Results tagged ‘ home run balls ’

6/28/10 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium

Major League Baseball in Puerto Rico?

Oh yes.

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

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

Let’s start with the Hiram Bithorn statue:

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

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

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

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

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Look at the slanted light towers:

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Here’s a close-up of the trucks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I was so confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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This is what the gates look like…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…and check out the gap behind the outfield wall:

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Oh.

My.

God.

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

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

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

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

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

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Here’s the view to the left:

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

(Oh yeah, baby…)

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

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

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Wow.

Wow.

Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was our terrible view…

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

TIME OUT…

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

TIME IN…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No big deal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BAM!!!

I had the ball!!!

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Here’s a closer look at my reaction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One last thing…

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

SNAGGING STATS:

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

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

• 646 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 48 different major league stadiums with at least one ball

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

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

• 4,534 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 37 donors (click hereto learn more)

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

• $43.28 raised at this game

• $952.16 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

————

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

9/28/09 at Yankee Stadium

There was rain in the forecast.
I didn’t really want to go to the game.
But my friend Brandon was visiting from San Diego.
He wanted to check out the new stadium.
So we went.

Thankfully, when we ran inside at 4pm, we saw that the field was set up for batting practice. Unfortunately, as I predicted, the Yankees didn’t start hitting until 4:40, so there was a lot of time to kill. This is how we spent a portion of it:

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That’s right. We were shown on the Jumbotron, and as you can see in the photo above, Brandon was ready with his camera.

Brandon is always ready, it seems.

Here’s another shot he took — probably my favorite photo of the day — during the lull before BP got underway. It shows me walking through an empty row of seats:

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Brandon had forgotten to bring his baseball glove, so I lent him one before we left my place. Big mistake. He ended up using it to rob me of a home run during the first round of BP, and then he rubbed it in my face for the next 15 minutes.

I had a few close calls early on, but nothing was working out in my favor, and for a while, I was concerned about getting shut out. The sky was already dark gray, and I knew that BP could get wiped out at any moment.

Eventually, after about 25 minutes of BP, some lefty on the Yankees (not sure who) launched a home run 30 feet to my right. I immediately took off running through an empty row and caught it back-handed, reaching high over my head at the far end of the section. Here’s a photo of me walking back toward Brandon with the ball in my right hand:

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The Yankees stopped hitting at 5:10pm. (Fabulous.) There was more time to kill, so I changed into my Royals gear and headed over to the left field foul line. Five minutes later, the Royals came out and started throwing, and when Willie Bloomquist finished up, I got him to toss me his ball. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to the ball streaking toward me:

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By the time the Royals started hitting, there were a few raindrops falling.

Three minutes later?

The rain intensified and batting practice was done.

As the players and coaches cleared the field, I raced to the seats behind the 3rd base dugout and arrived just in time to get some random equipment guy to throw me a ball. That made me feel a little better, but I was still disappointed.

The following two-part photo shows everything that happened for the next three hours:

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Fun, huh?

Right before the game started, Yuniesky Betancourt and Alberto Callaspo began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I worked my way as close to them as possible and got Callaspo to throw me the ball when they finished. In the following photo (which Brandon took from several sections over), the horizontal arrow is pointing at Callaspo, the arrow pointing up shows the ball in mid-air, and the arrow pointing down shows me getting ready to catch it:

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That was my fourth ball of the day. Not terrible for a game at Yankee Stadium with only 30 minutes of BP instead of 90.

The rain, I must admit, ended up working in my favor because it chased lots of people away. I’d decided to sit out in right field during the game (regardless of the weather) so now that I had some empty seats to work with, I was excited at the possibilities.

I wasn’t excited enough, however, to smile in the following photo:

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I nearly caught Ramiro Pena’s first major league home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. It was hit RIGHT in my direction, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I jumped up and held my ground on the staircase, 100 percent sure that it was going to sail right to me in the fifth row, but then it died a bit (perhaps because the air was cold and damp) so I began to drift down the stairs, but then I got blocked by a cotton candy vendor at the last second, and it was over. The ball bounced off the bare hands of a man in the front row, and I still would’ve had it if it’d deflected back instead of sideways. It was frustrating, to say the least, but I didn’t blame myself. Watch any major league outfielder react to a fly ball hit right at him and he’ll do the same thing: he’ll hold his ground for a moment and THEN start drifting once he determines where it’s going to land, so whatever. The guy who ended up snagging that ball graciously tossed it into the bullpen when the relievers asked for it. In exchange, they tossed back another ball, and get this…it wasn’t signed, and it wasn’t even commemorative. It was just a standard Selig ball, and when the guy got it, he wasn’t too happy. To his credit, he stayed calm and simply asked the guys in the bullpen to autograph it. Once he got the go-ahead, he tossed the ball back, and it was returned to him five minutes later with the autographs of EVERYONE who was out there — at least a dozen guys — including Mariano Rivera. Very cool.

Anyway, the reason why I’m not throwing a fit right now (while writing this) is because of what happened a couple innings later. It was the bottom of the seventh. The Yankees, already winning 4-2, loaded the bases with nobody out against Royals starter Luke Hochevar. Robinson Cano stepped to the plate, and I told Brandon that I was going to catch a grand slam. I was already sitting one row behind him so that I’d have as much room as possible to run. My row had about 10 empty seats to my right, and the row behind me was almost totally empty. I had my whole route planned in case Cano happened to launch one to my right: I was going to start running and then climb back over a row (while the ball was in mid-air) and then keep running toward the far end of the section, or as far as I needed to go. And that’s exactly what happened. Cano turned on an 0-1 pitch and lifted a high, deep fly ball to my right. As soon as it left the bat, I knew that it was going to be a home run, and I knew that I had a chance to get near it…wherever it happened to land. I didn’t bother looking up at the ball at first. I just kept my head down and focused on not bumping into anyone or anything. As I approached the far end of the section, my hat got knocked off as I looked up for the ball:

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You can see the hat falling in the photo above. See the pole that’s covering the letter “o” in the word “York” on the red advertisement? My hat is right below the bottom of that pole, but anyway, I panicked when the ball sailed directly over my head toward a fan standing near the back of the section. Here I am, turning to watch the ball as it touched down:

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I couldn’t believe what happened next. I found myself standing all alone on the staircase as the other fan dropped the ball…and then the ball started bouncing right back down the steps toward me.

?!?!?!?!?!

I truly couldn’t believe it as it was happening. I bent down to scoop up my first grand slam ball ever…

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…and once I had it in my possession, the celebration was underway:

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Here I am going nuts…

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…and here I am running over to give Brandon (or someone) a high-five:

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I must’ve given more than 20 high-fives (and fist-bumps). It was truly insane.

Then I went back and grabbed my hat.

Happiness:

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Awe and disbelief:

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I was soooooo happy. Snagging a grand slam had been one of my lifelong goals, and now, finally, after two decades of going to games, I had finally done it. I called my parents. I called my girlfriend. I called a couple other people. I would’ve called everyone I knew if there were more time.

For the rest of the game, I kept asking Brandon the same two questions:

1) “Did that really happen?”
2) “Was that really a grand slam?”

The Yankees ended up winning the game, 8-2.

For Cano, it was his 25th home run of the season and 87th of his career. But here’s the cool stat: it was his 202nd hit of the season. I know that’s not a round number or a milestone or anything like that. I just like that fact that he has more than 200 hits and that I not only got one of them, but I got one AFTER hit No. 200.

After the game, I posed with the ball on the staircase where I’d snagged it:

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I posed with the ball about 50 more times after that (outside the stadium, on the subway, etc.) but I won’t torture you with all those pics.

The End.

(I still can’t believe it.)

SNAGGING STATS:

18_cano_grand_slam_ball.jpg• 5 balls at this game (the most important of which is pictured here on the right)

• 487 balls in 55 games this season = 8.85 balls per game.

• 624 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 136 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 10 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups from outfielders)

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

• 4,307 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $126.30 raised at this game

• $12,301.62 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

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9/15/09 at Camden Yards

The day got off to a GREAT start…

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

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

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

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Amazing. And then things got better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

6_jeremy_guthrie_reenacts_posterization.jpg

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

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

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

7_zack_catching_homers_09_15_09.jpg

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

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

There was running:

9_zack_running_09_15_09.jpg

There was pain:

10_ow_ow_ow_ow_ow.jpg

(The running needed work.)

And there was friendship:

8_adam_and_zack_09_15_09.jpg

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

Back to snagging…

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

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

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

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

11_zack_leaning_over_wall_09_15_09.jpg

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

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

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

“Coach!” I yelled, “Hit me a fungo!”

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

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

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

12_zack_getting_robbed_by_player.jpg

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

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

13_zack_catching_ball4279.jpg

That was my 19th ball of the day!

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

14_zack_20th_ball_of_day.jpg

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

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

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

15_zack_tracking_ball4282.jpg

Here I am reaching up to make the catch:

16_zack_about_to_catch_ball4282.jpg

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

BAM!!!

17_zack_catching_ball4282.jpg

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

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

Everyone else in the section laughed.

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

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

18_six_cool_balls.jpg

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

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

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

19_zack_flag_court_09_15_09.jpg

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

This is where I positioned myself for the righties:

20_zack_righty_foul_ball_spot.jpg

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

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

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

21a_zack_running_for_luke_scott_homer.jpg

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

21b_zack_snagging_luke_scott_homer.jpg

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

This was my reaction:

21c_zack_celebrating_like_a_madman.jpg

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

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

22_view_during_game_09_15_09.jpg

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

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

23_ball4285_cross_aisle.jpg

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

Here’s the home run ball itself…

24_ball4285_luke_scott_homer.jpg

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

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

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

• 621 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 117 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 6 lifetime games with at least 20 balls

• 9 lifetime game home runs

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

• 4,285 total balls

• 1 gut-wrenching mistake

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $631.50 raised at this game

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

9/21/08 at Yankee Stadium

Last day ever at Yankee Stadium…

thanks_for_the_memories.jpg

The magnitude of this game never really sunk in; although I felt a bit
sad at various points throughout the day, I still had to keep reminding
myself that this was THE LAST time I’d ever be there. It just felt like
all the commotion was yet another formality. I mean, even in May, there were fans who couldn’t find tickets…

fan_needs_tickets.jpg

…so what made this any different?

Obviously this is just a matter of opinion, but I think MY sign was
better. Here I am holding it up with my Watch With Zack clients for the
day: a man named Jeff and his two sons Scott and Adam:

zack_sign_jeff_scott_adam.jpg

If you’ve been reading this blog since last year, you might remember these guys from 9/29/07 at Camden Yards.

Here are our four tickets. Silver stamping. Nice…

final_game_tickets.jpg

The stadium was going to open at 1pm–more than seven hours before game
time–and we arrived a couple hours before that. We waited outside Gate
6 so that we’d be able to run inside and claim the corner spot on the
short porch in right field. Clearly, THAT was going to be the best
place to get balls during batting practice. Even though fans were going
to be allowed to walk *ON* (and all the way around) the warning track
from 1 to 4pm, I didn’t want to take any chances by not going to the
corner spot right away. BP was scheduled to begin at around 5pm. I knew
the stadium would be packed by that time. I didn’t want to end up
scrambling for a spot at the last minute and getting buried in the
crowd, and more than ever I needed to be in a visible spot. Not only had Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie promised me a ball two days earlier,
but my 561-game streak was on the line. I didn’t want to blow it for
the chance to scoop up some warning track dirt, and besides, there were
other mementos available…like the peeling paint on the outside of the
stadium, which the fan below was unabashedly pulling off for a
photographer:

fan_chips_paint_off_wall.jpg

There was a huge crowd behind us when GATE 6 opened for the final time.
We ran in and sprinted to the corner spot. Just about everyone else
made a beeline for Monument Park. That’s where fans were going to be
allowed to walk onto the field–through the same gate that Mariano
Rivera would be using in the ninth inning–but none of us had any
serious interest. Jeff had been on the field before. I’d been on other
fields, so I didn’t feel the NEED to walk on this one. I just wanted to
hold onto the corner spot, and Adam (who really wanted a ball) was
happy to hang with me. Scott (who hadn’t brought his glove because he
couldn’t find it) was the only one who wanted to walk on the field, so
he and his dad headed over to the other side of the stadium. They
returned less than an hour later. The line was absurdly long so they
gave up. Jeff said it snaked way back into the concourse, then up the
ramps to the upper deck (!!!), then through the upper deck concourse
and back down the ramps toward home plate, and I think he even said it
then went back toward home plate and up again to the Loge Level. I
forget the exact details of his account of the line, but you get the
point. Therefore, the four of us hung out on the short porch, which
remained mostly empty for the first two hours.

The highlight of my day (and there were many) was running into a
legendary ballhawk I used to know in the early 1990s–an older gentleman
named Artie. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him. It had been about 15
years since we’d crossed paths, and he was already gray-haired back
then. We used to see each other ALL the time, and when he disappeared,
I didn’t know what to think. Had he gotten too old to chase baseballs?
Had he given up his season tickets? Had he died?! For years and years,
I had been thinking of him and remembering all the times that he took
me under his wing and calmed me down when stadium security and other
fans were giving me a hard time. It’s like he was a second father to
me, or maybe even a grandfather. We were ALWAYS out in right field
together, chasing baseballs, and we’d talk for hours every day during
BP and after BP and during the game. I’d told other friends about him,
and I always wondered how many baseballs he had. I knew it had to be
hundreds, and I suspected his grand total was probably in the
thousands. So…what ever happened to him? How is it that we both ended
up near the corner spot on the LAST day ever at Yankee Stadium? It
turned out that *I’m* the one who disappeared. He only has a weekend
season ticket plan, and I stopped going to games on weekends. That was
it. He’d still been going to Yankee Stadium all these years.
Incredible. We were both so happy to see each other. I’m telling you, I
almost cried when I saw him after all these years. He really was a
legend to me, but we’d never kept in touch away from the ballpark. This
time, however, I made sure to get his phone number and ask him dozens
of questions, and then his daughter Cathy took a few photos of us. Here
we are:

artie_zack.jpg

You want to know how many baseballs Artie has caught since 1945?

3,950

That’s more than me!

He told me he’d heard about my books and had seen me catching those two
home runs on TV, and when I told him what MY grand total of baseballs
was, he said, “You’ve carried on my torch, and you did it in a graceful
way. I’m proud of you.”

I can’t tell you how good it made me feel to hear him say that.

The fans started making their way around the warning track…

fans_on_field.jpg

…and there was still lots of time to kill, so Artie and I kept
talking. He doesn’t know exactly how many game home run balls he’s
snagged, but he has 36 of his catches just on tape. In 1961, he caught
home runs by both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, and he said those are
the only two balls he kept. He wishes he’d kept more, but he donated
them all to an autism foundation. (He has two autistic grandkids.) His
one-game record is 12. His single-season record is “over 200.” That was
back in ’61. He’s gotten lots of balls tossed to him by players
(including Ted Williams!) but he’s never used a ball-retrieving device.
He told me that back in the 1940s, players didn’t throw many balls into
the crowd, and they almost never hit home runs during batting practice
because they actually treated it like “practice” and didn’t swing for
the fences.

Artie, who will be turning 70 in February, pulled out a little photo
album and told me stories as I flipped through. There were photos of
him on the field with Don Mattingly, walking in the stands with Roger
Maris, at a birthday party with Billy Martin. I’m telling you…the man
is a LEGEND, and I might have to write an entire chapter in my next
book about him. I don’t know, but I can tell you that this is not the
last time you’ll be hearing his name.

I took a break from my conversation with Artie to do a five-minute live phone interview with a radio station in England called “talkSPORT.”
Then, while Jeff held the corner spot, I took Scott and Adam with me
and caught up with Ken Derry, the managing editor of Yankees Magazine.
Ken had gotten in touch after my home run catches and said that he was
going to do a “little story” on me.

The “little” story was apparently going to have a little photograph of me:

zack_photo_for_yankees_magazine.jpg

(Thanks to Scott for taking the photo that you see above.)

The photographer–her name was Arie–took about 50 shots in the span of
two minutes and then disappeared into the crowd. Ken then pulled out a
voice recorder and interviewed me for about 20 minutes. The story will
appear in the “closing ceremonies” issue, which will be coming out in
November.

After the interview, I took a photo of the nearby “SportsCenter” set-up…

sportscenter.jpg

…and the show went to a commercial break, I shouted at Steve Phillips.

He looked up.

I did my stupid “Cabbage Patch” dance.

He raised his eyebrows and pointed at me as if to say, “That was YOU?!”

I nodded and pointed at myself.

He nodded and gave me a thumbs-up.

I was hoping he’d wave me down to the front row and bring me on the air, but no, that was the end of it.

(In case you haven’t yet seen my home runs catches and celebratory dances, you can see the Jason Giambi homer here and the Johnny Damon homer here.)

I went back out to the corner spot in right field (big thanks to Jeff
for staying there) and saw Spike Lee following Reggie Jackson with a
small video camera:

spike_films_reggie.jpg

Finally, at around 4:30pm, the Yankees came out and began stretching:

yankees_before_batting_practice_09_21_08.jpg

Looks like a nice relaxing day, right?

Well, check out the view to my left:

crowd_before_batting_practice.jpg

Thank God I had the corner spot because it would NOT have been easy.
See the tall guy wearing the backwards cap and the unbuttoned road
jersey? He ended up catching four balls, including two home runs on a
fly and a third which hit the Loge facade and bounced back to him. See
the kid at the bottom middle of the photo with his chin on his fist?
That’s Brian (aka “puckcollector”) from this blog. And do you see the
man who’s standing closest to the camera with his cap pulled down over
his eyes? That’s Jeff.

Just before BP started, I ran into another stadium regular named Howard
Pressman. He had been quoted in the first paragraph of the first article EVER written about my baseball collection. Here we are:

zack_howard_pressman.jpg

BP finally got underway, and Adam snagged a ball before I did. Yankees
reliever Phil Coke tossed it to a security guard who flipped it up.
Even though I could’ve caught it, I didn’t reach out for it because it
was clearly intended for Adam, and I wanted him to enjoy the rush of
catching the ball on his own. It was commemorative, and here he is holding it up:

adam_showing_his_ball.jpg

I also managed to talk Phil Coke out of a commemorative ball even
though he recognized me as THAT GUY who caught the two home runs and
wasn’t exactly dying to give me one as a result. I ended up giving that
ball to Scott who had positioned himself in the seats along the right
field foul line and therefore didn’t have a chance to snag a ball on
his own.

When the Orioles came out, I quickly got Jamie Walker to throw me my
second ball of the day. Thankfully, Jeremy Guthrie was nowhere in sight
at the time, so when he finally appeared, he greeted me with a smile
and imitated my dance…

jeremy_guthrie_imitating_my_dance.jpg

…and then tossed me ball No. 3.

Guthrie is a COOL guy. Not only had he remembered me after two days and
kept his promise by hooking me up with a ball, but he was interacting
with the fans throughout BP. One fan asked him to scoop up some dirt
from the warning track, and he did it! Check it out:

jeremy_guthrie_scooping_dirt.jpg

I got one more ball tossed to me by Brian Bass. It was just a regular ball, but it ended up being a very special ball indeed…

ball3773_last_at_yankee_stadium.jpg

The four of us headed upstairs for the pre-game ceremony. This was our view:

pregame_ceremony_view.jpg

It was incredible to hear a recorded welcome message from longtime P.A.
announcer Bob Sheppard…and to see Babe Ruth’s daughter throw out
(okay, so she bounced it) the ceremonial first pitch…and to see
former Yankee greats actually wearing the uniforms and taking their
positions on the field…but the ceremony was still lacking, in my
opinion. To me, it seemed like it was TOO focused on the players and
not focused enough on the stadium itself. But hey…still cool.

The four of us stayed in our seats through the top of the first inning
and then headed downstairs for the sole purpose of catching the last
home run at Yankee Stadium.

There were hardly any empty seats (as you might imagine), so we
wandered aimlessly for a bit and couldn’t see much of the game. Scott
was more interested in watching, and Adam was more interested in
snagging, so we split up. Scott and his dad went back up to the seats
while Adam and I roamed.

We started in left field, but there truly wasn’t any place to sit or
stand, so we headed all the way around the stadium and camped out in
the tunnel in the middle of the short porch.

Security kept telling us we had to move, so we kept shuffling our
position in attempt to linger there as long as possible. At one point,
we walked back to the corner spot and stayed back against the railing
at the back of the aisle. That’s where Artie and Cathy were sitting,
and they didn’t mind that we were, as I described it, “invading” their
space.

“I want you to catch it,” said Artie.

“If I catch the last home run in your section.” I said, “I’m always gonna feel guilty.”

He assured me I didn’t need to and was glad to catch up with me again for a bit.

In the bottom of the third inning, with two on and nobody out, Johnny
Damon hit a home run that landed IN the aisle about 40 feet to our
left. We couldn’t move. There was hardly any room to walk, even when
there wasn’t a valuable ball flying in our direction, so once the ball
left the bat and people stood up out of their folding chairs, that was
it. Done/ No chance. If I’d been standing at the front of the tunnel, I
would’ve had a great chance of catching the ball, but even then there
wouldn’t have been a guarantee.

The guy who caught it (barehanded, no less) was mobbed by reporters
within minutes. I walked over and took a photo. Was THIS going to be
the last home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium? I didn’t know. So at the
time this was a BIG deal. Here he is with the ball. His name is Brian
Elmer:

brian_elmer.jpg

It was a regular/commemorative ball. I was thinking that there might’ve
been special “final day” balls in use, but that wasn’t the case. The
ball wasn’t marked either. Security never escorted him off. The MLB
authenticator never made an appearance. It was sloppy, and I was
stunned. This was a big deal, as I mentioned above, and yet it
wasn’t…based on the way it was handled.

Here’s a photo that’ll give you an idea of how cramped the aisle was in
right field. You can actually see a reporter (in a tan shirt) crouching
in the aisle while interviewing Elmer.

short_porch_aisle.jpg

Adam and I were kicked out of the corner spot soon after, and ten
minutes after that, we were kicked out of the tunnel. (Damn!) We had no
choice but to head back to left field, and while we were on our way,
Jose Molina hit a home run that landed on the protective netting over
Monument Park. (I heard later from my friend Eric Marinbach, a Yankee
Stadium regular who sits out there, that a security guard ended up
GIVING the ball to another fan. What the hell?!)

Amazingly, we found two empty seats in the first row behind the aisle,
all the way out against the side wall in straight-away left field. I
ended up sitting in the exact same seat that I was in when I jumped up
and caught the Kevin Millar homer two months earlier. This was the view:

view_from_left_field_09_21_08.jpg

Sadly, there weren’t any other homers for the rest of the night.

This is how the Yankees announced the attendance:

total_attendance.jpg

This was the scene less than 60 seconds after Mariano Rivera threw the last pitch:

postgame1_police.jpg

(I got a great video of the final pitch. You wouldn’t believe how many
flashbulbs were going off. I might post the video on YouTube at some
point.)

Here’s the final score:

postgame2_scoreboard.jpg

Adam and I headed to the upper deck and got there in time to see the Yankees’ final lap around the field:

postgame3_yankees_victory_lap.jpg

It took us about 20 minutes to reach our assigned seats, where we caught up with Scott and Jeff. Here I am with the boys:

postgame4_scott_zack_adam.jpg

I didn’t see THAT much vandalism. This was the worst of it…

postgame5_vandalization.jpg

…although I did notice that there were an awful lot of cup holders
missing when we all wandered back down to the field level. This was the
scene:

postgame6_stadium_emptying_out.jpg

And that was pretty much it. Jeff had to work early the next day, while
Adam and Scott had to be at school–and they had to drive back to New
Jersey, so they headed off. I lingered inside the stadium until
security kicked me out. The only thing I grabbed on my way was a
three-inch stack of napkins that’d been abandoned on an empty vending
cart. Why not.

Goodbye, Yankee Stadium. I hate to admit it, but I’ll miss you…

STATS:

hank_aaron.jpg

? 4 balls at this game

? 496 balls in 66 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 562 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 128 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 14 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

? 3,773 total balls

Remember when I started comparing my baseball total to players’ career hit totals? Well, I’m now ahead of Hank Aaron (3,771) and in third place all time behind Ty Cobb (4,191).

(Apologies for any typos in the this entry. I wrote the whole thing in
less than three hours and didn’t even have a chance to read through it
once. I’ll give it proper edit tonight when I get back from Shea.)

8/21/08 at Shea Stadium

Jona (the G.F.) joined me for this game, and when we got off the No. 7 train at Shea Stadium, this is what we saw:

citi_field_sign1.jpg

Talk about timing! The (ugly) sign for Citi Field was in the process of being put up, and if you look closely at the photo above, you can see the “E” dangling backward as it was being hoisted.

Ten minutes later the “E” was in place:

citi_field_sign2.jpg

Thirteen minutes after Shea opened, the Mets still hadn’t started taking batting practice, so I was reduced to begging (unsuccessfully) for balls along the right field foul line. (I’m wearing a white T-shirt and blue cap in the photo below.)

zack_before_BP_started.jpg

Once the Mets finally started hitting, I headed up to the corner spot in the Loge and got two (non-commemorative) balls thrown to me during the next half-hour. The first came from Ramon Castro. The second came from Brian Stokes, and Jona snapped three quick photos as the ball was in mid-air. Here’s the first:

brian_stokes_thrown_ball1.jpg

Here’s the second…

brian_stokes_thrown_ball2.jpg

…and here’s the third (with the nearly-completed Citi Field sign visible):

brian_stokes_thrown_ball3.jpg

Jona and I had been able to find a couple bleacher tickets, and apparently Greg (aka “gregorybarasch” if you read the comments) had gotten one as well because we all ended up there when that section opened:

zack_bleachers_08_21_08.jpg

My third ball of the day was tossed up unexpectedly by a Braves player that I couldn’t see from my spot several rows back. Luckily, Greg had been standing in the front row and told me that Jo-Jo Reyes was the guy who tossed it.

Five minutes later, I scooted to my left along the top of a bench and caught a ground-rule double that Chipper Jones had hit while batting left-handed.

Greg ended up getting a couple balls that I easily would’ve had if he weren’t there, and I’m sure I snagged a few that he would’ve had if not for me. That’s just how it goes. There’s not much room to maneuver at Shea (or Yankee) so whenever we end up at the same game, we inevitably end up getting in each other’s way. (And yet we’re still friends. Awwww.)

Toward the end of BP, I got Julian Tavarez to throw me a ball in left-center field and then got another flipped to me by Vladimir Nunez in straight-away left.

That was it. Slow day.

I gave the Nunez ball to the youngest kid (with a glove!) that I could find. The kid was with some friends, one of whom recognized me from SNY, and Jona (who photographs everything, much to my delight) took a pic while I was talking to them:

zack_after_giving_ball_to_kid.jpg

Just to give you an idea of how I unfairly get a bad reputation…
During BP, there was a man (with no glove or kids) who complained every time I snagged another ball, and when I told him that I was planning to give one of the balls away to a kid, he said, “Yeah right,” and continued bad-mouthing me to everyone in sight. When I finally gave the ball away, not only was the man nowhere to be seen, but a security guard walked over and said, “I see what you did. You gave away the most beat
up ball you had.”

I tried to explain that all my other balls had been labeled…that I wanted to give one away that I hadn’t yet written on…that I simply gave away the LAST ball I had…that I would’ve given it away even if it were brand new…that I prefer to keep beat up balls because it’s fun to look at the markings and figure out how they got there.

He didn’t buy it.

The point is, if you read negative things about me on other blogs and message boards, don’t assume they’re true. I’m not saying I’ve NEVER done anything wrong–just that some people only see what they want to see.

As for the game itself…
yunel_escobar.jpgI stayed in the bleachers and nearly snagged two home run balls. The first was hit by Yunel Escobar on the first pitch of the game. I was lined up perfectly, but the ball fell about 10 to 15 feet short and landed on the netting that (in some places) covers the gap between the bleachers and the outfield wall. Just as I was starting to set up my glove trick, a fan who was standing down below was able to pull the netting aside JUST enough to reach up and squeeze the ball through.

david_wright.jpgIn the bottom of the fifth inning, David Wright hit a line drive homer about 30 feet to my right. I couldn’t have caught it on a fly because it fell several rows in front of the aisle, but because the fans dropped it and bobbled it, I was able to get close enough to it to ALMOST grab it off the ground. My right hand was about a foot away from the ball when I got pinned against the sharp metal corner of a bench (ouch), had my hat knocked off (whatever), and got a cup of beer splashed against my left shin (gross). If I’d gotten there half a second sooner, I would’ve had the ball, and I WOULD HAVE gotten there in time if not for three little kids who were standing right in the middle of aisle, completely blocking my path as I initially jumped up and started running. Some people might’ve knocked the kids over. I, on the other hand, was totally aware of my surroundings and valued the kids’ safety more than getting a David Wright home run ball so I slowed down and carefully slipped past them, and it cost me.

At Yankee Stadium, the people in the bleachers are crude and hostile, but I will say this in their defense: They are INTO the game. At Shea Stadium, the bleacher crowd is out-of-it and just plain annoying. I can’t count the number of times I had to get up and walk across the aisle and ask people to move or sit down because they were blocking my view. Sitting in the bleachers at Shea Stadium is basically like doing three hours of people-watching while something called baseball is being played way off in the background.

The Mets won, 5-4. That much I knew. But I had no idea that Carlos Delgado went 5-for-5 until I got home and read the box score.

I’ll leave you with a pic I took of some of the 51,952 “fans” heading for the subway after the game (followed by my stats):

crowd_leaving_after_game.jpg

STATS:

? 6 balls at this game

? 332 balls in 46 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 542 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,609 total balls

? 1 last thing (in case you missed it in the comments on a recent entry): there are a couple regular ballhawks at PNC Park who recently started a blog about their snagging exploits, and you can check it out here. Unfortunately I didn’t meet them while I was there earlier this month. Thankfully they found me online and got in touch.

6/19/08 at Coors Field

Let me start with a big THANKS to everyone who took photographs of me yesterday. I really appreciate it…

Okay, so the Associated Press was done with me. They had followed me around for the past two days and felt they got everything they needed, so I was on my own. As a result, I decided to break out the big glove (which I had used only once before on 4/24/08 at Champion Stadium). I figured the Indians were sick of me and probably wouldn’t throw me any balls unless I had an edge–a really, really obnoxious edge.

As soon as I ran inside Coors for batting practice, two home runs clanged off the metal bleacher benches in left field, and I grabbed them both. Check out the gash on the first ball:

gash_on_ball_3471.jpg

Before the bleachers got crowded, I was able to race up the steps from the front row whenever a home run was sailing over my head:

zack_chasing_home_run_ball.jpg

Unfortunately I didn’t snag the ball in the photo above (or any of these balls for that matter), but I did get one tossed to me by Kip Wells:

zack_about_to_catch_ball_3473.jpg

It was still early so I kept the big glove in my backpack. There weren’t any kids behind me shouting for balls (yet) but I did have to compete with two Coors Field regulars: Jameson Sutton and Robert Harmon. Here we are…walking around in the front row:

zack_jameson_robert_batting_practice.jpg

Jameson (wearing the dark blue T-shirt), as many of you know, is the fan who snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball, and Robert (in the background with the gray beard) was right there with him on that fateful September night. It was strange to be snagging baseballs with these guys after having written a long article about them only a few months earlier. For the bulk of last winter, I had been trying to track down the mystery man who snagged that ball. I was talking to fans (starting with Robert) and members of the Rockies’ front office and people at the Hall of Fame and presidents of auction houses. It was the ultimate scavenger hunt…and then…poof! Jameson appeared. And it was a HUGE story in the sports world. And I flew to Denver for the press conference. And now…here we all were, just hanging out and chasing BP balls like it was nothing. And by the way, about half an hour later, I saw Jameson reach over the wall and make a nice one-handed catch on a home run. The point is…when I was first interviewing him on the phone, he had claimed that he dropped the Bonds homer because he was bumped from the side, and although the video replay backed him up, I still thought he was just some lucky klutz who’d let a life-changing ball deflect off the heel of his glove. But now that I’ve seen him in action, I can say with confidence that Jameson is very athletic and perfectly capable of catching any ball that comes his way.

It was time for the big glove:

zack_big_glove_coors1.jpg

Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (who surrendered Bonds’ final home run) tossed me a ball just before the Rockies finished BP, but the Indians weren’t impressed. C.C. Sabathia smiled at me for about an eighth of a second and then tossed a ball to someone else:

zack_big_glove_coors2.jpg

Two minutes later, Ben Francisco showed no love for the big glove by tossing a ball right over my head. Could I blame him? Not at all. Check out my competition:

competition_during_batting_practice.jpg

I happened to be wearing the big glove a bit later in left-center field (because I was trying unsuccessfully to get Grad
y Sizemore’s attention) when one of the Indians batters hit a deep fly ball in my direction. Rafael Perez chased the ball but couldn’t catch it and it bounced right to me:

zack_big_glove_coors3.jpg

Did I catch it? No. The fan next to me reached out and deflected it and caused the ball to drop back onto the field.

I sensed an opportunity in straight-away left field and took off:

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Yes! Francisco DID show me some glove-love after all:

zack_big_glove_coors5.jpg

As for Rafael Betancourt?

zack_big_glove_coors6.jpg

No love. And when BP ended soon after, I only had five balls. I was hoping for double digits, at least one on this trip, but it just wasn’t happening. At least Mr. Evil (arms folded in the photo above) got shut out for the second game in a row. He hasn’t gotten a single ball since he shoved me three days ago.

After BP, I signed a couple baseballs for two kids named Hunter and Mylee–the kids of a guy named Don (aka “Rock Pile Ranter” to those of you who read the comments) who’s wearing the floppy hat in the following photo:

zack_signing_autographs.jpg

I (jokingly) told the kids to hold onto the baseballs because they were worth a lot of money.

“Yeah,” said Jameson in front of the other ballhawks, “but my autograph is worth more than yours.”

We all laughed (even *I* had to laugh) and then posed for a photo:

zack_robert_dan_danny_jameson.jpg

The guy standing on the right is Danny Wood (who snagged Bonds’ 698th career homer), and the guy to HIS right is Dan Sauvageau (who’s caught 36 homers on a fly during games). I know I’ve mentioned these snagging accomplishments in previous entries, but I’m saying it again here in case you missed it or forgot. Between the five of us, we’ve probably snagged close to 10,000 balls.

I used the big glove to get Casey Blake to throw me a ball at the Indians’ dugout just before the first pitch, and guess what happened…the ball went right through! Apparently, one of the holes in the webbing is just a bit too big, but I got lucky and still ended up with the ball. It landed behind me in the empty second row and trickled out onto the staircase where several other fans were a bit too late in trying to snatch it.

The game was a disaster for me. I had a ticket for the front row in left-center field, and I decided to sit along the left field foul line instead:

zack_during_game_from_afar.jpg

I figured it’d be dead in the outfield and that I’d have a bunch of chances to scoop up foul grounders.

This was my view during the game…

coors_view_during_game.jpg

…and I *did* catch a foul grounder (my 200th ball of the season) off Francisco’s bat in the top of the third inning…

Dippin’ Dots and photographing the clouds…

clouds_by_zack.jpg

…but I couldn’t even do THAT right. Robert, the real photographer, was also taking pics of the clouds, and snapped one that was just a little bit better:

clouds_by_robert.jpg

In case you’re wondering, Robert’s photo is not Photoshopped. There was no trick photography involved, and I know this because:

1) The silhouette of the stadium isn’t blurry, which means he wasn’t moving the camera, and

2) He came back to my hotel room directly after the game, swapped memory cards with me, and I downloaded all his photos directly onto my laptop. This was one of them.

Here’s another…of me photographing the ball with the gash:

zack_photographing_his_pathetic_balls.jpg

Yes, I like bottled water. And I recycle.

Anyway, the Rockies swept the Indians. Blah blah. As if it matters. I’m so pissed off. And I’m acting like a baby. I know this. You don’t need to point it out. Hopefully I can end this trip with some better luck tonight against the Mets. Reminder: LOOK FOR ME ON TV. Tape the game if you can. If I do happen to catch a home run, I’d love to own the footage. I might not be sitting exactly in my seat all night, but I’m definitely not going to stray too far. Look for the Waldo shirt and if you’re up for it, keep a running tally of all the times you spot me. Game time is 9:05 p.m. ET. Don’t miss it.

STATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 200 balls in 26 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

? 522 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 125 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 895 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 117 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

? 25 lifetime game balls outside NYC

? 5 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls (Click here for my yearly breakdown.)

? 3,477 total balls

6/7/08 at Dolphin Stadium

The good news is that I caught a Ken Griffey Jr. home run. The bad news is that it happened during batting practice. But before I get into that, I want to share a dozen pics I took outside the stadium before the gates opened. Here are the first nine…

outside_dolphin_stadium1.jpg

…and here are the rest:

outside_dolphin_stadium2.jpg

Dolphin Stadium is unlike any other baseball stadium because…it’s a football stadium…hey! It’s so big and weird–and it felt so eerie and desolate–that it reminded me somewhat of Olympic Stadium. This was a good thing, as far as I was concerned; it was more interesting to wander and take pics. It was nice to be there early enough to even get to take pics, unlike the previous day when I arrived at the ballpark at the last minute.

When Gate H opened at 5:30pm, I raced to the right field seats and basically had the place to myself…

right_field_seats_empty.jpg

…but of course there weren’t any players on the field, at least not in fair territory. The Marlins had ended BP early and were nowhere in sight. The Reds, meanwhile, were stretching in front of their dugout, so I had to sit there like a putz for ten interminable minutes until things got started.

The seats were still pretty empty at that point, and the following ten minutes were action-packed. I started things off by using my glove trick to pluck a ball off the warning track in straight-away right field, then moved to right-center and ended up snagging FIVE home run balls. The first was hit by Griffey and landed in the seats. The second might’ve been hit by Griffey as well (not sure unfortunately) and landed less than ten feet behind me. As I was climbing over the rows, and just as I grabbed the ball, the seat I was standing on folded up and caught my right leg which slipped all the way through. I wasn’t in any pain–I just couldn’t get out, and for a second I was nervous…that is, until I used my left foot to kick off my right sneaker and then carefully pulled my foot out. I didn’t want to waste any time untying and retying my shoe, so I forcefully wedged my foot back in, and it paid off. Seconds later, another lefty hit ball3428_smudge_from_tarp.jpga deep fly ball that was heading for the blue tarp in center field. I started moving in that direction as soon as he had made contact, and when I got to the edge of the seats, the ball took a lucky bounce and ricocheted in my direction and I scooped it up in front of another fan who was totally unprepared. (In the photo on the right, you can see this ball and the tarp-induced smudge.)

My fifth ball of the day was a Griffey homer that I caught on a fly. I had to drift about 15 feet to my left through an empty row and then reach high over my head for the one-handed grab. Nothing fancy.

My sixth ball was a monstrous drive to right-center by the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Adam Dunn. He must have hit it at least 450 feet. It was 404 to the outfield wall where I was standing, and this ball landed more than 20 rows behind me. It was incredible, but obviously I didn’t stand there admiring it. I bolted up the steps while it was still airborne and knew that if it didn’t take a crazy bounce, and if I didn’t struggle to find it in the seats, it was going to be all mine.

Okay, so I snagged five home run balls, right? I caught one on a fly, and another hit the tarp. Check out the markings on the other three:

balls_that_hit_orange_seats.jpg

These were the only balls I snagged that had landed in the seats–the very ORANGE seats–and they all had matching physical evidence. Cool, huh?

I thought I was on my way to a double-digit performance, but no, it started raining and the grounds crew pulled out the tarp 20 minutes before the scheduled end of BP:

rain_ends_BP_early.jpg

Around that time, I was approached by two Marlins fans: an eight-year-old boy named Alejandro and his mother, Rosa. They’d emailed me several times in the week leading up to this series and only found out the day before that I was going to be attending this game. To put it lightly, Alejandro is quite a fan and was prepared for our encounter:

zack_alejandro.jpg

That’s right. He’d brought my first book and made a sign for the occasion. I ended up signing four autographs (two for him and two for his brothers), and I sat with him in right field for most of the game.

The game itself was exciting. There were several lead changes, and it ended with a two-out, come-from-behind, walk-off homer. But the Griffey factor was disappointing, mainly because I was sitting in the perfect spot…

view_for_griffey.jpg

…and (with the exception of Alejandro) had zero competition. Check out the pic below. I took it between pitches DURING Griffey’s at-bat in the seventh inning:

competition_for_griffey2.jpg

At another point in the game, when Griffey was up, I had fourteen empty seats on my right. Why couldn’t he have hit his 600th home run then? WHY?!?!?!?! Why did he have to finish his night with two maddening walks and a harmless single to center? Why did the only thing I caught during the game have to be a T-shirt between innings?

At least there were cheerleaders, and Lord knows I needed some cheer.

cheerleaders.jpg

STATS:

? 6 balls at this game

? 153 balls in 20 games this season = 7.65 balls per game.

fireworks.jpg
? 516 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 119 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 848 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,430 total balls

? 1 post-game fireworks show and concert from which I escaped as soon as possible
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