Results tagged ‘ nick yohanek ’

6/11/09 at Camden Yards

F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-I-O-N.

That pretty much sums it up.

I started out in left field and snagged four balls during the first round of batting practice. (What’s so frustrating about that? Keep reading.) The first one was thrown by George Sherrill…

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…and the next three were home run balls.

The first of those homers tipped off my glove (as I made a leaping attempt to catch it) and bounced right back to me off a seat. Even if it hadn’t taken a perfect bounce, I still would’ve snagged it because the seats were gloriously empty.

The second homer came right to me and I easily caught it on the fly while drifting slowly through an empty row.

The third homer was hit by Adam Jones. (I don’t know who hit the others.) It was a high fly ball that barely cleared the wall in left-center. It bounced off some guy’s bare hands and conveniently landed in the empty second row where I was standing.

It was only 5:12pm. The stadium had been open for about 10 minutes. I was all set to have a MONSTER day, but then the Orioles stopped taking BP. Bam! Just like that. They all jogged off the field.

Fifteen minutes later, while the Mariners were stretching in front of their dugout, the entire grounds crew came out and sat on the rolled up tarp:

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(The guy who’s sitting fourth from the right is playing with his gum, in case you were wondering.)

I heard a voice crackling out of one of their walkie-talkies. It said, “Stand by for BP breakdown.”

Why?!

WHY?!

WHY?!

WHY?!

Because it started raining, JUST as the Mariners started hitting. That’s why.

This was the result:

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John Wetteland, the Mariners’ bullpen coach, started signing autographs IN STYLE along the left field foul line. Check it out:

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It’s official: my new life goal is to have someone hold an umbrella over my head while I sign autographs. Or maybe my goal should simply be to experience ONE rain-free game at Camden Yards.

This was the dreary scene on Eutaw Street:

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Right before the game started, I got Jamie Burke to toss me a ball at the Mariners’ dugout. Then I ran around to the Orioles’ side and got another ball (No. 4,039 lifetime) from Brian Roberts. Check out this “action” shot of my snag from afar:

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Roberts always tosses a ball to that spot before the game, but he always tosses it to a little kid. For some reason, though, at that moment, there weren’t any kids in sight, so he had no choice but to toss it to me. Ha.

The game started on time, and for the first couple innings, I moved back and forth between the standing-room-only section in right field and the seats in left-center.

This was the view in left:

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Nothing special, right?

Well, look how empty the seats were to MY left:

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Did any home runs land there?

No, of course not.

It’s incredible. I’ve positioned myself in so many great spots and given myself so many chances to catch a game home run this season, but it’s just…not…happening.

You know what DID happen?

More rain:

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The game was delayed 27 minutes in the third inning. Fabulous. I spent about 17 of those minutes standing in line for pizza at a concession stand which was run by exceptionally incompetent employees. There was a taco bar next to the pizza area, and there was one employee at each. NONE of the people on line wanted a taco, so what did the taco lady do? She stood there and watched the pizza guy slowwwwwwly cut slices and slowwwwwly put them in boxes, one by one, rather than helping him out and speeding up the process. It’s like she wasn’t allowed to go near the pizza because it wasn’t a taco. And the guy! Oh my God, it’s like he was just learning to use his hands for the first time, and then when he couldn’t find a spatula, he tried using the pizza-slicing wheel thingy to scoop up the slices. But you see, he wasn’t smart enough to keep the boxes near the pizza. No, THAT would’ve made too much sense. Instead he kept scooping up the slices (each of which he touched with his hands so they wouldn’t fall) and carrying them to the boxes, and on several occasions the cheese dripped off the side and landed on the floor. Normally the Orioles do a great job of running the stadium, so I’ll let it slide this time.

Back to the game…

There were two home runs. Luke Scott, who bats left-handed, hit one over the Bud Light ad in left-center (naturally I wasn’t there) and Russell Branyan, who also bats left-handed, hit the sixth longest home run in the history of Camden Yards. That one reached the back off the seats just to the right of dead-center. (Naturally I wasn’t there either.)

About halfway through the game, I gave up on left field; whenever a bunch of righties were coming up, I went for foul balls behind the plate instead. I should’ve caught one in the 6th inning. There was a high pop-up that nicked the facade of the second deck and landed RIGHT in the aisle about five feet away from where I was standing. The aisle had been empty all night. The paid attendance was less than 13,000 *AND* there had been a rain delay. Get my point? Not too many fans. But. of course, at the exact moment that the foul ball was hit, a woman in a wheelchair rolled in front of me and blocked the aisle. She even stopped rolling when she saw the ball go up. Then, after the ball smacked off the pavement (essentially right on the other side of her chair) and bounced far, far away, she looked up at me and said, “Oh, sorry, I just didn’t wanna get hit.” Fine. Fair enough. I won’t make a wheelchair wisecrack or deny her right to cower in fear. I’m just saying: I’m having the worst luck.

Okay, maybe not THE worst luck. I did end up getting a foul ball in the bottom of the 8th. There were two outs. Mark Lowe was pitching. Ty Wigginton was at bat. The count was 1-0. The ball sailed high in the air and landed in a staircase on my left, and I grabbed it off the steps. Here I am, standing at the bottom of the stairs with the ball:

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That made me feel better. The day was not a total loss, but man, the standing-room-only section really let me down. Nick Yohanek (aka The Happy Youngster) was out there too, and we were both disappointed. He *really* had some bad luck earlier on. Man oh man.

Anyway, that was basically it. The Mariners won, 6-3, so I went to their dugout but didn’t get anything there. Nick and I said goodbye (no telling when we’ll cross paths again) just after he took this photo of me and Jona:

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On my way out, I found the cutest kid in the stadium and stole a ball from him:

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(I hope you know I’m joking. I really was GIVING a ball to that kid in the photo above.)

SNAGGING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game

• 220 balls in 28 games this season = 7.86 balls per game.

• 597 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 129 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd; those are way too easy in my opinion and don’t deserve to be counted in a special category)

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• 30 lifetime game balls outside of New York

• 200 lifetime balls at Camden Yards (the Wigginton foul ball, pictured here on the right, was No. 200…the extra-dark mark on the ball came from hitting the black paint on the edge of one of the steps)

• 4,040 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 109 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a pledge)

• $24.06 pledged per ball

• $168.42 raised at this game

• $5,293.20 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Next game for me? Tuesday, June 16th in Kansas City. If there’s one day that I really really really need the rain to hold off, that would be it. And by the way, assuming I get at least one ball every day in KC, the game on June 18th will be the 600th of my streak.

6/10/09 at Camden Yards

QUESTION: Who took all the photos in my previous entry?

ANSWER: Jona.

Here we are outside the stadium, waiting for the gates to open:

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You remember Jona, right? Just last year, there was Pittsburgh and Ireland and the pyramid of baseballs (which she helped build) and so much more.

Are we still together? What’s our official status? Don’t ask. All you need to know (or rather all I’m gonna say) is that we’ve been spending time together. I’m so bad at being vague. This is good practice.

Anyway…baseball…yes, finally, for the first time in three weeks, I was at a game with batting practice. I’d been having THE worst luck with weather, so it felt great to finally have a chance to put up some big numbers.

On my way out to the seats in straight-away left field (during which time three different ushers told me to stop running), I found a ball sitting in the front row:

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Is that a beautiful sight or what?

A minute later, Jona made her way out there and started taking photos:

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You might think my pink shirt is dumb (okay, it is), but you have to admit that it makes it easy to spot me.

Here’s a cool shot that shows me and several Orioles running for a ball:

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I didn’t get that one, but several minutes later, Jona took a photo of me hurdling the seats for a home run ball that I *did* end up snagging:

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I beat out one other guy for the ball. Here we are lunging for it:

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I have no idea who hit that ball, and I don’t know who hit the next one either. I do know that it was my 200th ball of the season, and of course I remember having caught it on the fly. Here’s a photo that shows me tracking it:

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Did you notice the Orioles player watching me in the background?

The left-handed hitting Felix Pie (pronounced “pee-AY”) stepped into the cage, and I figured he was going to start by trying to hit some balls to the opposite field…and I figured there was a chance that he’d slice a few into foul territory, or at least down the line…and I was right.

In the four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, you can see a red arrow pointing to a ball bouncing toward me. The fourth photo (on the lower left) shows me reaching all the way down and grabbing it off the rubberized warning track:

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(Don’t forget…you can click all these photos for a closer look.)

As I was returning to the seats in fair territory, I snagged two more home run balls within a 20-second span. The first ball landed in some empty seats and skipped up high enough in the air that I was able to run over and catch it before it took another crazy bounce. (I found out later, while updating my stats, that this was the 3,700th ball I’ve snagged since my consecutive games streak began in 1993.) The second ball landed in the middle of an empty row, and I ran over and grabbed it about 10 feet away from the nearest fan.

That gave me six balls on the day, and I snagged No. 7 by cutting through a row in left-center and catching a ground-rule double.

After that, Seattle took the field so I changed into my Mariners gear and convinced Bruce Hines, the team’s 3rd base coach, to throw me a ball. In the following photo, I’m wearing the “ICHIRO 51″ shirt, and you can see Hines just behind my right hand, getting ready to toss the ball:

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I ran back into foul territory and grabbed ball No. 9 off the warning track. It had trickled to Miguel Batista, who was playing catch, and instead of picking it up and firing it toward the bucket, he had gently kicked it behind him. (I wonder if he would’ve done that if he knew I was at this game.)

Ichiro and Russell Branyan and Ken Griffey Jr. all started hitting, so I raced over to the standing-room-only section in right field. It was surprisingly crowded, and since I’d actually missed the first round of swings (for a reason I won’t mention), I only ended up catching two homers out there…BUT…I made a nice play on both of them, especially the first. I’m pretty sure Ichiro hit it. The ball was heading right toward me, and as it was about to land, there were a few other guys drifting to camp under it. I stayed about five feet behind the spot where I knew it was going to land, then crept up at the last second and timed my leap perfectly. I was like an outfielder robbing a home run, except I was moving forward instead of backward…and for a moment, while I was in mid-air, it felt like I was flying above the competition…and I reached up and made the catch above several other hands and gloves. It felt sooooo good. Then, less than a minute later, I caught another one that almost hit one of the flag poles on the way down. The nicest thing about that play is that I judged it perfectly. At least a dozen other guys were running around cluelessly, thinking the ball was going to land at the front of the section as it began descending toward us. I, however, hung back and picked the spot where it was going to land, and I reached up for the easy catch at the last second as everyone was just starting to run back toward me. Heh.

In all fairness, I should admit that I misjudged one ball horribly a bit earlier in the day, and then of course I got a bunch of unlucky ricochets on others, so even though it might seem (from what I’m writing) like I’m the luckiest and most athletic human being of all-time, that’s not exactly the case.

Back in left field, I used my glove trick to snag my 12th ball of the day (I gave that one away to a kid after BP) and soon caught another homer on the fly in a highly congested patch of seats.

Jason Vargas tossed me my 14th ball, and it was a good snag for two reasons:

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1) The ball had an interesting streak-like marking on the logo. You can see a photo of it on the right. Any theories on how the ball would’ve ended up looking like this?

2) I had to make a nice play on it. I was standing in the front row. Vargas kind of flipped/side-armed the ball in my direction, and I could tell from the moment it left his hand that it was going to sail over my head. Keep in mind that this was a simple toss that never went more than 20 feet in the air. It wasn’t like a home run, where I have several seconds to take my eye off the ball, move to a different spot in the seats, and then look back up and make the catch. No no. This was all split-second. I looked down VERY quickly, hopped over the front row of seats, looked back up, found the ball in mid-air as it was about five feet away from landing, and lunged far back behind the 2nd row to make a back-handed catch.

At the very end of BP, I raced over to the Mariners’ dugout and got my 15th ball tossed by hitting coach Alan Cockrell. Not bad.

Guess who I ran into after that. (Okay, yes, I’d been running into him all day.)

Nick Yohanek, aka “The Happy Youngster.”

Here we are at the dugout. I don’t blame him for not putting his arm around me. Never mind the pink shirt I was wearing earlier. Look how sweaty I was at this point:

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Just before the game started, Jose Lopez (pictured below) played catch with Adrian Beltre in front of the dugout:

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Beltre ended up throwing me the ball. That gave me SIXTEEN balls for the day, and I was really tempted to keep playing the dugouts and trying to get foul balls. It would’ve been awesome to have a 20-ball performance, but the standing-room-only section in right field was too
great to ignore. Not only was I hoping to catch a Griffey home run (that’s basically why I decided to make this trip) but I also wanted to catch Matt Wieters’ first major league homer. And besides, I’m now finally trying to be more home-run conscious in general; if I have to give up a few less meaningful balls as a result, so be it.

During the game, this was my view from the back of the standing-room-only section:

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Because I couldn’t see the batter from where I was standing, Jona stayed at the front and played the role of “spotter.” She gave me subtle hand signals each time the pitcher was releasing the ball. It was very helpful because I was able to know exactly when a home run might’ve started flying my way, but because I’ve had AWFUL home run luck this season, nothing was hit anywhere near me. Still, it was fun to hang out in that section and know that at least I had a great chance of catching one.

Here’s a look at the section from the side:

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See the little kid in the “GRIFFEY 24″ jersey? That’s Tim–the son of Todd (aka “cookandsonbats” in the comments section) whom I met on 6/3/09 at Nationals Park.

Wieters came up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and I stayed put. I never would’ve forgiven myself if I’d left the section just before he hit a bomb right to where I’d been standing all night. But there was no bomb to be caught. The future of the Orioles’ franchise struck out swinging to end the game.

Final score: Mariners 4, Orioles 1.

SNAGGING STATS:

15_the_15_balls_i_kept.jpg• 16 balls at this game (15 of which are pictured here because I gave one away)

• 213 balls in 27 games this season = 7.89 balls per game.

• 596 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 104 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 44 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls

• 4,033 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.06 pledged per ball

• $384.96 raised at this game!

• $5,124.78 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One final unrelated note: I’ve had some major problems with my email this week. (I think it’s because the atrocious internet situation at my lame and overrated hotel here in Baltimore screwed me up.) I might have lost a few emails in the process, so if you’ve written to me recently and you don’t hear back from me by…let’s say…June 18th, go ahead and email me again. Sometimes I take a week to answer emails anyway, but in this case…yeah, if you’re waiting for a reply, just be patient and then give another shout. And also, if you’ve emailed me to get snagging advice about a certain stadium, all I can tell you is: read my blog. If I’ve blogged about a particular stadium, you’ll find everything there, and if I haven’t blogged about it, that means I haven’t been there since at least 2004 and I probably don’t remember too much about the place anyway. I get too many emails in general, especially ones like this, to answer everyone personally. I’m really sorry. It’s nothing personal. I’ll still try to write back to everyone, but if I write something brief, please understand why.

4/28/09 at Miller Park

This was the final game of my trip, and I started off by using the glove trick to snag two balls from the gap in left field. The first was easy because it was sitting right below me, but the second ball was way off to the side and it took me TWENTY minutes to reel it in! (It was worth it; there was nothing else going on at the time.)

The following photo (taken by my friend Kelly) will give you an idea of the challenge I faced. I’ve drawn a red “X” to indicate where the ball was initially sitting, and as you can see below, I moved the ball a bit, but it was now trapped against a wall:

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One thing that made this so tough was that the area in the gap was slightly sloped. I had to swing my glove back and forth to try to knock the ball closer, and every time I managed to do that, it kept rolling back to where it had been.

Here’s a photo that shows me swinging the glove:

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As you can see, there were a couple bars/pipes that were perpendicular to the wall. This meant that I couldn’t swing my glove as hard or far as I wanted in either direction.

Eventually I managed to knock the ball away from the wall, and then once it was out in the open, I managed to knock it closer. Finally, when I’d moved it right below me, I was able to lower my glove gently and snag it. Here’s a shot of my glove dangling just above the ball…

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…and here I am, reaching out for it after carefully lifting the glove back up:

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I must not have put the rubber band on tight enough because as you can see, the ball was barely being held in place. Anyway, the trick worked. That’s all that mattered. I don’t need style points. I just need baseballs. (And yes, I really do “need” them. Some people need air. I need baseballs. Don’t question me. Well, I also need air.)

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the edges of my glove got VERY scuffed because of my antics. Every time I had swung the glove to my left, I tried to drop it on the ball and tug it back in one motion. (This took far more athleticism and hand-eye coordination than almost any ball I’ve ever caught on the fly.) But I kept missing 9 out of 10 times, and as a result the glove kept hitting/skimming the concrete. My glove now looks like absolute crap, and I’d have to say it was worth it.

5_ball3923_got_game.jpg There was a third ball that landed in the gap, and as I was in the process of trying to knock it closer, a stadium employee retrieved it and (much to my surprise) tossed it up. That was my third ball of the day, and the words “GOT GAME” were already written on the sweet spot.

Over the years, many teams have marked their balls in various ways, but the Brewers (as I discovered firsthand the day before) have recently been scribbling random words and phrases. I’m not sure if this is their attempt to deter employees from stealing the balls, or if the players and coaches are just being silly. Either way, it doesn’t bother me. As far as I’m concerned, it’s nice to snag a ball that’s different from all the others, but I’d be pretty disappointed if I’d never gotten a single ball and then ended up catching one that had been defaced.

When the Pirates took the field, I got Jesse Chavez to toss me my fourth ball of the day. Then I ran over to the seats along the left field foul line because there was a ball sitting on the warning track, about a foot out from the wall. By the time I got there, a fellow ballhawk named Shawn was already standing above the ball. I was pretty sure he had a glove trick of his own, yet he wasn’t setting it up, so I asked him if I could go for it. At first it seemed like he wanted the ball for himself, but then I realized he was cool with it. He was there with his mom, and they were both focusing on Pirates bullpen coach Luis Dorante (who was playing catch and had two balls in his back pocket) so we each had our own agenda. Anyway, I set up my trick, waited for the nearby on-field security guy to look the other way, and then plucked it.

Even though the Pirates had taken the field, they hadn’t started hitting. The Brewers were still taking their final cuts, so I raced to their dugout…

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…and got two balls tossed to me within a 30-second span when everyone came off the field. The first was given to me by a ballboy and the second was flipped by bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel. At first, it didn’t seem like he was going to hook me up, so I modified my request and asked for a dirty ball. That convinced him, and this is the ball he gave me:

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Now let’s get something straight, once and for all…

Over the years, I’ve taken some heat from fellow ballhawks–especially the old-school guys–because I “beg” for balls and use my glove trick so often. My only response is: “Why is that a bad thing?” Some ballhawks are only interested in catching home runs, and I’ll be the first to say that they deserve a TON of credit. It’s not easy, and some of their numbers are mind-boggling. There are, however, other ways to snag baseballs, and I think that those ways should be respected. If you look at how my stats break down in Erik Jabs’ ballhawk league, you’ll see that only a small portion of my baseballs were batted. It’s not that I’m bad at judging fly balls, or that I can’t catch them when they start flying at me…it’s that I just don’t spend that much time in the outfield seats. For me, it’s all about maximizing my numbers so I like to roam and get baseballs in all sorts of ways. If it somehow became illegal to ask players for balls, or if fans received the death penalty for using glove tricks, then yeah, I’d focus on catching home runs, and I’m sure my numbers would be pretty good. But for now, I’m content snagging baseballs any way I can get ‘em. Thank you.

I had seven balls in my backpack when I decided to head up to the 2nd deck in left field. Rather than using the concourse to get from the dugout to the left field side, I cut through the seats and ended up getting Craig Monroe to throw me a ball along the left field foul line. I was about ten rows back and he fired it over everyone’s heads in front of me. *Then* I headed upstairs and got three more balls thrown to me during the next half-hour. Nothing fancy. The first came from Ian Snell, the second (which I later gave away to a kid) came from Brandon Moss, and the third came from Mister Jesse Chavez out in left-center. He must’ve thrown a dozen balls into the crowd, and he wasn’t being too selective.

By the end of BP, the 2nd deck was officially crowded, but get this…almost everyone was sitting down:

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People in the Midwest pride themselves on being laid-back, but this was ridiculous. There were very few kids (perhaps because it was a weekday in April), and only a handful of adults had gloves, so there wasn’t really direct competition. Instead, people were just in the way. My friend Nick (aka “The Happy Youngster”) had warned me about that. He was at this game too–I had stayed at his place the night before–and he snagged a bunch of balls as well. Miller Park is heavenly. That’s the official Zack Hample assessment.

I had 11 balls at the point. Five of them had the word “PRACTICE” stamped onto the sweet spot, and another ball had a big “P” drawn on by the Pittsburgh Pirates:

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You can see the little numbers that I wrote. The ball on the upper left, for example, says “3921″ because that was the 3,921st ball I ever snagged, and if you’re wondering why the numbers are above the sweet spot on some balls and below it on others, the answer is that I always mark the balls on the same spot. Evidently, the person who stamps “PRACTICE” on them isn’t too concerned with which way the balls are facing. (By the way, I photographed the “GOT GAME” ball before I marked it. That’s why there’s no number on it.)

I snagged my 12th ball of the day at the Pirates’ dugout after BP. Some random equipment guy rolled it to me across the dugout roof. Thrilling, yes.

After that, I rushed to the upper deck and crammed all my wandering and photo-taking into the 40 minutes before game time. (Miller Park is so great for foul balls during games that I didn’t want to miss a single pitch.) This is what I saw as the escalator was approaching the upper deck:

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Here’s a look at the retractable roof…

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…and this is what I saw when I peered over the side edge of the upper deck:

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The word “beautiful” might not come to mind when you first see these pics, but that’s actually how I would describe this stadium. The angles are really interesting, and I love how the roof narrows/hinges into one spot. The glass panels above the last row of seats are tasteful; I like how there are beams AND how the light comes streaming in. Domed stadiums, to some extent, always look like spaceships and are often ugly. I’d say Tropicana Field is the worst and Minute Maid Park is the best, but Miller Park might be a close second. I don’t know…Chase Field is also pretty nice.

The concourse behind the left field foul pole was empty…

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…and didn’t look like like it was ever meant to be seen by fans. I love finding quiet areas inside major league stadiums. It keeps getting harder, with all these new facilities that are built without nooks and crannies, so I was glad to see that anything’s still possible in Milwaukee.

Here’s my panorama from the last row behind the plate:

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I ran into my friends Scott and Chad (you might remember them from 4/25/09 at U.S. Cellular Field) on the way to my seat on Loge level, and I met up with Kelly in the concourse.

I don’t want to discuss or even think about the game because it’s too frustrating. I’ll just say very quickly that was only ONE foul ball that flew back the entire night. It basically came right to me, right to the spot in a gloriously wide and empty aisle where I’d been campingout throughout the game, but at the exact moment that this ball was hit, I got blocked by two guys who were standing around with their beers, and they pretty much knocked the ball out of my glove. What should have been THE easiest catch of all-time turned into a frantic scramble that I lost. I can’t even begin to describe how pissed I was, so let’s just leave it at that.

Here’s a photo (taken by the lovely Kelly) that shows me in the aisle…white shirt, arms folded in disgust, leaning against the back wall:

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(I’m still pissed. I don’t want to think about it. And yet I’m still thinking about it. Leave me alone, brain! Think about something else. AAAHHH!!! Help.)

The Brewers won, 6-5, and Trevor Hoffman recorded his first non-Padre save since 1993. I love the guy, and I’m rooting for him all the way, but I don’t think he’s going to be an effective closer this season. The velocity just isn’t there. His fastball topped out at 86mph and was clocked several times between 82 and 84. Sure, Jamie Moyer is barely cracking 80 these days, but he’s a starter, and he’s also the exception to the rule. When I think of what a closer should be, I think of the words “dominating” and “intimidating.” Maybe that still applies to Hoffman because of his reputation. All I’m saying is…it makes me nervous to watch him pitch. It’s like when amateurs sing the national anthem. Do you ever feel like this? I find myself rooting for them simply NOT to mess up, rather than rooting for them to succeed. It’s the same whenever I watch Olympic figure skating (which is not often). Even though the competitors aren’t amateurs, I still cringe whenever they do a jump because I’m afraid something bad is gonna happen. That’s how it was for me at this game whenever Hoffman threw a pitch. Not a good sign.

Okay…

Just because I’m about to list my stats doesn’t mean you should stop scrolling down the page. There are some very important (and perhaps disturbing) photos coming up at the end…

SNAGGING STATS:

• 12 balls at this game

• 112 balls in 14 games this season = 8 balls per game.

• 41 balls in 3 lifetime games at Miller Park = 13.7 balls per game

• 583 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,932 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $18.27 pledged per ball

• $219.24 raised at this game

• $2,046.24 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Okay, it’s time for a few more photos, but first I have to ask if you remember the part in my previous entry where I showed Nick’s sports memorabilia. Does that ring a bell? Remember when I mentioned that he’s a police officer and that he has an effective way of protecting his collection? Good. Check it out:

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That’s Nick in the photo above (and no, he’s not really a Pirate fan). When he first told me that he had guns in the house, I nearly threw up a little bit in my mouth, and when he first showed them to me, I thought they were fake. I know NOTHING about guns. Guns make me nervous. I’m a nerdy Jew from the Upper West Side. I play Scrabble and I like bagels. I went to a Quaker college. GUNS?! For real?!?! I’m friends with someone who owns guns?! How did this happen? Where did I go wrong?

The photo below shows the handguns. The one on the left (with the wooden handle) is a Ruger .357 magnum, and the one on the right is a Glock .40 caliber:

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At least that’s what Nick claimed. He might’ve been lying, but I wasn’t about to argue.

Then he showed me the bullets:

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I’m going to assume that the red stuff on the upper right is paint and not blood. That’s a good assumption, right? I actually didn’t notice the red until I got back to NYC and started going through the pics. (Nick…if you’re reading this, what IS the red stuff? Did you drop your bullet in a glass of cherry cola?)

Being close to Nick’s guns was so far beyond my realm of reality that I kinda got into it. It’s like I was in a foreign land with an expert tour guide. On one hand, I felt totally helpless when it occurred to me that if Nick wanted to kill me and steal all my baseballs, he could’ve done so in approximately seven-tenths of a second, but on the other hand, I felt very comforted by the fact that he knew what he was doing and probably didn’t want to cause me any harm. Like I said, he’s a cop. He’s been trained extensively with firearms. In addition, these guns were licensed, and he went though numerous safety checks to make sure they weren’t loaded. Then he assured me that there was nothing illegal about me touching them and taking photos with them and sharing it on my blog.

And so…here I am:

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Wow, did that really happen? What have I done?! Quick!!! Let’s all think happy thoughts…

Rainbows! Kittens! Lollipops! Flowers!

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Ahh, I feel so much better.

4/27/09 at Miller Park

I woke up in Chicago, took a 90-minute train ride to Milwaukee, and found my friend Nick Yohanek waiting for me outside the station:

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Nick is an extremely skilled ballhawk who’s known as “The Happy Youngster.” He has his own website and blog, and although we’d been emailing back and forth for a couple years, the first time we met in person was 20 days earlier in Toronto. (One great thing about being a ballhawk is that friendships often develop fast with other ballhawks. Three weeks ago, I barely knew Nick…and now here he was, picking me up at a train station and letting me crash at his place for a night.)

Nick gave me a scenic tour of Milwaukee (which even HE would admit is an oxymoron) on the way to his place. We drove past Miller Park…

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…and pulled into his driveway less than 10 minutes later:

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As much as Nick loves the Brewers, he loves the Green Bay Packers even more. His basement is basically a memorabilia shrine for the two teams. Check it out below. Here’s one wall of stuff…

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…and here’s another:

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In the photo above, the home plate-shaped display case holds all 48 game home run balls that Nick has snagged. Truly remarkable. On the lower left, you can see his trademark t-shirt: Glove + Ball = Happy. (Nick is a police officer and has a very effective way of protecting his memorabilia collection. I’ll explain in my next entry.)

We headed to the stadium at around 3pm–plenty of time for me to wander all the way around the outside of it and take some pics. But first, here’s one that Nick took of me:

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Nick then walked me out to a nearby spot in the parking lot and showed me this:

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It says: “This marks the landing location of the final home run of Hank Aaron’s career, #755, hit at County Stadium on July 20, 1976.”

That final home run ball, by the way, caused a LOT of controversy. It was retrieved by a groundskeeper, and when the team asked the guy for the ball, he said he wanted to hand it over himself to Aaron. The team refused, so he was like, “Fine, then I’ll just keep the ball.” What did the team do? They fired him AND they docked him five dollars from his final paycheck for the cost of the ball. True story. (Shame on the Brewers.) I’ll be writing more about this in my next book, along with a bunch of other ball-related controversies. The last thing I’ll say about it for now is that the groundskeeper eventually got the last laugh.

Nick followed me as I kept wandering and taking pics. Miller Park is very nice, but the surrounding area is, in a word, nondescript:

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There’s no real atmosphere outside the ballpark. There are just a bunch of parking lots, but at least everything was clean and well-built and non-sketchy.The temperature was in the 70s, and the retractable roof was barely open:

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The roof ended up staying closed for the game, but it was cool to get there early enough to see a sliver of sky peeking through.Here’s another look at the outside of the stadium. There’s nothing WRONG with it. It’s just not sexy:

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Two edges of the stadium are slightly elevated above the surrounding land, so there’s a railing around the perimeter:

Now…I know that the people in Milwaukee are passionate about their bratwurst, so as I made my way around the stadium with Nick, it saddened me greatly to see the following:

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I can’t explain it. It was just…there.

Here’s one final look at the outside of Miller Park. This is the home plate entrance (and you can see Nick in the yellow shirt):

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As for the inside of Miller Park…

I met a fellow ballhawk named Shawn and his mother Sue (who also snags her fair share of baseballs). Shawn had a copy of my first book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs, and Sue had the new one, Watching Baseball Smarter:

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I signed the books for them and then got my snagging underway.

Ball No. 1 was tossed by Brewers coach Joe Crawford, and it had something strange written on it. Check it out:

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I’ve snagged a lot of marked balls over the years, including this one from the Brewers back in the 1990s, but I’d never seen anything like this. Within the last year or two, I’d been hearing stories about how the Brewers were writing random stuff on their practice balls, so it was great to finally get one.

When the Pirates took the field, there were still a few of the Brewers’ balls laying around on the warning track, and I got Zach Duke to toss one to me. (The line I used was, “How ’bout a ball for a fellow Zack?” First time I ever used that line successfully. I even offered to show him ID, but he took my word for it. Zacks are just cool like that, as are Zachs.) This second ball also had something written on the sweet spot, and when I ran over the right field bullpen and used my glove trick to reel in the following ball…

16_ball3911_bullpen.jpg…there was yet another random thing written on it.

Here are those first three balls I snagged, logos up:

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Now, here they are with the sweet spots up…

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…and let me just stress again that I did NOT write this stuff on the balls. They were like this when I caught them.

I managed to glove-trick another ball from the bullpen before security shut me down. There was just one usher who seemed to have a problem with my device, and when he told me I might get ejected if I used it again, I decided to move my operation to the second deck in left field.

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I didn’t expect to catch much up there, but it turned out to be a great spot. First, Brandon Moss threw me a ball, and then I snagged a home run that flew 10 feet over my head and landed in the mostly empty benches. Several minutes later, John Grabow tossed me my seventh ball of the day, and soon after I snagged another home run off the steps.

That wasn’t it.

While I was labeling the balls and scribbling down some notes about how I’d gotten them, I noticed that Craig Monroe was getting ready to throw a ball to some fans in the front row about 30 feet to my left. As he fired it up, I bolted to my left and cut through my row. The ball sailed over the fans’ heads, landed several rows behind me, hit the back of a bench, and bounced right back to me as I was cutting across. It was beautiful. I ended up giving that ball away, but it was still fun to catch it, and of course it counts in my stats and for the charity.

Nyjer Morgan then threw me another ball. I hadn’t even asked him. He just looked up into the seats and spotted me, so I pointed at him to acknowledge that I was ready. He fielded a ball moments later and immediately turned and fired it up at me. Perfect aim. Embarrassingly easy. And just like that, I had reached double digits.

I made it to the Pirates’ dugout just before the end of BP and a got my 11th ball tossed to me by coach Luis Dorante as everyone was coming off the field. It was a real beauty:

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Nick and Shawn were also down by the dugout, and since security is so laid-back and awesome in Milwaukee (with the exception of that one guy who’s anti-glove trick), we sat down and hung out for about 20 minutes. Turns out we were captured by the Pittsburgh TV cameras. Thanks to Erik Jabs for passing along the following screen shot. You can see Nick on the left, Shawn in the middle, and me on the right:

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My plan for the game was simple: Go to the second deck behind the plate, stay there all night, and catch a foul ball. Miller Park has THE best spot for foul balls in the Major Leagues. By far. The only other time I’d ever been to this stadium was on June 11, 2003. I snagged 17 balls that day including two foul balls during the game in that section.

What’s so good about it?

This was my view of the field (I was hearing Bob Uecker’s voice all night)…

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…and this was my view to the left:

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Is that not THE most glorious cross-aisle you’ve EVER seen?

The height and distance of the section is perfect. The protective screen at the backstop is not too tall. Heaven, I tell you! If I were going to custom-build a stadium, just for myself in order to have the best possible chance of catching a foul ball, this is what I would’ve come up with.

Surprisingly, there wasn’t any action during the first third of the game, but I got my chance in the top of the 4th. Brian Bixler fouled one back and to my left. It was heading toward the “family section” portion of the “KOHL’S” sign in the photo above, so I took off running. I couldn’t reach the ball in time to catch it on the fly, but because the aisle was completely empty, the ball smacked off the blue wall, ricocheted back and hit a seat back, then rolled back toward the wall…and that’s when I swooped in and scooped it up.

Check out the mark on the wall/ball:

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Sadly, that was the only ball that came back there all night, but I was satisfied. I mean, what kind of jerk would complain about “only” snagging one foul ball during a game? (Don’t answer that.)

The Brewers had a 10-5 lead heading into the 9th inning, so who did they bring in? All-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. He’d been hurt. This was his Brewers debut. The crowd went nuts, and I ran down to the dugout…

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…just in time to see him record the final out.

Five minutes later I realized that the foul ball I’d snagged was my 100th ball of the season. (I’d started the day with 88 and the modest of goal of snagging 12 balls combined in the two days I’d be at Miller Park.) Here I am with the ball at the Pirates’ dugout:

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You can see a closeup of the ball in the photo down below on the right. I’m pretty sure that the smudge (on the seams to the right of the MLB logo) came from the bat. The blue mark on the sweet spot (shown three photos above) obviously came from the wall. But what’s with the smeared logos in two different places? You can see that “Rawlings” is smeared on the top of the ball, and so is the word “baseball.” Very strange. I’ve never gotten a game-used ball with that many markings.

27_ball3920_100th_of_2009.jpg
SNAGGING STATS:

• 12 balls at this game

• 100 balls in 13 games this season = 7.69 balls per game.

• 12 consecutive seasons with at least 100 balls

• 582 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 126 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 3,920 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $18.17 pledged per ball

• $218.04 raised at this game

• $1,817.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/21/09 at Wrigley Field

Freezing, rainy, night game in April without batting practice? Not exactly ideal, but hey, this was my first trip to Wrigley Field in 11 years, and I was thrilled to be here:

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My goal for the day was pretty simple: I wanted to snag at least four baseballs. You know how I’m doing the whole charity thing and getting people to pledge money for every ball? Well, at the start of the day, the total amount that I’d raised so far this season was $949.46. I had 84 pledges (ranging from one penny to one dollar) that added up $16.37 per ball. Basically, I calculated that I needed four more balls to pass the $1,000 mark; three balls would’ve left me a little more than a dollar short.

I had about two hours to kill before the ballpark was going to open–it really IS a “ballpark” as opposed to a “stadium”–so I walked all the way around it and took a ton of photos. This is what it looked like as my journey began:

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It was great to be here after having checked out the new Yankee Stadium three days earlier. Talk about a contrast! The new stadium is the pinnacle of luxury, corporate greed, and architectural wizardry. Wrigley Field, on the other hand, is old and dumpy and simple–and therefore even more beautiful.

Here’s the players’ parking lot:

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Here’s a look down Waveland Avenue…

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…and this is the view from baseball’s most famous intersection:

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When I reached the bleacher entrance in center field, I backed up just enough to be able to get a shot with both foul poles (which you can see through the trees):

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This is what it looks like on Sheffield Avenue, which runs behind the right field bleachers:

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See the gate below the foul pole?

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It provides a peek into the stadium:

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So nice! (The grounds crew was readjusting the tarp. I got excited for a second when I first looked in and saw infield dirt.) AT&T Park has a similar feature. (This might surprise you, but the new Yankee Stadium does NOT provide a free glimpse onto the field.)

Here’s the outside of Wrigley near the right field corner:

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It was painfully cold. I saw my breath all day. The temperature was in the low 40s and felt like the 20s. My face got so cold at one point that I was slurring my words. (Has this ever happened to anyone?) So…I stopped talking.

This was the view as I headed toward the home plate entrance:

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Just a little further…

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…until I’d made it full circle:

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I still had an hour to kill. The rain picked up. Thankfully there was an overhang at the gate. People were talking about how the game might get canceled.

All of a sudden, I heard a familiar voice from behind. It was Nick Yohanek, aka The Happy Youngster:

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I had NO idea he was gonna be there, and in fact he didn’t have any idea either until the last second when his (very understanding) wife told him she didn’t mind if he made the trip from Milwaukee. That’s where he’s from. It’s only about an hour and a half from Chicago.

I’d met Nick for the very first time two weeks earlier in Toronto. Super cool guy. It was good to see him again, but of course it meant we’d have to make an effort to stay out of each other’s way.

Look how big the crowd was as the gates were going up:

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I think the large crowd might’ve had something to do with the limited giveaway: a Carlos Zambrano “no-hitter statue.” (THAT’S really why I went to this game.)

This was my view as I ran inside:

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As you can see in the distance in the photo above, there were a couple Cubs playing catch in shallow left field. I didn’t end up getting the ball from them, but I’m glad to say that someone who reads this blog did. The ball went to a guy named Adam (aka “cubs0110″) who had emailed me some Wrigley tips in the days leading up to this trip, so it was well-deserved.

Nick made his way to the right field side as a few Reds took the field. I decided to hold my ground for another minute or two, and as a result I ended up getting a ball in an incredibly random and unexpected way. Someone on the Reds, for some unknown reason, skimmed a ball across the field/tarp right in my direction. Luckily I saw it coming once it got halfway to me, so I lunged over the wall in the front row and scooped it up. The ball was absolutely soaked. The arrow in the following photo shows the direction that it had been rolled:

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Is that weird or what?

I figured I wasn’t going to get any luckier than that on the left field side, so I headed back toward the seats behind the plate and walked out to the right field foul line. I stopped along the way to take a photo of the beautiful cross aisle (and the random row of seats right in the middle):

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I got two balls tossed to me within the next 15 minutes. The first came from Nick Masset, and the second was from from Bronson Arroyo. Nothing fancy about it. There weren’t too many other Reds fans so it was easy. This left me one ball short of my goal.

Time out for a second…

Do you remember the Watch With Zack game I did on 9/24/07 at Shea Stadium? My clients that day were a couple of ladies from Chicago named Kelly and Jen. Kelly (the bigger baseball fan of the two) and I have kept in touch ever since, and we’ve become friendly enough that I’m now sitting in her living room as I type this. She gave me a ticket to this game at Wrigley in exchange for my Zambrano statue. You can see her and Nick in the following photo.

Time in…

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Here I am with Kelly:

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It was only 6pm. There was an hour ’til game time, and there wasn’t any action on the field, so I explored the street level concourse. THIS, my friends, is what a real ballpark looks like:

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Gotta love the cute little concession stand with a support beam in the middle:

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There were two ways to get to the field level seats:

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Very interesting stadium design. Fenway Park (which is just a few years older than Wrigley) is similar. We’ll never ever see anything like this built again.

There was a band playing in the concourse as people passed by:

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Despite the loathsome weather, the atmosphere was festive and jolly. I loved the imperfections in the design and condition of Wrigley Field. Check out the dents and pipes and ducts and chipped paint in the photo below:

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The path to the upper deck was interesting as well. This was the first ramp, and I actually had to show my upper deck ticket to go up it:

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I turned right at the top of the ramp and found myself in a web of metal beams above the seats:

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RFK Stadium (I only went there once on 7/5/05) was similar, and again, you’ll never see anything like this.

Two more ramps…

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…and then a final push to the top:

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Chain-link fences are not pretty, but they make you feel like you’re in a ballpark as opposed to a mall.

The upper deck has a great cross aisle…

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…but unfortunately there weren’t any foul balls that landed there. The balls either went to the first few rows of the upper deck or flew onto the roof.

I sat with Kelly and Adam for a bit, then sat on my own, then snuck down to the field level (where I came five feet from a foul ball), and finally made my way down to the Cubs’ dugout in the top of the ninth:

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It wasn’t hard to get down there. There are ushers at every staircase, and they try to be strict and keep people out, but they’re old and slow and unprepared for brazen New Yorkers. I have nothing against old people. I plan to live until I’m at least 105, and I’ll be snagging baseballs and demanding respect right up until the end. I’m just sayin’…there are lots of employees trying to enforce lots of rules, but it’s all pretty haphazard.

I won’t tell you how many balls Nick ended up with, or where he ended up sitting during the game. You’ll have to read his blog to find out, but I will say that he totally beat the system.

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As for me? I got home plate umpire Randy Marsh to toss me a ball on his way in–my fourth ball of the day–and it was rubbed up beautifully.

Final score: Cubs 7, Reds 2.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game

• 62 balls in 8 games this season = 7.75 balls per game.

• 577 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,882 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $16.62 pledged per ball

• $66.48 raised at this game

• $1,030.44 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

At tonight’s Cubs game, I’ll be sitting in a “bleacher box” seat in fair territory near the right field foul pole. I might wander to left field when righties come to bat, but definitely look for me if/when a lefty yanks one down the line.

4/9/09 at Rogers Centre

Last day in Toronto.
Day game after a night game.
Was there going to be batting practice?

Yes!!!

I had seen the batting cage and screens from my hotel room, but unfortunately this is what was taking place when I ran inside the Rogers Centre at 11am:

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At least it was the Blue Jays and NOT the Tigers who were on the field; at each of the previous three games, Detroit had been using cheap International League balls during BP.

Not long after the Jays started throwing, one of the balls got loose and rolled halfway onto the warning track in foul territory. I’m not sure which player had let the ball get away from him, but instead of walking over and picking it up and using it to finish throwing, he left it there and pulled a new ball out of his back pocket. The abandoned ball was sitting 30 feet to my right. There was an on-field security guard standing 50 feet to my left. In New York City, he would’ve walked over and grabbed the ball (and probably kept it for himself), but here in Canada, where
zack_loves_canada.jpgfew people go out of their way to snag baseballs, the guard just stood there and watched while I ran over and successfully used the “half-glove trick.” That’s what I call it when I don’t actually rig my glove to pick up a ball but simply fling the glove out in order to knock a ball closer. Then I moved one section to my left to get near the pitchers–and I found myself standing right in front of the guard.

“Thanks for letting me get that ball,” I said.

“No problem,” he replied. “You’re the guy who gets all the balls, right?”

“Yeah! How’d you know?”

“I’ve been reading your blog,” he said. “I think what you do is pretty cool. I don’t want you writing about any Gestapo sh*t here, and I don’t want you to put the Gustavo curse on me.”

WOW.

Again, just to point out the difference between Toronto and my hometown…

In September 2008, a bunch of security guards at Shea Stadium actually got angry at me (and confronted me) after they read a Newsday article in which I was paraphrased–not even quoted, mind you, but paraphrased–as saying that security at Shea was more lax than at Yankee Stadium. I meant it as a compliment, but they took it as an insult that would get them in trouble with their superiors. Unbelievable.

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Anyway, I bolted out to the seats in left-center field as soon as the Jays started hitting, and I used my glove trick to pluck my second ball of the day off the warning track. Several players watched me do it and were nice enough not to interfere, but when I ran around to right-center and tried to use the trick again, they weren’t as kind. As I began raising my glove with my potential third ball of the day wedged precariously inside, Jesse Litsch and Jesse Carlson both started throwing balls at my glove to knock it loose. I got the sense that they weren’t REALLY trying to mess me up. If they seriously wanted to foil my attempt, they could’ve just jogged over and grabbed the ball out of my glove…but instead they stayed about 40 feet away and took turns
firing balls at it.

“This guy gets like 800 balls a year!” said Litsch to his teammate.

“I don’t get THAT many!” I yelled, “but wait, how do you even know who I am?”

“Man, I see you EVERYwhere,” he said as he continued to fire balls at my glove. “You’re in New York. You’re in Baltimore. You’re all over the place.”

The balls he and Carlson were throwing were thumping off the padded outfield wall as I continued to lift my glove. One of their throws nicked my glove and caused it to spin around, but incredibly the ball remained inside.

As I kept raising my glove, their throws kept getting higher and higher and eventually reached the top of the outfield wall. Litsch had another ball in his hand and paused to look up at me.

“Yeah, what’choo got NOW!!!” I yelled.

He cocked his arm as if he were threatening to throw it.

“Go ahead!” I yelled as my glove dangled just a couple feet below the railing. “Throw it! I dare you! I’ll just catch it!”

I grabbed the string with my left hand in order to free up my dominant right hand, and just then, Litsch fired his ball at my glove and I reached down and bare-handed it just before it was able to hit it.

“HAHA!!!” I yelled. “Yeah!!! That’s what I’m TALKIN’ about!!! You like that?! Pretty good hands, huh?!”

He didn’t say anything. He just turned around and walked back to his spot in shallow right-center field. It felt amazing. I’d lunged and caught a 50mph throw in my right hand while another ball was tucked inside my glove that was dangling by a string from my left hand. It was truly a glorious moment.

The stadium had been open for about 15 minutes, and look how empty the seats were:

BP_after_15_minutes.jpg

That’s why I don’t feel sorry for people who tell me, “I’ve been going to games for 40 years, and I’ve never gotten a ball, not even in batting practice.”

I mean…DUH.

The left field seats got fairly crowded (by Toronto’s standards) toward the end of BP, and if you look closely at the photo below, you can see Nick Yohanek (aka “Happy Youngster“) in the second deck, wearing a blue jersey and long white sleeves:

left_field_crowded_04_09_09.jpg

My fifth ball of the day was a random toss-up that got bobbled by some fans and rolled right to me through an empty row. Total luck, yes.

After the netting above the Jays’ bullpen was pulled back (as it always is late in BP), I used the glove trick to snag another ball there. Then, two minutes later, I used the trick yet again to pull up a ball from the wide gap on the center field side of the ‘pen. My string got tangled on that one, and I nearly ran out of time.

After BP, I got Jesse Litsch to sign my ticket…jesse_litsch_autograph.jpg

…and asked if he was the guy who’d thrown a ball up to my hotel room two days earlier.

“That was YOU?!” he asked.

(Heh.)

Here’s a photo of him signing…

jesse_litsch_signing.jpg

…and here’s a shot of his glove, which was sitting on top of the low wall right in front of me:

jesse_litsch_glove.jpg

Five minutes before the game started, I headed out to the front row along the left field foul line to say hey to the nice security guard. We talked for a bit, and then I noticed that there was a ball sitting underneath the ballboy’s stool:

ball3850_stolen_from_ballboy.jpg“I’m guessing I’d probably get yelled at if I went over there and grabbed that ball,” I said to the guard.

“Do what you need to do,” he said. “It’s his fourth day on the job. He doesn’t know what’s going on.”

Poor ballboy. Totally oblivious. He was looking out at the field and talking to the fans sitting behind him. I felt guilty, like I was taking advantage of him, like I was about to steal his lunch money. And what about the Blue Jays outfielders? How would they warm up if I took that ball? Screw it, I thought. They’ll find another ball somehow. It’s not my problem.

“I gotta do it,” I told the guard. “In the name of charity. Yes! It’s for a good cause!”

He seemed to be getting a kick out of the whole thing, so I shared my plan: I was going to head up the steps, cut through an empty row, head back down the steps, and stand right behind the ballboy until I felt he was sufficiently distracted. Then I was going to reach over the low wall, grab the ball, and run like hell.I thanked the guard, told him this was my last game in Toronto, said goodbye, took a deep breath, and made my move. Up the steps, through the row, down the steps. I looked back at the guard, and he was watching while making it look like he wasn’t watching. I looked all around. The fans were clueless. The ballboy was yapping away. The guard at the top of the steps had his back turned to me. I waited for the ballboy to lean forward a bit, and as soon as he did, I reached carefully over the wall and under his stool. If he’d leaned back at that moment, his back would’ve pinned my arm against the wall, and I would’ve been busted. I actually had to feel for the ball because there wasn’t room for me to bend all the way over and look for it, so that took a couple seconds, and I was very nervous, but I got it! I grabbed the ball with my fingertips and lifted it up over the wall and BOLTED up the steps. I turned back quickly, spotted the guard, and pumped my fist. He gave a subtle nod, and I disappeared into the concourse.

Because the 200 Level wasn’t quite as empty as I’d hoped it would be, I spent the game going for foul balls on the first base side of home plate. Nothing came my way, but I did manage to maneuver down behind the dugout after the first inning and get Tigers first baseman Miguel
ball_3851_miguel_cabrera.jpgCabrera to toss me a ball on his way in. I quickly realized that it was not the ball he’d actually caught to end the frame; it was too scuffed/marked (as you can see on the right), which means he’d switched the gamer with the infield warm-up ball and given me THAT one instead. Rrr.

I really wanted one more ball. That would’ve given me double digits, my personal benchmark of stadium domination, but it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t get any (other) third-out balls, and like I said, there weren’t any fouls that came anywhere near me. I felt like I would’ve had a great shot at getting an umpire ball after the game, but when Nick made his way down into my area in the late innings, I told him he could go for it. It was only fair. He’d backed off the day before and given me the dugout, and I’d snagged two balls as a result. Now it was my turn to be generous, and sure enough he ended up getting a ball at the dugout, not from home plate ump Chris Guccione but from one of the Tigers pitchers walking in from the bullpen. Overall, during the three days that Nick and I were both at the Rogers Centre, we managed to stay out of each other’s way and NOT lose any opportunities, but this was one of the few times that it couldn’t be avoided. It happens. Sometimes there IS only one place to be, but we handled it well. We communicated and shared our strategies and made it work.

The game itself was historic. It was the first time in major league history that two first-round draft picks made their debuts against each other. Ricky Romero, drafted 6th overall by the Blue Jays in 2005, earned the win after giving up two runs on seven hits in six innings. Rick Porcello, the 27th overall pick by the Tigers in 2007, suffered the loss after allowing four runs on nine hits in five innings. (I should’ve saved my ticket and tried to get it signed by them instead of Litsch). Final score: Toronto 6, Detroit 2.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 9 balls at this game

• 31 balls in 4 games this season = 7.75 balls per game.

• 573 consecutive games with at least one ball

pifb_logo1.jpg

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

• 3,851 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $14.88 pledged per ball

• $133.92 raised at this game

• $461.28 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/8/09 at Rogers Centre

My day started with a trip to the CN Tower:

cn_tower1.jpg

For 30 years, the tower was the tallest “free-standing structure” in the world. Now it’s merely the tallest in the Americas.

Here’s the view of downtown Toronto from the main observation deck:

cn_tower2.jpg

The main deck has two levels. The photo above was taken from the upper level. The following photo, which shows Lake Ontario, was taken from the lower level:

cn_tower3.jpg

The best part about the lower level (assuming you’re not scared of heights) is that there’s a glass floor in one area. Here I am, standing on it, looking straight down:

cn_tower4.jpg

Did you notice the Rogers Centre in the photo above? My right foot is pointing at it. See the red lettering on the side of that white building? That’s it.

Okay, now I have to share a random photo that I grabbed from Google, just to show where I went next:

cn_tower.jpg

That teeny area up towards the top is called the “Sky Pod” and it’s the second highest public observation deck in the world. Here I am up there:

cn_tower5.jpg

Here’s the view facing west…

cn_tower6.jpg

…and here’s what the Rogers Centre looks like from 1,465 feet above:

cn_tower7.jpg

I made it back to my hotel room just in time to see the Blue Jays start taking batting practice, but I couldn’t convince any of the players to toss me a ball. So I shaved. While watching BP from my window. Totally surreal.

At 5:25pm (only five minutes before the stadium was going to open), I headed outside to Gate 11, where my new friend and fellow ballhawk Nick Yohanek (aka “Happy Youngster“) was holding a spot for me at the front of the long line of passionate Jays fans. You can see him holding up his arms under the red sign:

gate_11_crowd_04_08_09.jpg

In the photo below you can see two important things:

1) Nick standing behind the bullpen netting…and…
2) An annoying railing that needlessly divides the left field seats into two main sections:

bobby_seay_number_44.jpg

Several righties started taking cuts, so I moved back to left-center. I didn’t get a chance to catch any batted balls, but I got two more thrown to me. Granderson provided the first–he flung it randomly into the crowd without looking–and Misty May-Treanor‘s husband tossed me the second. That gave me a total of six balls; all five from the Tigers were cheap International League balls. (Just to clarify something for people who might be new to this blog: The only way that I’ll count a minor league ball in my collection is if I snag it at a major league game.)

A short while later it occurred to me that I’d done something rare: I’d gotten Granderson to throw me two balls in one game, and the day before I’d gotten Carlos Guillen to throw me two as well. I don’t know how one would one phrase that in a record book, or if it’s even a record, or if anyone even cares, but I’m assuming that this little oddball feat isn’t accomplished often (not that I specifically tried to make it happen). Has anyone else ever done this? Has anyone ever gotten THREE balls from the same player in one game?

I had some time to kill between BP and the game so I took a photo of the empty seats down the right field foul line…

empty_seats_04_08_09.jpg

…and watched Zach Minor warming up:

zach_minor_warming_up.jpg

Just before the national anthems, several Tigers began playing three-way catch. There was only one other fan with a glove, and it happened to be a little kid who couldn’t have been more than seven years old. He was standing quietly in the front row, watching the players, and wearing a Blue Jays cap. I decided to stay out of his way and give him a chance to get the ball…and I also decided that if he didn’t get it, I was going to give him one of mine. Well, as fate would have it, Ramon Santiago ended up with the ball…

pregame_throwing_04_08_09.jpg

…and looked right at me and lobbed it my way, directly over the kid’s head. I immediately walked down the steps and asked the kid, “Have you gotten a ball yet today?” He said no, so I handed him the Jays home run ball that I’d snagged at the start of BP. (I didn’t give him the ball from Santiago because at that moment, it was the last ball I’d ever snagged. What if, for some reason, I never snagged another ball? It would be a shame not to own the final one, just like Barry Bonds secretly wishes he owned No. 762.) Then I knelt down next to the kid and got eye-to-eye with him and said, “Hey, let me give you a little piece of advice.” He stared back blankly and I kept talking. “You know how you’re wearing a Blue Jays cap? Well, the Jays might be your favorite team, but if you’re trying to get a ball from the other team, you should hide your hat. If the Tigers see that you’re rooting for someone else, they’re not gonna want to give you a ball. Right?” The kid didn’t say a word, but I think he got the point. “Just remember that,” I told him, “and enjoy the game.”

Then I got some food and headed to my actual seat in the second deck:

food_and_view_04_08_09.jpg

(Yes, that’s a lot of onions. They were free at the condiment stand. I ate them with the fries. Good combination of te
mperature and flavor.)

With the exception of a few gloveless fans scattered throughout the front row, the 200 Level was empty. I’d decided to give up foul balls for one night and make an attempt at catching home runs.

Of course nothing came my way, but Nick managed to get HIS glove on a home run ball. First, check out where he was sitting. This was the view to the left from my seat. He’s on the lower level, just behind the red “Rogers” sign, wearing the yellow version of his signature shirt:

happy_youngster_during_game.jpg

In the top of the 5th inning, Miguel Cabrera’s second homer of the game hit the windows directly above Nick. The ball bounced back on the field and rolled to Vernon Wells, who scooped it up and tossed it to him. Very cool.

In the 8th inning, I abandoned my home run quest and moved to the seats behind the Tigers’ dugout. This was my view:

ninth_inning_04_08_09.jpg

Nick turned up just before the game ended and sat down right behind me. We discussed our post-game strategy. Both of us were hoping to get a ball from home plate umpire Tony Randazzo, but since I’d gotten there first, Nick let me go for it.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s just proper ballhawk etiquette.”

Fernando Rodney got Lyle Overbay to fly out to end the game. (Final score: Tigers 5, Blue Jays 1.) Curtis Granderson made a leaping catch at the wall. I scooted down to the front row. Randazzo approached, I shouted like hell, and got him to toss me my eighth ball of the day. Then, moments later, I saw Granderson jog in and hand the game-ending ball to Rodney. When Rodney walked toward the dugout, I shouted at him in Spanish and got him to toss it to me. Not bad. I’d gone from seven balls (average) to nine balls (good) in less than 60 seconds.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 9 balls at this game (eight pictured here because I gave one away)

the_eight_i_kept_04_08_09.jpg
• 22 balls in 3 games this season = 7.3 balls per game.

• 572 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,842 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $14.52 pledged per ball

• $130.68 raised at this game

• $319.44 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Back in my hotel room, this was the scene as I started working on this entry:

zack_blogging_04_08_09.jpg

Stay tuned for one more tale from Toronto…

4/7/09 at Rogers Centre

The day got off to a great start.

Thanks to the location of my hotel room and the impressive right arm of a Blue Jays pitcher, I was able to snag a ball 15 minutes before Rogers Centre opened. This is where it all went down:

zack_snagging_in_hotel_room.jpg

I’m not sure who threw it–it’s kinda hard to recognize faces from three kilometers up–but I think it was Jesse Litsch. I’d gotten his attention as soon as the Jays started taking BP, and when I asked for a ball, he grabbed his shoulder and rotated his arm as if to indicate that it was sore.

“I can’t throw that far!” he shouted.

“Gimme a break!” I yelled. “I played D-3 ball, and *I* can throw that far!”

That convinced him to give it a shot, but his first throw fell short and the ball bounced out of the 500 Level. Then, before he tried again, he told me that this was going to be his last try. The ball barely sailed wide and again bounced out of the seats.

“C’mon!” I yelled.

He ignored me.

I thought that was it, but then he surprised me by making one final attempt about 20 minutes later, and it was right on the money. That is one impressive throw, and of course it felt incredible to head outside and get on line and already have a “1″ in the ball tally. FYI, there’s no way to enter the stadium from the hotel. I had to go outside and wait at the gate like everyone else, and when I got outside, I discovered that it was snowing. Then, according to the plan,
I headed to Gate 13 and met a fellow ballhawk named Nick Yohanek (aka “Happy Youngster“) for the very first time. Here we are…Nick on the left and his father Jack on the right:

nick_zack_jack.jpg

Nick and I had known each other through email and blog comments for a few years. Like me, he had planned to go to Toronto to make an attempt at catching Gary Sheffield’s 500th career home run. Even though Sheff got released by the Tigers during the final week of Spring Training, we were still here. Nick and his father had made the 650-mile drive from Milwaukee.

My only concern about meeting fellow ballhawks is that we’ll end up getting in each other’s way and competing for the same balls, but that didn’t happen here. Rogers Centre is big enough (and the crowd was so small) that everyone was able to spread out. As soon as the gates opened, Nick made a beeline for the 200 Level and found an easter egg. I raced to the 100 Level and got one of the Tigers (no idea who) to toss me a ball in right-center field. The first thing I thought of was the charity; snagging baseballs, as fun as it has always been for me, now feels even better because of this new added meaning.

A few minutes later, a ball rolled onto the warning track in right-center:

ball3829_warning_track.jpg

I used my glove trick to reel it in and heard some fans cheering for me in left-center. The day before, I’d stayed in the 200 Level and didn’t get recognized by anybody. On this fine day, however, I stayed downstairs and had a bunch of people coming up to me and recognizing me from this blog and from YouTube.

Eddie Bonine walked over and asked how I got the ball to stick inside my glove.

“Put another ball down,” I said, “and I’ll show you how it’s done.”

He was so intrigued by my contraption that I think he was considering it, but then another ball rolled onto the warning track.

“There you go,” he said, pointing at it.

The ball was halfway out on the track and my attempt began with a struggle to knock it closer, only because I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself by flinging the glove way out. I was trying to be subtle and gentle with all my movements, and it just wasn’t happening.

eddie_bonine.jpg

Bonine moved the ball closer to the wall, then stepped back and watched with Nate Robertson as I reeled it in. Once I had the ball in my hand, he told me to give it to him.

“I’ll give it back,” he said. “I want to see you do it again.”

I tossed him the ball and worried that a) security was going to raise hell and that b) I was missing other snagging opportunities, but I had to go with it. When a major leaguer is talking to you, you can’t just walk away.

Sure enough, as I was reeling in the ball for the second time, a young female security guard (wearing a menacing bright yellow jacket) approached me from behind and told me I had to stop. Bonine jumped to my defense, saying I wasn’t causing any trouble and that he wanted to see what I was doing.

“In that case keep right on going,” the guard told me. “I have to say I’m impressed.”

I got the ball to stick inside my glove and then as soon as I began lifting it up, Bonine kicked the glove and made both the ball and Sharpie fall out. I wasn’t mad. I knew he was just being playful, and I thought it was funny. Then he grabbed the Sharpie and wedged it in my glove and tossed the ball up to me. Mission accomplished.

I ran to left-center because a bunch of righties were taking turns in the cage. Of course there wasn’t a single ball that landed anywhere near me, but I did get Carlos Guillen to toss one my way–ball No. 5 on the day.

Three of the last four balls I’d snagged were from the International League. (Booooo!!!) They felt cheap and plasticky, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re made in China:

international_league_balls.jpg

Real balls, of course, are made in…let’s say it all together: COSTA RICA!!! And let me just point out that the Tigers are now 0-3 in games I’ve seen them play since last year, so I’ll say it again: If you practice with minor league balls, you’re gonna play like a bunch of minor leaguers. I’m telling you, the Tigers are done. They’re not going anywhere this year. It’s just like the Nationals and their God-awful training balls.

Right after BP, I got Curtis Granderson (he’s nice) to sign my ticket…

curtis_granderson_autograph.jpg

…and then I met two of Toronto’s best ballhawks. They knew I was going to be at this game, and they’d said a quick hello during BP in left-center. Once all the players were off the field, we had a good chunk of time to catch up. Here were are in the photo below. The guy on the left is named Ryan, and he’s snagged a grand total of 696 balls. His friend on the right is Tyler, and he’s gotten around 630:

ryan_tyler_zack.jpg

“We’re like the you of this stadium,” said Ryan.

He and Tyler each had me sign a ball. Then we took some photos, and they had me leave a voice-mail for their friend who’s away in college right now–another ballhawk whose claim to fame is that when Carlos Delgado was on the Jays and hit four homers in a game, he snagged the third one. So there ARE some experienced ballhawks here. I hadn’t met any when I was in Toronto in 2000, but of course I didn’t have this blog then, so I wasn’t coming into contact with nearly as many people. Oh, and one more thing about Ryan and Tyler…they each have a full season ticket plan. All 81 home games. When I tell you how much they pay, you’re going to cry and/or move to Toronto. Ready? They pay just $81. Not per ticket, but for the entire season! One dollar per game. That’s one of the deals up here. Of course their seats are in the 500 Level, but it doesn’t matter because they never go up there. Can you believe that? It makes me loathe New York City. But let’s move away from hateful thoughts. Here’s something funny and sooooooo Canadian…

Twenty minutes before game time, as I was walking through the seats, I saw a kid with a hockey goalie glove, and yes, he said he’d brought it to try to catch a foul ball:

hockey_goalie_glove.jpg

I was tempted to give him one of my baseballs, but since he was sitting with three other kids, I didn’t want to do anything that would make the rest of them jealous, so I kept walking around and looking for a worthy recipient. After a few minutes I saw a little boy, probably about five years old, sitting between his parents, wearing a glove and Tigers gear. I walked up and asked him if he’d gotten a ball yet, and when he said no, I handed him the ball that Eddie Bonine had flipped up to me. It was the only ball I had in my possession with an MLB logo. All the others were International League balls. (The ball I’d caught in my hotel room was a real ball, but I didn’t take it with me.)

Right before the game, I got my sixth ball of the day tossed at the Tigers’ dugout by guess who? Mister Carlos Guillen. God forbid he ever has to pick out the perp in a police lineup.

On Opening Day, the attendance was 48,027. At the second game of the season, the crowd shrunk to 16,790, and that was the “paid” attendance. There’s no way there were that many people in the ballpark. Maybe the fact that there was no alcohol had something to do with it? Whatever the reason, it was great for me. I had endless room to run for foul balls, as you can see in the photo below (along with an arrow pointing to my hotel room):

empty_seats_during_game_04_07_09.jpg

The seats got a little more crowded during the middle innings, so I wandered up to the 500 Level. Can you spell D-E-S-O-L-A-T-E? Here’s the concourse behind the right field foul pole…

500_level_concourse.jpg

…and here are the empty seats. Note all the railings. Awful:

500_level_empty_seats.jpg

Here’s the view from the last row behind the plate:

rogers_centre_panorama.jpg

I wish I’d taken photos of what happened next. There wasn’t an actual event, but rather just some good ol’ fashioned exploring. Let me try to describe it. As I was walking down one of the ramps from the 500 Level, I noticed a little alcove at one end, with some steps leading up to an
unmarked metal door. I looked around. No fans. No guards. No security camera. No sign saying “keep out” or “authorized personnel only.” Nothing like that. So, I walked up the steps (slice of pizza in hand) and peeked under the door. All I could see was that the area behind it was well lit. I had no idea what was there. Security? Media? Garbage? Storage? I didn’t even know if the door was locked, so I slowly pulled down on the latch handle, and it moved. I opened the door very slowly…then a little more…and a little more…and found myself in a short hallway, maybe 20 feet long, with another unmarked door at the other end. Weird!! I walked up to that door, and it was also unlocked. Surely there HAD to be a guard on the other side. But no. I opened it all the way and walked right through, and there wasn’t another human being in sight. Turned out I was in the exclusive 300 Level:

300_level_concourse.jpg

I walked through the narrow hallway, passed a few security cameras, and expected to be approached by stadium personnel within 60 seconds. But no. I passed a few employees (including a chef with a huge white hat) and no one said a word. Very strange. Easily one of my strangest stadium experiences ever. I wandered some more, took a few pics, and then found an elevator that deposited me in the 100 Level. Even if I had been caught, it’s not like I would’ve gotten in trouble, right? I wasn’t breaking any rules. I was just wandering. (That’s what I would’ve told the judge.) If they don’t want people to wander, then they should lock the doors and put up signs. Simple as that.

Anyway, I picked out a seat in the ultimate foul ball location…

foul_ball3833_seat.jpg

…and it paid off in the bottom of the 8th inning. Marco Scutaro fouled off a 2-1 pitch from Brandon Lyon. The ball sailed 20 feet over my head, landed in the 200 Level, and bounced down into an empty row. Easy. And lucky. I won’t deny that. I pulled it right out of a folded seat.

After the game, which the Jays won, 5-4, on a walk-off sac fly by Rod Barajas, I caught up with Happy Youngster and invited him (and his dad) to check out my hotel room:

nick_zack_hotel_room.jpg

Did you notice the shirt he’s wearing? Last week it became a rather famous design. If you have 1 minute and 50 seconds to spare, check out this YouTube video, and note how many views it’s gotten.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game

marco_scutaro_foul_ball.jpg

• 13 balls in 2 games this season = 6.5 balls per game.

• 571 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 1,100 lifetime balls outside of New York (No. 1,100, pictured here on the right, was the Scutaro foul ball; much better than No. 1,000 which was the product of a cracked rib on 8/30/08 at Angel Stadium)

• 125 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 26 lifetime game balls outside NYC

• 3,833 total balls


CHARITY STATS:

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

• $14.04 pledged per ball (and counting)

• $98.28 raised at this game

• $182.52 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Finally, in case you’re interested, I taped a radio interview yesterday which is going to air this afternoon (April 8th) at around 4:15pm ET (but you might want to tune in at 4pm to be safe). The network is called Mile High Sports Online. Just visit the site and click the “listen now” button on the upper right, and you should be good to go. In case you miss it today (apologies for the short notice), my segment is supposed to re-air on Saturday, April 11th, at 10am ET.

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