4/9/08 at Shea Stadium

welcome_to_opening_night.jpgLast week, when I walked up to the ticket window at Yankee Stadium on the day of the game, the cheapest ticket available was over $60. Two days ago at Shea, I was able to pay my way in for just $10. My ticket said “Upper Deck Row N,” but that didn’t matter. I never went up there, and by the time the game started, I was holding a ticket for the 5th row behind the Phillies’ dugout.

There was a HUGE line of fans waiting to get in at Gate C, but after my experience the day before at Fenway, it didn’t phase me, and anyway, my goal for the evening wasn’t too lofty. I pretty much just wanted ONE ball; I began the day with a grand total of 3,299 and a streak of 499 consecutive games at which I’d snagged at least one ball. One lousy little batting practice ball was going to give me two milestones. That’s all I wanted…sort of. Although there wasn’t any urgency, I was also hoping to get to add Johan Santana’s name to my list…and yes, I was also hoping to snag a commemorative ball. I’d heard that all game-used balls this year at Shea would have a special logo because it was the last season that the Mets were playing there. Same deal across town…last year for the Yankees at Yankee Stadium…special balls…and I’d already citi_field_during_bp_04_09_08.jpgsnagged one. Throughout the winter, friends had been sending me links and photos of these logos, and I never looked at them. I didn’t want to see them until I snagged the balls myself. Of course, I’d only been in the right field Loge (check out the view in the pic on the left) for five minutes when a kid I met last year ran up and shouted, “Look what I got!!” and stuck a commemorative ball right in my face. Wonderful. The kid’s name is Trevor. His older brothers Gary (aka “njmetfan” for those of you who read the comments) and Kyle were also at the game, and they all invaded my section during BP. Luckily, there were enough balls to go around.

I got my first ball of the day from Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti…sort of. I called down to him from the corner spot and asked him for the ball, at which point he walked into the bullpen and tossed it to the strength/conditioning coach and had HIM throw it to me. It would’ve been nice to know the man’s name, but at least I got the most important ball out of the way.

Santana and a couple other pitchers began to practice bunting with Conti (who fed dozens of balls into a pitching machine) in the bullpen. Trevor must’ve shouted at Santana for 10 solid minutes (Gary kept telling him to shut up) and didn’t get anything as a result. Gary waited and politely shouted at Santana when the bunting session ended, at which point we all ran over to the side railing to see the Mets’ ace looking up. Santana then johan_santana.jpgthrew the ball to Gary…except his aim was off and the ball drifted right to me. As soon as I caught it, Santana shouted up at me and told me to hand the ball over. I offered it to Gary who didn’t consider taking it. “Your ball total is more important than mine,” he said. It was ball-snagging sportsmanship at its best–and worst possible luck for Gary. We all wanted the ball. We all tried to get Johan’s attention. We all had an equal shot at it. And it happened to end up in my glove. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve asked a player for a ball and then watched helplessly as his throw sailed to someone else. It happened to me at this game as well. I’d been shouting at Carlos Muniz (in Spanish) and making eye contact with him throughout BP. He even held up an index finger at one point as if to say, “Hold on.” Eventually, when I was standing several rows back in the aisle, he turned abruptly and lobbed the ball in my direction from about 100 feet away. The throw fell five feet short. Gary, who was standing two rows below me, reached up and caught it in front of my glove.

I got one more ball tossed to me before the Mets finished their portion of BP. Nothing special. It came from another trainer-type guy. He was standing on the edge of the warning track when a ball rolled to his feet. Everyone shouted, and he ended up throwing it to me.

left_field_foul_line_04_09_08.jpgThe Phillies took the field, and I moved down a level and ran around to the left foul line. Within a few minutes, a right-handed batter (no idea who) ripped a line drive in my direction. The ball hooked foul, fell 30 feet short, took one hop off the warning track and skipped up into my glove. Beautiful. I hadn’t even seen it coming until the fans around me started shouting at the last second. I’d been busy pestering J.C. Romero for a ball, and I was still eying him moments later when another righty batter hooked a deeper line drive, again right at me. For some reason I wasn’t able to catch it cleanly. I think it was just a lack of concentration because I always catch balls that come to me. Luckily, the ball dropped into the empty second row of orange seats behind me, and I was able to grab it off the concrete before anyone else had a chance to react. Duh. I still felt like an idiot.

Phillies bullpen coach Ramon Henderson flipped me my sixth ball of the day, and as soon as I caught it, Romero informed him that I’d already gotten two. (Make that SIX, pal.) I quickly turned my back before Henderson looked over so he wouldn’t see my face.

Okay, in the photo above, see how there’s a double wall with a stool in between and dead space all around it? Whenever a ball drops into that area, it’s almost impossible to lean over the railing and grab it. Although it might not look l
ike it, it’s just too far down, and that’s when the glove trick comes in handy–but not this time. A ball shot in there and rolled halfway underneath the gap at the base of the stands, and there was no chance for me to get my glove (in the propped open position) to drop around it. My friend and fellow baseball collector Greg (aka “gregorybarasch”) ran down from the Loge with his cup trick, which might’ve actually worked in this situation, but he’d already snagged half a dozen balls as well, and I wasn’t about to let him swoop in and snag this one. He was good-natured about it, though. We usually make an extra effort to stay out of each other’s way, but every now and then we’ll both end up in the same spot. Anyway, the ball was tucked behind a narrow metal opening, pretty far down and to the left. I should’ve taken a photograph, but oh well, I got caught up in the excitement and forgot. Greg stood a few feet to my right, then moved behind me and held my legs briefly as I leaned over, but it still wasn’t happening. He then suggested that I use my glove to reach a very thin piece of wood (You know those flimsy little sticks that souvenir pennants/flags are attached to? One of those.) and then use the wood to move the ball. And that’s exactly what I did. The wood was so flimsy, however, and the ball was trapped in such a deep rut–that it took about 30 seconds to pry it out, during which time the on-field security guard walked over and told me I had to stop. I didn’t stop. I was almost there, but the ball was still too far below for me to grab it in the tip of the glove, so I tilted the glove sideways to turn it into a makeshift scoop and tried to roll the ball into it by jabbing at it with the tip of the stick. Blood was rushing to my head, and I could feel my veins bulging as I balanced precariously upside-down. Security, meanwhile, was threatening me and Greg was rooting for me. Craziness all around. Last chance…yes…I was able to work the ball into the tip of my glove, then jerk the glove up a few inches while pressing the stick against the ball. The ball started to roll out of the glove’s open pocket, and I saved it by dropping the stick and using my free right hand to grab the ball. Wow. Snagging that ball took much more skill than any home run ball I’ve ever caught. No doubt about it.

I didn’t get any more balls at the Phillies’ dugout after batting practice or before the game, but I did get recognized by a bunch of people, and I ran into a few others I knew including a guy named Adam who gave me his ticket stub so I’d be able to get back down there. This was HUGE. I still needed a commemorative ball, and I knew my best chance would be to go for a third-out ball at the dugout.

I spent the first four outs of the game trying unsuccessfully to catch a foul ball in the Loge. This was my view (minus the railings blocking the plate) for right-handed batters:


And this was my view from the 5th row behind the dugout:


Good thing I made it back down there. Damion Easley grounded out to end the first inning. Shortstop Eric Bruntlett threw the ball across the diamond to Ryan Howard at first base. Howard brought the ball back to the dugout, and since I was the only fan standing up and shouting for it, he tossed it to me. Just LOOK at this beautiful ball:

And just like that, I’d accomplished a year’s worth of Shea Stadium goals in one night.

I stayed in the Loge for the rest of the game and ran back and forth for foul balls, playing right-handed hitters on the first base side of home plate and lefties on the third base side. Top of the third inning. One out. Mike Pelfrey on the hill. Chase Utley sent a foul ball shooting back right at me. I was standing near the top of the slanted tunnel between sections 2 and 4, took one step forward, reached through a bunch of clueless people, and caught the ball in the pocket of my glove. No wait, I didn’t just catch it. I snatched it. It’s like I reached forward with my glove as if I was giving someone an emphatic high five. BAM! Gimme that ball! And as soon as I caught it, I turned and walked back down the aisle. No celebrating. No holding it up commemorative_ball2_04_09_08.jpgin the air. Nothing. Everyone around me knew I was the one who caught it, and I had people congratulating me for the rest of the night. A few fans said they had my first book. A couple others told me they loved my web site. It felt great. And it occurred to me how lucky I was to have gotten the ball from Howard two innings earlier; the commemorative logo on the ball I’d just caught was smudged where Utley’s bat had hit it.

Pelfrey looked pretty good and picked up his first win after limiting the Phillies to two runs on five hits in five innings. The Mets scored eight runs (for an 8-2 win) despite collecting just five hits. Phillies fans throughout the stadium were generally obnoxious, cheering loudly for their team, waving their jerseys, and making choking gestures at Mets fans who responded by flinging several Phillies hats off the edge of the upper deck and belting out a sing-songy chant of “F*ck the Phillies.” It was a busy night commemorative_balls_04_09_08.jpg
for stadium security. For once I was the least of their concerns.

With one out in the ninth inning, I used Adam’s ticket to get back into the field level, then waltzed down into the seats behind home plate and got yet another commemorative ball from umpire Lance Barksdale as he walked off the field after the final out.


• 10 balls at this game

• 32 balls in 4 games this season = 8 balls per game.

• 500 consecutive games with at least one ball

zack_commemorative_balls_04_09_08.jpg• 322 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball

• 10 consecutive seasons with at least one game ball (not counting game-used balls that are thrown to me, like the one from Howard.)

• 112 lifetime game balls

• 75 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 1,600 lifetime Bud Selig balls

• 3,309 total balls

• 11 days until I’ll be at Disney World


  1. gjk2212

    haha “ball snagging sportmanship at its best” nice…

    sorry about trevor lol he gets excited…hes only 9!

    still no commemorative for me…

    cant wait to hear about washington…ill be at shea next tuesday wednesday and thursday…the whole nats series..thursday ill be in the bleachers so that should make shea bp a little more interesting and fun..

  2. snagfan

    Congrats Zack on hitting your goals at Shea. Took your advice and started my own “Hample Snag Process” blog. Fun stuff….


  3. zackhample

    Trevor is awesome. There’s absolutely no need to apologize, at least not to me. I was just a little concerned that Johan might’ve been getting annoyed, but it didn’t bother me. Kids get excited easily. *I* still get excited easily. Trevor…if you’re reading this, keep doing what you’re doing! As for Shea next week, I might make it out to one game, but probably not more than that. Enjoy the bleachers.

    Thanks. Can you share the URL?

  4. deleted

    Wow, what a night! Congrats! And major Kudos to Gary, it’s nice to see snaggers being friendly :)

    That ball you got from Howard is puuurrrrrrrty… it’s perfect!
    Hey, just wondering, do you keep any of your balls separate, like in a special container? Say the Bonds ball and such.

  5. zackhample

    Kudos to Gary, indeed, and thanks. I used to keep my game balls separate before I started marking them. I still have a special area for my commemorative balls. But for the most part, everything gets tossed into the same bags and barrels. I do have the Bonds ball in a separate plastic cube. My Morneau homer from last year’s derby is also separate. And I have a few others tucked aside as well.

  6. gregb123

    Thanks for the kind words in the entry. That pic I took of you and the balls after the game didn’t come out great, but it’s pretty good. Your pic of me cup-tricking that ball out of the gap from the Loge is really cool. Thanks a lot.

    Also, it looks like I’ll almost definitely be going to Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday. I’d say there’s a 95% chance, so Shea is all yours. Go crazy!

  7. zackhample

    Yer welcome.

    I thought the post-game pic was fine…nothing special, but it got the job done. Thanks for letting me know about your Philly plans. I have no idea if I’m gonna feel like going to Shea next week, and when you see my next blog entry, you’ll understand why.

  8. meikd423

    i was at last nights game 1 against the brewers and got 4 balls and one of them had a really nice commmorative logo on it. the mets also won 4-2. it was a very good night

  9. meikd423

    o yeah, and it was dog night. i dont know if anyone knows this but if you get into shea stadium as the gates open, you are allowed into the bleachers (picnic area). i waas out there and since it was dog night, there were dogs EVERYWHERE and it smelled terrible. plus, they were getting in the way of everything.

  10. meikd423

    nope. its really easy. just go to the opening by the Gate A field level all the way down the left field line (theres an open gate that leads straight into the picnic area) and you just walk right by there from the inside of the stadium with your head down a just walk really fast and none of the security guards say anything. then you just run up into the bleachers. i go there almost every game (except opening day) and i usually get a bunch of balls. a lot of homeruns land there so if you dont get anything thrown, you’ll still probably get a ball or 2. the security people that hang out in the bleachers and throw balls back on the field when no one is there are really nice too. they allow glove tricks and everything. they dont kick you out, but just tell you nicely that you have to leave before the game starts

  11. gjk2212

    that is so awesome, yeah i know where the entrance is for that…i think i saw you up in the lf loge on opening day…im going tomorrow so maybe if you are there well see each other..im gonna try to get in there tomorrow then..

    i was watching out there when i was at shea wednesday, and there was one guy in a red hat out there for the 1st hour of bp, he probably got 5-6 balls without trying. anything landing in the bleachers was his!

  12. santanaf

    Went to the Nationals ridiculous walopping today. BP was cancelled due to rain, but through a coworker of my wife’s we were invited to sit about 5 rows back of home plate! No balls hit our way, but the seats were large, spacious, padded, and the view was great, except for the screen which was just annoying. Smoltz was pitching, and this was the first time I’ve ever worn my glasses to a game where I was sitting so close. My vision with glasses on is 20/15 (without is about 20/30, so not too bad), and it was SO STRANGE to see so clearly. I could see Smoltz’s pitches base on his grip before they left his hand. I could see the laces clearly and their sping. I could tell what pitch was coming and could see a breaking ball well before it started to bend. I am not upset I didn’t have contacts when I was playing ball, and now want to see what happens when I play in 30+ ball in the next few summers. Could be a whole new world of my slap hitting to right field.

    Anyhow, back to the game. As Zack knows, I just want a Nationals Park commemorative first season ball. So today, at the end of the game, I took advantage of my great seats and asked HP Ump Marvin Hudson for a ball as he exited the field after the 9th. He flipped one up with his “used” pouch and it is truly a perfect ball. Logo and all other writing is perfect, small grass stain on the back side. I can rest easier now and just enjoy the season, I HAD to get one of these. Now the next one I get goes straight to my buddy Doug.

  13. meikd423

    yeah, i saw you too on opening day. i wasnt really sure if it was you though. and about anything landing in the bleachers being yours, its true. i got 2 homerun balls that just flew down the staircases and landed in the seats. back when i went to shea with zack on september 25, he posted a video that my mom took of me getting a ball and you can see that there is no competion

  14. gjk2212

    just got back from shea…

    goislanders-it worked!! the lady let me stay in the picnic area for the first hour! nothing was hit there, but i still got 3 balls, from mike pelfrey, manny parra, and joe smith. then she asked me to leave, so i went upstairs to the loge and got one from derrick turnbow, and security promptly asked me to leave. the on the field level, guillermo mota(trash) tries to throw a ball to the loge, hit the electronic scoreboard, and it landed in those dreamseats. i leaped the fence, it was stuck behind a seat, security pointed it out to me and i had my fifth ball of the day. but wait. could it be? yes. it was a commemorative ball!! my first. the brewers were ALL using them, they were laying all over the field.

  15. csparks@zoominternet.net

    Awesome commerative ball. Does anyone know if they have a progressive field ball? I’m new so I dont have an idea if they would do that for just a name change.

  16. gjk2212

    i dont think theyre having one for progressive field. i just checked and i dont think they are.

    goislanders-im gonna stay in this entry for now. yeah that was me, most likely. next weekend theyre in philly, im gonna try to get there but im not sure yet…im going to shea tuesday and thursday…how many balls are you at for this season?

  17. zackhample

    I heard about dog night and saw it on TV as well. Yuck. Congrats on getting a commemorative ball. Now you have the rest of the season to relax. :-)

    Very cool about the improved vision. Wow. You and Ted Williams, huh? I’ve never been able to identify pitches right out of the pitcher’s hand. That must be pretty sweet to have that ability. And congrats to you as well on the commemorative ball. Seems like everyone who reads this blog is off to a good start this season.

    As you have seen by now, the answer lies in my latest blog entry.

    Wait wait wait…what?! Are you saying that all the Brewers’ balls were commemorative?! Regardless, congrats on getting one.

    I agree with NJMETFAN. I’m not positive, but I highly doubt that a new stadium would be enough of a reason to use special balls. It’d be nice if that were the case, however.

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