Results tagged ‘ philadelphia phillies ’

2010 NLDS — Game 2

Reds versus Phillies? Whatever. I was just excited to get out of New York City for a day and see some playoff baseball.

This was the scene outside the 3rd base gate at Citizens Bank Park:

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The whole street was blocked to traffic, and there was all kinds of stuff that you don’t see during the regular season. Check out the four-part photo below. Starting on the top left and going clockwise, you’re looking at a) a stage for a band, b) a live broadcast by a classic rock radio station, c) inflatable goodness, and d) various TV trucks:

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Want to see what else there was?

Free/unlimited ice cream samples courtesy of Turkey Hill:

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Given the sad fact that I’m allergic to sugar, I only had two. (But given the fact that I seem to be immune to calories, I still consider myself lucky.)

By the time the gates opened at 3:35pm, this was the crowd waiting to get in:

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(Don’t get excited about the early opening time; the first pitch was scheduled for a little after six o’clock.)

Less than a minute after I reached the seats in left-center field, I got Phillies pitcher Jose Contreras to throw me a ball:

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Two minutes later, it occurred to me that that was my 300th ball of the season.

This was the view to my right soon after:

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The front row was already packed, and the left field seats ended up getting seriously crowded.

I headed over to right field. There was more room to run over there:

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The main challenge was battling the sun. You can get an idea of the intense glare in the following panorama photo, taken by a friend and fellow ballhawk named Ryan. The red arrow is pointing to me:

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Forty-five minutes into BP, I made a nice play in order to come up with my second ball. I’m not sure who was hitting. It was one of the Reds’ lefties. It was probably Jay Bruce or Joey Votto, but might’ve been Laynce Nix. Anyway, the batter ripped a line-drive homer that was heading one full section to my left, so I bolted in that direction, and as I reached the next staircase, I jumped and lunged and caught it on the fly — all this with the sun in my eyes and another guy reaching for the ball from behind. It probably didn’t look all that special from afar, but trust me, there was a lot that went into it.

My third ball was as unexciting as it gets: Aaron Harang retrieved a ball from the warning track in right-center and tossed it up to me. (I ended up giving it away to a kid after the game.)

I headed back to left field when a bunch of righties started hitting. Look how crowded it was:

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There wasn’t an empty row anywhere, except at the very back of the section in left-center.

Toward the end of BP, I got the attention of Reds 1st base coach Billy Hatcher. He was roaming the outfield with his fungo bat, and I convinced him to hit me a fungo. I stood on the armrests of a seat in order to elevate above the crowd and give him a better target. He was only about 75 feet away, and I was probably in the sixth row. His fungo was right on the money, but it fell a few feet short of where I wanted it. I wanted to be able to reach up and catch the ball over my head. That would’ve prevented anyone else from interfering, but the ball ended up waist-high, so another fan in front of me got his glove on it. Conveniently, after we both bobbled it, the ball dropped straight down and bounced straight up off the concrete in my row, and I was able to grab it.

After BP, I raced to the 3rd base dugout and got my fifth ball of the day from the Reds’ equipment guy. Here he is just before he tossed it to me…

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…and here are two photos of the ball itself:

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Is that beautiful or what?

Here’s another beautiful thing — the military jet flyover after the national anthem:

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The fans were pumped…

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…and so was I because I had a ticket for the fancy-schmancy Diamond Club area behind home plate. (I won’t get into all the details of the club here. If you want to know more about it, check out my entry from April 25, 2007. That was my first time there.) This was my view during the bottom of the 1st inning. Note Bronson Arroyo’s fantastic leg kick, in addition to all the standing room behind the seats:

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Did I mention that the fans were pumped?

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Here’s another photo, pretty much taken from the same spot as the one above. The difference here is that Aroldis Chapman was on the hill:

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It was my first time seeing him pitch in person, and MAN-ALIVE can that young fella throw a baseball!!! Look at the radar gun reading in the following photo:

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That wasn’t even his fastest pitch.

I don’t know how to describe the movement on his fastball. In fact, there appears to be very little movement. When Chapman releases the ball, it just stays straight, like there’s no gravity or air resistance. It doesn’t even seem that much faster than, say, a 95mph fastball. It just seems sturdier, if that makes sense. Everyone in the aisle was frozen in place…just standing around and watching him pitch:

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It was truly awesome, and I was glad to be so close to the action.

Despite Chapman’s velocity, the Phillies managed to score three runs off him, all of which were unearned. The Reds’ defense fell apart. Look how many errors they made:

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Despite all the standing room I had, I didn’t come close to a foul ball, but you know what? That hardly even mattered. MLB used to have commemorative balls (like this and this) during the first two rounds of the postseason, but not anymore.

With Brad Lidge in the process of nailing down the save, I worked my way to the seats behind the Reds’ dugout…

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…but didn’t get anything there after the final out.

Final score: Phillies 7, Reds 4.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 5 balls at this game (4 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 304 balls in 32 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 661 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 204 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 13 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball

• 4 consecutive seasons with at least 300 balls

• 4,662 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 48 donors (click here to learn more)

• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $37.65 raised at this game

• $2,289.12 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

2009 World Series — Game 5

On a personal level, the best thing about Game 5 of the 2009 World Series was getting a free ticket. The worst thing was that I had to watch the Phillies and Yankees. To put it lightly, I don’t care for either team. I thought about wearing all Mets gear (as a way of staging my own mini-protest), but ultimately I decided to dress like this:

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It was my way of messing with fans of both teams without getting laughed at. As I made my way around the stadium, I noticed people staring and pointing. One guy asked if he could get a photo with me. His friend asked if I was bipolar.

It was only 2:30pm — more than five hours before the first pitch — so I had time to get food (don’t order pasta or the turkey burger at McFadden’s) and take a bunch of photos…

Here’s a look at the street that runs from the 3rd base gate to the Ashburn Alley gate in left field:

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One word: HOOPLA.

The whole place had a carnival-like atmosphere…

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…and yet as I walked around, I noticed that I wasn’t really feeling it. It didn’t feel like the World Series. It just felt like any other game, except colder. I was hoping to snag at least eight balls in order to maintain an average of nine balls per game for the entire season, and of course I wanted to get my hands on a commemorative game-used ball with the 2009 World Series logo, but I felt no sense of urgency. I don’t know why — maybe because it’d been so long since my last game that I’d fallen out of SnagMode — but I felt rather Zen about the whole thing. Ultimately, I just wanted to snag one ball and see a good game.

The TV crews were out in full force…

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…and there were other media as well. A classic rock radio station was broadcasting from a tent, and as I walked by, the female DJ waved me over.

“I gotta talk to you for a minute,” she said, reaching for a microphone.

Sure enough, she asked me about the clothes I was wearing.

I explained that I didn’t like either team.

“You hate everybody!” she joked, and then she asked me why I was even AT the game.

“Because I got a free ticket,” I said.

“How’d you manage that?” she asked.

I told her about my books and my baseball collection and mentioned that there’s a ticket company called First Hand Tickets that recently “sponsored” me…and that I got the ticket from them. She was pretty intrigued by the whole story and kept asking me questions. I couldn’t believe how long the interview was lasting, but once it was over, she told me that it was being taped and that her editor was going to trim it down and air part of it later. Oh well. Still cool.

Before I headed off, she got one of her assistants to take the following photo of us:

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As for First Hand Tickets…basically, what it all comes down to is that StubHub isn’t the only option. StubHub is so big that it’s tough (in my experience) to get personal attention, but with
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First Hand Tickets, you can actually call up and speak to real human beings who can help you get what you need. They even help put together flight and hotel packages, so check out their site and give them a call. The head of the company — a really nice guy named Warren — said he’ll offer discounts to people who ask for him and mention my name. So yeah. Keep these guys in mind.

Anyway, by the time the gates were getting ready to open, the sun was setting…

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…and by the time I ran inside and snagged the first November ball of my life, it was already dark:

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It was thrown by Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick, and as you can see, it was a regular MLB ball. It’d be really cool if teams used World Series balls during BP before World Series games. I don’t see what the big deal is. I suppose MLB figures they’ll end up selling more World Series balls (at thirty bucks a pop) if they’re harder to get a hold of, but if that’s their logic, then I must respectfully disagree. If there were even a few World Series balls floating around during BP, fans would go nuts to try to catch every single ball. More people would show up early (which would lead to extra concession sales for the home team), and for every fan who managed to catch a World Series ball, there’d be 20 other fans standing right nearby, asking to have a look at it. Those people would be more inclined to buy the balls if they actually saw them being used — and if they felt like they were THIS close to actually catching one. Plus…Home Run Derby balls are used during BP prior to the Derby itself, so obviously it can be done.

At one point, during the first few minutes of BP, Phillies fans were ganging up on the few Yankee fans. One guy who was decked out in Yankee gear got (intentionally) slammed from behind while reaching up to catch a home run. This caused him to drop the ball, and when he tried to scramble for it in between two rows of seats, the Phillies fan (who was absolutely huge) dove on top of him with crushing force. It was perhaps the most blatant case of aggression and violence that I’d *ever* seen at a game. But you know what? Any non-Yankee fan in the Bronx is likely to be treated just as badly, if not worse. I’ve seen Yankee fans rip opposing teams’ caps off fans’ heads and light them on fire. In conclusion: “Yankee and Philly fans, I now pronounce you man and wife.”

Now…did you notice how empty the stands were in the photo above? It didn’t stay that way for long. By the time the Yankees took the field, I still only had one ball, and the seats were packed:

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I just wasn’t on my game. In addition to the TWO tossed balls that had tipped off my glove (longer arms would’ve helped), I wasn’t judging home runs well, and I think it was partly due to the fact that the balls weren’t carrying. Everything was falling short — no surprise there — and I was slow to make the adjustment. Once I turned my attention to the glove trick, however, things started picking up. There was a ball that rolled onto the warning track near the left field
alfredo_aceves_2009.jpgfoul pole, and as I was trying to reel it in, Alfredo Aceves walked over and stuffed it in my glove. Then, in straight-away left field, I had a chance to use the trick to reel in another — and get this: even though I was wearing my Yankee gear at that point, there was a female Yankee fan in the front row who was incredibly rude to me. Basically, she was taking up two spots against the railing, and she refused to let me in because she wanted the ball for herself. (She was about 25 years old, looked like she was 45, needed a meal more than she needed a ball, and wasn’t wearing a glove.) She made such a big fuss about not letting me into the front row that the two Phillies fans to her right moved over to make some space for me. (Thank you, Philadelphia. You’re not so bad after all.) Once I climbed into the front row, the woman told me that if I got the ball, I had to give it to her since she’d let me in. (I ignored her at that point.) Moments later, as I was starting to lower my glove over the wall, she said, “Ohmygod, you are so embarrassing. Can you go away?” My response went as follows: “Lady, there are 45,000 other seats in this stadium. If you have a problem with me, you can move to any one of them.” While everyone else was cheering for me, the woman was talking trash and cursing. I just tuned it out, went about my business, snagged the ball, and headed back up the steps.

Five minutes later, while still wearing my Yankee gear, a Phillies fan was kind enough to hold my legs while I reached way out and across the flower bed to reel in another ball with the glove trick — my fourth ball overall. Granted, this fan recognized me from YouTube and then proceeded to ask for the ball (I gave him my rally towel instead — estimated eBay value: $20), but it was still a nice gesture on his part.

Batting practice ended two minutes later, and on my way out of the section, I found a ticket lying on the ground. Half an hour later, while walking through the field level concourse, I found another. Check this out:

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See the ticket for Section 130? Do you know where that is?! Take a look at the Citizens Bank Park seating chart below:

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That’s right…the game hadn’t even started, and for the rest of the night, I was guaranteed to have full access to the seats behind the Yankee dugout. This was a big deal because my actual seat was up here:

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I was officially supposed to be in the “right field bleacher deck,” or some kind of nonsense like that, but there was no way that I was going up there. I didn’t know where I’d end up — I was expecting to have a standing-room-only ticket — but I knew I wasn’t going to any section where it was physically impossible to catch a ball. If I had to, I’d stand in the concourse all night and wait until a foul ball or home run started flying in my direction and then bolt down the steps. The problem with sneaking anywhere was that there simply weren’t empty seats.

But wait…hang on…I’m getting ahead of myself. Just after Alanis Morissette sang the national anthem, Derek Jeter came out and started playing catch in front of the dugout (probably to derek_jeter_2009.jpgshow off for her and/or to ask for her phone number). I used my “Section 130″ ticket to get past the ushers, and then I waltzed right down to the front row. Almost every seat was full at that point, but there was one opening in the middle of the section right behind the dugout. It just so happened that this open space was at the outfield end of the dugout, where Jeter was likely to return with the ball. Another happy coincidence: my Yankee shirt said “JETER 2″ on the back, so I slipped my arms out through the sleeves and turned the shirt around so that I was wearing his name on my chest. I poked my arms back out, grabbed my camera, positioned my backpack in just the right spot so that it wouldn’t get trampled…and before I knew it, Jeter was finishing up. I didn’t have time to take a photo. All I could do was wave my glove and shout his name and try to make sure that he could see my shirt. He was walking right to me with the ball in his hand. Could it be?! I’d never gotten a ball from him and always wanted one. Even though he played for the Yankees, he was one of my all-time favorite players — one of only two guys (Mariano Rivera being the other) who can actually make me root FOR the Yankees. He kept walking closer. I shouted my head off. He looked to the left, then to the right. Was there a more worthy recipient? A pretty young woman or a cute little kid? No! Jeter took another step and then flipped the ball right to me. The fans on either side reached for it, but they had no chance. I dove forward and caught the ball (pictured on the left) in my glove with full extension, and I belly flopped on the dugout roof. Oh. My. God. DEREK JETER!!! And as a bonus, this ball broke my own personal single-game World Series record of four balls, which I achieved last year at Game 4.

That made my night, week, month, and…I don’t want to say year, because there were quite a few highlights, but man, I was so excited after that. I almost couldn’t tell if it had really happened. I’d been having a lot of snagging dreams lately, and they all felt so real at the time.

As for the game, fun fun fun. Cliff Lee gave up a run in the top of the first, but the Phillies answered with three runs in the bottom of the frame and three more in the third. Chase Utley hit two homers, tying Reggie Jackson’s record for the most home runs hit by one player in a World Series. Unfortunately, I was halfway across the stadium for both of those homers, just chillin’ in foul territory. If I felt like I had a chance to catch a homer, then I would’ve been in the outfield seats, but there’s no cross-aisle at Citizens Bank Park. There’s no way to run left or right. There were no empty seats out there. I wouldn’t have been allowed to stand on any of the staircases, and even if I were, and even if a ball came right to me, there’s no guarantee that I would’ve caught it because the crowd was in a snagging frenzy, even with foul balls. People were pushing and shoving like mad.

In the top of the ninth inning, with the Phillies clinging to an 8-5 lead, this was my view from the back of Section 130:

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Then, after Jeter bounced into a run-scoring double play, this was my new spot:

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There was a pocket of empty seats down at the front.

Perfect!

I couldn’t sneak all the way down while the game was in progress, but I had my post-game route planned out: down the steps, through the second row, into front row, all the way to the right. That was as close as I could get to the spot where the umpires would be walking off the field. Home plate ump Dana DeMuth had tossed me two post-game balls in the past — both at PETCO Park, incidentally — but those came during the regular season. Would his generosity possibly extend into the World Series?!

The answer had to wait as Johnny Damon smoked a single to center. Mark Teixiera came up next and promptly fell behind in the count, 0-2. I was ready to pounce. I wasn’t sure if any other fans were thinking what I was thinking, so I need to move fast. Teixiera took a ball to bring the count to 1-2. My heart was pounding. I was afraid he’d hit a two-run homer and tie the game. I didn’t want extra innings. I wanted the Phillies to win, and I wanted them to win NOW. Next pitch? Strike three! Ballgame over. Final score: Phillies 8, Yankees 6. I raced down the steps, did some fancy footwork, and reached the corner spot JUST in front of another guy who’d been rushing there too. The rest was up to Mister DeMuth. As he began walking toward me, it was so noisy that I could barely hear myself screaming his name. Somehow, though, he must have heard me because this was the result:

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Hell yeah.

It’s hard to tell in the photo above, but the ball was actually quite rubbed up with mud. The photo below (which shows all six balls that I snagged) will give you a better idea of what the ball really looks like. And here’s the best look of all.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 6 balls at this game (the Jeter ball is in the middle of the bottom row)

• 538 balls in 60 games this season = 8.97 balls per game.

• 629 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 12 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball

• 5 consecutive World Series games with at least one ball

• 4,358 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.45 pledged per ball

• $152.70 raised at this game

• $13,692.10 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

The charity has already received thousands of dollars’ worth of donations. (Click here and look at the scrolling box on the upper right to see who has officially contributed.) If you’ve made a pledge but haven’t yet sent in the funds, now’s a great time to do it. I’m not free to attend Game 6, and I’m not even going to try to attend Game 7, so this effectively concludes my season. For instructions on how to pay, click here.

9/1/09 at Citizens Bank Park

The highlight of the day BY FAR was hanging out with my mom. Here we are outside the stadium:

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The baseball portion of the day, unfortunately, was rough. I ran all over the place while the Phillies were taking batting practice…

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…and I only managed to snag ONE ball during that time. I won’t even bother listing all the close calls and unlucky moments (most of which were the product of being in a sold-out stadium). All I’ll say is that I snagged the ball with my glove trick and that my mom took a cool photo of me while I was stretching across the flower bed. Check it out:

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Once the Giants took the field, I changed my outfit accordingly…

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…and it actually paid off. I headed into foul territory as the Giants pitchers were finishing playing catch. Matt Cain ended up with the ball and considered tossing it to a bunch of Phillies fans, but I got his attention. He then looked back at the other fans (which included several young women). Then he looked at me again. I tipped my cap and flaunted the Giants logo on my shirt. He looked at the other fans one last time. Then he looked at me, and I shrugged as if to
5_ball4222.jpgsay, “Come on, I’m wearing Giants stuff. It doesn’t matter how cute the Phillies fans are. You can’t possibly be serious about giving the ball to them.” (Yes, my shrug communicated all of that.) Cain finally turned and threw me the very dirty ball, pictured here on the right.

Twenty minutes later, I caught a home run that was hit by a righty on the Giants. I have no idea who. He was wearing a warm-up jersey over his uniform number, and I was way too busy jockeying for position to pay any attention to his stance or swing. There was a swarm of fans around me. I had to jump up and reach above all of their gloves to make the catch. There was such a frenzy that my mom (who was standing 10 feet away) didn’t even know that I’d gotten the ball until I took it out of my glove and showed her.

That was it for BP.

Tim Lincecum signed autographs for five minutes at the dugout. People were going crazy. I couldn’t get near him. I settled for taking his photo:

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After that, I met up with David Rhode, the executive director of Pitch in For Baseball, the charity for which I’m raising money this season. David was there with his 14-year-old son Casey. They’re bigtime Phillies fans, which is understandable given the fact that they actually live in Pennsylvania, but still, when the three of us had our picture taken, I felt compelled to wear my Giants gear and try to cover up their evil Phillies logos. Here we are:

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Ten minutes before the game started, I worked my way down to the front row along the left field foul line. Juan Uribe was playing catch with a couple other guys, and when they finished,
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I got him to throw me the ball. (The ball is pictured here on the right. As you can see, it has a smudged MLB logo, which I find somewhat
interesting.) It was easy. Not only was I the only person there wearing
Giants gear, but no one else was even wearing a glove or standing up.

After that, my mom and I headed to the Diamond Club seats behind home plate. We stayed near the back of the unofficial standing-room-only area, just in front of the glass doors that lead into the club. This was our view for right-handed batters:

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It’s a great foul ball spot — not ideal because of its close proximity to the field — but it’s good enough that I feel like I have a genuine shot on every single pitch. I got my chance with one out in the top of the 2nd inning. Randy Winn hit a very high foul pop-up that was pretty much heading right to me. As I was drifting with it and preparing to make the catch, a man walked up from behind me and inadvertently cut me off…or maybe *I* was the one who cut *him* off. It doesn’t matter. The point is…from my perspective…he got right in my way at the last second. But he wasn’t trying to catch the ball. He didn’t have a glove. He was carrying beers. He didn’t even know the ball was coming. He just happened to stroll out through the doors…and THWACK!!! The ball clocked him on the forehead. Direct hit. Holy hell. My instinct, of course (because I’m such a kind-hearted person), was to grab the ball, which conveniently landed at my feet. The man, meanwhile, spilled his beer and staggered backward and spouted an incredible string of obscenities (not at me, but at his general misfortune) as security whisked him off for medical treatment. I noticed that he had a big bloody welt on his head. It was alarming, to say the least. I was planning to give him the ball (or at least *a* ball) when he returned, but I didn’t see him for the rest of the night.

Here’s a photo of the ball:

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(Nope, no forehead imprint.)

I had another shot at a foul ball in the 9th inning, but I totally blew it. It was hit way over my head — into the third deck, I think — and was dropped by some fans. The ball fell all the way back down and landed on the pavement near me in the standing-room area. I ran toward it and tried to smother it before it bounced back up, but I failed miserably and deflected the ball right to some other fans. It was a lot more complicated than that, but I don’t want to relive it by telling the story here. Some things are better left unsaid. Anyway, I was so upset (not just because I’d booted my chance at a foul ball but because I was getting booed by so many people) that a teenaged kid walked over to me and handed me a ball. It wasn’t THE ball. It was a different game-used ball that he happened to have. Long story short: I tried to convince the kid that I really *really* didn’t need his baseball, but he was determined to give it to me, and there came a point when I realized it would have insulted him if I didn’t accept his gift. So, I reluctantly allowed him to hand it over (no, the ball doesn’t count in my collection), at which point a bunch of people (his mom included) started cheering him for his generosity. And then, 15 minutes later, I turned the ball over to a younger kid who was heading out of the stadium with an empty glove.

Those final 15 minutes were action-packed. Cole Hamels completed his two-hit, 1-0 masterpiece — only the fourth 1-0 game in the six-year history of Citizens Bank Park — and I got a ball tossed to me at the Giants’ dugout by one of the relievers.

SNAGGING STATS:

11_six_balls_09_01_09.jpg• 6 balls at this game (pictured on the right)

• 406 balls in 48 games this season = 8.46 balls per game.

• 617 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

• 4,226 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.01 pledged per ball

• $150.06 raised at this game

• $10,154.06 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/23/09 at Citizens Bank Park

This is one of those stories that requires context, so here it is:

1) I’ve become friendly with Padres closer Heath Bell.
2) Heath knows about my baseball collection and seems to enjoy adding to it.
3) When I saw Heath on 4/15/09 at Citi Field, he told me he had saved a ball for me from the World Baseball Classic–but he didn’t have it with him. The ball was in San Diego.

heath_bell.jpgEver since that game, Heath and I have been texting back and forth, trying to figure out when and where we could meet. Obviously, since the Padres’ travel schedule was set, it was up to me to make the effort.

Here’s some more context…

The week before the All-Star Game, Heath left me a voice-mail in which he asked if I was going to be there. “Unfortunately I don’t have a ticket for ya,” he said, “just ’cause I got a bunch of people coming, but hey, if you are, hit me up.” I called him back, got his voice-mail, and told him that I was not going to be attending the All-Star Game. Then I reminded him that I’d be in Philadelphia on July 23rd and said that if he happened to see an extra All-Star Game ball lying around, it’d be cool if he could grab it for me, but if not, no worries.

On July 21st (the day before the Padres were going to be leaving on an eight-game road trip), I texted Heath with a “friendly reminder” to bring the ball from the World Baseball Classic.

1_driving_in_the_rain.jpgYesterday was THE day: July 23rd at Citizens Bank Park. Was Heath really going to bring the ball? I wasn’t sure…and it ended up raining like hell during the drive down to Philly (see the photo on the right)…but I had to keep going. I had to be there. To hell with batting practice. There was no other way I’d ever get to count a ball from the World Baseball Classic in my collection. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I don’t count Spring Training balls, and the only minor league balls I’ve counted were used by major league players at major league stadiums at actual major league games. (For the last few years, the uber-cheap Tigers have been using balls like this and this during BP.) Along these lines, I decided back in 2006 not to count balls from the Classic–it’s an exhibition that isn’t exclusively played by major leaguers–but if I somehow were to snag a Classic ball at a regular season game, that would be the one exception.

I reached the stadium at around 3:30pm, and even though it was really gray and windy, there was no sign of rain:

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There was no sign of life either, and for a while I didn’t know what to think. Would there possibly be batting practice? Would there even be a game?

By the time the stadium opened at 4:35pm, there was a huge crowd waiting outside the gates, and when I ran inside, this is what I saw:

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Sweet Jesus!

Of course the left field seats (where everyone is confined for the first hour) ended up getting unbearably crowded:

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During that first hour, I managed to snag three balls. The first was thrown by Joe Blanton at the furthest edge of the seats in left-center field. The second came via the glove trick near the foul pole, and the third was a home run that I caught on the fly. I don’t know who hit it. There’s a slim chance that it was Jayson Werth, but whatever. Doesn’t matter.

I spotted Heath as soon as the Padres took the field:

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I shouted his name and waved my cap (the one that he gave me on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park) and he looked up and spotted me in the crowd. As he started throwing, he told me to wait for him in foul territory. For some reason, though, the rest of the stadium still hadn’t opened by 5:40pm, so when Heath headed off to the clubhouse (presumably to get THE ball), I wasn’t able to keep pace with him by cutting through the seats toward the dugout. That sucked. It meant I had to wait with everyone else near the foul pole, where the wall was so high that I wasn’t going to be able to have a normal conversation with Heath or shake his hand. And then it started to rain. The Padres kept hitting, however, and eventually Heath came back out and started walking toward me:

It looked like he had something tucked inside his glove, and as he got closer and tossed it up, I still had no idea what it was:

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I could tell that there was a ball inside…no wait…there were TWO balls inside. It was some sort of tube sock…dark green fabric…with knots tied around each ball to keep them separate. My mind couldn’t process it, but I snapped back to reality just in time to yell “Thank you!!” as Heath jogged off toward right-center. Two balls?! Seriously? Had he given me two balls from the World Baseball Classic? Or was one of them from the All-Star Game? Or maybe from some other All Star event? Since I now number my baseballs, how would I know which one I’d snagged first? I got them both at the same time. But why even number them if they were each one-of-a-kind?

Hmm…

I was dying to untie the knots and see what was inside the sock, but there was a ball that was sitting on the warning track in left-center. I decided that my surprise would have to wait for a couple minutes, so I ran over and leaned way out over the flower bed and used my glove trick to reel it in. When I pulled the ball out of my glove, this is what it looked like:

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The rain, meanwhile, was great. It was light enough that the Padres kept hitting, but heavy enough that it chased half the fans out of the seats:

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I took the sock out of my backpack…

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…but just as I was about to start untying the knots, several righties starting taking their cuts, so I threw the sock back in my bag. AAHH!! It was killing me to keep waiting, but it would’ve killed me to miss any opportunities.

My decision paid off. Someone on the Padres hit a home run that landed near me in a small cluster of fans. The ball got bobbled (not by me) and landed briefly on the top edge of the back of the seat right in front of me, at which point I snatched it. Nice! That was my seventh ball of the day, including the two that Heath had given me.

Okay.

Deep breath.

It was time to see what was in the sock…

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Like, wow.

If I’d gone to the All-Star Game, the flights and hotel and ticket would’ve cost more than $1,000, and what would I have hoped to get out of it? Umm, snagging the ball pictured up above on the right. Yay for Heath Bell. That’s all there is to it. (Oh…and if you want to see my entire collection of commemorative balls, click here.)

Anyway, a bunch of lefties started hitting so I ran over to right field and ended up catching a home run on the fly. See the guy below in the “HAMELS 35″ jersey?

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After I caught the ball by reaching in front of him, he threatened to throw me over the wall.

Stay classy, Philadelphia! Yeah!

My goal, at that point, was to snag two more balls and reach double digits. I didn’t snag anything else during BP, but I did get my ninth ball right before the game started. Drew Macias was playing catch with Will Venable…

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…and Macias hooked me up when they finished. (I’m proud of myself–even though it’s indicative of other problems–for not getting distracted by the cheerleaders.)

Over the course of the day, several people recognized me from YouTube, including one guy who’s 6-foot-10, and since I have an obsession with height (obviously not my own), here we are:

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If I’m remembering correctly, his name is Morgan. I asked him if he has ever tried to catch baseballs at games, and luckily for the rest of humanity, his answer was no. Can you imagine how much he would dominate? Who would ever stand next to him? He’d have a whole section to himself wherever he went. Is there anyone reading this who’s freakishly (and I mean that in a good way) tall? If so, I want to hear about your snagging experience. I wonder if there’s ever been a seven-footer who was serious about ballhawking. Yikes.

After the national anthem, Heath and I caught a glimpse of each other near the dugout. I mouthed the words “thank you” and put my palms together and make a little bowing gesture. He gave me a nod as he began walking across the field toward the bullpen, and that was the last I saw of him.

As for the game, I’d splurged and bought a Diamond Club ticket. Why, you ask? Because of all this room to run for foul balls:

15_room_to_run_during_game.jpg

The only problem was that there weren’t any foul balls to be caught. That area seems like it would be awesome, but it’s so close to home plate and so close to field level that most foul balls fly way overhead.

One good thing about the Diamond Club is that there’s a sweet view of the batting cages. Here’s Eric Bruntlett taking some mid-game hacks:

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Another good thing is the food. Yes, it’s expensive, but the quality really is the best I’ve ever experienced at a stadium. Check out what I got for 11 bucks:

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That’s a burger with grilled onions, swiss cheese, and bacon, along with a caesar salad and fresh pineapple. Yum! (I’d also eaten two hot dogs after BP, one with diced/raw onions and another with cheese sauce. So?)

After the game, I went to the Padres’ dugout (even though they lost) and saw a ballboy tossing out ball after ball. I got him to toss one to me, and for a second, I thought it was commemorative because there was a big dark spot on it, but it turned out just to be a smudge:

Still, the ball was clearly game-used, so that was cool.

As soon as I snagged it, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid. It just so happened that an on-field security guard (who recognizes me, it should be noted, and is exceptionally rude) saw me hand it over. What was his response? Instead of a) praising my generosity or b) simply keeping his mouth shut, he c) started scolding the ballboy for giving a ball to me (“What’s the matter with you?!”) and demanding that I give away balls to all the other kids in the section.

Citizens Bank Park has officially become Yankee Stadium.

SNAGGING STATS:

19_the_nine_balls_i_kept_07_23_09.jpg• 10 balls at this game (9 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 320 balls in 37 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.

• 606 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 109 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 48 lifetimes games outside of New York with at least 10 balls

• 4,140 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $245.90 raised at this game

• $7,868.80 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/6/09 at Citizens Bank Park

On 5/8/09 at Citi Field, I had a Watch With Zack client named Joe, and we combined for 22 balls…remember? Yesterday Joe joined me for another Watch With Zack game, and it turned out to be an all-day adventure.

Everything got started at around 9:15am when Joe was dropped off at my place in New York City. I wasn’t expecting him to arrive until 10am, so while I got ready and gathered all my stuff for the game, he played some Arkanoid, checked out my 213-pound rubber band ball, and took a peek at my business card wallpaper. Here’s a shot of Joe with the Arkanoid machine and the rubber band ball in the background. Note his homemade “Cincinnati Reds” T-shirt:

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Just after 10am, we made the six-block walk to my parents’ place. That’s where I keep most of my baseballs, and Joe wanted to see them. We spent about 20 minutes inspecting and discussing various balls with gashes and smudges and bat imprints and commemorative logos, and before we headed out, we recreated the New York Times photo:

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We walked another seven blocks to the garage where my family’s car was parked, then drove two hours to Harleysville, PA and blasted music and talked baseball the whole way down.

QUESTION: What’s in Harleysville, PA?
ANSWER: Pitch In For Baseball’s new warehouse.

(I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag in 2009. That money is going to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball which provides “new and gently used” baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Click here to learn more about my involvement with the charity.)

I hadn’t yet been to the warehouse. David Rhode, the director of Pitch In For Baseball, had recently taken over the space and offered to give me a tour, and now that I was finally making my first trip of the season to a game in Pennsylvania, I was taking him up on it.

Okay, so, here’s a look at the warehouse:

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I really had no idea what to expect. I assumed it would be bigger, but the fact is…it’s just a 4,000-square-foot room with high ceilings and cinder block walls. The charity has only been around for a couple years, so it makes sense that it’s not a huge operation yet, and on a personal level, it’s kind of nice that it’s not huge because I know that my efforts are actually making a difference. I’ve already raised over $7,000 for Pitch In For Baseball this season (thanks to many of you who read this blog), and that’s a lot of money for them. But if I’d raised that money for a gigantic charity such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has an annual budget of tens of millions of dollars, that would only be a drop in the bucket, and I doubt I’d get to hang out with the head of the charity and get a behind-the-scenes tour, so really, this was all ideal.

The photo above might make it look like a warehouse that specializes in cardboard, but all those boxes and barrels were filled with baseball equipment…stuff that gets sorted and then stored before being shipped back out to kids. Check out the four-part photo below. You can see the boxes and barrels filled with bats and balls and helmets and gloves and catchers’ gear:

3_pitch_in_for_baseball_equipment.jpg

I had such a great time looking at all the equipment, and I know Joe did too. There’s something about baseball, whether it’s a major league game or a small pink batting helmet, that just makes me HAPPY.

David told me all about the various places that the equipment is about to be shipped (there was a big box right in the middle of the room with “Nigeria” written on it), and he told me about some different programs and partnerships that are in the works.

Meanwhile, I kept taking photos. Here are some equipment bags, shoes, base sets, and caps:

4_pitch_in_for_baseball_equipment.jpg

It’s amazing how much equipment is needed. Pitch In For Baseball can’t simply send bats and balls and gloves; in some cases (like when the hurricane in Galveston, TX wiped out an entire Little League’s storage facility), David has to make sure to replace everything. Of course, some things never get donated, so that’s why the charity needs money. (Who has a random base set lying around in their attic? I don’t even have an attic.)

I loved seeing random boxes lying around with the word “baseball” on them…

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…and even when the word “baseball” was nowhere to be found, I knew that there was still baseball (or softball) stuff inside.

David (pictured below in the blue shirt) told Joe about the charity…

6_david_rhode_and_joe.jpg

…while I poked around and took more photos. (For the record, Joe has already made a 10-cent-per-ball pledge, and yesterday he even brought two pieces of equipment to donate directly: a bat and a glove, both of which were in excellent shape.)

I inspected the baseballs and softballs. Look what I found sitting in one of the barrels:

7_commemorative_ripken_ball.jpg

Oh my GOD. I’d seen photos of that special “Ripken” ball, but I’d never held one. Old American League balls were always stamped with blue ink (here’s proof) so I’m not sure why this one was black. In the photo above, it’s funny how the people in the background have their arms folded as if to say, “We see you, Zack, and you’re not getting out of here alive with that ball.” I got the impression that David might have given me the ball if I’d asked him for it, you know, as a “thank you” for all my work for him, but I wouldn’t have taken it. I have absolutely NO interest in owning any baseball that I didn’t snag at a major league game. People are always emailing me and asking me if I’ll trade baseballs with them, and some people even try to sell or give me balls, but I’m just not interested. So yeah, the Ripken ball was cool to see, but as far as I was concerned, it was about as valuable as a rock that I might’ve found in the parking lot.

Once the tour was finished, it was time to play:

8_zack_hitting_and_joe_catching.jpg

The pink helmet had a chin strap that nearly cut off my oxygen flow. The bat, in case you can’t tell, was only slightly bigger than a toothpick. Joe was wearing a light pink glove and a hockey-style catcher’s mask with a flame pattern on top.

David suggested that I climb onto the pile of helmets. I was afraid that they’d crack under the weight of my big Hample butt, but he assured me they’d hold up just fine…and he was right:

9_zack_helmets.jpg

At around 2pm, it was time for a final group photo before hitting the road. Down below, from left to right, you’re looking at me, Joe, Mark (a board member for Pitch In For Baseball), Angela (another board member), and David:

10_zack_joe_mark_angela_david.jpg

In case you’re wondering, the T-shirt I’m wearing (with “Columbia Prep” on it) is from high school. Here’s my 12th grade class photo. Can you find me?

Thanks to Joe’s GPS device, we made it to Citizens Bank Park just after 3pm…

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…and had time for cheesesteaks at McFadden’s:

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The two photos above were taken by a fellow ballhawk named Gary (aka “gjk2212″ in the comments section). Joe and Gary and I ran into another ballhawk at around 4pm outside the Ashburn Alley gate–but not just any ballhawk. It was Erik Jabs, founder of the ballhawk league, who’d made the four-hour drive from Pittsburgh. I foolishly neglected to take a photo of him, but damn, there was so much other stuff going on that it was hard to think logically.

The four of us played catch for about 15 minutes and then got on line when other fans started showing up.

Right before the gates opened, a freelance photographer named Scott Lewis appeared on the other side of the turnstiles:

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Scott was there to take photos of me for a big ballhawk-related article that’s now supposed to come out within the next 12 hours. Beyond that…I’ve been asked not to say anything else about it.

The stadium opened at 4:35pm, and we all ran to the left field seats. Here’s Joe, wearing the Phillies cap and shirt that I lent him:

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The seats started filling up fast.

Scott photographed my every move:

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Joe and I spread out so we could cover twice as much ground. (As I mentioned the last time I went to a game with him, he’s 14 years old and doesn’t need me to stay by his side at all times. If he were a few years younger, or if he or his father had asked me to stay with him, then of course I would have.) At one point, I noticed that he was standing in a place where he was blocked on one side by some fans, so I ran over and told him to make sure he had empty seats on both sides. Here’s a photo that shows his improved positioning:

16_joe_in_left_field_seats.jpg

It got REALLY crowded during the Phillies’ portion of BP…

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…and to make matters worse, most of the batters were left-handed, so there wasn’t much action. (At Citizens Bank Park, fans are confined to the left field seats for the first hour.) Still, I john_mayberry_2009.jpgmanaged to snag a few balls. The first was a home run hit by John Mayberry Jr. It pretty much came right to me, but it was so crowded that it still took a decent amount of skill to make the catch. There were half a dozen other fans jostling for position and reaching up in front of my face.

My second ball was initially tossed by Mayberry, but it fell short, hit the top of the left field wall, bounced back onto the outfield grass, and was retrieved by Eric Bruntlett. I hadn’t been the intended recipient of the first throw. It was so eric_bruntlett_2009.jpgcrowded that I was trapped in the third row, but luckily, when Bruntlett sent the ball back into the seats, he flung it sidearm without picking anyone out, and the ball sailed right over the outstretched arms of the people in the first two rows. I jumped and reached up and made the one-handed catch.

Then I used my glove trick for a ball that was sitting halfway out on the warning track, just to the left of the batter’s eye. I had to swing the glove out and knock the ball closer, and while I was doing it, I noticed two things. First, Scott was standing nearby with his camera pointed at me, and second, every single fan around me was doubting my ability to get the ball. They had no idea how I was going to get it to stick inside my glove, so they assumed *I* didn’t have any idea either. Not one person bothered to ask me how I was planning to do it, or if I’d ever done it before. Instead they all trash-talked until I actually snagged it, and then they erupted with a combination of applause and disbelief. One guy patted me on the back and shouted, “I knew you could do it!”

coils.jpg
“No you didn’t,” I told him. “I heard you talking the whole time about how I needed a coil in my glove.”

(A coil?!?!)

He didn’t say anything after that, and I took off for the left field foul pole. There were two balls lying nearby on the warning track, and I managed to reel in the first one with the trick. Just as I was getting close to snagging the second, Arthur Rhodes walked over and picked it up and flipped it to a kid. (Can’t argue with that.)

It was nearly 5:30pm when Joe snagged his first ball of the day. The Reds’ pitchers were playing catch along the left field foul line, and it was tossed by one of them. Joe isn’t sure who, and I didn’t see it because I was busy dealing with the photographer (who later took some photos of me and Joe) in straight-away left field.

Once the rest of the stadium opened, I ran back and forth between right field and left field, trying to give myself an advantage based on who was hitting. Joe eventually came with me to right field, but we didn’t snag anything for the next half-hour because it was so crowded. I suggested to Joe at one point that he should move to the corner spot near the bullpens in right-center. I had a feeling that he’d get a ball over there, but he stayed in straight-away right field, hoping to get a ball from Carlos Fisher. Less than two minutes later, another kid took the corner spot and immediately got a ball tossed to him. (D’oh!) Joe listened to me after that and then tried his luck in the corner spot for a bit…

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…but there was no action there.

Joe wasn’t doing too well in the outfield, so he told me was gonna head over to the Reds’ dugout for the end of BP. I decided to give him his space, so I moved to left field and caught another home run on the fly. I judged the ball perfectly, crept down the steps as it was descending, and intentionally positioned myself a bit too far forward so that I’d be forced to jump for it at the last second. There were SO many people around me that I didn’t want to camp under the ball nonchalantly and risk getting robbed by someone with long arms–or worse, having someone deflect the ball into my face. My plan worked perfectly, except for when some guy’s elbow whacked the top of my head as I went up for the ball.

“Hey! He’s got two!” shouted someone who must’ve seen me catch Mayberry’s homer in that section an hour earlier.

I moved to right-center for the last round of BP and made a catch that truly would’ve been a Web Gem had there been a TV camera documenting it. The ball was hit on a line to my right, and I took off running through an empty row. As the ball was about to land, I could tell that it was a bit too high and just out of reach–that is, if I’d merely kept running and made a simple reaching attempt…so I jumped up and out and coasted through the air with (what felt like) some major hang time, and I made the back-handed catch at top of my leap. This was done while I was running full-speed, mind you, and at the very last second, some HUGE guy (who must have weighed about 275 pounds) stepped down into my row and deflected me (for lack of a better term) onto the row of seats behind me. I went flying and landed on my right hip. The guy knew it was his fault, so he quickly helped me up and asked me if I was okay (I was) and he shook my hand and told me it was a hell of a catch. Even though I was decked out in Reds gear, the entire section responded with thunderous applause. I even had a guy recognize me ten minutes later in the bathroom as “that guy who made the incredible catch.”

When I made it to the Reds’ dugout, Joe had a little surprise for me:

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Not only had he gotten a second ball (from Paul Janish), and not only had he gotten two autographs on his Reds cap (from Micah Owings and Jay Bruce), but he’d also gotten a batting glove! He thinks it came from Jerry Hairston Jr., but there were so many distractions at the dugout that it was hard to see who’d actually tossed it.

Here’s a closer look at the front and back of the batting glove:

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It was the first “bonus item” that Joe had ever gotten at a game. Very cool. We joked about the fact that I couldn’t take credit that he got it, but he admitted that it was my blog that inspired him to start going early to batting practice in the first place. I guess that counts as a team effort.

As for the game itself…wow.

Reds starter Johnny Cueto allowed SEVEN runs in the top of the first inning and promptly left for an early shower:

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But wait…
When he was taken out of the game, he was still responsible for runners on first and second. Daniel Ray Herrera was brought in to face Chase Utley, and I told Joe, “If Utley goes deep here, it’s going to be a ten-run inning.”

Well, guess what happened next.
Just take a look at the scoreboard:

Cueto, who had entered the game with a 2.69 ERA, ended up being charged with nine earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. According to Eric Karabell of ESPN.com, Cueto “became the first Reds pitcher since 1912 to allow nine or more earned runs in less than an inning pitched.”

Ouch.

Joe played the dugouts for third-out balls throughout the game, and I followed him everywhere. Even though he was getting himself into a great position most innings, he wasn’t having any success.

Here he is trying to get a ball as the Reds came off the field after the fourth inning:

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The ball got tossed to someone else. Joe was ready to race back over to the Phillies’ side, but I told him to stay put–that Reds coach Billy Hatcher often tosses the infield warm-up ball into the crowd, and that he (Joe) would have a better shot of getting that ball than a third-out ball on the home team’s side. I also helped Joe by lending him my Reds shirt. That way he’d stand out even more.

Two minutes later, this is what happened:

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That’s Joe standing all by himself at the bottom of the steps as Hatcher is tossing him a ball.

Neither Joe nor I snagged anything else for the rest of the night, but we sat right behind the dugout and saw an interesting (or perhaps “unusual” is a better word) game.

Final score? See below:

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I’ve been to two games this season in which a team has scored exactly 22 runs. The other was 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium.

By the way, did you notice the Reds lineup on the scoreboard in the photo above? Did you see who’s listed as the pitcher? That’s right: Paul Janish, who’s normally an infielder, and it wasn’t pretty. He surrendered all six of those runs in the bottom of the 8th, including a grand slam by Jason Werth. Luckily, Janish is a solid .208 career hitter so at least he has THAT to fall back on.

Gary ended up with three balls, and I know Erik snagged at least two, but he disappeared late in BP, so I’m not sure how his day turned out. As for me and Joe, I might’ve outsnagged him, 6-3, but if you add his two autographs and the batting glove, he got six total “items” as well. Not bad.

After the game, we got to hang out in the car for another hour and a half while I drove him to his grandmother’s place in Brooklyn.

(Check out Joe’s blog if you get a chance.)

SNAGGING STATS:

the_five_balls_i_kept_07_06_09.jpg? 6 balls at this game (Five pictured here because I gave one to a kid on my way out of the stadium. The kid, who looked to be about eight years old, was with his whole family, and he was like, “Are you sure?!” I told him I’d gotten a few during batting practice and that I had one to spare, so then his dad started asking me how I managed to catch all those balls. I gave the family a two-minute lesson on Snagging 101 and wanted to hand them a card so they could go to my website and perhaps appreciate knowing more about the source of their ball, but ultimately I decided to part ways without identifying myself–just a small, anonymous gift from a stranger. I would have given one or more of my baseballs to Joe, but he didn’t want them, just as I hasn’t wanted the Ripken ball at the warehouse.)

• 289 balls in 33 games this season = 8.76 balls per game.

• 602 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 16 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least one ball

• 4,109 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.37 pledged per ball

• $146.22 raised at this game

• $7,042.93 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

2008 World Series — Game 4

This was my fourth World Series game ever and only the second at which I was actually going to be inside the stadium. (I spent Games 1 and 2 of last year’s World Series behind the Green Monster.)

I wouldn’t have gotten to attend this game if not for my friends Clif and Gail. Gail has a friend at ESPN. The friend was able to get tickets. Gail had a couple extras and invited me and my girlfriend Jona to come along.

Here we are heading down to Philadelphia on the New Jersey Turnpike:

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The parking situation was a nightmare. There were about a million fans (including tailgaters) at Lincoln Financial Field right next door for the Eagles game, and that evening there was going to be a concert by The Who at the neighboring Wachovia Center. Somehow we managed to find a spot amidst the sea of RVs, and as we headed over to McFadden’s for a pre-BP meal, I made everyone wait while I recreated a photo of myself that was taken 15 years earlier. Check it out below. The photo on the left was taken outside Veterans Stadium before Game 5 of the ’93 Series, and the photo on the right was taken yesterday:

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There was quite a line for tickets:

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Other people had their own methods:

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I can only describe the scene surrounding the stadium as one of general hoopla:

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I’d been to this stadium 18 times before for regular season games; it was strange (and more stressful than exciting) to be there for all this madness. There was even a mechanical bull in  the middle of a big inflatable ring:

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I’ll admit that I was part of the madness. Not only did I bring my Big Glove, but I had a big ball to go with it:

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Here are the four of us…Jona, me (wearing a ’93 World Series cap), Clif (wearing an Eagles jersey), and Gail:

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Clif and I wandered around with the Big Glove, and I made sure he was the one carrying it so he’d be the center of attention. It worked. Not only did a dozen people approach us and ask to take photos with him, but he was interviewed by a TV crew from Florida. I should’ve taken a photo of Clif with the microphone in his face, but I spaced out. This was my first game in more than four weeks, and there were other moments when I just wasn’t on MY game.

The stadium opened at 5:30pm (roughly three hours before game time), and we received a few giveaways as we headed inside. The first was toilet paper (aka a Phillies “rally towel”)…

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…and even THAT had an authentication sticker:

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(The sticker on my Beltran ball is cooler.) The second item was a coin commemorating the Hank Aaron Award, and it came in a nifty little decorative cardboard case (which also had a sticker):

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Here’s a look at both sides of the coin:

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As for BP…

Since every section was going to be open at the start of the day (to accommodate the huge crowd), I raced out to the seats in right-center and had the whole place to myself for the first minute.

Well, almost all to myself.

As I was racing to pick up a home run ball that landed in the empty seats, an usher came charging down the steps and slammed into me and started scrambling for it.

“What the HELL are you doing?!” I shouted.

“The same thing as YOU!” he snapped. “Trying to get a ball.”

“Yeah but you WORK here!”

“They haven’t even opened UP yet!” he said. “You’re not supposed to be here!”

“Um, actually the stadium HAS opened,” I said, and the usher was like, “Uhhh…sorry.”

Unbelievable.

Anyway, I got that ball (along with a nice bruise on my left biceps) and snagged another homer that landed in the seats two minutes later. Neither of these balls had the World Series logo on them. No surprise there. They were just regular balls.

The seats in right-center stayed pretty empty for the first 10 minutes or so…

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…but nothing else was hit within my reach. I could have easily gotten Scott Eyre to toss me a ball, but instead of asking for it, I asked if he might be able to toss me one with a World Series logo instead. He said he hadn’t seen any, and that they weren’t being used in BP, and that he hadn’t even seen those balls in the bullpen.

Clif (aka “goislanders4″ if you read the comments on this blog) started off in the corner spot in left-center:

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Here’s a closer look at him:

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He didn’t get anything there, but he didn’t go home empty-handed. I’ll let him be the one to tell you about it.

I’d made/brought a sign to help me get balls, and Jona took a pic of me waving it around in the front row:

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It didn’t work. Here’s what it said:

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When the Rays pitchers came out and started playing catch along the left field foul line, I changed into my Rays gear and positioned myself near Dan Wheeler, who was all the way out near the outfield wall. I didn’t shout his name. I didn’t wave my arms. I just stood there, and within FIVE seconds, he looked up (on his own) and spotted me in the crowd.

“ZACK!!!” he shouted. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you!”

“What’s up!” I shouted back.

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“Was that you who caught the two home runs at Yankee Stadium and–“

“–and did that stupid dance?”

“Yeah!”

“Yeah, that was me!” I yelled, “and I also caught the last Mets homer at Shea!”

“Unbelievable!” he said as he continued throwing.

“Dan!” I shouted a few moments later, and when he looked up, I told him I was dying to get a World Series ball and asked if he could help. He pretty much said the same thing as Eyre. I asked if I could meet him out by the bullpen or at the dugout after the game, and he said he didn’t think he’d be able to get one. “Well then, how am *I* supposed to get one?” I asked.

“Catch a B.J. Upton homer during the game,” he said.

“Yeah, that’d be nice,” I replied, and that was pretty much the end of our conversation.

(I should probably point out, for those who might be new to this blog, that I got to know Wheeler back in the days when he pitched for the Mets, and he’s remembered me ever since; last year, when I saw him at Camden Yards, he asked for a signed copy of my book.)

I started working my way down the foul line (can you spot me in the pic below?)…

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…and set up my operation behind the Rays’ dugout:

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I stayed there for the entire portion of the Rays’ batting practice. I knew I was missing opportunities to catch (or at least chase) home run balls in the outfield, but I figured my best chance of getting a World Series ball was to get someone’s attention–Joe Maddon, perhaps?–and work the personal touch. It didn’t happen. I got acknowledged by plenty of people, but NO ONE had a World Series ball or even knew where to find one.

I did, however, get a regular ball (not sure who tossed it…might’ve been Fernando Perez) and got filmed/photographed/interviewed by at least 20 different members of the media who were milling about on the warning track. In the photo above, in case you missed it, there’s a guy pointing a camera at me. Apparently there was a brief shot of me that was used during the FOX pre-game show, and I also got a couple mentions online. The following photo appeared on a blog on the St. Petersburg Times web site

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…(did you notice Jona in that pic?) and the following text appeared in this article in the Times itself:

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So it wasn’t a complete loss.

Here’s some general weirdness…

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…and here’s what the pre-game festivities looked like from my spot behind the Phillies’ dugout:

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NOTE: I said “spot” and not “seat” for a reason. My actual seat was in the upper deck on the third base side. I never went up there. Gail and Jona did (and I believe Clif even went up there too for a bit), and this was their view during the game:

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Not bad, I suppose, but MY view was better:

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That was only my view for about two minutes. It was incredibly easy to get down into the seats behind the dugouts. The only problem was that there weren’t any EMPTY seats, so I was constantly jockeying for position and trying to avoid getting caught. I had to crouch on the steps a couple times while I waited for the third outs to be recorded. And I was only down in the seats when there were two outs. The rest of the time? I was hiding in the field level concourse, trying not to go crazy from having a view like this:

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Yup, that’s how I watched most of Game 4 of the World Series. Sad but true. Sometimes I climbed up and tried to look over everyone’s heads…

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…but it never ceased to be annoying. Anyway, if I was willing to spend an entire World Series game (two games, in fact) last year outside the stadium without seeing a single pitch, you can be sure I was willing to do it here in Philly for the chance to remain on the field level and get a game-used ball with the Series logo.

Sadly, though, I kept getting blocked/dissed. The competition on the Phillies’ side was in-SANE. At one point, as I was reaching high up and leaning to my backhand side to catch a third-out ball tossed by Ryan Howard, someone grabbed my arm and yanked it down, causing me to fall over onto the people sitting next to me. (Maybe THAT’S when I bruised my arm.) I can’t even begin to describe how pissed off I was. The fact is, I would have caught that ball if I weren’t…violated. Yes, that’s the word.

The competition behind the home-plate end of the Rays’ dugout was nonexistent. There were a few times when I was the ONLY fan standing and shouting for the ball as Carlos Pena jogged in with it, and he ignored me each of those times and kept the ball for himself as he disappeared from sight. It was depressing.

One good thing that happened is that I found a couple of ticket stubs, including one in section 117 which was exactly where I needed to be for third-out balls on the Phillies’ side…

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…but it didn’t make a difference. No luck. No love.

I was obviously rooting for the Phillies to lose, and yet if I were given the choice between a) the Rays winning by a small margin or b) the Phillies winning a laugher, I probably would’ve picked the latter. Even at the World Series, I’ve learned, fans WILL leave early, and I was in desperate need of empty seats.

Well, I got my seats in the bottom of the 8th when the Phillies scored four runs to open up a 10-2 lead. It wasn’t the way I envisioned it, but it gave me all the space I needed to maneuver down to the front row behind the Rays’ dugout to try to get a ball from home plate umpire Tom Hallion after the final out. Unfortunately, Hallion ignored me on his way in, and just like that…POOF!!!…my night ended without a World Series ball. On a lifetime list of disappointing moments at baseball games, that one ranks just behind my near miss of Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run. And then, to make matters worse, I ran into a kid who’d been competing with me for third-out balls all night…and he’d gotten one…THE final third-out ball…the ball that J.C. Romero used to strike out Rocco Baldelli to end the game. Carlos Ruiz had tossed it to him on the Phillies’ side. He was thoroughly excited, as he should’ve been, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

“I learned from the best,” he said, referring to me (and my blog), which was nice, but I was feeling so defeated at that point that I could only offer a weak “congrats.” I just wanted to go home. I wanted the season to end. A couple minutes earlier, I’d gotten my fourth ball of the day from Rays bullpen coach Bobby Ramos, but so what? It was another regular ball. All four of my balls at this game were regular. How sad…

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What a lousy way for a magical season to end.

STATS:

• 4 balls at this game

• 543 balls in 73 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.

• 569 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 4 consecutive World Series games with at least one ball

• 3,820 total balls

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:

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

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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:

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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?

pregame_throwing_09_22_08.jpg

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

Third-out balls?

gamers_09_22_08.jpg

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:

view_from_left_center_09_22_08.jpg

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.)

9/8/08 at Citizens Bank Park

I knew this was going to be a good day. Not only had accuweather.com reported that there was a ZERO percent chance of rain, but 15 minutes before the stadium was set to open, this was the crowd waiting to enter:

waiting_to_enter_09_08_08.jpg.jpg

I’d never seen so few people waiting outside Citizens Bank Park, and even though there were dozens of fans lined up behind me by the time the stadium did open, batting practice was still emptier than usual.

Throughout this season, the Phillies have been starting BP several minutes after the gates open. It’s awful. I’ve always been the first fan to run inside, and every time I’ve reached the seats, there’s never been any action on the field. Well…on this fine day, perhaps because of all the September call-ups who needed to take their cuts, BP was already underway when I ran in, and the batter immediately launched a ball over my head into the seats. There was one other man already sitting in the middle of the section–a very old man who clearly worked at the stadium–and after I found the ball, Shane Victorino started yelling at me and insisting that I give it to him.

“I give balls to KIDS!!!” I shouted at him, to which he yelled, “Suuuure!!!”

Of course Shane Victorino would know whether or not I give balls away because, after all, he spends every second of every game following me around the stadium. What a punk. Maybe if he focused more on the field instead of the stands, he wouldn’t be playing for a second-place team.

nationals_ball1_09_08_08.jpg.jpgThirty seconds after I snagged that first ball, another home run flew over my head, landed several rows behind me, popped up into the air, and bounced back over me toward the empty-ish seats below. It was like an instant-replay of that ball on 8/30/08 at Angel Stadium that led to my rib injury. This time, however, I couldn’t make an attempt to catch it. It still hurt when I ran, hurt when I reached, and would’ve killed if I’d jumped, so I stood there and watched helplessly as the ball plunked down two rows away. Amazingly, the few fans IN that row took their time getting there, so I carefully climbed over the first row and reached under the second and grabbed the ball (pictured on the right) with half a second to spare.

Then things went dead.

There was an entire 15-minute round of BP with left-handed hitters–Jimmy Rollins, Victorino, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard–who didn’t hit a single ball into the left or center field seats. (Remember that at Citizens Bank Park, you’re trapped in left and center for the first hour.) I’d gotten off to such a good start, and now it was being wasted on a day when the seats were still deliciously empty:

empty_row_09_08_08.jpg.jpg

Halfway through the Phillies’ portion of BP (with Victorino still jawing at me), I drifted 20 feet to my right and caught a Jayson Werth home run on a fly. Then things slowed way down once again. I wanted to have a big day, but I wasn’t snagging balls in bunches. I did get lucky, though, right before the Phillies left the field. First I caught another home run on which nationals_ball2_09_08_08.jpg.jpg
the fans in front of me ducked, and then I caught a ball thrown by Kyle Kendrick that I totally didn’t deserve. He was aiming for a kid in the front row, but he didn’t put enough muscle into it. The ball fell a few feet short, landed ON the railing in front of the flower bed, bounced directly over the kid’s head, and sailed into my glove. I immediately walked down the steps and offered him the ball, but he wouldn’t take it. A woman sitting nearby asked me why. I explained that the kid preferred to try to catch a ball on his own rather than have one handed to him by someone else. She didn’t get it. Anyway, it’s a good thing (for me) that the kid didn’t want that ball because it was commemorative.

When the Marlins took the field and Logan Kensing started playing catch near the foul pole, he had a few extra balls with him and after a few minutes I got him to toss one to me. Five minutes later, I moved about 50 feet closer to home plate and got Andrew Miller to throw me another–my seventh ball of the day–when he finished warming up.

Normally, when the rest of the stadium opens, I head out to right field but because the Marlins had so many right-handed hitters, I decided to stay in left.

My eighth ball was a home run that landed near me, hit an empty seat, and bounced straight up in the air as fans converged from all sides. It seemed like they were all waiting for it to drop back down before they made their move. I, however, lunged and snatched it with my bare hand while it was still on the way up.

“Nice grab!” shouted a guy who apparently didn’t mind that he’d just been outsnagged.

A little while later, Paul Lo Duca threw a ball *AT* a fan who was taking his heckling a few steps too far. Lo Duca didn’t throw it THAT hard, however, and I don’t think he really meant to hit the guy because the ball smacked a seat five feet away from him and happened to roll right to me through a row of mostly empty seats. As soon as I picked it up, I handed it to the nearest kid and quickly got a chance to reach double digits. There was a deep fly ball hit in my direction which I happened to judge perfectly. (It doesn’t always work out that way.) I put my head down, ran up a few steps, looked back up and spotted the ball and then darted five feet to my right. As I reached out and made the one-handed catch, I got clothes-lined by a fan in the row behind me. I wasn’t mad because I realized it was an accident. He had a glove too and I assumed he’d just been reaching for the ball, albeit recklessly.

A bit earlier, someone had successfully reached in front of ME for a ball. It happens. It’s a competition. You win some. You lose some. And usually people are good-natured about it.

tpx_imprint_09_08_08.jpg.jpgToward the end of BP, I happened to reach in front of a guy’s face to catch yet another home run ball on a fly (pictured on the right with a faint “TPX” imprint), and guess what? He was thrilled. Why? Because he hadn’t seen the ball coming. He actually thanked me for saving his life. Unfortunately, several men sitting behind us didn’t see it that way. First they accused me of stealing the ball from him, and then one of them started cursing at me for having changed into Marlins gear. I tried to explain that he had misinterpreted the situation, and that’s when things got really nasty. The guy who’d been cursing then threatened me (“Don’t make me come over there,” etc.) and ended up reporting me to security, claiming that I had crashed into another fan and stolen a ball. I didn’t know this until a guard came over and told me that a “formal complaint” had been filed against me. He then asked to see my ticket, and he pretty much demanded that I apologize to everyone involved. Needless to say, my ticket never left my backpack and the word “sorry” never left my mouth. But do you know what DID happen? While all of this garbage was taking place, I snagged ANOTHER home run ball!!! Oh my God, it was beautiful. It landed several rows behind me and took a perfect bounce in my direction. So easy. It was my 12th ball of the day, and the rude fan was NOT happy after that (even though, as far as he knew, I only had two or three balls). He actually had the nerve to follow me out of the section as I made my way toward the dugout. Gimme a break.
 
With all due respect to the many people in Philadelphia who I’m sure are wonderful human beings, I have to say (and not just because of this incident) that Phillies fans are the second worst in baseball–a very distant second behind Yankees fans and only slightly worse than Dodgers fans.

Hanley Ramirez tossed me my 13th ball of the day at the 3rd base dugout after finishing his pre-game throwing.

Ryan Howard threw me my 14th ball as he jogged off the field in the middle of the fourth inning. I was sitting behind the Phillies’ dugout, solely for the purpose of snagging a third-out ball, and Mark Hendrickson helped my cause by making contact on a 1-2 pitch from Joe Blanton and grounding out to Chase Utley to end the frame. There were a million little kids running down to the front row after every inning, and on this occasion, Howard lobbed the ball right to me over all of their heads, so I didn’t feel guilty. (I do, at times, feel a bit old and out-of-place when playing the dugouts, so when I do it, I take extra care to be respectful to those sitting around me. Ask Shane Victorino.)

Although the Marlins never held the lead and only tied the score once early on, it was still a good game with lots of drama. The Phillies took an 8-6 lead into the top of the ninth, and I headed back to the seats behind their dugout (after having wandered for much of the night). Brad Lidge allowed a double and a single to put runners on the corners with one out, but he then struck out the next two batters–Wes Helms and Jorge Cantu–on six pitches to notch his 35th save.

As soon as the final out was recorded, someone on the Phillies unexpectedly flipped a ball onto the dugout roof from down below. I was already in the front row at that point, so I gloved it before anyone around me even knew what had happened, and then, about 45 seconds later, I got Lidge to toss me the game-ending ball on his way in.

Five hundred?
Here I come…

STATS:

the_15_balls_i_kept_09_08_08.jpg? 16 balls at this game (new personal record at Citizens Bank Park, beating my old record of 14 which I set the day CBS was with me)

? 442 balls in 58 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 165 balls in 16 lifetime games at Citizens Bank Park = 10.3 balls per game.

? 554 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 139 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 91 lifetime games with at least 10
balls

? 36 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

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

? 3,719 total balls

9/5/08 at Shea Stadium

This was a Watch With Zack
game with a
13-year-old named Jeremy, who took the subway to Shea Stadium with me nice and early…

jeremy_zack_outside_shea.jpg

…and his mother Cathy, who showed up a bit later.

When Gate C opened at 4:40pm, Jeremy and I raced out to the seats along the right field foul line, and I set him up in the corner spot:

jeremy_corner_spot.jpg

The Mets wasted the first 10 minutes by stretching and running, and then when they finally began to pair off and play catch, I gave Jeremy (who had, up until that point, snagged two lifetime baseballs) an important piece of advice: when a ball was tossed to him, he needed to reach out for it as far as possible to prevent anyone else from stealing it.

Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti happened to walk by a few moments later, and I noticed that he had a couple balls in his back pocket. I identified him for Jeremy and told him to ask for a ball, which he did–but not quite loud enough, so Conti kept walking.

“Guy!” I said a bit more forcefully, prompting him to stop and look over. “Is there any chance you could spare a ball for my friend?”

Conti looked at Jeremy, noticed his glove, and then asked him to take off his cap. “Lemme see your hair,” he said.

Jeremy obliged and revealed the thick red mane that lay beneath.

guy_conti.jpg
“You got great hair,” said Conti as he reached into his pocket. “You get a ball for that.”

Conti then flipped a ball to Jeremy who reached over the railing and made the catch look easy.

“I wish I had hair like that,” said Conti as he walked off.

“Let’s see the ball,” I said to Jeremy, and when he took it out of his glove and turned it over, I told him how lucky he was. It was a BRAND NEW commemorative ball.

Jeremy was nice enough to let me catch the next ball so my streak wouldn’t end. Al Reyes tossed it in our direction after he finished playing catch, and it too was commemorative (though quite worn).

I helped Jeremy get another (commemorative) ball from Brian Stokes, and after he got it signed by Duaner Sanchez, we headed to the left field corner. I quickly changed into my Phillies gear (yuck) and lent Jeremy an extra Phillies cap I happened to own. Of course the cap wouldn’t have helped if the Mets logo on his shirt were still showing, so he put on his sweatshirt (even though it was still about 84 degrees with 110 percent humidity).

That’s when Jeremy’s mother arrived, and while they were talking briefly in the concourse, I got a Nationals commemorative ball from J.C. Romero. The Phillies had just completed a three-game series with the Nats and must’ve somehow gotten hold of some of their baseballs.

Jeremy and I went up to the Loge Level and Scott Eyre tossed a ball to him…but Eyre’s aim was off, and the ball sailed a few feet over his outstretched glove. I happened to get lucky and catch it because I’d been standing right behind him. There were a dozen other fans nearby, so it’s not like I could’ve stepped aside and let Jeremy scramble for it in the seats. If I hadn’t made the snag, neither of us would’ve gotten it, but everything worked out in the end because I convinced Adam Eaton to toss another one to Jeremy, and THIS time the throw was right on the money.

Jeremy and I each had three balls. Snagging equilibrium had been achieved:

jeremy_zack_loge.jpg

Unfortunately (because a crowded Shea Stadium is a baseball collector’s nightmare) we didn’t snag anything else during the remaining portion of BP.

As for the game, Jeremy and Cathy and I grabbed some empty seats along the third base line and stayed there for more than an hour. That was Jeremy’s choice, and I don’t blame him. The view was excellent, and our chances of catching a foul ball were pretty good as well, but around the fourth inning, he decided it was time to head back up to the Loge. I took him to the best tunnels for both righties and lefties and showed him how far up he could crouch without blocking the view of the fans sitting behind him…

jeremy_going_for_foul_balls.jpg

…and then stood back with Cathy and hoped that something would fly his way.

Nothing did. And there was nothing I could do about it. But I’m pretty sure he still had fun running and sneaking around. I think Cathy enjoyed herself too. At the very least, this was a new way to “watch” a game for both of them.

When the Phillies took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth, I moved down behind the dugout with Jeremy and encouraged him to grab an empty seat in the second row:

jeremy_dugout_9th_inning.jpg

Brad Lidge then worked into and out of trouble and closed the door on his 34th save. Game over. No more balls for us. Not a good night for Mets fans, but still a pretty good one for me and Jeremy. That’s one nice thing about snagging baseballs. Even when the team you’re rooting for sucks, you can still walk out of the stadium with a smile. (Aww.)

STATS:

three_balls_09_05_08.jpg? 3 balls at this game (pictured here on the right)

? 426 balls in 57 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 553 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

? 3,703 total balls

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