Results tagged ‘ warning track ’

4/15/09 at Citi Field

Two weeks ago I attended a college game at Citi Field, but let’s pretend that never happened. As far as I’m concerned, THIS was my first real game at the Mets’ new ballpark and I was there with my friend Leon Feingold:

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Leon is rather tall–6-foot-6 to be exact–and if he looks like a baseball player, that’s because he is. He pitched in the Indians’ minor league system in the mid-90s, and his fastball at the time was clocked in the mid-90s. For the last two years he’s pitched professionally in the Israeli Baseball League, and just last week he had a tryout with the Newark Bears. (Leon has made several appearances on this blog since last year. He and I played catch in a cramped gym, attended two games at Camden Yards, and checked out the NYC Scrabble Club.)

The funny moment of the day took place as Leon and I were walking toward the left field gate. I noticed that several Padres players happened to be walking right alongside us, so I ran ahead and pulled out my camera, and this is what they did:

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That’s right. They hid their faces. The guy with the leather jacket (I wish I knew who it was) came charging right at me as if he were going to knock me down. The guy on the right (whose jacket is pulled over his face) had a shaved head. I think it might’ve been Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Now…one thing you have to know about Leon is that he’s a total troublemaker, and yet he never seems to get IN trouble. That said, he brazenly walked past the security guard outside the 3rd base VIP gate, then told the guard on the inside that he was one of the players and that he was looking for the press box. Incredibly, the guard waved Leon through and I got to tag along as his “guest.” (Leon does have an active APBPA card, which is supposed to get him access anyway, but he wasn’t asked to show it.)

We walked past the guard and found ourselves in the concourse underneath the seats. It was bustling with employees (including security guards) but no one paid any attention to us. They probably figured we belonged there. I was scared to death that we were going to get busted (half the people who work for the Mets recognize me and would’ve been suspicious if they’d seen me down there), but Leon insisted we weren’t doing anything wrong.

“What’re you gonna say if someone stops us?!” I shouted in a whisper.

“Don’t worry,” he said calmly. “I’ll think of something.”

I noticed that there were security cameras all over the place, and I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself by stopping to take a photograph, so I waited until the concourse cleared out and took the following shot on the move. That’s why it’s blurry:

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We kept walking and the concourse kept getting emptier, and eventually there was no one else in sight. I had no idea where we were, but I figured we must’ve walked halfway around the stadium. The concourse just kept going and going, and the way I saw it, we were getting unsettlingly deep into enemy land.

Eventually the concourse spat us out though a couple metal doors…and oh my God…we were behind the bullpens:

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I could see the field to my left…

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…so naturally I walked up for a closer look:

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Here I am, just slightly happy:

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I reached down and ran my fingers through the dirt on the warning track. (Heaven!) Then I poked my head out and looked to my left:

Leon and I hung out there for about five minutes, and no one said a word. I was feeling too giddy at that point to worry about getting caught, so I kept my camera out and took dozens of photos. Here’s a shot of the visitors’ bullpen…

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…and here’s a look at the space between the bullpens. Aside from getting to hang out with major leaguers, I would hate to watch a game from there:

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We headed back into the concourse and made our way toward the exit. Of course this story wouldn’t be complete without a photo of me standing right outside the Mets clubhouse:

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Wow.

We made it. We were back outside. No one had said a word.

Leon and I headed to the left field gate and played catch for about 20 minutes. (I’m so sore right now.) We long-tossed for a bit, and when we got so far apart that I could no longer reach him, I started rolling the ball back to him. We were SO far apart at one point that when people walked past me I got some strange looks, presumably because they couldn’t figure out why I was standing all alone with a glove, staring into space. A few passersby looked in the direction that I was looking, and when they saw that there was another guy way off in the distance, they had to stop and see if he could actually throw the ball that far. The answer is yes, he could, and this was after he’d pitched the day before. (Freak of nature.)

My friend and bellow ballhawk Gary (aka “gjk2212″ from the comments) was the first one in line at the gate. As the crowd continued to grow, we didn’t see any security guards getting up, and we began to worry that the gate wasn’t going to open. Long story short: At the last second, we had to run over to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and wiggle our way into line and enter there. Look how crowded it was:

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The gates opened 10 minutes late, and as soon as security finished looking inside my bag, I made a beeline for the left field seats. (Leon was already there. He’d wandered off and talked his way into the stadium half an hour earlier. Don’t ask.) Less than a minute later, a right-handed batter on the Mets launched a ball toward the empty seats in left-center field. Thanks to the fact that I had to deal with those cheap, non-juiced International League balls last week in Toronto, I misjudged this one and watched helplessly as it sailed five feet over my head. Luckily it did
13_citi_first_ball.jpgNOT take a crazy bounce, and I was able to grab it off the steps a moment later.

I was on the board! First ball ever at Citi Field! I was hoping it would have the Citi Field commemorative logo, but no, it was just a regular ball (pictured here on the right). I hadn’t yet seen the logo, not even in a photograph. I’d made a point of not looking at it throughout the winter. I knew I was going to snag some of the commemorative balls eventually, and I wanted to be totally surprised when I got the first one.

A couple minutes later, Fernando Tatis sent another ball flying in my direction. The seats were still fairly empty at that point, so even though I wasn’t close enough to catch it on the fly, I was still able to grab it off the ground. Another regular ball. Bleh.

It felt great just to have room to run for home run balls. Shea Stadium had plenty of quirks and provided a few advantages, but overall it was a dreadful place for batting practice. There were hardly any seats in fair territory, so all I could do was beg the players for balls. Yeesh. I don’t even want to think about that. Quick…I have to erase the memory. Here’s what BP looked like yesterday out in the left field seats:

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The biggest problem with BP at Citi Field is that there’s not a great place to go for left-handed batters. The second deck in right field swallows up some of the balls, but it’s a pain to get up there (Gary was kicked out of that section during BP), and the seats on the lower level don’t get much action because of the overhang. The only other option is the section way out in right-center, which unfortunately sits next to a “415” marker on the outfield wall. When you’re out there, it might look like a good spot, but in reality it’s a loooooong way from home plate, and there won’t be too many balls that reach the seats. Here’s the view:

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Carlos Delgado did manage to hit one ball out there, and I snagged it. I was in the third or fourth row at the time, and it landed several rows behind me, so it was quite a shot. Did it have a commemorative logo?! No, but at least I had my third ball of the day.

Toward the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, I was able to use my glove trick to pluck a ball off the warning track in straight-away left field, and let me tell you, it’s a long way down. I think that wall is 16 feet high. Commemorative ball? Nope.

The Padres took the field and started hitting. Another ball rolled onto the warning track in left field. I rigged my glove, lowered it to the field, pulled up the ball, and took a look at it. WHAT?!?! I did a double-take when I saw it. There was a different type of the logo on the ball. Was that…it?! THAT?! The logo was tall and narrow and generic. All it said was “2009 inaugural season.” No mention of the Mets or Citi Field or New York. Nothing. Just a little piece of artwork that I gathered was supposed to represent the outside of the stadium. Have a look for yourself:

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It was so disappointing. Of all the commemorative balls I’ve snagged over the years, this is the worst. By far. Only the Mets could possibly manage to screw up a ball. Am I being too harsh? What do you think about this new ball? Does anyone actually like it?

Heath Bell came out and started throwing with the rest of the pitchers…

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…and I got his attention.

A little context: I got to know Heath five years ago when he was a Quadruple-A reliever for the Mets. I played catch with him from the seats at Shea in 2005, and he’s always been really cool to me whenever I’ve seen him. Last year, when I saw him at PETCO Park, he hooked me up with a very special ball and also gave me a cap. I can’t explain it, but the man is truly looking out for me. Most players who recognize me won’t give me baseballs, and in fact some have even gone out of their way to prevent me from getting balls, but Heath is just the opposite. I guess he likes the fact that I’m such a big fan, and he gets a kick out of adding to my collection. I’d heard from a few friends (who know that I know him) that Heath was looking for me two days earlier, but I wasn’t able to go to that game. (Too expensive.) One of my friends (I think it was Gary…or maybe it was Gail…too many emails…ahh!) told me that Heath wanted me to give him a call. But I didn’t have his number. I’d mailed him a letter during Spring Training and given him MY number, but I never heard from him. I once talked to him on someone else’s cell phone. So close…and yet so far. I still didn’t know how to get a hold of him, other than showing up at a stadium and waving him down. Anyway, on this fine day, he told me that he wanted to talk to me, but he said he had to throw and run first, and that when he was done he’d meet me out in that deep section in right-center field.

Sweet!

I could’ve kept trying to snag balls, but I didn’t want to miss him, so I immediately headed out there, and of course I missed a few snagging opportunities as a result. But I knew it was worth it.

Sure enough, about 10 or maybe 15 minutes later, Heath started jogging out toward my section in right-center, and I had to convince some fans in the front row to let me in. When Heath got close, I leaned over the wall as far as I could, and he jumped up and gave me a little handshake in mid-air. Then he just stood there on the warning track and talked to me for…I don’t know, at least another 10 minutes:

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I can’t remember everything we talked about, but basically I congratulated him on becoming the closer. He asked me how I’ve been. I asked him if he happened to save any balls from the World Baseball Classic. He said he got a whole bunch and would give one to me…but he said the balls are in San Diego. He asked if I was planning to head out that way this season. I said no, but that I might have to come out just to get one of those balls. He said it wasn’t worth it, and I explained that it IS worth it. I told him that I only count balls from major league players at major league games, so the only way that I could ever possibly have a WBC ball in my collection would be if he gave one to me at a regular season game. He asked me if I’m going to be seeing the Padres on the road, like in Philly or D.C., and I said I wasn’t sure. So…he was like, “Well keep me posted and let me know where you’re gonna be, and we’ll try to figure it out.” I told him that I still didn’t have his phone number and that I had no way of getting a hold of him. He said he had my number. He was like, “That number you sent me is your cell?” I said yes, and he said he’d text me after batting practice. I wasn’t sure if he really had the number, so I grabbed one of my contact cards and wrote my number on it and gave it to him. Then we started talking about other stuff.

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“So you’ve heard about my charity?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, “someone was talking about it. What’s the deal with that?”

I told him all about it, how the charity is called Pitch In For Baseball, and how it provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world, and how I’m getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag this season, and how every ball I snag is already worth close to $16 for the charity, and that it’d be AWESOME if he were to pledge something, even a teeny amount, just so I could say I had a major league player on board.

“Send me the info,” he said, “I’ll check it out.”

“I won’t charge you for the balls you give me,” I told him.

He asked me if I’d gotten one of the commemorative balls yet. I couldn’t lie. I told him that I *had* just gotten one about half an hour earlier, but that didn’t stop him from giving me another. When a ball rolled onto the warning track about 50 feet away, he went over and picked it up and inspected it to see if had the “special” logo, and when he saw that it did, he walked past all the screaming fans in the front row and tossed it right up to me.

Heath Bell is THE MAN, and the Mets were stupid to let him go.

I can’t even remember what else we talked about. Like I said, it was a long conversation, but we wrapped it up with my saying “thanks sooooo much” and “congrats again.” He said he’d text me after BP and we said we’d talk soon.

I only managed to get one more ball during BP. I snagged it with my glove trick near the LF foul pole, it was commemorative. Very strange that the Padres were using those balls and the Mets weren’t. (Does anyone know Mets equipment manager Charlie Samuels? I’d really like to talk to him and ask him a few questions.)

After BP, I met up with Leon behind the Padres’ dugout. Dave Winfield was down there, and Leon shouted at him and told him he played with him in Spring Training one year. Here’s Winfield’s reaction:

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Here I am with the seven balls I’d snagged (I gave one of them away to a kid after the game):

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As promised, Heath texted me after BP, and he included his email address. Obviously I can’t share that address here, but I will say that it contains the word “heater.”

It was Jackie Robinson Day. Here are all the No. 42’s being worn in his honor:

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After the ceremony, when Heath walked back in toward the dugout, he spotted me in the seats and asked if I’d gotten his text. Coolness.

Game time!

This was my view in the first inning:

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When David Wright struck out to end the bottom of the first, I bolted down the steps and got Padres catcher Nick Hundley to toss me the ball on his way in. So easy. No competition. And finally, I had a commemorative ball that was actually rubbed up and game-used.

Gary Sheffield, stuck on 499 career homers, was getting his first start of the year and batting sixth. When he came up in the bottom of the second, this is where I was sitting:

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It wasn’t ideal, but that’s Citi Field for ya. There’s no cross aisle, so if a game is crowded (as it will be all year and probably for all of eternity), there’s no way to run left or right for a home run ball. If Sheffield had gotten a hold of one, he would’ve had to hit it exactly in my direction, and my range would’ve been limited to that one staircase. Not good. But at least I had a chance. Sheffield, though, didn’t do his part and struck out swinging.

After that I moved up to the club (aka “Excelsior”) level. Good foul ball spot. This was the view:

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If the guards had actually let me stand in the aisle, this is what it would’ve looked like on my left…

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…and this is what it would’ve looked like on my right. Notice the baseball writers in the press box and the blue SNY booth in the distance:

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Here’s a closer look at the booth. Keith Hernandez is on the left, Ron Darling is in the middle, and Gary Cohen (whom I adore) is on the right:

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Here’s at look at the ESPN booth. Rick Sutcliffe is on the left, Joe Morgan is sitting next to him, then Rachel Robinson (Jackie Robinson’s widow), and Dave O’Brian on the right. Not a shabby group. Security didn’t appreciate the fact that I took this photo (and yet they had no problem with the fact that I was practically standing on the field five hours earlier…go figure):

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I kept moving around between the left field seats for Sheffield (who went 0-for-2 with a walk and got pulled for a pinch hitter late in the game), the club level for foul balls (there were none), and the Padres’ dugout for third-out balls. Leon, who told me he’d run out onto the batter’s eye to grab a ball during BP, spent the entire game sitting in the second row behind the dugout. (Oh, and I forgot to mention that he ended up snagging three balls, including a Sheffield BP homer that was heading right into my glove; I need shorter, less athletic friends.)

The following photo shows my view in the seventh inning:

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Once again, it was David Wright who ended the frame, this time with a fly out to right fielder Brian Giles. By this late point in the game, all the fans in the section knew there was a chance to get a ball every inning, but they were too dumb to figure out why. They all charged down the steps and yelled at first baseman Adrian Gonzalez as he jogged off the field, and as soon as he was gone, they all dispersed and headed back to their seats. Fifteen seconds later, Giles jogged in, and since I was the ONLY fan standing in the front row at that point, I had no trouble getting him to toss me the ball. That was my ninth and (unfortunately) final ball of the day.

After the game, I got a photo with Gary (pictured below on the right) and a fellow ballhawk named Donnie (aka “donnieanks”) that I had finally met for the first time earlier in the day. Here were are:

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And that’s about it.

I hope the Padres win the NL West and Heath Bell saves 74 games.

SNAGGING STATS:

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

• 40 balls in 5 games this season = 8 balls per game.

• 574 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 339 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 45 major league stadiums with at least one ball caught

• 3,860 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $15.87 pledged per ball

• $142.83 raised at this game

• $634.80 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/21/08 at Yankee Stadium

Last day ever at Yankee Stadium…

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The magnitude of this game never really sunk in; although I felt a bit
sad at various points throughout the day, I still had to keep reminding
myself that this was THE LAST time I’d ever be there. It just felt like
all the commotion was yet another formality. I mean, even in May, there were fans who couldn’t find tickets…

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…so what made this any different?

Obviously this is just a matter of opinion, but I think MY sign was
better. Here I am holding it up with my Watch With Zack clients for the
day: a man named Jeff and his two sons Scott and Adam:

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If you’ve been reading this blog since last year, you might remember these guys from 9/29/07 at Camden Yards.

Here are our four tickets. Silver stamping. Nice…

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The stadium was going to open at 1pm–more than seven hours before game
time–and we arrived a couple hours before that. We waited outside Gate
6 so that we’d be able to run inside and claim the corner spot on the
short porch in right field. Clearly, THAT was going to be the best
place to get balls during batting practice. Even though fans were going
to be allowed to walk *ON* (and all the way around) the warning track
from 1 to 4pm, I didn’t want to take any chances by not going to the
corner spot right away. BP was scheduled to begin at around 5pm. I knew
the stadium would be packed by that time. I didn’t want to end up
scrambling for a spot at the last minute and getting buried in the
crowd, and more than ever I needed to be in a visible spot. Not only had Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie promised me a ball two days earlier,
but my 561-game streak was on the line. I didn’t want to blow it for
the chance to scoop up some warning track dirt, and besides, there were
other mementos available…like the peeling paint on the outside of the
stadium, which the fan below was unabashedly pulling off for a
photographer:

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There was a huge crowd behind us when GATE 6 opened for the final time.
We ran in and sprinted to the corner spot. Just about everyone else
made a beeline for Monument Park. That’s where fans were going to be
allowed to walk onto the field–through the same gate that Mariano
Rivera would be using in the ninth inning–but none of us had any
serious interest. Jeff had been on the field before. I’d been on other
fields, so I didn’t feel the NEED to walk on this one. I just wanted to
hold onto the corner spot, and Adam (who really wanted a ball) was
happy to hang with me. Scott (who hadn’t brought his glove because he
couldn’t find it) was the only one who wanted to walk on the field, so
he and his dad headed over to the other side of the stadium. They
returned less than an hour later. The line was absurdly long so they
gave up. Jeff said it snaked way back into the concourse, then up the
ramps to the upper deck (!!!), then through the upper deck concourse
and back down the ramps toward home plate, and I think he even said it
then went back toward home plate and up again to the Loge Level. I
forget the exact details of his account of the line, but you get the
point. Therefore, the four of us hung out on the short porch, which
remained mostly empty for the first two hours.

The highlight of my day (and there were many) was running into a
legendary ballhawk I used to know in the early 1990s–an older gentleman
named Artie. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him. It had been about 15
years since we’d crossed paths, and he was already gray-haired back
then. We used to see each other ALL the time, and when he disappeared,
I didn’t know what to think. Had he gotten too old to chase baseballs?
Had he given up his season tickets? Had he died?! For years and years,
I had been thinking of him and remembering all the times that he took
me under his wing and calmed me down when stadium security and other
fans were giving me a hard time. It’s like he was a second father to
me, or maybe even a grandfather. We were ALWAYS out in right field
together, chasing baseballs, and we’d talk for hours every day during
BP and after BP and during the game. I’d told other friends about him,
and I always wondered how many baseballs he had. I knew it had to be
hundreds, and I suspected his grand total was probably in the
thousands. So…what ever happened to him? How is it that we both ended
up near the corner spot on the LAST day ever at Yankee Stadium? It
turned out that *I’m* the one who disappeared. He only has a weekend
season ticket plan, and I stopped going to games on weekends. That was
it. He’d still been going to Yankee Stadium all these years.
Incredible. We were both so happy to see each other. I’m telling you, I
almost cried when I saw him after all these years. He really was a
legend to me, but we’d never kept in touch away from the ballpark. This
time, however, I made sure to get his phone number and ask him dozens
of questions, and then his daughter Cathy took a few photos of us. Here
we are:

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You want to know how many baseballs Artie has caught since 1945?

3,950

That’s more than me!

He told me he’d heard about my books and had seen me catching those two
home runs on TV, and when I told him what MY grand total of baseballs
was, he said, “You’ve carried on my torch, and you did it in a graceful
way. I’m proud of you.”

I can’t tell you how good it made me feel to hear him say that.

The fans started making their way around the warning track…

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…and there was still lots of time to kill, so Artie and I kept
talking. He doesn’t know exactly how many game home run balls he’s
snagged, but he has 36 of his catches just on tape. In 1961, he caught
home runs by both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, and he said those are
the only two balls he kept. He wishes he’d kept more, but he donated
them all to an autism foundation. (He has two autistic grandkids.) His
one-game record is 12. His single-season record is “over 200.” That was
back in ’61. He’s gotten lots of balls tossed to him by players
(including Ted Williams!) but he’s never used a ball-retrieving device.
He told me that back in the 1940s, players didn’t throw many balls into
the crowd, and they almost never hit home runs during batting practice
because they actually treated it like “practice” and didn’t swing for
the fences.

Artie, who will be turning 70 in February, pulled out a little photo
album and told me stories as I flipped through. There were photos of
him on the field with Don Mattingly, walking in the stands with Roger
Maris, at a birthday party with Billy Martin. I’m telling you…the man
is a LEGEND, and I might have to write an entire chapter in my next
book about him. I don’t know, but I can tell you that this is not the
last time you’ll be hearing his name.

I took a break from my conversation with Artie to do a five-minute live phone interview with a radio station in England called “talkSPORT.”
Then, while Jeff held the corner spot, I took Scott and Adam with me
and caught up with Ken Derry, the managing editor of Yankees Magazine.
Ken had gotten in touch after my home run catches and said that he was
going to do a “little story” on me.

The “little” story was apparently going to have a little photograph of me:

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(Thanks to Scott for taking the photo that you see above.)

The photographer–her name was Arie–took about 50 shots in the span of
two minutes and then disappeared into the crowd. Ken then pulled out a
voice recorder and interviewed me for about 20 minutes. The story will
appear in the “closing ceremonies” issue, which will be coming out in
November.

After the interview, I took a photo of the nearby “SportsCenter” set-up…

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…and the show went to a commercial break, I shouted at Steve Phillips.

He looked up.

I did my stupid “Cabbage Patch” dance.

He raised his eyebrows and pointed at me as if to say, “That was YOU?!”

I nodded and pointed at myself.

He nodded and gave me a thumbs-up.

I was hoping he’d wave me down to the front row and bring me on the air, but no, that was the end of it.

(In case you haven’t yet seen my home runs catches and celebratory dances, you can see the Jason Giambi homer here and the Johnny Damon homer here.)

I went back out to the corner spot in right field (big thanks to Jeff
for staying there) and saw Spike Lee following Reggie Jackson with a
small video camera:

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Finally, at around 4:30pm, the Yankees came out and began stretching:

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Looks like a nice relaxing day, right?

Well, check out the view to my left:

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Thank God I had the corner spot because it would NOT have been easy.
See the tall guy wearing the backwards cap and the unbuttoned road
jersey? He ended up catching four balls, including two home runs on a
fly and a third which hit the Loge facade and bounced back to him. See
the kid at the bottom middle of the photo with his chin on his fist?
That’s Brian (aka “puckcollector”) from this blog. And do you see the
man who’s standing closest to the camera with his cap pulled down over
his eyes? That’s Jeff.

Just before BP started, I ran into another stadium regular named Howard
Pressman. He had been quoted in the first paragraph of the first article EVER written about my baseball collection. Here we are:

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BP finally got underway, and Adam snagged a ball before I did. Yankees
reliever Phil Coke tossed it to a security guard who flipped it up.
Even though I could’ve caught it, I didn’t reach out for it because it
was clearly intended for Adam, and I wanted him to enjoy the rush of
catching the ball on his own. It was commemorative, and here he is holding it up:

adam_showing_his_ball.jpg

I also managed to talk Phil Coke out of a commemorative ball even
though he recognized me as THAT GUY who caught the two home runs and
wasn’t exactly dying to give me one as a result. I ended up giving that
ball to Scott who had positioned himself in the seats along the right
field foul line and therefore didn’t have a chance to snag a ball on
his own.

When the Orioles came out, I quickly got Jamie Walker to throw me my
second ball of the day. Thankfully, Jeremy Guthrie was nowhere in sight
at the time, so when he finally appeared, he greeted me with a smile
and imitated my dance…

jeremy_guthrie_imitating_my_dance.jpg

…and then tossed me ball No. 3.

Guthrie is a COOL guy. Not only had he remembered me after two days and
kept his promise by hooking me up with a ball, but he was interacting
with the fans throughout BP. One fan asked him to scoop up some dirt
from the warning track, and he did it! Check it out:

jeremy_guthrie_scooping_dirt.jpg

I got one more ball tossed to me by Brian Bass. It was just a regular ball, but it ended up being a very special ball indeed…

ball3773_last_at_yankee_stadium.jpg

The four of us headed upstairs for the pre-game ceremony. This was our view:

pregame_ceremony_view.jpg

It was incredible to hear a recorded welcome message from longtime P.A.
announcer Bob Sheppard…and to see Babe Ruth’s daughter throw out
(okay, so she bounced it) the ceremonial first pitch…and to see
former Yankee greats actually wearing the uniforms and taking their
positions on the field…but the ceremony was still lacking, in my
opinion. To me, it seemed like it was TOO focused on the players and
not focused enough on the stadium itself. But hey…still cool.

The four of us stayed in our seats through the top of the first inning
and then headed downstairs for the sole purpose of catching the last
home run at Yankee Stadium.

There were hardly any empty seats (as you might imagine), so we
wandered aimlessly for a bit and couldn’t see much of the game. Scott
was more interested in watching, and Adam was more interested in
snagging, so we split up. Scott and his dad went back up to the seats
while Adam and I roamed.

We started in left field, but there truly wasn’t any place to sit or
stand, so we headed all the way around the stadium and camped out in
the tunnel in the middle of the short porch.

Security kept telling us we had to move, so we kept shuffling our
position in attempt to linger there as long as possible. At one point,
we walked back to the corner spot and stayed back against the railing
at the back of the aisle. That’s where Artie and Cathy were sitting,
and they didn’t mind that we were, as I described it, “invading” their
space.

“I want you to catch it,” said Artie.

“If I catch the last home run in your section.” I said, “I’m always gonna feel guilty.”

He assured me I didn’t need to and was glad to catch up with me again for a bit.

In the bottom of the third inning, with two on and nobody out, Johnny
Damon hit a home run that landed IN the aisle about 40 feet to our
left. We couldn’t move. There was hardly any room to walk, even when
there wasn’t a valuable ball flying in our direction, so once the ball
left the bat and people stood up out of their folding chairs, that was
it. Done/ No chance. If I’d been standing at the front of the tunnel, I
would’ve had a great chance of catching the ball, but even then there
wouldn’t have been a guarantee.

The guy who caught it (barehanded, no less) was mobbed by reporters
within minutes. I walked over and took a photo. Was THIS going to be
the last home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium? I didn’t know. So at the
time this was a BIG deal. Here he is with the ball. His name is Brian
Elmer:

brian_elmer.jpg

It was a regular/commemorative ball. I was thinking that there might’ve
been special “final day” balls in use, but that wasn’t the case. The
ball wasn’t marked either. Security never escorted him off. The MLB
authenticator never made an appearance. It was sloppy, and I was
stunned. This was a big deal, as I mentioned above, and yet it
wasn’t…based on the way it was handled.

Here’s a photo that’ll give you an idea of how cramped the aisle was in
right field. You can actually see a reporter (in a tan shirt) crouching
in the aisle while interviewing Elmer.

short_porch_aisle.jpg

Adam and I were kicked out of the corner spot soon after, and ten
minutes after that, we were kicked out of the tunnel. (Damn!) We had no
choice but to head back to left field, and while we were on our way,
Jose Molina hit a home run that landed on the protective netting over
Monument Park. (I heard later from my friend Eric Marinbach, a Yankee
Stadium regular who sits out there, that a security guard ended up
GIVING the ball to another fan. What the hell?!)

Amazingly, we found two empty seats in the first row behind the aisle,
all the way out against the side wall in straight-away left field. I
ended up sitting in the exact same seat that I was in when I jumped up
and caught the Kevin Millar homer two months earlier. This was the view:

view_from_left_field_09_21_08.jpg

Sadly, there weren’t any other homers for the rest of the night.

This is how the Yankees announced the attendance:

total_attendance.jpg

This was the scene less than 60 seconds after Mariano Rivera threw the last pitch:

postgame1_police.jpg

(I got a great video of the final pitch. You wouldn’t believe how many
flashbulbs were going off. I might post the video on YouTube at some
point.)

Here’s the final score:

postgame2_scoreboard.jpg

Adam and I headed to the upper deck and got there in time to see the Yankees’ final lap around the field:

postgame3_yankees_victory_lap.jpg

It took us about 20 minutes to reach our assigned seats, where we caught up with Scott and Jeff. Here I am with the boys:

postgame4_scott_zack_adam.jpg

I didn’t see THAT much vandalism. This was the worst of it…

postgame5_vandalization.jpg

…although I did notice that there were an awful lot of cup holders
missing when we all wandered back down to the field level. This was the
scene:

postgame6_stadium_emptying_out.jpg

And that was pretty much it. Jeff had to work early the next day, while
Adam and Scott had to be at school–and they had to drive back to New
Jersey, so they headed off. I lingered inside the stadium until
security kicked me out. The only thing I grabbed on my way was a
three-inch stack of napkins that’d been abandoned on an empty vending
cart. Why not.

Goodbye, Yankee Stadium. I hate to admit it, but I’ll miss you…

STATS:

hank_aaron.jpg

? 4 balls at this game

? 496 balls in 66 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 562 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

? 3,773 total balls

Remember when I started comparing my baseball total to players’ career hit totals? Well, I’m now ahead of Hank Aaron (3,771) and in third place all time behind Ty Cobb (4,191).

(Apologies for any typos in the this entry. I wrote the whole thing in
less than three hours and didn’t even have a chance to read through it
once. I’ll give it proper edit tonight when I get back from Shea.)

9/1/08 at Dodger Stadium

Did you know that you can snag baseballs at Dodger Stadium even before the
gates open? Just hang out in deep center field, and with a view like
this you might get lucky:

center_field_wide_open.jpg

Did you know that once the gates open, you’re allowed to stand *ON* the
actual warning track during batting practice? And that you can bring
your glove and run around and yell at the players and try to catch
balls? And that you don’t even need a ticket for the game?

That said, don’t be fooled. Dodger Stadium is still the most confusing and annoying stadium I’ve ever been to. By far.

Even though I had a ticket for the left field pavilion (where several
balls landed before the gates opened), I decided to check out the
warning track for the first few minutes. My friend and fellow ballhawk
T.C. (aka “tracycollinsbecky” if you read the comments on this blog)
had told me that it was the place to be early on.

We both ran in together. He headed to the right-center field portion of
the fenced off area, and I went to left-center. Cool. I was standing on
the field. I had to take some photographs, so I started pulling out my
camera, and just then I heard T.C. shout my name. I looked over at him
and he was pointing back at me.

Huh?

He pointed down, so I looked down.

What was I supposed to be looking at? Ants?

He kept pointing so I kept looking, and then I realized that a ball was
sitting against the white plastic barricade! I tried leaning over–I
couldn’t jump up on it and balance on my stomach and reach down because
it was too flimsy–but my arm wasn’t long enough, so I lifted the
barricade a couple inches and slipped the ball underneath it.

Then I took a photo…

dodger_stadium_warning_track.jpg

…and then I watched in horror as several fans stormed into the
pavilion and picked up at least a dozen balls that were scattered throughout
the rows of ugly yellow benches. One guy, I later learned, had grabbed five.

Then I looked at the one I’d just gotten and felt a little better because it was a Nationals commemorative ball.
Why hadn’t T.C. gone for it? Well, he might’ve if he’d known what type
of ball it was, but basically he’s only interested in catching home run
balls (and occasional ground-rule doubles).

The warning track quickly got crowded–the best thing about it, I
realized, is that it keeps people out of the seats–so I headed into the
pavilion.

The following four-part photo (going clockwise from the top left) shows
what it looks like under the stands and behind the left field wall.
There’s a) the concourse, b) the approach to one of the staircases, c) the view behind the outfield wall from the bottom of the stairs, and d) the view from the top of the stairs.

behind_the_left_field_wall.jpg
It’s totally weird. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the major leagues.

I’d only been in the seats for two minutes when my friend Brandon showed up with his fancy camera.

Here’s a photo he took (with me in it) of the view from deep left-center field:

zack_during_BP_09_01_08.jpg

That was my initial spot for all right-handed batters, but after seeing several balls clear the outfield wall and fall
short of the seats, I started playing the staircases exclusively. Here I am, halfway down one of them, with Heath Bell’s cap on my head and a very crowded warning track in the background:

zack_staircase.jpg

I stayed as far down the stairs as possible while still being able to
see the batter. That way, I figured, I’d be able to make it all the way
down if another ball barely cleared the wall or all the way up if someone hit
a bomb. This was my view:

view_from_staircase.jpg

At one point when there was some action closer to the foul pole, I
moved a couple sections to my right and got Chase Headley to throw me
my second ball of the day. (It hit the padding on top of the wall and
bounced to me.) Then I received ball No. 3 from Mike Adams, and Brandon
snapped a pic as it headed toward my glove:

zack_about_to_catch_ball3688.jpg

I only snagged one more ball during BP and Brandon once again captured the action. Cla Meredith tossed it TO ME so I didn’t feel bad about using my Big Hample Butt to box out the fan on my left. I could’ve moved down a few steps and lined myself up with the ball, but that would’ve enabled him to move with me and interfere, so I held my ground with my lower body, knowing that I’d still barely be able to reach the ball and that the other guy wouldn’t. Check it out:

zack_catching_ball3689a.jpg

Here’s another shot that was taken a split-second after the ball entered my glove. I had wisely turned my head to avoid getting elbowed…

zack_catching_ball3689b.jpg

…and by the way, the man wearing the “FAN SINCE 53″
jersey was extremely rude and hostile. That’s all I’m going to say
about him. This is just a little heads-up for anyone who’s planning to visit
Dodger Stadium and snag more than one ball in the LF pavilion.

I found T.C. after BP. He’d only snagged one ball…

TC.jpg

…but it was a home run that he’d caught on a fly, so he was happy. I had witnessed the catch, and I have to say it was pretty sweet. I was standing halfway down a staircase in left-center when a righty launched a ball that was clearly going to sail way over my head. I raced up the steps and started cutting through one of the narrow rows of benches and realized I had no chance of reaching the ball. That’s when I saw T.C. casually jogging to his left ON one of the benches, and at the last second, he flipped his glove down and made an effortless one-handed basket catch at his hip. You want cool? THAT’S cool.

Meanwhile, I was stressing about the fact that I’d only snagged four balls–and that the pain in my ribs (from my accident on 8/30/08 at Angel Stadium) and the blisters on my toes were getting worse. I wanted to wander all around Dodger Stadium and take pics and try to snag more balls, but I just wasn’t feeling up to it.

And then there was the fact that I would’ve had to exit the pavilion and buy a new ticket in order to enter the main part of the stadium.

Screw it. That was my attitude. Brandon had purchased a pavilion ticket (so he could hang out with me during BP) and also had four seats in the Loge for himself and three friends. I decided to stay in the pavilion all night and try to catch a Manny Ramirez home run–and to recover.

Before the game started, I forced myself to explore the pavilion. In the four-part pic below, you can see a) Steve Lyons and Kevin Kennedy and some other guy doing the pre-game show on FSN, b) just how narrow the rows between the benches are, c) the Dodgers’ bullpen, and d) the dingy area outside the bathrooms.

exploring_the_pavilion.jpg

Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, which means it’s now the fourth oldest ballpark in the majors behind Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium. It always looks spacious and pristine on TV, but again…don’t be fooled. Many areas in the stadium are actually cramped and downright gloomy. The same is true for Fenway and Wrigley. Everyone thinks those places are awesome, and in many ways (for those who enjoy living in the past) they are, but they’re not exactly comfortable. Yankee Stadium? Same thing. It holds 55,000 people, but the cross-aisle that cuts through the seats in the upper deck is wide enough for one. Shea Stadium, which opened in 1964, resembles Dodger Stadium in that it’s cavernous and yet still somehow manages to induce claustrophobia.

Anyway, Brandon got a good shot of Greg Maddux warming up…

greg_maddux_warming_up.jpg

…and another shot of me (no longer wearing my Padres shirt) after I failed to get Russell Martin to throw me his warm-up ball. You could say I wasn’t too happy about the way things were going:

zack_not_happy.jpg

At least I had a great view during the game:

manny_being_awesome.jpg

Here’s a photo that Brandon took of me from his seat across the stadium:

zack_from_afar_09_01_08.jpg

I actually did have a decent view, but mainly I liked my spot because I truly had a chance to catch a Manny mash. Alas, he only went 1-for-2 with a single, a walk, and a sac fly, but it was still fun to dream. As for Maddux, he limited the Padres to two runs in 5 2/3 innings for his 354th career win, tying him with Roger Clemens for eighth place all time.

Final score: Dodgers 5, Padres 2.

After the game, I ran into two kids who’d brought copies of my books for me to sign and informed me that it was the one-year anniversary of the day when they first stumbled upon this blog. Here we are:

zack_postgame_autographs.jpg

William, holding How To Snag Major League Baseballs, has left a
few comments as “dealwatcher.” Anthony, holding Watching Baseball Smarter, has commented as “AutographHound.” We all hung out for a few minutes, during which my friend Matt (who you might remember from 7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium) caught up with me and offered some key pointers about how to maximize my snagging the next day in the main part of the stadium.

STATS:

? 4 balls at this game

? 3 beach ball hits at this game

? 412 balls in 55 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 551 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 137 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 3,689 total balls

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