Results tagged ‘ yankee stadium ’

8/2/10 at Yankee Stadium

It was another day of A-Rod hysteria:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I reached the spot:

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

Here’s your answer:

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Here I am just after landing with the ball…

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

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

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

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The ball landed, and I climbed over another row:

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And then I climbed over another:

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

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

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

I still kept running all over the place…

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…and climbing over seats…

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

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

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Dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One word: HA!!

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

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

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

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

…OR…

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

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

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

This is why:

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

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

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

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

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

Final score: Blue Jays 8, Yankees 6.

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

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

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

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

SNAGGING STATS:

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

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

• 651 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 139 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

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

• 7 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls

• 4,560 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 45 donors (click here to learn more)

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

• $45.43 raised at this game

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

4/15/10 at Yankee Stadium

Several months ago, I heard that the old Yankee Stadium was finally being demolished. People sent me videos and photos and articles, but I never looked at any of it. Even though I often complained about that stadium, it really was a special place for me, and I wasn’t ready to see proof that it was gone. Yesterday, however, I had no choice. It was my first time at the new stadium since September 28th, and this was one of the first things I saw after getting off the No. 4 train:

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<deep breath>

I’d actually left my apartment extra early so that I’d have time to wander and take pics. I figured that if I had to see it, I might as well see ALL of it. Here’s another look at what remains of the old Yankee Stadium:

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I wonder how Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio would feel if they could see this.

The bleacher concourse, way out in what used to be deep left field, was partially intact:

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So was the escalator structure at the old home plate entrance:

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I headed down to street level and began walking clockwise around the old stadium. The outer shell was still intact in some places. Here’s a look at it from underneath the elevated train tracks on River Avenue:

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I peeked through a construction gate behind the old right field corner…

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…and imagined that it was just a bad dream. Then I headed up to the roof of the nearby parking garage, and when I looked back down, I was surprised to see how much clutter there was:

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I guess the Yankees are planning to build more scaffolding and dismantle it slowly? I have no idea, and I don’t even care. I’m just glad/sad to have seen it firsthand.

Here’s a shot that shows the new stadium off in the distance:

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Here’s another shot of the new stadium, taken from a bit lower down:

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The garage was practically empty. It smelled like concrete dust and urine. Just about everything was abandoned or in ruins. It felt apocalyptic, like a deleted scene from “Terminator.”

Here’s a photo (taken from the Metro-North station) that shows the shadow of the big bat on the rubble….
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…and this is what it looked like as I made my way around the stadium:

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There was one more place to take photos: from the walkway that runs along the edge of the new Joe Yancey Track and Field. Check it out:

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Here’s one final photo of the old stadium:

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I’m still in shock.

Anyway, enough of that. I should probably mention that Jona was with me. Here we are in front of the new stadium…

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…and here’s the crowd (at just one of the four gates) that was waiting to get in:

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Last year, Yankee Stadium opened three hours before game time. This year? Two hours. Lame, lame, lame. That’s still better than some teams, but the Yankees aren’t just any team. I think they owe it to their fans to open at least two and a half hours early so that people can watch Jeter & Company take batting practice for more than 20 minutes. (Every stadium should open two and a half hours early; if I were the commissioner, I’d make it a league-wide rule.)

Jona offered to take photos of me during BP, so I handed her my camera and raced inside. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to me way off in the distance:

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If you click the photo above to make it bigger, you’ll see a fan wearing a red shirt four rows in front of me. That was a 14-year-old ballhawk named Connor, whom you might remember from 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium. Yesterday, he and I often found ourselves in the same section, but we did a good job of staying out of each other’s way.

Halfway through the Yankees’ portion of BP, a left-handed batter (no idea who) hit a deep fly ball in my direction. The following four-part photo shows how it all played out:
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In case you can’t tell, the ball flew over my head and landed in the tunnel.

What happened next?

This:

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I’m always concerned that I’m gonna get shut out at Yankee Stadium, so it felt good to get that first ball out of the way. As it turned out, that was the only ball I snagged until the Angels took the field. Not good. But it wasn’t like I was dropping balls or misplaying them. There just weren’t many opportunities.

Now, let me just state for the record that I really do like the Angels. I worked as an unpaid intern for one of their minor league affiliates in 1995 — the Boise Hawks — and it was the best summer of my life. Among the many awesome things that happened, the Hawks ended up winning the Northwest League championship, and I was unexpectedly given a championship ring. It’s one of my most prized possessions, baseball or otherwise, so I’ve always rooted for the Angels as a result. That said, I’ve taken some heat from Yankee fans for wearing visiting teams’ gear in the Bronx, so I want to make it very clear that on this particular occasion, I did it for a personal reason. No disrespect intended.

Here I am with my second ball of the day:

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It was thrown by Angels catcher Bobby Wilson after he finished warming up along the left field foul line.

Ready for some more action shots?

When Jered Weaver finished warming up, I shouted his name and got him to throw me a ball from about 150 feet away. In the following photo, you can see me holding up my glove as he was just about to unleash it:

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Here’s a shot of the ball in midair (it’s just a teeny little speck)…
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…and here I am making a leaping catch:

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The foul line turned out to be a good spot while various players were finishing their warm-ups. Brian Stokes (who remembered me from his days with the Mets) tossed me another ball. The following photo shows me leaning out over the “moat” and making a two-handed catch
:
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I moved from the foul line to the seats in straight-away left field and snagged a home run hit by Brandon Wood. It landed several rows behind me and to the right, and I raced a couple other grown men for it. Then one of the Angels batters hit a deep line drive that short-hopped the outfield wall and bounced to Reggie Willits. I called out to him, and he tossed it my way. Here I am preparing for another two-handed catch. (Better safe than sorry.) The arrow is pointing to the ball, and you can see Connor in the background:

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Don’t feel bad for Connor. He ended up snagging a few baseballs of his own, and I’ll let him tell you about it himself in the comments.

The ball from Willits had a big dirt/scuff mark near the Rawlings logo, and the next ball I got — a home run that landed in the last row of seats — had a big grass stain in the same spot:

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BP ended shortly after that, so I raced through the seats and made it to 3rd base dugout just as the Angels were coming off the field. (I couldn’t get all the way down to the dugout. I had to stay half a dozen rows back.) First base coach Alfredo Griffin tossed a bunch of balls into the crowd. I got one of them. It was my eighth ball of the day, tying my personal new Yankee Stadium record.

Jona and I sat in straight-away left field during the game. This was the view:

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Nothing special, right? Well, for the first few innings, this is what it looked like to my left:

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There was SO much room to run, and on top of that, the left-handed Scott Kazmir was pitching for the Angels, so the Yankees’ lineup was stacked with righties. The good news is that there were four home runs (two by Robinson Cano, one by Hideki Matsui, and another by Derek Jeter). The bad news is that they all went to right field.

Between innings, I hung out near the Angels bullpen…

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…but didn’t get anything else. I did however, give away one of my baseballs to a little kid sitting directly behind me. He was so happy that he couldn’t stop playing with it. At one point, when the ball slipped out of his glove and nearly rolled under my seat, I joked, “Hey, look what I found!” and his parents laughed.

Time out for a moment. Do you notice the uniform number of the pitcher in the photo above? Did you notice the uniform number of the left fielder two photos before that? Yep, it was Jackie Robinson Day, so everyone was wearing No. 42 in his honor. My rosters were basically useless as a result, but I’m not complaining. Believe me. I’m just pointing out one silly/related detail. Okay, time in.

The game itself was interminable. Kazmir threw 87 pitches in four-plus innings, while Yankees starter Phil Hughes threw 108 in five-plus. Then the bullpens continued the trend of inefficiency. I wouldn’t have minded except it got really cold, and Jona’s allergies were killing her — but we stayed and watched Mariano Rivera bail out Joba Chamberlain with a one-out save. Final score: Yankees 6, Angels 2.


SNAGGING STATS:

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

• 23 balls in 2 games this season = 11.5 balls per game.

• 631 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 137 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 4,381 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 17 donors (click here to learn more and support the cause)

• $1.61 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $12.88 raised at this game

• $37.03 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

2009 World Series — Game 2

I headed out to Yankee Stadium yesterday with a homemade sign and a whole lot of hope that it would land me a ticket:

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In case you’re too lazy to click the photo above, the sign has this pyramid photo of me with “4,352 baseballs and counting…” written underneath it.

I arrived at the stadium at 1:30pm — six and a half hours before game time — and there was already a huge line of fans, hoping that some tickets might get released:

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I held up my sign and walked around and flapped my glove at everyone who looked at me. Over the course of the day, at least 100 people asked me the following question: “What does ballhawk mean?” It was annoying to have to explain the same thing over and over, but I was glad to be educating the public.

The area outside the stadium was swarming with media. Several journalists and news crews interviewed me. So did Juliet Papa from 1010 WINS (pictured below), who interviewed me live for 40 seconds.

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Afterward, she said, “Two million people just heard you.”

The 2009 World Series ball was on sale for $30, ball cube included:

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The ball has a nice logo, in my opinion. I like that the words “WORLD SERIES” are large, and that the words “Fall Classic” appear beneath the MLB logo. (Have those words ever appeared on the ball before? I’m not sure.)

During the four hours I spent outside Yankee Stadium, only two people offered (read: tried to sell) me a ticket. The first was a shady-looking scalper who said he could get me a ticket “for six.”

“Six what?” I asked. (Six BP balls?)

“Six hundred,” he said.

(Anyway…)

The second guy was a Yankee employee — one of those guys who stand outside with those signs that say “How May I Help You?” — who said he had a friend who was selling bleacher tickets for $550.

(Wow, what a bargain! Really?! Does your friend take cash?!)

When I told him that was way beyond my price range, he said, “I know a guy who can walk you in for two-fifty. Then you’re on your own. Standing room only.”

(How about I take a photo of you and report you? Unless you let me in for twenty bucks.)

It was 5pm. The gates were opening. People were pouring out of the subway and into the stadium:

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I lingered for another half-hour. I had $200 on me and I was still willing to spend it on a real ticket. I figured I still had the Phillies’ portion of batting practice — if I could somehow get inside — but it wasn’t meant to be. Some random rent-a-cop saw my sign and told me that it’s illegal to solicit tickets on stadium property. (Oh yeah?! Well, it should be illegal for you to…nevermind.) So I put my sign in the nearest trash can and headed back to the subway.

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Someday I’m going to be rich and/or famous and I won’t need to deal with this B.S.

(Let’s go Padres!)

9/28/09 at Yankee Stadium

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

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

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

Brandon is always ready, it seems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three minutes later?

The rain intensified and batting practice was done.

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

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

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Fun, huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

?!?!?!?!?!

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

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

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Here I am going nuts…

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

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

Then I went back and grabbed my hat.

Happiness:

15_zack_with_grand_slam_ball.jpg

Awe and disbelief:

25_zack_with_grand_slam_ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

17_zack_with_grand_slam_ball.jpg

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

The End.

(I still can’t believe it.)

SNAGGING STATS:

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

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

• 624 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 136 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

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

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

• 4,307 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $126.30 raised at this game

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

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7/1/09 at Yankee Stadium

Ready for a quick blog entry about a lame day? Good, here goes…

Yankee Stadium opened at 4pm, and for the first half-hour, there was NO action:

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Then the sky got dark, and it started drizzling, and the grounds crew began to clear the field. In the photo below, you can see one guy actually rolling the L-screen away:

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Just as I was contemplating how to announce my permanent retirement from ballhawking, the sky cleared and the grounds crew rolled the screens back into place.

The Yankees eventually came out and started throwing. Batting practice was still 10 minutes away and the place was packed:

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I got completely shut out during the Yankees’ portion of BP.

Then the Mariners came out, so I changed into my Mariners gear and got Jason Vargas to throw me a ball in right field:

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I was six rows back when he threw it. It sailed over everyone else’s head and came right to me. It was my 4,100th ball. Yay.

I headed back to left field, caught a homer on the fly, got Garrett Olsen to toss one to me, and then caught another home run ball which I later gave away.

It was impossible to use the glove trick because the stadium was crawling with security guards. I saw one other kid attempt to use the trick, and he was stopped within 10 seconds.

I had some close calls on other homers, but luck simply wasn’t on my side, and to make matters worse, I had to deal with a startlingly hostile fan. I deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for preventing an “incident” from arising. Let’s leave it at that.

I ran into a fellow ballhawk named Alex who’d already been to Yankee Stadium more than a dozen times this season. We had some time to kill so we wandered into the bleachers, and since it was my first time in that area of the stadium, I took a bunch of pics. (At the new stadium, anyone with any ticket can go in or out of the bleachers.)

I started at the back of the bleachers next to the batter’s eye in left-center field…

6_new_yankee_stadium_bleachers.jpg

…and walked down to the front row. This was the view (of the visitors’ bullpen) to the right…

7_new_yankee_stadium_bleachers.jpg

…and this was the view (of Monument Park) to the left:

8_new_yankee_stadium_bleachers.jpg

Ever wonder what’s behind those shiny black windows? There’s a restaurant, and when I pressed my camera against the glass, I was able to get a peek inside:

9_batters_eye_restaurant.jpg

Here’s the concourse that runs behind the bleachers:

10_bleachers_concourse.jpg

Left field…right field…it’s all connected.

There’s a “cafe” on top of the batter’s eye. Here’s one side of it…

11_bleachers_deck.jpg

…and here’s the front:

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Anyone can go there at anytime, and on the right field side, there’s a nice view of the Yankee bullpen. Here’s Andy Pettitte warming up:

13_yankee_bullpen_from_above.jpg

The new Yankee Stadium is a glorious facility. There’s no doubt about that. It’s the team and the employees and the fans that ruin it.

As for the game…yawn. The Yankees won, 4-2, and five of the six runs scored on homers. I’m sorry but that’s just not interesting baseball. I don’t care that Griffey and A-Roid went deep. I was nowhere near either of those longballs so it didn’t matter. At least it was a quick game and I got the hell out fast.

SNAGGING STATS:5_ball4100.jpg
• 4 balls at this game (ball No. 4,100 pictured here on the right)

• 283 balls in 32 games this season = 8.84 balls per game.

• 601 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 132 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 4,103 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $24.34 pledged per ball

• $97.36 raised at this game

• $6,888.22 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Then I continued my journey…

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

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

8_outside_new_stadium.jpg

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

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

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

9_outside_new_stadium.jpg

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

10_outside_new_stadium.jpg

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

11_old_stadium.jpg

It was dead. And sad:

12_old_stadium.jpg

All the memorabilia stores were closed…

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

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

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

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

15_glorious_outer_concourse.jpg

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

Here’s the inner/field level concourse:

16_field_level_concourse.jpg

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

17_no_access_yankees_suck.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

19_cushy_seat.jpg

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

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

21_fruit_stand.jpg

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

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

22_concourse_behind_batters_eye.jpg

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

23a_zack_glove_trick.jpg

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

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

Umm…wow?

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

Was it a commemorative ball?!?!

No…

23b_first_ball_at_new_yankee_stadium.jpg

…but it’s a valuable ball to me.

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

24_throwing_RF_foul_line.jpg

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

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

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

25_LF_seats_during_BP.jpg

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

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

26_monument_park_line.jpg

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

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

27_rafael_perez_using_ball3875.jpg

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

28_ball3876_on_field.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

30_LF_crowded_late_in_BP.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the upper deck concourse:

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

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

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

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

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

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

38_heading_down_to_field_level.jpg

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

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

39_heading_down_to_field_level.jpg

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

40_heading_down_to_field_level.jpg

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

?!?!

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

41_heading_down_to_field_level.jpg

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

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

42_view_during_game.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a look at the partition…

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

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

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

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

This was the view from the elevated subway platform:

48_stadiums_after_game.jpg

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

SNAGGING STATS:

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

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

• 576 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 130 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 46 major league stadiums with at least one ball caught

• 3,878 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

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

• $16.37 pledged per ball

• $130.96 raised at this game

• $949.46 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

YES Network

Another day, another YouTube video…

Remember when I caught home runs on back-to-back nights last month at Yankee Stadium? Remember when Michael Kay, the Yankees’ announcer, joked on-air about sending “Kim” out to the bleachers to interview me? Turns out he wasn’t joking. I *was* interviewed the next day for a pre-game show on the YES Network, and here it is:

This is one of those clips that you have to watch twice. Check out the goofy kids in the background. At one point, it looks like one of them pretends to pick his nose and wipe it on his friend. Mmmmm.

9/21/08 at Yankee Stadium

Last day ever at Yankee Stadium…

thanks_for_the_memories.jpg

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

fan_needs_tickets.jpg

…so what made this any different?

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

zack_sign_jeff_scott_adam.jpg

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

Here are our four tickets. Silver stamping. Nice…

final_game_tickets.jpg

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

fan_chips_paint_off_wall.jpg

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

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

artie_zack.jpg

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

3,950

That’s more than me!

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

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

The fans started making their way around the warning track…

fans_on_field.jpg

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

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

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

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

zack_photo_for_yankees_magazine.jpg

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

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

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

sportscenter.jpg

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

He looked up.

I did my stupid “Cabbage Patch” dance.

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

I nodded and pointed at myself.

He nodded and gave me a thumbs-up.

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

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

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

spike_films_reggie.jpg

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

yankees_before_batting_practice_09_21_08.jpg

Looks like a nice relaxing day, right?

Well, check out the view to my left:

crowd_before_batting_practice.jpg

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

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

zack_howard_pressman.jpg

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

adam_showing_his_ball.jpg

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

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

jeremy_guthrie_imitating_my_dance.jpg

…and then tossed me ball No. 3.

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

jeremy_guthrie_scooping_dirt.jpg

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

ball3773_last_at_yankee_stadium.jpg

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

pregame_ceremony_view.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

“I want you to catch it,” said Artie.

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

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

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

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

brian_elmer.jpg

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

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

short_porch_aisle.jpg

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

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

view_from_left_field_09_21_08.jpg

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

This is how the Yankees announced the attendance:

total_attendance.jpg

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

postgame1_police.jpg

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

Here’s the final score:

postgame2_scoreboard.jpg

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

postgame3_yankees_victory_lap.jpg

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

postgame4_scott_zack_adam.jpg

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

postgame5_vandalization.jpg

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

postgame6_stadium_emptying_out.jpg

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

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

STATS:

hank_aaron.jpg

? 4 balls at this game

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

? 562 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

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

? 3,773 total balls

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

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

9/19/08 at Yankee Stadium

It was dark when I woke up. I’d gotten less than four hours of sleep. I
quickly shaved and brushed my teeth and got dressed and headed
downstairs with my glove and my girlfriend Jona and a duffel bag full of baseballs. It was 6:30am. There was supposed to be a car waiting
for us. I was supposed to be on “The Early Show” in half an hour. I
called my contact at CBS. She told me the car was on the way. I called
back three minutes later. Still no car. She told me to get a cab and
that she’d reimburse me. Then the car showed up. We picked up my mom
and flew through Central Park:

CBS1_ride_to_early_show.jpg

I hadn’t even been awake for an hour, and the day was already a blur.

We
arrived on the set–an outdoor plaza on 59th Street & 5th Avenue–at
around 6:50am. It was cold and windy. Several staffers greeted me and
rushed me off the sidewalk and hooked me up with a microphone and an
ear piece as my mom (holding the green Argosy bag) looked on:

CBS2_zack_getting_miked.jpg

The ear piece wouldn’t stay in my ear.

“If it falls out on-air, just hold it in place,” said a voice.

Several other staffers appeared with two rectangular clear plastic boxes and helped me transfer the balls into them.

Then, almost without warning, I was told to get ready to open the show.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked.

“Hold up your two home run balls and do your dance,” said the woman in the green jacket.

“For how long?”

“Until I tell you to stop.”

“We’re on in thirty!” yelled another voice.

“Okay,
stand by,” said the woman, and before I knew it, she was pointing at me
to indicate that the cameras–all three of them–were rolling. I was on
live national TV. I held up the balls as the audio portion of the show
pounded my left eardrum. Then I danced, stopping briefly to roll my
eyes, and continued until my right ear heard someone shout, “That was
great!”

I was rushed inside to get a new ear piece and then led (along with my mom and Jona) to the green room:

CBS3_green_room.jpg

We
helped ourselves to some food, and the producer of my segment came in
to prep me. Super-nice guy. Young. Cute (according to Jona). His name
was (and still is, I imagine) Warren. He asked to see the glove trick,
reviewed the three ball-snagging tips we’d discussed the night before
on the phone, and told me that my entire segment had been bumped up
“from a minute and thirty seconds to two-ten.”

Then I headed back outside to do another “teaser”:

CBS4_zack_teaser1.jpg

At 7:21am, I was finally given some makeup to hide the bags under my eyes. Naturally, this was Jona’s favorite part of the day:

CBS5_zack_makeup.jpg

Then it was back outside for another teaser. I decided to juggle:

CBS6_zack_teaser2.jpg

This
was the last teaser. I headed back to the green room (as three security
guards stayed with the balls) and talked to the two international
soccer players who were going to be doing a cooking segment later in
the show.

Warren came and got me and led me back outside. This time it was the real deal:

CBS7_before_main_interview.jpg

The
main feature of the interview was the glove trick. First I showed Julie Chen (who was holding one of the two home runs balls) how it works…

CBS8_zack_glove_trick.jpg

…and then struggled briefly during my attempt to reel in the other. CRAP!!!
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the ground (as you can kinda see
in the following photo) was slanted down toward the drain in front of
me, so as soon as the tip of my glove touched the ball, it started
rolling away. Fortunately I made a quick recovery and proved to the
world that the glove trick really does work:

CBS9_zack_glove_trick.jpg

The segment closed with another dance performance, and I felt a little less stupid about it when all the anchors joined me:

CBS10_zack_dancing.jpg

Jona later admitted that they danced even worse than me. (“I thought it was just a white-boy thing,” she said.)

It took a team effort to pack up the balls…

CBS11_balls_being_packed_up.jpg

…and then I went home for a live phone interview with “Boomer and Carton” on WFAN 660AM. You can find the segment and listen to it on this page.
Just do a search for my name or scroll down ’til you see me. Remember
that the date was “9-19″ and when you see the little blurb about me,
click the tiny “play” button.

Once again, just like
the day before, I had a million calls and emails to deal with, and
whenever I had a break, I worked on my blog. (Jona, meanwhile, went out
to run a few errands and came back with a copy of Newsday which had this article
about me.) I heard from a guy at “Inside Edition” and talked to someone
else at NPR and eventually met FOX News at my parents’ place at 2:30pm.
That’s where I keep most of the balls.

We did the first part of the interview while the balls were still hidden…

FOX1.jpg

…and then I opened up the barrels and drawers for the camera:

FOX2.jpg

After the FOX people left at 2:50pm, I basically passed out in the living room (Jona doesn’t miss a thing)…

FOX3_napping_after_interview.jpg

…but
didn’t get to rest for more than 10 minutes before leaving for Yankee
Stadium. (The FOX segment, by the way, aired that same day on the local
six o’clock and ten o’clock news. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to give a
heads-up, but I was told that it can now be seen online. I haven’t yet had
a chance to look for it so let me know if you find it.)

Remember
the guy named Hideo who works for a Japanese public TV station called
NHK? Well, he was back at Yankee Stadium, and when he saw me (and
Jona) waiting outside the bleacher entrance, he asked if he could film
me again.

First he had me re-enact the walk from the subway:

NHK1.jpg

Once we reached the bleacher entrance, I showed all my ball-snagging “equipment”…

NHK2.jpg

…and after answering a bunch of questions about what Yankee Stadium means to me, I demonstrated the glove trick:

NHK3.jpg

Several people asked to have their picture taken with me…

zack_and_random_fans1_09_19_08.jpg

…and before long, it was time for batting practice.

I roamed all over the place early on…

zack_during_BP1_09_19_08.jpg

…but
didn’t get a thing. I had a few very close calls and several other
unlucky bounces. On a good day, all those balls might’ve ended up in my
drawstring backpack, but on this day it just wasn’t happening. I don’t
know why. Just one of those things?

I got lucky halfway through
the Yankees’ portion of BP when some fans dropped a ball into the gap
between the outfield wall and the base of the stands. By this point it
was too crowded for Jona to find a space along the railing and capture
the action below, so she stayed behind me and ended up getting a pretty
cool shot. Notice how my feet were off the ground…

glove_trick_09_19_08.jpg

…which
means all 175 pounds of me were being pressed against the railing via
my stomach. (I was balancing on the railing in the exact same way when
I caught the Damon homer–feet off the ground and everything–but you
can’t tell in any of the footage.
What a shame.) The reason I was up on the railing is that the ball was
on the far side of the netting. (If you’re unfamiliar with the
bleachers, you can see a photo of the gap and netting in this
entry.) Basically I had to get up high in order to reach far out.
Anyway, the trick worked, and I had my first ball of the day–a very
important ball as it turned out, and yes, it was commemorative:

ball3768.jpg

There
wasn’t much action after that, so Jona borrowed my Orioles cap (to
shade her eyes) and waited patiently as I suffered. Here she is–the
woman behind the camera:

jona_during_BP.jpg

Once the Yankees jogged off the field, I switched into my Orioles gear and stood out in the sea of white and gray and navy blue:

zack_during_BP2_09_19_08.jpg

It
didn’t help. The Orioles hardly threw ANY balls into the crowd, and the
fact that most of their batters were right-handed didn’t help my cause
either. I didn’t snag a single ball during the 45 minutes that they
were on the field.

HOWEVER…

There was one good thing
that happened during that time. When I asked Jeremy Guthrie for a ball,
he turned around and immediately recognized me as THAT GUY who caught
the two home runs. I know he recognized me because he briefly imitated
my dance move. Wow. He walked over to the warning track and asked if I
was really THAT GUY, and when I said yes, he started quizzing me about
the various T-shirts that I’d been wearing throughout the week.

“What’re you doing wearing an Orioles shirt?” he asked.

“I’m
not actually a Yankee fan,” I said. Then I turned around and showed him
the back of my shirt and told him that Ripken is my favorite player of
all time.

Guthrie took the ball out of his glove.

“Don’t give it to him!” shouted another fan.

jeremy_guthrie_2008.jpg
“Don’t worry, I won’t!” yelled Guthrie. “He’s got enough already!” and with that he flipped the ball 20 feet to my left.

I caught his attention just as he was getting ready to walk away.

“Listen,” I said. “I don’t care about catching any balls today, but I’m gonna be here on Sunday for the final game, and I’m dying to get a ball that day. Is there any chance at all that you might be able to hook me up?”

“You mean a BP ball?” he asked.

“Yeah, anything.”

“Oh yeah, that’s no problem.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah,” he said, “where are you gonna be?”

“Well
that’s the thing. I’m not sure. I haven’t figured out my strategy
yet. Do you know if you guys are even gonna take BP?”

“I’m not sure.”

The
conversation went on for another minute, and he told me that if there
was BP, I should meet him on the short porch in right field and if
there wasn’t BP, he’d still have to come out and throw in which case
he’d look for me along the left field foul line.

How.
Awesome.
Is.
That.

I
just hope he remembers and keeps his promise. The last time I went to a
game and didn’t snag at least one ball was in September of 1993. It’d
be a real shame if that streak were to end on an otherwise incredible
day.

After BP, I caught up with a fellow baseball-snagger named
Mike (aka “yankees42294″ if you read the comments on this blog) who was
also wearing a Ripken shirt and had a ball-retrieving device. Here we
are:

michael_and_zack.jpg

A few more fans asked to take their picture with me…

zack_and_random_fans2_09_19_08.jpg

…and that’s when the battery in my camera died.

The rest of my evening can be summed up as follows:

1)
A particular season ticket holder who narrowly missed both of the home
runs I caught ratted me out to security and told them I didn’t belong
in the wheelchair aisle. (The way I see it, if he leaves the game in the
seventh inning and I take his seat and catch a homer in the eighth,
that’s not my fault.)

2) Security and several other
season ticket holders made me feel rather unwelcome. (Good thing this
was the last time I was ever planning to be in the bleachers anyway.)

3)
I left the stadium with Jona, walked to the ticket office, and bought
two seats IN the aisle in front of section 41 which is exactly where I
wanted to be. (It had occurred to me that those seats, if left unsold,
would be released to the public at some point; clearly that point had
arrived by the time I tried to buy them in the top of the third inning.)

4)
I waltzed back into the bleachers and stunned everyone when I appeared
in the wheelchair aisle with two folding chairs and a sexy mama by my
side. (Not surprisingly, a good number of people still felt the need to
call me “gay” despite the presence of the aforementioned sexy mama. I
think it was all the dancing that had them convinced.)

5)
No home runs were hit into the bleachers. (I heard later that Michael
Kay spotted me on a deep fly out to right-center by Xavier Nady.)

6)
After I returned to the seat from having my picture taken with a few
more people, Jona said she overheard a fan behind her talking about how
all he wanted to do was prevent me from getting another ball. She then
told me that for the rest of the night, whenever I got up to chase a
ball, she would get up too and block this other fan. (Jona is 5-foot-8
and knows how to…let’s say…use her body. Don’t mess with her.)

7)
Before the ninth inning got underway, Brett Gardner threw his warm-up
ball into the crowd, or at least he tried to. Unfortunately for the
fans he was aiming for, and luckily for me, it fell short and landed in
the gap. I already had the rubber band stretched around my glove, just
for ball3769.jpg
this reason. Before Mike had a chance to run over with his cup trick,
and before security had a chance to stop me, I was standing over the
ball and lowering my glove. The glove made it all the way down, but I
couldn’t get the ball to stick inside on the first try. That’s when I
heard a police officer tell me I had to stop doing that. I played dumb
for two seconds, raised the glove a few inches, and lowered it back
over the ball for what I knew would be my final attempt. The officer demanded
that I stop at once and bring my glove up. So I did. Slowly. Because
the ball was tucked snugly inside. (Once I had the ball in my bare hand, I made sure to hide it until
I’d walked past the cop. Then, once I was within view of the fan who was
supposedly going to try to interfere, I made sure he and his buddies saw it.)

8) Mariano Rivera nearly blew the save but escaped his own jam and preserved the Yankees’ 3-2 lead.

9) After the final out, Jona and I made a mad dash to the subway and beat the crowd.

I
just did a little calculatin’ and came up with this nugget: If the
Yankees and Orioles don’t combine to hit more than three homers in the
Final Game, I’ll be able to say that I caught two of the last ten home
runs ever hit at Yankee Stadium. Of course, given the fact that I’ll BE
at the Final Game, I’m obviously hoping to catch THE final home run. I
won’t be sitting in the bleachers. I’m not sure exactly where I’ll be
or what I’ll be wearing, but know that if there’s a way to make
something happen, I’m bound to find it…

STATS:

? 2 balls at this game

? 492 balls in 65 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.

? 561 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,769 total balls

9/18/08 at Yankee Stadium

I don’t even know where to begin…

Yesterday I woke up way too early with way too little sleep and spent the entire morning and afternoon attempting to blog. It was impossible to write more than a couple sentences at a time because I was on the phone nonstop, mostly with people from the media asking me when I was free, and I was also trying to keep up with the steady flow of emails. Here’s a (partial) screen shot of my inbox from earlier this morning. Keep in mind that these are just the messages that I haven’t yet had a chance to answer…

inbox.jpg

I spent most of my time talking to a producer at CBS, who told me that “The Early Show” wanted me the next day at 7:30am. (Damn, that IS early.) I talked to other TV people, a few radio producers, and some newspaper reporters. I can’t even list them all.

I was supposed to meet a member of the Japanese media at Yankee Stadium between 4pm and 4:15, but I ended up running late and calling him and pushing things back to 4:30. I was trying to finish my blog while shaving and gathering my stuff for the game while getting calls from CBS and the YES Network (and a few other places) while updating my publicist while checking my email. I truly can’t convey how crazy it was.

I left my apartment at around 3:45pm and RAN seven blocks to the subway at 72nd and Broadway. Just before I was about to head underground, I remembered I had to return a call from a guy at Newsday…so I called him and got him on the phone, and he immediately started interviewing me. Then I got a call on the other line from a guy with the local NBC news. He wanted to meet me at the stadium, and we made a plan to do the interview at 4:45pm outside the bleacher entrance. (Batting practice was going to start at 5pm and I didn’t want to miss any of it.) I switched back to the Newsday guy and said I had to get taxi_to_stadium.jpg
to Yankee Stadium ASAP and asked if we could talk after BP…but no, he was on a strict deadline, so it was now or never. I put my MetroCard away and ran over to Amsterdam to hail a cab. That was the only way to get to the stadium AND have cell phone reception at the same time. It took a few minutes to find a cab, and then I was off. We talked nearly the whole way up. Twenty-five dollars later, I was dropped off near the players’ entrance and RAN halfway around the stadium, where there was already a line of fans waiting to get into the bleachers. Luckily I knew a guy (from Shea) at the front, and he let me stand with him.

PHEW!!!

I had a couple minutes to spare, so I ate my chicken sandwich (with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and provolone). Dozens of people recognized me as THAT GUY who caught the two home runs, and lots of them asked to take pictures with me. One guy even asked me to autograph a mini-bat for his kid. I did all this with mouthfuls of food. (Charming.) Then the NBC crew showed up, and I handed my camera to the nearest fan and asked him to take a few pics while I was being interviewed. Here’s one of ‘em:

interview1_NBC.jpg

Oh, I forgot to mention that the Japanese guy (whose name is Hideo) was late, and he showed up AS this other interview with NBC was getting underway. I thought this was going to be a problem, but it wasn’t. Hideo (who’s filming a documentary about the final days of Yankee Stadium for a public TV station called NHK) was glad to get some footage of me talking to the other TV crew…and when I wrapped it up with NBC, he came over and asked his own round of questions. I didn’t get anyone to take a pic of me during the NHK interview so as soon as it was done, I asked Hideo if he could hold up his video camera and point it at me (you know, to recreate the interview from my perspective)…which he did…while cracking up…and this is the pic I got:

interview2_NHK.jpg

The stadium opened at 5pm, and when I ran inside, I got a ball almost immediately. It was a home run by Hideki Matsui. (Yay, Japanese people!!) It landed in the empty benches behind me and took a nice ricochet back into my waiting glove. Thank God. I was relieved to get that first ball out of the way.

My cell phone rang. It was a photographer from Newsday who asked me where I was and then headed out to the RF bleachers. He found me easily because of the bright yellow “Homer” shirt I was wearing. Just as he was getting ready to start shooting, I got a call from a high-ranking official (who’s also a friend) at the National Scrabble Association who’d seen my Scrabble T-shirt all over the news and just wanted to say “hey” and “thanks.” (I was wearing the shirt when I caught the Johnny Damon homer. Here’s the footage again, in case you missed it the first 79,000 times.)

Back to the Newsday photographer…

interview3_newsday.jpg

He had me pose this way and that, and at one point I had to take a one-minute break to reel a ball out of the gap with my glove trick.

The photographer finished up a few minutes later. Then I caught an A-Rod home run on a fly. Then a three-member crew from the YES (Yankees Entertainment & Sports) Network showed up and took me to the back of the bleachers for a five-or-so-minute interview, which aired a short while later on the Yankees pre-game show. Here they are:

interview4_YES.jpg

In case you’re wondering, Kimberly Jones (holding the microphone) was very nice. After the interview, I handed her a card and told her to give my love to Michael Kay.

I probably missed a ball or two because of the interview (and photo shoot), but whatever. It was obviously worth it.

My first three balls were all commemorative:

three_commemorative_balls_09_18_08.jpg

My fourth ball, which came via the glove trick, was just a regular ball, so as soon as I got it, I handed it to a little girl who was standing on my left…and I’d just like to point out that yes, she was wearing a glove. (Bring your gloves, people!)

The bleachers were very crowded by the end of BP…

bleachers_during_BP.jpg

…and I didn’t snag any more balls.

After BP, I managed to find a few f
ree minutes (when I didn’t have to be on the phone) and took a picture of the Jumbotron as it showed highlights from the previous game…including my celebratory dance:

zack_jumbotron_09_18_08.jpg

After the highlights were done, half the people in sections 41 and 43 were staring at me, so I recreated the dance and got a bunch of laughs and cheers. Throughout the night, people asked to take pictures with me. It never got old.

As for the game…
There was only one home run that landed in the bleachers. It was Bobby Abreu’s second homer of the night–the first one went into the upper deck–and it sailed 10 feet directly over my head. Wow. If he’d swung a millimeter (or something like that) higher, he would’ve hit the ball a little bit more on a line…and it wouldn’t have traveled as far…and I have no doubt that I would’ve caught it. Can you imagine THAT?!

Worse than not catching the ball was the fact that I dropped my five-dollar-and-twenty-five-cent hot dog during the scuffle. And then, for good measure, someone stepped on it:

zack_loses_hot_dog1.jpg

It was a very sad moment indeed. I *had* managed to take a bite before gravity got the best of it, but I was still hungry so I bought another. I gave the vendor a 75-cent tip each time–one rule of ballpark etiquette is never to ask for coins back from a vendor–so in effect I paid $12 for a hot dog, or two dollars per bite.

The Yankees, as they’ve been doing all week, flashed a message on the Jumbotron that urged fans not to dismantle the Stadium. I just thought it was cool, so naturally I took a picture of this as well:

dont_damage_the_stadium.jpg

Once the game became official in the middle of the 5th inning and the “MetLife regular season countdown” changed from 4 to 3, I got a picture of that as well:

three_games_remaining.jpg

By the late innings, my ex-hot dog wasn’t looking too good…

zack_loses_hot_dog2.jpg

…and by the time Chris Britton retired Juan Uribe for the final out, my two-game home run streak had ended.

Final score: Yankees 9, White Sox 2.

I stopped in the bathroom on the way out and heard a guy in a stall behind me say, “Final piss at Yankee Stadium.”

His friend said (with a heavy New York accent), “Ya want me t’get my video camera?”

“Whoa!” I shouted. “I didn’t know it was gonna be THAT kinda party!”

“It’ll be a very short story,” said another man.

“OHHHH!!!” we all shouted, and that was that. (Thankfully.)

I met up with Hideo outside the bleacher entrance, and we discussed dates/times for a follow-up interview. Thousands of fans were filing past us toward the subway, and many of them recognized me. A bunch of people came over and asked to take pics with me, so I got Hideo to get some shots with my camera as well.

Here’s one of the photos:

zack_and_random_fans1.jpg

Not great. Not bad. Right?

Well, it got better…

zack_and_random_fans2.jpg

Eventually I made it to the subway, and before I got on the No. 4 train, I took one final pic of the New Yankee Stadium:

new_yankee_stadium_09_18_08.jpg

I’ll be back at the old one tonight with my girlfriend. Look for me/us in the right field bleachers.

STATS:

? 4 balls at this game

? 490 balls in 64 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

? 560 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

? 3,767 total balls

…oh, and one more thing. The Newsday article is out. It’s in the actual paper today (Sept. 19), on page A69 in the sports section, and it’s probably online as well. I got a hard copy, and I’ll scan it and share the link as soon as I get a chance.

OH! And I was on “The Early Show” today, and I’m meeting a TV crew from FOX at 2:30pm. I’ll share all the details (and photos) in my next entry.

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