9/11/08 at Camden Yards

My nightmare nearly occurred in real life. I truly thought I was going
to miss batting practice. My friend Leon (who you might remember from 7/21/08 at Camden Yards)
made the trip with me, but he had to work until 12:30pm, and I had to
meet him in midtown, and I got caught in traffic, and we didn’t get
through the Lincoln Tunnel until 1:15pm, and then we hit a major delay
on the New Jersey Turnpike and heard that there was a “serious
accident” at some point up ahead that had caused all lanes to be closed. The situation
was so bad that I considered a) making a U-turn and going home (after we’d driven nearly 100 miles) or b)
veering off and going to the game in Philadelphia (even though I
wouldn’t have had the right hats or rosters). Somehow, though, the
delay eventually cleared up, and the “serious accident” was nowhere to
be found, and I was able to reach a top speed of 91mph (if only I
could’ve thrown a baseball that fast), and we reached Baltimore at
4:35pm. Camden Yards was set to open half an hour later, so I dropped
off Leon at the warehouse and he ran around the corner and held a spot
in line at the Eutaw Street gate while I parked and found a bathroom.

Phew!

But then there was the issue of the weather. It was supposed to be mostly sunny, but it ended up being mostly gloomy. I was paranoid that there wasn’t going to be batting practice, so when I made it back to the stadium, I walked around to the gate/fence behind the picnic area in deeeeep center field and climbed up a few inches–and this is what I saw:

there_is_batting_practice1.jpg

I was overjoyed. Need a closer look?

there_is_batting_practice2.jpg

I couldn’t see the field, but I got a glimpse of the top of the batting cage, and that’s all that mattered. There WAS going to be batting practice. Hooray.

So, how was it? Let’s just say that although there were some frustrating moments (like when I first ran in and was the only fan in left field and a home run landed one section over in the totally empty seats and promptly bounced back onto the field), I ended up being so busy that I didn’t have time to take any photographs. Here’s the rundown…

ball3731_dirty.jpgBALL #1 — Home run into the seats, 10 rows back and near the foul pole. Leon probably could’ve gotten it, but knowing that every ball I snagged would be adding to a record and moving me closer to 500 for the season, he kinda took his time getting there and let me grab it. Whatta guy. (The ball, as you can see here on the right, has some beautiful splotchy/muddy marks on and around the logo.)

BALL #2 — Thrown by Orioles pitcher Garrett Olson. I later gave this one away to a kid.

BALL #3 — Home run into the seats in left-center field. (I don’t know who hit ANY of the balls. Some people have a knack for identifying players from 400 feet away who are covering their numbers with warm-up jackets. I’m not one of them.) There were a few other fans in the seats at this point. The ball sailed over my head, landed on the steps, bounced to the back of the section and then conveniently bounced right back down the steps toward me.

BALL #4 — An errant throw that got away from one of the Indians pitchers as they were all warming up along the left field foul line. The ball trickled onto the rubberized warning track in foul territory, and since the front row was basically empty and the wall there is only a few feet high, I was able to move 15 feet to my right and lean over for the easy snag.

BALL #5 — Tossed by a left-handed Indians pitcher despite the fact that I’d JUST snagged the previous ball. It was a white guy with curly hair, and he wasn’t THAT tall. It couldn’t have been Zach Jackson (who was the starter that night) or Cliff Lee (who’s easy to recognize). It wasn’t Rafael Perez (who’s definitely not white) or Rich Rundles (who’s 6-foot-5). I think it was either Scott Lewis or Jeremy Sowers. I looked at their photos when I got home, but I still couldn’t tell who it was. Waaah.

BALL #6
— Thrown by Masahide Kobayashi in foul territory after I asked him in Japanese. His translator then walked over and asked how I knew Japanese. I told him I only knew how to ask for a ball. He was amused.

BALL #7 — Snagged with the “half-glove trick” along the left field foul line. The full glove trick, of course, involves a rubber band and Sharpie; the “half” trick, as I call it, is one that requires nothing more than the string. That was the case here as the ball was sitting halfway out on the warning track. I lowered the glove, swung it out, knocked the ball closer on the first try, and reached over the low wall for it with my bare hand.

ball3738_wrinkly.jpgBALL #8 — Home run into the seats in left-center field. I was two sections over in straight-away left, and out of the 20 (or so) fans that were in the vicinity, I was the only one running for it while it was still in mid-air. Everyone else waited for it to land and THEN decided that they might run over and try to grab it. The ball bounced into the row below me, so I lunged far forward, bracing myself with my glove hand on the backs of the seats, and grabbed the ball with my bare hand, one second before the nearest guy would’ve gotten there. (The ball, pictured on the right, has a small patch on the surface that resembles wrinkled skin. That’s the only way I can describe it. I’ve seen this a few times in the past. It’s very strange, and I have no idea how it would’ve happened. Any theories?)

BALL #9 — High foul ball into the seats along the left-field foul line. It was hit by a lefty. It was his first set of swings so I figured he’d be aiming for the opposite field, and indeed he was. The ball landed a couple feet away from me as I bolted up the steps in an unsuccessful attempt to catch it. There were four other guys sitting nearby (none of whom had gloves) and the ball thankfully didn’t bounce in their direction. Of course, 10 seconds later, a righty launched a home run RIGHT to the spot where I would’ve been standing had I not moved into foul territory. Ahhhh…

BALL #10 — Deep home run into the seats between straight-away left field and the foul pole. I almost got there in time to catch it on a fly. I reached out with my glove and flinched at the same time to avoid getting hit in the face by a potential ricochet. The ball happened to pop up two feet and hang in the air exactly in front of me, and I nabbed it with a swipe of my glove.

BALL #11 — Ground-rule double. It was a high fly ball hit by a lefty. As David Dellucci drifted back to make the catch, I yelled, “Let it bounce, baby!” and to my surprise (and delight), he backed off at the last second and did just that. The ball bounced high off the warning track, sailed over everyone’s heads in the half-dozen rows in front of me, and came down RIGHT where I was standing. I had to reach up extra high to prevent a gloveless man (who was running through my row from the left) from interfering.

BALL #12 — Home run. Straight-away left field. Caught on a fly. I’d been playing every batter differently. The batter before was bigger and taking more powerful swings, so I’d been standing deeper and in left-center field. THIS batter was smaller and swinging for line drives, so I moved down a few rows and headed one section closer to the foul pole. It paid off. He hit a ball that ended up coming right to me. At first it appeared to be heading to my left so I drifted over a few steps. Then, when it started to hook back, I moved back with it. A man in the front row made a lame attempt to reach up. The ball sailed two feet over his outstretched glove, and I caught it one-handed as two gloveless fans on my left made an equally lame attempt to go for it.

BALL #13 — Tossed by Ryan Garko at the Indians’ dugout right after BP.

BALL #14 — Tossed by an unknown player 30 seconds later.

Then, half an hour before the first pitch, I took the following photo to show how empty the stadium was:

half_an_hour_before_the_first_pitch.jpg

Then I got some (bad) pepperoni pizza and drank a bottle of water.

Then I got Jamey Carroll’s autograph on an old Rockies-Indians ticket stub:

jamey_carroll_autograph.jpg

Then I got my 15th ball of the day thrown by Shin-Soo Choo after his pre-game throwing in front of the dugout. (I didn’t ask him for it in Korean, even though I could have. All I needed to do was shout his name.)

Now…
There’d been a rumor that Major League Baseball was going to use commemorative balls for the July 4th weekend, as well as on September 11th. The logo was supposed to look like this…

welcome_back_veterans.jpg

…except not in color.

Well, if there ever WAS a ball with that logo on it, it never made an appearance inside a major league stadium during the July 4th weekend, so I figured I wasn’t going to see one last night. Still, I busted my butt and stayed in motion throughout the night in an attempt to snag a game-used ball.

I played lefties for foul balls on the third base side of home plate:

09_11_08_view_during_game1.jpgI played righties on the first base side:

09_11_08_view_during_game2.jpg

I went for third-out balls behind the Indians’ dugout…

09_11_08_view_during_game3.jpg

…and did the same on the Orioles’ side:

09_11_08_view_during_game4.jpg

What did I get for all my trouble?

ONE lousy non-commemorative ball:

ball3746_regular.jpg

Kevin Millar tossed it to me after the top of the 3rd inning. Oh boy.

I came incredibly close to a foul ball a couple innings later, and of course I had a few bad breaks during BP. I don’t mean to complain. I still had an amazing day, but if things had been just a little better, I could’ve easily snagged 20 balls. I’ll do it there someday.

The Orioles (in case anyone cares) won, 6-3, and I got a photo with Leon (who had snagged four balls of his own) on the way out:

leon_zack_postgame.jpg

STATS:

the_15_balls_i_kept_09_11_08.jpg? 16 balls at this game (15 of which are pictured here and turned in various ways to show the most interesting markings)

? 105 balls in the last two weeks

? 469 balls in 60 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 556 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 140 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 93 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 37 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls

? 20 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)

? 3,746 total balls

0 comments

  1. gregb123

    105 ******* balls in two weeks?!? God damn. I haven’t even been to a game in the last two weeks.*****! (I mean that all in a good way. You’ve had an amazing run.)

  2. Txbaseballfan

    Hey Zack! Nice job! I guess a batting practice screen never looked so good in your life, huh? Theory on ball #8 (wrinkled skin), could it be a wet spot (maybe wet for a long time?) that has since dried & that’s the result? Who knows, sounds like you had fun anyways. Blow 500 out of the water!! Brian

  3. rickymcentire@yahoo.com

    Puckcollecter: first the worst! (just kidding)
    nice job zack. the oriole’s won? wow.

  4. metmainman

    I like how you did a quick rundown on ho you got the balls instead of a whole article that takes 20 minutes to read.
    Also I got Watching Baseball Smarter. Great book. But to be honest, I didn’t think that you would know that much abiut baseball. I didn’t know you watched that much, I thought all you did was snag balls.
    http://metsmainman.mlblogs.com

  5. zackhample

    EVERYONE-
    Sorry for not answering comments lately. I finally have a free night tonight (nothing but rain here in NYC) so I’m gonna catch up. Check out my previous entries. I’ll be answering those comments as well…

    PUCK COLLECTOR-
    Congrats on your first-commenter status…I think.

    GREG-
    Heh, thanks.

    AC-
    Nope, not my Camden record. My high there is 17.

    BRIAN-
    Thanks. Interesting theory. Hard to say…

    RICKYMCENTIRE-
    Major wow.

    METS MAIN MAN-
    Glad you liked the different format for this entry. It was still about 1,900 words, so it’s not like it was THAT short compared to others. Anyway, it just seemed better to write it this way since I got so many balls in one area and didn’t have any stadium pics to go with my stories. Glad you liked my book, too, and that I exceeded your expectations.

  6. luketheduke42@yahoo.com

    hey zack, i got a quick question: how many commemorative ball do you have? well, nice job on another double digits night again. you should make a goal a goal to get 8 balls for your average. cya -luke

  7. snagfan

    Zack,

    The trainer/assistant for Kobayashi is Toshi Nagahara. I have spoken with him twice at CoMerica Park. Once, when I asked for a ball from Joe Borowski. Joe threw me the ball. It landed short by Toshi?s feet on the warning track and I asked him for it in Japanese. He asked me where I learned to speak Japanese. I told him that I only know how to ask for a ball in Japanese. I told him that I learned how to ask for a ball in Japanese from Mr. Zack Hample. The Snag Master. He thought it was cool that I would go so far to learn how to ask for a ball in Japanese.
    BTW, I have asked Kobayahsi for a ball several times in Japanese. (Toshi even told Kobayashi that I was asking for a ball from him in Japanese), and I still got no love from Kobayashi. Especially if there were kids around. I have noticed that most Asian players will toss the ball to a kid before an adult. Even if I am wearing their teams hat and asking for the ball in Japanese.

    Fun Stuff (Go Zack, I hope you hit #500 this yr),

    Mike in Detroit

  8. puckcollector@optonline.net

    oh, and this applies to your last entry, but if you give a ball back to a pitcher, and they break their promise and dont give it back, you should still count it and jinx them

  9. districtboy

    Greg – Oh boy, the Orioles games on Saturday are all messed up. How the heck is this going to work out? The first game is at 5:05? That seems really weird. Why don’t they just start earlier to make it simpler for everybody.

    Actually, I’m glad it’s not a earlier game because I’ve got to drive up to Baltimore early tomorrow. It still means I have to drive up earlier. Will more people come? Do I have tickets for the first game or do I get a free game? (doubt it) Will I have to wait for the first game to end until I can get into the stadium, and does that mean I there will be no BP for the fans of the second game? I doubt they will have BP twice. In fact I’m almost positive they will not. AAHH!! I hate rain. Even if it’s not on game day.

    Zack, any suggestions? Have you ever been in this situation?

    Aaron
    http://districtboy.mlblogs.com/

  10. gregb123

    Aaron — Here’s how I think it’ll work tomorrow. It’s supposed to be a single-admission double header, so if you have a ticket to either game, you can go to both. The second game starts twenty minutes after the first game ends (I know that for a fact). I’m guessing the teams will take shortened BP before the first game. Not sure about gate opening times, but I wouln’t be surprised if they only opened 90 minutes before the first game instead of the full two hours. I should be there at about 2:00, if not earlier, so see you there. Should be fun.

  11. padreleigh

    Hi Zack….

    Here’s my update on the last two games. On 9/11 I only got two balls. I should have had 4-5 balls, but it was one of those days. Very frustrating. I got Tim Lincecum to throw me ball #96 on the year. It was a strike too! Ball #97 was Adrian Gonzalez’s homer in the 7th inning. It was interesting that it was NOT a 9/11 – July 4th Commemorative. It was a regular ball. It also had the MLB logo way off center to the right. It is pretty lobsided too. He must have smacked it good. Tonight on 9/12 I only got one ball. It was a BP homer by Nate Schierholtz(sp?). Caught it on the fly for ball #98 on the year. Adrian Gonzalez hit ANOTHER homer tonight right near me. I went back deep on it up the aisle. I had the right row (row 5), but couldn’t get over to it. Too many people in the way. The guy it hit of course had no glove and farmed it back down to row 2. It landed in this really nice lady’s lap for an easy snag for her. I was about 5 feet from it. That would have been something getting two homers in back to back days. Oh well. My single season record for snags is 101 from last year. I need three more balls to tie and 4 to break it. Wish me luck. I have 5 home games left!! Good luck going for 500!!

    Hey Matt…

    It was nice meeting you the other day. For the record I did not see you going crazy or out of control in PETCO. You caught that one right in front of me and didn’t run into me. Maybe the whole Anaheim thing is an isolated incident? They do seem to get a little rough up there for some reason. Just be careful like Zack said…

    Evan…

    Nice meeting you in PETCO too.

    Leigh

  12. tracycollinsbecky@yahoo.com

    hi Zack-TCB got Sandoval HR fri nite.goin for 3 HR in 3 days,whats the record?call Guiness Book you in that book yet,biggest rubber band?ive got 3 SPRING training HR in 3 straight Got a BGiles bat for returning Macias 1st HR, He doesnt have his bats yet,should I have got a jersey?or SEason tix for 2009? go Leigh

  13. meikd423

    padreleigh
    Did anyone ask you for Ryan Brauns first home run and offer you his bats or something in return?

  14. hitsrus

    Hey Zack, is there an usher that checks your tickets at Camden Yards that allows you to enter the Lf and infield seats with the season ticket holders. If they do would it be possible to slip in with a small family? I saw a lot of balls hit into the Lf seats and there were less then a dozen people over there. CF gets very crowded and is hard to get balls because knowone will look at you. Also I was wondering if I could meat you at Camden Yards for a game next year. Although now is the time to go because they are so many games out of first place that nobody goes. This is great because there are few people , little competition and lots of baseballs. And yes , surprisingly some people do like the O’s!

  15. jack@yankees.com

    Hey Leigh
    It was kind of hard to tell, but was that you in the red shirt who caught molinas home run.?

  16. bloggingboutbaseball

    Whew… Zack, I just got back from the Angels game tonight. K-Rod broke the saves record! I’ll blog about it but I just had to say that the energy was INTENSE tonight! Have you been at any record breaking games? I’m pretty sure you’ve got some good stories.
    ~Matt

  17. padreleigh

    Hi Jack…and Zack too!!

    Yes, that was me that caught Molina’s HR in the 1st inning!! That’s two homers in three games! Woo Hoo! I wasn’t even looking when he hit it. I was talking to my friend behind me. My friend that I sit next to kind of tapped me on the shoulder, and I looked at her and said, “What?” She just looked at me and pointed up at the ball. It was the funniest thing. The ball was just starting to come down. I jumped up from row 2 and ran to the wall. I thought our LF might have a play on the ball. I even yelled at him to jump and catch it. Anyway, I just kind of back handed the ball at the last second. I haven’t seen the video of it yet, but I will in the morning when I get off of work. Some guy that came in to the game late said it looked good in HD at the bar. Ha Ha. That’s 3 HR’s in the last month! Mike Cameron, Adrian Gonzalez and now Benjie Molina. It was also ball #100 for me on the year. How sweet is that? Ball #99 was a BP homer that landed in a tunnel in the RF seats. I picked it up on the ground. Bowker from SF hit it. I have four home games left to break my 101 from last year. I’m going early tomorrow to try and get Gonzalez and/or Molina to sign their HR balls for me. We’ll see how it goes.

    Leigh

  18. mlbwhiz

    hey Zack,
    sounds like a pretty good day. maybe the wrinkled ball got damaged by something like lots o f water or maybe it just came that way out of the box. Who knows? maybe the Indians stole it from the orioles. By the look of the stadium i wouldn’t be suprised if they could only afford balls with mishaps.

  19. mlbwhiz

    hey Zack,
    sounds like a pretty good day. maybe the wrinkled ball got damaged by something like lots o f water or maybe it just came that way out of the box. Who knows? maybe the Indians stole it from the orioles. By the look of the stadium i wouldn’t be suprised if they could only afford balls with mishaps.
    mlbwhiz
    mlbwhiz.mlblogs.com

  20. braves04

    Leigh, I saw your catch on MLB.com. Nice snag!
    My final 3 games of the year are this week, including one last chance for a Mets commemorative on Friday. I’m not ready for the season to be over!!!

  21. padreleigh

    Here’s the video. It looks like Drew Macias mistimed his jump and jumped INTO the wall. If he jumped better he might have had it. On the actual replay of the game they have a great close up of me catching it after Bengie runs around the bases. I also never even noticed the two guys that were next to me. Neither had a glove. Oh well!! Bring a glove guys.

    http://sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?mid=200809133470901&c_id=sf

    TC also caught a homer on Friday night. He caught Pablo Sandoval’s homer on the “beach”. That was two homers for him in two games. Incredible! Here’s his video.

    http://sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?mid=200809123464950&c_id=sf

    Can’t wait to see you get 500 Zack…

    Leigh

  22. gjk2212

    went to shea friday night, it poured, got nothing and didnt count it as end of streak because there were no opportunities at all. went yesterday, very frustrating. no bp for the first hour, and finally got ruben gotay to throw me a (training) ball down the lf line. it was a mob. this one asian guy standing next to me was obnoxiously scremaing at players by last name who didnt even have a ball. julian tavarez threw me one, and as the ball landed in my glove, he whacked my arm and tried to steal it, making it fall out. he got booed, and i had some choice words with him, to which he turned away, embarrassed. snuck very sneakily into the picnic area and got gregor blanco and blaine boyer to throw me balls, neither of which reached me since it was kids day and there were tons of people. almost got a martin prado hr on the fly. 3 balls landed in the weed filled gap, and some guy who had seen you before had a glove trick. all 3 were deeply buried in weeds, and nobody knew they were there until i started going for them. it took me 20 minutes, but i finally got one to stick and pulled it up. there were 2 more, one deep in the ground, and the other wet so it was repelling the tape. anyway, security after about 20 mins made me stop, and some kid climbed through underneath and grabbed both. almost got ump balls after each of the dh games, but im seriouisly unlucky with those. 99 balls on the season. going to ys monday, shea the 22nd or 23rd as well as the 26th and maybe the last game, 28th. plus some playoff games.

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