I woke up in Chicago, took a 90-minute train ride to Milwaukee, and found my friend Nick Yohanek waiting for me outside the station:
Nick is an extremely skilled ballhawk who’s known as “The Happy Youngster.” He has his own website and blog, and although we’d been emailing back and forth for a couple years, the first time we met in person was 20 days earlier in Toronto. (One great thing about being a ballhawk is that friendships often develop fast with other ballhawks. Three weeks ago, I barely knew Nick…and now here he was, picking me up at a train station and letting me crash at his place for a night.)
Nick gave me a scenic tour of Milwaukee (which even HE would admit is an oxymoron) on the way to his place. We drove past Miller Park…
…and pulled into his driveway less than 10 minutes later:
As much as Nick loves the Brewers, he loves the Green Bay Packers even more. His basement is basically a memorabilia shrine for the two teams. Check it out below. Here’s one wall of stuff…
…and here’s another:
In the photo above, the home plate-shaped display case holds all 48 game home run balls that Nick has snagged. Truly remarkable. On the lower left, you can see his trademark t-shirt: Glove + Ball = Happy. (Nick is a police officer and has a very effective way of protecting his memorabilia collection. I’ll explain in my next entry.)
We headed to the stadium at around 3pm–plenty of time for me to wander all the way around the outside of it and take some pics. But first, here’s one that Nick took of me:
Nick then walked me out to a nearby spot in the parking lot and showed me this:
It says: “This marks the landing location of the final home run of Hank Aaron’s career, #755, hit at County Stadium on July 20, 1976.”
That final home run ball, by the way, caused a LOT of controversy. It was retrieved by a groundskeeper, and when the team asked the guy for the ball, he said he wanted to hand it over himself to Aaron. The team refused, so he was like, “Fine, then I’ll just keep the ball.” What did the team do? They fired him AND they docked him five dollars from his final paycheck for the cost of the ball. True story. (Shame on the Brewers.) I’ll be writing more about this in my next book, along with a bunch of other ball-related controversies. The last thing I’ll say about it for now is that the groundskeeper eventually got the last laugh.
Nick followed me as I kept wandering and taking pics. Miller Park is very nice, but the surrounding area is, in a word, nondescript:
Two edges of the stadium are slightly elevated above the surrounding land, so there’s a railing around the perimeter:
Now…I know that the people in Milwaukee are passionate about their bratwurst, so as I made my way around the stadium with Nick, it saddened me greatly to see the following:
I can’t explain it. It was just…there.
Here’s one final look at the outside of Miller Park. This is the home plate entrance (and you can see Nick in the yellow shirt):
As for the inside of Miller Park…
I met a fellow ballhawk named Shawn and his mother Sue (who also snags her fair share of baseballs). Shawn had a copy of my first book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs, and Sue had the new one, Watching Baseball Smarter:
I signed the books for them and then got my snagging underway.
Ball No. 1 was tossed by Brewers coach Joe Crawford, and it had something strange written on it. Check it out:
I’ve snagged a lot of marked balls over the years, including this one from the Brewers back in the 1990s, but I’d never seen anything like this. Within the last year or two, I’d been hearing stories about how the Brewers were writing random stuff on their practice balls, so it was great to finally get one.
When the Pirates took the field, there were still a few of the Brewers’ balls laying around on the warning track, and I got Zach Duke to toss one to me. (The line I used was, “How ’bout a ball for a fellow Zack?” First time I ever used that line successfully. I even offered to show him ID, but he took my word for it. Zacks are just cool like that, as are Zachs.) This second ball also had something written on the sweet spot, and when I ran over the right field bullpen and used my glove trick to reel in the following ball…
Here are those first three balls I snagged, logos up:
Now, here they are with the sweet spots up…
…and let me just stress again that I did NOT write this stuff on the balls. They were like this when I caught them.
I managed to glove-trick another ball from the bullpen before security shut me down. There was just one usher who seemed to have a problem with my device, and when he told me I might get ejected if I used it again, I decided to move my operation to the second deck in left field.
I didn’t expect to catch much up there, but it turned out to be a great spot. First, Brandon Moss threw me a ball, and then I snagged a home run that flew 10 feet over my head and landed in the mostly empty benches. Several minutes later, John Grabow tossed me my seventh ball of the day, and soon after I snagged another home run off the steps.
That wasn’t it.
While I was labeling the balls and scribbling down some notes about how I’d gotten them, I noticed that Craig Monroe was getting ready to throw a ball to some fans in the front row about 30 feet to my left. As he fired it up, I bolted to my left and cut through my row. The ball sailed over the fans’ heads, landed several rows behind me, hit the back of a bench, and bounced right back to me as I was cutting across. It was beautiful. I ended up giving that ball away, but it was still fun to catch it, and of course it counts in my stats and for the charity.
Nyjer Morgan then threw me another ball. I hadn’t even asked him. He just looked up into the seats and spotted me, so I pointed at him to acknowledge that I was ready. He fielded a ball moments later and immediately turned and fired it up at me. Perfect aim. Embarrassingly easy. And just like that, I had reached double digits.
I made it to the Pirates’ dugout just before the end of BP and a got my 11th ball tossed to me by coach Luis Dorante as everyone was coming off the field. It was a real beauty:
Nick and Shawn were also down by the dugout, and since security is so laid-back and awesome in Milwaukee (with the exception of that one guy who’s anti-glove trick), we sat down and hung out for about 20 minutes. Turns out we were captured by the Pittsburgh TV cameras. Thanks to Erik Jabs for passing along the following screen shot. You can see Nick on the left, Shawn in the middle, and me on the right:
My plan for the game was simple: Go to the second deck behind the plate, stay there all night, and catch a foul ball. Miller Park has THE best spot for foul balls in the Major Leagues. By far. The only other time I’d ever been to this stadium was on June 11, 2003. I snagged 17 balls that day including two foul balls during the game in that section.
What’s so good about it?
This was my view of the field (I was hearing Bob Uecker’s voice all night)…
…and this was my view to the left:
Is that not THE most glorious cross-aisle you’ve EVER seen?
The height and distance of the section is perfect. The protective screen at the backstop is not too tall. Heaven, I tell you! If I were going to custom-build a stadium, just for myself in order to have the best possible chance of catching a foul ball, this is what I would’ve come up with.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t any action during the first third of the game, but I got my chance in the top of the 4th. Brian Bixler fouled one back and to my left. It was heading toward the “family section” portion of the “KOHL’S” sign in the photo above, so I took off running. I couldn’t reach the ball in time to catch it on the fly, but because the aisle was completely empty, the ball smacked off the blue wall, ricocheted back and hit a seat back, then rolled back toward the wall…and that’s when I swooped in and scooped it up.
Check out the mark on the wall/ball:
Sadly, that was the only ball that came back there all night, but I was satisfied. I mean, what kind of jerk would complain about “only” snagging one foul ball during a game? (Don’t answer that.)
The Brewers had a 10-5 lead heading into the 9th inning, so who did they bring in? All-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. He’d been hurt. This was his Brewers debut. The crowd went nuts, and I ran down to the dugout…
…just in time to see him record the final out.
Five minutes later I realized that the foul ball I’d snagged was my 100th ball of the season. (I’d started the day with 88 and the modest of goal of snagging 12 balls combined in the two days I’d be at Miller Park.) Here I am with the ball at the Pirates’ dugout:
You can see a closeup of the ball in the photo down below on the right. I’m pretty sure that the smudge (on the seams to the right of the MLB logo) came from the bat. The blue mark on the sweet spot (shown three photos above) obviously came from the wall. But what’s with the smeared logos in two different places? You can see that “Rawlings” is smeared on the top of the ball, and so is the word “baseball.” Very strange. I’ve never gotten a game-used ball with that many markings.
• 12 balls at this game
• 100 balls in 13 games this season = 7.69 balls per game.
• 12 consecutive seasons with at least 100 balls
• 582 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 152 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 126 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 3,920 total balls
• 96 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $18.17 pledged per ball
• $218.04 raised at this game
• $1,817.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball