Four days after spraining my ankle, I was still on crutches:
My ankle was (and still is) in such bad shape that I was nervous about attending this game — and if the MLB Network didn’t need me to be at Yankee Stadium, I would’ve stayed home. As I mentioned on Twitter several days ago, a crew from the Network came to my apartment to film me for a promotional segment sponsored by Sprint. At the end of this entry, I’m going to share some behind-the-scenes photos from that shoot, but for now, just know that (a) the segment had many parts and (b) some of those parts required me to attend this game.
This wasn’t just any game. It was a Yankees-Red Sox game with first place on the line. Naturally I was nervous about my consecutive games streak — just how much snagging would I be able to accomplish in such a crowded stadium? — so I decided to use my handicap to my advantage. Not only did I make sure that the players could see my crutches, but I asked my good friend George Amores to teach me an accompanying line in Spanish. Here’s what he came up with:
“Una pelota, por favor. Estoy dolorido y no puedo caminar.”
The translation is: “A baseball, please. I am injured, and I can’t walk.” And it worked. When I first hobbled into the stadium and made my way out to the right field seats, I got Bartolo Colon’s attention and unleashed my Spanish. Almost immediately, he turned and tossed a ball to me. Unfortunately, though, I was in the 4th row, and the ball fell a bit short.
“Don’t touch it!! Don’t touch it!!” shouted my friend Ben Weil at the only other fan in the section. That fan was going to retrieve the ball for me in the front row, and Ben knew my rule: if a ball enters another fan’s possession, it can not count in my collection. Period. No exceptions. Sprained ankles mean nothing. A rule is a rule. But the other fan didn’t hear Ben, or perhaps he simply didn’t understand, so he picked up the ball and tossed it to me. That was incredibly disappointing. The ball, for my purposes, was now essentially a piece of garbage, and I gave it to a kid soon after. (The kid didn’t know the difference and was thrilled beyond belief.)
Thankfully, Ivan Nova hadn’t seen the other fan toss me that ball, so when I moved down to the corner spot near the bullpen, he entertained the notion of giving me another. What does that mean? Well, when he walked near me to retrieve a ball from the warning track, he held it up and asked if I wanted it.
“Yes, I would love to have it,” I replied eagerly, somewhat surprised that he spoke English so well.
“Will it make you happy?” he asked.
“Very happy!” I said, starting to think that he was messing with me. But then he tossed it up. I thanked him, and when I looked at the ball, I could NOT believe my eyes. Check it out:
Sweet Jeeeezus! After two months, I finally had an “Angels 50th Anniversary” commemorative ball, and it was pretty much in perfect condition. Yes, of course! The Yankees had just played the Angels in Los Angeles of Anaheim. They must’ve brought some of these spacial balls back to New York. How awesome is that?
Moments later, Mark Teixiera launched a ball that I quickly determined was going to land several rows back, so I hopped up several steps (on my good leg) and moved about 10 feet through the 3rd row. The ball landed between two seats and got wedged in the padding under the armrest. I hopped closer and snatched it just ahead of two other guys who were closing in on me — and it was another commemorative ball! Hell yeah.
Jona attended this game with me, and for reasons I won’t get into, she didn’t get inside the stadium until the Yankees were wrapping up their portion of batting practice. That said, she snapped some pics of me just after I changed into my Red Sox gear and began schlepping to the left field side. (Yes. Red Sox gear. Forgive me, Yankee fans. I know how you feel about the Sox, but to me they’re just another team, and I just wanted to snag an extra ball or two. If you want to give me crap about my choice of clothes, then give me crap for wearing a Manny Ramirez T-shirt. And I’ll agree with you. But hey, I got the shirt before all the steroid stuff came out, and I’m too cheap/lazy to buy a new one. Okay? Anyway…) Here I am heading up some steps:
(Kindly disregard the crack sweat. Thank you.)
Here I am hurrying (as best I could) through the (way-too-narrow) center field concourse:
Here I am heading down some steps…
…and here I am easing into the front row:
It took a mighty effort to get there, and even though I could’ve stood in that spot without crutches, I decided to use them to garner sympathy:
Hang on, it gets better:
The crutches weren’t helping — all the Red Sox players seemed to be in their own little world — so I focused on getting Dan Wheeler’s attention. He’s one of the few players who knows about my baseball collection AND still tosses baseballs to me. I got to know him back in 2003 when he was on the Mets, and he’s been really friendly ever since. Every time he sees me in the stands, he comes over to say hello, and yesterday was no exception. Here he is (on the warning track) talking to me:
“What’s the total up to?” he asked.
“Five thousand and fifty,” I said, including the two I’d just gotten from the Yankees.
He raised his eyebrows and gave a nod as if to say, “Damn.”
I told him that I’d brought a copy of my new book for him.
“I can just mail it to you,” I said, “if that’d be easier.”
“Yeah, it actually would be,” he said before thanking me.
He’s such a nice guy. I hope he gets his ERA down into the land of respectability (it’s 7.31 at the moment) and gets his option picked up next season.
At around 5:50pm, the corner spot near the Red Sox bullpen opened up, so I moved over there:
In the photo above, do you see the player who’s walking to the left? There are four guys standing just past him. He’s behind the guy on the left. (Are you with me? Good.) That was Jonathan Papelbon, and he was heading slowly toward a ball that was sitting on the warning track in front of the bullpen.
“Jonathan,” I called out. “I’m a total gimp right now and can’t walk. Any chance you could give me a little help and toss that ball up this way?”
“Jonathan,” I continued, “I have seriously always wanted to get a baseball from you. No joke. If you knew how happy it would make me, you wouldn’t even know what to say.”
Once again, no response.
He picked up the ball, looked at me with a facial expression that bordered on indifference/disgust, and tossed it my way.
“Thank you SO much!” I said. “I truly appreciate it.”
He responded with a subtle nod, and that was the end of it. For the record, though, I really did want a ball from him, and I’m glad to finally have his name on this list.
I’m pretty sure that Dan Wheeler saw the whole thing play out, but that didn’t stop him from tossing me a ball two minutes later. In the following photo, the arrow is pointing at him, and you can see the ball inside red circle:
Soon after, David Ortiz hit a deep fly ball that was heading right at me. I wasn’t sure at first if it had home-run distance, but I could tell that it was at least going to reach the warning track. Ground-rule double? That was my first thought, but as the ball kept carrying, I realized that I might have a chance to catch it on the fly. At the very last second, I planted off my good leg and jumped/lunged over the wall. Then, while balancing atop the railing on my chiseled abs (umm, stomach), I reached as far out/down as possible with my left hand and made the catch. It was 90 percent luck and 10 percent skill, but it still felt good.
After BP, I caught up with a gentleman named Eddie, whom I’d met on 6/2/11 at Citi Field. Yesterday, he snagged a few baseballs and asked me to sign one for his nine-year-old son, Nolan. Here he is holding it up after I defaced it:
Here I am holding my five baseballs:
Soon after the photo above was taken (by Ben), I unwrapped my foot to see how the bruise was doing:
When the crew from the MLB Network was at my apartment the other day, one thing they had me do was read a short script with some lines about America and baseball. I’ll show you the script at the end of this entry, but anyway, my voice was recorded and used during a video montage that played at the beginning of the telecast of THIS game. The following four-part photo shows how it looked on TV:
In case you can’t tell (or didn’t know that I have a shaved head), that’s me in the photo above marked No. 4. I was lying on a bunch of baseballs on my living room floor and (very awkwardly) looked up at the camera to deliver the second-to-last line of the script: “This is baseball.” I really wanted to wear my MLB cap, but was told at the last minute that I couldn’t. (Let’s just say it had to do with logos and sponsors and all that good stuff.)
No, my foot wasn’t there for the whole game. It was only there for as long as it took to get that photo. (It would’ve actually been nice to leave it there because I’m supposed to keep it elevated, and by the time I got home, it was mad swollen.)
This was the view to my left…
…and this was my view of the muscliest guy I’ve ever seen at a baseball game — or ever, for that matter:
By the end of the 1st inning, Jona and I were joined by two folks from MLB — and their two guests. One MLB guy, nicknamed “Kope,” told me that he works in advertising and handles sponsors. The other guy, Nick Stevens, is the one who’d interviewed me at my apartment. Talk about awesome jobs — he’s getting paid to travel the country and go to baseball games and interview other folks (like me) who’ve won the Sprint All Together Fan contest.
Here’s a photo of Nick with a bag of peanuts that he’d picked up earlier in the day:
Kope had told me that Jona and I could eat whatever we wanted, and that MLB would pay for it. (Thanks, MLB!) Jona wasted her calories on peanuts, french fries, and a (tee-hee!) veggie burger. As it turned out, I wasted mine too because the food just wasn’t very good. There was a $9 chicken caesar salad (which could’ve used three times as much dressing), a $12 burger (which was high-school-cafeteria-esque), a $5 pretzel (which was completely dry and stale), and a $4 chocolate chip cookie (which, in all fairness, wasn’t bad). Have a look:
I was told that at some point in the 4th or 5th inning, one of the cameras would be getting a live shot of me and Nick in the stands. It was a bit nerve-wracking because I didn’t know when or where it was happening, so I had to make sure to be in my seat and to stay on guard and, you know, not to pick my nose or anything. I thought it’d be cool for the camera (wherever it was) to get a shot of my five baseballs, so I held them up for a solid half-hour. This was the result:
It was during the bottom of the 4th that Matt Vasgersian, the evening’s play-by-play guy for the MLB Network, talked about me. After Nick Swisher led off with a single, Vasgersian said, “The voice you heard coming back from commercial, that of our Sprint All Together favorite — and that’s Zack Hample, wearing the ‘Baseball is Life’ shirt…Sprint gave him the chance to read tonight’s opening. Who will read next week? Let’s all decide together and vote at MLB.com/SprintFans. Zack’s an interesting character. He’s been collecting baseballs since he was twelve years old, and ever since catching his first foul ball at Shea Stadium as a twelve-year-old, he’s been hooked. To date — gonna make sure I’m reading this right — he’s collected over five thousand baseballs. And his goal is to amass ten thousand. He has taken this pursuit so far, David [Cone], as to learn foreign languages so he can try to coax batting practice baseballs away from players who might speak Papiamentu, as Andruw Jones does, or Spanish, as Robinson Cano does. He’s increasing his skill set to try to negotiate for BP balls. Use your powers for good, young man! Oh-and-two the count to Andruw Jones. Swisher the runner at first…”
USE MY POWERS FOR GOOD?!?! HOW ABOUT THE FACT THAT I’VE RAISED MORE THAN $16,000 FOR CHARITY BY SNAGGING ALL THESE BASEBALLS?!?! AND COME ON, I DON’T EVEN SPEAK PAPIAMENTU!!!
Umm, I mean, thank you, MLB. It was very nice to be on TV.
At the end of the 4th inning, my name appeared one more time:
Then, during the commercial break, there was a one-minute segment during which Nick introduced me on the street and quizzed two fans about their baseball knowledge. Here are a few screen shots:
Late in the game (which the Red Sox won, 6-4), I asked someone to take a photo of the six of us. In the photo below, pictured from left to right, you’re looking at Kope’s friend Todd, Kope, Jona, me, Nick, and Nick’s friend Gabe:
We took such a nice, peaceful photograph, unlike the fans pictured below:
The security guards weren’t too happy about that woman sitting on the railing, although the on-field cop seems to have enjoyed the view.
That was it. Good times in the Bronx. BIG thanks to Ben for giving me and Jona rides to and from the stadium. I don’t know what I would’ve done without him. (Wait, yes I do. I would’ve spent about $80 on taxis, and I wouldn’t have gotten to listen to any Avril Lavigne.)
Keep reading past the stats (and past the black light photo) to see what took place behind the scenes with the MLB Network…
• 391 balls in 46 games this season = 8.5 balls per game.
• 707 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 521 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 148 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball
• 5,053 total balls
(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.)
• 52 donors
• $6.94 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $34.70 raised at this game
• $2,713.54 raised this season
Ready for the black light comparison? (Click here if you have no idea what I’m talking about.) All five baseballs have invisible ink stamps:
Anyway, here are the much-hyped photos from my five hours at home with the MLB Network. In the first one, I was NOT happy to be on crutches:
I had just sprained my ankle the day before, and it was still hurting like hell. In the photo above, the woman kneeling next to the baseballs is Sadye (pronounced “Sadie”) Zillo. She’s married to Jason Zillo, the director of media relations for the Yankees, and she was producing this segment. The guy in the blue shirt, Dominic, was the camera man, and the guy in the orange shirt, Paul, was in charge of the audio. And yes, that’s my 231-pound rubber band ball in the background.
Most of my baseballs are at my mom’s place. I told the crew that we could head over there, but they specifically wanted to film me at *my* place, which meant that we only had about 600 balls to work with. Sadye and the guys dumped them out (with my permission) on my living room rug and experimented with different poses and camera angles to prepare for the interview:
Nick was on his way from St. Louis, so we had a little time to kill. We used it to get other shots done. Here I am (after being told that I couldn’t wear a cap) getting miked up before reading the script:
Here’s the script:
I didn’t write it. I was simply told to read it. I did it twice. Sadye told me to pause after each line. That way it’d be easier to edit. Then I was told to read the whole thing again, “slower and with more passion.”
Even though I’ve been interviewed a lot in the past, it never gets old, and I always have fun doing stuff like this.
Next up, I was filmed shouting requests for baseballs in different languages — Spanish, French, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, and (for the hell of it) Ukrainian. Sadye asked me to cup my hands around my mouth. Here she is showing me exactly how she wanted it done:
After that, she told me that she wanted to get a shot of all three of my books. I had copies of How to Snag Major League Baseballs and Watching Baseball Smarter, but incredibly, I didn’t have a single copy of The Baseball. (This is the result of my giving away too many freebies. Buy the book, people! Support the cause. I worked on it for a year and a half, and it only costs $14.95. Come on. See one less crappy Hollywood movie this year, or drink one less beer at Yankee Stadium, and buy my book instead. Please?) I called my mom (who happens to own the best book store in the world). I told her that I *needed* my new book, and when I explained why, she raced over with two copies. (She was at her place, which is only six blocks away from mine, so it wasn’t a major hassle, but I still greatly appreciate her efforts.) And then Dominic was able to get a shot of the book lying on top of the baseballs:
Nick arrived at around 1pm and promptly got down with the balls:
He and I then did the “formal” part of the interview (sitting in the baseballs and pillows), and then we all headed up to the roofdeck:
In the photo above, do you see those wooden benches off in the distance on the left-hand side? Well, after moving a few of them in order to recreate a miniature bleacher section, I gave Nick a brief tutorial on switching seats and improving his positioning in the stands. It was totally cheesy, but hopefully in a fun way. You can decide for yourself by watching the segment here.
Finally, we all headed downstairs and filmed a quick segment on the street. Here I am with Nick right after we finished:
And that’s it!
Now, if only my stupid ankle would get better…