5/6/11 at Citi Field

For the last few years, I’ve been emailing back and forth with a young Mets fan named Milo. Back in the day, his father and my father were friends, and (because Milo discovered this blog and got in touch with me) they recently reconnected. Milo lives in my neighborhood and has seen me from afar on several occasions, but we’d never officially met in person — until yesterday. Here we are outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda:

Milo knew I was going to attend this game, so he brought his copies of my last two books: The Baseball (which came out two months ago) and Watching Baseball Smarter (which was published in 2007). I signed the books for him, and then we hung out and talked until the gates opened at 5:10pm. Milo told me he’d never really tried to ballhawk and that he’d never snagged a baseball — not even during batting practice.

I started off in left field, which was dead as usual. Not only were the Mets’ right-handed batters unable to reach the seats, but the on-field snagging area for season ticket holders was bigger than ever:

As I’ve mentioned before, the problem with this on-field situation is that it’s impossible to get toss-ups in the seats. Whenever a ball rolls onto the warning track, the fans down below gobble it up, and whenever a ball rolls anywhere near them, it ends up getting tossed their way. Good for the season ticket holders. Bad for me.

I headed to the right field seats and got a Mets coach (might’ve been Ken Oberkfell) to throw me a ball. Then, two minutes later, I unleashed some Japanese on Ryota Igarashi and got him to throw me another. Here’s a photo of that ball with Igarashi standing on the right:

Soon after I took that photo, Milo found me and showed me the first ball that he’d ever snagged. It was thrown by R.A. Dickey in left field, and before the day was through, Milo managed to get another.

I headed back to left-center and got Dillon Gee to throw me my 3rd ball of the day, and when the Dodgers took the field, I got another from Jay Gibbons. Here’s a photo of Gibbons in the outfield:

Sorry for the lack of action shots, but when I’m on my own during BP, there’s not much I can do about it. Thankfully, there was some action in the seats. The Dodgers had several right-handed hitters who could actually HIT, and I caught a Rod Barajas homer on the fly.

Several fans recognized me over the course of the day, including the guy pictured below. His name is Tim, and when there was a quick break between BP groups, he asked me to sign a ball that he’d just snagged:

See the “4879” under my name? That was my current lifetime ball total — but not for long. Five minutes later, I ran one full section to my left and caught a Juan Uribe homer on the fly. I should’ve caught another homer after that, but I completely misplayed it, and I’m still pissed about it, and I don’t want to talk about it, but I feel that it’s my duty to report it.

Things went dead after that.
Nothing in left field.
Nothing at the dugout.
Nothing during pre-game throwing.
I gave away two baseballs to kids.

I had a great seat for the game, and to make things even better, my very good friend Andrew was with me. (He showed up after BP. You might remember him from 7/8/09 at Citi Field. ) This was our view when Andre Ethier was at bat in the top of the 1st inning:

Ethier was sitting on a 29-game hitting streak, and when the count went to 3-0, Andrew (who’s a serious Dodger fan) and I were both like, “Nah, he’s not gonna swing. No way. Not in the first inning.”

Next pitch from Jonathan Niese?

CRACK!!!

Line-drive single to center field!
Thirty-game hitting streak!
Awesome and more awesome.

In the bottom of the 5th inning, with Niese at bat, a little squibber of a foul ball trickled onto the warning track in front of the Dodgers’ dugout. Clayton Kershaw retrieved it and tossed it in my direction, and I should’ve had it, but I allowed a fellow ballhawk named Jordan to get a better position in the front row, so he was able to reach out and grab it. Dodgers 3rd base coach Tim Wallach saw the whole thing play out from the top step of the dugout, and I heard him (playfully) scold Kershaw for not giving the ball to the “Dodger fan.” (I was decked out in Dodgers gear, so he was talking about me.) I could tell from Wallach’s body language that he was looking for another ball, and sure enough, two seconds later, he tossed one to me. Jordan ended up with the game-used ball, but the one I got was special for a different reason: there was a bat imprint on it. Check it out:

(Any idea what it says? Click here to see a few other bat-imprinted balls.)

Ethier ended up going 3-for-5 to raise his season batting average to .379. The man has gotten at least one hit in every game this season except one, and he’s still 21 points shy of .400. Can you believe that? It makes Ted Williams’ .406 average in 1941 seem twice as impressive, and speaking of 1941 and hitting streaks, Ethier is still 26 games games away from tying Joe DiMaggio’s record streak. I always hear people talk about how that record will never be broken, and you know what I think? That’s a load of crap. I’m not saying that Ethier’s gonna do it, but DiMaggio’s record will absolutely be broken. It might take 50 or 100 years, maybe even 500 or 1,000 years, but it WILL be broken. You want to talk about an unbreakable record? How about Cy Young’s career total of 749 complete games? See the difference? Unless Bud Selig changes the length of games to three innings, THAT is a record that will stand forever.

Anyway, after Francisco Rodriguez closed out the Mets’ 6-3 win, I got my 8th and final ball of the day from home plate umpire Ed Rapuano. Then a young fan named Alan recognized me from this TV segment and asked me to sign his baseball. He requested that I write “the foul ball guy” under my name (and that I sign the sweet spot), so here’s what I came up with:

Before leaving the stadium, Andrew and I had our picture taken together:

See the orange thing that he’s holding in his right hand? That was a product of the T-shirt launch. He was happy at the time, but you should’ve seen his face an hour later when the Lakers choked in the 4th quarter against the Mavericks to go down three games to none. I’m not a basketball fan, but I felt his pain.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 8 balls at this game (six pictured here because I gave two away)

• 220 balls in 26 games this season = 8.46 balls per game.

• 687 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 366 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball (338 games at Shea Stadium and 27 at Citi Field)

• 4,882 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)

• $51.68 raised at this game

• $1,421.20 raised this season

Wait, there’s more! Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the six balls I kept; the image on the lower left shows them in regular light; the image on the lower right shows them in black light:

Three of the balls I kept had the word “practice” stamped below the MLB logo. Note how the word is stamped differently on the ball on the left:

Finally, here’s a closeup of the ball I got from Rapuano:

I love how rubbed up it is. Every time I get a game-used ball (or in this case, a ball that was intended for game use), I think back fondly to the day I spent rubbing up baseballs with Dan O’Rourke, the Phillies’ equipment manager. I wonder if he’d let me do it again…

9 comments

  1. Michael

    If I had to hazard a guess on that imprint, I’d say it was from Matt Kemp’s bat. Kinda looks like it has a T starting at the seams.

  2. Tim Anderson

    I am fairly certain that the imprint on the ball is the part that says “MAPLE”

  3. Matt Jackson

    Hi, Zack. I’m gonna go with Michael on this one… as a fellow Matt–I am fairly certain that it’s an M, an A, then the makings of a T near the stitches. And Kemp’s the only Matt on that team… and above that it’s definitely a G-E-N starting off the word GENUINE (based on what I know about bat labeling, anyway).
    ~Matt
    http://bloggingboutbaseball.mlblogs.com/

  4. Chasicle

    Got 6 balls at Angel stadium today. Gave two away. Gave one to a girl who didn’t even say thank you. The second one, some guy was leaning over the wall, trying to get it, but wasn’t even close, so I leaned over and got it, and he held his hand out and basically demanded it.

    What is WITH people?

    PS, if you haven’t seen the Angels’ 50th anniversary logo yet, I can send you a picture if you’d like.

  5. Dylan

    Zack,
    I’m just curious. How do you post pictures on the blog because I’ve only got five days until The Ballpark and
    Cowboys Stadium? Thanks.-Dylan

  6. Zack Hample

    MICHAEL-
    Interesting. Thanks.

    TIM ANDERSON-
    Okay…yeah, I see it.

    MATT JACKSON-
    Whoa! I’m loving all these imprint comments. Thanks, you guys.

    CHASICLE-
    Man, that sucks, but congrats on the six. I haven’t seen the logo yet, but that’s intentional. I want to be surprised when I finally catch one.

    DYLAN-
    Sorry for the slow reply. Have you figured it out yet?

    WILL-
    Cool!

    BEN-
    It must be true if everyone agrees.

    NOAM-
    Yes, but sometimes it takes me a few days or even a week or two if things are really busy.

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