Results tagged ‘ watch with zack ’

8/3/10 at Camden Yards

This was one of the most fun/hectic days I’ve ever experienced at a major league stadium.

For starters, it was a Watch With Zack game; my client was a 23-year-old from Indiana named Justin. We were joined by Phil Taylor, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, who’s working on a big story about ballhawking. And that’s not all. There was also a two-person film crew following my every move and getting footage for a separate documentary about collectors. (I blogged about the filmmakers two months ago when they first interviewed me.)

See what I mean?

Fun. And hectic.

Let me point out that Justin didn’t mind the media being there. In fact, he was looking forward to getting a behind-the-scenes look at how it would all go down. He had booked this game a month in advance, so when the media contacted me and asked if they could tag along with me at a game, I ran it by Justin first to make sure it was okay. If he had said no, then I would’ve picked a different game to do the interviews.

Anyway, let’s get to the first photo of the day. It shows some friends, acquaintances, and “key players” outside the gate:

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From left to right, you’re looking at:

1) Phil Taylor from Sports Illustrated.

2) Me!

3) Justin, my Watch With Zack client.

4) An aspiring ballhawk named Andrew. He and I have now run into each other three times since last season, all at different stadiums.

5) Avi Miller (check out those orange socks) who writes an outstanding Orioles blog.

6) Rick Gold, a fellow ballhawk, who began the day with 937 lifetime balls.

7) My good friend Ben Hill, who writes a blog about minor league baseball’s wackiest promotions. He lives in NYC and traveled to Baltimore with me for the day. He’s gone to several games with me in the past, including this one three years ago in Philly.

I saw some other familiar faces outside the gate and made a couple new friends during the hour that we were all standing around. By the time the stadium opened, there were a ton of people. Everyone was really friendly, we had a lot of laughs, and I remember thinking, “Phil picked a good day to join me.” I mean…most of the people I see/meet at games are friendly, but it just felt like love was in the air a bit more than usual. During the five hours that Phil spent with me, several fans asked for my autograph, one guy asked to have his six-year-old son’s picture taken with me, and two female ushers greeted me with hugs. Bottom line: ballhawking has gotten some bad press in recent seasons, so I’m hopeful that Phil got a positive impression of it based on our time together.

Five minutes before the stadium opened, the filmmakers showed up. I didn’t take a photo of them at that point because I was distracted. I was being interviewed by Phil, and I was giving Justin a few pointers, and I was focused on being the first one in so I could try to beat everyone else to the left field seats. Moments after I got there, I took the following photo:

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Justin, wearing the orange Orioles shirt that he’d received on the way in, was already in position 13 rows back. Rick, wearing the black shirt, was walking through my row.

BP was dead at the start. An usher had already combed through the seats to pick up the loose baseballs, and the Orioles weren’t hitting many home runs. It’s too bad there wasn’t more action because the media was officially on the scene:


That’s Paul with the big camera and Meredith with the smaller one (and of course that’s Phil from Sports Illustrated sitting between them).

After ten minutes or so, I raced one full section to my left and snagged a home run ball that landed in the seats, and on the very next pitch, I sprinted back to my original spot and caught a homer on the fly. That felt good. I was on the board. I’d even used a bit of athleticism. Phil had gotten a good view. Paul and Meredith had gotten good footage.

What about Justin, you ask?

Two days earlier, when I had spoken to him on the phone, he told me that he wanted ME to break double digits. He also told me that he didn’t want any of the balls that I caught, and that he mainly wanted to learn by watching me in action. But still, he wanted to snag some baseballs on his own, and I did my best to help him.

Unfortunately, the Orioles stopped hitting at 5:16pm — roughly 15 minutes ahead of schedule — so that took a major chunk of opportunities away from us. It did, however, give us a chance to wander into foul territory and focus on getting balls from the Angels.

Justin threw on a maroon Angels T-shirt and headed to the corner spot near the 3rd base camera well:

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When the Angels started throwing, Justin moved down the foul line into shallow left field, and as a result, I happened to get the next two balls. Mike Napoli tossed me one. The other was a random overthrow that skipped off the rubberized warning track and bounced into the empty front row.

Paul and Meredith followed me everywhere and kept the cameras rolling:

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I helped Justin pick the best possible spot along the foul line…

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…and played a role in getting Jered Weaver to toss him a ball. This was only the third ball that he’d ever snagged at a major league game, and it was the first one that had been given to him by a player.

Moments later, another errant throw bounced off the warning track and ended up in the seats, this time ten rows back, so I scampered up the steps and grabbed it.

The Angels had started hitting by that point, and I noticed that a ball had rolled onto the warning track in straight-away left field. I hurried over, used my glove trick to reel it in, and immediately handed the ball to the smallest kid with a glove.

That was my sixth ball of the day, and I got Scott Kazmir to throw me No. 7 in left-center. I was about eight rows back when I got his attention. He lobbed it perfectly, right over everyone and into my glove. (After batting practice, I gave that ball away, too.)

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That’s when things slowed way down. The stands got really crowded, and I ran into some bad luck. For example, I was standing in one spot for about ten minutes, and there was NO action there. Eventually, I ran down to the front row to chase a ball that ended up falling short, and while I was there, Howie Kendrick hit a home run that landed right where I’d been. But hey, that’s just how it goes. I realize that I’d gotten lucky earlier with the two overthrows that bounced near me in the seats.

Justin was in a good spot, or at least a spot that’s normally good, but the balls just weren’t flying our way, and the Angels abruptly stopped hitting at 6:08pm. The visiting team’s batting practice normally goes until 6:20-ish, so that sucked. On the plus side, though, the shortened session of BP gave us extra time to eat and talk to Phil. (Justin got interviewed, too.) Paul and Meredith suggested eating at one of the tables near the concession stand. That certainly would have been easier because they had to deal with their equipment in addition to their food and beverages, but I insisted on heading back to the seats — and it’s a good thing. Halfway through the meal/interview, I noticed that Orlando Mercado and Mike Napoli were getting close to finishing playing catch down the left field line.

“Run over there,” I told Justin with a mouthful of pepperoni pizza. “You’ll probably get that ball, but you have to hurry.”

He looked over in the direction where I was pointing, shrugged, and took another bite of his chicken strips.

“Fine,” I said, “I’ll go over there.”

I threw my pizza back in the box, wiped my hand on my shirt, grabbed my glove…and returned 90 seconds later with the ball. Mercado, thankfully, had been the one who ended up with it. I’m pretty sure that Napoli would’ve recognized me and thrown it to someone else.

Shortly before game time, I got Torii Hunter’s autograph on my ticket:

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(I tried to get him to use my blue Sharpie, but he was moving quickly with his own black marker.)

Justin and Phil and I spent most of the game in the standing-room-only section in right field:

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There were lots of lefties in the lineup, so it was a good spot, but of course there wasn’t any action. The closest we came was when Luke Scott blasted a home run to right-center field, which, according to Hit Tracker, traveled 447 feet. The ball cleared the seats and landed in the narrow walkway at the very back of the section. I ran in that direction from the standing room…

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…but got trapped behind a couple other fans approximately 15 feet from the spot where it landed.

Paul and Meredith had already taken off by that point, and Phil left soon after. He felt like he’d gotten enough info/material, and he told me he’d get in touch if he had any follow-up questions. His article, by the way, will either run this season as the pennant races are heating up or it’ll run next spring in the “baseball preview” issue. Phil told me that he had interviewed some other ballhawks (he wouldn’t say who) and that they all told him that he had to talk to me. (That was nice to hear.) I mentioned a lot of names to him, so there’s really no telling who else he’ll end up interviewing.

Anyway, late in the game, Justin and I went for foul balls. This was our view for several left-handed batters:

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Then, in the top of the ninth, I helped him sneak down to the umpires’ tunnel behind the plate. He took the right side of the tunnel, and I hung back a few rows on the left. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to him:

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After the final out, home plate ump Jerry Layne placed a ball in Justin’s glove…

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…and then he handed me a ball, too, just before he disappeared.

That was it. Justin doubled his lifetime total by snagging two baseballs, and I finished with nine — not terrible considering that the teams skipped half an hour’s worth of batting practice.

Final score: Orioles 6, Angels 3. (Nice debut for Buck Showalter as the Birds’ new skipper.)

In case you were wondering, my friend Ben Hill was nowhere near me during the game. He met up with his own friend, and they sat together behind the Orioles’ dugout. Ben has finally achieved full-time status at MLBAM (Major League Baseball Advanced Media), so he now has a pass that gets him into any non-sold-out major league game for free, and once he’s inside, he can sit wherever he wants. Pretty cool, huh? If only he had more free time to take advantage.

Ben took one final photo of me and Justin after the game:

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Justin and I then said our goodbyes. Ben and I then made the three-hour drive back to New York City.

SNAGGING STATS:

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

• 211 balls in 23 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.

• 652 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 24 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls (click here to see all the stats and records from my Watch With Zack games)

• 4,569 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

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

• $58.41 raised at this game

• $1,369.39 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/27/10 at Citi Field

This was no ordinary game. It was a Watch With Zack game, and my client was a 15-year-old kid named Mateo. He and I met on the Upper West Side at around 3:30pm, rode the subway together, and talked baseball/life for the entire 45-minute trip to Citi Field. Here we are outside the stadium, waiting to enter the Jackie Robinson Rotunda:

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Mateo had snagged a total of five baseballs in his life, including a batting practice homer that he caught on the fly, so although he was inexperienced as a ballhawk, it was clear that he had some skills. It turned out that his main problem — the main thing that was preventing him from putting up big numbers — was his hesitance to call out to the players. Therefore, after I got a quick ball from Henry Blanco in left-center field, I turned all my attention toward him.

Several lefties started hitting, so we ran over to the seats in deep right-center. I set Mateo up in the corner spot next to the bullpens. Here he is from behind:

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If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a long, narrow sign on the facade of the upper deck on the 3rd base side that says, “NOW BATTING – #5 DAVID WRIGHT.” Pretty cool, huh? Although I’m sure it’s been done before, this is the first time (outside of the 2007 Home Run Derby) that I’ve ever seen a stadium display the name of the batter in the cage.

Anyway, while Mateo was in the corner spot, he narrowly missed a ground-rule double that skimmed six inches beyond his reach, and then five minutes later, I got Johan Santana to toss him a ball that sailed three feet over his glove. It was just one of those
3_chris_carter_2010.jpgdays, and since Mateo wasn’t speaking up, I continued to do all the shouting/begging. I gave Chris Carter a friendly earful about how much it would mean to “this young man right here” to get a ball, and what I said was true. Mateo had never snagged one at Citi Field. Obviously I was prepared to give him the ball I’d gotten from Blanco, but he wanted to snag one on his own. Carter acknowledged us at first and seemed to indicate that he was gonna hook us up. He turned and held up his index finger as if to say, “Hang on, I’ll get one for you,” but then he didn’t. It was strange and frustrating because he retrieved several balls within 30 feet of us and easily could have tossed one in Mateo’s direction, but for some reason he refused. At one point, a white-haired man with a glove wandered near us, and the first thing I thought was, “No way you’re interfering with my dude.” I wasn’t too concerned, though, because the man looked friendly and stayed a few feet away from us. Meanwhile, I kept calling out to Carter and trying to convince him to show us some love. Eventually, he chased a ball onto the warning track, and he turned and tossed it to Mateo. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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Mateo caught it easily and then introduced me to the white-haired man. It was his father! Here they are together:

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(In case you’re wondering, Mateo’s father is not 6-foot-8. In the photo above, he’s standing one row above his son.)

When the Cardinals took the field, I lent Mateo my “PUJOLS 5″ shirt, and we ran all over the place. We started in foul territory when the pitchers warmed up:

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Nothing.

We hurried back to straight-away left field when some righties stepped into the cage:

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Nothing.

We even headed up to the second deck when Pujols and Holiday started taking their cuts:

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There were lots of other people up there who had the same idea…

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…and as a result: nothing.

It was one of the toughest batting practices ever, and my other ballhawk friends agreed. Greg Barasch was there. He often breaks double digits at Citi Field, and yet he only managed to snag ONE ball before the game started. Joe Faraguna was there. So was Gary Kowal and Clif Eddens. All these guys regularly snag half a dozen balls per game, but on this difficult day, no one finished BP with more than three.

Toward the end of BP, I got Dennys Reyes to toss me a ball in left-center field. I gave that one to Mateo, and then I caught a Ryan Ludwick homer on the fly in straight-away left. Mateo was near me on that one, but it was really crowded, and he was blocked by a railing. The Ludwick home run ball had one of the biggest grass stains I’ve ever seen, and you’ll see a pic of it at the end of this entry.

After BP, there was a gathering of ballhawks behind the 3rd base dugout:

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In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at: Dan, Mateo, me, Clif, Joe, Greg, and Gary.

During the game, Mateo and I made a point of heading out to left field for all of Albert Pujols’ at-bats. (No action there. Pujols went 0-for-5 with a strikeout.) We spent the rest of the time behind the Cardinals’ dugout, going for 3rd-out balls. The following photo shows our view. You can see Mateo (in the red Pujols shirt) sitting on the right-hand side of the staircase:

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Whenever there were two outs, he inched toward the front. I stayed back and watched his backpack and had my camera ready to get an action shot, but…nothing. He came really close to a few balls, but like I said before, this was just one of those days. He wasn’t getting the breaks.

As for the game itself, the outcome was shocking. Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright entered with the second most wins (14) and the second lowest ERA (1.94) in the majors. How did he do, you ask? He surrendered a season-high six runs in five innings, and the light-hitting Mets won, 8-2.

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After the game, Mateo and I attempted to get a ball from home-plate umpire Marvin Hudson. I had offered to help him get one — to shout at Hudson on his behalf and then stand back and let him catch it — but he wanted to try to get one on his own. Unfortunately, I ended up getting a ball from Hudson and Mateo didn’t. We then hurried over to the dugout to try to get a ball from the Cardinals relievers as they walked in from the bullpen. That didn’t work out, but two minutes later, when all the players and coaches were gone, a ballboy stuck his head out of the dugout and threw me a ball. It was totally unexpected. I wasn’t even wearing my glove, and just like that, my total for the day had jumped from three to five.

I showed the ump-ball to Mateo and asked him if he’d ever gotten one that was rubbed up with mud. He hadn’t, so I gave it to him. His father then took one final photo of us before we headed out:

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Before we said our goodbyes, his father told me that they have a copy of my second book, Watching Baseball Smarter, and that he loves how it was written. He said that between the book and everything I’d taught them about snagging, I’d made baseball more enjoyable for them — that I helped show them a new dimension of the game. He thanked me for that, and I thanked him for the kind words. It was truly one of the best compliments I’d ever received.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 5 balls at this game (3 pictured on the right because I gave two to Mateo)

• 195 balls in 21 games this season = 9.3 balls per game.

• 650 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 354 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

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

• 23 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls (click here to see all the stats and records from my Watch With Zack games)

• 4,553 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 44 donors (click here to learn more)

• $6.46 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $32.30 raised at this game

• $1,259.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

6/23/10 at Camden Yards

Technically, this was a Watch With Zack game, but for a change, my job didn’t involve teaching anything about baseball or helping anyone snag baseballs. That’s because my “client” — a very talented ballhawk named Joe Faraguna — didn’t need that kind of help. Joe is only 15 years old, and since he lives in New York, he mainly needed help getting down to Baltimore. Beyond that, he just wanted to hang out.

Joe and I left New York City at 11:30am, blasted music and talked baseball for the entire three-hour drive, and went to lunch at Hooters (his choice, though I didn’t complain). Then we walked to the stadium in the 98-degree heat. Here we are standing outside the Eutaw Street gate:

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If Joe looks familiar, that’s because we did two Watch With Zack games together last season: 5/8/09 at Citi Field and 7/6/09 at Citizens Bank Park.

You might also know about Joe because:

1) He was featured in this blog entry in 2008. (Scroll down to #5.)

2) He regularly leaves comments on this blog as “yankees5221.”

3) He writes his own blog: baseballexperiences.mlblogs.com

4) He has a profile on MyGameBalls.com.

5) He has the second highest balls-per-game average of anyone in this year’s Ballhawk League.

Anyway, like I said, Joe didn’t need my help snagging baseballs. In fact, he told me that he wanted us to split up so that we could combine for as many balls as possible — but we both still raced out to left field as soon as the gates opened.

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Thirty seconds after we got there, Jason Berken and David Hernandez walked out to the warning track, and one of them asked, “How many balls are you up to now?” I was so focused on the batter that it took a moment before I realized that they were talking to me.

“Wait…what?!” I asked. “How did you know who I am?”

“How many!” demanded Berken with a smile on his face.

“Four thousand, five hundred, and twenty. But how did you know?!”

“We saw you on CNN,” replied Hernandez.

“CNN? That was eleven years ago. Are you sure that’s what you saw?”

“It was the one with Katie Couric,” said Berken.

“Oh, you mean CBS,” I told them. “Yeah, that one aired in ’06.”

“You still got the streak?” asked Hernandez.

Before I had a chance to answer and confirm that my streak of consecutive games with at least one ball WAS, in fact, still going strong, a right-handed batter launched a deep fly ball in my direction. There were a few other ballhawks in the stands, but I managed to get underneath it and hold my ground and reach up for the one-handed catch.

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The first thing I noticed was that the ball had a beautiful smudge on the logo. The second thing I noticed was that Berken and Hernandez were rather amused.

“Yes,” I told them, “my streak is still alive, and it just lived to see another day.”

“Oh, so you count batting practice?” asked Berken.

“Yeah, of course,” I said.

Hernandez asked to see the ball, so I tossed it to him.

“This one is all messed up,” he said. “You don’t really want it, right?”

“Are you kidding me?! I love baseballs that are beat up. Brand new balls are boring.”

Hernandez then tossed the ball back. He and Berken kept talking to me for a few minutes. I should have taken photos, but there were so many home runs flying into the seats that I truly didn’t have a chance to pull out my camera.

Joe already had three balls by that point, including a homer that he caught right in front of me. I had been cutting through the second row. He was camped out in the front row. A line drive was heading toward him. He stuck his glove up and nabbed it. Once he turned around and realized that I was standing behind him, he apologized profusely for robbing me, but there was no need for that. He made a nice catch. The end.

I caught two more homers in the next five minutes. The first was a line drive hit by Julio Lugo that barely cleared the outfield wall. I drifted down the steps. David Hernandez jumped up and reached for it. The ball sailed six inches over his glove. (I discovered later that this ball represented three personal milestones: the 4,200th ball during my consecutive games streak, my 1,600th ball outside of New York, and the 300th ball I’d ever snagged at Camden Yards. Coolness.) The second was a lazy, 375-foot fly ball that was hit half a section to my right. I jogged through an empty row of seats and made the easy back-handed catch.

It was only 5:10pm. I had three baseballs and Joe had five. We were both set for a monster day of snagging when this happened:

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In case you can’t tell what’s taking place in the photo above, all the Orioles were jogging off the field. Their portion of batting practice ended 25 minutes early — POOF!!! — just like that.

Evidently, the team’s new/interim manager, Juan Samuel, changed the BP schedule. It now starts earlier and ends earlier, and as a result, it’s now like this almost every day.

Joe and I were in shock:

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After a long wait, the Marlins finally came out and started throwing:

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In the photo above, the three fans in the front row are regulars at Camden Yards. I know you can’t see their faces, but I still want to point them out. The kid wearing the backward O’s cap is named Zevi, the guy in the middle is Matt Hersl, and the man on the right is Ed. There were other regulars in attendance as well, along with other folks that I’d met before, or who recognized me and said hello. Let me see if I can remember everyone:

1) Avi Miller, who has an excellent web site about the Orioles

2) Casey from Milwaukee, who writes a blog about ballhawking

3) Wiley from Milwaukee, who also blogs about his games

4) Jon Herbstman from NYC, whom I last saw 11 months ago

5) Jon’s friend Bennett

6) Kevin, whom I last saw nearly four years earlier

7) Craig, who spotted me during BP and got really lucky later on…

Am I forgetting anyone? If so, I apologize. I talked to so many people at this game that my head is spinning. But let’s get back to the Marlins. This may be hard to believe, but they did not throw a single ball into the crowd during batting practice. I’ve never seen anything like it. Avi told me that the Marlins had thrown so many balls into the crowd the day before that the players actually got scolded by a coach.

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The seats were fairly crowded. Yeah, there was room to run, but there were lots of guys with gloves. Basically, there was competition for every home run ball. You know what I mean? There was almost no chance to make an easy, uncontested catch. Keep in mind that the photo above was taken at 5:50pm — half an hour before BP ended, so it got a lot more crowded than that.

My fourth ball of the day was a homer that I caught on the fly. The easy part of it was that it was hit right to me. The tough part was that the guy standing directly behind me clobbered me from behind as I made the catch. (I’m pretty sure it was an accident, but still, that’s just uncalled for.)

Ten minutes later, I caught another home run, this time off the bat of Hanley Ramirez. It was a high fly ball. That made it tough. It gave everyone else time to drift underneath it, but I picked the right spot and reached up through a sea of hands at the last second.

Then something funny happened. Some guy (who was about 50 years old and not exactly in shape) started complaining about all the balls I’d caught. He told me he was going to “shut me down” and prevent me from getting any more.

“You’re gonna have a professional outfielder trailing you,” he warned.

“Sounds like fun,” I said.

The guy proceeded to stand directly in front of me on the staircase — and you can probably guess what happened next. The batter hit a deep fly ball to my right. I took off running through an empty row. The guy was blocked by a railing and watched helplessly as I made the catch. He was furious. I later gave the ball to a kid.

That was it for BP. I’d snagged six baseballs, and every single one was a homer that I’d caught on the fly. I found Joe behind the Marlins’ dugout. He was up to seven balls at that point, and he’s also gotten two batting gloves — one from Chris Coghlan and another from Brian Barden. Joe had actually gotten a third glove, which he generously gave to the kid who’d let him move into the crowded front row.

Despite the earlier stinginess, the Marlins did toss their pre-game warm-up balls into the seats behind the dugout. Joe got two of them (one from Gaby Sanchez, another from Dan Uggla), and a little kid on my left got the other (from Hanley Ramirez).

I spent the entire game in the outfield. I never went for a foul ball or a 3rd-out ball or even an umpire ball at the end of the night. I just focused on home runs, and I constantly ran back and forth from right field to left field, depending on the number of righties and lefties that were due to bat.

Joe stayed behind the plate and used his speed to snag a foul ball in the top of the first inning. The following photo shows where Joe was sitting and where the ball ended up. The amount of ground he covered was seriously impressive:

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I immediately called and congratulated him. (It was his second lifetime game foul ball.)

“You saw that?!” he asked.

“Hell yeah!” I said. “Who else here would be streaking three full sections for a ball?”

A bit later on, this was my view for left-handed batters:

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Joe was in the standing room section because Nick Markakis was at bat. Other than that, Joe pretty much stayed in foul territory. As for me, I normally play lefties farther to the left at Camden, but because the seats in straight-away right field were so empty, I stood behind that staircase and gave myself a chance to run down the steps.

In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Luke Scott hit a homer into the seats, but it was too far to my right. By the time it landed, I was still 20 feet away, and another fan immediately grabbed it.

There was even more action for me in left field.

In the top of the 3rd, Gaby Sanchez hit a bomb that was heading a full section to my right. I jumped up and raced through the seats. I knew that the ball was going to sail over my row, so while everyone else around me was frozen in place, I put my head down and focused on running toward the spot where I predicted the ball would land. Check out this screen shot from the Orioles’ broadcast:

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A split-second later, I was heading up the steps:

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See the guy in the white shirt reaching up with his bare hands? With my back to the field, I could tell from his body language that the ball was heading right for him, but I couldn’t quite get there in time. My only hope was that he’d drop the ball and cause it to bounce down to me.

Sure enough, the ball clanked off his hands. I could see it on the ground, and we both scrambled for it…

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…and he grabbed it JUST as I was reaching for it.

That really sucked, but there was no time to mope. Jorge Cantu was due up two batters later, and he was sitting on 99 career home runs. I’d already been thinking of what to ask for if I caught No. 100. I had the whole thing worked out. I was visualizing everything. I was more prepared than ever. And then whaddaya know, Cantu blasted a drive toward the seats in left-center. This time the ball was heading a section to my left (AARRGHH!!) so I started running through my row…

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…and I reached the staircase as the ball was descending.

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Nooooooo!!! It was falling short!!!

I tried to work my way down the steps, but I just couldn’t get there in time:

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But wait! The fans bobbled the ball and kicked it all over the place. It was still rattling around on the staircase two seconds later…

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…and if not for the two fans who were blocking me, I would’ve dove on top of it.

GAH!!!!

So close!!!

The ball somehow rolled all the way down to the front row. In the screen shot above, do you see the guy in the white Orioles jersey at the front? That was Craig, the guy I’d talked to during BP. He’s the one who ended up grabbing it, so I gave him all kinds of advice on what to tell security when they came to get the ball from him. I told him he could get all kinds of goodies for it, and that he could meet Cantu, but in the end, all he got for it was a signed ball by Nick Markakis. I thought he really wasted an opportunity until I noticed the name of the back of his jersey: MARKAKIS. Still, he could’ve gotten a Markakis bat to go along with his Markakis ball, if he really wanted it…but oh well. He was happy, and Cantu was obviously thrilled, so in the end, it all worked out perfectly.

As for the game itself…whatever. Joe pretty much summed it up when we were driving down to Baltimore and naming all the reasons why the attendance would be low. “This is probably the least cared about game in the majors,” he said.

Amen, brotha.

Final score: Joe 11, Marlins 7, Zack 6, Orioles 5. (My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .781 — 12.5 wins, 3.5 losses.)

You can read all about the balls that Joe snagged on his blog. The entry isn’t up yet, so keep checking back. I’m sure he’ll be posting it soon…

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 6 balls at this game (5 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 168 balls in 16 games this season = 10.5 balls per game.

• 645 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 4,204 balls during the consecutive games streak

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

• 1,604 lifetime balls outside of New York

• 304 lifetime balls at Camden Yards

• 4,526 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 37 donors (click here to learn more; Jason Berken and David Hernandez now know about it)

• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $32.46 raised at this game

• $908.88 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

WATCH WITH ZACK STATS:

Did you know that I have a whole page of Watch With Zack stats on my web site? Click here to check it out. Joe became the first client to snag a foul ball during a game, and he also broke two records: most balls by a client at one game and most balls by a client overall. Congrats, Joe. Snagging 11 balls (including a foul ball) and two batting gloves is about as good a day as anyone could hope for.

9/23/09 at Citi Field

On September 6th, I had a Watch With Zack game with a 13-year-old Mets fan named Ross. Remember? He broke his one-game record that day by snagging five balls, and he promptly booked another game with me for September 23rd. You might also recall that on September 18th, I posted a blog entry called “Watch With Zack — stats & records.” What I didn’t mention in that entry was that Ross was the one who inadvertently inspired it. He had simply told me, in the guinness_world_records.jpgdays preceding our second game together, that he wanted to break two more records…

1) most balls snagged by a Watch With Zack client in one game

2) most balls combined (my balls plus the client’s balls) in a Watch With Zack game

…so I decided to create a page on my site with all the Watch With Zack numbers. I told Ross that it would be tough, but that we’d definitely try. Both records belonged to a 14-year-old named Joe Faraguna, who brought me to a game on 5/8/09 at Citi Field. Joe had snagged 10 balls that day, and I’d added 12 more of my own. I also told Ross that in order to pile up the numbers, we’d have to split up during batting practice, at least a little bit, so that we could cover more ground and double our opportunities. He was okay with that, and in fact he insisted on it. I started the day with a lifetime total of 4,292 balls; Ross really wanted me to snag at least eight so that he could be there for No. 4,300.

Finally, September 23rd arrived. I left my place in Manhattan at 3:10pm, took the No. 7 train to Citi Field, and met Ross and his parents less than an hour later outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Ross and I reviewed some last-minute strategies and put on our game faces:

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Once the gates opened at 4:40pm, it was showtime.

By the time I got to the top of the escalator, Ross was only halfway up. (That’s no diss on him; I just happen to be pretty quick.) If he were younger or if he’d never been to Citi Field before, I would’ve slowed down and led him out toward the left field seats, but since I knew he could find his way out there and since I knew that he wanted me to snag as many balls as possible, I ran ahead and reached the seats 30 seconds before him. I had the whole stadium to myself, and this is what I saw:

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Someone on the Mets was about to pick up the first of FIVE baseballs lying in the outfield. I ran through the front row toward left-center and identified the player as Brian Schneider.

“Brian,” I called out politely as I tried to catch my breath, “is there any chance that you could toss a ball up to me, please?”

Schneider immediately obliged and then threw the remaining four balls back toward the 2a_ball4294_on_field.jpgbucket. That’s when Ross arrived. There were still a few more balls sitting on the field near the foul pole, one of which was within reach thanks to my glove trick. Ross was prepared with a glove trick of his own, but he’d never actually used it at a game, and since this ball was several feet out from the wall and needed to be knocked closer, he let me go for it.

It was too easy. The day was barely two minutes old, and I already had two baseballs.

A few minutes later, several lefties started hitting, so I told Ross that we should head over to the right field side. He followed me out to the deep section in right-center, and when we got there, I noticed that two balls had rolled onto the warning track in the right field corner.

“Those balls are definitely gonna get tossed up,” I told him. “You wanna head over there on your own and see if you can get one?”

“Sure,” he said.

Ross had his cell phone, and I had mine. If we got separated, we’d just call each other, but it was pretty clear where we were each going to be.

Less than a minute later, Ross was down in the seats near the foul pole, lowering his glove on a string:

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Seconds later, I saw Ross pull up his glove before it got anywhere near the ball. I found out later that he had suffered a rubber band mishap, but it didn’t end up making a difference. Josh Thole walked over and retrieved the ball and tossed it up to him. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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I wasn’t paying attention to the batter at that point. I had my eyes (and camera) on Ross, and since I was standing approximately 420 feet from home plate, I didn’t expect anyone to hit a ball that would reach the seats.

I expected wrong.

All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that a Mets player was running back toward my section. I looked over and saw that it was Sean Green. He was looking up as if he were tracking a deep fly ball, and then…DOINK!!! The ball fell out of the sky, landed on the warning track, and bounced over a gloveless woman in the front row. I darted through the third row and scooped it up before she even moved.

Then I looked back over at Ross and saw that he was getting another ball tossed to him by Thole. What the hell?! Once he caught it, Ross looked over at me and waved his arms frantically. I figured he was either excited or having a seizure — hopefully the former — and he then ran over to tell me what had happened.

You ready for it?

THIS is what happened:

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Ross had snagged a commemorative ball from the 2008 All-Star Game! (Here’s a closer look at this type of ball.) What had happened was…Thole originally tossed him a commemorative Citi Field ball, but Ross already had a few of those at home. Soon after, another ball rolled out near the foul pole, and Ross noticed that it was an All-Star ball, so he asked Thole if he could trade the Citi Field ball and have that one instead. Very clever.

As soon as Ross finished telling the story, he leaned over the bullpen railing and asked Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen for a ball. Warthen denied the request, but Sandy Alomar Jr. walked over and tossed up two balls — one for Ross and another for a younger kid who’d been standing nearby. Here’s Ross with his second ball of the day…

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…which had the Citi Field commemorative logo.

Green jogged over to retrieve a ball off the warning track. Ross hurried down to the front row and asked him for it. I moved into the second row behind Ross with my glove on my left hand and my camera in my right. My only intention was to get a photo of Ross catching the ball if Green tossed it up. Well, Green DID toss it, but it sailed a bit too high. Ross still probably would’ve caught it if not for the grown man who scooted over and tried to reach up in front of him. As it turned out, the ball sailed over both of them and came right to me, so I stuck out my glove and made the catch. It was another All-Star ball. I offered it to Ross, but he didn’t want it. He didn’t want any of my baseballs. The only balls he wanted were the ones he snagged on his own.

Back in left field, I got Ken Takahashi to toss me my fifth ball of the day and then scrambled for a Nick Evans homer that landed in the mostly empty seats. Ross, meanwhile, was doing pretty well for himself. He got Nelson Figueroa to throw him a ball and then got his fourth of the day from (we think) Takahashi. Here’s a double-photo of Ross with each of those balls. As you can see, he was rather excited after the first one…

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…because it had the old Yankee Stadium commemorative logo. Ross had never snagged one of those, and he didn’t think he ever would, so yeah, he was pumped.

By the time the Braves took the field for BP, we felt like we were in pretty good shape to challenge Joe’s Watch With Zack records, but then things slowed way down, and to make matters worse, there was a scary accident in the process. Someone on the Braves got hit by a ball near second base, prompting the trainer to rush over toward the growing huddle of players:

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I hadn’t seen it (there’s a lot to look at during BP), so I had no idea who it was or where the player had gotten hit. I learned later that it was Martin Prado who got nailed, and thankfully (painful as it obviously was) the ball had hit him just below the left knee. It was serious enough that Prado had to miss the game and for an article to be written about it on MLB.com.

Batting practice resumed five minutes later, and since the Braves pitchers were about to wrap up their throwing, I moved over to the left field foul line. Ross was still in fair territory, and he had changed into his Braves gear:

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I shouted his name and got his attention and tried to wave him over, but he wanted to stay where he was. Two minutes later, I convinced Manny Acosta to throw me a ball (by asking for it in Spanish), and saw several other fans near me get balls thrown to them as well.

That gave me seven balls on the day. My next ball was going to be No. 4,300, and it took about ten minutes before I had another chance. Yunel Escobar was in the cage and ripped a deep line drive to my left. I bolted through an empty row and then determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short so I climbed over the row in front of me. The ball was approaching. I was now in the third row. Two fans in the front row reached up for it. I flinched (not wanting to take a deflection to the face) while keeping my glove in the spot where I thought the ball was going to end up, and I heard the ball tip off their hands, and then a split second later, I felt the ball smack into the pocket of my glove. HA! It was just like catching a foul tip, and just like that, I had reached the milestone. Here’s a photo of ball No. 4,300:

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You know what Ross said after I caught it? Nothing. He was in right field, getting his fifth ball of the day from David Ross. (D’oh!) But when he returned to the left field seats, he was glad to learn that I’d caught it.

Then we both experienced some bad luck. Omar Infante threw me a ball which fell short, and he didn’t bother to retrieve it and give me another chance. Moments later, Buddy Carlyle did the same thing to Ross, who at least got another shot when the ball was thrown back up, but he got robbed by another fan who reached out and caught it right in front of him. Ross should’ve had seven balls at that point. In addition to the five he’d snagged, there was the Carlyle fiasco as well as the overthrow in right-center field by Sean Green — and then things got worse. Ross and I raced to the Braves’ dugout at the end of BP. A few other fans got balls tossed to them, but as for us? Nothing. It looked like we were done snagging for the time being, so we stood around and contemplated our next move. Ross was in the front row, staring off aimlessly into space, and I was right behind him in the second row. We had a few feet of space on either side of us, but there were other fans nearby…and then, without warning, a ball came flying up toward us from down below. WHAT?! I glanced at Ross while the ball was still high above us and noticed that he didn’t see it, so I shouted his name, but instead of looking up, he turned around and looked at me. NO!!! I wanted him to catch it, but he still didn’t see it, and I knew that if I let the ball drop into the seats, the other fans would’ve been all over it, so at the very last second, I stuck out my glove and made a waist-high catch. Ross was totally bummed out when he realized what had happened. He wasn’t mad at me. He knew I’d done the right thing by catching it. He was upset at himself for not paying attention, and while he was beating himself up mentally, another ball came flying up out of nowhere. The two balls were thrown five seconds apart, and the same thing happened with the second one. He never even saw it, so I made a very reluctant and last-second catch before it had a chance to hit the plastic seats and ricochet to another fan. There was nothing either of us could do. I had to catch the balls, and since they had entered my possession first, he couldn’t count them and didn’t want them. He was still stuck at five balls, while I had stumbled into double digits. It was just one of those things. Sometimes you get all the breaks, and other times it seems like the snagging gods hate you. This was Ross’s reaction:

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The photo above was not staged. Ross was truly distraught. He could have — and really should have — snagged nine balls by that point and been on the verge of breaking Joe’s record, but instead, he still had a long way to go. Another thing about the photo above: the man with the beard is Ross’s father Steve, and the woman in the green sweater is his mother Cindy. They tried to console him, but it was no use. He felt bad, and that was that.

One thing that cheered up Ross a little was that my friend Leon Feingold (a former minor league pitcher) showed up at game time and sat with us behind the Braves’ dugout and gave a brief pitching lesson. Here’s a photo of Leon, making the ball look tiny in his hand:

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Even as the innings ticked by, Ross was determined to find SOME way to snag five more balls, but the opportunities were dwindling, and he had some competition. Here’s a photo of Ross from behind. See the fan sitting across the staircase in the red shirt?

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That was Clif (aka “goislanders4″ in the comments), a former Watch With Zack client who had become quite an experienced baseball-snagger. (You might remember Clif from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium and 7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium and 8/19/08 at Citizens Bank Park.)

Both Ross and Clif were in the perfect spot to get a 3rd-out ball tossed up by the Braves, and after every inning, both of them rushed down the steps to the front row:

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(Check out that guy in the gray shirt on the right. Dear Lord. He has a lot to learn about snagging.)

In the bottom of the fourth inning, with one out and the bases loaded, Luis Castillo grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Ross was standing at the edge of the dugout before first baseman Adam LaRoche even caught the throw. Clif, for some reason (perhaps it was professional courtesy or maybe he was just trying a different strategy) stayed a few rows back, and as a result, Ross received an uncontested toss from LaRoche. Cha-ching! It was his sixth ball of the day, and he was still determined to snag four more. We considered all the possibilities and came up with the following:

1) another 3rd-out ball from a different player
2) an infield warm-up ball
3) a foul ball
4) a toss-up from the 3rd base coach
5) a game-ending ball (if the Braves hung on for the win)
6) an umpire ball
7) a bullpen ball

There were still some hypothetical opportunities, but it wasn’t meant to be. Glenn Hubbard was stingy with the warm-up balls. The remaining 3rd-out balls got tossed all over the place. No foul balls came anywhere near us. The ump gave all his balls away to little kids. The relievers tossed their balls into the crowd near the bullpen. The endgame was a complete disaster, and neither of us snagged another ball.

Still, Ross had managed to break his one-game record by snagging six balls, and he DID actually break a Watch With Zack record: most different types of balls snagged by a client in one day — four, to be exact. He’d snagged two Citi Field balls, two old Yankee Stadium balls, a 2008 All-Star Game ball, and a standard Selig ball. Here I am with Ross after the game (which the Braves won, 5-2):

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Here’s a close-up shot of Ross that shows the various baseballs that he’d snagged:

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Ross was still bummed about not reaching double digits, and I knew there was no point in trying to cheer him up. I’d been in his shoes many times, so I just told him that it was a good sign that he could have a “bad” day and still end up with half a dozen balls — that it showed he was ready to break out and hit double digits very soon.

One last thing…

While Ross managed to snag four different types of balls, I got lucky and managed to one-up him by snagging five. My first three were Citi Field balls. My fourth ball (the Sean Green overthrow) was an All-Star ball. My fifth (from Ken Takahashi) for some reason was a training ball. My sixth (the Nick Evens homer) was an old Yankee Stadium ball, and my final four were standard Selig balls. I gave away one of those four to a little girl sitting behind the dugout late in the game. Brian McCann had tossed a 3rd-out ball half a dozen rows deep, and some absolute JERK — a grown man no less — ran through an empty row and dove/stumbled for the ball and caught it right in front of this girl’s mother and then crashed down in the seats and nearly landed on top of the girl. The whole section booed him, and I thought there was going to be some kind of riot because he absolutely refused to give up the ball. I was in the middle of the section at that point, having inched toward the area where I figured McCann was going to throw it, so as soon as I saw what happened, I raced back to my seat (where Leon was guarding my backpack) and pulled out a ball and ran back over to the little girl and handed it to her.

SNAGGING STATS:

17_the_nine_i_kept_09_23_09.jpg• 10 balls at this game (nine pictured here because of the give-away)

• 482 balls in 54 games this season = 8.93 balls per game.

• 623 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 350 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 118 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 21 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 4,302 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $252.60 raised at this game

• $12,175.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/20/09 at Citi Field

Sixteen months ago, I had a Watch With Zack game at Shea Stadium with a seven-year-old kid named Cooper. Remember? It was Cooper’s first game ever, and even though there wasn’t batting practice that day, I managed to snag two commemorative baseballs for him.

Well, Cooper is now nine years old, and yesterday his family brought him back back to New York for another game with me. Here we are outside Citi Field:

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In the photo above, the woman is Cooper’s mother Becky; the older gentleman is his grandfather Arthur.

As soon as the stadium opened, Cooper and I raced out to the left field seats. It was a day game, so I was glad to see that the Mets were taking batting practice. Meanwhile, Cooper was excited because it was the first time that he’d ever been to batting practice. Here he is, running down into the seats:

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As soon as we reached the front row, Mets coach Razor Shines tossed a ball to another kid. That kid was older than Cooper (and wasn’t nearly as cute), so I called out to Shines and got him to look up at us, and then I asked him if he could possibly spare another ball. Shines said no and proceeded to mumble something about how we should stay where we were because there’d be some balls hit to us. (Gee, thanks!) But then he retrieved another ball that had rolled onto the warning track and, without much warning, tossed it up toward Cooper. Please don’t drop it, I thought. The ball was coming. I held my breath. It was falling a bit short, but Cooper wasn’t phased. He reached six inches over the railing and made a nice two-handed basket catch. I gave him a high-five and took his photo with the ball:

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It was the first ball that he had ever snagged on his own.

The Mets didn’t throw many balls into the crowd after that, and the seats were still pretty empty, so I moved back a few rows and focused on snagging home run balls. I explained some basic strategies to Cooper, and he caught on quickly. Even though we were more than 375 feet from home plate, and even though he had never been to BP, and even though he was only nine years old, he was able to track the flight of the balls. He admitted that he wasn’t quite ready, however, to actually make an attempt at catching one, so when David Wright lifted a deep fly ball in our direction, I drifted down the steps and reached out over the wall for the easy one-handed catch. As soon as I took the ball out of my glove, I realized that I had reached in front of another kid who’d been camped out underneath it, so I handed him the ball. Then, two minutes later, I grabbed another Wright homer after it sailed over my head and ricocheted back to me.

That was it for the Mets’ portion of BP. The players were only on the field for 20 minutes, so Cooper and I headed to the 3rd base side. The Nationals were stretching in front of their dugout, but because the rules at Citi Field are so strict, we couldn’t get anywhere near them. Still, I was able to convince coach Marquis Grissom to throw us a ball from more than 100 feet away. In the following photo, the arrow is pointing at Grissom…

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…and did you notice that Cooper was no longer wearing his Mets cap? Little things like that make a difference, but anyway, as the ball started sailing toward us, I was hoping that Cooper would be able to catch it. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t within his reach, so I had no choice but to lean out over the railing and snare it. (It was a training ball.) Cooper had said that he didn’t mind which one of us actually caught the balls, but I knew it would be more exciting for him if he was actually the one to get them.

When the Nationals started playing catch along the left field foul line, I positioned Cooper behind THE most generous ball-giver in baseball: Livan Hernandez. Cooper was now wearing a red Nationals cap. He was all set. This was our view:

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As soon as Hernandez finished throwing, I called out to him and asked for the ball on Cooper’s behalf. Hernandez turned and tossed it to him. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air, and as you can see, the guy on my right tried to reach out and catch it:

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It was no coincidence that I was standing between Cooper and this other guy. I could tell just by looking at him that he was going to try to catch the ball no matter what, so I used my body as a shield to prevent him from reaching all the way out…and Cooper was able to make the catch! I was actually hoping that Hernandez had been using a training ball — Cooper had never gotten one of those — but it was just a standard Selig ball. I told Cooper that if he didn’t snag a training ball, I’d give him mine.

We moved to the left field corner in foul territory. Ron Villone jogged past and picked up a ball. Cooper was in the front row. I was standing right behind him. I asked Villone if he could toss the ball “to the little guy” and he DID toss it, but it sailed five feet over Cooper’s head and came right to me. Once again, I had no choice but to make the catch. That was my fourth ball of the day, and then after moving with Cooper to the seats in left-center, the same thing happened with Logan Kensing. I asked for the ball FOR Cooper, but it was tossed to me instead. (Another training ball.) My theory is that the players were afraid that Cooper wasn’t big/athletic enough to make the catches. Finally, J.D. Martin showed some faith and tossed a ball to Cooper, who caught it easily. (Standard ball.)

When batting practice ended, I had five balls and Cooper had three, and there was a chance to get one more. Someone on the Nationals had hit a home run that landed on (and rolled to the bottom of) the batter’s eye:

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I knew I wasn’t going to be allowed to use my glove trick, so I took Cooper to the other side of the batter’s eye (where the side railing is much lower) and asked a security guard if he could get someone to walk out there and retrieve the ball. The four-part photo below (starting on the top left and then going clockwise) shows what happened next:

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Let me explain:

TOP LEFT: A police officer climbed over the railing.
TOP RIGHT: The officer walked around the Home Run Apple toward the baseball.
BOTTOM RIGHT: The officer returned with the ball.
BOTTOM LEFT: The usher bobbled the ball when the officer tossed it to him.

And then the usher handed it to Cooper. (Another standard ball. Aarrghh!)

Cooper and I headed over to Shake Shack, where his mother and grandfather were already on line. We saw them before they saw us, so I placed all four of Cooper’s balls in his glove and had him stand in just the right spot so that when the line snaked back around toward us, his mother and grandfather would see him. This was their reaction:

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And THIS was my lunch:

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Arthur was kind enough to treat me, and let me tell you…I didn’t need to eat again for seven hours.

The photo above was taken from our actual seats. As good as they were, I still wanted to be a bit closer so that Cooper would have a steady flow of chances to snag a 3rd-out ball. Since we were on the Mets’ side, Cooper changed back into his Mets cap. Here he is from behind, sitting on the end of the row, getting ready to race down the steps:

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Most of the 3rd-out balls ended up in the hands of first baseman Daniel Murphy, who tossed them unpredictably all over the place. I really wanted Cooper to snag a Citi Field commemorative ball, or at least to snag one for him. In the middle innings, I nearly caught one of Murphy’s throws, and then late in the game, Cooper nearly got his glove on a toss from Carlos Beltran. Check out the photo below. You can see Beltran right above the security guard’s head. Cooper is in the front row (just to the right of the guard) and the ball is in mid-air (in front of the red advertisement on the left field wall):

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Unfortunately, the kid to the right of Cooper got that ball, but not all hope was lost.

In the 9th inning, I worked my way down with Cooper into the seats on the 3rd base side. The home plate umpire was Rick Reed. He was our last shot at getting a Citi Field ball, but the final three outs seemed to last forever, and Cooper seriously HAD to get going. He and his mother had to catch a flight at 5:30pm, and the game (which had started at 1:10pm) was coming up on three hours. She and Cooper probably would’ve left in the 7th or 8th inning if not for me, but I convinced them to stay until the end. I told them there was a good chance at getting one more very special ball, so she and Arthur lingered patiently (though perhaps anxiously) in the concourse while Cooper and I did our thing. Brian Stokes was not cooperating. He retired Willie Harris on seven pitches, but then surrendered a single to Ian Desmond, an RBI double to Ryan Zimmerman, and an RBI single to Adam Dunn. Then pitching coach Dan Warthen held a tea party on the mound. Then Stokes struck out Josh Willingham and walked Elijah Dukes after getting ahead on him 0-2. It was ugly. Manager Jerry Manual had seen enough. Pitching change. (Oh my God! Hurry UP!!!) Francisco Rodriguez came in and fanned Christian Guzman to end the game. (Finally! Thank you!!!) I bolted down to the front row and tried to get Reed’s attention as he headed toward the tunnel. He blew right past me without looking up, but I saw him pause briefly to toss balls to some other fans, so I raced back up the steps and moved alongside him as he walked quickly through the tunnel down below. Just before he reached the end, he pulled out one final ball and tossed it up near me. There were some other fans reaching for it too, but I managed to grab it, and I immediately handed it to Cooper. Here he is with that ball:

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But wait, there’s more!

The Nationals relievers were walking in from the bullpen, so I raced back over near the dugout and squeezed into the front row behind the photographers’ box. Someone wearing No. 55 was walking toward me with a ball, but I had no idea who it was, so I frantically pulled out my roster for a quick look. It was Marco Estrada. “MARCO!!!” I shouted when he was still 40 feet away. He spotted me and threw the ball right to me, but some HUGE guy on my right reached out in front of me. Our gloves bumped and the ball fell down into the photographers’ box. A security guard climbed down in there and got the ball and tossed it back to Estrada. I pointed at Cooper, and he threw the ball toward us for a second time. I wanted Cooper to be the one to catch it, but I knew that if I hung back and let him go for it, someone else was going to reach in and snatch it, so I reached out as far as I could and made the grab. It was a standard ball, and I handed that one to Cooper as well. Phew!

I really wanted to stay and take some photos, but Cooper and his mother ***HAD*** to go, so I walked outside with them and gave Cooper a training ball and said a very quick goodbye.

Final score: Zack 7, Mets 6, Cooper 4, Nationals 2.

SNAGGING STATS:

14_the_three_i_kept_09_20_09.jpg• 7 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave four away)

• 472 balls in 53 games this season = 8.91 balls per game.

• 622 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 349 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 20 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls (click here for more Watch With Zack stats; note that Cooper is now the youngest client to have snagged a ball)

• 4,292 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (it’s not too late to become No. 127)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $176.82 raised at this game

• $11,922.72 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

9/6/09 at Citi Field

This was a Watch With Zack game, and my client was a 13-year-old Mets fan named Ross. (I need to come up with a better word for “client.” It sounds impersonal. Any suggestions?) Here we are outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, waiting for the gates to open:

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Ross’s parents and 18-year-old brother also attended this game, but the day was all about him; it was a present for both his birthday (which was in August) and Bar Mitzvah (which he had celebrated the day before).

Earlier in the week, Ross had told me that his goal for this game was to snag 10 balls — a rather lofty goal given the fact that a) his lifetime total entering the game was 10 balls and b) his single-game record was 3 balls. I told him I’d help him snag as many balls as possible, but I warned him that it’d be really tough to reach double digits. First of all, I explained, we’d be attending a weekend game which meant there’d be a zillion little kids competing with him for balls. Secondly, it was going to be a day game which meant that there might not be batting practice. And third, the Mets were going to be facing the Cubs, a team with a HUGE fan base, which meant that our Cubs gear wouldn’t exactly make us stand out.

Ross changed his goal to six balls after that — still a significant challenge, but certainly more reasonable.

When we ran inside the stadium and got our first glimpse of the field, this is what we saw:

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This was good news and bad news…

BAD: There wasn’t a player in sight.
GOOD: At least the batting cage was set up.

Pat Misch began playing catch with Josh Thole in deep right-center field. Ross and I ran out to the nearest section of seats, and I set him up in the corner spot near the entrance to the Mets’ bullpen:

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Just as Misch appeared to be finishing, I helped Ross come up with the politest possible request for the ball — when you’re all alone in the seats, the way you ask for a ball is going to be much different from when you’re buried in the crowd — but Misch held onto the ball and took it with him into the bullpen. He had to do some more throwing, and I had a good feeling that if Ross waited patiently in the corner spot, he’d get rewarded at the end. Meanwhile, the rest of Ross’s family caught up with us, and we all posed for a photo. Pictured below from left to right, you’re looking at: me, Ross, father Steve, mother Cindy, and brother Ethan:

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See the box that Ethan is holding? It was Frankie Rodriguez bobblehead day. I gave them my bobblehead.

Anyway, as I predicted, Misch finished his bullpen session and then threw his ball to Ross. In the following photo, you can see the ball sailing toward him:

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Ross reached up and made a nice one-handed catch and then posed with his souvenir:

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Did you notice the logo? It was a Citi Field commemorative ball. Nice.

A few minutes later, another fan (who recognized me and knew about my glove trick) pointed out a ball that he thought I might be able to snag. Do you see it in the following photo?

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Here’s a closer look:

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Finally, there was a tangible reason for the existence of those fugly white canopies over the bullpen. The most difficult part of snagging the ball wasn’t the use of the glove trick itself. Oh no no. The challenge was waiting for all the security guards to look the other way simultaneously. They were swarming all over the place, and you can even see three of them two photos above, standing behind the railing at the top of the section. For some asinine reason (which I would SO love to discuss with the Wilpons), the security guards at Citi Field have been instructed not to let fans use ball-retrieving devices, even for balls that are trapped in random/harmless places far away from the field itself. It truly makes no sense. The way I saw it…I was going to do a service for the Mets by snagging that baseball. If not for me, one of the guards (or hapless maintenance workers) was going to have to climb down there or set up a ladder in the bullpen or find a long 9_ball4227.jpg
pole to poke the ball out. It seems like such a hassle, and you know, the Mets have already endured enough stress this season, so yes, I was going to help out, rules or no rules, by snagging the ball. I slowly made my way up the steps and headed to the side railing and peered over at the ball down below. It was nice and rubbed up with mud, and I could see that it had a Citi Field commemorative logo. My back was turned to the guards, so I waited until I got a signal that the coast was clear — or at least as clear as it was going to be. Then I lowered the glove down over the ball. Boom! It only took five seconds, and as soon as my glove touched the canopy, I heard one of the guards yelling at me from behind. He was demanding that I bring my glove back up, so I did…slowly…with the ball nestled snugly inside. He didn’t even know that I had the ball, and with all the other guards now heading over to deal with the situation, I managed to secretly slip the ball out of the glove and hide it underneath my cupped palm and stick it in my back pocket. The security supervisor then gave me a whole speech about how I’d been warned before and blah-blah-blah and this-and-that and you-should-know-better. Then he cut the string off my glove – Oh no, not my precious string! – and sent me on my way. Another fine job by Mets personnel.

The Mets pitchers were already throwing along the right field foul line, so Ross and I ran over there and I helped get Brian Stokes to throw him his 2nd ball of the day. We were standing about 10 rows back because the front row was so crowded. I had shouted at Stokes and waved my arms to get his attention, at which point he lobbed the ball right to Ross over all the fans standing in front of us. It was beautiful.

When the Mets finally started hitting, Ross and I headed back to left field. I set him up in an empty row and then moved a section over so we wouldn’t get in each other’s way. In the following photo, you can see him at the end of my row in the orange shirt:

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I think the Mets managed to hit two home runs into the seats during their entire portion of BP. Okay, fine, the wind was blowing in, but it was truly pathetic. There just wasn’t any longball action, so Ross squeezed into the front row…

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…and focused on getting balls tossed by the players, but he didn’t snag anything there. It was a tough day to be a ballhawk.

Ten minutes later, I noticed that Stokes was tossing a ball up and down near the wall in left field to tease the fans. I ran over near the spot where he was tossing it, and I ended up catching it when he threw it a little too close to the stands. He immediately recognized me as THAT GUY who gets all the balls, so he told me to give the ball to the kid on my right…which I did. (Yes, that ball counts in my collection.) Then he asked me why I need so many baseballs. brian_stokes_2009.jpgHe was very friendly — genuinely interested in the answer — so I told him that I’m raising money for charity by catching balls at games.

“Which charity?” he asked.

Pitch In For Baseball,” I told him. “They provide baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world.” He kept looking up at me so I kept talking. “I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag this year at major league games. So far, I’ve raised over ten thousand bucks.”

He asked me if I had any info about the charity. I told him I could give him a card that would direct him to my web site where there was a link on the home page. He waved at me to indicate that I should toss one down to him, so I did, and as soon as he caught it, he looked at it and asked, “Are YOU Zack?”

“That’s me,” I told him, and then I mentioned that Heath Bell had made a pledge.

“Cool,” he said, “I’ll check it out.”

The Mets finished batting practice soon after. Unfortunately, the Cubs did not hit, but Ross and I still changed into our Cubs gear:

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All the Cubs pitchers were hanging out along the left field foul line, and I *do* mean hanging out. They seemed to be doing more talking than throwing. It was strange:

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That’s Ross on the lower right of the photo, looking out at the field. It was painfully crowded (as you can see). There was nowhere to go, and we didn’t get anything from the pitchers.

During the half-hour lull before the game, Ross and I caught up with his brother and parents. It was then that I learned more about his Bar Mitzvah. Inspired by my work with Pitch In For Baseball, Ross decided to snag baseballs to raise money for Project A.L.S. (A.L.S. stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, aka “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”) But instead of making it a season-long project, he was raising money at this game only. During the speech at his Bar Mitzvah, he announced his plan and solicited pledges from his guests. Then, during the party, he had a
project_als.jpgposter on the wall that featured pictures of me, 2) info about ballhawking in general, and 3) additional info about his charity plan. He also had slips of paper on which people could fill out their pledges. (Wow!) He told me that he’d gotten 20 pledges, ranging from $1 per ball all the way up to $25 dollar per ball, and that when all the pledges were combined, it added up to $102 per ball. He also told me that the pledges applied for my baseballs! That meant he had already raised $408. I was more determined than ever to help him pad his totals…

Shortly before the game started, I positioned Ross in the corner spot behind the tarp and helped shout at the players for their warm-up balls. Ross did end up getting a ball thrown to him, but it didn’t come from a player. It was thrown by some trainer-type-guy — possibly the team’s “Strength and Conditioning Coordinator.” It’s hard to say. All I can tell you is that Ross made another nice catch as the kid next to him made his own attempt to snag it. Here’s an action shot, which I took just after Ross squeezed his glove around the ball:

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It was Ross’s third ball of the day, and he wasn’t finished. When Anderson Hernandez flied out to center fielder Sam Fuld to end the second inning, Ross bolted down the steps toward the Cubs’ dugout where the ball was tossed to him. There were so many other fans reaching for it, however, that it deflected off his glove and bounced back into the dugout. Ross turned around and looked at me and threw his arms up in disgust. I made a “V” shape with my middle and index fingers and pointed at my eyes, then pointed the “V” back at the field as if to say, “Turn around and be on the lookout.” I knew there was a chance that the ball could get tossed back into the crowd for a second time, and sure enough, five seconds later, it was. Guess who snagged it: my man Ross. Here’s a photo that shows the ball heading toward his open glove:

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Ross had broken his single-game record, and he managed to do it at a game when one of the teams hadn’t even taken BP. Not too shabby.

By the end of the game, there were some empty seats farther down, so we moved even closer to the dugout. This was our view:

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Ross had a chance to snag another third-out ball. He managed to squeeze into the front row and he got Derrek Lee to toss it right to him, but he got robbed by a grown man who claimed he was going to give the ball to his son. That really sucked.

After the final out, Ross and I worked our way down to the tunnel where the umpires walk off the field. I gave him a few pointers on how to ask Fieldin Culbreth, the home plate ump, for a ball. The following photo shows Culbreth pulling a ball out of his pouch, half a second before placing it in Ross’s outstretched glove:

17_ross_getting_5th_ball_of_the_day.jpg

This ball (along with Ross’s first ball from Misch and the third-out ball from Fuld) had the Citi Field commemorative logo. It also gave Ross FIVE balls on the day.

Could he reach his goal of six? There was one final chance.

Ross and I raced back to the Cubs’ dugout, just as the relievers were walking across the field from the bullpen. At the last second, John Grabow threw a ball right to him, but Ross was robbed again, this time by a middle-aged woman who didn’t have a glove or a kid! What the hell?! It was a frustrating end to an otherwise great day. Overall, Ross was pretty happy with his total of five balls — so happy that he didn’t bother to change out of his Cubs gear for our post-game photo:

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(No, that’s not a man-boob on me, I swear. It’s just the shirt. Really. And also, not that it matters, but the Mets beat the Cubs, 4-2.)

SNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 408 balls in 49 games this season = 8.33 balls per game.

• 618 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 347 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 19 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 4,228 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.03 pledged per ball

• $50.06 raised at this game

• $10,212.24 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Ross finally changed out of this Cubs gear. Then he and I played catch in the parking lot:

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His parents drove me back to the Upper West Side, and the five of us had dinner at one of my all-time favorite restaurants: a pizza/burger joint called Big Nick’s, where the menu is 27 pages. Good times…

7/26/09 at Yankee Stadium

When I ran inside Yankee Stadium yesterday, I was glad to see that the grounds crew was in the process of setting up batting practice:

1_BP_being_set_up.jpg

Why was I glad? Because BP was not guaranteed. Not only was there a “flood watch” in the forecast, but this was a dreaded weekend day game–the absolute toughest time to snag baseballs. If it were up to me, I would not have attended this game. But it wasn’t up to me. I 2_zack_eli_kathryn_pregame.jpghad Watch With Zack clients, and this was the game they picked. The photo on the right shows me with the two of them, and yes, they’re both grown-ups.

This photo was taken at about 11am. By that point, batting practice still hadn’t started, and the right field seats (as you can see) were already packed. Not good.

As for my clients, the man standing next to me is named Eli (pronounced “Ellie”), and the woman on the right is his wife Kathryn. They’ve been married for 20 years. She grew up in Kansas City and went to a ton of games there. He grew up in Israel and only recently got into baseball. This was just the fourth game he’d ever been to, and it was the first time he’d ever arrived in time for batting practice. Needless to say, he’d never gotten a ball from a game–and neither had she, but that wasn’t why she had hired me for the day. I was, in effect, Eli’s surprise birthday present. (Kathryn always orchestrates some type of surprise for his birthday; last year she flew a bunch of his friends in from Italy.) I was there strictly to teach him about baseball and to help him understand all the rules and strategies and nuances and statistics, etc.

Anyway, batting practice, afterthought that it was…

The Yankees finally got started at around 11:30am. I had two close calls but ended up empty handed. (The sun got in my eyes on one; a security guard got in my way on the other.) No big deal, right? I’d snag a bunch of balls during the Athletics’ portion of BP…right?

WRONG!!!

The Athletics didn’t take BP, but no problem, right? I’d just get a ball from one of the pitchers playing catch in left field…right?

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WRONG!!!

Even though I was decked out in a rather eye-catching Athletics costume, no one threw me a ball. And then the grounds crew took the screens down and started preparing the field for the game.

Crap. (And then some.)

My streak was in serious danger of ending. I’d gotten at least one ball in each of the previous 606 games I’d been to–a streak dating back to September of 1993. And now I could feel the whole thing slipping away. In fact, I was convinced that it was going to end, and not only that…I was going to have to refund the $500 fee that Kathryn had paid me. That’s part of the deal with a Watch With Zack game: No ball = epic fail = full refund for the client.

Somehow, despite my inner turmoil, I was able to pull myself together and smile for a photo with this guy:

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His name is Stuart Jon (check out his web site) and he’s been reading my blog for quite some time. After many many emails (and his pledge of three cents per ball for my charity), this was the first time we’d met in person. Knowing I would be at this game, he brought both of my books and asked me to sign them for his one-year-old boy named Charlie.

Finally, at around 12:45pm, there was a promising sign of life on the field:

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The A’s players had come out to stretch and run and throw. THIS was going to be my chance to get a ball, but it wasn’t going to be easy. I couldn’t go in front of the railing (the one with the drink holders in the photo above), so I was somehow going to have to get the players’ attention and convince one of them to launch a ball over eight rows of seats and dozens of fans. I had done it before, but it was always tough.

There were only two balls in use. I screamed my head off for the first one, but Adam Kennedy tossed it to a little kid in the front row. Daric Barton, the starting first baseman, ended up with the other ball, and I was sure that he’d hang onto it and use it as the infield warm-up ball, but I shouted for it anyway. What else was there to do? I shouted and he ignored me, so I shouted again, and he looked up into the crowd, so I shouted once more and waved my arms and he looked right at me. I flapped my glove, and he turned and fired the ball. It was falling a bit short. I knew that I’d be able to reach it, but I was afraid that the man in front of me would reach up and intercept it…but it barely cleared his hands, and it smacked right into the pocket of my glove. It was the biggest relief EVER. The ball had a Yankee Stadium commemorative logo (like this) and I immediately handed it to Eli:

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Five minutes later, a few outfielders began throwing, and I got a second ball (also commemorative) from Rajai Davis! I gave that one to Kathryn. Here she is with it in her hand as she was filling out the starting lineups on her score sheets:

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Hooray.

My streak was alive. They both had a ball. I could relax…and that was great because there wasn’t much I could’ve done during the game anyway. We were sitting in the middle of a long row, one and a half sections from the end of the 3rd base dugout. Great seats to watch the game? Yes, of course. Great seats to catch a foul ball or a 3rd-out ball? Erm…no. I’d bought the tickets off StubHub, which unfortunately doesn’t provide seat numbers so there was no way to find out (until the transaction was complete) if we’d be on the aisle. So yeah, we were all trapped there, but given the fact that I’d snagged those two baseballs, it was actually nice to sit still and focus on Eli and not have to worry about adding to my total.

This was our view.

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This was my lunch:

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This was also my lunch:

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I don’t have good luck with waiter-service-food at baseball games. This was only the second time I’d ever ordered it. The other time was at Turner Field nearly a decade ago. I’d snuck down into the fancy seats with a friend, so we ordered food and before it arrived, we got kicked out by security. We’d already paid for it, and thankfully we were allowed to wait at the top of the section (in the cross-aisle) until it arrived. It was highly embarrassing.

I sat next to Eli during the game and explained stuff nonstop from Watching Baseball Smarter. He already knew quite a bit (including the infield fly rule), so it was a challenge at times to come up with things that were new, but I found a way.

The game itself was thoroughly entertaining. There were several lead changes, and there was only one home run. (Home runs bore me if I’m not in a position to catch them. I wish the MLB Network would show highlights of triples instead.) When Mariano Rivera entered the game (for a four-out save) and “Enter Sandman” started blasting, a fan in the upper deck was shown headbanging on the Jumbotron. I’ve seen this guy before. He’s hilarious:

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During the 9th inning, Kathryn asked me to sign the baseballs to her and Eli. I suggested signing one ball to the two of them so they could keep the other ball pure. She was fine with that, and this was the result:

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The “4142″ represents my current ball total. That’s how I sign everything snag-related.

Kathryn and Eli had their own copy of “Watching Baseball Smarter,” and after the game I signed that too. Here we are:

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Final score: Yankees 7, Athletics 5.

Here are Kathryn’s score sheets:

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Very impressive. (“I’m a semi-serious geek for a girl,” she told me.)

On our way out, I stopped to get a pic of the Great Hall…

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…and when we got outside (and because Kathryn and Eli’s camera battery had died), I took one last photo of them, which you can see below on the right.



16_kathryn_eli_outside_stadium.jpgSNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 322 balls in 38 games this season = 8.47 balls per game.

• 607 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 135 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

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

• 18 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 4,142 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 114 donors (It’s not too late to make a pledge. Click here to learn more…)

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $49.18 raised at this game

• $7,917.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

7/20/09 at Yankee Stadium

Once again, there was a huge crowd waiting to get inside Yankee Stadium:

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Think that’s a lot of people? Well, guess what…this was just one of the four entrances. I wasn’t surprised or concerned. It’s always that crowded, and I’ve learned to deal with it. There was, however, one thing that set this day apart from all of my other trips to The New Stadium: it was a Watch With Zack game.

My clients were a father and son from California, and the photo below shows the three of us. I’m on the left, 11-year-old Andrew is in the middle, and Jeff is on the right:

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For the record, they weren’t wearing Yankees gear just to fit in; they really are big Yankee fans.

Batting practice hadn’t yet started, so we took some more photos and discussed our ball-snagging strategies. Then, to make it easier for Andrew and Jeff to ask the players for baseballs, I gave them each a sheet of paper that looked like this:
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Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey had been playing catch with Chien-Ming Wang. I’d had my eyes on them at first, then shifted my attention elsewhere, and luckily looked back up just as they were finishing.

“MIKE!!!” I yelled.

There were other grown-ups and ballhawks standing all around us. It all happened so fast. There wasn’t time to get Andrew out in the open where he might’ve been seen, so I instinctively darted off to the side and waved my arms and got Harkey to throw me the ball. It was commemorative:

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The fact that I had snagged that ball was both good and bad. It was bad because Andrew hadn’t gotten it, but it was good because I was on the board. I no longer had to worry about getting shut out, so I turned all my attention to Andrew and made sure that HE would be the one to snag the next ball.

Coming into this game, Andrew had snagged a lifetime total of four baseballs, including one that his dad had caught and given to him. Andrew’s single-game record? One ball. I was determined to help him break that.

Several Yankee pitchers were playing catch in right field, so I headed over to the foul line with him and set him up as close as possible:

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As you can see, this actually wasn’t close at all, and the pitchers didn’t show him any love. We could’ve fought our way down into that section on the right, but it didn’t make sense to be buried in the crowd.

Speaking of crowds, look how crowded it was in right field as BP was getting underway:

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In the photo above, the red arrow is pointing to a fellow ballhawk named Alex who did three nice things for me over the course of the day:

1) He took photos of me with Andrew and Jeff.
2) He gave me space during BP (so we wouldn’t compete for the same balls).
3) He hooked me up with a dugout-area ticket stub during the game.

As for Andrew, I knew he needed to be in the front row, and although it took some time, eventually I found him the perfect spot. When you’re 11 years old–let’s face it–most people are going to be taller than you, so I had Andrew slip into a spot that was good for two reasons. First, there were two pitchers playing catch right in front of him, and second, the person on his right was even shorter:

7_andrew_RF_front_row.jpg

Three minutes later, Phil Coke ended up with the ball and looked up into the crowd to pick out a worthy recipient.

“Phil!” I shouted. “How ’bout a ball for this young man right here?!”

Coke looked up, and I pointed down at Andrew from the second row. That did the trick. Coke took a step toward us and appeared to be getting ready to toss the ball. At the very last second, I leaned forward and reminded Andrew to reach as far out as possible for it. The ball started sailing our way, and the little kid on the right made his own attempt to catch it. This was the result:

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It was a perfect Yankee Stadium commemorative ball.

BTW, did you notice that the woman in the background has a ball in her pocket? Yeah, don’t feel bad for that little kid who got outsnagged by Andrew. That woman was the little kid’s mom. He’d already gotten a ball.

Andrew ran over to the next section and showed the ball to his dad:

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If I’d been at this game by myself, I would’ve snagged several balls during the Yankees’ portion of BP. Lots of homers had landed near my normal spot at the back of the section, but I was at this game for Andrew. He wanted to get balls on his own rather than having me run all over the place and snag balls for him. And so…I only got one ball out in right field. It was a homer that *might* have been hit by Erik Hinske, but I’m not sure. It landed in a thick crowd of people and ricocheted right to me. Commemorative ball. Pristine logo. Hell yes.

Three days earlier, the Yankees had been using Metrodome balls during BP, but now, I’m happy to report, the Yankee Stadium balls were out in full force.

After the Yankees finished hitting, we headed over to the left field side and changed into bright orange Orioles shirts. I already had my own “RIPKEN 8″ shirt that I bought on eBay a while back, and just recently I’d received a free pair of “MORA 6″ shirts at a Camden Yards giveaway. I lent those two shirts to Andrew and Jeff. Look how much it helped them stand out…

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…and within a couple minutes, Andrew snagged his second ball of the day:

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This one came from Felix Pie. I helped Andrew by calling out for it, and Andrew helped himself by making a nice jumping catch–and just like that, he had doubled his single-game record.

He and I each snagged one more ball during BP. For me, it was a home run (don’t ask me who hit it) that landed in the seats, and for him, it was a toss from Brad Bergesen.

Once BP was done, we took off the Orioles shirts and posed with our haul:

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Just before game time, Andrew and I worked our way to the seats behind the Orioles’ dugout. Of course we had to stay behind that ghastly partition, but because he was once again wearing one of my bright orange Orioles shirts, it didn’t make a difference. I don’t need to point him out with an arrow in the photo below. You can pick him out easily on your own:

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This was the scene two minutes later:

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Yes, he had snagged another ball (his fourth of the day), this time courtesy of Nolan Reimold.

With a bit of trickery and assistance, Andrew and his father and I managed to stay in that section for the rest of the night. It was a great spot not only to watch the game but for Andrew to get a 3rd-out ball. Unfortunately he did a lot of shouting/waving that wasn’t getting him anywhere. Here’s one of his unsuccessful attempts to get a ball…

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…and here’s another, this time in competition with Alex:

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Things weren’t looking good. Even when 1st baseman Aubrey Huff ended up with the inning-ending balls, he wasn’t throwing THE game-used balls into the crowd. He was saving those for himself (or perhaps for MLB’s authentication program) and tossing the non-commemorative infield warm-up balls into the crowd instead.

Finally, though, Andrew had his chance.

The sixth inning ended when Huff fielded a grounder and tossed it to pitcher David Hernandez, who ran over to cover 1st base. Alex wasn’t there (it turns out he was on line for sushi), so Andrew didn’t have any competition. Andrew didn’t realize that Hernandez was the guy who had the ball; he had his eye on Huff and nearly gave up when Huff disappeared under the dugout roof. I told him that the pitcher had the ball, so Andrew held his ground, and we both started waving our arms to get Hernandez’s attention.

Here’s a photo of Hernandez throwing the ball into the crowd:

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Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:

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It appeared to be falling short. I wasn’t sure who Hernandez was aiming for, but I didn’t think there was any chance for Andrew to catch it.

Here’s a photo of Andrew reaching WAY over the railing for the ball, while the grown men in front of him are falling all over themselves:

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And here’s a priceless reaction from one of them:

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Why was that guy so stunned (and saddened)? Because my young dude had just made a catch that would’ve made most major league 1st basemen wet their pants.

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Andrew had more-than-doubled his entire lifetime total in one game. We joked about the fact that I’d have to snag more than 4,000 balls in one game to do that.

During the game, I sat next to Andrew and pointed out some of the things I had written about in Watching Baseball Smarter: the positioning of the 3rd base coach, the catcher looking into the dugout for signs, the runner on 2nd taking his lead behind the baseline, etc. Meanwhile, Jeff used a fancy camera to take some high-quality action shots. Here’s one of them:

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The game itself was good, I suppose, if you enjoy games in which every run scores on a solo homer.

Top of the 1st inning? Nick Markakis homer.

Bottom of the 2nd inning? Eric Hinske homer.

Bottom of the 9th inning? See below:

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Walk-off shot by Hideki Matsui. (Nice camera work, Jeff!)Final score: Andrew 5, Zack 3, Yankees 2, Orioles 1.

Andrew really deserved to get pointed at in the post-game photo:

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He and his father were nice enough to let me keep my two commemorative balls. I gave the other/standard ball to Andrew (I couldn’t send him back to California without an official Zack Hample snagged ball), and then he posed with all of them:

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SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game

• 310 balls in 36 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.

• 605 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 134 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 5 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least three balls

• 17 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 4,130 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.59 pledged per ball

• $73.77 raised at this game

• $7,622.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

But wait! There’s more!

We lingered outside the stadium until most of the people were gone, and then Andrew and I played catch for about 20 minutes. This is what it looked like from my point of view:

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After that, we rode the subway together back into Manhattan and then said our goodbyes.

7/6/09 at Citizens Bank Park

On 5/8/09 at Citi Field, I had a Watch With Zack client named Joe, and we combined for 22 balls…remember? Yesterday Joe joined me for another Watch With Zack game, and it turned out to be an all-day adventure.

Everything got started at around 9:15am when Joe was dropped off at my place in New York City. I wasn’t expecting him to arrive until 10am, so while I got ready and gathered all my stuff for the game, he played some Arkanoid, checked out my 213-pound rubber band ball, and took a peek at my business card wallpaper. Here’s a shot of Joe with the Arkanoid machine and the rubber band ball in the background. Note his homemade “Cincinnati Reds” T-shirt:

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Just after 10am, we made the six-block walk to my parents’ place. That’s where I keep most of my baseballs, and Joe wanted to see them. We spent about 20 minutes inspecting and discussing various balls with gashes and smudges and bat imprints and commemorative logos, and before we headed out, we recreated the New York Times photo:

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We walked another seven blocks to the garage where my family’s car was parked, then drove two hours to Harleysville, PA and blasted music and talked baseball the whole way down.

QUESTION: What’s in Harleysville, PA?
ANSWER: Pitch In For Baseball’s new warehouse.

(I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag in 2009. That money is going to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball which provides “new and gently used” baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Click here to learn more about my involvement with the charity.)

I hadn’t yet been to the warehouse. David Rhode, the director of Pitch In For Baseball, had recently taken over the space and offered to give me a tour, and now that I was finally making my first trip of the season to a game in Pennsylvania, I was taking him up on it.

Okay, so, here’s a look at the warehouse:

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I really had no idea what to expect. I assumed it would be bigger, but the fact is…it’s just a 4,000-square-foot room with high ceilings and cinder block walls. The charity has only been around for a couple years, so it makes sense that it’s not a huge operation yet, and on a personal level, it’s kind of nice that it’s not huge because I know that my efforts are actually making a difference. I’ve already raised over $7,000 for Pitch In For Baseball this season (thanks to many of you who read this blog), and that’s a lot of money for them. But if I’d raised that money for a gigantic charity such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has an annual budget of tens of millions of dollars, that would only be a drop in the bucket, and I doubt I’d get to hang out with the head of the charity and get a behind-the-scenes tour, so really, this was all ideal.

The photo above might make it look like a warehouse that specializes in cardboard, but all those boxes and barrels were filled with baseball equipment…stuff that gets sorted and then stored before being shipped back out to kids. Check out the four-part photo below. You can see the boxes and barrels filled with bats and balls and helmets and gloves and catchers’ gear:

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I had such a great time looking at all the equipment, and I know Joe did too. There’s something about baseball, whether it’s a major league game or a small pink batting helmet, that just makes me HAPPY.

David told me all about the various places that the equipment is about to be shipped (there was a big box right in the middle of the room with “Nigeria” written on it), and he told me about some different programs and partnerships that are in the works.

Meanwhile, I kept taking photos. Here are some equipment bags, shoes, base sets, and caps:

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It’s amazing how much equipment is needed. Pitch In For Baseball can’t simply send bats and balls and gloves; in some cases (like when the hurricane in Galveston, TX wiped out an entire Little League’s storage facility), David has to make sure to replace everything. Of course, some things never get donated, so that’s why the charity needs money. (Who has a random base set lying around in their attic? I don’t even have an attic.)

I loved seeing random boxes lying around with the word “baseball” on them…

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…and even when the word “baseball” was nowhere to be found, I knew that there was still baseball (or softball) stuff inside.

David (pictured below in the blue shirt) told Joe about the charity…

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…while I poked around and took more photos. (For the record, Joe has already made a 10-cent-per-ball pledge, and yesterday he even brought two pieces of equipment to donate directly: a bat and a glove, both of which were in excellent shape.)

I inspected the baseballs and softballs. Look what I found sitting in one of the barrels:

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Oh my GOD. I’d seen photos of that special “Ripken” ball, but I’d never held one. Old American League balls were always stamped with blue ink (here’s proof) so I’m not sure why this one was black. In the photo above, it’s funny how the people in the background have their arms folded as if to say, “We see you, Zack, and you’re not getting out of here alive with that ball.” I got the impression that David might have given me the ball if I’d asked him for it, you know, as a “thank you” for all my work for him, but I wouldn’t have taken it. I have absolutely NO interest in owning any baseball that I didn’t snag at a major league game. People are always emailing me and asking me if I’ll trade baseballs with them, and some people even try to sell or give me balls, but I’m just not interested. So yeah, the Ripken ball was cool to see, but as far as I was concerned, it was about as valuable as a rock that I might’ve found in the parking lot.

Once the tour was finished, it was time to play:

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The pink helmet had a chin strap that nearly cut off my oxygen flow. The bat, in case you can’t tell, was only slightly bigger than a toothpick. Joe was wearing a light pink glove and a hockey-style catcher’s mask with a flame pattern on top.

David suggested that I climb onto the pile of helmets. I was afraid that they’d crack under the weight of my big Hample butt, but he assured me they’d hold up just fine…and he was right:

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At around 2pm, it was time for a final group photo before hitting the road. Down below, from left to right, you’re looking at me, Joe, Mark (a board member for Pitch In For Baseball), Angela (another board member), and David:

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In case you’re wondering, the T-shirt I’m wearing (with “Columbia Prep” on it) is from high school. Here’s my 12th grade class photo. Can you find me?

Thanks to Joe’s GPS device, we made it to Citizens Bank Park just after 3pm…

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…and had time for cheesesteaks at McFadden’s:

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The two photos above were taken by a fellow ballhawk named Gary (aka “gjk2212″ in the comments section). Joe and Gary and I ran into another ballhawk at around 4pm outside the Ashburn Alley gate–but not just any ballhawk. It was Erik Jabs, founder of the ballhawk league, who’d made the four-hour drive from Pittsburgh. I foolishly neglected to take a photo of him, but damn, there was so much other stuff going on that it was hard to think logically.

The four of us played catch for about 15 minutes and then got on line when other fans started showing up.

Right before the gates opened, a freelance photographer named Scott Lewis appeared on the other side of the turnstiles:

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Scott was there to take photos of me for a big ballhawk-related article that’s now supposed to come out within the next 12 hours. Beyond that…I’ve been asked not to say anything else about it.

The stadium opened at 4:35pm, and we all ran to the left field seats. Here’s Joe, wearing the Phillies cap and shirt that I lent him:

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The seats started filling up fast.

Scott photographed my every move:

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Joe and I spread out so we could cover twice as much ground. (As I mentioned the last time I went to a game with him, he’s 14 years old and doesn’t need me to stay by his side at all times. If he were a few years younger, or if he or his father had asked me to stay with him, then of course I would have.) At one point, I noticed that he was standing in a place where he was blocked on one side by some fans, so I ran over and told him to make sure he had empty seats on both sides. Here’s a photo that shows his improved positioning:

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It got REALLY crowded during the Phillies’ portion of BP…

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…and to make matters worse, most of the batters were left-handed, so there wasn’t much action. (At Citizens Bank Park, fans are confined to the left field seats for the first hour.) Still, I john_mayberry_2009.jpgmanaged to snag a few balls. The first was a home run hit by John Mayberry Jr. It pretty much came right to me, but it was so crowded that it still took a decent amount of skill to make the catch. There were half a dozen other fans jostling for position and reaching up in front of my face.

My second ball was initially tossed by Mayberry, but it fell short, hit the top of the left field wall, bounced back onto the outfield grass, and was retrieved by Eric Bruntlett. I hadn’t been the intended recipient of the first throw. It was so eric_bruntlett_2009.jpgcrowded that I was trapped in the third row, but luckily, when Bruntlett sent the ball back into the seats, he flung it sidearm without picking anyone out, and the ball sailed right over the outstretched arms of the people in the first two rows. I jumped and reached up and made the one-handed catch.

Then I used my glove trick for a ball that was sitting halfway out on the warning track, just to the left of the batter’s eye. I had to swing the glove out and knock the ball closer, and while I was doing it, I noticed two things. First, Scott was standing nearby with his camera pointed at me, and second, every single fan around me was doubting my ability to get the ball. They had no idea how I was going to get it to stick inside my glove, so they assumed *I* didn’t have any idea either. Not one person bothered to ask me how I was planning to do it, or if I’d ever done it before. Instead they all trash-talked until I actually snagged it, and then they erupted with a combination of applause and disbelief. One guy patted me on the back and shouted, “I knew you could do it!”

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“No you didn’t,” I told him. “I heard you talking the whole time about how I needed a coil in my glove.”

(A coil?!?!)

He didn’t say anything after that, and I took off for the left field foul pole. There were two balls lying nearby on the warning track, and I managed to reel in the first one with the trick. Just as I was getting close to snagging the second, Arthur Rhodes walked over and picked it up and flipped it to a kid. (Can’t argue with that.)

It was nearly 5:30pm when Joe snagged his first ball of the day. The Reds’ pitchers were playing catch along the left field foul line, and it was tossed by one of them. Joe isn’t sure who, and I didn’t see it because I was busy dealing with the photographer (who later took some photos of me and Joe) in straight-away left field.

Once the rest of the stadium opened, I ran back and forth between right field and left field, trying to give myself an advantage based on who was hitting. Joe eventually came with me to right field, but we didn’t snag anything for the next half-hour because it was so crowded. I suggested to Joe at one point that he should move to the corner spot near the bullpens in right-center. I had a feeling that he’d get a ball over there, but he stayed in straight-away right field, hoping to get a ball from Carlos Fisher. Less than two minutes later, another kid took the corner spot and immediately got a ball tossed to him. (D’oh!) Joe listened to me after that and then tried his luck in the corner spot for a bit…

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…but there was no action there.

Joe wasn’t doing too well in the outfield, so he told me was gonna head over to the Reds’ dugout for the end of BP. I decided to give him his space, so I moved to left field and caught another home run on the fly. I judged the ball perfectly, crept down the steps as it was descending, and intentionally positioned myself a bit too far forward so that I’d be forced to jump for it at the last second. There were SO many people around me that I didn’t want to camp under the ball nonchalantly and risk getting robbed by someone with long arms–or worse, having someone deflect the ball into my face. My plan worked perfectly, except for when some guy’s elbow whacked the top of my head as I went up for the ball.

“Hey! He’s got two!” shouted someone who must’ve seen me catch Mayberry’s homer in that section an hour earlier.

I moved to right-center for the last round of BP and made a catch that truly would’ve been a Web Gem had there been a TV camera documenting it. The ball was hit on a line to my right, and I took off running through an empty row. As the ball was about to land, I could tell that it was a bit too high and just out of reach–that is, if I’d merely kept running and made a simple reaching attempt…so I jumped up and out and coasted through the air with (what felt like) some major hang time, and I made the back-handed catch at top of my leap. This was done while I was running full-speed, mind you, and at the very last second, some HUGE guy (who must have weighed about 275 pounds) stepped down into my row and deflected me (for lack of a better term) onto the row of seats behind me. I went flying and landed on my right hip. The guy knew it was his fault, so he quickly helped me up and asked me if I was okay (I was) and he shook my hand and told me it was a hell of a catch. Even though I was decked out in Reds gear, the entire section responded with thunderous applause. I even had a guy recognize me ten minutes later in the bathroom as “that guy who made the incredible catch.”

When I made it to the Reds’ dugout, Joe had a little surprise for me:

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Not only had he gotten a second ball (from Paul Janish), and not only had he gotten two autographs on his Reds cap (from Micah Owings and Jay Bruce), but he’d also gotten a batting glove! He thinks it came from Jerry Hairston Jr., but there were so many distractions at the dugout that it was hard to see who’d actually tossed it.

Here’s a closer look at the front and back of the batting glove:

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It was the first “bonus item” that Joe had ever gotten at a game. Very cool. We joked about the fact that I couldn’t take credit that he got it, but he admitted that it was my blog that inspired him to start going early to batting practice in the first place. I guess that counts as a team effort.

As for the game itself…wow.

Reds starter Johnny Cueto allowed SEVEN runs in the top of the first inning and promptly left for an early shower:

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But wait…
When he was taken out of the game, he was still responsible for runners on first and second. Daniel Ray Herrera was brought in to face Chase Utley, and I told Joe, “If Utley goes deep here, it’s going to be a ten-run inning.”

Well, guess what happened next.
Just take a look at the scoreboard:

Cueto, who had entered the game with a 2.69 ERA, ended up being charged with nine earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. According to Eric Karabell of ESPN.com, Cueto “became the first Reds pitcher since 1912 to allow nine or more earned runs in less than an inning pitched.”

Ouch.

Joe played the dugouts for third-out balls throughout the game, and I followed him everywhere. Even though he was getting himself into a great position most innings, he wasn’t having any success.

Here he is trying to get a ball as the Reds came off the field after the fourth inning:

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The ball got tossed to someone else. Joe was ready to race back over to the Phillies’ side, but I told him to stay put–that Reds coach Billy Hatcher often tosses the infield warm-up ball into the crowd, and that he (Joe) would have a better shot of getting that ball than a third-out ball on the home team’s side. I also helped Joe by lending him my Reds shirt. That way he’d stand out even more.

Two minutes later, this is what happened:

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That’s Joe standing all by himself at the bottom of the steps as Hatcher is tossing him a ball.

Neither Joe nor I snagged anything else for the rest of the night, but we sat right behind the dugout and saw an interesting (or perhaps “unusual” is a better word) game.

Final score? See below:

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I’ve been to two games this season in which a team has scored exactly 22 runs. The other was 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium.

By the way, did you notice the Reds lineup on the scoreboard in the photo above? Did you see who’s listed as the pitcher? That’s right: Paul Janish, who’s normally an infielder, and it wasn’t pretty. He surrendered all six of those runs in the bottom of the 8th, including a grand slam by Jason Werth. Luckily, Janish is a solid .208 career hitter so at least he has THAT to fall back on.

Gary ended up with three balls, and I know Erik snagged at least two, but he disappeared late in BP, so I’m not sure how his day turned out. As for me and Joe, I might’ve outsnagged him, 6-3, but if you add his two autographs and the batting glove, he got six total “items” as well. Not bad.

After the game, we got to hang out in the car for another hour and a half while I drove him to his grandmother’s place in Brooklyn.

(Check out Joe’s blog if you get a chance.)

SNAGGING STATS:

the_five_balls_i_kept_07_06_09.jpg? 6 balls at this game (Five pictured here because I gave one to a kid on my way out of the stadium. The kid, who looked to be about eight years old, was with his whole family, and he was like, “Are you sure?!” I told him I’d gotten a few during batting practice and that I had one to spare, so then his dad started asking me how I managed to catch all those balls. I gave the family a two-minute lesson on Snagging 101 and wanted to hand them a card so they could go to my website and perhaps appreciate knowing more about the source of their ball, but ultimately I decided to part ways without identifying myself–just a small, anonymous gift from a stranger. I would have given one or more of my baseballs to Joe, but he didn’t want them, just as I hasn’t wanted the Ripken ball at the warehouse.)

• 289 balls in 33 games this season = 8.76 balls per game.

• 602 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 16 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least one ball

• 4,109 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.37 pledged per ball

• $146.22 raised at this game

• $7,042.93 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/8/09 at Citi Field

This was a Watch With Zack game, and my “client” was a 14-year-old named Joe. When we met outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, I did a double-take when I saw the shirt he was wearing:

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It was THE Homer Simpson shirt–the same shirt I’ve been wearing (on rare occasions) since 4/24/08 at Champion Stadium. Hilarious. Joe had just gotten it because the Pirates were in town; he didn’t have time to buy a Pirates shirt, but he wanted to color-coordinate.

Despite the fact that Joe and I had only met once before in person, it felt like we already knew each other. That’s because he’d been reading this blog regularly and leaving lots of comments (as “yankees5221″). Still, he asked a ton of questions, and I had a few of my own for him. One of the first things I asked was, “What exactly do you want to happen today? Is there anything specific that you want to accomplish or do you mainly just want to hang out?”

The answer wasn’t obvious. Did he want help getting autographs? Or baseballs? Did he want me to catch balls for him? Did he want to snag them on his own? Did he want me to explain the rules and nuances of the game? He told me had both of my books and that he had snagged 38 lifetime balls, including a one-game record of five. He seemed to be very athletic and knowledgeable about baseball, so I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to be able to help, but it all became clear. He said he really wanted a Citi Field commemorative ball–he still hadn’t snagged one–and he also wanted some help with the glove trick. For some reason, he just couldn’t get it to work consistently, so I took a look:

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After a minute or two of playing with the rubber band and Sharpie, I realized why Joe was having trouble: the fold of his glove wasn’t quite right. He was forced to place the rubber band at a tricky angle over the fingertips, and it didn’t leave enough space for the ball to slip inside. It wasn’t his fault. Some gloves (like mine) are great for the trick and some (like his) aren’t. That’s just how it goes, but at least I knew I was going to be able to fulfill Joe’s final request, namely to run around with me all day and snag as many balls as possible. Hell, that’s my specialty, and what made it even easier was that his dad Bob let us do our thing and didn’t even insist that we stick together. If he had told me not to let his son out of my sight, then obviously I would have stayed with Joe throughout the day, but Bob was cool with it. When the stadium opened, he headed straight to his seat. He just wanted to relax and watch the game.

That left me free to roam with Joe, who said he didn’t want to get in my way at all. I told him I didn’t want to get in *his* way.

“This is YOUR day,” I said, but he insisted that he was as interested–if not more interested–in my ball total than his own.

Joe changed into a blue shirt before the stadium opened at 4:40pm, and then we raced to the left field seats. I quickly spotted a ball sitting on the warning track near the foul pole, and when I looked up after reeling it in with the glove trick, I saw Joe in straight-away left field. He was about to get his first ball of the day tossed by Daniel Murphy:

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Awesome.

We were both on the board, and we’d only been inside the stadium for a couple minutes. I knew it was going to be a big day.

Soon after, Mike Pelfrey retrieved a ball near the warning track. Joe and a couple other kids called out for it. For a moment it looked like Big Pelf was going to fire it back toward the bucket, but then he inspected the ball and turned around to look up into the crowd. Who was the lucky fan that he picked out? Joe. Was there something special about the ball that had caught Pelfrey’s eye? See below for yourself:

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I was thrilled for Joe, but I’m sure he was even more thrilled. It was a perfect commemorative ball, and it was rubbed up with mud, which meant it had probably been used briefly during an actual game.

All the pressure was off. He had his ball. Now it was just a matter of seeing how many more we could get.

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I ran over to the left-center field end of the section (all the way out near the home run apple) when I saw Ryan Church walking over to retrieve two baseballs on the warning track in right-center. I figured it was unlikely that he’d throw a ball to me from so far away, but I had to give it a shot.

“Ryan!!” I yelled. “Let’s see the gun!!”

Church turned and chucked a ball to me. Then he fired the other one to Joe, who had followed me. (Joe plays 3rd base for his middle school team; he had NO trouble catching any of the balls that were thrown to him.)

I asked Joe how he felt about us splitting up for a bit, and he was totally fine with it. He decided to stay in left field and ended up making a nice jumping catch on a ball that was thrown by Fernando Tatis. Meanwhile, I headed out to the seats in deep right-center and got two balls tossed to me within five minutes. The first came from Sean Green, and the second came from Livan Hernandez.

“Hey, don’t be greedy,” said a middle-aged man who wasn’t wearing a glove and then proceeded to shout for balls without saying please or even calling the players by their names. (Putz.)

I spotted a ball sitting on the warning track along the right field foul line, so I ran around the concourse behind the right field seats…

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…and ended up snagging it with the glove trick. Then I got another ball with the trick in straight away right field, underneath the overhang of the second deck.

Two minutes later, Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello walked over and picked up a ball near the warning track. (Racaniello has recognized me for years, and he’s always been really cool. Even though he knows about my collection, he still gives me baseballs. This was the first time I’d seen him this season.)

“Dave!” I shouted, prompting him to look up and walk toward me. “I have a question,” I continued, and before I said another word, he threw the ball to me. I caught it and said, “Okay, that wasn’t even going to be the question, but thanks.”

“I know,” he said with a shrug and asked what’s up.

I noticed that the ball had a semi-worn commemorative logo.

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“Have you seen any balls floating around with the video game logo?”

“You mean the commemorative logo?” he asked.

“No, not the Citi Field logo,” I said. “I’m talking about those balls that’re like an advertisement for a video game. They say ’2K Sports’ or something like that. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

“Oh yeah,” he said, “I’ve seen those.”

“Well, I’ve only HEARD about them, and I’m dying to get one. Any chance you could hook me up if you see one? I’ll give this ball back in exchange for one.”

He held up his glove, and I tossed the commemorative ball back to him. (I decided not to count it. I think it’s cheap if you give one ball away in order to get another and then count them both.) He then tossed it to another fan.

The Mets were almost done with BP, and they only hit one other ball near Racaniello. He went and got it, took a peek at it, looked up at me, shook his head, and jogged off the field with everyone else a minute later. I wasn’t concerned. It’s a long season. He’ll hook me up eventually, and anyway, it was good to show him that I’m not desperate to get my hands on every single ball. (Well, actually I am, but I gave the appearance that I’m not.)

I ran back to the left field seats and caught up with Joe. He had changed back into his yellow/Pirates outfit, and he told me he was going to hang out on the left field foul line and try to get a ball from the Pirates when they were done throwing. His plan worked. John Grabow tossed one his way, tying his single-game record of five balls. I then left Joe in left field again, ran back to right field, and got three balls thrown to me within a 10-minute span. The first came from Craig Hansen, the second came from the always-generous Craig Monroe, and the third was tossed up by Zach Duke. Joe had made his way over to my section at that point. (It was easy for him to spot me because of my bright yellow “CLEMENTE 21″ shirt.) I felt bad because it occurred to me that I might have cost Joe a ball by getting the players to toss all three to me, but he insisted it was fine. If anything, he was excited that I was now only one ball away from double digits. I was excited because he was one ball away from setting a new personal record.

He asked me where he should go, and I thought about it for a moment. Left field was crowded. Right field…had been used up. Do you ever get that sense? You catch so many balls in one spot that you just kinda KNOW that the players are done tossing balls into the crowd. Right-center field was crowded, not to mention being 420 feet from home plate. It was tough. Batting practice was winding down anyway. There was another round or two remaining, but I could tell that the best opportunities were behind us.

“Left-center field,” I told him. “Next to the apple. See the kid in the corner spot? He’s not REALLY in the corner. I think you can squeeze in next to him, and you should be able to get a ball tossed to you there.”

It took forever to make our way around the outfield because the concourse behind the batter’s eye was packed, but when we made it, the corner spot was indeed open. We did a lot of shouting at the players after that. Everyone was shouting. It was kind of insane, but eventually, after about five minutes, we got Nate McClouth to toss up a ball. The angle was tough. McCouth was on the right, and there were some other kids on OUR right, which meant that they’d have a chance to reach out for the ball, but the throw sailed just far enough that they couldn’t reach it…but it was falling short. Super-Joe made a clutch play, reaching far down over the railing and catching the ball in the tip of his glove. I was impressed. I didn’t think there was any chance he’d reach it, so I give him a lot of credit. It was a true Web Gem. Here’s Joe with his record-breaking sixth ball of the day:

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Joe absolutely wanted to get to the dugout by the end of BP, so he headed over toward the foul line with about 10 minutes to spare. I told him he had more time to hang out in the outfield, but he didn’t want to take any chances. I ran out to right field and used my glove trick one final time to snag my 10th ball of the day. The ball was a bit too far out from the wall, so Sean Burnett moved it closer for me…and some Mets photographer walked out onto the warning track and started taking pictures of both me and the contraption. I have no idea if/where these pics will be used, so keep a lookout for me. Maybe in the Mets magazine or yearbook? Don’t forget that I was wearing yellow at the time.

The worst thing about Citi Field is that you can’t get down to the dugout during BP unless you have a ticket for that section. As a result, Joe and I were trapped along the 3rd base line when all the players and coaches walked off the field. Still, we each managed to get a ball from some Pirates equipment guy who was in the process of transferring the balls from the basket into a zippered bag. We were standing on the outfield side of that glassy tunnel, and the guy spotted us all the way from the dugout and threw the balls to us. Here we are with those final two BP balls. You can see the tunnel right behind us, and you can see how far it is from there to the dugout:

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Our mutual friend Clif (aka “goislanders4″) was also at this game, and after we de-yellowed ourselves, we got him to take a couple photos of us with our baseballs. Here’s my favorite shot:

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For some reason, the Citi Field ushers are militant about keeping people away from the dugouts during BP, but after that it’s not hard to get down there, so that’s where Joe and I hung out for the next few hours.

Just before the game started, Joe was standing behind the home-plate end of the Pirates’ dugout, waiting for the players to come out and throw. Clif (who had snagged several balls as well) was also at the home-plate end, so I called Joe over to the outfield end. There were two reasons why I did this. First, I didn’t want Clif and Joe to compete in the same spot, and secondly, Freddy Sanchez ended up being the guy playing catch on the outfield side. I’ve seen the Pirates a bunch of times over the past few seasons, so I knew that he’s usually the guy who ends up with the ball after the pre-game throwing. Joe hurried through the seats, and when he reached me (I was carrying both of our backpacks), I lent him my Pirates shirt and then pointed out a spot in the front row where he could squeeze in. Less than a minute later, Sanchez finished throwing (with rookie Brian Bixler; the more experienced player usually ends up with the ball), took a couple steps toward the dugout, looked up and spotted Joe and lobbed the ball in his direction. I was afraid that someone would reach in front of Joe, but he reached way out for it and caught it just a few inches in front of the nearest hand. (I had my camera ready and tried to get an action shot, but my timing was off.) The young man had EIGHT balls. We talked about the possibility of double digits. He needed to snag a third-out ball and then get a ball from the umpire after the game.

Could it be done?

We were sitting in the perfect spot:

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In the photo above, you can see Joe in the yellow shirt, getting ready to make his move. Whenever the Pirates were on the field with two outs, he moved down a few rows so he’d be closer to the dugout. The rest of the time, he sat next to me. We’d made a deal: he let me sit on the end of the row so I could jump up and run for foul balls (there were a few close calls), and I let him go for all the third-out balls. Clif got the first one, and then for a few innings after that, the balls were being tossed to other sections.

I kept telling Joe that I wanted to give him one of my balls. He told me that he wouldn’t count it in his collection.

“I know,” I said, “but I still feel like you should own an official Zack Hample baseball.”

“I’m having the best time of my life right now,” he said. “I don’t need a ball.”

What he meant was that he didn’t need a ball from ME. When Daniel Murphy ended the bottom of the 6th inning by flying out to right fielder Brandon Moss, Joe was all over it. He beat the other kids down there and and got himself into a perfect spot. Moss tossed the ball right to him, but a grown-up reached in from the side and I thought “Oh no…”

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…but my man made the catch! Out-STANDING!!! He out-snagged someone who was half a foot taller than him, and he got himself a real game-used ball (which of course was commemorative, and by the way, in the photo above, the ball is already inside Joe’s glove).

After that, the usher told Joe not to run down to the dugout again so that the other kids could have a chance. Fair enough…I suppose. I never like it when stadium employees try to regulate how many baseballs people can catch, but it WAS nice of the usher not to kick us out of the section. It was an usher who’d given me a hard time way back in the day at Shea Stadium, so he probably knew that I didn’t belong in the fancy seats, but for some reason he was really laid-back. No complaints. I’m actually starting to like Citi Field a whole lot. Easy dugout access. No hassles with the glove trick. The gates open two and a half hours early. It could be a LOT worse (and hey, it IS a lot worse right across town).

Joe wanted to wander for a bit after that, so we took a lap around the entire stadium via the field level concourse. (He got a slice of pizza that made him sick. I got a stromboli which was good by ballpark standards but awful by NYC-pizza-place standards.) The area behind the big scoreboard in center field is really nice. I hadn’t yet been back there. There’s a batting cage, lots of concession stands, some video games, and tables where people can stand and eat/drink. And…on the back of the scoreboard, there’s a decent-sized screen that shows the game, along with a mini-scoreboard underneath it so people can follow all the action. I could do without all the advertisements–it’d be nice if there was more nostalgic Mets stuff on display–but overall, it was a great place to be. Check it out:

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(That’s Joe with the big black backpack–an item that would be prohibited inside Yankee Stadium, and for all you Yankee fans out there, don’t get on me for bashing your brand new ballpark. I’m just telling it like it is. If you want to complain, write a letter to the Steinbrenners and tell them to chill the **** out and stop running the place like a prison. Or just be like me and go there as little as possible. It’s no coincidence that of the 20 games I’ve attended this season, only one has been in the Bronx.)

We followed the concourse out to right-center field, headed down some steps, and found ourselves behind the bullpens:

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Pretty nice, huh? (That’s the original home run apple.)

I still think the Mets made some questionable architectural decisions, but overall I’m liking this stadium more and more.

The game was tied, 2-2, after seven innings. Then the Mets put up a five-spot in the bottom of the eighth. There were only three outs remaining so Joe and I got into position for the umps.

The Pirates scored one run in the top of the ninth, but their rally was snuffed out soon after. Game over. Final score: Mets 7, Pirates 3. The umps started walking off the field, and I gave Joe some advice at the last second about where to stand and what to say. This is what happened moments later. It’s a photo of home plate ump Jerry Layne placing a (commemorative) ball into Joe’s glove:

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Double digits had been achieved!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(That’s one exclamation point for every ball that Joe and I ended up snagging.)

I got ball No. 12 at the dugout from Matt Capps when he and a few other relievers walked in from the bullpen. As soon as I caught it, I noticed a little kid on my right who was wearing a glove. Before the usher had a chance to nag me, I asked the kid if he’d gotten a ball, and when he said no, I handed it to him. The usher was stunned. The kid was ecstatic, and his father thanked me. What mattered was that I gave the ball away on my own terms, not because a fan asked for it or because an employee insisted. But let’s not get started on a whole discussion about that. It was a perfect day with a perfect ending.

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SNAGGING STATS:

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

• 159 balls in 20 games this season = 7.95 balls per game.

• 589 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 341 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 3 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least nine balls

• 15 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 10 balls snagged by Joe is a new Watch With Zack record

• 22 balls combined is also a new Watch With Zack record

• 3,979 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $20.38 pledged per ball

• $244.56 raised at this game

• $3,240.42 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

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