Results tagged ‘ tarp ’

9/28/10 at Citi Field

New York City was wet. I knew there wasn’t going to be batting practice, but it was still frustrating to run inside Citi Field and see this:

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At least there was a ball sitting in right field:

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I headed over to that side of the stadium.

Twenty minutes later, Jon Niese signed a few autographs:

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Rather than getting him to sign, I asked him (very very extremely politely) to get the ball for me in right field.

He said he’d get it for me when he came back out to throw — and then he disappeared into the clubhouse. While he was gone, a groundskeeper retrieved the ball and threw it to another fan. That fan happened to be a teenager named Mateo, whom you might remember as my Watch With Zack client on 7/27/10 at Citi Field. Unfortunately for Mateo, the groundskeeper air-mailed him, and the ball landed in that tunnel that leads to the handicapped section. This was the result:

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As you can see, a gentleman in a wheelchair came up with the ball while Mateo was trapped in the seats up above.

The Mets’ pitchers finally came out and stood around:

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It was a very exciting day.

Niese ended up throwing me a ball after he finished playing catch. Then I moved to the seats in straight-away right and got another from Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello. (This was the 13th ball that “Rac” has given me since 2004; he’s one of the few guys who recognizes me and still adds to my collection.)

I raced up to the second deck and tried to get Manny Acosta’s attention…

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…and failed miserably.

Soon after, Craig Counsell and Lorenzo Cain started playing catch in shallow left field. This is what it looked like when I ran over:

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I got Counsell to throw me the ball, but he launched it ten feet over my head, and it took a series of ridiculous bounces, and Mateo ended up snagging it.

Then something really random happened. Some guy on the Brewers wandered out of the dugout and walked into the handicapped row behind the rolled-up tarp. I had no idea who he was, but he had a hint of gray hair and appeared to be in his 40s, so I figured he had to be a coach. He was wearing a warm-up shirt over his uniform, which had a tiny No. 83 on the back. I looked at my Brewers roster…and…nothing. Anyway, this random Brewer-guy met a female friend, pulled out his iPhone, and asked ME to take a picture. Here I am doing it:

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I still had no idea who the guy was, and I was too embarrassed to ask. I did, however, ask him for a baseball in exchange for my photography efforts, and he said he’d get one for me. I spotted him 20 minutes later in the dugout. He was wearing his regular uniform. His jersey said “GUERRERO 83″ on the back. I don’t have an iPhone, so I had to wait until I got home to look him up. I’m almost positive it was Sandy Guerrero — a former minor leaguer who served as the hitting coach this season for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds.

Here’s something else random for you: while I was waiting for Guerrero to come back out with a ball, I started talking to an older fan who was wearing a Yankees jacket. He was at this game for one reason only: to get Willie Randolph to sign a Yankees jersey. Ready to see the jersey? Check this out:

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(The look on his face must have something to do with being forced to watch the Mets.)

I don’t often get impressed with autographs, but this was rather spectacular. How many of those autographs can you identify?

Shortly before the game started, two more Brewers played catch in shallow left field. Luis Cruz was one of them, and he threw me the ball when he finished. Look at the sweet spot:

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It was like that when I caught it. (Marked balls are fairly common and are often much more interesting.) Meanwhile, Guerrero was nowhere in sight, so after the singing of the national anthem, I took off for left field. The seats out there were practically empty. I wanted to catch a home run. That was my official goal for the day. That’s why I voluntarily suffered through a BP-less day at one of my least favorite stadiums.

This was my view in the first inning:

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This was my view to the left:

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I had so much room to run, and of course nothing landed anywhere near me. Nevertheless, I still came very close to a home run, and if not for a swat team of security guards, I would’ve had it. Quite simply, Corey Hart led off the 6th inning with a homer that landed on the right-field side of the batter’s eye. I raced over to the seats in right-center for a closer look. This is where the ball ended up:

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I could have easily knocked it closer and reached through the bars for it, but the guards wouldn’t let me. They threatened to eject me for *reaching* for it. I can understand not letting fans climb over the railing, but prohibiting fans from REACHING for a ball? Wow. Just wow. I was (and still am) furious about it. There’s absolutely no excuse for being so strict, especially when the team sucks and the weather sucks and it’s September and there are only a few thousand fans in the stadium.

With the Mets trailing, 3-2, I made my way to the 3rd base dugout in the bottom of the 9th inning…

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…and was shocked when Ruben Tejada won the game with a two-run double to left-center. Ruben Tejada?! The guy is smaller than I am. He’s 20 years old. He began the night batting .199 — and he ended up going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles.

Moments after the game ended, I got my fourth ball of the day from home plate umpire Tim Tschida and then saw Guerrero walk out of the dugout with a ball in his hand. It took a minute, but when I finally got his attention, he flipped it to me.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 5 balls at this game (pictured on the right)

• 273 balls in 28 games this season = 9.75 balls per game.

• 657 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 496 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 357 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 19 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls

• 4,631 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 48 donors (click here to learn more)

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

• $37.65 raised at this game

• $2,055.69 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/12/10 at Camden Yards

Most.

Frustrating.

Game.

Ever.

It started at 5pm when I ran inside the stadium and saw this:

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It was just starting to drizzle. The groundskeepers were just starting to roll out the tarp. The Orioles, who HAD been taking batting practice, were walking off the field. Why was this a big deal? Because the last two times I was at Camden Yards for batting practice, I snagged 22 balls the first day and 25 the second.

Normally, I would’ve raced out to left field to look for balls in the empty seats, but instead I stopped by the dugout to talk to Jeremy Guthrie (whom I’ve gotten to know quite well over the past two seasons). Why was this a big deal? Because a fellow ballhawk named Matt, who had entered the stadium 10 seconds after me, ended up running out there and finding ELEVEN balls!!!!!!!!!!! (That’s one exclamation point per ball.)

My friend Brandon showed up soon after with his fancy camera. Here’s a photo he took of the batting cage being rolled away:

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Five minutes later, Ichiro started playing in shallow left field. This is how I wore my Mariners shirt to get his attention:

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As he finished throwing, I waved to get his attention…

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…and he threw the ball to me. Here I am reaching out for it:

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I adore Ichiro. Getting a ball from him was the highlight of my day. It would’ve been the highlight of my month if he hadn’t thrown one to me on 5/10/05 at Yankee Stadium.

Brandon takes amazing photos…like this one…of my reaction to the weather:

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(Note the raindrop on the upper right.)

In the photo above, you can see someone on the Mariners playing catch in the background. It was Jack Wilson. He was throwing with the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator. At least that’s who I think it was — and that’s who tossed me the ball when they finished. Here’s the ball in mid-air, heading to me:

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See the guy to my right in the tan cargo shorts? That’s another fellow ballhawk named Avi. He’s the one who visited the Camden Club with me the day before.

A few more Mariners came out to play catch. Here’s a photo (taken by Brandon) of Sean White:

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In the photo above, the orange seat indicates where Eddie Murray’s 500th career home run landed.

My third ball of the day was thrown by Brandon League, and my fourth ball, pictured below in mid-air, was tossed by Mariners bullpen catcher Jason Phillips:

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Even though it was raining, a bunch of Mariners signed autographs. Here I am getting David Aardsma on my ticket…

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…and here’s the ticket itself:

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As you can see, I got four guys to sign it, and they all (sloppily) wrote their uniform numbers. Aardsma (53) is on the upper right, Jesus Colome (37) is in the middle, Ian Snell (35) is on the left, and Sean White (46) is on the lower right.

Brandon gave me his ticket, and I got John Wetteland to sign it:

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Wetteland was talking (to all the fans who were willing to listen) about electro-magnetism and atomic radiation and the big bang theory. And that was just the beginning. It was weird and funny — although he wasn’t trying to be funny. He was being totally serious, which made it funny…to me.

Eventually, when it really started raining hard, I took cover under the overhang of the second deck and pulled out my tickets to have a look. The nearest usher thought I needed help finding my seat, so I explained that I was merely checking out the autographs that I’d gotten. He and a couple other guys gathered around to have a look at them, too:

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Brandon photographed everything, including this:

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It’s a shot of me giving away one of my baseballs to a little kid — something I try to do at least once or twice at every game.

I headed down to the front row for pre-game throwing…

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…and got a ball from Josh Wilson. The following eight-part photo shows the ball from the time it was in his hand until I caught it. You might want to click it for a closer look:

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The game was delayed 24 minutes at the start.

And then…look how small the crowd was:

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You’d think I would’ve caught 17 foul balls and five home runs, right?

Yeah, not exactly.

And guess what? Ken Griffey Jr. wasn’t in the starting lineup. He was THE reason why I took this little roadtrip in the first place. Things just kept getting worse and worse.

This is where I positioned myself for most right-handed batters:

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Over the course of the game, two foul balls landed less than five feet from me. In both cases, I was the closest fan to them — and in both cases, the balls ricocheted wildly off the seats and ended up getting grabbed by other people. If the balls had simply stayed where they landed, these would’ve been easy snags.

NOW do you see why this game was so frustrating?

Well, there’s more…

In the bottom of the fourth inning, Luke Scott connected on the game’s lone home run. I was at the back of the standing-room-only section. The ball was heading right toward me, but falling short, so I raced up toward the wall and reached out at the last second to make the catch. It was THAT close to me. I actually squeezed my glove in anticipation. The ball never touched my glove, however, because the guy standing directly in front of me stuck his bare hands up and deflected it. The ball didn’t hit me in the face — I do have THAT to be thankful for — but instead it bounced directly over my head and rolled back to the exact spot where I’d been standing.

I was doing everything right, but couldn’t catch a break. Not to sound overly dramatic, but in all seriousness, my horrendous luck really made me question things. I can think of several instances where I’ve been angry inside major league stadiums, but this game, by far, left me feeling more frustrated than ever.

After the top of the 6th inning, I got a third-out ball from future Hall of Famer Nick Markakis. He had caught a fly ball hit by Jose Lopez to end the frame, and when he tossed it into the crowd, it got bobbled and then started trickling down the steps. During the mad scramble that ensued, I grabbed the ball out of puddle underneath a seat in the front row. I scraped my knuckles in the process. The whole night sucked.

Griffey pinch hit in the top of the ninth…

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…and hit a sacrifice fly to right field — right in my direction, but about 75 feet too short.

Bah.

After the game, I got my seventh ball of the day from home plate umpire Joe West, but I still felt like crap.

Final score: Orioles 5, Mariners 2. At least I notched another win for my Ballhawk Winning Percentage, which now stands at .850 (8.5 wins and 1.5 losses).

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 7 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 95 balls in 10 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 639 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,453 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 31 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)

• $4.95 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $34.65 raised at this game

• $470.25 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/30/09 at Nationals Park

This was the Nationals’ final home game of 2009 — a 4:35pm start — and my friend Brandon was there with his fancy camera…

When we first ran into the stadium at 2:05pm, all the Nationals players were stretching in right field, yet batting practice WAS taking place. There was some type of bonus round of BP for Nationals employees, and as you can imagine, most of them were terrible hitters. One guy, however, was good enough to reach the warning track, even with the crappy training balls that were being used, and I ended up getting two them tossed to me. The first came from a ballboy near the foul pole, and the second came from a coach named Jose Martinez who was shagging in straight-away left field. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to me as I reached out to catch my second ball, and the vertical arrow is pointing to Martinez:

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My third ball of the day was a ground-rule double — hit by the random/talented employee — that barely cleared the railing and landed in the third row. There was only one other fan who was close enough to go for it, but he didn’t move until the ball was already in the seats, so I was able to beat him to it.

Without any warning or any break in the action, Adam Dunn stepped into the cage so I raced over to the right field seats. Moments later, a ball rolled onto the warning track in right-center, and I convinced a different random employee to toss it up. Brandon was still in left field at that point, but he had his camera aimed at me and got the following photo of the ball in mid-air:

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In this photo (which you can click for a closer look), the arrow pointing up shows the ball, and the arrow pointing down shows me. The guy who tossed it was moving to his left at the time, so it looks as if the ball is heading toward the other fan in the front row, but I assure you that’s not the case.

Marquis Grissom tossed me my fifth ball of the day in straight-away right field, and then 10 seconds later, he saw me catch a Dunn homer on the fly. I was standing on the staircase, six rows back. The ball came right to me. I made a two-handed catch. It was embarrassingly easy, and by the way, every single one of these balls was a training ball.

adam_dunn_2009.jpgMy seventh ball of the day was thrown by Marco Estrada, and my eighth was another Dunn homer. I had to run about 15 feet to my right for it, and then as the ball was descending, I climbed back over a row (in the middle of the section) and reached over my head to make a back-handed catch. A gloveless man behind me complained that I’d already gotten a ball. I responded by offering to give him the one I’d just caught, but he didn’t want it.

“Give it to a kid instead,” he said.

You have no idea how much I do for kids,” I replied, but the guy clearly wasn’t interested in anything I had to say, so I let it go and moved on and continued to put on a snagging clinic.

(For the record, there was only one other kid in the section, and he’d already gotten a ball. It was one of those days where the players were being generous. Basically, everyone who asked for a ball got one.)

Saul Rivera threw me ball No. 9, and he did it as if he were turning a double play. He had Victor Garate throw him the ball, and as he caught it he made an imaginary pivot (as if he were a second baseman) and then fired it in my direction.

I looked at the clock. It was only 2:24pm. The stadium had been open for 19 minutes. Oh my God. I wasn’t just thinking about reaching the 20-ball plateau; I was thinking about what it would take to snag 30 and possibly even break my one-game record of 32. Meanwhile, Brandon finally made it out to the right field seats and got a cool shot of me catching my 10th ball of the day:

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It was thrown by Livan Hernandez from the foul line, and as you can see in the photo above, there weren’t a whole lot of kids in the stands. Even the guy in the red jacket got a ball thrown to him. I’m telling you…there were PLENTY of balls to go around, and as a result, I was truly heading for the game of my life.

But guess what happened next…

Here, let me show you:

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That’s right. It wasn’t even raining, and the grounds crew decided to (leisurely) roll out the tarp.

Unbelievable.

The good news is that there were several balls sitting in the left field bullpen, and I was able to use my glove trick to reel in one of them. The following three-part photo (which you absolutely HAVE to click) shows how it played out:

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The ball was sitting underneath the overhang, so I had to swing my glove out and back in order to knock the ball out into the open. As you can see in the photo on the left, the the string angled back at the bottom of the Harris Teeter ad. The photo in the middle shows two important things (in addition to the ball itself): 1) my awesome farmer’s tan and 2) the glove being being propped open by the Sharpie. The photo on the right shows me reaching for the ball. I’m always paranoid that the ball will fall out at the last second, but it rarely does. The key is not to panic — not to rush — while raising the glove. I just try to keep lifting it up steadily.

In the middle photo up above, do you see the man in the light gray vest jacket? While I was carefully lifting up my glove, he said, “Excuse me, but your last name isn’t Hample by any chance, is it?”

I told him it was, and he told me that he owned a copy of my second book (Watching Baseball Smarter) and that his eight-year-old son loved it and that they actually had it with them and that they’d been hoping to get it signed…so of course I signed it as soon as I was done using my glove trick, and then I posed for a photo with his son. When I changed into my Mets gear soon after, three other kids recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs. Here’s the autograph session in progress…

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…and here we are with the balls:

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Five minutes later, several Mets players and coaches walked out to the bullpen and tossed the remaining balls into the crowd. I got one of them from Sandy Alomar Jr.

Then it started raining, and for some reason, someone in the bullpen tossed a ball into left field. The arrow in the following photo is pointing to it:

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I found out later that the ball had been used by Pat Misch during his bullpen session, and that when it started raining, it slipped out of his hand and sailed high above the catcher and hit a railing and ricocheted sideways all the way onto the field. Of course I wouldn’t be telling this story if I hadn’t ended up snagging it. Randy Niemann eventually tossed it to me while walking in from the bullpen:

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Abe Lincoln was not impressed:

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It got sunny again by 4pm, and with the game set to start on time, I headed to the seats near the Mets’ bullpen. There was lots of activity out there. It just seemed like the place to be. Bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello was warming up Tim Redding in left field. Omir Santos was playing catch with Alomar on the warning track. Several relievers were standing around with baseballs in their hands. Ken Takahashi tossed a ball to the kid on my right. Then Brian Stokes (who has recently gotten to know me) spotted me and tossed me the ball that he was holding. Here I am reaching out for it:

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In the photo above, Stokes is the guy who’s standing still and cradling his glove against his chest.

Another thing about the photo above…

On the left side, you can barely see a catcher sitting down. He’s mostly chopped out of the picture, but just above the red flowers and the green edge of the outfield wall, you can see his black shin guard curling up over his knee. Right? Well, that was Santos, and when he headed into the bullpen one minute later, I leaned over the side railing and asked him for his ball in Spanish:

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This was the result:

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He flipped it up directly from his glove. It was my 15th ball of day. It had a Citi Field commemorative logo on it. Yay.

Josh Thole and Nelson Figueroa started signing autographs along the 3rd base line, so I headed over there and got them both. Thole signed my September 30th ticket, and Figueroa signed one from the previous day. Here I am after getting Thole…

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…and here are the autographs themselves:

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Right after the national anthem, David Wright tossed me his warm-up ball at the dugout:

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I was tempted to stay behind the dugout and go for 3rd-out balls — I only needed four more balls to reach 20 — but the temptation to catch a home run was even greater, so I headed back out to left field. Here’s where I sat:

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I had empty rows on both sides. There were very few fans with gloves. The circumstances were ideal. But of course nothing came anywhere near me.

Halfway through the game, when Nationals starter John Lannan came to bat, I noticed a statistical oddity on the scoreboard. Can you spot it? I’ll tell you what it is after the photo:

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His on-base percentage was higher than his slugging percentage, which means that over the course of the season, he’d collected more walks (two) than extra bases via hits (one).

In the middle of the 7th inning, I got my 17th ball of the day from a Mets reliever in the bullpen, and I’m ashamed to admit that I couldn’t identify him. I think it was either Tobi Stoner or Lance Broadway, but I’ll never know for sure.

In the bottom of the 9th inning, Brandon and I moved to the third row behind the Nationals’ dugout. This was our view:

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Francisco Rodriguez was pitching. The Mets had a 4-2 lead. The left side of my brain (or maybe it was the right) figured he’d nail down the save. The right side of my brain (or maybe it was the left) figured he’d blow the game. Either way, I was convinced that the Nationals’ dugout was the place to be. As I mentioned at the top of this entry, it was the Nats’ final home game of the season; I thought the players might be extra generous and throw some bonus items into the crowd.

Alberto Gonzalez led off the bottom of the 9th with an infield single. Then Mike Morse was called upon to pinch hit and took a called first strike. The second pitch was a 55-footer. Omir Santos blocked it and handed it to Kerwin Danley, the home plate umpire. Danley inspected it and handed it to the ballboy, who’d jogged out with a supply of fresh baseballs. As the ballboy returned to the dugout with the scuffed ball, I simply stood up and made eye contact with him and flapped my glove, and he tossed it to me. (HA!!!) Four pitches later, Morse ripped a ground ball single up the middle. Willie Harris followed with a sacrifice bunt and Elijah Dukes walked on a full count to justin_maxwell_2009.jpgload the bases. Ryan Zimmerman came up next and struck out on three pitches. There were two outs. The Mets were still winning, 4-2. The bases were still loaded, and then Adam Dunn walked on another full count. This forced in a run and trimmed the Mets’ lead to 4-3. Justin Maxwell, who had entered the game as a pinch runner in the 8th inning and remained in center field as a defensive replacement, stepped up to the plate. He took the first pitch for a ball and then watched the next two pitches zip by for called strikes. The fourth pitch was a ball. The count was even at 2-2. Then he fouled off the fifth pitch and took the sixth to bring the count to 3-2. Everyone in the stadium knew that Rodriguez was going to throw a fastball; the right-handed Maxwell, however, was so geeked up that he swung too soon and yanked a monstrous drive over the 3rd base dugout. On the next pitch — another 3-2 fastball — he swung too late and lifted a foul pop-up into the seats on the 1st base side. It was the most exciting at-bat I had ever seen in my life, and on the following pitch — the 9th pitch of the battle — Maxwell’s timing was perfect. He centered the ball and launched it into the flower bed in left field for a walk-off grand slam:

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Final score: Nationals 7, Mets 4.

Wow.

After all the celebrating and shaving-creaming was done, the Nationals DID toss a bunch of stuff into the crowd. They must’ve thrown 100 T-shirts (leftovers from the T-shirt launch) and two dozen balls. One player (not sure who) threw his batting gloves over the dugout. Incredibly, I didn’t get any of it. Not one damn thing. It was quite a letdown, but obviously I was still happy about the overall outcome of the day — that is, until Brandon and I made it back outside and walked to the parking lot. I’ll show you what I’m talking about after the stats…

SNAGGING STATS:

23_the_seventeen_i_kept_09_30_09.jpg• 18 balls at this game (17 pictured here because I gave one away after the game)

• 523 balls in 57 games this season = 9.18 balls per game.

• 626 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 120 lifetime games with at least ten balls

• 4,343 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $454.68 raised at this game

• $13,210.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

As I was saying, the parking lot…

When I parked my parents’ gray Volvo there earlier in the day, it was in perfect condition, and when I returned eight hours later, it looked like this:

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That’s me in the photo above, crouching down to assess the damage while holding a cell phone up to my ear and telling my dad about it.

Someday — SOME day — I’m going to attend a game at Nationals Park and have everything go smoothly…

9/28/09 at Yankee Stadium

There was rain in the forecast.
I didn’t really want to go to the game.
But my friend Brandon was visiting from San Diego.
He wanted to check out the new stadium.
So we went.

Thankfully, when we ran inside at 4pm, we saw that the field was set up for batting practice. Unfortunately, as I predicted, the Yankees didn’t start hitting until 4:40, so there was a lot of time to kill. This is how we spent a portion of it:

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That’s right. We were shown on the Jumbotron, and as you can see in the photo above, Brandon was ready with his camera.

Brandon is always ready, it seems.

Here’s another shot he took — probably my favorite photo of the day — during the lull before BP got underway. It shows me walking through an empty row of seats:

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Brandon had forgotten to bring his baseball glove, so I lent him one before we left my place. Big mistake. He ended up using it to rob me of a home run during the first round of BP, and then he rubbed it in my face for the next 15 minutes.

I had a few close calls early on, but nothing was working out in my favor, and for a while, I was concerned about getting shut out. The sky was already dark gray, and I knew that BP could get wiped out at any moment.

Eventually, after about 25 minutes of BP, some lefty on the Yankees (not sure who) launched a home run 30 feet to my right. I immediately took off running through an empty row and caught it back-handed, reaching high over my head at the far end of the section. Here’s a photo of me walking back toward Brandon with the ball in my right hand:

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The Yankees stopped hitting at 5:10pm. (Fabulous.) There was more time to kill, so I changed into my Royals gear and headed over to the left field foul line. Five minutes later, the Royals came out and started throwing, and when Willie Bloomquist finished up, I got him to toss me his ball. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to the ball streaking toward me:

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By the time the Royals started hitting, there were a few raindrops falling.

Three minutes later?

The rain intensified and batting practice was done.

As the players and coaches cleared the field, I raced to the seats behind the 3rd base dugout and arrived just in time to get some random equipment guy to throw me a ball. That made me feel a little better, but I was still disappointed.

The following two-part photo shows everything that happened for the next three hours:

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Fun, huh?

Right before the game started, Yuniesky Betancourt and Alberto Callaspo began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I worked my way as close to them as possible and got Callaspo to throw me the ball when they finished. In the following photo (which Brandon took from several sections over), the horizontal arrow is pointing at Callaspo, the arrow pointing up shows the ball in mid-air, and the arrow pointing down shows me getting ready to catch it:

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That was my fourth ball of the day. Not terrible for a game at Yankee Stadium with only 30 minutes of BP instead of 90.

The rain, I must admit, ended up working in my favor because it chased lots of people away. I’d decided to sit out in right field during the game (regardless of the weather) so now that I had some empty seats to work with, I was excited at the possibilities.

I wasn’t excited enough, however, to smile in the following photo:

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I nearly caught Ramiro Pena’s first major league home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. It was hit RIGHT in my direction, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I jumped up and held my ground on the staircase, 100 percent sure that it was going to sail right to me in the fifth row, but then it died a bit (perhaps because the air was cold and damp) so I began to drift down the stairs, but then I got blocked by a cotton candy vendor at the last second, and it was over. The ball bounced off the bare hands of a man in the front row, and I still would’ve had it if it’d deflected back instead of sideways. It was frustrating, to say the least, but I didn’t blame myself. Watch any major league outfielder react to a fly ball hit right at him and he’ll do the same thing: he’ll hold his ground for a moment and THEN start drifting once he determines where it’s going to land, so whatever. The guy who ended up snagging that ball graciously tossed it into the bullpen when the relievers asked for it. In exchange, they tossed back another ball, and get this…it wasn’t signed, and it wasn’t even commemorative. It was just a standard Selig ball, and when the guy got it, he wasn’t too happy. To his credit, he stayed calm and simply asked the guys in the bullpen to autograph it. Once he got the go-ahead, he tossed the ball back, and it was returned to him five minutes later with the autographs of EVERYONE who was out there — at least a dozen guys — including Mariano Rivera. Very cool.

Anyway, the reason why I’m not throwing a fit right now (while writing this) is because of what happened a couple innings later. It was the bottom of the seventh. The Yankees, already winning 4-2, loaded the bases with nobody out against Royals starter Luke Hochevar. Robinson Cano stepped to the plate, and I told Brandon that I was going to catch a grand slam. I was already sitting one row behind him so that I’d have as much room as possible to run. My row had about 10 empty seats to my right, and the row behind me was almost totally empty. I had my whole route planned in case Cano happened to launch one to my right: I was going to start running and then climb back over a row (while the ball was in mid-air) and then keep running toward the far end of the section, or as far as I needed to go. And that’s exactly what happened. Cano turned on an 0-1 pitch and lifted a high, deep fly ball to my right. As soon as it left the bat, I knew that it was going to be a home run, and I knew that I had a chance to get near it…wherever it happened to land. I didn’t bother looking up at the ball at first. I just kept my head down and focused on not bumping into anyone or anything. As I approached the far end of the section, my hat got knocked off as I looked up for the ball:

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You can see the hat falling in the photo above. See the pole that’s covering the letter “o” in the word “York” on the red advertisement? My hat is right below the bottom of that pole, but anyway, I panicked when the ball sailed directly over my head toward a fan standing near the back of the section. Here I am, turning to watch the ball as it touched down:

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I couldn’t believe what happened next. I found myself standing all alone on the staircase as the other fan dropped the ball…and then the ball started bouncing right back down the steps toward me.

?!?!?!?!?!

I truly couldn’t believe it as it was happening. I bent down to scoop up my first grand slam ball ever…

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…and once I had it in my possession, the celebration was underway:

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Here I am going nuts…

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…and here I am running over to give Brandon (or someone) a high-five:

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I must’ve given more than 20 high-fives (and fist-bumps). It was truly insane.

Then I went back and grabbed my hat.

Happiness:

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Awe and disbelief:

25_zack_with_grand_slam_ball

I was soooooo happy. Snagging a grand slam had been one of my lifelong goals, and now, finally, after two decades of going to games, I had finally done it. I called my parents. I called my girlfriend. I called a couple other people. I would’ve called everyone I knew if there were more time.

For the rest of the game, I kept asking Brandon the same two questions:

1) “Did that really happen?”
2) “Was that really a grand slam?”

The Yankees ended up winning the game, 8-2.

For Cano, it was his 25th home run of the season and 87th of his career. But here’s the cool stat: it was his 202nd hit of the season. I know that’s not a round number or a milestone or anything like that. I just like that fact that he has more than 200 hits and that I not only got one of them, but I got one AFTER hit No. 200.

After the game, I posed with the ball on the staircase where I’d snagged it:

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I posed with the ball about 50 more times after that (outside the stadium, on the subway, etc.) but I won’t torture you with all those pics.

The End.

(I still can’t believe it.)

SNAGGING STATS:

18_cano_grand_slam_ball.jpg• 5 balls at this game (the most important of which is pictured here on the right)

• 487 balls in 55 games this season = 8.85 balls per game.

• 624 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 486 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 136 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 10 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups from outfielders)

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

• 4,307 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $126.30 raised at this game

• $12,301.62 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

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8/26/09 at Coors Field

Talk about bad timing…

There was only half an hour of rain all day, and it came right around the time that the grounds crew would’ve been setting up the field for batting practice. When the gates opened, I was hoping to see various screens out on the field, but instead, THIS is what greeted me:

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See that yellow chain?

Not only was the infield covered, but I wasn’t even allowed to run down into the seats along the foul line; whether or not there’s BP at Coors Field, fans have to stay in the left/center field bleachers for the first half-hour.

There was, however, something good that happened as a result of the limited access and lack of baseball-snagging opportunities: I ran into a guy named David — a friend of a friend — who works inside the manual scoreboard and invited me back to check it out. Remember when I first visited the scoreboard on 6/20/08 at Coors Field? Well, this second visit was special because I was with my friend (and personal photographer) Brandon and got to share the experience with him.

Here I am inside the scoreboard:

Here’s a photo of David, monitoring the scores on a laptop:

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The TV in the background is new. It gets a special feed from the MLB Network and can display eight games at once.

I helped out a little by removing the previous day’s scores and placing the wooden panels back on their hooks…

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…but mainly I was just there to goof around:

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The lovely Ladies of the Scoreboard welcomed me and Brandon into their work space and seemed to appreciate our enthusiasm:

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That’s Nora on the left and Liz on the right. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see that Nora has a small bandage on her right shin. Several days earlier, while working inside the scoreboard, she got nailed by a BP homer that sailed through one of the small openings.

Here’s a photo that shows how long and narrow the space is back there…

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…and here’s a shot I took of some cobwebs:

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Normally I get freaked out by cobwebs (I’m a city boy so I’m allowed to get freaked out by anything that even resembles nature or the wilderness; you get freaked out by riding the subway to the Bronx so we’re even), but it was oddly comforting to see them here. It showed that there can be neglected nooks and crannies even in a relatively new stadium.

I removed another panel and took a peek through the open space…

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…and noticed that there was a ball sitting on the field:

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Brandon and I left after that. I had to get back into the stands and make an attempt to snag it.

We headed down the steep steps…

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…and walked with Dave back through the employees’ concourse:

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He led us to the tunnel that connects to the center field bleachers, and we said our goodbyes.

It was several minutes past 5pm. The whole stadium was now open, which meant I was finally free to go to the right field seats. On my way out there, I ran into a friend and fellow ballhawk name Don (aka “Rockpile Ranter“), who was there with his son Hunter. The three of us barely had a chance to talk. I had to rush out to right field, and then I ended up getting pulled in a bunch of different directions, and they ended up leaving the game early because Don had to wake up for work the next day at 2:30am. Yeesh!

Anyway, right field…

I raced out there and grabbed the corner spot near the Rockies’ bullpen:

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Juan Rincon had started playing catch, and as he backed up, he kept getting closer and closer to the ball:

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Moments later, he was standing (and throwing) right behind it:

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I called his name, and he looked up.

I pointed at the ball and flapped my glove.

He picked it up and paused to look at it:

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(Was there something unusual that caught his attention?)

Then he turned to throw it to me, and I gave him a target:

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His throw (probably in the neighborhood of 50mph) was right on the money. I caught the ball one-handed in front of my right shoulder and felt incredibly relieved; my consecutive games streak had survived a BP-less day.

As for the ball, there WAS something unusual about it:

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Here’s a closer look at both the logo and the Dodgers’ stamp on the sweet spot.

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I’d snagged two of these balls the day before, and as I mentioned then, “WIN” stands for a charity called “Women’s Initiatives Network.”

A few more players came out and started throwing. Check out this magazine-quality photo that Brandon took of Rafael Betancourt:

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I was busy at that point, taking my own photos and stewing over the fact that it was sunny AND the tarp was still on the field:

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One of the Rockies’ pitchers made a bad throw that rolled all the way out to the grass in front of the warning track in straight-away center field. His throwing partner didn’t bother to retrieve the ball. As soon as I saw that (and because there were so many other fans along the foul line), I headed toward the left field bleachers. My simple plan was to position myself as close to the ball as possible — all the way out in the corner spot of the front row in left-center. There were several Dodgers in the bullpen. I was thinking that when they finished their throwing session and headed out of the ‘pen, I might be able to convince one of them to take a slight detour and walk over to the ball and toss it to me. My plan, however, was foiled as I headed toward the bleachers. I was running through the open-air concourse at the back of the bleachers when I noticed that a groundskeeper was driving a lawnmower on the grass at the edge of the warning track. He was heading right for the ball, and when he got close to it, he stopped the mower, climbed down, picked up the ball, stuck it in his pocket, and then kept mowing. By the time I made it down to the front row, he was driving past me. It was too loud for me to shout at him. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there and watched him mow a few more lanes into the outfield grass. Then, rather abruptly, he drove off into a wide ramp near the foul pole — a ramp that evidently leads to a concourse where the groundskeepers store their equipment. I rushed over to the edge of the ramp and waited for a minute. All of a sudden, the groundskeeper reappeared without the lawnmower and ran past me out onto the field. I don’t know what he did out there. Maybe he was on his way somewhere and forgot something because he then ran back to the ramp and disappeared into the concourse. Then he reappeared, and as he began to run past me for a second time, I yelled, “Hey, did you happen to pick up that baseball in center field?” He looked up and nodded, so I shouted, “Any chance I could have it, please?” He never said a word. Instead, he held up his right index finger as if to say, “Hold on.” Then he ran back into the concourse. Ten seconds later, he came running back with the ball and tossed it to me. Then he disappeared once again. How random is THAT?

Brandon, unfortunately, was on the phone while this whole thing played out, so he wasn’t able to get an action shot. Here’s a photo of me posing with the ball next to the ramp:

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Here’s a photo of the ball itself:

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As you can see, it’s rubbed with mud, which means it was either used during a game or was intended for game use. I love how the mud is caked into the stitch holes above the logo.

Here I am with Brandon:

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In case you’re wondering, Brandon was wearing a Padres cap because he’s from San Diego. (He hadn’t been home for 70 days because he’d been on the road with Warped Tour.) He WAS planning to sit with me during the game, but his family decided at the last minute to show up (they live 50 miles from Denver), so he spent the game with them on the 3rd base side.

Too bad for him. He missed the next round of action out in the bleachers…

My friends Robert Harmon (the bearded guy who nearly snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball) and Dan Sauvageau (the clean-shaven guy who has caught 41 game home runs on the fly) were engaged in a secret mission in one of the tunnels:

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What were they doing?

Umm…blowing up a huge, inflatable baseball glove.

Here are a couple photos of the finished product:

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As soon as Dan took those photos, I raced over to the seats along the left field foul line. I was hoping to get one of the Dodgers to throw me a pre-game warm-up ball, but instead I had to settle for getting Andre Ethier’s autograph on a ticket from the previous day:

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Do you see that nice little smudge? Ethier did that. After he “wrote” his name (if that’s even what he “wrote”), he carelessly touched it while handing the ticket back to me.

Once the game started, Brandon took a photo of me from afar. I’m sitting right behind the last “R” in the “Frontier Airlines” advertisement:

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If you look to the left of me, there’s a guy wearing a maroon baseball cap. That’s Dan. He always sits near the Frontier ad, and he always wears that cap, so you can look for him on future home run highlights. His five-year-old daughter Emily (blonde hair) is sitting beside him. I’m not sure who the two guys are to the left of Emily, but the two people next to them are Nettie (platinum blonde) and her husband Danny (black cap), my “host parents” for the week.

Speaking of hair, this was my view of Manny Ramirez, who was unable to stand still for more than two seconds at a time:

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This was the best anti-Manny sign of the night:

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Once again, the fans were really letting Manny have it. My favorite heckles included:

• “Hey, Manny! We’re having a pool: who’s gonna have kids first, you or your wife?!”

• “Manny, it’s okay, I like boobs on a guy!”

• “Did you and Big Papi share a needle?”

• “Back to ‘The View,’ Sister Act!”

• “I didn’t know ‘HGH’ stands for Hair Growth Hormone!”

• “Girl, you know it’s true: you suck!”

I used to be a HUGE Manny fan, and even *I* will admit that he sucks. He’s a lazy, arrogant, one-dimensional player (who cheats, no less), and I feel that he deserves everything negative that comes his way as a result.

But enough of that…

If you’ve been reading this blog consistently since the beginning of this season, take a good look at the following photograph and see if you spot a familiar face somewhere in the crowd:

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Here’s a close-up of the photo above. Any thoughts? Here’s a hint: it’s a legendary ballhawk who doesn’t normally attend games at Coors Field:

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Okay, here’s one last chance to identify the mystery fan before I tell you the answer. He’s sitting halfway up the section just to the right of the steps. He’s wearing a black Rockies cap, a gray T-shirt, and black pants. He’s touching the right side of his face with his hand, and his elbow is resting on his right knee.

Come on!

If you’re going to call yourself a ballhawk (or even a fan of ballhawks), you have to know the all-time greats.

Here I am with him:

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It’s Rich Buhrke (pronounced “BRR-kee”) from Chicago. This man has snagged 178 game home runs (including five grand slams!) and more than 3,400 balls overall. Although Rich does count balls from Spring Training, it should be noted that more than 97 percent of his home runs are from actual regular-season or post-season major league games.

Halfway through the game, Robert was miked up for a segment on FSN that was going to air the next day. In the following photo, you can see the microphone’s battery pack sticking out of his pocket:

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Robert attends EVERY game and always sits in the front row in left-center. If you ever visit Coors Field, go find him and buy him a beer, or at least tell him that Zack from New York says hello. Anyway, Robert told the FSN producer about me, so the producer came over and told me that he was gonna have Robert sit with me for half an inning and ask me some questions, and that we should just have a normal conversation about baseball. The producer also mentioned that everything I said would get picked up by Robert’s microphone and might end up getting used on the air. Robert came over after that, and we did our thing, which was kind of silly because we just ended up talking about stuff that we’d discussed a hundred times in the past (how many balls have you snagged, what do you think about the new stadiums in New York, etc.), but it was still fun. Just about all TV is staged theater. Even when things look like they’re random and spontaneous, they’re not.

During an inning break late in the game, the Rockies’ mascot came running out onto the field for the “jersey launch.” Yes, jerseys. The Rockies don’t give away cheap T-shirts with fugly corporate logos (ahem, Citi Field, cough, cough). You see, at Coors Field, they do things right and give away real, authentic, high-quality, Majestic jerseys that fans are proud to wear — jerseys that would normally cost about $100 in the team store. Why am I telling you this? Because the mascot came running out on the warning track in front of my section. He (She? It?) had one of these jerseys in his hand, and as he started running out toward left-center, I followed him by running through the not-too-crowded aisle. It seemed like an obvious move, and eventually, as I predicted, the mascot flung the jersey into the crowd, and whaddaya know? It came right to me, and I made a leaping grab. Apparently this was a **BIG** deal, but I didn’t know it until Robert ran over and basically tried to mug me for the jersey (in a friendly way). Indeed, when I thought about it, it occurred to me that the jerseys had not been launched anywhere near the bleachers over the previous two days. They got shot (and in some cases tossed) into the crowd sparingly, and always in different spots.

Cool, huh?

Here I am wearing the jersey:

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Whose fingers are those behind my head? Robert’s, of course.

(See my glove sitting on the chair on the lower right? Thanks to Dan, my seat was a folding chair. I turned it around so that I’d be able to jump up and immediately start running for balls without having to maneuver around it.)

Here I am with Nettie and Danny:

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(Danny forgot to take his earphones out for the photo. He and Nettie both listen to the radio broadcasts of the games.)

And finally, here I am with Emily and Dan. As you can see, I borrowed some of Emily’s hair for the photo:

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I came really close to snagging Ryan Spilborghs’ solo homer in the bottom of the third inning. It sailed 10 feet over my head, landed on the staircase, and then ricocheted back toward me. Dan had raced up the steps ahead of me. I was right behind him. He got close enough to the ball that he ended up scrambling for it underneath a bench, but some lady (without a glove, of course) managed to reach down and grab it.

Andre Ethier hit two homers for the Dodgers, both of which landed in the bullpens in right-center field.

What a waste.
Still a fun day.

Final score: Dodgers 6, Rockies 1.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 395 balls in 46 games this season = 8.59 balls per game.

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• 615 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,215 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 120 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a donation)

• $24.86 pledged per ball

• $49.72 raised at this game

• $9,819.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/24/09 at Coors Field

I woke up at 6:20am, raced to Newark International Airport, flew nonstop to Denver, and made it to Coors Field by 3:30pm:

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I headed inside to the Rockies’ office…

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…and met up with Jay Alves, the Rockies’ vice president of communications and public relations. I’d spoken to him a week earlier, told him that I was working on a book about baseballs, and asked if I could see the humidor. (In case you don’t know, the Rockies have been storing their game balls in a humidor since 2002 to prevent them from drying out in the mile-high air; dry baseballs become lighter and harder, and they travel way too far when they’re hit.) Jay warned me that I was going to be “underwhelmed” by the humidor — that it was small and that there really wasn’t much to see. I didn’t care. I had to set foot in it, and Jay kindly accommodated me. He even let me take photos, and he said I could share them on my blog, so here we go…

The humidor is located in the street-level/employees-only concourse:

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The whole thing is VERY small (and yes, it’s locked). Here’s what it looks like on the inside:

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As you can see, there are cases of balls on the left (six dozen balls per case). The smaller boxes which hold a dozen balls apiece are on the right.

The temperature in there is 70 degrees, and the humidity is kept at 50 percent, but I didn’t see any dials or gauges.

Even though the room was small, there was a lot to see…

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…but I didn’t get to photograph everything because Jay was in a serious rush to get back to work. I probably spent less than two minutes inside the humidor, but at least I got to SEE it.

Here I am inside it:

6_zack_inside_humidor.jpg

Before I knew it, I was back out on the street. The brief tour felt like a distant blur, like a strange fragment of a dream that kept replaying in my mind.

I headed over to Gate E and (after switching caps) met up with some friends.

Pictured below from left to right:

1) Dan Sauvageau (who has snagged roughly 90 game home runs)
2) Danny Wood (who showed me his incredible baseball collection on June 20, 2008)
3) Danny’s wife Nettie (who’d picked me up at the airport earlier in the day)
4) me (happy to be staying with Danny and Nettie this week)

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The gates opened at 4:30pm (two hours and ten minutes before game time) and I raced out to the left field bleachers. Here’s what the seats looked like after a couple minutes:

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Dan had hooked me up with a front-row ticket, but there were a bunch of ballhawks in that row, so for the most part, I stayed farther back and took my chances in the main part of the bleachers. (At Coors Field, you can’t go into the front row in left field unless you have a ticket for the front row, even during batting practice.) I got Ubaldo Jimemez to toss me a ball by asking him in Spanish, and that was the only ball I snagged during the Rockies’ portion of BP.

When the Giants started hitting, I headed over to right field. As you can see in the following photo, the platform that extends out from the seats makes it impossible to use the glove trick for balls that are sitting on the warning track:

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The nice thing about the right field section, however, is that there aren’t any railings in the staircases, so it’s easy to run around. Unfortunately, the section only extends out to straight-away right field, so most of the home runs were uncatchable and landed in the bullpen in right-center.

Tim Lincecum was shagging in right-center, and I got him to toss me a ball. I took the following photo from the row where I caught it:

10_tim_lincecum_in_right_field.jpg

Five minutes later, I caught a home run that was hit by Eugenio Velez. It was a line drive that was heading RIGHT at me, but since I was in Denver (where the air is thin and balls carry a long way), I turned around and bolted up the steps past a fat guy with a glove, then turned around at the last second and jumped as high as I could and made the catch high over my head. And guess what? That was the end of batting practice. It ended more than 20 minutes early because it started drizzling and the wussy grounds crew rolled out the tarp:

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I noticed that there were two balls sitting within reach in the bullpen. I used my glove trick to reel in the ball on the right…

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…and was stopped by security while going for the ball on the left.

There were more than a dozen balls sitting further out in the bullpens. Two security-type guys walked out and retrieved them and didn’t toss a single ball into the crowd. I thought that was really weak, and I let them know it. There were a few young kids with gloves nearby, standing quietly in the rain, but no, the Rockies couldn’t afford to part with a few baseballs (which were probably too damp to re-use anyway). I later gave away one of my baseballs to a kid.

I had some time to kill after BP, so I wandered up to the “rock pile” section in deeeeeeep center field and took a few photos. Here’s one of them:

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(The tarp didn’t stay on the field long.)

Before the game started, I snuck down near the Giants’ dugout and tried to get Pablo Sandoval’s warm-up ball…

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…but I ended up getting one from Nate Schierholtz instead.

Then Schierholtz signed my ticket:

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What a lame signature. Seriously, what kind of garbage IS that?

I headed out to left field once the game started. This was my view:

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This was the view to my right…

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…and this was the view to my left:

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It was home run HEAVEN — or rather it would have been home run heaven if anyone had managed to hit a ball anywhere near me, but no, my game home run curse continued.

Do you remember that story I wrote last year about Barry Bonds’ final home run ball? Well, two of the three key ballhawks in that incident were at the game last night. Jameson Sutton, the fan who snagged that ball was there:

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Jameson sold that ball at auction for $376,612 largely because of this man, Robert Harmon:

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Robert, as you may recall, snagged a dummy ball that Jameson had inadvertently dropped while going for the real one. I won’t re-tell the whole story here. It’s archived on Yahoo Sports for your viewing pleasure.

Anyway, the game was really slow for the first 13 innings. Pablo Sandoval put the Giants on the board with a sacrifice fly in the top of the 1st, and Todd Helton tied the score by drawing a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 5th.

That was it.

The 14th inning, however, was a totally different story. In the top of the frame, Edgar Renteria hit a one-out triple and Travis Ishikawa walked. Eugenio Velez then hit a two-run triple to left center and scored two batters later on a Juan Uribe groundout,.

The Giants had taken a 4-1 lead:

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I was sick of sitting 400 feet from home plate at that point, so I told Robert that I was heading over near home plate, and that he could have the walk-off grand slam.

This was my view in the bottom of the 14th inning:

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How did that half-inning start? With a leadoff walk to Dexter Fowler. Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti made a visit to the mound, and his advice must have helped because Brandon Medders got Clint Barmes to pop out.

But then things fell apart.

Medders was taken out of the game and the new pitcher, Justin Miller, proceeded to give up a single to pinch hitter Chris Iannetta. Then he walked Troy Tulowitzki to load the bases, and then he walked Adam Eaton to force in a run. (Did you hear me? He walked ADAM EATON!!!) Merkin Valdez came in to pitch after that, and on his second pitch, Ryan Spilborghs blasted an opposite field shot into the Rockies’ bullpen. It was the first walk-off grand slam in Rockies history.

Final score: Rockies 6, Giants 4.

Wow.

SNAGGING STATS:

23_the_four_balls_i_kept_08_24_09.jpg• 5 balls at this game (4 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 385 balls in 44 games this season = 8.75 balls per game.

• 613 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,205 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 119 donors (Heath Bell made a pledge; you can too)

• $24.76 pledged per ball

• $123.80 raised at this game

• $9,532.60 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/17/09 at Yankee Stadium

When Yankee Stadium was getting ready to open yesterday at 4pm, there were at least 1,000 fans waiting to get in at Gate 6 alone. The fans (myself and Jona included) had formed mini-lines in front of the dozens of guards and doors. For some reason, however, only TWO of these doors were opened, causing 10 minutes’ worth of congestion while everyone was forced to head to that one spot from various directions. Look at this mess:

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I truly don’t understand it.

To make matters worse, I felt a few raindrops as soon as I forced my way inside, but thankfully the grounds crew left the batting cage in place. Batting practice hadn’t yet started so I headed toward the Yankees’ dugout, picked a spot behind that horrendous partition, got the attention of hitting coach Kevin Long, and got him to throw me a ball. Here I am reaching for it (with a red arrow pointing to the ball):

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I was hoping that the ball would have a commemorative logo…and it did…but it wasn’t the one I wanted.

Check it out:

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I’d already gotten a bunch of these Metrodome balls earlier in the season. (Here’s a better one.) What I really wanted was a ball with the new Yankee Stadium logo. I’d only snagged one of those all season (on May 21st) and it ended up getting water-stained because of a terrible mishap. Quite simply, I needed another.

Nevertheless, I was still glad to have the Metrodome ball because a) any commemorative ball is cool and b) it was my 300th ball of the season. Here I am posing with it:

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Finally, at around 4:25pm, the Yankees started taking BP. I headed to right field and briefly had the last few rows to myself:

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Five minutes later, the whole section was packed and I had to fight (not literally, although that wouldn’t be a stretch at Yankee Stadium) for both of the balls I caught out there. The first was a home run by Hideki Matsui with another Metrodome logo, and the second was a regular ball hit by Nick Swisher. Here I am catching one of the balls:

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The photo above might make it look like I’m trampling that poor woman, but that wasn’t the case at all. At Yankee Stadium, there’s a good amount of space between rows, so I was able to step carefully in front of her and reach up at the last second. She’s not flinching because of me; she’s flinching because she was scared of the ball and didn’t see it coming. Even though it wouldn’t have hit her, she thanked me on three separate occasions for saving her life. You 5b_zack_signing_ball.jpg
know whose life I *did* save? Jona’s. As you can kinda tell based on the photo above, she was sitting two rows directly behind the spot where I reached up.

After the catches, several fans recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs and to pose in photos with them. I obliged their requests only when right-handed batters were in the cage.

I moved to left field when the Tigers started hitting, and it was nearly a total waste. The only ball I snagged during their entire portion of BP was a fungo that sailed over an outfielder’s head and landed in the third row. And, of course, since the Tigers are too cheap to use real major league balls, this is what I found myself holding:

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YUCK!!!

(In case you’re wondering, this ball counts in my collection because it was used by major league players in a major league stadium.)

Last season, at the Red Sox home opener, the Tigers were using Pacific Coast League balls. What kind of garbage balls will they be using next year?

At the end of BP, I noticed that there was a ball sitting in the corner of the left field bullpen:

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I’d been planning to take Jona for a scenic tour of the stadium, but once I saw that ball, I had to stay and wait until someone came and got it. While I was standing around, I saw a teenaged kid hurdling seats and running toward me.

“OH MY GOD!!!” he shouted. “ZACK HAMPLE!!! ZACK HAMPLE!!!!!!!!!!!

At first I thought he was making fun of me with sarcastic enthusiasm, but he turned out to be totally serious. He was just…excited to see me, apparently. His name is Jon Herbstman. (We’d met once before on 7/8/08 at Yankee Stadium.) Here we are:

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Fifteen minutes later, a groundskeeper wandered into the bullpen, and Jona got a real action shot of him handing me the ball:

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It was another International League ball, and yes, it counts. As long as another fan doesn’t give me a ball, it counts, and would you believe that that actually happened yesterday? One of the guys who’d been waiting for my autograph snagged a home run ball that I would’ve gotten had he not been standing there. He obviously felt guilty about getting in my way (it was my own stupid fault for having misjudged it) so he scooped it up and flung it to me in one motion.

“I don’t want this,” I said as I tossed it back to him, “but thanks.”

I’ve probably had 10 to 20 fans randomly try to give me balls over the years. I’ve never accepted a single one, although I now realize I should’ve taken them, NOT counted them in my collection, and used them for my own BP in Central Park.

Shortly before the game started, I got Adam Everett to toss his warm-up ball to me over the partition. (That was my sixth ball of the day.) The four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, shows how it all played out. The arrows in the final three photos are pointing to the ball in mid-air:

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This ball had the regular MLB logo.

My goal during the game was simple: Hang out behind the Tigers’ dugout and try to get a 3rd-out ball tossed to me over the partition. Having seen the Tigers for four games in April, I remembered that their first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, had a habit of tossing balls deep into the crowd. I felt good about my chances. All I needed was a third out to be a ground out.

It didn’t take long. With two outs in the bottom of the first, Tigers starter Lucas French induced Jorge Posada to roll one over to 3rd baseman Brandon Inge. I crept down the steps as Inge fired the ball to first base and waited for Cabrera to jog in.

He tossed me the ball!!!

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But it turned out to be a regular ball. GAH!!! Cabrera, as some first basemen have started doing, pulled a little switcheroo and threw me the infield warm-up ball.

It was a major letdown.

But at least the game itself was entertaining. The highlight was the 57-minute rain delay in the bottom of the eighth because it chased away 90 percent of the “fans.”

Here’s a photo I took during the delay when everyone was hiding under the overhangs and in the main part of the concourse:

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The way-too-narrow center field concourse was eerily quiet:

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I love having a stadium to myself, or at least feeling like I do, especially when that stadium is typically packed beyond belief.

I was in left field when A-Rod came up in the bottom of the 8th. If EVER there was a time when he should’ve hit a home run in my general vicinity, this was it. I had empty rows on both sides of me. No one else was wearing a glove. Blah blah. But of course he struck out to cap his 0-for-5 performance.

Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth:

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He allowed a one-out double to Placido Polanco, then retired the next two batters on two pitches. He’s so good. And classy. It pains me that he’s on the Yankees because I’m forced to root for them whenever he’s in the game.

Final score: Yankees 5, Tigers 3.

During the game, I had used Jona’s iPhone to look up the box score. I learned that Tim Tschida was the home plate umpire. After the final out, I moved one section to my left, to the approximate spot where he’d be exiting the field. I was still trapped behind the partition, so I shouted “MISTER TSCHIDA!!!” as loud as I possibly could. To my surprise, he actually looked up, at which point I took off my black, MLB umpires’ cap (thank you very much) and 13a_i_heart_tim_tschida.jpgwaved it at him. Was I going to be able to get him to pull one of the Yankee Stadium commemorative balls out of his pouch and chuck it to me over half a dozen rows of fans from more than 50 feet away? It seemed unlikely, but I went for it and continued shouting my request. While walking toward the exit, he pulled one out and under-handed it to me (!!!) but it drifted to the right, and I leaned way out over a side railing to try to make the back-handed catch, and I watched helplessly as it sailed less than a foot past my outstretched glove. NO!!! I looked back at the field, figuring he’d be gone, but he was still there…and he was watching! He had seen some other fan get the ball, so he pulled out another. At this point all the other fans realized what was going on, and they all crowded toward me, so I climbed up on a little concrete ledge just behind the partition and waved my arms. Tschida flung the second ball toward me. It was heading in the right direction, but it was sailing too high, so I waited until the last second and then jumped up off the ledge and made the catch and landed right in the middle of a big puddle in the drainage-challenged front row. Water splashed everywhere, mostly on me, and I was over-JOYED. I was holding a game-rubbed commemorative ball:

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As soon as I caught it, a little kid three rows back started chanting, “Give it to the kid! Give it to the kid.”

“I don’t think so,” I told him, then headed up the steps and handed one of my regular baseballs to a different kid who happened to be walking past with his dad (and with an empty glove on his left hand) at that exact moment.

SNAGGING STATS:

15_the_seven_i_kept_07_17_09.jpg• 8 balls at this game (7 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 4 different types of balls at this game (might be a world record)

• 307 balls in 35 games this season = 8.77 balls per game.

• 604 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 133 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 4 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least four balls

• 4,127 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $196.72 raised at this game

• $7,549.13 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Newark Bears — June 30, 2009

As I mentioned at the end of my previous entry, my good friend Leon Feingold was invited to try out for the Newark Bears, and he invited me to tag along. It was a tough decision at first because I’d been planning to go to Yankee Stadium (and really looking forward to it) but I realized quickly that the potential for once-in-a-lifetime baseball awesomeness was much greater with him. Remember when I got to sneak into Citi Field with him on April 15, 2009? Yeah, good things happen when Leon is around so I scrapped my Yankee plans and took New Jersey Transit with him to the stadium in Newark. (The photo on the right shows us on the train, and in case you’re new to this blog, Leon is the one wearing black.) It was an easy ride. Seven bucks for a round trip from Penn Station. Two stops. Twenty-five minutes. Short walk from the station to the stadium.

A little background on Leon…

He’s 36 years old, 6-foot-6 (if you round up), and 240 pounds.
He pitched in the minor leagues (in the Indians organization) in the 1990s.
He recently pitched professionally in the Israel Baseball League.
He once ranked 12th in the world in competitive eating.
He’s the vice-president of the New York chapter of Mensa.

…and I love him. As a friend, thank you. Perhaps even like a brother.

The Bears were scheduled to play a game at 6:05pm. We arrived at the stadium about five hours early and walked right inside the front gate:

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There was no security. No one ever hassled us. It was the most laid-back atmosphere you could imagine–minor league baseball (or in this case independent league baseball) at its best.

This was the view to the right as we crossed the concourse behind the plate:

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We headed to the left, and of course I took a photo of the incredible open-air concourse down the foul line:

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I don’t count minor league (or independent league) balls in my collection, but still, I appreciated the heavenly set-up for foul-ball catching.

This was my first time at the ballpark, officially known as “Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium.” Leon had been here before and knew his way around so he led me inside though an official-looking reception area and into the media room:

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Did you notice the backdrop on the right? We still had lots of time to kill, so Leon posed for a few pics against it:

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That’s not trick photography. He’s not holding a miniature ball. Leon’s hands really ARE that big, and as a result, he can throw a nasty split-finger fastball which basically moves like an 82-mph knuckleball. Every time we play catch and he throws it, I fear for my teeth, nuts, and life.

We wandered down some stairs and ended up here:

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Down the hall to our left, there were Gatorade coolers and BP screens and other random pieces of equipment lying around:

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Even though it wasn’t a major league stadium, I was still thrilled to be there and just soaking it all in. In fact, I think it’s better that it wasn’t a major league stadium because if it were, there would’ve been security guards crawling all over the place. Instead, I was treated to a pure, uninterrupted, behind-the-scenes look.

Leon needed to change into his uniform, and since he didn’t have a locker in the clubhouse, he changed in a storage room down the hall:

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Look what was in that storage room:

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There weren’t any security cameras in there. I could’ve stuffed 20 balls into my backpack and no one would’ve known the difference. But I didn’t do that. I had opportunities throughout the day to take balls, but I didn’t pocket a single one. I just wanted to inspect them and photograph them.

I was surprised to find three different types of balls in the basket, one of which appeared to be autographed:

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Any theories about whose signature that might be?

Leon and I were both invited into the clubhouse. Here’s what it looked like:

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At one point, there were about 15 players milling about, blasting salsa and later rap, playing cards, eating, swinging bats, and getting dressed. Armando Benitez walked by. Then Tim Raines, the manager. Then Shane Komine. And Willie Banks. And Keith Foulke. And Ryan Bukvich. And Alberto Castillo. And Tike Redman. These were ALL guys who had played in the major leagues. Some (like Komine) only had a cup of coffee while others (like Foulke) were World Series heroes. One guy (Leon thinks it was Charlton Jimerson) started changing right in front of us, without warning, and when he took off his shirt, I thought I was at a bodybuilding competition. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such big arms up close, and it made me realize how tough it is to make it in baseball. You have to compete against guys like that just to REACH the major leagues. I suddenly felt a strong connection to David Eckstein.

I went and used the bathroom, not so much because I was dying to pee, but mainly just to check out the facilities. Pretty simple. Looked like a college gymnasium bathroom. There was half a sunflower seed shell atop my urinal. On my way back to the main room (where Leon was waiting for me), I passed the training room (where several players were sprawled out on tables) and a modest assortment of snacks: peanut butter crackers, Hostess cake-type sweets, etc. There were a few dozen boxes of balls that several players had already signed. The whole place was noisy and cluttered and somewhat shabby in spots–nothing as glamorous as the few major league clubhouses I’ve been lucky enough to set foot in, but far better than any locker room I ever got to use as an aspiring college player a decade earlier.

At around 2:30pm, half an hour after Leon had been told to arrive, no one had come for him. The clubhouse was clearing out, so we headed out too. We walked down the carpeted hallway, out through a tunnel behind home plate, and onto the warning track:

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(Leon, if you’re reading this, do us all a favor and get a haircut. I know I shouldn’t be talking smack about your [or anyone's] hair, given the fact that I’m losing mine, but seriously, that bushy mess is starting to look like a mullet.)

There were a few guys playing catch in right field. I had my glove with me, just in case, and Leon asked if I wanted to throw. I was about to say yes when I noticed a couple batters starting to take early BP:

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There was only ONE person shagging balls in the entire outfield, and it was a teenaged kid–one of the players’ sons, I think–so I asked a few people if it’d be okay if I went out there and “helped” by shagging. They were delighted that I offered (less running for them) and of course I couldn’t have been happier to be out there.

Leon surprised me by going in my bag and grabbing my camera and taking a few pics. Here I am out there:

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After 20 minutes or so, the hitting stopped and the throwing started, so I headed back to the foul line and took some photos. Here’s one that shows three former major leaguers (plus Leon):

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Here’s another shot from high up in the stands, just short of the foul pole…

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…and here’s one that shows Bukvich pitching to Castillo, with someone (not sure who) standing in like a batter:

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Benitez wore headphones onto the field:

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I guess you can do whatever you want in Newark when you have 289 big league saves.

After the throwing ended, several of the pitchers gathered near the foul line. You can see Leon on the right, and do you know who’s standing with his hands on his hips?

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Keith Foulke.

I shagged some more during regular BP (that must’ve lasted an hour) and I really felt like I was a player. I mean, I was standing in the outfield, surrounded by players, doing what all the players were doing: catching fly balls and scooping up grounders and firing them back in toward the bucket. At one point, I made a really nice running/leaping/over-the-shoulder catch and immediately looked around to make eye contact with everyone. I was all like, “Yeah! Who saw that?! Who saw that?!” but the answer was: nobody. In my world, it was a great catch. In their world, it’s just…a catch.

This was the view from deep right field:

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Did you notice those clouds? The visiting team (the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs) had started taking BP, but the sky got darker and the grounds crew began removing equipment from the field, and that was the end of that. I’m totally jinxed by the weather. I can’t even get a full BP in the Atlantic League. (I should mention that when the visitors were taking BP, I didn’t feel right about running all over the field with them, so I grabbed a seat in the front row down the right field foul line. During the next 10 minutes or so, three balls landed in the seats near me — all of which were sliced by righties — and I tossed them all back onto the field. I’m telling you, I didn’t keep a single ball. Leon even walked over at one point and tried to hand one to me, but I wouldn’t take it.)

Leon had disappeared for a while toward the end of BP, and I figured he was pitching in the bullpen. I could’ve walked out there (the ‘pens are located behind the left field wall) and watched him, but I didn’t want to intrude on his big moment. I’d brought a book. I was happy to just sit and read and look at the field. There’s something about baseball fields — any baseball fields — that make me feel like I’m meant to be there. I’m most at peace with myself and with the world when I’m standing on a baseball field. I feel like I’m home, like I’ve reached the promised land, like I’m in a place that I’ve always dreamed of being. In my mind I’ve always been and always will be a major leaguer. There’s no other way to describe it.

Eventually I caught up with Leon and a few older gentlemen near the 1st base dugout:

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See that guy in the light gray T-shirt? That’s Butch Hobson, who once hit 30 homers in a season in the major leagues. And the guy in the tan pants? Art Shamsky, who batted .300 for the ’69 Mets.

It was right around that time that fans were being let into the ballpark. Any autograph collectors reading this? If so, I would suggest that you invest in a $7 train ride, go see the Newark Bears, and make yourself happy. All the Bears players seem to file out onto the field through that tunnel right behind the plate, and of course there’s no security to stop anyone from going down into the seats alongside that tunnel. Seriously, go get some autographs. Carl Everett is even on the team. Who doesn’t want Carl Everett’s autograph? (Yesterday I never saw him up close, although I think I caught one of his fly balls during BP.)

While Leon was schmoozing it up, I wandered down into the dugout and inspected every inch of it. I peeked into the bat rack and noticed a pink slip of paper at the bottom of one of the vertical cubby holes. I bent down and grabbed it and had a look:

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Yeah, I took it. Whatever. It had the previous day’s date on it. It wasn’t even the original–just a carbon copy. If the Bears wanted it, they would’ve kept it. I figured it would have a happier home with me than in some random landfill.

Then it started raining, and as I ducked inside the tunnel with Leon, I could see the grounds crew racing to cover the field:

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What happened next?

A rain delay.

Ryan Bukvich passed the time by trying to putt golf balls into a plastic cup in the hallway outside the clubhouse:

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Leon and I got to talk to him for quite a while, and what can I say? The guy is supercool. I told him about my baseball collection, and he told me that when he makes it back to the major leagues, he’s going to look for me and hook me up with a ball. I told him about the list of players and coaches who’ve thrown me balls. Leon even pulled it up on his phone, and we all looked at it together for a minute. I gave Bukvich my card, and he gave me his email address, so hopefully we’ll stay in touch.

Tim Raines walked by while we were out in the hallway. So did Ron Karkovice, who’s also a coach on the team. There were players and coaches all over the place, and there I was, just hanging out with them and shootin’ the sh*t like it was no big deal. In a way it wasn’t a big deal. They’re just guys. Most of them are in their 30s, just like me, and they all love baseball, just like me, so why should it be a big deal to hang out with them? I don’t know, it just IS. I’ve been a huge baseball fan for such a long time, and as a fan, you’re always kept on the outside. When there’s a rain delay, you’re either hiding in the concourse at the stadium or watching reruns of “Seinfeld” at home. You’re never killing time WITH the actual players, so yeah, it was a big deal. Some of the players even recognized me after Bukvich told them that I was the guy who’d caught those home runs last year at Yankee Stadium and been on Leno, so in a way, I was famous to them, which was cool as hell, but mainly, *I* was the one who was honored to be in their presence.

Leon had to get back to New York City. I suppose I could’ve stayed and kept hanging out at the ballpark, but he was really my link to all the behind-the-scenes stuff, so I left with him and got one last look at the field on the way out:

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I could’ve stayed and just sat in the stands and watched the game and tried to catch foul balls, but that would’ve felt like a major letdown after everything I’d experienced. I just wanted to go home, and of course I wanted to ask Leon all about his tryout.

As we rode NJ Transit back to the city, he told me that Alberto Castillo had caught for him with Tim Raines and pitching coach Mike Torrez looking on. (No pressure.) They didn’t have a radar gun on him, but Leon thinks he was throwing in the mid-80s and *could* get back up to 90 with the right workouts and guidance. Speaking of guidance…the Bears did not offer him a contract, but they DID tell him that he can come back and work out with the team anytime, and that they’ll continue to work with him and get him back into shape…which means they saw his potential, but he’s not yet ready for game action. That was no surprise to Leon. He knew he wasn’t ready. His pitches had sick movement, but his velocity was a bit down and he had no command.

That’s pretty much it. Leon had some meeting to go to at 6pm, so as soon as our train pulled into Penn Station, we went our separate ways. I headed home and heated up some day-old General Tso’s chicken (and pork fried rice) and watched the Yankee game. (There’s really no point in watching the Mets anymore.) Good thing I didn’t go. I heard that it had rained in the Bronx, too, and that BP was canceled early on.

6/11/09 at Camden Yards

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

That pretty much sums it up.

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

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…and the next three were home run balls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?!

WHY?!

WHY?!

WHY?!

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

This was the result:

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

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

This was the dreary scene on Eutaw Street:

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

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

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

This was the view in left:

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Nothing special, right?

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

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Did any home runs land there?

No, of course not.

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

You know what DID happen?

More rain:

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

Back to the game…

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

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

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

10_zack_ball4040_location.jpg

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

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

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

13_zack_stealing_ball_from_kid.jpg

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

SNAGGING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game

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

• 597 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

11_smudge_on_ball4040.jpg

• 30 lifetime game balls outside of New York

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

• 4,040 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.06 pledged per ball

• $168.42 raised at this game

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

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

6/3/09 at Nationals Park

The Washington Nationals are inept, from top to bottom.

Just had to get that out of the way. I’m so pissed about everything that went down yesterday, so forgive me for the angry nature of this blog entry, but by the time you get to the end of it, I think you’ll agree with the opening line.

Randy Johnson was scheduled to pitch. He entered the day with 299 career wins. This was my chance to see history.

My parents were nice enough to lend me their car. On my way to get it, I picked up a copy of the New York Daily News. I was told that I’d be in it, and I was not happy with the result.

So yeah, I was already p*ssed before I even got in the car, and then on the way down to D.C. (during which I managed to get lost because the roads around D.C. are horrendously marked), some dickwad on an overpass tossed a pebble that hit my car, scared the crap out of me, and cracked the windshield. Not a huge crack. No shards of glass on my lap or anything like that. Just enough to do $500 worth of damage, or whatever the hell it’s gonna cost to replace it.

One of the good things that happened yesterday was that I got to park for free. Gotta give a shout-out to my friend Mike for the hookup, but then of course there were weather issues. Oh sure, it was perfectly hot and sunny when I began exploring the outside the stadium at 3:30pm…

1_outside_nationals_park.jpg

…but less than an hour later–right before the gates were about to open–it started raining:

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It was right around that time that I met Nic Skayko–THE MAN who came up with a complex statistical formula to predict the number of baseballs that I’ll snag on any given day. (I wonder if his formula takes into account the fact that I’ve been jinxed by God.)

Well, when the gates opened less than five minutes later, it was officially pouring. Rather than running in to get a look at the field, I took shelter and waited for the rain to subside and then took the following photo:

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I headed out to the Red Porch seats in left-center and watched four inept groundskeepers (okay, I didn’t yet know they were inept) head toward the infield:

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Two notes about the photo above:

1) The batting cage is set up, which means there WAS going to be batting practice.

2) The red arrow is pointing to a baseball. I know it looks like a grain of salt from here, but take my word for it.

Nationals Park opens two and a half hours early (which is great) but for the first hour, everyone has to stay in the outfield. Foul pole to foul pole. Those are the boundaries. Therefore, as the inept groundskeepers made their way toward the ball, the best I could do was run around to the seats in the straight-away left field and scream my head off. They heard me, and the guy who picked it up pointed toward the seats in foul territory. This was both good and bad…good because he seemed to be indicating that if I headed over there, he’d give me the ball, but bad because I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere near him. At least that’s what I was led to believe, but there weren’t any ushers or security guards at the boundaries, and the seats were not roped off (as they are in Philly during the first hour of BP), so I thought, “Well, what the hell, I might as well wander over there, try to get the ball, and worry about the consequences later.” So yeah, I cut right through the seats into foul territory, and I kept looking up at the concourse to see if anyone was angrily waving me back, but the few employees I saw just stared dumbly at me.

From a distance, I saw the inept groundskeeper look at me and hold up the ball (as one does for a batter before feeding a ball into a pitching machine) and place it in the wide front row of seats. No one else was around, so I took my time walking over, then paused for a moment to take a photo of the ball on the wet pavement…

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…and finally grabbed it. It was a soggy training ball. (Estimated retail value: 14 cents.) The main part of the logo was very worn…

6_ball4011.jpg

…but whatever, at least I had a ball.

I headed back to left field and watched with great sorrow as an inept groundskeeper rolled the L-screen off the field:

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Then it started pouring again:

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I took cover near some random employee doorway and passed the time with Mike and a couple other guys who recognized me.

Then it got sunny, a few Giants came out and started throwing, and the inept grounds crew took the tarp off the field:

9_tarp_removal.jpg

Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry began playing catch in the left field corner. Howry was on the foul line, and Affeldt was out in straight-away left field. I positioned myself in foul territory so that I was lined up with them, and as soon at they were done, Affeldt took the ball and looked up into the seats in fair territory to find a worthy recipient. I shouted his name and waved my arms, and thanks to the fact that I was decked out in Giants gear, I got him to throw me the ball from about 100 feet away. I had to reach down and make a back-handed catch. Nothing special, and yet that was my athletic highlight of the day.

Merkin Valdez was still playing catch (with Sergio Romo) at that point, and there were a couple extra balls lying around on the field:

10_merkin_valdez_throwing.jpg

When Valdez finished, he walked over with two balls, handed one to the kid in the photo above with the “55 LINCECUM” shirt, and then placed the second ball in my glove.

It was still an hour and a half before game time, so I figured I’d be able to salvage my day and snag at least a few more balls…but no. Nature didn’t cooperate. The presidential mascots must’ve known what was coming. Look at their dejected body language:

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Half an hour later, the inept grounds crew rolled the tarp back out:

12_tarp_coming_back_out.jpg

And then–you have to read the rest of this line with an English accent–it rained like bloody hell:

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The field got completely soaked, and when the rain finally let up, one of the groundskeepers sloshed through the grass and lifted up the edge of the tarp to see if the water had gotten underneath it:

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Of course the water got underneath, jackass! You and all your pals are inept!

Twenty minutes later, this was the scene in right field:

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Here are a couple inept groundskeepers attempting to fix the swamp otherwise known as the infield:

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It was ugly. I didn’t see how the field would possibly be dry enough for a game, but I still kept hoping. I’d been hanging out with Mike the whole time, and when we parted ways (at about 8:15pm), I headed around behind home plate to the 3rd base side. It was there that I ran into  (and met for the very first time) a fellow MLBlogger named Todd and his adorable three-year-old son, Tim.

Here we all are:

17_todd_tim_zack

(Does that shirt make me look fat?)

The rain started up again, of course:

18_even_more_stupid_rain.jpg

I sat and watched it with Todd and Tim. There was nothing else for us to do.

Even though I was hungry, I held off on buying food. It just wasn’t worth it. The prices were outrageous, and the food wasn’t even that good. At least the one thing I’d gotten earlier wasn’t good. It was a square piece of pepperoni pizza for $8, and it wasn’t big. Major ripoff.

Why had the inept grounds crew taken all that time earlier to get the field ready? But more importantly, why weren’t the stadium operations people making announcements about the status of the game? (Oh yeah, because they’re inept.) Talk about outrageous…it was really disgusting the way they didn’t say ONE thing for three and a half hours and just let everyone sit there. The only info presented to the fans was a generic message on the video boards (you can see part of it several photos up) that said, “Please take cover under the concourse. Severe storms are approaching. We are monitoring the situation & will keep you updated as information becomes available.”

BULLSH*T!!!

They never updated us. I had to call my friend Brad in San Francisco for updates.

It kept raining. There were waterfalls:

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Finally, at like 10pm, the umpires wandered out and inspected the field:

20_umps_inspecting_the_field.jpg

After that? They went back inside. No announcement. Nothing. It was the worst treatment of fans I’ve ever witnessed. Once again, everyone was just left to stand around in the concourse and wonder what the hell to do. Naturally, 90 percent of the fans had left by that point, so I hoping SO BAD that the game would somehow get started. It would’ve been foul ball heaven. I’d splurged and bought a ticket right behind the Giants’ dugout. How cool would it have been to get a third-out ball from Randy Johnson’s 300th win? I was drooling at the opportunity.

By this point I was starving (to the point where my stomach was growling) so I decided to buy some more food. Only problem was…all the concession stands were closed! What the ****!!! You’d think the Nationals would’ve made an announcement along the lines of, “Attention fans, we’re going to close our concession stands in 20 minutes, so if you’d like to purchase any food or beverages, we advise you to do so at this time.” But why even close the stands while the stadium is open? Why not at least leave ONE stand open? Or…if the game was postponed and THAT’S why they closed the stands, then how come there wasn’t an announcement about THAT?! It was shameful. I’m not surprised the Nationals have the worst record in baseball. They deserve it.

Finally the umps came back out and there was a huge conference near home plate, and then as everyone headed off the field, I saw one guy make a gesture as if to indicate, “That’s it.”

Was there an announcement after THAT? Umm…no. All the remaining fans were left standing around for ten more minutes, and then finally, the announcement was made:

21_postponement_finally_announced.jpg

“Unplayable field conditions.”

Imagine that.

The P.A. announcer said something about fans being able to exchange ticket stubs for future games this season. Yeah, thanks. I don’t want to go to any more Nationals games. The team better refund my money. What a disgrace to baseball.

Of course Randy Johnson won his 300th game today, and I wasn’t there. I thought about getting a cheap hotel and staying overnight, but I had plans the next night back in New York City. Good plans. Very very good plans. I’d say more, but you wouldn’t believe me.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 balls at this “game” (Yeah, it counts as a game in my stats. The balls didn’t just materialize out of thin air, you know?)

• 193 balls in 25 games this season = 7.72 balls per game.

• 594 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,013 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $23.95 pledged per ball

• $71.85 raised at this game

• $4,622.35 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

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