8/27/08 at Camden Yards

I bought two tickets to this game the day Ken Griffey Jr. was traded to the White Sox, and it just so happened that he entered this game with 609 career home runs–tied with Sammy Sosa for fifth all time. Jim Thome, meanwhile, with 535 career jacks of his own, also happened to be on the verge of home run history; his next blast would tie him with Mickey Mantle.

When I first bought the tickets, I didn’t know who, if anyone, I would take to this game. I’d paid less than their $13 face value on StubHub, so if one of them ended up being unused, it wasn’t going to break my heart.

The first person I invited was my dad. We hadn’t been to a game together since he saw me snag my 3,000th ball on 5/7/07 at Yankee Stadium, but he couldn’t go. He and my mom were planning to be upstate with their car…so I invited my girlfriend Jona, and we rented a Mini Cooper:

zack_jona_mini_cooper.jpg

If there weren’t so many people from New Jersey who read this blog, I might be tempted to make a wise-crack about the license plate, but instead I’ll just say that the car was great and added an extra dimension of goodness to the trip.

Jona and I were the fifth and sixth people, respectively, on line outside the Eutaw Street gate. The seventh was a fellow baseball-snagger named Gary (aka “gjk2212” if you read the comments) who’d told me he was going to be there.

Gary and his family didn’t have season tickets for this game, so he was trapped in right field for the first half-hour of batting practice. Jona and I *did* have season tickets, and since I was the only fan who ran out to the left field seats, I pretty much had the place to myself for the first three minutes.

I should mention that I didn’t take a single photograph during BP. Jona had her camera and did all the documenting for me, starting with the following shot that shows me (in a black T-shirt and tan shorts) standing all by myself, way off in the distance, in the seats in straight-away left field:

zack_alone_in_left_field.jpg

Of course there weren’t any home runs until half a dozen other grown men had made their way out there, but that didn’t stop me from getting off to a good start.

As soon as Jona settled into a seat several rows behind me, she saw me make a leaping catch on a Melvin Mora home run, then grab another Mora homer off the ground soon after.

Several minutes later, I raced down to the wall and leaned way over…

zack_leaning_over_the_wall.jpg

…for a ball that didn’t bounce up high enough. Chris Waters, the player in the photo above who’s running toward me, retrieved the ball, walked over to the wall, and held it out for me. I thought he was messing around. Hadn’t he seen me snag those first two balls? Was he planning to pull his hand back as soon as I reached for this one?

“Are you serious?” I asked, and when he kept standing there without saying a word, I reached out slowly, as if the ball were going to bite me, and lifted it out of his hand.

“Thanks!” I shouted, and he jogged back into shallow left field, again without saying a word.

The good thing about letting my girlfriend take all the photos is that I ended up with some cool shots of myself. The bad thing is that she occasionally pointed her camera elsewhere:

jona_took_this_photograph.jpg

My fourth ball was another home run that I caught on a fly after drifting through my row and jumping. My fifth was a home run that nearly killed Jona and landed on her purse in the seat next to her. (Thankfully, she had the presence of mind not to grab the ball, thus enabling ME to scurry over and grab it and count it in my collection.) My sixth ball was yet another home run (I have no idea who hit these balls). Jona took the following photo just before I caught it:

zack_about_to_catch_ball3636.jpg

See the guy wearing the backpack? More on him in a bit…

Just as the White Sox were taking the field at 5:30pm, I changed into my White Sox cap and shirt, and dozens of fans (including Gary) flowed into the left field seats. That’s when things slowed way down for me. There were just as many balls being hit and thrown into the stands, but I wasn’t on my game, and I wasn’t getting any lucky bounces. I kept being one or two steps too late, if not out of position altogether. It was really frustrating because I easily could’ve ended up with 15 or 20 balls if luck had gone the other way. I still did okay, though. My goal, aside from catching home runs during the game from both Griffey and Thome, was to reach double digits, and it appeared I was on my way.

I used my glove trick to pluck ball No. 7 off the rubberized warning track in left-center and then got another from Octavio Dotel after
he finished playing catch near the foul pole. Gary was ten feet to my left and probably would’ve gotten it if not for me, but I out-wardrobed him. All he had was a cheap, light gray White Sox cap, whereas I had a black cap along with an eye-catching shirt (that you’ll see in the next full-screen photo).

nick_swisher.jpgAt one point, Nick Swisher walked over toward the wall to retrieve a ball, and when I asked him for it, he shouted, “You’re a grown MAN!!! You can get balls on your OWN!!!”

Then he tossed it to a little kid. Good for the kid. Bad for me. I knew I had to be creative, so when he chased down another ball five minutes later, I ran down to the wall and yelled, “Nick, I know I’m big and mean and old, but it would mean a lot to get a ball from YOU specifically.”

I actually meant it. I’d read all about him in Moneyball and admired him ever since. (Also, it’s hard not to like a guy who, as the story goes, was once particularly taken with a hot girl he saw while flipping through the pages of Maxim–or was it FHM?–and told his agent to track her down and then ended up dating her.) Swisher must’ve appreciated my attempt at being funny and/or sensed my sincerity (or maybe he just felt sorry for me), but whatever it was, what I said to him worked because he flipped me the ball.

“Thanks!” I shouted, “I really appreciate it!”

He turned back, pointed his glove at me, and gave a friendly wink before jogging off.

I must admit that I did experience SOME good luck. Right before the end of BP, I began jogging from my spot in left field toward the 3rd base dugout. I wanted to get there before the White Sox came off the field because I was pretty sure I’d be able to get one more ball there and break double digits. Well, as I was cutting through the seats about 10 rows back along the left field foul line, a right-handed batter swung too soon and hooked a line drive right–and I mean RIGHT–to me. I had to bend down a little and make a thigh-high back-handed catch over the row below me, but still. Wow. And that was it…my 10th ball of the day. Then, as it turned out, I didn’t get anything at the dugout.

Remember the guy with the backpack from one of the photos up above? His name is Tobey Rowland, and not only is he a fellow member of the National Scrabble Association–it was my Scrabble shirt that initially caught his eye–but he’s a fellow baseball snagger (from the Bay Area) who had tracked me down in 2006 after catching two foul balls on two consecutive pitches. At the time, he wanted to know if that had ever been done and who he could contact to get his story out. I put him in touch with my friend Mark Newman at MLB.com, and this was the result. Anyway, the funny thing is that when Tobey first approached me during BP and started talking about Scrabble, neither of us knew who the other person was.

After BP, Tobey caught up with me behind the 3rd base dugout, and we talked while I labeled my last few baseballs and scribbled down some notes. Here we are (with Gary wearing the yellow shirt in the background):

tobey_gary_zack.jpg

Four of my 10 balls had distinctive markings and smudges. Check it out:

four_distinct_markings.jpg

During the game, there wasn’t exactly a whole lot of competition for Griffey:

competition_for_griffey_08_27_08.jpg

Only 15,736 tickets had been sold. Among those who bought them and then actually bothered to show up, there was only one person who appeared in the right field standing-room-only section for all of Griffey’s (and Thome’s) plate appearances. It wasn’t Gary, and it wasn’t Tobey. It wasn’t Jona, nor was it Mrs. Griffey. It was me:

zack_standing_room_only_08_27_08.jpg

The conditions were perfect for catching a home run, and there WERE five homers in the game, but unfortunately four of them were hit to left field field by righties, and the other was hit to right-center by Aubrey Huff. Griffey ended up going 0-for-1 with three walks, while Thome finished 1-for-4 with two strikeouts. His one hit, however, did get my heart racing. It was a deep line drive EXACTLY in my direction that hit the outfield wall; Thome foolishly tried to stretch it into a double, and future Hall of Famer Nick Markakis (who already had 14 outfield assists before the play) gunned him down at second base.

The Orioles scored in every inning except the third (and the ninth, which they didn’t need) and cruised to an 11-3 victory. Two minutes after the final out, when the relief pitchers were walking across the field from the bullpen, I got Dennis Sarfate to toss me a ball at the dugout. It looked like the ball had been rubbed up for a game, so I kept that one and gave a different/cleaner ball to a kid just before Jona and I made our exit.
STATS:

? 11 balls at this game

? 364 balls in 51 games this season = 7.14 balls per game.

? 547 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 133 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

stan_musial.jpg
? 86 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

? 31 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls

? 3,641 total balls

Remember when I started comparing my baseball total to players’ career hit totals? Well, I’ve now moved past Stan Musial (3,630) and into fourth place all time. Next up is Hank Aaron [3,771].

And by the way, I wrote the first half of this entry on an airplane and the second half at a friend’s place in San Diego. I’ll be at PETCO Park later today…

0 comments

  1. gjk2212

    that was fun..i like the picture of myself in the back..i was gonna come over when you were talking to that guy and tell you that you were famous lol but i didnt. i only missed one of griffeys at bats! i think. anyway, you are sooooo right about my cheap sox hat. but it worked. kinda. it was a free giveaway when i went to us cellular. how long did it take you to get home with that mess on 95? we passed you =]

    i was gonna go to ys tonight, but decided against it. too crowded. too far. too expensive. and my phone broke so i hafta figure that out.

  2. Txbaseballfan

    Good haul! I never knew that about Swisher, although you have now made it a necessity for me to read Moneyball. Got tickets on the 1st base side, 13 rows behind the Rangers’ dugout for the 9/2 game against Seattle. Hoping for some 3rd out balls & (hopefully) line up cards. Snag ’em all at Petco! Brian

  3. 81timesayear

    Hey all, I’m going to be in Boston this weekend to catch a Red Sox game. I was going to try and see the Baseball as America museum at the museum of science on sunday morning before i have to be back at work. Anyone know how big the exhibit is and how long it takes to get through?

  4. tracycollinsbecky@yahoo.com

    hi Z ,When is the CH 10 news interview,/10news sandiego.com/Ask to film story across Petco park at the altitude bar at Marriot,cool background to show SanDiego .Maybe ill drop a ball from the 21 st floor and you can catch it on camera.ala David Letterman,after BP ?Go padreleigh you are due,mlbhawk of Anaheim missed Texeria HR by 4 rows ,in RFcorner would have been his 1ooth career HR,stuck on 99 ,.,.why commas

  5. zackhample

    EVERYONE-
    I’m leaving for PETCO in less than two hours. Right now I’m gonna answer comments on my recent entries?but only the comments in which people asked questions…

    GJK2212-
    Jona and I got back to NYC at around 2:30am. Funny seeing you on the road.

    BMPOWELL74-
    Definitely read that book. It’s amazing.

    ERIKPBAL-
    I don’t know anything about that exhibit.

    TRACYCOLLINSBECKY-
    I’m meeting the guy at 4pm. Not sure where. (By the way, this blog time-stamps everything on east coast time, so even though it’ll say that I posted this comment at around 3:45pm, it’s only 12:45pm here in San Diego.)

  6. hitsrus

    Hey Zack, is there a chance you will make another trip down to Camden Yards this year? Snagged 2 the 20th vs. the Red Sox. One was a bp home run and the other one a Red Sox coach threw into the stands on the first base side.
    Good Luck at Petco Park Zack!

  7. ramones18

    hey zack
    i was gonna ask you about a strange autograph i got at the Angels / Athletics game on wednesday but i found out it was from Athletics legend “Old Moon Odom” ill try to post photos tomorrow or over the long weekend

    autos from gary matthews jr as well and spier frmo anaheim

    and 3 other frmo oakland

  8. nymetsgrrl94

    At about the 3:20 time in this video John Maine is helping the Cyberchase guy snag a foul ball. The only thing I was thinking while watching was how I read this from something you wrote.


    I have also almost figured out the Mets lineup from the game.

  9. acsport79@yahoo.com

    Zack,
    I was at camden yards on monday. I had a season ticket and got 7!!! baseballs, i was literally the only one in the right field foul seats. I got one tossed to me by a vendor, found 3 lying on the floor and got 3 slicers. Good thing you weren’t there!
    AC

  10. padreleigh

    Hello Z-ack….

    Had a great time at the game today. Great seeing you again and hanging out a little bit. Looking forward to your blog entry. Have fun in Anaheim tomorrow.

    Leigh

  11. zackhample

    EVERYONE-
    I just got back from PETCO, and let’s just say that I made this game at Camden look bad in comparison. Get ready for a monster entry, but be warned that it might take me a few days. My friend Brandon was with me and took about 450 photographs, which we’re about to look at…

    HITSRUS-
    Yes. I should be there on September 11th.

    RICKYMCENTIRE-
    Thanks. Can’t wait to see Manny. I hope I can get him to toss me a ball, if nothing else.

    RAMONES18-
    Looking forward to seeing the autograph.

    ELLIE-
    That’s pretty…wacky. Not a great segment, in my opinion, mainly because I wasn’t involved. John Maine should stick to pitching and leave the foul ball chasing to the professionals.

    AC-
    Awesome. Congrats.

    LEIGH!
    Great seeing you, too. Wow…what a night. :-)

  12. baseballexperiences

    Congrats Zack on a nice night and a cool mini cooper. I can’t wait to hear about the night you had. Also, i know its far away, but do you plan on going back to pittsburg next year because i may be going for a series.- Joe {josephfaraguna}

  13. baseballexperiences

    zack- btw, the game last monday when we met @ shea there was a bp homer that landed in the left field area 30 feet down and got covered by ropes and hoses. It may still be there, if so hope you can get it.- Joe

  14. luketheduke42@yahoo.com

    hi zack, i’m Luke(Max’s little brother). i started reading your blog about a month ago and this is my first comment. Max started reading your blog about a year ago. i don’t go to a lot of games and i don’t snag that much. i live in Seattle and the mariners are doing horrible. but the yankees are coming to town and so i’m going to those games. the #1 reason i’m going is because i reeeeeaaaaaaaallllllllllllyyyyyyy want a commeorative ball. the game is going to be almost sold out and any balls that are glove trickable i am propably not going to get because my brother will get them first, he always beats me in glove trick battles. anyway, you should come to a mariner game this year at Safeco field. the attendance is low(besides when we play the yankees. well, bye!

  15. puckcollector@optonline.net

    Cant wait to hear about 20 plus balls (probably.) i thought you didnt like Petco the last time you went cuz it was hard to snag.

    also, i thought i might have been watching the Mets today when the Yanks blew a 6-2 lead, but in this case, it wasnt just the pen. it was robinson cano’s fault too. they are going nowhere.

  16. puckcollector@optonline.net

    cant wait to hear about it zack. i thought petco was bad to snag at the last time you went.

    i thought i was watching the mets today when the Yanks blew a 6-2 lead. although in this case it wasnt just the ‘pens fault. it was also Cano’s

  17. puckcollector@optonline.net

    cant wait to hear about it zack. i thought petco was bad to snag at the last time you went.

    i thought i was watching the mets today when the Yanks blew a 6-2 lead. although in this case it wasnt just the ‘pens fault. it was also Cano’s

  18. goisles

    It’s not Cano or the pen…it’s the Curse of the A-Rod. So powerful is this 21st Century curse, that it reversed the Curse of the Bambino after 80 years. Yankee fans can only hope this Curse won’t last longer than A-Rod’s contract.

    Good luck at Petco. Btw, check out the new Yankee Stadium 3-D seating charts on yankees.com and the ticket plans. I now will get every other game, including Opening Day!

  19. gregb123

    Wow, Nationals Park was awesome last night! I set a new personal single-game record with fourteen balls. Unforntunately, half of them were nasty training balls, but I also got four commemoratives (including one perfect/unrubbed one during BP). I probably should’ve had sixteen, but I’ll take it. The ones I did get: a BP homer on a fly in RF; tosses from Collin Balester, Jesus Colome, Wil Nieves, Chino Cadahia, Ryan Zimmerman, Kelly Johnson, and Tim McClelland; three cup tricks; one found in RF when the whole stadium opened; and two tossed by seperate members of the groundscrew. Also, the Nats did something I haven’t seen in a long time: they took full-team infield/outfield practice before BP. It was interesting. So yeah, a great day.

    Thats 277 balls for me this year, and if it doesn’t rain all September, I should reach 300.

    Can’t wait to hear about PETCO.

  20. goisles

    greg: great job. why no monster entry about it? also does 277 include spring training.

    my season has been AWFUL. ive gotten almost twice as many balls in 4 games not in YS than i have in like 10 games at YS. i think ive got like 30 balls, or something measly like that

    this is puckc. btw.

  21. m3tsy2@yahoo.com

    Hey Zack, i don’t suppose you have a few photos of Damion Easley handy, do you? I would greatly appreciated it if you did and could send me a few. Thanks if you do.

  22. zackhample

    EVERYONE-
    I just got back from PETCO. Yes…another game there. I was in Anaheim last night. It was good. Today was also good. Friday’s game at PETCO was good + good. I’m about to start writing about it. My goal is to post the entry before I go to bed tonight…which could be very late. But just know that it’s coming.

    JOE-
    Thanks…but I probably won’t go back to Pittsburgh for a few seasons unless I have a Watch With Zack game or a chance to catch a milestone home run. I think I saw that ball at Shea and decided it was impossible.

    LUKE-
    Thanks for reading my blog and finally commenting. I’d love to make it back to Safeco, but it definitely won’t happen this season. This last month coming up is totally booked for me. :-(

    PUCK COLLECTOR-
    Twenty-plus balls?! Are you crazy?! This *is* PETCO we’re talking about. Anyway, stay tuned…

    FATHER PUCK-
    I will definitely check out that 3-D chart when I get a chance. (Leave A-Rod alone.)

    GREG-
    Awesome! For a number of years, my record was 14 balls.

    GJK2212-
    The first PETCO entry is on the way, but be patient. I have a lot to say…and a couple dozen pics (at least) to share.

    M3TSY2-
    Sorry, no Easley pics.

  23. puckcollector@optonline.net

    well if 10 was bad, then i figured 20. when you wrote that i was like didnt he hate Petco.

    and fatherpuck says he has issues that need to be resolved cuz he cheated on his wife w/ a kid on the way.

    also think about it. the red sox had a deal for him that the MLBPA nixed, and the Yankees got him. that year they blow a 3 game lead and the sox win a WS for the first time in 86 years, and the yanks have gone no where. the 2 greatest players ever (arguably) were on the yanks and bo sox and where aquired when the other team had/ should have had the players, and a curse has followed both. i’ll buy it

  24. bloggingboutbaseball

    Zack,
    I very well may be at the Dodgers game on the 2nd. Are you going to be there? If so, I’d love it if you could sign a copy of your book for me. So far, thanks to reading your blog I have snagged 5 baseballs in 3 games. You’re an inspiration.
    Also, I can’t wait to read about your Angels game action… maybe I’ll learn a few tricks since I go mostly go to Angels games.
    I’ll keep you posted but feel free to check out my blog: http://bloggingboutbaseball.mlblogs.com/

    Best,
    Matt

  25. AutographHound

    Zack,
    What section are you going to be in for tomorrow’s Dodgers game? I am going to be there.
    (P.S. No backpacks over 14 inches allowed at Dodger Stadium)

    AutographHound

  26. zackhample

    PUCK COLLECTOR-
    Just hang tight. You’ll find out soon enough how many balls I ended up with.

    MATT-
    I will definitely be there. Bring the book. Thanks for checking out my blog. I’m really glad to hear that it’s helped you out.

    AUTOGRAPH HOUND-
    I’m probably going to start in the LF pavilion and then eventually wander around the entire stadium and take a ton of pics. I have no idea where I’ll be sitting during the game…or even if I’ll be sitting at all.

    EVERYONE-
    I’m being dragged out to go bowling…and then possibly to the beach (because apparently I need to see the Pacific Ocean)…so I have no idea when my 8/29/08 entry will be up. I’ve definitely started, though. I’ve already written about 1,000 words about my first 11 balls of the day. Heh.

  27. lasmog@hotmail.com

    Zack,
    I have been reading your blog all summer. I’d have to say that you have inspired me. I am no longer happy with getting only one ball at batting practice. My kids are into it too! I take my five and seven year old’s to the game and we try to see how many balls we can get. I have used your strategy of wearing the visiting teams hats during their batting practice; it hasn’t worked for me but it has worked great for my kids. The three of us will be there tonight 9/1 at Dodger stadium. I am looking forward to seeing you in action.

    Rick

  28. gregb123

    Puck — Just didn’t feel like writing that much. And yeah, 277 includes Spring Training.

    njmetfan — Nope, I wasn’t hassled at all about the cup-trick. It was nice.

  29. puckcollector@optonline.net

    greg i asked him the same thing last night. we didnt take that many of the place, but he says that he’ll do it soon. do you just create an account on flickr, and just upload the pics?

    and is gregb123, even an email that you have, cuz its really weird that that is what your name is coming up as insted of gregorybarasch@yahoo.com or whatever it said before

  30. zackhample

    RICK-
    That is the greatest thing I’ve heard in quite some time. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Looking forward to meeting you guys. Just give a shout when you see me, but be warned that I won’t be able to talk too much during BP.

    EVERYONE-
    It’s 9:03am here in San Diego. I have to leave for Dodger Stadium in two hours. I’ve already written 1,900 words about Friday night’s game at PETCO, and I still have a few more things to say. I’m hoping to get it done before I head out…

  31. districtboy

    Greg, didn’t you get hassled about the cup trick one time in the right field seats? When that security guy wouldn’t give you back the ball, and he said you were trying to steal it. That was stupid. It was still really nice meeting you and it’s cool you broke your record that day. What was your previous record?

    Zack, I can’t wait for the Petco and DS entries!

    Chris Waters has the right to be quiet. Just like Jonny Cueto, his whole career thus far has been based on his very first start. I sort of feel bad for him. I mean, how much can expect from a guy who had 5.70 ERA in AAA? God, the Orioles are bad.

    Aaron
    http://districtboy.mlblogs.com/

  32. PSU532@yahoo.com

    Hey Zack and everybody. I haven’t had a chance to comment in a while, but I still try to read the blog every few days. Anyone see this clip of a kid falling over the home run fence in Philly during BP?



  33. puckcollector@optonline.net

    greg, if the guy took away the ball from you after you relled it in and touched it, you should count it. also did you count the futures game balls?

    and in response to the youtube video, i guess thats why they dont want you in the first 2 tows, but cmon how often could that possibly happen. and they way people reach over for foul balls in the upper deck at YS im suprised someone hasnt fallen off the upper deck there or in other places.

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