7/1/11 at Nationals Park

Subway series at Citi Field? Screw that. My last six games (two in Boston, four in New York) all had attendances above 38,000. I had to escape the insanity, and my solution was the Pirates-Nationals game in Washington, D.C. Even though it was the Friday before July 4th, and even though the weather was perfect, the attendance was only 22,399. That said, I did have to face some serious competition during batting practice. Look who I ran into outside the center field gate:

In the photo above, the guy on the left in Erik Jabs, a fellow ballhawk from Pittsburgh who broke my single-season record last year by snagging 544 baseballs. He has his own blog, and he runs the Ballhawk League. (In case you’re new to my blog, that’s me standing next to Erik with an ASO brace on my left ankle).

When the stadium opened at 4:35pm, I hurried toward the right field side and was shocked to see this:

In addition to being shocked, I was disappointed and pissed off. See the barricade in the photo above? It was blocking my path to the right field seats — a path that was previously wide open and unguarded. Ever since Nationals Park opened in 2008, the entire outfield was open for the first hour of batting practice. Now, unfortunately, for some terrible reason, the right field seats are off-limits.

Let me clarify: the right field seats on the lower level are off-limits. See the huge staircase in the photo above? I was allowed to head up to the second deck. (Gee, great.) This was the view:

I walked down to the front row and took another photo, facing to the right:

It was painful not to be down in those seats directly behind the outfield wall — and yet I still managed to do a little damage up above. I got Todd Coffey’s attention and got him to throw me a ball by yelling “UP TOP!!!” He took my request literally and launched the ball 50 feet over my head. Maybe even more. I thought it was going to fly completely out of the stadium, but it ended up hitting the PNC sign on the upper right portion of the scoreboard and dropping back down to me. (Toward the end of this entry, you’ll see the PNC sign in a photo of the field from behind home plate.)

Moments later, I noticed that there was a ball sitting in the right field bullpen. Click the photo below for a closer look:

Sean Burnett walked in there one minute later, and I got him to throw it to me. It helped that Jona was with me and was shouting at him too. Players’ ears — and perhaps other things — tend to perk up when they hear a sweet, melodic voice coming from the stands. Then, two minutes after that, at the center-field end of the second deck, Jona helped to get Livan Hernandez’s attention, and he tossed us a ball as well. (Even though two of these balls might have been intended for her, I was the one who retrieved them, so they count in my collection. I say “retrieved” because they were all thrown over our heads into the completely empty seats.)

Scroll back up for a moment and take a look at the photo that shows the left field seats. Do you see how many rows there are behind the bullpen? I’m pointing this out because I caught my 4th ball of the day behind the last row. Nationals pitcher Collin Balester threw it to me from the warning track. Then I snagged a Jayson Werth homer that landed in the seats, and I followed that up by catching a Ryan Zimmerman bomb on the fly, just behind the left field bullpen.

I used my glove trick to snag my 7th and 8th balls of the day — and I gave both of those balls to kids. The first was a homer that had landed in the slanted walkway beside the left field bullpen and rolled to the bottom; the second was simply sitting on the warning track along the left field foul line. The Pirates had taken the field by that point, and the stands were rather crowded:

In the photo above, Erik (who changes his outfits like I do) is wearing the yellow “McLOUTH” shirt. I should also mention that another fellow ballhawk named Alex was in attendance. He was all over the place and had a monster day, so there really was some competition.

I moved to the corner spot along the left field foul line…

…and after standing there for ten minutes, I caught a two-hopper that was ripped by a right-handed batter. Not sure who.

Jona, meanwhile, was chilling in the shade beyond home run range. Can you spot her in the following photo?

She’s sitting in the last row below the camera. She wasn’t taking photos of me because that would’ve required her to be within home run range; ever since she got nailed by a BP homer on 5/30/11 at Citi Field (and got nailed even harder by a hospital bill for $1,403), she’s been reluctant to sit out in the open. (By the way, guess who’s gonna pay that bill? Here’s a hint: not her.) (Hey, Obama, where’s that universal health care? Hmm?)

My 10th ball of the day was tossed in left field by a player that I couldn’t identify. If I had to guess, I’d say it was Alex Presley, but I’m really not sure. As soon as I caught it, I handed it to the nearest kid.

After BP, I got my 11th ball from Pirates hitting coach Gregg Ritchie at the 3rd base dugout. Here’s a photo of him that I took one minute later:

Before the game, I limped back out to left field where Mark Strittmatter (pictured below)…

…was playing catch with Michael McKenry. When they finished, I asked Strittmatter for the ball.

“I’m gonna ask you a question,” he replied. “If you get it right, you get the ball. If you get it wrong, you don’t get the ball, and you can’t get mad at me, okay?”

“Sounds good,” I said. “Bring it on.”

“How many outs are there in an inning?” he asked.

“Umm, six?” I replied hesitantly. It was a trick question — three outs in the top of the inning and three more in the bottom half — but I didn’t know if THAT’S where he was going with it.

Evidently, I gave him the answer he wanted because he smiled and flipped me the ball.

Halfway through the game, Strittmatter tossed me another ball behind the dugout. Here’s a photo of him just before it happened:

I had noticed that Strittmatter was tossing the infield warm-up ball into the stands almost every inning, and sure enough, I got one from him before the bottom of the 5th got underway. I realize I’m making it sound easy, and it kind of was, but for the record, I had to spend two full innings there before I got hooked up, and even then, I made sure to take off my hat so he wouldn’t recognize me.

Those were the only two innings that I spent behind the dugout. For the rest of the game, Jona and I sat here:

(In the photo above, you can see the PNC sign that I was talking about earlier. Wow. Right?)

It was a great spot for foul balls, not just because of the angle where we were positioned behind the plate, but because of all the room I had to run. (I mean walk/limp. My ankle is getting better, but still feels like crap.) Check it out. This was my view to the left…

…and this was my view to the right:

In the photo above, that’s Jona looking at the camera. For the first time ever, I’d managed to convince her to go out in public without makeup. She was miserable, but I thought she looked gorgeous. I truly hate makeup. Not only does it smell bad and taste bad (okay, we won’t go there), but it seems like a gigantic lie. Why make yourself look a certain way if that’s not how you really look, especially if you have natural beauty? I just don’t get it. I mean, it’s fine every once in a while, in a haha-look-at-me-let’s-try-something-different-and-tacky type of way, but on an everyday basis? No thanks. Same with jewelry. Same with perfume. Same with nail polish. Same with fancy clothes. In my opinion, all that stuff is dreadfully unnecessary and makes women less attractive.

But anyway, YEAH, how about that cross-aisle?! Unfortunately, there weren’t any foul balls that landed near me, but I’ll get one there eventually — maybe even today at the doubleheader.

The Nationals won, 2-1, and I got a final ball from a Pirates ballboy at the dugout.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 14 baseballs at this game (eleven pictured on the right because I gave three away)

• 488 balls in 60 games this season = 8.13 balls per game.

• 721 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 236 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 154 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 89 lifetime Training balls (81 blue and 8 green)

• 5,150 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 learn more.)

• 56 donors

• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $99.68 raised at this game

• $3,474.56 raised this season

One last thing…

I’ve examined lots of Training balls in black light, and I’ve never seen any trace of invisible ink on them. Last night, however, one of the Training balls did have invisible ink on it — a huge smudge/hand-print. Very strange. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of that ball (next to a standard ball) in regular light versus black light:

11 comments

  1. Nick Badders (@nickbatters)

    I have honestly never seen a Green training ball. Cool! Well I finally got around to the black light with the ball I got a few days ago and it has a bunch of tiny little marks and one small smudge. And when I went to Nationals park on Opening Day, I got into the RF Bleachers as soon as the stadium was open. I did stop in the second deck and he same thing happend to me with Todd Coffey, but that time, It bounced off the Coca Cola sign.

  2. NuzJunkie

    Funny enough, Coffee did that to me at Petco… Threw it way away from me. He must like watching us scamper around. What was your ratio on the cheap synthetic training balls the Nats use? In the picture it’s 6:5, but wondered on the ones you gave away. Great job and you didn’t mention what a great game it was, complete with a walkoff!

  3. Nick

    Hope you don’t take offense to this comment….but Jona’s pretty hot, with or without make-up…

  4. JonMadden

    That’s pretty amazing that you got 3 balls from Strittmatter. Who’s the player who’s thrown the most balls to you? Do you know?

  5. Dylan

    Your family owns the Argosy Book Store right? Do they have a copy of How To Snag Major League Baseballs?

  6. Zack Hample

    NICK BADDERS-
    Those green balls were only used in 2006, so they’re pretty scarce.

    NUZJUNKIE-
    It’s true. The game *was* rather dramatic, and if I had more time to blog, I would’ve gone into great detail about it. To answer your question, my ratio was 1:1.

    NICK-
    No offense taken. It’s not like you called her ugly.

    BEN-
    Yeah. Pretty much.

    GORDIEDOUGIE-
    Haha, nice.

    JON MADDEN-
    Only two from Strittmatter at this game, but he’s so generous that I probably could’ve gotten three. I think Manny Acta is still the guy who’s tossed me the most balls. Livan Hernandez has to be up there, though.

    DYLAN-
    My family does own that store, but they don’t have any more copies of that book.

  7. Marie

    Hey Zack – tell Jona I agree with you (and I’m girl) she does look much prettier without makeup on. :)

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