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:

7_bobblehead_early_mold

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:

8_bobblehead_mold_face_closeup

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

9_bobblehead_mold_glove_fixed

Here’s a closeup of the corrected glove:

10_bobblehead_mold_glove_fixed_closeup

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

11_bobblehead_color_added

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

12_bobblehead_stubble

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:

13_bobblehead_stubble_removed

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

14_bobblehead_development

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:

1_kauffman_stadium_from_the_highway

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:

2_waiting_to_enter_the_stadium

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:

4_netting_blocking_the_dugout

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:

5_seats_blocked_by_stupid_flags

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:

3_zack_with_ball9261

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:

6_james_in_right_center_field

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

7_pepsi_porch_09_02_16

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

8_james_in_right_field_from_afar

. . . 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:

9_zack_and_jt_with_three_books

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:

10_fancy_schmancy_hot_dogs

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:

12_view_during_game_09_02_16

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:

13_garrett_meyer_sitting_with_me

That’s my good friend Garrett Meyer.

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

14_chocolate_strawberries_and_brownies

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:

15_very_crowded_in_foul_territory

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:

16_too_many_noisemaking_prompts

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:

17_view_from_left_field_09_02_16

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:

18_jason_with_signed_photo_of_me

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:

19_panorama_behind_fountain

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:

20_scoreboard_in_9th_inning_09_02_16

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:

21_garrett_with_yellow_wristband_from_the_umpire

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

22_ball9266_location

(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:

23_fountains_after_game

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

24_spilled_water_in_the_shape_of_a_weird_animal_footprint

That looks like some freaky animal footprint, no?

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

25_kauffman_stadium_from_parking_lot_after_game

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):

27_the_four_balls_i_kept_09_02_16

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:

26_deez_nuts

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:

28_email_from_james

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.

The future of my blog . . .

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on here, and I want to say that it’s YouTube’s fault. Sort of. I started my YouTube channel in 2008, but never took it seriously until this season. Now it’s consuming me, just like this blog did when I started THAT in 2005.

This season I’ve attended 111 Major League Baseball games and blogged about 33 of them. Many of those entries have covered games at which I was filmed for YouTube, and most of the images I posted were screen shots from the videos. See where I’m going with this? Back in 2005, the blog was my only outlet for chronicling my baseball adventures. Now it suddenly feels redundant, and I’m not nearly as motivated to work on it.

It’s also a numbers game. At this point, when I post a new entry, it gets a few hundred clicks on the first day. My videos, meanwhile, are consistently getting 20,000 to 50,000 views on the first day — and I don’t get paid for blogging.

Given how long it takes to produce a blog entry (sometimes more than five hours just to select/edit/label/upload all the images), it doesn’t make sense to keep blogging with the same intensity as before. I could spend this entire offseason catching up on the blog, but there are so many other things I’d rather do with my free time. I need to overhaul my horrendously ugly website. I want to learn how to edit video. I’ve been told that I should have a public page on Facebook and that I should get on Snapchat, so those are things that deserve my attention. I want to get back to exercising regularly and doing my weird music thing (maybe I’ll blog about THAT) and spend more time with my friends and family — not sit alone in my apartment and grab screen shots from a three-month-old video so that I can piece together a blog entry.

I do still plan to blog about some games, but chances are they won’t be games that I was filmed at. The point is, don’t give up on this blog because I’m not giving up on it. I just won’t be blogging as often, and my focus will shift a bit.

Let me leave you with two links for now. First, here’s a collection of hundreds of blog entries from all 52 of the MLB stadiums that I’ve visited. There’s gotta be stuff here that you’ve never seen, so while you’re waiting for me to post my next entry, check out some old ones. Second, here’s my YouTube channel. I’m guessing you’re already familiar with my videos, but now there’s no excuse. Watch them. They’re good. And I promise I’ll blog again soon(ish).

8/18/16 at Camden Yards

Let me start by pointing out the lump just below the neck of my shirt:

1_zack_opening_shot_for_video_08_18_16

This day was special because I was being filmed for my YouTube channel, and for the first time ever, it was done with microphone that I wore. There was a wire running up my shirt, and the mic itself was taped inside my shirt. That’s the lump.

As soon as I rushed inside the stadium, I headed down to the front row in left field. Just before I got there, some other guy picked up a ball in the front row, but as it turned out, he was an employee, so he tossed it to me, and yes, that counts. A few minutes later, I drifted to my right, jumped, and caught a J.J. Hardy homer near another fan. You can see how this played out in the video, but basically, it was someone I knew, so he congratulated me before I tossed the ball to the nearest kid.

Here’s what it looked like in left field:

2_zack_in_left_field_08_18_16

When the Astros started hitting, I switched caps . . .

3_zack_heading_to_right_field

. . . and headed to the Flag Court in right field. Soon after I got there, someone (maybe Colby Rasmus) launched a deep fly ball to my left. Here’s a screen shot of me running for it:

4_zack_running_for_ball9192

As you can see, I ran toward the back gate and out onto Eutaw Street. (That’s the open-air concourse beside the warehouse.) Once I reached the spot where I predicted the ball would land, I looked up and lost it briefly in the sun. By the time I spotted it, I realized it was falling a bit short so I lunged forward and tried to make a shoe-string catch. (My camera man didn’t make it out onto Eutaw Street quick enough to get a shot of this, so that’s why I’m describing it in great detail.) The ball tipped off the end of my glove and thankfully didn’t bounce too far away, though it hardly mattered because there wasn’t anyone else nearby going for it. When I picked up the ball, I was happy to discover that it had the Blue Jays’ “40th Season” commemorative logo on it. (The Astros had recently played in Toronto and gotten a bunch of those balls.) I’d already snagged a few over the course of the season, but hey, why not have another?

When right-handed batters took their cuts, I moved down into the seats in right-center field. That paid off as I got my hands on two more home run balls. Here I am catching the first one on the fly . . .

5_zack_catching_ball9193

. . . and here I am retrieving the second — another Blue Jays ball — in the seats:

6_zack_snagging_ball9194

That brought my total number of balls to five.

Back on the Flag Court, I caught two more home runs back to back. Here’s the second one streaking down toward me:

7_ball9196_in_mid_air

Here I am with those two baseballs:

8_zack_with_two_bp_home_run_balls

Here I am simultaneously flinching and catching my eighth ball of the day:

9_zack_flinching_and_catching_ball9197

Did you notice the guys at the table covering their heads? It’s kinda scary out there, even if you ARE paying attention — lots of bodies, hands, ricochets, deflections. That whole area seems like an injury waiting to happen, but it IS fun.

Over the course of the day, I gave away five baseballs. Here are screen shots of three of three of them:

10_zack_giving_ball9197_to_a_kid

That was it for BP.
Eight balls.
Solid.

Here I am showing my two Blue Jays balls:

11_zack_with_two_blue_jays_balls

Commemorative balls are keepers. Sorry not sorry!

In the video, you can see how sweaty I was. (At one point, I sweated off the microphone, and it had to be clipped to my shirt for the rest of the day.) Here’s a photo to provide further evidence:

12_sweaty_zack_with_caitlin

That’s Caitlin. She’s special.

I chugged two 20-ounce bottles of water and didn’t need to use the bathroom — that’s how dehydrated I’d gotten from running around for 75 minutes. My body absorbed all that liquid like it was nothing.

Shortly before game time, two Astros signed autographs along the foul line. First I missed out on Carlos Correa, and then I failed to get George Springer, pictured below:

13_zack_not_getting_george_springers_autograph

Oh well. It was cool just to be near them for a few moments.

Then I headed out to deep left-center field and said a quick hello to the Astros’ friendly bullpen catchers — Javier Bracamonte and Carlos Munoz. Here’s the latter waving at me:

14_carlos_munoz_waving

Then I turned my attention to (hopefully) catching a home run. Here I am on the Flag Court in the 1st inning:

15_zack_on_the_flag_court

For the first half of the game, I never left that spot, not even for right-handed batters. In the past, I would’ve wandered toward the 1st base side and attempted to snag a foul ball, but not this time. Why? Because three of the top ballhawks at Camden Yards — Alex Kopp, Grant Edrington, and Tim Anderson — all happened to be unable to attend this game. They normally hang out on the Flag Court during games, so I was determined to take advantage of their absence. That said, I did take a quick break at one point to grab a hot dog with a whole lot of delicious stuff on it, including chili, cheese sauce, and bacon:

16_bacon_cheese_hot_dog

(I might have to go vegan for the entire off-season.)

In the top of the 6th inning, hot dog still in hand, I headed back to left-center:

17_zack_heading_toward_the_astros_bullpen

Alex Bregman had hit a home run ball that ended up in the Astros’ bullpen. I was hoping to get it tossed up by one of the bullpen catchers. Here I am asking Bracamonte for it when he returned from playing catch with the outfielder between innings:

18_zack_asking_javier_bracamonte_for_the_alex_bregman_home_run_ball

“They want it,” he said, meaning I couldn’t have it.

Then I was recognized by a bunch of young fans who all wanted my autograph:

19_zack_signing_a_t_shirt

Here I am signing a glove . . .

20_zack_signing_a_glove

. . . and check this out — one kid asked me to sigh his cap near Cal Ripken Jr.’s autograph:

21_zack_hample_autograph_beside_cal_ripken_jr

While this was taking place, J.J. Hardy homered, and three batters later, Manny Machado followed with a blast of his own. The whole time, I was getting more and more antsy about not being on the Flag Court, but kids kept asking me to sign stuff and take selfies, and it was hard to break free. Realizing that Chris Davis was due to bat next, I finally insisted that I had to go, and AS I WAS HEADING BACK TO THE FLAG COURT, Davis hit a home run that landed right near the spot where I’d been standing all night. He hit it on the second pitch of the at-bat. Look how close I was (and look at my dismayed reaction — hands on head):

22_zack_horrified_after_missing_a_chris_davis_home_run

If I had walked away from the bullpen 15 seconds sooner, or if Davis had waited until the third pitch of the at-bat, rather than the second, to unleash that blast, I would’ve caught it. Here’s my buddy Doug Hakey explaining where it landed and how it ricocheted up against the warehouse:

23_doug_hakey_describing_where_the_ball_landed_and_bounced

It was a line drive that touched down roughly 20 feet behind the spot where I’d been standing all night, meaning I only would’ve had to back up about 10 feet in order to reach and/or jump and catch it.

I felt like absolute crap. You can see it below on my face. I wasn’t acting. It was like I’d gotten kicked in the gut:

24_zack_shocked_and_upset

In the video, I went off on a rant about how pissed I was. I thought about editing it out and pretending like it was no big deal, but that’s stupid. It might not be a big deal to 99.9999999999 percent of the people on this planet, but it was a big deal to me (in part because of this), and I decided to share the true emotional aspect of the moment.

Adding to my frustration, a crowd formed as an Orioles employee marked the spot on the pavement where the ball had landed:

25_marking_the_pavement_for_chris_davis_home_run_landing_spot

Here’s what it looked like:

26_marked_pavement_for_chris_davis_homer

I felt absolutely deflated, but what was I supposed to do? Go cry in the bathroom? Leave the game three innings early and drive back home to New York? Hell no! I’ve found that the best remedy for ballhawking heartbreak is to get back out there and keep doing it. So that’s what I did. And amazingly, I got another chance. With no outs in the top of the 7th inning, Astros rookie 1st baseman A.J. Reed crushed a home run in my direction, and best of all, my camera man managed to capture the tail end of it. Here’s a screen shot of the ball in mid-air:

27_ball_in_mid_air_aj_reed_home_run

As I drifted back and tracked the ball . . .

28_zack_tracking_aj_reed_homer

. . . I didn’t merely hope or think that I was going to catch it. I *knew* I was going to catch it — and voila! Here’s the ball streaking into my glove:

29_zack_catching_ball9198

This was my reaction:

30_zack_after_catching_ball9198 copy

That’s Doug on the left, graciously congratulating me with a high-five. (No, I didn’t leave him hanging.)

I didn’t celebrate or go crazy, but let me tell you, it felt gooooooood.

Here’s a closer look at the ball — my eighth game home run ball of the season:

31_ball9198_aj_reed_home_run

Whenever I catch a homer, I think it’s fun to get a photo of the jumbotron, listing the homer when that player comes back up to bat . . . like this:

32_aj_reed_home_run_on_jumbotron

The Orioles won 13-5 and slugged six home runs.

33_orioles_players_on_field_after_game

The Astros also went yard twice, so it was great night to be in the outfield. Here I am doing the closing shot for the video before driving back to New York:

34_zack_closing_shot_on_flag_court

Normally I post my blog entries before the videos, but this time I did things backwards, so in case you still haven’t seen the video, click here.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

35_the_four_balls_i_kept_08_18_16 9 baseballs at this game (four pictured here because I gave five away)

 565 balls in 75 games this season = 7.53 balls per game.

 1,241 consecutive games with at least one ball

 46 lifetime game home run balls (not counting toss-ups)

 9,198 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 16 donors for my fundraiser

• $135.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $1,086,16 raised this season

• $191,589.82 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009