9/4/06 at Shea Stadium

Huge crowd for Labor Day?
Nah. Only 42,428.

As soon as GATE C opened at 4:40pm, I sprinted to the right field Loge and quickly got a ball from Billy Wagner. I was in the aisle when I got his attention. He made a low throw. I didn’t bother lunging for it. I just stood back and watched the ball smack the seats and rattle around on the concrete. Then I walked down the steps and picked it up.

Three preppy high school kids eventually wandered into the section and settled down near the foul pole. None of them had gloves, and one kept shouting at Tom Glavine for a ball. Glavine was busy playing catch, and the kid wasn’t even saying please, but the future Hall of Famer ball2912platform.jpg
still threw it to him when he finished. But oh! Wait! The ball fell short and dropped into the gap behind the outfield wall. I hurried over to see where it had fallen, unsure that it would even be in view, but there it was, perched dangerously close to the edge of a small wooden platform at the top of the wall. The kids were actually talking about climbing down the pole (?!) when I started setting up my glove trick. I battled sporadic gusts of wind as I lowered the glove, then swung it VERY gently and tapped the ball further toward the middle of the platform. Thankfully, the ball rolled just a few inches to the left and stopped in the perfect spot. I raised the glove above the ball, waited about 30 seconds until I had it lined up, and then lowered my contraption. The kid who’d been yelling at Glavine told me that the ball was meant for him. (Yeah, it’s called karma.) The glove secured the ball, and I raised it slowly and steadily, hoping that the wind wouldn’t cause it to twirl so fast that my prize would slip out. It didn’t. I had it. Number two of the day. The kids were in awe. And kind of pissed.

Five minutes later, the three of them joined me at the railing overlooking the Mets’ bullpen. Oliver Perez had just finished his session with pitching coach Rick Peterson, and catcher Mike DiFelice ended up with the ball. I wasn’t in a good spot. Two of the kids (who may have even been in college) were higher up along the slanted railing, and the other was way too close to me on the opposite side. We all called out, and DiFelice looked up. He must’ve spotted my glove because he floated the ball right to me, inches past the kids’ obnoxious hands, and when I caught it, one of the boys glared at me and barked, “Are you SERIOUS, dude?! You already GOT one!!”

“DUDE,” I said, “I’m not here to start a fight. I’m just a baseball collector, and I happened to get lucky.”

He stormed off, and within a few minutes, he’d conned some other player into tossing him a ball.

paronto.jpg

Moments later, the usher walked over and told me that there’s a “one ball limit” and that I was going to have to leave. Fine by me. The Braves were just taking the field, so I ran downstairs and headed to the left field foul line where several pitchers were warming up. I found an open spot in the first row and squeezed in. (Don’t be fooled by the empty bleachers; the rest of the stadium was packed.) Chad Paronto was throwing nearby, and I put in my request right away: “Hey Chad, is there any chance you could toss the ball here when you’re done, please?”

He turned around to see who’d asked him. I gave a quick wave and tipped my Braves cap. He nodded and said, “As soon as I’m done…”

The fan standing next to me asked Bob Wickman for HIS ball when HE was done. Wickman shook his head without turning around.

I turned to the fan and said, “You know why he’s not gonna give you that ball?”

“Why.”

“Because he’s gonna eat it.”

ball2914training.jpg

Paronto finished throwing a few minutes later and tossed me my fourth ball of the day. Beautiful. Except not. It was one of those crappy, made-in-China training balls with the green logo. (I thought the Braves were supposed to be a classy organization.) I’d gotten six of them before, all from the Nationals, I think. But you know…whatever. If they’re good enough for a major league team, they’re good enough for my collection. And with that, I headed back up to the Loge and camped out in the left field corner.

John Smoltz was playing catch with Joey Devine. I’d never gotten a ball from Smoltz, so I was hoping that he’d end up with it. Once again, I made my request early, and sure enough, The Bearded One tossed it my way. (Real ball. Yay.) That felt great. I’d never gotten anything from him, not even an autograph or a simple “Hey, what’s up,” and yet I liked him. I admired his success and often rooted for him, even though I never had any reason to root for him. But now that his name is finally on my list, I can officially call myself a John Smoltz fan.

The rest of BP was a waste. The Loge was cramped, and the righties weren’t pulling their homers down the line. I had a bunch of conversations with various fans who recognized me from TV, or simply from other Mets games, but there were no more balls to be had.

At about 6:10pm, I headed back down to the Field Level and pulled off another squeeze-job, barely wedging myself into a half-space between two fans in the front row. I was afraid they’d get annoyed, but then one of them perked up and said, “Hey, aren’t you the guy from SNY who collects all the balls?”

(I haven’t really been talking about my SportsNet NY appearance because that’s old news, but I will say this: Dozens of fans still recognize me at EVERY Mets game. Every section. Every moment of the day. Outside GATE C. In the bathrooms. On the #7 train. It’s fun. Usually.)

shawn.jpg

Batting practice ended 10 minutes later, and I didn’t get anything from the Braves as they left the field…BUT…one of the groundskeepers was standing on the dugout steps with a ball in his hand, and it happened to be the one guy on the crew that I’ve known for years. His name is Shawn, and we always talk briefly–or at least exchange glances–after BP. He always asks how many balls I got, and I always respond by holding up the appropriate number of fingers, at which point he shakes his head and smiles as if to say, “How the hell do you do it?” Naturally, I asked Shawn for this ball, and before I could finish my request, he pretended to wing it at me, then stopped mid-motion and said, “You got enough balls.” He briefly disappeared from sight before popping his head back out to a chorus of “Shawn!!! Shawn!!!” from all the fathers and sons lined up along the front row. He ignored them and flipped me the ball. Nice.

Right before the national anthem, I got my seventh ball from Braves infielder Willy Aybar (who’s six years younger than me). He was playing catch in shallow left field with Brayan Pena, and I’d made my clunky request in Spanish:

“¡Cuando termines, dame la bola, por favor!”
When you finish, give me the ball, please!

There were two rows of fans in front of me. One guy jumped up and reached for the ball, but it sailed over his hands by six inches–which just about matched his vertical leap. Like many others in the section, he recognized me from SNY and seemed to be humored by the fact that he’d lost out to The Pro.

francoeursigning.jpg

I got Jeff Francoeur to sign my ticket stub before heading up to the Loge. It was crowded. There were no empty seats. Thatfrancoeurautograph.jpg was fine. Security didn’t hassle me, so I ran back and forth all night in the concourse behind home plate, scurrying into various runways to position myself accordingly for righties and lefties. The pitching matchup, unfortunately, was about as bad as could be: Steve Trachsel versus Chuck James…two guys who basically throw changeups and call them fastballs. In other words, the batters weren’t exactly swinging late and underneath the ball. I did a lot of running for nothing.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, I was standing with two other guys in the runway on the third base side. One of them, a man in his 50s, saw my glove and said, “If a ball comes back this way, I’d say your chances aren’t very good here.”

“Why’s that?” I asked innocently.

“Have you ever met Anthony?” he asked, tilting his head toward a tough athletic guy in his 20s.

“Has Anthony ever met Zack?” I asked.

“Anthony’s the king of the foul ball. Tell him how many you got.”

“Twenty-three.”

“It’s a record,” said the man. “You could look it up.”

“You got all twenty-three during games?” I asked.

Anthony nodded.

“That’s a lot,” I said.

“How many YOU got?” asked the man.

“I’ve gotten a few more than that.”

“Yeah right!” he snapped.

“Okay,” I said.

“Whaddaya mean ‘okay’? How many you GOT?! More than twenty-three?”

“Ninety-two foul balls, three home runs, and one ground-rule double.”

ball2918location.jpg

They seemed amused…that is, until several fans walked over to ask me if I was the guy from SNY that collects all the balls. And then, half an inning later, with hard-throwing Roberto Hernandez on the hill, Adam LaRoche tipped a 3-2 pitch right in my direction but a few feet too low. The “king of the foul ball” was still standing flat-footed in the runway by the time I’d darted up to the railing in front of the main aisle. The ball fell short, skipped off the hands of the people sitting in front of me (two rows below the “312 A TO B” sign), and popped back into my waiting glove in one motion.

Zack 97, Anthony (still) 23.

As for the game…
The Mets managed just ONE hit all night: a single by David Wright to lead off the bottom of the second, and Wright got hosed when he tried to stretch it into a double. James was mysteriously unhittable. He worked eight brilliant innings, then turned the ball over to Macay McBride who struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth. It was the first time this season that the Mets had been shut out at Shea. Final score: Braves 5.

STATS:

ball2918larochefoultip.jpg

Competition Factor = 339,424.

• 166 balls in 23 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

• 450 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 2,596 balls since the streak began

• 5.77 balls per game during the streak

• 78 game balls during the streak

• 97 total game balls

• 2,918 total balls…Craig Biggio (2,916 career hits) had recently retaken the lead, but I’ve reclaimed it to move back into 34th place on the all-time hits list. Al Simmons (2,927) remains my next hurdle…

23 comments

  1. sheffro1@hotmail.com

    You have to love the “one ball limit” claim. I’m sure those ushers think they sound authoritative when they pull that one out. You should pull out your eight balls from the day and go, “Really? Oops…”

  2. joneli24@yahoo.com

    oh my god. that comment about bob wickman is absolutely hilarious.

    francoeur is a cool guy. i got him four times this year already and i got a picture with him.

  3. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    good stuff zack. if i were you i wouldve celebrated the foul ball so much to **** off that anthony guy. good stuff tough looking forward to yoru next game

  4. Zack

    BOODLEHEIMER-
    Heh.

    SHEFFRO-

    Yeah, I “love” it. Believe me, it’s tempting.

    JONELI-

    Thanks. Francoeur IS cool. I wonder how long that’ll last.

    CHUCKSTER-

    Thanks, but I’m not going. It’s already drizzling, and the rain is supposed to pick up as the day goes on…

    TRUE PLAYA-

    I actually had no problem with Anthony. He was minding his own business until the older man dragged him into the conversation. I didn’t even have a problem with the man. The whole thing was kind of funny, actually, so I didn’t want to rub it in anyone’s face at the time. But in the blog? Sure, I’ll make fun. The real jerks were those three kids at the start of the day.

  5. jimmyjoejoejrchabadu@hotmail.com

    Man I hate kids, because of one kid I didn’t get a ball from Seizmore. He was tossing it to me after he tossed it to the little kid, but the kid dropped it on the field and Seizmore gave him another chance, ***** *****.

  6. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    Hey zack i also wanted to ask you what you think i should do about this situation. On mlb.com your probably aware of the beat the streak contest where everyday you pick any player to get 1 hit in their game. 35 straight hits wins $50 on mlb.com. I just started recently and am now at 12. should i trust jeter to today start a 13 game hit streak? I trust him more then i do mauer vladdy and ichiro. Tongith i have abreu but i may make the chaneg to reliable jeter. should i? Should i trust 1 player to get 13 in a row or should day by day look at the stats and find a favorable matchup? With the free money i want to buy a hoem run derby gold ball :D which are like 23 bucks i think. Thanks Zack nto sure what im gonna do with it from here

  7. senoroctubre@boston-redsox.net

    8 is great, but nine would have been fine, and if you would have got ten or eleven, you would be in heaven. Sorry for the lamo rhymes.

    Nice game! Did you see Ryan Howard’s triple home run game, Pujol’s Triple home run game, and Barry Bonds acting like old Barry Bonds? Its the September madness.

  8. Zack

    JIMMY-
    I love kids…just not when I have to compete with them for balls.

    TRUE PLAYA-

    I’d pick individual matchups. Ichiro always seems like the best bet because he bats at the top of the order, which means he’ll come to bat more often. Plus, Jeter is likely to draw a couple of walks, whereas Ichiro is usually good for five at-bats. Then again, if Ichiro is facing a tough lefty (I don’t have time to examine all the matchups), you might want to skip him. Of course, Jeter is facing the pathetic Royals, so I’d say he has a pretty good shot of extending his (and your) streak. Abreu walks too much to be trusted with a hitting streak. I’d go for guys like Michael Young and Juan Pierre and Jose Reyes and Ichiro. But yeah, play the matchups.

    SENOR-

    I’m always a fan of word play, even if it gets a little cheezy. I saw the highlights of all those home runs. Pretty crazy. Small ball is dead.

  9. bergin42@msn.com

    wow..thats funny about anthony, im going to my 31st career game tomorrow after school against the dodgers, my goal, Nomar Garciaparra on a ball, kenny lofton on a ball, tim hamulack on a card, mariano duncan(a coach) on a card, and one ball..the attendance should be down cause its a wednesday night, and its a school night so im excited…

  10. Zack

    Does Nomar sign? He doesn’t seem like he would. Good luck reaching all your goals. Let me know how it goes.

  11. Nick

    Nomar DOES sign. He signed for a good while at RFK when his Dodgers came to beat up the Nationals. Too bad I was busy getting Andre Either’s autograph while Nomar was signing.

  12. gregorybarasch@yahoo.com

    Just got back from Shea. A surprisingly good day, considering the circumstances. I ended up with four balls, despite the fact that there was neither batting practice nor a game. The gates didn’t open until 5:20, and since there was no BP, people weren’t allowed onto the field level unless they had a ticket there. So I went up to the right field Loge and almost immediately got a ball from Chad Bradford, who was just finishing up his catch with Darren Oliver in the pouring rain. A few minutes later, Pedro finished up a bullpen session and tossed me the ball. The exact same sequence of events unfolded with El Duque. Then, when the Braves pitchers began warming up in left field, I headed over to the LF Loge. Eventually, I got a ball from Lance Comier. It was a crappy/cool Training Ball. The game was postponed at 7:00. So I was in the stadium for 100 minutes and got four balls. Cool.

    65 balls in 21 games = 3.095 balls per game.

  13. Zack

    KAYLEE-
    He was the Texas Rangers’ first-round draft pick in 1998…kind of a slick-fielding first baseman who never did hit for a good batting average and had decent power at best. He’s still only 28 years old, so who knows. Some guys blossom late.

    NICK-

    This is good news. It’d be really cool to get him tomorrow at Shea.

    GREG-

    That’s pretty **** impressive. And isn’t it a great feeling? Not only do you walk away with the baseballs but you get your money back as well.

  14. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    hey zack you saved my *** i almost ook abreu yesterday who went 0 for 3 with a BB and jete had a hit. Tommorow is tough though only a few teams ar eplaying. Im thinking of goign with mauer whos 3 for 7 against verlander but im not sure verlander could pitche rvery well. Itll be tough but 12 more games and ill have $50!

  15. gregorybarasch@yahoo.com

    Yeah, it was awesome. And it was so easy. Too easy almost, because I was the only one on the right field side of the stadium for the first 30 minutes inside. And, yeah, I get to go to another game for free!

    Anyway, I’m heading up to Boston to go to Fenway Park on Saturday. Any tips for ball snagging?

  16. logangaudet_10@hotmail.com

    AHHHHHH Zack I have had you blog opened for the last hour and havn’t read it yet HAHA but ya well there is some **** going on with friends wanting to fight friends at school lol all over some girl who hates this guy now and I am getting my butt kicked now cause I am just a good friend HAHA. Well it’s actually cause I cant take more and I got people who can dish out a good fight… My basbeall team MUAHAHAH. Ya I will read this some time when I am not dealing with baseball and fights.

  17. Zack

    TRUE PLAYA-
    Glad to help. Not so sure you should bet against Verlander. He’s GOOD.

    GREG-

    Alone for the first 30 minutes? Don’t tell me anything else. You’ll just make me jealous that I wasn’t there. As for Fenway, try to be THE first one in and go for the corner spot down the 3rd base line, right where the wall juts out at its lowest point and almost touches the foul line. It’s a great spot for both grounders AND getting balls thrown. If you can’t get the corner spot, just roam the seats in foul territory (a little bit deeper) and try to get balls from the players. You can pretty much go anywhere inside the stadium. Ushers don’t bother kicking people out because they know that every seat will be filled sooner or later by its rightful owner.

    LOGAN-

    Oh Logan, what’re we gonna do with you…

  18. soxsuxyanks@yahoo.com

    sorry to comment on an old blog but i have been reading all your new entrys since the start of the season and was kinda board so i figured to read some of your old posts so i could get some tips . But i relized that i am the fan who asked wickman for the ball and he denied lol . i knew who you were from the sny video , so anyways on 8/7/07 i went to the braves vs mets and asked wickman and told him he denied me last time and he just shrugged his shoulders as if to say ” i don’t care ” i think i need to put a jinx on him like you did to chacin

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