Technically, this was a Watch With Zack game, but for a change, my job didn’t involve teaching anything about baseball or helping anyone snag baseballs. That’s because my “client” — a very talented ballhawk named Joe Faraguna — didn’t need that kind of help. Joe is only 15 years old, and since he lives in New York, he mainly needed help getting down to Baltimore. Beyond that, he just wanted to hang out.
Joe and I left New York City at 11:30am, blasted music and talked baseball for the entire three-hour drive, and went to lunch at Hooters (his choice, though I didn’t complain). Then we walked to the stadium in the 98-degree heat. Here we are standing outside the Eutaw Street gate:
You might also know about Joe because:
1) He was featured in this blog entry in 2008. (Scroll down to #5.)
2) He regularly leaves comments on this blog as “yankees5221.”
3) He writes his own blog: baseballexperiences.mlblogs.com
4) He has a profile on MyGameBalls.com.
5) He has the second highest balls-per-game average of anyone in this year’s Ballhawk League.
Anyway, like I said, Joe didn’t need my help snagging baseballs. In fact, he told me that he wanted us to split up so that we could combine for as many balls as possible — but we both still raced out to left field as soon as the gates opened.
Thirty seconds after we got there, Jason Berken and David Hernandez walked out to the warning track, and one of them asked, “How many balls are you up to now?” I was so focused on the batter that it took a moment before I realized that they were talking to me.
“Wait…what?!” I asked. “How did you know who I am?”
“How many!” demanded Berken with a smile on his face.
“Four thousand, five hundred, and twenty. But how did you know?!”
“We saw you on CNN,” replied Hernandez.
“CNN? That was eleven years ago. Are you sure that’s what you saw?”
“It was the one with Katie Couric,” said Berken.
“Oh, you mean CBS,” I told them. “Yeah, that one aired in ’06.”
“You still got the streak?” asked Hernandez.
Before I had a chance to answer and confirm that my streak of consecutive games with at least one ball WAS, in fact, still going strong, a right-handed batter launched a deep fly ball in my direction. There were a few other ballhawks in the stands, but I managed to get underneath it and hold my ground and reach up for the one-handed catch.
The first thing I noticed was that the ball had a beautiful smudge on the logo. The second thing I noticed was that Berken and Hernandez were rather amused.
“Yes,” I told them, “my streak is still alive, and it just lived to see another day.”
“Oh, so you count batting practice?” asked Berken.
“Yeah, of course,” I said.
Hernandez asked to see the ball, so I tossed it to him.
“This one is all messed up,” he said. “You don’t really want it, right?”
“Are you kidding me?! I love baseballs that are beat up. Brand new balls are boring.”
Hernandez then tossed the ball back. He and Berken kept talking to me for a few minutes. I should have taken photos, but there were so many home runs flying into the seats that I truly didn’t have a chance to pull out my camera.
Joe already had three balls by that point, including a homer that he caught right in front of me. I had been cutting through the second row. He was camped out in the front row. A line drive was heading toward him. He stuck his glove up and nabbed it. Once he turned around and realized that I was standing behind him, he apologized profusely for robbing me, but there was no need for that. He made a nice catch. The end.
I caught two more homers in the next five minutes. The first was a line drive hit by Julio Lugo that barely cleared the outfield wall. I drifted down the steps. David Hernandez jumped up and reached for it. The ball sailed six inches over his glove. (I discovered later that this ball represented three personal milestones: the 4,200th ball during my consecutive games streak, my 1,600th ball outside of New York, and the 300th ball I’d ever snagged at Camden Yards. Coolness.) The second was a lazy, 375-foot fly ball that was hit half a section to my right. I jogged through an empty row of seats and made the easy back-handed catch.
It was only 5:10pm. I had three baseballs and Joe had five. We were both set for a monster day of snagging when this happened:
In case you can’t tell what’s taking place in the photo above, all the Orioles were jogging off the field. Their portion of batting practice ended 25 minutes early — POOF!!! — just like that.
Evidently, the team’s new/interim manager, Juan Samuel, changed the BP schedule. It now starts earlier and ends earlier, and as a result, it’s now like this almost every day.
Joe and I were in shock:
After a long wait, the Marlins finally came out and started throwing:
In the photo above, the three fans in the front row are regulars at Camden Yards. I know you can’t see their faces, but I still want to point them out. The kid wearing the backward O’s cap is named Zevi, the guy in the middle is Matt Hersl, and the man on the right is Ed. There were other regulars in attendance as well, along with other folks that I’d met before, or who recognized me and said hello. Let me see if I can remember everyone:
1) Avi Miller, who has an excellent web site about the Orioles
2) Casey from Milwaukee, who writes a blog about ballhawking
3) Wiley from Milwaukee, who also blogs about his games
4) Jon Herbstman from NYC, whom I last saw 11 months ago
5) Jon’s friend Bennett
6) Kevin, whom I last saw nearly four years earlier
7) Craig, who spotted me during BP and got really lucky later on…
Am I forgetting anyone? If so, I apologize. I talked to so many people at this game that my head is spinning. But let’s get back to the Marlins. This may be hard to believe, but they did not throw a single ball into the crowd during batting practice. I’ve never seen anything like it. Avi told me that the Marlins had thrown so many balls into the crowd the day before that the players actually got scolded by a coach.
The seats were fairly crowded. Yeah, there was room to run, but there were lots of guys with gloves. Basically, there was competition for every home run ball. You know what I mean? There was almost no chance to make an easy, uncontested catch. Keep in mind that the photo above was taken at 5:50pm — half an hour before BP ended, so it got a lot more crowded than that.
My fourth ball of the day was a homer that I caught on the fly. The easy part of it was that it was hit right to me. The tough part was that the guy standing directly behind me clobbered me from behind as I made the catch. (I’m pretty sure it was an accident, but still, that’s just uncalled for.)
Ten minutes later, I caught another home run, this time off the bat of Hanley Ramirez. It was a high fly ball. That made it tough. It gave everyone else time to drift underneath it, but I picked the right spot and reached up through a sea of hands at the last second.
Then something funny happened. Some guy (who was about 50 years old and not exactly in shape) started complaining about all the balls I’d caught. He told me he was going to “shut me down” and prevent me from getting any more.
“You’re gonna have a professional outfielder trailing you,” he warned.
“Sounds like fun,” I said.
The guy proceeded to stand directly in front of me on the staircase — and you can probably guess what happened next. The batter hit a deep fly ball to my right. I took off running through an empty row. The guy was blocked by a railing and watched helplessly as I made the catch. He was furious. I later gave the ball to a kid.
That was it for BP. I’d snagged six baseballs, and every single one was a homer that I’d caught on the fly. I found Joe behind the Marlins’ dugout. He was up to seven balls at that point, and he’s also gotten two batting gloves — one from Chris Coghlan and another from Brian Barden. Joe had actually gotten a third glove, which he generously gave to the kid who’d let him move into the crowded front row.
Despite the earlier stinginess, the Marlins did toss their pre-game warm-up balls into the seats behind the dugout. Joe got two of them (one from Gaby Sanchez, another from Dan Uggla), and a little kid on my left got the other (from Hanley Ramirez).
I spent the entire game in the outfield. I never went for a foul ball or a 3rd-out ball or even an umpire ball at the end of the night. I just focused on home runs, and I constantly ran back and forth from right field to left field, depending on the number of righties and lefties that were due to bat.
Joe stayed behind the plate and used his speed to snag a foul ball in the top of the first inning. The following photo shows where Joe was sitting and where the ball ended up. The amount of ground he covered was seriously impressive:
I immediately called and congratulated him. (It was his second lifetime game foul ball.)
“You saw that?!” he asked.
“Hell yeah!” I said. “Who else here would be streaking three full sections for a ball?”
A bit later on, this was my view for left-handed batters:
Joe was in the standing room section because Nick Markakis was at bat. Other than that, Joe pretty much stayed in foul territory. As for me, I normally play lefties farther to the left at Camden, but because the seats in straight-away right field were so empty, I stood behind that staircase and gave myself a chance to run down the steps.
In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Luke Scott hit a homer into the seats, but it was too far to my right. By the time it landed, I was still 20 feet away, and another fan immediately grabbed it.
There was even more action for me in left field.
In the top of the 3rd, Gaby Sanchez hit a bomb that was heading a full section to my right. I jumped up and raced through the seats. I knew that the ball was going to sail over my row, so while everyone else around me was frozen in place, I put my head down and focused on running toward the spot where I predicted the ball would land. Check out this screen shot from the Orioles’ broadcast:
A split-second later, I was heading up the steps:
See the guy in the white shirt reaching up with his bare hands? With my back to the field, I could tell from his body language that the ball was heading right for him, but I couldn’t quite get there in time. My only hope was that he’d drop the ball and cause it to bounce down to me.
Sure enough, the ball clanked off his hands. I could see it on the ground, and we both scrambled for it…
…and he grabbed it JUST as I was reaching for it.
That really sucked, but there was no time to mope. Jorge Cantu was due up two batters later, and he was sitting on 99 career home runs. I’d already been thinking of what to ask for if I caught No. 100. I had the whole thing worked out. I was visualizing everything. I was more prepared than ever. And then whaddaya know, Cantu blasted a drive toward the seats in left-center. This time the ball was heading a section to my left (AARRGHH!!) so I started running through my row…
…and I reached the staircase as the ball was descending.
Nooooooo!!! It was falling short!!!
I tried to work my way down the steps, but I just couldn’t get there in time:
But wait! The fans bobbled the ball and kicked it all over the place. It was still rattling around on the staircase two seconds later…
…and if not for the two fans who were blocking me, I would’ve dove on top of it.
The ball somehow rolled all the way down to the front row. In the screen shot above, do you see the guy in the white Orioles jersey at the front? That was Craig, the guy I’d talked to during BP. He’s the one who ended up grabbing it, so I gave him all kinds of advice on what to tell security when they came to get the ball from him. I told him he could get all kinds of goodies for it, and that he could meet Cantu, but in the end, all he got for it was a signed ball by Nick Markakis. I thought he really wasted an opportunity until I noticed the name of the back of his jersey: MARKAKIS. Still, he could’ve gotten a Markakis bat to go along with his Markakis ball, if he really wanted it…but oh well. He was happy, and Cantu was obviously thrilled, so in the end, it all worked out perfectly.
As for the game itself…whatever. Joe pretty much summed it up when we were driving down to Baltimore and naming all the reasons why the attendance would be low. “This is probably the least cared about game in the majors,” he said.
Final score: Joe 11, Marlins 7, Zack 6, Orioles 5. (My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .781 — 12.5 wins, 3.5 losses.)
You can read all about the balls that Joe snagged on his blog. The entry isn’t up yet, so keep checking back. I’m sure he’ll be posting it soon…
• 6 balls at this game (5 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 168 balls in 16 games this season = 10.5 balls per game.
• 645 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 4,204 balls during the consecutive games streak
• 195 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 1,604 lifetime balls outside of New York
• 304 lifetime balls at Camden Yards
• 4,526 total balls
• 37 donors (click here to learn more; Jason Berken and David Hernandez now know about it)
• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $32.46 raised at this game
• $908.88 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
WATCH WITH ZACK STATS:
Did you know that I have a whole page of Watch With Zack stats on my web site? Click here to check it out. Joe became the first client to snag a foul ball during a game, and he also broke two records: most balls by a client at one game and most balls by a client overall. Congrats, Joe. Snagging 11 balls (including a foul ball) and two batting gloves is about as good a day as anyone could hope for.