5/12/11 at Camden Yards

The line outside Camden Yards was longer than usual…

…because there was a Vladimir Guerrero t-shirt giveaway.

Once I reached the left field seats, there was more standing around than usual…

…because the Orioles were hitting like a bunch of Little Leaguers. I’d never experienced such a lame session of batting practice at this stadium, and as a result, I had this many baseballs…

…when the first group of hitters finished up. Normally I have three or four by that time, sometimes even six or eight, so the day was officially off to a miserable start.

As it turned out, I didn’t snag a single ball during the Orioles’ portion of BP. That had never happened to me. Thankfully, I got Buck Showalter to toss me a ball at the 1st base dugout when his team cleared the field. He’d never given one to me before that, so I was glad to add him to my list.

When the Mariners started hitting, I threw on my “ICHIRO” shirt and moved to right field. They have lots of left-handed batters, so I figured there’d be some action in the Flag Court. Pretty logical, right? Yeah, well, things didn’t exactly go as planned. Their portion of BP was equally lame, and I did a lot more standing around:

When the Mariners finished batting practice, I still had just ONE BALL. The day, at that point, was such a disaster that I found myself wishing I weren’t there. (Forgive me if that sounds obnoxious, but given the fact that I’ve averaged nearly ten balls per game at Camden Yards, the day truly felt like a major disappointment.) Things got a little better when Brendan Ryan threw me a ball at the 3rd base dugout. Here’s a photo of it sailing toward me:

One minute later, some random on-field employee poked his head out of the dugout and looked right at me.

“Here’s another one for your collection,” he said, and with that, he tossed me my 3rd ball of the day.

I thanked him profusely and asked how he knew who I was.

“I read your blog,” he said.

The guy’s name is Pat. He works in the clubhouse. He’s awesome. Here we are chatting:

The ball he gave me was rubbed up with mud and had some dried dirt caked to it. Naturally I asked him what the deal was. He said it was a game-used ball from when it had rained a few days earlier. I’m not sure why that ball would’ve been sitting around in the dugout, and I neglected to ask. Maybe he’d kept it in the clubhouse and brought it out to give to someone? In any case, it was such a cool ball that I photographed it later. Here it is, along with the equally-cool/bat-imprinted ball that Brendan Ryan had given me:

Any idea what that bat imprint says? Kinda looks like “NDAN.” (My friend Ben Weil already saw the photo and spotted that.) I wonder if Brendan Ryan imprinted the ball with his own bat.

The day was no longer a total disaster, but I still wasn’t thrilled:

During the lull between BP and the game, I managed to get two more baseballs from the bullpens in deep left-center field. The first was tossed by Mariners bullpen catcher Jason Phillips, and the second, which I’m waving for in the following photo, came from Orioles bullpen coach Rick Adair:

Then I caught up with some friends, starting with a fellow ballhawk named Alex, who’d brought his copies of my last two books — Watching Baseball Smarter and The Baseball. Here we are:

After I signed the books, I had my picture taken with fellow MLBlogger Todd Cook and his family. Todd is a diehard Mariners fan, so I put my Mariners gear back on for the occasion:

In the photo above, I’m holding six-month-old Kellan, who’s getting a kiss from his five-year-old brother Tim. Todd is standing to the left of the boys, and he has his arm around his wife Colleen. This was the first time I’d ever met her and Kellan; you may recall that I’ve crossed paths with Tim and Todd on several occasions, including 6/3/09 at Nationals Park. You might also recall that Todd is the guy who made this incredible baseball bat for me.

Todd attends so many Mariners games that he’s gotten to know some of the players and coaches. At one point while we were hanging out, he called Jason Phillips over and asked him to take a photo from the bullpen.

“You got a camera?” asked Phillips.

“Yeah, right here,” said Todd, pulling it out of his pocket.

Todd then tossed the camera down to Phillips and asked him to photograph the field. Here’s a photo of Phillips taking a photo:

How cool is that?

The game was about to begin, and with the left-handed Ichiro due to lead off, I was feeling antsy about being stuck in left-center field. I normally hang out in the Flag Court for all left-handed batters, but when I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to get there in time, I decided to head around the left field foul pole and walk through the cross-aisle toward home plate. That way, I was at least going to be in a good spot in case Ichiro swung late and fouled one off. On the way, I stopped and chatted briefly with a very friendly usher named Bobby Castro…

…and made sure to get around to the first base side of home plate by the time Chone Figgins came to bat. Zach Britton, a lefty, was pitching for the Orioles, which meant that Figgins, a switch-hitter, would be taking his cuts from the right side. I was still planning to head to the Flag Court, but decided to stop and watch Figgins from a tunnel — not any tunnel, mind you, but rather THE tunnel that I usually stand in for all right-handed batters. It’s a good spot for foul balls, not ideal because the protective screen behind the plate is a bit too tall, but I’d had my share of success there in the past.

Jona was with me — she’s the one who took all these photos — and when the count went to 2-1, she told me she was going to the bathroom. As she started walking through the tunnel toward the concourse, Figgins hit a foul ball that flew back in my direction and barely cleared the protective screen. I knew almost instantly that I was going to catch it, and sure enough, after taking a couple steps forward and moving slightly to my right, I reached up and made an easy one-handed grab. Even though there was a burst of cheers and applause, Jona had no idea what had happened, so I stepped back into the tunnel and shouted her name. She was about 30 feet away, and when she turned back around, I held up the ball. She was like, “WHAAAAT?!?!” and I was like:

On the very next pitch, Figgins hit another foul ball that flew back at the EXACT SAME speed and at the EXACT SAME height and in the EXACT SAME direction. Long story short, I caught that one too.

Here’s a screen shot from the Orioles broadcast that shows me reaching up and making the catch:

The place went nuts.

Here’s another screen shot that shows me holding up both baseballs:

One ball was still in my glove at that point.

In the screen shot above, you can see Jona (on the far right) taking a photo of me. Here’s that photo:

I got lots of high-fives and had lots of fans approach me with photo requests:

One woman said, “If I give you the money, will you buy me a lottery ticket?”

Do you remember Gregg Mace, the sports director from abc27 who filmed me during batting practice the day before? He and his son Kyle had seen my back-to-back catches, and they came over to congratulate me. Here we are:

Now, on three previous occasions, I had snagged three foul balls during a single game (most recently on 8/29/07 at Camden Yards), but I’d never gotten four. As soon as I caught the two foul balls in the top of the 1st, I thought, “Screw the Flag Court and screw home runs. I have to stay here and try to catch two more.”

Well, would you believe that I caught a third foul ball in the bottom of the 5th inning in pretty much the same spot? Matt Wieters hit it off Jason Vargas. I had to dart ten feet to my right, and I was lucky that the man standing in front of me didn’t reach up high enough for it, but other than that, it was as easy as it gets.

The place went absolutely off-the-wall nuts.

Jona was sitting above the tunnel at that point, so after things calmed down somewhat, I turned back toward her and held up three fingers:

She was keeping an eye on my backpack up there, so once I had a chance to get my stuff, I pulled out one of the balls I’d snagged before the game and handed it to the nearest kid. Here’s a photo that shows me shaking hands with the kid’s father. The red arrow is pointing at the ball:

Some of these photos are blurry because (a) things were happening fast and (b) Jona took them with her iPhone. She normally brings a fancy camera to games, but on this particular day, she decided to leave it behind and travel light.

Here’s a photo (that I took with my own camera) of the three foul balls:

Things didn’t stay calm for long. Dozens of fans came up to me and took photos and shook my hand and asked to see the balls:

It was insane, and I loved every second of it.

And then things got insane-er.

A reporter from MLB.com came and found me and introduced himself and pulled out a digital voice recorder and interviewed me during the game — right there in the tunnel:

His name is Avi Zaleon, and he found me through another Avi. You know that guy named Avi Miller who attends just about every Orioles game at Camden Yards? Well, he tweeted about my two foul ball catches in the 1st inning, and when I caught the Wieters foul in the 5th, he tweeted about that one too. It just so happens that Zaleon follows Miller on Twitter; around the time that he saw Miller’s second tweet, his editor in the press box told him to go downstairs and interview the fan who caught the foul balls. (Did that make any sense?) Technology is grand.

While Zaleon was conducting the interview, someone else approached me with a digital voice recorder. It was a guy named Craig Heist from WTOP, a huge radio station based in Washington, D.C. Zaleon was not in any rush, so he stepped aside as Heist peppered me with a series of questions. Here I am talking to Heist (while being photographed by some fans):

Did I mention that it was insane? Whenever a left-handed batter stepped to the plate, Heist and Zaleon both followed me through he cross-aisle and over to the third base side. After five or ten minutes, I finished up with Heist, and Zaleon picked things up where we’d left off.

Here’s a two-part photo that shows me with Zaleon (on the left) and Heist (on the right):

After the interviews, I got more high-fives and congratulations (including some Twitter props from Heist himself), and more people wanted to take my picture:

Everyone who passed by had some comment for me, and every single comment was positive. People were genuinely happy for me and seemed glad to have witnessed the spectacle.

Meanwhile, there was an incredible baseball game taking place. Zach Britton and Jason Vargas each pitched nine shutout innings, and the game remained scoreless until the 12th. I was thrilled to have some extra frames to work with — anything to extend my opportunity to catch a fourth foul ball — but it wasn’t meant to be. The Mariners scored a run in the top of the 12th, and then the Orioles scored two in the bottom of the inning to win it. No other foul balls came anywhere near me.

After the final out, I got ignored by the Mariners relievers walking in from the bullpen…

…but that was understandable. Their team had just gotten swept by the Orioles, and in heartbreaking fashion no less.

As for me, I posed with the three foul balls at the dugout…

…and then celebrated in the concourse:

That’s Jona in the photo above. (Photo credit: Avi Miller.) And yes, she was fighting back laughter for whatever reason, probably because I’m the funniest guy ever.

Several hours later, Avi Zaleon’s story was up on MLB.com. Here’s a screen shot of the first part of it…

…and here’s the link to the whole thing. Be sure to watch the video, and hey, did you notice that MLB.com described me as a “young fan”? Tee-hee!

In addition to MLB.com, my foul ball catches have been featured on SI.com and mentioned on baltimoresun.com and dissed on nbcsports.com. I’ve learned that no matter what I do, some folks are going to love it, and others are going to hate it. I just try to have fun with it and help other people do the same.

I’ve also done two radio interviews in the past 24 hours, including one that was set up by the young man pictured with me here and here. His name is Sam. We’ve crossed paths at numerous Orioles games. He works at a radio station, and quite simply, he made it happen. There’s other stuff in the works too, and I’ll blog/tweet about any new developments. Right now as I’m typing this, it’s 6:32am and birds are chirping outside my window. That’s a sign that I need to go to bed.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 8 balls at this game (seven pictured here because I gave one away)

• 259 balls in 30 games this season = 8.63 balls per game.

• 691 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 217 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 147 lifetime games balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd; 131 foul balls, 15 home runs, and 1 ground-rule double)

• 18th time snagging two or more game balls in one game

• 4,921 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(As the article on MLB.com mentioned, I’m raising money 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.)

• 43 donors

• $6.62 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $52.96 raised at this game

• $1,714.58 raised this season

13 comments

  1. JotaEse

    Zack,

    Not sure if you know but on MLB Network, I believe on The Rundown, they also did a feature on your snags from this game.

  2. joeyorr4

    Once again you do something amazing. You probably noticed this but I’m surprised that you didn’t mention that Craig tweeted your name as “Zach”.

  3. Dylan

    Zack,
    I snagged my first ball ever last night at The Ballpark from Neftali Feliz. It is all rubbed up with mud and there is a small gash in the logo.

  4. Zack Hample

    EVERYONE-
    Sorry for not answering comments for a while. As you can imagine, things have been NUTS, and I simply haven’t had time, but I’m not going to any games this weekend, so I’m hoping to catch up. I have a lot of unanswered emails too, some going back as far as May 4th. Sorry for that as well. And Twitter replies. And so on. I’m doing my best to answer everyone, but it’s not easy, and sometimes I need a week or two.

    LEIGH-
    Thanks! Had you heard about it before I blogged about it?

    JOTAESE-
    Whoa! No, I had no idea. Thanks for letting me know. Now I have to see if I can track down that footage.

    JOEYORR4-
    Yeah, I noticed the misspelling. It’s terrible. Just terrible. But I forgive him since he was nice enough to interview me.

    DYLAN-
    Congrats! It sounds like a really cool-looking ball.

  5. Rich Hauck

    Boy, next time I’ll have to get a picture with you instead of just learning how to properly pronounce a bookstore’s name ;)

  6. Drew

    Saw all this on MLB Network yesterday and then on MLB.com, thats AWESOME all the media coverage you got. BTW got some real haters on NBC site, I thought it was funny how lame they looked calling you lame. Great Job man, Congrats

  7. Matt H

    Great job, Zack. Good to see 99% of the reactions were positive. I love how the NBC Sports article screwed up your name. Very amateurish lol.

  8. Michael

    Congrats Zack. That would be a dream and a nightmare for me, I’d love getting the balls but would hate the attention. If I ever do something awesome enough that it gets publicity, I’m staying the hell off the internet for a week.

  9. Mateo Ficher

    Ah yes. First congratulations. But also I would like to tell (write?) you that I found this out from my pitching coach as he said “Did you know that guy caught three foul balls last night? They were showing it on SportsCenter.” I actually thought he was joking when I couldn’t access the blog but Eureka! Here it is.

  10. Wayne

    Sucks they got to bag on you like that man. Just more comments of any baseballs caught belong to kids.

    I assume that will never change.

  11. Todd

    It was great seeing you and Jona at this game. Big thanks for getting that picture of Jason Phillips with my camera. Great thinking, man! Hopefully our paths will cross again a time or two or three more this season. Until we see you again, keep up the great work. Its been a hoot reading all of the entries this season. And congrats on all of those foul balls at this game! I am gonna have to visit “The Tunnel” sometime!
    -Todd

  12. Zack Hample

    RICH-
    Ha. It was nice running into you, and yes, next time, let’s definitely get a photo.

    DREW-
    I don’t worry about the haters anymore. I used to, but now I don’t read comments (good or bad) on any site except my own blog. The only comments I take seriously are the ones that people write directly to me after reading my content.

    MATT H-
    Thanks, and as for the name thing, all I can do at this point is roll my eyes.

    MICHAEL-
    Sometimes, believe it or not, I could do without all the attention, but at the end of the day, I’m a freelance writer who’s trying to get the word out about my new book, so I have to run with it and embrace all the interviews.

    MATEO-
    That’s awesome. And thank you.

    WAYNE-
    Yeah, blah blah.

    TODD-
    You’re welcome, and as for the tunnel, perhaps we should name it the “Tunnel of Love”?

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