Results tagged ‘ toronto blue jays ’

9/15/10 at Camden Yards

The good thing about going to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet in Baltimore…

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…is that there’s plenty of room to run around at Camden Yards and burn off the calories:

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Within the first few minutes of BP, a right-handed batter on the Orioles smoked a line-drive homer that landed in the empty front row. I ran down and grabbed the ball:

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“Who hit that?!” I shouted at my friend Rick Gold, who was camped out ten rows back.

“Fox,” said a voice that came from the warning track.

As it turned out, Kevin Millwood was standing just short of the wall and answered the question for me. How about that? Jake Fox. Yes, of course.

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One minute later, I caught a home run on the fly, and once again I was unable to identify the batter.

“Who was THAT?” I asked Millwood.

“Tatum,” he said.

Ha! Awesome. Craig Tatum. I never would’ve known. And then I caught another Jake Fox homer on the fly.

At around 5:10pm, I snagged my fourth home run ball of the day. It wasn’t Fox. It wasn’t Tatum. Damn. I had no idea who hit it, and Millwood was gone. But whatever. I got the ball — that’s what matters — and (my girlfriend) Jona took a series of photos of me chasing it down. Here’s the first one. It shows me tracking the ball as I drifted to my left:

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As soon as I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, I took my eyes off it and focused on climbing over a few rows of seats:

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Then I looked back up as the ball was descending; note the red arrow pointing to it:

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The ball landed, prompting a scramble with the fan in the gray jersey:

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Finally, I beat him to it and grabbed the ball just as he was lunging for it:

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Don’t feel bad for the other guy. He’s there every day and always snags at least a few balls.

Before the Orioles finished their portion of BP, I played catch for a minute with Jeremy Guthrie. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows me catching one of his throws…

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…and here’s another screen shot that shows me tossing it back:

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(Whenever I try to embed a YouTube video on my blog, the format gets messed up, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to click here to watch it.)

In case you’re wondering how I got to play catch with Guthrie, it’s pretty simple: I asked. It also helped that I’ve gotten to know him over the years, but I’ve played catch with lots of players that I’d never met before…like Kyle Farnsworth. Now THAT was fun.

When the Orioles finished hitting, Rick and I each had four baseballs. I asked if we could get a photo together, and as we walked over to a sunny spot, he found a fifth ball hiding in the folded-up portion of a seat. Unbelievable. Here we are moments later:

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The Blue Jays started warming up on the 3rd base side, so I changed into my Jays gear and headed to their dugout. Aaron Hill threw me my fifth ball of the day, and less than a minute later, I got another from Vernon Wells. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to Wells, and the vertical arrow is pointing to the ball in mid-air:

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Once the Jays started hitting, I raced back out to the left field seats. Look how empty it was; the arrow is pointing to me:

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Then an amazing thing happened: I got three more balls in a 20-second span. The first two were home runs that I caught on the fly on back-to-back pitches. The third was another homer that landed in the seats…two pitches later, I think. I wasn’t sure who had hit them. Rick (who works for MLB.com) was almost certain that it was Edwin Encarnacion, so I’m gonna assume that that’s who it was.

A few minutes later, Jona called out to me from her spot 15 rows back.

“Can you come here for a minute?” she asked.

I couldn’t imagine what was so important that she’d be pulling me away from my normal spot.

“What is it?” I called back.

She didn’t say anything. She just gave me a look as if to say, “I can’t explain it, so you need to come over here,” and as soon as I started running up the steps, she very subtly pointed at the ground in the middle of a row.

I should know by now not to question her. This is why she called me over:

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Jona knows that I will NOT count a baseball in my collection if another fan gains possession of it first, so instead of picking it up and handing it to me, she called me over so I could grab it myself. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.

That was my 10th ball of the day and No. 4,599 overall. The next ball was going to be a milestone, and in case it ended up being a home run, I wanted to know who was batting.

Well, it WAS a home run. Here I am catching it:

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify the batter, and when I asked the players who was hitting, they all ignored me except for Fred Lewis, who saw my Jays gear and said, “You’re a fan. You should know.”

All I know is that it was a right-handed batter with a very open stance. His left side was practically facing third base before he squared up and stepped straight into the pitch. Any ideas?

Here I am posing with No. 4,600 soon after:

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Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos to toss me a ball near the foul pole, and then I headed to the 3rd base dugout. Brian Butterfield, the team’s 3rd base coach, ended up walking in with a spare ball in his hand:

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He tossed it to me. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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That was my 13th ball of the day, and I got another from Yunel Escobar just before the game (no arrow necessary):

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You may have noticed that in the photo above, I wasn’t wearing my Blue Jays shirt. That was intentional. I figured that everyone on the team recognized me by that point, so I changed my appearance and just went with the hat.

The game itself was incredible — not because I caught anything, but because it only lasted an hour and 55 minutes! I don’t think I’d ever attended a game that finished so fast. The Orioles won, 3-1, behind a 95-pitch, complete-game effort from Brad Bergesen. For the Jays, Kyle Drabek made his major league debut and did pretty well. He allowed three runs in six innings…gave up nine hits, walked three, and struck out five, but the most impressive thing is that he hit 99mph on the radar gun, and I wasn’t even paying attention to the velocity for most of the night, so who knows? He might have even touched triple digits when I wasn’t looking. By the way, Drabek threw 88 pitches, and then two relievers — Shawn Camp and Scott Downs — combined to work the last two innings with thirteen pitches. The Jays and O’s threw a total of 196 pitches. THAT is how to play a game in under two hours. Normally, I love it when games last long, but not when I have a 200-mile drive waiting for me after the final out. Of course, Jona and I didn’t rush toward the garage right away. First I headed to the 3rd base line as the Jays relievers walked in from the bullpen. This was my view as they headed toward me:

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Jesse Carlson tossed me a ball — my 15th of the day — and then Kevin Gregg threw me another 30 seconds later.

After that, I gave away two of my baseballs to kids and headed toward the Eutaw Street exit. Here are the 14 balls I kept:

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The End.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 16 balls at this game

• 247 balls in 26 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 655 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 129 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,605 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $103.84 raised at this game

• $1,603.03 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/14/10 at Camden Yards

This was my first game in more than a month, and let me tell you, it felt great to be back…

The story of the day was running. It seemed as if that’s all I did. Here’s a photo (that my girlfriend took) of me bolting toward a section in left-center for a home run that landed in the seats:

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I grabbed that ball and caught a line-drive homer on the fly soon after. (I have no idea who hit either one.)

Things were off to a good start — but then it all fell apart.

The whole running thing? Not too successful. Despite the many rows of seats that I sprinted through and climbed over, I kept finding myself out of position. Here are two screen shots from a video that will illustrate my point. First I climbed over a row while the ball was in mid-air…

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…and then I watched helplessly as it fell short:

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And then the Orioles stopped hitting at 5:17pm — more than 15 minutes early. It was such a waste. All I could do was wander into foul territory and watch the Blue Jays get loose:

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By that time, of course, I had changed into my Blue Jays gear, and it paid off. Lyle Overbay spotted me and threw a ball my way. Here I am behind the dugout, reaching out for the catch:

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If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the ball in the pocket of my glove.

Once the Jays started hitting, I ran back out to left field and got some love from from Adam Lind. Here’s a photo that shows the ball sailing toward me:

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Here I am running around some more and climbing over another row of seats:

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Don’t forget, I had switched into Jays gear, so that’s me on the left with my back facing the camera. And in case you were wondering…no, I didn’t get that ball. I didn’t get this one either…

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…but two minutes later, I did manage to catch a homer on the fly in the front row. Again, I have idea who hit it. I wish I did, but the batters were wearing shirts over their jerseys, so I couldn’t see their uniform numbers, and I didn’t recognize their stances from 375 feet away. Anyway, here I am reaching up for that ball…

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…and if you look closely, you can see a little kid ducking out of the way on my left. I gave that ball to a different kid later on.

I had five baseballs at that point — a respectable total that could’ve been much higher if I’d been a little quicker and/or luckier. Here I am losing out in a scramble…

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…and here I am losing out on a bobble:

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In the photo above, you can’t see me, but trust me, I was there. Do you see the random glove in front of the left edge of the warehouse? That’s my glove.

Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays first base coach Omar Malave to throw me a ball in left-center, and I also snagged a ground-rule double in that same area. I think it was hit by DeWayne Wise, but I’m not sure.

Then I met a father-and-son duo named Gregg and Kyle. Gregg is the sports director for a TV station in Harrisburg, PA, and Kyle follows me on Twitter. (Here’s a link to my Twitter page. I haven’t been blogging much lately, but I’ve been tweeting just about every day.) They were both very nice, and I posed for a picture with Kyle before running off to the 3rd base dugout. Here were are together:

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I won’t bore you with a photo of my dash to the dugout. Instead, I’ll skip to the good part:

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In the photo above, do you see the player who’s about to throw a ball? That’s Shawn Marcum. He threw it to me. It was my eighth ball of the day.

Soon after BP ended, I got Marc Rzepczynski to sign my ticket. Here I am in the process of getting the autograph…

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…and here’s the ticket itself:

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Right before the game started, I got my ninth ball from John McDonald. He and Yunel Escobar had played catch in front of the dugout. Easy snag. No competition. Happy birthday to me. (Actually, it WAS my birthday.)

I spent the top of the first inning in left field. This was the view:

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After that, I pretty much stayed in the standing room only section in right field. This was the view late in the game.

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(It was Buck Showalter T-shirt Night.)

I also spent some time chasing (nonexistent) foul balls behind the plate. Here’s the view from that spot:

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As for my girlfriend…

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She picked a comfy spot and stayed put while I ran around and did my thing.

The game itself was whatever. I didn’t come within 100 feet of any of the three homers, and I never got closer than 50 feet to a foul ball. For the record, the Orioles pounded out 16 hits and won, 11-3.

Just after the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman. (GOSH, I love his name.) Then I got another ball from Jason Frasor near the 3rd base dugout when he walked in from the bullpen with his fellow relievers.

It didn’t feel like I had a great day — I wasted lots of opportunities during BP — but somehow still ended up with double digits.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 11 balls at this game (10 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 231 balls in 25 games this season = 9.24 balls per game.

• 654 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 128 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,589 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $71.39 raised at this game

• $1,499.19 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/2/10 at Yankee Stadium

It was another day of A-Rod hysteria:

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Perhaps “hysteria” is an exaggeration. “Anticipation” and “excitement” and “teenage girls hoping to get on TV” would be a better way to describe the atmosphere.

When the stadium opened at 5pm, I raced out to the right field seats. My girlfriend Jona followed close behind with my camera. Here’s a shot of the section from afar. I’m standing in the last row (see the red arrow) wearing a black T-shirt and khaki green cargo shorts:

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When A-Rod stepped into the cage, I moved up a few rows and quickly got my first chance of the day when he launched a deep fly ball in my direction. I could tell right away that it was going to fall a bit short, so I climbed over a row of seats…

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…and when the ball predictably tailed to my left, I began to drift with it. If you look really closely at the following photo, you can see the ball in mid-air:

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One second later, I reached to my left and made an uncontested, one-handed catch:

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For the first 10 minutes, the seats remained fairly empty. I took advantage by running all over the place…

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…but it didn’t always pay off. Here’s a photo that shows me tracking a home run ball…

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…and here’s another that shows me NOT catching it:

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I always seem to make great facial expressions when I narrowly miss baseballs. In my own defense, I missed this one because it sailed five feet over my head. Anyway, I got a chance to redeem myself moments later. A-Rod was back in the cage, and I was in position:

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He launched another home run ball, this time to my right, and I took off after it:

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Once I got close to the spot where I knew it was going to land, I slowed down a bit and started drifting:

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I reached the spot:

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The ball was heading right for me, but I could tell that it was going to sail a few feet over my head. There was no time to climb up on a seat. Did I have enough vertical leap in me to make the catch?

Here’s your answer:

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Here I am just after landing with the ball…

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…and here I am holding it up for Jona (who deserves received many hugs and kisses for taking these outstanding photos):

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Five minutes later, Curtis Granderson really got a hold of one and sent the ball flying deep to my left. The sun was in my eyes, so as I started moving through my row, I held up my right hand to reduce the glare:

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As soon as I passed the Modell’s sign, I climbed over a row of seats:

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The ball landed, and I climbed over another row:

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And then I climbed over another:

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That’s when I grabbed it. (Did you notice that the guy in the red shirt never even moved? All he did was turn around to see where the ball landed.)

Moments later, I caught another A-Rod homer on the fly. It’s too bad that Jona didn’t get a photo of this one because I got clobbered while making the catch. I was in the middle of a cluster of people, and when I jumped for the ball, another guy crashed into me, elbowed me in the back of the head, caused my hat to go flying, and nearly made me tumble forward over a row of seats. I don’t think he meant to hurt me. I just think that some people are out of control and have no sense of their surroundings.

I’d snagged four baseballs in the first 15 minutes. Things were looking good. I thought I was on my way to double digits for the first time ever at the new Yankee Stadium — but then things slowed way down.

I still kept running all over the place…

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…and climbing over seats…

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…but I couldn’t get close to any other balls. I was still stuck at four when the Yankees’ portion of BP ended.

I threw on my Blue Jays cap and headed over to the left field side:

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Dead.

I don’t know what caused it, but the Blue Jays (who lead the majors in home runs) experienced a severe power outage. There was hardly any action in the stands, and as a result, I only snagged two more baseballs. The first was tossed by Jesse Litsch (who recognized me from Toronto). It was my 200th ball of the season. Here it is:

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The second ball was a John McDonald homer. I grabbed it when it landed in the seats and handed it to the nearest kid.

Simple stuff. Six balls. Not terrible. Not great. But that’s to be expected at Yankee Stadium.

Did you know that there’s a butcher inside the stadium? And did you know that Jona is generally repulsed by meat? This photo pretty much tells the story…

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…although I should point out that the three balls I’m holding were my A-Rod homers.

Could A-Rod break out of his slump and hit one to me during the game?! Jona asked me what I thought my chances were of catching No. 600. This was my reaction:

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All I can say is that Yankee Stadium stresses me out. One thing, however, that did temporarily improve my mood was the free chocolate samples that we got from a Dylan’s candy stand inside Gate Two:

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In the photo above, it looks so empty and peaceful, doesn’t it?

One word: HA!!

This was my view during the bottom of the first inning with A-Rod on deck:

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(Historical tidbit No. 1: This was the 31st anniversary of Thurmon Munson’s death.)

Jona and I had seats in the middle of a row. Early in the game, we were able to grab a couple open seats next to the stairs, but in the middle innings, every single end-seat was taken. I had to make a choice. The options were:

1) Move into the middle of the row and basically have no chance to move if A-Rod happened to go yard.

…OR…

2) Leave the section and try my luck somewhere else.

We left the section. I couldn’t even bear the thought of sitting in the middle of a row. I knew I would’ve felt like a caged animal, so we wandered for a few innings and ended up in the bleachers.

Why does Yankee Stadium stress me out? Why haven’t I bothered to make a serious attempt at catching No. 600 in New York?

This is why:

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The strategy for catching a milestone home run ball at Yankee Stadium is simple: be exactly where the ball is going to be hit. There is NO room to move. Security checks tickets at every section. And even if you can somehow sneak into a section, there aren’t any empty seats. It’s a ballhawking nightmare.

When A-Rod grounded out to end the 7th inning, some people foolishly assumed that he wouldn’t come up again — and they left. Jona and I took advantage and moved back to our original section. Look at all this room I had:

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(At Yankee Stadium, that’s a lot of room.)

The Yankees got two guys on base in the eighth, which meant that A-Rod would be due to bat fourth in the bottom of the ninth…and…thanks to a one-out homer by Nick Swisher in the final frame, A-Rod did indeed get one last turn to hit.

It would have been nice if Mister Rodriguez hit a line drive right to me because I almost definitely would’ve caught it. Obviously, there’s no way to guard against someone in the front row throwing their glove up at the ball and deflecting it, but putting freak plays aside, I really do believe that if A-Rod had hit the ball anywhere within, let’s say…five feet of me, I would have caught it. But instead, he grounded out to shortstop to end the game.

Final score: Blue Jays 8, Yankees 6.

(Historical tidbit No. 2: During this game, the Blue Jays tied an American League record by hitting six doubles in one inning.)

I raced over to the Jays’ bullpen and got one final ball from bullpen coach Rick Langford. I didn’t take my camera or backpack with me — Jona was hanging onto all my stuff — so when she finally made her way over, this was the only photo that she got:

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It shows Langford and Janssen and the bullpen catcher walking across the field toward the dugout.

(Jona would like you to know that she took that last photo with her brand new iPhone 4, which she loves.)

SNAGGING STATS:

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

• 202 balls in 22 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.

• 651 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 139 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 10 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls

• 7 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls

• 4,560 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $45.43 raised at this game

• $1,310.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/3/10 at Progressive Field

On May 1st, I took lots of photos outside Progressive Field, and on May 2nd, I went nuts with my camera inside the stadium. May 3rd — my final game in Cleveland — was simply the day for me to snag an obscene number of baseballs.

It started like this…

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…and continued with this…

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…and this:

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For some reason, the ushers at this stadium rarely collect the home runs that land in the seats before Gate C opens.

Soon after I grabbed those three Easter eggs, I got David Huff to toss me my fourth ball of the day near the bullpen in right-center. Nothing special, right? At least that’s what I thought until I started scribbling some notes and numbers, and then it hit me: I had just snagged my 4,400th lifetime ball. Here I am with it:

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Moments later, Grady Sizemore flipped a ball to me in right center. Even though he’s struggling this season, I’ve always liked him and wanted a ball from him, so it felt great to finally get one.

This was my view of the field:

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My sixth ball of the day was a total fluke. David Huff tossed it into the front row roughly 50 feet to my left — and there wasn’t anybody there. I don’t understand it, but whatever. All that matters is that I was able to run over and pick it up.

My seventh ball was thrown by Chris Perez near the visitors’ bullpen down the right field line. My eighth and ninth balls were home runs that I caught on the fly; the first was hit by an Indians righty (no idea who), and the second was a line drive off the bat of Mister Sizemore.

It was 5:01pm. The stadium had barely been open for half an hour. I was thinking BIG, but then I hit a bit of a dry spell.

Twenty minutes later, when the Blue Jays took the field, things picked back up. Shaun Marcum tossed me my 10th ball of the day, and then I got another from Brandon Morrow. Here’s a photo that I took a few minutes later. It shows those two guys standing around with their teammates:

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Now get this…

Five minutes later, Marcum walked back onto the warning track to retrieve a ball. I wasn’t even going to bother asking him for it, but then at the last second, right before he was about to fire it back toward the bucket, I said, “Hey, Shaun, let’s play catch.” He responded by turning around, tossing me the ball, and then walking away before I had a chance to throw it back.

Weird, no?

You know what else was weird? Two players (Huff and Marcum) had each thrown me two baseballs in the same day. (Okay, fine, Huff didn’t exactly throw the second one *to* me, but it still counts.)

Look how empty the stands were, one hour after the stadium had opened:

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In the photo above, do you see the fan in the pink shirt? He’s right in the center of it, standing in the fourth row. Well, after I caught two more home runs on the fly, I ended up beating him out for another ball that landed in the seats. He was pretty bummed about it, so I asked him if he’d snagged a ball yet.

“Yeah,” he replied, “I’ve actually gotten a couple.”

“Oh, cool,” I said, “because if you hadn’t, I was gonna offer you this one.”

He thanked me, and then he asked if I was Zack.

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

“I’m Jimmy,” he said. “I the guy that emailed you and told you I was going to be here.”

We talked for few minutes and then parted ways temporarily.

Now, in case you’ve lost count, I had 15 balls by this point, and yeah, I was thinking about reaching 20. There wasn’t a whole lot of time remaining in BP, but I had a secret plan. During the previous 90 minutes, there were FIVE home runs that landed in the second deck in right field; when the rest of the stadium opened at 6pm, I raced up there. Here’s a summary of what happened:

1) There was one other guy who also ran up to the second deck.

2) All five balls were scattered in the front row (some in puddles).

3) The other guy took a bad route, and I got a slight head start.

4) I grabbed four of the five balls.

5) I missed one because he shoved me from behind, forcing me to overrun it.

6) I offered him a few choice words.

Naturally, I didn’t have time to pull out my camera and photographs the baseballs sitting in the stands, so please, take my word for it. I’m not making this stuff up. Just smile and nod and accept the fact that I had 19 balls in my backpack by the time I ran over to the left field bleachers. (By the way, I have no idea who hit the three homers that I’d snagged a bit earlier — balls No. 13, 14, and 15 on the day. All I can tell you is that they were hit by lefties on the Jays, and that the 14th ball was the 1,500th I’d ever snagged outside of New York City.)

Jimmy was in left field. There were a few other fans nearby. Someone on the Jays — a right-handed batter — launched a deep home run that landed halfway up the bleachers. I sprinted up the steps and hurdled a few benches and grabbed the ball half a second before Jimmy got there. (He was a good sport about it.) That was my 20th ball of the day (!!) and then, while I was up there, the same batter hit another ball that clanked off a nearby bench. I didn’t even see it coming. I only heard it, and I was able to jog over and pick that one up, too. (Sorry for the lack of photos, but seriously, there was never a break in the action.)

Two minutes before the end of BP, I tried unsuccessfully to get a Jays pitcher to throw a ball up to me.

“You got like 30 balls already!” he shouted.

“Not quite that many!” I yelled.

“Why don’t you dump all the balls out of your backpack and I’ll throw one to you?” he joked.

I think it was Josh Roenicke, but I’m not sure. He was wearing warm-up gear over his uniform, and I was 20 feet high, but anyway, while he was jawing at me, another home run ball clanked off a nearby bench. Once again, I hadn’t seen it coming. In fact, it nearly hit me, and it ended up AT MY FEET in left-center. Roenicke (or whoever it was) threw his arms up in disgust. Too funny. And that was it for BP.

Finally, there was a moment to relax/breathe.

Jimmy and I got a photo together:

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In case you’re wondering, that thing in front of my right ear is a pen. I’d been scribbling notes about all the balls I snagged, and I tucked it into my cap.

I gave away one of the balls to a kid, then changed out of my Blue Jays costume, and went to the back of the bleachers with Jimmy:

9_zack_with_many_many_balls.jpg

In the photo above, I’m holding my 20th ball of the day. Jimmy (who took the photo) lent me his glove to use as a barricade so the balls wouldn’t roll down the steps.

Remember those puddles in the 2nd deck that I was talking about? One of the balls had evidently been laying face down in the water:

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Balls No. 21 and 22 both looked pretty cool:

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I suspect that the ball on the left hit the edge of a bench. That’s gotta be how the gash got there.

Before Jimmy left to go watch the Cavs’ playoff game, he asked me to sign one of his baseballs. Then I wandered down to the Home Run Porch and caught up with a fellow ballhawk named Sean Malafronte. Here we are together:

12_sean_malafronte_and_zack.jpg

I had met him for the very first time earlier in the day when we were waiting in line outside Gate C — but I had already heard about him because he was involved in this home run controversy last season. Crazy stuff. It turned out that he had heard about me, too, and we kept running into each other throughout the day. I believe he ended up snagging eight balls.

Several minutes before game time, I made it down to the Indians’ dugout just before Shin-Soo Choo finished playing catch. Here he is, about to make one of his final throws:

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I got him to toss me the ball by asking for it in Korean. Then, on my way out to the left field bleachers, I gave away another ball and took the following photo of the empty stands:

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Oof. Make me wish I lived in Cleveland. (No offense, Cleveland, but I really love New York.)

This was my view during the game…

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…and this is a screen shot that shows me missing Jose Bautista’s 2nd-inning homer by five feet:

16_jose_bautista_homer_screen_shot.jpg

The HORIZONTAL arrow is pointing to the spot where I was sitting, the VERTICAL arrow is pointing to me, and the DIAGONAL arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball landed.

If you watch the replay, it doesn’t look like I was running particularly fast, and it’s true. I wasn’t. But here’s why. The following photo shows the route that I had to take:

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Let me explain the numbers (and symbol)…

1) I was sitting in the second row.

2) As soon as the ball was hit, I had to climb over the bench…

3) …and jump down to the front row.

4) I had to cut left in order to avoid the people and benches.

$) The money spot — it’s where the ball landed.

If the ball had stayed in the stands, I would’ve been able to count to three and then pick it up. The other fans had NO idea what was happening. But no, of course, because I’m jinxed when it comes to game home runs, the ball smacked off the Road Runner ad, landed in the aisle, and bounced back onto the field. Un-effing-believable.

At least the game itself was exciting. Blue Jays starter Brett Cecil took a perfect game into the seventh inning. He then got Asdrubal Cabrera to hit a weak come-backer, walked the next two batters, and struck out Austin Kearns for the 2nd out. That’s when I took the following photo to document the fact that his no-hitter was still intact:

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Moments later, Jhonny Peralta hit a clean, line-drive single to left field, and that was that. (Was it MY fault? Did *I* somehow jinx him my taking a photo? I made sure not to talk about the no-hitter while it was still in progress. Damn. Would’ve been nice to witness history.)

During the break before the start of the ninth inning, I moved to the center field end of the bleachers and tried to get Grady Sizemore to throw me his warm-up ball. He ended up throwing back to Chris Perez, the reliever who was playing catch with him, and Perez threw it to me instead. HA!!! It was my 24th ball of the day — my fourth highest single-game total ever — and Perez was the third player to throw me a pair. Are you hearing me? Three different players each threw me two balls in one day. I know it’s a random/meaningless “accomplishment,” but I’d bet that no one else has ever done it.

I took the following photo from the spot where I caught the throw. (I had to jump for it while I was standing on the steps. One of the cameramen yelled, “Nice catch.”) The arrow is pointing to the spot where Perez was standing when he threw it.

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Since the Jays had the lead, I headed to their dugout in the bottom of the ninth, and I took this photo along the way:

20_view_from_behind_home_plate.JPG

After the final out, I got robbed by another fan on what would’ve been ball No. 25. Rommie Lewis tossed it to me from the side; the awkward angle enabled some other guy to reach out in front of me, and he apologized profusely.

“Hey, it’s all good,” I told him. “Get whatever you can get.”

Final score: Zack 24, Blue Jays 5, Indians 1. My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .800 (4 wins, 1 loss.), which means I’d be in first place in any division in the majors.

I gave away one more ball as I headed toward the right field exit, and before I left the stadium, I took a few final photos. Here’s one…

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…and here’s another:

22_empty_stadium_after_the_game.JPG

I just LOVE empty stadiums. I mean…I love stadiums, period, but there’s something extra special about being inside one when there aren’t any other fans. (The whole game practically felt like that.)

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That was it for the Cleveland portion of my trip. I knew that my next stop — Target Field — was going to be a bit more crowded.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 24 balls at this game (21 pictured on the right because I gave three away)

• 62 balls in 5 games this season = 12.4 balls per game.

• 634 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 123 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 7 lifetime games with at least 20 balls

• 4 consecutive seasons with at least one game at which I snagged 20 balls

• 4,420 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $92.40 raised at this game

• $238.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/25/09 at U.S. Cellular Field

Screwed by the weather!

No batting practice.

Miserable day all around.

Game time temperature: 39 degrees.

Don’t go to Chicago in April.

This is what I saw when I ran into the stadium:

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Thankfully (and for some strange reason) there was a ball waiting for me in the right field bullpen:

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I might not have noticed this ball if not for my new friend Scott and his friend Chad. (In the photo above, Scott is the guy wearing jeans and a black jacket, and Chad is in a maroon shirt just beyond/above the red tarp.) I was staying back under the overhang of the second deck because it was pouring. These two gentlemen, however, were down in the seats and looking for easter eggs when they discovered the ball in the bullpen. Scott doesn’t have a ball-retrieving device and Chad had left his at home, so they waved me down and let me go for it.

In the following photo (which was taken by Scott), you can see me trying to knock the ball closer:

3_zack_failed_glove_trick.jpg

The bad news is that my string got horribly tangled (I blame the wetness) and I failed to reel in the ball. The good news is that a couple of groundskeepers eventually walked into the bullpen and one of them tossed it to me. Although there’s no official “assist” category for ballhawks, Scott and Chad definitely deserve one. Not only had they pointed out the ball, but they didn’t even ask for it when the groundskeepers made an appearance. So…BIG thanks to them.

The ball was soaked, and it weighed about half a pound. My glove was also soaked. My string was soaked. My backpack was soaked. My feet were clammy. The ink on my rosters had bled all over the place. My whole body was freezing. It was just a day of suck. And to make matters worse, when it stopped raining, the Blue Jays never came out. Normally, when there’s no BP, the teams will still take the field and play catch. But no. Not this time. There was nothing happening on the field. There was no way to snag baseballs…so I wandered and took photos, starting with the open-air concourse in center field:

4_wet_concourse.jpg

I headed to the left field corner of the upper deck…

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…and then made my way toward home plate:

I’m not sure what to make of the support beams. Are they really necessary? I mean, are the really
holding up the top edge of the upper deck? Or are they just there to make The Cell look charming and old? I’m pretty sure–and correct me if I’m wrong–that when construction began on this stadium in 1989, technology had advanced to the point where view-blocking beams would’ve been unnecessary. This upper deck is rather high and far and steep; if I were trapped in the last few rows and THEN had to sit behind one of those beams, I wouldn’t be happy. But then again, security is so laid-back at this stadium that unless it’s sold out, there’s no reason why anyone would ever have to sit there.

Here’s my panorama attempt from behind the plate:

7_cell_panorama.jpg

This is what the upper deck concourse looks like. Pretty nice, pretty standard:

8_cell_upper_deck_concourse.jpg

I noticed some lousy stadium design as I cut through the seats toward the right field side. In the following photo, look how far the steps extend toward the front of the upper deck:

9_cell_funny_steps.jpg

What’s the big deal?

Let’s say you’re sitting in the front row and you want to get to the concourse. When you reach the steps, you’d either have to climb over them or scoot carefully between the bottom step and the railing. It took somewhat of an effort for ME to reach the tunnel in an empty stadium, so I can only imagine how tough it would be for old/fat people when it’s packed.

Here’s another oddity. Not a mess-up. Just something cute and quirky. Look at the little segment of railing attached to the side of the beam:

10_cell_funny_railing.jpg

Here’s another panorama:

11_cell_panorama.jpg

I wasn’t kidding when I said security is laid-back. I *did* have to pay $34 for a field level ticket in order to get into the field level seats, but once I was in, I was free to go everywhere, including here:

12_cell_dugout_access.jpg

Can someone please tell me why it’s okay for autograph collectors to cluster at the dugout at U.S. Cellular Field, but not at Wrigley Field? Or Citi Field? Or the new Yankee Stadium? I hate that certain teams (read: owners) have the right to enforce all kinds of strict rules. There should be a league-wide policy that gives every fan permission to get as close to the field as they want, in any section, at any time of the day until the game begins. Then, if certain anti-fun owners feel the need to instruct their security guards to check tickets, so be it. I wish I were the commissioner of Major League Baseball and/or an owner. (Evidently you can be both at once.) I’m telling you, the world would be a better place.

Here’s another look from the front row next to the dugout:

13_cell_on_deck_circle.jpg

Half an hour before game time, two White Sox players started throwing in shallow left field. I figured there’d be a mob of fans trying to get the ball (at least there would’ve been in New York) but the only mob was passing by on the warning track:

14_ball3907_being_used.jpg

The White Sox had invited 2,200 Girl Scouts (and their parents/siblings/etc.) to take a lap around the field. I was concerned that one of the kids might get hit by an errant throw, but the two players–John Danks and Gavin Floyd–were very careful. (One little girl walked right up to Danks with a ball and pen in her hand and was quickly stopped by security.) Meanwhile, I was the only fan in the seats who had a glove, and when the guys finished throwing, Danks had no choice but to toss me the ball.

Then I got Floyd to sign my ticket:

15_gavin_floyd_autograph.jpg

The game was delayed 14 minutes at the start, and it rained on and off throughout the night. (I’m surprised it was rain and not snow.)

I decided to stay behind home plate and go for foul balls. This was my view late in the game:

16_cell_umbrellas.jpg

Why was I there and not in the outfield? Because Jim “Future Hall of Famer” Thome and A.J. “99 Career Homers” Pierzynski weren’t playing. It was so miserable and cold that I decided I deserved the pleasure of sitting close to the action.

Scott and Chad had the same idea. They were sitting one section to my right. There were a few foul balls that came close enough for us to get up and run, but we didn’t snag any of them. I got a third-out ball from Jose Bautista after the second inning, and Chad kept his mini-streak alive by getting a ball from the ump after the game, but that was it. Hardly any action. Super-lame. The White Sox won, 10-2, and then there were fireworks. Whoop-Dee-Doo!

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One final thing…

At some point during the game–I think it was the top of the 5th inning–I felt my phone vibrate in the upper right pocket of my cargo pants.

“Who the HELL is texting me?” I thought as I reached for it. (I don’t text. I have T-Mobile. I didn’t sign up for texting, but I still get charged 20 cents every time I send or receive a text. It’s complete B.S., and as a result, whenever I give my cell phone number to someone, I have to insist that they never text me. But they still do. And my phone bill get inflated several dollars every month. The cheapest texting plan from T-Mobile is $5 per month, so I’m still saving money, but it’s still a ripoff, and I can’t wait to dump them and get an iPhone. Anyway, there IS a point to this story…)

I pulled out the phone and flipped it open, and this is what it said:

17_text_from_heath_bell.jpg

Yes, that would be THE Heath Bell who pitches for the San Diego Padres–he’s the only one who has permission to text me–and he was talking about my charity. I had told him about it when I saw him on 4/15/09 at Citi Field, and he told me to email him the link. (Very quickly, for those who don’t know, I’m getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag during the 2009 season. That money will go to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball, which provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. The largest pledge so far is one dollar per ball. The smallest pledge is a penny, and it’s all adding up in a big way. If you want to see the complete list of donors and learn more about it, click here.) I was surprised that Heath signed up so quickly. Ten days? I would’ve been glad to have him sign up after ten weeks, for even a nickel per ball, but he came through. He is truly The Man. I can’t say it enough.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 soggy balls at this game

• 88 balls in 12 games this season = 7.3 balls per game.

• 581 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,908 total balls


CHARITY STATS:

• 95 donors

• $18.16 pledged per ball

• $54.48 raised at this game

• $1,598.08 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/24/09 at U.S. Cellular Field

The last time I visited this stadium, it was called Comiskey Park and my one-game record was just 14 balls. Now, a decade later, my simple goal for the day was to snag half that many and bring my lifetime total to 3,900.

I took the subway (or whatever it’s called here in Chicago) to the stadium. Four stops from my friends’ place. Fifteen minutes. Easy. This was the view from the platform after I got off the train:

1_cell_from_train_platform.jpg

The inside of U.S. Cellular Field (aka “The Cell”) had changed a bit in the last decade, but the outside is the same: UGLY. Still, I had a great time walking all the way around it and taking photos.

Down below, I’ve combined four photos into one image. Starting on the upper left and then going clockwise, you can see 1) the walk from the subway to the ticket windows, 2) the ticket windows, 3) me with the home plate gate in the background, and 4) the 1,450-foot Sears Tower way off in the distance.

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What’s so ugly, you ask? Bland design, mainly. The stadium thinks it’s pretty and classy–like a woman who’s wearing too much makeup and carrying a (fake) designer handbag–but there’s really nothing to it. And to make matters worse, the surrounding area is desolate and boring.

Here’s another four-part pic. It shows 1) the fenced-off area past the right field gate, 2) the walk around the fence, 3) an empty area beyond that, and 4) a dead end:

3_outside_the_cell.jpg

Lameness!

I had to walk back in the direction I came from and then make a WIDE berth in order to keep going. Here’s the last four-part pic I’ll make you look at. It shows 1) a beautiful plastic bag stuck in a beautiful tree, 2) a sketchy stretch of road that turned into a sketchy alley, 3) the projects, and 4) another random stretch of required walking:

4_outside_the_cell.jpg

Am I the only baseball fan in North America that likes to walk all the way around stadiums and take photos? I mean, is it that strange to want to get a sense of the architecture and surrounding areas? I must be the only one who does this on the south side of Chicago because a police officer, sitting in his parked car, actually waved me over and demanded to know what I was doing.

I finally made it past the projects…

5_outside_the_cell.jpg

…and walked along the final edge the stadium. It looked like a boarded up construction zone:

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Okay, enough with the outside of the stadium. I don’t want you to get depressed.

The right field gate opened at 5:40pm–just 90 minutes before game time. (Actually, game time was officially 7:11pm because the White Sox have a partnership with the 7-11 chain. Lovely.) That wasn’t going to give me much time to snag…maybe 45 minutes at the most. At a decent stadium with a not-too-large crowd, I’ll average about one ball for every ten minutes of batting practice. At a lousy stadium, I’ll snag a ball every 15 to 20 minutes, and at a great stadium, I might be able to get a ball every five minutes. Keep those numbers in mind.

As soon as I got inside, I sprinted up four ramps, showed my field level ticket to get past a security guard, bolted across the open-air concourse, and scurried down the steps toward the bullpen. JACKPOT!! There were two balls sitting there, waiting for me and my glove trick. My friend Kelly had told me that security at the Cell is extremely lax, and she was right. I reeled in the first ball with ease, and then I flung my glove out a few times to knock the second ball closer. While I was in the process of doing this, a security guard in the party deck down below saw what I was doing and gave me a strange look that could’ve been interpreted in any number of ways.

“Do you mind?” I asked innocently.

He shrugged and simply said, “Go for it.”

THAT is how a major league baseball stadium should be run. I’m not saying people should be allowed to dangle gloves there (or onto the field) during games, but jeez, what’s the big deal about doing it so early in the day when no one is around? I’m SO pleased to say that White Sox management has the right idea, and as a result, I’ll be rooting for the team (once I leave Chicago) and encouraging people to go to this stadium.

Here’s a look at the bullpen. I took this photo after I’d snagged the two balls, but you can see how awesome it is:

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The bullpen in left field is even better because the seats behind it aren’t as high up. Check it out:

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Did you notice that there are two balls in the photo above? The ball on the left was too far out, but the one on the right (just next to that coiled green hose) was all mine. Too easy.

Now, just to prove that I actually CAN catch batted balls, I made a nice play on a home run that was hit by a Blue Jays righty. The ball was heading about 20 feet to my left, so I cut through an empty row, and then as it was about to land in a small cluster of semi-clueless fans, I jumped and reached out to my left and plucked the ball out of the air, just above their outstretched arms. They weren’t pissed. If anything, they were impressed, and I heard one guy mumble something like, “He must’ve played high school ball.”

“College,” I said.

“Oh yeah?” he replied.

“Well, a little bit.”

“It shows,” he said, and I thanked him.

The White Sox fans were so nice, even though I was decked out in Blue Jays gear:

zack_blue_jays_gear.jpg

Throughout the entire course of the day, I only heard one “Blue Jays suck” directed at me, and the guy who said it was smirking in a friendly way. I explained that I’m not even a Jays fan, and he got a kick out of that. The photo above was taken by a guy whose name is also Zack. I got recognized by a few people during BP, so I can’t remember if he was the one who asked this, but at one point, when people saw me snagging balls left and right, someone was like, “Wait, are you THAT GUY?”

The person who asked this knew the deal, and I knew that he knew, so all I said was, “Yeah, I’m that guy.” He recognized me from the two home runs I caught on back-to-back nights last September at Yankee Stadium. Why? Because those homers were hit off White Sox pitching.

Anyway, I was in glove trick heaven. Look at this glorious gap behind the left field wall:

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Several balls landed there, including this one which I reeled in for No. 5 on the day:

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I used the trick to snag No. 6 from the bullpen, and I immediately noticed that it had a faint bat imprint. Check it out below. I wrote the “3899″ because it was the 3,899th ball I’d ever snagged, but right below that, in the very middle of the ball, you can see the first two letters of a reversed TPX logo:

11_ball3899_tpx_imprint.jpg

I love stuff like that.

Batting practice was still in full swing, so I knew I was going to reach 3,900. The only question was…how was I going to get it?

Five minutes later, someone on the Jays hit a home run that barely cleared the outfield fence. The gloveless fans in the front row reached out for it, and this was the result:

12_ball3900_gap.jpg

(Can you see why I was in heaven?)

No one else in the stadium had a ball-retrieving device (how is that possible?), but I still rushed over. The rubber band was already on my glove, so I stretched it into place and propped the glove open with my Sharpie and went in for the kill.

Whenever I snag a ball, I take a quick peek at it right away. Is it marked? Smudged? Stained? Mis-stamped? Lopsided? Is it a minor league ball? A commemorative ball? A training ball? Is there a weird pattern on it? Is there a gash? A bat imprint? I might not have a chance to label it for a few minutes, but at the very least, I take a moment to inspect it.

Well…

This is what I had just pulled out of the gap:

13_ball3900.jpg
Hell YES!!!

The Twins are using these balls in ’09 to commemorate the final season of the Metrodome. I’ve already booked a two-day trip to Baltimore next month for when the Twins will be there, and I was (emphasis on past tense) also planning on going to Yankee Stadium on May 15th when the Twins will be THERE. If I didn’t snag one of these balls at any of those games, I would’ve seriously had to consider going to Minnesota and buying a ticket in the front row behind the visitors’ dugout and snagging an effin’ third-out ball. Now I don’t have to, and it’s SUCH a relief.

Let me not overlook the fact that it really IS a nice logo. Compare it to the blandness of the Citi Field balls. See what I mean? The Twins ball has the name of the stadium. It has the “TC” logo (which stands for “Twin Cities,” in case you didn’t know.) It shows the whole stadium as opposed to a random little sliver of it. Bravo, Twins. Excellent design.

It didn’t occur to me when I booked this trip…and I just realized now…that the Blue Jays were IN Minnesota for four games last week. That explains it. DAMN I’m happy.

It was getting crowded toward the end of BP…

14_left_field_crowded.jpg

…but that didn’t stop me. Double digits, you ask? Read on…

Another ball landed in the gap, and as I was about to go for it, Brandon League jogged over to field a ball that had rolled nearby. I got him to toss me that one and then began what should have been the easy process of using the glove trick.

The ball was kinda underneath the overhang of the gap, so it took me about 30 seconds to knock it into plain view. Once I moved it a bit, I saw that it had the Twins commemorative logo! Ohmygod, I *had* to get it.

I got the ball to stick inside my glove, and as I was gently lifting it up, a hand reached out of nowhere from down in the gap and yanked my string, causing both the ball AND the Sharpie to fall out. What the–?!

I figured someone was just messing with me. Maybe a player had gone in there to get the ball? And maybe he was about to emerge and laugh at me and then toss me the ball and my marker? Nope…nothing. I yanked the glove back up, readjusted the band, pulled out another Sharpie (preparation, baby) and lowered the glove for a second attempt. Then…way off in the distance…far to the right, all the way at the end of the gap, a security guard started walking toward me, and when he saw what I was doing, he started walking faster. Come on, ball!! Go into the glove!! The guard was getting closer. Luckily for me, he was, shall we say, rather hefty and elderly. (He looked like Santa Claus, except he had a white mustache instead of a full beard.) He wasn’t moving fast, but he was gaining ground. I got the ball to go into the glove and started lifting it, and just then the guard made his best attempt to run toward me. He was like 50 feet away, and the glove was only a few feet off the ground. I only had a few seconds, and I was panicking. If I didn’t raise it fast enough, not only would he take the ball but he might cut my string and confiscate my glove. I had no idea. And if I raised the glove too fast, the ball would probably slip out. I kept raising it as fast as I could while keeping the whole operation
under control, and when the guard got very close, I started walking away from him along the front row. I was lifting the glove and keeping my distance at the same time. It was beautiful, but I wasn’t moving fast enough, and he swooped it and made a lunge for my glove, so I had no choice but to yank it up, and the ball stayed inside!!!

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!

The guard was so pissed. I got far away from the front row, and I heard from the fans that he was still down there for the next 10 minutes, looking for me and asking everyone where I was.

I only managed to snag one more ball during BP. That gave me double digits. I got it with my glove trick in the left field corner, and I gave it to the nearest kid.

As for the game itself, there were two players whose potential home run balls I wanted to catch: Jim Thome because he’s a future Hall of Famer who’s already in the 500 Home Run Club and A.J. Pierzynski because he was sitting on 99 career homers. (Thanks to Happy Youngster for reminding me of that fact earlier in the day.) Unfortunately, neither of those guys went deep, and I wandered throughout the night.

This was my view in the top of the first inning:

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Then I made my way out past center field…

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…and picked a spot in a very crowded right field:

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I tried playing for third-out balls behind the Jays’ dugout…

18_view_behind_jays_dugout.jpg

…but I kept having to leave and run back out to right field whenever Thome (batting cleanup) and Pierzynski (batting 7th) came up. It didn’t give me much of a chance to just sit and relax and watch the game, but that’s life.

By the middle of the 6th inning, the White Sox were losing, 12-0. I felt sorry for the fans, but it was great for me because the stadium cleared out.

After the 7th inning, when the Sox outfielders were warming up, right fielder Brian Anderson looked up into the crowd as if he were going to throw his ball to someone. I jumped up, moved through my (now) empty row, and waved my arms. He threw the ball right to me. Perfect aim. I was in the third row, and it barely cleared the people sitting in front of me. It was totally unexpected. I was just sitting out there in case someone (even Lyle Overbay or Travis Snider) happened to go yard, and I actually felt bad that I was missing opportunities for third-out balls at the dugouts…so this was great.

Despite the lopsided score, some Sox fans were still into the game:

19_topless_sox_fans.jpg

The Blue Jays scored two more runs in the final three innings:

20_scoreboard.jpg

I’m definitely rooting for the Jays this year in the AL East. I obviously don’t want the Yankees to win it, and I’m getting pretty sick of the whole Red Sox Cult Bandwagon Nation. Now that Manny Ramirez isn’t in Boston, the only reason why I root for that team is because I don’t want the Yanks to finish in first place.

After the final out, I went down to the seats behind the Jays’ dugout and snagged a ball that was rolled to me across the roof. I have no idea who it came from. There was a cluster of players that disappeared from sight, and the ball came from one of them who had obviously seen me standing there with my my Jays gear. That ball–number 12 on the day–was rubbed up and had a big smudge:

21_ball3905_smudge.jpg

I’ve caught dozens of foul balls like this during games, so I assume this one was game-used. I won’t count it as a gamer, of course, but it’s still cool to think about when/how it was used.

By the way, you do need a field level ticket to get into the field level at the Cell, but once you’re in, you’re totally free to go anywhere. I was able to walk down any staircase at any point in the day. Most staircases weren’t even guarded, and the few guards who were scattered around didn’t ask for my ticket. What a great stadium. Except for that one guard in the left field gap, I wouldn’t change a thing.

SNAGGING STATS:

22_the_11_balls_i_kept.jpg

• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured here because I gave one away)

• 85 balls in 11 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

• 580 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,905 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $17.27 pledged per ball

• $207.24 raised at this game

• $1,467.95 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/9/09 at Rogers Centre

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

Yes!!!

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

blue_jays_stretching.jpg

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

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

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

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

“Yeah! How’d you know?”

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

WOW.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BP_after_15_minutes.jpg

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

I mean…DUH.

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

left_field_crowded_04_09_09.jpg

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

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

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

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

“That was YOU?!” he asked.

(Heh.)

Here’s a photo of him signing…

jesse_litsch_signing.jpg

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

jesse_litsch_glove.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

• 9 balls at this game

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

• 573 consecutive games with at least one ball

pifb_logo1.jpg

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

• 3,851 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $14.88 pledged per ball

• $133.92 raised at this game

• $461.28 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/8/09 at Rogers Centre

My day started with a trip to the CN Tower:

cn_tower1.jpg

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

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

cn_tower2.jpg

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

cn_tower3.jpg

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

cn_tower4.jpg

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

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

cn_tower.jpg

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

cn_tower5.jpg

Here’s the view facing west…

cn_tower6.jpg

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

cn_tower7.jpg

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

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

gate_11_crowd_04_08_09.jpg

In the photo below you can see two important things:

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

bobby_seay_number_44.jpg

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

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

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

empty_seats_04_08_09.jpg

…and watched Zach Minor warming up:

zach_minor_warming_up.jpg

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

pregame_throwing_04_08_09.jpg

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

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

food_and_view_04_08_09.jpg

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

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

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

happy_youngster_during_game.jpg

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

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

ninth_inning_04_08_09.jpg

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

“Are you sure?” I asked.

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

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

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

• 572 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,842 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $14.52 pledged per ball

• $130.68 raised at this game

• $319.44 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

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

zack_blogging_04_08_09.jpg

Stay tuned for one more tale from Toronto…

4/7/09 at Rogers Centre

The day got off to a great start.

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

zack_snagging_in_hotel_room.jpg

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

“I can’t throw that far!” he shouted.

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

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

“C’mon!” I yelled.

He ignored me.

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

nick_zack_jack.jpg

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

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

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

ball3829_warning_track.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

eddie_bonine.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

international_league_balls.jpg

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

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

curtis_granderson_autograph.jpg

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

ryan_tyler_zack.jpg

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

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

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

hockey_goalie_glove.jpg

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

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

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

empty_seats_during_game_04_07_09.jpg

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

500_level_concourse.jpg

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

500_level_empty_seats.jpg

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

rogers_centre_panorama.jpg

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

300_level_concourse.jpg

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

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

foul_ball3833_seat.jpg

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

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

nick_zack_hotel_room.jpg

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

SNAGGING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game

marco_scutaro_foul_ball.jpg

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

• 571 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

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

• 26 lifetime game balls outside NYC

• 3,833 total balls


CHARITY STATS:

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

• $14.04 pledged per ball (and counting)

• $98.28 raised at this game

• $182.52 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

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

4/6/09 at Rogers Centre

The story begins on April 5th…

I flew from NYC to Toronto, got picked up at the airport by my friend Joy, and checked into the Renaissance Hotel:

1_approaching_hotel.jpg

This hotel is connected to the stadium, and as I mentioned in my previous entry,
I got one of the rooms that overlooks the field. Joy and I had been planning to go out to dinner, but when we saw what was happening on the field, even SHE wanted to stay (and that’s saying a lot, considering she doesn’t follow baseball and hasn’t even heard of Barry Bonds). Check it out:

2_hotel_room_first_look.jpg

Yup. Batting Practice. Here’s another look:

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My mind started racing when I discovered that the window could open, so you can imagine what started going through my head when I looked down at the seats and saw this:

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Was it possible to get the players to throw balls up to me? Yes, but their aim was off. One guy (I think it was Fernando Rodney) tossed up two balls and missed both times. The first one sailed five feet to my left, and the second was right on line but fell about five feet short. One of the balls ended up bouncing out of the seats, but look where the other one ended up:

6_easter_eggs.jpg

After another 15 minutes or so, I got Gerald Laird’s attention (simply by waving, not by shouting) and got him to toss one my way. The ball sailed five feet to my right, smacked off a sturdy window and disappeared into the seats right below me. Hmm. Laird tried once more to throw me a ball. His aim was better, but still off. I had to reach as high as possible and far to my left, and I missed it by mere inches. He flailed his arms in disgust, but there really wasn’t anything I could’ve done, except maybe been born 6-foot-5. Anyway, the ball once again disappeared into the seats below my window. What was going to happen to those balls? Would they go unnoticed by the rest of the world for another 24 hours? (That’s why I didn’t blog about this in my last entry.) Would I be able to enter the stadium the next day and race up to the 500 Level and grab all four of them? I’m not joking when I say this kept me up that night.

Joy and I ordered Indian food (chana masala for her, chicken tikka masala for me, and garlic naan for us both) and I took a ton of photos of the stadium. Here’s one that really shows the open window:

5_hotel_room_view.jpg

Eventually the lights inside the stadium were dimmed…

8_getting_darker.jpg

…and then it got really dark so the Blue Jays’ staff could practice using spotlights to highlight the baselines for the following day’s player introductions:

9_spotlight.jpg

I was thinking about the four balls that were sitting in the seats below me. I could still only see two of them, so I reached out of my window as far as possible, aimed my camera straight down, and took a photo. Maybe I’d see a ball hiding in the folded up portion of a seat?

7_looking_for_other_eggs.jpg

Nope. I figured the other two balls had to be somewhere within the first four rows, so I started making a plan for how I’d comb through the seats as quickly as possible, once I was there. I’d race out the tunnel, take six steps down, and then turn right. They had to be there. But again, would they STAY there overnight and throughout the following
afternoon?

Here’s a photo of the stadium at its darkest. It was only like this for a few minutes:

10_restaurant_in_darkness.jpg

The lights came back on and stayed on all night. (No big deal. My room DOES have curtains, after all.) I kept looking out at the stadium and then at the seats below from different angles, hoping to spot the other two balls. I moved all the way to the left, then to the right, and I spotted a third ball! Can you see it in the photo below?

11_third_egg_spotted.jpg

That made me feel better, and the balls were still there in the morning. That brings us to April 6th…Opening Day. Good thing the Jays have a dome because it was COLD. I checked weather.com, and it was 17 degrees (Fahrenheit) with the wind chill. And damp. But I still went outside and walked all around the stadium. The four-part photo below
(starting on the top left and going clockwise) shows what it looked like when I first stepped out of the hotel and then started exploring:

12_outside.jpg

Here I am, trying not to freeze…

13_zack_outside.jpg

…and here are a few more photos outside the stadium:

14_outside.jpg

Just to give you a quick tour of the hotel, here’s the view to the left as soon as you get out of the elevator:

15_hotel_lobby_left.jpg

Here’s the view to the right. Note the restaurant, past the orange beams, called Arriba:

16_hotel_lobby_right.jpg

Here’s the view from the restaurant–not as good a setup as I have in my room because it’s enclosed and therefore impossible to snag baseballs. Ha:

<a href=”http://mlblogssnaggingbaseballs.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/17_restaurant_view.jpg&#8221; target=”_blank”17_restaurant_view.jpg

Okay, so it’s a well known fact that I’m a huge nerd and love numbers, right? Well, just to show how big this hotel is, I timed myself jogging (at a pretty good pace) from the elevator through the halls and to my room. You know how long it takes? Forty-five seconds! Crazy.

Speaking of my room, here’s what it looks like from just inside the door:

18_hotel_room.jpg

I got to the window just in time to see the outer edge of the infield (the pseudo “lip”) being painted:

19_lines_painted.jpg

Then I sat in front of the window and ate lunch:

20_lunch_in_room copy.jpg

That would be pulled pork for those keeping score at home, and yes, the baseballs were still in place:

21_eggs_still_there.jpg

Only three hours until I’d be able to run inside and claim them. I finished lunch, moved away from the window, fired up the laptop, and did some work on my book.
Half an hour later, I heard some rustling coming from the seats below, and I nearly had a heart attack when I realized what it was. Some teen-aged kid was combing through the seats with a broom and a trash bag. He was coming from the right, so he hadn’t yet seen the balls, so I waited until he got a little closer and then got his attention by shouting a firm “Excuse me!” As soon as he looked up, I told him that there were a few balls in the seats. I explained how they got there and asked if I could have them.

“You can have ONE,” he said.

One?!

What could I say to that? I wanted them all, or at least two of them, but I knew that he didn’t have to give me anything. He could’ve easily taken them all and there wouldn’t have been anything I could do to stop him. I was at his mercy, and I was mainly just thankful that he was going to give me anything at all.

“I don’t want to break a window,” he said, looking up at me, ball in hand.

“Don’t worry,” I said, smacking the outside of my window with my knuckles. “These
things are solid. One of the balls yesterday hit the window pretty hard, and it didn’t do a thing.”

That convinced him, so he came closer and lobbed the ball up to me. Perfect aim. Right to my glove. I caught it, and my season of snagging was underway. The first thing that crossed my mind was that I had just raised some money for charity, and it felt great. I blogged about this during the off-season, so in case you missed it, I’m getting people to pledge a little bit of money for every ball I snag this season. The money will go to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball, which provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Click here to read more about this.

As for the young employee in the seats below, he kept two of the balls for himself and then started heading off…

22_seat_cleaner.jpg

“Wait!” I shouted. “There’s still another ball in the seats.”

“There is?” he asked.

“Yeah, I think it’s in the folded up part of a seat, like maybe in the first or second row. Can you take a look? Any chance I could get it?”

He went back and poked around, and sure enough he found the final ball. Then he tossed it to me. Cha-ching! More money for Pitch In For Baseball, and as for me? I had two baseballs and the season hadn’t even officially begun. Well, at least not in Canada.

Two hours later, at about 4:30pm, the Blue Jays came out and started throwing:

23_blue_jays_throwing.jpg

The stadium was going to open at 5pm. Even though I was tempted to stay up in my room and try to snag more balls, I knew I had to head outside and get on line.

Well, I thought I did. Ten minutes before the stadium was set to open, this was scene outside one of the left field gates:

24_crowd_outside_stadium.jpg

That’s right. There were THREE people waiting to get in, and none of
them had gloves. At that point, my only concern was whether my stupid
print-at-home ticket would actually work:

25_print_at_home_ticket.jpg

I never trust those things, but anyway, it DID work and I raced inside.

Now, one thing to know about Rogers Centre is that there are five levels of seating. The field level seats are called the “100 Level” and the upper deck (where the dude picked up those balls and tossed them to me) is called the “500 Level.” The 300 and 400 Levels are all suites, so they’re basically off limits, and of course there aren’t too many balls that reach the top deck, so really, I was only dealing with the two lowest levels. Of course, as soon as I ran into the 200 Level, a ball was hit into the 100 Level, which was still empty, so I ran down there but couldn’t find the ball, and then once I was down there, a ball was hit over my head, into the 200 Level, not too far from where I’d been two minutes earlier. It was THAT kind of day. And then, once I went back upstairs and pretty much had the place to myself, not a single ball came anywhere near me. It truly sucked. This is what it looked like from the 200 Level after about 10 minutes:

26_BP_from_200_level1.jpg

The problem with this stadium, from a home-run catching perspective, is that half the balls get swallowed up by the bullpens (which are covered with netting so the glove trick is useless). Of the remaining 50 percent of home runs, probably three quarters of those land in the 100 Level, but it gets pretty crowded down there, especially considering that you have to be positioned within the first few rows to catch a ball because of the overhang of the 200 Level. That leaves a few home runs for the second deck, which of course is empty for a reason. There’s just not that much action up there, or at least there wasn’t yesterday.

Thankfully I got Jason Frasor to toss me a ball in the 100 Level before I headed back upstairs. Then, as soon I reached the 200 Level (now for the second time) an old usher stopped me from going down the steps and insisted on knowing what I was doing there.

“Trying to get home run balls?” he asked, as if that was the only acceptable answer.

“You know it,” I said, pretending to be friendly.

“Well if you get more than one,” he said, “you have to give ‘em to me.”

I wasn’t sure if he was joking. I suspected he wasn’t but treated him like he was and faked a chuckle.

“I give ‘em kids,” he said.

“Yeah, I give away some of my baseballs too,” I said, “but I do it on my own terms.”

“Well,” he replied, “you only get one up here.”

Five minutes later, Scott Downs threw a ball to some gloveless fans in the front row, but his throw said high and landed in the fourth row, and I ran over and grabbed the ball. The old usher saw THAT but he wasn’t watching 30 seconds later when Downs successfully threw another ball to the same group of fans.

The usher walked over and told me that the ball I got wasn’t intended for me, and he demanded that I give it to the other people. Thankfully they turned around and told him that they’d already gotten one.

“Just…relax,” I told the usher, making a ‘calm-down’ gesture with my hands. “It’s gonna be all right. Things have a way of working themselves out.” I wanted to throw him off the ledge. That’s probably why there’s a net.

Twenty minutes later, after the Tigers had taken the field, I got one of the players to toss me my fifth ball of the day. I’m not sure who it was. I think it might’ve been Eddie Bonine, but I’ll never know. Doesn’t really matter. What DOES matter is that the usher was several sections away and either didn’t see me catch it or wisely decided not to walk over. I seriously would’ve lost it, which is never a good thing to do during the first game of a series. I’ve learned that it’s best to make a scene on the final day, especially when you’re in another country and not planning to return anytime soon.

The area to the center-field side of the bullpen would’ve been great for the glove trick, but it was constantly being patrolled by security guards:

27_BP_from_200_level2.jpg

The place was a snagging nightmare. I pretty much had the entire 200 Level to myself, and NOTHING came up there. On two separate occasions, a home run ball was hit exactly in my direction but fell about five feet short of the front row. So yeah, I still had five balls when BP ended.

Then it was time for the pregame ceremonies:

28_opening_night_festivities.jpg

Right before the game started, I managed to get down to the seats behind the Tigers’ dugout (on the first base side) and get Adam Everett to toss me his warm-up ball. Let me tell you, it was NOT easy getting down there. There were one or two security guards at every staircase, and they were checking everyone’s tickets. Even in the outfield sections, it was impossible to get down into the seats as soon as BP ended. I tried playing for third-out balls for a couple innings, but it was too crowded. This WAS Opening Day, after all, and the place was pretty much packed, so I decided to wander and explore the stadium a bit.

I realize that the concourses are not necessarily the most interesting feature in a ballpark, but that’s one thing I look for. It’s sort of like my personal benchmark. If you want to judge a company’s ice cream, you start with the vanilla. Pizza? You begin with a plain slice. You know? Same logic. (And just to warn you, the pizza crust at Rogers Center is like cardboard, except not as flavorful.) So anyway, here’s the concourse in the 100 Level:

29_concourse_100_level.jpg

Nice. Spacious. Cheerful. But right above it, in the 200 Level, it just got weird:

30_concourse_200_level.jpg

And by the way, I actually had to show my ticket to LEAVE the 100 Level. There was a security guard, fiercely protecting the entrance to the ramps, who actually wouldn’t let me go up until I showed him. If I’d had a 100 Level ticket and wanted to go to the 500 Level to simply have a look and take pics, he wouldn’t have let me. This place is so badly run. It’s a complete joke. I hope it won’t be like this every day.

Speaking of jokes, check out the faux curtains hanging in the club level tunnels:

31_tunnel_200_level.jpg

They looked okay from afar, but upon closer inspection, I realized that they were made of some cheapo synthetic rubberized substance. (Just like the surface of the playing field. Hey!)

For some strange reason, no one said a word as I walked right down into the fanciest seats in the stadium, just behind home plate in the perfect foul ball location. (Of course nothing landed there until I had left.) This was my view:

32_view_from_200_level.jpg

Look how the people were dressed there:

33_mister_fancypants.jpg

I was sure I was gonna get kicked out. I was wearing cargo pants and sneakers and a hoodie, and of course I was the only fan with a glove. Talk about not fitting in. But no one said a word.

I headed back to the 100 Level (don’t ask me how I got back in) after the 7th inning stretch and worked my way down to the seats behind the 3rd base dugout. The Jays were winning, 9-5, at that point, and some of the “fans” had left so I figured I’d watch the rest of the game up close.

Now…if you look at the box score from this game and scroll to the bottom, you’ll notice that there was a brief delay–rather unusual for a game played indoors. In case you haven’t seen the highlights or read the story of what happened, the Tigers were pulled off the field after two baseballs were thrown at left fielder Josh Anderson from the 500 Level. This happened after a dozen paper airplanes had been thrown onto the field from all points of the stadium AND after a full/uncapped bottle of water crashed down and splattered on the warning track near the right field foul pole. Don’t you love how every team has an announcement thanking their fans and praising them for being “the best fans in baseball” and yet it’s so NOT true in some cases? This was one of those cases. It was Opening Day, and not only wasn’t the game sold out, but it was interrupted with an announcement about a possible forfeit if anything else was thrown onto the field. Most fans around me didn’t even know what was going on. They were booing the Tigers (now losing 12-5) for leaving the field, and they were yelling stuff like “Mercy rule!” and “Where ya going?!” and “Get back out there, you little girls!” Outside of Yankee Stadium, which is the black hole of obnoxiousness, this was the worst fan behavior I can remember seeing in over 750 games.

Here’s a photo of home plate umpire Ed Montague discussing the situation with managers Cito Gaston and Jim Leyland while the other three umps look on:

35_tigers_pulled_off_the_field2.jpg

I did not snag another ball after the game. I did, however, linger in the concourse for 15 minutes to try to find a kid with a glove so I could give away one of mine. There were a few kids without gloves (forget them), and there were a few kids with gloves who already had baseballs (they didn’t need my help), but it was amazing. There was no one worthy of receiving a ball. I had one in my hand, ready to give away, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Remember when I went to the Red Sox home opener last year? The Tigers were at Fenway that day, I snagged a few of their baseballs during BP, and they were all from the Pacific Coast League. Well, the ball I got yesterday from the Tigers pitcher was from the International League. Check it out:

36_international_league_ball.jpg

No wonder those BP home runs had fallen short of the 200 Level; the Tigers were using inferior balls. Look at the size of the seams on that thing. Yeesh.

One last photo…

At around 1am, the lengthy process of cleaning the seats was in full swing. Here are the seats in the 100 Level along the left field foul line. Look at the bags of garbage stacked up on the steps, as well as all the un-bagged trash at the bottom of the steps:

37_seat_cleaners.jpg

That’s it. Now I just have to survive three more Sheffield-less games here…

SNAGGING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game

• 570 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 3,504 balls during the streak (the second ball from the seat cleaner was No. 3,500)

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

• 3,826 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $13.22 pledged per ball (at this point)

• $79.32 raised for Pitch In For Baseball (so far)

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