6/28/05 at Shea Stadium

Less than a minute after I ran inside Shea and headed to left field for batting practice, someone on the Mets hit a ball that landed in that narrow gap between the seats and the wall along the foul line. A security guard warned me not to go in there. I asked if I could lean over and grab it from the seats. He nodded. I got it. Big reach. At least four or five feet down. I had to kick up my feet and do a balancing act on my stomach on the railing. That made it 397 consecutive games with at least one ball.

Moments later, Chris Woodward hooked a foul ball into the first row of empty blue seats, 20 feet to my right. There were four big guys (who looked like they belonged at a keg party) standing several rows behind the spot where it landed. I was already moving. They reacted slowly. I raced over. One of them barged down the steps at the last second and nearly smashed into me, but I squeezed past him and grabbed the ball half a second before he got there.

JoseoffermanBefore long, Jose Offerman stepped into the cage and lofted a lazy fly ball down the line. I took a couple steps forward into the blue seats, reached out, and caught it on a fly. Too easy. It was my 100th ball of the season–and my 8th consecutive season with 100 or more balls. So much for my Rheal Cormier prediction. The guard didn’t say anything, but the other guys did. They were mad. The score was Zack 3, Keg Party 0. (Baseball gloves work better than cell phones.)

Another Mets batter smoked a line drive toward the blue seats. It was heading ten feet to my right, so I quickly moved down one row in order to get a good look at it when it hit the ground. I figured it would hit the bottom of a chair and rattle around, but instead it skipped off of something and, without losing much velocity, deflected right toward me and whacked my right shoulder and bounced back into left field. The guys laughed at me and cheered. I didn’t give a damn about them or the ball. I was in pain–but glad, VERY glad, that I hadn’t gotten hit in the face. By the time it hit me, the ball was probably traveling somewhere between 70 and 80mph. The guard came over and asked if I was okay. (That’s a first.) My shoulder was throbbing. I could barely lift my arm over my head. “I’m fine,” I said, “thanks for asking.” He told me I should go to the First Aid room, but I didn’t leave, and that’s a good thing because less than a minute later, someone fouled another ball into the seats. This time, it landed ten rows behind me, so I raced up the steps, cut to my right, hurdled an orange railing, and grabbed it, extending my streak with four or more balls to 25 games. It was 5:00pm. I’d been inside Shea for 20 minutes. My new goal for the day was to reach double digits.

“You have fooooouuuuur!!! Give us one!!!” whined the frat boys before one of them moved over to my section and stood two rows behind me. I noticed that Adam (a.k.a. “thegroceryman”) was out in the right field corner, struggling to get a ball out of that sloped grassy area with his glove trick. He’d done a good job of knocking the ball back toward the wall, but the grass was too thick, making it hard for the rubber band to stretch around the ball. I watched him for several minutes, rooting for him the whole time–and then I decided enough was enough, that he’d had his chance, that security was going to spot him and take the ball, that if he couldn’t get it by now, it just wasn’t going to happen. I made the two-minute sprint from left to right and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Want to give me a shot?”

“No because you’re gonna get it,” he said.

I let him try a few more times, watching as he raised the glove, adjusted the rubber band, lowered the glove, and repeated the process…nothing. Finally, I stepped into the first row and gave it a shot. Couldn’t get it. It WAS tough.

“Let’s take turns,” I said and kept watching as he lowered his glove over the ball. He jiggled it around to try to get the ball to stick, then started to lift it. Did he have it? I could see from my angle directly above…no.

I fixed my rubber band and lowered my glove again. No luck.

He tried again.
I tried again.
The other fans couldn’t take their eyes off us.
Security was nowhere to be seen. (This was truly a great day.)
And I got the ball.
Some guy, not knowing that I’d just snatched my fifth ball of the day, came over and shook my hand. (Don’t feel bad for Adam. He already had two baseballs. Hey, Adam, what’s your lifetime total up to?)

Then I asked Kaz Ishii for a ball in Japanese. He ignored me at first, then tossed one as he headed into the bullpen. That was #6.

The Phillies took the field (I was color-coordinated, wearing a bright red tee-shirt to match my Phillies cap), so I ran back to the 3rd base side. Kenny Lofton dissed me at the dugout. No ball, even though I’d asked politely and then kept my mouth shut for five minutes while he practiced throwing his very important knuckleball with Jimmy Rollins.

GrassyareaI ditched the dugout and headed to the left field corner. Jackpot! There was a ball sitting ten feet out on the sloped grassy area, and several Phillies pitchers were still throwing. I took off my glove and let out some string. This one was going to take some work–but before I started, Billy Wagner finished tossing and I asked him for the ball. He was about 100 feet away when he turned to throw it to me. I quickly stuck my hand back in the glove and reached down for his low throw. The ball skipped off the grass and bounced up, but I hadn’t reached far enough and cursed as it deflected off the tip of my glove and dropped into the grassy area. “Don’t even think about going down there,” said a voice.

I looked up.
Another security guard.
They’re all over.

“Believe me, I have no intention,” I said and started to lower my glove. There was no point in asking for his permission. He’d either stop me–or he wouldn’t.

He didn’t, and I got two more balls: #7 and #8. He seemed to enjoy the show.

The seats were packed, even out in the left field corner, and batting practice was almost done. I assumed I’d get a ball after BP at the Phillies dugout, but I needed one more before that. Opportunities were scarce, so I was thrilled when I got Ramon Martinez’s attention and got him to throw me a ball…but he threw it too high. I took a step back, jumped, reached up…and the ball sailed half a foot over my outstretched glove. I figured I’d lost my only chance, then cursed myself again when Cormier floated a ball to Adam (who was three rows away) right when I happened to look down for a couple seconds. Cormier went to pick up another ball, and I asked him for it, figuring there was no chance that he’d give away a second ball to a second guy in the same section. But he did, and I was now one ball short of double digits.

It was so crowded at the dugout that I couldn’t get into the front row, but I got Gary Varsho’s attention as he was coming off the field, and he lobbed me a ball that sailed beautifully over everyone in front of me. Number ten.

ArmitronI got some water.
I used the bathroom.
I found Adam and said goodbye.
I left the ballpark at 6:46pm, 24 minutes before the first pitch.
I was at work by 8:00pm, and I even had time to stop and get some dinner on the way.

Total balls: 2,538
2005 stats: 107 balls in 15 games = 7.1 per game
My shoulder: bruised and very sore
I care: not really

If the weather holds up, I’ll be back at Shea later today for another round of BP.


  1. boodleheimer1@aol.com

    You give obsession, dedication and focus new meaning. This is meant positively, since I’m in favor of everyone following his/her dream, as long as it doesn’t destroy other people or countries. Asking for a ball in Japanese is cool. Keep on snagging.

  2. boodleheimer1@aol.com

    P.S. You’re a fine writer with solid baseball smarts. Are you planning to do another book?

  3. Zack

    Thanks, boodleheimer. After years of dedication and focus, I’ve learned to accept “obsession” as a compliment. :-)

    The Japanese thing has worked well for me over the years. I’ve probably gotten 20 balls like that. I would have explained how to make a Japanese request, but it’s too hard to write it out phoenitically because the language is full of inflections. You know, like, if you pronounce the first syllable too hard, you might actually be saying “May the roof collapse on your grandmother’s head” instead of “Please give me ball.”) But someday, if/when we ever meet/talk, I’ll teach you if you want to know.

    Anyway, yes. I’m working on another baseball book, and I’m ALMOST done. It’s about how to watch and appreciate the sport…from a fan’s perspective. (An expert fan, that is.) I’ve written about history, strategy, anecdotes, statistics, why guys grab their crotches…all the important stuff. I’m really excited about the project, and I think it’ll be a fun AND informative read. I should be able to finish it up this winter and send it off.

  4. drosenda@msn.com

    July 29th at Ameriquest.

    Ball 1-I get into the park, and in the LF corner, a ball is near the wall. A coach heads over to pick it up, I’m like “wait, I want to try to use this device”. He walked away. I accidentally pushed the ball back, and I was thinking I was hosed. Then a group of polo/shorts wearing guys (writers, whatever) walk in from a maintenance area. I’m like “can you move the ball closer?” One guy did, and I picked it up with ease.

    Ball 2-As the Angels warmed up, I went to the area where they played catch. I was seeing who could give me a ball (checking my roster), and then someone yells “heads up”. Ball screaming in, lands about 10 rows away. I have a great bead on it, I hop a few rows, and have to spread eagle down to grab the ball.

    Ball 3 (actually my wife’s ball)-If anyone reads these blog comments, I talked about my Ameriquest game on Monday, where a guy named Joel Peralta gave me a ball. Well, he was in the same spot, and I asked him for a ball (in Spanish). He looked at me funny, and asked if he gave me one yesterday. I said no (no lie, he gave one to me the day BEFORE yesterday). Then I said “how about for my wife”. Well, in a few minutes he got a BP ball, and tossed it up to me. My wife counts that as her ball, fine with me.

    Ball 4-A big HR goes into the bullpen, and I take my device (which I lengthened for this exact situation), and I dangle it all the way down, get the ball lodged, and bring it up.

    Ball 5-Another HR goes behind the wall, and waits for me to use the device again. Some guy says something about me giving the ball to a kid. You know what? How about getting your own pickup device (that you make), get in the gate 2 hours early, and stand around in the 100 degree heat? Sorry, but the only kids I’ll give a ball to are my (future) kids.

    Ball 6-Angels were almost done with BP, and I called out about 3 or 4 different to Esteban Yan. He ignored me until the end, when he wheeled and tossed me ball 6. Have you noticed this? Guys won’t give balls away until the end of BP? Gee, would YOU want 500 little kids yelling BALL at you?

    Ball 7 (never happened)-10 seconds later, another homer clears the wall, and lands behind. As I get the device ready, Alfredo Griffin (Angels coach) runs back there, and grabs the ball for a kid. Fine with me, I just put up the device and left. Funny thing, if you read my Monday report from Ameriquest, Griffin enjoyed watching my pickup device in action, even moved the ball closer to the wall. Tonight he took one away. Oh well, 6 ball? Zackworthy?

  5. Zack

    Very worthy. Yes! Thanks for taking the time to write up all the details. You captured the drama well, especially the interaction with other fans and players and coaches. Good thing you added a little length to your string. Funny about Peralta. I’ve had the same thing happen with lots of other guys. I just tell the truth (“Yeah, you DID give me a ball the other day…”) and sometime I get rewarded with another ball for my honesty. As for guys giving away balls at the end of BP, I think the reason is that they want to wait and see if you can get one on your own first—but in my experience, I’ve seen more players give balls away early on. A lot of guys will toss just one ball into the crowd all day, and it usually goes to the first person who asks them. Sometimes, I’ll get a ball thrown to me as soon as I enter the ballpark, and then about ten minutes later, other fans will make their way down to my section and scream their heads off for a ball and end up complaining that the player is a jerk because he’s not giving anything away. Keep me (and the rest of us) posted on future balls. It’s fun to hear your stories…and to the other ball collectors out there, feel free to the do the same.

  6. thegroceryman1@yahoo.com

    I’m just lookin to 200. I need some big games.

    Time to crush babies.

  7. Zack

    Whaddaya mean 200? That’s your goal for this season, I take it, but why not think about the distant future? I’m already thinking about ball #10,000. (Okay, not really.) “Crush babies.” Where have I heard that…

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