8/8/06 at Shea Stadium

It was Mike Piazza’s return to Shea, and the pregame crowd was enormous. Some fans showed up just to see the video tribute. Hundreds of others were there just to take photos, or to try to get his autograph, or to see him take batting practice. Countless people wore “PIAZZA 31” jerseys and brought homemade signs. One lady had a life-size cardboard cutout and wouldn’t stop shrieking. It was insane.

I was out of breath and already sweating when I reached my corner spot in the right field Loge. A minute later, I got Chad Bradford to throw me a ball, and thirty seconds after that, some kid showed up and asked how I’d gotten there so fast. The kid got the next ball, which was thrown by the newly acquired Roberto Hernandez, and the section started filling up.


There weren’t any lefties in the first round of BP, but the second group had four: Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Jose Valentin, and Endy Chavez. I left my backpack in the corner spot and moved back six rows into the narrow aisle, where there was one other guy–about twice my age–camped out with a glove. (Almost everyone else was packed into the front row. Smart.) Moments later, Beltran jerked a deep drive down the line. The ball had the distance and was hooking to the left. The other guy froze. I darted to my left to squeeze past him. He still had no clue where the ball was heading, but he knew I had him beat, so he backed up and bumped into me in an unsuccessful attempt to cut me off. The ball was coming fast. I thought it was ball2873nologo.jpggonna CLANG off the foul pole, but it sailed past the foul side by three inches. The other guy chased me and lunged helplessly at the last second. I was one step above him and caught the ball on a fly. It was one of those no-logo balls with multi-colored stitches.

“Why don’t you stay on your side!” he snarled in a thick Queens accent. “You got like 900 balls!”

“Stay on my side?” I asked. “I didn’t realize I wasn’t allowed to position myself in different places for different hitters.”

Then he complained that I’d injured his knee, and after that, he accused me of “taking all the fun out of it.”

Dude, it’s called competition. That’s what MAKES it fun. Move on.

I made it back to the corner spot just in time to see Roberto picking up a ball that had rolled onto the warning track. I figured he wouldn’t toss a second ball to the same spot, but I also figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. So I asked. And he tossed it. It was from the 2005 All-Star Game.


Pedro Martinez saw me catch it and shouted up, “You can put him in the book now!”

(Pedro was talking about my first book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs, which has a long list of all the players and coaches who’ve thrown balls to me.)

I moved back into the aisle, and Endy Chavez launched a deep fly in my direction. I had it lined up and was getting ready to make the catch when the other guy came charging out of nowhere and shoved me. Flagrant foul. The ball landed in an empty runway and disappeared into the concourse. I barely beat the guy down the ramp and snatched the ball–my fourth of the day–as it rolled past a stunned allstarballs.jpgmaintenance worker who was sweeping water into a rusty drain. Another All-Star ball.

Back in the seats, I saw a ball drop onto the sloped, grassy area down the right field line. I abandoned my corner spot and ran down a double ramp to the Field Level, where I had no trouble snagging it with my glove trick.


The Mets ended batting practice five minutes early, just as I was heading down the steps toward their dugout. The crowd was so thick that I didn’t bother trying to get to the front. Instead, I stopped five rows back and climbed up on the arm rests of a seat to make myself visible above the mob. Jerry Manuel, the team’s bench coach, was the last guy to make his way in. I wasn’t sure if he had a ball, but I asked him anyway, and sure enough, he pulled one out of his back pocket and lobbed it to me perfectly, right over everyone’s heads. Another crappy no-logo ball.

“Hey! It’s the ball guy!” shouted a nearby fan.
“Yeah! That’s the guy who was on SNY!”
“How many balls today?”
“Where’s the best place to go for Mike Piazza’s autograph?”
“Can you sign one of your balls for me?
“Yeah! Gimme one, too!”
“That guy knocks over little kids!!!”
“Do you have season tickets?”

Oh my god. Okay. Wow. Hi. Yes, that’s me. Six. Third base side. No, I’m sorry. Not true. I wish.

I don’t know what it was, but from that point on, people recognized me ALL night. Dozens of people. Possibly even hundreds of people. Most of them were nice. I shook a lot of hands.

The Padres took the field, so I threw on my ‘SD’ cap and headed to the first row down the left field foul line. Ten minutes later, I got my seventh ball of the day from pitcher Clay Hensley. As I reached for it, the woman next to me nearly knocked me over.


I headed up to the left field Loge even though it was absurdly crowded. Piazza was in the cage, drawing cheers from the crowd on each home run. A pitcher named Mike Thompson tossed a ball to some fans near the foul pole, but it fell short and plunked into the gap behind the outfield wall, 30 feet below. I ran over to get a look from above. Amidst all the garbage and clutter that was back there, the ball was hugging a forgotten hose, and I decided to go for it. I took out my old glove, uncoiled some string, set up the rubber band, stuck the Sharpie inside, wedged myself between a paint-chipped railing and a bird poop-covered concrete ledge, leaned over, and started to lower the glove. I needed to let out about 90 percent of my string to get the glove all the way to the bottom, and then I swung it gently from side to side to move the ball to a better spot. It took a couple minutes, and then I lowered the glove over the ball. It was so tough to see what was going on down below that I’d raised my glove several feet before I realized that the ball was in it. As I continued to lift it slowly, the wind picked up and blew my glove in tight circles.

“Be careful!” shouted a fan in the next section. “The ball is slipping!”

It wasn’t slipping. Some bozo was just heckling me, so I kept lifting the string, one steady arm length after another, until the ball was mine. I labeled it and stuck it in my backpack and immediately thought about reaching double digits. I hadn’t done it at Shea since May 1.

The rest of BP was impossible. The seats were packed, and the Padres weren’t hitting or throwing anything. I went to their dugout 10 minutes before the end of BP because there just wasn’t anything else worth doing. It turned out to be a good move because I was able to slip into the front row, and when all the guys came off the field, I got a ball tossed to me by one of the coaches. I’m not sure who. Mighta been Merv Rettenmund.

One more ball to go…
The grounds crew was doing its thing, so I grabbed a seat on the third base side, re-inked some of the numbers I’d written on the balls, got some water, ran into some friends, chatted with my favorite cotton candy vendor, took a few photos, and headed to the left field corner as Piazza was finishing his pregame throwing. Nothing. I was about to head up to the Loge when a few Padres came out and started playing catch in front of the dugout. The seats were full, but there weren’t any kids. (Yay, corporate America!) In fact, I was the only one with a glove, so Geoff Blum had no choice but to throw me the ball when he was done. Double digits had been reached.


I didn’t sit down once during the entire game. Stadium security was willing to let me do my thing, so I took advantage by running back and forth all night, playing righties and lefties differently by shifting from the first and third base sides of home plate. It was exhausting. The concourse was crowded. It was a three-hour obstacle course. I was careful, as always. I didn’t knock over any children–or adults.

Piazza led off the top of the second to a chill-inducing standing ovation. Several pitches later, he foul tipped a Steve Trachsel offering, sending the ball whizzing back in my direction. It was way too high, though. It was like 20 feet over my head, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I scooted past several other fans in the runway, made it to the aisle, turned my back to the field, and looked up as the ball smacked the ridged concrete facade of the Mezzanine Level and shot back down at an awkward angle. I lunged for the ball, reaching over a railing far to the left and practically behind myself through a thick cluster of fans who were still standing. I felt something hit my glove. I thought it was someone’s hand. I opened the glove as little kids do after making an error, inspecting it to see what went wrong. And there was the ball. WHAT?! No time to celebrate. Two pitches later, Piazza struck out, and Adrian Gonzalez–a lefty–was striding to the plate. I ran down the runway, through the concourse, and back up the runway balls2882&2883foultips.jpgon the third base side. Several pitches later, Gonzalez swung under a fastball and floated it back my way. I took two steps forward, reached up through a sea of hands, and made the catch. Two batters, two foul balls. I got high fives. I got congratulations. People wanted to touch the balls. People wanted to know how I did it. People wanted me to give advice to their kids. People wanted me to cure the sick. People wanted to ask me a million questions, but Josh Barfield was coming up, so I took off for the first base side.

It all seemed too easy. My mind was racing. I was thinking about breaking my record of three foul balls in one game. I’d done it twice, once in 1993 and again in 1999. Forget about tying it. It was only the top of the second. The night was young! I had it all planned out. I’d get one more ball by the end of the sixth, leaving me the final zackgameballs08.08.06.jpgthird of the game to make history. I was on a mission like never before–and that’s when my luck ran out. There were several close calls, close only because the stadium was too crowded for me to move at top speed. If the Mets were in last place, and if Piazza weren’t in town, and if there were 16,167 fans instead of 46,167, I would have ended my night with five foul balls. Seriously. But it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t break my record. I didn’t even tie it. But I’m not complaining.

David Wright put the Mets on top, 3-2, in the bottom of the fifth with his second RBI single of the game, and that was your final score. He and Beltran each finished 3-for-4. Jose Reyes stole his major league-leading 46th and 47th bases. Trachsel picked up his 11th win. Billy Wagner notched his 25th save. Piazza went 1-for-4 with a line drive single that made everyone feel warm and Cuzzi. I mean fuzzy. No wait, I do mean Cuzzi. Phil Cuzzi, the home plate umpire, tossed me a ball after the game. Hoo-haaaa!



Competition Factor = a new record: 600,171.

• 132 balls in 17 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

• 6 game balls this season


• 1 game ball every 2.8 games

• 95 lifetime game balls

• 11 lifetime games with at least two game balls

• 8 consecutive seasons with at least one game in which I got two game balls

• 444 consecutive games with at least one ball of any kind

• 70 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 2,884 total balls…moves me ahead of Babe Ruth (2,873), Mel Ott (2,876), and Frankie Frisch (2,880) on the all-time hits list. I’m now tied for 35th place with Zack Wheat.


The Hample Jinx has struck again. Even though Gustavo Chacin pitched well today in his latest rehab start (two earned runs in five innings), he still suffered the loss. In four games with the Triple-A Syracuse SkyChiefs, he’s 0-3 with a 10.13 ERA. Heh.


  1. dannyzhang312@hotmail.com

    Hey Zack,

    Feel proud to be the first comment! What a day at Shea, eh? Good luck in San Diego!

  2. boodleheimer1@aol.com

    WOW! AND COWABUNGA! You made the action so exciting and so vivid, I felt as if I was there watching. You are a FEARLESS ball snagger, who brings great, whacky joy to the game – which it needs to regain its purity and innocence. How’s Gustavo doing?

  3. jimmyjoejoejrchabadu@hotmail.com

    Dude you seriously need to reverse this curse cause me and my friends got jumped last night.

  4. Zack

    Congrats on being No. 1 (along with other notables such as Richie Ashburn, Jim Bottomley, Earle Combs, Bobby Doerr, Tony Fernandez, Rabbit Maranville, Billy Martin, Bill McKechnie, Pee Wee Reese, Ozzie Smith, and Lou Whitaker). It was such a good day that I psyched myself out of going back today. I knew I couldn’t top my performance…and anyway, I’m tired and superbusy with other stuff.


    Thanks. That’s very nice of you to say. Gustavo might be pitching tonight. I appreciate the reminder.


    What happened?! Did Gustavo himself jump you? If not, I don’t see how it has anything to do with The Jinx…but ****! That’s horrible! Are you okay?

  5. jimmyjoejoejrchabadu@hotmail.com

    Long story lets just say it ended up in 2 stolen bikes like 25 bucks stolen and a long time at the police station getting interviewed.

  6. Zack

    Thanks, Mark.
    Thanks for reading.

    Thanks for commenting.

    It’s always nice to hear from the MLBlogs grand-daddy.


  7. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    yeah zack reverse the curse! and maybe send some luck ove to the Rogers Centre for us.

    Good stuff though 13 balls hoooooly!

  8. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    Chacin update

    Last night pitched 5 solid innings allowing 2 ERs on 8 hits 0 HR 6 Ks 6 hits and 1 BB. He recieved the loss as syrcause lost 4-2 scoring 1 run in the 9th. Solid outing for Gustavo

  9. logangaudet_10@hotmail.com

    Holy **** Zack GREAT night? I’d say…Man you got a foul ball on Mike Piazzas returning night. I bet many people were wishing they were you that night, but then again I’m sure people wish they are you all the time.

  10. Zack

    The Jinx will be reversed if/when Gustavo apologizes and gives me a ball. Thanks for letting me know that he pitched…it was actually THIS afternoon, so I’ll update this entry with Part 2 of the Gustavo Watch.


    Thanks a lot, but I think “all the time” might be a bit of an overstatement; the people who want to kick my *** probably don’t want to be me.

  11. jimmyjoejoejrchabadu@hotmail.com

    In accordance to the Hample Jinx on Gustavo the poor play in his rehab assignment doesn’t mean anything. Pitchers never do good in rehab assignments and they only go there to get back focus when they’re injured or something. So I don’t believe that the Hample Jinx is affecting him now given the reason above. Lets just see when he comes back to the ML level then if he re-injures himself I’ll fully believe in the Hample Jinx.

  12. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    in more good gustavo news. His return time has been set for next saturday in baltimore

  13. dannyzhang312@hotmail.com

    Hey Zack,

    Its me again, just wondering if you’re going to another game before PETCO? And what size is your glove? Also, which player has given you the most balls. Thanks!

  14. thechuckster8@aol.com

    Just wondering which games you will be seeing when them Cardinals come to town. I need to plan my schedule around you.

  15. redsox342445@yahoo.com

    Does anybody know who is generous on the redsox and who signs? Does Big Papi sign at all?

  16. Zack

    Saturday the 20th? Bring it on.


    I actually do have an update on my book, but I’m going to wait at least a few more days before I reveal anything…


    No more games for me until PETCO. I was too tired/busy to go to Shea tonight. I’m working each of the next two nights, and then I fly out of NYC on Saturday afternoon. My fancy glove is actually pretty small. It’s a middle infielder’s glove. Not sure about its size in terms of inches, if that’s what you mean. I think I’ve gotten more balls from Todd Hundley than anyone…probably about 15, but back when he was playing, I didn’t keep track as closely as I do now. Manny Acta, the current Mets 3rd base coach, has thrown me 13 balls since 2003.


    Sorry I didn’t answer your question on my previous entry. (Same goes for everyone else.) I was going to get around to it later tonight, and I still will respond to everyone’s comments over there as well. If the weather’s nice, I’ll definitely be at Shea for the first of those three games. There’s a good chance I’ll go to the second one as well, and there’s hardly any chance that I’ll be at the last one. That’s the Thursday game. I work on Thursday nights, so it’s conceivable that I could show up for BP only, but I’d only do that if BP gets rained out on both of the first two games.

    RED SOX-

    Josh Beckett, Alex Gonzalez, and Mike Lowell were great ball-throwers in their Marlin days. A few years ago at Fenway, I saw Manny Ramirez toss about 10 balls into the crowd during BP. And…that’s about all I can tell you. I haven’t seen the Sox much over the last few years. Yankee Stadium always sells out, so I stay away.

  17. yanksfan61293@aol.com

    An EXCELLENT night! Yankees win and the Sox lose…the yanks are now 3 games ahead of the Sox in the east…I had a feeling that they would fade!

  18. pissit@gmail.com

    regis here.
    so z, i just had an idea.

    when, finally, you come to compile your favorite snagging stories, guess who you can ask to write the intro to the book?

    pedro. don’t you think?


  19. Zoe

    Oh ****. I was going to email you before the game to ask if you’d be there too, but I got all busy and forgot. I’ll post my pics from that really fun Piazza lovefest tonite. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make batting practice. :(

    Just as well, though, because if you had stopped by our part of the loge to say hi, you might have missed some balls!


  20. Zack

    I love it. But what’s your last name? Is it “Pissit” or “Pissot”? You have me all excited, but confused. Say hi to Missy for me if you happen to talk to her.


    Bummer. We really need to meet at some point, but yes, you’re right, I might’ve missed some balls. Imagine if I’d picked the 2nd inning to wander over to your seats.

  21. joneli24@yahoo.com

    thats a great picture with the balls on the seat with the “13” plate on the seat.

    i like the creativity alot. great game. only 16 away untill 2900. go for it in SD!

  22. Zack

    Hey, thanks! Getting #2,900 in San Diego is definitely possible, but it’s no guarantee. I’ll still need to average over five balls per game.

  23. jimmyjoejoejrchabadu@hotmail.com

    Can’t wait for Chacin to start. The Jays seem to be on a roll right now so I’m not too afraid of the Hample Jinx. Also are you comming out with another book or did I misread one of the comments. Still want one of your books but I don’t have a credit card to buy your book, o yea I saw it on a site selling for 71 cents.

  24. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    hey kaylee hows boston doing? Hold on ill check for you just in case you dont know. Uhhhhhhhhhh lost 5 in a row after tonight. Lost those 5 games to the 2 worst teams in the league. The suposed ROY blew 2 straight saves. O yeah and there nto in th e playoffs!!!


  25. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    Hey Zack

    Im planning on gonig to an up coming jays series but dont know which team to see. Possibilities are Oakland, I will be goign to KC or Cleveland. Which team will be the best for balls? Who are the nice and not so nice guys on these teams. Anyone else with info about these teams it would be great.


  26. yanksfan61293@aol.com

    oh…the Sox lost AGAIN tonight. Ha, they were swept by the ROYALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

    The Sox are LOSERS!

    Anyway, the Yanks are losing right now, but all they need is 1 Run to tie it!

  27. yanksfan61293@aol.com

    just to rub it in that the Red Sox were swept by the Royals:


  28. yanksfan61293@aol.com

    Kaylee: hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

  29. yanksfan61293@aol.com

    Red Sox players, personnel, and fans: hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

    Oh ****, the Yanks just lost…oh well, at least we weren’t swept by the worst team in the AL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    once again, hahahahahahaha

  30. yanksfan61293@aol.com

    …and we are still 3 games ahead of the sox in the standings:


  31. Zack

    Okay, it’s later…


    You should be very afraid. I do have some book-related news…hang tight…it’ll be coming soon. My first book is out of print, so yeah, there are some really cheap copies floating around out there.


    Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything about those teams. Even though I saw the A’s recently at Camden Yards, I didn’t have too much contact with the players..although I did get Frank Thomas’s autograph, and he was really cool about it. Maybe someone else reading this can help?




    Here I come.

  32. Zack

    Great news. I won’t be able to catch it live, but I’ll definitely take a listen as soon as I can. Sorry I haven’t been commenting lately on your blog. (Same goes for everyone else with blogs.) I’ve been about as busy as I’ve EVER been…and on top of that, I’m racing to get ready for my trip.

  33. senoroctubre@boston-redsox.net

    congrats on the lucky 13!
    i would have thought you were toast in Piazza’s return to Shea, but experience pays off. And those stupid fans that want their kids to get your advice must be very annoying.

  34. Zack

    Thanks, but I have to disagree with you on the “stupid fans” comment. I don’t blame people for wanting advice, and in fact, I love to give it when asked. The stupid fans are the ones that pass judgment on me and my colletion and demand that I give them my baseballs.


    You’re good luck. I need to run into you more often.

  35. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    Hey! I’ll be the “MLBlogger of the week” tonight at 10:15 PM on MLB.Com radio. If you can’t give a listen, I hope you’ll check out the archives some time!

    his blog is way worse then yours

  36. yanksfan61293@aol.com

    Since I am an aspiring sports stadium architect (I’ve always wanted to be an architect, but as soon as I discovered sports, I wanted to combine my 2 loves), and I found your “best ball snagging stadium” post…and I decided it would be a fun challenge for myself. However, all of the features that you wanted for the outfield aren’t really possible to cram in. I think I am gonna have waveland ave. and McCovey Cove and it’s promenade…with outfield seats in left and standing room only in right, with the grassy area in center. Does that sound good?

  37. yanksfan61293@aol.com

    trueplaya: it’s a she not a he and who cares if she’s the blogger of the week this week and Zack isn’t. I’m sure his time will come, if it hasn’t already.

  38. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    dude it was a joke… i didnt even know it exsisted. It was a joke to say zack has to pick up his game if he wants to win a blogger of the week in a comincal form. I was also saying this blog is much better. If that doesnt clear things up i give up

  39. yanksfan61293@aol.com

    by the way, I will scan the drawing of the ballpark into the PC to post here.

  40. kayleexxx@aol.com

    You guys are confusing Okay red sox wwon yankees lost!They are only 2 behind!we are not out yet!

  41. Zack

    That’s cool that you want to design ballparks. How many have you been to? Also cool that you discovered that OLD post about the ideal stadium. I forget when I posted that. Do you want to post the link here so other people can see what the **** we’re talking about? Or tell me the date of the entry, and I’ll post the link. Anyway, yes, your combination of sections would make a great outfield. If you build it, I will come.


    I’ve been the featured blogger before. You can probably find my old MLB Radio interview in the archives on the MLBlogs home page. I don’t know if you were dissing Zoe or just throw ing a random compliment my way…but Zoe’s blog is actually REALLY funny, and I recommend it to everyone.


    I’m glad I wasn’t the only confused one.

  42. richard.snodgrass@comcast.net

    That no logo ball with the multi-colored stitching looks to be the same as that of a 2004 Houston All-Star ball…without the markings, of course.

  43. Zack

    Whoops. Delayed reply. Sorry.

    Thanks for the link. That DOES look like the one I got. Mystery solved.

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