Results tagged ‘ leon feingold ’

Martha Stewart loves tall people (and so do I)

My 6-foot-6 friend Leon Feingold sent me the following email a few nights ago:

“Hey, want to meet some 7-footers tomorrow??? Call me around 10 or 11am….”

Based on this blog entry that I’d posted a month earlier, you could say that my response went something along the lines of “HELL yeah!!!”<

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It turned out that the 5-foot-9 Martha Stewart was going to be taping a show based entirely on tall people. There was going to be a fashion show with extra-tall models (run by a tall designer), an interview with a 6-foot-3 woman who wrote the definitive book about being tall, and other tall-related topics.

“You can’t come into the studio audience,” wrote Leon in his follow-up email the next day, “b/c EVERYONE in the audience must be minimum 6′ and I’m afraid you just miss the cutoff. But you can come meet me and mom lining up outside at 221 w 26th (7/8) where they’ll be doing the taping, and meet Dave Rasmussen, who I think is 7’4″. We’re heading over now, and will be there through 4pm.” 

It just so happened that I had to be at West 13th Street for a two-hour meeting ending at 12:30pm, so I headed over to find Leon as soon as I got out. Here I am with him and his 6-foot-1 mother, Eleanor:

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(Note my “trying-to-appear-taller-than-I-actually-am” pose. For the record, I’m officially 5-foot-10 and five-eighths, which I normally round up to 5-foot-11.)

Unfortunately, I had just missed the super-tall guy — actually, there were two super-tall guys — but at least I got to hang out with Leon for a while. And if I wanted to wait for a couple hours, I could catch them on the way out.

Hmm…

Suddenly, the line started to move. Leon and his mother and all the other tall folks were about to head inside. He said he’d try to sneak me in. I didn’t see how that was possible. (Leon once snuck me into Citi Field, so I should stop doubting him.) He’d once snuck me into a Mensa meeting (where I managed to trick everyone into thinking I was smart), but how do you fake height? I happened to be wearing thick-ish sneakers, so that was good for about an inch, but everyone was wearing shoes that made them look taller. It was a celebration of height. Even the women were at least six feet tall, and most of them were wearing high heels.

We headed inside to a little check-in/security area with an airport-style metal detector. There were several “Martha Stewart” employees standing behind a counter, looking at everyone’s IDs and having them fill out forms. I was screwed. I knew it. Crap. I wasn’t scared about getting in trouble, but I was ready for them to tell me to get lost.

I handed my driver’s license to one of the ladies.

She looked it over and said, “You’re not on the list.”

“This is my friend, Zack,” said Leon. “He decided to join us at the last minute. Is there any chance you can still add him?”

“I think so,” she said. Then she checked the list to review some other names, and before I knew it, I was holding a ticket to the studio audience:

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Ha-HAAA!!!

The fact that I was standing on my tiptoes might’ve helped, or maybe I’d managed to trick her because Leon had poofed up my hat to make me look a little taller. I don’t know what happened. Maybe the lady just wasn’t paying attention, or maybe she didn’t care, but regardless, I was in. Every member of the studio audience was given a yellow, ruler-like name tag. Here’s how I filled out mine:

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There was a large waiting area with dozens of chairs and people milling about. I kept walking around on my tiptoes. My calves got sore within three minutes. I was thrilled to be there, but felt so out of place.

“Imposter!” snapped a middle-aged 6-foot-2 woman as I walked past the coat check area.

I couldn’t tell if she was joking, so I just shrugged and pointed at my name tag.

“You’re not six feet,” she said a bit too seriously.

I smiled and said, “I rounded up.”

And then it happened: the two TALLEST human beings I had EVER seen walked by with a bunch of other tall people (who looked short by comparison).

“Go get a photo!” said Leon.

Eleanor grabbed my camera (which I always carry with me, just in case), and we followed the crowd into a hallway. Everyone immediately turned and stared at me. It was bizarre. The two super-tall guys…THEY were the freaks of nature (I mean that in a good way), yet I was being looked at as the freak. Everyone was smiling, though. They knew why I was there.

“YOU!” I said, pointing up at a 7-foot-3 black guy named Curtis, and “YOU!” I said again, turning toward the 7-foot-4 (if you round up) white guy named Dave. “I *need* to get a photo with you two!!”

They just kinda looked at each other and shrugged and said okay. We gathered close together…and Eleanor took a couple quick photos…and oh my God. Check it out:

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Seriously…JEE-zus Aitch. I was happier standing between those two guys than I would’ve been if I’d been standing with Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken Jr. I don’t know what it is. I just freakin’ LOVE tall people. You know how you hear stories about women who feel trapped in men’s bodies? Well, I feel like a 7-foot-8 monster who’s trapped in a nondescript 5-foot-11 (if you round up) body. I realize that 5-foot-11 is a perfectly acceptable height. In fact, it’s actually slightly taller than average, but as far as I’m concerned, just based on how I feel in my head and in my gut, my height is a complete disaster.

BTW, when I thanked these guys after the photo and reached to shake their hands, it’s like I was reaching right for their crotches. The whole thing was just…weird.

Eventually, it was time to line up outside the studio:

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See that guy at the bottom of the ramp? He’s 6-foot-6. And the woman between him and Leon? 6-foot-2.

Once we got inside the studio, we were told that we could take photos before and after the taping, so…here you go:

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The show itself was fine. I won’t give a play-by-play. You can watch it for yourself if you’re interested. It’s going to air on Thursday, February 18th. You might even catch a glimpse of me. On several occasions, those cameras that get shots of the crowd were pointing right at me, but I have no idea what exactly they captured or if it’ll be used in the actual show.

During the commercial breaks, I talked to the two women sitting next to me. One was 6-foot-1. The other was 6-foot-2. They told me that they’re members of the Tall Club of New York City. I fessed up and admitted that I’m not quite six feet tall (we were sitting down, so it wasn’t obvious) and asked if I’d be allowed to attend one of their events. They said there are get-togethers in bars that are open to the public. “Anyone can come,” said one of the women, “but we don’t like it when really really short guys show up. You know, really short, like 5-foot-8 or under. We call them ‘tree-climbers’.”

After the taping, Martha Stewart lingered in the studio for a few minutes and took questions from the audience:

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In the photo above, do you see that big brown thing behind Martha? That, my friends, is a 1,250-pound chocolate cake (with a cherry made of sugar on top). Every audience member was given a piece of a different chocolate cake during the Q&A session. Each of us also received a copy of The Tall Book as well as a coupon for a free extra-tall cutting board. I’m thinking I might use mine as a coffee table.

Another thing about the photo above…

See all those people standing next to the cake? See the guy standing closest to it? That’s Tom Cruise. Sort of. It’s a life-sized cardboard cutout of him, which is to say that it’s exactly 5-foot-7…

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Mwahaha!! Suck it, Cruise!

Here are three more photos of people standing with the cutout, going in increasing height order.

First, we have a random six-foot-tall hottie:

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Next we have Leon:

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And (drumroll) here’s the tallest of the tall:

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(ScienTALLogy, anyone?)

Here’s a group photo, and FYI, the woman wearing red underneath the “AR” in “MARTHA” was standing on a bench:

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Here’s one last photo (which needs no explanation):

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Good times.

(If there’s anyone reading this who’s at least seven feet tall, please get in touch. I want to know you and have 18 million of your babies. Okay, that was a joke, I only want 16 million, but no, seriously, I do want to know you. I swear this isn’t a sexual fetish. I just really REALLY adore tall people. The end.)

9/23/09 at Citi Field

On September 6th, I had a Watch With Zack game with a 13-year-old Mets fan named Ross. Remember? He broke his one-game record that day by snagging five balls, and he promptly booked another game with me for September 23rd. You might also recall that on September 18th, I posted a blog entry called “Watch With Zack — stats & records.” What I didn’t mention in that entry was that Ross was the one who inadvertently inspired it. He had simply told me, in the guinness_world_records.jpgdays preceding our second game together, that he wanted to break two more records…

1) most balls snagged by a Watch With Zack client in one game

2) most balls combined (my balls plus the client’s balls) in a Watch With Zack game

…so I decided to create a page on my site with all the Watch With Zack numbers. I told Ross that it would be tough, but that we’d definitely try. Both records belonged to a 14-year-old named Joe Faraguna, who brought me to a game on 5/8/09 at Citi Field. Joe had snagged 10 balls that day, and I’d added 12 more of my own. I also told Ross that in order to pile up the numbers, we’d have to split up during batting practice, at least a little bit, so that we could cover more ground and double our opportunities. He was okay with that, and in fact he insisted on it. I started the day with a lifetime total of 4,292 balls; Ross really wanted me to snag at least eight so that he could be there for No. 4,300.

Finally, September 23rd arrived. I left my place in Manhattan at 3:10pm, took the No. 7 train to Citi Field, and met Ross and his parents less than an hour later outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Ross and I reviewed some last-minute strategies and put on our game faces:

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Once the gates opened at 4:40pm, it was showtime.

By the time I got to the top of the escalator, Ross was only halfway up. (That’s no diss on him; I just happen to be pretty quick.) If he were younger or if he’d never been to Citi Field before, I would’ve slowed down and led him out toward the left field seats, but since I knew he could find his way out there and since I knew that he wanted me to snag as many balls as possible, I ran ahead and reached the seats 30 seconds before him. I had the whole stadium to myself, and this is what I saw:

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Someone on the Mets was about to pick up the first of FIVE baseballs lying in the outfield. I ran through the front row toward left-center and identified the player as Brian Schneider.

“Brian,” I called out politely as I tried to catch my breath, “is there any chance that you could toss a ball up to me, please?”

Schneider immediately obliged and then threw the remaining four balls back toward the 2a_ball4294_on_field.jpgbucket. That’s when Ross arrived. There were still a few more balls sitting on the field near the foul pole, one of which was within reach thanks to my glove trick. Ross was prepared with a glove trick of his own, but he’d never actually used it at a game, and since this ball was several feet out from the wall and needed to be knocked closer, he let me go for it.

It was too easy. The day was barely two minutes old, and I already had two baseballs.

A few minutes later, several lefties started hitting, so I told Ross that we should head over to the right field side. He followed me out to the deep section in right-center, and when we got there, I noticed that two balls had rolled onto the warning track in the right field corner.

“Those balls are definitely gonna get tossed up,” I told him. “You wanna head over there on your own and see if you can get one?”

“Sure,” he said.

Ross had his cell phone, and I had mine. If we got separated, we’d just call each other, but it was pretty clear where we were each going to be.

Less than a minute later, Ross was down in the seats near the foul pole, lowering his glove on a string:

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Seconds later, I saw Ross pull up his glove before it got anywhere near the ball. I found out later that he had suffered a rubber band mishap, but it didn’t end up making a difference. Josh Thole walked over and retrieved the ball and tossed it up to him. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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I wasn’t paying attention to the batter at that point. I had my eyes (and camera) on Ross, and since I was standing approximately 420 feet from home plate, I didn’t expect anyone to hit a ball that would reach the seats.

I expected wrong.

All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that a Mets player was running back toward my section. I looked over and saw that it was Sean Green. He was looking up as if he were tracking a deep fly ball, and then…DOINK!!! The ball fell out of the sky, landed on the warning track, and bounced over a gloveless woman in the front row. I darted through the third row and scooped it up before she even moved.

Then I looked back over at Ross and saw that he was getting another ball tossed to him by Thole. What the hell?! Once he caught it, Ross looked over at me and waved his arms frantically. I figured he was either excited or having a seizure — hopefully the former — and he then ran over to tell me what had happened.

You ready for it?

THIS is what happened:

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Ross had snagged a commemorative ball from the 2008 All-Star Game! (Here’s a closer look at this type of ball.) What had happened was…Thole originally tossed him a commemorative Citi Field ball, but Ross already had a few of those at home. Soon after, another ball rolled out near the foul pole, and Ross noticed that it was an All-Star ball, so he asked Thole if he could trade the Citi Field ball and have that one instead. Very clever.

As soon as Ross finished telling the story, he leaned over the bullpen railing and asked Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen for a ball. Warthen denied the request, but Sandy Alomar Jr. walked over and tossed up two balls — one for Ross and another for a younger kid who’d been standing nearby. Here’s Ross with his second ball of the day…

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…which had the Citi Field commemorative logo.

Green jogged over to retrieve a ball off the warning track. Ross hurried down to the front row and asked him for it. I moved into the second row behind Ross with my glove on my left hand and my camera in my right. My only intention was to get a photo of Ross catching the ball if Green tossed it up. Well, Green DID toss it, but it sailed a bit too high. Ross still probably would’ve caught it if not for the grown man who scooted over and tried to reach up in front of him. As it turned out, the ball sailed over both of them and came right to me, so I stuck out my glove and made the catch. It was another All-Star ball. I offered it to Ross, but he didn’t want it. He didn’t want any of my baseballs. The only balls he wanted were the ones he snagged on his own.

Back in left field, I got Ken Takahashi to toss me my fifth ball of the day and then scrambled for a Nick Evans homer that landed in the mostly empty seats. Ross, meanwhile, was doing pretty well for himself. He got Nelson Figueroa to throw him a ball and then got his fourth of the day from (we think) Takahashi. Here’s a double-photo of Ross with each of those balls. As you can see, he was rather excited after the first one…

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…because it had the old Yankee Stadium commemorative logo. Ross had never snagged one of those, and he didn’t think he ever would, so yeah, he was pumped.

By the time the Braves took the field for BP, we felt like we were in pretty good shape to challenge Joe’s Watch With Zack records, but then things slowed way down, and to make matters worse, there was a scary accident in the process. Someone on the Braves got hit by a ball near second base, prompting the trainer to rush over toward the growing huddle of players:

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I hadn’t seen it (there’s a lot to look at during BP), so I had no idea who it was or where the player had gotten hit. I learned later that it was Martin Prado who got nailed, and thankfully (painful as it obviously was) the ball had hit him just below the left knee. It was serious enough that Prado had to miss the game and for an article to be written about it on MLB.com.

Batting practice resumed five minutes later, and since the Braves pitchers were about to wrap up their throwing, I moved over to the left field foul line. Ross was still in fair territory, and he had changed into his Braves gear:

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I shouted his name and got his attention and tried to wave him over, but he wanted to stay where he was. Two minutes later, I convinced Manny Acosta to throw me a ball (by asking for it in Spanish), and saw several other fans near me get balls thrown to them as well.

That gave me seven balls on the day. My next ball was going to be No. 4,300, and it took about ten minutes before I had another chance. Yunel Escobar was in the cage and ripped a deep line drive to my left. I bolted through an empty row and then determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short so I climbed over the row in front of me. The ball was approaching. I was now in the third row. Two fans in the front row reached up for it. I flinched (not wanting to take a deflection to the face) while keeping my glove in the spot where I thought the ball was going to end up, and I heard the ball tip off their hands, and then a split second later, I felt the ball smack into the pocket of my glove. HA! It was just like catching a foul tip, and just like that, I had reached the milestone. Here’s a photo of ball No. 4,300:

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You know what Ross said after I caught it? Nothing. He was in right field, getting his fifth ball of the day from David Ross. (D’oh!) But when he returned to the left field seats, he was glad to learn that I’d caught it.

Then we both experienced some bad luck. Omar Infante threw me a ball which fell short, and he didn’t bother to retrieve it and give me another chance. Moments later, Buddy Carlyle did the same thing to Ross, who at least got another shot when the ball was thrown back up, but he got robbed by another fan who reached out and caught it right in front of him. Ross should’ve had seven balls at that point. In addition to the five he’d snagged, there was the Carlyle fiasco as well as the overthrow in right-center field by Sean Green — and then things got worse. Ross and I raced to the Braves’ dugout at the end of BP. A few other fans got balls tossed to them, but as for us? Nothing. It looked like we were done snagging for the time being, so we stood around and contemplated our next move. Ross was in the front row, staring off aimlessly into space, and I was right behind him in the second row. We had a few feet of space on either side of us, but there were other fans nearby…and then, without warning, a ball came flying up toward us from down below. WHAT?! I glanced at Ross while the ball was still high above us and noticed that he didn’t see it, so I shouted his name, but instead of looking up, he turned around and looked at me. NO!!! I wanted him to catch it, but he still didn’t see it, and I knew that if I let the ball drop into the seats, the other fans would’ve been all over it, so at the very last second, I stuck out my glove and made a waist-high catch. Ross was totally bummed out when he realized what had happened. He wasn’t mad at me. He knew I’d done the right thing by catching it. He was upset at himself for not paying attention, and while he was beating himself up mentally, another ball came flying up out of nowhere. The two balls were thrown five seconds apart, and the same thing happened with the second one. He never even saw it, so I made a very reluctant and last-second catch before it had a chance to hit the plastic seats and ricochet to another fan. There was nothing either of us could do. I had to catch the balls, and since they had entered my possession first, he couldn’t count them and didn’t want them. He was still stuck at five balls, while I had stumbled into double digits. It was just one of those things. Sometimes you get all the breaks, and other times it seems like the snagging gods hate you. This was Ross’s reaction:

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The photo above was not staged. Ross was truly distraught. He could have — and really should have — snagged nine balls by that point and been on the verge of breaking Joe’s record, but instead, he still had a long way to go. Another thing about the photo above: the man with the beard is Ross’s father Steve, and the woman in the green sweater is his mother Cindy. They tried to console him, but it was no use. He felt bad, and that was that.

One thing that cheered up Ross a little was that my friend Leon Feingold (a former minor league pitcher) showed up at game time and sat with us behind the Braves’ dugout and gave a brief pitching lesson. Here’s a photo of Leon, making the ball look tiny in his hand:

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Even as the innings ticked by, Ross was determined to find SOME way to snag five more balls, but the opportunities were dwindling, and he had some competition. Here’s a photo of Ross from behind. See the fan sitting across the staircase in the red shirt?

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That was Clif (aka “goislanders4″ in the comments), a former Watch With Zack client who had become quite an experienced baseball-snagger. (You might remember Clif from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium and 7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium and 8/19/08 at Citizens Bank Park.)

Both Ross and Clif were in the perfect spot to get a 3rd-out ball tossed up by the Braves, and after every inning, both of them rushed down the steps to the front row:

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(Check out that guy in the gray shirt on the right. Dear Lord. He has a lot to learn about snagging.)

In the bottom of the fourth inning, with one out and the bases loaded, Luis Castillo grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Ross was standing at the edge of the dugout before first baseman Adam LaRoche even caught the throw. Clif, for some reason (perhaps it was professional courtesy or maybe he was just trying a different strategy) stayed a few rows back, and as a result, Ross received an uncontested toss from LaRoche. Cha-ching! It was his sixth ball of the day, and he was still determined to snag four more. We considered all the possibilities and came up with the following:

1) another 3rd-out ball from a different player
2) an infield warm-up ball
3) a foul ball
4) a toss-up from the 3rd base coach
5) a game-ending ball (if the Braves hung on for the win)
6) an umpire ball
7) a bullpen ball

There were still some hypothetical opportunities, but it wasn’t meant to be. Glenn Hubbard was stingy with the warm-up balls. The remaining 3rd-out balls got tossed all over the place. No foul balls came anywhere near us. The ump gave all his balls away to little kids. The relievers tossed their balls into the crowd near the bullpen. The endgame was a complete disaster, and neither of us snagged another ball.

Still, Ross had managed to break his one-game record by snagging six balls, and he DID actually break a Watch With Zack record: most different types of balls snagged by a client in one day — four, to be exact. He’d snagged two Citi Field balls, two old Yankee Stadium balls, a 2008 All-Star Game ball, and a standard Selig ball. Here I am with Ross after the game (which the Braves won, 5-2):

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Here’s a close-up shot of Ross that shows the various baseballs that he’d snagged:

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Ross was still bummed about not reaching double digits, and I knew there was no point in trying to cheer him up. I’d been in his shoes many times, so I just told him that it was a good sign that he could have a “bad” day and still end up with half a dozen balls — that it showed he was ready to break out and hit double digits very soon.

One last thing…

While Ross managed to snag four different types of balls, I got lucky and managed to one-up him by snagging five. My first three were Citi Field balls. My fourth ball (the Sean Green overthrow) was an All-Star ball. My fifth (from Ken Takahashi) for some reason was a training ball. My sixth (the Nick Evens homer) was an old Yankee Stadium ball, and my final four were standard Selig balls. I gave away one of those four to a little girl sitting behind the dugout late in the game. Brian McCann had tossed a 3rd-out ball half a dozen rows deep, and some absolute JERK — a grown man no less — ran through an empty row and dove/stumbled for the ball and caught it right in front of this girl’s mother and then crashed down in the seats and nearly landed on top of the girl. The whole section booed him, and I thought there was going to be some kind of riot because he absolutely refused to give up the ball. I was in the middle of the section at that point, having inched toward the area where I figured McCann was going to throw it, so as soon as I saw what happened, I raced back to my seat (where Leon was guarding my backpack) and pulled out a ball and ran back over to the little girl and handed it to her.

SNAGGING STATS:

17_the_nine_i_kept_09_23_09.jpg• 10 balls at this game (nine pictured here because of the give-away)

• 482 balls in 54 games this season = 8.93 balls per game.

• 623 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 350 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 118 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

• 4,302 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $252.60 raised at this game

• $12,175.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Newark Bears — June 30, 2009

As I mentioned at the end of my previous entry, my good friend Leon Feingold was invited to try out for the Newark Bears, and he invited me to tag along. It was a tough decision at first because I’d been planning to go to Yankee Stadium (and really looking forward to it) but I realized quickly that the potential for once-in-a-lifetime baseball awesomeness was much greater with him. Remember when I got to sneak into Citi Field with him on April 15, 2009? Yeah, good things happen when Leon is around so I scrapped my Yankee plans and took New Jersey Transit with him to the stadium in Newark. (The photo on the right shows us on the train, and in case you’re new to this blog, Leon is the one wearing black.) It was an easy ride. Seven bucks for a round trip from Penn Station. Two stops. Twenty-five minutes. Short walk from the station to the stadium.

A little background on Leon…

He’s 36 years old, 6-foot-6 (if you round up), and 240 pounds.
He pitched in the minor leagues (in the Indians organization) in the 1990s.
He recently pitched professionally in the Israel Baseball League.
He once ranked 12th in the world in competitive eating.
He’s the vice-president of the New York chapter of Mensa.

…and I love him. As a friend, thank you. Perhaps even like a brother.

The Bears were scheduled to play a game at 6:05pm. We arrived at the stadium about five hours early and walked right inside the front gate:

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There was no security. No one ever hassled us. It was the most laid-back atmosphere you could imagine–minor league baseball (or in this case independent league baseball) at its best.

This was the view to the right as we crossed the concourse behind the plate:

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We headed to the left, and of course I took a photo of the incredible open-air concourse down the foul line:

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I don’t count minor league (or independent league) balls in my collection, but still, I appreciated the heavenly set-up for foul-ball catching.

This was my first time at the ballpark, officially known as “Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium.” Leon had been here before and knew his way around so he led me inside though an official-looking reception area and into the media room:

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Did you notice the backdrop on the right? We still had lots of time to kill, so Leon posed for a few pics against it:

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That’s not trick photography. He’s not holding a miniature ball. Leon’s hands really ARE that big, and as a result, he can throw a nasty split-finger fastball which basically moves like an 82-mph knuckleball. Every time we play catch and he throws it, I fear for my teeth, nuts, and life.

We wandered down some stairs and ended up here:

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Down the hall to our left, there were Gatorade coolers and BP screens and other random pieces of equipment lying around:

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Even though it wasn’t a major league stadium, I was still thrilled to be there and just soaking it all in. In fact, I think it’s better that it wasn’t a major league stadium because if it were, there would’ve been security guards crawling all over the place. Instead, I was treated to a pure, uninterrupted, behind-the-scenes look.

Leon needed to change into his uniform, and since he didn’t have a locker in the clubhouse, he changed in a storage room down the hall:

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Look what was in that storage room:

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There weren’t any security cameras in there. I could’ve stuffed 20 balls into my backpack and no one would’ve known the difference. But I didn’t do that. I had opportunities throughout the day to take balls, but I didn’t pocket a single one. I just wanted to inspect them and photograph them.

I was surprised to find three different types of balls in the basket, one of which appeared to be autographed:

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Any theories about whose signature that might be?

Leon and I were both invited into the clubhouse. Here’s what it looked like:

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At one point, there were about 15 players milling about, blasting salsa and later rap, playing cards, eating, swinging bats, and getting dressed. Armando Benitez walked by. Then Tim Raines, the manager. Then Shane Komine. And Willie Banks. And Keith Foulke. And Ryan Bukvich. And Alberto Castillo. And Tike Redman. These were ALL guys who had played in the major leagues. Some (like Komine) only had a cup of coffee while others (like Foulke) were World Series heroes. One guy (Leon thinks it was Charlton Jimerson) started changing right in front of us, without warning, and when he took off his shirt, I thought I was at a bodybuilding competition. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such big arms up close, and it made me realize how tough it is to make it in baseball. You have to compete against guys like that just to REACH the major leagues. I suddenly felt a strong connection to David Eckstein.

I went and used the bathroom, not so much because I was dying to pee, but mainly just to check out the facilities. Pretty simple. Looked like a college gymnasium bathroom. There was half a sunflower seed shell atop my urinal. On my way back to the main room (where Leon was waiting for me), I passed the training room (where several players were sprawled out on tables) and a modest assortment of snacks: peanut butter crackers, Hostess cake-type sweets, etc. There were a few dozen boxes of balls that several players had already signed. The whole place was noisy and cluttered and somewhat shabby in spots–nothing as glamorous as the few major league clubhouses I’ve been lucky enough to set foot in, but far better than any locker room I ever got to use as an aspiring college player a decade earlier.

At around 2:30pm, half an hour after Leon had been told to arrive, no one had come for him. The clubhouse was clearing out, so we headed out too. We walked down the carpeted hallway, out through a tunnel behind home plate, and onto the warning track:

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(Leon, if you’re reading this, do us all a favor and get a haircut. I know I shouldn’t be talking smack about your [or anyone’s] hair, given the fact that I’m losing mine, but seriously, that bushy mess is starting to look like a mullet.)

There were a few guys playing catch in right field. I had my glove with me, just in case, and Leon asked if I wanted to throw. I was about to say yes when I noticed a couple batters starting to take early BP:

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There was only ONE person shagging balls in the entire outfield, and it was a teenaged kid–one of the players’ sons, I think–so I asked a few people if it’d be okay if I went out there and “helped” by shagging. They were delighted that I offered (less running for them) and of course I couldn’t have been happier to be out there.

Leon surprised me by going in my bag and grabbing my camera and taking a few pics. Here I am out there:

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After 20 minutes or so, the hitting stopped and the throwing started, so I headed back to the foul line and took some photos. Here’s one that shows three former major leaguers (plus Leon):

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Here’s another shot from high up in the stands, just short of the foul pole…

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…and here’s one that shows Bukvich pitching to Castillo, with someone (not sure who) standing in like a batter:

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Benitez wore headphones onto the field:

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I guess you can do whatever you want in Newark when you have 289 big league saves.

After the throwing ended, several of the pitchers gathered near the foul line. You can see Leon on the right, and do you know who’s standing with his hands on his hips?

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Keith Foulke.

I shagged some more during regular BP (that must’ve lasted an hour) and I really felt like I was a player. I mean, I was standing in the outfield, surrounded by players, doing what all the players were doing: catching fly balls and scooping up grounders and firing them back in toward the bucket. At one point, I made a really nice running/leaping/over-the-shoulder catch and immediately looked around to make eye contact with everyone. I was all like, “Yeah! Who saw that?! Who saw that?!” but the answer was: nobody. In my world, it was a great catch. In their world, it’s just…a catch.

This was the view from deep right field:

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Did you notice those clouds? The visiting team (the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs) had started taking BP, but the sky got darker and the grounds crew began removing equipment from the field, and that was the end of that. I’m totally jinxed by the weather. I can’t even get a full BP in the Atlantic League. (I should mention that when the visitors were taking BP, I didn’t feel right about running all over the field with them, so I grabbed a seat in the front row down the right field foul line. During the next 10 minutes or so, three balls landed in the seats near me — all of which were sliced by righties — and I tossed them all back onto the field. I’m telling you, I didn’t keep a single ball. Leon even walked over at one point and tried to hand one to me, but I wouldn’t take it.)

Leon had disappeared for a while toward the end of BP, and I figured he was pitching in the bullpen. I could’ve walked out there (the ‘pens are located behind the left field wall) and watched him, but I didn’t want to intrude on his big moment. I’d brought a book. I was happy to just sit and read and look at the field. There’s something about baseball fields — any baseball fields — that make me feel like I’m meant to be there. I’m most at peace with myself and with the world when I’m standing on a baseball field. I feel like I’m home, like I’ve reached the promised land, like I’m in a place that I’ve always dreamed of being. In my mind I’ve always been and always will be a major leaguer. There’s no other way to describe it.

Eventually I caught up with Leon and a few older gentlemen near the 1st base dugout:

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See that guy in the light gray T-shirt? That’s Butch Hobson, who once hit 30 homers in a season in the major leagues. And the guy in the tan pants? Art Shamsky, who batted .300 for the ’69 Mets.

It was right around that time that fans were being let into the ballpark. Any autograph collectors reading this? If so, I would suggest that you invest in a $7 train ride, go see the Newark Bears, and make yourself happy. All the Bears players seem to file out onto the field through that tunnel right behind the plate, and of course there’s no security to stop anyone from going down into the seats alongside that tunnel. Seriously, go get some autographs. Carl Everett is even on the team. Who doesn’t want Carl Everett’s autograph? (Yesterday I never saw him up close, although I think I caught one of his fly balls during BP.)

While Leon was schmoozing it up, I wandered down into the dugout and inspected every inch of it. I peeked into the bat rack and noticed a pink slip of paper at the bottom of one of the vertical cubby holes. I bent down and grabbed it and had a look:

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Yeah, I took it. Whatever. It had the previous day’s date on it. It wasn’t even the original–just a carbon copy. If the Bears wanted it, they would’ve kept it. I figured it would have a happier home with me than in some random landfill.

Then it started raining, and as I ducked inside the tunnel with Leon, I could see the grounds crew racing to cover the field:

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What happened next?

A rain delay.

Ryan Bukvich passed the time by trying to putt golf balls into a plastic cup in the hallway outside the clubhouse:

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Leon and I got to talk to him for quite a while, and what can I say? The guy is supercool. I told him about my baseball collection, and he told me that when he makes it back to the major leagues, he’s going to look for me and hook me up with a ball. I told him about the list of players and coaches who’ve thrown me balls. Leon even pulled it up on his phone, and we all looked at it together for a minute. I gave Bukvich my card, and he gave me his email address, so hopefully we’ll stay in touch.

Tim Raines walked by while we were out in the hallway. So did Ron Karkovice, who’s also a coach on the team. There were players and coaches all over the place, and there I was, just hanging out with them and shootin’ the sh*t like it was no big deal. In a way it wasn’t a big deal. They’re just guys. Most of them are in their 30s, just like me, and they all love baseball, just like me, so why should it be a big deal to hang out with them? I don’t know, it just IS. I’ve been a huge baseball fan for such a long time, and as a fan, you’re always kept on the outside. When there’s a rain delay, you’re either hiding in the concourse at the stadium or watching reruns of “Seinfeld” at home. You’re never killing time WITH the actual players, so yeah, it was a big deal. Some of the players even recognized me after Bukvich told them that I was the guy who’d caught those home runs last year at Yankee Stadium and been on Leno, so in a way, I was famous to them, which was cool as hell, but mainly, *I* was the one who was honored to be in their presence.

Leon had to get back to New York City. I suppose I could’ve stayed and kept hanging out at the ballpark, but he was really my link to all the behind-the-scenes stuff, so I left with him and got one last look at the field on the way out:

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I could’ve stayed and just sat in the stands and watched the game and tried to catch foul balls, but that would’ve felt like a major letdown after everything I’d experienced. I just wanted to go home, and of course I wanted to ask Leon all about his tryout.

As we rode NJ Transit back to the city, he told me that Alberto Castillo had caught for him with Tim Raines and pitching coach Mike Torrez looking on. (No pressure.) They didn’t have a radar gun on him, but Leon thinks he was throwing in the mid-80s and *could* get back up to 90 with the right workouts and guidance. Speaking of guidance…the Bears did not offer him a contract, but they DID tell him that he can come back and work out with the team anytime, and that they’ll continue to work with him and get him back into shape…which means they saw his potential, but he’s not yet ready for game action. That was no surprise to Leon. He knew he wasn’t ready. His pitches had sick movement, but his velocity was a bit down and he had no command.

That’s pretty much it. Leon had some meeting to go to at 6pm, so as soon as our train pulled into Penn Station, we went our separate ways. I headed home and heated up some day-old General Tso’s chicken (and pork fried rice) and watched the Yankee game. (There’s really no point in watching the Mets anymore.) Good thing I didn’t go. I heard that it had rained in the Bronx, too, and that BP was canceled early on.

4/15/09 at Citi Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I could see the field to my left…

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…so naturally I walked up for a closer look:

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Here I am, just slightly happy:

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

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

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

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

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Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…and I got his attention.

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

Sweet!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game time!

This was my view in the first inning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following photo shows my view in the seventh inning:

29_citi_seat_in_7th_inning.jpg

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

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

30_citi_donnie_zack_gary.jpg

And that’s about it.

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

SNAGGING STATS:

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

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

• 574 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 339 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 45 major league stadiums with at least one ball caught

• 3,860 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $15.87 pledged per ball

• $142.83 raised at this game

• $634.80 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

A-Rod and Scrabble

I don’t really want to think or talk about A-Rod. The whole thing
sucks, and if it’s true that he used steroids even once, then I think
HE sucks. Will I still root for him? I’m not sure. I need to wait and
see how it all plays out, but most likely he and I are done. It’s sad.
And I’m done talking about it.

What I really want to talk about is my last trip to the New York
City Scrabble club. I’d mentioned in a comment last week that I was
going to blog about it, so here goes…

I went with my friend Leon Feingold, who’s not only a former minor league pitcher and a competitive eater
(and a whole bunch of other cool/wacky things), but he also loves
Scrabble. He and I have played about half a dozen times, and although
he still hasn’t beaten me, I once beat him by just ONE point…so yeah, he’s good. He’d
never been to the NYC club, so I made sure to let him know that he was
in for a real challenge. As a result, he spent ten minutes studying a
word list before Round One. Here he is (in the white sweater):

1_leon_studying_words.jpg

For all you people who’ve read Word Freak and/or watched Word Wars,
the guy sitting at the table in the photo above (organizing yellow
score slips in order to determine the match-ups) is former world
champion and current club leader Joel Sherman.

Leon had a choice of playing in the beginner or expert division. He
chose the latter, and although he didn’t end up winning any games, he
held his own against some top players.

As for me…
I had a surprisingly good night. In my first game, I played two bingos–MINTIER
for 63pts and OUTSpEND for 77–en route to a 17-point win over a good
player named Phil Polsky. Final score: 384 to 367. Here’s the board
(with the unplayed tiles sitting along the bottom edge):

2_final_board_round_one.jpg

Leon was still playing when my game ended so I wandered over and took a
photo. Look closely and you can see that he has seven letters of an
eight-letter word on his rack:

3_leon_during_round_one.jpg

Unfortunately he had no place to play it.

My second game was also a success. I faced against another solid player
named Judy Kass and squeaked out a 27-point win, 389 to 362. I only
played one bingo–SWANKER for 94pts–but it swung the momentum in my
favor because my opponent challenged and ended up losing her next turn.
Here’s the final board:

4_final_board_round_two.jpg

Round Three was a disaster. I got CREAMED by one of the top-rated women
in the world. Her name is Lynn Cushman. She played two bingos–TRACHEID
for 78pts and DEMOTES for 93–and beat me by 146 points. Ouch! So much
for my cumulative point spread. Final score: 431 to 285. I had both
blanks and still didn’t manage to play a bingo. It was such a miserable
performance on my part that I was too embarrassed to take a photo of
the board.

The good news is that in Round Four…

5_zack_during_final_round.jpg

…I beat a guy named Andrew Friedman by 126 points, so I ended up
feeling a little bit better about myself. The final score was 429 to
303, and I played two bingos, one of which was worth 107 points! The
word was JESTING; the jay was on a double letter score, the whole word
was doubled, and the ess hooked onto the end of DEAFEN. Not bad. But
I’ll admit that it was all very lucky. My other bingo was HIDEOUtS
(lowercase tee because it was a blank) for 66pts. Here’s the board:

7_final_board_round_four.jpg

Here’s my final score slip…

6_zack_score_slip.jpg

…and here I am with Leon (as Joel accidentally lunged in front of the camera while cleaning up):

8_leon_zack.jpg

Good times.

Thanks for indulging me while I blog about non-baseball happenings…

9/11/08 at Camden Yards

My nightmare nearly occurred in real life. I truly thought I was going
to miss batting practice. My friend Leon (who you might remember from 7/21/08 at Camden Yards)
made the trip with me, but he had to work until 12:30pm, and I had to
meet him in midtown, and I got caught in traffic, and we didn’t get
through the Lincoln Tunnel until 1:15pm, and then we hit a major delay
on the New Jersey Turnpike and heard that there was a “serious
accident” at some point up ahead that had caused all lanes to be closed. The situation
was so bad that I considered a) making a U-turn and going home (after we’d driven nearly 100 miles) or b)
veering off and going to the game in Philadelphia (even though I
wouldn’t have had the right hats or rosters). Somehow, though, the
delay eventually cleared up, and the “serious accident” was nowhere to
be found, and I was able to reach a top speed of 91mph (if only I
could’ve thrown a baseball that fast), and we reached Baltimore at
4:35pm. Camden Yards was set to open half an hour later, so I dropped
off Leon at the warehouse and he ran around the corner and held a spot
in line at the Eutaw Street gate while I parked and found a bathroom.

Phew!

But then there was the issue of the weather. It was supposed to be mostly sunny, but it ended up being mostly gloomy. I was paranoid that there wasn’t going to be batting practice, so when I made it back to the stadium, I walked around to the gate/fence behind the picnic area in deeeeep center field and climbed up a few inches–and this is what I saw:

there_is_batting_practice1.jpg

I was overjoyed. Need a closer look?

there_is_batting_practice2.jpg

I couldn’t see the field, but I got a glimpse of the top of the batting cage, and that’s all that mattered. There WAS going to be batting practice. Hooray.

So, how was it? Let’s just say that although there were some frustrating moments (like when I first ran in and was the only fan in left field and a home run landed one section over in the totally empty seats and promptly bounced back onto the field), I ended up being so busy that I didn’t have time to take any photographs. Here’s the rundown…

ball3731_dirty.jpgBALL #1 — Home run into the seats, 10 rows back and near the foul pole. Leon probably could’ve gotten it, but knowing that every ball I snagged would be adding to a record and moving me closer to 500 for the season, he kinda took his time getting there and let me grab it. Whatta guy. (The ball, as you can see here on the right, has some beautiful splotchy/muddy marks on and around the logo.)

BALL #2 — Thrown by Orioles pitcher Garrett Olson. I later gave this one away to a kid.

BALL #3 — Home run into the seats in left-center field. (I don’t know who hit ANY of the balls. Some people have a knack for identifying players from 400 feet away who are covering their numbers with warm-up jackets. I’m not one of them.) There were a few other fans in the seats at this point. The ball sailed over my head, landed on the steps, bounced to the back of the section and then conveniently bounced right back down the steps toward me.

BALL #4 — An errant throw that got away from one of the Indians pitchers as they were all warming up along the left field foul line. The ball trickled onto the rubberized warning track in foul territory, and since the front row was basically empty and the wall there is only a few feet high, I was able to move 15 feet to my right and lean over for the easy snag.

BALL #5 — Tossed by a left-handed Indians pitcher despite the fact that I’d JUST snagged the previous ball. It was a white guy with curly hair, and he wasn’t THAT tall. It couldn’t have been Zach Jackson (who was the starter that night) or Cliff Lee (who’s easy to recognize). It wasn’t Rafael Perez (who’s definitely not white) or Rich Rundles (who’s 6-foot-5). I think it was either Scott Lewis or Jeremy Sowers. I looked at their photos when I got home, but I still couldn’t tell who it was. Waaah.

BALL #6
— Thrown by Masahide Kobayashi in foul territory after I asked him in Japanese. His translator then walked over and asked how I knew Japanese. I told him I only knew how to ask for a ball. He was amused.

BALL #7 — Snagged with the “half-glove trick” along the left field foul line. The full glove trick, of course, involves a rubber band and Sharpie; the “half” trick, as I call it, is one that requires nothing more than the string. That was the case here as the ball was sitting halfway out on the warning track. I lowered the glove, swung it out, knocked the ball closer on the first try, and reached over the low wall for it with my bare hand.

ball3738_wrinkly.jpgBALL #8 — Home run into the seats in left-center field. I was two sections over in straight-away left, and out of the 20 (or so) fans that were in the vicinity, I was the only one running for it while it was still in mid-air. Everyone else waited for it to land and THEN decided that they might run over and try to grab it. The ball bounced into the row below me, so I lunged far forward, bracing myself with my glove hand on the backs of the seats, and grabbed the ball with my bare hand, one second before the nearest guy would’ve gotten there. (The ball, pictured on the right, has a small patch on the surface that resembles wrinkled skin. That’s the only way I can describe it. I’ve seen this a few times in the past. It’s very strange, and I have no idea how it would’ve happened. Any theories?)

BALL #9 — High foul ball into the seats along the left-field foul line. It was hit by a lefty. It was his first set of swings so I figured he’d be aiming for the opposite field, and indeed he was. The ball landed a couple feet away from me as I bolted up the steps in an unsuccessful attempt to catch it. There were four other guys sitting nearby (none of whom had gloves) and the ball thankfully didn’t bounce in their direction. Of course, 10 seconds later, a righty launched a home run RIGHT to the spot where I would’ve been standing had I not moved into foul territory. Ahhhh…

BALL #10 — Deep home run into the seats between straight-away left field and the foul pole. I almost got there in time to catch it on a fly. I reached out with my glove and flinched at the same time to avoid getting hit in the face by a potential ricochet. The ball happened to pop up two feet and hang in the air exactly in front of me, and I nabbed it with a swipe of my glove.

BALL #11 — Ground-rule double. It was a high fly ball hit by a lefty. As David Dellucci drifted back to make the catch, I yelled, “Let it bounce, baby!” and to my surprise (and delight), he backed off at the last second and did just that. The ball bounced high off the warning track, sailed over everyone’s heads in the half-dozen rows in front of me, and came down RIGHT where I was standing. I had to reach up extra high to prevent a gloveless man (who was running through my row from the left) from interfering.

BALL #12 — Home run. Straight-away left field. Caught on a fly. I’d been playing every batter differently. The batter before was bigger and taking more powerful swings, so I’d been standing deeper and in left-center field. THIS batter was smaller and swinging for line drives, so I moved down a few rows and headed one section closer to the foul pole. It paid off. He hit a ball that ended up coming right to me. At first it appeared to be heading to my left so I drifted over a few steps. Then, when it started to hook back, I moved back with it. A man in the front row made a lame attempt to reach up. The ball sailed two feet over his outstretched glove, and I caught it one-handed as two gloveless fans on my left made an equally lame attempt to go for it.

BALL #13 — Tossed by Ryan Garko at the Indians’ dugout right after BP.

BALL #14 — Tossed by an unknown player 30 seconds later.

Then, half an hour before the first pitch, I took the following photo to show how empty the stadium was:

half_an_hour_before_the_first_pitch.jpg

Then I got some (bad) pepperoni pizza and drank a bottle of water.

Then I got Jamey Carroll’s autograph on an old Rockies-Indians ticket stub:

jamey_carroll_autograph.jpg

Then I got my 15th ball of the day thrown by Shin-Soo Choo after his pre-game throwing in front of the dugout. (I didn’t ask him for it in Korean, even though I could have. All I needed to do was shout his name.)

Now…
There’d been a rumor that Major League Baseball was going to use commemorative balls for the July 4th weekend, as well as on September 11th. The logo was supposed to look like this…

welcome_back_veterans.jpg

…except not in color.

Well, if there ever WAS a ball with that logo on it, it never made an appearance inside a major league stadium during the July 4th weekend, so I figured I wasn’t going to see one last night. Still, I busted my butt and stayed in motion throughout the night in an attempt to snag a game-used ball.

I played lefties for foul balls on the third base side of home plate:

09_11_08_view_during_game1.jpgI played righties on the first base side:

09_11_08_view_during_game2.jpg

I went for third-out balls behind the Indians’ dugout…

09_11_08_view_during_game3.jpg

…and did the same on the Orioles’ side:

09_11_08_view_during_game4.jpg

What did I get for all my trouble?

ONE lousy non-commemorative ball:

ball3746_regular.jpg

Kevin Millar tossed it to me after the top of the 3rd inning. Oh boy.

I came incredibly close to a foul ball a couple innings later, and of course I had a few bad breaks during BP. I don’t mean to complain. I still had an amazing day, but if things had been just a little better, I could’ve easily snagged 20 balls. I’ll do it there someday.

The Orioles (in case anyone cares) won, 6-3, and I got a photo with Leon (who had snagged four balls of his own) on the way out:

leon_zack_postgame.jpg

STATS:

the_15_balls_i_kept_09_11_08.jpg? 16 balls at this game (15 of which are pictured here and turned in various ways to show the most interesting markings)

? 105 balls in the last two weeks

? 469 balls in 60 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 556 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 140 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 93 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 37 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

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

? 3,746 total balls

7/21/08 at Camden Yards

I went to this game with one of my newer/favorite friends–a guy named Leon Feingold who happens to be a former minor league pitcher, a current member of Mensa, and a part-time competitive eater. He’s also pretty tall. Keep in mind that I’m 5-foot-11…

leon_zack_outside.jpg

Although Leon hasn’t pitched in the minors since 1995, he’s still a dues-paying member of the APBPA (Association of Professional Ball Players of America) and we got special treatment as a result. Camden Yards is one of those stadiums that opens in sections; everyone is allowed to enter two hours early, but for the first half-hour, the left field seats are open only to season ticket holders. Leon used his membership card (and did a whole lot of smooth talking) to get us into left field as soon as the gates opened.

For the first five minutes, there was officially NO competition. Check it out:

left_field_empty1.jpg

I moved to the front row in straight-away left field and promptly caught a home run on a fly
(as Randor Bierd looked on). This ball has one of the largest and deepest scuff marks I’ve scuffed_sweet_spot.jpgever seen. I’m guessing it was hit into the seats before the stadium opened and landed on a concrete step…then either bounced back onto the field or was tossed back by an usher. (I wrote the “3516” because this was the 3,516th ball of my collection.)

Over the next 20 minutes, about a dozen other fans made it out to the left field seats, and I snagged five more home run balls:

The first one landed in left-center and bounced up against the chain-link fence that separates the seats from the bullpen. The second one hit my glove and landed in an empty row behind me as I jumped and lunged for it. The third landed near me and several other fans, and I won the scramble as it rattled around in the seats. The fourth sailed 15 feet over my head and took an incredibly lucky bounce right back to me. The fifth landed in the seats, and I out-scrambled Leon and several other fans.

Then I got another ball–my seventh of the day–tossed to me by Dennis Sarfate (pronounced sar-FAH-tay).

Don’t feel bad for Leon. He brought his glove and snagged two home run balls during BP. He caught the first one on a fly and got a lucky bounce on the second. And don’t feel bad for the other fans. There were PLENTY of balls to go around, and I ended up giving away one of mine to a father and his young son who somehow managed to come up empty. It was ball-snagging heaven.

roy_halladay_and_others.jpgAfter the Blue Jays took the field at 5:30pm, I got my eighth ball tossed by Roy Halladay, then used my glove trick to snag No. 9 off the rubberized warning track, and broke double digits thanks to a little charity from Scott Downs.

If you take a closer look at the photo on the left, you’ll see a “Southwest Airlines” sign on the outfield wall, just above the head of the guy (Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg) wearing No. 38. That wall is set several feet out from the base of the stands, so I sacrificed five minutes in left field and ran out there, just in case a ball had dropped into the gap when I wasn’t looking. I had to be slick about it, though. The day before Manny Ramirez hit his 500th career home run, a crazy usher had threatened to eject me for using the glove trick in that section, so I couldn’t just charge down the steps to the front row and lean over the railing. Therefore, I took my time…walked slowly…kept my glove hidden in my backpack…pulled out my camera…pretended to take some pics…casually made it down to the front…peeked over…moved 20 feet to my left…and took a pic for real. This is what I saw:

ball_in_gap_07_21_08.jpg

Ball No. 11, baby!

Unfortunately, I didn’t get anything else during BP, and I got ignored/dissed by Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston for a ball that almost anyone else in the world would’ve tossed to me. But why dwell donovan_santos.jpgon the negative? Shortly before game time, I got my 12th ball of the day from a guy whom I correctly assumed was Donovan Santos, the Blue Jays “Strength and Conditioning Coach” (pictured on the right in the black shirt).

I spent most of the game with Leon, talking ab
out pitching and going for foul balls on the first base side of home plate. Nothing came close, and that’s probably a good thing because he probably leon_zack_inside.jpg
would’ve caught it. The day before the game, I asked him if he was planning to bring his glove and go for balls, and when he said yes, I asked what would happen if we were sitting together during the game and a foul ball came our way. I wanted to know if he planned to compete with me, and I got my answer: “You better eat your Wheaties tomorrow morning.”

two_game_used_balls.jpgI played the dugouts for third-out balls and got one from each side. Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas flipped me the ball after Luke Scott took a called third strike to end the second inning…and Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar flipped me HIS ball after Matt Stairs grounded out to Brian Roberts to end the top of the seventh.

I jogged out to the right field standing-room-only section a few times over the course of the game, and and it’s a shame nothing came my way because that whole area of the stadium was a ghost town:

flag_court_empty.jpg

Still, I have two noteworthy things to report from my brief time in right field:

1) There was a fan wearing a T-shirt that said, “I AM KEEPING THE BALL.” Sadly, I didn’t get a photo, but I can tell you that it was a yellow shirt with the words stacked vertically. Very eye-catching. The back of the shirt said, “SEE FRONT OF SHIRT.”

2) At the foul-pole end of the standing-room-only section (you can barely see this in the photo above), the Orioles had one of several “ice stations” set up:

ice_station.jpg

Given the fact that it was 97 degrees and stiflingly humid at game time…how awesome is that? I’ve been to over 700 games in 44 different major league stadiums, and I’ve never seen this before. Can you imagine an ice station at Yankee Stadium? HA!!! You’d have to pay 25 cents per cube (no discount for fragments) and store the ice in a clear plastic bag because, as everyone knows, a styrofoam cup can be used as a weapon.

The Orioles won, 8-3. Jesse Litsch, who’s never been nice to me, took the loss. Radhames Liz, who has a phenomenal name, earned the win. Brian Roberts hit his major league-leading 37th double. Yay.

After the game, Leon got a ball (thanks to my expert guidance) from home plate ump Tim Tschida, and I got a ball from Alberto Castillo (not this Alberto Castillo, but THIS one, although I *have* received balls from both) at the Orioles’ dugout.

the_balls_i_kept_07_21_08.jpgSTATS:

? 15 balls at this game

? 253 balls in 35 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 11 lifetime games with 15 or more balls

? 84 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

? 29 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls

? 531 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 127 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

? 3,530 total balls

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