5/2/11 at Nationals Park

This was supposed to be my day to relax and catch up on life. I’d just spent a week in Texas and desperately needed to sleep in and eat a few healthy meals and answer a few hours’ worth of emails. But…gah! My friend Brandon was in New Jersey for the day and asked if I wanted to pick him up on the way to Nationals Park. I couldn’t say no, and when I mentioned it to Jona, she said she wanted to join us. She and Brandon both had their fancy cameras (Brandon is a professional videographer), so get ready for a bunch of photos…

Here I am standing outside Nationals Park, ten minutes before the gates opened.

Here I am snagging my first ball of the day, tossed by Livan Hernandez:

In the photo above, the red arrow is pointing at the ball.

Here’s a closer look at the ball:

As you can see, it wasn’t an official major league baseball, but rather one of those cheap training balls that the Nationals have been using for years.

I ran to the left field seats and got my 2nd ball of the day from John Lannan. Here I am reaching out for it next to the bullpen:

My 3rd ball of the day was tossed by Matt Stairs near the left field foul pole. I discovered later, when updating various lists of ballhawking stats, that it was the 1,800th ball I’d ever snagged outside of New York. (Random, yes, but you love it.)

Here I am about to snag my 4th ball of the day:

It was thrown by Doug Slaten, and in the photo above, you can see him looking at me.

I should say that my goal for the day, as I mentioned on Twitter, was to snag 16 balls. Why? Because I’d started the day with a season total of 184. Keep that in mind as you keep reading…

My 5th ball of the day was a Matt Stairs homer that landed in the right field seats. Here I am scrambling for it…

…and here’s a close-up shot of the scuffed logo:

In case you can’t tell, this was also a training ball.

Moments later, I had an easy opportunity to use my glove trick for a ball behind the outfield wall in right-center. Here I am lowering the glove:

Just after my glove reached the ground, I heard someone shouting at me from 100 feet away. Turns out it was a security supervisor. In the following photo, he’s standing on the left in the yellow shirt:

“You can’t do that!!!” he shouted.

“Why not?!” I shouted back.

“You can’t take balls from the field!!!”

“It’s not ON the field!!! It’s behind the outfield wall!!!”

“That’s the rule!!!” he yelled. “You got five seconds to lift it up or you’re outta here!!! Five!!! Four!!! Three!!!”

I couldn’t believe that he was giving me a countdown, but what could I do? I quickly raised my glove and refocused my attention on the batter. Two minutes later, when another home run cleared the center field wall, I headed over to the edge of the section to see where the ball ended up. There was a random employee down below, and as soon as I peeked over the side railing, he tossed the ball to me. Here’s a photo of it in mid-air. I didn’t draw an arrow this time because the ball is easier to see:

In New York, there would’ve been ten people screaming for that ball, but here in D.C., there weren’t even ten people in the entire right field section. Here’s a photo of the random employee…

…and get this: when Brandon walked over to the railing to take that photo, the employee asked him if he wanted a ball. (Are you kidding me?!)

“Don’t catch it!” I yelled at Brandon as the employee pulled out a ball. “Let it drop! Let it drop!”

At the very last second, it occurred to Brandon why I was yelling that. He realized that if he didn’t acquire “possession” of the ball — if he allowed it to land in the seats — then I’d be able to snag it and count it in my collection. That might seem silly to you, but that’s always been my rule; if another fan snags a ball and offers it to me, I won’t count it. Anyway, Brandon deserves an Academy Award for his pretend-clumsiness. It was the easiest toss of all time, and yet he made it look like he legitimately booted it. Once I chased down the ball, I handed it to Brandon so he could hold it up for the employee and say “thanks” and make it look like he got it. Ha-HAAA!!! I love beating the system on stupid technicalities, even if it’s my own system. (I also love going to games with friends who aren’t ballhawks.)

My next two baseballs — numbers 8 and 9 on the day — were homers that landed in the right field seats. The first one was hit by Rick Ankiel. Jona took the following photo just after I scooped it up with my glove:

(She says she loves the intense look on my face in this photo.) (Umm, sure, okay.)

The second of those two homers was hit by a lefty, but I’m not sure who. Here’s a funny photo of me climbing over some seats for it — funny because of my frantic body language juxtaposed with the indifferent employees standing around:

Brandon shot a lot of video of me, which he may or may not ever get around to editing. Here I am saying a few words to his camera:

I got two more baseballs during the Nationals’ portion of BP. The first was a homer by a right-handed batter, possibly Jayson Werth, although I’m not sure. The second was a homer hit by a lefty. I caught both of these balls on the fly. That gave me 11 for the day, and do you want to see what they all had in common?

They were all training balls.

Booooooo!!!

Now, I don’t want you to think that I snagged baseballs everywhere and that everything went my way. That wasn’t the case at all. I lost several scrambles, fell victim to some unlucky ricochets, and twice got robbed by fans who made bare-handed catches on home runs right in front of me. Here’s a photo of one such robbery:

In the photo above, I could’ve bolted down the steps and reached in front of that guy, but instead I chose to hang back and let him have a shot at catching the ball. It was hit right to him. It seemed like a nice thing to do. Of course, I was hoping that the ball would deflect off his hands and bounce right to me, but hey, he made a nice grab, so I can only tip my cap to him.

I ran back to the left field seats and snagged two more baseballs within a minute. The first was tossed by Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, and the following photo shows me reaching out for it:

(I think the ball was already in my glove when that photo was taken. I might be wrong, so if you see the ball anywhere, let me know.)

The second of those two baseballs — my 13th of the day — was thrown by Jeremy Affeldt.

With ten minutes remaining in BP, I chased down a deep drive that landed in some empty seats near the left field foul pole. I don’t know who hit it, but it felt good to snag it because I ran several sections for it and narrowly beat out a few gloveless fans. Then I ran back to right field and got my 15th ball from pitching coach Dave Righetti. Here he is about to throw it to me:

That was it for BP. My season total was up to 199 baseballs. I just needed one more to reach my goal for the day, and I got it from hitting coach Hensley Meulens at the dugout. Here he is tossing it to me:

Not only did that ball represent a nice personal milestone, but it was special for another reason. Do you remember the entry I posted two months ago called “Baseballs and black light“? Well, that ball had TWO invisible ink stamps. Check it out. The following three-part photo shows the ball in regular light and also in black light:

Although I’ve only been doing the black light thing for a year, I’ve never seen a ball with two stamps — until now. As I explained in The Baseball, every ball gets stamped with invisible ink as soon as it’s done being stitched at the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica; if the ball then fails to pass inspection, it gets examined in black light and sent back to the employee who stitched it. I’m guessing that this ball failed the inspection…and then got re-stamped after it was fixed…and then maybe it was clean enough that it didn’t need to be wiped with the cleaning solvent…so both invisible ink stamps made it out alive. Yes? That sounds reasonable, right?

Speaking of “alive,” Brandon (or was it Jona?) took the following photo of this T-shirt:

Everyone was buzzing about it because the news was still less than 24 hours old. I was afraid that Washington D.C. was going to be a mess as a result — and by mess, I mean one giant party — but everything seemed pretty normal.

Brandon and Jona and I sat in straight-away left field for most of the game. After the first inning, I moved a little closer to the bullpen and pulled out my stadium number sign:

If you’ve been reading this blog all season, then you know that (a) I’m hoping/planning to visit all 30 stadiums this year, and (b) my funny faces in these photos indicate how I feel about each stadium. Nationals Park, the 7th stadium that I’ve visited in the last month, is awesome. I’ve averaged 17 balls per game here, so that’s why I appear rather excited.

I regained my composure soon after…

…but didn’t come close to any batted balls during the game. Jerry Hairston Jr. tossed a third-out ball into my section, and I nearly (read: should have) caught it, but that was it.

The game was played incredibly fast. It lasted just two hours and two minutes, to be exact, and the Nationals won, 2-0. Both runs, charged to Madison Bumgarner, were unearned thanks to a Miguel Tejada error in the bottom of the 7th. Tom Gorzelanny started for the Nats and needed just 95 pitches to get through eight innings. The Nats and Giants combined for seven hits. I would’ve been much better off going for third-out balls behind the dugouts, but I stand behind my decision to go for homers in left field. Both starters were lefties. Most batters were righties. I thought I was gonna see some action out there.

After the game, I got a ball from home plate umpire Gary Darling, and then less than a minute later, I got another from Giants rookie Darren Ford. Here’s a photo that was taken just after he gave it to me:

That made it 18 balls for the day, and you know what? It’s a real shame I didn’t play the dugouts during the game because I know I would’ve gotten 20. But anyway, I fished around in my backpack and pulled out the newest/cleanest/official-est ball that I had. Then I headed up to the concourse…

…and waited until I saw a kid with a glove. In the photo above, the kid in the Zimmerman shirt already had a ball, so I stood there and continued to scan the crowd. Eventually, I spotted a worthy recipient and handed him the ball. He was thrilled (no surprise there), and you can see it on his face in the following photo:

I was ready to give away another baseball — I had it out of my backpack and ready to go — but if you can believe it, I didn’t see any other kids with gloves. So I kept it.

On my way out, one of my childhood heroes from the 1986 Mets was doing the post-game show for the Nationals:

That’s Ray Knight sitting on the right.

Brandon took one final photo of me…

…and then we headed to the car.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 18 balls at this game (17 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 202 balls in 23 games this season = 8.8 balls per game.

• 85 balls in 5 lifetime games at Nationals Park = 17 balls per game.

• 684 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 210 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 142 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,864 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)

• 41 donors

• $6.46 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $116.28 raised at this game

• $1,304.92 raised this season

None of the training balls were stamped with invisible ink, but four of the regular balls were. Here’s a side-by-side comparison that shows them in regular light versus black light:

Finally, if you’re waiting for a reply from me in an email or on Twitter or in a blog comment, I’m gonna have to ask you to wait a little bit longer. I’ve barely had time to answer anyone (even best friends and family members) since I flew to Texas on 4/25/11, but I hope to catch up soon.

13 comments

  1. JotaEse

    Great job. Nationals park is my second favorite park I’ve visited. I love my home park (Great American) because there’s no place like home.

    You were luckier Monday than I was Tuesday. Going for a ball (I aim low, one a series, typically, and give the rest away) I tripped over a seat that was left out and slammed my head, chest, and both legs. I could barely walk the rest of the day and the only baseball I got is a baseball sized lump on my left leg.

    Look forward to seeing you in August. (I’m the season ticket holder who e-mailed you…or at least one of if you have multiple.)

  2. Casey Ward

    Your off to a hell of a year! When you come to Milwaukee let me know! I met you for the first time in Baltimore last year on June 23rd if you remember. Good Luck on the rest of the season!

  3. Nick Gantz

    Hey Zack! I found the ball in the picture. It is right below the second deck in left field by the left corner! Hopes this helps! Try to go to Canada this year if possible! I love the entries of when you were there. See ya later!

    Nick

  4. Matt

    I love the usher’s shirt in the picture with the bin Laden T-shirt. “ASK ME!” I’m surprised that NYC ushers’ don’t have shirts that say, “DON’T ASK ME!.” Or do they? :) Man, if you lived somewhere inbetween Nationals Park and Camden Yards, and went to just those two parks, you would snag like 2,000 baseballs a year!
    -Matt

  5. Will

    Zack,
    I’m not sure if you’ve thought about this yet, but do you realize that you’re on pace to snag approximately 1100 balls this year? I’m assuming that this won’t happen, but you could easily break the single season record by July 1. All I can say is good luck getting to every stadium this year and keep it up.
    -Will
    http://snaggingautographsandbaseballs.mlblogs.com/

  6. Zack Hample

    JOTAESE-
    So, by that rationale, I should like Citi Field because it’s my “home” ballpark? Ha! That’ll never happen. Anyway, thanks and I hope you’re feeling/walking a bit better by now.

    CASEY WARD-
    Nice to hear from you. It looks like I’ll be in Milwaukee on September 1st and September 8th, but it’s not official yet.

    NICK GANTZ-
    Thanks, but I’m still not seeing it. If you have a minute, download the photo and draw a red circle around the ball and re-upload it to imgur.com and share a link here for everyone.

    MATT-
    Don’t ask me…love it. So true.

    WILL-
    Hell yeah, I’ve thought about my pace, but it’s gonna be really tough to keep it up and break the 1,000-ball mark. At the very least, I’d like to snag 600, but hopefully I’ll get a lot more than that.

    BEN-
    Thanks! And yes, Nationals Park is very nice.

  7. Jon Madden

    Seriously man- you should get some of that video up on YouTube! I love seeing you in action! Can’t wait for Toronto

    –Jon

  8. samdafan

    Have you ever tried to do the half-glove trick with the giant glove? If not, I would love to see if it is possible. That glove gets me everytime I look at your blog and makes me wonder how many balls you could catch at once. If you have the answer to this question, I would love to know.

  9. Zack Hample

    JON MADDEN-
    Well, Brandon has pulled another work-related disappearing act, so I have no footage to share…yet.

    SAMDAFAN-
    Nope, but that’s a fun idea. Not sure how many balls I could fit in there. Probably at least 30 or 40 if used like a basket.

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