On May 1st, I took lots of photos outside Progressive Field, and on May 2nd, I went nuts with my camera inside the stadium. May 3rd — my final game in Cleveland — was simply the day for me to snag an obscene number of baseballs.
It started like this…
…and continued with this…
For some reason, the ushers at this stadium rarely collect the home runs that land in the seats before Gate C opens.
Soon after I grabbed those three Easter eggs, I got David Huff to toss me my fourth ball of the day near the bullpen in right-center. Nothing special, right? At least that’s what I thought until I started scribbling some notes and numbers, and then it hit me: I had just snagged my 4,400th lifetime ball. Here I am with it:
Moments later, Grady Sizemore flipped a ball to me in right center. Even though he’s struggling this season, I’ve always liked him and wanted a ball from him, so it felt great to finally get one.
This was my view of the field:
My sixth ball of the day was a total fluke. David Huff tossed it into the front row roughly 50 feet to my left — and there wasn’t anybody there. I don’t understand it, but whatever. All that matters is that I was able to run over and pick it up.
My seventh ball was thrown by Chris Perez near the visitors’ bullpen down the right field line. My eighth and ninth balls were home runs that I caught on the fly; the first was hit by an Indians righty (no idea who), and the second was a line drive off the bat of Mister Sizemore.
It was 5:01pm. The stadium had barely been open for half an hour. I was thinking BIG, but then I hit a bit of a dry spell.
Twenty minutes later, when the Blue Jays took the field, things picked back up. Shaun Marcum tossed me my 10th ball of the day, and then I got another from Brandon Morrow. Here’s a photo that I took a few minutes later. It shows those two guys standing around with their teammates:
Now get this…
Five minutes later, Marcum walked back onto the warning track to retrieve a ball. I wasn’t even going to bother asking him for it, but then at the last second, right before he was about to fire it back toward the bucket, I said, “Hey, Shaun, let’s play catch.” He responded by turning around, tossing me the ball, and then walking away before I had a chance to throw it back.
You know what else was weird? Two players (Huff and Marcum) had each thrown me two baseballs in the same day. (Okay, fine, Huff didn’t exactly throw the second one *to* me, but it still counts.)
Look how empty the stands were, one hour after the stadium had opened:
In the photo above, do you see the fan in the pink shirt? He’s right in the center of it, standing in the fourth row. Well, after I caught two more home runs on the fly, I ended up beating him out for another ball that landed in the seats. He was pretty bummed about it, so I asked him if he’d snagged a ball yet.
“Yeah,” he replied, “I’ve actually gotten a couple.”
“Oh, cool,” I said, “because if you hadn’t, I was gonna offer you this one.”
He thanked me, and then he asked if I was Zack.
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“I’m Jimmy,” he said. “I the guy that emailed you and told you I was going to be here.”
We talked for few minutes and then parted ways temporarily.
Now, in case you’ve lost count, I had 15 balls by this point, and yeah, I was thinking about reaching 20. There wasn’t a whole lot of time remaining in BP, but I had a secret plan. During the previous 90 minutes, there were FIVE home runs that landed in the second deck in right field; when the rest of the stadium opened at 6pm, I raced up there. Here’s a summary of what happened:
1) There was one other guy who also ran up to the second deck.
2) All five balls were scattered in the front row (some in puddles).
3) The other guy took a bad route, and I got a slight head start.
4) I grabbed four of the five balls.
5) I missed one because he shoved me from behind, forcing me to overrun it.
6) I offered him a few choice words.
Naturally, I didn’t have time to pull out my camera and photographs the baseballs sitting in the stands, so please, take my word for it. I’m not making this stuff up. Just smile and nod and accept the fact that I had 19 balls in my backpack by the time I ran over to the left field bleachers. (By the way, I have no idea who hit the three homers that I’d snagged a bit earlier — balls No. 13, 14, and 15 on the day. All I can tell you is that they were hit by lefties on the Jays, and that the 14th ball was the 1,500th I’d ever snagged outside of New York City.)
Jimmy was in left field. There were a few other fans nearby. Someone on the Jays — a right-handed batter — launched a deep home run that landed halfway up the bleachers. I sprinted up the steps and hurdled a few benches and grabbed the ball half a second before Jimmy got there. (He was a good sport about it.) That was my 20th ball of the day (!!) and then, while I was up there, the same batter hit another ball that clanked off a nearby bench. I didn’t even see it coming. I only heard it, and I was able to jog over and pick that one up, too. (Sorry for the lack of photos, but seriously, there was never a break in the action.)
Two minutes before the end of BP, I tried unsuccessfully to get a Jays pitcher to throw a ball up to me.
“You got like 30 balls already!” he shouted.
“Not quite that many!” I yelled.
“Why don’t you dump all the balls out of your backpack and I’ll throw one to you?” he joked.
I think it was Josh Roenicke, but I’m not sure. He was wearing warm-up gear over his uniform, and I was 20 feet high, but anyway, while he was jawing at me, another home run ball clanked off a nearby bench. Once again, I hadn’t seen it coming. In fact, it nearly hit me, and it ended up AT MY FEET in left-center. Roenicke (or whoever it was) threw his arms up in disgust. Too funny. And that was it for BP.
Finally, there was a moment to relax/breathe.
Jimmy and I got a photo together:
In case you’re wondering, that thing in front of my right ear is a pen. I’d been scribbling notes about all the balls I snagged, and I tucked it into my cap.
I gave away one of the balls to a kid, then changed out of my Blue Jays costume, and went to the back of the bleachers with Jimmy:
In the photo above, I’m holding my 20th ball of the day. Jimmy (who took the photo) lent me his glove to use as a barricade so the balls wouldn’t roll down the steps.
Remember those puddles in the 2nd deck that I was talking about? One of the balls had evidently been laying face down in the water:
Balls No. 21 and 22 both looked pretty cool:
I suspect that the ball on the left hit the edge of a bench. That’s gotta be how the gash got there.
Before Jimmy left to go watch the Cavs’ playoff game, he asked me to sign one of his baseballs. Then I wandered down to the Home Run Porch and caught up with a fellow ballhawk named Sean Malafronte. Here we are together:
I had met him for the very first time earlier in the day when we were waiting in line outside Gate C — but I had already heard about him because he was involved in this home run controversy last season. Crazy stuff. It turned out that he had heard about me, too, and we kept running into each other throughout the day. I believe he ended up snagging eight balls.
Several minutes before game time, I made it down to the Indians’ dugout just before Shin-Soo Choo finished playing catch. Here he is, about to make one of his final throws:
I got him to toss me the ball by asking for it in Korean. Then, on my way out to the left field bleachers, I gave away another ball and took the following photo of the empty stands:
Oof. Make me wish I lived in Cleveland. (No offense, Cleveland, but I really love New York.)
This was my view during the game…
…and this is a screen shot that shows me missing Jose Bautista’s 2nd-inning homer by five feet:
The HORIZONTAL arrow is pointing to the spot where I was sitting, the VERTICAL arrow is pointing to me, and the DIAGONAL arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball landed.
If you watch the replay, it doesn’t look like I was running particularly fast, and it’s true. I wasn’t. But here’s why. The following photo shows the route that I had to take:
Let me explain the numbers (and symbol)…
1) I was sitting in the second row.
2) As soon as the ball was hit, I had to climb over the bench…
3) …and jump down to the front row.
4) I had to cut left in order to avoid the people and benches.
$) The money spot — it’s where the ball landed.
If the ball had stayed in the stands, I would’ve been able to count to three and then pick it up. The other fans had NO idea what was happening. But no, of course, because I’m jinxed when it comes to game home runs, the ball smacked off the Road Runner ad, landed in the aisle, and bounced back onto the field. Un-effing-believable.
At least the game itself was exciting. Blue Jays starter Brett Cecil took a perfect game into the seventh inning. He then got Asdrubal Cabrera to hit a weak come-backer, walked the next two batters, and struck out Austin Kearns for the 2nd out. That’s when I took the following photo to document the fact that his no-hitter was still intact:
Moments later, Jhonny Peralta hit a clean, line-drive single to left field, and that was that. (Was it MY fault? Did *I* somehow jinx him my taking a photo? I made sure not to talk about the no-hitter while it was still in progress. Damn. Would’ve been nice to witness history.)
During the break before the start of the ninth inning, I moved to the center field end of the bleachers and tried to get Grady Sizemore to throw me his warm-up ball. He ended up throwing back to Chris Perez, the reliever who was playing catch with him, and Perez threw it to me instead. HA!!! It was my 24th ball of the day — my fourth highest single-game total ever — and Perez was the third player to throw me a pair. Are you hearing me? Three different players each threw me two balls in one day. I know it’s a random/meaningless “accomplishment,” but I’d bet that no one else has ever done it.
I took the following photo from the spot where I caught the throw. (I had to jump for it while I was standing on the steps. One of the cameramen yelled, “Nice catch.”) The arrow is pointing to the spot where Perez was standing when he threw it.
Since the Jays had the lead, I headed to their dugout in the bottom of the ninth, and I took this photo along the way:
After the final out, I got robbed by another fan on what would’ve been ball No. 25. Rommie Lewis tossed it to me from the side; the awkward angle enabled some other guy to reach out in front of me, and he apologized profusely.
“Hey, it’s all good,” I told him. “Get whatever you can get.”
Final score: Zack 24, Blue Jays 5, Indians 1. My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .800 (4 wins, 1 loss.), which means I’d be in first place in any division in the majors.
I gave away one more ball as I headed toward the right field exit, and before I left the stadium, I took a few final photos. Here’s one…
…and here’s another:
I just LOVE empty stadiums. I mean…I love stadiums, period, but there’s something extra special about being inside one when there aren’t any other fans. (The whole game practically felt like that.)
That was it for the Cleveland portion of my trip. I knew that my next stop — Target Field — was going to be a bit more crowded.
• 24 balls at this game (21 pictured on the right because I gave three away)
• 62 balls in 5 games this season = 12.4 balls per game.
• 634 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 185 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 123 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 7 lifetime games with at least 20 balls
• 4 consecutive seasons with at least one game at which I snagged 20 balls
• 4,420 total balls
• 29 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)
• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $92.40 raised at this game
• $238.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball