7/7/11 at Yankee Stadium

Finding a baseball at Yankee Stadium? Doesn’t happen often, but when I hurried inside yesterday for batting practice, there was one waiting for me in the 6th row:

As I was taking that photograph, I heard another ball land nearby in the seats. That one was retrieved by a female security guard. I grabbed the first ball, she tossed me the second ball, and BAM, just like that, my day was off to a great start.

Unfortunately, those were the only two balls I snagged during the Yankees’ portion of BP. Look how crowded it got in the right field seats:

When the Rays came out and played catch, I moved to the left field foul line. This was as close as I could get…

…but I still got two baseballs tossed to me. The first came from a player that I couldn’t identify — possibly Sean Rodriguez or Justin Ruggiano — and the second was thrown by J.P. Howell.

The seats in straight-away left field were packed as well…

…so I only managed to get one ball during the Rays’ portion of BP. It was tossed by David Price. He was really cool and had a lot of energy and was running all over the place and throwing lots of balls into the crowd. I loved seeing such a good player act like a hyper little kid. Major League Baseball needs more personalities like that.

As the Rays started jogging off the field at the very end of BP, Jeremy Hellickson turned and chucked a ball into my section. I was half a dozen rows back, and it came right to me. That was my 6th ball of the day.

Right before the game, I was sitting next to the Rays’ bullpen and watching Jeff Niemann get loose. Here he is at the bottom of the following photo:

I wasn’t really paying attention because I was busy eating an overpriced meal from the stadium’s pizza stand. Still, when Niemann finished throwing, I noticed him looking up into the crowd in my direction. I wasn’t wearing my glove. Instead, I was holding a greasy garlic knot and…just look what happened:

I got his attention by waving at him, and when he tossed the ball to me, I dropped the garlic knot in order to have both hands free to make the catch. I don’t even remember dropping it. It happened fast, and it was all instinct. The garlic knots were stale anyway, and they weren’t even that garlicky, so whatever. No major loss there. In fact, I’ll probably live 15 minutes longer as a result of having wasted that little bit of bad food.

I was glad to have snagged seven balls, but the main thing on my mind was Derek Jeter. He entered the game with 2,997 lifetime hits, and when he led off the bottom of the 1st inning, he drilled Niemann’s first pitch into left-center for a double. This was the crowd’s reaction:

Jeter came to bat four more times after that and went hitless.

Niemann was sharp, the Rays won, 5-1, and the Yankees got bumped out of first place.

Late in the game, this was the scene in the Rays’ bullpen:

As you can see, there were a couple of baseballs sitting around, and after the final out, bullpen catcher Scott Cursi gave one to me.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 8 baseballs at this game (seven pictured here because I gave one to a little kid in my section during the 2nd inning)

• 527 balls in 64 games this season = 8.23 balls per game.

• 725 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 250 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 5,189 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)

• $56.96 raised at this game

• $3,752.24 raised this season

A few more things…

First, check out the wonky “practice” stamp on this ball that I got during BP:

Second, three of the seven balls that I kept have faint invisible ink stamps on them. Here’s a comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light:

And finally, for those who haven’t heard, something tragic happened last night at Rangers Ballpark. A 39-year-old man in the front row in straight-away left field reached a bit too far over the railing for a ball that was tossed up by left fielder Josh Hamilton. The man lost his balance, flipped out of the stands, and plunged headfirst to his death roughly 15 feet below. Here’s the story on MLB.com, and here’s a YouTube video with the horrifying footage. I was just interviewed about this by a reporter from the Associated Press, and I’m VERY upset about it. Some folks have already left comments about this incident on my previous blog entry, and I welcome more comments here. How are you feeling about it? Have you witnessed any near-death experiences at stadiums or experienced any yourself? Do you think Major League Baseball should/will implement new safety measures for fans? Do you think players should/will throw fewer baseballs into the crowd? What really upsets me is that this man had a young son who was with him at the game. The man was conscious as he was being carried off on a stretcher and was alert enough to ask stadium personnel to check on his kid. An hour later, he was dead. It’s just horrible, and I’m wondering if there’s anything that I (or we, as a baseball/ballhawking community) could do for the boy and his family. I’ll be back at Yankee Stadium tonight with a heavy heart…

21 comments

  1. Kyle Briggs

    It’s sad to see that this happened. This sort of incident has happened twice in the past 2 years at The Ballpark at Arlington. Last season the person fell from a higher height (2nd deck to 1st level). Outside the Lines is all over this story. I just think they will make the rails about a foot higher.

    On another note, since you are going to the Home Run Derby did you hear about the new golden baseballs?? The Gold Leather panel is actually made up of some 24 carat gold. That pushes the value of the ball to $150.

  2. The Rays Ranter

    Those rays players are pretty cool. David price Is probably the best and I agree that there should be more MLB personalities like that. I go to a lot of games where players will get a ball from the warning track in BP and won’t even toss the ball to their own fans.

  3. Ben

    I do believe all railing in all ballparks in which the railing is there to protect fans from an area that is 10 feet or more from the ground, should be at LEAST waist high, but to be safe, let’s say they should be at least 4 feet high. I cannot remember which ballpark I was at, but I got close to a railing and was plainly scared, due to how low it was. If a railing is high enough, what happened to that man, could, and would never happen. One would have to leap over it to create that sort of instance. It’s very sad and unfortunate.

    My only suggestion of something we can do, is make a donation to his family. If the people that have donated money for your pitch in for baseball donation, will match that amount, basically doubling the donation, and the other half goes to his family. Sure, it isn’t much, and will never take away the pain and loss they are feeling, but it’s a small gesture that can allow them to show there are people out there who care and sympathize with them.

    Ben

  4. Nick

    Hearing about the Rangers fan floored me.
    My head has been hanging all day and I can’t get it out of my mind.
    My heart goes out to that poor little boy that had to see this.
    Oh my god…what the hell is there to say?

    “Happy”

  5. Chris

    Very bad situation. Father and son day at the ballpark ends in a tragedy, shocking and heart breaking to say the least. I support the donation idea and am intertested to hear more thoughts like Ben’s on the subject. Pls take care when running around the stadiums Zack and other “hawks”. Life is precious. Be well. Chris

  6. chrysleraspen08

    It is horrible to hear about what happened in Texas. Whenever I reach for a ball like that guy did, I always watch out not to lean too far to reach the ball (normally because I don’t want to loose my hat). I will probably now think of this the next time that I snag a ball in the outfield in Toronto, which is similar but with no gaps. BTW, thanks for responding to both of my e-mails.

  7. Dylan

    That guy fell from the seats me andmy dad were sitting in the day I met you. Foul ball turns to death. Josh is in emotional stress. My deepest condoleces go to the family.

  8. Jacob Resnick

    I’m just heartbroken. Just found out and I already feel down.

    My condolences to the Stone family…

  9. Andrew Meeusen

    With regard to the Rangers accident, the most important thing is to stay levelheaded… we don’t want a knee-jerk reaction with new, pseudo-extensive safety measures. That being said, this was a tragic accident that happens very rarely on the whole. It might be prudent for MLB to examine the areas of stadiums across the country where fans are most likely to fall to catch foul balls from great heights, and see how safety could be improved. For example, at The Ballpark, it might have been a wise idea to have a net or tarp covering that gap. That would have arrested the guy’s fall just a couple feet below the railing, rather than 20+ feet. The guy was in the moment trying to catch a souvenier, and while we all mourn his loss, such things as this can never be completely avoided unless you ban all fans from any deck of a stadium from being near any railing, or you install netting anywhere there is a fall risk, which might impede views and prevent ballhawking. I grieve for the man and the moment in which this occurred, but we need to exercise caution when thinking about some kind of sweeping action in the wake of this tragedy.

  10. Riley

    My heart goes out to the family of Mr. Stone. That is a very sad story. I think that players will throw fewer baseballs into the stands now and they will probably make the fences a foot or two higher

  11. Zack Hample

    KYLE BRIGGS-
    I don’t know if railings can simply be raised because that will completely destroy the view of fans sitting in the first row. Adding a foot of plexiglass might be the way to go. It’s such a tough situation. No matter what changes are (or aren’t) made, people are going to be upset.

    THE RAYS RANTER-
    Glad to hear that Price’s energy wasn’t just a one-time thing. He’s now officially one of my new favorite players.

    BEN-
    I hear you about being scared in some sections with low railings. Left field in Cleveland, anyone? My god. That is a frightening place to be. As for making a donation to the family, the Rangers have already set up a fund. Check out Chris’s comment here. He provided the link. I think that’s the best way to go. I’m just going to make a donation there and hope that others join me.

    NICK-
    Ain’t nuthin’ else to say.

    CHRIS-
    Thanks. And yes, let us all take extra care when running around and reaching over railings.

    CHRYSLERASPEN08-
    Yeah, watch out in Toronto. It would not be fun to plunge those 12 or so feet down into the gap or onto the field.

    DYLAN-
    Whoa, that was your section? Does that give you chills?

    JACOB RESNICK-
    I’m right there with you.

    ANDREW MEEUSEN-
    Excellent comment. Thanks for weighing in on this.

    RILEY-
    I guess we’ll just have to see how things play out.

    EVERYONE-
    To those of you who attended major league games today, did you notice any difference, either in terms of safety measures or the players’ willingness to toss balls into the stands?

  12. Matt Huddleston

    You won’t guess who’s following me on Twitter now!!! Times up. JOBA FREAKING CHAMBERLAIN! I can’t believe it. Now, instead of me saying “Hey Joba. How about throwing a ball to a twitter follower.” I can say “Hey Joba. How about throwing a ball to one of the people you follow on twitter.” Could be effective. Haha.
    -Matt

  13. mlblogsbigglovebob

    It was a big topic on sports talk radio here today and I heard something interesting. They said that with the Bonds trial going on and things of that nature, MLB sent out a memo to teams with ways to encourage “good will” towards baseball. One of the things on the memo was to toss a lot of balls into the stands.
    I have been scared a few times in the front row of upper decks. With people drinking and carrying on and short railings, it isn’t too hard to imagine someone falling over. Something needs to be done. Another thing is foul balls going into stands. I have seen balls literally scorched into the first couple of rows that only missed hitting people in the head by mere inches. Fans are defenseless in those cases. A 65 year old lady is not going to have the reactions to get out of the way of a ball coming at her at over 100 MPH. They do something nice in KC. When they tell people to be on the lookout for batted and thrown balls they also say that if you are concerned with your seat you can go to fan services and they will make other arrangements. Of course their modest attendance makes that possible. I had a front row seat just off the screen at the dome and when Denard Span (the guy who hit his own mom with a foul ball) was up, I had the big glove ready at chest level because he would slice balls at rocket speeds into the stands. I think Major League Baseball has been lucky that more of these instances have not taken place and while I don’t want them to stop tossing balls into the stands, I think that design changes need to take place.

    Big Glove Bob

  14. bloggingboutbaseball

    Hi, Zack and everyone. My opinion is that, first and foremost, this is a terrible tragedy. I feel awful for Mr. Stone’s son and family… Mr. Stone got caught up in the moment. It happens to all of us as we chase down baseballs. But most of us are familiar enough with our “home” stadiums that we know how far is too far to lean or reach. Anyone who doesn’t frequent a stadium, however, is susceptible to the dangers of uneven staircases and railings of varying heights. It’s scary. If you lose your focus you will get hurt. We’ve all seen people get hurt. I saw a guy reach out for a Jason Werth toss up in the same way last week. A homer went into the seats in the RF corner, bounced onto the field, and Werth tossed it back to the crowd. The fan tumbled over the five foot wall while reaching for it and on to the field. It was no biggie because, well, it was a short drop. He just got escorted out of the stadium for trespassing (which is standard in most parks). The point is that I believe this kind of thing happens all the time. Look around online for past instances–you’ll find them. I hope the players and coaches continue to do what they’ve been urged to do: toss baseballs to fans. I think it falls to the fans to be cautious at all times. Pay attention during BP–know what space you’re in–keep your cool–it’s just a baseball, after all. Again, I feel awful for the Stone family but I agree with Alex Rios on this one. He recently said, “They [fans] just have to be a little more careful and judge the situation a little better. Because it’s just a ball. You don’t want that to happen. The guy lost his life for a ball and that’s a shame. I guess it won’t stop. We want the fans to be a part of the game too and enjoy the game.”
    http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20110708/sports/707089726/#ixzz1Ra5BBTcx
    ~Matt

  15. hooksfan

    While what happened to Mr. Stone is tragic….I feel that no change is warranted. Statistically the numbers wouldn’t support it. We have more fans that get hit by bats and balls. I think I would be safe to say that many of us who snag baseballs have gotten an injury at the ballpark and can attribute that injury to something that we did wrong. Mr. Stone reached and caught that ball but when he did he was off-balance and had nothing to grab unto not a good combination when you factor in the height.

  16. Rick

    Zack, I appreciate you adding the comments about the man in Arlington who passed away trying to get a baseball. As a fan who likes to get baseballs at ballparks with his kids, this hit me pretty hard. I feel so bad for the man’s son, and for Josh Hamilton. My brother Scott, who you met at a Ranger game, fell in batting practice at Dodger Stadium going after a ball. Lucky he landing on the stand for the TV cameras instead of falling all the way to the cement. But now every time I lean to try to catch a ball I tell myself not to lean too far.

    I liked Andrews idea of adding a net or tarp under parts of the stands where fans could fall. That might be hard in foul territory, but it would be easy to do there in Arlington.

    I’d hate to see players stop throwing balls into the stands, but I can’t imagine Josh throwing any into the front row anymore.

  17. Leigh

    Very tragic in Texas. I’m just numb about the whole thing. I have a feeling MLB will tell players not to toss any balls to fan in any area there is height. I definitely feel there will be fewer toss ups to high places. I also saw that Josh Hamilton nailed someone with a foul ball too? Man, he’s having a bad week. It’s like he’s got a dark cloud following him around his entire baseball life…..

  18. JonMadden

    I haven’t read the comments to see if someone else has already suggested this, but there is a Memorial Fund on MyGameBalls.com. I can’t say how tragic this is.

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