Results tagged ‘ milestone ’

9/24/08 at Citizens Bank Park

I knew this was going to be a good day when I bought a bottle of water at a 7-Eleven on the way to Philadelphia and got a 1917 penny in my change:

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It also didn’t hurt that my girlfriend Jona was with me; good things tend to happen when she’s around.

When the stadium opened at 4:35pm, I raced inside and briefly had the left field seats to myself:

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There weren’t any balls hiding in the flower bed, nor were there any home runs that flew my way, but I did have a chance to use my glove trick when a ball rolled to the wall in left-center field. In the following photo, you can see me way off in the distance, leaning over the railing as I was getting the glove to lower onto the ball:

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Ten minutes later, I snagged my second ball of the day–a home run hit by a righty on the Phillies that landed several rows in front of me and began rolling sideways through the seats. Several other fans quickly closed in on it, and I thought I was out of luck, but then the ball kicked back my way just enough for me to lunge and grab it underneath a seat. As I reached for it, my right shoulder happened to bump the back of the seat where a woman, who was also scrambling for the ball, happened to be bracing herself. As a result, one of her fingers happened to get pinched between my shoulder and the seat, and she reacted as if I’d killed her firstborn.

“I’m terribly sorry,” I said but she wouldn’t accept my apology. Instead, she proceeded to shake her hand (to exaggerate the pain) for a good 30 seconds while looking around for support from her fellow fans. No one noticed or cared. There was nothing TO notice. It was the most minor incident (if it could even be called that) in the history of baseball-snagging. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and she finally realized this and let it go.

Drama aside, things were going well. I’d been in the stadium for about 20 minutes, and I’d snagged two baseballs–a decent pace for reaching double digits, but then my snagging suffered a disastrous interruption. Several stadium employees (one of whom has an arrow pointing to him in the photo below) started combing through the seats and telling all the fans to head back up to the concourse and exit the stadium through the left field gate:

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In the 750 (or so) games I’ve attended in my life, I’ve been denied batting practice for a variety of reasons–bad weather, subway delays, fan photo events, policemen vs. firemen softball games, etc.–but what kind of sick joke was this?!

Apparently it wasn’t a joke. I heard rumors of a “bomb scare” as I walked through the concourse and headed toward the gate:

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Once all the fans AND employees had been evacuated, the gate was closed behind us.

And then we waited…

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…and waited.

And waited.

So much for this being a good day, I thought.

I stayed close to the gate and kept trying not to look at the clock inside the stadium. I couldn’t help it. It was 5:15pm. Then 5:20. Then 5:30, at which point I knew the Phillies were off the field so I changed into my Braves gear.

“We’ll be opening back up any minute,” said a Phillies official who was brave enough to remain on the inside of the stadium.

Meanwhile, the rumors about the bomb scare were taking shape. Just about everyone, it seemed, was on a cell phone, talking to someone they knew who lived nearby and was watching the live coverage on the news.

I overheard someone talking about “suspicious packages.”

evacuation4_zack.jpgIt was 5:45pm. I wasn’t happy.

There was half an hour of batting practice remaining. I thought about stepping out of line and walking b
ack to the ticket office and demanding a refund and driving back to New York City…but I decided to wait a little longer, at least until batting practice would be ending. If I wasn’t back inside by then…then screw it.

I overheard someone talking about the suspicious packages being a shipment of hot dogs.

?!?!?!?!

It was 5:50pm.

The Phillies official approached the gate and made an announcement (that only 38 people heard) that all fans who had already been inside the stadium would have to get their tickets re-scanned.

I wondered if that would even work with those stupid scanners, and the official was probably wondering the same thing because he then borrowed a woman’s ticket (without asking her if she’d already been inside) and tested it. Whaddaya know, it worked.

It was 5:55pm when the stadium reopened. I’d missed over an hour of batting practice. I raced back to the left field seats to look for easter eggs–there weren’t any because the employees had already reentered through another gate–and then sprinted around to the right field side, hoping to salvage my day:

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I quickly caught a home run on a fly that was hit by a righty on the Braves. Nothing special. It was an uncontested, chest-high, one-handed catch that I made while drifting to my right through the front row in right-center field. When I looked down at the warning track, I saw Jeff Bennett looking back up at me.

“You like that?!” I shouted.

He didn’t respond.

Five minutes later, I got a ball tossed to me by Braves “Baseball Systems Operator” Alan Butts. It was totally lucky. I was in the fourth row. Several fans were in the front row. I saw them yelling for a ball and didn’t even know who they were yelling at. All of a sudden, a ball sailed up and flew five feet over their heads and came RIGHT to me. It almost made up for the home run I misjudged and didn’t snag soon after.

That was it for BP. Four balls. It was pretty sad.

I ran over to the Braves’ dugout just before the players and coaches came off the field. I positioned myself behind the home-plate end and waved my arms in the hopes that SOMEone would see me and flip me a ball:

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Not only did I get a crappy (though interestingly streaked) training ball from hitting coach Terry Pendleton…

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…but I also got a bat from Greg Norton:

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Mama mia! This instantly made the whole day worthwhile. The bat wasn’t even cracked, and I hadn’t even asked for it. Norton had just slid it to me across the dugout roof without warning. That’s how I’ve gotten all four of my bats–just dumb luck–and you can see them all (along with some other “bonus items”) on this page on my web site.

I was afraid that stadium security would make me leave the bat with Fan Assistance until after the game (that’s what happened on 9/22/06 at Camden Yards), but no one said a word and I was left in peace to enjoy the delightful essence of pine tar.

I had 3,799 lifetime balls when several Braves began their pre-game throwing along the left field foul line. The seats were practically full by that point (damn the Phillies for being in first place) so I wasn’t able to position myself in a good spot. I had to squeeze against a railing next to two women (who were there for some unknown reason), and when Martin Prado ended up with the ball, my view of him was partially blocked by an usher and a cop who were standing on the warning track. Well, Prado ended up spotting me anyway, and you can see how the whole thing played out in the four-part pic below. Starting on the top left and then going clockwise, I’m a) waving to get Prado’s attention, b) watching and waiting and determining if I’m going to need to jump as his throw sails toward me, c) reaching up as high as I can and making the catch without jumping, and d) holding up the ball and feeling great about life:

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Here’s it is–ball No. 3,800:

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I can’t really say that Jona and I “snuck” down to the Phillies’ dugout in the top of the 1st inning because that would imply that the ushers were trying to keep us out. Ins
tead, we waltzed down to the dugout and grabbed a couple seats on the end of a row, about eight rows back. Conveniently, Ryan Howard ended up with the ball at the howard_kotchman.jpg
end of the inning courtesy of Brett Myers, who induced a 1-6-3 double-play groundout from Omar Infante. I was down in the front row before Howard even caught the throw from Jimmy Rollins (and of course I crouched down as I crept there so I wouldn’t block anyone’s view), and I had exactly NO competition as he jogged off the field and tossed me the ball.

Fast-forward seven outs. It was the bottom of the second inning. I was sitting with Jona in a similar spot on the Braves’ side. Jo-Jo Reyes got Chris Coste to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play. Casey Kotchman took the throw at first base and began jogging toward me. I was wearing my Braves hat and Braves shirt. There were no kids in sight. None of the grown-ups were aware of the snagging opportunity that was about to unfold. It was going to be so easy that I was almost embarrassed. It’s like the ball was guaranteed, and sure enough, Kotchman flipped it right to me.

That was my 8th ball of the day. Not bad.

Believe it or not, I was prepared at that point to call it quits on the snagging and just sit and watch the game with Jona (and root for the Braves). So that’s what we did…until the top of the fourth inning when the guy whose seats we were in decided to show up.

The field level seats were as crowded as I’d ever seen them, and since our actual seats were way up at the top of the upper deck, there was no place to go. Therefore, we wandered and ate and checked out the view from the party deck (or whatever it’s called) in the deepest part of center field. I’d never been up there, and this is why:

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Awful! You can’t even see two of the outfielders, but I guess if you like to drink and you’re willing to think of the deck as a bar with a $10 cover charge where you can kinda see some baseball way off in the distance, then it’s probably a great place to be. Needless to say, Jona and I didn’t stay long. We didn’t need to. The Braves scored six runs in the top of the fifth to take a 9-3 lead, and by the end of the sixth, thousands of fans had left.

I love it when fans leave early. I love it so much. I love empty seats. I love having space to maneuver. I wish the home team would always get blown out when I’m at a game (with rare exceptions, like if I have a son someday who ends up playing in The Show and I go to watch him at his home ballpark).

Anyway, Jona and I went back to the Braves’ dugout, but this time I picked a different staircase–one section closer to home plate. I figured that if the bottom half of any of the remaining innings ended with a strikeout, I might be able to get the ball from catcher Brian McCann.

Jayson Werth did indeed end the bottom of the seventh with a strikeout, but McCann held onto the ball and took it into the dugout. While I was down in the front row, however, first base coach Glenn Hubbard wanted to toss a ball to the woman directly on my right but before he let it fly, he tried to fake me out by pointing to the left so I’d lunge that way and be unable to interfere. It didn’t work. I kept my eyes on him the whole time and was perfectly aware of the situation. He had no choice but to toss the ball, and when he did, I stepped aside and let the woman catch it. Five seconds later, Hubbard poked his head back out of the dugout and rewarded me with a ball of my own.

shane_victorino.jpgjulian_tavarez.jpgSomething funny happened in the bottom of the eighth–something I’d never seen at any baseball game. Not on TV. Not in person. Not in Little League. Not in the Major Leagues. Shane Victorino (aka Mr. Feisty) was leading far off third base and, for a moment, not paying attention so Julian Tavarez (aka Mr. Hothead) sprinted off the mound in an attempt to tag him. Victorino made it back to third base safely but must’ve gotten quite a scare because he didn’t notice what was happening until Tavarez was halfway there.

Now, I have no idea who started it…all I can tell you is that Victorino and Tavarez started jawing at each other.

“Gimme the camera!!! Gimme the camera!!!” I yelled at Jona as both dugouts and bullpens emptied onto the field:

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It was never a “brawl.” No one threw punches. No one was ejected. But home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg did issue a warning to both teams. Tavarez then proceeded to strike out pinch hitters Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs to end the inning. This time, McCann tossed me the ball, and as I was reaching up casually to glove it, I sensed that someone was invading my personal space from behind, so I lunged for the ball at the last second, and as I closed my glove around it, a 40-something-year-old fat man lunged at my glove and clawed for the ball and yanked my arm down as he stumbled forward. My shoulder was actually a bit sore after that–luckily Jona is a professional massage therapist–but I held onto the ball and returned to my seat. I realized later that this was a milestone ball; it was Tavarez’s 50th strikeout of the season.

Other highlights from the night included seeing a fan with a pierced neck…

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and getting a ball from Kellogg shortly after the Phillies (and Myers, ha-HAAA!!!) lost 10-4.

Oh, and I also got the lineup cards:

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Here’s a closer look at them:

lineup_cards_09_24_08.jpg

…and here are a few photographs of the bat, starting with a shot of Norton’s uniform number written on the end:

greg_norton_bat1.jpg

Here’s a close-up of his name:

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Here’s the pine tar-coated trademark…

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…and here’s his name and number on the knob:

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As for the bomb scare, THIS is what really happened.

What a day.

STATS:

? 11 balls at this game

? 528 balls in 69 games this season = 7.6521739 balls per game.

? 565 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 142 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 96 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 39 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

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

? 3,805 total balls

9/22/08 at Citizens Bank Park

On September 12th, I heard from a guy named Charlie Schroeder who produces a show on NPR called “Weekend America.” He’d heard an earlier in-studio interview I did and thought it might be cool to do one at a game–to have a reporter follow me around with a microphone and capture all the sounds of snagging. We picked September 22nd. This was it…

Before I met the reporter from NPR, I had to do another interview with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. He needed to get in touch ASAP. I’d emailed him my cell phone number before I left New York City and told him I’d have time to talk starting at around 3:45 to 4pm when I’d be waiting to enter the stadium. He ended up calling at 3pm. He couldn’t wait. I was three-quarters of the way to Philadelphia. I didn’t want to have to split my attention between the road and the interview so I found a place to pull over (NOT on a major highway) and spent the next 35 minutes answering questions about Giambi and Damon and lots of other snagging-related topics. I was then forced to drive like a maniac and still didn’t make it to the Ashburn Alley gate until 4:16pm–less than 20 minutes before the stadium was going to open.

The reporter from NPR–Tim Jimenez was his name–was nearly a decade younger than me, and as it turned out, he didn’t actually work for NPR. He worked for a local radio station and was hired for the day to do this as a freelance assignment. Unfortunately, he had to stay at his regular job until 4pm and didn’t reach the stadium until 4:45. I’d already snagged two balls by the that point and had a funny exchange with–who else?–Shane Victorino. It all started when I ran into the left field seats, had the ENTIRE section to myself, and had to watch helplessly as a home run sailed five feet over my head and landed on a staircase and bounced all the way back onto the field. Victorino started laughing at me from left-center and shouting about how I should’ve caught it.

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“It was too high over my head!” I yelled.

He responded by waving his glove dismissively and turning his back.

“Shane!” I shouted, prompting him to turn around. “Did you see the thing on ESPN about the guy in New York who caught home runs on back to back nights?”

“Yeah!” he shouted.

“Well that was ME, so show some RESPECT!”

“That was YOU?!”

“Yes!” I yelled, pretending to be annoyed that he didn’t recognize me, and then I did my stupid dance.

Victorino cracked up because he realized it really WAS me and then he did the “We’re not worthy” move from “Wayne’s World.” (I can’t find the actual clip from that movie, so here’s a random example from YouTube.)

As for the two balls I snagged early on, the first was a home run that I caught on a fly (which Victorino saw and applauded) and the second was thrown by Scott Eyre near the cameras in center field.

Tim showed up five minutes later. Here he is:

tim_jimenez.jpg

Of course I didn’t snag another ball for the remaining 45 minutes of the Phillies’ portion of batting practice. Still, Tim followed me everywhere and asked questions (that he’d been given), and I tried to make his life easier by talking non-stop. Every time I did ANYthing–even moving up or down a row–I explained my logic. I knew it was better for Charlie to have too much audio than too little.

The Braves took the field at around 5:30pm, and a ball immediately rolled onto the warning track in left-center field:

ball3776_on_warning_track.jpg

I had to lean forward just to take this photograph; I had to stretch all the way across the flower bed (and try to avoid the bird poop) to actually snag it with my glove trick. Tim, meanwhile, had his microphone in my face and was asking me to describe what I was doing.

“It’s kinda hard to talk and do this at the same time,” I huffed while supporting all the weight of my upper body on my elbows, which were now digging into the metal railing. (I really couldn’t talk, and I hoped that by saying that, I was providing an entertaining sound bite.)

will_ohman_2008.jpgI reeled the ball in. All the fans around me cheered. I hoped that Tim’s microphone captured them. But mainly, I was just glad to have snagged my 499th ball of the season.

Several other balls were sitting on the warning track, so I had an instant shot at No. 500, but as soon as I started lowering my glove, Will Ohman raced over and grabbed all the balls and fired them back toward the bucket in shallow center field. I wasn’t mad. Ohman has always been nice, and it just seemed like he was being playful.

Sure enough, less than five minutes later as the Braves pitchers were finishing their throwing, Ohman spotted me along the left field foul line and tossed me a ball–number five hundred:

500th_ball_of_2008.jpg

It was just a regular ball–no interesting markings as you can see–and it came from a player that isn’t exactly heading for the Hall of Fame, but it’s still one of the most special balls I’ve ever snagged.

I jogged to the right field seats and Tim followed–that is, until I took off running for a home run that was heading one-and-a-half sections to my left. I raced through an entire 20-something-seat row and realized that the ball was going to sail a bit over my head, so I darted up a few steps and then cut across, two rows above where I’d been running seconds earlier. Several other hands reached up as the ball came down…right to me…right into the pocket of my glove while I was still on the run. It was a MUCH better play than either of the two home runs I’d caught at Yankee Stadium the week before, and yet no one (outside of this blog) will ever hear about it or care. That’s how it goes.

I used the glove trick to pluck my sixth ball of the day off the warning track, and before I’d reeled it all the way back up, a not-too-happy security guard was standing behind me. He confiscated the ball (it still counts in my collection so whatever) on the grounds that I was “stealing.” He then cut the string off my glove…

string_after_getting_cut.jpg

…and threatened to eject me if he EVER saw me do it again. (Why is it that Giants management doesn’t consider it “stealing” and welcomes fans to bring ball-retrieving devices into AT&T Park and yet this one mean dude in Philly has a problem with it? I guess I shouldn’t complain. The fact that every ballpark is different is one of the many things that makes baseball as great as it is. It’d just be nice if security in all the ballparks were a little more fan-friendly.)

BP ended earlier than I’d expected so I missed my chance to get a ball from the Braves behind their dugout as they left the field.

Every time I go to Citizens Bank Park, my goal is to snag at least ten balls. As I’ve said many times in the past, there’s just something great about breaking double digits–but it didn’t look promising on this day when I finished BP with six. Still, I had a plan. All I needed to do was snag one ball during pre-game throwing, one third-out ball at each team’s dugout during the game, and one more ball after the game. Could it be done?

Pregame throwing?

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Check. Omar Infante hooked me up by intentionally bouncing his toss off the warning track.

Third-out balls?

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Check, check. Like clockwork, Ryan Howard tossed me the first ball after the top of the second inning. Braves catcher Clint Sammons had popped up to him (notice the big smudge where the bat hit it) and he lobbed it to me on his way in. Then, half an inning later, on the other side of the field, Casey Kotchman threw me the second ball after Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ made the third out by hitting a wimpy grounder to Kelly Johnson. How nice. (Actually, the ball from Kotchman WAS nice. I’d always wanted one from him because his father, Tom, was the manager of the Class A Short-Season Boise Hawks when I worked for the team during the summer of 1995. Little 12-year-old Casey was often hanging around the ballpark, and whenever he took BP [on the field, after games, which I had to help set up and clean up as a part-time member of the grounds crew], everyone would rave about his beautiful swing and how he was going to be a great player someday. So yeah, it was cool to finally get to add him to my list.)

By this point, Tim had gotten all the audio he needed, so we parted ways. As for me…I still needed one more ball to reach double digits, and although I knew it would’ve been easy to get it between innings, I abandoned the dugouts. Quite simply, it was time to move on. I hadn’t felt guilty when I snagged balls there early in the game, but after a while there were lots of kids running down to the front row after every third out, and I wanted to give them a chance.

I spent the middle innings in left-center field, hoping for a home run to fly my way. This was my view:

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It was boring. I didn’t like my chances. And I really wanted to WATCH the game (imagine that) so after the seventh-inning stretch, I moved to the seats behind the Braves’ dugout. It was “rally towel” night, or whatever the hell those obnoxious snot-rags are called:

rally_towels_09_22_08.jpg

I didn’t even bother running down to the dugout for third-out balls. I didn’t want to get yelled at. I just watched the game and rooted for the Braves and after they lost (6-2 was the final score), I tried to get a ball from the ump (and failed) but did get Buddy Carlyle to throw me my 10th ball of the day as he walked across the field from the bullpen. Woo!

Then I approached the family of the youngest kid (with a glove) I could find and asked if he’d gotten a ball. When they all said no, I handed him the second cleanest ball I’d snagged that day. The cleanest happened to be my 500th; there was no way I was giving THAT one up.

STATS:

? 10 balls at this game

? 506 balls in 67 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 563 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 141 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 94 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 38 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

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

? 3,783 total balls

(FYI, the “Weekend America” segment won’t air until the World Series.)

8/31/08 at PETCO Park

I can’t believe I almost skipped this game. Wow. What a mistake that would’ve been. I’d gone to Angel Stadium the night before and PETCO Park the night before that.
Over the course of those two days, I’d snagged a total of 32 balls and
ended up with a comparable number of bruises and blisters. I needed to
sleep. I needed some painkillers. I wanted to blog. I wanted to go to
the beach. And to top it all off, this was a dreaded
day-game-after-a-night-game; I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be
batting practice.

I arrived at PETCO at 9:30am, and two good things happened within the
next 15 minutes. First I ran into my friend Leigh (aka “padreleigh” if
you read the comments) who’d been given an extra $50 ticket and passed
it along to me for free. Then I saw Brad Hawpe entering the ballpark
and learned that the Rockies WERE planning to take BP. Hot damn!

Of course the Padres were nowhere to be found when the stadium opened
at 10:30am, but the protective screens–minus the batting cage–for BP
were indeed ready to go. This was the view from behind “the beach” in
deep right-center field:

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Did you notice the sand sculpture in the photo above? Here’s a closer look…

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…and here’s the other side:

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Finally, the batting cage was on its way toward home plate…

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…but when the rest of the stadium opened at 11am, this was the only action:

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In case you can’t tell from the photo above, Rockies bullpen catcher Mark Strittmatter was playing
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catch in front of the dugout with bullpen coach Rick Mathews. If this
were New York, there would’ve been about 50 people screaming at them by
the time they finished, but here in San Diego only two other fans had
made it down to the dugout. One was Leigh, who had a glove but no
Rockies gear, and the other was a man with Rockies gear and no glove.
It almost goes without saying that I was the guy who ended up getting a
ball from Mathews, and what a ball it was. He had dug around in the
basket for at least 10 seconds before pulling one out and tossing it to
me. I think he was trying to find the dirtiest, most beat up ball, and
that was fine by me. Brand new balls, while fun to snag because I feel
like I’m getting away with robbery, are not nearly as interesting.

As soon as I snagged that first ball, two Padres began playing catch in right field:

padres_playing_catch.jpg

How convenient. And best of all, there was NO competition. A father and
son wandered down to the front row at the last second, but neither of
them had a glove or even bothered to ask for
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the ball. The player who ended up with it was a pitcher named Josh Geer
who had made his major league debut the night before and gone five
innings for the win. When I asked him to throw me the ball, he said,
“Are you gonna throw it back?”

“Absolutely!” I said. “I’d love to play catch. I really need to warm up my arm.”

Geer then threw me the ball and held up his glove to indicate that he
wanted it back. I threw a perfect chest-high strike and was excited to
be playing catch with a major leaguer, even someone who’d been one for
less than 24 hours, but he then threw the ball back and told me to keep
it. So much for that.

The Rockies started taking BP soon after, and I raced out to the left
field seats. As I got there, Troy Tulowitzki lined a ball that landed
20 feet to my right and one row below me. There was another fan in that
row, cutting through the seats from the opposite direction, and I was
sure he was going to end up with the ball, but he didn’t because I got
one of the luckiest bounces of all time. Basically, the ball rattled
around, as if trapped briefly in a three-dimensional pinball machine,
and bounced up into my row. It was fantastic and I grabbed it, fully
aware that it was my third ball of the day and No. 399 on the season.
I’d never reached 400 before. The next ball was going to be historic–at
least for me–and I started paying extra close attention so I’d be able
to identify the source.

“Excuse me,” said another fan who was standing in the front row, “are you Zack?”

“Yeah.”

“Here,” he said, holding out his cell phone, “Heath Bell wants to talk to you.”

Excuse me?!” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, “he’s been looking for someone named Zack for the last two days.”

WHAT?!?!

I did recognize the guy with the phone–I’d seen him two days earlier
and remembered him from the three games I attended at PETCO in 2006–but
how the hell would he have had Heath Bell’s number? I was sure one of
my friends was playing a trick on me. Leigh? Brandon? Someone in the
ballpark knew that *I* knew Heath and was messing around. They had to
be. So I decided to play along.

I picked up the phone and said, “Yeah, hello?”

“Zack!!” said the voice on the other end.

“Who is this?”

“It’s Heath!”

“Okay, really, who is this?”

“I see you in left field,” said the voice. “Look across the stadium. I’m waving in front of the dugout.”

I looked up…and oh my God…Heath WAS waving at me from across the field and holding a phone next to his ear.

“Wow, it really IS you,” I said.

“What are you up to right now? You trying to get some baseballs out in left field?”

“Well, yeah…why, what’s up?”

“I have a ball here for you,” he said. “I think it might be something
you haven’t seen. I don’t know, maybe you already have one, but do you
want to come over and take a look? Or do you want to wait ’til after
BP?”

On the one hand, I *did* want to wait until BP was over so I wouldn’t
lose any snagging opportunities, but on the other hand…could there
have possibly been a better way to snag (or in this case “receive”)
ball No. 400?

“I’ll head over right now,” I told him, “but it’s gonna take me at least three minutes to get there.”

“Perfect,” said Heath, “the ball’s in my locker so it’ll take me a few minutes to get it.”

“I’ll even take off my Rockies gear for the occasion.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it.” he said. “Leave it on. Just meet me right here.”

I handed the phone back to the guy and sprinted around the
stadium. PETCO is one of those segmented ballparks–the shortest
distance between two sections is never a straight line–so it really did
take several minutes to reach the dugout, and when I got there, a
security guard standing on the warning track looked up and said, “Heath
Bell?”

“Yeah…?”

“Wait here,” said the guard. “He’ll be right out.”

Thirty seconds later, Heath popped out of the dugout and tossed me a Padres cap:

heath_bell_cap.jpg

He was wearing an identical cap, so it’s not like he took this one
right off his head and gave it to me–but clearly it was HIS cap because
his uniform number was written on the inside.

Then he tossed me a ball and said, “Here, tell me what you think.”

I had no idea what to expect. I’d been assuming (or at least hoping)
that the ball would have some type of commemorative logo, and when I
got my first look at it, my jaw literally dropped. This is what I was
holding:

400th_ball_of_2008.jpg

“Oh my GOD!!!” I shouted. “Thank you SO much!!!”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Heath.

“No really,” I replied, “I can not thank you enough.”

I told him that I’d once gotten an Opening Day ball during BP that was
so worn that I could barely read the logo. And of course I loved the
cap as well. I actually needed a Padres cap (the plastic, adjustable
strap on my old one broke two days earlier), and I’d been making
late-nite trips with Brandon to various Walmarts in search of a
replacement. Unbelievable.

I asked Heath if I could actually give the cap and ball back to him for
a moment so I could get a photograph of him holding them. He suggested
that we get a photo together instead, so security let me down into the
camera-well next to the dugout, and the guard on the field took our pic:

zack_heath.jpg

The guard handed the camera back to me as I was asking him to take
another pic, so Heath grabbed the camera and held it out at arm’s
length and took the pic himself. It didn’t come out well, only because
I wasn’t ready and was looking off to the side, but whatever. I was
still in shock over the whole thing.

I thanked Heath again. He asked how long I was gonna be in town. I told
him I’d be seeing him the next two days in L.A. and then flying back to
New York City. We then shook hands, and I ran back out to left field to
continue snagging.

The fan who’d lent me his phone was still there:

guy_with_the_cell_phone.jpg

His name is Ismael. He has season tickets. He knows people. Incredible.

I snagged four more balls in left field during the next half-hour. The
first was a deep drive by Matt Holliday that Ubaldo Jimenez caught near
the warning track and tossed to me. The second was a home run to
left-center that got snared by the netting that separates the stands
from the Padres’ bullpen. The third (which I later gave away) came via
the glove trick, and the fourth was thrown by Scott Podsednik.

I headed over to right field when a bunch of lefties started taking
cuts, and I snagged my ninth ball of the day behind the foul pole. One
of the batters hooked a deep line drive that landed in a totally empty
section, so I had all the time in the world to walk over and pick up
the ball. (I love the Padres for being in last place. I wish every team
could be in last place.)

clint_barmes_playing_catch.jpg
I didn’t snag anything else during BP. I had to wait until closer to
game time to reach double digits. Two pairs of Rockies started playing
catch along the left field foul line, and I got Clint Barmes to throw
me his ball when he finished. Simple. Easy. No competition once again.
I was in heaven.

I caught up briefly with Leigh and met another PETCO Park
regular/ballhawk named Rob (aka “juveasts”). We all chatted for a bit
until the Padres started throwing in right field. I ran out there and
ended up getting Nick Hundley to toss me my 11th ball of the day just
after the national anthem.

My actual/assigned seat was behind the Padres’ dugout, so I stayed
there for the whole game and waited for a chance to snag a third-out
ball. I was still banged up from Anaheim, and the blisters on the
bottom of my right toes were now on fire. Jake Peavy was on the hill. I
knew it was going to be a good game, and although this might come as a
surprise to many people reading this, I actually wanted to sit in one
spot and watch it. Peavy, meanwhile, kept making things difficult for
me by ending each inning with a strikeout. I was behind the outfield
end of the dugout, hoping that first baseman Adrian Gonzalez would end
up with the inning-ending balls, but catcher Josh Bard kept getting
them and tossing them to little kids behind the home-plate end of the
dugout. Thus, the only ball I snagged for the first eight innings was
made of nerf and thrown by the mascot:

zack_nerf_ball.jpg

I later gave this ball to Brandon’s roommate.

Peavy ended up fanning 13 batters in eight innings and handing a 1-0
lead to Trevor Hoffman. What did Hoffman do? He gave up a run…which
was a shame…but it gave me an extra chance to snag a ball. I knew
there’d be a bottom of the ninth…which meant there’d be another
third-out ball tossed into the crowd after the top of the ninth
(instead of an on-field celebration), and wouldn’t you know
it…Tulowitzki ended up grounding out to third baseman Kevin
Kouzmanoff to end the frame. Gonzalez took the throw at first. All the
kids were waiting behind the home-plate end of the dugout. I had no
competition at the outfield end. Gonzalez jogged in and tossed me the
ball.

But wait, it wasn’t THE ball. It was too scuffed to be THE ball, and I
realized he must’ve switched balls. You know how the first baseman
always catches a ball on his way into the dugout after each inning?
That’s the infield warm-up ball. Gonzalez, for whatever reason (maybe
he’s a baseball collector too?), had tossed me that one and kept the
gamer for himself. Here’s the ball he tossed to me:

ball3685_gonzalez_warm_up.jpg

The Padres ended up scoring in the bottom of the ninth on three
singles. Game over. Thank God. I needed to rest. I’d be running into
Dodger Stadium less than 24 hours later…

STATS:

? 12 balls at this game

eleven_and_a_half_balls.jpg
? 408 balls in 54 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 550 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 136 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 89 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 34 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

? 3,685 total balls

8/9/08 at Shea Stadium

I hate weekend games. They’re too crowded, and there are always a million kids. The only thing that made THIS weekend game tolerable–the only reason why I went in the first place–was the fact that I had access to the left field bleachers, aka “the picnic area.”

The bleachers are normally reserved for groups of 100 or more fans. Therefore, it’s almost impossible to get in, but once you make it there…not only is it great for snagging baseballs during batting practice, but you’re allowed to wander back into the main part of the stadium at any time. In fact, you’re even allowed to enter the main part of the stadium when it opens at 4:40pm–a very good thing because the bleachers don’t open until 5:40.

During that first hour…

mets_throwing.jpg

…I managed to snag exactly ONE ball. It was a pretty good ball, though, I have to say. It had ball3571_from_johan_santana.jpg
a commemorative logo (pictured here on the left), and it was thrown by Johan Santana after he finished playing catch.

The right field Loge was dead. There were no opportunities to use the glove trick. The front row in the Field Level was packed. There was a mob at the Mets’ dugout. There was literally no place to go so I headed up to the left field Loge, just for the hell of it…just to kill the remaining minutes before the picnic area opened. Nothing there either. But I did get to meet a guy named Erik who’s been reading this blog for a while. (Erik recently left his first comment as “nysetrader76″ and you can find it here.) We chatted for a minute, and when I mentioned that I had a picnic area ticket, he told me that he’d seen a ball drop into the gap between the outfield wall and the bleachers. I probably would’ve discovered this ball on my own shortly after entering the section, but it was great to have this information in advance. My friend Greg (aka “gregorybarasch”) was at this game, and he also had a picnic area ticket. Although we agreed to share the balls that dropped into the gap (as we had done on 7/29/08 at Yankee Stadium), we were still going to be competing somewhat. The first ball would be up for grabs, and there was no guarantee there’d be any others after that. In addition, fans and employees were sometimes able to go underneath the bleachers and climb fences and get into the gaps and grab those baseballs, so I was going to have to act fast.

Finally, the bleachers opened and I ran inside and peeked into the gap (just to the left of the “B” on the Bud Light ad on the outfield wall). This is what I saw:

ball_in_gap_08_09_08.jpg

I set up my glove trick and feared that it would be tough to use with all the weeds and pieces of trash surrounding the ball…but it wasn’t. I had my second ball of the day, and Greg was nowhere to be found. I think he was still in the main part of the stadium trying to exploit the Marlins’ pitching staff. I don’t know. All that mattered was that he still wasn’t there when another ball dropped into the gap at the center-field end of the bleachers. If he’d been there, I would’ve let him get it, and if I knew no one else could’ve gotten it, I might’ve even left it there for him (because I’m that kinda guy), but it was too risky. I had to go for it. And I did. And I quickly had my third ball of the day.

provider_of_ball_3574.jpgGreg turned up soon after.

During the first hour that Shea was open, I noticed that there was one usher in the bleachers collecting all the home run balls. I hadn’t seen her toss any of them back onto the field, so when I was finally out there and noticed a couple baseball-sized bulges in her pockets, I innocently asked, “What happened to all those balls you were collecting before the bleachers opened?”

“I still got ‘em,” she said without much emotion, leaving me to wonder if she was being testy or just feeling ho-hum about the whole thing.

“Any chance you might be able to spare one of them? Please?”

She reached into her pocket and pulled one out and handed it to me–just like that–and I later gave it to a little kid.

Did I count this ball in my collection? Abso-snagging-lutely. Ball No. 3,574. As I’ve mentioned before, stadium security has gone out of its way so many times to prevent me from getting balls that on these rare occasions when they actually show me some love, I gladly accept it.

Meanwhile, the bleachers were getting uncomfortably crowded:

bleachers_during_bp_08_09_08.jpg

In the photo above, do you see the guy wearing a black shirt, white shorts and white shoes? Well, he was a jerk. At one point, when a home run ball was heading our way and I got a head start to the spot where it was going to land, he stuck out his arms and elbowed me in the chest to prevent me from getting past, and wouldn’t you know it…when he turned around I noticed that the front of his shirt had a Yankees logo.

“What the HELL are you doing?!” I shouted at him. “This isn’t Yankee Stadium! We don’t DO that here!”

“Whaddaya talkin’ about?!” he snapped. “You tried t’cut me off!”

“No I didn’t,” I said, “and you know damn well what I’m talking about. Keep your elbows at your side, and we’ll both be fine.”

Ten minutes later, with BP still in full swing, a beer had replaced his glove. Shocker. (Neither of us got that ball, by the way, but he did see me snag a few more.

ball3575_homer_into_bleachers.jpgMy fifth ball of the day (pictured on the left) was a home run that landed in the bleachers–you can see where it hit the metal ridges on the benches–and it took some skill to snag it because it skipped up off a wall and was about to plunk down in the aisle as I ball3576_from_pierre_arsenault.jpg
was racing another fan for it. Basically, I had to catch it on an in-between hop after guessing how high it was going to bounce off the unfamiliar metal flooring. My sixth ball (pictured on the right) was tossed by Marlins bullpen coordinator Pierre Arsenault. I have no idea how this strange marking got on it, but I once snagged another ball like it. Could it have been pounded into a net? The L-screen, perhaps? Or the batting cage itself? Don’t those nets have wider holes?

Five minutes before BP ended, Greg took off and headed back into the main part of the stadium, and two minutes later, another ball landed in the left-center field gap. I reeled it in. It was muddy. (Eww; there’s something extra dirty about Shea Stadium dirt.) It was my 300th ball of the season:

ball3577_300th_of_2008.jpg

I had a great seat for the game. Not only was I in the front row behind that nice wide aisle, but there weren’t any other fans with gloves, and the two biggest/meanest-looking guys in the section were glued to their cell phones:

bleachers_during_game_08_09_08.jpg

Were they texting each other? (GUY ONE: omg these fones r gr8 lets go mets!!! GUY TWO: u got dat rite boieeee lol.) I just don’t get it.

There were five home runs hit during the game, and I nearly snagged the best one: Daniel Murphy’s first as a big leaguer. If you haven’t heard of this guy, now’s the time to get his name into your head. I think he’s gonna be around for quite some time. He’s 23 years old, bats left-handed, has a great eye, excellent pitch recognition, a patient approach, and a gorgeous swing. He pinch hit for Scott Schoeneweis (boo!) in the sixth inning and went oppo off Renyel Pinto, a southpaw with nasty stuff. The ball, which was hit pretty much right in my direction, barely cleared the outfield wall but fell short of the bleachers and bounced back onto the field. If it had been hit 10 feet further, I would’ve been all over it.

The two Carloses–Delgado and Beltran–also went deep for the Mets while Jorge Cantu and Mike Jacobs went yard for Florida.

ball3578_from_ramon_castro.jpg
The Mets ended up winning, 8-6. Schoeneweis “earned” the win after working one-third of an inning in relief of Brian Stokes. Aaron Heilman (boo!) got the save. Beltran and David Wright (yay!) each had three hits. It was a fun night, made even funner when I got a brand new commemorative ball from Ramon Castro at the Mets’ dugout after the final out.

STATS:

? 8 balls at this game

? 301 balls in 42 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 538 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,578 total balls

? 1 day until I’ll be at PNC Park. I’m planning to wake up tomorrow in the 6am hour (ouch) and hit the road soon after. It’s a six-and-a-half-hour drive according to MapQuest. Thank God for iPods and girlfriends. Jona will be with me, as will my entire doo-wop collection (much to her dismay). (What? You don’t like doo-wop? Download “Canadian Sunset” by the Impacts and tell me that’s not an awesome song. Go on. I dare you. Anyway, my doo-wop collection only accounts for about one-sixth of one percent of all my music, so whatever.) I’ll be attending two games (August 12-13), but she’ll probably only join me on the second day. I’ll be taking my laptop, but I have no idea if I’ll have the time/energy to blog while I’m there. I don’t know. I might be able to crank out an entry before I head back to the ballpark on Wednesday afternoon…

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