt Wieters’ first major league homer. And besides, I’m now finally trying to be more home-run conscious in general; if I have to give up a few less meaningful balls as a result, so be it.

During the game, this was my view from the back of the standing-room-only section:

13_jona_standing_room_only.jpg

Because I couldn’t see the batter from where I was standing, Jona stayed at the front and played the role of “spotter.” She gave me subtle hand signals each time the pitcher was releasing the ball. It was very helpful because I was able to know exactly when a home run might’ve started flying my way, but because I’ve had AWFUL home run luck this season, nothing was hit anywhere near me. Still, it was fun to hang out in that section and know that at least I had a great chance of catching one.

Here’s a look at the section from the side:

14_zack_standing_room_only.jpg

See the little kid in the “GRIFFEY 24″ jersey? That’s Tim–the son of Todd (aka “cookandsonbats” in the comments section) whom I met on 6/3/09 at Nationals Park.

Wieters came up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and I stayed put. I never would’ve forgiven myself if I’d left the section just before he hit a bomb right to where I’d been standing all night. But there was no bomb to be caught. The future of the Orioles’ franchise struck out swinging to end the game.

Final score: Mariners 4, Orioles 1.

SNAGGING STATS:

15_the_15_balls_i_kept.jpg• 16 balls at this game (15 of which are pictured here because I gave one away)

• 213 balls in 27 games this season = 7.89 balls per game.

• 596 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 104 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

• 4,033 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.06 pledged per ball

• $384.96 raised at this game!

• $5,124.78 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One final unrelated note: I’ve had some major problems with my email this week. (I think it’s because the atrocious internet situation at my lame and overrated hotel here in Baltimore screwed me up.) I might have lost a few emails in the process, so if you’ve written to me recently and you don’t hear back from me by…let’s say…June 18th, go ahead and email me again. Sometimes I take a week to answer emails anyway, but in this case…yeah, if you’re waiting for a reply, just be patient and then give another shout. And also, if you’ve emailed me to get snagging advice about a certain stadium, all I can tell you is: read my blog. If I’ve blogged about a particular stadium, you’ll find everything there, and if I haven’t blogged about it, that means I haven’t been there since at least 2004 and I probably don’t remember too much about the place anyway. I get too many emails in general, especially ones like this, to answer everyone personally. I’m really sorry. It’s nothing personal. I’ll still try to write back to everyone, but if I write something brief, please understand why.

4/6/09 at Rogers Centre

The story begins on April 5th…

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

1_approaching_hotel.jpg

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

2_hotel_room_first_look.jpg

Yup. Batting Practice. Here’s another look:

3_hotel_room_open_window.jpg

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

4_easter_egg.jpg

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

6_easter_eggs.jpg

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

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

5_hotel_room_view.jpg

Eventually the lights inside the stadium were dimmed…

8_getting_darker.jpg

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

9_spotlight.jpg

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

7_looking_for_other_eggs.jpg

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

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

10_restaurant_in_darkness.jpg

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

11_third_egg_spotted.jpg

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

12_outside.jpg

Here I am, trying not to freeze…

13_zack_outside.jpg

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

14_outside.jpg

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

15_hotel_lobby_left.jpg

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

16_hotel_lobby_right.jpg

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

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

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

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

18_hotel_room.jpg

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

19_lines_painted.jpg

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

20_lunch_in_room copy.jpg

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

21_eggs_still_there.jpg

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

“You can have ONE,” he said.

One?!

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

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

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

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

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

22_seat_cleaner.jpg

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

“There is?” he asked.

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

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

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

23_blue_jays_throwing.jpg

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

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

24_crowd_outside_stadium.jpg

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

25_print_at_home_ticket.jpg

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

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

26_BP_from_200_level1.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I give ‘em kids,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27_BP_from_200_level2.jpg

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

Then it was time for the pregame ceremonies:

28_opening_night_festivities.jpg

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

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

29_concourse_100_level.jpg

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

30_concourse_200_level.jpg

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

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

31_tunnel_200_level.jpg

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

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

32_view_from_200_level.jpg

Look how the people were dressed there:

33_mister_fancypants.jpg

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

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

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

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

35_tigers_pulled_off_the_field2.jpg

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

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

36_international_league_ball.jpg

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

One last photo…

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

37_seat_cleaners.jpg

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

SNAGGING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game

• 570 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

• 3,826 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $13.22 pledged per ball (at this point)

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

9/23/08 at Shea Stadium

My trip to Shea Stadium started with a live 20-minute interview on the Covino & Rich Show on Sirius Satellite Radio. I actually had to go to the studio for this one, and while I was waiting (on the 36th floor of the McGraw-Hill building on 49th Street & 6th Avenue) for the producer to come and get me, I got permission to take photographs. Here’s the lobby area:

sirius_radio_headquarters1_lobby.jpg

See the blue screen on the upper right? See the black panels with orange text just below it on either side? They were like little scoreboards that kept listing different song titles and artists. I think they indicated what was being played on the various Sirius music channels.

I took a pic of the view of Radio City Music Hall…

sirius_radio_headquarters2_view.jpg

…and was led into the studio soon after.

Covino and Rich were great. I expected them to diss me nonstop–this WAS Maxim-affiliated after all and Maxim had dissed me in the past–but instead they treated me with unprecedented respect. I really couldn’t believe it, and they even gave my new book (“Watching Baseball Smarter”) several plugs. If anything, I thought they’d only mention my first book (“How to Snag Major League Baseballs”) because this entire interview came about as a direct result of the two home runs I caught on back-to-back nights last week at Yankee Stadium.

After the interview ended at 3:55pm, Jessica the call-screener took a photo of me and Covino (Rich was still sitting across from us)…

zack_maxim_radio1.jpg

…and then I got a shot with both of the guys:

zack_maxim_radio2.jpg

It was 4:04pm when I made it back out to the street. I ran over to 7th Avenue and then ran seven blocks south (right through Times Square) and ran down the steps into the subway and kept running until I was on an express No. 7 train…which then sat in the station for about 10 minutes.

By the time I made it to Shea, Gate C was already open and hundreds of fans were in the process of filing in.

No problem.

My plan was to wait outside until I found someone with an extra bleacher ticket–and the bleachers weren’t even going to open for another 50 minutes.

It took 40 (of the longest) minutes (ever) to get myself the ticket I needed, at which point I raced back to Gate C (you can enter the main part of the stadium with a bleacher ticket) and ran up the ramps to the Field Level concourse and headed around to the first base side and darted down the steps to the front row behind the Mets’ dugout. The Mets were still taking BP. This is what it looked like:

BP_from_mets_dugout.jpg

See the guy standing on the warning track with the tan pants and dark green jacket? That’s Marty Noble, the Mets’ beat reporter for MLB.com (in case you’ve seen his name a thousand times and always wondered what he looked like).

When the Mets finished their portion of BP and came off the field five minutes later, I spotted bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello (who has recognized me for years) and yelled, “Hey, Dave, did you see me on SportsCenter?!”

dave_racaniello.jpg“No,” he said, walking over toward the basket of balls.

“You didn’t see the thing about the guy who caught home runs on back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium?”

“I saw that,” he said.

“Well that was ME,” I said.

“That was YOU?! No way.”

I then tried to convince him that it WAS me while he transferred the balls from the basket to the equipment bags. I’m not sure if I succeeded, and it didn’t matter. The only reason I was at the dugout was to try to get a ball, and before I even had a chance to ask for one, Dave looked up and said, “I suppose you want a ball.”

“Well,” I said, “if you happen to have a really dirty one that you were planning to throw out anyway…”

Dave then started fumbling through all the balls and he quickly pulled out a dirty one and tossed it to me. It was commemorative. Here it is:

ball3784.jpg

“Thanks so much,” I said. “I really appreciate it.”

“I know,” he replied with the hint of a smile and disappeared underneath the dugout roof.

The bleachers opened five minutes later, and as I was running up the steps, I heard the unmistakable sound of a ball clanging off the metal benches. I was at the top of the steps three seconds later and saw a security guard walking…somewhere.

“Where is it?!” I asked frantically.

“Over there,” he said, pointing toward the front row in the middle of the bleachers.

I ran over and saw the ball sitting right where the guard had been pointing, and I took a photo before I grabbed it:

ball3785_waiting_for_me.jpg

The Cubs were already on the field by this point, and I quickly got my third ball of the day from Carlos Zambrano. Then, because the section were still basically empty, I had ZERO competition when a home run ball landed in the center field end of the bleachers. I was like 40 feet away, and there wasn’t anyone else over there or even near me–not even security–so

I was able to take my time (relatively speaking) and jog over there and pick up the ball as it slowly started trickling down the steps.

A few minutes later, a man turned around and said, “Hey, aren’t you the guy who was on the FAN?” (He was referring to my recent radio interview on the “Boomer & Carton” Show on 660 WFAN here in New York City.)

ball3788.jpg“Yup, that’s me,” I said as another home run ball headed our way, landed on a metal bench two rows in front of us, bounced up and hit me on the wrist, and settled at my feet where I picked it up. (This ball, pictured on the right, had a VERY cool smudge on the logo.)

“How many balls is that now?” asked the man.

“Lemme think for a second,” I said, trying to remember how many balls I’d finished the previous day with. “Um…this one makes it three thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight.”

The man didn’t seem jealous or pissed off or anything about the fact that I’d just snagged this one right next to him. He seemed happy for me. I love Mets fans.

My sixth ball of the day was thrown by Reed Johnson–the 10th “Johnson” (along with Ben, Brian, Howard, Jason, Jonathan, Kelly, Mark P., Nick, and Russ) to have thrown me a ball–and my seventh was tossed by a player that I couldn’t identify.

I’d snagged the last six balls in such a short time frame that I didn’t have a chance to label any of them or put them away. Good thing I was wearing cargo pants with lots of pockets…and good thing there weren’t more people out there because I’m sure I would’ve gotten some strange looks. There were balls bulging out everywhere (sorry if that sounds gross), and it was hard to walk. I couldn’t even sit down because I had two of the balls in my back pockets. Thankfully, I soon had a minute to spare when the Cubs started a new round of BP so I quickly wrote the numbers on the balls and put them in my backpack.

My friend Greg (aka “gregb123″ if you read the comments on this blog) was watching all of this from the corner spot in the left field Loge, and when I happened to move closer to him at one point, he got my attention and told me that a ball had dropped into the gap at the far end of the bleachers, all the way out in left-center field. Naturally, I ran over there and took a look, and this is what I saw:

ball3791_gap.jpg

Sweet!! (Thanks, Greg.) I set up my glove trick and reeled in the ball with ease.

Eww.

There were two clumps of G.S.M. (Grody Shea Muck) caked to the sweet spot:

ball3791_dirt.jpg

Still, I was glad to have the ball and made my best attempt to clean it off (by scraping it on the edge of a bench) before dropping it into my bag.

My ninth ball of the day was thrown by Kerry Wood, and my 10th was a home run that I caught on a fly in the wide cross-aisle. That one (I have no idea who hit it) had a big dirt/scuff pattern on it:

ball3793.jpg

I managed to get one more ball, and I wouldn’t have had this one either if not for Greg. It was a ball that he’d pointed out at the start of the Cubs’ BP. It was in the gap behind the wall on the foul-pole end of the bleachers, and I hadn’t seen it because it was half-buried under weeds and trash. You can see the ball clearly in the photo below, but when I’d originally peeked into the gap from a spot to the left, it was completely hidden. Check it out:

ball3794_gap.jpg

It took me quite a while to fish this one out of the gap. At one point, I had it in the glove and started to lift it up when it slipped up. I nearly had a fit when that happened, but I kept trying (starting with swinging my glove from side to side in order to knock the ball a few inches to the side where I thought I’d have fewer leaves getting in my way) and eventually got it.

This ball, like several others I’d snagged throughout the day, was worth photographing:

ball3794.jpg

I ended up giving three balls away to little kids; the security guards had been so nice to me during BP–first by pointing out the ball when I ran into the bleachers and then by letting me use the glove trick–that I decided to “share the wealth” a little more than usual with the fans in their section. I don’t normally take pics of the kids that I give balls to, but I made an exception because one of them was just sooooo damn cute:

kid_i_gave_ball_to.jpg

The game itself was boring from a ball-snagging standpoint but exhilarating from a Mets-supporting standpoint. The Mets fell behind, 2-0, early on but tied the game in the fifth inning and took the lead for good in the sixth on Jose Reyes’ 200th hit of the season, which just so happened to be his 19th triple, which just so happened to come with the bases loaded. I was very excited. Shea was rockin’. It was fun.

Meanwhile, Johan Santana struck out 10 batters in eight solid innings to pick up his 15th win.

Final score: Mets 6, Cubs 2.

STATS:

? 11 balls at this game

? 517 balls in 68 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 564 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 335 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball

? 95 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 22 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)

? 3,794 total balls

AND IN OTHER (media) NEWS…

1) Someone at CBS recently uploaded my “Early Show” segment onto YouTube. In case you haven’t seen it, here it is.

2) Do you remember when I mentioned in my last entry that I had to pull over while driving to Philadelphia to do an interview with a reporter at the Wall Street Journal? Well, that story is now up, and you can read it here. Because it’s a blog-type piece, there are comments at the bottom, and as a rule, I never read comments about myself on other people’s blogs. They’re always so negative, and they’re always from people who don’t know a single thing about me (or might have seen me snag 11 balls but didn’t notice when I quietly gave three of them away), so please, if you’re going to read that piece, don’t leave a comment here and tell me how badly I’m getting bashed. I’m not interested.

3) I got quoted today in the New York Times about something only slightly related to snagging baseballs. Here’s the article. You’ll find my name about halfway down…

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:

before_dodger_stadium_opened1.jpg

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.

before_dodger_stadium_opened2.jpg

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…

dodger_stadium_panorama.jpg

…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:

before_dodger_stadium_opened3.jpg

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:

before_dodger_stadium_opened4.jpg

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

outside_the_pavilion.jpg

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:

pavilion_easter_egg.jpg

“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…

field_level_gate_wide_open.jpg

…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…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 286 other followers