5/3/06 at Shea Stadium

For the second straight game, I was recognized by a fan in the bathroom–but this day at Shea was better because my dad was with me. I go to 30 or 40 games a year. He goes to one or two. That’s fine. It makes our trips to the ballpark that much more special.
My favorite foul ball seats weren’t available. Pedro was pitching. It was gonna be a big crowd, so we settled on Field Level seats way out in the left field corner.

It’d been sunny all day. Then a little cloudy. And THEN, while we waited outside Gate C (where I was recognized again), it started to drizzle. Just barely. I was actually glad. I thought the iffy weather might keep some fans away. Of course, the drizzle then picked up, and when I ran inside the stadium, this is what I saw…

tarpunrolled.jpg

That’s right. No batting practice. The grounds crew was JUST starting to tarp the field.

So much for “8 balls and a freddy sanchez autograph,” I thought. That’s what a reader named Adam (a.k.a. “ramones”) had predicted the day before. I didn’t even think I’d get the five I needed to reach 2,800.

If I’d known there wasn’t going to be BP, I would’ve stayed home. I hate going to games without it. It’s my favorite part of the day. Sometimes, I show up just for BP and then leave. But what could I do? I was there, and that meant I had to maintain a streak that dated back to September 10, 1993: 432 consecutive games with at least one ball.

Mets 3rd base coach Manny Acta, back pockets bulging with balls, was talking to someone near home plate. Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui were playing catch in shallow right field. The pitching staff was getting loose in the right field corner. At least there were opportunities.

I walked down the steps toward the dugout.

“Manny!” I interrupted. “Could you please toss up a ball?”

allstarballbrandnew.jpg

“Sure! Why not!” he said with mock glee before pulling out a ball and throwing it to me.

ANOTHER All-Star ball…the 12th I’d gotten from the Mets this year. My god. Brand new. Like, from-the-box-to-Manny’s-pocket-to-my-glove new.

I ran to shallow right field, and less than a minute later, I got another All-Star ball from Matsui. Then I raced to the Loge in right field, just in time to get my third ball of the day from Duaner Sanchez (whose autograph I got two minutes later).

Who needs BP?

colorcoordination.jpg

Several Pirates took the field at 5:05pm, and I was ready. Not only had I printed their roster, along with some photos of the hard-to-recognize players, but I was color-coordinated. Ugly yellow shirt? Perfect. There was one other fan with a Pirates cap, and he didn’t even have a glove. I was set.

Jack Wilson walked by with a ball, but before I had a chance to ask for it, the usher told him not to give it to me. (Ahh, Shea Stadium.) Wilson ended up playing catch with the team’s strength/conditioning coach, who tossed it to me when they were done. It was my fourth ball of the day and No. 2,799 overall.

Mikegonzalez

ball2800.jpg

My dad already had my camera…
But I got the next ball so quickly–a 50 mph throw from Mike Gonzalez–that he wasn’t able to get a picture until two seconds after the fact.

Soon after, a player wearing “CAPPS 55” was about to finish throwing when the only other fan with a glove (a 24-year-old guy who’d recognized me 20 minutes earlier in the Loge…and who’d already gotten a ball from the strength coach) asked me what his first name was.

“I don’t know,” I joked.

“Oh c’mon, tell me! What is it?!”

“Wait, lemme get this straight,” I said. “I’m supposed to tell you his name so YOU can ask him for the ball?”

He understood the situation.
I yelled “Matt!!!”
Matt tossed it to me.

Ten minutes later, Roberto Hernandez finished up his long-toss session in the left field corner. When I asked him for the ball, he looked at me, but tossed it to a little kid with a Mets jersey and no glove. Rrr.

I gave Roberto a look of absolute defeat. He responded by holding out his hand waist high to indicate the kid’s height, then said, “I’ll get one for you. Hold on.”

robertohernandez.jpg

Roberto had always been nice, but was he REALLY going to remember later on? He started signing autographs and talking to some people he knew. I got him on a ticket from 2005, then had my picture taken with him.

“Meet me at the dugout,” he said.

“I’ll be there in a minute,” I replied.

He started walking along the warning track. I bolted up the steps and through the main aisle. Several people recognized me and wanted to talk. I had to blow them off. (Sorry, folks.) I turned left and headed down the steps. Roberto poked his head out of the dugout. Other fans started yelling and waving. He ignored them, spotted me, and flipped me the ball.

That made me feel pretty special.

Before too long, “Kids Clubhouse” was playing on the JumboTron, and when my segment came on, I took another round of photographs. My dad grabbed the camera and got this one…

Zackzackdiamondvision2

When it was over, the fans behind me applauded, then asked for a ball.

zackdad.jpg

My dad and I got pizza and water and ice cream, then found our seats. (Yeah, sometimes I take off my glasses for photos.)

autographsmay3rd.jpg

Of course, right before game time, I then had to leave my dear old dad for a few minutes when three Pirates started signing along the 3rd base line: Freddy Sanchez, Jose Castillo, and Paul Maholm–so I ended up with five autographs on the day.

If I’d been at Shea by myself, I would’ve been working the Loge for foul tips. I’d gotten a foul ball at each of my last two games, and I wanted to extend the streak, or at least try. But all the seats were full, and I didn’t want to make my dad move around, and anyway, Pedro was pitching. It was going to be a good game, and I was content to stay in our so-so section and just enjoy our togetherness.

After a few innings, with the score tied at 1-1, it started to drizzle, and half the fans scattered for cover. My dad and I made fun of them, then did the same thing ourselves when the drizzle turned to rain.

shearain2.jpg

We moved up to the Loge where we were covered by the overhang of the Mezzanine level. The rain was coming down in sheets, but the game rolled on. Every inning, the grounds crew worked frantically, patching the muddy mound and raking bags of Turface into the glistening infield dirt.

The Mets opened up a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth. Endy Chavez delivered an RBI double, and Jose Reyes knocked him in with a two-out triple. That made me happy. I love Jose Reyes, and I love triples, and the scoring put Pedro in line for the win.

The rain stopped in the seventh, so my dad and I moved to Foul Ball Territory behind the plate. Aaron Heilman mowed down the Pirates, tossing two perfect innings to get the ball to Billy Wagner in the ninth. Meanwhile, I had a few close calls, but nothing within reach–and that was fine. I was cold. It was damp. I didn’t need another ball. I just wanted Wagner to end it.

But no. He walked two of the first three batters, then gave up back-to-back, two-out, run-scoring singles to Jose Hernandez and Ronny freakin’ Paulino. Tie game. No-decision for Pedro. I was stunned.

At least I had more chances to try to get a foul ball. I asked my dad if we could stay if the game went into extra innings. HE was stunned. It wasn’t even an issue. Cool.

In the bottom of the ninth, the heart of the Mets lineup–Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, and David Wright–went down 1-2-3.

(Free baseball!)

No runs (or foul balls) in the 10th.
No runs (or foul balls) in the 11th.
No runs (or foul balls) in the top of the 12th. No surprise. Chad Bradford, with his submarine delivery and downward movement, couldn’t have gotten anyone to swing underneath a ball if he tried…but Mike Gonzalez came back out for the Pirates in the bottom of the frame. That was promising. He was topping out in the low 90s. I had a feeling that there might be a foul ball and, with the Mets sluggers due to bat again, that the game was about to end. My dad and I had been sitting on the first base side of home plate. I hadn’t been running to the third base side for lefties, but when Delgado’s name was announced, I thought, why not head to the other side and give it one final shot…

“Is that okay?” I asked, feeling guilty about leaving my dad there.

“Do your thing!” he encouraged.

I raced though the concourse and got to the other side just in time to watch BALL ONE from the crowded runway. I stepped into the aisle, hastily wiped the rain off an empty seat and sat on the edge of it just before the next pitch: foul ball right at me. In the span of one second, I stood up, crossed the aisle, reached in front of a guy who was playing with his cell phone, and made the catch. On the next pitch, Delgado hit a walk-off homer. Good night. Please drive carefully and arrive home safely.

Eight balls and a Freddy Sanchez autograph, indeed.

8balls5.3.06.jpg

STATS:

• 51 balls in 6 games this season = 8.5 balls per game.

• 433 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 59 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 92 lifetime game balls

• 3rd time getting a game ball in three consecutive games…my all-time record is four.

• 2,803 total balls

57 comments

  1. joneli24@yahoo.com

    great day considering there was no BP

    im going sunday-there should be BP cause Saturday is a day game too-but if there isnt ill try to get to the lodge spot (i have gotten a ball there)

    wish me luck

  2. towncrier18@hotmail.com

    Fantastic. Simply fantastic. And such a supportive Pops.

    *kissing fingers* MMMwah!

    (Do I make myself clear? It’s a very hard gesture to put briefly.)

  3. ramones18@cox.net

    OMG I GUESSED UR BALL TOTAL CORRECT!!!! u know ive always had luck on betting in sports. i won an ipod in a bet that the west would beat the east by four points in the basketabll allstar gane of 04. anyways, congrats too zach for 2800

  4. Zack

    JONELI-
    Thanks. I’m not sure if there will be BP on Sunday. It’s been so long since I’ve gone to day games that I really can’t say. But regardless…good luck!

    TOWN CRIER-

    Even though I’m not Italian, I got it. Supportive Pops indeed. Thanks for noticing.

  5. raider61990@yahoo.com

    Does it ever get annoying when people constantly want to ask about your blog or baseball life? Do you ever feel like you might be losing chances on getting ANOTHER ball?
    -Mike

  6. Zack

    RAMONES-
    You totally nailed it. Unbelievable. I once won a mini CD player by correctly guessing the number of chocolate chips in a big jar in a supermarket. Know how I guessed? By writing down the number of balls in my collection, which, at the time was something like 1,040.

    MIKE-

    That’s a good question, but no. I love the attention, and I love THAT the attention helps other people to catch balls of their own. Occasionally, when people won’t stop talking, I’ll just tell them straight up, “Hey, I’d love to talk, but I gotta focus on getting my next ball.”

  7. ramones18@cox.net

    thats pretty cool, i cant actually believe i got the autograph part right though, thats just total skill. when’s ur next game, ill guess that one too

  8. Zack

    It’s not just skill…it’s freaky…but in a good way. I’m not sure when my next game will be. It might actually be a little while. I was hoping to go to Camden on Tuesday, but that plan appears to have fallen through.

  9. thegroceryman1@yahoo.com

    Predicting Zack would get Freddy Sanchez’s autograph is “total skill”?

  10. Nick

    groceryman you like to get into it with people… first the typo war and now this… sheesh

  11. ramones18@cox.net

    its okay, looks like some people like making fools of themselves on the internet. apparently groveryman is one of them. and what the **** kind of a name is groveryman? get a life

  12. joneli24@yahoo.com

    i called zack getting jonny gomes’ auto on zacks record breaking night at yankee stadium

    its not skill

  13. ramones18@cox.net

    u guys are missing the point here, i called the ball count and the autograph, plus he had no batting practice, so top that

  14. Zack

    Gentlemen, please…

    Let’s not get snippy with one another. We’re all baseball fans, and we’re all baseball collectors.

    Need I say more?

  15. Nick

    I might be making it out to the Pittsburgh-Nationals game tomorrow night… wish me luck.

  16. thegroceryman1@yahoo.com

    Folks, folks…

    I wouldn’t usually fully reply or even somewhat reply to such silly things but hey I’m feeling zesty tonight.

    1) Freddy Sanchez is a good autograph signer and it wasn’t unlikely Zack, or anyone else with a sharpie and a dream, would get his autograph.

    2) Nick – I suppose you didn’t grasp the facetious manner in which I pointed out that typo the other day. Seriously, a war? No.

    3) Making a fool? Who’s the one having “COX” follow him around the internet? Hmm…

    4) “So top that?” lol…and I need to “get a life”? You are inviting the individuals of The Baseball Collector massive to “top” your prediction of events that would happen to a collector when he attends MLB games and I am the one who needs to, as you say, obtain a life. Heh. I always love when people drop that phrase actually. It’s the ultimate desperation call, residing on the highest level of hypocrisy. Please, put that one in the shed out back and turn your innovation lights on.

    5) Lastly…lol I was not trying to start any form of fight whatsoever. “ramones18@cox.net” (great name dude by the way) and “Nick” just expressed unwarranted defense off the bat.

    We are all baseball fans and collectors indeed. ‘Tis why we came here, and why we remain here. Let’s keep it moving.

  17. Nick

    haha I was kidding the whole time… I’m pretty sure everyone else was too. Well said though groceryman

  18. drosenda@msn.com

    Z (and Nick-lots of Minnesota references here),

    I went to a AA game today in Frisco. I went mainly to get a FREE AUTOGRAPHED AUTHENTIC ROUGHRIDERS JERSEY of Ian Kinsler. All you had to do was sign up for this ‘no fee’ checking account, and you got a free jersey as a gift. Holy cow, it’s nice, and a nice sig on the back.

    Well, did I get a ball? Yeah, one! However, it was from the son of one GARY GAETTI, Joe Gaetti. After BP, he signed a ball and an old Twins program with a Gaetti family picture in it (Joe was 2 at the time). Joe also played in my Minnesota hometown of St. Cloud, in a wood bat collegiate league. I referenced the stadium they played at, because in high school, I played there too (one day I hit a glorious triple into the gap at that field).

    Well, I got a jersey and ball, so I was set. However, I was amazed to hear that Herschel Walker was throwing out the first pitch. Yes, THAT Herschel Walker, for whom the Vikings traded 12 players for (I think, it seemed like 12). Then he comes to Minnesota, and is a total stiff.

    I met him and he signed my game program.

    I told Herschel I was a Vikings fan, and he looked at me like “cool, but I hated playing there”. No problem Herschel, we didn’t like you either. I am such a bitter Vikings fan.

  19. Nick

    haha nice Dros –

    “I am such a bitter Vikings fan.”

    haha, ALL Vikings fans are bitter. It comes with the territory. Losing four super bowls can do that to a man. And Denny Green, wow, my mood just got bad.

    There truely were a lot of Minnesota references in there… Joe Gaetti, very cool.

    But come on! One ball at an AA game? Well, I guess it IS AA, so I take back my suprised reaction… cool night.

  20. Zack

    Wow. Quite a day. It makes me want to go to some minor league games. Sure, I got some brief one-on-one time with Roberto Hernandez, but I miss the laid-back atmosphere of the minors. I know nothing about football, but I still feel your pain.

  21. Zack

    47,720 fans…not surprising for a beautiful Friday night against the hated Braves (which is why I wasn’t there).

  22. Nick

    But 14 innings? I mean, that is an extra half game… however, it did look like a significant number of fans were still in attendance when the final out was made. Leave it to the good ol’ NYM fans

  23. drosenda@msn.com

    My low ball count is because the gates open at 6, and 6:15 ends BP. Also, I had to wait in line and sign up for the checking account, so I could get a free jersey.

    It’s much easier to get lots of balls at a major league game, when you get 90 minutes or so of BP.

  24. ramones18@cox.net

    so i guess i owe u an apology groceryman, and yes we are all baseball collectors

  25. Zack

    NICK-
    I’m disappointed with Mets fans. They booed Billy Wagner the other night when he blew the save that resulted in the 12-inning game, and that was just uncalled for.

    DROSENDA-

    You’re right…I think it IS easier, in some ways, to get balls in The Show.

    RAMONES-

    Nice of you to say that. I appreciate it, and I’m sure the Grocery Man does, too.

  26. Zack

    If you think the METS game was long, there was a Triple-A game last night that lasted 18 innings before being suspended with the score tied at 4-4.

    Pacific Coast League…

    New Orleans Zephyrs vs. Nashville Sounds…

    The top of the 19th will resume at 7 p.m. ET tonight (Saturday)…

    If you go to milb.com and select either of the teams from the pull-down menu, you’ll find their official web sites AND a link to the radio broadcast.

    Sounds first baseman Brad Nelson is 1-for-9 with a franchise record six strikeouts. Ouch.

  27. ramones18@cox.net

    i think we all remember the astros/cardinals playoff game last year that went into 18 innings, and we also remember the guy who caught the two home run balls

  28. Zack

    RAMONES-
    I think any basball fan who’s forgotten that game needs his/her head checked.

    NICK-

    Good luck. I’m going to predict an attendance of 30,763.

  29. Zack

    Okay, since it’s still 100 minutes ’til game time, I’m going to lower my guess to 28,449.

  30. joneli24@yahoo.com

    im getting ready to go tomorrow

    wish me luck

    there should be BP, so hopefully a good day

  31. Zack

    JONELI-
    Yeah, BP with about 20,000 little kids stealing all your balls. GOOD luck.

    NICK-

    The actual attendance was in the 29K range…right between my two guesses. Looking forward to reading about your day.

  32. Nick

    Yeah, good guess. I complimented your guess in my entry, which is up now by the way.

    Anyone Who Can Help –

    I’m having trouble putting pictures in my entries. They seem to show up really small. Do they appear actual size in the published entry or what? Thanks.

    http://twinslove.mlblogs.com/

  33. Zack

    Nice entry! I encourage everyone to check it out.

    Not sure what to tell you about the photos. Are you using a Mac or PC? Consider asking Mark at the “MLBlogosphere” blog.

  34. mlblogosphere@yahoo.com

    I was at that one and glad you got a pic of those sheets of rain — it was amazing how it came down that night.

  35. Zack

    Hmm…I wonder how many of the same games we’ve been to without knowing it.

    I’m surprised the game wasn’t delayed.

  36. joneli24@yahoo.com

    Zack- just got back

    got a ball from brian mccann

    10 autos-francoeur x2, renteria, brian jordan, pratt x2, roger mcdowell, langerhans, and bartolome furtunado x2

    good day.

    my next game is gonna be sunday may 21 against the yankees, so if theres BP, ill put the corner spot into effect. actually if there isnt ill put it into effect.

    and then monday may 29 or tuesday may 30 against arizona, maybe ill see you there

  37. thechuckster8@aol.com

    I was at the game Friday night, and stayed until the end. Got 4 balls and autographs of Tom Glavine, Duaner Sanchez, Jeff What the Hecks a Walk Franceour, John Thomson, and Pete Orr. Plus I got a very exciting game. Not bad for a friday night.

  38. Zack

    JONELI-
    Congrats on the ball, but I’m more impressed by the autos. Don’t tell me you got ’em all INside the stadium…Hopefully, I’ll attend at least one of those ‘zona games, but it’s hard for me to plan anything these days.

    CHUCKSTER-

    Very impressive for such a crowded game. All three games this weekend drew at least 47,000.

  39. chadlebeauaz@cox.net

    Arizona is where I live, alot of good signers… Very nice too, probably will be easy to get baseballs from them

  40. Zack

    JONELI-
    I am truly stunned.

    CHAD-

    This is good news. I really hope I can get one from Shawn Green.

  41. chadlebeauaz@cox.net

    Shawn Green a good signer… I have friends who got balls from him. If you go I predict a Shawn Green, Johnny Estrada, Luis Gonzalez auto and 11 baseballs. (I’m not the best predicter) Who knows you could get 20 balls or more. Luis Gonzalez is easy to get a ball from so is Shawn Green. All the players are VERY NICE as I mentioned before.

  42. chadlebeauaz@cox.net

    Just one game… even if there is no BP you will still probably get double digits but like I told you I am not the best predicter I don’t know if the visiting team signs autographs…

  43. djsox06@gmail.com

    This is getting ridiculous. What is your actual total of Balls Caught? Not handed to you or begged for!! All those guys at Wrigley actual work for their baseballs and catch them. I am guessing that over 50% of the balls that you have are CHARITY BALLS. Why don’t you stop begging for the balls and start catching them like the rest of us do!
    You are like the Barry Bonds of Ballhawks. Real Ballhawks DONT BEG!!

  44. djsox06@gmail.com

    • 51 balls in 6 games this season = 8.5 balls per game. (* asterik needed cuz ya begged for most of them)

    • 433 consecutive games with at least one ball (If I had begged my total would be over 1000 consecutive games) Actual is 724 games with one ball

    • 59 consecutive games with at least two balls (* Asking is like steroids)

    • 92 lifetime game balls (I have that many GAME HOME RUNS)

    • 3rd time getting a game ball in three consecutive games…my all-time record is four. (I had a homestand where I got a GAME HOME RUN in 7 consecutive games and in that I caught 3 Game HR in one game and 2 in 2 other games)

    • 2,803 total balls (* again, you might as well be on steroids)

  45. Zack

    CHAD-
    “Double digits” is just something that happens. It’s too hard to predict. But again, thanks for letting me know that the D’Backs are so generous. It’s giving me something extra to look forward to. (Of course, when they’re in town, it’ll probably rain.)

    DJSOX-

    I’m not like Barry Bonds at all! I’m completely friendly to the media! Anyway, I’m going to answer your comments in a new entry, so stay tuned…

    DIANE-

    Well then, I can only imagine how much action I’ll get when I reach 3,000.

    EVERYONE ELSE-

    If you have thoughts about DJSOX’s comments, save them for an hour and post them on my next entry.

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