Mid-season update

Well, hey.

I haven’t written many blog entries this season, but I have a great excuse. Ready to hear it? I’ve become OBSESSED with my YouTube channel, and I’ve uploaded 39 videos from MLB stadiums since Opening Day. Here they are in a nifty playlist. I’ve been to 62 games so far this season at 24 stadiums (not counting Minor League Baseball), so it looks like I’ll hit up all 30. The remaining half-dozen are:

1) AT&T Park
2) Oakland Coliseum
3) PETCO Park
4) Kauffman Stadium
5) Globe Life Park
6) Minute Maid Park

My life is bonkers right now. For the last three months, I’ve been on the road more than I’ve been home, and when I *am* home, I find myself catching up on stuff from the last trip while trying to prepare for the next one . . . while trying to find time for everyone/everything that gets neglected when I’m gone. My longest trip this season has been 18 days. Just recently I was gone for nine days (including stops in Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Miami for the All-Star stuff). Now I’m home for four days before heading back out on the road. My next trip is being cut short so that I can fly home to be filmed by HBO. I can’t yet make plans for August because Adrian Beltre is 20 hits away from 3,000, and I want to be there for it (wherever “there” turns out to be). After that I need to figure out when and where I’m going to snag my 10,000th baseball; I’m currently 149 away.

If you’ve contacted me through email, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube and I haven’t responded, please don’t be offended. I don’t have an assistant looking at all that stuff and responding for me. If you hear from me, it’s really me, but there’s just not time to respond to everyone . . . because I’m too busy creating content for everyone to enjoy. See how that works? Yeah.

Anyway, it’s late and I’m exhausted. I got home several hours ago from Citi Field. Now it’s 3:52am as I sit here typing this. Bedtime! More soon (or at least soon-ish).

5/22/17 at SunTrust Park

Way back in 2007, I started a business called Watch With Zack, which is really quite simple: people bring me to baseball games and I guarantee that they’ll catch baseballs and have an amazing time. (“Wait, how do you guarantee that?!” Ha. Please.) I’ve done dozens of these games in various cities including New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Washington D.C., ClevelandPittsburgh, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

This was my first Watch With Zack game in Atlanta, and it was the first time that one of these games was going to be filmed for my YouTube channel. I wanted everything to be perfect, of course, and things got off to a nice start when I met the folks that I’d be with for the next six hours. Here I am with them:

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It was a family of five, but the whole day was planned around one of the kids. In the photo above, do you see the boy on the lower right wearing a dark blue Braves cap? His name is Ben, and this was his 12th birthday. (Nice way to celebrate, huh?) The girl next to him is his six-year-old sister, Eliza. The kid with the backwards cap is their nine-year-old brother, Noah, and the two people leaning in are their parents, Kristin and Jess.

Did you notice the umbrella in the background? Yeah, the universe cursed us with rain, and if you look closely at the following image, you can see the tarp on the field.

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No batting practice? No problem! I knew it was still going to be a fun day.

I should mention that Jess and his family were fully on board with the whole YouTube thing, and in fact we planned it that way. Ben is a huge fan of my videos, so Jess brought my videographer along too so that the day would be fully/professionally documented. That said, most of the images in this blog entry are screen shots from the footage, and I’ll link to the video at the end. (Spoiler: it’s reeeeeally good.)

Ten minutes later, there was a sign a life:

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With the Pirates warming up in shallow left field, the ideal spot to hang out would’ve been along the foul line, but SunTrust Park is once of those places that opens in segments. There’s only one early gate — the Chop House gate in right field — and for the first half-hour, everyone has to stay in the outfield.

Look what happened next:

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See the guy in the bullpen wearing a light blue shirt and holding up a ball? That’s my friend Evan, a former ballhawk from Turner Field who now works as a ballboy here at the Braves’ new stadium. As Evan approached and got ready to toss up the ball, I pointed at Ben:

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Here’s the ball in mid-air:

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It fell a bit short, but Ben scooped it up — and check it out:

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It was a Blue Jays “40th season” commemorative ball from last year; the Jays had recently played a series in Atlanta and left some old baseballs behind — and Evan had saved one for a special occasion.

Here’s a better image of Evan, standing in the bullpen beside a friendly groundskeeper named Chip:

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Before the rest of the stadium opened, I thought I might have a chance to get a ball with Ben in straight-away left field. Here I am with him, talking about positioning and pointing out some stuff about the Pirates:

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The players were still throwing by the time the rest of the stadium opened, so Ben and I headed into foul territory:

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Moments later, a pair of players wrapped things up just in front of us. I called out for the ball and once again pointed at Ben. The player with the ball (not sure who) turned and looked right at us and tossed it our direction. It ended up sailing a bit too high for Ben to catch it, so I reached up above him and made the catch (as a woman behind me jabbed at it with her open umbrella). Check out the following screen shot — I’ve circled the ball and my glove to help you spot the action:

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I gave that ball to Ben . . .

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. . . and helped him get it autographed by Jhan Martinez:

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Here we are inspecting the autograph:

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Then we got Johnny Barbato to sign it. Here’s a closeup of the signatures:

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A little while later, as the groundskeepers started doing their thing . . .

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. . . Ben and I checked out the Mizuno glove stand in the left field concourse:

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Fans can rent (normal-sized) gloves FOR FREE there. Basically, an employee at the stand will put a $1 hold on your credit card, and when you return the glove, the charge gets taken away. As I stated in the video, anyone who shows up at a game without a glove and then rents a new/stiff one will probably have a tough time catching baseballs, but it’s still a really cool idea.

Here I am with Ben watching the Pirates get ready for the game:

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Bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade ended up throwing us a ball:

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But guess what happened? Ben and I dropped it! There was miscommunication combined with some bad luck. It wasn’t anyone’s fault — just unfortunate circumstances. The ball was thrown to me, but I wanted Ben to be the one to catch it. Ben, meanwhile, didn’t want to reach in front of me, so we both hung back at first and then reached out hesitantly at the last second, and the ball bounced off the tips of both of our gloves. Andrade saw this happen, but didn’t retrieve the ball for us; a different coach ended up grabbing it and tossing it to another fan. AARRGHH!!!

Here’s a random skull tattoo that cheered us up:

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Just before the game, we headed to seats above the bullpen and nearly got a toss-up from Pirates starter Gerrit Cole:

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If you look closely at the previous image, you can see him near the bullpen gate, chucking one into the crowd. It went to the people on our right, so when the game began, Ben and I had each snagged one ball.

Ben’s father had gotten great seats for all of us, several rows behind the outfield end of the visitors dugout. Look how close we were to the field:

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In the image above, that’s Braves 3rd base coach Ron Washington waving at us. We had hoped for a ball, but it was still nice to be acknowledged.

In the middle of the 2nd inning, Ben got the Pirates’ infield warm-up ball. Check out this action shot:

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The ball was tossed by Gift Ngoepe, the first African-born player in to play in the major leagues in more than 100 years, so that was extra special. Here we are breaking it down for the camera after the fact:

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Five minutes later, when Rio Ruiz grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the 2nd inning, we sprung into action once again. Here we are in the front row, hoping to get Josh Bell’s attention as he jogged off the field with the ball:

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Sure enough, when he got a little closer, he flipped the ball toward Ben. See it at the top of the following image?

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I wasn’t sure if Ben would be able to reach it, so I put my glove up just in case, but Ben was all over it. He jumped up and made the catch:

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This wasn’t just a so-called 3rd-out ball. It was a 2nd- *and* 3rd-out ball . . . right? That’s pretty cool to snag a game-used baseball that produced two outs, and better yet, it had a commemorative SunTrust Park logo:

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Ben hadn’t gotten one of those before — this was his first visit to the new stadium — so were both psyched about that.

We decided to wander around a bit after that, and our first stop was the section along the left field foul line, just behind Evan. Here he is waving to us . . .

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. . . and here he is saying a quick hello to Ben:

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Here’s a selfie I grabbed with Ben in the middle innings:

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Here I am with Evan:

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Yes, lots of photos because WHY NOT? The way I see it, if you don’t document something, it might as well have never happened. Along those lines, behold the “Home Depot Clubhouse” in very deep left-center field:

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As you can see, it was raining. Ben’s parents and siblings were chilling under the overhang of the 2nd deck; Ben and I were happy to sit out in the rain because WHY NOT?

Anyway, I had barely even noticed the Clubhouse until a friendly usher (who knows me from my videos) had told me earlier in the game that it was open to the public. Normally it’s sold out to large groups, but for whatever reason, there was no one in it tonight, so he suggested that I drop by later.

I’m always glad to check out an unusual spot inside a stadium, and Ben was cool with heading up there too as long as we didn’t stay too long. There were, after all, more baseballs to be snagged. Here’s the view . . .

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. . . and here we are back in position near the dugout:

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When Nick Markakis struck out to end the 8th inning, I scooted over to the home-plate end of the dugout in the hopes of getting that ball. Here’s Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli giving his pitcher a fist-bump . . .

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. . . just before he showed me some love too. Here I am reaching up for the easy catch:

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After the game, which the Braves won, 5-2, I asked Heberto Andrade for a ball as he walked in from the bullpen. He had a ball in his left hand, and I was expecting him to give us another chance. Instead he pointed at me . . .

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. . . and said, “I already gave you one, bro!” And then he tossed it to someone else.

Oh well. He’s been very nice to me over the years. Perhaps his team’s loss put him in a less-than-jovial mood.

You know who always has a smile on his face? Evan the ballboy! And he hooked it up for us AGAIN. Here he is flipping a ball to me on his way to the bullpen:

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It was a solid night. Ben and I had each snagged three baseballs (and I gave all of mine to him). But hang on. There was still a little more “work” to do. First I filmed a closing scene for the video:

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Then Ben and I posed for a mini-photoshoot with all the baseballs:

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And finally, upon request, I signed a few of them:

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We lingered in the seats until an usher practically begged us to leave. (In other stadiums, you can hang out for like five minutes after the game, and then you get yelled at, but here in Atlanta, the post-game routine was surprisingly chill. You’d think that new stadiums would have extra-strict rules, but I’ve found that things tend to become more strict as the years go by, so if you’re debating when to visit SunTrust Park or any other new stadium, I’d suggest going sooner than later. But then again, the crowds always dwindle as time goes by, so if you like having room to run around, you need to take that into consideration. I could talk about stadiums forever plus two, but ANYway . . . )

Although I didn’t spend much time with Jess, I appreciated his attitude and hands-off approach. Every so often, I’d text him with an update and/or photo and also ask Ben if he wanted to check in with his family. The answer was no. He was glad to keep hanging with me, and really, can you blame him? But seriously, we all had a great time, and in a way we felt like we got lucky with the weather. In the early afternoon, the forecast was so bleak that we feared the game might get postponed. As it turned out, there wasn’t even a delay, though my feet were soggy by the end of the night.

If you’re interested in learning more about how the whole Watch With Zack thing works, click here, and if you like numbers, take a look at this page to see a statistical breakdown of all the balls that have been snagged at Watch With Zack games — more than 10 balls per game combined between myself and the people I’m with!

And finally, as promised, here’s the video from this game at SunTrust Park:

Thanks for reading, thanks for watching, and if you haven’t done so already, please subscribe!

4/14/17 at SunTrust Park

This was the VERY FIRST regular-season game at the Braves’ new ballpark, and it was the 53rd major league stadium I ever visited . . . so you could say I was excited. Here’s what it looked like from the road:

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I was with my friend Brandon. He’s the guy who’s been traveling all over the place with me lately and filming the videos for my YouTube channel. Here’s a screen shot of me doing the intro for the video in the parking lot:

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It was nearly five hours until first pitch — plenty of time to wander around the stadium and take it all in. Check out the 3rd base gate:

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Did you notice the small electronic screen with the gate opening time? What a great idea! (I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been at a stadium and asked three different employees when the gates open and gotten three different answers.) And best of all, the game was scheduled to begin at 7:35pm, which meant I’d get inside more than three hours early and see both teams take their full batting practice. I wasn’t nervous about getting shut out — somehow I always find a way to snag at least one baseball — but I was feeling a little extra pressure with Brandon there filming, and I wanted as much ballhawking action as possible.

I walked counter-clockwise around the stadium . . .

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. . . and stopped to look at everything:

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So did everyone else. Here are a bunch of men who took turns posing in front of a statue of Bobby Cox:

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In case you can’t tell from that photo, they were Asian, and based on the snippets of their conversations that I overheard, I knew they were Japanese. That made me wonder: is Bobby Cox big in Japan? I mean, if that were a statue of Brad Clontz, would they have been just as excited?

Here’s a statue of Phil Niekro, which got ME excited because of the knuckleball grip:

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As I approached the right field gate, I got recognized by these guys:

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One of them admitted that he was the person who’d asked me this mildly inappropriate question in one of my recent Q&A videos; my mildly inappropriate in-person response made them laugh:

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I toned things down a bit at the huge plaza between the right field and chop house gates. Brandon and I spotted a two-person TV crew interviewing random fans, including this old-timer with a killer sign:

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After the woman finished talking to him, Brandon told her about me, and I did a brief interview as well. You can see a bit of that in my video, which I’ll link to at the end of this blog entry, so keep scrolling/reading for now. And by the way, I’ve blogged about all 52 of the other MLB stadiums I’ve been to. This entry makes it 53-for-53, and you can see those entries here, arranged neatly by stadium in alphabetical order.

Check out the plaza from above:

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Beautiful! (Right?)

Here I am near a large Atlanta Braves sign outside the chop house gate.

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This was the scene outside the left field gate at around 4pm:

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I expected it to be much more crowded, so I’d asked my friends Leigh Barratt and David Welch (fellow ballhawks) to hold a spot for me at the front of the line. Here I am with them just before the stadium opened:

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That’s Leigh (aka “Padre Leigh”) on the left and David on the right. Great guys. Leigh is as passionate about hitting up new stadiums as I am. We met for the first time on 4/22/08 at Champion Stadium, and check this out — here’s a photo of us on 3/22/14 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Remember when the Dodgers and Diamondbacks opened the MLB season there with a pair of regular-season games? Ooh yeah.

As for THIS game in Atlanta, I was thrilled to finally run inside and get my first glimpse of the stadium:

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Based on my own ballhawking preview of the stadium, I knew that left field was the best place to catch home runs. That said, I gave up on it quickly and headed over to right-center because (a) it got crowded within a few minutes and (b) several lefties started hitting.

A little while later, I spotted Braves pitcher Ian Krol picking up a ball on the warning track:

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I called out to him and got him to toss it up — but he threw it so far over my head that I didn’t even bother jumping. Instead I turned around and hoped for a good deflection, and whaddaya know? It hit the back of a seat and bounced right back to me. Here I am reaching out for the bare-handed snag:

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I had gotten at least one baseball at each of the other 52 stadiums that I’d been to, so it felt great to extend that streak. Here I am enjoying a tender moment with the newest member of my baseball family:

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Umm . . . yeah.

After that I turned my attention to the chop house section in straight-away right field:

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Before I say anything else, let me tell you that ALL of right field is difficult at this stadium. The problem with right-center is that most of the seats are behind the bullpen and approximately 20 feet high, so it takes a real blast for a ball to land there. There IS one little patch of seats beside the bullpen, but it gets crowded there, so catching a home run in right-center is unlikely. Then there’s the chop house. Lots of balls land there, but in order to enter the seating area, you need a ticket for that section, and those rows are narrow anyway, so the presence of just one other person clogs up the space and makes it nearly impossible to move from side to side. Therefore the only decent spot that was available to me in right field was directly under the “chop house” sign at the back of the section. That’s a somewhat narrow but wide-open area that connects the restaurant to the outdoor seating. Anyone is allowed to stand there, which is nice, but guess what? That just means it gets crowded as hell.

Here I am waiting for some action:

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Here’s a bunch of people scrambling and going nuts and falling on top of each other for a ball:

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In the image above, that’s my glove and arm on the right-hand side. I hung back because it just wasn’t worth getting involved and potentially injured in that mayhem. For a gamer? Sure. (Or when I was 14? Of course!) But not a BP ball at this point in my life.

Another issue with the chop house is that the back wall produces TONS of ricochets, so you really need to watch out. While that entire area looks cool and is probably a lovely spot to sit or stand and watch the game, it seems like an injury waiting to happen, especially during BP.

Check out the following screen shot. You can see everyone looking up at the ball except for me:
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I predicted that it would hit the back wall and bounce down into the seating area, so I was already focusing on my route to get down there. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened, and as the ball started rattling around in the last row, I was all over it:

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Here I am with it:

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I’m not sure who hit it, but if I had to guess, I’d say Nick Markakis.

Back in left field for the next group of Braves hitters, I noticed several balls in the bullpen. It was the perfect opportunity to bust out my glove trick:

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Here I am reeling in my third ball of the day, and if you look closely, you can see another type of ball-retrieving device — the cup trick — dangling in the background:

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I snagged another ball with the glove trick and handed that to the nearest kid. (Once again, you’ll see all of this in the video — if you haven’t seen it already.)

Look how crowded it got in left field:

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Did you spot me in the image above? That’s me right in the middle on the stairs — not ideal circumstances to catch a baseball. It was almost as crowded as BP for the Home Run Derby. In an attempt to gain an edge, several kids stood atop the outfield wall!

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To clarify, there’s a double-wall with a four-foot-wide patch of grass/plants in between, but still, that was quite a sight. And where was stadium security? Nowhere. I’m all in favor of having fewer rules, but sometimes people need to be told “no.”

That double-wall, by the way, is yet another dangerous spot. The actual outfield wall is too far away for people to reach from the stands, which of course is the point. The stadium was designed like that to prevent fan interference on deep fly balls, but because people can’t reach it, they’re going to get drilled in the face by deflections when they’re standing in the front row. Mark my words and be careful! That’s an awful spot. You basically never want to be in the front row anyway unless there’s a chance to get a toss-up, in which case you can just move down there for a few moments.

SunTrust Park is one of the stadiums that has protective netting in front of the dugouts — kinda funny considering how easy it is to get hurt in the outfield. I hate that netting (for various reasons), but check this out — because of a quirky configuration near the home-plate end of the dugout, there’s actually a gap were it’s possible to get toss-ups:

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Naturally, since that’s the only place to get toss-ups near home plate, it was packed. I knew I had no chance, and when the visiting Padres cleared the field, my total number of baseballs for the day was still at four. Not great. Not awful. But this day was bigger than my typical ballhawking mission. I was just glad to be there and for the next hour, I turned my attention to exploring the stadium.

Here I am with a gigantic glove at a Mizuno stand in the left field corner:

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Fans are able to rent (normal-sized) gloves there for free. (Mizuno will place a $1 hold on your credit card, but then refund it when you return the glove.) Cool idea.

As the field started getting set for the pre-game ceremony, I wandered up some stairs in deep center field. This was the view:

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Here’s what it looked like up there:

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That’s an interesting setup — a narrow walkway above the 100 Level concourse. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to walk to the right-field side of the stadium up there because of this:

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The area behind the batter’s eye was blocked off for a private event. Bah!!

Brandon and I had to go back downstairs as part of our route toward the upper deck. Of course I took lots of photos along the way, including this one of fans entering the chop house gate:

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Here’s another problem with SunTrust Park:

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As I explained in the video, the concourses are too narrow. And yes, I realize that it won’t usually be THAT crowded, but still, come ON. This stadium was built in an inconvenient spot in the middle of nowhere. It’s not like the architects had to cram it into a teeny patch of real estate, like some other new/downtown stadiums, so what were they thinking? It’s always better to have too much space than too little, and as long as I’m already complaining . . . there weren’t enough garbage cans, but hey, at least that can be fixed. I think the stadium is interesting and beautiful overall, but certain parts of it just weren’t thought out. (Given the fact that I’ve been to more MLB stadiums than anyone who will ever design one, I’m still waiting to be hired as a consultant.) (That’s kind of a joke.) (Or wait, is it?) (Hi.) (Let’s move on.)

The uppermost concourse wasn’t as crowded:

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Perhaps that’s because 98 percent of the crowd was already seated. Check out this panorama from the top of the upper deck behind home plate:

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This was my favorite moment of the pre-game ceremony:

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When the 83-year-old Hank Aaron walked out onto the field, I got chills. There was a specific type of buzz throughout the stadium that only occurs in the presence of a true legend.

Brandon wanted to stay in the upper deck for the first pitch, so I left him there and headed downstairs. I made it to the left field foul line just in time to see the Braves jogging in from the outfield on a long red carpet:

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MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred gave a nice, brief speech:

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Then, after the player introductions, everyone stood for the national anthem:

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Here’s the huge American flag covering the outfield:

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As the song was ending, I heard the roar of jets, pointed my iPhone skyward, and barely managed to capture the flyover:

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Finally it was time for the game to begin. I wasn’t quite sure how to document it, so I selfie-filmed myself watching the first pitch:

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That pitch was thrown by Julio Teheran; Manuel Margot, the Padres’ leadoff batter, boldly swung at it and flied out to center fielder Ender Inciarte — and just like that, a new era of baseball in Atlanta was underway.

Brandon came downstairs soon after, and we moved to left field. To hell with foul balls and toss-ups, at least until the first home run was hit. I needed to be in the outfield to have a chance, however small, of catching it.

The Braves jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st inning, and the Padres tied it in the top of the 2nd. The crowd was really into it, especially this guy who led everyone in various chants:

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In the bottom of the 4th, the Braves took a 3-2 lead — still no home runs, though. I was anxious and antsy. My mind was racing. I had too much energy. It was hard for me to sit still. I wanted to be moving. Running. Playing. Talking. Eating. Fiddling with my phone. Playing deep for power hitters. Running to the other side of the stadium for lefties. And so on. But none of that happened at this game. I was confined to one little spot. The most I could do was wander down to the front row between innings and take a photo of the double-wall/plant situation:

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I would have loved to have an actual hard ticket (instead of an e-ticket), but instead I had to settle for taking a photo of someone else’s ticket:

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That belonged to a friendly man sitting behind me, and when he told me how much he’d paid for four of them, I struggled to maintain a poker face. I’m not sure where he got ’em, but when I was browsing online just a few days before the game, tickets really weren’t THAT expensive. This was the first inaugural game I’d ever been to at a brand-new stadium; I was expecting World Series prices, but it turned out to be just like any other normal Opening Day. What’s up with that? Is that an Atlanta thing? Have I gotten jaded by living in New York City my whole life and overpaying for everything?

In the bottom of the 6th, Ender Inciarte crushed the baseball and my dreams: two-run homer to right field. Womp-womp. So much for that. But on the plus side, I no longer felt bound to the outfield, so I headed back to my actual seat in foul territory and got the ball that ended the 7th inning. Brandon Phillips lined out to Padres left fielder Travis Jankowski, who tossed me the ball as he jogged toward the dugout. Very easy and VERY COOL. Check it out:

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I was hoping that there’d be ultra-rare SunTrust Park balls with the date of the inaugural game stamped below the logo, but eh. Having a generic Opening Day logo is now more important than commemorating the first game at a new stadium? It didn’t used to be like that. Look at this ball from the inaugural game at Miller Park. I wasn’t there that day; I got lucky and randomly snagged it at a subsequent BP, but anyway, you can kinda/barely see the date at the bottom: APRIL 6th, 2001.

There was no more scoring after the Inciarte home run. Final score: Braves 5, Padres 2.

After the final out, I caught up with two friendly on-field employees. First it was this guy named Chip who works as a groundskeeper and had recognized me during BP:

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Then I chatted with an old buddy and former ballhawk named Evan, who now works as a batboy:

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When Evan first came out of the dugout, he handed me a ball, so that was my 6th of the day. How cool is that? We used to compete against each other in the stands (friendly competition, but still), and now he can actually add to my collection. Life is funny like that. Check out this photo of us when we met for the first time on 5/19/10 at Turner Field. (Congrats, Evan, for nailing an awesome job! And thanks for the ball. Hope to see you again soon.)

Ready for the most unusual autograph request of all time? Some dude asked me to sign a plunger!

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But it’s not just any old plunger. (I made sure it was new and clean and unused.) This one was rigged as a ball-retrieving device. Ha!!

I moved up to the cross-aisle to film a closing scene for the video and was interrupted by a very very very VERY drunk and obnoxious woman who insisted on giving me a kiss:

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At first I tried to decline politely, but she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. (But whatever, right? She was a woman, so that makes it okay, and obviously I wanted it because I’m a man, LOLOL. /s) Ultimately I decided it’d be easier and less confrontational to play along and accept the kiss and send her on her way. But then of course she asked what we were filming, and then she demanded to be in the video, so Brandon held up the camera and pretended to film while she rambled about B.S. She finally walked off and we got back to work. #coorslight

If you’re wondering why it was still so crowded after the game (and during the closing scene of the video), that’s because it was Fireworks Night, so lots of folks stuck around.

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Here’s another fireworks photo with the game-used baseball.

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On the way out, I got a glimpse of a Hank Aaron statue/display in the concourse behind home plate:

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Did you notice the “755” against the back wall? That, of course, represents his career home run total, and it’s made of baseball bats. Good stuff. The whole stadium is filled with things to see and has lots of nooks and crannies and places to wander and explore and hang out. It’s a great stadium overall — one that requires several days to see everything — and the Braves did a solid job of showcasing the teams and legends of the past.

Here’s a photo taken outside the stadium:

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Once again, I realize that the crowd was extra large and that it won’t always be like this, but just a little warning: the taxi line was nightmarish. There was one spot where fans had to wait for an Uber. That line was the length of a football field. Traffic wasn’t moving *and* there were no Ubers in sight. Brandon and I were staying at a hotel roughly one mile from the stadium but because of the indirect route, it turned out to be a two-mile walk. That’s how we got back both nights. (We were at SunTrust again for the next game.) And it wasn’t a pleasant walk. We had to pass alongside a construction zone and encountered a few semi-shady characters along the way. I’m from New York City, so whatever — I *am* a shady character, and I’m used to walking everywhere (I don’t even own a car), but poor Brandon from SoCal couldn’t deal with it and nearly had a meltdown.

Why is the Uber situation so awful at SunTrust Park? Well, because of traffic. Duh! But more specifically, it’s because none of the local Uber drivers want any part of that post-game madness. I asked a driver about it the next day (drop-off is a breeze when going TO the stadium hours before game time), and he said it’s not worth waiting in traffic for an hour only to earn a few dollars for a short ride. My advice, therefore, for my fellow baseball travelers, is to stay close to stadium and walk to your hotel . . . or walk half a mile (or more) from the stadium and call a taxi from there.

Of the six baseballs that I snagged, here are the four that I kept:

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That’s pretty much it. I haven’t blogged in a while. I forgot how much fun it is (and also how much time it takes) to crank out a 3,600-word entry. Hope you enjoyed it. Keep scrolling for that video I’ve been talking about . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

 6 baseballs at this game

 45 balls in 8 games this season = 5.63 balls per game.

 1,285 consecutive games with at least one ball

53 different MLB stadiums with at least one ball

 9,520 total balls

All of the baseballs that I snag this season are raising money for the charity Pitch In For Baseball. If you donate money, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win some baseball prizes, including a custom Wilson glove. CLICK HERE to watch a YouTube video explaining how it all works.

Finally, as promised, here’s my video about this epic day at SunTrust Park:

Thanks for reading/watching and don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel. I’ll be posting dozens of videos this season.

2017 charity fundraiser prizes

What’s up, guys! It’s been a while since my last post because I’ve shifted my attention over to YouTube, so check me out there. More specifically, I just posted a new video announcing my 2017 fundraiser to benefit Pitch In For Baseball, a charity that provides baseball and softball equipment to children and communities all over the world. I’ve been raising money for them every season since 2009, and once again I’ll be giving away a bunch of baseball prizes to people who donate money. This year the best prize is a custom glove from Wilson Sporting Goods! Check out this video — you can see all the prizes and learn more about how to get involved:

Here’s the link for donating money:

https://pledgeit.org/zack-hample-s-ballhawking-for-youth-baseball-2017

Other prizes include an autograph of Hall-of-Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, baseball cards, bobbleheads, a signed copy of The Baseball, Cubs hats, various giveaway items from Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, and a commemorative ball from the 2017 World Baseball Classic signed by Team Israel pitcher/White Sox prospect Alex Katz.

Thanks and good luck to everyone who participates.

9/7/91 at Fenway Park

Let me start with a photo and then give you a little context:

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See that dweeb in the yellow shirt? That’s me at the age of 13. I don’t remember what my lifetime baseball total was at the start of the day, but I can tell you this: one month later I snagged my 18th ball at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, so I was still VERY new to this whole ballhawking thing.

Here’s another fun fact: prior to this game at Fenway, I’d only been to Shea and Yankee, so this was my first time visiting a major league stadium outside of New York City.

I managed to snag three baseballs during batting practice, mainly due to the fact that I got to enter the stadium extra early . . . thanks to these guys:

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In the photo above, that’s my dad on the left. The gentleman on the right — his longtime friend Harry Dickson — was super-connected in Massachusetts and knew everyone at the stadium. The fact that he was Michael Dukakis‘s father-in-law might’ve had something to do with that, but enough about politics. Harry got us inside early, arranged for us to hang out in a suite for the entire game, and even took me up to the press level.

Here I am getting to operate the electric portion of the Green Monster scoreboard DURING THE GAME:

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In the photo above, do you see the small boxlike thing at the bottom with square buttons on it? (It’s just to the left of my elbow.) That was the machine that controlled the scoreboard. When I saw the ump call a strike, I pushed a little “strike” button — and so on. No pressure. There were only 33,000 people in attendance.

Obviously I was excited to get to do that, but I hadn’t been to enough stadiums to fully grasp how excited I should’ve been. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but stupid 13-year-old me was like, “Cool, so this is what fans sometimes get to do at baseball games.”

I wish I’d taken a photo of the scoreboard-operating machine. I wish I’d photographed the inside of the suite or at least my view from it. (It was on the first base side.) Or any of the free/unlimited hot dogs I ate. Or my mom. Or the baseballs that I snagged. But I don’t think I owned a camera back then. Documenting things was a foreign concept. I was still four years away from starting a journal, 14 years away from blogging, and 17 years away from creating my YouTube channel. Therefore the only photos I have from the stadium are the ones my parents happened to take. Thankfully this was one of them:

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That’s me with Sherm Feller, the longtime public address announcer for the Red Sox. (I was all about the Mets back then and wore that cap everywhere.) He was nice enough to let me pose at the microphone:

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The game itself was WILD. It set a new record for the longest nine-inning game in history: four hours and six minutes, which was unheard of in the early 1990s. There was a ton of scoring, multiple lead changes, and the Red Sox ended up beating the Mariners 11-10.

Remember Mike Greenwell? Red Sox outfielder? No? Well, he went 3-for-5 with two doubles, a homer, and six RBIs. Wade Boggs, Jody Reed, Carlos Quintana, and Ellis Burks all had two hits apiece for Boston.

For the Mariners, catcher Dave Valle went 4-for-5 with a double and four RBIs. Ken Griffey Jr. only had one hit, but it was his 40th double of the season, and he knocked in a pair of runs. Jay Buhner and Alvin Davis each had two hits; Edgar Martinez, Harold Reynolds, and Tino Martinez each picked up one hit. Omar Vizquel went hitless and some tall, lanky scrub named Randy Johnson allowed seven runs in the first two innings. I wonder what became of him. He threw really hard and was supposed to be great.

My dad’s friend really hooked it up for us. Even our exit was memorable and photo-worthy:

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Either I *always* wore that shirt (quite possible) or my parents drove us directly to Shelter Island after the game. I say that because of this photo, taken on the ferry to the Island:

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But then . . . where was my Mets cap? And why wasn’t it closer to dusk? And why was I only holding one ball instead of all three? Maybe that photo doesn’t belong here, but I like it.

I’m proud to say that 25 years later, I still have my ticket stub from this game, paper clipped to an index card with a few notes:

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That’s what I used to do with my tickets back in the day, at least for the games at which something special happened.

BTW, Mike Trout was one month old when this game was played. Thanks to Twitter user @BravesStats for pointing that out.

I might post more “Turn Back The Clock” entries this winter, but for now, check out the ones I’ve already done:

1) October 4, 1992 at Fulton County Stadium
2)
 June 11, 1993 at Candlestick Park
3) Game 5 of the 1993 World Series at Veterans Stadium
4)
August 24-25, 1995 at Anaheim Stadium
5)
 June 11, 1996 at Shea Stadium
6) July 1, 1998 at Three Rivers Stadium
7)
 July 2, 1998 at Cinergy Field
8) July 10, 1998 at Tiger Stadium
9) July 13, 1998 at County Stadium
10) July 14, 1998 at Busch Stadium
11) May 29, 1999 at the Kingdome
12) July 18, 1999 at the Astrodome
13) September 24-25, 1999 at the Metrodome
14) May 9-10, 2000 at Olympic Stadium
15)
 July 17-18, 2000 at Qualcomm Stadium

And hey, don’t miss the old stadium videos that I’ve recently posted on YouTube. I only have two there for now (Fulton County and Veterans), but I have four more on the way . . .

Zack Hample bobbleheads

Ten months ago, I received an email from someone at the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum who asked if I’d be interested in having a bobblehead done of myself.
Long story short: I was skeptical at first but ended up going for it, and now it actually exists! Check it out:

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How cool/ridiculous is that?!

Here are two more photos of it — front and back:

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Five hundred of these bobbleheads were made, and I received a dozen:

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My mom claimed one of them, and now I’m thinking about what to do with the rest. I’ll probably give some away in contests and keep a few for myself — but what about the other 488 that were made? They’re on sale at bobbleheadhall.com.

Here are more photos for you, starting with the front and back of the box:

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Here’s what each side panel looks like:

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In case you’re curious about the packaging, here you go:

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Want to see what the manufacturing/development process looked like? Here are some images I received of the first mold:

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Did you notice the error? Take a closer look at my glove, and you’ll see that it’s wrong-handed. (Is that actually a term?) In the mold above, that glove would fit properly on a right hand, but as you can see, it’s on the left hand. ¡¡NO BUENO!! Thankfully, though, everything at that point was still able to be tweaked.

Meanwhile check out the amazing facial detail:

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When the next round of images came my way, I was glad to see that the glove had been fixed:

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Here’s a closeup of the corrected glove:

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Eventually I saw what the bobblehead would look like with color:

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That’s when I noticed the stubble on its face:

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The stubble was good in theory — a nice, realistic detail as I’m often in need of a shave — but I didn’t love how it looked on the bobblehead. It just seemed dirty, so I asked if that could be removed.

The answer was yes. Take a look a the new smoother/sexier version:

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Here’s one more image for you — a screen shot during the design process, sent by the folks who were working on it:

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Many thanks to the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. Several friends have joked, “NOW you’ve made it!” but in all seriousness, it’s truly an honor to have had this done.

This is actually not the first bobblehead that’s been made of me, but the first one was totally bizarre, and I wouldn’t have even known about it if not for my friends Ben and Jen. If you have a few minutes to spare, watch this hilarious/overly-dramatic YouTube video that they filmed a few years ago in Australia.

9/2/16 at Kauffman Stadium

As I mentioned in my last entry, I’ve been focusing more on YouTube lately. This season I got a ton of comments on my videos about how I should go back to Kauffman Stadium, and guess what?! I wasn’t filmed at this game. Sorry, everyone.

The reason I went to Kansas City is that I was hired to do a Watch With Zack game, and my client — a guy in his 40s named James — didn’t want to be filmed. What *did* he want? He told me just wanted to hang out and snag some baseballs with me and watch the game.

Here’s what it looked like on the drive to the stadium:

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We’d picked this date weeks in advance, so it was lucky that the weather turned out to be perfect.

This was our view as we sat around and waited for the stadium to open:

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In the photo above, do you see the fan with his glove on the ground? He was in the process of “stealthily” photographing me. People never think I’ll notice, but it’s actually quite obvious.

James had taken care of our tickets, including a bonus pair for the “Early Bird BP Tour.” That got us an extra hour inside the stadium, but we were confined to the seats behind the dugout. Here’s what it looked like:

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Words can not describe how much I hate that netting. (Actually, wait, I’m a writer. I can describe anything, but you get the point.)

Here’s what it looked like on our left:

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What a waste of space! Stadium security could easily move those cruddy little flags one section over or, ya know, have their ushers spread out a bit and just let fans have the entire foul line.

At one point, a left-handed batter on the Royals sliced a foul ball into those seats. I vividly remembered, on previous visits, being allowed to chase after baseballs once they landed, so I hopped the flags and went over to retrieve it:

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Then I was informed by an usher that I’m not supposed to do that.

With James hanging out nearby, I was able to snag two more baseballs, both of which were tossed to other people. The first one from Cheslor Cuthbert sailed just above a girl’s head and rattled around in the seats, so I picked it up and handed it to her. The second ball was thrown by Jarrod Dyson to a grown man who dropped it. Given the fact that he dropped it because (a) he didn’t have a glove and (b) was already holding a ball in his hands that Dyson had *just* thrown to him, I kept it. Well, I offered it to James, and when he declined, then I kept it. And by the way, Dyson had chucked several balls into the seats in a matter of seconds. They weren’t intended for anyone in particular, so that’s why two of them sailed right to the same guy. He didn’t care. Everyone was cool with it.

When the entire stadium finally opened, James and I headed out to left field. Tigers BP was already underway, and it didn’t take us long to get more baseballs. James got a toss-up from John Hicks, and I snagged a pair of home run balls. I’m not sure who hit them, so all I can tell you is that I grabbed the first one off the ground and caught the second one on the fly. James didn’t mind that I was snagging most of the baseballs, but I wanted to see him get a few more on his own.

For the next group, we headed out to right-center field. Here he is in the orange shirt:

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For a few more minutes, there was lots of room behind us on the Pepsi Porch:

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I helped James snag a toss-up from Tyler Collins, and then we split up for a bit. He stayed in right-center . . .

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. . . and got Justin Verlander to throw him a ball, which he gave to a girl. I camped out in left field and didn’t get anything, which was no surprise. As you can see in the photo above, it was crowded.

Do you remember this photo from my previous trip to The K in 2015? I caught up with one of those kids . . . named J.T. And check it out — he’d brought his copies of all three of my books for me to sign:

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It was nice seeing him again, and I’m glad to report that he snagged a bunch of baseballs.

After batting practice, James and I wandered around in search of something to eat. We decided to try some specialty hot dogs (his treat — very generous), so here’s what I got:

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I can’t even remember everything that was piled on top — blue cheese, bacon, clogged arteries, onions, pulled pork, a heart attack, more bacon, etc. (In case you’re wondering, I gained five pounds in the second half of the season. I truly ate like a maniac, and now I’m undoing the damage. #NoRegrets)

This was our view for the game:

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It was a great spot except for that STUPID NETTING. I actually suggested that we sit there, knowing that we’d have to deal with it.

Look who found me and hung out for an inning:

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That’s my good friend Garrett Meyer.

Oh, and I wasn’t done eating. Look what else I got:

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See what I mean? Maniac. And by the way, those are brownies in between the strawberries.

James came through in a big way after the 3rd inning, and I was really happy for him. He got a game-used ball (the ball that ended the inning) tossed by Jose Iglesias, so the numbers had evened out after all. He had snagged four baseballs at that point, and I had gotten five. Meanwhile, look how crowded it was as the 4th inning got underway:

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That’s what two consecutive World Series appearances will do.

In the photo above, did you notice what it says on the jumbotron? Now look at it down below:

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I was appalled by the all the “GET LOUD” instructions that kept playing/blasting. There were no fewer than *ten* in that half-inning! It was so gimmicky and intrusive, often happening between every pitch. The only other stadium where my eardrums get assaulted that frequently is Citi Field.

In the 5th inning, James and I headed out to left field. I’m always happy to be in the outfield, and he was glad to walk around and check out the view from a different angle:

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While we were out there, an autograph collector named Jason found me and had me inscribe a photo of us that had been taken last year:

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He requested that I write “I caught Mike Trout’s 1st career home run.” Just wanna be clear about that. I don’t make a habit of signing things in a braggy way.

James and I stayed in the outfield for the rest of the game and talked baseball and hung out with various people who came over to say hello to me. I was concerned that he’d get annoyed by all the distractions (I wanted to focus on him), but he was delighted to see me do my thing. He had such a pleasant, laid-back demeanor. You know how some people make you feel that no matter what you do, it’s not good enough? James was the opposite, and I really enjoyed being in *his* world for a day.

Check out this panorama I took late in the game from deeeeeeeep right field:

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Did you know that the upper fountains at Kauffman Stadium are THAT wide? Now you do.

Here’s the scoreboard with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning:

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Crazy game. Lots of scoring. Two lead changes right at the end. Good stuff.

Earlier in the evening, James and I noticed that the players all had yellow/ribbons on their uniforms. That was done for childhood cancer awareness. The umpires were also wearing stuff to support the cause, and Garrett, that lucky son of a bee, got a wristband from one of them:

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After the game, James spotted a ball here in the bullpen:

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(I took that photo a few minutes after the fact, so the ball was no longer there.)

He didn’t feel the need to snag it, so he let me call out to the groundskeepers and make the play.

Final score: Tigers 7, Zack 6, Royals 6, James 4. Hooray for crooked numbers!

Here’s one more photo of the fountains before we headed out:

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Here’s something that caught my eye as we approached the exit:

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That looks like some freaky animal footprint, no?

Here’s the stadium as seen from the parking lot:

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I gave away two of my baseballs over the course of the day. (I would’ve given them all to James, but he was content with the ones he’d snagged, and by the way, he gave away two of his own.)

Here are the four balls I kept (logos on the left; sweet spots on the right):

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The Tigers have marked their baseballs for years. They used to draw a streak over the logo, but now they mark the sweet spot instead. (If you want to see my entire collection of marked balls, click here.)

Early the next morning, I was awakened by some serious . . . shaking. The entire building felt like it was rocking back and forth. My first thought was that the upstairs neighbors were being rude and should control their kids, but then it occurred to me that I was on the top floor. Was their some major construction outside? It was very strange and ended within a minute, so I went back to sleep. Turns out it was an earthquake that could be felt all the way from Oklahoma!! That’s the first one I’ve ever experienced.

Several hours later, I saw this in an airport vending machine:

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Way to keep it classy, Kay-Cee! (I kid, I kid. Classiness is overrated.)

Overall I had a great time. MANY thanks to James for bringing me out and also for sending this incredibly kind email three days later:

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James and I are still in touch, and he’s considering being in a video next year. Who else wants that to happen? Leave a comment and let him know.

Oh, and finally, click here to see my Watch With Zack stats — kinda cool to see how the numbers have stacked up over the years.