Results tagged ‘ upper deck ’

5/5/10 at Target Field

I was convinced that there wouldn’t be batting practice. The weather was iffy, and the game had an extra early start time (12:10pm). I mean, if ever there was a day for the players to sleep in, this was it. Right?

Well, when I ran inside the stadium, the cage and screens were all set up, and players from both teams were throwing in the outfield:

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I hurried down to the left field foul line and quickly identified the two Tigers as Brad Thomas and Phil Coke. I was hoping that Thomas wouldn’t end up with the ball because he had thrown one to me the day before. I assumed he’d recognize me, so I was glad when Coke ended up with it instead — and when he did, I asked him for it.

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He walked over to me and said, “You’re the guy with the running count, right?”

(Crap, I was busted. I had to come up with a good answer.)

“Yeah,” I told him, “and you know I’m doing this for charity, right?”

(I wasn’t only doing it for charity. I was doing it for fun, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to mention that.)

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I saw the thing about you on TV yesterday.”

(Cool! Now I just had to convince him to give me the ball. Think! Say something! Anything!)

“Well, it would be an honor to get a ball from you,” I said.

D’oh! As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt like an idiot. It was actually true — why wouldn’t I want a ball from a major leaguer who recognized me? — but felt kinda phony. Evidently, however, it wasn’t too phony for Coke because he walked even closer and placed the ball into my open glove.

I raced around the stadium to the right field side…

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…and got Carl Pavano to throw me a ball five minutes later. It was commemorative and worn out and beautiful. Have a look:

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Once the Tigers started taking BP, I ran back to the left field side and grabbed the corner spot along the foul line. This was the view:

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I had decided to go for grounders instead of homers because the left field bleachers were crowded:

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I caught two baseballs during BP (bringing my total on the day to four). The first was tossed by Johnny Damon, and the second was a grounder that a right-handed batter yanked down the line. In between these two snags, some random guy approached me in the stands and introduced himself. He said he’d been reading my blog, and that he enjoyed keeping up with my baseball travels, and that he was a big baseball geek, too, and that he appreciated how much I enjoyed the game. I appreciated his kind words, but didn’t think much of it until he handed me his business card:

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He told me that if I was free the next day, he’d give me a tour of Target Field before it opened. (Stuff like this never happens to me in New York.) He even said I could take photos and blog about it — Twins management gave its stamp of approval — as long as I didn’t use his name. I thanked him profusely, told him I’d give him a call, and then began my own tour.

The previous day, I’d wandered all around the outside of the stadium. Now it was time to explore the inside, and I started behind the 3rd base dugout. Check out the cross-aisle that runs through the stands:

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Some people have been referring to this as “the moat,” but I don’t think it should be called that. Moats keep people out. Yankee Stadium has a MOAT. Dodger Stadium has a MOAT. But here in Minnesota, fans are allowed to go down to the dugouts until the end of batting practice. Once BP ends, the ushers start checking tickets, but after a few innings, you can pretty much wander wherever you want.

I headed up the steps and into the field level concourse. Naturally it was packed…

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…so it took me a few minutes to make it out to the left field foul pole:

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In the photo above, the glassy area on the right is a New Era cap store. The balcony around it is open to everyone. If you want to stand there for the entire game, no one’s gonna stop you.

I kept walking around the field level. Here’s what it looked like at the back of the bleachers in left-center field:

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You see those low-hanging lights in the photo above? Know what those are? Heat lamps. Great idea. The Twins/architects paid close attention to detail when designing this ballpark. It was truly a pleasure to walk around and take it all in.

Fans were streaming into Gate 3 — the Harmon Killebrew gate:

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Here’s a look at the bullpens and bleachers:

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There’s absolutely no chance to use the glove trick behind the ‘pens because the video board juts out too far. (You can see it better two photos above.) In fact, there’s no chance to use the trick in most outfield sections.

Here are the seats in right-center field. Note the flower bed in front and overhang up above:

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As you can see, it’s impossible to use the glove trick here, too, and if you’re hoping to catch a home run, your only chance is in the front row. I don’t care if the seats are made of real wood; there’s basically no reason to ever set foot in that section.

Here’s what the batter’s eye looks like from there:

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I decided to walk to the end of the front row and peek over the edge — you know, just to see what the trees looked like from above. This is what I saw:

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Well, how about that? There was a ball sitting 15 feet below me. I looked around. There were no ushers or security guards in sight, so I pulled out my glove, set up the rubber band and Sharpie, and went in for the kill. It took a minute to knock the ball closer, and then I successfully reeled it in…so I take back what I said a minute ago. There IS a reason to set foot in that section, and you just read about it.

I headed out to the standing room area behind the right field foul pole:

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Want to guess who was outside the gate?

Waldo, of course:

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(I wrote about him in my previous entry.)

The Twins had won the first two games of the series, so he was rooting for a sweep.

There was still a lot more for me to see. I knew I wasn’t going to finish wandering before the game started — and I was okay with that. I decided to take my time and walk all around Target Field, and if I missed a few innings, so be it.

I rode an escalator to the upper deck and took a photo of the standing room area from above. Check it out:

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See that big brown-ish building on the other side of the standing room area? (It’s a garage.) See the gray-ish translucent thing with random white blotches in front of it? I don’t know what to call it — it probably has an official name — so all I can tell you is that it’s a gigantic piece of art. It’s made out of thousands of shingle-sized metal flaps that wiggle back and forth in the breeze. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and no, that’s not an exaggeration. The flaps move in unison, like a massive school of fish, creating a hypnotic illusion which, from afar, looks like steam rising and swirling. You have to see it in person. It’s freaky and amazing, and you’ll never forget it.

As the umpires walked out onto the field, I wandered from the right field corner toward the plate and discovered a narrow walkway in front of some windows:

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Here’s another look at the walkway from the other end:

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See the guy holding a clipboard on the right? That was the public address announcer! There was a big microphone hanging down near the upper right corner of the window, and as he spoke into it, his voice boomed out across the stadium. HOW COOL that the Twins designed Target Field to give fans such incredible access. They actually made it worthwhile to be in the upper deck. And wait, there’s more…

Directly behind home plate, there was another/longer enclosed area with windows overlooking the field:

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As you can see in the photo above, there wasn’t a walkway in front, so I had to head around the back of it in the concourse. Here’s a photo of it:

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It’s called Twins Pub. You don’t need a special ticket to get inside. Anyone can go hang out there to enjoy a beverage and/or escape the cold. Here’s what it looks like on the inside:

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Ready for the coolest thing of all? This might be my favorite photo from the whole trip. Inside the pub…well, here, take a look:

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Yes, the Target Field organist was sitting right there for everyone to see.

Wow.

Just wow.

Behind the pub, there was an unusual, elevated walkway that the people sitting high up above the plate had to use to get to their seats:

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I headed up there to take a few pics that I later combined to make a panorama:

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I love how the lights are actually tucked into the roof of the upper deck. I’m telling you, every inch of this stadium is glorious.

Here’s what it looked like at the very back of the upper deck:

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(Okay, so maybe THAT shouldn’t be classified as “glorious,” but there’s certainly nothing wrong with it.)

Here’s a look at the field from the 3rd base side…

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…and here’s some more upper deck weirdness:

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I’m talking about that last elevated row of seats.

Funky, don’t you think?

As I approached the left field corner, I got a nice view of the party decks:

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I was looking forward to seeing the Budweiser deck at the very top of the building. There was a staircase at the end of the concourse that appeared to lead up there:

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Unfortunately, it just led to the regular portion of the upper deck, so I had to settle for checking it out from here:

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I headed down to the club level…

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…but couldn’t get past these doors:

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The left field corner of the club level was open to everyone, so I headed in that direction:

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The “Captain Morgan deck” was situated at the very end (directly above the New Era store):

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(There should be an “Alcoholics Anonymous lounge” to go with it.)

This was where the people who didn’t care about the game seemed to congregate. As you can see in the photo above, only one guy was even bothering to watch the nearest TV, and if you look closely, you can see that he was really just taking a quick break from playing with his phone. Sad. But hey, all these people paid to be in the stadium, so whether or not they were watching the game, they were at least supporting it.

Here’s the view from the deck — no, not of the field, but more importantly, of the stands and beams and concourses behind it:

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Here’s the view from the top corner of the left field upper deck:

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(I really did wander everywhere.)

I loved the combination of metal, concrete, and glass. I loved the angles. I loved the sleek design. But I didn’t love the wind. It was so gusty up there that I was nearly blown off my feet. It was freezing and a bit scary, so I made sure to hold onto the railing whenever I got near the edge. (For once, I was glad to have gained 11 pounds this past off-season.)

This was the view to the left:

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Here I am with my five baseballs:

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Three of the balls had black magic marker streaks across the logo like this. That’s how the Tigers are marking their balls. (If you want to see all the different types of marked balls that I’ve snagged over the years, click here.)

Here’s what it looked like from the deepest part of the ballpark in left-center:

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There’s a standing room area directly behind the batter’s eye…

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…but because the wall is so high (shoulder-high if you’re six feet tall) and has a metal drink shelf jutting out, it’s nearly impossible to peer over for balls that might be hiding in the trees below.

The stands in deep right-center were strangely configured. There was some weird railing/platform/standing-room action at the very back:

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I headed down toward the main standing room section in right field…

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…and then went back up to the club level on the right field side. There was a sizable area that was open to all fans, which included a model of Target Field and a long hallway with photos of every current major league stadium:

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Finally, at some point more than halfway through the game, I finished wandering and caught up with my friend “Big Glove Bob”:

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I spent the next few innings hanging out in the standing room area, and then I grabbed a seat behind the 3rd base dugout. Orlando Hudson flied out to Tigers right fielded Ryan Raburn to end the eighth inning, and when Raburn jogged in, he flipped me the ball. That was my sixth of the day, and since there was a little kid standing nearby with a glove, I handed him my lone unmarked/non-commemorative ball from BP. (Yeah, I kept the game-used ball with the Target Field logo and gave him a regular practice ball. So? He didn’t know the difference, and he was thrilled to no end.) Then, with one out remaining in the game, I moved over to the staircase behind the umpires’ exit…

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…and got my seventh and final ball of the day from Derryl Cousins as he hurried off the field.

My last two baseballs were perfect, game-rubbed, commemorative balls:

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Final score: Zack 7, Twins 5, Tigers 4. (This improved my Ballhawk Winning Percentage to .786 — 5.5 wins and 1.5 losses.)

I had no idea what happened in the game until I looked at the box score, and you know what? It doesn’t even matter.

SNAGGING STATS:

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

• 73 balls in 7 games this season = 10.4 balls per game.

• 636 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 4,431 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)

• $26.95 raised at this game

• $281.05 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

After the game, I met Jona at Smalley’s 87 Club. We both had our laptops and used the free WiFi. She had a Boca burger. (Yeesh.) I had the boneless BBQ chicken wings and a side of onion rings. (She’d say “yeesh” to that, so we’re even.) Roy Smalley made a post-game appearance (as he often does) and signed a ticket stub for me:

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(Are they still called “stubs” even though they no longer get torn?)

5/3/09 at Rangers Ballpark

Remember that Nolan Ryan statue giveaway that I complained about in my previous entry? Well, I ended up using it to my advantage. I brought the statue with me to this game…

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…and gave it to one of the season ticket holders. In exchange, he brought me into the stadium as his guest when the special “season ticket holders” entrance opened two and a half hours early. I was pumped! The rain had held off. I was gonna have a huge head start on the competition. Double digits would finally be mine. I could FEEL it.

But then I ran inside and saw this:

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The cage was set up for batting practice, but the Rangers weren’t hitting. I don’t think I need to describe how frustrating that was.

I used the downtime to photograph the amazingly wide tunnel on the right field foul line:

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Here’s another look at it from the seats:

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Best.
Stadium.
Ever.

Just before the gates had opened, I met a guy named Dan (aka “drosenda” in the comments) who’s been reading this blog since 2005. He and I ended up hanging out for most of the first hour, and he kindly alerted me when a certain Rangers player began signing autographs along the foul line in shallow right field. I ran over and got the player to sign my ticket. (Note the price.) Can you identify the signature? Apparently this guy hardly ever signs. Here, check it out:

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I got another autograph soon after on my ticket from May 1st:

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That ticket had gotten soaked on May 2nd, but you can hardly tell, right? (Note the price.) Can you identify this autograph?

(The reason why this one was signed in black is that I lost my blue sharpie on 4/24/09 at U.S. Cellular Field, and I haven’t yet had a chance to buy a new one; I’ve been at the mercy of other people’s markers, which often suck.)

The pitchers had already begun playing catch at this point, and when they finished several minutes later, I got Eddie Guardado to toss me a ball near the foul pole where the wall slants up really high.

The White Sox finally took the field. The following photo might suggest that they were defending themselves against a swarm of killer gnats…

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…but in fact they were just stretching.

Batting practice got underway about an hour after the stadium opened…

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…and it ended 25 minutes early! It was a snagging nightmare. The seats were crowded. There were kids everywhere. The White Sox weren’t hitting or throwing much into the stands. And I had to deal with a real jerk. There was a guy (who was about the same age and size as me) who thought it would be a good idea to block/grab me as I tried to run past him up the steps to get in position for a long home run. But that’s not all. When I told him to get his ******* hands off me, he accused me of running into him. It was one of the worst BP’s of my life. I only managed to get one ball. Gavin Floyd tossed it to me in left-center field. Meh.

The highlight for me was simply watching the kids run out onto the batter’s eye for balls:

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That was the one spot that had a decent amount of action, so I was tempted to head over there and claim a spot along the side railing. What kept me from doing that, however, was the fact that I would’ve been twice as old as everyone else. There wasn’t an official “kids only” rule, but that’s how it felt. Also, I noticed that whenever a ball landed there, the kids would dive and slip and pile on top of each other. It was an injury (and a grass stain) waiting to happen. I didn’t want any part of it.

Before BP started, I had gotten a photo with Dan (pictured below in the “W” cap), and after BP ended, I got a photo with another blog reader named Frank (aka “texas4″) who had brought his copy of my book for me to sign:

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It was time to do one final round of wandering. I started by taking a photo of another unique tunnel on the field level…

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…and then headed up to the upper deck. Check out this huge open-air concourse:

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I need to show one more photo of the concourse so you can see how wide it was in one spot. I took the following shot with my back against a closed concession stand. You can see a Six Flags roller coaster poking up in the distance:

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Once again…outstanding design. Why doesn’t every stadium have a concourse this wide? If you’re going to try to cram roughly 50,000 people into one building, especially in Texas where people tend to be rather large, you might as well give them room to walk around.

Here’s a photo from the edge of the upper deck all the way out in left field:

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Here’s my panorama attempt:

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Here’s a look from the very top corner of the upper deck in right field:

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In many stadiums, when the upper deck is empty, security does not allow fans to wander all over the place, but here in Awesome Arlington, the only reason why security stopped me was to ask where I was from. (Screw New York. God Bless Texas.)

Rangers Ballpark, as great as it is, DOES have a few ugly signs of disrepair:

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This surprised me because the stadium is only 15 years old, and really, how hard can it be to fix something like that? Get a little concrete mix. (Or some gray Play-Doh.) I’m pretty sure the upper deck didn’t start falling apart last month, so the question is: why wasn’t it fixed during the off-season?

Here’s a part of the stadium that needs no fixing:

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It’s like the Great Hall at the new Yankee Stadium–minus the ego.

Back in the seating bowl, this was the scene shortly before the game started:

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(Gotta love Carlos Quentin practicing his swing. Has anyone ever had a positive interaction with him? From what I saw, he ignored everyone for three straight days.)

When the players finished throwing, I got Jayson Nix to toss me the ball. That was No. 3 on the day for me–still lousy but at least respectable, given the circumstances.

During the game I sat in center field, right next to the batter’s eye as I had done the previous two nights. This was my view:

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At this stadium, there’s a promotion (I’m still not sure exactly how it works) where if the Rangers score a certain number of runs in a certain inning (or something like that), every fan wins a free taco. Well, it happened last night, and when the usher walked down the stairs and handed me a coupon, this was my reaction:

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Okay, so it happens to be incredibly easy to catch a foul ball at Rangers Ballpark (there’s a great cross-aisle in the second deck, just in front of the press box…just like Miller Park), but so what? This type of fraudulent marketing is not only uncalled for, but it’s downright insulting to ballhawks across North America. I think we should all boycott Taco Bueno.

As for my ridiculous shirt, there might have been a time when I actually thought it looked good, but now I only wear it to make it easier for people to spot me on TV…and hey, it worked! Check it out:

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It happened in the bottom of the 8th inning (and thanks, BTW, to everyone who sent me screen shots). Nelson Cruz launched a deep fly ball in my direction, so I got up, scooted down the steps, weaved around a couple fans (without running into them, thank you), and made it to the corner spot at the bottom just as the ball was approaching. I knew it was going to fall short. I knew I didn’t have a chance. Certain camera angles might have made it look like I missed it by six inches, but in fact it was at least four feet away from my outstretched glove. The only reason why I even bothered reaching for it is that I figured I was on TV, and I wanted to look more like a participant than a spectator. But yeah…no chance in the world to catch it. If the ball had been hit a few feet father, I would’ve caught it on the fly, and if it had just gone a few inches father, it probably would’ve landed in the gap and I would’ve been able to retrieve it with my glove trick. But instead, the ball hit the very top edge of the outfield wall and bounced back onto the field.

An inning before the near miss, I got my fourth ball of the day from White Sox center fielder Brent Lillibridge (not to be confused with Derek Lilliquist). It was his between-inning warm-up ball. I didn’t expect a visiting team’s player to toss one into the crowd, but when he looked up toward my section, I suspected that he was gonna let it fly, so I ran down to the front row and waved my arms. I quickly looked around to see if there were any White Sox fans. Maybe he was planning to aim for someone specific? Nope…just a sea of Rangers gear…so when he tossed it a bit over my head and five feet to my right, I didn’t feel guilty about moving back to the second row and making a controlled lunge for it at the last second. Other people had reached for it too. It WAS just intended for the crowd in general, so I went for it and made the catch.

“Give it to the kid!” yelled someone in the third row.

“Yeah! Give it to the kid!” yelled another fan sitting nearby.

What kid? The kid who wasn’t wearing a glove and hadn’t even stood up to make an attempt to catch the ball?

Not.

There was another kid I was thinking about–a little boy who looked to be about seven years old–who’d been sitting between me and his dad in the 9th row. They were both wearing gloves, and his dad had been teaching him about baseball throughout the game. It was such a sweet scene, so when I got back to my seat, I held out the ball for the kid and said, “Here, I think you should have this. I got a few others today.”

The kid’s face LIT UP, and his jaw dropped in such an exaggerated way that he could’ve been a cartoon character.

“What do you say?” prompted his father.

“Thank you,” mumbled the kid without taking his eyes off the ball. Turns out it was the first ball he’d ever gotten, so I pointed out a few things about the logo and explained the “practice” stamp on the sweet spot. That was definitely one of the highlights of my day.

Another highlight? Seeing a vendor eating ice cream while selling ice cream:

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The game itself was fine. Nothing special. The Rangers won, 5-1, and as soon as the final out was recorded, I threw on my White Sox cap and rushed over to the bullpen and got coach Juan Nieves to throw me a ball. But he missed. Of course. He flung it carelessly and it sailed ten feet to my left. Thankfully he had another ball and was nice enough to under-hand it right to me.

As the last member of the Sox was packing up, I noticed that there was a lineup card taped to the wall:

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I started to ask the guy for it, but he hurried out of the bullpen before I had a chance to finish my request.

Hmm…

There were still a few fans milling about. Three groundskeepers entered the bullpen and began working on the mound. I walked down to the front row and asked them if they could give me the lineup card. They ignored me. An old usher walked over and told me it was time to leave. I explained why I was still there, so he encouraged me to ask them again, but insisted (very politely) that I’d have to leave after that.

“Excuse me, guys–” I began.

“Can’t do it,” one of them snapped without looking up.

I headed up the steps with the usher…who then walked off and left me there. There were a few other employees walking around, but none of them approached me, so I took off my Waldo shirt (I had the plain white t-shirt on underneath) and put on my Rangers cap. I figured that’d make me blend in more. The groundskeepers kept working on the mound, so I took a seat in the last row and watched them. There was nothing else to do. My flight back to NYC was still 17 hours away, so as long as I wasn’t getting kicked out, there was no reason to leave. I was hoping that the three guys would eventually finish up with the mound and then disappear…and that perhaps a different member of the grounds crew would wander into the ‘pen. Sure enough, about 15 minutes later, the three guys covered the mound and took off. The bullpen was empty. This is what it looked like from where I was sitting:

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I couldn’t believe that I was allowed to just sit there, but this wasn’t New York, so anything was possible.

Five minutes later, the sprinklers came on…

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…and five minutes after that, a few other groundskeepers exited the bullpen in right-center and started walking along the warning track toward my side of the field. This was my chance! I waited at the back of the section until they got closer, then rushed down the steps and caught their attention at the bottom.

“Excuse me,” I began, “I believe there’s a lineup card taped to the wall in the bullpen, and if you guys aren’t planning to save it, it would mean a lot to me if I could possibly have it.”

They looked at each other like I was crazy, then flagged down another groundskeeper (who must’ve been their boss) and explained what I wanted and asked if it was okay.

“I don’t give two *****,” said the guy who then walked briskly into the bullpen, headed over to the lineup card, yanked it off the wall (which made me cringe, but thankfully it didn’t tear), and handed it to me.

SWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was barely filled out, but that’s to be expected from a bullpen lineup card. All that mattered was that it was official. It had a nice big “Sox” logo on the upper right. It had “5/3 @ Texas” written on the upper left in blue marker, and the Rangers’ lineup had been written in as well, along with a few bench players’ names at the bottom.

Moments after I got it, a couple other fans conveniently wandered down into the section, and I got them to take the following photo. I think you can tell how happy I was:

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So yes, even though I lost more than an hour of batting practice, and even though I had a frustrating near miss during the game, it ended up being a great day. I can’t wait to go back to this ballpark. Hugs and kisses to Texas.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 5 balls at this game

• 128 balls in 17 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

• 586 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,948 total balls

• 15 lifetime lineup cards (click here for the complete collection, including the full-sized version of the one pictured here)

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.38 pledged per ball

• $101.90 raised at this game

• $2,608.64 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/23/09 at Wrigley Field

Two days ago I met a legendary ballhawk named Moe Mullins. Yesterday I met another named Rich Buhrke. Moe, as I mentioned in my previous entry, has snagged 5,274 balls including 238 game home runs. Rich has snagged 3,404 balls including 178 game homers.  Both of these guys have caught five grand slams, and as you can imagine, they dominated Wrigley Field for many years. Here we are (Moe on the left, Rich on the right) on Sheffield Avenue about an hour before the ballpark opened:

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Way back in the day, Rich was known as “Mr. Outside” because he caught everything that reached the street, and Moe was known as “Mr. Inside” because he cleaned up in the bleachers. Even though these guys are both around 60 years old, and even though Rich has been slowed by a bad back, they still give the younger ballhawks a serious run for their money.

My new friend Scott (who leaves comments on this blog as “ssweene1″) held a spot for me at the right field gate and pointed out the old fashioned crank that is still used to open it. In the following photo, you can see four employees just inside the gate. The guy on the left is holding/turning the crank with both hands:

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The “MasterCard” logo taints the old world charm, but still…pretty nifty.

Although this was a day game following a night game, the field WAS set up for batting practice. Unfortunately, when I ran inside, the only action was an old usher bending over and wiping off the seats:

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(“Action” is probably not the best word in this case.)

Bronson Arroyo finished his bullpen session and then talked to pitching coach Dick Pole. See the ball in the photo below?

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Dick tossed it to me a few minutes later.

I didn’t have a bleacher ticket, so I was trapped in foul territory for BP. Although I didn’t catch any batted balls, I can still say pretty confidently that I discovered the best spot. Here it is:

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The biggest advantage in this spot is that there’s room to run through the cross-aisle. It’s not too far from home plate. Both righties and lefties can hit balls there. And it’s right near where the visiting team’s pitchers play catch. In the photo above, the guy sitting down with the backwards white cap and striped black jacket is Scott. You’ll see what he actually looks like in a bit…

My second ball of the day was tossed up by someone on the Reds that I couldn’t identify.

My third ball was an accidental overthrow that flew into the seats, hit another fan in the nuts, and dropped right down at my feet. I would’ve given it to the guy if several Reds players daniel_ray_herrera.jpghadn’t immediately offered him a signed ball. The guy, it turned out, was fine (though a bit shaken) and in case you’re wondering who was responsible for the overthrow, that would be Nick Masset. And wouldn’t you know it, the player who failed to catch the high throw was none other than the 5-foot-6 Daniel Ray Herrera (who looks like a 14-year-old ballboy but IS in fact on the 25-man roster).

My fourth ball was thrown to me near the dugout by Brandon Phillips. I saw him walking off the field with a ball in his hand so I raced through the aisle and then, since I wasn’t allowed to go down to the seats behind the dugout, I got him to throw it to me while I was still standing in the aisle. As far as thrown balls go, that one felt good.

My fifth ball was tossed by Micah Owings near the right field corner. He was running poles. There were two balls lying on the grass, just beyond the warning track in foul territory. When he finished, he walked over and flung one in my direction.

My sixth and final ball of the day was thrown by Darnell McDonald at the dugout toward the end of BP.

Adam (aka “cubs0110″) and Scott had each snagged one ball during BP. Here we are:

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I managed to sneak down to the Reds’ dugout 20 minutes before the game. This was my awesome view for the first pitch…

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…but I was kicked out two innings later when the people whose seats I was enjoying had the nerve to show up.

I sat about 15 rows behind first base for the next four innings and then wandered upstairs. Here’s the view of Waveland Avenue from the top left field corner of the upper deck:

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This is what the seats and roof look like up there:

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Here’s my panorama attempt from the right field corner of the upper deck:

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Back on the field level concourse, I took the obligatory photo of the foul ball sign…

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…and then walked down the tunnel that leads to the inner cross aisle:

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I only averaged five balls per game at Wrigley on this trip (I snagged 13 balls here in two games in ’98) but still had a great time. Look how awesome this ballpark is…in the photo below, you can see people sitting/standing on some giant dark green concrete step-things, just inside the back fence of the center field bleachers:

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Can you imagine a) something so useless and funky even existing in a new ballpark and b) stadium employees actually allowing fans to chill out there? Only at Wrigley Field. If you’re a serious baseball fan (and hate the fact that everything in the world is becoming newer and more regulated), you simply must visit this ballpark.

Final score: Reds 7, Zack 6, Cubs 1

SNAGGING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game

• 73 balls in 10 games this season = 7.3 balls per game.

• 579 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 3,893 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $17.12 pledged per ball

• $102.72 raised at this game

• $1,249.76 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium

This was my first game at the new Yankee Stadium. I arrived more than five hours before game time, and I could tell right away why it cost $1.5 billion. In a word, the place is glorious. This was the view shortly after I exited the subway:

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I had lots of time to spare (as planned) so I walked around and took a zillion photos. This is what the side of the stadium looks like just past Gate 6:

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Everything was crisp and clean and well designed and classy. Even the ticket windows…I mean, just look:

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In the photo above, did you notice the flat-screen TVs mounted high on the wall? If you look at the one on the upper right, you can see that the field was not set up for batting practice. Thankfully, within the next few minutes, the L-screen was rolled into place:

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I already had a ticket that a friend had bought for me, so just for the hell of it (and because I wanted to have something to complain about later on my blog) I asked how much the cheapest available ticket was. Anyone want to guess? If you said ninety-five dollars, you are correct. (Insert complaining here.)

I kept walking, crossed a little road, and took a photo of Gate 4–the home plate gate:

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Then I continued my journey…

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…and passed Gate 2 (the left field gate)…

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…and rounded the corner of a “Preferred Parking” garage that’s connected to the stadium:

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At the old stadium, fans weren’t able to walk all the way around. There was a fenced off parking lot for the players, next to which was a road that turned into a ramp that merged onto a highway. Not good. I like being able to walk all the way around the outside a stadium. I feel a greater connection to it if I can inspect it from all angles, so I’m glad to say it IS possible to walk all the way around the new stadium.

At the old stadium, there were four gates: 2, 4, 6, and the bleacher entrance.

At the new stadium, the latter has been replaced with Gate 8:

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Here’s a look at the right field side of the stadium from underneath the elevated train tracks:

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I’d made it full-circle, so I decided to take a peek at the old stadium:

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It was dead. And sad:

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All the memorabilia stores were closed…

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…but back at the new stadium, things were jumping. There were hundreds (if not thousands) of people waiting to get in:

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In the photo above, do you see the kid with a glove, a dark green shirt, and tan shorts? His name is Connor and he’s 13 years old. He had recently left a few comments on this blog, and this was the first time we met in person. We ended up crossing paths throughout the day, so remember his name.

The game was scheduled to begin at 3:40pm, and the gates opened at 12:30. You might think it’s the most awesome thing ever to get inside that early, but guess what? It sucks. As a general rule, batting practice doesn’t start that early, so the stadium ends up getting crowded before any balls reach the seats. You know that feeling during the first minute of BP when you’re one of just a handful of fans in the entire stadium? And you can hear the crack of the bat echoing?
And you feel like the players are hitting home run balls just for you? Well, you can kiss that feeling goodbye in the Bronx, but it’s still pretty cool to be able to be inside, crowded or not, for the start of batting practice.

Given the fact that there was no point in rushing inside, I stopped for a moment and took a photo of the…I don’t know what to call it. The outer concourse? All I can say is that it’s spectacular. Check it out:

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Okay, so it looks like an airport terminal, and it’s kind of a rip-off of the outer concourse in Arlington, but it’s still pretty damn cool. With all due respect to Jackie Robinson, I think this is even more dazzling than the Rotunda at Citi Field. Let’s face it, the Mets’ new home is not THAT special. Sure, it’s nice, and the outfield wall has some interesting angles, and the second deck overhangs the warning track in right field, and there’s a brand new Home Run Apple, but overall it looks like every other ballpark that’s been built in the last decade. The new Yankee Stadium, however, is one of a kind and breathtakingly beautiful. Like I said earlier, it was clear from the start.

Here’s the inner/field level concourse:

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The new Yankee Stadium was designed by an architect named God, but it’s run by Satan. Forget the fact that backpacks are not allowed. Don’t even get me started with that. You know what else is not allowed? Going down into the field level seats for batting practice…unless of course you have a ticket for those seats. Let me clarify. You CAN get into the field level concourse no matter where your ticketed seat is located, but unless you actually have a SEAT on the field level, you will not be able to get down into the actual seats to snag baseballs. It’s that simple. There was a security guard at every staircase:

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Batting practice hadn’t even started. (You can see the grounds crew watering the infield in the photo above.) It was more than three effin’ hours before the first pitch, and yet the guards were not letting people down into the seats. As you can imagine, there were some pretty angry fans. I talked to one guy who’s paying $20,000 this year for season tickets in the upper deck. He was there with his 11-year-old son, and he was furious that the two of them weren’t allowed down into the seats to try to catch a ball or get an autograph.

I can understand that the owners want to encourage people to buy the fancy seats (and then reward the people who do), but this is just horrible. It’s funny how the team makes such a huge production of playing “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch because this policy of keeping fans–especially fathers and sons–out of the good seats for BP is downright un-American.

You’re probably wondering where my assigned seat was, and if I made it into the field level seats, and if I managed to keep my streak alive, etc., so let me just say this: when Zack Hample goes to a new stadium, Zack Hample GETS INTO the field level seats. (Hey! Talking about oneself in the third person is fun. I can see why Rickey Henderson does it. I can’t wait for his induction speech.) It wasn’t always easy. I got kicked out of the right field seats during BP and later had a guard threaten to call his supervisor, but I survived. That’s because I had a few people looking out for me. For starters, one young man who reads this blog told me the name/section of a certain guard who would let me down into the seats if I mentioned his name. (Don’t ask. It’s a secret. Absolutely no exceptions.) Then there was my friend Linda, the one who bought me the ticket for this game. She and her friend Cindy had field level tickets on the right field foul line. My ticket was in the upper deck. They arrived at game time. You figure out the rest. Finally there was another young man named Alex who had a ticket on the left field foul line and kindly lent it to me at one point. So yeah, it took a team effort to help me beat the system.

I got an early peek at the seats in right field…

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…and I could not be-LIEVE what I was seeing. Every single seat, even 400 feet from home plate, was soft and cushy:

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(These seats will probably look like crap in a few years after nature has its way with them.) Normally these fancy seats are limited to the fanciest sections. The entire new Yankee Stadium, it turns out, is one big fancy section, and if you’re not convinced yet, look at this:

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Yes, right there in the concourse, there was a friggin’ butcher carving steak behind a glass window, and just around the corner there was a gosh-darn fruit stand:

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(How many different ways can I curse without actually cursing?) The prices were reasonable, at least for New York City. Two pears for three dollars? That’s what I’m used to paying on the Upper West Side.

Another nice thing about the new stadium is that the field level concourse runs all the way around the outfield. The following photo shows the concourse directly behind the batter’s eye. I think the space is way too narrow, especially considering that this is where the line starts for Monument Park:

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I made it back to the right field side of the stadium, and the Yankees began playing catch soon after. One of the balls got loose and rolled up to the wall along the foul line. Not only was there a security guard at the top of every staircase, but there was also a guard at the bottom. Being in a stadium for batting practice should feel like being in a playground, but instead it felt like I was at a border crossing. There were more security guards than fans, so I figured I was going to get yelled at, possibly even threatened or ejected for using my glove trick, but I had to give it a shot. I waited until the nearest guard turned his back and then I went for it. The following photo, taken from the RF bleachers by a college kid named Luke who reads this blog, shows me in action:

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As I was getting the ball to stick inside my glove, the guard turned around and stared at me. I had a sinking feeling in my gut. Was he going to confiscate the ball and call his supervisor?

“I saw you on The Tonight Show,” he said. “That’s pretty cool.”

Umm…wow?

I ended up talking to him for a few minutes and thanking him profusely for being so nice and letting me get the ball.

Was it a commemorative ball?!?!

No…

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…but it’s a valuable ball to me.

There were still a few guys playing catch in shallow right field, so I cut through the seats along the foul line. (Once I was down in the seats, no one stopped me from moving side to side.) Damaso Marte was about to finish throwing, and this was as close as I could get:

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When he was done, I waved my arms and jumped up and down and called his name–anything to get his attention, and it worked. He looked up and spotted me in the sea of empty seats and lobbed the ball over the netting and over the partition, right to me. Perfect aim. Easiest catch ever. I had my second ball of the day. Not commemorative.

I moved to the seats in straight-away right field and snagged a third ball (not commemorative) in an unexpected way. I had started running toward the end of the section in right-center for a home run that ended up landing in the bullpen. Just at that moment, another ball landed ten feet away from me, right in my row. A nearby fan told me that Brian Bruney had thrown it. I have no idea who he was even aiming for, or if it’s even true that he’s the guy who threw it, but hey, I’ll take it.

It was shortly after this snag that I got kicked out of right field–a real shame because there were a bunch of lefties hitting bombs at that point. I managed to make it down into the left field seats, and since the lefties were pulling everything, I passed the time by taking some more photos. In the shot below, you can see how the bleachers (the section above the red “State Farm” ads) are separated from the fancy seats:

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If you have a bleacher ticket, you will be forced to stay in the bleachers. See how there’s a gap between the two State Farm ads? That’s a little tunnel that leads underneath the bleachers to that narrow concourse. Don’t despair if you have a bleacher ticket. There were a lot of home run balls that reached the first few rows, and the players also tossed some balls there. And…although you might get stopped by security, there will be plenty glove trick opportunities from the seats above the bullpens:

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The following photo shows what I *think* is the line for Monument Park, snaking up and around the ramps/stairs:

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The Indians took the field and started playing catch, and whaddaya know, a ball got loose and rolled up against the wall in foul territory. Glove trick. Bam! Ball number four was mine. Security didn’t say a word.

Now…you might recall that at my previous two games at Citi Field, the visiting team had been using the Mets’ commemorative balls. I was hoping that the Indians might be using the Yankees’ balls, but no. No such luck. Every ball I got from the Tribe was standard. How many more balls did I get? Well, thanks to Alex who snagged a bunch of his own and let me have his spot in the very crowded front row, I was able to get Rafael Perez (in the photo below) to toss me his ball after he finished throwing.

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Then, after moving to the seats in straight-away left field, I spotted a ball sitting on the warning track near the foul pole:

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Remember that kid named Connor? He was already there with a glove trick of his own, but unfortunately for him, he experienced quite a mishap. Let’s just say he needs to practice tying better knots, but don’t feel bad for him. He had snagged his first two balls EVER during the Yankees’ portion of BP. As for me, I flung my glove out and knocked the ball closer, and as I was reeling it in, two bad things happened:

1) A security guard marched down the steps and told me I had to stop.
2) The ball slipped out of my glove and plopped back down onto the warning track.

For some reason, the guard turned his back for a moment and started blabbing on his walkie-talkie, so I quickly pulled up my glove, tightened the rubber band, and lowered it for one final attempt. The guard turned back around and faced me and said I had to bring my glove back up right away, and that if I did that again, I would “be gone.” Naturally I did as he instructed. I raised the glove…and the ball was inside of it. HAHA!!! Take THAT, Yankee Stadium security!!! There’s a new sheriff in town and…never mind.

My seventh ball of the day was a line drive homer that I caught on the fly. (Given the fact that I somehow hadn’t caught a batted ball on the fly in my previous six games, this felt like quite an accomplishment.) When the ball left the bat, I thought it might reach the seats, but I definitely didn’t expect it to reach me in the eighth row. Still, I scooted through the row to get in line with it, and when it ended up flying right at me, I was caught a bit off guard and nearly got handcuffed by it. Balls are really carrying at this new stadium, so be prepared.

Two minutes later, I got someone on the Indians (might’ve been the bullpen catcher) to throw me a ball over everyone’s head in front of me. I was still about eight rows back. It was beautiful.

As for the new rule about keeping people out of the seats for BP, I have to say…I’m slightly torn about it. It worked out well for me because I was able to get down there. I mean, the seats were FAR less crowded than they would’ve been. Can you imagine what kind of zoo I would’ve had to deal with if everyone had been trying to snag baseballs in my section? Even with the new rule, look how crowded it got by the end of BP:

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Still, I think the new rule sucks bigtime. People should be able to go wherever they want, at least when the players are warming up. If there’s more competition as a result, so be it. It’s only fair. In the meantime, though, I will only go to this stadium if I am guaranteed to get into the field level seats, and even then, I won’t be happy about going. The new stadium is gorgeous beyond words, but the experience of being there is the opposite of relaxing. Going there is not just an event…it’s an ordeal. I can’t imagine doing it every day or even every week. Going to a ballgame should be relaxing. You show up early, you run around for balls, you kick your feet up during the game (because the seats around you are empty) and buy a hot dog. You keep score. You chase foul balls. You wander around and watch the action from different angles. Late in the game, after people leave, you move down closer to the field. THAT is how it should be. But here? I felt like I was under surveillance throughout the day. The stadium is so nice that it’s too nice. It’s like being a guest in a house that’s so pristine and museum-like that you’re afraid to sneeze because you might break something. Luxury has replaced functionality. I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see what it’s like in 10 years when there’s no Jeter, no A-Rod, no Posada, no Mariano, etc. Eventually the Yankees will suck. They have to. Eventually they’ll lose 90 games and fail to reach the playoffs five years in a row. It has to happen. Right? They can’t be a powerhouse forever, can they? Every organization goes through slumps, and when it happens to the Yankees and the stadium is half-full every game, it might actually be fun.

After BP, I headed to the upper deck. This was the view from the escalator:

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Dammit!!! Why does this place have to be so nice?! I love it! But I hate it! GAH!!!

At the top of the escalator, there was a landing for the suite entrance. Marble floors…yes:

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Then there was another escalator. This was the view looking back down:

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It’s too nice. It’s just absurd. It’s not a stadium. It’s a luxury hotel. It’s a palace. It’s a mall. It’s flawless. Baseball stadiums should have flaws. Sometimes a zit or a crooked tooth can be sexy, you know? Are we in New York City or Dubai? Jesus Aitch.

Here’s the upper deck concourse:

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And yes, fine, here’s my overall assessment:

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I was really pressed for time, so the following photo isn’t great. I just wanted a shot of the upper deck itself, but as I was pulling out my camera, everyone started standing and removing their hats for the national anthem. Still, in a basic way, it captures the essence:

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Here’s my panorama attempt from the last row of the upper deck:

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A lot of people have been asking how I do this. It’s really quite simple. You see, there’s this invention called Photoshop…

I’m glad to be able to report that the new stadium does have a few nooks and crannies. There was a staircase leading down from the upper deck that was simply marked “exit.” I asked a nearby guard (there was ALWAYS a nearby guard) if I could use it get to the field level or if it was strictly an exit to the street. He said I could get to the field level. Excellent.

After zig-zagging down a few sets of stairs, I came to an unmarked landing where trash and food was being stored:

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Was I on the suite level? Was this the back of some concession area? I had no idea, and it made me happy. There were no guards, no cameras, no fans, no signs. Peace on earth.

I walked down the next staircase (which you can see in the following photo, coming from the right-hand side) and saw a security guard at street level:

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Great. Dead end. There was no way to get to the field level…or was there? I asked the guard, and he pointed behind me and slightly to the right. HUH?! When I looked in the direction he was pointing, this is what I saw:

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What the hell was he talking about? I asked him again, and he told me to walk around the corner and said I’d get to the concourse.

?!?!

I did what he said, walked around the railing and metal support beam, and found myself standing here:

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I walked through the corridor, and sure enough, it spat me out right into the bustling field level concourse. How awesome is that!

Now, like I said earlier, I had people pulling strings for me, so I ended up sitting in a pretty good spot during the game. This was my view:

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In the top of the second inning, the Indians scored 14 runs. That’s not a typo. I’ll spell it out just to prove it. Ready?

F-O-U-R-T-E-E-N.

Look at the scoreboard, and even more importantly, look at center fielder Brett Gardner’s body language:

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It was the most runs that the Yankees have ever allowed in one inning. Even Freddy Sez was ready to give up:

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Connor came down to my section halfway through the game. Here we are:

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He was nice enough to turn his attention away from the game and take a bunch of photos of me for my website, including this one which I think is funny when compared to this one of me at Citi Field. All these pics are on my photos page. Check it out sometime if you haven’t done so already.

Remember the game I went to on 9/2/08 at Dodger Stadium? I was running back and forth during the game for third-out balls and managed to get a few thrown to me over the obnoxious partition that blocks the first few rows behind the dugout. Well, even though there’s a similar partition at the new Yankee Stadium, I was in a good spot to get third-out balls, but the Indians completely dissed me. They kept tossing them to little kids in Yankees gear right behind the dugout. I’m all in favor of kids getting baseballs–I later gave one of my eight balls away to a kid–but man, I just wanted ONE game-used ball with a commemorative logo. It was really frustrating. Who knows if/when I’ll be back in that section? I figure the Yankees will eventually be using commemorative balls during BP, so they should be fairly easy to snag late in the season, but I didn’t want to have to wait. At the very earliest, the next Yankee game I can possibly attend is on May 15th.

Here’s a look at the partition…

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…and if you’re wondering why the stadium is so empty, it’s because the Yankees were in the process of losing, 22-4. (Aww.)

By the way, if you think you can simply ask people for their ticket stubs and sneak right down to the dugout, think again. Every fan in that exclusive section is given a wristband (just like at Citizens Bank Park), and the band changes color from day to day. Next time you watch a Yankee game on TV, pay close attention to the people sitting behind the plate, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. In order to get back into the section below the partition, you have to show your ticket AND the wristband.

After the game, I met up with Linda and Cindy:

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Linda is the one wearing dark green, and as for my outfit, all you need to know is that the “24” isn’t for Grady Sizemore.

This was the view from the elevated subway platform:

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There’s a lot of great stuff to see at the new ballpark, so bring a camera and make sure the battery is charged. While you’re at it, take out a loan and be prepared to battle security all day long.

SNAGGING STATS:

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

• 58 balls in 7 games this season = 8.3 balls per game.

• 576 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 130 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 46 major league stadiums with at least one ball caught

• 3,878 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $16.37 pledged per ball

• $130.96 raised at this game

• $949.46 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Citi Field critique

For the last six months, people have been sending me photos and videos of Shea Stadium being torn down. I never looked at a single one. The mere thought of it not being there was too painful, but I had to face that reality today as the No. 7 train approached the Willets Point station. Shea was now just a big pile of rubble–and Citi Field, trying so hard to be charming, stood nakedly behind it:

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Speaking of Willets Point, the signs no longer say “Shea Stadium” on them:

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This was Citi Field from the subway platform…

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…and this was Shea just a couple hundred feet to the left:

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Maybe it was the gloomy weather. Maybe it was the fact that I had to wake up at 8am (which for me is essentially the middle of the night) to get there. I don’t know, but I wasn’t happy. It felt lonely and foreign, like the first day at a new school.

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I walked up to the gate outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, stuck my camera through the bars, and took a pic. I have to admit it was nice. Seriously nice. Downright glorious, in fact:

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“Are you Zack?” asked a voice. It was a kid named Aaron (aka “Howie” in the comments section) who knew I was going to be there. I signed his copies of my first two books, and in exchange he and his father Jon gave me a free ticket (for the meaningless college game that was scheduled to begin at 1pm). Here we all are:

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A few other baseball collectors met us there, and then we all headed over to the left field gate, which was going to open first:

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Because I happened to be the first fan to run inside, I got interviewed by a reporter from the New Jersey Star Ledger:

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As a result of the interview, it took a few minutes for me to reach the “seating bowl” and get my first look at the place:

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A couple minutes after that, I went to the nearest concession stand and got a hot dog–the very first hot dog sold in the history of Citi Field (according to the employees there). Here it is:

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It sucked. It cost $4.75 and the bun was stale, and even the dog itself wasn’t all that great, and you want to know what else sucked? One of the ushers tried to stop me from walking down into the left field seats. It was two hours before the start of a COLLEGE game, and he asked to see my ticket. Are you kidding me?! Fortunately the other ushers let me walk down into the seats and take pics. Ready for more suckiness? First of all, there’s no cross-aisle…so it’ll be impossible to move laterally during games…so for anyone who hopes to catch a game home run, you’ll have to sit on the end of a row and pray that the ball is hit directly toward your staircase…and then you’ll have to judge it perfectly. Secondly, there’s a big railing that makes it impossible to move directly from fair to foul territory:

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Third, there are smaller railings on all the staircases that block two out of every three rows, and if that’s not bad enough, they were built six inches too long (in my not-so-humble opinion) so they jut out into the rows that they’re not even supposed to be blocking:

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These railings are pointless and in some cases dangerous. Some ballparks have them. Some don’t. If they really made people feel THAT safe, and if they really prevented THAT many folks from taking nasty spills, I think you’d see them in every stadium. (Citizens Bank Park, by the way, doesn’t have any staircase railings.) Lucky me. I’ll be battling these effin’ things until I die. At least the seat backs are raised enough for balls to trickle down the steps:

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That’ll be good for me and bad for just about everyone else who makes the mistake of running directly to the row where the ball lands. Anyway, the railings are annoying, and the overhang of the second deck will be a nightmare (don’t bother trying to catch a ball behind Row 10) but at least the home-run-catching area spans from the foul pole all the way out to left-center:

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Another good thing: glove trick opportunities at the bottom of the hill next to the (new) home run
apple. It’s kind of hard to see in the following photo, but the slope flattens out at the bottom. Of course stadium security will probably be stupid and strict and try to prevent fans from using ball-retrieving devices, but if we can get away with it, this will be a good spot:

37_glove_trick_opportunity.jpg

Remember the huge scoreboard out in right field at Shea Stadium? On the top of that scoreboard, there was a NYC skyline. Nice to see it survived the demolition and has a home in the new ballpark:

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Here’s a look at the bullpens (terrible design to have them side by side and not even have the one in back elevated) and a row of tables above them:

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(Am I being too negative?) It would be fun to use the glove trick from up there, and maybe I’ll get away with it once, but I don’t expect that to be a permanent option. That said, behold the bridge!

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Here’s the way-too-steep section in right field:

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There are lots of interesting angles and nooks and crannies at Citi Field. Some were clearly intentional and some were just as clearly random byproducts of questionable design. In the photo below, you can see that the rows of seats end with a foot or two (or three) of space next to the concrete wall. So…although there IS room for people to walk between the seats and the wall, it wasn’t meant to be used as a staircase because there aren’t any little/manageable steps. And let me tell you, if there IS room for people to move around, the room WILL be used. So basically, what you’re gonna have here is people wedging themselves between the seats, trying to climb up these gigantic double steps. It’s funny for me because I’m 31 years old and in the best physical shape of my life so I can treat Citi Field like my personal playground and stomp all over these unintentional obstacles, but I feel strongly that this is TERRIBLE stadium design. Thus, I’m forced to ask: when is HOK going to hire me as a consultant?

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Ready for more weirdness? Check out the space surrounding the right field foul pole:

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I’m thinking there might be cameras there during the regular season, and if there are, then the Mets should install a chain to keep people out. If, however, there’s neither a camera nor a chain, this area will be great for catching home runs during games, especially for the fan in the front row who’s sitting closest to the pole. Here’s a look at that same area from above:

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More weird angles:

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I really don’t understand the point of all these walls and railings. I think the architects were just showing off. And here’s the weirdest one of all. I’ve never seen anything like this in ANY stadium. Can someone please explain this? Here…look:

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Yes, that’s right, there’s a random row, right in the middle of all the other rows, where the seats are elevated a few feet. If there were an aisle in front of the elevated row, I could understand it. You know…give people a spot to cross through the seats. But no. It just randomly…goes up…and there’s not much extra space. Maybe a few inches. You know what that means? I’ll tell you. The people in the elevated row will be the only people in the stadium without cup holders. This means they’ll be forced to put their cups on the ground (life is hard) and then those cups, when kicked over (and they WILL be kicked over) will splash the people’s heads sitting in front of them. Brilliant. And even if the people sitting in front don’t get splashed, they will definitely get kicked in the head, especially when little kids are sitting behind them. Just look at this absurdity:

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Why not just have the entire lower level of seats slant up uniformly? It seems to work fine in every other stadium. Ready for something else? This’ll look like an ideal spot to catch foul balls and get autographs…

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…except you will never, EVER be allowed to go down there. Not even God will get to sit there. I have no idea what those fancy seats are for (millionaire fans and their disabled companions?) but I can guarantee you they will be totally off limits. It’s just another example of opportunities to collect being taken away. And wait…it gets worse. Ready for THIS? The entire seating area behind home plate is completely sectioned off. I think it’s called the Sterling Club, or some nonsense like that, and the face value on those tickets starts in the triple figures. Here, have a look. I’m standing at the edge of the section (you can see the railing at the bottom of the photo), and I’ve drawn a red arrow which shows the boundary on the other side. That is a LOT of real estate which is now completely off limits:

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At least the water fountains are good:

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The field level concourse behind home plate? Awful. The ceiling is claustrophobically low to make room for an extra level of suites. Look:

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But okay, I’ll take a break from my complaining to show you the magnificent Rotunda. This is truly incredible. HOK deserves some props for this:

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I had to talk my way down into the seats behind the third base dugout. It looks a lot like Philly, except there are railings on the staircases. Pretty standard design. I can work with that:

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The St. John’s players began warming up…

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…and even though I didn’t bring my glove or bother to print their roster, I still got one of them to toss me a ball. I learned later that it was a player named Scott Ferrara, who can supposedly run the 60-yard dash in 6.3 seconds. Hey look! There’s more weird space around the left field foul pole:

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I returned to the foul line when another group of players began throwing and I got a second ball from a freshman named Kevin Kilpatrick. Here are the two balls (which will NOT count in my collection):

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Did I mention that the balls will NOT count? Good. Okay. Ready for another critique? This one is minor, in the grand scheme of things, and it’s going to take three photos to illustrate my point, so bear with me. Here’s the first. It shows the ramps leading up to the “Empire,” “Excelsior,” and “Promenade” levels:

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(By the way, what’s with the fancy names of the seating levels? Are they actually planning to play baseball here or are they just gonna sit around and plan wars?) Here a photo of the first landing. Notice where the big metal beam is?

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It’s right at eye level! It completely blocks the view! DUH!!! Why not put that beam a couple feet higher and create a nice little area where people can look out and catch their breath? Am I crazy?

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Here’s something that actually looks pretty…

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…but upon closer inspection, there appears to be a bit of a drainage problem:

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Here’s a nice look at the lowest concourse from a couple levels up…the third deck…the Excelsior Level:

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Here’s the field from the third base side. Not bad:

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This brings me to the club itself. I don’t know if it’s going to be open all the time, or if this was a special day. I hope it’s open all the time because people seem to like it, and the more people who go up there, the fewer people I’ll have to deal with in the seats. It was “nice” in that it was clean and spacious and well designed, but I think the design would be more appropriate for a mall and/or an airport:

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I mean…really?

All right, here’s the single greatest thing about Citi Field. If you can afford $150 tickets (or whatever they cost…probably more on StubHub), you’ll have a phenomenal foul ball opportunity behind the seats on the Excelsior Level. Here’s the view of the field…

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…and here’s the view to the left:

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Wow! The only problem is that in order for the ball to reach the aisle, it’ll have to fly back on a line or else it’ll clip the facade of the upper d–err, I mean, the “promenade” level. But seriously, if I can find a way to get into that heavily guarded section during the regular season, I’ll be a happy boy.

I bought a six-dollar slice of pepperoni pizza. It was small (the baseball is in the shot for perspective) and forgettable. It was like college-cafeteria-quality pizza. Soooo not worth it. Granted, I only tried a couple items, but my early assessment is that the food at Citi Field sucks bigtime. Do yourself a favor and eat before you go to the ballpark, then pack a protein bar and avoid having to eat there. Stick it to the Mets for raising ticket prices and trying to sell crappy food:

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I wandered up to the right field corner…

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…and saw the very nice bridge from above, as well as the old home run apple…

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…and made it to the top corner of the second deck (which is the top deck in right field):

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There was a big open-air concourse up there, which looks a lot like the one in Anaheim:

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Then I went to the Promenade level and got a photo from the highest/furthest corner in right field:

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Here’s the Pepsi Deck from above. I think you’ll see guys like Adam Dunn and Prince Fielder hit balls completely over the seating area. It should be fun up there during the Home Run Derby:

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I’m not sure how far back foul balls will fly (I can’t judge distances in a college game where the pitchers are topping out at 81mph or whatever), but I’d say that some foul balls WILL reach the top deck. This is the view from a potentially good foul ball spot up there:

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It’s good because of the room to run on either side:

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But like I said, there might not be too many balls that go up that high. We shall see. Here’s the view from the last row of the upper deck directly behind the plate:

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Here’s more weird random space, this time between the staircase and the wall, under a lowish ceiling:

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Check this out. Look how easy it’ll be for people to jump onto the roof and run around near the fans and cause all kinds of trouble. People WILL do it. People will get drunk and clown around and climb up there, with very little effort, and if they stick their fingers into that machinery…yeah:

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Here’s the Promenade concourse:

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I want to see Fred Wilpon and the CEO of HOK sit and watch a game from the last row of the Promenade level in left-center field. This is what it’ll be like for them:

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What the bloody hell is the purpose of that obstruction? Why have it in the first place? And why build seats that’ll force people to stare at it? Here’s another look from the side:

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Here’s one final shot from way up high that shows the area behind the batters eye:

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That’s it. I know I complained quite a bit, but it’s more fun that way, right? I have to be critical because I’ve been to 44 other major league stadiums, and this is the one I’m going to be stuck with for the rest of my life. My overall assessment is that it’s a quality structure. Aside from several drainage problems, it’s well put together. Solid. Pretty. Nice. I just question some of the choices that were made. The third base side looks like Philly. The left field seats look like Cincinnati. The right field seats look like Washington D.C. combined with Arlington. It’s like a big Mr. Potato Head stadium. Too segmented overall. Too complicated. It’s like a poster with ten different fonts and too many exclamation points. It’s trying sooooo hard to be nice, and in most places it succeeds, but if you look closely and KNOW what you’re looking for, you can see a lot of flaws. Fan interference is going to be a big problem at this stadium because there’s nothing that separates the fans in the front rows from the field. No gaps. No flower beds. Nothing. So get ready for that. The whole place strikes me as a haphazard collection of quirks and interesting features without much consideration about how it’s all going to play out and what it’s going to be like for the majority of fans who either want to collect things and get close to their favorite players or who simply can’t afford the best seats. The main thing that’ll make this place tolerable is that it will open two and a half hours before game time. Eventually, when the Mets lose 100 games and Citi Field is old news and the crowds shrink to 20,000 or so per game, this place might be great, but until then, I don’t expect to average much more than my typical seven balls per game. And even THAT might be tough to achieve here for quite some time.

8/13/08 at PNC Park

My girlfriend Jona attended this game…

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…and wandered around the stadium with me before the gates opened.
There was a lot to see. Check out the four-part pic below. Starting on
the top left and going clockwise, you can see 1) the view of PNC Park from the middle of the bridge, 2) the steps leading down to the water, 3) kayaks for rent, and 4) the promenade behind the right field edge of the stadium (where balls hardly ever land):

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Jona and I had lots of time to kill (which was the point), so we had to
find various ways to spend it. In the four-part pic below…1) we’re posing with the home plate gate in the background, 2) I’m trying to look mean after Jona tied a bandana around my head in the team store, 3) I’m being overwhelmed by gravitational force, and 4) Jona is inspecting the Willie Stargell statue (no disrespect intended):

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Speaking of the home plate gate, here’s a closer look:

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Nothing special, right? Well, here’s an even closer look:

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I know the Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 1992, and I know attendance is sagging to the point that PNC Park resembles a ghost town, but c’mon, this is ridiculous. I’ve only seen spider webs in one other major league stadium. Anyone want to guess where?

By the time the center field gate opened at 5pm, there were dozens of people waiting on line. I raced inside ahead of all of them and snapped a quick photograph of the bleachers while I still had the place to myself…

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…and then handed the camera to Jona. Check out this cool shot she took of me at the start of BP:

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I only snagged one ball during the 13 minutes that the Pirates were on the field. It rolled to the wall in straight-away left field, and I got it with the glove trick as Jeff Karstens was walking jeff_karstens.jpgover to pick it up. He easily could’ve snatched it, but instead he walked back to his spot in the outfield and watched with several of his teammates. Then, at the last second, as I was lifting my glove with the ball tucked firmly inside, another ball came flying out of nowhere and thumped off the padded wall below. It had missed my glove by inches and made me flinch. I looked up and Karstens was grinning.

“Nice try!” I yelled. I got the sense that he was just being playful–that even if he’d knocked the ball out of my glove he would’ve given it to me–so I added, “Thanks for letting me get it!”

Karstens responded with a subtle wave, and that was that.

Chris Dickerson (who picked up his first major league hit the night before) was the first player to take the field for the Reds. As he was back-peddling to his spot in left field, a left-handed batter sliced a line drive right at him. Dickerson half-heartedly reached for it and somehow missed it, allowing the ball to tip off the side of his glove and roll all the way to the warning track. I used the glove trick to snag this one as well, and Jona snapped a few quick pics of me in action:

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In the pic on the left, I was making sure the rubber band wasn’t too tight or too loose. In the middle pic, I had just knocked the ball closer, and in the pic on the right, I had just gotten the ball to stick inside the glove.

I forgot to mention that as soon as the Reds took the field, I’d changed into my Reds outfit. Pretty convincing, eh?

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I snagged three more balls during the remaining 45 minutes of BP. The first was thrown (right to me over several rows of Pirates fans) by Jerry Hairston in left-center field. The second was a fungo hit by coach Billy Hatcher, and I made a web-gem-type catch. I immediately judged that the ball was going to sail five to ten feet over my head so I climbed up on a bench, took my eye off the ball briefly as I stepped onto the bench in the next row, then turned back toward the field and spotted the ball flying toward me…and jumped and lunged and made an over-the-shoulder catch high above my head the in the tip of my glove…with the sun in my eyes. It felt great. And as for the last BP ball I snagged…I got it with the glove trick and immediately handed it to the kid on my left.

I made it to the Reds’ dugout one minute before BP ended and got my sixth ball of the day tossed by the equipment manager. Then, with nearly an hour to spare before the first pitch, Jona and I headed to the upper deck:

upper_deck_jona_zack<br />
.jpg” class=”mt-image-left” style=”float:left;margin:0 20px 20px 0;” height=”412″ width=”550″ /></a></span></p>
<p>We wandered and I took photos from every possible angle…</p>
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…and ended up behind home plate where I took some pics for my traditional/cheap panorama:

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As much as I was complaining in my previous entry about PNC Park not being all that exciting, I have to say that it really is a gorgeous stadium. When Jona and I made it back down to the field level, even the concourse behind/below the left field seats caught my eye:

pnc_park_field_level_concourse.jpg

Concourses aren’t the most exciting things in the world–I will acknowledge that–but having suffered for the last 20 years inside the cramped and dingy concourses of the New York City stadiums, I had to take a moment to appreciate the spaciousness and cleanliness and architectural design of this one in Pittsburgh.

Before the game started, I got autographs from Adam Rosales and Steve Pearce…

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…and then got Luis Rivas to toss me a ball–my seventh of the day–after he finished playing catch along the right field foul line. When I caught that ball, the entire front row was packed with kids, but none of them had gloves. They were ALL there for autographs, so no one protested when I reached out and made the easy catch.

marked_balls_08_13_08.jpgSix of the seven balls I’d snagged at that point were either marked (with a “C” by Cincinnati) or stamped (with “practice”) on the sweet spot. As for the small four-digit numbers that appear on the balls, I wrote them as I snagged each one. They indicate how many balls I have. The ball in the middle of the lower row, for example, was the 3,588th ball of my collection, and if you’re wondering why some of the numbers are upside-down…it’s not my fault. It’s the Reds’ and Pirates’ fault. I mark every ball in the same spot: to the left of the main portion of the stamp, all the way over near the sweet spot. The Reds and Pirates were obviously not concerned with making each mark or stamp face the same way. As far as I’m concerned, THEY marked and stamped some of the balls upside-down; I merely turned them all so they’d face the same way in this photograph.

Jona and I wandered throughout the game after getting kicked out of a great foul ball spot in the third inning. (Good job, Pirates management. Not only have you assembled an unwatchable team, but you have more empty seats than fans, and you’re instructing your ushers to act like bullies. Bravo. Enjoy another 15 years in the cellar. And while we’re at it, your dollar hot dogs sucked.) We checked out the view from deep left-center field and poked our heads inside the restaurant:

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We wandered back toward the field and got a good look at the open space behind the bleachers where I’d caught a BP homer the day before (I highly recommend this spot whenever a power-hitting righty comes up):

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I was filmed juggling three balls late in the game (sorry for the poor quality but this is a screen shot from a low-quality video)…

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…and shown on the Jumbotron for at l
east 20 seconds:

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As you can see in the photo above, the Pirates had a 4-1 lead after six innings. Each team added a run after that…and that was it. There were four home runs hit in the game, and I didn’t come close to any of them. Paul Maholm worked eight solid innings to earn the win. The game lasted just two hours and 14 minutes. The attendance was a minuscule 15,787. After the final out, I got a ball tossed to me by home plate umpire Kevin Causey as he walked off the field (on the outfield end of the third base dugout) and then got another ball from an unidentifiable Pirate one minute later at the dugout. (It had to be a pitcher because he walked across the field from the bullpen. He was tall and had a beard, and I think he was right-handed. Any ideas who it might’ve been?) I gave this ball to a girl on my right, collected a few extra ticket stubs, and went out to dinner with Jona.

Goodbye, PNC Park.

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STATS:

? 9 balls at this game

? 317 balls in 44 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 540 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,594 total balls

Several other things…

1) I’m five balls away from breaking my single-season record.

2) I’ve decided to go for 400 balls this season, and since I have about 20 more games planned, I should be able to do it.

3) It looks like I’m going to be in Philadelphia with Clif (aka “goislanders4″) on Tuesday.

4) I haven’t had ANY time lately to answer emails or comments (I’ve barely had time to blog and eat and sleep), but I’m hoping to catch up at some point this weekend…

7/1/08 at Yankee Stadium

I’ve been to Yankee Stadium nearly 200 times. Yesterday, for the very first time, I went to the upper deck for batting practice. Risky move? Perhaps. But look what I saw when I made it down to the front row:

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As you can see, there was a ball sitting in a puddle, and let me tell you, it was NASTY. This wasn’t your typical fresh-water puddle from a nice spring shower. This was like…I don’t know…West Nile Virus-inducing garbage water.

ball_rescued_from_puddle.jpgCheck out the pic on the right. Not only can you see the new Yankee Stadium in the background, but you can see two different areas of discoloration on this ball. In addition to the browned area on the left (which had been completely submerged), there’s a grayish strip in the middle where the water had started spreading and seeping in. Now, as I write this entry 18 hours later, the gray ring has vanished, but the ball still smells awful (no ball-sniffing jokes, please) and weighs about half a pound.

The upper deck provided some interesting views, although I couldn’t see where half the balls were landing unless I was standing in the front row. In any case, I got a good look at the fans down below…

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…and of the bleachers…

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…and I got my friend Dania (rhymes with “mania”) to take a photo of the back of my head:

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I had mentioned The Head in my last entry and said I’d try to get a pic of it at the stadium, so here you go.

As for Dania, this was the second game of her life and her first at Yankee Stadium. She guarded my drawstring backpack (which I smuggled back inside–oh the horror) while I tried to catch the few home runs that were hit into the upper deck. The previous day, the Yankees and Rangers must’ve combined to hit 20 balls up there, but yesterday, there were only five. Yes, I counted, and I’m proud to say that I batted .400.

Before the Yankees finished hitting, I snagged a brand new commemorative ball that flew 10 feet over my head and conveniently bounced down into my empty row. Then, toward the end upper_deck_during_batting_practice.jpg
of BP, I made a leaping catch for a homer that might’ve been hit by Chris Davis. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. My next ball, however, HAD to come from a source that I could identify because it was going to be No. 3,500. Unfortunately (though not surprisingly) the upper deck was pretty crowded by this point, and I didn’t snag another ball.

Dania sat with me while I ate a chicken sandwich, and just as I was finishing, I was approached by a guy around my age who spotted my ridiculous haircut and knew it was me. His name is Chris (aka “dilbert195″ if you read the comments), and he asked me to sign a brand new ball that he pulled out of a small Rawlings box. We chatted for a few minutes and then went our separate ways.

During the game, I experienced another Yankee Stadium first: Monument Park. I’d never  been there because it’s only open to the (ticket-buying) public until 45 minutes before game time, and I was never willing to sacrifice a sizable chunk of BP in order to check it out. Anyway, did you know that there are actually a few dozen seats out there? Nothing fancy. Just folding chairs. The whole area is reserved for handicapped seating, but I was able to get a couple tickets out there from a friend, and of course I went nuts with my camera. This was my view of the field:

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This was the view to my left:

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Yeah, netting. Not exactly ideal for catching an A-Rod homer, which is why I only stayed there for an inning, but let’s continue with the photo tour…

This was the view to my right…

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…and let’s not forget the scenery directly behind me. This is one of my favorite pics:

monument_park4_view_back.jpg

The Yankee relievers walked right past me on their way to the bullpen. The player on the right is Dan Giese, and I think the guy on the left is David Robertson. See the pink bag he’s carrying? It’s one of the oldest pranks…not even a prank…just something silly that rookies are forced to do. At least Robertson (assuming that’s who it is) was given a pink Yankee bag. I once saw a rookie who’d been forced to walk across the field (in a fairly crowded stadium) with a Rainbow Brite backpack. Yikes.

This was the view from the center-field end of Monument Park:

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Too bad I wasn’t there eight innings later when Mariano Rivera entered the game.

Here’s a general view of the area behind the left field wall…

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…and here’s a little Gehrig/Ruth action for ya:

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Dania and I spent most of the game on the third-base side of home plate. I was dying to view_during_game_7_1_08.jpg
catch a foul ball, or better yet a home run, but A-Rod went 0-for-4 and nothing else came close.

The Rangers managed to score a run off Rivera  and take a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth inning. After the third out, I snuck down to their dugout and actually hoped that the Yankees would tie it up. Not only do I love Rivera and feel pain in my heart whenever he struggles, but I was hoping for extra innings so there’d be more chances for my milestone ball to be a gamer.

Rangers reliever C.J. Wilson walked Wilson Betemit on four pitches to start the bottom of the ninth, and just when there was hope, Melky Cabrera bounced into a 6-4-3 double play. Johnny Damon followed with a ground out to first base, and that was it.

I was hoping that No. 3,500 would get tossed by Mister Wilson–THAT would’ve been cool to get a game-used/game-ending ball with a commemorative logo–but he tucked the ball deep in his glove and marched into the dugout with his head down. As the last few players were disappearing from sight, a random hand appeared from below the dugout roof and rolled a ball at me. I grabbed it without thinking and then it occurred to me: I just got my 3,500th ball and had no idea who provided it. The man on my left immediately started protesting and claiming that the ball was meant for him.

“Sorry,” I said as I stuck it in my pocket.

“No…REALLY,” he insisted. “That ball was from Josh Hamilton. He said he was going to hook me up.”

“I don’t know that,” I said and shrugged him off.

josh_hamilton.jpg“The ball is SIGNED!” the guy yelled. “Look at the ball! If it’s signed by Josh Hamilton, then it’s MINE!”

I pulled the ball out of my bag, noticed the commemorative logo, and then turned it around to see the sweet spot…and sure enough, it was signed.

I handed it back to the guy and apologized, not that I’d really done anything wrong. Hamilton should’ve poked his head out and pointed to him, and then there wouldn’t have been any confusion, but whatever. He got his ball, and in a way I was glad it played out like that. Normally, when I catch a ball and give it away, I still count it as part of my collection, but in this case, it turned out that the ball had already belonged to this other fan, so I couldn’t count it. It was just a situation in which I was returning someone’s property, so as far as my stats are concerned, it’s like it never happened and the NEXT ball I get will be No. 3,500.

STATS:

? 3 balls at this game

? 222 balls in 30 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.

? 526 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,499 total balls

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Sorry for not answering comments on my last entry. I read them all (someone should post a “Leave Omar Alone!!!” video on YouTube) and I’ll answer them at some point, possibly this weekend, but right now I just don’t have time. I also have a LOT of emails pouring into my inbox (which is a good thing except when people ask me for commemorative balls), so if you’re waiting for a response, please be patient. Things are just crazy right now…

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