Results tagged ‘ groundskeeper ’

8/27/09 at Coors Field

This was the final day of my trip, and it began with a home-cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs:

1_breakfast_by_nettie.jpg

The meal was prepared by Nettie, my “host mother” for the week. She and her husband Danny have season tickets at Coors Field, and to put it lightly, they are C-R-A-Z-Y about baseball. Their home is filled with baseball-related items, and when I finished eating my breakfast, I photographed as much of them as I could before leaving for Coors Field.

First of all, did you notice the smaller plate in the photo above? Yeah, those are baseball seams coming out in all four directions. And how about the salt and pepper shakers? I’m telling you, these people are nuts (and I mean that in a good way; I keep trying to get them to adopt me). Wherever I looked, there was a baseball-themed object.

The four-part photo below shows some of their food-related baseball items. Starting on the top left and then going clockwise, you can see 1) a baseball sign on their kitchen wall, 2) a baseball mixing bowl, 3) teeny baseball candles with burnt wicks, and 4) a baseball toothpick holder:

2_food_related_baseball_items.jpg

See what I mean?

Nuts.

And we’re just getting started…

Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) baseball caps hanging on baseball hooks, 2) mini-baseball statues high up on a ledge, 3) a baseball key hook with an “I Love Baseball” lanyard hanging from it, and 4) a baseball stool sitting in front of a bottle-shaped Colorado Rockies piggy bank:

3_hooks_statues_stool.jpg

Ready for more?

Here’s another collage that shows 1) baseball rugs, 2) a baseball lamp sitting in front of a baseball clock, 3) a baseball calendar, and 4) baseball coasters and a baseball pad:

4_rugs_lamp_calendar_coasters.jpg

Speaking of clocks…

The one pictured below on the lower left has a baseball pendulum swinging back and forth:

5_clocks.jpg

Let’s go from clocks to pillows…

6_pillows.jpg

…and from pillows to the downstairs bathroom. Here are the towels:

7_towels.jpg

Here’s the soap dish:

8_soap_dish.jpg

And hey, let’s not forget the baseball hooks on the inside of the door:

9_bathroom_hook.jpg

Elsewhere in Danny and Nettie’s apartment, there were two baseball mouse pads:

10_mouse_pads.jpg

Then there was the pair of All-Star Game sneakers, which were sitting in front of a dresser with baseball handles:

11_shoes_and_drawer_handles.jpg

And finally (although I’ve only shown a fraction of the baseball items in their home), check out the Rawlings luggage:

12_rawlings_luggage.jpg

How cool is that?! (I’d be too nervous to travel with it. I’d be paranoid that someone would steal it.)

Anyway, yes, Coors Field…

It was a dreaded day-game-after-a-night-game, which meant there might not be batting practice. Still, I was optimistic and marched confidently toward Gate E:

13_zack_outside_coors_field_08_27_09.jpg

Oh yeah, baby, that’s right: the big glove was BACK.

Unfortunately, this is what the field looked like when the stadium opened:

14_no_batting_practice_08_27_09.jpg

No batting practice!
Faaaaaaaaaaaack!

I don’t get it. Why wasn’t there BP? The previous night’s game (at which there was no BP because of rain) had started at 6:40pm. It lasted two hours and 46 minutes. That means it ended at 9:26pm. That’s not exactly late. And the Rockies had only scored one run. Why?! I demand to know! Because it was get-away day? Sorry, but that’s lame.

This was my eighth game of 2009 without batting practice. My baseball totals at the previous seven were: 4, 3, 3, 6, 3, 4, and 2. That’s an average of a little over 3.5 balls per game. Not good…not now…not when I needed to snag five balls in order to reach 400 for the season. It’s not like this was going to be my last game of the year, and it’s not like I’d never reached 400 before. It’s just that…I don’t know…it was something I’d been shooting for by the end of August.

There wasn’t much happening early on, but I still had a chance to get myself on the board. Several Dodgers pitchers began playing catch in the left field corner, and one of them made a bad throw that rolled all the way into deep left-center. They didn’t bother to retrieve the ball, so it just sat there, right on the grass in front of the warning track. Naturally, I ran over and got myself as close to the ball as possible. This was my view as I waited there for the next five minutes:

15_ball4216_on_field.jpg

Finally, a couple pitchers stepped out of the bullpen in right-center and began walking slowly across the field. Hiroki Kuroda was the player closest to me, and he spotted the ball on his own. I didn’t have to point at it or call his name. I didn’t even bother asking him for the ball in Japanese. I didn’t say a word. I was the only fan standing there *and* I had the big glove. If ever there was a guaranteed ball, I figured, this was it…and sure enough, he walked over and picked it up and tossed it to me. I made a careful two-handed catch and squeezed the ball inside the gigantic pocket. I thanked Kuroda in Japanese, then took a peek at the ball, and was happy to see that it said “DODGERTOWN” on the sweet spot. Nice!

Danny had not snagged a Dodgertown ball at either of the previous two games, and he knew that I had, so he asked me if I could spare one of mine.

“I know you always give away one of your baseballs to a little kid,” he said, “so can I be the little kid today?”

Danny had the ball in his possession soon after. It was an honor to give it to him, knowing that he would treasure it in his own collection.

There wasn’t too much action after that, unless you consider THIS to be action:

16_old_folks_with_big_glove.jpg

Everyone inside Coors Field, it seemed, wanted to see the big glove, and everyone asked the same question: “Where did you get it?” I meant to count the number of times I got asked that question, but once the stadium opened, I quickly forgot. I would estimate the number to be somewhere around 50, and I gave the same answer every time: “I don’t know. It was a gift. A friend found it online and sent it to me.” Next time I take the big glove to a game, I might print up cards with that answer and hand them out.

Meanwhile, the lack of activity on the field was mind-numbing. All I could do was spend my time posing with the big glove…

17_zack_posing_with_big_glove.jpg

…and then take photos of my friend Robert Harmon doing the same:

18_robert_goofing_with_big_glove.jpg

Yawn.

Finally — I don’t even know when — a few more Dodgers came out to run and stretch and throw in shallow left field.

Ramon Troncoso spotted my big glove and asked if he could see it.

Here he is checking it out as Ronald Belisario stood nearby looking on.

19_ramon_troncoso_big_glove.jpg

Belisario tossed a few balls to Troncoso, who struggled to catch them and seemed to enjoy the challenge. Then he handed the glove to Belisario, who inspected it thoroughly before walking it back over to me:

20_ronald_belisario_big_glove.jpg

(Is it just me, or does the glove kinda look like an octopus or giant squid? You have to click these links. Especially the octopus. In fact, better yet, copy-and-paste the link into a new window and then drag it down next to the glove. Huh? Huh?)

Soon after my big glove was returned, I got George Sherrill to toss me my second ball of the day. Just like the ball I’d gotten from Kuroda, this one also had a Dodgertown stamp on the sweet spot.

One of the nice things about being at a game without batting practice (just kidding, there IS nothing nice about it) is that the players have more free time, and they’re usually more relaxed, and it’s easier to get close to them. That was the case here, as Troncoso came over and leisureley signed autographs for everyone:

21_ramon_troncoso_signing.jpg

I got his autograph on a ticket from the previous game, then ran around to the right field side and got Ubaldo Jimenez to sign one from August 25th. Here are the two autographs:

22_troncoso_jimenez_autographs.jpg

Coincidentally, both of those players wear number 38 and wrote it underneath their names.

Then, once again, there was a lack of action.

See what I mean?

23_groundskeeper_at_work.jpg

I *thought* I was going to snag my third ball along the right field foul line, but I ran into some bad luck. Franklin Morales was playing catch with Joe Beimel, so I headed down to the front row and held up the big glove:

24_zack_big_glove_RF_foul_line.jpg

I simply wanted Morales to see me so that he’d consider tossing me the ball when he was done. Well, totally unexpectedly, right in the middle of long-tossing, he decided to throw one to me — except he airmailed me, and the ball landed in the fourth row, and some other fan ended up with it. Fabulous.

I headed to the left field corner after that because Jonathan Broxton started playing catch with Guillermo Mota. Here’s a shot of Broxton catching one of the throws:

25_jonathan_broxton_playing_catch.jpg

There were a bunch of fans waiting along the foul line, but I was the only fan in fair territory. When the two players finished throwing, Broxton walked over and looked at the big glove and smiled and fired the ball at me from about 40 feet away. I was lucky to catch it. It was another Dodgertown ball, and before I had a chance to label it, he started waving at me with his glove as if to say, “Throw it back.” So I did. I tossed him a near-perfect knuckleball, and he seemed to be mildly impressed. He then turned his back to me and took a few steps toward the fans in foul territory and cocked his arm back as if he were going to throw them the ball. He then turned back to me and laughed and tossed me the ball for a second time. I was really surprised by the whole interaction. I’d seen the Dodgers a bunch of times in recent years, and Broxton was never friendly. It’s nice to know that even the most serious player can be “cracked,” as it were, and it’s also nice to have an extra reason to root for him (beyond the fact that he’s a freak of nature with a frighteningly strong arm).

The following photo needs no explanation…

26_fan_with_big_glove.jpg

…although I should point out (because it’s hard to see here) that the guy has a purple goatee.

Shortly before the game started, Juan Castro threw me another Dodgertown ball along the left field foul line, and then I got Andre Ethier to sign a ticket. This one, unlike the autograph he’d signed for me the day before, did not get smudged:

27_andre_ethier_autograph.jpg

A few minutes later, Manny Ramirez and several other guys began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I decided to put on my Dodgers T-shirt, and I wore it backwards so that the “RAMIREZ 99″ would face toward the field. I *really* wanted a ball from Manny, and I thought it might help convince him to toss one to me. Unfortunately (I know…shocker) when Manny finished throwing, he didn’t toss the ball to anyone. He didn’t even end up with the ball (he could have if he wanted to), so I turned my attention elsewhere. Rafael Furcal…yes! He’d thrown me a ball two days earlier, right in that section, right before the game. I knew he was going to end up with the ball again. My only concern was whether or not he’d recognize me.

“Ladies and gentlemen…” boomed the voice of the public address announcer, “will you please rise and remove your hats for the singing of our national anthem?”

Furcal caught the final throw and jogged toward the dugout. I was being forced to stand behind Row 10. (That’s one of the stupid rules at Coors Field.) I held up my big glove and shouted his name. He looked up and lobbed the ball to me. I was convinced that someone else was going to reach in front of me…but no one touched it! I made another careful two-handed catch with the big glove and felt great about having just snagged my 400th ball of the season. (My single-season record is 543. I did that last year.)

Seconds before the music started, I took a photo of the ball. The red arrow is pointing to Furcal:

28_400th_ball_of_2009.jpg

Then, after the anthem was done, I asked a nearby fan to take my picture in the approximate spot where I’d made the catch:

29_zack_with_400th_ball_of_2009.jpg

It was game time. I headed out to my front-row seat in left field.

The two worst things about the game were that:

1) There was only one home run, and it didn’t land anywhere near me.
2) I was sitting in the sun, and the right side of my face ended up pinker than the left.

The highlight of the game was when a one-armed fan (who looked like Robert) ran over and grabbed my big glove and sat back down in his seat (in front of which was his own little strip of AstroTurf) and posed for my camera:

30_view_to_my_left_during_game.jpg

Yep, just another day at the ballpark…

Here’s a photo of me, taken by Robert who was sitting just beyond the one-armed fan:

31_zack_during_game_08_27_09.jpg

Here’s another photo that was taken by Robert. He’s in the middle. Jameson Sutton (the guy who snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball and sold it for $376,612) is on the left…and I’m on the right:

32_jameson_robert_zack_08_27_09.jpg

I’m ashamed to admit that Robert’s ear hair (okay, no, it was just his regular hair) was tickling MY ear…and no, I didn’t enjoy it. (The fan in the background is like, “Whoa, take it easy, fellas…”)

Good times (but not a whole lot of balls) in Denver.

Final score of this game?
Dodgers 3, Rockies 2.
My boy Broxton notched a four-out save.

And then Danny and Nettie drove me to the airport.

SNAGGING STATS:

33_the_four_I_kept_08_27_09.jpg• 5 balls at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 400 balls in 47 games this season = 8.51 balls per game.

• 616 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,220 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.86 pledged per ball

• $124.30 raised at this game

• $9,944.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/26/09 at Coors Field

Talk about bad timing…

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

1_no_batting_practice_no_access.jpg

See that yellow chain?

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

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

Here I am inside the scoreboard:

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

3_dave_monitoring_scores.jpg

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

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

4_zack_working_in_the_scoreboard.jpg

…but mainly I was just there to goof around:

10_zack_leaning_out_scoreboard.jpg

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

5_scoreboard_ladies.jpg

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

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

6_inside_the_scoreboard.jpg

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

9_scoreboard_cobwebs.jpg

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

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

7_zack_looking_out_scoreboard.jpg

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

8_ball_on_the_field.jpg

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

We headed down the steep steps…

11_scoreboard_steps.jpg

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

12_concourse_from_scoarboard.jpg

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

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

Anyway, right field…

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

13_zack_waiting_for_ball4214.jpg

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

14_zack_waiting_for_ball4214.jpg

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

15_zack_waiting_for_ball4214.jpg

I called his name, and he looked up.

I pointed at the ball and flapped my glove.

He picked it up and paused to look at it:

16_zack_about_to_get_ball4214.jpg

(Was there something unusual that caught his attention?)

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

17_zack_about_to_get_ball4214.jpg

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

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

18_zack_with_ball4214.jpg

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

19_ball_4214.jpg

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

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

20_rafael_betencourt_throwing.jpg

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

21_sunny_and_the_damn_tarp_is_still_out.jpg

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

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

22_zack_with_ball4215.jpg

Here’s a photo of the ball itself:

23_ball4215.jpg

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

Here I am with Brandon:

24_zack_brandon_08_26_09.jpg

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

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

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

25_robert_dan_inflatable_glove.jpg

What were they doing?

Umm…blowing up a huge, inflatable baseball glove.

Here are a couple photos of the finished product:

25b_inflatable_glove.jpg

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

26_andre_ethier_autograph.jpg

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

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

27_zack_during_game_from_afar.jpg

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

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

28_manny_ramirez_in_left_field.jpg

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

29_manny_ramirez_sign.jpg

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

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

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

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

• “Back to ‘The View,’ Sister Act!”

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

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

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

But enough of that…

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

30_mystery_fan_in_bleachers.jpg

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

31_mystery_fan_closeup.jpg

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

Come on!

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

Here I am with him:

32_rich_buhrke_and_zack.jpg

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

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

33_robert_miked_up.jpg

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

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

Cool, huh?

Here I am wearing the jersey:

34_zack_with_rockies_jersey.jpg

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

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

Here I am with Nettie and Danny:

35_nettie_zack_danny.jpg

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

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

36_zack_emily_dan.jpg

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

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

What a waste.
Still a fun day.

Final score: Dodgers 6, Rockies 1.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

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

pitch_in_for_baseball4.jpg

• 615 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,215 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.86 pledged per ball

• $49.72 raised at this game

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

7/17/09 at Yankee Stadium

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

1_entering_the_stadium.jpg

I truly don’t understand it.

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

2_zack_catching_ball4120.jpg

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

Check it out:

2a_wrong_commemorative_logo.jpg

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

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

3_zack_showing_ball4120.jpg

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

4_zack_RF_during_BP.jpg

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

5_zack_catching_home_run.jpg

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

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

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

5a_the_tigers_have_cheap_balls.jpg

YUCK!!!

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

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

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

6_ball4124_in_bullpen.jpg

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

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

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

7_jon_herbstman_and_zack.jpg

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

8_zack_getting_ball4124.jpg

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

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

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

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

9_zack_getting_ball4125.jpg

This ball had the regular MLB logo.

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

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

He tossed me the ball!!!

10_zack_getting_ball4126.jpg

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

It was a major letdown.

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

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

11_rain_delay_07_17_09.jpg

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

12_center_field_concourse_desolate.jpg

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

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

Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth:

13_mariano_rivera_is_god.jpg

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

Final score: Yankees 5, Tigers 3.

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

14_zack_showing_ball4127.jpg

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

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

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

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

• 604 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 133 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

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

• 4,127 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $196.72 raised at this game

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

6/3/09 at Nationals Park

The Washington Nationals are inept, from top to bottom.

Just had to get that out of the way. I’m so pissed about everything that went down yesterday, so forgive me for the angry nature of this blog entry, but by the time you get to the end of it, I think you’ll agree with the opening line.

Randy Johnson was scheduled to pitch. He entered the day with 299 career wins. This was my chance to see history.

My parents were nice enough to lend me their car. On my way to get it, I picked up a copy of the New York Daily News. I was told that I’d be in it, and I was not happy with the result.

So yeah, I was already p*ssed before I even got in the car, and then on the way down to D.C. (during which I managed to get lost because the roads around D.C. are horrendously marked), some dickwad on an overpass tossed a pebble that hit my car, scared the crap out of me, and cracked the windshield. Not a huge crack. No shards of glass on my lap or anything like that. Just enough to do $500 worth of damage, or whatever the hell it’s gonna cost to replace it.

One of the good things that happened yesterday was that I got to park for free. Gotta give a shout-out to my friend Mike for the hookup, but then of course there were weather issues. Oh sure, it was perfectly hot and sunny when I began exploring the outside the stadium at 3:30pm…

1_outside_nationals_park.jpg

…but less than an hour later–right before the gates were about to open–it started raining:

2_starting_to_rain.jpg

It was right around that time that I met Nic Skayko–THE MAN who came up with a complex statistical formula to predict the number of baseballs that I’ll snag on any given day. (I wonder if his formula takes into account the fact that I’ve been jinxed by God.)

Well, when the gates opened less than five minutes later, it was officially pouring. Rather than running in to get a look at the field, I took shelter and waited for the rain to subside and then took the following photo:

3_gates_just_opened.jpg

I headed out to the Red Porch seats in left-center and watched four inept groundskeepers (okay, I didn’t yet know they were inept) head toward the infield:

4_ball4011_very_shallow_LF.jpg

Two notes about the photo above:

1) The batting cage is set up, which means there WAS going to be batting practice.

2) The red arrow is pointing to a baseball. I know it looks like a grain of salt from here, but take my word for it.

Nationals Park opens two and a half hours early (which is great) but for the first hour, everyone has to stay in the outfield. Foul pole to foul pole. Those are the boundaries. Therefore, as the inept groundskeepers made their way toward the ball, the best I could do was run around to the seats in the straight-away left field and scream my head off. They heard me, and the guy who picked it up pointed toward the seats in foul territory. This was both good and bad…good because he seemed to be indicating that if I headed over there, he’d give me the ball, but bad because I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere near him. At least that’s what I was led to believe, but there weren’t any ushers or security guards at the boundaries, and the seats were not roped off (as they are in Philly during the first hour of BP), so I thought, “Well, what the hell, I might as well wander over there, try to get the ball, and worry about the consequences later.” So yeah, I cut right through the seats into foul territory, and I kept looking up at the concourse to see if anyone was angrily waving me back, but the few employees I saw just stared dumbly at me.

From a distance, I saw the inept groundskeeper look at me and hold up the ball (as one does for a batter before feeding a ball into a pitching machine) and place it in the wide front row of seats. No one else was around, so I took my time walking over, then paused for a moment to take a photo of the ball on the wet pavement…

5_ball4011_placed_in_front_row_for_me.jpg

…and finally grabbed it. It was a soggy training ball. (Estimated retail value: 14 cents.) The main part of the logo was very worn…

6_ball4011.jpg

…but whatever, at least I had a ball.

I headed back to left field and watched with great sorrow as an inept groundskeeper rolled the L-screen off the field:

7_L_screen_rolled_away.jpg

Then it started pouring again:

8_more_stupid_rain.jpg

I took cover near some random employee doorway and passed the time with Mike and a couple other guys who recognized me.

Then it got sunny, a few Giants came out and started throwing, and the inept grounds crew took the tarp off the field:

9_tarp_removal.jpg

Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry began playing catch in the left field corner. Howry was on the foul line, and Affeldt was out in straight-away left field. I positioned myself in foul territory so that I was lined up with them, and as soon at they were done, Affeldt took the ball and looked up into the seats in fair territory to find a worthy recipient. I shouted his name and waved my arms, and thanks to the fact that I was decked out in Giants gear, I got him to throw me the ball from about 100 feet away. I had to reach down and make a back-handed catch. Nothing special, and yet that was my athletic highlight of the day.

Merkin Valdez was still playing catch (with Sergio Romo) at that point, and there were a couple extra balls lying around on the field:

10_merkin_valdez_throwing.jpg

When Valdez finished, he walked over with two balls, handed one to the kid in the photo above with the “55 LINCECUM” shirt, and then placed the second ball in my glove.

It was still an hour and a half before game time, so I figured I’d be able to salvage my day and snag at least a few more balls…but no. Nature didn’t cooperate. The presidential mascots must’ve known what was coming. Look at their dejected body language:

11_president_mascots.jpg

Half an hour later, the inept grounds crew rolled the tarp back out:

12_tarp_coming_back_out.jpg

And then–you have to read the rest of this line with an English accent–it rained like bloody hell:

13_heavy_rain.jpg

The field got completely soaked, and when the rain finally let up, one of the groundskeepers sloshed through the grass and lifted up the edge of the tarp to see if the water had gotten underneath it:

14_inept_grounds_crew.jpg

Of course the water got underneath, jackass! You and all your pals are inept!

Twenty minutes later, this was the scene in right field:

15_fixing_right_field.jpg

Here are a couple inept groundskeepers attempting to fix the swamp otherwise known as the infield:

16_fixing_the_infield.jpg

It was ugly. I didn’t see how the field would possibly be dry enough for a game, but I still kept hoping. I’d been hanging out with Mike the whole time, and when we parted ways (at about 8:15pm), I headed around behind home plate to the 3rd base side. It was there that I ran into  (and met for the very first time) a fellow MLBlogger named Todd and his adorable three-year-old son, Tim.

Here we all are:

17_todd_tim_zack

(Does that shirt make me look fat?)

The rain started up again, of course:

18_even_more_stupid_rain.jpg

I sat and watched it with Todd and Tim. There was nothing else for us to do.

Even though I was hungry, I held off on buying food. It just wasn’t worth it. The prices were outrageous, and the food wasn’t even that good. At least the one thing I’d gotten earlier wasn’t good. It was a square piece of pepperoni pizza for $8, and it wasn’t big. Major ripoff.

Why had the inept grounds crew taken all that time earlier to get the field ready? But more importantly, why weren’t the stadium operations people making announcements about the status of the game? (Oh yeah, because they’re inept.) Talk about outrageous…it was really disgusting the way they didn’t say ONE thing for three and a half hours and just let everyone sit there. The only info presented to the fans was a generic message on the video boards (you can see part of it several photos up) that said, “Please take cover under the concourse. Severe storms are approaching. We are monitoring the situation & will keep you updated as information becomes available.”

BULLSH*T!!!

They never updated us. I had to call my friend Brad in San Francisco for updates.

It kept raining. There were waterfalls:

19_waterfalls.jpg

Finally, at like 10pm, the umpires wandered out and inspected the field:

20_umps_inspecting_the_field.jpg

After that? They went back inside. No announcement. Nothing. It was the worst treatment of fans I’ve ever witnessed. Once again, everyone was just left to stand around in the concourse and wonder what the hell to do. Naturally, 90 percent of the fans had left by that point, so I hoping SO BAD that the game would somehow get started. It would’ve been foul ball heaven. I’d splurged and bought a ticket right behind the Giants’ dugout. How cool would it have been to get a third-out ball from Randy Johnson’s 300th win? I was drooling at the opportunity.

By this point I was starving (to the point where my stomach was growling) so I decided to buy some more food. Only problem was…all the concession stands were closed! What the ****!!! You’d think the Nationals would’ve made an announcement along the lines of, “Attention fans, we’re going to close our concession stands in 20 minutes, so if you’d like to purchase any food or beverages, we advise you to do so at this time.” But why even close the stands while the stadium is open? Why not at least leave ONE stand open? Or…if the game was postponed and THAT’S why they closed the stands, then how come there wasn’t an announcement about THAT?! It was shameful. I’m not surprised the Nationals have the worst record in baseball. They deserve it.

Finally the umps came back out and there was a huge conference near home plate, and then as everyone headed off the field, I saw one guy make a gesture as if to indicate, “That’s it.”

Was there an announcement after THAT? Umm…no. All the remaining fans were left standing around for ten more minutes, and then finally, the announcement was made:

21_postponement_finally_announced.jpg

“Unplayable field conditions.”

Imagine that.

The P.A. announcer said something about fans being able to exchange ticket stubs for future games this season. Yeah, thanks. I don’t want to go to any more Nationals games. The team better refund my money. What a disgrace to baseball.

Of course Randy Johnson won his 300th game today, and I wasn’t there. I thought about getting a cheap hotel and staying overnight, but I had plans the next night back in New York City. Good plans. Very very good plans. I’d say more, but you wouldn’t believe me.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 balls at this “game” (Yeah, it counts as a game in my stats. The balls didn’t just materialize out of thin air, you know?)

• 193 balls in 25 games this season = 7.72 balls per game.

• 594 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,013 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $23.95 pledged per ball

• $71.85 raised at this game

• $4,622.35 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/3/09 at Rangers Ballpark

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

1_nolan_ryan_statue.jpg

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

But then I ran inside and saw this:

2_no_rangers_BP.jpg

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

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

3_widest_tunnel_ever.jpg

Here’s another look at it from the seats:

4_widest_tunnel_ever.jpg

Best.
Stadium.
Ever.

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

5a_rangers_mystery_autograph.jpg

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

5b_rangers_mystery_autograph.jpg

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

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

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

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

6_white_sox_stretching.jpg

…but in fact they were just stretching.

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

7_BP_from_left_field.jpg

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

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

8_batters_eye_action.jpg

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

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

9_zack_with_dan_and_frank.jpg

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

10_weird_tunnel.jpg

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

11_upper_deck_concourse2.jpg

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

12_upper_deck_concourse.jpg

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

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

13_rangers_upper_deck.jpg

Here’s my panorama attempt:

14_rangers_ballpark_panorama.jpg

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

15_rangers_upper_deck.jpg

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

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

16_rangers_upper_deck.jpg

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

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

17_outer_concourse.jpg

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

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

18_pregame_throwing.jpg

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

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

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

19_view_during_game.jpg

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

20_zack_coupon.jpg

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

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

21_espn_screen_shot.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Not.

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

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

“What do you say?” prompted his father.

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

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

22_ice_cream_vendor.jpg

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

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

23_bullpen_after_game.jpg

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

Hmm…

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

“Excuse me, guys–” I began.

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

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

24_waiting_for_lineup_card.jpg

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

Five minutes later, the sprinklers came on…

25_sprinklers.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26_zack_lineup_card.jpg

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

SNAGGING STATS:

27_sox_lineup_card.jpg
• 5 balls at this game

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

• 586 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,948 total balls

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

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.38 pledged per ball

• $101.90 raised at this game

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

6/23/08 at Shea Stadium

I did something really stupid…

Yesterday afternoon I charged the battery for my digital camera, and when I left for Shea a few hours later I forgot to take it off the charger. I realized I’d done this as soon as I got off the No. 7 train and tried to take a pic of Citi Field, and for a second I considered heading right back to the subway and going home. You know how some people feel naked without their cell phone or jewelry or makeup? That’s how I feel when I don’t have my camera.

ticket_june_23_2008.jpgAnyway, I decided to stay, and it’s a good thing…and as for the no-camera issue, I was able to scan a couple things when I got home (like my five-dollar ticket) and take some pics of the balls and dig up a few old photos of Shea to illustrate the day’s better stories.

My first 50 minutes inside Shea turned out to be a complete waste of time. First of all, the Mets hadn’t even started taking batting practice when I ran inside at 4:40pm, and when I finally headed up to the second deck (aka “the Loge Level”) in right field there was no action. There were exactly ZERO balls that landed in the seats, I couldn’t get any players to toss me a ball, and it got worse from there. I tried to use my glove trick to snag a ball that (for some strange reason) was resting on a little wooden platform above the gap behind the right field wall, but unfortunately it was stuck in a rut against a metal pole and before I had a chance to dislodge it, an usher on the Field Level noticed what I was doing and ordered me to stop.

My friend Greg (aka “gregorybarasch” if you read the comments on this blog) was at this game, and when he saw my failed glove trick attempt from the seats below, he ran up to the Loge and snagged the ball fairly easily with his own ball-retrieving device: a cup trick. In most situations, my glove trick has its advantages over cup tricks, but this wasn’t one of them. Greg’s cup had a thin edge that slid between the ball and the pole, whereas the thicker fingers of my glove couldn’t fit.

2008_all_star_ballot.jpgNot only had Greg already snagged a ball before he came upstairs, but he then got Billy Wagner to throw him his third ball of the day.

As soon as Greg caught it, he ran over and said, “You gotta see this!”

“Something tells me I don’t want to see it,” I said, but it was too late. Greg was already holding out the ball, and I nearly had a heart attack. The stitches weren’t red…they were gray and navy blue…it was…a 2008 All-Star Game ball…WHAAAT?!?!?!

I couldn’t believe my eyes, but it was true. It was the same ball I’d been trying not to notice every time I filled out an All-Star ballot. Weeks before Greg caught this ball, I was already so worked up and pissed off about NOT being able to snag one (because I can’t afford to go to the All-Star Game) that I’d been planning to go out of town during All-Star week and NOT watch any of the festivities on TV. It was just going to be too painful to see these commemorative balls sailing into the seats at a stadium I’d been to hundreds of times.

Greg went back to the Field Level, and I was on a mission like never before. I figured that if there was one All-Star Ball in use, there had to be another and I paid extra close attention to every ball that rolled anywhere near me. Of course, I was about 30 feet above the field so it was tough to distinguish the standard balls from the prized All-Star balls, but I tried my best.

oliver_perez.jpgSoon after, a home run landed in the bullpen, and while I couldn’t pick out any special logo, I knew what to look for: the ball was brand new and the seams did not appear to be red. I kept my eye on that ball for five minutes, hoping that a player or coach would stroll into the ‘pen and retrieve it, but eventually some random employee went and got it, turned down my request for it, and flung it back onto the field. The ball rolled to a spot about 20 feet behind Oliver Perez (who’s always been friendly to me).

“Oliver!” I shouted, “right behind you!”

pedro_feliciano.jpgPerez turned around and looked briefly at the ball but didn’t move. That’s when Pedro Feliciano (who has NEVER and WILL never throw me a ball) walked over and picked it up and took a long look at it. Ohmygod, it WAS an All-Star Ball, and I begged him for it. What did he do? He turned around and waved condescendingly at me and then tossed it to another fan on the Field Level.

claudio_vargas.jpgI made sure not to ask for any balls unless I was certain that they were of the All-Star variety…but most of the balls that rolled onto the warning track were standard balls. Finally, Claudio Vargas walked over and retrieved a ball that had the All-Star logo. I was the only fan who asked him for it. He looked up at me, told me he’d give me a ball later, chucked the All-Star ball back toward the bucket, and promptly moved to center field.

The Mets’ portion of batting practice was going to be ending soon, and not only didn’t I have an All-Star ball…I didn’t have ANY balls. It wasn’t late enough in the day to start worrying about being shut out altogether but the thought did cross my mind.

dave_racaniello.jpgEnter Dave Racaniello. He’s been the Mets bullpen catcher since 2001, and although he doesn’t know me by name, he does recognize me. He knows all about my
baseball collection, and he still tosses me a few balls per season. It’s awesome. Usually, whenever a player or coach (or bullpen catcher) recognizes me, that’s it. No more balls. But that’s not the case with this guy. I can’t explain it. He’s just cool like that.

With 15 minutes remaining in BP, I saw Racaniello pick up a standard ball in right field and head into the bullpen. I kept my eye on him but didn’t say anything. That’s when HE looked up at ME and took the ball out of his glove as if he were about to toss it up and shouted, “Here ya go, ball number three thousand–“

“Wait! Wait! Wait!” I shouted, holding out my open palms as if to say “stop.”

Racaniello gave me a funny look, and I kept talking: “I noticed you guys are using a few All-Star balls in BP…”

“We are?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, “and I would DIE to get my hands on one. Is there any chance that if you happen to see one, you could hook me up?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said and disappeared from sight.

Ten minutes passed. He was nowhere to be seen. It was 5:30pm. The Mets were going to wrap up their portion of BP in five minutes. I had to get downstairs and try to work my way into the seats behind the dugout. I knew there was a good chance to get a ball there, even a regular ball. I was getting desperate. And just as I was about to exit the Loge, Racaniello appeared in right field and looked up at me. He had a ball in his hand. OH MY GOD. He waved me over to a section in foul territory where there weren’t any fans. I ran through the aisle, and then he waved me back. Ha! He was messing with me, and a few Mets pitchers were looking on. I rolled with it and kept moving back and forth as he made gestures like a traffic cop. The usher in my section realized what was about to happen and pretended to jump in front of me and interfere, but he soon backed off, and Racaniello unleashed a throw. I was right in the aisle, about six rows back from the railing. That way, if his throw fell short, it would at least reach the empty seats and I could pick up the ball, but “Rac” (as the players call him) threw a perfect strike, and I made the catch. I opened my glove, and this is what I saw:

2008_all_star_ball1.jpg

I thanked him profusely, then hugged the ball and blew kisses at him (which he may or may not have appreciated–let’s not make any assumptions either way) and flew down to the Field Level. There was an all-out mob of fans behind the dugout, but none of them were going for balls. They were all there for autographs, and I managed to find a spot in the front row. Three minutes later, when all the players and coaches came off the field, I made a leaping catch for a ball thrown by Duaner Sanchez and then got coach Sandy Alomar Sr. to toss me a ball 30 seconds later. What kind of balls, you ask? Voila!

two_more_all_star_balls.jpg

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…there is now extra incentive to see the New York Mets.

I was beyond happy as the Mariners took the field. I’d never felt so light on my feet as I raced around to the left field side. I’m telling you, I was so pumped up I felt like I could’ve dunked on an 11-foot rim. (Believe it or not, I did once dunk on a standard rim so this isn’t THAT much of a stretch.)

The Field Level was both packed and dead, so I headed up to the left field Loge and got one more ball–a standard ball–tossed to me by a pitcher that I couldn’t identify. He was young and white and tall and fairly thin and right-handed and had a beard that wasn’t particularly thick or dark. Any ideas who it might be? I know it wasn’t R.A. Dickey, who also has a beard.

eddie_rodriguez.jpgI made my way to the Mariners’ dugout as BP ended and got my fifth ball of the day–another standard ball–from 1st base coach Eddie Rodriguez.

After batting practice, I hung out with Greg and a couple friendly ushers (yes, they actually DO exist at Shea), then failed to get a warm-up ball after the national anthem, and spent the whole game running around for foul balls in the Loge. I came close to a few, but luck wasn’t on my side, and that was fine. I was still glowing about the All-Star balls. Even though the Mets had been using 2005 All-Star balls during BP in 2006…and 2006 All-Star balls the following season, I never expected to get one (let alone three!) from the 2008 All-Star Game. That was just too cool.

The game itself had a rather depressing moment for Mets fans, but since I’m really more of a “baseball fan” than a fan of any one team, I was able to appreciate it. With two outs in the top of the second inning, David Wright made an error that loaded the bases and Mariners starter Felix Hernandez blasted Johan Santana’s next pitch over the wall in right-center field–the first grand slam, I later learned, hit by an American League pitcher in 37 years. Those four unearned runs made the difference. Final score: Mariners 5, Mets 2.

After the game, I got another ball tossed to me at the dugout by Rodriguez, and then I met up with Greg to take the train back to Manhattan…but before we left, he wanted to head out to the right field corner. He’d seen Ichiro hit a ball in BP that landed in the gap behind the outfield wall, and he thought there was a chance it might still be there. Well, it was, but neither of us could get it. Take a look at the photo below and I’ll explain:

right_field_gap.jpg

This is a photo of the gap from above. The thick orange beam is the right field foul pole. The red arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball was sitting. There wasn’t quite as much trash in the gap yesterday as you see in this photo, but still, it’s always pretty nasty and cluttered back there. (That’s the beauty of Shea Stadium.) I took this photo from the Loge Level (during batting practice last season), b
ut we couldn’t get up there after the game last night because security was kicking everyone out. The only place where we could get close to this ball was in the Field Level concourse. Unfortunately, we were blocked by several large screens/nets, so we weren’t able to lean over into the gap, and since the ball was several feet out–and since there was also a mess of cables and wires hanging from an adjacent camera platform–it would’ve been nearly impossible. Still, I helped Greg by holding his string while he worked his cup through a small hole in the netting. Then I moved the string over the top of the netting to a point where he could reach it. I know this is tough to visualize, but you get the point. There were all kinds of obstacles, and we stood there and schemed for 15 minutes, waiting for the brief intervals when the two nearest security guards happened to be looking away simultaneously, but eventually we decided it was too tough and too risky (I was afraid my glove would get caught on something) and decided to leave.

At the bottom of the ramp…right where the ramp meets the ground-level concourse that leads to the area behind the Mets bullpen, I happened to see a familiar face. It was a guy named Shawn who’s been working at Shea for years. I first met him when he was a bathroom attendant on the Field Level, and then one day I saw him out on the field. He’d been promoted to the grounds crew, and ever since I’ve been shouting his name and waving to him from the stands and keeping him updated about my baseball collection. Here’s a pic I took of him back in 2005:

friendliest_groundskeeper_ever.jpg

Even though Greg was the one who first thought about checking the RF gap for this ball, he knew he couldn’t have asked Shawn for it because he didn’t know him. Thus, it was all mine…

When I got to the bottom of the ramp, I walked up to Shawn and shook his hand and explained the situation.

“Where exactly is it?” he asked.

“In the narrow gap behind the outfield wall,” I said, “all the way in the corner, just foul of the foul pole.”

“Meet me back in the Field Level seats,” he said, and as I bolted up the ramp, a nearby security guard who hadn’t heard what we’d been discussing said I wasn’t allowed to go back up.

Shawn explained what was going on, and the guard said it was okay…but once Greg and I reached the Field Level concourse, a different (on-field) guard spotted us and walked closer along the warning track in foul territory. I tried to explain that a groundskeeper was about to give me a ball, but I knew I wasn’t making any sense. It even sounded absurd to me…twenty minutes after the final out…in an empty stadium?! I entered the seats and tried to explain that I had to be there to get the ball, and just when the confused guard was about to radio for backup, Shawn walked out onto the field through a door in the right field wall (that leads to the bullpen), and he had the ball in his hand. He told the guard to chill, and that he was giving me a ball, and he walked closer and finally flipped it to me from about ten feet out.

Unbelievable. I loved the fact that my day’s snagging began and ended with a personal connection.

From now on, whenever I’m asked about the weirdest way I ever got a ball, I won’t be sure what to say. It’s a toss-up between this one (that you just read about) and THIS one (from 2003). What do you think?

STATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 217 balls in 28 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 524 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,494 total balls

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 312 other followers