Results tagged ‘ picnic area ’

9/28/08 at Shea Stadium

Last game EVER at Shea Stadium?

When I got off the No. 7 train and saw the tarp covering the infield…

final_day1_no_BP.jpg

…I had no idea if I’d ever be back at this ballpark.

The Mets entered this day–the last day of the regular season–tied for
the Wild Card with the Brewers, who were scheduled to play the
first-place Cubs at 2:05pm at Miller Park. If both the Mets and Brewers
won, or if they both
lost, they’d face each other the next day in a one-game playoff at Shea
to determine
who’d be moving on to the post-season.

I’d never been to a game with more history and uncertainty, and yet because of the gray sky and thick damp
air, there was an eerie calmness surrounding Shea as I made my way
toward Gate C:

final_day2_marquee.jpg

It was only 9:30am–more than three-and-a-half-hours until game
time–when I passed the ticket windows and saw a small line of hopeful
fans:

final_day3_line_for_tickets.jpg

I already had a ticket–not a very good one, but at least I was
guaranteed to get inside the ballpark. The seat was way up in the top
corner of the upper deck. I’d bought it on StubHub
two weeks earlier (for $100 plus shipping and handling) when my plans
to spend the last weekend of the season at Camden Yards fell through.
At that time, the Mets were cruising toward a first-place finish. I
didn’t expect this game to be THE final game, so I wasn’t too concerned
about my seat location.

I was, however, deeply concerned about the snagging situation. I wasn’t
thinking about catching 10 balls. I just wanted one. One lousy ball.
Even a training ball.
Anything. I was desperate. I just wanted to keep my streak alive. I
didn’t think there was going to be batting practice, and I figured
there’d be a ton of fans showing up early, and I assumed that security
would be extra strict. Would I even be able to get into the Field Level
to try to get a player to toss me a ball? I had no idea.

scott_olsen.jpg
oliver_perez_.jpg

Then there was the issue of the final home run at Shea. The two
starting pitchers were left-handed–Scott Olsen for the Marlins and
Oliver Perez for the Mets–which meant there’d be more right-handed
batters, which meant that if anyone DID hit a home run, it would likely
be pulled to left field, which meant it would likely land in the
bleachers. But how the hell was I possibly going to get in there? The
bleachers at Shea, as I’ve mentioned before, are part of the larger
“picnic area.” To get in there you specifically need a “picnic” ticket, and
those are normally only sold to groups of 100 or more.

I had a trick up my sleeve, but it was risky, so I was pretty
nervous
about the whole thing…and yet I *had* to get in there. The LAST home
run at Shea was at stake. I couldn’t bear the thought of being
trapped in the main part of the stadium and not even giving myself a
chance to catch it.

Well, as fate would have it, I was waiting outside Gate C (which was about to
open) when my friend Eric walked over. He’d been standing in line at
the ticket windows and was finally rewarded when the Mets released a few seats. He’d bought
one for $47. I asked him where it was. He said it was in the picnic
area. My jaw dropped and I asked him if he would be willing to trade.

“You want to sit out THERE?!” he asked. (Not everyone collects baseballs.)

“Umm, YEAH!!!” I said.

So we traded. I was in shock. This was my new ticket…

final_day4_ticket.jpg
…and I used it to get into the bleachers at the start of
batting practice. Yes, the Mets were actually hitting. I couldn’t
believe it. It wasn’t just drizzling–it
was raining. Look how wet the railings were
at the front of the bleachers:

final_day5_wet_railing.jpg

Everything was wet. Mike Pelfrey threw me a wet ball within the
first five minutes, and Brandon Knight tossed me another soon after.
The ball from Knight was commemorative. Here it is:

final_day6_ball3812.jpg

These were the only two balls I snagged during the Mets’ portion of
BP. I should’ve had a third but I misjudged a home run that ended up
sailing a few feet over my glove. I’d misjudged one the day before
as well. That one fell short. I blamed the weather. The air was heavy
and damp, and the ball just didn’t carry. Why, then, under identical
circumstances one day later, did this one sail too far? I couldn’t
figure it out. Maybe it was me and not the weather. Maybe I was losing
my touch. It wasn’t a good sign.

The Mets finished BP early, and the Marlins were nowhere in sight, so I
headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I saw as I approached the 3rd base dugout. Very frustrating:

final_day6a_waiting_for_marlins_BP.jpg

Eventually a few Marlins came out and started playing catch, and when
they finished, I called out to coach Bo Porter and got him to throw me
the following ball:

final_day7_ball3813.jpg

I didn’t know it at the time, but the Marlins had just played a
series in Washington, D.C. That’s why they had one (and probably more)
of the Nationals’ baseballs.

The Marlins started hitting, so I raced back out to the bleachers. My
fourth ball of the day was tossed by a pitcher that I couldn’t
identify, and my fifth was a ground-rule double that bounced right to
me off the warning track in left-center.

I would’ve had a sixth ball if Matt Treanor were as athletic as his wife.
I got him to throw one to me from a couple hundred feet away, but his
aim was off and he didn’t put quite enough velocity on it, and it
never reached me. Then the rain got more intense, and the grounds crew quickly covered the field:

final_day8_BP_ends_early.jpg

I gave one of my balls to a security guard who wanted one for his nephew
and then I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I
unexpectedly saw when I entered the street-level concourse:

final_day9_mets_legends_arrive.jpg

I had no idea what was going on, and of course I couldn’t see a
damn thing, so I asked around and learned that a few dozen former Mets
were entering the stadium.

I headed up the ramps and emerged in the Field Level seats. The tarp was on the field, and all the players were gone…

final_day10_tarp_field_level.jpg

…so I headed up to the right field corner of the upper deck and
took a few photos of Citi Field. Here’s a look at the whole stadium:

final_day11_citi_field.jpg

This was the view slightly to the left:

final_day12_citi_field.jpg

The following photo shows some of the construction clutter on the open-air concourse of the upper deck…

final_day13_citi_field.jpg

…and this last shot provides a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Notice how the escalators are covered in plastic:

final_day14_citi_field.jpg

I headed back down to the Field Level and got a final reminder of
why Shea is such a dump. As you can see below, there was a huge puddle
in one of the tunnels that wouldn’t drain:

final_day15_flooded_tunnel.jpg

The rain finally stopped. The grounds crew started getting the
field ready. The first pitch was pushed back to 2pm. I used the extra
time to wander and take photos of some of the many signs that fans had brought. I’m not sure
what all the names on the sign below have in common (other than all
being former Mets) but it was still cool:

final_day16_sign.jpg

These guys were intense:

final_day17_sign.jpg

This dude hit the nail on the head:

final_day18_sign.jpg

This was one of several signs that made a play on the word “Shea”:

final_day19_sign.jpg

This fan needed a thicker marker and some extra glue:

final_day20_sign.jpg

This woman (for those unfamiliar with Mets history) was talking
about Mike Piazza. Notice how the actual retired numbers can be seen in
the background:

final_day21_sign.jpg

Marc Anthony sang the national anthem, and the bleachers looked more crowded than ever:

final_day22_national_anthem.jpg

Several Marlins started playing catch in front of the
dugout, and I was tempted to run over because I *knew* I would’ve
gotten at least one ball. I was one of the only fans in the stadium
with Marlins gear (and believe me, I felt icky and embarrassed whenever
I wore it), but I decided to forget the Fish and head to the bleachers
instead. That section is normally general admission, but during this
final weekend of the regular season, Mets management decided that
assigned seating was the way to go. My actual seat was in the second
row behind the yellow “WISE” advertisement, but there was no way I was
gonna sit there. Second row?! Are you kidding me?! That’s no way to
catch a home run ball, and anyway, I didn’t want to sit all the way out
in left-center. I didn’t know where I was going to sit, but I figured
it was best to head out there ASAP and start looking for a spot. On the
way, I took a photo (from behind) of some fans holding up big
orange-and-blue letters that spelled “GOODBYE SHEA”:

final_day23_sign.jpg

Then I ran into Elvis…

final_day24_elvis.jpg

…and made my way to the bleachers. Amazingly, I found ONE empty space on a two-person bench at the front of the cross-aisle.

final_day24a_my_seat.jpg

If I’d had a choice, I would’ve picked a spot in straight-away left
field. This empty seat was closer to left-center than I wanted to be,
but hey, it was still great compared to where I was supposed to be
sitting. Anyway, once I was there, I realized that I probably wasn’t
going to have to move. As you can see in the photo above, there were
little wheelchair logos embedded into the metal flooring next to the
small benches–but there weren’t any fans in wheelchairs. If there had
been, they obviously would’ve had the right to sit there, but as things
stood, those little benches were up for grabs so I sat there guilt-free.

Everyone kept their eyes on the out-of-town scores throughout the day,
and because of the rain delay, our game basically started at the same
time as the Brewers game. This was my view of the giant
scoreboard…

final_day25_scoreboard_watching.jpg

…and here’s a closer look at the Cubs-Brewers game:

final_day26_scoreboard_watching.jpg

I hadn’t been looking when the Cubs’ score changed from “0″ to “1″
so
when the whole stadium cheered wildly for no apparent reason, I took a
quick peek at the scoreboard and then joined the celebration.

This was my view straight ahead…

final_day27_view_during_game.jpg

…and this was the view to my right:

final_day28_view_to_my_right.jpg

I knew I was in a good spot to jump up and run for any ball that
might fly my way, but at the same time I knew it was going to be a mob
scene, and I wasn’t THAT optimistic.

Meanwhile, there was quite a pitchers’ duel in progress:

final_day29_pitchers_duel.jpg

The Mets went down one-two-three in the bottom of the fifth, and
the Marlins quickly got on the board in the sixth. Cameron Maybin led
off with a ground-rule double and scored on a single by John Baker.
Jorge Cantu followed with a single of his own, and then both runners
tagged up and moved into scoring position on a deep fly out to
left-center by Mike Jacobs. Perez intentionally walked Dan Uggla to
load the bases and was promptly taken out of the game. What did
reliever Joe Smith do? He walked Josh Willingham to force in a run.
Cody Ross then popped up to third and Alfredo Amezaga ended the inning
with a soft come-backer, but the damage had been done. The Marlins were
ahead, 2-0.

carlos_beltran.jpg
In the bottom of the sixth, pinch hitter Robinson Cancel got things
started with a leadoff walk, and Jose Reyes followed with a routine fly
out to right. That brought up Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter who was
batting from the right side. The first pitch missed the zone. The
second pitch was an 88-mph fastball, belt-high over the outside corner,
and Beltran crushed it in my direction.

It was clearly going to travel a long way, but at the instant that it
left the bat, I wasn’t sure if it would be a fly out to the warning
track or a home run that traveled 50 feet over my head. The only thing
I could do was jump up and start moving. The ball was heading about 20
feet to my right, so I darted through the aisle in that direction. No
one else reacted as quickly as I had so the aisle was still fairly
empty for the first 10 feet. Then, as I realized that the ball WAS
going to leave the yard and that it WAS at least going to land
somewhere near the aisle, I had to weave in and out of a few fans. The
ball was coming. I kept moving. I kept my eye on it and sensed all the
moving bodies around me. The aisle got extremely crowded. Everyone was
standing. There were no kids. Everyone was tall. I was in a forest. I
had to elevate above the tallest trees, and I had to pick the right
spot and time it perfectly. The ball kept
coming…coming…coming…and I couldn’t believe I was even going to
be close enough to be able to make an attempt to catch it, but it
descended right toward me, and I jumped up at the last second and
WILLED myself through the sea of hands and bodies that were fighting to
invade my air space. The ball came all the way down, and I went up and
caught it. Bam. Just like that. There was such a frenzy in the
bleachers at that point that my hat got knocked off. I was as stunned
and excited as ever. You know that Barry Bonds home run I caught a few
years ago? That was nothing in comparison. Check out this screen shot
of my initial reaction. It was a moment of utter
disbelief before I really started celebrating:

final_day30_zack_celebrating1.jpg

Then I moved on to the “Oh my God” phase:

final_day31_zack_celebrating2a.jpg

Then there was a bit of “I think I’m the Man but this might not really be happening so I’ll just keep my arms up in case”:

final_day32_zack_celebrating3a.jpg

Then people started mobbing me, not to try to steal the ball (which
I probably shouldn’t have even taken out of my glove in the first place
except I had to see it to believe it) but just to celebrate with me.
It’s like I was part of the play. Everyone had to touch me. I felt
someone bear-hugging me from behind while another hand started rubbing
my shaved head:

final_day33_zack_celebrating4.jpg

The celebration just wouldn’t end:

final_day34_zack_celebrating5.jpg

Then, after I tucked the ball back inside my glove, there were some high-fives…

final_day35_zack_celebrating6.jpg

…followed by more hugging and head-rubbing:

final_day36_zack_celebrating7.jpg

And some more high-fives. Check it out…two at once:

final_day37_zack_celebrating8.jpg

It was THE…CRAZIEST…HAPPIEST…MOMENT…EVER. I’m not sure if anything will ever top it.

(Click here
to watch the actual video footage. If there’s anyone reading this
who taped the game on SNY and can get me the full clip, please get in touch…)

As soon as the minute-long love-fest concluded, the potential magnitude
of the situation sunk in even more: I was holding, at least at that
point, the LAST home run hit at Shea Stadium.

“I need an authenticator!!!” I started shouting at every security guard in sight.

They were all like…huh? So I kept shouting and rambling about how
Major League Baseball has authenticators at every game and that I needed to see one right away.

One of the guards told me to talk to the supervisor–a very friendly
woman named Kim–who knew what I was talking about (thank God) and had
me wait in my seat for a few minutes. So I did…and I kept getting
mobbed (in a good way) by people who wanted to take pictures of/with me
and the ball, which I never let out of my hands. One guy was like,
“C’mon, what’m I gonna do with it?”

“I don’t know,” I told him, “and that’s why it’s not leaving my hand. You can hold the ball WITH me if you want.”

He was willing to accept that…so while I had my death-grip on 90
percent of the ball, he touched as much of the remaining part of the
ball as he could and his friend took a pic.

I made an exception about letting go of the ball for the
authenticator. I figured he wasn’t going to try to steal it. Kim came
and got me and led me down the steps to the area behind the bleachers.
The authenticator, pictured below…

final_day38_authenticator.jpg

…emerged from the gated area behind the batter’s eye. I’m not
even sure what he said. The whole thing was a blur. I think he
congratulated me, or maybe I’m just hoping he did. I wanted to ask a
million questions, but he clearly didn’t have too much time to spare. I
asked what his name was, and two seconds after he told me, I’d already
forgotten. All I know is that he had a pad-like clipboard thing and a
roll of stickers, each with a different serial number. He peeled one
off and stuck it on the ball and then made some notations. I’m not even
sure if he had a corresponding sticker. Like I said, it was all a blur.
This was the first ball I’d ever gotten authenticated, and my mind was
racing like you wouldn’t believe.

He was very calm about the whole thing. I was kinda happy…

final_day39_authenticator_and_zack.jpg

…and when I got back to the seats, the death-grip returned:

final_day40_zack_with_ball.jpg

Here’s a look at the sticker:

final_day41_the_ball_closeup_at_shea.jpg

Here’s another look at it. I took this pic when I got home to show how it changes colors in the light:

final_day42_authentication_sticker.jpg

Here’s the commemorative logo:

final_day43_commemorative_logo.jpg

Here’s the whole thing:

final_day44_one_more_look_at_the_ball.jpg

People kept coming up to me for the rest of the game. They wanted to
see the ball, touch the ball, shake my hand, ask me questions, etc.
Several people recognized me as THAT GUY who’d recently caught the home runs on
back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium, and a few others recognized me
from various articles and interviews. One guy came over to talk to me
and blocked everyone’s view behind him, so security told him he had to
return to his seat. What did he do next? He crouched down next to me on
my right, which meant he was completely blocking my path into the
aisle. When I told him not to block me, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get
out of the way if one comes.”

“Sir,” I wanted to say, “in the time it would take you to turn your big
head 45 degrees to watch the initial flight of the ball, I’d be 10
steps down the aisle. Now please, get the **** out of my way.”

But instead I asked him nicely to move, and he did.

A woman returned to her seat with a mini-helmet filled with cookies-n-cream Dippin’ Dots.

“Can I buy that from you?” I asked.

“I’ll give it to you,” she said, “in exchange for that ball you caught.”

I had nine new voice-mails on my cell phone by that point. I hadn’t heard my
phone ring, and I couldn’t listen to the messages, because there was no
reception. (Thanks, T-Mobile.)

Who was I supposed to root for at that point? It was hard for me to
root against the Mets, but I realized that if they lost and the Brewers
(who were now leading the Cubs, 3-1, in the eighth) held on and won, there
wouldn’t be another game at Shea…ever…and I might end up being the
fan who got the last home run there. I just needed the Mets and Marlins
NOT to hit another longball…and they obliged in the seventh inning.

Wow, 12 more outs to go…

In the top of the eighth, with the score still tied at 2-2, Jerry
Manuel brought in the left-handed Scott Schoeneweis to face the
left-handed hitting Jacobs. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez answered by
pinch hitting with the right-handed Wes Helms. Three pitches into the
at-bat, Helms crushed a line drive into the bleachers.
Noooooooooooooo!!! I almost caught it and surely would have if it’d
just traveled an additional 10 feet.

“Your ball is now worthless,” said an annoying fan behind me.

“Not really,” I said. “It’s still the last METS homer at Shea.”

Uggla, a righty, was due to bat next, so Manuel replaced Blow-eneweis
with the right-handed Luis Ayala. Uggla worked a full count, and then
BOOM!!! Another home run…again into the bleachers but too far over
toward straight-away left field for me to even get near it.

“Your ball is now REALLY worthless,” said Mr. Annoying.

“Okay,” I told him, “then don’t buy it.”

I didn’t have any intention of selling it–I’ve never sold a ball–but it
was still fun to think about how much it would potentially be worth.

Ayala retired the next three batters.

The Mets got the tying runs on base with two outs in the bottom of the
eighth, but couldn’t bring them home. The Brewers game went final. They
beat the Cubs, 3-1. The Mets HAD to score at least two runs in the
bottom of the ninth or their season was done.

The Marlins didn’t score in the top of the ninth. I looked at the
batters that the Mets would be sending up in the bottom of the inning:
David Wright followed by 1) a lefty, 2) a pinch hitter who was probably
going to be a lefty since the right-handed Matt Lindstrom was coming
into the game, and 3) more lefties. I decided to stay in the bleachers
for Wright and then bolt toward the Marlins’ dugout.

Wright worked a full count and forced Lindstrom to throw eight pitches,
but on that final pitch, he popped up to Uggla at second base.

I took off for the main part of the stadium and used one final trick
(which I can not reveal) to get myself back into the Field Level.
Before I made it to the seats behind the dugout, Endy Chavez hit a come-backer. Two
outs. Time for a pinch hitter. Who would it be? Damion Easley?! A
righty?! Crap. Well, it was too late now. All I could do was wander on
down toward the dugout and wait. The count went full…

final_day46_game_almost_over.jpg

…and then he walked. Tying run to the plate. Ryan Church. I put
on my Marlins cap and Marlins shirt and got some mean looks from
everyone around me, which I definitely deserved, but hey, business is
business.

Church took the first pitch for a ball and then launched the next one
380 feet. Unfortunately for the Mets, he happened to hit it to the
deepest part of the ballpark. Maybin caught the ball just shy of the
warning track in right-center, and just like that, Shea Stadium was
history.

The Marlins players and coaches formed a line near the mound and
started shaking hands and patting each other on the butts. Nothing
unusual about that, right? Well, just about every fan in the stadium
started chanting, “OFF THE FIELD!!! OFF THE FIELD!!!”

It was really sad and embarrassing. I was sorry not only that this
would be one of my lasting memories of Shea, but that I was even there
to be a part of it. I wasn’t participating in the chant, but still, I
was part of the crowd, and it hurt. That said, I couldn’t blame the fans who were
chanting. Everyone was so upset about the Mets’ second straight
collapse, and everyone had to find some way to express themselves. As
for me? I capitalized on the loss by turning it into an additional
collecting opportunity. If the Marlins had lost, they might’ve all
disappeared into the clubhouse and gotten right on their bus, but since
they won and spilled out onto the field, I knew there was a chance to
get stuff from them…and sure enough, that’s exactly
what happened.

I got a batting glove from Helms as soon as he popped out of the dugout
(he tossed his other glove to a fan 10 feet away) and got Cantu’s cap
as everyone headed back in.

Not bad.

I quickly got the hell away from the dugout and ran into my friend Clif
(aka “goislanders4″ if you read the comments on this blog) and changed
out of my Marlins gear. The “bonus items” I’d received were nice, but
still…Marlins…yuck:

final_day47_zack_bonus_items.jpg

Here’s a look at the (smelly) cap…

final_day48_jorge_cantu_cap.jpg

…and here’s the batting glove which, as you can see below, has Helms’ uniform number stitched onto the wrist:

final_day49_wes_helms_batting_glove.jpg

THAT was cool. I’ve gotten a bunch of batting gloves over the years, and I’ve never seen a player’s number on any of them.

Clif’s mom Gail caught up with us, and we all headed up to the
Mezzanine (third deck) to watch the closing ceremony. What did we see
on our way up the ramps? Another example of Mets fans having expressed themselves:

final_day50_vomit.jpg

The ceremony was fine, I guess, but I had NO interest in being
there. I’d experienced my best day ever as a collector. What more did I
need? I mean, it was nice, I suppose, to see Dwight Gooden and Darryl
Strawberry and other Mets heroes from my childhood walk back out onto
the field one last time…

final_day51_ceremony.jpg

….but it was as bittersweet as it gets. Everyone in
the stadium was upset. I just didn’t want to be there. Neither did
Gail. Clif kinda wanted to stay–he commemorated his final minutes
inside the stadium by photographing the inside of his favorite
bathroom–but even he knew it was time.

I took a final pic of the Beltran ball as I walked through the parking lot…

final_day52_parking_lot.jpg

…and was sent on my way with a few fireworks:

final_day53_parking_lot.jpg

“Oh look,” said Gail, “they’re already blowing up the stadium.”

When I got home, I was finally able to listen to my voice-mails. Here are the top three:

1) From my friend Justen: “Zack, did you just do it again? Did
you catch Beltran’s ball? I got friends callin’ me talking about you
because they just saw you at the Mets game…dude, you are a f*ckin’
superstar.”

2) From Clif: “You’re ridiculously amazing. I seriously
can’t believe it. I didn’t even see you catch it, but like, I looked up
on the JumboTron and I saw you and your hat fall off and whatever…and
you jumped up and down and you held your three fingers up. That was
ridiculous, and like, Marco called me and he was like, ‘Oh did you see
Zack Hample catch Carlos Beltran’s home run?’ That was ridiculolus.
This is Clif by the way, but um, yeah, okay, bye. Oh, and I saw you
getting escorted or whatever, like, they took you out of the picnic
area. They took someone off. But you probably caught the last home run
at Shea, so congratulations. Bye.”

3) From my friend Mike: “Zack Hample, it is Mike Marshall,
former vendor at Shea and the old Yankee Stadium. Alright, so I had a
really emotional day and I’m pretty upset in the general scheme of
things and extremely exhausted, and I’m sitting on my computer chair,
looking at my plasma TV, and I swear to God I saw you catch Carlos
Beltran’s homer, and if that’s true, holy sh*t, man, you are the
American Dream. You’re my hero. F*ck the bleacher creatures and all the
people who don’t get it. But uh, I think that was you. I haven’t had
time to check your blog, and they didn’t, uh, feature you on ESPN, but
tell me that was you. Gimme a call. On a very miserable, long
homestand, I jumped out of my chair and went, ‘No waaay, that can’t
be!!!’ and my woman doesn’t understand, but you might’ve made my night
if you caught that ball. Take it easy. About a hundred and fifty days
until pitchers and catchers report. Later. Happy New Year! Shanah
Tovah.”

Anyway, yeah. That pretty much sums it up.

It took a few days for me to find the time to write this monster blog
entry, and it took the same amount of time for the media to realize
that I, Zack Hample, am the guy who caught the Beltran homer. Carl
Bialik, who writes a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s web site, posted
this entry
about it, and the story has been taking off ever since. It’s now
12:32am ET on Wednesday, October 1st. Just a few hours ago, I started
getting blog comments and emails from people telling me I was on the
front page of Yahoo…and they weren’t joking. Here’s a screen shot…

yahoo_09_30_08.jpg

…and here’s the story.

This game at Shea might end up being my final game of 2008. I have no idea, but regardless, here are the stats…

? 6 balls at this game

? 539 balls in 72 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 568 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 13 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

? 5 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly
at games in New York at which the attendance was at least 52,000)

? 124 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 8 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)

? 99 lifetime game balls in New York

? 78 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium

? 3,816 total balls

9/27/08 at Shea Stadium

This was a day game that followed a night game, and it was drizzling when the stadium opened, so you can imagine how shocked I was when I ran in (with my girlfriend Jona) and saw the Mets taking batting practice.

I raced out to the seats along the right field foul line and quickly got my first snagging opportunity. There was a slicing line drive hit by a right-handed batter, and as the ball was curving toward me, I could tell that it wasn’t going to curve enough for me to reach it, so I climbed over one of the many orange railings and darted five feet to my right and reached far out of the seats at the last second and made a back-handed catch. It felt good at the time (especially when all the Mets who were standing in right field applauded) and it felt even better later on when I saw the great photos that Jona had taken from the Loge Level.

Here’s one that shows me starting to lean out for the ball. I’m wearing a white long-sleeved shirt, and if you look closely at the photo you can see the ball itself:

zack_catching_ball3809a.jpg

Here’s another photo that Jona took just after the ball entered my glove. Notice the full extension:

zack_catching_ball3809b.jpg

Here’s a closer look:

zack_catching_ball3809c.jpg

I didn’t realize just how far I’d reached until I saw the photos. Go me.

Jona headed back down to the Field Level and took a few more photos of me before we headed out to the bleachers (which you can see in front of Citi Field below):

zack_field_level_BP_09_27_08.jpg

There wasn’t much action out there:

zack_bleachers_09_27_08.jpg

In fact, it was so dead that I only snagged one more ball for the rest of the day. It was a BP homer by Nick Evans. I caught it on a fly, and Jona once again caught me in action:

zack_catching_ball3810a.jpg

Cool, huh?

Both of my baseballs were commemorative:

two_baseballs_09_27_08.jpg

Jona and I never left the bleachers. After BP ended, we staked out a great spot for potential home-run catching, but as it turned out, nothing left the yard. It was all about the pitching. Johan Santana, working on three days’ rest and fighting to keep the Mets’ playoff hopes alive, went the distance and blanked the Marlins, 2-0. He allowed three hits and three walks while striking out nine…truly brilliant. The crowd of 54,920 was as revved up as ever, and I took a bunch of photos during the final few pitches of the game.

This was my view of the field:

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This was the view to my left…

fans_excited2_09_27_08.jpg

…and this is proof that just about EVERYONE in the stadium was standing:

fans_excited3_09_27_08.jpg

The Mets had entered the day one game behind the Brewers in the Wild Card race. The Brewers lost their game to the Cubs, which meant it was all gonna come down to the Final Day…

STATS:

? 2 balls at this game

? 533 balls in 71 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 567 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,810 total balls

9/25/08 at Shea Stadium

The game was thrilling; the snagging was not.

I arrived at Shea at 4:43pm–three minutes after the stadium opened–and bought a $10 ticket and raced inside to the left field foul line.

I managed to get ONE ball during the entire Mets’ portion of batting practice, and it was thrown by Nick Evans from more than 100 feet away:

nick_evans_left_field.jpg

Earlier this season, I’d gotten Evans to throw me a ball by announcing that I was “going deep” and then bolting up the steps. I didn’t think it’d work a second time, but I tried it anyway, and to my surprise he threw the ball in my direction. The first time he did this, he’d waited for me to reach the cross-aisle and then made a perfect throw that hit me on the run. This time, however, he launched the ball 10 feet over my head before I’d made it up half a dozen rows. Luckily, there were only a handful of fans scattered along the front row and none of them bothered to run for the ball after it landed. The ball was commemorative, and the logo was so scuffed and worn that I couldn’t read any of it:

ball3806.jpg

If this had been my first Mets commemorative ball, I would’ve been pissed, but I’ve gotten enough that I actually thought this one was kinda cool.

At around 5:25pm, I exited the stadium and headed to the bleacher entrance and was lucky enough to run into my friend Gail (aka “Clif’s mom”) who introduced me to a woman who happened to have an extra ticket. This other woman wouldn’t let me pay her for it. She gave it to me for free, and in exchange I had to catch a ball for her.

I didn’t give her the next ball I snagged because it was commemorative AND brand new. For some reason, the Cubs were using it, and I got Michael Wuertz to toss it to me. Check it out:

ball3807.jpg

The bleachers were still gloriously empty five minutes later…

bleachers_during_BP_09_25_08.jpg

…and they remained fairly empty throughout BP.

With powerful righties like Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Mark DeRosa all taking cuts, you’d think that I would’ve snagged about 40 balls. But no. I only got ONE more ball–a regular ball–and it was tossed to me by Jeff Samardzija. I know he’s supposed to be the future stud of the world, but still…what a disappointment. I can’t explain it. Batting practice was just dead.

I gave the regular ball to the lady who’d given me the ticket and then (since the bleachers are general admission) claimed a spot in the front row out in left-center.

This was the view to my left in the top of the first inning…

view_to_my_left_09_25_08.jpg

…and this was the view straight ahead about an hour later:

view_during_game_09_25_08.jpg

Yeah…it rained.

A lot.

And I sat through it with Gail and Clif because a) I really wanted to catch a home run and b) the game was THAT important/good.

Unfortunately, the only two home runs were hit by Micah Hoffpauir, who bats left-handed and pulled them both to right field. These two home runs (which were part of his 5-for-5 performance) happened to be his first longballs in the major leagues, and thanks to Shea Stadium’s lack of outfield seating, I wasn’t able to get near either one.

Enough about me. Let’s talk about the game…

The Mets basically HAD to win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive, and they DID win after coming back from a three-run, seventh-inning deficit. Pedro Martinez pitched for the last time at Shea and struck out a season-high nine batters. Jose Reyes scored a pair of runs and stole three bases. And then there was that game-tying, Houdini-like slide by Ryan Church with two outs in the bottom of the eighth. I didn’t get a great view of it from my spot nearly 400 feet from the plate. All I could tell was that the ball beat him by like 10 feet and yet he somehow managed to elude the catcher and reach back with his hand…and that the ump called him safe. It was unreal.

There weren’t many fans left at that point…

bleachers_late_in_game_09_25_08.jpg

…but that just made the whole thing more special. It was OUR little private game. OUR Amazin’ Mets. OUR soggy/dumpy stadium. OUR walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth.

Final score: Mets 7, Cubs 6.

(Hooray for meaningful baseball games in late-September.)

STATS:

? 3 balls at this game

? 531 balls in 70 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 566 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,808 total balls

9/23/08 at Shea Stadium

My trip to Shea Stadium started with a live 20-minute interview on the Covino & Rich Show on Sirius Satellite Radio. I actually had to go to the studio for this one, and while I was waiting (on the 36th floor of the McGraw-Hill building on 49th Street & 6th Avenue) for the producer to come and get me, I got permission to take photographs. Here’s the lobby area:

sirius_radio_headquarters1_lobby.jpg

See the blue screen on the upper right? See the black panels with orange text just below it on either side? They were like little scoreboards that kept listing different song titles and artists. I think they indicated what was being played on the various Sirius music channels.

I took a pic of the view of Radio City Music Hall…

sirius_radio_headquarters2_view.jpg

…and was led into the studio soon after.

Covino and Rich were great. I expected them to diss me nonstop–this WAS Maxim-affiliated after all and Maxim had dissed me in the past–but instead they treated me with unprecedented respect. I really couldn’t believe it, and they even gave my new book (“Watching Baseball Smarter”) several plugs. If anything, I thought they’d only mention my first book (“How to Snag Major League Baseballs”) because this entire interview came about as a direct result of the two home runs I caught on back-to-back nights last week at Yankee Stadium.

After the interview ended at 3:55pm, Jessica the call-screener took a photo of me and Covino (Rich was still sitting across from us)…

zack_maxim_radio1.jpg

…and then I got a shot with both of the guys:

zack_maxim_radio2.jpg

It was 4:04pm when I made it back out to the street. I ran over to 7th Avenue and then ran seven blocks south (right through Times Square) and ran down the steps into the subway and kept running until I was on an express No. 7 train…which then sat in the station for about 10 minutes.

By the time I made it to Shea, Gate C was already open and hundreds of fans were in the process of filing in.

No problem.

My plan was to wait outside until I found someone with an extra bleacher ticket–and the bleachers weren’t even going to open for another 50 minutes.

It took 40 (of the longest) minutes (ever) to get myself the ticket I needed, at which point I raced back to Gate C (you can enter the main part of the stadium with a bleacher ticket) and ran up the ramps to the Field Level concourse and headed around to the first base side and darted down the steps to the front row behind the Mets’ dugout. The Mets were still taking BP. This is what it looked like:

BP_from_mets_dugout.jpg

See the guy standing on the warning track with the tan pants and dark green jacket? That’s Marty Noble, the Mets’ beat reporter for MLB.com (in case you’ve seen his name a thousand times and always wondered what he looked like).

When the Mets finished their portion of BP and came off the field five minutes later, I spotted bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello (who has recognized me for years) and yelled, “Hey, Dave, did you see me on SportsCenter?!”

dave_racaniello.jpg“No,” he said, walking over toward the basket of balls.

“You didn’t see the thing about the guy who caught home runs on back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium?”

“I saw that,” he said.

“Well that was ME,” I said.

“That was YOU?! No way.”

I then tried to convince him that it WAS me while he transferred the balls from the basket to the equipment bags. I’m not sure if I succeeded, and it didn’t matter. The only reason I was at the dugout was to try to get a ball, and before I even had a chance to ask for one, Dave looked up and said, “I suppose you want a ball.”

“Well,” I said, “if you happen to have a really dirty one that you were planning to throw out anyway…”

Dave then started fumbling through all the balls and he quickly pulled out a dirty one and tossed it to me. It was commemorative. Here it is:

ball3784.jpg

“Thanks so much,” I said. “I really appreciate it.”

“I know,” he replied with the hint of a smile and disappeared underneath the dugout roof.

The bleachers opened five minutes later, and as I was running up the steps, I heard the unmistakable sound of a ball clanging off the metal benches. I was at the top of the steps three seconds later and saw a security guard walking…somewhere.

“Where is it?!” I asked frantically.

“Over there,” he said, pointing toward the front row in the middle of the bleachers.

I ran over and saw the ball sitting right where the guard had been pointing, and I took a photo before I grabbed it:

ball3785_waiting_for_me.jpg

The Cubs were already on the field by this point, and I quickly got my third ball of the day from Carlos Zambrano. Then, because the section were still basically empty, I had ZERO competition when a home run ball landed in the center field end of the bleachers. I was like 40 feet away, and there wasn’t anyone else over there or even near me–not even security–so

I was able to take my time (relatively speaking) and jog over there and pick up the ball as it slowly started trickling down the steps.

A few minutes later, a man turned around and said, “Hey, aren’t you the guy who was on the FAN?” (He was referring to my recent radio interview on the “Boomer & Carton” Show on 660 WFAN here in New York City.)

ball3788.jpg“Yup, that’s me,” I said as another home run ball headed our way, landed on a metal bench two rows in front of us, bounced up and hit me on the wrist, and settled at my feet where I picked it up. (This ball, pictured on the right, had a VERY cool smudge on the logo.)

“How many balls is that now?” asked the man.

“Lemme think for a second,” I said, trying to remember how many balls I’d finished the previous day with. “Um…this one makes it three thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight.”

The man didn’t seem jealous or pissed off or anything about the fact that I’d just snagged this one right next to him. He seemed happy for me. I love Mets fans.

My sixth ball of the day was thrown by Reed Johnson–the 10th “Johnson” (along with Ben, Brian, Howard, Jason, Jonathan, Kelly, Mark P., Nick, and Russ) to have thrown me a ball–and my seventh was tossed by a player that I couldn’t identify.

I’d snagged the last six balls in such a short time frame that I didn’t have a chance to label any of them or put them away. Good thing I was wearing cargo pants with lots of pockets…and good thing there weren’t more people out there because I’m sure I would’ve gotten some strange looks. There were balls bulging out everywhere (sorry if that sounds gross), and it was hard to walk. I couldn’t even sit down because I had two of the balls in my back pockets. Thankfully, I soon had a minute to spare when the Cubs started a new round of BP so I quickly wrote the numbers on the balls and put them in my backpack.

My friend Greg (aka “gregb123″ if you read the comments on this blog) was watching all of this from the corner spot in the left field Loge, and when I happened to move closer to him at one point, he got my attention and told me that a ball had dropped into the gap at the far end of the bleachers, all the way out in left-center field. Naturally, I ran over there and took a look, and this is what I saw:

ball3791_gap.jpg

Sweet!! (Thanks, Greg.) I set up my glove trick and reeled in the ball with ease.

Eww.

There were two clumps of G.S.M. (Grody Shea Muck) caked to the sweet spot:

ball3791_dirt.jpg

Still, I was glad to have the ball and made my best attempt to clean it off (by scraping it on the edge of a bench) before dropping it into my bag.

My ninth ball of the day was thrown by Kerry Wood, and my 10th was a home run that I caught on a fly in the wide cross-aisle. That one (I have no idea who hit it) had a big dirt/scuff pattern on it:

ball3793.jpg

I managed to get one more ball, and I wouldn’t have had this one either if not for Greg. It was a ball that he’d pointed out at the start of the Cubs’ BP. It was in the gap behind the wall on the foul-pole end of the bleachers, and I hadn’t seen it because it was half-buried under weeds and trash. You can see the ball clearly in the photo below, but when I’d originally peeked into the gap from a spot to the left, it was completely hidden. Check it out:

ball3794_gap.jpg

It took me quite a while to fish this one out of the gap. At one point, I had it in the glove and started to lift it up when it slipped up. I nearly had a fit when that happened, but I kept trying (starting with swinging my glove from side to side in order to knock the ball a few inches to the side where I thought I’d have fewer leaves getting in my way) and eventually got it.

This ball, like several others I’d snagged throughout the day, was worth photographing:

ball3794.jpg

I ended up giving three balls away to little kids; the security guards had been so nice to me during BP–first by pointing out the ball when I ran into the bleachers and then by letting me use the glove trick–that I decided to “share the wealth” a little more than usual with the fans in their section. I don’t normally take pics of the kids that I give balls to, but I made an exception because one of them was just sooooo damn cute:

kid_i_gave_ball_to.jpg

The game itself was boring from a ball-snagging standpoint but exhilarating from a Mets-supporting standpoint. The Mets fell behind, 2-0, early on but tied the game in the fifth inning and took the lead for good in the sixth on Jose Reyes’ 200th hit of the season, which just so happened to be his 19th triple, which just so happened to come with the bases loaded. I was very excited. Shea was rockin’. It was fun.

Meanwhile, Johan Santana struck out 10 batters in eight solid innings to pick up his 15th win.

Final score: Mets 6, Cubs 2.

STATS:

? 11 balls at this game

? 517 balls in 68 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 564 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 95 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

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

? 3,794 total balls

AND IN OTHER (media) NEWS…

1) Someone at CBS recently uploaded my “Early Show” segment onto YouTube. In case you haven’t seen it, here it is.

2) Do you remember when I mentioned in my last entry that I had to pull over while driving to Philadelphia to do an interview with a reporter at the Wall Street Journal? Well, that story is now up, and you can read it here. Because it’s a blog-type piece, there are comments at the bottom, and as a rule, I never read comments about myself on other people’s blogs. They’re always so negative, and they’re always from people who don’t know a single thing about me (or might have seen me snag 11 balls but didn’t notice when I quietly gave three of them away), so please, if you’re going to read that piece, don’t leave a comment here and tell me how badly I’m getting bashed. I’m not interested.

3) I got quoted today in the New York Times about something only slightly related to snagging baseballs. Here’s the article. You’ll find my name about halfway down…

8/25/08 at Shea Stadium

This was a Watch With Zack game, and my “clients” were going to be with me for two days. They’d flown in from Los Angeles to see both New York City ballparks for the first time, and their trip kicked off with this Mets-Astros game at Shea Stadium. Here we are before the gates opened:

zack_evan_hailey_mark.jpg

In case you’re new to this blog, I’m the guy on the left. The person (I can’t bring myself to call him a “kid” since he’s taller than me) on MY left is a 16-year-old named Evan who’s been reading this blog for a few years and leaving comments as “evan.bizzz.” The other two people are Evan’s 12-year-old sister Hailey and their father Mark.

Evan was no stranger to batting practice. He had snagged 41 lifetime balls, but he didn’t simply want to pad his numbers on this trip; he was determined, if not flat-out dying, to add a commemorative ball from each stadium to his collection–not an easy task. Hailey, meanwhile, with just a handful of lifetime snags, was still hoping for a commemorative ball but willing to accept any ball that came her way.

Now…
Before I continue, I want to give a shout-out to a kid named Joe–aka
“josephfaraguna”–who not only recognized me outside Gate C and took the above photo but was kind enough to let me have the corner spot in the Loge once the
stadium opened. There were actually two corner spots on the right field side that I wanted–one for Evan on the Field Level–and another for Hailey and her father upstairs. Each spot was probably going to be good for at least one ball. We just had to GET THERE before anyone else, and thanks to Joe’s generosity (plus the fact that we were first on line), we did.

When Shea opened at 4:40pm, I quickly took Evan to the place he needed to be, then hurried upstairs with Hailey and Mark and got them situated. Here they all are:

corner_spots.jpg

Hailey told me she didn’t know any of the players’ names, and I told her it didn’t matter–that because she was young AND was basically the only girl in the stadium with a glove, all she had to do was be loud and polite and begin each request by saying “Excuse me.”

When the Mets finally finished stretching and began throwing, I ran back downstairs to help Evan. We looked closely at every ball that was in use, trying to spot the commemorative logos, so we’d know who to ask. I helped Evan identify all the players and coaches, and when Guy Conti strolled by (with a jacket covering his uniform number), I called him by name and asked for a ball. Evan and I both knew he had a couple balls in his back pocket, but we weren’t sure if they were commemorative. Conti pulled one out and tossed it to someone else, then took out the second ball and tossed it to Evan. It was commemorative!!! Perfect logo. No smudges. No scuffs. It was even rubbed up with mud (like this). We were both SO relieved, and we waved to Hailey and Mark and exchanged a thumbs-up.

As for Hailey…
She got Dave Racaniello, the Mets’ bullpen catcher, to toss her a ball, and as it sailed through the air, I was praying that she wouldn’t drop it. What did she do? She reached out and made a backhand catch like it was nothing. (She told me later that she plays baseball and softball.) Unfortunately, her ball wasn’t commemorative, but it almost didn’t matter. Everyone had pretty much accomplished their goals within the first 20 minutes–everyone but me, that is. I still hadn’t snagged anything.

I headed out to the left field foul line for a bit, but it was deader than dead so I headed back to the right field side and checked in with Hailey and Mark in the Loge. While I was up there, she got Aaron Heilman (who normally ignores EVERYone) to toss her a ball, and once again she made the catch look easy. I took her picture, then ran downstairs to check on Evan, and while I was there, I saw him catch a ball tossed by Jose Reyes! He and Hailey each had two baseballs. Not bad…

evan_hailey_two_balls_each.jpg

…and oh-by-the-way, I nearly forgot to mention that the ball Hailey got from Heilman was commemorative.

The left field bleachers (which you can see directly over Hailey’s glove in the photo above) opened 15 minutes early, so we all had to hurry out there. This was one of those rare days when bleacher tickets were being sold individually, and apparently everyone else wanted to be there too. Remember how empty the bleachers were two days earlier? Check out how crowded it was this time:

LF_bleachers_08_25_08.jpg

Shea Stadium had been open for nearly an hour, and I still hadn’t snagged a single ball. I was starting to get nervous, but thankfully, right at the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, a ball rolled all the way out to the wall in left-center and I was able to reel it in with my glove trick. Before I could lower my glove over the ball, I had to swing it out and knock it closer. Evan took a few photos with his camera, and since he hadn’t packed the cable that connects the camera to his laptop, I took a photo of his photo. Naturally the quality is bad, but whatever. You can still tell what’s going on. Here it is:

zack_glove_trick_08_25_08.jpg

By the time I snagged the ball, the Astros had taken the field and Reggie Abercrombie was standing nearby and watching me. He didn’t say much after I got the ball, but I suspect he was impressed. Evan managed to snag TWO more balls during the remaining 45 minutes of BP. The first was a ground-rule double that he had to reach over the railing to catch, and the second actually hit my left shoe. An Astros player had tossed it into the bleachers. It landed several rows back, got bobbled by some fans (shocker!), and quickly trickled down the steps to where we were standing in the aisle, which was so crowded that I literally wasn’t able to bend down to grab it. The ball hit my shoe and deflected right toward Evan who snatched it with one clean lunge.

Hailey and Mark were positioned in the front row in left-center, and if the Astros weren’t so stingy, it would’ve been a great spot to get another ball or two. But nothing was tossed their way. I was able to use the glove trick once more to snag another ball off the warning track, and that was it for BP. Evan had four balls, while Hailey and I each had two. Mark hadn’t snagged any, but I don’t think he cared. He just wanted to see us all in action, and of course he was happy that his kids had done well.

zack_hample_autograph.jpgOne of the highlights of my day occurred between BP and the game, while Evan and Hailey were with me. I’d been getting recognized by fans throughout the day, and one of them (a kid named Jordan) asked me to sign his copy of the Mets Magazine.

“Where do you want me to sign it?” I asked.

“Wherever,” he said and suggested that I sign David Wright’s photo on the cover.

It was an honor to get to write my name there, so after I did it, I took a photo…and here it is on the right. If you look closely, you can see that I wrote my up-to-the-minute ball total. That’s how I do all my snagging-related signatures. Whenever I sign copies of Watching Baseball Smarter, I write the date after my name. I always thought it was cool when major leaguers (or any celebrities) had variations in their signatures–no doubt because my mom runs the autograph department of the family book store–so I decided long ago that whenever someone asked for my autograph, I’d change it up every now and then.

From a Mets fan’s perspective, the game was great–the Mets won, 9-1, Mike Pelfrey pitched his second straight complete game, Carlos Delgado hit two three-run homers, and Jose Reyes had three hits including his major league-leading 15th triple–but from a ball-snagging perspective, it was lousy. For each of the first three innings, I snuck Hailey down to the seats behind the Mets’ dugout, then brought her back to Mark at our assigned seats on the left field side…then did the same with Evan at the Astros’ dugout. The goal was to snag a third-out ball as the players came off the field each half-inning, but there were a million little kids in the first few rows behind the Mets’ dugout, and as for the Astros…Lance Berkman kept ending up with the balls and tossing them deep (and unpredictably) into the crowd. We came up empty but still had fun sneaking around and playing our own little game-within-the-game.

After the third inning, I helped Hailey and Mark sneak back into the seats behind the Mets’ dugout, and I took Evan up to the Loge to go for foul balls. Again, we had fun running around, but came up empty. There was nothing I could do about that. I can guarantee BP balls, but the game itself is a whole nother story.

During the last half-inning, all four of us went down to the seats behind home plate, hoping for at least one ball from umpire Chad Fairchild as he walked off the field. But no. As soon as the final out was recorded, he marched through the tunnel and never looked up at us.

Oh well. The day was still a success.

mark_zack_hailey_postgame.jpg

Hailey didn’t actually keep my baseballs. She was content with the two she’d snagged on her own, so she just borrowed mine for this photo.

STATS:

? 2 balls at this game

? 348 balls in 49 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.

? 545 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

? 3,625 total balls

? 1 more photo for you (taken just before we headed out of the stadium)…

sprinklers.jpg

8/23/08 at Shea Stadium

It was a good day. I didn’t set any records, but I definitely milked Shea Stadium for all it was worth.

The happiness started at 4pm when I got off the No. 7 train, started wandering around the ballpark, and happened to run into a small group of fans who had an extra ticket for the picnic area…which they gave to me for free.

Shea opened at 4:40pm, and when batting practice finally got underway 15 minutes later, I positioned myself along the left field foul line. This was the view:

view_from_LF_foul_line.jpg

Because Brandon Backe, a right-hander, was going to be pitching for the Astros that night, I figured that the Mets’ switch-hitters (Jose Reyes, Argenis Reyes, and Carlos Beltran) would be batting left-handed during BP. I was hoping that one of them (or any of the other lefties on the team) would slap a ball down the line–and that’s exactly what happened. I’m pretty sure it was Jose who hit it. The ball plunked onto the grass, 30 feet short of my spot, and then curved sharply (and predictably) into foul territory because of the side-spin. By this point, I had already moved down into the blue seats where I leaned over the low wall for the easy scoop.

That was the only ball I snagged during the Mets’ portion of BP.

After the Astros pitchers came out and played catch in left field, I ended up getting a ball from Wandy Rodriguez. And then I got him to sign my ticket:

wandy_rodriguez_autograph.jpg

After the picnic area opened, I raced into the bleachers and got Reggie Abercrombie to toss me my third ball of the day. Five minutes later, I used my glove trick to pluck ball No. 4 off the warning track in left-center.

The bleachers were unbelievably empty throughout BP. I can’t explain it. They’d been packed the night before, but on this day, I had the wide aisle all to myself. Check it out:

empty_aisle_during_BP.jpg

The other fans were apparently there to WATCH batting practice. A few of them even looked at me funny because I was the only guy running around with a glove. It was a dream come true, but of course there were hardly any other batted balls that reached the seats.

At one point, a ball cleared the outfield wall in left-center but fell short of the bleachers. I thought it was going to be the perfect glove trick opportunity, but when I ran over and looked down into the gap, I saw that the ball had rolled back under the bleachers. I wasn’t going to be able to lower my glove straight down. Long story short (and because I don’t want to get myself in trouble), let’s just say that I found a way to get down there. The following photo shows the obstacle course under the bleachers that I had to work my way through…

under_the_bleachers1.jpg

…and it was totally worth it. When I reached the far end, this is what I saw:

under_the_bleachers2.jpg

It took about 10 seconds to climb over/under the last few metal beams and work my way to the ball so that I was close enough to grab it. During that time I was more concerned that another fan would appear out of nowhere and beat me to it than with the idea that I might get arrested or electrocuted.

I snagged one more ball–my sixth of the day–during the last round of BP when some righty on the Astros hit a home run right to me. A few other fans half-heartedly reached up at the last second. I reached farther and made the embarrassingly easy catch, prompting one man to suggest that I play left field during the game.

All five of the balls I’d snagged from the Astros were marked with a big “H” on the sweet spot:

H_balls_08_23_08.jpg

After BP had ended, I caught up with the fans who’d given me the ticket and noticed that they were all wearing pink wristbands. I knew what this meant–they had access to the all-you-can-eat tent–so I asked them if they had an extra wristband. They said they didn’t and suggested that I walk over to the main entrance to the picnic area and tell security that I was with Verizon…which I did…and it worked.

foul_ball_location_08_23_08.jpg

With one out in the top of the fourth inning, Backe was at-bat and worked a full count off John Maine. Next pitch? 94-mph fastball. Backe swung late, hit the bottom ball3623_brandon_backe_foul.jpg
edge of the ball, and sent it SHOOTING back in my direction, possibly as fast as the pitch itself had traveled. I was already standing in the tunnel (and extra ready to pounce because pitchers often swing late…and because 3-2 counts are great for foul balls), so all I had to do was take one step forward, shift ever-so-slightly to my right, and reach a foot over my head for the backhand catch. Couldn’t have been much easier, and yet the hundreds of people sitting around me went bonkers. I’ve never heard cheers and applause so loud for ANY foul ball before. I could actually feel the vibration from the roar of the crowd. I don’t understand it. Maybe with the Mets already well on their way to an 8-3 loss, the fans needed something else to get excited about? Anyway, it felt good, but unfortunately this was the last ball that came anywhere near me.

Throughout the game, I kept running into Clif (aka “goislanders4″ in the comments section) and his friend Marco. They’d had a rough day in the snagging department, but I think they still had fun overall. After the game, Clif’s mom Gail (who you might remember from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium) was kind enough to give me a ride home.

shea_postgame_from_parking_lot.jpg

STATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 346 balls in 48 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 10 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

? 121 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 5 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)

? 5 lifetime seasons with 10 or more game balls

? 2nd time snagging 10 or more game balls in back-to-back seasons

? 544 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,623 total balls

8/22/08 at Shea Stadium

crowd_outside_gate_c.jpgBy the time Gate C opened at 4:40pm, the line of fans waiting to get in was longer than I’d ever seen it. (This photo, by the way, only shows the first part of half the line. There were just as many people behind me, snaking off into the distance in the opposite direction.)

During the entire Mets’ portion of batting practice, I managed to snag ONE ball. I was in the Loge Level in right field and got Luis Ayala (who didn’t recognize me because he was recently traded to the Mets) to toss it up after he finished playing catch. The ball was commemorative, which made me feel good for about 1.6 seconds, and then I went back to being annoyed that my day was off to such a slow start.

At least I got to have a funny conversation with Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti. A bit earlier, when I was standing along the right field foul line on the Field Level, I got his attention by asking if he wanted to play catch.

“I need to warm up my arm,” I said.

“So do a lot of these guys,” he replied while giving a little nod toward the pitchers. Then he asked, “When does school start back up?”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” I said, “because I graduated from college almost eight years ago.”

old_and_older.jpg
Conti couldn’t believe it. “You look so young!” he shouted.

“Good,” I said.

“It IS good,” he continued. “Feliciano is always trying to get young girls, but he looks so old. I keep telling him he’s got no chance.”

“No chance at all,” I said, and we both laughed.

Despite the fact that there was an enormous crowd waiting for autographs behind the Mets’ dugout, I was able to work my way into the front row just before the whole team came off the field, and I got a ball tossed to me by Mets bench coach Sandy Alomar Sr.

Jona (my girlfriend, in case you’re new to this blog) was with me again, and for the second day in a row we were able to get tickets for the picnic area. Once that section opened, I ran out there and immediately grabbed a home run ball, hit by some righty on the Astros, that clanged off the metal flooring.

Fifteen minutes later, I used my glove trick to snag a ball that had dropped into the gap between the bleachers and the outfield wall, and two minutes after that I got Michael Bourn to toss me another.

Ready for the funny photo of the day? It’s actually not THAT funny without an explanation, so let me first tell you what happened…

During the final round of BP, another unidentifiable Astros righty launched a deep fly ball 50 feet to my right, at which point I ran through the aisle and jumped as high as I could and made a backhand catch with people all around me. It WAS a nice catch, but considering the fact that most of the other fans were flinching, and that I played college ball, and that I’m still relatively young and fit…I’m sorry but it wasn’t THAT incredible. None of the grown-ups were wearing gloves. None of the kids even saw the ball coming. And there was lots of luck involved. If the ball had traveled six inches farther, my white-boy-vertical-leap wouldn’t have been enough, so after everyone was done oohing and ahhing and I was walking back to my spot in the middle of the section, Jona happened to capture me with a funny/telling facial expression:

zack_after_catching_home_run.jpg

It’s like I was thinking, “People. Please. That was easy. You’re all fools for thinking otherwise. I had it all the way. Now step aside.”

One minute before BP ended, I used my glove trick to snag another ball which I promptly handed to a little girl on my right who (of course) was wearing a glove and hadn’t yet snagged one on her own.

Jona and I stayed in the bleachers for the game. At least I think there was a game. I heard later that it was pretty good–that the Mets won, 3-0, behind another strong outing by Johan Santana. I didn’t know it at the time because this was my view during most of it:

view_during_game_08_22_08.jpg

Seriously, the kids were out of control–or rather the “parents” were out of control for allowing their kids to eat sugar all night and get hyper and run around the aisle nonstop and stand right in front of people who were there, ostensibly, to watch baseball.

H_balls_08_22_08.jpg
STATS:

? 7 balls at this game (five of which were marked with an “H” by the Houston Astros, one of which I gave away)

? 339 balls in 47 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 543 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,616 total balls

8/21/08 at Shea Stadium

Jona (the G.F.) joined me for this game, and when we got off the No. 7 train at Shea Stadium, this is what we saw:

citi_field_sign1.jpg

Talk about timing! The (ugly) sign for Citi Field was in the process of being put up, and if you look closely at the photo above, you can see the “E” dangling backward as it was being hoisted.

Ten minutes later the “E” was in place:

citi_field_sign2.jpg

Thirteen minutes after Shea opened, the Mets still hadn’t started taking batting practice, so I was reduced to begging (unsuccessfully) for balls along the right field foul line. (I’m wearing a white T-shirt and blue cap in the photo below.)

zack_before_BP_started.jpg

Once the Mets finally started hitting, I headed up to the corner spot in the Loge and got two (non-commemorative) balls thrown to me during the next half-hour. The first came from Ramon Castro. The second came from Brian Stokes, and Jona snapped three quick photos as the ball was in mid-air. Here’s the first:

brian_stokes_thrown_ball1.jpg

Here’s the second…

brian_stokes_thrown_ball2.jpg

…and here’s the third (with the nearly-completed Citi Field sign visible):

brian_stokes_thrown_ball3.jpg

Jona and I had been able to find a couple bleacher tickets, and apparently Greg (aka “gregorybarasch” if you read the comments) had gotten one as well because we all ended up there when that section opened:

zack_bleachers_08_21_08.jpg

My third ball of the day was tossed up unexpectedly by a Braves player that I couldn’t see from my spot several rows back. Luckily, Greg had been standing in the front row and told me that Jo-Jo Reyes was the guy who tossed it.

Five minutes later, I scooted to my left along the top of a bench and caught a ground-rule double that Chipper Jones had hit while batting left-handed.

Greg ended up getting a couple balls that I easily would’ve had if he weren’t there, and I’m sure I snagged a few that he would’ve had if not for me. That’s just how it goes. There’s not much room to maneuver at Shea (or Yankee) so whenever we end up at the same game, we inevitably end up getting in each other’s way. (And yet we’re still friends. Awwww.)

Toward the end of BP, I got Julian Tavarez to throw me a ball in left-center field and then got another flipped to me by Vladimir Nunez in straight-away left.

That was it. Slow day.

I gave the Nunez ball to the youngest kid (with a glove!) that I could find. The kid was with some friends, one of whom recognized me from SNY, and Jona (who photographs everything, much to my delight) took a pic while I was talking to them:

zack_after_giving_ball_to_kid.jpg

Just to give you an idea of how I unfairly get a bad reputation…
During BP, there was a man (with no glove or kids) who complained every time I snagged another ball, and when I told him that I was planning to give one of the balls away to a kid, he said, “Yeah right,” and continued bad-mouthing me to everyone in sight. When I finally gave the ball away, not only was the man nowhere to be seen, but a security guard walked over and said, “I see what you did. You gave away the most beat
up ball you had.”

I tried to explain that all my other balls had been labeled…that I wanted to give one away that I hadn’t yet written on…that I simply gave away the LAST ball I had…that I would’ve given it away even if it were brand new…that I prefer to keep beat up balls because it’s fun to look at the markings and figure out how they got there.

He didn’t buy it.

The point is, if you read negative things about me on other blogs and message boards, don’t assume they’re true. I’m not saying I’ve NEVER done anything wrong–just that some people only see what they want to see.

As for the game itself…
yunel_escobar.jpgI stayed in the bleachers and nearly snagged two home run balls. The first was hit by Yunel Escobar on the first pitch of the game. I was lined up perfectly, but the ball fell about 10 to 15 feet short and landed on the netting that (in some places) covers the gap between the bleachers and the outfield wall. Just as I was starting to set up my glove trick, a fan who was standing down below was able to pull the netting aside JUST enough to reach up and squeeze the ball through.

david_wright.jpgIn the bottom of the fifth inning, David Wright hit a line drive homer about 30 feet to my right. I couldn’t have caught it on a fly because it fell several rows in front of the aisle, but because the fans dropped it and bobbled it, I was able to get close enough to it to ALMOST grab it off the ground. My right hand was about a foot away from the ball when I got pinned against the sharp metal corner of a bench (ouch), had my hat knocked off (whatever), and got a cup of beer splashed against my left shin (gross). If I’d gotten there half a second sooner, I would’ve had the ball, and I WOULD HAVE gotten there in time if not for three little kids who were standing right in the middle of aisle, completely blocking my path as I initially jumped up and started running. Some people might’ve knocked the kids over. I, on the other hand, was totally aware of my surroundings and valued the kids’ safety more than getting a David Wright home run ball so I slowed down and carefully slipped past them, and it cost me.

At Yankee Stadium, the people in the bleachers are crude and hostile, but I will say this in their defense: They are INTO the game. At Shea Stadium, the bleacher crowd is out-of-it and just plain annoying. I can’t count the number of times I had to get up and walk across the aisle and ask people to move or sit down because they were blocking my view. Sitting in the bleachers at Shea Stadium is basically like doing three hours of people-watching while something called baseball is being played way off in the background.

The Mets won, 5-4. That much I knew. But I had no idea that Carlos Delgado went 5-for-5 until I got home and read the box score.

I’ll leave you with a pic I took of some of the 51,952 “fans” heading for the subway after the game (followed by my stats):

crowd_leaving_after_game.jpg

STATS:

? 6 balls at this game

? 332 balls in 46 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 542 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,609 total balls

? 1 last thing (in case you missed it in the comments on a recent entry): there are a couple regular ballhawks at PNC Park who recently started a blog about their snagging exploits, and you can check it out here. Unfortunately I didn’t meet them while I was there earlier this month. Thankfully they found me online and got in touch.

8/9/08 at Shea Stadium

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

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

During that first hour…

mets_throwing.jpg

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

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

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

ball_in_gap_08_09_08.jpg

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

provider_of_ball_3574.jpgGreg turned up soon after.

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the bleachers were getting uncomfortably crowded:

bleachers_during_bp_08_09_08.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ball3577_300th_of_2008.jpg

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

bleachers_during_game_08_09_08.jpg

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

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

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

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

STATS:

? 8 balls at this game

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

? 538 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,578 total balls

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

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