5/13/11 at Nationals Park

As you might already know, I caught three foul balls during the game on 5/12/11 at Camden Yards. The following day, while standing outside the center field gate at Nationals Park, I was interviewed about it (via telephone) by a radio station in Baltimore. Here’s a photo of me that was taken during the interview:

Jona was with me once again — that’s her green bag above — and as usual, she did a masterful job of documenting everything.

When the stadium opened at 4:30pm, I ran to the right field seats, and when batting practice got underway ten minutes later, I got Matt Stairs to throw me my 1st ball of the day. Here’s a photo of that ball streaking toward my glove:

Not surprisingly, it was one of those cheap, plasticky, made-in-China training balls:

The Nationals have been using these balls for years. I really don’t care for them, but still wanted to snag as many as possible.

Livan Hernandez, always generous when it comes to tossing balls into the crowd, threw me my 2nd of the day. Here I am giving him a target:

Jason Marquis tossed me ball No. 3, and five minutes later, I got another from Nationals coach Bo Porter.

There were empty seats all around me. I was ready to run and jump and catch home runs, but the only ball I jumped for was thrown by Roger Bernadina. Here I am (just below the “Red Porch” sign) making the grab:

Toward the end of the Nationals’ portion of BP, I chased down a Matt Stairs homer that landed in an empty row. That was my 6th ball of the day, and as it turned out, it was the only one that I snagged directly off the bat. I don’t know what was going on — perhaps the fact that it was Friday the 13th had something to do with it — but very few homers landed anywhere near me.

Wilson Ramos tossed me my 7th ball — a home run to right-center that had bounced back onto the field.

The Nationals finished hitting at 5:15pm, so there was an unexpected 15-minute lull before the Marlins started taking their cuts. During that time, I got a groundskeeper to throw me a ball that the Nats had abandoned on the right-field warning track.

Then I threw on my Marlins cap, headed over to the left field seats, and caught up with my friend Ben Weil:

Ben is from Queens, but it was no accident that we ran into each other in D.C. I’d told him a week earlier that I was planning to be here, so he took a bus down from New York, and we ended up driving home together.

We didn’t talk long because there were baseballs to be snagged. I put on my Marlins shirt (you’ll see that it’s the same color as the hat) and got Leo Nunez to throw me my 9th ball of the day. Nunez was in deep left field. I was in the first row behind the Marlins’ bullpen and had to reach down over the railing to catch it. In the following two-part photo, the red arrow on the left is pointing to the ball, and the pic on the right shows how far I reached:

For my next ball, I reached even farther over a railing along the left field foul line. It was thrown by Anibal Sanchez. Check it out:

My 11th ball of the day was much easier. It was tossed up from the left field corner by Ryan Webb. You can’t see him in the following photo, but you can see the ball floating toward my glove:

I headed back to right field and got two more balls thrown to me. (Yes, I know, toss-ups are easy, but hell, there weren’t many home runs, so what was I supposed to do?) The first came from Burke Badenhop, and it was really beat up. Here are three photos of it:

The second of my two right-field toss-ups came from Michael Dunn. He flipped it up without looking, and it sailed over my head into the empty seats behind me. Jona was still in left field at the time and took the following photo while the ball was in mid-air:

In the photo above, I didn’t draw an arrow for myself because I’m pretty easy to spot in that ridiculous aqua (or is it teal?) outfit. As you can see, I was in the process of climbing over a row of seats. Meanwhile, none of the other fans were making any attempt to snag the ball.

Soon after, I noticed that there was a ball in the gap behind the outfield wall:

Here’s a photo (taken by Jona from afar) that shows me snagging it with the glove trick:

That was my 14th ball. I’d started the day with 85 lifetime balls at Nationals Park, so my next one was going to be No. 100. Unfortunately, though, that was it for batting practice; the Marlins cleared the field at 6:05pm, approximately 15 minutes early, so I raced back to the left field side and peeked into the bullpen. Ha-HAAA!!! There were two baseballs sitting out in the open, and though neither one was in a good spot for the glove trick, I figured I’d at least get one tossed up to me. Ten minutes later, Marlins pitching coach Randy St. Claire made a slow walk from the 3rd base dugout to the bullpen. Not good. When it comes to tossing balls into the crowd, St. Claire is essentially the opposite of Livan Hernandez; no matter how nicely you ask him, and no matter what kind of team gear you’re wearing, he simply doesn’t give balls away. At least that’s been my experience with him. Over the years, he has had at least a dozen opportunities to toss me balls, often in situations when I was the only fan in the section, but he never even looked up at me or acknowledged my existence. (If the Hample Jinx worked on pitching coaches, he would’ve been a recipient long ago.) So yeah, that’s what I was contemplating as he strolled into the bullpen at Nationals Park.

Speaking of Livan Hernandez, do you remember the photo of me giving him a target? Well, as St. Claire retrieved the first ball below me, I gave the same target and made such a polite request that I was almost ashamed of myself. I said, “Excuse me, Mister Saint Claire, is there any chance that you could possibly spare one of those baseballs, please?” St. Claire looked up with an expression that can only be described as a sneer. Then he flung the ball at me so abruptly (and with such piss-poor aim) that I had to lunge over the railing and nearly got handcuffed by it. Check out the following two-part photo, and you’ll see what I mean:

Thankfully I was able to catch the ball, but man, is that bizarre or what? Has anyone ever had a positive interaction with him? Am I missing something or being too critical? I’m fascinated by human behavior, and St. Claire would certainly make an interesting case study.

Check out the following closeup of the ball:

I wrote “4936” on it because it was the 4,936th major league ball that I’d ever snagged (training balls included). But forget that. I photographed this ball because of the unusual grass-and-dirt streaks.

I had some time to kill at that point, so I spent a few minutes examining all my baseballs. I picked out the two newest official balls and stuck them in a separate compartment in my backpack. My plan was to give them away (to kids with gloves!) by the end of the night. This is an important detail, so keep it in mind.

Just after the singing of the national anthem, Hanley Ramirez tossed me his warm-up ball on the 3rd base side. No big deal, right? Well, after the 2nd inning, Mike Stanton tossed me a 3rd-out ball at the Marlins’ dugout, and guess what happened? Ramirez recognized me and got upset. Here are a few details, along with some photographic evidence…

First, for the record, Danny Espinosa lined out to Stanton to end the 2nd inning. Second, because it’s relevant, there was not a single kid with a glove in my entire section. I don’t know where all the kids were. It was a Friday night. It’s not like they were gonna have to wake up early the next day and go to school, but whatever. The point is, there was no competition, so I strolled down the steps to the front row and got Stanton to toss me the ball. Here’s a photo of it sailing toward me:

I didn’t draw arrows in the photo above because there’s already too much visual clutter, but I think you can see what’s happening. I’m standing in the front row with the aqua/teal cap. Of the four players entering the dugout, Stanton is on the right, and his right arm is up because he had just tossed the ball. The ball can be seen against the dark green background above the center field wall. (Are you with me? Good. I still have to point out two more things.) Of the four players, Ramirez is second from the left. See him? He’s touching his cap. Now, do you see the kid standing behind me in the off-white hat? He has both hands up in the air. Well, as soon as I caught the ball, Ramirez took off his cap and flung out his arms…

…and shouted, “How many?!”

I’m not quite sure what the kid was doing in the photo above — using the railing as a percussion instrument? — but anyway, I told Ramirez that I was going to give a ball away.

(Time out. Let me get this straight. Ramirez is allowed to make $11 million dollars this year, and no one will question that, but God forbid I snag more than one baseball at a game. Right?) 

What did Ramirez do next? He gave me a skeptical look and put his hands on his hips and stood at the top step of the dugout. He was waiting to make sure that I kept my word, and I was going to give a ball away, but not THAT ball. I really wanted to keep the ball from Stanton. Not only was it game-used, but I’d been a huge fan of Stanton since I caught his 2nd career home run on 6/28/10 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. I held up my right index finger as if to say “hold on.” Ramirez, meanwhile, kept standing there and watching me as I hurried back to the 6th row, where Jona was sitting with my backpack. I pulled out one of the two baseballs and held it up for him. He pointed to the kid in the off-white hat, so that’s who I gave it to. Ramirez then gave me a subtle nod of approval and disappeared into the dugout.

Here’s a photo of the kid and his father with the ball:

Ready for another unusual snagging incident?

With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, I took the following photo of Burke Badenhop delivering a pitch to Ian Desmond:

Desmond swung at that very pitch and hit a little tapper that bounced up at the plate. Marlins catcher John Buck jumped out of his crouch and grabbed it and tagged Desmond and jogged back to the dugout with it. Home plate umpire Paul Nauert made the “out” call, and Desmond argued. I hurried down a few steps, camera in hand, and barely managed to get Buck’s attention from the 3rd row by waving my arms. The whole thing happened so fast (and there was so much stuff happening) that none of the other fans stood up or asked for the ball. Buck tossed it to me, and then Nauert reversed his decision, so Buck had to head back out onto the field, and the inning continued. (What?!) The whole situation was weird, and I’m still not even sure what happened, but I ended up getting my 18th ball of the day out of it, so, you know, yay.

Here’s a photo of that ball. The big dirt mark/scuff obviously got there when Desmond pounded it into the ground:

The game lasted 11 innings.

The Marlins won, 6-5.

But that’s not the end of the story…

After the final out, I worked my way down to the front row behind the dugout and asked Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez for the lineup cards:

Rodriguez had given me these lineup cards on 4/15/11 at Citizens Bank Park, so if anything, I was hoping to get something like that.

Well, when I asked Rodriguez, he didn’t say anything. He simply glanced up at me, and when he looked back down, it appeared that his eyes were darting back and forth, as if he were scanning the dugout. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but figured it was a good sign. Somehow, I got the sense that he was looking for something for me, but what could it have been? Managers normally keep the lineup cards in their back pockets, so I really had no idea what was going on. As it turned out, Rodriguez was busy peeling the *BIG* lineup card off the wall for me, and when he poked his head back out and slid it to me across the dugout roof, I was both thrilled and stunned. Check out my reaction:

I’ve gotten lots of lineup cards over the years, but I’d never gotten one like this. It was the Rolls Royce of lineup cards. It was an elusive thing of beauty, and I was very very VERY happy:

Here’s a closer look at it.

Ben came over and found me in the concourse, and we looked it over:

In the photo above, did you notice the ball in my right hand? That was the other ball that I’d been planning to give away, and after hanging out in the concourse for a few minutes, I found a worthy recipient. The following four-part photo shows me (1) placing the ball in a kid’s glove, (2) talking to him and his very appreciative family, (3) holding up my hand, and (4) getting a high-five:

Then, with Ben’s help, I took a moment to fix the tape on the lineup card:

I could’ve peeled off the tape, and eventually I did, but at the time I wanted to see if I could keep it intact.

Then we made the four-hour drive back to New York City.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 18 balls at this game (16 pictured here because I gave 2 away)

• 277 balls in 31 games this season = 8.9 balls per game.

• 692 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 218 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 145 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 6 stadiums with at least 100 balls

• 4,939 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 get involved.)

• 43 donors

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

• $119.16 raised at this game

• $1,833.74 raised this season

30 comments

  1. Big Glove Bob

    I have a line-up card like that from a Twins-Brewers game in 2009. I had to buy it though. It was a special game for me and it was only $25 so I bought it.

    It is great to be a baseball fan up here in Minnesota, usually I would have to drive 3 and a half hours to Des Moines to watch AAA ball. but, this year we have it right here at Target Field.

    BTW what is a “glove grick”? Your blogs are interesting as always. Congrats on the 3 balls. What trips are upcoming?

    BGB

  2. Zack Hample

    You know, you don’t HAVE to point out my typos for everyone to see. You could email me privately about them, but I forgive you because your “AAA” comment cracked me up. I’m heading to Toronto in 10 days for the White Sox Series. Might snag my 5,000th ball there. Not sure yet. Depends on what happens in New York this week, and the weather is unfortunately supposed to suck.

  3. Leigh

    Come on Zack. You should give Hanley a break! He doesn’t know who you are or what you do? All he knew is what he saw. You getting a ball with that kid standing behind you (I know you probably didn’t see that kid, but that picture doesn’t make u look good, you know?), and him knowing that he already gave you a ball. So, I can understand his reaction. I also don’t question his making $11 million a year because he has a contract and he works for it. Think about it. Just a thought….Nice game though. Lots of snags.

  4. Big Glove Bob

    Zack, I couldn’t resist the chance to bust your chops. I can honestly say it is the first typo I have ever come across in your blog and I have read them all.

    When Hanley asked “How many?” you should have replied “just shy of 5,000” and walked back to your seat.

  5. Zack Hample

    LEIGH-
    Don’t get all “Deadspin” on me by looking for a negative angle when there clearly isn’t one. I saw the kid there, and he ended up getting a baseball. Case closed.

    BIG GLOVE BOB-
    Nice.

  6. Michael

    Great blog as always. The only thing I wish would would do more (and this is a VERY minor criticism), is take more random stadium photos. It seems like you did a lot more of this in past years. You have an eye for things that most people would miss. Again, very minor, but otherwise, awesome job!

    One more thing, I’m a big Reds fan and I’m going to Cleveland for a game this upcoming weekend. How’s the snagging scene at Progressive Field?

  7. Zack Hample

    MICHAEL-
    Take it up with Jona. She has become my official photographer. But no…really, I appreciate the criticism. When I travel to a bunch of stadiums later this summer, I’ll take more random photos. I just don’t have the motivation or time to take zillions of photos of ballparks that I’ve been to a lot recently, you know?

  8. Matt

    Snagging a bunch of plastic baseballs isn’t quite as exciting as what happened a year ago on that date. (Two game home run balls in one game…remember?) But hey, I’m not here to be negative. Awesome lineup card! (Is that better?) Also, keeping you up to date on the tickets I won from Heath, I had asked him if there was anyway I could get the tickets to an away game on the East coast. (As awesome as going to San Diego would of been I got to thinking that it was stupid to fly out there for a game and then fly right back.) So Heath, being the AWESOME guy that he is, said that if I let him know a week ahead of time he should be able to make the away game tickets happen. So if all works out, I’ll be at the Padres game vs. the Pirates on August 5th. And if all works with your plans we’ll finally get to meet. (I might be at the game vs. the Cubs the day before, but that’s not confirmed.) Also, I found this on ebay: http://cgi.ebay.com/Baseball-Scorekeeper-Zack-Hample-2011-Blank-Book-/220773836086?pt=US_Nonfiction_Book&hash=item3367256536
    Did you really write a blank book for keeping score in baseball that I don’t know about?
    -Matt

  9. Michael

    Thanks for the response. I hope to maybe see you in Cincinnati sometime this Summer. I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of years, and admire your passion and your work.

  10. Joe

    When you got Stanton’s ball there were “No kids in your section”? I see 4 kids in you picture, 3 holding up their hands for the ball. Come on man, stop making excuses for yourself.

  11. Zack Hample

    MATT-
    Heath Bell is the best. That’s all there is to it. As for the scorekeeping book, I simply wrote an introduction for it.

    MICHAEL-
    You’re welcome. I’m hopeful and confident that our paths will cross.

    JOE-
    If you’re going to quote me, at least quote me accurately. I said, “There was not a single kid with a glove in my entire section.” Anyway, I don’t need to make excuses because I did nothing wrong. I didn’t reach in front of anyone or deprive any kids of baseballs. I wasn’t even sitting there for most of the game, so the few gloveless kids that you see in the photo had plenty of other chances to get baseballs. Jeez. There are SO many baseballs to go around at every game, especially at Nationals Park. I really don’t think I should be criticized for catching a few here and there, but if you see it differently, so be it.

  12. RickyWeeks

    Time to get a new Marlins jersey Zack! How old is that Beckett jersey? 6 years old?

  13. Zack Hample

    JOE (who didn’t criticize me)-
    September 9th, I think.

    BEN-
    Yes. Yes, it is.

    CANADIAN BALLHAWK-
    I hope you don’t mean this year. :-)

    RICKY WEEKS-
    Aww, c’mon, that t-shirt is awesome. It shows I’ve been a fan for a really long time. (Heh.)

  14. TimB

    I agree with Joe’s comment. There are 3 young boys with their hands in the air begging for balls along with you, and you’re probably equal to all 3 of their ages combined. At what age will you stop ballhawking? It’s starting to get a little ridiculous.

    Just because they don’t have gloves doesn’t mean they don’t want balls. Maybe they don’t need gloves because they’re sitting so close and can just get players to underhand balls to them………..

  15. Matt

    Ridiculous???? You just wanted it more than the other kids. It’s not like you held a gun to Stanton’s head and said “Give me the ball or you die!” He could have tossed it to ANYONE he wanted. And it happened to be you. What’s so unfair about that? If they were ALL 30 year olds without gloves, no one would be complaining. But since its kids, I guess you need to just stay in your seat next time to make everyone happy? The complaining is ridiculous. Not the snagging.
    -Matt

  16. Leigh

    Not looking for a “negative angle”. Just defending Hanley’s reaction. Glad the kid did get “a” ball. He just didn’t get “that” ball. Perception my friend…perception. WTF is Deadspin by the way?

  17. Zack Hample

    MATT-
    Thanks.

    LEIGH-
    Deadspin is a huge sports “blog” that basically makes fun of everyone and everything. It’s popular because it goes for the low blow. Their writers have taken numerous cheap shots at me over the years, but have never bothered to write anything about my charitable efforts. It’s amazing how little media attention the charity gets. If I show one photograph of myself catching a ball when there’s a single kid anywhere near me, I’m a villain. Meanwhile, the last three years’ worth of my fundraising efforts have gone largely unnoticed. When I tried to talk about it on “The Tonight Show” two years, Conan cut me off and then made fun of me. I don’t mind being criticized, and I’m certainly used to getting dissed, but at some point, it’d be nice for the media to actually cover the full story. Wishful thinking, perhaps…

  18. KevinS

    Hey Zach! I’m upset right now because I was going to go to that NATS game, and I missed you. I’m going to a game at NATS Park on 5/28, so respond if you’re going to be in town. It would be wonderful to meet you. I’ve read your blog for about 2 years, and I can’t get enough of it. Thank You!

  19. Michael

    Not the same Michael as before but anyway… Us ballhawks need to stick together here, we get enough crap as is. Just last week an older lady about 65 or 70 recognized me at work from when I got 4 balls in a game earlier this year. She chewed me out AT WORK for not giving any away and told me I was too greedy. And at last nights Reds game a couple of Cubs fans got made because I got a ball and they didn’t see this young boy get any. Lil’ dude had already gotten 4 tossed to him.

    Sorry for the mini-rant, congrats on the big number Zack. Lookin’ forward to seeing you at GABP this summer. My offer still stands to give you a spare season ticket if you come on a day that’s included in my package.

  20. Whitesoxgm

    Just saw Heath bell giving away stuff at the ASG. And zack, your schedule says your going to us cellular september 8

  21. Zack Hample

    KEVIN S.-
    So sorry for the slow reply, but for some reason, I didn’t see your comment until now. Let me know when you’re gonna be back at Nats Park, and maybe we can meet up. Thanks for reading my blog. Glad you like it.

    MICHAEL-
    Damn, that’s rough. Sorry you’re getting all that abuse, and thanks for the ticket offer.

    ANDREW-
    Sweeeeeet!

    WHITESOXGM-
    Yup, still planning to be there on September 8th.

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