6/13/11 at Safeco Field

Normally, when I visit a stadium for the first time, I walk around the outside of it and take dozens of photos. Then, once I’m inside (and batting practice is done), I wander all over the place and take even more photos from every conceivable angle. That said, this wasn’t my first game at Safeco Field. I was here once before in 2002, but I didn’t remember much. I didn’t have a blog or even a digital camera at the time, so now that I was back, I wanted to document everything from scratch. Unfortunately, I’m still on crutches, so I couldn’t do anything except hobble into the stadium and yell for toss-ups.

Safeco opens two and a half hours early, but for the first 30 minutes, everyone is confined to the party deck in center field and the area behind the bullpens in left. Here’s what it looked like from the party deck:

Even though there were only a dozen fans waiting to get in the stadium at 4:40pm, the party deck filled up fast, and there simply wasn’t much action.

I headed over to the area behind the Mariners’ bullpen in left-center field. Here’s what it looked like back there:

Do you see the big support beam in the middle of the photo above? And do you see how there’s open space to the left of it (and to the right)? Well, that space was covered with a screen back in the day, so there was no chance to get baseballs there. But now? Heh. In the photo above, do you see the guy leaning on the bullpen railing? That’s Mariners bullpen coach Jaime Navarro. Two minutes after I took that photo, he walked over and tossed me a ball.

I made my way back to the party deck after that…

…and got Erik Bedard to throw me another ball. Here it is:

Moments after I photographed it, I handed it to a little Asian kid on my right who was calling out to the players so softly that *I* could barely hear him. I also gave him a few pointers on how to ask for baseballs.

“It’s okay to be loud,” I told him. “As long as you say ‘please’, it’s not rude. And hey, even though I gave you a ball,” I continued, “I still want you to try to catch another on your own, okay?”

The kid was stunned and didn’t know what to say. His mom, however, was excited and very thankful.

“He’s always wanted to get a ball,” she said, “and he always asks, ‘How come all the other kids them?'”

“Well, now he IS one of those kids,” I said.

When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:10pm, I began making my way back to the concourse via a narrow walkway on the center-field side of the party deck. Just as I was heading out, one of the Mariners hit a home run to dead center, and whaddaya know, the ball ended up on the grass just beside the walkway. I used my glove trick to reel it in and then took the following photo:

Two ushers on the party deck saw me using the glove trick, and they just smiled. If I didn’t have crutches, would they have hassled me? I don’t think so. I got the sense that everyone was friendly — just because. Thumbs-up to Seattle and the Mariners and Safeco Field.

The ball that I snagged with the glove trick had a huge grass stain, as well as another green mark on top of that. Check it out:

I slowly headed to the corner spot above the manual scoreboard in left field and got my 4th ball of the day from David Pauley. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but later figured it out by looking at all the Mariners’ head-shots online. (I used ESPN.com, which has much better photos than MLB.com. Look at the difference here and here.) (Dear people at MLB.com, my humble suggestion is to show players’ regular head-shots on their “bio” pages and then provide bonus links for action photos. Yes? Maybe next season, before the world ends?)

I made my way up to the area above the bullpens. Here’s what it looked like on the left…

…and on the right:

My main gripe about Safeco Field is that the left field seats only extend a few sections past the foul pole. Most home runs to left field, therefore, are uncatchable, but that really only affects me and a handful of hardcore ballhawks. From a general, non-ballhawking perspective, the stadium is gorgeous and brilliantly designed. I *love* that there are so many standing-room areas, and it kills me that more ballparks (ahem, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium) weren’t designed like this. The party deck in center field? Standing room. Anyone with any ticket can hang out there for as long as they want. Over the bullpens? Check. Behind the bullpens? Check. (Home run balls that land in the bullpens sometimes bounce back into the crowd, and the ones that don’t can be retrieved with glove tricks and other devices, so in a sense, every home run to left field CAN potentially be snagged.) There are probably other standing-room areas that I don’t even know about because I wasn’t able to wander, but whatever, I don’t need to see every inch of the stadium to determine that the Mariners got it right. Bravo to the entire organization. I hope they win the World Series. (That is, if the Padres don’t. Heath Bell for president!) And let’s not forget that this stadium has a retractable roof. Wow.

This was my view when the Angels started playing catch:

(I’m supposed to be icing my foot and elevating it as much as possible.)

I was hoping to snag a few of these commemorative balls from the Angels, but there weren’t any in use — not at least from what I saw. That was quite disappointing. But anyway, I used my glove trick to snag a ball from the gap near the left field foul pole. There were several kids nearby, one of whom asked to see it. I handed it to him and told him he could keep it. Then, several minutes later, I got Hisanori Takahashi to throw me my 6th ball of the day by asking for it in Japanese.

Toward the end of BP, when I was wishing that I were in right field, I went back to the area above the Angels’ bullpen. Here’s a photo of me. I’m the one in the red shirt:

I got Vernon Wells to throw me a ball, but it sailed four feet to my left, and I was too gimpy to take even ONE step to the side. All I could do was lean in that direction, and I still would’ve caught it if not for an old man who reached out bare-handed and inadvertently knocked it away. When he looked up at me and saw my crutches and my Angels shirt and realized that the ball had been intended for me, he apologized.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “You had as much of a right to try to catch it as I did.”

It took me 10 minutes (no exaggeration) to make it from the left field seats to the 3rd base dugout. I arrived just as BP was ending…

…and got Angels bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio (pictured above wearing No. 60) to throw me a ball.

I was SO sore at that point. You really have no idea. The heels of my hands are so tender right now (from grinding against the handles of my crutches) that it hurts too much to clap. It even hurts a little bit as I’m sitting here typing this because the heels of my hands are pressing against my laptop — just a little FYI.

After BP, I got a group photo with several Safeco Field regulars. Have a look, and then I’ll identify everyone:

The guy holding the copy of my book is Josh Boyd. (He’s the one who took the photo of me in the red shirt.) The woman on the left, Ginny, is his girlfriend. The guy on the right is Wayne Peck, and the young man in the purple cap is named Max Van Hollebeke. I’d heard from all these guys ahead of time, and we were all looking forward to meeting each other. It’s amazing how the previously disjointed world of ballhawking has become a community over the last few years (in large part because of MyGameBalls.com). I feel like I have friends in every stadium, even before I get there, and that’s simply amazing. Max had emailed me several days earlier with a whole bunch of info and strategies for Safeco Field. Wayne had been leaving (THE most positive and supportive) comments on this blog. And Max, of course, showed up with my book. Earlier in the day, I had met these guys outside the center field gate, and we kept crossing paths during BP. I tried to stay out of their way, they tried to stay out of mine, and in the end, we all went home (or in my case, back to a hotel) with baseballs.

Here’s my assessment of Safeco Field:

In case you’re new to this blog, I’m planning to visit all 30 stadiums this season; in the photo above, I’m holding that sign because this was my 10th stadium since Opening Day. (I’m a third of the way there, bay-beee!!)

This was my view during the game:

In the photo above, do you see the guy in the aqua-colored shirt sitting on the steps? That was the usher. It wasn’t hard to get down into the seats behind the dugout — I’d spent $44 on a ticket in section 142, and no one ever asked to see it — but it was impossible to get past the usher. That’s good/fair security. Let people go wherever the hell they want except the first few rows behind the dugout. Still, I managed to get a 3rd-out ball after the 3rd inning. Adam Kennedy flied out to center fielder Peter Bourjos to end the frame. Bourjos threw the ball to one of his teammates (possibly Torri Hunter) who then passed it on to Maicer Izturis…who flipped it to me from the warning track. The ball had lots of hang time as it floated toward me. I was sure someone else was gonna jump up and grab it, but no. Not ONE person stood up or even seemed to notice that there was a game-used baseball sailing toward them.

That was my 8th and final ball of the day, but it wasn’t the last thing that I snagged. After the final out of the Angels’ 6-3 victory, I hopped down to the front row behind the dugout. (Once the game is over, the ushers let people go everywhere.) Chad Fairchild, the home plate umpire, ignored my polite request for a ball. (The umps exit at the home plate end of the 3rd base dugout.) And then the Angels dissed me. When I asked the coaches for the lineup card, Mike Butcher said sarcastically, “Okay, we’ll get right on that!”

What a dick, I thought, but then 30 seconds later, someone from below reached up and placed a folded sheet of paper on the dugout roof. The female usher who was standing there saw the whole thing go down, so when I asked her for the paper, she gladly handed it to me. And then, for good measure, I got one of the ballboys to toss up a half-full packet of “Ranch!”-flavored sunflower seeds:

“WOO-HOO!!!” I yelled for the whole section to hear. “MAJOR LEAGUE SUNFLOWER SEEDS!!! YES!!! I WILL TREASURE THESE FOREVER!!!”

(What happened to David’s sunflower seeds?)

Several kids behind me were cracking up, so I kept going with my shtick. I asked every on-field employee for whatever they were carrying — bottled water, gum, Gatorade, cups, bats, towels, helmets, rakes, you name it. Not surprisingly, no one else gave me anything, but it was fun just to stand there and act like an idiot.

I caught up again with Josh, Ginny, Wayne, and Max and headed up the steps with them. Max accompanied me to the team store where I bought a new Mariners cap. (My old one looked like doodie.) Then we exited Safeco together, chatted for a few minutes, and called it a night.


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

• 415 balls in 51 games this season = 8.14 balls per game.

• 712 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 238 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5 consecutive games at which someone showed up with a copy of The Baseball

• 5,077 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)

• $55.52 raised at this game

• $2,880.10 raised this season

Finally, two of the six baseballs have distinctive invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side look at those balls in regular light versus black light:


  1. Matthew Hiett

    I had a similar experience with tickets in Cincinnati. Bought field level for 4 different games and not one person checked my ticket the entire series. Unless their success made them get strict, you can probably go cheap there.

    BTW, I see I can log-in via Facebook. I’m sure it’s a feature you always wanted on your blog lol.

  2. Matt Huddleston

    If some guy can create a museum dedicated to Nike shoes-http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=williams/110613_nike_shoezeum&sportCat=nba?ex_cid=espn-twttr, you NEED to make one dedicated to your baseball collection. I’d come see it. :-)


  3. Luke Van Hollebeke

    Hey Zach, my name is Luke Van Hollebeke, Max’s little brother. I am also on crutches due to a broken foot. I am going to the Mariner’s game on Wednesday. I know Max has already provided you with all the tricks of Safeco, so I would probably have no worth to you. But I am REALLY looking forward to seeing you, as I have read your books and blog. So when you see a skinny teenager with glasses hobbling toward you to say “hi”, that will be me on Wednesday.

  4. Tyler K

    I went to Safeco two weeks ago to see the Rays, the stadium is VERY fan friendly. I managed to get two balls by standing by the Left Field foul line near the bleachers.

  5. JonMadden

    I wish I could go to MLB stadiums more often. Seeing as i’m not able to live on my own, well, to sum it, it sucks. But Safeco field is REALLY underrated! Nice job- 8 is impressive for taking 10 minuets to move from left field to the dugouts.

  6. bskeldon

    Safeco is pretty cool isn’t it? I’ve never had a hard time when there. Don’t know if you know this but I notice that alot of balls go to straight center in that gap. The glove trick is useful to use in that area.

  7. Ben Wideman

    Another great post as usual. I’m a long time reader of the blog, though I rarely comment. We did meet very briefly a few years ago at Dodger Stadium. I wrote about it on my blog right here – http://theskyisbig.blogspot.com/2009/10/meet-zach-hample.html

    Anyway, I wanted to touch base to say I finally got my hands on your latest book and devoured it in a few sittings. It is really the ultimate baseball book, and it deserves all the praise it is getting. Thanks for writing it.

  8. Ben Mersereau

    Hey Zack I’ll be at today’s game with Max. I used to comment this blog under the name “Sportzfreeka” if that rings any bells. Looking forward to meeting you.

  9. JotaEse

    I don’t know how well you remember Great American Ballpark. We have three good standing room areas for games. One is decent for foul balls, but not as much for HRs (RF by the visitors dugout). Another is a party landing on the second level, which RARELY gets anything because it’s so far away.

    The third is straight away center under the power stacks, where in addition to the occasional home run you get to hang with superfan Chuck D. He’s the Reds fan in crazy get-up you see dancing/doing things on TWIB, MLB Network…really anywhere you see the Reds. When you come over you definitely need a picture with Chuck for the Blog.

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