9/7/06 at Shea Stadium

Did you know that the New York Times web site has a whole video section? (And that it’s free?) I didn’t know until two days ago, when a video journalist named Matthew Orr emailed me and asked if I wanted to be filmed for a segment. “We’d need to do it in the next day or two,” he wrote.

I called him and gave my address–and 23 hours later, he was walking through my door.

My place is small. Really small. (Let’s not discuss square footage.) That’s why I keep most of my baseballs at my parents’ place…so after I showed a few to the camera, along with some other bonus items, that’s where we headed for the main portion of the interview.


I talked about my early days as a baseball collector, told stories about my favorite balls, shared important strategies, demonstrated my glove trick, explained my motivation for being such a dork, etc.

We were there for an hour and a half and left for Shea at 3:15pm. Unfortunately, the Mets PR people refused to give the NY Times permission to take a camera inside their beautiful ballpark, so the best Matthew could do was get some shots of me running down the steps from the #7 train, heading toward the stadium, schmoozing with the lady at the ticket window, and waiting for GATE C to open. (Despite the lack of Shea footage, it’ll still be a fun segment. I’ll post the link when it’s available.)


Once I got inside, I headed up to the right field Loge (2nd deck) and watched with dismay as some guy on the Field Level got three balls within the first 20 minutes. I still had none. Every Mets player was ignoring me…that is, until Oliver Perez started walking toward the Mets’ bullpen. I called down, got his attention, pointed to a nearby ball sitting on the warning track, and got him to toss it up to me. Eh. It was another Perezone of those boring, unstamped/no-logo 2004 All-Star balls–but at least I had another “Perez” to add to my list. I’ve now gotten six balls from guys with that name. One more and I’ll tie the Johnsons.

I caught two more (real) balls within the next 10 minutes. One was thrown by Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti. The other came from backup catcher Mike DiFelice.

At 5:25pm, I was about to head downstairs when someone on the Mets hit a wimpy homer that barely cleared the right field wall. Nice. The ball was trapped in the gap behind the wall, 30 feet below…perfect for the glove trick. As I started setting up the rubber band and Sharpie, an usher walked over and said, “If you get that ball, you’re gonna give it to that little girl, right?”

I looked around nervously, and he laughed. There was no little girl in sight. “You know I’m just messin’ with ya,” he said.

Umm, actually, no, I didn’t know that. Three days earlier, he’d told me (in what seemed to be a no-nonsense manner) that there’s a one-ball limit in his section. What a relief it was to finally have him on my side–and BY my side, watching intently, as I lowered my glove to the bottom and got it to swallow the ball.

Manny_actaBy the time I reeled the glove back up, I didn’t have time to label the ball. The Mets were almost done with BP, so I stuck it in my front right pocket and raced downstairs and found an open spot in the first row behind the dugout. A minute later, when all the guys were heading off the field, first base coach Manny Acta tossed me a ball–my fifth of the day and the fourteenth ball that he’s thrown me since May of 2003. Again, no time to label it. The Dodgers had already taken the field, so I stuck it in my front left pocket, took off my Mets cap, put on my “LA” cap, and ran to the left field side. Two minutes later, I convinced former Mets pitcher Tim Hamulack to labeled_balls.jpgtoss me a ball…no time…back right pocket…thank god for cargo pants…and a minute after that, I got ANOTHER ball…an overthrow that landed on that otherwise useless sloped grassy area in the left field corner. Back left pocket. Wow. No more pockets. Time-out! I had to sacrifice a minute of BP in order to label the balls.

I headed up to the left field Loge, three balls short of double digits. Could I find a way to get one more ball up there? One at the Dodgers’ dugout after BP? And maybe one during or after the game?

The Dodgers were hitting lots of home runs, but none came anywhere near me. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: one of the problems with Shea is the lack of seats in fair territory. Those puny sections down the lines in the Loge barely extend past the foul pole; most home runs land in the bleachers, the bullpens, and in that dead space in front of the right field scoreboard, so I’m forced to do a lot of begging.


Even though my eighth ball of the day was thrown, there was no begging required. It was a home run that fell short of the seats and bounced back onto the field. Hong-Chih Kuo grabbed it and immediately looked up to see if there was a worthy recipient. He spotted my Dodgers cap and tossed it right to me.

“Are you from L.A.?” asked the security guard. (Clearly, he was new, or at least new to the section.)

“Nope, I’m a native New Yorker. I just own all 30 Major League caps.”

The next 20 minutes were useless–no homers, nothing thrown–so I left the Loge at 6:15pm and headed to the dugout. Once again, I was able to slip into the first row, and when everyone came off the field, I got a ball from bench coach Dave Jauss. One more to go. I was desperate, so when the equipment dude started transferring all the balls from the basket to the zippered bag, I cranked up my begging to a whole nother level.

“Is there any chance AT ALL for a ball? Even a dirty one?”

He looked up briefly and tried not to smile.


“C’mon,” I continued, “whaddaya say? There’s gotta be a REALLY dirty ball in there. I don’t want a new one. I want the ugliest ball you got. I want the ugliest ball you’ve ever SEEN. There’s gotta be a ball so ugly that it’s a disgrace to the entire Los Angeles Dodgers organization, and it would be my pleasure to take it off your hands. C’mon, I won’t tell anyone, I swear. Please?”

My shtick was pathetic. And obnoxious. But it WAS kinda fun. And it worked because the guy (pictured here, reaching into the basket) pulled out a ball and tossed it to me. And it wasn’t even that dirty.

I got some water. I ran into a bunch of familiar fans and vendors. I washed my face. I returned to the seats and labeled my last two baseballs. I wrote in my journal. I wandered and took a few photos, and when Nomar Garciaparra started running and stretching in shallow left field, I headed down the steps toward the first row. I had my ticket stub and blue Sharpie ready. All the fans were speculating about whether he’d come over and sign. Most people said “no way,” but I had a good feeling, thanks to a recent comment that was posted on this blog by a Dodgers fan in L.A., and sure enough, after Nomar finished running/stretching/praying, he walked over and signed–and was surprisingly jolly.


Unfortunately, he used some kid’s lame-o black marker and only wrote a few letters of his name, but still. Pretty sweet. I wish I’d had more than one Dodgers stub–I don’t get my garciaparra_kemp_ethier.jpgbaseballs autographed–because Matt Kemp and future Hall of Famer Andre Ethier also started signing, and I was forced to get them on the back. Not ideal.

After the national anthem, I returned to the Loge and spent the majority of the game on the third base side of home plate. I knew there’d be a bunch of foul tips in that area because the hard-throwing, right-handed Brad Penny was pitching for the Dodgers. The Mets lineup, therefore, was stacked with lefties (Carlos Delgado, Cliff Floyd, Shawn Green) and switch-hitters who’d be batting lefty (Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Jose Valentin). Of course, I moved to the first base side each time the Mets’ two righties (Paul Lo Duca and David Wright) stepped to the plate, and it was there that I had two close calls:

1) In the bottom of the first, Wright tipped a foul ball right at me. I mean RIGHT at me. I scooted forward through the aisle and reached out to make what should’ve been an easy one-handed catch…BUT…some overdressed yuppie in the row below me reached up at the last second and unintentionally swatted the ball away. It hit his forearm (duh) and bounced down the steps, plopping into some lucky fan’s lap.

2) In the bottom of the fifth, Lo Duca led off with a foul tip to my right. My path was blocked by a peanut vendor who’d stopped to chat with some fans.


Two batters later, I was back on the third base side for Delgado, who worked the count full and then tipped a fastball 10 feet to my right. It was an absolute laser that shot back nearly as fast as the pitch had been thrown. I knew I wouldn’t get there in time, but the ball was gonna fall short so I darted through the aisle in the hopes that it might get bobbled by the gloveless fans. I’d only made it five feet when the ball hit something–or someone–and ricocheted to the left, right at my ball2929_delgado_foul_tip.jpgface, causing me to duck and reach up in one motion while running full speed (and taking special care not to bump into anyone), and before I knew what happened, I was pulling the ball from the pocket of my glove. Cool.

When I caught the Barry Bonds homer on 8/16/06 at PETCO Park, everyone was oohing and ahhing about what a great play I’d made, and I was like, “Really? Was it THAT impressive?” The Delgado foul tip required much more athleticism and far less luck, yet there were only a few people who seemed to notice or care. Funny how that works.

I kept moving around for the rest of the game, but nothing else came my way. Didn’t matter. I was satisfied with my performance, and the Mets were making me proud. Jose Reyes hit a three-run, inside-the-park homer, while Tom Glavine threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings to pick up his 288th career win. Final score: Mets 7, Dodgers 0.

After the game, I got my 12th and final ball from home plate umpire Bill Miller as he walked off the field.




Competition Factor = 582,996.

• 178 balls in 24 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.

• 451 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 61 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 98 lifetime game balls

• 15th time snagging a game ball in back-to-back games

• 2,930 total balls…moves me past Al Simmons (2,927) and into a tie for 31st place on the all-time hits list with Jake Beckley and Rogers Hornsby.

(If you’re wondering why I’m comparing balls to hits, click here.)


  1. boodleheimer1@aol.com

    Good work @ Shea last night. Is it worth it to place the Hample jinx on the yuppie who reached up to deflect the ball aiming for your glove, only to have it ricochet in to some other fan’s hands? Good writing, too. Looking forward to seeing you in the Times on Sunday and on their site. Happy collecting.

  2. zneufeld2@hotmail.com

    Very nice day congrats. 3 good players came over and signed thats pretty good. Plus 12 baseballs I call that a great game. Whens your next game?

  3. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    hey zack good stuff yesterday. and another good post. But do the umps go to the vistior dugout when they go off? I thought I had seen coem on from the visting dugout. Not sure though i guess it might change in different stadiums? I think its visting team but not sure.

    once again good stuff.***** iw as so close to 1st comment

  4. joneli24@yahoo.com

    nice game zack, and with 48583 people there. im shocked. a thursday night, school night in NYC…jeez

  5. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    oh yeah zack i forgot to mention.. you guys get free subs with your ticket in NY? I know you keep your stubs but a free sub??? thats prety **** good. in toronto we get nothing unless its a friady or sunday and we get 7 strikeouts. That is crazy!

  6. dannyzhang312@hotmail.com

    12 balls to show off with? Amazin’! Zack what’s on your shelf, board games or something? Anyway, gotta go to sleep!

  7. thechuckster8@aol.com

    I went to the Mets Dodgers game tonight, and hung out by the LA dugout for almost all of BP. I got 2 Toby Hall signed cards, a Tim Hamulack signed card, and an Andre Ethier signed ball on the sweet spot. When the Dodgers were stretching, my friend and I went down to the field, but got kicked out by a security guard, so we went to the Mets side, where I got a Shawn Green signed card. While on the Mets side, I saw Nomar and Marlon Anderson sign.

  8. johnjamahoney@hotmail.com

    Hi zack
    I just started my own blog about autograph collecting and gave a link for your website. It’s not much yet but You should check it out when you can.

  9. johnjamahoney@hotmail.com

    If anyone knows a lot about autograph collecting, or even is just starting out, and would like to be a co- author of my blog to help improve either email me at johnjamahoney@hotmail.com or leave a comment here or at my blog

  10. yanksfan61293@aol.com

    Hey Zack–

    I’m looking forward to pickin’ up a copy tommorow, the only thing is…it’s actually my Bar Mitzvah tommorow morning!

    My party is at yankee stadium next friday night (vs. the Red Sox)…we rented a SUITE!!!!!!!!!! Unfortunately, I won’t be able to try to get autographs/balls because i’ll have friends to entertain.

  11. Zack

    The yuppie meant no harm, so he’s safe from the Jinx. (And so are you because of all the flattering comments you continue to leave.)


    Thanks! My next game will probably be at Camden Yards on the 14th.


    You’re right. Every ballpark is different like that. Usually, I think the umps do exit through the visitor’s dugout. That’s how it was at PETCO. Oh, and same in Philly. I only started paying attention to umps this season, so I’m not sure about all the other ballparks. I don’t even know where the umps go at Yankee Stadium. As for Subway…I never bothered to look at those coupons until you mentioned it here. I don’t think you get totally free sandwiches. It looks like a “buy one/get one free” deal.


    Don’t hate the Royals. They need all the lovin’ they can get.


    There must’ve been a lot of no-shows because the stadium didn’t seem THAT crowded. In any case, thanks. I think this was my second highest Competition Factor ever. One more ball and I would’ve broken my record.


    Thanks x 12. I have a few things on the shelves:

    1. sets of baseball cards

    2. boxes that originally contained packs of cards

    3. “Reggie Bar” boxes

    Again, just to clarify…that first photo was taken in my old bedroom at my parents’ place.


    Good call on the cards. After the game, I asked a bunch of different people to take pictures of me. First, I harassed some EMS workers, and later, I wandered out toward the right field corner and saw the flat railing and saw a bunch of fans standing around, so I set up the balls (which of course caused a big scene…in a funny way) and then asked someone to take the pic. Pretty simple. I say “harassed,” but everyone was really nice about it.


    Why’d you get kicked out? Just because the guard recognized you? Typical Shea Stadium bullying. No baseballs for you?


    Yeah, I was amazed to be that close to him…and equally amazed that he was smiling so much. I’m glad I captured it.


    Just checked out your blog and left you a comment. Looking good so far…


    Someone else recently gave me the link to their blog. Was it you? I’ve been so busy lately…brain…scattered…but anyway, congrats on the Bar Mitzvah! You got a whole suite for a Red Sox game?*****. Sounds more like “sweeeet” than “suite.” Listen…I know it can be tough to do your thing as a collector when you have friends there, but this is YOUR party. I suggest you say something like this: “Dear friends, I’m going to get some autographs. If you want to come with me, great. And if not, I’ll see you back here in the sweeeet in just a little bit.”

  12. yanksfan61293@aol.com

    yep. it’ll be an extremely tough game, though, to try and snag and get autographs…also, we are gonna leave for the stadium at 4:30, so I won’t be there until about a half hour AFTER the gates open.

  13. Nick

    So, all of the balls are sitting on the railing… when all of a sudden, an angered man runs up and snatches three of the balls while knocking the rest to the ground, sending them rolling around. While you chase after the man with your baseballs, his friend picks up the balls that fell on the ground and takes off. That would really ****, wouldn’t it?

  14. Zack

    SKY KID-
    Yes! Reggie Bars indeed. (Well, the boxes are now empty, but at one point, there WERE Reggie Bars in ’em. And no, I didn’t eat them all. I got the boxes from vendors at Yankee Stadium after all the bars were sold. That was like 10 years ago.)


    You got it.


    Oh man. So you’re gonna miss all of batting practice? You could still get some autographs right before the game starts. As frustrating as it’ll be to get there late, just think about it this way: in just a few more years, you’ll be old enough to go to games by yourself, and you’ll have a whole lifetime to get to the ballpark(s) as early as you want. Reggie Bars were chocolatey and peanutty, I think. I might’ve eaten one or two, but like I said, not in the last decade, so I don’t remember.


    That would only happen at Yankee Stadium.

  15. thechuckster8@aol.com

    If I had been 1 section over, I would’ve had no problem, but because those people decided to show up at that precise moment, and had to show their tickets to an usher, my friend and I got kicked out. Now do you understand why I’m getting FAR away from New York when I go to college? BTW, anybody know how stadium security is at Safeco, ATT, and McAfee?

  16. redsox342445@yahoo.com

    Chuckster- Safeco is decent for getting autographs because when BP ends the ushers let you go down to the dugout untill all of the players are in the clubhouse and then after that they aren’t very strict when the players are warming up before the game. The let you go down to the front row and wait for them. Also in BP George Sherrill will throw quite a few balls out usually.

  17. dodgerdude511@aol.com

    That is what I call an excellent trip.

    I love the “future hall of famer” next to Either’s name….. think he has a shot at rook of the year?


  18. Zack

    Why couldn’t the usher have simply asked you to move? Nevermind. I already know the answer. And yeah, I see why you want to get out of this town.


    I was hoping that someone would appreciate the “HOF” joke. Although who knows? Maybe it’ll turn out to be true. Ethier’s definitely got a shot at the Rookie of the Year award, but I don’t know…it seems like half the Marlins would make good selections, too.

  19. senoroctubre@boston-redsox.net

    i love all my jewish home boy players in the mlb, like greeen, youkilis, marquis, stern, kapler, even yanks fan congrats im almost 15 my bar mitzvah was pretty easy, mazel tov and good luck!

  20. Zack

    I’m glad you’re not a Green-hater.


    I’m also Jewish (though not religious at all), so yeah, it’s cool to see all these guys in The Show. Isn’t Brad Ausmus Jewish? And David Newhan? Who else? I should know. Shame on me.

  21. kayleexxx@aol.com

    Zack-Shawn Green is my favorite major league player.I
    Watch almost every mets game just to see him play.He seems to be fittin in well with the mets.


  22. boodleheimer1@aol.com

    ZACK –

    Saw the pIEce about you in tomorrow’s Sunday Times; it’s fabulous & well-deserved. The downside: You’ll probably have to beat off fans with a bat next time you show up at Shea OR Y. Stadium.

  23. zneufeld2@hotmail.com

    Very nice game congrats. I saw nomar do the exact same thing at saturdays game. I got alot of good autos. Andre eithier, greg maddyx, toby hall, russ martin, 4 david wrights, john maine and paul loduca. Some security guy gave me 3 tickets for tommorrows game so I guess ill go. You should see madduxs signature its so ugly. Good luck your next game, zach

  24. Zack

    I didn’t know that you’re such a big Shawn Green fan. Cool.


    You already saw it? Excellent. I’ve already picked up a copy, too, and I’m really happy with how it came out. Really, REALLY happy.


    You got Maddux? Oh my god. I’ve loved that guy since the mid-80s, and I’ve never even come close. Where the **** did you get him? Inside the stadium? What section? Outside? What gate? At the hotel? Details, please…

  25. Zack

    That’s young. Or maybe I just started late. I don’t think I even knew that Major League Baseball existed when I was five.


    Thank you! I actually hadn’t seen the video until you pointed me to it.

  26. pissit@gmail.com

    hey z, regis here. saw your nyt piece today: what a cool article. nice that they mentioned your new book too – i’m looking forward to that coming out. happy blogging, and snagging, rp

  27. Zack

    Ugh. Yeah. Although I love the piece, I’m a little bummed about the messed up date right there in the caption. But these things happen…and I’m not about to start complaining. Anyway, thanks. I appreciate hearing from you.


    That WAS nice. For a while, it looked like the book wouldn’t get mentioned. Good to hear from you, too.

  28. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    zack they just mentioned you on the blue jays broadcast. Jamie Campbell mentioned your article and said you had 2900 foul balls then corrected himself adding BP and stuff. He also mentioned your 19 bal record but he said it was at shea? wasnt it in milwaukee his mistake i think.

  29. zneufeld2@hotmail.com

    At 10:10 Maddux walked in the press gate with derek lowe. There was 3 people he signed for 2 of them 1 being me. I went back today and got tommy lasorda, nomar, brian bannister and chad billingsley. zach

  30. yanksfan61293@aol.com

    hey all

    just got back from MY bar mitzvah. it was awesome. Zack-did you get bar mitzvah-ed? anyway, im making my dad go out to get me a copy of the sunday times just to see the article about you, even though all the articles about you are pretty much the same

  31. yanksfan61293@aol.com

    oh, and until i watched the video, i had no idea what you sounded like. you’ve got a good voice

  32. senoroctubre@boston-redsox.net

    hey zack,
    yes you do have a great voice, and no u are not old and pathetic looking (unless you ask Heath Bell, or Randy Winn)

    hey hockey season is around the corner and ill be going to a lot of games becuase of my friends with season tickets and ill try to catch my 2nd puck on september18th which is preseaon opening night for the Anaheim (Don’t Call them Mighty) Ducks.

    Peace Zack, and good luck with the rest of the season

  33. Zack

    Wow! That’s so cool. Thanks for letting me know. The 19-ball performance WAS at Shea. In Milwaukee, I got 17.


    That’s seriously impressive.


    Congrats on completing your big day! I never did have a Bar Mitzvah, but who knows…I’m young…there’s still time. Funny about all the articles being the same. I’ve felt that way, too, at times, but usually only with the really short pieces that don’t dig deep. You’d never heard my voice? Huh. Thanks.


    Thanks…but what’s wrong with Heath Bell?!

  34. trueplaya_202@hotmail.com

    o ok both impressive. my computers **** so i cant see the video but wheres the artcile?

  35. thechuckster8@aol.com

    Zack-Talk to Shawn Green about that Bar Mitzvah idea.
    I really liked the piece, especially the end about you going when your old, and the ultimate goals for you being insane. Are you insane? I’m not one to tell, but you do have an insane collection.

  36. Zoe

    Zack, a great day for you at Shea. The games you missed, Friday and Sunday, were sooo worth missing. Unfortunately I was there for both.

    I’ll post some pics from the games anyway tonight or tomorrow night. And in the unlikely event that you watch America’s Next Top Model or Project Runway, I posted a couple cute pics relating to those shows too.

    I’ll letcha know when I’m next at Shea!


  37. Zack

    The NY Times has already archived the article on their site, which means you have to be a member and log in to read it. I’ll have it up on my own site soon, and I’ll post a link. Or maybe I’ll just post it here.


    Yes, I’m insane.


    Rough games this past weekend. Yeesh. Might been good for snagging, though, if all the Mets fans gave up and left early. I’ve never seen either of those two shows. (Shocker!) I’m not much of a TV watcher except when it comes to baseball.

  38. gregorybarasch@yahoo.com

    Hey Zack, I’m back from my weekend of baseball in Boston (Saturday) and at Shea (Sunday). I had a great time in Boston, and a pretty good day ball-wise (I snagged four). Your suggestion to stand in the left field corner spot was right on. Oh, and by the way, if you ever go back to Fenway, it’s absolutely worth it to try to catch a home run ball (or nine) before the gates open behind the Green Monster. At least three balls came over in the half hour between the start of BP and the time the gates opened. I got none of them, but that was my fault. I should have had one of them, but I was unprepared. It landed in a gap between the parking garage across the street and the sidewalk. I didn’t have my cup trick with me, and while I went to get it from my dad, some really tall guy was able to climb down there and get it. Dammit. But anyway, it’s worth it to go out there. And from there you have easy access to Gate E (and there was no formal line by the way, just a few people who were waiting, and I was still the first one in despite not being at the gate until one minute before it opened) and from Gate E, you have easy access to the corner spot. Anyway, here’s how I got the balls.

    BALL #1 – Tossed to me by a Royals catcher/bullpen catcher with a goatee after I asked him for it.

    BALL #2 – Thrown to me by a Royals position player during BP. I have yet to identify him.

    BALL #3 – Given to me by Odalis Perez. This one was especially cool. I had seen him pick up some ball on the edge of the outfield grass as he was coming onto the field in the middle of BP. He threw it to some guy along the left field foul line but threw it too low. It bounced back to Perez and he went over to the guy who he threw it to but didn’t give it to him. Instead he signed a couple autographs and talked to the guy. So I scampered over there and when he was done, I held up my glove to him to indicate I wanted the ball, which was still in his glove. He opened up his glove and let me take it out. It was so simple, and very cool.

    BALL #4 – A grounder was hit right to the left field corner spot where I was standing, and I made the easy play.

    The game went 12 innings, but despite that, I didn’t manage to get a ball at the dugout or anything. But it was a lot of fun.

    And yesterday I went to Shea. Slow day, but I got two balls at the Dodgers bullpen before the game. I don’t know specifically who threw them, but one was a black coach, and the other appeared to be the bullpen catcher, although I’m not sure. And my sister got a ball from Pedro Feliciano before the game and my Dad got a ball from Einar Diaz after he warmed up the pitcher in the bottom of the 8th inning while Toby Hall put on his gear. Oh, and Julio Franco’s bat went flying about five feet over my head in the 9th. So despite the lack of many balls, it was still a fun day.

  39. Zack

    The “Comment of the Month” award goes to you. Wow. Thanks for taking the time to write all of that, and thanks for the Fenway advice. I had no idea about that half hour before the stadium opens because every time I’d been there, I’d been waiting like an idiot at Gate A. Glad to see that you’re staying above the Mendoza Line.


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