Results tagged ‘ tampa bay rays ’

9/15/09 at Camden Yards

The day got off to a GREAT start…

Camden Yards opened at 5pm. I was the first one in, of course, and when I ran out to the left field seats, I found a ball sitting in the front row in foul territory:

1_easter_egg_09_15_09.jpg

As soon as I reached the foul pole and looked to my right, I discovered another ball…

2_another_easter_egg.jpg

…and when I headed out toward left-center field, I saw this:

3_holy_crap_more_easter_eggs.jpg

Amazing. And then things got better.

During the next ten minutes (or so), I caught four home runs on the fly. I don’t know who hit any of them, but I can tell you that the last one impressed Jeremy Guthrie. He was shagging out in left field, just shy of the warning track, and had a perfect view.

Here’s how it played out (and FYI, all the photos of me were taken by my girlfriend Jona)…

As the home run was approaching, I drifted into the middle of a row to get in line with it, and then I realized that it was going to carry a few feet too far, so I stepped up onto a seat:

4_zack_about_to_catch_ball4268.jpg

At the very last second, I jumped up FROM the seat and made the catch high over my head, reaching back all the way. The following photo shows me at the peak of my jump with the ball already in my glove:

5_zack_catching_ball4268.jpg

Do you see the guy right in front of me with the dark blue shirt? He’s always out in the left field seats at Camden Yards, and Guthrie got all over him.

“Dude, you got posterized!!!” shouted Guthrie, who then reenacted the fan’s failed attempt to catch the ball:

6_jeremy_guthrie_reenacts_posterization.jpg

That other fan happens to be a nice guy and a talented ballhawk. I forget his name (because I just suck with names sometimes) but we’ve snagged together a bunch of times. He robbed me of a few homers earlier in the season, and this time I got the better of him. It happens.

Guthrie and I talked for a few minutes after that. He asked me how things were going with the charity, and I told him that this was probably the last Orioles game I’d be attending this season.

I ended up catching so many home runs during BP that I now can’t remember any of the details. It was truly insane. The following four-part photo shows me catching (or rather, ABOUT to catch) four different homers. In the bottom two photos, I’m wearing a dark blue Rays shirt:

7_zack_catching_homers_09_15_09.jpg

Everything was going my way. I happened to be in the right spot almost every time. Was it luck? Or skill? I suppose it was a combination of the two, but I really can’t explain it beyond that. I’d never experienced a batting practice like this in my life. Even the previous game (at which I finished BP with 17 balls and ended up with 22 by the end of the night) wasn’t this good.

Naturally, over the course of BP, there were some highs and lows and lulls.

There was running:

9_zack_running_09_15_09.jpg

There was pain:

10_ow_ow_ow_ow_ow.jpg

(The running needed work.)

And there was friendship:

8_adam_and_zack_09_15_09.jpg

You know how you’ll run into a person several times over the course of a few months or years, and you never really connect or get to know them, but you can tell that it’s someone you could potentially be great friends with, and then eventually it all clicks into place and you finally have a solid conversation with them? Well, last night was THAT night for me and the guy pictured above in the orange shirt. His name is Adam. He’s a regular at Camden Yards, and he reads this blog.

Back to snagging…

For those keeping score at home (including Alan Schuster, who is kind enough to update my MyGameBalls.com profile for me), here’s a rundown of all the balls I got during the first 45 minutes:

1) easter egg
2) easter egg
3) easter egg
4) easter egg
5) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
6) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
7) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
8) Orioles homer; caught on the fly (“posterized”)
9) Orioles homer; grabbed it after it bounced
10) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
11) thrown by an unknown lefty pitcher on the Rays
12) B.J. Upton homer; caught on the fly
13) Rays homer; caught on the fly
14) Pat Burrell homer; caught on the fly

It was around this time that I realized I had a chance to snag 20 balls for a second consecutive game. Could it be done?!

Matt Garza threw me a ball from about 120 feet away. The ball was falling short, so I leaned waaaaay out and down below the left field wall to try to catch it…

11_zack_leaning_over_wall_09_15_09.jpg

…but it tipped off the end of the my glove and settled on the warning track. Grant Balfour walked over and picked it up. I was afraid he’d recognize me from the previous day (when he gave me a ball during BP), and perhaps he did, but either way, I convinced him to toss it up.

Then I caught another home run on the fly in heavy traffic. One guy’s glove was RIGHT in my face, but I managed to hold on.

tom_foley_2009.jpgThen Tom Foley, the Rays’ third base coach, was walking through the outfield with a ball in one hand a fungo bat in the other.

“Coach!” I yelled, “Hit me a fungo!”

He looked up and threw me the ball instead. I was about five rows back, and the ball was falling short, so I climbed over a row while the ball was in mid-air and then reached way down over the next row to make a lunging catch.

Then a young kid behind me bobbled a home run ball, which I was able to snatch on one bounce. I immediately turned around and handed it to him. It was my 18th ball of the day.

Without warning, a ball smacked down into the seats one section to my right. I couldn’t tell where it had come from. I’d been watching the batter the whole time, and he hadn’t hit anything that reached the seats. Then I realized that Foley was standing on the foul line just behind 3rd base. He was hitting deep fungos toward left field so that the pitchers (who had nothing better to do) could try to rob home runs. The next fungo fell several feet short of the wall, and I lunged way out for it…

12_zack_getting_robbed_by_player.jpg

…but I got robbed by Brian Shouse. In the photo above, you can see the ball streaking into his black glove. You can also see Lance Cormier’s glove flying 30 feet in the air. He had thrown it up to try to hit the ball. (If I were a manager, I wouldn’t let my players goof around like that unless we had already clinched a playoff berth.)

Then I got my revenge. I think it was Balfour who tried to catch the next fungo, but the ball cleared the wall by three feet, and I was all over it:

13_zack_catching_ball4279.jpg

That was my 19th ball of the day!

And then I had my chance to snag No. 20. There was a home run hit half a section to my left, so I drifted over and made a leaping catch at the last second, right next to a man who’d been whining about all the balls I was catching (even though he’d already snagged quite a few balls himself). He also accused me of never giving balls to kids (even though I’d just given one to a kid two minutes earlier). In the following photo, you can see this clown standing behind me in the light blue shirt. As for me, this was my reaction after catching the ball and reaching TWENTY for the second straight day:

14_zack_20th_ball_of_day.jpg

Foley was still hitting fungos. One more of them reached the seats, and I caught it.

(?!?!?!?!?!)

There was one final home run ball hit to me during BP. Here I am tracking it:

15_zack_tracking_ball4282.jpg

Here I am reaching up to make the catch:

16_zack_about_to_catch_ball4282.jpg

See the guy with the long hair and goatee? He must’ve weighed about 250 pounds, and then…

BAM!!!

17_zack_catching_ball4282.jpg

He slammed into me and nearly sent me tumbling headfirst over the railing, but guess what? I held onto the ball.

“AND ONE!!!” I yelled with a smile, indicating that he had fouled me.

Everyone else in the section laughed.

I had snagged 22 balls, including 11 home runs on the fly. Both of those totals were BP records for me.

Six of the 22 balls had interesting markings, smudges, scuffs, and grass stains:

18_six_cool_balls.jpg

In the six-part photo above, the ball on the top left has a small bat imprint on it. I’m pretty sure the imprinted word (which appears here in reverse) is “SELECT.” This is the ball that Balfour tossed to me after Garza’s throw fell short. The ball on the lower right was my 20th of the day.

After batting practice, I raced to the 3rd base dugout and got my 23rd ball of the day tossed by Rays bullpen coach Bobby Ramos. (This ball broke my single-game Camden Yards record of 22, which I had set the day before.) Then, right before the game started, I got No. 24 from Evan Longoria. He was using the ball to play catch with Willy Aybar, and when they finished, he threw it to me as a knuckleball. It was such a great day that even Jona got a ball after BP. I was in the front row behind the Rays’ dugout, and she was half a dozen rows back with my camera. I asked George Hendrick, the Rays’ first base coach, for the ball, but he scanned the seats and spotted her and tossed it her way instead. D’oh! (I need an uglier girlfriend.)

I spent the game in the standing-room-only section in right field. Here’s a photo of me walking toward Jona during an inning break:

19_zack_flag_court_09_15_09.jpg

I stayed out there for all the left-handed batters.

This is where I positioned myself for the righties:

20_zack_righty_foul_ball_spot.jpg

I did lots of running all night, even with my battered right ankle which by this point was stinging and badly bruised. But it was worth it. This was a good foul ball spot. I had empty rows on both sides. But, unfortunately, nothing came close.

Back in right field, there was some action in the bottom of the 7th inning. Luke Scott led off and smoked a 2-0 pitch deep and to my right. The ball was clearly going to land in the seats and NOT in the standing-room-only section, but I took off and ran for it anyway. There were so many empty seats that anything seemed possible.

The following photo is a screen shot that I took from MLB.com. The red arrow is pointing to me:

21a_zack_running_for_luke_scott_homer.jpg

Miraculously, the ball bounced all the way into the narrow walkway at the back of the section. As it began rattling around, there were two other guys closing in on it from the opposite direction, and I was sure, for an instant, that they were going to get there first…but then the ball hit the edge of one of those brick pillars and ricocheted in MY direction. The ball was heading right for my knee, and it nearly got past me. I barely had time to react as I bent down to simply try to stop it from getting away:

21b_zack_snagging_luke_scott_homer.jpg

And then, suddenly, I felt the ball in my right hand. Just like that! It bounced RIGHT into my hand. I kind of trapped it up against the wall and against my leg. I couldn’t believe it, but I *did* in fact have sole possession of the ball.

This was my reaction:

21c_zack_celebrating_like_a_madman.jpg

It was my 9th career game home run ball (toss-ups excluded). I feel like that’s an embarrassingly low number, but in my own defense, I *have* snagged 124 foul balls and one ground-rule double.

It’s tough to catch balls in the standing-room-only section. The view from the back looks like this…

22_view_during_game_09_15_09.jpg

…so you can’t even see the ball until it’s a third of the way to you.

The following photo shows where I ran to grab the Luke Scott home run ball:

23_ball4285_cross_aisle.jpg

See what I mean? There’s not that much space back there.

Here’s the home run ball itself…

24_ball4285_luke_scott_homer.jpg

…and here’s the video highlight on MLB.com. I hope it works. I always have trouble with streaming video on my laptop. If there’s anyone reading this who either taped the game or can somehow pull this clip off the internet and convert it into an .AVI or .MOV format, please let me know. I’d love to upload the clip to this page on my web site, which lists all of my game home runs.

Okay, so this seems like the best day ever, right? Well, unfortunately, I pissed it all away with one inexcusable error. In the bottom of the 8th, Matt Wieters hit a deep home run that was heading toward the center-field side of the standing-room-only section. I bolted about 40 feet to my right and, to put it simply (because it’s too painful to relive the details), I should’ve caught the ball and didn’t. Epic fail. No excuses. I was (and still am) stunned and humiliated, and I just hope that I get the chance to redeem myself someday. The few people who witnessed (or heard about) my meltdown tried to comfort me with words of wisdom. The worst thing that anyone said was, “Think how boring life would be if you were perfect.” (That asinine gem came from a female usher who then hugged me.) The best thing anyone said was, “Hey, it happened to Luis Castillo.” (That came from my friend Leon Feingold.) Ultimately, nothing will cheer me up. I’ll just have to get over it, in my own way, at my own pace, and focus better from this moment on…

SNAGGING STATS:

25_the_24_i_kept.jpg• 25 balls at this game (24 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 465 balls in 52 games this season = 8.94 balls per game.

• 621 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 117 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 6 lifetime games with at least 20 balls

• 9 lifetime game home runs

• 4 different stadiums with at least one game home run (Old Yankee, Shea, PETCO, and Camden)

• 4,285 total balls

• 1 gut-wrenching mistake

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (it’s not too late to make a pledge)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $631.50 raised at this game

• $11,745.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/14/09 at Camden Yards

I spent my birthday with one of my favorite people in one of my favorite places: with my girlfriend Jona at Camden Yards. The weather was perfect. The tickets were cheap. The crowd was small. I just knew it was going to be a great day.

When the stadium opened for batting practice at 5pm, I raced out to the left field seats, and by the time Jona made it out there with my camera several minutes later, I had already snagged two baseballs. I found the first one sitting in the second row all the way out near the bullpen in left-center field, and Chris Waters threw me the second.

Jona took the following photo as she approached the left field seats. I’m the guy wearing the black t-shirt and tan shorts:

1_zack_left_field_seats_09_14_09.jpg

Moments later, Chad Moeller ripped a deep line drive in my direction. I could tell right away that it had the potential to reach the seats, but I knew that it wasn’t going to reach my spot in the 7th row, so I scooted down the steps, and as the ball approached, I braced myself against the wall at the bottom. The red arrow in the following photo is pointing at the ball:

2_zack_about_to_catch_ball4241.jpg

I made the easy one-handed catch.

There was lots of room to run in the seats, and I took full advantage:

3_zack_running_and_climbing.jpg

Jona took a great sequence of photos as I ran for my fourth ball of the day. I’m not sure who hit it. All I know is that it was a righty on the Orioles, but anyway, the ball was launched half a section to my right, and from the moment it left the bat, I could tell that it was going to land well past the row where I was standing. I immediately turned around (so that my back was facing the field) and raced up the steps:

4_zack_running_for_ball4242.jpg

Take a look at the other fan (wearing the striped shirt) in the photo above. Do you notice where he’s looking? He’s keeping his eye on the ball. Do you notice where I’m looking? I’m NOT looking at the ball. The following photo shows more of this:

5_zack_running_for_ball4242.jpg

While the other guy was frozen in place, trapped by the railing and trying to figure out where the ball was going to land, I was focusing on my path to spot where I had already predicted it was going to land. That way I was able to reach the spot as quickly as possible.

Take a look at the guy in the next photo. He’s still looking at the ball, and I’m already cutting through the seats several rows behind him:

6_zack_running_for_ball4242.jpg

The ball ended up landing in the empty row directly behind me as I kept running through the seats…

7_zack_running_for_ball4242.jpg

…and I was able to snag it before the other fans got there. That one felt good because I’d done everything right and then got lucky when the ball didn’t ricochet away from me.

Moments later, another Orioles righty hit a home run that was heading toward the first few rows all the way out in left-center. I was more than a dozen rows back at that point, and I was three sections away, but I raced to my left anyway. There were several guys playing shallow in left-center. If the ball had stayed where it landed, they would’ve been all over it, but it ended up taking an unlucky bounce for them…which turned into the luckiest bounce ever for me. The ball hit the railing just inside the fence that separates the seats from the bullpens, and then it ricocheted all the way back into my row. The other guys started running up the steps and climbing over seats, but I was already closing in on it, and I snagged the ball well before they got there. That was my 5th ball of the day, and then I made a leaping catch for a line-drive homer in straight-away left field. In the following photo, I’m *just* about to squeeze my glove around it:

8_zack_catching_ball4244.jpg

The snagging gods were clearly helping me celebrate my birthday. Two minutes later, as I was walking back to my normal spot through an empty row in left-center, I heard everyone yell, “Heads up!!!” and before I knew it, I heard a ball smack a seat right near me. I never saw it coming, but when I looked down, the ball was sitting at my feet. This was my reaction after picking it up:

9_zack_shocked_after_ball4245.jpg

(The shirt I’m wearing was a birthday present from Jona. Jona’s birthday was the day before mine, and I’ll be blogging about it soon.)

My 8th ball of the day was another line-drive homer. No clue who hit it. I ran to my right as the ball was approaching, and as the fans just in front of me reached up for it, I pulled back (so that if they deflected it, it wouldn’t smack me in the face) and ended up making a very tentative back-handed catch as the ball sailed six inches over all their gloves. Then I ran to my left and caught a ground-rule double (hit by a lefty) that bounced high off the rubberized warning track into the second row. I got whacked in the face by some other guy’s glove as I made the catch. He apologized. It was all good.

dan_wheeler_2009.jpg
The Rays took the field, and I looked for Dan Wheeler. I hadn’t seen him all year, but I figured he’d still remember me, so when he walked out to left field, I shouted, “Is that my friend Dan Wheeler?!”

He looked up and said, “Hey, Zack!”

Very cool.

Then he asked me where my Rays cap was.

“Hang on,” I said. “I’m about to change into my Rays gear, but don’t tell your teammates. This needs to be our little secret, okay?”

“Okay,” he said with a smile on his face.

Then I ducked down so that I was blocked by the wall in the front row and put on my Rays cap and Rays shirt:

10_zack_changing_into_rays_gear.jpg

Then Wheeler came over and talked to me. He asked me how I’d been and what was up. I told him about the new book I’m working on and explained how I’m now snagging baseballs to raise money for charity. I gave him one of my contact cards, and we talked for a few minutes:

11_zack_talking_to_dan_wheeler.jpg

In the photo above, do you see the ball I’m holding? While we were talking, one of the Rays batters hit a deep line drive that bounced right to Wheeler. He grabbed it and said, “Here you go,” and tossed it to me in one motion.

“Thanks so much,” I said, “but you know you didn’t need to do that.”

“I know,” he said, “but I have to give you a ball every time I see you.”

“Well, I’ll be here tomorrow,” I said, “but one ball per series is enough.”

Then a couple homers were hit deep into the seats and Wheeler told me, “You better get back to work.”

I thanked him again and headed off to add to my total.

Now…if you look back at the photo of me talking to Wheeler, you can see that at the back of the left field seats, there’s a concrete wall with even more seats above it. Well…a home run ball ended up bouncing over that wall into the seats up above, and there was an all-out sprint between me and one other guy for it. We both got there at the same time, but then neither of us could find the ball. I scanned the seats like a madman, hoping to spot it, and then I saw it, tucked underneath a seat, and I pounced on it. I didn’t notice until 30 seconds later (when there was a brief lull in the action) that the ball had a huge gash on it. Check it out:

12_gash_on_ball_4249.jpg

I’ve snagged two other “gash balls” in the past. Here’s one, and here’s the other.

I got Grant Balfour to toss me my 12th ball of the day, and then I raced out to right-center field and used my glove trick to snag a home run ball that had landed in the gap:

13_zack_glove_trick_4251.jpg

While I was out there, I got Dioner Navarro to throw me a ball that rolled to the wall in center field. He threw it with curveball spin, and the sun was right in my eyes, but I stuck with it and made the catch. Then, back in left field, Wheeler tossed a ball to some fans who ALL went for it and somehow managed to bobble it back right into my row. It was incredible, and I was able to race to my left and grab it. Wheeler then got another ball and tossed it to the clumsy fans, so everyone was happy. Then I moved way back for a couple of power hitters, and while I was back there, I got Russ Springer to throw me a ball over everyone’s heads down in front. And finally, with just a couple minutes remaining in BP, I caught another home run on the fly.

WOW.

I raced over to the Rays’ dugout just before all the players and coaches cleared the field. Bullpen coach Bobby Ramos threw me my 18th ball of the day. In the following photo, the vertical arrow is pointing at Ramos, and the horizontal arrow is pointing at the ball:

14_zack_about_to_catch_ball4256.jpg

I *needed* to snag two more balls and reach 20 for the day. I’d already broken my Camden Yards record (17 balls on 9/6/05), but I simply HAD to keep adding to it.

I moved around to the home plate side of the dugout and waved my glove at George Hendrick, the Rays’ first base coach. The arrow in the following photo is pointing to him:

15_zack_waving_at_george_hendrick.jpg

I didn’t know if he even had a ball, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Maybe there was a ball sitting around in the dugout and he could grab it for me? Well, to my surprise/delight, Hendrick HAD a ball and under-handed it to me. Here’s the ball in mid-air…

16_zack_about_to_catch_ball4257.jpg

…and here it is streaking into my glove:

17_zack_catching_ball_4257.jpg

Ten seconds later, it occurred to me that this was my 4,257th ball…which meant that I had just passed Pete Rose on the all-time hits list! For those who don’t know, I’ve been comparing my ball total to the all-time hits totals since 2005, so this was a big deal (on a random personal level). I had actually brought a Reds cap with me on this two-day trip to Baltimore. I thought it’d be cool to honor Rose by wearing the cap at the time that I passed him, but the cap was in my hotel. Camden Yards is great for snagging, but I didn’t think it was gonna be THIS great. I figured I’d snag 19 balls in two days combined (assuming there was no rain), but 19 in one day?!

Here I am with Ball No. 4,257:

18_zack_with_ball_4257.jpg

Here are the two balls that tied me with Rose and then moved me past him:

19_balls4256_and_4257.jpg

Once all the players and coaches were gone, I took the following photo…

20_nineteen_balls_after_BP.jpg

…and then gave two of the balls away to little kids with gloves who were just entering the stadium with their dads. Naturally, they were all thrilled, and I told the kids that even though they now had baseballs, I wanted them to keep wearing their gloves during the game and try to catch a foul ball. They said they would.

Right before the game started, I went back down to the Rays’ dugout to make an attempt at snagging my 20th ball of the day. Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac came out and started throwing. Longoria was on the home-plate end of the dugout, so I positioned myself near him. Usually, the more experienced player ends up with the ball, but in this case, Brignac was the one who took the ball back toward the dugout. He was 30 feet to my left, and there were a couple other fans standing just on MY left. It wasn’t looking good, but at least the other fans were grown men who did not have baseball gloves. “REID!!!” I shouted, prompting him to look up. I
reid_brignac_2009.jpgwaved my glove and made sure he could see my Rays gear, and then he threw the ball toward me. I nearly had a panic attack because the ball was heading too close to the other fans. I was sure they were going to reach out and rob me, which would have been their right, but they kept their hands at their sides and allowed me to catch it. I asked the guy right next to me why he didn’t go for it. He said that I had been the one to call out for it, and I was the one wearing a glove, so I was the one who deserved it. (I might have to move to Baltimore.) And just like that, I had snagged 20 balls at a single game for just the fifth time in my life.

That’s when my luck ran out. I had several close calls on foul balls during the game, and I also came within 10 feet of snagging Brignac’s 1st major league home run. But everything either went over my head or took an unfortunate ricochet or settled in the hands of a nearby fan. It was very frustrating, but obviously I wasn’t about to start complaining. One happy thought that popped into my head was that I had raised more than $500 for charity at this game alone!

While I was running all over the stadium, Jona split her time between sitting in one place and following me around…and when she DID follow me, she was kind enough to carry my very heavy backpack:

21_jona_holding_my_backpack.jpg

Don’t let Jona’s expression fool you. On the inside she was thrilled — just thrilled!! — to be carrying my bag.

The stadium, meanwhile, was like a ghost town. Excluding all the rain delays and blowouts that I’ve attended, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many empty seats:

22_empty_seats_late_in_game.jpg

It was tempting to go for third-out balls because that would’ve likely helped me pile up the numbers, but I resisted the urge and stuck to my standard Camden game plan. As a result of that plan combined with several bouts of bad luck, I was still stuck on 20 balls when the game ended.

Final score, by the way: Rays 8, Orioles 4. Brignac went 4-for-4 with a homer, two doubles, and three RBIs.

As soon as the final outs (double play) were recorded, I bolted down the steps behind home plate and positioned myself next to the tunnel where the umpires exit. Dale Scott, the home plate ump, handed balls to the few little kids near me and then placed one final ball in my open glove. Then I zig-zagged through the exiting crowd and worked my way into the front row behind the Rays’ dugout. After the first wave of players and coaches left the field, the guys from the bullpen walked in. I shouted at everyone for a ball (and said “happy birthday” to Chad Bradford, who was also born on September 14th), but the only person who even acknowledged my requests was Bobby Ramos. I had taken off my cap before asking him for a ball so he wouldn’t recognize me, and it seemed to work. He didn’t have any baseballs on him, but I saw him get someone’s attention in the dugout. That person tossed Ramos three balls. Ramos then threw the first one to me and gave the other balls to kids.

Jona and I got a photo together on our way out. The ball I’m holding is my 22nd of the day:

23_zack_jona_postgame_09_14_09.jpg

Happy birthday to ME.

SNAGGING STATS:

24_the_twenty_i_kept.jpg• 22 balls at this game (20 pictured here because I gave two away)

• 440 balls in 51 games this season = 8.63 balls per game.

• 620 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 116 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 5 lifetime games with at least 20 balls

• 4,260 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $555.72 raised at this game

• $11,114.40 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One last thing…

People often ask me how I remember the details of each ball, especially when I snag so many balls in one game. It’s easy: I take notes. Nothing fancy. Just a few words for each ball to trigger my memory later on. Usually I write the notes on the back of my rosters. That’s what I did at this game. Check it out:

25_rosters_and_notes.jpg

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:

tickets_driving.jpg

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:

zack_world_series_photos.jpg

There was quite a line for tickets:

people_looking_for_tickets1.jpg

Other people had their own methods:

people_looking_for_tickets2.jpg

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

general_hoopla1.jpg

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:

general_hoopla2.jpg

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:

zack_big_glove_outside_10_26_08.jpg

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

jona_zack_clif_gail.jpg

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”)…

rally_towel1.jpg

…and even THAT had an authentication sticker:

rally_towel2_authentication_sticker.jpg

(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):

giveaway1a.jpg

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

game_4_coin.jpg

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…

zack_BP1_10_26_08.jpg

…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:

clif_during_BP1_game_4.jpg

Here’s a closer look at him:

clif_during_BP2_game_4.jpg

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:

zack_BP2_10_26_08.jpg

It didn’t work. Here’s what it said:

zack_BP3_10_26_08.jpg

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.

dan_wheeler_2008.jpg

“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?)…

zack_BP4_10_26_08.jpg

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

zack_BP5_10_26_08.jpg

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

zack_tampa_bay_blog.jpg

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

zack_st_petersberg_times.jpg

So it wasn’t a complete loss.

Here’s some general weirdness…

world_series_weirdness.jpg

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

pregame_hoopla.jpg

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:

view_from_426.jpg

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

view_behind_dugout_game_4.jpg

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:

view_during_game_4.jpg

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…

zack_trying_to_see.jpg

…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…

tickets_i_found_game_4.jpg

…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…

four_balls_game_4.jpg

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

7/8/08 at Yankee Stadium

Desperate times call for desperate measures. The cheapest ticket available at the window was $60 (or at
least that’s what the Yankees wanted me to believe) so I took a proactive approach…

i_need_one_ticket.jpg

…and found my way inside for $30. That still might sound like a lot, but when the cheapest seat in the entire stadium (bleachers excluded) has a face value of $22, it’s actually not terrible.

Anyway, batting practice was bad news all around. To start things off, a woman on the lower level (who was not paying attention, of course) was hit on the side of the head by an A-Rod slicer and needed medical attention:

woman_after_getting_hit_by_ball.jpg

Then, to make matters worse, the brilliant Yankee staff failed to move her out of harm’s way, and she nearly got hit again! I also saw two little kids nearly get taken out by line-drive home runs in the upper deck. The first kid was wearing a glove but had no clue how to use it, and the second kid was sitting with his father who didn’t even see the ball coming. That ball missed his head by six inches and truly might have killed him. I don’t understand how parents can be so careless and dumb. There are plenty of places in the stadium where balls can’t go. If the grown-ups don’t care about catching one and the kids aren’t coordinated enough to protect themselves, why not sit there?

Those two home runs, by the way, were the ONLY two home runs that reached the upper deck in eighty minutes of BP. Thankfully, while the Yankees were on the field, I got a commemorative ball thrown by Joba Chamberlain…

joba_from_above.jpg

…and when the Rays came out, I got a regular ball from Edwin Jackson.

That was it.

I stayed in left field for the whole game, and nothing came anywhere near me. Jeter’s 200th career homer? Didn’t happen. Arod’s 537th (passing Mickey Mantle on the all-time list)? Ditto.

The funny (and yet sad) moment of the night occurred when Jose Molina came up to bat and the Jumbotron said he had thrown out the last 12 base-stealers and had “not allowed a SB since June 3rd.” The woman behind me asked her male companion what “SB” meant.

“Second base,” he told her.

Scott Kazmir pitched well, giving up two runs and striking out nine in five innings–but Andy Pettitte pitched much better, surrendering just four hits in eight scoreless frames as the Yankees cruised to a 5-0 win. Guess who got the game-ending ball from reliever Edwar Ramirez. Rudy freakin’ Giuliani. That’s who. He had the corner seat in the front row next to the dugout (How the hell am I supposed to compete with that?) and then got to bring his little entourage out onto the field for a photo-op:

rudy_postgame.jpg

Before I wrap up this entry, I want to give a quick shout-out to a young Yankee fan named Jon Herbstman (aka “karenherbstman” if you read the comments) who spotted me late in the game as he was walking past me in the concourse. First he did a double-take…then a triple-take…then a quadruple-take before stopping and making a U-turn and walking over and staring at me and saying incredulously, “Are you Zack Hample?!” It was priceless. And when I said yes, he shouted at his dad to stop walking and asked for my autograph. It was a nice end to an otherwise slow and forgettable day.

Oh wait, one more thing…
I finally got around to scanning the article about me that appeared in the Palm Beach Post. Here it is.

STATS:

? 2 balls at this game

? 228 balls in 32 games this season = 7.125 balls per game.

? 528 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 117 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball

? 3,505 total balls

4/24/08 at Champion Stadium

I brought a secret weapon for my third and final game at Disney, and to make myself stand out even more, I bought an obnoxious/eye-catching shirt on my way to Champion Stadium. Are you ready for this? Hang on tight. Here goes:

zack_big_glove.jpg

Yes, I had the biggest baseball glove that anyone had ever seen. Don’t ask me where I got it or how much it cost. I have no idea. All I can tell you is that a friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) sent it as a surprise house-warming gift when I moved last month.

There weren’t any other fans around when I pulled out the glove to take this pic, but several stadium employees ended up walking by and asking a bunch of questions: “Where’d you get that thing?” (I don’t know. A friend sent it to me.) “How much did it cost?” (Unlike you, I was polite enough not to ask.) “Is that Shaquille O’Neal’s glove?” (Actually it’s Verne Troyer’s chair.) “You wouldn’t happen to be compensating for something, would you?” (Ask my girlfriend.) “Is that real leather?” (I think so.) “Can you actually catch with that?” (Probably not.)

And so on. It was fun to get all that attention, and I was hoping that the players on the Rays and Blue Jays would notice me as well.

brandon.jpgShortly before the stadium opened, a 20-something-year-old guy walked over and introduced himself. His name was Brandon. He’d been reading this blog for a while and knew I was gonna be at this game. He’d written to me on MySpace a week earlier (here’s HIS profile) to say he’d be there too, but because I’m a slacker when it comes to that site, I hadn’t gotten the message…so he summarized it. Basically, he’s the photographer for a band called The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. They’re on tour. He’s traveling around with them. They were playing a few shows at Disney. He had an off day and was spending it here, and he offered to follow me around and take a ton of photos.

He didn’t miss a thing. He even got me going through the bag check:

zack_bag_check.jpg

Thankfully, unlike John Adams, the fan in Cleveland who brings a drum into the stadium, I didn’t have to buy an extra ticket for my oversized item.

The left field berm was dead as usual, and I don’t understand why. For the first 20 minutes, there was not ONE home run that landed there, and as I mentioned before, the slope of the hill and the height of the outfield wall made it impossible to see the warning track. At any regular major league stadium, fans would’ve been asking for the balls in the pic below, but here at Disney we were oblivious:

balls_hidden_from_view.jpg

I didn’t use the big glove at first. I decided to snag like a normal person while the berm was still reasonably empty, and before long, I had a chance to catch one. Someone on the Rays hit a deep fly ball, and one of the pitchers (Edwin Jackson, I think) ran back and made the catch and disappeared from sight. In the four-part pic below, you can see exactly what happened next. Starting from the upper left and then going clockwise, we’re all reaching up with our gloves in anticipation of the ball being tossed over. Then, when the ball flies up in the air, we all jockey for position. On the lower left, I’m jumping and reaching unsuccessfully for the ball, and on the lower right, I’m landing and feeling both frustrated AND good about myself. Check out the pics, and then I’ll explain why…

jump_ball.jpg

Okay, see the little kid wearing blue who’s standing on my right? I knew he was standing there before the ball was tossed, so when it started sailing to my right…well, rather than moving in that direction and potentially bumping into him while getting under the ball, I sacrificed my own chance of catching it in order to prevent him from getting hurt. In other words, I didn’t move laterally. Instead I jumped straight up and reached to my right, and as it turned out, the ball missed my glove by six inches, but NO ONE GOT HURT. I can’t stress enough how important it is to respect the safety of the fans around you, especially when there are little kids involved. One of the reasons why I hate Yankee Stadium so much is that the “grown-ups” there are truly out of control. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been knocked down while reaching for balls just like this.

There still weren’t any homers being hit, and the berm was getting uncomfortably crowded, so I finally broke out the big glove:

zack_breaks_out_the_big_glove.jpg

I got a few laughs from the Blue Jays pitchers in the left field corner, but I realized this wasn’t the best time or place to harass them; they were just starting to throw (and therefore needed their baseballs), and the Rays were still hitting (so even if a ball had been hit to the Jays, it wouldn’t have been theirs to give away), so I ran around the stadium and found a spot in the right field corner. Dan Wheeler, a former Mets reliever who always used to talk to me at Shea Stadium, was out there and immediately recognized me.

“What’s up!” I yelled, holding the big glove up in the air.

“Can you fit all your balls in there?” he asked.

“Not quite,” I told him as another player (not sure who) walked over and asked me to toss the glove down.

“Let me try out that glove,” said the other player, “and I’ll give you a ball.”

I didn’t have to think twice about it. I tossed the glove over the railing (and briefly got scolded by a security guard until I informed him that one of the players ASKED me to do it), and the player with the glove headed back to straight-away right field and started posing:

rays_players_with_big_glove.jpg

Wheeler ended up being the one to reward me with a baseball, and Brandon took a pic JUST as I was about to catch it:

zack_about_to_catch_ball_3355.jpg

The snagging was underway, and life was good. (If you look closely at the pic below, you can see the mark on my nose where I was hit with a ball two days earlier.)

the_snagging_was_underway.jpg

The Rays player (can anyone tell who it is?) tried fielding a few batted balls and then flung the glove back up to me:

rays_returning_big_glove.jpg

I reached out and made another clean catch:

zack_catching_big_glove.jpg

Shortly before the Rays’ wrapped up their portion of batting practice, I told Wheeler that if he got another ball and put it on the warning track below me, I’d show his teammates the glove trick and then give the ball to a kid of his choice.

Less than 10 seconds later, there was ball in place, but unfortunately, as soon as I started setting up my glove, the players had to run off the field and make way for the Blue Jays.

“Make sure you give it to a kid!” shouted Wheeler as he ran off.

“Don’t worry, I will!” I yelled and we both waved goodbye.

For some reason, my string was more tangled than ever before, but the trick still worked, and I reeled in the ball with ease:

zack_reeling_in_ball_for_kid.jpg

There were a few kids to my right who asked for the ball, but they weren’t wearing gloves so I kept scanning the section. (I never give balls to kids without gloves. When I was a kid, I ALWAYS brought my glove to games and I remember how badly I wanted a ball. Even when I was starving and got my first hot dog of the day, I’d wait until the third out to eat it, and in the meantime, I was often standing on my chair and holding my glove high over my head and shrieking, “Hit it heeeeeeeeere!!!” so whenever I see a kid without a glove, it tells me he [or she] doesn’t care THAT much about getting a ball, and when I see a kid who IS wearing a glove, it reminds me of myself.) The smallest kid around happened to be wearing a glove, and even though he was wearing a Braves cap, I called him over and started walking down the steps. The kid started climbing over the benches, and his father was smiling in the background. It was a pretty cute scene:

zack_about_to_give_ball_to_kid.jpg

I put on my Blue Jays cap and ran back to the berm. Not only was it still dead out there, but now I had to battle the sun:

zack_berm.jpg

Eventually there was a little action, but it just wasn’t happening for me. Jason Frasor threw me a ball and missed. Then another ball was tossed over my head, and I raced up the hill for it…

running_uphill_for_ball.jpg

…and lost:

zack_loses_race.jpg

It didn’t help that I was carrying my backpack and the big glove, so I put them both down just behind the outfield wall, but that didn’t help either as I lost another race:

zack_losing_another_race.jpg

It was time once again for some Big Glove Love:

zack_big_glove_LF_foul_line.jpg

All the Blue Jays pitchers immediately spotted me and started cracking up. B.J. Ryan tossed me a ball (my third of the day) which I managed to catch IN the glove. This was quite an accomplishment. The glove was so big and heavy that it was impossible to close all the way. It was also a bit stiff, as new gloves tend to be. How am I supposed to break it in? Rubber-band it around a basketball and stick it under my mattress?

Moments later, Jeremy Accardo called me over to the foul pole, and when I got there, he said he wanted to use the big glove for a few minutes, and he offered me a ball in exchange. I couldn’t believe it. He’d already thrown me a ball each of the last two days, and now here he was asking ME for something and handing me another ball. Incredible.

We made the trade…

zack_trading_glove_for_ball.jpg

…and he took the glove into left field:

jeremy_accardo_big_glove.jpg

I was wearing my regular glove when he ran over and threw the big one back to me:

jeremy_accardo_throwing_big_glove.jpg

I made two jumping catches in the next ten minutes. The first was a ball that landed in the fenced-off gap next to the berm and was tossed up by a random employee. The second was a ball that rolled onto the warning track along the left field foul line and was thrown by Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos. Then I snagged two more balls from the bullpen with my glove trick, and I want to thank Jim from St. Louis (the guy wearing the Cardinals cap in the pics below) for pointing out the first one. It was about eight feet out from the wall, so before I rigged the glove with the Sharpie, I flung it out and tried to knock the ball back toward me:

bullpen_glove_trick1a.jpg

It took longer than it should have…

bullpen_glove_trick1b.jpg

…and I was almost certain that stadium security would appear and force me to stop, but they didn’t, and before long, I’d moved the ball close enough to lower the glove straight down over it:

bullpen_glove_trick1c.jpg

The second bullpen ball (number eight on the day) was much easier. It was already sitting right next to the wall, and I had it in my glove within seconds:

bullpen_glove_trick2a.jpg

Everyone stared as I headed to the dugout toward the end of BP…

zack_heading_to_dugout.jpg

…and as soon as I got there, the on-field photographer swung his camera around and started taking pics of me instead of the players:

zack_3rd_base_dugout.jpg

My one complaint about Brandon is that he didn’t tell me that the tag was sticking out of my hat, but I suppose he was just doing his job. As a photographer, he’s probably just supposed to document history, not change it.

I ended up getting my ninth ball tossed at the dugout by some random kid who happened to be standing on the warning track. (Hey, it counts.)

I didn’t have any luck during pre-game throwing along the left field foul line…

zack_pregame_throwing.jpg

…so I hurried over to the Rays’ dugout:

zack_1st_base_dugout.jpg

Did you notice the Rays smiling at me? Here’s a close-up of the pic above:

zack_1st_base_dugout_players_closeup.jpg

I didn’t think I was going to get a ball there because Carlos Pena, the Rays 1st baseman, was one of the last two guys throwing. First basemen rarely toss their pre-game warm-up balls into the crowd because they use them again when they actually take the field…but Pena couldn’t resist. If you look closely at the pic below, you can see him smiling too as he walked toward the dugout:

carlos_pena_smiling_at_zack.jpg

Look closely again at the following two pics and you can see the ball in mid-air. Here it is in front of the police officer’s right elbow…

pena_throwing_ball_to_zack.jpg

…and here it is about to enter my glove. There are four holes in the pocket, and you can see the bottom half of the ball through the upper right hole:

zack_about_to_catch_ball_3364.jpg

I should’ve used two hands to squeeze the glove shut, but I didn’t and the ball popped out, so I had to grab it with my bare hand. Jonny Gomes (the player standing on the left, watching intently) was disappointed when I bobbled it and made me give the ball back to him so he could toss it again. He probably thought I was a complete klutz, and I don’t blame him because I *did* look shaky with the big glove, but I doubt he had any idea just how hard it was to use. Anyway, he’s not even a good fielder with a normal glove, so whatever, and for the record, I got the ball to stay in the glove when he tossed it back to me.

I ran into the Rays’ cheerleaders and let them be in a photo with me…

zack_cheerleaders.jpg

…and then I walked with Brandon to the open-air concourse along the right field foul line. I’d snagged a foul ball there during each of the previous two games, but it was dead for Game Three. It was so dead that I went outside the stadium for half-an inning, hoping that the hard-throwing Dustin McGowan would induce a few monstrous foul balls, but no. Still, I have two things to say about being out there:

1) Big thanks to Andrew (who also reads this blog) for letting me go out there. He was about to head outside as well but then generously changed his ball-snagging plan and let me go outside by myself.

2) Since I couldn’t see the batters or hear the PA announcer, and since the game wasn’t on the radio, I had no way of following the action, so Brandon stayed on the inside and called my cell phone and gave me the play-by-play. (“Here’s the pitch…NOW.”) Even though nothing came over, it was fun just to have an accomplice and make an attempt. And by the way, this was my view as I stood outside the stadium, looking up at the sky:

going_for_foul_balls_outside_stadium.jpg

The game itself was fine. Nothing spectacular. (The highlight was hanging out with Brandon.) The Rays won, 5-3, to sweep the series and improve to 6-0 all time at Champion Stadium. McGowan took the loss. Andy Sonnanstine made a quality start to pick up the win. Carl Crawford went 3-for-5 with two stolen bases. Evan Longoria was 2-for-2 with a double and a triple. Troy Percival worked a scoreless ninth to earn his 328th career save, and that was pretty much it.

I’ll leave you with a few more pics that might be of interest. First, here’s a shot that Brandon took mid-game from the first base side…just a nice look at the stadium:

view_from_1st_base_side.jpg

Here’s a pic I took of a table in the concourse that was loaded with free stuff, including magnetic schedules (on the far left) and vouchers for free tickets at Tropicana Field (on the right). If there’s anyone reading this who wants some vouchers, leave a comment or send me an email. I took a whole bunch of them to give away. (Do they give these out AT the Trop?) It’s nice of the Rays to give them out, but it’s also sad that a major league team literally can’t give away free tickets. FYI, you have to redeem them at the Rays’ box office, and they’re only good for weekend games in May and June.

free_ticket_coupons.jpg

Here’s a pic of the nine balls I kept:

the_balls_i_kept.jpg

I didn’t get anything after the game except a pack of sunflower seeds at the Blue Jays’
sunflower_seeds.jpgdugout and a free ride back to my hotel from a father/son snagging duo named Paul and Michael. So…another thanks to them. I can’t believe how many people I met on this trip who read this blog…Leigh from San Diego (aka “padreleigh”), Paul and Michael, Andrew, Jim from St. Louis, and Brandon. Am I forgetting anyone? Hope not.

I’m not sure when my next game will be. I might go to Shea on Monday. (Anyone else planning to be there?) I’ll probably (unfortunately) be going to Yankee Stadium Tuesday through Friday as long as the weather’s nice. I might head up to Boston for Manny’s 500th home run. I might go to Shea for Griffey’s 600th. I’m now officially planning to go to Coors Field this season (I have a few friends out there now, and there’s also a Denver-based writer who wants to do a story on me). I’ve also been offered a free trip to Wrigley Field. And has anyone heard about the Mets and Marlins playing in Puerto Rico later this season? Details, please! I might need to go and raise my stadium total to 45. Oh, and another random thing…I haven’t had time to answer comments for the last few days, but I’m planning to catch up very soon, so if you’re waiting for a response, keep an eye on my recent entries.

Last thing, I promise…

STATS:

? 10 balls at this game

? 78 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 87 balls in 8 games this season = 10.875 balls per game.

? 504 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 112 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

? 801 lifetime balls outside of New York (The ball from the kid at the dugout was No. 800.)

? 3,364 total balls

4/22/08 at Champion Stadium

Major League Baseball at a Spring Training ballpark…really, does it get any better than that?

In case you haven’t heard (or if you’re reading this ten years from now and don’t remember), the Tampa Bay Rays moved three of their regular season home games from ugly/indoor Tropicana Field to beautiful/outdoor Champion Stadium, located in Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. The stadium holds about 9,500 people. It normally functions as the Spring Training home of the Atlanta Braves. I don’t count Spring Training balls in my collection, but I decided that if the games and stats count in the Major Leagues, then the balls should count for me.

This was my first of the three games. The first pitch was scheduled for 7:10pm, so naturally I arrived at the complex shortly after 12pm:

zack_arrives.jpg

I wanted to scope out the place and hopefully find a few balls lying around in the bushes outside the stadium. The Rays hadn’t played the day before, so there was a chance they’d been there, perhaps scoping out the place themselves. Who knows if they did? I didn’t find anything, but I got a good look at the outside of the ballpark…

outside_stadium_4_22_08.jpg

…and when I walked up the stairs way in the background in the photo above, I noticed that one of the gates was wide open. What to do…hmm. I figured that since I already had a ticket for the game, I couldn’t be arrested for sneaking in. Yes…I’d just play dumb and say I was from New York…no, bad idea…I don’t know. I just had to wander inside and take a peek…just a little peek at the concourse:

inside_stadium1_concourse.jpg

But then I noticed a sign for the lawn seating…

inside_stadium2_lawn_seating_sign.jpg

and decided it wouldn’t cause any harm if I took a little peek at that as well:

inside_stadium3_peek_at_berm.jpg

That’s when a group of stadium employees walked over…and smiled at me…and asked if I wanted them to take my picture. Seriously?! I felt pretty safe after that, so I kept wandering and I inspected the grassy area (aka the “berm”) from several angles:

inside_stadium4_berm_views.jpg

I couldn’t WAIT for batting practice to start, but I was also afraid that it’d get pretty crowded out there. Anyway, there was still more wandering to do, so I checked out the upper deck…

inside_stadium5_upper_deck.jpg

…and the view from the inner concourse on the lower level…

inside_stadium6_view_behind_plate.jpg

…and the drool-inducing, open-air concourse along the right field foul line:

inside_stadium7_foul_ball_heaven.jpg

I didn’t know where else to go at that point. I considered running onto the field and making naked snow-angels at shortstop (I guess those would’ve been “dirt-angels”) but thought that might be pushing it, so I just grabbed some bench and watched the b
atting cage get towed into place:

inside_stadium8_batting_cage_towed.jpg

Then the groundskeepers started watering the infield dirt and players started walking in. Can you identify the two guys in the pic below?

inside_stadium9_players_arrive.jpg

I could’ve easily run down to the front row and asked them to sign, but it didn’t seem right. I wasn’t even supposed to be there, and since I’m more interested in getting baseballs than autographs, I decided it wasn’t worth it. I was just thrilled to BE there:

inside_stadium10_zack.jpg

I voluntarily walked out of the stadium at around 2pm, and soon after that, I ran into a guy from San Diego named Leigh (aka “padreleigh” for those of you who read the comments) who had told me he was gonna be there. We’d been emailing for months. He was actually the one who first informed me that the tickets for this series were on sale…and this was the first time we’d ever met in person. Very cool guy. It was great to have an instant new friend.

The stadium didn’t open until 5pm (ugh!), by which time there was a disappointingly long line of fans waiting to get in:

line_outside_champion_stadium_gate.jpg

At least I was one of the first fans to run inside and THE first fan to reach the berm. Look what was waiting for me:

early_bird_gets_the_berm.jpg

Less than ten seconds later, B.J. Upton smoked a line drive over the left field wall and I picked up that ball too. Not a bad way to start, but then the berm started filling up.

competition_during_batting_practice1.jpg

Before long the berm was packed, and to make matters worse, the Rays and Jays weren’t hitting much over the wall, so I had to use other methods…like the glove trick. I used it to pluck a ball out of the bullpen near the foul pole, and as soon as I held it up to show Leigh (who was at the far end of the berm), a security guard marched down the hill and said, “Give me the ball.”

I had no choice but to hand it over.

“Thank you,” he said condescendingly before flinging it back into the bullpen.

I wasn’t sure whether or not to count this ball in my collection, so I consulted Leigh (who’s snagged about 700 lifetime balls). He felt I should absolutely count it. “You had it in your hand,” he said, then added that when you go fishing and catch a fish and throw it back, it still counts. So I counted it.

Back in my early days of ball-snagging, I only counted balls that I actually brought home, but once I started giving away balls on a regular basis, I decided that the number of “balls snagged” was more important than “balls owned.”

I got my fourth ball of the day when some pitcher lobbed one high into the air toward a bunch of us on the berm. We all jostled and jumped and booted it. The ball plopped onto the grass beside me and I snatched it. Pretty simple. I have no idea who the pitcher was because the left field wall was a foot too high. This was my view when I stood directly behind it:

view_behind_left_field_wall.jpg

Not only was it a challenge to identify the players, but it was just as hard to get their attention when they walked onto the warning track. I got my fifth ball thrown from a distance by Scott Downs–that was easy–but then when Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg walked over to retrieve a loose ball, I had to jump up and put my right arm on the top of the wall and support all my weight with it while keeping my head above the top of the wall and reaching out with my glove hand. The padding sagged and the tips of the chain-link fence dug into my forearm. Not fun. But at least I got the ball, and thankfully security didn’t confiscate it although a different guard walked down the hill and told me not to climb up there. (Well then don’t build a seven-foot wall that fans are obviously gonna want to see over, geniuses.)

I was getting baseballs…that was good…but I still hadn’t caught a home run. It was tough. The berm was steep and the
grass was slick, and there were fans all over the place, including a bunch of guys my age/size with gloves. At one point, when a homer was coming right toward me and I tried to take a step back, someone pushed me forward. And whenever a ball was heading for the berm 20 or 30 or 50 feet away, there were already people right there. It was not a good situation and things took a sudden turn for the worse toward the end of BP. Another home run was coming right toward me, and as I reached up to make what should’ve been an easy catch, some jerk cut in front of me and stuck up his glove at the last second and deflected the ball right into my nose. CRACK!!! I heard the scary sound of the ball meeting my face, and I nearly fell over from the sheer surprise of getting hit. Blood started dripping out of my right nostril, and everyone gathered around. My first thought was, “[Expletive deleted], I hope it’s not broken.” My second thought was, “This is really [expletive deleted] embarrassing. People are going to think that *I* missed the [expletive deleted] ball and let it hit me. My third thought was, “[Expletive deleted] this, I don’t want to miss any BP,” so when the same guard who’d scolded me walked back down the hill and asked me if I wanted to go to the first aid room, I wiped the blood away and said I’d wait until the end of batting practice.

Jeremy Accardo saw what had happened and got my attention and threw me a ball (my 7th of the day), and as soon as I caught it, some guy behind me started claiming that the ball had been intended for a little girl with a glove directly behind me (soooooo not true) but whatever. She hadn’t yet gotten a ball, so I gave it to her.

zack_ouchy_nose.jpgBP ended moments later. Leigh caught up with me as I was escorted to the first-aid room and told me my nose was already looking bad. (Thanks.) I got some gauze and held it against my nose until the bleeding stopped, then got a cold pack and held it there for the next 20 minutes, during which I probably cursed about 813 times. I went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and my nose did indeed look bad. (I had been told that in addition to possibly having a broken nose, I might wake up the next day with two black eyes. Thankfully that didn’t happen; the dark circles I now have under my eyes are merely the result of exhaustion.)

I got a buffalo chicken sandwich (with ranch dressing). My nose hurt when I chewed. I stopped eating and realized it still hurt, so I kept eating.

I finished the sandwich just before the singing of the national anthems and went down to the Rays’ dugout on the 1st base side. A few guys were playing catch. Jason Bartlett ended up with the ball just in front of me, and when I asked him for it, he scanned the entire front row for someone younger/cuter to toss it to, then reluctantly flipped it to me after he failed to spot a more deserving recipient. Meanwhile, the competition for a warm-up ball on the other side of the stadium was truly insane:

pregame_throwing_berm.jpg

Okay, so there were only 8,269 fans at this game, but since the stadium only holds 9,500…well, let’s do the math. It means the stadium was 87 percent full. If Shea Stadium were 87 percent full, there’d be about 48,000 fans, and that’s what this felt like. The point is…it wasn’t nearly as easy to snag at Champion Stadium as I’d hoped. In fact, it was harder to snag here than at most major league stadiums which are huge and have nooks and crannies and which provide a variety of opportunities. This place? As far as BP was concerned, it was boring and crowded and challenging.

The game, however, was much better. I went back to the concourse on the right field side:

heavenly_concourse_during_game.jpg

David Eckstein was first batter of the game, and on the fifth pitch from Rays starter James Shields, the little man sliced a foul ball about 30 feet to my left. I raced over, got right behind eckstein_foul_ball.jpgit, watched it skip off the bare hands of a man just in front of me, and bounce into my waiting glove. Mwahaha. I suddenly felt a whole lot better about life, although I was bummed that the ball was not commemorative. Wouldn’t it have been cool if there was a little Mickey Mouse in place of the standard MLB logo? Oh well.

It might’ve happened in the bottom of the first inning, or maybe it was the top of the second, but regardless, some right-handed batter hit a foul ball that cleared the grandstand behind the plate and flew out of the stadium. As soon as I saw this, I headed out there myself (thumbs-up to Disney and the Rays for having a re-entry policy) and tried going for foul balls, but it wasn’t meant to be. First of all, the game wasn’t on the radio so I couldn’t follow the action on the walkman (yes, a walkman, don’t laugh too hard) that I’d borrowed from someone who shall remain nameless, and on top of that, I couldn’t even hear the public address announcer saying the hitters’ names, so I didn’t know if there were righties or lefties up at bat. I got bored really fast and headed back inside to the right field concourse.

Leigh wandered over (from his spot on the berm) and hung out with me for an inning, and we re-enacted my injury:

zack_leigh_reenact_injury.jpg

That, unfortunately, was the extent of the action for the rest of the game. I couldn’t believe how few foul balls were hit to the right side, but at least I broke double digits by getting a ball at the Rays’ dugout after the game. (Oh yeah, the Rays won, 6-4.) I think it was tossed by J.P. Howell but I’m not sure.

I’ll be heading back to Champion Stadium in about an hour…

STATS:

• 10 balls at this game

• 77 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 70 balls in 6 games this season = 11.7 balls per game.

• 502 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 784 lifetime balls outside of New York

• 22 lifetime game balls outside of New York (not counting game-used balls that are thrown into the seats)

• 113 lifetime game balls

• 4 lifetime trips to the First Aid room

• 44 major league stadiums with at least one ball

• 17 stadiums with at least one game ball

• 3,347 total balls

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 313 other followers