7/3/11 at Nationals Park

It was a very exciting day at Nationals Park:

Actually, no, it wasn’t. The Nationals and Pirates had played a doubleheader the night before and (predictably) skipped batting practice for the second straight day.

For the first half-hour, the only action was Charlie Morton’s bullpen session:

I asked him for the ball when he finished, and he ignored me.

Eventually, when the rest of the Pirates pitchers came out to throw, I moved to the left field corner, and when they finished, I got a ball from Daniel McCutchen. In the following photo (which was taken moments after I got the ball), McCutchen is the guy with his right foot on the foul line:

The ball from McCutchen was my 499th of the season *and* my 1,999th lifetime ball outside of New York. My next ball, therefore, was going to be a double-milestone, and here’s how I got it:

In the photo above (which was taken by Jona), you can see that the ball was about to be thrown to me. The guy who tossed it was not in uniform, but based on his attire and the way in which he was working with the players, I assumed that it was Landon Brandes, the team’s “Strength and Conditioning Coordinator.”

Here I am with the ball. Brandes is in the background:

Here’s a closer look at him:

But wait, WAS it Brandes? I wasn’t absolutely positive, and since he had tossed me such an important ball, I wanted to make sure. Five minutes later, Livan Hernandez came over to sign autographs:

“Who’s that guy over there in the blue shorts?” I asked him.

“Why do you want to know?” he replied.

“Because I think he’s cute,” I said. Actually, no, I didn’t say that. What I really said was, “Because he gave me a ball, and I’d like to know who it came from.”

“How many balls you got?” asked Livan. “I see you all the time. You got a hundred?”

“I have a bunch,” I said, “and you’ve actually given me a few over the years, so thanks very much. You’ve always been extremely friendly, not just to me, but to fans in general, and I really appreciate it.”

Livan and I chatted a bit longer, and he confirmed that the guy who tossed me the ball WAS, in fact, Landon Brandes. Mystery solved. Here’s a closer look at it:

(Interesting sidenote: my 500th ball of 2009 was also snagged at Nationals Park. Here’s my blog entry about that bless’d day.)

Before Livan took off, I got him to sign my ticket, and when Drew Storen came over and signed soon after, I got him too.

It was hot and humid, and the sun was brutal, so I grabbed a seat under the overhang of the second deck, all the way back behind the 3rd base dugout. This was the view:

In the photo above, do you see the white circle on the left field wall? Roughly 25 minutes before game time, two pairs of Pirates began playing catch in front of the bullpen, and when they finished, they left two baseballs sitting near that circle. Normally, I would’ve been there, asking for one of those balls, but because my left foot still hurts every time I take a step, I decided to stay in the shade and watch. Well, wouldn’t you know it — Pirates first base coach Mark Strittmatter ended up walking out of the bullpen, grabbing both baseballs, and tossing one into the crowd. As for the other ball, he tucked it in his back pocket and walked slowly across the field toward the dugout. I assumed he was going to veer into foul territory and toss it to a fan in the front row, but that didn’t happen. Instead, he kept walking, so I hurried down the steps in an attempt to catch him before he disappeared. In the photo above, do you see the guy standing on the field in the red shirt? He’s just beyond the outfield end of the dugout. See the space in the railing just to his left? That’s where Strittmatter was heading, and I got there just in time.

“Stritty!” I yelled, prompting him to look up. I wasn’t wearing my bright yellow Pirates shirt — just a black cap with a little yellow “P” on the front, and that’s all it took. He flipped the ball to me, and I headed back up the stairs triumphantly. It felt great because I’d sensed an opportunity and made something happen.

My 4th ball of the day was much simpler. Chase d’Arnaud tossed it to me when he finished warming up in left field. Here’s a photo of him that I took just before I snagged it:

This is where I was sitting when the game started:

Not bad. But I wasn’t there for the view. I was there for Strittmatter. As I mentioned in my previous entry, he tosses the infield warm-up ball into the crowd almost every inning. I’d gotten one from him in the middle of the 1st inning the day before, and I was hoping to get another one now. My main concern was that he’d recognize me, so I completely changed my appearance. I took off my Pirates cap, wore my Pirates shirt, and threw on a pair of ridiculous MySpace sunglasses to complete the makeover. Then, when the moment of truth arrived — that is, when Lyle Overbay threw the ball back toward my man at the top of the dugout steps — I didn’t call him “Stritty.” Instead, I shouted a much more formal “Mister Strittmatter!” Without any hesitation, he turned and tossed me the ball.

Here I am with Jona during the game:

Dora the Explorer (along with SpongeBob SquarePants) was in attendance. Here she is on top of the dugout roof:

Jona was not impressed:

The (extra) funny thing about the photo above is that it wasn’t posed. Jona had no idea that I had my camera out. Her look of horror is genuine.

The entire Nationals coaching staff probably had a similar expression on their faces; the Pirates jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the top of the 2nd inning, and starter Jason Marquis was yanked after retiring just four batters. The Nats scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the 2nd, but the Pirates got ’em back in the top of the 6th. That was your ballgame. Final score: Pirates 10, Nationals 2.

Shortly before the final out, I gave two baseballs to a pair of cute little kids (identical twins, in fact) who’d been sitting near me all game. After the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Adrian Johnson. Then, as the Pirates were walking off the field, I quickly shuffled 20 feet to my left and got another ball from right fielder Garrett Jones. Here it is being tossed to me:

(In the photo above, that’s me in the front row wearing the yellow shirt.)

This was THE ball that was used to end the game; with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, Ivan Rodriguez had lined out to Jones on a 3-2 pitch from Chris Leroux. Since it wasn’t a save situation (or a milestone win for Pirates starter Kevin Correia), Jones hung onto it until he reached the warning track. (BTW, and yes, this is completely random, there are now nine players named Jones who have thrown balls to me: Adam, Andruw, Bobby. J, Bobby M., Brandon, Chipper, Chris, Todd, and now Garrett. Meanwhile, eleven different players named Johnson have given me baseballs, so the Jones crew has some work to do.)

Here I am with my two post-game baseballs:

In the photo above, you can kinda see a little action unfolding near 3rd base. This is what it turned into just a few minutes later:

Jona and I stuck around for a few minutes to watch the kids run the bases, and we saw something pretty cute. One of the Nationals players (not sure who) was coaxing his VERY little boy down the 3rd base line. The kid was doing well at first, but then stopped unexpectedly with a look of confusion. Check out the photo below. You can see the kid on the left along with his father’s reaction on the right:

The kid didn’t budge and needed to be carried home:

Just another day at the ballpark.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 7 baseballs at this game (five pictured here because I gave two away)

• 505 balls in 62 games this season = 8.15 balls per game.

• 723 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 248 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,167 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)

• $49.84 raised at this game

• $3,595.60 raised this season

15 comments

  1. Todd

    On this very same day, Tim ran the bases (actually so did I) at his eleventh different MLB ballpark — Comerica Park. Kids Run The Bases is the best!

  2. john

    brett strittmater is just a coach for the bucs, louis silverio is the 1st base coach.

  3. Dylan

    500 plus balls already this season and your 2,000 outside NYC. Pretty cool. Jona’s face was priceless.

  4. David

    That’s an eagle eye you have there, able to see all over the field who ends up with baseballs and all that. I guess this takes years of practice, or are you just that good? I usually get distracted by other parts of the ballpark.
    Love the Jona pic. Not that you would, but it’d be great as a blackmail tool;)

  5. jere80

    When I went to the Nats’ park, I was in that RF upper deck at the start of BP. The old usher up there asked if I was trying to catch a homer, while the Red Sox were hitting. I said yes, and he said, “It’s gonna have to be these guys.” I asked why and he said, “Ain’t none of our guys hit it this far…”

    Side note: during that game, I found out Michael Jackson died.
    -Jere80

  6. Todd

    I’m coming back for a second comment here. I wanted to note that “Terrance,” wearing number 11 and standing by home plate in the last two pictures from Kids Run The Bases, is the ultimate hype man. I see that guy every time we’re at Nationals Park and he must burn about 10,000 calories per game. He’s jumping up on seats waving flags or rally towels, he’s urging the crowd to scream, he’s running left, he’s running right. He’s on a none-stop mission to make some noise in that place. I just thought I should point that out because he deserves to be recognized for his outstanding efforts.

  7. Jacob

    Hey zack! Jacob here

    I’m just wondering how you get two balls from one player/coach (like stritty) in one game won’t they remember you and think your greedy?

    Just letting you know that I will be broadcasting on august 2

    Wishing you the ballhawking best!

  8. NuzJunkie

    That’s it. You are amazing. Seven balls without BP is a feat, congrats. Those MySpace glasses are classic. Do you carry these tricks of the trade in your backpack? Thanks for the game recap! BTW, Jona is a HUGE sport going to all these games!!!

  9. Dave Riyeff

    Zack, I haven’t posted in quite awhile, but I wanted to get back in touch. I went to Miller Park last night and I got three balls using the glove trick….two at TGIFridays home run porch, and then I plucked one out of the Brewers bullpen. As you know, people nearby all asked the same thing….does it work? It’s fun to show them (and myself!) that it does. It’s interesting what people reveal about themselves. Kids seem excited at the propect of it working…they want to believe (just like Santa). Some adults show the child-like anticipation and excitement, and seem to feel happy when they see it work. Others respond with skepticism, and seem dimissive at the prosect of using the glove trick. Besides having fun getting some baseballs, the glove trick is as study in human naturem, as well. All the best to you, -Dave

  10. Darron

    Zack, its Darron from STL. I went to BP for the first time this year yesterday and as soon as I got in I got Bill Bray to flip me a ball……Not bad for a retired ballhawk XD. That means I have 51 lifetime. Also I had said a couple weeks ago I would see if I could get Fan Appreciation tickets for when you are in town sadly I can not there are none that will still be good at that time as far as expireation dates. Thanks, Darron aka BuschStadiumBallhawk

  11. Zack Hample

    TODD-
    Eleven?! Damn. As for Terrence, I’ve seen him all over, and he IS very good at what he does.

    JOHN-
    It’s Mark Strittmatter, not Brett, and although he’s simply listed as a “coach” on the Pirates roster, he was coaching 1st base, and Silverio was coaching 3rd.

    AJ-
    Oh yeah? Cool, thanks. I thought it might’ve been him, but wasn’t sure.

    DYLAN-
    Thanks.

    DAVID-
    I don’t think my eyesight deserves the credit. I’ve just become pretty good at sensing opportunities.

    JERE80-
    Funny. (Except for the Michael Jackson part.)

    JACOB-
    Good question. I just make sure to change my appearance as well as the actual wording of my request.

    PSU532-
    I heard about those. Very cool!

    NUZJUNKIE-
    I only bring the sunglasses to day games, and I actually DO bring them for the sun. In this case, though, they certainly helped me snag an extra ball.

    DAVE-
    Great to hear from you again, and congrats on the glove trick success. It really is cool to see how people react to it. Don’t be such a stranger!

    DARRON-
    Congrats on the ball, and no worries about the tickets. Thanks for checking and letting me know.

    TC-
    Word.

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