4/7/10 at Citi Field

This was my first game of the season. Don’t let my facial expression in the photo below fool you. I was indeed happy to be there:


Mainly, I was (and still am) shocked that the season had arrived — that I was actually standing outside Citi Field. The off-season flew by. I never had a break from baseball. I was (and still am) working full-time on my book.

(If you’re not familiar with Citi Field, the Home Run Apple wasn’t there last year. It was hidden behind the bullpens. And FYI, this is the old Apple from Shea Stadium, which I miss very much.)

Now, onto another important topic…

As I mentioned recently on Twitter, I’ve gained 11 pounds in the last six months. I went from a light-on-my-feet weight of 167 pounds to a sluggish-and-constantly-feeling-bloated 178. I basically haven’t gotten any exercise since Game 5 of the 2009 World Series, so it was good to be back at a stadium where I’d be “forced” to run around. It was also good that my friend Greg was there with an old ball. He and I and another friend named Matt tossed it around for 20 minutes before the gates opened, and thankfully, I hadn’t forgotten how to catch. Here’s Matt getting ready to fire the ball to Greg:


There was a fairly big crowd waiting to get in:


In the photo above, you can see Greg waving. He started the day with a lifetime total of 875 balls, and because Citi Field is Citi Field, I got stuck in a bad line, and he got a major head start on the dash to left field — and surprise-surprise, he had two baseballs by the time I got there.

I was completely out of breath. It was pathetic. I mean, it’s a long run from street level behind home plate to the elevated concourse in the outfield, but still, that’s just lame. I have some serious work to do.

It didn’t take long for me to snag my first ball of the season. Mets reliever Ryota Igarashi threw it to me after I asked him for it in Japanese. Here it is:


Oh yeah, baby, a Citi Field inaugural season commemorative ball. As it turned out, every single one of the Mets balls were commemorative. They obviously have a lot left over from last year.

Moments later, I snagged a Fernando Tatis home run that landed in the seats in left-center, and then I caught another one of his homers. That one came right to me. There was nothing to it. The real challenge came five minutes later when David Wright smoked a deep line drive in my direction. For some reason, I was standing in the middle of the third row when I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, so I quickly climbed over the seats into the second row, then climbed over THAT row of seats so that I was standing in the front row. I got there just as the ball was about to land, and I reached over the railing and made the catch.

“How did that feel?!” asked a man on my right, who probably thought it was the first ball I’d ever caught.

I shrugged and said, “Great.”

What else was I supposed to say? That those few seconds from the time the ball jumped off Wright’s bat until it smacked the pocket of my Mizuno glove showed me that I still had it?

When I finally looked at the ball, I noticed that it had a beautifully smudged logo:


Matt’s goal for the day was to snag one ball. As soon as he got it, he came over and grabbed my camera and took a few action shots of me. Here’s one that shows me climbing over some more seats as a home run flew into the second deck. I was trying to get in position in case it bounced back down into the front row (it didn’t). The red arrow is pointing at Greg:


Here I am scrambling unsuccessfully for a home run ball:


The guy in the black jersey ended up grabbing it. I suspect that the man in the gray jersey was bending over in case the ball trickled down the steps. (He looks kinda funny, no?)

Angel Pagan then tossed up a ball that sailed over the first few rows and was about to sail over my head, too…


…but I managed to climb up on a seat at the last second and catch it.

Matt told me to hold up the ball so he could take a photo, but I didn’t want to take my eye off the batter. In the two-part photo below, the pic on the left shows me saying, “Hold on,” and the pic on the right is the actual pose that Matt had requested:


Toward the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, I caught two Luis Castillo homers on the fly in straight-away left field, then happened to catch another homer out in left-center. I wasn’t looking at the batter. I was trying to get someone to toss me a ball from down below, when all of a sudden, I heard people shouting at something else, so I looked up and saw a HIGH fly ball coming toward me. At first, I didn’t think it was going to reach the seats, but it carried, and I reached far over the railing and made the catch. It was either hit by Jeff Francoeur or Jason Bay. Not sure.

Before the stadium had opened, Matt predicted that I’d snag 12 balls. I thought his guess was too high, but by the time the Marlins took the field, I was two-thirds of the way there. Hmm…

My ninth ball of the day was thrown by Burke Badenhop. It helped that I had changed into a Marlins cap and shirt, but my outfit didn’t do me any good for the rest of BP. I’m happy to report, though, that I caught three more home runs on the fly. (That’s a total of eight home runs that I caught on the fly, in case you lost count.) The first was hit by Dan Uggla, and I have no idea who hit the next two. I gave one of them to the nearest kid.

With a few minutes remaining in BP, I made my way toward the dugout and didn’t get anything there — except a photo of my Marlins crew:


From right to left, you’re looking at Greg (who ended up with nine balls), Matt (three), Ben (only one because he missed most of BP), me (keep reading), Ryan (six), and Ryan’s friend T.J. (three). Not one of us is actually a Marlins fan. We just had the gear to try to get extra baseballs.

Matt had bought a ticket in the front row behind the Marlins’ dugout. (Don’t ask how much it cost. He’s from California. This was his one and only game here, and the rest of his trip was paid for by his job, so he splurged.) I could’ve stayed down there with him, but I felt like wandering and playing for home runs. The left field seats were basically packed…


…so I headed toward the newly named “Shea Bridge”…


…and went up to the second deck in right field so I could take a photo of the bullpens. This is how the ‘pens looked last year. (If you’re too lazy to click that link, just know that they ran parallel to the outfield wall. The Mets’ bullpen was closer to the field; the visitors’ bullpen was tucked out of view below the overhang — stadium design at its worst.) This is the new bullpen configuration:


Weird but better. (Does anyone know anyone who works for the architectural firm that designs all these stadiums? It used to be called HOK. Now it’s named Populous. With all due respect, they could really use my help.)

By the way, when I first tried to photograph the bullpens from the field level seats in right field, the security-guard-usher-type-person stopped me. He wouldn’t let me down the steps from the concourse — and this was 20 minutes after batting practice had ended. He told me that I needed to have a ticket to go down there. I told him that I’d heard about the new improvements to Citi Field, and that I was excited to see them and take some photos so I could blog about it, but he was like, “Sorry, you’re not allowed. You need a ticket. That’s what I’ve been told.” How sad that some teams are so un-fan-friendly.

There really wasn’t anywhere for me to go. Mike Jacobs was sitting on 99 career home runs, so I found my way into the seats in deep right-center for each of his at-bats. This was my lousy view:


I don’t enjoy sitting 3.2 miles from home plate, but I’m willing to do it on special occasions. Of course, Jacobs ended up going 1-for-5 with a single and two strikeouts. I have nothing against the guy, but he doesn’t look good. He’s batting .111 so far this season, and it’s no surprise. He always seems to be behind in the count 0-2, and his swing looks awfully long.

Eventually, I went and sat with Matt behind the Marlins’ dugout. The view there was much better…


…and thanks to his generosity, I got a third-out ball from Gaby Sanchez after the fifth inning. I was going to let Matt go for it, but he insisted.

“It’s for the charity,” he said.

When the Marlins made a double-switch with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, I was back in right-center. Emilio Bonifacio took over in center field, so Tim Wood came out of the bullpen to play catch with him. I quickly changed into my Marlins gear and heard a few grumbles (about my lack of team loyalty) from the fans sitting nearby. I hurried over to the side railing and got Wood’s attention as he was walking back toward the bullpen. He threw me the ball, and when I turned around, all the fans were smiling. They knew what was up, so once I was out of Wood’s view, I made a big production of taking off the Marlins gear and revealing my Mets shirt underneath. It was classic. The whole section burst into laughter, and then, for added comedic effect, I pretended to wipe myself with the teal-colored clothing.

The game was rather entertaining — and unusual. Not only did the Mets tie it up after trailing 6-1, but all six of their runs scored without a hit. In the bottom of the first, there was a sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the seventh, there was another sac fly and a bases-loaded walk. One inning later, they plated three more runs on a throwing error, another bases-loaded walk, and a balk.

In the top of the 10th, I was sitting several rows behind the Marlins dugout with Matt, Greg, Ben, and Ryan. Wes Helms led off the inning, and on a 2-1 pitch, he dribbled a foul grounder toward Joey Espada, the third base coach. Ryan reacted quickly and made a beeline for the front row. Espada scooped up the ball and tossed it into the seats. It wasn’t thrown to anyone in particular. It was just one of those up-for-grabs lobs, and Ryan gloved it. There was some talk about whether or not he’d “stolen” the ball from a kid, but I don’t think he did. Check out this screen shot from the game (sent by a friend in Florida):


See the little red numbers?

1 = Ryan
2 = me
3 = Greg
4 = Ben

From where I was standing, it appeared that the ball sailed above the kid’s left/bare hand. (I’m talking about the kid wearing the white striped shirt.) To some people, it may have appeared that Ryan reached in front of him, but in fact Ryan respectfully stayed behind the kid and simply reached above him. It’s hard to tell. There’s so much gray area with these things, but really, it looked like a clean play as far as I could tell.

Here’s another screen shot:


5 = Matt

The Marlins ended up taking a 7-6 lead, and guess who came in and notched his first major league save in the bottom of the 10th. That’s right: my boy Tim Wood.

After the final out, I got a ball from Laz Diaz, the home plate umpire, as he walked off the field. It was my 15th ball of the day — a new Citi Field record. My previous high for this stadium was 14 balls, which I accomplished on 8/4/09.

On my way out of the stadium, I gave another ball away to a kid and then posed with my eight Citi Field balls:




• 15 balls at this game (13 pictured on the right because I gave two away)

• 131 balls in 14 lifetime games at Citi Field = 9.36 balls per game.

• 630 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 488 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 121 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,373 total balls


• 13 donors (click here to see what this is all about)

• $1.37 pledged per ball

• $17.81 raised at this game

• $17.81 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball.


  1. wlarusso

    Great first game Zack. I was hoping to snag a Citi Field Commerative ball this year because I didn’t snag one last year so things look good.

  2. baseballexperiences

    Nice first game Zack. To you, it seems like a very quick winter, but to me it feels like an eternity. This first post definately started the season off good. I’ll be there on thursday, which I know you don’t agree with but here’s what I’m workin on.
    1. I have a season ticket ( gets me in 3 hours early) and a dugout seat.
    2. There’s no promotion, and if it’s as empty as it looks on t.v. right now, i’ll be good.
    3. There will be bp (weather permiting) due to the saturday day game.
    4. I can deal with any crowds after the world series game.
    So, I THINK I’ll have a good game, but generally when I dont take advice from you ( which cost me like 4 balls at my WWZ’s) it doesn’t work out. Hopefully this year is different. When’s your next game? I’ll try my best to talk to Mock for you. Joe

  3. aemike83@yahoo.com

    hey Zack my name is Michael and i live in Tennessee. this is my first time writing to you. I have been a fan of yours since 08. Every year my grand mother ask me what i want for Christmas…so last year i said i want Zack Hamples book Watching Baseball Smarter…so i got that for Christmas and i read the whole book and i loved it…the ? i want to ask is can i send my book to you so you can sigh it…if so just write me back at iamaredsoxfan12@yahoo.com…thanks again and i look forward to reading about every game.

  4. redsfan101

    Hey Zack-

    GREAT game. I did make it to Reds Opening Day but sadly did not make batting practice (Except for about 10 minutes and nothing came our way) but also good news. During the end of batting practice, my dad knows a guy who knows a guy who is the Reds’ bullpen catcher. We called him and we may be getting an Opening Day 2010 baseball. I will keep ya posted. I may be openin up the blog soon so ya :)


  5. cookandsonbats

    the off-season book updates and random entries are great, but it is awesome to have an actual game entry to read. way to open the season. the new bullpen situation looks good. also nice that they took the awnings off of them so you can actually see into them from above. now, get back to that book.

  6. sportzfreeka

    haha I would’ve loved to have seen your whole removal of the Marlins gear routine, that sounded hella funny. The Seattle area is beckoning you!

  7. bigglovebob

    Wow! 15 friggin balls? That is nice. Glad to see Matt made it out there. He was here last May and was a good guy. Target Field is a Popolous designed park, so you will see some familiar things I am sure.

    I honestly don’t know how it will be from a ballhawking perspective. I would say average to a bit below average. It will be better than the dome that I can say for sure. I have staked out a couple of areas that will be okay assuming it doesn’t get too crowded.

    I have a some games next week and I plan on doing some ballhawking there. I go to Kauffman in two weeks. I love that park.

    As you get closer to coming here, keep me in the loop. I’ll help out anyway I can.

    Big Glove Bob

  8. 2swingandamiss

    Dude your nuts, 15 balls at your first game!! nice, i remember they old shea apple wasn’t out there last year, i wounder how long it will be before thats all gang tagged up? Also i noticed a big screen hanging from the upper deck, i dont think that was there last year??

    Hey i live in florida so i watch the marilins alot and you look just like there CF Cody ross.

  9. padreleigh

    Hey Zack…

    Nice haul on the first game. Jeeze. It will take me like a week to get 15, ha ha. I have a plan to score the Opening Day ball at the Padres opener on Monday. Wish me luck. Good luck the rest of the way.


  10. goisles

    Congratulations on a successfull beginning to the 2010 season.

    The only negative I can see is that the Gospel on Ballhawking led to six people in one picture wearing Florida Marlins gear during batting practice–and everyone knows that there are not six Marlins fans in the entire country! How long can the players keep on being fooled?

  11. 47cardsfan

    Nice to finally meet you, good work on getting 15 balls. I ended up with 6 two of which i got were game used over the marlins dugout, wish i could have stayed until the end to get another ball from the umpire. Well good luck on the snagging for the season and maybe we will meet again.

  12. Rase

    Congrats on the game.DOn’t be mad at Jacobs.He’s known for K’s but he is also known for his power.You can’t forget his 32 HR season in the small pond :) When’s the next game?

    And about your response…Are you freaking kidding me? :) 174 kg?C.C. the heaviest player in MLB is 132kg.
    I’m 190cm 80kg.Maybe I’m considered heavy because I haven’t had many excersises in the past years.And you can’t run for ball in Polish ballparks because fences are well above 4-5 meters.

  13. joshscards

    Hey Zack great game! I was watching on tv (here in Florida) on the marlins fox sports network and they were talking about the ball that was flipped to Ryan. i think it was rich waltz who said “Its good to see a marlin fan wearing the old teel awarded with a souvenir”…and then tommy hutton goes “looks like he may have stepped in front of a little kid though…always hate to see someone do that”

  14. Jake

    Pickin’ up right where you left off, I see. Great way to start the season Zack! Keep on keepin on with the book as well. Speaking of books I remember you saying you liked reading baseball books. I don’t know if you have heard of this or not, but there is a book called The Bullpen Gospels written by Jays reliever Dirk Hayhurst. I just got mine today so I haven’t read any of it yet but I’ve heard it is supposed to be a good read – just thought I’d pass that along.

    Good luck (not like you need it or anything) with the rest of the season!
    Take Care, Jake

  15. zackhample

    Yup, you should be in good shape. It’ll be interesting to see if they take the Citi balls on the road.

    1) If there even *is* BP tomorrow, it probably won’t be in progress when you enter.
    2) It sure does look empty.
    3) Don’t be so sure.
    4) Good point.
    Not sure about my next game. I might try to hit one up at Yankee Stadium next week.

    I just sent you an email…

    Nice job using the connections. Right now I’m not planning to go to any games in Cincy this year, but that could always change.

    Agreed. Those awnings were horrendous.

    You have no idea how much I want to get to Safeco. It could happen this year. If not, hopefully in 2011.

    I’ll definitely keep you posted, and I look forward to hearing about the stadium before I get there.

    What screen?


    It was fun hangin’. See you again soon, hopefully.

    Game on, indeed. I heard about your two minor league home run snags. Congrats on those.

    Oh yeah? Let me know how that plan works out.

    Well, that’s a good point.

    Nice work on the half-dozen, and good meeting you, too.

    Next game? Not sure. Maybe next week at Yankee Stadium. It’ll be interesting to see when and where Jacobs hits it.

    Cool, but Ryan really didn’t do anything wrong.

    D’oh! Consider it fixed. I guess I was trying to make his name sound even cooler.

    I’ve heard about that book before. Now that I’m hearing you recommend it, I’m gonna add it to my “books to read” list…which means I’ll get around to reading it SOME day.


  16. redsfan101


    May be going to game Saturday. Keep ya posted on how I do.


  17. endy10chavez

    Hey Zach,
    I am a huge met fan too. I went Citi on the 7th, sadly no balls. I am going to use the glove trick soon. Do you know where the best places in Citi to get balls or use the glove trick? Thanks in advance!


  18. dennisox

    Welcome back Zack! Your off-season entries helped make the winter go by a little faster.



  19. bloggingboutbaseball


    Looks like I missed you by a day. Bummer–I ended up with seven baseballs on Thursday while I was there including my first and second Citi Field commemoratives. I was pretty psyched and I had a great time. I’ll be blogging about it soon–and I ran into Greg and Clif while I was there, too.
    ~Matt (not the one in this entry… but also from California)

  20. dhbball

    Thats a big total for Citi, good start to the season. Glad everyone is back and ready for the season. Zack when and where will your next game be?

  21. yankees42294

    hey does anyone know where i could find the visiting team before they enter citi field? because i am trying to get Ryan zims autograph tomorrow.

  22. districtboy

    Awesome catch Joe! You got some mad props from Bob Carpenter, and your play got another replay at the end of the inning.

  23. gtapunk

    Hey Zack! Dang, I wouldn’t mind some commemorative balls! You probably don’t remember me. Anyway, I was they guy tht took a pic with you last year at the second or third Jays home game. I had a red (scarlet actually!) Team Canada World Baseball Classic shirt on.

    Anyway, aside from the one time I was with you and the usher started to come over to you, before the player said it was okay, how was your experience in Toronto with the ball retrieving device? I tried writing to them to get their official policy, to no avail. They probably don’t have one!

    Thinking I’ll give it a try! You must have to explain what it is all about to umpteen people! Thanks. Cheers!

    Andrew (http://bluejaysoutsidethedome.mlblogs.com/ and baseball363.blogspot.com)

  24. zackhample

    There are security guards all over the place now at Citi Field during batting practice, so it’s very risky to use the trick. You might be able to get away with it in the RF corner where the wall is low, but other than that, I just don’t recommend it.

    Thanks, glad to hear it.

    Congrats on the very nice day at Citi…and of course the commemorative balls. Sorry I missed you, but I trust our paths will cross in the fullness of time.

    Not sure about my next game.


    Thank you, fine sir.

    Thanks. Nice to know that you (and other people) are enjoying my blog. Next month will be much more action-packed.

    What’s up? I remember meeting you, but…sorry…I’m having a tough time remembering what you look like. I ended up not having any problems with the device in Toronto, so I think you should GO for it.

  25. prosenivy

    hey zack! sorry my brother and i weren’t able to see you for opening day. i appreciate you thinking of us. i saw the pics here, they’re great. was it ridiculously and unexpectedly windy/cold for you as well, even though the forecast was deceptively ‘warm’? another freezing opening day in ny in the shade, but a great time nonetheless
    talk soon

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