6/15/11 at Safeco Field

This was my last game at Safeco, and I wasn’t the only fan on crutches:

In the photo above, that’s me in the middle wearing the white T-shirt and black jacket. See the guy giving the thumbs-up on the left? That’s Max Van Hollebeke, an 18-year-old ballhawk that you might remember from this photo on 6/13/11 at Safeco Field; the other fan on crutches is Max’s 13-year-old brother, Luke, and the girl on the right is their 11-year-old sister, Hannah. The fan wearing the red sweatshirt is Ben Mersereau (aka “sportzfreeka” to those of you who read the comments on this blog), and the guy wearing the light blue jeans is Wayne Peck. Wayne is almost always at Safeco Field, and Max is there quite a bit, but this was the first time that I’d met the others.

Within the first few minutes of batting practice, I got a ball from some kid in the Mariners’ bullpen. I was on the party deck in center field, and when I asked him for it, he walked over and handed it to me. Here’s a photo of the ball (upside down, just because) and the kid:

“Are you related to one of the players or coaches?” I asked him.

“I’m the pitching coach’s son,” he said.

It took me a moment to remember who the Mariners’ pitching coach is: Carl Willis. Very cool. Nice kid. I talked to him for a bit, and he gave baseballs to two other fans, including Hannah.

Five minutes later, rookie outfielder Greg Halman threw a ball toward me on the party deck. The ball sailed a bit too high, so I tried to jump for it off my one good foot. That failed. I only got about six inches off the ground, and the ball sailed a foot over my glove. Normally, I would’ve jumped and caught it easily, but in this case, all I could do was turn around and watch helplessly as a few other fans scrambled for it. Incredibly, the ball eluded all of them, ricocheted off some steps 10 feet behind me, and bounced slowly back in my direction — at which point I carefully bent down and picked it up.

After that, I slowly made my way to the area behind the bullpens. Here’s a photo of the awesome setup back there…

…and here’s another:

I *love* the fact that fans can get close to the bullpens at Safeco Field. I mean really close. This, in my opinion, is stadium design at its very best, and I wish more places were built like this.

When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:10pm, the area behind the bullpens cleared out. Most of the fans took off for other sections at that point, and just as I was also planning to leave, an opportunity presented itself. Someone on the Mariners hit a home run that barely cleared the wall in left-center field, landed on the concrete ramp (which you can kind of see in the photo above), and bounced up into the bullpen. The ball ended up very close to the ramp, so when I saw Jaime Navarro heading down that way, I called out to him and pointed at the ball and asked politely if he’d give it to me. He paused for a moment (while walking down the ramp), carefully reached through a space in the railing, grabbed the ball, and threw it to me.

My day was off to a good start, and I attempted to keep things going in right-center field. Of course, it took me five minutes to make it out there — who knows how many baseballs I missed during that time? — but once I arrived, I liked what I saw. This was my view to the right…

…and to the left:

Gap City!
Glove trick heaven!
Snagging paradise!

Max wandered out to that section and warned me that the on-field security guard is anti-glove trick — that whenever a ball lands in the gap, the guard hurries in there and literally runs through and tries to grab it as fast as possible. That was good to know, but as it turned out, it didn’t matter. There weren’t any baseballs that landed there. I stayed in the front row and got three players to throw me balls within a half-hour span. Aaron Laffey hooked me up with the first. Then, when the Angels took the field, I got one from Hisanori Takahashi (who threw it all the way from the warning track in center) and another from a player that I later identified as Bobby Cassevah. It helped that I’d changed into an old-school Angels cap and a bright red Angels shirt. You’ll see photos of this outfit in a bit.

I headed up the steps and hurried (as best I could) behind the batter’s eye. I stopped briefly to photograph the party deck from above…

…as well as the Mariners’ bullpen:

What an awesome stadium.

I’d started the day with a lifetime total of 5,090 baseballs. Now I had 5,096, and I set my sights on snagging four more.

I went to the left field seats and immediately sensed another opportunity. Ever seen a player taunt the fans by repeatedly tossing a ball into the air just beyond their reach? Well, that’s what someone was doing down below, just on the other side of the manual scoreboard. Because the wall/scoreboard is so tall, I couldn’t see the player. The only thing I saw was the ball rising and falling, five or maybe six feet feet out from my spot in the front row. And then…BINGO!!! My crutches!!! It’s like a light bulb went off inside my brain. Yes! I placed one of the crutches on the seats and grabbed the other one by the narrow end at the bottom. Then, moments later, when the ball reappeared briefly right in front of my face, I jabbed the crutch out underneath it like this…

…and tugged back at just the right instant to make the ball hit the inside of the wider/padded portion at the other end. I knew I’d only have one shot at it, and I nailed it! The ball few back toward me and dropped down into the gap between the scoreboard and the stands. Ha-HAAA!!! My plan was working! Next up? The glove trick. I quickly pulled my glove out of my backpack (I had to stick it back in there while hobbling from right to left field) and set up the rubber band and Sharpie. Scott Downs, I realized, was the player who’d been tossing the ball up and down. By the time I was ready to reel in the ball, he and bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio were staring at me from straight-away left field with looks of sheer awe and bewilderment. They kept staring as I (a) lowered the glove and (b) brought it back up with the ball tucked snugly inside. At the end of it all, I held up the crutch and gave them a fist-pump. They responded with subtle nods of approval.


According to Max and Wayne, the ushers don’t mind when fans retrieve balls from the left field gap, so when another one landed there soon after, I sprung back into action:

Unfortunately (and as you can kind of see in the photo above), the ball was trapped in a narrow space at the far edge of the gap. My glove (with the Sharpie propping it open) was too wide to fit down in there, so I used a different piece of equipment:

In order to reach the ball, I had to extend the crutch to the 6-foot-6 setting and then lean waaay down and out of the front row. (Relax, Mom. I wasn’t in danger of flipping over. Well, maybe a little.) I was hoping to knock the ball out of the narrow space and up onto the main portion of the gap’s platform. Balancing carefully on the railing, I took a little back swing with the crutch and swung it one-handed like a golf club. The good news is that I connected with the ball and moved it from that spot. The bad news is that it dropped down into a hole that I hadn’t seen. That was it. It was gone. But I sure as hell had fun trying.

With ten minutes remaining in BP, I got some random Japanese dude in left field to throw me my 8th ball of the day by — how else — asking for it in Japanese. Then I slowly made my way to the dugout and barely got there as the Angels cleared the field. Russell Branyan threw me my 9th ball of the day from the foul line. I had to catch that one bare-handed because my glove was once again back in my bag. One minute later, with Branyan gone and a new batch of Angels approaching, I convinced pitching coach Mike Butcher to toss me another. He didn’t have a ball on him, so he unzipped a ball bag that was sitting on the top step of the dugout and pulled one out for me — and it was brand new. I’m talkin’ right from the Rawlings box to the bag to his hand to my glove. It was my 10th ball of the day and the 5,100th ball I’d ever snagged. Here I am with it:

I took a moment to mark the ball, and then Max took the following photo:

Another example of Safeco Field’s awesomeness: the ushers behind the dugout didn’t immediately kick us out. They knew we didn’t have tickets there, and we knew we were gonna have to leave, but for 20 minutes, they allowed us to sit there and relax. Before long, Ben and Wayne and Luke and Hannah found us, so we all got to hang out some more. Here we all are:

(In the photo above, are the people in the second row trying to lean out of the way? Nice try, guys, except NOT. You actually made the photo worse by drawing attention to yourselves. Next time, just sit there and act like you don’t see the camera.)

When the game started, I decided to head up to the upper deck and wander all over the place. Screw the crutches! I wasn’t going to let them hold me back, and if I missed a ball or two in the process, so be it. I really wanted to explore the outer reaches of the stadium and photograph the place from all angles. Evidently, Max and Luke and Hannah and Ben felt the same way, as did three of Luke’s friend’s. They ALL decided to head upstairs and wander with me. Here we are after getting off the elevator:

See the kid in the green “Seattle 20” jersey? His name is Aiden. Did you notice his left foot? Yeah, our crew was the walking wounded. The kid on his right is named Cody, and the kid at the very back (wearing the black ski cap) is Ross.

Let the tour begin…

The first stop was the very last row of the upper deck. Here I am working my way up the steps:

(Click the photo above for a closer look at my face. My expression really says it all.)

The railings on the steps actually made it harder to get up and down because there wasn’t enough room to brace myself with my crutches at my sides. As a result, I had to carry my crutches and limp all the way up and down.

I decided that after the game, I was going to give away two baseballs to random kids. Here I am with the eight balls that I ended up keeping:

Here’s my lame attempt at making a panorama from the last row:

After spending a couple innings directly behind the plate, the eight of us headed back down to the concourse…

…and around toward the right field side. When we reached the outermost/right-field corner of the concourse, I had to stop and take a photo. Just look:

That roof is, like, something from a sci-fi movie. It’s huge and dramatic-looking, and I love it. What an awesome stadium.

A few minutes later, we walked out through this tunnel…

…and then headed all the way to the right. When we reached the last section of the upper deck (in straight-away right field), I headed all the way up to the top:

In the photo above, the two people on the far left are random fans who happened to be sitting there. The two people (wearing red) to the right of me are Luke and Hannah.

Here’s what it looked like from up there:

I could’ve made that photo lighter (by not pointing my camera right at the setting sun), but then the water wouldn’t have been visible. I really like water. In an alternative life, I could envision myself as a fisherman out at sea for months at a time.

Anyway, the next stop was the farthest corner of the upper deck in left field. We had to walk all the way back around the concourse and, you know, because I like numbers so much, I decided to count my steps — well, not exactly steps, but rather how many times my crutches touched the ground. Luke walked alongside me in perfect unison and helped me count. Wanna guess the number? I’ll give you the answer after this photo:

Three hundred and eight.

That might not sound like a lot of steps, but imagine what it’s like on crutches. Imagine all your weight pressing against your hands and armpits every single time. I was unbelievably sore, but it was totally worth it; I’ll get un-sore in the near future, and there’s no telling when I’ll be back in Seattle. And also, the view from the left field corner of the upper deck was spectacular. See for yourself:

In case it didn’t occur to you, those tracks on the left are used to roll the roof open and closed.

What an awesome stadium.

Here’s the view to the right, taken from the same spot as the previous photo:

The crew had split up by the time I made it back downstairs in the 5th inning. The game was scoreless, and I really didn’t care. I was worn out, but totally happy and in my own little world. This was my view for the last few innings:

Even though I was in a decent foul ball spot, I didn’t bother wearing my glove. I was content just to sit and stare off into space and take a rare break from ballhawking mode — from always being ON, you know? My body and mind needed to relax.

The Mariners ended up winning the game, 3-1. Erik Bedard pitched seven scoreless innings. Greg Halman hit his first career home run (to dead center so no one snagged it.) Ichiro Suzuki hit two doubles and stole two bases, including the 400th of his career.

After the game, I said goodbye to Wayne, Aiden, Cody, and Ross, and I walked out with Max, Luke, Hannah, and Ben. They all asked to take individual photos with me…

…and then Luke and I clowned around for the camera. First we showed our boots…

…and then had a competition to see who could balance the longest on our crutches:

I think Luke won. Close call.

Finally, Max and Hannah and Luke each asked me to sign one of their baseballs:

Not only is Safeco Field an awesome stadium, but there’s an awesome bunch of people who hang out there.


• 10 baseballs at this game (eight pictured here because I gave two away)

• 438 balls in 53 games this season = 8.26 balls per game.

• 714 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 240 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,100 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)

• $69.40 raised at this game

• $3,039.72 raised this season

Two more things…

First = black light: seven of the eight baseballs that I kept have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light:

Second = Twitter: Check out this awesome tweet that Luke posted last night:

And hey, did you see the photo that I tweeted yesterday afternoon? In case you missed it, I was a given a private tour of Safeco Field by someone who works in the Mariners’ front office. I’ll be blogging about the experience this weekend…


  1. Brad

    Nice entry, again. Some rally fries would have completed that trip. Does Seattle rank as your number 1 best stadium now (altogether)?

  2. Todd

    You know, with your love of taking picture of food, it has occurred to me that (despite an obviously awesome trip) you missed out on a key Safeco Field / Seattle experience: you should have ate THE MAN at Dixie’s BBQ. Oh, well, next time. Off to Citi Field for us tomorrow…wish it was Safeco instead.

  3. mlblogsbigglovebob

    Safeco looks like an awesome place. I will be at Miller Park next weekend to see the Twins (who are now only 8 back after being 16.5 back just mere weeks ago) Miller is fun, I don’t like it as much as the K, but it is solid. In looking at the 7 day forecast, it is not supposed to be so fricking hot like it has been in past years. I have 2 more trips planned to the K this year. NY and Boston play there back to back in August so I am going to catch the last Yanks/Royals tilt and the first Red Sox/Royals game. Luis Ayala, a Yankees pitcher owes me a jersey or $110 and I plan on getting him to pay up. I will also be back in KC for the Twins games on 9-13 and 9-14. That will be a quick little trip since the first game is a 7:10 affair and the next day they play a late afternoon game. A two game series that will be over in less than 24 hours. When are Miller and Target Field in your plans?
    Big Glove Bob

  4. Luke Van Hollebeke

    Thanks Zach for an awesome night! After two years of reading your blog, it’s super cool to see my name mentioned in it. That was cool how you showed my tweet. Whenever I feel depressed about sitting around all day due to my broken foot, I always think of you.
    – Luke V.H.

  5. Jacob Resnick

    Hey Zack,
    My name is Jacob Resnick and I met you on 5/24/11 at Yankee Stadium. I was the one who kept going back and forth to the bullpen.

    Anyways I was at the Mets Angels game last night and I snagged 2 balls thanks to your helpful tips.
    One from Dan Warthen and one from Tom Gregorio.

    I have been reading your blog ever since we met.
    I will be at the Mets Phillies game on 7/17/11 so if you are going maybe we could meet up.

  6. Dylan

    Awesome game. I have no doubt you will reach 1,000 this season. You are still the number 1 most read blog on MLBlogs.

  7. Chris

    Isn’t it kind of weird for a man in his 30’s to be roaming around a half-empty ballpark with a bunch of 11 year olds at a baseball game? Were their parents aware that they would be alone in the upper deck with a 30-something year old man?

  8. Zack Hample

    Thanks, but no, Safeco still doesn’t touch Camden Yards or Rangers Ballpark in terms of how easy it is to snag baseballs.

    Wow, nine balls in Oakland is amazing. That’s a tough place.

    There’s a good chance, but I’m really not sure. I never plan my NYC games too far in advance.

    Hmm, never heard of that. Now I have an extra reason to go back. Have fun at Citi Field today, if that’s even possible.

    Yes, but I don’t yet know when. Keep an eye on my blog. I’ll post all the details for my big road trip when I finally figure it out.

    I have to hear the story behind Ayala and the jersey.

    You’re welcome! Thank YOU for helping to make my Safeco Field experience even more fun.

    You’re welcome. (Be nice to your bro.)

    Congrats on the two baseballs. Really glad to hear that I helped, and thanks for checking out my blog. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be at the July 17th game. I generally try to avoid weekend games, especially those that start early in the afternoon. But you never know. Feel free to get back in touch and ask me again as that date approaches. Also, thanks for leaving a comment. It’s nice to hear from you, and I totally remember you from that Yankee game.

    Cool, man. Thanks.

    No, it’s not weird, but thanks for asking.

  9. Big Glove Bob

    Here is the Luis Ayala story….Back in 2009, Luis Ayala was a reliever for the Twins. This was the year that I ballhawked in earnest. For some reason, the Hispanic players really got/get a kick out of the big glove. Carlos Gomez would borrow it and run around like a fool, Alexi Casilla laughs everytime he sees it and hooked me up with pelotas.
    Luis Ayala was no exception. After borrowing the glove a few times, Luis returned it one day with a question. He wanted to know how he could get a big glove of his very own. I decided to play a little let’s make a deal. I told him I would procure a big mitt for him in exchange for one of his jersey’s. He readily agreed. He then amended the deal a bit and said that it would be a BP jersey. No quite as cool, but how many people can say they have traded with a big leaguer?
    So, I shelled out $110 for the mitt and waited for it to come. I let him know that the glove had been ordered and would be arriving shortly. When the glove arrived, I lugged it down to the dome and presented it to Luis. He was excited to get it and told me he would hook me up later with a jersey. It did not happen that game. The next game I saw him at he waved at me and tugged on his jersey and pointed at it and then to me. We never hooked up at that game either.
    In the meantime, Luis went into Ron Gardenhire’s office and basically demanded a promotion to the set up role. He was in a contract year and wanted the set up role to increase his earning potential. That was a bold and stupid move since he wasn’t doing all that well in his present role. Gardy took exception to Luis’s demands and they waived him later that day.
    Yikes! No jersey for Big Glove Bob. He was picked up on waivers by the Marlins. I drafted a polite letter to him down there stating that I was sorry to see him go and that he could either mail me a jersey or just send me $110 to square things up. I dragged my feet a week or two on sending the letter and when I finally got around to getting on the Marlins website to get the mailing address, I saw that the Fish had waived him! So, I had no way of getting in touch with him.
    I don’t think he played with anyone last year. This year he caught on with the mighty Yanks of all teams and it looks as though he has performed well with a 1.19 ERA. So, hopefully he will still be with the big club on August 17th. He should be in the outfield shagging flies during BP so I should get a chance to see him and remind him of the deal. I will be nice about it. I would imagine that he will remember, but who knows? If I get a jersey from him, it will be a lot better deal for me since there is more of a demand for Yanks gear than Twins gear. I am not saying I would sell it, but the value of it would be more. You have mentioned that each stadium is required to have an authenticator on duty right? If that is the case, I may make sure an usher sees the transaction so I can get the jersey authenticated.

  10. Luke Van Hollebeke

    Hey Chris, my friends and I are 13 and my little sister is 11. My parents have known about Zack for about two years and so they trusted him.

  11. Zack Hample

    I’m not sure yet. Probably not ’til September. Hoping to nail down dates soon for half of the 30 stadiums.

    Damn! That’s quite a story. Thanks for taking the time to share the details. I hope you get what he owes you.

    Amen, brotha.

  12. Jacob

    Thanks for responding Zack
    I just read your book, The Baseball and that is fantastic.

    BTW I won the mets Kidcaster contest through the mets tv station sny.
    I will be in the booth broadcasting a half inning of a mets game in August
    I’ll tell you the details later.

    — Jacob
    PS I Also started a account on mygameballs.com
    I am JRBHAWK

  13. Ben

    Zack- when will you be back in NY? There is almost no competiton at citi, even Yankee stadium
    hope to see you around
    – Ben

  14. Ben

    Only you can manage to get 10 balls on crutches!!! And not just once, but in consecutive days! Amazing. I love the use of the crutch to get balls.

    To big glove Bob: Luis Ayala accepted $50 for a ball the other day haha. He of course gave it back like 2 minutes later, but he took it to his teammates and was joking around. At Yankee stadium, he always hangs out in RF. And he’s always nice and having a good time.

  15. Zack Hample

    Sorry I didn’t respond until now. For some reason I didn’t see your comment at the time, but anyway, congrats on all your continued success.

    I miss you and think about you often.

    Crutches. Oy.

    You’re welcome.

    Yeah, I’ve heard that one a lot.


  16. CJ Michael

    Hey zack!mwent to safeco today (5/26/12) and I was disappointed to learn that the gap between right field and the fence has a net covering it! I used your printed roster advice to get some thrown to me from 5 different Angels. Also in the gap between fence and field in left (where out of town scoreboard is). I used the glove trick to get one out just like you did. Do you have any advice on getting batted balls at safeco? I have only been doing this for a short time and have a total of 60 (about 3-4 per game) but never a real batted ball, any advice?

  17. Bryson Willis

    I’m the kid that gave you the ball from the bullpen all of those years ago, lol.

  18. Zack Hample

    Wow! That’s so cool to hear from you all these years later. Thanks again for that ball. Are you getting to travel at all with the Red Sox this season? Let me know if you’ll be at Yankee Stadium at the upcoming series. It’d be nice to see you again and say hey.

  19. Bryson Willis

    You’re welcome for the ball, i think i gave away 2-3 balls during every game during BP back then hahaa. I havn’t been able to make it to a game this year because my highschool team practices every day except sunday, but I’ll hopefully travel to boston sometime this summer before college baseball starts.

  20. Zack Hample

    That’s a lot of balls! Hope you didn’t get in trouble for giving so many away. And hopefully I’ll run into you again someday.

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