7/5/11 at Nationals Park

I attended this game with my friend Andrew. Here we are outside the center field gate:

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see (a) the stars-n-stripes Nationals shirt that I’d received upon entering the stadium two days earlier, (b) an ASO brace on my still-far-from-perfect left ankle, and (c) Andrew’s Yomiuri Giants cap. He saw the Giants play at the Tokyo Dome last year.

When the gate opened at 4:30pm, I headed to the left field seats and took a peek into the bullpen:

Ha-HAAA!!!

There was a baseball waiting to be rescued, so I went to work with my glove trick. Here’s a photo that Andrew took just before I lowered my glove on top of it…

…and here’s another shot, taken moments later, that shows me reaching for the ball in my glove:

Not surprisingly, it was one of those cheap, made-in-China Training Balls:

Every ball I got from the Nationals yesterday was a Training Ball. Rick Ankiel threw one to me in left-center field, and then I snagged two more with the glove trick — one from the left field bullpen and another from the gap in front of this section:

In the photo above, do you see the fan in front row wearing a dark shirt? That’s my friend and fellow ballhawk Rick Gold. He was peering over at the ball, and since he doesn’t mess around with retrieval devices, he waved me down so I could snag it. Here’s a photo of the ball in the gap:

The left field seats were rather crowded, and Andrew was right in the middle of it:

John Lannan threw me my 5th ball of the day in straight-away left field. He was near the warning track, and I was in the 2nd row behind the bullpen.

At around 5:10pm, I headed to the 2nd deck in right field and quickly got a ball from Henry Rodriguez…

…who motioned at me to throw it back. We ended up playing catch for a couple minutes, and let me tell you, it was weird to be so high up and throw a ball back down onto the field. I put very little muscle into it — about as much as I’d use to throw a dart — and that’s all it took to get the ball to float down to him. At one point, one of his throws fell short and landed in the empty lower deck, so he got one of his teammates to toss him another ball, and we kept playing catch. Ultimately, he let me keep it.

Do you remember the guy named Jeff Garber that I mentioned on 7/2/11 at Nationals Park? After I finished playing catch with Rodriguez, I noticed Garber shagging in right-center, so I called out to him. I didn’t ask for a ball. I simply shouted a friendly “hello” and he waved at me. My shouting happened to prompt some random guy standing near him to turn around and chuck a ball to me. I didn’t know who the guy was, but figured he was a coach or special assistant. He was middle-aged and kind of small, and he was wearing a full Nationals uniform with a solid red shirt on top.

“That’s one of the Lerners,” said Rick Gold, who was hanging out nearby. “He dresses up in full uniform and shags during BP.”

For those who don’t know, the Nationals owner is named Ted Lerner, and sure enough, after poking around online, I learned that his son Mark does indeed shag during BP — sometimes not with the best results.

Just as I was getting ready to leave the second deck, I noticed that Jordan Zimmermann was getting ready to throw a ball to some little kids in the front row. I positioned myself two rows behind them just in case it sailed over the their heads, and that’s exactly what ended up happening. The ball came right to me, and as soon as I made the catch, I reached down with my glove and opened it up for the kids so they could take the ball from it.

That was my 8th and final ball from the Nationals.

When the Cubs took the field, I got Koyie Hill to toss me a ball from the bullpen, and check this out — I took a photo of him just as he was about to let it fly:

When the Cubs pitchers finished playing catch soon after, I got Kerry Wood to throw me a ball along the left field foul line.

Then things went dead.

During the final 40 minutes of BP, I only snagged one ball, but it was a good one — a home run by Alfonso Soriano that I caught on the fly behind the left field bullpen. I happened to make the catch directly behind a kid in Cubs gear who had reached up helplessly for it.

“Have you gotten a ball yet today?” I asked him, prepared to hand over the one I’d just snagged.

“Yeah, from Matt Garza,” he said.

His father realized that I was getting ready to give his kid a ball, and he insisted that it wasn’t necessary. So I kept it.

Soon after, a different kid got hit on the elbow by a home run and burst into tears. (The ball deflected into the bullpen and was later tossed back onto the field by an oblivious groundskeeper.) I waited a moment for things to calm down and then walked over. I asked the kid’s father if he was doing okay, and when it seemed that everything was under control, I said, “For what it’s worth, here’s a ball for you guys.” I made sure to give them a non-Training Ball, and although the change was subtle, the kid’s mood did seem to perk up a bit. He was too stunned to say anything, but his father thanked me profusely.

Look closely at the following photo:

It shows Geovany Soto playing catch 20 minutes before game time. Do you see anything unusual?

No?

Well then, here’s what you missed:

There was a crazy level of security all over the ballpark — swat teams, secret service, sharp shooters, and Navy SEALs, or at least that’s what it seemed like. There were guys here…

…and also here…

…and there was huge walk-through metal detector at the entrance to the seats behind home plate:

Why, you ask?

More on that in a minute, but first, I’d like it to be known that Tony Campana is very friendly. During his pre-game warm-ups, he walked over to the stands on two separate occasions when fans called out to him. He posed patiently while folks took photos with him…

…and he signed my ticket:

Marlon Byrd also came over. In fact, he was standing right in front of me when the national anthem was about to get started, so he stayed there. Look how close he was:

Before the game got underway, I got my 12th ball of the day from Andrew Lane in shallow left field. He’s one of the Cubs’ two bullpen catchers, and he’d been playing catch with one of the players. Then, two minutes later, I got ball No. 13 from Darwin Barney at the dugout.

Now, about all the security…

Do you recognize anyone in the following photo?

Apologies for the crappy quality. I know it’s a bit blurry, but that happens when I zoom in all the way with my rinky-dink camera. That said, do you see the woman wearing black pants?

Two words: Michelle Obama.

She was there for a military appreciation event.

I’m telling you, there was security everywhere:

I didn’t get a single ball during the game. I was hoping for a 3rd-out ball, but the seats directly behind the dugout were packed, and Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena was completely unpredictable with his tosses deep into the crowd.

The game itself was also unpredictable because both starting pitchers — Ross Detwiler for the Nationals and Ramon Ortiz for the Cubs — were making their first major league appearances of the season. The Nationals scored three runs in the bottom of the 1st inning, the Cubs plated a pair in the top of the 6th, and Drew Storen pitched in the bottom of the 9th:

During the final half-inning, I noticed a fan wearing a custom made Stephen Strasburg jersey:

Yes, he WILL be back, and I think the Nationals could end up being pretty good. They were very good last night and defeated the hapless Cubs, 3-2.

After the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Mike Everitt. On my way out of the stadium, I gave away a ball to a little kid with an empty glove. Andrew, it should be noted, was a big kid with an empty glove; the last time we went to a game, he snagged five baseballs, but last night he got shut out. <frowny face>

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 14 baseballs at this game (eleven pictured here because I gave three away)

• 519 balls in 63 games this season = 8.24 balls per game.

• 148 balls in 10 lifetime games at Nationals Park = 14.8 balls per game.

• 724 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 249 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 239 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 156 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 97 lifetime training balls (89 blue and 8 green)

• 5,181 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 get involved.)

• 56 donors

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

• $99.68 raised at this game

• $3,695.28 raised this season

22 comments

  1. bskeldon

    Nice Entry. I thought you didnt count training balls in the collection because they didnt have the Major Leauge mark on it. Or am i just confused?

  2. Darron

    Now imagine that little metal detector and those shooters but with Binoculars bigger than there heads with masks on top of Busch Stadium with guns every where and the highways all around the stadium closed. They had said the day before on the news that they had installed cameras on the light towers at the stadium that was smaller than a fist but powerful enough to read a scorecard in your lap. Most secure I have ever felt in a ballpark in my entire life. Oh and there were metal detecors if you are unsure what I am talking about I am talking about the 2009 ASG with 40,000 people who all had to pass through one of 5 gates it was a nightmare. If you ever hear the President is going to be at a game don’t go unless it is once and a lifetime oppurtunity. There were probably 25 shooters and spotters in the stadium and if you looked across the street there were some on the rooftops, in random windows of hotels which they had went in and cleared every room it was nuts. Just figured I would share that story.

  3. Shane T.

    Fourteen balls!? And this *lowered* your average at Nationals Park? Wow.
    Of course, the really interesting fact is that you didn’t mention Nationals Park in your top-ten list of best ballhawkers’ venues in the book. I suppose a magician has to keep some of his secrets … but this one may be slipping out.

  4. mlblogstxbaseballfan

    Great entry! I have a pretty cool story involving Marlon Byrd. When he was fairly new with the Rangers about 4 years or so ago, I went to the gift shop at the ballpark to see if they had his jersey t-shirt yet. When I got to the part of the store where they were, there was already a lady there with an arm full of his shirts. I said excuse me & proceded to look for a size large (I assumed she worked there and was hanging them up). After a minute or so she asked if I was a fan of Byrd’s and I replied yes. She then proceded to tell me that she was Mrs. Byrd. What?! And not only that, both of his parents were standing at the counter talking to a couple of the employees. So when it came time for me pay, I was standing there talking to Marlon Byrd’s father for about 20 minutes. It was awesome! He said that ever since Marlon had been in the bigs (by that time it was around 1 or 2 seasons) he had never seen him play in person. This was his first time. He was a VERY proud father, and that was truly an great experience for me. Sorry, just thought I would share that here. Good luck with the goal, and I hope our paths cross again soon!

    Brian

  5. Nick Gantz

    hey zack! you only need 3 more training balls to make 100! anyway, about september 21, I cant get tickets for this game because they are too expensive. so I was wondering what gate you would be going to so I could meet you. thanks!

    – Nick Gantz

  6. thatsawesome5

    Nick are you is STL also? If so we may have crossed paths a few times. I usually only snag one then go talk to people. If I wanted to I could snag 4 everyday easily but I don’t because I want the opportunity to be there for others. There’s a couple guys there that will throw a bow or forearm.

  7. Matt Huddleston

    I tweeted Joba Chamberlain last night, and to my surprise, he RT’d it. But that’s not the weird part. Earlier today, I tweeted a random tweet thanking Joba for the RT. His response to my tweet was rather odd: http://twitpic.com/5mka3a I don’t get it. Do you?
    -Matt

  8. Tyler K

    I see Darron already told you about the crazy amount of security at the 2009 ASG… So I guess I won’t bother you with that story but congrats on the great snags!

  9. NuzJunkie

    Brad — those training balls look totally legit: logo, same color font, signature, etc. They just feel weird, kinda cheap and a bit lighter. They should count, it’s basically same thing. Zach — amazing haul, especially considering how crowded it was. At Petco, the dugouts are always packed, can’t wait to see how you navigate that and The Beach (remember last time you got yelled at)?

  10. mlblogsbigglovebob

    Awful night for baseball. I am sure you heard about the Rangers fan who leaned over to catch a Josh Hamilton toss up and fell out of the stands to his death. The guy was a firefighter and was at the game with his kid. It is weird that the guy that fell from the stands there last year and lived was also a firefighter and I believe it was one year ago to the day. I have seen a lot of people in the front row reaching over for balls and I know a lot of ballhawks will prone out to glove trick balls. Be careful! I watched the video on Youtube and the A’s announcers were joking about it a bit. They must feel awful since they couldn’t have known how serious the fall was. Just awful.

    Big Glove Bob

  11. griffin

    Hey Zach…you think the incident at Arlington Stadium will have an effect on whether player throw balls in the stands any more???

  12. randy kiser

    i think this accident will have a huge effect on snagging. probably limit people to where they can stand during games and also bp. but i am sure teams will cut down on balls thrown into the stands.

  13. mlblogstxbaseballfan

    I would highly doubt that players will stop throwing balls into the stands altogether, but the parks that have walls with gaps (like RBiA) will probably install some sort of netting to cover the gaps from the stands. This has been the topic of conversation for a while now around Arlington, but nothing has happened yet. It probably will now though. I just hope MLB doesn’t have a knee-jerk reaction and do something totally stupid that changes the whole landscape of the game for the fans.

    Brian

  14. Dylan

    I believe teams will begin to have fielders throw balls back into the dugout and use it during BP. The Rangers were already cautious because of the gaps. Hope this doesn’t make people scared to go to games.

  15. Zack Hample

    ANDREW-
    Oh yeah. That.

    BRAD-
    You’re confused. Let me un-confuse you. The logo on the ball doesn’t determine whether or not I count it; it’s how/where/when I snag it that makes the difference. I’ve snagged a few minor league balls at major league games over the years, and those count. I’ve also snagged major league balls at minor league stadiums, and those do not. As long as major league players are using the balls in a major league stadium, then they’re good for my collection.

    DARRON-
    Yikes. Thanks for sharing. Glad I missed it.

    SHANE T.-
    Ha, yeah. Nationals Park, though, is only good because of the small crowds and the early opening time. The layout of the stadium is actually a pain in the ass, so that’s why it didn’t crack the top ten.

    BRIAN-
    I love hearing stuff like that.

    NICK-
    Not sure yet about the gate. Probably the one in left field. Can you remind me as the date gets closer?

    MATT-
    That’s bizarre, and I don’t know what to make of it.

    CLIFF-
    Well, I don’t yet know where I’m gonna be for the Derby, so no guarantees. But damn, those balls are cool as hell.

    TYLER K-
    Thanks, and yup, he covered it.

    NUZJUNKIE-
    Yeah, I remember that incident. Looking forward to being back there in a couple months.

    BIG GLOVE BOB-
    Totally tragic. I don’t even know what to say at this point.

    LUKE-
    Awesome! Yes, I feel like a free man, although it still hurts to walk.

    REDSFAN16-
    I always try to be safe. Sometimes, though, I do suffer minor injuries like sprained ankles and cracked ribs — well, minor compared to what happened to the guy in Texas last night.

    PSU532-
    I’ve never snagged a gold ball. Maybe this will be the year…

    GRIFFIN-
    Good question (and a reasonable one, I think, given the subject of this blog). I don’t think it will have an effect, but it’s too soon to tell.

    RANDY KISER-
    Damn, I really hope not, but it could happen.

    BRIAN-
    I agree. Knee-jerk reactions can actually be counterproductive.

    DYLAN-
    I don’t think people will be scared. I mean, people die in car accidents all the time, but plenty more folks still ride in cars. We all just need to be extra careful.

  16. Dylan

    The Rangers installed a net in left-field but that encouraged people to climb on it for balls and that made possible risk bigger so they took it out.

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