Results tagged ‘ manny ramirez ’

2009 NLDS — Game 2

This wasn’t just another game. Not only was it the National League Division Series — Cardinals vs. Dodgers — but there was something extra special about it for me: it was the day before my appearance on “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” and I was going to be filmed by a roving camera crew.

Half an hour before the gates opened, I headed to the Top Deck and picked up my media credential:

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I headed down to the left field pavilion and met up with the crew along the way. Here I am explaining my various T-shirts to the camera:

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Once inside the stadium, my job was simple: snag as many balls as possible so that there’d be some exciting footage for the show.

In the photo below (taken by my girlfriend Jona), I’m the guy wearing the “RAMIREZ 99″ shirt:

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There wasn’t much action early on — I had a couple close calls — so I spent most of my time explaining things to the camera.

Finally, after 15 minutes of nothingness, Manny Ramirez launched a home run over my head and I raced up the steps:

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There was an all-out scramble for the ball as it rattled around underneath the benches, and I managed to come up with it. Huge relief. Up until that point, I felt like I was personally letting down Conan — like I was a ballhawk fraud who’d made preposterous claims and then failed to back them up.

Several minutes later, I caught a ground-rule double behind the left field wall…and that was it for the Dodgers’ portion of BP. Not good. I’d been hoping to pad my numbers early on before it got crowded, but at least both of the balls had a Dodgertown stamp on the sweet spot. (If you want to see my complete collection of stamped/marked balls, click here.)

Because of my media credential, I was able to exit the pavilion and re-enter the main part of the stadium. My plan? To get some balls from the Cardinals on the right field side. First, of course, I changed into my bright red Cardinals gear, and even though my Dodgers shirt was poking out underneath, I was able to convince Ryan Franklin to toss me a ball. If you look closely at the photo below, you can barely see the edge of the ball as it disappeared into the pocket of my glove:

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Soon after, Matt Pagnozzi threw me my fourth ball of the day. Here I am preparing for the easy two-handed catch:

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I headed to the right field pavilion after that and snagged a home run that ricocheted down into the gap behind the wall. (I’m not sure who hit it.) Then, when Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday started taking their cuts, I raced back around to the left field side and positioned myself deep in the cross-aisle, more than 400 feet from home plate. Holiday hit two consecutive bombs that reached the aisle. I bolted to my right for the first one, but it sailed over my head and was promptly snatched by another fan. The second homer came closer to me, and I was able to climb over a few benches and reach out over the bullpen for a back-handed catch. The whole section booed me because of my clothing, so I lifted up my Cardinals shirt and revealed my Dodger Blue underneath. Some people laughed, some people cheered, some people continued booing, and some people were like, “Huh?” It was pretty funny.

I played the staircases for the rest of BP…

…but nothing else came my way.

Right before the game started, I headed back into the main part of the stadium and got Mark DeRosa to toss me his warm-up ball behind the 1st base dugout.

Then Slash performed the national anthem…

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…and I headed back outside the stadium once again. It was time to change into my Waldo shirt:

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In my previous entry I mentioned I was going to wear it, not because it’s sexy but because I knew it’d be easier for people to spot me in the crowd. The only problem was…I was never IN the crowd. I spent the first few innings halfway down a staircase behind the left field wall, and then when security told me I couldn’t stand there, I moved to the very bottom. That really sucked because it meant I couldn’t even see the game. All I could do was look up at the sky and hope that I’d be able to see the baseballs coming toward me. In the bottom of the 4th, I came *really* close to snagging Andre Ethier’s home run, but it took a bad bounce after it cleared the wall and ricocheted right to the ONE other guy who’d raced down a different staircase. That also really sucked, but at least I got to hang out with Manny:

 

The guy in the photo above is named Jose (aka “Mannywood” and “Jose Being Manny” and he told me that he sometimes refers to himself as “The Mexican Zack Hample”). You can see more photos of him on MySpace and MyGameBalls.com. He’s a super-cool guy, and he always hangs out in the left field pavilion.

The game itself was DAMN exciting, but it didn’t end the way I wanted. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th and the Dodgers trailing, 2-1, James Loney hit a line drive right at Holliday in left field. All Holliday had to do was catch it, and the game would’ve been over. The Cardinals would’ve evened up the series at one game apiece. But Holliday failed to make the catch. He said later that he never even saw the ball, and I believe him. As he charged in toward it, it nailed him in the stomach. Casey Blake then drew a nine-pitch walk and Ronnie Belliard followed by ripping the first pitch he saw into center field for a game-tying single. Everyone in the stadium was going nuts, but for different reasons; the other 51,818 fans were simply cheering on their beloved Dodgers. I, however, was ecstatic because it meant the game might go into extra innings, which meant I might get another chance to catch a home run. Russell Martin walked to load the bases, and then Mark Loretta ruined everything with a game-winning single.

Final score: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 2.

After the game, the camera crew got a final shot of me holding up all seven of my baseballs. Once they took off, I gave away two of the balls to kids and then got a friend to take my picture with Jona:

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Good times. Playoff baseball is intense.

SNAGGING STATS:

12_the_five_i_kept_10_08_09.jpg• 7 balls at this game (five pictured here because I gave two away)

• 3 ticket stubs collected at this game (pictured below the balls)

• 532 balls in 59 games this season = 9.02 balls per game.

• 628 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

13_tickets_10_08_09.jpg• 11 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball

• 4,352 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (click here to make a pledge…or just to learn more)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $176.82 raised at this game

• $13,438.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One last thing…

The best article EVER written about me was published yesterday on ESPN.com. Here’s the graphic that was originally up on the site…

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…and here’s the article itself.

Next game for me?
Who knows…

8/26/09 at Coors Field

Talk about bad timing…

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

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See that yellow chain?

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

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

Here I am inside the scoreboard:

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

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

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

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…but mainly I was just there to goof around:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We headed down the steep steps…

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

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

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

Anyway, right field…

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

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

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

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I called his name, and he looked up.

I pointed at the ball and flapped my glove.

He picked it up and paused to look at it:

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(Was there something unusual that caught his attention?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here’s a photo of the ball itself:

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

Here I am with Brandon:

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

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

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

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What were they doing?

Umm…blowing up a huge, inflatable baseball glove.

Here are a couple photos of the finished product:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• “Back to ‘The View,’ Sister Act!”

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

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

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

But enough of that…

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

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

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

Come on!

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

Here I am with him:

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

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

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

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

Cool, huh?

Here I am wearing the jersey:

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

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

Here I am with Nettie and Danny:

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

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

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

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

What a waste.
Still a fun day.

Final score: Dodgers 6, Rockies 1.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

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

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• 615 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,215 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.86 pledged per ball

• $49.72 raised at this game

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

8/25/09 at Coors Field

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I’m staying here in Denver with my friends Danny and Nettie. Danny has THE most extraordinary collection of baseballs you’ll ever see. I blogged about it last year and showed a bunch of photos. Yesterday I visited his office where he has even more memorabilia. It’s truly unbelievable…

First, here’s a shot of Danny in his office. It was such a big space that I had to take two photos and fuse them together with Photoshop:

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Seriously, THAT is an office.

Here’s a look at one of the walls:

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Here are some bobblehead dolls:

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Did you notice the shelves below?

Yup, all different kinds of baseballs. Here are my four favorites:

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Here’s another cool ball, which has a painting of Buck O’Neil along with some info about him on the other side:

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Of all the balls in Danny’s collection, my absolute favorite is this:

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Those little metal things are the actual sewing needles.

Wow.

Here are some wooden baseballs…

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…and yes, Danny has a matching set from the American League.

Danny has a closet in his office.

Does he hang coats in there?

No, of course not.

He has more baseball stuff:

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Have you ever seen a “Gold Glove Award” baseball?

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Neither had I.

Danny has a few non-baseball items, such as this signed program from a golf tournament in 1994:

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There actually IS a baseball autograph in there — someone who was serving as a caddy for one of the golfers. Can anyone pick out the signature and identify whose it is?

After the office tour, Nettie and Danny took me to lunch (they’re outstanding host-parents), and I headed to Coors Field at around 4pm. It had drizzled a bit earlier in the afternoon, and it was still cloudy when the gates opened, but there WAS batting practice.

I started out in the front row…

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…and got Jorge De La Rosa to toss me my first ball of the day.

Then I met up with my friend Brandon. Here he is, refusing to look at the camera:

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If Brandon looks familiar, that’s because we’ve been to several games together including (but not limited to):

4/24/08 at Champion Stadium
8/29/08 at PETCO Park
8/30/08 at Angel Stadium

Brandon is a professional photographer/videographer, and once again, he got some great photos of me in “action.” (The word “action” is in quotes because, as you’ll see, there wasn’t much of it.)

mark_strittmatter_2009.jpgMy second ball of the day was tossed by Rockies coach Mark Strittmatter at the 1st base dugout just after the Rockies finishing taking BP.

After that, I changed into my Dodgers gear and headed back to left field. My Dodgers shirt does, unfortunately, say “RAMIREZ 99″ on the back. I’m no longer a Manny fan, and in fact I was ashamed to have his name on my back. But, for the record, I bought the shirt long before he was busted for steroids, and I do still feel somewhat of a connection to him because (as I’ve mentioned in the past) I’ve been close friends with Manny’s high school coach since Manny was in high school. The point is, it’s hard not to root for a guy that I’ve been hearing about since he was 16 years old, but I *am* in fact done with him.

Anyway…

I was dying to snag some balls from the Dodgers because of this. In case you’re too lazy to click the link, it’s a photo of fan from Los Angeles who’s known as “Mannywood” on MyGameBalls.com. In the photo, he’s holding a baseball that was stamped “DodgersWIN” on the sweet spot. The “WIN” stands for a charity called Women’s Initiatives Network. There’d been some talk about these new stamped balls in the comments section on this blog and so…I really REALLY wanted to get one.

Someone on the Dodgers hit a ball that rolled to the wall in left-center. I positioned myself right above the ball as Ramon Troncoso walked over to retrieve it. Here’s a photo of me leaning over the wall, asking him for it:

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Troncoso looked up and flipped me the ball, or at least I thought he did. The ball sailed five feet over my head and landed behind me in the wide front-row aisle. I scrambled back and grabbed it off the ground, and when I looked at the ball, I was excited and puzzled and slightly disappointed. Here’s what was on the sweet spot:

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I’d forgotten that the Dodgers are now stamping their baseballs in two different ways. Yes…it was all coming back to me. I’d seen photos of these “DODGERTOWN” balls as well. It was great to finally have one, but I still really wanted one of the balls that said DodgersWIN.

Two seconds after I grabbed this ball, I realized that Troncoso had been trying to toss it to a little kid who’d been standing in the front row behind the aisle. I decided to give him the ball…but wait…did I have to give him THAT ball? Could I keep the one that said DODGERTOWN and give him the regular ball from Strittmatter instead? The kid was there with his mother, and I explained the situation to them and pointed out the stamp on the sweet spot. The mother assured me that the kid just wanted *a* ball and didn’t care what was printed or stamped on it, so I made the switch.

I headed to the left field corner and lined myself up with Guillermo Mota and Jonathan Broxton. They were the last two guys who were playing catch, and Mota promised to give me the ball when he was done. I looked closely at it each time he took it out of his glove, and I finally saw that it was a brand new DodgersWIN ball. I was bursting with anticipation as the throwing session came to an end. When Mota caught the final throw, he flung the ball directly from his glove, and it sailed ten feet wide. The seats were empty at that point except for ONE guy who happened to be sitting right where the ball was heading. He didn’t even have a glove. He just reached back and snatched it out of the air with his left hand. I wasn’t too pleased. Mota didn’t even acknowledge his mistake, nor did he hook me up with another ball. He just walked out toward the middle of the field, and that was that.

I headed to right field and ran around nonstop…

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…but didn’t catch anything.

Then I went back to left field and did some more fruitless running:

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The photo above is actually kinda cool. As Troncoso was running for that ball, I was racing over from the opposite direction, hoping to get near it and convince him to toss it up.

Here’s another action shot. It shows me racing down the steps from the right while another guy is racing down on the left. We were both going for the ball that was sitting on the warning track:

17_zack_running_for_ball4209.jpg

It’s hard to tell from this angle, but that ball was about five feet out from the wall, so none of the fans were able to reach it. Once I moved into the front row, I let out of a few feet worth of string (which is tied to my glove) and easily knocked the ball closer. I bent down and grabbed it, and I was thrilled to see that it had a DodgersWin logo! But then some guy in the front row started making a big fuss about how the ball had been thrown to his kid, and he basically demanded that I hand it over. It was the biggest crock, and I was stunned when the other fans nearby took his side. The whole thing was about to turn ugly. I offered to give one of my regular balls instead, but they wouldn’t accept it. They wanted the DodgersWIN ball (even though they were Rockies fans). I had two choices: 1) Tell them all to **** off or 2) give them the damn ball. Fifteen years ago, I would’ve gone with Option No. 1, but this is 2009, and I like to think of myself as being a bit more generous and mature, so I went with Option No. 2. (What would YOU have done?) I figured I’d snag another one of those balls at some point in the following two days, so as frustrating as it was to finally get my hands on one and then immediately turn it over, I wasn’t terribly concerned.

Broxton (who is NOT a friendly man) had seen the whole thing play out and rewarded me with another ball. DodgersWIN?! No…Dodgertown. It was my fifth ball of the day (counting the two I’d given away).

Batting practice was almost done so I headed to the Dodgers’ dugout as everyone was coming off the field. Then, totally unexpectedly, a ball came flying up from below. Someone had tossed it from inside the dugout. It landed on the roof about five feet to my right and started rolling away from me. Luckily, the front row was empty enough that I had room to chase after it and grab it. I had no idea where Brandon was at that point, and in fact I was annoyed that he wasn’t with me. I didn’t know that he was watching my every move from afar, and as I learned later, he took a photo of me taking a photo of the ball. Did that make sense?

Here…look at the photo below. The arrow is pointing to me, and I’m taking a picture of the ball that I’d just snagged:

18_zack_photographing_ball4211.jpg

Why was I photographing it?

Check it out:

19_ball4211_dodgerswin.jpg

Hell YES!

I’d snagged both kinds of balls and met Brandon back in left field:

20_zack_marked_balls.jpg

Before the game, I got Casey Blake to sign a ticket…

21_casey_blake_autograph.jpg

…and then Blake tossed me his warm-up ball at the dugout five minutes later. It was another DodgersWIN ball, and then moments later, Rafael Furcal tossed me one that said DODGERTOWN. There was NO competition for balls at the dugout. The only challenge was that the ushers made me stay behind Row 10. That’s just one of the silly rules here. But thankfully there was no one in front of me with a glove.

This was my view during the game:

22_view_during_game.jpg

The fans behind me were heckling Manny nonstop. More on this in a bit…

This was the view to my left, and if you look closely, you’ll see a tiny red dot in the aisle, off in the distance:

23_view_to_my_left_08_25_09.jpg

I put that dot there to indicate where I ended up after running for Blake’s home run in the top of the 4th. It was probably 80 feet away, and I might’ve caught it had it actually landed in the aisle, but no, it landed three rows deep. That was the first of three home runs. Brad Hawpe hit the second one to center field in the bottom of the 4th (Jameson Sutton nearly caught it) and Clint Barmes hit one to my section in the 7th. I was in line at a concession stand at that particular moment (duh) so you know who ended up catching it? Dan Sauvageau, the guy who hooked me up with the front row ticket in the first place. Here he is with his five-year-old daughter Emily, who’s holding THE home run ball:

25_dan_emily_barmes_homer.jpg

It’s the 41st game home run that Dan has caught on the fly. He’s snagged another 50 or so that have landed in the front row, but he doesn’t even count those.

Now, about those Manny hecklers…

24_manny_haters.jpg

They were out in full force. Here’s a Top Ten list (in reverse order) of the best heckles I heard:

10) “Get a haircut, you cheater!”
9) “How does it feel to be the worst left fielder in the National League?!”
8) “Where’d you get your uniform, Goodwill?”
7) “Man-roid!”
6) “Hey, Manny, I got some weed for you from Jackson Heights!”
5) “You look like the Predator!”
4) “The only thing steroids gave you was hemorrhoids!”
3) “Hey, Manny! One word: shrinkage!”
2) “When you heard that Tulo hit for the cycle, did you think you had a new friend?!”
1) “You let everybody down!”

After Heckle No. 6, I shouted, “It’s Washington Heights!” to which the heckler replied, “Whatever, he doesn’t know the difference!”

There were, of course, a number of anti-gay (and otherwise obscene) taunts, the worst of which came from a fan who was wearing a Mets cap. Of course, the ushers did nothing to stop him, and yet security felt the need to stop me from using my harmless glove trick the day before for a damp ball that wasn’t even on the field.

The game went into extra innings. I moved to the seats behind home plate with Brandon. The Rockies put runners on the corners with nobody out in the bottom of the 10th. Coors Field was rocking:

26_crowd_excited_10th_inning.jpg

Then, after a one-out intentional walk loaded the bases, Troy Tulowitzki delivered a walk-off single. His teammates mobbed him behind second base:

27_rockies_walk_off_win.jpg

I didn’t get a ball from the ump. I didn’t get a ball from the Dodgers relievers when they walked in from the bullpen. Nothing. My night was over. But I’m not complaining. I snagged a bunch of interesting balls, hung out with some friends, and saw another great game.

Final score: Rockies 5, Dodgers 4.

SNAGGING STATS:

28_the_six_balls_i_kept.jpg• 8 balls at this game (6 pictured here because I gave two away)

• 393 balls in 45 games this season = 8.73 balls per game.

• 614 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,213 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.86 pledged per ball

• $198.88 raised at this game

• $9,769.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/8/09 at Citi Field

The Dodgers were in town, Manny Ramirez was back from his 50-game suspension, and the sun was actually shining. Citi Field, as I expected, ended up being unbearably crowded, but for the first 20 minutes after the gates opened, I had some room to maneuver, and I made the most of it.

My first ball of the day should have come from Mike Pelfrey. Within the first minute after I reached the left field seats, I got him to throw one to me–but he chucked it 10 feet over my head. The stands were still totally empty at that point, so I wasn’t too concerned about his horrible aim until I turned around and saw another fan who just happened to be walking down the steps at that very moment. This other guy didn’t have a glove and of course he ended up with the ball.

That hurt. But then things got better.

A right-handed batter on the Mets (no idea who) launched a high fly ball in my direction, and as it sailed over the wall, I drifted a few feet to my left and caught it easily on the fly. The ball had last year’s Shea Stadium commemorative logo. Check it out:

1_ball4110_shea_commemorative.jpg

The logo, as you can see above, was smudged, but that didn’t bother me. I’d snagged a bunch of these balls last season and had plenty (like this one) that were game-used and in “perfect” condition.

Two minutes later, I caught another home run that (I think) was hit by Nick Evans. It was a line drive that hooked 15 feet to my right. I bolted through an empty row and made the back-handed catch and then noticed that the ball had a pristine Shea logo.

A few minutes after that, two home runs landed in the seats, prompting an all-out scramble among the fans. I lost out on the first ball to an older man, but grabbed the second ball under a seat just before the nearest guy could get his hands on it.

That was the end of the first round of BP. There were a bunch of lefties due to hit in the second round, and I noticed that there was a ball sitting on the warning track in right-center field…

2_ball4113_on_field.jpg

…so I ran over there and stood above it and decided to wait until a player came to retrieve it. The section began filling up a bit during the next few minutes, but I figured I still had a great shot at getting it. Under normal circumstances, I would have simply snagged it with my glove trick, but Citi Field is not normal. Security is incredibly strict, and as soon as I had entered the stadium, I had been warned/threatened not to use the trick by a guard who recognized me (but obviously didn’t know about my charitable efforts).

Sean Green was the player closest to me:

3_sean_green_from_deep_right_center.jpg

He’s usually nice about tossing balls to fans, so I was still liking my chances.

Now…I should mention that my friend Andrew Gonsalves was at this game. Andrew and I met a few years ago at my writing group, and just this past winter, he and I spent many many hours together, designing the program that now accepts pledges for the charity.

Three more things you should know about Andrew:

1) This was his first game of the season.
2) He lived in L.A. for a while and loves the Dodgers.
3) He had never snagged a baseball, nor had he even tried.

He hadn’t planned on trying to snag anything at this game. He just wanted to watch his favorite team and see me in action, but once he saw how many balls Livan Hernandez was tossing into the crowd, he decided to give it a shot. I took a photo of him from where I was standing…

4_andrew_batting_practice.jpg

…and then he took a photo of me:

5_zack_waiting_for_ball4113.jpg

Green eventually came over and tossed me the ball, and then less than a minute later, Andrew got one from Livan:

6_andrew_first_ball_ever.jpg

Andrew even snagged a second ball after that and handed it to the woman standing next to him.

When I headed back to the left field seats, I saw a ball sitting on the batter’s eye, just to the side of the Home Run Apple:

7_batters_eye_frustration.jpg

It would’ve been SO easy to snag it with my glove trick, but I was too scared to go for it. If I’d gotten caught, I might have been ejected or had my glove confiscated. (I was ejected four times from Shea Stadium for committing horrible crimes such as catching too many baseballs and not sitting in my assigned seat, and I did once have my glove confiscated at Yankee Stadium, although I was able to get it back soon after.)

Toward the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, I made a nice catch on a Gary Sheffield homer. It was a high fly ball that was carrying a bit over my head and 10 feet to my right. While the ball was in mid-air, I took my eye off it and climbed back over a row of seats, then picked up the ball as it continued its descent. At the last second, as I reached up to catch it, I was clobbered from behind by a man who of course was not wearing a glove. Not only did I manage to hang onto the ball, but when my hat went flying, I swooped it up before it hit the ground and put it right back on my head in one motion. The man congratulated me and apologized. I noticed that he was wearing a media credential. How dare he compete with (and crash into) fans?

Dodgers BP was a nightmare. I couldn’t even get into the front row to try to get players to toss balls to me. Look how crowded it was:

8_BP_crowded_for_dodgers.jpg

You know why it’s so crowded? Because Fred Wilpon, the owner of the Mets, thinks it’s a good idea to keep fans out of the seats behind the dugouts during batting practice. (Imagine all the horrible things that would happen if fathers and sons were to loiter there and try to collect autographs. God forbid!) Therefore, all the fans are forced to stand along the foul lines and in the outfield. It’s awful. Shame on the Mets. I refuse to root for a team that treats its fans this way. Go Royals!

Somehow, against all odds, I managed to catch two more home runs on the fly during a 10-second span at the end of BP. They might have been hit on back-to-back pitches. I have no idea, but I remember that I was still holding the first ball in my bare hand when I caught the second ball in my glove. Both balls came within five feet of where I’d been standing, but when the seats are packed, five feet feels like a mile. That said, I judged both balls perfectly. I mean…before the balls even reached their apex, I was carefully weaving in and out of people toward the EXACT spot where they ended up landing, and then I had to reach above all the other gloves (a few of which were bumping into mine) to actually catch them. After I caught the second of these two homers, everyone with a glove crowded around me, as if moving closer was somehow going to increase their chances. One word: duh.

It ended up not making a difference. There wasn’t much else that landed in the seats after that, so I took off for the dugout.

I got some equipment guy to toss me my eighth ball of the day after all the players had disappeared into the clubhouse.

Then Donald Trump made an appearance and started signing balls:

9_donald_trump_signing.jpg

Andrew got him:

10_trump_autograph.jpg

(I think the signature says “Duuuuuuy” which of course would be pronounced “DOYYY!!!”)

I could have easily gotten an autograph, but there was no way I was going to allow Donald T. Rump to deface one of my precious baseballs. That just wasn’t going to happen. (How would he like it if I wrote my name on one of his buildings? Yeah.)

Right before the game started, I got Casey Blake to toss me his warm-up ball at the dugout, and then two minutes later, I got another (my 10th of the day!) from Mark Loretta. That one was marked by the Dodgers on the sweet spot:

11_ball4118_marked.jpg

I later wrote the “4118” because this was the 4,118th ball I’d ever snagged. (If you want to see my entire collection of marked balls, click here.)

I headed out to left field for Manny’s first at-bat, and there was really no point in being there. There simply weren’t ANY empty seats, not at least in the section I had chosen, so I headed back to the Dodgers’ dugout with Andrew, and we stayed there for the rest of the night.

Here’s Oliver Perez (fresh off the DL) pitching to Manny several innings later:

12_oliver_to_manny.jpg

You can see the ball in the photo above, but it doesn’t look like a ball. My camera’s shutter speed isn’t all that great, so the ball looks like a streak. It’s on the grass just below the white ESPN sign…just barely above and to the right of first base.

I was hoping to get a third-out ball tossed to me, but there was some serious competition:

13_kids_on_staircase.jpg

I’m talking about the kids who were sitting near the bottom of the staircase, ready to race to the front row as soon as the third out was recorded.

As for my claim about left field being packed, here’s proof:

14_left_field_packed_during_game.jpg

There aren’t any cross-aisles on the field level at Citi Field, so once the seats fill up, the only way to catch a batted ball is to pick a staircase and pray. Sorry, but even with two members of the 500 Home Run Club (Sheffield was the other) in the starting lineups, I wasn’t going to waste my time in the outfield. And hey, my decision to stay close to the action paid off. No, I didn’t snag a third-out ball or an infield warm-up ball or a foul ball, but for the first time in my six games at Citi Field, I grabbed a T-shirt during the T-shirt launch:

15_zack_t_shirt_launch.jpg

The guy sitting behind me offered me $20 for it, but his offer was only good if I left the shirt wrapped up. (He wanted to give it away to someone as a gift.) Up until that point, I had never gotten a look at one of these shirts, so as tempting as the offer was, I decided to keep the shirt and unwrap it and take my chances that it would turn out to be something cool that I’d actually be proud to wear. Here’s how that played out:

16_zack_t_shirt_launch.jpg

Given the fact that the Citi Field logo is an utter disaster (Dominos Pizza, anyone?), I should’ve known that the shirt would be fugly.

I was really hoping to snag one more ball. That would’ve given me 300 for the season–a number I’ve never reached before the All-Star break–but there weren’t any other balls to be snagged.

(Click here for Andrew’s blog entry about this game.)

SNAGGING STATS:

17_the_nine_i_kept_07_08_09.jpg• 10 balls at this game (9 pictured here because I gave one away to a kid as I was leaving the stadium)

• 299 balls in 34 games this season = 8.79 balls per game.

• 603 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 344 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 6 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least 9 balls

• 108 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 61 lifetime games in New New York with at least 10 balls

• 12 games this season with at least 10 balls

• $6.95 remaining on the MetroCard I found on the third base side in the top of the ninth inning

• 4,119 total balls (73 more balls needed in order for my ball total to surpass Ty Cobb’s lifetime hit total)

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.37 pledged per ball

• $243.70 raised at this game

• $7,286.63 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

By the way, in the wake of all the negative attention I’ve been getting because that silly Wall Street Journal story, it’s nice to get emails like this:

Hi Zack–

Just wanted to drop a line and let you know that we are big fans, here in Boise, ID (home of the (last place) Hawks!)

I’m sorry about the negative press in the WSJ and others, but I hope you don’t pay attention to people who don’t get what you do. You have brought a lot of fun into our family with your books and blog. My husband has only become interested in baseball after reading Watching Baseball Smarter.

Also, I gave a copy to my brother-in-law, whose claim to fame up to now has been that the only book he ever read was ‘The Outsiders’ in seventh grade. Now he can add yours to his list! Yay!

Take care and keep up the awesomeness!

Heather
Boise, ID

p.s. I think the Watch with Zack program is so cool. I have been impressed with how respectful you are of the families and kids. I really appreciate your passion and love for the game. If we were closer I’d send my seven year-old with you in a heartbeat!

9/1/08 at Dodger Stadium

Did you know that you can snag baseballs at Dodger Stadium even before the
gates open? Just hang out in deep center field, and with a view like
this you might get lucky:

center_field_wide_open.jpg

Did you know that once the gates open, you’re allowed to stand *ON* the
actual warning track during batting practice? And that you can bring
your glove and run around and yell at the players and try to catch
balls? And that you don’t even need a ticket for the game?

That said, don’t be fooled. Dodger Stadium is still the most confusing and annoying stadium I’ve ever been to. By far.

Even though I had a ticket for the left field pavilion (where several
balls landed before the gates opened), I decided to check out the
warning track for the first few minutes. My friend and fellow ballhawk
T.C. (aka “tracycollinsbecky” if you read the comments on this blog)
had told me that it was the place to be early on.

We both ran in together. He headed to the right-center field portion of
the fenced off area, and I went to left-center. Cool. I was standing on
the field. I had to take some photographs, so I started pulling out my
camera, and just then I heard T.C. shout my name. I looked over at him
and he was pointing back at me.

Huh?

He pointed down, so I looked down.

What was I supposed to be looking at? Ants?

He kept pointing so I kept looking, and then I realized that a ball was
sitting against the white plastic barricade! I tried leaning over–I
couldn’t jump up on it and balance on my stomach and reach down because
it was too flimsy–but my arm wasn’t long enough, so I lifted the
barricade a couple inches and slipped the ball underneath it.

Then I took a photo…

dodger_stadium_warning_track.jpg

…and then I watched in horror as several fans stormed into the
pavilion and picked up at least a dozen balls that were scattered throughout
the rows of ugly yellow benches. One guy, I later learned, had grabbed five.

Then I looked at the one I’d just gotten and felt a little better because it was a Nationals commemorative ball.
Why hadn’t T.C. gone for it? Well, he might’ve if he’d known what type
of ball it was, but basically he’s only interested in catching home run
balls (and occasional ground-rule doubles).

The warning track quickly got crowded–the best thing about it, I
realized, is that it keeps people out of the seats–so I headed into the
pavilion.

The following four-part photo (going clockwise from the top left) shows
what it looks like under the stands and behind the left field wall.
There’s a) the concourse, b) the approach to one of the staircases, c) the view behind the outfield wall from the bottom of the stairs, and d) the view from the top of the stairs.

behind_the_left_field_wall.jpg
It’s totally weird. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the major leagues.

I’d only been in the seats for two minutes when my friend Brandon showed up with his fancy camera.

Here’s a photo he took (with me in it) of the view from deep left-center field:

zack_during_BP_09_01_08.jpg

That was my initial spot for all right-handed batters, but after seeing several balls clear the outfield wall and fall
short of the seats, I started playing the staircases exclusively. Here I am, halfway down one of them, with Heath Bell’s cap on my head and a very crowded warning track in the background:

zack_staircase.jpg

I stayed as far down the stairs as possible while still being able to
see the batter. That way, I figured, I’d be able to make it all the way
down if another ball barely cleared the wall or all the way up if someone hit
a bomb. This was my view:

view_from_staircase.jpg

At one point when there was some action closer to the foul pole, I
moved a couple sections to my right and got Chase Headley to throw me
my second ball of the day. (It hit the padding on top of the wall and
bounced to me.) Then I received ball No. 3 from Mike Adams, and Brandon
snapped a pic as it headed toward my glove:

zack_about_to_catch_ball3688.jpg

I only snagged one more ball during BP and Brandon once again captured the action. Cla Meredith tossed it TO ME so I didn’t feel bad about using my Big Hample Butt to box out the fan on my left. I could’ve moved down a few steps and lined myself up with the ball, but that would’ve enabled him to move with me and interfere, so I held my ground with my lower body, knowing that I’d still barely be able to reach the ball and that the other guy wouldn’t. Check it out:

zack_catching_ball3689a.jpg

Here’s another shot that was taken a split-second after the ball entered my glove. I had wisely turned my head to avoid getting elbowed…

zack_catching_ball3689b.jpg

…and by the way, the man wearing the “FAN SINCE 53″
jersey was extremely rude and hostile. That’s all I’m going to say
about him. This is just a little heads-up for anyone who’s planning to visit
Dodger Stadium and snag more than one ball in the LF pavilion.

I found T.C. after BP. He’d only snagged one ball…

TC.jpg

…but it was a home run that he’d caught on a fly, so he was happy. I had witnessed the catch, and I have to say it was pretty sweet. I was standing halfway down a staircase in left-center when a righty launched a ball that was clearly going to sail way over my head. I raced up the steps and started cutting through one of the narrow rows of benches and realized I had no chance of reaching the ball. That’s when I saw T.C. casually jogging to his left ON one of the benches, and at the last second, he flipped his glove down and made an effortless one-handed basket catch at his hip. You want cool? THAT’S cool.

Meanwhile, I was stressing about the fact that I’d only snagged four balls–and that the pain in my ribs (from my accident on 8/30/08 at Angel Stadium) and the blisters on my toes were getting worse. I wanted to wander all around Dodger Stadium and take pics and try to snag more balls, but I just wasn’t feeling up to it.

And then there was the fact that I would’ve had to exit the pavilion and buy a new ticket in order to enter the main part of the stadium.

Screw it. That was my attitude. Brandon had purchased a pavilion ticket (so he could hang out with me during BP) and also had four seats in the Loge for himself and three friends. I decided to stay in the pavilion all night and try to catch a Manny Ramirez home run–and to recover.

Before the game started, I forced myself to explore the pavilion. In the four-part pic below, you can see a) Steve Lyons and Kevin Kennedy and some other guy doing the pre-game show on FSN, b) just how narrow the rows between the benches are, c) the Dodgers’ bullpen, and d) the dingy area outside the bathrooms.

exploring_the_pavilion.jpg

Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, which means it’s now the fourth oldest ballpark in the majors behind Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium. It always looks spacious and pristine on TV, but again…don’t be fooled. Many areas in the stadium are actually cramped and downright gloomy. The same is true for Fenway and Wrigley. Everyone thinks those places are awesome, and in many ways (for those who enjoy living in the past) they are, but they’re not exactly comfortable. Yankee Stadium? Same thing. It holds 55,000 people, but the cross-aisle that cuts through the seats in the upper deck is wide enough for one. Shea Stadium, which opened in 1964, resembles Dodger Stadium in that it’s cavernous and yet still somehow manages to induce claustrophobia.

Anyway, Brandon got a good shot of Greg Maddux warming up…

greg_maddux_warming_up.jpg

…and another shot of me (no longer wearing my Padres shirt) after I failed to get Russell Martin to throw me his warm-up ball. You could say I wasn’t too happy about the way things were going:

zack_not_happy.jpg

At least I had a great view during the game:

manny_being_awesome.jpg

Here’s a photo that Brandon took of me from his seat across the stadium:

zack_from_afar_09_01_08.jpg

I actually did have a decent view, but mainly I liked my spot because I truly had a chance to catch a Manny mash. Alas, he only went 1-for-2 with a single, a walk, and a sac fly, but it was still fun to dream. As for Maddux, he limited the Padres to two runs in 5 2/3 innings for his 354th career win, tying him with Roger Clemens for eighth place all time.

Final score: Dodgers 5, Padres 2.

After the game, I ran into two kids who’d brought copies of my books for me to sign and informed me that it was the one-year anniversary of the day when they first stumbled upon this blog. Here we are:

zack_postgame_autographs.jpg

William, holding How To Snag Major League Baseballs, has left a
few comments as “dealwatcher.” Anthony, holding Watching Baseball Smarter, has commented as “AutographHound.” We all hung out for a few minutes, during which my friend Matt (who you might remember from 7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium) caught up with me and offered some key pointers about how to maximize my snagging the next day in the main part of the stadium.

STATS:

? 4 balls at this game

? 3 beach ball hits at this game

? 412 balls in 55 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 551 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 137 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 3,689 total balls

5/31/08 at Camden Yards

It rained all afternoon and then got sunny just before the stadium opened. It was my nightmare: no batting practice and a big crowd.

I was the first fan to run inside when the gates opened at 5pm, and this is what I saw:

chad_bradford_throwing.jpg

Chad Bradford was playing catch in shallow right field, and he finished throwing before I could turn off my camera and put it away.

“Chad!” I shouted.

He didn’t respond.

“CHAD!!” I yelled even louder. “COULD YOU PLEASE THROW ME THE BALL?!?!”

ball_from_chad_bradford.jpgBradford whirled around and fired the ball at me (with a three-quarters release point, in case you were wondering), and I leaned out over the railing and made a back-handed catch.

At first, I was relieved to have gotten a ball right away on what was surely going to be a difficult day. Then, after a minute, my relief turned to excitement when it occurred to me that I had just snagged my 3,400th lifetime ball:

zack_ball_number_3400.jpg

When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I headed to the left field side. The Red Sox pitchers were throwing, and the first few rows were packed with fans, so I stayed about 10 rows back…

red_sox_throwing.jpg

…and got Manny Delcarmen to toss me a ball over everyone’s head. It was a thing of beauty.

dave_trembley_autograph.jpgI didn’t have a chance to snag any other balls before the game started, but I did get Orioles manager Dave Trembley’s autograph. He is SUCH a nice guy, and in a way, you can tell by the way he actually wrote every letter in his name. The reason I got him to sign my ticket from the previous day is that I wanted to keep my May 31st ticket pure in case Manny Ramirez connected for his 500th career home run.

When the game started, there were still a few partially empty rows in left field, so I headed out there for Manny’s first at-bat. Look at my view:

view_for_manny2.jpg

I took this photo DURING his at-bat…between pitches, obviously. There was only one other fan with a glove within 20 feet of me, and he was trapped in the middle of a long row. It was crazy. All the fans in left field were potential lottery winners–that’s how I thought of it–who weren’t doing anything to increase their chances. Sure, there were some people talking about catching the ball, but that was about it. I mean, I understand that not every fan cares deeply about snagging baseballs on a regular basis, but if you knew you were going to be sitting in left field and you knew that a historic home run was about to be hit by a right-handed batter, wouldn’t you at least bring your glove (or go out and BUY a cheap glove if you didn’t already have one)? Anyway, other fans’ stupidity enables me to do what I do, so I don’t mean to complain. Manny, by the way, could have changed my life forever by hitting a simple 370-foot line drive in my direction, but no, instead he had to hit a weak fly ball to Jay Payton in left-center.

manny_ramirez_left_field.jpgI moved one section over toward left-center after the top of the first inning. This put me closer to the direction in which Manny hit the fly ball, and it also made me happy to be sitting right behind him. Also, I considered that if an Orioles batter ended an inning with a deep fly ball to left field, I could run down the steps and have a pretty good chance of getting Manny to flip it to me.

In the top of the 3rd, Dustin Pedroia hit a home run ten feet to the right of where I’d been sitting for his first at-bat. It felt awful to be trapped in straight-away left field with the only empty space around me being a staircase on my left. Pedroia’s homer was a wimpy little fly ball 50 feet to my right–a ball that I might have caught on a fly during an empty batting practice–but I couldn’t even budge during the game.

David Ortiz followe
d with a home run to center field, and Manny ended the inning with a sharp grounder to Melvin Mora at 3rd base.

I abandoned left field and headed back to the standing room only section in right field, where I’d spent most of my time the night before. I knew Manny was unlikely to hit it there, but if he did, I’d have an incredibly good chance of catching it. The odds in left field were reversed: he was likely to hit the ball there, but because of my limited range, there was a very small chance that I’d catch it.

bradford_ramirez.jpgIn the top of the 6th, Manny faced reliever Lance Cormier and lined out to Jay Payton. One inning later, Manny was back in the box against Bradford and launched the first pitch toward the seats in right-center–basically the same spot where I’d been sitting for his first at-bat the day before. I ran toward the edge of the standing room only section and watched the ball descend toward the crowd. My heart sank. I got a lump in the back of my throat. I knew the ball was going to reach the seats, and it was one of the most helpless feelings of my life.

The ball landed about a dozen rows back, and just like that, Manny Ramirez had hit the 500th home run of his major league career. I grabbed my camera and ran over to the spot where the ball landed and saw that an Asian man in a blue shirt was the center of attention. In the four-part pic below (starting at the top left and going clockwise), you can see him a) freaking out right after he snagged it, b) being photographed by another fan as he exited the section, c) high-fiving people as he was whisked away by stadium security, and d) holding the ball up and looking right at me.

damon_woo_snags_mannys_500th.jpg

Here’s a close-up of The Ball:

manny_500th_home_run_ball.jpg

You can see how MLB marked the ball. I’m not quite sure how the marking system works, but my guess is that the “M” is for Manny and that the “92” is there because this is the 92nd ball that was marked and used for his recent at-bats.

I was sooooooo disappointed not to have snagged the ball, but I was glad to have witnessed history and to have been close enough to see the aftermath firsthand. I did get a consolation prize, at least, and that was having one of my photographs appear in an article on the Boston Red Sox web site. (I learned from that article that the lucky fan’s name is Damon Woo.)

Manny got one more at-bat in the 9th and popped up to Kevin Millar at first base. Blah. Final score: Red Sox 6, Orioles 3, Zack 0.

ticket_stubs.jpgSTATS:

? 3 balls at this game

? 8 ticket stubs from this game

? 125 balls in 16 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 512 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 115 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 820 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,402 total balls

? 2 more pics for you, starting with my competition for Manny’s 500th:

crazy_red_sox_fan.jpg

And finally, here’s one that a blog reader named Chris (aka “psu532″ for those of you who read the comments) took on his way home from the game and sent to me:

church_sign.jpg

5/30/08 at Camden Yards

Manny Ramirez had 499 career home runs. The Red Sox were about to begin a four-game series at Camden Yards. I had to be there.

I took a train from New York City to Baltimore, met my friend Jake at the station, dropped off my laptop and four days’ worth of clothes at his place, and headed to the ballpark with him. I was prepared to stay for the whole series and then head straight to Boston, but this was the only game Jake would be attending.

jake_zack.jpgWe bought cheap seats (that we never sat in) and claimed a spot directly behind the Eutaw Street gate. We were the first ones there, and by the time the stadium opened at 5pm, there was an upsettingly long line behind us. Remember the crowd outside Camden for the Yankee game I attended late last season? It was something like that, so as soon as I got my ticket scanned, I sprinted through the concourse and headed into the right-center field seats. As I reached the front row, the batter ripped a deep line drive that rolled to the wall directly below me. Some random guy on the Orioles (wearing No. 68) happened to be jogging along the warning track, and I got him to flip the ball to me.

I didn’t expect to snag a lot of balls, so it felt great to take care of the first one early.

The right field seats filled up fast…

batting_practice_right_field.jpg

…so when the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I raced around to the left field side. Less than 10 seconds after I got there, a righty on the Red Sox hit a ground-rule double that bounced over my head. Thankfully there was only one other fan behind me and I was able to grab the ball off the steps as he clumsily reached for it.

The left field seats kept getting more and more crowded–so crowded that I can’t even describe it, so I’ll just share a picture of the section toward the end of batting practice:

batting_practice_left_field.jpg

Somehow, Jake managed to snag three balls without really trying. He did have a glove, and he was shouting at the players, but he never moved from the front row and hardly broke a sweat. Meanwhile, I was stressing and cursing and running all over the place, and it sort of paid off because I snagged a third ball with my glove trick back in right-center. The ball had dropped into the gap. I saw this happen from left field, so I ran over and got it easily. That gave me 3,399 lifetime balls, and I should’ve gotten No. 3,400…but didn’t. First, security stopped me from using the trick for a ball lying on the grass in front of the batter’s eye. Then, back in left field, I got Hideki Okajima to toss me a ball by asking in Japanese, but a women (with a glove and a Red Sox cap) reached up and caught it in front of my glove at the last second. She was in the front row. I was standing on the seat just behind her. I tried to get Okajima to toss the ball high, but he threw it at my chest which gave the woman in front of me a chance to interfere.

That was it for BP. I didn’t bother going to the dugout as the Sox left the field. The crowd was five rows deep. There was literally nowhere to go.

empty_seats_pregame_right_field.jpgJake ended up sitting with some friends near the Orioles’ dugout, so I headed out alone to right-center field just before the game started. Left field was packed, but there WERE a good number of empty seats across the stadium. I knew these seats would be filling up fast, and once they did, I’d have no choice but to position myself in the standing room only section in straight-away right field. Manny was batting cleanup, and I needed him to bat in the top of the first inning. That meant at least one of the first three hitters had to get on base and NOT get caught stealing or erased on a double play.

Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with a double to left (woo!), moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Dustin Pedroia, and scored on a single by David Ortiz. Then the stadium got loud. Flashbulbs started popping. Manny was announced. Fans stood up. And Manny responded with a double down the left field line. So much for that. I left the seats and spent the rest of the night in standing room only. The good thing about that section is the lack of obstacles other than a few flagpoles and the 100 or so drunk fans who always crowd the front. That’s the only place where they can actually see the batter. Here’s a view from the front:

standing_room_only_view1.jpg

As you can see, there’s a fairly high wall so when I took just a few steps back, this is what happened to my view:

standing_room_only_view2.jpg

The good thing about the high wall is that most people are more interested in seeing the game (and having a place to put their beers) than snagging balls so they cram against it; the balls, of course, are more likely to land further back, so although I missed three-quarters of the game, I was at least in a great spot to catch a home run.

Manny struck out in the third, and when he came up in the sixth, there was a young woman with a glove who positioned herself directly in front of me:

view_for_manny.jpg

Manny ended up flying out to right field, and things never got better for him or for me. If anything, they got worse because the competition kept increasing throughout the night. Manny flied out to right field again in the eighth and popped up to the catcher in the 11th, and by the time he came up in the 13th, this is what I was up against:

competition.jpg

I was almost relieved when he grounded harmlessly to 3rd base. Melvin Mora ended up throwing the ball away–one of two 13th-inning throwing errors by the left side of the infield that led to three unearned runs. Final score: Red Sox 5, Orioles 2.

STATS:

? 3 balls at this game

? 122 balls in 15 games this season = 8.1 balls per game.

? 511 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 114 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 817 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,399 total balls

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