Results tagged ‘ game-used ball ’

9/1/09 at Citizens Bank Park

The highlight of the day BY FAR was hanging out with my mom. Here we are outside the stadium:

1_mom_zack_outside_stadium.jpg

The baseball portion of the day, unfortunately, was rough. I ran all over the place while the Phillies were taking batting practice…

2_zack_running_for_nothing.jpg

…and I only managed to snag ONE ball during that time. I won’t even bother listing all the close calls and unlucky moments (most of which were the product of being in a sold-out stadium). All I’ll say is that I snagged the ball with my glove trick and that my mom took a cool photo of me while I was stretching across the flower bed. Check it out:

3_zack_glove_trick_ball4221.jpg

Once the Giants took the field, I changed my outfit accordingly…

4_zack_giants_gear.jpg

…and it actually paid off. I headed into foul territory as the Giants pitchers were finishing playing catch. Matt Cain ended up with the ball and considered tossing it to a bunch of Phillies fans, but I got his attention. He then looked back at the other fans (which included several young women). Then he looked at me again. I tipped my cap and flaunted the Giants logo on my shirt. He looked at the other fans one last time. Then he looked at me, and I shrugged as if to
5_ball4222.jpgsay, “Come on, I’m wearing Giants stuff. It doesn’t matter how cute the Phillies fans are. You can’t possibly be serious about giving the ball to them.” (Yes, my shrug communicated all of that.) Cain finally turned and threw me the very dirty ball, pictured here on the right.

Twenty minutes later, I caught a home run that was hit by a righty on the Giants. I have no idea who. He was wearing a warm-up jersey over his uniform number, and I was way too busy jockeying for position to pay any attention to his stance or swing. There was a swarm of fans around me. I had to jump up and reach above all of their gloves to make the catch. There was such a frenzy that my mom (who was standing 10 feet away) didn’t even know that I’d gotten the ball until I took it out of my glove and showed her.

That was it for BP.

Tim Lincecum signed autographs for five minutes at the dugout. People were going crazy. I couldn’t get near him. I settled for taking his photo:

6_tim_lincecum_signing.jpg

After that, I met up with David Rhode, the executive director of Pitch in For Baseball, the charity for which I’m raising money this season. David was there with his 14-year-old son Casey. They’re bigtime Phillies fans, which is understandable given the fact that they actually live in Pennsylvania, but still, when the three of us had our picture taken, I felt compelled to wear my Giants gear and try to cover up their evil Phillies logos. Here we are:

7_casey_zack_david_rhode.jpg

Ten minutes before the game started, I worked my way down to the front row along the left field foul line. Juan Uribe was playing catch with a couple other guys, and when they finished,
8_ball4224.jpg
I got him to throw me the ball. (The ball is pictured here on the right. As you can see, it has a smudged MLB logo, which I find somewhat
interesting.) It was easy. Not only was I the only person there wearing
Giants gear, but no one else was even wearing a glove or standing up.

After that, my mom and I headed to the Diamond Club seats behind home plate. We stayed near the back of the unofficial standing-room-only area, just in front of the glass doors that lead into the club. This was our view for right-handed batters:

10_view_for_ball4225.jpg

It’s a great foul ball spot — not ideal because of its close proximity to the field — but it’s good enough that I feel like I have a genuine shot on every single pitch. I got my chance with one out in the top of the 2nd inning. Randy Winn hit a very high foul pop-up that was pretty much heading right to me. As I was drifting with it and preparing to make the catch, a man walked up from behind me and inadvertently cut me off…or maybe *I* was the one who cut *him* off. It doesn’t matter. The point is…from my perspective…he got right in my way at the last second. But he wasn’t trying to catch the ball. He didn’t have a glove. He was carrying beers. He didn’t even know the ball was coming. He just happened to stroll out through the doors…and THWACK!!! The ball clocked him on the forehead. Direct hit. Holy hell. My instinct, of course (because I’m such a kind-hearted person), was to grab the ball, which conveniently landed at my feet. The man, meanwhile, spilled his beer and staggered backward and spouted an incredible string of obscenities (not at me, but at his general misfortune) as security whisked him off for medical treatment. I noticed that he had a big bloody welt on his head. It was alarming, to say the least. I was planning to give him the ball (or at least *a* ball) when he returned, but I didn’t see him for the rest of the night.

Here’s a photo of the ball:

9_ball4225_randy_winn_foul_ball.jpg

(Nope, no forehead imprint.)

I had another shot at a foul ball in the 9th inning, but I totally blew it. It was hit way over my head — into the third deck, I think — and was dropped by some fans. The ball fell all the way back down and landed on the pavement near me in the standing-room area. I ran toward it and tried to smother it before it bounced back up, but I failed miserably and deflected the ball right to some other fans. It was a lot more complicated than that, but I don’t want to relive it by telling the story here. Some things are better left unsaid. Anyway, I was so upset (not just because I’d booted my chance at a foul ball but because I was getting booed by so many people) that a teenaged kid walked over to me and handed me a ball. It wasn’t THE ball. It was a different game-used ball that he happened to have. Long story short: I tried to convince the kid that I really *really* didn’t need his baseball, but he was determined to give it to me, and there came a point when I realized it would have insulted him if I didn’t accept his gift. So, I reluctantly allowed him to hand it over (no, the ball doesn’t count in my collection), at which point a bunch of people (his mom included) started cheering him for his generosity. And then, 15 minutes later, I turned the ball over to a younger kid who was heading out of the stadium with an empty glove.

Those final 15 minutes were action-packed. Cole Hamels completed his two-hit, 1-0 masterpiece — only the fourth 1-0 game in the six-year history of Citizens Bank Park — and I got a ball tossed to me at the Giants’ dugout by one of the relievers.

SNAGGING STATS:

11_six_balls_09_01_09.jpg• 6 balls at this game (pictured on the right)

• 406 balls in 48 games this season = 8.46 balls per game.

• 617 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

• 4,226 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.01 pledged per ball

• $150.06 raised at this game

• $10,154.06 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/11/09 at Camden Yards

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

1_line_outside_camden_08_11_09.jpg

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

1a_ball4177.jpg

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

2_zack_from_afar.jpg

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

3_zack_losing_a_scramble.jpg

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

4_zack_snagging_ball4178.jpg

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

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

5_zack_getting_robbed.jpg

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

6_zack_getting_robbed_closeup.jpg

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

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

7_zack_snagging_ball4179.jpg

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

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

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

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

8_zack_standing_around_like_a_putz.jpg

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

9_zack_climbing_over_seats_unsuccessfully.jpg

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

10_zack_dismayed.jpg

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

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

11_zack_sweaty_08_11_09.jpg

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

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

12_zack_ball4186_location.jpg

…and I got Mark Ellis to sign a ticket:

13_mark_ellis_autograph.jpg

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

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

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

14_zack_moving_during_game_08_11_09.jpg

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

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

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

15_ball4187_location.jpg

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

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

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

16_ball4188_location.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

The End.

SNAGGING STATS:

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

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

• 611 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 113 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

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

• 10 lifetime game balls at Camden Yards

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

• 4,189 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.75 pledged per ball

• $321.75 raised at this game

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

7/23/09 at Citizens Bank Park

This is one of those stories that requires context, so here it is:

1) I’ve become friendly with Padres closer Heath Bell.
2) Heath knows about my baseball collection and seems to enjoy adding to it.
3) When I saw Heath on 4/15/09 at Citi Field, he told me he had saved a ball for me from the World Baseball Classic–but he didn’t have it with him. The ball was in San Diego.

heath_bell.jpgEver since that game, Heath and I have been texting back and forth, trying to figure out when and where we could meet. Obviously, since the Padres’ travel schedule was set, it was up to me to make the effort.

Here’s some more context…

The week before the All-Star Game, Heath left me a voice-mail in which he asked if I was going to be there. “Unfortunately I don’t have a ticket for ya,” he said, “just ’cause I got a bunch of people coming, but hey, if you are, hit me up.” I called him back, got his voice-mail, and told him that I was not going to be attending the All-Star Game. Then I reminded him that I’d be in Philadelphia on July 23rd and said that if he happened to see an extra All-Star Game ball lying around, it’d be cool if he could grab it for me, but if not, no worries.

On July 21st (the day before the Padres were going to be leaving on an eight-game road trip), I texted Heath with a “friendly reminder” to bring the ball from the World Baseball Classic.

1_driving_in_the_rain.jpgYesterday was THE day: July 23rd at Citizens Bank Park. Was Heath really going to bring the ball? I wasn’t sure…and it ended up raining like hell during the drive down to Philly (see the photo on the right)…but I had to keep going. I had to be there. To hell with batting practice. There was no other way I’d ever get to count a ball from the World Baseball Classic in my collection. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I don’t count Spring Training balls, and the only minor league balls I’ve counted were used by major league players at major league stadiums at actual major league games. (For the last few years, the uber-cheap Tigers have been using balls like this and this during BP.) Along these lines, I decided back in 2006 not to count balls from the Classic–it’s an exhibition that isn’t exclusively played by major leaguers–but if I somehow were to snag a Classic ball at a regular season game, that would be the one exception.

I reached the stadium at around 3:30pm, and even though it was really gray and windy, there was no sign of rain:

2_dry_and_windy_at_stadium.jpg

There was no sign of life either, and for a while I didn’t know what to think. Would there possibly be batting practice? Would there even be a game?

By the time the stadium opened at 4:35pm, there was a huge crowd waiting outside the gates, and when I ran inside, this is what I saw:

3_there_is_batting_practice.jpg

Sweet Jesus!

Of course the left field seats (where everyone is confined for the first hour) ended up getting unbearably crowded:

4_enormous_crowd_for_batting_practice.jpg

During that first hour, I managed to snag three balls. The first was thrown by Joe Blanton at the furthest edge of the seats in left-center field. The second came via the glove trick near the foul pole, and the third was a home run that I caught on the fly. I don’t know who hit it. There’s a slim chance that it was Jayson Werth, but whatever. Doesn’t matter.

I spotted Heath as soon as the Padres took the field:

5_heath_bell_throwing.jpg

I shouted his name and waved my cap (the one that he gave me on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park) and he looked up and spotted me in the crowd. As he started throwing, he told me to wait for him in foul territory. For some reason, though, the rest of the stadium still hadn’t opened by 5:40pm, so when Heath headed off to the clubhouse (presumably to get THE ball), I wasn’t able to keep pace with him by cutting through the seats toward the dugout. That sucked. It meant I had to wait with everyone else near the foul pole, where the wall was so high that I wasn’t going to be able to have a normal conversation with Heath or shake his hand. And then it started to rain. The Padres kept hitting, however, and eventually Heath came back out and started walking toward me:

It looked like he had something tucked inside his glove, and as he got closer and tossed it up, I still had no idea what it was:

7_heath_bell_hooking_me_up.jpg

I could tell that there was a ball inside…no wait…there were TWO balls inside. It was some sort of tube sock…dark green fabric…with knots tied around each ball to keep them separate. My mind couldn’t process it, but I snapped back to reality just in time to yell “Thank you!!” as Heath jogged off toward right-center. Two balls?! Seriously? Had he given me two balls from the World Baseball Classic? Or was one of them from the All-Star Game? Or maybe from some other All Star event? Since I now number my baseballs, how would I know which one I’d snagged first? I got them both at the same time. But why even number them if they were each one-of-a-kind?

Hmm…

I was dying to untie the knots and see what was inside the sock, but there was a ball that was sitting on the warning track in left-center. I decided that my surprise would have to wait for a couple minutes, so I ran over and leaned way out over the flower bed and used my glove trick to reel it in. When I pulled the ball out of my glove, this is what it looked like:

8_ball_4136.jpg

The rain, meanwhile, was great. It was light enough that the Padres kept hitting, but heavy enough that it chased half the fans out of the seats:

9_raining_during_batting_practice.jpg

I took the sock out of my backpack…

10_sock_from_heath_bell.jpg

…but just as I was about to start untying the knots, several righties starting taking their cuts, so I threw the sock back in my bag. AAHH!! It was killing me to keep waiting, but it would’ve killed me to miss any opportunities.

My decision paid off. Someone on the Padres hit a home run that landed near me in a small cluster of fans. The ball got bobbled (not by me) and landed briefly on the top edge of the back of the seat right in front of me, at which point I snatched it. Nice! That was my seventh ball of the day, including the two that Heath had given me.

Okay.

Deep breath.

It was time to see what was in the sock…

11_treasure_inside_sock.jpg

Like, wow.

If I’d gone to the All-Star Game, the flights and hotel and ticket would’ve cost more than $1,000, and what would I have hoped to get out of it? Umm, snagging the ball pictured up above on the right. Yay for Heath Bell. That’s all there is to it. (Oh…and if you want to see my entire collection of commemorative balls, click here.)

Anyway, a bunch of lefties started hitting so I ran over to right field and ended up catching a home run on the fly. See the guy below in the “HAMELS 35″ jersey?

12_ball4138_location.jpg

After I caught the ball by reaching in front of him, he threatened to throw me over the wall.

Stay classy, Philadelphia! Yeah!

My goal, at that point, was to snag two more balls and reach double digits. I didn’t snag anything else during BP, but I did get my ninth ball right before the game started. Drew Macias was playing catch with Will Venable…

13_drew_macias_pregame_throwing.jpg

…and Macias hooked me up when they finished. (I’m proud of myself–even though it’s indicative of other problems–for not getting distracted by the cheerleaders.)

Over the course of the day, several people recognized me from YouTube, including one guy who’s 6-foot-10, and since I have an obsession with height (obviously not my own), here we are:

14_zack_and_morgan.jpg

If I’m remembering correctly, his name is Morgan. I asked him if he has ever tried to catch baseballs at games, and luckily for the rest of humanity, his answer was no. Can you imagine how much he would dominate? Who would ever stand next to him? He’d have a whole section to himself wherever he went. Is there anyone reading this who’s freakishly (and I mean that in a good way) tall? If so, I want to hear about your snagging experience. I wonder if there’s ever been a seven-footer who was serious about ballhawking. Yikes.

After the national anthem, Heath and I caught a glimpse of each other near the dugout. I mouthed the words “thank you” and put my palms together and make a little bowing gesture. He gave me a nod as he began walking across the field toward the bullpen, and that was the last I saw of him.

As for the game, I’d splurged and bought a Diamond Club ticket. Why, you ask? Because of all this room to run for foul balls:

15_room_to_run_during_game.jpg

The only problem was that there weren’t any foul balls to be caught. That area seems like it would be awesome, but it’s so close to home plate and so close to field level that most foul balls fly way overhead.

One good thing about the Diamond Club is that there’s a sweet view of the batting cages. Here’s Eric Bruntlett taking some mid-game hacks:

16_eric_bruntlett_hitting.jpg

Another good thing is the food. Yes, it’s expensive, but the quality really is the best I’ve ever experienced at a stadium. Check out what I got for 11 bucks:

17_food_for_11_dollars.jpg

That’s a burger with grilled onions, swiss cheese, and bacon, along with a caesar salad and fresh pineapple. Yum! (I’d also eaten two hot dogs after BP, one with diced/raw onions and another with cheese sauce. So?)

After the game, I went to the Padres’ dugout (even though they lost) and saw a ballboy tossing out ball after ball. I got him to toss one to me, and for a second, I thought it was commemorative because there was a big dark spot on it, but it turned out just to be a smudge:

Still, the ball was clearly game-used, so that was cool.

As soon as I snagged it, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid. It just so happened that an on-field security guard (who recognizes me, it should be noted, and is exceptionally rude) saw me hand it over. What was his response? Instead of a) praising my generosity or b) simply keeping his mouth shut, he c) started scolding the ballboy for giving a ball to me (“What’s the matter with you?!”) and demanding that I give away balls to all the other kids in the section.

Citizens Bank Park has officially become Yankee Stadium.

SNAGGING STATS:

19_the_nine_balls_i_kept_07_23_09.jpg• 10 balls at this game (9 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 320 balls in 37 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.

• 606 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 109 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 48 lifetimes games outside of New York with at least 10 balls

• 4,140 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $245.90 raised at this game

• $7,868.80 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/20/09 at Yankee Stadium

Once again, there was a huge crowd waiting to get inside Yankee Stadium:

1_crowd_outside_stadium.jpg

Think that’s a lot of people? Well, guess what…this was just one of the four entrances. I wasn’t surprised or concerned. It’s always that crowded, and I’ve learned to deal with it. There was, however, one thing that set this day apart from all of my other trips to The New Stadium: it was a Watch With Zack game.

My clients were a father and son from California, and the photo below shows the three of us. I’m on the left, 11-year-old Andrew is in the middle, and Jeff is on the right:

2_zack_andrew_jeff.jpg

For the record, they weren’t wearing Yankees gear just to fit in; they really are big Yankee fans.

Batting practice hadn’t yet started, so we took some more photos and discussed our ball-snagging strategies. Then, to make it easier for Andrew and Jeff to ask the players for baseballs, I gave them each a sheet of paper that looked like this:
3a_orioles_yankees_rosters.jpg

Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey had been playing catch with Chien-Ming Wang. I’d had my eyes on them at first, then shifted my attention elsewhere, and luckily looked back up just as they were finishing.

“MIKE!!!” I yelled.

There were other grown-ups and ballhawks standing all around us. It all happened so fast. There wasn’t time to get Andrew out in the open where he might’ve been seen, so I instinctively darted off to the side and waved my arms and got Harkey to throw me the ball. It was commemorative:

4_ball4128_mike_harkey.jpg

The fact that I had snagged that ball was both good and bad. It was bad because Andrew hadn’t gotten it, but it was good because I was on the board. I no longer had to worry about getting shut out, so I turned all my attention to Andrew and made sure that HE would be the one to snag the next ball.

Coming into this game, Andrew had snagged a lifetime total of four baseballs, including one that his dad had caught and given to him. Andrew’s single-game record? One ball. I was determined to help him break that.

Several Yankee pitchers were playing catch in right field, so I headed over to the foul line with him and set him up as close as possible:

5_andrew_RF_foul_line.jpg

As you can see, this actually wasn’t close at all, and the pitchers didn’t show him any love. We could’ve fought our way down into that section on the right, but it didn’t make sense to be buried in the crowd.

Speaking of crowds, look how crowded it was in right field as BP was getting underway:

6_right_field_crowded.jpg

In the photo above, the red arrow is pointing to a fellow ballhawk named Alex who did three nice things for me over the course of the day:

1) He took photos of me with Andrew and Jeff.
2) He gave me space during BP (so we wouldn’t compete for the same balls).
3) He hooked me up with a dugout-area ticket stub during the game.

As for Andrew, I knew he needed to be in the front row, and although it took some time, eventually I found him the perfect spot. When you’re 11 years old–let’s face it–most people are going to be taller than you, so I had Andrew slip into a spot that was good for two reasons. First, there were two pitchers playing catch right in front of him, and second, the person on his right was even shorter:

7_andrew_RF_front_row.jpg

Three minutes later, Phil Coke ended up with the ball and looked up into the crowd to pick out a worthy recipient.

“Phil!” I shouted. “How ’bout a ball for this young man right here?!”

Coke looked up, and I pointed down at Andrew from the second row. That did the trick. Coke took a step toward us and appeared to be getting ready to toss the ball. At the very last second, I leaned forward and reminded Andrew to reach as far out as possible for it. The ball started sailing our way, and the little kid on the right made his own attempt to catch it. This was the result:

8_andrew_ball1_phil_coke.jpg

It was a perfect Yankee Stadium commemorative ball.

BTW, did you notice that the woman in the background has a ball in her pocket? Yeah, don’t feel bad for that little kid who got outsnagged by Andrew. That woman was the little kid’s mom. He’d already gotten a ball.

Andrew ran over to the next section and showed the ball to his dad:

9_andrew_showing_ball_to_his_dad.jpg

If I’d been at this game by myself, I would’ve snagged several balls during the Yankees’ portion of BP. Lots of homers had landed near my normal spot at the back of the section, but I was at this game for Andrew. He wanted to get balls on his own rather than having me run all over the place and snag balls for him. And so…I only got one ball out in right field. It was a homer that *might* have been hit by Erik Hinske, but I’m not sure. It landed in a thick crowd of people and ricocheted right to me. Commemorative ball. Pristine logo. Hell yes.

Three days earlier, the Yankees had been using Metrodome balls during BP, but now, I’m happy to report, the Yankee Stadium balls were out in full force.

After the Yankees finished hitting, we headed over to the left field side and changed into bright orange Orioles shirts. I already had my own “RIPKEN 8″ shirt that I bought on eBay a while back, and just recently I’d received a free pair of “MORA 6″ shirts at a Camden Yards giveaway. I lent those two shirts to Andrew and Jeff. Look how much it helped them stand out…

10_andrew_jeff_during_BP.jpg

…and within a couple minutes, Andrew snagged his second ball of the day:

11_andrew_ball2_felix_pie.jpg

This one came from Felix Pie. I helped Andrew by calling out for it, and Andrew helped himself by making a nice jumping catch–and just like that, he had doubled his single-game record.

He and I each snagged one more ball during BP. For me, it was a home run (don’t ask me who hit it) that landed in the seats, and for him, it was a toss from Brad Bergesen.

Once BP was done, we took off the Orioles shirts and posed with our haul:

12_andrew_zack_balls.jpg

Just before game time, Andrew and I worked our way to the seats behind the Orioles’ dugout. Of course we had to stay behind that ghastly partition, but because he was once again wearing one of my bright orange Orioles shirts, it didn’t make a difference. I don’t need to point him out with an arrow in the photo below. You can pick him out easily on your own:

13_andrew_during_pregame_throwing.jpg

This was the scene two minutes later:

14_andrew_ball4_nolan_reimoild.jpg

Yes, he had snagged another ball (his fourth of the day), this time courtesy of Nolan Reimold.

With a bit of trickery and assistance, Andrew and his father and I managed to stay in that section for the rest of the night. It was a great spot not only to watch the game but for Andrew to get a 3rd-out ball. Unfortunately he did a lot of shouting/waving that wasn’t getting him anywhere. Here’s one of his unsuccessful attempts to get a ball…

15_andrew_unsuccessful_3rd_out_ball_attempt.jpg

…and here’s another, this time in competition with Alex:

16_andrew_unsuccessful_3rd_out_ball_attempt.jpg

Things weren’t looking good. Even when 1st baseman Aubrey Huff ended up with the inning-ending balls, he wasn’t throwing THE game-used balls into the crowd. He was saving those for himself (or perhaps for MLB’s authentication program) and tossing the non-commemorative infield warm-up balls into the crowd instead.

Finally, though, Andrew had his chance.

The sixth inning ended when Huff fielded a grounder and tossed it to pitcher David Hernandez, who ran over to cover 1st base. Alex wasn’t there (it turns out he was on line for sushi), so Andrew didn’t have any competition. Andrew didn’t realize that Hernandez was the guy who had the ball; he had his eye on Huff and nearly gave up when Huff disappeared under the dugout roof. I told him that the pitcher had the ball, so Andrew held his ground, and we both started waving our arms to get Hernandez’s attention.

Here’s a photo of Hernandez throwing the ball into the crowd:

17_andrew_getting_3rd_out_ball.jpg

Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

18_andrew_getting_3rd_out_ball.jpg

It appeared to be falling short. I wasn’t sure who Hernandez was aiming for, but I didn’t think there was any chance for Andrew to catch it.

Here’s a photo of Andrew reaching WAY over the railing for the ball, while the grown men in front of him are falling all over themselves:

19_andrew_getting_3rd_out_ball.jpg

And here’s a priceless reaction from one of them:

20_andrew_getting_3rd_out_ball.jpg

Why was that guy so stunned (and saddened)? Because my young dude had just made a catch that would’ve made most major league 1st basemen wet their pants.

21_andrew_holding_3rd_out_ball.jpg

Andrew had more-than-doubled his entire lifetime total in one game. We joked about the fact that I’d have to snag more than 4,000 balls in one game to do that.

During the game, I sat next to Andrew and pointed out some of the things I had written about in Watching Baseball Smarter: the positioning of the 3rd base coach, the catcher looking into the dugout for signs, the runner on 2nd taking his lead behind the baseline, etc. Meanwhile, Jeff used a fancy camera to take some high-quality action shots. Here’s one of them:

22_jeff_photographs_jeter.jpg

The game itself was good, I suppose, if you enjoy games in which every run scores on a solo homer.

Top of the 1st inning? Nick Markakis homer.

Bottom of the 2nd inning? Eric Hinske homer.

Bottom of the 9th inning? See below:

23_jeff_photographs_matsui.jpg
Walk-off shot by Hideki Matsui. (Nice camera work, Jeff!)Final score: Andrew 5, Zack 3, Yankees 2, Orioles 1.

Andrew really deserved to get pointed at in the post-game photo:

24_zack_andrew_jeff_postgame.jpg

He and his father were nice enough to let me keep my two commemorative balls. I gave the other/standard ball to Andrew (I couldn’t send him back to California without an official Zack Hample snagged ball), and then he posed with all of them:

25_andrew_postgame.jpg

SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game

• 310 balls in 36 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.

• 605 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 134 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 5 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least three balls

• 17 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 4,130 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $73.77 raised at this game

• $7,622.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

But wait! There’s more!

We lingered outside the stadium until most of the people were gone, and then Andrew and I played catch for about 20 minutes. This is what it looked like from my point of view:

26_zack_andrew_playing_catch_postgame.jpg

After that, we rode the subway together back into Manhattan and then said our goodbyes.

6/11/09 at Camden Yards

F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-I-O-N.

That pretty much sums it up.

I started out in left field and snagged four balls during the first round of batting practice. (What’s so frustrating about that? Keep reading.) The first one was thrown by George Sherrill…

1_zack_in_left_field.jpg

…and the next three were home run balls.

The first of those homers tipped off my glove (as I made a leaping attempt to catch it) and bounced right back to me off a seat. Even if it hadn’t taken a perfect bounce, I still would’ve snagged it because the seats were gloriously empty.

The second homer came right to me and I easily caught it on the fly while drifting slowly through an empty row.

The third homer was hit by Adam Jones. (I don’t know who hit the others.) It was a high fly ball that barely cleared the wall in left-center. It bounced off some guy’s bare hands and conveniently landed in the empty second row where I was standing.

It was only 5:12pm. The stadium had been open for about 10 minutes. I was all set to have a MONSTER day, but then the Orioles stopped taking BP. Bam! Just like that. They all jogged off the field.

Fifteen minutes later, while the Mariners were stretching in front of their dugout, the entire grounds crew came out and sat on the rolled up tarp:

2_grounds_crew_ready_to_ruin_my_day.jpg

(The guy who’s sitting fourth from the right is playing with his gum, in case you were wondering.)

I heard a voice crackling out of one of their walkie-talkies. It said, “Stand by for BP breakdown.”

Why?!

WHY?!

WHY?!

WHY?!

Because it started raining, JUST as the Mariners started hitting. That’s why.

This was the result:

3_tarp_covering_field_la_dee_da.jpg

John Wetteland, the Mariners’ bullpen coach, started signing autographs IN STYLE along the left field foul line. Check it out:

4_john_wetteland_signing_in_style.jpg

It’s official: my new life goal is to have someone hold an umbrella over my head while I sign autographs. Or maybe my goal should simply be to experience ONE rain-free game at Camden Yards.

This was the dreary scene on Eutaw Street:

5_eutaw_street_wet.jpg

Right before the game started, I got Jamie Burke to toss me a ball at the Mariners’ dugout. Then I ran around to the Orioles’ side and got another ball (No. 4,039 lifetime) from Brian Roberts. Check out this “action” shot of my snag from afar:

6_zack_getting_ball4039.jpg

Roberts always tosses a ball to that spot before the game, but he always tosses it to a little kid. For some reason, though, at that moment, there weren’t any kids in sight, so he had no choice but to toss it to me. Ha.

The game started on time, and for the first couple innings, I moved back and forth between the standing-room-only section in right field and the seats in left-center.

This was the view in left:

7_view_from_left_field_during_game.jpg

Nothing special, right?

Well, look how empty the seats were to MY left:

8_of_course_no_homers_landed_there.jpg

Did any home runs land there?

No, of course not.

It’s incredible. I’ve positioned myself in so many great spots and given myself so many chances to catch a game home run this season, but it’s just…not…happening.

You know what DID happen?

More rain:

9_yet_another_rain_delay_for_zack.jpg

The game was delayed 27 minutes in the third inning. Fabulous. I spent about 17 of those minutes standing in line for pizza at a concession stand which was run by exceptionally incompetent employees. There was a taco bar next to the pizza area, and there was one employee at each. NONE of the people on line wanted a taco, so what did the taco lady do? She stood there and watched the pizza guy slowwwwwwly cut slices and slowwwwwly put them in boxes, one by one, rather than helping him out and speeding up the process. It’s like she wasn’t allowed to go near the pizza because it wasn’t a taco. And the guy! Oh my God, it’s like he was just learning to use his hands for the first time, and then when he couldn’t find a spatula, he tried using the pizza-slicing wheel thingy to scoop up the slices. But you see, he wasn’t smart enough to keep the boxes near the pizza. No, THAT would’ve made too much sense. Instead he kept scooping up the slices (each of which he touched with his hands so they wouldn’t fall) and carrying them to the boxes, and on several occasions the cheese dripped off the side and landed on the floor. Normally the Orioles do a great job of running the stadium, so I’ll let it slide this time.

Back to the game…

There were two home runs. Luke Scott, who bats left-handed, hit one over the Bud Light ad in left-center (naturally I wasn’t there) and Russell Branyan, who also bats left-handed, hit the sixth longest home run in the history of Camden Yards. That one reached the back off the seats just to the right of dead-center. (Naturally I wasn’t there either.)

About halfway through the game, I gave up on left field; whenever a bunch of righties were coming up, I went for foul balls behind the plate instead. I should’ve caught one in the 6th inning. There was a high pop-up that nicked the facade of the second deck and landed RIGHT in the aisle about five feet away from where I was standing. The aisle had been empty all night. The paid attendance was less than 13,000 *AND* there had been a rain delay. Get my point? Not too many fans. But. of course, at the exact moment that the foul ball was hit, a woman in a wheelchair rolled in front of me and blocked the aisle. She even stopped rolling when she saw the ball go up. Then, after the ball smacked off the pavement (essentially right on the other side of her chair) and bounced far, far away, she looked up at me and said, “Oh, sorry, I just didn’t wanna get hit.” Fine. Fair enough. I won’t make a wheelchair wisecrack or deny her right to cower in fear. I’m just saying: I’m having the worst luck.

Okay, maybe not THE worst luck. I did end up getting a foul ball in the bottom of the 8th. There were two outs. Mark Lowe was pitching. Ty Wigginton was at bat. The count was 1-0. The ball sailed high in the air and landed in a staircase on my left, and I grabbed it off the steps. Here I am, standing at the bottom of the stairs with the ball:

10_zack_ball4040_location.jpg

That made me feel better. The day was not a total loss, but man, the standing-room-only section really let me down. Nick Yohanek (aka The Happy Youngster) was out there too, and we were both disappointed. He *really* had some bad luck earlier on. Man oh man.

Anyway, that was basically it. The Mariners won, 6-3, so I went to their dugout but didn’t get anything there. Nick and I said goodbye (no telling when we’ll cross paths again) just after he took this photo of me and Jona:

12_jona_zack_postgame_06_11_09.jpg

On my way out, I found the cutest kid in the stadium and stole a ball from him:

13_zack_stealing_ball_from_kid.jpg

(I hope you know I’m joking. I really was GIVING a ball to that kid in the photo above.)

SNAGGING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game

• 220 balls in 28 games this season = 7.86 balls per game.

• 597 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 129 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd; those are way too easy in my opinion and don’t deserve to be counted in a special category)

11_smudge_on_ball4040.jpg

• 30 lifetime game balls outside of New York

• 200 lifetime balls at Camden Yards (the Wigginton foul ball, pictured here on the right, was No. 200…the extra-dark mark on the ball came from hitting the black paint on the edge of one of the steps)

• 4,040 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 109 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a pledge)

• $24.06 pledged per ball

• $168.42 raised at this game

• $5,293.20 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Next game for me? Tuesday, June 16th in Kansas City. If there’s one day that I really really really need the rain to hold off, that would be it. And by the way, assuming I get at least one ball every day in KC, the game on June 18th will be the 600th of my streak.

5/12/09 at Citi Field

As a native New Yorker, I’ve been conditioned not to talk to strangers or even make eye contact with them, so when I got on the subway yesterday to go to Citi Field and heard some guy ask a question about Johan Santana, I ignored it. It was a silly question anyway: “What happened with Johan last night? He just didn’t have it?”

Of course Johan HAD it. Sure, he suffered the loss, but–

Suddenly it occurred to me that since I was wearing a Mets cap and a Shea Stadium shirt, the Johan chatter might have been directed my way, so I looked up and sure enough the guy was staring right at me.

johan_santana_headshot.jpg
“Actually, he pitched great,” I said. “He only allowed two runs, and they were both unearned.”

“Really,” said the guy with enthusiastic surprise. “I didn’t get to watch the game. I only heard a little bit on the radio.”

We ended up talking for the next five minutes. He asked me if I’d been to Citi Field, and what I think of the new Yankee Stadium, and how I get to go to so many games. Each question led to another and another, so finally I just came right out and explained my whole deal with snagging baseballs.

“How ’bout you?” I asked. “What do YOU do?”

“I’m an actor,” he said.

“Oh…cool,” I replied, not knowing how to follow that up with anything insightful or intelligent. All I could think of was that he was young-ish, outgoing, good looking, and well dressed, so his answer made sense.

“I was on the Sopranos for four years,” he said.

“Seriously?! Wow, forgive me, I’m clueless when it comes to pop culture and the media and celebrities.”

“No problem,” he said.

sopranos.jpg
“So wait, if I watched that show, I’d totally recognize you right now?”

“Yup.”

“So…people come up to you all the time and know who you are?”

“Yeah,” he said, “especially at Mets games for some reason.”

“What’s your name?”

“Will Jano…”

What did he say? Jano…what? There was another syllable at the end, but I didn’t quite catch it, and I didn’t want to make an even bigger fool of myself by asking him to spell it, so I just said I’d look him up later. I asked if he had any projects currently in the works, and he named a couple movies including “Taking Woodstock.”

will_janowitz.jpg

I gave him my card, and we shook hands and parted ways when the train pulled into Times Square.

ANYWAY…
I have since looked him up, and his name is Will Janowitz. Has anyone heard of him? Here’s his page on IMDb.

My trek to Queens on the #7 train was less eventful. I sat in the last car, ate two slices of pizza, and wrote a page in my neglected journal. Then, after getting out at the Mets/Willets Point stop, I headed downstairs and walked over to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.

Who was there? Three important people:

1) My friend Greg (aka “gregb123″) in the comments section.

2) My friend Donnie (aka “donnieanks”).

3)
A 60-ish-year-old man named David Ross (not to be confused with the 31-year-old David Ross who plays for the Braves) who’s an editor for an “online rich media magazine” called FLYP.

David was there to interview me (with a very small HD video camera), and he got started right away. I handed my camera to Greg and asked him to take a few photos of me. He took four, and I look ridiculous in all of them, only because I was either blinking or in mid-syllable. (At least that’s what I’m going to tell myself). Here’s the least bad of the four photos:

1_zack_getting_interviewed.jpg

See what I mean? Ridiculous. But at least it gives you an idea of what was going on.

I raced out to the left field seats when the gates opened at 4:40pm, and Gary Sheffield greeted me by scorching a line-drive homer to left-center. I was the only one out there (Greg and Donnie had positioned themselves closer to the foul pole), and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to catch it on the fly, so I just prayed that it wouldn’t ricochet back onto the field. Thankfully, the ball stayed in the seats and rolled down into the front row. I pulled out my camera, looked over my shoulder, and saw Donnie give me a nod as if to say, “Go ahead and take your damn photo. I’m not gonna run over there and steal the ball from you.”

Here’s the photo:

2_ball3990_sheffield_homer.jpg

Is that a nice sight or what?

By the way, that ball had last year’s Yankee Stadium commemorative logo on it. Pretty nifty. And random. Obviously there are a bunch of extras floating around.

A minute later, with David’s camera pointed at me, I caught a homer on the fly and robbed the 6-foot-5 Donnie in the process. Donnie was cool with it. I hadn’t boxed him out or slammed into him. It was a clean play all the way. As soon as the ball was hit, I stepped down into the row in front of him, then drifted laterally as the ball approached, and made a leap at the last second. If it had been a couple feet higher, or if he’d run down into the row in front of me, he would’ve had it. That’s how we do it in New York City. If you can catch a batted ball, you go for it. Period. You don’t back off (as the uber-polite guys at Coors Field do) just because someone else is camped under it. In New York, there’s ALWAYS someone else camped under it. It’s a real competition, not a family softball game. That’s what makes it fun, and of course Donnie was a true gentleman about it.

You know who wasn’t a gentleman? A security guard out in center field who stopped me from using the glove trick to reel in the following ball:

3_ball_i_was_stopped_from_getting.jpg

I flung the glove out and knocked it closer, and after I’d moved the ball to a spot right below me, he started shouting and then walked out onto the batter’s eye and snatched it. Not cool. I could understand if security wanted to stop me from pulling up a ball off the warning track, but in the dead area behind the outfield wall? Really?! Good job, Mets. Way to train your employees. Tell them to focus on stealing balls from fans (and money from charity) instead of making sure that there aren’t razor blades out in the open in the seating areas. Yeah, that’s right, I found one sitting on the steps in left-center. Unbelievable. Welcome to Citi Field, everybody. Come see the Mets and die.

My third ball was thrown by Livan Hernandez, and it tailed a foot or two to my left. After I reached out and caught it, I realized that it had been intended for the woman standing next to me, so I handed it to her…and yes, it counts as part of my collection. Both Greg and Donnie said it was fair to count it, as did my friend Brad who’s the ultimate voice of reason when it comes to ballhawk-related issues. If Livan had pointed to the woman before throwing the ball, I would’ve stepped aside and let her catch it, but since it wasn’t obvious when he first let it fly (from a distance of about 75 feet), I decided to go for it.

That was it for the Mets’ portion of BP, and I didn’t get anything during the first 20 minutes that the Braves were on the field. Slow day. I was nervous. I’d started the day with a lifetime total of 3,989 balls, and I was planning to snag No. 4,000 in Los Angeles six days later. In fact, by this point, it wasn’t merely a plan–it was a promise. I’d already spoken to someone with the Dodgers and guaranteed that I would snag No. 4,000 at Dodger Stadium on May 18th. This game at Citi Field was going to be my last before flying to the west coast, so I *needed* to snag at least a few more balls. Ideally, I wanted to snag about seven or eight. That would’ve left me three or four balls short of the milestone–just the right amount to create a little suspense but not so short that I’d be nervous about failing to reach it. Even if I only snagged six balls at this game, I felt like I could still probably find a way to snag five at Dodger Stadium, but I didn’t want to take that chance…so yeah, I needed four or five MORE balls in addition to the three I’d already snagged from the Mets.

Tim Hudson flipped one up without looking. I was in the crowded front row, and as soon as the ball left his hand, I knew it was going to sail over my head, so I started climbing over the seats, and when the it plunked down (thankfully there was no one behind me), I was right in position to grab it. Phew! That was ball No. 4.

This is how crowded the seats were at that point:

4_left_field_during_BP.jpg

As you can see, it was packed near the foul pole, but there was some room to run in left-center. Of course, there’s a reason for all that room, namely the distance (well over 400 feet) that a batter would have had to hit the ball to clear the 16-foot wall to the right of the “384″
sign.

Toward the end of BP, Jeff Francoeur launched a deep drive to my left. I darted across an entire section before anyone else even budged, and I was able to grab that ball off the ground. Hell yes. I was approaching my recommended daily allowance of balls…and then I reached it. Martin Prado tossed me ball No. 6 (I later gave that one away to a kid) and I felt relieved. I was almost certain that I’d find a way to snag at least one more ball, but even if I didn’t, at least I was only five away from the Promised Land.

That was it for BP.

David interviewed me for a bit before the game, and then we moved to our very good seats (courtesy of FLYP) behind the Braves’ dugout.

First inning? Nothing.
Second inning? Dead.
Third inning? Nada.
But in the middle of the fourth inning, I got Braves first base coach Glenn Hubbard to toss me the infield warm-up ball.

Sweeeeeet! That was my seventh ball of the day. I was SET. As far as No. 4,000 was concerned, I didn’t need to snag anything else, but of course I kept at it because a) I can’t be at a baseball game and NOT try to use my glove, and b) I still wanted to raise money for Pitch In For Baseball.

The fifth inning came to an end when Mike Pelfrey hit a weak grounder up the middle. Yunel Escobar fielded it, stepped on second base to force out Omir Santos, and threw me the ball as he approached the dugout. It was a thing of beauty (and not just because it was commemorative). Escobar was a full section to my left, but he spotted my Braves gear and tossed the ball JUST high enough to clear the reaching hands of the fans next to me. If they had even a three-inch vertical leap, I would’ve been out of luck. (Not that I’m an Olympian or anything, but I’m always amazed at how unathletic people are.) Anyway, in case you’ve lost count, that was my 8th ball of the day. Now, just three balls away from 4,000, I was really *really* set.

Although this might be hard to believe, the highlight of the game was NOT Carlos Beltran’s extra-inning walk-off walk. No sir. The highlight (and I forget the exact moment at which it occurred) was when a fan ran out onto the field wearing nothing more than a Mets rally monkey. Seriously…he was naked except for…the monkey. The guy ran out into the infield, made a rather graceful foot-first slide into second base (ouch), and was apprehended by security soon after:

5_streaker.jpg

The photo above was taken by Donnie (my camera…don’t ask) and it’s not even the best photo he got. If you want to see the real zinger, you’ll have to check out his blog entry about this game. So funny! On Donnie’s blog, you can actually read what’s written on the guys’ stomach.

The game itself was truly exciting. For most of the last two innings, everyone in the stadium was standing, and in the following photo, you can see Fernando Tatis getting plunked by Mike Gonzalez:

6_tatis_gets_plunked.jpg

After the game (which the Mets won, 4-3), I couldn’t resist trying to get a ball from home plate umpire Andy Fletcher…and I succeeded.

Jeez.

I almost felt bad about ruining the suspense of ball No. 4,000. Now there’s really no question about whether or not I’ll get it on May 18th at Dodger Stadium. The only question is…how will I get it? (And also how far past 4,000 will I go?)

As for the FLYP interview, I’m not sure when it’ll be ready, but hopefully I’ll have an update within the next week or two.

SNAGGING STATS:

8_the_seven_balls_i_kept_05_12_09.jpg• 9 balls at this game (7 pictured here because I gave two away)

• 178 balls in 22 games this season = 8.09 balls per game.

• 591 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 343 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 3,998 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.70 pledged per ball

• $186.30 raised at this game

• $3,684.60 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/11/09 at Citi Field

The worst thing about my dad is that he’s not *really* a baseball fan. He follows the sport by reading about it sporadically in The New York Times sports section, and he’ll watch a few games on TV here and there, but that’s about it. Still, he goes with me to the occasional game, and this was one of them.

braves_roster_2009.jpg

As we rode out to Citi Field on the No. 7 train, I showed him the Braves roster that I had printed. The roster didn’t say “Braves” on it, and I hadn’t told him who the Mets were playing.

“Which team is this?” he asked in all seriousness as he began looking at it. Then he spotted Derek Lowe’s name and said, “Is he with Boston? Are we seeing Boston?”

Oh dear.

But hey, at least my dad knew that Lowe WAS with Boston at one point…right?

My dad looked at the rest of the roster and pointed out all the other players he had heard of. There were three: Chipper Jones, Jeff Francoeur, and Casey Kotchman (because Casey’s father Tom managed the Boise Hawks when I worked for them in 1995).

Garret Anderson and his 2,377 career hits? Nah.

Then my dad and I made a list of all the major league ballparks he’d been to, and we came up with ten: Shea, Yankee, Fenway, Veterans, Fulton County, Candlestick, Bank One, the new Comiskey, Citizens Bank…and Sportsman’s Park…he thinks. That’s where the St. Louis Browns played in the first half of the 20th century, and he remembers seeing the one-armed Pete Gray.

As our train approached Citi Field, my dad said, “It’s weird for me to be out here and see this. It doesn’t feel like New York.”

(Amen to that.)

One thing that was really cool to see, however, was that the Mets had finally marked the spots in the parking lot where the bases at Shea Stadium used to be. (Big thanks to my friend Gary for giving me a heads-up about this.) Here I am with my dad near home plate…

1_shea_home_plate_stu_zack.jpg

…and here’s a closer look it:

2_shea_home_plate_closeup.jpg

Here’s first base…

3_shea_1st_base.jpg

…and here’s where the mound used to be:

4_shea_pitchers_plate.jpg

It gave me chills to toe the “rubber” and think about the fact that I was standing in the very same place as Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver and Heath Bell and so many other legendary Mets pitchers.

Then, of course, I had to go through the motions of making a full windup and delivery:

5_zack_pitching.jpg

We headed back to Citi and my dad noticed the “Fan Walk” bricks:

6_stu_bricks.jpg

If he had a brick, he said it would read as follows:

I CAN’T BELIEVE I PAID FOR THIS
-STU HAMPLE

His reaction to the stadium itself was simple: “That’s a big mother.”

We took a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, and he gave a mixed review.

On Robinson: “Too bad he wasn’t a Met. They borrowed history ’cause they got nothing else.”

On the rotunda itself: “It has a 19th century look and modern look. I like it.”

So there you have it, and if anyone knows about the 19th century…well, my dad isn’t THAT old, but he was born in 1926.

As for batting practice, there was a little more competition than usual because three guys from my blog–Greg, Gary, and Donnie–were all there. Between the four of us, we basically had left field covered, and yet we still managed to stay out of each other’s way for the most part.

My first ball was thrown by Livan Hernandez in left-center field, and my second ball was a Gary Sheffield homer that rattled around in the seats and caused an all-out scramble. I happened to beat out a guy named Tony for that one. Tony recognized me from this blog, and soon after he asked if we could take a picture together:

7_zack_posing_for_photo.jpg

My dad and I both had cameras, and he followed me around during BP and snapped a bunch of pics.

My third ball was tossed by pitcher Sean Green in right-center, and then my dad got a photo of me shortly before I snagged ball No. 4. Jose Reyes hit a home run that landed in the Mets’ bullpen, and after waiting patiently at the side railing for about five minutes…

8_zack_waiting_by_bullpen.jpg

…I got Mike Pelfrey to toss it up.

The Braves took the field (so I changed into my Braves gear) and used my glove trick to pluck two balls off the warning track in left field. Here I am going for the second one:

9_zack_glove_trick.jpg

Omar Infante threw me my 7th ball of the day. I had to lean WAY over the railing for that one, which was a bit scary considering the wall in left field is like half a mile high.

My eighth and final ball of BP was a home run hit by a righty on the Braves. It bounced off some fans’ hands, plopped down into the front row, and I snatched it as other people were about to reach for it. As soon as I looked up, I noticed that there was a little girl standing right in front of me–with a glove!!–so I asked her if she’d gotten a ball yet, and when she said no, I handed it over. Even though I was decked out in Braves gear, everyone in the section cheered like hell, which was nice, and then I explained that I’m not even a Braves fan.

It might sound like BP was hoppin’ but it actually wasn’t that great. I was out of position a few times and missed one or two homers. There were a couple balls sitting against the outfield wall at one point that I somehow didn’t see, so I lost some glove trick opportunities. There was a homer that I jumped as high as I possibly could for, only to have it tip off the VERY end of my glove. I even ran out to right field for about 20 minutes and got nothing there. So…there were dead periods and frustrating moments and stupid mistakes, and yet I *still* came away with eight balls. That just goes to show that any ballpark that opens two and a half hours early is gonna be pretty good.

Greg and Donnie and Gary each got a bunch of balls. Donnie has his own blog, so you can read about his snagging there, and as for the other two guys, I’ll let them leave comments here with the details of how they did…if they want.

For the rest of the day, everywhere I went…there they were. Pre-game throwing? See below. That’s Greg in the orange/gray jacket and Gary with the yellow shirt:

10_pregame_throwing_greg_gary.jpg

It turned out that no one got the pre-game ball (because Jordan Schafer needs a lesson on how to be fan-friendly).

I wandered with my dad for the first inning, and then we grabbed a couple seats behind the Braves’ dugout. This was our view:

11_view_during_game.jpg

In the middle of the 2nd inning, Braves 1st base coach Glenn Hubbard tossed me the infield warmup ball. Then, after Johan Santana grounded out to end the bottom of the 3rd, Kotchman tossed me the actual game-used ball on his way in. (That one was commemorative.) There was one other fan who made an attempt to catch that ball, and it happened to be a kid with a glove. I asked him if he’d already gotten a ball, and to my surprise he said yes…so I kept it. If he had said no, I would’ve pulled out a non-commemorative BP ball from my backpack and handed that one to him. Anyway, just like that, on what felt like a decent-but-not-all-that-great-snagging-day, I still ended up with double digits.

The great part was simply being with my dad and sharing this experience. The man is FUN, and as an 83-year-old who can move (and even jog) all over the place, he’s a true inspiration, hopefully not just to me but to us all.

SNAGGING STATS:

12_the_nine_balls_i_kept.jpg• 10 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave one away)

• 169 balls in 21 games this season = 8.05 balls per game.

• 590 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 342 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 3,989 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.70 pledged per ball

• $207.00 raised at this game

• $3,498.30 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

I kinda rushed through this entry a bit. Perhaps you could tell. I’m super-busy, in part because I’m going back to Citi Field tonight…because I’m going to be filmed for a segment on FLYP, which is an “online rich media magazine.” I’m now 11 balls away from 4,000, and I’m still planning to snag the milestone at Dodger Stadium on May 18th. (FLYP is gonna try to have someone film me there as well.) When I said in my last entry that I was considering going to Philly and Yankee Stadium this week, I didn’t mean that I was actually planning to be at all those games. I *want* to snag No. 4,000 at Dodger Stadium, so if I have another typical snagging performance at Citi Field tonight, then I simply won’t attend any other games this week.Finally, I suppose I should mention that the Mets lost, 8-3, ending their seven-game winning streak. Santana suffered the loss despite NOT allowing an earned run, so he’s now 4-2 with a National League-leading 0.78 earned run average. Stats can be so silly at times.

5/8/09 at Citi Field

This was a Watch With Zack game, and my “client” was a 14-year-old named Joe. When we met outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, I did a double-take when I saw the shirt he was wearing:

1_joe_and_zack.jpg

It was THE Homer Simpson shirt–the same shirt I’ve been wearing (on rare occasions) since 4/24/08 at Champion Stadium. Hilarious. Joe had just gotten it because the Pirates were in town; he didn’t have time to buy a Pirates shirt, but he wanted to color-coordinate.

Despite the fact that Joe and I had only met once before in person, it felt like we already knew each other. That’s because he’d been reading this blog regularly and leaving lots of comments (as “yankees5221″). Still, he asked a ton of questions, and I had a few of my own for him. One of the first things I asked was, “What exactly do you want to happen today? Is there anything specific that you want to accomplish or do you mainly just want to hang out?”

The answer wasn’t obvious. Did he want help getting autographs? Or baseballs? Did he want me to catch balls for him? Did he want to snag them on his own? Did he want me to explain the rules and nuances of the game? He told me had both of my books and that he had snagged 38 lifetime balls, including a one-game record of five. He seemed to be very athletic and knowledgeable about baseball, so I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to be able to help, but it all became clear. He said he really wanted a Citi Field commemorative ball–he still hadn’t snagged one–and he also wanted some help with the glove trick. For some reason, he just couldn’t get it to work consistently, so I took a look:

2_glove_trick_lesson.jpg

After a minute or two of playing with the rubber band and Sharpie, I realized why Joe was having trouble: the fold of his glove wasn’t quite right. He was forced to place the rubber band at a tricky angle over the fingertips, and it didn’t leave enough space for the ball to slip inside. It wasn’t his fault. Some gloves (like mine) are great for the trick and some (like his) aren’t. That’s just how it goes, but at least I knew I was going to be able to fulfill Joe’s final request, namely to run around with me all day and snag as many balls as possible. Hell, that’s my specialty, and what made it even easier was that his dad Bob let us do our thing and didn’t even insist that we stick together. If he had told me not to let his son out of my sight, then obviously I would have stayed with Joe throughout the day, but Bob was cool with it. When the stadium opened, he headed straight to his seat. He just wanted to relax and watch the game.

That left me free to roam with Joe, who said he didn’t want to get in my way at all. I told him I didn’t want to get in *his* way.

“This is YOUR day,” I said, but he insisted that he was as interested–if not more interested–in my ball total than his own.

Joe changed into a blue shirt before the stadium opened at 4:40pm, and then we raced to the left field seats. I quickly spotted a ball sitting on the warning track near the foul pole, and when I looked up after reeling it in with the glove trick, I saw Joe in straight-away left field. He was about to get his first ball of the day tossed by Daniel Murphy:

3_joe_in_left_field_seats.jpg

Awesome.

We were both on the board, and we’d only been inside the stadium for a couple minutes. I knew it was going to be a big day.

Soon after, Mike Pelfrey retrieved a ball near the warning track. Joe and a couple other kids called out for it. For a moment it looked like Big Pelf was going to fire it back toward the bucket, but then he inspected the ball and turned around to look up into the crowd. Who was the lucky fan that he picked out? Joe. Was there something special about the ball that had caught Pelfrey’s eye? See below for yourself:

5_joe_first_citi_commemorative_ball.jpg

I was thrilled for Joe, but I’m sure he was even more thrilled. It was a perfect commemorative ball, and it was rubbed up with mud, which meant it had probably been used briefly during an actual game.

All the pressure was off. He had his ball. Now it was just a matter of seeing how many more we could get.

ryan_church.jpg

I ran over to the left-center field end of the section (all the way out near the home run apple) when I saw Ryan Church walking over to retrieve two baseballs on the warning track in right-center. I figured it was unlikely that he’d throw a ball to me from so far away, but I had to give it a shot.

“Ryan!!” I yelled. “Let’s see the gun!!”

Church turned and chucked a ball to me. Then he fired the other one to Joe, who had followed me. (Joe plays 3rd base for his middle school team; he had NO trouble catching any of the balls that were thrown to him.)

I asked Joe how he felt about us splitting up for a bit, and he was totally fine with it. He decided to stay in left field and ended up making a nice jumping catch on a ball that was thrown by Fernando Tatis. Meanwhile, I headed out to the seats in deep right-center and got two balls tossed to me within five minutes. The first came from Sean Green, and the second came from Livan Hernandez.

“Hey, don’t be greedy,” said a middle-aged man who wasn’t wearing a glove and then proceeded to shout for balls without saying please or even calling the players by their names. (Putz.)

I spotted a ball sitting on the warning track along the right field foul line, so I ran around the concourse behind the right field seats…

4_ball3972_on_field.jpg

…and ended up snagging it with the glove trick. Then I got another ball with the trick in straight away right field, underneath the overhang of the second deck.

Two minutes later, Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello walked over and picked up a ball near the warning track. (Racaniello has recognized me for years, and he’s always been really cool. Even though he knows about my collection, he still gives me baseballs. This was the first time I’d seen him this season.)

“Dave!” I shouted, prompting him to look up and walk toward me. “I have a question,” I continued, and before I said another word, he threw the ball to me. I caught it and said, “Okay, that wasn’t even going to be the question, but thanks.”

“I know,” he said with a shrug and asked what’s up.

I noticed that the ball had a semi-worn commemorative logo.

dave_racaniello2.jpg

“Have you seen any balls floating around with the video game logo?”

“You mean the commemorative logo?” he asked.

“No, not the Citi Field logo,” I said. “I’m talking about those balls that’re like an advertisement for a video game. They say ’2K Sports’ or something like that. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

“Oh yeah,” he said, “I’ve seen those.”

“Well, I’ve only HEARD about them, and I’m dying to get one. Any chance you could hook me up if you see one? I’ll give this ball back in exchange for one.”

He held up his glove, and I tossed the commemorative ball back to him. (I decided not to count it. I think it’s cheap if you give one ball away in order to get another and then count them both.) He then tossed it to another fan.

The Mets were almost done with BP, and they only hit one other ball near Racaniello. He went and got it, took a peek at it, looked up at me, shook his head, and jogged off the field with everyone else a minute later. I wasn’t concerned. It’s a long season. He’ll hook me up eventually, and anyway, it was good to show him that I’m not desperate to get my hands on every single ball. (Well, actually I am, but I gave the appearance that I’m not.)

I ran back to the left field seats and caught up with Joe. He had changed back into his yellow/Pirates outfit, and he told me he was going to hang out on the left field foul line and try to get a ball from the Pirates when they were done throwing. His plan worked. John Grabow tossed one his way, tying his single-game record of five balls. I then left Joe in left field again, ran back to right field, and got three balls thrown to me within a 10-minute span. The first came from Craig Hansen, the second came from the always-generous Craig Monroe, and the third was tossed up by Zach Duke. Joe had made his way over to my section at that point. (It was easy for him to spot me because of my bright yellow “CLEMENTE 21″ shirt.) I felt bad because it occurred to me that I might have cost Joe a ball by getting the players to toss all three to me, but he insisted it was fine. If anything, he was excited that I was now only one ball away from double digits. I was excited because he was one ball away from setting a new personal record.

He asked me where he should go, and I thought about it for a moment. Left field was crowded. Right field…had been used up. Do you ever get that sense? You catch so many balls in one spot that you just kinda KNOW that the players are done tossing balls into the crowd. Right-center field was crowded, not to mention being 420 feet from home plate. It was tough. Batting practice was winding down anyway. There was another round or two remaining, but I could tell that the best opportunities were behind us.

“Left-center field,” I told him. “Next to the apple. See the kid in the corner spot? He’s not REALLY in the corner. I think you can squeeze in next to him, and you should be able to get a ball tossed to you there.”

It took forever to make our way around the outfield because the concourse behind the batter’s eye was packed, but when we made it, the corner spot was indeed open. We did a lot of shouting at the players after that. Everyone was shouting. It was kind of insane, but eventually, after about five minutes, we got Nate McClouth to toss up a ball. The angle was tough. McCouth was on the right, and there were some other kids on OUR right, which meant that they’d have a chance to reach out for the ball, but the throw sailed just far enough that they couldn’t reach it…but it was falling short. Super-Joe made a clutch play, reaching far down over the railing and catching the ball in the tip of his glove. I was impressed. I didn’t think there was any chance he’d reach it, so I give him a lot of credit. It was a true Web Gem. Here’s Joe with his record-breaking sixth ball of the day:

6_joe_breaks_his_single_game_record.jpg

Joe absolutely wanted to get to the dugout by the end of BP, so he headed over toward the foul line with about 10 minutes to spare. I told him he had more time to hang out in the outfield, but he didn’t want to take any chances. I ran out to right field and used my glove trick one final time to snag my 10th ball of the day. The ball was a bit too far out from the wall, so Sean Burnett moved it closer for me…and some Mets photographer walked out onto the warning track and started taking pictures of both me and the contraption. I have no idea if/where these pics will be used, so keep a lookout for me. Maybe in the Mets magazine or yearbook? Don’t forget that I was wearing yellow at the time.

The worst thing about Citi Field is that you can’t get down to the dugout during BP unless you have a ticket for that section. As a result, Joe and I were trapped along the 3rd base line when all the players and coaches walked off the field. Still, we each managed to get a ball from some Pirates equipment guy who was in the process of transferring the balls from the basket into a zippered bag. We were standing on the outfield side of that glassy tunnel, and the guy spotted us all the way from the dugout and threw the balls to us. Here we are with those final two BP balls. You can see the tunnel right behind us, and you can see how far it is from there to the dugout:

7_zack_joe_after_batting_practice.jpg

Our mutual friend Clif (aka “goislanders4″) was also at this game, and after we de-yellowed ourselves, we got him to take a couple photos of us with our baseballs. Here’s my favorite shot:

8_zack_joe_lotsa_balls.jpg

For some reason, the Citi Field ushers are militant about keeping people away from the dugouts during BP, but after that it’s not hard to get down there, so that’s where Joe and I hung out for the next few hours.

Just before the game started, Joe was standing behind the home-plate end of the Pirates’ dugout, waiting for the players to come out and throw. Clif (who had snagged several balls as well) was also at the home-plate end, so I called Joe over to the outfield end. There were two reasons why I did this. First, I didn’t want Clif and Joe to compete in the same spot, and secondly, Freddy Sanchez ended up being the guy playing catch on the outfield side. I’ve seen the Pirates a bunch of times over the past few seasons, so I knew that he’s usually the guy who ends up with the ball after the pre-game throwing. Joe hurried through the seats, and when he reached me (I was carrying both of our backpacks), I lent him my Pirates shirt and then pointed out a spot in the front row where he could squeeze in. Less than a minute later, Sanchez finished throwing (with rookie Brian Bixler; the more experienced player usually ends up with the ball), took a couple steps toward the dugout, looked up and spotted Joe and lobbed the ball in his direction. I was afraid that someone would reach in front of Joe, but he reached way out for it and caught it just a few inches in front of the nearest hand. (I had my camera ready and tried to get an action shot, but my timing was off.) The young man had EIGHT balls. We talked about the possibility of double digits. He needed to snag a third-out ball and then get a ball from the umpire after the game.

Could it be done?

We were sitting in the perfect spot:

9_joe_moving_closer.jpg

In the photo above, you can see Joe in the yellow shirt, getting ready to make his move. Whenever the Pirates were on the field with two outs, he moved down a few rows so he’d be closer to the dugout. The rest of the time, he sat next to me. We’d made a deal: he let me sit on the end of the row so I could jump up and run for foul balls (there were a few close calls), and I let him go for all the third-out balls. Clif got the first one, and then for a few innings after that, the balls were being tossed to other sections.

I kept telling Joe that I wanted to give him one of my balls. He told me that he wouldn’t count it in his collection.

“I know,” I said, “but I still feel like you should own an official Zack Hample baseball.”

“I’m having the best time of my life right now,” he said. “I don’t need a ball.”

What he meant was that he didn’t need a ball from ME. When Daniel Murphy ended the bottom of the 6th inning by flying out to right fielder Brandon Moss, Joe was all over it. He beat the other kids down there and and got himself into a perfect spot. Moss tossed the ball right to him, but a grown-up reached in from the side and I thought “Oh no…”

10_joe_catching_third_out_ball.jpg

…but my man made the catch! Out-STANDING!!! He out-snagged someone who was half a foot taller than him, and he got himself a real game-used ball (which of course was commemorative, and by the way, in the photo above, the ball is already inside Joe’s glove).

After that, the usher told Joe not to run down to the dugout again so that the other kids could have a chance. Fair enough…I suppose. I never like it when stadium employees try to regulate how many baseballs people can catch, but it WAS nice of the usher not to kick us out of the section. It was an usher who’d given me a hard time way back in the day at Shea Stadium, so he probably knew that I didn’t belong in the fancy seats, but for some reason he was really laid-back. No complaints. I’m actually starting to like Citi Field a whole lot. Easy dugout access. No hassles with the glove trick. The gates open two and a half hours early. It could be a LOT worse (and hey, it IS a lot worse right across town).

Joe wanted to wander for a bit after that, so we took a lap around the entire stadium via the field level concourse. (He got a slice of pizza that made him sick. I got a stromboli which was good by ballpark standards but awful by NYC-pizza-place standards.) The area behind the big scoreboard in center field is really nice. I hadn’t yet been back there. There’s a batting cage, lots of concession stands, some video games, and tables where people can stand and eat/drink. And…on the back of the scoreboard, there’s a decent-sized screen that shows the game, along with a mini-scoreboard underneath it so people can follow all the action. I could do without all the advertisements–it’d be nice if there was more nostalgic Mets stuff on display–but overall, it was a great place to be. Check it out:

11_area_behind_center_field.jpg

(That’s Joe with the big black backpack–an item that would be prohibited inside Yankee Stadium, and for all you Yankee fans out there, don’t get on me for bashing your brand new ballpark. I’m just telling it like it is. If you want to complain, write a letter to the Steinbrenners and tell them to chill the **** out and stop running the place like a prison. Or just be like me and go there as little as possible. It’s no coincidence that of the 20 games I’ve attended this season, only one has been in the Bronx.)

We followed the concourse out to right-center field, headed down some steps, and found ourselves behind the bullpens:

12_area_behind_bullpens.jpg

Pretty nice, huh? (That’s the original home run apple.)

I still think the Mets made some questionable architectural decisions, but overall I’m liking this stadium more and more.

The game was tied, 2-2, after seven innings. Then the Mets put up a five-spot in the bottom of the eighth. There were only three outs remaining so Joe and I got into position for the umps.

The Pirates scored one run in the top of the ninth, but their rally was snuffed out soon after. Game over. Final score: Mets 7, Pirates 3. The umps started walking off the field, and I gave Joe some advice at the last second about where to stand and what to say. This is what happened moments later. It’s a photo of home plate ump Jerry Layne placing a (commemorative) ball into Joe’s glove:

13_ump_gives_joe_his_10th_ball.jpg

Double digits had been achieved!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(That’s one exclamation point for every ball that Joe and I ended up snagging.)

I got ball No. 12 at the dugout from Matt Capps when he and a few other relievers walked in from the bullpen. As soon as I caught it, I noticed a little kid on my right who was wearing a glove. Before the usher had a chance to nag me, I asked the kid if he’d gotten a ball, and when he said no, I handed it to him. The usher was stunned. The kid was ecstatic, and his father thanked me. What mattered was that I gave the ball away on my own terms, not because a fan asked for it or because an employee insisted. But let’s not get started on a whole discussion about that. It was a perfect day with a perfect ending.

14_zack_joe_outside_after_game.jpg

SNAGGING STATS:

15_the_11_balls_i_kept.jpg

• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 159 balls in 20 games this season = 7.95 balls per game.

• 589 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 341 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 3 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least nine balls

• 15 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 10 balls snagged by Joe is a new Watch With Zack record

• 22 balls combined is also a new Watch With Zack record

• 3,979 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.38 pledged per ball

• $244.56 raised at this game

• $3,240.42 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/27/09 at Miller Park

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

1_happy_youngster_meets_me.jpg

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

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

2_miller_park_from_afar.jpg

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

3_house_from_street.jpg

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

4_nick_basement.jpg

…and here’s another:

5_nick_basement.jpg

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

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

6_zack_outside_miller_park.jpg

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

7_aaron_755_landing_spot.jpg

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

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

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

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

9_outside_miller_park.jpg
The roof ended up staying closed for the game, but it was cool to get there early enough to see a sliver of sky peeking through.Here’s another look at the outside of the stadium. There’s nothing WRONG with it. It’s just not sexy:

10_outside_miller_park.jpg

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

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

12_outside_miller_park_brat.jpg

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

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

13_outside_miller_park.jpg

As for the inside of Miller Park…

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

14_sue_shawn_books.jpg

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

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

15_remember_the_alamo.jpg

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

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

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

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

17_marked_balls.jpg

Now, here they are with the sweet spots up…

18_marked_balls.jpg

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

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

19_second_deck.jpg

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

That wasn’t it.

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

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

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

20_ball3919_dirty.jpg

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

21_pirates_fans_on_tv.jpg

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

What’s so good about it?

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

22_foul_ball_view_right.jpg

…and this was my view to the left:

23_view_to_my_left.jpg

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

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

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

Check out the mark on the wall/ball:

24_paint_on_foul_ball.jpg

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

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

25_trevor_brewers_debut.jpg

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

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

26_zack_100th_ball_of_2009.jpg

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

27_ball3920_100th_of_2009.jpg
SNAGGING STATS:

• 12 balls at this game

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

• 12 consecutive seasons with at least 100 balls

• 582 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

• 3,920 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $18.17 pledged per ball

• $218.04 raised at this game

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

4/15/09 at Citi Field

Two weeks ago I attended a college game at Citi Field, but let’s pretend that never happened. As far as I’m concerned, THIS was my first real game at the Mets’ new ballpark and I was there with my friend Leon Feingold:

1_citi_zack_leon.jpg

Leon is rather tall–6-foot-6 to be exact–and if he looks like a baseball player, that’s because he is. He pitched in the Indians’ minor league system in the mid-90s, and his fastball at the time was clocked in the mid-90s. For the last two years he’s pitched professionally in the Israeli Baseball League, and just last week he had a tryout with the Newark Bears. (Leon has made several appearances on this blog since last year. He and I played catch in a cramped gym, attended two games at Camden Yards, and checked out the NYC Scrabble Club.)

The funny moment of the day took place as Leon and I were walking toward the left field gate. I noticed that several Padres players happened to be walking right alongside us, so I ran ahead and pulled out my camera, and this is what they did:

2_citi_outside_citi_field.jpg

That’s right. They hid their faces. The guy with the leather jacket (I wish I knew who it was) came charging right at me as if he were going to knock me down. The guy on the right (whose jacket is pulled over his face) had a shaved head. I think it might’ve been Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Now…one thing you have to know about Leon is that he’s a total troublemaker, and yet he never seems to get IN trouble. That said, he brazenly walked past the security guard outside the 3rd base VIP gate, then told the guard on the inside that he was one of the players and that he was looking for the press box. Incredibly, the guard waved Leon through and I got to tag along as his “guest.” (Leon does have an active APBPA card, which is supposed to get him access anyway, but he wasn’t asked to show it.)

We walked past the guard and found ourselves in the concourse underneath the seats. It was bustling with employees (including security guards) but no one paid any attention to us. They probably figured we belonged there. I was scared to death that we were going to get busted (half the people who work for the Mets recognize me and would’ve been suspicious if they’d seen me down there), but Leon insisted we weren’t doing anything wrong.

“What’re you gonna say if someone stops us?!” I shouted in a whisper.

“Don’t worry,” he said calmly. “I’ll think of something.”

I noticed that there were security cameras all over the place, and I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself by stopping to take a photograph, so I waited until the concourse cleared out and took the following shot on the move. That’s why it’s blurry:

3_citi_tunnel.jpg

We kept walking and the concourse kept getting emptier, and eventually there was no one else in sight. I had no idea where we were, but I figured we must’ve walked halfway around the stadium. The concourse just kept going and going, and the way I saw it, we were getting unsettlingly deep into enemy land.

Eventually the concourse spat us out though a couple metal doors…and oh my God…we were behind the bullpens:

4_citi_area_behind_bullpen.jpg

I could see the field to my left…

5_citi_path_to_field.jpg

…so naturally I walked up for a closer look:

6_citi_door_to_field.jpg

Here I am, just slightly happy:

7_citi_zack_happy.jpg

I reached down and ran my fingers through the dirt on the warning track. (Heaven!) Then I poked my head out and looked to my left:

Leon and I hung out there for about five minutes, and no one said a word. I was feeling too giddy at that point to worry about getting caught, so I kept my camera out and took dozens of photos. Here’s a shot of the visitors’ bullpen…

9_citi_bullpen.jpg

…and here’s a look at the space between the bullpens. Aside from getting to hang out with major leaguers, I would hate to watch a game from there:

10_citi_area_between_bullpens.jpg

We headed back into the concourse and made our way toward the exit. Of course this story wouldn’t be complete without a photo of me standing right outside the Mets clubhouse:

11_citi_zack_clubhouse.jpg

Wow.

We made it. We were back outside. No one had said a word.

Leon and I headed to the left field gate and played catch for about 20 minutes. (I’m so sore right now.) We long-tossed for a bit, and when we got so far apart that I could no longer reach him, I started rolling the ball back to him. We were SO far apart at one point that when people walked past me I got some strange looks, presumably because they couldn’t figure out why I was standing all alone with a glove, staring into space. A few passersby looked in the direction that I was looking, and when they saw that there was another guy way off in the distance, they had to stop and see if he could actually throw the ball that far. The answer is yes, he could, and this was after he’d pitched the day before. (Freak of nature.)

My friend and bellow ballhawk Gary (aka “gjk2212″ from the comments) was the first one in line at the gate. As the crowd continued to grow, we didn’t see any security guards getting up, and we began to worry that the gate wasn’t going to open. Long story short: At the last second, we had to run over to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and wiggle our way into line and enter there. Look how crowded it was:

12_citi_rotunda_gate_crowd.jpg

The gates opened 10 minutes late, and as soon as security finished looking inside my bag, I made a beeline for the left field seats. (Leon was already there. He’d wandered off and talked his way into the stadium half an hour earlier. Don’t ask.) Less than a minute later, a right-handed batter on the Mets launched a ball toward the empty seats in left-center field. Thanks to the fact that I had to deal with those cheap, non-juiced International League balls last week in Toronto, I misjudged this one and watched helplessly as it sailed five feet over my head. Luckily it did
13_citi_first_ball.jpgNOT take a crazy bounce, and I was able to grab it off the steps a moment later.

I was on the board! First ball ever at Citi Field! I was hoping it would have the Citi Field commemorative logo, but no, it was just a regular ball (pictured here on the right). I hadn’t yet seen the logo, not even in a photograph. I’d made a point of not looking at it throughout the winter. I knew I was going to snag some of the commemorative balls eventually, and I wanted to be totally surprised when I got the first one.

A couple minutes later, Fernando Tatis sent another ball flying in my direction. The seats were still fairly empty at that point, so even though I wasn’t close enough to catch it on the fly, I was still able to grab it off the ground. Another regular ball. Bleh.

It felt great just to have room to run for home run balls. Shea Stadium had plenty of quirks and provided a few advantages, but overall it was a dreadful place for batting practice. There were hardly any seats in fair territory, so all I could do was beg the players for balls. Yeesh. I don’t even want to think about that. Quick…I have to erase the memory. Here’s what BP looked like yesterday out in the left field seats:

14_citi_room_to_run.jpg

The biggest problem with BP at Citi Field is that there’s not a great place to go for left-handed batters. The second deck in right field swallows up some of the balls, but it’s a pain to get up there (Gary was kicked out of that section during BP), and the seats on the lower level don’t get much action because of the overhang. The only other option is the section way out in right-center, which unfortunately sits next to a “415″ marker on the outfield wall. When you’re out there, it might look like a good spot, but in reality it’s a loooooong way from home plate, and there won’t be too many balls that reach the seats. Here’s the view:

15_deep_right_center_field.jpg

Carlos Delgado did manage to hit one ball out there, and I snagged it. I was in the third or fourth row at the time, and it landed several rows behind me, so it was quite a shot. Did it have a commemorative logo?! No, but at least I had my third ball of the day.

Toward the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, I was able to use my glove trick to pluck a ball off the warning track in straight-away left field, and let me tell you, it’s a long way down. I think that wall is 16 feet high. Commemorative ball? Nope.

The Padres took the field and started hitting. Another ball rolled onto the warning track in left field. I rigged my glove, lowered it to the field, pulled up the ball, and took a look at it. WHAT?!?! I did a double-take when I saw it. There was a different type of the logo on the ball. Was that…it?! THAT?! The logo was tall and narrow and generic. All it said was “2009 inaugural season.” No mention of the Mets or Citi Field or New York. Nothing. Just a little piece of artwork that I gathered was supposed to represent the outside of the stadium. Have a look for yourself:

18_citi_field_commemorative_ball.jpg

It was so disappointing. Of all the commemorative balls I’ve snagged over the years, this is the worst. By far. Only the Mets could possibly manage to screw up a ball. Am I being too harsh? What do you think about this new ball? Does anyone actually like it?

Heath Bell came out and started throwing with the rest of the pitchers…

16_citi_heath_bell_throwing.jpg

…and I got his attention.

A little context: I got to know Heath five years ago when he was a Quadruple-A reliever for the Mets. I played catch with him from the seats at Shea in 2005, and he’s always been really cool to me whenever I’ve seen him. Last year, when I saw him at PETCO Park, he hooked me up with a very special ball and also gave me a cap. I can’t explain it, but the man is truly looking out for me. Most players who recognize me won’t give me baseballs, and in fact some have even gone out of their way to prevent me from getting balls, but Heath is just the opposite. I guess he likes the fact that I’m such a big fan, and he gets a kick out of adding to my collection. I’d heard from a few friends (who know that I know him) that Heath was looking for me two days earlier, but I wasn’t able to go to that game. (Too expensive.) One of my friends (I think it was Gary…or maybe it was Gail…too many emails…ahh!) told me that Heath wanted me to give him a call. But I didn’t have his number. I’d mailed him a letter during Spring Training and given him MY number, but I never heard from him. I once talked to him on someone else’s cell phone. So close…and yet so far. I still didn’t know how to get a hold of him, other than showing up at a stadium and waving him down. Anyway, on this fine day, he told me that he wanted to talk to me, but he said he had to throw and run first, and that when he was done he’d meet me out in that deep section in right-center field.

Sweet!

I could’ve kept trying to snag balls, but I didn’t want to miss him, so I immediately headed out there, and of course I missed a few snagging opportunities as a result. But I knew it was worth it.

Sure enough, about 10 or maybe 15 minutes later, Heath started jogging out toward my section in right-center, and I had to convince some fans in the front row to let me in. When Heath got close, I leaned over the wall as far as I could, and he jumped up and gave me a little handshake in mid-air. Then he just stood there on the warning track and talked to me for…I don’t know, at least another 10 minutes:

17_citi_heath_bell_talking_to_me.jpg

I can’t remember everything we talked about, but basically I congratulated him on becoming the closer. He asked me how I’ve been. I asked him if he happened to save any balls from the World Baseball Classic. He said he got a whole bunch and would give one to me…but he said the balls are in San Diego. He asked if I was planning to head out that way this season. I said no, but that I might have to come out just to get one of those balls. He said it wasn’t worth it, and I explained that it IS worth it. I told him that I only count balls from major league players at major league games, so the only way that I could ever possibly have a WBC ball in my collection would be if he gave one to me at a regular season game. He asked me if I’m going to be seeing the Padres on the road, like in Philly or D.C., and I said I wasn’t sure. So…he was like, “Well keep me posted and let me know where you’re gonna be, and we’ll try to figure it out.” I told him that I still didn’t have his phone number and that I had no way of getting a hold of him. He said he had my number. He was like, “That number you sent me is your cell?” I said yes, and he said he’d text me after batting practice. I wasn’t sure if he really had the number, so I grabbed one of my contact cards and wrote my number on it and gave it to him. Then we started talking about other stuff.

heath_bell.jpg
“So you’ve heard about my charity?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, “someone was talking about it. What’s the deal with that?”

I told him all about it, how the charity is called Pitch In For Baseball, and how it provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world, and how I’m getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag this season, and how every ball I snag is already worth close to $16 for the charity, and that it’d be AWESOME if he were to pledge something, even a teeny amount, just so I could say I had a major league player on board.

“Send me the info,” he said, “I’ll check it out.”

“I won’t charge you for the balls you give me,” I told him.

He asked me if I’d gotten one of the commemorative balls yet. I couldn’t lie. I told him that I *had* just gotten one about half an hour earlier, but that didn’t stop him from giving me another. When a ball rolled onto the warning track about 50 feet away, he went over and picked it up and inspected it to see if had the “special” logo, and when he saw that it did, he walked past all the screaming fans in the front row and tossed it right up to me.

Heath Bell is THE MAN, and the Mets were stupid to let him go.

I can’t even remember what else we talked about. Like I said, it was a long conversation, but we wrapped it up with my saying “thanks sooooo much” and “congrats again.” He said he’d text me after BP and we said we’d talk soon.

I only managed to get one more ball during BP. I snagged it with my glove trick near the LF foul pole, it was commemorative. Very strange that the Padres were using those balls and the Mets weren’t. (Does anyone know Mets equipment manager Charlie Samuels? I’d really like to talk to him and ask him a few questions.)

After BP, I met up with Leon behind the Padres’ dugout. Dave Winfield was down there, and Leon shouted at him and told him he played with him in Spring Training one year. Here’s Winfield’s reaction:

19_citi_dave_winfield.jpg

Here I am with the seven balls I’d snagged (I gave one of them away to a kid after the game):

20_citi_zack_seven_balls.jpg

As promised, Heath texted me after BP, and he included his email address. Obviously I can’t share that address here, but I will say that it contains the word “heater.”

It was Jackie Robinson Day. Here are all the No. 42′s being worn in his honor:

21_citi_number_42.jpg

After the ceremony, when Heath walked back in toward the dugout, he spotted me in the seats and asked if I’d gotten his text. Coolness.

Game time!

This was my view in the first inning:

22_citi_seat_in_1st_inning.jpg

When David Wright struck out to end the bottom of the first, I bolted down the steps and got Padres catcher Nick Hundley to toss me the ball on his way in. So easy. No competition. And finally, I had a commemorative ball that was actually rubbed up and game-used.

Gary Sheffield, stuck on 499 career homers, was getting his first start of the year and batting sixth. When he came up in the bottom of the second, this is where I was sitting:

23_citi_going_for_sheffield_500.jpg

It wasn’t ideal, but that’s Citi Field for ya. There’s no cross aisle, so if a game is crowded (as it will be all year and probably for all of eternity), there’s no way to run left or right for a home run ball. If Sheffield had gotten a hold of one, he would’ve had to hit it exactly in my direction, and my range would’ve been limited to that one staircase. Not good. But at least I had a chance. Sheffield, though, didn’t do his part and struck out swinging.

After that I moved up to the club (aka “Excelsior”) level. Good foul ball spot. This was the view:

24_citi_foul_ball_spot.jpg

If the guards had actually let me stand in the aisle, this is what it would’ve looked like on my left…

25_citi_foul_ball_spot_left.jpg

…and this is what it would’ve looked like on my right. Notice the baseball writers in the press box and the blue SNY booth in the distance:

26_citi_foul_ball_spot_right.jpg

Here’s a closer look at the booth. Keith Hernandez is on the left, Ron Darling is in the middle, and Gary Cohen (whom I adore) is on the right:

27_citi_SNY_booth.jpg

Here’s at look at the ESPN booth. Rick Sutcliffe is on the left, Joe Morgan is sitting next to him, then Rachel Robinson (Jackie Robinson’s widow), and Dave O’Brian on the right. Not a shabby group. Security didn’t appreciate the fact that I took this photo (and yet they had no problem with the fact that I was practically standing on the field five hours earlier…go figure):

28_citi_ESPN_booth.jpg

I kept moving around between the left field seats for Sheffield (who went 0-for-2 with a walk and got pulled for a pinch hitter late in the game), the club level for foul balls (there were none), and the Padres’ dugout for third-out balls. Leon, who told me he’d run out onto the batter’s eye to grab a ball during BP, spent the entire game sitting in the second row behind the dugout. (Oh, and I forgot to mention that he ended up snagging three balls, including a Sheffield BP homer that was heading right into my glove; I need shorter, less athletic friends.)

The following photo shows my view in the seventh inning:

29_citi_seat_in_7th_inning.jpg

Once again, it was David Wright who ended the frame, this time with a fly out to right fielder Brian Giles. By this late point in the game, all the fans in the section knew there was a chance to get a ball every inning, but they were too dumb to figure out why. They all charged down the steps and yelled at first baseman Adrian Gonzalez as he jogged off the field, and as soon as he was gone, they all dispersed and headed back to their seats. Fifteen seconds later, Giles jogged in, and since I was the ONLY fan standing in the front row at that point, I had no trouble getting him to toss me the ball. That was my ninth and (unfortunately) final ball of the day.

After the game, I got a photo with Gary (pictured below on the right) and a fellow ballhawk named Donnie (aka “donnieanks”) that I had finally met for the first time earlier in the day. Here were are:

30_citi_donnie_zack_gary.jpg

And that’s about it.

I hope the Padres win the NL West and Heath Bell saves 74 games.

SNAGGING STATS:

31_citi_the_eight_i_kept.jpg
• 9 balls at this game (8 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 40 balls in 5 games this season = 8 balls per game.

• 574 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 339 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 45 major league stadiums with at least one ball caught

• 3,860 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $15.87 pledged per ball

• $142.83 raised at this game

• $634.80 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 283 other followers