This was the hottest game at Camden Yards in twelve years — 104 degrees when the first pitch was thrown at 7:08pm — so you can imagine the sauna-like conditions during batting practice.
Even before BP got underway, and even though I was sitting in the shade, sweat was oozing out of me. Check out the wet blotches creeping through my pink shirt in the following photo:
Jona was with me. She made me wear that shirt, and for the record, she took all these photos.
As you can see in the photo above, I’m standing next to a young fan who’d brought his copy of my newest book, The Baseball. His name is J.B. (check him out on Twitter @J599), and we’d recently been in touch. He was very polite — a little too polite, in fact, and kept calling me “mister” and “sir.” No matter how many times I told him to stop, he kept doing it, so eventually I refused to answer him unless he called me “Zack.” (And BTW, yes, that’s a paper towel on my head.)
When the gates opened at 5pm, I ran out to left field and found my first ball of the day in the seats. Then I moved into foul territory and scooped up a grounder that Blake Davis sliced down the line:
Less than a minute later, I moved back to straight-away left field and got a lucky ricochet on a home run ball that had landed 15 rows behind me. Here I am about to catch it after it bounced off the steps:
After that, I caught two more homers on the fly and grabbed another in the seats. The first was hit by Derrek Lee, the second by Mark Reynolds, and the third by Lee again.
Soon after the Angels took the field, I moved back into foul territory and got a toss-up from Scott Downs. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, so I put the ball in my backpack with the others. It was my 7th ball of the day, and the snag itself was incredibly easy. No big deal, right? Well, half an hour later, I realized that it was my 600th ball of the season! GAH!!! I should’ve paid more attention to my numbers, but I was so busy catching baseballs that the impending milestone had slipped my mind.
Halfway through the Angels’ portion of BP, Jona took a great photo of me leaping for a home run ball:
(That’s me wearing red. I had changed into my Angels gear.)
As you can see in the photo above, I narrowly missed catching the ball on the fly. Thankfully, though, I was able to grab it when it plopped down near me on the steps. Don’t feel bad for the guy in the orange shirt — or for anyone else, for that matter. During BP, there must’ve been 50 home runs that landed in the seats, so everyone had plenty of opportunities.
I snagged two more baseballs before the Angels cleared the field. The first was a homer (not sure who hit it) that I caught on the fly after climbing up onto a seat. The second was given to me by Hisanori Takahashi’s translator after I asked for it in Japanese. That was my 10th ball of the day. And this was my sweaty arse:
Did I mention that it was hot? You seriously have no idea what it felt like out there. I was absolutely drenched, and other than the few wise cracks that people made about my not knowing where the bathroom was, I really didn’t care. (My shorts were just as wet in the front.) It actually felt great to sweat. It was the first time since I sprained my ankle on 6/3/11 at Citi Field that I felt like I’d gotten a workout.
After BP, there were *nine* baseballs scattered in the Orioles bullpen:
See the guy in the orange shirt up above? That’s a groundskeeper who had just given one of them to me. As soon as he’d entered the bullpen, I asked him for a ball. He then picked one up and walked it over to me — and then he left. The other eight balls were still there, so I figured I might be able to get one from the next person who entered the bullpen. That person happened to be Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair. He generously threw all of the remaining balls into the crowd, and I got two of them. The first was tossed directly to me — nothing fancy there — and the second was intended for Jona, but she knew what was up. As soon as Adair let it fly, she stepped aside and let me catch it. Tee-hee! But wait! I wasn’t done milking the bullpens for all they were worth. Several minutes later, I got my 14th ball of the day thrown by Angels bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio.
Before the game started, I gave five balls away. First I handed one to this kid…
…who didn’t want to take it at first. He was like, “Nah, that’s okay, it’s yours,” so I had to convince that I had a few others to spare. (That’s J.B. in the photo above. We got to hang out for a bit after BP.)
Then, while walking through the cross-aisle toward home plate, I spotted a father with three young kids — two boys and a girl. I asked if any of them had gotten a ball yet, and when they all said no, I hooked them up. Here I am placing a ball into one of the boys’ gloves…
…and here’s the girl with a souvenir of her own:
Jona didn’t get a photo of all three kids getting their baseballs, but that’s not her fault. It’s not like I’d planned it out ahead of time, and it all happened pretty fast. And then, like I said, I gave away another after that.
There were three highlights for me during the game…
First, do you remember the kid named Emory who asked me to sign a ball on 7/15/11 at Camden Yards? Well, he was back, this time with a copy of The Baseball. The two-part photo below shows me signing it and posing with him:
Highlight number two: snagging a foul ball hit by Luke Scott in the bottom of the 5th inning. I was hanging out in the cross-aisle behind the plate, and the ball flew way over my head, so I turned around to play the potential ricochet of the press level. The ball did indeed bounce back toward me, but was deflected by a fan sitting in the row above. Thankfully, it ended up landing near me in the aisle, and I scrambled after it as it began trickling down to the steps. Here I am with it, doing my best/sexy “Real Men Wear Pink” pose:
I think the ASO brace kills the mood, but hey, I tried.
The final highlight was meeting Alan Schuster, the founder of a website that I love and mention often: MyGameBalls.com. We’d probably sent several hundred emails back and forth over the past two seasons, and this was our first face-to-face encounter. The other part of this highlight was seeing my friend Garret Meyer for the first time in two years. Remember when I snagged 32 balls in one day on 6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium? And do you remember that I had an accomplice for my post-game shenanigans? Well, that was Garrett. He was here in Baltimore for “BallhawkFest,” and it was great seeing him. Here I am with Alan (on the left) and Garrett (on the right) after the game:
All three of us have profiles on MyGameBalls.com, and if you’ve ever snagged a ball at a professional baseball game, you should too. Here’s Alan’s profile, here’s Garrett’s profile, and here’s mine. This website is kinda like Facebook for ballhawks. It’s a great way to check out other people’s collections and get in touch with them. Don’t be stupid. Join the site. You’ll love it.
As for the game itself, Ervin Santana pitched great, Vernon Wells hit a grand slam, and the Angels won, 6-1.
• 608 balls in 74 games this season = 8.22 balls per game.
• 735 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 260 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 153 lifetime balls during games (not counting game-used ball that get tossed; 137 foul balls, 15 home runs, and a ground-rule double)
• 5,270 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)
• $106.80 raised at this game
• $4,328.96 raised this season