5/9/05 at Yankee Stadium

There were just a few other fans in left field when Derek Jeter launched one to my left. I knew it was going to reach the seats, so I took off, and when the ball fell a row short and squirted past me into the main aisle, I dove for it. Headfirst on the concrete. No hesitation.
When I got up, the security guards were laughing. They know me. They know how crazy I am. But what was so funny about diving for a ball? I looked around and realized that there wasn’t anyone within ten feet of me—and I laughed, too.

The first ball of the day is the most important, especially at Yankee Stadium which fills up fast during batting practice, and I’d dive all over again for that Jeter home run. It extended my record to 388 consecutive games with at least one ball. I didn’t even have time to put the ball away before Gary Sheffield stepped back into the box and smoked a 370-foot line drive right to me. A few fans reached up for it, but it sailed over their heads. I took a couple steps forward and caught it. Easy.

“How many are you up to now?” asked one of the guards.

“Twenty-four sixty,” I said and kept moving.

Tony Womack was out in left field, and he let me down. No wait, he didn’t just let me down…he dissed me. He completely ignored my requests for a ball despite the fact that we both attended the same teeny Quaker college in North Carolina that no one’s ever heard of. (That’s Guilford, by the way.) Womack is almost a decade older than me, but we got to know each other during my freshman year. I was on the baseball team, and he worked out with us in the fall. He and I turned double plays in practice, and I once lined out to him in an intrasquad game. For a few years, he remembered me at major league games. He’d come over to chat and sometimes gave me a ball. I don’t know how it changed, but now he’s a stranger. I still root for him though. But yesterday it was war, and when he started making his way out to the left field corner to pick up a ball that had rolled onto the warning track, I used my glove trick to pluck it before he could get there.

The Mariners took the field, and Jeff Nelson tossed me my fourth ball of the day when he finished playing catch. I was six rows back, and the ball fell two rows short. That’s a LONG way to reach. My feet left the ground, and I barely caught it in the tip of my glove. In the process, my forearm whacked the back of a seat.

Although my fifth ball was tossed gently by a Mariners’ middle reliever, it was extra special because it came from a guy named J.J. Putz. I was hoping I’d get one from him so I could add his name to my list of players and coaches who’ve thrown me balls. Putz_1Actually, I was proud of myself for getting that ball because Putz was wearing his warmup jacked over his jersey (Can you blame him?), and I couldn’t recognize him at first…but his face was familiar. I’d seen him on the Mariners’ web site just a few hours earlier. He was big and very white, and I remembered having written “Blaine Neal” next to his name—whatever it was—on the roster that I’d printed. Blaine Neal is a reliever on the Red Sox. He and Putz aren’t identical, but they look similar enough for me to use one to identify the other. Anyway, I pulled out my roster, took a quick look, saw “Blaine Neal” next to Putz, and yelled “Jay-Jay!!!”

There were several lefties in the Mariners’ final round of BP, so I moved to the left field foul line. One of them (no idea who) sliced a shallow pop-up in my direction. I scurried toward home plate through a narrow row of seats, and I beat out several people in the mad scramble that followed.

That was it for the day.
6 balls
33 this season in 6 games
5.5 balls per game
Grand total: 2,464

I sat in the right field corner until the middle of the 3rd inning and then left. Very frustrating, yes, but I had to get to work by 9pm. (In case you’re interested, here’s an example of what I do there.) In couple of hours, I’m heading back to the Bronx to do it all over again. Is it worth paying $16 to watch two and a half innings? If you’re me, then yes.

7 comments

  1. Nathan

    Zack – You are the man!!! What a great fan you are. My favirote player is Cal Ripken Jr. as well. Baseball needs a REAL legend like that right now. Check out my web site that is dedicated to our legacy. *********************.com – enjoy the season!

  2. Gabriel

    Zack you definitely deserve “The Gold Glove” for that one! Derek Jeter has nothing on your diving leaps into the seats. Have you thought of wearing a mouth guard and supporter for protection? Congrats on #388 consecutive snag. Lets go Hample!

    http://dabronxbombers.mlblogs.com

  3. roscfb@yahoo.com

    Glad your having fun. By the way Wheat had 2884 career hits. Only 420 to go, which you may reach in the middle of next year given your current pace… later. z2

  4. doppychico89@yahoo.com

    Hey Zack… Update from Baltimore: The Twins game tonight yielded no balls considering I got to the park towards the the end of the Twins batting practice due to an accident on I95 that blocked all three lanes. However, the game was great since the Twins won in extras. If you watch the highlights of the game on Sportscenter, I am the only one in the Twins gear reaching for Shannon Stewart’s 10th inning HR. The ball landed 5 feet from me, only problem was that there were people everywhere. An obnoxious Orioles fan ended up with it.

    I am going back to tomorrow to see Santana finish up the three game series. I WILL be there two and a half hours early so I’ll get a ball. Thanks for the inspiration!

    -Nick

  5. loveg30@aol.com

    Zack, Good stuff, keep up the great work. Way to go Nick & continues good luck.
    Geoge

  6. Zack

    Oh my goodness, here I go answering five comments at once at 4-something in the morning…

    Nathan: Thank you. But Cal is really the man. I got to shake his hand once. I’m not going to say that it was the highlight of my life, but it was pretty **** cool. Your web site is great. If only more people could see it. Barry’s a disaster. He was once rude to me and bunch of other people outside Shea. I’m glad he’s on the DL right now.

    Gabriel: Thank you, too. I think “The Crazy Person Glove” is more like it. A supporter? Not a bad idea, but it’d need to be big enough to hold a lot of balls. Your blog is absolutely hilarious. Those pics are just sick (and I mean that in a good way). The one of Randy throwing the ball from the van is my favorite so far.

    Z-man: Thanks for the stat on Wheat, but I can’t wait ’til next year. I need a breakable milestone that’s within reach THIS year? Can’t you come up with anything else?

    Nick: Sorry you got shut out, but given the circumstances, it would’ve been tough for anyone to get a ball. I’m sorry to say that I missed seeing you on the highlight reel. I went right from the game to work and didn’t get home ’til 3am. And then I passed out. Looking forward to your report about the final game of the series.

    Geoge: No more ‘R’ in your name? Tee-hee.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s