ANSWER: I was there with my mom.
This game ended up being the Phillies’ 35th sellout of the season, and we hadn’t bought tickets in advance, so when we arrived at the ticket windows nearly four hours before game time, the best we could buy were obstructed-view seats behind the right field foul pole in the upper deck.
We never went up there.
By 3:45pm, we were waiting outside the Ashburn Alley gate in left field, and by four o’clock I got my first “Are you Zack Hample?” of the day.
It was a guy named Ethan who’d been reading this blog for years and leaving comments as “dodgerdude.” This was the first time we’d ever met in person. He was there with his friend Paul, and my mom took a picture of the three of us. (Ethan is on the right.)
The Phillies started hitting less than a minute later, and another ball ended up rolling to the same spot. By this point Taguchi wasn’t anywhere in sight. There weren’t any players nearby, for that matter, so once again I began the process of flinging my glove out and knocking the ball closer. Jeff also had a glove trick and asked if he could try to get the ball even though I had already started making my attempt.
“Sure,” I said, “we’ll just have a good ol’ fashioned battle for it.”
From the time that I knocked the ball closer to the time that I raised my glove back up to set up the rubber band and magic marker, Jeff had several opportunities to lower his glove right over the ball and snag it. But for whatever reason his trick failed. His rubber band was probably too tight or too loose, so I ended up getting the ball to stick inside my glove. As I was raising it back up for the final time, another ball flew out of nowhere and slammed the padded wall below. I looked up. Shane Victorino. Who else? Thankfully his aim was off, and he was still too far away to run over and grab my glove, so I was able to lift it the rest of the way and pull out my second ball of the day. (I’m not mad at Victorino. I think he was just being playful. Of course if he’d actually prevented me from getting that ball, I would’ve unleashed the Hample Jinx on his Hawaiian you-know-what.)
A little while later, I botched my chance at snagging ball No. 3, although it was a difficult chance that surely would NOT have been scored an error if there were an official scorer for snagging. Here’s what happened. Pat Burrell launched a home run over my head. The ball landed in an empty row, ricocheted back toward my row, clipped the back of a seat, popped up in the air but flew away from me on an angle as I was just arriving. In the split-second that the ball was in the air right in front of me, I took a swipe at it with my bare hand, but unfortunately the ball hit the tip of my fingers and deflected over the seats below and started trickling down the steps. I was trapped in the middle of the row, and I knew I was done. VERY frustrating.
To make matters worse, the left field seats were as crowded as I’d ever seen them. (You can see my mom in the photo on the right. She’s wearing sunglasses and looking at me.) Granted, it wasn’t nearly as packed as the short porch gets at Yankee Stadium, but by this ballpark’s standards, it was highly unpleasant. Finally, toward the end of the Phillies’ portion of BP, a right-handed batter (no idea who) hit a home run in my direction. I was standing on a crowded staircase. I judged the ball perfectly. I shuffled down a couple steps as the ball began its descent, and at the last second I reached up and made the catch above half a dozen other hands. My mom was sitting a few feet away and had a great view. That felt good.
I took her out to right-center field when the rest of the stadium opened at 5:35pm, and as soon as we got there, I saw a ball roll to the wall in left-center so I raced back. I snagged that one with the glove trick, then got Ke
vin Gregg to toss me another in straight-away left field, then got Arthur Rhodes to toss me my sixth ball of the day in left-center. I was wearing
an aqua-colored Marlins T-shirt to go with my aqua-colored Marlins cap, and it was definitely paying off.
Back in right-center field, I crossed paths with Jeff (here we are in the pic on the left) and caught another home run in front of my mom. (Might’ve been hit by Mike Jacobs. Might’ve been Jeremy Hermida. Whatever.) Then I got Alfredo Amezaga to throw me a ball by asking in Spanish, and when Renyel Pinto ended up with a ball in his glove several minutes later, I shouted, “Para mi madre!” which means “for my mother” and got him to toss that one as well. I made sure to be the one to make the catch–I couldn’t have counted it in my collection if my mom had caught it–and then made a big production of handing the ball to her because I could see both Pinto and Amezaga staring at me.
Toward the end of BP, I tried to use my glove trick for a ball that was several feet out from the wall in the bullpen, but before I had chance to reel it in, a security guard marched down the steps and made me stop. I told him I was trying to get it for a little kid (which was true), and he still wouldn’t let me get it. Not only that…he cut the string off my glove and then marched back up the steps as if he was proud of himself for accomplishing something. Normally I keep extra string with me, but I didn’t have any this time. I just forgot it. No big deal. Batting practice ended several minutes later, and before I left the seats, I reached into my backpack and pulled out a ball for the kid. He had a glove. He’d been trying unsuccessfully for the previous 45 minutes to get a ball. I thought he deserved one. It’s as simple as that.
Right before the game, I snuck down to the Marlins’ dugout and got my 10th ball of the day tossed by Hanley Ramirez. Sweet!! I’d been hoping to get to add him to my list for years.
My mom and I grabbed a couple empty seats on the third base side. Nice view. (The stairs were on my left.) And as you can see in the photo below, the Phillies “fans” were really into the game:
When the Marlins took a 4-0 lead in the 7th inning, lots of “fans” left the stadium and my mom and I moved two sections to the right. This was the view:
When Rhodes fanned pinch hitter Greg Dobbs to end the 8th inning, catcher John Baker
forgot how many outs there were and jumped up in preparation to throw the ball around the horn. Rhodes got his attention, but Baker still appeared confused, so Rhodes got the ball from him, and since I was already in the front row at this point, I got him to toss it to me on his way in. It was the second ball of the day that he’d given to me.
“Did anybody get that one?” asked my mom when I returned to our seats.
I opened my glove and showed her the ball, and she couldn’t believe it. (Believe it, lady!)
We both had a great time at the game. Obviously it was nice to spend 12 hours together (including our time in the car), but it was more than that. She got to see me in action and get a real glimpse into my world. I got to teach her a few things about baseball and share my passion. The weather was perfect. We ate hot dogs and peanuts while secretly rooting against the Phillies, who ended up losing, 8-2. It was just perfect.
After the game, I bolted back down to the dugout and got a ball from Marlins 1st base/infield coach Andy Fox. I think it was the infield warm-up ball. How else could it have gotten so beat up. Check it out. Is this NOT a thing of beauty?
* 12 balls at this game
* 140 balls in 14 lifetime games at Citizen Bank Park = 10 balls per game.
* 85 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
* 30 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls
* 536 consecutive games with at least one ball
* 129 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
* 3,562 total balls