There was a huge red-carpet parade early in the afternoon…
…featuring former major leaguers and current All-Stars. But that didn’t interest me. In fact, I only saw the parade for as long as it took me to walk past it on my way to Chase Field. I didn’t care about seeing players; I wanted to get baseballs from them, so I made a beeline for the stadium and grabbed a spot at the front of the line outside Gate A.
Fast-forward two hours. There were hundreds of fans waiting to get in, including two guys who’d brought copies of my books:
In the photo above, that’s me in the middle wearing the black All-Star Game shirt that I’d snagged the night before at the Home Run Derby. The fan on the left is named Isaac; the fan on the right is named Kenny, and if you look closely, you can see that he’s holding copies of all three of my books.
When the gates opened, I hurried to the left field bleachers and was *thrilled* to discover that the ushers weren’t checking tickets. (The day before, stadium security was so tight that people were forced to stay in their actual/assigned seats for batting practice!) I headed down to the front row and settled in next to the ESPN platform. I’d gotten a few toss-ups there the day before and was hoping for more of the same. I was also hoping that the balls being used in BP would be commemorative balls with the All-Star Game logo; at the only other All-Star Game I attended back in 2007, the teams were using regular Selig balls during BP, and let me tell you, it was incredibly disappointing.
Well, several minutes later, one of the National League batters hit a deep drive that ended up rolling near me on the outfield grass. Brian McCann walked over to retrieve it, and I called out to him. This was the result:
Yes, yes, and furthermore, YESSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!
My day was officially complete. No joke. If the gods of ballhawking had told me before I entered the stadium that I could only snag *one* ball, but that it would have the commemorative All-Star Game logo, I would’ve said, “Okay, sign me up.”
That said, now that I already had one of these very special baseballs (which happened to be my 5,200th lifetime ball), I wanted to snag as many as possible. But hang on a second. I’ll get back to the snagging in a moment, but first I need to show you something random and funny. Evidently, there was some issue with a piece of ESPN’s equipment, but because of where it was located — directly behind the left-center field wall — the ESPN technicians couldn’t get to it. Heath Bell was hanging out in left-center and saw the whole thing play out, so he climbed up on top of the outfield wall to offer some assistance. Check it out:
Heath Bell is a clown, plain and simple, and I mean that in the best possible way. In a sport/industry where so many people are devoid of personalty, it’s awesome to see an All-Star caliber player goofing around like a four-year-old.
After earning the “save” for ESPN, Bell said a quick hello to me and then tossed me a ball that had rolled nearby. That ball, like the one I’d gotten from McCann, was commemorative, and by the way, for those who don’t know, I’ve been friends with Bell since his days as a Quadruple-A middle reliever with the Mets.
I snagged one more ball before the National League cleared the field. It was thrown by Matt Cain, and yes, it was commemorative.
Then there was a break in the action. While the National League players were milling about in shallow left field…
…a group of photographers and MLB personnel stood in for a test photo in deep center:
Once everything was ready to go, the National League posed for a group photo…
…and then the American League came out and did the same. Overall, there was probably a half-hour break before the AL started hitting, at which point I got right back into the snag of things. Jered Weaver tossed me a ball. Then I got another from Chris Perez. And another from Curtis Granderson. (Hot damn!) The ball from Perez had a worn-out Home Run Derby logo on it; the others were All-Star Game balls.
This was my view for most of batting practice:
The left field seats were absolutely PACKED, and with several minutes remaining, I headed up to the concourse to take a photo of the crowd from above:
Is that insane or what?
Moments after BP ended, I noticed a fan wearing a really cool MLB shirt in the concourse.
“That is the best shirt EVER,” I told him. “Where did you get it?”
“I don’t know, man,” he said with a chuckle. “It was a gift. People ask me that a lot.”
“I’ll give you sixty bucks for it.”
“Sixty bucks. Cash. Take off the shirt right now and hand it to me, and it’s yours.”
This is how it all played out…
…and this was my reaction:
I’m aware that $60 is an awful lot to spend on a t-shirt, but for someone like me who (a) loves Major League Baseball more than words can describe and (b) doesn’t have a favorite team, it’s the ultimate article of clothing. And hey, to further justify my expenditure, I’d seen some generic All-Star Game t-shirts for sale at FanFest two days earlier for $44, so, you know, I spent a mere $16 more than that for something unique that immediately made me happy. Why is it so hard to find clothing with *just* the MLB logo on it? I don’t know, but I’ve managed to acquire two other MLB shirts over the years for $40 apiece — a gray one and a black one — and in both cases, I bought them right off the backs of the guys who were wearing them.
One more thing about the shirt I bought here at the All-Star Game…
After the transaction was complete, I chatted briefly with the guy and handed him one of my contact cards.
“If you have a minute, check out my website,” I said. “You might get a kick out of seeing who the crazy baseball guy was who bought your shirt.”
Not only did the guy visit my site…and not only did he poke around it enough to find me on Twitter…and not only did he follow me…and not only did he mention me in a tweet…but he’s a minor league baseball player! His name is Dustin Geiger, and he’s the 3rd baseman for the rookie-level Arizona League Cubs. How cool is that? Check out his minor league stats and show him some Twitter love @D_Geiger. Let’s all root for this guy to make it to The Show. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s only 19 years old…
Twenty minutes later, I caught up with a few of my fellow ballhawks and got a friendly usher to take a group photo of us:
In the photo above, that’s Ben Weil on the left, John Witt in the maroon shirt, and Devin Trone on the right. Devin was making a “sad face” because he didn’t snag anything during BP — but in his defense, he never calls out to the players for toss-ups. He only tries to catch home runs. I didn’t spend much time with these guys because I had to meet up with another (semi-retired) ballhawk named Cole Goodyear.
Long story short:
1) Cole has been reading this blog for several seasons.
2) He and his father have season tickets at Chase Field behind the 3rd base dugout.
3) Cole got in touch before my trip to Phoenix and invited me to sit with him.
4) I took him up on his offer.
Just before all the pre-game ceremonies got underway, Cole met me in the concourse with an extra ticket. Here we are:
As I headed down the steps in his section, this was my view of the field:
I seriously never thought I’d have that kind of access at an All-Star Game.
Naturally, I was *very* excited and tried to make it come across in my “stadium number” photo:
Chase Field is the 12th stadium I’ve visited this season — I’m still planning to visit all 30 — so that’s why I’m holding the “12” sign in the photo above. Here’s a collage of all 12 photos:
A little while later, I was so close to the field that I could see each National League player waiting on the top step of the dugout to be introduced. If you look closely at the following photo, you can see Prince Fielder:
Just before the game started, I saw Heath Bell near the outfield end of the dugout, so I headed over there to say hello. This was my view:
“I can get anywhere,” I bragged, pointing at the dugout seats all around me.
“You can’t get here,” he replied with a goofy/sarcastic expression, pointing at the top step of the dugout. (Okay, Heath, you win.) Moments later, he held up his right index finger as if to say, “Hang on.” Then he looked down and reached for something and flipped me a brand new Selig ball.
“OH-kay!” I said with exaggerated emphasis, “if you in-SIST!”
He laughed and shrugged, and after chatting a bit longer, I moved back about 10 rows and grabbed an empty seat. (Yes, even at All-Star Games, people arrive late and leave early.) I was in the perfect spot to get a 3rd-out ball, and when Adrian Gonzalez grounded out off Roy Halladay to end of the top of the 1st inning, I got my chance. The staircase was empty. There was absolutely no competition. Prince Fielder jogged back with the ball, and I got him to toss it to me. Ba-BAM!!! Just like that. But then something weird happened. Before Fielder disappeared inside the dugout, he held up his glove and asked me to toss the ball back to him. So I did. I had no idea why he wanted to see it again, but I figured he was gonna do something cool with it, so yeah, I gave it a toss. As soon as he caught it, he flipped it to a kid who was standing 15 feet to my right. At first I thought it was a cute prank — pretending to give my ball to someone else — but then I realized that it was very real. The kid kept the ball, Fielder disappeared from sight, and the entire section booed him. Everyone was on my side, even the players. Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, and Pablo Sandoval had witnessed Fielder’s robbery from the top step. They all had a look of “WTF” on their faces, and when I shrugged at them, Bell shrugged back. Sandoval, meanwhile, made eye contact with me and added a gesture that seemed to indicate that he was going to hook me up with another ball, so I went back to my seat and waited. Several minutes later, a random ball was tossed into the National League dugout. I was so distracted at the time that I didn’t notice what was taking place on the field or where it came from. At first I thought it was the infield warm-up ball, but now I think that it was a game-used ball that was intentionally tossed out of play. In any case, Sandoval was the one who caught it, and he immediately turned back to look for me. I was already heading down the steps, and when I made it to the front row, he tossed it up.
I went back to my seat and took a photo of the ball:
As you can see, it’s rubbed with mud, and it’s not scuffed or grass-stained (as most infield warm-up balls are), so I’m going to assume that it was game-used. Pretty cool, huh. But what about the previous ball from Fielder? I had no idea whether or not I should count it toward my grand total, and I literally spent the next two days going back and forth on it. On one hand, I caught it and acquired possession of it before anyone else. But on the other hand, I no longer had possession of it. But on the first hand, I catch balls and give them away all the time and count THOSE. But on the other hand, I give THOSE balls away voluntarily. But on the first hand, I *did* give this ball away voluntarily, right? I mean, I chose to give it to Prince Fielder. But on the other hand, I did so under the assumption that I was going to get it back. The worst thing about this whole situation is that it wasn’t just any ball; it was a game-used ball from the All-Star Game that Roy Halladay had actually held and pitched and used to record an out. But for me, that was the least of it. In 2008 I set a record by snagging 543 baseballs in one season. Last year, a gentleman in Pittsburgh named Erik Jabs broke my record by snagging 544. See where I’m going with this? The “Fielder ball” (as it will forever be known) was my 545th ball of the season — or perhaps I should say *would’ve* been No. 545. Should I count it? Should I not count it? My internal debate raged on. I mean, did the fact that I’d gotten a replacement ball from Sandoval negate the first one that I’d gotten from Fielder? I was truly stumped, so depending on how you look at it, I had either snagged eight or nine balls by that point in the day.
I headed back to the home-plate end of the dugout and sat with Cole for a few innings. This was my view…
…from the THIRD row!!!
With access like that, I got up close-n-personal with the Diamondbacks mascots:
You know how the Brewers have a sausage race, and the Nationals have a presidents race? Well, these “player” mascots do the race in Phoenix, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. In the photo above, the mascot closest to the dugout is supposed to be Mark Grace. Randy Johnson is standing on the right, Luis Gonzalez is on the left, and Matt Williams (in the red jersey) is kinda hidden in the middle.
During the late innings, I moved around and sat in several different seats. In the top of the 8th, with the National League holding a 5-1 lead, Heath Bell entered the game and did something that made me do a double-take. I was roughly 20 rows back and half-paying attention, so when he came charging out of the bullpen and made a foot-first slide into the mound, I was like, “Did that really happen?”
The answer is yes. It happened — or should I say Heath Bell happened.
The National League ended up winning, 5-1. Moments after the final out, when all the players spilled onto the field, I got my 9th — or was it my 10th? — ball of the day from Tyler Clippard.
Five minutes later, there was still lots of activity on the field:
Heath Bell stayed in the dugout for a while and signed autographs. Here he is writing his name on Ben’s jersey:
I wanted to linger at the dugout for a while, but I had to take off for the left field bleachers; earlier in the day, I’d told a bunch of my friends to meet me there after the game. I wanted to get a group photo with everyone and say my goodbyes, but Ben was nowhere to be found. Eventually, though, he showed up with a really good excuse. Do you see what he’s holding in the following photo?
That’s right. Batting gloves. More on that in a moment, but first, let me identify everyone up above. In the back row, from left to right, you’re looking at:
1) Kelly McMahon (a former Watch With Zack client from 9/24/07 at Shea Stadium)
2) John Witt, a legendary ballhawk who’s featured on pages 279-280 in my new book
3) Cole Goodyear, holding his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter
5) Cole’s father Doug
6) Devin Trone, still making his sad face
In the front row, we have:
7) Kelly’s nephew Tim
8) Ben Weil (aka “Benny Bang Bang“) wearing a Prince Fielder t-shirt…backwards
9) Greg Barasch’s father Sheldon, but wait, who’s Greg Barasch?!
10) Greg Barasch, a very talented ballhawk with more than 1,000 career snags
11) Tony Dobson, a Chase Field regular who’s snagged many baseballs of his own
I asked all these folks about the Fielder ball, and almost all of them said it should count. And hey, speaking of Fielder, look at the batting gloves that Ben had gotten just before the group photo:
Those are Prince Fielder’s All-Star batting gloves, and in case you missed it, Fielder was named the Game’s MVP. Major congrats to Ben for scoring one of the coolest items I’ve ever seen a fan walk away with.
As for me, I had a pretty cool post-game experience of my own. Cole and his father happen to be friends with Derrick Hall, the CEO and President of the Diamondbacks, and they know other front office personnel. They were invited to attend an exclusive after-party inside a huge club/suite behind the batter’s eye, and they managed to get me in with them. Here’s what the tickets to the party looked like:
Here’s a photo of Cole and his father outside the club…
…and here’s what it looked like on the inside:
There was a ton of free food. There was an open bar. And there was a loungy area with a stage for a live band:
There was also a gigantic ice sculpture with the All-Star Game logo, which held the largest shrimp I’d ever seen:
The party was so fancy and classy that guests received Tiffany crystal bowls on the way out. (I didn’t get one because I wasn’t an official guest, but that’s okay because I snagged nine and a half baseballs instead.) Here’s a look at the bowls in their boxes, stacked and ready to go:
There were lots of important people milling about, and Cole’s father introduced me to several of them. First I met Derrick Hall, who was incredibly friendly, and then I met this guy, who was also really cool:
In the photo above, that’s me with Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick.
And in the photo below, I’m hanging out with Bud Selig:
As you can see, he’s holding his copy of my newest book, The Baseball. Evidently, he’d heard that I was going to be at there and showed up to get it signed. He told me that he’s been following my ballhawking career and reading my blog for years and that the game of baseball needs more fans like me. We spent about 10 or 15 minutes together, discussing a range of topics such as gate opening times at major league stadiums, the use of ball-retrieving devices, and whether or not the Fielder ball should count in my collection. (He said yes.) He also offered me my own show on the MLB Network and asked if I’d like to work with him (in my spare time) at the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. And then I woke up.
In reality, I did meet Bud Selig — the image above is not Photoshopped — but I must confess that I gave him that copy of my book. (He does seems pretty happy to have it, though, huh?) I only got to spend a few seconds with him because he was on his way out, but it was still pretty damn special. I’d never met him before and was really excited to shake his hand and get a photo.
By the time the party ended, the stadium was nearly empty, and all the security guards were gone. Check it out:
In the photo above, did you notice the cleaning crew in the upper deck? Take a closer look and you’ll see them above the 3rd base dugout.
I would’ve gone back to my hotel at that point but (a) no one was at the stadium to kick me out and (b) I was about to receive a phone call from a radio station in Toronto called “The Fan” 590. Do you remember when I did an in-studio interview with them after the game on 5/27/11 at Rogers Centre? Well, Jeff Sammut, the host of the overnight show, wanted to have me back on to talk about the guy who nearly plunged out of the stands at the Home Run Derby. If I’d left Chase Field at that point, I would’ve had to do the interview on the street or in a cab, so it made sense to grab a seat and wait for my phone to ring.
The sprinklers went off:
It was so much fun to be inside the stadium, hours after everyone else had left — or rather after all the other fans had left. There were still a bunch of employees working on different things, such as breaking down the ESPN platform in left-center field:
Eventually my phone rang. The interview lasted half an hour, and I got to talk about lots of different things. Sammut asked me how many balls I’d snagged at the All-Star Game, so I told him, “Nine or ten depending on how you look at it. There were some really weird circumstances surrounding one of the balls I got, and I’m still not sure whether to count it.”
I ended up telling the whole story on the air, and Sammut was adamant about counting the ball. He even started announcing my lifetime ball total as 5,209, which is what the number would have been if I’d counted the Fielder ball.
I still wasn’t sure what to do, so I tweeted about it late that night and asked for everyone’s opinion. Take a look at some of the responses:
As you can see, most people felt that the ball should count, but I *still* wasn’t sure what to do. I actually didn’t decide for two more days. That’s when I talked to Alan Schuster, the founder of MyGameBalls.com. He and I discussed it for more than half an hour, and like most other people, he also felt that the ball should count. So I counted it. Thanks to everyone who weighed in with their opinion. Some decisions just can’t be made alone. SUPER thanks to Cole and Doug for getting me into the section behind the dugout and into the after-party. It was a day that I’ll never forget.
• 547 balls in 67 games this season = 8.16 balls per game.
• 728 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 253 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 2 consecutive All-Star Games with at least one ball
• 157 lifetime games with ten or more balls
• 25 games this season with ten or more balls (new record!)
• 5,209 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 get involved.)
• 56 donors
• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $71.20 raised at this game
• $3,894.64 raised this season
Want to see a few more photos of the baseballs? Good. Here’s one that I took after the radio interview…
…and here’s a two-part black light photo:
Even All-Star Game balls get stamped with invisible ink.