6/8/08 at Dolphin Stadium

I didn’t think there’d be batting practice. This was a dreaded “day game after a night game,” and on top of that the night game hadn’t ended until 10:41pm, so I was overjoyed when I ran into the stadium and saw this:

field_set_up_for_batting_practice.jpg

A few Marlins pitchers were playing catch in the right field corner, and when they finished several others came out. It was perfect. There was a steady flow of snagging opportunities. If the entire pitching staff had been throwing at the same time, I probably would’ve only gotten one ball because all the guys would’ve seen me catch it. Instead, I got one tossed by Mark marlins_throwing.jpg
Hendrickson, then another five minutes later by Logan Kensing, then another five minutes after that by Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco’s throw sailed to the left and fell two feet wide of my glove as I leaned over the railing. Fortunately, the ball landed in a folded up seat in the wheelchair aisle in front of the railing, and I was able to reach down with my bare hand and grab it.

I would’ve had five balls by that point if not for another baseball collector named Jordan–a college kid who lives in Florida, reads this blog regularly, and has been leaving sporadic comments since 2005 under the name “hockeyguy1011.” Jordan (who recently caught 10 balls in one game at Dolphin Stadium) had already snagged two, and if not for me, HE would’ve had five. He let me get the first one from Hendrickson, so I let him get the next ball from Matt Lindstrom. Then I got the ball from Kensing and let him go to the dugout where he had no competition and got one tossed by hitting coach Jim Presley.

Once BP started, Jordan went to straight-away right field, and I camped out in right-center. He was on one side of the tunnel, and I was on the other. We each had our space, and we both did well. I used the glove trick to snag my fourth ball and got scolded/threatened by security. Nice job, ownership. Open your ugly stadium later than almost every other stadium, prohibit all 17 of your fans from bringing backpacks and food inside, and then institute a stupid, arbitrary rule during batting practice to prevent people from snagging a few extra baseballs so you can sell them for $25 apiece at the souvenir stands. Really…nice job.

andy_fox.jpg
At least Andy Fox was nice. I got him to hit me a fungo from about 150 feet away, and it was basically right on the money. The ball was heading right at me but fell a couple rows short. Rather than diving or lunging for it and risking an injury, I held back because I was 20 rows from the field, and with the exception of a couple fans in the first two rows, the seats all around me were TOTALLY empty. Well, wouldn’t you know it…the ball hit the back of a seat and ricocheted back toward the field and kept bouncing and bouncing further away from me, first off the seats, then off the steps, until it had traveled all the way back down to the front row where some lucky kid gloved it. I asked for another try and Fox threw his arms up in disgust. I really thought I was out of luck, but he ended up tossing me another ball after I’d moved back down to the front row. I got my sixth ball thrown by Pierre Arsenault, the Marlins “bullpen coordinator,” after another fan mistook him for Steve Foster, the “bullpen coach.”

That was it for BP. It started late and ended early, but I was glad that it even happened at all. It’s interesting that the Marlins were the ones taking BP. Normally the home team bats first and finishes about an hour and a half before game time. The Reds must’ve told the Marlins well ahead of time that they weren’t going to hit so that the Marlins would be able to sleep late and still get their cuts.

As for the Reds, their entire pitching staff had been warming up in the left field corner, but by the time I ran over…

bill_bray_playing_catch.jpg

…only two guys were still throwing. Bill Bray, the lefty, tossed me the ball when he was done, perhaps because I was wearing a generic red T-shirt to go with my Reds cap.

jordan_zack.jpgI crossed paths with Jordan. He’d snagged five balls. His younger brother Jake hadn’t snagged any and didn’t seem to care…and took our picture.

My eighth ball of the day was tossed by Marlins catcher Matt Treanor along the right field foul line about 15 minutes before game time. There were a few other fans nearby. None of them had gloves or even bothered asking for the ball. It was one of the easiest snags of my life. Treanor had looked around briefly before tossing it to me, presumably to spot someone younger and/or cuter, but there just weren’t any options.

About ten minutes before game time, I moved behind the 3rd base dugout so I could take a pic of the right field seats:

look_at_those_juicy_seats.jpg

That’s where I’d soon be heading because Ken Griffey Jr., still stuck on 599 career home runs, was going to be batting third in the top of the top of the 1st inning.

Before I headed out there, I stopped at the Marlins’ dugout to try to get a ball from Hanley Ramirez who had started throwing with Jorge Cantu. I wasn’t allowed to enter the first eight rows of blue seats, so I had to hang back, and when Ramirez finished, I asked him in Spanish and waved my arms. Perfect strategy. I got his attention. He crouched down low and made eye contact with me and fired the ball sidearm in my direction, and then, out of nowhere, another fan who was sitting in the third row stuck his glove in the air and intercepted the ball. Props to that guy for having such quick reflexes, but DAMN!!!

Anyway, there was a more important ball to be snagged, and when I settled into my seat for the first pitch of the game, this was my view:

view_for_first_pitch.jpg

Ryan Tucker, the Marlins starter, was making his major league debut, and Jerry Hairston greeted him by hitting the second pitch down the right field line for a double. Jay Bruce, who entered the game batting .457, struck out on five pitches, and before I knew it, Mister Griffey was pacing toward the batters box.

Now, if you think I was sitting too far back, take a look at the image below. It’s a “scatter plot” from Hit Tracker that shows where all the home runs this season at Dolphin Stadium have landed:

hit_tracker_dolphin_stadium.jpg

Now take a look at Griffey’s scatter plot from 2008:

hit_tracker_griffey_2008.jpg

And his scatter plot from 2007:

hit_tracker_griffey_2007.jpg

I’d been studying these scatter plots extensively on my flight from New York City and determined that a) Griffey still has 400-foot power and b) if I stayed relatively close to the foul line, I could sit 15 or even 20 rows back and still be well within his range.

In addition, most fans were crowding the first few rows behind the outfield wall. It’s human nature to sit as close to the action as possible, but when it comes to snagging baseballs, that’s usually not the best place to be. I stayed far back because of the empty seats on both sides. When Griffey stepped into the batters box, this was the view to my right:

view_for_griffey_first_inning1.jpg

And this was the view to my left:

view_for_griffey_first_inning2.jpg

I wasn’t thrilled about the railing, but it was the best I could do, and I was so determined to catch The Ball that I might just’ve run right through it.

Anyway, as easy as it would’ve been to catch The Ball, I still needed Griffey to actually hit it. He took the first pitch for ball one and fouled off the second offering. Two more balls sent the count to 3-1, and then the Marlins chickened out and had the rookie pitcher intentionally walk him. I wanted to cry.

The right field seats grew slightly more crowded as the game progressed, but it still would’ve been pretty easy to catch The Ball. Unfortunately, Griffey drew a four-pitch walk in the third and grounded into a fielder’s choice in the fifth. He was removed for a pinch hitter in the eighth, and guess what? That hitter, Corey Patterson, launched a home run to right field.

marlins_baseball.jpgWhen Griffey wasn’t batting, I hung out behind home plate. The seats were embarrassingly empty. I almost felt guilty about all the foul balls I was going to snag.

But nothing came my way.

Unbelievable.

As for the game, the Reds took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a two-out RBI single by Aaron Harang. The Marlins answered with a run in the third, a run in the fourth, four runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth. Ramirez hit two homers to left field, and Patterson capped the scoring with his solo homer in the eighth. Final score: Marlins 9, Reds 2.

Look how empty the stadium was in the ninth inning:

empty_seats_ninth_inning.jpg

The attendance was listed at 12,444. That number, for those who don’t know, represents the number of tickets sold, not the number of fans who actually pass through the turnstiles. How many fans were actually IN the stadium? I’m not good at estimating, but I doubt there were more than 3,000.

I’m hoping for an even smaller crowd tonight. It’ll be my last game here. There’s a 50 percent chance of rain (as there probably always is in Miami), but it’s sunny right now (at 1:48pm). Wherever you are, do a little BP dance for me, and if you believe in God, say a Griffey prayer while you’re at it.

STATS:

mystery_autograph.jpg? 1 autograph at this game (Can anyone guess who?)

? 8 balls at this game

? 161 balls in 21 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.

? 517 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 120 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 856 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,438 total balls

0 comments

  1. padreleigh

    Catcher Matt Treanor is the autograph I think. Am I right? Do I win some kind of Zack surprise? Ha ha. Good luck on your last day in Miami. May he hit THE BALL your way. Chris Berman is back at my hotel for the U.S. Open. He’s really funny. Talk to you later.

    Leigh

  2. hockeyguy1011@aol.com

    DISCLAIMER: The sun was right in my eyes for that picture, just to clarify the “smile” that’s on my face, lol! It was great to finally meet up with you Zack, we both did well yesterday and I had alot of fun. And Zack is right, for the first pitch, I’d say no more than 4,000 people were in the stadium, at the height of the game, there was no more than 5,000 to 6,000 people, and as the final out was recorded in the Marlins 9-2 romp, I’d say the stands had a grand total of 800 people in them, NO JOKE.
    But even with small crowds, “Dolphin” Stadium is still tough on snaggers, but it does make for a fun and unique time. Good luck tonight Zack, next time you’re down here for a few games, such as the playoffs later this year ;-), be sure to let me know. Have a safe flight back.

  3. zackhample

    PUCK COLLECTOR-
    Congratulations, I think.

    AC-
    If that were true, the Mets and Yankees would be undefeated…but no, I do see your point.

    LEIGH-
    It’s not a Treanor autograph, but you’re right about the first letter of the first name. Berman is awesome. I had a fun encounter with him a few years ago at Shea Stadium.

    HOCKEYGUY1011-
    Yeah, that IS kind of a silly pic. Oh well. I can vouch for the fact that you don’t have that expression all the time. You really think there were as many as 6,000? Were they all hiding in the bathrooms? Playoffs, huh? I hope the Marlins can knock off the Phillies since the Mets clearly won’t be able to.

    LI7039-
    Possibly/probably, but I won’t be able to make it to Tuesday’s game. So if Griffey doesn’t hit it tonight or on Tuesday (when I’m back home in NYC), then I might be getting on a plane the next day.

    EVERYONE-
    Thanks for reading. I’m heading back to the stadium in half an hour. (Still no rain here, woo-hoo!) I hope to have a blog entry about it up at some point tomorrow night…

  4. kingdomeee

    You got extremely lucky in the sense that there was batting practice. I generally avoid sundays at Safeco because they’ve only had one sunday this year where teams took BP. Good luck chasing Griffeys 600th.

  5. "D" The Rockpile Ranter

    Good Luck…you’ve done your homework…with such a low attendance I like the odds. Question..what would you do with the ball? I’m not sure I could answer that myself…Don

  6. kvrpmmh@aol.com

    Mike Lincoln, who I’m sure is the center piece of your autograph collection.

  7. nycautographcollector

    is the autograph mike lincoln?

    anyway im heading to shea on wednesday and maybe friday…ill see how i hold up with the heat and whether i care by friday

  8. gregb123

    I’m going to Shea tomorrow. I might go back Wednesday or Friday, but probably not. I’d rather go to Baltimore either Friday or one day next week.

  9. kvrpmmh@aol.com

    Griffey just hit 600 and I saw Zack in his black mlb.com t-shirt on the replay…

  10. beach71389

    I just saw you on ESPN in the scuffle for the ball. Didn’t look like you had it, but hopefully you came out on top!

  11. gregb123

    Saw you on ESPN! Didn’t look like you caught it, but you were in the area.

  12. andy1004800@aol.com

    OMG, I just saw you Zack. It didnt look like you caught the ball though.

  13. dmcco01@emory.edu

    Did you catch it? Did you catch it!?! Can’t wait to hear about 600!

  14. gjk2212

    hey i saw you, it looked like you walked away from the pile…hopefully it was like a ploy, you hid it and left and let them fight for it. haha…heres hoping for the best!

    greg-ill be at shea tomorrow..

  15. gjk2212

    yeah i saw a guy in a sergio mitre jersey taken away..sorry zack..you were close though.

  16. andy1004800@aol.com

    It looked like Zack was literally standing right beside the person who caught it. It was kinda hard to tell who caught it. I saw a bunch of people looking under a seat to find the ball, but it looked like the guy wearing a #52 Sergio Mitre jersey caught the ball.

  17. gregb123

    njmetfan — Crap, I thought that with Zack in Florida I would have Shea all to myself. Oh well. If you see me, come over and say hi.

  18. gjk2212

    haha dont worry, i wont be any competition..im averaging 3 balls per game in 13 games this year…40 balls total..im really not that good..funny story though, if you look down into the gap from the lf loge, youre gonna see my coins. 5/31 there, i was going for a ball right next to the of wall, impossible to get to. i had to keep swinging it against the wall to try to get it there, and my tape gradually slipped off and alot of my coins fell out, haha. and i didnt get the ball. but ill say hi, i have red hair and ill have a blue mets fitted hat. if im at the front of the line, feel free to join me. im gonna be really early, im getting out of school at noon because of the heat and we have no ac..see you there..

  19. pujolsisahero5

    I just saw you on ESPN during the rain delay of detroit and cleveland i could not tell if you caught it but i think you were close its on youtube already here

    so i hope you have bye PS its Darron from STL

  20. kingdomeee

    doesn’t look like he caught it cause he walks away from the middle of the struggle or whatever it is but who knows

  21. kingdomeee

    I don’t think he caught it cause at the end security escorts a fan who seems to have the ball wearing a “Mitre” jersey…

  22. acsport79@yahoo.com

    ESPN sorry i did c u but i did not c u jumping up and down with the ball

  23. canonmelky

    I said that he would do it tonight as i commented on the other entry. Zack i could see you but it does not look like you go it, bummer but you were close and if they gave it to the person who deserved it most than that would be you.

  24. dhbball

    Hey, Zack I was thrilled to meet you last year in Philly vs. the Nats I will be looking for you this summer in Philly, Shea, and anywhere else I go, good luck with Griffey.

  25. tracycollinsbecky@yahoo.com

    padreleigh where were u ,,duty calls…lets get edgar gomzo first home run..grif gonna play 3 more years?760 hr?Mets are horrible in bp zack ..need sluggers not slackers

  26. bpallstar

    Just a crazy, crazy night. I can’t wait till you put up your post Zack. I have an interesting antecdote I cannot wait to share.

  27. joshscards

    SNY just said fan tells police he got “the ball” ripped out of his hands by another fan…police are investigating
    so the Mitre jersey fan could be a fraud!
    maybe zack had it in the first place?!?

  28. andy1004800@aol.com

    Apparently the fan who caught the ball grabbed the ball on the fly, then pointed to the ground to send other fans ona wild goose chase. When i was watching the game i was wondering why so many people were under the seats scrambling for the ball when it was clear someone had caught the ball.

  29. tracycollinsbecky@yahoo.com

    ESPN showed Griffey home run live,they cut away from DWillis pitching at Detroit 5 seconds before he gave up a home run ..D train is coming off the track,,Zack wear sunglasses in the sunshine state?use your glove as sun block,thats why some gloves have holes in webbing ,,

  30. sheffro1@hotmail.com

    Yeah, I’m sorry to say, but it looks like our boy didn’t get it. I saw the replay on a local broadcast and you can see Zack looking into the pile and walking away upset. If you saw any footage of him or attended any games with him, you know he’s a celebrator, and he’d surely celebrate Griffey’s 600th.

    I’m still pulling for you Zack. Lots of homers to be hit. You’re in the right place at the right time. It’ll happen!

    Go Orioles!!!!

  31. PSU532@yahoo.com

    Zack, I’m dying for a recap of Griffey’s #600! I bet it probably pains you to write it though, because you came so close to it. Don’t worry, you’ll be catching A-Rod’s 600th, after he hits 71 other homers first…….

  32. deleted

    I’m just reposting this comment from Zack, if anyone missed it

    “EVERYONE-
    I was five feet from the ball when it landed, and yes, that was me in the black shirt with the big colorful MLB logo on the back. If not for ONE fan who happened to be standing in my row, I would’ve had it. I really don’t know what to say. I’m shocked and stunned and disappointed, and my camera died after BP, and I’m flying back to NYC tomorrow.”

  33. thomasb.

    Maybe Zack snatched it out of his glove. It doesn’t sound like something Zack would do though… We will just have to wait for the recap. I think you are going to get A-Rods 600th HR. And the one when he breaks Barry’s record.

  34. puckcollector@optonline.net

    someone was prob standing in the row, preventing him from moving all the way over to get in front of the ball.

  35. zackhample

    EVERYONE-
    I just got home. I wrote about 1,000 words on the plane. Still have a lot of work to do before the entry is up. I was just able to get a few pics off my camera. I need to go through those and scan a few things and write more about the day itself. The Mets game is about to start, and then the Yankees are on at like 10pm, so I’ll be watching those games and ordering Indian food (even though it’s about 4 million degrees), and I’ll have the entry up…at some point soon. Might take until tomorrow afternoon. I just need some time to chill out and catch my breath. I might even go to Shea tomorrow. Who else is gonna be there?

  36. aefeq

    Zack,

    Helmet guy here again.

    Just got back from Fenway. 2 Balls. Got 2 others that I had to give away ’cause there were 2 very quite kids that were so polite that I had to get them one.
    Anyway, I was wearing my Orioles helmet from the ’80’s- you know, the one with white on the front. It really stands out.

    anyway, I worked my way down to the O’s dugout and saw a girl wearing a Markakis jersey. Long story short… She was doing the stadium trips and just got back from Citizens bank were she saw “An amazing guy that got lots of balls and is called the ball snagger”.

    Amazing Zack, you are getting well know. When I told her about your book, she said she was going to Barnes and Noble tomorrow to get it.

    Thanks Zack, and 1 day it would be great to just sit down at a ba with you and listen to your stories.

    Brendan

  37. padreleigh

    Puckcollector…

    Sorry, but I won’t be able to make the trip. Family and work committments. I’m shooting for the Cubs vs. Mets in September in NYC. Hopefully, that will work out. Hope to see you there.

    Leigh

  38. gjk2212

    quick recap on tonight at shea..

    was getting shutout for 45 minutes, tried to cup trick ball from gap under loge but it fell out once and then that security guard from the bullpen pocketed it. jerk. anyway, i went to the field level and joe smith recognized me and turned down my request, when someone yelled “heads up”. the ball hit a front row blue seat and rolled literally right to me. hit by endy chavez. then chris snyder and chad tracy each threw me one, and i was done for the day. few other chances. sat through the rain delay and the bullpen blew it. they suck. funny seeing billy wagner help with the tarp.

    greg, great to meet you..

  39. gregb123

    Yeah, nice meeting you too Gary. I ended up with six balls. Shea is still a miserable place to snag. (In case anybody thought it suddenly became decent overnight.) I had exactly one ball until about 6:10 and until then I was considering jumping off the Loge because I was dying of boredom. I was literally the only person in the RF Loge within ten sections for an HOUR and not one Mets hitter could manage a home run or even a measly foul ball to any of those sections.

    Sorry about the rant. I might to back to Shea tomorrow (I guess I never learn), but it’s not likely.

    Can’t wait to hear about #600.

  40. gregb123

    By the way, Zack, a certain Loge cotton candy vendor says you’re a “piece of sh*t” for not coming to Shea Stadium as much this year…

  41. zackhample

    EVERYONE-
    The mystery autograph is Mike Lincoln. Congrats to the few of you who guessed correctly. I have a new autograph challenge in my new entry, and I’m actually awarding a prize this time. Thanks for all the comments. It really feels great to know that so many of you were following my quest for No. 600.

    BRENDAN-
    Wow, what a great story about the lady in Boston. Thanks for letting me know. I feel super famous now (almost).

    GREG-
    Hilarious. I know just who you’re talking about. Sorry Shea was so lame but what do you expect?

  42. russ@lifeonthebeat.com

    I finally went to a couple MLB Games……..Houston and Arlington. I was able to get one ball from each, then my son also got one in Arlington.

    Thanks for all your advice.

    I live near a AAA team and a Rookie League team, so I plan to apply your tricks and tips to some of the games around here.

    We did get 4 balls at our first serious attempt at the AAA team. Three were in the stands, left over from batting practice, which we never see due to the lateness of the gates opening. One we found walking in….t’was on the grass outside the left field wall. Next game we’ll try to obtain a ball or two from the players.

    See ya.

    UncleCharlieYacker

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